The resolution Resistances to Capitalist Globalization: Opening for a New Internationalism was written just after the Seattle WTO protests, at a moment when it was clear that a change in the world situation was under way, but when it was too early to evaluate this change.
Now we have more perspective on the situation, and it is possible to refine our analysis and to indicate some problems brought forth by this renewal of the movements.
Over the last three years, the world situation has been marked by the drive to war and the economic crisis that began in 2001. In this introduction, we will restrict ourselves largely to analyzing this evolution through the experience of the movements fighting neo-liberal globalization. First, however, some remarks about the process of capitalist globalization itself.
The contradictions of capitalist globalization
The November 2000 resolution noted that the process of capitalist globalization affected every field (economic, social, political, cultural, military, etc.) and required the emergence of a new mode of domination. It also noted that this process had not yet been completed and probably never could be, because it was so full of contradictions.
Since then the military aspect of capitalist globalization has been revealed in its full scope, to a much greater extent than at the moment when the November 2000 resolution was drafted. The struggle against the dynamics of war has thus taken on a central, and truly international, character, to a degree that it had not yet done only three years ago.
Similarly, the preparation of the Iraq war highlighted the sharp inter-imperialist contradictions that are emerging in the context of the process of globalization, to a degree even higher than at the moment of Seattle.
The brutality of the social offensive (neo-liberal policies) and military offensive (’preventive war’ theory) that the bourgeoisie has launched on the international level in the framework of globalization cannot be overestimated. But our sense that the very universality and violence of globalization would evoke growing resistance, and tend to unify different forms of resistance, has been confirmed. At the same time capitalist globalization itself is causing major contradictions among the ruling classes.
The question of the scope of the change under way Several elements allow us to conclude that we have entered a worldwide period of radicalization comparable, in its size, even though the context is totally different, to the radicalization of the 1960s and ’70s.
This radicalization’s international character is the first element. Just as the first globalization of capitalism, from 1850 to 1880, had facilitated internationalization of the emerging workers’ movement, today’s globalization lies behind the radical protest movements which are developing, particularly in the countries most affected by capitalist globalization, and which have been built at the international level from the very beginning. Beyond their national and continental differences, the movements have entered a dynamic of mutual reinforcement, belonging to a ’world movement’ developing from Seattle to Buenos Aires and from Florence to Porto Alegre, and experienced as an important strength in establishing the relationship of forces, including on the national level.
The second characteristic of these movements is their ability to integrate new political questions. Focussed initially on overall denunciation of globalization, and in particular of those institutions applying it, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, the movements quickly and easily took up social and environmental issues at the root of opposition to neo-liberal globalization.
The response to the wars that blew up after the September 11 attacks was less straightforward. But there also, and quite quickly, the movements were able to integrate the struggle against war and militarism and link up with the peace movements, products of the 1980s movements, and active in some countries in solidarity with the Balkans and Palestine.
The last and perhaps most important element is the extension of these movements, broadening numerically to hundreds of thousands and millions participating in social forums and in demonstrations organized on those occasions, and broadening on the social and militant level. At the time of Seattle, students from elite universities made up an important part of the demonstrations, which was also an indicator of the strength of a movement which was not only the resistance of the victims of globalization and neo-liberalism but also the sign of a deep internal crisis of the system, leading a significant group of students to radically question the system, as in the 1960s and ’70s. But very quickly the movement broadened, and to varying degrees, peasant movements, women’s movements, the whole of the union movement and the majority of NGOs became involved in a process, and gather at their broadest at the social forums. While from the 1950s through 1970s, the majority of the union movement, numerically strong but demobilized by gradual victories in the post-war period, opposed the rise of protest movements which challenged ’consumer society’, today the labour movement, weakened in the 1980s, is joining these alliances made necessary by the evolution of capitalism itself, and is participating in this process despite differences which remain among the different components.
A new ’founding historical experience’ To sum up in a schematic way: in only a few years, movements resisting neo-liberal globalization have experienced an extraordinary numerical growth (in this respect Genoa was a qualitative turning point), a considerable geographical expansion (though it is still very uneven), and a remarkable social and thematic broadening. All this required overcoming numerous obstacles and difficulties: the movement had to ’digest’ its own new members and contend with repression (in Göteberg, Genoa and elsewhere) as well as efforts to brand it as criminal (after September 11) and also to co-opt it. The movement for a different globalization has expanded rapidly and at the same time radicalized quickly. A cumulative process has been set in motion (collectivization of experiences, rising levels of consciousness, linking up of different initiatives), marking a real break with the previous period.
We cannot predict this movement’s future or its ability to overcome the new difficulties that it will once more face tomorrow and the day after. But we can observe what has already happened. The movement for a different globalization clearly has deep roots. It reflects the existence of a groundswell of international radicalization that is probably only beginning, which is being expressed today in movements resisting and posing alternatives to capitalist globalization.
In this sense we are dealing with what one can call a ’founding movement’ or a ’founding historical experience’. This framework of a common political experience is shaping the collective consciousness of a new activist generation. This does not mean that the ’new’ (the globalization movement) is replacing the ’old’ (the traditional workers’ movement). The link between the two remains a key issue. But it means that the unfolding of the movement for a different globalization is the foundation from which we can perceive and think about what is new, theorize, act, and organize our political work on a qualitatively higher level. We are becoming capable of renewing our thinking in a contemporary frame of reference, different from that of the 1970s, and of analyzing what is original in the current wave of radicalization (including the forms of activists’ consciousness, the relationship between politics and ethics, the varying situations in Europe, Asia and Latin America, etc).
Movements in a new international context
The election of George Bush, and then the September 11 attacks, have shifted the battlefield, exacerbating repressive measures, military budgets and interventions all at once. Today, even more than yesterday, militarism and war are an essential component of neoliberal globalization: today’s American drive to war simultaneously strengthens the economic upturn through arms purchases, the control of strategic oilfields and the will to reassert American dominance of world affairs.
This increased militarization and threat of war are part of the overall fight for imperial dominance at the international level.
The Republican administration is defending American business interests with perhaps more cynicism than previously. Protectionist measures for steel, rejection of the Kyoto accords and the rejection of any WTO agreement allowing the countries of the South to produce or buy generic medicines are the most recent examples. This will to dominate unilaterally further weakens international institutions, expected to submit to American wishes, multiplies the causes of tension with other dominant countries and promotes the expression of opposition among the champions of the system themselves, as Joseph Stiglitz’s position statements show.
In this context, the danger of repression will increase, but will also offer some opportunities for activist movements: it will probably become easier to block a decision or institution when militant pressures combine with contradictions and differences among states. Such a situation facilitates unitary movements of opposition, and restricts possibilities for negotiations that might divide the movement. Thus the whole union movement and an increasing number of NGOs will now join activist gatherings and Social Forums, regionally or globally.
Social Forums and social movement co-ordinating structures The Social Forums, whether continental or worldwide, are the main rallying points for forces opposed to neo-liberal globalization. Their success lies in their openness and the privileged place given social movements at a time when political parties in many countries are passing through a crisis of legitimacy. The forums are open spaces, with no commitment by participants beyond agreement to the Charter of Principles, which notably include opposition to neo-liberal globalization.
This openness and absence of commitments have made possible the success of such broad militant gatherings, but they also show the limits of the gatherings, since no decision to act can be taken by the Forum as such. For this reason, many social and activist movements have, since the first World Social Forum in 2001, met to develop ’declarations of the social movements’, which have allowed them, in 2001 and in 2002, to take positions on the major events of the past year and, especially, to establish a common approach to upcoming international summits, opposing war, mobilizing against meetings of the G-8, for the cancellation of the Third World debt, against meetings of the WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. At the third World Social Forum, the social movements met to discuss the possibility of formalizing somewhat this network, to allow for more efficient action. There is a clear necessity to have both open structures, which the Social Forums allow, and working structures oriented toward action and international campaigns.
The combination of Social Forums and movement co-ordinating structures has been so successful because it corresponds to the current forms of activists’ consciousness, as well as to a stage of struggles that combine some very defensive aspects (bringing together forms of resiance in a ’sheltered’ space) with very offensive aspects (the assertion that there are alternatives and the aspiration for a different world). This combination makes it possible to combine the ’event’ (the Forum itself, a moment of high visibility and a rare opportunity to meet ’among ourselves’) with the cumulative ’process’ of struggles and mobilizations.
Movements and political perspectives
This new phase of struggle that we see internationally allows us to bring forward political issues. But this is in a context completely different from that of the 1960s and ’70s or that of the revolutionary movements at the time of the two world wars.
The movements are radicalizing at the same time that they are growing. In the first phase, many held that these movements were only attacking neo-liberalism. Today, their growth and rooting in social issues at the very moment that capitalism is entering a new crisis and revealing, in scandals like the Enron debacle, the reality of its functioning and its logic, give the movements a clearly anti-capitalist tone. Criticism of the multinationals has been strengthened and the question of private property has been posed through the defence against the market, of the ’common heritage’ of humanity, water, public services, etc. or by debate on intellectual property, which sees two opposed systems of thought in conflict. This radicalization has already produced electoral and political effects: in many countries, parties linked to social movements and revolutionary forces have seen significant progress in recent years.
On a certain number of strategic issues (revolutionary subjects; or convergences of different terrains of struggle that can point to a revolutionary transformation of society), the development of movements for a different globalization is already enabling us to renew our thinking on the basis of a new historical experience. But this radicalization has not reignited discussions on some other strategic issues. As much as we can see the rebirth of ’anti-capitalist consciousness’, the question of power and the means to take it are beyond the range of discussion in these movements. The reasons for this are clear: the weight of the last century’s revolutionary defeats; the difficulties of imagining, in a globalized world, a break from capitalism which would go beyond a national framework; and, finally, the functional efficiency itself of movements, based on networks which favour a list of issues raised by members of the network over grand strategic parameters.
This weakness will not be resolved quickly. However, it may well pose a problem at a time when, in Latin America, the left is winning elections in several countries. This left, the PT in Brazil or Pachakutik in Ecuador, is much more linked to social movements than the European social democrats. This left will have to choose either market logic and neo-liberal globalization or the satisfaction of social needs. While we must discuss once again, patiently and with the difficulty of the questions always in mind, the strategic difficulties and the reasons that they have been hidden, we are more than ever convinced that the only possible way forward, in these countries as elsewhere, is meeting the demands of peasants, wage workers and the impoverished.
In this new situation, political parties on the side of the movements have significant opportunities. They must join the debates needed to clarify collective perspectives, but must also act, respecting the autonomy of the movements, to help consolidate the radicalization in progress and support the political choices which allow us to win these demands.
For the parties which take up the fight against capitalism, active participation in the ’movement of movements’ is as much a necessity as it is a unique opportunity to work toward a redefinition of a socialist project and to the recomposition of social and political forces able to carry forward a revolutionary project.