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Global Left Midweek - Analyses From Elsewhere

What the global left talks about is worth talking about

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A multi-issue protest in Chile. Credit, AFP/Getty Images
  1. 15 Theses on the Party-Movement
  2. International Solidarity Today
  3. Peasant and Popular Feminism
  4. Workers in Eastern Europe
  5. The Unstoppable Domestic Workers
  6. Communes and Chavismo 
  7. Greece: National Strike
  8. How Activists Kept Canada Off the Security Council
  9. Tunisia: Thousands Protest Police Brutality
  10. The Communist Philosophy of Georg Lukács

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15 Theses on the Party-Movement

Boaventura de Sousa Santos / Outra Palavras (Lisbon)

[Translated by Portside. Read the original in Portuguese here.]

1. There are no depoliticized citizens; there are citizens who do not allow themselves to be politicized by the dominant forms of politicization, whether parties or movements of organized civil society.

Citizens are not fed up with politics, but with the politics they are offered; the vast majority of citizens do not mobilize politically or take to the streets to demonstrate, but they are full of anger at home and sympathize with those who demonstrate; in general, they do not join parties or participate in social movements or are interested in doing so, but when they take to the streets they end up surprising the political elites who have lost contact with the grassroots.

2. There is no democracy without parties, but there are parties without democracy.

One of the antinomies of liberal democracy in our time is that it is increasingly based on parties as an exclusive form of political agency, while parties are internally less and less democratic. Like liberal democracy, the traditional form of the party has outlived its time in history. The democratic political systems of the future must combine representative democracy with participatory democracy at all levels of government. Citizen participation must be multiform and multichannel. The parties themselves must be constituted internally by mechanisms of participatory democracy.

3. Joining the left is a starting point and not a finish line and, therefore, the facts are what determine what it means to be a leftist.

The left has to return to its origins, to the excluded social groups that it has long since forgotten. The left stopped talking or knowing how to talk to the peripheries, to the most excluded. Those who speak today with the peripheries and with the most excluded are the Pentecostal evangelical churches or the fascist agitators. Today, leftist activism seems to limit itself to participating in a party meeting to make an analysis of the situation (almost always listening to those who are doing it). The left parties, as they exist today, cannot speak to the silenced voices of the peripheries in terms they understand. To change this, the left, or rather the lefts must be reinvented.

4. Not democracy, but democratization.

The left is alone in really serving democracy, and this is where its responsibility lies. It is not limited to the when and where of citizenship (ie liberal democracy). On the contrary, it fights for it in many spaces - the family, the community, production, social relations, school, relations with nature and international relations. Each space in time requires a specific type of democracy. Only by democratizing all scenarios can the contexts of citizenship and representative liberal democracy be democratized.

5. The party-movement is the party that contains its own contradiction as a party.

To be a fundamental pillar of representative democracy, the party-movement must be built through processes that are not representative, but rather participatory and deliberative. This is the transition from the traditional form of party to the form of party-movement. The transition takes the idea that should guide the management of the political system in general, that is, interplay between participatory / deliberative democracy and representative democracy, and applies It to the internal life of parties. Participation / deliberation should be applied to all domains of the party-movement, from internal organization to the definition of the political program, from the election of candidates to the approval of lines of action in the current situation.

6. Being a member of the political class is always transitory.

It does not allow for members to earn more than the average salary in the country; elected parliamentarians do not invent issues or take positions: they transmit those that arise from the discussions in the grassroots structures. Party politics must have faces, but it is not made of faces; ideally, there are collective mandates that allow the regular rotation of representatives during the same legislature; transparency and accountability must be complete; the party is a citizen service to citizens and therefore must be financed by them and not by companies interested in capturing the State and emptying democracy.

7. The party-movement is a countercurrent against two fundamentalisms.

Conventional parties suffer from an anti-social fundamentalism. They hold that they have a monopoly on political representation and that this monopoly is legitimate precisely because social movements are not representative. In turn, the movements suffer from an anti-party fundamentalism. They consider that any collaboration or engagement with the parties compromises their autonomy and diversity, and always ends in an attempt at cooptation.

As long as representative democracy is monopolized by anti-movement parties and participatory democracy by anti-party social movements or associations, the link between representative and participatory democracy will not be possible, to the detriment of both. It is necessary to defeat both fundamentalisms.

8. The party-movement combines institutional action with extra-institutional action.

The traditional parties favor institutional action, within legal frameworks and with the mobilization of institutions such as Parliament, the courts, and public administration. On the other hand, social movements, although they also use institutional action, usually resort to direct action, protests and demonstrations in streets and squares, sit-ins, the dissemination of agendas through art (artivismo). In view of this, linking the two is not easy and must be done with patience.

There are political conditions in which the classes in power are too repressive, too monolithic; there are others in which they are more open, less monolithic and there is a lot of competition between them. The greater competition between the elites, the more gaps open up for the popular movement and participatory democracy to enter through them. The important thing is to identify the opportunities and not waste them. They are often wasted for reasons of sectarianism, dogmatism, careerism.

The practice of movements often has to oscillate between the legal and the illegal. In some contexts, the criminalization of social challenge is reducing the possibility of both institutional struggle and extra-institutional legal struggle. In such contexts, peaceful collective action may have to face the consequences of illegality. We know that the ruling classes have always used legality and illegality at their convenience. Not being a ruling class lies precisely in having to face the consequences of the dialectic between legality and illegality and protect oneself as much as possible.

9. The revolution of electronic information and social networks do not, in themselves, serve as an instrument unconditionally favorable to the development of participatory democracy.

On the contrary, they can contribute to manipulating public opinion to such an extent that the democratic process can be fatally disfigured. The exercise of participatory democracy requires today more than ever face-to-face meetings and face-to-face discussions. The tradition of party cells, citizen circles, cultural circles, grassroots ecclesiastical communities must be reinvented. There is no participatory democracy without close interaction.

10. The movement of parties is based on non-polarized plurality and the recognition of concrete capacities.

A non-polarized plurality is one that allows us to distinguish between what separates and what unites organizations, and promotes linkages between them based on what unites them, without losing their distinguishing identities. Those particularities are only put on hold for pragmatic reasons.

The party-movement must know how to combine general issues with sectoral issues. Parties tend to homogenize their social bases and focus on issues that cover all or large sectors. On the other hand, social movements tend to focus on more specific issues, such as the right to housing, immigration, police violence, cultural diversity, sexual difference, territory, the popular economy, etc. They work with languages and concepts different from those used by the parties.

The parties can sustain a more permanent political agenda than the movements. The problem with many social movements lies in the nature of their social and media outbursts. At one point they have a lot of activity, they are in the press every day, and the following month they are absent or in ebb, and people do not go to meetings or assemblies. The sustainability of mobilization is a very serious problem because, to achieve a certain continuity in political participation, a broader political engagement is needed that involves the parties. In turn, the parties are subject to transforming the continuity of the public presence into a condition for the survival of bureaucratic cadres.

11. The party-movement thrives in a constant struggle against inertia.

Circumstances can generate two kinds of inertia: on the one hand, the inertia and ebb of social movements that fail to multiply and solidify the struggle and, on the other, parties that do not modify their policies at all and are subject to bureaucratic stagnation. Overcoming these inertias is the greatest challenge for the construction of the party-movement.

Based on concrete experiences, it is notable that parties, having a vocation for power, usually deal well with the issue of imbalances in the public sphere. But since they compete for power, they don't want to transform it, they want to take it. Social movements, on the contrary, know that forms of oppression come both from the State and from very strong economic and social actors. In some situations, the distinction between public and private oppression is not too important. Trade unions, for example, have remarkable experience in the fight against private actors: bosses and companies. Both social movements and unions are today marked by a very negative experience: lately, leftist parties in power have failed to fulfill their electoral promises even more than before. This non-compliance is increasingly disqualifying parties in more and more countries. This loss of control over the political agenda can only be recovered through social movements to the extent that they are articulated through the new movement parties.

12. Popular political education is the key to sustaining the party-movement.

The differences between parties and movements are surmountable. For this it is necessary to promote mutual knowledge through new forms of popular political education: conversation circles, ecologies of knowledge, workshops of the Popular University of Social Movements; discussion of possible practices of interaction between parties and movements (participatory budgets, plebiscites or popular consultations, social councils or management of public policies). So far, the experiences are mainly on a local scale. Complementary practice must be developed at the national and global levels.

13. The party-movement goes beyond the interaction between party and social movement.

After more than forty years of neoliberal capitalism, colonialism and an ever-renewed patriarchy, with a scandalous concentration of wealth and destruction of nature, the popular classes, the working people, explode or erupt - and tend to do so outside the parties and social movements. Surprised activists from both then follow after the mobilization. In addition to parties and social movements, it is necessary to have spontaneous movements, with their collective presence in public squares. The party-movement must be aware of these outbreaks and stand in solidarity with them without trying to lead or co-opt them.

14. We live in a period of defensive struggles. It is up to the party-movement to wage them, without losing sight of offensive struggles.

The ideology that there is no alternative to capitalism - a system which, in fact, is a triad: capitalism, colonialism (racism) and patriarchy (sexism) - ended up being internalized by much of the left. Neoliberalism managed to combine the supposedly peaceful end of history with the idea of permanent crisis (for example, the financial crisis). This is the reason why we live today in the domain of the short term. Immediate demands must be met because those who are hungry or are victims of gender violence, cannot wait for socialism to arrive to eat or find freedom.

But we cannot lose sight of the civilizing debate that raises the issue of struggles of an offensive and medium-term nature. The pandemic, while it made the short term a maximum urgency, generated the opportunity to think that there are life alternatives and that if we do not want to enter a period of intermittent pandemic, we must pay attention to the warnings that nature is giving us. If we do not change our ways of producing, consuming and living, we will head towards a pandemic hell.

15. Only the party-movement can defend liberal democracy as a starting point and not as an end point.

At a time when the fascists are getting closer to power - when they have not already reached it - one of the most important defensive struggles is the defense of democracy. Liberal democracy is low intensity because it offers so little. It accepts its position as a relatively democratic island in an archipelago of social, economic and cultural despotism. Today, liberal democracy is a good starting point, but not a point of arrival. The point of arrival must be a deep engagement between liberal, representative democracy and participatory, deliberative democracy. In this moment of defensive struggles, it is important to defend representative liberal democracy to neutralize the fascists, and from this struggle, to radicalize the democratization of society and politics. Only the party-movement can wage this struggle.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos teaches economics at University of Coimbra, and is Director of the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra and Scientific Coordinator of the Permanent Observatory of Portuguese Justice.

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International Solidarity Today

Boris Kanzleiter / Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (Berlin)

Demands for a new internationalism ought not to be confined to appeals and rituals directed only towards recalling the forgotten past of internationalism within the Left. Rather, looking back into this history, it becomes clear that each and every period of capitalist development provoked a different left-wing internationalist praxis, each of which reacted to specific challenges.

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Peasant and Popular Feminism

La Via Campesina (Harare)

LVC has sought to encourage the participation of rural women at all levels of action, power and representation in the building of an international movement that is broad, democratic, politically and socially committed to the defense of peasant agriculture, Food Sovereignty, the struggle for land, justice, equality and to eradicate all forms of gender discrimination and violence.

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Workers in Eastern Europe

LeftEast

After 1989, new challenges came to the fore for Eastern European workers: reintegration into the global economy amid unfavorable conditions and the loss of markets; the destruction of jobs, skills, professional and personal lives, and deteriorating labor rights. All this left unions and organizers on a slippery slope that they had to navigate. 

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The Unstoppable Domestic Workers

Marieke Koning / Equal Times (Brussels)

There are tens of millions of domestic workers around the world, most of whom are women, many belonging to Indigenous, racialised, migrant and rural communities. The recognition of their valuable work as work and the knowledge that protections for this historically disadvantaged group are now enshrined in international law was a milestone in trade union history.

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Communes and Chavismo

Cira Pascual Marquina / Venezuelanalysis (Caracas)

Juan “Juancho” Lenzo talks about the Communard Union, a grassroots organization that has set communal society as its strategic horizon. For two years the Union has been working throughout the country in a heroic effort to re-politicize and reactivate Venezuelan communes and related projects. 

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Greece: National Strike

Alex Berry / Deutsche Welle (Berlin)

Large parts of Greece shut down on Thursday as workers across the country joined a general strike to protest a proposed labor reform. More than 16,000 people took part in various demonstrations in Athens, with another 10,000 in Thessaloniki, organized by unions and opposition parties.

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How Activists Kept Canada Off the Security Council

Yves Engler / rabble.ca (Toronto)

Canada’s ambassador to the UN effectively confirmed that a half-dozen unpaid activists had derailed the government’s multi-year UN Security Council lobbying campaign, which included the prime minister flying to various countries.

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Tunisia: Thousands Protest Police Brutality

Al Jazeera (Doha)

Protests against police abuse in the Tunisian capital have spread to several other working-class districts more than a week after violence broke out in the Sidi Hassine neighbourhood over the death of a man in police custody.

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The Communist Philosophy of Georg Lukács

‘The Future Arrives On Its Own – Progress Does Not’  Antonia Opitz / transform! europe (Vienna)

Democracy in Socialism  Holger Politt / Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (Berlin)