Visiting Europe

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I recently returned from a two month visit on July 7, 2022 to seven countries in Europe visiting friends, families and activists. It was a very meaningful and enjoyable trip. I visited Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Slovenia, Sweden, the northern part of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The hospitality and warmth people showed to me was incredible. Many were members of the group Real Utopia, Realutopia.org.  Thank You my friends, family and comrades! I truly appreciate you. Part of the reason for my warm reception is the respect people in most countries show to elders, which is much less common in the U.S.

I saw and appreciated beauty in many of the places I visited, nature, homes and beautiful gardens, beaches and lakes and seas, and cities. I learned about the history of partisan resistance against the Nazis in Slovenia, of collaboration with the Nazis in several countries, e.g.,  Sweden, of the Irish Republican struggle for a united Ireland, and more on my family history, especially with regards to the Nazis.

A further summary based on my conversations with people in the countries I visited!

The “left” as a social force is currently weak in the seven countries I visited–whether anarchists, radical social movements or socialist organizations. However, there are active left groups doing good work in all the places I visited such as “The City Upside Down” in Salonika, Greece and the Pekarna Cooperatives in Maribor, Slovenia and the Kapsylen Cooperatives in Stockholm. Kapsylen is involved in supporting actively political prisoners and selling olive oil from

Palestine and coffee from the EZLN.

The isolation caused by the Coronavirus has been a major factor in the weakness of the left as it has limited face to face interactions and meetings and community gatherings.  A greater cause of weakness of the left in the U.S. but also in the countries I visited is the growth of extreme identity politics and the related tendency to cancel people for perceived limitations in their political consciousness, often around transgender issues. Identity of course matters, I am critiquing where identity becomes destiny and the possibility of empathy across identities is denied. This expelling, canceling of people, the turning on each other is exacerbated by social media. This destructive behavior is caused by the weakness of the left, our feelings of powerlessness, and a cause of its further weakness. This problem is probably worse in the U.S. but also widespread in Europe. Transphobia is a continuing problem in the left and wider society; my criticism is how it is being addressed and challenged.

The authoritarian right is a serious danger in almost all of the countries I visited, but at least, not growing.  For example, the Swedish Democrats, whose origins are fascist, are an example of the growing right-wing  anti-immigrant political parties that have recently grown throughout Europe. They seem to have levelled off at about 20% support in the polls and popular support. Ireland was the one exception, fascism and the authoritarian right except for a few Unionist (pro British) groups in the north are minuscule. The Irish history of being colonized up into the 20th century by the British and up to the present in the six counties in the north of Ireland is a cause of identification with the people from other ex-colonies.

In Greece, Golden Dawn is no longer a force but authoritarian rightists including supporters of the 1967 military coup are in the New Democracy led government. The Social Democrats throughout the countries I visited are neoliberal and declining.   There is some growth of the Greens but their economic program is mainly neoliberal and they increasingly accept the growing militarism of Europe.  Political parties in this current period of a global neoliberal economy, unless they are explicitly anti-capitalist or at least anti-neo-liberal in their analysis and policies become neo-liberal over time.  The global and elite pressures are very strong for movement in this direction as is their increasing professional-managerial class membership and the decline of working-class labor unions as their base.

I was surprised at the public support in Sweden for joining NATO. Based on the popular perception of the history of Russian aggression against Sweden and reinforced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, their fear of Russian expansionism and militarism is even stronger than in the U.S. I don’t see Russia as a threat to Sweden or to Finland, who Sweden is closely aligned with.

I see the possibilities of the growth of a left in the countries I visited based on climate and housing justice whose base is precarious workers. Almost everyone I spent time with, mentioned that the climate crisis was here, not just a future danger. I heard much support for an anti-militarist and global Green New Deal.

Except for Vienna, there are housing shortages and rapidly rising rents in every major city in western and southern Europe. The extensive amount of social housing in Vienna has limited the rise in housing prices there, compared to other cities such as Dublin where housing prices are skyrocketing. Housing as a human right and not as an asset to make money off resonated among the people in all the countries I visited.

Neoliberalism has caused less and less secure jobs and more jobs with no benefits, e.g., college teachers increasingly are hired on limited contracts.  Young people are the most adversely affected by these changes in the labor market.  In Athens, there is important labor organizing among these precarious workers.

Europe is no longer, overwhelmingly, “white”. Immigration from the Global South is substantial. Immigrant and refugee justice must be combined with anti-austerity programs in order to combat the belief that immigrants are causing the decline of social benefits, pensions and secure jobs. Challenging in theory and practice this zero-sum ideology that gains for immigrants are the cause of the decline for domestically born workers is a necessary part of creating unity among them.

Many people I was with asked me what is going on in the United States–the repeal of Roe vs Wade, the voter suppression, the amount and worship of guns, mass killings, the support for QAnon, and the continued support for Trump and Trumpism—that it is beyond understanding and worse than anything occurring in Europe. I sadly agreed. I pointed out at the same time, tens of millions participated in the recent Black Lives Matter protests, the growing support for universal health care, the high support for the right to abortion and for socialism. We need to get more organized.

In Solidarity, Peter Bohmer

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