Bernie Sanders’s impressive showing in the Iowa primaries is greatly encouraging for all us 1960s nostalgics. Or it would be, if the USA were a democracy. As it is, just imagine what it will be like if he becomes the Democratic candidate: the kleptocracy fighting back tooth and claw, funded by billionaires and supported by a bought media, to smear him as a ‘Red’ and worse. Just like the last election here in Britain, which is even less democratic than the USA. (We MUST have proportional representation soon!) In both countries, the rich have never accepted democracy, but instead have learned, cleverly, how to control it; to turn it into a game that they can win. It must have occurred to others how like TV game shows American political conventions have become. Trump, of course, played that expertly. It was good to see him getting his come-uppance, albeit from a candidate nearly as crazy and terrifying as him.
The parallels between Bernie and Jeremy are of course obvious. One very obvious one is that, despite being old men (almost as old as me!), their main support in their respective parties comes from the under-35s. This is another world-wide – or at least transatlantic – rebellion of the young against the mess that the previous – in this case just after my – generation made of things. It reminds me of the ‘youth’ revolt of the 1950s – often misattributed to the ’60s – about which I have just penned a piece for the LRB (not yet published).
One of the depressing things in Britain just now is the way the old (‘New’) Labour guard are ganging up on Corbyn. The last issue of the New Statesman printed the opinions of a number of these, Labour politicians and commentators, all from what can be accurately described, I think, as the ‘Westminster bubble’. I despaired as I read it. In the North of England, I believe, none of this makes any sense. Even here in Sweden disillusioned Social Democrats are expressing the wish that they had a Corbyn too.
My feeling (or hope) is that the ground-rules of politics are going to shift fundamentally over the next 5-10 years, as ‘austerity’ and trickle-down are shown to have failed, resentment grows against tax-dodgers (like Osborne himself!), Old Etonian public relations smoothies no longer resonate as ‘real’ people, and the old tricks and slogans become more threadbare. Corbyn, under enormous pressure now, will find the climate turning in his favour. He just has to hang on. As a historian, my mind goes back to the 1900s:
What looks old-fashioned now can become new-fashioned very quickly. But then I’m probably fooling myself.
Incidentally, I learn that the longing of some East Germans for the return of the old 1960s DDR – as in that wonderful film Goodbye Lenin – is called ‘Ostalgia’. I like that.