One year after the widespread switch to the reduced life of the first lockdown, the global system remains in crisis. Each European country, after having undergone all kinds of restrictive measures, finds itself in more or less the same position: tens of thousands dead and many people left suffering from long-term illnesses; devastated health systems; widening inequalities; economic sectors at a standstill; cultural life stolen. If, faced with the danger of the virus, health and collective considerations have temporarily prevailed over growth objectives, the vast majority of public policies have failed to give precedence to human imperatives over profitability requirements. The rare principles of collective solidarity, when put in place, have been simple remedies designed to heal a system that has only been temporarily shaken. The EU has also failed to manage the social crisis and to transform its model to meet the challenges. In the midst of a state of emergency, respect for the principles of ‘free and undistorted competition’, for example, has prevented the introduction of a vaccine accessible to all.
Within neoliberal institutions, the central issue remains repairing the system. However, the current pandemic must be seen in the context of a decade of multiple crises that have profoundly destabilised the regulations based on the dogma of competition between economies. A return to a pre-Covid economy seems neither possible nor desirable for many citizens. After 50 years of neoliberal domination, Joe Biden’s recent statements on the unrealistic nature of the ‘trickle-down theory’ indicate that capitalist societies are now at a crossroads where options are in conflict. Although discredited in the sequence by a considerable ‘covid-scepticism’ fringe, far right forces are reinforcing calls for nationalist and authoritarian withdrawal. On the left, the demand for equality and ecological transformation is mobilising millions of people but is struggling to become a credible societal project.
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 ecological project for society.
As a transnational European network, transform! wishes to encourage and accompany this rich and complex political struggle, both within and outside the institutions.
I. Deep crises: go for or go beyond the system?
Last year, transform! europe and its members initiated an important work on the analysis of the crisis. We want to continue and encourage this project, taking account of the conflict on a global scale (USA-China), and emphasising the possibility of a new European project.
We want to approach the crisis from two dimensions. The first, which is indispensable, allows for an immediate contribution to the debate. The unsynchronized lockdowns have resulted in an unprecedented social and economic crisis. After more than a year, the danger of passing the load on the shoulders of the populations is still imminent. We have to be present in the debate about new budget and debt instruments. But we must avoid getting locked into an argument that is not our own, between new “neoliberal economic orthodoxy” and conventional macro-economic instruments, even of Keynesian type, that will fail the character and the depth of the crisis. While budget deficits and new ways of managing debt, conceded in order to preserve companies, are sometimes a necessity, they do not make it possible to deal with the foundations of a crisis that cannot be reduced to its health or budgetary dimensions.
The current problems are rooted in the principles of structural social inequalities and ecological disaster, which constitute the second dimension that we wish to work on. Last year, we affirmed that being “the doctor at the sickbed of capitalism” would not be sufficient. The debate implies the question of collective sovereignty, but more than a debate around distribution of money and power, we want to engage discussion about new social models and the role of the states; about property, about the socialisation of the financial sector, about capital controls, about economic democracy, about emancipation and labour.
The mutations of the digital economy are opening up infinite possibilities and we must develop their usage to serve the logics of market imperatives.
We must produce credible and operational proposals and mobilise widely on the basis of this new society. This dimension is essential at a time when the ecological, mobility-related and societal crises are coming together with that of Covid-19 to constitute a “deep crisis”.
The existing institutions provide spaces and resources that we must make extensive use of. The Conference of the Future of Europe, in preparation by the European Commission and the European Parliament, which aims to find new agreements on the future of European democracy, has to be a tool we make our own. We must not let the liberal or conservative forces take the lead of this matter.
This approach applies equally to mainstream media (press and online). We believe that it is essential to use these existing tools to promote an alternative European public opinion. We would also appreciate projects that aimed to encourage and support the development of independent media.
Taking as its starting point this moment which we identify as a crossroads for capitalist societies, we will also pay particular attention to the different forms of reconstruction proposed, to their ideological and paradigmatic origins and the type of society they promote. The doubts and criticisms of the foundations of liberal capitalism, globalisation and competition are a unique opportunity for political and intellectual work on alternative projects that combine all these issues.
As such, the case of the vaccine is an example of the need to intertwine these dimensions. If, during the first lockdown, leaders declared that vaccines should be “global public goods”, we see once again, and even if Joe Biden has temporarily lifted patents on Covid vaccines, that the iron law of neoliberal capitalism has applied in practice. Projects that promote debate around the “public good” status of vaccines will also be valued.
On the analysis of crisis and alternative projects, transform! europe wishes to promote a space of dialogue that allows us to explore the roots of the systemic question for citizens, activists in dialogue with the ongoing scientific insights.
II. Who’s fighting for what: the new basis of the left
From the point of view of the political balance of power, this moment of crisis of neoliberalism brings together two contradictory trends. On the one hand, the multiple victories of the Far right are undeniable, both electorally and ideologically. Although Joe Biden’s victory is a setback for this expansion, the far right is in power in many countries and we are witnessing a very wide dissemination of its ideas and themes within public debate, even where it did not win.
At the same time, we witness deep and dynamic social and ideological movements that are generating cultural victories on key progressive fronts. The movement for women’s rights in Argentina and Poland, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, and the climate marches all over the world are imposing a new dynamic on emancipatory activism. All these movements, which are historically linked to the left, constitute an opportunity but also a challenge for it. They question its capacity to constitute itself as a credible melting pot of its aspirations.
In order to understand this paradox and to curb the progression of the extreme right, 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”. This multifaceted participation, often bypassing institutional channels and extending beyond national borders, is a fundamental breeding ground for the deployment of the left. For this, it is necessary that it accepts being questioned and transformed.
The recent deployment of mass movements on feminism, anti-racism and environmental struggles is often seen as favourable to the left. However, these movements challenge the implicit hierarchies of progressive and social forces. It is necessary for transform! europe to be able to better answer some basic questions. Who are these new activists from a social and political point of view? How do they organise and with which purpose? We seek to understand how new modalities of action (occupations, digital activism, etc.) are invented and how these different fronts influence each other. We will also pay specific attention to how they work with the historical organisations of the left. And we will seek to foster ‘forums’ for these movements to meet. The new attention of trade unionism to ecological and feminist issues constitutes from this point of view a decisive political and scientific work space at the heart of our concerns.
Finally, this year will also be an opportunity to return to the question of the electoral bases of the left. In a context marked by the progression of support for the extreme right in working-class circles in many countries, the forces of the left are often presented as increasingly turned towards the more affluent and urban voters. We wish to question this idea by taking up a systematic study of the social and ideological composition of its supporters. Attention to the gendered and migratory dimensions of the electorate leads many researchers to qualify the idea that the far right now gathers the most fragile workers. Far from inviting us to abandon questions of class, this concern invites us to apprehend the influence of gender discrimination and structural racism as phenomena directly linked to positioning on the labour market.
In connection with the analysis of social movements, we will seek to understand and make visible how the experience of women and victims of racism and all forms of discrimination, at work and on a daily basis, potentially contributes to the emergence of a new radical Left basis that transform! europe wishes to be part of.
III. Rebirth: 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, is, however, insufficiently disseminated. Yet it is a decisive element in the production of a new world. It fosters political imagination and 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. Over the next year, transform! wishes to develop spaces for dialogue between academics and activists on critical thinking that allows us to go beyond the sectorisation of struggles. Intersectional analysis and eco-feminism are dynamic theories that have engaged in a fruitful dialogue with Marxism. As an extension of transform! europe’s work on the rediscovery of Marxist thought and its possible dialogue with emancipatory tendencies of Christianism and feminist theories, we would like to open a space of encounter between radical leftist thinking and political ecology.
In order to celebrate the return of meeting spaces, transform! europe will specifically support cultural and artistic initiatives that create spaces for dialogue and debate between young activists.
As a European network, transform! europe will favour projects that produce and feed transnational dynamics. Projects that build partnerships between several organisations in the network will be highly valued. Projects of this kind are already being supported by our network and are producing very convincing synergies: the HUNDRED SHADES OF EU project that aims to map the political economy of the Euro peripheries in the EU, built in collaboration with the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation Brussels Office as well as the Security and the Left in Europe 2021 project. We want to encourage as much cooperation as possible within the network and to make the opportunity to exchange and develop ideas, experiences and projects at European level.
This article was originally published at Transform!Europe’s site on 30 June 2021.
Photo: (source: Transform!Europe)
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