Young Spartacus pages of Workers Hammer No. 191
Churches, charities and CIA cash
Social Forum con game
If the “Make Poverty History” campaign had anything to do with actually challenging the scourge of poverty, AIDS, illiteracy and all-sided misery and destitution for the peoples of Africa, would it be endorsed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? These butchers of Iraq are trying to rebuild Labour’s popularity with voters at home and to refurbish the image of blood-drenched British imperialism. Behind them is a whole cabal of celebrities, religious charities, NGOs, trade-union bureaucrats and reformists like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) championing the “Make Poverty History” fraud.
Not everyone is taken in by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s new-found concern for the poor. A letter in the Glasgow Herald (6 June) wryly noted: “Gordon Brown’s genuineness about eradicating poverty is as genuine as, and in direct proportion to, his willingness to lead a demonstration of bankers, financiers and stockbrokers along the streets of Edinburgh with a banner proclaiming ‘Long live the Cuban Revolution!’” As for imperialist hypocrisy about aid to the “Third World”, we endorse a characterisation of bourgeois charity written by Engels in 1845. Addressing the English bourgeoisie, he wrote it was “as though you rendered the proletarians a service in first sucking out their very life-blood and then practising your self-complacent, Pharisaic philanthropy upon them placing yourselves before the world as mighty benefactors of humanity when you give back to the plundered victims the hundredth part of what belongs to them!” (Condition of The Working Class in England). “Sucking out the life blood” from the world’s working masses and oppressed is what the G8 is all about.
For those who want to protest against the G8 meeting but don’t want to go along with the “we are the world” roadshow, there is the iron fist of state repression. For months, the tabloids and other media have echoed police forces in scaremongering about “violent” anarchists attacking the G8 summit. An army of 10,000 cops has been mobilised; a five-mile-long fence has been erected around the five-star hotel in Gleneagles where the meeting will take place; and reportedly the US is stationing an aircraft carrier full of Marines off the west coast of Scotland.
Here are the methods the capitalist rulers use to deal with any perceived protest against their rule—state repression on the one hand and political co-optation on the other. Foremost among the mechanisms for co-opting “anti-globalisation” protest are the World Social Forum (WSF) and European Social Forum (ESF), which are led and organised by much the same forces that are leading “Make Poverty History”. Starting in 2001, these Social Forums have been used to defuse the wave of mass protests—against the G8, World Trade Organisation, IMF and other imperialist agencies—exemplified by the Seattle protest in 1999. The purpose was to draw radical youth away from pitched confrontations with the forces of the capitalist state and to corral them behind the “democratic alternative” of parliamentary reformism, while pretending that these talking shops were “non-parliamentary”. Far from being met with the tear gas, water cannons and bullets of the capitalist state, as happened in Genoa in July 2001, the WSF and ESF have been backed and bankrolled by various agencies of the imperialist rulers.
This is because the Social Forums and the so-called “anti-capitalist” movement in fact pose no fundamental threat to capitalist rule. Their organisers buy into the predominant myth of the “post-Soviet” world: that class struggle against the capitalist order is a thing of the past; the working class is irrelevant as a factor for social change and the best that can be achieved is to give the system a “human” face. The truth is that the capitalist system is as dependent as ever on the working class, which has the power to overthrow capitalism. To achieve this, the working class must become conscious that its own interests are irreconcilable with those of the capitalists. The Social Forums are an obstacle to this class-consciousness.
Social Forums and state funding
The European and World Social Forums have all been funded by capitalist states in the countries where they were held and received official backing from either bourgeois municipal governments or mayoral offices. The list of sponsors for the WSF has included not only the government of the city of Porto Alegre, the state government of Rio Grande do Sul and the federal government of Brazil but also the Banco do Brasil and its biggest petroleum company, Petrobras! The 2002 ESF was financed by the city of Florence and the 2003 Paris ESF funded by the Chirac government. The 2004 London ESF was bankrolled and hosted by the New Labour mayoral office of Ken Livingstone, supporter of the imperialist bombing of Serbia and cheerleader for the police terror against “anti-capitalist” protesters on May Day 2000.
The Social Forums have also all been dominated by the misnamed “Non-Governmental” Organisations (NGOs). Of course these organisations, sanctioned by and receiving much of their funding from churches and capitalist states, are hardly independent from the governments to which they are answerable. Charities have long been the “humanitarian” face of imperialist intervention and of multinational companies looking to pillage “Third World” economies. Prominent NGOs at the Social Forums have included Oxfam, War on Want and Christian Aid. The major sponsor of NGOs around the world is the United Nations, which itself was set up to give a humanitarian veneer to the depredations of imperialism, particularly American. In this tradition, the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2003 received a message of support from UN secretary general Kofi Annan.
As the old saying goes, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” And while all the Social Forums rail against the truly savage and deranged Bush administration in the US, among those funding the WSF are none other than foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation. The Rockefeller foundation was used to clean up the Rockefellers’ reputation following the 20 April 1914 massacre in Ludlow, Colorado in which 20 people—including children—were killed by company guards and militia during a bitter struggle by the mineworkers union. The Ford Foundation came to prominence in 1936 at the height of the industrial struggles in the car industry in the US. Following World War II it became a conduit for CIA funds for anti-Communist causes around the world.
While funded by some of the most notorious agencies of US imperialism, the World Social Forums have not been so welcoming to those seen as potentially threatening the interests of imperialism. The statement in the WSF Charter of Principles that “neither party representatives nor military organizations shall participate in the Forum” has been used to exclude the Zapatistas as well as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia). Even the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an organisation of mothers of leftists who were “disappeared” during the 1976-1983 Argentinian military dictatorship, was excluded from the 2002 WSF. On the other hand, a warm welcome has been extended to various heads of capitalist governments—who preside over “special bodies of armed men” more commonly known as the capitalist state.
An insightful article titled “The Economics and Politics of the World Social Forum” in Aspects of India’s Economy (September 2003) by Rajani X Desai captured the purpose and nature of the Social Forums:
“While several political forces fighting for a change of the system [have] been excluded from the WSF meets, droves of political leaders of the imperialist countries have been attending. Not only does the WSF as a body receive funds from agencies which are tied to imperialist interests and operations, but innumerable bodies participating in the WSF too are dependent on such agencies. The implications of this can be seen from the history of one such agency, Ford Foundation, which has closely collaborated with the US Central Intelligence Agency internationally, and in India has helped to shape the government’s policies in favour of American interests.”
Left cover for class collaboration
The fact that the World and European Social Forums have been all but bought and paid for by various capitalist governments and agencies is no big deal for the SWP. As SWP leader (and prominent spokesman on Social Forum platforms) Alex Callinicos shamelessly put it, “we all understood that a mass Social Forum needs money and money means compromises” (International Socialist Tendency Discussion Bulletin, January 2005). Indeed! Such sentiments are hardly peculiar to Callinicos. The first World Social Forum in 2001 was partly organised by the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat (USec). Here young radicals were schooled in administering fiscal austerity for the capitalist state through mock “participatory budgets”. The capitalist benefactors who funded the WSF got their money’s worth. Today the Workers Party (PT) of Brazilian president Lula—with the aid of a “comrade minister” who is a member of the USec—are administering the capitalist state in Brazil, slavishly abiding by the dictates of the IMF through pushing austerity on an impoverished population.
At the most recent WSF in January, Lula was roundly booed by many of the attendees who oppose his open pandering to and collaboration with the IMF and World Bank. But the truth is that Lula represents the politics and programme of the WSF on the level of state power. This is what is known as the popular front: a class-collaborationist political bloc of working-class organisations with capitalist agencies in which the politics of the working-class component of the bloc are subordinated to the politics of the bourgeoisie, to the defence of the bourgeois state and capitalism. Like Lula’s government in Brazil, popular fronts are called upon by the rulers to sell austerity to the workers more effectively than the discredited bourgeois parties can.
With Lula now discredited due to his attacks on Brazilian workers and peasants, the new hero of the 2005 WSF was Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. This was quite a turn-around because at the 2003 WSF, while he was fighting the attempts of the US government to overthrow him, he was not invited and not given an official space when he turned up anyway. Chávez’s popularity among the oppressed in Venezuela comes from the fact he has used the oil revenues to introduce reforms that have benefited the poor, and he is not seen as a lackey of the US. But these are not even basic structural reforms, much less a social revolution, and are subject to the fluctuations of world oil prices.
Chávez is a bourgeois nationalist who rules for capitalism in Venezuela. Nationalist populism and economic neoliberalism are merely alternative policies of the rule of the same capitalist class. It is a fact that Chávez is reviled by many of the big landowners and capitalists in Venezuela as well as the neocons in the Bush administration, who in April 2002 backed a military coup against him. But more rational representatives of imperialism see Chávez, with his popular appeal, as a man who can be trusted to protect their investments. Chávez’s defeat of the 2004 recall referendum against him was welcomed as a guarantor of “stability” by such mouthpieces of imperialism as the Financial Times and the New York Times. As we wrote in Workers Vanguard no 831, 3 September 2004:
“The immediate perspective that is urgently posed is not only to oppose U.S. imperialist incursions into Venezuela and elsewhere, but to fight to shatter the support of the workers movement to either Chávez or the opposition, and to forge a revolutionary internationalist workers party to lead the working class to power. This requires an intransigent fight against nationalism in Venezuela, which obscures class divisions in the country. Only the victorious struggle for working-class rule, i.e., socialist revolution throughout the Americas, will ensure land to the landless and enable the oil workers and other proletarians to enjoy the wealth created by their labor.”
In presenting bourgeois nationalists like Chávez as fighters against “globalisation”, the Social Forums provide a service against the fight for socialist revolution, binding the working class to their “own” national capitalist class. In fact the reason why the World Social Forums have all been hosted in “Third World” countries such as Brazil and India has been to mask the class antagonism between the working class of these countries and their native bourgeois exploiters. The message has been that the bourgeoisie of the “Global South” can be relied upon to join with “the people” and fight against “globalisation”. But the main concern of the capitalists of the “Third World” is to defend their profits, for which they are dependent on the imperialists and require the maximum exploitation of the working class.
With the same goal of binding the exploited to their exploiters, the ESF pushes the illusion of a humane “Social Europe” under capitalism, contrasting it to the “neoliberal” model represented by the US and Britain. It is the promotion of this vision of a “Social Europe” that has attracted to the ESF the pro-capitalist trade union leaders as well as social-democratic politicians across the continent. The political perspective of the European Confederation of Trade Unions was expressed by its general secretary at the 2000 Nice EU Summit protests: “There needs to be the incorporation of the trade unions and NGOs into the decision-making structures in Brussels…. We agree that Europe must become more competitive, yes. But the new Europe must also contain a dignified quality of life for all its citizens” (quoted in “The Economics and Politics of the World Social Forum”). Becoming “more competitive” means extracting greater profits from the sweat and toil of the working class. The bureaucrats of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) endorsed the 2004 London ESF and used it as an opportunity to provide a platform for the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions’ (IFTU) Sobhi Al-Mashadani, a stooge of the imperialists’ stooge government in Iraq. This followed the Labour Party conference where, at the behest of the union bureaucrats, another IFTU representative, Abdullah Muhsin, backed the imperialist occupation by helping to ensure the defeat of a motion calling for early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
Workers Power induced by its own hypnosis
In its pamphlet Anti-Capitalism: Summit Sieges and Social Forums (2005), Workers Power’s League for the Fifth International (L5I) poses as a left critic of WSF organisers like Bernard Cassen and Susan George of ATTAC, an organisation founded to campaign for a tax on international financial transactions and against “neoliberalism”. Despite the fact that its offices are staffed by French Communist Party and USec supporters, ATTAC does not pretend to oppose capitalism. It is a thoroughly bourgeois organisation which boasted of its close ties to the Lionel Jospin popular-front government. Yet regarding Cassen and George, the L5I argues: “We don’t need to arrange any artificial split from them. But neither do we need to fear a split with them. If we go forward determinedly, they will desert at once.” By an “artificial split”, the L5I means a split along class lines. The L5I is not opposed to class collaboration; it simply wants a more militant popular front.
Indeed, the crackpot conception of the L5I, Workers Power, and its youth group Revolution, is that they can build not only a “movement” but even a “revolutionary” party out of these cross-class, state-funded alliances: “the anticapitalist movement, the workers’ movement, the movements of the racially and nationally oppressed, youth, women, all must be brought together to create a new International—a world party of socialist revolution” (Anti-Capitalism: Summit Sieges and Social Forums). While crying foul against right-wing bureaucratic dominance, Workers Power seeks to gain “democratic structures” within the Social Forums to engineer the movement’s transformation. It urges the utilisation of “initiatives like the Assembly of Social Movements to propose permanent delegate-based, elected, co-ordinating bodies that can prepare the way for a structured Congress in which organisational and policy proposals can be debated out, amended and adopted”.
Left out of Workers Power’s equation is any political fight in opposition to the whole purpose of these Social Forums, which are premised on the maintenance of the capitalist system, merely trying to give it a more “democratic” and “humanitarian” face lift. But even Workers Power is forced to admit that these Assemblies lack a conception of the “capitalist system as the enemy”, “the working class as the force” and “socialism as the only possible basis for the ‘other world’ it aims to build” (Workers Power, March 2005).
The reality of class-collaborationism was starkly brought home at the first ESF in Florence in 2002. The L5I gushed: “The sheer intoxication of being ‘tous ensemble’ (all together) meant that even dyed-in-the-wool reformists spoke like revolutionary firebrands. Everyone was carried forward too by the urgency of doing everything possible to stop George Bush’s war on Iraq.” “Everything possible” included an explicit appeal to Europe’s imperialist rulers to oppose US plans to invade Iraq, signed by a gamut of the European left including the SWP, Workers Power and Revolution at a Brussels meeting preparatory to the Florence ESF. It said: “We call on all the European heads of state to publicly stand against this war, whether it has UN backing or not, and to demand that George Bush abandon his war plans” (Liberazione, 13 September 2002). This wretched appeal to the “peace-loving” European capitalist rulers only serves to bind the exploited to their exploiters.
The prime movers behind the Florence ESF were mass Italian reformist parties such as Rifondazione comunista (RC) and Democratic Left (DS). In the 1990s, DS formed part of the “Olive Tree” coalition government that administered anti-immigrant terror and severe attacks on the working class on behalf of Italian imperialism. Until late 1998, RC formed a tacit coalition with DS. The ESF provides these consummate popular frontists with a cheap way to rebuild support so that they can return to government. Likewise the Paris ESF was organised by the Communist Party (PCF) and Alain Krivine’s pseudo-Trotskyist Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR). Today in France, where Chirac’s government is totally discredited with the vote against the EU constitutional treaty, these same forces are working feverishly to put together a new class-collaborationist alliance hoping to take the reins of government. That means implementing the attacks on welfare as well as the racist “war on terror”.
The popular front: not a tactic but the greatest crime
Breaking the working class and radical youth from the idea that they can negotiate a common progressive future with representatives of the capitalist ruling class responsible for exploitation, imperialist war, racism and women’s and sexual oppression, is the basic task of revolutionary Marxists. As the producers of capitalist society’s wealth, and the bourgeoisie’s profits, the working class is the only agent with the social power and objective interest to overthrow the capitalist system and to shatter its state. This requires socialist revolution to replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with a workers state that will defend and administer a collectivised, planned economy. On an international scale, this would lay the basis to eradicate scarcity and produce for the needs of the entire human race. The only instrument that can organise the proletarian struggle for the overthrow of capitalism is a revolutionary vanguard party.
This is counterposed to the class-collaborationism of the Social Forums. Tailored to the sentiments of activists who are sick of parliamentary politics and parties, the Social Forums are popular fronts that promote the myth that a “people’s alliance” with supposedly “progressive” capitalists can end the ravages of imperialism. The popular front (or “People’s Front”) was the weapon of choice used by the Stalinists in the 1930s for the purpose of preventing workers revolution. Trotsky vehemently opposed the popular front and relentlessly warned of its dire consequences for the working class. As then-Trotskyist leader James Burnham pointed out in his 1937 pamphlet, “The People’s Front, the New Betrayal”:
“For the proletariat, through its parties, to give up its own independent program means to give up its independent functioning as a class.... By accepting the program of the People’s Front, it thereby accepts the aims of another section of society; it accepts the aim of the defense of capitalism when all history demonstrates that the interests of the proletariat can be served only by the overthrow of capitalism.”
The popular front has often had bloody repercussions for the working class and oppressed. A classic example is that of Chile in 1973, where Salvador Allende and his fellow reformists led the revolutionary-minded working class into a coalition government with the capitalists. Allende vowed not to challenge the capitalist order or the state; he put an end to peasants seizing land and workers seizing factories. Aided by US imperialism the Chilean bourgeoisie then turned to General Augusto Pinochet to attack the working class and its leaders (including Allende), imposing a savage military dictatorship at the cost of 30,000 lives.
From Seattle to Social Forums
Hoping to appeal to militant youth who despise the Social Forums as endless talk shops, the L5I pleads for a return to the street demonstrations of Seattle and Genoa. Its pamphlet proclaims that “For five years our movement has besieged the summits of the rich and the powerful…. It must take to the streets again, and show through mass direct action its intent; to build a world without classes, oppression, racism, war and imperialism.” But the politics of the WSF is an extension of, not counterposed to, the politics of Seattle. While attracting many youth who oppose the impact of capitalism internationally, the political shots at Seattle were called by the social democrats and trade-union bureaucrats whose anti-Communist tirades against China echo the interests of the imperialist rulers whose aim is the restoration of the system of capitalist exploitation to the Chinese deformed workers state. “Direct action” protest based on pro-imperialist, popular-front politics is just “militant” class collaborationism.
The backdrop to the proliferation of Social Forums is the counterrevolution in the former USSR and the bourgeoisie’s ideological campaign that “communism is dead”. Typical of the regression of consciousness brought about by the destruction of the Soviet Union is the idea, prevalent among young leftists, that the working class is irrelevant as the agency for social change, or simply one more victim of oppression. Meanwhile union bureaucrats now justify betrayals of workers’ struggles by arguing that “globalisation” makes class struggle ineffective because the capitalists can easily move production to low wage economies in Asia or Eastern Europe. While there have been certain quantitative changes in the world economy in recent decades, “globalisation” is not a qualitatively new phenomenon. The fact that the capitalist market economy is “global”, that banks and corporations seek out those (low wage) countries where they can get the highest return, and the internationalisation of finance capital, was explained by VI Lenin nearly 90 years ago:
“Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”
—Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism
Poverty, disease, exploitation and war are not aberrations in the capitalist system but are inherent within its workings. Only through the overthrow of capitalism can the productive forces be developed to provide a decent standard of living for all of humanity.
In the face of an international witch hunt against the “direct action” anarchists of the Black Bloc, following the police killing of leftist protester Carlo Giuliani in Genoa in 2001, the bulk of the social-democratic left in the anti-globalisation movement joined in violence-baiting and cop-baiting the Black Bloc. The ICL stood out for our forthright defence of the Black Bloc against the capitalist state and its lackeys. At the same time, we stressed:
“The question before the huge numbers of young radicals who have been drawn to the ‘anti-globalization’ protests of recent years is: how do you change the world? While the protests have succeeded in forcing the imperialists to schedule future meetings in isolated backwaters, this does nothing to impede the workings of the capitalist system. To do away with imperialist exploitation requires a political mobilization of the proletariat in a thoroughgoing socialist revolution….
“What’s needed is a new, revolutionary leadership of the working class, a tribune of the people and fighter on behalf of all the oppressed. It is necessary to break with the class-collaborationist politics pushed by those who, in the name of a ‘lesser evil,’ subordinate the vital interests of the proletariat to those of its capitalist exploiters and oppressors. It’s necessary to forge a revolutionary workers party that fights to set up a workers government through socialist revolution against the entire capitalist system.”
—“Blood and Bullets in Genoa”, Workers Vanguard no 762, 3 August 2001
We Marxists of the Spartacus Youth Group and International Communist League understand that the fight for the independence of the working class is the precondition for the emancipation of humanity through socialist revolution. Our attitude to the Social Forums, as with any other popular front, is to oppose them through intervening with a sharp characterisation and explanation of this deception in a bid to win those that genuinely want to fight oppression and exploitation to an internationalist, revolutionary, proletarian programme. We are proud communists and refuse to be lackeys of the social democrats, trade-union bureaucrats and their capitalist masters. If you do too—join us!