The will for a new age
Addressing the eighteenth Congress of the Socialist International in Stockholm on 20-22 June – 100 years after the founding of the Second International in 1889 – SI President Willy Brandt set out the challenges facing democratic socialists in the period ahead.
As humanity stands on the threshold of the new millennium, who can tell what the world will look like in the years to come? Who can safely predict, at this time of rapid and contradictory change, what will remain from the present age to accompany humanity into the future? Where will the answers to the challenges ahead come from?
With over 100 years of solid traditions and practical experience to its name, democratic socialism is hardly the worst alternative on offer. On the contrary, in many areas of the world increasing importance is attached to the contribution that our movement can make. Cries the world over for peace, freedom and justice mean that our efforts must last for more than a century; and the concrete tasks of international cooperation – aimed at easing the strain of many people’s lives – represent a new challenge every day.
Socialism and democracy
Even in countries where such a claim was fanatically denied, it is now being realised that socialism without democracy does not work. Indeed, that it is not actually socialism at all. This does not necessarily herald the beginning of a new era; but it does mark the passage from one chapter to another, especially when those willing to turn a new page in the other half of Europe are looking for points of reference.
They know that bureaucratic planners have failed to keep up with technological change; that spoon-feeding from the top suffocates individual creativity and initiative; and that political and cultural pluralism and a more market-oriented economic approach will have to be allowed. But many are afraid of the consequences of giving the individual more freedom to choose. The dilemma facing the reformists in communist countries is obvious: they do not know whether it is possible to do what is necessary, particularly when stubborn ‘hard-liners’ never step aside voluntarily.
No one has a magic formula for achieving social change without conflict. And nor do democratic socialists. We know how difficult it is to ensure social justice in a market economy and how much strength it takes to preserve and develop democracy and the rule of law. Thus, while democratic socialists are willing to offer our considerable experience to those who look to us as points of reference, we cannot offer ready-made recipes.
The challenge for democratic socialists is to remain alert and open-minded. Some of those who have been kept apart from us may soon return to their place in our ranks, thus creating opportunities for cooperation that were simply not there in the past. We are prepared to cooperate in all kinds of ways, providing that initiatives are useful, sincere and realistic. However, it would be an illusion to believe that this could develop smoothly without setbacks.
Today, there is much talk about a new approach to peace negotiations, both in Europe and on a global scale. But the Socialist International (SI) has been instrumental in this process, promoting initiatives that could become practical policies in the years to come. We should not be afraid of claiming credit for this. It was Olof Palme (and the international commission he chaired) who was a major pioneer of the concept of ‘common security’.
The role of the SI
Moreover, the SI has triggered off developments which go way beyond the confines of Europe and have improved international cooperation.
The contact in recent years between the SI’s member parties in Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean has been particularly important in this respect. The role of Latin America in the SI is in no way inferior to that of Europe, and our support for the consolidation of democracy in the continent must continue, as must our solidarity with those countries that are denied the right to self-determination.
The SI has also developed closer relations with Africa, both with comrades in West Africa and friends from North Africa. The latter are involved in efforts to find a solid peace settlement in the Middle East and we will be forging closer mutual ties in the future. Then there are our fraternal relations with the Frontline States and the ANC and Swapo liberation movements in Southern Africa. The SI sticks to the words of Olof Palme: ‘Apartheid cannot be reformed; it must be abolished.’
Be it Africa, Asia, Latin America or anywhere else in the world, the SI is open to political cooperation, provided that we share roughly the same aims. And as I stated earlier, this certainly applies to that part of the world where grey uniformity now has the chance to be replaced by colourful pluralism.
The international democratic socialist movement has had a long history and various organisational forms. But we are far from the end of the road. In fact we are just at the beginning of what we want to accomplish internationally.
At the SI Congress in Geneva in 1976, three initiatives were launched: one for peace, the second for the reconciliation of interests between North and South, and the third for human rights. We have done our best in all areas. We have pinpointed the interdependence between disarmament and development; and we have finally devoted proper attention to environmental issues, the subject of the highly regarded report by Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway. But the bulk of the work still lies ahead.
Given the region’s increasingly important role in the world, the SI must develop closer links with progressive forces in Asia and Oceania over the next decade. Indeed, the thrust of economic development in the area is bound to shift the balance of the world economy more than it has already. And the countries have a great cultural heritage. All this means that the highly populated countries in Asia will be expressing themselves with increasing self-confidence in world politics in the coming decades. The Pacific Rim will be a major challenge.
Whatever the tasks that lie ahead, however, the SI has at least made some progress. As an alliance of independent parties which share common ideals and work on the principle of consensus, we continue to be taken seriously as a political force; and if we have managed to be opinion leaders on key issues that are now on the world agenda, there is no reason why this should not be the case tomorrow.
World problems increasingly affect all of humanity. As such, they can only be solved by a ‘world politics’ that goes way beyond the limited horizon of national borders. But many governments are reacting to this challenge at less than a snail’s pace and persist in the pursuit of narrow individual interests.
Democratic socialists, on the other hand, are aware of the global nature of these problems. We want to remove the differences between the rich and the poor, both within countries and between nations. We are against the cynics who wish to undermine the welfare state wherever it exists, and for whom international solidarity is a swear-word. For them, foreign policy should focus on a few economically or politically ‘strong’ countries, with the rest of the world being offered modest development assistance. In the pursuit of Thatcherism on a global scale, welfare is reduced to charity, both nationally and internationally.
As well as the moral objections and the dangerous economic and political consequences of this approach, its disastrous long-term ecological effects must also be pointed out. The magnitude of the problem is illustrated by the damage to the ozone layer.
The threat to the environment everywhere has led to a late but explosive change in public awareness. A growing realisation exists that ecological disasters are not the unfortunate result of mismanagement or faulty production, but rather of particular forms of development. And since further attacks could be fatal for thousands if not millions of people, it is crucial that the political will to overrule such short-term and short-sighted economic interests be mobilised worldwide. There is probably not much time left to change behavioural patterns before it is too late.
The next decade will be dominated by efforts to bridge the gap between different political and economic systems, since the problems facing humanity cut right across them.
The normalisation of the east-west relations and the emergence of new superpower leaderships have finally opened up new opportunities for multilateral cooperation.
However, the superpowers are less and less in a position to shape the world all by themselves. They could end the arms race. (Long since an SI demand, this would be of major importance in that it would release funds for international development.) They could end their involvement in regional conflicts in the third world. (There are signs that this is happening.) But gone are the days when the two dominant powers could set the international ‘rules of the game’. As the era of bipolarity gives way to a multipolar world, new centres of gravity are forming.
But what forms could and should multilateral cooperation take, given the number of assertive players involved? One of the major issues of the 1990s will be over the powers that should be conferred on international and regional institutions. The debate is already underway over environmental and development policies. But it is equally necessary in the case of arms control; and in other important fields, such as business and finance, and therefore law and social security. The 1990s could be a decade of negotiations and democratic socialists should give more thought to which problems should be tackled internationally.
It is also time to examine thoroughly the ability of the current institutional framework to provide effective multilateral action. Set up in the wake of the horrors of the Second World War, it was a milestone of progress at the time. But as conditions have changed, it has become an obstacle to advance. It is therefore both useless and naive for democratic socialists to continue directing our recommendations for solutions to world problems to the same bodies, even though it would appear that the great powers of the 1960s and 1970s have to a large extent now lost their power to act. Meanwhile, those who could make an important contribution are reluctant to do so because they are still treated like secondary players.
It is time that an international commission was set up to take completely fresh approach to the world, the aim being to design a new institutional framework for the 1990s and beyond. Democratic socialists have made no end of contributions to creating awareness on issues such as security, development and ecology. But our approach to the institutional and legal reforms required to implement our proposals has been far too conventional. We must have the courage and imagination to make fundamental changes, similar to the steps taken by the founding fathers of the Bretton Woods framework, where figures like Keynes were the driving force.
The old right of veto, for example, must be challenged and regional and international bodies must be strengthened by the extension of their monitoring powers. We clearly need a more effective organisation to deal with ecological problems – an ecological security council, for example.
All changes and reforms will require a new understanding of sovereignty if the aim of a democratic world society of truly united nations (in outlook and practice) is to be achieved. We must examine how governments can be made responsible for the international effects of national decisions they take. The implementation of agreements reached at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe could offer some ideas in this respect.
Democratic socialists have always been against domination; and while the SI supports autonomy, it wants democratic structures and effective policies in international affairs.
Optimism of the will
The long-term trend towards a ‘world domestic policy’ approach will require SI member parties to gain a new understanding of internationalism. Common problems call for coordinated policy responses. Moreover, the decreasing scope for manoeuvre at the individual, national level makes international coordination crucial, particularly when those bent on a world based on anything but solidarity are stepping up their level of ‘internationalisation’. While imperative, however, finding consensus is no easy task (it is not even easy in the Socialist Group of the European Parliament). But progress can be made if particular interests are held back, at least to some extent.
The challenges facing democratic socialists represent a qualitative leap in comparison with the past. The tasks and problems involved are daunting. But it is hope rather than resignation that is the driving force of our movement; and that is why we will succeed. As Leon Blum, the French Socialist leader between the two world wars, said: ‘I think so because I hope so.’