We too need to admit that we were wrong with some of ourpredictions for 2016. We did not expect Donald Trump to beelected president of the United States, although we certainlyunderstood the dangers posed by his authoritarian populistmanifesto. We also stressed the considerable weaknessesof Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Our ability to do so was largelydue to the expertise provided by our New York office. Althoughsocial analysis and civic education—both of which are statedin the long form of our foundation’s name—can certainly fail,they have become more important than ever: How else can weprovide promising solutions to social problems? As Karl Marxargued, it is not enough to interpret the world; the point is tochange it. Be this as it may, during diffuse times of upheaval(such as the current period) attempts to analyze or classify theexisting formation constitute far more than “art for art’s sake.”Indeed, analysis is essential if we are to grasp the true dimensionof the upheavals and crises that we currently face. If we donot attempt to understand what is happening in today’s society,it becomes just as challenging to develop serious, democraticallyled debates about the causes of crises, together with societaland global solutions, as it is to come up with adequate left-wingresponses to nationalism, authoritarianism, and racism. Consequently,although social analysis and civic education alone cannotsolve social problems, they can support attempts to do so,at least as long as they are not misjudged as quick fixes. Socialanalysis and civic education, therefore, can adopt classic rolessuch as providing critique, developing analyses, and distributinginformation that can be reexamined and encourage debate.However, while doing so, it must remain clearly delineated fromclosed and ultimately authoritarian worldviews such as thoselinked to terms like the “lying press” and “fake news.” The wayin which we assess the political direction embodied by DonaldTrump, therefore, is certainly relevant: are we dealing with anauthoritarian variant of neoliberalism or perhaps an authoritarianform of right-wing Keynesianism? Perhaps Trump is merelyrepresentative of the current strain of right-wing populism, aterm used to describe many of the political phenomena thathave taken place in recent years? Questions such as these needto be asked during analyses and civic education, because thethreatening and, at times, chaotic developments that are occurringin the world often provoke other responses ranging fromundifferentiated generalizations to helpless ambiguity.
In addition to Donald Trump’s election victory, many countrieshave been shaped by other authoritarian populist trendsover the last two years. This is the case with Britain, and the2016 referendum on EU membership. The blow that TheresaMay’s Conservative Party experienced at the general electionthat followed one year later did not fundamentally undermineBrexit; this, of course, would not have been democratically justifiable, and would have only intensified the diffuse ragecurrently being directed at “the establishment.” Nevertheless,we are seeing signs that it has been possible to put astop to the rise of antidemocratic forces—at least for now—inFrance, the Netherlands, and most recently in Britain, wheresupport for the right-wing UKIP party has collapsed. We certainlywelcomed the news that neither Norbert Hofer (Austria)nor Marine Le Pen (France) was able to win their country’srespective presidential election, and that Geert Wilder’s onemanparty failed to become the strongest force in the Netherlands.Be this as it may, these events do not signal an endto the risk posed by right-wing populist and authoritarian nationalistparties, nor have they washed away the fertile soil onwhich these parties nurture their support. Rather, the relief expressedamong sections of the media and political class overthe electoral results in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, andFrance demonstrates just how appallingly accustomed wehave become to the success of an—albeit heterogeneous—anti-democratic Right in Europe. It is also important to rememberthat Mark Rutte’s (the Netherlands) and EmmanuelMacron’s (France) approaches to social justice promise verylittle, as neither treats this concept as essential to maintainingor establishing a stable liberal democracy.
The list of threatening developments does not end there. TheFoundation is also troubled by the situation in Brazil, wherea democratically elected left-wing president was forced outof office as part of a cold putsch, and the country is now slidingever deeper into social, economic, and democratic crisis.The authoritarian developments in Turkey under President Erdoğan,the endless bloody war in Syria, and the terrorist violencesuffered by the people of France, Belgium, Britain, Turkey,Iraq, and many other countries are extremely worrying.However, there have also been a number of encouraging developments,including the partly successful campaigns ofBernie Sanders in the US, and of the British Labour Party underJeremy Corbyn. Unidos Podemos in Spain, and Jean-LucMélenchon’s candidature for the French presidency are twofurther examples. These campaigns connect notable organizationsand traditional political practices with new actors and organizationalforms. The strong expressions of solidarity, suchas with refugees in Germany and in other European countries,are also reassuring, as is the support offered to people facingrepression in Turkey or as shown by the Women’s March in theUnited States. We believe that the Foundation must promoteand provide these movements with support and do so withoutattempting to claim their successes as our own.
The Foundation also has a further crucial role to play in contributingto the development of new forms of connecting conceptsand political praxis. “New class politics” and “new (or connective)feminism” are terms that are currently being discussedwithin this context. They describe attempts to revitalize a traditionalstarting point within socialist politics—namely, the viewthat all forms of oppression and exclusion need to be overcome,whether they are based on economic or social inequalities andexploitation, racism or other forms of discrimination. In orderto do so, however, we need to stop covering up contradictions:people can be favored in some areas of life while being seriouslydisadvantaged in others. We also need to avoid criticizing toostrongly people’s right to self-assertion, independence, self-organization,and representation. Instead, we should be focusingon democratic socialist policies that can strengthen the connectingaims and forms of feminist, anti-racist, migrant-based,and socioeconomic “class politics” in opposition to the particularitiesof identitarianism. This approach also includes treatingpeople—who feel abandoned by the economic-liberal elite o fglobalization and a culturally alien urban Left—with respect andgiving them a voice. In order to do so, we will have to tap intothe lively debates driven forward by Owen Jones, Didier Eribon,Oliver Nachtwey, Laurie Penny, and others.
Globalized—increasing illiberal—capitalism is wedged withina deep crisis and is endangering the foundations of democracyand peaceful international development. Although theFoundation always aims to defend democratic institutions, webelieve that there is still a need for a wider national, European,and above all internationalist perspective on social justice, aswell as wide-ranging equality. Next year will mark the 200thanniversary of Karl Marx’s birth and this will certainly providea substantial backdrop against which these issues can bebroached—not just as part of our work. The same can be saidof the anniversary of the revolutionary events that occurred inGermany between 1917 and 1919. Moreover, 2019 will mark100 years since the murder of Rosa Luxemburg—our Foundation’snamesake. The events marking this anniversary willalso have an impact on our work, and not just in this context(nor exclusively as part of analyses of historical epochs), butas a motivation for a Democratic Socialist perspective that can overcome the current form of capitalism.
Dagmar Enkelmann and Florian Weis
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