Carrying forward the achievements of the left

Prime Minister of Italy, Massimo D'Alema, leader of the Democrats of the Left, DS, considers the challenges facing the left in Europe

Issue 3, Volume 47, 1998

The left in Europe is a force which is winning. The great success that we have obtained has been possible because we have begun a great process of renewal of the ideas and culture of the democratic left.

We have had great intuition; we have posed the problem of pursuing a radical renewal of the left without shutting ourselves off and clinging to the old certainties. The new left has had the wisdom to open itself up, to meet other forces and cultures and has taken on some of their characteristics. Thus it has obtained the trust of the citizens of Europe.

It is from these successes that there must start the process of modernisation and thorough-going reform of our societies. It is a great and difficult aim but what sort of a left will we be if we are not capable of finding the answers which will allow us to carry forward the social democratic attainments of the century which is coming to an end.

We must have the ambition to give answers to these questions: how can we match the need for the liberalisation of society with the demands of social cohesion? How do we face in an innovative way the formula `less state - more society'?

In order to define the path we must follow, I wish to discuss an issue which concerns all our countries: the need to reform the Welfare State. I believe that the innovation that we want to introduce will allow us to escape from the logic of vague universalism (which has been the post-war definition adopted by the left), but also to abandon an idea of selectivity based solely on income (which was the fruit of laissez-faire policies).

The left today has an explicit mandate: to ensure that recognition is given to active exercise of citizenship. In a society such as in Europe which tends to benefit unwavering long service in a profession, the left cannot procrastinate. Whoever cannot make up their mind has no future.

We have a duty to set out our position clearly and we must stay on the side of those who want to form part of society, those who want to take an active role. We cannot be on the side of those who keep doors closed. It is clearly evident that we do not want a lax society; rigour, uprightness, appreciation of worth are elements that we cannot abandon to our opponents.

This is why we should make explicit, for example, the existence of a connection between unemployment benefits and looking for work, by supporting those that have less and the voluntary workers or care providers, with an innovative welfare state and on-going training.

Here is the break that we must make with the past. We must build a welfare system that makes a change from the collective helping the individual, and the individuals who then demonstrate loyalty to the community itself. This is the direction in which the European left can widen its search and bring together socialist values and liberal ones.

Governing large developed countries requires a synthesis between the cultures of solidarity, social cohesion, new opportunities and liberalisation, and the opening of markets and competition. We want to engender a new conscience of the European left in order to produce a change with regards to labour parties' ideas, which should help us define a society more open to young people and women.

But we cannot have a closed, integralist approach in this search. The Italian experience helps us to overcome mistrust and obstacles vis-à-vis the Catholic culture which has developed an extraordinary network of experience in social work and the voluntary sector in our country which imposes on us a progressive coming together of the lay experiences in the field of cooperation and improvement of society.

I believe that our current problem is how to turn our proposals into concrete action, because it does not seem to me that we can continue asking ourselves what is the identity of the left: the electors know this better than we do.

The left is the force which in the face of social upheavals has found the key to re-building an equilibrium, keeping the community together.

It has been so since, with the advent of industrialisation, the left was in a position to introduce universal suffrage. It was so in the post-war period with the achievement of the social state. Historically, the left has developed this role and the electorate has asked us to continue to be the force which directs the economy and rewards work.

The other great question which we are called on to find an answer to is that of administering globalisation. The citizens of Europe ask us for our policies on this point too. Giving us their trust they ask us to be on their side in all the confusion provoked by globalisation. They ask of us a message of trust and hope at the moment when we are entering a new century.

We must remain sensitive to these demands. And we should widen the horizons of our terms of reference, we should commit ourselves and change the way we view the world. We have a duty to intervene in the course of history and to affirm our beliefs.

Today it is no longer two blocs, two models of development of society which confront each other. There are many more societies; inequalities have certainly not been overcome. But this mass of problems is part of one system, where solutions can be sought together, beyond the divisions and the schisms which have typified the age which is drawing to a close. The places and the modes of production have changed enormously and so the challenge for the left is re-drawn on an infinitely larger scale, with respect to the last century. Big businesses are no longer national, they are integrated, they are restructuring, decentralising production, manufacturing new ranges of products. In new forms industry penetrates parts of the world that have never known any industrialisation. In the face of all this the left cannot lag behind. It must fight determinedly and forcefully to meet the great challenges of our time: peace, democracy, and environmental issues. Wherever rights are denied, or oppression, violence or poverty exist, wherever hope of change, progress, civil and moral growth must exist, the left must exist there too. We must have the ambition to accompany, drive, organise, urge billions of people towards prosperity.

We know this. The force that is in a position today to govern in the era of globalisation is not the old left of the state, it is not to be found among those of unrestrained laissez-faire policies and it cannot be found in the nationalist right.

This force can only be the new left that we are shaping. The new left will really be the force able to develop this world-wide role if it knows how to keep globalisation in balance, if it knows how to distinguish and define just priorities, if it knows how to remove the risk of hopeless despair, or the risk of a new doctrine without principles.

To achieve this we must promote and direct the globalisation of rights. Thus it is clear that we must tackle the problem of planning international institutions capable of affecting the course of history. A dynamic left has the duty to present a proposal for the reform of the United Nations, to speed up the process of renewal of various multilateral supervisory organisations (e.g. the OSCE and the IMF), to tackle the question of capital flows, to promote influential and prestigious international institutions.

But at the same time we must be in a position to give shape to political movements which are equal to this task.

The left can then return to `thinking the world'. It can do so because there is only one left today and it has one single political organism devoted to aims of world government.

The left has a great opportunity to take on a global thinking, to re-build the link between history, politics and utopia. A history which bases itself on values of freedom, emancipation, and social justice. A utopia which is no longer undone by the course of history, but which has regained a political sense in the real world through the processes of transformation it has experienced. The left, in short, can regain its political `historical sense' and so its sense of strategic policy-making. It is clear that the Socialist International must know how to think afresh, and cannot and should not have a Eurocentric character. We must come to the Congress in Paris in 1999, with an undivided, advanced, innovative and, above all, incisive platform.



© 1998 Socialist Affairs. All rights reserved.


Signed articles represent the views of the authors only, not necessarily those of Socialist Affairs or the Socialist International