Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Could Europe have reached a turning point? Syriza, the coalition of the radical left, may not have won the second round of elections in Greece, but they got an even bigger vote this time around. Across Europe the anti-austerity movement is posing an increasing challenge to the parties of austerity. The new president of France was elected on a platform pushed to the left by the Front de Gauche’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In the Netherlands, the left-wing Socialist Party is running ahead of the centre-left Labour Party in the polls.
Outside the electoral arena, the Spanish 15M movement proved it has not gone away, with impressive reoccupations of a number of Spanish plazas. April saw a major protest in the Czech Republic against austerity and corruption, while Romania has seen mass popular protest against an increase in sales tax and the slashing of public sector pay.
The Blockupy Frankfurt protests are also important for a number of reasons. They represent an unprecedented attempt at pan-European protest against austerity; they are targeting in particular the European Central Bank, one of the pillars of European anti-democracy; and they are taking place in Germany, a country so far absent from the revolt.
Yet for all this, we still have some way to go. The advances for the left have been patchy, and importantly have lacked pan-European co-ordination, including commonly-produced alternatives and converging actions. From 2002 until it dwindled, the European Social Forum was an important, vibrant and well-attended space for this kind of internationalist organising, building relationships and sweeping away much parochial dust, even if it also suffered from an excess of rhetoric and political infighting.
We need to learn some lessons from that process, both positive and negative, while recognising that, ironically, the ESF never developed a strong enough focus on Europe itself in order to challenge its closed, technocratic institutions and its powerful elites.
A modest but useful ‘EU in Crisis’ anti-austerity conference in Brussels at the beginning of May proved that useful legacies of the ESF remain. This was evident from the presence of pan-European campaigning networks, for instance around the movement against water privatisation and for ‘remunicipalisation’. There was a determination to work together to better co-ordinate the movement across Europe. Now this initiative urgently needs to establish itself and incorporate significant social forces and grassroots activists, not just movement grandees and bureaucrats. Only then will it be able to call widely supported cross-border actions and raise the kind of solidarity that Greece will undoubtedly need in the coming months.
The need for common alternatives must also be worked on, even if it is no easy task. On the one hand some basic demands will have wide resonance and support: defence of public services and the social wage; taxing the rich and the financial sector; opposition to any racist backlash. On the other hand, significant areas of controversy remain. Stimulating economic growth through industrial policy is a key demand for many, but others have fingered growth as the culprit for the climate crisis and demand another solution.
The European radical left remains split over whether staying in or leaving the euro is the least-worst option. And at a more fundamental level, even those social democrats not chained to the neoliberal yoke propose merely to reformulate the class compromise that formed the original European welfare states. In doing so they ignore the fact that this post-war settlement was made possible only by the super-exploitation of the global South and the unwaged work of most of the female population. It was also a settlement which, though moderately redistributive, did not base its reform programmes on a challenge to the dominant organisation of production.
It is surely possible to overcome these differences to formulate some kind of united demands. But all the evidence suggests that this crisis of capitalism will not be short-lived. Opening up new areas for capital accumulation remains a vital goal for the 1 per cent, both through the privatisation of European public services and through the commodification of natural resources previously held in common, dispossessing the many people who depend on them.
We’re in this for the long haul, and to go beyond the current crisis, we need more than a hodgepodge of basic democratic demands and Keynesian economic management. Our movements need to start extending the experiments in assembly democracy that are taking root in neighbourhoods of Spanish cities. We must also spread the practice of creating alternatives as we resist – occupying and then transforming in all the areas of society we need to reproduce our lives, from food to free software. In this way, at least part of our common agenda can be that which emerges from our common resistance.
There is no crisis in the capacities and creativity of humanity. Thanks to the growth of movements including Occupy and the indignados, the last year has seen the limits of the possible expanded beyond the depressing confines of market fundamentalism. Now it’s time to blow those limits wide open.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns