The year we found our rulers out
As 2013 draws to a close, we can say with some certainty that while none of the major questions facing humanity are any nearer finding a solution, there is a renewed determination amongst ordinary people to reject how things stand in the search for answers.
So we have to thank our political classes for small mercies. Their ineptitude, arrogance, indifference and sheer inability to counter powerful capitalist economic and financial forces has spurred people on throughout the year.
Three inspiring examples of resistance that all began in June stand out from the countless actions around the world this year. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Brazil against government corruption and the diversion of resources towards next year’s World Cup. The country’s dash for growth at any price has made a poor population even more impoverished.
The same month, Bulgarians revolted agains the oligarchy that has left the country bankrupt and almost entirely dependent on imported goods, including food. In Turkey, a nation-wide rebellion was prompted by plans to pave over green space in Istanbul. But the quasi-Islamic government’s attack on democratic rights was also a significant factor in the revolt.
As for individual heroes, the awards go to two Americans. Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning defied the might of the American state to blow the whistle and leak evidence of illegal mass surveillance and war crimes. Sentenced to 35 years in a military prison, Manning rebuked her government with the following words:
Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability… We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government.
Snowden became a man without a passport as he fled the clutches of the National Security Agency. A conservative in his politics, Snowden was appalled by the secret programmes run by the NSA and GCHQ in Britain to spy on the electronic communications of its citizens. His actions have shaken Washington and London, revealing how fragile these states are behind all the bluster.
That was shown when a groundswell of public anger on both sides of the Atlantic prevented an attack on Syria. Both Congress and Parliament were paralysed by the reaction of the people. It was the first time in modern history that an illegal war was thwarted at the outset.
Nothing demonstrates more sharply the useless nature of our political system than the response to the clear and present danger presented by runaway climate change. In September, a report by thousands of scientists found that humans have used up between a half and two thirds of the amount of emissions possible before we dangerously overheat the planet.
The UK government’s response? To expand gas-fired power stations and to open up half the country to fracking, both of which will add to dangerous emissions. Madness. An international agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not even on the agenda.
Business interests have prevailed – again.
So we have a socio-ecological impasse. The system cannot deliver what we demand in terms of a sustainable environment, decent living standards, affordable shelter and a democracy that reflects our aspirations rather than those of shareholders. Instead, in Britain in particular, there’s a policy race to the bottom between the major parties.
All this suggests in the strongest terms that the present political and economic system is a barrier to a real democracy and has effectively disenfranchised the majority. The right to vote, won in centuries of struggle, has been undermined by a corporatocracy. Increasing numbers of people evidently recognise this to be the case, which is perhaps the greatest achievement of 2013 and provides a basis for optimism for the year ahead.
20 December 2013