Constructing a Progressive Future for the 21st Century
By George A. Papandreou*
Article to appear in the Italianieuropei. Bimestrale del riformismo italiano newspaper
The future of social democracy in the 21st century is the subject of fierce debate. I see it playing a crucial historical role. In the 20th century, the USSR devalued the idea of socialism with its authoritarianism and concentration of state power. Today, the United States administration has followed policies on issues such as Iraq, the Middle East, the so-called ‘war on terrorism’, global warming, torture, and human rights abuses at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and elsewhere, which could devalue the idea of democracy.
We socialists and democrats need to revive both these concepts. The world needs the values intrinsic in solidarity, equality, democracy, participation, accountability, transparency, the rule of law and justice.
We have represented these values over many decades. And our global society needs these values to maintain hope. Otherwise many peoples of the world will seek refuge in fundamentalist religions and fanatic or populist leaders.
Our values are today more valid than ever before. Why? Because for the first time in human history, we have the technology, the knowledge and the wealth to bridge the gap between rich and poor, stop global warming, reduce child mortality, to improve healthcare, stop human trafficking, and achieve gender equality. Yet the international community has not been able to do so.
Italy’s social democrats can play a prominent role in constructing a progressive global society for the 21st century. The establishment of the new Italian Democratic Party will have positive implications for European social democracy. But what challenges and opportunities do Italian and European social democrats face? How should we collectively respond to them? Following are some ideas that, I hope, will be helpful to Italy’s social democrats as they undertake the important task of forming a new Democratic Party.
Democratising globalisation is our first major challenge. Progressives do not reject globalisation or the importance of markets per se. Our objective is to civilise and democratise globalisation. There can be no real democracy when capital and power are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. There can be no real democracy when multinational corporations override or usurp the power of elected representatives. There can be no real democracy when the state interferes with civil liberties.
For a healthy participatory democracy to emerge, we need to bring the citizen back to the centre of all political, social and economic activity at the local and national level.
However, democratising globalisation also means that the citizen must be the protagonist on a global level. We must put the citizen’s voice and interest at the centre of the process.
Today, international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank cannot be credibly democratic when they are based on the principle of “one dollar, one vote.” The multilateral institutions that regulate the global economy must be more responsible and accountable to citizens around the world. A new global architecture of democratic institutions is a priority for us social democrats.
This applies equally to EU institutions. Our citizens feel they are not fully represented by European institutions and have little say in decisions made at the European level, which directly affect their daily lives. We call our EU institutions European, yet they do not represent a European polity or demos, but are still a compilation of national representations. European progressive forces must take all necessary steps to reduce this democratic deficit and develop institutions that are truly European – such as a pan-European plebiscite – that allow our citizens to feel part of this unique family. If we fail, Euro-phobia will reign and European integration will be jeopardised.
Ours is a project for a just new world: different nations forming a community of values and interests, with respect for international law, with solidarity amongst themselves, which seek effective and collective solutions to common challenges and threats. This is at its core a progressive project.
Global citizens for a just society
This European experiment is a model for other corners of our earth: a progressive model for the world.
The ultimate objective is to construct a just society of values, not a society of elites. To accelerate the process of democratising globalisation, a top priority for progressives is to re-establish a balance between economic productivity, social solidarity, and democratic freedoms.
A society that that does not give favours to the few and powerful, but supports, recognizes and rewards hard work, honesty, initiative, productivity, creativity, innovation and participation. This is the kind of society social democrats must build and represent.
A major priority is to achieve balanced development for all. We need to implement a development model based on creativity and innovation, which invests in every citizen’s potential, security and future. A second priority should be the just re-distribution of wealth. Education, healthcare, decent pensions and job opportunities are basic rights that cannot be ignored or undermined. A third priority is to build a state in the service of the citizen, not a state served by citizens. We need to establish a strong and sincere relationship of trust between the citizen and the state. Social democrats must find new ways to fight clientelism, bureaucracy, and corruption. These phenomena are becoming rampant in many parts of the world because of both emerging new players with power and money and weak democratic institutions unready for a globalizing world. Such new players often undermine democracy, human rights, and equality, while supporting authoritarian or populist political forces.
This new balance is difficult to achieve unilaterally or by any single nation-state. We need to work collectively on a regional and global level. To establish just societies in all areas of the world, there are four critical issues we need to address:
a. The lack of labour standards in one part of the world is undermining the social welfare of workers in other regions.
b. Mass migration from poor countries to developed nations has created fear and xenophobia in richer countries, especially among the working class.
c. Free trade has turned farmers and service workers in the developing and developed world against each other. We need to talk of fair trade also.
d. Environmental concerns have become a “blame game”. The developed world fears the depletion of vital resources by the developing world, which in turn blames the developed world for destroying the environment in pursuit of profit.
Globalisation has widened the gaps between north and south, east and west. On the one hand, citizens of developed countries increasingly feel like objects of a consumer society. On the other hand, citizens of developing countries have to struggle for day-to-day survival. In both cases, citizens feel impoverished and disenfranchised. We must engage and inspire our citizens to take action. We need to develop a political culture that accommodates the participation of civil society at all levels of political activity.
Empowering our Citizens, Reforming our Parties
Unfortunately, while we have the means, technology and capacity to create a more secure future for everyone, our citizens feel less empowered, less secure, more marginalized and more alienated. In many societies, exclusion is the rule rather than the exception. Racism and xenophobia permeate such societies. As a result, many individuals have become disengaged from politics. Unless we act fast, our citizens will become more cynical and angry, until eventually they resort to extremism, fundamentalism and violence.
To break down racism and fear, we need to develop policies of inclusion and participation. We need clear policies to include migrants in our societies and our political parties. Through free deliberations and public participation, a diverse citizenry can arrive at a mutual understanding about the principles and procedures guiding all social, political and economic activities in our modern democracies. All our citizens should enjoy equal civil liberties and rights of political participation, as well as social and cultural rights. To achieve this goal, education is paramount. Education should cultivate the principles of respect and tolerance, dialogue and participation. This is, precisely, what is meant by citizenship education.
Breaking down the walls that keep people out of politics means that our mission as political parties needs to change. We must fight exclusion from our parties, just as we fight exclusion from our societies. An open party means welcoming migrants and minorities. In recent years, PASOK has launched a series of far-reaching reforms to open our party to all Greek citizens, such as the creation of decentralised networks, deliberative forums, mechanisms to improve transparency and support volunteerism, lifelong education and direct participation of citizens in policy-making and choosing candidates.
Progressive parties need to develop mechanisms to exchange ideas, practices and methods to renew and reform our parties. Civil society – the growing ‘third sector’ – offers progressives an important opportunity to create new global alliances. We can work with different interest groups and social movements on a whole range of issues such as making the transition to renewable energy, harnessing science in ways that advance social democracy, or revamping education for an interdependent world.
Working Together to Make a Difference
Social democrats have important differences from conservatives, in values as well as methodology. Our views on issues like immigration, human rights, minorities, education, and healthcare are not inter-changeable. Conservatives speak of fear; we speak of security. They build walls; we build bridges. They like ultimatums; we demand dialogue. They speak of a ‘one-way road’; we know there is another way. They speak of good or bad nations, good or bad religions; we speak of good or bad policies. They speak of preventive wars; we speak of preventive diplomacy. They want to impose change according to their interests; we want to change the world through active citizens participating in public affairs. They are happy when society is apathetic; we believe in participation. Social democracy is about action, not apathy.
The only way we can make a real difference is through collective action. Progressives must come together to build a just global society for the 21st century. We trust that citizens around the globe can change their fate if they work collectively, systematically, with an open mind and equal rights. This is the way to bring about global democracy.
Social democrats will greatly benefit from a strong, united Italian progressive movement. Italy’s social democratic forces can play a central role in democratising globalisation and developing social democracy so it can respond more effectively to the challenges of the 21st century. The establishment of the new Italian Democratic Party can be a catalyst for renewed efforts to strengthen Europe’s political and social integration. Italy’s central role in European affairs offers Italian social democrats a unique opportunity to shape the future of Europe in a positive way. We must make a collective effort to re-empower social democracy so that it can play a constructive role in international affairs and realise our vision of a united Europe for all its citizens. Globalisation is not a one-way street. We can shape globalisation to serve the interests of the world’s citizens, not of multinational corporations. Working together, we can make a difference.
* George A. Papandreou is President of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and President of Socialist International.