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Peter Waterman

 

 
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The European Social Forum, London, 2004 (ESF 2004) suggested, at least to me, a dramatic contrast, indeed a contradiction, between an old and a new way of operating within and around this evidently new phenomenon (this was only the third such ESF). Dominating its preparation was a committee consisting primarily of: the Socialist Workers Party (a traditional Leninist Vanguard party operating three or four front organisations at the ESF itself); certain major national trade unions of a traditionally labourist nature and pyramidical structure, if of a more-militant or leftist tendency; certain major NGOs; and the Greater London Authority (actually, a group of advisors to the Mayor, identified with another Leninist tendency, Socialist Action). (Nunes 2004).

Excluded from this dominant grouping were a broad range of libertarian - autonomist - anarchist and feminist groups (Cruells 2005), of left or just liberal-democratic NGOs, of critically-minded intellectuals, artists and professionals, all unprepared to accept the domination of power (politics) and money (capital) that the organising committee represented. This conflict was conceptualised, by the marginalised, as one between the "verticals" and "horizontals". Eventually the ESF took place within a massive complex, Alexandra Palace, at massive cost, with equally massive over-representation of, for example, the union head offices (which had signally failed to mobilise their members to attend). The SWP and its front organisations were similarly over-represented. Meanwhile, the horizontals either made the most of their marginal position, or set up a number of sites and activities elsewhere in London, or did both simultaneously.

What was the nature of the relationship between the very varied parties (and Parties) which dominated the organising committee? What was the relationship of the horizontals which permits Rodrigo Nunes (2004) to identify a commonality between their separate sites, events and orientations? The answer lies in a notion of politics as "power over", as distinguished from "power for". At the top or the front (where else?) we had an "alliance of the willing" -- of forces that recognise each other as having a certain financial or organisational capacity and interest to carry out a limited programme or purpose. This was a marriage of convenience, a successful example of Machtpolitik as it continues to operate within the global justice and solidarity movement (hereafter, GJ&SM). Each of those involved in the control exercise were hoping to reap a particular harvest from such, regardless of what other members of the alliance might be intending. My final impression of ESF2004 was, nonetheless, of a modestly-successful event, particularly for those participants who were coming to a Forum for the first time: "Anti-Globalisation 101", as they would say in the USA. Initiative or even domination, anyway, is not the same as control. This could not, I recollect, even be assured at the Communist-front World Youth Festivals of the 1950s, organised by the world Communist movement within Communist states! The attempt to nonetheless impose such control surely represents an archaic (not to say capitalist or even feudal) notion of power.

From the old emancipatory movements to the new

We are, however, moving from the 19th-20th Century era of primarily institutional power to the 21st Century of an increasingly communicational and cultural one. The hegemons know this. Whilst they may not abandon their political and economic fortresses, they are increasingly able and willing to operate on the terrains of communication and culture. The Republicans won -- we are told they won -- the Presidential elections in the US by fighting, in considerable part, a cultural war ("God, Guns and Gays") which the Democrats were unable or unwilling to contest. The world hegemons are also more sensitive than we may be to the fact that what one of their organs called "the second world power" is computerised and networked... and operates on the terrain of culture (consider Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

It seems to me that, under a globalised networked capitalism, those who want to surpass such need to relate to each other in terms of communication and culture. For us, in the global justice and solidarity movement, communication surely means building a new global community not only on the internet but also using, offline, the relational principles of networking that computerisation incorporates. As for "culture", this has to mean relevant values, images, son et lumière, favourable to "a world that allows for many others". For us, both terms surely imply a dialectic of word and action which is subversive of capitalist, hierarchical, racist, patriarchal, militarist and other alienating structures and processes, and that is supportive of cooperative, creative, critical and self-reflective ways of being.

Relating to each other (each Other) implies debate, discussion and dialogue. These can, of course, take place between traditional institutions, organisations and alliances, each involved in games of hierarchy and competition. But they can also take place without or despite such. Global social emancipation surely requires that the DD&D replace H&C. Let me specify. By "debate" I mean polemic, the carrying out of war by linguistic means (Churchill: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war"). By "discussion" I mean an exchange in which each listens to the other. By "dialogue" I mean an exchange in which each learns from the other, or in which the parties are able to surpass the original terms of the exchange and reach agreement at a more-advanced or more complex level.

All these forms or levels of inter-relationship do anyway occur in and around the Forum process. Thus, despite their cautious and often instrumental attitude to the Forums, and despite their profound continuing attachment to "social partnership" (a fundamental partnership with capital and/or state, national or international), the international trade-union organisations reveal the impact of the new ways of relating to each other which the Forum and other instances of the global justice movement demonstrate (Waterman and Timms 2004).

Indeed, the International Committee of the World Social Forum itself reveals the impact of criticism from those -- often without money, numbers, institutions or any conventional measures of power -- who have been publicly and energetically pointing out the contradictions between its often new values and its often old practices. We (yes, I confess to being one of these critics) have been chanting, subversively, "Another World is For Sale!", or "Another Forum is Possible!", or talking about the tension between the "verticals" and "horizontals" within the movement (and demonstrating that horizontals don't take things lying down).

Promising is this: that most of the critics do not abandon the Forum, or even threaten it -- except with tongue in cheek? -- but, rather, argue for mutual respect and equal... umm?... space, they operate in the interstices, they set up tent on the periphery. And, it seems to me, that in so doing, they at least implicitly recognise that they do not own "libertarianism" or "emancipation", but that these principles can also reside at the centre, or within the old institutions. Or, rather, that they are to be constructed in debate, discussion and dialogue with those at the centre of the WSF.

Whether or not those with power within our new movement are moving from institutional alliances to global dialogue may be followed in the evolving relationship between, for example, the international trade-union organisations and the global justice movement. On both sides there exists the old temptation to negotiate, behind the scenes, an instrumental alliance (one in which each calculates how it can use the other for its own purpose, to its own advantage). This is likely to be in function of "Another Possible Capitalist World". Simultaneously, however, there are, within the new movement, voices that expose such archaic processes and unambitious purposes (I recall the feminist joke that women who want equality with men lack ambition). And which, operating on the terrains of communication and culture, propose that "A World Other than Capitalism is Possible". The future of the movement -- meaning continued movement within the movement -- will depend on whether and to what extent it operates in terms of old institutional alliances or of new open dialogues.

The meaning of old and new

Old institutional alliances and new open dialogues? This seems a commonsense understanding of the matter. But let us think further about how "old" and "new" operate in relation to social movements. On the one hand it is easy to talk about the old and the new in relation to the World Social Forum process and the GJ&SM. On the other hand, the new dialogical process and a dialectical understanding should require one (or at least this one!) to reject this as yet another binary or, even worse, Manichean opposition (in which the opposed terms have attached to them Vice or Virtue).

Let's start with the easy talk.

What is old here? The national / industrial / colonial phase of capitalism is maybe 150 years old. The nation-state, or state-defined-nation, is several hundred years old, the inter-state institution is a century or so old, the modern political party (for which the German Social Democratic Party stands model) is about 125 years old. The trade union is about two hundred years old. Marxism (and class struggle as the sole or primary motive force of history) is around 150 years old. Socialism is rather older. Armed insurrection is, well, really old. "The social movement" as one of popular social classes/categories is a 19th century concept. Parliaments, as major platforms for social movements, are pretty old. Internationalism, understood and practised as a relationship between nations, nationalists, nationalisms (and often mimicking the power relations between state-identified parties or unions) is a century old. One could continue"

What is new then? A globalised / networked / informatised / financial and services capitalism (GNC) is pretty new, whether one considers the beginning of the transformation or the generalisation of the concept. The GJ&SM (born 1994?), and which includes a considerable anarchist / autonomist / libertarian element, is pretty damn new. The WSF (born Porto Alegre 2001) is even newer. Whilst "new social movements" are now old hat, the global justice and solidarity movement is new (the concept was born 2002). So is "global solidarity", which includes but surpasses as its constituency nation-state-defined participants. "The social movement" as a cross-class one expressing progressive values is newish. Networking as a principle of articulation (meaning both joining together and expression) in social movements may be twenty five years old, but its recognition (in recent hegemonic discourse as "netwar") is new. So we should not perhaps be surprised that the WSF opposes itself or distances itself (or is autonomous from) the state-national, the inter-state institution, political parties, militarism and insurrection, institutionalised unionism, Marxism, socialism and class-struggle (at least as the primary motive force of history).

Now let's complicate the matter. I think this means raising our understanding from an everyday or commonsense level to a more sophisticated or theoretical one. It certainly means surpassing an understanding of old and new as a Manichean division.

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) goes back to the 19th century but, as a widespread and influential inter/national phenomenon, often state- or foundation-funded, is 25-50 years old. Yet these have played a major, if not a dominant, role within the WSF. The WSF restriction on political parties is honoured, willy-nilly, more in the breach than the observance. The cross-class WSF is dominated in both leadership and participation by the university-educated. Institutionalised unionism, deeply involved in international "social (i.e. capitalist) partnership" is courted. The International Labour Organisation (an inter-state institution of reformist hue, but itself profoundly compromised with capitalist globalisation) is present, with nary an eyebrow raised. Whilst major elements within the WSF may like to think of it as a new kind of "open space", it is increasingly institutionalised, or increasingly accused of being so. Or it is under pressure to take policy positions, or even to become, or support, some kind of global political party, or even a world parliament. And, then, the new anarchist / autonomist / libertarian tendency, and even the Zapatistas who gave the original impulse to the new movement, are excluded from or marginalised within the WSF. Whilst, finally, the GJ&SM (in which the anarcho / autonomo / libertarians are highly visible) is also highly communicationally / culturally active, the WSF has been weak in both spheres.

Rethinking the old and the new

So does it make any sense to contrast old and new in relation to the new movements? Or do we have to 1) recognise how the old and the new might operate within the old and the new, and 2) recuperate for new purposes, incorporate within new understandings, valuable elements of the old? And does this make it necessary, 3) to abandon not only the Manichean but the binary opposition altogether?

1. The old and the new operate both within the old and the new international movements. There are, as already suggested, old elements within the WSF. But, obviously, the WSF is novel in myriad ways -- including the capacity of its leadership, so far, to transform the event in the light of criticism from its libertarian margin. There are equally novel elements within the old institutionalised trade unions, which have been learning from the WSF, and which in significant cases preceded the WSF in their positive response to women and even feminism.

2. The new movements need to recuperate old social movement elements. If we do not understand old and new, or traditional and innovatory, in terms of a Manichean opposition, then we are required to reconsider critically the old. This does not, of course, imply reversing the terms of the opposition: old is good; new is bad (as might various Simplistic Workers Parties). Nor, obviously, does it mean understanding the old in a traditional manner. I think, for example, there is a necessity to recuperate the old internationalism and the struggle for the emancipation of labour -- recognising these as interdependent. Within the context of the WSF, if not possibly also of the GJ&SM more generally, labour and labour struggles have never been a major theme, nor a cross-thematic issue. Labour questions have been typically presented either in the largely ossified form of the traditional unions (see above), or as separate issues concerning worker rights, women workers, migrants, rural labour, land reform, the social economy, etc. Yet, in so far as we are interested in emancipation, labour (over-work, worklessness, privatisation, increasing worker control of products and the production process) need to be made as central to the Forum and the Movement as have been Trade, Aid, Peace, Ecology and -- lately -- Women and Youth.

3. Using binary -- and even Manichean? -- oppositions carefully. I recall that Alberto Melucci, credited with inventing the concept "New Social Movements" later regretted he had done so. Less thoughtful scholars spent a decade or two opposing the NSMs (good) to the OSMs (bad). As a result they, and maybe even he, failed to recognise the emancipatory energy locked into the OSMs and, more fatally perhaps, to recognise that (the) major popular NSMs of his day and ours were or are communalist, racist and fundamentalist! In everyday shorthand, on banners and in the ideological mode, it is hard to avoid binary oppositions and to avoid giving these oppositions Manichean qualities. Not only are such procedures ingrained in human history but they surely express certain practical psychological and emotional needs. If, however, we are 1) concerned precisely to surpass the emancipatory movements of the past, and their common limitations or defeats, and 2) to develop a logic that can handle an increasingly complex reality, then we obviously need a dialectical methodology to accompany a dialogical behaviour - "the philosophy of internal relations" according to Ollman (1971), who then specifies it in terms of outlook, inquiry and exposition. Within and around the Forum and the Movement we need to surpass thinking primarily in terms of binaries. We need, in other words, to develop those qualities of thought and action urged on the Movement of 1968 by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1970) and become "as free as dancers, as aware as football players, as surprising as guerillas". In so far as we follow such precepts, I think there is little danger in using binary oppositions between old and new (as practical shorthand) and even Manichean oppositions (to express values and motivate action).

To return to ESF2004 in London. I feel quite comfortable in characterising as old the manner in which this new type of event was set up, structured and controlled. It is not simply that the leadership consisted of an institutional alliance since one can imagine that, in trying to reach a broader constituency, it was more than this. Nor is it that the institutions involved come out of a past period of emancipatory struggle (labour struggle, incrementalist or insurrectionary), since the NGOs that joined the alliance more probably come out of the 1960s. Nor that the dominant actor here, the SWP, thinks primarily in binary-oppositional terms -- Reform v. Revolution; Spontaneity v. Organisation; Working-Class v. (Petty-)Bourgeoisie), Imperialism v. hmm? Nationalism (again!). It is, rather, the combination of these factors that allows one (or at least, again, this one!) to characterise them as old. The new is only beginning to be born. Within, of course, the womb of the old and bearing its marks.

Bibliography

Note: My references come, spontaneously / deliberately, from both old and new sources. Of particular value has been the piece by Rodrigo Nunes (original spelling), which, coming from the autonomist fringe, critiques not only the verticals but also the horizontals. And which argues that labour, in the form of the movement of precarious work/ers, made a promising new appearance at ESF2004. The Nunes piece, of course, was published first on the web. PW.

Cruells, Eva. 2005. "European Social Forum: A Huge Lack of Inclusiveness at the 2004 Edition in London". Les Pénélopes. http://www.penelopes.org/Anglais/xarticle.php3?id_article=1162.

Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. 1970. "Constituents of a Theory of the Media", New Left Review, No. 64, pp. 13-36. http://www.tcnj.edu/~miranda/classes/topics/reading/enzensberger.pdf

Ollman, Bertell. 1971. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunes, Rodrigo. 2004. "Territory and Deterritory: Inside and Outside the ESF 2004, New Movement Subjectivities", November 23, 2004 2:29 PM, transparant.nsf@lists.riseup.net.

Waterman, Peter and Jill Timms. 2004. "Trade Union Internationalism and A Global Civil Society in the Making", in Kaldor, Mary, Helmut Anheier and Marlies Glasius (eds), Global Civil Society 2004/5. London: Sage. Pp. 178-202.

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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