The Coming Democracy: Socialism 2.0
On the duties and opportunities of a party of the future in the Europe of tomorrow
English Version of the Text "Die kommende Demokratie: Sozialismus 2.0" by Katja Kipping & Bernd Riexinger
Dear Colleagues, Dear Friends,
Who would know better than we do: sometimes world history has a sense of humour and long periods of time can be amazingly short. This is more true today than ever. For who, in the early 90s, would have thought what we now know: the end of history audaciously proclaimed at the time is itself already over again. The victory acclamation of neoliberalism that there could not be any more alternatives to the bad situation which existed sounds hollow. The sound of inherent necessity has long since become the slogan of the undead, an echo which resounds ever louder as it obviously has less and less to do with the real life of most people. Whilst we still hear it, only on the television and in newspapers, the podcasts of the established parties and the online portals of the publishers: in the crisis capitalism little remains of the victory howl of the technocrats and elites which still filled the castles in the air of the ‘digital service society’ at the start of the 21st century.
The neoliberal elites are still firmly in the saddle. Yet it is not the enthusiasm and conviction of the masses which they support, but rather passivity and the lack of alternatives. It does not have to stay that way.
For a spectre is once again haunting Europe. Strictly speaking not just one. Strictly speaking there are many spectres. These spectres of a departure from the desolation of the ruling neoliberal policy have developed in the general strikes and demonstrations against the austerity policy in many countries, in the ‘new democracy movements’ of Occupy and Indignados, in sit-ins and neighbourhood assemblies. In the social protests and movements during the crisis a new tune has been ringing out for several years, which seeks to shake up the status quo and has inspired and mobilised many people: the tune of ‘true democracy’. All these impulses and the hairline cracks which they cause in the concrete of the lack of alternatives have such different, indeed contradictory, effects: What frightens the technocrats of ‘market-compliant democracy’ (Angela Merkel) is their common message. Change is in the air, we are being haunted by the new version of an old idea: Democracy.
In the overarching need for democracy all these moments of resistance against the Europe of the elites and corporations are at the same time both more peaceful than any petition and more militant than the Black Block, as they go beyond the rituals of a social left-wing caught on the defensive and the gesture of futile protest. It has long since been about more than just scattered expressions of a fixed idea or the last rebellion of old traditions – they are the beginnings of a movement to create something new.
In Greece, in the form of Syriza a left-wing party of the new kind has heard society’s call. It was in a position to network with the movements, to strengthen them and at the same time to combine the various sections of the population affected by the crisis into a new political force. Syriza’s election victory shows that the hopes of many people in Greece are in line with the new spectre.
The confrontation between Syriza and the Troika ‘institutions’ has rekindled the political arguments about the future of Europe. The neoliberal elites in Europe are afraid of a domino effect. Syriza cannot succeed, from their point of view, otherwise there is a risk of break-ups in other countries with the austerity policy. There is a real risk that the possible break-up in Greece and Europe will be stifled after just a few months. The break-up in Southern Europe may not be the turning point which heralds the end of neoliberal capitalism, but it could be the beginning of the thaw, the start of a true European spring.
With Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain it is therefore about more than just a change of government, it is about a change in the way of doing politics, indeed a change in life itself. If a new society dynamic were to develop in our country too, if here too the various initiatives were to be condensed into a comprehensive break-up for real democracy, we want to and we will be right in the middle of it and actively involved, not standing on the side-lines. For this need is also our need. The slogan hits the nail on the head: They want capitalism without democracy, we want democracy without capitalism!
Interim option …
That does not mean a return to the confines of the nation-state mentality or to the grey discipline of old factory work, for which the neoliberal side like to criticise ‘new left-wing populism’. On the contrary: The yearning for true democracy is born out of the common experience of cross-border mobilisations. This yearning is further fed by the recognition that the multiplicity of life plans is an asset.
Democracy in this sense means much more than the participation of citizens under constant media fire from BILD und Co. Where right-wing populism merely turns frustration into bullying underlings, the new left wants to ensure that justice is brought to all those involved. That is the famous small difference in the whole thing. Democracy which, in our opinion, is therefore the third position beyond the neoliberal ‘and so on’ and the nostalgic option of the supposedly good old days.
It could find a material ally in the digital revolution, which links us all together at global level based on the Internet, the general intellect of the present day. However, whether the digital revolution promotes cooperation within the meaning of a Socialism 2.0 or only serves to maximise corporations’ profits, has not yet been decided. Marx already talked about a new era starting if the development of productive forces was hindered by production conditions. This is also seen today on the Internet. Exploitation rights and rights of access have to be artificially limited. The commodity of information and communication must be maintained at great expense, even though it would be possible in practice to open access to everyone. The socialisation of production is manifestly contrary to private acquisition.
The contradiction between the opportunities of a good life for all and the empty reality of crisis capitalism creates tension which can both paralyse and mobilise. Many people today already enjoy greater freedoms than in the past: less patriarchy, less factory discipline, more digital access, more individual rights, more education. That indicates a wealth of opportunities which has yet remained confined between the rules of profit production, the power calculation of a post-democratic depleted state machinery and the narrow-minded interests of the 1% super rich.
It is a bad reality, but one which is at the same time built on sand. For it is groaning under the destructive power of a wealth which, because of its unfair distribution, chases around the world in speculative bubbles and waltzes through towns on the hunt for ‘concrete gold’. Thanks to high tech and automation, more and more can be produced at lower cost. But that is not used for meeting demand, but leads to overproduction and overloading on the one hand and long-term unemployment on the other.
Yet this bad reality is being driven beyond itself, undermining its own basis a little more with each step forward. The response is one of demagoguery because the elites are slowly suspecting it. By associating the justified criticism of Europe, as it is, with the racist hatred of the right-wing culture fighters, it should be settled quickly as a whole.
But it is not the criticism of Europe of the rich which endangers its future, but leaving this continent to them. Anyone continuing to play off freedom against equality runs the risk of losing both. The EU’s loss of democratic legitimacy is already undermining its socio-political promise of freedom in many countries. The more astute liberals, like Jürgen Habermas, are now themselves saying: Europe will be social or it will not be at all.
… and reality
The more loudly we hear the grinding of European capitalism, the less naïve we are. For that too is part of the overall picture: the machinery of delusion continues working every day, 24/7. And the everyday pressures of competition play into its hands. While we see the resistance, we also see how they are continuing to increase – profit, exports, mountains of impositions. The sadness of crisis capitalism is well organised and the ‘desire not to know anything’ (Alex Demirovic) is firmly entrenched.
The prevailing crisis policy is driven by this organised ignorance of the causes of the crisis and is therefore doomed to fail. The torpid elites are riding on sight and riding roughshod over the interests of most people in Europe – but so far they are still riding very well. Merkel is in the worst sense the best example of this authoritarian policy: she is covering the country with a blight of the lack of alternatives, the administration of the neoliberal status quo is to expire as silently as possible.
The German export model is deeply involved in the global crisis: the austerity policy is exported with pride. What they do not mention here is that other countries have been forced into debt since the German agenda of 2010 in order to buy ‘our’ goods. What they also fail to mention is that German banks and companies have profited from these rescue passages. Instead the blame is placed on the people of Greece.
Merkel’s policy defers future problems: the high level of child poverty is a symbol of how the Grand Coalition treats the next generation. At the same time Merkel’s success is based on the divisions in society here at home: those in precarious employment or the unemployed are discouraged and hammered in their everyday lives, whilst the others are locked into the treadmill of high productivity and hope that they can defend their standard of living by running, slaving away and rushing. The former are declared to be surplus to requirements, the latter are told that competitivity is what life is about, but are only offered burn-out.
In the Germany of the Grand Coalition, we are sitting in the eye of the storm of crisis capitalism. Yet to many Germany appears to be a paradise threatened from the outside: the crises and threats are perceived to be external. That is itself the result of neoliberal policy, whereby the crisis was pushed into Southern Europe. The Grand Coalition extols progress in the country, whilst it is the division between rich and poor that has progressed the most.
With one of the most burning future issues, climate justice, CDU and SPD not only procrastinate but actually make the problem worse. For the necessary energy revolution is thwarted and ecological restructuring is economically stifled.
The silence of the majority of social democrats on wide scale impoverishment and the destruction of democracy in Europe is currently deafening! Social democracy is part of the torpid European elites. The Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, talked of a ‘Faustian pact’, which European social democracy entered into with the profit interests of corporations and wealthy financiers, when it gave up the fight for redistribution in favour of the devastating neoliberal policy of competition. The social democracy of Gabriel and Holland has moved away from the historical function of social democracy. This consisted of modernising capitalism and giving people dependent on the sale of their labour the prospects of promotion and a future. It is jointly responsible for the fact that millions of people in Europe have been made supposedly ‘superfluous’ by unemployment or tricked by precarious employment out of the ability to plan their future. With its support for Merkel’s crisis policy, the SPD is making itself complicit in the imminent destruction of democracy and the destruction of the European project by an authoritarian capitalism! In the not so distant future it will make itself superfluous.
No future with this present
However you look at it: there is no future in simply managing the present in a different way, because our world is basically falling apart. The multiple crises of growth, mass unemployment and poverty on a global scale, the risk of war, climate change, state disintegration and mass movements of refugees on Europe’s borders, show that the existing economic model is structurally exhausted. Famous intellectuals such as Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman and Joseph Vogel have always warned: Things will not stay as they are, not even in the centres of neoliberalism. However, that also highlights the ultimate failure of all red-green expectations of cosmetic changes within the context of what exists already. Democratic policy which takes itself seriously must concentrate today on transforming the political and economic forms and developing an exit strategy from crisis capitalism. For this is destroying both the social and the democracy.
Even more so: The illusion of reason in Merkel’s shadow produces monsters. Anyone fearful for his existence or failure or constantly experiencing marginalisation, can become easy pickings for right-wing culture fighters, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists and religious fundamentalists. These reactionary ‘crisis solvers’ make up a rhyme about the darkening present by talking about conspiracies against their own ‘culture’ whilst at the same time destroying others. They take refuge in the supposed security of the nation or in authoritarian gender models and act out their own insecurity in hatred of those weaker than they are, such as ethnic and sexual minorities. The torpidity of the elites and their reign by division promote everywhere the increase in group-focused enmity. Parts of the middle class have long been living in an ‘Atmosphere of fear which spreads like a quiet whisper, unnoticed yet undeniable’ (Heinz Bude).
Yet these right-wing culture fighters – as a glance at the AFD and Pegida shows – are not undermining neoliberalism but radicalising it still further: more competition, more brutality, voting rights only for the winners, security at the cost of freedom, defence of the well-being of an ever decreasing part against the rest. It has therefore long been clear: If the future does not become more democratic, capitalism will become more authoritarian.
The political deprivation of power of the 1% super rich and their economic disarmament by means of the redistribution of wealth therefore become questions about the survival of democracy. It is true that the promises of emancipation of left-wing policy now indeed go much further and are aimed at a self-organised society beyond market and state. Yet without addressing the cross-cutting issue of the redistribution of the enormous wealth and the democratisation of its control, no progress can be made in any political field. Instead there is the threat of further brutalisation of society, the barbarisation of the western world. In this regard, today it really is about the ‘contradictory task of stopping the free-fall of European capitalism, precisely in order to get time to formulate an alternative’ (Yanis Varoufakis).
The battles for the future …
A left-wing policy of the future should wrest power away from the torpid powers of neoliberal capitalism. For these produce a future in which millions of people are robbed of the opportunities for a good life. For us as the LEFT, that is no reason to stick our heads in the sand, but rather an incentive to act. The contradictions of capitalism are at the same time our hope. That sounds paradoxical. But the opportunities for other, better, socially fairer, more self-determined and ecologically sustainable futures have existed for a long time. It is just that they are blocked by the ruling power and ownership structures. Therefore we are concentrating on the contradiction between the possibilities of a society which is in many respects becoming richer and its distortion in chains, which make a good life for all impossible in crisis capitalism.
Capitalism is stuck in the trap of wealth: the status of the wealth produced by all workers would make it immediately possible to organise society in such a way that all people could secure their existence. The commonly produced wealth could increasingly take the form of common goods, commons, freely accessible to all people and democratically organised – good educational opportunities and freely available knowledge, health care provision and services for all, free local transport. Within financial market capitalism, however, productivity gains only benefit to a minority, while the concentration of wealth and political power produces a global oligarchy of super rich, as Thomas Piketty has shown. Productivity has risen, wealth is increasing, but it can be invested less and less productively. In financial market capitalism, growth primarily occurs in the form of financial bubbles.
At the same time we know that the OECD predicts a worldwide increase in CO2 emissions of 70 per cent by 2050. Behind closed doors, the Club of Rome and climate researchers whom no one suspects of being radical critics of capitalism say what these figures mean: The livelihoods of millions of people are being destroyed! Global climate policy has been failing for years to achieve the goal of an effective reduction in CO2 emissions because it is contrary to powerful corporate interests and no country is prepared to take unilateral steps and in so doing incur disadvantages in global competition. The experience of recent decades shows: only in major world economic crises has it been possible to significantly reduce the consumption of resources and emissions. A capitalism that gives up the compulsion for economic growth and the consumption of resources is unthinkable. Capitalism without growth means for all people who depend on the sale of their labour: redundancies, more precarious work, pressure on wages. Further economic growth in the highly industrialised countries, however, is only possible at the cost of making the socio-ecological crisis worse. Also the dream of a green capitalism by means of new, resource-efficient technologies is no way out of the multi-faceted crisis of capitalist growth: the savings in terms of the use of resources and emissions would be immediately negated by rising consumption and further economic growth.
The Canadian critic of globalisation and author, Naomi Klein, hit the nail on the head in her new book: Capitalism or climate – the choice is ours. Therefore movements for climate justice and for the rights of refugees who are fleeing poverty, war and the consequences of climate change, are spectres which we welcome!
Our perspective in the battle for the future is substantiated in practice using central political fields. It is not about a second party manifesto, nor about an exhaustive analysis of the misery of the world, we do not want to draw a map on a 1:1 scale. Instead we want to raise breaking points for discussion today, to help the breakthrough of tomorrow.
…and the way into the way out: Socialism 2.0
The challenge – and that it is not new but part of the historical experience of the socialist movement – lies in breaking through the Great Wall of China between isolated daily battles on the one hand and wide-span future expectations on the other.
The key to this is to empower more and more people in more and more areas to stand up for their own interests. That is no abstract, distant goal, but something which starts today. The following interlinked suggestions are therefore no utopia, they are just what is simple but today still seems difficult to do. They follow the simple understanding that democracy can only be defended in forward gear, i.e. in the democratisation of the whole of social life. Thus an old promise is updated against the background of new experience: Serious humanism needs an equivalent in a social universalism, i.e. ensuring the ‘social guarantees of life’ (Rosa Luxemburg) for all, totally irrespective of their success to date in the employment market. Serious humanism also needs a democracy which sees freedom and equality as conditions. It is about turning the promise of freedom perverted by neoliberalism against its current form of deterioration. Future democracy is therefore not a ready-made state but an open process. A process which can open the windows for a free, green, feminist and joyful socialism, a Socialism 2.0. The chances of this based on the current state of knowledge and technological development have never been so good; but nor has the risk of missing it.
It is about a completely new way of producing, living and working. In short, a revolution in thinking, feeling and acting. The core of such a project remains the transformation of the prevailing production, reproduction and ownership conditions and the conversion of production forces and technological innovation into resources for collective self-determination: the power of the people over the conditions in which they live and work. It is about freeing democracy from its limitation to parliament, by having all areas of society organised democratically by the people.
In this regard we also see the new socialism as a cultural revolution. As a totally new prosperity model, in which joyful cooperation and arrangement, more self-determined available time, the development of the wealth of opportunities and the diversity of work, life and love replace the private consumption of goods as a source of inspiration.
The road in this direction cannot be a one-way leap. And it requires constant, unifying work. Large and small protests, approaches to alternatives in daily life, in which people can work and live differently in the here and now, have not yet combined to become a ‘true movement which raises it to the state of today’ – as Marx and Engels called the spectre of communism in the Manifesto. But things do not have to stay this way!
For future democracy, for the way into the way out of crisis capitalism, at least the following political fields and entrance paths are crucial here:
- Shorter, fairly distributed, collectively self-determined – The work of the future revolves around life.
Millions of people are currently excluded from work and social participation. Precarious work has long since become the new normality. We are confronted with the decision as to how we want to organise the work of the future. Contrary to a development where many people work more and more and earn less and less, where poverty and uncertain jobs make it ever more difficult to plan the future, a radical shake up of the working world is needed. Just to be able to imagine a different tomorrow, we need a radical reduction in working hours and a redistribution of activities. Increased productivity makes it possible for everyone to be able to live well and at the same time have more self-determined time. For this to happen the social guarantees of life must be secured for all as fundamental social rights. The opportunities for this have long since existed in a rich country.
We need a cultural revolution in the working world and new forms of class power, the organised power of the unemployed, those in precarious employment and those working in various sectors, in order to implement what should be obvious in a rich country:
- Every job must be paid in such a way that existence and participation are secured.
- This must include the ability to plan one’s own future and to be protected against poverty in old age.
- Work and working hours must be arranged in such a way that life and work can aligned. Various life phases must be socially secured: such as formal education and training; looking after children and those requiring care; professional reorientation.
- Work should not make you ill, nor should it result in exhaustion or burn-out after a few years. So bring on the stress brake!
- People must be able to have a greater collective and democratic say in how their working conditions and jobs are arranged.
So that all people can participate in society, a sanctions-free minimum income scheme is needed which is a fundamental right. No victimisation and sanctions by Jobcentres! For people become active on their own if they are really able to arrange their lives and their work without fear. By reducing work and expanding the public infrastructure for education, care and health care provision, involuntary unemployment can be reduced.
The work of the future must revolve more around life – instead of life revolving around work as it has to date: Flexible working and living times do not have to be synonyms for precariousness and can lead to more self-determination. This presupposes, however, that the work is redistributed and reduced and that those in work can protect themselves better as a result of the expansion of participation rights. Projects such as ‘full-time employment with shorter working time’ or ‘extended part-time work’ with a working week of 30-32 hours and flexible models for various life phases with sabbatical years, time out for family and education can give this cultural revolution for good work a common appeal.
Neoliberalism promised gender emancipation by means of market forces. Women were to become the entrepreneurs of their daily lives, seek their self-realisation in market competition and master the multiple stresses of stressful jobs, child rearing and care work in a ‘self-determined’ way. Ultimately, however, neoliberalism and patriarchy have proven themselves to be true accomplices, which complemented each other especially well in the exploitation of women. Not least because women in particular had to pick up the reductions in public provision and the consequences of social reductions. In the words of feminist author Laurie Penny, gender equality is just as unlikely as wealth to simply trickle down from above.
In society a widely shared need for equality between the sexes has developed. The desire for new relationships with a fair distribution of work within the family and for social conditions in which ‘gender imposes no constraints on our dreams’ (Laurie Penny), is growing. That is progress which we can draw on. However, the material conditions of across the board emancipation remained blocked. At the moment wherever, for example, most workers are women, wages are lower: whether in the supermarket or the care home. And not only on the net, but also in the non-virtual working world, in media and politics, sexism is everywhere. Yet here, too, resistance is growing. Anyone today who is sexist can no longer assume that it will be quietly ignored, but must expect there to be an #outcry – and not only on the net. Another encouraging piece of progress.
Overall the new feminist awakening is confronted with the question: a self-determined life for all or semi-emancipation? This feminist awakening should therefore go hand-in-hand with the battles for time. At the end of the day, men and women should have equal amounts of time for gainful employment, caring and work in the family, political involvement and leisure. In addition to a radical reduction in working hours, this also requires the redistribution of activities between the sexes.
What we absolutely want to end in future is discrimination against women. Combating wage discrimination is therefore a must. Work with people, e.g. in day nurseries, schools, care homes and hospitals, which is still carried out disproportionately by women, must be upgraded, e.g. by means of more staff and a democratic arrangement of these areas between those working and those affected. These are the first steps towards a care revolution aimed at no less than a caring society for all. In other words at a society which is no longer centred on profit maximisation, but on people’s needs and caring for one another. A perspective which undermines both patriarchy and capitalism.
- Our plan B begins with economic democracy and socio-ecological (energy) change.
In order to make the work of the future a reality, we must overcome the whole existing production model, which is geared to high yields for the financial investors and the competitiveness of exports. Instead we are fighting for democratic power over the economy. In the light of the climate crisis we are confronted with the decision as to whether we carry on as before or whether we set in motion a radical socio-ecological transformation of our economic model. The prospect of a socio-ecological economic democracy or democratic future economy can help us to address the difficult task of implementing in spite of resistance new caring and ecological ways to run the economy, consume and live together. We must break the control of the wealthy and corporations over society’s wealth. Without a radical redistribution of wealth, without the democratic control of the financial markets and the socialisation of the banks, it will not happen. By strengthening public and collective ownership, the decisions as to what is invested and produced where for what purpose, can be controlled more democratically and production can be geared to the social needs of people and to ecological criteria, instead of to private profit interests. We can only achieve a thorough transformation of the economy and an ecological conversion of industry if we once again raise the question of socialisation, the democratic control of ‘key industries’ at the level of technological development and in trans-national perspectives.
We recommend fighting for ways into this radical conversion of the economy:
- an ecologically sustainable circular economy needs more regional and decentralised production, e.g. in agriculture. The promotion of mutual associations and regional cooperatives can be an important step towards this.
- Through economic councils and public ownership, key industries – from car and machinery production to pharmaceutical and IT companies – could be democratised. The ecological conversion of industry away from destructive technologies and climate killers can only succeed if the workers, consumers and citizens organise the processes democratically themselves.
- The socio-ecological energy revolution is a key project which we are combining with a democratisation and decentralisation of the provision of energy. Components of this are the transfer of energy companies into society-controlled ownership, the promotion of energy cooperatives or the fight for new public utilities democratically controlled by citizens’ councils.
In a democratised future economy the developed wealth of society’s knowledge and the fruits of the digital revolution must benefit everyone. The ownership conditions here have since become shackles which prevent the practical value of technological progress being rolled out for the people. Yet the potential for self-determined work and life, as well as for a new form of democracy, is enormous. The desperate attempts of governments and companies to enclose the new productive networks of digital communication and knowledge again like commodities, by means of patents and copyright, fail time and again because of people’s creativity and the cyberpunk of the Internet community. They also undermine the productivity of the digital economy itself, which is largely based on free access and the ability to openly develop the production processes. By contrast, self-organised media activism and the blogger scene are good examples of how knowledge and technology can be freed from the influence of financial capitalism. For here Brecht’s radio theory that every receiver is also a transmitter, becomes reality to a certain extent. The democratic and productive potential of the Internet could be released if we overcome the dominance of capital ownership. The battles for the future revolve here around free and equal access to communication, knowledge and culture, around abolishing control by the state and corporations, around public funding for free media and cultural professionals. Collectively produced commons and new forms of democratic digital cooperation can only be implemented across the board once we manage to wrest the communication infrastructure from the big IT corporations.
The revolution will not be televised, but it could be streamed. Always provided, of course, that people become active so that there is something to stream.
3. An offensive for what is public – on the way to an infrastructure socialism.
Financial market capitalism has a tendency to make even the vital areas of society into commodities: Education, knowledge, health, mobility, energy and water supplies are subject to profit. The alternative to this destructive seizure of land is: The economy must be geared to demand instead of to private profits. A democratic future economy can lay the foundations for ensuring that all men have the same access to vital goods and services. In this way we can multiply the opportunities for individual development and collective self-determination.
By contrast to the plundering by corporations and the plan of Juncker and Gabriel to privatise the infrastructure in Europe, we put forward a future investment programme of EUR 100 billion for the expansion of good education, health and care, the construction of social and barrier-free housing. This is an initial project aimed at reinforcing and democratising what is public whilst at the same time redistributing wealth.
The challenge is to dock on to specific disputes about wages and working conditions in social services and the education sector, initiatives for public hospitals and small school classes, protests for good study conditions and against elitism in universities. Projects such as the free year’s day nursery in Thuringia, free public local transport and a communally organised energy supply are important first steps into the battles for the future to reinforce and democratise what is public.
The new offensive for what is public does not draw its fantasy from the past, it does not just want to turn the clock back in the direction of what was often a bureaucratic public service and social administration. It is about creating new commons: for all accessible public commodities on the other side of the market, with good working conditions, democratically organised and ecologically sustainable. These need a state-supported infrastructure. If the public sector is expanded and democratically reconfigured by producers and consumers, we will be breaking new ground: towards an infrastructure socialism and an associated new culture of prosperity and the wealth of opportunities: quality of life and self-determination for all, instead of more private consumption.
- A new commune – for the democratisation of local authorities and the right to the city!
Regional authority level is the place where many of these initial projects, from free local transport to democratic public utilities to community economic councils, are grouped together. It is also where democracy for the people can be lived out – something almost all parties agree on. Yet the direction in which neoliberal capitalism changes our towns and communities has nothing to do with ‘true democracy’. For the constant praise for local democracy has for years been accompanied by financial exhaustion, with the result that in many places local democracy is reduced to managing the bare essentials. This is especially true under the conditions of the debt brake. It also acts as fuel for political disenchantment if co-determination primarily means having to decide whether the swimming pool or the library should close. In local authorities the upheavals and divisions caused by the neoliberal conversion of society, are especially palpable. Local authorities are converted in line with the interests of corporations and the rich, or else they decay through lack of investment. Whilst towns and local authorities compete for investments in the local competition, the associated neoliberal conversion relegates long-term unemployment, poverty, homelessness, migrants, refugees and those without papers, as well often as people with disabilities, to the side-lines. In the hunt for new investment opportunities for the super rich, whole areas of towns are gentrified, people are pushed out by increasing rents, public spaces are privatised. Privatisations of energy supplies, local transport and swimming pools reinforce the division in society.
True democracy at local community level brings a material basis. The global movement for right to the town means: towns and communities belong to those who live there. All people must be able to take part in arranging local authority infrastructure, whether by new forms of town planning, promoting housing associations or democratically organised public utilities.
The right to the town includes a social welcome culture: all people must be able to participate equally, irrespective of their origins. However, a welcome culture also needs a new material basis, so that refugees are not played off against the unemployed, those in precarious employment or specialist workers and solidarity can develop in everyday life.
By contrast to the authoritarian twins of racist mobilisation against supposed Islamisation and a neoliberal policy which, through social division and insecurity, paves the way for it, we put forward the prospect of a powerful movement against insecurity, in favour of the right to the town and true democracy from below. There are many specific starting points for this. For example, thousands of people across the country have taken to the streets in protest against Pegida and increasing numbers of people are specifically getting involved on behalf of refugees locally.
5. Europe needs a democratic revolution.
The battle for a democratic, socially fair and peaceful Europe in the context of a new, fair world (economic) order is the horizon of a left-wing future policy. The increasing social polarisation in Europe shows that the neoliberal construction is not a sustainable basis for a social and democratic Europe of the people. It is precisely because the neoliberal technocrats want to downgrade Europe to a football for the corporations and the increasingly strong right-wing populists want to destroy it, that it is the historical duty of the left to fight for a democratic and social re-creation of Europe. For a new direction which breaks with its neoliberal configuration and ends the isolation of Fortress Europe. Mass unemployment, poverty and insecurity, especially robbing a whole generation of young Europeans of their future, allow new movements to be created. The many regional and national battles against the consequences of the crisis and the austerity policy have not yet given rise to any Europe-wide movement for a different Europe. However, as left-wingers the challenge for us in the coming months and years is to work on this. For in the coming battles for the future of Europe, it is about a decent future for millions of people and about the future of democracy!
Together with many people in the countries of our European neighbours, we want to fight for the beginning of a new democratic foundation in Europe:
- We need a debt conference and a Europe-wide future investment programme to combat youth and mass unemployment, poverty and precarious employment. The misuse of power by the European Central Bank in order to implement neoliberal policy when purchasing government bonds must be stopped. Instead of flooding the financial markets with money and thus sustaining new speculative bubbles, States must be provided with resources for investments in public infrastructure, good education, health care provision and the socio-ecological conversion of the economy, energy provision and mobility. In order to finance future investments and shrink the financial markets, there needs to be a radical Europe-wide redistribution of wealth.
- We want to break through the neoliberal economic model and its formalisation in the European Institutions. The Lisbon Treaty and the Fiscal Pact reinforce the bastions of power of the rich, banks and corporations. We are fighting for a new constitutional process from below in which people have the initiative, as well as for social ecological economic policy at European level.
- We are fighting for social rights for all as well as for coordinated social standards in Europe which prevent social dumping and strengthen the trade unions. The claims for European unemployment insurance and a sanction-free minimum wage, for a European future investment programme with the prospect of European commons and a renewable energy revolution, for a European wealth tax and for Europe-wide referendums, could have a mobilising effect on the trend against making work and life more precarious and in favour of democracy.
- No democratic society can develop in Fortress Europe, let alone one in a state of war. The fatal hunt by Frontex for refugees at the outer borders must be stopped immediately and Frontex disbanded. Furthermore the EU must agree a disarmament agreement, including the ban on arms exports, and reject the creation of an intervention force. Work on a fair world (economic) order is the best security policy. And ultimately we need the cross-border expansion of fundamental democratic rights in Europe – instead of the criminalisation of social movements and the increasing relativisation of central fundamental rights, such as freedom to demonstrate and freedom of opinion.
Even if we wanted it, there is no left-wing way back from the current state of integration. Just as the members of the French avant garde once demanded for the art of the future, that art should be absolutely modern, we say the same today about the left of the future: It must be absolutely European.
Organising hope: the party of the future
This brief sketch of initial projects for achieving real democracy, for a Socialism 2.0 is certainly not complete; some things which need to change in Europe as a matter of urgency are missing. Besides a lot of things will only arise, indeed may still have to be invented, when the process is under way. However it is already perfectly clear today that we must ask ourselves to what extent here we have to change ourselves as a party, how the modus of our policy can develop further, in order to be able to live up to the potentials of the coming democracy. For it is a fact: if nothing stays as it is – why should it pass by a left-wing party unnoticed? What it is so appropriately called in Marx‘ 3. Feuerbach thesis: Revolutionary practice means both – changing the circumstances and self-transformation.
For the answer to this question, we do not have to reinvent everything. THE LEFT is not a party like all the others. As a binding party of a plural left we are already part of the battles and in the case of many movements, such as Blockupy or Actions against the TTIP, an integral part of the mosaic of the left. The successful stabilisation of our party in recent years, many party development projects launched, the contact point for social movements, youth development, common mobilisations with social movements and trade unions such as elections, are beginning to bear fruit for the first time. In addition we are already having an effect: the implementation of the minimum wage is – as unsatisfactory as it yet is – the result of years of work. Without us, the social discussion would not have shifted. This shows: we are not only portraying existing power relations, but are also actively creating the fields of the represented – and are contributing to changing it.
At the same time important experience has been obtained from the Southern European spring: People themselves must sever the shackles which prevent them having a self-determined life for all. Peter Weiss writes pertinently in ‘The Aesthetics of Resistance’: ‘unless we free ourselves, it will have no consequences for us’. Being reduced merely to traditional substitutionist policies and the role of an election party, must therefore fail. This would also be incorrect just because of the fact that focussing in this way is ignoring the widespread need for a renewal of democracy. The development of Syriza and Podemos has further shown that a party can take on important roles in social movements and battles by supporting them and not exploiting them. The prospect of a binding party makes it possible to widen the horizon of the party as an organisational form and to develop an emancipatory policy which is aimed at combining various groups and milieus with the prospect of overcoming neoliberal capitalism and changing the form of politics itself in the direction of ‘real democracy’.
We have already started down this road, now it is about developing together a new impetus for the next steps.
We know: achieving this is no small task. For specifically this means at least three things:
- We should raise the power question at all levels.
In order to increase social power and be able to win the battle for a different hegemony at someday, we also need an emancipatory class policy 2.0. For class struggles – such as the battles against the worst excesses of precarious employment at Amazon or the day nursery strike among others – look different today. They are simultaneously battles for gender equality, against racism and for global solidarity, for climate justice and global democracy. The party must therefore also open itself up culturally to other concepts of identity and the subjects of all those who want to be more in life than merely industrious ants to the Germany Company.
The carrier of a democratisation from below could in this sense be an association consisting of the unemployed, the precariously employed, the employed, in particular the growing groups of people employed in the education, health and care sectors, as well as the urban left-wing milieu and the new European generation. Yes, in Europe a generation has now grown up for whom it is a matter of course to live across borders in Europe. Many of them are suffering, however, under current EU policy. In order for such an association to succeed, we should be clear for whom and to whom we are speaking. And that is less public opinion than the opinion of those who no longer feel represented.
2) For transformative organising and new agents of the common.
An emancipatory hegemony policy, a new left-wing populism need both: a new language and a new ability for conflict – even among the LEFT. We must be in a position to combine battles, withstand conflicts and develop joint perspectives. We need agents of the common who, conscious of the differences and disparate timings, work on pragmatic solutions. Not least that also means hearing the sound of the street and learning to speak over and over again. This is why we – in the tradition of the ‘caring party’ – suggest a listening offensive, in which for example our party’s open offices can be used as forums for social movements and starting points for transformative organising in districts and local communities in order to jointly increase solidarity, the welcome culture and empowerment in everyday life. In this way we could also strengthen our campaign ability locally.
In addition, we as a party must make better use of the opportunities of the digital society. Through the Internet we can become less dependent on the media’s power to shape opinions and at the same time counter its dark side, the conspiracy theories and activist portals, with our own ideas and arguments. With this in mind we recommend creating our own Internet TV – which we could start together and entirely within the sense of creating a Europe from below, possibly even with colleagues from Syriza.
- Create laboratories of the future.
The future week can be a start for a joint discussion about dreams of the future, left-wing alternatives and strategies, the party of the future. Let us create, using the five subject axes which are each different groupings of the battles for the future, laboratories of the future, in which we can network and further develop our ideas into powerful projects and strategies. The campaign starting on 1 May ‘That must be in there’ against precarious employment and life, is in this sense also a blueprint; a self-organised learning process in which joining in not only means implementing a ready-made plan, but creating room for exchanges, discovering abilities to organise and expanding them.
We are all the party of the future. We are not just already different from the other parties, we want in future to differentiate ourselves still further in future from the various party political options. However, not least this requires: your involvement. For it is only as an active members’ party that we can also implement the planned campaigns outside elections, run the necessary battles and expand our position in the people’s daily lives. There are already lots of different areas in the party and lighthouse projects such as open offices LinXXNet and RedroXX or the discussion contexts of the Plan B, where wide participation is desirable and possible. We want to significantly expand laboratories of the future such as these and thus create the opportunities for practical involvement.
Admittedly: We have a lot on our plate. The attempt to break away from business as usual even within society’s left, is not easy and demands a lot of all of us. However, we are convinced that it is worth it. For: how the future looks is decided not tomorrow, but today. We have more to lose than our chains, but still a world to win. Against the organised sadness of capitalism and against its reactionary criticism from the right, the left’s gamble was always that it is people themselves who can determine their own society conditions, that history can be made. Let’s prove it. Now.