Not Communism. Not Marxism. Not Christianity.
I am the latest in a line of poets and writers enticed by the promise of Socialism in its many guises: Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, HG Wells, etc (no, it’s not a coincidence, that half of my list are Latin American writers: Latin America is the most poetic region on the face of our planet). Why is this?
Of course writers are a more political animal than most and Socialism (I use this as an umbrella term for moderate socialism to Communism to Marxism) was one of the most energetic, sweeping political movements of the last two centuries. It was born with the Industrial Revolution and this is as innate in our civilization as feudalism was to the post-Agricultural Revolution societies. Socialism will not go away. And writers will be doing, keep doing, their part to keep it embedded in the social consciousness.
But Socialism has failed! That is the cry I expect to hear, if not so outright, then at least muffled in the heart of hearts. Socialism gave us Stalin, North Korea, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro… surely, these names are nails in the red-star coffin? And look at most Socialist parties around us today: they are a joke – about as Socialist as Generalissimo Franco! Even in Malta, our optimistic government is a privatizing bulldozer, giving the workers about as much as they had ever gotten from the Nationalists. So if the parties that are supposed to be carrying the torch of socialism are abandoning it, why is it that writers are still burning with the reddest of flames?
Or at least, they ought to be.
Socialism was the first movement to make heroes out of the working-class. This is a generic, well-known, fact that must be re-stated. Before literature, art, and the winds were obsessed with nobles, kings and queens, their prides and prejudices, their deified lives so far above and beyond the rest of the peasant classes. The logic innate in this obsession was: only the noble, well-born, are worthy of aesthetic interest. Now, living in a meritocratic society as we do (a meritocracy hard-earned by the writings of Marx and Hegel), we know this to be false and out-dated.
Socialism has been an important arm of democracy: making politicians realize (often at the cost of a revolution) that the lower echelons of human beings are just as important and have as much rights as the autocratic autocrats. Socialism extended the “Expanding Circle” (Pete Singer) of human ethics. After slavery was abolished it took a century or so for us to realize that a peasant has a right to life free from pain and oppression, as much as a middle-class lawyer. Science – added to this necessary concoction – showed us (if we needed showing) that we are all human, our biologies are identical, thus, there is no natural justification for discrimination. Thus we live in a culture which makes a prophet out of Che Guevara, whose music is an offshoot of working-class brilliance of The Beatles, and creates tourist hot-spots out of the favelas of the world.
The heyday of Socialism is long past. In most Western countries the battles it fought are now won. Not entirely, of course, and I am coming to that. People now, for the most part, have equality, and now they are interested in wealth. It is no longer enough to be allowed your freedom. Now we must all of us become the new gods of the Capitalist age. Greed has buried Socialism.
But greed is also burying the rest of us.
We are all of us by nature – I realize this is an un-Marxist claim – greedy. Power entices us, wealth is sexy, consumerism is vindication. Biologists might disagree – and I would agree with them, of course. But let’s assume, just for the sake of the argument, that greed is innate and an unconquerable foe. Where does that leave us, then?
That leaves us in a world were 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. By 2050 up to 37% of all plant and animals species could be extinct. A world in which 10 million children under five die from avoidable diseases such as measles and diarrhea. A world where iconic species such as tigers and sharks are being driven to extinction by the superstitious, lucrative trade of Asian medicines and where children die in perilous mines in Africa to provide blood diamonds for the dainty fingers of Hollywood maidens. Clearly, our world is anything but equal.
Socialism, like science, is an critical ideology. It begs hard questions and elicits difficult answers. Being a revolutionary keeps you on your toes, keeps your eyes open, stops you from being complacent. And it is clear to see that equality today is a paradise for those that ‘distribute’ equality. Yes, some animals are still more equal than others. The uber-Capitalist culture that was born in America and now exported to the rest of the world, is making our lifestyle an unsustainable one.
The end of the world will come not from the skies or from a nuclear war, but from the genius of marketing.
Basic rights today are not having enough food to eat, clean water to drink and equal voting rights: it is being able to afford a car, having access to a Smartphone, being able to travel at least once a year. Progress! Of course: the working-class is finally raising itself from the ashes. But what of the excessive rise in the amount of global billionaires, especially in nations like the US and the UK? Progress? A threat. According to Oxfam by 2016 the wealthiest 1% of the world population will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth. And it is that 1% more than anyone that is responsible for the increasing demands for fossil fuels, energy, living space, food, water and pollutants. So yes, rainforests are being eradicated, coral reefs suffocated with toxins, oceans choked by trash, rare species being poached en masse, and impoverished workers kept dirt poor; because of them, most of the world’s population is being kept in modern-chains, and the rest of creation is being extinguished.
Why is that 1% so culpable? Because the human species is a mimetic, superficial animal: most of the world’s rising middle-classes are copying that exuberant, wasteful 1%. All the Average Joes and Billy Buddies of the world want to live, not like Che Guevara or the Beatles in their early days: but like globe-trotting presidents, Lady Gagas, Mark Zuckebergs and Paris Hiltons. The shallow, uncreative superficiality of the mass-marketing, globalized, uber-Capitalized world of today is leading to an environmental of novel proportions.
Socialism – for the sake of the planet, really – needs to be revived. And it needs to be revived by writers and artists. Socialism has always been a potent motivator, an inspirer of men, a great militant Muse. And now, more than ever, men and women need to be shaken out of their harmful, idiotic stupor. Being selfless, moving away from greed, from over-consumerism, is a poetic, moral choice. What is the disgrace in living like a Hemingway character, reveling, ecstatically, in the purer pleasures: love, drink, food, friends, feasts, the sea, the wild. Do we need parties in private jets, enough champagne to drown out the Tigris, redwood for our clothes dresser, venison when pork is twice as magical? Do we?
The simple life, the one bordering struggle, one full of literature, love, art, ideas and beauty, is the new Socialism. And whilst I would never dream of colouring the red of Socialism green, I would dare say that living in greater equality, greater hegemony, would do the planet justice. No more Kardashians, more Neruda, less skyscrapers more mountains, to hell with plastic billionaires and long live the riches of the poor.
In the words of Jose Marti in his iconic poem Guantanamera:
Con los pobres de la tierra, quiero yo mi suerte echar. (With the poor people of this earth I want to share my fate.)
And to re-work the cry of the Cuban Revolution: Planeta o Muerte!
To this end I am writing my latest novel, My Noon, My Midnight, about a working-class lad who dreams too high but finds the perfect happiness in the tranquil, Socialist climes of Nicaragua. Oh, and did I mention it was a part-romance?