Democratic Socialism in Global Perspective

Electoral Politics and Transformative Perspectives in the Americas and Europe
May 29-30, 2020

Co-sponsored by the Havens Wright Center and the Transnational Institute (Amsterdam)

This conference will bring together leading researchers on the left to explore the ambitions, challenges, and historical context of “democratic socialism in the 21st century.” The discussions here will update classical socialist and New Left problematics on parties, power, and the capitalist state and use comparative methodologies to distill the lessons of the successes and failures of experiments in “21st century socialist” governance.

Over the last two decades, successive waves of new left movements have gained electoral prominence and even national government with promises of updating socialism for the 21st century. This began with Latin America’s “Pink Tide,” spread to Europe following the 2008 crisis, and has recently become a feature of American politics with the post-Bernie Sanders growth of the Democratic Socialists of America and the emergence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. However, each wave has encountered significant reversals and setbacks when faced with the structural power and logic of capital and the capitalist state. And while the radical left has enjoyed moments of electoral and ideological resurgence in parts of the world, the main beneficiaries of the crisis of neoliberalism have been the populist right, not just in Europe and the US, but also in Latin America with the rise of Jair Bolsonaro.

The experience of 21st century socialism has shown that openings for electoral challenges for power can emerge. However, to realize the potential in these moments, resources that deepen their analytical, historical, and ethical perspective on the current challenges facing prospective socialist governments are essential.

To this end, the conference will explore the following key themes and questions:

  • Goals and vision. What are the objectives and the metrics of success for a socialist government in a world order that enforces neoliberal governance structures? Does democratic socialism have a strategic logic distinct from classic debates about “reform” and “revolution,” and, if so, is this defined by policy, strategy, or political agency?
  • State transformation. Can the capitalist state machinery be transformed to radical democratic ends, and what compromises will socialists make with the apparatus as it is?
  • Social bases and alliances. Can class interests still serve as a unifying basis for power and, if not, what social bases and alliances are necessary to build a radical democratic challenge by those oppressed under capitalism? What specific power resources and capacities do they offer and how are they to be built, organized, and deployed?
  • Political Parties. How do political parties figure in the new left’s transformative projects and its strategy for realizing them?

Stay tuned for future details.