The Overcast Horizon of the Left in the West
The Overcast Horizon of the Left in the West
Among the most prominent headlines of the French presidential elections, if not the most prominent, is the left’s decline. This decay is remarkable to everyone commenting on those elections: for decades, France has been split between two “peoples”, the “people of the left” and the “people of the right.” This will not be the case in the next contest in April. The leading figures, besides President Emanuel Macron, are the Gaullist Valerie Pecresse and two right-wing extremists, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.
The left may not be doing quite as poorly in other Western European countries. However, it is doing badly enough, and in places where it is not, skepticism surrounds it: is it really still leftist? Or that, at least, is the question echoed by orthodox left-wingers.
In Germany, the Social Democratic Party recently received more votes (25.7 percent) than any other party. However, it had to form a coalition government, which some see as very incoherent, that sees them joining forces with the Greens (14.7 percent) and the liberals (11.5 percent). Moreover, since Socialist Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was in power at the latest, the party’s leftism seems to have been in question. Its critics say: it talks about social justice and the welfare state, but it only works to ensure economic growth and create an environment suitable for investment under the “pretext” of creating jobs.
Britain’s Labor Party led by Keir Starmer started reaping the rewards of the Conservatives’ failures: the latest Observer opinion poll gives Labor 41 percent, compared to 32 for the Tories, who are drowning in their troubles and their leader’s temperament. But Labor, especially since Jeremy Corbyn was sidelined in 2020, has been attacked daily by those to its left.
In Spain, the government is composed of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party and Pademos, which is to its left. However, Spain’s extremely poor economic conditions (though the coronavirus is largely responsible for those conditions) do not inspire optimism regarding the future of the Socialists who will be held responsible for this decline. The fact that the far-right party Vox is now in third place does not escape us.
In Greece, the socialist PASOK party has almost been eviscerated. Meanwhile, Syriza’s emphasis on social, cultural, and gender issues, feminism, and integration in Europe far exceeds its focus on economic matters and demands.
What happened to a left traditionally linked to the working class, keeping in mind that the economic inequality has never been as stark as it is today? The shock grows once we remember that the 2008 financial crisis and the economic ramifications of the coronavirus that came afterward did not provide any support to the parties of the left and their thesis.
The fact is that we are facing a library explaining this gradually escalating phenomenon. Analyses, some of which parts of the article relied on, stress the changing meaning of the working class on which the parties of the left have traditionally relied. That is at the heart of the matter.
Wage labor and lacking the means of production no longer cover the social map: until the eighties, manual “blue-collar” laborers made up the majority of European workers. Today, things are different: the rate of skilled workers and university graduates has multiplied while the rate of laborers working in small workshops or doing mechanical work in factories has dropped. The new majority of “workers” are professionals who went to university and worked and continue to work in offices. That is because most traditional industries were outsourced from Europe to China and other Asian countries, while the new factories do not resemble those that preceded them. Robots, because of the ongoing technological revolution, are doing many of the tasks that workers used to do, and it is engineers and specialists who run those robots. For its part, union work has also declined, especially since experts and engineers have no appetite for joining unions.
Of course, that does not mean poverty has disappeared, but it does mean that the poor can be better described as out of work than as workers. In this sense, the traditional policies of leftist parties defending workers’ rights no longer speak to these impoverished groups who have been pushed out of the labor market in the first place.
Some analysts consider the United States the first to discover this change in concepts like workers and the left. Why? Because it was the first to see the rise of campaign strategists who utilized opinion polls, marketing research, and databases on a broad scale. That is how it was discovered, early on, that the working class was changing, unions were shrinking, and the number of manufacturing jobs was decreasing.
Politically, the American working class preceded others in the West in not voting for the Democratic Party and choosing the Republican right, as seen in Ronald Regan’s election. That is why Bill Clinton waged his coup against the Democratic Party’s left before Tony Blair then replicated it against the Labor Party’s left, bringing the theory that “elections are fought and won in the middle” into the fore. Beyond that is something that old leftists like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin have not understood; “class,” as a concept for social analysis, has been losing its place to ethnicity, identity, and cultural community.
That, on the whole, leaves us facing an overcast, perhaps long, transitory stage for thoughts and concepts, as well as the forces that do or do not emerge in response to the current conditions that do not please the heart.