Friday, 26 June 2015

The collapse of European social democracy

For most people reading this, the most relevant example of the collapse of European social democracy came last month in Scotland, where the once-hegemonic Scottish Labour party died. 

It is part of a wider, pan-European collapse of social democracy in the midst of an economic depression from which there still appears to be little escape. 

In country after country, social democracy has been shown not to be up to the task of opposing austerity, and has been punished - either by the election of parties further to the left (such as in Greece) or by the return of conservative governments (such as in Denmark). 

It is a litany of failure for social democrats. 

This year alone, the social democrats were all but wiped out in Andorra and Scotland, swept from power in Denmark, and whilst the social democrats replaced the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union as the junior partner in the Estonian coalition last year after the resignation of Andrus Ansip as prime minister and remained a junior partner in the election this year, they lost a fifth of their seats. 

Similarly,in Finland the social democrats were a junior coalition partner until elections this year in which they were swept from power, losing a fifth of their seats in Eduskunta

Turkey slightly bucked the trend with the main opposition CHP increasing their number of seats by 7 in this month's election to the Meclis, but still they are on only half the seats of the conservative government and only a strong showing by the Kurdish HDP party prevented a government majority. 

I'd go over the United Kingdom result, where the social democrat opposition somehow managed to lose ground against a staggeringly unpopular incumbent, but we all probably know the score there. A perception on the Left that the social democrats were incapable of or unwilling to oppose austerity policies saw Left-wing voters look elsewhere (in Scotland, to the National party; in England to the Green party; in Wales, to Plaid Cymru) instead of uniting behind the only opposition party likely to defeat the incumbent conservative administration. 

It's not just this year - as the parliamentary terms of governments elected during the depths of the depression come to an end, voters are lashing out across Europe, from Galway to Kiev, and from Oslo to Sevilla, against social democratic parties which are perceived to have sold out to austerity policies. 

Belgium: the social democrats PS lost seats, and power, with the centre-Left - and the Walloons - excluded from power as Flemish right-wingers gained enough seats to take control of the country (albeit the new prime minister, Charles Michel, is a Francophone). 

March 2014 saw Serbs go to the polls to elect a new Skupshtina, and in that election they gave the social democrats - led by former president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, fourth place (out of four) with less than 6% of the vote and just 18 of the 250 seats. The conservative Progressive Party won, the Milosevicite socialists came second, and the liberal Democratic party came third. 

Hungary, after five years of neo-Nazi prime minister Viktor Orbán, took collective leave of their Magyar senses again last April and re-elected him. The social democrats united to form a unity coalition against him, but won only 38 seats of the 199-member Országgyulés where the main MSZP social democrats had scored 59 by themselves in 2010. The other parties were the tiny Together, the new Labour style Democratic Coalition, Dialogue for Hungary (Greens), and the Liberal party. 

In Bosnia in October, similarly, the Serbian social democrats lost ground and were reduced to just six seats, while the Bosnian and Croat social democrats aren't represented at federal level at all. 

There's very little point in discussing the election in the Ukraine, in which various fascist groups fought amongst themselves to govern a country which doesn't effectively exist in any tangible sense, and where no social democrats were elected to the Supreme Soviet in August.

Even where the Right didn't win elections, the social democrats couldn't make up ground. Thus, in November, Moldova's general election saw the Eurosceptic, ultra-Left PSRM come first in the election, the conservatives second, communists third, and the social democrats all the way down in fourth place with just 16% of the vote and 19 seats.  In Greece, the social democrats paid the price for being docile democrats, being humiliated, thrown out of government and came last, behind the fascists, the communists, the conservatives, the radical left, the nationalists and the centrists, and a government led by the radical Left was formed, with the social democrats being sidelined for at least a generation. 

The single ray of light in 2014 and 2015 for the social democrats was in Sweden in September, where the conservative Moderate Party prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt was replaced by a social democrat in Stefan Loefven. His government is a cobbled-together coalition of social democrats, Greens and Socialists, and doesn't have a majority in the Riksdag. It would be a major shock if the government survived the full term. 

And that's it. The total sum of social democratic advances in 2014 and 2015 is to be the lead partner in a shaky minority government in Sweden. 

The days where social democracy ruled swathes of Europe are gone. The social democrats have to adapt or die. In the face of a relentless wave of attacks by bankers and the elite on the working people of Europe, social democrats have to decide if they're anti-austerity, or anti-people. Because the experience of the last two years demonstrates that staying in the centre lane only means they're likely to be run over. 

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