[Marxism] The return of socialism
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 6 06:22:29 MST 2008
Published 04 December 2008
At the beginning of the century, the chances of socialism making a
return looked close to zero. Yet now, all around Europe, the red flag
is flying again
"If socialism signifies a political and economic system in which the
government controls a large part of the economy and redistributes
wealth to produce social equality, then I think it is safe to say the
likelihood of its making a comeback any time in the next generation
is close to zero," wrote Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of
History, in Time magazine in 2000.
He should take a trip around Europe today.
Make no mistake, socialism - pure, unadulterated socialism, an
ideology that was taken for dead by liberal capitalists - is making a
strong comeback. Across the continent, there is a definite trend in
which long-established parties of the centre left that bought in to
globalisation and neoliberalism are seeing their electoral dominance
challenged by unequivocally socialist parties which have not.
The parties in question offer policies which mark a clean break from
the Thatcherist agenda that many of Europe's centre-left parties have
embraced over the past 20 years. They advocate renationalisation of
privatised state enterprises and a halt to further liberalisation of
the public sector. They call for new wealth taxes to be imposed and
for a radical redistribution of wealth. They defend the welfare state
and the rights of all citizens to a decent pension and free health
care. They strongly oppose war - and any further expansion of Nato.
Most fundamentally of all, they challenge an economic system in which
the interests of ordinary working people are subordinated to those of capital.
Nowhere is this new leftward trend more apparent than in Germany,
home to the meteoric rise of Die Linke ("The Left"), a political
grouping formed only 18 months ago - and co-led by the veteran
socialist "Red" Oskar Lafontaine, a long-standing scourge of big
business. The party, already the main opposition to the Christian
Democrats in eastern Germany, has made significant inroads into the
vote for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in elections to western
parliaments this year, gaining representation in Lower Saxony,
Hamburg and Hesse. Die Linke's unapologetically socialist policies,
which include the renation alisation of electricity and gas, the
banning of hedge funds and the introduction of a maximum wage, chime
with a population concerned at the dismantling of Germany's mixed
economic model and the adoption of Anglo-Saxon capitalism - a shift
that occurred while the SPD was in government.
An opinion poll last year showed that 45 per cent of west Germans
(and 57 per cent of east Germans) consider socialism "a good idea";
in October, another poll showed that Germans overwhelmingly favour
nationalisation of large segments of the economy. Two-thirds of all
Germans say they agree with all or some of Die Linke's programme.
It's a similar story of left-wing revival in neighbouring Holland.
There the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), which almost
trebled its parliamentary representation in the most recent general
election (2006), and which made huge gains in last year's provincial
elections, continues to make headway.
Led by a charismatic 41-year-old epidemiologist, Agnes Kant, the SP
is on course to surpass the Dutch Labour Party, a member of the
ruling conservative-led coalition, as the Netherlands' main left-of
The SP has gained popularity by being the only left-wing Dutch
parliamentary party to campaign for a "No" vote during the 2005
referendum on the EU constitutional treaty and for its opposition to
large-scale immigration, which it regards as being part of a
neoliberal package that encourages flexible labour markets.
The party calls for a society where the values of "human dignity,
equality and solidarity" are most prominent, and has been scathing in
its attacks on what it describes as "the culture of greed", brought
about by "a capitalism based on inflated bonuses and easy money".
Like Die Linke, the SP campaigns on a staunchly anti-war platform -
demanding an end to Holland's role as "the US's lapdog".
In Greece, the party on the up is the Coalition of the Radical Left
(SYRIZA), the surprise package in last year's general election. As
public opposition to the neoliberal econo mic policies of the ruling
New Democracy government builds, SYRIZA's opinion-poll ratings have
risen to almost 20 per cent - putting it within touching distance of
PASOK, the historical left-of-centre opposition, which has lurched
sharply to the right in recent years. SYRIZA is particularly popular
with young voters: its support among those aged 35 and under stands
at roughly 30 per cent in the polls, ahead of PASOK.
In Norway, socialists are already in power; the ruling "red-green"
coalition consists of the Socialist Left Party, the Labour Party and
the Centre Party. Since coming to power three years ago, the
coalition - which has been labelled the most left-wing government in
Europe, has halted the privatisation of state-owned companies and
made further development of the welfare state, public health care and
improving care for the elderly its priorities.
The success of such forces shows that there can be an electoral
dividend for left-wing parties if voters see them responding to the
crisis of modern capitalism by offering boldly socialist solutions.
Their success also demonstrates the benefits to electoral support for
socialist groupings as they put aside their differences to unite
behind a commonly agreed programme.
For example, Die Linke consists of a number of internal caucuses - or
forums - including the "Anti-Capitalist Left", "Communist Platform"
and "Democratic Socialist Forum". SYRIZA is a coalition of more than
ten Greek political groups. And the Dutch Socialist Party - which was
originally called the Communist Party of the Netherlands, has
successfully brought socialists and communists together to support
its collectivist programme.
It is worth noting that those European parties of the centre left
which have not fully embraced the neoliberal agenda are retaining
their dominant position. In Spain, the governing Socialist Workers'
Party has managed to maintain its broad left base and was re-elected
for another four-year term in March, with Prime Minister José Luis
Rodríguez Zapatero promising a "socialist economic policy" that would
focus on the needs of workers and the poor.
There are exceptions to the European continent's shift towards
socialism. Despite the recent election of leftist Martine Aubry as
leader of the French Socialist Party, the French left has been torn
apart by divisions, at the very moment when it could be exploiting
the growing unpopularity of the Sarkozy administration.
And, in Britain, despite opinion being argu ably more to the left on
economic issues than at any time since 1945, few are calling for a
return to socialism.
The British left, despite promising initiatives such as September's
Convention of the Left in Manchester, which gathered representatives
from several socialist groups, still remains fragmented and divided.
The left's espousal of unrestricted or loosely controlled immigration
is also, arguably, a major vote loser among working-class voters who
should provide its core support. No socialist group in Britain has as
yet articulated a critique of mass immigration from an
anti-capitalist and anti-racist viewpoint in the way the Socialist
Party of the Netherlands has.
And even if a Die Linke-style coalition of progressive forces could
be built and put on a formal footing in time for the next general
election, Britain's first-past-the-post system provides a formidable
obstacle to change.
Nevertheless, the prognosis for socialism in Britain and the rest of
Europe is good. As the recession bites, and neoliberalism is
discredited, the phenomenon of unequivocally socialist parties with
clear, anti-capitalist, anti-globalist messages gaining ground, and
even replacing "Third Way" parties in Europe, is likely to continue.
Even in Britain, where the electoral system grants huge advantage to
the established parties, pressure on Labour to jettison its
commitment to neoliberal policies and to adopt a more socialist
agenda is sure to intensify.
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