Friday, September 16, 2005

The Third Way: no, not that one

A group from Belarus are using the old Blair/Clinton tag to activate society and form a coherent political opposition to Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime. Shame, then, that they have decided to call it the ‘Third Way’.

The group was launched in August 2004, and their web site claims to have had ten thousand visitors since. They join what is now a myriad of groups trying to organize a coherent opposition to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, which Condaleeza Rice and others have called, ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’.

This particular ‘Third Way’ says that they are against: violence, revolutions, centralized education and distribution, and, of course, dictatorships. They are for: equal rights for all, transparency in government, problem solving through negotiations and evolution of society.

None of which sounds particularly original, so how is this a ‘Third Way’?

The group says that: “We believe that it is not possible to succeed in transformation of society by simply reproducing the past experience of the country (the first way) or imitating the way of the development of other countries (the second way).

This particular ‘third way’ is not a set of political programs, but, “we prefer to consider and compare various models of state structure, scrutinize different aspects of society development, aspiring to find ways for the Belarusian state to develop to — the third way that will lead it to prosperity.”

We can only wish them the best of luck. The CPJ, a press freedom organization, thinks that the last elections in Belarus in 2004 were deeply flawed:

“President Aleksander Lukashenko strangled the country's independent and opposition media in the months before [the] October elections that returned his supporters to Parliament. The obedient state media flooded the capital, Minsk, and the countryside with pro-Lukashenko propaganda, vilifying opposition leaders and urging voters to support the president or face Western domination and political instability.”

The Lukashenko government has also been harassing the 300.000 Polish minority in Belarus, which he thinks are stooges of malevolent forces trying to wrestle the country from his greasy little hands. And he is right, of course.

Third Way to where?

So good luck to Belarus’ ‘Third Way’. But did they have to pick such a silly name?

The ‘Third Way’ has already been used many times as a way to define new political movements, and it has always failed to distinguish itself from first and second ways.

In Poland during the times of Solidarnosc, the third way was an attempt by some in the Union to find a way between capitalism and communism.

And Tony Blair set out his vision of a third way when he was dismantling the old Labour Party and forging New Labour.

The theoretical gurus of the ‘third way’, are sociologist, Anthony Giddens, and those working at the Demos think-tank. But getting them to actually define what this is, is another matter. Here’s an email in 1998 from Tony Blair to the NEXUS magazine.

“Politics is changing and I believe the left-of-centre has the opportunity, and a special responsibility, to develop the ideas that will shape the debates of the new century. Clear in our values, we must combine analytical insight into the way the world is changing, with genuine imagination about how to put our values into effect.”

Note that he is not actually saying what these ‘new values’ are.

At that time our Tony was very close to Bill Clinton. What does Bill think the third way is?

“We have called our approach “the Third Way”– with a government that is more active, more effective, less expensive; one that can bring us together and move us forward, not drive us apart and set us back.”

Er…right. Perhaps the American Third Way web site can help us discover what this actually is. It says:

“Third Way is engaging a broad range of leading experts to develop policy options that respond to the contemporary economic challenges facing the American middle class, as well as themes that communicate progressive economic values and priorities in ways that will resonate with middle class workers and their families.”

So maybe the ‘Third Way’ is not a set of values and ideology at all, but, like Belarus’ ‘Third Way’, an attempt to, “consider and compare various models of state structure, scrutinize different aspects of society development”?

What Clinton and Blair meant by this alternative way was actually keeping the economic transformations of Thatcher and Regan to keep the right happy, but add on a bit of touchy-feely stuff about ‘empowerment’, ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘accessibility’ for the get the liberals on side.

But in reality the ‘project’ never got much further than the think tanks. Ideologies such as the old socialism, etc, came from social movements in society. The problem for “Third Wayists’ - be they from the UK, US or Belarus - is that these ideas are not coming organically from society, but from university libraries - or in the case of Tony Blair, from a notepad on his knee while sitting in his bedroom.(where he re-wrote the Labour Party constitution back in the mid-nineties).

So, please Belarus – don’t go down the Third Way: it’s a way to nowhere.

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