The most important change is putting people at the heart of politics – not ‘great men’ – writes RABBIL SIKDAR
SOCIAL change is forged from the collective will, determination, action and solidarity of ordinary people rising up from below in their masses to break the instruments of oppression holding them back.
It’s been repeated throughout history.
In Britain, the fight for public healthcare and a welfare state came from ordinary workers and trade unionists, as did the foundation of basic labour rights.
In the United States, the great civil rights movement was spearheaded by the anger and passion of ordinary black citizens.
In South Africa, apartheid was fought by the masses. In India, liberation from empire came from decades of political struggle between British imperialists and a nation of engaged activists and strugglers.
Not at one moment however did it rely solely on the individual brilliance of leaders.
Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King were instrumental and inspirational, but history has been rewritten to portray their achievements as utterly fundamental to social change.
On the contrary, movements fighting for change almost always predated them.
Social struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed has always existed. As Tony Benn once said, each generation is destined to fight the same battles as its ancestors did.
And so in Britain, the fight for social change comes amid growing levels of inequality, poverty, homelessness, corporate recklessness and greed.
In a country where the few at the top hold increasing amounts of wealth, the fight against injustice feels bleak.
If human nature is intrinsically wired to be selfish and greedy, if we are inclined by our nature to seek security and order then perhaps we are all born rightwingers.
This is what the status quo would have us believe. Fighting for change is impossible.
Currently a community-driven movement called Momentum exists.
It has set itself up around the Jeremy Corbyn leadership success, hoping to siphon energy from that and redirect it into the public and channel a hunger for political activism and change.
And therein lies a great difficulty that the left finds itself in.
We are defined by beliefs in collective will and social responsibility.
Great individuals are products of the sacrifices of others in the shadows.
But to say that about Corbyn diminishes his credibility in an era where politics has taken on a more presidential flavour. The public seeks great leaders in a time of huge corruption and apathy.
To recast Corbyn as simply a member of a social justice movement is to reduce his electoral appeal. And yet the other risk remains that if the media batters his image strongly enough rather than his values, it doesn’t matter if the public agrees with the views of Labour Party — they won’t like Corbyn.
We saw this with Ed Miliband. His views were popular, in fact cautious compared to those of the public in many places.
But he was unpopular and so Labour were unpopular too. Corbyn stands on a knife-edge — wildly popular for some and incredibly loathed by others.
There is no objectivity or sitting on the fence with him. It’s been staked on the toss of a coin, on the basis of whether people like him or not.
His ideas are not what define him. Instead it’s his genuineness, sincerity and honesty.
That ties in very well with his political beliefs but it doesn’t negate the fact that the public is told to focus on leaders rather than ideas.
Corbyn has a transformative vision for our society with appealing ideas of investment in public infrastructure and balancing the books in a fairer way.
But the media will never talk about that so instead it attacks him in every way it can.
They call him an eccentric and a terrorist sympathiser. The media has put him forward as the sole leader of this great social justice movement in the hope of decimating left-wing politics.
So what does that do for movements?
The media has spun Corbyn as the glue for the British left. He was certainly the catalyst of renewed hope this summer, but to purely pin it on him is a mass disservice to social movements like the People’s Assembly, UK Uncut, the Stop the War Coalition and even the Green Party.
This trope of great leaders is a familiar occurrence with the right.
Just as they portray movements as led by great leaders, they base social change on individual innovation rather than co-operation and solidarity.
It’s the superhero effect taking place. It’s the belief that change can be forged by the generosity and goodwill of the powerful elite, a rare class of philanthropic capitalists, suspending democracy and the political will of the masses in favour of placing trust in individuals.
These may seem like odd examples to use, but take the recent superhero films Iron Man and The Dark Knight.
They are wealthy, powerful men who step in and help a public stripped of agency and paralysed by fear.
When crisis looms, democracy and government transparency is suspended and authoritarian structures are seen as necessary to stop crime.
The exception of course to these superhero films, all following a familiar theme of great individuals, is X-Men. The current TV superhero shows have attempted to show that individuals rely on teams around them, be it Arrow or Daredevil.
Perhaps this is the society we live in.
Too apathetic and disenfranchised, refusing to believe that social change is in our destiny, instead we place our trust in the few. Movements and social change do not rely upon benevolent individuals but rather the determined will of ordinary people rebelling against an unjust and unfair status quo.