FOR AS LONG AS MODERN SOCIALISM has existed, it has been plagued by those who think that the world’s ills are basically a matter of people having the wrong ideas. According to this mindset, we need not so much revolution as education. Politics ceases to be about the world, and focuses instead on the mind. Very quickly the view develops into an elitism: it falls to an enlightened minority to teach the dimwitted masses. Some adherents of this line of thought end up as Guardian columnists.
If this sounds horribly familiar, you may be thinking of the way many responded to the EU referendum result. No sooner had the outcome been declared than social media and opinion columns went into overdrive. “How could they have been so stupid?” people asked. “Talk about people voting against their own interests”, opined others. Spoof articles parodying the idiots who voted Brexit were shared gleefully, while some expressed dismay that people hadn’t listened to economic ‘experts’. The thought that mainstream economics might be anything other than a source of politically neutral expertise is apparently old hat.
It was very clear that ‘they’ were not the southern middle-class conservatives who filed into polling stations to vote to leave the EU. The parodies were of working class people. Commentary focused on northern Labour voting Brexiteers. It is in this context that calls for a second referendum have to be understood. If the people are too stupid to get it right first time, make them vote again until they listen to their betters.
The left has to do better than this. There is space for a class-based approach, which organises from the bottom up, trusting people’s own ability to fight for themselves. There is an urgent need for a grassroots anti-racism that argues for open borders, not on the basis of liberal truisms, but on the basis of unity among working people. Currently the left doesn’t have the approach required to make the socialist case in an increasingly dangerous world. Let’s develop it before it’s too late.