Willy Brandt 1913 - 1992

2002

Willy Brandt, Mayor of Berlin, Chancellor of Germany and Nobel Peace Prize winner, died in October 1992 having presided over the Socialist International for sixteen very fruitful years.

As a tribute to him on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his death Socialist Affairs reprints these excerpts from his speeches and writings over the years which illustrate his political thought and his commitment to the Socialist International.

 

"After staring into the abyss of a global war we found ourselves beset by problems of global dimensions: hunger, the population explosion, environmental hazards, and the dwindling of natural resources. Only those who accept or even look forward with pleasure to the end of the world can ignore problems of such magnitude."

"As a democratic socialist my thoughts and my work are orientated to change. Not that I want to remodel man, for to force him into a system means to destroy him, but I believe in the changeability of human conditions."

On the occasion of the presentation of the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 11 December. From ‘Peace: Writings and Speeches of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1971’

 

"Circumstances, my office, and also, I am sure, the experiences of my youth, gave me a chance - first as Mayor of Berlin, then as Foreign Minister and as Federal Chancellor - to reconcile the idea of Germany with the idea of peace in the minds of large parts of the world. After all that had happened, that was no small matter, particularly since history has caused hatred to build up, but at the same time has shown that the Germans as much as anyone have a part to play in European peace.

"Late that June [1948] I accompanied [Ernst] Reuter [Mayor of Berlin] to the Harnack building in Dahlem. American administrators told us that it would be possible to supply the city by air. Reuter, sceptical rather than surprised, said, ‘We shall go our way. Do what you can. We shall do what we feel to be our duty.’ He had previously been assured by General Clay that our Allies would give what help they could - provided, it was intimated, that the Berliners endured all trials and stood by the Western powers. Reuter had replied: ‘General, there can be no question of where the Berliners stand. They will stand up for their freedom and be glad to accept any help they are offered."

"I came from a very humble background and had grown up in the labour movement. I was a democratic socialist and a Social Democrat, influenced in many ways by Lutheran Protestantism, although with a growing tendency to agnosticism. I was aware of the legacy of history but fascinated by the possibilities of the modern world."

"At a Party conference in Dortmund early in June 1966, I described my view of patriotism as one that included European and international responsibility: German policies would gain influence and weight if we played an active part in détente. Compared with peace, I said, one’s country was no longer the highest of all values. With all due respect for official policy, I recommended the modified and regulated coexistence of the two areas - I did not yet call the other one a state. I was aware that history is a dynamic process. Nothing in it is immutable."

"Norway had never known serfdom, and the ability to make decisions on his own fate was the breath of life to every individual, and every individual peasant in particular; patriarchalist ideologies were as alien to the Norwegians as concepts of historical necessity. I was impressed by the constitution of a democracy which the labour movement considered its natural home. It was clear that the rigorously conducted social struggles of those years did not question the internal constitution of the country, its democracy. Perhaps that was why an active crisis policy of creating jobs and assuring the farm labourers’ standard of living had a chance of success. There was no need of the American example here: the policy had been drawn up from an understanding of Scandinavian needs."

"Meanwhile, Bruno Kreisky and Olof Palme had persuaded me not to refuse the presidency of the Socialist International; they said I might be able to reinvigorate the ‘traditional club’ and overcome Eurocentrism. We met now and then in a friendly atmosphere to discuss world events, without the pressures of a time-limit or an agenda. The three of us had published a little book of letters and records of our conversations in 1975, writing about past experiences and outlining probable developments; the need for international co-operation that really deserved the name was one of the conclusions we reached. All three of us led large and influential parties, and we were friends who could discuss anything, and had power to make things happen. I was eventually elected President of the Socialist International at a congress in Geneva in the autumn of 1976."

"I expressed my solidarity with the peoples of Central America on many occasions - for instance, on an emotional visit to Managua in the autumn of 1984. I spent hours with eight of the comandantes - the ninth was away - and assured myself of their determination to achieve national renewal and their almost Andalusian readiness to face death. Summing up the situation, I said: ‘If those are all Marxist-Leninists, then I’m an ant-eater.’ Attempts to exert a moderating influence on the Government of the USA were unsuccessful. While I was in the area, the Salvadorian Opposition also tried to have me attempt mediation. Talks were held, but the spirit of the times did not yet favour peace."

From ‘Willy Brandt: My Life in Politics’

 

"The Socialist International cannot and does not want to do without the complexity and diversity of its member parties, being a result of long historical developments and of an expression of different objective conditions. Nor do we want to gloss over the subjective differences, the diverging opinions existing in various fields. There never was nor will there ever be a social democratic world executive.

This is a working group of sovereign parties based on a number of common fundamental convictions and - in some cases for many decades - with a bond of common feeling. It is not instructions nor unrealistic majority decisions that determine our cooperation, but ideas and moral impulses and not least the search for common solutions."

From a speech to the Geneva Congress, 1976, as newly-elected President

 

"The arms race is a gigantic waste of the anyhow scarce material and mental resources which are so urgently needed to build an international peace order. This waste aggravates the conflict between the fed and the hungry and thus is part of the great social issue of our time.

Every step, wherever taken, which is suitable to check this development without infringing upon external security must therefore find our unrestricted support. In view of the global character of these problems, I, as President of the Socialist International, call upon the governments of the world to participate, in addition to the limited regional conferences, within the framework of the United Nations and to contribute realistic and effective initiatives, for instance in the Geneva disarmament conference of the disarmament commission and the conference on the advancement of the humanitarian international law of war, but especially in the UN special conference on disarmament next year."

From "Remarks on Disarmament" submitted to the Bureau of the Socialist International in Madrid, 15-16 October 1977

 

"Socialists, democratic Socialists, have always seen themselves as protagonists of peace even though they often have had to suffer depressing defeats. Today we, like others, cannot afford to fail: the two world wars were political and human catastrophes of immense extent for the generations before us. Today, to repeat it, a large-scale war could jeopardise the existence of mankind."

From a speech to the SI Conference on Disarmament, Helsinki, April 1978

 

"In the past the Western industrial nations unfortunately have all too often let themselves be led into serving their short-range economic interests by cooperating with a thin upper level of society. This has worked major mischief. Whoever for years on end backs feudalistic systems and corrupt family clans - and by so doing takes on a part of the responsibility for the need and the misery of constantly widening circles of the population - has no cause to be surprised if the aspiring forces in the Third World look elsewhere for their models."

From "Effective Solidarity", Socialist Affairs, November/December 1979

 

"‘Current trends point to a sombre future for the world economy and international relations. A painful outlook for the poorer countries with no end to poverty and hunger; continuing world stagnation combined with inflation; international monetary disorder; mounting debts and deficits; protectionism; major tensions between countries competing for energy, food and raw materials; growing world population and more unemployment in North and South; increasing threats to the environment and through deforestation and desertification, overfishing and overgrazing, the pollution of air and water. And overshadowing everything the menacing arms race.’ These trends could not only continue, but even worsen. Nevertheless they are not inevitable.

The Report analyses the growing mutual interest in change that now exists between North and South, whether in removing the root causes of mass poverty in trade or commodity agreements, in oil and mineral exploration, or in facilitating the recycling of surplus funds. ‘We are convinced that there are gains for all in a new order of international economic relations.’ There is both a moral and a practical case for reforming the world economy and transferring resources to the benefit of developing countries. Human solidarity and compassion for the extremes of suffering in poor countries, and the hard-headed interests of the rich countries, point in very similar directions.

Surveying the fundamental problems of poverty, the Report insists that the poorest countries must receive special attention to help them to help themselves, and it calls for a major initiative to assist them with basic investments in economic infrastructure, which would cost at least $4 billion a year above current aid. Part of that would be for agriculture, whose total additional aid would be about $8 billion annually to step up food production in poor countries."

From a synopsis of the Report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues chaired by Willy Brandt (From Socialist Affairs, Issue 2 1980)

 

"We others must remember that there are not just democracies in Latin America but also military dictatorships which, together with financially powerful corporations from abroad, tend to regard entire states as their private domain. The true significance of the events in Nicaragua has apparently not yet been understood everywhere. Otherwise it is difficult to comprehend the sad developments taking place in Bolivia, Guatemala and El Salvador. All those in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and elsewhere willing to stand up and make sacrifices for democracy and freedom can continue to count on our sincere and sympathetic understanding as well as our willingness to provide active solidarity.

We appreciate what is at stake in Latin America. We shall never reconcile ourselves to the rule of cynicism and lawlessness. Nor shall we reconcile ourselves to unilateral imposition of influence. We seek no quarrel with Washington nor with the christian democrats in Europe. But be that as it may, we cannot abandon our support for the forces of freedom."

From a speech to the Madrid Congress, 1980

 

"In the worldwide family of democratic socialists we have lost a great friend, an untiring and most inspiring homme politique, and outstanding companion in the struggle to make peace safer, to broaden the areas where peoples’ social as well as individual rights could thrive, and to bring about some justice also for those millions of fellow human beings who do not have enough to eat in a world which, better organised, could feed them all."

On the occasion of the death of Olof Palme

 

"Back in 1864, among the aims of that small European club founded in London under the name of ‘International Workers Association’ was the struggle for a dignified life for the working people. The struggle for peace - against colonialism, warmongering and the arms race - filled the renewed International of 1889 with life. The colouring we give to both in our present International, a club that has grown much larger and truly international, is different as the world has changed. Still, at the heart of the matter the task remains unchanged; the aim still is the welfare of the working people (and those excluded from work), their liberation from degradation and exploitation. At the centre still is the nations’ right to self-determination, opposition against arrogant imperialism which uses people like pawns in a game of chess; where they are not masters of their own destiny but objects of paternalism and of outside forces."

From a speech to Lima Congress, June 1986

 

"Be it Africa, Asia, Latin America or anywhere else in the world, the SI is open to political cooperation, provided that we share roughly the same aims. And as I stated earlier, this certainly applies to that part of the world where grey uniformity now has the chance to be replaced by colourful pluralism."

From a speech to Stockholm Congress, June 1989

 

"The parties gathered together in our community are committed to their countries and their countries have a commitment to the world - to their own part of the world and to the whole world.The fact that we have expanded beyond Europe and have become a truly worldwide and thus also a diverse community, affords me - and all of us - special satisfaction. However, the number of members we have and the number of those wishing to become members are not values in themselves. They are an obligation."

From a message to the Berlin Congress, September 1992

 

 


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