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Perry Anderson on "why the system will still win"


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In the March issue of Le Monde diplomatique, Perry Anderson assess the threat posed to the neoliberal status quo by so-called “anti-systemic” movements on both the right and the left, such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and Syriza in Greece. Anderson concludes that despite widespread popular discontent and some noteworthy exceptions, voters have tended keep established elites in power, as the recent Dutch elections illustrated. He suggests that they’re more afraid of the unknown than they are of the hated status quo. Read an excerpt from the piece below, or the full text here.

In reality, there is a wide gap between the degree of popular disillusion with today’s neoliberal EU — by last summer, majorities in France and Spain expressed their aversion to it, and even in Germany, barely half of those polled had a positive opinion of it — and the extent of support for forces declaring against it. Indignation or disgust at what the EU has become is common, but for some time the fundamental determinant of European voting patterns has been, and remains, fear. The socio-economic status quo is widely detested. But it is regularly ratified at the polls with the re-election of parties responsible for it, because of fears that to upset the status, alarming markets, would bring worse misery. The single currency has not accelerated growth in Europe, and has inflicted acute hardship in the countries of the south worst affected. But the prospect of an exit terrifies even those who know by now how much they have suffered from it. Fear trumps anger. Hence the acquiescence of the Greek electorate in Syriza’s capitulation to Brussels, the setbacks of Podemos in Spain, the shuffling of feet by the Parti de Gauche in France. The underlying sense is everywhere the same. The system is bad. To affront it is to risk retribution …

The British referendum and the US election were anti-systemic convulsions of the right, though flanked by anti-systemic upsurges of the left (the Bernie Sanders movement in the US and the Corbyn phenomenon in the UK), smaller in scale, if still less expected. What the consequences of Trump or Brexit will be remain indeterminate, though no doubt more limited than current predictions. The established order is far from beaten in either country, and, as Greece has shown, is capable of absorbing and neutralising revolts from whatever direction with impressive speed. Among the antibodies it has already generated are yuppie simulacra of populist breakthroughs (Albert Rivera in Spain, Emmanuel Macron in France), inveighing against the deadlocks and corruptions of the present, and promising a cleaner and more dynamic politics of the future, beyond the decaying parties.

For anti-systemic movements of the left in Europe, the lesson of recent years is clear. If they are not to go on being outpaced by movements of the right, they cannot afford to be less radical in attacking the system, and must be more coherent in their opposition to it. That means facing the probability the EU is now so path-dependent as a neoliberal construction that reform of it is no longer seriously conceivable. It would have to be undone before anything better could be built, either by breaking out of the current EU, or by reconstructing Europe on another foundation, committing Maastricht to the flames. Unless there is a further, deeper economic crisis, there is little likelihood of either.

Image via Le Monde diplomatique.