Issue 249 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review


Globalise resistance

Hounded wherever they go, world leaders, industrialists and bankers cannot escape anti-capitalist protestors. But are demonstrations enough to change the system? Peter Morgan examines the movement and asks the opinions of some of those involved

We must pull in groups of workers who have the ability to bring the system down

Scenes from the Davos protests where anti-capitalists scored many successes but faced heavy police repression, as reported in the Swiss press(top)
Scenes from the Davos protests where anti-capitalists scored many successes but faced heavy police repression, as reported in the Swiss press(top)

We are witnessing the beginning of a new movement, growing in power and strength, and with the potential to challenge the whole system. This is a common view held by many of those who have been in the forefront of organising against the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank over the last 18 months.

Seattle may have marked the turning point of the movement, but there is no sign that it is running out of steam. Mention the words Prague, Melbourne, Washington, Nice, Davos and Genoa and many people around the world will know instantly what you're talking about. It's as if an alternative language has emerged which unites the millions of people throughout the world who are fighting against the system. These demonstrations have been important because they have provided a focus and a sense of unity for all those disparate groups that are beginning to fight back against global capitalism.

The anti-capitalist movement has exposed the way in which the main institutions of the system have been wrecking the lives of millions of people. The future peace and prosperity that we were all promised when the Berlin Wall came down has instead been replaced by even more misery and poverty. With over half of the world's population still living on less than $2 a day, and with poverty and instability growing, the IMF and the World Bank are having to answer for their actions. It is our side that is now on the offensive.

The demonstrations have also given legitimacy to all of those who are horrified about the system and want to do something about it. They have also shown people throughout the world that they are not alone, that they are part of a worldwide movement that, despite its enormous differences, is linked by common problems.

But however large and powerful the demonstrations have been, they have not inflicted permanent harm on the system--the world leaders, bankers and their cronies keep coming back for more, introducing more structural adjustments, more cuts and more privatisation. So a discussion is opening up within the anti-capitalist movement as to which is the best way forward.

Continuing to mobilise against world leaders and their bankers will be crucial over the coming months. The fact that the next big meeting of these cronies will take place on an island just off the coast of Qatar shows how worried they are by these large demonstrations. However, there comes a point when we must start to inflict permanent harm on the system from which the bosses are unable to recover. For some this simply involves bigger and better demonstrations--pulling in wider forces to link up all the various groups who have grievances against the system. But others argue that on their own demonstrations can only go so far, and that we must extend the action to pull in groups of workers who have the ability to bring the system down.

A world working class

Global capitalism rests upon the exploitation of billions of people around the world. Today it is correct to talk about a world working class that is stronger, larger and more powerful than at any time in history. As the system demands greater flexibility, more competition for jobs, more cutbacks in welfare and wages, so too will workers be forced to fight back. It is no coincidence therefore, that at the same time as we have seen the emergence of the anti-capitalist protests, we have also seen a greater willingness by sections of the world working class to take action.

Over the last year there have been general strikes in countries such as Argentina, South Africa and Nigeria. There are also signs of greater working class resistance in the heartlands of international capitalism, the US and Europe. It is the combination of these two factors that makes the new movement so potent and so powerful, where the immediate demands of those protesting can generalise into a fight against the whole system.

Never have the opportunities for change been so favourable. But what worries some of those who have been part of the protests is that unless we get the organisation and leadership correct we could suffer serious defeat. Part of the aim of the Globalise Resistance counter-conferences that are taking place this month is that they are attempting to unite, and to learn from all those who have been part of the many diffuse struggles. But there is also another important aim, and that is to bring together many of those involved in the movement to continue the debate as to how we organise and take the struggle forward.

Davos protestors

'This potential of rapid growth is coming to the end and now the movement has to face many identity questions--how to be a challenge to the system without becoming marginalised and split. How radical is our anti-capitalism and how socialist is our anti-capitalism? I think it is time for positive programmes--less socialist rhetoric and more socialist programme.

'We must develop new parties linked to movements--in some cases transform the existing ones. So far the movements are replacing the parties, not because we don't need parties any more but because they don't work--they are bureaucratic, opportunistic, authoritarian. But we will need parties because not everything can be done by movements. So movements will have to start building/rebuilding the parties or they will decline.'
Boris Kagarlitsky Russian socialist

'We have to develop a new level of sophistication. First we have to learn that these struggles are international. There is still too much concentration on the west--we need to look beyond this. How about talking about the people in Bolivia who rose up against the privatisation of their water and succeeded? This is very important. Six people died doing this. We need to know about these stories. We talk about the west oppressing the developing nations, but this is wrong. It is the rich oppressing the working class and the poor, and this is international.

'One of the things that is missing is a stronger link back to the labour movement. I was very disappointed in the lack of direct links to the labour movement except with particular fights. I am talking about the trade union movement here. We are going nowhere unless we connect with workers on an international basis.'
Greg Palast investigative journalist

'A measure of the effectiveness is the change in rhetoric--and to a limited extent policies--in the international financial institutions and corporate world in an effort to placate the growing tide of protest--which has been going on at great intensity in the Third World for years, but now is harder to ignore as it spreads very visibly to the rich and powerful states.

'One of the most important developments, I think, is the forging of linkages of North-South solidarity at the grassroots level. As for outreach, it is already pretty broad, even if still too thin. That offers a basis for growth and deepening. An enormous number of people feel powerless and are distressed about the impacts of the harsh neoliberal "reforms", raising real possibilities for organisation and action.'
Noam Chomsky author and campaigner

'This movement is growing in size and sophistication. It has expanded beyond the traditional left groups to embrace religious institutions, environmental and community groups, students, and a range of other citizens concerned about the way global rule-making designed to serve profit maximisation is trampling human rights and destroying the environment.'
Kevin Danaher writer and protester

'The protests by themselves would not have been effective if they had not echoed a deep understanding amongst the public in many parts of the world. They see that governments are using international structures to increase the rights and powers of multinationals. The movement needs to deepen its roots, to educate and activate more than the relatively small proportion of the people who are currently involved. There are signs that the power of engaged activists is growing, but we are engaged in a long term campaign for justice against powerful forces.'
Barry Coates World Development Movement

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