Roundtable

Party Time?
A contribution to an exchange on A World Political Party: The Time Has Come

Ashish Kothari

This is a very interesting proposal, based on very justified angst about the fractured state of civil society responses to global crises, and building on critical ethical principles of justice, sustainability, the balance between pluralism and unity, and so on.

However, a number of points remain unclear or are missing:

(1) Since there is no definition of “political party” in the essay, I am assuming it is in essence the same kind as political parties that stand for national elections, and by its nature an entity that will have other contesting parties (presumably of those who want to retain power in the current hegemonic ways bolstered by capitalism, militarism, etc.?). If so, how will it avoid the pitfalls of elections, including the hostile competitiveness that reduces issues of substance to slinging matches, the alienation between parties that take power and the “electorate” who vote them in, and so on? What is DiEM25’s perspective on this, and does it have one which will enable it to avoid such pitfalls when it contests European Parliament elections? And if the model is not that of a party that contests elections, what is the model, and why is it called a political party?

(2) What is the relation between representative democracy, of which such a party would presumably be a result, and direct democracy, in which people on the ground are the ones taking decisions? Related to one of the above points, we are aware that even the most “revolutionary” party that has captured the state has failed on a number of counts to respect, and even more so to strengthen, the political power of the “ordinary” person, and have ended up consolidating and monopolizing power at “the top.” When this happens at a relatively modest scale of a nation, can it be even more dangerous at a global level? Previous suggestions for a 'world parliament', for instance, have faced the same criticism. Any kind of global process needs to be grounded in, respect, and strengthen everyday ground struggles and initiatives towards alternatives for justice. How will a World Party do this, and what are the feedback mechanisms that may ensure this? Many such questions need to be asked and explored, or else it is not clear how this is not subject to centralizing power hegemonies or why it is better than, for instance, a network model of thousands of interlinked movements for justice that don't have any single centralized institutional structure (see below on this). I do understand and appreciate Patomäki’s stress on “cultivating a sense of mutuality, trust, and sensitivity amongst diverse participants.” Let’s call it an ethic of responsibility. Nevertheless, we need a clearer vision of what would be the institutional structure that would enable, rather than disable, a radical, participatory, deep democracy without which representative or delegated institutions become power centers.

(3) Related to this, the proposal seems to stem from a “Western” (or Global Northern) perspective, especially in its focus on individuals being part of such a process. Without denying the importance of individuals, a “Southern/Eastern” perspective would also ask, what is the role of “communities” (defined in many different ways), traditional and modern, in making a global process of transformation work? What aspects of the traditional glues of community remain relevant and, indeed, crucial, and what aspects (such as gender/caste inequities) need to be removed? How can a global formation enable this, rather than become a stronghold of what is regressive in both tradition and modernity?

(4) Without also a vision of a radically different economy (local to global), the vision of a World Party (or, indeed, of any global formation) is very incomplete. Who controls the economy, and how would a global formation enable its democratization?

(5) Finally, it is not clear why Patomäki prefers a political party as opposed to a non-party political movement (this distinction has been clearly articulated in Indian civil society). What is it that the latter cannot achieve that the former can? In principle, one can envision a powerful global networking movement of movements, that comes together for global decisions in various forums such as peoples’ assemblies, where a process of economic localization and democratization reduces the need for global decision-making—not eliminating it, of course, for the global environment governance and social relations and some economic relations will continue to need harmonization, but where the WTOs and the World Banks can be sent packing. A tiny contribution towards this is in a new initiative just launched, called the Global Tapestry of Alternatives, an attempt at connecting myriad local to global initiatives at justice.

Somehow, I am not convinced that a global political party (if defined as given above) is the way to go for bringing revolutionary forces together, not from the material in this essay anyway; perhaps if Patomäki develops it further plugging many of missing or weakly articulated issues, one can reconsider.


Ashish Kothari
Ashish Kothari is a founder of the Indian environmental group Kalpavriksh. He has coordinated India’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan processes, served on the boards of Greenpeace International, chaired an IUCN network on protected areas and communities, and helped found the global ICCA Consortium. He is currently on the Board of the International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.


Cite as Ashish Kothari, "Party Time?," Great Transition Initiative (February 2019), https://www.greattransition.org/roundtable/world-party-ashish-kothari.


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Party Time?



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