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In his poem ‘If’, Rudyard Kipling famously presents the ability to treat the imposters Triumph and Disaster ‘just the same’ as a sign of maturity. But while the ability to maintain a cold indifference and a stiff upper lip might serve as the imperialist ideal, those of us seeking a more humane and compassionate society tend to take a different view. Defeats can cause suffering that is all too painful, while victories have been scarce of late, and so worth really celebrating.
Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership has been a matter for real celebration for activists inside and outside the party because his campaign has electrified what was shaping up to be a depressingly constrained ‘debate’. Whatever the outcome, it’s clear he’s established that anti-austerity arguments have a wide resonance. That’s worth celebrating in itself.
Similarly, the ecstatic reaction of the bright yellow-clad anti-fracking campaigners, on hearing that Lancashire councillors had rejected Cuadrilla’s applications to frack, was a joy to behold. It was a testimony to the dedication, effort and commitment of a growing band of community protesters and environmentalists. If the applications had been allowed to proceed it would have meant a regular flow of HGVs around the narrow rural lanes close to where I grew up, and the drilling would have devastated the local landscape.
The council’s vote was an expression of democracy as it is meant to work. The political representatives understood the strength of local feeling, considered the arguments and reason won out. Of course, campaigners are well aware that the struggle hasn’t ended. Cuadrilla is likely to appeal, and the Tory government could yet overturn the decision. But should they do so, no one will be in any doubt that they are overthrowing the democratic will of local people.
Later that same week, the Greek people used their referendum to shout a decisive Oxi (no) to austerity, defying the Troika’s efforts to blackmail and humiliate them. But here, in the very birthplace of democracy, the idea that the will of the people had any sort of significance was essentially dismissed out of hand as an irrelevance.
Elected politicians were left in no doubt about where real political sovereignty lies in today’s Europe – not with national parliaments but with the institutions of finance capital. Disobey our wishes, and we’ll smash your banks and leave your country with nothing.
Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras may survive in office, but not in power, and only at the price of implementing many of the same measures the Greek people rejected. No doubt there’s a measure of relief among Greeks at the possible consequences of leaving the euro being avoided. But this is accompanied by a burning anger and resentment. If hopes are not to be raised only to be cruelly dashed, the left – not only in Greece but right across Europe – must start considering what deeper structural transformations are necessary for the interests of the people to finally triumph over the disaster of neoliberalism.