Preserving the human experiment through one of history’s darkest periods

Positioning itself squarely against what Noam Chomsky calls the ‘Reactionary International’, the Progressive International seeks to unite the forces of sanity and progress around the world

      progressive international

A news item barely covered by the Indian news media relates to the statement, issued by the council of the Progressive International (PI) on 23 September, 2020, calling upon the Government of India to “stop persecuting non-violent protesters wrongly accused and booked by the police”. The statement focusses on two major criminal investigations ongoing in India – the Delhi riots 2020 case and the Bhima-Koregaon incident of 2018 – which are “a serious cause for concern because they appear to be driven by a partisan, political agenda”. It goes on thus:

By actively seeking to quash peaceful expressions of dissent and making arbitrary arrests, the ruling party, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is causing irreparable damage to an already crumbling democratic system. The arrests send a chilling message to citizens that disagreement with, or criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.

The PI statement closes with the demand that the government “repeal and halt the use of draconian anti-terror and national security laws against democratic dissenters and activists, and repeal the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019”.

Even the section of our news media that has not ignored this statement has  considered it unnecessary to tell readers about the entity issuing the statement, though the names of some of the signatories – Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Yanis Varoufakis, John McDonell, Elizabeth Gomez Alcorta, John Cusack, Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze and Arundhati Roy, among others – find a mention in some reports. For all one knew, PI could be a one-off platform for academics and activists to meet on for the purpose of voicing their concerns on this matter alone.  One hopes this omission was not deliberate; nontheless, in these dispiriting times when ‘international solidarity (has never been) more necessary – and more absent’, we cannot afford to lose sight of a global initiative for uniting, organizing  and mobilizing  progressive forces worldwide. For it is to precisely these tasks that PI dedicates itself.

In December 2018, the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) and the Sanders Institute issued an open call for the formation of a common front in the fight against the evil triad of rising authoritarianism, free-market fundamentalism and a looming climate catastrophe. (DiEM25 was set up in 2016 as a pan-European political movement in support of reforming and fully democratising the existing institutions of the European Union with the aim to create an egalitarian post-capitalist society. Its initiators were Yanis Varoufakis, former Finanace Minister of Greece, and the Croatian philosopher Srecko Horbat. The Sanders Institute is a non-profit think-tank founded by members of Bernie Sanders’s family.) It was a call for all the world’s progressives – individuals as well as organisations and collectives – to link arms in affirmative action, and it had not come one day too soon. The year that followed the call – 2019 – saw waves of popular protests sweep over different parts of the world – from Delhi to Paris to Beirut to Santiago in Chile. While different country-specific issues animated these movements, the common themes running through them foregrounded the defence of democracy and/or the securing of decent living standards for all citizens. And yet, while the power of these protests to rattle the ruling regimes in the countries concerned was never in doubt, the regimes pushed back ruthlessly, unleashing brutal state terror upon these movements and their leaders. In most places, the ruling dispensations succeeded in intimidating and suppressing the protests at least for the while, because even as their resources of coercion were virtually limitless, the peaceful protesters were increasingly isolated and thrown back upon their own modest means of resistance. The Delhi anti-Muslim riots of February 2020, widely believed to have been instigated if not directly organised by the Hindutva ecosystem so as to drown the anti-CAA protests in a flood of blood, are a case in point. There have been many recent instances of popular anti-authoritarin movements being set back or even defeated in different parts of the world by forces of rank political reaction. The crushing, in Greece in July 2015, of the progressive anti-austerity alliance and the manneer in which popular leftwing leaders in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia were driven out of crucial political contests are examples. In the circumstances, it was being increasingly felt that progressive social/political movements, if they were to resist being snuffed out,  needed to reach out to similar resistance struggles in other countries and build a broad, world-wide, mutually-supporting coalition of progressive forces. In other words, progressive movements, even when they enjoyed genuine and  wide popular support, had outgrown the age of national self-sufficiency and isolation. All the more so, as repressive nation-states were embracing belligerent nationalism with ever-rising fervour, trying to pin progressive movements down to an absurd binary of “If you’re not with the government, you’re against the nation”. Donald Trump’s US was as shrill with its ‘Nation First’ rhetoric as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel; and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil was no less enamoured with this warped vision than Narendra Modi in India.

And these same governments, along with a not insignificant number of some others, also seem intent on shoving humankind over the edge of the precipice. Trump is pushing relentlessly for war with Iran, an adventure that can only be utterly ruinous for the region. His policies for Latin America and Cuba are the harshest in more than a generation. Race relations in the US are on the boil, and violence against blacks and other minorities has been escalating steadily. Netanyahu is making sure that Palestinians are dispossessed of every right, even the right to live their lives on their own land. He is counting on Palestine, its back against the wall, engaging Israel in a wider armed conflict, in which case he can proceed to liquidate the Palestinians cheerfully, with an approving Donald Trump looking on. Both Trump and Bolsonaro pooh-pooh all talk of climate change: Bolsonaro has openly encouraged destruction of the Amazon rain forests while Trump has not only walked out of the Paris climate accord but has been systematically undermining all domestic laws regulating the fossil fuel industries. Modi’s approach to the environment is no less scandalous. Besides recently producing a shoddy policy document which opens the door to all manner of abuse of nature and its resources, his government has been hollowing out regulatory environmental oversight of all its meaning. Meanwhile, unprecedented forest fires across Australia, southern Europe and South America, in the US and even in Russia’s Arctic regions, together with rapidly-shrinking and melting polar icecaps tell us that life on earth may indeed be approaching its terminal stage. The hands of the Doomsday Clock, of which Noam Chomsky never tires of reminding us, have never ever been closer to the final hour – midnight — than at this point.

No wonder, then, that the Progressive International, which took shape out of the DiEM25-Sanders Institute initiative and was launched on 11 May, 2020, settled  on ‘Internationalism or Extinction’ as its rallying cry. It brings together on its platform rights activists and organizers, trade unions and tenant associations, green initiatives and gender-equality advocates, political parties and social movements “to build a shared vision of democracy, solidarity, and sustainability”. The objective is to integrate across different geographies disparate social and political movements anchored to the idea of sustainable positive change in societies. Headquartered in London, it is currently led by a council of advisors responsible for setting the International’s strategic direction. Among others, the council comprises: Celso Amorim, Brazil’s former foreign minister; Rafael Correa, former President of Ecuador; Elizabeth Gomez Acorta, Argentine cabinet minister; Prof Noam Chomsky; Fernando Haddad, former Brazilian minister and presidential candidate; Srecko Horvat,  Croatian philosopher; Aruna Roy, Indian social activist; Naomi Klein, Canadian journalist and author; Jean Dreze, Belgian-Indian development economist; John McDonnell, Labour member of the British parliament; Gustavo Petro, Colombian senator; Pierre Sane’, former Secretary General of Amnesty International; Harsh Mander, Indian author-activist; Ece Temelkuran, celebrated Turkish author; Yanis Varoufakis, Greek politician-economist; Dr Cornel West, professor at Harvard; Paola Vega, Costa Rican congresswoman; Nanjala Nyabola, Kenyan writer-activist; Joacine Katar Moreira, Portuguese member of parliament; John Cusack, American actor; Edil Baisalov, Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador in London and Gael Garcia Bernal, Mexican actor. The PI’s executive body, responsible for development, planning and staffing decisions, consists of four council members (Aruna Roy being one of them) and a member each from its secretariat and its coordination team. PI’s activities are divided across three pillars: Movement (for forging a global network of activists and organizers to coordinate progressive movements across borders);  Blueprint (for designing, developing and crafting transformative socio-economic-cultural  policies aimed at a better world); and Wire (for publishing grassroots and critical perspectives on important issues in a range of languages in partnership with progressive media voices from different countries such as  The Wire (India), The Nation (US),The Elephant (Kenya) and El Ciudadano (Chile). The organisation envisages being funded entirely by member contributions and donations, but is resolved not to seek/accept donations from large corporations, fossil fuel companies, hedge funds, private equities and industry lobbyists, opting instead to enlist help largely from individual donors.

Inevitably, the Progressive International will remind us of its precursors – the Socialist and the Communist Internationals, the second long defunct while the first now too loose a front of social democrats to exercise anything other than limited influence on the world stage. The PI believes it needs to learn both from the failures and successes of such forerunners. For one, it seeks not to be restricted to any one kind of organization, or any one kind of struggle, recognising that, in the 21st century, political parties no longer have a monopoly on mass organizations, and any viable popular movement must reflect the diversity of associations in people’s lives today. And, while it aims to build a durable infrastructure for internationalism which can, in time, support progressive forces everywhere in their diverse struggles, the PI also hopes to develop a pragmatic policy vision to transform state institutions. As a global pandemic lays bare the fatal flaws of ‘free-market’ fundamentalism, amoral disaster capitalism is tearing the already-weakened social fabric to shreds. The PI believes it has a viable social-cultural model to effectively challenge the bigotry, xenophobia, and deepening inequality that is threatening the whole ‘human experiment’ with destruction.

These are clearly high ambitions, but the PI believes they are ‘no higher than the present crisis demands’.

Anjan Basu writes on a range of subjects. He can be reached at  [email protected]




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