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Contemporary European Left Party Movement

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Abstract

The left is both an actor and competitor in a competitive relationship with other forces. The left party’s performance depends on its ability to attract potential support strata in the competitive relationship. Factors influencing this competitive relationship are historical backgrounds, institutions, potential support strata, and class struggle. Furthermore, the competitive relationship is a frame or structure in which various explanatory elements are reflected and is itself an explanatory element. Since the party family approach presupposes homogeneity of the left, it has no choice but to list various explanatory elements arbitrarily and compare them superficially to explain the left party’s growth. However, the left’s growth was mainly achieved by RLPs in Southern Europe and red-green parties in Northern Europe, rather than revolutionary left or communist parties, and only in countries where class struggle had been strong. In other words, left parties have grown differently by region/country/small party movement family. So, we have to find explanation factors in competitive relationships taking small party movement families into consideration. In other words, the divergent rise and fall of the left parties made up of various small party movement families is explained by the ‘competitive relationship approach’ that integrates three axes: (1) divergent ‘competitive relationships,’ formed on different historical backgrounds and institutions regionally; (2) changes of potential support strata that have a long-term and gradual effect on this; and (3) ‘class struggle,’ which has a rapid and strong effect. In Western Europe after World War II, ‘the support type of the working class’ had influenced the growth of communist parties in Southern Europe, red-green parties in Northern Europe, and green parties in Central Europe. In Eastern Europe, only communist successor parties with minimal political assets could grow. Those are the competition types that became different by region between World War II and the early 1990s. The support type of the working class and the dissolution type of former communist parties, which can be called historical backgrounds, are also factors related to different regional competition types. Since the mid-1990s, the left’s growth has been achieved thanks to anti-neoliberal and anti-austerity struggles. However, the results have not been even and have made ‘changed competition types’: (1) the fall of the social democratic party and the growth of the left; (2) the fall of the social democratic party and the growth of the left and far-right; (3) the decline of the left and social democratic party and the growth of the far-right; and (4) the relative strength of the social democratic party and the competition of non-mainstream parties. Behind these changed competition types, there had been historical/regional competition types. Left parties’ different performances by changed competition type and by country have been affected mainly by class struggle. Divergent performances between the left and the greens and within leftists have been determined by the different abilities to attract potential support strata. Thus, this book clarifies the nature and composition of the current European left, and the founding factors and characteristics of RLP through the party movement approach. It suggests explanatory frames and elements for left parties’ divergent performances through the competitive relationship approach considering the party movement approach. Distinguishing historical/regional competition types and changed competition types, it identifies an ability to attract potential support strata, which differs according to party movement theories, and class struggle as elements of the explanation for the divergent performance of the left. As such, all arguments and methodologies in this book are based on the party movement approach, accompanying the competitive relationship approach.
| Suksam Park |
Contemporary
European Left Party
Movement
Tahrir
Contemporary European Left
Party Movement
Suksam Park
Tahrir
First published by Tahrir in Jan. 2022.
B204 Asia Media Tower, 29 Chungmu-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea 04555
ISBN 978-89-968164-8-5
Free e-book
Copyleft policy
All right is reserved by the author, Suksam Park.
This book, “Contemporary European Left Party Movement,” is a slightly
modified English version of Suksam Park’s doctoral dissertation,
“Contemporary European Left Parties through the Party Movement
Approach and the Competing Relationship Approach,” written in Korean
(Aug. 2020.).
Its Korean version was published by Tahrir in Aug. 2020.
Suksam Park
pss21pro@gmail.com.
Independent researcher and activist. Ph.D. in Political Science from
Gyongsang National University in Korea. Author of many books and
articles on mass struggles and mass movements at home and abroad,
including 2008 Korean Candle-light Struggle- A Betrayed Dream of Ants
(2010) and Arab’s Spring and Winter- Revolution, Counter-revolution
and Civil War (2020) (all in Korean). Ex-member of the South Korea
National Liberation Front and was jailed during 1979-1988.
Preface
This book is a discussion of the contemporary European left, whose
themes include the nature and composition of this left, the backgrounds
and characteristics of the radical left party, and the framework and
elements that can explain the divergent performance of left parties. In
other words, this book mainly focuses on abstract methodologies and
approaches rather than concrete explanations on the related themes. It
offers counter-arguments against mainstream scholars of comparative
politics employing empiricist methodology, and criticisms on some leftist
researchers, while suggesting its own methodology and approaches.
In particular, Luke March and Daniel Keith, the most popular
mainstream scholars, who say that they pursue a comprehensive and
systematic understanding of the current European left, call the forces to
the left of social democracy the ‘radical left.’ They argue that current
European leftists are ‘anti-capitalist but not anti-democratic’ and form a
‘party family’ that can be categorized according to ideological positions.
They insist that most of these leftists adopt populism, and populism has
contributed to the growth of left parties.
Their usage and arguments have been accepted by even leftist
researchers, as well as many comparative politics scholars. However,
there has been no systematic objection to their arguments and
methodology, on which leftists cannot agree.
March and Keith fail to perceive that a party for the left is a movement,
and is not only an actor but also a competitor. Unlike the ‘party family
approach’ of mainstream scholars that presumes homogeneity of the left,
this book suggests the ‘party movement approach’ which emphasizes
heterogeneity within the left with different movement theories, and the
‘competitive relationship approach,’ to grasp the divergent rise and fall
of left parties.
I hope this book, a slightly modified version of my doctoral
dissertation, will contribute to a richer understanding of the current
European left party movement.
Suksam Park
Contents
Preface ........................................................................................................ iii
Contents ...................................................................................................... v
List of Figures .......................................................................................... viii
List of Tables .............................................................................................. ix
Abbreviations .............................................................................................. x
1 Introduction ......................................................................................... 1
Left parties as movement bodies in various shapes and situations ....... 1
The party family approach and Populism School ................................. 4
The party movement approach and the competitive relationship
approach ......................................................................................... 6
2 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left:
Definitions and Classifications of the Left and the Radical Left
................................................................................................ 8
2-1. The boundaries and character of the left and radical left ..................... 8
The boundaries of the left and radical left ............................................ 8
Characteristics and definitions of the current European Left ............. 11
2-2. Discussions on the composition and classification of the left ............ 15
Criticism of the party family approach ............................................... 16
Various discussions on categorization identifiers of the left ............... 19
2-3. Classification of the left according to the party movement approach 23
National/international cooperation and affiliation types of the left .... 24
Defining and categorizing small party movement families ................ 27
3 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party .............. 31
3-1. Various ways of explaining the backgrounds of the radical left (party)
............................................................................................................. 32
3-2. Factors in the formation of the radical left party (RLP) ..................... 37
The fall of the prestige of socialism.................................................... 38
Changes in the composition and status of the working class .............. 39
Neoliberal globalization and European integration ............................ 42
3-3. Responses of the left and universal characteristics of the radical left
party .................................................................................................... 44
Abandonment of the dichotomy of reform and revolution, and
acceptance of pluralism ................................................................ 44
Acceptance of pluralism and abolition of democratic centralism within
and outside the party ..................................................................... 46
Acceptance of the New Left agenda ................................................... 48
3-4. Debates over a new-type left party movement ................................... 52
Marx, Engels, and Lenin’s views and practices around the composition
of the party .................................................................................... 52
Claims of the revolutionary left on the principles of the revolutionary
party .............................................................................................. 53
Callinicos and Sabado’s debate: revolutionary party-united front vs. new
anti-capitalist unitary party ........................................................... 56
Smith and Armstrong’s debate: revolutionary party vs. broad left party
...................................................................................................... 60
Synthesis of arguments: backgrounds and characteristics of the new-
type left party movement .............................................................. 63
Supplementary discussion: the left’s strategy models and their
specificity ..................................................................................... 65
4 Explanatory Framework and Factors for Left Parties’ Divergent
Performances ........................................................................ 68
4-1. Populism approach ............................................................................. 68
Criticism of the discursive and ideational approaches ........................ 69
Relationship between leftist politics and populist politics .................. 72
4-2. Various approaches to explain the growth of left parties ................... 76
Actor approach of March and Keith ................................................... 76
Aggregational approach of Paolo Chiocchetti .................................... 78
Kate Hudson’s way of explanation ..................................................... 80
Explanations centering on competition and structural factors ............ 80
4-3. Competitive relationship approach and explanatory factors .............. 83
Competitive relationship ..................................................................... 85
Historical backgrounds ....................................................................... 86
Institutional factors ............................................................................. 86
Potential support strata ....................................................................... 88
Class struggle ...................................................................................... 94
Competitive relationship approach: an explanatory framework ......... 96
5 Historical/Regional Competition Types and Changed Competition
Types according to the Competitive Relationship Approach 98
5-1. European left parties’ performances and trends ................................. 99
5-2. Historical/regional competition types .............................................. 107
Historical/regional competition types in Northern/Central/Southern
Europe......................................................................................... 108
Historical/regional competition type in Eastern Europe (former
communist bloc) ......................................................................... 115
5-3. Changed competition types within and outside the left, and explanatory
factors ................................................................................................ 123
Potential support strata and changed competition types ................... 123
Type of fall of the social democratic party and growth of the left: Greece,
Ireland, Iceland ........................................................................... 126
Type of decline of the social democratic party, and growth of the left and
far-right: Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg ................................ 136
Type of decline of the social democratic party and the left, and growth
of the far-right: Sweden, Finland, Norway ................................. 142
Type of relative strength of the social democrats and rivalry among non-
mainstream parties: Portugal, Denmark, Spain ........................... 148
5-4. Concluding remarks ......................................................................... 159
6 Conclusion ....................................................................................... 163
Bibliography............................................................................................ 170
List of Figures
Figure 1: Distribution of the votes according to the socio-professional
categories of the voters (among the working population) ··· 91
Figure 2: Composition of the working-population section of the two
electorates,
according to socio-professional
categories
······ 91
Figure 3: Origin of Le Pen’s and Mélenchon’s 2017 voters according to
their 2012 votes ·················································· 92
Figure 4: The determining impact of issues on voters, per electorates · 92
Figure 5: Electoral strength, Western Europe···························· 100
Figure 6: Trends in Greek parties’ vote share ···························· 127
Figure 7: Trends in Irish parties’ vote share ····························· 132
Figure 8: Trends in Icelandic parties’ vote share ························ 135
Figure 9: Trends in German parties’ vote share ························· 137
Figure 10: Trends in Belgian party groups’ vote share ················· 141
Figure 11: Trends in Luxembourgian parties’ vote ······················ 143
Figure 12: Trends in Swedish parties’ vote share ······················· 144
Figure 13: Trends in Finnish parties’ vote share ························ 146
Figure 14: Trends in Norwegian parties’ vote share ···················· 147
Figure 15: Trends in Portuguese parties’ vote share ···················· 149
Figure 17: Trends in Spanish parties’ vote share ························ 155
List of Tables
Table 1: Categorization and characteristics of small party movement
families in the European left ................................................. 28
Table 2: Sociology, French radical left ................................................. 54
Table 3: Potential support strata of the social democratic, green, left, and
far-right parties ..................................................................... 89
Table 4: National vote shares in selected years (%) ........................... 100
Table 5: The electoral performance of the most relevant RLPs, 1980
August 2008§ ...................................................................... 102
Table 6: European RLPs’ national electoral performance (September
2008–February 2016) ......................................................... 103
Table 7: European left parties’ votes by region (%) ........................... 104
Table 8: European left parties’ votes by small party movement family (%)
............................................................................................ 105
Table 9: Electoral results of green parties in European elections (%) 110
Table 10: Vote shares in Greek general elections (%) ........................ 127
Table 11: Vote shares in Irish general elections (%) ........................... 132
Table 12: Vote shares in Icelandic general elections (%) ................... 135
Table 13: Vote shares in German federal legislative elections (%)..... 137
Table 14: Vote shares in Belgian general elections (%) ...................... 141
Table 15: Vote shares in Luxembourgian general elections (%) ......... 143
Table 16: Vote shares in Swedish general elections (%) ..................... 144
Table 17: Vote shares in Finnish general elections (%) ...................... 146
Table 19: Vote shares in Portuguese general elections (%) ................ 149
Table 21: Vote shares in Spanish general elections (%) ..................... 155
Abbreviations
AAA Anti-Austerity Alliance (Ireland)
AfD Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany
AKEL Anorthotiko Komma Ergazomenou Laou/Progressive Party of the
Working People (Cyprus)
ANEL Anexartitoi Ellines/Independent Greeks - National Patriotic Alliance
(Greece)
Antarsya Antikapitalistiki Aristeri Synergasia gia tin Anatropi/ Anticapitalist
Left Cooperation for the Overthrow (Greece)
BE/Bloco Bloco de Esquerda/Left Block (Portugal)
C’s Ciudadanos/Citizens (Spain)
CDU Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands/Christian Democratic
Union of Germany
CDU Coligação Democrática Unitária/Democratic Unitarian Coalition
(Portugal)
CPBM/KSČM Komunistic strana Čech a Moravy/Communist Party of
Bohemia/Moravia and Czech Republic
CPRF/KPRF Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiiskoi Federatsii/ Communist Party
of the Russian Federation
CPSU Communist Party of the Soviet Union
EAL/EACL European Anti-Capitalist Left
EAR Elliniki Aristera/Greek Left
ECR European Conservatives and Reformists
EL/PEL Party of the European Left
EL/RGA Enhedslisten-Ded-Grønne/Unity List-Red-Green Alliance
(Denmark)
EPP European People’s Party
FdG Front de Gauche/Left Front (France)
GJM Global Justice Movement
Greens-EFA Greens-European Free Alliance
Grexit Greek withdrawal/exit from the eurozone
GUE/NGL Gauche unitaire européenne/Gauche verte nordique/Confederal
Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left
Abbreviations xi
HSP Hungarian Socialist Party
ID Identity and Democracy/far-right
IMCWP International Meeting of Communist and Worker’s Parties
Initiative Initiative of Communist and Workers Parties
IU Izquierda Unida/United Left, (Spain)
KKE Kommounistikó mma Elládas/Communist Party of Greece
KPRF/CPRF Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiiskoi Federatsii/ Communist Party
of the Russian Federation
KSČM/CPBM Komunistic strana Čech a Moravy/Communist Party of
Bohemia/Moravia and Czech Republic
LCR Ligue communiste révolutionnaire/Revolutionary Communist League
(France)
LO Lutte Ouvrière/Workers Struggle (France)
LP Déi Lénk/the Left, Luxembourg
LP Die Linke/the Left (Germany)
LSP Latvian Socialist Party
M5S Movimento 5 Stelle/Five Star Movement (Italy)
MeRA25 Μétopo Evropaikís Realistikís Anypakoís/European Realistic
Disobedience Front (Greece)
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
ND Nea Dimokratia/New Democracy (Greece)
NGL/NGLA Nordic Green Left Alliance
NPA Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste/New Anticapitalist Party (France)
PAH Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca/Platform for People Affected
by Mortgages (Spain)
PASOK Panelnio Sosialisti Kinima/Panhellenic Socialist Movement
(Greece)
PBPA People Before Profit Alliance (Ireland)
PCE Partido Comunista de España/Communist Party of Spain
PCF Parti Communiste Français, French Communist Party
PCI Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party
PCP Partido Comunista Português/Portuguese Communist Party
PCRM Party of Communist of the Republic of Moldova
PD Partito Democratico/Democratic Party (Italy)
PdCI Partito dei Comunisti Italiani/Party of Italian Communists
PDS Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus/Party of Democratic
Socialism (Germany)
PEL/EL Party of the European Left
PG/PdG Parti de Gauche Left Party (France)
Podemos We Can, (Spain)
PP Partido Popular/People’s Party (Spain)
PRC/Rifondazione Partito della Rifondazione Comunista/Communist Refoundation
Party (Italy)
PSOE Partido Socialista Obrero Espol/Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party
xii Abbreviations
PSRM Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova
PvdA/PTB Partij van de Arbeid van België/Parti du Travail de Belgique/Workers
Party of Belgium
RE Renew Europe/liberal
RGA/EL Enhedslisten-Ded-Grønne/Unity List-Red-Green Alliance
(Denmark)
RLS Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung
S&D Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
SDRP Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland
SED Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands/Socialist Unity Party of
Germany
SF Sinn Féin/Ourselves (Ireland)
SF Socialistisk Folkeparti/Socialist People’s Party (Denmark)
SPD Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands/Social Democratic Party of
Germany
SSP Scottish Socialist Party
SV Sosialistisk Venstreparti/Socialist Left Party (Norway)
SWP Socialist Workers Party (UK)
SYN Synaspismóss Aristerás kai tīs Proódou/Coalition of the Left and
Progress (Greece)
Synaspismos Synaspismós tīs Aristerás tōn Kimátōn kais Oikologías/ Coalition
of the Left, of Movements and Ecology (Greece)
Syriza Synaspismós Rizospastis Aristerás/Coalition of the Radical Left,
(Greece)
UDP União Democrática Popular/People’s Democratic Union (Portugal)
UP Unidas Podemos/United We Can (Spain)
V nsterpartiet/Left Party (Sweden)
VAS Vasemmistoliitto/Left Alliance (Finland)
VG Vinstrihreyfingin-grænt framb/Left-Green Movement, (Iceland)
WASG Arbeit & soziale Gerechtigkeit - Die Wahlalternative/Electoral
Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (Gremany)
WSF World Social Forum
XA Chrysí Avgí/Golden Dawn (Greece)
ZL/L Združena levica/United Left, levica/Left (Slovenia)
Introduction 1
1 Introduction
Left parties as movement bodies in various shapes and situations
The collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-91 gave rise to prospects and
convictions such as ‘the end of history’ and ‘There Is No Alternative
(TINA).’ Capitalism and the market seemed to have won. However, from
the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, left parties had grown in many
countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus,
Russia, Czech Republic, Moldova), a development referred to as the
‘return of the left.’ In particular, the Left Alliance (VAS) in Finland
participated in the Rainbow Government, and the communist parties in
Cyprus, Moldova, Russia, and the Czech Republic became the ruling or
main opposition parties (March 2011; Hudson 2012; March and Keith
2016; Holubec 2016; Chiocchetti 2017).
After the 2008 economic crisis and the subsequent Great Recession,
we have witnessed the great successes of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in
Spain, Sinn Féin in Ireland, and Left-Green Movement (VG) in Iceland
(Daiber et al. 2012; March and Keith 2016; Príncipe and Sunkara 2016;
Amini 2016). In recent elections, the left parties in Greece and Cyprus
plunged into opposition, and the communist successor parties in the
Czech Republic and Moldova shrank to small parties. Despite some left
parties’ growth and success, numerous leftists have been fragmented and
marginalized.
In retrospect, European leftists have been forced to change
themselves at various historical moments, or have made various changes
through subjective reactions to the changed situations: the division of
social democrats and communists after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the
emergence of Greens and Eurocommunists in the 1970s after the ’68
Revolution, and the realignment/regroupment of leftists and the
emergence of the new European left in the course of neoliberal
2 Introduction
globalization and European integration in the 1990s after the collapse of
Soviet bloc (Bensaid et al. 2011; Hudson 2012; Heilig 2016).
Accordingly, the contemporary European leftists have various
appearances: the traditional left party, the red-green party combined with
the New Left agenda, and the radical left party (RLP) joined by various
leftists.
This book focuses on the phenomena of the realignment/regroupment of
European leftists, the emergence of the new European left commenced in
1989, the ‘return of the left’ since the mid-1990s, and ‘some left parties’
growth’ after the Great Recession, which have all resulted in the current
European leftists in their various shapes and situations. In other words,
this book starts with questions: How can we understand the current
European left party movement in its various shapes and situations? How
can we explain the divergent rise and fall of leftists?
In this book, ‘contemporary European left party movement’ refers to
the party practice or party movement of all European leftists, including
revolutionary leftists from the West and the East, from the 1989-91 Soviet
collapse to the end of 2019 (before the outbreak of COVID-19).
The ‘left’ usually refers to the forces to the left of social democracy.
It is distinct from social democrats and other political forces because it
advocates the ideals and values of socialism while criticizing and
opposing capitalism. Therefore, this book does not regard non-class
parties (e.g., green parties and the pirate parties) and social-democratic
parties, center-left parties that turned rightward as they accepted
neoliberalism, as part of the left.
A ‘party’ is a special social group that fights for or aims to seize
political power to realize its ideals or program. In this book, ‘left party’
refers to the leftist party or the party belonging to the left. ‘Party practice’
or ‘party movement’ means the practice or movement through the
organizational framework called a party. So it excludes the practice of
forces that are not organized at a party level, although it uses ‘left’ and
‘left party’ interchangeably.
In particular, this book uses the concept of ‘party movement.’
Party/movement or party/social movement are usually used separately.
However, a movement is a collective social practice. In this sense, a party
movement is a movement that contrasts with the social movement but is
also a particular form of the social movement. On the other hand, a party
is an organizational body and a movement body, or an organization and
a movement for the left. A movement used in this way refers to the
Introduction 3
movement of organization called a party. There are also non-party
movements, such as anarchist, autonomist, syndicalist and council
socialist, which refuse the party’s organizational movement while
pursuing communism. Their movement theories are distinct from the
communist/socialist (Marxist) party’s organizational movement. Among
the leftists pursuing the party movement, the Trotskyist party pursues the
revolutionary vanguard party movement, the reform communist party
represents the interests of the working class while embracing multi-party
democracy and pursuing the mass party, and the radical left party brings
together various leftists into one party. They all have different movement
theories on the party. In this respect, the left party movement expresses
the practice of left parties having different party movement theories. In
other words, the contemporary European left party movement refers to
the party practice or party movement of current European left parties
consisting of various left parties that have different party movement
theories.
To understand the contemporary European left in its various shapes and
situations ‘comprehensively and systematically,’ this book starts with the
following questions: (1) What framework should be used for
understanding the current European left party movement, and how should
it be defined and classified? (2) What background did the radical left
party movement, a ‘new’ left party movement, emerge from, and what
are its universal characteristics? (3) How and why has the current
European left had ups and downs? In other words, how do we understand
the phenomena of the ‘left’s return’ and ‘some left parties’ growth,’ and
what methodology or explanation elements and frameworks should be
used? (4) What are the lessons to be drawn from these phenomena?
These questions lead to the following subjects of discussion: (1) the
nature and composition of the contemporary European left; (2)
backgrounds and characteristics of the radical left party; (3) the
explanatory framework and factors for left parties’ divergent
performances; and (4) the return of the left and some left parties’ growth
or left parties’ divergent performance.
In short, this book focuses on the explanation way of the themes
related to the existence and situation of the contemporary European left
party movement. The left, in reality, is composed of various forces.
Leftists have been divided, and their concerns and practices are different
because their movement theories and strategies are different. The
differences in movement theory and strategy stem from their different
4 Introduction
existence and situations and their different evaluations and prospects of
their movements. Therefore, this book aiming at a comprehensive and
systematic understanding of the contemporary European left’s existence
and situation will help establish a more comprehensive movement theory
and strategy. This discussion is vital because prospects and strategies
should begin with assessing their existence and situation.
The party family approach and Populism School
Studies of the current European left (party) have flourished with the
success of Syriza and Podemos in 2015, but most of them have been case
studies or introductions. As Luke March and Daniel Keith (2016: 2) argue,
“there are still relatively few researchers involved in systematic study of
the radical left,and studies to comprehensively and systematically grasp
the current European left are rare. Since the left’s influence has been
reduced to the extent that the prospect of ‘the end of history’ emerged, it
has attracted little academic interest (March 2011: 1–6).
On the other hand, left-wing researchers have usually focused on the
strategy and practices of the entire left, or case studies of specific left
parties. There have been few efforts to comprehensively and
systematically theorize the left party movements as a whole. Leftist
works to comprehensively grasp the current European left are: Kate
Hudson (2000, 2012), analysis of the European left’s return and renewal
efforts since the 1990s; Cornelia Hildebrand and Birgit Daiber (eds.,
2009) and Birgit Daiber, Cornelia Hildebrandt and Anna Striethorst (eds.,
2012), research reports of all European left parties; Babak Amini (2016),
analyzing the European left after the Great Recession; Dominic Heilig
(2016), reviewing the historical context of the European left movement;
and Paolo Chiocchetti (2017), analysis of the Western European leftists’
performance since 1989. Except for Chiocchetti’s study, it is difficult to
say that any of these are systematic studies using clear theoretical
frameworks or illuminating their methodologies and approaches.
A comparative politics scholar, Luke March has pioneered and actively
researched the European left since the early 2000s, and he and his
colleagues have become mainstream in this area (March and Mudde 2005;
March 2008, 2011, 2012; Bale and Dunphy 2011; March and Keith 2016).
In particular, March (2011) analyzes the left’s return in a study
covering the extreme left and the Eastern European left, and March and
Keith (2016) evaluate some left parties’ growth after the Great Recession.
Introduction 5
To this end, they discuss the definition and classification of the entire
European left and the left parties’ growth factors. Their works overlap
with the research subjects of leftist researchers trying to analyze/evaluate
the reality and trends of the leftist movement, and to build strategies.
March et al. call the forces to the left of social democracy the ‘radical
left’ and evaluate them as “anti-capitalist but not anti-democratic”
(March and Mudde 2005: 24–25; March 2011: 8–9). This definition is
accepted by many comparative politics scholars and are frequently cited
even in leftist studies.
They also argue that the forces to the left of social democracy are ‘a
party family’ that can be divided into several subgroups according to
ideological positions (March 2011: 15–20; March and Keith 2016: 5).
Although there are some objections to their definition and classification
of the left, the claim that the left is a party family is generally accepted
(Daiber et al. 2012, Gomez et al. 2016, Chiocchetti 2017).
Furthermore, March and Keith (2016) argue that “a number of present
leftists are using populist, anti-establishment appeals,” and the economic
crisis (demand factor) and populism (supply factor) have significantly
contributed to the left parties’ growth, applying a methodology that
divides the left parties’ growth factors into internal and external, demand
and supply factors while viewing the left party as an actor.
To sum up March and Keith’s arguments: the current European left is
anti-capitalist but not anti-democratic, and is a party family that can be
classified according to ideological positions. Most of the left adopts
populism, and populism has contributed to left parties’ growth. March
and Keith’s methods supporting these arguments can be called the party
family approach, ideological approach, actor approach, and populism
approach.
Paolo Chiocchetti, on the other hand, defines the radical left as a ‘class
left’ and a separate tendency from mainstream social democracy, which
has adopted an anti-neoliberal program in the medium term. He calls the
whole Western European left ‘a new radical left party family’
(Chiocchetti 2017: 3, 8). In other words, while looking at the current
European left as a party family, Chiocchetti, unlike March et al., grasps
it not on ideology but anti-neoliberalism. He underestimates the
difference among leftists and does not regard the radical left party as an
independent movement. He analyzes the left in 17 Western European
countries taken as a whole and as individual countries, and uses several
parallel explanatory factors. He evaluates that populism contributed to
6 Introduction
Syriza and Podemos’ growth, while emphasizing social mobilization as a
growth factor for the left (Chiocchetti 2017: 10, 24, 208). Chiocchetti’s
approach can be called the party family approach, anti-neoliberal
approach, and parallel/aggregational approach.
A joint study by Giorgos Katsambekis and Alexandros Kioupkiolis
(eds., 2019) analyzes the characteristics, strategies, and practices of the
current European left parties with a framework of populism. In short,
since Cas Mudde (2004) argued that populism was a Zeitgeist, it has
become a big trend in comparative politics to analyze the current
European left party through a framework of populism. This trend
culminated after the remarkable success of Podemos, actively adopting
Ernesto Laclau’s (2005) non-class populist strategy. For convenience,
those scholars will be called the Populism School.
It is difficult for those with leftist sentiment to agree that most current
European leftists have adopted populism and populism has significantly
influenced the left parties’ growth. Nevertheless, there has been no
systematic objection to this.
The party movement approach and the competitive relationship
approach
These different arguments and approaches have emerged from the
debates related to the analytical framework for a comprehensive and
systematic study of the current European left party. This dispute contains
discussions about the definition and classification of the left, evaluation
of a new-type left (party) movement, and the factors and frameworks
used to explain the divergent rise and fall of left parties.
There have been active discussions about the definition and
classification of the left in recent years (Gomez et al. 2016, Katsourides
2016, Chiocchetti 2017). Comprehensive and systematic analysis of the
left party movement, including its growth factors, is a broad work and
has recently started. Many comparative politics scholars accept March et
al.’s arguments and approaches, which have a relatively stable theoretical
framework and methodology.
Of course, there are many other works on the left’s history or
frameworks and factors explaining the divergent rise and fall of the left.
However, they are not systematically structured or organized in theory
(Sassoon 2010, Hildebrandt and Daiber 2009, Hudson 2012, Kulke and
Khan 2012, Heilig 2016). Therefore, it would be meaningful to intervene
in this recently started debate, arranging and systemizing other scholars’
Introduction 7
theoretical achievements on these subjects, and suggesting an
independent methodology and approach.
To comprehensively and systematically grasp the current European
left in its various shapes and situations, this book does not take the ‘party
family approach’, which presupposes homogeneity of the left, like in
March et al. and Chiocchetti, but takes the ‘party movement approach,’
which emphasizes heterogeneity within the left. A party is a movement
for the left, and the left parties have been divided and behaved differently
according to each party’s movement theory. As well, it takes the position
that the left party should be regarded as a competitor in a competitive
relationship with other political forces, rather than an actor responding to
external conditions. In other words, the left party is not only an actor but
also a competitor.
This position can be called the ‘party movement approach’ and the
‘competitive relationship approach.’ Different approaches exist behind
different arguments on the existence and situation of the left. The
different positions, arguments, approaches, and implications of this book
from other scholars’ writings on the sub-themes will be covered in more
detail in the main body.
Except for the Introduction (Chapter 1) and Conclusion (Chapter 6), the
main body is comprised of discussions to clarify the contemporary
European left’s existence and specificity. Chapter 2 analyzes the nature
and composition of the contemporary European left, namely, the
definition and classification of the left, and includes discussions on the
concepts of left, radical left, and party family. Chapter 3 focuses on the
backgrounds and characteristics of the radical left party, the most
characteristic of the contemporary European left party movement.
Chapters 4 and 5 are on the situation of the current European left. Chapter
4 deals with the framework and factors to explain the left parties’
divergent rise and fall, and includes discussions on populism and the
‘competitive relationship approach.’ Chapter 5 analyzes the divergent
situations of the left parties with the competitive relationship approach
and extracts the explanatory factors contributing to the left parties’
growth through case studies. Finally, Chapter 6 summarizes the above
discussions, and describes the significance and limitations of this book.
8 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
2 Character and Composition of the
Contemporary European Left:
Definitions and Classifications of the
Left and the Radical Left
This chapter’s topic, the contemporary European left’s nature and
composition, is closely related to how or with what framework to grasp
the current European left party movement. It discusses the contemporary
European left’s nature and composition, which are replaceable with the
definition and classification of the left and the radical left. The key
questions are: (1) whether the force to the left of social democracy should
be called the left or the radical left; (2) what is the nature or definition of
this force; (3) whether this force is homogeneous or heterogeneous
enough to be called a party family; and (4) how is this force structured,
or by what criteria should it be classified. There are various arguments
on these topics, and each argument has a different approach. Therefore,
the goal of this chapter is to find compelling alternative arguments and
approaches to these topics.
2-1. The boundaries and character of the left and radical left
The boundaries of the left and radical left
Luke March and Daniel Keith introduce ‘radical left’ as a concept to
replace ‘far-left,’ which includes extreme left, and call all the forces to
the left of social democracy the ‘radical left’ and view them as a party
family (March and Keith 2016: 5; March 2011: 7–9, 15).
However, most leftists call various forces to the left of social
democracy ‘the left’ without any modifier and call the new-type party the
‘radical left party (RLP),’ ‘new party of the left’ or ‘new Left party,’
distinguishing it from the New Left/new left. Examples include Kate
Hudson’s book (2012), written from a communist standpoint and titled
The New European Left,’ and Dominic Heilig’s research paper (2016)
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 9
published by the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation (RLS), an institute of the
German Left Party, and titled “Mapping the European Left.” The Left in
Europe (Hildebrandt and Daiber 2009), a case study of leftist parties and
party alliances in 22 European countries published by RLS, uses the
concept of ‘radical left’ in a very limited way. In the Preface’ to New
Parties of the Left (Bensaid et al. 2011), published by the Fourth
International group, Fred Leplat argues, “This has opened up a political
space to the left of social-democracy which the radical left and
revolutionary Marxists have a duty to fill. […] What is therefore
necessary are broad pluralist parties embracing both the radical and
Marxist left to restore independent working class representation.Thus,
he calls ‘new’ left the ‘radical left,’ distinct from the revolutionary left or
Marxist left.
The editor’s preface to the second analysis report on the European
left parties (Daiber et al. 2012) published by RLS says, “We have limited
our investigation to those left-wing parties which, according to their own
self-image, belong to the political left, but neither to the social democratic
nor to the green-alternative family. We refer to these parties as ‘the left
parties.’ A total of some 60 parties can be considered part of this party
family.It calls all forces to the left of social democracy ‘the left’ and
regards them as a party family. However, it uses the term radical left
party’ without any definition. This report’s title uses the expression
Radical Left Parties in Europe, unlike The Left in Europe in the first
report (Hildebrandt and Daiber 2009), dealing with the same subject.
Some authors of the second report clearly distinguish the left and the
radical left, and others do not.
In short, while most leftists refer to various forces to the left of social
democracy as the unqualified ‘left’ and regard the radical left as a part of
the left, scholars of comparative politics such as March call them the
radical left (party). Even leftist scholars increasingly accept March et al.’s
usage. Therefore, there is confusion that comes from the inconsistency of
denotation and connotation of this concept.
As shown in “Towards a New Radical Left” (March and Mudde
2005), “Contemporary far-left parties in Europe” (March 2009), and
Radical Left Parties in Europe (March 2011), the naming of the same
object has changed from ‘new radical left’ to ‘far-left’ to ‘radical left.’ It
shows that while the new-type left or radical left appeared in the 1990s,
the term radical left began to be used in the 2000s and was established or
widely used after the 2010s. The term radical left rarely appears in Geoff
10 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
Eley’s (2002) and Donald Sassoon’s (2010) works on the European left’s
history.
The original meaning of ‘radical left’ refers to a specific attitude toward
the system, as seen in the spectrum, revolutionary left, transformative left,
radical left, and moderate (center) left. Greece’s Syriza adopted the term
to differentiate itself from the hard-line Stalinist Communist Party of
Greece (KKE) and other revolutionary leftists in 2004. As seen in the
official name of Syriza, a Greek abbreviation for ‘Coalition of the Radical
Left,’ the radical left refers to a new force and movement that is distinct
from the conservative left and the revolutionary left. (The descriptors,
such as revolutionary left, in this book, are based, not on their practice,
but on their assertions.)
March says that he prefers ‘radical left’ to hard left or far-left, which
have a negative meaning, and that Richard Dunphy’s (2004: 2)
‘transformative left’ is essentially analogous to his understanding of
‘radical left’ (March 2011: 9). However, the far-left is part of the left and
refers to the left side of the left in a broad sense, which includes social
democrats. Besides, while the far-left is a concept that can include the
extreme left as part of itself, the radical left cannot include it because it
collides with the extreme left. It is also evident in March’s argument that
radicalism and extremism are distinct from each other, as in his
explanation of the difference between the radical left party and the
extreme left party: “radical left parties accept democracy, […] Extreme
left parties in contrast have a clearer ‘revolutionary’ self-ascription,
espouse far greater hostility to liberal democracy, usually denounce all
compromise with ‘bourgeois’ political forces including social democracy”
(March 2011: 9, 16–18). In other words, while the radical left cannot
include the radical left and the extreme left simultaneously, March is
trying to do so, which is impossible even in the lexical definition.
Revolutionary leftists such as the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
and the Greek ‘Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow’
(Antarsya) can be classified as far-left or extreme left. However, in any
case, they are not part of the radical left. Those who view the radical left
as reformist take this title (radical left) as an insult. Furthermore, if the
Greek Stalinist KKE or the revolutionary left Antarsya were both
classified as radical left, Syriza has no reason to call itself radical left.
Raul Gomez, Laura Morales, and Luis Ramiro (2016: 3) argue, “the
Communist and New Left/Left Socialist waves of party formation
generated RLPs,” and Chiocchetti (2017: 10) points out, “several authors
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 11
began to argue that while the ‘old’ communist movement was indeed
dead and buried, some form of reconfigured ‘new’ radical left party
family had been emerging from its ruins (Hudson 2000, 2012; March and
Mudde 2005).In these cases, the radical left is a ‘new’ left party that
emerged after the 1990s, distinct from the old left party movement.
Therefore, it can be argued that the character of current European leftists
is generally radical left. However, as long as the old left party and the
‘revolutionary extreme left,’ classified by Mach and Keith (2016: 58),
exist, it is almost impossible to call the whole left the radical left.
Since the 1990s, there have been various forces among the left:
revolutionary left, Stalinist, reform communist, red-green, and radical
left. Besides, various leftists could not help but adopt the term ‘left’
without modifiers when creating an electoral alliance or unitary party.
For example, The Left (Die Linke) in Germany, The Left (Déi Lénk) in
Luxembourg, Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto/VAS) in Finland, Left
Party (Vänsterpartiet/V) in Sweden, Left Unity in Britain, United Left
(Združena Levica/ZL) in Slovenia, Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda/BE) in
Portugal, United Left (Izquierda Unida/IU) in Spain, and Left Front
(Front de Gauche/FdG) in France. They all adopted ‘left’ as a concept for
their identity, which embraces various leftists. The Party of the European
Left (PEL), an international organization of various left parties in Europe,
follows the same usage. In a word, political forces to the left of social
democracy in Europe call themselves ‘left.’
Characteristics and definitions of the current European Left
March and Keith et al. call the forces to the left of social democracy the
‘radical left’ and define the radical left as “anti-capitalist but not anti-
democratic,” starting with the dictionary definition: “the term ‘radicalism’
[…] intrinsically implies transformative aims (deriving from the Latin for
root (radix) and denoting an orientation towards ‘root-and-branch’
change of the political system occupied by the radical actor)” (March and
Mudde 2005: 24–25; March 2011: 1, 8–9; March and Keith 2016: 1).
However, citing Hildebrandt and Striethorst’s (2010) argument, “the
German LP [Left Party] is fundamentally unclear about whether it is an
‘anti-neoliberal or anti-capitalist party or a party that is critical towards
capitalism’ with crucial issues such as its stance towards private property
and analysis of capitalism undecided, March assesses that,
“contemporary RLPs are less ideological and more pragmatic than in the
12 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
Soviet era” (March 2011: 9–10, 19). Chiocchetti (2017: 10) also argues,
“The term [anti-capitalism], however, is too vague to be useful. On the
one hand, anti-capitalism is precisely one of those elements which the
post-1989 radical left has generally tended to downplay.”
Therefore, it is unreasonable to define the European left’s character
uniformly as anti-capitalist. For example, Spanish Podemos, a left-
populist party, does not mention the working class. The French
Communist Party (PCF) has been institutionalized within the system and
constantly cooperated with the Socialist Party, and red-green parties in
Northern Europe have cooperated as junior partners of social democratic
parties. It is hard to call all those parties anti-capitalist.
March argues, “extremists are anti-democrats per se, while radicals
are anti-liberal democratic, but not anti-democratic per se (Mudde 2006).
[…] the degree of ‘extremism’ of those actors who regularly participate
in the Electoral process is questionable” (March 2011: 10, 18). These
arguments are meaningful because extreme revolutionary leftists have
become more and more a minority, and their aggressiveness of argument
and practice has been softening. However, since Lenin insisted, in Left
Wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder (Lenin 1970), that communists
should participate even in deceptive parliaments unless it was a
revolutionary period, the left’s electoral participation has been natural.
Therefore, this alone cannot differentiate democratic from anti-
democratic. Instead, democratic and anti-democratic should be
distinguished depending on whether revolution and overthrow are at the
center of their strategy. There are still revolutionary leftists advocating
revolution and subversion, as seen in the British SWP and Greek
Antarsya. Therefore, it cannot be justified that all leftists are not ‘anti-
democratic’ forces.
March et al. emphasize internationalism as a characteristic of the left:
“this radical Left is left by its commitments to equality and
internationalism and radical in its aspirations to fundamental
transformation of capitalism” (March and Mudde 2005; March 2011:
March and Keith 2016: 5). It is true that proletarian internationalism, such
as “Working men of all countries, Unite!,” is an essential value of the left.
However, after the Comintern or the Soviet bloc’s dissolution, the
International party movement has virtually been extinguished, and
internationalism has weakened. As seen in the European Parliament, all
European forces form political groups to respond to European politics. In
addition to these responses, after World War II or the collapse of the
Soviet Union, social democratic parties have tried to expand their forces
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 13
in Southern and Eastern Europe, and green parties are trying to expand
their forces and claims globally.
In comparison, it cannot be said that leftists are passionate about
expanding the international communist party movement or leftist
movements as in the past, beyond the pursuit of international cooperation
and solidarity, and beyond the Trotskyists exporting/replicating their
branches. It is difficult to say that many national leftists, Stalinist
successor parties, and reform communist parties, which have
increasingly become social-democratic in pursuit of a national solution,
are particularly internationalist. Therefore, March and Keith’s claim that
internationalism is a distinctive feature of the current European left
distinguishing it from other political forces is not in line with reality.
In other words, the anti-capitalist and internationalist elements of the
left have been consistently weakened, and there are anti-democratic
forces, although minorities, which adhere to revolution and subversion.
Therefore, March et al.’s argument that the European left at present is
‘anti-capitalist but not anti-democratic’ and ‘internationalistic’ cannot be
applied to the whole left or the radical left.
[T]here is in fact relative consensus as to what constitutes the radical
Left (March 2012: 315–20). The present study draws on various
authors – that is, March and Mudde (2005: 25), March (2011, 2012 ),
and Bale and Dunphy (2011 ) – to arrive at the following definition
of the radical Left: A party to the left of social democracy that rejects
the underlying socioeconomic structure of contemporary capitalism
and its values and practices while advocating for alternative
economic and power structures that involve a major redistribution
of resources from the existing social and political elites (Katsourides
2016: 4).
Yiannos Katsourides accepts March’s (2011: 8) definition. In particular,
Katsourides’ assertion of “a major redistribution of resources from the
existing social and political elites” is based on March et al.’s core
argument that “So many RLPs […] now use populist anti-establishment
appeals” (March 2011; March and Keith 2016: 12). However, it is a
traditional standpoint of the left to focus on and criticize society’s
structural contradictions, not on those of a specific person, group, or layer.
Most leftists are opposed to the ruling class, capitalist class, capitalist
party, and capitalist system, not social and political elites. Therefore, even
if there is such agitation, it cannot be generalized or called an essential
14 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
characteristic of the left. (The confrontation between the people and the
elite/vested groups related to populism will be discussed in detail in
Section 4-1). Besides, it is illogical to argue that they ‘reject’ (not criticize
nor oppose) the existing socio-economic structure of capitalism and its
values and practices, while accepting the claim that most radical left
parties have become ‘less ideological and more pragmatic.’
Babak Amini (2016: 12) says, “Radical left parties are those which,
on the political spectrum, are to the left of social democratic parties,
although many do not consider social democratic parties as belonging to
the left; hence, they do not always identify themselves in relation to social
democratic parties. […] They are anti-capitalist (although they
increasingly frame this in terms of resistance to neoliberalism) and pro-
democracy.” However, saying the social democratic party does not
belong to the left means that the left is the only force to the left of the
social democracy. This argument contradicts his usage, calling the only
force not the left but the radical left, because the radical left itself is part
of the left, not the whole. Saying that radical left parties do not always
identify themselves in relation to social democratic parties while, at the
same time, presenting social democratic parties as their reference, is
illogical.
Chiocchetti treats the radical left as a party family. However, unlike
March et al., because it is improper to define the radical left in terms of
an indicator of anti-capitalism, which the radical left has generally tended
to downplay, Chiocchetti suggests ‘class left,’ which is a separate
tendency from and to the left of social democracy, and ‘anti-
neoliberalism’ as qualifiers (Chiocchetti 2017: 9-10). However, there is
no reason to define the left in relation to social democracy, and there is
no way to explain its acceptance of the non-class agenda, such as gender
equality and ecologism, which is a characteristic of the radical left,
especially when the radical left is regarded as class left. While denying
working-class hegemony, eco-socialists can propose socialism as their
ideal because they focus on the capitalist system’s irrationality. In other
words, by putting capitalism at the center of the definition of the left, it
can be a force that resists the injustice and irrationality created by
capitalism. If the working class is put at the center, like in the old left, the
non-class agenda is dropped out. The left has always been distinguished
from other political forces by its different attitudes toward capitalism and
socialism. Moreover, these attitudes have been continuously changing.
Past leftists ascribed society’s main problems to the capitalist system,
opposed capitalism, and pursued socialism. However, contemporary
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 15
European leftists consist of forces that diverge on many points: attitudes
toward capitalism, according to their position, are skeptical, critical,
opposing, rejecting, and challenging; their prescriptions are radical
reform, fundamental transformation, and revolution; their prospects and
strategies are electoral and parliamentary struggle, street struggle, and
insurrection and uprising.
The position that encompasses various attitudes toward capitalism,
from anti-capitalism to anti-neoliberalism, is one that criticizes and
opposes the reality of capitalism, not the capitalist system. Moreover,
whether many leftists put socialism on the shelf or not, they have in
common the pursuit of socialism’s ideals and values. I am saying
‘socialist ideals and values,’ not socialism, because there is no consensus
within the left on socialism’s content and operating principles. There are
many versions of socialism: Stalinist socialism, democratic socialism,
ecosocialism, self-managed socialism, market socialism, and democratic
planned economy. Leftists’ will to win socialism also varies. Therefore,
what is shared is socialism’s ideals and values, e.g., solidarity and
equality. The five common core agendas agreed by the Party of the
European Left (PEL) are “peace, democracy, social justice, gender
equality, and respect for nature” (Heilig 2016). Although 31 left parties
attended the inaugural meeting of PEL, what they agreed on was not
socialism but ideals and values on which socialists could agree. The same
is true of red-green parties’ programs that advocate social justice, gender
equality, and ecologism. That is the identity shared and agreed upon by
most of the current European left.
Chiocchetti’s definition of the current European left as a class left to
the left of social democracy that adopts an anti-neoliberal strategy in the
medium term has many positive points. However, there is no reason to
define the left by relying on its relationship with social democrats. Since
many leftists accept non-class agendas, it should be defined in relation to
capitalism, not class, and include an attitude toward socialism that
distinguishes the left from other political forces. Hence, this book
suggests an alternative definition: the contemporary European left is a
force that pursues socialism’s ideals and values while criticizing and
opposing the reality of capitalism.
2-2. Discussions on the composition and classification of the
left
16 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
Criticism of the party family approach
Party family is a metaphorical concept in comparative politics. In that
conception, parties from different countries with the same identity or
similarity, such as social democratic parties and green parties, are
regarded as a family. Peter Mair and Cas Mudde (1998) emphasize the
role and usefulness of the concept of ‘party family’ for a comparative
study of party politics. They compare the four identifiers for classifying
party families: “origins and sociology [meaning that parties reflect
various cleavages in society], transnational links, policy and ideology,
and party name.” They propose origins and ideology as most suitable and
the other two as additional identifiers for the specification and
classification of party families. In other words, this is a discussion of the
boundaries between party families.
Many European countries’ parties, such as conservative parties,
liberal parties, Christian democratic parties, and social democratic parties,
have the same or similar names and characters because their societies’
core cleavage structures are similar. This is called the ‘cleavage model’
of Stein Rokkan (1970). Von Beyme (1985) “constructed several
different taxonomies based on different criteria, but its most important
classification is that of the ‘familles spirituelles’ [family spirit] based
explicitly on the criterion of ideology” (Mair and Mudde 1998).
Which parties are ‘radical left’? […] I mainly identify RLPs
according to their ideological affinity. There are of course other
illuminating ways to do so, including party origins, historical
tradition, international affiliation, policy choices. […] However,
focusing on ideology (the ‘party family’ approach) has the virtue of
focusing more on the longer-term questions of what parties are in
terms of ideology, strategy and identity than shorter-term questions
of what they do in terms of electoral tactics and specific policy
preferences (Mair 1997: 20-24; Mair and Mudde 1998). […]
However, parties’ self-definition and international affiliation help
clarify this (March 2011: 15).
With this approach, March classified the radical left into four main sub-
groups (communist, democratic socialist, populist socialist, and social
populist) according to their ideological positions (March 2011: 16).
However, March and Keith do not classify the populists as an
independent subgroup, but revise subtypes of the radical left into
conservative communist, reform communist, democratic socialist, and
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 17
revolutionary extreme left: “because of the transverse nature of populism,
many radical left parties (including Trotskyist parties such as the
dogmatic Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the Irish Socialist Party
(SP)) are using populist anti-establishment appeals” (March and Keith
2016: 8–12).
With these arguments alone, it is unclear whether March and Keith
regard the forces to the left of social democracy as a party family.
However, March argues (2011: 7), “RLPs now comprise a ‘normal’ party
family with enough common policy and practice to justify being brought
in ‘from the cold’ to the center of comparative party study.” March and
Keith regard March (2011) as an important study “providing conceptual
clarity about the radical Left as party family” and argue, “There is also
general agreement over the core members of the radical left party family”
(March and Keith 2016: 2, 5). Therefore, it is clear that March and Keith
regard the radical left party as a party family, contrasting to the social
democratic party family and the green party family.
In other words, since March et al. call the forces to the left of social
democracy the radical left, their studies and assertions on the radical left
are not on a part of the left but on the whole left to the left of social
democracy. Besides, it is an analytical position to view the entire left as
a party family that can be divided into several subtypes by ideology as an
identifier (the party family approach).
While Mair and Mudde’s approach, emphasizing the party’s ideology
and origin, is a discussion on the boundary between party families, March
applies it to the classification within a party family. Meanwhile, as in the
case of the German Left Party, which united the successor party (PDS) of
the East German communist party (SED) and the defectors (WASG) from
the West German Social Democratic Party, leftists with different origins
are increasingly uniting into one party. Therefore, March emphasizes
ideology as the most important identifier while de-emphasizing the
‘party’s origin’ (March 2011: 15–16).
Party families can be classified with various identifiers, including
ideology. However, the assertion that a party family can again be
classified by ideology collides with the assertion that the left constitutes
a party family. The reason why March and Keith describe it as
“categorizing radical left parties” (March 2011: 15–16; March and Keith
2016:8) rather than radical left party family seems to be due to their
theoretical conflicts over the boundaries and composition of a party
family.
18 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
In any case, one party family must have an identity distinct from other
party families. As the concept party family implies, there must be
similarities or family spirit within the same party family. If that is so,
there arises a question of whether the current European left constitutes
one party family.
Before World War II, or until the ’68 Revolution, to the left of social
democracy there were virtually only communist parties, except for
Trotskyists, who were extremely small in number. Moreover, whether
Stalinists or Trotskyists, they all claimed to be Marxist-Leninist. At that
time, it was not too much to see the entire left as a party family. Unlike
when there was only one party, the communist party, in one country
according to the principle of ‘one country, one party,’ nowadays various
left parties are active even within a country, fiercely criticizing,
competing, and rejecting each other. For example, in Greece, the Stalinist
KKE, the revolutionary left Antarsya, and the radical left Syriza compete
vigorously. In Portugal, the communist PCP and the radical left Left Bloc
(BE) compete. In France, the reform communist PCF, the transformative
left New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), the revolutionary left Workers’
Struggle (LO), and the plural left Left Party (PG) compete or coexist. In
Spain, the left-populist Podemos and the reform communist PCE coexist
in the united left electoral coalition Unidas Podemos (UP). Based on
proletarian internationalism, workers of all nations must unite, but in
reality various left parties reject, compete, and cooperate with each other.
Party families such as the Christian democratic party, the social
democratic party, and the green party in various European countries share
identity and fellowship. They are not made up of parties that criticize and
compete with each other within their families, so there is no problem to
group them into one party family. However, while consistent in
criticizing and opposing capitalism’s reality, including neoliberalism, it
is not easy to see left parties as a party family because they are distinct
from, criticize, and reject each other due to their identities and
assessments of other left parties.
Moreover, it is unreasonable and meaningless to regard various left
parties as a party family, such as the British Trotskyist SWP that adheres
to the revolutionary party, the Greek Stalinist KKE that claims to be the
true successor of Marxism-Leninism, the German Left Party that centers
on parliamentarism, and the Spanish Podemos that rejects working-class
hegemony and class politics.
Assessing divergent leftists, who are fiercely confronting and
rejecting each other, as a bunch, runs the risk of overgeneralizing that
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 19
they are “less ideological and more pragmatic.” It also risks of losing
sight of how left parties have developed and will develop in the future by
emphasizing homogeneity over heterogeneity. This risk is the same for
Chiocchetti (2017), who sees the entire Western European radical left as
a party family composed of the sum of each country’s leftists.
As a result, regarding leftists who are rejecting and competing with
each other as a party family is contrary to the customary usage of the
concept party family, which presupposes similarity and family spirit, and
risks downplaying heterogeneity and prioritizing homogeneity. In other
words, it does not match reality and has no merit.
Therefore, contrary to other political forces, the current European left
should be viewed, not as a single party family, but as a large family
composed of several small families. Both a single party family consisting
of subtypes and a large party family consisting of small families are
metaphorical concepts. If the former assumes homogeneity, the latter
emphasizes heterogeneity.
Various discussions on categorization identifiers of the left
As seen above, the claim that the left forms a single party family is
untenable. However, whether we see the left as a single party family or
not, how the left is composed of or categorized is crucial for
understanding the current left party movement.
Depending on the purpose of the categorizing or the viewpoint of the
left party movement, the left can be categorized by one or more
identifiers, such as ideology, attitude or strategy toward the system,
organizational composition and principle, orientation, values, origin, and
international affiliation. For example, revolutionary leftists, such as the
British Trotskyist SWP, call their right sides social reformist and social
liberalist according to their attitudes toward the system. Bertil Videt
(2011) of the Fourth International divides the left into anti-capitalist and
anti-neoliberal, rather than reformist and revolutionary. Mair and Mudde
(1998) emphasize origin and ideology, March (2011) focuses on ideology,
Gomez et al. (2016) prioritize the attitude toward the New Left agenda,
and Katsourides (2016) emphasizes the attitude toward the EU. All can
be used to categorize the left. The point is which identifiers should be
used to grasp the left party movement’s history and reality.
While various identifiers can be used to classify the left, the choice
of identifiers must not be arbitrary. For a meaningful classification of the
left, it is necessary to understand how the various leftists are separated
20 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
and behave distinctly from each other in reality, and what are the
historical backgrounds that gave rise to such distinctive activities.
Furthermore, the classification should be a reflection of reality and
historical context.
In this respect, as Katsourides (2016) and Chiocchetti (2017) point out,
categorizing the European left, which is becoming increasingly “less
ideological and more pragmatic,” by ideology, as March (2011) does, is
not so relevant.
Gomez et al. (2016) argue: Despite the broad agreement around the
characterization of RLPs, the degree of scholarly agreement about
March’s portrayal is mixed: “The ideological evolution of the Communist
and radical left post-Communist parties blurred the boundaries between
the old Communist and Left Socialist families, and led to the formation
of a new and distinct RLP family”; and “RLPs differ in the extent to
which they adopt New Politics issues.” So, they propose a classification
of Traditional RLPs and New Left RLPs.
Of course, it is possible and meaningful to categorize the left
according to the extent to which they adopt New Politics issues. However,
that categorization is not sufficient to grasp the characteristics of the RLP,
which appeared in the left party movement history since the 1990s. They
are not the green party or the red-green party, deviating from the old left
movement to accept the New Left agenda after the 1970s.
Yiannos Katsourides argues that to see the whole left as a single party
family is problematic and only the new left, distinct from the old and the
New Left, is the radical left party. He continues:
The “hard” Left favours nationalizations and central planning of the
economy, demands the dissolution of NATO, and usually advises
leaving the EU. The former group (RLPs) could be called a “soft”
Left; they are more sympathetic to the new post-material, identity
movements. This group favours a Keynesian economic policy that
accepts privatization of some sectors of the economy as well as
private initiative; they are suspicious of the EU but do not advise
withdrawal from it. The RLPs aspire to represent the entire
population and not just the working class. Most scholars, however,
usually treat these differences as intra-family variations, so this
approach is adopted here as well.
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 21
The European Union is increasingly perceived as the most
significant factor influencing RLPs’ policies and strategic choices in
national arenas, as well as the principal domain where power
struggles unfold in contemporary Europe (Katsourides 2016: 5-6).
As such, he emphasizes the EU factor. However, deradicalization has
been consistently promoted in the establishment of the welfare state and
institutional democracy. Therefore, it is questionable that the EU is the
‘most’ significant factor influencing RLPs’ deradicalization, policy, and
strategy.
Rejection of and withdrawal from the EU is one of the far-right’s most
prominent agitations at this time, in an effort to break away from the
common standards/regulations on labor, environment, and migrants. In
other words, it is a nationalistic and exclusive solution based on welfare
chauvinism against globalized capitalism. On the other hand, the green
party is active in European integration because the most effective path
for realizing the green agendas, such as zero-carbon or climate justice, is
a Europe-wide resolution and regulation. Therefore, it stands in the
opposite position to the far-right. In contrast, the position of the left is not
unified.
Before the 1990s, communist parties based on the camp logic and
Lenin’s analysis of imperialism instinctively opposed NATO and
European integration, and many leftists have opposed EU integration
because sacrifices would be imposed on the working class in the process
of European integration promoted from the position of capital (Hudson
2012: 9–10). Nevertheless, European integration has become a reality,
and even a monetary union has been promoted. At present, the European
left’s attitudes toward the EU range from strong rejection, to participatory
reform, to critical acceptance. Although it can be divided into hard and
soft left based on the current attitude toward the EU, the left’s attitudes
are constantly swaying. For example, Syriza’s predecessor, Synaspismos
(Coalition of the Left, of Movements and Ecology), was rooted in the
Eurocommunist KKE interior, and Syriza took power with the slogan of
staying in the eurozone. However, the ‘Left Platform’ group emerged,
insisting on ‘Plan B,’ which proposed withdrawal from the eurozone
against the structural adjustment of the Troika (International Monetary
Fund, European Union, European Central Bank). Seeing Syriza’s
capitulation in 2015, many leftists have become skeptical of the EU or
the eurozone.
22 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
Regarding this, Babak Amini diagnoses: “On the European level,
radical left parties have become less ‘Eurorejects’ and more ‘Eurosceptic’
over the years, especially since the late 1990s. […] However, after the
unsuccessful attempt by the SYRIZA government, […] one can expect a
gradual shift towards Eurojection along the radical left parties” (Amini
2016: 12–13). Of course, this diagnosis is excessive, as most of the left
do not currently insist on withdrawal from the EU.
However, unlike the far-right, which put the EU withdrawal or
rejection to the fore, leftists’ positions are not unified. The negative side
of the EU must be resolved, if not by collapse or national withdrawal,
then by pressure from the European population’s widespread
mobilization, or the EU’s democratization through politics within the
European Parliament. Therefore, all leftists participate in the European
Parliament elections, whether they see the EU as negative or not. The
side for reforming the EU is becoming more common than that for
withdrawal from the EU.
As withdrawal from the common market and the monetary union is
related to each country’s economic situation, a soft left can take a hard
position and a hard left a soft position. The former Finance Minister of
Syriza, Yanis Varoufakis, modest in any sense, insisted on withdrawal
from the eurozone along with EU remodeling/democratization. In the
2016 Brexit referendum, low education, manual labor, low income, high
unemployment, older ages, and rural areas showed higher approval rates.
The upper-middle class, higher education, cosmopolitan areas, and young
people more often chose the opposite. In particular, migrant workers and
highly educated youth, including the unemployed in cosmopolitan areas,
preferred to remain in the EU, which guarantees labor’s free movement
(Becker et al. 2017; Hobolt 2016). In other words, the neoliberal-
deprived/victimized and neoliberal-dissatisfied groups were more pro-
Brexit, but the working class was divided over pros and cons, as seen
from the fact that the voting result was neck and neck (51.89% in favor).
It cannot be guaranteed that withdrawal from the EU, which means
withdrawal from the common market, especially from common
regulation, will give the British economy a national solution. It has
nothing to do with leftist class discourse or power structure change. In
this regard, it is questionable whether the British SWP’s assertion of the
Left Exit (Lexit) of the working class, emphasizing the reactionary aspect
of the EU as a project of capital, can persuade the people/masses,
including the whole working class, and encourage their will to seize state
power.
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 23
Therefore, most of the left are on the side of EU reform, and attitudes
toward the common market and common currency may change
depending on each country’s situation. In other words, although there are
revolutionary leftists who presume withdrawal from the EU as a strategic
route, most leftists do not insist on withdrawal from the EU and regard it
as a tactical route that they can choose in certain circumstances. There is
not much reason or need to distinguish between hard and soft left
according only to their different attitudes toward the EU, like Katsourides
(2016) does.
2-3. Classification of the left according to the party movement
approach
Since the 1990s, the mainstream European left is RLPs, integrating
various leftists into one party. They have no choice but to embrace
differences in ideologies and values. As seen in Greece, revolutionary
leftists (revolutionaries and activists) are scattered not only in Antarsya,
an umbrella party of revolutionary leftists, and the KKE, a Stalinist party,
but also in Syriza.
In other words, most current European leftists behave separately from
each other, not according to ideology, the dichotomy between reform and
revolution, or differences in attitudes toward the New Left agenda or the
EU, but according to differences in identity defined by each party. These
different activities are confirmed in the ‘transnational links’ of each party.
These different links reflect the identity that each party has chosen
for itself, and the core of this identity is each left party’s movement theory.
Besides, this movement theory consists of various elements, such as
ideals, values, and strategies. In retrospect, the left has been split
according to the difference in movement theories. For example, the
Comintern, which formed after the Russian Revolution, called social
democrats reformists and split from them to pursue the unity of
revolutionary communists. Unlike Stalinist parties, Eurocommunist and
reform communist parties gave up the proletarian dictatorship and
adopted political pluralism and multi-party democracy. Left parties are
also having different international affiliations/transnational links because
of differences in their identities. Therefore, categorizing current leftists
should reflect the reality of transnational links in which each party
behaves separately. It should also reflect the historical context in which
left parties have been divided according to movement theories. Only a
24 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
categorization consistent with the reality and with the historical context
of the leftist movement can be meaningful. So, it is necessary to start
figuring out what kind of relationships/connections various left parties of
each country have with other left parties at home and abroad. Taking
‘transnational links,’ which are different according to party movement
theories, as a categorizing identifier of the left can also be called the
‘party movement approach.’
National/international cooperation and affiliation types of the left
Since the 1990s, when the Soviet bloc collapsed, efforts by the left to
escape marginalization have appeared as national/international
cooperation organizations among leftists, except for the Trotskyist
International party organizations that prioritized building branches under
the same identity and discipline, rather than cooperation.
There are various affiliation types in a country: a temporal or
permanent electoral coalition to adapt to the electoral system, a
permanent umbrella party, and a unitary party/membership party. Most
RLPs or left unitary parties have followed a path from an electoral
coalition to an umbrella party to a single party, or from an electoral
coalition to a single party. For example, the ‘Greek Left’ (EAR) was a
unitary party created by KKE defectors in 1989, and the ‘Coalition of the
Left and Progress’ (SYN) was a temporal electoral alliance created by
EAR and KKE. Synaspismos was also a unitary party, which combined
non-doctrinal leftists and KKE reformers after SYN collapsed. Syriza
had been an electoral coalition launched by Synaspismos with various
leftists and converted into a single party in 2013. Antarsya is an electoral
coalition and umbrella party that was founded in 2009 by various
revolutionary leftists. The United Left (IU), led by the Communist Party
of Spain (PCE), is a permanent electoral coalition and umbrella party of
various leftists, and Unidas Podemos (UP) is an electoral coalition of the
United Left (IU) and Podemos (Marioulas 2012; Heilig 2016).
The first initiative [of international cooperation] took shape as the
New European Left Forum (NELF) which was founded in 1991. […]
It was broadly defined as a grouping of democratic socialist (as
opposed to social democratic) parties. Drawn from 17 countries,
almost entirely communist or former communist parties, or parts
thereof, the Forum was valued for its open discussion, equal
cooperation and the possibilities that it presented […] without any
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 25
of the centralised constraints of previous international communist
organisations (Hudson 2012: 38).
On 8 May 2004 the Party of the European Left (EL) was founded.
It has been attempting to work out a common political identity
amongst member parties, without ignoring national political
conditions. It is governed by the principle of consensus (Heilig
2016).
NELF, where reform communists and various left parties joined, is
defined as a democratic socialist group. Although March (2011: 16)
distinguishes democratic socialism from reform communism, democratic
socialism is not the exclusive property of non-communist leftists. As in
the case of the East German communist successor party (SED), which
renamed itself the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) before joining
the Left Party, most reform communist and successor communist parties
advocate democratic socialism. In contrast, as seen in the KKE’s 2013
party congress resolution, ‘democratic planned economy’ is a slogan of
hardline leftists who oppose the market.
‘Transform! Europe,’ a think tank of EL/PEL, has branches in several
European countries. EU integration and the European Parliament’s
formation in 1995 led to the forming of the ‘Nordic Green Left’ (NGL).
Most NGL members, excluding the Finnish Left Alliance (VAS) and the
Danish Red-Green Alliance (RGA), have participated in PEL only as
observers.
For joint action in the European Parliament, PEL and NGL formed a
political group GUE/NGL (the Confederal Group of the European United
Left/Nordic Green Left). “The group has a confederal character, that is,
each party retains its autonomy and therefore makes its own decisions
within the broad framework of the group” (Heilig 2016). At the European
Parliament level, most left parties, including communist, radical left, red-
green, and anti-austerity parties, excluding social democratic parties and
green parties, belong to GUE/NGL group.
There is also the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’
Parties (IMCWP), where communists worldwide have joined since 1998.
In addition to conservative communist and successor communist parties,
reform communist parties such as the French Communist Party (PCF)
and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), ruling communist parties of
China and North Korea, and communist parties of Estonia, Kazakhstan,
and Iran also joined IMCWP. The ‘Initiative of Communist and Workers’
Party (Initiative) is led by the Greek communist party (KKE) and brings
26 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
together Stalinists who claim to be Marxist-Leninists. Most successor
communist and reform communist parties did not join it. KKE withdrew
from GUE/NGL in 2014.
In March 2000, before PEL’s founding in 2004, leftists sympathetic
to anti-capitalism formed the ‘European Anti-Capitalist Left’
(EAL/EACL), but they did not gain political influence. Reform
communist and radical left parties have led PEL, and some red-green
parties have joined it. The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), French
Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), Danish Red-Green Alliance
(RGA), Portuguese Left Bloc, Italian Communist Refoundation Party
(Rifondazione), and Greek Synaspismos joined EACL, as Murray Smith
(2014) notes. Thus, various left parties (revolutionary left, radical left,
and some red-green parties, except for communist (Stalinist and reform
communist) parties joined EACL.
There is also an anti-austerity political movement in the EU called
‘Now the People!/Maintenant le Peuple!’ It includes the Portuguese Left
Bloc belonging to PEL, the Danish RGA, the Finnish Left Alliance (VAS)
and the Swedish Left Party (V) belonging to NGL, and the Spanish
Podemos and La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) not belonging to
PEL or NGL. They all belong to GUE/NGL. Among them, La France
Insoumise is an anti-austerity plural left party including environmental
activists, and Podemos is a party that adopts populism instead of class
politics.
As such, current European left parties participate in one or more
transnational links. For example, the Danish RGA joined EACL, PEL,
NGL, and Now the People! The Portuguese Left Bloc participates in all
of these organizations except NGL. On the other hand, revolutionary
leftists participate only in EACL, Stalinists only in Initiative, reform
communists and some radical left parties only in PEL, and some red-
green parties only in NGL. The left-populist Podemos and the plural left
La France Insoumise participate only in Now the People! Except for KKE,
which has left GUE/NGL, and revolutionary leftists who do not have a
seat in the European Parliament, all other parties belong to the GUE/NGL
group in the European Parliament.
Left parties have one or several transnational links because their
identities are different. These identities are defined by their party
movement theories, which are different according to their ideals, values,
and strategies. In other words, current European leftists affiliate
themselves with different groups and behave separately according to the
differences in identities that have developed according to their party
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 27
movement theories. For the left, a party is a movement from the
beginning, and division within the left is a division of movement theory,
if not sectarianism/factionalism. So the left has always been divided and
behaved separately according to different movement theories. Therefore,
it is natural that transnational links are also distinguished by the party
movement theory.
Although some leftists still emphasize ideology and the dichotomy of
reform and revolution, and reject the New Left agenda, most current
leftists do not behave separately according to these identifiers. For
example, although revolutionary leftists participate only in EACL which
advocates anti-capitalism, the Portuguese Left Bloc and Danish RGA
participate not only in EACL but also in Now the People!, which does
not advocate anti-capitalism. As such, most leftists do not behave
separately according to the dichotomy of reform and revolution or
attitudes toward the New Left agenda. There is no reason to categorize
leftists by attitudes or policies toward the EU, which may change
depending on the situation. In the case of RLPs into which old left parties
transformed or various leftists united, party origin cannot be a meaningful
identifier.
With the welfare state’s establishment, the new middle class, different
from the traditional working class, emerged, and the neoliberal-deprived
layer formed as neoliberal attacks progressed. Although current leftists
differ in their emphasis on specific classes or strata according to their
movement theory, they do not behave according to these social cleavages.
Left parties have chosen various transnational links according to their
own identities, formed according to the differences in their movement
theories composed of ideas, values, and strategies. Therefore, it becomes
a suitable identifier for categorizing the left, and such categorization
naturally corresponds to realities and historical contexts.
Defining and categorizing small party movement families
As shown in <Table 1 >, current European left parties behave differently
in their transnational links according to their different party movement
theories. Those can be divided into old and new-type left party
movements.
The former includes the revolutionary left, Stalinist, and reform
communist party. The latter includes the radical left party uniting various
leftists as a single party, the red-green party combined with the New Left
agenda, and the left-populist party actively adopting the populist strategy.
28 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
Table 1: Categorization and characteristics of small party movement families in
the European left
revolutionary
left
Stalinist
reform
communist
radical left
red-green
SWP
KKE
PCF
Die Linke
RGA
LO, SP
PCP
PCE, PRC,
AKEL, KPÖ,
PvdA
Syriza, BE, SSP,
Déi nk, ZL
V, VAS, SV,
VG
party movement
model
vanguard party
working-class
mass party
working-class
mass party
left unitary party
red-green party
international link
EACL
Initiative,
IMCWP
PEL, IMCWP
PEL
NGL
European Parliament
GUE/NGL
GUE/NGL
GUE/NGL
Stalinist dictatorship
negative
positive
negative
negative
negative
proletarian
dictatorship
positive
abandon
negative
negative
organizing principle
democratic
centralism
democratic
centralism
pluralism
pluralism
nationalization
positive
positive
positive
economic model
democratic
planned
economy
ecosocialism
ideology
socialism
communism
democratic
socialism
democratic
socialism
left libetarianism
feminism
negative
negative
accept
accept/fuse
fuse
ecologism
passive
accept/fuse
fuse
movement theory
non-parliament
parliament/labo
r movement
parliament/labo
r movement
parliament/soci
al movement
parliament/soci
al movement
anti-capitalism
anti-capitalism
anti-capitalism
anti-
neoliberalism
anti-
neoliberalism
anti-
neoliberalism
Europe integration
reject
reject
criticize
criticize/accept
accept
Main support base
student, intellectual
trade union
trade union,
pensioner
neoliberal
deprived/dissati
sfied, social
movement
new middle
class, social
movement
SWP: Socialist Workers Party (British), LO: Workers’ Struggle (France), SP: Socialist
Party (Ireland), KKE: Communist Party of Greece, PCP: Portuguese Communist Party,
PCF: French Communist Party, PCE: Communist Party of Spain, PRC: Communist
Refoundation Party (Italy), AKEL: Progressive Party of the Working People (Cyprus),
KPÖ: Communist Party of Austria, PvdA: Workers’ Party of Belgium, Die Linke: The
Left (German), Syriza: Coalition of the Radical Left (Greece), BE: Left Block (Portugal),
SSP: Scottish Socialist Party, Déi Lénk: The Left (Luxembourg), ZL: United Left
(Slovenia), RGA: Red-Green Alliance (Denmark), V: Left Party (Sweden), VAS: Left
Alliance (Finland), SV: Socialist Left Party (Norway), VG: Left-Green Movement
(Iceland), Podemos: We Can (Spain).
Source: Author.
Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left 29
The revolutionary left party, represented by the British Socialist
Workers’ Party (SWP), is a force that advocates proletarian
internationalism, a vanguard party model, democratic centralism, and
working-class hegemony, and is reluctant to accept non-class agendas
(Molyneux 1978; Kelly 2018: 98–100). It consists mainly of Trotskyists,
sometimes Maoists and revolutionary communists. It participated in
EACL, but did not join PEL led by reform communist parties.
The Stalinist party, represented by the Communist Party of Greece
(KKE), advocates its historical practices and achievements, adheres to
democratic centralism and working-class centrism, and is insensitive to
intra-party democracy and gender equality. It joined the Initiative.
Stalinist and Trotskyist parties both call themselves Marxist-Leninist,
and confront each other on Stalin and the Soviet Union’s evaluation. The
former regards the mass party as fundamental, emphasizes the ‘one
nation, one party principle and opposes sectarian activities. The latter
prioritizes the International/internationalism and the ‘correct’
revolutionary line, and has divided incessantly (Kelly 2018: 216–228).
Other things, including democratic centralism, are similar.
The reform communist party, represented by the French Communist
Party (PCF), shares many points with the Stalinist party. It values the
working class, jobs, and state welfare. It abolished democratic centralism,
adopted multi-party democracy, the New Left agenda, and democratic
socialism, and is critical of the political repression of Stalin’s days. It is
active in cooperation with other left forces, following the tradition of the
united front tactic.
The difference between the radical left party and the red-green party,
as new left party movements, is that the former centers on the integration
of various leftist forces, while the latter focuses on the integration of the
values of the left and the New Left. Therefore, their formative
backgrounds are different. Thus, the two are different in party movement
theory and transnational links: the former mainly joined PEL and the
latter NGL. However, as seen in the Danish RGA and Finnish VAS,
which belong to NGL and PEL, the difference between the two is not
significant, and their values and practices are converging.
The left-populist party, represented by the Spanish Podemos, based
on the post-Marxist radical democracy strategy, does not recognize
working-class hegemony and actively pursues a populist strategy based
on the confrontation of the people vs. the establishment instead of labor
vs. capital. Therefore, unlike other left parties, it does not share the ideals
of anti-capitalism and socialism.
30 Character and Composition of the Contemporary European Left
There are some ambiguous cases. For example, some communist
successor parties in Eastern Europe are similar to the Stalinist party in
many respects, such as in their practice of democratic centralism.
However, the Czech Communist Party (KSČM/CPBM) is an institutional
conservative communist party that focuses only on legal elections.
CPBM participated in PEL as an observer and did not join the Initiative.
CPBM, PCRM, a communist successor party in Moldova, Sinn Féin in
Ireland, and AKEL, a national communist party in Cyprus, could be
classified as the reform communist party. The Danish Socialist People’s
Party (SF), while belonging to NGL, joined the green party group in the
European Parliament.
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 31
3 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the
Radical Left Party
This chapter discusses the backgrounds and universal characteristics of
the radical left party (RLP), a new-type left party movement that is the
most characteristic of the contemporary European left.
For the left, a party is a movement from the beginning, and the
divisions within the left are divisions of movement theory, if not
sectarianism. The RLP has emerged since 1990 and is a new-type left
party in which ‘various leftists unite as one party,’ unlike traditional left
parties based on a single ideology or identity. It is a left unitary party
movement formed in the era of globalized neoliberalism. This means that
the RLP should be viewed as a historical product with its own movement
theory (the party movement approach).
As Luke March does not regard the RLP as a new-type left party
movement, he calls all forces to the left of social democracy the radical
left. Since he generalizes that all the left has become “less ideological
and more pragmatic,” he fails to grasp this new party movement’s
meaning (March 2011: 12-20).
While many left-wing researchers have paid attention to the
cooperation and reorganization of leftists, which has become active since
the 1990s, they do not understand that the RLP is a qualitatively new left
party movement (Hudson 2012; Heilig 2016; Amini 2016; Musto 2016).
Even if they view the RLP as a historically new movement and analyze
its historical backgrounds, they focus mainly on the change in ideology,
like Gomez et al. (2016).
The RLP, also called the left unitary party or the broad left party, is
distinct from old left party movements that stop at an electoral coalition
or umbrella party based on the united front tactic. Except for Hildebrandt
and Daiber (2009), its organizational and operating principles, forming
the new party’s characteristics, have been suggested as core parts of the
32 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
new left party projects or of the new strategy of the left (Sabado 2008,
Hildebrandt and Daiber 2009, Sousa and Costa 2011, Smith 2014).
Therefore, there is no unified explanation for RLP’s backgrounds and
characteristics. The following sections start to examine the various ways
of explaining the radical left (party)’s backgrounds, and trace leftists’
responses to them, leading to RLP’s various characteristics.
3-1. Various ways of explaining the backgrounds of the radical
left (party)
As mentioned in the previous chapter, the radical left is part of the left.
However, many researchers, such as Luke March and Paolo Chiocchetti,
call all the forces to the left of social democracy the radical left. Even so,
they also agree that the radical left emerged after the 1990s with different
characteristics from the old left and in response to the old left’s crises.
Therefore, whether the radical left constitutes a whole or only a part of
the current European left, discussions on the backgrounds of the RLP
overlap.
March states that current RLPs are generally on the path of
deradicalization. He says, “because of the dominance of Realos [realists],
contemporary RLPs are less ideological and more pragmatic than in the
Soviet era” in the face of a number of dilemmas, such as the dilemma of
‘left’s strategy,’ the dilemma of the Leninist revolutionary party model,
the dilemma of democratic socialism following the minoritizing of the
industrial proletariat, the ‘perverse trick’ of democratic institutions, and
the ‘radical dilemma’ of a trade-off between ‘identity’ versus ‘efficacy,
as well as deradicalized environments, such as the ‘end of history’ thesis,
negative effects of globalization and EU integration, ‘embedded neo-
liberalism,’ and the collapse of the USSR (March 2011: 12-15, 19).
The left has been continuously deradicalized, and the backgrounds
against which this has occurred that are identified by March are not
without persuasion. However, such a superficial or empirical explanation,
which describes the changes of left parties as a process of escaping
radicality due to internal and external difficulties, is insufficient to answer
why the RLP emerged as a new party movement with specific
characteristics at a specific time. In particular, the backgrounds March
identifies are the dilemmas that Western European leftists have
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 33
continuously faced since World War II, let alone since the collapse of the
Soviet bloc and EU integration.
Focusing on deradicalization is in line with the self-claimed
revolutionary leftists’ standpoint of seeing social democrats as social
liberalists and the intermediate forces as social reformists. In other words,
their standpoint is to view the characteristics of the current RLP as a
reformist attempt to abandon revolution. However, March’s explanation
is improper or inadequate. Such explanation implies that there is no other
way but deradicalization for the left’s growth. It means that the left should
pursue alliances with other forces beyond the traditional working class,
and concludes that the left has become open to interclass strategies and
ideological approaches, such as ecologism and populism (March 2011:
19).
Generalizing the deradicalization stems from the limitations of the
party family approach, emphasizing the entire left’s homogeneity. As the
party family approach does not view the RLP as a new party movement,
it does not analyze the reasons why the RLP appeared and its
characteristics. It is therefore difficult for the party family approach to
explain the causes of left parties’ divergent performance, as Chapter 4
shows.
[T]he Communist and New Left/Left Socialist waves of party
formation generated RLPs. […] Several of them changed their
strategies and even their identity, transforming into post-Communist
Democratic Socialist parties, and giving a new twist to the diversity
of RLPs. The ideological evolution of the Communist and radical
left post-Communist parties blurred the boundaries between the old
Communist and Left Socialist families, and led to the formation of
a new and distinct RLP family (Gomez et al. 2016: 3).
Gomez et al. (2016) see the formation of the RLP as just a process of
ideological change/evolution, so they do not focus on the RLP’s
particularity in the left party movement history.
Kate Hudson argues that the realignment of the left and the emergence of
the new European left took place amid the collapse of the Soviet Union
and anti-neoliberal struggles against EU integration and the Maastricht
Treaty. She pays attention to the cooperation and coexistence of leftists,
which were unthinkable before the 1990s, exampling the electoral
coalition Spanish United Left (IU), including communists and
34 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
Trotskyists, and the Party of the European Left (PEL), an international
cooperation organization of European left parties (Hudson 2012: 7-18).
Thus, she focuses on the change of movement theory instead of the
evolution of ideology. However, it is regrettable that she ignores the
difference between the various leftists’ cooperation and the unitary party
uniting various leftists. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that she emphasizes
not only the historical event of Soviet collapse but also class struggle in
response to neoliberal globalization as the background of the new
European left.
The evolution and programmatic location of parties to the left of
social democracy have always also been the product of social
changes and conflicts within the left. In each case these changes
meant drastic caesuras for the left, which furthered the emergence
of the most diverse forms of left parties.
The first caesura that led to the formation of left parties in
Europe was the split in social democracy as a result of the First
World War, the October Revolution, and the founding of the Soviet
Union.
The second caesura occurred around the 1968 Prague Spring.
The split of classical communist parties in western Europe took
place here in relation to how the CPSU’s claim to leadership was
seen.
Increasing European integration, the emergence of new areas of
social conflict, and new green-alternative movements, as well as the
growth of the peace movement for (nuclear) disarmament in the
1970s and 80s marked a third caesura for the left.
A fourth caesura—especially in the countries of “actually
existing socialism,” but also in countries of the European
Community (EC)—came with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end
of the power bloc confrontation.
European integration, which rapidly intensified after the end of
the power bloc confrontation, the crisis of classical communist and
other modern left parties, and the simultaneously arising social and
alter-globalist movements, led by the end of the 1990s to the
formation of new composite left parties. This fifth caesura also led
to a pooling of left forces and parties across the borders of nation-
states.
The unleashing of capitalism—or, more precisely, unbridled,
revolutionising neoliberalism and the resulting dominance of the
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 35
financial markets—led from 2007/2008 not only to what was up to
then the most serious economic and financial crisis of the post-war
era but also to the emergence of new left anti-austerity movements.
This sixth caesura led in part to the emergence of new political
parties or brought about further reforms of already existing left
parties, as in Spain, Greece, or France (Heilig 2016: 46).
Dominic Heilig shows an insight of the historical or party movement
approach in suggesting six caesuras. However, it is questionable whether
this classification is appropriate. First, both the Eurocommunism in the
second and the green left in the third emerged under the impact of the 68
Revolution, so they must be viewed as two responses to one historical
event. The fifth caesura, European integration and the global justice
movement, which brought about “party alliances integrating the global
justice movement” from the end of the 1990s until mid-2000s, are
separate but successive to the fourth caesura, the end of the Cold War in
1989-91. The East German Communist Party (SED) converted to the
Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), and the Communist Refoundation
Party (PRC) was launched due to the deviation of the Italian Communist
Party (PCI) under the influence of the fourth caesura. However, in
response to the two events, the collapse of the Soviet bloc and European
integration, the left promoted electoral coalitions, umbrella parties, and
unitary parties (Hudson 2012: 7-18). The Spanish United Left (IU)
started as an electoral coalition that grew out of the movement against
NATO in the 1986 general election and registered as an umbrella party in
1992. The Danish Red-Green Alliance (RGA) converted from an
electoral coalition in 1991 to a party in 1992. In 1989, the ‘Greek Left’
(EAR) formed SYN, an electoral alliance with the Greek Communist
Party (KKE), and after its failure, KKE defectors, reform communists,
and SYN remnants founded a unitary party (SYN) in 1992. The Finnish
Left Alliance (VAS) was co-founded in 1990 by the Communist Party
(CPF), the Eurocommunist ‘Democratic League for the Finnish People’
(DLFP), and the ‘Democratic Alternative’ (Marioulas, 2012; Kontula and
Kuhanen 2012). In other words, parties’ cooperation, such as in electoral
coalitions and umbrella parties, and the unitary parties had been actively
promoted from the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet bloc to the
mid-2000s, as seen in the cases of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in
1997, the Portuguese Left Bloc in 1999, the Greek Syriza in 2004, and
the German Left Party in 2007. Thus, although the Sovietscollapse and
neoliberalism’s consolidation are two distinct events, most leftists
36 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
responded simultaneously to the two successive events. It is questionable
whether they created two different party movements. Heilig also
comments on the fifth caesura, “European integration, rapidly intensified
after the end of the power bloc confrontation, the crisis of classical
communist and other modern left parties and the simultaneously arising
social and alter-globalist movements, led by the end of the 1990s to the
formation of new composite left parties” (Heilig 2016: 5). In other words,
the fourth and fifth are separate but successive events. Finally, the sixth
2008 economic crisis does not seem to have brought about a new party
movement within the left, except Podemos.
Therefore, although various historical events and situations have led
to various trends in left party movements, Heilig’s distinguishing of the
influences of historical and political events in too much detail is not
appropriate. He includes not only the Spanish electoral alliance IU, but
also BE, Dei Lénk Luxemburg, PRC, and SYN in the fifth caesura, the
‘party alliances integrating the global justice movement.’ In other words,
he ignores the qualitative difference between the parties’ cooperation
organization and the unitary party, while he emphasizes openness and
cooperation as characteristics of the new party movement (Heilig 2016:
6).
[T]he contemporary Western European radical left party family
must be understood as a reaction to the triple crisis of communism,
of the Fordist social model, and of neoliberalism. […] The main
characteristics of the contemporary Western European radical left
are, to a large extent, the product of processes initiated in the
seventies and eighties: the explosion of left-libertarian and green
themes; the post-Fordist and post-industrial shift of advanced
capitalist economies; the neoliberalisation of economic mechanisms,
public policy, culture, and politics; the erosion of working-class
identification, militancy, and power; and the multi-faceted crisis of
world communism. The fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989–91, however,
acted as an accelerator of these processes, precipitated a violent
crisis of the radical left, and paved the way for a new beginning of
this party family after 1993 (Chiocchetti 2017: 3, 8).
Paolo Chiocchetti successfully identifies the crises that triggered the
left’s response by seeing the left since 1993 as a party family, the new
radical left, but he overlooks that the fruits of the response were only for
part of the left. However, it is notable that he points out not only political
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 37
events but also “the post-Fordist and post-industrial shift of advanced
capitalist economies; the neoliberalisation of economic mechanisms,
public policy, culture, and politics; the erosion of working-class
identification, militancy, and power” as backgrounds for the radical left.
It is similar to Donald Sassoon’s position (2010), which associates the
left’s response to political backgrounds and socio-economic/social-
cultural changes of the capitalist system. March (2011) also mentions
some of these points.
Therefore, it is necessary to comprehensively consider historical
events, socio-economic and socio-cultural backgrounds, and the left’s
subjective responses as backgrounds of the radical left party, a new type
of party movement.
3-2. Factors in the formation of the radical left party (RLP)
As seen above, many researchers mention various events and factors as
the background for the emergence of RLPs, or the character change of
the old left into the RLP, after the 1990s, such as the ’68 Revolution, the
collapse of the Soviet bloc, neoliberalism, the consolidation of the post-
industrial society, and changes in the nature of the working class.
However, in order that choosing these factors is not arbitrary, this book,
based on the party movement approach, suggests three unique
backgrounds that forced the adoption of a new-type party movement
theory, called RLP, to unite various leftists as one party: (1) the ‘fall of
the prestige of socialism,’ culminating in the collapse of the Soviet bloc
in 1989-91; (2) ‘change in the composition and status of the working
class,’ the reduced proportion of industrial workers/blue collars and
growth of the new middle class, due to the consolidation of the post-
Fordist society and welfare state, which was behind the ’68 Revolution
and the New Left agenda and led to the dilemma of the Leninist
revolution model; and (3) ‘neoliberal globalization and the European
integration.’
In response to these three backgrounds has emerged a new party
movement, ‘uniting various leftists as one party,’ the radical left party, a
left unitary party, adopted in the era of globalized neoliberalism.
Chiocchetti argues, “the contemporary Western European radical left
party family must be understood as a reaction to the triple crisis of
communism, of the Fordist social model, and of neoliberalism.” However,
this book suggests the ‘change in the working class’s composition and
38 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
status’ instead of the ‘crisis of the Fordist social model.’ Post-Fordist
society, which brought about individualism and post-materialism, was
not a cause but a result of the welfare state, and the consolidation of the
welfare state led to the ‘change in the working class’s composition and
status’ and the reduction of the communist party’s support base.
Therefore, it alone could not result in the crisis of the left.
The fall of the prestige of socialism
It is generally observed that the main slogan of the RLP has been anti-
neoliberalism, not anti-capitalism (March and Keith 2016: 8, Hudson
2012, Chiocchetti 2017: 10). Behind the RLPs’ retreat from socialist and
anti-capitalist agitation was the fall of socialism’s prestige
Events that have significantly influenced the prestige of
communism/socialism are Khrushchev’s secret speech and the
Hungarian uprising in 1956, the Prague spring in 1968, the rebellion in
Poland in 1980, and the widespread revolt in and fall of the Eastern Bloc
between 1989 and 1991. Eastern communist parties had no choice but to
give up their power or accept multi-party democracy. Characteristic of
these events is the revolt of the industrial proletariat against the
communist party’s dictatorship (monopoly of power) imposed in the
name of the proletarian dictatorship. Western communist parties were in
a difficult position to justify these events (Eley 2002: 437). Their
responses to this led to distancing themselves from the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union (CPSU), adopting a national road to socialism (Euro-
communism) instead of the International party line, abandoning
proletarian dictatorship, and accepting political democracy, that is,
political pluralism (Sassoon 2010, Eley 2002, Balampanidis 2019). The
proletarian dictatorship was originally a matter of not form but content;
that is, the nature of power. The nature of state power in the transition
period from capitalist to socialist society is to oppress the capitalist class
and serve the proletarian class, while the capitalist state’s power serves
the capitalist class regardless of the form of political democracy (Draper
1987).
To suggest the fall of socialism’s prestige, rather than the collapse of
the Soviet bloc, a historical event, as the background of the RLP’s
emergence is to emphasize that the former is the essence of the latter.
Many divisions and transformations of the left since the mid-1950s have
been responses to the same crisis, the fall of socialism’s prestige, such as
Western European communist parties’ distancing from the CPSU and
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 39
transforming into the reform communist party, the three divisions of the
Danish left in 1959, 1967, and 1989, the Northern European left’s
transformation into the red-green party after the 1970s, and the
emergence of greens, Eurocommunist, Maoist and Trotskyist forces.
Behind all of these responses was the fall of socialism’s prestige
amplified since the mid-1950s.
What made the left more distressed and troubled was the frustration
of the socialist model, or the inefficient centralized planned economy.
Even ignoring the market right’s attack on the socialist planned economy,
there is no agreed authoritative model. Instead, there have been many
suggestions for a socialist economy model as an alternative to capitalism,
such as market socialism, self-managed socialism, and a democratic
planned economy. In other words, the left, although competent in
criticizing capitalism, has failed to present a clear alternative. The main
slogan of the World Social Forum (WSF), which was briefly successful
in the early 2000s, was ‘An alternative is possible,’ and ‘An alternative
is socialism’ was raised by only a few of the WSF participants.
The Soviet-style planned economy’s failure and the significantly
undermined prestige of socialism/communism as an alternative made it
difficult for the left to come up with concrete alternatives. For this reason,
even when talking about anti-capitalism, overt incitement of socialist
revolution has almost disappeared, and anti-capitalist demands and
programs, such as for the nationalization of major industries, have
gradually disappeared from the field of agitation.
As the collapse of socialism’s prestige, which culminated in the
collapse of the Soviet bloc, was a crisis for not just communist parties but
the whole left, including communist and Trotskyist parties that had
previously confronted each other, tried to escape from past conflict and
undertook joint actions. As Hudson states: “Prior to 1989, such
cooperation would have been inconceivable, but the defeat of the Soviet
Union also had a significant impact on much of the mainly Trotskyist and
other new left parties that had emerged from the 1968 radicalisation in
Europe” (Hudson 2012: 11).
As such, behind the emergence of the RLP, which goes beyond the
marginalized and fragmented leftists’ cooperation to unite various leftists
as a party, there was the ‘fall of socialism’s prestige,’ culminating in the
collapse of the Soviet bloc.
Changes in the composition and status of the working class
40 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
The ’68 Revolution is often referred to as a rebellion against
authoritarianism, not because of economic dissatisfaction but rather a
political/social/cultural conflict, mainly by the new-middle class or
newly educated youth (Horn 2007, Eley 2002). In the background there
was long-term prosperity of the capitalist economy since World War II.
As is often said, what emerged was the consumer society, individualism,
and post-materialist and post-industrial social themes due to the
consolidation of post-Fordist society and welfare state. The share of
employees in the service sector, especially the public sector, had grown
to exceed that of industrial workers. Industrial workers were incorporated,
or could dream of being incorporated, into the middle class. Accordingly,
values of the consumer society, individualism, and post-materialism took
precedence. These changes also led to the extinction of community
culture, such as mutual aid activities and club activities in worker-dense
areas that had supported communist parties (Eley 2002; Sassoon 2010;
Chiocchetti 2017).
Moreover, representative democracy relying on periodic elections
had been a magic wand to draw social disappointments and conflicts into
the system. Lenin’s prospect of overthrow and seizure of state power
following revolution had become almost unrealistic. Sassoon (2010) sees
this as a process of ‘consolidation’ into the capitalist system, and Geoff
Eley (2002) sees that the war of position (struggles according to a long-
term strategy in a non-revolutionary period, introduced by
Antonio Gramsci) had ended before the ’68 Revolution. It is not that
there has been no resistance and struggle of the working class for the past
100 years after the revolutionary waves inspired by the Russian
Revolution ended in 1923. However, in Europe, unlike in other continents,
there has been no large-scale revolt worthy of being called subversion
and revolution. This is a result of the consolidation of the institutionalized
representative democracy and the welfare state, which brought about the
change in the working class’s composition and the rise of its status. The
working class wants to improve its situation, but there is no sign that it is
shouting “the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains” and
embarking on transforming the system. The left tends to expand the
working class’s boundary infinitely, saying that all those who live on a
salary are workers and proletariat. However, it has become difficult to
find a potentially revolutionary working class as of the end of the 19th
century or around the Russian Revolution (Sassoon 2010, Eley 2002,
Laclau and Mouffe 2001, March 2011: 13, 30, Bookchin 2012: 74-75).
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 41
The change in the working class’s composition and status following
the consolidation of post-industrial society, the welfare state, and
representative democracy have darkened the prospect of revolution in
Western Europe, despite revolutionary leftists’ will. It is one reason why
earnest agitations and struggles for revolution have not been seen despite
the economic crises of the 1970s and 2008. “The de-radicalization of left
parties is evident in the marginality of the extreme left in most countries”
(March 2011: 18).
This process did not end at the left distancing itself from Stalinism
following the fall of socialism’s prestige. It proceeded to the left’s
abandonment or reevaluation of Leninism. In other words, although there
are still Trotskyist organizations that talk overtly about world revolution,
and Stalinist parties, such as the Greek KKE, that advocate a national
transition, skepticism about the possibility of revolution in the developed
capitalist society has grown. The 1917 Russian Revolution was possible
in a highly fragile, semi-feudal, underdeveloped capitalist state with a
war-tired soldiers’ rebellion. Therefore, the recognition that revolution
was only possible under particular circumstances and cannot be
reproduced in the developed Western society where electoral democracy
has consolidated itself has seriously hindered the revolutionary left’s
appeal. (This is a relativist position that revolution was only possible
under special historical conditions, unlike a universalist position that the
Russian Revolution model can be applied to any country in the capitalist
world.).
In these difficult situations, leftists who still did not want to succumb
to capitalism called themselves ‘transformative left,’ like the PCI and
German Left Party (March 2011: 9), or ‘radical left,’ like Syriza, instead
of revolutionary left, so as to overcome the distrust of the masses and
gain their support. Thus, the left’s distancing from Stalinism and
Leninism is related to concerns about the model of socialism and the path
of the socialist revolution. In this respect, the evaluation of Ioannis
Balampanidis is justified, that the present RLP is in line with the concerns
of Eurocommunism, which gave up the proletarian dictatorship and
failed while pursuing a ‘party of struggle and party of governance’ at the
same time (Balampanidis 2019: 232-238).
The proposal of “a new broad socialist party without immediately
confronting the issue of reform or revolution” (Smith 2003) and the
‘Founding Principle’ of the NPA, which defined itself not as a
‘revolutionary party’ but ‘a party wanting to revolutionize society’
(Liégard 2009), imply dilemmas and incompetence of the present left,
42 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
which is unable to present a clear and convincing alternative for the
model of socialism and the strategy of revolution. Behind these concerns
there has been a change in the composition and status of the working
class.
On the one hand, these concerns went beyond Stalinism and Leninism
and proceeded to the ecosocialism of Murray Bookchin (2012), denying
the centrality of the working class and proletarian hegemony, or the post-
Marxian radical democracy strategy of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal
Mouffe (2001). The primary basis for these arguments is also the change
in the working class’s composition and status in developed capitalist
society.
In the background of all of the ’68 Revolution, the West German left’s
switch to the Green Party in the 1970s, Northern European leftists’
transformation into the red-green party, the PCI’s shift to the social
democratic party, RLP’s accepting the New Left agenda, and the
emergence of ecosocialism and the radical democracy strategy, there has
been the reduction of the industrial working class (blue collar) and the
growth of the new-middle class due to the consolidation of post-Fordist
society and welfare state.
Behind the emergence of the RLP, integrating various leftists into one
party after the 1990s, there was not only the external shock of the Soviet
bloc’s collapse related to socialism’s prestige, but also the change in the
working class’s composition and status, accomplished by the
consolidation of the post-Fordist society and welfare state and the long-
term boom of the capitalist economy since 1945. The consolidation of the
welfare state and the change in the working class’s composition and
status forced the left to accept the New Left agenda and significantly
undermined the revolutionary left’s position. The emergence of various
positions on the revolution’s subject, path, and strategy has fragmented
the left.
The emergence of the RLP, which accepts the New Left agenda and
does not immediately confront the means and path of revolution, or
abandons the dichotomy of reform and revolution and unites various
leftists into one party, was prepared this way.
Neoliberal globalization and European integration
Neoliberalism and the globalization of capital are two sides of the same
coin. The Global Justice Movement (GJM), starting with the Seattle
Struggle in 1999, took place worldwide. European leftists also actively
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 43
participated in this movement, but in Europe, the aspect of European
integration, a European form of globalization, was much more
emphasized than globalization (Hudson 2012, Heilig 2016).
Globalization guarantees the free movement of goods, capital,
production, immaterial services, intellectual property rights, and even
speculative capital. Since its inception, capitalism has been associated
with the world market, in which each country’s capital has competed.
However, through the hot 1960s and the 1970s, when the economic crisis
continued, capital actively promoted the realignment of production and
the freedom of capital movement.
In particular, European capital actively promoted European
integration, including a regional common market and a common currency,
to survive competition with the US and Japanese capital in the 1990s.
The incorporation of Eastern Europe into the capitalist market provided
tremendous opportunities for Western European capital. A strong
common currency was a project to counter the dollar. However, the
Maastricht Treaty, which restricts total public debt to 60% of GDP and
government budget deficits less than 3% increase per year to stabilize the
common currency, has acted as a powerful impetus for welfare cuts.
The ‘race to the bottom’ sped up while each country’s government
attacked labor and welfare to increase the competitiveness of their
country’s capital within the widened ground. Behind these attacks was
the globalization of production, or the rearrangement of production,
which fundamentally limited labor’s bargaining power and fighting
power. As capital’s unilateral dominance consolidated, it has been
possible to persistently attack the welfare state (flexibility/deregulation
of labor, including unemployment and welfare cuts) that was established
in the power balance of capital and labor.
Although there are many reasons why neoliberal globalization has
been promoted, it was possible because of the globalization of production,
not because financial capital demanded it. This explanation differs from
that of Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy (2004), who explain
neoliberalism by focusing on the movement of financial capital.
Neoliberalism, the state and capital’s attacks on labor and welfare, has
become possible as the power balance of capital and labor had been
broken by the reallocation of production according to capital’s internal
need, which had grown during the accumulation crisis after the 1970s. It
is related to the globalization of production accompanying high
unemployment rates. In this regard, the globalization of finance and the
debt economy should be viewed as a result, not a cause, of neoliberalism
44 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
according to capital’s need for accumulation. Meanwhile, Hudson
explains that the welfare state was a product of the Cold War and the
neoliberal attack was due to the disappearance of the danger of
communism (Hudson 2012: 3-7). Although the system competition with
the communist bloc during the Cold War was an important factor in
forming and maintaining the welfare state, it is insufficient because
neoliberalism began with the attack of Reagan and Thatcher in the early
1980s, long before the collapse of the Eastern bloc.
Most European leftists insisted that European integration was a
project of capital (Thornett 2012) and instinctively opposed it, as seen in
the ‘No to EU’ struggle against EU integration in the mid-1990s.
Neoliberal attacks and the progress of EU integration, which began
earnestly in the 1990s, brought the return of popular struggles in France,
Germany, Italy, and other countries. As the cooperation of various anti-
neoliberal forces was inevitable in conducting these struggles, a
realignment of the left started and the new European left emerged
(Hudson 2012: 7-18).
3-3. Responses of the left and universal characteristics of the
radical left party
The RLP, characterized by integrating various leftists into one party,
emerged in joint responses to the neoliberal globalization that has
strengthened since the 1990s. Moreover, the coexistence of various
positions within one party led to the abandonment of the reform or
revolution dichotomy, acceptance of pluralism, and abolition of
democratic centralism.
Abandonment of the dichotomy of reform and revolution, and
acceptance of pluralism
Most researchers hold the so-called ‘vacuum thesis,’ (proposing that a
vacuum/space was left/opened by neoliberal attacks and the social
democratic party’s rightward shift) to explain the emergence of the RLP.
Aside from the return of mass struggle and the need to respond to it,
leftists also have paid attention to the realignment and regroupment of
various fragmented leftists during this process (Bensaid et al. 2011;
Hudson 2012). The Fourth International at the 14th World Congress in
1995 stressed the ‘regroupment of the left,’ stating “our political-
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 45
organizational objective should be to be part of a pole of left regroupment;
an engagement in the prolonged crisis of the traditional worker’s
movement and the dead end of the green current” (Videt 2011). Hudson
also pays attention to ‘the realignment of the left.’
[I]n many cases, these [new European left] parties either initiated or
participated in a realignment of left forces, often working with
organisations that would previously have been regarded as
politically hostile. This included allying with or even merging with
the electorally insignificant, but very active, new left organisations
– often based on a Trotskyist political orientation – which had
expanded dramatically after 1968. […] Prior to 1989, such
cooperation would have been inconceivable (Hudson 2012: 11).
As such, the regroupment/realignment of the left, which began after the
1990s, was a response to the anti-neoliberal struggle. However, as seen
above, in the background of the RLP were the fall of socialism’s prestige,
culminating in the collapse of the Soviets in 1989-91, the consolidation
of electoral democracy, post-industrial society, and the welfare state, and
the dilemma of the Leninist revolution model according to the changes
in the working class’s composition and status in the West after World War
II. Leftists did not have a unified position on the prospects and strategies
for revolution. Moreover, cooperation and integration of marginalized
and fragmented leftists countering massive neoliberal attacks required
going beyond or not confronting the different positions on Stalinism,
parliamentary and revolutionary paths, and the New Left agenda.
The joint action of various leftists led to mutual recognition of
different positions on socialism and revolution, namely, to an acceptance
of pluralism. Acceptance of pluralism implies that the dichotomy
between reform and revolution, advocated since the Russian Revolution,
has become invalid. Acceptance of pluralism leads to the abolition of
democratic centralism. The following references show that abandonment
of the dichotomy of reform or revolution, abolition of democratic
centralism, and acceptance of pluralism are essential for the cooperation
and integration of the left.
The perspective is to regroup forces, not on pre-established
ideological criteria, but on the basis of the challenges of the political
situation and the tasks which flow from it. […] new anti-capitalist
parties could be formed and be effective without all the
46 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
programmatic-ideological baggage and the, in many cases,
bureaucratic functioning of the far-left groups (though as far as
internal democracy is concerned. […] a new broad party without
immediately confronting the issue of reform or revolution’ (Smith
2002, 2003, 2014).
A pluralist party which brings together a whole series of anti-
capitalist currents (Sabado 2008).
This new party [Portuguese BE] was not founded on the basis of
historical and programmatic affinities and a priori ideological
cohesion, but rather on a common understanding and analysis of the
current global political situation, the role of capitalism and
imperialism and therefore on the basis of the political confrontations
which would shape our activity (Sousa and Costa 2011).
Acceptance of pluralism and abolition of democratic centralism within
and outside the party
For cooperation and unity of diverse leftists on ideology, prospects, and
strategies for revolution (whether they are anti-capitalist or anti-
neoliberal, and adopt the New Left agenda or not), they have no choice
but to abolish the democratic centralism that was known as an unwritten
rule of Leninism. Since pluralism, respecting political differences
between various factions, is an essential framework for joint action,
democratic centralism cannot operate within that framework.
Acceptance of pluralism and the abolition of democratic centralism
have two dimensions: inside and outside the party. The Party of the
European Left (PEL) “has been attempting to work out a common
political identity amongst member parties, without ignoring national
political conditions. It is governed by the principle of consensus.”
GUE/NGL, the leftist political group in the European Parliament, “has a
confederal character, that is, each party retains its autonomy and therefore
makes its own decisions within the broad framework of the group”
(Heilig 2016). Like PEL and GUE/NGL, which was joined by various
left parties from various countries, electoral coalitions and umbrella
parties, such as the Spanish IU, the French Left Front (FdG), and the
Greek Antarsya, had no choice but to accept pluralism to respect their
member parties’ political autonomy. However, most member parties of
Antarsya, which is composed of various revolutionary left parties, adhere
to democratic centralism within their own party.
Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party 47
In contrast, the German Left Party, the Greek Syriza, and the
Portuguese Left Bloc, which united various leftist forces as one party
beyond an electoral alliance or umbrella party, allowed political factions
and currents within their parties. That is political pluralism. Once
pluralism was adopted, democratic centralism was inevitably abolished
for intra-party democracy, guaranteeing its members’ various subjective
rights. Thus, unlike an electoral coalition and umbrella party, a unitary
membership party in which various political forces united as one party,
accepts pluralism and abolishes democratic centralism both inside and
outside the party. In other words, the left unitary party has become a new
type of left party movement that is qualitatively distinguished from the
traditional left party based on a single ideology and democratic
centralism. Therefore, it would be justified to suggest the acceptance of
pluralism and abolition of democratic centralism as one of the
characteristics of the RLP where various leftists joined.
Abolition of democratic centralism and adoption of pluralism within
a party are implemented in the party’s operation principles, the
composition of the executive department and party organization, and
party members’ democratic rights. However, the concrete application
differs slightly from party to party.
It [the National Statute of the German Left Party (2007)] sees itself
as pluralist and open “for everyone who wants to achieve the same
goals by democratic means.” The Left Party grants members
extensive rights, including the right to form associations with others
within the party, and the right to propose motions in all organs of the
party; individual members can even propose motions at the National
Party Congress. The opportunity to take part in party work may be
extended to guest members, to whom nearly all membership rights
may be conferred, […] Members are free to form intra-party
associations, which are recognised at the national level if they have
been recognised as state-wide associations by at least eight state
parties. These associations operate independently, receive party
funding, and are allowed to elect delegates to party congresses. At
present there are 22 associations at the national level, including
political tendencies such as the Communist Platform, the Socialist
Left and the Forum for Democratic Socialism, and working/interest
associations which focus on specific issues. Examples are the
Ecological Platform, the Workplace and Trade Union Working
Group, and the Peace and Security Policy Working Group. […] Both
48 Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Radical Left Party
non-discriminatory equality and gender democracy are enshrined in
the National Statutes. Half of all office holders in party bodies must
be women (Hildebrandt 2012).
The party [Red-Green Alliance in Denmark] is pluralist, with
participatory democracy expressed in various ways: