Address at the 22nd Congress of the
Socialist International, 27 October 2003
Comrades and Friends:
As has been indicated, this Panel is scheduled to discuss
the topic of a new multilateralism for sustainable development
and security. However it is impossible to comment on
these matters without reference to matters that will
be discussed by the other 8 Panels. You will therefore
pardon us if we do not confine ourselves strictly within
the bounds of whatever might have been expected of those
of us sitting on this Panel.
Part of the theme of the Congress is "For Globalisation
governed by the People". We do not believe that
it would be possible to present a socialist perspective
on the topic of this Panel until we have addressed precisely
this matter - for globalisation governed by the people!
As socialists I am certain that we would all agree
with this objective. I would also imagine that none
of us would be satisfied merely to assert that this
objective is desirable. We would be very interested
that human society should evolve towards the situation
where globalisation is actually governed by the people.
But how realistic is this dream, and how shall it be
achieved, if we do not tamper with the current reality!
A central feature of the process of globalisation is
the concentration and centralisation of power into ever
fewer hands. We refer here to all forms of power - political,
economic, military, technological, intellectual, information,
and so on.
This is an objective social process. This concentration
and centralisation of power was the subject of comment
as early as the 19th century, by the same progressive
actors who founded the socialist movement. It developed
apace during the 20th century, gathering even greater
speed in the latter part of that century, emerging both
as a cause and a product of the process of globalisation.
Through natural growth, mergers and acquisitions, there
have emerged powerful companies that play a major role
in determining the future of the world. These include
those who control financial capital. As experience has
shown, when these shift from place to place what, to
them, might be insignificant volumes of capital, economies
of entire countries can be plunged into deep crisis,
with large numbers of people losing jobs and many driven
The process of the concentration and centralisation
of capital has meant the continuous growth of the political
power of the countries in which the headquarters of
these global economic players are domiciled. The fact
of the matter is that there is no government in the
world today, which does not promote the global interests
of its country's multinational corporations.
This results in a mutually reinforcing process. Whereas
the economic strength of the multinationals gives weight
to the international standing of their national governments,
that political weight is, in turn, used to advance the
global interests of the multinational corporations.
Necessarily, those outside this equation find it very
difficult to contest this combined political and economic
All this occurs during a period when neo-liberalism
has come to occupy dominant positions in the global
ideological and political discourse and right-wing parties
seem to constitute the majority of governments in the
Among the central theses of the proponents of neo-liberalism
are the sanctity of the market economy, property rights
and a minimalist state. In reality this means granting
the greatest freedom to private corporations to do as
they wish. It signifies the inviolability of the power
they dispose of as a result of the assets they hold.
It is a call for the radical reduction of the capacity
of the state to intervene for the benefit of the billions
of human beings in individual countries and the world,
who cannot, on their own, interact with capital on an
Add to this the fact that these propositions have become
part of the stock-in-trade of the prescriptions given
to the poor of the world about what is meant by, and
what they should do to fulfil the requirements of good
governance. This is drummed into our heads by all an
sundry, including the Bretton Woods institutions, individual
governments, the mass media, civil society organisations,
and so on. The poor and the powerless have no choice
but to do as they are told.
In reality what all this means is that both the objective
processes impacting on the evolution of human society
and the dominant ideas in our contemporary world are
not working in favour of the objective we share, for
globalisation governed by the people.
Rather, they point to a process of globalisation that
governs the people, in which those who have power, who
are the minority, should be given the greatest leeway
to exercise that power, in their interest.
The real world in which we live is characterised by
a gross imbalance in the distribution of power. This
power in all its forms is concentrated in a few countries.
These countries own the bulk of the wealth of nations.
The dominant ideas within these countries define the
The all-round power and strength these countries dispose
of gives them the possibility to ensure that social
practice within all countries conforms to such prescriptions
as they may advance. The events around the issue of
Iraq have exposed the depth and seriousness of the challenge
the multilateral system faces as to how to respond to
the distribution of power in today's world.
It is therefore not possible to discuss a new multilateralism
without discussing the issue of the global distribution
of power. I presume that when we speak of this new multilateralism,
we do not intend merely to put forward a utopian ideal
that we will seek to dignify by describing as the policy
of the global democratic left.
I must presume that we speak of a perspective that
seeks to respond practically to the contemporary imbalance
in the global distribution of power, so that we do indeed
advance towards the situation in which globalisation
is governed by the people.
In this regard, it is clear that we would be living
in a fool's paradise if we proceeded on the basis that
we have any possibility to disempower the powerful so
that, to create a level playing field, we bring them
to the level of those who dispose of less power. Obviously,
the most logical way to address the power imbalance
is to bring up those with less power to a position where
they can interact with the powerful on a more equal
Though there may be no unanimity on this matter, nevertheless
a global consensus exists in favour of the democratisation
of the existing multilateral institutions. It would
therefore seem obvious that for us to make progress
towards a new multilateralism, we must use whatever
collective strength we have as the Socialist International
to bring about the necessary changes in such important
institutions as the UN, the Bretton Woods organisations,
and the WTO.
These changes have to be about the democratisation
of all of these. This should result in ensuring a fair
and equitable exercise of power within the system of
global governance, enabling the voice of the people,
and especially the poor, to be heard. This would be
an important step towards the realisation of the goal
of ensuring that globalisation should be governed by
Given that this has not yet been achieved, despite
the protracted effort that has been put into this matter,
we doubt the wisdom of proposing the establishment of
new multilateral institutions, such as the proposed
Security Council for Sustainable Development.
The UN Secretary General is in the process of establishing
a Panel of Eminent Persons, which will make proposals
about reforming the multilateral system. This provides
the Socialist International with an opportunity to make
its own comprehensive proposals with regard to this
It would therefore seem to us that the most sensible
approach to the issue of a new multilateralism would
be for the SI to set up its own Commission to make proposals
on a comprehensive rather than an ad-hoc basis, informed
by its own ideological and political perspectives about
what our common world should look like in future.
Together, the Rio Earth Summit and the Johannesburg
World Summit on Sustainable Development have provided
the international community with the necessary Programmes
of Action to address the challenge of sustainable development
in all its elements, the social, economic and environmental.
Whatever other ideas we may have on these matters as
the Socialist International, surely one of the most
sensible things to do is to use whatever strength we
have to ensure the implementation of these Programmes
It is also true that the issue of Iraq has, as we have
said, raised critically important questions about the
issue of international peace and security. The genocidal
massacre of the people of Rwanda in 1994, when a million
people were murdered in one hundred days, with the UN
doing nothing to stop the slaughter had already raised
The seemingly unending suffering of both Palestinians
and Israelis, despite the adoption of the Road Map,
also points to the urgency of resolving the challenges
we all face with regard to the matter of international
peace and security. Of course, this has also been highlighted
by the reality and threat of international terrorism,
which demands a united global response.
All this makes it imperative that the United Nations
should discuss the issue of what the UN and all its
member states should do to honour the obligations contained
in the UN Charter. This matter cannot be put on hold,
while we await the proposals that will be tabled by
the Panel of Eminent Persons being constituted by the
UN Secretary General.
Once again, this present us with the challenge to say
specifically what proposals does the SI have that would
guide all its member parties as they seek to influence
the outcome of the important discussion about current
challenges in the area of international peace and security.
Hopefully this Congress will provide us with some guidance
on this matter.
Historically, the socialist movement is the political
representative of the working class and the working
people, the very masses that we say should govern the
process of globalisation. The outcomes we seek, of a
new multilateralism that would guarantee sustainable
development and security, cannot be achieved without
the involvement of these masses.
It would therefore seem obvious that as members of
the Socialist International we have an obligation to
organise these masses into action -the working people,
the youth, the women, the religious communities, the
professionals, artists and others, the masses both in
the North and the South, to engage in action for the
birth of a new multilateralism informed by the perspective
of a globalisation governed by the people.
In this regard, we have to answer the question honestly
- why have we abandoned the streets to other forces,
which might resort to methods we do not accept, but
which nevertheless are raising important and legitimate
questions about the real meaning of globalisation in
terms of the lives of the billions of ordinary people
in the world.
We trust that this XXII Congress of the Socialist International
will help us to answer all the questions we have posed
practically, so that its views gain the pre-eminence
in the setting of the global agenda they deserve, defeating
the sustained effort of the neo-liberals and conservatives
to sustain a perspective that offers no hope to the
poor, the hungry and the powerless of the world.