[Marxism] The return of socialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 6 06:22:29 MST 2008

Socialism's comeback
Neil Clark
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 
centre grouping.

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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