What is progressive politics

The progressive center


In a new series of events, the Progressive Center and the Heinrich Böll Foundation discussed the concepts of a progressive, ecological politics of the center-left in an expert forum with politicians, scientists and public intellectuals.


You can read the results of the expert forum in our conference report here. more

To speak of “Third Way Politics” today seems to be a matter of the past century. This idea of ​​a contemporary left reform policy was very popular in the nineties. It was about more than just pragmatic adaptation to a changed economic, social and international environment, which was usually entrenched with the catchwords globalization, the crisis of the welfare state, social differentiation and individualization, the crisis of normal employment and new gender arrangements, the knowledge society, immigration, long-term unemployment and the development of one Lower class is outlined.

It was the aim of the “Third Way”, which was initially considered in the USA (Clinton's reform agenda) and Great Britain (New Labor) in particular, to find a new balance between state interventionism and civil society, social guarantees and personal responsibility, security and dynamism in order to Realizing more equal opportunities through education and labor market integration, thereby stabilizing the middle classes and allowing the lower classes to participate in the prosperity effects of capitalist globalization. The “third way” family of terms included the “activating welfare state”, “flexicurity” and the formula of “promoting and demanding”. That was also the world of thought on which the “Agenda 2010” of the red-green coalition in Germany was based. Politically, it was about occupying the middle of society with a promise of participation from the left and conquering hegemony in public discourse.

Today almost nobody wants to stand by these ideas. Social democracy is saying goodbye to the “Third Way” everywhere, and the (German) Greens also see the red-green reform agenda of what was once burnt ground. Many leftists now regard the whole approach of the “Third Way Politics” as an aberration, which is responsible for the crisis of social democracy and the failure of red-green. But what conclusions should be drawn from the decline of this concept: back to the supposedly good old days of left-wing welfare state policy on a national level, which promises protection from the unreasonable demands of globalization? That should quickly turn out to be a dead end, because the circumstances are not (anymore) like during the golden years of the welfare state post-war model - and the reasons that urged a renewal of progressive politics in the nineties are not over.

We are facing a paradox. On the one hand, the term “reform” has fallen into serious disrepute: “When people hear 'reforms', they just hold onto their wallets,” says Frank Karl, head of the FES study on trust in democracy. On the other hand, there is a growing realization that simply “business as usual” in view of global economic and ecological upheavals will only lead to deeper crises. Economic, social and political reforms are more necessary than ever. To what extent they can still be bundled in a collective idea of ​​“progress” is an open question. Progress is the idea of ​​ascending for the better. “The world as it is, is not the world as it should be” - with this classic commitment to a policy of progress, Barack Obama recently achieved a major election victory in the United States. Nonetheless, many of today's reform concepts tend to follow the logic of hazard prevention: the starting point is an understanding of what should not happen; climate policy is the most prominent example of this. At the same time, in terms such as “green industrial revolution” or “social modernity”, an idea of ​​a new departure is emerging that aims not only at crisis prevention, but also at progress beyond what already exists.

In addition, a new way of thinking about the nature of politics appears to be central: How far can the output promises of the progressive government of the “Third Way” still be kept today? Don't governments and parties have to be ready and able to seriously communicate with society about the limits of governance and the need for civil society to participate? How can political and social majorities be brought together for a future-oriented policy?

Today the investing welfare state and the concept of the Green New Deal are programmatic offers that fascinate across party lines. Have new syntheses of "sustainable politics" been found here that can become a new "hegemonic project"? Does this also address the questions of modern government, civil society participation, overcoming mass unemployment, etc. correctly raised by the third-way concept? It seems to us inevitable to take another critical look at the concept of the “Third Way”, at its original motives as well as at the causes of the deselection of red-green, in order to be able to draw the right conclusions for the coming period.

The kick-off event on May 20, 2010 was rounded off by a public panel discussion: There, Renate Künast, parliamentary group leader of BÜNDNIS 90 / DIE GRÜNEN, Ulrich Kelber, deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary group and Dr. Ernst Hillebrand, head of the Paris office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) on the topic “What does progressive politics mean today?”. Here is a recording of the panel discussion moderated by Ralf Fücks. more

05/20/2010 PD Future Politics Today by Das Progressive Zentrum