Last week the Guardian published this article about the rise of the new popular left parties in parts of Europe, the most interesting of course being Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece.
Now I agree that it’s extremely interesting to see how in several countries the “far” left have managed to ride to some level of success if not electorally than in the opinion polls in a way that has not for example happened in the UK.
Now I’ve said before why I don’t think there’s many conclusions people in the UK who want to build a new popular and progressive, emancipatory politics can draw from looking at the success of similar in countries with quite different political and electoral systems.
This article goes no way in my opinion to providing any answers relevant to the British situation, but that’s not what I wanted to say about it.
The writer Srecko Horvat has this to say:
The second big challenge is the question of the state. The closer left parties come to power, the more accusations we hear that they are not radical enough any more. The greater the possibility that they could form new governments, the more they are accused of being “social democrats”. It seems social democracy has become the big bad wolf again.
The new left parties are faced with the following contradiction: although they are well aware that the welfare state was the result of a historic compromise between labour and capital, they are forced to fight for the welfare state because it is the last shield in defence of the healthcare system, education, pensions, social security. So the question is: how to avoid the mistakes of the German Greens or the British third way? How to keep the best of the welfare state and not again fall into the trap of strengthening capitalism?
Now these are surely the wrong questions to ask any popular movements for social renewal?
They assume that there is somehow a conflict between social democracy and the self identified needs and desires of people who might support this movements, and there is a conflict between strengthening capitalism and defending the welfare state.
Now I don’t see the great masses of people calling for change either in the UK or in Spain or Greece or elsewhere, being particularly bothered about ideology or whether social democracy is selling out to capital.
What they seem to be saying is that they want serious political change and the political classes to recognise and accommodate their needs and desires – particularly around such things as housing, education, wages, cost of living etc. In many countries they’re pretty pissed off with corruption and the EU as well.
No where do I see any evidence that people are turning to the popular left out of any love for socialism or Marxism or “the left” – they are turning to people who offer fairly simple solutions to a range of problems. The rise of Podemos and Syriza is identical to the rise of the M5S and UKIP.
If we want to learn the lessons in the UK, to build a progressive, or radical alternative to UKIP we have to ask why people are turning to them? Is it because they’re simply racists and EUphobes? Or are their reasons that it’s easier for us to address and take on with them?