The Need for a New Political Vocabulary

The July 4 landslide defeat of the neoliberal pro-war British Conservatives by the neoliberal pro-war Labour Party poses the question of just what the media mean when they describe the elections and political alignments throughout Europe in terms of center-right and center-left traditional parties challenged by nationalist neo-fascists.

Political differences between Europe’s centrist parties are marginal, all supporting neoliberal cutbacks in social spending in favor of rearmament, fiscal stringency and the deindustrialization that support of U.S.-NATO policy entails. The word “centrist” means not advocating any change in the economy’s neoliberalism. Hyphenated-centrist parties are committed to maintaining the pro-U.S. post-2022 status quo.

That means letting U.S. leaders control European politics via NATO and the European Commission, Europe’s counterpart to America’s Deep State. This passivity is putting its economies onto a war footing, with inflation, trade dependence on the United States and European deficits resulting from U.S.-sponsored trade and financial sanctions against Russia and China. This new status quo has shifted European trade and investment away from the Eurasia to the United States.

Voters in France, Germany and Italy are turning away from this blind alley. Every incumbent centrist party has recently lost – and their defeated leaders all had similar pro-U.S. neoliberal policies. As Steve Keen describes the centrist political game: “The Party in power runs Neoliberal policies; it loses the next election to rivals who, when they get in power, also run neoliberal policies. They then lose, and the cycle repeats.” European elections, like this November’s one in the United States, are largely a protest vote – with voters having nowhere else to go except to vote for the populist nationalist parties promising to smash this status quo. This is continental Europe’s counterpart to Britain’s Brexit vote.

The AfD in Germany, Marine le Pen’s National Rally in France and Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy are depicted as smashing and breaking the economy – by being nationalist instead of conforming to the NATO/EU Commission, and specifically by opposing the war in Ukraine and European isolation from Russia. That stance is why voters are supporting them. We are seeing a popular rejection of the status quo. The centrist parties call all nationalist opposition neo-fascist, just as in England the media describe both the Tories and Labour as centrists but Nigel Farage as a far right populist.

There are no “left-wing” parties in the traditional meaning of the political left

The former left parties have joined the centrists, becoming pro-U.S. neoliberals. There is no counterpart on the old left to the new nationalist parties, except for Sara Wagenknecht’s party in East Germany. The “left” no longer exists in the way that it did when I was growing up in the 1950s.

Today’s Social Democratic and Labor parties are neither socialist nor pro-labor, but pro-austerity. The British Labour Party and German Social Democrats are no longer even anti-war, but support the wars against Russia and Palestinians, and have put their faith in neoliberal Thatcherite/Blairite Reaganomics and an economic break from Russia and China.

The social democratic parties that were on the left a century ago are imposing austerity and cutbacks in social spending. Eurozone rules limiting national budget deficits to 3% mean in practice that its shrinking economic growth is to be spent on military rearmament – 2% or 3% of GDP, mainly for U.S. weapons. That means falling exchange rates for eurozone countries.

This is not really conservative or centrist. It is hard-right austerity, squeezing labor and government spending that the left-wing parties supported long ago. The idea that centrism means stability and preserves the status quo thus turns out to be self-contradictory. Today’s political status quo is squeezing wages and living standards, and polarizing economies. It is turning NATO into an aggressive anti-Russia and anti-China alliance that is forcing national budgets into deficit, leading social welfare programs to be cut back even further.

What are called extremist right-wing parties are now the populist anti-war parties

What is called the “far right” is supporting (at least in campaign rhetoric) policies that used to be called “left,” opposing war and improving the economic conditions of domestic labor and farmers – but not those of immigrants. And as was the case with the old left, the right’s main supporters are the younger voters. After all, they are bearing the brunt of falling real wages throughout Europe. They see that their path to upward mobility is no longer what it was for their parents (or grandparents) in the 1950s after World War II ended, when there was much less private-sector housing debt, credit-card debt or other debt – especially student debt.

Back then, everyone could afford to buy a house by taking out a mortgage that only absorbed 25% of their wage income, and was self-amortizing in 30 years. But today’s families, businesses and governments are obliged to borrow rising sums just to maintain their status quo.

The old division between right and left parties has become meaningless. The recent rise in parties described as “far right” reflects the widespread popular opposition to the US/NATO support of Ukraine against Russia, and especially to the consequences for European economies of that support. Traditionally, anti-war policies have been left-wing, but Europe’s “center-left” parties are following America’s pro-war “leadership from behind” (and often under the table). This is presented as an internationalist stance, but it has become unipolar and U.S.-centered. European countries have no independent voice.

What turns out to be a radical break from past norms is Europe following NATO’s transformation from a defensive alliance to an offensive alliance in keeping with U.S. attempts to maintain its unipolar dominance of world affairs. Joining America’s sanctions on Russia and China, and emptying out their own arsenals to send weapons to Ukraine to try and bleed the Russian economy has not hurt Russia, but strengthened it. The sanctions have acted as a protective wall for its own agriculture and industry, leading to import-displacing investment. But the sanctions have hurt Europe, especially Germany.

The global failure of today’s Western version of internationalism

The BRICS+ countries are expressing the same political demands for a break from the status quo that national populations in the West are seeking. Russia, China and other leading BRICS countries are working to undo the legacy of debt-ridden economic polarization that has spread through both the West, the Global South and Eurasia as a result of the US/NATO and IMF diplomacy.

After World War II, internationalism promised a peaceful world. The two World Wars were blamed on nationalist rivalries. These were supposed to end, but instead of internationalism ending national rivalries, the Western version that prevailed with the end of the Cold War has seen an increasingly nationalist United States lock in Europe and other satellite countries against Russia and the rest of Asia. What poses as an international “rules-based order” is one in which U.S. diplomats set and change the rules to reflect U.S. interests, while ignoring international law and demanding that American allies follow U.S. Cold War leadership.

This is not peaceful internationalism. It sees a unipolar U.S. military alliance leading toward military aggression and economic sanctions to isolate Russia and China. Or more to the point, to isolate European and other allies from its former trade and investment with Russia and China, making those allies more dependent on the United States.

What may have seemed to Western Europeans a peaceful and even prosperous international order in the 1950s under U.S. leadership has turned into an increasingly self-promoting American order that is impoverishing Europe. Donald Trump has announced that he will support a protectionist tariff policy not only against Russia and China, but also against Europe. He has promised that he will withdraw funding for NATO, and oblige European members to bear the full costs of restoring their depleted supply of armaments, mainly by buying U.S. arms, even though these have turned out not to work very well in Ukraine.

Europe is to be left isolated by itself. If non-centrist political parties do not intervene to reverse this trend, Europe’s economies (and also America’s) will be swept up in today’s domestic and international economic and military polarization. So what turns out to be radically disruptive is the direction in which today’s status quo is heading under centrist parties.

Supporting the U.S. drive to break up Russia, and then to do the same to China, involves joining America’s neocon drive to treat them as enemies. That means imposing trade and investment sanctions that are impoverishing Germany and other European countries by destroying their economic linkages with Russia, China and other designated rivals (and hence, enemies) of the United States.

Since 2022 Europe’s support for America’s fight against Russia (and now also against China) has ended what had been the basis of European prosperity. Germany’s former industrial leadership of Europe – and its support for the euro’s exchange rate – is being ended. Is this really “centrist”? Is it a left policy, or a right-wing policy? Whatever we call it, this radical global fracture is responsible for deindustrializing Germany by isolating it from trading with and investing in Russia.

Similar pressure is being made to break European trade away from China. The result is a widening European trade and payments deficit with China. Along with Europe’s rising import dependency on the United States for what it used to buy at lower cost from the East, the weakening euro position (and Europe’s seizure of Russian foreign reserves) has led other countries and foreign investors to offload their euro and sterling reserves, further weakening the currencies. That threatens to raise the European cost of living and doing business. The “centrist” parties are not producing stability, but economic shrinkage as Europe becomes a satellite of U.S. policy and its antagonism to the BRICS economies.

Russian President Putin recently said that the break in normal relations with Europe look irreversible for the next thirty years or so. Will an entire generation of Europeans remain isolated from the world’s most rapidly growing economies, those of Eurasia? This global fracturing of America’s unipolar world order is enabling the anti-euro parties to present themselves not as radical extremists but as seeking to restore Europe’s lost prosperity and diplomatic self-reliance – in a right-wing anti-immigrant way, to be sure. That has become the only alternative to the pro-U.S. parties, now that there is no more real left.

Image by Dee from Pixabay