"Old Left," "New Left," "New-Old Right" or "New Middle?" The CSSD Must Choose
For the first time in the history of the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia, a completely social democratic government has come to power. Paradoxically, it has occurred at a time in which the social democratic movement is undergoing its greatest ideological crisis ever, although social democratic parties at the same time have enjoyed their greatest electoral success. The vast majority of EU countries now have social democratic prime ministers and 13 of the 15 member states have social democratic parties holding cabinet posts. So far, though, no new social democratic model has emerged to replace that of the "Old Left." The question arises: will the CSSD go back to the ideas of the Old Left in some modified form or will open itself for some more "modern" alternatives?
The Old Left advocated centralized state control over economic development. Originally, it supported state ownership and a planned economy. After the failures of the Soviet-type of command economy became apparent, social democratic parties turned to Keynesian policies aiming at stimulating consumer demand through social spending and income redistribution policies. In the era of "globalization," these policies have been more difficult to maintain. The European countries are all have open economies and are extremely dependent on international flows of capital and currency. If one country tries to stimulate its economy in traditional Keynesian fashion by raising social spending without raising taxes, it will scare away investors, who fear that the resulting budget deficit will raise interest rates, lower the value of the currency and increase inflation. On the other hand, if that country finances the increased social spending by raising taxes, investors are likely to flee to low tax countries where they can obtain higher profits. Ironically, the USA is probably the only country that has a large enough economy to be able to run large budget deficits without worrying about the flight of capital. So Ronald Reagan with his record-breaking budget deficits was perhaps the West's last great Keynesian! It might be possible to carry out Keynesian policies at the EU level, now that all the major member states have social democratic governments, but that would require revisions in the Maachstrict Treaty that requires budget deficits to be under 3% of GNP for all member states.
On this question, the CSSD has profiled itself as a moderate Keynesian party. It wants to run a relatively small budget deficit. If its calculations are correct, it is possible that such a deficit will not scare off much foreign investment. However, if opposition claims are true that the deficit will really be much higher, then the CSSD could run into trouble.
At the moment it appears that the CSSD is following the Old Left in many other questions as well. Even before the economic ideas of the Old Left ran into trouble, adherents of the "New Left" began to criticize the Old Left's emphasis on materialism and class questions. The New Left claimed that other relationships of domination were as important as the relations between employer and employee. Especially important are the destruction of our environment, gender relations and discrimination against minorities. Furthermore, the New Left revolted against the Old Left's paternalism and centralism. Even if it agreed with the Old Left that a free market led to the domination of employees by their employers, the key to emancipation lies in more participatory democracy, rather than state control. Thus, worker ownership and management of firms, cooperate firms and codeterminiation laws for power-sharing in private firms were all favorable to state ownership and central planning. In the public sector, the modern, well educated citizen needs to have greater choice and influence over, for example, the choice of doctor. The New Left's support for participatory democracy made it favorable to the demands of East European dissidents for building a civic society with active citizens.
On many of these issues, the CSSD remains chained to the Old Left. Its plans to build nuclear power plants is a typical example. In the long run, it will likely have disastrous effects on the environment and will also be by far the most expensive energy alternative, once all the social costs are included. Even if we leave out the possibility that a meltdown could occur and thus make half of the country unlivable, the problem of dealing with nuclear waste remains. These wastes will remain deadly radioactive for perhaps over 100,000 years. That means that containers must be built that can survive several ice ages (!) without leaking, otherwise large portions of the world will become contaminated and unlivable. Perhaps all of the world will one day become unlivable because of nuclear power. In that case, future generations might remember the decision to build nuclear power plants as the greatest crime of this century.
Nuclear power belongs to the Old Left's tradition as well for its centralism. It is the most centralized and capital intensive form of energy production. Meanwhile, it is also the type of energy production that creates the least amount of jobs per crown invested. Almost any other state investment would create many more jobs for the same amount of money.
Zeman has also shown a complete lack of interest for the gender question. This is exemplified by his decision not to include any women in his cabinet. Neither has he shown much concern for minority issues such as improving conditions for Romanies, although he has at least supported a law banning skinheads. However, even that law would only get at the effects rather than the causes of the problems.
Am I arguing for a New Left strategy? After years of authoritarian one-party rule, the New Left might have been enticing since in many ways it represents a more radical break with the past than Klaus' market liberalism. Klaus shared the communists belief that growth is more important than the environment, nothing should be done to fight discrimination against women or Romanies, politics should be left to elites (although Klaus at least believes that they should be democratically elected), it is not necessary to develop an active civil society and employees should not have any influence over their workplaces. Radical democracy in contrast aims to maximize the influence that each individual has on his or her own life, while at the same time living in solidarity with nature and less well off groups in society.
Regardless of the theoretical advantages of the New Left in today's Czech Republic, it would not be a feasible strategy for the CSSD. First of all, there would not much public support right now for policies that are perceived as being too "Leftist." The majority of the population at the moment lies in the center and even center-right of the political spectrum. Obcanske hnuti tried to mobilize support for the notion of an active civic society, but failed. Moreover, most of the economy is already privatized and it is doubtful that many Czechs would like to see another round of privatization that transfers property from the new private owners to the employees. Thus, the most that one could hope for on the issue of industrial democracy is some sort of Mitbestimmung (codetermination) law as in Germany. Second, the economic situation is too feeble to allow for radical economic policies. The Czech Republic is extremely dependent on foreign investment and radical economic policies would scare aware foreign capital. Employee-owned firms would also have trouble raising the necessary investment to modernize their enterprises.
Does this mean that, in spite of everything, the CSSD must pursue market-liberal policies? The mass media in Western Europe often supports such tendencies and labels the debate in terms of "traditionalists" versus "renewers" or "modernizers." I prefer the terms "Old Left" and the "New Old-Right," since the only thing that is "new" or "modern" about market liberalism is its increased support among supposedly "socialist" parties. Otherwise, the ideology of neo-liberalism is several centuries old. Regardless of the economic effects of such a turn, politically it is suicidal in the long run. Either the voters would perceive that these policies have succeeded, in which case they would move to the Right and vote for "real" rightwing parties in future elections, or the voters would perceive that these policies have failed, in which case they would also punish the social democrats by voting for other Leftist or populist parties. In New Zealand, for instance, the Labour Party initiated the country's rightwards shift by deregulating the currency and capital markets and cutting spending on social welfare programs. The majority of the population eventually approved of these policies. As a result, the conservative party also moved to the right and became neo-liberal. The conservatives then had no trouble winning the next elections. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the population felt that its living standards decreased as a result of these reforms. This encouraged the leftwing of the Labour Party to rebel against its leadership. Afterwards, the party split into several parties and Labour is no longer a major contender for power.
In Sweden, less radical market liberal policies were widely seen as failures. After the social democrats deregulated the financial and capital markets and introduced a market-liberal tax cut, a budget surplus turned into Europe's second biggest budget deficit, while unemployment increased from barely over 1% to over 8%. The party promptly lost the next elections after having held power for 53 of the last 59 years. They lost votes to both the official liberal parties, the green party and to a rightwing populist party. Since then, they returned to power, because the economy continued to decline during the period of non-socialist rule. Nevertheless, the current social democratic party is much weaker than ever before. In the recent elections, it had its worst electoral result since the introduction of universal suffrage. Instead, their voters either stayed at home or voted for the greens and the reformed communists (now "Left Party"). The Left Party doubled its support to over 12%.
If the New Old-Right and the New Left are not politically feasible, does the CSSD have any alternative to entrenching itself in the Old Left? A possible solution would be to pursue a Czech version of the "New Middle," which the German social democrats successfully conquered in the recent elections. Originally, Schroeder profiled himself as a market-liberal "modernizer." However, in order to get elected chancellor, he had to moderate his market policies to appease the Old Left phalange centered around Finance Minister La Fontaine and he needed the support of the Green Party, which has its roots in the New Left. This compromise becomes a mixture of more market-oriented, pragmatic economic policies, relatively generous social policies and an incorporation of the non-economic ideas of the New Left, such as a commitment to begin shutting down nuclear power plants.
The CSSD would likely find wide support for such policies. Klaus has convinced the population that a balanced budget and general market-oriented economic policies is basically sound. Moreover, large Keynesian stimulation packages would have no chances of gaining parliamentary approval. Even though social programs could become more encompassing, Czechs do not believe that their country at this moment is wealthy enough to engage in Swedish types of generous, universal policies. So social democratic economic policy probably will probably not differ all that much from the previous center-right governments of Klaus and Tosovsky.
These leaves the non-economic fields as the best arena for the CSSD to profile itself. There exists a lot of untapped green potential in the Czech Republic which the party could utilize. Czechs are very similar to Swedes when it comes to their natural romanticism. In both countries a large portion of the populace leaves the cities for summer cottages during weekends. In both countries, many people rent small plots of land where they grow their own vegetables. In both countries, it is a national pastime to pick mushrooms in the forest. Yet, while the northern neighbor has a strong environmental movement, such forces are nearly completely non-existent in the Czech Republic. Not only are there several strong environmental organizations in Sweden, there are also three parties in parliament that oppose nuclear energy and emphasize environmental issues. Two of them (the Leftist Party and Environmental Party) are presently cooperating with the current social democratic government. Meanwhile, in Germany, the social democrats have entered a full coalition with the Greens, which means that they have a green environmental minister.
In the Czech Republic, the CSSD does not face similar pressures from green groups to change its strategy. However, this could be a great advantage for the party. It means that it would gain full credit for popular measures that improve the environment. For example, instead of spending billions of crowns on a couple of nuclear power plants, it could use the same money for encouraging alternative energy sources. The Czech Republic has enormous potential for becoming one of the world's centers for new environmentally friendly technology. It has an extremely well educated workforce, many excellent engineers and yet much lower wages than West European engineers. Thus, it should be easy to attract foreign investment for such projects.
The CSSD could also follow the German Red-Green model by lowering employer social insurance fees and paying for this tax cut by introducing environmental taxes on fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful products. This would encourage enterprises to use more energy efficient production. It would create jobs in the environmentally cleaner sectors, since labor costs would be lower after the tax cut. Imagine if gas prices were raised to cover the true social costs of carbon dioxide emissions and then the revenues were used to subsidize the production of ethanol gas. The air would become much cleaner if Czech cars went on ethanol, while Czech farmers would be able to expand their production to supply this gas which can be extracted from several types of plants. Consequently, many new jobs would be created in the Czech country side, while the balance of trade situation would improve as the country radically decreased its oil imports. Some car owners would be angry if they value cheap gas more than clean air. However, they could be partially compensated if part of the revenues from the gas tax went to subsidize public transportation and therefore gave them greater incentive to take the metro to work.
Although much of the population would welcome cleaner air, drinkable water and living forests, the question is whether the CSSD could gain parliamentary support for such policies. The KDU-CSL might be willing to cooperate in this area. After all, Martin Bursik has now joined the party after his impressive performance as environmental minister in the Tosovsky government. It is also possible that at least some members of the US or communist party would also be willing to support such measures.
Gender and family issues also provide potential sources of great popularity for the "New Middle." Czech scholars have often pointed out that East Europeans in general and Czechs in particular are skeptical toward Western feminism. One of the reasons, however, is that they greatly misperceive the ideas of mainstream Western feminists. They see these Westerns as crypto communists who are also man haters. At the same time, it is increasingly evident that something must be done to improve the situation for Czech families. Klaus believed that too many women work and wanted to encourage them to stay at home. Thus, he ended support to daycare centers and increased the period of extended maternity leave. Meanwhile, his government made it difficult for men to go on parental leave and made sure that the level of payments for parental leave were so low that few men would be interested in utilizing their rights to take care of their children. As long as families have low incomes and as long as the men in most families earn more than the women, most men will not be able to afford to take parental leave unless they receive adequate compensation for their loss of working income.
At the moment, the majority of the Czech population rejects notions of gender equality and either share Klaus' belief that women should stay at home and take care of the family, while others believe that women should have two jobs (one at home and one for pay) while the man should only have one job. Klaus' conservative option of encouraging the women to stay at home has not worked. Even if women want to leave the workforce, their husbands do not earn enough money to support a family on only one income. As a result, there has not been a big increase in the number of housewives, but there has been a shocking drop in the number of births. From 1990 to 1996 the number of live births decreased by over 30%, so it is obvious that something must be done.
Many of those women today with two jobs are not happy with their situation and a recent survey taken by the Institute of Sociology at the Academy of Science shows that one third of the Czech favor a marital relationship that is based on "partnership." So measures that could improve their position are likely to become popular. This could include such measures as increasing access to daycare centers, increasing the level of payments for parental leave and encouraging men to take part of the parental leave, as well as passing laws against the discrimination of women in the labor market. It might be difficult to gain support from the other parties for such policies. Nevertheless, the mere fact that these questions are added to the political agenda would be a great improvement over the current situation. It would also force all the parties to address the questions of the declining birth rates and the unfairness of women having a double burden of domestic work and income earning work.
Finally, there are the questions of improving conditions for Romanies and developing a stronger civic society. Neither of these questions are among the greatest concerns of most Czechs. Nevertheless, there is some potential support to be found among the well-educated for these issues. These academic professionals have tended to vote for rightwing parties, such as the ODA and now US. This has especially become the case since Mlynar joined the US. He gave the young party a tolerant profile as the minister in charge of Romany affairs. He also succeed in recruiting Romany candidates to the parties electoral list. In doing so, he wooed over center and even left-center voters who were afraid of Zeman's alleged populism and authoritarianism. Thus, some of these voters could be swayed to the CSSD, if it worked for a New Middle. Meanwhile, support for these issues are unlikely to cost the CSSD any votes. Not many people are strongly against a civic society and though many harbor racist sentiments against Romanies, not many are racist enough to leave the party because of this issue. On the contrary, even racists could be persuaded that everyone would gain if the situation for the Romanies improved. It would lead to lower crime rates, better international publicity and a stronger economy. Since the US has been the best party on Romany issues and since the party also emphasizes the need for a stronger civic society in its party program, the party would probably be willing to support such policies. It is also likely that the moralistic KDU-CSL would have trouble reconciling an uncaring attitude toward Romanies with its Christian values.
By now the reading should recognize that a pattern is emerging: on each issue the CSSD is more likely to gain support for the New Middle from the US and KDU-CSL than from the ODS. Yet the CSSD presently has a cooperation agreement with the one party that is least likely to support these policies. However, the ODS would probably not mind cooperation on special issues between the CSSD and the remaining center-right parties, for this would allow the ODS to keep a safe distance from its former enemies. Klaus could claim that he had to reach a cooperation agreement to save the country and provide for a stable government, but he luckily does not have to take responsibility for the actual policies of this government. Without support from the US and KDU-CSL, Klaus would eventually have to cooperate with the CSSD on policy issues, since it is not possible to support the existence of a government that one vows never to topple and at the same time make sure that the government is unable to govern.
If the politics of the New Middle would gain support for the CSSD, what incentives would the US and KDU-CSL have for helping the CSSD? Would they not also be helping the ODS by allowing it again to profile itself as a rightwing party after the damaging cooperation agreement? These two smaller parties would have several good reasons for supporting the New Middle. First, it would regain them some of the goodwill that they lost through their stubborn stances during the post-election negotiations on forming a new government. Second, better relations with the CSSD would improve their chances of being able to influence negotiations on constitutional reform. In fact, they could make this a condition for cooperation. Third, some of the policies of the New Middle would be similar to their own ideas. They would have a greater chance of implementing these goals together with the CSSD than in a future center-right government that included the ODS. Finally, they would be able to help the social democrats clean up the corruption that the Klausian type of privatization left behind. As long as the CSSD is dependent on the ODS, "clean hands" will only be an empty slogan and an ODS nomenklatura will still enjoy financial power.
What is the sens moral? It is that almost everybody would have been better off if the CSSD had chosen to become a party of the New Middle and if the KDU-CSL and US had been willing to form a center-left government directly after the elections. Then Bursik could have continued as environmental minister and Mlynar as minister responsible for Romany questions. There would have been a stable government, real steps could have been taken toward fighting corruption, and there would not have been any reason to discuss constitutional reform. However, in English we have the saying "Better late than never."