• The European Union and the Dilemmas of the Radical Left

  • Por Gerassimos Moschonas | 20 Oct 11 | Posted under: Unión Europea , Estrategias transformadoras
  • “... the task  arises is not merely to criticize the policy of the ruling classes [...] from the standpoint of the existing society itself, but also to contrast existing society as its every move with the socialist ideal of society [...]” - Rosa Luxemburg, Social Democracy and Parliamentarism (1904)

    The issue is one of securing a left majority and this is completely impossible if we limit ourselves to mumbling extremist slogans, ant-everything and anti-everyone, showing ourselves incapable of reaching an agreement with anyone under whatsoever the conditions.” - J. L. Mélenchon (Le Monde, January 28, 2010)

    The return of the vainquished

    After the collapse of real socialism, the left forces to the left of social democracy offer an image of a routed army. The implicit agreement with “History” that had lasted nearly a century, even if it had not expired, seemed since 1989 (the annus crucialis of contemporary communist history) to be almost shattered. The deep wound provoked by the collapse of this extremely destructive (while also extremely innovative) system of power, spared nothing and no one – not even those parties that had not been identified with the vainquished version of communism. The shattering defeat has swept aside the optimistic assertions of a certain “anti-Stalinist” left, namely that this collapse would represent “a tremendous victory for genuine socialism“2. It ripped apart left culture as a whole, a culture already in retreat, and it accelerated and deepened the rise of liberal ideas. The defeat not only led to a falling off of electoral scores and the weakening of the partisan organisations. It also led to a more general decline: the voluntary departure of more “modern” cadres, the silence of intellectuals, weakening of links with the trade unions and youth, a change of discourse to a defensive affirmation of identity (“we are still here” for some, “narcissism of the lost cause”, to cite Slavoj Zizek’s expression, for others3). The defeat of the most ambitious project of the 20th Century (and perhaps of all history) hit the anti-capitalist left as a whole, be it orthodox, revisionist, libertarian or Trotskyist – the “orthodoxies” and the “heresies” to use Eustach Kouvelaki’s formula4.

    “Communism no longer exists as a programme”, stated the British historian Eric Hobsbawn in 2008. However, electoral figures tell a slightly different story. Radical left parties, often of communist origin, are indeed occupying an important place in the European political landscape: in countries with a strong left tradition (Greece, Finland, Portugal, France, Cyprus), or with a weaker but steady communist tradition (Denmark and Sweden) as well as in countries without any noticeable communist presence after WWII (Germany, Holland). While the classical Communist parties are weakened nearly everywhere (particularly in Italy France and Finland, but also in Portugal and Greece), the geographic distribution of influence of the European radical left shows a more balanced picture than in the past. The left enjoys a wider geographic spread of its electoral power. Moreover, some excellent election results (in Sweden 12% in 1998 and 15.8% at the 1999 European elections; in the Netherlands 16.6% in 2006; in Germany 11.9% in 2009; in Portugal 17.7% in 2009; in Greece 12.1% in 2009), while isolated, bear witness to a significant electoral potential. This force, which only a short while ago, seemed in the throes of a historic decline is very present. It is in no danger. The “communist passion”, to paraphrase an expression of Marc Lazar, is, in a certain way still very much alive. But in what way? This return, which, judging from election results, is unstable and fragile, is not only and not mainly electoral. It is above all ideological, cultural and political. The failures of financial capitalism, the electoral and ideological decline of the moderate left, the anti-globalisation or alternative globalisation movements, and the numerous social movements at a national level, have, to a great extent, re-legitimated the ideas and critiques of this “other” left, its intellectuals and its partisan organisations. From this point of view, the “failures of the adversary” are the key to this resurgence.

    However, this type of explanatory background is never enough in politics. The adaptation of the radical spirit and agenda to a new historic situation, one would say in politological-science language: a certain strategic flexibility, is part of the equation of these organisations’ success. In fact, the radical left has been able to renew its programmatic profile and its agenda and call into question (even if only in part) its ideas and its historic pride. In a way, it has been able to face defeat. Thus, despite the dominance of a culture of protest that is unable to generate political hegemony, despite the excessive focusing on “struggles” and even despite the arrogant “extremism” or sectarianism of some of its component parts, this force has shown a great capacity for adaptation and Darwinian survival. The “left of the left” is returning because of and not despite its restructuring and its “new look” profile. It little matters if some aspects of this profile are irritating (including, among others, to the writer of these lines). It is thanks to this profile (which is not the object of this short paper) that the left has returned, after such a heavy defeat, to the political landscape. And it is this profile, and it alone, that has the militant legitimacy and the legitimacy of the popular vote.

    The lost centrality: the hallmark of communism

    In fact, the area to the left of social democracy is, today, recast and is very different from the communist left of the earlier period. It is a space, in the full meaning of the term, because its component parts do not form a single family of parties. The interweaving of the failure of communism, the failure of liberalism and of social democracy has generated a whole range of “post-communist” organisations and attitudes, a real “labyrinth of political and ideological trends”.5

    Orthodox communist parties, “reformed” communist parties, ex-communist parties, left Socialist parties, Red-Green organisations, organisations of Trotskyist or Maoist origin, left social-democrats (as well as all kinds of networks) make up the contemporary radical space. Never has this political current been so plural and splintered nor has it ever produced such complexity.

    The outstanding fact regarding the structur of the left in the post-war period lies in the domination of most – often virtually all – of the scene to the left of social-democracy by the communist parties. At the time, the “extreme left” (be it Trotskyist, Maoist, or libertarian) defined itself in terms of opposition to the established communist parties. It constructed its identity in relation to – and in direct competition with - them6. Now, this is no longer the case. The great breach in the historic continuity lies just there – in the fundamental decline of this communist hallmark. The communist parties no longer hold the centre of the radical space (or do so insufficiently) and, consequently, no longer can define it. As a consequence, from a party organisation point of view, the radical left today represents a new generation of parties and partisan groupings. From an ideological point of view, this left is no longer a “classical” communist left. If words and party programmes have any meaning, the communist idea and, even more so, the communist project have not returned, despite the work of rehabilitation skilfully carried out by some brilliant public figures of the “philosophical left”7. In the past, the communist parties, the big communist mass parties, were producers of historic meaning (and under some conditions “permanent builders of societies and states“8). This is no longer the role of parties that make up the contemporary radical left – it is beyond their political potential and their cultural and ideological reach. The radical left has certainly been able to re-create living space for its political survival and ideological development. However, it has not recreated its “utopian space”, the socialist ideal of which Rosa Luxembourg spoke so convincingly.

    End of communist ideology? We are not formulating here an “end-of-ideology” proposition (the end of communism as ideology) but a proposition on partisan survival and reconstruction: if radical left parties are regaining influence and political space, it is because of a process of mutation of the radical left constellation. Since “communist centrality” and communist grand narrative no longer play the role of factors of cohesion (the communist hallmark had conferred a power of identity crystallisation to the revolutionary left and a strategic ability rarely reached in history), the distance that separates the radical left’s past and the present, the “being and the has been” is, from a partisan and ideological point of view, enormous. From this angle, the present radical space is (if only in part) a post-communist space, even if some important parties and organisations within it preserve and proudly claim their communist identity. Today’s radical left is not the left of the great Maisons rouges (“Red Houses”) of the past9. With the end of communist centrality a historic page is being turned.

    If the deep crisis of the “communist hypothesis” has upset the situation, European integration has undermined former constants still further. To the great “internal” uncertainties (the ideological void generated by the crisis of the communist project) has been added an immense “external” uncertainty (the European Union and globalisation). In the following pages I propose to explore, in a simplified manner, the influence exercised on the galaxy of the radical left by European integration. The European Union is one of the most imaginative creations of institutional and political engineering - and exerts unprecedented pressure on political parties in general and radical left parties in particular.

    The EU and the reviving of the „reformist-revolutionary“ cleavage

    Following the great reforms of the 1985-99 period, the European Union became a heavy and imposing political machine. As such, not only does it more than ever influence policies adopted but it also creates new polarisations in the left-wing camp (as in the right-wing camp) at the same time as reviving former cleavages. Its potential for division has increased.

    Indeed, the “Europe” factor not only stirs up internal divisions within the radical left (see below) but also (and historically more important) the divisions between it and social-democracy. Certainly, the critique of the process of integration has been a traditional common characteristic of the forces of the communist family since the 1950s. However, with the renaissance of Europe as well as the metamorphosis of both social-democracy and the radical left, a new dialectic of competition has taken place within the left and the centre-left of the political spectrum.

    Gradually, since the middle of the 1990s, the discourse on Europe (and on globalisation) has become an increasingly important part of the radical left agenda and fuelled identity differentiation in the face of its eternal rival, social democracy. Indeed, the radical left’s Euro-scepticism, seen in this light, has entered a new phase. It is less “hard”, less “anti-imperialist” and less anti-capitalist than the Euro-scepticism of the past. It is a “reformist” Euro-scepticism, certainly more reformist than historical communist Euro-scepticism10. At the same time, this new Euro-scepticism counts more as a vector of political strategy, it is omnipresent in speeches, occupies people’s minds more and is more strongly valued. Briefly, it is structuring the political and ideological agenda of the radical left to a greater extent. Criticism of the Union, henceforth, is part of the raison d’être, the new “imaginary” of radical space. All the more so since the latter has lost its past reference points and is building its moral and political legitimacy on “the present” rather than on issues linked to the long-term history of the socialist movement.

    As such, the Euro-critical attitude held by the radical spectrum contributes to creating a new and very modern dividing line between moderates and radicals, thus reviving the old cleavage between the parties of the centre-left and the revolutionary left. This dividing line is becoming deeper and more audible when one bears in mind the fact that social democracy is at the source of the second foundation of Europe (it was the pro-European reformism of social democracy and the right-wing liberal reformism that imagined, negotiated and built the “new” Europe).

    Moreover, from a strictly electoral point of view, the socialist parties, as governmental parties that have undertaken the management both of the rigidities of Brussels’ governance and the inefficiencies of national governments, are considerably handicapped by the European construction11. On the contrary, the radical left, despite its lack of structured European argument, is riding on the wave of dissatisfaction created by the institutional heaviness and the liberal orientation of European integration. The Union and neoliberalism explain, if only partially, why the radical left has survived, despite the moral disaster of “real socialism”, the most catastrophic period of its history.

    To sum up, the issues and areas of the competition between the new social democrats and the new radical left are not a repetition of the battles of the past but a new struggle structured on new themes. Present-day Europe counts for more and divides to a greater extent. The “European question” is one of the heaviest weapons in the electoral arsenal of the radical left. This is, however, a two-edged weapon.

    The EU and the destabilisation of the radical project

    Part of the left has not adequately assimilated the dynamic of the chain of consequences that has been set in motion by the building of Europe. The two central links in this chain can be called “grand coalition” and “reform”. To be adopted, a policy requires (depending on the sector and institution) either heavily qualified majorities or unanimity, which leads the member-states or the national parties either to construct grand coalitions or to abandon their policies. This “conservative” character of Europe’s way of working12 is not created by liberal perversity and will not easily change: it draws its raison d’être from the multi-state and multi-level nature of the regime, which requires barriers to avoid one group of countries or actors dominating another13. On this basis, it would be naïve to consider that, in a foreseeable future, however voluntaristic or revolutionary it may be, the joint management of sovereignties could be done otherwise. So long as the reality of nations remains powerful, Europe, as a multi-state structure, will remain a political entity based on the logic of compromise. The European landscape is, by definition, one of alliances and reform – even, indeed, of patient, hard and difficult to achieve reform. In view of this framework, neither traditional reformism and still less radical strategies can remain unchanged when the institutional and political system has changed so fundamentally.

    Historically, left radicalism (in the context of the nation-state) was a political project of anti-capitalist breach whose strategic reason was based on its capacity of controlling the state (either by insurrectional or democratic means). Thus conceived, the logic of the historic radical project, be it in its initial insurrectional version or its later democratic version (“the democratic road to socialism”) was, seen with the hindsight of post-national experience, fairly coherent: (a) the building of a strong and centralised party (that was supposed to take on the role of the coordinating and strategic centre), (b) support by strong collateral organisations (such as the trade unions), (c) support by the active „intervention” of popular masses (or, later, particularly in the context of the Euro-communist project, supported by a majority coalition linked, if possible, to social movements).

    The revolutionary actor was not a single One, despite the overvaluation of the central role of the revolutionary party by Leninism (which was not the case with its “deviations” – Luxembourgism and Trotskyism). This actor, whether “plural” or “One”, aimed at carrying out an absolutely central objective, which, as such, was a constitutive element of the revolutionary rationale: to control the country (through its control of the state) and define its policies – or at least influence them, if in opposition.

    The transnational European terrain is very differently structured. There is practically no European civil society (a European demos or transnational left-wing electorate) nor any centralised power, conceived as the centre of all decision making. Furthermore, forming parties and organisations of a pan-European kind, possessed of the vitality and centrality of yesteryear (the equivalent of the national parties and trade unions of the past), represents an extraordinarily difficult task. It is sufficient to observe the persistent weakness of the Europarties. Moreover, the emergence of significant mass movements at a European level (or at least their simultaneous appearance in the main European countries), while a perspective that cannot be excluded at this time, is not the easiest thing in the world. In addition, nothing guarantees that these movements will have the same meaning from one European country to another. In consequence, Europe has created a difficult problem of collective action and coordination. This problem is strategic in a twofold sense: in the European system there is no Winter Palace to occupy or surround (a political system factor); and there is no strategy of coordination of the national lefts easy to achieve, nor a common social base ready to be mobilised around the same strategic objectives – especially not simultaneously (an agency factor).

    Today, inside the EU, the “violent” conquest of power, following an insurrectional mobilisation, is senseless, because, beyond a thousand other reasons, this kind of power with a single and strong centre does not exist. In a system of multi-level governance, the decisive “last fight” is no longer possible14. Moreover, the conquest of power by parliamentary means, whether or not supported by mass mobilisation (the democratic road to socialism), comes up against the same almost unsolvable problem: the multipolar and centrifugal character of European public authorities and the internal divisions, along national cleavage lines, of the left forces of Europe (let alone the absence of any synchronisation of national elections).

    The context has changed – dramatically so. In the new environment, neither the strategy of the „Revolutionary Grand Soir“ nor of “democratic patience” nor that of direct, anti-state action are rational. Certainly nothing is impossible to human genius. However, all this has become extremely complex. The structure of opportunities has contracted considerably for all strategic options. The revolutionary project has lost its coherence and sharpness.

    A left without strategy is a harmless left

    If this picture is correct, then the implications are simply enormous.

    1) The European Union structurally, not conjuncturally, undermines the modes of action of historic radicalism. Negotiation, the endless processes of compromise and wheeling and dealing, and the increased weight of technocratic solutions, are incompatible with the culture of radicalism. In reality, classical revolutionary concepts and the European Union are incompatible. There is no revolutionary strategy for Europe and it serves no purpose to attempt to formulate one. If a left party gives priority to “revolution”, if it thinks that the conditions of a major anti-capitalist overturn or even of a complete exit from capitalism exist, or will exist in the relatively near future, it has no reason to get involved in a complicated game with another 26 member-players and in an extremely rigid system of multi-level governance (a system moreover equipped with an enormous assortment of escape valves - 27 at a minimum, as many as there are national governments). It is irrational. Symmetrically, for any political party that makes the choice of working in the EU framework, the pivot of all coherence is called “reform”. The segment of the radical left that opts for a European strategy opts – of necessity – for a strategy of reforms. The European terrain is by definition the terrain of reform, and indeed difficult, tortuous reform. War of position, not war of manoevre, is its key distinguishing characteristic.

    2) The European construction obliges one to tackle head on the difficulty of the content of reforms and of thematic alliances with other political families. Coherent and global reforms, taken seriously15, and a strategy of intermediate goals such is the precondition of all action in Europe. A left inclined to criticise everything that moves on the planet – to quote Jean-Luc Mélenchon: “anti-everything, anti-everyone, showing itself incapable of agreeing on anything whatever may be the conditions” - this is a left completely inoffensive because lacking in any sense of history.

    Put in this way, the issue is not ideological (“for” or “against” Europe). It is a question of elementary strategic coherence. Every major choice carries with it a range of possibilities – but also of “restrictions of coherence”. Either the left opts for a European strategy and manages the political consequences; or else it opts for an anti-Union strategy (leaving the Union, restoring national sovereignty) and copes with the resulting consequences. Both strategies have a very strong seed of coherence. What is incoherent (in fact: deprived of strategic reason) is to opt for a “European” strategy (meaning seeking solutions at the European level) and continuing to use discursive schemes inspired by the insurrectional model; or to opt for a “return to the nation” and claim to be representative of universalism and the world proletariat. The out-of-date character of anti-capitalist ideologies is not just due to the fall of the Berlin wall.

    3) To sum up, compared with the political systems produced by the nation-state, the European system has complicated, in unprecedented fashion, the historic modes of action, revolutionary as well as reformist, of the left. Hence, the need to redefine and adapt both the radical and the reformist project to new realities. Furthermore, because of European (and global) constraints, as also of the crisis of the “socialist ideal”, the old distinction between reformists and revolutionaries has lost much of the political and ideological pertinence it once had. The real, not the rhetorical, distance between the reformist and revolutionary attitude is smaller today than it was in the past.

    Europe as a factor of division of the radical left

    Everything that has been said so far confronts all those (whether on the right or extreme right, the left or extreme left) who wish – assuming they do – to “change” Europe, with a very delicate problem: how to change a system that is “closed” to the logic of change, without blocking it? How to be radical (in the sense of promoting new policies and new operating frameworks) in a system that, by its very nature (complex and cumbersome decision-making mechanism, 27 players-countries), is easily weakened under the pressure of change? How, consequently, to change European policies without breaking the European “machine” that generates them? Confronted with this highly complex institutional set-up, which, moreover, does encourage and promote neoliberal policies, any radical actor is faced with the following dilemma: either to destabilise the European Union or else destabilise his own radical identity. This point is crucial: how to be or remain radical without being (or becoming) Euro-critical or head-on anti-European?

    The European integration process, traditionally a bone of contention within the radical left, reinforces the internal divisions and conflicts of the radical space much more than with the other partisan families. The blurred image of divergent sensibilities and approaches in the European radical left – euro-critics, anti-Europeans orthodox communists, the European anti-capitalist left, the Dutch with their policy of “less Europe”, the Scandinavians, traditionally very Euro-sceptical – is the proof.

    Essentially the European radical left, taken as a whole, is torn between two attitudes or two strategic reasons: to work inside the EU, adopting a long-haul, long-term reformist project, with limited prospects of imposing its preferences in the short and medium term; or to opt for an anti-EU policy and engage in the logic of a national “go it alone” strategy (exiting from the euro, returning to national sovereignty) at the risk of consigning itself to the status of a permanent minority, cut off from the “modern” strata in society and with no hold on international developments. This unattractive dilemma has no obvious solution. The two attitudes or options both have significant arguments in their favour – and flagrant weaknesses. The Euro-critics have difficulty in being convincing about their ability to promote deep changes (with the result that their opponents challenge their leftist identity, when they do not actually equate them with “social-liberalism”). The anti-EU or Euro-hostiles have difficulty in convincing people of the feasibility of the break they promise (which varies from “social-democracy in one country” to “socialism in one country”), and their competitors identify them with “national withdrawal” or “extremism”. To all appearances, ignoring the old game of stigmatising, both tendencies are right in their respective critiques. In reality, the margins of action, or structure of opportunities, has contracted considerably for both16.

    Obviously, both currents find a great strategic opportunity in the Union’s present crisis for deepening, enriching and up-dating their particular identities. The passion aroused within Greece’s Synaspismos over the question of whether or not Greece should leave the euro zone, and the present French debate about de-globalisation illustrate this point of view. Europe, which henceforth occupies an important place in the agenda of the left, by making the resolution of the radical “puzzle” more difficult than in the past, is fuelling the split between Euro-critics and Euro-hostiles. Europe is bringing about an intra-left cleavage, a division that affects something more than policies and party strategies: it concerns mentalities, political styles, the soul of the left.

    The ELP as a factor for structuring the radical left

    If Europe reinforces divisions within the left, it also contributes to restructuring these cleavages. Of course, Europeanisation is a “matrix of powerful pressures not always pulling in the same direction”17. From this point of view, the establishing and consolidation of the European left Party (ELP) is a representative case of “positive pressure”. A detailed analysis of this “case” would go far beyond the limits of this article. Nevertheless, two aspects of its development deserve attention: on the one hand, the contribution of the ELP to a certain “unification”, and, on the other, to a certain Europeanisation of the “critical” left.

    From its birth the ELP has followed a strategy of welcoming within it a great variety of parties belonging to the radical left space in Europe. Certainly, compared to the Party of European Socialists and the Eurpean People’s Party, this young party has a limited representativity (it does not represent the radical mosaic as a whole). Despite the fact that some important national parties are not part of the PEL (e.g. KKE, PCP, the Dutch SP) or limit themselves to an “observer” (AKEL), the ELP has been able to avoid, to date, the danger of a left competitor (such as the formation of a left anti-European group within the EP, or of another left Euro-party). It has also been able drastically to limit the influence of the European anti-capitalist left by removing the ground from under its feet, thanks to its superior institutional position and its strategy of openness.

    Indeed, the ELP fairly rapidly established itself as a reference point for the majority of the national parties and leaders belonging to the “radical left” galaxy. To some extent, it has acquired the status of the driving force within this tendency, which is an undeniable success in view of the great fragmentation and impossibility of cohesion of the contemporary radical space18.

    Moreover, faced with the national left parties that harbour extreme suspicion of any integration policy and, in addition, often formulate contradictory and unrealistic proposals, the PEL has gradually brought a dose of realism to the European strategy of the radical left. The distance covered between the ELP Congress at Athens (in October 2005, following the NO victory in the French and Dutch referenda) and that held in Paris (December 2010) is indicative of the programmatic maturing of the party. At the Paris Congress, unlike the one at Athens, a concern to go beyond criticism was central, the emphasis being placed on the articulation of an “alternative policy”.

    The ELP is a weak and fragile actor at the systemic level, its weakness deriving from the real situation of the European radical left. In fact, any divided family runs more risk of political marginalisation in a transnational arena than in a national one. It has, however, become a significant actor within the radical left. By asserting itself as a representative as well as a vector of a new common cause, by its work of synthesis, it is outlining the contours of a new Euro-critical party family in statu nascendi. These contours are certainly still very uncertain and the party itself is far from having consolidated its gains.

    We do not know whether this serious effort at structuring the radical space at the European level promises a new, more cohesive era for the left of the left or whether it is only a precarious face-lift. What we do know is that, for the moment and without predicting the future, the national parties that make up the ELP are projected, thanks to the ELP, as a little bigger, more influential, more pro-European and less protesting than they really are. From this viewpoint, the ELP is a real success story in the process of Europeanisation of the radical left.

    With hindsight, we can state that the promoters of the idea of creating a left party at European level had correctly understood the impetus of Europeanisation. Their decision to seize an institutional opportunity for supporting and building a political strategy has been fully confirmed by the subsequent dynamism of the ELP. The European area is not only a source of constraints for the left – it is also a structure that offers political opportunities and resources for action. Europeanisation is assuming a structuring role for better and for worse.


    1) The European Union, by its structure and its workings (and not by some sort of conspiracy of the elites or capital), raises an enormous problem of effectiveness and practical coherence for all the strategic options that have dominated the history of the left. In the new environment, neither the classical Leninist strategy nor the democratic road to socialism or that of direct action, appear effective. In a polycentric system with significant centrifugal forces, the mechanisms of conception and realisation of a revolutionary radical project have been destabilised (but so has the classical reformist project). A reduction in the actual perimeter of left action constitutes the hard core of the influence exercised by Europe. Consequently, the former distinction between reformists and revolutionaries no longer has the relevance that it formerly had. Europe has brought about a radical change in the environment and structure of political opportunities. All this boils down to a bleak outlook. Not from the viewpoint of electoral possibilities or electoral potential (the EU is a gift to oppositional politics from every point of the spectrum). The outlook is bleak from the viewpoint of the radical left’s ability to promote its political objectives.

    2) The centre of gravity of the radical left’s European policy has gradually moved towards a zone mid-way between the clearly pro-European logic of the Euro-communists in the 1970s and 80s and the clearly Euro-hostile logic of the traditionally anti-integration parties. To judge by the programmatic positions of its published texts, the radical left is, overall, more pro-European than in the past. Nevertheless, to judge from the spirit of its discourse, the tough tone and alarmist accents, it is very suspicious of the Union. In any case, this Euro-critical attitude forms part of the modern raison d’être of the radical area.

    3) While the critical attitude regarding the Union is an inherent part of the radical left’s identity, the meaning of “inherent part” lies in the constantly renewed tension between the Euro-critical tendency and the Euro-hostile one. The radical space is caught between two alternatives that reveal the hard-to-resolve contradictions of the modern anti-capitalist project. Overall, this historically “anti-European” left seems, today, too tied to Europe to draw up an “anti-European Union” strategy (or a “de-globalisation” strategy). At the same time, it is too suspicious of Europe convincingly to draw up a strategy of profoundly reforming the community system.

    4) The simultaneous building of a market Europe and a political Europe has created a powerful drive towards neoliberalism (setting in motion a vicious circle for any left project at European level). The fact, therefore, that today’s radical left, as a whole, adopts an intensely critical stance towards the EU is in no way unrelated to the model of European unification that is being pursued. Nevertheless, a shared critical stance towards European integration, notably in a period of deep crisis of the EU, has ceased to function as a factor of cohesion – as one might have fondly hoped. Rather it turns out to be just one more reason for fragmentation of the space to the left of social-democratic parties. The prospect of turning to national strategies is appearing increasingly tempting. left Euroscepticsm is acquiring a new lease of life. In all likelihood, this tendency will grow even stronger.

    5) As regards the Euro-critical (versus Euro-hostile) segment of the left, a “carefully drawn up” strategy has to combine: (a) a policy well worked out (including technocratically!) for the central institutions of the EU and the major issues of the day; (b) a subtle vision of the “openings” and of alliances that the transnational space offers and (c) the establishing of a link with the social movement (one of the weaknesses of the European policy of the Eurocommunists and the social democrats was that they dreadfully underestimated non-institutional action as a force capable of reorienting the institutional rigidities of the community structure). I have one more word to finish this article. The present double crisis, that of financial capitalism and of Europe, opens a historic window of opportunity for the left as a whole, and for the radical left in particular. The collapse of the scenario of market self-regulation, which has twice been proved to be catastrophic, in the 1930s and in the second half of the 2000s, swept away liberal logic (and a lot of social-democratic illusions). For the radical left, the effectiveness of its response to this double crisis will be the major pivot for recomposing its identity, after the hardest period in its history. A left worthy of the name cannot exist as a modern force without a policy vis-à-vis the state (at national level). Today, by force of circumstance, the strategy of strengthening public authorities, both national and European, represents modernity, the most modern modernity that could exist in this turbulent period.


    1. This article is a slightly reworked version of an oral presentation delivered at the Summer University 2011 of the French Communist Party. Bibliographical references are minimal. A later version will better reflect the sources that influenced the following lines. 
    2. Anthony Arnove, “The Fall of Stalinism: Ten Years On”, International Socialist Review, Number 10,Winter 2000 at http://www.isreview.org/issues/10/TheFallOfStalinism.shtml
    3. Slavoj Zizek, “Shoplifters of the World Unite”, London Review of Books, August 19, 2011 (on line only).
    4. Eustach Kouvélakis, « Crises du marxisme, transformation du capitalisme », in J. Bidet, E. Kouvélakis (dir.), Dictionnaire Marx contemporain, Paris, PUF, 2001, p. 50.
    5. Irène Pereira, Les grammaires de la contestation, Paris, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond/La Découverte, 2010, p. 7
    6. Pereira, op.cit., p. 10
    7. See Philippe Raynaud, L’extrême gauche plurielle, Paris, CEVIPOF/Autrement, 2006
    8. Eric Hobsbawm, Libération, May 23, 2009.
    9. See Marc Lazar, Maisons rouges, Paris, Aubier, 1992.
    10. See the excellent analysis by Richard Dunphy, Contesting Capitalism? left parties and European Integration, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2004
    11. Gerassimos Moschonas, “Historical Decline or Change of Scale? The Electoral Dynamics of European Social-democratic Parties, 1950-2009” in Cronin J, Ross G. and Shoch J. (eds.), What’s left of the left, Durham, N. C: Duke University Press, 2011.
    12. Gerassimos Moschonas, «Reformism in a ‘Conservative’ System : The European Union and Social democratic Identity » in John Callaghan et al. (eds.), In Search of Social Democracy : Responses to Crisis and Modernisation, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2009, pp. 168-192
    13. Christopher Lord, “Les partis politiques au niveau européen : Quel type de concurrence imparfaite?” in Delwit P., Külahci E., and De Walle C. (eds.), Les fédérations européennes de partis: Organisation et influence, Bruxelles, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2001, p. 43.
    14. See Sophie Heine, Oser penser à gauche, Bruxelles, Aden, 2010, p. 144.
    15. Heine, op.cit., pp. 148, 153
    16. It is characteristic that today almost all of the tendencies of the radical left, from the most moderate to the most radical or “movement”-oriented propose – when they do propose – economic strategies more or less inspired by Keynesianism. See Luke March, Contemporary Far left Parties in Europe: From Marxism to the Mainstream? Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, November 2008, p. 9.
    17. David Hanley, “Christian Democracy and the Paradoxes of Europeanisation”, Party Politics, Vol.8, no. 4, 2002, p. 479.
    18. While it is far too early to assess the policy effectiveness of the European Network Transform! (linked to the ELP), it is already clear that Transform!, thanks to its institutional position and its activism, has effectively taken on the role of the coordinating center of the respective national foundations. However, this is the soft aspect of the task. The great challenge is to establish itself as a centre – and a new brand – in the difficult European left intellectual sphere. This will be the most arduous task, and the moment of truth, for the middle-term future.

Related articles