I have elsewhere written two reflections on the Third World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, January 2003, here and here. Those papers are both inspired by and oriented toward a re-invention of social emancipation (Waterman 2003a,b). In so far as
they were mainly concerned with the general, they had to sacrifice some of the
There exists, around the World Social Forum, a problem
of traditional Leninist vanguard parties that operate according to two agendas,
one public, one…um…less-than-public. This Leninst party practice has been customarily
justified by notions of a privileged capacity to understand and struggle against
capitalism (and the limited capacity of everyone else to do so).
This phenomenon takes significant form in Britain,
where the Socialist Workers Party (which must also, by its separate existence,
consider itself also a privileged interpreter of Trotskyism) dominates
a classical ‘front organisation’ called Globalise Resistance. For those unfamiliar
with the concept, a front organisation is one initiated or dominated by The
Party, which nonetheless pretends to autonomy, and of which the Non-Party leaders/affiliates
are distinguished by their silence concerning control by said Party). Politely
these used to be called ‘Fellow Travellers’; rudely ‘Useful Fools’. Let one
such person question the nature or role of The Party, s/he will then be subjected
to charges of ‘sectarianism’, or ‘splitting the movement’ or, even worse, of
being a representative of the same class to which the SWP leadership belongs
(this is the ‘petty-bourgoisie’, members of which are customarily also characterised
The US ZMagazine/ZNet, initiator of the ambitious
Life after Capitalism (LaC) programme at the WSF3, invited three leading members
of the SWP/GR (no fellow travellers here) to speak – more than three
times – within LaC. But SWP/GR was also present elsewhere in the Forum. Thus,
the most sophisticated of the SWP/GR leaders, academic Alex Calinicos, presented
the SWP line on socialism, but signed this off in the name of GR (www.zmag.org/calinicospol.htm)!
So much for the separation of powers. (Calinicos also managed to speak of socialism
without mentioning women – 51 percent of the world population at last count
– or feminism – the emancipatory discourse developed by women struggling against
both patriarchal capitalism and the archaic socialist sect of machismo-leninismo.
Indeed, he only mentioned one woman, Rosa Luxemburg, though one has to assume
this was because she was a Marxist rather than a Woman). Although others are
aware of the problematic relationship of this Party/Front to the Forum process
(SCHNews 2001, Adamovsky 2002, Hodkinson 2003), WSF3 revealed its hidden agenda
in open form, if at different moments and with a certain division of labour:
Part One: Chris Nineham, a somewhat humourless orator,
whose political vocabulary seemed largely limited to adjectives of size, strength
and priority, was talking to a panel about problems of developing the anti-globalisation
movement in the UK, and urging it to rather concentrate on the immediate war
danger than to disperse itself over the wide range of issues it currently encompasses.
Part Two: Chris Harman, a similarly humourless orator,
but one whose political vocabulary draws from the Marxist classics of the 19th-20th
centuries (but with little notable influence of Gramsci), was considering the
necessity - of what he preferred not to call a vanguard party - because
of its unique capacity to cover the complete range of issues necessary for social
The logic of the two-part policy is as brilliant
as the strategy is devious.
The SWP apparently wishes to shape, or at least
to see, the ‘movement of movements’ as a series of single-issue ones (either
simultaneous or successive) so that it can reserve for itself the Hegemony of
the Whole (see, again, Calinicos, www.zmag.org/calinicospol.htm).
There is a long SWP history that illustrates this practice.
But there is now a new, if short, history which
says: ‘hey, folks, a new emancipatory hegemony, a new radical-democratic commonsense,
can today be created without a Party, an Ideology and a Charismatic Leader (or
even those with a seriously negative quantity of charisma)’!
Other Trotskyists, from the tradition of Ernest Mandel (who
may be turning in his urn) have recognised this, to the extent that they have
become effective leaders/interpreters of the new movement (notably, I believe,
Christophe Aguiton, Michael Löwy, Eric Toussaint). The SWP leadership looks
unlikely to be able to do this. Though one lives in hope. (I mean, look at what
all that newspaper-flogging energy could do if put creatively into making another
There is, now I recall, a third element to
the SWP’s revolutionary strategy, at least as pronounced by Chris Harman at
the Life after Capitalism event. He did not talk about Revolution (which possibly
now, at least in Europe, has an even more problematic odor than that of the
vanguard party). What he talked about was the inevitability of Counter-Revolution
by capital and state when (if?) there is a mass democratic threat to their
Now, some parties are borne Revolutionary, some
parties become Revolutionary, the SWP, apparently, is going to have Revolution
thrust upon it.
(That capital and state did not turn to violent
repression – with the major exception of the USA - on February 15-16, 2003,
has to be explained, in SWP terms by the ‘partial’, ‘reformist’, or at least
‘non-revolutionary’ character of the movement. Others will say it was because
too many people turned out, and/or because capital and state are smarter than
the SWP gives it credit for, and – with the US exception - smarter than the
Again, it seems to me, that the ‘movement of movements’
offers us a post-19th century alternative. The notion of revolution
(as an insurrectionary act or moment) is one that reflects not the strength
of the masses but their weakness: the world has to be turned upside down immediately
and totally (with opponents strung up on lampposts, sent to Siberia, parroting
Little Red Books, exiled to Miami, accused of petty-bourgeois reformism) if
emancipation is to occur at all.
Today, it seems to me, the task of the revolutionary
is to make such a revolution unnecessary. And, thus, the counter-revolution
(which has occurred successfully against all instances of ‘socialist revolution’
bar North Korea, Laos and Cuba) impossible. (Trotskyists, of course, will say
that these were not real socialist revolutions, or that they were but
that they were then betrayed. To the less dewy-eyed of us these may again
appear political rationalizations rather than theoretical explanations). The
notion around today is rather one of multiple revolutions in everyday life,
where people have most control, claiming and extending the commons, imposing
an economy of solidarity against that of the market, enforcing civility on the
uncivilised, enforcing, hopefully, peace on the warmongers. This is the language
of the Forums.
My underlying problem with the SWP-cum-GR is, however,
a lack of trust.
I do not trust a political party or movement
that - or person who - cannot laugh, and, particularly, is totally lacking in
a relativising self-mockery. My idea of a Trotskyist joke is: ‘A Stalinist slipped
on a banana skin…’, or ‘A Social-Democrat slipped on a banana skin…’ This is
because the idea of a Trotskyist slipping on a banana skin is inconceivable
(unless placed there by a Stalinist or a Social Democrat…or possibly by a Trade
I do not trust the SWP, further, because
despite a certain amount of relevant reading and searching, I have been able
to form even an impression of how its policy is formed – for example on GR or
the WSF. Are there discussions? Debates? Majorities and minorities? Factions?
Self-criticism? Or does policy emanate, like ectoplasm, from a consultation
with the SWP’s oracles (all of them dead and dumb for at least half a century,
some for a century or more).
I do not trust the SWP, finally, because
I have yet to see a statement from it about what it has learned from – I mean
been taught by – the new movement.
I here make the same kind of demands on the SWP
that I make on the WSF itself. But whereas the WSF is not only capable of responding
to criticism and even of expressing and encouraging such, the SWP signally fails
to project this image.
One wonders, finally, whether its young and active
membership, heavily involved in the WSF (and in so far as they are either witnessing
or involved in pluralism and horizontality) would in a crisis, prefer a SWP,
full of sound and fury signifying very little indeed, to a movement that is
full of joyful sound, brilliant light, sharp debate and, notably, experiences
and ideas to which the Marxist classics of the 19th and 20th
century may contribute some necessary concepts or methodology, but could not
possibly have provided sufficient guidance.
Adamovsky, Ezequiel. 2002. ‘Imágenes de la nueva y de la vieja izquierda:
Impresiones de viaje (Londres, Génova, Moscú, Buenos Aires)’ (Images of the
New and Old Left: Travel Impressions (London, Genoa, Moscow, Buenos Aires)),
El Rodaballo, No. 14, Winter, pp. 41-50.
Hodkinson, Stuart. 2003. ‘Another European Social
Forum is Necessary’, Red Pepper, February. http://www.redpepper.org.uk/
Sen, Jai. 2003. ‘The Long
March to Another World: Porto Alegre – Hyderabad – Porto Alegre, ‘Two, Three,
Many New Social Forums?’, Special Issue, TransnationalAlternativ@s,
(Transnational Institute, Amsterdam), No. 0. www.tni.org.tat.
SchNEWS. 2001. ‘Monopolise
Resistance: How Globalise Resistance Would Monopolise Revolt’, http://www.schnews.org.uk/mr.htm.
Waterman, Peter. 2002. ‘Harmanizing the Workers of the World:
Reasserting a 'Classical and Simple' Working Class in the Face of a Complex
Global Justice and Solidarity Movement’. http://www.nu.ac.za/ccs/default.asp?3,28,11,491
Waterman, Peter. 2003a. ‘From the Agreements of Comrades to the Reinvention
of Emancipation: The 3rd World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil,
January 23-8, 2003’, http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/wsf/waterman_poa.htm,
Waterman, Peter. 2003b. ‘Place, Space and the Reinvention of Social Emancipation
on a Global Scale: Second Thoughts on The Third World Social Forum’. (Unpublished.
But, who knows, it may appear one day in The Voice of the Turtle and other irreverent