Two major events happened on the left wing of European politics last week – the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the British Labor Party leader and the re-election of Alexis Tsipras in Greece. They are evidence of strong left radicalization in Europe.
In the past, nearly all registered leftwing parties were moving closer to the political center or were joining the political mainstream. No wonder the parties that claim to embrace leftwing politics supported liberal policies, as evidenced by Tony Blair’s short-lived Third Way concept, which tried to reconcile both the right and the left.
The situation has changed dramatically. The victory of Corbyn, the eternal dissenter within his own party and a marginal radical, points to the possible revival of a truly leftwing political agenda in the UK that was laid to rest by Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.
In Greece, the left Syriza party outperformed the former dominant force – the Panhellenic Socialist Movement or Pasok, despite divergent views on Tsipras’s previous term and accusations of betraying the left’s interests and of colluding with Brussels. Despite all of that, Tsipras’s leftist rhetoric won many more supporters than the election slogans of Pasok, which has long become part of the political mainstream.
The Tsipras “case” also shows the limits of left radicalization in Europe. Tsipras’s opponents from the radical factions of his party, who urged the party to opt for a “true revolutionary” policy, ran for parliament on a separate platform and suffered a crushing defeat. This means that the European voter is not ready for an extreme liberal agenda, considering the closed banks and limits on cash withdrawals in Greece this summer. On the other hand, Tsipras’s victory shows how quickly a left protest leader can join the political mainstream, with only rhetoric to remind voters of his formerly active radicalism.
This scenario, now that it has succeeded in the case of Tsipras, could be applied to Corbyn to restrict the British Labor Party’s movement from the mainstream center to the left periphery.