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Onthe way to Mumbaï
Another World is Possible. After All!
by Eric Toussaint
26 December 2003

Eric Toussaint is president of Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt (CADTM), coauthor with Damien Millet of The Debt Scam: IMF, World Bank and Third World Debt, published by Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, India; 2003. pp 150.


- Those who say globalisation is unavoidable should realise that they can be bypassed or overthrown
- Concerted action by workers and social movements
- Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will
- Breaking down the walls of isolation
- The Present State of Struggles against Capitalist Globalisation
- From the defeat of the MAI (1998) to that of Cancun (2003) via Seattle, Genoa, Doha, Buenos Aires and Baghdad
- A tale of subversion grounded in day-to-day life
- Obstacles and new forms of organisation

Those who say globalisation is unavoidable should realise that they can be bypassed or overthrown

Neoliberal thought nurtures the idea of inevitability. The system that exists must exist because it exists. Globalisation in its current form cannot be avoided, everyone must fall into line.

This is a recipe for mysticism and fatalism. Any serious study of history reveals that nothing is ’irreversible’. Take finance, for example. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the free flow of capital made possible by the gold standard; and free trade guaranteed by treaties on trade and investment, seemed irreversible. The First World War put an end to all that. In the 1920s, the omnipotence of financial markets seemed just as irreversible then as it does now. The 1929 crash and the long crisis that followed, forced governments to closely monitor banking and financial activities. At the end of the Second World War, the governments of the main victorious capitalist countries agreed to set up bodies to regulate global finance. The IMF, for example, was established primarily to ensure that this regulation would be carried out (article 4 of its statutes is very clear in this respect). Beginning in 1945, a number of Western European governments carried out extensive nationalisations, including in the banking sector, in the face of pressure from organised labour.

Neoliberal theoretical ’certainties’ held forth in recent years are no more valid than those of the conservatives that held power in the 1920s on the eve of the financial meltdown. The economic failure and social disaster created by today’s neoliberals might well lead to a round of major political and social changes. Globalisation is not a steamroller that crushes everything in its path. Resistance is alive and well in many places. Globalisation is a long way from having created a coherent and harmonious economic order. There are many contradictions within the Triad - contradictions between imperialist powers, contradictions between companies, social discontent, a crisis of legitimacy of the existing political system, and growing criminalisation in the behaviour of the main economic players - Enron, Andersen, Merril Lynch, Citigroup - a crisis of legitimacy of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO. .

Furthermore, there are growing contradictions between the Centre and the Periphery, due to the excluding effect of globalisation in its present form. Yet the countries of the Periphery account for 85% of total world population. Those who believe that these populations will quietly allow themselves to be marginalised are dead wrong. As wrong as those governments in the 1940s and 1950s that believed their colonial rule in Africa and large parts of Asia would last forever.

Within the Periphery itself, governments that have chosen a neoliberal path are experiencing a growing crisis of legitimacy inside their respective countries. The ruling classes in these countries are for the most part incapable of offering credible prospects for progress to the great majority of their citizens.

Is it unrealistic to expect that the inevitable social discontent will once again assert itself through broad-based projects for emancipation? Nowhere is it written that discontent must necessarily be expressed in an inward-looking ’ethnic’ or religious manner. Action by living, breathing social forces can transform even the most seemingly inextricable economic and political situation.

More than ever before, any alternative must take into account a number of different dimensions:

- The political dimension. While governments have deliberately cast aside a part of their regulatory functions, to allow for the deregulation of capital flows, they can also be pressured into reinstating these functions. It is a question of political will; if those in power cannot rise to the task, they can either step aside or be ousted.

- The dimensions of citizenship and class. Those ’from below’ and their organisations — whether from the labour movement born in the nineteenth century (parties, unions), from other grassroots movements, or from new social movements born in the latter half of the twentieth century — must reclaim their right to intervene in society and exercise control over certain aspects of public life, to exert pressure on other political and economic players, and to raise in concrete terms the question of hands-on political power.

- The economic dimension. Economic decisions lie at the junction of all the other dimensions. Such decisions should be directed at placing restrictions on capital flows and on those that control them, the holders of capital [1].

The inviolable nature of their private property will also be at the centre of forthcoming debates. In defending the common good and universal access to basic services, certain issues will have to be discussed - such as the need to transfer private companies which monopolise the world’s resources and prevent basic human needs from being met, to the public domain. Common property must be excluded both from the dominion of such bodies as the WTO and from the activities of private enterprise.

The recent evolution of capitalism has given renewed urgency to the debate on new forms of radicalism. Indeed, forms of consensus and compromise inherited from the past have been swept aside by the economic crisis and the neoliberal onslaught.

Although the Fordist social consensus (see glossary) in the North, the developmentalist consensus in the South, and bureaucratic control in the East did not do away with the use of force by those in positions of power - far from it - each of the three paths gave rise to genuine social progress in a number of fields. In fact, compromise was only possible thanks to this social progress. Yet these compromises have now been split apart by the current logic of Capital and by the paths chosen by the different governments. In response, there is a need for a new approach that is anti-systemic and seeks to make a clean break with the current order. This means that those ’at the bottom’ have to become central players in the fight for change and in the administration of this change once it begins to take place. Just as important, this means that social movements have to remain loyal to the interests of those they represent and that they remain scrupulously independent of the institutions of political power. This can only be obtained by fostering real forms of internal democracy that give voice to those engaged in the daily grind of politics, that allow for choices to be made from a variety of contending approaches, that stimulate the debate on concrete strategies for attaining a movement’s objectives.

Concerted action by workers and social movements

The neoliberal offensive is so relentless and wide-ranging that it calls for a concerted response from workers and the oppressed the world over. Such a response is mandatory for eliminating unemployment. Such an objective can only be attained through a generalised reduction of working time, with no loss in wages and with compensatory job-creation. The reduction of working hours is required to oppose job dismissals and the transfer of work places to other regions and countries. Workers in the South need support from workers in the North if they are to obtain wage increases and the trade union rights that can pave the way for an overall improvement of their living conditions to levels similar to those that exist in the North.

At present, the labour movement remains the most powerful springboard for direct involvement in political struggles. It is essential, though, that those on the margins of the productive process be closely linked to the labour movement and its activities. All social movements fighting against oppression, whatever form this oppression takes, must also be intimately involved in this concert of resistance.

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will

’Pessimism of the intellect’ is essential for taking stock of the scale of the neoliberal offensive and the powerful organisation of its proponents. At the same time, it would be wrong to overlook the ’optimism of the will’ that spurs on whole sections of the global population.

Had this determined and courageous resistance not existed in the four corners of the planet, the ideologues and driving forces behind globalisation would have gone much further than they have been able to thus far. This is an achievement in itself, although far from sufficient.

Breaking down the walls of isolation

It is no secret that the capitalist class keeps the media, especially television, on a tight leash. It is not in its interest to broadcast images of struggles in which the oppressed demonstrate their creativity and courage.

While we may be shown confrontations with the police and army often enough, very seldom are we given any insight into the struggle in question, the inventiveness of workers, the resourcefulness of demonstrators, and details of the initiatives that attained their objectives. To do so would give ideas to other movements elsewhere; that element of ’the news’ represents a danger for the capitalist class. On those rare occasions, however, that the media do honestly relate the intelligence and scale of a movement, there is a tremendous accelerating effect on the mobilisation itself.

Struggles have not declined in number, there has even been an overall increase in proportion to the growing number of attacks. Yet a persistent sense of isolation is one of the most cumbersome problems encountered by movements of resistance. One of the most pressing tasks for progressives is to break down these walls of isolation and work towards a convergence of struggles.

Given the small number of decision-makers on a world level and the generalised drop in living conditions that they are imposing around the globe, the struggle of landless peasants in Brazil is at one with the struggle of Volkswagen workers against their multinational company. The struggle by Zapatista indigenous peoples for dignity in the rural areas of Mexico is at one with the strike of American UPS workers. The struggle by hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers against the WTO is at one with the ’sans papiers’ (undocumented immigrants) movement in France and Spain. The struggle by South Korean trade unions to defend their social gains is at one with the campaign by grassroots African communities for the cancellation of the debt. The struggle of the population of Honduras against the privatisation of the health sector ties in with that of workers in France, Austria, Brazil… as does the combat against the undermining of earned pension rights and the promotion of private pension funds. The struggle of Algerian women is at one with the people’s tribunals in Argentina that denounce the country’s illegitimate debt. The struggle of students in Nicaragua, Burkina-Faso, Niger and the United States against increases in tuition fees is at one with the campaigns of teachers in France and Peru… Citizens in Bolivia (Cochabamba), South Africa (Soweto) and India fight water privatisation just as those of Peru (Arequipa) and trade-unionists in Senegal (Senelec) fight privatisation of electricity. And the list goes on.

The tremors of rebellion can be felt the world over. Wherever one goes one can find people angered in the face of pre-meditated indignity, urged on by aspirations toward a better life, up in arms over the injustice and violence of a system portrayed as the be-all and end-all celebration of the ’end of history’. It is important to realise that in many places around the world, the warlords of neoliberalism have not gone unchallenged.

The Present State of Struggles against Capitalist Globalisation

The present phase of neoliberal globalisation began around the 70s and 80s when the electoral victories of Thatcher in Great Britain and Reagan in the USA signalled an all-out offensive of capital against labour and of the main developed capitalist powers against the dependant capitalist countries (their populations being the first victims).

Attempts to destroy trade unions (the US Air-traffic Controllers’ Union under Reagan and the Miners’ Union in Great Britain under Thatcher), massive privatisations, raised interest rates, frozen salaries, more taxation of labour and less of capital, the debt crisis in the Third World and several countries of the former Soviet Bloc, structural adjustment policies in the countries of the Periphery, wars waged on humanitarian pretexts by military alliances of the most industrialised countries against the countries of the Periphery, closure of the borders of the industrialised countries, reinforcement of the powers of intervention of multilateral institutions controlled by the most industrialised countries, especially the USA (IMF, World Bank, WTO), domination of the UN by these same powers, reinforcement of the powers of transnationals, flexible working hours and weakening of statutes, increased female poverty, attacks on social welfare, extension of GMO plantations, commercialisation of a series of human activities hitherto relatively protected from transnational activities… Such are the main signs of an offensive which is still running rife.

The global dimension of this offensive and the imposition of the same type of neoliberal policies in all the corners of the world give an effect of synchronisation resembling that of other historical crossroads over the last two centuries, such as the time of revolution in Europe in 1848, the First World War and the victory of fascism leading to the Second World War, the wave of independence in the 1950s and 1960s, May 1968...

Certainly there are major differences. So far we have synchronised offensives and the promising beginnings of synchronised resistance and counter-offensives. The growth and expansion of the alter-globalisation movement can be seen on all over the world, with a few exceptions (China in particular remains aloof - but for how much longer?). The different elements of the offensive described above are perhaps for the first time ever being experienced simultaneously by the great majority of the populations of the planet. And more than at any other time in the history of capitalism, certain international institutions have come to symbolise the hardships experienced by a large portion of mankind. They are: the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, the big multinational corporations, the main financial centres, the G8...

Innumerable forms of resistance to this vast offensive have developed over the last twenty years or more. Some ended in defeat (for example the US Air-traffic Controllers in 1982 and the British Miners’ Strike in 1984 -1985…); others with victory. In Latin America, from 2000 on, there have been numerous successful campaigns against privatisation. Emblematic of these is the campaign led by the population of Arequipa in Peru against the privatisation of electricity or the victorious struggle of the Bolivian people against privatization of water in April 2000 (Cochabamba) and against exportation of their natural gas in September-October 2003. Since the battle of Seattle (USA) in November 1999, it is generally agreed that the resistance movement against globalisation has become international. The victory of the Bolivian people in 2003 has opened a new cycle of struggles to recover the public and collective control on natural resources.

If any year were to symbolise the turning-point when this internationalisation came about, it would be 1994. First of all, in January, the Zapatista rebellion in the Chiapas region found ways of talking about oppression, until then perceived as a localised problem, in a universal language which was heard across the generations. Secondly, this year marked the 50th anniversary of the IMF and the World Bank, commemorated in Madrid in September. The huge international protest demonstration this gave rise to was particularly well supported by young people. Thirdly, the Mexican crisis broke out in December, for the first time pulverising the myth of the neoliberal development model for countries of the Periphery.

Before that there had been significant international mobilisation. In 1988, there was an enormous demonstration against the IMF in Berlin; in 1989, another took place in Paris on the occasion of the G7 summit. But these did not have the same international impact, as the myths of the “definitive victory” of capitalism and the “end of history” were still in full spate.

After 1994, the accumulation of experience and forces led to a counter-offensive. It was an unequal, non-linear process, fairly marginal, which has nevertheless continued to grow. Several dates stand out as milestones throughout the period from 1994 - 2000. There was the powerful social movement in France of Autumn 1995, which had no direct link with the alter-globalisation movement yet which had significant repercussions for that movement within France. There was the “ Other Voices of the Planet” counter-summit during the G7 summit in June 1996 in Lyon, which led to a demonstration 30,000 strong called by all the trade unions. There was the intercontinental meeting convened by the Zapatistas in the Chiapas in Summer 1996, the victorious strike by the United Parcels Service (UPS) workers in the USA, the Korean workers’ strike in Winter 1996 - 97, the Indian small-farmers’ movement against the WTO in 1996 - 97, the citizens’ campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) which led to victory in October 1998, the mobilisation of Jubilee 2000 in May 1998 in Birmingham and June 1999 in Cologne, the European marches in May 1997 in Amsterdam and May 1999 in Cologne, the battle of Seattle in November 1999. Since then there have been countless rallies. In 2000, whenever the international institutions held their meetings: February 2000 in Bangkok, April 2000 in Washington, June 2000 in Geneva, July 2000 in Okinawa, September 2000 in Melbourne and Prague, October 2000 in Seoul, the World Women’s March in October 2000 in Brussels, New York and Washington, December 2000 in Nice, There have been international conferences to seek and define alternatives “ Africa: from resistance to alternatives ” in Dakar in December 2000 and the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2001, mobilisation against the Americas summit in Buenos Aires and Quebec in April 2001, Barcelona in June 2001 (100,000 demonstrators against the World Bank), Genoa in July 2001 (nearly 300,000 demonstrators protesting against the G8)…

Every one of these rallies mobilised between several thousand and several hundreds of thousand demonstrators or strikers. Most of them were directed at globalisation-related issues.

The attacks against New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 and the war subsequently launched by the USA and their allies have profoundly modified the international situation. The economic crisis which began in early 2001 was accompanied by a massive wave of redundancies on a global scale. A new debt crisis broke out in the countries of the Periphery. The champions of neoliberal globalisation have launched an offensive aimed at putting the movement against neoliberal globalisation on its guard, or even paralysing it. They have failed.

From September 2001, the movement has added to its platform war and the new arms race. Its potential for mobilisation has increased even more. What’s more, the year 2001 ended with an impressive popular revolt throughout Argentina. The centre-left government, which had been enforcing IMF policies, was thrown out by discontent in the streets.

The year 2002 was punctuated by huge anti-war protests: 250,000 people in Barcelona on 16 March, 60,000 in Washington on 16 April, 250,000 in London on 26 September, nearly a million in Florence on 9 November 2002. Resistance to privatisation grew in different places around the world. Peru won the battle against privatisation of electricity in Arequipa, and there were campaigns in Mexico and France. In 2002, there were also mass demonstrations in Venezuela that managed to prevent the overthrow of the president, Hugo Chavez. Then there were the electoral victories of Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Lucio Guttierez in Ecuador.

At the third World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in January 2003 about 100,000 participants from all the corners of the earth gathered to discuss alternatives. There were also international demonstrations against the war in Iraq on 15 February 2003 (over twelve million) and on 22 March (several million strong), and against the G8 in Geneva -Evian (100,000). In May and June 2003, there was also massive social mobilisation against neoliberal plans for pension reform (France, Austria, Brazil). The meeting in the Larzac region of Southern France in mid-August 2003 was a roaring success, with more than 200,000 participants over three days, when between 50 and 80,000 were expected. Issues dealt with in the Larzac were the opposition to the Doha agenda relegated to the interministerial summit in Cancun (Mexico) of mid-September 2003; support for the campaign of civil disobedience in protest against GMO experimentation; solidarity with Palestine; convergence between the various campaigns such as the defence of the pension scheme by distribution and the struggles waged by school-teachers and casual workers in the entertainment industry.

From the defeat of the MAI (1998) to that of Cancun (2003) via Seattle, Genoa, Doha, Buenos Aires and Baghdad

Elements of crisis in the mechanism for domination

1. The IMF, the World Bank and the WTO are key instruments in the offensive of capital against labour and of the countries of the Centre against those of the Periphery. Since 1998, these institutions have been undergoing a profound crisis of legitimacy. The economic, social and environmental disasters due to policies imposed on Periphery countries by the IMF and the World Bank has obviously cost these institutions their credibility on a massive scale within the countries concerned. Trade regulation policies conducted by the transnational corporations and attacks on State sovereignty have also made public opinion in both the Centre and the Periphery wary of the WTO. The structural adjustment policies dictated by the IMF and the World Bank are hated with a vengeance by the vast majority of countries where they are enforced.

2. This legitimacy crisis is heightened by debates and battles within the US administration. The crisis of the IMF and the World Bank is exacerbated by the fact that there is no consensus position within the one government with undisputed ascendancy. The Republican-dominated American Congress has refused to pay the United States ’ share for certain IMF initiatives (in 1997-1998). The bipartite Meltzer commission of the US Congress proposed a drastically reduced role for the IMF and the World Bank (February 2000); in March and April 2003 the US Treasury scuttled the mechanism for restructuring sovereign State debt that had been proposed by Anne Krueger of the USA, Director-General of the IMF.

3.The third level of the crisis is the internal crisis of the IMF and the World Bank (especially the latter) was evidenced amongst other things by the thunderous departure, in November 99, of Joseph Stiglitz, Chief Economist and Vice-president of the World Bank, then by the departure of the official in charge of environmental issues and, in June 2000, by the shattering resignation of Ravi Kanbur, director of the WB’s annual Global Development Report. Then in 1998-99, the bitter struggle between Michel Camdessus and Stanley Fischer, numbers one and two in the IMF, ended with Camdessus resigning before the end of his mandate and the precipitate departure in 2003 of the IMF’s Chief Economist, the highly neoliberal Kenneth Rogoff.

4. Another element of crisis lies in the conflicts between the major powers: the trade wars within the Triad (bananas, beef with hormones, subsidies on agricultural and industrial products, GMO…); the struggles for influence (e.g. the war of succession over the replacement of Michel Camdessus in February-March 2000); and the disagreements which arose over the war on Iraq. All these divergences undermine the industrialised countries’ capacity to impose their strategy in each set of circumstances. France’s withdrawal from the MAI negotiations, putting the whole project on hold, is a good illustration. The French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced that France was withdrawing, not just because of the citizens’ campaign but also because of the trade wars between France, the United States and other rogues. Conflicts between powers were ratcheted up a notch in 2002-2003, both in terms of competition in trade and industry, with a rise in protectionism, and in terms of international politics, with the war on Iraq, and to a lesser degree, events in the Middle East concerning the Palestinian people’s liberation struggle. Attempts to “cobble together” agreements come up against major obstacles.

5. Then there are the conflicts between the Triad and the countries of the Periphery. The failure of the Millennium Round of trade talks in Seattle in 1999 was the result of a combination of the different elements crisis mentioned above. The legitimacy crisis is giving rise to powerful mass mobilisation, contradictions within the Triad and the discontent of the countries of the Periphery regarding the pretentions of the major industrial powers. Starting with the war in Afghanistan (2001), then the war on Iraq (2003), there were particularly strong disagreements between the USA and its allies, on the one hand, and the USA and many of the countries of the Periphery, on the other. This was particularly evident with the Arab world and subsequently, with the Muslim world as a whole. However these are not the only disgruntled countries. Brazil, China, Mexico, India, South Africa, Russia… have all expressed more or less vehemently their opposition to the war on Iraq.

The failure of the inter-ministerial WTO summit in Cancun (Mexico) in September 2003 was due to the combined action of several Periphery countries, led by Brazil, India and China. The Bush administration, already entangled in the hornets’ nest of Iraq, faced with a continuing economic crisis on the domestic front, losing ground in the polls for the presidential elections in 2004, did not want to make the concessions demanded by certain major countries of the Periphery, such as Brazil. They preferred to maintain a highly protectionist stance to win (back) their electorate.

6. The war against Iraq and the Palestinian crisis undermine the credibility of the USA. The inability of the occupying forces in Iraq to guarantee the security of their troops and to fully relaunch the petroleum industry, the revelations concerning the lies of the Bush administration, Tony Blair and the Australian government about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the inability (or lack of will) to impose concessions on the Israeli government regarding the Palestinians’ struggle… All these factors have led to a vast political awakening. All these factors have brought about the legitimacy crisis of the US world leadership.

7. There is growing disenchantment in the face of the lack of legitimacy of the US world leadership. The behaviour of the US government during the 1990s and early 2000s is making it increasingly unpopular. Military aggression, the sabotage of the International Criminal Court, the contempt displayed towards the UN itself and UN organisations such as UNESCO, the rejection of the Kyoto agreements on the grounds that the North-Americans have the right to maintain their present extravagant life-style, protectionism for the rich, blatant recourse to lies to justify military operations, restriction of human rights (650 prisoners have been detained in Guantanamo without respect of their rights), the abuse of the presidency, whether under W. Clinton or the two G. Bushes, blackmail of small countries by a major power, vote-buying from other countries within the WTO, the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions, retention of the death penalty… Ever fewer citizens around the world (including the USA) are convinced by the pretexts of the war on “terror” and the “axis of evil” campaign where Good declares war on Evil. Polls show a radical fall in popularity for the USA in a large number of countries, starting with the Arab world, of course, and the rest of the Muslim countries.

8. The World Bank and the IMF, although wielding such power when it comes to imposing structural adjustment policies on Periphery countries, or making them repay their debts, are helpless when it comes to preventing crises like those of 1997 in South East Asia, 1998 in Russia, 1999 in Brazil, 2000-2002 in Argentina and Turkey, 2002-2003 in Brazil. What of their inability to prevent an international stock exchange crash? … or to relaunch the ailing world economy of 2001-2003? Some governments that have so far toed the line are beginning to show signs of resistance at the ukases of the Bretton Woods institutions. In 2003, the Argentine president, Kirchner, refused to meet all the IMF’s demands, and Thailand and Indonesia decided not to extend their agreements with the IMF.

9. A multiplicity of scandals from Enron’s bankruptcy to the Russian oligarchs, the patent failure of neoliberalism revealed by the Argentine crisis, the absence of any serious measures to cope with the AIDS pandemic mainly in Africa, increased restriction of democratic rights and freedom since 11 September 2001, the UN alternately ignored or instrumentalised by the major powers, moral duplicity and “one law for the rich, another for the poor” add an ethical and democratic dimension to the crisis of the neoliberal model in the minds of increasing numbers of people around the world, especially young people

10. Multinational corporations are also affected by a crisis in confidence. The frenzied pursuit of profit with no concern for human rights or the environment; widespread evidence of corruption and the extraordinary sums of money granted to company directors; systematic recourse to tax evasion and fraud; stock exchange-driven redundancies… all these have generated a growing spirit of defiance towards multinationals and serious doubts about globalisation as it is conducted by them.

One characteristic of the situation opened up by the failure of the MAI is the way that the citizens’ movement has appeared on the scene at all the negotiations of the major institutions and the major powers. Over the last few years, every single meeting of the power-mongers of the world has been attended by mass demonstrations and the more recent ones have been disrupted, even paralysed, by the demonstrators. The neoliberal offensive has only managed to carry on in fits and starts, with delays in the implementation of its new plans, to the consternation of the system’s defenders.

The crisis of legitimacy of the G8, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO has reached the point where they no longer dare meet with trumpets blaring. They call much smaller meetings in the most inaccessible places for contestation. The WTO met in Doha, in Qatar, in November 2001; the G8 of 2002 was held in a remote village in the Canadian Rockies, that of 2003 in Evian, a small town of 15 000 inhabitants sandwiched between a lake on one side and mountains on the other, that of 2004 is to be held in a little resort in Texas. The 2003 inter-ministerial meeting of the WTO was held in Cancun, another seaside resort cut off from the rest of Mexico by the Yucatan. The World Bank had to cancel the meeting it was planning in Barcelona in June 2001, which did not prevent 100,000 young Catalans from demonstrating against its policies. Gone are the good old days for the World Bank and the IMF, when the two institutions met every three years with great pomp in some capital, with up to 15 000 international guests. There was Berlin in 1988, Bangkok in 1991, Madrid in 1994, Hong-Kong in 1997, Prague in 2000. In September 2003, they had to meet in Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates), out of reach of mass protests, showing how vulnerable they now feel. The alter-globalisation movement deserves to savour this victory, however partial.

The self-styled leaders of the world have no intention of giving in to the ever more numerous protests. They now have a combination of two tactics to try to stifle the movement. One is to discourage it by increasingly vigorous repression and a mudslinging campaign aimed at sullying the image of the protesters. This includes querying their representativity and their ability to come up with alternatives and criminalising the movement by deliberately presenting small violent groups as typical of the great majority. The other tactic is to attempt to co-opt part of the movement, especially NGOs, by appealing to a sort of spirit of collaboration.

As Napoleon Bonaparte, the dictator, used to say, “ You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them”. Gramsci said the same thing in a less trivial manner: talking of hegemony, he saw the need for a consensus to ensure the stability of the system. The crisis of legitimacy and the lack of a consensus encourage the search for alternative solutions and lead to ever greater mobilisation. Repeated use of police violence with its inevitable victims (including the ones that get shot) can only further reduce the legitimacy of the institutions that claim to be running neoliberal globalisation.

As far as the protest movement is concerned, several positive factors can be identified at present.

Firstly, the birth of the of the World Social Forum, the first of which took place in 2001 in Porto Alegre (Brazil), and the growing success of this annual event (12,000 participants in 2001, 30,000 in 2002, 100,000 in 2003…). The idea has been extended to a continental level, with the Asian Social Forum, the European Social Forum, the African Social Forum, soon to be followed by the North American Social Forum. The idea of the Social Forum has also taken root on a local level in a large number of countries. The WSF was launched as a result of the convergence of different initiatives, some from the North and some from the South of the planet. It has an International Council. The WSF has succeeded in appearing as a legitimate alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the bosses of the multinational corporations, world rulers, the directors of the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank all meet up.

Secondly, the convergence of social movements and other types of organisation such as Via Campesina, Attac, the World Women’s March, some trade unions, think tanks like the World Forum for Alternatives, International Focus on Globalization, Focus on the Global South, movements against the debt like Jubilee South, the CADTM, educational movements, NGOs… A glimpse of the calendar of activities and shared objectives resulting from this convergence can be found in the declaration of the Assembly of Social Movements at the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre in January 2001 (see box 20.1.), followed by other declarations made at the later editions of the World Social Forum, and the Asian and European Social Fora. A provisional international secretariat has been set up by the Landless Movement in Brazil.

Thirdly, the establishment of world-wide networks in line with the movement, even if there is some imbalance (more people involved in Western Europe, the Americas and Asia, fewer in Africa and Eastern Europe, and none in China).

Fourthly, the beginning of a cycle of radicalisation of a significant number of young people, with the same imbalance across the planet. The regions where this is most in evidence are North America, Southern Europe, Great Britain and Scandinavia. The phenomenon is clearly spreading. Youth movements are active in Algeria - Kabylia -, in South Korea, Peru, Mexico, and numerous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Fifthly, the birth of a strong international anti-war movement in 2001 during the war in Afghanistan. This movement has been reinforced in the course of 2003.

In the future, it is important to maintain the movement’s plurality, its independence with regard to governments in power and its ability to develop convergence between different campaigns, such as the ones against the WTO or for the cancellation of the debt. The anti-war movement needs be kept alive and new vigour breathed into international solidarity with populations struggling for their liberation (especially the Palestinian people).

Summary of the points of agreement between social movements at the WSF in Porto Alegre (January 2001)

Need for a democratic and internationalist alternative to neoliberal capitalist globalisation; supremacy of human rights, social rights and the rights of the environment over the demands of capital; the need to bring about equality between women and men; need to deepen the crisis of legitimacy of the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the Davos Forum, the G8 and the big multinationals; demand the unconditional cancellation of the Third World debt and the abandon of structural adjustment policies; demand a halt to trade deregulation and reject the present definition of trade-related intellectual property rights; demand the protection of natural resources and public property by preventing their privatisation; demand a ban on the use of genetically modified plants and patents on life; obstruct the arms trade and militarist policies (such as the US Colombia Plan); assert the right of populations to endogenous development; find sources of funding based on the taxation of capital (beginning with a Tobin-type tax), which entails the abolition of tax havens; assert the rights of indigenous peoples; need for agrarian reform and a generalised reduction of working hours; need for a common struggle linking North and South, East and West; promotion of democratic experiments such as the participatory budget of Porto Alegre.

A tale of subversion grounded in day-to-day life

This broad movement, created in response to defining moments in recent times, is also grounded in real everyday life. Those involved have met and discussed their experiences, visited one another. This has fostered a wonderfully human culture of subversion. Our values are defined in pluralistic terms, for happily the oppressed do not speak with one voice. This is why it is essential to bring out ’the planet’s other voices’. Yet our ideas are not those of the oppressors, our pluralism does not brook submission to the dictates of those who seek immediate profit and gain. Why on earth should we submit to their dictates?

Resistance is also boosted by struggles on a national level. Blows must be dealt to one’s own capitalist class in order to weaken the whole. The French strikes of late 1995 sparked a political sea change whose first upshot, however inadequate, was the defeat of the Right in the 1997 parliamentary elections.

The organised labour movement is struggling for the generalised reduction of working hours, and for the protection of hard-won social welfare programmes in industrialised countries and in those countries of the Periphery (in the South and East) where such programmes were fought for and won.

Instead of going clandestine, the ’sans papiers’ in France, Spain and Belgium have come out openly to demand that the government legalise their situation with the proper documents.

Globalisation has had the positive side-effect of forcing organisations genuinely committed to defending the interests of the oppressed to link up with other like-minded organisations. Indeed, how can anyone hope to defend effectively the right to asylum without an overall view of the situation in the Third World? Or, in the current situation, how can workers resist the temptation to back ’their’ employer to save a job in ’their’ work place, to the detriment of workers in neighbouring countries? How can an NGO ensure that it remains independent short of linking up with others in its own country to promote the same demands for social justice that it raises in far away lands? How can any progress be made in the fight against exclusion and unemployment without an ongoing dialogue with the trade union movement?

One often hears the complaint that it is increasingly difficult to determine exactly who is ’in charge’. The target is no longer the local boss but rather the board of directors of a multinational company. It is useless to take on national governments, since the European Council of ministers or the G8 calls the shots. To be sure, it is necessary to adapt strategy to the changing landscape. But the new forces that can be harnessed to overcome what is said to be ’impossible’ to overcome, are potentially many times more powerful than before. The key thing is to be aware of the current situation, and to spare no effort in seeking to harness this potential. It is important to stress that the need for determined political will does not imply the stifling of internal debate within movements. On the contrary, the wealth of social movements is rooted in their diversity and pluralism. These inner strengths must be fully protected by ensuring the fullest democracy in relations between the various component parts of social movements.

Obstacles and new forms of organisation

The world over, the labour movement is experiencing a crisis of representation. The trade union movement and left-wing parties are no longer seen as the legitimate representatives of their theoretically natural constituents. The trade union movement is increasingly unable to defend the interests of workers and their families. Nor has its approach to the problems at hand succeeded at drawing in the other social movements.

NGOs, of which a significant number radicalised during the 1970s, are also clearly in crisis. Many of them have fallen into line with their national governments or with the international organisations (World Bank, UN, UNDP).

This crisis of representation has created deep-seated scepticism about projects for radical change. Socialism, to take the most clear-cut example, has been hugely discredited by the bureaucratic experience in the so-called socialist camp in the East and by the capitulation of Western socialists to their own countries’ capitalist class.

Nevertheless, social struggle continues and in some cases has grown more radical. New forms of organisation and consciousness appear fleetingly, thus far unable to give rise to a new and coherent programme. Let us not, however, make the mistake of underestimating their radicalism.

Doubtless, social movements have chalked up a long list of failures in recent years. But the history of struggles for emancipation is not a matter of adding and subtracting victories and defeats.

Can the crisis of all the various social movements give way to a new upward cycle of positive experiences and rising consciousness? The events of recent years provide cause for cautious optimism. The case for standing on the sidelines is less convincing than ever.

A tiny minority of decision-makers spare no effort to strip the human individual of his or her fundamental rights, to reduce human beings to the status of just one ’resource’ among others; to replace the idea of society by that of the market; to reduce the creativity and wealth of labour to one commodity among many; to destroy social awareness and leave individualism in its stead; to empty politics of all meaning save that of giving Capital and its thirst for immediate profits control over all key decisions; and to smother culture in the quest for a ’normal’ way of life. The time is ripe for the millions of people and tens of thousands of organisations in the struggle, to learn to live together through a recognition of the complementarity and interdependence of their projects. To organise and promote the globalisation of forces for the (re)building of our common future, to broadcast far and wide a world view rooted in solidarity.

The time is ripe.

An example of convergence: the Belgian-based Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt

Impressed by the initiative taken by French activists to counter the 1989 G7 summit, a number of people called on the French writer Gilles Perrault - one of the spokespeople of the 'Enough is Enough' movement - to explain the Bastille Appeal [[See the {Bastille Appeal for the Cancellation of the Third World Debt} at the end of the sidebar]] and the French campaign for the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the Third World debt. At the time, Belgian activists were very much in the doldrums. Solidarity committees were stagnating; and trade union mobilisation floundering, subsequent to a number of partial defeats in various sectors. In such a climate, the February 1990 conference with Perrault was an undeniable success. It provided an occasion to take stock of wide-ranging enthusiasm for work around the debt issue, however removed this may have seemed at first glance from the daily concerns of those present.

The Belgian-based Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt (CADTM) has been pluralist from the word go, not only in political outlook (socialist, Christian, ecologist, revolutionary) but also in its composition (individuals, trade union sections, NGOs, political parties, various associations). This is definitely one of the reasons for the CADTM's dynamism and success.

The CADTM's pluralist character has been the keystone for setting up a unitary framework for every initiative, whether for contacting and cooperating with other associations, for drawing up statements and petitions, for putting together publications and dossiers, or for organising public events.

From the beginning, discussion and debate around the debt issue has gone hand-in-hand with public activities aimed at kick-starting 'mobilisation'. CADTM participants never saw the organisation as a mere think tank or study circle. Other groups of this sort already exist, the CADTM has cooperated with them on an ongoing basis. Since 1990, the CADTM campaigns have attracted a wider and wider spectrum of people. The names of past CADTM campaigns speak for themselves: 'The Third World Debt Time Bomb'(1990); 'Third World Debt in a Time of Cholera'(1991); 'While 40,000 Children Die Each Day, Every Minute Counts'(1992-1993); 'Third World Debt: Necessary Solidarity Among Peoples'(1994-1997); 'From North to South, Up to Our Ears in Debt'(1997-1998); 'Resources for Alternatives in Favour of Citizens and Development' (1999-2000) and the current campaign, 'Abolish the Debt to Free the Development' (2000-2004).

The CADTM also functions as an editorial collective. It has helped draw up a number of platforms and declarations. Madrid 1994, Copenhagen 1995, Brussels 1995, Chiapas 1996, Manila 1996, Mauritius and Caracas 1997, Saint Denis 1999, Bangkok, Geneva and Dakar 2000, Porto Alegre 2001-2002-2003, Geneva 2003 are some examples of key events where the CADTM was able to help enrich analytical efforts carried out in various places around the world. These democratic and organisational enterprises are vital for overcoming a sense of isolation and for working together on a given project with others.

The CADTM has always taken pride in its international and internationalist identity. There is nothing surprising about being 'international' when dealing with such issues. Beyond this, however, the CADTM has always seen itself as part of a broader anti-imperialist movement, as a partisan of a renewed form of internationalism. Internationalism has taken some hard blows in recent times, yet it is more urgent than ever before to set it back on its feet.

While the CADTM has been building itself up patiently in Belgium, at the same time it has directly linked up with movements in other countries, such as ATTAC (France) or Jubilee South, which were forming in 1998-1999. Whenever possible, activists from other parts of the world have been invited to CADTM events; the CADTM itself has accepted invitations elsewhere from those who had already made the trip to Belgium.

The CADTM has gradually become an international network with individual members and local committees in several countries in Europe, Africa, Latin America and in Asia.

The CADTM has also opened up to countries of the former Soviet Bloc, also directly confronted with the debt issue and structural adjustment, and where quite a few movements are looking for original alternatives.

This kind of exchange has actually boosted serious grassroots activity on the home front. The CADTM has always been at the ready to respond to calls for action, whether from a university professor, a local parish, a mosque, a group of unemployed workers or a long-established solidarity committee. The CADTM responds and always focuses its attention on the need to develop awareness, understanding of the issues at hand, and mobilisation.

Starting in 1997-1998, a vast international campaign grew up on the theme of Jubilee 2000. A great many demonstrations took place. In Birmingham in May 1998 during the G8 summit, a human chain of 70,000 people was formed; in Cologne in June 1999 for another G8 summit, 35,000 people brought 17 million signatures for the cancellation of the debt of the poor countries. A coordination of movements in the South fighting for debt cancellation was set up in 1999, called Jubilee South, in which members of the CADTM in the South took part. The campaign for the cancellation of the debt gradually became more of a mass movement. This was seen in Spain, after the "consulta" carried out in March 2000 by RCADE (Citizens' Network for the Abolition of the External Debt) with over a million participants, and in Brazil with the September 2000 referendum carried out by the social movements, with 6 million votes. Continental and worldwide initiatives have been Africa: from Resistance to Alternatives” and “ the First North-South Consultation ”). The ball is rolling.

Through its work analysing the mechanisms of the Third World debt, based on an ongoing study of the different players and the policies they pursue, the CADTM has had to broaden the scope of its work. Talking about frontal attacks against the educational and health care system, privatisation, unemployment and so on in the Third World, might ring hollow if we are not also able to point to the results of similar policies implemented at home; and if we are not able to fight these policies with the same determination even if their results are not (yet) as destructive as in other parts of the world.

Another area where the CADTM intervenes is the struggle now being waged on the terrain of justice and law. The possibility of criminal proceedings against the IMF and the World Bank is being investigated, for aiding and abetting dictatorial regimes and imposing policies that infringe human rights. The CADTM has also openedup anotheraea of intervention through its commitment to referendum-style consultations like the « consulta » and to preparing citizens' audits on the debt. Furthermore, the environmentaldebt has been included among the issues it covers.

In order to explain the need for a tax on speculative investment on a world level, for example, we have to raise the question of taxing wealthy estates in our own countries.

Last but not least, anyone intelligent enough to recognise the injustice of the Third World debt also has the moral duty to condemn the public debt in industrialised countries. Indeed, this public debt is responsible for a similar transfer of wealth from workers and small producers to the capitalist class.

The CADTM does not seek to take the place of other initiatives. It supports movements like ATTAC, Via Campesina, the World Women's March, Jubilee South, the "sans papiers" movements (and the collectives that support them or combat exclusion policies and closed centres) the European Marches, the World Forum for Alternatives… It is always at the ready to participate in coalitions set up in response to key events or developments. It was in this spirit, for example, that it got involved in the European Marches on Amsterdam in June 1997.

Make no mistake, the CADTM's activities fall well short of the current challenge. But the CADTM has provided proof, however modest, that it is indeed possible to build an international movement that is able to analyse the major global changes currently underway while at the same time acting in response to new problems.


On the eve of the XXIst century, happiness is still a new idea.

We live in a world where all the conditions for happiness are present but where the highest growth rate is that of poverty.

A world where hunger kills tens of thousands of children every day leads to riots on three continents and kills hope.

A world that mutilates the existence of women, always the first victims when the simple struggle to survive aggravates traditional forms of oppression.

Who is responsible for these tragedies? An economic imperialism which bleeds the Third World dry and crushes it beneath the weight of the debt. It may have its internal rivalities but when it comes to ensuring domination, it is perfectly at one. Only solidarity among the peoples can break its power.

Solidarity does not mean support of regimes which perpetuate the poverty of their countries, stifling the voices and the rights of the population.

After the demonstrations of July 1989 in Paris during the G7 summit and against the Debt, we appeal for the union of all the progressive forces in the world.

Cancellation of the Debt will not solve all the problems but is an indispensable prerequisite to any far-reaching solution. To refuse would be to refuse assistance to peoples in danger.

Together, we can and we must revive hope, and do what is needed to make justice and equality our common destiny.

This text has been translated by Vicki Briault Manus.

Footnotes :

[1François Chesnais rightly claimed : « It is difficult to see how mankind can avoid taking measures to expropriate capital. Their precise form will have to be worked out in the light of the experience of the last century. Of course it is possible that we are once again underestimating the flexibility of the dominant mode and the capability of those who rule it. Perhaps we will be proved wrong by events, but we doubt, to take some obvious examples, whether the G7 States will manage to regain control of the finance markets by regulating them, whether they will pronounce the cancellation of the Third World and Forth World debts or whether companies in the great majority of OECD countries will be persuaded by straightforward intellectual arguments to adopt the 30 or 35 hour week. So this book aims to contribute to discussions among the working classes and those who identify with them. » (Chesnais, 1994, trans.VBM).

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.