High quality debates among people from different starting points aiming to find a common ground for a Europe of the people. A seminar that tried not to give definitive answers, but to pose at least the right questions.
Event: two days Seminar
Dates: 09-11 July 2018
Venue: Veranstaltungszentrum Europahaus Wien, Linzer Straße 429, 1140 Vienna
Facilitator: Angelina Giannopoulou, transform!
Responsible member of the Board: Cornelia Hildebrandt
The annual strategic seminar of our network is one of the cornerstones of the strong and stable cooperation between transform! europe and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and takes place every year alongside with the Summer University of the Party of the European Left aiming to tackle crucial strategic questions for the European left forces and the radical left strategy towards the European Integration. Therefore it openly focuses on the political actors of the radical left in Europe and their ability to provide programmatic and strategic answers to current challenges, to build alternatives and to further develop forms of political organization. This year’s debates were also informed by the forthcoming European Elections in May 2019.
The aim of the seminar was to present the strengths and weaknesses of Europe’s left-wing parties and to discuss their strategic options for future struggles. This not only includes the deepening of knowledge about concrete challenges the left faces in specific European countries, but also the concretization of left policies as a method and a process, namely policy areas which left-wing majorities can stand for: The social question, peace and democracy.
Twenty speakers among the thirty five participants prepared themselves for contributing to the discussions during the eight scheduled panels that covered topics from the Left in the Southern Europe and the rise of the Far Right in the continent to concrete left policy proposals for a new social, economic and ecological model and the political and electoral behaviour of the contemporary popular classes.
Many interesting observations and conclusions came up from both the speakers and the attendees that we would like to briefly mention in this report and additionally, the contributions of the participants can be found in written form here attached.
Antoine de Cabanes, facilitator of transform of the “Analysing the Far Right” project described the political state of affairs in France emphasizing on how the the political space of the conservatives is narrowing more and more. A three - polar political framework seems to being established with the left hegemonised by Jean-Luc Melenchon, the center by Macron and the right by the Front National’s discourse.
Walter Baier, the Political Coordinator of our network draw our attention on the observation that the rise of the far right is a new form of contemporary bourgeois hegemony. Coming from Austria, he clearly stated that Austria needs nothing but a new red-green feminist party that will be the opposition to the current government of S. Kurz.
The discussions upon the Far Right, the right wing populism and the left strategy that could counterattacked it even approached the historical debate of the “Class against Class” (Klasse gegen Klasse)-strategy, and how this idea coming from the past of the communist movement is now being reborn from some actors of the Left.
For Mario Candeias, the director of the Institute for Critical Social Analysis of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the radical right appears as a class alliance. An alliance led by the “fascization” of a part of the elites.
The case of the Far Right is not the same when it comes to the Southern Europe where the welfare state had never been established the way it had in the Western Europe, thus the fear of insecurity is not so big in Spain, Italy and Portugal as it is in France or Germany. In the European South, apart from Greece, the social democracy is still resilient and the Far Right does not have any powerful dynamic, as Haris Golemis, the Scientific Advisor of transform noted.
During the panel on the governmental experiences in Greece and in Portugal, Danae Koltsida, General Counsel of the General Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and member of the Central Committee of SYRIZA, described the construction of the Greek government and the political framework in which it is forced to act. The real picture is that the Left is the minority in all the European summits. The government of SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks, was built on 2 pillars: the anti-memorandum and anti-corruption strategy. SYRIZA does not deny the problems that arose in this coalition starting from progressive bills of SYRIZA introduced to the parliament to the recent agreement that solves the “Macedonia” naming dispute. The most crucial question, however, should be the question of the state. How does the Left deals with the public administration and the necessary change of the people’s attitude towards the civil servants, but also how does the Left see the relation between the party and the state.
The Greek government acts within a very strict financial, budgetary framework imposed by the European neoliberal institutions. Nevertheless, it did really make changes to the living conditions of the poorest strata of the society. They made the public health-care system universal, accessible for all. They gave benefits for housing, winter fuel payment, vouchers for the super markets, hot meals at schools, free transportation for the unemployed etc. Why there is still the impression that completely nothing has changed is because the middle class, that was proletarized during the crisis, remained under the same living conditions and the change in the taxation system affected them the most.
Theodora Κotsaka, researcher at Nicos Poulantzas Institute in Athens, who participated in the panel “Building blocks for left policies in Europe: A social, ecological and economic transformation” tried to present a toolkit that the left can use as part of its policies’ proposal based on the concept of Commons. There is an actual broad political consensus for commons and what is needed is political representation that could create the institutional and legal framework that people will use as a window.
Giorgos Chondros from the department of European Affairs of SYRIZA presented the work of the party and people in the Greek government on the solidarity-social economy. He highlighted the participatory decision making process and the contribution of this sector in restoring the labor rights in Greece.
The panel of “Peace, trade and security policy” brought together two people from vary different backgrounds, Lucia Barcena, a young trade campaigner at Ecologistas en Acción and Erhard Crome, consultant for Peace and Security Policy at the Institute for Social Analysis of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The EU has already announced nine new trade agreements that reveal an emphasis not on the tariffs but on the existing legal framework in the respective countries. The goal to be achieved is what kind of regulations of each country stand as a barrier to trade. The corporations are openly moving towards a frame where they can have a say on the content of the laws. As Erhard Crome pointed out, neoliberalism does not need the state, he only needs the USA and “Brussels” state.
The seminar finished with the contributions of Yann Le Lann, director of Espaces Marx in Paris and Paul Elek, researcher, who both presented the collective work of the institute on the political implications of the reorganisation of the class structure at a European level. They stated their strong objection with the narrative on the “responsibility of the popular classes” upon the rise of the Far Right. The popular classes do not move towards the Far Right. They are polarized, we should therefore avoid that kind of moral blackmail from the liberals who see people either being Europeans and neoliberals or refusing neoliberalism and being characterized as nationalists. The left forces should avoid linking the European project with the actual structure of the EU.
According to their view, the left is trying to win back the blue-collar workers, part of the popular classes, that has been moved to the Far Right electorate. In political, strategical terms, this is impossible for now, this is a project about to fail. Seeing that there is no transfer of voters between the far right and the far left, that does not mean we cannot fight back the far right. That only means that for now, we cannot convince their voters back. Espace Marx’s conclusions are focused on the people the left has still a leverage to gain: The youth and the new-voters that were 18-25 years old during the 2008 crisis, that have high social demands and they will also regenerate our electorate. Additionally, we should work towards “the Left hand of the State” (see Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis), that includes sectors planned to be privatized within the next 10 years, and the racialized ethnic minorities and the immigrants or people with an immigrant background. The discussion and the debate at the end of the presentation resulted to a decision of transform! to create a working group for analyzing the contemporary electoral behavior of the popular classes per country and/or region.
The contributions of the speakers can not only be found in our website, but they have also been recorded and the videos will be uploaded within the next months.