To my co-workers, comrades and friends Barbara, Katerina, Heidi, Dagmar, and Eva. In gratitude for their help and patience.
For over fifteen years, transform! has been working as a horizontal network with alternative thinking and political dialogue at its core, always in relationship to social movements. This year, it gained two new observing members: transform! Hungary and the Claudio Sabattini Foundation, a think-tank related to the Italian metal workers union CGIL-FIOM. It is the first time that a trade-union-related research institute has joined our network, now made up of 28 organisations from 19 countries. The year 2015 opened with an unprecedented event in the history of European integration. On 25 January, Syriza candidate Alexis Tsipras was elected Prime Minister of Greece. For the very first time, a leader of a radical left party took office with an electoral programme that clearly defied the austerity-based neoliberal consensus – to which both conservatives and social democrats had subscribed, and for which they both paid a heavy electoral price. On the one hand, the Greek people rejected austerity, as well as anti-labour laws and privatisation programmes, and, on the other hand, gave Tsipras a mandate to negotiate a better, fairer deal with the European and international creditors.
Although this new political configuration turned our working plan upside down – making solidarity with Greece the top priority – our structural work on alternatives and left strategies was enhanced. The participants in the transform! Members’ Meeting held in September confirmed the prominence of the two key working programmes for 2016. While Europe is far from being immune from a recurrence of the financial crisis, the debate over a new model of development through Europe’s productive transformation and the necessary investment programme to foster it has not lost any of its relevance, for the EU’s only response to stagnation, also known as the Juncker Plan, does not meet the challenges of the near future (a stagnant real economy, a persistent social crisis, the consequences of global warming driven by the fossil fuel-based economy, etc.). transform! is also continuing its programme on strategic perspectives for the European left. Now more than ever, we need to explore how best to oppose the EU’s austerity policies with new alternative proposals of our own – thus going beyond the defeated Greek approach to shift the European integration process towards more cooperation and democracy.
In the course of 2015, new projects have been set in motion. Akademia, a loose cooperative network bringing together academics and activists from across Europe, played a central role in this development. Given the year’s international political agenda, with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) held in Paris in December and the European Commission strategy for an Energy Union, we believed it was crucial to launch a Working Group dedicated to climate and energy issues. In addition, the refugee question emerged with new intensity, both in terms of the debates it raised and the practical consequences it had for European integration; Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán’s unilateral move to shut down national borders challenged the very existence of the Schengen area. The stakes are high, as people are dying in the Mediterranean as they try to reach an ever more hermetic EU, fleeing wars and structural misery in hopes of a better future. Besides calling for a new vision of geopolitics, it begs the question of articulating an alternative neighbourhood policy, along with the issue of democratic and social rights for refugees in their country of residence. transform! members’ representatives endorsed the launching of a working group to address these issues.
One of the distinctive features of transform! as a European political foundation is its active involvement in the European social movement in the making. It aims to reinforce its role as a platform capable of providing relevant actors of the movements with room for discussion, to engage in numerous initiatives at the European level, and to analyse the state of affairs of the movements in the light of the current unprecedented political confrontation in Europe. Last but not least, transform! has continued its work in the areas of feminism and the populist right – topics of utmost importance in a Europe still ruled by austerity, where women are the first victims of cuts in public expenditures, and where the populist right feeds upon the crisis and threatens civil liberties in a growing number of countries. In addition, transform! has engaged the issue of the commons and a critical history of European integration.
Syriza’s attempts to overcome destructive austerity policies and propose a change of course for the EU as a whole were greeted with open hostility. Never before had neoliberalism – gradually constitutionalised through the European Treaties – been so frontally challenged in Europe. Syriza had the enormous intellectual support of internationally renowned economists way beyond the Marxist sphere, ranging from from Stiglitz to Piketty and Krugman, who all affirmed that Syriza’s economic approach was only common sense after years of failed policy focused on austerity and supply. Let us not forget that when the European Council put Greece into the ‘excessive deficit procedure’ in 2009, the country’s debt was estimated at 125 per cent of GDP. Six years of austeritarian Troika recipes caused it to skyrocket to 175 per cent of GDP; and the essence of the Troika’s foolhardiness lies precisely here. In recent years, the neoliberal narrative became commonplace, according to which allegedly overly generous welfare policies caused the indebtedness of so many states – and before Tsipras was elected as Greece’s Prime Minister, one barely heard mention of the role played by both bank bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy. The Greek people gave him a clear mandate to renegotiate the bailout package, while staying in the euro.
transform! was among those who have, from the start, drawn attention to the difficulties and resistance the Syriza-led government was confronted with, and perceived that the left’s electoral victory in Greece was of historical significance. Thus, in December 2014, transform! launched an international appeal to raise awareness about the European dimension of the opportunities and hope embodied in the possibility of this victory. Given the scope of this brand new political process, together with its opportunities and risks for the European project as a whole, transform! was fully committed to building a pan-European movement of solidarity with the Greek people’s democratic choice. In the first half of 2015, as the government struggled through the negotiations, transform! used its presence in numerous countries, as well as its experience and contacts accumulated through years of cooperation with European social movements, trade unions, and progressive political actors, to provide a pluralistic space for strategic discussion on how best to support the Greek people. Only a combination of national solidarity actions able to exert pressure on governments, together with major Europe-wide activism, could make up for the Greek government’s lack of support in the European Council. And that is exactly what transform! tried to do, with some measure of success.
And so a period of harsh negotiations began. The message sent to Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin by the new Greek government could be summarised as follows: ‘we won’t be austerity’s guinea pig anymore, we have paid too high a social, economic, and democratic price for it; we want change that would not only benefit us but the European Union as a whole.’ During these five months of intense negotiations between Greece and its European partners, the latter – whose hardliners were led by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble – showed its true colours: economic fundamentalism was given priority over democracy. Despite the Tsipras government’s good will and readiness to compromise, no support was to be found anywhere – not even on the side of social democratic governments, which did not go beyond lip service. Greece was literally left alone. It is against this background that the need to support the country’s democratic sovereignty emerged.
Shortly after the opening of the negotiations, transform! took the initiative of organising a meeting in Vienna bringing together a wide range of activists and trade unionists from across Europe. Representatives of anti-austerity social movements, networks, trade unions, and progressive journals came together to exchange views on the new European political configuration and to start taking action in solidarity with the Greek people. In the discussions, the need was expressed for an online platform to make solidarity initiatives with Greece more visible. The idea was to gather all the calls for support by renowned international economists and prominent figures of international civil society, as well as to provide information on each rally and solidarity event taking place in Europe – to show the Greek people that they were not alone after all. That is how the Change4all platform was born.
This participatory tool was also a great help during the European solidarity campaign known as the OXI campaign. When Alexis Tsipras decided to refuse the ultimatum for an unfair deal imposed on him by the European heads of states and governments on 26 June, he made a breathtaking move that no one anticipated: Since the offer on the table differed too widely from Syriza’s political programme (the so-called Thessaloniki Programme), the decision was made to give the Greek people the final say through a referendum. This was a huge moment for democracy, and for hope – widely felt across Europe. Two conceptions of democracy were at stake: the decision of a whole community of citizens to refuse another socially destructive memorandum, on the one hand, and, on the other, the power of elected heads of states and governments to grind down even further an exhausted country within the framework of a legal grey area. Change4all then performed a dual function: it used its website to gather information on all the initiatives carried out by joint national collectives (made up of social movements, trade unions, and left parties) from across Europe to support the OXI/no vote in the Greek referendum; and it launched an impressive social media campaign able to mobilise another generation of activists. The hashtag #ThisIsACoup went viral to the extent that even mainstream media could not overlook it.
It should be pointed out that the dynamics set in motion by such pluralistic transnational movements of solidarity also benefited the progressive scene in the countries where they were created. For example, the French version of it – the collective ‘Avec Les Grecs’ – allowed for actors of different political cultures to come closer through the issue of solidarity with Greece and that of shaping a fairer Europe. Still, their reach was not great enough to force governments to soften their stance in the negotiations with Greece and accept another deal. The massive OXI victory in the 5 July referendum with over 61 per cent of voters provided Tsipras with renewed political capital to reach an agreement with the European partners. But their irritation – to say the least – in the face of this huge popular and democratic act that brought the debate outside of the European Council’s closed doors only hardened their resolve to go against the Greek Premier with all their strength. As a result, Tsipras was cornered into signing the third memorandum, also known as the 13 July agreement – and any remaining illusion of European solidarity vanished. The three-year accord, the culmination of a 17-hour overnight summit, was a very difficult compromise made by a government with its back to the wall.
The new political phase that began in autumn 2015 is full of uncertainties. The room for manoeuvre of post-war Europe’s first leftist government has considerably shrunk. The conditions that the third memorandum has tied to the granting of financial aid are extremely brutal. To name just a few, Greece is to sell off 50 billion euros in public assets – which makes this the largest European privatisation programme since the absorption of the German Democratic Republic into West Germany – and to further reduce the scope of labour rights. Clearly, there is no less need of the solidarity movements that flourished throughout Europe last spring. Responding to a call initiated by Greek trade unionists, European protagonists – including transform! – will mobilise their forces to support the Greek struggle to restore collective bargaining rights. Their abolition in Greece led to wage cuts of up to 40 per cent over recent years. There needs to be a battle against social inequalities, for more cohesion, and for the possibility of a more just future. Support for this European campaign will be at the core of transform!’s activities in the months to come.
As the European political foundation of the Party of the European Left (EL), transform! has a special relationship with the party. In 2015, one of the highlights of this cooperation was our participation in the first European Forum for Alternatives on 30 and 31 May in Paris. The decision to hold such an event was made at the last congress of the EL (Madrid, December 2013). The fundamental objective was to bring together all the components of the European left, as well as activists from the social movements and trade unionists, in order to discuss concrete alternatives to EU policies and to the slippery slope of a European integration that too often overlooks democracy. A great many topics were addressed in more than thirty workshops and three plenaries: human development in Europe, social and ecological productive transformation, regulation of finance and banking sectors, social economy, immigration policy, higher education and research policy, the articulation of social justice and climate justice, precarity and labour, etc. The Forum, incidentally, was held almost ten years to the day after the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by referendums in France and the Netherlands. This time, however, it was about saying ‘yes’ together with the Greeks: ‘yes to another Europe, a Europe of cooperation and solidarity’, as the chair of the Party of the European Left, Pierre Laurent, said. The European Forum for Alternatives achieved its goal – particularly in terms of attendance, with several thousand participants over the weekend, many of whom expressed their appreciation for the fruitful discussions and announced their readiness to launch initiatives. The Forum succeeded in making possible a fruitful discussion between progressive political forces from across Europe – including left-wing social democratic and Green representatives, activists from numerous social movements and citizen initiatives, and trade unionists.
As in previous years, the EL-transform! Summer University was held in July. It is by now a not-to-be-missed event for all who are interested in the progress of the left within Europe’s political landscape as well as in left alternative proposals on a wide range of issues – from the role of Europe in the world to anti-austerity social struggles, and much more. On these occasions, representatives from the foundation and the party create the conditions for a dialogue with political and social activists from across Europe. The 2015 edition was held in Litoměřice, Czech Republic. The choice of location was far from coincidental; on the contrary, it was meant as a clear signal of support for the left in CEE countries. Moreover, it facilitated the coming together of specialists from this region of Europe to discuss hot geopolitical issues – such as the EU-Russia relationship or energy security.
It should also be pointed out that transform! has played an ever greater role in the collective reflection on new left political projects. Many of its representatives participated actively in political events in Spain or Italy to this end. It continued its cooperation with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, bringing together researchers and left activists from across Europe to discuss what is at stake for left political forces on the occasion of a two-day workshop in Berlin, which has become an annual event. It is in this spirit that transform! will substantively contribute to the forthcoming Congress of the Party of the European Left to be held in Berlin at the end of 2016.
It is no secret that the Eurozone’s economy is stagnant – according to Eurostat the 19-member Eurozone grew by 0.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2015, while the average unemployment rate remains above 10 per cent, with striking inequalities between countries. Despite political posturing that celebrates trade surpluses and slight improvements in GDP as ‘success stories’ and proof of the effectiveness of the current crisis management, the continent as a whole remains stuck in a social and economic slump. The only European response so far has been the so-called Juncker Plan. However, its measures are far from being adequate to the challenges confronting the EU.1 Put briefly, the European Commission missed the opportunity to tackle the ecological crisis and the social disintegration poisoning societies from within; once again, aid is conditioned solely on competitiveness, ignoring criteria of sustainability or social utility.
By emphasising the Productive Transformation project at its previous members’ meeting and making it one of its two core programmes, transform! demonstrated its commitment to finding global solutions for a better, fairer Europe. The very concept of productive transformation not only implies the reconstruction of Europe’s productive capacities, but also the establishment of a new model of development that meets social needs and ecological imperatives – and that implements economic democracy, with the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders at every stage of the production process. We believe that without strong industry, deeply transformed in its ends and means, Europe will be unable to escape from the present crisis and will not initiate the economic, social, environmental, and ultimately the political evolution that is urgently needed.
In early 2015, transform! published a Discussion Paper2 largely based on two workshops, which gathered economists and trade unionists from all over Europe. It is to be seen as a common good for our working group, as well as a starting point to further elaborate issue of productive transformation. It contains analyses on the nature of the crisis and the shortcomings of the Juncker Plan, policy recommendations for a genuine left industrial policy, as well as an exploration of open questions (industry 4.0, reduction of coreperiphery asymmetries, etc.) that require deeper exploration. In addition, the transform! Economists Working Group (TEWG) participated in meetings and workshops to present – and sharpen – its analyses on the concepts for a positive exit from the crisis. At the major conference Left Industrial Policy for Europe, held in Brussels in April 2015 at the initiative of the Brussels office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, economists, trade unionists, and progressive politicians explored both the transform! Discussion Paper and the appeal ‘Renewing Europe’ initiated by Member of the German Bundestag Axel Troost (Die LINKE), also discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the industrial infrastructure of a wide range of different countries.
World governments acknowledge that climate change is the defining crisis of our times, but at the same time fossil fuel corporations continue to benefit from subsidies of $5.3 trillion in 2015 (according to the IMF3). This figure clearly indicates the lack of serious commitment and the reluctance to go beyond lip service on the part of heads of states and governments. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published projections for the coming decades depending on several scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions. The optimistic scenario requires radical changes – such as an immediate cut in emissions to reduce them to nil within two or three generations and limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C. However, in a business-as-usual scenario of unbridled emissions, a 4°C rise in global temperatures by 2100 would be inevitable. This increase would have disastrous effects on already economically fragile populations from the Global South, driving millions of (climate) refugees from their homes – most likely over 200 million in 2050.4 The need for a deeper, more profound articulation of social justice and climate justice struggles has never been more crucial.
Energy and climate-related issues were at the top of the international political agenda in 2015. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) held in Paris in December, as well as the European Commission strategy for an Energy Union, are clear indicators of this. But as long as the responsibility of the Global North for global warming, the role played by the elites within Western societies, and binding decisions to meet the objectives of climate change mitigation do not come into the equation, a fair deal paving the way for a new ecological and economic system will be beyond reach. This is a considerable challenge – and an opportunity – for the European left. To contribute to the ongoing debate over alternatives, transform! launched a working group of researchers and activists from across Europe. Its first workshop was held in Brussels on 18 and 19 April.
The event opened with a presentation by MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis (GUE/ NGL) on the Energy Union strategy announced in a European Commission communication early in the year. Its objective is threefold: to create a common energy policy, to increase competitiveness, and to complete the internal market. The EC’s strategic framework focuses mainly on the security of energy supply and the creation of a competitive energy market, remaining grossly inadequate with regard to energy poverty. As it stands, the Energy Union strategy is a further step towards ‘the commodification of energy for the benefit of the monopolies and multinational corporations’. Energy is a ‘public social good, and must be treated as such. An Energy Union must put at the centre the citizens, the consumers, the local communities and the SMEs [Small and Medium Enterprises]’ – in other words, it must include democracy.
Four key topics were at the core of the two-day workshop: the emergency of climate change, an alternative energy transition, democracy and social justice, and the geopolitical aspects of energy in Europe and its neighbourhood. The diversity and richness of the contributions have led us to gather them in the form of an e-book, which does not pretend to be exhaustive but hopes to contribute needed diversity in the ongoing discussions within the European progressive political sphere and those of social movements and trade unions. It will shortly be available on free access on the website of transform!.
The alternative events surrounding the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) held in December were the occasion for the transform! Working Group on Energy to reach out to a wider audience. As an international supporter, transform! participated in the work of the Climate 21 Coalition platform, bringing together climate-justice and social movements, trade unions, and citizens’ organisations and networks from all over the world sharing the vision of a sustainable and socially just model of development. One of the highlights was the Climate Forum, where transform! could provide a critical analysis of the EU vision of an Energy Union and engage collective discussions on the alternatives. The gathering in Paris of a wide range of climate-justice activists and progressive political actors was also the occasion for convening a meeting to address the need for unity between ecological and left forces. In the meeting, held at the initiative of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and in cooperation with transform!, Pierre Laurent (Chair of the Party of the European Left) engaged in a fruitful discussion with Christophe Aguiton (professor of economics and one of the co-ordinators of the Climate 21 Coalition). In a political future filled with uncertainties, such discussions are crucial to help shape the unity of progressive forces against austerity – and for an alternative system with democracy and a just energy transition at its core.
Between the first of January and the first of September 2015, over 350,000 people attempted to reach Europe through the Mediterranean (compared to 219,000 in the whole of 2014). This is the largest wave of immigration Europe has experienced since World War II. Coming mainly from countries ravaged by war and political instability or persecution, the majority are eligible for refugee status according to the Geneva Convention. The points where immigration occurs have changed as anti-immigration measures have been strengthened. This clamp down has led to increased risks for immigrants and therefore to an exponential increase in the number of fatal shipwrecks, across the central Mediterranean corridor linking Turkey and Libya to Italy in particular. Since 2000, almost 28,000 deaths have been recorded in the seas around Europe. On 1 September 2015, 2,642 deaths at sea had been recorded in 2015 (compared to 3,500 in 2014). In 2014, deaths in the Mediterranean represented 75 per cent of the worldwide total of immigrants who died during their journey.
As the populist right seems to be winning throughout Europe with its clash-of-civilisations narrative (‘us’ – nationals – against them – ‘immigrants’), influencing growing sections of both conservative and social democratic parties, it is urgently necessary for left forces to consider what this unprecedented movement of populations means in terms of freedom of movement, social and political rights, and labour market regulations. This is why transform! has decided to establish a new working group on migration. Bringing together academics, immigrant activists, and activists from the solidarity movements, as well as trade unionists, the working group is to be launched in early 2016 – in cooperation with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
In the meanwhile, transform! participated in a seminar organised by the Brussels office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in the last quarter of 2015. The underlying issue was the relationship between trade unions and immigrants workers – with a strong focus on how to better articulate workers and immigrants struggles. Our working group will explore this issue further in the months to come. Moreover, and through the involvement of Change4all, transform! committed itself to the movement of solidarity with refugees looking for safe routes to Europe. Together with activists involved in the Balkan route, the Mediterranean route, and the Northern route, as well as European networks committed to immigrant rights, we took part in the European meeting ‘Solidarity Beyond Borders’ held in Thessaloniki last November. The collective decision was to establish a permanent working group to develop popular awareness campaigns, provide information on what immigrants are risking when they try to enter Europe, and to use international networks of jurists to track national and international laws that are being violated by selecting immigrants based on nationality.
The recent increase in immigration flows poses the question of freedom of movement, as a consolidation (or reinvention?) of social rights in a new and unprecedented way, together with that of the new border regime whose cost in human lives is higher than ever before. The articulation of these issues is clearly of the utmost importance, and it is in this spirit that transform! decided to contribute to this very European debate by providing the left and the solidarity movements with a Policy Advice Paper entitled A Left-Wing Response to the Asylum Crisis and Migration Policy.5
From the very beginning, transform! has constantly been cooperating and engaging in discussion with progressive social movements. The fact that its birthplace is Porto Alegre, venue of the first World Social Forum, is far from coincidental. It has worked ever since at consolidating the bond between movements, progressive political forces, and trade unions. The rule of austerity policies in Europe, consolidated by the neoliberal management of the crisis, has presented the social movements with a good many new challenges. Attacks on protective labour laws, civil liberties, and social rights – in a nutshell, on democracy – have led to massive waves of protest in Southern Europe. Left parties had to relate to these popular movements (for example, the Indignados in Spain and the Square Movement in Greece), which they themselves had not triggered. Some parties managed this relationship better than others. The most positive example was that of Syriza, which showed its ability to integrate new forms of radicalism and the aspiration for social justice and direct democracy that emerged from the squares.
In cooperation with Laura Horn and the Global Dynamic Research Cluster ‘Structural Adjustments come to Europe’, transform! held a workshop on 9 May at Roskilde University, Denmark. The aim was to bring together social-movements researchers and activists to discuss the Europeanisation of the resistance to austerity and for democracy, the relationship between grassroots movements, the role of the European left, as well as the implications of the new political momentum opened up by Syriza’s electoral victory. The high quality of the discussion, due in part to the participants’ diversity of backgrounds, convinced us to repeat the initiative in the future. Moreover, the issue of the complex relationship between precarious workers and trade unions was raised. It will be one of the key research questions of a new transform! project on labour to be inaugurated in 2016.
However important constructive dialogue with anti-austerity social movements is, transform!’s relationship with these movements goes way beyond this. It is a relationship that also involves action, as shown by our involvement in the AlterSummit Network. Launched in June 2013, but resulting from many months of arduous preparatory work with European trade unions and social and citizens movements, it aims to create a European social and political front fostering the struggle against austerity and the authoritarian turn in EU integration. Its ambition was and remains to establish a positive force for alternative proposals. transform! has been very actively involved in the AlterSummit process, whose roots can be traced back to the European social movements in general but more recently to the Joint Social Conference. It is a unique space where organisational representatives of different political cultures can have exchanges and engage in action at the EU level on a permanent basis. Together with our partners from the AlterSummit network, we participated in the Brussels October days of action under the slogan ‘Oxi! Basta! Enough! – Build Another Europe!’. Anti-austerity marches from across Europe converged in Brussels where numerous meetings for alternatives and a fairer Europe were held. The political impasse in which EU institutions and Member States confined Greece raised many questions that remain to be addressed – among many others: how to show solidarity with the Greek people, how to help Syriza widen its room for manoeuvre for social change within the framework of the third Memorandum? There is still a lot of work to do, but such joint events are steps in the right direction.
The effect of austerity politics on women – most notably as regards cuts in public expenditure – is too often a blind spot in analysis, making it a hidden aspect of the crisis that is shaking up Europe as a whole. It is with a clear picture of this issue and the will to push for a more equal Europe that transform! actively participated in the first World Congress on Marxist Feminism.
Over 500 participants attended the congress, The Strength of Critique – Trajectories of Marxism-Feminism, organised by the feminist section of InkriT (Berlin Institute of Critical Theory), the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and transform!, which took place in March 2015 in Berlin. On the podiums and in the workshops, as well as at the Luxemburg lectures and book presentations, participants debated the state of play of Marxist feminism, covering a wide range of issues – with differing points of view that sometimes provoked controversy and heated discussions (notably on the intersectionality of gender, class, and race). The starting point for the congress was the article by Frigga Haug on ‘Marxism-Feminism’ in the recently published volume of the Historical Critical Dictionary of Marxism.6 Haug, who is the originator of the term, began her article as follows: ‘Marxism-Feminism is defined by the struggle of the feminist revolution to fight for and carve out a pathway to Marxism. Resistance to Marxism-Feminism forces it to assume an adversarial and polemic form. The goal of the feminist revolution is to free women from male dominance and to transform society into a society of solidarity.’
This congress marked a breakthrough. Numerous women expressed interest in drawing up an ongoing report, for which a first draft drawn from the work at the congress was discussed in the closing plenary. The next conference will be held in Vienna in October 2016.
One of transform’s goals is to support and contribute to research on the extreme and populist right. As part of our major programme on the Strategic Perspectives of the Radical Left in Europe, we try to foster the development of possible left strategies to counter the rise of the right and for an alternative hegemony. As in every field, it is important for research and educational work to Europeanise the discussion and perspectives in recognising common developments and exploring the similarities and differences of the right’s image and agendas – but of course, first and foremost, in exploring the possibilities of common strategies and struggles. This is the main challenge we will be facing in the future, that is, to shift the traditional focus of research on the populist right from analysis to the designing of counter-strategies.
The multiple crisis in Europe is being met by the ruling class with post-democratic authoritarian austerity politics. This has led to a legitimation crisis of democracy and the traditional political actors unprecedented in its intensity. The rise of the populist right is grounded in concrete socioeconomic factors including the deteriorating standard of living of millions of people. The challenge is to channel these preconditions productively and develop common strategies to bring forward alternative social and economic policies and politics. The example of Syriza showed us once again: such alternative policies cannot be achieved in one country alone; the strategies of the left – in all its diversity – have to be Europeanised and become common strategies.
In 2015 we inaugurated a new page, ‘Radical, Far and Populist Right’, on our website. Its purpose is to bring together interesting articles on this issue by authors from our network. transform! Managing Board member Elisabeth Gauthier, director of the French foundation Espaces Marx, together with the editors of the German journal Sozialismus (also a member organisation of transform!) Joachim Bischoff and Bernhard Müller, contributed to the transform! 2015 yearbook with an article on ‘Right-Wing Extremism and Modernised Right-Wing Populism in Europe’. The article tried not only to delve into the reasons for right-wing populism’s and extremism’s success but to contribute to the discussion of left strategies to oppose them. The article grew into a book published in German,7 in French, and in English (online) in our website’s publication section.
At the joint Summer University of the Party of the European Left and transform! in the Czech Republic we participated in a panel discussion on the Rise of the Extreme Right – Tendencies in Eastern Europe. Our network needs to shed more light on Central and Eastern European experiences, which is reflected in transform’s general wish to develop a Central and Eastern European strategy and integrate the region and its protagonists into our work.
Walter Baier, coordinator of transform!, contributed an article to the 2016 Socialist Register:The Politics of the Right (London: Merlin, 2015) exploring the concept of right populism and reactionary rebellion and posing the question of what would happen if the right took power in Europe. The conference Populist & Radical Right in Europe and Left Strategies for a New Hegemony, organised by our Swedish member organisation Center for Marxist Social Studies (CMS) in Stockholm in November in cooperation with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, tried to look at regions we have insufficiently covered within the transform network: Scandinavia, Great Britain, and Eastern Europe. At the same time, a European common perspective was affirmed as central to our focus. Also emphasised was the aim of intensifying the communication of a common European perspective to combat the rise of the radical, far, and populist right.
The year 2015 has been particularly important in terms of formulating transform!’s strategy for Central and Eastern Europe. We believe that a new focus on those parts of Europe which have undeservedly been at the margins of interest will be very important for the future. We need to establish new contacts and foster greater cooperation with different left organisations and individuals in Central and Eastern Europe.
These mainly post-communist countries went through many changes in the last 25 years, and, to a greater and lesser extent, these transformation processes are still underway. Politics, official or otherwise, in these areas underwent massive shifts from the left to the far right in some cases, and enduring political and cultural features have shown that despite the process of EU integration, there are still fundamental underlying differences between the East and the West in background and outlook. It is therefore crucial that we concentrate our efforts in this area. Throughout 2015 significant work has been done to expand our network of contacts in these areas. In this connection, meetings with different representatives from Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Baltic States have taken place or are now on the agenda.
1 See the discussion on the Jobs, Growth and Investment Package: in transform! Discussion Paper #1/2015, Towards Europe’s Productive Transformation – An Emergency, 2015, pp 3-4, http://www.transform-network.net/uploads/tx_news/paper__5_PRINT.pdf.
2 Towards Europe’s Productive Transformation – An Emergency.
3 IMF Working Paper, How Large are Global Energy Subsidies, 2015, https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2015/wp15105.pdf
4 Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Which Effects do Global Environment Changes Have for Migration Relations?, 2013, http://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/kurzdossiers/168682/environmental-changes
5 Gregory Mauzé, A Left-Wing Response to the Asylum Crisis and Migration Policy, transform! Policy Advice Paper #1/2015, http://www.transform-network.net/uploads/tx_news/Policy_Advice_Paper_1-2015_EN_v3.pdf.
6 Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Frigga Haug, Peter Jehle, Wolfgang Küttler (eds), Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, Volume 8/II, Hamburg: Argument-Verlag, 2015.
7 Joachim Bischoff, Elisabeth Gauthier, Bernhard Müller, Europas Rechte. Das Konzept des »modernisierten« Rechtspopulismus, Hamburg: VSA, 2015; Joachim Bischoff, Elisabeth Gauthier, Bernhard Müller, Droites populistes en Europe. Les raisons d’un succès, Paris: Éditions du Croquant, 2015.