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The Progressive International: The Center Left Attempts to Rescue Capitalism

Public figures including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Goméz Alcorta, Yanis Varoufakis, and Álvaro García Linera have called for the formation of a Progressive International — a front to rescue the institutions of capitalist democracy.

Facundo Aguirre

May 21, 2020
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Images: Ignacio Sanchez; PBS; Σ

The Sanders Foundation and the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) have called for the formation of a Progressive International. Different intellectuals and cultural figures have supported the call, including academic Noam Chomsky, author Naomi Klein, Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, writer Arundhati Roy, philosopher Srecko Horvat, and German ship captain Carola Rackete.

Politicians have also signed up, including the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis; the Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir; Argentina’s Minister of Women, Gender, and Diversity Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta; and Argentina’s Ambassador to Russia Alicia Castro. Other signatories include former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa; Fernando Haddad of Brazil, who was the PT’s presidential candidate against Bolsonaro; former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim; and former Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera.

The goal of the Progressive International, according to an article by its General Coordinator, is “to unite, organize and mobilize (…) activists and organizers, trade unions and tenant associations, political parties and social movements to build a shared vision of democracy, solidarity, and sustainability.”

Center Left

The center-left politicians who have signed the call all have a similar record. The Sanders Foundation, for example, is run by Bernie Sanders, whose primary campaign generated lots of enthusiasm among immigrant workers, young people, and women; he then abandoned the race inside the Democratic Party and endorsed the neoliberal politician Joe Biden. Sanders also voted for Trump’s trillion-dollar package to rescue the big capitalists.

Varoufakis was once the finance minister in the government headed by the Greek left party Syriza. This government put an end to the general strikes that were shaking Greek capitalism and the austerity plans of the European Union. Syriza capitulated to the pressures of the European powers and carried out the brutal austerity measures dictated by finance capital. Varoufakis had to resign when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras refused to comply with the referendum in which a majority of the Greek people rejected the EU’s memoranda.

The Latin American supporters of this call have done even more to maintain the rule of capitalism. Álvaro Garcia Linera was toppled with the Bolivian president Evo Morales in a civil-ecclesiastical-military coup — they did not offer resistance or call for mass mobilizations. Their government program had been based on what they called “Andean capitalism,” which included defending the interests of the elites from Santa Cruz in Eastern Bolivia and supporting large agribusinesses.

Rafael Correa, for his part, maintained the dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy during his entire term. When he left office, he gave his full support to the neoliberal politician Lenin Moreno. Celso Amorim was Brazil’s Foreign Minister under Lula and Defense Minister under Dilma Roussef, whose government carried out neoliberal attacks against the working class before it was overthrown in a judicial coup — and she did not put up resistance either.

Supporting the (Bourgeois) State

Most of the politicians behind the Progressive International call for a return of the state — in other words, they want to rescue capitalism via state intervention. They identify all problems as a result of neoliberalism.

For Varoufakis, who is a member of DiEM25, the return of the bourgeois state is essential to solving the Covid-19 crisis. For him, the question is whether the state is used to save neoliberalism or to carry out reform. As the former minister says, “A virus without a brain is forcing us to face a simple dilemma: either the zombification of the banks and companies that we experienced after 2008 swallows up the rest of the economy, or we massively restructure public and private debt. This is the fundamental political decision of our time.”

García Linera, for his part, says that there is “a danger of a perverted return of the state in the form of inverted Keynesianism and the totalitarianism of Big Data as the newest technology to contain the ‘dangerous classes.’ If the return of the state means using public money, that is, everyone’s money, to sustain the rate of profit for a few owners of large corporations, then we are not dealing with a protective social state, but rather with one that is monopolized by a business aristocracy, as was the case during the entire neoliberal period that led us to this moment of societal disarray.” This ideologue of Andean capitalism argues that the progressive governments in Latin America, “once accused of being irresponsible populists, are now the minimum platform for public debate and a new planetary common sense.”

Amorim, for his part, calls for “greater unity among the parties of the Left and the beginning of some dialogue with other forces more toward the center” — in other words, with the moderate wing of the pro-coup forces in Brazil in order to stop Jair Bolsonaro.

Overall, the political wing of the Progressive International supports the idea that the capitalist state is a neutral entity and that it can be used to stop the threat of xenophobic nationalism and an even more rabid form of neoliberalism. They want to rescue the “democratic” institutions of bourgeois rule from an authoritarian danger in order to restructure debts and move toward a universal basic income.

In the best case scenario, from their perspective, the good manners of bourgeois democracy will be used to impose a limit on neoliberalism’s appetites. This would allow for the creation of a different model of income distribution while maintaining capitalist rule.

It would seem that Varoufakis learned nothing from the Greek experience and the capitalists’ contempt for electoral majorities when they go against the interests of the bourgeoisie. Nor did García Linera learn anything from the military coup that overthrew him once the bourgeoisie and imperialism decided that the MAS government had outlived its usefulness. Amorim proposes to recover the state together with former coup leaders in order to “reform” it.

The problem is that the state is an instrument of capitalist rule that blocks any attempt to reform it, using economic coercion and military threats. The ruling class only permits reform when their rule is threatened or they fear social revolution.

Reform or Revolution

“Unlike past internationals, the PI is not restricted to any one kind of organization, or any one kind of struggle,” the call states. What defined the previous revolutionary internationals was the struggle for the working class to take political power via a social revolution. Those of us who struggle to rebuild the Fourth International have a  program of abolishing private property and wage labor. This would put an end to the irrationality of capitalism and distribute resources according to a conscious plan, and every member of society could satisfy their needs without being subjected to exploitation or oppression by a privileged class.

As we can see, the PI is opposed to revolutionary political struggle, which is why it “aims to develop a pragmatic policy vision to transform our institutions.” In its statement, the declared goal is to “be a durable institution that can bind progressive forces together and support them to build power everywhere” — that is, a platform for progressive and center-left politicians to win elections. In short, the PI aims to take the place of the discredited Socialist International (SI). The PI is an international that does not want to be seen as a force for revolution, with a program limited to the reform of capitalism.

The urban and rural working class, women, LGBTQ+ people, migrants, and all the oppressed now more than ever need an international revolutionary instrument to lead their struggles toward the overthrow of capitalism. This means rebuilding internationalism for workers’ revolution and socialism. The current crisis of capitalism shows the urgency of this perspective.

First published in Spanish on May 13 on La Izquierda Diario.

Translation and adaptation: Nathaniel Flakin

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