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(en) Perspectives on Anarchist Theory Vol.8, No.1 - The Life - or Death - of the Anti-Globalization Movement - by Chuck Morse and Marina Sitrin

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 9 Jun 2004 05:26:35 +0200 (CEST)


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The anti-globalization movement that erupted onto the scene in Seattle
1999 frightened elites and inspired activists around the world to fight
the system in a utopian, anti-authoritarian way. However, this movement
has occupied a much less significant place on the public stage since
the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. Is it over?
We asked Marina Sitrin (IAS grant recipient) and Chuck Morse
(IAS board member) for their thoughts on this question.
Marina Sitrin's Response / Chuck Morse's Response
Marina Sitrin: This question makes me immediately think of
those who negate the autonomous social movements in
Argentina, arguing that because they did not ¨take
power¨ when the numbers in the streets might have allowed
it, the movements must be over and dead. It is not an analysis
based on movement history, nor is it one based on looking at
things where they are, but rather is an analysis based on a future
idea of what a movement should be, and then when that
pre-conceived idea is not realized, the entire movement is
negated. This is a misguided and unfortunate view of history.

I wonder, then, if the question of the life of the Global Justice
Movement is meant to address what appears on first impression
to be a decline in the numbers of people demonstrating in the
street. Or maybe the question is directed at what we are currently
doing, in that it appears that we are multi-focused. Regardless of
the motivation behind the question, it opens a space for an
important conversation. This is a very short dialogue, with the
goal of bringing about more discussion and debate on the role and
place of the movement, as well as a broader conversation on our
overall goals as anti-capitalists. To place myself in this piece, I
am an anti-capitalist, against all hierarchy, and believe in freedom
and horizontalism.

The most important thing the movement has contributed to the
politics and culture of the world is a new vision, a new way of
imagining social relationships and a new way of placing ourselves
as actors in the world. This is seen even in the name. There was a
conscious decision by many in the movement to stop referring to
the movement as anti-globalization, and use language that more
clearly reflected the movement's desires: the creation of a
new sense of justice worldwide. Social movements cannot be
measured in the same way that many academic historians
measure history, by counting numbers or gathering lists of
demonstrations. The way in which we measure the life and health
of a movement is in the effect and affect it creates, not just in
relation to power structures, but also in our relationships to one
another, in what we are creating day to day with one another. I
believe that the Global Justice Movement is alive and healthy and
continues to generate new ideas, passions, and movements all
over the world. This is seen most in the ways in which people are
organizing globally, using horizontal visions while maintaining a
clear anti-capitalist and anti-empire focus, as well as in how we
listen and relate to our various movements around the globe, truly
creating a movement of movements.

To think about the Global Justice Movement in the US, is to
immediately think of Seattle in 1999. For me, participating in the
shut down of the WTO, as well as the social creation that took
place in the planning, signified a huge shift in my imagination.
This shift was not because of the resistance in the streets, though
it was beautiful, but rather the shift came from the way in which
we resisted and continue to resist. This could be seen particularly
with our parallel institutions, such as indymedia, legal and
medical collectives, and the ways in which we made decisions.
Seattle reflected a massive shift in the way that we relate to one
another in every aspect of our organizing. Decisions were made
directly democratically, each person listening to the other and
striving for synthesis. Each person had a voice through the
affinity group and spokes council model, a horizontal relationship
based on the desire for freedom and not power-over or hierarchy.
These models and ways of imagining relations were the most
important thing to come out of Seattle, and have changed the
ways in which activists relate to one another all over the country.
In most student groups today, as well as in other groups and
collectives, people use various forms of direct democracy and
strive for horizontal structures. This is not merely a reflection of
different decision-making structures, but is a broader reflection of
shifting views on power. From the concept of power-over and
taking power, to concepts of power-to, and the creation of other
power, or anti-power.

The Global Justice Movement has changed over the past four
years, as all living movements do. The movement is theoretically
stronger, and seeks a deeper understanding and analysis of the
world around us. The movement exploded with a definitive no to
capitalism. This in itself, inseparably linked to horizontalism, was
a huge step. Influenced by the Zapatistas, first there is a
"NO" and then many yeses. The movement is creating
new yeses each day. We no longer focus solely on institutions of
global capital, but also work against what many are calling
"empire". The anti-capitalism has gone beyond individual
bad corporations or institutions to attempting to understand the
role of the state, the military, and where they diverge and
intersect with government and institutions of global capital.

As we are actively developing theoretically, our structures are in
transition. While some of the direct action groups initiated after
Seattle, such as the Direct Action Network, no longer exist, many
others have since been created and have even deeper roots in
communities and a broader theoretical perspective. Groups such
as the Direct Action to Stop the War in San Francisco or the
Wooster Global Action Network, and the New York City based
Anarchist People of Color network, all horizontal in structure,
anti-capitalist, and grounded in seeing the means of struggle as
the ends. The effect of the movement has also been felt in some
of the more traditional reformist or radical coalitions. For
example, United for Peace and Justice in various cities uses
forms of decision-making and sometimes even a spokes council
model precisely because of the effects of those in the movement
and from gathering lessons from the movement. I do not believe
that there needs to be one organization, though various networks
are of great importance if history is to be our guide at all. Globally
there is the People's Global Action, that outside the US is
still a very strong network that links horizontal anti-capitalist
groups from India to Argentina. Over the past few years in the US
there have been hundreds of discussions, conferences, and
documents attempting to spark more conversation around
forming different types of anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian
networks or groups, and the past few months have witnessed a
huge increase in these discussions. The groups in the US
pre-Seattle were not in this place. Not only was there not a
discussion of linking, but not in a horizontal way, nor so clearly
anti-capitalist. We are in place much more advanced than that of
the pre-Seattle period, and it is because of the global vision of
horizontalism, anti-capitalism, and direct democracy. The
movement is creating a new politic, based in many movements of
the past, and I believe the movement of movements continues to
get stronger and grow deeper roots.

The question of the life of the movement is an important one, and
from there we need to get on with the continued visioning of the
world we are creating.

Chuck Morse's Response / Marina Sitrin's Response

Chuck Morse:Revolutionary movements come and go. The
classical anarchist movement, the black liberation movement, the
ecology movement, and others pushed against the boundaries of
the social order and then when faced with challenges they
could not confront collapsed into history.

The anti-globalization movement has also come and gone. It
leapt to world attention during the Seattle protests against the
World Trade Organization and died with the February 2002
mobilizations against the World Economic Forum in New York
City. Although struggles against capitalist globalization are
ongoing, this particular movement is in need of an obituary.

Signs of its demise are everywhere. The movement is no longer
capable of stirring fear among the ruling class or even generating
significant media attention (despite the fact that the protests
continue). Activist efforts to shape the movement have also
diminished dramatically: books and documentaries on the
movement now appear much less frequently than before, strategy
summits are far less common, strategic innovations (like
Indymedia) have ceased to emerge, and once vibrant internal
debates have largely dried up.

These things indicate more than a temporary lull in activity: the
anti-globalization movement is dead.

It died because it faltered when faced with a key opportunity to
deepen its attack on the capitalist system. It bungled a historical
moment and, as a result, lost its momentum as well as its
significance for the public at large. Although activists may take up
some of the movement's motifs in the future, these activists
as well as the political context will be entirely different.

The anti-globalization movement was unique in three ways. First,
its opposition to global capital was premised on a deeply moral
critique of the reduction of people and nature to saleable objects,
and in this sense, it challenged the very premises of the market
economy. Second, its emphasis on participatory direct action
ensured that the movement was truly democratic and not divided
between a cadre of professional organizers and a herd of passive
followers. Finally, its focus on tactics but not politics allowed
people with diverse and often contradictory convictions to work
together and find some common ground.

The movement threw itself headlong into a conflict with the
architects of the global economy, and the confrontation that
ensued was enormously educational. The summit protests
illustrated the deep contrast between the cruel, profit-driven world
of the global capitalists and "another world" premised on
the joyous affirmation of life. Everything even the style with
which each side presented its case seemed to emphasize the
divide. The violence that erupted at protest after protest was also
very instructive: the police made our point about the barbarism of
capital by savagely repressing dissidents, and the sight of city
streets in flames punctuated the irreconcilable conflict between
the two visions of the world in play.

The anti-globalization movement thus polarized the debate about
the future of the world system and, by virtue of its success,
confronted a question on which its fate would hang: if global
capitalism must be abandoned, what is the alternative? What
groups and institutions should structure economic activity?
Nation-states? Associations of nation-states? Communities?
Social movements?

The world waited for an answer, and unfortunately one was never
produced. Although various proposals and schemes floated
around activist circles, a reconstructive vision was neither
seriously debated nor advanced. There were vigorous discussions
of tactical issues (like the role of violence at protests) and moral
issues (like the impact of privilege on activists), but the
fundamental political questions remained unaddressed.

The movement not only failed to confront these questions but
also developed a political culture that undermined attempts to do
so. The constant affirmation of diversity, plurality, and
openness which are undoubtedly virtues, but vacuous outside
a political context discouraged people from seriously
reflecting on the movement's goals. Indeed, during its
terminal stages, the movement seemed flooded with professors,
grad students, and journalists who gravely warned us not to
present an affirmative, coherent alternative.

Admittedly, the deferral of political questions had advantages. It
allowed people to come together whose aims seemed deeply
conflicted lobbyists and anarchists, turtles and teamsters,
Communists and Christians, etc. and unexpectedly rich
dialogues often resulted. Many discovered that they had more in
common with one another than they previously supposed, and
this helped the old boundaries of the Left relax a bit.

But political questions cannot be avoided for long, especially by a
movement that has captured the world's attention. Indeed,
people became increasingly impatient with the movement's
inability to define what it was for, as evidenced by the countless
journalists who wrote countless articles trying to penetrate the
movement's aims. But the movement did not procure an
answer, and more often than not, rejected the very legitimacy of
the question.

And then September 11th blew the movement off the stage.
Although it reentered the debate in February 2002 in New
York valiantly asserting that opposition to globalization will
not be silenced by terror the movement lacked an anchor and
thus could not regain its momentum amid the storms of war that
began to sweep the world at the time.

It is tempting to argue that the anti-globalization movement lives
on in the Zapatistas, the Argentine uprising of 2001, Brazil's
Landless Workers' Movement, and other ongoing struggles
in the "global south." Although these movements and the
one that emerged in Seattle should be understood as parts of a
broader, worldwide opposition to global capital, they are not
continuous. The Mexican, Brazilian, and Argentine movements
do not define themselves as participants in the anti-globalization
movement and, more substantively, they do not focus primarily
on the institutions of the world economy but rather on domestic
political authorities and their national polices. North American
activists need to be attentive to these differences.

In a sense the movement or at least the form in which we
knew it was destined to die. This is not because utopian
aspirations are doomed to failure (they are not) or because
struggles against capitalist globalization have ended (of course
they haven't). It is because revolutionary social movements
aim to transform the circumstances from which they emerge and
thus must always abandon old forms of struggle in order to adapt
to new conditions (conditions that they have, in part, created). In
a way, the most successful revolutionary movement will be one
that renders the need for revolutionary struggle obsolete
altogether.

What is more alarming than the death of the movement is the
failure to reflect deeply on our inability to advance a coherent
alternative when presented with the opportunity to do so. The
anti-globalization movement did push beyond the boundaries of
the present and helped us imagine "another world," but
its emancipatory aims were unrealized. We must embrace the
chasm between our aspirations and our
circumstances between the "is" and the
"ought" and use it as an environment in which to
forge an even more vigorous challenge to the world we have
inherited.


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