DiEM25, The European Realistic Disobedience Front, a pan-European political movement led by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (when Syriza came to government) and the Sanders Institute, founded by Jane Sanders, wife of Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, have just given birth to the "Progressive International", an organization endorsed by more than 40 intellectuals from around the world, including Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, and political leaders, such as Katrín Jakobsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement and current Prime Minister of Iceland, in which capital, Reykjavik, the first Congress of the new grouping is scheduled to take place.
The Puebla Group, a political and academic forum for the advancement of a progressive agenda, in its recent virtual meeting, which brought together the most important progressive figures of Latin America, welcomed the initiative and decided to join it. Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, former Bolivian Vice President García Linera, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Fernando Haddad, one of the 40 signatories who launched the Progressive International, were some of the attendees.
The new organization, which warns "there is a global war going on against the workers, against the environment, against democracy, against decency", pushes for progressives to join forces in the face of "the advance of authoritarianism”. It also calls for defending and sustaining "a welfare state, labor rights and cooperation between countries, as well as consolidating a more democratic, egalitarian, ecological, peaceful post-capitalist, prosperous and pluralistic world, in which collaborative economy prevails”.
There is one characteristic shared by this very varied arc of global progressives: they haven´t managed to promote an alternative better than neoliberal policies in their political experience leading their respective countries. Nor are they doing so now. Rather, they have ended up adapting to the established social order. Bernie Sanders’ call to his followers to close ranks behind Joe Biden, after his frustrated presidential race, is a good case in point. This is a dead end for the thousands of workers and young people who embraced the Social Democratic Senator's nomination. Sanders' policy is to call for collaboration with Biden's task forces in the development of the government plan, as if it were viable to infuse a progressive content into the management of the Democratic candidate, a trusted man of the establishment, and transform from within a party that is one of the pillars of U.S. imperialism. While talking about the welfare state, the US political leader has just voted on the stimulus package proposed by Trump, which involves a gigantic bailout of big corporations, leaving breadcrumbs for the working class.
Progressives do not stand for the transformation of the political and social regime. A substantial example is that of Iceland, where the Prime Minister's Green Party co-governs the country in coalition with the centre-right Independence party, which has reserved strategic cabinet positions for itself. The centre-right was in power until 2017, when its government exploded in the midst of a gigantic political crisis, when acts of corruption were revealed that compromised the then Prime Minister. Progressives ended up saving the political system and rebuilding governance through a pact with traditional representatives of neoliberalism.
The conduct of Varoufakis in the Syriza coalition can’t be overlooked. His government capitulated to European Union directives and their austerity memorandum, violating the popular mandate that rejected the impositions put forward by the troika. The attempt to find middle ground between the aspirations of the Greek and staying in the EU proved to be completely unfounded. The Greek leader today regrets this position and points out that the right thing to do would have been to leave the EU. But what would be the best way out? Let's remember that Varoufakis at the heyday of Syriza pointed out that the capitalist crisis "was not the best environment for radical socialist policies". He noted that "we are not prepared to overcome the collapse of European capitalism with a functioning socialist system".
The former minister of Syriza has not abandoned this premise. His proposal consists of replacing his old Europeanism with a nationalist variant with greater state intervention, but always within the framework of the current social order. But bourgeois statism is nothing more than an extreme attempt to rescue capital, which has always been accompanied by a well-regulated attack on the workers. For the time being, a return to the Greek drachma would bring a severe blow to wages, which would be denominated in the local currency, depreciated against the euro. However, debts would remain fixed in the European currency, making the mortgage on the country even more burdensome. In the current context, Greece would lose freedom of access to the European Economic Area without being able to enjoy the benefits of a devalued currency, at a time when a depression of historic proportions is commencing and trade war and protectionist policies are being stepped up.
The capitalist impasse has accelerated the tendencies towards the disintegration of the EU. It isn’t a question of returning to national borders on the old foundations, which is becoming increasingly unfeasible, when value chains are more integrated than ever and dependence and interconnection between nations have become much closer than in the past, but rather of reconstructing Europe integrally on new social foundations on the basis of the continental socialist unity.
Progressive International talks about “postcapitalism” to evade the main issue. With socialism ruled out, the offered solution, though disguised, is none other than the old reheated plate of capitalist society, which could regenerate itself, according to this point of view, by adopting forms of greater social equity and political democracy. This is an imaginary capitalism, since real capitalism, not the one in their heads, has been unloading the weight of its crises and bankruptcy on the masses. It tends to sweep away labor rights and conquests of workers, obtained in the previous epoch. The labor and pension reforms are the common heritage of both the neoliberal and the "nacional y popular" governments [nationalist progressives]. The pandemic has highlighted more than ever the antagonism between the defense of the life and health of the people and an organization based on capitalist profit.
The welfare state, which this International advocates for, is incompatible with the current capitalist social order. This goes hand in hand with the trend to replace democracy with Bonapartist regimes, of personal power, which rule over republican institutions, as an exceptional resource to pilot the crisis and the social polarization that is opening up.
In opposition to neoliberalism, the recipe proclaimed by the promoters of this initiative would be greater state intervention. But they warn that "the key issue is whether the State is used to rescue neoliberalism or to carry out reforms". It is presented as if the State were an entity in dispute, above the social organization, when it is a gear and central instrument of the capitalist regime, which acts under the tutelage of the ruling class and constitutes a machine that acts as a transmission belt and vehicle of its interests. The use of public funds for social needs -and not for the rescue of capital, as is the case now- raises the question of power and, therefore, of the working class taking on the political leadership of the nation.
The same applies when we speak of "cooperation between countries", as if we could abstract the fact that the trade war is a result of the developing capitalist world crisis. Tensions and rivalries between corporations and nations are growing in proportion to the capitalist impasse. Capitalist integration, as witnessed by the European Union or Mercosur, is running out of steam. The cooperation of the peoples, the overcoming of national divisions, can only be the work of the working class as part of a social transformation under its leadership.
The Progressive International has received the support of the Puebla Group. But one cannot ignore the fact that the political forces that form this forum have been governing and steering the destiny of their countries for decades. The balance of this experience reveals their inability to bring their countries out of backwardness, dependence and imperialist oppression. Far from advancing to industrialization and independent development, the primarization of their economies has been accentuated. The progressive Latin American governments have implemented important social security programs, which have represented a relief for the population in a desperate situation, but this is far from constituting a social transformation. The social structure has remained intact: the same social classes continue to concentrate wealth and economic power. Bourgeois nationalism and Latin American progressivism have succumbed under the impact of the world crisis, which has culminated in real collapses. Even social aid itself was cut back while severe fiscal cuts were made, which gave rise to protests and large popular demonstrations.
Latin American progressives have been unable to confront neoliberalism. It has tried to survive by adapting to the demands of international capital and applying the cuts themselves, but that hasn’t been enough to prevent their downfall. Dilma Rousseff and then Evo Morales were overthrown by civic-ecclesiastical-military coups without offering resistance or calling for popular mobilization. At present, the Brazilian PT (Workers’ Party), the most emblematic force of Latin American progressives, is advocating a political solution to the crisis affecting the Bolsonaro government with the parties that promoted the coup against their government and have been campaigners and architects of the labor and welfare reforms, as well as an attack on the living conditions of the people. It is clear that a more egalitarian order and a source of impetus for a welfare state will not emerge from this.
The Puebla Group, in its short existence, has shown its limits to become an alternative. Alberto Fernández, one of the two presidents in office who are part of this group, remains in the Lima Group (a body formed to find a solution to the Venezuelan crisis), together with his right-wing counterparts in Latin America, who have been actively conspiring to bring down Nicolás Maduro. The Argentine government has recognized and given the corresponding plaques to the diplomatic corps appointed by the coup government of Áñez in Bolivia. Argentinean foreign policy has been subordinated to the debt rescue that has been taking place within the framework of negotiations with the bondholders and the IMF, and which are on the threshold of a settlement.
A distinctive feature of the government of López Obrador in Mexico is the strikingly good relations with the authoritarian Donald Trump. The Mexican president has renewed the free trade agreement in line with the demands of the United States and turned his country into a buffer zone against the migratory caravans that seek an escape from the hunger and poverty that plague the continent. The fight against drug trafficking has been used as a cover, once again, to reinforce the corrupt military and police apparatus.
The tendency to negotiate with imperialism on the part of the Latin American exponents of the Progressive International should be taken as a warning sign by all activists. We aren’t seeing a political space that is developing within the field of support for the recent popular rebellions, but one that is born with the political function of containing them. While, in 2019, resistance fronts advanced against all governments, regardless of their "neoliberal" or "progressive" affiliation, the members of this new international nucleus - especially in Latin America – functioned as deterrents, in order to guarantee governance.
The search for a balance between popular needs and the capitalist social order has proved to be unfounded. If there is anything that has proved to lack "realism", it is the claim to reverse the tendencies towards social polarization that have become more pronounced than ever before. The pandemic, in turn, far from lessening social antagonisms, has exacerbated them, demonstrating the abyss that exists between the defense of life and health of the population, and a social organization based on capitalist profit. There is no middle ground between neoliberalism and social revolution. The train of history, in the hands of capitalism, leads us towards a scenario of barbarism: of wars and ecological, health and social devastation without precedent. The train of history can go forward only with the working class at the driver’s seat.