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What Happened to the New Left?

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Published on Thursday, January 30, 2003 by the Globe & Mail/Canada What Happened to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2003
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Published on Thursday, January 30, 2003 by the Globe &
      What Happened to the New Left?
      by Naomi Klein

      The key word at this year's World Social Forum, which ended
      Tuesday in Porto Alegre, Brazil, was "big." Big attendance:
      more than 100,000 delegates in all! Big speeches: more than
      15,000 crammed in to see Noam Chomsky! And most of all, big
      men. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the newly elected President
      of Brazil, came to the forum and addressed 75,000 adoring
      fans. Hugo Chavez, the controversial President of Venezuela,
      paid a "surprise" visit to announce that his embattled
      regime was part of the movement.

      "The left in Latin America is being reborn," Mr. Chavez
      declared, as he pledged to vanquish his opponents at any
      cost. As evidence of this rebirth, he pointed to Lula's
      election in Brazil, Lucio Gutierrez's victory in Ecuador and
      Fidel Castro's tenacity in Cuba.

      But wait a minute: How on earth did a gathering that was
      supposed to be a showcase for new grassroots movements
      become a celebration of men with a penchant for three-hour
      speeches about smashing the oligarchy?

      Of course, the forum, in all its dizzying global diversity,
      was not only speeches, with huge crowds all facing the same
      direction. There were plenty of circles, with small groups
      of people facing each other. There were thousands of
      impromptu gatherings of activists excitedly swapping facts,
      tactics and analysis in their common struggles. But the big
      certainly put its mark on the event.

      Two years ago, at the first World Social Forum, the key word
      was not "big" but "new": new ideas, new methods, new faces.
      Because if there was one thing that most delegates agreed on
      (and there wasn't much), it was that the left's traditional
      methods had failed.

      This came from hard-won experience, experience that remains
      true even if some left-wing parties have been doing well in
      the polls recently. Many of the delegates at that first
      forum had spent their lives building labor parties, only to
      watch helplessly as those parties betrayed their roots once
      in power, throwing up their hands and implementing the
      paint-by-numbers policies dictated by global markets. Other
      delegates came with scarred bodies and broken hearts after
      fighting their entire lives to free their countries from
      dictatorship or racial apartheid, only to see their
      liberated land hand its sovereignty to the International
      Monetary Fund for a loan.

      Still others who attended that first forum were refugees
      from doctrinaire Communist parties who had finally faced the
      fact that the socialist "utopias" of Eastern Europe had
      turned into centralized, bureaucratic and authoritarian
      nightmares. And outnumbering all of these veteran activists
      was a new and energetic generation of young people who had
      never trusted politicians, and were finding their own
      political voice on the streets of Seattle, Prague and Sao

      When this global rabble came together under the slogan
      "Another world is possible," it was clear to all but the
      most rigidly nostalgic that getting to this other world
      wouldn't be a matter of resuscitating the flawed models of
      the past, but imagining new movements.

      The World Social Forum didn't produce a political blueprint
      -- a good start -- but there was a clear pattern to the
      alternatives that emerged. Politics had to be less about
      trusting well-meaning leaders, and more about empowering
      people to make their own decisions; democracy had to be less
      representative and more participatory. The ideas flying
      around included neighborhood councils, participatory
      budgets, stronger city governments, land reform and
      co-operative farming -- a vision of politicized communities
      that could be networked internationally to resist further
      assaults from the IMF, the World Bank and World Trade
      Organization. For a left that had tended to look to
      centralized state solutions to solve almost every problem,
      this emphasis on decentralization and direct participation
      was a breakthrough.

      At the first World Social Forum, Lula was cheered, too: not
      as a heroic figure who vowed to take on the forces of the
      market and eradicate hunger, but as an innovator whose party
      was at the forefront of developing tools for impoverished
      people to meet their own needs. Sadly, those themes of deep
      participation and democratic empowerment were largely absent
      from Mr. da Silva's campaign for president. Instead, he told
      and retold a personal story about how voters could trust him
      because he came from poverty, and knew their pain. But
      standing up to the demands of the international financial
      community isn't about whether an individual politician is
      trustworthy, it's about the fact that, as Mr. da Silva is
      already proving, no person or party is strong enough on its

      Right now, it looks as if Lula has only two choices:
      abandoning his election promises of wealth redistribution or
      trying to force them through and ending up in a Chavez-style
      civil war. But there is another option, one his own Workers
      Party has tried before, one that made Porto Alegre itself a
      beacon of a new kind of politics: more democracy. He could
      simply hand power back to the citizens who elected him, on
      key issues from payment of the foreign debt, to land reform,
      to membership in the Free Trade Area of the Americas. There
      is a host of mechanisms that he could use: referendums,
      constituents' assemblies, networks of empowered local
      councils and assemblies. Choosing an alternative economic
      path would still spark fierce resistance, but his opponents
      would not have the luxury of being against Lula, as they are
      against Mr. Chavez, and would, instead, be forced to oppose
      the repeated and stated will of the majority -- to be
      against democracy itself.

      Perhaps the reason why participatory democracy is being
      usurped at the World Social Forum by the big men is that
      there isn't much glory in it. A victory at the ballot box
      isn't a blank check for five years, but the beginning of an
      unending process of returning power to that electorate time
      and time again.

      For some, the hijacking of the forum is proof that the
      movements against corporate globalization are finally
      maturing and "getting serious." But is it really so mature,
      amidst the graveyard of failed, left political projects, to
      believe that change will come by casting your ballot for the
      latest charismatic leader, then crossing your fingers and
      hoping for the best? Get serious.

      Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and Fences and Windows,
      resumes her monthly column in The Globe and Mail.

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      All my fiction through 2001 and more. Intro by S.T. Joshi.

      Lord We├┐rdgliffe and Necronomicon Page:
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
      thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
      written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
      --Clark Ashton Smith
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