transform! is the think tank of the Party of the European Left (EL). Both EL and transform! are, in historical terms, relatively young organisations that were created to achieve something never before attempted: together and in our respective fields, using our individual methodologies, we aim to help create unity among the left in Europe as well as develop a common political culture of the left.
In pursuing this approach, we – and here I am referring to the left in a broad sense: social movements, trade unions, women’s movements and political parties – have been able to mark many achievements. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the fact that until now we have not been able to break the iron grip of austerity that currently holds Europe’s trade unions tight in its grasp.
In these times of crisis in Europe, it is not the radical left that is generating political momentum but rather radical, nationalist groups on the right. As of yet, we have not been able to use the current threats we face to offer an alternative vision for Europe.
The proposal made to the Congress (that an annual forum be held for left-wing and alternative political organisations) may prove a crucial initiative on the pathway to achieving this goal if we all focus our efforts collectively towards making this aim a reality.
We need a space for the left which also incorporates various initiatives, e.g. Diem25, Plan B, AlterSummit and Blockupy, as well as trade unions, movements and political parties. We need respectful debates that are less concerned with trying to convince one another of the validity of our own convictions but with listening to other people’s arguments and highlighting those elements that may be useful in identifying a joint strategy.
The political climate in Europe has changed. Euroscepticism has grown in influence, not just among the general population but also on the left.
Disillusionment with the EU as it exists today can be a force for good, but only if we do not fall into the opposite illusion by deluding ourselves into thinking that a collapse of European integration would bring Europe and the world even one inch closer to solving the biggest problems our societies face today: climate change, global inequality, the plight of refugees and migrants, the threat of war and the battle against gender discrimination. European disintegration would not help combat any of these issues, and a Europe based on nationalism would not be any less capitalist or imperialist.
Our aim is to defend our people’s right to determine their own future through the democratic means made available to them via each country’s democratic process and we will do just that. But we will not become nationalists. Nation-state democracies and transnational democracies are not antagonistic per se but must complement one another.
It feels comforting to go along the preconceived notion that history is not doomed to repeat itself. Even Marx, who proclaimed that historical tragedies repeat themselves only as farce, may be wrong: sometimes tragedies also reappear as tragedies.
Europe’s history resembles a neurotic cycle in which unresolved conflicts, stoked by new contradictions, return again and again, erupting in crises and seismic tremors.
This is precisely what we can learn from the current wars we are witnessing and, above all, from the rise of the authoritarian, nationalist right across all of Europe.
This very threat is causing our strategy’s parameters to shift, and it will define our responsibilities in the years to come.
The current shifts in Europe are part of a global transformation that is confronting all political and ideological organisations, social democracies, green parties, trade unions, churches and religious communities, artists and intellectuals with the biggest challenges witnessed in recent memory.
We should use all our energy and goodwill to enter into an honest dialogue. During this process, we should remain true to who we are. We are not populists. We are members of the left, socialists, communists, feminists and internationalists.
The above talk was delivered on 16 December at the 5th Congress of the Party of the European Left (EL) in Berlin.