The body is bulkier; the once cherubic face deeply etched with the lines of battles won and lost. But the political acumen and compassion are as evident as in the days when Willy Brandt risked his reputation to set the two Germanys on the road to reconciliation. Although, ironically, it was an East German spy scandal that brought about his downfall as West German chancellor in 1974, Brandt, now 64, is still close to the top. Fie is chairman of the world's largest democratic socialist party, the West German SPD and, his supporters hope, will lead the left’s challenge in elections for the European Community’s first democratically chosen parliament next year.
This week he is in Canada, presiding over a congress of the Socialist International (the world grouping of democratic socialist parties) in Vancouver. Why choose conservative Canada? “Well, we are not coming as missionaries,” and, in any case, "why don’t you call Canada liberal?” Brandt joked during an interview with Maclean's correspondent Philip Grenard, in Bonn, on the eve of his departure. But that was only the opening exchange in a discussion which ranged over
the chances of Europe becoming a "third force” in the world, the dangers of conflict between the “have” and “have-not” nations (Brandt heads the Independent Commission on International Development Issues) and Eurocommunism.
Maclean’s: Have you definitely decided to contest the European elections? Brandt: More or less. My party expects me to head the list but I have set some conditions. I have asked for a reasonable number of women on the list. Maclean’s: And trade unionists, too? Brandt: Yes, because if the European Community is going to develop it needs some counterweight to the bureaucracy in Brussels and the almost unlimited powers of the Council of Ministers. It also needs an element of social consciousness. Trade unionists can play a role in this, especially now they have learned to engage themselves in social policy in the broadest sense of the word. I would like to see something like 25 per cent of seats reserved for women. If men do not act, we may be faced by a women’s front which operates outside political structures.
Maclean’s: Will you form a united front with other socialist-oriented parties? Brandt: Yes, such groups already exist. Maclean’s: Could the leftist grouping include Communists?
Brandt: No, it will not. But it will be interesting to look at countries such as Italy and France. The Italians (Communists) are taking a very positive view of the European Community, the French are more or less against it. Eurocommunism has become a slogan, which makes it easy to forget that there are great differences between French and Italian Communists and between those two compared with the Spanish. But there is one common link. All three want to give the impression that they are not just a wing of a worldwide Communist organization led by the Soviet Union. Maclean’s: But you are not convinced? Brandt: No, nobody knows yet where this process will end. I would not exclude the possibility that some of these parties will split, one group identifying more than now with the “mother church” in Russia, the other perhaps joining the socialists.
Maclean’s: Do you fear a comeback of the extreme right wing in Europe? Brandt: There is a tendency for some people of the right to take extreme conservative positions which are sometimes dangerous. But this has nothing to do with that terrible period which was represented by Nazis in my country and fascism in others.
Maclean’s -.Has your policy of reconciliation toward East Germany succeeded?
Brandt: Some of our friends abroad did not quite understand it. Our policy was based on our belonging to the Western alliance. But we did not accept—and we do not accept today—that this is the answer. We have never given up thinking about a future that might be characterized by less hostility, more cooperation. So what we aimed at____was
to make an attempt wherever possible to reduce tensions, to bring about cooperation where before there had only been confrontation, well knowing that
by doing so we could not remove any of the basic differences of an ideological or power-political character.
Communism will not disappear as a result of resolutions, treaties and what have you. Some people misunderstood the Helsinki treaty, they thought it meant that the Communist leaders who signed the texts really meant to move away from their ideological and political power bases. But you can change things only where (Communist leaders) find it desirable to make agreements. So my answer is: We have brought about changes which we think are advantageous.
Maclean’s: Do you foresee a role for Europe as a world power, perhaps positioned between the two superpowers? Brandt: I am interested in a third force between capitalism and communism but it would be an illusion for Western Europe to believe it could be a power bloc like the two superpowers. There is no other way for Europe than to stay in, and even develop, the security alliance together with North America. But Europe can become a factor which carries more political weight and can develop modern social alternatives to old-fashioned capitalism and rigid Communist bureaucracy.
Maclean’s: What do you believe are the main dangers facing mankind?
Brandt: There are two. If the arms race goes on—and we all know the figures, last year $400 billion spent on armaments—if this doubles or even trebles in the middle of the 1980s, even the strongest economies will have difficulty bearing the burden. If mankind wants to survive, in spite of existing different ideologies, we will have to agree on something more than SALT I and a few years later SALT II. We must have more serious steps in the direction of arms limitation.
Maclean’s: And the second?
Brandt: More people are starving than 10 years ago ... if this process goes on people in certain parts of the world may even play with the weapon of war as a result of social unrest and misery. Maclean’s: Can the poor nations get richer without the richer nations getting poorer?
Brandt: I don’t see how democracy could survive if governments told their people they should lower their standards. The answer must be reasonable growth, concentrated on specific areas. This process should be more in the direction of leveling up others ... we are going through a crisis in the industrialized world. We will get through it even better if we understand that to speed up development in other parts of the world is one of the answers.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.