Strategy and Self-Activity In the Global Justice Movements

Let us take as a starting point that the broadly consensual strategy and basis for self-activity in what we can term Global Justice Movements is the following: to promote the globalization of people and halt (or at minimum radically modify) the globalization of capital. But this strategy conflicts with the objectives of at least four other tendencies that also appear to have solidified in recent years. Since the full-blown emergence of an international financial crisis around mid-1997, the world has witnessed a revival of Third World Nationalism, a Post-Washington Consensus reform option, obstinacy on the part of Washington Consensus powerbrokers, and a formidable Rightwing Resurgence.

Granted, these boundaries are sometimes fluid; key personalities, like South African president Thabo Mbeki, sometimes flit from one camp to another. But there has been a startling degree of coherence within the five currents over the past four years or so, while there are very few examples of durable alliances between them. The table above sets out the principles, the institutions, and some names of people identified as important representatives of each position in recent years.

This essay mainly considers the status and future of the furthest-left groupings, which—regardless of how the broader economic crisis unfolds—are setting the agenda of much debate and concrete action. To be sure, in the wake of intense confrontations at Quebec City and Genoa in April and July 2001, there is a great deal of concern over proper tactics (especially how to assure that both nonviolent civil disobedience and symbolic property destruction against globalizer-targets remain within the “diversity” repertoire—and do not risk internecine conflict, provocateurs, and arms-race, which the state-security apparatus inevitably wins). Instead, however, the arguments below are more oriented to analysis, alliance-building, and strategy.

We start with the difficulty—and inappropriateness—of alliance-building with other camps, and then explore some of the central contradictions within the Global Justice Movements. Finally, of enormous importance is the oft-overlooked question of whether in coming years there exists room for strong third world leadership, particularly on such strategic issues as whether to “fix or nix” the international institutions and whether social clauses are appropriate appendages to the World Trade Organization and trade deals.

The Futility of Alliances

To contextualize the importance of the Global Justice Movements as an independent force for change, we can dwell briefly on how difficult it is for this current, and others, to establish lasting alliances. A few initiatives to break down barriers have certainly emerged but just as quickly petered out, and the five competing blocks have grown more divided than ever.

The Washington Consensus heavies, for example, practically exterminated their intellectual opponents on the Post-WashCon left beginning in September 1999. After World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz raved against IMF incompetence in Russia, he was effectively dismissed—as Columbia University’s Jagdish Bhagwati put it in the Financial Times—“with a fig leaf, a sorry episode.” Bank president James Wolfensohn first censured Stiglitz, weakly rebutting his critique of the IMF and then apparently prohibiting him from press comment. In a scathing New Republic attack in April 2000, Stiglitz named his WashCon enemies: “third-rank economists from first-rate universities.”2 But according to a reliable Bank insider quoted in the Left Business Observer (February 2000), U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers made it clear that if Wolfensohn wanted a second term as World Bank president—to start on June 1, 2000—“Stiglitz had to go.” Soon thereafter, Ravi Kanbur—the Bank’s redistribution-minded consultant who was to be lead author of World Development Report: Poverty 2000—also resigned due to explicit censorship by Summers. Reform of the Bretton Woods institutions from within appeared doomed.

Still, there exists a tendency among some Global Justice Movement players to reach out to Washington/Geneva/Davos, as if persuasion would change matters. Jubilee 2000 UK, for example, sought the approval of the Pope for its extremely circumscribed debt campaigning, while the Pope sought former-IMF managing director Michel Camdessus as an adviser. Jubilee’s UK and U.S. chapters also called for help from outspoken economist Jeffrey Sachs on a regular basis, notwithstanding the Russian financial scandal that festered at his Harvard institute and his tendency to still preach the virtues of sweatshops in third world countries.

Washington’s hegemony continued. Minor reforms to global financial market regulation announced at the Cologne G-8 meeting and 1999 IMF/World Bank annual meetings were not sufficient to prevent a future wave of financial panics (as Turkey and Argentina now demonstrate). Debt relief promised in Cologne was simply ignored by most of the G-8 finance ministers. Only the rightwing threat required an occasional modification here or there, especially when Sachs temporarily allied with conservative economists on the Meltzer Commission that in 1999-2000 recommended the Bank and IMF be downsized (instead of with the commission’s Washington Consensus liberal internationalists, whom the Democratic Party had deployed to win the arguments).

Meanwhile, the conservative members of the U.S. Congress and rightwing populists everywhere enviously realized that when it came to mass mobilization around international financial and trade matters, the Right had nothing like the capacity shown by the Left in Seattle, Washington, and Prague. One deal that brought the Washington technocrats of the Global Justice Movements together with creative Republicans was a successful effort in October 2000 to prevent the World Bank and IMF from imposing user fees on healthcare and education among future loan conditions. But the dangers of anything more than an occasional convergence of interest with the Right are too obvious to belabor.

As their power to disrupt and raise consciousness grew, the Global Justice Movements earned glances from Post-WashCon reformers, now and again. On the verge of leaving the Bank in early April 2000, Stiglitz praised the incoming street protesters. But that too was a stillborn friendship, as Stiglitz was quickly drawn into an elite-intellectual exercise on “the alternative” (funded, predictably, by Ford Foundation) at Brookings, Stanford, and Ottawa’s North-South Institute, which didn’t give the Global Justice Movements a second thought. But likewise, few on the Left regarded Stiglitz’s contorted rebuilding of neoclassical economics through “information-theoretic” augmentations as a worthwhile exercise, when their champion was so obviously now out of the power loop.

Some Global Justice Movement strategists tried reaching out a bit to the Third World Nationalists, in part because of the influence of Third World Network in Penang, Malaysia. Other internationalist activists—from Global Exchange, Ruckus Society, and other organizations (organized by a small group with excellent email contacts, United Peoples)—concluded in mid-2000 that alliances with Southern rulers are possible:

With regard to the fundamental debt cancellation and fair trade issues, the G-77 summit in Havana once again confirmed the accordance between the views of the G-77 and the new worldwide antiglobalization movement that protested WTO/IMF/WB in Seattle and Washington. A cooperation between the two parties therefore would seem appropriate in order to achieve our common goals in the most efficient and speedy way.3

The well-meaning but naive effort came to naught, as Nationalists looked to the centers of power for relief, not to disruptive leftwing groups with which they too experienced regular friction at home. Some third worldists were heartened by grudging elite acknowledgements in September 1999 (led by Stiglitz but joined too by IMF researchers) that the previous year’s Malaysian currency controls were effective medicine. However, efforts by Mahathir Mohamad to gather like-minded world leaders both at home and, by invitation of Robert Mugabe, at Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls, had no apparent success in expanding the nationalist current. (South Africa, for example, was distinctly uninterested in nationalist-type financial boat-rocking.)

But from the perspective of radical critics, the failure of the varied alliance initiatives in recent months and years is no tragedy. It not only leaves open the option of more systemic, thorough-going challenge, but also confirms that within the Global Justice Movement, greater internal coherence must also now be sought. Forging a general interest from numerous particular challenges to neoliberalism will not be easy in the face of sometimes debilitating strategic differences.

Movement Contradictions

Within and around the Global Justice Movements exist various subcurrents, after all, which deserve consideration. One recent book by Amory Starr, identifies the three main tendencies as “Contestation and Reform,” “Globalization from Below,” and “Delinking, Relocalization, Sovereignty.”4 Situated somewhere between Post-WashCon and the Global Justice Movements is a well-resourced grouping of relatively conservative Washington NGOs, labor leaders, environmental lobbies, and development think-tanks that will probably continue to provide friction to the Global Justice Movements’ leftward progress. A few areas of struggle can be surveyed briefly:

Co-opted NGOs (CoNGOs):

Perhaps most notable as a symbol of what is wrong with the “inside-the-Beltway” mentality, an “Interaction 22” grouping of U.S.-based NGOs, all of which receive funds from the neoliberal U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote a letter to World Bank president James Wolfensohn on April 14, 2000, two days before the main protest at the spring meetings. They expressed “deep concern at the impression created by some of our NGO colleagues in the streets this week that the World Bank and the IMF are at serious loggerheads with the entire not-for-profit community… We have a very different perspective on recent positive directions taken by the Bank.”5

Observing from his new position as chief NGO liaison at the World Bank, John Clark—who formerly was a leading Bank critic based at Oxfam UK—issued an email memo to colleagues a few days later, ridiculing the Interaction 22 for being “much less skeptical about these reforms than most of us inside the Bank!” However, pursuing triage, he also identified what he termed a “dilemma” for a middle-ground group of NGOs, namely:

how to respond to the demo organizers’ request to all NGOs to boycott all meetings with the Bank and Fund… For some the compromise was to take part in meetings with Bank staff off the premises (some said this was because they didn’t want to be seen and identified by demonstrators and be accused of co-option); but others—notably Jubilee 2000 [U.S.]—were quite open that they intended to ignore the request.

Such divisions and even ruptures are probably inevitable not only among petit-bourgeois NGO cadres but across the political spectrum, as the world economy continues along its volatile, apparently self-destructive trajectory. Still, it must be conceded, the strategists in Washington “CoNGOs” are still defining much of the terrain, the slogans and the “alternative” visions. Worse, NGO Stalinism has made open and frank disagreement terribly difficult at times. During most of the 1990s, for example, those advocating the closure of the IMF and World Bank—which is now a commonplace Global Justice Movement discourse—had no opportunity to really make their case, even at the parallel NGO sessions protesting the annual IMF/WB summits.

Labor Lurches: In addition, a residual bloc of big-labor officials and moderate debt-campaign bureaucrats remain ambivalent or even opposed to the radical agenda in a conflict that deserves review. The Seattle protests had raised great hopes that organized labor would join a permanent coalition of progressive groups desiring much more than the then-fading Post-WashCon had to offer while being intent on paralyzing WashCon initiatives. The mood was angry in early 2000, when two controversial Clinton administration trade deals (the U.S.-China permanent most favored trading nation agreement and Africa Growth and Opportunity Act) faced stiff opposition—some based, albeit, on yellow-peril xenophobia—from domestic constituencies.

Clinton’s corporatist Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations soon broke apart thanks to a walkout by justifiably frustrated AFL-CIO leaders. Business Week reported that nine out of ten U.S. residents polled labeled themselves either “fair traders” or “protectionist,” with just one in ten self-identifying as a “free trader.”6 Clinton’s trade policy was generally understood, according to the main public opinion survey on the topic, to serve the interests of multinational corporations “too much” (so said 54% of respondents) and working Americans “too little” (72%).7

Seattle protest logistics meant that while militants from front-line labor, social, and environmental movements locked down in front of the convention center, a few blocks away at a rally and march, their stodgy, suited leaders aimed only for “a seat at the table.” But whether the World Trade Organization should be a site of “reform”—usually through introducing social, labor, and environmental conditions, known as “social clauses,” to trade agreements—came under fierce debate. For although some Southern trade unions backed the strategy through their (often subordinate) role in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, many influential Southern social-movement leftists condemned social clauses for leaving in place the existing antidemocratic structure of the international trading system.

To improve the WTO, they argued, will simply amplify imperialist power relations.8 The point, instead, should be to attack the power that the WTO has to overrule and undermine international agreements and national laws that protect human rights and the environment (for example, a selective-procurement law in Massachusetts, directed against Burma and ruled WTO-illegal), and to find effective means to defend these rights.

Because his administration’s efforts to politically rehabilitate the “free trade” agenda were to some extent blocked by organized labor and environmentalists, Clinton announced his own faux support for the social clause at the onset of the Seattle protests (trade officials immediately rebutted that Clinton mis-spoke on the issue, however). Some groups, including conservative leadership factions within Northern trade unions, would no doubt have been happy to settle for lip service to an unenforceable social clause in exchange for allowing a new WTO Millennium Round to go forward. But these forces were successfully marginalized, and found themselves neither strong enough to sell the strategy to the broader movement nor to inject such clauses into the Clinton administration’s Africa and China trade pacts.

For U.S. labor, there fortunately emerged a preferable strategy to tinkering with trade deals and the WTO: attacking either particular corporations consistent with solidarity-campaigning principles, and passing restraining legislation against transnational corporations, similar in scope to the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which penalizes specific firms—not the countries they victimize—for explicitly antisocial behavior.9

Debt Debates: Similarly, the international movement against third world debt was divided through the late 1990s between reformers in Jubilee 2000’s U.S., British, German, and Japanese networks who largely accepted the framework imposed by the IMF, Bank, and G-8 countries on the one hand, and on the other, radicals in “Jubilee South” and allied Northern groups (especially Jubilee Canada) who attempted to break open that framework. The latter camp included critics who viewed campaigns against debt as inextricably linked to fighting structural adjustment in general—whether at the national policy level or in very direct forms, such as municipal utilities privatization—and the power of the IMF and World Bank in particular.

Leading African Jubilee proponents tended to be more structuralist and also more militant, especially chapters in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Malawi. When the Jubilee 2000 “South Summit” convened in Johannesburg in November 1999 and Dakar, Senegal in December 2000, the best social movement leaders and activists from Africa met partners from around the third world, and resolved to pressure their respective national leaders to collectively repudiate the debt.10 The Jubilee South Summit also called for the closure of the IMF and World Bank.

In contrast, some Jubilee chapters in the North were directed by NGO and mainstream church staff who preferred keeping economic policies out of the discussion, and who consciously acceded to the frames of reference of the IMF, World Bank, and G-8 finance ministers. They persistently compromised on partial debt forgiveness/relief—the “unrepayable” debt of the poorest countries—not cancellation or reparations. They conceded that even meager portions of “Highly Indebted Poor Country” (HIPC) relief—termed by Jubilee South a “cruel hoax”—must be linked to structural adjustment policies, which left the IMF and Bank in control of Southern economies, and barely blinked at the IMF’s renaming of these policies as “poverty reduction.” Worst of all, they embraced the false claim that the IMF and the Bank needed more funding from taxpayers in the G-8 countries in order to compensate for the fraudulent, highly conditioned debt relief. And if the strategy was a disaster, so too was the conservative Jubilee faction’s sense of tactics: no threat of any kind, particularly on the funding front. Finally, in February 2001, progressive forces in Jubilee U.S. won the movement over to the idea that it should take direction from Jubilee South, which meant a deprioritization of the failed HIPC strategy.

The Limits of Reformism: What would reformers claim to have achieved with their mild-mannered approach to the Bank and IMF, and what are the limits of the gains won to date? In areas including environment, gender, transparency, participation, and “post-Washington Consensus” economics, it is important to evaluate the balance sheet.

Some reforms, like transparency and participation with civil society, were easily ignored or manipulated. After a critical mass of problems in its lending projects were exposed, the Bank set up the “World Bank Inspection Panel” within the institution. Its skimpy oversight power was soon whittled back after it made a few telling criticisms of South governments, and in any case the Panel failed to critically examine key projects in which Bank malfeasance was obvious.

Other apparent gains in the environmental and gender-and-development spheres were corrupted immediately by neoliberalism, whether in pushing women’s microcredit as a safety-net for defunded social policy, or in commodifying natural ecological processes. Environmental impact assessments might be added to projects at the last minute but rarely halted the approval of new hydrocarbon power plants, which soon made the Bank the world’s leading contributor to global warming. Lawrence Summers, as the Bank chief economist, was ironic, perhaps, but spot on when remarking in the infamous internal memo leaked just prior to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, “I think the economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste on the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up that.”11

Another telling experience was that of Herman Daly, the creative environmental economist who left the Bank’s employ greatly disgruntled.12 Still, empowered by the Bank’s plagiarism of NGO rhetoric, some inside-the-Beltway policy wonks (e.g., in the often admirable international advocacy office of Friends of the Earth) even suggested a dramatic switch in Bank lending toward sectors like basic education. The slogan thus invoked—“public funds for public good”—was fundamentally misguided, as it implied that funding a local-currency development project (e.g., construction of a rural school or payment of a teacher’s salary or a microcredit scheme) should be done through a hard-currency loan: a recipe for more external debt dependence and by logical extension, a buy-in to the export-led growth model so as to assure repayment in hard currency.

In sum, as the Stiglitz/Kanbur episodes demonstrated most convincingly, IMF/Bank reforms haven’t worked. The latest gambit, the October 1999 announcement of the “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper” (PRSP) as central to future IMF/Bank activity in any developing country, was revealed as a scam in May 2000, in the institution’s own main pilot case, Bolivia. According to an NGO report:

The IMF resident representative in Bolivia remarked that although the PRSP would take civil society’s recommendations into account, the macroeconomic targets previously agreed to by the Bolivian government were by no means open to negotiation… The presenters of this macroeconomic model did not adequately respond to questions from the audience on how their approach differs at all from the past.13

The Third World in the Movement

If the Global Justice Movements have transcended futile and unsatisfying reforms in Washington/Geneva, are African and other third world progressive activists necessarily left behind, “marginalized” from globalization, or are they instead near or at the cutting edge of the process?

In fact, diverse social forces, North and South, East and West, are feeding into international and local demonstrations with increasing militancy, and with comparable values, norms, and discourses. There are even parallel strategies and tactics emerging. The January 2001 World Social Summit in Porto Alegre, Brazil began an important process of sketching alternative visions for genuinely sustainable development, far-reaching human empowerment, and serious eco-stewardship. One thing that the Global Justice Movements can claim as a unifying force, is a familiar set of enemies.

Common Opponents

Whether located in obscure third world cities or the centers of global commerce, the struggles of the Global Justice Movements increasingly intersect because they focus on virtually identical opponents: the agencies and representatives of neoliberal capitalism—global, regional, national, and local. If there is, therefore, a genuine movement of Global Justice Movements afoot, and if that movement aims not to further exacerbate uneven global development, it is reasonable to posit the need for a greater recognition of and influence by varied third world grassroots organizations—community-based groups, trade unions, cooperatives and mutual aid systems, traditional and ethnic-based organizations, church networks, women’s and youth clubs, environmental groups, and many others.

What, then, can be said about current role of these organizations, their potential for participating in local and global alliances, their relations with their own states and ruling parties? What opportunities are emerging for the parallel heightening of consciousness, politicization, and democratization that will flow, South-North and North-South, through the greater involvement of African grassroots activists and strategists in particular?

Most importantly, many of the key third world grassroots organizations have a common experience, facing not only an anonymous force-field of international capital flows and policies shaped by persistent “advice” from Washington, but also concrete institutions responsible for the most direct source of austerity: the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

How, then, do the Global Justice Movements respond to those from the Post-WashCon and Third World Nationalist camps, who insist upon the expansion, not contraction, of the Bretton Woods and similar institutions? “Without the international financial institutions, things would be even worse for poor countries,” claimed South African finance minister Trevor Manuel at the Prague debate in late September 2000. This is, indeed, the core argument Manuel—then the chairperson of the IMF/WB Board of Governors—and many third world leaders resort to: access to capital markets is impossible for poor African countries, hence the Bank and IMF are crucial sources of hard-currency financing.14

There are many technical responses to such an assertion that should be mentioned at least in passing. The main argument is that by restructuring international financial architecture in the interests of the world’s majority, there would be no need for Bank/IMF loans (which even for impoverished countries when provided at a “soft” rate of less than 1%, are extremely expensive when currencies crash, and when hard currency is required to repay the lender). Instead of hard-currency loans, an ideal-type, alternative development finance strategy at global and national scales would have the following elements:

  • third world debt should be completely canceled once and for all;
  • capital controls should be permitted, to allow states to adopt pro-poor policies without fear of a run by the rich;
  • local basic developmental needs with no foreign inputs should only be paid for with local currency (not on the basis of loans denominated in dollars, yen, or marks);
  • development loans should carry subsidized interest rates as needed (even if that “distorts” local and global financial markets);
  • to the extent that redistributive North-South funding flows can be established—drawn, for example, from financial speculation taxes or strings-free Overseas Development Assistance—they should occur on a grant (not loan) basis;
  • finance agency economists are not allowed to whimsically impose neoliberal conditionality; and
  • trade finance should be freely available from export credit agencies to support vital imports and for progressive input-requirements (instead of just for inappropriate megaprojects and luxury good imports).

Active Struggles

But far more important than technical blueprinting, what are grassroots organizations actively involved in these issues arguing? Much can be gleaned from specific social struggles associated with local campaigns. For example, in mid-2000, when the U.S. Ex-Im Bank offered $1 billion in loans for African countries to import antiretroviral drugs (to combat HIV-AIDS), Africans involved in grassroots campaigning and advocacy (especially South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign) recommended that their nation-states reject the advice, and instead import parallel, generic drugs at as little as 5% of the U.S. corporate price from countries like Thailand, India, and Brazil.

Another African example is the grassroots campaign for the return of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s billions in looted funds in Swiss and London banks. Early success has helped to break open Swiss secrecy (following similar campaigns over fifteen years waged by citizens’ groups and governments in the Philippines and Haiti in relation to the Duvalier and Marcos hoards).

Specific World Bank projects in Africa have come under attack by progressive local and international groups, including the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, and Namibia’s Epupa Dam. Aside from events such as September 26, 2000 solidarity activism against the IMF/Bank, other growing campaigns that link African and international civil society organizations include the environmental debt that the industrial North owes the South, and the campaign to ban “conflict-diamond” trade that contributes to civil war in Sierra Leone and Angola.

Converging Rhetorics of Resistance

African networks that build these campaigns are evolving continually, and several are worth citing:

  • The “Lusaka Declaration” was signed in May 2000 by the leading African social movement and church organizations working on debt.15 Dozens of Lusaka meeting participants launched a process for drafting a mass-popular “Africa People’s Consensus” to transcend the development orthodoxy of the Washington Consensus and the slightly reformed Post-Washington Consensus, and to do so by building upon similar regional meetings in Accra, Lome, and Gauteng in 1998-99.
  • The Africa People’s Consensus went to West Africa in December 2000, via the “Dakar 2000” Coordinating Committee. This initiative gained momentum in a Yaounde conference in January 2000, and by May the Organizing Committee released a major statement condemning the status quo debt reduction strategy: “The new slavery in Africa, which results from the burden of the debt and the enforcement of structural adjustment policies, is an unprecedented shame at the beginning of the 21st century… Like all previous gestures, the initiatives taken in Cologne (June 1999) and in Cairo (April 2000) do not offer any actual solution.”16
  • In Dakar, a variety of organizations united behind a tough analysis that “third world debt to the North is at once fraudulent, odious, illegal, immoral, illegitimate, obscene, and genocidal” and that instead:
  • Countries of the North owe third world countries, particularly Africa, a manifold debt: blood debt with slavery; economic debt with colonization, and the looting of human and mineral resources and unequal exchange; ecological debt with the destruction and the looting of its natural resources; social debt (unemployment; mass poverty), and cultural debt (debasing of African civilizations to justify colonization)…17

  • The Accra-based Africa Trade and Development Network18 was similarly active in opposing the U.S. free-trade legislation known as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Its member organizations pledged in October 2000 to lobby their governments to refuse entry into the deal, which provides a slight amount of market access to those countries that Washington (this time, the U.S. State and Commerce Departments) deems economically responsible. This follows similar work by the network to promote Africa-Caribbean-Pacific unity in relation to Lome and European Union trade negotiations more generally, and early critiques of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper initiative of the IMF and Bank.

The main point to make here is not just that these and other important networks (e.g., labor-related, health equity specialists, numerous types of environmentalists, and so on) are advancing strong, mature, explicitly “post-nationalist” ideological statements about the debt, trade, and related economic oppression they face. What is perhaps of greater interest is that instead of working merely through NGO-type circuits, they are increasingly tying their work to militant street action.

Beyond “Civil Society” Co-option

In the past, instead of synthesizing with mass protest, some local activities undertaken by grassroots groups too easily fall into the trap of neoliberal economic policies. This was a logical corollary to the rise of “civil society” discourses, and was not unique to Africa by any means. Since the 1980s, Claude Ake warned in a book completed just prior to his death in 1996:

There has been an explosion of associational life in rural Africa. By all indications, this is a by-product of a general acceptance of the necessity of self-reliance, yielding a proliferation of institutions such as craft centres, rural credit unions, farmers’ associations, community-run skill development centres, community banks, cooperatives, community-financed schools and hospitals and civic centres, local credit unions, even community vigilante groups for security. Some have welcomed this development as a sign of a vibrant civil society in Africa. It may well be that. However, before we begin to idealize this phenomenon, it is well to remind ourselves that whatever else it is, it is first and foremost a child of necessity, of desperation even.19

The rise of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and associated development NGOs closely corresponds with the desire of the international agencies to shrink third world states as part of the overall effort to lower the social wage. The result is an ongoing conflict between technicist, apolitical development interventions on the one hand, and the people-centered strategies (and militant tactics) of mass-oriented social movements of the oppressed on the other hand.

The greatest potential in all of this, however, is the increasing correlation of issue-development by social, environmental, and labor organizations, with mass, lumpen-proletarian protest. John Walton and David Seddon, authors of Free Markets and Food Riots, argue that the shrinkage of the state under conditions of structural adjustment generates a “broader trend toward the decline of clientelism and, conversely, the growing autonomy of urban low-income groups.”20 As states lose their patronage capacity to channel social surpluses to supporters, social movements can cast off influences of corporatism and corruption associated with urban and rural civil society under populist regimes.

Such autonomy contributes to more generalized political processes of self-enlightenment, with the potential for transcending spontaneous and unsustainable reactions to economic crisis, such as the IMF-related food riots. It is here that the “rural-urban” and worker/lumpen, male/female, and other vital alliances can be built. It is here that a variety of protests since Seattle have conclusively demonstrated the possibilities of mass-democratic third world mobilizations, which were even more impressive than those in the main Northern cities, even if they received little or no media attention.21

South-North Alliances Against Global Finance/Commerce

Alliances between the strands of the Global Justice Movements will rely, in part, upon common targets. As the institutional expressions of international financial and commercial capital (led by Wall Street), the IMF, Bank, and WTO provide the movements with an opportunity to both confront power in a concentrated form, and to unmask their deeper institutional meanings within world capitalism.

Africa demonstrates this in many ways, from macroeconomics to conditionality associated with debt relief and to local issues such as cost-recovery on basic needs services and access to HIV/AIDS drugs. In addition to providing a big, visible focus for protesters working from a myriad of locations and situations, the IMF and Bank also generate feedback mechanisms that can amplify the local struggles through their connectivity to the rest of the movement.

The need for solidarity around local IMF/Bank/WTO campaigns will grow the more that South struggles evolve into full-fledged attacks on the international institutions. Already, calls for the Bank/IMF to quit Seoul, New Delhi, Pretoria, Brasilia, Mexico City, and the like are made regularly by local activists, and are rebuffed by the comprador elites who hold local power. In somewhat more marginalized capitals, like Kuala Lumpur, Harare, Port-au-Prince, Havana, and Caracas, government leaders echo the activists’ distaste for Northern bankers and Washington economists—although often for reasons that have to be carefully and critically considered (virtually no democratic, progressive civil society forces in Zimbabwe have anything to do with Mugabe).

Even within the struggle to expand national democratic sovereignty, the progressive position is to fight for national concerns within a framework of international solidarity. This has become clear in the impressive, ongoing anticorporate activism associated with South Africans’ rights to pharmaceutical products that combat HIV/AIDS. In 1997, a well-meaning health minister with tough advisers and an international technical support network promoted and passed legislation that gave South Africa the chance to import or even manufacture generic versions of the branded HIV/AIDS drugs that are denied to millions of ill people, by virtue of discriminatory pricing by drug companies in search of monopolistic profit. When the leadership of the U.S. government, acting on behalf of those companies, opposed the law in 1998-99, activists from ACT UP punished Vice President Al Gore, through public protest, to the point that he surrendered. When drug companies continued to pursue the matter through a court challenge in 2000, protests were amplified, culminating in a day of action in early 2001 with demonstrations in dozens of cities across the world. The mobilizations and other pressure forced the pharmaceutical companies to withdraw their challenge to the law.

In sum, in this case study we discover an appropriate formula for broader action: the combination of inspired, sustained, internationalist activist protest against global apartheid, on the one hand, and on the other, the mainly dormant but still viable technical capability of nation-states to intervene against a powerful bloc of global capital, on behalf of their citizens, once social struggle has achieved a critical mass of attention and pressure.

In most such cases, effective political alliances have been far stronger between local activists and international allies (including technocrats from inside-the-Beltway NGOs) than they have with local officials. It is because class conflict in national settings suffering neoliberalism is far more likely than a momentary convergence of interests between radical grassroots organizations and local elites, that the Global Justice Movements must reach out even further, while maintaining an air of skepticism even when pleased with the likes of the Havana statement by G-77 elites.

In search of a formula that can progressively unite the Global Justice Movements with the technical basis to make their demands real, one of the world’s most far-sighted political scientists, York University professor Leo Panitch, poses the challenge for social progress in these terms:

The key long-term condition for an alternative to globalization is democratic investment control within each state—the opposite goal to that of today’s multilateral international negotiations. This must mean going beyond the type of quantitative controls on the inflow and outflow of capital allowed under Bretton Woods, let alone beyond the Tobin Tax on capital flows now being advanced by many on the left. A campaign for qualitative democratic capital controls is required.22

Any such development strategy, in conflict with Washington Consensus and even Post-Washington Consensus economic theory, as well as with much undemocratic Third World Nationalism and Resurgent Rightwing politics, will necessarily rely far more on resources drawn from domestic sources. These will include halting capital flight through tough exchange controls; firm regulation of credit, and perhaps even nationalized banks; interest rate subsidies to promote key branches of production and consumption; and various other forms of what economists term “financial repression.” Beyond such nationally grounded projects, as noted above, lies the idea of progressive regionalization.23

How to get from here to there through genuine shopfloor/grassroots empowerment rather than through standard modes of populist regime-building is subject to enormous debate, and there remains reasonable doubt as to whether such a “people’s movement” and NGO-influenced strategies will ever substitute for traditional, revolutionary, class-oriented approaches to promoting socialism-from-below.24 Nevertheless, the syntheses of so many anti-neoliberal outbursts across the world suggests that the Global Justice Movements are achieving sufficient maturity to no longer become confused or co-opted by reformism at the global, national, or local scales.

The political strategy advocated here, in sum, entails both intensified attacks by the Global Justice Movements against financial/commercial capital’s nerve centers in Washington/Geneva (“deglobalization” in Asian strategist Walden Bello’s vocabulary), combined with local, national (and then regional) struggles to reestablish radical “development” visions. If indeed this strategy has merit, the Seattle, Washington, and Prague demonstrations—and many other moments in the movement’s recent growth—helped break the hammerlock of the greatest tool of repression: the belief that nothing can be done. In the future, every major meeting and gathering of the major powers will become a site of torment for global elites. Coordination will also intensify across the globe in support of “abolitionist reforms” that reduce the power and resources of the global institutions (such as blocking the World Bank’s role in the privatization of education, shutting down egregious projects such as the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, delinking “debt relief” from IMF/Bank policies, and separating international aid and credit from compliance with the same policies).

Running on the Bank

In conclusion, one tactic to this end deserves endorsement: Decommissioning the Bretton Woods institutions through a mass-popular defunding strategy is the culmination of this line of attack. Such a struggle is already underway, not only by pressing parliaments to reject periodic recapitalization (bailout) requests from Washington, but more importantly through the “World Bank Bonds Boycott” which aims to take away the Bank’s AAA bond rating through anti-apartheid-style “divestment” campaigns. Municipalities, churches, union pension funds, university endowments, and individuals with investments that include an international portfolio component are now informing their fund managers to avoid buying Bank bonds, whose decline in value once the strategy unfolds will in any case persuade managers to boycott the Bank simply because of their own fiduciary responsibility.25 By the end of 2000, three major U.S. West Coast cities (Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco) and major socially responsible investment funds like Calvert, as well as trade unions and churches, had committed not to buy the bonds.

Susan George’s mock Lugano Report sums up nicely the necessity of the Bretton Woods Institutions for elite crisis management:

They continue to serve as the guarantors of liberalization, privatization, and structural adjustment in large parts of the world; a task which no individual Northern government or group of governments should consider undertaking directly. They also remain useful, particularly to the G-7 countries, because they preclude the need for the latter to intervene overtly in the affairs of other sovereign nations undergoing financial crisis.26

For these reasons, in the context of sustained structural crisis and displacement (not resolution), the necessity—and feasibility—of closing the institutions as a first, relatively simultaneous step toward a deeper, global anti-capitalist project is convincing.

More generally, the Global Justice Movements have sought—and perhaps located—a model of moving from a loose movement network strategy of resistance through to a broader anti-neoliberal ideology that respects difference, processes, and above all, the humanity of the struggle for liberation. The Chiapas-based Zapatista movement is sometimes idealized along these lines, in part because its international alliances offer a model of two-way solidarity. The Zapatistas are distinctly radical-democratic in their making short-term demands upon their nation-state to deliver the goods—and tellingly, when this is not forthcoming due to neoliberalism, Zapatista self-activity takes forms such as liberating electricity from the pylons that cross Chiapas, invading underutilized ranches and plantations, and declaring municipal autonomy in dozens of sites of community struggle.

For the rest of us, working in solidarity with such Southern and Northern rebellions and in self-interest, too, the next common target appears local, global, and universal taken together: the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. A prerequisite to global social justice is to fell the agencies that most directly negate popular claims of universal access to decommodified, destratified, degendered, and environmentally-responsible “rights” (such as the essential drugs, clean water, and education that have been denied through neoliberalism). It is here that the strategy and self-activity of the Global Justice Movements appear most coherent, reasonable, and feasible.

Notes

  1. This paper is extracted from a forthcoming book, Against Global Apartheid, jointly published by the University of Cape Town Press and Pluto Press. Patrick Bond is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development Management, and a research associate of the Alternative Information and Development Centre. Robert Naiman is thanked for invaluable assistance, as are other strategists, activists, and intellectuals of the Global Justice Movements too numerous to mention.
  2. J. Stiglitz, “What I Learned at the World Economic Crisis,” New Republic, April 17, 2000.
  3. http://www.unitedpeoples.net/
  4. A. Starr, Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confront Globalisation (London: Zed Press, 2000).
  5. Among the 22 thriving charities and agencies were the National Peace Corps Association, Overseas Development Council, Pathfinder International, Refugees International, Save the Children, and World Vision.
  6. Business Week, April 24, 2000.
  7. Steven Kull, Americans on Globalization: A Study of U.S. Public Attitudes (Washington: Program on International Policy Attitudes, 2000), p.13.
  8. One leading South advocacy group, Third World Network of Penang, Malaysia, offered powerful opposition to social clauses from the outset, and their Africa affiliate, Ghana’s premier NGO (Isodec), coordinated an Africa Trade Network which included the main leftwing organizations across the continent. See, e.g., K. Danaher and R. Burbach, eds., Globalize This!: The Battle Against the World Trade Organization and Corporate Rule (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2000) especially the chapter by Walden Bello, “Why Reforming the WTO is the Wrong Agenda.”
  9. See, e.g., the writings of William Greider in The Nation. An important coalition involving more far-sighted labor strategists and other U.S. civil society groups has even introduced legislation in Congress to this end.
  10. It was Rosemary Nyerere Mwamakula who made this statement to the press in Johannesburg, in honor of her late father’s unheeded 1983 call for a debtor’s cartel.
  11. The Economist, February 7, 1992.
  12. H. Daly, Beyond Growth (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
  13. K. Selvaggio and D. Deng, “Impressions of WB/IMF PRSP Training,” Catholic Relief Services, May 11, 2000.
  14. See also Manuel’s arguments in the documentary film, “Two Trevors go to Washington.” Available at http://go.to/two.trevors/.
  15. Present were the main Jubilee chapters, other faith/justice organizations, NGOs, progressive think-tanks and human rights bodies from Burkina Faso, Lesotho, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
  16. The Dakar summit was supported by groups like the Association des Femmes Africaines pour la Recherche et le Developpement as well as numerous West and Central African social movements and NGOs. Dakar 2000 is networked across the third world through the International South Group Network’s well-respected Harare branch, and internationally through the Paris-based Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financières pour l’Aide aux Citoyens, and the Comité pour l’Annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde in Brussels.
  17. “The Dakar Declaration for the Total and Unconditional Cancellation of African and Third World Debt,” Dakar, December 2000.
  18. The Trade and Development Network secretariat NGO, Isodec, is also affiliated to the Penang-based Third World Network and has consistently been the most powerful African critic of the WTO. Along with the Harare NGO Seatini (Southern and Eastern African Trade Information Initiative), these were the major players behind the collapse of the WTO Seattle Round, working both in the streets and inside the official African delegation. South Africa attempted to cut a side deal in the “Green Room” deliberations of key countries, but its trade minister, Alec Erwin, was eventually shamed into accepting the Organization of African Unity resolution that prevented consensus on establishing a Seattle Round.
  19. C. Ake, The Feasibility of Democracy in Africa (Dakar: Codesria, 2000), p.47.
  20. J. Walton and D. Seddon, Free Markets and Food Riots: The Politics of Global Adjustment (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1994) p.336.
  21. See, for example, the documentation by the World Development Movement, available at http://www.wdm.org.uk/cambriefs/DEBT/unrest.htm.
This paper is extracted from a forthcoming book, Against Global Apartheid, jointly published by the University of Cape Town Press and Pluto Press. Patrick Bond is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development Management, and a research associate of the Alternative Information and Development Centre. Robert Naiman is thanked for invaluable assistance, as are other strategists, activists, and intellectuals of the Global Justice Movements too numerous to mention.