Transforming our World — New dimensions to socialism

Things have gone badly wrong. Sure the people have spoken, in the UK, in the Philippines, in the US. And yes, the world is clearly listening, as evinced by the countless column inches, the comedy monologues, and the general pessimism pervading our societies right now.

As a student of history in my youth, I was always fascinated by the corruption of socialism, in the context of the World Wars and the elaboration of communism over the course of last century. The lesson I took from history is humanity’s inherent and inescapable tendency toward suspicion and selfishness. A child of the polarized and simplistic cold war era, of us versus them and capitalism versus communism, I accepted this black and white world view in an unquestioning manner. With the fall of the Berlin wall, the world finally seemed in a position to start living up to its potential. Development in a globalized world would see charity, empathy and the moral imperative take precedence over geo-political priorities in a uni-polar world. Unfortunately the last 30 years or so have shown that the lessons I took from those history classes in my youth remains valid, and there is something wrong with our societies.

Why is it that we cannot in a real sense recognize our shared humanity? Is resignation the way forward, an acceptance of selfishness and solipsism, a falling back into our nation states with strength and power given precedence over compassion and duty? This certainly seems to be the path we are on. In Europe, as highlighted by the Brexit result and the approach taken to the refugee and migrant crisis, when the core values of human rights and the dignity of all which are at the core of the European project are being discarded due to fear of the other. In the US as we witnessed a divisive campaign between two candidates who essentially represented the same world view — we are the best, we know best, and we must remain the best. In Asia as we see strongmen waging war on drugs with no regard for the individual and no interest in addressing root causes, only driven by violence and fear. As we see in Eastern Europe and central Asia where the route to power is through internal and external subjugation.

There is another way, but we need to change the narrative. Our societies have always been predicated on identity, who we are and who they are. The same goes for the great religions of our world. Instead of recognising the message of love that is at the core of all religion, they have all too often been used as a tool of hate and fear against the other, a vehicle to justify political inaction and a mechanism to assuage deserved feelings of guilt.

I heard an academic speaking recently about what had worked in establishing a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland over the last twenty years, and it was posited that what the 1998 Good Friday Agreement succeeded in was recognising the primacy of shared humanity above national identity. This agreement recognised the flux inherent in who we project ourselves to be, and that beneath this churn our common and shared human experience remains, eternal. What has worked in Northern Ireland is as a result of this, though peace remains precarious as events risk a return to sectarianism and identity politics around republicism and unionism. The recent peace accord in Colombia, a process which learned much from Northern Ireland, is another which seems to be predicated not on how we are different but how we are the same.

2015 saw agreement reached on another international pact, one that potentially goes far beyond individual nations, individual conflicts, and narrow-minded trade deals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are at its heart, were agreed at the United Nations after years of negotiations. It is an Agenda which enjoyed consensus across 193 countries, whose Governments signed up to an Agenda in the name of us all. It pledges to leave no one behind, and looks to address the challenges of our world in a coherent and holistic way. Fundamental to this agreement is the belief that we are all equal, we are all deserving of a sustainable world. That we all have a shared responsibility to leave a world for our children which is better than the one we inherited from our own parents.

The 2030 Agenda brings me back to the title of this article. Socialism has long been a dirty word, in the US and globally, given the polarized nature of our world since World War II. Efforts in North America to revisit socialism as a political movement of the people failed in the face of fear of the new and comfort with the status quo. This will not change, and we need therefore to look again at what socialism looks to achieve. We need now a new, expansive approach which takes as its starting point an understanding that a social approach is insufficient, our political systems need to be embedded instead in society, economy and our environment. We need to attempt to understand our social problems not through the lens of fear and suspicion, but through a global economic perspective, cognizant of our climate. Our economic diffculties must be addressed only through policies which acknowledge the global environmental impact of our actions. We must understand and address the impact of gender inequality on economic development, on peace building and conflict resolution, if we are to build inclusive societies that can live in harmony with and support each other.

We are in tumultuous times, but we live in a time of possibility and potential. Imagine if the 193 governments which agreed the SDGs in 2015 were to actually to decide to attempt to create the transformed world the 2030 Agenda projects. Within a generation we could have placed the world on a sustainable path, where diversity is embraced and fostered, a source of insight and understanding rather than something to be wary of. We could have a world which understands that planetary boundaries must be respected if we are to continue to thrive, a world which bends our economies towards ending poverty and hunger while facilitating prosperity and opportunity. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, the wheel has already been reinvented. We just need to start using it.