The Finnish and European left has been given a chance to rise, we have the correct ideas but do we have the correct voice to convey them?
For a person with penchant for left leaning, progressive attitudes, 2017 is shaping up to be easier on our nerves than 2016.
I mean, how could it possibly be worse!
The rough knife edge that categorised populist international politics in 2016 has been dulled somewhat by the election of Macron and the stunning rise of Corbyn. Not to mention some close calls that thankfully fell our way in other European states.
This summer’s anthem then, sings of the return of the progressives? Lets just hold on there a second shall we?
I personally don’t see these results as evidence of a shifting trend towards the left as much as it is, a rejection of the right.
In the UK where Jeremy Corbyn scored massively well, their system has only two functioning parties. A move away from one side doesn’t mean tacit approval for the other, their train tracks only goes from left to right and back again. Over the English Channel in France, Macron is a right wing leader which defeated an extreme right-wing party. Macron, we must remember is a man steeped in the tradition of global finance and is one the reasons why we have so much inequality in the world. He is both a cause and ironically our temporary reprieve from the extreme right and populism.
So not really a win for the left there then. Maybe one by default.
We must never look a gift horse in the mouth.This rejection of the right in Europe stitched together with some happy gains in the Finnish council elections has presented to us a small platform from which we can climb up onto and boost ourselves up from.
What do we do? What do we say?
Here, I have noticed, is the immediate problem we face.
We in Vasemmisto have serious, fair minded candidates and we have good policies. What we lack right now is language of the voters. We on the left seemed to have forgotten how to talk to people we represent and must immediately adjust how we communicate our values if we are to rise up again.
The language of left has changed.
Somewhere in the 90’s the left ceased to speak the language of the working classes, using simply stated, easily relatable values and examples. Not simple minded but clear, utilitarian and free of pointless waffle.
Somehow the language morphed into a dialogue similar to philosophy departments in a university discussing Sartre’s influence on existentialism. The dialogue moved away from the practicalities of collectivism for the factory worker or the call centre operative and instead became a name-dropping analysis of Marx, Chomsky or John Locke.
This is not a dialect that brings over votes. It turns people off. I’ve seen it turn people away here in Jyväskylä. It keeps parties like Vasemmisto eternally viewed as that ‘retired communist, shouty student trotskyist group.’
“What are you going to give me if I vote for you?” was the most common question I heard during the last election. At various points I felt the urge to launch into a long historical narrative about 70/80’s financial deregulation, unions, tax cuts for the rich, consumer debt, Marx, insurance replacing savings……… and then I stopped.
The question ‘what are you going to give for me?’ was about that person and me and what we can do for each other. I almost did the very thing I hated – irrelevant long winded waffle. Sadly, I have heard that monologue being repeated many, many times in the various countries I’ve lived in and I have heard it quite a lot here in Finland during the spring elections.
It’s time to stop that.
Granted, with the rise of the successful, ‘third way’ progressives in the 90’s, there had been a degree of swivel in voting demographics. Where once a person educated in the humanities would be more inclined to vote conservative, in modern times they would now air on the left side of the scale. Paradoxically working class and average salaried workers seems to favour a conservative or right wing populists.
Another factor in my perceived communication issue is likely to be education. When I was a young lad (1970’s) in an activist unionist household, I noticed that most Labour party candidates rose up through trade unions. They already spoke the language of the shop floor. Now that higher education is the norm for most youths, people route via a politics degree or something related. It is the case around central Finland.
On election day in April, a Metal union representative approached me and asked why I had not made myself known to him, he went on to talk about how very seldom people from the ‘trades’ enter politics. Thats a topic for another piece perhaps.
It is no wonder then, our language has developed in the way it has.
What ever the reasons may be, we have left a powerful communication vacuum which was filled by the far right. This is a problem of our own making.
We are currently in danger of overestimating ourselves, overestimating the penetration of our message and of the gains that we believe may receive with this slow rejection of the right.
The movers and shakers of the left, both in Europe and here in Finland, need to devise a new language of the people. We are underusing this simple means of communication that can propel our winning brand of serious minded, sensible collectivism and a stable, more inclusive society forward. Its a shame.
The British labour just won big by remembering that language and using it effectively.
Our new SOTE elections will be happening at some point next year, I plan, to talk more like Corbyn and a little less like Žižek.