What is the São Paulo Forum?
The Fall of the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart (known in the West as the Berlin Wall) marked a tremendous setback in the worldwide struggle against capitalist exploitation and all forms of oppression. Throughout the globe, many political parties abandoned socialism and, consequently, the forces of imperialism and reaction were able to sweep into state power and commence a new period of imperialist division and re-division of the world. Let there be no qualms in saying this: the dissolution of the USSR and socialism in Europe only brought great suffering to the peoples of those regions and the whole world. This is a truth that the imperialists are trying, and failing, to conceal.
It was in this context that Lula da Silva, a leading member of the Workers’ Party of Brazil, and Fidel Castro, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, called for a regional meeting of the Latin American & Caribbean Left. The meeting would discuss the contemporary international political situation and the wide spread of neoliberalism in the region. The meeting took place in July,1990, in São Paulo, Brazil. This meeting came to be known as the Foro de São Paulo (São Paulo Forum). There, the Foro, “in the course of an intense debate, truly frank, plural, and democratic, we touched on some of the biggest challenges facing us. We analyzed the situation of the world capitalist system and the imperialist offensive, covered by a neoliberal discourse, launched against our countries and our people’s,” as that meeting’s Final Declaration states.
Since then, the Foro has met almost every year. Their developing analysis grew with the surge of leftist forces both at the governmental and grassroots levels; this surge became known as the “Pink Tide.” Various disagreements among the parties at the first meeting gave way to many more agreements as the years passed. The member organizations of the Foro underscored the fact that neoliberalism had been imposed on Latin America under military dictatorships. With the threat posed by the Soviet Union against the imperialist powers gone, the imperialist countries found it expedient to support bourgeois democracies in countries where they had supported terrorist far-right military regimes. The imperialists sought to paint the 1990’s as the beginning of the end of history; liberal bourgeois democracies had won the court of public opinion and there was no alternative left. The Foro understood that history was far from over; in fact, the fight for a Bolivarian socialism had just begun.
When the Foro held its first meeting, the only member party to hold the executive branch in the government of its respective country was the Communist Party of Cuba. Throughout the 90’s the Foro took the initiative to contest the neoliberal definition of democracy; they underscored the fact that the various social ills of the newly established bourgeois democracies in Latin America were rooted in a serious lack of real, participatory, democracy. They started promoting various grassroots forms of alternative governance at the local level. These forms of localized resistance received an impetus of inspiration from the Zapatista (EZLN) insurgency in 1994. However, these forms of local resistance were still a far cry from one of the key goals of the Foro: the economic integration of Latin America in order to create a regional pole of development. The main adversaries of this goal, the monopoly capitalists, maintained a hegemony over the region and pushed for a unipolar world. The victory of the presidential campaign of Comandante Hugo Chavez Frias marked a new era in the history of Venezuela and the Latin America: the Bolivarian Revolution. This electoral victory was reached by a wide cooperation among the left forces of Venezuela. The first political party to nominate Comandante Chavez for the presidency is also the oldest party in Venezuela’s history; the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). The development of the Bolivarian Revolution produced the biggest political party of the Western Hemisphere; the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Venezuela led the efforts in creating the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) which sought to unify South America economically and create a South American citizenship. South America was swept by the “Pink Tide” which brought progressive and revolutionary governments to most countries in South America.
Today, the Foro is composed of 123 political parties from 27 countries. Its member parties are currently part of the governments of Argentina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela. Its member parties are part of the main opposition in Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Uruguay.
We should also be mindful of what the Foro do São Paulo is not. Despite the far-right’s claims, as it stands, the Foro is not the new Communist International. The decisions made at the Foro stem from a shared analysis of the regional situation. Within the Foro, there are still many disagreements regarding the construction of a just society. Nevertheless, the Latin American far-right “blamed” the wave of demonstrations, last year, across the region on the São Paulo Forum. They claim that the Cuban and Venezuelan governments are directing a destabilizing campaign on countries that the imperialists call “democratic.” Of course, this rhetoric is used to explain away the real instability caused by imperialist domination.
Lessons for Revolutionaries in the United States
Here in the United States, there’s much that we can learn from the Foro. Unity is a word that scares the U.S. Left. For over three decades, unity in the U.S. Left has meant the unity between liberals, social democrats, and the distorters of Marxism. However, many scientific socialist organizations have taken this to mean that the only real communists (or at least, the only communists worth working with) are the ones in their own membership. What may have started as a necessary attitude in order to ward off opportunism and ideological confusion has fossilized into dogmatism and an ideology whose revolutionary edge has been dulled by a prolonged lack of mass social practice. What remains is an immature competitiveness to be the “real” revolutionary vanguard; the ossification of these organizations have led to cult-like attitudes and baseless arrogance. Book worship, bureaucratism, and sectarianism are rooted in ideological bankruptcy. It is the worst of the heritage left to us by the New Communist Movement.
To elaborate on the ideological roots of the sectarianism of the Marxist revolutionaries in the United States goes beyond the scope of this article but its exposition is an imperative in preparing for a revolution in the United States.
The practical manifestation of this ideological bankruptcy has been made evident in an obnoxious tendency to tail liberals, social democrats, and anarchists in developing the people’s liberation struggles.
Instead of the historical materialist analysis of capitalist imperialism, post-colonial academic concepts, such as intersectionality theory, are legitimized by some who call themselves Communists. Instead of explaining to the masses that a nascent fascism means that the finance capitalists are desperate to save a dying capitalism. The people are often told that the forces of reaction have reached an unprecedented level of domination over the world and that we must vote for a “lesser evil” in order to survive. Some honestly believe that a rallying call for mere survival will inspire the masses to organized resistance. Worse still, instead of loudly proclaiming the proletarian class as the historical subject of the socialist revolution, some comrades proclaim that the bulk of the masses of working people are patriarchal settlers with no interest in revolution; substituting the correct handling of contradictions among the people with petty-bourgeois moralism. We could go at length about the shortcomings of the U.S. Communist movement but that also goes beyond the scope of this article.
Here we want to offer a humble proposition to the U.S. Communist movement in the times when the forces of fascist aggression are surging. Let us study the accomplishments of united revolutionaries; first among these, the Communist International. It was at the 7th World Congress of the Communist International that the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist movement’s experience in fighting fascism was summed up. Contrary to what the social-democrats claimed, fascism was not a stage of heightened reactionary power; a political situation in which the working people must give up all political demands for mere survival. Fascism is the desperate attempt of financial capital to save capitalism; fascism is the last recourse of the bourgeoisie to save a decaying capitalism.
The surge of fascism signifies the decadence of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In this historical phase, the ruling class has realized that it cannot continue ruling in the same way. The people are also realizing that they cannot go on living in the same way. Now is the time for revolutionaries to organize for a revolution.
We must take the initiative in denouncing the fraud that is the national presidential elections. This fraud becomes more and more apparent as the empire continues its decay. To uphold the pretense of bourgeois democracy is to disarm the working people ideologically. In the past year, the Social-Democrats have ceaselessly preached fear to the people in order to compel them into acceptance of the status quo. They have told the people that we must “organize for our survival!” By this, they mean, organize for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The Social-Democrats would have us believe that fascism will be brought about by the Proud Boys or Prayer Patriot; that fascism is simply extreme far-right politics. Some will even go further and imply the Trump voters are implicit in the rise of fascism. The record is clear: it is the Social-Democrats who are responsible for the surge of fascism.
To elaborate this position, we must first clear up the question of the class character of the state. The state is a tool of class suppression by which one class suppresses the other. Every state has a ruling class. The ruling class of capitalist states is the bourgeoisie. Capitalist countries are under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The working class can never have any real state power under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Fascism is the desperate attempt to save capitalism in decay; to save the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This is why class collaboration with the imperialist bourgeoisie against fascism is impossible; because the imperialist bourgeoisie will fight to maintain its dictatorship, even when this dictatorship commits the most atrocious acts of terrorism and genocide. Beyond racist lunatics and theocratic fanatics, the real fascists are the bankers who say Black Lives Matter and the Attorney Generals that tell us their preferred pronouns.
Revolutionaries understand that the status quo must collapse and, indeed, will collapse as the laws of history bear out. The correct attitude of a revolutionary must never be to fight for the continuation of the status quo. It must be to earnestly bring about the socialist revolution.
So then, what is to be done? The revolutionaries must struggle to form a United Front of the Proletariat. This United Front can beat back the forces of fascist reaction and make a revolution.
A surging fascism gains its legitimacy from its ability to deal crushing blows to the workers’ movement while maintaining the masses of working people inactive. In the preliminary stages of fascism, the façade of bourgeois democracy remains but the morale of the masses to create real change through their collective efforts is low. As stated above, in the preliminary stages of fascism, the opportunists acquiesce to this sentiment and call on the people to “organize for our survival!” Meanwhile, the revolutionaries organize for the seizure of state power by the working class; that is to say, the revolutionaries organize for a revolution.
The material basis for the triumph of the socialist revolution is the unity of the proletariat for its interests as a class. That is not to say that we should liquidate the people’s struggles against all forms of oppression but, rather, that we should explain to the masses that the only guarantor of the triumph of these struggles against oppression is the socialist revolution.
How do we forge this United Front? By bringing together the revolutionary movement with the working class movement. By putting all people of revolutionary conscience at the service of working people. By leading the working class movement towards revolutionary class struggle.
How this will play out in practical terms is what we must discover, through practice, in the 2020’s. We are fortunate to have the 30 year history of the unitarian struggles of the Foro de São Paulo as an imperative reference point.
Honest, non-dogmatic, revolutionaries should seek to form Foros at the state level in order to coordinate efforts to overthrow the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by building the democracy of the working class today; not after the advent of the socialist revolution, today! The people’s interests can’t wait.