By Tom Gill
‘Half socialist, half liberal’ is how Repubblica described the political cocktail of world leaders assembled in Florence last November. A ‘Third Way’ summit had been expected. Present at the ‘Progressive Governance in the 21st century’ conference were President Romano Prodi and Javier Solana, former NATO Secretary General and now Europe’s Foreign and Security secretary. From Europe Massimo D’Alema, Lionel Jospin, Gerhard Schroeder, Antonio Guterres and Tony Blair attended, as well as Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Bill Clinton also came.
The US president set the tone. He described his vision of a brave new world liberated by new technologies and the international community from hunger, misery, war and dictatorship. The internet, he preached, would ‘reduce inequalities’ and provide the opportunity to people in all corners of the earth to compete in the global marketplace. Full employment should be a goal, Clinton insisted, but social democrats should also pursue budgetary rigor because it is ‘a progressive idea’.
D’Alema called for a permanent ‘cultural’ forum for world ‘progressive’ leaders. Third Way ideologue Anthony Giddens was busy networking. Clinton’s guru Sidney Blumenthal was drumming up support for a new International led by the outgoing president himself. This new global political organisation has powerful supporters. Prodi, with Blair and Clinton, began organising this summit of ‘progressives’ in 1997. The EC chief, then trying to forge his own Third Way force in Italy described Clinton as the ‘leader of world reformism’. He repeated his admiration for the US economic model of dynamic growth, low unemployment and high tech industries.
However, a new international based on the neo-liberal Anglo-Saxon agenda generated less enthusiasm from the other participants. Jospin only came to Florence on the condition that the ‘Third Way’ was eliminated from the conference programme. In a pamphlet published by the Fabian Society, he dismissed New Labour’s revisionism as ‘half way between social democracy and neo-liberalism’.
Jospin, who recently attacked the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (which gives transnational companies the right to overrule sovereign states), said that ‘pure capitalism’ brings instability. The nation state must remain ‘The home for the development of democracy’ and the US, he added, should not preach to others on human rights when it still has the death penalty. He stated that European social democrats already have the Socialist International and the meeting in Florence was ‘a political event’, not a new ‘Atlantic International’.
Calling for more regulation of financial markets, he was seconded by the German chancellor. He revived the joint declaration in early 1999 by the countries’ two former finance ministers, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Oskar Lafontaine. In contrast, Clinton blaimed the ‘weak’ governments of developing countries for their economic crises. Blair was silent on the matter.
The German chancellor did offer to host the next summit, but gave little ideological support to Blair or Clinton. By the end of November, the two leaders were already at each other’s throats over a hostile bid by the British firm Vodafone to take over the much bigger German communications giant Mannesmann. Later, Schroeder lashed out at ‘destructive’ Anglo-Saxon capitalism and stepped in to aid the ailing German company Philip Holzmann.
In Le Monde, Schroeder defended the Rhenish social market system, arguing that ‘the American model gives priority to the economy while our system is based on the participation of a large majority of workers in the prosperity and decision making of companies’. It was the ‘interventionist’ Jospin, not the free-marketeer, Blair, whom Schroeder invited to the SPD congress in December.
The extent to which the Third Way has yet to take hold in the world was highlighted by October’s triannual reunion of the Socialist International (SI). Blair tried again to persuade his socialist and social democrat colleagues to transform the SI into a reflection of the US Democratic Party. He was solidly rebuffed by the outgoing SI president, Pierre Mauroy, who then handed over the presidency to Antonio Guterres, a vocal critic of global markets. The Third Way did not feature in the final common document approved by more than 150 socialist parties worldwide. The paper called for a ‘critical relationship with capitalism’, warning that ‘to abandon public monopolies wholly for the sake of private oligopolies whose only aim is to optimise corporate profits could lead to the serious inequalities that are starting to appear in many countries’. All this preceeded the fiasco of the Seattle WTO talks in December, which were a further set back for the supporters of global neo-liberalism.
© SCGN January 2000 no.150