The spectre haunting Europe is the spectre of the European elector. It is a spectre in a strict sense: the electorate simply doesn’t show up anymore, voter participation in European countries has been on a steady decline for decades, and in terms of the EU elections in 2019 turnout just barely passed 50%. The (indeed silent) majority of Europeans never took part in the democratic process since 1999.
This never marked a win for the Abstention Party of the People, though. It marked the continuous triumph of the ‘Elitist Status Quo Coalition’, and the perpetration of one big lie: the end of history.
The Batman and Robin of EU elections
Francis Fukuyama’s overquoted work lied so well on how liberal democracies under their neoliberalism umbrella were the final call (if not solution, for soviets) that socialist and communist parties thought not a second to brave the imaginary rain. Immediately as Berlin’s Wall was falling, self-haunted and hypnotised by the warning that such a market capitalism umbrella could grant their survival on the electoral market with inevitable, if not infallible, tutelage, they unilaterally rescinded the social contract and renounced their identity and ideology.
The former, both in the western (e.g. in Italy, from Partito Comunista to Partito Democratico della Sinistra) and eastern block (e.g. in Romania, from the Communist Party to the Social Democratic Party); the latter, stalking and mimicking the conservative turbo-liberalism which, as the name suggests, was hard to catch and surpass along the Third Way as people always tend to choose the original over a copy anyway.
From 1958 to this day, out of the 19 European Commissions, the Party of European Socialists/European Peoples’ Party duo governed together in 19 cases.
It’s no coincidence that Jacques Delors, in office in 1989 at the helm of the European Commission, was destined to be the last President of the Commission from the Party of European Socialists, making way for the big brother or father master of the seemingly eternal Stockholm partnership: the European People’s Party. Not only electors, but also élites, prefer the original.
This being a Batman and Robin partnership way less democratic and more dysfunctional than Bill Finger and Bob Kane ever drew, or Altiero Spinelli and Robert Schuman ever dreamed.
Unlike Dick Grayson, who continues to enjoy the favour of the public to this day, things seemingly went downhill for the unmasked socialists. The performance of social democratic parties has, on average, been marked by a tremendous decline across western European democracies, from a vote share of nearly 40% to below 20%.
Hopelessly, even if ever European mainstream social democrats were to – after having turned their back on them – turn to their core constituency, the working class, they would only face another ghost – the result of partially their betrayal – realising that the working class hasn’t lost: it got lost.
Wiped away and out.
Types of jobs in the global market economy having multiplied (post-class inhomogeneity) while at the same time workers’ rights pulverised (leading not just to disaffection, but distrust when not hostility towards the liable center-left).
Speaking of disillusionment, the sterilised and swept ideology in the ever dominating aforementioned partnership, the undefined political aim or vision of it, is easy to say and see as one of and possibly the main reason of an unshaping European Union, a mainly economic barren “union” locked in a mere bureaucratic technical administration of existence, evoking the sad passions of Miguel Benasayag.
During this sustained seppuku, the socialist parties on the continent integrally bypassed the horizontal and fundamental precept of equality – abdicating unconditionally in favor of the vertical liberal one of freedom instead. These are, as Norberto Bobbio taught, conflicting concepts. That’s another thing that the old left forgot: conflict, for equality.
While the socialists were busy sinking along the Third Way from the ridiculous to the sublime – certifying the definitive demobilisation of their raison d’être by venturing into the concept of ‘reforming capitalism’ (something like reshaping cancer) – someone understood that such bad actors of conservation couldn’t be good actors of change.
Enter the new left
Syriza, a broad coalition of the Greek radical left founded in January 2004, gained ground when in November 2011 a coalition of New Democracy (EPP) and PASOK (PSE) is formed to face Greece’s perfect debt crisis storm and hostility from a Europe run by… well, the European People’s Party and Party of the European Socialists.
January 2015: Syriza won the Greek national elections with 36.34% of the vote – mainly at the expense of a bad Chris O’Donnell-PASOK, at an abysmal 4.68%.
In December of the same year, Podemos stormed Spanish heaven when, having formed only the year prior, in the general elections skyrocketed to over a fifth of the total votes and just 1.3% from the PSOE, led by the socialist Pedro Sánchez who, like a capable cynical chameleon, just shifted political pose from a Third Way centrism to a more radical, leftist approach.
In 2022, France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon at the presidential elections stormed and stopped only 1.2% short of the runoff, kicking the Socialist Party into a 1.75% dust in the process.
These are the most commendable examples of the emerging of a new left. However, the less commendable ones that aren’t even mentioned here have generally two characteristics: they flirt with the conservative socialists, and they don’t include ecologist formations in their coalitions. They are limited, and moderates.
No wonder the unquoted have proven to be as undefined as undesirable for an electorate who too, in this case, would choose the original: the given mainstream socialist party on the ballot.
Same battle, same ballot. No conflict, no consensus.
But the zeitgeist is switching more rapidly than ever before, and here comes the new big elephant, bigger than the whole room itself: inequality.
There is a systemic paradigmatic shift that has been occurring in the dozen years between the subprime crisis and the subsequent Covid pandemic. These shocks left too deep scars and marks: mass realisation.
Inequalities are finally seen and perceived by the deeper public (not only the middle class, but left and even right of it) as impactful and therefore unacceptable.
Capitalism is put into question globally for the first time.
Anticapitalism isn’t anymore seen as the pathetic scarecrow of a residual extremist left embarrassing itself for even grumbling and bringing up such juvenile yet prehistoric (or out, of history) pretense.
Growing global awareness is an all-out game changer.
Inequality is the true theme of the new millennium. And it’s here to stay, to be erased.
It’s a theme so extreme that it naturally requires a radical approach, by radical new actors, in a radically new way; two ways, in fact. These are the two questions that are the parallel track of inequality: the social question and the environmental one.
While the old adagio of Chico Mendes, “Environmentalism without class struggle is just gardening”, appears more compelling than ever, we add that social struggle without environmentalism risks a Rapa Nui.
The ‘next left’ and the EU elections
After 20 years of ‘old left’ and now 15 more years or so with the ‘new left’, both fields seem inadequate or insufficient to reinvent or at least revive socialism and tackle the times. New ground is needed; a Freudian killing of the father on one end while on the other a loose alliance of the two main red and green trajectories.
This can’t but be addressed on superior, or supranational, level, therefore for this breaking of new ground the playground is next EU elections in June 2024.
Fun or fascinating fact: from the first such EU elections in 1979, to this day, the ecologist and new left groups (always running separated) never obtained a result that allowed them to be on the “podium” of the most relevant political forces in Europe.
From another perspective, GUE (Left) and ALE (Greens) have always – with the sole exception of 2004 – had a number of seats that would have given them the role of third political force since their appearance in 1984.
However, the European Union has always been breathing down the necks of popular-liberals and rosé socialists, not only seriously endangering their power sharing pact, but calling into question the policies on which the impact of a significant united strength, in place of two less significant disjointed weaknesses, would in itself be decidedly more decisive.
It’s neither rocket science nor electoral engineering. It is ideological strategy.
To tackle the new theme of the time, inequality, and its toxic offspring, the environmental and social questions, bad actors can’t feature on yet another remake of more of the same box-office/ballot box bomb.
Instead, in order for the new left to become part of the next left, it has to follow through with the initial intuition of including green in their vision. It must step up the efforts to make tactical alliances locally. It’s at the same time nothing entirely new and completely new.
The first virtuous examples dates as back as 1989, when the wall was still up, and then GroenLinks were founded. At the latest Dutch general elections in 2023, they came third, their greatest placement in 35 years. In Italy, Alleanza Verdi e Sinistra obtained at the 2022 Italian general elections the best result for a left of the Partito Democratico list in history.
People recognise bad actors, and electors know their own problems
The leftists and the greens should form and make critical mass on national and then European level. The numbers have been exposing for decades – and the exploding of inequality has been telling us for years. The red/green is a path forward to break the glass ceiling and burn the paper tiger of the bleak, black, elitist liberal agenda.
With which, the next left must engage in a conflict, in a threatening way and with a new alphabet too. Like Ernesto Laclau observed, it must dispose of traditional signifiers of leftist identity (a given: next left must be newer than the new) and even adopt a more vernacular language that could speak to a lowly politicised electorate.
What must be kept by a next left is the very root of the sense of the struggle, which is equality, but without old signs and stigmas that slow down the path and without always accepting to be junior partners-in-crime in national coalitions kissing the frog mainstream party only to float.
This isn’t an Aesopian fable of a frog and a scorpion, the water level is rising too much anyway and we simply can’t kill us all to save the Third Way frog, which isn’t turning into a prince ever.
The aim must not be self-indulgent and self-sufficient: temporary tactics are possible, like the GreenLeft did in the Netherlands dwarfing the traditional left in the process, or Mélenchon with NUPES, which included the old socialists, or Podemos in Spain when it agreed to give birth to a transformative government from 2019 to 2023 before being usurped.
But irrelevance is not tolerable, neither under a capitalistic umbrella nor under a hammer and sickle banner. And these must be fading exceptions, as old socialists must be the next left main targets, competitors, adversaries, in a crucial and radical rupture/departure from the new left’s habits of compromise.
No compromise with capitalism. No flirting or allying with capitalism. Conflicting with capitalism. Only then you might have socialism next.
Transideologic anti-class struggle: the new frontier in EU elections
The process doesn’t necessarily have to be fast or slow, but less than six months from the next EU elections it seems naïve to say at least that it can be completed in time for the occasion: it can start, though. It actually already started, as we saw.
It won’t be a post-ideological stance, let alone non-ideologic pose, but instead a trans-ideological anti-class struggle.
After all, paradoxically, the class struggle did exist, but the elites, the 1%, won in a landslide and a landfill.
The task of the next left will be more radical and more ambitious than ever: embracing the overturning of the historical paradigm and promoting an anti-class struggle, for not even only the 99%, but aiming for the 100, since inequalities are not only less and less tolerable, but more and more unsustainable.
It must be for everyone on this planet. No-one is safe (and indeed, it’s healthier to feel threatened). We saw this when ‘Fortress Europe’ thought of raising the drawbridge and hoarding the Covid vaccines, but Omicron gained killing force thanks to this, and re-entered Europe not as an illegal immigrant but as a stronger than ever conquistador.
Fortress Europe and its elitist coalition must be terrified of a new anti-capitalistic spectre haunting not only the next EU elections, but the next Europe for the time being.
A next left that has to wage a peaceful, but fierce, democratic war on them. To build on their broken bones and bricks and shattered glass ceiling, justice and peace. Which, naturally, only comes after a conflict.
Featured image via pxhere