Lynne Edward interviews Natalie Strecker
I am a socialist and I’ve been political since I was a child. I am also an ex-member of the Labour Party. I joined the party in 2015 and, like many others, I celebrated an inspiring and openly socialist leader who articulated the hopes and opinions of many. For the first time in my life I felt vindicated and proud to be a socialist. However, this feeling didn’t last long, and over the past couple of years socialism has once again become a dirty word.
As a regular user of left-wing Twitter, I’ve found neoliberal rhetoric regularly dominates Labour Party discussions. But the worst thing for me has been the term socialism being devalued. People who are socialists espouse fairness and social justice but are regularly mocked, whilst others on the right call themselves socialist in an attempt to entice or steer others into supporting centrism.
I understand there are many versions of socialism, we’re not one homogenous group, we don’t all agree with one another. I therefore decided to go on a mission to find out what our differences and similarities are, what are our constants? Through a series of interviews I’m hoping to answer this question by talking to other ‘left wingers’ about their values, influences and beliefs.
Natalie Strecker is a coach and mentor in education. She was also a human rights monitor in Hebron, Palestine, a woman who stood up to bullying and belligerent Zionist settlers attempting to intimidate her and others crossing into the West Bank. She was the founder of the Jersey Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and is an environmental campaigner, Amnesty activist and an ex-Labour Party member who has been excluded from Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.
Coming from a working class family on the relatively affluent Channel Island of Jersey, Natalie became aware at a very young age of needless struggle and how unjust life can be. As a child her parents struggled to find work, life was difficult and she spent a number of years within the care system. She distinctly remembers the stigma of unemployment, standing in line with her step-father to beg support from the Parish (Jersey didn’t have a welfare system). Natalie struggled growing up in such an unfair society. She remembers vivid examples of spiteful cruelty, such as being shamed by her headteacher because her family couldn’t afford to buy a school photo. She feels such childhood experiences had a deep impact upon her self-worth.
Aged 14 Natalie was recommended for a place at the local grammar school. “When I went to the grammar, we were encouraged to debate, think about things. It was here I began to look at what was right, and what was fair. It was also around this time I became involved in Amnesty. I stopped standing up for the National Anthem when I was about 14 because I didn’t agree with the words. That debate got me thinking, I became keenly aware our society wasn’t working properly, people didn’t have equal opportunities.”
“It was then I guess that some teachers got me thinking about stuff. I was already a deep thinking and generally reflective child. Despite the dysfunction at home, my mum taught me about British colonialism and how the royals got their money, which I’m so grateful for, because those seeds sown early were very helpful. My mum’s values were also very much to treat others as you would like to be treated.”
“I was lucky getting into a grammar school because only a handful of working class kids did, most children were from middle class backgrounds. But, despite my education, I didn’t have too many choices after school. I had to leave home at 17 and, being from a working class background, there was no support, no option for me to go to university. This was a shame because I know I had the ability, I wanted to be a teacher, I thought then, this just isn’t right”.
We discussed what it means to be political and Natalie made the distinction between politics and simple issues of human rights.
“They talk about Palestine as being political, but to me it was, and still is, about human rights. I nominally supported the Green Party and green issues, but in terms of getting involved in a political party or political struggle I didn’t look at that again until Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader. Before this I had very little faith in politics, believing politicians were liars, who only did stuff in their own self-interest.” However, she found that “Jeremy’s background and policies lit a flame in me that there could be a political movement, on a parliamentary level, that could make real societal change. I don’t put people on pedestals though and acknowledge he made mistakes, but it was from this moment I realised politicians could actually work for ordinary people. So, I would say it was only at this point that I really began to think of myself as ‘political’ because prior to this I’d always thought of my views as just common sense really”.
When asked about her views on capitalism and socialism, Natalie laughed, saying, “Capitalism, I think means we’re all f*cked to be honest with you!” It’s an economic system that pits us against one another. I think it is a particularly unnatural system, despite what we are taught. Human society works best when we work collaboratively together, whereas capitalism forces us into a state of fight or flight, and fear. It’s a system that only serves 1% of the population, but ultimately for me capitalism means destruction. Destruction not just of our society and communities but the total undermining of our moral fabric”.
“Socialism means the opposite really. It’s about working for the benefit of all, collaborative social living. As Marx said, ‘It’s about workers owning the means of production’. Or in real terms it’s about everybody getting fed, everybody getting a home, everybody getting support and their basic needs fulfilled. Living a life of dignity, that’s what socialism means to me.”
Natalie doesn’t believe in being too dogmatic about defining yourself by ‘isms’, such as Marxism or even socialism: “In some ways I don’t know whether labels become their own barrier. For me it’s about values, not theories. I’m not saying they don’t have their place, they can be good, but I’ve seen different movements split and fight with each other, so it really put me off. I’ve read some Marx and Engels and to be honest found it quite boring! I feel socialism is really about instinct and a basic set of values, and how we implement those values into the modern world.”
We discussed what Natalie feels are the important current issues. She sighs and grins. “Where do I start? Most of us are just feeling bereft at the moment, I’m desperately trying to develop a dark sense of humour!”
For the past eight years, Natalie has repeated that the biggest threat to society is fascism. Initially, people at work teased her, calling her views ‘Apocalyptic Bingo’. Today, those same colleagues agree with her. “Historically”, she says, “there was the terrifying attempt at the annihilation of a people, and today certain groups are still threatened. But we mustn’t forget that the left has always been on the top of that fascist threat list. The reason? Because the left is more likely to resist fascism and the targeting of vulnerable groups or those deemed undesirable. Capitalism is failing, that’s why we’re seeing a rise in fascism, it’s that and ecological breakdown that keep me up at night”.
One of the other things which concerns Natalie “is this current inability to see things on a spectrum. Subjects such as Brexit, Ukraine, Trans rights have a polarising effect, whereby we are constantly forced into this binary position of ‘you must think this or that’ as if there are only two possible positions. We’re much more complex than this as human beings, and this narrow view can become quite dangerous. We need to be smarter and stop falling for the divide and conquer routine. Someone can hold a different opinion and that’s okay, but what is not okay is deliberately targeting people for their views. There is a lot we can agree on and work together on but some strident attitudes on the left have really put me off. I’ve been quiet lately about certain subjects (and that isn’t like me) because I feel I’m being forced into one camp or another. We really need to act with more humility, be kinder and more emotionally intelligent. If we don’t get our sh*t together we will all fail. I’ve just completed mediation training where we learnt to find the common interests, because labelling, screaming and people shaming does not change a thing.”
However, Natalie also outlines her vision for a fairer future where we can all find a way to live together respectfully and peacefully. “My actual hope is a move towards a more decentralised socialism within a more resource based economy”.
So, what are values? Are they adopted, learned, formed from experiences or environment?
There are several strands I can tease out from Natalie’s life that show her values, influences and beliefs. Most of Natalie’s values come from her early life. Experiencing a less than perfect start in life, Natalie’s intelligence, strength, resilience and caring nature show through, leading to a strong sense of right and wrong. Brave and ideological before she even knew she was political, Natalie was never afraid to ask questions or speak her mind. She is a very spiritual person, and her faith is important to her. She acknowledges that political philosophy can be an important influence, although she finds political dogma can be quite tedious preferring to be guided by her own internal beliefs, her values.