Socialist Worker

The horizon is expanding

by Alex Callinicos on how anti-war protests are strengthening resistance
Issue No. 1840

WHEN AN establishment paper like the New York Times reacts to the anti-war protests on 15 February by commenting that 'there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion', you know things are beginning to move.

The funny thing is that not everyone on the left is happy with the explosive growth of the anti-war movement. The radical American academic Michael Hardt has become a very prominent figure thanks to his co-authorship, with Toni Negri, of Empire.

Whatever its faults, Empire did champion the revolt of what Hardt and Negri call the 'multitude' against the present phase of capitalist globalisation. It was therefore surprising to find Hardt writing in the Guardian last week:

'The coordinated protests last weekend against the war were animated by various kinds of anti-Americanism. This tends to close down the horizons of our political imagination. The globalisation protest movements were far superior to the anti-war movements. They not only recognised the complex and plural nature of the forces that dominate capitalist globalisation today but they imagined an alternative, democratic globalisation consisting of plural exchanges across national and regional borders based on equality and freedom.'

This is bizarre. It is a pro-war propaganda cliche that the peace protests are 'anti-American'. They are certainly against George Bush, and fear of the United States is widespread. But none of this is the same as hating the American people or even American culture.

Hardt, like me, attended the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in Brazil a month ago. Hostility to 'Yankee imperialism' is very widespread in Latin America. But I was struck by the enthusiasm with which audiences at Porto Alegre greeted the growing evidence of the development of a strong anti-war movement in the US. They clearly understood how important it is that Bush is challenged on his home ground.

As for the anti-war movement being nationalist - doesn't the fact that 15 February was the greatest day of international protest in world history suggest a certain flaw in Hardt's reasoning?

The idea that the emergence of the anti-war movement has harmed the struggle against capitalist globalisation is something that is more usually associated with the right wing of the anti-globalisation movement. Bernard Cassen, leader of ATTAC, the French-based campaign against financial speculation, has expressed this view.

Hardt has derided Cassen for hoping to use the nation-state to tame capitalism. Now he is siding with him on the critical issue of the war. The truth is that 11 September could easily have completely destroyed the movement against global capitalism. This is certainly what big business hoped.

The reason why it didn't was that many of the activists who had built the movement in Europe threw themselves into mobilising against the war. This was particularly true in Italy and Britain.

Here the same networks that had built the protests against the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001 pushed for the first major anti-war demonstrations that autumn. For many of those involved this reflected a deeper understanding of the complexities of global capitalism than Hardt has displayed.

They grasped that globalisation was about more than investment and trade - that it was also about military competition and geopolitical domination. Hardt is quite wrong to say, 'It is unfortunate but inevitable that much of the energies that had been active in the globalisation protests have now at least temporarily redirected against the war.'

War isn't a temporary distraction. Global capitalism comes divided into nation-states and armed to the teeth. The anti-capitalist movement has developed into a movement that is also against imperialism and war.

This has greatly broadened the support of the movement, but it has also led to a deepening radicalisation. Those who, like Hardt and Cassen, resist this process show that they are stuck at an earlier stage of the history of the movement against capitalist globalisation. If they don't wake up, they will be left behind.


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Sat 1 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1840
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