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12/16/2021

The pathos of international social democracy

The pathos of international social democracy

Recently, prominent representatives of the Ibero-American social-democracy gathered in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to carry out the XXVI Plenary Meeting of the Fundación Círculo Montevideo (Nov 30 and Dec 1). Former presidents Julio María Sanguinetti (Uruguay), Ricardo Lagos (Chile), Leonel Fernández Reyna (Dominican Republic), Felipe González (Spain), businessmen such as magnate Carlos Slim, and the host, Alberto Núñez Feijóo (president of the Xunta de Galicia and one of the most prominent leaders of the PP) were the main figures.

We know that the history of social democracy is much greater than the history of these characters. Since Marx, people have talked about and worked around social democracy. It went through many stages. We are interested in the present situation based on the fact that these are the subjects who try to act on reality, whom we must call social democratic liberals because of their ideological inspiration and their political proposals, which seek to influence the center, both on the right and on the left. They detect a crisis. From now on, this is the crisis of social democracy. They will never accept that it is also a crisis of capitalism. But they reappear, having dusted off their old trunk of resonant, almost sociological speeches, tones and concepts. When we speak of social democracy, we must think about the network of progressive forces – parties such as the PSOE, German SPD, Greek PSOK, Chile’s PPD and PS, Venezuelan AD, Bolivian MNR, Argentina’s UCR, among others. Not only has Social Democracy long ago renounced its Marxist origins, it has also renounced the Keynesian economic theories that it embraced in the last century. What do they express today, what do they propose, whom do they confront?

Sanguinetti on Latin America

The two time president of Uruguay from the traditional and liberal Colorado Party (1985-1990; 1995-2000), along with the rest of the forum participants, clearly showcases the answers to these questions. The main problems they see, accelerated by the pandemic, is that the state has been taking center stage, and in that process, the state is granted exceptional powers. According to Sanguinetti´s vision of the world, this causes “temptations” to emerge, among them the most prominent, what they call “the authoritarian temptation”, “the personalistic temptation”, the “populist temptation”, and Latin America would be a prominent stage, as he stated in his speech entitled “Politics in the times of networks.” Those populisms that the social democrats dislike have been going on for many years. Let’s make it clear from the beginning: any historical project where the masses have a central place, to the detriment of the interests of capital, will be a denigrated democratic experience for them.

The game changer for them was the assault on Trump’s power in the United States and, finally, the terror caused on them by the attack on Parliament; this is because they consider the US as the beacon of freedom, the ideal model of democracy, the model of Western institutions. They are also alarmed by Brexit, a symbol of the collapse of their ideals, as the degradation of the brilliant history of the European Union as they see it; or Renzi’s reforms in Italy, the growing support for the National Front in France, even the emergence of Sanders.

Sanguinetti sees in Latin American populisms a “bastard child” of the prosperity of the past, as he stated in a recent EFE interview. There he said that the current Venezuelan system and Argentina of the twelve years of Kirchnerism (2003-2015) are examples of that populism, characterized by “attacks on justice and the press.” Venezuela is, for them, the paradigmatic case. He assures us that it is “the worst dictatorship in history” and Chávez, the greatest populist monster. In his presentation, he argued that indeed Chávez was born “with legitimacy, he was a popular president, but that legitimacy vanished in the exercise of authority, when he tried to govern as he governed, from personalist continuity, from authoritarianism, from the persecution of the adversary, from the organized fraud in a grotesque exhibition as it has been over and over again” (totally misrepresenting the available evidence regarding the electoral processes carried out there). This expresses a fundamental characteristic of social democracy: its anti-popular orientation and denial of its own history.

Also, Sanguinetti had previously declared that Lula Da Silva was a corrupt president, supported his persecution and highlighted the “independence and courage” of Sergio Moro. Regarding Nicaragua, he argued that democracy there is challenged, questioned, that it faces dark forces represented in Sandinismo. In Argentina, he supported the government of Mauricio Macri.

In his presentation, the president of the Montevideo Circle highlighted the main challenges that democracy has for them today: the constant fragmentation of political parties and the default of the centers. He gave the example of France, where in the last elections there was neither socialism nor Gaullism, and Chile, as the maximum expression of all these problems. He argued that moderate governments are the only ones that preserve freedom and today the great parties of the center, center left, center right, are the ones that have narrowed the most in a world that “seeks extremes.” That is where the demoliberal ideology is again evidenced as detached from reality. “World” should be understood “peoples”, and “extremes” should be understood as the failure of democracy and capitalism. Likewise, another exceptional quality of social democracy emerges from this: they act as if they had nothing to do with this historical development, as if they were external actors, observers, hiding their failures and their betrayals.

Slim, the factual power

Slim, business president of the Fundación Círculo de Montevideo, is one of the richest men on the planet. His presence is overwhelming across the continent, and his prominent deployment and accumulation branch has to do with communications. He is the voice and body of the corporations in this forum. In his presentation he presented an overview of pandemic capitalism and the solutions that are already in development.

In his address, entitled “New ways of working” he argued that today productivity is very high and very fast, and that in this framework relations between capital and labor have been changing. He said that “We must take advantage of the changes that the pandemic accelerated.” He proposed a model where subsidies, training, education, health and well-being for the economically active population must be solved on a universal scale– and that this was an ethical or just reason in the past, that “it was a moral problem”. Fighting poverty, now, at this stage, instead, “is an economic necessity.” Workers must be trained and given purchasing power. It is a necessity of capital.

He proposed a 3-day workweek, with 11- or 12-hour workdays, and a retirement at 75 years of age. In this way, the new work scheme, remote work, home office, etc. could be harnessed. At the same time, capital would manage to extend the exploitation time of workers, double the work plant, making some people work from Monday to Wednesday, and others from Thursday onwards. Regarding retirement at an older age, this would solve what for him is a financial problem for the states, getting 10 or 15 more years of worker contributions, and 10 or 15 years less of retirement payments. Regarding education, he proposes the end of schools. That education for him, must be outside the classroom, and courses should be taken at any time, any where, on any network, without the need for a classroom or a fixed program.

He highlighted the lack of connectivity as a problem. Half of the world’s population does not have access to the internet. He proposed that the state subsidize that access, as the US has been doing for several years. It is then for Slim, social democracy which has its reason for being. This is his model and his conception of the peoples: health, education, connectivity, culture and basic income, but an income that is “enough to live, but insufficient to make that person lazy”, based all on meeting capital needs.

Felipe González and Ricardo Lagos

González, the former president of the Spanish government, argued in his speech at the suggestive panel called “New and old enemies of democracy”, that there is very widespread disaffection with democracy, and that failures are attributed to democracy when for him they are failures in the exercise of power. Again, the people are wrong according to social democracy, and they need to be enlightened. From that spot, they say that there is a tradition of tyrants in Latin America, who “break the rules of the game of coexistence”, who propose and promote it.

Thus he wields various aspects of the theory and vision of the social democrats. Dark theories that prove unpopular, refractory to the masses, permanently placing themselves on an abstract plane, denying reality, making a clean sweep of the history of the peoples. For González, as he stated in the forum, “the constitution, the legal order, the rule of law, is something that is not usually seen” (that is, it is not seen by the common people), precisely the foundation of society, the most important thing for him, and “they are only seen when they break apart, when coexistence is altered”. To maintain coexistence, it is necessary to articulate those elements “with what is seen on the surface, the economic and social foundations”. In other words, peoples cannot see what is important and only move based on what they can see under their noses.

For his part, the former president of Chile, at the same forum, said that today’s challenges are looming for the rulers, which have strongly shaken democracy and capitalism. In his speech, he postulated another of the problems that social democracy stands out today, at the same time that he expresses the influence of the globalists. He indicated that previously in the 21st century, there were multilateral spaces where it was possible to discuss and advance interventions on the unfolding crises. He mentioned the case of September 11, as a crisis addressed by the Security Council. Then the 2008 crisis, where Bush himself proposed the creation of the G20 to include developing countries (China, Brazil, India, Turkey, Argentina, South Africa, among others, were added). But today, given the problematic situation that is still unfolding, there are no spaces where it can be approached from a multilateral perspective. This is a case that shows once again the flagrant contradiction of social democracy. While they speak of democracy and freedom, they again propose imperial hegemony. What else could it be but the Security Council in 2001, the space from which atrocious massacres and invasions were legitimized?

Final words

Social democracy is today a niche for the deployment of globalist interests, which seeks to temper the responses to the crisis of the system, on the part of the system. In the Circle of Montevideo 2021, in a decrepit version, we can see how the theories of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are repeated, the proposals of the new forms of work and production, multilateralism and supranational schemes, where concepts and languages, agendas, and proposals are put into play that we also see in Davos, among other forums. It is that social democracy is a sinister and schizophrenic character. They speak as abstracted from the concrete reality, believing that they have an explanation for everything, as if their experience had not failed, collapsed, as if they had not made the life of the great majority more difficult where they ruled.

The same people who speak of redistribution, solidarity, freedom, democracy, peace, institutions, the rule of law, are the ones who, like the case of Lagos, upheld the Pinochet model of democracy and neoliberalism. Or like the case of González for Spain, who, with the help of the CIA, introduces the Spanish state into NATO, legitimizing the military adventures of imperialism. How could the PSOE put an end to labor precariousness if they were the ones who promoted it, while facilitating corporate action by allowing them to organize Spain’s economy at their will? We could also remember Tony Blair, who was cardinal in the legitimization of (neoliberal) globalization, when in 2003 he proposed the Third Way, saying that globalization was inevitable and that it was necessary to join it (and that he also participated in the militaristic adventures of the Empire).

They seek to maintain expectations in the masses, with the illusion of improvements and social advances, through the persistence of a particular representative system, and a supposedly democratic government, institutions and State, presented as if they acted outside the interests of the different social classes. Meanwhile, on behalf of social democrats, there is an absolute absence of criticism of the capitalist mode of production and consumption, and absence of criticism (and complicity then) with financial power. They also represent the spearhead for the assimilation by capital, of popular conquests and advances of rights in the working masses, in producing a liberal feminism, penetrating anti-racism, multiculturalism or LGBTQI rights. At the basis, there is an apparent economic sensitivity to solidarity, while supporting, propping up, legitimizing, leaving intact the process of ultra-concentration of wealth. They thus seek to contribute a human face to capitalist domination, but from afar it can be seen that it is a mask of occasion.

Social democracy cannot see reality, clouded by its white, western, demo liberal dreams. They cannot see the history of Latin America, because they deny it (which the neoliberals and conservatives will also do). They cannot accept or understand that the instability they speak of, which they attribute to populism and the irrational masses that tend to extremes, is an expression of popular resistance to the continuation of looting and exploitation by imperialism and the ruling classes that does not stop. The ruling classes in Latin America considered, on multiple occasions, to have built a new hegemony, on many occasions discarding people´s freedoms, enforcing oppression; and each time, the peoples responded, created, acted, transformed those realities. The peoples have received heavy blows and terrible defeats, all stained with blood. But the ruling classes are still unable to control this Latin American beast. That is the reason why, from the social democratic perspective, there is no “normal capitalism” in the region. They have a model in their imagination that does not fit with our American peoples. They are a civilization that cannot end barbarism. It is a political model that today as yesterday is complacent with the global economic right. They are the ones who celebrated the collapse of the USSR and the disappearance of many communist parties in Europe. They have also been an appendix to US strategies. Social democracy represents social imperialism.

In Uruguay we witnessed an attempt to revitalize social democracy, but like the participants of the meeting, it is degraded, corroded by the years, loaded with failures. But there they are, talking about how society should be, how citizens should behave politically, how people should live, how the state and the economy should work. The meeting of the Club of Montevideo must also point out to the left parties, to the autonomous, anti-capitalist, revolutionary, anti-systemic movements, that it is necessary to build an alternative. And that it is necessary to remember that many opportunities have been wasted, while the systemic collapse is announced, and that it is necessary to get out of the situation of existing only as organizations to mitigate the most negative impacts of this reality and instead, and build an alternative way of life.

Facundo Escobar

Facundo Escobar is an argentinian anthropologist, journalist, researcher and  International Relations and Political History Professor at National University of La Plata (UNLP), Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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