The maggot-infected dead horse of Europe’s centre-left, already demoralised by the utter disapprobation served up by citizens in the June European Parliament election, received a thorough flogging from German voters in the country’s general election at the end of September. This mangy old beast hardly fared better in Portugal with the governing socialists losing their absolute majority.
Only in Greece, which headed to the urns a week later, did social democracy wangle any sort of cleanish victory. Although this was largely a product of a spectacular object lesson in hara-kiri by the parliamentary far left – the sort of deranged and embarrassing public suicide English and Scottish trainspotters of the left will be all too catsuitedly, swingingly familiar with.
This was bit of a bummer for the ‘left of the left’, which by rights should have scored a nifty hat-trick over the last week. All the same, this impressive two-out-of-three standing proves that the far left’s middling result in the European elections were a low turnout aberration while the centre-left’s disaster on 7 June is more indicative of a general pattern.
No shift to the right in Germany
While Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU), will be staying in office, in coalition with the Free Democrats who scored a historic high of 14.6 per cent, the CDU victory cannot be in any way described as a triumph or shift to the right. Merkel led her troops to their second worst showing since the Second World War.
The Social Democrats (SPD) meanwhile achieved their absolute worst showing since the war. So much as to be expected. Far from benefiting from the ideological fallout in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, the SPD, like their cousins across the continent, have been engaged in a cosy clusterfuck around the neoliberal centre for the last decade and as such are believed by great swathes of voters to hold equal responsibility for the crash.
Working class voters remember who were the authors of the Hartz reforms – which saw tax cuts and a slashing of medical, pension and unemployment benefits not indistinct to the slash and burn approach of Thatcher and Reagan two decades before – and lacerated the SPD’s vote by 11 per cent to 23 per cent (a loss of some six million votes).
Next to the Free Democrats, the other star of the night was Die Linke (the Left), the coalition of ex-GDR communists, western altermondialists and SPD dropouts, that in its second federal election outing, scored 11.9 per cent, up from 8.7per cent in 2005.
In the eastern state of Brandenburg, Die Linke topped the polls, with
28.5 per cent. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony-Anhalt, also both
in the east, the party came second, while in the capital, Die Linke tied with the SPD for runner-up.
These crackerjack results come in the wake of regional elections in Thuringia, Saarland and Saxony on 30 August, where the new party leapt ahead to second place.
But as formidable as Die Linke’s showing has been, beneath the surface, tensions submerged for the sake of the campaign threaten to openly break out again, with many of the anti-capitalist types in the west suspicious of the Stalinists from the east, and uneasy with how comfortable the ex-Communists and ex-Social Democrats are as a ginger group to the SPD.
The easterners meanwhile, who view themselves as a party of government ready to take the reins of power again, glance askew at the punky, hippie radicals from the west.
But even this is an oversimplification for a party that contains six different internal caucuses. Some sympathisers joke that Die Linke has as many factions as members.
However, the faultlines are quite clear. While the FDP and CDU majority victory rules out the red-red-green coalition that had been mooted in some quarters, such an alliance is quite likely at the state level in Saarland and Thuringia (although shortly after the election, the SPD announced it would rather govern in coalition with the CDU). But when Die Linke has entered government, in Berlin and Brandenburg, its left rhetoric has been revealed to be just that.
Even the party’s popular opposition to the war in Afghanistan (some 80 per cent of Germans oppose occupation) appears to be negotiable. In the week of the election, Dietmar Bartsch, a senior official with Die Linke told the Tagesspiegel newspaper: ‘When we say “out of Afghanistan” we don’t mean “get out of Afghanistan the day after tomorrow.”‘
Portugal’s Left Bloc junks the dogma
Meanwhile, on the southwestern edge of Europe, parties to the left of
the left scored better still.
Portugal’s prime minister, Jose Socrates of the centre-left Socialist
Party, crowed on election night of his 36.5 per cent support, ‘The people have spoken and they have spoken loudly. The Socialists were once again chosen to govern Portugal and they were chosen without any ambiguity.’
But the party had only won 96 seats in the 230-seat chamber, down from
121 in the last election – and some 40 per cent of the electorate stayed at home. The opposition Social Democrats, who despite their name are of
the centre-right, clocked in at 29 per cent, and in a sign that parties
further to the right are profiting from the crisis, the hard-line Popular Party climbed to 21 seats up from the 12 it held previously.
Domestic analysts attribute the victory of the left of the left to alienation amongst blue-collar workers, civil servants and young people from the Socialists, who ahead of the economic crisis had imposed fearsome public spending cuts provoking massive protests, including a general strike.
The big champion of the campaign was the far left, scooping up a combined 17.7 per cent, with the Left Bloc, an alliance of anti-globalisation activists, ecologists, Trotskyists and Maoists, gaining 9.85 per cent to give it 16 seats, and the Communist Party securing 7.9 per cent and 15 seats.
Rui Tavares, a Left Bloc deputy in the European Parliament explained
to Red Pepper the party’s recipe for success: ‘We’re only ten years
old, but the key is that we’re a different kind of left – less dogmatic, less closed, but at the same time not losing our radicality. This is what must be repeated with the rest of the left in Europe.’
‘The old social democrats, with their ideological drift and embrace of the free market in the 1990s, forgot why they were on the left’, he said. Only superficially does it seem like a paradox that the centre-left cannot seem to benefit from the collapse of neoliberalism. They cannot take advantage of this situation because they are implicated themselves.’
‘Portugal [and] Germany are not isolated cases. I can see a clear strategy for the real left to occupy significant political space – a quarter to a third of the electorate. We’ll see a lot more of this in the next few years.’
Ahead of the election, both leading parties ruled out a grand coalition and the Socialists, Left Bloc and Communists have said they will not form an alliance – although such a move would give the parties a comfortable 127-seat majority. With business groups in the days after the election ominously warning what might happen if a leftist coalition were formed, the Socialists are most likely to attempt to continue as a minority government
One young leftwing voter said that he was thrilled by the result, although he warned: “The Left Bloc deserves their victory, but the communists, you have to remember, are old Stalinists, very nationalist. This is not the future of the left. It’s nostalgia.’
Waffle, zigzag, squabble
A week later in Greece, the centre-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) walked away with 43 per cent of the vote, giving the party 159 seats in the 300-seat chamber. The centre-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, had called a snap election only two years after his 2007 election win, hoping to boost his faltering government with its one-seat majority. But the gamble did not pay off, with his scandal-ridden conservatives gaining only 34 per cent of voters.
The Pasok victory masks a deep alienation from official politics for most Greeks. One survey revealed that nine out of ten voters said they had no faith in either main party. Although at one point it looked as though the far left would profit from this sea of mistrust, such hopes failed to materialise.
The far left Syriza coalition saw a decline in its support from the previous
five per cent and 14 seats won in 2007, to 4.4 per cent and 12 seats.
The Greek communists remain the third largest party in the assembly, but they too saw a drop since the last election, clocking in at 7.3 per cent and 20 seats, down from 8.2 per cent and 22 seats.
A year ago expectations were radically different, with Syriza riding a high of 18 per cent in the polls.
It may be true that Pasok shifted to the left during the campaign, with promises of an up to 3 billion stimulus package that would include above inflation wages and pension increases, higher taxes for the wealthy, a review of the privatisation of Olympic Airlines and the sale of the government’s stake in OTE, the telecoms firm, but this was not enough to precipitate such a decline.
Syriza, a rainbow coalition (well, a rainbow of dark green, crimson, scarlet, vermillion and cerise) of 11 different leftist parties and unaffiliated individuals, is dominated by the 17,000-member Synapsismos, itself a coalition that for the most part sits on the rightwing of Syriza.
The coalition almost collapsed over a leadership battle between Synapsismos and the smaller groups in its orbit as to who would head the grouping heading into the election. A bizarre compromise at the last minute had the two sides agree that no one would top the list.
This cringeworthy squabble further disillusioned supporters already disenchanted when the coalition’s leadership, which zigzags between radical language and moderate practice, and waffled over how to react to the three-week long riots last December. Abstentions were particularly high amongst the young.
Candyfloss in the rain
The results of the last weeks have shown that the deluge of gloom overwhelming Europe’s centre-left in the wake of the European elections is entirely warranted. Their support is melting away like pink candyfloss bought at a rainy May Day carnival, even in countries where they manage to eke out an election win. The only hope they have is to tack to the left, something that they steadfastly refuse to do or only do rhetorically for a four or five weeks’ election campaign.
But these elections also show that there are tremendous prospects for
a left to the left of bankrupt social democracy – so long as the party puts forward a confident professionalism and finishes with the sectarian quarreling endemic to this end of the spectrum. At a time where party tribalism has all but disappeared, voters who have few qualms about abandoning the social democrats that their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers voted for to try something new will hardly develop new reservoirs of compunction about moving on again should the new party prove to be a bunch of bickering muppets.
At the same time, the ease with which some left or green formations in
Europe have been willing to enter into coalitions with neoliberal social democrats – from Communist Refoundation in Italy to France’s Communists to Ireland’s Green Party – or are otherwise seduced by the siren song of the sensible centre, moves that repeatedly end in electoral disaster for the group concerned, are not strategic differences that can or should be papered over. They are fundamental to whatever the new left is to look like.
But if what finishes off social democracy is the abandonment of principles, why should anyone be surprised if voters jettison the far left as well when it abandons its principles too?
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out