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Thursday, April 9, 2020
Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus
ROME, Feb 21 2019 (IPS) - I have been a member of the first international party: the Transnational Radical Party, founded in 1956 by Marco Pannella and Emma Bonino. Then in 1988, I was a witness of the large protest, in Berlin West, against the meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, a precursor of the “Battle of Seattle” in 1988, where 40.000 protesters disrupted the annual meeting of the two world’s financial institutions. I was even detained for a day by the police, even if was just a witness: my condition of foreigner made me automatically suspect.
And I was a witness of the Nobel prize Joseph Stigliz address to the protesters of “Occupy Wall Street”, in 2011. In the same year, I was part of the creation of the Word Social Forum, in Porto Alegre. And I have been carefully following the arrival of the new International nationalist and populist wave, since Orban’s arrival in Hungary in 2019, Kaczynski in Poland in 2015, Brexit in 2016, Trump in 2016, and totally different movements like now the Yellow Jackets in France.
Therefore, I have decided that I can be more useful as a practitioner than as a theoretician in the cultured an interesting debate that Paul Raskin has opened on a world political party. But I still remember that during the debate on the New International Information Order in the seventies, at a very important conference in Berlin of academicians, I spoke as practitioner (I was the founder of Inter Press Service, the fourth international news agency), and when I finished, the German chairman of the conference observed: “what Roberto had said works in practice. But the question is: would it work in theory”?
The Transnational Radical Party choose a human rights agenda, as Pannella did in Italy with the Italian radical party. The abolition of the death’s sentence, the depenalization of light drugs, the freedom of medical choice, including euthanasia, the end of female mutilation in Africa and Arab countries, the importance of scientific research free of religious dogma as part of bioethics, the creation of the United States of Europe, a multicultural, inclusive and environmentally concerned Europe. It called for the inclusion of Israel in the European Community, and made public campaigns on Tibet, the Uighurs, the Montagnard (a Vietnamese Christian minority), and the Chechens. This agenda of Human Rights was able to link intellectuals and activists from many countries (especially Europe and Latin America). But it never became a mass movement, and it dissolved itself in 1989. It was highly affected by the May 68, which fought against centralizing structures, and indicated that the fights should become individual, and free from any command.
The World Social Forum was the closest thing to a world movement. It was based on a much broader agenda, which was the build up an alternative to what the World Economic Forum, Davos, represented. Global finance, unchecked capitalism, economic agenda over the social agenda, the alliance of corporations to control politics and governance: a Forum where unelected people met to take decisions over the course of the world. It come out from a visit in 1999 in Paris by two Brazilian activists, Oded Grajew who was working in the field of social responsibility of companies, and Chico Whittaker, who was in the Social Network of Justice and Human Rights, an initiative of the Brazilian catholic Church. They were incensed by the tv coverage of Davos, and the following day the went to meet Bernard Cassen, coordinator of of Le Monde Diplomatique, who encouraged them to organize a Counterdavos, but not in Europe, but in the South. They came back, organized a committee of eight Brazilian organizations, in February if 2.000, got the support of the government of Rio Grande do Sul, and in the 2001 the first Forum was held in Porto Alegre, at the same time of Davos. We were thinking that 3.000 people would come (the equivalent of Davos), instead there were 20.000 participants.
The impact was so great, that the Brazilian committee organized a consultative meeting the following year in Sao Paolo, about the continuation of the WSF. They invited a number of international organizations, and at the second day they appointed all of us as the International Council. The Council was born, therefore, not out of a planning to organize a really representative structure. The efforts done to rebalance the composition, never went far. Lot of organizations wanted to be member of the Council, without any criteria of representative and strength, and the Council become soon a large list of names, with few participating, and changing at every council, which left to the Brazilians (Chico Wittaker especially), the de facto ability to have a heavy weight in the process.
The WSF had a large number of meetings. There was the yearly WSF itself, who always had close to 100.000 participants (the one of 2005 150.000), The WSF moved out of Latin America, first in Mumbai, with the participation of 20.000 Dalits (the untouchables). Then in Africa and so on. The march against the American invasion in Iraq, saw a march of 15 million people all over the world.
George Bush dismissed that as a focus group, and the war went on. In addition to the yearly WSF, two other main events were created. The regional WSF, and the thematic Wsf, where under this umbrella people could meet beside the central one Then, local WSF could be held in any country, as part of the general WSF process. A most probable estimate is that the WSF, from 2001. Has joined together over 1 million people, who paid their travel and lodging costs, to share experiences and dream together for a better world.
Some points of this enormous process (that I do not see now replicable to the idea of a party), must be kept into account for our debate.
Civil society is made by many threads. We have no time to go over this, but Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the Portuguese sociologist and anthropologist who has more studied the WSF (and he is also departing in disagreement with the inability of updating from Chico Wittaker and others) has written an interesting study on the “translation” which was necessary to put together those threads.
Woman organizations, for instant, are concerned about the patriarchal society. But indigenous organizations are worried about the exploitation by white colons. Human rights organizations, have different agenda from those dealing with environment. To understand each other, and share and work together, a process of translation of those priorities, to think holistically, went on. It is what is called now identity. Any world party has to answer this question, because there are no indigenous organizations in Europe, and there are no activists on the impact of infrastructures in Asia or Africa. In other worlds, while it is easier to build a mass participation against a common enemy, it requires a lot of dialogue for building up a movement. Certainly, the WSF was fundamental for creating the awareness that a holistic approach is necessary to fight injustice, climate change, an uncontrolled finance, the growing social injustice, etc. And that is an important point in the creation of a world party.
All over those 63 years, from the creation of the Transnational Radical Party, in all movements which have been created, and now in the Yellow jackets, there is a common.
Fact. For the immense majority of the participants, the notion of a party is linked to power, corruption and lack of legitimacy. In the WSF it was its final irrelevance. As the Talmudist, led by Chico Wittaker have opposed: any political declaration from the WSF, because it could divide the movement; any creation of spokesman on behalf of the WSF; the idea of horizontality as the main basis for the governance of the WSF, the WSF as a space for meeting, not for organizing actions. Actions could be done by those participating making up alliances, but the WSF could not make declarations or plans of action. The International Council was not a governing body, but just a facilitating structure. The lack of organizations made that media did not come any longer, as they had no interlocutors, as spokesman were forbidden. Even a declaration on something which could not create any scission, like condemnation of wars, or appeals on climate action were forbidden. The result is that the WSF become like spiritual exercises: useful for those who participates, they come out with more individual strength, but without any impact on the world.
This is an extremely important handicap for a world party. Those who would be in principle its largest constituency, reject the notion of a part, which automatically creates structures of power, opens to corruption od ideals, and leave Individuals without participation and representation. The Yellow Jacket Is a sobering lesson of this. The political world has lost legitimacy, participation, and young people. It is totally separated from culture, research, and intellectualism. A world party, to be real, cannot be based on a few people. It must address and solve those issues.
For these among many, three considerations are important.
The first, Internet has changed the participations in politics. Space and time ae not the same. Tine has become fluid and short. Tweets, Facebook, etc. are much more important than media. Bolsonaro was elected through social media. This is a general phenomenon, from Salvini in Italy, to the Arab Spring, to Brexit. All American media have 62 million copies. Of these, quality papers (WSJ, NYT, WP,etc.), have just ten million copies. Trump tweets have 49 million followers. We know that only 4% buy newspapers, and they look only Fox news, which is an extension of his tweeters. So, when Trump makes absurd claims, like that when he visited Queen Elizabeth, he could not go to the center of London, because there were so many people waiting for him, that this was the advice of the Police, when in fact there were 200.000 people in the streets protesting his visit, those 49 million believed him blindly. The quality media publish a fact checker, which has dramatic figures about his lies and misguided truth. His followers will never read those, and if they see it they will not believe them. We need to be able to get into this kind of mobilization. I, for one, I am not able to use efficiently Twitter. And Aldo Moro the Italian PM assassinated by the Red Brigades (which were used by a stronger force), would not be able either. And politics jump from a short period on an item, to another one. Gone is the ability to follow process. We only follow events. And the same is happening with media.
The second, as a consequence of this, Internet went the wrong way, as far as politics are concerned. Instead of becoming an element of participation, has become an element of atomization. A whopping 73% of its users declare that they carve their own world, a virtual world, that they can build on their wishes. As a result, debate among people (especially young people), has waned. Users go into Internet, dialogue with like-minded people, and insult others. The result is that young people vote less and less, with results like Brexit, where 88% of adults voted, against 23% of young people, who demonstrated against the result of the referendum the day after, with onlookers shouting them: you did not vote and now you protest?
The third, there is now a divide between towns and country side, which is just the point of the iceberg of a much significant divide: between those who feel left out by globalization, and think it went in favor of those living in towns, the elites (intellectuals are considered a part), and those who were not victims. It is just enough to look where Trump got his voters in 2018, and no significant support in the towns. He lost the popular vote by two million. But the peculiar American voting system, a heritage of the process of unification of American states, gives today a disproportionate representation to the smaller and least developed American States. But the same was behind Brexit, and it is happening worldwide.
This has brought an unprecedented situation. Those who feel left behind, are now legitimized to mistrust elites. Ignorance has been for a long time a reality in every country.
But now there is the arrogance of ignorance. Yellow jackets revolt against elites, with Macron as a symbol, is shared by the followers of Trump, Salvini, Le Pen, Bolsonero, etc.
And is ironic that the political system, considered everywhere the main enemy, is in fact the most ignorant in modern times. Once, if Nelson Mandela, Adlai Stevenson, Olaf Palme, Allende and Aldo Moro would meet, they would have some books on which to talk. It would be highly improbable among even parliamentarians, let alone Trump, May and Merkel…
This bring us to a consideration, and the conclusion. The consideration is to reflect what happened to degrade politics and policy. My own reading: there were a sum of factors, all at the same time. The Berlin’s wall fall, brought to the Tatcher’s Tina (there is no alternative). It was the end of ideologies (the end of history), those cages that brought us to wars. The cry was to be pragmatist. But when politics become just the solution of a single problem, without a long term and organic vision of the step you are taking, you are being utilitarian, which is a different perspective. At the same time, we had the Washington Consensus, among the IMF, the WB, and the American Treasury, of how to run the world. The benefits of globalization would lift all boats. Anything which was not productive, was to be curbed: social costs, education (Reagan even wanted to abolish the Ministry), health, which were unmovable and should be privatized. The public system, the state, all what was movable (trade, finance, industry) was to be globalized. Microeconomies were out. It took 20 years for the IMF and the WB, to belatedly restore the role of the state as a regulator, beyond the market. But by now the genie is out of the bottle. Finance has taken its own life, is over the economic production. And the unprecedented concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands is just a symbol, which adds the exasperation of the losers.
But very important was the Third Way theory of Tony Blair, who decided that as globalization was inevitable, the left could ride it, and give to it a human face. The result is that the left lost his constituency, and workers now vote for the new populist parties, which are growing everywhere. The debate left-right, which was largely an ideological debate, has disappeared. Why people should feel passionate about a politic which has become basically an administrative matter?
And this brings us to the conclusion. To create a world party, we must find a banner under which people would come. I think that, in today world, the right does not need to structure Bannon attempt to join all populist and xenophobe parties, is valid as long they have a common enemy: Europe, the multilateralism. But if you push people to nationalism and competition, it will go the way of the much proclaimed unity between the Austrian Prime Minister, Sebastian Kurz, and Salvini, who declared themselves brothers, united against the common enemy, the European Union. But as soon they come across a concrete theme, how to deal with immigrants, their competing interests was the of their brotherhood. I have no doubt that next European elections in May, will see a strengthening of the anti-European forces. But from that to the end of Europe…
Therefore, this growing tide will exhaust itself, when it will be clear that their program of making the national past the future, will last until they take the power, and will become visible that they have no answers: this is what the Italian government is proving now.
Echoing Gramsci, a party should be able to rally masses, for a common goal. This goal, according the reality, should be able to interpret and rally the majority of people. Today, the common denominator has been globalization. Many historians think that the engines for change in history have been greed and fear. Since 1989, we have been educated to greed, which has become a virtue: and since the crisis of 2008 (a direct result of greed), fear has become a strong reality. Immigrants are now the scapegoats, when they have always been a resource. When, in American history, a wall with Mexico could have justified the longest government’s shutdown?
What bonded people together, until 1989, were values it is enough to read any constitutions to find those values: justice, solidarity, ethics, equality, law as the basis of society, and so on. Today we live in a world where nobody speaks of values (unless you take market as a value), and less of all the political world. It would be a long walk, but a world party should be based on values, the defense of international cooperation as a warrant for peace, and on the fact that competition and greed make few winners, and many losers.
We must think that there are millions of people in the world engaged at grassroot level, hundreds of times more than the WSF. Our challenge is to connect with them. This, I am afraid, is a long walk. But unless we connect with those who are working to change the present trend, and we must simply made clear that we are not the elites, but we consider us equally victims, and we share the same enemy. Finally, those are people who read and reflect..And we share the same values…But can we find the language to do that? Communication is the basis for participation…
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