Sean Thompson of Green Left reviews Socialist Resistance’s recent book.
New Parties of the Left looks at the attempts that have been made to create new parties to the left of the ‘mainstream’ social democratic parties over the last twenty years or so in France, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Italy and Portugal.
Since the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ in 1989, the European Left has undergone major transformations. Social democratic parties have universally surrendered to neo-liberalism and most of the Communist parties have either collapsed or shriveled up to tiny rumps or adapted to social democracy or even social liberalism. But at the same time, across Europe there have been a number of attempted alliances of the radical/far left, some of which have developed into stable parties with significant influence. As Luke March says in Contemporary Far Left Parties, ‘The far left is increasingly a stabilised, consolidated and permanent actor on the EU political scene, although it remains absent in some countries and in much of former communist Eastern Europe. The far left is now approaching a post Cold War high in several countries.’
And yet, these new alliances or regroupments have received little academic or analytical interest. This might be because, as Bertil Vider of the Denmark’s Red Green Alliance suggests in his informative and extremely readable introduction, that most scholars assume that the radical left had been sucked into the black hole of history along with the wreckage left by the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ in 1989 or that few left wing intellectuals do research on political parties.
This book fills mostly fills the gap admirably. One of its strengths is that its authors are not external observers but are activists themselves and have in many cases played key roles in the development of these initiatives. Of course, all the authors are members of the Fourth International and therefore they have a clear agenda – the building of new, broad based anti capitalist parties, within which they can democratically organise as a revolutionary tendency. In other words, to quote Communist Manifesto: ‘The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.’
Which is fine, except when there are no ‘other working-class parties’, or where they have become suborned by neo-liberalism or fatally compromised by their complicity in the perversions of Stalinism. The task then becomes to build anew from the political fragments available in the very different circumstances pertaining across Europe. Thus, Die Linke has emerged as a merger between the remnants of the former ruling SED in the east of Germany with a grouping of left social democrats and others in the west, the Dutch Socialist Party has evolved from a 60s Maoist group, Greece’s Synaspismos has built up round a core of the former Eurocommunist wing of the KKE and Denmark’s Red Green Alliance has emerged from an intriguing melange of the CP, the Left Socialist Party and the trotskyist SAP, now outnumbered by new young activists coming from outside all the founding organisations.
Some of these initiatives have clearly been more successful than others. Die Linke in Germany, the Socialist Party in the Netherlands, the Red Green Alliance in Denmark, Synaspismos in Greece and the Left Bloc in Portugal, are all now significant players in their domestic politics, but tragically Rifondazione in Italy and the SSP in Scotland, which once the inspired the left throughout Europe, have both effectively committed suicide.
Closer to home, Alan Thornett and John Lister describe the sad case of Respect, now limping towards oblivion. While, as a former participant in its formation, I can vouch for the depressing accuracy of their account, there are one or two points that I think should be raised. First, Alan and John blithely state that ‘Respect remains today (2011) the only left party in England with any electoral substance.’
This simply ignores the facts that not only does the Green Party have policy positions broadly similar to Respect in virtually all areas, its leader, Caroline Lucas, repeatedly claim that it is anti-capitalist, and of course that it has an electoral base stronger than any party of the Left has had in England since the ILP in the thirties. Second, they don’t mention the initial attempt by George Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob to involve the Green Party in the formation of Respect. The fact that it failed, as a result of a combination of understandable suspicions of the SWP and George Galloway with a rather nasty form of sectarianism on the part of the Green Party, was, I believe, a serious blow to the initiative’s chances of escaping ghetto of the left sects and to the cause of building a genuinely broad based party to the left of Labour. But despite these glaring omissions, their essay is, like the others in the book, both valuable and thought provoking.