Launching a new powerful international social and political movement

Eric Toussaint interviewé par Alexis Cukier

9 June 2020 by Eric Toussaint , Alexis Cukier

We publish this interview of Eric Toussaint conducted by Alexis Cukier in May 2020 for the Greek alternative media K-Lab. In this interview, Eric Toussaint sketches out the outline of a new international social and political movement to be built.

Eric Toussaint: In any case, as I see it, revolutionary political organizations and all radical social movements must come together. We must break down the wall between political organizations and social movements. Political organizations have to understand that they don’t have a monopoly on developing programmatic proposals. Social movements can also contribute.

We must devise campaigns that bring people together, people who are organized at various levels, including those who until recently were not organized. A prime example is what happened in France with the Yellow Vest movement, many of whom were people who had next to no experience of organization and who made a tremendous leap ahead in their political awareness and mode of self-organization, and whose forms of action aimed at paralyzing a normal functioning of society. So we have to adopt forms of action and gathering from which all elitist or self-righteous kind of behaviour, or indeed sectarianism is excluded. I know how difficult this is, and you in Greece know a lot about this. As I have some inside knowledge of the situation in Greece, I know how it works. So this is the first stage. If everyone or a large part of the radical Left takes a doctrinaire approach and decide to build or reinforce their own faction or engage in a kind of competition with other groups, we are courting failure. So the question of unity and doing away with walls between various kinds of movements is most important.

Next we need emergency proposals that are very radical and far-reaching because people, at least some of the people, want solutions that break away from the system. And if the radical Left sets limits to its proposals, the racist, macho, bigoted far Right, including religious obscurantists, will get the upper hand through its own radical answers. So the radical Left must be truly radical, which it hasn’t been enough in its proposals. It is much too timid.

As you know, I find it an extremely serious failing that the radical Left, apart from saying banks ought to be nationalized, is unable to actually take into account how urgent it is to set up a campaign for expropriating bankers and capitalists. Apart from repeating that banks are important; but if you check any further, you soon realize that, as my comrade Patrick Saurin also says, in the radical Left, banks are an issue that is not really thought through ¬ they are merely perceived as enemies, but not analyzed.

Now if you do not think and analyze, you cannot actually know what is to be done, you cannot convince people that capitalists have to be expropriated, because an offensive is about to be launched, and it will be huge.

The European Central Bank Central Bank The establishment which in a given State is in charge of issuing bank notes and controlling the volume of currency and credit. In France, it is the Banque de France which assumes this role under the auspices of the European Central Bank (see ECB) while in the UK it is the Bank of England.

and the governments use private banks as a way of acting against the economic crisis; everything depends on the banks. Whereas various aids ought to come directly from public bodies and not transit through the banks. Or we should socialize banks and turn them into a public service. Everything currently depends on private banks, except a few allocations such as unemployment benefits etc. But usually transiting through bank accounts people have to open with private banks.

I must add here that an interesting feature about trade unions in Belgium, I don’t know whether you are aware of this, is that they pay unemployment benefits. So in a city like Liège, 40,000 more people had to receive benefits overnight at the end of March. And it was all managed by trade unions and not by the banks. So all trade union staff had to organize to be in touch with the newly unemployed and pay the allocated benefits.

But it also creates a bond Bond A bond is a stake in a debt issued by a company or governmental body. The holder of the bond, the creditor, is entitled to interest and reimbursement of the principal. If the company is listed, the holder can also sell the bond on a stock-exchange. , obviously. If while paying the benefits, you can explain “something else has to be done” etc. and do not have to use a bank account, you can put forward other proposals. This is most important. I think we must be able to relaunch a mobilizing international initiative.

The last major one we planned was the first European Social Forum in 2002: it was a great success.

In January 2002 in Porto Alegre Brazil we met for the second edition of the World Social Forum, and some of us thought: “Why not convene a first European Social Forum?”. And we asked a number of organizations and with the Italian Social Forum we convened a first meeting in Florence in November 2002. When we did that, we had no idea whether it would work.

One month before Florence, we were really concerned because we had sixty thousand registrations from all over Europe and we wondered how they could be accommodated. Now of course circumstances are different and the main actors have changed. But shall we manage to relaunch a similar Initiative at European or world level? Who can do it? Because, meanwhile, there have been huge mobilizations. The Arab spring, the Indignadxs in Spain, the movement for occupying squares in Greece, “Nuit debout” in France, the Yellow Vests, Occupy Wall Street. But none of these movements resulted in an international organization.

It is impressive. Those movements took place at almost the same time: Arab spring, Indignadxs, soon followed by the square occupations in Greece in June-July 2011 and Occupy Wall Street, yet no international, continental or global structure emerged. And the World Social Forum was becoming obsolete. Is it possible for actors such as Attac, CADTM, political organizations and trade unions to convene a genuine global or European international process?

I am ready to get involved and say: This time political and social organizations must be in it together with a common platform or appeal that should be more radical than that at Porto Alegre, so can we do it?

There are the oldies, like me, we have contacts. But I am convinced that if only the old generation that convened the World Social Forum is involved, it will not work. We have to bring the old generation together with generations that have experimented with new forms of action. But the rub is that among the new generation, there has not necessarily been a process of accumulation and consolidation. So who should we contact among the Yellow Vests?

There are lots of squatters’ movements all over Europe; lots of radical young people,
but they are not federated in a European squatters’ movement. There is a movement on housing and CADTM activists are involved in it. There are movements around social centres, dispensaries and polyclinics, notably in Greece. But there is no European network. There was a network for health care Care Le concept de « care work » (travail de soin) fait référence à un ensemble de pratiques matérielles et psychologiques destinées à apporter une réponse concrète aux besoins des autres et d’une communauté (dont des écosystèmes). On préfère le concept de care à celui de travail « domestique » ou de « reproduction » car il intègre les dimensions émotionnelles et psychologiques (charge mentale, affection, soutien), et il ne se limite pas aux aspects « privés » et gratuit en englobant également les activités rémunérées nécessaires à la reproduction de la vie humaine. workers some five or six years ago but it no longer has any significance on a European level. There are contacts among campaigns for the rights of asylum seekers, but there’s no single network linking them. Could the Greek campaign, the one in which you are involved, provide the energy needed to federate other campaigns starting in other countries and to connect with other networks such as Via Campesina, peasants, the World March of Women, the CADTM, the Attac network, etc. and build a new project and convene a new global or/and European meeting?

We have to think about it all, to plan ahead, it’s clear that spontaneous actions such as occurred in 2011 have their limits. We have to have political organizations on board, because here again we have to mention Greece. It is arresting to think that I had met lots of people who became ministers in the Tsipras government, and Tsipras himself, at the European Social Forum, and before at the counter-G7 summit in Genoa in 2001, then at the Social Forum in Florence and the last time I saw them was in 2006 at the former Athens airport, Hellinikon, in May 2006. I saw people who were to become ministers or senior executives in Syriza and cut themselves off from or even betray the social movement and the popular classes. So for me one of the lessons is that if we rebuild an initiative, political movements must be part of it. They must be in it so that they can be held responsible by social mobilization.

Of course it won’t prevent betrayals, compromises, on the part of quite a few people, but we must demand much more accountability. Because why did the European Social Forum founder? Because the Italian Social Forum supported the Prodi government because friends of the Italian Social Forum supported the Communist Refoundation (and I too had friends there) who supported the Prodi government. And the Social Forum in Brazil foundered when the CUT and the Sin Tierra movement supported the Lula government while it implemented liberal social policies, and when the Indian movements, that were really strong and had succeeded in bringing together 120,000 people to the Social Forum in Mumbai, supported the government of the Congress Party. This means that we had a number of alterglobalization social movements that aligned with governments that implement social-liberal policies. We have to learn lessons from this. It was not just Tsipras’ betrayal in 2015. That was exactly the same kind of error as the Communist Refoundation in 2004-2005, if I remember correctly. There is a kind of continuity, and so we have to contribute through this kind of debate to reconstructing the memory of what has happened over the last twenty years to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Alexis Cukier: I suggest we end with this appeal to critical thinking and internationalist action. We have been talking for just over an hour.

Thanks a lot, Éric.

Thank you everybody. The debate is continuing in many other contexts.

Eric Toussaint: Absolutely.

Eric Toussaint interviewed by Alexis Cukier.
Translation: Snake Arbusto and Christine Pagnoulle

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

Other articles in English by Eric Toussaint (621)

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Alexis Cukier

membre d’Ensemble ! et du réseau ERENSEP (European Research Network on Social and Economic Policies)

Other articles in English by Alexis Cukier (2)


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