A Survey of European Social Movements


is no country in Europe where, after the defeat of social democracy,
there arose resistance as effective as is in Italy. The overarching
mood in Italy is to try to unify workers and all marginalized groups
and strata: the unemployed, the poor, industrial and intellectual
workers, whites, and people of all other races, men and women, and
immigrants, in a “movement of movements.” A great acceleration
of efforts started in Genoa, July 2001, where the anti-corporate
globalization movement resisted the G8 Summit.

Tutte Bianche

the most interesting part of the social movements in Italy is represented
by the movement “tutte bianche” (white overalls), who
have since Genoa changed their name to Disobedienti. The movement
is an interesting mixture of ideas and tactics of Zapatismo, Italian
autonomous Marxism, and libertarian influences. The central groups
of the movement comprise Zapatista support collectives, Ya Basta!
The three-plank program of Ya Basta! calls for a universally guaranteed
“basic income,” global citizenship that guarantees free
movement of people across borders, and free access to new technologies,
which in practice implies extreme limits on patent rights.

advocates social disobedience as a means for political action expressed
by white attire, which symbolizes invisibility: invisible as immigrants,
workers stripped of rights, prisoners, various people who oppose
genocide all over the world.

bianche is not, they tell us, a movement. It is an “instrument,”
a form of direct action. The main elements are transparency, the
symbolic and media value of messages launched by actions, and conflict
aimed at consensus creation, and still further social disobedience.
Everyone can enrich and add to this practice with respect to his
or her own political experience.

disobedience, claim the protagonists of this movement, is not only
a political struggle, but also a cultural one. To be a Zapatista
in Europe means to “fight on the side of all victims of the
neo-liberal monster through a “networking of the world,”
which, for the activists of Ya Basta!, means “grassroots diplomacy
and international horizontal correlation,” in their striving
for a world “where many worlds fit, a world without borders.”

great inspiration for the Dissobedienti is the thought of Antonio
Negri, considered the unofficial ideologist of the movement. Negri’s
concepts were introduced in his famous and much disparaged book


and have invigorated a major part of the Italian radical

Movimento Antagonista

movement inspired by the ideas of Italian Marxism, movimento antagonista,
is more conservative. This movement, centered around unions and
social centers, represents a continuity of the Marxist movement
of the 1970s, “Autonomia Operaia.”Aantagonists promote
the widening of social conflict, working in unions, struggle for
the right of workers, anti-fascist campaigns, solidarity with Intifada,
and anti-capitalist campaigns.


Italian anarchist movement, or movimento anarchico, is decentralized,
with no structure, and deals with the problems of totalitarian institutions,
psychiatry, ecology, and militarism. It is divided among pacifists,
direct action advocates, individual action advocates, and primitivists.
It rejects institutions and dialogue with them. It embodies regional
networks and appears in demonstrations as the anarchist block, but
has many strands. The most famous is FAI, which was founded in 1945
and has passed through different political periods.

publishes the weekly paper

Umanita Nuova

dealing with news
and topics written for anarchists. FAI branches are very active
at a local level, but nationally FAI doesn’t seem to have any
official or public political line. The last congress launched the
idea of building an “anarchist strategy for social transformation.”

Movimento Pacifista

pacifista refers to the more moderate parts of the Italian movement,
such as associations, Christian (catholic) dissidents, non-governmental
organizations, various environmentalists, and some non-parliamentary
parties. Pacifism in Italy developed in the 1980s during anti-nuclear
campaigns, but today very active pacifist networks have sprung from
those experiences. Numerous organizations develop humanitarian and
social projects in war zones all over the world.

Movimento Dei Girotondi

dei girotondi is a civic movement that attempts to include what
is left of “centro sinistra” (left center). It has a lot
of artists, directors, intellectuals, unionists, and judges. It
is a movement for a more radical reformism, very diverse, and it’s
called “girotondi,” which means “circle games,”
because it has acted in the form of a big circle, which surrounds
corrupt institutions. On certain occasions Movimento dei girotondi
has managed to mobilize a great number of people.

Movimento Critical Mass

Italy, ecology and environmentalism (movimento critical mass) have
always been one step behind northern European countries. The translation
of radical policy into everyday life has not always been successful.
The problem is cultural. But the move- ment of critical mass—a
term coined by ecologists and left libertarians from San Francisco—has
recently begun developing at incredible speed and has become very
popular in Italy.

Social Centers

most important institutional props of the Italian movement are social
centers, social forums, and magazines. Social centers represent
an attempt to create autonomous spaces free from capitalist social
and economic relations. They became vital for the survival of anti-capitalist
movements by the end of the 1970s. There are dozens of social centers
in Italy with different experiences and different political-ideological
nuances, but they are all descendants of 1960s and 1970s revolts.

Social Forums

Italian movement of movements has been mixing and forming coalitions
for years and is now trying to take root in popular society. The
new Social Forums are an attempt to bridge differences in ideology,
practice, and theory to create an open plural space.

first social forum was created before Genoa and was inspired by
the spirit of Porto Alegre. There are now 140 social forums in Italy.
While the “national” Italian Social Forum has had its
spokespeople and hierarchy, local social forums act autonomously
and represent a very important site of participation for citizens
who have come closer to radical ideas after Genoa. The political
map of social forums is complicated and intertwined. There are many
who find this form outdated, but they have had impressive results,
especially at the local level.

No Border Network

movement for the rights of immigrants began in Paris. During the
1990s, hundreds of immigrants without papers—the Sans Papiers—started
one of the most exciting rebellions. This rebellion detonated a

by charismatic speakers, they occupied two Paris churches. Soon
after that, they formulated a model of resistance and struggle that
has spread through Europe. In Germany, the initiative “no one
is illegal” was decisively influenced by the events in Paris.

n Amsterdam
in 1997, during a huge summit against the European Union, about
40 activist projects established a network called “admission
free.” The network gave way to the “Noborder” network
in 1999, formed in front of the Finnish Tampere Conference Center,
where the EU-Migation Summit was taking place. Actions and activities
were developed and executed across national borders, most dramatically
in July 1998 when a few hundred activists put up tents for a ten
day stay near the border of the River Neise, leading to summer camps
in the following years along the borders of the European Union.
Instead of campfire romanticism the motto was, “hacking the
borderline.” Characteristic of the border camps was a multiple
strategy consisting of the exchange of experience and political
debate, classical political education in the remote areas, and direct
actions to disrupt the idea of the border regime.

sprang up along the Polish Ukrainian, Polish Belo Russian, and Slovenian
Croatian borders, which quickly led to the independent network of
no border activists in Eastern Europe.

last Noborder Camp was held in Strasbourg, July 2002. During the
ten days in Strasbourg, 2,000 to 3,000 participants from over 20
countries in Europe tried to find a mutual language of resistance
and action against border regimes. Strasbourg, however, apart from
great importance, revealed some shortcomings of the Noborder Camps
that its critics keep pointing out.

to an anecdote, an Italian dissident Scalcone cried out on one occasion:
“you are the prisoners of your own minds” and left the
meeting. Although this episode made many laugh, it summarizes the
shortcomings of the Noborder Camps: imposing one organizational
culture within the decision-making procedures (the “imperialism
of consensus”), clumsy translating of South American models
(Argentinean assemblies), insufficient organization, chaotic status
in the camps (caused by the effort to have everything as “spontaneous
and democratic” as possible), non-constructive discussions,
and ideological divisions.

Peoples Global Action

has already been written

PGA. In 1996, 3,000 activists from around the world gathered in
the rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico. Their hosts, the Zapatistas,
described the vision that inspired the meeting: “This intercontinental
network of resistance will be the medium in which distinct resistances
may support one another. This intercontinental network of resistance
is not an organizing structure; it doesn’t have a central head
or decision maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We
are the network, all of us who resist.” Two years later, the
founding conference of PGA was held in Geneva, at which 300 delegates
from 71 countries hashed out a lengthy manifesto and “hallmarks”
for collaboration. The hallmarks were later changed at the conference
in Cochabamba:

  • A very clear
    rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and feudalism; all trade
    agreements, institutions, and governments that promote destructive

  • We reject all
    forms and systems of domination and discrimination including,
    but not limited to, patriarchy, racism, and religious fundamentalism
    of all creeds. We embrace the full dignity of all human beings

  • A confrontational
    attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major
    impact in such biased and undemocratic organizations, in which
    transnational capital is the only real policy-maker

  • A call to direct
    action and civil disobedience, support for social movements’
    struggles, advocating forms of resistance that maximize respect
    for life and oppressed peoples’ rights, as well as the construction
    of local alternatives to global capitalism

  • An organizational
    philosophy based on decentralization and autonomy

the next few years, hundreds of grassroots organizations from every
continent participated in the global days of action called by the
PGA, and attended global and regional conferences. The PGA built
a communicative structure that linked a wave of direct action protests
across the planet. United around their rejection of neo-liberal
policy and institutions and their refusal to engage in traditional
lobbying, the organizations that participated in PGA appeared to
have little else in common. Challenged by their differences in resources,
organizational culture, and coalition experience, and yet pressured
to act, they resisted the “iron law of oligarchy” to build
a model that would remain both egalitarian and cohesive.

is not an organization, but rather a kind of coalition, a group
of organizations and individuals working together for a common purpose.
No one may represent PGA nor does PGA represent any organization
or person. Each continent can organize as it feels appropriate,
but must provide an organization that acts as a contact point for
the global network. While one participating organization volunteers
to be the Secretariat office, its role is purely mechanical; the
forwarding of mail, etc. The only central decision-making body is
the Conveners Committee composed of representatives from organizations
and movements on each continent. The composition of this committee
must show a regional balance and a balance regarding the areas of
work of the organizations and the movements that compose it. Like
many informal coalitions, the PGA operates without a head office,
budget, or formal mechanisms.

has a major role in PGA projects in Europe. Its activists are among
the most serious protagonists of PGA efforts. Among the most interesting
campaigns this year is YoMango!—a social disobedience to provide
everyday, enjoyable sabotage against capitalism, such as massive
shoplifting against big corporations and their shopping malls. It
focuses on exploring technical, legal, and logistical aspects of
sabotaging capital while having fun.

European Social Consulta

European Social Consulta has its origins in a Spanish experiment
known as the Social Consulta for the abolition of external debt.
In 2000, this Consulta  turned into a vibrant and dynamic participatory
exercise, successfully developing a working network. Without relying
on any structure or acronym, 500 assemblies were formed in 500 communities
and neighborhoods and around 10,000 people participated in an assembly-based
structure, which led to more than 1,000,000 people voting 97 percent
in favor of the abolition of the external debt. The Consulta was
soon outlawed by the state, which turned it into a substantial experience
in civil disobedience and rebellion through direct democracy.

European Social Consulta represents a shift away from pure opposition
towards constructive alternatives. It was conceived as a complement
to the People’s Global Action, which is itself centered, first
and foremost, on direct actions of resistance. The Consulta emphasizes
the “transformation of society.”


anarchism represents a very important inspiration for the radical
and non-reformist part of the social movement, it is more fractionalized
than ever. Perhaps anarchism is presented in the best possible manner
within networks such as PGA. In this coalition, as well as in the
movement in Europe, anarchism brings the ideals of libertarian anti-capitalism,
the imperative of horizontal organization, different organizational
forms, new decision-making forms, and the expansion of a culture
of democracy.

great number of anarchist groups—anarcho-syn- dicalists, anarcho-communists,
anarcho-individualists, platformists—act outside PGA. These
groups are mostly connected to Internationals such as International
Workers Association or International Anarchist Federation. There
are a certain number of synthesist organizations that attempt to
unite anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist communists, and anarchist
individualists in the same organizations as well.


is a network of collectives, members of parties, individuals, and
NGOs, many of whom are from the old left. ATTAC is torn between
radicalism and reformism. There are left nationalist trends, often
seen as connected to President Bernard Cassen; social-democratic
trends, seen as related to ATTAC’s vice-president, Susan George;
Trotskyist trends, mainly around members of the LCR Party; and rank-and-file
activists of diverse ideological orientations.

began with an editorial written in 1998 by Ignacio Ramonet, director

Le Monde Diplomatique.

The article analyzed the financial
crisis in Asia and Russia and its social disasters, on one hand,
and the new reports from the UN on increasing gaps between the rich
and the poor, on the other. The conclusion of the article was a
question: why don’t we impose a tax on capital flows like the
Nobel Prize winner James Tobin proposed some years before and use
it to satisfy fundamental needs?

Tobin, in reality, the proposed tax was not intended for redistribution.
Its initial purpose was, before the development of financial speculation,
to reduce instability coming from the free speculative flows of
capital on foreign exchange.

Ramonet, however, put a different emphasis on the redistribution
aspects of the tax. The article came at the “right moment”
and thousands of letters arrived at

Le Monde Diplomatique

the idea. A regrouping of associations (trade unions, the Peasant
Confederation of Jose Bové, associations against unemployment,
feminist groups) and left reviews gathered around the

Le Monde

and launched ATTAC.

became an association of popular education and action—with
the idea that economic knowledge had to be spread among citizens
to help them resist the so-called “experts” who were saying
that economy had nothing to-do with alternative democratic choices.

organized “summer popular universities” where hundreds
of young and even younger people came. The context was marked by
the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization
in winter 1999. ATTAC was one of the new types of movements mobilized
from solidarity with the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas.

France there are now hundreds of grassroots committees in ATTAC,
with some 25,000 members. Since last year, the organization began
to develop elsewhere, helped by the international editions of

Monde Dipl


New groups have been founded with
their own platform and structure in many European countries (including
Sweden and Denmark).

is also one of the most important organizers of the World Social
Forum. The critics of ATTAC most often warn of the differences in
regional ATTAC groups, the reformist orientation, the almost dictator-like
structure of the French ATTAC, including the isolation of the presidency
from the base, rigged elections, and lack of democracy inside the

Globalize Resistance

network that is becoming increasingly influential is Globalize Resistance,
a British answer to ATTAC. Gathered around the Trotskyist Socialist
Workers Party, Globalize Resistance is an endeavor of the old left,
under a new name, to establish itself as one of the pillars of resistance
in Europe. It reflects the fact that the more intelligent part of
the older old left has realized that there is something “radically
new” in the movement and that it is better to abandon the traditionalist
methods and to adjust.

Resistance has a steering committee composed of the SWP members
and NGO representatives close to this political perspective. They
have been present almost everywhere there is dissent and many actions
in the UK, especially the anti-war ones, would have been impossible
without their participation. The same note refers to the sister
organization, also influenced by SWP, called the STOP THE WAR movement.

criticism directed at Globalize Resistance relates mostly to their
non-democratic structure, centrism, and the tricks by which old
substance is presented as a new one, by way of cosmetic touches.