Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Nature of the New European Left

The following is part one of a series that will be posted in parts in the coming days.  Admin

Discussion Paper
The Nature of the New European Left

Part 1: Southern Europe
The background to the emergence of the New Left.
The rise of the New Left. 
How far-left are the “Far-Left”?

Part 2 : Northern Europe

Part 3 : The New Left and the Nationalist Movements

Brief Conclusions



The background to the emergence of the New Left.
From Stephen Morgan in Brussels

1) The growth of the New Left is a critically important development, symptomatic of a sea change in class relations and a shift towards the left in society worldwide. It has arisen out of the ashes of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the severe budget crisis, the swinging austerity measures and the massive attacks on the working class.

2) The capitalist crisis first found its political expression with the election of left-wing governments in South America, followed by the revolutions in the Arab world, and then the sudden rise of anti-capitalist youth movements in the form of Occupy and 99% protests.

3) Despite its derailment, the Arab Spring put the word “revolution” back on the lips of a new generation of workers and youth. The events in Tunisia and Egypt captivated people worldwide. It showed the immense latent power of the masses and their ability to bring down even the most brutal dictatorships in the world. Imperialism was paralyzed and looked on helpless as its stooge dictators in  Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen fell like ninepins. The revolutions inspired millions of youth and workers worldwide, empowering them with the belief that they could bring down unpopular governments and change society for the better.

4) In the advanced capitalist countries, the perceived omnipotence of capitalism – which followed the fall of the planned economies and the economic boom – was shattered by the 2007 crisis. Capitalism lost its credibility as the best of all possible systems, in the best of all possible worlds.  Massive hatred exploded against the banks and the super rich –  not just among the youth, but among wide layers of society.

5) The colossal budget deficits in Southern Europe have prolonged and deepened the crisis which began in 2007. Under the dictates of the IMF-EU-EB Troika, governments have been forced to carry out the most draconian austerity measures and vicious attacks on the working class in living memory. The region has experienced an economic catastrophe as bad as the Great Depression of 1929. Southern European countries fell into negative growth rates with unemployment rocketing to an average of 25% and a staggering 50% among youth, while more than 1 in 3 people were thrown under the poverty line.

6) Public services were decimating, salaries and pensions were slashed, and job security and worker's rights were severely undermined. Homelessness rocketed as tens of thousands of people lost their homes through foreclosures or couldn't afford to pay their rents. Large layers of the middle class, as well, were ruined, particularly the self-employed, and those in the retail and building sectors. Many  other small businesses went to the wall.

7) This abrupt rupture with the rising living standards in the pre-2007 economic boom has led to an increase in class consciousness and political understanding, as well as an upsurge in militancy among workers and youth. These harrowing economic conditions and the radicalization of youth and workers, which followed, provided the objective conditions for the rise of new left formations.

The Rise of the New Left
8) The New Left's stinging attacks on capitalism and the Establishment has found a wide echo among youth and radicalized layers of workers. From previously negligible support of 2-4%  prior to 2009, they have attracted a mass or semi-mass following in Greece, Spain and Portugal. The most spectacular was SYRIZA in Greece which grew from 4.6% in 2009 to 36% in 2015. Podemos, which was created in 2014 rose from 8% to around 28% in January, 2015. Podemos' growth in the first year after it was set up was phenomenal, mushrooming from a small group into a mass movement of 300,000 members and 1,000 branches throughout the country. In the local elections in the major cities, it outstripped PSOE and the parties of the ruling class, taking control of Madrid and Barcelona in left coalitions with other parties and independent left candidates.

9) On a smaller scale, the Left Block (BE) in Portugal has grown from 6% to 11% today. Together with votes for the Communist parties or their coalition fronts, this pushes support for the left among the population in Spain and Portugal to over 20%, making them the 3rd or 4th largest political forces in the two countries. Their rapid growth undoubtedly reflects the potential for mass revolutionary parties to arise in periods of severe capitalist crisis.

10) The Communist parties in Southern Europe also continue to attract an important layer of workers, although not on the same scale as the New Left. They have also grown, but not as impressively, with average votes of between 8% to 10%. Moreover, in all of the countries they still control large trade union federations.

11) However, the CPs have never been able to revive there historical support in the workers' movement. During the 20s and 30s the CPs had massive support in all three countries, but in the first free elections in Southern Europe, they were only able to win between 9%-12%, similar to their support today. The main reason for this is that they became tainted by their association with the Stalinist dictatorship. In the mid-70s, the central goal of the workers and middle classes was to achieve democracy and replacing a fascist dictatorship with a Stalinist dictatorship held little attraction to the masses. The in the 1980s, the CP was squeezed out by a big wave towards the socialist parties throughout Europe. Since that time, the CPs have suffered a double-blow undermining their credibility with the collapse of the planned economies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Therefore, it looks unlikely that they could grow substantially more than at present. This, in turn, has contributed to the growth of the New Left as an alternative force.

12) What is also clear from the situation in Southern Europe (and in Europe as a whole) is that the shift to the left isn't uniform, but manifests itself in different ways, to different degrees and at a different pace in different countries. This is due to the fact that each country has its own unique character, history, and culture, and the conjuncture of economic processes and political events has had different results. So for example, unlike Southern Europe, the shift to the left in Britain hasn't resulted in new independent left formations, but has found expression in a shift to the left in the traditional workers' party, with the election of left-wing, Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the Labour Party.

13) These divergences in the radicalization of society and the development of the left have also been illustrated graphically by events in Italy. The shift to the left there – or rather the beginnings of a shift to the left – has manifested itself in a more vague and somewhat bizarre form, with the rise in support for the anti-establishment, Five Star Movement, led by the popular comedian, Beppe Grillo, which has described itself as a populist party outside traditional left-right politics.

14) Developments in the rest of Southern Europe have influenced one another more directly than other countries. But even here, there have also been significant differences in the way the left has evolved in each country.

15) Events in Greece and Spain had similar beginnings. The Greek anti-austerity movement, which began in 2010, was directly inspired by the 15-M and the Indignados (Indignants) movements in Spain and called itself the Indignant Citizens' Movement. But, while it helped to develop the radicalization in Greek society, which eventually brought SYRIZA (The Coalition of the Radical Left) to power, it played no substantial role in SYRIZA's formation or development. Unlike Podemos, which sprung up from the anti-austerity movement in 2014, SYRIZA was formed back in 2004, as a coalition of different left groups such as dissident communists, left feminists, Greens and Trotskyists. Nevertheless, it was, in general, lifted up on the back of the anti-austerity movement and the radicalization in Greek society, as was Podemos in Spain.

16) Clearly, of all the new left groups, SYRIZA was the one whose rise was the most spectacular. The fact that it was able to take power was due to certain unique developments in Greece, which didn't happen on the same scale in Spain and Portugal. In the first place, the Greek people suffered the most catastrophic economic crisis of all the countries, with nearly 30% of the population unemployed and 60% of youth out of work, and 45% of the population living below the poverty line. Secondly, while both Spain and Portugal experienced significant waves of strikes and demonstrations, the class struggle in Greece intensified to a phenomenal level, with over 36 general strikes in a period of two years, pushing Greece to the brink of revolution. Such an unparalleled radicalization of the working class was a key reason why SYRIZA's support rose to far higher levels than Podemos or the Left Block in Portugal and laid the basis for them to become the largest political force in the country.

17) Despite the close geographical and historical ties between Spain and Portugal, the left has evolved differently in the two countries. The economic crisis in Spain was the second worst in Europe and  more severe than Portugal's. Unemployment in Spain reached 25%,with 50% of the youth out of work and 25% of the population living in poverty. In Portugal, however, although the working class suffered dreadfully, unemployment peaked at around 15%, and 30% for the youth, while 18% of people lived below the poverty line.
Podemos rally, Spain

18) The greater severity of the crisis in Spain was a key factor in why Podemos grew into a far larger movement than the Left Bloc in Portugal - capturing about double the support in 2015. But this was not only down to economic reasons, but political causes too. Although a new, grass root anti-austerity movement did develop in Portugal, called the “12 March Movement”– which organized some big protests in Portuguese cities – it never took on the same scale or level of organization as the 15-M and the Indignados in Spain. Consequently, the 12 March Movement didn't give birth to a new mass political force like Podemos. Similarly to SYRIZA in Greece, the Left Bloc in Portugal is not a new phenomenon. It was established way back in 1999 from an alliance of some Trotskyists and other left groups and has gradually increased since then, but not with the same explosive force of Podemos or SYRIZA..

19) In Spain, the 15-M and the Indignados movement set down a template from which Podemos could evolve. It organized networks of local committees across the country, intervening directly in such things as foreclosures, as well as putting forward a radical left programme for an end to corruption and the nationalization of banks. Then, when it reached its limits as a movement, Podemos emerged to take the movement onto a higher political plane.

20) Its worth noting one other important factor which contributed to the different character of developments in Spain compared to Portugal and Greece, is the lingering influence of anarchism. Spain is the country per se in the world with the richest history of anarchism, and where it had the most profound effect on the workers' movement and political culture. The anarchist movement in Spain began way back in the middle of the 19th century and it played a key role in organizing the workers and giving them a political voice. It is the only country where anarchism developed into a genuine mass force. It created its own mass anarcho-syndicalist trade unions, and its political front had a major influence on events until the end of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. Crushed under Franco, it has never regained its former glory, but it still remains an influential force. Its historical heritage has left a strong imprint on the nature of the current protest movement. Even today in Spain, the anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation, the CGT, is the third largest and claims a membership of up to 100,000, while representing some 2 million workers through industrial committees and collective bargaining.

21) Even if anarchist organizations don't play a leading organizational role in the protest movement, its influence can be seen in such concepts as de-centralized, autonomous democracy in both the protest movement and the running of society; the organizing of “People's Assemblies” to decide policy; its strong anti-leadership, anti-state, anti-establishment and non-party character, as well as its strategies of direct action. Another example is the increasingly popular, radical left-wing nationalist party in Catalonia, the CUP, which list “libertarian socialism” as its guiding ideology. 

22) The role of the traditional workers' parties throughout Southern Europe – PSOE in Spain, the PS in Portugal and PASOK in Greece – greatly facilitated the rapid growth of Podemos, the Left Block and SYRIZA. In all three countries, the socialist parties have participated in governments during the budget crisis and are seen as being largely responsible for implementing extreme austerity measures and their disastrous consequences.

23) Disgusted and infuriated with their leaders, millions of workers and youth turned their backs on these parties, and their electoral support plummeted. This opened up a political vacuum on the left which was filled by the new left formations such as SYRIZA, Podemos and the Left Block (BE) in Portugal.

24) This process was illustrated most dramatically in Greece where PASOK was decimated, its support crumbling from 44% to 4.7%. A similar thing happened to the socialist parties in Spain and Portugal, but not on the same scale. In Portugal, the PS saw its share of the vote fall from 45% in 2005 to 28% in 2011 and, in Spain, PSOE's vote has fell from 42% to 28%.

25) There are complex reasons for why PASOK suffered so severely, while the socialists in Spain and Portugal have managed to retain the support of a sizable chunk of the working class voters. One factor is the depth of the economic crisis in Greece and the second involves historical differences between the parties.

26) While PASOK did gain the mass support of workers during the period from 1980s to 2005, it might be more accurate to describe it as a quasi-traditional party of the working class. Unlike other socialist parties – which grew out of the early workers' movement at the end of the 19th century – PASOK was created by a group of liberals in exile in 1974, and does not have the close links to the trade unions which other socialist parties in Europe have. Consequently, it lacks the historical and class ballast of the other socialist parties, and this made it more vulnerable to severe swings in public opinion.

27) The differences between PASOK and PSOE and the PS were reflected in the results of the first elections in the mid-70s following the fall of the dictatorships. Both PSOE and the PS emerged as the biggest political parties, PSOE winning almost 30% of the vote and the PS capturing 38% in Portugal. In contrast, PASOK only received 13% of the vote in 1974.

28) PSOE in Spain, on the other hand, has deep roots in the workers' movement and close links to the unions. PSOE was formed during the birth of the early workers' movement in the 19th century, and the historic Spanish trade unionist and workers' leader Pablo Iglesias Posse played a key part in its creation. PSOE also has a heritage from its leading role the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and while, from a Marxist perspective, PSOE's wrong policies were partly responsible for the defeat of the republican forces, a Marxist sees the details of events, while the masses remember history in broad brush strokes. PSOE is also credited as having played a leading role in the overthrow of the Franco dictatorship in 1974. Consequently, it will take more than its participation in carrying out austerity measures to uproot PSOE deep foundations in the history of the Spanish workers' movement.

29) Although the PS in Portugal – like PASOK – wasn't formed until 1974, the PS is seen as having played a key role in the 1974 Revolution, and is credited with stopping the attempts at counter-revolution during that period. In that sense, it shares something of PSOE's legacy derived from the Spanish Civil War, and this has given it a stronger base than PASOK.

30) International factors also played a role in the growth of support for the socialist parties in Southern Europe. Alongside the fall of the dictatorships, there was a world economic recession in 1974 and 1979. Consequently, there was a general swing towards the socialist parties across Europe and the growth of the left-wings inside them in the 1980s. This was not uniform everywhere, because of internal factors but percentages in election results show a definite trend in that direction. In Germany, the SPD averaged 40% of the vote, the French PS averaged 35% and the pattern was followed by PSOE at 43% and PASOK with 45% of the vote. The PS in France was in government in France for 12 years consecutively, PSOE governed for 14 years non-stop and PASOK ruled for 17 of the 19 years in the 1980s and early 90s.

31) The socialist parties in Spain and Portugal have suffered a major drop in support recently, but they have not lost their core support among the working class, like PASOK has. However, their betrayal of the working class during the budget crisis, coupled with the CPs decline, has been a critical factor in the emergence of the New Left.

How Far left are the “Far-Left”?

32) The capitalist press have described the New Left groups as “far-left” in an effort to discredit them, undermine their popularity and create fear about who they are and what they stand for. But they have failed. Social developments are far more important in forming pubic opinion than capitalist propaganda. But the question still remains about just how far-left are these “far-lefts”?

33) While the New Left was based on an upsurge from below it was organized from above by left-wing radicals and academics. Many of its leaders, like Pablo Iglesias of Podemos and Alexis Tsipras from SYRIZA were former Communist Party members active in left-wing politics. Although they attract the support of many workers, the New Left did not arise out of the workers' movement and its organizations. The new left coalitions are mostly made up of various small groups of Trotskyists, dissident Communist tendencies, Maoists, Greens and other leftist groups, and the majority of their activists come form the middle classes.

34) All of these New Left formations are anti-austerity, euro-skeptic, anti-NATO and, in broad terms, anti-capitalist. However, none of them are explicitly socialist in their programme. They leave the nature of the society they wish to create intentionally vague. Influenced by bourgeois public opinion, they all fear that using the word “socialism” will scare away potential supporters, especially the middle classes. Instead, they usually call for a “Social Society” and a “Social Europe”, whatever that is supposed to mean. What they really aim for is a more humane capitalism, and that doesn't really differentiate then from progressive liberals. At least, the left-reformists of the past had a concrete programme of taking over the banks and gradual nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy with the openly stated aim of achieving socialism.
Syriza 2012 election poster


35) Following SYRIZA”s betrayal of the working class while in government, it may seem unnecessary to even comment about how “far-left” SYRIZA really is. But so many people on the left had such hopes and illusions in SYRIZA, that they forgot to take a look at its programme. Had they done so, it would have been clear in advance that SYRIZA was not going to carry out a socialist revolution. Looking at their original policies may help us to anticipate how other New Left groups will develop.

36) Even before coming to power, SYRIZA explained that;

“The central strategy of SYRIZA is a new re-negotiation of the debt and its interest payments. Its aims are centred on debt, the demand for a new “Marshall Plan,” creating a “primary surplus” and a “balanced budget,” control of the banks, in order to re-establish “creditworthiness” and “sustainability.”

Not a word about the needed for a democratically controlled, socialist planned economy, not even the need to nationalize the banks!

“Our program” it continues “is based on the values of solidarity, justice, freedom, equality and environmental responsibility.”

37) Of course, Marxists also support those ideals, but the programme is a utopian dream given the crisis capitalism and the budget deficits. They could only be achieved under a democratically planned economy and a socialist political system.

38) When it took power in 2015, SYRIZA could have mobilized the working class to carry through the socialist transformation of society. It had the overwhelming support of the majority of the Greek people in its battle with the Troika, but it crumbled under the pressure and threats of the European ruling class. SYRIZA lacked a solid theoretical foundations and clear strategy to change society, and had insufficient roots and confidence in the working class.

39) The tragic betrayal of the working class by SYRIZA in Greece is an ominous omen of what can happen to the other Left formations. SYRIZA was perhaps the most left-wing of the groups in Southern Europe, but even so, they eventually ended up carrying out anti-working class policies in the interests of the ruling class.

40) An usual situation has now developed in Greece. There is undeniably huge anger and disappointment among youth and workers over SYRIZA's capitulation, but it has managed to hold onto power in elections. Many people thought it would be devastated by its actions, but that hasn't happened so far. The reason for this is that the Greek masses were left with little alternative. The small left split away from SYRIZA failed to gain any real support, because it didn't offer a credible alternative of forming a government to fight austerity and the might of the EU.

41) Likewise, the Greek Communist Party, which had about 8% of the vote, was also not seen as a feasible option. Because of both its Stalinist associations and a sectarian ultra-left policy towards SYRIZA in its ascendant period,  it lost a huge opportunity to grow. Had the CP joined the SYRIZA movement at the beginning and given its leaders critical support, it would have captured the ear and the respect of a far wider layer of workers and youth. Then, if it had broken away with the left-wing of SYRIZA following the betrayal, there was a chance that it would have grown into a credible left-opposition and more layers of workers and youth would have given it their support.

42) In the absence of such an alternative, the working class was left to choose between continuing to support SYRIZA or supporting the right-wing capitalist parties. They feared that the austerity programme anew right-wing government would pursue would be even more vicious than when they were in power before. Many thought that PASOK had at least tried to stand up to the EU, and that, all-in-all, SYRIZA was the best of bad alternatives in the hope that they would at least mitigate some of the worst excesses of an austerity programme and protect the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

43) Whether SYRIZA will be able to continue as a political force in the future will depend on a number of factors, particularly the world economic situation, and whether they get credit for some recovery in the Greek economy, as has happened in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. The future of PASOK is unclear. It is doubtful that PASOK could regain its former place, so there is a vacuum on the left and no other party which workers could support. Ironically, having gained so much from the collapse of PASOK, SYRIZA may end up as a new PASOK, and, at some point, it could also end up facing the same fate.
Left bloc poster: Merkel and Portuguese gov't


44) Podemos captured the support of millions of workers and youth because of its withering attacks on capitalism and corruption, its clear anti-austerity programme, its defense of the poorest section of the population, and the positive reforms it put forward. With both the capitalist PP and the PSOE stained by their role in attacking the working class, Podemos seemed to offer a clear alternative to the discredited Establishment, and was looked on by many as a party which could transform society along socialist lines.

45) Unfortunately, despite its profile, Podemos is not a clearly defined socialist movement, and its programme is limited to working within the confines of capitalism. In its “Economic project for the people” the Podemos leaders state the following;

“In Spain as in (the rest of) Europe, there is no way to achieve sufficient (economic) recovery unless debt decreases, and debt cannot decrease unless the recovery materialises.”

Its main economic demands are;
·      “Flexibilisation” of the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact (EU fiscal rules);
·      Change the rules that prevent the ECB from financing governments;
·      Amend the ECB’s statute to include “full employment” among its policy targets;
·      Make the ECB accountable to the European Parliament, which should also be in charge of appointing ECB members;
·      Create mechanisms that guarantee the pooling of debt and the effective supervision of the financial system at the European level”;
·      Scrap the balanced budget rule from the Spanish Constitution – which is basically tantamount to rejecting the EU’s ‘fiscal compact’ on budgetary discipline.
·      Achieve real coordination of economic policies in the Eurozone.” 
Clearly, its entire perspective and programme is aimed at reforming capitalism, rather than transforming society along socialist lines.
46)  Podemos is now shifting to the right as witnessed by more and more changes to its programme. For example, it has dropped its demands for a “universal citizen’s income” because it would cost €145 billion which, they say, is too much for the Spanish government. It is also now no longer advocating the suspension of all foreclosures, but instead proposes negotiations between debtors and creditors over mortgage payments.
In an interview with Associated Press in October 2015, its leader Pablo Iglesias said "It's great that we have rich people, but for the rich to be rich, the key is not to impoverish the rest of the country."
47) The leadership of the party is trying to tone down its radical policies to attract centrist voters, and this is causing a split within Podemos along left/right lines. In April 2015, Juan Carlos Monedero, a leadr and founding member of the group, resigned from the party over its move to the right. In an interview he stated that “sometimes we appear to be like those that we want to substitute” and that the party was trying to make it “seem that we are good clean boys that won't give the powerful any headaches.”
48) As it shifts towards the right, Podemos is falling steeply in the opinion polls. In January 2015, it hit its zenith capturing 28% backing from the electorate. But by September its support had fallen to 18%, and in November to only 14%. Pablo Iglesias seems to think that the only way top stop this is to go even further to the right, believing that he is loosing supporters to the center Ciudadanos (Citizens) Party. This is suicidal because Podemos will loose its identity as a real left-wing alternative and with it the reason for its rapid rise in popularity.
49) Ciudadanos, who were originally only active in Catalonia, burst onto the national stage only this year. They are a populist center party giving off a progressive, but not left-wing image. In some ways their rise has been even more spectacular than Podemos. From nothing they managed to capture 16% of the vote in opinion polls in September 2015. In November, it rose to 22%, with the possibility it could come second in the general election in December after the PP, pushing PSOE into third place.
50) Despite being a center party, Ciudadanos' growth is nevertheless a result of austerity, the attacks of the PP, and the treachery of PSOE. Many people don't want to vote either for the PP or PSOE, but don't feel ready to support Podemos. Its support is mainly among the middle classes, but it is attracting a section of workers for these same reasons. While it isn't a leftward development, it is another symptom of an anti-Establishment mood and a desire for something new and different. Broadly speaking, when the two-party system begins to break down, it is indicative of the more general crisis for capitalism.
51) As a result of the plunge in its support and the rise of Podemos, PSOE's new leader, Pedro Sánchez, has been forced to take a more anti-austerity stance. Furthermore, there are signs of growing discontent and dissent within its ranks. PSOE's Catalan MPs voted against the party over Catalan independence. There have also been clashes between PSOE youth leaders and party heads, and in the recent elections for leader of the party, a grouping called “The Socialist Left Platform” ran a candidate, Perez Tapias, for election.  A shift to the left in PSOE is inevitable at some point, but as with other developments, it wont take exactly the same form as in Britain or Portugal. When it does move left, this will be another factor which can weaken support for Podemos.

52) SYRIZA's betrayal of the working class has definitely undermined belief in other left groupings in Europe. Their credibility as a real alternative to the traditional parties and as an effective force against austerity has suffered and has certainly played a role in Podemos' decline in support in opinion polls.

53) Another factor working against Podemos is the recovery in the Spanish economy, which has also given the right-wing capitalist party a slight lead in opinion polls for the December elections. Despite continuing mass unemployment and poverty, we can not ignore the effect of an increase in economic growth is having on political processes.
54) These mounting problems means that there is a strong possibility that Podemos will split along left/right lines. If its showing in the December 2015 general election is poorer than expected, then a right-wing break away, possibility led by Pablo Iglesias, could emerge and try to create a group similar to Ciudadanos, with a center-left programme. It may even attempt to merge with Ciudadanos or, at least form alliances with it. Podemos is already entering into coalitions with PSOE at a local level. Continuing in this direction would sound the death knell for Podemos. It is very likely that its 300,000 members would then fall into inactivity, disillusioned with developments.
55) At the same time, a left-wing could also break away from Podemos and try to set up a new grouping around its original ideas and a new radical programme. However, that is unlikely to attract the same support as the Podemos originally did. The best it could probably do would be to enter into a coalition of the left with the IU Communist party and the CUP in Catalonia.
56) The situation remains very fluid. The future of the current left movement in Spain will depend on a number of factors, including the economy, PSOE and whether Podemos shifts to the left. If the economy goes into a new crisis, and if PSOE enters a coalition government with the right-wing PP, that could revive the left. But even if Podemos were to wither away, it wouldn't mark the end of the matter. Like the other left movements in Europe, Podemos is just a harbinger of waves of left movements to come in the future. 
The Left Block and CDU in Portugal
57) In Portugal, the Left Block (BE) and CDU Communist alliance groups have together won more than 20% of the vote. Like elsewhere, their success has been based on a combination of economic crisis, austerity measures and the participation of the traditional workers' party (PS) in carrying out these attacks on the working class while in government. The BE and CDU is committed to quitting the Euro and NATO, as well as calling for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy
58) The success of the BE and CDU has pushed the leaders of the PS to the left. The PS now takes a far more radical anti-austerity position than before, and they have included a series of left demands in their programme. This includes a massive increase in public spending to create jobs, improving education and health care, reversal of wage cuts and an increase in pensions and the minimum wage, as well as stricter rules to defend workers' rights and job security. Moreover, they have taken the unprecedented step of trying to form a coalition government with the Left Block and the Communist Party. At the time of writing, there is a constitutional crisis, because the President has blocked the Left Coalition from forming a government, despite them having over 50% of the vote. The PS is threatening to reject the minority center-right austerity programme in Parliament and vows to pass a vote of no confidence to bring down the government. This all has the potential to cause a revolutionary crisis in Portugal, but the outcome is not yet clear.
59) However, there are already worrying signs of a shift to the right in both left movements. In order to enter the coalition the BE and CDU have dropped the most radical sections of their programme, particularly a clear commitment to socialism. Unfortunately, if they finally do enter a government coalition with the PS, all the elements of SYRIZA-style sell-out are in place. There is a danger that they will seriously undermine their popularity, if they support a PS government, since it is unlikely to be able to carry out the promised reforms, and will probably back down in the face of pressure from the European capitalists. Being part of a new budget-cutting, austerity government would be disastrous for the Left. The only way to maintain their levels of support, would then be to take a principled stand against the PS and break from the coalition.
60) At the time of writing, the Left Block appears to have made a deal with the PS to go into government. But they can't form a ruling coalition without the agreement of the Communist Party. There are encouraging signs that the CP will refuse to enter the coalition on the basis of certain PS policies on budget cuts. If they stick to their guns, this will pay off latter in increased support for the CP and its coalition. The affect on the BE would probably be that left-wing would break away from it, like in SYRIZA in Greece.
61) However, unless the left coalitions develop in a clearly socialist direction, they are bound to drift to the right and become programmatically indistinguishable from the rest of the political parties on the center-left. Then, the support they originally attracted can wither away, and they can find themselves again in the position of small groups commanding 5% of the vote or less. The crisis of capitalism and the continued betrays of the traditional workers' parties may keep them afloat, but it seems unlikely that the left formations in Portugal will be able to repeat the electoral success of SYRIZA.


brendandavison said...

What about Sinistra Ecologia Liberta and L'Alta Europa in Italy?

Stephen Morgan said...

Thanks for raising this point Brendan. The development of the left in Italy certainly is a complex and unusual situation. As I say in the discussion paper, the rise in support for the anti-establishment, Five Star Movement, led by the popular comedian, Beppe Grillo, which has described itself as a populist party outside traditional left-right politics is a vague and somewhat bizarre manifestation of the shift to the left in the country, compared to other Southern European nations.

The left in Italy is in total crisis. Back in the 1970s, the Italian Communist Party was not only the biggest left party, it was the biggest of all the parties in Italy, getting 35% of the vote. But after the fall of Stalinism it shattered into pieces, and the once might Left in Italy literally disintegrated into a plethora of tiny groups, from which it has never recovered. One of the biggest groups to split from the Italian CP, was Rifondazione Comunista (PRC), which is the main force within one of the groups you mention - Sinistra Ecologia Liberta. Although there are also 5 small other groups within it, it is still really dominated by the PRC.

Sinistra Ecologia Liberta hasn't seen the same huge rise in support which other New Left groups in Europe have. Indeed, in the 1990s, the PRC got 9% of the vote, three times higher than today. It can now only muster 3% of the vote. The same is true of the other group you mention L'Alta Europa, which has only been able to win a maximum 4% of the vote so far. I don't think it is possible to compare them to the “New Left” like the Left Block and CUD in Portugal with 20% of the vote or Podemos with up to 28% support and SYRIZA with 36% of the vote, or, for that matter with Die Linke or Front de Gauche which get 11-12% of the vote.

There are hundreds of small groups in Europe like Sinistra Ecologia Liberta with between 1%-3% support. In Britain alone there at about 35! You could add up all their votes and it might look impressive, but in fact that doesn't mean they lead any significant movements.

If Sinistra Ecologia Liberta or L'Alta Europa had the same impact in Italian politics, which Podemos or SYRIZA have had in Spain and Greece, I would have mentioned them in the discussion paper. I don't rule out that Sinistra Ecologia Liberta or L'Alta Europa could grow in the future, but at this moment I wouldn't include them as part of the surge to the New Left.

Nevertheless, the point of these articles which make up the full discussion paper is to precisely to discuss and that includes raising questions, making points or disagreeing with things. That helps to correct, qualify and understand things. Its how knowledge grows. So thanks for adding to the discussion Brendan.

the author, Stephen Morgan in Brussels.