Wednesday, January 22, 2014

European social democracy and neoliberalsim

This is a decent discussion from The Real News on European social democracy and neoliberalism, Syriza Succeeds in Greece by Challenging European Left's Approach to Reform 01/24/2014. The title focuses on Greece, but it's also relevant to Social Democratic parties in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other European countries that have also embraced neoliberalism and austerity economics during a depression.

It's an interview with Leo Panitch, who also discusses the topic in Europe's left has seen how capitalism can bite back The Guardian 01/12/2014. There he points out "reform" in the contemporary neoliberal terminology means removing worker-friendly reforms of the past:

For most of the 20th century, the word "reform" was commonly associated with securing state protections against the chaotic effects of capitalist market competition. Today, it is most commonly used to refer to the undoing of those protections.

This is not merely a matter of the appropriation of the term by those in the EU and international lending agencies who are using it as code for demands that Greece, for instance, make further cuts in public sector jobs and services. It is also the way the word has become increasingly used by the parties of the centre left. Thus, the newly elected leader of Italy's Democratic party (the successor to what was western Europe's largest communist party), Matteo Renzi, has called for the government to be even more determined in implementing its economic reform package. The package involves reducing public expenditure and changing regulations to make labour markets more flexible and attract foreign investment. [my emphasis]
Panitch's description of the Italian Democratic Party (PD) is incomplete. It was formed from the merger of the old Italian Communist Party (PCE) and the Italian Christian Democratic Party. But Renzi did come from the former PCE.

Panitch writes of SYRIZA:

Syriza in Greece is the one left party that has achieved great electoral success in the European crisis by rejecting the way reform has come to be redefined. A central plank in its political programme, moreover, involves bringing "the banking system under public ownership and control, through the radical conversion of its functioning … ". Indeed, what makes European elites most uncomfortable with Greece taking its allotted turn in occupying the EU presidency for the next six months is that a new political crisis leading to a general election might, with Syriza currently leading in the polls, make its leader, Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece.

What was especially impressive about the political programme of "radical reform" that Syriza passed at its congress last July was that it concluded with these words: "The state we are in today calls for something more than a complete programme formed democratically and collectively. It calls for the creation and expression of the widest possible, militant and catalytic political movement … Only such a movement can lead a government of the left, and only such movement can safeguard the course of such a government."
It would be a reach to generalize easily from Greek politics to other eurozone countries. It will be particularly interesting to me to see whether the Left Party in Germany can use the next four years to achieve a qualitative boost in their support. The current situation in which the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) has agreed to become a junior partner to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in a Grand Coalition (GroKo) and support her massively destructive austerity policies should be a golden opportunity for the Left Party, and the Greens, too.

I'm also cautious about the parallel Panitch raises in the video to the split between the Social Democrats and the Communists at the end of the First World War. As much as the German SPD seems to be embracing their inner Gustav Noske, that 1917-9 parallel is too superficial to tell us much of anything in the current situation.

The Greens in Germany and Austria are usually considered to the right of the SPD, although I'm not sure that's true in Germany any more. The Greens there irresponsibly supported Merkel's ruinous austerity policies in Parliament. But in the 2013 elections, they did offer a Keynesian criticism of those policies. We can't count the Greens out as possible major players in a left renewal in the EU over the next few years.

And there also Social Democrats who reject neoliberalism, like Beatriz Talegón of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the head of the International Union of Socialist Youth, the official youth organization of the Socialist International, the social-democratic umbrella organization. (See Beatriz Talegón: "Hay mucha gente buena dentro del PSOE que se está marchando" 20minutos 11.02.2013) her 2013 book No nos avergoncéis is a manifesto against neoliberalism, including its "left" variant.

The video also cites Eduardo Porter's Americanized Labor Policy Is Spreading in Europe New York Times 12/03/2014:

Spain has eased restrictions on collective layoffs and unfair dismissal, and softened limits on extending temporary work, allowing workers to be kept on fixed-term contracts for up to four years. Ireland and Portugal have frozen the minimum wage, while Greece has cut it by nearly a fourth. This is what is known in Europe as “internal devaluation.”

Tethered to the euro and thus unable to devalue their currency to help make their goods less expensive in export markets, many European countries — especially those along the Continent’s southern rim that have been hammered by the financial crisis — have been furiously dismantling workplace protections in a bid to reduce the cost of labor.

The rationale — forcefully articulated by the German government of Angela Merkel, the European Commission and somewhat less enthusiastically by the International Monetary Fund — is that this is the only strategy available to restore competitiveness, increase employment and recover solvency.

These policy moves are radically changing the nature of Europe's society. [my emphasis]
The SPD has fully endorsed those destructive policies of Merkel's and intend to back her in continuing them for the next four years.

Euronews reports on SYRIZA's leader Alexis Tsipras is the European Left Party's candidate for President of the European Commission in May's elections: Left will shake up Europe, says EC presidential candidate Tsipras 16.12.20134.

Here are a couple of Euronews videos on Tsipris. This one accompanies the article, Left will shake up Europe, says EC presidential candidate Tsipras 16.12.2013:

European Left Party announces Alexis Tsipras as candidate for EC presidency 15.12.2013:

This is one from a year ago, reminding me again why the leaders of today's SPD annoy me so much, Germany warns Greek opposition 14.01.2013:

That last video is about Christian Democratic Finance Minister Wolfgang Shäuble trying to bully SYRIZA to meekly accept ruinous austerity policies. But in the Grand Coalition, he continues as Finance Minister with the full backing of the SPD for the same austerity policies.

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