Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Display:
I only read a small part of the comments so far, so sorry if I touch covered ground, but wanted to put down some thoughts. I won't deal much with your perception of an under-coverage of social themes - others did so, and Migeru mentioned past issues with broad discussion like the French 'riots' -, more the underlying issues. First, a more general argument.

I think one reason you could observe discussion focused on the middle-class is that many readers spent time on US blogs (or in the US itself) and are influenced by the discourse there - and the US left-of-centre party, the Democrats, (1)aren't Socialists, (2) focus on the middle class ever since FDR.

However, even in Europe, the direction of socialism for step-by-step reforms through the parliamentary route, e.g. Social Democrats, historically favoured policies building up a wide middle-class. Myself, I think the self-defeating nature of this project could have been seen on the onset: the have-some will have a tendency to defend what they have, and hope they will rise further, thus a significant part will end up supporting the have-mores against the have-nones. Worse, when the party leaders themselves rise up the social ladder, there will be a tendency to view issues and weigh their importance from their current (or hoped-for even higher) position. (And to those who'd protest: a tendency of course doesn't mean that everyone is incapable of social solidarity, only that that realising [apparent] class interests is the easy route.) Thus to a large extent I view the current doldrums of the European centre-left and the plague of Third Wayism as a logical consequence of core Social Democrat strategy from at least 60, but perhaps 120 years ago.

Yet, discussing the present-day middle-class is worthwile even from a Socialist perspective. I will state an idea others indicated in a stronger way: with the collapse of the Eastern Block, the wide middle-class has "done its duty" for the upper-class, maintaining it is no longer felt as necessary: thus the wealth capture from above, thus the stagnating or reduced middle-class incomes, thus the erosion of the middle class and the growth of the new underclass: the service class.

Now on to more specific points.

I disagree with you that today, market-liberalism in Europe is that far from the US. On one hand, the US is not entirely what Wall Street propagandists make it: say, lots of tax comparisons ignore that US citizens don't only pay federal, but state and local taxes too, or the fact that while Enron and the California Crisis make big news, a lot of utilities are held or controlled by local authorities. On the other hand, some marketisation ideas and practice go further here than in the US, I am thinking above all about electricity and transport. While some new EU members have gone way past the Anglo-Saxons in implementing flat tax. In labour, I note the situation in the construction and agrarian sectors - I'd say we are much worse than the US in the first (the US has some strong unions in that field), and similarly bad on the second.

I disagree with you (and your sources) on the assessment of recent social changes in Germany - as can be guessed from the title of a recent diary of mine: Trickle-Up Recovery - in Germany. Data shown therein indicate a growing underclass, a squeezed middle-class, and upward/downward mobility different from what Thomas Fricke says. I also note that some of the squeeze doesn't show up in income figures, i.e. the slashing of non-monetized benefits/provisions and the VAT raise.

Just today, there is an advance report out (won't link to the original source, but here is another) saying that the poor (as defined by income under the 60% of the median) grew to 13% in Germany, with another 13% held above with social benefits.

It is silly for parts of the German Left (in my impression more typically both wings of the centre-left) to point at Sweden uncritically as superior social model. Sweden as Social Democrat ole model is a has-been. Sweden had its own 'reforms' in the nineties. (And I note that is precisely the reason some Schröderite Social Democrats point to Sweden.)

I saw the ill-communicated exchange with Migeru, so I'll have to make clear this is not meant as an accusation or assumption of hidden agenda, but I do think that say your analysis of Greens is informed by the currently in-production ideological foundation for current CDU/CSU strategic positioning.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 06:58:07 AM EST
However, even in Europe, the direction of socialism for step-by-step reforms through the parliamentary route, e.g. Social Democrats, historically favoured policies building up a wide middle-class. Myself, I think the self-defeating nature of this project could have been seen on the onset: the have-some will have a tendency to defend what they have, and hope they will rise further, thus a significant part will end up supporting the have-mores against the have-nones. Worse, when the party leaders themselves rise up the social ladder, there will be a tendency to view issues and weigh their importance from their current (or hoped-for even higher) position. (And to those who'd protest: a tendency of course doesn't mean that everyone is incapable of social solidarity, only that that realising [apparent] class interests is the easy route.) Thus to a large extent I view the current doldrums of the European centre-left and the plague of Third Wayism as a logical consequence of core Social Democrat strategy from at least 60, but perhaps 120 years ago.

Yet, discussing the present-day middle-class is worthwile even from a Socialist perspective. I will state an idea others indicated in a stronger way: with the collapse of the Eastern Block, the wide middle-class has "done its duty" for the upper-class, maintaining it is no longer felt as necessary: thus the wealth capture from above, thus the stagnating or reduced middle-class incomes, thus the erosion of the middle class and the growth of the new underclass: the service class.

This is the elephant in the living room of left politics, isn't it? The European Social Democrat and Labour parties are morphing into social-liberal parties partly through generational replacement of the successful working-class leaders of 30 years ago with their middle-class scions.

I think it is appropriate for middle-class "liberal professionals" to be "left" but they probably shouldn't lead the left.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 07:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
morphing into social-liberal parties partly through generational replacement of the successful working-class leaders of 30 years ago with their middle-class scions.

Yes, that's one sub-trend. But two main players represent other sub-trends: Schröder is a self-made-man who rose from the lower classes himself, while Wolfgang Clement whom we scorned so much came from a non-political middle-class background (he joined the SPD, just looked it up, at 30). I.e., one lost sight of his effect and is proud of his personal upward mobility achievement, the other was a socially conscious privileged person who 'grew out of it'.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 08:59:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking at leaders of the swedish Social Democrats the picture is more complicated then a generational shift in leadership:

Hjalmar Branting
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 1907-1925
Prime minister: 1920, 1921-23, 1924-25
Class background: "High Bourgeoisie" ~ lower upper (father was a principal, mother was noble)
Notes: Same primary school as the king, spent his inheritance (a small fortune).

Per Albin Hansson
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 1925-1946
Prime minister: 1932-1936, 1936-1946
Class background: Working class (father was a brick layer, mother was a domestic aid)
Notes: Fabled for keeping his working class morals, according to one tale his wife returned govermental pencils after he died (he died while serving as prime minister).

Tage Erlander
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 1946-1969
Prime minister: 1946-1969
Class background: Middle (father was a teacher, mother probably homemaker)

Olof Palme
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 1969-1986
Prime minister: 1969-1976, 1982-1986
Class background: Upper (father was president of insurance company, mother noble)
Notes: Hated among much of the swedish upper class as a class traitor. Only swedish prime minister to have been murdered.

Ingvar Carlsson
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 1986-1996
Prime minister: 1986-1991, 1994-1996
Class background: Working class (single mother, textile worker)

Göran Persson
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 1996-2007
Prime minister: 1996-2006
Class background: Working class (father, construction worker)
Notes: Has made a much noted class journey and built his own mansion. Now well-paid consultant for private enterprise.

Mona Sahlin
Leader for the Soc.Dems: 2007-
Prime minister: Not yet
Class background: Middle class

Of course, this is looking only at the person at the top, a thorough study would include at least the executive council of the soc. dem. party, but this comment has taken enough time as it is.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 03:15:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this might be worth a diary of its own as it is - quite fascinating.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:49:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I disagree with you that today, market-liberalism in Europe is that far from the US.
But the net income distribution is. Otherwise you are right, that our markets are as liberalised. I put the income distribution thing up, because in the US it seems to be more justified to assume that middle class and poor people interests are well aligned.

I disagree with you (and your sources) on the assessment of recent social changes in Germany
One difference between what you describe and what Fricke describes is, that he speaks of the middle class as people with a certain qualification (as Jake put it "tenured worker"). You speak of people with a certain income.

grew to 13% in Germany, with another 13% held above with social benefits.
The first is sad. The other, well isn't that exactly the purpose of social benefits? That is more a sign of a working system than a non-working system.

With the greens, I really think there is more to it. Of course they prefer the SPD, but they will usually prefer the CDU above the left (maybe except when the CDU incumbrant is named "Koch").
The political opinion center in Germany has definitively changed. Schröder's politics with regard to taxes (reducing the maximum income tax by 12%) and welfare is undoubtfully rightwing policy. And the greens were part of that, too.
It is more the social policy, where the greens always were against the CDU and there the CDU has moved significantly to the left, while some on the left has as well moderated their tone on some issues (Haven't heard an attack on the Ehegattensplitting in quite some time now).

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 08:46:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the net income distribution is.

Relative to what? One can indeed observe that the Gini coefficient figures for European countries are below that of the US, and that their spread is relatively minor. But, on one hand, I addressed the Sweden example to imply that the rot in Europe is broad, thus it could be lower. On the other hand, the Gini coefficient is not static, it is increasing more or less across the board: we are moving towards US conditions, and already reached US conditions of a couple of years ago. For illustration, here is a diagram I left out from my Trickle-up Recovery diary for brevity:

he speaks of the middle class as people with a certain qualification (as Jake put it "tenured worker"). You speak of people with a certain income.

Correct. But Fricke mixes the two, when social mobility is discussed.

The other, well isn't that exactly the purpose of social benefits?

That was the minister's point indeed. The real issue is of course how that helps the warring arguments about how to change the system.

Of course they prefer the SPD, but they will usually prefer the CDU above the left

That's only the Realos maybe not even all of them, I think. As nanne said, there are only a few local Red-Green coalitions, those in cities (it's not just Koch who is incompatible) - while you could say much more about SPD-CDU coalitions under the same terms.

(Haven't heard an attack on the Ehegattensplitting in quite some time now).

Three weeks ago, the Greens met the bishops:

BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN Bundespartei - Gespräch von BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN mit der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz

Beim Thema Familienpolitik unterstrichen die Bischöfe den engen Zusammenhang von Ehe und Familie. Die auf Ehe gegründete Familie sei die beste Grundlage für ein gelingendes Leben in Partnerschaft und Solidarität über Generationen hinaus. Daher sei unbedingt am besonderen Schutz der Verfassung für Ehe und Familie festzuhalten. In diesem Punkt vertraten die Grünen die abweichende Auffassung, dass es für Familie auf Kinder und nicht auf Ehe ankomme. Ebenfalls traten die Grünen dafür ein, das Ehegattensplitting abzuschmelzen. Ausführlich wurde auch die von den Grünen geforderte Aufnahme von Kinderrechten in die Verfassung diskutiert.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 09:20:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, it seems to me that at least SPON then has overplayed the possibility of black-green and Jamaika coalitions.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 02:51:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo:

However, even in Europe, the direction of socialism for step-by-step reforms through the parliamentary route, e.g. Social Democrats, historically favoured policies building up a wide middle-class. Myself, I think the self-defeating nature of this project could have been seen on the onset: the have-some will have a tendency to defend what they have, and hope they will rise further, thus a significant part will end up supporting the have-mores against the have-nones. Worse, when the party leaders themselves rise up the social ladder, there will be a tendency to view issues and weigh their importance from their current (or hoped-for even higher) position. (And to those who'd protest: a tendency of course doesn't mean that everyone is incapable of social solidarity, only that that realising [apparent] class interests is the easy route.) Thus to a large extent I view the current doldrums of the European centre-left and the plague of Third Wayism as a logical consequence of core Social Democrat strategy from at least 60, but perhaps 120 years ago.


I would say apparent is the operative word there.

The purpose of social-democratic politics has to be to cast both its policial narrative and structure its proposed solutions in a way that fuses the interests of the middle income class with those of the poor. It's the only way in which it can actually hope to both command majorities and implement policies that help the poor.

Interests are not narrowly fixed. They are perceived.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 10:48:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
However, even in Europe, the direction of socialism for step-by-step reforms through the parliamentary route, e.g. Social Democrats, historically favoured policies building up a wide middle-class. Myself, I think the self-defeating nature of this project could have been seen on the onset

It was. But rather a lot of the people who saw it were presenting alternatives that involved lining people up against a wall and shooting them. Those alternatives were almost uniformly discarded for a variety of usually excellent reasons.

The late 19th century was not a nice period in European history. (Well, the 19th century wasn't a nice period in history overall, but the late part of it saw the formative years of the labour movement.)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 03:48:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was. But rather a lot of the people who saw it were presenting alternatives that involved lining people up against a wall and shooting them. Those alternatives were almost uniformly discarded for a variety of usually excellent reasons.

But then again there was also various movements that (as opposed to the social democrats or the communists) did not seek control over government but rather transfering the power into other structures. Syndicalists, anarchists and various forms other forms comes to mind. However, they did have a tendency to be lined up and shoot. Or hanged.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 06:27:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if I recall my history correctly, the Syndicalists were not so much hanged in Denmark as subsumed by the Social Democrats (or maybe it was the other way around).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 06:35:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your memory appear to be correct:

Syndikalisme - Wikipedia, den frie encyklopædi

Syndikalismen i Danmark er i dag ikke synligt eksisterende som selvstændig bevægelse i arbejderbevægelsen, der domineres af den socialdemokratiske ideologi. Dette skyldes bl.a., at de danske syndikalister ikke ønsker at splitte den traditionsrige danske fagbevægelse.

Men også i starten af det 20. århundrede som i andre europæiske lande oplevede den syndikalistiske bevægelse en stor fremgang i Danmark. Efter at Hovedaftalen (Septemberforliget) var blevet indgået mellem DsF (nu LO) og arbejdsgiverne i Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening (DA) i september 1899 efter lang tids strejke og lock-out, var utilfredsheden stor i dele af den danske fagbevægelse. Man mente, at DsF's forhandlere havde accepteret alt for mange af DA's krav. Nogle arbejdere var særligt utilfredse med fredspligten, konfliktløsningssystemet og arbejdsgivernes ledelsesret, der ville svække arbejdernes faglige kamp.

Derfor oprettedes i ca. 1910 Fag-Oppositionens Sammenslutning, hvis mest markante figur var Christian Christensen. Tilslutningen til Fag-Oppositionens Sammenslutning var relativt stor i det efterfølgende årti. Dette skyldtes bl.a. stor arbejdsløshed i visse fag og udbruddet af 1. Verdenskrig. Syndikalisterne engagerede sig ikke kun i den direkte faglige kamp, hvor deres indflydelse ikke var så stor, men også i den sociale og kulturelle kamp. Bl.a. kæmpede de mod kvindeundertrykkelse, for bedre boligforhold og mod militarismen, der gik som en bølge over Europa under 1. verdenskrig. Det var også syndikalisterne, der var den største faktor i mobiliseringen til den direkte aktion og demonstrationen "Stormen på Børsen" i 1918.

Fag-Oppositionens Sammenslutning gik dog i opløsning omkring 1921, da mange søgte over i det nyoprettede Danmarks Kommunistiske Parti i forbindelse med den russiske oktoberrevolution.

Presset på Fag-Oppositionens Sammenslutning havde i øvrigt også internt i fagbevægelsen altid været stort. Således blev det vedtaget af Socialdemokratiet på deres kongres i 1913, og senere støttet af DsF, at der skulle gøres alt for at bekæmpe den syndikalistiske bevægelses fremgang.

I was more thinking about the fates of alternative socialist movements in the 19th and first half of the 20th century in the countries with more violent conflicts.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 06:56:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There wasn't a lot of lining people against walls and shooting them in Scandinavia, but if you look at the German, Russian and Spanish Revolutions (the latter referring to the situation in the Republican-controlled rural hinterland during the Spanish Civil War) there was a lot of shooting of (and by) anarchists.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 07:12:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
However, even in Europe, the direction of socialism for step-by-step reforms through the parliamentary route, e.g. Social Democrats, historically favoured policies building up a wide middle-class. Myself, I think the self-defeating nature of this project could have been seen on the onset: the have-some will have a tendency to defend what they have, and hope they will rise further, thus a significant part will end up supporting the have-mores against the have-nones. [...]Thus to a large extent I view the current doldrums of the European centre-left and the plague of Third Wayism as a logical consequence of core Social Democrat strategy from at least 60, but perhaps 120 years ago.

First, I think you're wrong on the dynamics of building up a wide middle class. It is precisely at the time that the have-somes felt most secure and upwardly mobile that they were most willing to support anti-poverty programs (i.e. the sixties through the mid seventies). The backlash came once they started feeling their prosperity threatened.  You also can't really expect for a large majority of society to vote to lower their own living standards substantially in favour of a minority.

In times of extreme economic crisis, i.e. the Great Depression, the declasse have-somes in Europe reacted by turning to the extremes - the anti-democratic and radical parties of the left, but especially the right. In America they turned towards the moderate left in the form of FDR. Neither is a particularly hopeful example for the radical left. On the other hand the example of the postwar boom does suggest that the incremental approach which starts off by reassuring and helping the broad middle can pay large dividends for the poor as well.

Which brings me to my final point - the historical attitude of the radical left towards fundamental democratic values has tended to range from ambivalent to very hostile which in turn hurts their popular appeal.  That stems  in large part from a conscious or unconscious understanding that the radical alternative is very difficult to achieve without the use of the gun and the torture chamber on behalf of a self appointed and unaccountable elite against the population.

by MarekNYC on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 04:27:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but then again, we're not trying to defend the hard left, are we? Just the left...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 05:51:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, DoDo seemed to be objecting to an incremental approach which focuses primarily on the broad middle class with the very poor mainly being helped incidentally. What I was saying that the chances of achieving and implementing radical measures that discount the interests of the middle is almost certainly impossible through democratic means, but that on the other hand the incremental approach does eventually lead to programs specifically targeting the poor. Or to put it in shorter terms - the incremental approach is more positive than he gives it credit for, while the radical approaches are either futile or very ugly.

Of course I don't actually want the kind of end stage that DoDo does, so that may be unconsciously biasing my analysis. On the other hand I don't think I'm all that alone in my views among left wing voters, and given the difficulties even the moderate left has in winning majorities, it seems to me that insisting on 'radical left wing policies, now!', and thus rejecting the votes of us moderates will not be a successful electoral strategy.

by MarekNYC on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 09:54:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Display:

Occasional Series