The implosion of the respectable left emerges irrefutably from recent events in the Socialist-led European Union countries. Implosion in the broadest sense: in Austria, because of the political crisis triggered by immigration, and in Italy and in France because of the parties’ genetic mutation into a self-styled “restoration force.”
The Austrian reaction to the migration wave replicates in an extreme form a classic phenomenon. The tensions and conflicts caused by the lack of integration are concentrated in the suburbs and left-wing working-class neighborhoods, which have since turned into the strongholds of the ultranationalist right. For months, the neo-Nazi teams in Vienna have felt emboldened and have multiplied their attacks.
On the other hand, the government has chased the xenophobia, as shown in its Brenner Pass policy and with the launch of a more restrictive law on asylum rights. We already know how that turned out, for the moment. In the elections, the heir of Jörg Haider lost, by the skin of his teeth. But the real loser is the Social Democratic Party that, after 10 years in office, leaves a divided country, more than ever reluctant to come to terms with its black past, and a racist right favored by one of every two voters.
In France, Hollande and his government are betting their necks in order to impose a labor “reform” stacked against the rights of workers. To offer businesses the scalp of national contracts and full freedom on layoffs impeded the vote at the National Assembly and sparked a trade union reaction that is crippling the country. Now they’re staggering but they have not given up, even though most of the population sides with the protesters.
It’s as if the raison d’être of the European socialism resided precisely in the radical precariousness of wage labor and the destruction of its protections.
In Italy — after two years of reactionary escalation against labor and social rights in the name of privatization and the interests of the financial and business lobbies, and after an electoral law more unconstitutional than the previous one because it denies the principle of equality and the right to political representation — now the “democractic” government is investing all its energy in a constitutional reform focused on concentrating full power in the hands of the prime minister.
Italy’s anti-fascist constitution was designed against that logic. But now a center-left government is spearheading the change, led by the secretary of a movement born from the ashes of the largest communist party in the West.
Everywhere in Europe, since the ‘90s the “Clintonian left” is the head of the ram undermining democratic rights in economics and on the (intertwined) field of participation and citizenship rights. Everywhere, the “socialist” parties, which inspired Maastricht and Lisbon, have promoted antisocial reforms that could hardly have been managed by right-wing governments, necessarily more cautious and fearful of benefitting political antagonists. Everywhere, they rode the post-democratic wave, endorsed by the arrogance of the oligarchies, legitimized the sovereignty of profit. Today it is not difficult to summarize a quarter century of the continent’s political history that takes into account, first, the cultural counter-revolution that has marked the entire process.
It was not an episodic fact or a superficial transformation. The leftist government of workers was born in the 19th century from the awareness of the problematic relationship between capitalism and democracy, from the experience of the unavoidable conflict between rights and profits. The “left” that established itself in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall is based on an opposite ideology, which even enobles profiteering. It proceeds from the assumption that there is no democracy without capitalism. It considers the cornerstones of capitalism (the market and competition) even constitutional cornerstones of democracy, and privatization are its progressive steps. Hence a new quality of the divisions within the left, which does not focus any more on tactical differences (as a time between reformists and maximalists), but on strategic issues.
In a sad season, lacking hope, the historical crisis of European Socialism is the clearest metaphor of a political movement now devoid of political ideals. From this point of view, today’s Italian dead calm situation is a photograph of a perfect devastation. Or, if you prefer, a successful suicide. Within two decades, the left has been eradicated from the country’s body.