donderdag, juni 02, 2005

Nee! to the 'capitalist locusts'

Dutch voters have rejected the ECT even more emphatically than the French - 63 per cent against on a 62 per cent turnout, according to an exit poll projection broadcast by NOS television.

Anyone got a fork? This turkey is done.


Salvaging what they can from the French referendum, the blinkered inhabitants of Planet Mandelson - where they breathe not oxygen but unfiltered, vanilla-scented and compressed neo-liberalism sponsored by Evian - are trumpeting the fact that while it may be true that all but nine départements in the country voted Non, urbaine, cosmopolitaine, educated Paris voted Oui! Ah hah!

Demographic maps have appeared in Libération shading the various regions according to the strength of the Oui or Non votes that, I think, are intended to echo those fearsomely-red-with-a-few-tiny-blue-speckly-bits maps that appeared shortly after the U.S. presidential election last November showing the progressive metropolitan archipelago amid the sea of red-state Bush voters.

This is an oversimplification (as indeed was the U.S. Democrat hipster-vs-bumpkin analysis, but for different reasons) that only elites consciously untethered to reality can produce. It may be true that (wealthy) centre/centre-west Paris strongly voted Oui - 66 per cent in favour. But Paris has not been the city of starving artists and budding Hemingways for decades. It is increasingly a city of the haute bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, Paris' impoverished banlieue - suburbs - emphatically voted against the ECT. In the north-east, in Seine-Saint-Denis, a traditionally working class region, the Non gained a clear 61.52 per cent. Further, in the rest of France - and let's just remind ourselves quickly that while it may be the capital of the world, Paris is not France - two thirds of salaried workers voted Non and three quarters of waged workers voted Non. Low-wage workers overwhelmingly voted Non. Young people overwhelmingly voted Non. Single parents overwhelmingly voted Non. The unemployed overwhelmingly voted Non. Unemployed women overwhelmingly voted Non. The majority of Socialist Party members and supporters voted Non. In fact, the sole sector of society where there was a majority in favour of this door-stopper of a constitution was the elderly, and even this can be rapidly dispatched in any case: They are, of course, the war generation, and their commitment to peace in Europe - between France and Germany - displaces all other considerations; whatever a constitution's problems, nothing can be as bad as war. Understandable, I reckon. Still, even amongst the blue rinse brigade it was close.

It is these elites - both main parties, all the major newspapers, business and trade union leaders all called for a Oui vote - in France and abroad, who are the ones who are living on another planet. Where the discontent comes from is manifest. It is as plain as kedgeree (Ever had kedgeree? Very plain. Very bland. I would eat it despite the peas because I was the good child. My little brother, nose be-wrinkled, steadfastly refused the Scottish breakfast our family would on sadistic occasion have for supper) But they cannot see it. They dismiss it as reactionary nonsense. The response of uneducated hicks.

Across Europe, neo-liberal ideology is in crisis. The west of the continent - in particular France and Italy - are wracked with militant strikes that often go on to victory while large-scale demonstrations quotidiennement fill the piazzas and boulevards. Berlusconi's right-wing coalition collapsed following the victory of the left (and considerable advances by the PRC [admittedly in coalition with the neo-liberal left]) in the recent regional elections. No one doubts he will lose next year's general election. It is only a question of by how much.

The struggle has not reached such a fever pitch in the UK, but New Labour is uniformly reviled. Those who do vote Labour, for the most part, do not do so out of strong conviction, as they have no love of PFI or war either, but out of the belief that there is no viable alternative. Meanwhile, the left of the left - Respect, the Scottish Socialists and the Greens to some extent - are on the move.

Spain has calmed down, but only after a leftish social democrat - who was only ever intended by Partido Socialista grandees to be a place holder while they got their act together to find a suitable candidate for the following elections they thought they could win - was swept into office by a volcanic eruption of anger at Aznar's exploitation of the Atocha Station bombing in which 191 people were killed.

The German elite too, are shaken. Three years ago, the unpopular SPD Chancellor and Teutonic proponent of the Third Way, Gerhard Schröder, pulled an electoral rabbit out of the hat by opposing Bush's war on Iraq. As unemployment bites and a entire generation wonders aloud if they will ever achieve the middle class life of their parents, all that Herr Schröder offers is more structural adjustment. Desperate to at least win the regional elections in the country's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, traditionally an SPD stronghold, the party attempts three weeks ago a repeat performance of this trick: The chairman of the SPD, Franz Müntefering, accuses international investors of being 'capitalist locusts' who chew up companies and spit them out again.

'I am criticising all those who think they can pick whatever they need out of any company,' Müntefering said. 'And they do it without thinking about the employees and all the people who are affected by their decisions.'

What is notable here is that, while there was never any question that the SPD is not committed to neo-liberalism, and that they too, like their brethren in the Commission and amongst French elites, dismiss the left of the left as economic luddites, they KNOW that anti-capitalist rhetoric is popular. As indeed it proved. Müntefering's words opened up a grand debate throughout the country on not merely neo-liberalism or labour market 'reform' or globalisation, but capitalism itself, by God. The antikapitalismus debate exploded across the German media, with the usual suspects foreign and domestic - the Economist, the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal - as aghast as a pursed-lipped spinster at Müntefering's fart in church.

Some fifteen years after the pronounced 'End of History', anti-capitalism is not merely not dismissed out of hand but is used as a ploy of a decadent social democratic party desperate to cling onto power. Socialism, red in tooth and claw - as Tommy Sheridan didn't say first - is back, baby.

Although Müntefering's gambit did shore up some of their traditional supporters, the Social Democrats went down to defeat in the state for the first time in 39 years.

Now, voters are sometimes not a terribly rational lot. They regularly vote for conservatives because they are fed up with social democrats who sell them out - as if conservatives would be any better. And indeed, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are certain to win the general election, brought forward to this autumn by the despondent Schröder in a bit of a last-ditch gamble. Not five years ago, remember, 12 out of the then 15 European governments were headed by social democratic parties, in what was comprehensively viewed as a reaction to the monetarist governments of the eighties and nineties. Electorates were disappointed, but they have not all uniformly moved further leftward. And elsewhere, the far right is as capable as the left of making hay of the current economic malaise.

However, interestingly, just as when liberals talk about getting tough on immigration it is Tories who benefit, and when Tories talk tough on immigration, it is the BNP that benefits - why vote for the imitation, when you can vote for the Real Thing? - similarly, why vote for Social Democrats playing at anti-capitalism when you can vote for genuine anti-capitalists? And so it proved in North Rhine-Westphalia. Die Wahlalternative - Arbeit & Soziale Gerechtigkeit (WASG) - the new German far left regroupment project, bringing together the far left and left-wing ('Old Labour'-type) social democrats on the model of the SSP, the Left Bloc and the (remaining) Socialist Alliances around the world - had not formed but weeks before the election. They campaigned, but only as much as any political party that is a only handful of fortnights old can campaign, but yet, with neither time nor money on their side, they won an average of 2.2 per cent of the vote.

Further, in the wake of the state elections, Oskar Lafontaine, the popular SPD left-winger who resigned as finance minister and quit Schröder's government in 1999, disappointed at the rightward trajectory of his party, has called on the new WASG to run on a joint ticket with the PDS, the former communists, refounded as left-ish social democrats (who, nonetheless, when in coalition with the SPD on the Berlin city council, are as committed as any Blairite to privatisation and cutbacks), and said if such a pact were achieved, he would join them to run against Schröder.

The key for us within the next ten years is to link up across the nations of Europe on the electoral level. A common party or alliance for European Parliament elections, is of course necessary - and we have this already to a very, very limited extent in the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) - but a common electoral formation that fights elections as the same party across borders, with the same platform - tailored to local conditions, natch - should be the ultimate goal.

Capital is mobile, so should we be.


Meanwhile, across the world, in the landlocked little country of Bolivia, the locals are having what, and I my eyes may yet be deceiving me, looks remarkably like a socialist revolution. But more on that mañana

N.B. I've been following the French referendum for some time in the French press, and, of course, it's unavoidable in the conversation here in Brussels, but I'm afraid I can only just about order a beer and ask for directions to the toilets in Dutch, so if people have details on the nature of the Nee vote in the Netherlands, I would appreciate the analysis or links (Martin? Any ideas? Also - why did Groen Links back the constitution?)