- Created: Thursday, 02 June 2011 12:49
- Written by Shawn Hattingh
The symbolic birth of the global anti-capitalist movement can perhaps be dated to the 1st of January 1994. On that day, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in the US, Canada and Mexico. It promoted the interests of corporations and aimed to turn the entire North American continent into a profit making haven for the region’s elite. In reaction, on the very same day, a movement of indigenous small-scale farmers and farm workers in Mexico, the Zapatistas, declared war on the Mexican government, NAFTA and global neo-liberal capitalism. The Zapatistas were hoping that their actions would spark a revolution throughout Mexico. The aim of the revolution, however, was not to take state power, but rather its goal was to create liberated zones where people could exercise their own power by creating democratic structures and reformulating the economy democratically in order to meet people’s needs and not make profits.
Although the Zapatista’s uprising did not lead to a revolution in Mexico, it did spark the imagination of millions of young people around the world. Within days of the rebellion, young people in places such as Spain, Italy and Brazil started organising themselves and mounted massive marches in support of the Zapatistas. Through this, a massive movement of mainly young people – which became known as Ya Basta – arose in Europe and drew inspiration from the Zapatistas and their ideas. In fact, its central aims were to fight capitalism and to offer solidarity to the Zapatistas.
One of the most important developments that led to the emergence of global anti-capitalist movement was that the Zapatistas started to forge links with the movements that were offering them solidarity in Mexico, Latin America and across the world. In 1994 the Zapatistas had already begun to form networks with Ya Basta and activists in Nigeria who were fighting Shell. Out of this, the Zapatistas invited activists from all over the world to a meeting in 1996, which became known as the First Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity Against Neoliberalism. As many as 5 000 activists from over 50 countries (including some people from Johannesburg) – with various political affiliations including liberation theology, anarchism, libertarian or autonomist Marxism attended the meeting.
The First Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity Against Neoliberalism lasted for just over a week. During the meeting people shared information about their struggles, how they had organised and what their understandings of capitalist globalisation were. Many of the participants felt that capitalist globalisation represented a war, which was being waged by the elite against humanity. The aim of this war was to use economic measures, and even the military, to spread capitalism into every aspect of people’s lives. Everything, including culture, social relations, the environment, water and even air, was being turned into a commodity to be bought and sold. As such, many participants felt that capitalist globalisation should be considered a Fourth World War (the Third World War being the Cold War).
To fight against this onslaught, many of the participants in the First Encounter felt that international networks that linked various struggles to one another - without imposing an authoritarian conformity or undermining the independence of the movements involved - should be established. Out of the meeting an intercontinental network was formed to act as a forum through which each of the movements could support one another. This essentially became the global anti-capitalist movement. The network, however, was conceived of as a flat structure, without leaders, without hierarchies, and without central decision makers. The network participants also shunned the idea of vanguards and seizing state power on behalf of people. Rather the idea of the network was to allow for the maximum amount of people to participate fully in the struggle, and to create autonomous zones outside of capitalism where people could define and develop their own power democratically. Indeed, the process around setting up the Network was viewed as being more important than any envisioned outcome.
Part of the Network’s philosophy was that the struggle against capitalism does not merely take place on an international level, but locally. Thus, many people in the Network committed themselves to organise locally, on a radical democratic basis, and take the fight to capitalism where they lived. As a result, when the participants returned from the meeting they began organising in their own countries. Many of the North American and European activists that were involved in the meeting went on to help organise the massive protests that have taken place against the WTO, IMF and World Bank in North America and Europe.
International Encounters have continued to take place in the territory that was and is controlled by the Zapatistas. However, other Intercontinental Encounters for Humanity Against Neo-liberalism have also taken place in Spain and Brazil. Through these meetings, other networks have been formed. One of these networks involved movements and activists from the Zapatistas, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), Ya Basta, the Direct Action Network, the Spanish anarchist union CGT, the socialist farmers league of India (KRRS) and the Ogoni struggle, which became known as the People’s Global Action (PGA). The PGA is a network of movements that share similar principles and ideas. These include a rejection of capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, racism, and religious fundamentalism. The movements and activists linked to the PGA also all share a belief that direct action is an important weapon of political struggle; that direct democracy should form the basis on which movements organise; that autonomous economic spaces outside of capitalism should be created; and that movements and networks should be decentralised. The movements involved in the PGA have played big role in the protests against the WTO, IMF, World Bank and G8, and have become the backbone of the global anti-capitalist movement.
What is different about the global anti-capitalist movement?
What makes the global anti-capitalist movement different from most past revolutionary movements is that it embraces and seeks diversity. Unlike many left parties of the past it, therefore, does not demand ideological uniformity. Thus, many different progressive strands of thought are found within the global anti-capitalist movement including Zapatismo, anarchism, autonomia and libertarian Marxism. Nonetheless, one feature that is common to all of these strands of thought is that they reject authoritarianism in all forms. As such, the global anti-capitalist movement specifically shuns the authoritarian forms of organising that have defined many movements on the left in the past. As such, one of the main arguments of many activists involved in the global anti-capitalist movement is that you can’t use the same structures that underpin capitalism, namely organisations based on hierarchies, to defeat capitalism. For most of the activists involved, the end result in the Soviet Union and China proved this. Thus, many activists in the global anti-capitalist movement believe that you have to organise in a very democratic way in the present, if you want to build a truly democratic society in the future. Indeed, there can never be true socialism without true democracy. For this reason, the global anti-capitalist movement is organised in ways that extend democracy, through new forms of organising, to all of the people involved in the movement. The new forms of organising that the movement has experimented with have included forming decentralised horizontal networks which practice a form of direct consensus democracy. To do this, movements and networks use various organisational instruments to make decisions and plan actions including mass assemblies, smaller affinity groups and spokes councils. These organisational instruments are purposefully structured in such a way as to ensure that the democratic process rises from below, without stifling dissenting voices or creating permanent leadership positions. In order to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, facilitation tools are often used in the movements’ meetings and assemblies.
What also sets this movement apart from many past left movements is that it does not seek to seize state power. In fact, the movement rejects any form of politics that appeals to governments to modify their behaviour. Rather, the movement tries to expose, discredit and even dismantle mechanisms of rule, such as capitalism and the state, through direct action; while creating ever larger spaces of autonomy from these institutions.
Creating new forms of protest
One of the most creative things that has come out of the global anti-capitalist movement has been the new forms of protest that it has experimented with. Activists from the PGA, Ya Basta, the Direct Action Network and Black Blocs have combined elements of street theatre, non-violent warfare and festival to combat state repression at demonstrations against the WTO, IMF and World Bank. At these demonstrations, groups and blocs of activists also use products such as foam, plastic water bottles and tire tubes as body armour. Using this ‘body armour’ these activists move through police lines and barricades, while protecting one another from arrest and injury. In fact, the police find it almost impossible to stop such blocs. Activists have also used innovative blockades to try and stop meetings of the WTO, G8 or IMF taking place. This has even seen activists building giant puppets to block street intersections to stop officials getting to the meetings.
In the South, movements like the Zapatistas have also used non-violent warfare to invade military bases. In the Chiapas, thousands of unarmed Zapatistas regularly occupy military bases and force the soldiers to retreat. In one case, the Zapatistas even ‘attacked’ a military base using paper aeroplanes. In Brazil the MST use similar methods to occupy land; while in Argentina the Piqueteros use barricades to close highways in order to protest against unemployment and capitalism.
Millions and millions of young people around the world have become part of the global anti-capitalist movement. Indeed, young people are the driving force behind the movement. It is their energy, idealism and commitment that has led to the successes that the movement has had. It is also their rejection of all forms of authoritarianism (whether on the right or left), their drive to create new forms of organising and desire for direct democracy that has defined the movement. Through such ideals and practices, young people across the globe are starting to create another world, which is defined by its opposition to capitalism and all forms of oppression, and that is based on the respect and dignity of all people.