naming the enemy, before seattle: an autochthonous book review

naming the enemy, before seattle:
an autochthonous book review

WorldReview, 5:1 (2002): 14-16.

other peoples’ reviews

The bulk of the research for Naming the Enemy was done between 1994 and 1998. The idea was to document that communities all over the world were facing off against multinational corporations. I hoped agreement about an enemy might help these communities join together and intended to encourage use of the term ‘anti-corporate’ to this end. Before the book even appeared, ‘anti-corporate’ had become common parlance and i hopped happily off to the mass protests. The WTO Ministerial in Seattle was a tactical smoke signal that said “we are with you”. And that was how it was recognized in places where broken windows were not worth discussing.

The book is more useful now than it would have been in advance of the movement. It lays out the various ideologies of all the movements I could find, internationally, which were explicitly or implicitly fighting corporations before they reframed themselves around the new signifier, “Seattle”. This attention to ideology accomplishes two tasks: First it documents the sound empirical bases for movements’ diverse grievances with corporations, demonstrating that activists the world over are well-informed about what we are fighting and why. Second it proves TATA (There Are Thousands of Alternatives) beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Movements covered in the book range in size from Zapatismo to “the labor movement”. The three empirical chapters present the movements sorted into three modes: those which “contest” corporate moves and seek to reembed corporations into existing democratic structures; those which seek to surpass all existing political frameworks and build a new “people’s globalization” or “globalization from below”; and those which emphasize the viability of local economies and politics and seek to “delink” from the global economy. The three modes are still useful, but it no longer makes sense to categorize movements into one or another so I recommend seeing the three approaches as archetypes. Increasingly, “globalization from below” means flexible mobilization of all three archetypes and sophisticated forms of solidarity.

Doomed to brevity by its international ambitions, the book tries hard to balance coverage of the first and third worlds, with predictably spotty results. The most grievous shortcoming is the very thin treatment of anarchism in chapter four. (The latter part of chapter five, pages 170-227, does examine a number of points relevant to anarchism.) Many movements (even some which eschew the term) both in the Global South and the Global North are influenced both ideologically and organizationally by anarchism. The best supplemental text is George Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life. (Humanities Press, 1997.)

There’s a tie for second-worst shortcoming between the total lack of attention to the role of militarism in globalization and the jargon-laden attempt in chapter 1 to prove my theoretical acumen to academic readers. If after the introduction, you want further information on how globalization works, you can find it in pages 9-20 of chapter 1. I most recommend chapters 2-4, which are full of juicy data about what the movements are up to which, though dense, is fairly free of academic jargon. There are a few other books which I recommend to round out the coverage of anti-globalization movements. Assef Bayat’s Street Politics: Poor People’s Movements in Iran (1997: Columbia University Press) documents the role squatters movements played in the Iranian Revolution. This book presents the kind of data that I guessed was out there about squatters but didn’t find. Hugh Williamson’s Coping with the Miracle: Japan’s Unions Explore New International Relations (1994: Pluto Press) provides needed insight into the diversity of “big labor” activities and analyses. And Stephen Shalom’s Imperial Alibis (1992: South End Press) captures the militaristic dimensions of globalization.

Parties at various positions along the established political spectrum accuse the book of heresy. I think this is because it says new things, some of which dissent from hegemonies of the Left. The most common charge of heresy is leveled against the choice of the phrase ‘anti-corporate’ in lieu of ‘anti-capitalist’. Although few anti-globalization movements use the term ‘anti-capitalist’, their analyses are deep political economic critiques. Some anti-globalizers have dug in at the anti-capitalist position — around which everything else is presumed “reformist”. Much of the debate about reformism is not new, with very few people still arguing that activists should oppose non-revolutionary amelioration of suffering. Reforms like the Tobin Tax, living wage campaigns, and Fair Trade can be empowering “small winnable issues”, they can be part of a process of radicalizing education, and they may be necessary if people are going to survive to keep up revolutionary struggles. So ‘reformist’ as a denunciation should be retained for the cases of movements which have made it clear that they seek only superficial changes. I have found no anti-globalization movements of this kind.

Anti-capitalists’ ideological disdain is aggravated by marginalization of both anarchists and communist sectarians by the organizers of some events, including the World Social Forum. At this point, many people are choosing between the politics of ideology and the politics of solidarity, which prioritizes putting energy into coming together and which positions ideological diversity as a strength of the movement. But the politics of solidarity must not be used to silence minority views.

I’ve taken to arguing that the polarization around the word ‘capitalism’ is a terminological debate and that it belongs in the bar. If we can prioritize building the movement and learning to work together we will soon find ourselves with strong material relationships. At that point, we will be less prone to premature dismissiveness so that we can build theory that takes our diversity of analyses into account. People’s Global Action has as its first “hallmark” the “very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalisation” but lists as its first objective “Inspiring the greatest possible number of persons and organisations to act against corporate domination…” (Manifesto revised at 3rd Conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia, September 2001).

In the process of building a movement, we need to be conscious that whatever slogans we paint on our signs are merely the first sentence of a conversation with folks we are seeking to organize. We can be confident that further conversations will get to the issue of capitalism. Radical NGOs and scholars who are active in the movement are well-versed in political economy, but are making savvy choices about how to speak and write in ways that resonate with a lot of people and are hard to dismiss or marginalize. Choosing not to use the word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t magically transform anybody into a reformist.

Another version of the capitalism debate has arisen around the construction of “globalization from below”. In the book, I argue for the unifying power of corporate wounds that cut across traditional social classes. Small business owners may re-orient their conception of their class status as they find themselves corporate prey. A contrasting interpretation is raised by a group of trade-unionists in the context of the World Social Forum. They challenge the notion of “civil society” as one which enables employers and exploitative institutions to participate in shaping the “peoples’ agenda”.

A less interesting but popular concern often raised around my work is the proposal that we should abandon the ‘anti-’ altogether and say what we are for. This claim ignores totally the TATA which is always part of our anti-globalization claims, so I am tempted to dismiss it as naïve. But more substantively, I argue that we must defend the idea of anti-globalization because that is to defend the rights of the U’wa and the Ogoni to say “no” to oil development. It is to defend the right of Mexican towns to say “no” to golf courses and toxic waste facilities that serve the first world. And to defend the right of towns to say “no” to Starbucks and Walmart. Grassroots struggles in the Global South are not demanding democracy, they are not asking for participation, for a seat at the table, for a better system. They are asserting their right to say “no” in the anti-colonial tradition. They already have decision-making systems and economies that work. They are not asking for new structures, but asserting their right to refuse the advances of outsiders, specifically corporations.

For indigenous people, sovereignty and self-determination are the necessary basis for cultural survival. Every indigenous declaration says this. Increasingly peasant organizations are saying the same thing. The adivasis in India refused to let a World Bank representative speak to them. They said “dialogues had only the object of betraying, misleading, and deceiving adivasis while pushing through commercial and industrial interests.” The Jubilee South coalition recently developed the phrase “don’t owe, won’t pay” as their approach to humanitarian attempts to reorganize third world debt. In Buenos Aires street protests are taking the theme “get rid of them all”.

Despite debates, anti-globalization movements are steadily building consensus. Even the Financial Times, comparing the February 2002 meetings of the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum, said the WEF was “poorly organized” and “no longer providing answers”. An organizer of the WSF went so far as to say “we don’t need them. Our messages and concerns are more comprehensive.” The basic tenets of our agreement are: 1. neoliberal forms of development are never going to solve poverty, heal the environment, or bring peace; 2. so-called “development” policies like structural adjustment and building dams actually benefit global elites; 3. international institutions such as the WTO and World Bank are undemocratic, and their elitism is not beneficial;  4. multinational corporations are having excessive power not only over the global, national, and local economic issues, the concentration of wealth, the treatment of labor, but in more qualitative aspects of life, such as defining science, affecting environmental and health and safety regulations, shaping culture, standardizing and controlling people’s desires and definitions of dignity, delimiting public space, disrespecting the sacred, etc.; 5. people’s movements all over the world have, collectively, the wisdom and skills to run things much better; and 6. our diversity is a good thing. Protecting our diversity has become one of the main topics of conversation within the movement, leading the globalization from below efforts to embrace sophisticated political theories like “diversity of tactics”, “specifismo”, and “autonomy within solidarity”.

The agents of globalization are clearly on the run from democratic spaces and they are requiring massive police forces to protect their events from the people. Switzerland kicked the World Economic Forum meetings out, the WTO had to meet in a country where protest is illegal, IMF/WB fall 2002 meetings in Washington DC have been cancelled, the G8 is going to try to hide in a remote Canadian mountain resort (but we have rope ladders!). People disagree about how much we should congratulate ourselves for making international meetings inconvenient. A more distinct indication of progress would be the emergence of a debtors cartel, which was on the agenda for Porto Alegre.

Anti-globalization is taking many forms which in their diversity represent the “one no, many yeses” promoted by the Zapatistas. Among these many forms are international meetings during which peoples’ representatives have no problem articulating TATA with increasing specificity and force. The Jubilee South-South Summit (Gauteng South Africa November 1998) described “The External Debt of countries of the South” as “illegitimate and immoral”, insisted that the debt “has been paid many times over” and “reject[ed] the continued plunder of the South by way of debt payments.” At Dakar (December 2000) the demand was made for “compensation of the African and Third World people for the human, moral, physical, material and environmental losses they suffered due the debt burden, SAPs and the spoliation of their wealth.” The Manifesto from the Conferences of People’s Global Action (3rd was in Cochabamba, Bolivia in September 2001) affirms that “Our struggles aim at taking back control of the means of production…in order to create free, sustainable and community-controlled livelihoods.”  The World Forum on Food Sovereignty (Havana, Sept 2001) defined food sovereignty as “the peoples’ right to define their own policies and strategies for the sustainable production, distribution and consumption of food that guarantee the right to food for the entire population, on the basis of small and medium-sized production, respecting their own cultures and the diversity of peasant, fishing and indigenous forms of agricultural production, marketing and management of rural areas, in which women play a fundamental role.”