Show Hide image

Socialism's comeback

At the beginning of the century, the chances of socialism making a return looked close to zero. Yet now, all around Europe, the red flag is flying again.

 

"If socialism signifies a political and economic system in which the government controls a large part of the economy and redistributes wealth to produce social equality, then I think it is safe to say the likelihood of its making a comeback any time in the next generation is close to zero," wrote Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History, in Time magazine in 2000.

He should take a trip around Europe today.

Make no mistake, socialism - pure, unadulterated socialism, an ideology that was taken for dead by liberal capitalists - is making a strong comeback. Across the continent, there is a definite trend in which long-established parties of the centre left that bought in to globalisation and neoliberalism are seeing their electoral dominance challenged by unequivocally socialist parties which have not.

The parties in question offer policies which mark a clean break from the Thatcherist agenda that many of Europe's centre-left parties have embraced over the past 20 years. They advocate renationalisation of privatised state enterprises and a halt to further liberalisation of the public sector. They call for new wealth taxes to be imposed and for a radical redistribution of wealth. They defend the welfare state and the rights of all citizens to a decent pension and free health care. They strongly oppose war - and any further expansion of Nato.

Most fundamentally of all, they challenge an economic system in which the interests of ordinary working people are subordinated to those of capital.

Nowhere is this new leftward trend more apparent than in Germany, home to the meteoric rise of Die Linke ("The Left"), a political grouping formed only 18 months ago - and co-led by the veteran socialist "Red" Oskar Lafontaine, a long-standing scourge of big business. The party, already the main opposition to the Christian Democrats in eastern Germany, has made significant inroads into the vote for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in elections to western parliaments this year, gaining representation in Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Hesse. Die Linke's unapologetically socialist policies, which include the renation alisation of electricity and gas, the banning of hedge funds and the introduction of a maximum wage, chime with a population concerned at the dismantling of Germany's mixed economic model and the adoption of Anglo-Saxon capitalism - a shift that occurred while the SPD was in government.

An opinion poll last year showed that 45 per cent of west Germans (and 57 per cent of east Germans) consider socialism "a good idea"; in October, another poll showed that Germans overwhelmingly favour nationalisation of large segments of the economy. Two-thirds of all Germans say they agree with all or some of Die Linke's programme.

It's a similar story of left-wing revival in neighbouring Holland. There the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), which almost trebled its parliamentary representation in the most recent general election (2006), and which made huge gains in last year's provincial elections, continues to make headway.

Led by a charismatic 41-year-old epidemiologist, Agnes Kant, the SP is on course to surpass the Dutch Labour Party, a member of the ruling conservative-led coalition, as the Netherlands' main left-of centre grouping.

The SP has gained popularity by being the only left-wing Dutch parliamentary party to campaign for a "No" vote during the 2005 referendum on the EU constitutional treaty and for its opposition to large-scale immigration, which it regards as being part of a neoliberal package that encourages flexible labour markets.

The party calls for a society where the values of "human dignity, equality and solidarity" are most prominent, and has been scathing in its attacks on what it describes as "the culture of greed", brought about by "a capitalism based on inflated bonuses and easy money". Like Die Linke, the SP campaigns on a staunchly anti-war platform - demanding an end to Holland's role as "the US's lapdog".

In Greece, the party on the up is the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the surprise package in last year's general election. As public opposition to the neoliberal econo mic policies of the ruling New Democracy government builds, SYRIZA's opinion-poll ratings have risen to almost 20 per cent - putting it within touching distance of PASOK, the historical left-of-centre opposition, which has lurched sharply to the right in recent years. SYRIZA is particularly popular with young voters: its support among those aged 35 and under stands at roughly 30 per cent in the polls, ahead of PASOK.

In Norway, socialists are already in power; the ruling "red-green" coalition consists of the Socialist Left Party, the Labour Party and the Centre Party. Since coming to power three years ago, the coalition - which has been labelled the most left-wing government in Europe, has halted the privatisation of state-owned companies and made further development of the welfare state, public health care and improving care for the elderly its priorities.

The success of such forces shows that there can be an electoral dividend for left-wing parties if voters see them responding to the crisis of modern capitalism by offering boldly socialist solutions. Their success also demonstrates the benefits to electoral support for socialist groupings as they put aside their differences to unite behind a commonly agreed programme.

For example, Die Linke consists of a number of internal caucuses - or forums - including the "Anti-Capitalist Left", "Communist Platform" and "Democratic Socialist Forum". SYRIZA is a coalition of more than ten Greek political groups. And the Dutch Socialist Party - which was originally called the Communist Party of the Netherlands, has successfully brought socialists and communists together to support its collectivist programme.

It is worth noting that those European parties of the centre left which have not fully embraced the neoliberal agenda are retaining their dominant position. In Spain, the governing Socialist Workers' Party has managed to maintain its broad left base and was re-elected for another four-year term in March, with Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero promising a "socialist economic policy" that would focus on the needs of workers and the poor.

There are exceptions to the European continent's shift towards socialism. Despite the recent election of leftist Martine Aubry as leader of the French Socialist Party, the French left has been torn apart by divisions, at the very moment when it could be exploiting the growing unpopularity of the Sarkozy administration.

And, in Britain, despite opinion being argu ably more to the left on economic issues than at any time since 1945, few are calling for a return to socialism.

The British left, despite promising initiatives such as September's Convention of the Left in Manchester, which gathered representatives from several socialist groups, still remains fragmented and divided. The left's espousal of unrestricted or loosely controlled immigration is also, arguably, a major vote loser among working-class voters who should provide its core support. No socialist group in Britain has as yet articulated a critique of mass immigration from an anti-capitalist and anti-racist viewpoint in the way the Socialist Party of the Netherlands has.

And even if a Die Linke-style coalition of progressive forces could be built and put on a formal footing in time for the next general election, Britain's first-past-the-post system provides a formidable obstacle to change.

Nevertheless, the prognosis for socialism in Britain and the rest of Europe is good. As the recession bites, and neoliberalism is discredited, the phenomenon of unequivocally socialist parties with clear, anti-capitalist, anti-globalist messages gaining ground, and even replacing "Third Way" parties in Europe, is likely to continue.

Even in Britain, where the electoral system grants huge advantage to the established parties, pressure on Labour to jettison its commitment to neoliberal policies and to adopt a more socialist agenda is sure to intensify.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2008 issue of the New Statesman, After the Terror

Pexel
Show Hide image

The New Statesman Quiz of the Year, 2016

Grab your pen and paper for this year's New Statesman quiz.

Brexit

1 Which foreign politician hailed Leave’s win in the EU referendum as a “Victory for freedom!”?

a Geert Wilders

b Norbert Hofer

c Donald Trump

d Marine Le Pen

 

2 Which London borough had the highest percentage of Remain voters in the EU referendum, at 78.6 per cent?

a Lambeth

b Ealing

c Merton

d Hammersmith and Fulham

 

3 Which of these newspapers did not support Leave?

Sunday Express

Sunday Times

Mail on Sunday

Sunday Telegraph

 

4 Boris Johnson caused controversy by suggesting to an Italian economics minister that Italy would allow the UK access to the single market in order to safeguard exports of what?

a Parma ham

b Prosecco

c Pasta

d Parmesan

5 In a YouGov poll asking voters how they thought fictional characters might vote in the EU referendum, who was viewed as most likely to vote Leave?

a Jim Royle

b Basil Fawlty

c Alan Partridge

d Mary Poppins

 

US politics

 

6 Which of these words did Donald Trump use most frequently during the three
presidential debates?

a Unbelievable

b Wonderful

c Tremendous

d Amazing

 

7 During his campaign, Trump suggested the father of his rival Ted Cruz could have been linked to whose assassination?

a John F Kennedy

b Robert F Kennedy

c Martin Luther King

d Anwar Sadat

 

8 What was Nigel Farage’s description of Trump during the second debate, in which he had to defend himself against assault charges and seemed to invade Hillary Clinton’s space?

a “A big silverback gorilla”

b “A mighty mountain
of a man”

c “A great white shark
sniffing blood”

d “A defiant, strong lion”

 

9 At a New York fundraiser in September, Hillary Clinton was assailed for saying that “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters could be described as “a basket of . . .” what?

a Unmentionables

b Deplorables

c Awfulness

d Idiocy

 

10 Which of these states did not swing from the Democrats to the Republicans in the 2016 US presidential election?

a Iowa

b Pennsylvania

c Ohio

d Virginia

 

UK politics

 

11 In August, which former cabinet minster was photographed firing off a machine-gun, Rambo-style, while on holiday in Vietnam?

a George Osborne

b Michael Gove

c Nicky Morgan

d Ken Clarke

 

12 Who claimed in his autobiography, Speaking Out, that the idea Jeremy Corbyn will take Labour back to power is a “leftist utopian fantasy”?

a David Miliband

b Ed Balls

c Alastair Campbell

d Neil Kinnock

 

13 In the first round of voting in the Conservative leadership contest, who received the support of 34 MPs?

a Liam Fox

b Michael Gove

c Andrea Leadsom

d Stephen Crabb

 

14 Who won in the Politician category at GQ magazine’s Men of the Year awards?

a Boris Johnson

b Nigel Farage

c Sadiq Khan

d Jacob Rees-Mogg

 

15 Labour now boasts the largest number of members of any political party in western Europe. What was the party membership figure by September?

a 388,400

b 551,000

c 776,300

d 917,000

 

Around Britain

 

16 What did Sergeant Colin Norden, a Cambridgeshire police officer, call “the biggest organised crime group” in the country because of a racket in picking wild berries and selling them on?

a Scouts

b Ramblers’ Association

c Women’s Institute

d Camra

 

17 Despite public demand for the name Boaty McBoatface, after whom was the UK’s new polar research ship eventually named?

Michael Palin

David Attenborough

Ranulph Fiennes

Bear Grylls

 

18 London’s new railway Crossrail will be given what name when it opens in December 2018?

a The Regal Line

b The Elizabeth Line

c The Queen Line

d The Windsor Line

 

19 A new Royal Bank of Scotland £10 note will be the first to carry a picture of a woman who is not a member of the royal family. Who?

a Mary Somerville

b Muriel Spark

c Flora MacDonald

d Winnie Ewing

 

20 Which of these products briefly became scarce in Tesco supermarkets this year after a price disagreement with the supplier, Unilever?

a Pot Noodles

b Colman’s Mustard

c Bisto

d Marmite

 

21 According to the Office for National Statistics’ happiness index, which religion has the highest happiness rating?

a Hinduism

b Buddhism

c Christianity

d Judaism

 

22 A study found that which biscuit can endure the most number of dunks into a cup of tea before breaking apart?

a Bourbon

b Custard cream

c Digestive

d Rich Tea

World

 

23 The Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November at the age of 90. Ten US presidents held office during his time in power, but who was Fidel’s first US counterpart?

a Harry S Truman

b Dwight D Eisenhower

c John F Kennedy

d Lyndon B Johnson

 

24 Archaeologists used laser technology to discover a number of hitherto lost medieval cities in the jungles of which country?

a Guatemala

b Thailand

c Cambodia

d Brazil

 

25 Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female creative director of which fashion house?

a Valentino

b Givenchy

c Louis Vuitton

d Christian Dior

 

26 Which European country voted to reject a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all its citizens?

a Finland

b Norway

c Switzerland

d Austria

 

27 In which US city were 11 police officers shot, five of them fatally, by at least two snipers at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in July?

a New Orleans

b Atlanta

c Dallas

d St Louis

 

28 Adama Barrow won Gambia’s presidential election. As a student in London, he once worked as a security guard for which high-street retailer?

a Marks & Spencer

b Argos

c John Lewis

d Boots

 

29 Which politician was heavily criticised for having a personal barber who earns €10,000 a month?

a Matteo Renzi

b Joachim Gauck

c Mariano Rajoy

d François Hollande

 

Sport


30 The 23 March is a special day for sport, as three of Britain’s four most successful Olympians, in terms of gold medals won, share a birthday on that date. Which of the four men won his medals despite being born on 28 April?

a Chris Hoy

b Steve Redgrave

c Bradley Wiggins

d Jason Kenny

 

31 In which sport did Great Britain win most of its gold medals from the Rio Olympics?

a Rowing

b Cycling

c Swimming

d Sailing

 

32 Great Britain took second place in the Rio Paralympics table with 147 medals (including 64 gold) behind which country?

a China

b Russia

c United States

d Germany

 

33 Which Scottish golf course was removed from the list of possible venues for the Open Championship after it voted to retain its “men only” membership policy?

a Turnberry

b Muirfield

c Carnoustie

d Royal Troon

 

34 Who appeared on the BBC’s Match of the Day wearing only his underpants, after he promised to do so if Leicester City won the Premier League?

a Alan Shearer

b Mark Lawrenson

c Ian Wright

d Gary Lineker

 

35 Which British tennis player won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon?

a Laura Robson

b Naomi Broady

c Johanna Konta

d Heather Watson

 

36 Borussia Mönchengladbach changed their name to “A German Team” on Twitter in response to fans of which UK side being unable to spell the name?

a Liverpool

b Celtic

c Aberdeen

d Manchester City

 

Arts and books

37 Love by All Sorts of Means was Brendan King’s biography of which writer, whom he worked for as secretary and assistant for 23 years?

a Beryl Bainbridge

b Penelope Lively

c Doris Lessing

d Barbara Pym

 

38 Which former Blue Peter presenter published the debut novel The Butcher’s Hook?

a Valerie Singleton

b Mark Curry

c Konnie Huq

d Janet Ellis

 

39 Which comedian and television presenter’s painting of David Beckham’s tattoos was part of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition?

a Nick Hancock

b Justin Lee Collins

c Harry Hill

d Leigh Francis

 

40 Which artist acquired exclusive rights to “Vantablack”, said to be the “blackest black” pigment of paint?

a Grayson Perry

b Chris Ofili

c Jeremy Deller

d Anish Kapoor

 

41 Which musical won 11 Tony Awards from 16 nominations, falling one short of the all-time record held by The Producers?

School of Rock

Hamilton

Waitress

Fun Home

 

42 Who was the only Briton to make the Forbes Top Ten list of the world’s highest-paid comedians?

a Peter Kay

b Frankie Boyle

c Kevin Bridges

d John Bishop

 

Science and media

 

43 In the first 15 years of Wikipedia, which person’s entry was edited the most?

a Justin Bieber

b Barack Obama

c Adolf Hitler

d George W Bush

 

44 A study found the average smartphone user touches their device how many times a day?

a 137

b 589

c 1,457

d 2,617

 

45 The wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham controversially suggested that children should be encouraged to eat which local wildlife?

a Snails

b Earthworms

c Tadpoles

d Grasshoppers

 

46 Researchers found that the milk of which Australian marsupial is capable of killing antibiotic-resistant human pathogens?

a Tasmanian devil

b Red kangaroo

c Quokka

d Tiger quoll

 

47 Scientists suggested which sixth “basic taste” to describe the flavour of bread and potatoes?

a Starchiness

b Solid

c Heavy

d Glutinous

 

Media

 

48 Which national newspaper closed after only nine weeks of operation?

New Day

New European

First News

24

 

49 Which newspaper led the investigation that brought Sam Allardyce’s time as England manager to an end after 67 days?

Times

Daily Telegraph

Daily Express

Observer

 

50 Which magazine published Sean Penn’s interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán that Mexican officials claim led them to the drug kingpin’s hiding place?

Esquire

New Yorker

Rolling Stone

Vice

 

Film, TV, music

 

51 Spike Lee’s latest film, Chi-Raq, is a modern-day adaptation of which play by Aristophanes?

The Clouds

Lysistrata

The Frogs

The Birds

 

52 Which film won the
Golden Globe award for
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, despite being neither a musical nor a comedy?

Carol

The Big Short

Steve Jobs

The Martian

 

53 Who played the title role in Fleabag, the TV adaptation of her 2013 Edinburgh one-woman play of the same name?

a Joanna Vanderham

b Zawe Ashton

c Phoebe Waller-Bridge

d Immy Waterhouse

 

54 Who became the highest-grossing female film star of all time?

a Jennifer Lawrence

b Scarlett Johansson

c Zoë Saldana

d Nicole Kidman

 

55 Which German film by the director Sebastian Schipper was shot in a single, continuous take?

Victoria

Mary

Anna

Eva

 

56 The season finale of Westworld revealed the existence of which other theme park?

a Space World

b Medieval World

c Gangster World

d Samurai World

 

57 The video for Kanye West’s song “Famous” did not feature which of these people in the form of a naked sleeping waxwork?

a Barack Obama

b Anna Wintour

c Donald Trump

d Bill Cosby

 

58 Which musician released the online animal rights game This Beautiful Creature Must Die in collaboration with Peta?

a Paul McCartney

b Morrissey

c Moby

d Dave Navarro

 

59 The Eurovision Song Contest-winning song “1944” commemorated which event?

a D-Day landings

b Deportation of the
Crimean Tatars

c Battle of Monte Cassino

d Liberation of Leningrad

Click here for the answers.

This article first appeared in the 15 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016