Red Europe? Are (unemployed) workers of the world uniting?
Although the left is making gains in Europe – a new anticapitalist party in France has higher approval ratings than Sarkozy – centrist parties remain strong.
Today’s as good a day as any to consider the question – it is May Day, traditionally a day highlighted by left-wing and workers’ protests.
Germany, Greece, and Turkey saw protesters clash with police Friday. Many cities elsewhere experienced tense rallies, though it is hard to gauge how the day’s unrest measures up to past May Days. In recent months, as the recession has left economies in tatters, public protests have become more common across Europe.
Governments in Hungary, Latvia, and Iceland collapsed over their handling of the economy. Greece was paralyzed for much of December following violent street riots. In France, angry workers have taken their bosses hostage and attacked offices. London was mobbed by demonstrations during the G-20 summit.
And in some countries, leftist political parties are making gains. Iceland this week put a new center-left government in power. Denmark’s opposition Social Democrats are now polling ahead of the ruling center-right coalition. Moldova last month elected a communist government, though that result led to its own protests. In France, Olivier Besancenot, leader of the newly formed left-wing Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, is enjoying approval ratings of nearly 50 percent – significantly eclipsing those of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
However, while sales of Marx’s Das Kapital may be on the rise in some countries (they're surging, according to this story), it still could be a little early to tell whether there is a genuine resurgence of Marxist sentiment sweeping Europe. In fact, you can make the argument that the left isn’t making that much hay out of the financial crisis, recent protests notwithstanding.
In none of Europe’s largest countries is a bona fide shift leftward underway. Conservative parties in Britain and Italy remain largely popular. In Sweden, the Social Democrats find themselves trailing the center-right coalition government. Spain’s ruling Socialists lost critical elections in Galicia to a center-right party in March.
In Germany, scene of some of today’s most violent May Day protests, the traditional party of the working class – the Social Democrats – continues to trail behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union in the run-up to a federal election in September.
It is true that the Linke, or left, party in Germany has grown in the last 18 months to become the country’s third most popular political party – but its approval ratings still significantly trail those of the SPD and CDU.