The Socialist International: What Is It Good For?

David LizoainOver the course of Arab Spring, the Socialist International (SI) hastily removed first the RCD (the party of Ben Ali in Tunisia) and then New Democracy (the party of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt) from its ranks. The slow response in North Africa typified the glacial pace of the organization.

When it comes to being unable to react, the case of the SI in Latin America is probably even more startling. It also serves as a warning for Europe, especially to Spanish-speakers.

Latin America has never seen as many left-wing governments as we have seen in recent years. There’s a marked tendency in Europe to distinguish between the good left (Brazil, Chile, Uruguay) and the bad left (Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela) that is not exactly representative of Latin American realities. Just witness Lula praising Chavez as the greatest Venezuelan president over the past 100 years.

What left-wing governments across Latin America share is that they have all tend to have arisen on the back of popular struggles against the neoliberal structural adjustments that followed in the wake of the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s. The political trajectory of each country is different, but the direction is similar. This more creative and more successful emergent left, starting with Brazil’s PT, is not represented in the SI.

Who is represented? In Mexico, there is the PRI, a party of massacre, corruption, and neoliberal structural adjustment.[1] In Venezuela, the SI is represented by Acción Democrática, a party which followed up on a programme of IMF structural adjustment with a huge massacre. In Bolivia, the MIR supported Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada whose neoliberal government was toppled after it carried out a massacre.[2]

Structural adjustment, by undermining public services, weakening organized labour, and lowering wages, plunges huge segments of the middle class into poverty and casts countries down in the rankings of human development. When this takes place, social democratic parties run the risk of serving a decorative political function[3]; they are not particularly useful if main task of the left is to bring an end to austerity and construct an alternative. In developing countries, social democracy is rarely strong. And the crisis is turning the countries of the Mediterranean periphery back into developing nations.

The shared fate of the SI’s social democratic member parties who carried out these structural adjustments was oblivion. What happened in Latin America should serve as a warning to the social democratic parties of the south of Europe. Meanwhile, the parties of the north of Europe should contemplate if they are prepared to have phantom allies in the PES as well as in the SI.

[1] The PRD is also represented and is a more reasonable ideological fit.

[2] The case of APRA in Peru and the Colombian Liberal party also merit consideration.

[3] In one variant, the parties can become the main defenders of the rule of law and constitutional guarantees; great if you are exiting a dictatorship, but terrible if you are burdened with debt agreements that are strangling the economy or trapped in the vise of the Euro.


  1. Peter Davis says

    Yes, there are problems with the SI, but what we need are constructive suggestions for reform so that what comes out of this is a credible alternative internationial organisation with political and organisational coherence to match the equivalent on the conservative side in politics.

  2. Random Passer-by says

    The Socialist International is slowly dying. Crucial possible members of the organisation just aren’t being signed up. Why are the Democratic Parties of Italy and Japan on board?