• Seminar I
  • Why the Crisis seems to Favour Rather the Right than the Left in Europe

  • Elisabeth Gauthier | 12 Apr 10
  • International workshop by transform! europe in cooperation with Foundation for Marxist Studies (FIM), Mallorca, March 2010. Find here a report and the contributions, presentations and country reports. 

    The strategic challenges for the European Left (1)

    From 12-13 March 2010, transform! europe hosted a seminar in Mallorca entitled “Why the Crisis Seems to Favour the Right Rather than the Left in Europe”. The debate, which started out with a general assessment of the political geography, followed by a number of thematic focuses and case studies on different countries such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. 

    “Why the Crisis Seems to Favour Rather the Right than the Left in Europe?”

    The recent economic crisis, among other things, have showed the serious crisis of the European Social Democracy, as well as the inability of “our” Left (with some interesting exceptions) to increase its influence in society. This can be seen not only from the fact that the agenda for facing the crisis is set by the conservative European political forces, but also by the election results for the European Parliament. Thus the questions arises with urgency how the Left in Europe can develop the capacity of becoming an effective counter-hegemonic force.

    Conclusions (integrating the comments in the discussion)  

    I would like to thank our Spanish friends hosted us in very good conditions and all the contributors - having presented country reports or transversal analysis - to this workshop. We have had a very intensive and frank exchange and discussion, learning a lot from each other. It is not easy to cross different experiences in North and South, East and West, and to compile this to a joint analysis. But I think that we were able to make first steps in the project “Strategic challenges for the European Left” in an interesting and constructive way.

    Six points as (provisional) conclusions:

    1. The big crisis: chance for the Right or the Left?

    We had to recognize that the question "Why does the crisis seem to favour rather the Right than the Left" is misleading. The country reports presented a very complex picture of the political landscape in Europe. The political blocs of the Right are not automatically benefitting from the economical turmoil. It seems to be more interesting that the political Right is shifting their position to a certain extend. Although in preparing new austerity programmes to limit public debts they do not react in a pure neoliberal sense. Not only in Denmark and Sweden they adopted some classic social democratic rhetoric. We will have to analyze this more carefully. On the other hand the forces of the Left are not winning much support from the clash of systemic contradictions of a finance market driven accumulation regime. We could describe this as a more or less open hegemonic situation or as a "hegemonic vacuum", as Gramsci put it.

    The problems on the left derive – partly at least – from the fact that the left forces accumulated during the last decades a deficit of interpretation of the deep transformations in the capitalist system: the development of "financial market capitalism" after the crisis of fordism and overaccumulation of capital with growing imbalances in the global system. This has had immense impact on the formation of the working classes (including the comeback of the "dangerous classes", as Robert Castel describes it), on political and ideological power. The Left which has to be build up by different social forces – e.g. from members of the working classes as well as from long time unemployed with loosened contact to the "world of labour") – has to integrate different social experiences and cultures of radical thought.

    It was particularly underlined that the Left lost the “labour line” or was not able to renew this approach in a period of deep social transformations. During the periods of mass unemployment, the Left (it was underlined for different countries) focussed its discourses and programmes around the employment problems and ignored the labour question as a field of social, political and ideological confrontation. These deficits have made it difficult to understand the "big crisis" and to build adequate alternative thinking.

    But this crisis constitutes also a chance for learning, understanding and discussing what is new – and therefore became more competent in theory and practice. We observe in different countries big efforts by the Left towards renewing itself in autonomy from the social democratic parties, to build new alternative platforms and political processes. We observe also changes in the discourses of several social democratic parties. If this is a beginning of new strategic orientations after the dead end of the "Third Way" is one of the important questions in near future.

    2. What’s new with this crisis?

    The current crisis is not only the deepest in modern history after the Great Depression of the 1930ies. We call it a "big crisis" because it combines a crisis of the "accumulation regime" and the "model of regulation". The political forces in government showed great flexibility trying to stop the free fall of the financial markets and the so called real economy. But this is not the end of crisis: the banks still poisoned by toxic papers, the enterprises lack of demand and credits, the rate of profits is low and the fiscal crisis is galloping. There have not been any substantial efforts for a new publicly governed regulation regime (e.g. of the financial markets) nor for international cooperation to level out the global imbalances in trade and currency (e.g. between China and the US). Therefore we say: this crisis is not ended. And: this crisis constitutes a new situation in economy, society and politics.

    Contradictions are: (a) further erosion of US-hegemony: the US-economy isn't any longer the vacuum cleaner for the world trade surpluses; this may lead to – more or less – stagnation; (b) the financial risks are not defused; (c) the levels of unemployment will rise since the rate of productivity is higher than the growth rate which will further weaken the internal markets; (d) the exit-strategies may cause deflation policy; (e) and therefore austerity policy may bring the European Social Model to an end.

    Even the bourgeois bloc does not have a unifying new hegemonic „idea“ of systemic reforms. After World War II this was Fordism, the Welfare state (Beveridge Plan, Scandinavian Model, „corporatism“ and a new world currency system under US-hegemony. There is nothing equivalent today. The rescue and stimulus packages are designed only for the short run without any new dynamism of a new accumulation regime. The Left must prepare for a long run. More than before, the immediate alternative proposals have to based on an alternative logic.

    3. What’s new on EU level?

    What we mean when we speak about a "big crisis" in sense of a crisis of the model of regulation can be seen in Europe. We are confronted with (a) the contradictions between Germany and it's export oriented competition model on the one hand and especially the Mediterranean states on the other hand; (b) the crisis of the monetary system and the stability pact (Euro, ECB); (c) the crisis of social integration (European Social Model) and (d) the crisis of EU-enlargement which reveals the extreme vulnerability of some states.

    The Lisbon strategy – a motor for the crisis – is not abandoned, but prolonged until 2020. Following the financial crisis, the crisis of the real economy, the present debt crisis increases the contradictions and tensions inside the EU.

    Presently Greece is a test case for the possibility to impose hard austerity policies to nations by the EU.

    For the Left, it’s crucial to see how to promote solidarity in social, political, ideological struggles facing the supranational EU power supported by the national governments and making pressure on those. The “case” of Greece represents a defy for all European people. The possibilities for interventions of the European Parliament are growing, but the struggle for the right of legal initiatives for the EP continues.

    4. On State, governments, political action; Economic democracy

    This field is changing with the crisis and the analysis has to be deepened. The so called ‘come back’ of the states during 2008/2009 must not be misinterpreted. It’s not the renaissance of the “welfare state” from the 60/70es, but it is the intervention of the “market state” (see Bob Jessop in the Transform Seminar Vienna January 2010).

    The left has to interpret precisely the political changes in the public policies during the crisis and to build an argumentation on public debt (different opinions were expressed in this seminar).

    Different speakers underlined the crisis of the whole political system, and not only of the Left or other political currents. It seems necessary to describe the transformation of the political system before and during the crisis: the parliamentary political systems came up together with the consolidation of the Fordist system after the world war II. During the neoliberal offensive, the bourgeoisie established more and more new ‘governance’ models (see Boltanski/Chiapallo, the new spirit of capitalism) while the representative democracy was losing power and legitimacy. The dismantling of democratic forms (see Sarkozy, Berlusconi; see also the growing influence of far Right forces…) started already at the beginning of the new century, and during the present big crisis, risks for democracy appear more visible.

    Looking for a new model of political intervention in the economic field, the concept of “Economic democracy” – in a new and enlarged definition – seems an interesting research axis. This multidimensional concepts allows to build an alternative thinking which integrates different levels (redistribution of wealth top down and a renewed welfare model; public sector as vector for alternative logics; growing public power and social property; revalorisation of labour; democratisation of macroeconomic microeconomic decision makings; new ambition and content of regulations..). This concept should be one of the fields, where we bring stones together in order to form a new picture.

    5. Ecology, new model of development

    It’s a defy to develop a Left point of view on environmental questions, by the introduction of all dimensions. We should examine the concept of “new mode of development”. We should collect the best Left papers connecting ecological, economic and social issues. In Transform; a working group (facilitator Teppo Eskalinen, Left Forum Finland) is collecting papers on “which kind of growth” and we will be able, in one of the next seminars, to discuss on the bases of this contributions.

    6. The next seminar in Firenze; 29-30 May

    Several aspects discussed in this seminar should be deepened in the next one where the central question will turn around the political actors and the political subject.

    • The evolution on public opinions during the crisis. Richard Detje’s presentation (see powerpoint) underlined interesting long-terms evolutions (more and more distance between the German population and the capitalist system) and we should make possible to compare evolutions in different countries, with different intensity of the crisis. Before, during the crisis 2008/09 and during the ongoing social crisis. And also observe the evolutions facing the present austerity offensives which risk to have larger and deeper effects in the societies. What about a (more ore less) common consciousness, a common vision of the crisis, which correspondence with the evolution of the political forces and their influence? Which support and which obstacles for the Left?

    • We should specially examine the situation of the youth in Europe (In France, 22% of the 15 – 25 years old people are poor people!), how do they live in Europe today what do they t think on society and crisis.

    • Our critics of the Right has to be deepened. Which evolutions, which differentiations, which modification in relationship to the hard neoliberal phases.

    • Concerning the populist and far Right, the connection between crisis and also political crisis and their influence has to be analysed. We have already scheduled a specific seminar on this topic for the fall.

    • The performance of ecologist parties during the crisis, which evolutions?

    • Our analysis concerning the social democratic parties have to be specified. in particular with regard to more Left discourses and on the concrete policies of parties in opposition, in governments (Greece, Spain)?

    • In the new economic and political context, how to think on possibilities to build broad Left majorities? We have to deepen the discussion on social blocks and also on political alliances, political majorities as challenges in the centre of the strategic questions. We have to find ways to combine the efforts for autonomous Left forces and policies, for building new social blocks, for new political majorities.

    Next steps, methodology

    • The schedule for Firenze will integrate the experiences and conclusions of this seminar.

    • A new questionnaire for the country studies will be elaborated for Firenze (in order to make the country reports more comparable)

    • Two kinds of comparative studies have to be organized:

    1. on the electoral results; as continuation of the study presented in Mallorca by Baier/Steiner

    2. on the evolution of public opinions, following a set of questions; complete by comparative studies on comparable social groups in different countries.


    • The results of our seminar will be part of our initiatives in the Left Forum in New York (March), in the Enlatzandas Alternativas meeting in Madrid (May), in the ESF in Istanbul (July), in the summer university (EL + Transform!) in Moldavia (July)….

    • Transform! is in charge to present a text on “the state of the crisis and strategic challenges for the European Left” for the preparation of the EL congress (December 2010)

    • Elisabeth, Louis elaborate with representatives from Attac France a European Appeal (The people or the finance: governments and the EU have to choose) which can be signed by individual signatories , in order to circulate a common argumentation in the current EU crisis. 

    Suggestions for the next steps in the crisis project

    The Left has to develop not only a discourse on necessary packages against the consequences of the crisis etc, but also concrete argumentations, in the countries and on the EU level, making possible to be identified as an autonomous and useful force. Concerning the financial benefits, it seems more important to decide taxes on assets than on transactions. 

    An other aspect is the capacity to build elements giving people a “power of interpretation” , in a moment where the consciousness is changing and the situation becomes more open.

    The global balance of forces in the world is changing during the crisis, and the position and policy of the EU has to be analysed and discussed.