Slow death of old left

This year's World Social Forum, which has just closed in Brazil, has highlighted the fact that the left is still struggling to come to terms with the end of the Soviet Union. A new generation is reacting against capitalism's triumphalism, says Tina Becker - and instead of revolutionary answers the left serves them the rotten crap of the past

On February 1, the fifth WSF in Brazil came to an end. More than 155,000 people from over 135 countries attended the event in Porto Alegre. The first WSF was set up in 2000 in opposition to the simultaneous gathering of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos. In fact, this year it might have been quite difficult to distinguish between the two. In Davos, Bono, Bill Gates and Tony Blair were attempting to outdo each other with their plans to 'make poverty history' and push for debt relief. UN ambassador Angelina Jolie argued passionately for more money for the poor and Sharon Stone went round with a bucket, raising money for mosquito nets in Tanzania. In fact, so 'caring' has the WEF been that Digby Jones, the head of Confederation of British Industry, complained that it had been taken over by NGOs: "Davos has been hijacked by those who want business to apologise for itself. We have heard how we are greedy and how we pollute and how we have got to help Africa. But a celebration of business? No" (The Guardian January 31). The World Economic Forum might have become more fluffy, shifting its emphasis towards more 'corporate responsibility', but global capitalism certainly has not. A political alternative from the left is more urgent than ever. Boos for Lula But, while there were definitely fewer celebrities in Porto Alegre, the message from many of the participants was quite similar. Numerous NGOs were present at both events, as was of course Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He was quite happy to take his new $56 million Airbus on its maiden voyage from Porto Alegre to Davos. No wonder he was booed ferociously when he tried to give his speech in a football stadium in Porto Alegre (Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, incidentally, was greeted like a rock star). Lula's Workers Party (PT) was of course the driving force behind the establishment and financing of the WSF. Since then, a lot has happened: Lula has betrayed the hopes that many on the left had in him by dutifully sticking to the vicious economic reforms the IMF is demanding in return for its loans. The Workers Party has lost control in a number of Brazilian regions, including Porto Alegre. And a number of splits have weakened the organisation, with the new Party of Socialism and Liberty (P-SOL) being the most leftwing. Booing him at the WSF is all very well, but what exactly did people expect of him? Even before he had been elected, Lula had sent signals to world capitalism that he would not rock the boat. He made this clear in advance by agreeing to run for president in tandem with an outright enemy of the Brazilian masses, an open representative of the landlords and the big bourgeoisie. Jose Alencar, a millionaire textile magnate and leader of the conservative Liberal Party was his running mate - this sent out the message that, despite all the rhetoric, the presidency of Lula would not be that different from that of his bourgeois predecessor, Cardoso. As we noted at the time: "Indeed, a number of more canny international bourgeois commentators have taken note of Lula's crossing the Rubicon from metalworkers' leader and initiator of strikes against military dictatorship to respectable front man for the neoliberals" (Weekly Worker October 17 2002). We went on to quote The Economist: "Mr da Silva and his advisers are trying hard to win investors' trust: far from threatening to rip up the IMF accord, as they once would have, they nodded it through "¦ Mr da Silva would continue with Mr Cardoso's public sector reforms, and some of his infrastructure and social projects. There would be less privatisation. But Mr da Silva would be prepared, for example, to let private firms run water services" (September 19 2002). Despite this, much of the organised left internationally sowed illusions in this centre-left reformist and what he could achieve. And in Brazil itself, members of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and the Communist Party of Brazil sat in his bourgeois government. Meanwhile the disillusionment of the masses rapidly spread. Despite all this, the PT is still a key player in the WSF: its members are at the core of the self-appointed international secretariat and can veto any moves it does not like. Of course, this organisation has no interest in building a global united left that can really take on capitalism. The old left Much of the international left is no better. They accept the 'leadership' of the Workers Party in the WSF and the outrageous and hypocritical rules it has imposed on all social forums in the form of the 'Charter of principles'. We have seen members of tightly organised political sects arguing against the participation of political parties; we have seen 'official communists' dressed up as mere anti-globalisation activists and socialists arguing for capitalism to be reformed. Despite attempts to present the WSF and European Social Forum as totally new phenomena, in truth we see the rotten politics of the past rearticulated. Of course it is obligatory to relate to new moods in society. A new generation is reacting to capitalist triumphalism and is looking for answers - but where is the communist programme to lead them? Instead of dealing with its own Stalinist, social democratic or sectarian past in an open and honest manner, much of the 'old left' simply holds up a mirror to the 'movement' - in the hope of using the social forums as a transmission belt into their own discredited organisations. Likewise, the so-called parties of recomposition, which were supposed to be shining examples of the new - where are they now? The German Party of Democratic Socialism has moved faster to the right than you can say 'Stalinists'. The Spanish Izquierda Unida has all but vanished. And Italy's Rifondazione Comunista, regarded as much healthier, is again joining the Olive Tree Federation (previously coalition) of Romano Prodi's social democratic Democratic Left (DS). In 1998, Rifondazione left the Oliver Tree after just two years in order to jump onto the anti-capitalist bandwagon. In France, much of the old left (particularly the Communist Party and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire) are hiding in the lobby group Attac - a force that has constituted the right wing of the ESF, vetoing even the smallest step forward. We are still witnessing the slow death of the old, not yet the birth of the new. The WSF underlines the fact that the objective conditions for the new are ripe, but the subjective factor lags way behind. The WSF itself is now moving in an even more decentralised and disorganised direction. For a start, for the first time there has been no centrally produced 'WSF final declaration' at this year's event. In previous years, the declaration has issued calls for the global anti-war protests on March 13 2003 and similar actions. Decentralisation But now the organisers have said they want to "decentralise the event, spur new grassroots movements and give power to participants to pursue their own agendas". So instead of a common declaration (however inadequate) there were hundreds of individual appeals and statements pinned on a huge notice board by a forum stage next to the river Guaiba. Amongst them is - interestingly - a proposal from 19 'WSF personalities', many of whom are members of the international committee. This group seems to have been against the scrapping of the final declaration - but has instead issued a text that stinks of sub-reformism: the main points are the adoption of the Tobin tax on international financial transfers, the dismantling of tax havens, the promotion of 'equitable' forms of trade and the "democratisation of international organisations", including the demand to move the United Nations headquarters from its current New York location to the south. The document was put together by, amongst others, Attac founder Bernard Cassen, Samir Amin, Walden Bello and our own Tariq Ali. Interestingly, among those who chose not to sign the text were a number of members of the Brazilian Workers Party - for them, even this nonsense seemed to be going too far. Of course, the left needs its own programme that maps the way from the here and now to a future in which the working classes - ie, the vast majority of humanity - can run society. On January 25, the international council further decided that the next WSF would take place in a "decentralised manner", with meetings in "various countries". The details will be confirmed in April, but it looks like events will take place in Morocco, Pakistan and Venezuela. Initially, the plan was to have no WSF in 2006, but move to a two-yearly cycle (just like the ESF). However, if the "decentralised" WSF 2006 proves successful, who can say that the 2007 WSF - due to be held somewhere in Africa - will not be split up too? Undoubtedly, with three or more venues attendance figures could well be up - a major factor in determining 'success' no doubt. Clearly, the WSF in its present form, just like the ESF, is totally useless as an agency for change. What is the point of these forums if they do not help to cohere our forces on the highest possible level?