The European Left at a crossroads
The crisis of the Left, a post-communist peculiarity until just a few years ago, has become critical all over Europe. If the Left wants to avoid returning to the 1930s and becoming insignificant in European political history in the coming decades it has to be thoroughly overhauled.
Creeping unemployment, increasing inequality, a tumbling international currency system, Western democratic leaders weaponless against illiberal politics emerging throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and a clueless Left that can’t combat any of it: this snapshot could have been taken either in 1931 or in 2016. The European political atmosphere is now strikingly reminiscent of the 1930s. Everyone knows the way it ended last time. Many have forgotten, though, that the rise of the far-right in the thirties was fuelled by the same economic disenchantment and hatred of the elite as today’s illiberalism. The national socialist and fascist right was able to grow where and when social democracy could not offer a political haven overriding social classes for voters frustrated by the crisis. This was one of several things that distinguished Sweden from Germany. The authoritarian political right builds on economic anger and wraps its messages in a cultural disguise to capitalize on class cleavages. Herein lies the root of the failure of today’s Left. Twenty years ago the elite of the Left thought that jumping on board the free market trend would allow them to outcompete the Right. This method has been proven a blunder of historic magnitude. The crisis of neoliberal capitalism has whipped up a political storm, and the Left may only emerge from it through a complete renewal and the revival of progressive, social democratic politics.
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