Michael Shannon as Rick Carver in 99 Homes.
Another year. What have been the highlights for the left? We accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative as we look back, entirely arbitrarily, at some notable left highlights in 2015.

Catarina Martins of Left Bloc.
While it went largely unremarked on in the mainstream media, a left wing coalition of the Socialist Party, Communist Party, the Greens and Left Bloc swept into power in Portugal.

The centre-left Socialist Party has agreed to polices that will increase wages and benefit levels, stop privatisation programs and protect the welfare state. Left Bloc's Catarina Martins says the policies 'will stop the poverty process' but will not fundamentally change the economy in the way that Left Bloc would like.

So while the Socialist Party will have the support of Left Bloc in parliament, Left Bloc won't be part the government because the policies, says Catarina, 'don't provide the transformation that we stand for.' She says Left Bloc will '...keep on making projects and initiatives about what we believe it is important to do in Portugal.'

In the male-dominated world of Portuguese politics, Left Bloc is the exception - its leadership is entirely female, with leader Catarina Martins, deputies Joanna Mortagau and her sister Mariana and Euro-deputy and presidential candidate Marisa Matias.

Catarina Martins has often found herself dealing with a media more concerned with her personal appearance than her socialist politics. Some journalists have claimed she has adopted a 'more feminine look' and started 'dying her hair'.

Says Catarina: 'I started dying my hair some years ago when I realised the grey hair made me look tired. With my clothes - I try to assume they're not newsworthy. But everyone's talking about that instead of discussing that the political centre in Portugal no longer exists."

Here's a novelty - a Labour Party elects a left wing leader. And he knows the words to 'The Red Flag'! 

In September Jeremy Corbyn was elected the leader of the UK labour Party with a mandate that was far larger than what Tony Blair managed in 1994. Corbyn secured nearly 60 per of the vote, with his nearest rival, Andy Burnham trailing far behind with just 19 percent. Corbyn's victory was decisive and a major blow for the acolytes of Tony Blair.

Corbyn's victory has not only revived Labour as a progressive force but has been a boost for the British left generally. For the first time in several decades, a politician with unequivocal left-wing ideals is appearing on the television news - and people are talking about the ideas and policies he espouses.

Having already demonstrated that a socialist can get elected to office, Socialist Alternative's Kshama Sawant was re-elected for a second term as a Seattle councillor. She comfortably defeated her main rival, the Democrat's corporate-backed Pamela Banks.

For Kshama, Seattle's decision to re-elect her is vindication of her long held belief that socialist politics can work in America.

“We should be doing this in every city,” she told Al Jazeera. “The labour movement should be running its own independent working-class candidates in every city... Our analysis has always been that the Democratic Party has proven itself incapable as a vehicle for a real alternative to Wall Street-dominated politics,”

99 Homes is a terrific, if disturbing, movie that probes the darkness that lies at the heart of American capitalism in a way few American films have dared. Set against the backdrop of America's housing crisis, 99 Homes reminds us that the crisis of capitalism , too often told in sterile statistics and pie charts, is a real human tragedy. And in Rick Carver (a powerful performance by Michael Shannon) we have one real nasty individual - but someone who has been created by a rapacious capitalist system that chews up people and spits them out.

While researching the character of Rick Carver, Shannon visited a young couple's abandoned, foreclosed home in Florida. "On the floor there was a photo album. It was pictures of their wedding," says Shannon. "It was one of the saddest things I've seen in my life. I couldn't stay in there five minutes."

Many on the American left feel that Bernie Sanders should be standing as an independent presidential candidate - like Ralph Nader once did - rather than sticking with the Democrats. And often attached to this view is the criticism that Sanders 'socialism' is just keynesianism with a little bit extra tossed in, that seeks to reform capitalism rather than overthrow it.

Which is true. But Sanders has never pretended to be anything else and in these troubling days a left social democrat is a definite improvement on yet another 'social democrat' machine politician trying to justify their support for neoliberalism and the free market.

Sanders has widened the debate beyond the corporate aligned politics of the Democrats and Republicans and suggests that there are alternatives to the 'free market'.' And how could we not support that? As commentator William Kaufman has observed 'the Sanders upsurge is an invaluable tool for the mass dissemination of left themes and solutions right now.' Writes Kaufman:

"Whatever the outcome of Sanders’ campaign, the sheer scope of the audience for his progressive checklist, his slashing denunciations of the economic and political tyranny of the billionaire class, are green shoots in an otherwise barren political landscape—and who knows how they might flourish in the future?"

One thing is for certain - we could certainly do with a Bernie Sanders in New Zealand right now.

As it has became more apparent that capitalism is unable to come up with any credible answers to the growing threat of environmental destruction, more and more people are turning to ecosocialism for solutions.

In her  book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate, Naomi Klein observes that 'the right is right” in viewing climate change as a threat to capitalism.

She notes that while we are quick to criticise and lampoon the climate change deniers, the much more serious and fundamental problem we are confronted with is the stubbornness of the dominant liberal discourse, which, while giving lip service to the science, refuses to face reality and recognize that capitalism must go.

The failure of mainstream green parties (like our own green party) to oppose capitalism has contributed to an upsurge in support  for the ecossocialist movement, particularly among the young. We are confronted with a stark choice - system change or climate change. Or as Rosa Luxemburg might have said - socialism or barbarism.

Speaking of Rosa Luxemburg, 2015 saw the publication of a graphic interpretation of the life and ideas of the great socialist revolutionary. With Red Rosa, author Kate Evans provides what is an accessible and informative introduction to one of the giants of the socialist movement.

Writes Kate Evans about Rosa: "She is so cool. Born in 1871, murdered in 1919, liberated, incredibly intelligent, fiery, artistic, a passionate exponent of scientific socialism and an uncompromising critic of capitalism and opponent of militarism – Rosa Luxemburg rocked. And she was gorgeous."

While New Zealand's television news and current affairs output continues to dwindle, and what remains is decidedly ho-hum, some broadcasters are doing just fine thanks very much. 

RT (Sky 92) continues to provide progressive shows like Thom Hartmann's The Big Picture, while Watching The Hawks has proved to be a sturdy replacement for Abby Martins Breaking The Set.

Watching the Hawks: Tabetha Wallace, Tyrel Ventura and Sean Stone
Abby Martin herself has moved on to teleSUR TV, the Venezuelan terrestrial and satellite network . Abby is producing a half hour current affairs show called The Empire Files which is also available on YouTube. Also on teleSUR is Tariq Ali's new weekly show ,The World Today,another show worth watching and available on YouTube.

There is some decent stuff around but none of New Zealand's television broadcasters are making it...


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