The Left is dying... of pleasure

Article published on Sept. 7, 2004
community published
Article published on Sept. 7, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The identity and power crisis in the European left is perhaps not the result of a failure in its historical journey, but the consequence of its inability to start again from the beginning.

No conservative voter would be willing to renounce a single one of the laws that the European left brought in 180 years ago. Let the debate over which is better - the left or the right –be settled: each option translates one of the two instincts inherent in humans into the political field. On the one hand there is the self-preservation instinct and on the other hand the self-improvement instinct. Both participate in their own individual way. That said, the left, submerged in an identity and power crisis, has been reviewing its history and reconsidering its objectives for years. Failed experiments like the “Third Way” or the adoption of the aims of economic neoliberalism are ephemeral rags which poorly conceal the disorientation of a democratic left that, at the fall of the Berlin Wall, had carried out almost all of its self-imposed tasks since the middle of the nineteenth century.

An acceptable CV

Do they remember the 40-hour working week and the “three 8s”: 8 hours of work, 8 of leisure and 8 of sleep? Now we have the 35-hour week. Right up until the present day, workers’ parties have set up the system and, even though in France the Loi Aubry measures are being questioned, in Europe they are being stealthily implemented: three years ago the Civil Service in Andalusia introduced the said working day.

Who articulated obligatory and universal education? It was the French progressive Jules Ferry. Who brought to the table “ Ostpolitik” and the détente when serious international political conflicts were being faced? The German Social Democrat Willy Brandt. In the 20 years of HDI (Human Development Index) history edited by the UN, first place has been occupied by countries governed by the left; today, one year on, Norway occupies first place. One night in 1985, Jacques Delors arranged a meal in Brussels – a trap – so that Felipe González could set out his vision to Kohl, Mitterand, Soares and the sceptical Italian, Irish and Greek governments: a vision of European solidarity with, for dessert, various European Cohesion Funds, a CAP cut in half, a schedule for achieving Maastricht and a common market and money. Divorce, abortion, marriage and adoption for homosexual couples are the rights that left wing parties have demanded in the past and realised. Where would union rights be if the European left had not rigidly persisted in setting them out in constitutions, starting with the German Grundgesetz of 1949 or the Italian Constitution of 1948? Who, if not the left, has taken the care to separate the Church and the State in countries like Greece, Spain or Portugal at the end of their shameful dictatorships?

Starting again

Since 2000, however, the European left has lead few state governments; since 1989 it has been ashamed of its indulgent stance in the past towards the communist bloc; since the 1980s it has been adopting alien obsessions, such as indiscriminate privatisations, the State withdrawal from the economy, adjusting the budget annually without distinguishing between periods of growth and recession… etc. Each left wing party, in each country, defends policies without any thought to discussing issues and coming together with their counterparts in other countries. While in Spain we are advocating the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, in Poland we are approving the American position; while the German left try to dismantle the nuclear energy industry, the French left defend it.

The left is looking for new ideas and new objectives, when they really need to adapt their original philosophy to modern times. Theirs is the basic idea of competitiveness based not on low salaries but on innovation; it is not by chance that the Lisbon Strategy of 2000 was masterminded by a left wing government. And that this strategy is going nowhere today. The left should champion the pacifism that the murdered icon Jean Jaurès died for in 1914, and this seems all the more necessary in the face of US unilateralism. The first three European countries to recognise women’s right to vote were the progressive Finland, Norway and Denmark. Today the most gender-egalitarian governments are found in Scandinavia and Spain. The challenge now may be that of allowing the same civil rights for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Left wing parties – with its traditionally diverging views on economics – should remember that capitalism works thanks to debt and that, therefore, extreme zero deficits mean a slow suicide. Socialism and economic Liberalism are sister philosophies born of the Enlightenment; not only are they not conflicting, but State presence in and regulation of the economy may bring us closer to the Utopia of equality in the marketplace. Moreover, without environmentalism, there is no market.

The Left is internationalism

Finally, the left should not forget the internationalism that gave birth to it: it is the best way of continuing to strengthen the European project after the creation of a common market, common laws, and a constitution still being called for by the left (we have lost count of the manifestos and articles in favour of the constitution signed in the last 15 years ago by Delors, Fischer, Prodi, Soares, Jospin or González, from whom we have borrowed the title phrase of this article). The same obligations and the same rights for all European citizens: fiscal responsibility, education, work, health and hygiene, and the same consumer rights from Sweden down to Slovenia. Wasn’t it a socialist – Victor Hugo – who first envisaged a United States of Europe?