Volume , Number 0
Crime & Punishment
American Journalism: A Class Act
The United States in the â€¦
Stephen R. Shalom
Patriotism Is An Olympic Event
Differing Agendas in South Asia
Bryan g. Pfeifer
Bryan g. Pfeifer
Psychiatric Medications, Illicit Drugs, & â€¦
Martin Glaberman: 1918-2001
There are no articles.Culture
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Ruth hubbard and Stuart newman
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The 2002 World Social Forum and Us
At the WSF as a representative of Z and an invited speaker, I attended the opening cultural events at close range, learned from presentations in areas of great personal interest, hosted a party by Z for 30 wonderful folk, spoke on a panel, offered a testimony, participated in filming and photographing various folks for forthcoming videos, met with Indymedia activists from around the world and with Worker's Party folks from Brazil, and even enjoyed a stopover in Sao Paulo to speak and meet with folks there.
I would like to try to relate, briefly, some of what I learned or had impressed upon me with greater urgency than previously, that may have general relevance to others.
First, it is possible to have a gathering of huge numbers of people in which, despite heat, numbers, and frantic pace, overwhelming good feeling abounds, mutual respect overflows, and everyone enjoys unlimited exchanges of information and priorities. To host such an event is not easy. It took about 400 volunteers working for many months, for example. But it is doable.
Second, the U.S. left is very isolated from the rest of the world's movements and projects. It isn't just that our knowledge of others around the world is low. It is that others have cross border alliances and affiliations that we are divorced from. Whatever the causes, our isolation needs urgent attention.
Third, just as the U.S. left is separated from much that occurs beyond our borders, movements abroad are also in many respects ignorant about our situation. Views abroad range from believing there is no left in the U.S. to believing that there is one but that it is suffering immense repression and scrambling to survive. Many otherwise well-informed overseas folks asked me how I could even be alive, given my militancy. They felt that both the U.S. government and its police should certainly have done me in, or at least jailed me, and if not that, then my neighbors and other citizens would have been provoked to interpersonal violence by my dissidence. The idea that the U.S. government would leave me be, and that I have not been attacked by all kinds of people I address about the issues was entirely contrary to their view of what life in the U.S. must be like.
Fourth, I was surprised and elated to find that serious dissidents really do inhabit one world, even as we also benefit from virtually unlimited diversity in cultures. The extent to which the most diverse representatives and participants in Porto Alegre—in the main venues, in the youth camp, in the streets—shared very similar political values and aspirations, despite only fledgling levels of prior communications, was astounding.
People from grassroots movements in India talked about abolishing markets. Their language was not only music to my ears, but words of the same language and tone and sentiment that I regularly use. People from networks of economic activists stretching around the world talked about needing economic institutions that promote solidarity rather than anti-social individuality, cooperation rather than competition, and participation rather than exclusion. They celebrated self-management. Their spirit was original and inspiring, but the content was familiar despite the lack of prior communication. Revolutionary ideas are percolating worldwide with remarkable affinity around the globe. Different words are spoken, in many languages, but the same sentiments are celebrated. A new International is forming, from the bottom up and it isn't settling for less than a new world.
Fifth, there was the city of Porto Alegre, the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and the Brazilian left and especially the Workers Party, or PT. The PT celebrated its 22nd anniversary with a party in Porto Alegre that I attended. They hold the mayoralty of Porto Alegre and the governor's post in Rio Grande do Sul, where the WSF takes place. The PT has the mayoralty in other cities as well, most notably the immense and very important Sao Paulo. That is, a leftist movement has attained control over the executive branch of various levels of government in a huge country and is contesting to enlarge its grip, as well as experimenting to find new ways to operate. It doesn't control the legislatures or judiciaries at any level, nor does it control industries or have a powerful organized presence within most of them, though there are a growing number of cooperatives as well as other diverse grassroots movements, including those of the landless peasants, for example.
The PT regularly contests at the national level, and will do so again with excellent chances in a presidential election beginning in a few months. Their candidate, Lula, is running to win, and needs international attention to curtail violations of his electoral efforts, but still, as yet the PT has only limited federal influence.
There is tremendous experience and material for learning in Brazil. What does a democratic and diverse left that wins limited but important gains do? In this case, one thing they do is to institute what they call Participatory Budgeting. That is, they control the state budgets every place where they have the executive branch. So they have embarked on making the economic and social investments undertaken by their governments a public matter, negotiated by a cooperative give and take with populations organized into assemblies or councils. The new participatory budget intends to replace public government spending decided from the top- down or determined by competitive market dynamics.
On the plus side, the Participatory Budget and associated efforts have helped make Porto Alegre the best place to live in Brazil. More, the Participatory Budget has incorporated ever enlarging circles of the populace in political activity. The project has built infrastructure and explored new methods and interactions.
Negatively, winning executive powers has enmeshed the PT in delivering daily operational coherence to the city's and state's activities, taking many of their most talented activists and resources away from direct action, from reaching out to broaden the base of grass roots support and winning new gains and terrain. Gaining back the militant outreach and struggle attributes of their movement, while simultaneously defending, enlarging, and effectively utilizing its government powers to immediately benefit the populace, is the PT task at hand, it seems.
Beyond handling the budgets in experimental ways and seeking to find means of cooperation and popular power, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul not long ago decided to try to reduce income differentials among classes. The plan was to increase wages at the lowest levels, thereby diminishing the gap up to those at higher levels, whose income would remain unchanged. The legislature prom- ptly passed a law requiring that any generalized wage increases at the bottom had to be matched by equal increases at the top. So much for the governor's plan to narrow the gap. The broad lesson is that the gains in Brazil are unstable. There is tension between delivering better daily administration on the one hand and continuing to actively grow via outreach and struggle, on the other. A variant of this tension arises in the coming election regarding preserving existing support, which reaches well into the professional levels of Brazil's class structure, versus trying to get out hesitant voters among poorer workers and peasants—all against the united efforts of capital to employ massive media manipulations against Lula, and perhaps of the U.S., too.
The PT is no doubt eminently aware that it needs to go to the populace to win legislatures, to topple old judiciaries, and to organize people in workplaces and communities in their own democratic councils to manifest their wills not only regarding the state's investment budgets, and not only regarding the whole of the state's budgets, but also regarding the whole of the Brazilian economy and society, all its industries and institutions, uprooting old forms and adopting new ones with entirely new values. Whether we are talking about Brazil, the U.S., or anywhere else, we have to understand this logic of winning non-reformist reforms and building ever more powerful movements while also constructing the infrastructure of the new society.
Sixth, have you all been noticing the rather odd pronouncements occasionally appearing in the media? Things like Bill Gates joining hands with U2's Bono and calling on the rich to pay serious attention to the plight of the poor? Don't be surprised to see the IMF or World Bank asking some of our prominent dissidents for advice and trying to corral them into positive planning sessions and the like.
What is happening? I'll tell you. The other side is scared. Yes, with all their bombs, all their media, all their assets, they are scared, and rightfully so.
What they know—something that amazingly quite often escapes our consciousness—is that their whole edifice of power and injustice ultimately rests on popular consent and passivity. Our submission is institutionally induced and enforced, of course. But these nervous corporate elites realize that our consent and passivity is coming undone. Cracks are developing. Serious fault lines are beginning to emerge. When fault lines in submissiveness reach a certain point, reversing the dissolution becomes very difficult. Corporate and political elites fear that the cracks in their system, still far from toppling it, are nearing the point of being hard to reverse.
This is war. Their side still dominates ours, but our side is on the move. All over the world momentum is changing. In my testimony at WSF 2, I closed by saying “I believe that equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management are coming to Brazil, are coming to Thailand and Turkey, are coming to Mexico and Italy and Russia, are coming to South Africa, to Vietnam, and to Afghanistan. I even believe that equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management are coming to the U.S.—and that the World Social Forum and all our movements and efforts need to be part of a massive entwined process that will make it so.”
The World Social Forum does indeed show that “another world is possible” and that with enough commitment and solidarity, we can make it a reality. The only real question about is not whether we will win, but how good a job we can do making it happen sooner rather than later. Z
Michael Albert is the author of numerous bok and articles on radical politics and participatory economics. He is the cofounder of South End Press, Z Magazine, ZMI, and sysop of ZNet.