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.