On the next phase of Europe’s transnational progressive movement
PRAGUE ADDRESS, 22nd November 2019
We come from all over Europe. From across borders, party lines and with different views of the good society. We are united by these differences. Europe will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate. This is not a scare tactic. It is a fact! The EU’s disintegration is happening. New divisions, new walls, are springing up. Along borders. Inside our societies. In people’s minds.
Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers. These are not new words. They were the words with which DiEM25 was born on 9th February 2016 at the Volksbuhne Theatre in Berlin. It was a passionate night at the end of which thousands of Europeans joined our fledgling Democracy in Europe Movement. It was a good night!
Our collective task? To create the first transnational progressive movement, not merely a confederacy of national parties or associations. A movement that would unite progressives behind a solid, common anti-austerity, green, feminist, radical humanist program to end Europe’s surrender to the twin authoritarianisms of, on the one hand, the establishment’s troikas and, on the other hand, assorted neo-fascisms.
That night we were swept away by the passion in the room. I am glad to see many here today who shared that moment. And I am glad to see that passion now, here, in Prague – a city that we shall always associate in our hearts and minds with the coming of Spring, with the importance of rebelling against authoritarianism independently of the outcome.
Alas, this is not the time for self-congratulation. Passion has returned to politics, but not in the manner we had hoped for. As DiEM25 had predicted, capitalism’s major spasm, that began in 2008, continued after 2016 to push austerity for the many and socialism for the few. As DiEM25 had predicted, the result was a toxic passion that fuelled misanthropy, not humanism.
Instead of energising progressives, it was the ultra- Right that grew more passionate, vibrating with an anti-Establishment fervour that led to the rise of a powerful Nationalist International.
Today, almost four years since DiEM25 was born, the Establishment that caused Europe’s worst crisis since the 1940s remains fully in control of the levers of power while the Nationalist International reinforces the status quo by being the only recipient of the people’s wrath.
Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers, a sure measure of a regime’s fragility is the distance between its reality and its propaganda. And a sure measure of democracy’s health is the extent to which the demos, the people, can challenge the regime when this distance between reality and propaganda becomes unbearable. On both these measures, Europe has never been more fragile and less democratic than today.
WE WERE RIGHT!
Unfortunately, yes, we were right. Brexit did not happen because people like us opposed the EU.
It happened because good people in Britain, not racists or anti-Europeans, could not stomach Brussels’ and Frankfurt’s arrogance and authoritarianism. While campaigning in Britain against Brexit, on behalf of DiEM25, wonderful comrades would say to me: “We like you and your movement. But, mate, there is no way I will vote to remain after what they did to your people”. The sheer contempt for democracy, which I experienced in the Eurogroup first hand, had become evident to many, many anti-racist progressives. It was their vote that tipped the balance in favour of Brexit. As was the awful sight of all the establishment figures, from Lagarde and Obama to Schäuble and Cameron, warning them that if they vote for Brexit they would be severely punished – a sure way to turn courageous people off the EU.
Of course, DiEM25 was right to oppose Brexit. The EU’s disintegration will, undoubtedly, only reinforce deflationary forces that are the Nationalist International’s greatest friend. We saw this in Britain, we saw it in France, we saw it in Italy, Poland, Hungary, everywhere: Euroscepticism will always feed the xenophobic beast and, at the same time, strengthen the establishment as the majority recoils in horror. At that moment, progressive movements like DiEM25 get squeezed badly between the two sides of the same coin: The authoritarianism of the Establishment and the authoritarianism of the Nationalist International. That was our experience as we campaigned against Brexit on a Radical Remain line with our comrades Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Labour Party.
We were also right to predict the demise of existing left-of-centre forces:
- The social democrats, we said, would never recover after their capitulation to financialisation and austerity.
- The European Left Party had chosen oblivion by choosing to turn a blind eye to SYRIZA’s capitulation to the troika, while still embracing eurosceptic parties.
- Podemos would fizzle out as a result of their refusal to work with us to put together a coherent Progressive Agenda for Europe.
- The Greens could never be transformational, given their adoption of austerian ordo-liberalism.
We were also right, on the one hand to support Macron versus Le Pen in the second round, of the French Presidential election but also to oppose him, accurately predicting that his Eurozone reform agenda was dead-on-arrival given his determination not to confront the establishment – leaving him no option other than neoliberalism at home and euro-jingoism abroad.
Finally, our main idea was also right: The idea of Program-led Transnational Politics; of creating a movement that seeks to unite all progressives behind a Green New Deal for Europe.
Unity through coherence, instead of Opportunistic Confederacies or Confluences.
Lest we forget, the bankers, the troikas, the neofascists do share a tight, coherent, common agenda.
It was about time progressives developed one too!
DiEM25 was right to invite everyone interested in such an agenda to join us in forging it.
BUT WE WERE ALSO WRONG!
We underestimated the establishment’s capacity to put a lid on the economic crisis – not to resolve it, but to turn disintegration into permanent, corrosive stagnation.
At the expense of spreading discontent and Euroscepticism even into traditional Social and Christian democratic circles, they stabilised the Eurozone by
- concealing the bankruptcies
- zombifying unsustainable banks, states and corporations
- and making the majority fear that, while the future is bleak, it will be bleaker if they oppose the ordo-liberal establishment – leaving the irrepressibly outraged to invest their anger in the xenophobic Nationalist International; a timely reminder of how fascism always served the system by offering its victims an opportunity to vent their anger without threatening the established order.
We were also wrong to hope that major progressive parties (like Die Linke, Podemos) might be attracted to, and want to adopt, the solid, convincing Green New Deal for Europe program that DiEM25 developed painstakingly between 2016 and 2017. They were not interested, proving that they were never truly cared for progressive policies, preferring the old style of politics that turn people off.
We were right, of course, to persevere with our Cohesive Progressive Program-led Transnationalism. We soldiered on, making huge concessions to partners who joined us. We even agreed to change our name to EUROPEAN SPRING for their sake. In the end, we failed to elect a single MEP even though we did attract one and a half million votes. Put bluntly, our Program-led Transnationalism failed to take off, a failure that was particularly painful in the one country we banked on: Germany, where we gathered 125 thousand votes instead of the 300 thousand we had targeted.
Of course, that failure reflected another misprediction: Back in 2016 we imagined that some enlightened centrists would wish to contribute financially to our electoral campaign, recognising in DiEM25 an important pro-European voice. In reality, we received not one euro of support from anyone other than DiEMers. This was, at the same time, a blessing-in-disguise but also a contributor to our electoral failure in the European Parliament elections.
WHAT WE DID WELL, WHAT WE DID BADLY
- We succeeded in building the first transnational paneuropean movement. If anything, events since 2016 proved that only such a movement holds hope for real change.
- But we failed to ignite DiEM25, spending too much precious energy naval-gazing, with our membership stuck at the size we achieved soon after our formation.
- We succeeded in combining horizontality with verticality within our movement in order to avoid the fate of both the World Social Forum and of top-down authoritarian parties; combining direct democracy in the form of spontaneous collectives and sortition (as in our Validating Council) with top-down organisation afforded by the Coordinating and National Collectives.
- But we failed to bring these two dimensions together sufficiently to inspire amongst all DiEMers a sense that they are in control of the movement
- We succeeded in putting together the only Green New Deal policy agenda that is worthy of its name; an agenda that we should be very proud of; an agenda that can uniquely appeal simultaneously to Extinction Rebellion activists and financiers whose jaw drops when they encounter our sophisticated proposals.
- But we failed to make it prominent. Following our Green New Deal, everyone adopted the title but not the substance and, regrettably, very few Europeans know about DiEM25’s Green New Deal
- We succeeded in creating electoral wings, one of which is now in Greece’s Parliament, and in bringing together the European Spring to contest the European Parliament elections.
- But we failed to make a difference in Italy, a frontline state in the struggle for Europe, and we failed to elect any MEPs where we did stand.
- We succeeded in initiating the Progressive International, together with the Sanders Institute a year ago in Vermont – and to forge a crucial alliance with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Labour Party.
- But we failed to take the Progressive International further while, in the UK, DiEM25 UK has not taken advantage of our privileged relation with the Labour Party’s leadership or even our own potential across the land.
DiEM25 2.0 – WHAT MUST WE NOW DO
- We must deepen our internal DiEM25 democracy further, putting our money where our mouth is; establishing for instance DiEM25 Assemblies selected by sortition to shape our PROGRESSIVE AGENDA FOR EUROPE – e.g. on transparency, migration, the Green New Deal for Europe, the European Constitution etc.
- We must revisit our policy on alliances while focusing on building up our Electoral Wings and DiEM25, eschewing opportunistic confederacies/confluences but, at the same time, avoiding the path of Lonely, Puritan Solitude.
- We must develop fully the GREEN NEW DEAL FOR EUROPE, the PROGRESSIVE INTERNATIONAL, and our privileged relationship with Corbyn and McDonnell’s LABOUR PARTY
- We must throw a bridge over to eurosceptic progressives (e.g. Lexiteers), convincing them of our sincerity in pushing for a transformation – not reform – of the EU. DiEM25 must convince them that we, too, believe that the EU is un-reformable. That no amount of smart arguments can convince the EU cartel to change its spots. That without a clash with the institutions of late, financialised capitalism there will be no transition to sustainably shared prosperity. That our agenda will automatically trigger a Brussels backlash, including a threat of expelling any country that dares to adopt it. That our radical Europeanism can expose the establishment’s rejection of a proper Union and its readiness to sacrifice Europe in order to turn Europe into an Austerity Iron Cage.
- We must move beyond calls for more democracy. DiEM 2.0 must plan for POST-CAPITALISM. We have been criticised, justly I think, of appearing to tinker at the edges of an unreformable, catastrophic, rentier-based, financialised capitalism. DiEM 2.0 must develop our program for overcoming capitalism. Our Green New Deal must be recognised as the first stepping stone to a better future. We must now inspire people with a vision of what follows capitalism and our Green New Deal: a proper democracy where no one can buy shares in a company in which they do not labour; where there are no private banks but, instead, the central bank provides free digital accounts to every citizen; a society that grants a trust fund to every baby born. Of course, this is not the time or the place to articulate DiEM’s POST-CAPITALISM pillar fully. Its seeds are already in our program and manifesto. DiEM 2.0 must water these seeds so that soon we can harvest a post-capitalist agenda around which young and old from across Europe, indeed for beyond Europe, can organise.
TIME FOR ACTION – TIME TO ENERGISE THE UNCOOL CROWD
Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers, progressive forces are in retreat at a time of capitalism’s deepest crisis. Who is to blame? The media? The oligarchy? Facebook? Putin? No. We are!
- Social democrats unleashed the bankers and invented austerity, with Steinbruck and Timmermans calling for it before Schäuble and Merkel
- The Greens succumbed also to ordo-liberalism, even daring to argue against DiEM’s Green New Deal claiming that 500 billion euros per annum is too much money to spend on the Green Transition because of “capacity constraints in the private sector”. Who needs Schäuble when the Greens adopt such nonsense?
- SYRIZA surrendered to the troika, eventually celebrating the MoU as the program that got Greece out of the crisis – the result being its electoral defeat last July and the splendid opportunity that the new authoritarian Greek government now has to build a new misanthropic, parasitic oligarchy upon SYRIZA’s own, troika-dictated economic program
- The European Left Party has chosen oblivion by becoming a bureaucratic armada for sinking vessels
- Lexiteers are fading everywhere, after having inadvertently reinforced right-wing Euroscepticism
- Having failed to distance itself both from SYRIZA and from Lexiteers, Podemos has become a shadow of itself, a sidekick of a PSOE government lacking any interest in clashing with the establishment or articulating a progressive European agenda.
In the midst of this gloom, our own defeats included, DiEM25 has managed to do one thing we promised in 2016: To stop cursing the darkness and, instead, to light up a small candle.
MeRA25, DiEM’s own electoral wing in Greece, was that candle. Despite the demonization, and the absurd lack of funding, DiEMers from all over Europe came to Greece and made it possible for our new party to enter Parliament.
Why did we succeed? For three reasons I believe:
First, while others, SYRIZA for instance, told voters “if you don’t vote for us things will get worse”, or the Communist Party’s narrative that before socialism comes nothing good can happen, we showed them how things could get better immediately.
Secondly, because we combined the transnational and the patriotic; the Green New Deal for Europe and the prospect of a Progressive Internationalism with programs tailor-made for Greece’s regions and Greece’s crisis-stricken people.
And, thirdly, because we went beyond the ‘cool crowd’ of students, academics, artists, cosmopolitans that DiEM25 can readily appeal to and we managed to speak to the heart of taxi drivers, blue collar workers, pensioners, school kids.
Friends, comrades, fellow-travellers,
- embracing the uncool crowd
- combining transnational humanism with non-nativist patriotism
- deepening democracy within our movement
- building our movement while extending our alliances, the Progressive International in particular
- supplementing our Green New Deal with a Post-capitalism pillar,…
…that’s what DiEM 2.0 is about!
Yes, we need a radically different new DiEM25. But we also need to preserve continuity with our courageous first three-and-a-half years. I can think of no better way of pushing us along this path of renewal with continuity than by quoting the last words with which I concluded at the Volksbuhne on that cold February night in 2016:
The real danger is not that we shall aim too high and miss. The real danger is that we train our eyes on the floor and end up there.
So, let us celebrate today. But from tomorrow morning let’s shake Europe.
Gently. Compassionately. But firmly!