The Left is in the Streets

PARIS – The riots that have rampaged across Greece may have many causes, but one that is rarely mentioned is the fracturing of the Greek left into George Papandreou’s traditional socialist party, PASOK, and an increasingly radicalized faction that refuses all accommodation with either the European Union or modern economics. To varying degrees, this divide is paralyzing Socialist parties across Europe.

That the traditional left is so inert in the midst of today’s economic crisis is more than strange.  Instead of thriving on renewed doubts about capitalism, Europe’s Socialist parties have failed to make any serious political inroads. In countries where they hold power, such as Spain, they are now very unpopular.

Where they are in opposition, as in France and Italy, they are in disarray – as are Germany’s Social Democrats, despite their being part of the ruling Grand Coalition. Even Sweden’s out-of-power Socialists, the country’s dominant party for a century, have failed to capitalize on the crisis. The United Kingdom may be the exception, though the pro-market Labour Party shaped by Tony Blair may not count as a party of the left anymore.

European socialists have failed to address the crisis cogently because of their internal divisions. Born anti-capitalist, these parties all (to greater and lesser degrees) came to accept the free market as the foundation of the economy. Moreover, since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet system, the left has lacked a clear model with which to oppose capitalism.