[Sorry IAN readers, I can’t resist blabbing on a bit more today]

Paul Sweeney argues that a message for the left in Europe to carry should be, “the European Social Model is alive and well. When sustainable growth returns, it will be enhanced.” He then says, “It’s a simple message which would give hope to hundreds of millions in Europe.” Really? It is a simple message, sure enough. But will it give hope to hundreds of millions in Europe? And is it the right message for Europeans?

On the first point, whether it will give hope, maybe millions of Europeans are scanning their brains and the blogosphere for a message that will give them hope. And maybe the rousing call that ‘the European Social Model is alive and well’ (note: for it to be truly inspiring message, it really needs an exclamation mark at the end of it) will do it for them. But regardless of the second point, which I’ll come to in just a second, I doubt whether this really is good enough. After all, the European Social Model always left some people unemployed and never really tackled the inequality that neoliberals ended up building upon and deepening. Even if it did work for many, it was a version of capitalism that was never too far from leaning to the right. It was, moreover, and plainly, just a version of capitalism and one that still delivered crises. So will Sweeney’s message – ‘You have been scunnered by capitalism. The answer is more capitalism!’ – give Europeans more hope? Seems unlikely.

This connects on to the second point: whether it will or will not give Europeans hope, is it the right message for Europeans? I don’t think so and in this regard I’m inspired by a recent call from La Via Campesina, which in part says:

We, peasants, family farmers, landless peasants, indigenous peoples and migrants, men and women, decidedly oppose the commercialization of the earth, our territories, water, seeds, food, nature, and human life. We reiterate what was said at the People’s Summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia: “Humanity faces a grand dilemma: to continue the path of capitalism, predation, and death, or undertake the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.”

It’s the ‘humanity faces a grand dilemma’ part that I like. Listening to the commentary on Europe’s crisis, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the only other peoples on this planet are the bondholders and traders in markets in Asia and in New York. Now and again we might hear of somewhere else (Syria, if the news channels can be bothered; maybe Egypt or China and not much else), but by-and-large it’s as if Europe is the only place that matters. It’s easy to forget that the population of the Euro-zone countries is just 330m, or about equal to the population of Indonesia and Vietnam combined. Sure, in monetary terms, in raw buying power or in productive capacity, we’re giants, us Europeans; but in the notion that ‘humanity faces a grand dilemma’, what La Via Campesina do so nicely is help us swipe to the one side the oh-so-taken-for-granted European idea that all of our focus and attention should be on us, on our fate, and to hell with the rest of ‘em.

Unfortunately, Sweeney’s call and his imaginary – that is, his view of the world and how it operates, or even how it should operate – reproduces this Euro-centric take on global affairs. His message might well be the right one for Europeans in the short-term, in our own (‘screw the lot of yaz’) purported self-interest, but it’s far from the right message in the long-term. What we need from our union leadership, I believe, and especially from our union leadership, is precisely the sort of grand global vision that La Via Campesina, based on all the pragmatic experience of surviving on the margins politically and economically (see Annette Desmarais’ excellent work on the movement), set forth. Narrow Europeans-only visions aren’t what Europeans actually need. It’s a global world we live in and it’s global demand and indeed global demands that we need to address.

(I know, I know, easier said than done.)

Alistair Fraser

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