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Home Opinion Ideas & Debate The return to internationalism?

The return to internationalism: globalising social democracy

Internationalism once lay at the heart of the progressive movement, yet in recent years the idea appears to have been largely forgotten by many social democrats. Faced with the challenges of globalisation – such as labour mobility, immigration, industrial dislocation and international capital flows – social democratic parties have tended to see these as overwhelmingly negative developments which threaten the sustainability of the welfare state, the fight for social justice, and the electoral performance of the centre-left. Rather than seeking solutions through international solidarity and a globalist perspective, social democratic parties have often resorted to protectionism and a defence of national interests, viewing internationalist policies as deleterious to their electoral prospects.

Others, however, see this scepticism towards internationalism as symptomatic of a failure of ambition and an inward-looking perspective which is largely responsible for the troubles of the centre-left. They argue that now more than ever, the globalisation of capitalism requires a response of equivalent ambition and boldness from social democrats. This was the position taken by Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the WTO, at our most recent Progressive Governance Conference. According to Lamy, action at the state level is no longer sufficient, on its own, to achieve the objectives of social democrats: regulation of the market, social justice, and the creation of public goods. These require social democrats to look beyond short-term national interests and work together for an international ‘greater good.’ Only through such an outward-looking approach can effective responses to globalisation be offered and the long-term electoral decline of social democratic parties be reversed.

However, in practical terms the challenges involved in realising the internationalist agenda are daunting. Social democrats must confront the tensions and contradictions between delivering social justice domestically, and pursuing global justice. Progressives from around the world need to consider the nature of social democracy in their own countries and the potential for cooperation with social democrats internationally. None of this will be easy, especially in the current climate of heightened economic insecurity.

This series is envisioned as a response to the challenge laid down by Pascal Lamy. It is an opportunity either to take up Lamy’s challenge, or to question the merits of the internationalist agenda at the present juncture.



Progressive cosmopolitanism: A progressive critique
The case for progressive cosmopolitanism remains utopian and unpersuasive. Social democrats should continue to look to the nation state to ensure the protection of democracy, liberty and equality in the terrible storms ahead.
By Michael Lind

The globalisation of social democracy is the key to its future
Market capitalism has just experienced an upheaval that is unprecedented in its globality if not in magnitude. And social democracy remains muted, weakened on the continent which saw it emerge, in the 19th century, as a reaction to the excesses of that very same capitalism.
By Pascal Lamy

Social democratic internationalism beyond the comfort zone
The internationalist consensus amongst social democrats is broken. By understanding the inherent tensions between global governance, national self-determination and democracy, social democrats can find new legitimation for an internationalism coherent with national welfare solidarity.
By Monika Sie Dhian Ho & Rene Cuperus

The cosmopolitanism of the left – An answer to globalisation
The left needs to work hard to recreate an effective and convincing transnational political programme. A cosmopolitan social democracy can lead a new social front to tame and regulate the most disruptive forms of capitalism whilst preserving its dynamism.
By Daniele Archibugi

What future for cosmopolitanism?
The cosmopolitan ethos is in bad shape, yet transformational politics overwhelmingly depends on our ability to govern on many different levels.
By Olaf Cramme

Global security and global social democracy
In the twentieth century, it took world wars and gigantic upheavals to propel social democracy forward? Will it require similar shocks to produce change today?
By Martin Shaw

International social democracy on a one way street
The state is now being disembowelled, on the pretext of cutting fiscal deficits, at exactly the moment at which developmental states are needed.
By Barbara Harriss-White