Last of the Commies | The Economist

A ADVANTAGE OF to be locked up by a fascist dictator is that it leaves you a lot of free time. Altiero Spinelli, an Italian communist, spent most of his youth imprisoned by Benito Mussolini. During an internment stay in 1941, Spinelli used his free time to develop the Manifesto of Ventotene, named after the island off the coast of Naples to which he was banished. Reconstructed on cigarette papers, it provided a socialist model for a federal Europe, earning the Communist thinker a legacy as one of the most obscure Founding Fathers of the EU.

Apart from the European Parliament building in Brussels, which bears Spinelli’s name, the Communists left little mark in the club. Across Western Europe, moderate Christians and Social Democrats put on the show. Eurocommunists, who looked to Brussels rather than Moscow, were briefly in vogue in the 1970s and 1980s. Cunning socialists like Francois Mitterrand soon put them out of business. In Italy, where the Communists have already won 34% of the vote, the party collapsed after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. And the countries that had lived under communism desperately wanted to join the EU, partly so that ideology cannot come back.

The specter of communism no longer haunts Europe. But it sometimes happens that he jumps from behind the curtain and shouts “boo”. Sometimes the surprise comes from the less likely places. Austria is probably the most bourgeois country in Europe: rich, comfortable and more than a little smug. However, his second city, Graz, is now ruled by the Austrian Communist Party, which won the local elections with 29% of the vote. Wags soon renamed it Leningraz.

It was a revolution that had been brewing for decades. A low threshold for winning city council seats meant that the Communists could snatch a few, even in dry years, and take care of the management of the city’s housing policy. Popular measures have helped, such as communist advisers who donated two-thirds of their salaries to the needy. “What we are doing now would have been ordinary social democratic policy in the 1970s,” says Max Zirngast, an adviser who spent three months in a Turkish prison for criticizing the autocratic regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan before entering. the world of Austrian municipal politics. A world without capitalism remains the goal. But a city with more social housing will do for now.

Tradition rather than popular fervor flies the red flag in Cyprus. The Communist Party of the island, AKEL, is one of the two main parties in the country. It thrives on an almost Anglican attitude towards communism: just as you don’t have to believe in God to go to church every Sunday, so Cypriots can vote for Communists without wanting to take over. means of production. Communists carrying cards in shiny Mercedes are commonplace. The force of habit rather than belief explains the persistence of the party, argues James Ker-Lindsay of the London School of Economics. As one of the biggest parties, AKEL is helped by being able to serve the patronage that still dominates Cypriot politics.

In Europe, parties can be tiny but still influential. The Christian Democrats have found themselves supporting decidedly anti-Christian ideals because of the panic on their right. The crackdown on asylum seekers and cuts to welfare budgets were sparked by parties that won barely a tenth of the vote. The same logic works for the far left. In the age of fragmentation, any party that can win even 5% of the vote becomes relevant. Take Portugal. Antonio Costa, the socialist but still center-left Prime Minister, relied on both the Portuguese Communist Party and the Left Bloc to stay in power.

Parties do not always use this power well. The Communists voted against Mr Costa’s budget, leaving the elections probably early next year. It was a strange decision. The budget was crammed with spending commitments from the left, such as increased pensions and free child care. Now left-wing parties are taking losses in an election, polls suggest. Such scams are common. In the Czech Republic, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia has chosen to support billionaire Andrej Babis as prime minister. Three years later, the party was expelled from Parliament for the first time since 1948.

It’s no surprise that the most successful far-left parties in recent years have shunned communism outright. Some of Syriza’s leaders spent time in the Greek Communist youth movement, but the party that ruled Greece from 2015 to 2019 bristled at the mention of the word c. (Die-hard left-handers return the favor when they see Syriza and his possible compromise with the EU as an example of what not to do in power.) Podemos, a far-left Spanish party, is part of the governing coalition, but its brand of anti-austerity populism comes from a different tradition than the Reds remaining from Europe.

This land of unique bliss

Yet some traditional Marxist parties are wise. The Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB), which started life as a hotbed for Marxists who found the Belgian Communist Party a little soft, is now a dominant party. The pressure of the PTB led Belgium to conclude a free trade agreement between the EU and Canada, which sent diplomats to take a crash course on the rules of Belgian federalism. Popular campaigns to reduce energy taxes have put left-wing rivals in government in a difficult position. In the Flemish Parliament, he maliciously complained that a cut in wages for deputys had not really come to fruition, two years after its approval. If the polls are confirmed, the far left party is expected to become third in the national parliament.

Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, constitutes the base of PTBthe support of. The region was the center of the industrial revolution of continental Europe; now is the height of deindustrialization. Disgruntled voters in depressed regions fueled the radical right across Europe. The astute policies of the far left in Belgium have reversed this trend, dragging voters to the other side. In 1869, Karl Marx called Belgium “a cozy and well-covered little paradise of the landowner, the capitalist and the priest”. In 2021, Belgium is offering the EUbest hope for the ideology that bears his name.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Marx frères”


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