What is to be done?*

I’m working on a bunch of essays, book chapters and maybe even a book or two in response to the global financial crisis, making the general point that the sudden collapse of the neoliberal order has found social democrats unprepared for the shift from a long defensive struggle to the opportunity (and need!) to develop a progressive response to the crisis. As obvious examples, it’s necessary to reconstruct the global financial system and to ensure that the burden of the debts that are building up so rapidly is not borne by the poor, who did nothing to create the crisis. This piece (PDF) is an example of what I’m thinking.

I have plenty of ideas about policy (though of course I’m always interested in new ones). But, I don’t have much of a feeling for the political strategies that are needed, so I thought I would try the crowdsourcing thing, which has worked pretty well for me in the past .

Any thoughts are welcome, but it might help to sketch out my own limited ideas. First, it’s important to note that the situation is different from country to country and region to region. For example, the task of selling the ideas to the public seems likely to be easier in Europe, but many of the European social democratic parties seem to be in a pretty dire state (or at least they look that way from the other side of the planet).

Looking at the possible vehicles for progressive change, I can think of
* Existing left-of-centre political parties
* Possible third parties
* Unions
* Other civil society movements
* (Largely hypothetical) progressive corporations
* Blogs and other kinds of online activism

All of them seem to have problems. And then there are the standard questions of incrementalism vs radicalism, issue-oriented politics vs a coherent program and so on.

Anyway, over to you.

* I’m not at all an admirer of Lenin, but, at least as translated into English, he invariably seems to have the right phrase for questions like this.

54 thoughts on “What is to be done?*

  1. Its way past time for the EU’s Broad Left to mobilise at a continental scale. All the signs indicate a crisis in post-modernist liberalism:

    – the Right’s policy of financial liberalism has triggered a prolonged recession
    – the Left’s politics of cultural liberalism has caused a major populist back-lash.

    Yet the EU Left, instead of being stung into action, presents a picture of listless apathy. They look well and truly licked before the battle has begun!

    The reports on the EU continental elections, like reports of EU national elections for most of this decade, will be spreading cheer amongst the hearts of Rightists and despondency amongst Leftists.

    Pretty much every non-Iberian nation state is now governed by a party of the Centre-Right, often in coalition with parties of the Far-Right. And even the Iberians are now tending to list towards starboard.

    SInce the mid-noughties I have been pointing out that the main parties of the European Left that have been in death spiral crises. I can recall, but cannot recover, comments by Pr Q deriding this foreboding/exciting prospect

    The rise of the EU Far-Right began in earnest in early 2002 and gathered terminal velocity since late 2005. I think those dates are significant. Quoted from the Trumpet:

    Since the 2005 German elections, however, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria and France have all experienced a right-wing swing in their national governments

    And now the Right, especially the Far-Right, looks like cleaning up big time in the EU elections. This in the middle of a massive recession which is clearly grounded in failure of finance capitalism. With plenty of long-term Right-wing incumbents ripe for falling. The Times reports:

    Left-of-centre parties in government and in opposition are struggling in the six countries of Europe that choose the majority of MEPs in the biggest multicountry elections yet held, according to an analysis of polls due out today and seen by The Times. About 375 million people in 27 member states are eligible to vote.

    Projections for the European Parliament show that the centre Right will remain the largest group, predicted to capture 262 of the 736 seats, with the centre Left trailing on 194 and the Liberal group losing ground with 85 seats, according to predict09.eu run by the London School of Economics and Trinity College Dublin.

    The “Liberal group is losing ground”. Hallelujah. To add insult to injury it looks like a Right-winger is also likely to hold the EU presidency.

    Victory for the Right when the results are announced on Sunday night would mean that José Manuel Barroso, the former conservative Prime Minister of Portugal, should be reconfirmed as President of the European Commission. In another sign of the disarray of Europe’s Left, it has yet to agree on a candidate to oppose him.

    As a European citizen and self-hating social-democrat I am starting to get a little impatient with the EU Left. Are they going to fix up their liberal errors? Or are they condemned to the “rinse-lather-repeat” vicious cycle of errors from now until Hell freezes over?

  2. Jack, it is not really surprising that the far-Right is on the rise in much of Europe. Socialism often leads to fascism one way or the other.

  3. I’ve always been inclined to think of the political spectrum as more like a circle than a line: on a circle the far left is the nearest neighbour of the far right. It has the advantage of being a visual metaphor as to why quite a few who are far left can jump to far right without passing through any intermediate territory, and vice versa.

    Anyway, with regards to what needs to be done. My view is that a more explicit understanding as to what governments should control and what they may best stay far away from, would be good. The idea of a free market is not the same as anything goes. Yet that is where the religious-conservative republican has taken the USA, and that is where a few local Liberals would like us to go as well. Once upon a time the USA had a truly independent body called the Office of Technology Assessments. Newt Gingrich and pals didn’t like the idea of the OTA actually giving pesky objective scientific reports which might become an input to regulations down the track. So NG scrapped the OTA. Since then the Republican model for sciency advice has been to go to their favourite think-tank, get some contrarian talking heads, and have a show-down between them and a couple of hapless, media-niiave professional scientists. CFCs, acid rain, dioxin, passive smoking, leaded fuel, anthropogenic global warming and other juicy environmenty-sciency topics (oh, I forgot: people living in space permanently, and the Space Defense Initiative aka StarWars) have all been given first class treatment by the OTA prior to its termination with extreme prejudice. As an example of how silly this got, CFCs, acid rain, passive smoking and anthropogenic global warming have all been attacked by the serial contrarian par excellence, Siegfried Fred Singer. He was wrong on CFCs, wrong on acid rain, wrong on passive smoking; and yet we have politicians still ready to believe him on global warming. Idiots.

    In Australia we came close to a similar problem with CSIRO: Diane Staunton was made the head of media on Howard’s watch, and her previous background was with the Tobacco industry. Then came the gag on CSIRO climate scientists, and resignation ultimatums. The current New Zealand government wasn’t too happy with their (ex-)climate scientist, for whom retirement came unexpectedly early.

    How about we reclaim our Western enlightenment from the troglodytes? How about a bit more careful thinking goes into how scientific knowledge is dealt with in Australia, for the purposes of input to policy? We are fast heading to where the “Contract with America” (or was it “Contract ON America”) took the USA, even as Obama may rescue US science. I look forward to hearing from Steven Fielding’s visit to the Heartland Institute and the Obama administration – is he now onside of the Fred Singers of the world, or the rational, professional scientists.

    By the way, once upon a time there wasn’t such an adversarial approach taken by Republicans against science, or indeed, against environmental concerns. Nowadays though, there is a reflex reaction of attack attack attack. Witness the opposition to Steven Chu’s airing of the idea of having flat rooftops painted with a reflective white paint. I mean what would he know, being a physicist ‘n’ all.

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