SP ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘conservative’? Absolutely not!

22 June 2008

SP ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘conservative’? Absolutely not!

The SP against Europe and globalisation? Certainly not. What the SP is against is an undemocratic Europe and neoliberal market ideology, says Jan Marijnissen.

The accusations start to sound like an old-fashioned record with a scratch: the SP is conservative and "flees towards the spurious solutions of a socialist high-water mark against the advancing tide of globalisation". And because the Labour Party "must go on the attack and not retreat into defence... cooperation with the SP is now impossible," argued Labour Secretary of State for European Affairs Frans Timmermans in Opinie & Debat on 31st May..

Nobody, and certainly not the SP, will deny that globalisation is bringing people together. Mutual dependence and solidarity are growing. Mindful of the saying 'unknown is unloved', we must acknowledge that globalisation is contributing to more mutual understanding. And that understanding contributes anew to a reduction of the chance of conflict, including armed conflict.

Improved contacts and better understanding have in many respects brought mutual benefits. And that advantage is the motor of the process of further integration. It is a process which presents a constant and strong helping hand to (I am limiting myself to Europe here) the 'Europhiles', people who feel that a United States of Europe can't come quickly enough. Their vista is of a European federation, with many more powers accorded to the central authority than is now the case. And these powers will of course be taken away from national governments and parliaments. And it is here that we come across an essential problem, one that only time can solve.

The result of the referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty in 2005 revealed the size of the gap which had opened up between the majority of the population and the various political parties, from the VVD on the right to the Labour Party (PvdA) and Green Left, when it comes to the future of Europe. These parties fail to understand the very things that they are convinced that they understand completely. The fundamental difference of understanding revolves around the question of what is understood by 'democracy'. When given real content, democracy assumes a definite form within a certain geographic area in combination with an objective and subjective civil and mutual solidarity on the part of the citizens. This solidarity has grown through the centuries. On the national level we fought for democratic institutions, such as civil rights and social security; on the national level we brought into being a good system of education and health care; and on the national level we created a system of law. These achievements determine our attachments, our identity.

In contrast to this, Europe is nether objectively nor subjectively our 'home'. The European Union has no past, no identity and is for most of the citizens far away. The size and the distance away of the European Union means that its democracy is necessarily lacking. And democracy without transparency is a farce. That lack of transparency makes people distrustful. Some find that unjust, but it is nevertheless a fact which a democrat must take on board. You cannot reduce the distance from the European Union by force. The federalists or 'Europhiles', on the other hand, see the nation state as outdated and old-fashioned. They turn their noses up at the idea of the importance of a 'home', finding such a concept narrow-minded and conventional. People who argue on this basis that further European integration is important may nevertheless have a sound point, provided that three conditions are fulfilled:

  1. Politicians and policy-makers must recognise that having a 'home' is a precondition for being able to meet and act within Europe and the world in a frank and uninhibited fashion. Under 'home' more must be understood than simply a physical home. The culture, the generally shared values and standards, a sound public sector and our democratic institutions play their part also. Solid ground under the feet puts you in a better position to leap further.
  2. Integration must be paced so that the majority can come along too, and a transparent democracy must be made the precondition for every new step.
  3. European policy must be detached from its neoliberal character. Europe will either be a social Europe, or it will not be anything.

Globalisation is a given, just like the weather. Except that in the case of globalisation we are – in contrast to the situation we are in with regard to the weather – to a large extent able to influence its nature and form. Of course it is also true that the process of globalisation runs to a high degree in an autonomous fashion (by means of the unstoppable development of science and technology and the growth of world trade), but it is and remains the work of human beings and therefore open to influence. Yet just as is the case for European integration, globalisation has now acquired all of the hallmarks of the neoliberal thought and deed which has, since the beginning of the 1980s, from its original bases in the United States and United Kingdom, 'conquered' the entire world. Easy profit at the cost of everything and everyone, literally. This form of freedom-joy-capitalism knows no morality and has no 'home'. It is for this reason that it is so destructive in nature. Because we, just like the representatives of a capitalism which leaps across borders, have no 'home', there is little inclination to invest in the future, in the neighbourhood. And because this neighbourhood is continually changing, there is almost never anyone who has to take responsibility.

Where colonialism and even imperialism felt the necessity to legitimise themselves with a civilising mission, neoliberalism has no need to do this. The whole world is its terrain and the whole world must dance to its tune. But why is this so? Why bow before Anglo-American neoliberalism while the Rhineland model, more than a century old, has still lost nothing of its allure? The Rhineland model guarantees a reduction of social contradictions, it takes more account of the general interest, of the way in which things are linked and of the long term; it organises social security and a sound public sector; it lays less emphasis on every man for himself and more on a feeling for community; it invests more in research and development; the firm is more important than its shareholders; it understands that the free market must be curbed; and all of this produces, in addition, a higher rate of productivity.

A politics which brings together prosperity and welfare and shares them out fairly: that is for me a progressive politics. Is this old-fashioned? Is this conservative and must the PvdA for this reason keep its distance from us? In my opinion, standing up for people - both here and far from here - who are unable to keep up, who cannot profit from the 'fruits' of the neoliberal market ideology, is no more than a question of civilisation.

This article first appeared in NRC Handelsblad, 9th June 2008

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