The editors of Jacobin magazine and transform!europe network have for the second time invited activists, politicians, supporters of progressive politics to a conference in Berlin with the ambitious title: Socialism in Our Time. This title may even sound utopian when we see today’s electoral results of the left. How to fight for a just world today? The conference participants sought to answer this question based on their own experiences.
As last year, the ambitious programme of the two-day meeting included panels and discussions in English and German, running in parallel. The choice where to go was indeed difficult, and it is inevitable that we are also only able to mention selected moments in this report.
Search for effective electoral strategies for social-oriented parties and organizations was the recurring theme.
Most of the participants felt that left-wing parties quite accurately diagnose the causes of crises, preach an agenda which unites social rights and individual freedoms, and yet lose at the ballot box to liberals or more recently nationalists/sovereignists.
Politicians from several formations that are doing well or even very well in national politics presented their reflections on how to effectively reach out to voters. A France Insoumise (part of the left-wing NUPES coalition) MP Daniele Obono, stressed that voter trust in contemporary times is not won once and for all. Voters are volatile, can be easily disappointed, and it is necessary to constantly prove to them that their demands and needs are taken seriously. The politician also noted that the target group of left-wing political parties, namely workers, including precarious workers, is a group that is very disillusioned with politics as they know it. As a result, it has a high percentage of abstainers. It is for them, not the voters of the far right, that the French left intends to fight in the next elections.
MEP Marc Botenga of the Belgian Workers’ Party (which has been getting better and better results in the polls recently) pointed out that for a left-wing party, the most important thing is practice: being with the people, listening to the people, putting their demands into practice. He also said that the political demands of the workers would be best articulated by the workers themselves – those who had faced exploitation, low wages, humble lives. That is why, he pointed out, the PTB has already introduced and will continue to introduce workers’ representatives to parliament and local authorities.
Zarah Sultana, a socialist MP from the UK, also spoke about cooperation between the Labour Party and the unions and striking workers, but acknowledged that the current moderate Labour leadership, among other things, had barred leading party politicians from attending picket lines of striking railway workers.
The voice of workers trying to organise at one of the world’s largest companies
resounded during the ‘Organising Amazon’ session with Alex Press and Magda Malinowska.
The Polish activist, who is currently fighting in court to be reinstated at Amazon, talked about the union busting perpetrated by a company with a virtually unlimited budget to obstruct trade unions. Alex Press talked about Amazon’s attempts – successful or not – to set up trade unions, and how the conglomerate carefully chooses the locations of its investments, aiming to be the sole employer and dictate terms to local authorities.
Alex Press (speaking) and Magda Malinowska during the session on organizing Amazon.
The opportunity to learn from historical experience was given to participants in two sessions. Aleksandar Marković from Serbia recalled the now almost completely forgotten Marxist political schools in Yugoslavia. These were institutions that were supposed to prepare workers for active participation in the management of enterprises, giving them knowledge of economics, politics or law.
German-speaking participants at the conference, on the other hand, had the opportunity to meet the last Minister of Economy of the GDR, Christa Luft, who spoke from her own recollections about how, after German reunification, the industry of the former East Germany was privatised and effectively destroyed. She also pointed out that any future socialism, if it is to succeed, must be a system that serves people, enabling them to realise their needs (not only their basic needs) and therefore a fully democratic system.
There was much to learn in a session with David Broder, editor of Jacobin magazine and an expert on Italian politics. The topic of his talk was the far right and
whether the parties of the far right will be able to take power in Europe in the coming years?
Broder pointed out, on the one hand, the important differences between parties categorised as extreme right, as parties that promise voters nationalist welfare are of a different nature, while those that argue for free market without any limitations are of a different nature. On the other hand, using the example of Italy, he showed how short it is sometimes to abandon the promises of building a welfare state for one nation: the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who promised stability and a decent life to the Italians, is implementing purely neoliberal policies, hitting the poorer people, following the example of Margaret Thatcher.
David Broder answering to the questions’ asked by Jacobin’s Loren Balhorn.
Two sessions were devoted to Ukraine: the war, the circumstances surrounding its outbreak and the prospects for a just peace.
Volodymyr Ishchenko speaking.
The speaker at one of these was Volodymyr Ishchenko, well known to readers of Cross-Border Talks, who outlined the class structure of Putin’s Russia, the peculiarities of Russian capitalism that emerged after 1991, and argued that the invasion of Ukraine was seen by the Russian ruling class, preying on state structures, as a means to preserve its own position and influence. Unfortunately, he pointed out, Russian workers now have neither the strength nor the organisation to resist aggression – indeed, just as Ukrainian workers before 2022 had neither real political representation nor the strength to force the elite to implement policies in the interests of the working majority.
It is hard not to fall into pessimism when seeing the state of left organisations in Europe today and knowing that the great mass social movements of a few years ago have dissolved or been pacified without achieving much. However, participants at the Berlin conference argued that all is not yet lost. Protests, demonstrations and strikes continue to recur in many European countries. Workers are organising and asserting their rights, the climate and women’s movements are active. The crisis of the cost of living, the exacerbation of the contradictions within capitalism is a fact of life.
Is the Left capable of responding to these challenges? The Europarliamentary elections planned for next year will be a certain test. However, the tests really come every day – voter confidence and convincing people of egalitarian visions is built over the long term.