Speech at the Summer University of La Rochelle in France
(An event organized annually by the French Socialist Party)
“I am often asked the question around the world: What makes us different from the right? And I want to bring an optimistic message to you, that people around the world are looking for an alternative, are looking for an alternative in our countries, in our societies, for an alternative in Europe, for an alternative around the world, for an alternative in governance, in political priorities, in our human relations, in our relations with our environment.
And I believe we are, or we can become, a true force of change, positive, progressive, democratic, social change around the world.
And some say this crisis we are living is almost over, but I believe that if we do not look at some of the roots of this crisis, it will return again and again.
And today it has hurt many. It has hurt employment, it has hurt our welfare system, it has created greater inequalities. And we must, here from La Rochelle, as socialists, say that we no longer will allow a system to privatize profits and socialize the costs.
Distinguished guests before me have given their views on the crisis. It would be a long discussion concerning the crisis. But I would like to make three points, about what we should and can do, as socialists.
First of all, we need to uncover some fallacies we have been living with, even we socialists sometimes, over the past 20-30 years, concerning markets and governments.
Secondly, we need to understand the feeling of powerlessness that our citizens have, despite the great capabilities we as humanity have. And this has much to do with what we do in our parties also.
Thirdly, we need to see our political priorities, as François said earlier, at both the local, national, regional, European and international level.
First of all, there is a fallacy, I believe, in the dichotomy that we have lived. It is free markets versus governments. I believe neoconservatives don’t care about free markets, as they don’t care about governments; they care about whether free markets and governments serve specific interests, specific, special, large interests.
As socialists, I believe we need to see how markets serve the people, how governments serve the people. And this means democratic governments and democratic control of our economy and our markets.
Behind the rhetoric of free markets, we have seen governments such as George Bush’s government creating the biggest deficit in the United States, supporting special interests such as the interests of Halliburton, which is owned by Vice President Dick Cheney, in the Iraq War, creating a stronger military and a Big-Brother state.
So the question is not state versus market, but do we have a state and a market that serve democratically our people.
Behind this rhetoric of free market, what we have seen, and with the help of a globalizing economy, is the huge concentration of wealth. Huge concentration of wealth, and therefore the huge inequality of wealth, both at the national level but also at the international level.
And with this huge inequality, what we have seen really is that there has been a concentration not only of money, not only of wealth, but there has been a concentration of power, a concentration of power in media, a concentration of power in politics. So with this huge inequality, and this is something that Paul Krugman has interestingly brought up in comparing 1929 to the crash last September, the inequality then and now in the United States was similar, which created such a concentration of power, which then has undermined our democracies, has captured our democratic institutions.
And although we see failed states, for example in Afghanistan, we almost saw many failed states during the crisis last September in the developed world.
And this is because, I believe, our democratic institutions have been captured, or are under threat of being captured, whether they are trade unions, whether they are the judiciary, whether they are the media – just look to our neighbor, Italy – whether they are politicians themselves – yes, we are under threat or we are often captured, whether it’s lobbies, whether it’s more subtle ways of capture or whether it is more overt ways of capture, through corruption and buying out politicians.
And this is because of the huge capacity of power, of wealth and media, which we, our democratic structures, and we as politicians, who want to represent our people, face.
So one major challenge I believe we as socialists have is to remove, restore or even reinvent our democracies at the local, national, but also to see what this means for governance at the international level.
The second problem which this brings is the sense of powerlessness that our citizens feel. And we have another paradox here. Huge capabilities: we as humanity today have the possibility, through our knowledge, through our experience, through our technology, through our wealth – and we have seen recently how much wealth actually has existed – we have the possibility to put an end to many problems, whether it is poverty, whether it is climate change, whether it is pandemics, whether it is the question of employment, full employment, or educating the illiterate around our planet.
Yet we are not doing so, and we are not doing so because there is no real sense of a global democratic governance.
We also face, our citizens face the splintering of our societies. We see this in our parties. It is no longer the worker versus the employer. Today a citizen is much more than a worker, or is not necessarily identified with the working class. It could be a worker, it could be a migrant, it could be a minority, it could be a football fan, it could be someone who is unemployed, it could be somebody working in very different types of activities.
So we are much more splintered, with many more identities. And that has made our traditional parties much more difficult to organize our citizens.
And this creates a sense, a further sense of powerlessness. And what does powerlessness mean, very often, for our citizens? They see the political system in a cynical way, incapable of delivering what is necessary. They have a great sense of injustice, a great sense of frustration, a great sense of fear and insecurity, a great sense of cynicism.
And this therefore leads very often to different forms of political reaction: apathy, passivity. Or it could lead to fundamentalisms, absolutisms, extremisms, racisms, or it could very easily lead to looking for leaders, populist, authoritarian, paternalistic, who have all the solutions. It leads to greater polarization, which then leads to a greater sense of frustration.
This is why – and this is the second challenge – we as parties, as socialists, must be able to say yes, we can. We can make the change.
That is why we as socialists also need to renovate our parties, and I know this is an important discussion for the Socialist Party in France, as it is an important discussion for so many socialist parties around the world and in the Socialist International.
And we have, I have also in my party in Greece, tried to make changes, which will create a new sense of collective and personal strength for our citizens, our members, our friends and our societies.
Citizen participation, a stronger citizen voice, more capabilities for our citizens. We as parties must become not simply a vehicle to grab central power, but also a vehicle to empower our citizens.
This is why we also adopted primaries. I was elected by an open primary in my party, where 900,000 citizens, and non-citizens – migrants also came to vote for me and the other two candidates only two years ago, a year and a half ago.
We are using the Internet to see how we can create Internet communities. More discussion with non-governmental organizations. More participation of women, youth and migrants. New forms of deliberation and participation on our party platform. And obviously trying to break down a party structure which most of our socialist parties, particularly in Europe, have followed from very often a communist party model, very hierarchical, very bureaucratic and very monolithic.
We need, and what we are trying to do, is we need a strong center, but which is strong because it is strong in maintaining our basic values, but then allowing for a greater diversity of activities and ideas and innovation throughout our party structures at the regional and local level.
Finally, the third point to deal with this is to link our local, regional, national and international issues. In the Socialist International, what I have found over the past two years or the year and a half that now I have been elected, is that there is a common agenda. And I see this as very important, because very often the sense of powerlessness people feel is that on the one hand they feel they know the issues – we know the issues; you in France know the issues here, but around the world, whether it’s global warming or poverty or pandemics. We know the issues because they are the same. They have different expressions, but they are the same. Whether it’s in France, whether it’s in Greece, whether it’s in Africa, they are similar issues, with different of course expressions and very often great polarizations, depending on the situation.
But because they are global issues – this is the paradox – people feel even more powerless. How can we change, not our country, not our local government, but how can we change our world?
And this is why working together as socialists is becoming much more important for around the world. We are now close to 170 parties around the world, and we are also working with a wider number of parties, whether it is the Indian Congress Party or the Democratic Party in the United States, or Lula in Brazil, or even as observers to the Chinese Communist Party.
But we have been able to set up a common agenda, working on two commissions, on the environment and on the economic crisis, where our tasks are, first of all our priorities are, to create a world during this crisis we supports the real economy, the small and medium-sized enterprises, not the banks and the bankers and their payrolls.
Secondly, protect the poor, the middle-class employment and the social welfare system, not undermine it because of the crisis.
Third, make the necessary reforms at the national, European, regional and international level, for new forms of governance, for our financial system but also for the United Nations dealing with issues from tax havens to disarmament.
And finally, creating a new model of development, which is a green model of development, green development, which we feel is very close to the issue, not only of our survival, but also of our value of social justice and equality.
And on that point I will finish, that the issue of green development, environment, sustainable development, is an issue of social justice, because what is being created is a new apartheid, a new wall between the haves and have nots, although with the destruction of our climate, not even the rich will be able to escape.
But we need to look at the new rights or the rights we already have, which we are losing: the right to having clean water, the right to having oxygen, the right to having healthy food, the right to having health care vis-à-vis pandemics, the right to having our forests, our lakes, our seas, our rivers.
And this is why we believe we need a new model, which must be able to design. We cannot leave it to the markets. We must need regulation; we must need a new way that we control our resources, we must move into a new mode of production, which is based on education, innovation, is human-centered, where we all work for the common purpose of the survival of our planet and humanity.
And if we don’t do this, I would agree then we will move into what our first speaker said, a barbaric world, a world of competition and antagonisms around energy, resources, a polarization, a competition where we will see food prices fluctuate, energy prices fluctuate, and major catastrophes come upon many areas of the world.
So it is a time when our basic values as socialists are very relevant: one of solidarity, ones of good, democratic governance, ones of citizen empowerment, ones of social justice. And we must add to this ones of a new, harmonious relationship with our environment.
Thank you very much.”