The recent European Parliament elections have caused shock waves in the continent’s political landscape. Big victories were scored by anti-establishment parties in countries such as France, Greece and the UK provoking alarm in the mainstream political parties. The argument that these elections represent a sharp swing to the right – and even fascism – is entirely false.
In Spain, Greece and Portugal there was a sharp swing to the left. If we can speak of political earthquakes then the sudden surge of Podemos (We Can) in Spain must surely be counted as one. In fact, the main common feature in these elections was a sharp polarization to the left and right and a sharp decline of the Centre. Only in Germany and Italy did Angela Merkel’s CDU and Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party obtain creditable results. These are the only two countries where (for different reasons) voters have not yet completely turned their backs on the political Centre and the EU.
In Italy, Matteo Renzi, the leader of the centre-left PD, defeated the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s CDU did less well than in the 2009 European elections but retained her commanding lead over the Social Democrats, leaving her unchallenged as Europe’s dominant political leader. These results provided some small crumbs of comfort for the mainstream party leaders and the bourgeois strategists who are struggling to understand what is happening.
But Italy and Germany are exceptions reflecting peculiar (though different) conditions in those countries. In the rest of the EU the existing parties of the Centre-Left and Centre-Right were shaken by what the media describes vaguely as “the populist challenge”. What is the meaning of this phenomenon and how can one explain it?
It is not difficult to trace its origin in the objective situation. The economic collapse of 2008 represented a sharp turn in the situation. The old economic equilibrium was destroyed. We pointed out at the time that every attempt of the bourgeoisie to restore the economic equilibrium would destroy the social and political equilibrium. That is what these elections clearly show. The political equilibrium that characterised European politics since 1945 has been shattered, and it will not be easily restored.
Five years of economic crisis, accompanied by mass unemployment, austerity, deep cuts in social spending and falling living standards have had a profound effect on how people see politics. Governments and parties that have been responsible for carrying out a policy of cuts and austerity have seen their support plummet. In some cases, like the Pasok in Greece, they have lost so much support that they may be threatened with extinction, as happened to the Italian Socialist Party two decades ago.
Political instability reflects a deep underlying undercurrent of discontent just as the waves on the surface of the ocean reflect powerful but invisible underwater currents. The violent swings of public opinion are not at all accidental. They are an indication that the masses are desperately striving to find a way out of the crisis. The present elections, although in a very partial, confused and incomplete fashion, are only the surface manifestation of this fundamental tendency.
The chorus of wails about the alleged rise of fascism reaches its crescendo when we come to France, where Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration Front National defeated the Socialist Party and obtained a quarter of the vote.
If the party's founder Jean Marie Le Pen was not a fascist, he certainly came close to it. He has called the Nazi gas chambers a “small detail” and has regularly been convicted under France's race hate laws. Only last month he suggested that "Monseigneur Ebola" could sort out Europe's immigration issue "in three months". But his daughter has realised that such an overt link with fascism was not helpful to her parliamentary career. She had to work hard to make the FN respectable. In her eagerness to distance her party from the taint of fascism, the lady did not shrink from censoring her own father. By concentrating on a demagogic anti-EU, anti-Establishment and anti-immigration platform she got what she wanted.
The Front National has never come first in a national election and, if its share of the vote is confirmed, it will have around 25 MEPs, out of the 74 representing France in Brussels. On hearing the projections, Le Pen called for the country's national parliament to be dissolved: "What else can the president do after such a rejection? It is unacceptable that the assembly should be so unrepresentative of the French people," she told reporters at her party headquarters.
This result shook the parties of the Centre-Left and Centre Right with equal vehemence. An aide to French President Francois Hollande said the results were "the start of the crisis": "Tonight is the start of the crisis. The shock in Europe and the world will be very violent if the far-Right comes first in France," a senior aide to the president told an English journalist. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described it as a "political earthquake".
In reality, the result was quite predictable. One has to bear in mind that the role of the Social Democracy is precisely to betray the people who elected them, to carry out the dirty work of the bankers and capitalists and thereby to disappoint and alienate the masses, in particular the middle class, thus preparing the way for right wing reaction. Over the past two years France has offered a laboratory proof of this universal law.
Only two years ago Francois Hollande and the Socialist Party won a sweeping victory in the Presidential, parliamentary and local elections. This was a massive swing to the left and a clear mandate for change. At that time Hollande put on a left face, advocating an end to austerity and the cancellation of tax cuts and exemptions for the wealthy introduced by President Sarkozy. Income tax would be raised to 75% for incomes beyond one million Euros; the retirement age would be brought back to 60 (with a full pension) for persons who have worked 42 years; 60 000 jobs cut by Nicolas Sarkozy in public education would be recreated and so on.
But it did not take M. Hollande long to renege on his promises. Under the pressure of big business, he put his policy into reverse and adopted a policy of austerity. The feeling has grown that the Socialists have deceived the people, that the political class in general is out of touch and remote (that applies just as much to Sarkozy, with his millionaire life style and expensive mistresses, as it does to Hollande with his more modest and more squalid petit bourgeois affairs). People say: “what does it matter how I vote? None of these politicians represent me.” This perfectly rational conclusion is not confined to France. It has been shown in practically every country in Europe and was starkly revealed in these elections.
As for France’s “special relation” with Germany as co-rulers of the EU, that pathetic bluff was immediately exposed and the real situation was revealed: France is only the poor relation to Germany. The real power is in the hands of Frau Merkel. She decides everything. Hollande decides nothing. The hatred of the Establishment has therefore been extended to the even more remote faceless bureaucrats of Brussels. The anti-EU propaganda of Le Pen was therefore bound to get an echo in an already disenchanted electorate.
Hollande’s support has collapsed to the point where he is the most unpopular President in France since 1958 - and that is saying something. But was it inevitable that the discontent with Hollande should lead to the rise of Le Pen? No, it was not inevitable. Two years ago the left wing Front de Gauche, an alliance of the Communist party (PCF) with dissident socialists and left wingers led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon achieved very good results. Mélenchon organized mass rallies all over France and got an enthusiastic response for his radical programme. He spoke of Revolution and was cheered. His support in the opinion polls rose to as much as 17 per cent. If Mélenchon and the PCF had maintained a clear left wing opposition to the government, they would have gained enormously. But they did not.
In the local elections that preceded the European elections, the leaders of the PCF, motivated by narrow and selfish greed for the fruits of office, backed an electoral deal with the discredited Socialist Party in many key cities, including Paris. This disgusted many workers and members of the PCF. As the Duke of Enghien said about his own execution: "C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute", a statement usually rendered in English as "It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake”.
For his part, Mélenchon decided to go with the Greens, a party equally discredited by collaborating with the government. Between them they succeeded in severely damaging the Front de Gauche. And since Nature abhors a vacuum, the predictable result was the rise of the Front National. There is absolutely nothing surprising about it.
As for Hollande, he has probably concluded that he has nothing left to lose by sticking to the rightward course he has adopted. That would naturally be suicidal both for him and the Socialist Party. But like the Samurai of old, Social Democrats everywhere have decided that it is better to sacrifice themselves by falling on their sword rather than dishonourably abandoning the capitalist system to its fate. The only ones to gain from this will be Le Pen and the Front National.
Spain has experienced one of the deepest recessions in Europe. The right wing PP government of Rajoy has carried out a brutal policy of austerity and cuts, which has left over half the youth of Spain unemployed. This provoked mass protest movements and the occupation of over 50 city squares three years ago. That movement died down without apparently having achieved anything. But the discontent of the people has now found a political expression. The Rajoy government is hated. The PP vote has collapsed.
But the Socialist Party (PSOE) has not benefitted from the collapse of the PP vote. On the contrary, the party has suffered its worst electoral performance since the fall of the dictatorship in 1977-78. People remember how the Socialists began the policy of austerity when they were in government. As a result they are held equally responsible for the sufferings of the Spanish people.
In 2009 PP and PSOE got 81 per cent of the votes, this time they slumped to 49 per cent. The right wing PP saw its vote collapse from 42 per cent to 26 per cent but even more significantly, the PSOE, which is clearly identified as co-responsible for austerity policies, also fell sharply from 38.8 per cent to 23 per cent. These parties had 12.8 million votes in 2009, but now they have just 7.7 million, a loss of over 5 million votes. This is an historical low for the two parties on which bourgeois democracy has been based on in Spain since the end of Franco's dictatorship (if we consider the PP as the successor of Suarez's UCD).
These elections marked a sharp turn to the Left in Spain. The United Left (which includes the Communist Party) increased its share of the vote significantly from 3.7 per cent and 588,000 votes which it got in 2009 to 10 per cent and 1.58 million votes now. This is also an increase from the 6.9 per cent that it got at the 2011 general election.
However, the most interesting aspect of this election has been the sudden and unexpected rise of Podemos, a new formation that got a surprising 8 per cent, receiving more votes than IU in a series of important regions, like Asturias and Madrid (both in the city and in the region), as well as in most of the working class neighbourhoods and cities of Madrid and its periphery.
This formation has attracted the votes of a radicalised layer of society that wished to protest against the whole establishment, votes which would not have gone to IU, seen as it is by some layers as too moderate and too linked to the existing system. This is particularly the case in Madrid, where the IU federation is dominated by the right wing of the coalition and marred by corruption scandals.
Three months ago, Podemos did not even exist. All the polls taken before the vote suggested the new grouping would struggle to win more than one seat. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament. In some regions – including in Madrid – Podemos (“We Can”) emerged as the third-biggest political force behind the ruling Popular party of prime minister Mariano Rajoy and the opposition Socialists.
The sudden emergence of Podemos has profoundly shocked the political Establishment. The press publishes astonished editorials, saying that they “came out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. But Podemos did not come from nowhere. It is the political expression of the mass movement of radicalised youth and workers who have been protesting against the evils of capitalism, austerity and the rule of the bankers on the streets of Spain for the past three years. If this movement was invisible to the political “experts” it can only be because they have their heads stuck in an unmentionable place where the sun does not shine.
“If people don’t do politics themselves, they get it done to them, and that’s when they [the politicians] steal your democratic rights as well as your wallet,” Pablo Iglesias, the leading figure of Podemos, said in an interview on Tuesday. This represents a big step forward in the consciousness of the protest movement in Spain. Instead of the confused, semi-anarchist rejection of politics, we have an attempt to give the incoherent and disorganized protest movement an organized and political expression.
With almost no money, the embryonic party shows how the combination of militant anti-capitalist policies and an active grassroots organization can defeat powerful bureaucratic party machines backed by the millions of the bankers and capitalists. Podemos has set up a network of 300 “circles” across the country. Podemos policies are vague, anti-establishment and anti-globalisation but its propaganda has a clearly anti-capitalist slant.
Though Podemos avoided identifying itself in terms of “right” and “left” and preferred to refer to the “citizens” rather than the workers, the message it transmitted was clearly one of “those from below” against “those above”. Whereas the right wing “populists” confine themselves to a narrow nationalist rejection of the EU, Pablo Iglesias gives his opposition to the policies of the Troika class content.
Giving voice to the widespread discontent at the Establishment and the capitalist EU, the young and outspoken leader of Podemos wrote on his personal website that the Troika’s main objective is “securing the profits of the banks, the big companies and speculators”. That is quite correct. He adds: “Europe cannot be an instrument to asphyxiate the countries of the south, and Spain cannot be a country for the corrupt, the fraudulent and for urban speculators.”
The eruption of Podemos has already had an impact in the traditional parties. It has triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. While it is doubtful that it could displace the IU as the main party of the Left, it can act as a catalyst for radicalizing the Left, shaking it out of its ossified reformist lethargy. And that can only be positive.
The bourgeois media and the ultraleft sects are obsessed with the Golden Dawn. This is a fascist party and it has certainly advanced, reflecting the same process of social and political polarisation that we have already mentioned. In these elections it took third place, ahead of Pasok, which paid the price for acting as the junior coalition partner in the government of the conservative New Democracy.
The leaders of Golden Dawn had developed delusions of grandeur, imagining that they could take power. But the ruling class understood that any attempt to move towards fascism in conditions of a radicalised working class would be far too risky. Therefore, they were obliged to take certain measures to rein in the mad dogs, although obviously they had no intention of illegalising the party, which they will need in the future.
The master of the house needs a fierce dog to guard his property, but the dog must be kept on a chain so that it does not bite the master’s hand. In an attempt to appear more respectable Golden Dawn swapped its jackboots for suits in the run-up to the elections. It won its first seats in the European Parliament. However, this success has a very relative character.
The main victor in Greece was not Golden Dawn but the left wing Syriza, which triumphed over the governing New Democracy, marking the party’s first nationwide election victory. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras claimed a “historic victory” for his party. This is a reasonable statement. But it is not really correct to say that Syriza is an entirely new party. Its core is made up of members of Synaspismos, which was a split from the Communist Party (KKE). It contains many former communists and social democrats, including prominent defectors from Pasok.
The explosive rise of Syriza reflects voters’ anger over successive austerity programmes and frustration that they are being implemented by the same political elite that brought about Greece’s economic collapse. It won 26.4 per cent compared to 23.2 per cent for New Democracy. Golden Dawn had won 9.3 per cent compared with 8.1 per cent for Elia (Olive Tree), a centre-left alliance led by Pasok. Syriza won a further important victory in the election of governor of the Attica region surrounding the capital, which is home to about one-third of the country’s population.
Yet Syriza’s victory will not immediately lead to the fall of the government of Antonis Samaras. Since the two coalition partners together captured a bigger share of the vote than Syriza he will cling desperately to power like a drowning man clinging to a piece of driftwood. But stormy winds will blow him into unchartered seas where he will eventually sink without trace. The days of this government are counted. Sooner rather than later Samaras will have to call new elections and everything points to a victory of Syriza.
Tsipras said his election win meant the government no longer had the right to negotiate with international lenders on key issues such as a restructuring of the public debt, or to impose further austerity measures. He has pledged to tear up Greece’s barbarous bailout agreement if he comes to power – a prospect that has aroused the hopes of millions of Greeks. At the same time he has said that Greece will remain in the EU and the Eurozone, which means that it will still be at the mercy of Brussels and Berlin. How this contradiction will be resolved will determine the future of both Syriza and Greece.
The main feature of the election result in Italy was the highest level of voter non-participation in the country’s history. This reveals an increasing frustration and rejection of the political system and austerity policies. Only 57.22 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote, as against 66.43 per cent in 2009. Of these 57 per cent, 3% cast a blank or spoiled ballot paper. In the 2013 parliamentary elections 75.19 per cent of the electorate voted.
The new premier Renzi has succeeded in marginalising the left wing of the party and is now in total control of the PD. He is promoting a populist agenda of "renewal", but moving to the right, carrying out bourgeois policies (new labour laws counter-reform, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude with the trade unions, etc.). The vote for Renzi is interpreted as a vote for stability and was greeted with cheers by the big bourgeois, who now feel they have the chance to go onto the offensive with their austerity agenda. That explains the exaggerated enthusiasm of the press for Renzi.
The bourgeois media are making a lot of noise, claiming that Renzi won more votes than any previous PD leader. They are backing him because Renzi is an openly bourgeois politician, whereas the previous leaders of that party came from the old Communist Party (PCI). But despite the attempts of bourgeois commentators to claim that this was a vote of confidence in the government, Renzi can only claim the support for the PD of around 22 per cent of the overall electorate.
Nor is it true that Renzi has won more votes than any previous leader of the PD. In 2008 the PD won 34 per cent under Veltroni but in actual fact he won one million more votes than Renzi. They also try to claim that Renzi has done much better than the PCI's 34 per cent under Berlinguer in 1976. Again this a false comparison. The PCI won 12,614,650 million in 1976, 1.3 million votes more than Renzi today, and accounted for 31 per cent of those eligible to vote and not the 22 per cent that Renzi can claim today.
Even if one adds to the votes of the Democratic Party those of Alfano [the split from Berlusconi that stayed in the government] and Monti, it means that just over 25 per cent of those eligible to vote did so for parties that make up Renzi's government. Perhaps we would do well to look at as many as 22 million people who did not express any vote. The Democratic Party in 2008 won 12 million votes; then 8.6 million in 2013, and 11.2 million in 2014. These swings reveal the extreme volatility of the electorate.
What about Grillo's 5-Stars Movement, which captured all the headlines in the recent past? His five stars shot across the firmament and for a brief moment lit up the sky. But this lightening rise has suffered a severe setback. Such is often the fate of mass movements of a mainly petty bourgeois character. They are intrinsically unstable and can vanish just as quickly as they appear. They thrive on success but are rapidly deflated by setbacks. They can soar like a rocket only to fall like a stick.
Grillo’s Movement still won 21.1 per cent (5.8 million votes), a sizeable figure, but it has lost three million votes since 2013. The reason is a combination of their inability to stop any of the government's measures in the past year and the fact that wherever they have been involved in local administrations they have disappointed badly. A crisis of this movement and violent oscillations in their policies to the right and to the left in the next period are the most likely perspective.
The votes for Grillo are clearly votes against the government's austerity and the European Union imposed policies in general. And if one adds the over 22 million who didn't vote to the close to 6 million votes of Grillo, that makes a total of 28 million who have lost all confidence the mainstream parties of both Centre-Left and Centre-Right.
Lastly, what remains of the old Left parties, including the PRC and SEL (the right wing split from the PRC led by Nichi Vendola), supported a slate named "L'altra Europa con Tsipras" (“The other Europe with Tsipras”). They were hoping to benefit from the success of Syriza in Greece and managed to go above the threshold for a few thousands votes. But they obtained just 4.03 per cent. Last year SEL (which participated in the centre-left coalition block with the PD) and the "Rivoluzione Civile" List (backed by the PRC) won a total of 1,8 million votes together, whereas today the Tsipras List won only 1.1 million. The surreal cheerfulness in their camp is probably explained by the fact that they seem to have managed to stop their electoral freefall, but this euphoria will not last for long.
The main losers in these elections, however, were the right wing bourgeois parties, especially Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Berlusconi himself was not even able to vote, since he has been convicted on a fraud charge. His party is now in a deep crisis. They got 16.8 per cent (4.6 million votes) but have lost 6 million since 2009 (and -2.5 million since the 2013 elections). The traditional bloc around Berlusconi is in a terminal crisis. They are split and it seems very unlikely they will regain ground any time soon.
The Northern League has gained some ground on the basis of its anti-EU rhetoric. But the split from Berlusconi, the NCD (Nuovo Centro-Destra) only achieved 4.4%. Finally we must mention Mario Monti, the bourgeois economist who served as the “technocratic” Prime Minister of Italy from 2011 to 2013, though he was never elected by anybody. His party, “Scelta Europea", collapsed, losing 2.5 million votes since last year. He got only 0.72 per cent of the vote.
Encouraged by these election results, the bourgeoisie will put pressure on the Renzi government to carry out a swifter and more vigorous implementation of the austerity agenda. Renzi will now feel in a stronger position to push through new labour laws and other unpopular measures. The trade union leaders are on the defensive and will try to compromise. But no compromise is possible. They will retreat and capitulate as much as they can, but all their compromises will never be enough for the Italian bourgeoisie that finds itself in an increasingly desperate position vis-a-vis its stronger European rivals.
The whole situation is leading to an explosion of the class struggle. We can expect outbursts of extremely radical working class struggles in the next months, which the TU bureaucrats will try to keep disconnected and disarticulate, as was the case with the 5-day open-ended strike of the bus drivers in Genoa against privatisation in November 2013. Given the traditions of the Italian workers, such struggles can escalate and turn into wider anti-government protests.
Sooner or later the unions will be forced to come out, first into semi-opposition, and finally into outright opposition to Renzi. That, in turn, can provoke a crisis and split in the PD along class lines. The way would then be open for a serious realignment of the Italian Left.
The press is talking about a "political earthquake" in Britain after UKIP’s victory in the European elections. Party leaders are panicking as they try to work out their response to the perceived threat from Nigel Farage, the man who is UKIP’s public face. David Cameron has spoken to other EU leaders ahead of a meeting in Brussels to stress the need for reform and to urge them to "heed the views expressed at the ballot box" after UKIP came out on top with 27.5 per cent of the vote. For Nick Clegg, the pro-European Liberal Democrat leader and Cameron’s coalition partner, the almost total liquidation of his MEPs is a shattering personal defeat.
The UKIP leader, who almost doubled his tally of MEPs to 24, likes to pose as a man of the people who drinks large quantities of good English ale in his local pub and dislikes foreign bureaucrats telling us we cannot smoke in public places. In reality, this “man of the people” is a wealthy former investment banker and represents the interests, not of the small man but of the banks and the City of London. That is one of the reasons he has been given a huge amount of time in the media. This marks a change of attitude of a section of the British ruling class towards the EU.
The heady period of boom and speculation, during which the bankers plunged into a mad carnival of money-making coincided with a period of relatively good relations between Britain and Europe. The City of London cheerfully made a bonfire of all restrictions on the activities of investment bankers. That led directly to the catastrophic collapse of 2008, but at the time it seemed like an admirable example to follow. The British bourgeoisie set the pace for counter-reforms, union bashing and attacks on workers’ rights that were regarded with envy by every banker and capitalist in Europe. Thatcher was seen as the model to imitate.
But now the carnival is over and its protagonists are suffering from a terrible hangover. The bill is presented in the form of a sharp fall in living standards, cuts and austerity. But this affects some more than others. Recently such unlikely characters as Christine Lagarde of the IMF and the former head of the Bank of England have begun to criticise the huge bonuses of the bankers. They are rightly worried about the effects of growing inequality in society. Nowhere is this inequality more glaring than in Britain. London now has the largest number of billionaires of any country in Europe.
The City of London is enjoying the fruits of a boom that is based largely on a speculative housing boom that has all the features of a bubble. And as we saw in 2008, bubbles tend to burst with disastrous consequences. This fact is a graphical illustration of the utterly degenerate, effete and parasitic character of the British ruling class. Furthermore, the privileges enjoyed by the City of London arouse the envy and resentment of bankers in the rest of Europe.
The ferocious competition between Frankfurt and other European financial capitals and the City of London is expressed in the approximately 40 proposals to rewrite the financial sector rules of the EU. This has aroused the fury of the British bankers who growl about “heavy EU regulation”. It is this conflict of interest between rival gangs of financiers, not the feelings of offended national sentiment to which Farage demagogically appeals, that constitutes the real explanation for the increasingly poisonous relations between London and Brussels.
The real reason for the rise of UKIP is the miserable failure of the right wing leaders of the Labour Party to express the feelings of anger and frustration of the masses who have suffered years of cuts, attacks and falling living standards. Ed Miliband presents a picture of abject weakness and confusion that appeals to nobody in particular. Ed Miliband’s Labour lacks any of the momentum an opposition should be enjoying one year before a general election. As a result a layer of disgruntled Labour voters in the provinces (though not in London) voted for UKIP in these elections.
The press in Britain has been systematically building up UKIP and promoting the image of Farage in the last period. The ruling class understands that the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Lib Dems is heading for defeat in the next elections. Labour did reasonably well in the local elections and registered a slight advance in the European elections. Despite the weakness of Ed Miliband and his attempts to show the bourgeoisie that he is “fit to rule”, the ruling class does not trust the Labour party or its leader. Under conditions of crisis and increased social polarisation, they see Labour’s continued link with the unions as a potential threat – a theme that they are constantly harping on.
Therefore, they see UKIP as a way of siphoning off support for Labour and simultaneously putting pressure on the Conservatives to move further to the right. But this is a very risky strategy. In the first place, there is nothing to indicate that the results of the European elections will be replicated in a general election. The high levels of abstention in these elections (barely 34 per cent voted) show that most people consider them an irrelevance – which is a fair assumption. Since this election can have no real significance for their lives or future, they either abstain or register a protest vote for parties like UKIP.
Farage has set his sights on Westminster in next year's general election, declaring that his "people's army" was marching on Newark in the hope of overturning a 16,000 Conservative majority in the 4 June by-election in the Nottinghamshire seat. However, it is interesting to note that UKIP was far less successful in the local elections, where they failed to win control of a single local council in the whole of Britain. They are still less likely to win many seats in the general election. Moreover, they will take most of their votes from the Conservatives, which may well have the effect of allowing Labour to win. The party’s projected national share of the vote was only 17 per cent – a decline of five points since the previous local elections.
One effect of UKIP’s advance has been to obliterate the British National Party – a party of a clearly fascist type. Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP and the party's only MEP, lost his seat in the European parliament. The BNP were the real "racist" party, he said, and those who had voted for UKIP had been mistaken.
In Germany the disillusionment of a layer of people with the mainstream parties that have dominated post-war Germany is expressed in the rise of the anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD). It represents a protest against a pro-EU political elite and its handling of the euro crisis. As in other countries so in Germany there is a growing mood of disenchantment with the “European ideal”. German participation in European elections has fallen from 65 per cent in 1979 to 43 per cent in 2014.
The voracious German ruling class derived huge profits from the EU and the Euro, but is now reluctant to pay the bills. In the person of Angela Merkel, the real ruler of Europe, they preach the virtues of austere living and discipline to a Europe that is becoming ever more resentful of German domination and ever more restless under the iron rule of austerity. These elections reveal a fault-line that in the future can lead to the collapse of the Euro and even the breakup of the EU itself.
As in other countries, right wing demagogues are profiting from the euro crisis to gain support for their efforts to revive German nationalism. The 51-year-old economics professor Bernd Lucke says he wants a Europe of nation states – not a federal Europe and promises to take an axe to the Brussels bureaucracy. One political opponent recently condemned Lucke as a “disguised salon fascist”. In a country that is still haunted by memories of Nazi rule, the AfD generates strong emotions. Posters of Lucke, leader of Germany’s are being defaced with a Hitler moustache.
This specifically German form of right wing reaction has some peculiar features. Whereas all other right wing nationalist parties in one way or another oppose immigration, the AfD supports EU freedom of movement (but combined with a clampdown on “welfare abuse”). The reason for this seemingly surprising moderation is quite clear. Germany’s economic strength was built to no small extent on the exploitation of millions of Gastarbeiter (foreign immigrant labourers). For Germany to stop immigration would be to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
Instead the AfD’s overriding obsession is the Euro. Lucke constantly harps on the costs to Germany of underwriting multibillion-euro bailouts for Greece and other stricken eurozone members. A “respectable” anti-euro campaign allows the AfD to tap a broad electorate in a country where openly Nazi parties arouse bad memories of the horrors of Hitler rule.
Whereas the tiny neo-Nazi party finds its base in the economic underclass, the AfD is finding an echo among disaffected middle-class professionals, entrepreneurs and teachers. In last year’s German parliamentary election, when the AfD stood for the first time it narrowly failed to clear the 5 per cent threshold to enter the Bundestag. The AfD took votes mainly from the liberal FDP, a classic middle-class party.
AfD is not a fascist party, but it can be a pacemaker for fascism in the future. It contains fascist elements, especially in its youth wing, Junge Alternativ. Lucke’s mask of moderation slipped during last year’s parliamentary campaign, when he referred to poor migrants as “Bodensatz” – “dregs”. He later said he was talking about saving migrants from becoming “dregs” but apologised. He has not, however, apologised for referring last year to “the degeneration of democracy” – a phrase the Nazis used to describe the Weimar Republic’s failure to bring social stability to Germany.
But in this campaign the mask was kept firmly in place. For example, Lucke has rejected possible links with both the French National Front and Britain’s UKIP, which he says are too extreme. He has tried to get closer to the British Conservatives, but the latter, fearful of provoking the ire of Frau Merkel have so far rejected his advances.
German politics has seen similar phenomena before. In 1989 the anti-immigrant Republikaner party won 7 per cent in the European election – a peak result for the right in modern Germany – but later collapsed.
Some other examples
In Portugal the ruling right coalition (PSD-CSD-PP) was heavily defeated in these elections, collapsing from 40 per cent (1.4 million votes) in 2009 to 27.7 per cent (900,000 votes) now. The Social Democratic PS is the overall winner, increasing from 26 per cent to 31 per cent. However, in terms of actual votes its result was very modest, increasing its votes by a meagre 90,000.
To the left of the PS, the main beneficiary is the Communist Party, seen as the most consistent anti-austerity anti-Europe party on the left. It increased its share of the vote from 10 per cent (380,000 votes) to 12.6 per cent (416,000 votes). By contrast, the Left Bloc lost over 50 per cent of its support, going down from 10 per cent to 4.5 per cent. If we add these votes together the total Left vote was in the region of 47 per cent. This result was therefore a clear victory for the Left and yet another blow to the policies of austerity imposed by the EU and Germany.
The Dutch far-right 'Party for Freedom' leader Geert Wilders will be disappointed with the results, as pro-EU parties topped the poll. But the biggest surprise was in Belgium. Here they were voting not only for the EU parliament but more importantly for the federal (national) and regional parliaments. One of the most important features of the elections was the electoral breakthrough of the Workers Party of Belgium (PVDA/PTB) a former Maoist organization that openly still claims to be Marxist, though now its policies are mainly of a left reformist character.
The party achieved its best results in Antwerp, the second city of Belgium where it got 9,04 per cent, which makes it the fourth biggest party of the city, ahead of the Christian Democrats, the liberals and the extreme right wing Vlaams Belang, which not long ago was held up as an example of an unstoppable fascist menace.
In the south (French-speaking) area the party also scored very good results. In Charleroi (the second working class city) it scored 8,81 per cent, becoming the fourth party in the province and the third in the city. In Liège, the first city in the south the WPB became the second party in the red belt with scores of between 10 and 20 per cent - just behind the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste).
As result the PTB/PVDA, which is the only national and bilingual party left in Belgium is sending 8 MPs to the different parliaments, including two to the federal (national) parliament. If it were not for the undemocratic electoral threshold of 5 per cent, the PTB/PVDA would have sent many more MP's to parliament.
This is the first time since 1985 that candidates to the left of the socialist parties have been elected in Belgium. This result reflects a changing mood in Belgium and a clear movement to the left in the working class neighbourhoods and the unions, especially the socialist union (the ABVV/FGTB) and in society in general. It is still a minority movement but a significant one.
In Ireland the main feature of the election results is the crushing defeat of the coalition government (LP and Fine Gael). The Labour Party was especially punished by the electorate for participating in a coalition with the bourgeois Fine Gael party that carried out all the cuts imposed by Brussels (which led to the resignations of Eamon Gilmore). Fine Gael also suffered a severe defeat. On the other side there has been an electoral victory for Sinn Fein.
There were also local elections where these results were confirmed even more graphically in terms of councillors gained and lost. The left wing SP has gained a seat in the Irish parliament (the Dail) with Ruth Coppinger in the Dublin West by-election but lost the seat they previously held in the European Parliament with Paul Murphy.
In Denmark the far-right Danish People's party won nearly 27 per cent of the vote and doubled its number of MEPs. Yet again this represents a protest vote against the ruling Social Democrats who have carried out a programme of cuts. Their share of the vote was reduced to 20 per cent. However, the main bourgeois parties also registered big losses and are in a deep crisis.
In Finland the anti-immigration Finns party increased its number of MEPs to two, but its share of the vote has dropped since the last national election. The Left Alliance has returned to the Parliament with one MEP after getting 9.3 per cent of the vote.
In Sweden the process has not gone as far as in the neighbouring countries but the far-right Sweden Democrats got two seats with 9.7 per cent of the vote. This increase was, however, made up entirely from a decline in the right-wing government parties, with the traditional bourgeois party, the Moderates, becoming the third party on 13.4 per cent, after the Greens and the Social Democrats. The government coalition can now only muster 36 per cent support in a national election, according to a recent opinion poll.
In Austria there were big gains for the far-right Freedom Party, which gained around a fifth of the vote for its anti-immigration platform. It doubled the number of MEPs, from two to four and says it hopes to form an alliance with the Front National. The FPO has gained from being in opposition and demagogically blames the EU and foreigners for Austria’s difficulties. Since 2008, net income per worker has fallen every year except 2009, and is currently lower than when the euro was introduced in 1999, according to the Austrian Institute of Economic Research. Despite this concerns are mounting about Austria’s lack of competitiveness vis-a-vis its competitors.
It is difficult to get a clear picture out of the results in Eastern Europe. The information available is very patchy. However, certain trends are clearly observable. The first and most striking thing in the voting pattern is the very high levels of abstention in all Eastern European countries, even when compared with the already low turnout in the rest of Europe.
Average voters' turnout in the 28 EU members states (last country entering was Croatia) has been 43.1% (in 2009 was almost the same, 43%). But in Eastern Europe overall turnout was a mere 28%, so not even one in three eligible to vote bothered to cast a vote. This reveals a profound apathy and indifference towards the EU that is also an expression of disillusionment.
Slovakia was the country where the turnout was the lowest with 13%. But even in Poland, which seemed to be the country having "benefited" more from EU entry, turnout was just 23%. "It can only be called a catastrophe," political scientist Martin Klus told the TASR newswire, referring to the low turnout. (Apathy beats EU antipathy in eastern Europe)
It is obvious that a bitter mood is developing in Eastern Europe as a consequence of the general crisis of capitalism, with explosive social contradictions revealed most clearly by the recent turmoil in Bulgaria. Illusions in capitalism have been decisively undermined in one country after another over the past period, but, as in most of Europe, this mood has not found a political outlet.
With such a low turnout it is difficult to give too much significance to the results. However, there is a general pattern of the government parties being defeated or else emerging weakened by the election results. This is the case everywhere, regardless whether they are centre-left or right wing governments. If we take this fact together with the general apathy and low turnout, it is a clear sign of growing discontent in all these countries towards the corrupt and voracious ruling elites that rose to power after the fall of Stalinism.
The results of the 2014 European elections may well represent a historical turning point. Under conditions of crisis all the national antagonism and contradictions are coming to the surface. The process of European integration, already in difficulties as a result of the crisis of the Euro, will grind to a halt. The tensions between France and Germany will grow, as will the yawning gap between north and south. A new slump, which is inevitable at a certain stage, may well lead to the breakup of the EU as the result of protectionist tendencies.
At bottom the problem facing the European bourgeoisie is that the working class is no longer prepared to accept a policy of permanent austerity. The 2014 European elections are like the heat lightening that precedes a storm. Everywhere the symptoms of a profound malaise can be detected. Beneath the surface there is a bubbling cauldron of discontent, frustration and rage that is seeking a way out. The problem is that none of the traditional mass parties are expressing this.
Isolated from the real conditions of the masses, living in the rarefied atmosphere of parliaments and Byzantine temples of bureaucracy are those who imagine that they are the Masters of society. Confident in their belief that they alone have the Divine Right to rule, they are only dimly aware of the forces that are being prepared for their overthrow.
Gradually, painfully slowly, the masses are beginning to understand. They are searching for a voice, a banner and a programe in which they can believe. But they are inclined to believe that there is no-one they can believe in. People, parties and institutions that once inspired respect, even awe, now provoke only disgust: politicians, bankers, judges, police, the Church, the press – not one of these sacred institutions is free from the taint of graft, corruption and moral decay. How could it be otherwise in a society that is itself rotten to its very core and carries corruption in the narrow of its bones?
The party that won in these elections by a huge majority was “None of them”. The political “experts” and leaders of the mainstream parties moan about the lack of participation. But is it any wonder that people do not vote in elections? Or that they express their rage by voting for anti-Establishment demagogues? No, it is not surprising. The massive level of abstention is not an expression of apathy but rather an expression of profound alienation, frustration and discontent. The only thing that is surprising is that they have not decided to march en masse on the centres of government, the banks and other centres of arbitrary power, obscene wealth, greed and privilege, and tear them down brick by brick.
Superficial observers (both of the right and “left” varieties) only skate over the surface of events and think themselves very great analysts when in truth they are the blind leading the blind. They take the external appearances for an established fact and look no further. But Marx was far more profound when he compared the Revolution to a mole, which patiently burrows beneath the surface and is invisible until it eventually emerges into the light of day in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.
The present period is a period of transition, a period of preparation when the working class is slowly but surely digesting its experience and drawing a balance sheet. The bankruptcy of the capitalist system is gradually making itself known to millions through a painful experience. But the bankruptcy of reformism is also slowly becoming clear to them. Gone are the old certainties and fixed ideas. The labour leaders whose authority was absolute in the past is coming under scrutiny. Words are compared to deeds. Leaders are weighed in the balance of experience and found wanting. Doubts turn into malaise, malaise turns into discontent, discontent turns into indignation.
Political parties, leaders and programmes are being put to the test and rejected one after another. Political parties that have dominated the scene for decades, perhaps for generations, find themselves rejected, hurled from office and cast onto the rubbish heap of history. There will be constant crises, splits, unifications and new splits, out of which new formations can arise. The pendulum will swing to the right and left, and always the tendency will be for the more radical to replace the less.
We have entered into an entirely new period: a period of storm and stress: a period of revolution and counterrevolution on a global scale. These elections show the future of Europe, but in a confused and undeveloped way. The Bible says: “for now we see through a glass, darkly”. The future of Europe will be one of chronic instability and violent swings to the left and right. Over a period these confused and undeveloped tendencies will become clearer. It is only the chronic weakness of the Marxist tendency that prevents them from acquiring a coherent and organized expression right now. It is our task to overcome this weakness, strengthen the Marxist current and provide the movement with the necessary ideas and programme that alone can bring victory.
London 29th May 2014