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(en) alt. Media, Hardt express opposition to theorganizers of the WSF and their like: "Porto Alegre: Today's Bandung?"

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 30 Jul 2002 11:23:57 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

The World Social Forum at Porto Alegre has become symbolic
of the efforts of the leaders of the reformists and the authoritarians 
of the left to usurp the leadership of the resistance to the capitalist
globalization. It is their desparet effort to keep their grassroots from radicalizing
out of their control.  Michael Hardt analyses the debates involved and call 
to come there and without joining the organizers contact and radicalize
the grass root people.


Rather than opposing the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre
to the World Economic Forum in New York, it is more
revealing to imagine it as the distant offspring of the
historic Bandung Conference that took place in Indonesia in
1955. Both were conceived as attempts to counter the
dominant world order: colonialism and the oppressive Cold
War binary in the case of Bandung, and the rule of
capitalist globalization in that of Porto Alegre. The
differences, however, are immediately apparent. On one hand
the Bandung Conference, which brought together leaders
primarily from Asia and Africa, revealed in a dramatic way
the racial dimension of the colonial and Cold War world
order, which Richard Wright famously described as being
divided by the ?colour curtain?. Porto Alegre, in contrast,
was a predominantly white event. There were relatively few
participants from Asia and Africa, and the racial
differences of the Americas were dramatically
underrepresented. This points toward a continuing task
facing those gathered at Porto Alegre: to globalize further
the movements, both within each society and across the
world--a project in which the Forum is merely one step. On
the other hand, whereas Bandung was conducted by a small
group of national political leaders and representatives,
Porto Alegre was populated by a swarming multitude and a
network of movements. This multitude of protagonists is the
great novelty of the World Social Forum, and central to the
hope it offers for the future.

The first and dominant impression of the Forum was its
overflowing enormity; not so much the number of people
there--the organizers say 80,000 participated--but rather
the number of events, encounters and happenings. The
programme listing all the official conferences, seminars and
workshops--most of which took place at the Catholic
University--was the size of a tabloid newspaper, but one
soon realized that there were innumerable other unofficial
meetings taking place all over town, some publicized on
posters and leaflets, others by word of mouth. There were
also separate gatherings for the different groups
participating in the Forum, such as a meeting of the Italian
social movements or one for the various national sections of
ATTAC. Then there were the demonstrations: both officially
planned, such as the opening mass May Day-style parade, and
smaller, conflictual demonstrations against, for example,
the members of parliament from different countries at the
Forum who voted for the present war on terrorism. Finally,
another series of events was held at the enormous youth camp
by the river, its fields and fields of tents housing 15,000
people in an atmosphere reminiscent of a summer music
festival, especially when it rained and everyone tramped
through the mud wearing plastic sacks as raincoats. In
short, if anyone with obsessive tendencies were to try to
understand what was happening at Porto Alegre, the result
would certainly have been a complete mental breakdown. The
Forum was unknowable, chaotic, dispersive. And that
overabundance created an exhilaration in everyone, at being
lost in a sea of people from so many parts of the world who
are working similarly against the present form of capitalist

This open encounter was the most important element of Porto
Alegre. Even though the Forum was limited in some important
respects--socially and geographically, to name two--it was
nonetheless an opportunity to globalize further the cycle of
struggles that have stretched from Seattle to Genoa, which
have been conducted by a network of movements thus far
confined, by and large, to the North Atlantic. Dealing with
many of the same issues as those who elsewhere contest the
present capitalist form of globalization, or specific
institutional policies such as those of the IMF, the
movements themselves have remained limited. Recognizing the
commonality of their projects with those in other parts of
the world is the first step toward expanding the network of
movements, or linking one network to another. This
recognition, indeed, is primarily responsible for the happy,
celebratory atmosphere of the Forum.

The encounter should, however, reveal and address not only
the common projects and desires, but also the differences of
those involved--differences of material conditions and
political orientation. The various movements across the
globe cannot simply connect to each other as they are, but
must rather be transformed by the encounter through a kind
of mutual adequation. Those from North America and Europe,
for example, cannot but have been struck by the contrast
between their experience and that of agricultural labourers
and the rural poor in Brazil, represented most strongly by
the MST (Landless Movement)--and vice versa. What kind of
transformations are necessary for the Euro-American
globalization movements and the Latin American movements,
not to become the same, or even to unite, but to link
together in an expanding common network? The Forum provided
an opportunity to recognize such differences and questions
for those willing to see them, but it did not provide the
conditions for addressing them. In fact, the very same
dispersive, overflowing quality of the Forum that created
the euphoria of commonality also effectively displaced the
terrain on which such differences and conflicts could be

Anti-capitalism and national sovereignty

The Porto Alegre Forum was in this sense perhaps too happy,
too celebratory and not conflictual enough. The most
important political difference cutting across the entire
Forum concerned the role of national sovereignty. There are
indeed two primary positions in the response to today?s
dominant forces of globalization: either one can work to
reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive
barrier against the control of foreign and global capital,
or one can strive towards a non-national alternative to the
present form of globalization that is equally global. The
first poses neoliberalism as the primary analytical
category, viewing the enemy as unrestricted global
capitalist activity with weak state controls; the second is
more clearly posed against capital itself, whether
state-regulated or not. The first might rightly be called an
anti-globalization position, in so far as national
sovereignties, even if linked by international solidarity,
serve to limit and regulate the forces of capitalist
globalization. National liberation thus remains for this
position the ultimate goal, as it was for the old
anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles. The second, in
contrast, opposes any national solutions and seeks instead a
democratic globalization.

The first position occupied the most visible and dominant
spaces of the Porto Alegre Forum; it was represented in the
large plenary sessions, repeated by the official
spokespeople, and reported in the press. A key proponent of
this position was the leadership of the Brazilian PT
(Workers? Party)--in effect the host of the Forum, since it
runs the city and regional government. It was obvious and
inevitable that the PT would occupy a central space in the
Forum and use the international prestige of the event as
part of its campaign strategy for the upcoming elections.
The second dominant voice of national sovereignty was the
French leadership of ATTAC, which laid the groundwork for
the Forum in the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique. The
leadership of ATTAC is, in this regard, very close to many
of the French politicians--most notably Jean-Pierre
Chevènement--who advocate strengthening national sovereignty
as a solution to the ills of contemporary globalization.
These, in any  case, are the figures who dominated the
representation of the Forum both internally and in the

The non-sovereign, alternative globalization position, in
contrast, was minoritarian at the Forum--not in quantitative
terms but in terms of representation; in fact, the majority
of the participants in the Forum may well have occupied this
minoritarian position. First, the various movements that
have conducted the protests from Seattle to Genoa are
generally oriented towards non-national solutions. Indeed,
the centralized structure of state sovereignty itself runs
counter to the horizontal network--form that the movements
have developed. Second, the Argentinian movements that have
sprung up in response to the present financial crisis,
organized in neighbourhood and city-wide delegate
assemblies, are similarly antagonistic to proposals of
national sovereignty. Their slogans call for getting rid,
not just of one politician, but all of them-- que se vayan
todos: the entire political class. And finally, at the base
of the various parties and organizations present at the
Forum the sentiment is much more hostile to proposals of
national sovereignty than at the top. This may be
particularly true of ATTAC, a hybrid organization whose
head, especially in France, mingles with traditional
politicians, whereas its feet are firmly grounded in the

The division between the sovereignty, anti-globalization
position and the non-sovereign, alternative globalization
position is therefore not best understood in geographical
terms. It does not map the divisions between North and South
or First World and Third. The conflict corresponds rather to
two different forms of political organization. The
traditional parties and centralized campaigns generally
occupy the national sovereignty pole, whereas the new
movements organized in horizontal networks tend to cluster
at the non-sovereign pole. And furthermore, within
traditional, centralized organizations, the top tends toward
sovereignty and the base away. It is no surprise, perhaps,
that those in positions of power would be most interested in
state sovereignty and those excluded least. This may help to
explain, in any case, how the national sovereignty,
anti-globalization position could dominate the
representations of the Forum even though the majority of the
participants tend rather toward the perspective of a
non-national alternative globalization.

As a concrete illustration of this political and ideological
difference, one can imagine the responses to the current
economic crisis in Argentina that logically follow from each
of these positions. Indeed that crisis loomed over the
entire Forum, like a threatening premonition of a chain of
economic disasters to come. The first position would point
to the fact that the Argentinian debacle was caused by the
forces of global capital and the policies of the IMF, along
with the other supranational institutions that undermine
national sovereignty. The logical oppositional response
should thus be to reinforce the national sovereignty of
Argentina (and other nation-states) against these
destabilizing external forces. The second position would
identify the same causes of the crisis, but insist that a
national solution is neither possible nor desirable. The
alternative to the rule of global capital and its
institutions will only be found at an equally global level,
by a global democratic movement. The practical experiments
in democracy taking place today at neighbourhood and city
levels in Argentina, for example, pose a necessary
continuity between the democratization of Argentina and the
democratization of the global system. Of course, neither of
these perspectives provides an adequate recipe for an
immediate solution to the crisis that would circumvent IMF
prescriptions--and I am not convinced that such a solution
exists. They rather present different political strategies
for action today which seek, in the course of time, to
develop real alternatives to the current form of global

Parties vs networks

In a previous period we could have staged an old-style
ideological confrontation between the two positions. The
first could accuse the second of playing into the hands of
neoliberalism, undermining state sovereignty and paving the
way for further globalization. Politics, the one could
continue, can only be effectively conducted on the national
terrain and within the nation-state. And the second could
reply that national regimes and other forms of sovereignty,
corrupt and oppressive as they are, are merely obstacles to
the global democracy that we seek. This kind of
confrontation, however, could not take place at Porto
Alegre-in part because of the dispersive nature of the
event, which tended to displace conflicts, and in part
because the sovereignty position so successfully occupied
the central representations that no contest was possible.

But the more important reason for a lack of confrontation
may have had to do with the organizational forms that
correspond to the two positions. The traditional parties and
centralized organizations have spokespeople who represent
them and conduct their battles, but no one speaks for a
network. How do you argue with a network? The movements
organized within them do exert their power, but they do not
proceed through oppositions. One of the basic
characteristics of the network form is that no two nodes
face each other in contradiction; rather, they are always
triangulated by a third, and then a fourth, and then by an
indefinite number of others in the web. This is one of the
characteristics of the Seattle events that we have had the
most trouble understanding: groups which we thought in
objective contradiction to one another--environmentalists
and trade unions, church groups and anarchists--were
suddenly able to work together, in the context of the
network of the multitude. The movements, to take a slightly
different perspective, function something like a public
sphere, in the sense that they can allow full expression of
differences within the common context of open exchange. But
that does not mean that networks are passive. They displace
contradictions and operate instead a kind of alchemy, or
rather a sea change, the flow of the movements transforming
the traditional fixed positions; networks imposing their
force through a kind of irresistible undertow.

Like the Forum itself, the multitude in the movements is
always overflowing, excessive and unknowable. It is
certainly important then, on the one hand, to recognize the
differences that divide the activists and politicians
gathered at Porto Alegre. It would be a mistake, on the
other hand, to try to read the division according to the
traditional model of ideological conflict between opposing
sides. Political struggle in the age of network movements no
longer works that way. Despite the apparent strength of
those who occupied centre stage and dominated the
representations of the Forum, they may ultimately prove to
have lost the struggle. Perhaps the representatives of the
traditional parties and centralized organizations at Porto
Alegre are too much like the old national leaders gathered
at Bandung--imagine Lula of the PT in the position of Ahmed
Sukarno as host, and Bernard Cassen of ATTAC France as
Jawaharlal Nehru, the most honoured guest. The leaders can
certainly craft resolutions affirming national sovereignty
around a conference table, but they can never grasp the
democratic power of the movements. Eventually they too will
be swept up in the multitude, which is capable of
transforming all fixed and centralized elements into so many
more nodes in its indefinitely expansive network.

Previous texts in this series have been Naomi Klein,
?Reclaiming the Commons? (NLR 9), Subcomandante Marcos, ?The
Punch Card and the Hourglass? (NLR 9), John Sellers,
?Raising a Ruckus? (NLR 10), José Bové, ?A Farmers?
International?? (NLR 12) and David Graeber, ?The New
Anarchists? (NLR 13).

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