The Guardian November 24, 1999


Socialist International meets in Paris

by Rob Gowland

Pretty speeches, open to a wide variety of interpretations, marked the 
three-day meeting of the Socialist International in Paris, November 8-10. 
The gathering was the last for the social democrat international this 
millennium.

Those attending included leaders from around the world, including Tony 
Blair from Britain, Gerhard Schroeder from Germany, Yasser Arafat from 
Palestine, Nelson Mandela from South Africa, Lionel Jospin from France.

German Chancellor Schroeder, whose Social Democrats have suffered a string 
of election defeats since he rushed to join Tony Blair's "Third Way" 
bandwagon shortly after winning power last year, was at pains to distance 
himself from his British counterpart.

For his part, Blair made a show of asserting his "left" credentials, while 
still promoting his corporate-biased New Labour line: "This gathering", he 
told the 1,000 delegates from 140 countries, "comes at an important time. 
There is a debate underway about the future of the left.

"Whether we can set out a vision for the left that can combine our 
traditional emphasis on social justice with the necessities of the new 
economy of the 21st century. Whether in other words we can stand for 
fairness and enterprise together. My case is that we can and we must."

Enterprise, in this context, means open slather for business. Fairness 
means giving working class people the minimum concessions to retain their 
votes.

Whether it was the example of the recent electoral debacle of Gerhard 
Schroeder and the German Social Democrats, or the oratory of French Premier 
Lionel Jospin, the delegates were disinclined to rally behind Blair's 
openly pro-business approach.

Nor were European delegates impressed by comments from Blair that the 
Socialist International is too European-dominated.

Blair proposed that the body should change its name to the Centre-Left 
International and admit parties which do not even make a pretence of 
advocating socialism, like the US Democratic Party.

Despite being outraged by such proposals, the delegates hardly rushed to 
embrace revolutionary change, of course. No, they plumped instead for 
asserting social democracy's "traditional values of social justice" and 
pledged "to give globalisation a social dimension, to make it serve 
humankind".

But they balked at cancelling Third World debt, adopting a document instead 
that only calls for the cancelling of the debt of the world's poorest 
nations and for renewed efforts against poverty and hunger.

A touch of the triumphalism evident in imperialism since the overthrow of 
Soviet power in the USSR crept into the gathering, with leaders of the 
Socialist International describing it as "the globe's sole organised 
political movement".

Lenin's Bolsheviks (or the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) quit the 
Socialist International in 1914, along with Karl Leibnecht's German 
Spartacists, when the other parties deserted their principles and voted for 
war credits for their respective bourgeois governments.

This year, when another war in Europe  against Yugoslavia  was waged 
almost entirely by social democrat governments, the assembled social 
democratic delegates avoided the subject in favour of motherhood statements 
echoing the congress' hollow slogan: "a more humane society, a world more 
fair and just".

Tony Blair for example called on the delegates to "rise to the challenge of 
change; find different ways, for our own different countries, of reaching 
the same goals, inspired above all by our true and lasting values: 
solidarity, social justice, a community based on opportunity for all".

Gerhard Schroeder also had a bit each way, calling for a Europe that was 
both an "economically efficient continent but also a socially just one".

But try as they might, the Blairites could not make globalisation popular. 
The most applauded speech was that of French PM Lionel Jospin, who declared 
the market "only an instrument. It needs to be regulated. It must remain at 
the service of society."

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