An analysis by transform! europe's Co-Presidents Marga Ferré and Cornelia Hildebrandt.
The crises are increasing: financial and economic crises of 2010, crisis of state indebtedness with the potential of triggering social crises in the wake of the austerity policies such as the one in Greece, global warming and imminent ecological crises. New cold wars are sparking new and old conflicts. All this is now accelerated by the Corona-crisis which can be seen as a summarizing expression of a fatal global and imperial mode of production and way of living. The virus is not the reason for the crisis, but rather its accelerator, and based on the painful lessons learned during the crisis that began in 2008, it is clear that the austerity measures previously imposed are not acceptable today. Perhaps that is why Klaus Schwab, founder of the Davos Economic Forum, has declared that “neoliberalism is dead, it is a thing of the past”, announcing the need, even for the ruling elites, of a paradigm shift that tries to give way to capitalism in crisis.
We have seen how the reaction of many governments during this pandemic has been to increase public spending for social protection systems and give money to affected economic sectors. A kind of neo-Kenesianism is running through the finance ministries in response to this crisis.
From transform we analyse that it is not a question of returning to Keynes, but of proposing, starting from the parameters of this crisis, that the way out of this crisis must come from a realistic vision of economic democracy, from social ownership.
An idea that we gather from the environmental movement and the theory of common goods, that is, that health, education, but also water, energy, housing ... are conceived as common goods that challenge us to manage them democratically and participatory. Discuss the role of the state, the public sector, the democratic orientation of the recovery funds, the social economy. We understand that for democracy to prevail over markets, it is necessary to dispute the hegemony of private property in competition, as the sole manager of reality.
Because, in addition, it is inevitable: the climate catastrophe inevitably leads to a change of course in the way of producing and consuming in the world and it is evident that this socio- ecological transformation will not be carried out by the free market, on the contrary, only it can be done from public or democratic intervention in economic decision-making.
We need to rethink proposals like this one because even the Oecd warns of a profound change in the economy, speaking of a double transformation: the trend towards green capitalism and digital capitalism; both force us to rethink the world from a perspective of transformation that, from our point of view, must be socialist, feminist and ecologist.
The concentration of capital is accelerating, reinforcing the oligopolistic power of large corporations, especially in the platform economy, which challenge us to act in favour of a democratization of economic decision-making processes. Small and medium-sized companies are one of the big losers in this crisis and are seriously affected by the lockdowns, generating even more uncertainty about the political forms that can give expression to discontent.
At the same time the role of the EU as a global actor is changing. The share of the EU of the global GDP fell from 26% (in 1980) to about 15% (in 2020) (1), which means that neither better jobs nor social cohesion were a topic even before the Corona-pandemic. Among others the dismantling of the health care system for decades had dramatic consequences – not only in the countries of the European South. The Czech Republic, Belgium and Italy are among the countries with the highest number of Corona-deaths per million inhabitants. The unemployment rates are as high as 15% in Spain and Greece, followed by Italy with 11% and Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia with more than 8%. In 2019 the percentage of those threatened or affected by poverty was 30 or more percent in Greece, Romania or Bulgaria, 25% in Spain, Italy, Lithuania and Latvia and merely 15% in Slovenia and the Czech Republic. This means that social inequality continues to increase in all parts of Europe at high speed, in the North, South, East and West. At the same time political polarisation is growing along with social polarisation as could clearly be seen in the North-South-divide that opened up in 2014: in the South protest is left-wing, while it tends to be right-wing in the North. Today – in 2021 – the political dynamic is shifting in favour of the right-wing parties and movements in most of the countries of the EU and new alliances emerge or become possible such as the one between the Polish national-conservative PiS, the Hungarian right-wing conservative Fidesz and the Italian nationalist Lega (2). Similar approaches were made by Matteo Salvini (Lega) already in 2019 towards the German AfD and the Spanish Vox. Also among the countries of the EU tensions and tendencies towards disintegration surface more often, not least in the haggling over the amount and weighting of the EU-budget and the amount and direction of the Corona-relief- programmes.
But precisely for this reason it is remarkable that in 2021, unlike in 2011, the Stability and Growth Pact was suspended and a reconstruction programme of more than 750 billion Euros (Next-Generation-Programme) was adopted, along with national recovery programmes in all the EU-countries. That is, the rules and dogmas of austerity that had been in force for more than twenty years were suspended, at least for the moment of the crisis. However, whether this is only a moment of “respite” on the way towards a modified return to austerity or whether this will become a window of opportunity for the necessary social and ecological changeover with new regulations and instruments, will eventually be decided by existing power relations and therefore also depends on the strength of a broad left and its capacity to mobilise.
The questions are: Can the left make use of this window of opportunity for leftist interventions in favour of social and ecological transformation? How will they have to organise without the support of huge mass movements against austerity policies? How do the parties of the radical left succeed in linking national and European political approaches more strongly? (3).
Other than in 2019, the left in 2021 is on the European level, not split into different projects competing with each other. At the same time, however, and also caused by Corona, left dynamics are missing on both national and European fields of combat. The cycle of successful massive protests which led to government participation of the left, first in Greece and later in Spain, and to a support of the Socialists in Portugal, has been exhausted. Even if the left is still part of the government in Spain, there is no European effect as had been the case with Syriza.
But also, on national levels the decreasing appeal of the new left projects had become obvious in the European elections of 2019, a tendency which was confirmed in national elections. The results of the municipal elections in Madrid in 2021 and current opinion polls reveal a crisis of left-wing populist projects. With the exceptions of Akel and Syriza no party of the left currently reaches more than 20% of votes. After all, the Belgian PTB stands at 17%, the Slovenian Levica at 10%. Mélenchon currently stands at 11% in opinion polls for the 2022 presidential elections, which is the fourth place. If there were European parliamentary elections today, the European Left (EL) would reach 6.5%, the Greens not quite 8%, and the Social Democrats 19%, i.e., these three party-families would currently receive only about one third of the votes.
If the left wanted to intervene in all earnest, they would have to sharpen their profile and, most of all, look out for social allies. The necessity for a redirection towards a social- ecological transformation and towards a society of solidarity and the standards for systemically relevant work have in all the countries been brutally revealed by the Corona-crisis. That is the reason why as Transform Europe we want to go deep into the following questions to help in the necessary debate inside the left:
1. Deep crises: Go for or beyond the system? Last year, transform! and its members initiated the analysis of the crisis. We want to approach the crisis from two dimensions: first, about new budgetary and debt instruments and the second, to engage discussion on new social model, on the role of the states, about property and the socialisation of the financial sector with capital controls and economic democracy, about emancipation and labour.
2. Who’s fighting for what: the new basis of the Left: it is imperative to identify, through the various struggles, the new social bases of the Left. From political discussions to street demonstrations, from voting to committed consumption, from strikes to internet activism, we want to capture all the forms of “political participation”.
3. Ideas and Critical Theory: within the struggles against domination, new analytical and theoretical horizons are emerging. This intellectual work, as the dynamics of popular education, can help to traces paths of convergence between isolated political fronts. In the wake of ideological movements that seek to articulate struggles against different forms of domination (sexist, racist, capitalist, etc.), we wish to promote intellectual initiatives that build bridges between the different thoughts on emancipation. These alliances are necessary to defend democracy in Europe and to fight for an open and democratic Europe that also offers protection to refugees. The left needs to elaborate its own considerations for this unresolved issue within the EU and beyond – also as a concrete approach to practising solidarity.
This moment is indeed an opportunity for progressive forces, crossed by deep ideological and social movements (ecologist, feminist, anti-racist movements), to come together and elaborate a humanist and ecologist project for society. transform!, as a transnational European network, wishes to encourage and accompany this rich and complex political struggle, both within and outside the institutions.
1. European Union: Share of the EU’s global GNP between 1980 and 2019, adjusted for purchasing power, and prognoses for 2025. de.statista.com/statistik/ daten/studie/249045/umfrage/anteil-der-europaeischen- union-eu-am-globalen-bruttoinlandsprodukt-bip/
2. Sandor Zsiros: Right-wing parties seeking new alliances. de.euronews.com/2021/04/01/rechtsparteien-streben-allianz-an
3. See: Amieke Bouma/Cornelia Hildebrandt & Danai Koltsisa (2021), Left in Diversity, Merlin Press.
Originally published in the 2nd edition of Quistioni. The Magazine of the European Left