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."