February 9, 2010


After 1929 a generation leapt leftward. Not today. Socialism has been buried: Europe has witnessed a tectonic shift to the right since the war. No wonder the Tories might feel short of breathing space (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, 2/08/10, The Guardian)

Looking back over the last 50 or 60 years, what have been the most ­important changes, and the most surprising? The fact that Europe has been at peace, outside the ­Balkans, since 1945 would have been a surprise and relief to those ­living in the shadow of the two great wars. On the other hand, enlightened ­people would have been shocked by the ­recrudescence of religion as a ­public force, from ­militant Islam to American evangelicalism.

But for Europeans, the most ­remarkable development of all has surely been the decline and fall of socialism. This has been disguised, or confused. It has been truly said that the story of the past generation is that the right has won politically and the left has won culturally. That great truth has been variously illustrated by the German election in September, the New Left Review, and the latest social ­attitudes survey in the UK.

Halfway through the past century socialism in one form or another seemed irresistible. Stalin was in the Kremlin and Attlee in Downing Street, with flourishing socialist parties throughout western Europe. Since then there has been a tectonic shift to the right, and those who deny this are whistling in the dark. We are sometimes told that Britain remains a fundamentally social ­democratic country. Maybe it's literal-minded to ask, but in that case, how come Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were prime ministers for 21 of the last 31 years? If either of those is a social ­democrat, I'm a Maoist.

Following the implosion of Soviet Communism, the Italian left barely exists any more, the French Socialists are in disarray, and the Social ­Democrats were the big losers in the German ­election, having fallen in 15 years from 40% to 23% of the vote. [...]

We have had 13 years of a so-called Labour government which accepted the whole Thatcherite economic settlement, has seen an increase in social and ­economic inequality; worshipped wealth and fawned on high finance at home and abroad; passed a vast array of repressive laws; betrayed all its ­promises on the single currency – and in the end did more damage to the ­European Union than Thatcher did; allowed Rupert ­Murdoch to dictate its foreign policy; and took Britain – with flagrant dishonesty – into a needless, illegal and murderous war in order to support the most reactionary American president of modern times. After all that, you can understand why the Tories might feel short of breathing space.

It's about twenty years too late to notice the End of History, but Mr. Wheatcroft was the one pundit whoi understood what the election of Tony Blair meant at the time it happened, quoting in the Atlantic a friend who said: "You have to remember that the great passion in Tony's life is his hatred of the Labour party."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 9, 2010 6:52 AM
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