Where To?



LAST SATURDAY’S great demonstration was one of those once in a lifetime events to which it would be hard to find anything to match. One of the few that begin to compare – in my experience at least – was the huge million-strong anti-war march that concluded the European Social Forum in Florence on 9 November last year.


Just as in London last weekend the mood on that demonstration was one of both defiance and celebration. And the ESF itself launched the call for a Europe-wide day of action against war in Iraq on 15 February – a call that, especially after the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, mushroomed into a global day of protest.


All in all, then, Florence was an important benchmark in the development of a world-wide movement against capitalism and war. Not for everyone, however.


The latest issue of New Left Review carries an interview with Bernard Cassen, till recently president of ATTAC France and still very much the dominant figure in this very influential movement against corporate globalisation.


Looking forward to future social forums, Cassen says: ‘The issue of war will be very important, but it will not be as dominant as it was in Italy, at the European Forum in Florence, where it overshadowed everything else.’


Cassen goes on to say that this is to be explained by the nature of the movement in Italy, characterised as it is by the convergence of anti-capitalist networks, the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, and, increasingly, the trade-unions:


‘The context is much more effervescent than in France, and the theme of the war has become a virtual obsession. Knowing that the Forum would be held in Italy, and that Rifondazione would mobilise around the issue, we all agreed that war would be a leading theme in Florence, alongside its original theme: “We Need a Different Europe.”


‘But then we discovered that all the posters for the march spoke only of war, without mentioning Europe. I can’t say I was entirely surprised. But if the forum had been held in France, it would not have gone like this. War would have been on the agenda, but not an obsession with war.’


Cassen expresses himself hypothetically here, but the next European Social Forum will be in Paris, and the suburb of Saint Denis, in November. So his comment is a prediction of how, if he gets his way, the Paris-Saint Denis ESF will differ from the one in Florence.


Cassen gives two reasons for his attitude. One is that the French context is different from that in Italy (or Britain). President Jacques Chirac is, as we all know, opposed to an attack on Iraq, and this makes it hard to build an anti-war movement in France.


I’ve always found this argument – which is quite common on the French left – puzzling. During the 1960s, Chirac’s predecessor General de Gaulle fiercely opposed the Vietnam War and withdrew France from NATO in protest against American hegemony. This didn’t prevent the development of a massive anti-war movement especially among French high-school and university students.


Cassen’s second argument is more interesting: ‘whether war breaks out or not, B-52s and special forces will not alter poverty in Brazil or hunger in Argentina.’


This is a classic case of what the great Russian revolutionary Lenin called ‘economism’. Often those who want to reform capitalism believe that its economic faults can be separated from the political system and that the state can be pushed into becoming an ally in remedying these defects.


But this is an illusion. The state – and indeed the entire international system of states – are part of capitalism. When the domination of the multinational corporations is threatened, the military violence of the state is used to shore the system up.


We saw this in a small way at Genoa in July 2001, when the riot police ran wild to crush the demonstrators against the G8 summit. But it is also true on a global scale.


The Bush administration’s war-drive is precisely about, not merely maintaining and reinforcing the global domination of the United States, but continuing to force through the neo-liberal economic measures that are breeding ‘poverty in Brazil or hunger in Argentina’.


Many of the tens of millions of demonstrators around the world last weekend understood much better than Cassen that economic and military power are very tightly bound up in modern capitalism.


The B-52s and special forces are there to maintain a system responsible for poverty, unemployment, and environmental destruction. For that reason, challenging the imperialist war machine is a central part of the movement for another world. If Bernard Cassen tries to sideline resistance to war at the next ESF, he will have a big fight on his hands.





WHEN A stuffy 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.


But 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 really 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 and limit us to a bi-polar (or worse, nationalist) view of the world.


‘The globalisation protest movements were far superior to the anti-war movements in this regard. They not only recognised the complex and plural nature of the forces that dominate capitalist globalisation today … but they imagined a alternative, democratic globalisation consisting of plural and exchanges across national and regional borders based on equality and freedom.’


This is bizarre. In the first place, it is a pro-war propaganda cliché that the peace protests are ‘anti-American’. They are certainly against George Bush, and fear of the United States is widespread – opinion polls consistently show that about a third of the British population think the US is a bigger danger than Saddam Hussein.


But none of this is the same 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 on the left – and not just the left – in Latin America.


But I was very 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 perfectly well 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 far and away 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 something associated with the right wing of the anti-globalisation movement.


As I pointed out in this column last week, Bernard Cassen, leader of ATTAC, the French-based campaign against financial speculation, has expressed this view. In the past 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 international big business hoped. The Financial Times regularly announced the demise of the movement.


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 build 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. They have discovered, or rediscovered that, as Arundhati Roy put it at Porto Alegre, the real name of ‘Corporate Globalisation’ is ‘Imperialism’.


So 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, as people arrive at a clearer understanding of the real nature of the enemy.


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 that has been surpassed. If they don’t wake up, they will be left behind.








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