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Make Social Democracy Great Again
by Pascal Zwicky and Cedric Wormwood
Saturday Dec 7th, 2019 6:34 AM
Erik Olin Wright spoke of smashing, taming, escaping and eroding capitalism as alternatives of a transformational left. We must resist the "selective perception" of the elite that ignores market distortions (tax havens, stock buybacks, micro-second trading, insider trading), market failures, political failures, and the attacks on the poor, seniors, disabled, children and students.
10 Theses on the Transformational Emergence of Social Democracy

[These theses published on 11/9/2017 are translated from the German on the Internet,]

If we start an article on the future of social democracy with the worldwide rise of the New Right, it already says something about the time we live in. The right is on the offensive, it arouses political passions, it represents the 45th president of the USA and it also reaches for government power in European states. Of course Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán, Heinz-Christian Strache and what they are all called do not in any way pursue a program that offers ways out of the muddled and dangerous situation in which the world finds itself today.

On the contrary: the New Right stands for the hegemony crisis of neoliberalism, but offers no sustainable answers. Antonio Gramsci's well-known quote from the prison journals is therefore highly topical: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old dies and the new cannot come into the world: in this interregnum the most diverse symptoms of illness occur. (Gramsci 1991ff., H.2,§34,354)

Today we are confronted with a crisis of neoliberal capitalism. But it is much more than a cyclical, purely economic crisis. We are living in times of a profound crisis for society as a whole, in which various forms and trends of crisis influence and reinforce each other. In the literature, the term "multiple crisis" is used for this (Prokla Editorial Office 2016). What we observe, deplore and selectively fight today on a global scale is connected: the unscrupulous exploitation of man and nature, the growing social inequality, climate change and also the crisis of the bourgeois representative democracy model.

Effectively coping with the "multiple crisis" is not possible without a well-founded and comprehensive critique of power. And that also means to think and promote emancipatory and solidary alternatives beyond the capitalist development model of neoliberal imprint. In order to find ways out of the multiple crisis, we propose the project of a transformational left (Wermuth/Zwicky 2015).

What is transformational politics?

We understand transformational politics first of all as a politics of radical reforms that triggers a social change that starts in the here and now of capitalism, but points beyond it (Brie 2016; Reissig 2014). It means "to use the scope of the real existing neoliberal capitalism in such a way that a gradual shift of power relations towards their dissolution takes place" (Angele et al. 2011, 168). A transformational analysis does not think in simplified models, but understands capitalism as a complex, partly contradictory hegemonic system that is secured both ideologically and materially. It advances to the problem core of the multiple crisis, to the "imperial way of life". The term refers to "the norms of production, distribution and consumption that are deeply embedded in the political, economic and cultural everyday structures and practices of the population in the global North and increasingly also in the emerging countries of the global South" (Brand/Wissen 2017, 44). Accordingly, transformational politics also unites the struggles against exploitation and alienation and for social freedom and emancipation along the lines of race, class, gender and environment.

With Erik Olin Wright (2017), three strategic levels of a transformational policy (in the broader sense) can be distinguished: (1) the creation of a revolutionary break, (2) the classical social democratic policy of taming capitalism "from above" and (3) the creation of free spaces "from below". Wright aims to erode capitalism by "building emancipatory alternatives in the spaces and cracks within capitalist economies and at the same time fighting for the defense and expansion of these spaces" (ibid., 11).

This strategic approach does not think of socialism as an idealistic-normative concept of justice, but from the concrete social struggles at the fault lines of the contradictions in capitalism. He tries to bring these struggles together with institutional politics instead of playing them off against each other. The three levels are therefore not to be understood as alternatives, but as complementary levels of confrontation.[1]

Against this background, what are the role and tasks of social democracy?[2] We continue to see institutional politics as an essential task for social democratic parties. Firstly, it is a matter of using the parliamentary leeway in a transformational sense in order to concretely improve people's living conditions. . Capitalism and bourgeois democracy offer scope for emancipatory politics. Not using them would mean not fulfilling our historical responsibility. Secondly, parliamentarism and its public arena can and must also be used to influence public debate. Whether or not the Social Democratic Party, for example, names an anti-capitalist or post-capitalist perspective can shape the discourse of society as a whole. Thirdly, the party has the task of providing a platform for articulating transformational politics outside parliamentarism.

We see a first challenge in unifying the "dissident third" (Seibert 2015) of society, which is already ready today to question the capitalist-neoliberal status quo, mobilizing it and working towards an overall societal transformation, a social-ecological turnaround. Such a long-term process depends on actors who can provide stability without losing the ability to develop dynamically. We see this as the challenge and task of transformational social democracy.

Theses on the future of transformational social democracy

In the following ten theses we try to outline the guidelines of a social democratic transformation policy. The form of the theses already indicates this: We make no claim to completeness and ultimate truths. Rather, our aim is to contribute to the necessary debate on the renewal of social democracy.

Thesis 1: The "transformational subject" must be continuously won over and brought together.

A "left identity" is nothing that automatically emerges from anonymous forces of history. The carriers of a transformational politics do not form a homogeneous mass, there is no natural revolutionary subject. Axel Honneth (2015) or Didier Eribon (2016a) have recently convincingly demonstrated this. The transformative subject is won and brought together in the various political struggles for more freedom and emancipation or against exploitation and alienation. In an interview with Die Zeit, Didier Eribon (2016b) says: "If there were a left-wing party that would stand up for the rights of the working class as well as for the rights of the LGBT community, ethnic minorities and all the others, it could be an authority that mediates between these groups and makes them aware of how similar their situations are, instead of declaring them opponents. We see the claim of the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (SP) to be such a party.

What the "transformational subject" lacks today is "an integral program that is attractive and convincing beyond the limited circles of today's left, and above all a strategy to enforce such a program" (Prokla Editorial 2016, 539). We believe that the vision of a strong or substantial democracy, a democracy that goes beyond bourgeois capitalist proto-democracies and their institutions, has the potential to become such a hegemony project (Denknetz-Kerngruppe 2016; Herzog/Ringger/Zwicky 2015; Zwicky 2015). In the idea of a Substantial Democracy, all the above-mentioned perspectives of power criticism can be found. It is the term for a politics and way of life that strives for a quasi - negative - freedom from domination and exploitation and the positive freedom of emancipation. And it refers to the indivisibility of the struggles: a democracy is only substantial if it enables all freedoms - freedom for all.

Thesis 2: A shot of left-wing populism? Yes, but right.

A hegemony project is only successful if it reaches people and appeals to them. One way is the neo-gramscian idea of "left-wing populism". Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (2006) propose to bring the various struggles together in so-called chains of equivalence, connections of individual struggles. Such left-wing populism aims to connect the individual struggles with a new "populus", a left-wing identity. In this sense, most political strategies are populist, the "third way" and its attempt to create a populus with the "new center" as well as the "99%" of the Occupy movement. We therefore advocate a relaxed relationship with left-wing populism.

A left-wing populism of emancipatory character emphasizes the need to restore antagonisms between below and above, as did the revolts in the aftermath of the financial crisis. This is central for a leftist strategy, especially from an electoral point of view: a "pure" criticism of the system is hardly ever popular, but a policy against the interests of the rip-offs, the profiteers or the super-rich can be connected to concerted action. In her more recent writings, however, Chantal Mouffe distances herself too far from a compellingly necessary class analysis and an anti-capitalist perspective (Errejón/Mouffe 2016). With Íñigo Errejón and his wing within the Spanish party Podemos, populism then becomes a completely transversal project "beyond right and left" (Errejón/Mouffe 2015), which increasingly emphasizes the national perspective as well. We no longer agree with this.

Left-wing populism is only a viable path for us if (1) it does not distinguish itself from subalterns or inferiors (this is, for example, the problem with the concept of "middle class"), (2) it does justice to the class character of the world, and (3) - starting from this - it consistently attempts itself as "transnational left-wing populism" (Panayotu 2017).

Thesis 3: The proletariat is dead - class politics is far from being.

The crisis of the left makes a "return to the old class party" attractive for some. What is usually meant by this is a party that eludes all other political questions than the supposed main contradiction. We consider such a perspective pointless and undesirable. First, the Romantics of the "old class party" tend to forget that patriarchy and the uninhibited exploitation of migrant workers - often tolerated at least from the left - were an integral part of the "Swiss model of success". Secondly, the idea of a homogeneous working class (often referring exclusively to male industrial workers) with equally homogeneous interests was and is an analytical error.

Today, the class of wage earners is characterized by diversity and complexity. However, the term and the analytical concept of the "class" are indispensable for social democracy and the left as a whole today and in the foreseeable future (Dörre 2016). Left politics is necessarily anti-capitalist, since it is directed against the logic of the exploitation of man and nature inherent in the capitalist system and thus inevitably against the interests of the capital owners. Ultimately, the critique of capitalism always and quite centrally concerns the property relations, which can hardly be meaningfully grasped without the class concept.

The class character of our world is an objective reality. It is a factual structural feature of capitalism and not an ideologically colored interpretation. How can an appropriate interpretation of social inequalities or the worldwide exploitation of care migrants manage without class analysis? By a "forward to class politics" we mean a mutual movement: both the inclusion of complex arrangements of exploitation and class relations as well as the consistent consideration of "gender and race".

What is needed is an intersectional class politics. A politics that is based on an understanding of class analysis, but that attacks exploitation and power relations in all their dimensions at the same time. There are no leftists who stand up for minimum wages, but who can be against the equal rights of homosexuals - but the same applies vice versa. In short, freedom is an indivisible concept. Or with Thomas Seibert (2017, 67): "The International will only fight for human rights in the struggle for the recognition of a freedom without characteristics, which as such puts an end to all classification".

Thesis 4: Understanding the ecological question as a social and political question.

The exploitation of natural resources fundamentally questions human coexistence on this planet. Nevertheless, it is precisely social democracy that has outsourced ecology to a large extent to technocrats, who primarily rely on technological progress and market incentives. Too often it is forgotten that the ecological question cannot be separated from the social question and is an immanent political question. The far-reaching consequences of climate change, which is primarily caused in the rich global North, are mainly suffered by people in the poor global South. They are driven into flight because their livelihoods are being destroyed and climate change is fueling warlike conflicts. Market and technology will not fix it. The idea of green (and also social) capitalism is a first-class oxymoron (Felli 2016).

Social democracy must not be afraid of progressive post-growth or degrowth ideas (D'Alisa/Demaria/Kallis 2016). Degrowth as a process and a post-growth society as a vision, however, only have emancipatory potential if they are consistently linked to the demand for social justice. Against this background, strengthening old-age and survivors' insurance (AHV) can be seen as a (small) step in the right direction, as it increases the importance of AHV over the second pillar of old-age provision, the pension funds, which function much more strongly in the capitalist logic of profit maximization at the expense of man and nature.

Thesis 5: The social democratic party of the 21st century is feminist, or it is not.

We share with various female authors (almost exclusively women) the assessment that the social democratic (especially male) left still criminally underestimates the power of feminist analysis to criticize neoliberalism and capitalism. Feminist critique opens the view for power configurations in economy, culture or politics beyond a narrow economism.

A well-founded feminist perspective makes it possible to criticize etatist, economist, androcentric concepts as well as power relations mediated by neoliberal market concepts (Fraser 2009). But it is also a challenge for predominant social democratic and trade union self-evidences, for example concerning the welfare state (AutorInnengruppe Feministische Ökonomie 2010, 3). Feminist criticism can strengthen a social democratic movement especially if it succeeds in making the collective political emancipation project strong again against neoliberal and technocratic forms of the women's movement - keyword gender mainstreaming (AutorInnengruppe Feministische Ökonomie 2010; Madörin 2007).

Thesis 6: Links are only international.

A social democracy of the 21st century must reactivate the idea of international solidarity. This involves several strategic challenges. First, we consider a strategy that turns away from the European project to be dangerous. Europe is to be understood consistently as a political project, as an expression and condensation of social power relations. What is needed today is radical internationalism that does not content itself with the best possible coordination of national interests and does not stop at the borders of Europe (Mezzadra/Negri 2014). It is precisely a matter of what European social democracy has not succeeded in doing so far: not merely of coordinating national, left-wing policies, but of developing a European program beyond the interests of the nation state.

An internationalism of race, class, gender and ecology means that our policy concepts must not remain stuck in the constraints of location competition. This particularly affects social democracy in Switzerland, at the heart of global financial capitalism. As a historically grown location for countless corporate headquarters, the neo-colonial exploitation of the global South finds one of its focal points here (Haller 2015). Swiss tax dumping deprives other countries of 30 to 35 billion francs in revenue each year (Denknetz 2012). The challenge of reformulating a social democratic economic policy that wants to take this seriously is correspondingly great. It cannot be content with demanding more money for development cooperation and labor standards in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. Rather, it must more actively address the fundamental relationship of exploitation between the global North and the global South and seek ways to change the "imperial way of life" (Alliance South 2008). This also requires a repositioning in view of the apparent lack of alternatives to neoliberal globalization.

Social democracy must free itself from the false dichotomy of free trade and protectionism. Free trade - at least in its neoliberal codification in multilateral trade agreements such as TISA or TTIP - is primarily the protectionism of industrialized countries. The agreements also represent an attempt to put democratic principles in their place by enshrining neoliberal world trade ideas in the treaties (Gill 2015). If we allow this to happen, there will be no need for any further debates on democracy and socialism. In concrete terms, this also means that the Social Democratic Party must give itself a practical program of internationalism. It should see itself as the mouthpiece of all those who face neoliberal globalization in a progressive way.

Global alliances of left-wing cities can open up new fields of action. This requires a consistent advocacy of socially just and ecologically sustainable rules of globalization, as formulated, for example, in the "Alternative Trade Mandate"[4]. And social democracy becomes the mouthpiece of another globalization when it directly negotiates its position on the commodities trading place with grassroots movements from the exploited regions and in turn offers them a platform in Switzerland to formulate their criticism.

Thesis 7: Away from the special case to a lived global Switzerland.

Our society is still marked by a strong structural racism. This racism is expressed both in significantly higher unemployment or social assistance figures for migrants and in the still assimilatory migration and civil rights policy. Almost a quarter of the people living in Switzerland have no political rights. In Switzerland "an everyday multi-culture exists, while politics, media and the public are constantly struggling for the 'true' Switzerland and its values" (Jain/Randeria 2014, 3). This represents a tremendous dissonance in a society that "has long since had a 'migration forefront', but without this being adequately reflected in social self-images and participation structures" (Espahangizi 2016, 2).

To acknowledge the reality of global Switzerland would also mean to take seriously the long since global dimension of seemingly domestic political decisions - in other words, to incorporate postcolonial criticism into social democratic concepts. It is not a model for the future if the left in the global North restricts itself to distributing the exploitative profits of multinational corporations among the domestic population in the form of wage and pension increases.

The "imperial way of life" is still a blind spot in many social democratic concepts. A current example: We are discussing intensively the effects of industry 4.0 or digitalization on the Western working world of today and tomorrow. But hardly ever is it stated - at least not in the same debate - that this digitization only works if somebody somewhere extracts the raw materials for computer hardware under often inhumane, precarious conditions.

Re-embedding Switzerland in an analysis of the history and present of global capitalism in connection with a post-migrant and post-colonial critique may allow us to understand the "hegemonic core of the special case of Switzerland" (ibid.., 3) and to deconstruct the connection between neoliberal programmatics and racist discourses (ibid.; Wermuth 2016)[5] To this end, social democracy should offensively seek the connection to the growing integration-critical migrant movements, e.g. to projects such as "Urban Citizenship", as they are promoted in Bern or Zurich under the title "We are all ...".

Thesis 8: Going beyond capitalism also means building alternatives.

The world of tomorrow will hardly come into being in parliament. It is therefore all the more important that social democracy does not pursue a narrow parliamentary perspective. Instead, it should see itself as part of a broad social movement and strengthen interaction with civil society and entrepreneurial initiatives from below (this is precisely the perspective underlying the economic democracy position paper adopted by the SP party conference in December 2016). 7]

People all over the world are joining together to oppose the logic of profit maximization by doing business and living differently. The "social and solidary entrepreneurship" is booming (especially in the digital economy), housing cooperatives are experiencing a revitalization, self-help projects in the area of migrant education are setting a precedent. We should welcome these movements - some of which, of course, are not free of contradictions - and understand them as an attempt to free ourselves from capitalist constraints.

The breaking contradictions of capitalism are also our chance. They offer concrete possibilities for a new era of left-wing self-empowerment beyond "waiting for the state". Transformational politics then means creating a stable framework for the further development and strengthening of such initiatives in the dialogue between institutional politics and civil society. Almost a century ago the trade unions began to cover the lack of state security for the elderly, the disabled and the sick with their own offers, and consumer cooperatives and cooperative banks emerged. The state reacted to these civil society initiatives. Why shouldn't a social democratic party today, together with trade unions, women's or migrant organizations, respond to the lack of daily structures in childcare outside the family or to the lack of affordable housing?

Thesis 9: Recognizing the crisis of representation - rethinking leadership.

The crisis of representation naturally also affects social democracy. Especially parties like the French Parti Socialiste (PS), the British Labor or the US-American Democrats, who have made deputy democracy the sole organizational model and seek (or seek) proximity to the establishment, are confronted with resistance (Seymour 2016). This also brings the party into focus as an organization. As far as we are concerned, we do not believe in the rumbling that the left lacks leadership figures like "then".

Rather, the horizon of what is possible should also be reflected in our own internal party practice. Leadership then also means creating the opportunities for the "lead" to lie on many shoulders - and for the party to be strengthened as a result. In fact, the SP Switzerland is on the right track. Since 2011, it has rejected the principle of a professionalized deputy logic, a party without a membership base, with the so-called basic campaign. This realization is correct. Even if we wanted to, we would never be able to hold a candle to the pumped up right-wing campaign machines at the financial level - donations from industry back or forth.

The only possible strategy is to bring politics and democracy back onto the streets, to the regulars' tables and into the party. The party itself should create "emancipatory resonance spaces" for its members in a variety of ways (Rosa 2016). This also includes better coordination between internal party democracy and parliamentary politics.

Thesis 10: Overcoming capitalism is also an educational task.

The persevering forces of capitalism lie both in its material dimension and in its immaterial, i.e. ideological dimension. Against this background, the depoliticization of the left in recent years and decades is to be understood as an extremely effective strategy of domination. Whoever separates "real-politik" and "theory work" inevitably submits to the prevailing ideology.

We plead for a conscious intensification of educational and debate work within social democracy and its environment. The party must have the courage to consciously withdraw time and again from the short time horizons of the crisis-ridden, predominantly bourgeois mainstream media and the (so-called) social media. On the other hand, communication must be intensified by the media of one's own movement (which in no way means a return to the uncritical party press).[8] It seems to us infinitely more interesting for a social democracy to have its theses criticized first from the left, e.g. by the WOZ Die Wochenzeitung, than by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. We advocate giving more room to a certain self-assurance of the "dissident third" in the media strategy. It is only in these spaces that it is possible to counter the performative power of the dominant language with something, or to develop one's own ideas and concepts. If we willingly adopt the concepts of our political opponents, we actively work towards our own meaninglessness (Wehling 2016).

What next?

We assume that our attempt to summarize the challenges for a transformational social democracy in ten theses will not only meet with approval. And we are sure that not all open questions will be resolved by a long shot. Both are good. Addressing these open questions, formulating contradictions and thinking ahead together is what we want. Today we are talking about a self-confident and ultimately permanent search movement.

Although a change of course is urgent, we plead for a targeted demarcation from short-term media, campaign and electoral logic and consciously taking our time to experiment with various forms of political activism and reflection. We need to find ways of productive exchange between activists, movements, grassroots organizations, trade unions, progressive science and the parliamentary left for transformational politics to have lasting success. Organizations like the Denknetz or the Institut Solidarische Moderne embody this idea of "crossover". The "Reclaim Democracy" congress in early 2017 in Basel successfully attempted to live this model on a larger scale. These impulses and experiences must be taken up and passed on.

[1] Für kritische Einwände zu Wrights Ansatz siehe Brie (2017) oder Riley (2016).
[2] Die Verbindung von Sozialdemokratie und transformatorischer Politik in Anlehnung an Erik Olin Wright wird, für uns durchaus überraschend, auch in einem aktuellen Bericht der Progressive Alliance, der faktischen Nachfolgeorganisation der klinisch toten Sozialistischen Internationale hergestellt. Siehe (Abfrage 1.4.2017).
[3] Vgl. Beitrag Durtschi in diesem Heft.
[4] (Abfrage 1.4.2017).
[5] Zur postkolonialen Perspektive für die Schweiz: Purtschert/Lüthi/Falk (2013); 
Purtschert/Fischer-Tiné (2015).
[6] Siehe für Zürich: (Abfrage 1.4.2017).
[7] Das Positionspapier findet sich unter: positionspapier_wirtschaftsdemokratie_definitiv_d_0.pdf (Abfrage 1.4.2017).
[8] Siehe in diesem Zusammenhang Aebi/Surber (2016).
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