Wallerstein on MST as a model in the global crisis

Tord Björk | Brazil,global crisis,MST,Uncategorized,WSF | Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Follow Brazil’s Example

By Immanuel Wallerstein

Quotes from article that appeared in the March 23, 2009 edition of The Nation.

MST activists together with other Via Campesina women occupying Barra Bonita March 8 2009 to promote agrarian reform alternatives to corporate monoculture

“In my view, the only sensible attitude is that taken by the large, powerful and militant Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil. The MST supported Lula in 2002, and despite all he failed to do that he had promised, they supported his re-election in 2006. They did it in full cognizance of the limitations of his government, because the alternative was clearly worse. What they also did, however, was to maintain constant pressure on the government–meeting with it, denouncing it publicly when it deserved it and organizing on the ground against its failures.

The MST would be a good model for the US left, if we had anything comparable in terms of a strong social movement. We don’t, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to patch one together as best we can and do as the MST does–press Obama openly, publicly and hard–all the time, and of course cheering him on when he does the right thing. What we want from Obama is not social transformation. He neither wishes to, nor is able to, offer us that. We want from him measures that will minimize the pain and suffering of most people right now. That he can do, and that is where pressure on him may make a difference.

The middle run is quite different. And here Obama is irrelevant, as are all the other left-of-center governments. What is going on is the disintegration of capitalism as a world system, not because it can’t guarantee welfare for the vast majority (it never could do that) but because it can no longer ensure that capitalists will have the endless accumulation of capital that is their raison d’être. We have arrived at a moment in which neither farsighted capitalists nor their opponents (us) are trying to preserve the system. We are both trying to establish a new system, but of course we have very different, indeed radically opposed, ideas about the nature of such a system.

Because the system has moved very far from equilibrium, it has become chaotic. We are seeing wild fluctuations in all the usual economic indicators–the prices of commodities, the relative value of currencies, the real levels of taxation, the quantity of items produced and traded. Since no one really knows, practically from day to day, where these indicators will shift, no one can sensibly plan anything.

In such a situation, no one is sure what measures will be best, whatever their politics. This practical intellectual confusion lends itself to frantic demagoguery of all kinds. The system is bifurcating, which means that in twenty to forty years there will be some new system, which will create order out of chaos. But we don’t know what that system will be.

What can we do? First of all, we must be clear what the battle is about. It is the battle between the spirit of Davos (for a new system that is not capitalism but is nonetheless hierarchical, exploitative and polarizing) and the spirit of Porto Alegre (a new system that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian). No lesser evil here. It’s one or the other.

What must the left do? Promote intellectual clarity about the fundamental choice. Then organize at a thousand levels and in a thousand ways to push things in the right direction. The primary thing to do is to encourage the decommodification of as much as we can decommodify. The second is to experiment with all kinds of new structures that make better sense in terms of global justice and ecological sanity. And the third thing we must do is to encourage sober optimism. Victory is far from certain. But it is possible.”

Immanuel Wallerstein, senior research scholar at Yale University, is the author, most recently, of European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power.

Article at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090323/wallerstein

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