Socialist Worker

How to organise to beat global capital?

Issue No. 1709

Debates in anti-capitalist movement

How to organise to beat global capital?

By Sam Ashman

HOW SHOULD the new movement against globalisation and the multinationals organise itself? What are its goals? Where does it go from here? These are some of the issues being debated within the anti-capitalist movement.

Naomi Klein, author of the anti-capitalist book No Logo, addressed these questions in a recent article in US magazine The Nation. She repeated many of the arguments when she spoke at the Marxism 2000 event in central London last month.

Klein writes, "What emerged on the streets of Seattle and Washington was an activist model that mirrors the organic, decentralised, interlinked pathways of the internet-the internet came to life." She says the new movement against global capitalism should model itself on a "swarm".

She borrows the term from a US military report about the Zapatista movement in Mexico. The report says the Zapatistas were waging a "war of the flea" but thanks to the internet and the global network of campaigners that war turned into "the war of the swarm".

Klein writes, "The military challenge of a war of the swarm, the researchers noted, is that it has 'no central leadership or command structure. It is multi-headed, impossible to decapitate'." MANY celebrate the new ways of organising thrown up by the movement against neo-liberalism and globalisation. They celebrate the fact the movement does not have one universal guiding ideology but is full of debate.

Some even argue that the movement itself is what matters, more even than its final goals. There is some truth in all of this. The new movement is joyously radicalising thousands upon thousands of people. Seattle was fantastic precisely because of the diverse groups that it brought together-trade unionists, environmentalists, pacifists, human rights activists, socialists, peasants, farmers, the First World and the Third World, North and South.

No socialist wants the movement to be a monolith. But is a "swarm" based around the internet the best way to do things? Firstly, to suggest that the movement is only, or mainly, organised via the internet is to give a very misleading impression of all the major protests that have taken place.

Seattle, Washington and Millau all involved both spontaneity and a high degree of organisation. International campaigner Susan George wrote an article about Seattle in the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique earlier this year. In it she says, "Mike Dolan of Public Citizen, an organisation founded by Ralph Nader in Washington DC, had been busy on the ground in Seattle since the spring of 1999, locating and booking the venues that would be needed to accommodate a huge number of meetings."

Tramping the streets of Seattle booking rooms is hardly organising in cyberspace! In Millau there were huge efforts of organisation to raise money to get people there and to accommodate tens of thousands of people in a remote rural town. Similarly, organising for Prague this September means booking coaches, producing posters and leaflets, selling tickets, organising fundraisers and holding meetings.

These are important. They are more able to involve new people in any locality who may not even own a computer, never mind have the time to spend surfing the net. They also provide the opportunity for the face to face debate, discussion and argument that is vital to any movement. And whilst the internet is useful for some things, there are some occasions when it is utterly useless.

Naomi Klein provides a perfect example of this. Protesters tried to shut down the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in Washington in April this year. Groups of protesters blocked all the street intersections from 6am to try to stop the bankers and bigwigs from getting into the conference.

But the delegates sneaked in as early as 4am. What were the protesters to do? In such circumstances you can't nip off to an internet cafe to try to get some advice. A debate developed between those who wanted to leave the intersections to join the official march and others who wanted to stay to try to block the delegates when they came out of the conference.

The protesters had to do either one thing or the other. If half the protesters went off to the march, the road blocks would collapse. Instead, however, Kevin Danaher from Global Exchange in the US shouted over a megaphone, "Each intersection has autonomy. If the intersection wants to stay locked down, that's cool. If it wants to come to the Ellipse [the march], that's cool too. It's up to you."

The belief in the movement as a loose, autonomous, "multi-headed" swarm was useless. Similarly, debate is excellent. It means learning on all sides. People like Susan George have played an invaluable role educating activists about previously obscure institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). But debate also has to reach some conclusions. The movement faces important questions.

Is it fighting to destroy the IMF/World Bank/WTO or just radically to reform and restructure these institutions? Is it possible to regulate transnational corporations? If not, what do we need in their place?

THESE ARE not just abstract discussions. The debate about firms moving production to China to exploit cheap labour, for example, is a huge one in the US.

Some have sought to build a coalition against this, which includes right winger Pat Buchanan who talks of the "threat" from Chinese workers in a racist way and wants protectionist measures to save US jobs. There should be no room for the likes of Buchanan in the movement. We should see First World workers and Third World workers as victims of the system who should unite together to end poverty.

Perhaps the most important immediate question is, where does the movement go from here? Is it going to just carry on going from one big demo to the next? What happens after Prague? These questions demand an answer and socialists have something important to say. The battle we face is not just against specific institutions like the IMF/World Bank/WTO which impose the policies of the free market.

We need to fight the whole organisation of society where a tiny minority own and control all the wealth and decide what is to be produced. It is this system that has given the world slavery and racism, and produced inequality, deprivation and war. This system cannot be patched up. It has to be overthrown. Naomi Klein herself has her own strategy.

It is to celebrate fragmentation. She says perhaps "what is needed is further radical decentralisation". She quotes approvingly someone who says, "We are up against a boulder. We can't remove it so we try to go underneath it, to go round it and over it."

The movement against global capitalism does face a boulder. It faces a highly centralised and powerful enemy in the shape of the international ruling class. It has the might of armies and the resources of huge arms companies as well as NATO and the Pentagon at its fingertips. That is precisely why socialists argue that there is only one force in society with the power to defeat capitalism.

It is only the workers of General Motors or Exxon or Cargill or Monsanto who can halt the system and build an alternative by organising production democratically themselves.

TYING THE dynamism of the movement to the power of workers is the way to realise the movement's potential to create a better world. Klein sees this as simply a dogmatic ideology and she would particularly object to the idea of organising in a revolutionary party. But the aim of a revolutionary party is not to deliver change on behalf of people.

It is to organise the most militant sections in society so that they are better able to involve wider layers of people. Those in a revolutionary party seek to base the organisation deep inside the working class, spreading a network of militants who can argue for socialist ideas, organise against the bosses and push for struggles to go further. We need democracy and spontaneity inside the movement but we also need to centralise our forces against the system.

This leadership is important precisely because we face such a deadly enemy. Genuine socialism from below is not about handing down dogma from on high. It has nothing to do with the betrayals of Labour-type parties or Stalinism. It is about changing society from the bottom up using the power of workers. It means building a broad, diverse and dynamic movement, but in the process debating and arguing about the lessons of the past and the way forward for the future.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 12 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1709
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.