As the year draws to a close, we take a look back at some of A World to Win’s highlights in 2020.
In August this year, I launched a podcast with Tribune called A World to Win, the aim of which was to bring together socialists from around the world to discuss common challenges and learn from each others’ successes and failures. We were privileged to receive a grant from the Lipman-Miliband Trust to get the podcast started, and so far we’ve recorded 18 episodes, which have collectively received 350,000 downloads.
In those 18 interviews, we’ve discussed socialist politics with writers, campaigners and politicians from 11 countries – from Brazil, to the Philippines, to Nigeria. While it is very hard to whittle down these incredible conversations to five stand-out episodes, I’ve done my best to pick my favourite conversations from over the last few months so that those of you who have yet to subscribe to the podcast can start with some of the best and most interesting of our discussions.
1. “Proudly Socialist”: A Conversation with Jeremy Corbyn
The first episode of A World to Win made headlines across the UK and catapulted the show to the top of the iTunes charts within a few days of its release. In episode 1, I interviewed former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, at his constituency office in Islington. Like all of our conversations, it was a long-form interview covering several decades of Corbyn’s career – from his early influences, to his first years in Parliament, through to the rise and fall of the movement that came to be known as Corbynism.
The feedback I received – from a wide variety of people, many of whom had not been particularly involved in the Corbyn project – was that it was fascinating and incredibly refreshing to hear an interview with Corbyn in which he had the chance to express himself honestly and authentically, without being cut off or asked about the latest Westminster gossip.
My favourite parts of the interview were the moments he spoke about his early career, reflecting on his relationships with figures like Tony Benn and Michael Foot. He recounted a story that has stuck with me ever since – and which I remember whenever I hear Labour MPs talking about the ‘national interest’.
Just after Corbyn was elected, he was having tea with Joan Maynard, former MP for Sheffield Brightside, and Harry Cohen, former MP for Leyton. Joan sat the two of them down and said:
“If both front benches are agreed, it’s probably bad news for the workers. And if a minister ever gets up and says ‘we’re going to have to take some tough choices and some tough decisions,’ it’s a disaster for the working class. Just bear that in mind and you’ll not go far wrong.”
2. Liberation and Domination: An Interview with Cornel West
Interviewing Cornel West for episode 7 was a true privilege. Not only is Dr. West an incredibly warm man and a powerful activist, he is also a brilliant thinker with a keen eye for the ways in which power is exercised in modern capitalist societies. We discussed the recent Black Lives Matter protests that had been taking place in the US, the forthcoming Presidential elections, and why the left needed to be prepared to fight against the ‘neoliberal rule’ that would be coming under President Biden.
My favourite part of this interview was our discussion about the ongoing relevance of socialism to Christianity – and vice versa. I put to him my own view that it is difficult to achieve real social transformation without a concomitant spiritual transformation, to which he replied:
“One of the ways in which capitalism reproduces itself is the commodification of everybody and everything — to create those hollow men that T. S. Eliot was talking about. So they don’t have access to these nonmarket values, like deep love, deep justice, a deep solidarity, service to others, taking a risk in being of service to others, being with, not over and above, but alongside others.”
3. Housing Is a Human Right: A Discussion with Raquel Rolnik
As someone who has written extensively about both financialisation and housing policy, I was also very excited to interview the brilliant Raquel Rolnik: a Brazilian sociologist who served under Lula before being appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. In 2014, Rolnik’s UN job took her to the UK, where she showed the deep links between the UK’s housing market and its oversize finance sector – and that the financialisation of housing was a central cause of the government’s failure to uphold the human right to adequate housing.
In the interview, we discussed many of the issues raised in Rolnik’s brilliant book Urban Warfare – from the importance of social housing, to the right to the city, to the role played by international organisations in pushing a neoliberal approach to housing provision that has often led to human rights breeches. Perhaps most importantly, we also discussed the critical importance of building a global tenants’ movement – especially in the midst of a pandemic which has seen evictions soar.
4. #EndSARS: An interview with Sa’eed Husaini
Another revealing conversation was my recent interview with Sa’eed Husaini, a brilliant Nigerian academic, and a friend of mine from my African Studies masters. Sa’eed has written extensively about the social, political and economic significance of the recent EndSARS protests, detailing the importance of class and generational dynamics in the emergence of the movement, as well as placing the protests in the context of the longer history of the Nigerian left.
My interview with Sa’eed was one of the conversations in which I learnt the most. As well as talking extensively about End SARS, we discussed the long tradition of socialism within Nigeria – something that I knew very little about. Nigeria is often characterised as a free-market success story, but as the recent protests have shown, the truth is much more complex – and the pandemic is revealing the pre-existing scars that exist within the nation, left by decades of imperialism, mounting inequality and corruption.
5. Remembering David Graeber: with Astra Taylor, Jerome Roos and James Schneider
Finally, the most meaningful episode for me was the show I recorded in memory of my good friend, the brilliant academic and activist, David Graeber. I spoke to three people who had been deeply influenced by David’s friendship, his academic work and his activism: James Schneider, Jerome Roos and Astra Taylor.
Alongside reminiscing about David’s life and the impact he had had on each of us, we also discussed the ongoing relevance of his work today. As politicians scramble to explain why it is possible to create billions of pounds worth of new money and channel large chunks of it to private corporations while leaving some of the poorest children in our society without enough food to eat, the arguments David tore to pieces in Debt are being rehashed once again. Socialists would do well to learn from the clear and concise ways in which David dismantled these claims, and fought for a world based on the principles of care and mutual aid.
The pandemic has also exposed the inequality between those doing well-paid but ultimately meaningless work and those in critical sectors like healthcare, retail and hospitality and logistics. Most of the former have been able safely to work from home, with full pay and sick leave, while the latter have had no choice other than to put their health on the line to continue working for low wages in terrible conditions to keep the economy going. Bullshit Jobs is a critical popular account of why these inequalities have emerged and, combined with his more recent writing on ‘the revolt of the caring classes’, why we need to fight for a Green New Deal and a Four Day Week.
Little did I know that just a few months after David’s passing, I would be mourning the loss of another friend and intellectual hero, Leo Panitch. Leo was a truly brilliant thinker, as well as a master of real-world political strategy, who mentored young socialists all over the world. As a writer, his work has had a huge influence on me; as a mentor, he helped to steer me down the path I find myself on today. Many others in our movement would say the same. In the New Year, we’ll be recording an episode of the show in Leo’s memory.
Until then, thank you all for listening and supporting A World to Win in 2020. We are delighted to have had such a fascinating first few months, and we couldn’t have done it without you. As well as the Lipman-Miliband Trust, I want to thank our producer Conor Gillies and Tribune‘s Kevin Zweerink for all their work along the way. Remember, to keep growing we need your help – and the best way to provide this is to support us on Patreon.
From all of our team, we wish you a socialist New Year. Let’s make it a revolutionary one for left-wing movements across the world.