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The Retreat of Europe’s Left

Posted May. 14, 2010 12:04,   


The Jacobins, who demanded drastic social revolution in the French Revolution, sat on the left side of parliament. The moderate Girondists wrote on the right side. This is where the political terms “right” and “left” came from. One branch of the left turned into communism, which sought violent revolution and dictatorship, and the other branch developed into social democracy that pursued socialism through non-violent parliamentarianism. Representatives from 30 moderate socialist parties in Europe broke away from Marxism-Leninism in adopting the historic Frankfurt Declaration in Frankfurt am Main in 1951.

The U.K.’s Labor Party, Germany’s Social Democratic Party, and France’s Socialist Party are central left entities that carry on the tradition of social democracy. In Europe, the influence of the extreme left that espouses violent revolution and a planned economy has waned. Few major leftist parties on the continent have embraced or remained silent on North Korea’s dictatorship and human rights violations. The right values freedom, economic growth and the free market, while the left stresses equality, fair wealth distribution and a strong government role. Though the policy gap has decreased, the left could expand government and go toward populism if it takes over.

Europe’s central left parties are in trouble, however. The Labor Party lost the British general elections and handed over power to the Conservative Party for the first time in 13 years. The Hungarian Socialist Party lost power after eight years in elections held last month. Of southern European countries facing a fiscal crisis, Greece, Spain and Portugal are the only ones with leftist governments among 27 European Union countries. The critical reason for the retreat of leftism in Europe is failure in economic policy.

Leftist values, including social integration and care for the marginalized in society, will remain appealing to a certain degree. The dilemma, however, is that a country stressing the government’s role over the market’s is likely to suffer lower economic vitality and a higher financial deficit. Unlike the European center leftists, certain Korean leftists have distorted facts with malicious intent, used violence, and shown no shame in such behavior while speaking of social justice and “wide awake awareness.” They even claim to be "progressive." If opinion leaders recognize such leftists as progressive without giving much thought, this will only distort the concepts and show the cowardice of opportunistic intellectuals.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)