Russia and the European Far Left

2016-11-04

The radical left in Europe: silently successful

"Serious researchers clearly see the impact of reforms in the Soviet Union on the formation of the socalled welfare state in Western Europe in the post-WWII period. European governments decided to introduce unprecedented measures of social protection under the influence of the example of the Soviet Union in an effort to cut the ground from under the feet of the left-wing political forces.".

This paragraph from the recent article by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov clearly shows that the Kremlin not only wants to send messages to radical right forces in Europe, but aims to re-interpret history in a way that fits to the taste of the radical right as well. The 2008 financial crisis and the austerity measures which dominated economic policies in its aftermath helped the resurgence of radical left forces on the continent to a similar extent to that of far-right parties, albeit for different reasons (the latter mainly managed to do so by exploiting xenophobic tendencies). The growth in support for radical left parties across Europe has been significant, as the membership of the European Parliament makes clear: whereas the radical left GUE-NGL group included only 4,6% of MEPs in 2009, in 2014 this ratio rose to 6,9%. If we look at the results of national elections, we can observe the same results: far-left parties were able to increase their share of votes to 150% of their pre-crisis levels. Although meteoric rises such as those of Syriza (Greece) and Podemos (Spain), both of which gained popularity by exploiting austerity fatigue, are rare, the far left is definitely an important player on the European scene. Syriza is the main governmental force in Greece; its leader, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, used to be the leader of the GUE-NGL group and its top candidate for European jobs. Die Linke is strong in Eastern Germany, and present in regional governments as well. Furthermore, in 2014, they were able to delegate their first regional Prime Minister as a consequence of a shockingly good result (28%) in the Thuringian elections. The communist party AKEL in Cyprus is a mainstream party that gained more than 30% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections; it used to be a governmental force as well. Sinn Fein is currently the third most popular party in Ireland and has been an important player on the political scene for decades. Furthermore, the radical left in Europe is traditionally much more willing and able to cooperate across national borders on the basis of ideological similarities than is the far right. As a consequence, the radical left managed to maintain a parliamentary group (GUE/NGL) in the EP throughout the 2009-14 legislature, and also managed to establish a solid bloc in 2014, with MEPs drawn from 19 parties across 14 countries. By contrast, the far right's first attempt at founding a bloc in the EP, in 2007, lasted less than a year before collapsing in a welter of nationalist confrontation.3 The current far left in Europe is the product of two decades of careful evolution. After the collapse of the USSR, the mainstream of the European radical left, with some notable exceptions (such as the Czech, the Greek and the Cypriot Communists) made a strategic turn to the “new left”. This meant abandoning the dogma of Marxism-Leninism (sometimes Stalinism), and adopting an ecological worldview and a neo-populist ideology that was able to mobilize the masses, building up a “grassroots” image. This strategy contributed to increasing electoral success, making the radical left a more attractive partner for players aiming to influence European politics.

 

The whole text is available on statecraft.org.uk.

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