France, “A Social Democratic Compromise of a Third Kind” ? Henri Weber.
Henri Weber (far-left) in Happier Days.
Henri Weber is a former member of the Trotskyist Fourth International.
He played an important role in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) in May 1968 and the decade that followed. This included a stint at the “special operations” section of the LCR (Commission Très Spéciale, CTS) and editorship of their weekly Rouge.
An intellectual, whose writings were known in the UK through New Left Review and International Marxist Group publications, he was a sympathetic critic of Eurocommunism and a defender of radical democratic socialism.
After leaving the Ligue he became an academic, conducting further research into Eurocommunism, and German Social Democracy. His book Le Parti des Patrons : le CNPF (1946-1986), 1991 is a sociological and political account, some might say a rather plodding one, of the French bosses’ organisation (their CBI).
Weber has been a member of the French Parti Socialiste since the mid-1980s, was a Senator (1995 – 2004) and is now a European Deputy, MEP, (first elected 2004).
He has moved considerably to the right, even within the moderate terms of European social democracy.
The former revolutionary Marxist is best known these days for defending the idea that one can broadly (extremely broadly) outline three modern types of “compromise” that define post-War social democracy (Nouveau compromis social -démocrate.18.3.2014)
The first was the ‘post-war’ compromise between the labour movement, the left, and the states and societies of the West . Full employment, growth, expanding social and workers’ rights and the welfare state marked this period.
The second, that followed the late 1970s crisis of the Welfare state and Keynesianism, was defensive. It accepted that redundancies and wage restraint had to take place, but offered increased social spending and more social rights.
A third type of social compromise took shape at the turn of the century: the compromises to adapt to globalisation, and more broadly , the changes in capitalism. That is, the digital revolution, the emergence of new industrialising countries, the internationalization of production have required a restructuring of of Western economies. These are axed towards high-tech industries and services with high added value.
The new social democratic compromise is based on mobilising the social partners for to specialise and adapt to this role. Unions and socialist parties agree on the deregulation of the labour market (flexi-security), the stagnation of real wages, a reduction in the level of social protection. They demand in return the defence of employment and preservation of national economic power.
In Germany, for example, the SPD and the unions accepted the Hartz accord: unemployment compensation is reduced from 32 to 12 months (24 for over 50 years); the age of retirement is pushed back to 67 years (in 2029 …) the unemployed are forced to take a job……..public health care provision is being reduced……
The German Hartz agreements loosened strong social protection and created so-called “mini-jobs” (at extremely low pay), subjected welfare claimants to stringent “contracts”, lowered benefits, and undermined many of the fundamental aspects of the welfare state.
Weber’s assertion (echoed on the European Right and Business) that their focus on industrial competitivity and growth, are the basis for the country’s economic success, is by no means universally accepted. It is pretty obvious that it’s unlikely that many on the French, or the German non “social democratic” left (except for the Die Grünen, who are often to the right of social democracy) would agree.
But the fact remains that in Germany there has been an economic upturn, unemployment has gone down, and if there is a very heavy downside to these reforms, they are now backed by the population, and represent for the present the basis of Angela Merkel’s popularity.
One can see what the French Socialists would look with envy at the German Chancellor’s ratings in the opinion polls (even if a hard-right anti-European Party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), did well with 9.9.% in a regional election in Saxony, this Sunday – Taz).
The assertion that a progressive slant to this new compromise, depends on growth, and the weight of employees (that is, workers), within a European structure remains to be tested. At present the Socialists have simply gone for what they believe is a strategy for growth.
Last weekend Weber addressed the Parti Socialiste’s Summer School at La Rochelle.
These are some extracts from what he said, 7 moyens de refonder la social-démocratie.
Weber outlines the reasons for the change towards a new compromise.
The principal backdrop is that the globalisation of the economy is changing the balance of power in favor of the owners of private economic power – entrepreneurs and financial operators – at the expense of employees and governments. Markets, companies, production have become global; States, parties, trade unions remain, essentially national actors. The result is a growing disjunction between the political and the economic spheres
The ‘third industrial revolution’, the rise of digital and biotechnologies, the fragmentation of social classes based on production and the working environment, the rise of individualism, social insecurity, and mass migration, have eroded the basis of traditional socialism and communism. Global warming and other ecological challenges pose further questions to the left.
Weber offers seven principal axes for a renewed social democracy which I present in a slightly adapted form.
1 European social democracy must reconnect with its original internationalism.
2. Social democracy must break with the focus on producing more and more and discover an eco-socialist alternative .
3. European social democracy must find ways of using people and companies’ savings to finance future industries and services with high added value.
4 European social democracy must assert, more than it has done so far, a’ project of civilisation’ (a vision of society).
5 European social democracy must be resolutely feminist .
6 European social democracy has to invent a renewed twenty-first century form and structure of democracy
7 Social democracy should promote an ‘alternative’ globalisation (that is, not be simply ‘anti’ globalisation, but find a different way of globalising).
The substance of Weber’s contribution seems to be this:
European social democracy should become a continent wide political actor through the mechanisms of the European Socialist Party and the European Confederation of Trade Unions. It should endorse environmentally friendly policies. It should promote investment. It should advance a communitarian project that would promote social values, including feminist ones. It should back democratic reforms. And, finally, it should attempt what regulation of globalisation it can.
A pretty stodgy set of idées reçues that would appeal to those in the UK, from Will Hutton to Jon Cruddas, who have not the slightest intention of mounting any radical challenge to austerity – and that’s just to start with.
Meanwhile…..in the real political world…..
Prime Minister Valls was received coldly by many delegates at the same La Rochelle Summer School.
Communist and Green speakers, critical of the government’s turn rightward, were well received at fringe meetings (Libération).
In the main hall when the Prime Minister appeared some shouted Vive la Gauche! – the name of the new left ‘frondeur’ alliance (you can see more about them here).
Well, there’s the talk about ending the 35 hour week and a whole raft of measures designed to weaken workers’ rights. His Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Macron,has gone out of his way to appeal to business, not the left. More and more austerity remains on the cards. A few words about he also loves the Parti Socialiste won’t change this.
It is unlikely that French unions, even the ‘social liberal’ CFDT, are overjoyed at the prospect of having to defend what little remains of ‘social democracy’.
The idea that anything approaching the Hartz measures will go down well in France.
One might question the assertion that this “third type” of compromise is anything other than a series of concessions, made in different European countries in different ways, to neo-liberal anti-left policies. One wonders where Brown and Blair fitted into the Second Compromise, or were they part of the Third?
Far from being a social democrat it appears that Manuel Valls and his team are economic liberals.
It would be interesting to see if he tries something resembling the Hartz reforms.
A second’s thinking shows that this is extremely unlikely to happen.
Note: Weber’s own site is here.
On it we learn this fascinating information:
Etat civil: Marié
Icône: Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Pierre Desproges
Hobbies: La marche à pied
Livre préféré: “La Promesse de l’Aube” de Romain Gary
Film favori: “Les Enfants du Paradis” de Marcel Carné (1945)
Groupe de musique favori: Les Beatles
Emission TV préférée: Thalassa
Plat local favori: La potée auvergnate
Some might comment that this shows a profound mediocrity.
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