Good Society Debate: Débat pour une bonne société – English text

Desperately seeking social-democracy.

Social democracy needs to redefine itself, and in particular it needs to separate itself from right-wing ideas.

What is left of social democracy?

Regrets, and a feeling of revolt. Regrets because we have failed to reconcile values, a political vision and effective practices of power. Doubts appeared a decade ago, but today it is no longer a question of doubts, or even of crisis; something has broken, it is like the end of a story, the end of hope.

We can all see the extent to which democracy is nowadays threatened, battered by a lack of a shared definition of collective interests and a common vision, and by a shameless concentration of power. Let’s focus on two recent cases. First, Nicolas Sarkozy, who wanted his 22-year-old son – although he failed all his university exams – to become head of the EPAD.1 Second, Silvio Berlusconi, who, having emasculated the media in Italy, is now accumulating embezzlement charges and dubious affairs. Although citizens express a strong desire for a different world, a more human form of globalisation and a different way of thinking about the economy, they are more and more pessimistic about any potential political outlet for their aspirations.

Democracy is going badly, socialism is weakened. Does social democracy still exist then? As a model based on two major principles, solidarity and equal opportunity? As a supporter of public liberties and democratic practices of power? Securing its future requires that it focuses on a real cleavage with the right-wing project for society. Unless it does this, social democracy will definitely come to be considered a feeble left-wing concept, or, worse, as a right-wing concept in disguise.

There are two additional important elements for the identification of an innovative political vision. First, the breakthrough of green politics must force us to improve our political vision, to think again about what we call progress, and to question our relation to growth. Second, citizens have developed new ways – outside of traditional parties and unions – of promoting their struggles. They have propelled into political parties an avant-garde vision on subjects as fundamental as immigration policies, public liberties, or new ways of thinking about town planning. Thus, for example, the organisation RESF (réseau éducation sans frontière), initially set up by parents, appeared to be the most effective group for helping to protect and regulate undocumented immigrants in France.

In addition to these two points, we should consider some additional principles for the reform of social democracy:

– Giving up a vision of an economy that is based solely on short-term profits. Economy should be neither over- nor under-valued. History, ecology, culture – in brief all the characteristics of humankind – should be taken in account when dealing with economy;
– Strengthening the struggle for promoting equal opportunities, which has become an empty slogan; inequalities have increased. They have become stronger and more unbearable. Giving up on this struggle is not acceptable;
– Facing the difficulties of finding an articulation between the social and ecological issues;
– Permanently connecting domestic policies to European and international stakes; today, what‘s happening in our villages can’t be considered outside of what’s happening in the world. Denying this encourages xenophobia;
– Opening politics to citizens and encouraging non-professional politicians. This would lead to a different profile for our elected representatives, and a sharing of power with the citizen sphere. Although politicians will take the ultimate responsibility for decision-making, we should organise more porosity between the citizen and the political sphere.

What we call the élites in France must today play a particular role in reforming social democracy. They have a played a role in the current crisis, in allowing cynicism to be installed in people’s minds; they must now take on the responsibility of reversing the current decline in status of democracy; they must move away from their over-cautious culture and take up the challenges of our time. Risking privilege and position in order to win back respect is an essential part of reforming social democracy.

Another culture of power, and of political thinking, must be created: circulating within networks of political representatives and organisations, articulating direct and indirect democracy, accepting less formal confrontations and debates. It must be visionary, placing its bets on the development of public goods and the non-business sector. In brief, it must be idealistic.

1. EPAD is the organisation in charge of the expansion of La Défense, one the biggest business districts in Europe, located in the middle of Nicolas Sarkozy’s stronghold, les Hauts-de-Seine

Lucile Schmid is a French politician of 46 years old. Within the French Socialist party, she is in charge of developing a project for the 2012 presidential elections. Lucile is also an elected representative in charge of anti-discriminations policies in the Ile-de-France region. She also published five books and is a permanent member of the editorial board of the monthly magazine Esprit.

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