Radikaldemokratie statt FdGO
Für ein Projekt radikalisierter Demokratie
Chantal Mouffe über Äquivalenzketten und Hegemoniepolitik (Text in englisch)
1. When we wrote ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy’at the beginning of the 80’s, our aim was to contribute to the reformulation of the socialist project in a way that would overcome the limitations that we saw both in the marxist and in the social democratic traditions. By then it had already become clear that a left wing project could not be formulated any more exclusively in terms of ‘class’ and that it was necessary to take account of the variety of struggles against subordination that were expressed in the new social movements. We believed that this required a critique of the economism that was dominant, albeit in different ways, in both communist and in social democratic parties. This is why an important part of the book is dedicated to the critique of essentialism and the elaboration of a theoretical framework allowing us to grasp the different forms of subordination that can exist in a society and the multiplicity of democratic struggles in which resistances against them can be manifested. We asserted that a left wing project had to be envisaged as the articulation of all the democratic struggles in a ‘collective will’ whose objective was the transformation of existing power relations and the establishment of a new hegemony. By introducing the reference to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony we were criticizing the idea – still widespread at that time- that a left-wing project in advanced Western liberal societies required a total revolutionary break with the existing institutions and the creation of a completely new society from scratch. In our view the false opposition between reform and revolution had to be abandoned and radical transformations were possible within the framework of liberal democratic societies. This is what we understood by ‘radical democracy’, a sort of immanent critique taking place inside those societies to force them to put into practice their professed ideals of liberty and equality. Those ideals- which were at the centre of the new political imaginary introduced by the democratic revolution – needed to be taken seriously and extended to an increasing number of social relations. This meant for example that democracy should not be limited to civil rights and political suffrage and that equality should also be implemented in a multiplicity of other fields, the economy of course but also in the relation between sexes, races. The central idea of the project of radical and plural democracy was that the democratic struggle had to be extended to all the fields were relations of subordination existed.
2. The concept of ‘chain of equivalence’ refers precisely to this articulation of the different democratic struggles in a ‘collective will’. There are several aspects that need to be clarified to grasp what we meant by this concept. By asserting the need to establish a chain of equivalence between the democratic struggles we wanted first to put into question the thesis of the necessary centrality of the working class. Such a thesis was accepted like a dogma at the time and it impeded to acknowledge the importance of the other types of struggle. In a chain of equivalence there is no apriori privileged agent. Everything depends of the specific context and the relations of forces existing at a given moment. Secondly we also emphasized the need to link the diverse democratic struggles instead of leaving each of them fighting on its own- a thesis defended by some people influenced by Michel Foucault. Today it would of course be a critique of the position of the theorists of the ‘multitude’ like Hardt and Negri who claim that the different struggles do not need any articulation because they naturally converge in their opposition to Empire. The third aspect that I want to stress is that the creation of a chain of equivalence always requires the determination of an adversary. It is through their opposition to a common adversary that the chain of equivalence is established. This helps us to understand a last, important point. The fact that in a chain of equivalence the specificity of the struggles who constitute its parts is maintained and that their articulation does not lead to homogeneity and identity. It is only as far as they have this common adversary that the unity between the different struggles is created.
3. Chains of equivalence will of course depend on the struggles existing in different historical contexts and they will therefore take a variety of forms. But on a very general level one can say the following: they should articulate the various demands of social movements with the demands specific of workers. The aim is to link in a collective will the multiplicity of struggles taking places in a variety of social relations and institutions. Another way to put it is that a synergy should be established between the demands of the progressive sectors of the middle classes and the demands of the working class. I would like to clarify here an important difference between our idea of ‘chain of equivalence’ and the idea of a ‘rainbow coalition’ as it was put forward in those years in the USA by Jesse Jackson. According to our approach it is not enough to simply having different groups making a punctual alliance for a specific objective. This kind of alliance could indeed represent a first stage, which could later be transformed into a chain of equivalence. But the establishment of a chain of equivalence requires something else, the creation of new forms of subjectivity. The collective political subjects who take part in a chain of equivalence need to reformulate their aims so as to take account of the demands of the others groups. This means for instance that feminists would not define their objectives exclusively in terms of gender equality but would also embrace demands specific to workers struggles and those of other social movements: against racism, sexual discrimination, etc. And the same exigency applies of course to the other groups. In it only in this way that it would be impossible for the hegemonic powers to satisfy the demands of some groups by shifting the burden to others. For a new hegemony to be constructed this is really an essential point and this is why the construction of what Gramsci calls a new ‘common sense’ is central to a counter-hegemonic approach.
4. There is a tendency today in some left circles to insist that struggles taking place in civil society should not have anything to do with parties and trade unions and that they should be completely autonomous. Some theorists argue that the strategy for radical politics should be one of ‘exodus’, of desertion from all existing institutions. This seems to me a mistaken and dangerous perspective because I do not see how it is possible to profoundly transform the relations of power existing in a society without addressing the ‘nodal points of power’ that are represented by the ensemble of institutions through which a specific hegemony is constructed. For instance the power configurations that exist between some state institutions and capitalist corporations. This cannot be done by civil society alone and this is why those movements need to work with parties and trade unions. The case of the ‘piqueteros’ in Argentina which is so often presented as the model of the struggles of the multitude provides in my view that best example of the limits of such a strategy. They did manage through their street actions to bring down the De la Rua government but when the elections took place to choose a new government, they were completely unable to exercise any influence because they rejected the very idea of engaging with representative institutions. Their slogan was that all politicians should go, ‘que se vayan todos’. In my view such a strategy of desertion is clearly self-defeating and this is why I advocate, following Gramsci, a strategy of ‘war of position’, of ‘engagement with’ instead of this strategy of ‘withdrawal from’.
I would not deny of course that there is always the danger for social movements to be neutralized and manipulated by parties and they should indeed be vigilant but this is a risk that needs to be taken if they want to play an effective role in the construction of a new hegemony.
5. With respect to the nodal points of power that need to be challenged we are currently facing a completely new situation. The crisis of financial capitalism offers the opportunity to challenge the main tenets of neo-liberal hegemony and to put forward an alternative model. It is illusory to believe in the availability of an total anti-capitalist alternative but a new mode of regulation of capitalism, a more progressive one, could emerge from the present crisis. The idea that the market is the solution to all problems and that the state is the enemy has been discredited and the state is clearly back. But what role is it going to play? Will it be limited to help the banks to solve their problems or can its intervention be directed to the correction of the profound inequalities created by decades of neo-liberalism? This is clearly the crucial issue today. The problem is that most social democratic parties in Europe are badly prepared for envisaging a solution that would represent a real democratic advance because they have been too much influenced by the dominant neo-liberal ideas. In fact many of them have played an important role in the process of deregulation which is at the origin of the present crisis. So I am not very optimistic in the short term but I think that a new terrain has been created that should favor parties, like Die Linke, that situate themselves on the left of social democracy, providing an increased credibility to their project and making them attractive to a variety of people who have become aware of the need for an alternative. Such an alternative cannot be, of course, a return to the traditional social democratic model whose shortcomings have created the terrain which has contributed to the rise of neo-liberalism. Moreover it is necessary to acknowledge that with the transition from fordism to post-fordism new conditions have arisen which call for different solutions. The elaboration of an alternative will take time and it requires the joining together of many different forces. I am certainly not in a position to provide a blueprint. I would like however to stress that such an alternative can only to be envisaged at the European level and this is why it is so important for the left in all European countries to begin working together towards a project of radicalization of democracy. Such a project needs to challenge the existing configurations of power relations within Europe but it cannot be limited to fight inequalities in Europe and it must have an international dimension. What is a stake is truly a new form of globalization that would allow for more equal relations at the international level. By establishing a chain of equivalence with exploited groups in other parts of the world, I am convinced that a European left could play a very important democratizing role in the multipolar world that is taking shape today.
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