The Big Boys have taken over the World Social Forum, says anti-globalisation guru Naomi Klein. Boo hoo! What did she expect? Lula turns up at Porto Alegre and has 75,000 adoring fans who complain when he leaves for the World Economic Forum in Davos. He’s the boss. The WSF is really a reformist ‘movement of movements’ that wants to replace neoliberalism with democratic socialism. But the grassroots enthusiasms of the anti-globalisation troops post-Zapatistas and post-Seattle were always directed from above.It was a small group of PT (Brazilian Workers’ Party) leaders, Le Monde Diplomatique intellectuals and ATTAC ‘activists’ who set the WSF agenda in 2000.
The WSF was the child of the PT, and now the PT leads a Popular Frontgovernment with its main leader, Luis Inacio de Silva, ‘Lula’ for short, the newly elected President of Brazil. So it’s not the WSF but the main attraction that has changed. The WSF still attracts the bevy of left-wing celebrities like Chomsky, Michael Albert, Arundhati Roy and Samir Amin, but the stars are now clearly the strong men of Latin American social democracy, with Lula, Chavez and Ecuadorian leader Guiterrez at their head and Castro as elder statesman (there were 50 Cuban Communist Party leaders headed by Castro’s daughter at Porto Alegre 2003). The fate of the WSF hangs on Lula’s political fate which itself turns on the balance between the US ruling class and his mass working class constituency.
Now that it is obvious that Porto Alegre mark 3 was a PR job to get progressive world opinion lined up behind Lula, let’s see how he can deliver on the promise that “another world is possible”.Ignacio Ramonet, a lead writer of Le Monde Diplomatique, reacted to Lula’s election enthusiastically. For Ramonet, Lula’s election marked “the beginning of a new historical cycle in Latin America. The preceding cycle began at the end of a dark period of military tyrannies, repression and armed uprisings, and lasted two decades, since 1983” (what about the Brazilian military coup of 1968 that lasted 20 years, Pinochet’s coup1973 that also lasted nearly 20 years,and the military regime in Argentina from 1976 to 1983?!).
Ramocet says Lula’s electioncrowns a string of left wing victories: the election of Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, the overthrow of President Mahaud in Ecuador in January 2000, the ousting of Fujimori in Peru in December of 2000, the downfall of de la Rua in December 2001, and the election of Colonel Gutierrez in Ecuador in November 2002. Are these regime changes signs of the end of ‘neo-liberalism’ and the opening up of a more democratic period?
Despite the US drive to war, both Chomsky and Roy see signs that grassroots democracy represented by many struggles around the world is ‘confronting the Empire’. They endorse the concept of a ‘movement of movements’. This is the idea that local movements such as the landless in Brazil, the peasants in Colombia, the piqueteros in Argentina, the Kurds in Turkey, the people of Cochabamba in Bolivia, and the poor farmers of India, will join their struggles together to make one big movement. Not only that, Chomsky thinks that the unprecedented and growing majorities opposed to the war on Iraq in Europe and before long in America, before any war has taken place, show that the ruling US and European elites are being threatened from below by a new mass resurgence of peoples’ democracy.
In her speech at Porto Alegre, Arundhati Roy echoed these themes.She asked: “How do we resist ‘Empire’ and make another world possible? The good news is that we are not doing too badly”.She listed a string of victories - Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and so on - and pointed to the collapse of some of the world’s biggest corporations, like the notorious Enron, Betchtel, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson. “We may not have stopped ‘Empire’ in its tracks – yet – but we have stripped it down. We have made it drop its mask, we have forced it into the open. It now stands before us on the world’s stage in all its brutish, iniquitous nakedness.”Like Chomsky, however, democratic resistance is a rather abstract tool with which to ‘lay siege to Empire’. Roy wants us to “To deprive it of Oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different to the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe”.
The problem here is that the stories that come out of the WSF are not very different to the ones that some sections of the imperialist elites tell us. ‘Empire’ here means the US out of control – Chomsky’s rogue state. According to Metzaros, in this new age of ‘global hegemonic imperialistic capitalism’ only the US is imperialist. That sounds like the French and German politicians trying to mask their rapacious oil concessions in Iraq as humanitarian aid. Painting the US as ‘fascist’ makes them look ‘democratic’. ‘Imperialism’ means the greed and power of a US elite which takes the form of neo-liberalism and globalisation. But this can be resisted and overturned by ‘movements’ fighting against injustice and greed. ‘Democratic’ countries can gang up in the UN to fight imperialism. This vision is boosted by Toni Negri’s view that the US represents a reactionary imperialism that has to be contested by …yes, the European states and the UN!And if ‘imperialism’ is open to reform by the movement of movements, then maybe capitalism can be reformed from below by means of ‘market socialism’. The tell-tale mark of reformists is their belief that a majority can rule the state and reverse the sign of the zero-sum society from rich to poor. Same old story.
What do all the currents in the WSF have in common?It is the belief that capitalism is a zero-sum society based on unequal exchange that can be reformed by an alliance of workers, petty bourgeois and‘democratic’ capitalists (and/or progressive military leaders like Chavez) in cross-class governments. In ganging up against ‘fascist’ imperialist America, the European bourgeoisie can pose as democrats and mask their own imperialist interests.Entering governments and alliances with the democratic bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeois intelligentsia and the Stalinist and Castroist bureaucracy that dominate the labour movement claim that these governments are controlled by workers, when they are anything but! This is how they try to mask their service to the bourgeoisie in containing workers’ struggles.They have to claim that workers get the best of the deal with a shift from neo-liberal austerity to ‘market socialism’. To paint the politics of betrayal in rosy colours the WSF gets ‘revolutionary’ credentials by its association with a bunch of academic Marxists like Samir Amin and James Petras who dress up with revolutionary phrases reformist policies of socialism on the installment plan.
When such ‘Marxists’ endorse Lula they provide him with an alibi. They blame those who want to mobilise the working class to take power for frightening off the EU imperialists, or for provoking a US counter-revolution. They peddle illusions that workers can benefit from some ‘new deal’ that will alleviate their poverty and suffering!Already in Argentina, the left bureaucracy has turned the administration of poverty into an art form where they are paid by the state to oversee ‘work for the dole’ schemes.
But now we face the truly historic test of Lula’s promise to deliver ‘market socialism’ in Brazil. The election of Lula threatens to repeat the whole history of betrayals in Latin America in the name of the Brazilian PT!Lula wants to negotiate with the IMF and World Bank using his working class voters as electoral fodder.Ramocet praises Lula with no reservations. Lula gets a rapturous welcome in Porto Alegre.But how can Lula deliver to his supporters, the poor workers and landless peasants, unless he repudiates the national debt, nationalises the banks and renationalises privatised state industry?And he cannot do that without arming the workers and peasants to stop a military coup and US counterrevolution succeeding like it did in Chile in 1973.
Whatever the idealism of the WSF ‘story of stories’, or models of a ‘socialist’ utopia, these noble thoughts cannot measure up against the actual struggles on the ground. Story tellingdoes not arm workers and peasants against the military might of imperialism. Not unless one is telling the stories that explain the lessons of the bloody history of workers struggles in the 20th century - stories that say that unless workers take state power they cannot participate in the economy as equals and managers.Or that workers cannot plan a socialist economy unless they expropriate the private property of the capitalist owners.Or that what is needed is a workers’ government and a socialist plan.
We already have clear evidence from Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia, that workers must occupy their factories or workplaces, must make military alliances with the landless peasants, must arm themselves to defend themselves, must organise a general strike, must break with the bureaucrats, must win over the rank and file of the army and seize state power, before any real challenge to imperialism is possible.None of this is possible without the building of an international revolutionary party and program to lead workers along the road to revolution.Failing these measures, imperialism has, can, and will stage armed counter-revolutions and smash all resistance. But with these measures workers and poor peasants can create a United Socialist States of Latin America.