Anarchism in Interesting Times
Since last night’s exit poll in relation to elections for the European Parliament in Ireland, there has been a wave of revulsion from left activists towards an electorate who has surged towards the Green Party. Those of us who remember them in power could get angry and wallow in recrimination, or we can look at ways we can turn people’s fears about climate catastrophe into action.
Yes of course the greens are terrible, cynical, ineffective, but no one was going to get elected and solve the environmental crisis anyway. On the bright side, as Andrew Flood pointed out on twitter, we now know that environmental issues are a priority for a lot of people. The next step is not recrimination, but to figure out what to do with that information.
Buried within that information, and we’ll probably get more detailed analysis and age breakdowns in the Sunday papers, is that there have been twelve years of people reaching voting age, of people who could not vote in 2007 when the last ‘green surge’ occured, who cast a ballot yesterday, most of whom had no interest in politics back then and have only the vaguest of notions of what happened when the greens were in government. There have also been twelve years of people who voted in 2007 dying; It’s not the same electorate. The cycle of life and death results in corresponding cycles of learning, propaganda, and cyclical arguments, particularly in a field as shallow as electoralism where most people tune in for a few weeks every few years.
The polls also highlight what a poor platform electoral politics is for any kind of radical idea. It only permits engagement on that shallowest of levels. Everyday lives are complicated. Most people are not engaged with politics on a daily basis the way a large proportion of people that socialists and anarchists are friends with on facebook and follow on twitter are. Outside of times when those people are engaged in campaigns in their community or at work on issues that mean something to them directly, they consume politics through sound bites and imagery filtered through the media and necessarily simplistic election literature. That’s all their time and energy permits. So the task of the radical left in general and anarchists in particular is not to scold them, but to figure out how to engage them. It’s our failure to do that, not their fickleness that is the root of this.
People are now deeply concerned about the prospect of climate catastrophe (one that is already a lot more immediately apparent in less temperate parts of the planet), they see the big green banner (not Bruce) and they vote that way because it expresses their fears and desires. Dismissing that as stupidity or folly, just like dismissing people, whole communities, who don’t vote as apathetic, only compounds our failure to understand and our ability to act in a manner capable of engaging people in action that can bring about real change.
Between cool analysis and directionless anger, there is praxis. As a group, the ‘far left’, is traditionally good at the former but regularly lapse into the latter; But the marriage of the two is where we can bring about change. So maybe Bruce Banner was relevant after all.
Be the Bruce/Hulk in the middle, because it’s endgame, people!
Update: As expected the main source for the surge to the greens came from people who were too young to vote last time they did well. Sun Tzu-esque standing by the riverbank by them.