Contribution to the WSF debate on strategy. WSF International Council in Abuja (Nigeria) 28 March-3 April 2008

From Resistance to Alternatives. Historical overview

22 February 2008 by Eric Toussaint

Two large opposing trends are at play in the world today. The dominant trend in the past 25 to 30 years has been the pursuit of a neoliberal, imperialist, capitalist offensive. Lately, this trend has been marked by the growing rate of imperialist wars, notably over petroleum reserves, the increased arming of large powers, forced market liberalization on dominated countries, a general wave of privatization and the systematic attack on salaries and mechanisms of collective solidarity hard earned by workers. It is all part of the Washington Consensus, and such policies are at play not only in developing countries but in the most industrialized countries as well.

A counter trend, clearly still weak on a global scale, began emerging at the end of the nineties. This counter trend that started at the end of the nineties and is still very timid has its epicenter in Latin America. It is noticeable in many ways: the election of presidents seeking to break with or at least tame neoliberalism (beginning with Hugo Chavez’s election at the end of 1998); Argentina’s default on external public debt owed to private creditors from the end of December 2001 to March 2005; the passing of new democratic constitutions by constituent assemblies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador; stronger civil and political liberties and progress in guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights; the beginning of a return to state control of large public companies (such as Venezuelan Petroleum - PDVSA [1]), natural resources (water, petroleum and natural gas in Bolivia) and essential services (the production/distribution of electricity and telecommunications in Venezuela); the lessening of Cuba’s isolation; the defeat of ALCA (the free trade treaty that Washington attempted to impose on the entire North and South America); the emergence of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas) and the development of trade and barter agreements between Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia, etc.; the strengthening of Petrocaribe to enable non oil-exporting countries of the Caribbean to buy Venezuelan oil at 40% off the world market price; Bolivia’s withdrawal from the ICSID ICSID The International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is a World Bank arbitration mechanism for resolving disputes that may arise between States and foreign investors. It was established in 1965 when the Washington Convention of that year entered into force.

Contrary to some opinions defending the fact that ICSID mechanism has been widely accepted in the American hemisphere, many States in the region continue to keep their distance: Canada, Cuba, Mexico and Dominican Republic are not party to the Convention. In the case of Mexico, this attitude is rated by specialists as “wise and rebellious”. We must also recall that the following Caribbean States remain outside the ICSID jurisdiction: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica (Commonwealth of) and Suriname. In South America, Brazil has not ratified (or even signed) the ICSID convention and the 6th most powerful world economy seems to show no special interest in doing so.

In the case of Costa Rica, access to ICSID system is extremely interesting: Costa Rica signed the ICSID Convention in September, 1981 but didn’t ratify it until 12 years later, in 1993. We read in a memorandum of GCAB (Global Committee of Argentina Bondholders) that Costa Rica`s decision resulted from direct United States pressure due to the Santa Elena expropriation case, which was decided in 2000 :
"In the 1990s, following the expropriation of property owned allegedly by an American investor, Costa Rica refused to submit the dispute to ICSID arbitration. The American investor invoked the Helms Amendment and delayed a $ 175 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to Costa Rica. Costa Rica consented to the ICSID proceedings, and the American investor ultimately recovered U.S. $ 16 million”.
(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.

’s court of investment settlements); the expulsion from Ecuador of the World Bank permanent representative; the announcement that Ecuador will close the US base in Manta in 2009; the launching of the Bank of the South.

This counter trend would not be possible without powerful popular mobilization against the neoliberal offensive beginning in the eighties in Latin America (April 1985 in Santo Domingo and February 1989 in Caracas), and happening periodically in different places around the world ever since. Cuba’s survival in spite of Washington’s blockade and aggressions has also contributed to this counter trend because it shows that it is possible to stand up to the strongest economic and military power on earth.

The resistance facing imperialism in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan also plays a fundamental role in Latin America because it is difficult for the US to directly intervene militarily there [2] while it must maintain a significant fighting force in the Middle East and Central Asia.


We are on the threshold of 2015, the deadline for meeting the timid Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations in 2000 [3] With only a handful of years to go, the picture ahead is very troubling.

Clearly, the living conditions of a significant part of the population are deteriorating, as much in highly industrialized countries as in other parts of the world. This deterioration affects salaries, employment, health, nutrition, the environment, education and access to culture. It affects people’s fundamental rights too, whether as individuals or communities. The decline is also evident in ecological equilibrium and in relationships between States and citizens, with the large powers resorting to military aggression. The United States is not the only aggressor; it has allies in Europe, where several countries participated in the aggressions against Iraq and Afghanistan, and some are still actively participating today. And then there is state terrorism exercised by the Israeli government against the people of Palestine, and the Russian authorities’ intervention against the Chechen people.

Signs of barbarity surround us every day

Goods, services and capital flow freely across the globe, but people from impoverished countries are blocked from going to wealthy countries. It is a form of contemporary barbarity to grant complete free circulation to capital and goods and to deny it to human beings.

In Western Europe and in the United States, it is particularly deplorable to see how asylum seekers are denied justice.

It is especially disgusting to hear many political leaders, including on the left, give credit to the idea that we cannot accommodate all of the world’s suffering and therefore it is acceptable for countries of the North to massively refuse asylum and to collectively turn away or bar entry to anyone not benefiting from this right. This type of barbarity leaves asylum seekers stranded at the European Union’s borders. Consider the people killed by firearm while trying to climb over EU-erected barriers in the Spanish enclaves in Morocco in 2005. Consider 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. It is also happening along the Rio Grande at the southern United States border.

At the same time, the concentration of wealth among a tiny minority of the earth’s population has reached a level never seen before in the history of humanity. A few thousand American, European, Chinese, Indian and African capitalists command a fortune greater that the annual revenue of half of the world’s inhabitants. This is also barbarity.

The gap between rich and poor countries is growing steadily. This is unacceptable.

These forms of degradation and this lack of justice cannot be resolved without a reversal of political course

2015 is the deadline for the millennium goals, which are far too modest and do not address the root of the problem: the uneven distribution of wealth and the private-profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. motive. In many countries, we are not getting closer to the millennium goals, we are moving away from them. This realization is highly troubling and raises the question of whether there are forces out there strong enough to defeat 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 –, to North America – during Ronald Reagan’s presidency from 1981 to 1989 and to the rest of the world, for instance with the restoration of capitalism in Russia and China.

The advent of historical forces of opposition

Are there historical forces capable of defeating the advancing neoliberal stranglehold? The answer is yes. Some people see 1999 as the beginning of protest, with the Battle of Seattle against the WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

. Several earlier dates should also be considered as milestones on the path of resistance to neoliberal globalization. 1989 is important in this regard. First it was thought of only as the year the Berlin Wall fell, of course a very significant historical event. The fall of the wall represented the end of the sad chapter of bureaucratic Stalinist socialism, a version which in fact had little to do with socialism, itself an emancipating process. But 1989 also represents the popular uprising in Venezuela on February 27 against the implementation of an adjustment plan concocted by the 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.
and the government in power. It is only possible to understand the changes taking place in Venezuela in the last 10 years by keeping February 1989 in mind. 1989 was also the year of the bicentennial of the French Revolution, and the impressive mobilization against the Paris G7 which included a call for the abolition of third-world debt. [4]

The second large milestone in the resistance movement against neoliberal capitalism was 1994. It was the year of three big events:
1 – On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista rebellion erupted in Chiapas. This group had already struggled for centuries against Spanish occupation and the oppressive regimes that followed. 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, an Aymara Indian and political and labor leader, became the first indigenous president to take office in Latin America. [5]

1994 thus marked the uprising of native – and minority – people who called into question the free trade treaty between the United States, Canada and Mexico as well as the counter agrarian reform imposed by neoliberal President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. [6] The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) declared a “pacifist” bloodless war on the Mexican government. In effect, the EZLN declared: « We have 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 a new 21st century-style guerilla process.

2 – Also in 1994, the World Bank and the International Monetary “celebrated” their 50th anniversary. The event was commemorated by a huge protest gathering in Madrid. The demonstration, called “The Other Voices of the Planet,” later inspired French social movements which, as part of the mobilizations against the G7 in Lyon in 1996, formed collectives of the same name [7]. The Spanish initiative united NGOs, movements such as « 0.7% platform » in which 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, the CADTM [8] and also unions, feminist groups and ecologist movements. A whole series of movements united at this alternative summit and would later come together again in Seattle in 1999, in Porto Alegre in 2001 and so on.

3 – The third powerful event in 1994 was the Tequila crisis, once again in Mexico. It should be noted that in 1993-1994, everyone was speaking about the Asian miracle, the Mexican miracle and the Czech miracle for the countries of Eastern Europe. There was much talk about developing countries and their great achievements. The Tequila crisis shook up all of Latin America. It was the beginning of a great financial crisis that struck one by one Southeast Asia (1997-1998), Russia (1998), Brazil (1999), and Argentina and Turkey (2000-2001).

Whereas 1989 marks the beginning of mass, sustained resistance in Latin America to neoliberal policies, 1994 is a turning point in terms of new forms of resistance, new alliances and crisis besetting the neoliberal model, and 1999 reveals to the world in real time that it is possible to succeed against the WTO, a global organization symbolizing the commoditization of all human relations. These milestones are part of a larger set of struggles and social and political reorganization.

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. A number of groups began to speak out and the void left by the decline of the traditional workers’ movement started to be filled.

The workers’ movement developed and gained strength throughout the 19th century, leading the struggle for emancipation on into the 20th century in most countries around the world. In Europe, this workers’ movement with its strong bastions in the industrial labor class was central to the Resistance during World War II, and to the Liberation and ensuing conquest and victory against Nazism and Fascism. But weakened by the neoliberal offensive in the 1970s and 1980s, the workers’ movement has entered into crisis. Almost the entire leadership of organized labor has become so bureaucratic and aligned with the capitalist system that it essentially serves as a brake on social struggle and radicalization. New unions form by breaking away from large traditional unions in order to mobilize, but it is difficult for them to take hold because the large bureaucracies place huge obstacles in their way. Within the large unions, sectors to the left of the central bureaucracy manage to play a helpful role. From time to time, salaried workers in the public and private sectors manage to mobilize on a large scale in spite of being weakened and anesthetized. This is the case in Western Europe where the labor movement is known to participate actively in large social mobilizations (in Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Spain, etc.). It happened in autumn 1995 in France: salaried workers mobilized and had Prime Minister Alain Juppé removed from office, resulting in Lionel Jospin withdrawing France from formerly secret negotiations on the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) and causing an important front in the neoliberal offensive to fall. Similar cases are happening in several Latin American, Asian, African and North American countries.

In the 1990s, groups that up until then had remained in the background began to come forward. Farmers’ movements gained momentum world-wide: the Landless People’s movement of Brazil was founded in 1984, Via Campesina was created in 1992, José Bové became a symbolic figure following Seattle, the coca producers led by Evo Morales mobilized in Bolivia, and many farmers’ movements rose up in India, South Korea and other regions of the planet.

Who could ever have imagined, living in the most industrialized countries in the 1960s, that farmers would play such a key role in the new fight for social justice? The movement became an extremely important factor in resisting 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 were 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. But access to many public goods secured in the post World War II period is entirely under assault by the neoliberal offensive, and we are discovering the need to defend or regain them.

Indigenous movements are also worth mentioning because indigenous people are increasingly going on the offensive. In Bolivia, for instance, from the 1940s to the 1960s, Indian miners and their unions 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 miners build a common front with the farmers’ and indigenous movement: a new alliance was born.

It is also important to mention the women’s movement, revived in 2000 with the World March of Women, and various youth movements that became very active in the 2000s (Peru [9], Mexico [10], the United States [11], Italy [12], Spain [13], France [14], Greece [15], Chili [16] etc.).

A new force has also joined the ranks, the “new proletariat” or newly marginalized. The uprisings in the French suburbs (that spilled over some 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 labor, they must hire out their arms and minds to support their families. They live in tenuous conditions and are often victims of racism.

A challenge : connecting with the rebels

The youth of the 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 (hundreds if not thousands of cars burned) but it is a basic challenge for organized citizens’ groups and union movements to be able to interface with this form of rebellion. It may not be easy, but in the fragmented circumstances in which we are living, it is hard to see how groups opposing the neoliberal onslaught can truly succeed without making connections. In 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 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, and create a protest movement that fundamentally reassesses society, then it will be difficult, in the most industrialized countries, to bring about 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. In France, 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.

Many revolutionary tremors have shaken the world since the 18th century

There were large revolutionary upheavals in many places around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. Revolutions in France, the United States and Haiti had significant and lasting repercussions, in particular in Latin America where wars of independence broke out early in the 19th century. In 1848, European countries experienced revolutionary uprisings. Three years later it was China’s turn. The Taiping rebellion against the Qing dynasty began in 1851. Christopher Bayly wrote: “From the early days they proceeded to redistribute land, emancipate women and promote communities that some commentators later saw as representing a form of local socialism.” [17] A few years later, in 1857, rebellion broke out in India against the British occupier. It started with the mutiny of the Cipayes, local soldiers in the East India Company’s Bengalese Army, and lasted two years, taking very radical forms. European governments colluded to repress the revolutionary wave in Europe, London crushed the rebellion in India, and London and Washington offered their aid to the Chinese rulers to defeat the Taiping revolt. Meanwhile, no international organization rose up that was capable of recognizing the links between the different struggles by the people and giving them support.

Just before spring 1848, which saw a true European revolutionary dynamic develop, Karl Marx wrote “a specter is haunting Europe” which talked about communism. Along with Friedrich Engels and different political groups, he founded the International Workers Association. Four Internationals were created between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. [18]

In the 20th century, revolutions shook Russia in 1905 and 1917, Mexico from 1910 to 1917, Germany (1918-1923), Italy (1918-1919), Spain (1936-1939), China (1949), Cuba (1959), Algeria (1954-1962), Nicaragua (1979), and others. The neoliberal offensive and the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet block and in China severely limited the revolutionary perspective. But the fires of resistance to neoliberalism and capitalism have not gone out completely. A resistance movement emerged in the 1990s and has taken hold internationally.

The World Social Forum process

The new alliance that is forming is expressed in part in the World Social Forum (WSF), a novel process compared to the international leftist organizations of previous periods in history. It is much less radical than the four Internationals that succeeded one another in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is due to the trauma left over by the bureaucratic disaster of certain socialist experiments in the 20th century, from gulags to the re-imposition of capitalism in the “real socialist” block. It is also due to the sheer force of the capitalist offensive that is underway.

The World Social Forum is one element in the formation of a vast, evolving international resistance movement. It is a heterogeneous movement without an epicenter. It embodies many but not all of the components of multifaceted resistance.

The WSF is no miracle

The World Social Forum should not be analyzed only in terms of its innovative and positive aspects because it has obvious limitations. First, as indicated earlier, it does not represent all elements of the global resistance movement. Two examples are the Zapatistas in Mexico, who do not take part, and resistance struggles in China not connected to the WSF. Furthermore, 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 ongoing and will certainly grow stronger. It could divide the movement, which currently represents an alliance between more or less radical movements 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 charter of principles [19] . In general, there is a platform 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.

to the abolition of third-world debt, the fight against tax havens, the refusal of patriarchy, the desire for peace and disarmament, the right to sexual diversity etc. But whereas there is agreement to wage the fight together on these points, how can they be achieved and how can even more fundamental goals be added? 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 a strategic debate. It is essential to discuss alternatives and at the same time the means to implement them. No effort must be spared.

A negative trend is currently jeopardizing the WSF’s future. The success of the global meetings, which have regularly brought together several tens of thousands of participants and delegates (and in some cases more than 100’000 such as in Mumbai in 2004 and Porto Alegre in 2005), has turned some of those involved into event organizers and fundraisers. Their vision of an alternative is largely limited to giving globalization a more human face. Social movements and international campaigns themselves, beset by debates between radicals and moderates, do not bring enough weight to bear on the future of the WSF. The mountain runs the risk of giving birth to a mouse and the WSF risks sinking into an endless organization of meetings.

What can facilitate change?

Among the forces of change, resistance movements are active in all geographic areas of the world, even in China, a country presently very much on the margins of the social forum process. This country is experiencing an extremely significant social struggle, reminiscent of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. In response to raw capitalism, forms of labor and urban resistance are emerging there similar to what we knew in Europe and in the United States a century ago. One fundamental difference that may make the revolutionary process in China difficult is that socialism and communism were given a bad name by the Chinese authorities who led the country up until now. Socialism has been severely discredited and there is an obvious lack of reference points and a distaste for political risk that could very well last.

But, much yearned for change can come from anywhere on the planet.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, protagonists of change

In terms of revolutionary change, the South seems to be more of a breeding ground right now than the North. Today, the most innovative and sweeping change is seen in Venezuela, Bolivia and more recently Ecuador. Of course it is important to keep a critical view and not to idealize. Shifts are possible, and the chance of not moving towards a true distribution of wealth always lurks when capitalists inside and outside resist strongly, and especially when there is strong pressure from governments in highly industrialized countries and their regional allies (the regimes of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia and Alan Garcia in Peru). These three experiences should not be reduced simply to the roles played by Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales or Rafael Correa, although these three 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 riots in 1989 and the powerful resistance by the Venezuelan people. Rafael Correa would not have been elected without the 10 years of struggle that toppled four rightist presidents [20].

These three countries are showing the way because the movement found a channel within the government. All three 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. Ecuador is in the middle of a constitutional reform that could lead to significant democratic progress in the country. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian president declared on several occasions that he is reconsidering odious debt Odious Debt According to the doctrine, for a debt to be odious it must meet two conditions:
1) It must have been contracted against the interests of the Nation, or against the interests of the People, or against the interests of the State.
2) Creditors cannot prove they they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used.

We must underline that according to the doctrine of odious debt, the nature of the borrowing regime or government does not signify, since what matters is what the debt is used for. If a democratic government gets into debt against the interests of its population, the contracted debt can be called odious if it also meets the second condition. Consequently, contrary to a misleading version of the doctrine, odious debt is not only about dictatorial regimes.

(See Éric Toussaint, The Doctrine of Odious Debt : from Alexander Sack to the CADTM).

The father of the odious debt doctrine, Alexander Nahum Sack, clearly says that odious debts can be contracted by any regular government. Sack considers that a debt that is regularly incurred by a regular government can be branded as odious if the two above-mentioned conditions are met.
He adds, “once these two points are established, the burden of proof that the funds were used for the general or special needs of the State and were not of an odious character, would be upon the creditors.”

Sack defines a regular government as follows: “By a regular government is to be understood the supreme power that effectively exists within the limits of a given territory. Whether that government be monarchical (absolute or limited) or republican; whether it functions by “the grace of God” or “the will of the people”; whether it express “the will of the people” or not, of all the people or only of some; whether it be legally established or not, etc., none of that is relevant to the problem we are concerned with.”

So clearly for Sack, all regular governments, whether despotic or democratic, in one guise or another, can incur odious debts.
repayment, and he called for an audit of internal and external public debt.

What is happening right now in these three Andean countries is very significant. Reference to Simón Bolívar’s [21] 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. There are also references more and more to the liberation struggles led by indigenous people, for instance the rebellions under Tupac Amaru [22] and Tupac Katari [23]. The African contribution to the cultural richness of countries like Venezuela, Bolivia [24] and Ecuador is also more and more apparent.

Steering the course of history towards liberation of the oppressed

What forces will be capable of reversing the last thirty years of history? Good examples such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador will combine with mobilization in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. This linkage of forces between the old world and the new world could 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

It is not necessary to foresee the collapse of capitalism or the triumph of some revolutionary project in order to act every day and resist abuses of justice. Nothing in history is inevitable. Capitalism will not fall on its own. Even if a new grand revolutionary event is not for tomorrow, it is reasonable to imagine that we are heading towards new socialist models involving liberty and equality. There is by no means consensus in the movement or within the World Social Forum, but many people 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 emancipating socialist project of the 19th century and the revolutionary values of the 18th century and beyond, because struggles to throw off oppression have been stepping stones throughout humanity, from Spartacus to Tupac Amaru to the rebel afro-descendants led by Zumbi in Brazil to today’s struggles. 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. The 21st century has more than nine decades to go…

Translated by Carol Bonvin (Coorditrad)


[1The public company Petroleum of Venezuela SA-PDVSA was created in the seventies upon Venezuela Petroleum’s nationalization, and its management catered more and more to private interests in Washington (declaring much of its profits in the US through PDVSA’s US subsidiaries), until the government of Hugo Chavez again took things in hand beginning in 2001-2002.

[2This has not kept Washington and several European governments from trying to destabilize the governments of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador by backing capitalist sectors in these countries who seek secession of wealthy territories: the white middle class in Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Guayaquil (Ecuador) and Zulia (Venezuela). It is important to watch this strategy of tension closely, because it could spread. Most media tends to portray secession attempts by the richest territories as an exercise in people’s democratic rights, even though they are led by minority groups opposed to social reforms seen as a threat to their sense of privilege and their control of power and money.

[3See 60 Questions and 60 Answers about Debt, the IMF and the World Bank, by Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint, for a critique of the MDGs (the book will be published in 2008 by VAK in India).

[4The mobilizations against the G7 in Paris and in favor of abolishing debt were part of the campaign « Enough is Enough » that led to the founding of the CADTM.

[5Evo Morales in fact had a predecessor : Bénito Juarez, who defaulted on external debt as Mexico’s president in the 1860s. European armies intervened and put Emperor Maximilian of Austria in power.

[6With support from the World Bank and the IMF, Salinas successfully lobbied the Mexican congress to reform the constitution and enact privatization of public goods (called « el ejido » in Spanish).

[7This is what gave the name to the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt CADTM’s publication Other Voices of the Planet.

[8See CADTM’s report issued at the counter summit: CADTM-GRESEA, Banque mondiale, FMI, Organisation mondiale du Commerce: ça suffit!, 3rd trimester 1995, p. 42-74

[9Student protests in Peru led to the fall of dictator Alberto Fujimori in November 2000.

[10Students went on strike for 10 months at UNAM university in Mexico City, beginning April 1999.

[11Student protests on campuses for societal causes and strong participation in antiglobalization and antiwar rallies.

[12Strong participation by youth in antiglobalization and antiwar rallies from 2000-2004.

[13Strong participation by youth in antiglobalization and antiwar rallies from 2000-2004.

[14Student protests against the first employment contract and various university reforms. Youth protests in the suburbs.

[15Student protests in 2006-2007 against university privatization.

[16Protests by secondary school students, nicknamed “penguins”, against the reform plans of Bachelet’s socialist government in 2006.

[17Bayly, C.A., (2004), The Birth of the Modern World: 1780-1914 (Blackwell History of the World). According to Bayly, the Taiping rebellion caused 20 million deaths. In 1850, China’s population was 450 million.

[18The International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), also known as the First International, was founded in 1864 (see’s_Association ). Its best known founding members were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The IWA brought together the “anti-authoritarian” Collectivists (Mikhail Bakunin’s international current), Collectivists (Marxists) and Mutualists (supporters of Pierre-Joseph Proudon), among others. Activists from political, trade-union and cooperativist organizations worked together. The First International collapsed after the failure of the Paris Commune of 1871. The IWA’s statutes (written by Marx) proclaimed that “the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves.”The Second International was founded in 1889, on the initiative of Friedrich Engels in particular. Initially influenced by Marxist ideas, the Second International progressively evolved towards moderate positions. The point of no return was reached in August 1914 when the parties of the Second International took mutually antagonistic positions at the outbreak of the First World War. The Second International still exists today under the name of the Socialist International, whose members include the main social-democratic parties – from the German SDP to the Spanish PSOE – as well as the party of Tunisian president Ben Ali (see the official site of the Socialist International at, the Labour Party of Israel, the Radical Civic Union (UCR) in Argentina, the FSLN in Nicaragua and the French PS. The Third International was founded by Lenin in 1919 but progressively became a tool for the foreign policy of the Stalinist regime. It was dissolved by Joseph Stalin in 1943 (see The Fourth International was founded in 1938 in France by Leon Trotsky in the wake of the dictatorial and bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet regime and the inability of the Third International to wage an effective struggle against fascism and Franquism. Active in movements of resistance against capitalist globalization, a number of international organizations and currents today declare allegiance to the Fourth International (see and and

[20Abdalá Bucaram in February 1997, Jamil Mahuad in January 2000, Gustavo Noboa in January 2003, and Lucio Gutiérrez in April 2005.

[21Simón 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.

[22In the 16th century, Tupac Amaru, a Quechua Inca, and his followers fought ceaselessly against the Conquistadors. He was captured by the Spanish Army and condemned to death. He was dismembered on the main square in Cuzco on September 24, 1572.

[23Tupac Katari, an Aymara Indian (1750-1781) raised an army of 40’000 that marched on La Paz in 1781. It took the colonial authorities two years to defeat the uprising that had gained the support of the indigenous population. The Spanish occupiers dismembered him. Before dying, he is said to have proclaimed; “a mi solo me mataréis, pero mañana volveré y seré millones”(you may kill me but I will reincarnate in multitudes). His legacy inspired the recent social uprisings in Bolivia.

[24See the draft constitution adopted by the constituent assembly in December 2007.

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:
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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