A to Z of the "new anti-capitalism"

Submitted by martin on 22 October, 2003 - 8:46

[This is an expanded version of the article in the print edition of Solidarity]

From 12 to 15 November, around 40,000 "anti-capitalists" will descend on Paris for the European Social Forum. Martin Thomas provides a guide to some of the main strands in the anti-capitalist movement
A is for ATTAC, the biggest "movement for another globalisation" in France, which has a large international network. It has a considerable overlap with official politics, for example in the French Socialist Party. But some revolutionaries are active within it.
ATTAC France was launched in June 1998, following a call for an "Association for the Tobin Tax for Aid to Citizens" in the December 1997 issue of the magazine Le Monde Diplomatique. It now has more than 30,000 members, and other national ATTAC groups tens of thousands.
There is an ATTAC-Britain, but, according to ATTAC's president, Bernard Cassen, "Britain is an exception [in the growth of ATTAC], since there the ground is already occupied by powerful NGOs like Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and War on Want..."
The international ATTAC movement defines its aims as follows:
* to reconquer space lost by democracy to the sphere of finance,
* to oppose any new abandonment of national sovereignty on the pretext of the "rights" of investors and merchants,
* to create a democratic space at the global level.
According to Cassen, "we never for a second thought that the Tobin tax was the one solution to the dictatorship of financial markets. It was just one point of entry to attack them". But Marxists have criticised ATTAC for its narrow focus on finance, rather than capital in general, and its adherence to "national sovereignty".
* ATTAC website
* Ignacio Ramonet's article which started it all (in French)
* Interview with Bernard Cassen, quoted above, in New Left Review.

B is for Black Bloc: the most publicised, but not necessarily the most important, component of anarchist participation in the "new anti-capitalist movement".
According to a sympathetic (US) anarchist website: "A black bloc is a collection of anarchists and anarchist affinity groups that organize together for a particular protest action. The flavor of the black bloc changes from action to action, but the main goals are to provide solidarity in the face of a repressive police state and to convey an anarchist critique of whatever is being protested that day". They explain that "black bloc" is a method of organising, not a movement. Not all anarchists support it.
Sometimes (not always) "black blocs" have been groups all dressed in black, masked, and bent on violent confrontation with the police.
* http://www.infoshop.org/blackbloc.html
* More on anarchism.

C is for counter-power (or "autonomy", or "anti-power"): the concept of organising an alternative social power as a counter to existing authority. This concept marks an area where strange overlaps can be found between the "ultra-left" of the movement, anarchists and "autonomists" like the Disobedienti, and the "right wing", like ATTAC. Marxists desire counter-power, in a sense, but see it as a matter of the self-organisation of the working class round its own concerns within the central economic mechanisms of society, not as a project for the revolutionaries to do on their own or through "civil society" in general, or a matter of establishing enclaves away from capital.

D is for Disobedienti, formerly known as Tutti Bianchi or White Overalls, in Italy. They explain: "The fact that we don't call ourselves 'anarchists' stems both from the history and the present of the European far left, whose most advanced and intelligent currents have long bridged the gap between 'socialists', 'communists' and 'anarchists'...
"There's a long tradition of anti-authoritarian communists who antagonized Stalinism, the Soviet Union and the party-form itself, guys like Anton Pannekoek in Holland and Otto Ruehle in Germany...
"Our theoretical approach still derives from Karl Marx's Grundrisse [a rough draft of Capital, written in 1857-8, and containing many thoughts never finalised by Marx for his published book]...thinkers like Toni Negri...and the notion of 'cultural hegemony' devised by [the Italian revolutionary Marxist] Antonio Gramsci 70 years ago. At the same time, we are beyond all that and have a clear Zapatista influence in the way we speak, organize and take action."
* Disobedienti.
* Workers' Liberty discussion of Negri and Hardt's book Empire.
* Discussion of the relevance of the Grundrisse today.

F is for the French left. France still has a functioning Communist Party, which will be visible at the European Social Forum. It is now decrepit and very tame politically, though it has to tolerate open quasi-Trotskyist factions within it, like the Gauche Communiste. The French Socialist Party also contains some left factions, often led by former members of Trotskyist organisations.
France does not have one TUC. It has several trade union federations. Some of the more important ones are the CGT (historically tightly run by the CP, but now with more SP influence); the CFDT (quite right-wing and business-unionist now); Force Ouvrière (mostly right-wing, but with odd pockets of militancy), and Sud (the most left-wing, mostly made up of forces expelled or splitting away from the CFDT as it moved right).
The three main Trotskyist organisations got 10% of the vote between them at the last presidential elections, much more than the Communist Party.
The Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire [see R] will be the most visible at the European Social Forum. Its candidate at the presidential election, Olivier Besancenot, was particularly successful among 18 to 24-year-olds, getting 20% of their votes.
More successful overall at the polls, and more influential in industrial workplaces, where it runs hundreds of regular bulletins, is Lutte Ouvrière (LO). LO, however, dismisses the "new anti-capitalist" movement as middle-class froth.
The third of the bigger groups is the Parti des Travailleurs (PT). This proclaims itself as a broad workers' party, including anarchist, Communist and Socialist tendencies as well as a Trotskyist one. In fact the supposedly-Trotskyist faction runs the group, and very bureaucratically too. Its focus: burrowing to gain official influence in the Force Ouvrière union federation; setting up apparently bland and broad international campaigns and conferences; and lots and lots of petitioning.
* LCR
* LO
* PT
* Dissident minorities in the LCR express themselves publicly, e.g., Débat Militant and Arguments pour le socialisme.

G is for People's Global Action, a coordinating body for the strand in the movement made most famous by the Disobedienti [see D].
According to them, "PGA is not an organisation and has no members. However PGA aims to be an organised network...PGA grew out of the international Zapatista [see Z] gatherings in 1996 and 1997, and was formed as a space for direct and unmediated contact between autonomous groups..."
Their hallmarks are: "A very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism, and all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalisation...of all forms and systems of domination and discrimination including...patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all creeds.
"A confrontational attitude...A call to direct action and civil disobedience...An organisational philosophy based on decentralisation and autonomy."
The two chief influences here seem to be the "autonomist" strand of Marxist theory (whose best-known writers are Toni Negri and Harry Cleaver) and the Zapatistas.
It overlaps with some anarchist thinking. For example: "The new organisations should not limit themselves to traditional radical left-wing issues, but must manifest themselves in all areas that are of importance to society. They should, in time, make the state superfluous... [We] should be 'for' rather than only 'against', for example the development, promotion and realisation of direct democratic alternatives.
* PGA.

M is for Le Monde Diplomatique. The title, translated into English, is simply "The Diplomatic World", and originally this monthly magazine was simply an international-affairs supplement to Le Monde, a daily which has approximately the same place in France as the Guardian has in Britain.
Improbably, it has become the main organ of an important strand of the "new anti-capitalist movement". It became more left-wing than the daily from 1973, with Claude Julien as editor, and has taken its present shape under the editorship of Ignacio Ramonet, since 1990.
Now it sells 225,000 copies a month, and has 23 foreign editions (including an English one) and a world readership of 1.5 million.
* http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr.

N is also for No Sweat, the British-based campaign against sweatshop labour conditions and for workers' solidarity against global capital. Solidarity supports No Sweat.
* http://www.nosweat.org.uk

O is for NGOs, Non-Governmental Organisations. These are organisations run not for profit, but not by governments either. Some are very old, and in no way left-wing-churches, for example. But there are an increasing number of NGOs which provide information and material criticising global neo-liberalism, and which sometimes organise local activist groups. Oxfam, War on Want, and Amnesty International are well-known in Britain.
World-wide there are hundreds of thousands of NGOs.
At events like the World Social Forum, NGOs are prominent because they have the funds to send delegates. Opinions in the "new anti-capitalist" movement vary, from those seeing NGOs as vital components of a new global "civil society" which can begin to counter global capital, through those who see the more radical NGOs as valuable resource-providers so long as the activist movement keeps its political independence and edge, to those seeing them as just the liberal face of 21st-century capitalism.

P is for the Partito di Rifondazione Comunista, the Italian Party of Communist Refoundation, or Rifondazione for short, Europe's largest radical-left party, with 100,000 members.
All across Western Europe, the old Communist Parties have decayed or dissolved themselves since 1989-91, or morphed into old-Labour-type parties, like the French Communist Party today. The one exception was the Italian Communist Party.
Its majority has renamed itself Democratic Left and is pretty much Blairite. A minority formed Rifondazione. A lot of revolutionaries and other activists to the left of the old Communist Party joined the new party.
The old Moscow-style "Communist" element in Rifondazione, initially large, has diminished, and the party now declares itself strongly anti-Stalinist. It is not revolutionary, but not quite reformist either, and has a much more democratic way of operating than the old Communist Parties.
* http://www.rifondazione.it

R is for Rouge, the paper of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, which has been influential in the organisation of the 2003 European Social Forum through positions its members hold in ATTAC and the trade union federation Sud.
The LCR is a Trotskyist organisation, linked to an international network of sister-groups including the ISG in Britain, but, these days, much larger and more dynamic than those sister-groups. The SWP in Britain and the LCR have been involved in talks with each other for some years now.
In criticising the SWP, the LCR has made many of the same arguments that Solidarity would make-for self-determination for the Kosovars, for an understanding that Islamic fundamentalism is reactionary, for proper united-front activity without mechanical "party" control, and for the need for internal democracy and tendency rights in a revolutionary party. The LRC is one of the very few Marxist organisations in the world other than the AWL which follows the old Bolshevik practice of giving serious internal debates representation in its public press.
However, the LCR often seems to be less a coherent political force, with a consistent train of ideas and a collective political punch, and more a loose collection of activists immersed in different movements and trade unions, topped by a large layer of talented writers and intellectuals.

S is for Social Forums. The first World Social Forum was organised in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001, as a counter to the World Economic Forum, which was then having one of its regular meetings in the luxury Swiss resort of Davos.
The WEF brings together representatives of multinational corporations and governments to decide how best to shape the world for global capital. The World Social Forum wanted to assert social values against it.
The initiative came from ATTAC-France and the Workers' Party in Brazil (the party of Lula, who has recently been elected president there).
The first WSF was huge, with 20,000 participants. Large numbers of international delegates from better-off NGOs and lots of UN agencies mingled with thousands of local activists-and two ministers from the French government.
Porto Alegre 2002 was even bigger (50,000) and decided to call for Regional Social Forums.
There are now Social Forums in many other regions, countries, and cities. Usually these have been just one-off gatherings, but in some Italian cities Social Forums reportedly have a continuous existence as "spaces" through which to coordinate campaigning.

T is for Tobin Tax, the headline demand of ATTAC. It means a worldwide tax of 0.1% on all currency-exchange transactions. At present such transactions-exchanging dollars for euros, or pounds for yen, and so on-run at the huge rate of over £1 trillion a day. Most of them represent big corporations or super-rich individuals shifting their funds to whichever currency seems most advantageous, rather than exchanges necessary in order to permit international trade.
It was different before about 1979, because then government permission was usually necessary for each exchange transaction, rather than international finance being a free market as at present.
James Tobin, a mainstream US economist, proposed the tax many years ago as a way of "throwing sand in the wheels" of this huge whizzing-round of money, which he thought risked destabilising capitalism.
Left-wing supporters of the Tobin Tax emphasise that it would also raise large amounts of money which could be used to relieve poverty.
Marxist critics of the Tobin Tax say it is suitable neither as an immediate stepping-stone demand (because it does not start from grass-roots workers' struggles, and yet it would need a vast international mobilisation to enforce it on all the world's governments and all the vested interests of international finance); nor as a full-scale answer to capitalism (if you have that vast international mobilisation, why limit yourself to taking only 0.1% from the super-rich?).
* More.

W is for workers. Many of the strands of the "new anti-capitalist" movement see their battle as one of "the people" in general against capital (or, for ATTAC, against international finance; for some anarchists, against firmly organised structures of any sort). Marxists see the interface between wage-labour and capital as the pivot of the whole system, and the key force for change as workers' struggle against capital. Some supposed Marxists, however, have tended to sink their politics into the idea of "the people" in general, as in the SWP's latest project for an electoral bloc behind George Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob.
* More on this argument.

Z is for Zapatista. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) originated in the Chiapas rebellion, an armed uprising by 2,000 Mayan Indian peasants in southern Mexico in January 1994. But their leaders proposed a different strategy from other other "armies of national liberation" or guerrilla forces, stating that they did not wish to take power, and instead trying to develop a "counter-power" in alliance with other left-wing forces.
They have had a big influence on the "new anti-capitalist" movement, especially its anarchist and autonomist strands.
* See http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/zapatista.html and http://www.actlab.utexas.edu/~zapatistas/; and background on Mexican politics.

* More on the ESF at
http://www.fse-esf.org and
http://www.workersliberty.org/esf.

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