On the way to Brutopia? The state of the Netherlands, Europe and the world at the beginning of the 21st Century

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Spectre enjoys the support of political parties in Sweden, the United States and the Netherlands. The Dutch Socialist PartyDutch Socialist Party, English Language Site is a radical left party which has five MPs in the national parliament in The Hague and 1 Euro-MP. It formerly published our paper edition, and continues to support us in all kinds of ways. We think that the SP has found a way to make genuinely radical socialism attractive and effective in the here and now. Read the party's programme and see if you agree.



The last quarter of the 20th Century has seen dramatic changes throughout the world. The struggle between capitalism and communism, which dominated most of the century, has almost disappeared. Communism, that from 1917 developed as an actual political-economic system and by 1950 ruled over a third of the world's people, has suffered a worldwide collapse under the weight of its lack of democracy, of rigidity, dirigisme and corruption. Capitalism, which halfway through the century, after two world wars, appeared to be in terminal decline, succeeded in repairing itself and returned in the last 25 years with a remarkable dynamic. The world was flooded with neoliberalism, the new belief in the blessings of capitalism and the free market. The renewed worldwide hegemony of capitalism as the economic basis of society, is invoking new forms of opposition and sharpening those which already existed. At the beginning of the 21st Century it is time to consider the consequences of these developments in the Netherlands, Europe and the world.






A neoliberal oil slick

According to neoliberal ideology social life and the regulation of society should, as far as possible, be left to free market forces. In order to allow this free market to do its work as well as possible, restrictive laws and rules (protecting people, the environment or society) must be scrapped and the tax burden lightened. State authority should be limited to a number of core tasks, such as the preservation of public order, justice and the running of an army. From the United States and Great Britain neoliberalism has spread like an oil slick over the worl. The Netherlands, where this vision of society has become dominant, is no exception.







The Netherlands and neoliberalism

In 1994 the Netherlands elected, for the first time since the 1970s, a social democratic (Labour) prime minister. But the ambitions of Wim Kok in no way resemble those of his predecessor of that decade, Joop den Uyl. In the Netherlands, as elsewhere, liberalisation, privatisation and market-working have in the meantime become the new mantra. Changes which under the rule of Christian Democrat Ruud Lubbers (who formed governments first in coalition with right wing liberals, the VVD, and later with the Labour Party) were tentatively under way, were taken further, and with greater energy, by the so-called Purple Coalition of Labour, VVD and left liberals D66. The social security system is being rapidly broken up and privatised. Industries formerly under state control, such as the railway, local public transport, postal services and the energy sector have been or are being privatised. In every area of society, from home care to theatre and from education to the police we hear demands for privatisation from a business sector that cares only for profit. Questions such as "how many have you sold?" and "what do the markets think?" are more important than "how does this contribute to the quality of life and to personal development?" In the supposed interests of the country's international competitiveness we have had years of wage moderation for lower- and middle-income groups. At the same time, and with the same excuse, there has been an enormous increase in incomes for the richest. In the last ten years of the 20th Century the number of millionaires quadrupled, reaching 200,000 in 1999. While business profits grew hugely, taxes on corporations were lowered. Never before has there been more money sloshing around the stock exchange the favourite child of the neoliberal family.







A worldwide, uninhibited capitalism

On the global level the changes wrought y neoliberalism have been even more impressive. The World Trade Organisation has brought about an unprecedented liberalisation of international trade. This has gradually made it virtually impossible for countries to protect themselves against unwanted products (those, for example, produced under unacceptable working conditions, or which are environmentally damaging, or which damage the local economy). International investors profit from the deregulation of capital movements. Thanks to computers and telecommunications technology enormous amounts of money flash around the world, continually seeking the highest returns. The upshot has been a number of major regional crises, such as those in Mexico, South East Asia and South America. Even if damage to the world economy as a whole has been contained, consequences locally have been severe: falling wages, mass unemployment and ever fewer funds for public services.



From welfare state to "polder model"

In the Netherlands the welfare state, constructed after the Second World War, is being demolished piece by piece. Income differentials are growing, while public provisions such as the social security system, social housing, education, public transport and health care are cut. Under the "polder model" (a system which sees employers, trade unions and government cooperating harmoniously and conflicts are avoided) contributed to the wellbeing of many groups. Yet at the same time it allowed the social dike to be breached and, at the close of the Twentieth Century, structural poverty to return. The rapid and profound liberalisation of the economy, the thorough opening up to foreign capital and the extensive transfer to the market of activities previously under public control has led to the undermining of democracy and a strengthening of the power of employers. The welfare state is being converted into a threadbare, neoliberal rump state. The legitimate democratic authorities exercise decreasing control over important sectors whilst the unelectedand uncontrollable "market" becomes increasingly dominant. From a cultural point of view, also, society is being impoverished. Commercial considerations oust those of taste and the single-minded pursuit of individual profit strikes at important values and standards. At a time when the dutch population is higher than ever, more and more of our people live in conditions of exclusion and isolation. People who, for whatever reason, are insufficiently productive, soon see the disadvantages of the Americanisation of our society.



Worldwide division

Just as in the Netherlands, throughout Europe the contradictions resulting from these processes grow ever sharper. Western Europe forms the largest united free market in the world. Within its borders enormous wealth is created, but at the same time social divisions grow ever more bitter. Eastern and Central Europe fall prey to disintegration, social inequality and burgeoning poverty for most of the population while a minority accumulates exorbitant wealth. In the countries which now make up the European Union, where since the beginning of the 20th Century democracy within the nation state has developed, this same democracy is now being driven down. Gradually major aspects of national sovereignty are being handed over to an undemocratic executive layer, in which big countries and established economic interests set the tone. The European Parliament is powerless to fill a democratic deficit gap brought about by the exclusion of national parliaments. The Council of Ministers' private agenda offers no space for participation or democratic control. Across the world, the gap between poor and rich is growing. Large areas of the world, including almost the whole of the African continent, appear to have been simply written off. According to the United Nations, more than a billion of the world's six billion inhabitants live in extreme poverty. Two out of ten children are undernourished. The contradictions between rich and poor, between pleny and want, between the powerful and the powerless, are proportionally greater than ever before. These contradictions are together the principal cause of war, civil war and the worldwide stream of refugees.



The "free" market makes people unfree

The much-lauded free market often appears successful in the short term, but in every respect fails to deal adequately with the long term. The virtually complete freedom enjoyed by capitalist enterprises is leading to a situation in which millions of people throughout the world must live out their lives in unfree-dom, exploited, oppressed, underfed, underdeveloped. Huge moral questions concerning the quality of life, respect for animals, the malleability of genetic material, to name just a few, are, under the free market, placed in the hands of those who know no morality. The same goes for the increasingly urgent problems of the destruction of nature, of environmental pollution, soil exhaustion and waste of raw materials. All of these demand much more careful consideration than the narrowly economic approach to which the market is limited. The effective tackling of these problems calls for a broader approach, one in which the measuring stick is the wellbeing of the whole of humanity.



On the way to Brutopia


The sustained economic growth of the international economy during the 1990s has given the advocates of neoliberalism a triumphal impression. The belief that a free market will bring the best possible world finds everywhere adherents and has embedded itself, moreover, in the thought of formerly social democratic parties, which now accept the existing capitalist order as the only one possible and try, therefore, to tie together the "social" and the "liberal". Under the collective name "Third Way" they are transforming themselves into "social-liberal" parties and claim that the free market, provided that it is accompanied by their rule, can leave the community with a responsible social base. But is this claim justified? Is a maningful, fundamental critique of capitalism no longer possible? Is the present world order the only one possible and must we simply accept the bad with the good? We think not. And a growing group of people agrees with us, people who feel themselves less and less at home in this world that supporters of the free market have conjured up. Anyone who takes a critical look at the condition of society in the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world can see that capitalism, lacking values and restraints, is ill-equipped to deliver welfare and wellbeing to everyone. Anyone who listens closely will be struck by the fact that the neoliberal answers to the major problems of our time are inadequate, one-sided and take no account of the relationships between things. This is precisely why it is useful, necessary and challenging to consider feasible alternatives to this valueless and unrestrained capitalist "Brutopia". Ever more market, ever less democracy; ever more commercialisation, ever less culture; ever more glaring contradictions in society, ever weaker feelings of community and kindred spirit: things could go on like this, but they need not. Our future is the result of the political, economic and social choices which we make. If we want change, we cannot wait patiently for an auspicious moment to arrive. Humanity is not only the product of history, but also makes it we make our future!



The Whole of Humanity: Core Vision, Tasks and Goals of the Socialist Party

Our lives are to an important degree determined by the pressure to survive. We are all individuals who are responsible for our own actions, and we all want to lead our lives in complete freedom. Yet it is equally true that none of us can survive alone, still less lead a meaningful life. We have a constant need for each other, because we are also social beings. Our development is above all the product of cooperation between people. On the basis of this conviction the Socialist Party has formulated our corevision, our tasks and our alternatives for the future.



The core of socialism

As the Socialist Party our ideas and activities are guided by three central concepts: human dignity, equality and solidarity. It is these values that through centuries of experience have emerged as elements essential to human civilisation and progress. In the future these values will continue to be fundamental to any society which wishes to be seen as (still) civilised and which wants to continue to develop. By means of a rational and concrete analysis of capitalism and its effects on people and society we create the conditions under which we can make our struggle for a better world effective. Our moral indignation over all the missed chances to create such a world gives us the engagement, the energy and the determination which this struggle demands. Our rational analysis gives us the insight, gives direction to our alternatives, and the strategy and tactics we need if we are to succeed. Human dignity, equality and solidarity together with our rational analysis of the world form the core of socialism, the yardstick by which we judge developments and alternatives. Positive experiences we attempt to build upon, the negative to learn from so that we can prevent or resist a recurrence. Because of this our general starting point is also useful in our daily political practice, and there is a clear and verifiable link between our general vision and our specific opinions and proposals.



Human dignity

By human dignity we mean the respect of one person for another, the right freely to participate in decisions affecting the organisation of society, a secure existence for everyone, and a fair chance for every person to pursue, in full respect for others and for all that lives, his or her personal happiness, with the corollary that everyone is responsible for his or her own thoughts and actions.



Equality

A civilised society demands the fundamental recognition that all people are of equa worth, none more than another. To treat everyone equally demands broad tolerance throughout society and the absence of every form of discrimination and neglect.



Solidarity

If we insist that everyone is of equal value, we at the same time recognise that not everyone is equal in every sense of the word, or in potential. Because of this we must constantly organise solidarity between people, helping and caring for each other where necessary and giving everyone a real chance to lead a fulfilling life.



The principal tasks of the Socialist Party

Our fundamental belief in human dignity, equality and solidarity set us against a society which throughout the world is becoming dominated by a mentality of "every man for himself" and where "might makes right" wins out over the principal of equal opportunities for all. We are determined to break the tightening grip of "capital" over society. We refuse to hand society's management over to the free play of market forces. We do not accept that capitalist economic laws determine the margins within which politics can operate. For these reasons we are striving to break the current neoliberal trend. This means working inside and outside parliament to improve the representation of the people and our contacts with the population as a whole. These are the principal tasks of the Socialist Party: - the formulating of a fundamental critique of the capitalist world order - the development and carrying forward of a struggle for the realisation of short- and long-term alternatives - dialogue and cooperation with everyone who is prepared to think about and act for a better world



Alternatives to "Brutopia"

Despite the explosive increase in knowledge and resources the twentieth century has not lead us to a "Utopia". Society has instead developed increasingly in the direction of a "Brutopia", a brutal jungle where the right of the strongest prevails. This development, of such a capitalist ideal stae * ideal, that is, for the rich and powerful * we are determined to resist with all means at our disposal, to struggle, in the interests of all, for a better society in the twenty-first century. Below we set out, under ten headings, our ideas for this better world.



A democratic society

To guarantee human dignity, equality and solidarity will demand a profound democratisation of society. Because of the determining influence of the economy over the quality of life democratic control over the economy is of the greatest importance. Democratic control must take precedence over any control linked to economic power or private wealth. This in turn demands systematic extension of the control exercised by democratically elected bodies over the economy, as well as a structural increase in the control exercised by workers over the firms in which they are employed. The democratic principle "one person one vote" is fairer and more reasonable than the capitalist principle "one share one vote". A democratised society is the best guarantee of such essentials as the defence of social progress and justice, health, nature and the environment. Essential services, public transport and infrastructure belong in the hands of the public authorities. Basic provisions such as education and health care should come under the direct supervision of the government. Only the government can guarantee equal access of everyone to these services and only the government can take decisions which take into account the broader picture and the longer term. Democracy consists not only of rights, but of duties. The most important of these is the duty to be involved. Citizens should be expected to participate in elections and that they follow the activities of their elected representatives, and when necessary make their views known. For democracy to function correctly, decision-making must be transparent and the distance between decision-maker and citizen made as small as possible. Citizens must have more nfluence over their living and working conditions. This would increase opportunities for active participation in decision-making procedures and reduce the risk of disaffection and political apathy. Parliamentary democracy, based on equitable representation, is the most important means through which the popular will is expressed and put into practice. Defence and strengthening of parliamentary democracy is thus of paramount importance. The handing over of sovereign powers to undemocratic supernational institutions, such as the European Union, leads to serious and unacceptable erosion of democracy. An elected head of state, elected Queen's Commissioners and elected mayors would be elements of the broadening and deepening of democracy, as would consultative and corrective referenda and popular initiatives on important issues. Society has a duty to guarantee and further the human rights of each individual, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Treaty on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties. Every form of discrimination must be combated with vigour.



A society based on cooperation

Work is part of life, and everyone has a right to work. At the same time we do not live to work we work to live. For this reason we are against the 24-hour economy and ever increasing flexibilisation of work in the interests of profit maximalisation, just as we are for the sharing of available work. Disabled people have as much right as others to work, a goal which could be achieved by the opening of suitable workplaces by the public and private sector. Instead of continually adapting people to work, work should be made more suitable for people. The state should force enterprises to contribute to the realisation of full employment. In this way waste of labour power and the throwing of people on to the scrapheap would be prevented. As a corollary, every citizen should be expected to contribute to the best of his or her ability, to the optimal functioning of te society. This could be through paid work, but also through provision of care to children or adults in need of care, or through voluntary work. Pensioners should be given the opportunity, should they wish it, to put their knowledge and skills at society's disposal, either as a paid worker or respected volunteer; the right to a care-free old age must, however, also be guaranteed.



A society of fair shares

Only when everyone has the chance of wellbeing can a sustainable improvement in the quality of life be achieved. Net incomes should for this reason be subject not only to a legal minimum, but to a legal maximum. Unlimited incomes serve no reasonable interest and leads to a waste of resoiurces that would be better used for social purposes. The government must have sufficient funds to maintain such basic services as education, public transport and health care at a high level of quality. Anyone unable to do paid work, or who is exempt from such work, should have a right to a guaranteed secure existence, sufficient to make possible full participation in society. The tax system must contribute to a redistribution of wealth, with those who can afford it carrying the heaviest burden. This demands a progressive system of tax on incomes, property, profit and inheritance. Through international treaties the worldwide race to find the cheapest labour and the most "favourable" tax rates must be brought to an end.



A healthy society

Everyone should have an equal right to protection of their health and to high quality health care. This is both a matter of civilised values and, moreover, an investment in the future. Everyone should therefore have free access to necessary health care, with the state taking responsibility for its financing. Because health depends so heavily on living and working conditions, on upbringing, education and nutrition, care must be taken to ensure that everyone, notwithstanding his or her social circumstances, has the chance to develop healthil. The causes of socio-economic health differentials must be vigorously addressed. Giving precedence to some citizens at the expense of others on non-medical grounds is unacceptable. Prevention is better than cure. For these reasons prevention and early identification of situations which pose a threat to health should play a major role in health care. Information and surveillance in relation to food and the environment and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle are of great importance. It should be possible for everyone to take part in sports. Instead of a one-sided emphasis on top performers, more attention should be given to the more important matter of broad availability of sport and the contribution this can make to individuals and society. Human dignity can be affected by unbearable and hopeless suffering, putting both patient and doctor in an extremely difficult situation. Euthanasia is, in the last stages of terminal illness, permissible under very strict conditions. As a society we must do everything in our power to improve, to the highest level possible, the quality of life of people who become dependent on our care. In this way euthanasia can be prevented from becoming an escape route, rather than a reaction to an extreme situation.



A sustainable society

People do not live only with other people, but with nature. Respect for all that lives is a hallmark of civilisation and a healthy intellect. Society must find a sustainable balance between the social importance of an activity and its consequences for nature and the environment, a balance which should be determined and maintained by democratic vigilance. Activities which threaten human life or wellbeing either now or in the future must be prevented. Unbridled growth of production and the consumer society lead to unacceptable damage to nature and environment. The government must take care that production of goods and services is not carried out at the expense of the environment. The general interest must here tke precedence over that of individuals. The state should, where necessary, take action against enterprises and individuals. Farmers must have the chance to farm in a responsible manner which respects humanity and the environment. Organic agriculture should be encouraged. The interests of animals should be given more attention. The damage done to animal welfare in the biotechnology industry must be ended. Patents on life forms must be abolished. The same goes for genetic manipulation, except in cases where it can be guaranteed that no lasting damage may be done. The exploitation of raw materials and nature, as much in our own country as elsewhere, must be seen in relation to its effect on people, nature and environment. Instead of a single-minded emphasis on short-term gains priority should be given to sustainability. Raw materials and products must be where possible recycled. Economic transactions should be conducted in such a way as to be economically responsible.



An integrated society

A society which functions well must give attention to integration and harmony. Integration of immigrant and indigenous inhabitants should be encouraged on every level. Living, working, recreation and nature should not be in conflict but, on the contrary, as attuned to each other. This demands a well thought-out use of available space and adequate possibilities to determine the use of space in a democratic fashion. Land must be possessed by the community where necessary and land speculation forbidden. Integration must also be a starting point and priority of housing policy. The contrast between groups of residents who are confronted with an accumulation of problems such as unattended repairs and neglected public space on the one hand, and those who have everything they could wish for close by on the other, must disappear. The formation of ghettos * including those of the rich * and segregation are unacceptable, partly because they place people, in particular children, in a disadvanaged situation. Everyone must have the right to affordable and good quality housing in pleasant surroundings. That would require, amongst other things, a legally binding reasonable relationship between income and housing costs, the encouragement of the building of social housing and a fairer sharing out of scarce space for residential, work and leisure. The starting point must be that space is something more than a commodity, and that community needs come before financial interests. Speculation in housing should not be permitted. Thoroughgoing strengthening of the influence of democratically elected bodies over what happens in relation to land and housing is necessary in order to guarantee the right of everyone to housing. Society should be able to offer everyone the chance to travel around by means of different forms of public transport which are cheap, fast and comfortable. In every decision concerning the use of available space in our country the need structurally to limit the use of private transport must be taken into account. The favouring of environmentally unfriendly air transport must be ended. The most environmentally friendly forms of transport of people and goods should be encouraged.



A safe society

Everyone is in equal degree entitled to protection of his or her person, rights and property. In order to guarantee such protection, the one-sided emphasis on more repressive measures, stronger punishments and enlargement of the police force must give way to a broader approach, with especial attention to the victims of criminality and social insecurity. Police and courts have, amongst others, the important task of tackling criminals and preserving public order and safety. Society should give them the means to do so. However, society must also above all set itself the goal, as far as is possible, of preventing criminality. Abuse of power and opportunities by people in leading positions in society must be vigorously tackled. It must also be recognised that people in lare measure derive their identity from their social status. When they have no status and no prospect of improving this, it sometimes takes very little to set them on a criminal course. Society must therefore pay more attention to the soci0-economic background of much criminality as well as to the greater insecurity of economically backward neighbourhoods. Legislation and the administration of justice should extend equal rights to, and impose equal duties upon, everyone and everyone must be guaranteed equal access to justice and legal aid. Every kind of class justice is unacceptable.



A learning society

The provision of good and available education for everyone is one of the most important investments we can make in our society. It is for this reason that it should be carried out by the state. In this way we can prevent an intolerable division in education between a luxurious private sector for the well-to-do and an impoverished public sector catering for people with less money. Financial barriers which limit the availability of education must go. Education must in principle be free, paid for out of the general resources of the state. Good and universally available education is essential to the development of each individual and society as a whole. Education policy should be based on the vision of humanity as a social being and not one which must be modelled as quickly as possible according to the demands of the means of production. Instead of the narrowing of outlook now so often evident, education should seek to bring about a widening of vision. Philosophy should be included in the curriculum of every school. Children have the right to be children and the right to play. Children should be brought up to be able, critical individuals capable of discovering how things fit together. They should be made familiar with art, culture and science, and learn to value and respect their fellow human beings and all that lives. As well as education and training aimed at preparing them for wor, all should have the opportunity to pursue continuing education in order to broaden and deepen their knowledge and understanding. The independence of science is vital to the development of society. Privatisation and commercialisation of education and research should therefore be resisted.



A Creative Society

Society as a whole should be the guardian of our cultural heritage in the broadest sense of the phrase, encouraging both active and passive participation in art and culture and giving people the chance to discover new, unexpected things. Art and culture offer not only opportunities for relaxation, they also give people the possibility of developing their own creativity and that of others. Such a creative process is vital to a society which wishes constantly to renew itself. For these reasons, commercialisation of art and culture must be resisted. The pure commodification of art and culture erects undesirable financial barriers which exclude sections of the population. It leads, furthermore, to an impoverishment and a flattening-out of what is available. The right to free expression of opinion and free access to the media, culture and information (including the Internet) should be guaranteed. Access to libraries, museums and galleries should be free. The government should ensure the continuation of a strong public broadcasting service, within which diversity is guaranteed. Undesirable concentrations of power and the abuse of power in the provision of information must be resisted. New media regulations are needed, especially in order to protect children from commercial exploitation and undesirable exposure to violent or harmful images.



One Society

On the international level the Netherlands should encourage recognition of the fundamental principles of human dignity, equality and solidarity, engaging in the struggle against worldwide social inequality, poverty, underdevelopment, war and other forms of violence. Only then will all the world's ctizens be given the prospect of a life worthy of human beings. Combating poverty and a better sharing out of prosperity are also needed if we are to tackle the threat of overpopulation. Radical reorganisation of the enormous Third World debt is also necessary. The world economy should be fundamentally reformed so that products from developing countries are paid for at a fair price. International organisations (such as the powerful World Trade Organisation) must no longer see free trade as the highest good; in its place should be the goal of development for all countries and their inhabitants. The power of corporations operating on the international level and international financial institutions must, through agreements within international organisations and treaties between national authorities, be reduced in favour of that of bodies under democratic control. A stringent regulation of international capital movements is needed, as is a tax on all profits derived from such movements. A better worldwide sharing out of prosperity would further the opportunity for everyone to lead a fulfilling life and put an end to many regional conflicts, thereby ending also the disruptive flow of refugees and giving their countries the chance to carry out desirable structural reforms. Refugee relief is the responsibility of all civilised people acting in international solidarity. Our country should play a full and enthusiastic role in this. International agreements should be drawn up with the aim of greatly reducing armaments. In international actions and cooperation with other countries states should respect each others sovereignty. They should also respect the human rights of their own populations. Dutch foreign policy must be directed towards mutually advantageous cooperation and the protection and furthering of human rights, and against political, economic and military domination and exploitation by one country or alliance over another. Our army's duties should be limited to the defence of the natinal territory, and peacekeeping. Membership of NATO is therefore unnecessary. NATO should be abolished as soon as feasible, and it would be a good thing were the Netherlands to set a good example by leaving. International security must be based on international treaties under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. The UN should itself be democratised. Domination of poor countries by rich must end. In a world where there is ever-increasing international interaction and interdependence, cooperation in more and more areas is needed, including cooperation within international institutions. In making decisions regarding the establishment, enlargement, restructuring or abolition of these institutions the following criteria should be applied: the citizens should find the cooperation transparent; the consequences for popular involvement of increased scale should be taken into account; cooperation should not lead to erosion of national democracy; and cooperation must contribute to a better sharing out of prosperity and wellbeing and to protection of human rights.

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