Bernie Sanders, Naomi Klein and More Launch “Progressive International”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, economists Yannis Varoufakis and Jeffrey Sachs, mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, and Canadian MP Niki Ashton at a launch event for the Progressive International.


On May 10, climate activists, social democrats, anti-imperialists, left-wing commentators and critics launched a new international project. In September, the sponsors will meet for the inaugural Summit of the Progressive International (PI) in Reykjavik, Iceland. It will be hosted by the Prime Minister of Iceland and the Left Green Movement. This new project occurs in the context of a raging viral pandemic, economic depression, an escalating nuclear arms race, and rapid global warming that puts humanity on the verge of catastrophe.

Billionaires force workers back to work, without protection from COVID-19, by cutting financial support. “Essential” workers who, it turns out, are often low-paid racialized workers, sicken and die, as unemployment skyrockets. Hospitals, stripped by 40 years of neo-liberal cuts, cannot handle the sick. Imperialist drones, bombs, brutal economic sanctions and assassinations by special forces never stop.

The contradictions and crises of capitalism multiply and magnify like gaping wounds, leaving open sores across the landscape. Witnessing all of this, billions of people are desperate to find a way out, including those who are forming the Progressive International.

But the list of 64 members of the PI Council posted on its website does not include radicalizing youth, the poor or very many workers. Most are intellectuals and professional politicians. The rise of authoritarian governments, violence, anti intellectualism, hostility to science and experts, and the decline of civilized discourse, strand these intellectuals and parliamentary figures in darkness and fear. None of them look to the power of mobilized workers and farmers, or even consider that a serious possibility. PI appears as an effort to bolster resistance to the tide of crude ignorance, chaos and destruction represented by Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Duterte, et al.

Who are these people? From Canada, there is author Naomi Klein of The Leap Manifesto and Green New Deal fame, together with her media-savvy partner Avi Lewis. While supporting the BDS movement against apartheid Israel and for a green transformation of society, including the elimination of inequality and the creation of ‘more democratic’ state institutions, Klein and Lewis offer no clear analysis of class society. They stipulate no clear commitment to fighting for workers’ power, to replace the capitalist state, and to institute workers’ control of the means of production in order to meet human needs, rather than deliver profits to billionaires. NDP MP Niki Ashton, another council member from Canada, holds similar views, though she is somewhat clearer on the importance and potential power of the unions.

The biggest names from United States are Bernie Sanders from the capitalist Democratic Party, now a Joe Biden campaigner, and Noam Chomsky, a long-time critic of the imperialist role of America in the world, who happens also to be a Democratic Party-Joe Biden supporter.

Yannis Varoufakis, a former Finance Minister for the Greek social democratic SYRIZA government, is a member of the Council. To this add a long list of ministers and legislators from across Latin America, Europe and Africa. They profess to be on the side of workers and oppressed peoples, but their record is one of neo-liberalism and support for global corporations and capitalist state institutions. Liberal and social democratic journalists and cultural figures round out the 64-member council.

The PI has no program at this stage. Presumably, that will be considered at the conference in Iceland.

Where will they stand on the rule of profit over human need? Where will they stand on imperialist economic and military domination of the third world and indigenous peoples around the world for the purpose of super exploitation and robbing them of their resources? Where will they stand on the need to establish workers’ power and build a new workers’ state based on the complete destruction of the legislative, legal, bureaucratic and repressive apparatus of the capitalist state.

Are they reformers of capitalism, albeit perhaps radical reformers, or supporters of the end of exploitation by a worker-led revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the struggle for socialism? In the end, do they support capitalism or workers’ power? The record of the individuals involved is not encouraging.

The idea of PI was born in December 2018, when the Democracy in Europe Movement and the Sanders Institute in the US issued a call proclaiming “it is time for progressives of the world to unite.” 

On the launch of the group Monday, May 10, Chomsky in an interview with the Guardian said that the urgency created by the COVID-19 crisis has caused a deepening of economic inequalities and the rise of the far-right.

So, as autocratic neo-liberalism represents one way, “the other way is to try to dismantle the structures, the institutional structures that have been created; that have led to very ugly consequences for much of the population of much of the world, [and] are the source of this pandemic.”

The activities of the PI initiative are erected on three pillars: the movement aimed to forge a global network; the Blueprint to develop a policy for a progressive international order; and the Wire which offers a communication service to the world’s progressive forces.

Its stated objectives are “to promote the union, coordination and mobilization of activists, associations, unions, and social movements in the face of the advance of authoritarianism.” They say they aspire to a “democratic, decolonized, egalitarian, liberated, united, sustainable, ecological, peaceful, post-capitalist, prosperous and plural” world. This compendium of liberal and social democratic values serves as its programmatic foundation.

What do we know about these people?

Fernando Haddad, the Brazilian PT´s presidential candidate, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and former Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera, were all part of “progressive governments.” None of them produced fundamental change in their countries´ economic and social structures, which continued to be capitalist and dependent, with extremely high rates of poverty, a growing deterioration of everything public and a retreat concerning workers´ fundamental rights. This led to their demise, and opened the door for right-wingers like Jair Bolsonaro, Lenin Moreno and Jeanine Áñez to come to power in their countries. Some of them declare themselves defenders of the welfare state and claim to defend public health, but when they governed, they weakened public health care to pay external debt to the imperialists. Rather than defend ecology, they maintained extractive and polluting models of production to guarantee extraordinary profits to corporations.

Alicia Castro, union leader of the bureaucratic Argentine CGT and ex-Congresswoman of the Alianza, brought de la Rúa to power. That government killed dozens of grassroots activists during its downfall.

The same can be said of Bernie Sanders, who generated great expectations by speaking of socialism in the heart of the empire and raising popular proposals, like universal health insurance in a country where you can die without medical attention if you don´t have money. His recent support for Joe Biden, a candidate for the US economic establishment, a racist and misogynist leader of the imperialist Democratic Party, completes his record, for the second time as a Judas goat who leads his young followers to the camp of blood-drenched capitalist politicians.

So, what are the odds that Progressive International will advocate an end to usurious debts to foreign capital, the nationalization of banks and resources, and to put foreign trade under social control, to reverse privatizations, carry out significant agrarian reforms, or impose permanent progressive taxes on the wealthy? Isn’t that what an international party on the side of the working class ought to do? But the record of most of these people shows that they are defenders of the private property of businesses and banks, that their model of liberty is the farce of bourgeois democracy, which they propose to broaden just a bit, at most. They want to put a human face on the capitalist system, which it is impossible to humanize, and which is becoming ever more brutal.

Perhaps the rapidly deepening multiple crises of capitalism will push some of these leaders to the left, toward understanding that the problem is capitalism, and that workers’ power is the first step to a solution. That would be a welcome and very positive development.

But this group is not composed of young militants. As a group they are mature, entrenched, established figures with developed views and many years of experience. That experience, for the most part, is professing policies to reform the most exploitative, oppressive and brutal aspects of capitalism. When in government, they accepted the burdens of indebtedness, the primacy of profit over human needs, and the duty of exacting neoliberal cutbacks.

Revolutionary socialists already know the source of all our existential crises is the capitalist system, and that the only force on earth capable of overthrowing capitalism is the organized, class conscious working class. Only an educated and experienced revolutionary party, with deep roots in the workers’ movement, will be capable of focussing the uprising of the workers, when it comes, against the instruments of state power. We also know that the struggle is international in scope – it is a war against imperialism on a global scale.

The Progressive International is not the distillation of these vital lessons. It is born from the failed and utterly diversionary effort to reform capitalism, to salvage it from its death agony. The PI may foster some interesting debates, but its basic mission is dead on arrival.

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