Recently I interviewed Breakthrough Party founder and leader Alex Mays to discuss his perspectives on socialism. Founded just two years ago, the party now boasts 2,400 members and supporters.
Although Alex is today an honorary Mancunian, he was raised in a working-class port town on the southeast coast, in an apolitical family. “I wasn’t taken along to protests as a kid, nor did I have family members involved in trade unions or anything like that,” he says. “I was raised primarily by my Mum, and she always taught me to be kind to people and show empathy and compassion. These are the values I hold close. So, although my upbringing was apolitical, my family values, personal philosophy and experiences have informed my political views and actions.”
Alex remembers his younger life as being, “extremely tough times and it really opened my eyes to the challenges so many people face on a daily basis.” After finishing university, he worked as a chef, before becoming a journalist, film maker, and producer. Alex helped create documentaries about mental health, crime and addiction. But listening to accounts of lives ripped apart by abuse, tragedy, or illness, he found the root cause of these problems was always poverty. “That was when the penny eventually dropped for me, that’s when my political views crystallised.”
Alex’s new role in journalism also coincided with the EU referendum and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election. Alex grinned: “I realise it’s probably a very predictable tale, but I was inspired by Jeremy, specifically during the 2017 election.” Covering the election campaign as a journalist, Alex quickly realised Corbyn was a very different politician: “He didn’t use any of the customary ‘politico speak’, or the usual robotic speeches, read off using tired sound bites. It was so refreshing listening to someone who really stood for something. It felt like there was a genuine buzz, a new excitement about politics, personified by the huge crowds drawn to hear him speak. I think it gave me, and others, a real blueprint for change. People had been devoid of hope for so long, but he renewed that hope. Corbyn also did much better than was expected, and his presence of course was a huge middle finger to the establishment who had seriously underestimated him.”
Alex believes views on socialism are shaped by an individual’s knowledge as well as personal experience: “I don’t think there is one single definition of what socialism is, everyone has their own version, but mine is pretty simple. I personally see socialism as total system change. The goal is to ditch capitalism in favour of transferring wealth and power from an elite to the working class. I’m a socialist and have read up on political philosophy, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a theoretical socialist.” Alex thinks philosophy is a useful tool but believes using theory on those with no prior knowledge risks excluding or losing people. “Speaking on doorsteps to ordinary people I’m not going to whip out a copy of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ and start discussing that. Most people wouldn’t necessarily understand and they’re unprepared.
“There’s a lot of political education to be done. However, most people do want a better life, a happier and healthier life. They need more money in their pocket, they want public services to work, the nationalisation of key industries, the ability to access free health care. They want higher minimum wages, better working conditions and rights, and a green new deal. I believe a majority already has socialist beliefs, they just don’t define it as such. So, in a way, keeping it simple means you’re actually creating a ‘gateway’ to socialism.”
And this means taking back the lexicon of socialism. “Just look at the word socialism,” he says, “how it’s used as a dirty word, just like many others, like woke, ANTIFA and eco-terrorism. All are phrases that have lost their true meaning and have been bastardised by the media… so, we really do have a challenge in terms of educating people and reclaiming our terminology.”
Alex feels all our current domestic problems are symptoms of a failing capitalist system. “The cost-of-living crisis, workers’ rights, NHS and other public services. We have rising energy costs, housing and food costs, millions of people not able to eat or heat their homes or are living on the street. A lack of health care funding and the strain of Covid means people dying in ambulances outside hospitals or in corridors waiting for a bed. There’s a record number of people on lists for vital treatment and a shortage of overworked hospital staff who are on the verge of collapse.
“You’ve got private profiteers dominating our public services and posting record profits, water companies dumping shit in our rivers and seas, rail companies charging the highest fares in Europe, workers offered pay cuts and under attack like never before. As a result, we are experiencing the largest scale industrial action for decades. People are saying, “Enough is enough”. But the Tories push back with the most draconian anti-strike legislation, a law that the TUC has said is illegal. Things have really got to change, and that’s what we in the Breakthrough Party want to initiate.”
Alex worries about the future, about the escalation of disaster capitalism and the climate emergency. “It kind of feels like the establishment now knows ‘the game is up’, and people are waking up to how damaging this system is. As a result I feel that the super-rich are taking the piss out of us, to a whole new level. As the wealth of the rich has skyrocketed, the collective prosperity of ordinary people has just dropped off a cliff. The ultra-wealthy are trying to squeeze out every last drop of profit, before it all goes up in flames. Thanks to toxic capitalism our children and grandchildren are facing a bleak uncertain future and we have no global leadership. We’ve already exceeded global temperature limits and COP summits are not delivering any radical solutions.”
Whilst political leaders are failing, Alex believes it is the young who will ultimately give us hope: “For Millennials like myself (I’m 32) neoliberalism has provided nothing but economic insecurity. We have been pushed into an exploitative rental sector, home ownership is unaffordable, and social housing has been sold off. We have to use a third of our salaries to pay off our landlords’ mortgages, hitting pay-packets harder than taxes.”
Alex quotes the TUC who have called the current crisis, “the worst in two hundred years“. He feels young people, “are the ones picking up the tab after the financial crash.” But, citing an Institute for Economic Affairs report he says that the Tories can no longer rely on people getting less radical as they get older. “Unlike other generations, today’s young aren’t getting more right-wing as we get older, we are actually getting progressively more left-wing. I read a survey by a right wing think tank that found two thirds of millennials wanted to ditch capitalism for a socialist system, and, to top it all, Generation Z looks to be even more radical… How amazing is that?”
From an apolitical background to founding a political party, Alex is, in my view, a remarkable and inspirational young man. Such an accomplishment also implies a strong, brave, and motivated character. He is using the Breakthrough Party, which is part of the People’s Alliance of the Left, to reclaim the language of the left and de-mystify politics by creating a gateway to socialism. Indeed, he wants the Breakthrough Party to act as conduit, to inform communities and give people access to a currently non-existent political education. What ultimately fills Alex with hope and confidence for the future, however, is this thought: “If establishment parties and politicians don’t wake up and move their politics and policies further left, they won’t survive…because younger people will not vote for them!”