Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Jamie Galbraith on the left and center-left in Europe

Jamie Galbraith has been writing about the state of politics in Europe, The Future of the Left in Europe The American Prospect 08/17/2016 and From the destruction of Greece to democracy in Europe Boston Globe 08/22/2016.

In his Prospect piece, he notes that there are varying patterns in whether voters that have been heavily disadvantaged by neoliberal economic and social policies tend to left parties or rightwing ones:

Stymied for now, the radical left faces a strategic choice. One option is to break up the European Union, hoping that the voters in the newly exited states will move to the Left, once the heavy thumb of austerity imposed from Brussels and Frankfurt comes off. This strategy is known as Lexit. Its advantage lies in the disillusion of many working-class voters with the European institutions, a fact clearly seen in the turn of traditional Labour Party districts across England and Wales to the Leave column in the referendum.

But Lexit faces the difficulty that the dominant anti-European forces are not left-wing at all. They are the extreme parties of the radical Right—from the frankly Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece to UKIP and France's National Front. Lexit forces are therefore allied, distastefully, with nativists, xenophobes, and neo-fascists. Once out of Europe, there is reason to fear that the far Right would come to power first, and would undermine the democratic guarantees, which flow partly from European law, that preserve the possibility of progressive victories later on. This process is already advanced, even within Europe, in Poland and Hungary; it is a potential threat to democratic stability even in France.
And he describes how drastically the situation of the center-left parties has been changing:

The rise of radical-left parties just a quarter-century after “the end of history” has put the mainstream into a spiritual crisis. Several decades back, leaders like Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder, and (more recently) George Papandreou could plausibly claim to be the modern generation. There were framed and forged by the economic and ideological transformations of the Thatcher-Reagan era and by Western triumph in the Cold War. They rejected old-style socialism and trimmed the welfare state. They advanced the European project, accepted the leadership of the United States, and deferred to the free market. In parallel, they also advanced a broad liberalization of social life, including reproductive choice, gay rights, racial and ethnic and religious diversity, and freedom of movement. These were what (largely) defined the mainstream as progressive: They imparted a veneer of social equalization over rapidly rising economic inequality. [my emphasis]
In the Globe column, he gives this picture of the current political moment:

Greece was given collective punishment as a lesson [for its attempt in 2015 to stop radical austerity policies]. It was done to show that “there is no alternative.” It was done to stop any other attempt to develop, articulate, and defend a more rational policy. It was done to protect the power of the European Central Bank, the German government in Europe, and the policy-making authority, in face of a long record of failure, of the IMF.

Greece is now a colony — the polite say “protectorate.” Elsewhere in Europe the left — Podemos in Spain, the Left Bloc in Portugal, Die Linke in Germany — has stalled out, for now. In France the Socialists are destroying themselves. Italy alone is interesting: It is in the midst of a banking crisis whose only solution is stronger growth; this requires the government to defy Eurozone doctrine or it may lose power to the radical Five Star movement soon. But, apart from that one case, progressive Europe is blocked.

Next up will be the far right, especially the National Front in France, which if it came to power would blow the European Union apart. Similar pressures are building in Poland and Hungary, which have governments already outside of European democratic norms. In Britain, right-wing Tories and the UK Independence Party have combined to vote the UK out of the European Union — although with surprisingly moderate political results so far.

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