This month marks 75 years since the Bretton Woods conference that designed the post-war international financial system.
Today the institutions designed at Bretton Woods – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – face a crisis of legitimacy.
Our international system has concentrated power in the hands of an international elite. Individuals, communities, and even nation states have been made increasingly powerless.
It isn’t working for the Western world, where stagnant wages have helped feed the rise of the racist right. And it isn’t working for the developing world, whose wealth is plundered by multinational corporations or stashed in Western banks.
It isn’t just the IMF and World Bank. The World Trade Organisation faces its own problems, including the USA’s blocking of appointments to its appellate body.
And if we look at the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, it will be the 25th Conference of the Parties meeting this year: can anyone claim progress on climate change has been sufficient since then, as the COP process still seeks a robust enforcement mechanism to review countries’ pledges, risking reaching three degrees of warming by 2100?
I spoke at Labour Party conference last year about how, just as at Bretton Woods in 1944, there is an urgent need to work out if the current international institutions can cope with today’s threats of climate change, rampant global inequality and escalating trade disputes between major economies.
The starting point isn’t a promising one.
Intertwined with the challenge of climate change is the rise of the power of multinational corporations, including many of the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases.
But our international order has failed to rise to the challenge of regulating and restraining the force of transnational corporations.
Often the work of the IMF, the World Bank, and others has diminished people power – contributing to a loss of political agency – especially in the Global South.
We are witnessing the latest wielding of that power, with the grotesque ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that the IMF and World Bank will be led by a European and an American producing the bizarre spectacle of George Osborne, architect of UK austerity, sticking his hand up to be the next Managing Director of the IMF.
And there are the structural adjustment policies which have forced privatisation, deregulation, and fiscal consolidation. The policies that led Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania, to ask: “When did the IMF become an International Ministry of Finance?”
So I’ve convened this weekend’s International Social Forum as our contribution to discussing what needs to change.
Our speakers, including Dilma Rousseff, Jayati Ghosh, Asad Rehman, Daniela Gabor, Ann Pettifor, Rafeef Ziadah and Richard Kozul-Wright, will discuss the climate emergency, international finance, the displacement of people and the threat of trade wars, before we break out into workshops to hear from our hundreds of participants.
The International Social Forum will kickstart a year of discussions about the programme of reform which is needed, leading to suggestions for the kind of international cooperation that we want to see and which Labour will commit to when in government.
Starting with what we in the Labour Party can do ourselves, our frontbench spokespeople have sketched out a direction of travel.
I have said that as part of our domestic Green Industrial Revolution, technologies developed in the UK for the climate transition must be made available free or cheap to the Global South.
We are consulting with tax experts on how in government we might ensure fair taxation of multinationals, so that multinationals are taxed in a way that reflects where economic activity takes place and value is created.
My friend and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has committed to supporting efforts to create a legally binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, going beyond existing voluntary principles.
I have said, with Dan Carden, our Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, we will introduce an Overseas Loan Transparency Act, requiring loans to foreign governments to be registered if they are to be enforced in UK courts.
But we know that getting to the heart of the problem will need real international cooperation.
One of our advisors, Joseph Stiglitz, wrote a report in 2009 on reforming the international monetary and financial system, calling for the creation of a Global Economic Coordination Council at the level of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, replacing the unrepresentative G20.
Those of us who aspire to a different order will need to reshape our international settlement in a less top-down way than what we have seen before.
Those who push back against the current form of neoliberal globalisation are sometimes painted as reactionary nationalists.
The implication is that there can be only two sides: defenders of existing right-wing globalisation and xenophobic nationalists.
But we have to reject this. I believe and assert that “Another Internationalism is Possible.”
We need, in the words of Angela Davis, “an internationalist framework within which the ongoing work to dismantle structures of racism, heteropatriarchy, and economic injustice … can become more enduring and more meaningful.”
An internationalism that sees the world as it is, and sets out unflinchingly to change it. A socialist internationalism.
At the 1955 Bandung Conference, a key moment in the history of decolonisation, the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru said: “We are thinking and acting in terms of a past age.”
Those words ring true today.
We are still thinking and acting as if we have not seen the neoliberal destruction of economies and societies that has occurred in the last 40 years, or as if we haven’t just felt the hottest June ever on record.
We need, in Nehru’s words, to look “at the world as it is today.”
That is the task for all of us this weekend and throughout the forthcoming period.