NEW POLITICS: TRANSFORMING ELITE INTO SUBSTANTIAL DEMOCRACY (People’s movements and political parties)
Dear Friends and dear comrades
I want to thank the organizers for such an important event for the development of an alternative on the Europe Asia relations. Special thanks to our Vietnamese comrades that made it possible with their great efforts.
A) WAR, LEFT ALTERNATIVE AND THE ANTI-GLOBALISATION MOVEMENT
The dramatic events in Iraq marked the end of the post-second world war period, when the world saw two opposing economic and social blocs pitted against each other and social struggles led to a growth of welfare benefits and the bargaining power of trade unions.
Now we are living in a new phase, in which the space for reform has been closed. Through globalisation, capitalism has won a historical battle: it has defeated the reform-minded left, both in Europe and North-America. The consequences are there for everyone to see: reckless flexibility, extreme inequalities and the end of safety nets.
This is a problem even when there are major social and public-opinion movements in the opposition.
In the recent past large numbers have taken to the streets, part of a worldwide movement against the war. But the war was waged anyway. In Italy there has been a major movement around employment issues, including industry-wide strikes and general strikes, but the government still managed to pass dangerous laws, for example restricting pension rights.
In France, after major struggles, the government is carrying on its attack on the pension system. The same is happening in Germany.
Capitalist globalisation contains deeply regressive elements that are leading to a real crisis to such an extent that we can talk about the “globalization of crisis”. The only possible response is not reformism, but rather a radical refoundation of politics as a worldwide process and thus a reconstruction of the agency of change: a redefinition of the working class.
The right-wing has won all over the world because it has strategic hegemony. In the USA the Bush administration is based on military interventionism, extreme neo-liberalism and religious fundamentalism. War is no longer a one-off or exceptional event, it has become structural and “never-ending”.
The only possible answer to the right-wing is to provide an alternative: of peace against war and of a new model of society against neo-liberalism. This means neither a detailed programme nor unity among existing political forces. Nor does it mean defending democracy as it currently exists. Rather, it means starting from the main resource available, which is the movement against capitalist globalisation. Its agenda has two clear issues: no to war, no to neo-liberalism.
The anti-globalisation movement is the first movement of the 21st century. It represents a break with the 20th century and its truths and myths. At present it is the main source of politics for an alternative to the global right. When, on February 15- 2003, 100 million people took to the streets, the New York Times referred to it as a second “super power”, a power that in the name of peace opposed those who wanted war.
It is no exaggeration to say that in Europe everything that has happened in the past few years has had something to do with this movement. It started from observation of the impact of neo-liberalism, going on to trace its origins and create an anti-capitalist culture. It has resisted the progressive destruction of democracy also through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, that have deprived people of democracy and sovereignty.
The movement has faced the crisis of democracy with embryonic new democratic institutions. It has challenged the division of political labour among trade unions, parties and cooperatives and shifted the focus of political debate from institutions to social relations, bringing feelings and everyday life back into the realm of politics. In other words, the refoundation of politics must take place within the society.
It has also tackled the theme of power, in terms not of achieving and keeping it, but of transforming, dissolving and reconstructing power through self-government. We must reconsider the relations between power and the process of change. While power is important, it is crucial that we alter the mental process that places the conquest of power before the process of change.
And it has challenged the model of a party leading the movement, proposing instead the notion of networks and links among groups, associations, parties and newspapers. The rebirth of a new labour movement means creating a new alliance between political parties and the movement that can no longer be relations between father and son. The left political parties, communist or otherwise, must stop thinking in terms of theoretical ideological supremacy and vanguardism and realise that this is an “ex-catedra” that nobody is willing to accept any longer. The reconstruction of a radical, neo-communist left begins with the redefinition of this hierarchical relationship.
The problem now is how to build out of the anti-globalisation movement a real democratic power able to achieve its objectives. Its greatest limitation seems to be the lack of a connection between the great issues of globalisation, war and peace and the intermediate dimension of employment and production relations. The inability to build a concrete link between the fight against globalisation and the fight against insecurity and exploitation is a shortcoming.
An alternative European left can find its strategy only within the anti-globalisation movement. The key issue, both for the movement and for us, is the clash between peace and war. The movement has identified the global dimension of war and the fact that it is inbuilt in to a system which cannot do without it. It was this conviction that turned the anti-globalisation movement into the backbone of the peace movement.
Despite its remarkable strength, however, the movement did not stop the war. So now the question is: how can we build a force for peace and democracy capable of having an impact on the US and national policies? The same kind of problems arise over social issues.
In Italy, the Communist Refoundation Party, together with others, tried to do this through the referendum on extending employment protection to all workers. We were defeated, but the referendum took its inspiration from the movement, the idea of the struggle for equal rights against job insecurity. This battle, however, has not taken on a European dimension. The European trade unions decided not to call a general strike against the war, which would have also been a boost for the fight against neo-liberalism.
Building the social roots of the movement and the reform of left politics are two sides of the same coin.
B) OUR EXPERIENCE IN THE ITALIAN MOVEMENT
Let me share with you some of the positive lessons we have learnt in our italian experience. Of course it’s not a “rose garden”, but just some useful points for struggle and social conflict in our context.
- In Italy the growth of the anti-globalization movement started in the beginning of 2001, a few months before Genoa.As you remember, in fact, the G8 summit was held in Genoa in 2001. Since then, for us it has been our priority number one. In the organization of the counter-summit events, Communist Refoundation Party has chosen to be just one of the subjects together with hundreds of others (environmentalists, women, unions, youth social centres, religious grass roots organizations, fair trade activists, cultural associations, etc.). Our party decided not to assume the classical “vanguard role” and to participate in all the process on the base of “one head, one vote” policy, being just another subject (with equal dignity). Since the beginning the party has been inside the growing movement, with no leading pretension. A positive role accepted and recognized by everyone else.
It has been a great lesson against sectarianism, both on the party and on the movement side, able to overcome the reciprocal lack of trust on daily work bases. The compass has been the search for unity based on the struggle against war and against neo-liberalism.
- The Italian movement had clearly chosen to be radical in the proposals, but pacific in action, therefore able to reach mass audience and sympathy. In this way it imposed its own agenda on the political parties, public opinion, and also on the media. Each sector of the movement, by consensus, was supporting each others specific actions (stopping trains and boats carrying arms, occupying banks financing the war, staving for peace, putting more than 2 million peace flags in the windows, workers strikes, etc.)
- The movement has been able to build not just one national representation (Italian Social Forum), but also local ones. In each town there is still a Social Forum, in big cities more than one. Surely they are not all homogenous (neither in political capacity or strength) but we can say that almost everywhere in Italy there is some kind of organization involving most of the national subjects.
- An other effort has been to organize homogenous sectors and build up common issues networks (on water privatization, food security, unemployment, migrants conditions, etc.) with special emphasis on the labour issue. An effort to break separations within the different specific issues and subjects, historically working on their own: for example on food security and on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) today, for the first time in Italian history, there is a network that includes peasants, bio-logical producers, consumers associations, fair trade activists. Unfortunately this has still to be done on European scale.
- Lots of local governments (regional, provincial and municipal ones) are challenged on their concrete neo-liberal agendas, through a participatory process involving the population. Democracy from below has been the slogan and the practice in lots of local planning processes. This was also referred to the centre-left local governments (also with Rifondazione inside) exposing possible contradictions between their discourse and their practice. Meanwhile, it’s important to stress that several centre-left local councils set up a national network of “participatory democracy municipalities”, coordinating possible answers to common problems. The connection between the local dimension and the global one is clearer every day (for example between war, national resources and welfare cuts).
- There was an attempt to connect specific local problems with general ones on the base of the concrete specificity of each territory (for example Venice on water, others on unemployment, etc.) with the idea that everyone could understand both local and global dimensions of the same question. This has not been so successful, also for subjective limits.
As I said before, the main problem is how to build out of the anti-globalisation movement a democratic power able to achieve its objectives. Its greatest limitation seems to be the lack of a connection between the great issues of globalisation, war and peace and the intermediate dimension of employment and production relations.
- There is a chance of re-opening a Europe-wide battle. In the face of converging government policies, only an organisation fighting at European level can make its case. Unless they move in this direction, the European anti-capitalist leftwing parties risk disappearing in terms of political representation. At the same time, within the anti-globalisation movement there could develop a temptation to flee from politics.
Building the social roots of the movement and the reform of left politics are two sides of the same coin.
C) THE EUROPEAN LEFT PARTY (ELP)
In this framework we think that the international dimension of the struggles (together with the national one) is the only possible dimension to resist and to win. Without becoming euro-centric, for us Europe is the necessary dimension of political action, almost a “national matter”. Today in Europe there is important news. The birth of the European Left Party (ELP), whose founding congress was held in Rome in May 2004. Some Asian friends told us that it is an historical event. The ELP involves for the moment 18 communist, left and progressive parties of all over Europe, with an institutional presence also in the European Parliament in Brussels. It’s an open process: open to other parties, individuals, but also open to movement sectors that want to join in the future. We have the great ambition to contribute concretely to build in action on a continental base. It could represent a chance for social struggles in each country, in Europe as well as in Asia, in Africa as well as in Latin America. To restart, we must reassess our history and the mistakes and the tragedies of the past. If we do not do this, we will not be able to understand why we were defeated. We are dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants, but we must have the intellectual courage to criticize the giants and critically examine the socialist movement.
Hope is born again. Now we have to organize it.
Hanoi, 9 Sept. 2004