2015 is just around the corner !

29 October 2007 by Eric Toussaint


This article is published in Rebel Voices of the World , HB Editeur, Forcalquier, 2007, ISBN 978-2-914581-79-0.

We are on the threshold of 2015 : only nine years to go and the picture ahead is very troubling. Clearly, the living conditions of a significant part of the population are deteriorating, as much in Western Europe as in other parts of the world. This deterioration affects salaries, employment, access to culture and more. It affects people’s fundamental rights as well, whether as individuals or communities. The decline is also evident in the ecological imbalance and in relationships between States and citizens, with the large powers resorting to military aggression, starting with, but not limited to, the US; they have allies in Europe, for instance, with several countries having participated in the aggressions against Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which are still active there and are even prepared to intervene in Iran. State terrorism comes to mind too, such as Israel’s state terrorism against the people of Palestine and Lebanon. And let’s not forget Russia’s intervention against the Chechen people.

Signs of barbarity all around us every day

In Western Europe, I am particularly struck by the way in which asylum seekers are being denied justice. At this very moment in Belgium, an important effort to legalize undocumented immigrants is underway. Immigrants are occupying around 30 Catholic churches and public places, and some are resorting to hunger strikes as a means of protest. There is an absolutely basic lack of justice.
Another form of barbarity consists of political leaders, including on the left, attempting in their speeches to spread the idea that we cannot accommodate all of the world’s suffering and therefore it is perfectly acceptable to collectively turn away everyone who has been refused the right of asylum. This type of barbarity leaves asylum seekers stranded at the European Union’s borders. People have been shot at and even killed while trying to climb over EU-erected barriers in the Spanish enclaves in Morocco. [2] My thoughts go also to the thousands of people who lose their lives trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar or attempting to reach the Canary Islands. This situation is obviously not limited to Europe. We know what is happening along the Rio Grande at the southern United States border.
From now to 2015, it is hard to see how these forms of degradation and the lack of justice can be resolved without a reversal of political course 2015 is the cut-off date indicated in the Millennium Declaration and adopted in 2000 by a special session of the UN General Assembly. [3] Not only will we not meet the goals for poverty reduction and access to education by then, but in many areas of the world, living conditions will have deteriorated even further. This realization is highly troubling and raises the question of whether there are strong enough forces to thwart the current historical trend.
This historical trend goes back thirty years, equivalent to one generation. Pinochet’s military coup in Chile in 1973 created a laboratory in which to try out neoliberal policies that gradually spread to Western Europe – with Margaret Thatcher in 1979 – and to North America – during Ronald Reagan’s presidency from 1981 to 1989.

The advent of historical forces of opposition

Are there historical forces capable of thwarting the advancing neoliberal stranglehold? The answer is yes. Some people see 1999 as the beginning of protest, with the Battle of Seattle. For my part, I place the onset in 1994, a year that saw three events:

  1. On 1st January 1994, the Zapatista rebellion erupted in Chiapas. This group had already struggled for centuries against Spanish occupation. The Mayas – an indigenous people – voiced basic demands. In the universal language of their spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos, they addressed the entire planet. This is not just the case of one man and his force of personality. It became the expression of a deeper movement and the Chiapas Indians were not alone in their struggle: in Ecuador, another group had united to form the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador – CONAIE. And in 2005 Evo Morales became the first indigenous president to take office in Latin America.
    1994 was thus marked by the uprising of native – and minority – peoples who called into question a trade treaty and declared war on the Mexican government. This took place ‘peacefully’: “We’ve risen up and taken up arms, but we do not wish to use them.” This was not the final guerilla experiment of the 20th century, but rather the first experiment of a new type of guerilla force of the 21st century.
  2. Also in 1994, the World Bank World Bank
    The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

    It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

    1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

    2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

    3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

    As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

    and the International Monetary celebrated their 50th anniversary. The event was commemorated by a huge protest gathering in Madrid. The demonstration later inspired the French who, as part of the mobilizations against the G7 in Lyon in 1996, formed collectives called “The Other Voices of the Planet”. [4] The Spanish initiative united NGOs, movements such as 0.7% Platform where youth called for 0.7% of their country’s GDP GDP
    Gross Domestic Product
    Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
    to be allocated to public development aid, as well as unions, feminist groups and ecologist movements. At the time of this alternative summit, a whole series of movements had already united and later would come together again in Seattle in 1999 and in Porto Alegre in 2001 and so on.
  3. The third powerful event in 1994: the Tequila crisis, once again in Mexico. It is to be noted that, in 1993-1994, everyone was talking about the Asian miracle, the Mexican miracle and the Czech miracle for the countries of Eastern Europe. There was much talk of the developing countries and their great achievements. The Tequila crisis would shake up all of Latin America. It was the beginning of a great financial crisis that would strike in succession Southeast Asia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, etc.
    To me, the year 1994 is therefore a turning point in terms of new forms of resistance, new alliances and in the crisis facing the neoliberal model.
    Other dates could be taken: for instance, 1989 with the large-scale mobilization in France on the occasion of the bicentennial of the French Revolution, and opposition in the same year to the G7 meeting held at the Bastille; there was also the launching of the campaign “Enough is enough” – which led to the birth of CADTM. Not to mention of course 1999 and Seattle.

New resistance everywhere

During the 1990s, following an initial period dominated by such figures as Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan, new forms of resistance began to emerge in different regions of the globe. Thanks to a number of people who began to speak out, the void left by the decline of the traditional workers’ movement started to be filled.
Taking shape in the 19th century and growing gradually stronger, the workers’ movement was the most prominent part of the struggle for emancipation during the 20th century in Europe. The struggles by the Resistance during the Second World War and the Liberation and the ensuing conquests and victory against Nazism and Fascism were led largely by this workers’ movement that had strong bastions in the industrial labor class. Weakened by the neoliberal offensive in the 1970s and 1980s, the workers’ movement entered into crisis.
In the 1990s, groups that had been forgotten because they had remained marginalized began to emerge. Farmers’ movements gained momentum world-wide: Vía Campesina was created in 1992 and José Bové became a symbolic figure after Seattle. I am a member of the ’68 generation. At that time, who would have imagined that farmers would play a forerunner role in a new fight for social justice? In 1971 there was the confrontation on the Plateau de Larzac, [In October 1971, the French government, under the direction of the Defense Minister Michel Debré, decided to expand the Larzac military camp established in 1902. Farmers, joined rapidly by thousands of activists from all horizons, opposed this extension project that would dispossess over 100 farm owners. The project was finally suspended in 1981 by the new French president François Mitterrand, culminating 10 years of non-violent struggle.] with José Bové already taking part, and in 1984 the creation of the Landless People’s movement in Brazil, and a huge farmers’ movement in India and in other places around the world.
This movement became an extremely important factor in the resistance to the neoliberal offensive, the commercialization of the world and the patenting of life forms. It focused attention on needs, particularly regarding public goods: water, land, seeds etc. Such needs or values are not new in and of themselves, but what changed was the attitude towards them, because traditionally, despite the gains of the Liberation and the strengthening of public services, the issue of public goods was not seen as an objective. Access to certain public goods were reinforced in the post World War II period. With the neoliberal offensive, public goods are in great jeopardy and we are discovering the need to defend or regain them.
I could talk about indigenous movements because indigenous people are also seen to be going on the offensive. In Bolivia, for instance, from the 1940s to the 1960s, coal-miners and their unions had led the way for the Bolivian people. When the mines were closed in the 1980s, Indians, particularly coca farmers, formed a movement that was both peasant and indigenous. We saw retired or unemployed coal-miners build a common front with the farmers and indigenous movement: a new alliance was born.
One could also talk about the women’s movement, revived in 2000 with the World Women’s March; various youth movements that were much bigger than in the early 1990s. But I would be remiss to leave out salaried workers. The counter offensives of 1994 grew, on the Western European scale, into the large social mobilization of autumn 1995 in France. Salaried workers mobilized and got rid of Prime Minister Alain Juppé, and this led Lionel Jospin to pull France out of MIA (Multilateral Investment Agreement) negotiations and caused an important front in the neoliberal offensive to fall.
There is a new force in the ranks that I call the “new proletariat” or the newly marginalized. The uprisings in the deprived French suburbs (some of which spilled over into Belgium and Germany) were led by this new proletariat. They are not so much exploited workers in an industrial context, although some fit that category; but the youth of the suburbs who rose up in autumn 2005 are proletariats in the real sense of the term: having no ownership of the means of labour, they must hire out their arms and minds to support their families.

A challenge: connecting with the rebels

In my view, the youth in those suburbs are a type of new proletariat who are seeking and finding ways they deem appropriate to make themselves heard. Sometimes the form their actions take is regrettable but it is a basic challenge for organized citizens’ groups and union movements to be able to interface with this form of rebellion. I know it is not easy but in the fragmented circumstances in which we are living, I do not see how groups opposing the neoliberal onslaught can truly succeed without making connections. In the countries of Western Europe or North America, those lucky enough to have job or retirement security and enough energy and good health left for the fight (people reaching retirement age 40 or 50 years ago did not have the same possibilities) must push for a new social alliance. If those of us who are wage earners between the ages of 20 and 60 or retirees with benefits are unable to find a way to form a united front with the voiceless, the new proletariat, or to create a protest movement that fundamentally reassesses society, then it is difficult for me to see how, in the most industrialized countries, we could hope for radical change. Indeed, any change has always largely depended on the younger generation, whether they are in school, unemployed or already part of the workforce. The youth let their voices be heard in the movement against the CPE (the “First Employment Contract”) in spring 2006, but they are also raising their voices in the suburbs.

One element: the World Social Forum process

On the international front, the new alliance taking shape is expressed in part by the process of the World Social Forum (WSF) with its own characteristics compared to previous periods in history. For instance, it is not one geographic region imposing its pace on the others. The big revolutionary upheavals of the 18th and 19th centuries were led largely by the people of Europe and the Americas; the French and the American revolutions at the end of the 18th century, the revolutionary jolts in the 19th century, particularly in spring 1848 when Marx wrote “a spectre is haunting Europe” and a true European revolutionary dynamic developed. In the 20th century, revolutions shook countries in the centre (Germany 1918-1923 and Spain 1936-1939) as much as countries considered peripheral (Russia in 1905 and 1917, Mexico 1910, China 1949, Cuba 1959, Algeria 1962, Nicaragua 1979, etc.). The neoliberal offensive and the re-imposition of capitalism in the former Soviet block and in China put the revolutionary perspective on ice. But the fires of resistance to neoliberalism and capitalism had not gone out completely. A resistance movement emerged in the 1990s and took hold internationally. The World Social Forum is one element in the formation of a vast international resistance movement in full expansion. It is a heterogeneous movement without an epicentre. Not all the components of multifaceted resistance are necessarily embodied within the World Social Forum. The general trend is to operate in networks without a real command structure.

The WSF is no miracle

Having said this, the World Social Forum should not be analyzed only in terms of its innovative and positive aspects because there are obvious limitations. First, as indicated earlier, it does not represent all elements of global resistance movements. Two examples are the Zapatistas in Mexico, who do not participate, and resistance struggles in China which are not connected to the WSF. Further, the notion of alternative strategy is a new one, and the old debate between reformers and revolutionaries is still open. Should we break with the system or simply rearrange it and introduce regulatory mechanisms and a more civilized form of capitalism? This debate is still around and will certainly grow stronger. It could divide the movement. At present, the movement represents an alliance between revolutionaries and reformists who share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. a minimal platform. This platform consists of basic demands ranging from the Tobin Tax Tobin Tax A tax on exchange transactions (all transactions involving conversion of currency), originally proposed in 1972 by the US economist, James Tobin, as a means of stabilizing the international financial system. The idea was taken up by the association[ATTAC and other movements for an alternative globalization, including the CADTM. Their aim is to reduce financial speculation (which was of the order of 1,500 billion dollars a day in 2002) and redistribute the money raised by this tax to those who need it most. International speculators who spend their time changing dollars for yens, then for euros, then dollars again, etc., as they calculate which currency will appreciate and which depreciate, will have to pay a small tax, somewhere between 0.1% and 1%, on each transaction. According to ATTAC, this could raise 100 billion dollars on a global scale. Considered unrealistic by the ruling classes to justify their refusal to adopt it, the meticulous analyses of globalized finance carried out by ATTAC and others has, on the contrary, demonstrated how simple and appropriate such a tax would be.

ATTAC : https://www.attac.org/
to the abolition of third-world debt and the fight against tax havens. But whereas there is agreement to wage the fight together on those points, how can more fundamental goals be achieved? What is this other possible world that we proclaim with all our might and wish to create quickly so that younger generations will actually experience it (and not just dream and yearn)? This point must become the focus of the strategic debate. It is essential to discuss alternatives and at the same time the means to implement them. No effort must be spared.

What can bring about change ?

I believe that forces of change, and resistance movements, are active in all geographic areas of the world, even in a country presently very much on the margins of the Social Forum process: China. This country is experiencing an extremely significant social struggle, reminiscent of the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In response to raw capitalism, forms of labor and urban resistance are emerging similar to what we knew 70, 80 and more years ago. If asked where change can come from, Iwould say anywhere on the planet.

Venezuela and Bolivia, protagonists of change

In terms of revolutionary change, I see it coming from the South rather than the North. Today, the most innovative and sweeping change is seen in the Venezuelan and Bolivian experience. Of course it should not be idealized. Critical awareness is important. These two experiences should not be reduced simply to the roles played by Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales, although these figures are key. They have a positive influence on the process and are part of the powerful movements underway in their countries. But Evo Morales would not be there without the huge protests against water privatization in Cochabamba in April 2000 and the even bigger protests against the privatization of natural gas in January and February 2003. Chavez would not have become president in 1998 were it not for the enormous anti-IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

riots in 1989 and the powerful resistance by the Venezuelan people.
These two countries are showing the way because the movement found a channel within the government. Both governments reclaimed the initiative regarding public goods: Bolivia regained control of gas and water and Venezuela reinstated public control of oil production and allowed oil revenues to serve a new social project of regional redistribution. Venezuela has signed agreements with non-oil exporting countries of the region and sells oil to them at a price lower than the global market price. In addition, Cuba, which has sent 20,000 volunteer doctors to provide free health care to the Venezuelan population, has launched a very interesting cooperative relationship with Venezuela and Bolivia. It is a type of bartering arrangement between countries with different capacities, backgrounds and political models. All this is of great interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. . Reference to Simón Bolívar’s [5] struggle shows that there is a desire to link present circumstances with past revolutionary experiences and to view the present in a Latin American context.

Reversing the course of history

What forces will be capable of reversing the last thirty years of history? Good examples, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, will combine with mobilization in North America, Western Europe and Japan and this linkage of forces between the old and the new world can produce a veritable turning point in the course of history. Having said that, it is not guaranteed. That is why it is important for all of us to take part in citizen action.

Moving towards 21st century socialism

I do not have to be convinced first of the collapse of capitalism or of the triumph of some revolutionary project in order to act every day and resist abuses of justice. Nothing in history is inevitable. For instance, capitalism will not fall on its own. At my age, I am not sure of living to see a new grand revolutionary event, but nevertheless I believe it is reasonable to imagine that we will head towards a new socialist type of experimental model. There is by no means consensus in the movement or within the World Social Forum, but I am among those who consider it necessary to reinvent socialism in the 21st century.
While avoiding the traumatic pitfalls of the 20th century, the hideousness of Stalinism or of events in China and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, we must bring back the liberating socialist project of the 19th century and the revolutionary values of the 18th century. We must take into account new contributions from many fronts as well as new demands, and inject all this into 21st century reality. Socialism in the 21st century is the free association of producers, it is equality between women and men, it is an international project, a federation of countries and regions in a framework of large continental entities with respect for major texts, international pacts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Pact of Social, Economic and Cultural Rights of 1966, a series of instruments to define rights in an international and universal way that have been written and adopted during earlier revolutions. Attaining these fundamental rights can only come about through creative enactment of a new model of socialism in the 21st century. This is not sure to happen in my lifetime. In that regard, I am not particularly optimistic. But the 21st century has more than nine decades to go…

Debt on the eve of 2015

As the situation now stands, the infernal cycle of debt as a mechanism to dominate countries of the global South will only accelerate between now and 2015. We are not at all heading towards a gradual solution to the problem. In the current unique setting, indebted countries should objectively be able to free themselves from the yoke of debt because the currency reserves they have accumulated are greater than ever. If indebted countries create a fund together, if they pool their currency reserves, they could do perfectly well without the creditors in the North and new loans. The problem is that the majority of governments in the South are not willing to back an alternative financial model because it would imply a redistribution of wealth. Objectively, it is possible to break financial dependence on the North and to finance development projects in the South by redistributing wealth and introducing, on an international scale, global taxes that would generate income. But the will to do so is lacking on the part of governments in the South. Exceptions are Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina somewhat and, very timidly, Brazil: these Latin American countries are together considering the creation of a Bank of the South and a Monetary Fund of the South. Debate has begun and meetings are being held, even involving these countries’ central banks. It is a positive development but, basically, Ibelieve the solution is going to come from the will and pressure in the streets of a certain handful of governments who are on the verge of repudiating their external debt. I believe that in the next few years there will be a lot of tension around the question of external debt and the ability of a range of countries to pay, and this will lead to strong reactions among the people of the South who will call for non-payment of the debt. This happened for the first time in 2001 when Argentina suspended debt payment to a majority of its creditors, and then over the next four years. I predict that the Argentinean experience will be repeated in the next two to three years.

Translation from French by Carol Bonvin.


[1Éric Toussaint (Belgium), Doctor in Political Science, is president of CADTM (Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt) Belgium. Website : www.cadtm.org. Last books published in English: Bank of the South: An Alternative to IMF-World Bank, VAK, Mumbai, 2007, 78p.; World Bank: a Never-Ending Coup d’Etat, VAK, Mumbai, 2007; Your Money or Your Life. The Tyranny of Global Finance, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2005.

[2Spanish enclaves on the African continent bordering Morocco, where applicants for immigration into Europe were massacred in October 2005.

[3The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – the global goals which the UN Member States adopted at their Millennium Summit in September 2000 – provide an agenda for reducing poverty and its causes and outward signs. These goals, which range from a 50% reduction of extreme poverty to primary education for all, via halting of the spread of HIV/AIDS, and all this by 2015, form a blueprint for a better world. More information at: www.undp.org

[4This inspired the name of CADTM’s publication Les Autres Voix de la planète.

[5Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) was the first to try to unify Latin American countries into a single nation. Following long struggles, he succeeded in liberating Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from Spanish rule. He is considered a true hero and many places in Latin America have been named after him.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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