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Research project / The Left and the State in Europe during the 20th Century


A European research project associating senior academics and Ph.D students is currently under way. It deals with the relationships between the Left and the State across Europe (i.e. Western Europe). “Left” or “left-wing forces” include not only political parties, but also trade-unions, NGOS, think-tanks and political clubs. To summarize the hypothesis, Left-wing forces, social-democrats, socialists and communists alike, have evolved -at different periods and levels depending on political families and on countries- from a radical contestation of the « bourgeois » State to the aim of controlling it as a way of conquering power or as a tool of implementing social reforms. So staunch have they become in their support of the State that they could have been portrayed as conservatives by « neoliberals ». Left-wing forces have gained open support from public servants, whom have increasingly made up their core constituencies. The State is a defining institution for progressives, so much that some of them have developed a kind of mysticism for it. This research project is aimed at seeking convergences and divergences between the Left and the State in Western Europe.

A European research project associating senior academics and Ph.D students is currently under way. It deals with the relationships between the Left and the State across Europe (i.e. Western Europe). “Left” or “left-wing forces” include not only political parties, but also trade-unions, NGOS, think-tanks, and political clubs. To summarize the hypothesis, left-wing forces, social-democrats, socialists, and communists alike, have evolved (at different periods and levels depending on political families and on countries) from a radical contestation of the "bourgeois" State to the aim of controlling it as a way of conquering power or as a tool of implementing social reforms. So staunch have they become in their support of the State that they could have been portrayed as conservatives by neo-liberals. Left-wing forces have gained open support from public servants, who have increasingly made up their core constituencies. The State is a defining institution for progressives, so much that some of them have developed a kind of mysticism for it. This research project aims to seek convergences and divergences between the Left and the State in Western Europe.

Several axes will be used, with some of them quickly summarized here as questions. In addition, a more elaborated document is currently being made by the research project manager.

1st axis: The conceptual and theoretical analysis of the left-wing forces regarding the State.
What does "State" mean from one country to another (a issue which has translated into a rich bibliography)? What are the conceptual references used (Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Durkheim, Weber, etc.), and how do they apply to left-wing forces? Who are the thinkers who introduce them to the Left? What is the Left's agenda about the State? How important is the continuity of the relationship between the two? What are the intellectual frameworks that apply to the left-wing forces?  What are the cultural transfers at stake (for example with planification or Keynesianism, etc)? What are the debates about the State within the left-wing forces?  How do they reconcile their positions on democracy with the issue of the State? How do they link the issue of state with their criticism of capitalism and the emancipation and modernization ideals that they theoretically uphold? As for the Left in colonial powers, how do they view the State in a colonial context, considering their separatist outlook and calls for the de-legitimization of this colonial state itself ?

2nd axis: We aim to analyze the strategies of left-wing parties towards the State. How do they plan to conquer, destroy, use, and reform it? What are the links emerging between left-wing policies in sub-national levels of power (local councils for example) and the administrative and political center?

3rd axis: Analyzing exchange systems, which include political, material, cultural, and identity exchanges between left-wing forces and public servants.
What kind of sociology of this relationship can be traced over time? What sets of values unite the State, public servants, and left-wing forces? What are their effects?  What forms of political cultures and identities emerge from that interaction? Can the representation of the State within progressive forces be defined and measured? What are the interests at stake in this interaction?

4th axis: Analyzing the public policies of left-wing governments.
What is really the content of their welfare policies? What are the cultural references, agendas, and consequences on society and on left-wing forces of such policies? Who are the decision-makers, and how does the decision-making process work? How do left-wing parties transfer their once nationally-centered public policies to the European arena?

5th axis: Studying the place of the State in the political cultures of the Left.
How does the Left view the State? How does this representation fit in the ideas, values, symbols, and political and social practices of the Left? What is the place of the State in the political propaganda?  What is the role of the State in mobilizing left-wing forces? What is its impact on the mentalities of the “progressive people”?

A French-Italian consortium so far, this research project has the support of the departments of History of the University of Viterbe (Professor Maurizio Ridolfi), the University of Bologna (Professor Patrizia Dogliani) and the Ecole Française de Rome. German and British institutions are likely to join this network.

The research is expected to start in fall 2010 and to last three years. Co-organized by partner institutions, it will take the form of one or two thematic seminars featuring presentations of senior academics and Ph.D students. A prestigious academic will give a lecture at each seminar. The aim of the research seminars is to be transformed into a final publication. The working language will be English.

Calendar 2010-2011

03/02/2011 - 17:00 Séminaires
Laurent Jalabert (Professeur, Université de Pau), Les gauches socialistes en France depuis mai 1968.