Building: VMP 8 Floor: Ground Room: 06
Democratic capitalism is in crisis. Its most important institutions, parliamentary democracy and the welfare state, no longer deliver on the promise of democratic politics. Financial crises and rising inequality threaten the legitimate authority of democratic institutions. Policy instruments traditionally at the state’s disposal fail to effectively secure important public goods and to realize social justice. Free trade agreements and capital mobility increasingly take vital policy instruments out of the hands of the democratic sovereign. And the emergence of populist parties, together with the apparent capture of democratic processes by elite economic interests, shatter public trust in democratic institutions, their value and ability to make good decisions. In light of this crisis an old question stands in need of new answers: How to bring the most important economic institutions and functions under democratic control?
Historically, the vision of council democracy has offered an answer to this question. A century has passed since council movements arose in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy to take the place of crippled and defunct political regimes at the end of WW1. The classic vision of council democracy consists of workers’ and soldiers’ councils organised into a pyramidal structure that would replace liberal parliamentary institutions and capitalist production with rule by working-class council institutions and a socialist system of co-operative production. Despite a renewed interest in economic democracy, the democratic councils of the immediate post-First World War period have not captured the imagination of mainstream political thought. In this panel, we wish to reflect on the theory and practice of council politics. It aims to explore the historical experiences and concepts of the council movements, as well as the significance of the council for contemporary democratic repertoires, through combining a history (of ideas) perspective with approaches from contemporary political philosophy.