In the 23-26 May 2019 elections to the European parliament, social-democratic parties and left-of-the-left parties floundered in the face of rising nationalism.
The mainstream social-democratic group in the European Parliament lost 45 seats; the left-of-the-left grouping lost 13. The mantle of “left” opposition to the rising right seems to have gone to the Greens and Liberal Democrats, who gained 19 and 42 seats respectively across the continent. At the time of writing, it seems likely that the European Parliament will remain dominated by parties of the mainstream right.
The single largest party is the centre-right European People’s Party, with 180 seats (down 41 from 2014). The more-Eurosceptic ECR grouping (of which the Tories are members) has a further 59 seats (down 11). Despite their losses, Europe’s Tories are still out ahead. Parties of the hard right in the nationalist ENF group had been predicted to make a great breakthrough. But their number of MPs remains modest, at 58. The populist Eurosceptic group which contains the Brexit Party only made modest gains, taking six extra seats to come to 54 in total.
The major far right breakthrough that some had predicted didn’t come about, Yet the racist far right is still a major force in Europe, with large resources. It is, so far, the most successful insurgent force in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.
The biggest parties of the European far right – Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in France and Salvini’s Lega in Italy – did well. RN had a smaller share of the vote than in 2014, but only a little smaller. It narrowly beat Emmanuel Macron’s ruling La République en Marche, which stood in coalition with other liberal pro-EU parties. The right-wing nationalist-populist parties have out-competed the politically timid and confused reformist left, whose party leaderships have expended great energy suppressing the activity of their own rank-and-file members, while remaining politically and ideologically timid in the face of the right.
The benchmark example is Francois Hollande of France’s Socialist Party, who after winning the 2012 presidential election wasted no time in ditching his promises to redistribute wealth and income and instead implemented austerity, imposed regressive labour laws. and set riot police on demonstrators. In Britain, from the mid-90s to 2015, the Labour Party adopted neoliberal policies wholesale and built a bureaucratic machine designed to sit on the chest of grassroots labour movement activists.
There were few revolutionary socialist candidates on 23-26 May. The biggest effort was in France, where Lutte Ouvrière ran a slate supported by the NPA. It got 0.78%, down 0.39% from 2014, and down 4.4% from the joint LCR-Lutte Ouvrière slate in 1999.
The “left-of-the-left” parties, often splinters from traditional social democracy – from Syriza in Greece to Die Linke in Germany, Mélenchon’s movement in France and in its own way, Corbyn’s Labour here – have shaken off those bad habits only partially, and acquired some of their own. Syriza’s leaders wrong-footed their activist base and implemented austerity. Under Corbyn, Labour’s political structures remain in the commandist, Blairite mode. A caste of now-redtinted careerists and operators influenced by the degenerate-Stalinist Morning Star cluster around London offices and make policy on the fly. As under Blair, this party-on-top-of-a-party fights the membership to impose opportunist, right-wing policies: in this case, accommodation to nationalism and Brexitism.
Mélenchon has boasted of how there are no power struggles within his La France Insoumise electoral vehicle, as LFI “has no members”. Die Linke has been riven by an internal fight centring on leading figure Sara Wagenknecht’s decision to agitate for stricter immigration controls. Mélenchon’s movement has banned the red flag and the Internationale from its rallies in favour of the French flag and national anthem; it proposes a protectionist drive to boost the French arms industry.
The inadequacies of these left-reformist parties and their continued domination by opportunist neoliberal managerial types (whatever “left” accents they speak in) are a reflection of the heavy legacy of defeat that the workers’ movement still has to shake off through renewed industrial and political struggle. But in the immediate term the accommodation to nationalism, opportunism and general “same old crap” smell is preventing these parties from forming an effective opposition to the rising right.
Voters wanting to make a clear statement against the Eurosceptic right and far right seem to have opted for Greens and liberal parties, rightly put off by the nationalist-populism of the leaders of the European “left”. But French socialists Lutte Ouvrière have it right with their comment on the French Greens: “To an extent, the results for the green candidates express a legitimate fear for the future of the planet. But without questioning the way the economy works, attempts to protect the environment will falter in the face of the interests of big capitalist groups. “From the Greens to Hulot [a green journalist who became a minister under Macron], ecologist ministers have offered alibis to many governments who are more concerned about the profits of Total than the environment.”