Reprinted from Dispatches From The Edge
Over the past year, left and center-left parties have taken control of two European countries and hold the balance of power in a third. Elections in Greece, Portugal and Spain saw rightwing parties take a beating and tens of millions of voters reject the economic austerity policies of the European Union (EU).
But what can these left parties accomplish? Can they really roll back regressive taxes and restore funding for education, health and social services? Can they bypass austerity programs to jump-start economies weighted down by staggering jobless numbers? Or are they trapped in a game with loaded dice and marked cards?
And, for that matter, who is the left? Socialist and social democratic parties in France and Germany have not lifted a finger to support left led anti-austerity campaigns in Greece, Spain, Ireland, or Portugal, and many of them helped institute -- or went along with -- neoliberal policies they now say they oppose. Established socialist parties all over Europe tend to campaign from the left, but govern from the center.
Last year's electoral earthquakes were triggered not by the traditional socialist parties -- those parties did poorly in Greece, Spain and Portugal -- but by activist left parties, like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and the Left Bloc in Portugal.
With the exception of Ireland's Sinn Fein, all of these parties were either birthed by, or became prominent during, the financial meltdown of 2008 that plunged Europe into economic crisis. Podemos came directly out of the massive plaza demonstrations by the "Indignados" [the "Indignant Ones"] in Spain's major cities in 2011.
Syriza and the Left Bloc predated the 2011 uprising, but they were politically marginal until the EU instituted a draconian austerity program that generated massive unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and economic inequality.
Resistance to the austerity policies of the "Troika" -- the European Commission, the European Central bank, and the International Monetary Fund -- vaulted these left parties from the periphery to the center. Syriza became the largest party in Greece and assumed power in 2015. Podemos was the only left party that gained votes in the recent Spanish election, and it holds the balance of power in the formation of a new government. And the Left Bloc, along with the Communist/Green Alliance, has formed a coalition government with Portugal's Socialist Workers Party.
But with success has come headaches.
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