The politics of the new movement for global solidarity
By Peter Boyle
- Founded on solidarity
- Is the movement economic nationalist?
- A changing of the guard
- Leadership and democracy
- Popular democracy
- Old left, new left
It is 6 am and still dark. Icy rain blows almost horizontally along the shores of the Yarra River. Activists are rushing around getting organised. Some are already locking arms to form human blockades at more than a dozen entrances to Crown Towers, a giant casino and hotel complex that is the fitting site for a gathering of global corporate chiefs, their political lackeys and their ideologists. A high wall of steel mesh and concrete blocks has been erected around it to protect the VIP guests of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and two and a half thousand police, a third of the state's police force, are guarding the meeting. Police helicopters buzz overhead, as they will for three days.
Over the next few hours, the crowd grew bigger and biggerway beyond the expectations of the blockade organisers, the police and the social democratic state government. "The last time the ruling class put up walls like this was under feudalism, and they didn't last", roared socialist unionist Tim Gooden, pointing at the modern fortress, as a motley but spirited anti-corporate army laid siege. The crowd cheered wildly. The radical spirit of Seattle had come to Melbourne, Australia.
For three long days, some 20,000 blockaders ran mini-democracies at each of these mass picket points. The WEF meeting limped along in its casino-prison, but it had lost its purpose. Forced to justify the WEF's role, the corporate summit organisers pleaded that they were gathering to "help the world's poor", but this earned them only scornful laughter. Each day, armed riot police erupted into unprovoked and brutal violence that injured more than a hundred peaceful protesters. But the cops couldn't take the smiles off the faces on the picket lines. "This is what democracy looks like", they chanted on a victory march through the city streets on the final day of the blockade.
In November-December 1999, 60-80,000 people demonstrated in Seattle at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation. 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 popular revolts against neo-liberalism in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. But Seattle was the first major mass mobilisation against corporate globalisation that could claim a global victorythe 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 against the global institutions of the capitalist neo-liberal offensive: Washington in April, Philadelphia and Los Angeles in August, Melbourne on September 11, Prague on September 26 and Seoul on October 20.
If the new movement takes its name from Seattle, its ideological heart is solidarity with the oppressed and exploited masses in the South. The great moral issue at the heart of this movement is solidarity with the South, where the 80% of the world's population live who do not share any benefits of neo-liberal globalisation.
This movement arose out of the growing moral crisis of capitalism, which was captured succinctly by Fidel Castro in his message to the September 1999 G77 ministerial meeting:
Globalisation is an irreversible reality characterised by the growing interaction of all countries in the world, their economies and peoples. The major scientific and technical advances have shortened distances and allowed for direct communication and transmission of information among countries located anywhere on the planet.
With its impressive technological achievements, globalisation holds tremendous potential for development, the eradication of poverty and fostering well-being in conditions of social equality for all humanity. Never before has the world commanded today's technological resources.
However, the world is still very far from materialising the potential of globalisation. It develops today under the aegis of neo-liberal policies that impose unregulated markets and unbridled privatisation.
Far from promoting the expansion of development throughout an increasingly interdependent world badly in need of sharing the progresses achieved, neo-liberal globalisation has aggravated existing inequalities and raised to inordinate heights social inequities and the most disturbing contrasts between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.1
This is the moral issue at the heart of the new movement, and it is a frightening one for the capitalists. This movement is fundamentally against capitalism, as the editors of the London Economist concede. Ideologically, it is a ragtag army whose leading detachments include communists, anarchists, feminists, environmentalists, anti-racists, neo-hippies and alternate lifestylists. But these currents are united in opposition to corporate tyranny.
This movement has forced powerful capitalist institutions to adjust their plans. Global corporations, imperialist governments, their international agenciessuch as the IMF, World Bank, WTO and WEFand their regional trade blocsNAFTA, the European Union and APECare all scrambling to give themselves a "human face". They are worried that public opinion is anything but squarely behind them.
A recent editorial of the Economist complained:
They are not merely listening to the activists but increasingly are pandering to them, adjusting both their policies and the way these policies are presented to the public at large. Companies too are bending to the pressure, modest as it might seem, and are conceding to the anti-capitalists not just specific changes in corporate policy but also large parts of the dissenters' specious argument.2
There is truly a smell of panic in the ruling class in this issue of the Economist. Its focus on a disagreement in the ruling class about what tactics to apply to the post-Seattle movement underlines their quandary. Should small concessions be offered, as the IMF and World Bank officials have opted for? Will this succeed in giving the capitalist offensive a "human face"? Or will it backfire? Will people buy renaming the IMF's structural adjustment plans as "poverty reduction strategies"? Or should the ruling class take the hard line and, as the Economist's editors suggest, stop "apologising for globalisation and promising to civilise it" and, instead, accelerate it, celebrate it, exult in it?
It takes a powerful movement to cause the ruling classwhich is now more wealthy and better resourced than ever in historyto divide on tactics just months after the movement began. What's the secret? The strength of this movement is the fact that mighty class forcesthe working class in the imperialist countries and the oppressed classes in the semi-colonial countriesare increasingly moving into dissent against actually existing capitalism. These classes have yet to move massively onto the streets, but already the new movement commands their attention and at least passive support. And the capitalist ruling class, which lives parasitically off the labour of these great working masses, is already pretty worried.
At present the working classes of the North and South are at different stages of dissent and only partly working together. The tensions between these two class forces are summed up in two antagonistic responses to corporate globalisation: 1) To try to preserve the relative privileges of the working class in the imperialist countries through protectionist measures. 2) To replace neo-liberal globalisation with globalisation for all people and for environmental sustainability, and to fight the corporate agenda with a movement that seeks to "globalise solidarity", as the S26 activists from Prague put it.
The Seattle victory encapsulated the present relationship between the movement and the broader class forces moving against neo-liberal capitalist globalisation. The abandonment of the new round of neo-liberal trade negotiations was a result of two pressures: the people in the streets of Seattle and the first significant rebellion by governments of the South against more "reforms" that mainly served the imperialist countries.
The growing rebellion against neo-liberalism in the South was at least half of the Seattle victory, but there was little direct connection between the activists in the South and in the North. The links between the radical activists in the US and the South were mediated by non-government organisations (often selected "representatives" of the South paid by wealthy NGOs in the North). The votes against a new trade round were cast by officials of 70 governments of the South, most of which are pro-capitalist neo-colonial regimes.
One year later, the underdeveloped countries are standing firm and refusing further negotiations without a fundamental review of WTO agreements and changes to its structures. However, there is little sign of change in the WTO. The USA, Europe and Japan and other imperialist governments, including Australia, have not responded to these demands. They also disagree among themselves on aspects of the new agenda. But they are united in pushing for a new round of negotiations in 2001.
The next ministerial meeting is due at the end of 2001. It was to be hosted by the small Middle Eastern country of Qatar, which has now withdrawn its offer. Thanks to the new global movement, WTO meetings have become a poisoned chalice. The next meeting may be confined to WTO headquarters in Geneva.
The Seattle street protests probably gave courage to delegates who had been beaten back for two decades by the imperialists in earlier "negotiations" on trade rules and debt. However, part of the reason the capitalist regimes of the South voted against a new trade round was that they faced public pressure in their own countries: the mass unrest in Ecuador, Indonesia, Argentina, Bolivia, South Korea and elsewhere have made these governments nervous about further neo-liberal "reform".
There is another very important factor: the political lead to the Southand to the new post-Seattle movement in the Northprovided by the revolutionary government of Cuba. Cuba's leaders got the biggest applause at summit after summit when they exposed the imperialists' greedy and destructive drive in the name of "globalisation" and "free trade". But at summit after summit, most of the delegates of the South eventually bowed to the imperialists' demands.
For years Cuba has been waging a lonely battle at these international summits, first on debt and now on neo-liberal globalisation. But the post-Seattle movement signalled that Cuba was no longer fighting alone. At the G77 Summit of the South in Havana last April, Fidel Castro hailed Seattle as "a revolt against neo-liberalism".
As one of the few fighting revolutionary movements with state power, Cuba will help pave the way for the other revolutionary movements in the South to link up directly with the anti-neo-liberal activists in the North.
Many of the issues they raise reflect popular concern about the hard edges of globalisationfears, genuine if muddled, about leaving the poor behind, harming the environment, caring about profits more than people, unleashing dubious genetically modified foods, and the rest. The radicals on the streets are voicing an organised and extremist expression of these widely shared anxieties. Along with mainstream NGOs, the protesters are prevailing over firms, international institutions and government partly because, for now, they do reflect that broader mood.
If this movement is one for global solidarity, how is it that it can tap the mass "backlash" against globalisation in the imperialist countries, especially when the official leaders of the trade unions in these countries are still pushing protectionist "solutions"?
There are two important reasons. First, the trade union leaders and social democratic politicians who are pushing protectionism in the imperialist countries have been seen by the masses to have done little to resist neo-liberalism. They have had two decades to start resisting, but nothing has happened. Now some militant young people take to the streets with a startling audacity, and that makes an impact, even iffor nowit's mostly via the TV set. Second, many workers have enough experience to know that protectionism does not defend jobs and conditions. They've seen their greedy bosses take the handouts and run or buy new machines that make their jobs redundant.
One of the most important ways in which S11 was an advance on Seattle and Washington was the relative marginalisation of the protectionists. In Seattle, the trade unions mobilised independently of the rest of the protesters. They had their own demands, their own march routes and their own tactics. And they had numbers.
At Washington, the main trade union contingents sharpened their protectionist message by rallying around the AFL-CIO's campaign to block the normalisation of trade relations between the USA and China, an utterly reactionary demand. Some unions were addressed by arch-right-winger Pat Buchanan at their rally.
But at S11, there was a different balance of forces. An internationalist leadership of the blockade emerged and won the battle for authority, and our comrades were a key component of that leadership. The S11 blockade of the World Economic Forum (one of the corporate globalisers' ideological institutions)which involved 20,000 people in a three-day blockade of the WEF meetinghad to be built against the wishes of the main trade union leaders. These leaders came under pressure from the Labor state government not to disrupt the WEF, but another reason for their role was that the union leaders knew that the S11 activists had different politics.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) called a rally for the second day of the blockade around a clear protectionist theme, "Save Aussie jobs!". Originally this rally was going to be held well away from the WEF meeting site, and the VTHC worked hard for weeks to try to have the WEF blockade called off. VTHC secretary Leigh Hubbard wrote to unions asking them not to sponsor the blockade or its key organisational vehicle, the S11 Alliance.
Just one union in the state, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) led by the militant Workers First team, dared to break ranks and sponsor the S11 Alliance and the blockade. "I'm with the ratbags", said AMWU Victorian secretary Craig Johnston.
Under pressure from the AMWU and several other militant unions, the official trade union rally of about 5-7,000 marched to the WEF meeting site, but the main union speakers at this rally still urged unionists not to join or endorse the blockade. The economic nationalism of the union contingent contrasted with the spirit of global solidarity of the blockaders.
The main forces active in the S11 blockade would probably have agreed with the proposition put succinctly by Fidel Castro at the G77 summit that we are not against globalisation as such but against neo-liberal globalisationthat deformed globalisation shaped by the giant corporations. They were united for globalisation that serves people and is ecologically sustainable.
There was never a motion to this effect adopted by the blockaders, the S11, the S11 AWOL (an anarchist-led split from the latter) or the autonomous Green Bloc, but it was clear from the many diverse and colourful expressions of the blockadersthe numerous pamphlets, chants, placards, floats and graffitithat this was a common sentiment.
Essentially this reflects a different balance of forces in the social movements between the US and Australia. Small as it is, the revolutionary left is much more influential here than it is in the US. Anarchists and newly radical, but still liberal, activists have a much bigger sway in the movement in the US.
At Prague, the balance of forces was more in favour of the anarchists and the more anarchist-influenced sections of the left. This does not reflect the broader balance of forces in western Europe, where the organised left is much stronger than in the US or Australia. But the main forces of the left in western Europe, the Communist Parties, were absent, as were the unions they control. They didn't even mobilise separately like the US unions did in Seattle and Washington, with their protectionist slogans.
There is a struggle between the new movements and the leaders of the old social movements in the imperialist countries, most of which have sold out to or adapted to the neo-liberal offensive. However, these old leaderships still have control over the mass organisations of the working class.
The polls show most workers in the US and Australia support protectionist measures. Further, the mass of the working class is disgruntled but still passive. However, the post-Seattle movement has begun to force the conservative union leaders onto the ideological defensive. The old movement leaders will fight to hang on but, like the ruling class, they are uncertain about how to relate to the new movement.
The old leaderships of the social movements still harbour the illusion that only they have the authority to mobilise the masses. They cannot accept the reality of the growing alienation of workers from conservative union leaderships and even from unions themselves. S11 and S26 in Prague were a major shock to these layers.
The composition of the 20,000 blockaders at S11 was interesting. They were mostly younger activists (students and young workers), but there were also a few thousand veterans from the social movements of the 1990s. The activists from the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s were a smaller proportion, and most of these came with organised left or green contingents.
There were also small contingents of individual trade unionistssome of whom had travelled hundreds of kilometres to be part of the action. Some of these workers shared their picket line experience by volunteering to be marshals. Subsequently to S11, these layers have made their presence felt in moves to build a sequel to that action.
The working class in the imperialist countries is still relatively privileged, but it too has suffered under the neo-liberal offensive, and it increasingly distrusts its official union leaders, who have supported governments implementing neo-liberal attacks.
Many historians say that the Vietnam War was lost by the US because it was the first televised war. Today, workers in the imperialist countries also get to watch more of the growing global misery on the TV. Unlike their bosses, most workers still have a fair measure of human solidarity. So a trade union bureaucrat is on dangerous moral ground when he/she stands before workers and says we'll try to save your jobs at the expense of those workers over there. This is why the economic nationalist trend in the trade unions in the imperialist countries tries to hide its protectionist demands under the cloak of global solidarity through calls for "fair trade".
The new movement against corporate globalisation has been built around a series of mass civil disobedience actions dogging the gatherings of some of the main global neo-liberal institutions. And it is true that the World Trade Organisation is having a hard time finding a city to host its next gathering. The British Financial Times noted recently:
The tiny Gulf state of Qatar did offer, it's true, but is now back-pedalling madly, pleading lack of sufficient hotel space and the fact that Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, may coincide with the probable date of the meeting some time in November 2001.
Other candidates are not exactly rushing to take Qatar's place, despite the lure of 5,000 or so officials, lobbyists and journalists on expense accounts. After all, who wants the misery Seattle inflicted on itself with the conference last year? Its down-town was shut down, shops were looted, the police chief had to resign and the city is facing a law suit from 600 demonstrators.
Activists are also already plotting to besiege the next meetings of the IMF, World Bank and WEF. But is the power to disrupt meetings the real basis of the new movement's power?
Recently, Michael Albert, one of the founders and editors of Z (an influential magazine and net site in the new movement) argued for a "mid-course correction" of the activist style of the new movement, placing an orientation to broader masses at the centre:
What's the problem, you might ask? Thousands of militant, courageous people are turning out in city after city. Didn't Prague terminate a day early? Aren't the minions of money on the run? Isn't the horrible impact of the WTO, IMF, and World Bank revealed for all to see?
Absolutely, but our goal isn't only to make a lot of noise, to be visible, or courageous, nor even to scare some of capitalism's most evil administrators into shortening their gatherings. Our goal is to win changes improving millions of lives. What matters isn't only what we are now achieving, but where we are going. To win "non-reformist reforms" advancing comprehensive justice requires strategic thinking.
But isn't that what's been happening? Aren't we strategizing about these big events and implementing our plans despite opposition?
Yes, but to end the IMF and World Bank now, and win new institutions in the long-term, we need ever-enlarging numbers of supporters with ever-growing political comprehension and commitment, able to creatively employ multiple tactics eliciting still further participation and simultaneously raising immediate social costs that elites can't bear, and to which they give in. That is dissent's logic: Raise ever-enlarging threats to agendas that elites hold dear by growing in size and diversifying in focus and tactics until they meet our demands, and then go for more
The irony in all this is that the efficacy of civil disobedience and other militant tactics is not something cosmic or a priori. It resides, instead, in the connection between such militant practices and a growing movement of dissidents, many not in position to join such tactics, but certainly supportive of their logic and moving in that direction. What gives civil disobedience and other militant manifestations the power to force elites to submit to our demands is the fear that such events forebode a threatening firestorm. But if there is a 2,000 or even a 10,000 person sit-in, even repeatedly, but with no larger, visible, supporting dissident community from which the ranks of those sitting in will be replenished and even grow, then there is no serious threat of a firestorm.3
The discussion about tactics should not be reduced to an argument against liberal ultra-leftism, especially when more conservative forces are trying to blunt the political radicalism of the new movement. As in Melbourne, in Prague and Seoul the clash over tactics also divided the radicals from those who sought to accommodate to the corporate globalisers' attempts to give their institutions a human face.
After Seattle and Prague, predictably some of the socialist groups jumped in hard with their traditional organisational formulas. The movement must form united fronts with the organisations of the working class, the trade unions and the traditional mass "working-class parties", was common advice from the organised left. But these advisers did not address the basic problem that a new movement for global solidarity has rebelled against the leaderships of most trade unions and traditional parties in the imperialist countries.
For example, in Australia the "proper channel for reform" has traditionally been seen as the Australian Labor Party (ALP). If you want change, you beg your local Labor parliamentarian, get the union to apply a little pressure, pass motions in ALP branches, sign petitions, vote Labor into government, cross your fingers and hope for some reform. These are the usual "proper channels" for dissent, but over the last two decades many people have come to realise that these channels don't deliver. Labor governments are barely distinguishable from Liberal (conservative) governments; both explicitly support and have implemented the neo-liberal agenda in Australia.
At S11, some 20,000 people voted with their bodies on militant mass picket lines for breaking out of the "proper channels". The ALP's attempts to weaken and isolate the blockade only underlined the political independence of S11, and made our victory all the sweeter.
One expression of this movement's rebellion against the political leaders and structures of the old social movements is its preferred form of protest: civil disobedience. This expresses the strong desire to break free from the "normal channels" of dissent.
At S11, the tactic of peaceful mass blockading captured the imagination of tens of thousands who are sick of "going through the proper channels". Probably many of these people would not have bothered to turn up if it was just another rally addressed by trade union bureaucrats or Labor politicians who are not interested in changing society very much at all. The mass blockade tactic had a lot to do with the success of S11.
It is true that there were some people at S11 who had the illusion that blockading the WEF might shock the ruling class into changing. There were also small groups of political posturers, some dressed up in "battle gear", who remained little more than colourful diversions. And then there were the groups out to prove that they were the "most militant", even if it was at the expense of the success of the movement.
It took a lot of work on the part of some of the clearer political activists in the S11 Alliance to ensure that the conception of S11 as a "one or two hour stoush with the police" (as one leading member of the International Socialist Organisation put it) was not all the blockade amounted to. It took work to ensure that the blockaders won the political battle over who was responsible for the violence by holding to organised, mass non-violent blockading. This was not imposed from above on the blockaders; they insisted on it. And in the end we had a tremendously successful action.
It also took a struggle within the S11 Alliance to ensure that desperate tactics to "shut down" the WEF meeting did not rob the movement of its main political victory, the successful de-legitimisation of the WEF and the neo-liberal agenda for corporate tyranny.
But a bigger challenge for the new movement is to articulate independently its radical politics. The fear of "centralisation" currently inhibits the movement from expressing its demands, thus leaving it to NGOs, trade union bureaucrats and other conservative institutions to speak out "for the movement" on the issues and policies.
This has become tied up in the debate about tactics and organisation. The failure of the S11 Alliance to move formally beyond the demand "Shut down the WEF" helped set in place an informal and partial "division of labour" that made more conservative "experts" the issues spokespersons or allowed the activists with the biggest mouths to present their views as the movement's.
While the post-Seattle movement seeks to break from the conservatism of the "old movements" with its civil disobedience tactics, it is also marked by the defeats and retreats of earlier social movements. Many activists in the new movement are worried about "leadership" and "centralism" because of the experiences under earlier movements dominated by social democratic or Stalinist bureaucrats. The rejection of hierarchy is ostentatious in the movement.
There are some who like to pretend that this is a new movement "with no leaders". There is a nearly sacred regard for the so-called Seattle model of organising, built upon an idealised convergence of small, autonomous "affinity groups", all linked by the internet. A lot of this is semi-anarchist fantasy which, when applied, doesn't work very well. By the time the US activists got to the protests at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, some people were saying, "Hey, this doesn't work too well. And, how democratic is it anyway?"
According to some reports, in Prague in the lead-up to S26 , some of the "Seattle veterans" were bossing around the Czech activists while preaching about the supposedly leaderless "Seattle model". After Prague S26, many activists also commented on the inherently anti-democratic, demoralising and sometimes painful effect of small, closed affinity groups having the "right" to provoke the cops into violent responses, then running away and letting masses of peaceful demonstrators suffer the baton charges, tear gas and water cannon.
Only greater democratic organisation of the movement can prevent small counterproductive factions (or police provocateurs) from dictating its forms of struggle and political message under the guise of "opposing centralism". The new movement can organise democratically without sacrificing the cultural and political diversity it treasures. There is no necessity for a central leadership that "tells everybody how to protest", but the movement needs some collectivity if it is going to grow and keep its political independence.
The "affinity group" model was never the sole way the new movement has organised its major mobilisations. The S11 Alliance operated on the basis of open activist meetings, deciding by democratic vote. Similar coalitions helped organise at Seattle and Washington, operating alongside and in cooperation with spokescouncils of affinity groups.
The post-Seattle movement also has a complementary naivety about the democratic potential of the internet, which also can exponentially enhance that well known not-so-democratic feature of "consensus decision-making": the person with the loudest voice and most domineering/manipulative personality gets to be the de facto leader.
The internet is a fantastic tool for activists. Indeed, the precedent to the Seattle victory was the collapse of the secret Multilateral Agreement of Investment (MAI), which was brought about by the rapid exposure of the secret draft document through the internet. In addition, the internet allows a mushrooming of subversive sites and discussion lists, adding to the sense of growing "people's power". So it's understandable that activists in the post-Seattle movement hold the internet in awe.
But even this is being questioned in the new movement. As Michael Albert's essay notes:
The internet is a powerful tool, useful in many ways to our work. But with the internet, mostly we are communicating with folks who want to hear what we have to say. They come to our sites and participate in our lists because they are already part of the movement The trouble is, returning to the earlier analogy, if done without prioritizing other more face to face and public activity, it can lead to us becoming a breakaway, intentionally or not, and thereby largely leaving behind the constituencies we need to communicate with.
The internet has the ability to spread misinformation as well as information, promote slander as well as debate. Add to that the fact that the internet is inaccessible to the great majority of the world's population, and it is clear that the global movement cannot be built to fit the organisational fantasies of Seattle activists.
How will the movement get over its organisational hang-ups? Experience and education. Negative experiences have already prompted rethinking, and positive experiences in popular blockade democracy, such as at S11, must be built upon to help advance the movement's ability to come democratically to a common political program and express it independently.
The experiences and lessons of previous popular social movements will have to be studied and absorbed, and we have to promote this.
But the big driver here will be the movement's pressing need to get better organised. Inclusive and democratic functioning will prove their worth in the process, and with every experience in popular democracy, the movement will grow in confidence.
A global movement that is taking on the capitalist system has to develop a confidence in popular democracy because that is an essential basis for an alternative society, which cannot be anything but a socialist society. Most of the movement activists hesitate at embracing the "S" word; some prefer to talk of a new "global democracy". Well, there will be no global democracy without socialism. So, call itself what it likes, this is a new left in formation.
The movement's basic message of people's power vs corporate tyranny is popular, but the majority of working people in this country, and around the world, are still to be convinced that socialism can work and will be democratic.
The problem is not just one of finding new labels for socialism. The challenge for the new left is not just to dissociate itself from the collapsed Soviet Union and eastern European regimes but to build mass working-class confidence in the possibility of democratic working-class power.
At S11 there was a glimpse of the potential of such "people's power" in the three-day mini-democracies that were built at the various blockade points around Crown Casino. These blockades exercised popular power in a very democratic way, discussing and voting on all key decisions.
The next meetings of the IMF, World Bank, WTO and WEF will all be hit by similar militant mass actions. Planning is already underway and finding venues has become a problem for these institutions.
There is an idea being floated for a simultaneous global strike against corporate tyranny on May 1. All this and more is possible for this year-old movement that has already surprised many with its power.
The post-Seattle movement expresses a growing rebellion in the imperialist countries against the old left that has retreated in the face of the capitalist neo-liberal offensive. A political generation is turning over. James Petras' analysis of the Latin American left in generational terms, given at the Marxism 2000 conference in Sydney, might have been a bit sweeping, but it is a general feature of the anti-capitalist struggle today. It is a fact that most of the old left around the world has crumbled in the face of the capitalist neo-liberal offensive or, worse still, adapted to it and abetted its advance.
Young people are the majority in the post-Seattle movement. There's nothing new in that, of course; it's a common feature of all radical movements. What is more remarkable is the absentee roll on the streets of Seattle, Washington, Melbourne, Prague and Seoul.
Some leftists who were part of the new youth vanguard in the late 1960s are now dazzled as a similar process unfolds again, but with them as the left status quo. Tired and demoralised after the working-class retreats and defeats of the last two decades, some of these have settled for less than a radical movement. Seattle and its sequels has left blinking those of that generation who conceived of an opposition to neo-liberalism as an alliance with neo-Keynesians. That stance puts them in the camp of those wings of imperialism that seek to assure its victims that neo-liberalism can be given a human face. Under actually existing capitalism, neo-Keynesianism is a possible course only for imperialist governments, and this would be at the expense of the South.
At S11, pitiful remnants of Australia's old left wandered among the fiery young blockaders with dazed looks, timid slogans and their expired "use by" date on display. They stared at the ground when our young comrades rushed past, red flags flying, a contingent of blockade reinforcements running behind. It felt good to be in a party of youth, a party that will be part of the revolutionary future.
The tide of this struggle has been heading our way since Seattle. The "old left" in the imperialist countries is increasingly on the defensive. Morally it has lost the debate. People are not travelling thousands of kilometres to risk arrest just to try to defend the most privileged section of the world's exploited. Not in the face of the full global horror of the neo-liberal offensive. Not in the face of the death sentences being handed out to millions of people by those corporate barons in their lush boardrooms. Not in the face of the sentences to a short and miserable life handed out to millions more in the name of "reform". Not in the face of the death sentence on the environment.
Today the post-Seattle movement is still politically well in advance of the mass class forces that give it its strength. It is a militant minority movement. But the masses are looking on with growing interest, applauding even. Small detachments from the working class are joining the mobilisations; bigger detachments will follow. There is great excitement among the militant activists in the South about the prospect of a new movement of global solidarity against neo-liberalism. Eventually the barriers between North and South must be broken down if the movement is to be victorious.
1. Fidel Castro, "Message to the September 1999 G77 Ministerial Meeting", Capitalism In Crisis, Ocean Press (Australia), 2000.
2. "The case for globalisation", Economist, September 23, 2000, p.17.
3. Michael Albert, "The Trajectory of Change",