Cassian Siminicianu discusses the stagnation of the past decades, and how the Labour movement can drive forward change in the UK and beyond.
I can recall the days at the end of 2019, myself barely a teenager at that time looking at the relative stability, or rather, the relative stagnation of the decade which amounted to my formation up to that point: the 2010s. I can recall my very modest, conservative prediction about the decade about to come: “The 2020s will simply be a continuation of the 2010s.” In the sense that I truly felt that I was not wrong.
Despite the 2020 global pandemic and the economic collapse which persists to this day and probably will for many years more, I still find myself with this sense that nothing has changed at all; if anything, the cultural stagnation of the past decades has taken an even sharper, more reactionary turn as many of us had been forced indoors, in an even more augmented state of inward-focus. But what do I mean by this ‘stagnation’? What am I on about? So much has happened over the last two years especially, nevermind the last decade, right?
One could say in the terms of events, that yes, much has happened over these past few years. Many have been born and many have died, governments have risen and fallen, suns have risen and set. But where are the ripples of that? They are nowhere. There has been no gathering wave of change, no thundering storm of the magnitude witnessed pretty much every decade of the last century. Even for someone my age, still in their teens, claiming that 2012 was a full decade ago ought to be shocking to most people. We still live under the shadow of the same media platforms, Twitter, YouTube, Google, we are still clothed in the same bland, trim, featureless fashions as we have been since the end of the bagginess of the ‘90s, we are still unable to distinguish music released yesterday from that released ten years ago, even twenty. This perpetual stillness has coincided with the strengthened grip of communicative technology in our lives: the presence of the smartphone in every home and the painful compulsion of the notification and email in every mind. It is as if history itself has slowed down whilst our lives have sped up, all to form dizzying confusion: a contradiction. Where is this all rooted? Why have things turned out in such an unfortunate way?
In the 19th century, Karl Marx became well known, in part due to his belief that Capitalism will face its end due to its inherent contradictions, its rational absurdity. Yet if one looks at the 21st century one can see the exact opposite. Capitalism, as opposed to having faced its end, has mutated through them, taking an increasingly ugly, empty, monstrous form. However, Marx was justified in his prediction at his time, the system of factories and dark satanic mills that he observed naturally lent itself to self-destruction. But it hasn’t self-destructed yet. Since the time of Marx, Capitalism has evolved, morphing from that harsh, dirty system which powered the Industrial Revolution and the Fordist system present up until the 1970s/80s into its present Post-Fordist form of a service based economy.
In this process, capitalism has left behind the stage in its history in which it was supposed to be a force other than itself: that age of government intervention following the Second World War in which Britain and much of the world developed a class consensus. An age which has given birth to the greatest explosion of new cultural forms since perhaps the Renaissance; the age of Soul, Rock, Punk, Synthwave, of the Beatles and of Kraftwerk. The age of Social Democracy. There was a sense in that time that our best days were ahead of us, that the Post-War economic boom would lead to something even more wonderful than itself. Of course, we now know that wasn’t to be. The ‘80s came as a first age of spending cuts and privatisation: there was no alternative in sight. In the way that Mark Fisher described it, the future had been cancelled.
And the future is still cancelled to this very day. The stagnation of the 2000s, 2010s and, now, the 2020s only symptomatic of that fact. I believe the Left in Britain is still in a prolonged state of shock after the 1979 and 1983 electoral defeats but it has been very slowly but surely recovering. After the confusion and identity crisis that the Labour movement faced in the 1990s and 2000s, it is slowly finding back a sense of itself. The gathered storm and enthusiastic spirit of the 2017 General Election still lives on and now it has learned from its past, it has matured after the painful defeat of 2019.
Today as I am writing this in April 2022 I can feel a great sense that the Left has the ability to finally stand on its own two feet again. If we as Socialists, especially as young Socialists, play our hand of cards right we could be in for a Post-Pandemic Consensus. I have been pleased for the last few months with the rise of the European Left, first in Norway’s election, then in Germany, Spain, Sweden, Britain. The list goes on. We have to move forward.
This should provide a sense of optimism, and allow us to dream of a better future, that a better world is still possible, and that we, as Young Fabians ought to be at its vanguard. We ought to energise a sky of opportunities for our young people. As we delve deeper into this decade, we must hold together tightly in solidarity with one another, still in joy, come dungeons dark or gallows grim.
Cassian Siminicianu is a Young Fabian keen on shining a light on things we all face but no one speaks about. He shares his views and impressions on his Twitter at @Cassian_Sav.