Socialism’s all the rage. “We Are All Socialists Now,” Newsweek declares. As the right wing tells it, we’re already living in the USSA. But what do self-identified socialists (and their progressive friends) have to say about the global economic crisis? In the March 23 issue, we published Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.’s “Rising to the Occasion” as the opening essay in a forum on “Reimagining Socialism.” TheNation.com will feature new replies to their essay over the coming weeks, fostering what we hope will be a spirited dialogue.
I am president of the Socialist International. This is not a controversial statement in Europe. But until recently, when I introduced myself thusly to Americans, the response tended to be shock and awe. Although our organization has 170 member parties on all five continents, including many currently in government, evidently socialism was a dirty word. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. The fact that President Barack Obama was elected, despite being branded a socialist by the Republicans, demonstrates how far Americans have come in accepting the need for a more socially just alternative to hard-nosed capitalism.
Yet many of the measures taken in both the United States and Europe to bail out failed banks and shore up ailing industries seem designed to perpetuate a global financial system that is both politically corrupt and morally bankrupt. Fixated on saving the banks, governments are paying little attention to the people who are losing their homes and jobs, their savings and their pensions, as a result of financial decisions beyond their control. The failure of governments to enforce effective regulation of the corporate giants and banking elites has undermined the integrity of our democracies. No wonder taxpayers feel outraged: they’ve inherited trillions of dollars of bad debt, while bankers walk away with millions of dollars of personal wealth.
“Rescue socialism” won’t work if it doesn’t go beyond quick-fix measures. The challenge for progressive politicians is to guide our citizens from despair to hope. We can only restore confidence if we create more democratic institutions that better reflect and respond to the realities of the 21st century. Solving this financial crisis is not a matter for technocrats. It is a fundamentally political issue. We need better governance, not just better financial regulation. This is not just about redistributing wealth–it’s about taking responsibility. Socialism is perfectly placed to fill this leadership vacuum, because we can provide an effective antidote to the excesses of globalization.
In response to Ehrenreich and Fletcher’s question: “Do we have a plan, people?” The answer is: yes, we do. In the Socialist International, we are engaged in a deliberative process to set in motion a new, green model of economic governance that supports sustainable development. In September, we set up a Commission on Global Financial Issues, chaired by Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz and composed of political leaders, ministers and experts from around the world. Our goal is to guarantee that markets serve people, not vice versa. To this end, we are calling for greater financial transparency, more robust regulation, the closing of tax havens, and the creation of a World Finance Organization to enforce global standards. We have set out concrete initiatives, including far-reaching reforms of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization to ensure that emerging economies are properly represented and that developing countries are not starved of credit and funds. While the G-20 framework is a step forward in the search for coordinated global responses, it does not reflect the interdependency of all nations.
The challenge of global governance is immense; but the risks of doing nothing to restore legitimacy to our institutions are greater. If we fail to invest in low-carbon technology and clean up industry, economic recovery will be unsustainable because of runaway climate change. If we fail to democratize globalisation, fundamentalism and populism will surge. If we fail to engage with social problems and address people’s sense of powerlessness and injustice, we will see more violent protests, like those that erupted across Greece in December. This prolonged civil unrest is an urgent warning that the right cannot simply go on with “business as usual.”
While I am pleasantly surprised that socialism is back in vogue, I am also mindful that it must be reinvented, too. There is no point in recycling old policies and procedures, or reforming institutions that have repeatedly failed in the past. The time has come to reinvent the rules. Our world has changed, and our policies must reflect the urgency of our predicament.
Other Contributions to the Forum
Barbara Ehrenreich & Bill Fletcher Jr., “Rising to the Occasion“
Immanuel Wallerstein, “Follow Brazil’s Example“
Bill McKibben, “Together, We Save the Planet“
Rebecca Solnit, “The Revolution Has Already Occurred“
Tariq Ali, “Capitalism’s Deadly Logic“
Robert Pollin, “Be Utopian: Demand the Realistic“
John Bellamy Foster, “Economy, Ecology, Empire“
Christian Parenti, “Limits and Horizons“
Doug Henwood, “A Post-Capitalist Future is Possible“
Mike Davis, “The Necessary Eloquence of Protest“
Lisa Duggan, “Imagine Otherwise“
Vijay Prashad, “The Dragons, Their Dragoons“
Kim Moody, “Socialists Need to Be Where the Struggle Is“
Saskia Sassen, “An Economic Platform That Is Ours“
Dan La Botz, “Militant Minorities”
Michael Albert, “Taking Up the Task”
Dave Zirin, “Socialists, Out and Proud”
Joanne Landy, “I Love Bill Moyers, but He’s Wrong About Socialism”
Hilary Wainwright, “I Love Bill Moyers, but He’s Wrong About Socialism”