Everyone in Europe believed the continent was doomed to experience the 1930s again. With traditional politics out of the picture, rising alternative forces were an exclusive matter of nationalism and right-wing populism. Even after Donald Trump’s victory and Brexit, it is remarkable how progressive forces are recovering, becoming themselves the alternative voters so desperately look for.
Estrangement between people and socialist parties
In the 1970s, western socialist parties used to be clearly opposed to liberalism, even anti-Marxism. For some of them, such as the French, communist ruling parties in Eastern Europe used to be the envy (if not aspiration) of all. The 1980s took it all away. Before the economic meltdown a few years ago and the dramatic changes dealt to economies, public forces and citizens across the world, bipartisanship used to be the rule in numerous states across Europe. The fact that these painful years ended with the overwhelming triumph of conservatives and pro-austerity groups (from national governments to European institutions), meant that the European left was in its biggest historical predicament.
After some years of austerity the logical step was to switch to the Social Democrats, our lifelong alternative in our ‘two-party world’. Unsurprisingly, I am afraid, the left was out of the game, quite unfit for leadership. The whole Blairist Labour Party was seen as a mere continuation of neoliberalism, i.e., a disguised form of conservatism. From north to south, Europe’s left-wing forces were stuck within their ambiguous policies. If once they presented hope of a brighter future for working-class families and small businesses, their stunning election victories became mere memories. Meanwhile, Europeans continued voting for committed traditionalists and nationalists, rather than those who falsely claimed to be different.
A shout out from the Mediterranean …
Amidst massive cuts in education, health services and employment, conservative-led Spain and Greece were particularly hit by the recession. To understand this we need only to look at the facts. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy changed Spain’s constitution, without the will of the people, just to meet Brussels’ financial requests. In response, new forces such as Podemos and Syriza emerged from the working-class neighbourhoods and civil organisations.
They were everything the elites disliked: open socialists, progressive, tolerant and modest. Wearing t-shirts in parliament and presenting anti-liberal measures placed them under a massacre of shameless media scrutiny, marked by false headlines, lies and comparisons with Venezuela or North Korea. Europe’s Social Democrats were asleep at the time, but this was enough to make social democracy realize that surviving means changing.
The realisation may have happened too late and too slow, but, if many thought Europe was doomed to relive the 1930s again, filled with nationalism and aloofness, fewer may think that today. Left-wing parties are, unsurprisingly, ‘radicalising’ — as some prefer to call it. Young people are no longer weary of change, and the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn is an unconditional part of the left’s resurgence.
The confirmation: Jeremy Corbyn makes history on June 8, 2017
The British people supporting Labour have not disappeared, not even after the 2015 general election. They have been anxiously waiting for what seemed at one point impossible: a real leader. But from the start of 2017, after seeing who the real Jeremy Corbyn is, the impossible suddenly became likely. How things can change in a moment! Labour went from twenty points below the Tories to just two. The people were no longer intimidated and forgot about the headlines. It is a pity this election was not held a week later.
The truth is that Brexit helped this new left to emerge. It helped the Germans facing a crucial election against Merkel in the future. It even helped non-socialists such as the new French president, Emmanuel Macron. Most importantly, Brexit is currently helping the British left-wing supporters. For Jeremy Corbyn it offered a chance, the only one when his party could push for big change and not get extinguished. And it worked.