In late November 2009 President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela indicated a desire to found a Fifth International in coming months. So far, there is very little information about either Chavez’s view of this effort, the Venezuelan view of this effort, or the view of others around the world. Still, some things seem predictable.
With Venezuela explicitly seeking a new type of 21st century socialism, a new International they champion is unlikely to adopt past instances of Soviet, Chinese or other 20th century socialist organization as its touchstone. Thus we can expect that the new International will not only reject capitalism and its defining features, but will advocate, instead, something broadly called socialism while at least at the outset, leaving the meaning of that label vague, not least to welcome diverse trends and perspectives to participate in a process that will seek unity but also welcome and even celebrate diversity.
A thorny problem will be who to include. The new International will certainly want to welcome anti capitalist parties, unions, projects, and movements – and perhaps even individuals, one might imagine. This would imply a very open call to join.
However, on the other hand, we can also confidently guess that the International will not want to be so broad and so welcoming that it loses all focus, and militance, or swamps innovative approaches with holdovers from the past. Rather than adopting a least common sum approach, which would define the International in terms of whatever limited points everyone in it could fully agree on, I think we can guess that a new International will take a more encompassing approach, seeing itself a bit more like a kind of society then like a focused organization. If that occurs, the International might opt to be the greatest inclusive sum of the views of all its members, contradictions and all – thereby embodying difference as part of its definition, including literally welcoming diverse trends and agendas, though also seeking to have each trend mutually respectful of and even, to the extent possible, supportive of the work of the rest.
This picture would entail some limits on the breadth of the membership, I suspect. All members would have to be revolutionary – not merely critical of capitalism even while taking its permanence for granted. All members would also presumably have to be anti imperialist, I would think, and anti war, and vigorously anti racist and anti sexist, and committed to the underlying values of participation and popular power and equity, and thus opposed to class as well as race and gender hierarchies that would disrupt such egalitarian and democratic aims.
Will this new International include social democratic projects, unions, parties, and movements who by a long history show no inclination to replace capitalism due to deciding that debate between these elements and more revolutionary members could be fruitful, or will the new International reject social democratic participation on the grounds that such debate would stall action and growth of the International to little gain?
Similarly, will the new International include projects, unions, parties, and movements that by their past and present practices evidence no inclination to fully overcome either race, gender, or class hierarchies while pursuing real participation, again, in the belief that engagement between partially oriented efforts and others who have more complete agendas would be fruitful, or would it reject such members on grounds they would distract from the most effective marshaling of efforts?
Presumably a new International would be very broad but would not bind its members to any kind of line but would, in certain instances, nonetheless call upon its members to relate positively to an overall agenda as well as to one another’s efforts. But how would decisions about agenda be made? How would members share lessons of their actions, pursue debate about contending views, and in both respects advance in their ideas and alliances?
Answering all the above questions, and many more as well, will have to wait, of course, for participants to determine their own wishes. But regardless of what resolutions occur, if there is a new International formed this Spring, a paramount question for all serious leftists and certainly for all participants in the Reimagining Society Project, or Resoc – as well as for all advocates of participatory economics and participatory society, or parecon and parsoc, such as myself – will be how do we relate to this endeavor?
For Resoc, the fit seems pretty clear. Resoc exists to try to discuss, debate, explore, and thus advance relevant ideas about vision, strategy, and program to attain a new, liberating, society. Where Resoc is a “gathering” of at large individuals, however, the International will include, I suspect, projects, unions, parties, and movements – and perhaps at large individuals too. Also, where Resoc has no activist program, the International certainly might issue calls for activism and apply its resources to joint tasks, etc. But, while different in those respects, regarding ideas, the two efforts are largely alike. Under a wide umbrella, while fostering mutual respect and welcoming diversity, both will prioritize moving forward our understanding of aims and methods. For this reason, it would seem that Resoc can easily and naturally assist the International. First, many Resoc participants will likely become part of the International via the membership of organizations they belong to. Second, the whole Resoc endeavor could easily be adapted to the International, becoming a part of or even perhaps a basis for the International’s explorations of vision and strategy, at least insofar as the International’s explorations have an online component.
What about the role of some of the “trends” that have surfaced within Resoc? For example, there are Resoc participants who strongly advocate the ideas of peer to peer production and allocation, others who strongly advocate an approach called Solidarity Economy, some who favor variants on market socialism, some with a strong anarchist leaning, and quite a few who favor parecon/parsoc – with much overlap as well as difference in these trends. So how will a “trend,” so to speak, relate to the International?
Of course I am guessing – but, a pretty good bet, I think, is that a broad perspective within the new International will be a trend in it, or a viewpoint in it, insofar as organizations in the International align together to collectively advocate such a viewpoint. Thus, various groups will likely be aligned within the International as solidarity economy, or peer to peer, or market socialist, or pareconist, etc., each constituting a kind of perspective or trend, each advocating its preferred views, and each trying to learn from those with other views.
Finally, we arrive at a parecon relevant implication of Venezuela’s call for a new International. Serious anti capitalists who have a broad perspective that they favor – in my case, participatory economics and participatory society or participatory socialism – will, if they want to be part of the International’s on-going discussion and exploration, need to be represented by members in the International.
For Parecon/parsoc, and this is my point in writing this essay, this implies that advocates need to move toward creating local, regional, or even national organizations and in time movements, which each have their own agendas and methods, of course, but which all align with one another working together or even federating as a perspective or trend in the International. If the International welcomes projects too, then that would be another means of participation for parecon/parsoc advocates.
On the one hand, one doesn’t want to prematurely and artificially create organizations where there is no real basis for doing so. On the other hand, it is my impression that parecon/parsoc organizations are now possible to announce and build, albeit they will be fledgling and difficult to sustain, in many places around the world.
Some places where there is already activity, or there could be activity rather soon, I suspect, include a good many cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, Greece, Poland, Bulgaria, Austria, South Africa, India, Korea, Japan, and Australia, among others. Of course any such parsocish organization would necessarily begin small, initially working on its own self definition, on popular education and outreach, and on communicating with other aligned organizations, as well as relating to political events and projects in its own country. Still, taken together, they could certainly constitute a serious trend inside a new International together by arguing the merits of their shared beliefs, further developing their mutual ties and connections, refining their views, etc.
Indeed, it seems to me it is time for people in position to do so and who share the parecon/parsoc viewpoint to begin creating such organizations, and I would love to hear from anyone who is already engaged, or wishes to become engaged in such work – leading toward events in April and thereafter.