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Failure and frustration on today’s Left

Failure and frustration on today’s Left
FABIO RAFAEL FIALLO | Ginebra | 25 Mayo 2016 – 2:17 pm.

In each of its three facets —reformist, as in France; populist, as in
Greece, Spain and Venezuela; and dictatorial, as in Havana— the Left is
seeing its lustre and credibility dwindle before the onslaughts of
reality. In most cases, when it has been able to govern, whether by
force or by the verdict of the polls, the Left has ended up breaking its
promises, abandoning its banners, betraying its ideals, and
disappointing those who initially gave it their support and commitment.

Let us begin with the reformist or Social Democrat variant, which is
facing an uphill battle in France, under the leadership of President
François Hollande.

Elected in 2012 after running as the enemy of the financial capital,
Hollande realized, halfway through his term, that in order to combat
economic stagnation he had to change course and introduce the kinds of
free market reform (incentives for business and more flexible labor
legislation order to encourage hiring and private investment) that he
and his party had previously branded as reactionary.

This shift unleashed such fierce opposition on the Left that the French
president was forced to water down his reform of the country’s labor
laws to such an extent that he reduced it into an inconsequential
initiative. Even so, the concessions failed to satisfy organisations on
the Left or the radical wing of his own party.

Free market adjustments were introduced in Germany in 2000 by former
Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, with his “Agenda 2010”.
Unlike what happened in France, Schroeder did not back down. His reform
measures produced the expected results and helped to restore the
country’s economic vitality and international competitiveness.

However, as the reform initiatives were contrary to the expectations of
the electoral base of his party, the SPD, they eroded the electoral
clout of Social Democracy in Germany, with support falling from 40.9% in
1998 down to 19.5% today.

The deterioration of Social Democracy’s popularity has paved the way for
the expansion of populist movements on the Left in Europe, particularly
in Greece (Syriza) and in Spain (Podemos). But there is also
disappointment in the former, as evidenced by the case of Syriza leader
Alexis Tsipras.

Having won the elections with a promise not to implement the reform
measures (reduced public spending, labor reform, and privatization)
demanded by Greece’s institutional creditors (the European Commission,
the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) in
exchange for keeping its financial aid, and after organising a
referendum on the reform in which Greeks voted overwhelmingly against
it, Tsipras came to understand that the cost of violating the agreements
reached with creditors would be economically devastating and politically
explosive. So he backpedaled, accepting the demands of the creditors and
adopting a package of measures even more severe than those rejected in
the prior referendum.

But when it comes to disappointment on the Left today, Latin America
takes the cake, with the factions that initially backed Hugo Chávez
(Venezuela), Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (Brazil) and the Kirchners
(Argentina).

That Left, which had vowed to put an end to corruption and respect human
rights, is now embroiled in political/financial scandals and tramplings
of the opposition and the independent press, cases of a magnitude
rivalling anything the Left had denounced before rising to power.

Latin American countries governed by the the populist Left exhibit,
moreover, feeble results in terms of their economic performance. They
grew thanks to booms in commodities, but their decline revealed the
limits and shortcomings entailed by stifling private initiative and
market forces.

The poor economic performance of the Latin American populist Left stands
in contrast to that achieved by countries in the region that have
promoted free enterprise and the opening up of their economies to
international competition. Such is the case, in particular, in Colombia,
Chile and Peru.

The best illustration of how disastrous the populist Left model has been
is Venezuela, a country that, despite having benefited from the highest
oil prices in history, now has a poverty rate higher than when Hugo
Chávez rose to power. No less serious is its inflation, the highest in
the world, moving towards an annual rate of 700%. As the lines for
essential items grow longer and longer, the looting of shops and trucks
transporting goods is spreading.

The collapse of the Left’s rhetoric is also evident in the last bastion
of Soviet socialism: Castro’s Cuba.

The fiasco of Castroism is nothing new. Unable to get the machinery of
the economy to function properly, the Cuban regime has not been able to
stand without aid from some external benefactor: first, the Soviet
Union, followed by Venezuela under Chaves.

Now, in the face of the inevitable cessation of Venezuelan aid, Castro’s
geriatric regime, clawing for for its survival, has agreed to allow the
self-employed some freedoms, and to accept diplomatic and commercial
rapprochement with the “Empire,” despite not having obtained, as it had
previously demanded, a previous lifting of the embargo.

In reality, the Left has suffered a long list of defeats. It suffices to
recall the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the ravages of the “Cultural
Revolution” under Mao Tse-tung, and the victims of the Third World
tyrannies of Mugabe, Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. As for Social
Democracy, the setbacks suffered by Labour in the UK, Pasok in Greece,
and the PSOE in Spain, evidence the difficulties the Left experiences
when struggling to reconcile its promises with economic imperatives.

Of course, these three types of Left are not the same. In terms of
respect for civil liberties and commitment to democracy, Social
Democracy, to its credit, is diametrically opposed to the dictatorial
methods of Castroism.

Moreover, there have been many social advances —work hour reductions,
paid holidays and social security benefits— brought about by the
reformist Left (progress sometimes torpedoed—as shown by the French
essayist and historian Jean-François Revel in his book La Grande Parade—
by the Communists, who viewed these developments as a way of reconciling
the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, thereby perpetuating capitalism).

It should be added that the Right cannot boast of having achieved
satisfactory results at all times and in every place. There have been
numerous ruthless dictatorships on that side that have spawned
desolation, mourning and disappointment. And right-wing governments have
suffered economic failures and been racked by corruption cases.

But this does not mean that the Left, which has portrayed itself as the
solution to corruption, economic backwardness and social inequality,
has done better. And, in those cases where it has achieved satisfactory
economic results, it has done so largely by leaving intact the
neoliberal macroeconomic orthodoxy they found when they assumed power
(Michelle Bachelet, in Chile; or Lula’s first term in Brazil), or by
having introduced this neoliberal orthodoxy, as did the Minister of
Economy under Evo Morales, Luis Alberto Arce, who in 2014 garnered
praise from The Wall Street Journal.

It is an inescapable imperative that the Left exhibit a degree of
intellectual humility, stop believing that it holds the keys to
society’s future, and seriously question its quasi-religious faith in
the superiority of the State over free enterprise, market forces, and
free expression.

Source: Failure and frustration on today’s Left | Diario de Cuba –
www.diariodecuba.com/internacional/1464178678_22617.html

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