A few short years ago, the radical left was poised for a European take-over; today, the once-shining leftist leaders have barely made a mark on the government. Yascha Mounk considers why the resurgent movement never took off for The Atlantic.
The European Left has been traditionally controlled by moderate social democrats. Though the far left has always had a minor presence in European parliament, it had no real power until the Great Recession withered the public’s faith in the old system. “The first sign of the new era came in January 2015 when Syriza, a party forged from a potpourri of leftist splinter groups, won national elections at the height of Greece’s devastating currency crisis. The party’s young leader, Alexis Tsipras, became the first far-left politician in decades to head a western European government,” writes Yascha Mounk in his Atlantic article “The Rapid Fall of The Left.”
Tsipras’ win was one of many small radical leftist victories in Europe, including Jermy Corbyn in Britain and Jean-Luc Melenchon in France. Many predicted that a democratic wave would take over the continent, but, as Mounk writes, most observers failed to recognize that these victories constituted a “reordering of power within the left, rather than a triumph over the right.”
Sunday’s election in Greece—where Tsipras was ousted from office after less than four years in power—suggests that the left is in deep crisis. Mounk offers a potential explanation for the turnaround: its appeal was always more negative than positive. In Tsipras’ case, his opposition to the current system was what fuelled his platform and garnered him support. “So long as Tsipras remained in opposition, his incoherence mattered less than the apparent authenticity of his anger. But once he came to power, his inability to deliver alienated Greeks on all ends of the political spectrum.”
The economic crisis offered a rare opportunity for the far left to gain political ground with angry voters who were turning their backs on the establishment. Unfortunately, they were unable to nurture the momentum into full-fledged and long-lasting support. As the U.S. 2020 election draws near, Mounk urges American leftists to take note of the European Left’s fall from grace if they don’t wish to suffer the same fate.
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