View Full Version : Ten Reasons the Left Is Failing in Europe - an inverview with Jonathan Hopkin

10-12-2009, 04:05 PM
All over Europe, one question lingers on many people's mind: Why are left-wing political parties doing so poorly?

After all, the left ought to be having a field day right now. Europe is struggling to emerge from the worst recession since World War II. It's an economic crisis in which the excesses of capitalism -- and capitalists themselves -- are regularly held up as the culprits. So where on earth is Karl Marx just when he got his curtain call?

Not in Europe, evidently. Only two of the five largest European countries -- Spain and Britain -- are currently run by left-wing governments. France, Italy and Germany are all governed by the center-Right. And in June's European parliamentary elections, the left did very poorly, capturing between only 16 and 25 percent of the vote.

What is going on? I sat down with political scientist Jonathan Hopkin to find out. Hopkin is a senior lecturer in comparative politics at the London School of Economics who works on European political parties and welfare states. I pulled together 10 different hypotheses commonly trotted out to explain the left's dire state of affairs and asked Hopkin to comment. His answers have been edited for brevity and clarity:

1. Socialism is dead.

PD: Some people point to the collapse of socialism in explaining the left's failure to capitalize politically on the current crisis. Simply put, after Keynes, the left ran out of ideas. What do you make of this?

JH: In part, that's true. On the one hand, left-wing parties in Europe abandoned the classical Marxist view of using the state to socialize the means of production a long time ago. So the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s wasn't such a big blow to them because they weren't carrying out those ideas anyway.

On the other hand, the collapse of Keynesianism has had more serious implications. In a specific sense, Keynesianism can be defined as the use of monetary and fiscal policy to control the business cycle and maintain full employment. That's clearly been a problem for the left because if the mainstream left means anything, it means using the state to secure full employment. And that idea has fallen out of favor. In a broader sense, however, Keynesiansim was also associated with a full range of policies having to do with extending the welfare state and managing social risk, and those ideas also came under pressure in the 1980s and '90s. Ironically, some of those policies are now back in use. But the left lost the language that they used to employ in the post-war period to explain how the use of the state could be beneficial to the vast majority of the population.

2. Left-wing parties no longer pursue left-wing policies.

PD: So did left-wing parties just get the message wrong or did actually they lose track of who they were by pursuing right-wing economic policies? As a friend of mine put it, "I didn't leave the left. The left left me."

JH: Left parties have always stood for greater use of the state to achieve social ends and the attempt to moderate or civilize capitalism to make it safe for the working classes. That's a constant. But the technologies for doing that have changed over time as economic thinking has changed.

So the left was very pragmatic in adopting market ideas . . . CONTINUED (http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/10/12/ten-reasons-the-left-is-failing-in-europe/) . . . . .I don't agree - but interesting none the less