As members of a progressive political party, as social democrats and socialists, our leading values and principles are freedom, justice and solidarity. Therefore, our concept of democracy is not neutral but a social democracy:
Social democracy is under world-wide pressure
Admittedly, in the years following the end of the military dictatorships in Latin America and the Cold War in Europe, democracy became a more attractive option and more and more countries were caught up by the wave of democratisation. However, this did not lead to a continuing evolution of democratic institutions and culture in most of these countries. On the contrary, democratic advancement seems to be frozen in many countries and the restrictions on civil liberties and lack of checks on the executive are often accepted as the status quo. The legitimacy of young democracies is eroding because they are unable to satisfy the hopes placed on them for more participation, social justice and security. In an increasing number of countries, the idea of democracy is coming under pressure from various sides:
The challenges we face
More and more political decisions are no longer being taken by elected representatives of the people, but are being enforced by the markets and/or are being imposed on the states by supra-government institutions that have no democratic legitimacy. One reaction to this is the so-called “market-compliant democracy”, which no longer tries to evaluate or process the results of market-driven economic processes from a political aspect and to correct them, if necessary, but aligns community affairs to the needs of the markets.
As progressive politicians, social democrats and socialists, we have made serious attempts to rehabilitate the state over the past few years and to reinforce its position against the superior strength of the markets. One aspect on which we still have to work more intensively is the creation of institutions and forms of participation. What we need is widespread participation and quick decision-making. This may seem like an attempt to square the circle, and innovative ideas are urgently needed. Surprisingly, a number of such innovations can be found in emerging economies and the developing countries: public audits, participatory budgets etc. In order to establish a sustainable social democracy, democratic institutions have to be created exactly there where democracy can be experienced first-hand. These institutions must be rooted in the everyday lives of the population and progressive, social democratic and socialist forces must be present and have an influence in these social environments.
History has shown the importance of having strong progressive left-wing parties and trade unions fit for action, as well as a committed social society. These movements are considerably more difficult to establish than spontaneous and short-lived popular movements. A true change of political majorities in the parliamentary system can only be achieved if the establishment of such necessary institutions is preceded by the politicisation of society and if society is allowed to participate in decision-making processes. Democratic power and opposition can only progress on a sustainable basis if supported by organisations such as political parties, trade unions and the civil society which are capable of actively influencing central civil institutions.
Worldwide social movements and protests as a reaction to increasing inequality have brought not only the democratic but also the social question into the focus of social debate again. Nowadays, the degree of inequality is one of the determining factors for economic prosperity, social mobility, reduction of poverty, social cohesion and political participation. The fight against inequality is one of the main tasks of the years ahead. The future constitution of the world will be decided less by the question of whether globalisation will increase the wealth of rich people and societies than by whether we succeed in levelling out social, economic and environmental differences and strengthening social cohesion in our societies.
Democracy and Social Justice for All
In the past few years, the question of social justice and democracy has been moved to a totally different platform: namely to the streets and public squares of this world. The protests in Tunis and Cairo, in Madrid, New York and Istanbul, however different they may have been, all expressed discontent with present-day society, manifested anger about social injustice and made clear that alternative channels of articulation are blocked. The protests combined two topics: the social question, including criticism of social evils, too-high cost-of-living, lack of perspectives due to unemployment, precarious jobs and ailing education systems, and criticism of increasingly authoritarian government approaches, whether in the form of corrupt “modernisation” regimes or – with a view to the Eurozone – of crisis management in Europe that largely took place without any sort of democratic control. Political protest has again become an expression of life; political involvement is increasingly turning into an existential issue.
It is our aim to ensure that the economy is not only democratically re-anchored in society but is also controlled by society. This is what will determine whether we succeed in establishing social democracy again.
We stand for policies that support democracy and social justice for all.