Skip to main content

Is Socialism finally falling?

In politics one should never count chickens, yet the American Press, in the shape of the Washington Post and Time magazine is arguing that a powerful pattern seems to be emerging across European politics. They detect nothing less than the eclipse of Socialism as a political force.

In Germany, the re-election of Angela Merkel as Bundeskanzelerin seems a foregone conclusion but the Socialist SPD is set to fall to its lowest result in over a generation. The left in Germany, France, Italy are facing eclipse. Even in Sweden, home of the "Social Democratic model", the Social Democrats have after nearly three generations been removed from office. At least the German SPD remains in office, albeit as a junior coalition partner, but they are part of an increasingly rare breed. At the moment Socialists or Social Democrats have a leading or significant place in the Governments of Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK: Nine states out of the 27 members of the European Union. Even then, the grip of the socialists in Germany, Hungary, and the UK is likely to be loosened within a few months. Even the possible advent of a hard left government in Greece- albeit led by the Socialist PASOK- is small comfort for left wingers. The European Parliamentary elections showed a dramatic fall in support for the Socialists, and now this seems to be confirmed at every level across the EU.

Are the Americans right: Is Socialism dying out?

Yet the change in European politics is not by any means a straight swing of the pendulum to the right.

We have seen fragmentation of both left and right wing parties, and the emergence of new forces. In Germany the hard left "Left" Party has undermined Social Democrat support, while new regional groups and a resurgent FDP have challenged the CDU from the right. In Austria the emergence of radical right parties has challenged the centre-right Peoples Party so severely that the Austrian Social Democrats cling on to power effectively by default.

In Britain the Conservatives have had to face the challenge of UKIP- a fringe anti-European party- while Labour has had to face the challenge of nationalists and regionalists in its previous heartlands of Scotland and Wales. Both have had to struggle against the growth of the Liberal Democrats across the country, with Labour facing severe defeat in the local government of much of its northern metropolitan heartlands. Despite all this, for many, however bleak the current environment may seem, it will seem inconceivable that Labour will not recover. Surely, they argue, the likely election of the Conservatives at the next election will be a relief, since it will refocus the party activists and leadership to rebuilding the party unfettered by the distractions of power.

Yet the fact is that there is not much of any political party to lead in the UK. Despite the prospect of entering government, even the membership of the Conservatives continues to fall, and the membership figures of Labour are bleaker still. The political parties of the UK are no longer massed groups of citizens, but simply power vehicles, where the free labour of party members is anyway no longer required, since advertising data will do better canvasses and paid deliverers and websites a better job of getting the message of the narrow party leadership to the voters. This is the pattern we see across Europe: an increasingly cynical electorate is declining to engage with any of the existing political forces.

The death of the parties of mass society- of socialism- may have been predictable, even necessary. However as voter turnout falls and party membership crash dives, I wonder if we are not seeing the end of Socialism as we have known it- no bad thing in my view- but instead the end of the political systems that we have known based on party politics.

What that means for our democratic system remains difficult to foresee, but if our society has become more politically diverse, we should not pretend that it has not happened, we will, however, need to overhaul our democracy to cope with the desire for greater and more nuanced political choice. The era of large massed parties may indeed be drawing to a close, and if it is we will need to consider how to reconnect citizen and state, to create explicit alliances across our democracy not only within a reconstructed party system but also beyond it.

Continuing with political systems based on 19th century structures and ideologies will create an ever more disconnected, cynical and atomised politics, and the apathetic indifference this fosters is fertile ground for the corrupt and the tyrannical.

It is not just the party of the massed society that is severely weakened, but the politics of the massed society. As Conservatives (and indeed Liberals) rejoice in the fall of Socialism, they must also accept the implications that their own desire for more choice and open markets has upon politics as a whole. Unless they do, then it will only be a matter of time for the massed parties of the right face their own decline and fall.

Liberals believe in a more open market of politics- it is time to remind the electorate of why we do that and why it is now necessary to make greater progress to that goal.


Newmania said…
Both have had to struggle against the growth of the Liberal Democrats across the country

That’s a very interesting survey indeed generally .On the Lib Dems in the UK ( above ) there is more competition for the "None of the above " vote now , the Greens notably .|The EU elections were terribly poor given the point we are at .

The Conservative Party was never a mass movement in the way the Labour Party was. That model dying will only be an adaptation in many ways for the better , interest in Conservatism seems to me to be increasing .

Popular posts from this blog

Concert and Blues

Tallinn is full tonight... Big concerts on at the Song field The Weeknd and Bonnie Tyler (!). The place is buzzing and some sixty thousand concert goers have booked every bed for thirty miles around Tallinn. It should be a busy high summer, but it isn´t. Tourism is down sharply overall. Only 70 cruise ships calling this season, versus over 300 before Ukraine. Since no one goes to St Pete, demand has fallen, and of course people think that Estonia is not safe. We are tired. The economy is still under big pressure, and the fall of tourism is a significant part of that. The credit rating for Estonia has been downgraded as the government struggles with spending. The summer has been a little gloomy, and soon the long and slow autumn will drift into the dark of the year. Yesterday I met with more refugees: the usual horrible stories, the usual tears. I try to make myself immune, but I can´t. These people are wounded in spirit, carrying their grief in a terrible cradling. I try to project hop

Media misdirection

In the small print of the UK budget we find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British Finance Minister) has allocated a further 15 billion Pounds to the funding for the UK track and trace system. This means that the cost of the UK´s track and trace system is now 37 billion Pounds.  That is approximately €43 billion or US$51 billion, which is to say that it is amount of money greater than the national GDP of over 110 countries, or if you prefer, it is roughly the same number as the combined GDP of the 34 smallest economies of the planet.  As at December 2020, 70% of the contracts for the track and trace system were awarded by the Conservative government without a competitive tender being made . The program is overseen by Dido Harding , who is not only a Conservative Life Peer, but the wife of a Conservative MP, John Penrose, and a contemporary of David Cameron and Boris Johnson at Oxford. Many of these untendered contracts have been given to companies that seem to have no notewo

Bournemouth absence

Although I had hoped to get down to the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth this year, simple pressure of work has now made that impossible. I must admit to great disappointment. The last conference before the General Election was always likely to show a few fireworks, and indeed the conference has attracted more headlines than any other over the past three years. Some of these headlines show a significant change of course in terms of economic policy. Scepticism about the size of government expenditure has given way to concern and now it is clear that reducing government expenditure will need to be the most urgent priority of the next government. So far it has been the Liberal Democrats that have made the running, and although the Conservatives are now belatedly recognising that cuts will be required they continue to fail to provide even the slightest detail as to what they think should guide their decisions in this area. This political cowardice means that we are expected to ch