Special Reports / The 21st Century. A World Without The Left?

The 21st Century. A World Without The Left?

Adam Puchejda Jarosław Kuisz · 20 August 2013

Dear Readers,

Theoretically, now is the time for the left. The revival of political extremisms, the euro zone crisis, immigration and new inequalities – the list of challenges which European politicians are facing today has brought about a lot of talking about the necessity to have strong political parties addressing social justice and equality and… Nothing. Just disappointment.

The huge economic crisis which began in 2008 was already supposed – according to some commentators – to contribute to the victory of left political groups in Europe. However, for a longer time we did not hear of any major victories of the European wing of this ideology. The spirit of the left did not disappear, but still could not find his new incarnation. Until May 2012 came and with it the presidential elections in France, whereby the Socialist candidate, François Hollande won. Great hopes then revived for the resurgence of the left and by the same token, for a more social Europe, equal and just. It was cheered especially by those  supporters of the left who did not relish the clearly liberal reforms of the social democratic government of Gerhard Schröder (such as more flexible forms of employment or tax cuts for the richest).

Unfortunately, Hollande’s success once again only confirmed the depths of the crisis in which European parties on the left side of the political scene find themselves. Torn between the old programme of social democracy and the demands of social movements, they, in fact, have no idea for the reconstruction of former communities and the fulfilment of individuals’ aspirations. They are looking for new roads – they are fighting for human rights and a better environment – but they still have their hands tied with old problems.

Trying to win new social groups – the LGBT communities and women –  at the same time the left often loses the support of its “iron electorate”. For example, in France the votes of the workers and of the service sector employees are increasingly flowing to the far-right National Front. Some mischievous observers even claim that the left – especially the French left – is slowly becoming a party of functionaries and officials, seeking only to maintain the status quo, a party conservative in its spirit.

The crisis of political practice, however, does not translate into a lack of reflection on the state of the left-wing politics. In France and in other European countries, valuable books and studies are published every year whose main aim is to try and revive the left, to breathe new energy into it and to develop its effective programme. One such publication is the recently published and widely discussed work “The French Left 1762 – 2012” (“Les gauches françaises 1762-2012”, Flammarion, 2012) by Jacques Julliard. Interestingly, in this history of the French left wing, its author, a well-known journalist, in addition to a thorough analysis of historical material, outlines a programme for the restoration of the left.

In Juilliard’s opinion, the French left, but also more broadly, the European left – because he changes he describes are transnational in nature – is now facing real challenges. Indeed, there has been a significant change both in political theory and practice. The left cannot continue to  believe in the idea of progress, or to think in terms of social classes. It has to become a party of individuals, not collective bodies, a party which emphasizes the importance of environmental issues and human rights, and only secondarily of redistribution and economic problems. It should promote a policy of participation, thus fighting against the problem of the declining participation of citizens in public life, and strive for a fundamental change in the functioning of international politics in order to put an end to the concert of powers in favour of policies which will underpin the importance of the United Nations.

Will these proposals be actually able to revive the left? Will they permanently reinforce its image as elitist and detached from reality? In today’s issue of “Kultura Liberalna” we are trying to take a look at the following three issues inspired by Juilliard’s proposals: Is there actually no longer a place for progressivism in politics? Can politics be changed today by large social groups, teachers or employees paid from the state budget organizing strikes, or by ad hoc associations as it was during the protests against ACTA or the Occupy movement? And finally, will the left be more and more avant-garde and focus only on social morality changes and ecology, or will it address its traditional, more conservative electorate in the name of economic equality and social justice?

We have invited four leading figures of the left – Polish, French and American – to this issue:  Zygmunt Bauman, a world-renowned sociologist, who paints a pessimistic picture of the future of the left and Krzysztof Pomian, a legend of Polish October, who looks at the French left even more critically; Marcel Gauchet, an eminent French philosopher and historian, the editor-in-chief of „Le Débat”, who believes in the revival of the socialist left, and Michael Kazin, the editor-in-chief of the famous American left-wing quarterly “Dissent”, who looks to the future with hope for left-wing movements, at the same realistically viewing the obstacles which the left must overcome.

Adam Puchejda, Jarosław Kuisz


The presented Topic of the Week opens the Polish-French cycle of issues of “Kultura Liberalna” prepared in cooperation with the French Culture Centre in Warsaw and the Warsaw Office of European Council on Foreign Relations.


The author of the concept for the Topic of the Week: Adam Puchejda.
Collaborators: Jarosław Kuisz, Piotr Kieżun.
Project coordination on the part of „Kultura Liberalna”: Adam Puchejda, Łukasz Pawłowski, Karolina Wigura.
Coordination on the part of the French Culture Centre in Warsaw: Aneta Bassa.
Translation from French and English: EUROTRAD Wojciech Gilewski.
Illustrator: Rafał Kucharczuk