Date: Mon, 21 Dec 1998 20:20:19 -0600 (CST)
From: Sid Shniad <> (by way of Michael Eisenscher <>)
Article: 50596
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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How left is left in Europe?

By Serge Halimi, Le Monde diplomatique, December 1998

The debate about the relationship between the end (the transformation of society) and the means (the compromises dictated by economic realism) has long been a favourite in left-wing circles. The appearance of several left-leaning governments in Europe—Labour in Britain, the forces of the left in France, the post-communist centre in Italy and the red-green one in Germany—has generated a flood of articles analysing the differences between their various approaches.

Though the electoral issues and the shape of the ruling coalitions in these four countries are far from identical, their ways of approaching the problems of government are becoming increasingly similar. To the point that it's becoming a waste of time trying to spot the differences. Where is the real difference between the left liberal team headed by Tony Blair and the government of Lionel Jospin, which was ill-advisedly presented as less likely to pander to big business? At least the British prime minister—who often seems like a man searching for the Holy Grail of a Thatcherism with a human face—has been pushing for a minimum wage and new trade union rights. His French counterpart, Lionel Jospin—who says he will not be held accountable for the socially and morally unjustifiable legacy of the Mitterand presidency—has taken on board one of its emblematic features: pressing for progressive social reforms (forever promised and always postponed) as a way of improving his chances of pushing through a policy of neo-liberal modernisation (which, unlike the reforms, rolls on at an alarming rate).

In Germany, Oskar Lafontaine talked about re-asserting the power of democratic governments against the arrogance of the central banks. For a few weeks he looked quite promising. But his apparent surrender now shows that, in Berlin, Paris and Rome, the only real ambition of the left, once in government, has been to smooth the way for big-money interests. Privatisation, pension funds, social austerity, respecting the stability pact, and no political will to deal with unemployment and social insecurity. This appears to be the programme, made all the easier by the smaller parties in the coalitions, who too often make purely formal concessions in order to look good in front of the TV cameras.

The collapse of the right in Europe should have made it possible to embark on alternative economic and social policies. Instead, it has been used by the parliamentary left as a way of establishing themselves as managers of the neo-liberal world order.

Of course, people are resisting neo-liberalism all over the world. But resistance does not make for a movement, nor a movement a programme, and even a programme does not mean a policy. So we are back to the dialectic between the means and the end. This time, perhaps, with new protagonists.