Sarah Peart looks at the history, strategy and future of the ‘movement of movements’
Our stand is not against anything that has the word “global” in front of it (since when did we oppose global solutions to climate change?), but against global capitalism, which debases every thing to a commodity and every human relationship to a “meeting in the market-place”.
We oppose patterns of production and consumption which are dictated by McDonald’s, Monsanto and Nike and advocate a decentralisation of economic and political power, and at the same time advocate a borderless world in which people can move freely; that is simply what “globalisation from below” means, the mirror opposite of the capitalists’ “globalisation from above”.
We oppose that set of policies which Blair and the rest of the global elite are trying to force down everyone else’s throats – “free trade”, privatisation, deregulation, unregulated capital markets, structural adjustment, corporate welfare, user fees on education and health care, a set of policies which is indeed “sowing poverty and ruin”.
We are a rag tag army whose leading detachments include communists, anarchists, socialists, feminists, trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-racists, neo-hippies and alternate lifestylists, or numerous collections of the above.
But we are united in opposition to corporate tyranny.
The current global justice movement was born in November 1999, when 60-80 000 people demonstrated in Seattle at a meeting of the WTO. Seattle wasn’t the first large demonstration against the global capitalist neo-liberal offensive; there had been earlier protests in Europe against G8 summits and there were dramatic revolts against neo-liberalism in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. But Seattle was the first major mass mobilisation against corporate globalisation that could claim a victory – the postponement of a new round of trade negotiations that was being demanded by the imperialist states. It has engendered further mobilisations in several imperialist countries.
The movement took its name and its heart from Seattle, that is solidarity with the oppressed and exploited masses of the South. The great moral issue at the heart of this movement is solidarity with the Third World, where 80% of the world’s population are denied any benefits of neo-liberal globalisation.
Initially we saw ourselves as opposing a war waged with interest rates, terms of trade, cash-crop economies and debt. Since then the movement has been confronted with a more open war against the Third World. The transparent rhetoric of the ‘war on terrorism’, the bombing of Afghanistan and the threatened invasion of Iraq, has forced the movement to be clear in its resistance to war in the literal sense.
With the political confusion that followed September 11 some predicted that the movement would falter. Bush’s “with us or against us” rhetoric was designed to have just this effect, to silence mounting criticism of neoliberal globalisation. But the movement has refused to back down. It has refused to accept the black and white analysis, providing its own critique of terrorism, and seeing the ‘war on terrorism’, not as a solution but as an intensification of the problem.
As the US and its allies began to flex their military muscle to back up economic dominance, the global justice movement adopted a firm anti-war stance. Links forged in the movement have played an instrumental part in rapidly mobilising anti-war sentiment, and have brought with them a broader social analysis, demanding that social justice, sustainability and democracy are integral to peace.
However, our movement, like any mass movement, must assess how well it is doing. How close is it to achieving its demands: for a Tobin tax on speculative capital flows; cancellation or radical reduction of Third World debt; global food and water security; elimination of preventable diseases; reversal of global warming? These goals seem to be moving further away as new alliances are made between government and business at the Johannesburg Earth Summit; and Lionel Jospin drops the Tobin tax from his platform at the French Presidential elections, despite it being Socialist Party policy. The most that seems to have been achieved is a shift in IMF public relations strategy, who have made Structural Adjustment sound nicer by calling it Poverty Reduction.
What we can see is an intensifying contradiction between the stormy rise of the movement and the fact that none of its demands are remotely near realisation.
This inevitably leads to a debate around the strategy of the movement, a debate which is forcing itself into the foreground of the World Social Forum process. If the first World Social Forum was largely an anti-World Economic Forum (“another world is possible”) and the second most of all a site for developing initiatives (what would this “other world” look like?) at its third edition, strategy will become one of the forum’s central themes. the movement must begin to raise the question of its politics.
Does this mean that the initial strategy of the movement is outdated? That we need tactics other than counter demonstrations to corporate summits, of network-building, of the World Social Forum itself?
Obviously we must continue to build on what has been built already. The mass mobilisations of this movement are indispensable, they are its vital core. It would be impossible to conceive of the 75-80% opposition in Europe to the impending war against Iraq without this background of rising protest involving hundreds of thousands of “ordinary citizens”. Without it, it would have been impossible for the French far left to achieve the 10.4% it won in the first round of the presidential elections. They are part of the climate that has allowed the SSP to grow so readily.
For socialists, for the SSP, this movement is a precious opportunity, to be strengthened by whatever means are available on the basis of its own democratic foundations.
At the same time we should be clear that all the counter demonstrations in the world are not going to change the approach of Bush and Blair. They may make them more unpopular, and they will even help force a German Social-Democratic chancellor desperate for re-election to oppose the war on Iraq. In the process they will also make hundreds of thousands, even millions of people receptive to the alternative politics capable of winning its demands, but they will not create that politics.
An anti-systemic movement requires consistent anti-systemic politics and the only consistently anti-systemic politics are socialist politics. The only global alternative to neo-liberal capitalist globalisation and its dog-eat-dog values is socialism. Socialism which is based on human solidarity and strives for the progressive satisfaction of social need and sustainability through democratic decision-making involving the whole of society.
Socialism understands the forces involved in the struggle, and that those in power will only give way on a particular issue when they risk losing even more. That change will only come through the mobilised strength of masses of people, critically working people who have the power to bring production for profit to a standstill.
Building the alternative to neo-liberal globalisation is a job that, as the Italians say, “walks on two legs”. There’s movement construction and there’s building the most coherent and consistent political voice for the movement – the socialist voice – within it. That’s the challenge facing all of us who oppose capitalism.
The stronger the consciously anti-capitalist element within the movement, the stronger it will be as a whole. Of course, this won’t be the result of the classic techniques of Stalinism (and not only Stalinism) – stacking meetings, setting up front and shell organisations exploiting the language and style of the movement – but of growing real influence for socialism based on strict respect for the autonomy and democracy of the movement itself. If we strengthen the voice of socialism, if we give it a broader social base in this country, we will be giving the broader movement against neo-liberal globalisation the best of all possible gifts.