Socialism, Father Christmas, and his political orphans

Recently, many on the government side told us how this year’s Budgetary Father Christmas is a good socialist. This is meant to rebut those who, on the Opposition benches have suddenly become inconsolable over “the fact that Labour is no longer a socialist party”. “It lost its soul,” they tell us. Not that, in the past, being called a “socialist” was exactly an accolade always forthcoming from the PN.

The heading of the Sunday Times of Malta’s editorial of November the 5th reads ‘The rise of the political orphan’. No doubt, many would find resonance, if not total affinity, with it. After all, that’s what many independent commentators have been saying for some time, even before the polls started to show a chunk of potential abstentions in whatever elections happen to be lined up next. 

It is a pity that the Sunday Times’ editorial did not quite address this very apt issue. Reading through, one felt that these voters were not orphans whose hope of seeing their parents was lost forever. Rather, whoever wrote this editorial appears to be worried about runaway kids. Some explanation was given, but what exactly pushed these kids to leave home was not clear. Their political parents don’t seem to have a clue. They are in denial, even when everyone could tell what’s wrong with them.

Maltese Christmas comes early

As the Festive Season gears up, one cannot help wondering what “Santa” is up to. By this I mean one begins to wonder what’s in store for the future, particularly the new year. I mention “him” — Santa Claus — because with Budgets in Malta it is regularly claimed by respective governments that Christmas came early. Not sure if this is funny or tragic, but we tend to forget how, in Malta, the Budget’s pageantry and tone are reminiscent of those colonial rituals by which the British Crown used to remind the populace of its charitable approach to the colony’s economy. Somehow, the books had to be balanced.

I don’t want to have a go at anyone here, but in my childhood I always remember Budgets as being either a moment of total outrage or ecstatic jubilation. If your family supported the Opposition, Budgets felt like a wake after a funeral. When your household’s party happens to be in Government, Budgets are nothing short of Christmas. It’s all to do with perception, of course. But the ritual was as boring as it remained inevitable.

Recently, many on the government side told us how this year’s Budgetary Father Christmas is a good socialist. This is meant to rebut those who, on the Opposition benches have suddenly become inconsolable over “the fact that Labour is no longer a socialist party”. “It lost its soul,” they tell us. Not that, in the past, being called a “socialist” was exactly an accolade always forthcoming from the PN. Then again, one cannot be fooled into thinking that relativism in partisan politics will ever die.

Father Christmas is no socialist

Be that as it may, if you look closely at what socialism is meant to be (whichever way you want to look at its history, warts and all), one cannot help remarking that it has nothing to do with Father Christmas. Less so is socialism a system of adjustments to this and that budgetary provision in order to preserve an economic system that ultimately favours and serves the vested interests of the few. We are always reminded by our beloved politicians that all we can do is adjust benefits, keep a minimum wage acceptable to all “social partners”, while being careful not to upset the economy’s apple cart. Disagreeing with that assessment means that one is either a raving Marxist, a disgruntled individual moaning about some favour or another, a Nationalist, or just an idiot who knows nothing about the economy.

As we know it in what used to be called “the West”, socialism was always an aspiration towards equality and social justice within a democratic system that was expected to economically mixed but made fairly equitable through efforts like the Welfare State. In liberal democracies, socialists broadly argued for freedom with equality—an equaliberty which is not meant to impose “sameness”, but to sustain a pluralism and diversity of means and aspirations through social justice. “But that’s idealism!”, some will tell you (and I’ve been told this many times). Often, we are told that, given the economic circumstances, one had to accept that socialism must be sold short with an annual Budget, even when we know that budgets are there to balance the books annually.

Even as a destination towards which one travels politically, the mention of socialism cannot be reduced to an annual event, nor some ritual reminiscent of the Crown giving us a seasonal run down of its benevolence. As with democracy, many have come to agree that socialism (or social democracy, if you prefer) is a process which cannot be simply brought up every now and then like a attire smelling of moth balls—just like Father Christmas’s red robe and fake beard which makes him look like a geriatric Karl Marx with a laugh and a pot belly.

Forget Father Christmas

Let’s discuss socialism in the light of how, in the last four decades, Malta saw unbridled development resulting in tangible forms of inequity compounded by environmental problems which cannot be simply used as a partisan football. Incidentally, recently it was reported that Malta saw the rise of 43 new vehicles a day, with a total of 436,000 overall. And this when Maltese public transport is now free. Some will tell you that free transport comes from a “socialist heart”. But then what about the other bit of the equation? Are we now helpless because we have to be “business friendly”? The same goes with the laissez faire that comes from the absolute freedom by which markets (read: vested interests) have taken over Malta’s socio-economic realities.

If we want to talk about socialism, forget Father Christmas and his annual gifts, and let’s have a proper discussion. Forget the colonial rituals and the paternalistic discourses which governments are obliged to indulge in. Also, forget the nonsense by which the Opposition, in the figure of Bernard Grech’s lamentations, seems to think that it just has to do with corruption and overpopulation – without, by the way, telling us if they are ready to seriously engage in discussions over degrowth and what it would look like for Malta (a subject which is a “no-go” area for both the PN and PL). But also remember that the economic model that Grech keeps moaning about is a model evolved courtesy of all Nationalist governments since the 1980s; a model that was enthusiastically espoused by all recent Labour administrations.

So, what about the PN and PL’s runaway kids? And what does this have to do with socialism, let alone Father Christmas’s premature generosity? Given the way Budgets have become another occasion for mutual bashing, where even terms like ‘socialism’ have become useless metaphors which are both badly mixed and equally distracting, I am not so sure that these kids, let alone the wee orphans, will find much motivation to come back “home”, wherever that happens to be.

Photo credit: Dima D

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