Lindsey German speaks at the Indian YMCA. Photo: Tom Lock Griffiths Lindsey German speaks at the Indian YMCA. Photo: Tom Lock Griffiths

In an increasingly polarising Europe, Lindsey German argues that the left need to recognise the possibilities arising from the collapsing centre and get organising

The increasingly irritating habit of the media referring to everything they don’t like or don’t understand as ‘populism’ shouldn’t be repeated by those on the left. We need a concrete analysis of each concrete situation.

The presidential election in Austria was a contest between a far right candidate and a Green backed left of centre figure, who won more convincingly than in the original contest. That’s very good news, but doesn’t explain how and why such a figure can get 46% of the vote in the first place. The winner, preferred by the Austrian establishment and the EU leaders, was of course backed by the left, but he is unlikely to provide any sort of alternative to the politics which are now causing so much dissatisfaction.

In Italy, the man we are told had such a vision for the EU was trounced in a referendum on constitutional reform, which was itself an attack on Italy’s post war constitution and would have reduced democratic accountability. Matteo Renzi was backed by the EU leaders and much of big business but was opposed by large sections of the right and left in Italy.

That is evidence of the collapse of the centre ground in politics, not a victory for the right. Much of the left voted no, as did 80% of the young. While the two main traditional CP areas, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, voted yes (as did conservative German speaking Bolzano in the north), left area Genoa voted no. Many are seeing it as a vote in part against unemployment which is very high in the south.

As my friend David Shonfield puts it, everywhere the anti Establishment mood is clear, but this is taking quite different forms. It is a false and patronising analysis to claim that populism is sweeping all before it.

It is clear that the collapse of the centre opens up possibilities for the right and for the left. It is time the left realised this and started organising.

Firstly because – however welcome Hofer’s defeat is – the pro EU liberals have no answer to the problems facing working people. They are no defence against the far right. Secondly, there is everything to play for in a Europe where things are polarising fast and where we need a stronger left.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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