Coming out of the 18th Conference of the Sao Paulo Forum, which took place in Caracas in the first days of July 2012, a controversy was provoked via Internet between two compañeros for whom I profess the greatest respect: Atilio Borón and Valter Pomar, and then enriched by a letter from other compañeros who I also hold in the highest esteem, Piedad Córdoba and Carlos Lozano, from Colombia, and a message from Julio Gilberto Ríos, from Honduras. On the basis of the situation that has been created, Jacob Blinder proposes to pick up the debate on the creation of a revolutionary international. The objective of this article is not to pass judgement on what occurred at an event in which I was not present. I feel motivated to write because the controversy unleashed is for me identical to many others in which I have participated during the almost twenty years (1990-2009) during which I attended the activities of the Forum.
The purpose of these lines is to make known my point of view on why the Forum is as it is, why it has existed more than twenty years being as it is, and why this type of controversy, far from being an exception or an accident, is inherent to its very existence. I cherish the hope that these opinions stimulate other compañeros and compañeras to make known their own, so that everyone might contribute to the difficult, and at times prickly, but indispensable, search for means and methods to build unity within the diversity of political, social and socio-political forces on the left in Latin America and the Caribbean. On a subject such as this, my starting point is that no one has the “absolute truth”. On the contrary, each of us sees it from their personal and/or group experience, and the conditions and concrete characteristics of the struggles they are fighting. Because of that, all of us should talk, listen and debate. This allows us to capture reasonable elements from the positions of others which we had not considered, and incorporate them into our own. This piece of work is written and distributed in this spirit.
At this point I should say that if the Sao Paulo Forum were as many of us would like, Piedad Córdoba would not have to ask to speak in its Conferences: it would be the Forum itself, on its own initiative, that would place her on the list of main speakers for the inaugural or closing sessions. The Forum which many of us would like would do or not do, according to the case, many of the things which the current Sao Paulo Forum does not do, and yes, which it does, but as the refrain goes: you cannot ask pears of an elm tree.
“Not asking pears of an elm tree” is an idea to keep in mind when analysing the actions of the Forum. In what sense do I use that metaphor here? First of all, let’s clarify that it is not used in a disparaging way, in the sense of “that is what there is, and we have to resign ourselves to that”, but rather as a graphic image to call attention to the fact that we are talking about a forum, a concept which implies recognizing its breadth, diversity and heterogeneity, which is to say, understanding that its actions and declarations are the product of complex processes of approximation, negation, and convergence, the results of which none of its members can hope would satisfy 100% of their positions and particular political interests.
There is a fundamental difference between a forum and an international of political parties and movements. Although there might exist many and very sharp, political and ideological discrepancies within an international, its members recognize each other as expressions coming from a common mold. For example, the members of the Socialist International recognize each other as coming from the current of the European worker and socialist movement of the final third of the 19th century which opted for reform of the capitalist system as its strategic horizon. On the basis of this mold, from which the pretensions of worker and socialist identity were long-since ripped out, some define themselves as social democrats, others as “democratic socialists” and others as laborites.
The Sao Paulo Forum does not possess a common mold: by its breadth and diversity, it is a unique political grouping in the history of left-wing forces since that term was coined. It refers to a space where currents representative of the broad political and ideological spectrum in the Latin American and Caribbean left converge, and which include, amongst others, bourgeois-democratic, nationalist and social-democratic currents, together with socialist and communist currents with diverse identities. And so, with the metaphor of not asking pears from an elm tree, what is pictured is the idea of not asking a forum to act like an international.
How and why did the Sao Paulo Forum Emerge?
Whose was the original idea of calling together a meeting of the progressive and left-wing parties and political movements in Latin America and the Caribbean? It was a joint initiative of Fidel Castro Ruz and Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, which emerged after the Brazilian presidential election of 1989, with the purpose of exploiting the capacity to convene with which the Workers’ Party (PT) came out of that process, to foment a dialogue and interaction which would carry the Latin American and Caribbean left out of the paralysis into which it was plunged by the terminal crisis of “true socialism” and the universal avalanche of neo-liberalism.
The initiative of Fidel and Lula came together in the call, issued by the PT (Workers’ Party), to the Conference of Political Parties and Organizations on the Left in Latin America and the Caribbean, the original name of what we know as the Sao Paulo Forum, which took place between the 4th and the 6th of July 1990 in what was the Hotel Danubio in the Brazilian city whose name it took on. Owing to the fact that the PT was made up of many internal currents, all of them pressed the Secretary of International Relations of the party to invite their respective counterparts from other countries. And because of that, the result of that call was the unprecedented convergence of socialist and non-socialist currents, and of socialist currents of diverse character, many of which, until that moment, were repugnant to each other.
The Conference of Sao Paulo was an historic occasion because, for the first time, political parties and movements that spanned the whole ideological mosaic of the Latin American left, came together in the same event. From that convergence were derived two unprecedented facts: one was the participation of virtually all the currents with a socialist orientation; the other was the juxtaposition of socialist currents with social-democratic currents and others of a progressive character. Without underestimating the transcendence of that fact, which set the Forum’s standard of plurality, it is necessary to clarify that there was not a balanced participation in the sense of reflecting the strength and social insertion of each branch of the left. The socialist presence represented the majority, which later gave rise to confrontations between, on the one hand, those interested in redefining the political orientation and composition of the nascent Forum – via the exclusion of the smallest and most radical groups, and the inclusion of social-democratic parties and progressive parties less represented in the Conference of Sao Paulo – and on the other hand, those who defended the original socialist orientation and composition. Between the two postures a precarious equilibrium was created, consistent with attracting the social-democratic and progressive political parties and movements which had not attended the meeting at the Hotel Danubio, but without excluding any of the forces participating in it.
The attendance at the Conference of Sao Paulo of representatives of all the ideological currents on the Latin American left was due to a combination of factors. The terminal crisis of the USSR provoked a change in the geo-political configuration of the world, which not only altered the conditions and the premises of the struggle of communist parties, but also all of the left. From the guerrilla movements to the progressive and social-democratic parties, all felt the need to exchange ideas. But it was not just a moment for exchange, but also for mutation of political identities, which presupposed an “exploratory dialogue” between those who until then were adversaries and in the future could be allies.
The mutual approach of divergent currents of the revolutionary and socialist left was possible because of the split occasioned by the decomposition of the USSR. Without doubt, that process gave life to the controversy over what was the “original sin” of Soviet socialism. Nevertheless, the by now predictable disappearance of the “apple of discord”, which is to say, the Soviet state, and the general coincidence in the need to build new socialist paradigms, caused the historic divisions of the communist movement to pass to the secondary plane. Although the differences did not disappear, a space for dialogue and convergence amongst them was opened up.
And furthermore, the exchange of ideas and the mutation of identities, in the juxtaposition of social-democratic, progressive, revolutionary and socialist forces, and as well, the fortuitous element that the Conference of Sao Paulo was conceived as an event which would be held only once, played a decisive role. If there had been awareness that, in making that open call to such different currents, the identity of a permanent grouping was being formed, apprehensions would have emerged on the part of all the participants.
When did its internal contradictions flare up and how did it survive them?  
It is not by chance that the discrepancies about its composition, objectives and correlation of forces started to afflict the Sao Paulo Forum as soon as it was decided to found an ongoing institution. It was then that the worst part of the odyssey started, including the rejection of the original name by a current which proposed to re-baptize it as the Conference of Democratic Political Parties and Organizations of Latin America and the Caribbean, working from the assumption that you could not aspire to being elected to government with a left-wing identity. This is how the name, Sao Paulo Forum, came to appear in the call for the 2nd Conference: as a compromise formula between those who defended and those who objected to the left-wing identity. Even so, it was difficult to impose this formula because, those who objected to the left-wing identity, considered that it alluded to the Sao Paulo Declaration, with its clear socialist orientation.
The 2nd Conference of what today we know as the Sao Paulo Forum took place in Mexico City, from the 12th to the 15th of June 1991. At that event it was necessary to appeal to the political and moral authority of Lula as founder, and of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas as host, for that name to be minted and, in doing so, put an end the tenacious resistance of those who insisted on characterizing the forum only as “democratic”. I insist that the struggle around the name and the identity of the political grouping that was being constructed was just the tip of the iceberg of contradictions which threatened to blow it up in the first stages of the process of convergence of such a heterogeneous political and ideological spectrum.
At the 3rd Conference of the Forum, mounted in Managua, between the 16th and the 19th of July 1992, its “crisis of infancy” came to its maximum expression. In the result, its members had to consider, for the first time, the balance of costs and benefits in saving it or letting it die. They chose to save it, which implied that everyone accepted recognizing, at least in a partial form and reluctantly, that they belonged to a forum, not to an international. This led to a process of negotiation and approval of “rules of the game”, in which I will highlight two very important meetings, although they were not the only ones:
– One was the meeting of the Forum’s Working Group organized in Montevideo, on the 16th and 17th of October 1992, where the Uruguayan hosts, inventors of the political and organizational engineering which permitted the formation and functioning of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front), played the fundamental role which enabled unjamming the drafting of the Norms for the Functioning of the Sao Paulo Forum and its Working Group.
– Another was the 4th Conference of the Forum organized in Havana, from the 21st to the 24th of July 1993, which counted on the active and permanent presence of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Fidel Castro Ruz. The prestige of the Cuban Revolution, whose resistance turned into proof that neo-liberal globalization did not constitute an unavoidable destiny, explains the quality and quantity of participation registered at that event, at which 112 member political parties and organizations, 25 observers from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 48 observers from other regions participated, for a total of 185 political forces from all parts of the world. In this spirit, the Havana Declaration says:
“During the 3rd Conference, held in Managua, Nicaragua, the selection of the city of Havana as the site for this Conference transformed itself into a transcendental decision. It achieved the incorporation of 31 political forces, amongst which are included 221 anti-colonialist, popular and democratic parties and movements of the Caribbean, which strengthen this unity effort.”
At the 4th Conference, through multiple debates and confrontations, approval of the norms which in their essence continue in force today, was finally achieved. The approval of those norms and the immaculate transparency with which the Communist Party of Cuba fulfilled them in its capacity as host of that crucial Conference, were essential for the survival of the Forum.
Nothing could be further from the intent of this article than to assign to the Uruguayans and the Cubans the “exclusive” credit for the “salvaging” of the Forum. On one hand, it was a tense process, exhausting and grueling, in which all the political parties and organizations of the Working Group participated – a process recognized and supported in plenary by the 112 member political parties and organizations participating in the 4th Conference. On the other hand, these two were not the only meetings organized to establish the “rules of the game”, but yes they need to be highlighted because in Montevideo the construction of consensus was unblocked, and in Havana that consensus was democratically made official and started to function, including the consensus on identity of the Forum, now not just of the left, but also explicitly anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal.
The decisive action of Lula and Cárdenas at the Conference in México held in 1991, put an end to the confrontation about the name of the new-born political grouping, and those that then feared being identified as “on the left” no longer had that apprehension, owing to that term having been re-legitimized to the point that even some that do not fit in its most lax definition launch themselves on electoral campaigns under that guise. Furthermore, the arduous process of elaborating and approving the Norms for the functioning of the Sao Paulo Forum and its Working Group settled the rules for resolving political discrepancies and contradictions, as much those that show up openly, as those which are aired as questions of an organizational character. Nevertheless, the basic problem, which is none other than the historic contradiction between reform or revolution, has not disappeared; it is posed again in the current conditions of the world and of Latin America and the Caribbean. That contradiction, which at times lies dormant and at times bursts out in the Forum, does not have and will not have a solution within that space. It has to be resolved on all fronts of social, political and socio-political struggle, throughout the length and breadth of Latin America and the Caribbean. And it is the result of that struggle on all fronts which will modify, in one or another sense, the correlation of forces within the Forum.
Today, when Latin American and Caribbean parties and movements, proud of their socialist identity, occupy social, political and politico-institutional spaces without precedent, including the control of national, provincial and local governments, and the election of parliamentary caucuses, it could be a shock for new generations to know that, just a short time ago, asserting a left-wing identity, and even more-so, the anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal identity of the Sao Paulo Forum was an extraordinary achievement in an “up-hill” battle.
What can we expect of the elm tree?
We have to start from its anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal identity to know what can be expected and what cannot be expected of the Sao Paulo Forum. In other words, the Forum is anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal; it is not anti-capitalist, nor is it socialist. Some of its members are, but others not, and the Forum could only be anti-capitalist and socialist if all its members were.
We need to clarify that the Forum is neither anti-capitalist nor socialist in the sense of those terms assigned by Marxist currents, but the deepening of the systemic crisis of capitalism, the now generalized conviction that the future Latin American socialism will not be either “replica or copy”, and the strengthening of socialist currents on the Latin American and Caribbean left – much battered in the first years of the Forum – causes the use of those terms within it to increase, terms which in the first three five-year periods were polarizing in the extreme and provoked “pitched battles”. Take into account that there were moments in which even the anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal identity, which was so difficult to establish and which for many of us “remains insufficient”, had to be defended “with cloak and dagger” from the onslaught of those who said that the “new era” should not be “anti” but rather “pro”.
Diversity is not an attribute exclusive to the Sao Paulo Forum taken as a whole. Not only the Forum as such, but also many of the political fronts, parties and movements of which it is made up are of a plural nature, which implies that within them there co-exist currents whose objective is revolutionary social transformation and the construction of socialist societies, with currents whose historic horizon is progressive social reform within the narrow margins of today’s irreversibly predatory capitalism. And that leads to a constant interaction and political and ideological struggle between them all and within each one of them, a struggle which, depending on the topic and the juncture, acquires a greater or lesser degree of ferocity and tension. This in turn has repercussions for the ebb and flow of the correlation of forces and, therefore, for the letter and the spirit of what is approved or not approved, at one or another moment, both in its Conferences and in the meetings of the Working Group.
To the above we can add that the agreements, resolutions and declarations of the Forum are adopted by consensus, except when, by consensus, it is agreed to subject the topic to a vote. This is the only form for guaranteeing its continuity and functioning. Since some of its members — an important fraction — do not have a socialist identity, we cannot expect the Forum to adopt agreements, resolutions or declarations with a socialist basis in the classic sense. Transitive in character, it is inevitable for discrepancies to emerge in the treatment of any political, economic or social topic in which the antagonistic contradiction between capitalism and socialism is present, whether that be in explicit and direct form, or in implicit and indirect form.
Inasmuch as the approval and the interpretation of the norms and procedures lend themselves to modifying the correlation of forces, and owing to the most repeated and “fierce” political and ideological battles of the Forum having been fought behind this cover, the rule of consensus is also applied to organizational questions: which political parties and movements can join the Forum; which political parties and movements can join the Working Group; who can attend the Conferences of the Forum as invited guests; which invited guests are allowed to speak in the plenary sessions; who takes these decisions.
The Rules for the functioning of the Sao Paulo Forum and its Working Group approved at the 4th Conference establish that those decisions be adopted by the plenary of the Forum, through proposals from that same Working Group. The greater part of the members of this Group have a clearly defined socialist identity, but these members, just as those with non-socialist identities, have to respect the rule of consensus. Historically, behind the scenes, everyone tries to “pull the coals under their own pan”. When both “poles” pull simultaneously and with equal force, they neutralize each other and the letter and spirit of the rule of consensus is fulfilled, but when that does not occur, the balance favors the pole which pulls fastest and strongest.
How is the ebb and flow in the correlation of forces expressed, mixed in with the adoption of agreements by consensus? We use by way of example the definitions of anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal, and the questioning of those. The definitions were adopted in the latter part of the formative stage of the Forum, and the questioning of them became open and direct when the initial but reiterated defeat of presidential candidates on the left provoked the debate on whether that resulted from excessive or insufficient leaning toward the “center”. In this case, since it dealt with the reversion of a previous agreement, those who questioned the definition could not be successful because it was impossible for them to achieve a consensus in favour of changing it. If a previous agreement had not existed, it would have been the other way around and today the Forum would not be anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal, but perhaps pro-humanity, pro-equality, pro-justice, pro-sustainable-development, and some other “pro”.
What moral can we draw from this? That the rule of consensus does not just apply to the adoption of new agreements, but also to the modification of previous agreements. In this episode which we are using as an example, the rules served to defend the identity of the Forum from the pressure of those who intended to dilute it.
In essence, you cannot ask the Sao Paulo Forum to act like an international, but yes you can and you should ask it to act, with the greatest rigor, efficiency and transparency, and systematically, as what it is: an anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal forum.
Does the Forum have a right to continue existing?
Does this Latin American grouping of political parties and movements have a right to continue existing, with its few or many virtues and with all of its defects, limitations and shortcomings? And another question should be added to this one: To whom does it correspond to reply to this inquiry? Obviously, in the first place, it would correspond to its members.
Between the 2nd and the 4th of December 2002, when the 11th Conference of the Forum took place in Antigua Guatemala, and the 1st to the 4th of July 2005, during which the 12th Conference was held for the second time in Sao Paulo, two and one-half years passed. Why did we have these “pot-holes” if the periodicity of its Conference is established as annual? Although the annual cycle of the Forum cannot always be fulfilled for diverse reasons external to it – such as the political-electoral calendar and other situations which present themselves in the host country – the “spacing” which occurred between the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2007 was due to the Forum passing through a second almost terminal crisis, which again placed its members before the cost-benefit dilemma between saving it or letting it die. In this case, some opted to save it and others lost interest and drifted away…
The crisis of 2002-2007 broke out due to the consolidation of the tendency to elect left-wing and progressive governments adding a new element of complexity to the Forum: the “co-habitation” amongst governing parties, elected within bourgeois or neo-liberal democratic institutions, and parties opposed to that system, that do not conceive of or do not have conditions for becoming part of government by electoral means. That produced repercussions in a range of problems and nuances impossible to deal with here, amongst them the appearance of the debate as to whether all and each of the governments of the region controlled by members of the Forum, or in which they participate, fit or not the definition of anti-imperialist and anti-neo-liberal. It is enough to say that a qualitative change of its internal dynamic was produced. In the first years, the debates and confrontations had been more crude due to the lack of a culture of consensus and tolerance, but there was a greater margin of accommodation because those debates and confrontations were in more abstract terms, due to the fact that none of the divergent currents as such had demonstrated – or thought it had demonstrated – the viability of its ideas; in what followed, the debates and confrontations would be more civilized but there would be less margin for accommodation because some of the members think and act as government, while others continue thinking and acting as the left opposition.
In spite of the seriousness of the situation through which the Forum passed between 2002 and 2007, when I suggested – at the personal level – the possibility that the grouping might have run its course, and perhaps the moment had arrived to give it a “luxurious burial” – including a homage to its contributions to the debate, the re-shaping and the revitalization of the Latin American and Caribbean left in the initial years of the 1990’s – and thus open the way for new organizational forms which would reflect the changes which had occurred since then, all those present remained silent and stared aghast, as much those located at the one “pole” of the political and ideological left-wing and progressive spectrum, as those located at the other pole; including those who occupied intermediate gradations between them; even so, as has already been mentioned, the participation in the activities of the Forum did dwindle.
The Working Group continued meeting on the established cycle throughout those years because of the prevailing interest of its members in exchanging information and ideas about the development of events in the world, in the continent and its various countries, and as well in coming to agreements about the topics on which it was possible to do so, all of that without one or the other “pole” losing the hope that there would eventually appear a form of re-establishing the consensus about the issues which threatened its very existence, and thus being able to stabilize the holding of its annual Conferences.
And “the miracle happened”. The catalyst for change was the crisis which the PT of Brazil went through in 2005, because of the accusations of buying the votes of opposition legislators, which provoked a change in the internal correlation of forces within the leadership of the party, and a modification of the lines of conduct which it had been following, as much in internal as in external politics. As part of this process, Valter Pomar was designated as Secretary of International Relations of the PT and Executive Secretary of the Forum. In my opinion – I think it is fair to say so, without implying meddling in the controversy surrounding the recent Conference in Caracas – this appointment contributed to the re-establishment of the consensus within the Forum, given that Walter took up the challenge of repairing bridges between divergent currents, and of building bridges between governing and opposition parties.
And so, beyond the very strong contradictions which, between 2002 and 2007, pushed the Sao Paulo Forum, for the second time, to the point closest to rupture, the interest in preserving it prevailed, as a space for gathering together, for debate and for convergence on those points on which it is possible to bring together the whole spectrum of currents which make it up; in essence, the interest prevailed in preserving it as a forum, which should not be confused with an international.
And what if we planted a pear tree?
Like any political body, the Sao Paulo Forum is and will be subjected to the influence of changing circumstances which could prolong its existence such as it is, oblige it to modify itself in a substantial way or make it disappear. If we start from all things being born, developing, aging and dying, we must assume that this last step will eventually happen. The question is, when, how and why, but I think that any answer offered today would be speculative. In spite of this, it is legitimate to consider alternatives, albeit in hypothetical form. Those alternatives could be to create another forum or to create an international.
It is one thing to try and create another forum, with the expectation that it could coexist, compete with or substitute for the Sao Paulo Forum, and quite another to try and construct an international. I know that there are opinions in favor and against each of the variants, so in what follows I will set out some considerations on the subject, derived from my interpretation of the experience of the Forum.
Create another forum?
Since one of the main characteristics, and at the same time, principal problems of the Sao Paulo Forum is that it spans a broad and heterogeneous collection of political parties and movements on the Latin American and Caribbean left, we would be talking about a new forum made up of a fraction of the current forum’s members, or a fraction of the current forum’s members together with a new range of social and socio-political movements.
With respect to the possibility of founding a new forum, made up of a fraction of current members, given that a forum is by definition a broad and heterogeneous space, I believe that while it remains possible to maintain the points of consensus of the current forum and/or build new points of consensus as required, this option is preferable to creating two or more forums made up of fractions of it. It is more effective to discuss the problems face to face, as difficult as they be, than to discuss them in separate spaces and then air them through a “war of public declarations”.
Further, we should not assume that the “forums of fractions” would be formed and act with relative facility. What would be the criterion on the basis of which the fractions would be formed?  Would it be forces which bet everything on or give priority to institutional political participation, on the one hand, and forces which reject that and give priority to other forms of political and social struggle, on the other?  Or forces with a socialist identity, on the one hand, and forces with non-socialist identities, on the other? Or forces which assert the validity of revolutionary armed struggle under current conditions, on the one hand, and forces which do not assert that, on the other?  Could it be that all potential members of one or the other fraction are in agreement on all and each of these subjects? Will they be in agreement on many other subjects, impossible to enumerate here, which will be the object of daily interaction and debate? In which of the two fractions will we fit the parties of multiple tendencies in whose corpus those same debates are taking place? Would those parties have to divide or permit their internal currents each to affiliate to their preferred forum?
With respect to the possibility of founding a new forum, made up of a fraction of the members of the current one, together with socio-political and social movements, in the first place, it would be convenient to take into account the considerations made in the preceding paragraphs on the problems that would be brought up by the division into fractionsand, in the second place, it would also be good to evaluate the inherent complexities of creating a permanent space in which parties, political movements, socio-political movements and social movements interact.
It is not that I consider systematic interaction between political and social forces undesirable. Very much on the contrary, I am convinced that it would be ideal because the political struggle and the social struggle are two complementary forms of struggle which should interact with the greatest possible harmony. Strictly speaking, the Sao Paulo Forum has promoted that interaction since it started to organize seminars and workshops with diverse sectors of Latin American and Caribbean social movements, and also by means of their participation in the World Social Forum, the Social Forum of the Americas, and other networks and campaigns.
The fact is, if it is difficult to build and maintain a forum of political parties and movements, it is even more difficult to build and maintain a forum that integrates both political parties and movements and social movements, amongst other reasons, because the dichotomous contradiction between “the political” and “the social” still has not disappeared; that is to say, the supposed contradiction and the competition between the party form of organization and the movement form of organization, whose most intense period we can situate from the mid-point of the decade of 1980 up to the end of the decade of 1990.
Amongst the factors at play in exacerbating the dichotomous contradiction between “the political” and “the social”, the following stand out: the manipulation which, since its beginnings, bourgeois democracy has tried to carry out on social movements, in the service of inserting them into and limiting their space to a hierarchic system of alliances. The apprehensions derived from the subordination to parties of the traditional left of which they were the object in earlier stages, owing to the vulgarization of the Leninist concept of transmission belts. The diversity and the heterogeneity of popular movements, many of them formed around the nucleus of a single issue and with a demand-based approach, which on occasion is difficult to synthesize with other issues and approaches, a task which the political party or movement is called upon to fulfill. The erosion of the capacity for social intermediation of political parties and movements, resulting from neo-liberal “impermeabilisation” of the State, which then stimulates social movements to move into politics; and the estrangement from their grassroots of some political parties and movements on the left, with the hope of reaching their electoral goals becoming an end in itself, in the service of which they bend to the neo-liberal status quo.
It is clear that the dichotomy between “the political” and “the social”, drawn to its maximum expression as one of the fundamental components of the universal avalanche of neo-liberalism, has been weakened. This is expressed, on the one hand, in the appearance of socio-political movements, such as the Movement of Landless Rural Workers of Brazil (MST) and the Movement Toward Socialism of Bolivia (MAS) and, on the other hand, in the decisive participation of social movements in the political-electoral struggles which have resulted in the triumph of progressive and left-wing governments in the region. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the problem has not disappeared. And further, our issues and flashpoints continue re-appearing in a constant form. That is made plain, for example, even in the case of the most genuine socio-political movement in government, that is, between MAS in Bolivia and its own grassroots.
Another question which should be analyzed before even thinking about the creation of another forum, which would co-exist, compete with or replace the Sao Paulo Forum, is the sense of occasion. Is today the right moment, or is it now coming into view?
In relation to the social forces, after having reached a high point of convergence, organization, mobilization and effectiveness in the struggle against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), when that child of imperialism was defeated, the forums, networks, and campaigns of the Latin American and Caribbean social movements have not managed to find another issue or group of issues which possess the same centrifugal force which the FTAA had exercised, capable of neutralizing and conquering the centripetal tendency of such dissimilar single issue movements. We have tried drawing them together around the struggle against war and against the military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, around the struggle against the causes of the deepening systematic crisis of capitalism and its effects on popular sectors, and around other issues of great currency and importance, but up to this moment results equivalent to the struggle against the FTAA have not been achieved.
In relation to the left-wing and progressive political forces, they have advanced a lot in political integration and harmony in recent years. To them we owe: the creation of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America – The Peoples’ Free Trade Agreement (ALBA-TCP) –the “topping” on the defeat of the FTAA accomplished at the Mar del Plata Summit in 2005; the initiative and decisive impulse for the foundation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR); the initiative and decisive impulse for the entry of Cuba into the Rio Group – which had been held back by Latin American neo-liberal governments of the decade of 1990; the initiative and decisive impulse for the Organization of American States (OEA) to lift the sanctions imposed on Cuba in 1964; and, the initiative and decisive impulse for the constitution of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). And to all of the preceding is added another transcendental fact. I refer to the overthrow of the constitutional government of President Fernando Lugo creating the conditions for a counter-coup not foreseen by North American imperialism and the provincial right of Paraguay: the entry of Venezuela into MERCOSUR, which had been vetoed for a decade by the most retrograde of the retrograde among the Paraguayan right. The recently expanded MERCOSUR, whose four active member countries are governed by left-wing and progressive forces, occupies one of the first places among the large economies of the world, and has excellent conditions to continue growing, strengthening and consolidating as a mechanism for integration and harmony of left-wing and progressive forces, with the predictable entry of countries like Bolivia and Ecuador.
The political fronts, parties and movements which govern in these countries which today belong to – or could soon belong to – MERCOSUR are fundamental forces of the Sao Paulo Forum, as well as those which govern in Cuba and Nicaragua, countries which share with those mentioned above their membership in CELAC, and with some of them, in ALBA-TCP. When we refer to the Working Group of the Sao Paulo Forum, that is, the group which submits proposals to the plenary to approve or not approve, we are talking of a group to which the forces that govern in all those countries belong. Could it be that those who achieve advances toward united convergence as governing forces, cannot advance toward united convergence as political forces? It is worth asking ourselves: what other forum to create; which of those forces would identify with one forum and which with the other; what sense does it make to create another forum, which would lead to dispersion – and even confrontation – amongst the forces whose governments are advancing along the path of integration, harmony and unity?
To that we can add that many other political forces which belong to the Sao Paulo Forum are not in government, but they do fight exemplary struggles on all fronts. In no way can the latter forces be located at a level of inferiority, given that today it is clear that governing is not the only form of building power, and there are even those who argue that the building of power from below is the only truly solid and durable way. And so, what sense does it make to create another forum, which foments division and confrontation amongst the governing political forces and those that are building power from below, when what we need is that both complement each other?
Create an international?
If a forum cannot be easily built, much less so could an international be easily built. It is not about calling upon those who “give us the impression” that we have sufficient affinity with them to involve ourselves in a project of those characteristics, owing to our coinciding in the same spaces, that we chant the same slogans and we are confronted by the same imperialism, and from this last point we conclude that “the enemies of my enemies are my friends”. A revolutionary international is not built on that base, but rather from a high degree of strategic and tactical unity, tested and demonstrated, and again tested and demonstrated, over and again. If this is not the case, its results would be counter-productive.
The creation of an international presupposes the existence of a common mold. The references which we have are those of the two Marxist internationals founded in the 20th century, the 3rd International and the 4th International, both erected on the basis of well-defined ideological platforms, one based on – at least initially – the thought of Lenin, and the other based on the thought of Trotsky. The first thing which has to be asked is, in what measure can we today try to do a remake of internationals built on the basis of ideological and political identity around: 1) the assumed condition of an only or principal revolutionary social subject inherent in the working class, something which Marx and Engels confirmed in the Communist Party Manifesto (1848) as valid in that moment, but which never pretended to be the immutable truth; 2) the assumed existence of a unique vanguard party, representative and guide for the working class, a criterion which the 3rd and 4th internationals shared, although they disputed which of them was formed by that type of party; and, 3) the objectives, strategy and tactics of revolutionary struggle. In spite of that claim of identity, on these and other crucial subjects, the internal contradictions, the collisions and splits which both suffered are well-known. And so, above all, we should consider what we understand by an international in an historical stage in which we are talking about: 1) a plural revolutionary social subject; 2) building unity within the diversity of varied forms of organization, and social and political struggle; 3) Marxism and Leninism as a philosophy of praxis, in opposition to the old concept of doctrine supposedly possessed of complete and immutable truth about objectives, strategy and tactics.
And so, what would have to be defined is what would be the ideological and political platform of a new international. As rich as the theoretical production and debate on Socialism of the 21st Century, Community Socialism, “Vivir Bien”, “Buen Vivir” and other similar terms might be, we still cannot talk of a sufficiently developed and agreed body of theory to fulfill the prerequisites and requirements to found an international. The complexity of this problem is now much greater because we are not, as in the past, trying to achieve the convergence of forces which come from a common mold, of western, European and worker roots, which is to say, from Marxism, but rather an indo-American mold which has its own view of the cosmos. This would be a first question which, of course, would have to be resolved on the march, but which in no way could be underestimated or left to one side, owing to there being no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory.
A new international would have to be based on consensus on political and ideological strategies and tactics, sufficiently solid and durable as to guarantee unity in the long term. These points of consensus have to exist at two levels: amongst the political and socio-political fronts, parties and movements which make it up; and within all and each one of them.
By strategic consensus I understand unity of criteria surrounding the development of processes of revolutionary social transformation oriented toward the construction of socialist societies, each one of which will have, of course, its own national characteristics, but which without exception are summoned to destroy and replace the capitalist system of production, and the relations of domination, exploitation and oppression on which it is sustained. By tactical consensus I understand unity of criteria, on the one hand, in relation to daily battles, of short and medium term, that the international would have to carry out, and on the other, with respect to the main regional and world questions on which it would have to fix a position and act in consequence.
With respect to the regional questions, there should be, for example, a reasonable affinity of criteria on the Colombian conflict, and on the characterization of each one of the governments said to be left-wing and progressive which exist in Latin America and the Caribbean. With respect to world questions, there should be, for example, a reasonable affinity of criteria on Iran and Syria. Will the international pronounce itself, to begin with, against imperialist intervention in any country – including Iran and Syria – or, in addition to that, will it identify and act in solidarity with the governing forces of those nations?
From historical experience we derive the lesson that a new international would have to establish an ideological, political and organizational platform capable of passing the test of time: not just constructing strategic and tactical consensus for the present moment, but also setting down foundations for building strategic and tactical consensus for the future, which is to say, not just around the Colombian conflict, the current Latin American and Caribbean governments, Iran and Syria, but also in relation to new questions that today we cannot even imagine.
A priori, the prerequisite for the establishment of strategic and tactical consensus, both ideological and political, would appear to exclude from the international those political and socio-political parties and movements of plural and multi-tendency composition, which include socialist and non-socialist currents, or which do not have a somewhat rigorous platform of doctrine. Understand that it is not a matter of “someone” wanting or deciding to exclude them, but rather that their internal composition does not permit them to come to consensus on the most delicate of strategic and tactical questions. This is not a minor detail because it would leave out the immense majority of the political and socio-political parties and movements which represent the greatest levels of strength and social insertion, including almost the totality of those which today are in government. And further, take into account that an international would withstand, much less than a forum, the differences derived from the “cohabitation” of governing parties which, just to cite an example already mentioned, are obliged to maintain respectful relations with the Colombian government, with opposition parties which have no institutional restriction against expressing their solidarity with the insurgency in that country.
In the current conditions, which are not much different from those existing after the triumph of the Revolution of October 1917 or those existing in the decade of 1960, when in Cuba the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) and the Latin American Solidarity Organization (OLAS), the construction of an international could not be accomplished “by decree” nor “at once”, but rather through a process of formation of ideological, political and organizational consensus for the medium and long term.
Who would issue the call and how would they issue the call? Who would they call together? Would they draw up a project of policy platform and convene those who subscribe to it? What to do when, as will inevitably occur, two or more political forces which feel called by the program document, appear from the same country, and which have profound contradictions between them? To avoid this, would they draw up a list of invitations? Who has the political and moral authority to make a list which includes some and excludes others? What to do when the excluded request admission? How many more questions such as these would have to be answered?
Whatever might be the solutions offered to the questions considered in the preceding paragraph, the parties and movements which incorporate themselves into the process of construction of an international need to have strong insertion and capacity for social and political mobilization in their respective countries, and to count on a level of organization which permits them to maintain a systematic and coherent participation in the meetings that are called. To travel and meet takes time and money, and so the members of an international have to have access to the human and material resources needed for assuming the costs flowing from its operation.
So far as I know, never within the Sao Paulo Forum has there been recorded any attempt to create an international, but yes, something much less ambitious: create mechanisms of exchange and coordination amongst parties with greater ideological and political affinity. In the case of parties with socialist and communist identities, those forces never passed the elemental level: a meeting of the group took place in which general purposes were formulated and it was agreed to hold the next meeting, but when that second meeting came along, there were so many parties and movements absent and/or so many parties and movements represented by “compañeros” and “compañeras” who had no idea of previous agreements, that it was necessary to repeat the formulation of general purposes, and repeat the agreement to hold another next meeting, in which without variation, the same happened. This was repeated once and again, and so it was impossible to construct anything.
But then, beyond all else, would the political and socio-political forces which today do decisive battle in Latin America and the Caribbean fit through the eye of the needle of an international like the 3rd or the 4th?
Closing remarks
From its birth, the Sao Paulo Forum has been criticized by the right and by the more radical currents on the left. The right brands it as a promoter of conspiracy and terrorist activity. The more radical currents on the left accuse it of being hesitant and useless. The first is a gross falsehood; the second is a mistaken assessment. The Forum is neither “good” nor “bad” in itself. Its virtues and defects are the virtues and defects of the Latin American and Caribbean left taken together. The left is decidedly who pronounces or not, who acts or not through the conduct of the Forum. Those pronouncements and actions reflect not just the numeric correlation of forces, but are also based on the political weight of each of its members.
The Forum serves to measure that, which is to say, it serves as a thermometer for the correlation of forces existing within the Latin American and Caribbean left, as much in a general sense, as in relation to particular questions and junctures. And it is true that, up to today, it is the progressive and social-democratic currents which exercise control of the governing bodies of a good part of the political parties and movements of that left, while in others it is strongly disputed.
The Sao Paulo Forum is not and never will be an international, from which one can expect the formulation of a strategy for the historic overcoming of capitalism in Latin America and the Caribbean: it is too broad and diverse for that.
The Forum is the principal regional scenario for political and ideological debate of political parties and movements of the Latin American and Caribbean left, and the principal mechanism for coordination, declarations and joint action of its members in relation to those questions on which it succeeds in forming a consensus, questions which are many and very important, and it should not be disregarded because of the questions on which that is not achieved.
In addition to the declarations and actions of the Forum taken as a whole, the interaction amongst its members made possible an acquaintance, both political and personal, amongst the leaders of political parties and movements of the region which has no precedent. This makes it possible, within its corpus, for bilateral and group relations to be established amongst members who have greater political and ideological affinity, including of course, those members with socialist and communist identities, without that necessarily undermining or threatening the unity and operation of the Forum, but rather on the contrary, complementing it by filling the vacuums which it leaves.
The Forum neither “directs” the Latin American and Caribbean left, nor is going to head up the revolution which Latin America and the Caribbean need, but knowing the Forum more helps us to know that left better and to better calibrate the necessary conditions of that revolution.
In conclusion, the Sao Paulo Forum is as it is and has existed for more than twenty-two years being as it is for two reasons: 1) because it fulfills functions which the major portion of political parties and movements of Latin America and the Caribbean consider necessary; and, 2) because, up to this moment, conditions for constructing a political or socio-political grouping which go beyond it have not existed and do not exist.
(Translation: Donald Lee for ALAI)
– Roberto Regalado is Doctor of Philosophical Science, professor at the Center for Hemispheric Studies and on the United States of the University of Havana and coordinator of various collections of the publisher Ocean Sur. Amongst other books, he is the author of Encuentros y desencuentros de la izquierda latinoamericana: una mirada desde el Foro Sao Paulo, Ocean Sur, México, D.F., 2008, 301 pp.
Fonte: Alainet