A year of hope and horror

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Looking back at the world of 2019 we can see examples of fantastic bravery and resistance in the face of fierce state repression, but also attempts by the right to gain ground. Sally Campbell asks what awaits us in the year to come.

This year Graffiti has appeared on walls from Hong Kong to Santiago reading, “We won’t return to normality, because normality was the problem.”

As a slogan it expresses well the predicament of the moment. For the past decade “normality” has meant misery for millions of people across the globe, as working class people and the poor were made to pay for the last economic crisis.

Alongside a ramping up of austerity policies in many parts of the world, there has been generalised political instability and erosion of the old political establishments, which has led to unexpected occurrences.

One of the expressions of this is the wave of revolts in various parts of the world. This year has seen uprisings in Sudan and Algeria; mass youth movements in Hong Kong and Chile, millions-strong protests in Guinea and Catalonia, to name but a few. In France the Yellow Vests are still marching after a year of resistance to president Macron’s attempts to hike fuel taxes and reduce pensions.

And the climate crisis has finally come centre-stage, with a school kids’ movement inspired by Greta Thunberg and ramped up by Extinction Rebellion.

This has produced some of the most exciting protests for years in Britain — notably the climate strike on 20 September which involved tens of thousands of school students joined by workers across towns and cities nationwide. Equally impressive have been the two XR International Rebellions, which blockaded central London at Easter and in the autumn.

But it hasn’t all gone in favourable directions. In the Spanish state, as Hector Puente Sierra explains on page 14, the “official” left has seen its support fall, while the far right VOX party has gained.

Hopes embodied

And, as Andy Brown outlines this month, the hopes embodied in figures such as Bolivian president Evo Morales as part of the “Pink Tide” across Latin America 15 years ago, were never quite delivered, leaving them vulnerable to renewed attacks from the right.

And of course we still live in Trump’s world and, as I write, the British Trump, Boris Johnson, is fighting to increase his majority (or rather, gain a majority) in parliament.

The 2019 general election has reflected this global sense of political polarisation. In Britain, unusually, it has taken the form of increased support for the two “traditional” parties — the Tories and Labour. But with Jeremy Corbyn as leader the Labour Party has been able to become a home for those who reject austerity, racism and climate destruction; while Boris Johnson’s cabinet is possibly the most right wing in the history of that party (standing on the shoulders of repulsive giants, of course).

When Corbyn announced the Labour manifesto for this election, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said, whatever you think of the policies, you can’t say all parties are the same this time. And indeed the manifesto is radical compared to the years of Blairism that preceded Corbyn’s leadership. Though, as Shaun Doherty points out in Frontlines, it could go much further.

As I write, with two weeks until election day, it is still impossible to call the election. The Tories are ahead in the polls, but as in 2017, anything could happen, especially if Corbyn and his supporters go on the offensive against Johnson and his plans to sell off the NHS to American businesses.

What comes next

Whatever the outcome we need to prepare now for what comes next. God forbid Boris Johnson wins a majority — we need to be outside parliament in our tens of thousands, occupying the streets in every town and city, and organising collective action in our workplaces and colleges in opposition to the unthinkable prospect of five more years of Tory rule.

If the result is a hung parliament, we will have to fight for Corbyn to be the leader of whatever government is formed, and for that government to reject austerity and racism.

And if Corbyn wins outright we will have to take to the streets again — first to celebrate and then to organise against the pressure he will face from business, the right, and even some of his own MPs in trying to implement his manifesto.

When we look back at the world of 2019, we can see very clearly the two sides of politics today — those who willingly uphold and represent the interests of the banks and the billionaires, like Johnson, Trump, Bolsonaro and Jeanine Áñez in Bolivia. And those who represent a desire for an alternative — Greta Thunberg, the climate strikers, the striking university workers, the Sudanese, Algerian and Lebanese revolutionaries, Jeremy Corbyn.

But if we ask ourselves who runs the world, it’s not really the elected politicians — or those, like Áñez, who seize office through a coup — it is the unelected billionaires who own and run the corporations so central to global capitalism that governments are compelled to act in their interests. This explains the climate emergency, the fall of Morales, the Brexit impasse and the failure of the Syriza government in Greece to challenge the EU.

That means we take sides in elections like this one, but we simultaneously recognise that elections alone won’t solve the problems workers face.

As we enter the 2020s, the more organised we are, the better networks of activists we have in place, the more strikes we have seen, like the UCU university workers who are out as we go to press, the better prepared we will be for the battles to come.