Steve Topple – “I think we are more than capable of changing collectively, I think the problem is the system won’t let us”

One of the things that I hear quite often is that we’re in need of a revolution. Journalist Steve Topple doesn’t think we’re capable of sparking a revolution and, even if we succeeded, most of us are too soft and we couldn’t survive the madness that comes along with revolution. I often think that those advocating for revolution have no idea what that’s going to be like; when everything breaks down you’re usually left with chaos, death, and violence. When you talk about tearing down the system, you have to know that madness is going to come next. You have to start again from scratch and that’s that leads to a lot of destruction, a lot of poverty, and a lot of just unfortunate things

So are we too far gone? Is there is there hope? To me, we aren’t on a long arc of history of everything getting constantly better. What we’re in is we’re just in a constant fight for making things a little bit better and when we forget that, when when we resign ourselves to thinking “this is as good as it’s gonna get” we start to lose that sense that we have to continue to fight to make the system better. We’ve achieved some amazing things over the past 200 years, massive reductions in poverty, war, violence, malnutrition, childhood mortality, but that does not mean we are done. We’ve allowed our system to become bastardised and corrupted by an increasingly wealthy and powerful group of people – so my question to Steve was how can we achieve a revolution and whether we are capable of producing something better than our current system!

“There’s a good example in 1930s Spain; Catalonia communists took over a region effectively and it was working really well until the British and the Spanish fascists got involved and booted them out because it was working too well. So you’re correct there are small pockets throughout history where things like this have happened. Do you think that we’re capable of that? Is that something we can get to? My head tells me no and my heart tells me “I’d like to think so”.

There was a very interesting project that Naomi Klein was involved in a few years ago though… A load of the more progressive thinkers of the world lock themselves in the room for about three days to try and thrash out exactly what to do about the mess we’re in. The basic principles that came out were ones that I do agree with; if we are going to change it so it’s probably going to happen is that you start with communities, you take it right back to basics, ignore the macro issues, both economically and socially, and take it back to basics and start with change within small communities around the globe. And then it’s almost like a principle of how Marx outlined socialism, as sort of a stepping stone to communism, almost that you plant a seed and it kind of spreads.

I thought there was some merit in that because the problem is we’re not lacking capacity as humans, that’s not what I think. I think we are more than capable of changing collectively, I think the problem is the system won’t let us and therefore by default everyone is so caught up in the system that it’s impossible to almost break the shackles of it. To break the shackles of it you have to just stop and say no to everything; literally everything has to be said no to. For example, on the most basic level today well I would have walked here because i would have refused to get an Uber, I’m not going to go back home and grab something for dinner from Tesco’s because they’re a multi-million pound company who cooks their books year-in, year-out, do you know what i mean? Everything is infected by the system in our lives now and I think we have the capacity and I think that if it was going to happen, putting my optimistic head on, it would have to start in small communities.

We have to change the way we operate and look to rebuilding from the bottom up and starting any kind of movement on a community level because we do have the capacity to understand, most people do understand and this is the thing, this is the frustration I suppose. Most people most people know everything’s fucked, people aren’t stupid. Me and my girlfriend come from one of the poorest council of states in England… Our estate is in the top four percent for pensioners poverty, top five percent for child poverty, and top 10 for overall poverty out of 32 000 areas. It’s really really poor, but everyone in our estate is really clued up in one more shape or form, they know what’s going on, they know the system doesn’t work for them. It’s divided across political lines; there’s a lot of right-wing kind of thinking people on the estate and there’s a lot of left-wing thinking people on the estate, there’s a lot of conspiracy theorists on our state and there’s some people who don’t care…

It’s people’s capacity when trying to maintain your just life from day to day that is the restriction and that’s why i said about time poverty earlier – it’s a huge factor that’s overlooked. There was a brilliant report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2007 which looked into the notion of time poverty and what it was and how it actually affects people. And they concluded that actually one of the biggest things that was holding us in this country back was the perfect storm of time poverty and financial poverty – that people do not have the time to elevate themselves out of financial poverty therefore they’re constantly stuck in both… it’s this constant cycle. These ideas were never expanded upon, you don’t have time poverty studied anymore and I think there’s a trick being missed there… It’s not that people don’t have the thought and don’t understand how bad things are.

You get so consumed by just living that any chance to even consider how you would like it changed, let alone doing something to change it, goes out the window because you cannot survive and it’s reflected in the most basic things like voter turnout. There was this whole big hoo-ha about how Corbyn mobilized the working classes and I find working-class term irrelevant these days by the way, class structure is not what it used to be, social economic status or social grade is a far better measure of that. So there’s big hoo-ha about the working classes mobilizing voting for Corbyn. No they fucking didn’t. If you look at the electoral data, the turnout of what are known as social grades D and E – which is people in manual low-skill jobs or who rely on social security – turnout hit its lowest in 2019 ever 53% of DE social grade people voted that was it, that’s over 6 million people, the poorest people by the way in the country who did not vote.”

It’s a problem I’ve been wrestling with for a while – how do you encourage people to buy into a system that is destroying their lives. The breakdown of trust in institutions is a large part of why folks don’t vote – that and the fact that nothing ever seems to change.

“It’s the fact that whoever you tick the box for, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to my circumstance. It will not take away the fact that I am tied to the DWP constantly for money, it will not take away the fact that health care in this country is atrocious, it will not take away the fact that I have to work god all hours to be able to put a big amount of food on the table, it will not change x, y, and z state of my social housing… That’s why Brexit was such a turnout because there was a glimmer of something different for a period of time. Whether or not Brexit was right or wrong really doesn’t matter, it was an opportunity for people to actually say something and it might change something general. Elections don’t do that and moreover, when you drill deeper into the data, the turn away of the poorest people from the labour party has been happening since 2005… that continued in 2010 and 2015 it continued to gain meanwhile DEs which are the poorest people, their turn away started in 2010, in 2015 it completely evaporated from both Labour and the Tories as we know because um the vote went to UKIP. In 2017 the poorest people swung back to Labour and the Tories, but if you look at the swing the swing back to the Tories was 12 percent, Labour only picked up I think it was 7 percent of those voters so already, and this was Corbyn’s golden year 2017 where he nearly he trounced them, he didn’t in terms of the working class.

More of the poorest people voted Tory in that election from previously voting UKIP. Corbyn still got more votes in the DEs, but the swing was to the Tories and then in 2019 it was game over and more of the DEs voted Tory than they did Labour… To come back to the point I was trying to make, it’s not that we don’t have the capacity for change, our lives are just such that we’re too caught up in day-to-day drama and having to survive under the system that we don’t have the capacity to be able to do anything about it and live. At the same time, our political institutions are broken, corporations dominate every aspect of our lives, and this pincer movement of a defunct broken democratic system, coupled with an all-powerful corporatist system has ensnared most of us now and it’s almost impossible to get out of.”