In the second week of July, the European Left and Transform held their annual Summer University in Vienna. The European Left Party is a sizeable force linking together 26 mass European parties outside social democracy, including various communist parties and ex-communist parties, plus Syriza in Greece, the Left Bloc in Portugal, Die Linke in Germany, and the United Left in Spain. Compared to last year, the 280 attendance was up - as was the proportion of young people present.
There were a number of very interesting seminars and workshops in the three and a half-day event. One for example was on China’s new Silk Road initiative and its implications for Europe. There was a seminar and a number of workshops on the rising threat of the right and how to fight it. In my opinion, there was a tendency from the speakers to paint too dark a picture and ignore the fact that in many countries the crisis was also opening up policies for the left as much as for the right. Examples of the former includes Greece, the UK, France and Spain. The key was to have credible figures able and willing to put across radical left policies in a popular way.
One major topic that was often referred to but not formally discussed in the Summer University sessions was the issue of immigration, a key issue fuelling the growth of the right and causing splits on the left. The policy of open borders / unlimited immigration being argued for within some sections of the left is something the left needs to urgently discuss.
In the Summer University there was a lot of interest in the transformation taking place in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and in the role of Momentum. Indeed, there was an overwhelming desire from the left parties represented at the Summer University for close links to be established between Corbyn and the European Left Party.
On the negative side, there was little practical discussion on common activities we could do to inspire and unite the left parties across Europe. Of even greater importance, was the lack of a clear left programme for Europe in any of the main sessions. For example, the slogan of the event was “A Dialogue for Progress in Europe”. Such a vague and timid title could easily be used by liberal, centrist or even some conservative European gatherings. Much more careful consideration needs to be given to popular agitational and ideological themes / slogans that can point to ‘another Europe’, inspire the activists and appeal to the various national populations.
An interesting but worrying development that was circulating at the University was news of a possible split in the European Left movement led by Melenchon’s La France Insoumise party. Melenchon appears to be trying to push aside other left movements in France and establish a hegemonic position there. In so doing, he is obviously discontented with the existing leadership of the left movement in Europe as evidenced by his trenchant critique of Syriza’s retreats in the battle with the EU and the IMF and his decision to leave the European Left Party a few weeks ago. Now, he has apparently linked up with a number of other left parties in Europe, which may include Podemos and the Left Party in Sweden, in what seems to be a nascent attempt to form a new Europe-wide left formation.
Such a split can only do further damage to the left across Europe. For example, there is talk of Melenchon’s movement launching a separate programme and candidature for presidency in next year’s EU election. Imagine the confusion this would cause among the EU’s voters and the possible loss of left Members of the European Parliament if this was to take place. It would be far better if Melenchon and his supporters were to argue their case in the existing European left bodies and seek to win a majority there. In doing so, he could help to fill a political vacuum that currently exists on the European left.
Pat Byrne is a member of Labour International CLP, based in Turkey