Sao Paulo Forum: The mistaken summing-up by Atilio Boro …

By Valter Pomar
I have just received an e-mail from the “Alai-amlatina” Information Service, which contains the article by Atilio A. Boron titled “Summing up the Sao Paulo Forum in Caracas.
Boron was there, by invitation of the Venezuelan sponsors, at the head table for the closing ceremonies of the 18th Conference of the Sao Paulo Forum. I do not know if he was present at other Forums; I do not know if he participated at other moments in the 18th Forum. What I do know is that his summing up is mistaken.
I begin with the specific mistakes. Boron says that, “it is hard to understand how the authorities of the FSP denied the right to be heard – not just the entry of the Patriotic March as a political organization affiliated to the Forum, in spite of all the support presented by political parties inside and outside Colombia – to Senator Piedad Cordoba.”
Indeed, if it were true, it would not be comprehensible, but what Boron says is not true.
The Patriotic March applied for entry to the Sao Paulo Forum through an e-mail sent the same week in which the 18th Conference of the Forum was held. The rules of the Forum, rules which have permitted us to get to this point in one piece, establish that for an organization to join, a consensus of all the national parties is required, and then consensus in the Working Group and then the consensus of the Assembly of the Forum.
In spite of good will on all sides, with the application being made so late, it was not possible for all the Colombian parties to respond in time if they were in agreement with the entry of the Patriotic March. And without the explicit and formal support of the national parties, where they exist, there is no way to approve the entry of a new organization; whoever they might be, they have to have that support.
Boron says that the authorities of the Forum (who might these authorities be?) denied Piedad Cordoba the right to be heard. My question is: through whom did she seek that right? And who might have denied it? I hope that Boron replies.
Until then I can only say what I know and what I saw, from the position of Executive Secretary of the Forum and coordinator of several of the meetings which took place during the 18th Conference. And what I know and what I observed is that if she had requested it, we would have given her the right to speak, as we did to several other guests.
Boron speaks of “legalistic chicanery, inadmissible in an entity which claims to be on the left, deprived us of hearing her testimony, and did not pass unnoticed by President Chávez.” If what he says were true, concerning having denied her the opportunity to be heard, it is terrifying to see someone on the left writing something of this level, as though Chávez were a vigilante or a night watchman, and Boron his messenger. Without a doubt, Marxist erudition and appropriate behaviour are different things.
Boron also says that “something similar occurred with the Hondurans from Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE), a party which represents better than any other the resistance to the government of Porfirio Lobo.” I simply do not understand what Boron means to say: what similar thing, what exclusion is he speaking of?
For those who are not informed: during the meeting of the Working Group of the Sao Paulo Forum, on July 3, the relationship between LIBRE and the Sao Paulo Forum was discussed. Formally, those who form part of the Forum are the Resistance Front. It was decided in the meeting of the Working Group that, as soon as LIBRE applies to join the Forum, they will be admitted, but that the request should be made by them, given that there are sectors forming part of LIBRE which are not part of the Resistance Front. And the fact is that LIBRE has not presented its request for admission to the office of the Executive Secretary of the Forum.
On this basis, as much in the case of Colombia as in the case of Honduras, Boron is at best misinformed. In both cases, it would be useful if he followed the same advice he offers to the Forum:  a “fraternal in-depth discussion, without concessions, and safe from all classes of bureaucratic blockages or formalisms which could asphyxiate it.” If he had asked any of the “authorities of the Forum” (he must know who they are, given that he cites them) he would have discovered that things did not happen as he says.
My impression nevertheless, is that Boron is more concerned with pontificating than investigating. Without taking into account that he seems somewhat discontent with the success of the Forum, for which motive he makes an effort to attribute the success of the 18th Conference to everyone except the Forum itself.
Boron says that “The final results of the conclave are, in a certain sense, positive, although in some respects there are many things to improve as we will see in what follows. Positive, because the multitude of parties and social movements that attended the event had the opportunity to exchange opinions, compare experiences and participate in a rich and needed reciprocal learning experience. Positive as well because, in the face of the renowned ideological eclecticism of the forum – with the participation of parties which could only be categorized as on the left with a show of the imagination – the closing speech delivered by Comandante Chávez set out a new agenda which the parties and organizations of the FSP should consider very carefully in their upcoming meetings.”
The preceding phrases contain two examples of circular reasoning, one incorrect and the other worse than that.
The circular reasoning is in the criticism which Boron makes of “the renowned ideological eclecticism of the forum – with the participation of parties which could only be categorized as on the left with a show of the imagination.” Anyone who says this simply has not understood anything concerning the motives for which the Forum has come to where it is, 22 years later. If the Forum were not “eclectic”, politically and ideologically, it would be just one more of those rambling “internationals”. In another sense, the fact of being “eclectic” has not impeded the Forum from maintaining an essentially correct attitude throughout two decades, which is enough time to prove the consistency of certain ideas and initiatives.
And it was worse than incorrect to say that Chávez had “set out a new agenda which the parties and organizations of the FSP should consider very carefully in their upcoming meetings.” Personally, I agree with some things and differ with others that Chávez said in the closing speech. But it is simply false to say that he set out a new agenda. The themes which Chávez touched on have been part of a debate in the Forum for a long time.  And that includes something that Boron attempts to omit, which is the need to go “beyond the left”.
For example: Boron says that “beyond the necessary criticism of neo-liberalism and its still heavy legacy, the problem is capitalism; what has to be conquered and subverted is capitalism.” True, and so much so that the Final Declaration of the 18th Conference speaks directly of socialism; and that in an “eclectic” forum in which not everyone is socialist!!
Therefore, it is ridiculous to say that this would be one of the “principal theoretical weaknesses of the Caracas Declaration approved by the FSP.” Weakness there would be, no doubt, if the final Declaration had spent 99% of its time talking about socialism and no more than 1% outlining how to confront neo-liberal capitalism and imperialism. The Declaration points to the fundamental political tasks for the period; without taking them on, socialism, integration and the fight against neo-liberalism would remain no more than rhetoric.
In fact Boron appears to have a negative impression about the organizations which make up the Forum. According to his caricature, we are parties that believe socialism will fall “from the sky like some product of economic determinism, as Eduard Bernstein suggested at the end of the nineteenth century, but rather through the intervention of a plural and heterogeneous revolutionary subject.” Also according to his caricature, we are organizations that would not know what to do the day after the 18th Conference.
The caricature is so ridiculous, that Boron takes care to attribute it to Chávez. I am left simply ashamed when I see someone with such a long history as Boron, use this type of rhetorical expedient to back up his positions.
If Boron were less ill-humoured with the Forum, if he had a little of the tolerance which he preaches to others, if he had asked the opinion of any of the members of the Working Group, he would have discovered that one of our central concerns consists precisely in increasing our organic quality. The problem is that this is easy to say but very hard to do.
I do not know what practical experience Boron has, as a leader of a political party. What I do know, from my experience in the PT and the Sao Paulo Forum, is that we are not “cheerfully detached from the decisive issue of organization.” In fact, the “decisive issue of organization”, in an international and pluralistic institution like the Forum, is much more complex than in a national organization. And further, those who talk of organization are not always the most successful in organizational terms.
Boron simplifies the problem so much, that he comes to confuse the situations of the Sao Paulo Forum and the World Social Forum [FSM]. The comparison between one and the other does not make the least sense, and because in the FSM parties are prohibited and groups which are in principle against the definition of political program priorities, have the hegemony.
There are other things to say, concerning the summing-up made by Boron.
Let us look at what he says about Haiti, for example: “The declaration approved in Caracas condemns the coup attempts against Evo Morales, Mel Zelaya, Rafael Correa and the most recent against Fernando Lugo. It regrettably forgets to mention the coup perpetrated against Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, in the year 2004.  This is a serious failing because the forgetfulness cannot be dissociated from the unfortunate presence of troops from various Latin American countries – Brazil, Chile, Argentina, amongst others – in Haiti, when what is really lacking in this suffering country are doctors, nurses, teachers.”
Perhaps Boron does not know, but the final declarations are drawn up by consensus in the meetings of the Working Group. In these meetings at this 18th Conference, Haitian leaders participated and presented a resolution concerning the situation in Haiti, which was approved by the plenary. It is legitimate to debate whether this resolution and the Declaration should have made reference to the overthrow of Aristide. But it is bad faith to link the supposed forgetfulness to “the unfortunate presence of troops from various Latin American countries – Brazil, Chile, Argentina, amongst others”, omitting which are those others, an omission (more than “forgetting”) which serves to reinforce an insinuation which Boron should explain, so that the debate can be clear.
So that I am not also accused of ill humour, I recognize that Boron is right when he claims that we could have included in the Declaration the demand for “closure of the military bases extending over all of Latin America and the Caribbean.” Nevertheless, the question (including its Colombian developments) was widely discussed at various times during the Forum, in a workshop and in a seminar. I recognize as well, that the phrase concerning the limited achievements of the FTA’s, also makes for different interpretations.
And finally, I agree that we live in a moment in which moderation, “far from being a virtue, becomes a mortal sin”. And further, I very much appreciate the recommendation of “audacity, audacity, audacity”. That phrase having been spoken by Danton, proves that not all verbal radicalism is consistent.
– Valter Pomar
National leader of the Workers Party and executive secretary of the Sao Paulo Forum
Translated from the Spanish version into English by Donald Lee, for ALAI.