PI Briefing | No. 22 | How do we abolish the present state of things?

After six years of rising living standards for Mexico’s majority, Sheinbaum and MORENA are expected to win the elections and maintain the country’s progressive direction.
In the Progressive International's 22nd Briefing of 2024, we bring you updates from delegations to South Africa, Mozambique and Mexico. If you would like to receive our Briefing in your inbox, you can sign up using the form at the bottom of this page.

We have a thousand reasons why we are trying to build something different. The present world-system robs the many of their dignity – and in too many cases their full humanity – to line the pockets of the few. However the question resounds: What are we trying to build?

It is not the future itself but the process and vehicles for constructing it. Karl Marx believed communism wasn’t a state of affairs, nor an ideal but “the real movement, which abolishes the present state of things.” To reach the future we all deserve, it is the construction of that “real movement” which can have the force to abolish the present state of things.

The work of construction and movement takes place at many levels: in community, in production, in nations, in regions, internationally and transnationally. Its languages, cultures, practices and scales are legion. When you look, you begin to see it everywhere.

For the past ten days, the Progressive International has had a delegation on the ground in South Africa and Mozambique, to observe the former’s general elections and meet, learn from and offer solidarity to people’s movements in both countries.

In Durban, South Africa, we spent 48 hours with Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), the inspiring socialist shack dwellers’ movement that began 19 years ago with the self-organised resistance to the planned demolition of the Kennedy Road settlement. Since then Abahlali has grown to over 100,000 members in five of South Africa’s nine provinces. In the face of harassment, violence and the assassinations of leaders, AbM has won countless improvements to settlements - electricity, water, sanitation, road access and more - and secured numerous occupations, winning land, homes and dignity.

AbM, through its daily work in its branches, is beginning to abolish the present state of things for South Africa’s shack dwellers. But their vision stretches beyond that. As AbM President S'bu Zikode told our delegation, the movement is internationalist to its core, seeing its grounded defence of its members as part of a mission to “humanise the world”.

In Mozambique, our delegation spent three days with the National Peasant Union (UNAC). The country borders South Africa, some languages are spoken either side of that border and both countries have been led since independence by their respective national liberation movements, now similarly structured political parties. But the similarities end there. Mozambique is a majority rural country where all land is public. UNAC, with its over 200,000 households in its membership, is by far the biggest organised force in the majority social group in the country.

The PI delegation saw UNAC’s work at all levels: association, district, provincial and national. The union supports its members to improve their production, including with solar energy, irrigation, seed management, and training in agroecological practices. It organises at the national level to turn progressive laws, the inheritance of the country’s initial socialist developmental direction following independence from Portugal, into reality for Mozambique’s peasants. And they fiercely defend their gains to prevent the spread of the destructive mega-scale, mono-crop-for-export model of agriculture promoted by the World Bank. In 2020, UNAC outright defeated the enormous ProSavana project, which would have turned vast swathes of the country into a cattle-feed-for-export land factory. Ana Paula Tauacale, the President of UNAC, told our delegation UNAC won by “combining our deep-rooted organisation in Mozambique with international solidarity and campaigning — from Brazil to Japan — bringing pressure on both our government and the foreign investors.”

Here we see the role of organised movements in abolishing the present state of things, but also the limits. State power, when wielded in the sovereign, democratic interests of people, make up part of the larger process to abolish the present state of things.

In South Africa, the contradictions in this process are clearly laid out. Today, the “born-free” generation — those born after the African National Congress’ (ANC) 1994 election triumph led by Nelson Mandela consigned formal white minority rule to the dustbin of history — form a majority of South Africans. Yet their lives are still structured by the Apartheid’s long afterlife in persistent and extreme racial, economic and geographic inequalities. Which remain defining features of South African society.

The spirit of South Africa’s inspiring past and present of popular struggle to transform this world lives on in powerful and militant progressive forces like Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), which often comes in the form of opposition to the actions of the ANC government. The country’s foreign policy too, helmed by the ANC, in recent years has been animated too with this same spirit.

South Africa led the world in seeking to break down the monopolist walls that kept Covid-19 vaccines expensive and out of reach of the world’s majority. It has led international outcry to the US embargo on Cuba and vicious Northern sanctions on its neighbour, Zimbabwe. Today, the South Africa case against Israel at the International Court of Justice for breaches of the Genocide Convention speaks for humanity as a whole.

The story of the the uneven application of the ANC’s Freedom Charter mission can be read in the results of the general election, where the ANC lost its outright majority for the first time and underperformed the polls. The party’s 40% is a marker of the disappointment felt by so many at hopes unfulfilled, but not a desire to break with the Freedom Charter’s spirit. No opposition from a different tradition made a breakthrough. The liberal-right opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) treaded water at 22%, while the third and fourth placed parties have both been described as ANC factions in exile - former president Jacob Zuma’s newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK) and the former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) took 15% and 10% respectively.

The ANC had hoped either win outright or be able to form an alliance with smaller parties that wouldn’t be in a position to demand too much in return. But 40% places the party in a bind. Does it look to reunite with Zuma and Malema’s outfits, strengthening one faction within the riven party, or does it come to an agreement with the neoliberal DA? Neither option will be appealing to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

While the PI’s delegation observed elections in South Africa, another high level delegation was dispatched to Mexico amid rising threats of interference in Sunday’s presidential election. Nearly 100 million Mexicans are voting across the country's 32 states to elect more than 1,000 local legislators, 628 congressional representatives, 18,000 municipal offices, 9 governors, and one president.

The Mexican constitution limits each president to one six-year term. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s MORENA party’s standard bearer is Claudia Sheinbaum, a former governor of Mexico City, climate scientist and feminist. After six years of rising living standards for Mexico’s majority, Sheinbaum and MORENA are expected to win the elections and maintain the country’s progressive direction. The results will be felt throughout the hemisphere and beyond. Under López Obrador, Mexico has become a regional leader on issues such as Colombia’s peace process, Cuba’s embargo, and Central America’s migrant flows.

All of these social, political, economic and ecological processes discussed in this Briefing contain contradictions and tensions flowing from the location of the actors in the world system. Yet to build the real movement that can abolish the present state of things, all progressive forces need to be able to speak in diversity but act in unity.

Here is the task for the Progressive International. To operate across geographies, sectors, logics and levels, holding contradictions and tensions, to support and deepen the mutinies against the present state of things. Then they can be united with sufficient force to abolish the present state of things in a process of humanising the world.

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The PI launches inaugural summer school

We live in turbulent times. The global economic centre of gravity gradually shifts from West to East, North to South, challenging the centuries-long dominance of the Atlantic axis. The process is unleashing violent tremors around the world — from spiralling inflation and seizing supply chains to hot war and ongoing genocide.

How should we make sense of these epic transformations? What is really going on in the global economy? And what does it mean for people like you and me?

Every day, we receive emails from our subscribers seeking answers to these questions. Scrolling our feeds and flipping through newspapers is not enough, they tell us. We need a place for people to read, listen, and exchange perspectives.

That is why we are launching the inaugural Summer School of the Progressive International — on the past, present, and future of global capitalism — and inviting you to enrol now.

Photo: George Mqapheli Bonono, deputy president of Abahlali baseMjondolo (right) and Thapelo Mohapi, general secretary, lead AbM’s general assembly in song. Durban, 26 May 2024.

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