Capitalism is a world-wide system; therefore, its victims cannot effectively
meet its challenges unless they organise themselves at that same global level.
Yet "the Internationalism of the Peoples" has always had to confront serious
difficulties produced by the unequal development associated with the
globalisation of capital. Here I propose to identify the origin and nature of
the obstacles that impede the construction of a convergence within the variety
of class struggles, and the dominated, oppressed and exploited peoples.
Objective reasons for the diversity within global capitalism
Capitalism as an essential mode of production that defines modern time is based
on the axial class conflict between labour and capital. The centrality of this
concept is at the origin of the proletarian character proclaimed by the
international organisations of the popular classes engaged in anticapitalist
social struggles, and in the socialist (or communist) horizons in which the
proletariat in question has defined its liberation. Therefore I find that it is
all together natural that the proletarian International originated in the
advanced centres of the system of global capitalism, in Western Europe, in the
Yet because of the imperialist character of the global expansion of capitalism,
the affirmation of this dominating reality has also contributed to hiding other
characteristics of social struggles in the peripheries of the system.
The diversity of social conditions and policies of the states and nations that
constitute the global system is a consequence of the nature of the developments
that characterise the global capitalist expansion, and more specifically, (i)
the inherent contrast between centres and peripheries in this development (in
other words, the essentially imperialist nature of this expansion in all phases
of its history), and (ii) the multiplicity of centres constituted as historic
nation states, which engage in a permanent competition positioning one against
the other. Despite being subordinated to the demands of the accumulation in the
centres of this system, the social formations of the peripheries have never been
marked by the central position of the workers' proletariat in the whole
organisation of production. Here the peasant societies and - to varying degrees
- many other classes and social groups are also major victims of the system.
During the entire course of their formation, nations were always marked by their
own particularities, regardless of their being dominating or dominated. The
hegemonic blocs of classes and interests that helped capital establish its
dominance, as well as the blocs that the victims of the system have built or
tried to build to meet the challenge have therefore always been different from
one country to another, and one era to another. This has created political
cultures that articulate value systems, and "traditions" of expression,
organisation and struggle in their own ways. These, as well as the culture in
which they are expressed, are all objective diversities. Finally, the
development of the forces of production through scientific and technological
revolutions have led to changes in the organisation of work and the various
forms of subordination to capitalist exploitation.
Taken together, these diverse realities make it impossible to reduce political
actors to bourgeoisie and proletariat. That simplification might work in
polemical rhetoric, but it is useless for the elaboration of an effective
policy. Because of its objectivity, the diversity results in a segmentation of
the working classes and the dominated and exploited peoples, generating the
weakening of their resistance and even of their offensive struggles whenever
they succeed in changing the relations of force to their own advantage.
The diversity does not help to bring about a natural convergence of struggles
against what only afterwards will be seen as the principal adversary. On the
contrary, it causes potentially negative conflicts of interest between, for
instance, urban and rural workers (over the prices of food products), or between
nations (or dominating national blocs).
Strategies of reproduction of the dominant powers often successfully exploit the
negative effects of the segmentation of interests and struggles. The flexibility
of capitalism, that is often analysed as being an expression of its exceptional
power (in comparison with the rigidity - effective or mythical- of other
systems), is only the practical consequence of its reproduction as the dominant
pole under the conditions of diversity and permanent evolution.
Nationalism frequently strengthens the successes of the strategies of capital
and the hegemonic bloc of which it is the leader. In the centres of the
imperialist system, this happens by way of rallying the political forces that
benefit from the support of the working classes towards the global strategies of
the dominant classes. The colonisation and the imperialist domination were
legitimised in this way, yesterday by the discourse about the "civilising
mission", today by many of those who pretend to export democracy and defend
human rights everywhere. The socialist parties and the social democrats have
often practised this alignment and deserved the qualification of
social-colonialists (or social-imperialists). This applies to the case of the
social-liberal atlanticists of contemporary Europe. Nationalism has sometimes
also been aggravated by inter-imperialist conflicts. As we know, the working
classes (at least the parties who represent them) have rallied behind their
respective bourgeoisies in major conflicts, as happened during World War I.
By contrast, the situation in the dominated peripheries typically generates
reactions calling for national liberation. These are perfectly legitimate and
positive when seen through a long-term perspective to abolish exploitation and
oppression, but they also entail dangers and illusions. The position of
representatives of the exploiting class may become too strong within the
liberation front, or later.
This is a major and permanent problem in the globalised system of capitalism.
The system, which is imperialist by nature, produces and reproduces the contrast
between imperialist centres and dominated peripheries and therefore imposes the
national struggle as a necessary step towards further social progress.
The historic lessons of the socialist and communist Internationals
The diversity of the conditions of reproduction of the different partners of
global capitalism has always constituted a major challenge to the success of
struggles conducted by the victims of the system. The Internationals of the
workers' movement were conceived precisely to surmount this major obstacle.
After a century and a half of the history of the Internationals it would be
useful to draw from some lessons that may clarify the present challenges and
options for strategic action.
The first International, which was called the International Working Mens'
Association, was created precisely to surmount the negative effects shown
through the national dispersion caused by the European Revolutions of 1848. The
new social subject, the primary victim of the expansion of capitalism in Western
and Central Europe, which had expressed its socialist or communist dreams in the
year 1848, ended up being broken by the counter-revolution. It called itself
"the proletariat" which at that time was composed of a minority assembled in the
large factories and mines of the era, and a large circle of handicraft workers.
The new proletarian class was exclusively localised in the North West region of
Europe and spreading to the United States, meaning that the possibility of an
intervention of the International made itself felt only within the borders of
Despite its limitations, the first International was able to manage the
diversity of social and political struggles in a democratic spirit, which placed
it at the forefront of its generation. The association brought together
organisations of varying nature and status, (embryonic) political parties,
unions and cooperatives, civic associations and personalities (like Marx,
Proudhon and Bakunin). Their range of intervention, analysis of challenges,
strategies, visions and mobilising ideologies were diverse - extremely so. The
limitations of the ideas of this generation are easily enumerated: the
patriarchal notion of the relations between men and women, the ignorance towards
the rest of the world, etc. We could also thrash out one more time the nature of
the conflicting ideologies (infant Marxism, anarchism, workers' spontaneity et
cetera), of their relevance and efficacy and so on, but this is certainly not
the objective of this paper. We should keep the only lesson given by the first
experience: the democratic respect for the principle of diversity. This is an
important lesson for us today.
The Second International was conceived on wholly different principles. The
accelerated proletarianisation of the epoch had given birth to new forms of
workers' parties with relatively important numbers of followers and influences
on the working classes. The parties differed in many ways, going from English
labour to the Marxist social democrats of Germany to the French revolutionary
trade unionism. Nevertheless these parties rallied - at least at the beginning -
to the objective of substituting the capitalist order with socialism. However,
of greater importance was the principle of "one" single party for each country,
"the" party that was supposed to be the exclusive representative of "the" class
which in itself was seen as the unique historical subject of social
transformation, "the" party that was potentially the bearer of "the correct
line", regardless of whether the party opted for - as history was later to show
- moderate reform or revolution. Engels and the first Marxist leaders (Kautsky,
Labriola and others) certainly considered these options as proof of progress in
relation to the First International, as they probably were, at least in part.
The new generation of leaders of the International did not always ignore the
dangers of the main options of the time, as some were too hastily to observe
(but that is not a matter of discussion in this paper). Still the limits to
democratic practices in the political and social movements that were inspired by
the parties of the Second International stemmed from these original fundamental
On the whole these parties drifted towards imperialism and nationalism. The
Second International very rarely addressed the colonial question and imperialist
expansion. It often legitimised imperialism by claiming that its consequences
were “objectively” positive (that it forced retarded people to enter into
capitalist modernity). This historical perspective, however, was refuted by the
imperialist nature inherent in the global expansion of capitalism. “Social
imperialist” is an apt description of this alignment of social democratic
parties with the linear bourgeois economism (which I pretend Marxism has nothing
in common with), and continued to be one of their features up until the period
after World War II with their rallying atlanticism and subsequently social
The drift towards imperialism reinforced the chances of a parallel alignment
with the nationalistic visions of the leaders of capitalism, at least regarding
international relations. As is well known, the parties of the Second
International foundered in the chauvinism produced by World War I.
The Third International was created to correct this drift, and it did at least
partially. It did in fact make its presence felt globally, supporting the
creation of communist parties in all the peripheries of the world system and
proclaiming the strategic character of the alliance of the "Workers of the West"
with the "Peasants of the East". Maoism expressed this development when it
enlarged the call for internationalism to include the "oppressed peoples" at the
side of the "workers of the world". Later the alliance between the Third
International (which had become Cominform), the Non-Aligned Movement following
Bandung (1955), and the Tricontinental (1966) reinforced the idea and the
practices of the globalisation of anticapitalist struggles on a truly global
Even so, the Third International not only conserved the organisational options
of the Second, but also reinforced its traits: one "single" party per country,
and that party being the bearer of the one and only "correct" line and the
catalyst of all the demands the trade unions and mass organisations considered
as “transmission belts”.
In addition, the Third International found itself in a situation that was
unknown to the First or the Second: it had to protect the first socialist state,
and later the camp of the socialist states. How this necessity evolved and what
(negative) effects it had, in relation to the evolution of the Soviet system
itself, are not the objects of this paper.
The Fourth International, which reacted against this evolution, did not bring
innovations with respect to the forms of organisation initiated by the Third. It
only wanted to return to the origins of its forerunner.
Bandung and the first globalisation of struggles (1955-1980)
The governments and the people of Asia and Africa proclaimed in Bandung in 1955
their desire to reconstruct the global system on the basis of recognition of the
rights of nations that until then had been dominated. The "right to development"
set the foundation for a pattern of globalisation that was to be realised
through multipolar negotiations, therefore compelling imperialism to adjust
itself to the new demands. The success of Bandung - and not its failure, as is
often thoughtlessly proclaimed - is at the origin of the enormous leaps forward
by the people of the South in the domains of education and health, of the
construction of the modern State and the reduction of social inequalities, and
move into the era of industrialisation. Of course, the limitations of these
gains, especially the democratic deficit of the national populist regimes who
"gave to the peoples" but never allowed them to organise themselves, must be
considered seriously in the balance sheet of the epoch.
The Bandung system related itself to two other characteristic systems of the
period following World War II, the Soviet (and Maoist) system and the Welfare
State of the Western social democrats. These systems were certainly in
competition and even in conflict (although the conflicts were not allowed to
escalate beyond certain local limits), but they were certainly also
complementary. In this situation it makes sense to talk about global struggles,
since, for the first time in the history of capitalism, struggles took place in
all the regions of the planet and inside all the nations, and interacted.
The proof of interdependence of the struggles and the historic compromises
assuring the stability in the management of concerned societies came with
developments that followed the erosion of the potential in the three systems.
The collapse of the Soviet system sparked the real social advances in the social
democratic model that were the only possible way of facing the "communist
challenge". The echo of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Europe in 1968 should
also be remembered.
The progress of industrialisation beginning in the era of Bandung was not a
result of the unfolding of imperialism but was imposed by the victories of the
peoples of the South. Without doubt this progress fed the illusion of a
“catching up”, but imperialism, which had to adjust itself to the development of
the peripheries, in reality rebuilt itself around new forms of domination. The
old dichotomy between imperialist/dominated countries which was a synonym to the
dichotomy of industrialised/non industrialised countries was slowly replaced by
a new dichotomy founded on "the five new monopolies" of the imperialist centres:
the control of new technology, natural resources, financial flows, information
and weapons of mass destruction.
The accomplishments of the period as well as their limits take us back to the
central question of the future of the bourgeoisie and capitalism in the
peripheries of the system. This is an enduring question in as much as the global
unfolding of capitalism, by its polarising effects due to its imperialist
nature, leads to a basic inequality between the centre and the periphery with
respect to a potential bourgeois and capitalist development. In other words, is
the bourgeoisie of the peripheries constrained to subject itself to the
requirements of this unequal development? Is it necessarily a comprador
bourgeoisie? Is the capitalist road, in these conditions, necessarily a dead
end? Or does the margin of autonomy that the bourgeoisie in certain
circumstances has at its disposal (a margin that needs to be specified) allow a
national capitalist development that is autonomous and able to advance in the
direction of the “catching up”? Where are the limits of these possibilities? At
what point do these limits force us to qualify the capitalist option as an
Several doctrinaire and one-sided responses to these questions have been
offered, first in one and then in the opposite direction, but in the end they
were always adjusting to evolutions that had neither been foreseen correctly by
the dominating forces nor by the popular classes. In the aftermath of World War
II the Communism of the Third International qualified all the bourgeoisies of
the South as comprador, and Maoism proclaimed that the road to liberation could
only be opened by socialist revolution which advanced in stages that were
directed by the proletariat and its allies (the rural working classes in
particular), and especially by their avant-garde, the Communist party. Bandung
set out to prove that this judgment was hasty and that under the direction of
the bourgeoisie a hegemonic national populist bloc was capable of bringing about
some of the desired development. However, once the neoliberal offensive of the
oligopolies of the imperialist centre (the triad: United States, Europe, Japan)
had put an end to the Bandung era in the 1980s, the bourgeoisies of the South
appeared again to be ready to adopt a subordinate comprador role and to accept
unilateral adjustment (this adjustment of the peripheries to the centre is in a
way the inverse of the adjustment of the centres to the peripheries during the
era of Bandung). But this reversal of tendency had barely occurred before a new
window of opportunity for the national capitalist option again seemed to open in
the so called "emerging countries", especially in China, but also in other
countries such as India and Brazil. Without a deepened analysis of these
potential advances and their contradictions and limits it will not be possible
to build effective strategies of convergence of the local and global struggles.
New era, new challenges?
The era of the Internationals and of Bandung has come to an end.
The three dominating systems of the period following the Second World War no
longer exist. This has paved the way for a triumphant capitalist offensive.
Capitalism and imperialism have entered into a new phase with qualitatively new
features. The task of identifying these transformations and their real
significance should be at the centre of our debate. Important works on these
questions already exist but discussing them and their conclusions is not the
object of this paper.
Let me recall some central theses which I have advanced concerning these
(i) the transformations of the organisation of work and of the stratification of
classes and social groups in relation to the technological revolution in
progress (information, genetic, space, nuclear) and to the accelerated
industrialisation in the emerging peripheries has resulted in a set of multiple
social and political actors which are articulated in a new manner in their
possible conflicts and alliances. The precise identification of these new
subjects of the social transformation, of their interests and their aspirations,
of their visions of the challenges and of the responses that they have brought,
of the conflicts that separate them and make obstacles for their convergence in
their diversity, is the first condition for a fruitful debate on local and
(ii) The centre/periphery opposition is no longer a synonym of the dichotomy
industrialised countries/non industrialised countries. The polarisation of
centres/peripheries that gave the expansion of global capitalism its
imperialistic character continues and even deepens because of the
above-mentioned "five new monopolies" enjoyed by the imperialist centres. Under
these conditions the projects for accelerated development, which have been
undertaken with immediate and indisputable success in the emerging peripheries
(in China in the first place, but also in other countries of the South) cannot
abolish the imperialist domination. These projects contribute to the
establishment of a new centre/periphery dichotomy, but it does not surpass it.
(iii) The noun imperialism is no longer to be conjugated in the plural like it
used to be in previous historical periods. From now on it is a "collective
imperialism" of the triad (United States, Europe, Japan). This means that the
common interests of the oligopolies based in the triad are stronger than their
eventual conflicting ("commercial") interests. This collective nature of
imperialism expresses itself through the use of the common instruments of the
triad in the management of the global system: at the economic level, the WTO
(Colonial Ministry of the triad), the IMF (collective Colonial Monetary Agency),
the World Bank (Propaganda Ministry), the OECD and the European Union (conceived
to prevent Europe abandoning liberalism); at the political level, the G7/G8, the
US Army and NATO, its instrument, (the marginalisation/domestication of the UN
completes the picture).
(iv) the hegemonic project of the United States, which operates through a
programme of military control over the planet (which among other things implies
the abrogation of international law and self-proclaimed right of Washington to
wage preventive wars whenever it wants to), articulates itself in the collective
imperialism and gives the US leadership the means to overcompensate for its
I would also like to briefly mention the main conclusions of some further
reflections on these on-going transformations of capitalism:
(i) It is said that the scientific revolution will lead to the replacement of
types of work which are done under vertical hierarchies of command with “network
organisations” of free individuals. In this new science-dominated mode of
production the individual is thought to become the real subject of history
taking over the tasks of the previous historic subjects, such as the classes and
(ii) Furthermore, it is being maintained that the era of imperialism has come to
an end and that, in the present post-imperialist globalisation system, the
“centre is everywhere and nowhere”. In accordance with this idea, confrontations
between multiple economic and social powers have replaced those of the states,
which in earlier times made up the framework for relatively stable blocs of
(iii) Emphasis is being put on the “financialisation” of management of the new
“patrimonial” capitalism, which is not analysed in terms of specific
conjunctural phenomena belonging to the present moment of “transition” (a
transition that leads to a new system whose nature is therefore in itself an
object of discussion), but as stable features of the new system being built.
I am not hiding the fact that I, for my part, have strong reservations with
regard to these theses. What I propose in the following is not a thorough
discussion of these questions - indisputably necessary - but only to make some
observations concerning the political method that is needed to make these
debates serve the positive construction of an alternative based on the principle
of convergence in the diversity.
How to "do politics"?
Following the end of the 20th century the new generation of militants and the
movements definitely rejected the way of doing politics that had characterised
the earlier critical movements on the left (in particular the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
Internationals). The traditional way is justly reproached for the not so
democratic practices on which it was built: the refusal of diversity, the
pretence of one or another to hold the secret of a “correct line” that has been
deduced by way of “scientific” (and thus impeccable) analysis, the excessive
centralisation of organisation and the power of decision (in parties, unions and
associated movements) and the ensuing fatal bureaucratic and doctrinaire
deviations. The concept of the “avant-garde” is considered to be dangerous and
is, by consequence, rejected.
This criticism should be taken seriously and accepted in its essential parts. In
this sense the principle opening for the diversity, and for the democratic way
of handling the diversity, which is at the origin of the convergence of "social
movements" in the global, regional and national "social Forums" should be
The diversity in question is multidimensional, and concerns the theory and the
The diversity of explicit or implicit analysis is not only present in the wide
range of the contemporary movements but also very often within the particular
movements. In order to have an idea of this diversity one may take a look at the
extreme positions held by the one or another concerning the relation between
theory and practice.
At one extreme we find those who put forward a (probably simplified) Leninist
thesis, affirming that the “theory” (that has to be as “scientific”, that is to
say true, as possible) must be conveyed to the movement from “the outside”.
Others substitute or associate the theory with the dream world of a creative
utopia. At the other extreme are those who state that the future can only be the
natural and almost spontaneous result of a movement which is free from concerns
about systematic formulations in advance.
Accepting this diversity certainly means tolerating a whole range of opinions
which, in turn, means adopting the perspective that the future is produced both
by means of pre-formulated concepts and by the movement. For my part, I define
the objective - that I will continue to call socialism/communism - as the
simultaneous product of the theory and the practice, the product of their
gradual convergence. This proposal does not imply a theory that has been
ordained “correct” a priori, or with any predefined vision of the final goal.
I will go even farther and propose that we admit that the diversity concerns
both the visions of the future themselves and their ethical and cultural
foundations. “Marxism” (in the singular or plural), “radical reformism”,
“liberation theology”, “anarchism”, “radical ecologism”, “radical feminism” all
have their place in the necessary effort to build a convergence in the
This being so, organising the convergence while respecting the diversity does
not exclude debate between opposing points of view, but implies it, on the
condition that the aim of the confrontation is not to cast the miscreants out.
Having reached this point, I should like to formulate my own propositions. In
itself and in its spontaneity, the movement cannot produce any desirable future;
it does not provide an exit from chaos. All the more so if the movement declares
itself to be apolitical. We know that, for perfectly respectable ethical reasons
and because history provides real examples of how “power corrupts”, part of the
movement rejects the idea that it should “come to power”. The enthusiasm for the
Neozapatism of subcomandante Marcos stemmed, for a good part, from this position
which, undoubtedly, is sometimes justifiable. However, it cannot form the basis
of a general rule that may be applied in the future (or even in the present
situation). More generally, the apolitical option which Hardt and Negri have
formulated (together with - not by chance - their “post imperialist” thesis) is
naive at best; at worst it signals that they are accepting the notion of an
apolitical civil society belonging to reactionary US political culture.
The way of doing politics which I believe is needed to challenge the present
capitalistic/imperialistic system and to produce a positive alternative consists
of treating the diversity like the First International did, and not like it was
treated in the Second, Third and Fourth Internationals. By the way, I find that
the debates within the First International show a striking analogy with those
within the WSF.
Objectives and means of a strategy for convergence in diversity
My starting point is that the system in place (capitalism in the era of the
collective imperialism of the triad under the command of the US leader,
supported by subordinate bourgeoisies of the South) is not sustainable.
Capitalism has reached a stage in its development where its victim (its
adversary) is no longer exclusively the class of proletarians whose work it
exploits; rather, it is all of humanity whose survival is threatened. At this
stage the system deserves to be called senile and therefore its only future is
to cede its place to "another world" that may be better or worse.
From now on, the further accumulation of capital actually requires the
destruction of peasant societies (in which half of humanity lives) through a
policy of "enclosures" that is to be implemented on a planetary scale. Yet the
system does not have the capacity of absorbing the peasants whom it has chased
from the fields into industrial activities. It also leads to the rapid
exhaustion of non renewable resources, to the accelerated destruction of
biodiversity, and to exacerbating the threat on present ecological balance
essential for the reproduction of life on the Planet. A consequence of the
devaluation of the labour force is that a greater contribution is demanded from
the women who do the care work. We could continue the list of areas where the
destructive consequences of capitalist expansion vastly predominate over its
creative effects. The pursuit of capital accumulation has become an obstacle to
the production of wealth made possible by the development of science and
This evolution signifies that the historic subject which is the bearer of the
desired transformation must henceforth be conceived in the plural. The movements
of resistance and protest are intervening in a growing number of areas. But this
plurality of anticapitalistic subjects, which is the expression of a potentially
invincible power of social movements is, at the same time, the manifestation of
the immediate weakness of that same movement. The sum of the demands - however
legitimate they may be, and they are legitimate - and of the struggles conceived
in their name, do not constitute an efficient alternative that is needed to
unleash a series of successive advances.
Thus the challenge is serious and will only be surpassed on the condition that a
victorious coalition, an alternative hegemonic bloc, is formed.
The challenge is such that those who want to act efficiently can hardly satisfy
with immediate and partial responses (in order to achieve “Capitalism with a
human face”), without a perspective that goes “beyond” Capitalism. Without doubt
every strategy of the real struggles must include objectives for the short term
and others for the long term, in order to be able to identify the steps in the
progression of the movement. The mere affirmation of a far off objective (like
for example “socialism”) is not only insufficient, but also may be discouraging.
Immediate goals must be set up and action organised to guarantee that the
militant mobilisations achieve victories. But this is not sufficient. It is
evermore necessary to re-establish the legitimacy and the credibility of a long
perspective, that of socialism/communism.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet system, China abandoned Maoism to
engage in the path we know, and when the populist regimes of the Bandung era
went off course, even the term Socialism lost all its sense of credibility and
legitimacy. The regimes which had emerged from revolutions made in the name of
Socialism, and the state powers that had been established by the victorious
national liberation movements, had gradually engaged in disgraceful and
sometimes also in criminal activities. They lived in the midst of lies and a
crooked, repetitive rhetoric. Therefore, these regimes and states are
responsible for the collapse of hope, which capitalism immediately profited on.
No wonder the re-emerging “movement” of the 1990s accepted capitalism as the
impassable horizon of the foreseeable future (if not the end of history) and
choose to ignore imperialism's violations of the rights of nations.
But it is time to understand that this moment should be transcended. It is time
to be radical. It is time to comprehend that the savage neoliberal offensive
only reveals the true face of capitalism and of imperialism.
In this frame the issue of the European institutions poses a central challenge
to Europe. These institutions were conceived to forever set Europe on the road
of economic liberalism and political atlanticism, and the Commission is, in this
sense, the perfect guarantor of the durability of power of the European
reaction. The call for "another Europe" or "a social Europe" is a pure
incantation as long as this institutional construct is not thoroughly
The European institution annihilated state sovereignty, without which democracy
turns into a surreal farce. State sovereignty has not been substituted by a
federal power or confederation, the necessary conditions for that are lacking
anyway. It obviously reduced the real Europe to a European dimension of the
American political project (atlanticism and the decisive role of NATO, led by
Washington, in the foreign policy of Europe). And as long as the action of the
collective imperialism of the Triad continues the present liberal globalisation,
the European institution will serve as one of its instruments.
The “plural left”, as it is called in Europe, is certainly not the means whereby
the peoples of this continent can reach the end of the tunnel. It is built on
the principle of “alternation” with the right, within limits imposed by the
liberal and atlanticist European institutions (and therefore it is not an
alternative). The reconstruction of "another left" is a condition without which
it is difficult to imagine that Europe could be ruled by the European peoples.
Will contradictions between "Europe" and the United States manifest themselves
with growing force? Some find economic conflicts of interest between the
dominant firms in the two countries/regions to be highly probable. I am not
persuaded by this argument. I believe that the contradiction lies elsewhere in
the contrast between the political culture of Europe and that of the United
States that will lead to a political conflict of which the first manifestations
are already visible. In my opinion, the new upsurge of the European political
cultures, which are threatened by “americanisation”, can result in the rebirth
of a left which is up to the challenge, that is to say, an anti-liberal and
On the other hand the peoples of the three continents (Asia, Africa, Latin
America) are today confronted with a system, in many respects, analogous with
that in place at the end of World War II: a colonial system that does not
recognise their sovereign rights, and imposes an economic system that suits the
expansion of the oligopolies of the imperialist centres, and corresponding
political systems. The expansion of the so called neoliberal global imperialist
system is nothing less than the construction of “apartheid on a global scale”.
At Bandung in 1955, the nations and states of Asia and Africa responded to this
same challenge. Those States came into existence after the victory of
revolutions made under the banner of socialism or powerful liberation movements,
and which therefore benefited from of an established legitimacy. The coalitions
that constituted the revolutionary blocs, and the national liberation movements,
always included important bourgeois segments aspiring to become the rulers of
new society, even if they could not rule alone. This bourgeois dimension of
Bandung, which manifested itself in the vision of economic development typical
of the time, rehabilitated the "national bourgeoisie" whose historic role
appeared to have come to its end in the early postwar period. The decades of the
Bandung era were deeply marked by the tension between the ambitions of these
bourgeois elements and the aspirations of the popular classes.
The new imperialist order will be challenged. By whom? Who will challenge it?
What will be the result? These are the questions that the states and the peoples
of the periphery will have to answer.
The ruling classes of the South have largely accepted the role of the
subordinate comprador. They are not capable of questioning the dominating
reality. The peoples, who are engaged in the daily struggle for survival, also
seem ready to accept their lot, or, worse, swallow new illusions that the same
ruling classes are feeding them (political Islam is the most dramatic example).
But on the other side the mobilisation of movements of resistance and the
struggles against capitalism and imperialism across the three continents, the
successes and electoral victories of the new lefts in Latin America (whatever
limits those victories may have), the progressive radicalisation of many of
these movements, the critical positions that the governments of the South are
beginning to take in the WTO, all prove that “another world”, better than the
present one, is becoming possible.
An offensive strategy is needed for the reconstruction of the front of the
peoples of the South. This requires a radicalisation of the social resistance to
It requires the politicisation of the resistance, the capacity to make the
struggles of peasants, women, workers, the unemployed, the “informals”,
democratic intellectuals converge and assign to the entire popular movement
objectives for democratisation and social progress (these are indissolubly
associated) that are possible in the present term and in the long term. It
requires that the values which give this movement legitimacy are applicable
universally (in a socialist perspective), therefore surpassing cleavages which
oppose peoples of the South against each other (Muslims and Hindus for example).
Para-religious or para-ethnic “culturalisms” (for instance political Islam,
political Hinduism) cannot be allies in the fight for an alternative to
imperialism. On the contrary, they are the principal reactionary allies of the
dominating imperialist forces.
There is a possibility that the mobilisation and the advances of the popular
struggles will inflect the policies of the powers in place in the countries of
the South, and even change these powers to the better. Such inflections are
beginning to show in, for instance, the formation of the Group of Twenty and the
Group of 99 within the WTO, even if this crystallisation of diverse (converging
or diverging) interests may entail ambiguities.
The ruling classes of certain countries of the South have visibly opted for
another strategy. Their strategy is neither one of passive submission to the
dominant forces in the global system, nor one of declared opposition. It is a
strategy of active interventions followed by a hope for accelerated development
of their countries.
China was better equipped than others to make this choice and achieve
incontestably brilliant results. China benefited from the solidity of its nation
as a result of the revolution and Maoism, from the decision to keep control over
its currency and its capital flows, and from its refusal to abandon the State
ownership of land (the main acquisition of the peasant revolution). Can this
experience be continued? And what are its limits? The analysis of the
contradictions of this option brings me to the conclusion that the project of a
national capitalism capable of imposing itself as an equal with the major powers
of the global system is largely built on illusions. The objective conditions
inherent in its history do not permit such a historic social compromise between
capital, workers and peasants that would guarantee the stability of the system.
The system will necessarily slide towards the right (and will therefore confront
a growing social movement of the popular classes), or evolve towards the left,
building a “market socialism” as one step in the long transition towards
The apparently analogous choices of the ruling classes in other “emergent”
countries are even more fragile. Neither Brazil nor India is capable of
resisting with enough force the combination of imperialism and local reactionary
classes, because they have not made a radical revolution like China. That WTO
made these two governments take side with the liberal globalisation (in Hong
Kong in December, 2005) incontestably aided imperialism to avoid the disaster
that was waiting for it, and dealt a hard blow to the emerging front of the
countries of the South. This supreme error - if it is not something worse - only
serves the interests of the most reactionary local classes (the Brazilian and
Indian big land owners!) who are imperialism's natural allies and sworn enemies
of the popular classes of these countries. The hopes that a part of the historic
left of Latin America has invested in the social democratic model are founded on
a major error of assessment: European social democracy was able to make its
achievements because it could turn social-imperialist. That is not a viable
option under the conditions of Brazil and the other countries of the South.
Towards a Fifth International?
The globalisation of capitalism's strategies creates the need for a
counter-strategy of its victims. Should we conclude that a new International is
needed to assure the convergence of the struggles of the people against capital?
I do not hesitate to give a positive answer to this question, on the condition
that the envisioned new International is conceived in the same way as the First,
but not as the Second, the Third, or the Fourth Internationals. It should be a
socialist/communist International open to all who want to act together to create
convergence in diversity. Socialism (or Communism) would thus be seen as the
product of the movement, and not as something that is deduced from a previous
definition. This proposition does not exclude the formulation of theoretical
concepts for the society to come. Instead, it evokes precise formulations of
such concepts, and it excludes the monopoly of one concept to the right way and
phases of transition.
It is certainly difficult to achieve these fundamental democratic principles.
The exercise of democracy is always difficult. We should draw “limits”, accept
that defining the strategic objectives implies making choices, and that there is
no predetermined way of handling the relation of a majority to one or more
In order not to go against the principles that I just formulated, I shall not
try to answer these questions. I shall only propose some major strategic goals
for the battle ahead, arranging them in three sections:
(i) Roll back liberalism at all levels, nationally and globally. To this end, a
number of immediate goals can be formulated, for instance, the exclusion of
agriculture from the agenda of the WTO, the abrogation of decisions by the
imperialist powers on intellectual and technological property rights, the
abrogation of decisions that hamper the development of a non-commercial
management of natural resources and public services, the abrogation of the bans
on regulation of capital flows, the proclamation of the right of states to
cancel debts that, after audit, are proved to be immoral or despicable, etc.
(ii) Dismantle the programme of military control over the planet by the military
forces of the United States and/or of NATO. The repudiation of international law
by the United States, and the "authorisation" that it gives itself to conduct
preventive wars, must be condemned without reservations. The functions of the UN
must be restored. There must be an unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the
occupying army stationed in Iraq, and of the Israeli administration of the
occupied Palestine. All military bases of the United States that are dispersed
across the continents must be dismantled. As long as this project to control the
planet is not morally, diplomatically, politically and militarily defeated, any
democratic and social advances of the people will remain vulnerable and under
the threat of being bombed by the US Air Force.
(iii) Repeal the liberal and atlanticist conceptions upon which the institutions
of the European Union are based. This implies reconsidering the whole European
institutional framework and the dissolution of NATO.
Initiatives aiming at formulating a strategy of convergence corresponding to the
general vision proposed here, have already been taken. In Bamako, 18 January
2006, on the eve of the polycentric World Social Forum (Bamako and Caracas), one
day was consecrated to debates on the strategy and construction of convergence
in diversity. The fact that this meeting could be held and that it produced
interesting results shows that the global social movement is already moving in
The sketched Fifth International, or more modestly, the strategic actions
proposed in the Bamako Appeal which I am here referring to, should contribute to
the construction of the internationalism of the peoples. It should embrace all
peoples from North to South, not only the proletariat, but all social classes
and popular strata that are victims of the system, thus humankind as a whole,
whose survival is threatened. The proposed internationalism should strengthen
and complete “another internationalism”, namely, the solidarity between the
peoples on the three continents (Asia, Africa, Latin America) against the
aggressive imperialism of the triad. The solidarity of the people in the North
and in the South cannot be based on charity. It should be based on common action
The reinforcement of the internationalism of the peoples will facilitate
advancements in three directions that, taken together, form the alternative:
social progress, democratisation, and strengthening of national autonomy through
a negotiated globalisation.
Who will subscribe to this perspective? At this point we must return to the
question of “limits”. The Fifth International should not be an assembly only for
political parties; it should welcome all organisations and resistance movements
of the people and guarantee both their voluntary participation in the
construction of common strategies and their independence of decision-making.
Thus political parties (or their fractions) should certainly not be excluded.
Whether we like it or not, the parties remain important gathering points for
The fundamental principle may be formulated in the following two complimentary
sentences: (i) no socialism without democracy (and therefore no progress towards
socialism without democratic practices); (ii) no democratic progress without
Thus it becomes understandable that not just a few, small groups of political
extremists and some good-willed NGOs will join this perspective. Many big
movements of struggle (trade unions, peasant associations, womens'
organisations, citizens' movements) know from experience that “there is strength
in numbers”. The parties of the Third and Fourth Internationals will also find
themselves a place, if they stop being self-proclaimed avant-gardes! Many
democratic, social and anti-imperialist parties of the peripheries will
certainly understand the advantages of coordinated anti-imperialist struggles.
Unfortunately, the parties of the second International that take side with
liberalism and atlanticism have excluded themselves from this prospect.
This is not the place to go further into the issue of the “conditions” for
membership (in analogy with the famous 21 conditions to be filled by the members
of the Third International). Serious debates on these principles and the
statutes of the International are indispensable. We only ask to start reflecting
on these issues.
The World Social Forum will certainly count as one of the friends of this
International, if it comes into existence. The fundamental democratic principle
of the WSF - that everybody who accepts its Charter is welcomed without
reservation - makes it possible for the members of the new International to
co-exist with organisations that contribute to the convergence in diversity even
if they do not adhere to a socialist perspective, as well as with organisations
that decide not to participate in the formulation of common strategies. This
diversity gives strength to the movement and should be preserved.
Nevertheless the idea of a Fifth International has its adversaries, and their
number will increase if it becomes a reality. There are already those who wish
to maintain the WSF in a state of maximal impotence. The ideologies by which
they want to legitimise the inactivity are well known. One of their propositions
is the pretended equivalence of the diversity of the Forum and that of the
self-proclaimed “plural left” (in Europe, principally). Another is the thesis of
the “apolitical civil society” (or even “anti-political civil society”). This
thesis, which has always been typical of the political culture of the United
States, has attracted a number of NGOs over the past decades.
Their goal is to turn the World Social Forum into a compliment to the Davos
forum. In other words, instead of questioning the principles of liberalism,
capitalism, and imperialist globalisation, they are giving these principles new
legitimacy through a minimum of “social demands” (like the “struggle against
poverty”). Associations (as apolitical as possible) of the so called “civil
society” are considered instrumental in the formulation of such demands.
There are already a number of such adverse initiatives, supported by the Davos
establishment, the G7, the big foundations in the United States, and the
institutions of the European Union. The "Mediterranean Forum" (the so called
Barcelona initiative promoted by the European Union), and the "Arab Democracy
Forum" (later called the “Future forum”) promoted by US agencies, the coalitions
of hand picked NGOs formed on the initiative of international institutions
(principally the UN and the World Bank) in order to "follow" the big conferences
organised by the institutions of the system (WTO and others), are probably meant
to divide the Social Forums, or maybe to make them break down, or at least stop
their potential development, growth and radicalisation.
1.This is an edited version of an essay of this title that first appeared in : Katarina Sehm-Patomaki and Marko Ulvila, eds, 2006 - Democratic Politics Globally : Elements for a Dialogue on Global Political Party Formations, NIGD Working Paper 1/2006, available at http://www.nigd.org/globalparties. This is based on a Word version of the original PDF version, which remains the correct and final one. The Word version was created and circulated by Peter Waterman firstname.lastname@example.org on October 2 2006 as a further contribution to a dialogue on the Bamako Appeal, of which Samir Amin is one of the prime movers. The English original was translated from the French by Mikael Böök. The French original is available @ http://www.nigd.org/globalparties.
Samir Amin is Director, Third World Forum, located in Dakar, Senegal, and Chair, World Forum for Alternatives, Cairo, Egypt, and Louvain, Belgium. An economist and intellectual, he is regarded as one of the foremost thinkers on the changing dynamics of capitalism. Since 2001, he has been actively associated with the World Social Forum as well as the regional fora. Amin has authored my articles and books, including Accumulation on a world scale (1970), Transforming the revolution : social movements and the world system (1990), Beyond US Hegemony : Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World (2006), and Memoirs of An Independent Marxist (2006), and with François Houtart in 2002, he edited - Mondialisation de resistances : L’etat des lutes 2002 [‘The Globalisation of Resistance : The State of the Struggles 2002’, in French] (Paris : L’Harmattan / Forum Mondial des Alternatives).