What’s solidarity between countries?

Ours is a strange kind of solidarity. It is charged with a feeling of immediacy, not to say “mediacy”. We are affected by an image and are prepared to take the shirts off our backs for the time that the image lasts, but we do not have this same sense of solidarity with our next door neighbours, with someone who is different from ourselves. No amount of preaching can solve this problem of lack of solidarity. We have to find new ways of strengthening the links of solidarity, such as finding shared vital experience in the new globalised economy.
Other ideas need to be reconsidered. Our debate on the sustainability of the welfare society or welfare state continues, basically, to be a debate about its sustainability in macroeconomic terms. Let us examine, for instance, at the question of earmarkings for pensions taking into account population figures and other indicators. In my country, for example, the most that can be allocated to the 20% of the population of pensionable age is 10% of GDP, if things go reasonably well. And they tell us that this is not sustainable. The 7% of GDP allocated for health care is not supposed to be sustainable either. In the United States 14% of GDP is earmarked for health care, but 44 million people are completely excluded from the system. Is this sustainable? You know what worries me, comrades? I think that sustainability is a social problem, not an economic one. I worry that the working population base is narrowing and, with the shared vital experience that used to generate solidarity disappearing, people are increasingly conscious of the need to set up a private pension scheme for themselves and a private health care scheme for their families, and to get the politicians, who load them with too many taxes, off their backs. I repeat, the problem is not an economic one. Unless we manage to expand the concept of solidarity and social cohesion, our social model will not be sustainable.
My concern with principles can be looked at from different angles. History has demonstrated that, during the 20th century, another type of solidarity has existed alongside class solidarity but was not, as we thought, contrary to class solidarity. This was national solidarity, which led us to the European wars. We socialists have been unwilling to examine why this national solidarity prevailed. We have preferred to close our eyes or merely talk about principles rather than examine how they were being applied, but I am not going to say any more on this subject. It has occurred in Europe and occurs all over the world. What is certain is that solidarity of national identity runs deeper than the identities associated with social classes and class struggles. Why is it that, in the European wars and in all wars, for that matter, national solidarity is more important than any other type of solidarity?
I am approaching the analysis and preparation of a platform of new unadulterated ideas with an open mind. I am not prepared to consider the ideas, changes and phenomena we have been afraid of analysing as absolute truths, as though they were a religion. I am not prepared to set aside any new ideas which may be worth looking at.
Let us now look at globalisation.
As part of our work, we analysed three aspects of globalisation: the technological revolution, which is creating what Manuel Castells calls the IT economy, economic globalisation and the globalisation of the financial system.
As far as company mergers are concerned, the economic globalisation process is racing ahead irrationally, almost blindly. There are only two large passenger aircraft construction companies and four large truck manufacturing companies left. There will be five telecommunications companies and not more than half a dozen energy companies. As well as company mergers, we are witnessing a rapid concentration of wealth. In the developed, as well as the emerging and less developed countries, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Companies in the developed countries have seen their profits rise by 20 to 25% in recent years, whereas the wage bill has risen by 2 to 3% and direct employment is at a standstill. This seems to be a characteristic of globalisation.
The saving grace for industrial capitalism was its ability to redistribute a share of its surplus more equitably and to create companies able to sustain a growing output of goods and services. In other words, it was redistribution in the most equitable sense of the term which, from the economic viewpoint and with Keynes’ help, saved that social model, but not without our assistance.
It is as though some of Marx’s predictions about immense concentrations of wealth, vast areas of deprivation and expendable or precarious jobs are coming true.
A move is now afoot to regulate the financial system. Not more than two years ago, when some of us happened to suggest a certain degree of regulation, we were thought unfit to live in respectable society. Respectable society did not want to listen to such proposals.
We have examined the question of capital flows in seminars held with the valuable assistance of the European Parliament’s socialist group.
The figures are really amazing. Africa’s annual GDP represents roughly half of the capital flowing through the exchange markets every day. In one year, seven hundred million human beings create half the wealth equivalent to the daily flow of capital through the markets. And the trend points to an increase in capital flows. Bearing in mind that almost all countries implement sound macroeconomic policies -budget adjustments, deficit control, etc – savings surpluses needs to be invested rather than used for paying off the public debt. Furthermore, 93% of the capital moving through the markets on a daily basis does not represent trade in goods, services or investments. These are short-term financial operations of less than a week. Some 1.3 billion dollars are involved in operations of less than seven days.
We live in an international financial club. We hear a lot about the invisible hand of the market. It is invisible for the rest of us mortals, but a few people do know who the losers are going to be.
We are also looking at the impact of globalisation on politics and the State. The base for sovereignty, democracy and identity is changing.
Politicians cannot implement macroeconomic policy. Consequently, it is a wasted exercise to argue that the deficit is best controlled by either a right-wing or left-wing government. A discussion on the mix of income and expenditure needed to obtain a result acceptable to the markets can still differentiate the right from the left. But, be careful, there is not much room for discussion about income. We are not in a position to restore the balance between taxes on income derived from capital and taxes on earned income. Only human capital can be controlled. No one controls the other kind.
Also, the structure of the nation-state tends towards supranationality and centralisation. The best example of supranationality, with all its difficulties, is the European Union. Mercosur is trying to initiate a similar process, if the current financial recession does not destroy it. The trend toward open regionalism and supranationality is making headway in many parts of the world. The same may be said about decentralisation, which involves handing over more power to local authorities.
Nowadays, no one wants a totalitarian state. Today, at best, the debate is about whether the State has to be able to resist pressures – in other words, be strong and lean – or whether, as is the wish of the neo-liberals, it has to be anorexic, unable to resist pressure from the hegemonic groups who favour economic globalisation.
Furthermore, the role of politics is changing. Remember, Comrades, that privatisation, which involves the State giving up its role as a direct generator of wealth, is something more than a passing fad. The new situation implies changes in the role of politics. Thus, when we social democrats say that education or health are universal rights, we mean that the public authorities have an obligation to guarantee those rights. This is why the privatisation of services which respect universal rights poses a very serious problem.
The same may be said about public services such as transport, telecommunications and energy which can help or hinder equal opportunities in a country. If maximising profits is the only rule, it would be natural for the telecommunications or energy distribution networks to provide their services only in large conurbations. The remainder of the country would be of no concern to any private enterprise. Does anyone in Europe today doubt that telecommunications will be wholly privatised? Consequently, our access to services will depend on the part of the country we live in. In other words, where we live will affect our equality of opportunities in terms of access to services. I often give the example of Argentine gas distribution to Chile. As you know, the Chilean population is concentrated in Santiago and its surrounding areas. Business is based in Santiago and in the 30 kilometres to the north and south. In the remaining 4,400 km in Chile, there is no business. Who can force a private company, whose only aim is to maximise its profits, to transport energy to the south of the country or to the desert in the north? Furthermore, is anyone going to stop the Chileans in the north or south from moving to the superconcentrated urban area of Santiago and prevent them from abandoning these regions where there is no guarantee of equal opportunities for their children?
With this blind logic of profit-making, the market can become congested, making the cities uninhabitable. And the market’s out and out supporters will end up shouting “Where are the politicians? Why don’t they do something?” These same people used to say that the politicians were getting in their way until the Russian and Brazilian recessions made them change their minds. And now, here they are calling on the politicians to regulate the financial market.
Finally, the SI has to analyse the international community and make proposals. In 1991 the Gulf crisis broke and the international reaction to Iraq’s aggression was understood and reasonably well accepted, not only by Western public opinion but by public opinion worldwide. In 1998, a bombing campaign was launched against the same country, governed by the same individual, but that bombing campaign met with little public approval. It was condemned by wide sectors of public opinion and not even in the West was it understood. What happened between 1991 and 1999? The reaction and sentiments of international public opinion had changed and some leaders failed to notice. My hypothesis is that, in 1991, the global village was still marked by the ideological block mentality and Iraq was aligned with one of these. Nowadays, a good proportion of public opinion no longer sees the world in terms of blocks. On the contrary, an awareness of different cultures and identities is emerging. Let us look at one significant event. India and Pakistan have carried out a dozen or so nuclear tests and this held the media’s attention for barely a week. In my opinion, these tests were the most important event of the last 40 years, comparable only to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event delighted the poor, proud to become as powerful as the very rich. We have arrived at the stage where an atomic weapon can bring joy to poor people.
The SI can influence the reform of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It can also play a part in efforts to regulate the international financial club so that capital flows can be predicted. The SI can help in the creation of new forms of solidarity and in the dissemination of new technologies to assist in the development of countries that are not part of the mainstream.
Not only can the SI focus its attention on the regions of each of its members, but on the other regions as well. The SI has existed for more than a hundred years, yet it has taken a lot of work to expand worldwide. On the other hand, neither Coca Cola nor Bill Gates has any trouble doing this. But it is difficult for us. I met with 25 African delegations in Dakar. Some of our comrades were unable to go on that occasion, but they have been to many other conferences. The only people there were the Africans, Luis and this Commissione’s delegation; the representatives of the African parties and countries. We will never be able to realise our vision of the world if we are not prepared to initiate a dialogue within our own international socialist movement.
A few words about so-called world economic management. When a European uses this term, what he really means is that the G7 or G3 are in agreement – that there is agreement between the dollar, the yen and the euro. However, such an agreement represents only 18% of human beings, although it covers 70% of world production. The remaining 80% of humanity has something to say and is going to say it.
There is only one political organisation in the world able to promote dialogue and offer a general platform: the Socialist International. But are we in a position to do so? The will to commit SI organizations to international solidarity is somewhat limited. As time goes by, capitalism is becoming more global and the SI more local. We are all more concerned with our own affairs, even to the point of demanding that others notice us.
In short, we must first have an idea of what we want to do. If we can resolve this problem, then this organisation of organizations will be able to reform its operation and draw up a plan. And not the contrary. Discussions about the operation and efficiency of the organisation must go hand in hand with the definition of a plan and a clear willingness to implement it.
I believe that the International should not have a single standing Commissione, much less hereditary Commissiones. We have to deal with situations for which there are no rational explanations. We have members in the Near East but, paradoxically enough, the Commissione on the Near East has never been chaired by a comrade from that region. If a Commissione is chaired by a Spaniard and he or she retires, we meet to see whether he or she should be replaced by a comrade from the same country. This organisation cannot operate in this way.
We have to take advantage of the Internet. If used appropriately, it will allow us to start a kind of “guerrilla war”, in the most noble sense of the term, for this is the only way to defeat the well-organised army of international financial capitalism. Technological facilities will enable us to respond to problems in real time. At present, we lack this flexibility and capacity to respond, which is vital if we are to reform the organisation. Making our position known months after a crisis breaks is unacceptable. Also, there is no point making moderate statements to win the approval of everyone. We have to stick our necks out and take risks; that is what the people want.
I apologise for not having touched on organisational problems. But let me ask you one thing. When you think of ways of improving the organisation, please remember that we are an organisation of organizations with a purpose. We do not exist merely to please ourselves. The organisation must respond to the aspirations and demands of hundreds of millions of human beings who expect something from us. And, politically, if they cannot depend on us, on whom can they depend? Tell me that. They are awaiting our answers. Are they right to do so?
Let us put a question mark against that question. They have no reason to expect a sympathetic answer from others. But from us they do. I would like us to provide that answer. And I shall tell you why. Because one is happier when lending support to one’s fellow men than being a selfish scab.

A new project for a new international community

I, too, am one of the old stalwarts in this field, but much water has passed under the bridge since Kunar was a young man with a full head of hair. He used to tell stories about the young visitors from the Soviet Union who were intimidated by life away from home. This has always been an extremely attractive centre for many generations of socialist leaders with difficulties in their own countries. I met Tage Erlander here and, of course, also got to know Olof Palme and many other leaders.
I shall see if, in the relatively short time at my disposal, I can tell you about our concerns and our work.
First, we have to bear in mind that the Socialist International – the SI – is an organisation of organizations – not an organisation of direct affiliates. Therefore, to a large extent, the SI is what it is as a consequence of the decisions taken by its component organizations. And this depends on the degree of commitment that the members of this organisation of organizations are prepared to make toward the worldwide body. I stress this word commitment which is not what they might expect to give to an organisation which they may, at times, find foreign.
Second. An organisation is relevant to human beings if its objectives are also relevant. Thus, if we are able to draw up a plan with a policy that reaches the people and is capable of changing their living standards for the better, this will increase their solidarity.
Third. An organisation “reaches” the people if it surmounts the communications barrier. In other words, if, through communication, information and news, it can be accepted as something that matters. In the 27 years that I have been involved in the work of the International, the organisation has changed dramatically, with an enormous increase in membership. Given the responsibilities vested in us at the International’s last conference, this poses certain problems which I would like to examine in an attempt to provide answers from the point of view of the operation of the organisation.
At the beginning, the International was a European organisation which developed within a framework of relatively similar cultures, its members having rather similar priorities. There were differences in income, but no insurmountable differences in terms of priorities, education, culture and values. The International’s expansion out of Europe had a dual effect: the incorporation of organizations with different origins and cultures, with identities distinct from the traditional European ones; and the emergence of priorities that bear little resemblance to those of the founding members, whether in the short, medium or long term. Nowadays, the priorities of the European members are the preservation and reform of the welfare state. In Dakar such a priority would be absurd. Their priority is foreign debt.
Last January in Dakar, a good Angolan friend to whom I was talking about the financial crisis and overall situation in Brazil and other Latin American countries remarked: “How we would like to be spoken about as victims of a financial crisis, serious though that would be”. Think on the meaning of those words.
The situation in Brazil is serious, and were Angola in a similar situation it would be considered in a fairly positive light – I say this with tongue in cheek – as this would imply that Angola “mattered” and what happens there matters. CNN decides that Sierra Leone is news, but that Angola is not, even though hundreds die there every day.
We have been asked to submit to you a platform of new ideas to put before millions of people who expect our organisation to be able to improve their living standards. We have been asked to prepare a platform of ideas capable of representing us all and, at the same time, being sufficiently flexible to complement the platform of priorities in each individual region. The only stipulation is that this must not be a new kind of United Nations declaration. In other words, it must be specific, not vague and, at the very least, must not constitute a betrayal of the people.
This is no easy task. I would like to point out what appears to be a contradiction. Globalisation or internationalisation is a phenomenon brought about by technological progress in the developed “first world”. It is generated basically by the so-called information or “IT”revolution, not forgetting the biotechnological revolution, among others. So, globalisation is being promoted in the United States, in Europe, in the world’s most highly developed countries – countries which also led the way in the first and second industrial revolutions. And yet, we see that vast sectors in Europe fear or distrust it, that anxiety, mistrust and rejection are the order of the day. Some say it is responsible for structural unemployment, others that it causes investment relocation.
The development frontiers are changing. The Asian “tigers” and the “emerging” Latin American countries have arrived on the scene. But the “creators of the monster” are afraid of the monster they have created. In my opinion, however, the monster brings with it, as Willy Brandt would say, unimaginable opportunities and equally unimaginable risks. The one thing we should not do is look the other way, ignore the phenomenon or go on the defensive. If that is how we deal with the challenge of globalisation and the technological revolution of the 21st century, then the SI, which should be a catalyst for the aspirations of hundreds of millions of human beings, will be unable to give to the technological revolution and to globalisation the social and human and dimension, and the solidarity that it gave to the industrial revolution – even though this did not extend to every corner of the earth. We shall bestow such a dimension on globalisation if we can put forward an offensive plan, a plan of ideas to enable us to keep pace with the rapid changes taking place in the world.
Now to our concern regarding the implementation of our principles.
In two years of work we have received two criticisms. One: excessive pragmatism, which means more or less that we are seen as having abandoned our principles. Two: that people do not know what we are doing, “if, in fact, we are doing anything”. Never mind that at every meeting of the International’s Governing Council, shelves are filled with hundreds of contributions from seminars that have been held. People always say that they do not know what is being done even though hundreds of pages are distributed at all the Council meetings. “We never receive anything from any porno seminar”. I shall try to remedy that by asking my comrades and Luis to fill these shelves and to ensure that each folder contains at least a summary of the seminars we have held in Costa Rica, Santiago de Chile, Berlin, Dakar and Rabat.
The first criticism bothers me most. The basic question is: Are we redefining a new declaration of principles or are we examining a new world situation and trying to find answers that are valid for everyone, entail a serious commitment to improving the human condition and are flexible enough to incorporate the regional priorities of each and every one of our organizations. We cannot all have the same priorities. For instance, a Dane will not be as sensitive to the foreign debt problem as a Mozambican, Angolan or Peruvian. Anyone can understand that. Also, it will sound strange to some to hear us talk about improving or defending a welfare State to which they can hardly hope to aspire.
Does trying to find answers that are valid for everyone imply abandoning our principles? Quite the contrary. I am aware of how difficult it is to lump together criteria and find suitable answers given the different origins, cultures and identities of those involved in the SI, with its 130 plus organizations which, for the first time, are situated in every corner of the globe. I am not in a position to maintain that the values to which I subscribe – European and Western values – are the best. I cannot say that. They are certainly mine, but I am not sure that they are better than those in any other part of the world, in other cultures with other standards. I do not mean to say that human rights are not universal, that the wish to live in freedom is not universal, that human dignity is not universal. But Western arrogance in assuming that whatever the West thinks and says must be accepted by everyone as the best is resulting, for one thing, in the abandonment of identity in the face of the threat of a homogenising global system of information.
I shall mention just one of these threats. Present day hegemonies are less capable of and less willing to exchange views than the hegemonies stemming from past imperial conquests. Despite everything, territorial conquests obliged the occupiers to engage in dialogue. In other words, to meet and communicate with the people they were trying to dominate. Nowadays, it would appear that information can be compared to a one-way street. There is no possibility of presenting other points of view from other corners of the globe. I always quote a somewhat exaggerated example. News not reported by CNN is not of international importance. Unreported news does not enter the global information domain. The news that is reported, when it is reported, is given a specific cultural and civilising slant, and is usually given in good faith. Information nowadays is not dialogue and does not stop to consider the identity of the other party, the party to which it refers.
Information as a new form of hegemony is rejected by those who are prevented from expressing themselves. We dealt with this question at a seminar on globalisation and cultural identity, held in Rabat. So you see that we do not deal solely with matters that some call pragmatic.
The question of principles concerns me. I jokingly said to you at the New York Conference: “Just let me get my hands on those who fought the French Revolution”.
There is no need to change our principles, let us work on the ideas.
Let me now explain why I am concerned with the question of principles. What distinguishes us as a movement? We fight for freedom. We fight for human rights. But other movements also fight for these values and principles. We, at least, add the dimension of solidarity to our principles. Unlike the other political forces, we, the social democratic movement, provide solidarity as an added bonus.
But solidarity is more than just a principle. It is vital shared experience – what we used to call class solidarity when we were younger. Whether the principle of solidarity becomes stronger or weaker depends on education and on the type of vital experience we share.
Have any of you stopped to think what the end of assembly-line work would mean? What the end of an industrial production system, in other words, the end of a vital shared experience, would mean to a socialist movement based on solidarity? The trend is for the large industries – textiles and steel, employing, say, 25,000 men and women – to disappear. The industrial economy is being replaced by an IT economy, putting an end to the assembly-line. In this new type of economy human dignity triumphs because man is no longer bound to the machine, once again, he controls it. However, this type of economy destroys jobs, destroys the vital experience shared by thousands of assembly-line workers. It also destroys the vital experience shared in our neighbourhoods and villages.
The education system constitutes a reserve of vital shared experience. However, and I speak about Spain here, even progressive parents prefer their children to go to competitive schools from seven years of age. They also prefer them, if possible, not to mix with children who are less bright or of certain origins, as this might affect their progress. Parents want their children to advance as much as possible within this competitive society.
Fundamentalist neo-liberalism is not merely an economic concept. It is also the means by which children are taught to be individualistic and fiercely competitive as soon as they enter primary school. I can share the view that university is an excellent training ground. I do not share the view that children should be brought up to be selfishly competitive, without taking into account their different abilities and social, cultural or ethnic origins.
In short, because it no longer highlights the need for children to learn to be good citizens and to mix with others who may have more or less ability but not more or less dignity, it may be that education no longer generates solidarity. School is becoming increasingly competitive. Since we are among friends here, let me tell you something funny which I often relate to my party comrades in Spain. We strongly support State schools, but many comrades who support State schools send their children to private schools. Sometimes they are tempted to say that they want the best for their children, but this would seem to contradict what they support publicly, although it would be in line with what the priests advocate.
To sum up, principles are important to me, but I like to see them applied and not just talked about. I have noticed that we find it easier to show solidarity with problems of underdevelopment and exclusion in distant lands than with those very problems in our own backyards. We can react to the human consequences of a hurricane that has destroyed Central America for at least the fortnight during which the story is covered on television, but we do not accept an immigrant reception centre or a drug addiction recovery centre in our own neighbourhood. This is of less concern to us. Indeed, we find this unpalatable.