The Financial Times isn’t the leftiest of newspapers, but it is hard to argue with their verdict on the European Parliament elections:
The centre-right held its ground or advanced, both where it is in power and where it is in opposition. The mainstream left was decimated. This election shows that the social democratic parties have lost the will to govern. At a time when “the end of capitalism” is raised as a serious prospect, the parties whose historical mission was to replace capitalism with socialism offer no governing philosophy. Their anti-crisis policies are barely distinguishable from those of their rivals. The leadership crisis in several European socialist parties suggests their outdated ideas are matched by oversized egos.
Greens triumphed where the traditional left failed. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who knows a thing or two about critiques of capitalism, appealed to voters willing to consider fundamental social change. As one of few groups to fight on pan-European issues, the Greens also proved that not all voters are deaf to Europe-wide politics. But the crisis has most benefited the strand of the European right that was never against regulating the market economy. By arguing that the crisis is a result of excessive “Anglo-Saxon” policies, centre-right parties have presented themselves as the most trustworthy stewards of a safer, European-style capitalism. Voters agreed.
My own take on the failures of European social democracy a few months ago was more or less identical. I’d love to be convinced that I was wrong though. Or, in the absence of a compelling counter-claim, at least get a better sense of why European social democratic parties have become empty shells. One first-approximation guess is that this had to do with the largely successful efforts by social democrat ‘reformers’ to replace the old anti-capitalist ideas and language with more market-friendly stuff, which succeeded just in time to leave these parties completely unprepared to deal with the demise of actually existing capitalism. A second is that current day social democrats are much less able than their 1930s-1950s predecessors to meld nationalism and market constraints. Other possible explanations?