Issue 244 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Anti-capitalist protests

System shakers, system breakers

Protesters are converging on Prague for the next big demonstration says Martin Empson
WTO/IMF

'The executive committee of Athens Labour centre...decided to take part in the European demonstration on S26 in Prague, on the occasion of the IMF/World Bank conference. We decided to sponsor the demonstration by paying for buses and asking our member unions to have buses themselves to Prague... Our participation will be a step forward for the widening and strengthening of this campaign that gives the opportunity to the labour movement all around Europe to demonstrate there is a global resistance against the forces of capital. We hope all the trade unions in Europe will be present at this big mobilisation in order to make Prague the new Seattle.'

When a trade union association makes a statement like this, something is happening. On 26 September in the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, we will see a huge mobilisation of people who will attempt to close down the opening ceremony of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meeting which will set the agenda for the further introduction of free market 'reforms' throughout the world. For many people this meeting will symbolise the worst aspects of modern capitalism. It will come after the G8 summit in Okinawa, where our leaders dined on caviar and champagne yet wouldn't agree the cancellation of a single dollar of debt.

Already the mobilisation is gathering pace. The Sud trade union from Paris has confirmed a train to Prague. In Norway campaigners and trade unionists (including the leader of a transport union) are organising coaches, and expect over 500 people to travel to Prague to protest. In Britain coaches are planned from most major cities. There is also transport from Spain, Poland, Austria and Italy. Many more people will make their own way to Prague, some to protest at a single issue--debt, poverty or arms dealing. Many will come because they consider themselves anti-capitalist. There are solidarity protests planned throughout the world, including the Brighton anti-capitalist conference with speakers including Tony Benn, Susan George and Rob Newman culminating in a protest outside the Labour Party conference.

Already there have been a number of such anti-capitalist protests in Europe since Seattle last year. Demonstrations have taken place at the Expo 2000 conference in Hanover, and in Bologna at the OECD conference. Up to 100,000 protested against globalisation in Millau, southern France, and thousands demonstrated at the May Day events in London.

Where has this movement come from? Certainly many of these protesters were inspired by the Seattle demonstrations. Their aim is to recreate that same atmosphere, excitement and feeling of power that inspired millions across the globe when the WTO was closed down. But the roots of the movement are far more complex. Partly this is a young movement that hasn't felt the defeats of the 1980s. But it is also a movement that is offered nothing by modern capitalism yet sees its excesses every day.

Take for example the people of the Czech Republic. When the Eastern European regimes tumbled at the end of 1989 the new governments of these countries promised that living standards would rise to be comparable to the West. A decade later unemployment has risen, pay has fallen and life expectancy has dropped.

In western Europe the hope offered by the new social democratic governments just a few years ago has disappeared. In Britain New Labour has done nothing but continue and broaden Tory policies from before the election. The hopes in the Red/Green coalition in Germany disappeared as attacks on workers' conditions coincided with support for Nato's Balkan War and Schröder's nuclear power policies. The French government has repeatedly attempted to attack living standards but has been repelled by working class strikes and protests.

This disillusionment has fuelled the anti-capitalist mood but isn't limited simply to the youth. Prague will also see trade unionists protesting against the IMF and World Bank. The media and governments have already started their attempts to discredit the anti-capitalist mobilisations for Prague. As we get nearer to S26 there will be more of the sort of articles like the one in the London Evening Standard which reported 'Anarchists use Football Hooligan Tactics to Get to Prague'. There will also be mass protests in major cities in the US.

The theoreticians of the anti-capitalist movement like Naomi Klein and Susan George point eloquently to the horrors of capitalism and globalisation, but often their conclusions are simply that we need more reforms and limits to the activities of multinational corporations. Hence they argue that institutions like the IMF and World Bank should be replaced with other, more controlled organisations. For them the anti-capitalist movement is part of doing that, but is nothing more than a myriad of different organisations and groups, of which the working class movement is part, to help force governments to put these reforms in place. For socialists these institutions of global capital need to be smashed, not replaced, and the central force for doing this is the working class.

Recent general strikes in Nigeria and Zimbabwe have shown the power of organised workers. When the Teamsters came together with the 'turtle kids' on the streets of Seattle last year we saw an explosive combination--the coming together of the protesters against capitalism with the people who have the power to overthrow it.

After Prague we will see numerous more anti-capitalist events and protests. But from Prague we want to build a movement that does more than simply protest outside conferences but moves on to challenging the very system. That has to be a movement which incorporates every aspect of the anti-capitalist mood but also has the working class at its heart as the real force for change. When that happens we can really move on from anti-capitalism to revolution.


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