Many of you will remember the Portuguese socialist Ana Gomes. Joseph Muscat certainly does.
Once he spoke at a conference of European socialist leaders. Given the high turnover of short-lived European socialist leaders frozen outside the government of their countries, youthful Muscat had by then become a veteran of these conferences.
On stage he went on about how great his working formula had been.
He spoke about his example of transforming a socialist party into an agent of business leaders, to govern according to their requirements and he sold this as the example for socialist parties everywhere to emulate.
There was Muscat, speaking at a Socialist International, fancying himself a philosophical milestone in the history of the workers’ movement. In the evolutionary chart of primeval apes growing ever taller, de Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, Proudhon, Bakunin and Herzen gradually straightened their backs until Iosephus Adephagos Muscatensis stood as the final iteration of the perfect socialist.
Gomes blew raspberries from the back of the room. She was one other woman who saw through Muscat’s gaslighting, the delusions of grandeur, the dishonest flirtations, the irrepressible greed.
I remember speaking to her one time when we discussed Muscat’s ambition to take on some strategic job at the European level. “It will never happen,” she told me. Socialists would lobby for one of their own to take a big job but, whatever he might think, Muscat is not a socialist. “No socialist would privatise public healthcare,” she told me.
I remembered that remark when I read a recent Facebook post by the Labour mayor of Gżira. He said the decision of the Lands Authority to take away a garden from the public to give the land to a petrol station owner was “anti-socialist”.
It’s the opposite of Robin Hood politics. It’s robbing the poor – and let’s face it, the people of Gżira are impoverished of halfway decent open space – to give to the rich. I don’t want to reduce a petrol station owner to some Comte de Frou Frou with a poodle on his arm but I think you can still follow the drift.
Mayor Conrad Borg Manché was venting at the president of the Labour Party whose one of many iced buns is the brief to represent the Lands Authority as their lawyer. Ramona Attard, and the Lands Authority within an allegedly socialist government, was privatising public land in the interest of an owner against the interest of the public. That’s why he called it anti-socialist.
Socialism and the socialist tradition do not have the monopoly of concern for the public good. The notion of public space and collective interest is older than monarchies, let alone socialism. But I’m not going into a debate here about the nuances of political history.
The point I want to make is the point former Labour Party ideologue Desmond Zammit Marmarà made on this newspaper a few days ago. That the Labour Party is not an agent of public, collective interests but an agent of private interests.
It is not merely ‘friendly’ with the wealthy and ‘open’ to business as Muscat had claimed in his seductive pre-2013 rhetoric. It acts as if it was a lobby on the brief of those who can afford to pay most for it.
These people wanted no longer to be paid to work as sgarristi in this national heist- Manuel Delia
It is reductive to say this is a betrayal of the socialist tradition. It is a betrayal of the democratic tradition, even the tradition of statehood per se. The state exists to ensure there is an entity that is more than the bully with the greatest resources in the country. The state replaces anarchy which justifies the subjection of the less mighty to the will of the strongest.
We go through the bother of having a government so that they can protect the weaker from the greed of the stronger. If government works for the stronger to push away or exploit the weaker, then it’s not just that we don’t have socialism, we don’t have a government worthy of that name.
The classic zero-sum game of analysing Maltese politics is to dismiss Zammit Marmarà, and Borg Manché and others as the inevitable cracks that emerge when a party is in its third term in government.
It’s also inevitable because while Muscat was a flirt, Robert Abela is as awkward as the butler of the Adams family.
But these rebels are not petulant people who feel the shudder of being less utilised in government than they feel they deserve to be. In other words, they’re not the Labour equivalent of Jesmond Mugliett, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Robert Musumeci and other boulders who fell off the cliff that was the PN of 15 years ago.
Labour leaves nobody out. If all Zammit Marmarà or Borg Manché, or all the rest of the dissidents, wanted was yet another iced bun, an iced bun would be found or even cooked fresh for them. These people wanted no longer to be paid to work as sgarristi in this national heist.
Their dissidence is principled. For them, the epithet ‘socialist’ means all that is good and fair in the world. Switch that word with ‘Christian’ or ‘patriotic’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ and in their use of the term ‘socialist’ you will find the motivation of anyone who is in public life for the right reason.
The right reason is not to cash the proceeds of rolling over the barrel to invite the nation’s sodomisation at the behest of the mightiest. The right reason is to make sure even the poorest have a bench by the sea, a hospital bed, a decent share of the wealth that would not exist, even in the pockets of the wealthiest, but for their labour.
I don’t care much for labels. But I do care for a state that is on the side of the weak, that prioritises the collective interests over the insatiable aspirations of the one per cent and if what it takes to force a change in the governing culture of this country is to sit next to socialists of all political creeds, it shouldn’t be too high a price to ask.
It’s time to get this done.