Socialist Worker

Debates inside the movement

Issue No. 1717

Debates inside the movement

What now?

That is the question being asked not only by the protesters against the IMF and the World Bank, but by the IMF and the World Bank themselves. Resistance to pro-market 'neo-liberal' policies across the world, and the protests against the main institutions which enforce them are forcing the ruling class to respond.

A Financial Times editorial last week attacked James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, for being too soft on the protesters in Prague. "How should the world respond to these uncivilised representatives of 'civil society'?" it asked.

"With contempt, is the answer... They must be opposed." But Wolfensohn and others are pursuing a different strategy. They are attempting to co-opt sections of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) that criticise assaults on the world's poor.

They are being forced to talk of growth and equality. The World Bank has renamed its structural adjustment policies "poverty reduction strategies". Wolfensohn said last week, "I embrace the commitment of a new generation to fight poverty. I share their passion."

An argument is now taking place within and between the NGOs about how to respond to this charm offensive. This debate was evident at the wide variety of meetings and forums in Prague last week.

Ann Pettifor from Jubilee 2000 attended a meeting with Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, Wolfensohn from the World Bank, Horst Kohler of the IMF and other NGO representatives.

She argued Wolfensohn and Kohler are powerless civil servants, that real power lies with the nations of the G7 and that pressure must be brought to bear to reform institutions.

Walden Bello from the Philippines, however, argued at the same meeting that institutions like the IMF cannot be reformed, they must be disbanded, and that protesters should seek to "intensify the crisis of legitimacy" facing these institutions.

Similarly Oxfam representatives debated with the World Bank at another forum. Speakers from the "top table" urged dialogue. Members of the audience, by contrast, sympathised with those from the floor who denounced the World Bank and urged the protests to continue.

But what is the alternative the protesters are fighting for? This question was posed sharply by Larry Elliott in the Guardian last week. He quoted the finance minister of South Africa asking, "I know what they are against. But I don't know what they are for."

And he said, "Dialogue and debate do not provide the buzz of chucking a Molotov cocktail."

This is an insult to the 20,000 who gathered in Prague last week from every corner of Europe.

They did know what they are fighting for-a better world. That is why the question, "What is the alternative to capitalism?" was a deadly serious theme which ran throughout the counter-summit.

People wanted to know how could we run society for the better, in the interests of the majority?

They wanted to know how to stop poverty and injustice for good.

Socialist Worker's Alex Callinicos was well received when he spoke at the counter-summit and outlined an alternative vision of society:

"It is not globalisation that is the problem, but global capitalism," he said. "Core institutions like the IMF, World Bank, WTO and NATO sustain and defend global capitalism. They cannot be reformed. We must mobilise forces in order to break them. We must tie the power of protest in the streets to the power workers have in the factories to stop production. We must harness those forces to fight to replace capitalism's logic of competition and profit with production based instead on meeting human need."


Fight repression

THE CZECH police were determined to take revenge against the protesters following Tuesday's brilliant demonstration. More than 859 people were arrested in the aftermath of the protests, over 600 of who were Czech citizens.

Anyone black or with "strangely coloured" hair was singled out. Vanetta and Melissa Oye, students at a sixth form college in Nottingham, were amongst those arrested.

"We were just going to catch our bus home when we saw police kicking and beating a man and a woman. We just asked them if they were OK and that was it. We were trucheoned, called 'fucking English scum,' 'fucking bitches' and 'niggers'.

They took us to a police station where we were lined up. They smashed our heads against walls, hit us with batons and strip searched us.

We were left in a cell near a load of Nazis who 'Sieg heiled' all the time and also called us niggers. We weren't allowed food or water and the police woke us up whenever we tried to sleep. We were kept for 32 hours altogether after which we were immediately deported."

Protesters demonstrated against this repression outside the Czech Embassy in London last Friday night. Others occupied the Czech Embassy in Barcelona and four coachloads of protesters from Norway besieged their Czech Embassy as soon as they arrived home from Prague.


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Sat 7 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1717
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