(en) South Africans on 2nd Encounter for Humanity and against

Thu, 07 Aug 1997 13:06:24 +0100 (BST)

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PLEASE NOTE: The following first impressions from our participation to the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and against Neoliberalism are mainly written for comrades in South Africa. However, I am also sending them to international lists since they may contain some useful tips for broader discussions. Again, I am sorry for non English-speaking comrades for being unable to provide translations at this stage.


What follow are rather sketchy and disordinate suggestions that I have got from the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and against Neoliberalism, just closed in Spain, to which I took part in a South African delegation that included Rehad Desai as well. Hardy and myself will produce more articulated texts in the next future, and we will make copies of the final documents available for discussion. We also aim to organize public report back and discussion meetings, hoping that this experience will contribute towards the definition of a radical, ruthless criticism of neoliberalism in South Africa.

At an average temperature of 45 Celsius, the Encounter brought together more than 4.000 comrades, individuals, groups, national delegations from more than 50 countries (more precise statistics to follow) of the six continents. The Encounter was articulated into six tables ("mesas"), dealing with various aspects of neoliberalism and resistance. Each mesa was divided into "sub mesas" spread through five locations (Madrid, Barcelona, Almunecar, El Indiano and Ruesta). The South African delegation submitted its "ponencia" (paper) in Mesa 1, "Neoliberal Economics: Our Lives beyond Economy", submesa A ("Work and Production"). This submesa was divided between Madrid and Barcelona; we discussed the topic in Alcobendas, near Madrid, at the "G. Lorca" College, after that all the delegations had met on 26 July at the "Leon Felipe" College in San Sebastian de los Reyes. At the end of the discussions inside the mesas, a plenary took place on 1 August in El Indiano (Cadiz), 500 kms. South of Madrid. However, the work of the mesas (with their proposed lines of action) was only half of the task of the Encounter. In fact, a commission was charged with presenting to the plenary a document on the constitution of strategies and networks of resistance to neoliberalism, which was expected combine relevant sections of the various ponencias and in the final reports of the mesas.

The Encounter proper was opened on 27 July by a public meeting, chaired by Gustavo Esteva (UNAM, Mexico City) with a delegation from the Zapatista Front of National Liberation. This was centred on the difficulties of the current phase in Chiapas, marked by the regime's siege of Zapatista communities and a heightened militarization, to which was contrasted the recent electoral advance of the left against the PRI party-state. This seems to open spaces for manoeuvre based on a further mobilization of Mexican civil society, to confirm the link between democratization of Mexican society and economy and the fate of Zapatista demands.

The question of the division of the submesa 1A between Madrid and Barcelona became soon the object of a hot confrontation between participants in the mesa and the Spanish organizing commission. Complaints about the organization of the gathering have been raised by many delegations. Apart from logistical problems (especially related to accommodations), these criticisms underlined relevant political shortcomings. It became in fact apparent that the organization of the mesas and the venues responded to preoccupations linked to internal relations between groups which took part in the organization (notable was the effort of the small and radical CGT, Spanish Confederation of Labour, of the Farmworkers' Union and of the comrades in the area of the Social Centres). These dynamics negatively affected the development of the Encounter. In fact, the fragmentation of some mesas and the emphasis on delegated forms of representation in contrast with direct participatory democracy were often perceived as elements of bureaucratization in substantial discontinuity with the first Encounter that was held in 1996 in Chiapas. To these impressions contributed the decision to have the final plenary, the culminating moment of the whole Encounter, to the distant, isolated and uncomfortable location of El Indiano, that was apparently unable to cater for the needs of such a huge and diversified crowd.

Delegations involved a wide spectrum of participants from left wing parties, unions, NGOs, church associations, extra-parliamentarian oppositional movements of any tradition. However, it was particularly notable the massive, organized presence of comrades from autonomist, antagonist, anarchist currents. This was apparent in the impressive presence of delegations from Italy (more than 1.000 comrades, representing a host of umbrella bodies, social centres, resource centres, radio stations, magazines, collectives and, of course, individuals). The Mesa 1A (Madrid group) was rather diversified. It included, apart from the South African delegation, ponencias from the Swiss comrades of "Red-Red", the British of "fHuman", the Americans of "Midnight Notes", plus contributions by comrades from Israel, Morocco, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, Burkina Faso, a small contingent of Italians from the Social Centres and from the internal opposition to the Italian Confederation of Labour, a host of Latin American delegations (Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Brasil) and, of course, comrades from the Spanish state and the Basque country. All in all: about 120 comrades divided into four working groups (English-speaking, French-Italian, Castillan-speaking and one "mixed" group).

Apart from our paper, the discussion was decisively influenced by the fHuman paper on "flexible exploitation" in the UK, the Midnight Notes paper on the Zapatista and strategies of resistance, the Red-Red paper on building networks of struggles, and by Massimo De Angelis' (fHuman and University of East London) ponencia on radical demands. Our submesa revolved mainly around capitalist restructuring in the nature of work under neoliberalism. This led to a critical assessment of flexible forms of exploitation. As the final submesa document testifies, neoliberalism facilitates a proliferation of forms of work and employment relationships that fragment and disarticulate the class composition of societies in both North and South. Precarization and casualization of work are accompanied by a shift of the state from "welfare" to "workfare" approaches. These dynamics, combined to international migrations, recreate spaces of servile labour and semi- slavery, particularly apparent in the case of many forms of female and children labour, inside capitalist relations of production. This process spawns from South to North and defines "multinational working classes" with declining standards and guarantees even inside historical industrial cores. Household and life-time are therefore intensely colonized by processes of production decentralization and they become sites of capitalist value creation in a logic whereby the whole men's and women's lives are put to work. Finally, it is to be considered the work of the unwaged in such a process, that is to say the vulnerability implied in "the job of looking for a job", a situation that is becoming widespread.

At the same time, the above process is contradictory. In fact, from one side the decline of the welfare state and the failure of socialdemocratic options are making people's lives increasingly dependent on their ability to be competitive on the market and to find jobs that for the majority are less and less available, rewarding, and protected. On the other side, labour is no longer able in these conditions to provide collective identity, sense of security and commitment towards the kind of flexible competitive capitalism spurred by neoliberalism. As a consequence, a terrain more conducive to resistance at localized levels can be shaped by these trends.

However, in order to capture the potential for resistance enshrined in current restructuring of work on a global scale, critical analyses and forms of organization must start from the shifts in the subjectivity and the anthropology of labour. The Encounter underlined that no place can be recognized to the socialdemocratic discourse in rebuilding anti-neoliberal resistance. However, given the profound rearticulation of the global working class, even traditional left radical approaches based on centralized organizations, parties and images of a unified working class will be of little use. More important then is the construction of networks of local processes of resistance whereby struggles over work and production are linked to a plurality of issues raised by diverse social movements as struggles over income and the quality of life. A common ground for such networks is that "employment", as re-defined by current capitalist restructuring is not the same as "work", as a plurality a human activities not necessarily related to earning a wage. The consequence is that peoples' income for the satisfaction of their needs for social services, culture and sociality can no longer depend on wage, especially when wage becomes so unpredictable and linked to dynamics of hyper-exploitation.

In other words, building a network of struggles is not an organizational task in the traditional sense of the word, as fixed by the tradition of working class movements. It is rather a task of conceptualizing a circulation of struggles based on the focus on common demands, trends and horizons that can be detected in the development of diverse proletarian needs and subjectivity. It is in the nature of actuality of those needs, and in the commonality of their aspirations, that a possibility for liberation lies. Following from the Encounter's suggestion that income and quality of life cannot be made dependent on wages, two demands were identified as crucial: a guaranteed citizenship income on a universal basis, and the reduction of working time as an issue of redistribution of life activities.

Guaranteed income and reduction of working time are not compatible with demands developed inside a capitalist framework such as "job creation", given that job creation depends on investment, markets and productivity dynamics, rather than on working time by itself. Demands on income and time are rather issues to gather dynamics of conflict around an anti-neoliberal agenda to stop capitalist restructuring and shift the balance of forces on a terrain more favourable to antagonist movements. At the same time, they represent an alternative in the use of time and income that develops from inside the contradictions of the present system, without any easy sloganeering on the seizure of state power and the establishment of a workers' state. Finally, privileging the terrain of income implies that anti-neoliberal struggles should support experiences of direct action for the reappropriation of resources, from the Zapatista communities, to land occupations, to squatting in urban areas. It is here crucial, however, that struggles developed on those grounds are not cooptable by capitalism.

A difference emerged inside our submesa on whether "alternative economies", non marketized, no-profit and de-commodified, as developed inside capitalism represent alternatives of struggle to neoliberalism. The Madrid group, and especially the Latin American delegations, supported this option, that was instead rejected by the Barcelona group, and especially the Italians there, who argued that there is no alternative or non-capitalist form of economy that is by itself not cooptable by capital, as long as we are inside a capitalist system, and that our struggles around income and time should consciously prefigure a societal and life-style alternative, even if at a localized level.

The definition of a unified document for the two groups of the submesa 1A in Barcelona and Madrid was made difficult, of course, by the division of the submesa. However, the South African delegation was crucial in pushing the organization to allow for the two groups to meet before the final plenary at El Indiano in order to define a common set of immediate actions that could unite the two groups. This was accepted by the organization at a meeting attended by four representatives of the submesa (two from Madrid, one South African and one Swiss, and two from Barcelona, one French and one German). As a result, the submesa 1A supported the following immediate actions:

* Mobilization against the summit of the World Trade Organization to be held in Geneva (Switzerland) on May 1998; * An international weekof action against Maastricht Europe in the first week of December; * Support to the "Declaration of Alcobendas" in support of the EZLN in Chiapas and for an end to repression and militarization; * An international day of action to be organized against flexibility, casualization and the agencies for the employment of flexible labour.

For the South African comrades, it may be interesting that there was a heated discussion around the ANC. People were generally surprised to hear our criticisms on the ANC's current neoliberal orientation. At the end, the draft of the final submesa document, which mentioned the failure of socialdemocratic parties and their conversion to basic neoliberal assumptions, explicitly mentioned the ANC, together with European and Latin American socialdemocracies. However, the inclusion of the ANC as a specific example was challenged in the final submesa plenary, and comrades from Herri Batasuna (Basque nationalists) asked to scrap that point (nationalisms holding together all over the world?). At the end, we came to the vote on the issue of the ANC (a quite unique event in the whole Encounter). With half of the people absent or abstained, a majority of 32 (Latin Americans, Basque, most Italians, some Spanish) voted to scrap the reference to the ANC in the final document, against a minority of 24 (mainly SA, British, American, Swiss, Danish comrades). Comments are that in so far this vote represents an assumption of the current ANC line as a model of anti- neoliberal struggle, this contradicts orientations emerged in our submesa.

Apart from this, my opinion is that crucial lessons can be drawn from the Encounter. It has become particularly evident that a different kind of opposition to neoliberalism exists and is expanding. Albeit plural and differentiated, this alternative finds a common ground on strategies of resistance and subversion based on the liberation of the quality of life from the wage relation and on the rejection of capitalist waged employment. It expresses a priority for autonomy and self-government of struggles and communities as a vehicle of struggle. It is opened to a plurality of movements in the respect of their diversity and independence and it is suspicious of the state- and party- based discourses that have been traditionally conveyed by working class mainstream organizations. Moreover, it openly criticizes the return to welfare state and developmentalist options as strategies of critique of neoliberalism. All this is very refreshing, coming from a country like South Africa, where the mainstream socialdemocratic left has just discovered "German-based" co-determination and it is disseminating it as the new flower of the season. Another crucial lesson is that no chance for resistance to neoliberalism can exist unless it roots its analysis and organization to the understanding of the profound changes in the nature of production and of proletarian subjectivity. And this is the final word to be sent to any approach based on institutionalized dynamics and reified images of class, consciousness and organization.

The problems emerged at the Encounter are the problems that are common to any unfinished projects, to any navigation that proceeds on uncertain coordinates. The shortcomings in the organization of the Encounter exhacerbated these problems but they did not create them. The best expression used to define the Encounter was that of a "productive chaos": a plurality of voices heard to testify the diversity of resistant processes and the needs for common elements to circulate these struggles. However, the definition of networks and localized strategies is not a task of the Encounter. It rather implies focusing on neoliberalism not as a monolithic, all-powerful force, but as patterns of capitalist strategies influenced by contradictions, loopholes and class contestation at local and regional levels. This Encounter has reportedly been much more concrete and less ideological in many demands and contributions than the previous one.

But such an effort will be meaningful only in so far it contributes to ignite in every different country and locality those processes of discussion, analysis and rearticulation of an antagonist movement that rejects both neoliberalism and conventional, self-defined, centralized forms of response. In other words, now it's up to us comrades in South Africa. Our journal, "Debate", has always tried to act as a forum for an anti-neoliberal, non-socialdemocratic opposition to emerge out of the materiality of struggles and social movements. Now, building on the Encounter, forums for discussion and debate among all the committed comrades must be created to test the viability of the Encounter's conclusions for the South African case and to translate them in demands and strategies appropriate to the struggles developed in our country. Developing this alternative opposition is imperative if we want to avoid what in our ponencia we called the alternative between institutionalisation and invisibility, with which neoliberalism is facing any kind of opposition.

These forums for discussion and strategy must be created soon, and I am confident they will be created.




Franco Barchiesi Sociology of Work Unit Dept of Sociology University of the Witwatersrand Private Bag 3 PO Wits 2050 Johannesburg South Africa Tel. (++27 11) 716.3290 Fax (++27 11) 716.3781 E-Mail 029frb@cosmos.wits.ac.za http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons/aut_html http://pluto.mscc.huji.ac.il/~mshalev/direct.htm

Home: 98 6th Avenue Melville 2092 Johannesburg South Africa Tel. (++27 11) 482.5011

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