Documents menu

The leftward political trend in Europe

By William Pomeroy, People's Weekly World, 21 June 1997

The stunning June 1 election victory of the alliance of left parties in France is part of a spreading political tendency in Europe that confounds the triumphalism chanted by capitalist apologists at the end of the cold war.

It is featured by the resurgence of Socialist and Communist parties and of radical parties ready to ally with them and shows the falsity of the claim that capitalism had been proved superior and that socialism and movements of a socialist nature are dead.

A French government headed by the Socialist Party with Communists in the cabinet of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin is the most striking such development but it is not an exception. There are governments headed by socialists or with socialists in ruling coalitions in eleven of the European Union countries (Portugal, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Ireland).

Even the right-wing Prime Minister Tony Blair in Britain calls himself a kind of socialist and his "New" Labor government is viewed as part of the leftward swing. Only Germany and Spain in the European Union have right-wing conservative governments with socialists in opposition, and the German election due in October 1998 is likely to put the Social Democratic Party in power.

Looking at these events in Europe with regard to the parties involved reveals, however, no common program or approach and little in the way of a coordinated effort to change radically the political scene in Europe. Variously, the Socialist Parties that play the leading role in the present trend and have long-abandoned a Marxist ideology or any commitment to a revolutionary transformation of society to socialism, embody differing shades of reformism.

At the congress of European Socialists held in Malme, Sweden, on June 6, Tony Blair and Lionel Jospin stood poles apart on policy although both their Labor and Socialist parties had scored sweeping electoral triumphs.

In the current tendency the best indication of the European mood being generated can be seen in the regaining of ground by the Communist parties, particularly the leap in parliamentary seats from 24 to 38 by the Communist Party of France; the continual increase in voting strength by the Refoundation Communist Party of Italy and its holding of the balance of power in the Italian parliament; and the increased representation won in recent elections by the Communists in Greece, Spain and Cyprus. This best refutes the claim that socialism and the appeal of socialism are dead.

What has moved European politics to the left, and won votes for the parties that have reacted to it, is the growing mass sentiment against the post-cold war drive by capitalism to restore the crudest forms of exploitation and greed profit-making while seeking to erase the social gains made by working people under the umbrella of a world socialist system.

The mass sentiment has been against widening of the great gap between an enriched few and the increasing 30 percent or more of populations in Europe living below the poverty level. It is against the existence of 18 million unemployed in the European Union and the holding down of wages for those with jobs. It is against the open assault on and destruction of the welfare state and its essential cushions for the poorly paid, the elderly and children in poverty conditions. It is against the privatization of the public sector and the resultant huge rise in the cost of services in order to enable enormous profits for the new owners.

In European Union countries a mounting wave of opposition has developed against the EU's Maastricht Treaty which is intended to centralize political, economic and social structures, to introduce a single EU currency by the turn of the century, and to concentrate economic policy in the hands of an EU central bank - all of which take democratic processes away from the people. It is to meet the criteria set for the joining of the single currency that welfare state expenditures have been eliminated or slashed to the bone: required is a reduction of budget deficits to no more than a 3 percent level, to be reached by severe cuts in public spending.

Preceding the victory of the left parties in France were massive demonstrations and strikes against the public spending cuts and wage restraint measures of the Chirac Gaullist government. Mass anger was increased by the Chirac move to call a premature election with the undisguised aim of getting his government re-elected so that it could claim a mandate to carry out much harsher cuts so it could squeeze beneath the 3 percent deficit limit.

The coming election in Germany has been preceded by huge protest strikes and demonstrations against the anti-welfare state austerity measures of the Kohl regime. If anything, the Social Democratic Party, deep in a leadership struggle between its right and left wings, is lagging behind German mass sentiment and if it comes out fighting to oust the Kohl regime, it will undoubtedly be through the pressures of that left-leaning sentiment.

Britain's Tony Blair, as exhibited in his speech to the Malmo Socialist Congress, is seeking to swing European socialists to his "New" Labor line. "We have to modernize or die!" he shouted melodramatically - meaning by "modernization" the scrapping of socialist policies and principles and the pursuit of class collaboration and market economies.

Blair says it was his modernization line that won the landslide victory in Britain but in truth it was due to mass rejection of the big business, anti-labor, anti- welfare state policies of the Thatcher-Major Tory government.

The British labor movement is resisting the efforts of Blair to take the Labor Party away from it, and British trade unions, the poor, the pensioners and unemployed call on the Labor government to respond to their needs and not to the profit demands of big business.

The French Socialist Party won with pledges to defend the welfare state, halt privatization of the public sector, create 700,000 jobs, reduce the work week and in crease the minimum wage.

The Communist Party, basing itself on the mass mood, calls for greater steps to the left, especially for reduction of taxes for the low-paid and heavier taxes for the rich. As in the past when socialists and Communists were together in government, a struggle over carrying out left policies is likely, and here too it is the action of mass feeling that will count.

Significantly, one of the results of the leftward trend now strengthened by the socialist-Communist and allied forces victory in France has been the move in the EU to expand what is called the "social chapter" of the Maastricht treaty, the set of semi-rights for workers and trade unions tacked on to give the treaty a trace of democracy. It is now proposed to add a provision on employment, guaranteeing employment rights to working people. The unemployment situation has been one of the principal issues raised in the strikes and demonstrations of the recent period. Jospin has declared that approval of the employment provision is a condition for France's joining of the EU's single currency.

This addition to the social chapter will be a cosmetic touch until it is implemented in a genuine action program that would be radical because it would strike at one of the supports of the exploitation structure of European Union capitalism, the maintenance of large-scale unemployment to hold down wages and worker organization.

Read the Peoples Weekly World
Sub info:
235 W. 23rd St. NYC 10011
$20/yr - $1-2 mos trial sub

Tired of the same old system: Join the Communist Party, USA