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Reinventing the European Left through Europhilia

With right-wing politicians across Europe nationalizing banks, pumping public money into the economy, and demanding tighter regulation of “rogue” financial markets, it is hard to tell where the ideological dividing lines in politics now lie. By helping realize many of their demands, the financial crisis may, paradoxically, have left many of Europe’s left-wing parties weaker. In many countries, opposition socialist and social democratic parties have been left shouting on the sidelines, bereft of relevant new ideas, as the financial storm has raged. But now is surely the moment for the European Left to think afresh. First, though, the European Left must confront two brutal truths. Europe’s mainstream left-wing parties are finding it next to impossible to win outright power – apart from in first-past-the-post electoral systems, such as in the UK. Rarely have socialist parties been able to win more than 35 per cent of the vote. That means they must form electoral alliances with other parties and speak to a broader section of the aspiring – or should it now be perspiring? – middle class. The temptation for socialist parties to lurch towards the extreme anti-capitalist parties will only consign them to further political oblivion.

In many cases, though, the European Left remains a prisoner of its past, obsessed with anachronistic ideology and overly reliant on the support of trade unions and public sector employees. Often, they have been more concerned with protecting the rights of party members than extending opportunities to outsiders of society. That may make life cosy for party managers, but it is no way to win power. Populist right-wing leaders, such as Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, have been better at stealing their opponents’ clothes and broadening their appeal. The second stark truth is that even if left-wing parties do return to power they will face extremely tight financial constraints. This economic crisis will produce big jumps in public indebtedness. But in Europe’s ageing societies the long-term fiscal imperative to constrain public debt will continue to apply. In such an environment, arguing for a still bigger state will be counter-productive. Better, as some of Europe’s more progressive parties have already realized, to create a smarter one.

For years, the European Left has talked about creating the enabling state. Better to invert that logic and encourage an enabling market. The financial crisis has led to clear demands to regulate the market more effectively. How can governments better channel the creative dynamism of the market for the public good? This is where the European Left’s intellectual revival must begin. Across Europe, there are examples of how this can be done, particularly in the Nordic countries. In labour markets the chief challenge is to protect people, not simply to preserve their jobs. Employers must be able to hire and fire employees relatively freely; what is essential is for the state to support those laid off and encourage the private sector to retrain them for new roles. Much more can be done to give the young, often immigrant, unemployed the financial resources and skills to set up their own enterprises. As Jacques Attali, a French socialist, has argued, entrepreneurs are often the angry young who want to change the world. Where better to find them than in Europe’s blighted ghettos?

The European Left is already more convincing on the environment, where public and private sectors have to work hand-in-hand and internationalism is a precondition of success. While some of Europe’s right-wing parties flirt with uglier forms of nationalism, left-wing parties should distinguish themselves by remaining enthusiastic champions of the European Union. Enterprise, environment and Europe are the three Es needed for the revival of the European Left after we have emerged from this economic downturn. Some of this new agenda may have little to do with old school socialism. But frankly, for the sake of everyone, so much the better.

Dit artikel verscheen oorspronkelijk in de Financial Times.

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5 Reacties:

At 13:52 Johan Terwilghen said...

Vreemde redenering vind ik dit. Links in Europa bestaat nog wel én is vrij succesvol. Sociaal-democraten controleren de overheden in bijna alle Europese landen. Hun radicale linkse achterban kan terecht bij neo-communistische partijen of bij extreem-rechts dat even links is dan het andere uiterste van het politieke spectrum. De uitersten raken aan elkaar. Verder zien we ook veel linkse invloeden bij "liberale" partijen en bij conservatieve partijen, ofwel onder de vlag van de "derde weg" ofwel onder die van het "compassieconservatisme". Dit artikel had misschien in de jaren 1980 of 1990 een interessante suggestie kunnen bevatten, maar vandaag niet meer. De voorstellen van het artikel zijn immers al in de praktijk gebracht.

At 15:41 David said...

Volgens mij zijn er inderdaad twee opties voor links. 1) Ze gaan terug naar hun roots, radicaliseren opnieuw en blijven klein maar "zuiver". 2) Ze blijven centristisch en salonfähig, zodat ze permanent mee kunnen besturen. Ik vrees dat tweede meer dan het eerste.

At 15:50 Anoniem said...

Liever dood dan rood! Dat zou de ondertoon van libertarische teksten moeten zijn, ipv tips geven aan socialisten en communisten om nog meer macht te verwerven.

At 17:56 Joris Verdonk said...

@ Anonieme

Dat is de keuze die we zullen moeten maken. Geven we centrumlinks incentives om centristisch te blijven of stoten we hen af zodat ze opnieuw in het heel-linkse vaarwater komen. In het centrum doen ze minder kwaad maar krijgen ze natuurlijk wel legitimiteit en daardoor een grotere aanhang. Ook bij mensen die in de grond niets van echt socialisme moeten weten zoals de bobo's. Op de linkerflank zullen ze kleiner zijn, maar veel radicaler. En dat kan op de lange termijn het ganse systeem ondergraven. Zeker als ze de wilde ideeën van klassenstrijd terug uit de mottenballen gaan halen.

At 05:17 USpace said...

The Left is addicted to thinking of Hitler as completely 'Right-Wing'. Tell a Liberal that Hitler was a creature of the Left and they will shriek with indignation.

Hitler was only 'Right Wing' when it came to his racism, antisemitism, and anti-gay stuff.
Economically he was Left wing. Right of Stalin but Left of the UK Labor Party.

That is the biggest success of the Left so far, brainwashing people that Hitler was from the Right. Hopefully, they will have no bigger success.

"Move Left everyone, or you'll get to Hitler's way if you move Right." Because of this, many so-called 'Liberals' think the Right and conservatism is more dangerous than communism.

The main principle of 'conservatism' is 'individual liberty', that is instinctual and naturally understood. We must keep planting this thought in the minds of young people, so that they will be better able to resist their institutional brainwashing. 'Leftism' is a lie, it is phony, and it is racist at its core.
absurd thought -
God of the Universe hates
the principles of FREEDOM

fascism comes from the Right
that is a lie of the Left

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
never mock The Left

it's just their religion
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