Another World is Possible!
Across the world many young people, workers and poor farmers have been called upon to rally round a new slogan raised by a fresh movement – ‘another world is possible!’ This new movement has been called many things: a global justice movement, anti neo-liberal movement, anti-capitalist movement, or most often the anti-globalisation movement. This lack of definition and vagueness of core objective partly reflects the movement’s youth and diversity.
It has not however shied away from naming its enemies as the powerful global institutions held responsible for the obscene intensification of the misery of the world’s poorest; attacks on the democratic rights and welfare standards of workers in the ‘rich’ countries and the degradation of the planet’s ecology.
The movement’s targeting of global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), International monetary Fund (IMF) and the G8 most industrialised countries is a strong and definite statement that it is accelerating globalisation that is responsible for the ills of the world and its people. Globalisation is posed as a qualitatively new threat to humanity and its ecology which must be opposed and reversed. It is not inevitable and it can be defeated.
But critics of the movement have thus pointed out that globalisation is not new. Over 150 years ago in the most famous political pamphlet in history Karl Marx noted that:
‘The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere…In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations’ (the Communist Manifesto).
Today’s critics note that in some ways the world is less globalised than it was in the long period of world development at the opening of the last century. The vast industrialisation of the massive new continental economy of the United States helped give rise to migrations of labour that far exceed today’s, and statistics are bandied about which demonstrate that net global investment then exceeded today’s flows.
Critics of the idea of a new globalised world argue that we do not live in a global economy but in a world economic system divided by regional powers centred on the United States, European Union and Japan. Far from a global economy out of the control of national states we have a world increasingly dominated by the massive military and economic power of one state, the United States of America.
The Globalisation Myth?
The analysis and arguments of the critics cannot be dismissed, but like the thesis they reject their own contentions grasp only part of reality. It is obviously true – globalisation is not new but does this in the least imply that its further massive development is of no significance? Is the development of truly internationalised production by transnational companies that span the globe, and are larger than whole countries, not of enormous significance to working people in the so-called first and third worlds? Is the astronomical development of instantaneous international financial transactions of no significance to controlling the world economy?
Of course the world is divided increasingly into huge rival economic blocs, but these regional blocs are struggling for world supremacy. Yet even achievement of such supremacy would not protect any of them from the system’s crises and decline. The massive power of the US did not stop the demise of the mighty dollar from undisputed supremacy and from being the world’s largest creditor nation in 1980 turning into the largest debtor nation with a huge budget deficit as well. Only investment from China and Japan currently allows the US to persist with the growth policies which almost alone have kept the world economy from global recession in the past decade.
Globalisation is not a myth but neither is the idea that states have had a role in promoting or influencing it. Instead globalisation has raised the contradiction between the internationalisation of social production and national political organisation to a new and higher level. While the state has become more and more powerful in terms of its repressive apparatus and has strongly promoted the economic forces of globalisation, it in turn is subject to these forces contradictions and inevitable crises.
For some the answer is to increase the power of the nation state to influence and control global economic forces while for others the answer is to regulate these forces through international institutions enforcing ‘fair trade’ or a Tobin tax on currency exchanges which would benefit the poorer regions of the world.
So if globalisation is not new but there is a new period of intensive international development. Yet rather than the state weakening some states, for example the US, have become immeasurably more powerful. However the strong state does no allow the US or its competitors to rectify the extreme imbalances in its economy. What concept can explain these contradictions and give us an idea of how things can be changed?
Clearly nation states and the reforms demanded of them by the traditional organisations of the working class are woefully inadequate – there is no purely national solution to a system that has a world wide dynamic. Neither can fair trade in the least effect the exploitation that lies in production nor taxation, even if it were to find an agency to impose it, be able to really reduce the inequalities or power differences generated by globalised financial flows.
So is Globalisation inevitable?
The answer must be yes and no. It is inevitable if the militants opposing it believe that the reform measures of fair trade, national controls or a Tobin tax can seriously stop the immense economic and political powers behind globalisation. It is not inevitable if they understand that the system that generated globalisation in the middle of the 19th century is the same that has generated the human and ecological destruction of today. That system is capitalism and the current phase of it is the further development of imperialism into truly global production and finance capital. Only a theory of imperialism can combine an understanding of the contradictions between increasingly militarised states, rivalry and competition that became evident over the Iraq war, and the uncontrollable flows of global capital.
Only from such a starting point is it possible to see the futility of attempting to remove the ‘bad’ aspects of capitalism in trade or by taxation from its base in production for profit through exploitation of labour. We can see the futility of hoping national capitalist states can dispense with the ill effects of global capitalism while defending the basis of welfare reforms in a purely national context.
Can we thus say that the era of national capitalisms has now gone forever and that outside of the destruction of capitalism itself there is no road back from globalisation? No we can’t and the reason we can’t is a further devastating argument against those that seek purely national solutions.
This is because while capitalism has an in-built tendency to expand it also has an in-built tendency to crisis. During the twentieth century this tendency prompted attempts to impose nationalist solutions which led to two world wars, an economic depression and the barbarities of fascism and Stalinism. This history is conclusive demonstration that a reformist and nation state based road to equality, freedom and security is a dangerous illusion.
We should not forget that key institutions of globalisation were once seen as progressive including the IMF, World Bank and the predecessor of the WTO. There is no one way street to globalisation and the failure of the WTO talks at Cancun – raising a doubt about that organisation’s future and of multilateral trade; the crisis of the UN over Iraq and the continuing emasculation of the Kyoto Protocols and International Criminal Court are examples of reverses. National solutions within the system will lead again to rival power blocs and trade wars where we would be called upon to support a ‘social’ Europe against a ‘neo-liberal’ US. But we do not have to choose between varieties of imperialism.
Globalisation at home
The history and current condition of our own country is proof of all this and that the latest phase of imperialism affects each and every country. Thus while the solution is a world wide one because the problem is world wide we are forced to confront and fight for it mainly in our own country. The forces of global capital do not have to be chased around the world in set piece battles at economic and political summits. The Irish state has been described as the most globalised society in the world for the last two years and its whole history is one exemplifying the suffering and oppression caused by imperialism.
When Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto Ireland witnessed the death of one million people from famine and the forced emigration of a million more under foreign rule and a laissez faire economic policy that was the ancestor of today’s neo-liberalism. In the 1980’s Ireland had a debt of third world proportions and saw a structural adjustment programme that bit so deep into the welfare of working people that health and education services have never recovered. Today all social and economic decisions must be judged from the benchmark of how they will suit the demands and needs of multinationals that dominate the economy. The ‘success’ of the Celtic Tiger is now over and has left a legacy of gross inequality and plundering of public services through privatisation.
All this has been facilitated by the alliance of big business, state and trade union leaders. But so little is this understood that the same trade union leaders, who refuse to fight for workers in the multinationals; who support privatisation, wage restraint and every new treaty that promotes the global predatorial drive of the European Union, are put on the platforms of anti-globalisation rallies! Such is the result of vagueness in defining the enemy and confusion in defining the movements’ programme.
Irish workers face further privatisations that will in all probability result in the fruits of generations of their labour being pocketed by multinational companies and their local gombeen partners – just look at Telecom Eireann. We face more wage restraint to further competitiveness when it is competition that is the problem. We face cuts in public services as private sector parasites get their pound of flesh and further tax increases to plug the hole in state revenues while further hand-outs are given to the wealthiest companies in order to bribe them to locate or to remain in the country In the North imperialism must continue to be anointed as peacemaker and its sectarian and undemocratic agreements supported as if Blair and Bush somehow become benign and progressive when they touch Ireland.
Diversity or Unity?
From the nature of the problem and range of issues that face those claiming to challenge globalisation and its effects we can see how far short the movement currently falls. Its diversity does not reflect the diversity of attacks workers face. Its lack of agreement on the nature of globalisation is reflected in its lack of agreement on what to do about it. Its diversity is a positive way of expressing a woeful lack of unity that stands in stark contrast to the enemy’s unity on attacking workers in the global capitalist offensive.
To openly say all these things however is taboo in the anti-globalisation movement because its most prominent leaders and organisations, while defending diversity and the once every six months rallies outside the meetings of the rich and powerful, know that such methods of organisation and programme fit perfectly with their own very particular ideas of struggle. This involves not a project to overthrow capitalism – “I must confess that I no longer know what ‘overthrowing capitalism’ means’ writes Susan George of ATTAC – but the view that the leaders and executive organs of world capitalism can be pressurised into progressive politics. Pressure and protest by a divided movement with no strategic alternative based on creation of an opposing revolutionary and democratic power fits perfectly into such conceptions.
The real lack of an agreed alternative allows all sorts of charlatans to pose as allies of the poor and working class. So we have French Socialist Party politicians visiting the World Social Forum, from the same party that privatised more public sector bodies than all previous right wing governments put together. In our own country we have the postures of the same Sinn Fein that privatised schools as soon as it got into office in the Northern Assembly and closed a maternity hospital as the first act of its health minister. In the home of the World Social Forum the left supporters of the new Lula presidency of Brazil act as a left cover and mudguard for the imposition of IMF policies on the poor and working class of that country.
‘Another World is Possible’ becomes meaningless unless we debate, agree and unite democratically to struggle for a definition of just exactly what sort of other world we are talking about. The alternative to one based on the inequality, competition, insecurity and poverty is one that promises equality, co-operation, democracy and abundance. This alternative is called socialism. To achieve it requires the transformation of the working class and poor form victims to activists in their own liberation and to achieve this requires the working class to create its own party that can analyse the world from its own interest and transform it in its own interests.
But once again the idea of a party is very much out of fashion and diffuse concepts of ‘horizontal’ organisation have gained prominence among many of the most committed activists of the movement. In this respect the example of Argentina is instructive because it illustrates both the devastating effects of capitalist globalisation, that is of imperialism, and of the hopelessness of diverse resistance that refuses to organise a centralised political challenge for state power.
The popular uprising in December 2001 was the result of neo-liberal policies imposed on a country that was once the most prosperous in Latin America and had a standard of living that rivalled the countries of Europe. These policies of strict monetary control, deregulated financial markets and foreign debt repayments led to a huge increase in unemployment which exceeded 20% and a fall of incomes of 30%. After the uprising unemployment rose further to 25% and salaries fell by 65% while those lucky enough to have savings saw them grabbed from them by the banks while the rich flew truckloads of money out of the country.
The uprising of the poor, working class and middle class forced one president after another to resign in the face of massive opposition. Neighbourhood popular assemblies spread throughout the capital and hundreds of thousands met spontaneously to debate for hours at a time what was happening and what they should do. Diverse movements such as unemployed organisations, human rights groups, university movements, progressive intellectuals and trade unionists came together in conferences to unite their struggles although only temporary agreement was ever achieved and each subsequently pursued their own agenda.
The widespread rejection of traditional politicians and politics became for many in these movements a rejection of any form of political organisation and especially of electoral intervention. A spontaneous rejection of the existing political system became a rejection of any project capable of gaining political power. The assumption that the crisis by itself would radicalise workers and that localised organisations were adequate was put forward under a banner of ‘autonomy’ that came to express excluding social alliances and centralised leadership. Even the most mundane organisational efforts came under attack from the upholders of spontaneity as manipulative and authoritarian.
The result was that the popular movements were reduced to pressure groups on the traditional state and its political parties. These parties stood unchallenged in elections which allowed them a route back to power and respectability while leftist calls for a boycott failed miserably. The majority of workers still belonged to trade unions that were led and controlled by the traditional bureaucracy that sits on top of unions across the world. The possibility of creating a political alternative to challenge the existing establishment parties was lost allowing the old politicians to reassert control and renew their attacks on workers, for example by ending many of the occupations of factories. Once again the need for a political party of the working class was demonstrated in a negative way, through demonstrating what happens when it does not exist.
Militants and activists in the anti-globalisation movement need to debate the nature of what it fights, what its own objectives are and what the means are by which these can be brought about. It needs to go beyond vague calls for ‘another world’ and say exactly what this world is – socialism. It needs to move beyond disunity dressed up as diversity and combine genuine diversity within an international party that through democratic and open debate can unify the energy of activists in a collective struggle against capitalism. It needs to broaden and deepen its struggles to challenge existing bureaucratic leaders of the working class and develop a genuinely revolutionary programme. One around which it can unite, determine its methods and aims of struggle and use as a yardstick to measure all those who claim to represent a progressive alternative to capitalist globalisation. Another world is indeed possible; it is socialist and it can only be achieved through revolution.