First European Left Party Congress
Report by Dr. Mike-Frank G. Epitropoulos
International Committee, Green Party of the U.S.
IC Representative to European Left Party Congress
Chair, Green Party of Allegheny County
Green Party of Pennsylvania
As I sat in Peace and Friendship Stadium in Athens on October 30, 2005, for the First Congress of the fledgling European Left Party (ELP), what was immediately clear was the bankruptcy of two-party (dominated) models of modern democracies. Duopolies – like the Democrats and the Republicans – essentially function as monopolies, filtering out many smaller, fragmented groups and voices. It was precisely the various social movements that comprised the parties, coalitions, and groups of the ELP that gave it the color, substance, and depth that was present. There we were, the American contingent, comprised of myself, a jean-clad Greek-American US Green Party (International Committee) representative; Charlene Mitchell, the first-ever African-American woman candidate for President of the US from Harlem, and Co-Chair of the Committees of Correspondence; and her associate from the same organization, Ira Gruper, a Jewish-American from the Mid-West. We were the most “proletariat-looking” contingent in attendance, and probably the most truly diverse.
Essentially, the refreshing thing was actually hearing dissent stated openly, clearly, and without politically correct niceties – telling it like it is. Who serves that function in the US? The Democrats, who are afraid to state their opposition to war? The Democrats, who are afraid to challenge highly questionable presidential election outcomes and practices? Or is it the Republicans who – through in power for over five years – continue to blame “the government, gays, and blacks” for our nations ills? Who is “telling it like it is” for typical Americans, working hard, trying to keep their jobs, get jobs, or afford basic benefits? You will not find their voice in either the Republican or Democratic parties. You will be mired in sound bites, public relations gimmicks, and of course, meaningless fear – and hate – mongering.
The Bush administration, aided by the deafening silence of the Democratic Party afraid of looking “unpatriotic”, has dragged the US and the West into a War Economy dependent on continuous terrorism, fear, and hatred. Pre-emptive wars for peace? The results have been clear from the outset: increased terrorism, and a growing war-terrorism cycle that will not end until those in control change the premise and challenge the logic. Unfortunately, mainstream media in the US and elsewhere around the world have systematically silenced voices of dissent. That does not mean, however, that accurate analyses and critiques were not or are not being done. They are.
The European Left Party aims to build such an alternative party, voice, and society within Europe, within the Western world, to make known – as the saying goes – that, “another world is possible”. This requires political and electoral conflict. Conflict means real competition in the political arena. Americans love and cherish the notion of competition, but then somehow get sucked into Bush’s mantra of “with us, or against us”. Is this competition? Is this conflict? Or is this collective amnesia or fear? The ELP aims to challenge neo-liberal policies, building upon increased participatory democracy, more critical thinking, and constructive conflict management, outside of small presidential circles.
You may ask why am I weaving the different and divergent European and American contexts. Simply stated, because the critique is fundamentally the same, and because the problem is more acute in the US, but emerging in Europe.
Reliance on the free market has proven to be a dismal failure historically. From the birth of Keynesian economic policies out of the Great Depression through even the Reagan years, government intervention has been a mainstay in macroeconomic management. Reagan was a record-spending president, contrary to the popular mythology of Republicans. The thing is he chose to spend on military and cut social programs – his program racked up bills that we are all still paying for. The free market would not have led to the same outcomes. Unfortunately, when it is corporate interests at the helm of fiscal and monetary policies, and the full complement of state mechanisms, workers, consumers, and weaker segments of society suffer disproportionately. This is why the ELP is taking the fight to the Right-wing Europeans and the “accommodating” social democratic opposition parties. And they are making headway based on recent electoral outcomes.
First and foremost, the ELP is working hard to link various social movements – anti-war/peace, consumer, labor, feminist, human right, etc. – to the party to coordinate electoral and non -electoral action, to coordinate forces who are intimately linked but for whom no mainstream, two-party system works – for whom no one speaks – for the majority. This objective of the ELP is dictated by diminishing prospects for so-called, “social democracy”. The same holds true for American voters who are dissatisfied with their choices at election time, who opt not to vote, who have withdrawn and are alienated from their civic affairs. Some would say that this represents “freedom”. I would say this represents a type of crypto-fascism, and a new form of political oppression.
There are many examples of this problem in Europe and the US. Mainstream social democratic parties (like the US Democratic Party) have veered to the political Right, aligning themselves with their main (two-party) opponents, rather than forging alliances with smaller, social movements, groups, and parties to win elections! Even in the US, it is entirely reprehensible when the Democratic Party spends more money and time on getting Ralph Nader and the Green Party off of state ballots – reducing democratic choice – than in fighting corrupt electoral practices and outcomes in the presidential elections of 2000 (Al Gore) and 2004 (John Kerry). This demonstrates the need to challenge the contradictory, two-party social democratic model. This model maintains the primacy of the market and the interests of capital and corporations and profit above people, period.
The order for change is a tall one, one that includes the task of challenging and changing political culture. Unfortunately, this task begins within the Left itself – as long as there exist ‘two Left wings” in Europe – as Bertinotti stated in Athens – the fragmented nature of progressive opposition will wallow helplessly as the neo-liberal machine stream-rolls across the globe – even when it is suffering major economic, political, and social crises. Left parties, groupings, and social movements opposed to the current “world system” have to come together – even while maintaining their own respective issues, identities, and differences. This is precisely the internal challenge. No serious grouping or party can unilaterally claim the mantle of “vanguard”, as unfortunately, some have attempted to do.
In the wider political culture of the West, the challenge is to raise consciousness – with evidence – about the failure of the market, the need for intervention, and the untapped strength that people have. In both the US, and the EU, the mantra of “anything government-run is bad” has taken hold. Conservatives, neo-conservatives, neo-liberals have taken the helm of governments, rewarded their financial backers and friends, ruined and rolled-back programs that were fought hard for and point to themselves – as “government” – as what needs eliminated! Hands of government workers are tired by bureaucratic constraints, insufficient infrastructure and technology and unreasonable expectations, while sub-contracted government work is able to escape the mainstream media microscope.
These challenges of changing political culture require a commitment and a sincere desire. It requires a great risk. ELP president, Fanito Bertinotti articulated the essence of this opportunity and risk. Fundamentally, the Left in the Western world – in this case, Europe – must link the current problems that humanity faces, the problems I have already credited to “neo-liberal policies” to a crisis in and of “reformist parties”. Namely, the Left has to link Democrats (in the US) and Social Democrats (in Europe) to these failures as accomplices to these “crimes against humanity”, whether a result of intention or incompetence. Bertinotti succinctly put it this way.
The risk is that this too could open up a further gap, thereby separating the masses, large parts of the masses, from politics thus creating a divide between the upper and lower echelons of society…the outcome of this fracture could be good…Populism and liberalism are in the West as well as in the East. The most dangerous answers to the crisis of politics.
The challenge for the European Left Party and for those who take on this task is to create a pragmatic, functional alternative that is not market-centered, but people-centered. The ELP proposes, as such, a European-wide bottom-up constitutional process, combining legislative initiatives with practical action and application in society. A fundamental example that many who spoke at the ELP Congress noted was an open, unified campaign against war, against terrorism, and for peace – a campaign that could agitate Americans, Muslim fundamentalists, and ultranationalists around the world, but one that could highlight the winners and losers of the war economy dominating our world today. There is another model being articulated. For example, a global peace project through a “Mediterranean dimension”, emphasizing inter-ethnic, inter-faith dialogue in these cross-roads of culture and civilization, bringing together East and West, Christian, Muslim, and Jews, as a foundation for peace and political action around the world.
This necessarily means collaboration on a global scale. This necessarily means programmatic initiatives and actions on labor rights, environmental issues, and universal rights and opposition to the primacy of the market. Again, this is the crux of the ELP’s formation – challenging the hegemony of the market and weak social democratic/liberal accomplices.
This is of the essence it appears.
Written December 2005.