DSA ReportBack: Brussels, Belgium
With the new far-right threat a reality in most European capitals, DSA stands with Left parties against what Bernie Sanders has called the continent’ s “authoritarian axis.” We’re thrilled with this report from a visit to the European Parliament, just as we’re about to publish our Summer issue on creating a socialist internationalism. — Ed.
At the invitation of the Party of the European Left, a delegation from some of the most prominent left-wing US organizations visited the European Parliament from April 4 to 5, 2019. The attendees were all representatives of membership-based organizations backing Senator Bernie Sanders’ run for president: Maria Svart, National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Alan Minsky, Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and myself, David Duhalde, from Our Revolution. Our delegation was inspired by Sanders’ call for more international collaboration against the growing “authoritarian axis.” (All three are DSA members.) Over the course of our visit, we held two talks and numerous meetings with our European left-wing peers.
This exchange comes at a unique time. In a rare moment, the United States is viewed as a beacon of hope among the European Left. Bernie Sanders is the firmly established frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, and the American left is growing in strength, both from an electoral and social movement perspective. It seems that the US could be poised for a genuine, and nationwide, progressive leap forward. If the Sanders team can successfully wrest control of the White House from the Trump administration, it could inspire millions across the world to believe that the neoliberal consensus is ending and being replaced with a more just and humane future.
Across the Atlantic, however, we see progressives, social democrats, and socialists anxiously anticipating May’s elections in the European Parliament. There is an expectation that the far right will make serious electoral gains. Neoliberalism in Europe remains in crisis, but the far right has gained much more from this upheaval, with few signs that the left is gaining traction against Europe’s reactionaries. While more radical formations have seen more success than their center-left counterparts, neither appears able to combat burgeoning right-wing dominance.
The Party of the European Left (EL) was the formal host of the event with assistance from GUE-NGL (European United Left-Nordic Green Left). The latter is a political grouping of socialist and Green parties in the European Parliament. Our meetings included an introductory conversation led by Paolo Ferrero, who serves as an EL Vice-President. We also had a private meeting with Members of the European Parliament (MEP), Gabi Zimmer and Helmut Scholz, both of Germany’s Die Linke. In between, we had discussions with left-wing party leaders from Belgium, Greece, Finland, Slovenia, and Spain. All expressed concerns about losing voters to the right and wanting to build more exchanges following Sanders international call. The Finns and Belgians in particular desired to learn more about electioneering and organizing techniques. As loyalty to the political party weakens in Europe, seeing how American activists engage and mobilize their bases is of serious interest to global comrades.
For our part, we held one public community event and one private parliamentary plenary. On April 4, the Party of the European Left held “Dispatches from the US Left” moderated by Nico Cue, an EL candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission. Cue, a Belgian trade union leader of Spanish descent, gave each American delegate a pin with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade’s symbol. To our delegation, this emblem was an important reminder of the need, past and present, for better European-North American socialist solidarity. The three members of our US delegation, along with Alexandra Rojas, the Executive Director of Justice Democrats, via Skype, explained the origins of our activist organizations, our strategies, and current political and movement work. The audience questions reflected popular support for Sanders, some decent knowledge of US politics and media, and a concern with Washington-led militarism and war.
On the 5th, we met for three hours with MEPs and EU parliament staffers. Ethan Earle, co-chair of DSA’s International Committee (IC), asked a set of questions similar in tone to those of the previous night, after which we spent two hours taking questions from the audience. Barbara Spinelli, an independent Italian MEP, questioning on if the Democratic establishment would try to stop Sanders again stood out. I happily recounted that the Sanders movement, led particularly by Our Revolution with PDA and DSAA, had made significant gains towards resolving problems from the 2016 US presidential primary, including superdelegate reform. It was also clear that the audience has a distinct interest in trade issues and the stances and concerns of the AFL-CIO and other US unions. To my understanding, there are no longer AFL-CIO representatives in Europe, which hampers cross-Atlantic organized labor solidarity.
Our European counterparts expressed a keen interest in the kinds of organizing tools and strategies that we use in the US. Progressive Europeans are observing their reactionary rivals studying under the tutelage of Steve Bannon. Many parties were curious about our approach to field organizing and the other ways that we engage our base. It was clear that European left parties could benefit from studying the tactics that many left-of-center nonprofits use in the US, including database management, distributed organizing, and technological mobilization.
Of the groups present, the Belgian Workers’ Party (PTB) appeared to have the best grasp of these new organizing strategies. Maoist in origin, the PTB moved away from its cadre roots to become a more grassroots and community-based organization. Without changing ideologically, the PTB has adopted distributed organizing tactics like those outlined in Becky Bond’s Rules for Revolutionaries. (Bond was a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign in 2016 and is also served Beto O’Rourke’s presidential team.) Using these distributed organizing techniques, the party has grown its share of the vote from one or two percent to potentially as high as ten percent.
(Below, lan Minsky (PDA) and Maria Svart (DSA) meet with Luka Mesec, President of Slovenia’s Levica Party at the Party of the European Left’s headquarters.)