by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 31
March 2022
Analysis
13:23

Has Putin’s invasion hurt the European Left?

Across the continent, there have been opposite results
by Peter Franklin
French leftist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. Credit: Getty

Has Putin’s invasion of Ukraine punctured populism in western democracies? Last week I looked for evidence in recent polling, but there was no clear pattern. While support for some populists is down, support for others is up. 

However, my focus was on Right-wing populism alone. I didn’t consider the populists at the other extreme of the political spectrum — or, if you prefer, the other side of the horseshoe. In some European countries, the parties of the anti-establishment Left are a significant presence. Many of them are characterised by a foreign policy platform that, if not explicitly pro-Putin, is anti-NATO.

So perhaps it’s on the Left that we’ll find evidence of an anti-populist backlash? But in most countries there are few obvious signs. For instance, SYRIZA in Greece is against sending weapons to Ukraine, but its support since the crisis has remained steady. The same goes for Sinn Fein in Ireland, which is staunchly opposed to the republic joining NATO.  In Norway, the surge in support for the avowedly Marxist Red Party has been blunted, but it is still polling well above its performance in the general election last year.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of a Putin-effect comes from Germany, where the Left Party (Die Linke) has been a presence in the Bundestag since 2005. On Sunday it had a disastrous result in the Saarland regional election. From 12.8% of the vote in 2017, its support fell to just 2.6%. It lost all seven of its seats in the regional parliament. That’s in marked contrast to the performance of the populist Right, where support for the AfD fell only slightly. 

It seems reasonable to assume that Die Linke, which wants to get rid of NATO and remove American troops from Germany, is being punished by an electorate that’s been reminded that the western alliance is not a relic of the Cold War. It is also doesn’t help that one of the parties that formed Die Linke is a direct descendant of the old East German communist party. 

However, it should also be noted that support for Die Linke was already on the slide well before the invasion. In the German federal election last September, the party scored its worst-ever result, winning just 4.9% of the vote. 

Meanwhile, in France, it’s a very different story. Support for the populist Left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which had faded since 2017, is growing again. The latest polls put him in third place, behind Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen — but well ahead of Éric Zemmour and the conservative candidate, Valérie Pécresse. 

As for the rest of the French Left, Mélenchon has left them in the dust. Anne Hidalgo, the candidate of the once dominant Socialist Party, is on a pitiful 2%. Even among voters who supported the Socialist candidate in 2007, she’s in fourth place. 

All of this is happening despite Mélenchon’s foreign policy stance. Though he has condemned Putin’s invasion, he wants to pull France out of NATO and has blamed the eastward expansion of the defence alliance for provoking the Russians. 

It’s worth noting that the combined support for Mélenchon, Le Pen and Zemmour — all of them NATO sceptics — comes close to 50%. Furthermore, two of those three (Mélenchon and Le Pen) have gained support since the invasion. It’s easy to imagine support for populism as a bubble, ready to burst when reality intrudes. But the phenomenon is clearly more complex — and persistent — than its enemies would wish. 

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Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
6 months ago

Scepticism towards NATO goes back a while in France – indeed to De Gaulle – and is not mere ‘populism’. Macron himself declared it ‘brain dead’ not so long ago.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
6 months ago

There’s a long history of anti-USA feeling in France, I don’t know why. I can understand anti-British feeling, which can be reciprocated, because of our long history of conflict. (I’m referring to occasional politicians or popular newspapers; I personally have only ever encountered friendliness.)
Can it stem from Roosevelt’s dislike of de Gaulle? They even resigned from NATO in 1966.

Last edited 6 months ago by Colin Elliott
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

I think it stems from the US saving France in 2 world wars and failing to treat it like a great power.

Warren T
Warren T
6 months ago

Interesting. The French probably resent the fact that they would all speak German today if it were not for the U.S. They did give us a beautiful statue, however!

joe hardy
joe hardy
5 months ago
Reply to  Warren T

Let them eat freedom fries!

Landin Rochard
Landin Rochard
5 months ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

US led NATO is to France & Europe what UK was to India but many continental Europeans; especially from the North fail to see that! They even call Germany a democracy with American troops on the ground! BUT.. brainwashing of people has limits while Freedom & liberty of all people & nations are the only constants! When the European NATO bubble bursts, it won’t be a pretty site!!

Last edited 5 months ago by lan0467
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
6 months ago

“…The same goes for Sinn Fein in Ireland, which is staunchly opposed to the republic joining NATO…”

On a tangential issue, considering the virtually unthinking allegiance that the Democratic left in the US offer to Irish republican movements and Sinn Fein in particular, can not this fact of Sinn Fein opposition to NATO be used to undermine support for them in American circles by pointing it out relentlessly?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
6 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Nothing will dent the romaniticism attached to Sinn Fein in the US.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
6 months ago

Every Democrat in the US has an Irish Leprechaun in the family history.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
6 months ago

In WW2 Ireland stayed neutral and wouldn’t lend ports to the allies on their west coast for destroyers. Churchill considered taking the so called *treaty ports* by just occupying them..as they would have been a massive help in combatting U boats by extending range and allowing more flying.
But he decided against as the Irish would probably have started shooting at the Brits because of the 1916..and 1921 etc.
That caused, to coin a phrase excess deaths in the British Merchant marine, and American soldiers etc coming over to base in Britain.
At the end of the war they even sent for the German ambassador to Ireland and offered official state condolences after Hitler had shot himself.
Belsen, Auschwitz and the whole nine yards was out by then…buy never mind; diplomatic niceties and all that.
Many younger Irish don’t know this because it’s become forgotten on purpose and are astonished if it is pointed out.
The only thing more amazing than the fact are the tortuous explanations given for it by those Irish old enough, or better read on history, for it.
I don’t hate the Irish, and have a big recent slice of Irish DNA, but their holier than thou routine can do with some counterbalancing facts to show.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

You missed the help they gave to the German luftwaffe bombing the shipyards too. And I’m from catholic Irish where I learned about these things.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
5 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

Yes, the way the Irish government cosied up to Germany during WW2 is something that they should be ashamed of, they said that they were neutral, even friendly neutral, but their actions do not speak that. I think that they went by the simple equation: “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” which is not a good idea. It was not just the Taoiseach Éamon but also the Irish president Douglas Hyde who gave his condolences (actually Mr. de Valera went with a delegation to give his condolences in person to Dr.Eduard Hemple the German minister). At least they made the British Union of F*scists happy, as they congratulated de Valera for his act of solidarity. In all this, though, let’s not forget the c80,000 Irish men who did take up arms for the allies against their governments orders.
This 1989 article from th Irish national archives gives a more sympathetic take on de Valera’s government although they still find the condolence incident “undiplomatic”, as did other Irish people at the time; basically don’t antagonise the English as they won (I say English as that is what the Irish thought, the brave Welsh, Ulster and Scottish men and women who fought and died are erased)
https://www.nationalarchives.ie/topics/AAE/Article.pdf
Of course, the Scottish nationalists played the same game, something that their modern incarnation try to hide, in fact successfully hide.

Last edited 5 months ago by Linda Hutchinson
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
6 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Such logic has never worked in the past.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
6 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

They freeload on Nato and rely on the UK for air and sea defences..not even a couple of submarines to patrol the Iceland Gap or whatever.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

They freeload on everyone, but especially the U.K.

Landin Rochard
Landin Rochard
5 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

UK is such a big air & sea power ;))??

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
6 months ago

So Putin really only had to wait a little longer for Europe to destroy itself.