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The Left Must Be Ecological

Nature is our partner and basis for future survival, not a free good, external or sink. Building a pipeline means abandoning a decent infra-structure. European trains do not derail all the time. They have invested in the infrastructure and a long horizon that saves money and prevents environmental degradation. Are people really happy or fatalistic?

Interview with Political Scientist Chantal Mouffe

On the Agony of the Great Coalition, the Neoliberal Modernization Course of the SPD and the Necessity of Protests

[This interview published on 1/31/2014 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.taz.de Chantal Mouffe, b. 1943 in Charleroi, Belgium, is a professor of political theory at the University of Westminster in London. Together with Ernesto Laclau, she wrote "Hegemony and Radical Democracy" (1985) and recently "Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically" (2013) from Verso London.]

Taz: Ms. Mouffe, a Great Coalition has been in power in Germany for a short while. What does this mean for the civilized way of discussing our political problems?

Chantal Mouffe: I do not believe a Great Coalition s good for democracy. Coalitions are not simply an arithmetical question. A left coalition would need a political project. Perhaps no left project is possible at the moment since the problem is deep-seated.

What do you mean?

We need parties with different programs and genuine democratic alternatives. Right now we experience a post-political situation in a crisis of representative democracy.

How is this manifest?

Many protest movements that we have seen recently started from people who did not feel represented any more. One slogan of the indignados in Spain was: "We have a vote but not a choice." That is what I mean. The difference between center-left and center-right is like the choice between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.

Aren't you really describing the crisis of the political personnel?

I don' think it is only a question of power. Social-democratic parties in their programs do not offer any alternatives to the neoliberal hegemony. I do not see any social-democratic party that stands up for another project.

Does it make no difference which parties govern?

Obviously it is better in Germany that there is now a minimum wage. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Great Britain introduced a few redistributive measures when they were in office. Thus things were a little better under them. They were content with managing neoliberal globalization and giving it a little more human face. It is hard to believe the SPD would have done something fundamentally different if they had won the last election. A radical project can only be imagined on the Europe-wide plane.

Europeis conceived radically differently by politicians like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and the Alternative for Germany.

I see another problem here for social democracy. Social democracy no longer represents the working class. In most European countries, social democrats identify with the middle class, that group of people who profit from neoliberal globalization. Social democrats want to be modernizers today. They regard the traditional working class as archaic and obsolete. Marine Le Pen has success in France because she tries to speak to these people. The problem is that she agitates or stirs up hatred against Muslim immigrants with racist slogans and social democrats do not have any strategy against that. Right-wing populists know passions and emotions with which people can identify and carry the day in politics.

What working class do you really mean?

There is certainly no proletariat any more. But there are unskilled workers who do not feel addressed by the modernization discourse of social democracy. These people feel threatened by neoliberal globalization. Therefore constructing a discourse that includes immigrants and workers and is directed against transnational capital and the banks is crucial. In that way, we would embody left populism which I propose as an alternative.

That sounds as though you presuppose the existence of an enemy as for example transnational capital in your statements on left-populism.

Obviously. To construct a collective identity, a "we" must be distinguished from a "they." "The people" is always constituted politically. An adversary is necessary for that. Still I do not believe social movements like Occupy or the Indignados will be successful alone. We must recognize that the left has different interests today. I do not plead for the hegemony of a reformed social democracy. A new left project must also be ecological. The Left Party in Germany (Die Linke) can p-lay an important role. The synergies of all these groups and parties must cooperate in forming the common will. Syriza in Greece is a good example of that.

For me, that sounds like a red-red-green coalition in the government that makes common cause with a movement similar to the 68-movement under a new Rudi Dutschke.

I believe the student protests in Chile, for example, show that such an alliance is possible. Camila Vallejo is a charismatic student leader who moved the Communist Party there to government participation. Nevertheless the CP there has its own projects and criticizes where it seems necessary.

Germans do not seem to want that. Social Democrats want to govern with Merkel who won the election by a large margin.

That is true. The majority of Social Democrats seem happy to enter in a Great Coalition. But Angela Merkel could be circumstantial evidence of what I said. Isn't Merkel so popular for lack of a real alternative? The question is: are people really happy or have they become a little fatalistic?


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