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Naima Bouteldja © 2002


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[These interviews, by Naima Bouteldja, took place in London on Thursday, 14 February. Susan George is the Associate Director of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam and Vice-President of Attac France. Philippe Marlière is Senior Lecturer in Politics at University College, London. Thanks to Adam Khan, Bejamin Geer and Leo Zeilig.]

Turtle: Susan, you’ve just returned from Porto Alegre; what’s your assessment of the second World Social Forum? What were the most striking differences between this forum and the first one?

Susan George: I wasn’t at the first forum, so I couldn’t compare the two. I believe that the value of this kind of event is mainly emotional and organisational. It allows people who have been working all year long, often under not very pleasant conditions, to feel a tremendous energy, to feel united and to get a sense of the globalisation of the movement; that’s what’s important about it. They can make contacts and work together better. Nothing replaces face-to-face contact, even if you have been in e-mail contact for months.

Turtle: Isn't the strength of the movement, its diversity and scope, also a source of potential weakness?

Susan George: Not at all; it will continue to be an advantage. We obviously don’t have a monolithic ideology like Davos, and that’s fine; nobody wants to be the Davos of the other side. I think it’s an advantage, and so far we have managed it very well; I don’t see it causing any major difficulties in the future.

Turtle: In England, the anti-capitalist movement took a very strong and active position against the war in Afghanistan, identifying it as the military face of neoliberal globalisation. This gave rise to a very large anti-war movement. The anti-war coalition in England includes a broad range of organisations, from pacifists to anti-capitalists and unionists. Several left-wing parties and Muslim organisations also belong to this coalition. In France, where the movement against neoliberal globalisation is very influential (in large part thanks to the work of Attac in the past four years), and where the biggest Muslim community of Europe lives, the anti-war movement is almost non-existent. Why?

Susan George: That’s true. It’s because France never had a peace movement. In the Sixties, I was involved in what little there was in the way of a peace movement; it was tiny, and it was mainly focused on the nuclear question. We had both nuclear power and nuclear weapons to deal with, and no political party in France, including the Communists, ever spoke out against nuclear weapons. Because of its stance on nuclear independence, France always hoped to be a ‘third way’ between the US and the Soviet Union to some extent, and therefore we had neither a movement like the ‘Greenham Common women’, nor anything like the movements in Germany and in England, where there has always been a significant peace movement. I was also in the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) here in the Sixties, and Seventies with people like Peggy Duff or Margaret Gardiner… Despites few exceptions, the French never took sides on that issue. There is today a small peace movement in France; for example, there’s the ‘non-violent action’ movement, but it’s based on a completely pacifist ideology, and in that respect it’s different from the movements in England and Germany. Within Attac, we condemn Bush’s methods in the so-called anti-terrorist war.

Turtle: What relationship do you see between the war and neoliberal globalisation?

Susan George: I think that after the attack on the Twin Towers, and the ensuing trauma in the US, Bush’s only political option, with regard to his electorate, was an invasion. Of course, one can’t dismiss the idea that, afterwards or in the past, an invasion was a way to ensure that oil could be transported across Afghanistan; the US was in negotiations with the Taliban until July… But once those negotiations had broken down and UNOCAL had withdrawn, I think the US gave up on the oil in that region, and in any case on the idea of a pipeline through Afghanistan. Are they inclined to try again now? Since yesterday evening there’s been talk of an attack on Iraq, which means that Bush is going to make the most of American public opinion, which is still very favourable towards him, in order to settle some old scores from more than ten years ago, and that’s appalling. But I don’t think the war against the Taliban was a direct reaction to globalisation. I think it was politically determined by the context and by the attacks on New York and Washington, and that politically, it would have been very difficult to do anything else in that context. But I don’t really think it’s related to globalisation as we’ll be describing it this evening; there’s the oil connection, but it remains to be seen whether the US is going to try that connection again.

Turtle: In your article ‘Clusters of Crisis and a Planetary Contract’, published in Sand in the Wheels last November, you use the term ‘fundamentalist’ on several occasions; what do you include in that category?

Susan George: Don’t forget that I’ve also used that term to refer to the World Bank. I use it to refer to any institution or movement that follows an ideology that’s completely impermeable to discussion. [In such an ideology], there are things which can be discussed and others which cannot be discussed, and that reason will never change, things of a religious nature, whether one takes the term ‘religious’ to refer to a relationship with God or, as in the case of the World Bank, to an institution which is in fact religious, because it subscribes to an utterly rigid ideology.

Turtle: In the same article, you say that ‘Arab and/or Muslim countries wishing to join in the Planetary Contract would need to show good faith in weeding out their own dangerous fundamentalist elements.’ Don’t you think that phrased in these terms, to some extent your analysis is reversed. For example when one considers countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and also Afghanistan it is precisely the internal oppression of the national rulers and/or the international interference for economic and political reasons which are the source of the birth and/or the strengthening [and radicalisation] of these ‘fundamentalist’ groups?

Susan George: I think that you are most probably right and this sentence might be not justified. But what I wanted to generally express in the planetary contract and it does not only concern the Arab or Arabo-Muslim societies; I think that civil society absolutely must be involved in the determination of priorities. If one ever collected the sums to make a planetary contract, I would be very hostile towards the idea of simply distributing these sums to governments; I believe that everyone has had enough of this. And what I tried to explain in this article is that civil society, through its representatives, who should be non-governmental representatives (i.e. not the governmental trade union, not the governmental association of women etc...) has to be involved in the determination of the priorities.

Turtle: Should that include the ‘fundamentalists’, too?

Susan George: Yes. I believe that in Algeria it was a serious mistake not to let, what was called the FIS at this time, win the elections. They would have had the same problems as all the others but now this influence is concentrated and has become an abominable form of violence. Yes the fundamentalists as well, but not only them.

Turtle: What organisational forms and tactics must the movement take on to be successful in the future?

Susan George: That’s a huge question. I believe that it is necessary to continue within the consensus and to remain united. We have to try to concentrate on the issues on which we agree and to avoid as much as possible issues on which we do not agree, where we have divergences because what unites us is more significant than what divides us. We must try to fight for each other and thus not only agricultural struggles for the peasants, not only feminist struggles for the women, not only working class struggles for the workers. One needs to be interested to the whole world because these sectional struggles appear, to me, likely to fail. The movement is in need of a much broader collective coalition. They [the powerful] will get rid of us, one after the other, if we cannot link these fights.

Turtle: Philippe, can you comment on the absence of an anti-war movement in France?

Philippe Marlière: There are various factors. Traditionally there always have been in Italy and Greece (for geopolitical reasons) and even in England, pacifist movements much stronger than in France. In addition, the most significant political reason is the collapse in France of the Left, which was at the same time anti-capitalist and anti-American. After the Second World War the anti-capitalist and antifascist trend was leading within the French Left and that was cemented around the Communist Party. It does not mean that all the left was communist but the influence of the latter was decisive; the PCF was setting the agenda.

The Communist Party was extremely influential until the Seventies, and it had quite a clear anti-capitalist line and thus anti-American by the same token, because of the Cold War background; that cemented the peace movement and a significant part of the left then belonged to a pacifist movement, which was also anti-American.
The PCF was really a mass party until years Sixties and Seventies, with eight hundred thousand members. It was the party of the resistance, which had a direct line of communication within the working class through the CGT [one of the biggest French Trade Unions]. All that gradually broke down.
The final factor was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and today CGT is less and less linked to the PCF, which is largely moribund.

It is also quite interesting to see now that the PCF has adopted a very moderate anti-war line; they have been the only one and still, I would say it was more for the form than the content because in reality they have been completely isolated.

I think that this is one of the main reasons for the absence today of an anti-war movement in France: the collapse of a movement which, in terms of organization, impelled the anti-war movement and which hasn’t been replaced by anything else. Thus the collapse of this anti-capitalist and anti-American school of thought. This also explains why, after 11 September, a whole part of the Left, including part of the anti-capitalist Left, had an indulgent position on the American intervention and was thus in favour of the war.

The anti-war movement here comes from the far Left, which doesn’t belong to the Labour Party; that’s also quite a significant change within the Labour Party, from when they adopted an anti-war line for the unilateral disarmament until 1983 and 1984, whereas it is now a minority position in the Labour Party. This change has naturally been more pronounced since New Labour came into being. The far Left in England succeeds in organising around people who don’t share its aims. In France (and this is a paradox because France has a position of leadership in Europe), and perhaps elsewhere in the world, on the struggle against neoliberal globalisation, it hasn’t been possible to join together these campaigns.




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