This was originally published in New Ground 144, September — October, 2012.
by Bob Roman
The Socialist International (SI) met in Cape Town, South Africa, August 30 through September 1. This 24th Congress was the first to be held in Africa and the location seems to have attracted some attention and participation that it would not have had otherwise. The meeting was hosted by South Africa’s African National Congress. Over 400 people, representing more than 100 political parties and organizations, participated.
DSA is somewhat incongruously a full member of the SI; the SI is an organization of political parties and DSA is not a political party. DSA was represented at this Congress by Maria Svart, Skip Roberts, Gerry Hudson, and Mark Levinson: a heavily SEIU delegation and, therefore, maybe taken somewhat more seriously than many past DSA delegations. (“There goes the ghost of Michael Harrington.”) Possibly because it is an election year, the National Democratic Institute (an associated organization) was not represented, but then, not many other associated organizations were represented either.
While George Papandreou was re-elected President, there actually was a contested leadership election. Incumbent Secretary General Luis Ayala (Chile) was opposed by Mona Sahlin from Sweden. Ayala was re-elected.
The SI Congress adopted three resolutions.
“The Struggle for Rights and Freedoms” was an examination of the current upsurge in demands for democratic rights. In principle, there’s nothing difficult for the SI about it except that in far too many cases (the former member parties from Egypt and Tunisia, for example) SI parties have been an embarrassing part of the problem.
One might suppose “The Need to Secure Multilateralism” resolution would be aimed at the United States. But there are far too many other countries also willing to take matters into their own hands, and the resolution wisely recognizes this. Given the SI’s inability to enforce anything, it does end up having a well-meaning, hand-wringing affect to it. For example:
“With regard to Syria, the SI is following with deep concern the massacres that take place on a daily basis, as the Assad regime refuses to accept that change is inevitable. We stand firmly on the side of the Syrian people in their fight for democracy and human rights and condemn the brutal actions of the regime. We call for all sides to end hostilities and enter into negotiations without any preconditions. We are not in favour of foreign military intervention, which can lead to further human suffering and instability in the whole region. We strongly support a Syrian-led process of transition to democracy.”
One should not be totally dismissive of this, however, as the SI seems to serve as a diplomatic back channel for “progressive” elements in governments.
The economics resolution calls for a progressive fiscal policy:
“a bank levy or increased income tax on high earners, redistributing wealth from the top to the bottom; the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax; a new global reserves system that could provide developing countries with access to financing, giving them purchasing power and helping to drive demand by using resources that would otherwise be idle; and by establishing new financial institutions such as development banks and green banks that could create new credit mechanisms, enabling credit to flow once more and provide more liquidity to ensure the resources meet public needs.”
The resolution goes on to condemn austerity as a solution to the fiscal crisis and calls for
“a bold approach based on a new culture of solidarity, solidarity that works separately and simultaneously at different levels: economic, political and social. Otherwise, any government that acts alone risks being crushed by markets and ratings agencies. Common action and creative initiatives are needed to bring about a paradigm shift from the failed austerity policies; that is the only way to a sustained recovery.”
Previous meetings suggest that the SI is evolving in ways that may or may not be encouraging, and the accounts of this meeting suggest the process is slowly ongoing. For more details about the 24th Congress, see http://www.socialistinternational.org .
Post Script: I think this was the last SI meeting at which DSA was represented. The 2017 DSA National Convention voted to terminate DSA’s membership in the organization. In my humble opinion it was a brainlessly symbolic decision, but it does have the advantage of saving several thousand dollars in dues. Since DSA hasn’t had an international political agenda that I know of, this is money wisely not spent.