Two Steps Forward...
"Alternatives has to go in the grassroots to take advantage of the initiatives and wisdom of ordinary working people"
The second summer retreat of Alternatives took place on August 24 and 25, 1996. More than 60 people, including employees, members of the Board, volunteers and well wishers, participated in various panel discussions and workshops. Anita Rampal, a social activist from India addressed the audience on the first day. She talked about the role of the progressive NGOs in India with a focus on education. In the plenary session, Daya Varma, President of CERAS, highlighted the political framework and challanges faced by Alternatives. We reproduce here a summary of his presentation:
Alternatives so far has been successful by being a politically astute and progressive organisation. However, there is still a long way to go before achieving our goals. I will focus on a few important questions affecting our functioning.
The first issue refers to the collapse of Soviet Union and at the same time the continuing existence of Cuba. We cannot recreate the USSR the way it was, nor recreate another country on that model. Thus the necessity for new political thinking, approaches, analysis. Our task is therefore to envision the new world and contribute to the new thinking. As well, taking into account the positive experience of Cuba to pursue an alternative path.
The second question is about the new economic offensive of imperialism in the form of globalisation and liberalisation. It is a global phenomena affecting the entire world, in a context where most governments are supporting it. It also carries contradictions. The positive aspect for us is the growing internationalisation of solidarity movements of working class, youth, women, environmental groups. The third point I want to emphasise is the tremendous wisdom of the ordinary people. Alternatives has to go in the grassroots to take advantage of the initiatives and wisdom of ordinary working people.
Strengthening our Roots
Alternatives has grown and established firm roots. But can we improve that functioning? Many issues and concerns over the weekend were reflected in the discussions. Being of an international nature, our programme has advantages by being located in Quebec, which is a special place in Canada and in North America. It has the richest history of international solidarity and support in every struggle from Vietnam to Chile from refugees to anti-apartheid. Quebec has always been an important centre, with Montreal at the core. For us, our location offers advantages. We still have not fully taken advantages of that richness.
For this, we need to further democratise the organisation, lessen the importance of the staff and empower the general membership and the population willing to intervene and contribute more efficiently. We must find methods to take advantage of their experiences and their political maturity.
Some adjustments are thus required in the structure. At the moment, Alternatives has been essentially a federation of three founding groups. There is more in Quebec and in the world than just these three founding groups. We must find solutions to incorporate individuals, intellectuals, workers, activists who do not belong to these groups. We have to adjust our structure and we will do it so that Alternatives ultimately has a base in Quebec, not simply as an NGO operated by staff, but by its large support and membership, and so that we can develop our programmes without being dependent on the state.
Some progress in that direction has been registered by developing several new committees, such as the women's committee, the youth committee, etc. But society as a whole is not the arithmetic sum of constituents. In addition to these committees, more efforts to recruit new members and find new programmes adequate for them are required.
The will is to expand, specially our political input. There are two sides. When we work in a different country with progressive movements, it is not our job to intervene in political rectification or guidance of these movements. We are not leaders. We have to understand different organisations but the ability to rectify an organisation in a specific country lies in that country. Our responsibility is to identify and support. At the same time, it is in Quebec that we must intervene, it is our society. It should be our focus, including the national question of Quebec. We have evaded that question so far, it was a mistake. At least we have to start debating on this. The attitude to this question has a lot of implications on our policies and programmes including in the rest of the world where they emerge.