Toward a New Political Party: Networking and Acting Locally and Globally

02 October 2000

It is not just the world of Capital that is changing. Globalization is not an issue for corporations and markets only. Globalizing resistance is a recognized urge for social movements. But much more is being done.

Organic intellectuals (1) have been working on the vision of a cooperative form globalization, on a path to genuine development "from below and from within" persons, communities and countries. Associative and cooperative enterprises have been developing local and global networks of collaboration and trade in solidarity;(2) they view themselves not only as socioeconomically and environmentally more efficient and more fulfilling forms of enterprises, but also as units of a socioeconomy based on the values of cooperation, respect for diversity, complementarity, reciprocity and solidarity. Local governments are reinventing the role of the State, serving more as catalyzers of civil action, socioeconomic organization and shared decision-making than as power and public finance monopolies. (3) Solidarity movements from North and South, in particular young people, are globalizing their protests and uniting their voices on behalf of non-capitalist paths to globalization, as expressed in Cologne and Seattle (1999), Washington, Montreal and New York (2000). (4)

All these "signs of the times" are rehearsing new forms of organization - non-hierarchical, web-like modes of collaboration in which individual components (individuals as well as local organizations) relate to each other on the basis of mutual respect and trust, as a basis for effective collaboration (=working together). True unity cannot be achieved by sacrificing diversity. Consensus through dialogue and persuasion is more important than centralist imposition and the submission of minorities.

In this process of rebirth of a massive, participatory social movement, however, trade unions and political parties are lagging behind. They have been too slow in changing with the times. Their vertical power structure, and often their bureaucratic deviations, hinder effective grassroots participation, underestimates their knowledge and limits their creativity. These organizations' worldview is mainly anchored in the industrial world economy, whereas today's global system is clearly post-industrial and tends to be also post-market. In the context of the restructuring of industry and services, of the reconfiguration of the social division of labor, with massive unemployment and precarization of waged employment, and the weakening of labor organizations, the traditional trade unions and democratic-centralist left wing parties are called to rethink their own reason-to-be, and to seek new modes of organization and new forms of civil and political action.

Since our focus in this brief presentation is the new party, not the new trade union, let us focus our attention on the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT). The PT may serve as an example at various levels - local, national, global - and can be examined from different perspectives - as a mass party, as participant in local and national legislative bodies, as leader of local and state governments, as a component of national and international social networks, etc. Nonetheless, I will restrict my comments to the task of raising the most crucial challenges related to the development of an innovative political party in a context of brutal oppression by neoliberal capitalist globalization and the structural weakening of workers' organizations resulting from the restructuring of industry and services and from a social division of labor characterized by a deeper-than-never gap between capital and labor.

The PT is a mass party from its origin. It was built from below, an initiative taken by a group of labor leaders and organic intellectuals in the early 80s. Very quickly hundreds of thousands of urban and rural workers, youth, various liberal professionals and others had joined the ranks of the PT. The proposal was to build a mass political party, offering the grassroots of society an alternative form of social and political organization, and also aiming at occupying always ampler spaces in the State structure in the local, state and the national spheres. Only 9 years after its creation, the PT led a left-wing party coalition in the presidential elections and lost by only 3% of the votes, in a campaign marked by non-ethical moves on the part of the right-wing candidate and massive manipulation on his behalf by the large media. The PT is now the largest opposition party in the country. It currently leads more than one hundred local governments and two state governments, and occupies thousands of seats in municipal, state and the federal legislative bodies.

What strategy has paved the way for such progress? A two-pronged strategy of creating spaces for society to organize itself and to use the PT as their means of political expression and participation while, at the same time, seeking to occupy spaces in institutional politics, i.e., endeavoring to conquer the State in order to transform it from within. The choice of this complex path involves very difficult challenges: How to remain deeply embedded in the social organism, especially in the working class, while at the same time struggling for the control of the political institutions of the State? How to exert the functions of government while at the same time consistently collaborating towards the full autonomy of the social movement with respect to the State?

In the context of Executive and Legislative State functions: How to be consistent with its mass nature and its democratic and participatory paradigm while increasingly becoming an institutional party? How to operate with full integrity and accountability in the space of the dominant, generally corrupt, bourgeois politics? How to balance the current need to serve as governmental authority - which demands taking initiative and creating spaces for the working classes to learn how to struggle for their interests in the public arena and in the negotiating table - while serving as a catalyst for the social movement to organize itself, gradually to establish a socioeconomic and cultural hegemony and ultimately to become a genuine, autonomous subject of its own development?

Wherever the PT occupies the Executive power, another challenge arises: How to establish an adequate, dynamic balance between the practice of managing a system that the party opposes - capitalism - and the struggle to build the socioeconomic, cultural and political foundations for genuinely democratic socialism to become viable? The PT has suffered from all these contradictions. Unfortunately this is not the time-space to analyze them or to extract lessons from them. Instead, let us focus on the implications for the PT of the need to innovate organizationally, socioeconomically, culturally and politically, from the local to the global level.

What does it mean to be a mass party? The best way to answer this question is to visualize the party as an organic system, wherein all components are indissociably interconnected. In this perspective, a mass party means reshaping intra-party relations away from the traditional pyramid and towards an increasingly spherical structure of power, in which the leadership functions more as the heart than the head of the party system, and the different layers of members (individuals as well as cells/local committees, etc.) develop two complementary types of relationship within that structure: a) one of complementarity with respect to one another - and for this purpose the uniqueness of their qualities and contributions needs to be acknowledged and fully valued, i.e., diversity must be promoted and respected; and b) one of a bi-univocal flow of exchange with the heart of the system by means of an active circulatory system of dialogue and communication - unanimities should be created on the basis of respect, not the sacrifice, of diversity. The more the heart is capable of nourishing and animating the party system, the more stimulus each member and cell will receive to become an active subject of this living organism; at the same token, the more the members and their collectives feed the heart with the oxygen of creative initiative and popular knowledge emanating from the grassroots and from their interaction with the social masses, the more adequately and insightfully will the heart fulfill its leadership function.

Network and web are words that express new modes of organization. The net is made up of knots that follow a horizontal pattern, no hierarchy makes sense in its structure, and every knot is important to keep the integrity of the whole and allow the net to fulfill its purpose. A spider web is an even better analogy, since its structure is concentric and is built around a core, the heart where the spider rests.

A political party guided by the principles of participatory democracy, unity in diversity and the conviction that active citizenship can only become real if each citizen becomes a subject of her/his own development and that of every collective to which she/he belongs - such a political party must be organized as a net, or a web. Inward, the main concern of the leadership must be the expansion of the members' consciousness and critical knowledge, self-reliance and capacity of individual and collective self-management. Outward, the party's main concern must be the contamination of the whole social body with the same spirit, and the conquest of the State in order to revolutionize it in the sense of transforming it into an orchestrator of sociopolitical diversity and a catalyst of unities in diversity. Democracy must start at home, i.e., within the party. This does not mean that the party should not have a leadership, or that society should do away with a core authority - whether we call it the State or something else. It simply means that the heart must function in intimate collaboration with the other members of the political or the social organism.

In my view, the most challenging aspect for the PT with regard to the task of building an innovative party is to perpetrate an inner, cultural revolution, a revolution that starts with each individual member - leadership and grassroots - and unfolds towards the various collectives of which they belong: the cell and the party, the trade union, the social movement, the family, the community, the district, the municipality, the state, the Nation, the Planet. A cultural revolution means internalizing the dialectical/holistic paradigm that allows one to understand the interconnectedness of oneself with the whole Cosmos. It also means appropriating the ways and means to act in accordance with that paradigm - uniting vision/theory/rhetoric with practice and teaching by doing. It also means to switch from the ideology of competition, denunciation and destruction to the logic of cooperation, creativity and construction. It means to make real in one's attitudes and behaviors in daily life the values of collaboration, compassion, reciprocity, respect for diversity, cooperation in building common projects, pluralism and solidarity.

Finally, the PT has not yet come to grips with the demand for a socioeconomic platform that envisages a strategy for the people of Brazil, Latin America and the world to go beyond Capital. Such a strategy should involve three crucial components:

  1. a clear vision of a democratized economy, in which the central value is human work, knowledge and creativity; access to natural resources and to ownership and self-management of the means of production and of enlarged reproduction of life is a guaranteed right of all citizens; social (non-State public) property of the means to produce goods and services becomes the dominant institution; and development is distinguished from growth, is built from the local to the global, and is guided by the principles of enough, frugality and sustainability;
  2. clear party guidelines and public policies, defined from below, on the basis of a careful research and a profound understanding of reality and its contradictions at all levels and dimensions;
  3. a permanent, all-encompassing process of education serving the purpose of building militants who are capable to educate citizens and the social movement for self-reliance, self-development and self-management, and leadership for whom power, rather than being a source of privilege and wealth, is a service and a responsibility for which the leaders must be accountable.

In the context of capitalist globalization, the PT needs to deepen its awareness of the globality of the challenges it confronts. It must make clear its conviction that socialism is organized society - above all the working class as it is configured today - striving to conquer the position of main agent and manager of its own socioeconomic, cultural, political, in a word, human development. It must be consistent with the understanding that political power emanates from economic power. Unless the working population is economically empowered and becomes the true subject of the socioeconomy, it will be indeed excluded from political power. In this sense, associative and cooperative enterprises and their networks have the potential of becoming the foundation of a cooperative form of globalization, in which relations of reciprocity, sister/brotherhood and conscious solidarity prevail over the rampant competition, egocentrism and greed that are the trademarks of capitalism. The PT is still far from being an active protagonist of such a platform.

The PT must also overcome every trace of dogmatism and self-righteousness in order to build effective collaborative alliances within the party, between the various left-wing parties in Brazil and abroad, and with the variety of social movements and networks that are flourishing locally, nationally and globally.

The PT's responsibility to effect these changes will increase in proportion to the broadening of the scope of its political influence and power. When I make this presentation to the TNI-INET seminar participants, the PT may have won the municipal elections in some of the largest and most important cities of Brazil, starting with São Paulo. This may be a firm step towards presenting a viable candidate for the Presidency of Brazil in 2002, and towards having a very strong chance of winning the Federal governmental elections in 2006. Unless the PT responds effectively and creatively to the challenges raised in this brief paper, it risks becoming prey to the power game led by international capitalism.

An innovative party does not want to replace one empire with another empire. Its goal is freedom with responsibility, equal dignity to all, and a healthy Planet where life and consciousness can happily expand and fully realize its evolving potentials. This can only be achieved through consistent, daily praxis. Only a web-like party, with a vibrant heart giving and receiving life and wisdom from the whole organism and the surrounding environment, can serve as an instrument to realize these potentials.


1. Please find a general reference of authors who elaborate on the perspective of a globalization of cooperation and solidarity in the Bibliography below.
2. I am referring to the Brazil Network on a Socioeconomy of Solidarity (RBSES), the Peruvian Economy of Solidarity Group (GRESP), the Latin American Cooperative Confederation (COLACOT), the Latin American Network of Community Trade (RELACC), the Workgroup on a Socioeconomy of Solidarity, of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World (WSES), and others.
3. I am referring to municipal, and a few state governments, in Brazil, Uruguay, France, Spain, among others.
4. On Oct. 12, 2000 a Latin American March of the Excluded joined the Women's March in front of the UN in New York.


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