Der Spiegel published an article today on the decline of socialist parties in Europe. The piece opens by noting that even a strong socialist candidate in Austria struggles with the baggage of the “old, sclerotic social democracy.” And the picture is similar in many other European countries:
In 2000, social democrats or socialists were part of the government in 10 out of the 15 countries that made up the European Union at the time. These days, though, the picture is a drastically different one. There is a real chance that German Social Democrats will no longer be part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition following Sunday’s vote and the same could happen in Italy after voters there go to the polls next spring. Were that to happen, center-left parties would only be part of six EU governments out of 28 member states, all of them on the European periphery: Malta, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The populist left-wing Syriza alliance heads the government in Greece. Elections are scheduled for October in the Czech Republic, but it seems unlikely that the social democrats will be returned to power.
There is even a new word for the social democratic swoon: Pasokization, as in PASOK, Greece’s long-term governing party, which fell into insignificance in the 2015 election. A similar situation applies in the Netherlands, where the traditional Labor Party captured only 5.7 percent of votes in the last election. French Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon came in fifth in the recent French presidential election, with 6.4 percent of the vote, and his party went on to receive a miserable 9.5 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections a short time later. In Poland, the Social Democrats no longer hold any seats in the parliament.
Last week Norway’s conservative government won re-election, defeating the Labour Party. The Red Party, which is Marxist, did do well enough to gain its first seat in Parliament, slightly bucking the trend. And it’s not all downside for socialists. In the UK, socialist Jeremy Corbyn is the far left leader of the Labour party and claims his party is now the mainstream in the UK.
But putting that aside, why are socialist parties on the decline in Europe. Der Spiegel suggests the old division between left and right is giving way to a new division between globalists and populists:
Until recently, the traditional discrepancy between the left and the right was more pronounced in France than in almost anywhere else. After all, it was invented there. But France’s party system was dramatically reorganized in the last elections and it is no accident that the Socialist Party was the first victim of this shift. Only a feeble remnant of the party has remained, after losing 249 of its 280 seats in parliament.
Social democratic parties have always had to accommodate many different movements, but now they have become too contradictory. The conflict between those who want more openness, more European and more reforms and those opposed to such progressivism has destroyed the French Socialists.
This is why the party’s heirs could hardly be more contradictory. On one side is Emmanuel Macron, the new president, a social liberal who won the election on a message of change and a commitment to European values. On the other is the de-facto leader of the French opposition, former Trotskyite Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He is in favor of a bloated social welfare state and economic protectionism, which he combines with resentment against Germany and Brussels. On economic issues and questions of national identity, Mélenchon is much closer to right-wing populist Marine Le Pen than Macron, who also emerged from the Socialist Party.
In the U.S. we had populist candidates on both the left and right in the last election. Trump seemed to spend more time appealing to Sander’s voters than he did to Hillary’s voters. Not to say it was successful but it suggests an attempt to break down the traditional left-right division in favor of populism was part of the U.S. campaign as well.