The weekend before last I was in Germany (and Bavaria) at the same time as the – Bavarian state election. The results for the SPD (Social Democratic Party) were disastrous losing 20 seats (down from 42) and gaining only 9.7 per cent of the vote (down from 20.6 per cent). The Greens came second, winning 20 extra seats (to 38) and 17.5 per cent of the vote (8.6 per cent last election), while the neo-fascist AfD party, which did not contest the last election, came in fourth, gaining 22 seats (10.2 per cent of the vote). There is a growing fear that the AfD and its counterparts across Europe will grow further and push Europe back into its dark fascist days. One would not conclude that from the Bavarian voting patterns. Further, to construct what is going on in Europe as a right-wing counter to a ‘social democratised’ Europe, which is a common narrative among the Europhile Left is seriously missing the point. The social democratisation of Europe has been in retreat for decades under the onslaught of a very sophisticated campaign from the elites on the Right and often it has been the traditional Left political parties that have pushed the neoliberal agenda more vigorously than the conservatives. The AfD is a sideshow in this deeper take over of our democracies by capital. Root and branch change is needed not a few ‘reforms’ around the edges to make the Eurozone less of a disaster for workers than it currently is.
As a relevant aside, while I was in Lisbon recently, I took a little time out to visit the magnificant Museu Coleção Berardo in the coastal town of Belém.
This is the town that Vasco de Gama sailed out of on his journey to find the first sea route to India.
The museum is quite a building but of particular interest was an exhibition of photographs from the Argentine artist and human rights activist Marcelo Brodsky.
The Marcelo Brodsky. 1968: The Fire of Ideas is a temporary exhibition, which runs from September 20, 2018 to January 6, 2019.
If you are in Lisbon then it is worth the train trip to Belém (a few stops from Baixa).
… features archival images of student and worker demonstrations around the world, carefully annotated by hand in order to deconstruct what lay behind worldwide social turbulence in the late 1960s. Images of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in London and Tokyo sit alongside protests in Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, Prague and San Paolo against military regimes and oppressive government structures.
More information is available – HERE.
An example from the exhibition:
I was becoming very politically active in my teenage years and while 1968 was a little early for me by 1970 and beyond we were plotting revolution in Melbourne, Victoria.
Some of the characters in the photos that Brodsky presents in the exhibition I knew personally. It reminded me of those days of challenge and struggle and how that massive energy was soon diverted and thwarted by a major organised and very sophisticated response from capital and the elites that serve it.
You will see why this is a relevant aside presently.
Official Results in the Bavarian State election
There were some very interesting results in the Bavarian election which run counter to the narrative being spun that the populist right (what we might call the downtrodden ‘left behind’ right) is taking over.
You can see the detailed results from the State Election on 14 October 2018 – provided by Der Landeswahlleiter des Freistaates Bayern (the Bavarian electoral office).
What occurred in the conservative city of Munich is quite amazing.
The following graph shows the proportion of votes gained by the major parties in the Munich area in the 2018 state election (columns) and the 2013 election (red triangles). AfD did not contest the 2013 election.
The demise of the two main parties (CSU and SPD) in the last five years is clear.
The stunning result comes from the Greens who improved their proportion by 18.2 percentage points (a much greater gain than AfD).
This CityLab analysis (October 19, 2018) – Weirdly, Munich Is Now Germany’s Greenest City – provides further details, calling the electoral shift in Munich an “unprecedented rearranging of the furniture on Germany’s political scene”.
Including all the Munich electorates, saw the Greens gain 42.5 per cent of the votes, “more than two and a half times” that gained by the “Merkel-affiliated CSU”.
The reason this is worth mentioning is that Munich is a “rather conservative” city.
Generalising, the Greens took second place for Bavaria overall, a state that has been “an unquestioned stronghold for the right”.
What we glean from the results is that the swing away from the major parties (CSU and SPD) is not just coming from a movement to the neo-fascist AfD and other conservative parties.
The Greens result shows that the shifts are also moving left.
Further, the CSU in Bavaria has been trying to stifle the popularity of the AfD by touting rather draconian policies against migrants and running a law and order campaign – in other words, shifting to a much harder right position itself.
So, its failure (even though it still gained the highest proportion of votes in Bavaria overall, is a sign that the narrative claiming there is a shift to the populist right going on needs to be seriously qualified, if not rejected.
The clearest trend is that the “SPD has become something of a spent force since losing power in 2005”.
What is apparent is that there is a sense of loss among voters and that the narratives being presented by the major parties, particularly the SPD are not giving voice to that anxiety.
And when their is a void, there are opportunities for other voices to be heard.
Essentially, the AfD have given voice to those concerns. But a more hopeful trend is that the Green alliance is now challenging the right-wing forces for those votes.
No-one would suggest that the Green Party is the most left in Germany. Die Linke (The Left), by the way, doubled its proportion of the vote in Munich (2.3 to 4.6 per cent) and increased its overall vote in Bavaria by 1.1 percentage points to 3.3 per cent.
But the narrative is now not a simple as right-wing populists taking over Europe.
The nuance is clear and should be a lesson for the mainstream Left (social democratic parties). A progressive voice is attractive even in conservative heartlands.
The problem is that the traditional social democratic parties have become so timid and tainted with neoliberal narratives that they no longer have any appeal.
They use the metaphorical language of neoliberals thinking it makes them sound responsible when, in fact, it just renders them more irrelevant to an electorate that is increasingly aware that the standard story is failing them.
On that theme, there was an interesting article in the International Politics and Society (IPS) Journal last a week or so ago (October 12, 2018) – The far-right playbook – which brings the previous two vignettes together.
The tenet entertained in the article is that “far right’ movement in Europe is drawing inspiration from the way the Left protest movement in the late 1960s conducted their campaigns (as depicted by the Marcelo Brodsky exhibition).
The conjecture in the article is that:
Fifty years after Europe’s student movements marched in the streets from Scandinavia to Yugoslavia, 1968 has never been more relevant. In Germany, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and elsewhere, the liberal conclusions of the late 60s protests – and, just as critically, their methods – are at the heart of the existential crisis that is shaking Europe’s enlightened, democratic foundations. The ongoing battle over 1968’s legacy will determine whether Europe remains on its postwar path or swerves to the right.
If the far right succeeds in overturning the post-1960s cultural revolution – and this has already begun – it will have the student-led anarcho-leftists to thank. The national populists, Identitarians and hard right have deftly co-opted the tactics of their nemeses and applied them auspiciously to their cause.
This is the sort of statement that comes out of the Europhile Left regularly.
In a sense, there is a deep denial going on that is symptomatic of the on-going narrative coming from the Europhile Left that Europe is fine and just needs a little reform around the edges.
I found that IPC hypothesis to be interesting because it assumes that the demands that we (‘the collective) made in 1968 and thereabouts have become the norm in Europe (and beyond since the 1970s) – the “enlightened, democratic foundations” – and are now in danger of being dismantled by the authoritarian right that is copying the Left’s 1968 game plan.
How then do we explain the increasing domination of the neoliberal paradigm since the 1970s, much of it being antithetical to the things that the student rebellions in 1968 were fighting for?
The IPC story seems to believe that the view expressed by the far-right “AfD spokesperson Jörg Meuthen” that Germany “is deeply social-democratised and free of patriotism” and “fallen into valueless relativism” is representative of the reality facing Europe.
Muethen’s opinions are those of an extremist spinning a political yarn to give voice to the angst facing Germans, particularly those in the East who, as a consequence of the forced reunification, lost jobs, homes, pensions and identity.
Social democracy in Europe has been in serious decline for decades as the neoliberal machine slowly permeated all levels of our societies.
In this blog post – The right-wing counter attack – 1971 (March 24, 2016) – I discussed in some detail how the organised elite right (rather than the downtrodden ‘left behind’ right that AfD represents) responded to the ‘1968’ turmoil.
It was not a response that copied the poorly resourced student protests in the streets of the major cities around the world which is what the IPC article claims is happening now in Germany with the AfD.
In effect, one of the reasons the 1968 movements were so easily pushed aside was because the elites had massive resources at their disposal to capture governments, take over the mass media, infiltrate educational institutions and in the US, take over judicial bodies that interpret law.
The IPC article notes that:
In light of the right’s repudiation of the student revolt and its aftershocks, it is astounding that they manage to remove the ideological blinkers long enough to borrow from it. Their success today is at least in part attributable to the lessons they extracted from the left’s means of protest, appeal and politics, and applied to their own purposes. It took a few decades to perfect it, but today they’re using the left’s strategies to their own considerable benefit
Sure enough, there have been initiatives for some decades in the form of “newspapers and magazines, clubs, institutes, foundations, publishing houses, and … international congresses” that have brought like-minded right-wingers together.
In this way, there is some similarity with the way the student Left organised and combined with student-worker alliances to push their message.
But what is happening on the streets of Europe now with AfD and its ilk is not of the same scale as the way the organised right elites responded in the early 1970s to the growing demands for equity and participation from the student Left protests.
And the election results in Bavaria suggest that while AfD made up some ground they were completely outclassed by the centre-left Green Party.
Hardly a sign that the downtrodden ‘left behind’ Right is on the ascendancy to domination.
What the Right elites did in the early 1970s was entirely different to what, say the AfD are trying to do now – to win a few votes here and there such that a forced coalition with the mainstream conservative parties (such as the CSU or CDU in Germany) would be inevitable.
In the blog post cited above I introduced the famous Powell Manifesto (August 23, 1971) – Attack on American Free Enterprise System – which the US lawyer Lewis F. Powell, Jr prepared for the US Chamber of Commerce.
This counter to the Left wasn’t about street protests.
It was based on the view formed by the Right, that if they wanted to move the balance of power away from workers towards profits, then they had to capture the government legislative capacity.
Meanwhile, they started building a narrative that the Left swallowed, particularly the globalists (for example, the Europhile Left today), that the ‘state’ had become increasingly powerless as capitalism became more global.
While the Left was getting lost in post modernist-style identity issues, the Right were busily taking over the state not by forming protest parties and gaining a few seats here and there, but by infiltrating the major extant political parties and corrupting their missions with dollars, revolving doors and the like.
Far from carrying placards and shouting slogans, the Right were very clever in the way they divided the Left and took control of governments.
I wrote about the hilarious way in which the CIA co-opted the Continental Left Marxists without the latter even knowing in this blog post – The divide-and-conquer strategy of the CIA in France 1985-style (August 24, 2017).
This allowed the right-wing forces to penetrate the Mitterand Socialist government and pressure it to make its famous austerity turn in 1983, which unambiguously attacked the prosperity of workers and set Europe up for its most neoliberal, corporatist move to date – the creation of the Eurozone.
So the likes of the AfD and their counterparts throughout the world are right-wing for sure, but their strategies and tactics are rather crude and their success will be ephemeral.
The main show in town is the entrenched, institutional neoliberalism that has pervaded the media, educational institutions, politicial parties of all persuasions, and elsewhere and maintains the hegemony of capital in more intrinsic ways.
They have rich networks where top positions are maintained by like-minded individuals and they have plenty of cash to build think tanks, fund massive propaganda exercises and to buy off politicians.
And while the AfD might think that Europe has been overrun by ‘social democrats’, the reality is that the social democratic parties became neoliberal decades ago and have not presented as an Oppositional Left since that time.
It is hard, for example, to think that the Blairite Labour Party, or the Social Party in France, or the PvdA in the Netherlands, or the SPD in Germany, reflect any of the values that we were espousing in 1968.
Thomas Fazi and I consider these issues in detail in our latest book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017).
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.