The Malta Independent 17 September 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Politics - The return of the term ‘socialism’

Friday, 17 May 2019, 09:43 Last update: about 5 months ago

Socialism is a term that is cropping up quite often these days in the Nationalist Party’s vocabulary.

There was a time, most particularly in the 1980s, when the word socialism was used in a most disparaging way by the PN. They were the years when, in Malta, the Labour Party was in government without having obtained the majority of votes, and the country was experiencing socialism in its worst forms, edging towards totalitarianism before it was pulled back from the brink by the 1987 vote. 

In that decade, the Nationalist Party’s use of the term socialism came to be associated with anything that is corrupt and undemocratic, and it instilled fear in that part of the population that was fighting to restore freedom and justice, two of the three main pillars – along with employment – on which the PN built its political campaign.

Soon after the Nationalist Party was returned to government in 1987, we saw extreme socialism, known more as communism, crumble in Europe. For some time, the Nationalist Party continued to use “socialism” as a reminder of the difficult years experienced between 1981 and 1987, but the term gradually lost its place in the political jargon, even because of the evolution experienced by both major parties in Malta as well as the developments in Europe.

But now, in these past few weeks, it has made a comeback. Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia loses no chance to describe the Labour Party as being socialist, and it is clear that PN exponents – at least those on Delia’s side – have taken the cue.

There is however a big difference between the Malta we are living today and the Malta of the 1980s. For one thing, it cannot really be said that today’s Labour Party is anywhere close to being socialist. With its close connections to business and construction magnates, and the way its policies are more inclined to please people with money rather than the working class and the poorer part of society, today’s Labour Party cannot be described as socialist.

The last remaining real socialist in the Labour Party is Alfred Sant, but he is no longer leader and his influence on the running of the party and government is marginal, not to say non-existent.

On the other hand, Delia’s turns of phrase and the messages he delivers are closer to socialist ideals than Labour’s. His defence of the poor, his focus on the common worker and pensioners, as well as his efforts to afford more protection of the needy is more “socialist” than Joseph Muscat has ever been, at least in his time as Prime Minister.

It is therefore likely that the PN is regularly using the term “socialist” again not in relation to the government’s policies, but simply to bring back the bad memories of what socialism used to mean in the 1980s.

The problem, for the PN, is that its strategy is not having much of an effect.

People who remember the 1980s can see the differences between the Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici years and what we are living today. The fear of the 1980s socialism is no longer there.

And the younger generations do not really give two hoots about whether Labour is described as being socialist or not.

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