For weeks, I’ve been puzzled by the early June EU elections. What’s going on in Europe? Capitalism is in its biggest crisis for decades and what do the Europeans do? Vote the right-wing in. Aren’t these folks and their ideologies largely to blame for the current mess? What am I missing here? Don’t Europeans want a change and alternatives to crony capitalism at all? Americans wanted change and got their Obama. One would’ve expected at least some kind of Obama effect on the other side of the Atlantic. What do Europeans want?
When I couldn’t get very far with my own pondering, I started looking for critical analyses online. So far, there has been almost a total silence in much of the progressive media that I usually follow. To my great disappointment, Democracy Now hasn’t cared to pick up the pieces of the European left and make sense of it to its listeners. I haven’t been able to find one critical analysis in the Guardian and their long list of columnists.
However, I did find a story in the Huffington Post titled “EU Parliament: Conservatives Score Wins On Message Of Economic Recovery” according to which “advances by the far right were driven in part by voters’ desire to punish mainstream parties for the recession, and by concerns about burgeoning immigration within the bloc of 27 countries that stretches from Ireland to the edge of Asia. Low voter turnout of 43 percent also played a role.”
Racism is on a big rise in Europe but as many people see it with their anti-immigration platforms, the targets of racism are not non-white people, but as the British National Party’s leader Nick Griffin argues, “There is a huge amount of racism in this country. Overwhelmingly it is directed against the indigenous British majority, which is one reason we have done so well in these elections.” What can you say? The crisis of empire? Indigenous British majority, the latest victims of racism – but by who?
In “Victory for Europe’s centre-right,” the Financial Times wrote: “Apart from a record low turnout of 43.1 per cent, the most striking feature of the elections was the failure of socialists or centre-left parties in four of Europe’s six largest countries – France, Germany, Italy and Poland – to persuade voters that the global financial crisis and recession represented a “crisis of capitalism” that justified a turn to the left.”
“One reason is that centre-right leaders, alert to the risk of being portrayed as defenders of a heartless or irresponsible capitalist system, have sought to protect citizens against the worst effects of the recession by preserving jobs where possible and letting the welfare state take care of those in need. Unemployment benefits, access to medical care and other forms of social expenditure, which come into effect automatically during a recession, form a large part of the €400bn fiscal stimulus that EU policymakers claim to have been implementing over the past six months. This Franco-German model, criticised in the US and UK in the boom years as an unaffordable, bloated welfare system, has turned out to be exactly what most voters want during the recession.”
In tough times, then, the right becomes the new left? For some reason, one has a sense of dejá vu. Yes, we have seen this before: at least since Tony Blair’s Labour government, the left has been the new right, with his famous Third Way and deep ties to the Bush administration. Isn’t this just a logical next step?
After some further searching, I came across the World Socialist Website where a column “Election platform of the “European Left”: Pious wishes and right-wing policies” suggests that the social democrats are faced with huge losses because they have long become the New Right and embraced the free-market policies and ideologies of deregulation of financial markets and the destruction of social welfare programs. Millions in Europe have suffered from anti-welfare laws and other social democratic “reforms.”
The authors of the column also offer their harsh criticism of the hypocrisy and politics of evasion of the European Left:
“The same applies to the platform of the European Left, which evades tackling crucial issues. The whole edifice of pious wishes is aimed at masking current social reality: The irreconcilable class divide between the interests of the broad mass of the population and the ruling elites.
“Is the financial and economic crisis rooted in the contradictions of the capitalist system, or is it merely the result of an incorrect policy? Is it possible to renew the existing institutions and organisations—the European Union, national parliaments, the social democratic parties and trade unions—in the interest of workers, or must the working class organise itself independently and develop its own social and political alternative?
“These questions are left unanswered by the European Left. The entire political activity of the European Left centres on preventing workers from drawing revolutionary conclusions from the crisis and adopting a genuine socialist perspective. The European Left resembles a man who decides to put up colourful wallpaper and slap a coat of paint on a house with rotten foundations, collapsing walls and an infrastructure in an advanced state of disintegration. As any architect knows, on this basis it is possible to sell a house, but that will not prevent its eventual collapse.
“Behind its bombastic language, the European Left is offering its assistance to the European ruling classes to save the European Union and its institutions. The group has considerable experience in such matters. Nearly all of its member organisations have already participated in bourgeois governments. … If one carefully reads the statements put forward by the European Left, the right-wing character of the grouping becomes evident. … The right-wing content of the election platform is most evident in the section dealing with foreign policy. While paying lip service to anti-militarism, the European Left openly embraces the most important aims of European imperialism.”
I guess these and some other articles I was able to find give some insights to what’s going on in Europe – the right is the new left, following the lead of the left turned right a while back, and that the left wing has no wings – but none of them satisfactorily explains why people in Europe aren’t interested in real change and alternatives to casino capitalism that got them into the mess in the first place. All they seem to be capable of doing is casting protest votes for hate mongers and neo-Nazis. Disappointing and very disturbing.