In the last year, social democrats, which have been steadily disappearing since the crisis of 2008, have been making a small come back. Now they are in power in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, and now in Denmark.
But the statistics are daunting. The European elections gave to the members of the socialist group a 20%, against 25% in 2014. The erosion from the 34% reached in in 1989 and 1994 is clear. The last success, in Denmark, was with 25,9% of the vote, inferior to 2015. In Finland, they got 17,7% of the vote, just two tenth more than the Alt Right. And in Sweden, Stefan Löfven got his mandate with the lowest vote in decades. In the great countries, like United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy, they are becoming irrelevant. What is interesting is that they did not lost votes to the more radical left. The two European groups that join Syriza, Podemos, France Insoumise, the German Linke, got just a 5%, against 7% in 2014. The vote they lost, went basically to the Alt Right. Now the social democrats have popular support just in Spain (Psoe, 33%) and Portugal (33.4%). From the Scandinavian cradle of social democrats, the shift went to the Iberian Peninsula. Today Portugal is what Sweden was twenty years ago: a model of civic values, tolerance and inclusion.
There is now a debate about the Danish model. Mette combined a very radical approach against immigrants, practically identical to the vision of the Alt Right: deportation of immigrants in a desert island (à la Australian): confiscation of jewels and other valuables they bring with them; the prohibition of burka and Niqab in open spaces. This was the program of the Alt Right. In 2015, nearly 60.000 migrants reached the country, but only 21.000 got asylum. In 2017, just quarter of those who applied. Mette, at the same time, promised to increase the welfare, the subsidies to the poorest part of the population, the incentives to young people (that she wants to stop smoking: she has promised to increase radically the cost of cigarettes).
The Danish model is based on a simple fact. Today Europeans are governed by fear. Fear about the future, the arrival of Artificial Intelligence and robots, which could make disappear 10% of present jobs: just the automatisation of cars, would live nearly two million of taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, etc., jobless (what immigrants will never make). The so-called New Economy openly declares that labour is a small component in industrial product. The excess of available workers means that the time of a fix job is finished. This, of course contradicts the fact that population is in steep decline. According to the Organization of International Labour, Europe will need at least 10 more million of people, to remain competitive in 2030.
When feelings, and not ideas, become the basic of politics, and is the gut and not the brain, to decide, we go into mythologies, and out of reality.
The large majority of Italian workers vote now for Salvini, the leader of the League. Salvini has made of fear the central theme of his permanent electoral campaign. As a Minister of Interior, he spent just 17 days in his office of Minister of Interior, and the others on the road. He has made immigrants the main threat to the security of Italians. He makes mass rallies, kissing the rosary or the Bible, and explaining that Italy is a slave of the European Union. He has introduced new security laws, which make easier to possess a weapon. And he has opened an open campaign against the Pope, and his calls for solidarity and inclusion. He suggests that the Pope could take all refuges in the Vatican, and he has made an alliance with the conservative wing of the Church, asking Pope Benedict to come back. He has doubled his votes, and he is on the way to become the next Prime Minister. He is now challenging the European Union with the declaration that he will not accept the 3% limit to the deficit, and that he acts on behalf of Italian people, and Italians come first, and Eurocrats seconds. That is a battle that he is going to lose. The European heads of governments, not the Commission, established the limit to deficit. And his fellow sovranist, like Kurz from Austria, Orban for Hungary, Kaciencky from Poland, etc. will never accept to make any sacrifice to allow Italy to run a deficit.
Italy is a good example to understand how reality now is not important and is not the basis for politics. Tito Boeri, an international economist, the outgoing Director of the National Institute of Social Security (INPS, a well-respected institution), has just published an article, The manager of fear. Italians are now convinced that there is one immigrant for every four Italians: Fact is that there is one every twelve. Polls show that Italians (and this is valid by and large for all Europeans) are convinced that there are four problems with immigrants:
1) they will take over their work;
2) they have to finance out of their pockets the welfare to immigrants that do not work;
3) they make towns less secure;
4) immigrants bring contagious illnesses.
Well, says Boeri, nearly 10% of immigrants have created companies. Every immigrate who is an entrepreneur hires 8 workers; and the immigrants work is highly concentrated in activities that Italians have abandoned. They provide 90% of the work in rice fields; 85% in sewing garments industry; 75% of the fruit and vegetables pickers. These salaries have not increased in the last 20 years. They were low and remain low.
But the most important reason (and this is also for all of Europe), is that now one Italian out of four is over 65. One immigrant out of 50 is over 65. How would the pension system survive, without immigrants? Yet the over 65 are now those who vote for the Alt Right… In Italy there are 2 pensioners for 3 working people. This imbalanced relation is going to grow. To keep the present system, 83% of a salary goes to the pension system. How much it will cost in the future, to the fewer working people, to sustain those who have retired? Already 150.000 young people, most highly qualified, leave Italy every year…
Let us go to the crime. Statistics show that crime has been diminishing, at the same time that immigrants have been growing. And we have statistics on contagious illness from the Health World Organization: Turkey is the country that has received in a short time more immigrants (over four million). There is no data to show an increase of contagious illnesses. And in Europe, Germany was the nation that received more immigrants in a short time. No data shows any increase in the field of contagious diseases.
Fear, according to historians, together with greed, is one engine of change of the course of history. When fear starts? With the economic crisis of 2008, made by an irresponsible finance, the only global sector of the world without control. The crisis made clear that globalization was a failure. Instead of lifting all boats as its propagandists proclaimed, lifted few boats, and make those unprecedently rich: now 80 individuals have the same wealth of 2.3 trillion of people. Greed did precede fear. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world went in an orgy of the private over the public. State was considered the enemy of growth. All social costs were slashed, wealth and instruction in particular, because they were considered non-productive. Bolsonaro in Brazil is still doing the same: he has cut the budget of universities, and he has announced that he wants to “discourage” philosophy and sociology, in favour of “practical studies”, like business, engineering and medicine. Gain was considered a central virtue. Companies were allowed to search the maximum profit, by delocalising in cheaper countries, large companies to put out of work local shops, reducing salaries, marginalizing trade unions. Globalization, in its neoliberal path, was considered unstoppable. “There is no alternative” - TINA - said famously Margaret Thatcher, who with Ronald Reagan was the siren.
The tide was so strong, that it was called “la pensée unique”. The left, at first did not have an answer. But then the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in 2003, come out with an alternative proposal. As globalization is unstoppable, let us ride it, and let us try to tame it: The Third Way. That in fact, meant an acceptation of globalization. The result was that the social democracy tamed very little, and the losers of the globalization did not feel any longer defended by the left. Globalization made mobile all what was remunerable: finance, trade, transportation, and left to the state only the responsibility of what was not movable: education, health, pensions, and all social costs.
This was accompanied by a considerable reduction of the national incomes, as globalization was able (and is still able), to hide profits from the national fiscal system: according to some estimates, there are in fiscal paradise 80 trillion dollars): one of the main reasons of the decline of national incomes.. There was much less money to distribute. The public debt started to pile up. Is, at this instant when I write, 58.987.551.309.132 dollars (go to the debt clock of the Economist, to see how much has grown). That has increased the service of the debt to pay and reduced the amount available for the expenses. Nobody talks of this Damocles’ sword pending on the heads of countries and of its citizens. No wonder the European Union introduced a measure to limit national deficits… Italy, must pay already 30 billion euro every year for its deficit. To increase the deficit, as the government propose, to gain votes is utterly irresponsible…
It is worth noting that before the crisis of 2008, there were no alt right parties in Europe, except Le Pen in France. It was just a matter of time before in every country somebody started to ride the fear, and the decline of the traditional parties, that had no answer to the massive tide of neoliberal globalization. Immigrants come handy, to stoke fear. And all the victims of globalization switched to the new champions…
Now, it is common lieu to say that right and left do not exists any longer. In fact, the fight is between sovereigntist, which means nationalist tinged with xenophobia and populism, against globalists, or those who still believe that international cooperation and trade are vital to growth and peace. This debate on the present ignores that the left is an historical process, since the first industrial revolution at the beginning of the XIX century. An incalculable number of people gave their life to have social justice, curb the exploitation of workers, and introduce the values of a modern and just society: equity, participatory and transparent democracy, human rights, and peace and development as values for international relations. These were the banners of the left. This historical treasure needs to be linked to the present times.
The dialectic right-left is not gone. Look at the growing environmental movement today. It has gone into that divide. From Trump to Bolsonaro, climate change is a left-wing operation.
And if you read Pope Francis encyclical, Laudato Si’, (nobody does, unfortunately), you will see that the fight against climate change is above all a question of social justice and human dignity. In that sense, the Green Parties are taking over part of the battles of the historical left.
And this brings to a central question. Solidarity is an integral part of the Legacy of the left?
Because Mette got her victory in Denmark, abandoning solidarity and using nationalism and xenophobia. Of course, she is giving to her Danish voters ample assurance that she will restore privileges for her citizens. It is clear that this is now a winning formula, like was the Third Way for Tony Blair in the British elections in 1997. Except that it bows to globalization, as the Third Way did. It bows to nationalism, populism and xenophobia, the new Pensée Unique for so many people in the world. It would be wise to see if it has a durable effect for what calls itself left wing…