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PORTSIDE  August 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE August 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Didn't Work Before - European Center-Left Looks to Rebound with Neo-Liberalism

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Date:

Thu, 9 Aug 2012 23:12:41 -0400

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text/plain (109 lines)

European Center-Left Looks to Rebound

By Bhaskar Sunkara

In These Times
August 6, 2012

http://inthesetimes.com/uprising/entry/13622/european_center_left_looks_to_rebound/

Writing in the New York Times on Friday, Stephen Castle
described French Prime Minister Fran├žois Hollande's
overtures to British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
Hollande is France's first Socialist leader since Fran├žois
Mitterrand left office 17 years prior. According to Castle,
Hollande sees himself as the leader of a potential
resurgence of the European center-left, capable of pushing a
more expansionist economic agenda.

To attempt a crude historical overview: the French Communist
Party and the more moderate Socialists battled for hegemony
in the post-war period, with the two forces eventually
forging a shaky compact under the banner of a common
electoral program. After a narrow electoral defeat in 1974,
the Socialists went it alone and won in 1981. Despite the
lack of Communist involvement, Mitterrand's "110
Propositions for France" were sweeping, filled with
interventionist Keynesian proposals that would be
unthinkable today.

After two years in office this all changed. Mitterrand's
made a turn towards neoliberalism. Fighting inflation and
remaining competitive within the European Monetary System,
rather than pursuing full employment policies and expanding
social programs, became priorities.

The sudden transformation wasn't due to a personal evolution
in Mitterand's political ideology, but rather a broader
structural shift that has happening across the world. Social
democracy faced the structural crisis in the 1970s that
Michal Kalecki, author of "The Political Aspects of Full
Employment," predicted decades earlier. Contra Leninist
predictions, near-full employment and a cushy welfare state
made workers bold, not docile. They made militant wage
demands. Capitalists were able to keep up with them when
times were good, but when stagflation hit - the intersection
of poor growth and rising inflation - capital suffered from
a crisis of profitability. Neoliberalism's success came in
curbing this inflation and restoring profits through a
vicious offensive against the working class. Social
democratic parties that sought to administer advanced
economies in the neoliberal age, especially with the
pressures wrought by globalization, had to adapt their
platforms to this new reality.

The dilemma continues to this day. It's one that Castle
hints at in his piece:

According to one theory, the left's problem is that Europe
is divided between those who want austerity and structural
reforms and those who are anti-austerity and anti-reform. If
it is to make a breakthrough, the left needs to position
itself against austerity but also in favor of reform.

At face value, those lines remind me of a Thomas Friedman
aphorism - something to the tune of "The grass isn't greener
on the other side, but at least they have grass." But it
gets at the impossibility of the center-left's position.
First, they want a milder form of austerity, but they're
reliant on forces to get elected that are staunchly anti-
austerity. The cuts that they are able to force through end
up undermining the very social base that elected them in the
first instance. They do want less of these cuts than the
center-right and they are more open to using the state to
stimulate growth, but they are structurally constrained by
new economic realities and, tasked with the burden of
governance, are forced to act "responsibly" and maintain
stable conditions for accumulation and private investment.

Is there such a thing as a progressive neoliberalism in the
developed world? The record of Third Way administrations
indiciates there isn't and that the way forward out of
crisis lies with the radicals, not the moderates, in the
Left's camp.

[Bhaskar Sunkara, the founding editor of Jacobin, is an In
These Times staff writer. He blogs at Uprising, the
magazine's blog covering movements for social and economic
justice. Follow him on Twitter: @el_bhask ]

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