If, according to enquiries, interest in politics has not diminished in France, on the other hand the crisis of confidence has taken on unprecedented dimensions. A sense of powerlessness is taking the place of ‘they’re all rotten’. What is felt is the absence of political power in the face of the great economic powers, but also a deficit of political will. Politics is increasingly less perceived as a solution or as a lever for changing things. Anger, protest, although real, find it difficult to locate their target.
The state appears, using the words of our German friends, to belong to ‘others’. According to an Ipsos-Steria poll of January 2014, in France only 27 % trust the Senate, 28 % the National Assembly, and 31 % the European Union. National institutions and EU institutions are equally affected.
‘Political fatalism’ takes its place alongside ‘crisis fatalism’. It is clearly very great in France where the political involvement of the popular classes has historically constituted an important dimension of class confrontation.
Despite the differences, today there is strong criticism of the system in the three countries studied – Germany, Greece, and France. But this does not ‘naturally’ lead to the presentation of another possible, credible alternative, a feasible transformation. This question is essential. How do we modify the representations of reality and promote a ‘power of interpretation’, which is indispensable for getting one’s bearings, for representing an alternative possibility, for uniting, and for reappropriating social and political intervention?
In Greece, in the confrontation with the Troika, the banks and the national government, in a context of an acute humanitarian crisis, and with a political force (SYRIZA) in the picture capable of representing, in the long term and coherently, an alternative choice – there the perception of who is responsible is less confused, and the need for a political change appears more clearly. The economy and politics are called into question simultaneously. In Germany, on the other hand, we see a kind of re-legitimation of the market economy since 2010. In Germany and France, in waging their ideological battle, the dominant forces dispose of a larger margin than in Greece.
To build a left strategy to face the crisis of politics requires the audacity to innovate. If the deficit of political power and will deprives citizens of the levers they need for changing the direction of things, one of the central questions is how to reappropriate politics, how to de-alienate it. If more than three-quarters of the French population think that government policies are not concerned with them, they also think that their choices and their actions as citizens can change society and political life. Being aware of this potential for engagement can help us in opening up breaches. The erosion of democracy is twofold: An oligarchy is increasingly appropriating powers, and the people, conscious of its loss of sovereignty, are gradually losing interest in the res publica. The transformational left needs to be up to this challenge. The confrontation over democracy becomes an essential aspect. Citizens’ involvement, ‘power to the people’, is what we have always said, and nothing is more right and more modern. Simple participation in processes that remain external to the participants is not enough when the crisis of politics reaches today’s levels. Nor is it enough to ask the voters to give their mandate to future elected officials to represent them in the institutions. If the state today is seen as the state of ‘the others’, the mandate has to consist in changing the institutions, giving meaning back to them, and making them function in the common interest. This presupposes a new relationship between the voter, the elected official, and the institutions.
The paths that make it possible for citizens to become the protagonists themselves and master the political processes, are still to be determined. This requires an original and bold reflection on the evolution of parties and trade unions, on the role of elected officials when the goals consists of promoting the self-emancipation of the masses (Rosa Luxemburg) or, using today’s vocabulary, of the citizens.
The article L’auto-émancipation contre le fatalisme politique was published in French by L'Humanité on 14 February 2014.
Translation into English: Eric Canepa