Three years ago_ the liberal by absences


             At The Seams
                      In its moment of triumph, Charlie Leadbeater
                   suggests a less than optimistic future for European
                                    liberal democracy

          hree years ago, the liberal      claim to a monopoly.                        democracies goes deeper than that.
          democracies of western Eur-       That euphoria has evaporated as the         The lifting of the iron curtain has cast
          ope stood quivering with anti-   world has become dark, chaotic and          new light on the politics of both sides.
          cipation as they looked east     forbidding. That surge of power and         European politics is moving onto new
to watch communism crumble. It was a       triumph has passed as it has become         and uncharted ground beyond the
vindication of the democratic and eco-     clearer that the liberal democracies        neatly dualist world of liberal demo-
nomic superiority of west European         face challenges and obligations they        cracy and socialism, east and west, plan
liberal democracy. In the euphoric af-     were ill-prepared to meet. It is not just   and market, capitalism and commun-
termath, it seemed that liberal demo-      that there is a huge economic task          ism. The politics of western Europe was
cracy would become the dominant pol-       ahead, to simultaneously restructure        not just held in place by the discipline of
itical model throughout Europe, spread-    and stabilise bankrupt and inefficient      the cold war. Nor was it simply due to
ing a culture of civilised tolerance,      economies. Nor is it simply a question of   the ruthless way communism dealt with
based upon the market economy, pri-        finding a new set of European foreign       nationalist aspirations.
vate property and multi-party demo-        policy and defence institutions in the        Underlying the clash between liberal
cracy. Having vanquished socialism,        wake of the end of the cold war. The        democracy in the west and communism
liberal democracy could, it seemed, lay    challenge to the victorious liberal         in the east, between parties of labour

                                                             48        MARXISM TODAY DECEMBER 1991
and parties of capital, have been the two     widespread ideological fatigue of
overarching ideologies of liberalism          socialist and social democratic parties.
and socialism. The relationship of these      A see-saw which one person gets up
two ideologies has been the foundation        from no longer functions as a see-saw
for much of the structure of European         for the person left sitting upon it.
politics. Jointly, they created a well-         A less obvious factor is the way that
defined political world.                      the position of the victors is also chang-

            iberalism and socialism have      ing. In their moment of triumph, the
            been great competitors. Libe-     western European liberal democracies
            ralism believes in the sanctity   face a relentless and mounting chal-
            of individual rational choice,    lenge from the very different models of
the centrality of markets, strict limits      economic modernisation being prod-
to the role of the state, and private         uced by the Far East. In addition, events
property. Equal political rights com-         in eastern Europe are turning into a
bine with the freedom to take part in         very mixed blessing. It is not at all clear
market exchanges to create a society          that eastern Europe will endorse the
which works to everyone's advantage           liberal democratic model by following
without anyone planning it. Socialism         its lead. Moreover developments in the
believes in the importance of collective       east are forcing changes upon the for-
identities and action, economic alterna-       merly stable character of politics in the
tives to the market such as planning, an      west. The new political terrain will not        'Liberalism
expansive role for the state and               be as fertile for liberal democracy as was          and
publicly-owned property. Socialists            first thought, for three main reasons.
have always doubted whether equal pol-           First, liberal democracy has suc-             socialism
itical rights can amount to very much          ceeded in Europe because it offered the         have been
unless they are backed by economic             best political framework to unleash eco-      like running
equality. Society can only work to             nomic growth, through entrepreneur-             partners,
everyone's advantage when it is con-           ship, individualism, the incentive of the
sciously planned.                              profit motive. This claim to be the politi-        each
  For decades liberalism and socialism         cal bearer of innovation and economic          alternately
have slugged it out. But through this          dynamism was central to its superiority           setting
competition they also collaborated in          over communism.                                  the pace
shaping our political world. They come           It is beyond doubt that the western
from common roots. They were both              European liberal democracies have
                                                                                                 for the
spawned by the economic dynamism               been more economically successful                other to
and the exploitation of 19th-century in-       than the communist states. What is in             follow'
dustrialisation. Since then they have          doubt is whether European liberal
been like running partners, each alter-        democracy is more efficient than other,
nately setting the pace for the other.         more recently-developed models of the
  Socialism constantly pulled liberalism       market economy. It is no longer obvious
to extend its interest in equal rights         that it is either necessary or advanta-
from the political into the economic           geous for a society seeking economic
domain. Liberalism was constantly cri-         growth and industralisation to follow a
tical of the coercive power of the social-     west European liberal democratic
ist state, the frailty of socialism's demo-    model. Just because liberal democracy
cratic foundations. Modern-day liberal         was the political system which accom-
democracy is so much the product of            panied the economic surge of industrial-
liberalism's long contest with social-         isation in 19th-century Europe does not
ism that it must be severely disrupted         mean it is necessarily the best political
by the mounting fatigue of its normal          midwife for growth in the 21st century.

pace-maker.                                            t is becoming increasingly clear
  Liberalism and socialism together                    that the merits of the market can
staked out the political terrain. They                 be combined with a variety of
jointly defined the agenda and priori-                 cultures and political systems.
ties of politics as being about markets        The really impressive models of econo-
versus planning, public ownership and          mic growth over the past two decades,
private property, the limits of the state      in which eastern European states are
and the role of parliamentary demo-            becoming increasingly interested, come
cracy. More than that, liberalism and          not from western Europe but the Far
socialism share important beliefs about        East, Taiwan and Singapore, Japan and
politics. They both believe politics is         Korea. The economic growth of Japan
inspired by universal ideals, that its          and Korea has been produced by the
main aim is to create a framework to            way they have embraced the market,
promote economic growth, and that               competed in international markets and
 societies progress through history be-         exploited western technology, but re-
cause they are guided by the unfolding          jected key elements of western liberal
thread of human reason. Liberalism and          culture, particularly its individualism.
 socialism have competed ferociously,           In both societies, the state plays a more
but they have also tacitly colluded to          active role in promoting economic
 create an ideological duopoly.                 modernisation than in western Europe.
                                                Although both Korea and Japan are par-
The Europe created by this ideological          liamentary democracies, they function
duopoly is losing its neatness and order.       very differently from western Europe.
The most obvious reason is the crumb-             In Japan, for instance, the Liberal
ling of the left-hand side of the duopoly:      Democratic Party has a virtual mono-
the collapse of communism, the weak-            poly on power, which lends great stabil-
ening of organised labour and the               ity to overall policy direction, while

                                                                              49        MARXISM TODAY DECEMBER 1991
removing most political decisions from                         shedding their old skins, the old-             posedly universal ideals of liberty and
public scrutiny. Liberal democracy is                          fashioned customs, cultures and politi-        democracy. The politics of belonging
meant to make it transparent where                             cal systems which held back free               rests upon being closed, narrow, parti-
power lies; in Japan it is often very                          thought and individual initiative.             cular and parochial.
obscure. Japan combines a modern                                  Events in eastern Europe are clear
electronic consumer culture with ele-                          evidence that even if we do progress           The likely outcome of these three chal-
ments of folklore, religion, a central                         through history, we do not leave our           lenges in eastern Europe is the creation
role for the family and a respect for                          past behind; we carry it with us. The          of hybrid societies. The societies of east-
traditional hierarchies. The computer                          upsurge of nationalism and racism in           ern Europe will use the opening created
and the shrine, dynamism and tradition,                        eastern Europe shows just how hard it is       by liberal democracy to produce differ-
go very well together.                                         to liquidate the past, even after all the      ent models of development. Some of the
   In their moment of triumph in Europe,            'The       coercive might of Stalinism has been           ingredients are clear. They will involve
the western liberal democracies face an         principles     bent to the task. History is not a linear      the transition to some forms of market
increasingly troubling global challenge        of tolerance    process in which old beliefs are com-          economy and multi-party democracy,
to their claim to represent the best                           pletely discarded or disavowed. It is a        and a measure of private property. But
model for growth. This mounting threat             of the      much more halting, uncertain process           these could be combined with other ele-
from the Far East is already a major           civic culture   of modification and improvement, re-           ments which do not conform to the west
factor behind plans for a European eco-        look pretty     form and recidivism.                           European liberal democratic model:
nomic and monetary union. The chal-              anaemic          The societies of the east are both          highly centralised and probably autho-
lenge from the Far East is almost cer-                         dredging up the past and looking into          ritarian presidential power; a continu-
tain to force further political and cul-        beside the     the future. The political cultures which       ing strong economic role for the state; a
tural changes upon Europe.                      blood and       emerge there are unlikely to be a simple      resurgence of long-buried, pre-modern
              one of this means it will be        guts of       endorsement of what already exists in         sources of culture and identity; political
              easy or automatic for ea-              the       the west. For these societies, progress        cultures influenced as much by the crude
              stern Europe to follow a Far                      means being able to return to the past as     power of the politics of belonging as the
                                                politics of     they step into the future.                    tolerance of a civic culture; and a heady
              Eastern model. But the sig-
 nificance of these models in the context       belonging'        The third challenge is over the role        cocktail of racism, nationalism and reli-
 of developments in eastern Europe is                           ideas play in guiding politics. Liberal       gious fervour.
 that they show that the market economy                         democracy upholds the ideals of equal            The development of these hybrid
 does not tightly prescribe the kind of                         rights, liberty and democracy. It now         societies in the east cannot help but
 political institutions and cultures which                      faces a growing challenge, mainly in          have far-reaching consequences in the
 can go with it. The economy sets many                          eastern Europe but increasingly in the        west. Multi-party liberal democracy
 of our problems, but it does not prescribe                     west, from a politics inspired by blood       will continue to provide the dominant
 solutions. In particular, collectivism,                        and sweat, race and nation, loyalty to         framework for politics in western Eu-
 authoritarianism and a respect for trad-                       insiders and loathing of outsiders.           rope. Socialist and social democratic
 itional hierarchies can mix quite effec-                         Liberal democracy thrives when it is         parties could still gain power locally
 tively with markets and modern tech-                           combined with a civic culture. This           and nationally. Many of the offspring of
 nology. It is quite possible to imagine                        combination is meant to create a world        the old duopoly will still be around. But
 east European governments which are                            of tolerance and rational debate, where        the controlling grip they exerted upon
 committed to market-led reforms, but                           the right to hold a differing view is         politics is weakening. They will no
 are at the same time authoritarian,                            respected and the authority of govern-        longer define the limits of what is politi-
 populist and rabidly nationalist.                              ment rests upon public consent deli-           cally imaginable.
    The second factor is the changing role                      vered through the ballot box. The ap-            European politics is being marked out
 of history in providing a justification                        peal of this civic culture helped to in-       by new lines of division. They will di-
 for politics. The liberal democracies                          spire the revolutions of 1989. The             vide a politics driven by universal
 seem justified in seeing themselves as                         people of eastern Europe did not just          ideals from politics based upon particu-
 the culmination of history, the repre-                         take to the streets as consumers               lar and parochial commitments; a civic
 sentatives of progress. After all, they                        demanding the affluence of the west,           culture based on equal rights and toler-
 have come out on top. It is natural to                         they demonstrated as citizens demand-          ance from political cultures based on
 assume that the societies of eastern                           ing equal political rights.                    ethnicity, blood and language; cosmopo-
 Europe should grasp a liberal demo-

                                                                            ince the revolutions, how-         litan, mature nationalism from closed,
 cratic future with both hands. Instead,                                    ever, other currents have          aggressive and desperate nationalism;
 it seems that a large contingent are                                       started to run strongly which      societies which are open and liberal
 turning back to the past.                                                  cut across the developing          towards immigrants from those which
    This retreat is a much bigger blow to                       civic culture. The civic culture is being      are closed and vindictive; pluralist
  socialism than to liberalism. Socialism                       besieged by narrowly national, ethnic          democracy from authoritarian populism.
 has a very tight view of how the stages                        and religious cultures. The people               The contest between these different
 of history were meant to unfold. At its                         slugging it out around Vukovar were           political strains will be played out in
  most extreme, marxist historical mate-                        not inspired by political ideals of a civic    both east and west. In the east the battle
  rialism conjured up a vision of history                        culture, but the raw passions of loyalty      is personified by the contrast between
 as a giant mathematical equation, scy-                         and loathing. What matters in this blood       Vaclav Havel, the prime defender of the
  thing its way through time, eating all in                      culture is the strength of your sense of      traditions of the civic culture and Lech
  its way like a huge combine harvester.                         belonging - to race or nation, religion       Walesa, the bearer of brash populist
  Politics became an offshoot of mathe-                         or language.                                   nationalism. Political developments in
  matics as chance, accident and adven-                           The principles of tolerance of the civic     the east are, in some ways, leading the
  ture were reduced to a bare minimum.                           culture look pretty anaemic beside the        west. Roles are being reversed. The west
  It was a never-ending attempt to tidy up                       blood and guts of the politics of belong-     is no longer setting the political pace. The
  the world, close the last circle and tie                       ing. The abstract brotherhood of man is       agenda of European politics is increas-
  the final knot.                                                elusive; the brotherhood of race and          ingly being set by the weird hybrid fruits
    Liberalism never subscribed to such a                        nation is immediate and passionate. By        being produced by the contaminated
  tightly ordered view of history. But it                        offering people a neatly bounded com-         political hothouses of eastern Europe.
  too is wedded to the idea that it means                        munity the politics of belonging pro-           The way the new politics of the east is
  progress. The ideal of individual self-                        vides them with a home, a sense of            redefining the terms of politics in the
  improvement, which is at the heart of                          status as insiders and a convenient as-       west is most evident in the developing
  liberalism, also applies to societies as a                     sembly of outsiders to blame as scape-        debate over European economic and
  whole. Societies become more edu-                              goats. The civic culture is plural and        political integration. On one side stand
  cated, tolerant, civilised and wealthy by                      open to outsiders. It is based upon sup-       the defenders of civic culture. For them

                                                                        50         MARXISM TODAY DECEMBER 1991
European integration is the best way to     could control the government of Bel-                         their politics they must embrace much
further the ideals of liberty, equal pol-   gium's second city, Antwerp.                                 more fully the principles of a civic cul-
itical rights and democracy. The aim is       As Belgium suggests, politics will be                      ture of diversity and experimentation,
to create an economically stable, demo-     much more complicated beyond the or-                         pluralism and openness.
cratic, and open space at the heart of      derly world of the old duopoly. Euro-                          The risk is that rather than carrying
Europe which will anchor the region.        pean politics will be a mosaic of diffe-                     forward the principles of pluralism and
They hope that the civic culture of tole-   rent elements. Part of that mosaic will                      openness, the liberal democracies will
rance and openness will set the tone of     be a new progressive politics of envir-                      become timid and cautious, conserva-
the new Europe.                             onmentalism. But regressive national-                        tive and inward-looking. This will
  On the other side stand the proponents    ism and racism will also be part of the                      create an opportunity for a new
of a closed, defensive and inward-          mix, emphatically so in the east, where                      running-mate to appear on the scene: an
looking Europe. They want to create a       it could command power, and as a signi-        'Political    energetic, muscular, reactionary, au-
tightly-bounded community of rich           ficant minority force in the west.           developments    thoritarian, regressive politics of
societies which can keep outsiders at                                                                    belonging, based on a pride in a closed,
arms length, a new feudalism, with the      What will be vital is how the shell of the
                                                                                          in the east    racially pure, linguistically homoge-
rich inside the fortress and the savage     formal institutions of multi-party demo-     are, in some    neous and nationally aggressive sense
warring tribes outside the city walls.      cracy are filled out by the different        ways, leading   of community. Where a civic culture
                                                                                                          would offer a community of citizens,

               lready west European pol-    political cultures of civil society. The       the west.
               itics is becoming riven      parameters of what is possible are                           this would offer a community of blood
               with issues of race and      marked out by two possible scenarios.
                                                                                           Roles are     brothers. In a civic culture people ex-
               immigration, how best to      The optimistic scenario is that liberal         being        press their national identity through
defend national and cultural purity.        democracy will combine with a pro-             reversed.      their status as citizens. In a national
Throughout Europe, anti-immigrant           gressive politics of belonging, based         The west is     culture they acquire their citizenship
parties are gaining ground, from the        upon a civic culture of tolerance and                         rights only as a consequence of their
Austrian Freedom Party to Jean Marie        pluralism, a sense of community and
                                                                                           no longer      birth and blood ties.
Le Pen's National Front in France. Anti-    public responsibility which is open and       setting the      With the old duopoly of liberalism and
 semitism abounds in both the richest       expansive, compatible with inter-               political     socialism losing its grip, the danger is
and poorest European states, Germany        nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and             pace'        that a new axis could emerge to define
and Romania. The politics of Belgium at     a respect for different cultures and                          the parameters of politics; a duopoly of
the heart of Europe, might be a taste of    traditions.                                                   cautious and conservative liberal demo-
what is to come. The governing coali-         But to bolster liberal democracy with                       cracy at one end of the see-saw trying to
 tion has been broken up by bickering       an enlivened civic culture will require a                     control an increasingly boisterous reac-
between different language groups. In       radicalisation of its politics. If liberal                    tionary and authoritarian populism of
 recent elections, the Christian demo-      democracies stand still, complacent in                        race and nation, blood and guts which
 crats and socialists, the Belgian in-      their superiority, they will freeze. They                     may fill the vacancy at the other end.O
 heritors of the duopoly, lost out to the   will be overtaken by other political cur-
 greens and Vlaams Blok, the ultra right-   rents which will more quickly fill the                       Charlie Leadbeater is industrial editor
 wing Flemish nationalist party which       spaces being opened up. To unfreeze                          of the Financial Times.

                                                                            51       MARXISM TODAY DECEMBER 1991

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