Antiglobalization Movement: Obstacles and Opportunities

Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you from a South perspective on the future of the obstacles and opportunities for the Anti-Globalization Movement (I don’t think we can buck the term–we’re almost stuck with it). As you might imagine, the obstacles are in the North and the opportunities are in the South, which is an important distinction to keep in mind, because sometimes our friends in the North have to deal with obstacles so much that the opportunities are underestimated and vice-versa.

Obstacles in the North

Obstacles, well, obstacles are what have always been. The first one is called USA. What’s happened, after what is now called 9-11 around here, is that much as we see it, via those other two segments of USA., which might have been a component or a sympathetic ally or a hearing of the broader struggle, has sort of fallen through. We don’t know for how long, and we’re referring, of course, to public opinion. And we very much look to that, the media. The media in this country has just gone berserk. It’s not that it’s ever been too sane. But read yesterday in the Washington Post things like: “The United States has warned Iran not to interfere in Afghan internal affairs,” and now you don’t have an uproar of hysterical laughter but rather have that read with total seriousness, is just mind boggling. The factors of public opinion and media are going to reinforce an imperial tendency, as opposed to putting limits on and containing it.

Obstacles in the North: Europe. Well, as you were explaining, the positions of the European governments in places like Doha were sometimes worse than those of the Americans. And if you look at their positions vis-à-vis the World Bank, they are greater cheerleaders than the Bush administration. If we at one point had hoped to wean some of their development agencies and their development lobbies toward more sympathetic positions, if you look to things like PRSP or what they’re trying to do toward corruption–they’re going the other way. They are deliberately undermining, much more intelligently so than the Americans, the possibility of building a broader base of many of our countries, and are splitting off some NGOs from social movements. But that’s another story.

Opportunities: The Three A’s

Opportunities. Opportunities are what we are crystallizing around the World Social Forum. Three A’s it is about: Alternatives, Afghanistan, and Argentina.

Alternatives: The difference between this Social Forum and the past one is that there is a deliberate attempt to be more than what someone called “a Super-Market of ideas,” or just a big debating platform. We’ve got to go from debating to alternatives. Which, in terms of methodology, and people have been organizing this and preparing for this, means insuring sustainability, not simply an event in one capital, in one year. Instead, a multiplicity of forums. You might think about that in North America. As the European Citizens Congress identified itself as a European Social Forum, there have been national forums in Africa–there’s an African Social Forum. So we’re talking about a framework for discussion and alternatives, which at the same time is more inclusive, more interactive, and more focused. That doesn’t mean it still won’t be a circus when you get there, but this is a process. This is a time to come out to crystallize ideas and propositions and above all for networking and alliance building, because, without falling into the notions of transnational global society and all of that, there is a need for national movements of labor, environmentalists, and others to link horizontally and vertically with each other. That the social forums regionally and nationally provide that type of space and events, such as the one being held in Porto Alegre, will be important in that context.

It’s also important, and this has to be kept in mind, because it has a political state base. In this case we’re talking about Porto Alegre, the city, the municipality, and the state of Rio Grande Del Sur; it’s more than the streets. It’s the streets and the political structure sympathetic to what is going on in the streets. Not without its tensions and contradictions, but most of you will know about important experimentation that’s gone on in participative democratic terms in both those states. And they are indeed hosts of and not simply witnesses to this event. And we hope that other places, when this group meets again, can incorporate that.

Which gets us to our second point, which is Argentina. I believe that the biggest significance of Argentina is that, for whatever reason and for however long, a state, and indeed one of the not-least-important ones, has decided to buck the system. Now, one thing is the antiglobalization at the level of people’s coalitions–even municipalities and city councils. But at the level of the central government, at the level of a country that important, in a continent that is very important in the thrust of globalization and investment and trade patterns and, of course, the model it represents. So it is not only its breakdown, but you see in its breakdown the emergence of a resistance. We needn’t go into that, and many of you have been following that, but the importance is the notion of the state challenging the neoliberalism globalization struggle or framework. More so, this opens up a debate in Argentina which, of course, will have to be led by the Argentines, because there was a social explosion that carried that.

Guess what, September 11 did not affect the capacity of people to mobilize in the South, and to protest, and to resist in different ways and different forms. And it ain’t over yet. So you will have a tug between international sets of pressures and forces and the national one, and the government, with all its weaknesses and contradictions, is sort of wavering in the wind. What will determine if this government goes forward or not will be, of course, the balance of forces internationally and nationally. But that’s where we have to look at the regional picture. If indeed, in conjunction with social movements in particular in Brazil, you keep in mind the Brazilian contradictions with the FTAA, and if you keep in mind Venezuela and Chavez and his type of resistance, you have the potential underpinnings of stronger, collective, governmental, regional challenges to the broader scheme, to the rules of the game. And not only in finance, but in trade also.

We can build on that, we can push on that, but we have to think that out, about what it could mean in terms of strategy, both in terms of stopping the FTAA by 2005–generating these types of contradictions, making, of course, the political, organizational, and mobilization links between trade and finance–but at the same time hitting them on the debt question, and debt as the lynchpin of the entire system.

Debt Repudiation

The notion that will be central in Porto Alegre is of the illegitimacy of the debt. A few days ago, the Argentine president, influenced by Adolfo Esquivel, some of you might have heard, said he would actually consider approaching the World Court to determine what parts of the Argentine debts were illegitimate, and hence, not payable. And not unpayable because you can’t pay, but unpayable because you don’t owe. Repudiation. Sustained not only ethically, historically, environmentally, but perhaps also legally.

A huge crack in the system, if what many of us have been fighting for, the recognition of illegitimate debt, will suddenly move into the realm of illegal debt. A jump that we didn’t expect to make for some years, but, with a little help from the Argentines, we’re there already. And in Porto Alegre without having planned on it, Jubilee South is having a public tribunal on the illegitimate debt to raise the issue, to educate, to help mobilize around this issue–which has nothing to do with the street protest. But there was a lot of consciousness, a lot of anti-debt, anti-trade, anti-neoliberal sentiment on the streets of Argentina, though of course, you’ll never figure that out by reading The Times, The Post or watching CNN. Though if you watch CNN in español they’re a bit better, because they talk to the people on the streets.

Roots of Terrorism

Third, Afghanistan. Afghanistan, 9-11–let’s set aside terrorism, roots of terrorism, and its connection to economic justice, which is a big one, but just concentrate for just one second–has taught us in the antiglobalization movement that a criticism is due, that when we thought of antiglobalization, we automatically thought of economics, of trade, of finance, of environment. This is broader than the struggle around trade and financial and debt issues, because they can play around with these things and have us believe, like a lot of people believe now, that the debt problem has been solved. Because a lot of noise was made out of it, a lot of PR was sent out, claiming that the World Bank is solving poverty or that indeed we won at Doha, because there were some concessions made. No. It teaches us that at the same time, it’s more than these themes, it’s more than these tactics, it’s more than certain advocacy, it’s more than email lobbying, it is a question of streets. It’s more than the classical advocacy.

The struggle against neoliberalism involves recognizing and realizing its imperialist, military, NATO thrust. And if they don’t make the distinction, I just don’t understand why we should. Much of this, this broader movement, is not simply about those issues; it’s about the recreating, the reshaping, and the rebuilding of societies. And it is why again, at the World Social Forum, we have to insist on putting questions of class, of gender, of race, and of imperialism on the center of the agenda and not simply as special obstacles. So that too is a challenge–how we build and integrate the peace movement back into the antiglobalization one, and how we are able to resist this type of overt intervention in places like Colombia. There is no distinction between that and the other.

So, there is the layout as we see it. We’re going to have to follow, we’re going to have to build, but at the same time we’re going to have to move quickly and more solidly in the South and the North to take up most of the burden and leadership of the 9-11 movement until, once again, this awful cycle is neutralized in the North.