But elections are also a barometer of political moods. Beneath the calm waters of bourgeois election campaigns - the debates, speeches, sharply dressed candidates and cocktail fundraisers - there is a stormy undercurrent of political tensions which are fought on the street. I have read an exhaustive analysis of the election results in all the major European countries, which can be read here if the reader wishes to see the actual poll numbers and changes between this election and the last.
The short version of this analysis is that class polarization is intensifying in many European nations due to the centre-Left and centre-Right parties to find any viable political solution to the crisis of unemployment, austerity, and falling living standards for the masses of workers.
The author of the article, Alan Woods, a Trotskyist, of course, will discount the failures of the Left to seize on the popular discontentment with the Right as a 'betrayal' of the Socialist and Social Democratic Parties. Perhaps an entire rethinking of workers' organizational strategies would avail the Left more than the same old Trotskyist theories which have been met with failure in practice time after time.
In Spain, Pademos won a substantial electoral victory, reflecting both a radical challenge to the right wing PP of Rajoy and the mainstream Socialist Party (PSOE), who are viewed by the Spanish workers as the party who promised them socialist reforms and instead reneged on their promises, pushing for massive social spending cuts and anti-labor legislation instead. Pademos is a new left wing political party that did not exist only three months ago, and their rise can be attributed to the failure of the Socialist Party to fill in the power vacuum created by the falling popularity of Rajoy's government.
In Greece, Tsipras' SYRIZA party won a 'historical' election, revealing a frustrating with the ruling New Democracy Party and foreboding an eventual end to Samaras' government. SYRIZA, however, is not entirely new centre-Left party - as Alan Woods notes:
"Its core is made up of members of Synaspismos, which was a split from the Communist Party (KKE). It contains many former communists and social democrats, including prominent defectors from Pasok."
The right-wing fascist party, Golden Dawn, did finish in third. However, the Greek leftist party Pasok, having aligned itself with the conservative ruling party New Democracy, practically gave the Golden Dawn party some of these votes away. Of course, the centre party will make sure to keep them on a short leash, so as not to discredit themselves and lose power to a paramilitary group of jackbooted thugs.
Tsipras has promised an end to austerity, structural adjustments of public debt by international lenders, and an end to tax cuts for the ruling elite. Whether SYRIZA's leadership will make good on these promises remains to be seen, especially in view of its Eurozone membership, a tension it will have to balance with its leftist programme.
France and Germany, the 'co-leaders' of the EU, have demonstrated different political attitudes in their electoral results. Merkel, leader of Germany's CDU party, and head of the EU's central bank (and the real leader of Europe), lost some ground but retained her Party's position as the country's dominant political force, ahead of the Social Democrats.
France's Front National party won a quarter of the vote. Its leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, has declared his anti-immigration stance and has promulgated anti-semitic, jingoistic vitriol about the Holocaust and the benefits of bioethnic cleansing. Of course, as the lackey to Germany, the true ruler of the EU, his demagoguery may need to be reigned in like the paper tiger that his party is.
Despite the chagrin of the centre-Right and centre-Left parties of France, Alan Woods offers a rational explanation for this phenomenon:
"In reality, the result was quite predictable. One has to bear in mind that the role of the Social Democracy is precisely to betray the people who elected them, to carry out the dirty work of the bankers and capitalists and thereby to disappoint and alienate the masses, in particular the middle class, thus preparing the way for right wing reaction. Over the past two years France has offered a laboratory proof of this universal law.
Only two years ago Francois Hollande and the Socialist Party won a sweeping victory in the Presidential, parliamentary and local elections. This was a massive swing to the left and a clear mandate for change. At that time Hollande put on a left face, advocating an end to austerity and the cancellation of tax cuts and exemptions for the wealthy introduced by President Sarkozy. Income tax would be raised to 75% for incomes beyond one million Euros; the retirement age would be brought back to 60 (with a full pension) for persons who have worked 42 years; 60 000 jobs cut by Nicolas Sarkozy in public education would be recreated and so on.
But it did not take M. Hollande long to renege on his promises. Under the pressure of big business, he put his policy into reverse and adopted a policy of austerity. The feeling has grown that the Socialists have deceived the people, that the political class in general is out of touch and remote (that applies just as much to Sarkozy, with his millionaire life style and expensive mistresses, as it does to Hollande with his more modest and more squalid petit bourgeois affairs). "