Socialism Today                     The monthly journal of the Socialist Party

Issue 56

About Us

Back Issues



Contact Us



Issue 56, May 2001

The politics of anti-capitalism

    Neo-liberalism diagnosed
    What alternative to capitalism?
    The anti-capitalists and Marxism

The anti-capitalist protests have partly been a spontaneous reaction to the horrors of neo-liberalism but they have also been fuelled by the ideological challenge mounted by a number of writers, activists, philosophers and economists. PETER TAAFFE examines the ideas of the most prominent of these anti-capitalist thinkers.

"IMAGINE A WONDROUS new machine, strong and supple, a machine that reaps as it destroys. It is huge and mobile, something like the machines of modern agriculture but vastly more complicated and powerful. Think of this awesome machine running over open terrain and ignoring familiar boundaries. It plows across fields and fencerows with a fierce momentum that is exhilarating to behold and also frightening. As it goes, the machine throws off enormous mows of wealth and bounty while it leaves behind great furrows of wreckage.

"Now imagine that there are skilful hands on board, but no one is at the wheel. In fact, the machine has no wheel nor any internal governor to control the speed and direction. It is sustained by its own forward motion, guided mainly by its own appetites. And it is accelerating". (One World Ready or Not, William Greider, Penguin Books, 1998)

This vivid metaphor of William Greider's in 1997 described the seemingly unstoppable onward march of globalised capitalism. But surely it no longer fully applies after the massive worldwide anti-globalisation/anti-capitalist protests and gatherings, the latest of which was the tremendous demonstration in Quebec? These clearly show that the machine may not have completely stopped but enough spokes have been thrown into the wheels to raise the prospect of its derailment.


True, the representatives of the propertied classes of the Americas - with Cuba excluded - did sign an agreement to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) incorporating North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. But globalisation, which this agreement reflects, clearly faced a 'crisis of legitimacy', even before Quebec. It has been challenged in action by significant layers of young people, of workers and environmentalists. Opposition is now organised not just on a continental basis but on a world scale. These demonstrations are partly an instinctive and spontaneous reaction to the horrors of neo-liberalism but have been undoubtedly fuelled by the ideological challenge mounted by a number of writers, activists, philosophers and economists. The best known of these include Naomi Klein, Viviane Forrester, Pierre Bourdieu and Walden Bello. All have made searing criticisms of the effects of neo-liberal policies, both in the industrialised countries and in the neo-colonial world.

This development is a vindication of the analysis made by the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) at the beginning of the 1990s in answer to the vacuous idea of Francis Fukuyama that we had reached the 'end of history'. We recognised that mass consciousness had been thrown back because of the effects of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequent liquidation of the planned economy as well as the heinous regimes of Stalinism. This allowed the bourgeoisie internationally to conduct a ferocious ideological campaign to discredit socialism and to seek to reinforce the idea that there was 'no alternative' to capitalism.


This campaign was a vital ingredient allowing for the reinforcement and brutal application of neo-liberal policies. Not the least of its effects was the complete capitulation of the leaders of the former mass workers' political parties and the right-wing trade union leaders to the 'market' and to 'neo-liberal' ideas. It is itself an annihilating condemnation of those alleged 'leaders' that opposition to globalisation now comes not from them but mainly from figures who stand officially outside the ranks of the traditional workers' organisations and are contemptuous of their role.

We pointed out that in the first instance opposition would be towards the effects of capitalist measures and neo-liberalism specifically. Later, a broader anti-capitalist movement would develop, out of which would come a socialist critique of the system. The present worldwide anti-globalisation/anti-capitalist movement underlines this analysis. At the moment, it is more of a 'mood' than a movement, with different strands, including the involvement of significant socialist forces. Moreover, it is not yet clearly defined as anti-capitalist. In the USA, for instance, there is a marked 'anti-corporatist', but not anti-capitalist, element, symbolised by Ralph Nader who received just under three million votes in the US presidential elections. Ecologists, environmentalists and others have been drawn behind the movement. There is also a big section of alienated youth who are involved without any clear philosophy, never mind an alternative.


Nevertheless, this movement represents a considerable step forward. It is different from those that developed in the 1990s, which were characterised by the sprouting of single-issue protests highlighting the deleterious effects of capitalism, generally in one field. The current movement, in contrast, represents the first attempt at a generalised opposition to the system. It understands what it doesn't like and what it opposes but it is either unclear or has no real alternative solutions to put in its place. However, events, and mighty events at that, particularly a looming world recession or slump, can propel this movement in a socialist direction.

top     Neo-liberalism diagnosed

CERTAINLY A NEW generation has arisen which is searching for socialist ideas. Yet one of the major obstacles to them embracing a viable alternative are the very theoreticians who, initially, played a role in spurring on the anti-globalisation movement.

It is not possible to fault them on their diagnosis of the horrors of neo-liberal policies. The French writer, Viviane Forrester, for instance, had already in 1996, in her book L'horreur Economique (The Economic Horror), attacked the savage "culture of shame" attached to unemployment. Acting almost as a 'voice of the voiceless', the unemployed, she denounced a system which had "spawned an economic world as an obscenity and affront to human nature".

Raging against the capitalists' 'economic realities', she argued: "economic neo-liberalism increasingly offers the most vulnerable in our society a quite new choice: poverty at work or poverty on the dole"1. She also goes on to point out: "Today, an unemployed person is not just temporarily, occasionally left aside. He or she is caught by a general implosion, a phenomenon comparable to those tidal waves, hurricanes or tornadoes that know no boundaries and against which there is no shelter"2.


At the time that she wrote this unemployment in France stood at 12% and yet there operated, she said, a 'void' the purpose of which was "to keep us asleep in what I called elsewhere the violence of calm"3. Interestingly, she called for the adoption of traditional class terminology which had been put into cold storage by the discrediting of socialist ideas following the collapse of Stalinism. She wrote: "How many terms fall out of use; 'profits' is one for sure, but also for example, 'proletariat', 'capitalism', 'exploitation', even those 'classes' impervious to all 'struggle'!" She complains: "Are these terms prohibited or did they lose their meaning because a monstrous totalitarian enterprise used them and even promoted them?... Will everything be uprooted by Stalinism to the point where nothing other than the silence of the mediators, the arbiters, the interpreters and even the valid speakers is authorised? Will we allow them to determine those silences, those amputations of language that mutilate thought?"4.

In a more philosophical vein, Pierre Bourdieu inveighed against what he called the 'utopia of neo-liberalism'. In 1998 he denounced the parasitism, without calling it that, of modern capitalism, particularly of finance capital: "The globalisation of financial markets, when joined with the progress of information technology, ensures unprecedented mobility of capital. It gives investors concerned with the short-term profitability of their investment the possibility of permanently comparing the profitability of the largest corporations and, in consequence, penalising these firms' relative setbacks. Subjected to this permanent threat, the corporations themselves have to adjust more and more rapidly to the exigencies of the market under penalty of 'losing the market's confidence' as they say, as well as the support of their stockholders. The latter, anxious to obtain short-term profits, are more and more able to impose their will on managers, using financial directorates to establish the rules under which managers operate and to shape their policies regarding hiring, employment, and wages"5.


We have been given a recent example of what this means in the laying-off of almost 2,000 people by the French firm Danone, whose profit rate of 7.9% 'the market dictatorship' decided was not sufficient. Retrenchment and 'downsizing' was the perceived way to boost profits. Marks and Spencer also, upon the announcement of the possible sacking of 4,000 of its workers, saw its share price go up by 7%. This is an example of capitalism's tendency to 'maximise profits', but is given an extra twist today through the pressure of finance capital for short-term gains.

Bourdieu denounces these examples of 'social Darwinism' and in passing strikes a blow against those alleged French 'socialists' who willingly participate in the process: "They participate and collaborate in a formidable economic and social change. Even if some of its consequences horrify them, they can join the Socialist Party and give learned counsel to its representatives in the power structure"6. Bourdieu in effect calls for a social-democratic alternative, the intervention of the state and 'society' but within the context of capitalism.

Viviane Forrester earned the admonishment of the liberal French economist Alain Minc, chairman of Le Monde, who dismissed her book as 'rubbish'. He told her: "Your book is a talented opinion poll. It is a publishing success because it plays on people's fears. But it would have sold far fewer copies if it had been signed by Robert Hué" (the French 'Communist' Party leader)7. Yet Minc misses the obvious point that it would not have sold so many copies unless genuine 'people's fears' existed, which are a consequence in France as elsewhere of the effects of neo-liberalism. Adept on pillorying neo-liberalism, at the same time however Viviane Forrester also unfortunately admitted on German television recently that she had no alternative to the present economic system.


Susan George and Walden Bello, as well as Naomi Klein, have also indicted capitalism and the institutions of capitalism without posing a viable alternative outside of capitalism. Susan George in particular has pointed to the changes in the governing ideas and policies of capitalism today in comparison to the situation after 1945. She correctly points out that the prevailing views then, even of the dominant wing of capitalism, leaned towards Keynesian ideas and measures, while the labour movement was for either social democratic or social Christian democratic ideas or some shade of 'Marxism'.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was originally seen as a 'progressive institution' whose policy was to bail out economies through pumping in liquidity and "smoothing out temporary balance of payments problems"8. She bemoans the fact that this has all changed utterly in the last 20 years. What she fails to see, however, is that the switch in policies was determined by the change in the objective conditions of capitalism and the economic processes which laid the basis for neo-liberal policies.

The end of the 1960s and early 1970s saw the discrediting of Keynesian policies and a switch by ruling capitalist governments. Keynesianism had led to raging inflation and growing budget deficits. Pioneered ironically by the 1974-79 Labour government in Britain, a programme of savage cuts in government expenditure and strict control of the money supply became the order of the day. Susan George denounces very well the consequences of this in Britain: "In pre-Thatcher Britain, about one person in ten was classed as living below the poverty line, not a brilliant result but honourable as nations go and a lot better than the pre-war period. Now one person in four and one child in three is officially poor. During the 1980s, one per cent of taxpayers received 29% of all the tax reduction benefits, such that a single person earning half the average salary found his or her taxes had gone up by seven per cent, whereas a single person earning ten times the average salary got a reduction of 21%"9.


Her criticisms of the international trends within capitalism are devastating. Quoting a Chinese philosopher who said, 'Above all, do not compete', she writes: "The only actors in the neo-liberal world who seem to have taken his advice are the largest actors of all, the transnational corporations. The principle of competition scarcely applies to them; they prefer to practice what we will call Alliance Capitalism. It is no accident that, depending on the year, two-thirds to three-quarters of all the money labelled 'Foreign Direct Investment' is not devoted to new, job-creating investment but to mergers and acquisitions which almost invariably result in job losses"10.

Attacking the so-called transnational corporations (TNCs), she also writes: "The United Nations claims there are now about 60,000 TNCs with half a million affiliates, but the ones to watch are the top one, two or five hundred. Of the top 100 economic entities in the world, 51 are corporations, only 49 are states. General Motors or General Electric are much larger than Saudi Arabia or Poland, and so on. The top 200 firms are responsible for about a quarter of all the measured economic activity in the world - or gross world product"11.

She demolishes the idea that globalisation is progressive: "The Corporate Consensus claims that their kind of globalisation is good for everyone.... These companies are not employment-friendly or environment-friendly and are interested only in shareholder value. So it is no surprise that the neo-liberal style globalisation is not good for everyone: since the early 1990s, in the United States, average corporate profits have increased by 108%, the Standard and Poor stock market has increased by 224% and the compensation packages of Corporation Chief Executives have increased by a whopping 481%. During the same period, average annual wages for workers have risen only 28%, just barely ahead of inflation... Studies by both UNCTAD and the United Nations University show that inequalities in most countries are inexorably rising, whether in China, Russia, Latin America or the West. Eighty-five per cent of the world's population now lives in countries where inequalities are growing not diminishing"12.


In her address to the Porto Alegre World Social Forum in January, she seemed to go much further than before in condemning the "mega-corporations and the financial markets (which) are the ultimate incarnation of world capitalism. They are the real danger and their leaders are meeting in Davos as we speak"13. Rejecting the broad, neutral term 'globalisation' she also stated: "Globalisation is really 'corporate-driven economic integration' or just plain '21st century capitalism'. It feeds on the planet, makes the rich richer, increases inequality, denies democracy and excludes hundreds of millions of people"14.

More importantly, she also declared: "Capital never willingly gives up anything to labour, the dominant classes never relinquish their privileges and power without a fight and are always avid to acquire more, the environment will not be protected merely because it would be rational to do so and it would be folly to believe that the democratic gains of earlier struggles have been won once and for all. While it's true that we need to think long and hard about who our allies are now or could be in the future because the nature of social classes has obviously changed in the past 150 years, still the old notions of rapport de forces and class struggle have lost none of their relevance"15.

Walden Bello has the advantage of being not just a commentator but an activist in the Philippines in the struggle to oust the Marcos dictatorship and somebody who articulates today the anger felt in the neo-colonial world. He predicted the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, which he has described as the 'Stalingrad of the IMF', the implication being that this was the beginning of the end of the IMF. He has also made trenchant criticisms of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and he has correctly pointed out that the founding of this organisation in 1994-95 was "the apogee of capitalism in the era of globalisation. Socialism had collapsed and the Washington consensus seemed to carry all before it"16.


top     What alternative to capitalism?

SUSAN GEORGE, WALDEN Bello and Naomi Klein - who wrote a searing denunciation of the outsourcing of the Western capitalist countries to the neo-colonial world where it superexploits local labour - have made valuable contributions in denouncing neo-liberal policies. However, Susan George was wrong to suggest in her Porto Alegre speech that neo-liberalism and its policies - the application of new technology, privatisations, depression of wages, part-time working, etc - is a "totally artificial construct". These policies grew out of the largely unconscious economic developments in capitalism itself dating from the late 1970s. They began to be implemented in a big way in the early 1980s and particularly in the 1990s. A huge boost to the capitalists' ability to implement these policies was furnished by the collapse of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and the ideological commitment to the 'dictatorship of the market' made by the ex-social democratic, ex-'communist' leaders of the mass workers' organisations.

A more important deficiency of Susan George and others is the lack of a viable alternative provided by these writers and thinkers. On the one side, Susan George does express a kind of basic internationalist sentiment when she declared in the Porto Alegre speech: "Let's make clear that we are 'pro-globalisation', we are in favour of sharing friendship, culture, cuisine, travel, solidarity, wealth and resources worldwide. We are above all 'pro-democracy' and 'pro-planet', which our adversaries most clearly are not"17.


And yet despite this and the previously quoted denunciations of the capitalists - who will not give up concessions without a fight remember - her proposals for the movement which is developing do not go beyond the limits of the system itself. She is a member of ATTAC, for example, which originated in France and is the most prominent proponent of the Tobin Tax, which we would also support. In Porto Alegre, however, ATTAC if anything stood on the right of the conference. It was they who invited to the event the French 'socialist' ministers and past minister Chevenement, who were roundly booed by the participants. Susan George also declared to this gathering: "I'm sorry to admit it but I haven't the slightest idea what 'overthrowing capitalism' means in the early 21st century. Maybe we will witness what the philosopher Paul Virilio has called the 'global accident' but it would surely be accompanied by enormous human suffering. If all the financial and stock markets suddenly collapsed, millions would be thrown out onto the pavement as large and small firms failed, bank closures would far outstrip the capacity of governments to prevent catastrophe, insecurity and crime would run rampant and we would find ourselves living in the Hobbesian hell of the war against all. Call me reformist if you like - I want to avoid such a future"18.

In order to justify her non-socialist approach, she sets up straw men in order to denounce those 'socialists and Marxists' who allegedly oppose reforms. She writes: "If you start from the premise that it's impossible to get what you really want, then you won't even try. During the fight against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the trade unions in the OECD's Trade Union Advisory Committee - the TUAC - argued that the MAI was going to pass anyway, so they would try at best to obtain a social clause. Aside from the fact that a social clause in the MAI would have been meaningless, this attitude reflected the demoralisation of the labour movement. We actually did defeat the MAI, unfortunately with no input at all from those unions, though some dissident unions were immensely important. Let's always aim for the maximum. Sometimes 'realism' means demanding what may at first glance seem impossible"19.


She also indicts "some left-wing MEPs (who) refused to vote for a feasibility study of the Tobin Tax on international currency transactions on the pretext that the Tobin Tax would merely amend capitalism whereas they meant to overthrow capitalism entirely. Their few negative votes caused the resolution to fail"20. It was right-wing trade union leaders, not socialists or Marxists, who refused to fight, who Susan George correctly denounces. If left-wing MEPs voted against a reform, which the Tobin Tax clearly is, that is a mistake. Socialists and Marxists support the Tobin Tax, as limited as it is, as we would any wealth tax on the rich. But at the same time we would point out what this would involve on a capitalist basis.

ATTAC and Susan George have produced some tremendous figures to show the amount of wealth that would be generated, to alleviate poverty throughout the world, by a very small application in percentage terms of the Tobin Tax. However, who would implement such a tax? How is it possible to separate the introduction of such a measure in a world of uncontrolled capital flows, which national governments are unable to control, from the need for wider, socialist, measures? When the Labour government of 1964 introduced a mild corporation tax, the British ruling class went on a 'strike of capital'. Because that government remained within the framework of capitalism, it was compelled to retreat and water down the tax until it became completely harmless. Without a state monopoly of foreign trade and the nationalisation of the banks, first of all on a national and then on an international scale, a Tobin Tax would be completely cancelled out. It would be similar to trying to pull out the claws of a wild tiger 'peacefully'.


Walden Bello openly declares his support for social-democratic measures: "We are talking, moreover, about a strategy that consciously subordinates the logic of the market, the pursuit of cost efficiency, to the values of security, equity, and social solidarity. We are speaking, to use the language of the great social-democratic scholar Karl Polyani, about re-embedding the economy in society rather than having society driven by the economy"21.

ATTAC and Walden Bello call for the reform or the 'neutering' of the IMF and the WTO. We on the other hand, call for their complete abolition. Even if this was to happen and capitalism was still left intact, however, it would find a way of carrying out the same policies in a different form. Bello, in a televised link-up, wittily told the bosses gathered at Davos that they could benefit the world by blasting off into outer space. Even if they obliged, however, capitalism would still find from within its ranks sufficient replacements for them. It is not individual capitalists but their system of production and organising society that is the problem.

Walden Bello, while being a trenchant critic of globalisation, nevertheless restricts himself programmatically to seek to change the system from within. This is to be achieved by the "deconcentration and decentralisation of institutional power and the creation of a pluralistic system of institutions and organisations interacting with one another, guided by broad and flexible agreements and understandings"22. He harks back to the period of 1950-70, which was preferable, according to him, to the ugly reality of globalised capital today. He lauds the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) "that was limited in its power, flexible, and more sympathetic to the special status of developing countries"23. At that stage however, 1950-75, capitalism was experiencing the greatest economic upswing in its history. GATT was primarily concerned with capitalism's attempt to overcome the limits of the nation state, which it partially did. This was an important factor in fuelling this boom.


At the same time, through the unequal terms of trade, the 'developing' countries were discriminated against. Only relatively does that period appear preferable to the agonies which the masses in the neo-colonial world suffer today. This period, moreover, was not at all tranquil, either in the neo-colonial world or in the advanced industrial countries. It was an era of unprecedented national and social revolt in Africa, Asia and Latin America. At the same time, during this boom and because of the contradictions it had set up, even in the 'advanced' industrialised countries, we saw massive social upheavals including the greatest general strike in history in France in 1968.

Bello proposes a combination of measures against the capitalist institutions, either to: "a) decommission them; b) neuter them (eg convert the IMF into a pure research institution, monitoring exchange rates of global capital flows); or c) radically reduce their powers and turn them into just another set of actors co-existing with being checked by other international institutions, and agreements and regional groupings"24. This would mean strengthening capitalist institutions on a regional level such as "UNCTAD, multilateral environment agreements, the International Labour Organisation, the evolving economic blocs such as Mercosur in Latin America, SARC in South Asia, SADCC in Southern Africa, and a revitalised ASEAN in South-East Asia"25.

In other words, Bello wants to substitute the world institutions of capitalism for local or regional capitalist blocs. The problem, however, confronting the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America is not just imperialism but the native landlord and capitalist regimes and their attempts to band together in blocs such as Mercosur. They are incapable of solving the economic and social problems in their own countries or region and since 1989-90, more than any other previous period, have crawled on their belly before the economic might of globalised capitalism.


In his proposals for 'de-globalisation' Bello does not go beyond attempts to reform the market and eliminate its most distasteful features. This involves a utopian turning away from "production for export to production for the local market"26. He also suggests that the neo-colonial world refuses to become "dependent on foreign investment and foreign financial markets", and proposes "income redistribution and land redistribution". This last demand could not be satisfied within the confines of the prevailing landlord and capitalist regimes in the neo-colonial world. Only a social revolution led by the working class and mobilising the poor peasantry behind it could give land to the dispossessed rural population in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, having come to power, as the Russian revolution demonstrated, it would need to pass over to socialist tasks of taking over the assets of imperialism in the first instance and then of the rotten native capitalism.

Instead of an anti-global capitalism programme, Bello proposes "de-emphasising growth and maximising equity in order to radically reduce environmental disequilibrium"27. This attempt to turn back the wheel of history Bello shares with many in the movement, particularly its environmental and ecological wing. However, the very facts and figures which are given by Susan George, Bello himself and others, shows that the problem is not excess wealth but the lack of it for the majority, massive and growing disparity between rich and poor, poverty and outright starvation, particularly in the neo-colonial world. A programme to prevent growth is not the solution. A colossal development of the productive forces is not just possible but necessary, as the precondition for dragging the majority of human kind out of the mud into which capitalism has forced it. It is possible to have economic growth and sustainable and environmentally friendly measures. But this involves humankind sharing the resources of this planet, which is only possible by an organised plan of production on a national, continental and world scale.


top     The anti-capitalists and Marxism

THIS POSES THE question of world socialism. The global struggle for this is the real answer to globalised, rapacious capitalism. This the leading thinkers of the movement refuse to accept. Some like Naomi Klein recognise the historical contribution of Marxism: "I certainly am not rejecting Marx. All this activism is so informed by Marx"28. At the same time her philosophy is an eclectic brew of a "little bit of Marxism, a little bit of socialism, from environmentalism, from anarchism and a lot of inspiration"29. She correctly attacks dogmatic 'Marxism', which sees in every movement a mere repetition of the past: "You know what, there are other ideas out there too - older ideas and brand new ideas. Maybe we can create something that is new and better than anything we've had before and deals with some of the failings of the past - that sees us as whole human beings"30. Genuine Marxism is not a set of rigid formulas, dogmatically recited in every situation. A vital aspect is to learn from the struggles of young people and workers but at the same time also seeking to generalise this in a programmatic form.

We share some of the approaches of Naomi Klein. In her book, No Logo, she has imaginatively connected with the new generation who are beginning to oppose the power of the corporations, including some who are increasingly anti-capitalist and searching for socialist solutions. But she is wrong when she says: "The biggest weakness of the socialist and Marxist left has been to treat people only as workers, in the same way as capitalism treats us only as consumers. That isn't the way we see ourselves. We see ourselves as something more whole than that. We want more integration. We want a movement that has more room for our whole selves, for our creative selves, for joint spirituality and all the rest of it"31.


The 'Marxism' which Naomi Klein attacks is a caricature of the genuine ideas of Marxism. The working class is the main force in society which can bring about the change which the anti-global capitalism movement is searching for. They are the majority in society and are not just producers but also make up the bulk of the 'consumers'. In her mistaken remarks, however, is to be found the sentiments of a generation that is repelled by Stalinism and its historical legacy. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union had planned economies which, on the one side, showed its advantages in developing society and to some extent the living standards of the peoples. But Stalinism also saddled society with a one-party totalitarian regime which had nothing in common with socialism. We seek to build a society where the means of production, the giant corporations which control the lives of the majority on this planet, are owned and democratically controlled by the majority.

This is inconceivable without, at the same time, the widest democracy being implemented. The 'representatives' of the people and officials would be strictly accountable, subject to recall and live on an income no more than that of the average worker. Naomi Klein is now of the opinion that the days of "pure representative democracy are drawing to a close". She correctly argues that the established Western political parties are "in hock to transnational corporations". There was, however, no 'golden' period under capitalism, of "pure representative democracy". Capitalist democracy, in the words of Leon Trotsky, is where you can say what you like as long as ultimately the capitalists decide. She is unfortunately wrong when she concludes that "direct action is all that is left between Exxon and the Alaskan wildlife reserves". The highest form of 'direct action' - as opposed to 'directionless action' - is the mass mobilisation of the working class in struggle, the strike, mass demonstrations, the general strike and the taking of power out of the hands of the tiny band of billionaires and placing it in the hands of working class people.


To some extent, the attitude of those like Naomi Klein is understandable, particularly as Mark Seddon, the editor of Tribune, pointed out in The Independent: "On May Day in London, traditionally labour day, the TUC will be elsewhere. No official demonstration is planned. With the honourable exception of the rail unions and their supporters, the streets may echo to smashing glass and raucous tones... Unless the labour movement takes a lead, this may be the shape of things to come"32. An inchoate, spontaneous movement is inevitable in the first development of the movement, given what has gone before. However, unless it then goes on to acquire more organisational forms, democratic structures, opens itself up to all that are prepared to participate and fight on an agreed minimum programme with the right to put forward different points of view within, this tremendous movement could end in a cul-de-sac.

The members and supporters of the CWI, right from the first movements in London and Seattle, have participated in all the major demonstrations and seek to strengthen the anti-globalisation, anti-corporate, pro-environment and ecology movement. At the same time, we believe that the time is ripe to move beyond the mood of 'anti-the system' to a specifically socialist approach. Quebec will be followed this year by big demonstrations in Stockholm, in Genoa and what promises to be a mighty movement of young people and workers in Brussels in October. This period must be utilised not just for organising the demonstrations and confronting the representatives of globalised capitalism. It should open up a period of intense discussion and debate amongst all who are part of the movement. The aim of this should be programmatic clarity as a means of reaching out in particular to the working class who will be compelled to move into action under the blows of the coming recession or slump. The ideas of the leading writers and thinkers of this movement do not, as yet, constitute a convincing alternative which challenges capitalism and lays the basis for a new world, a socialist one.


In the next edition of Socialism Today we will carry a more detailed analysis of the ideas of ATTAC, the growing movement in Europe campaigning for the introduction of a Tobin Tax.

1 Interview with Viviane Forrester in The Jobs Letter, New Zealand, 6 December 1999

2 The Economic Horror, Viviane Forrester, Polity Press, 1999

3 The Jobs Letter

4 The Economic Horror

5 Utopia of Endless Exploitation, Pierre Bourdieu, in Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1998

6 Ibid

7 The Jobs Letter

8 A Short History of Neo-Liberalism - a speech to the conference on 'Economic Sovereignty in a Globalising World', Bangkok, March 1999

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 Speech to the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, Stockholm, 14 June 2000

12 Ibid

13 What Now? Text for the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, 15 January 2001

14 Ibid

15 Ibid

16 The Global Conjuncture: Characteristics and Challenges, by Walden Bello, Focus on Trade, No.60, March 2001


17 What Now?

18 Ibid

19 Ibid

20 Ibid

21 The Global Conjuncture

22 Ibid

23 Ibid

24 Ibid

25 Ibid

26 Ibid

27 Ibid

28 Reclaiming our selves, Workers Liberty 68, January 2001

29 Look, No Brands, Guardian interview, 2000

30 Reclaiming our selves

31 Ibid

32 The Independent, 23 April 2001

Home | Issue 56 | About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page