the international context of anti-globalization: key concepts


“the international context of anti-globalization: key concepts”


Amory Starr

Arizona State University, Phoenix
Department of Justice Studies

It’s really a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation. And thanks to Luis for all the back and forth to make it happen. Now I’m happy to be here, but I’m not sure where I am. so can i just start by asking you all a few questions, to get a sense.

  • How many of you knew about the WTO before Seattle?
  • Who has been to one of the mass actions?
  • seen a documentary film about the actions?
  • Who uses Indymedia as a news source?
  • If I say Porto Alegre, how many people know what that means?
  • How many of you feel comfortable taking openly anti-war positions here in the department?
  • And how many of you feel comfortable talking about 911 in the context of imperialism?

Alright, thank you.

This lecture is a series of advertisements, admonishments, and heresies. And there’s a resource list at the back of the room to help you follow up on some of the stuff i’ve talked about.

First advertisement is a series of video clips i chose from independent films. I’d like you to pay attention to what we call “diversity of tactics” and also to the quality of what we call “video activism”. ROLL. Those first 3 were Seattle, rest are Prague.

AFTER: In India last year, there was a protest of several thousand people outside the world bank offices laughing all day.

First admonishment: If you’re researching the movement, please make sure that you exhaust indymedia resources before you go take up activists’ time with interviews. Indymedia is an incredible resource for content and discourse analysis.

Next i think i should make a really brief overview of what anti-globalization is about. It is a very diverse movement, but it has some basic things in common. Here are some common premises.

  • neoliberal forms of development are never going to solve poverty, heal the environment, or bring peace.
  • so called “development” policies like structural adjustment and building dams actually and only benefit global elites.
  • international institutions such as the WTO and World Bank are undemocratic, and their elitism is not beneficial.
  • 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.….
  • people’s movements all over the world have, collectively, the wisdom and skills to run things much better.
  • our diversity is a good thing.
  • we are winning. Switzerland kicked the WEF out, the WTO had to meet in a country where protest is illegal, IMF/WB fall meetings just cancelled, G8 is going to try to hide in a remote canadian mountain resort (but we have rope ladders!), and Naomi Klein says that the world elite have gotten to such a point of cooptation that they are doing SM, “giving self-flagellating speeches about how their greed is unsustainable” and “strapping themselves in for whipping from their critics from Amnesty International to Bono.” Even the Financial Times, in comparing the 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.”

Now beyond that there are certainly a lot of debates, such as should we use the word ‘capitalism’, what role can reformist projects play, what level of militance should we be striving for, how can first and third world people best express their solidarity, what role ought various kinds of violence play in the movement, what forms of organization should we use, etc.

What my book does — which i will not go into in the lecture, but this is the second advertisement — is get at the three archetypes of rebuilding the world which are articulated by anti-corporate and anti-globalization movements. And all three visions are, in my view radical left ones, although some people don’t think so. (I’m accused by various parties of being right wing and being a Z Magazine reformist progressive, so i’ll just say that i think all three archetypes live on the radical left.) Now the book came out in 2000, but it was written mostly between 95 and 98, that’s BS – Before Seattle, and it actually traced the emergence of some of the movements which managed to converge visibly for the first time in Seattle and what their visions are of how to rebuild the world, which is important because immediately after Seattle we were accused of not knowing what we want, of not having vision, and it’s really quite clear that we can say TATA to Margaret Thatcher’s TINA. She says “There Is No Alternative” and we say “There Are Thousands of Alternatives”.

The three archetypes are inductively arrived at and draw on discourse analysis of 30 distinct social movements — not organizations, but movements, internationally, some of which are huge, like “labor”. And the three archetypes are what i call “contestation”, in which movements seek to reembed corporations into existing democratic structures, “globalization from below” in which movements seek a new international participatory people’s governance which would remake corporations, and “delinking” in which communities of various sizes seek to disengage from the global economy entirely and build local economies with diverse political and social systems.

Since writing this book, i’ve been doing, er, fieldwork. I’ve been in the streets at all the U.S. actions except Philadelphia and Québec City. So I can certainly talk about my observations and experiences later if it’s interesting to people, but what seems most important right now is to put the movement here into international context. In New York, the only message of the entire protest was “protest is not terrorism” and we’re daring to exercise our right to dissent, and apparently people were really really scared even to do that. And a lot of NGOs and other supporters of the movement in the US have been saying “you know, we just can’t be associated with anti-war or w/ ‘violence’.” So it’s an important time, politically, to really bust our heads out of the u.s. context and re-ground our perceptions of this movement in what is happening internationally.

I’m going to start with Europe and draw your attention to just four pieces of the context of the movement in Europe that are important.

    1. First, Europeans are quite aware, much more so than United Statesians, that the social contract has been broken and that the loss of state social programs is a type of structural adjustment that is directly connected to the identical processes of privatization and cutbacks in the third world.

      Structural adjustment, as you know, is the re-writing of third world countries’ economic policy essentially to liquidate the economy so as to pay foreign debt. This means cutting wages, privatizing public enterprises and services (including water), cutting social programs, cutting or reducing wages, implementing user fees, devaluing the currency, repressing labor organizing, increasing taxes, selling natural resources off as fast as possible, and removing any protections or subsidies for domestic producers, e.g. liberalisation.
      In Europe and the US, the same policies have been implemented, in the name of “international competitiveness”. Hence Thatcher’s TINA ¾ There Is No Alternative ¾ and the onslaught of propaganda that globalization is inevitable, evolutionary, natural, etc. Now one of the victories of Seattle, which occurred before n30 itself, was that the Economist magazine, in anticipation of what was about to happen, issued a warning that globalization was not inevitable. So we have put a crack into that ideology. Europeans, perhaps because they have better newspapers or bigger vocabularies or whatever, have been able to recognize that connection between what they are experiencing and the third world. Because of the stronger socialist traditions and sense of entitlement, they have dared to say “it is not inevitable; it is a choice.” and they say TATA: there are thousands of alternatives.

    1. Europe has just undergone an incredibly rapid loss of democracy and national sovereignty in the unification process. This process has made visible the players who seek unaccountable political mechanisms. There has been very intense awareness of the difficulty of defending any kind of formal political space, so that people have been driven to the streets, they have really embraced the streets as the only remaining political space and they have created the streets as a post-national political space. (And i want to make a side-note here about the street protests. The notion that strategy must be established first with tactics to follow is being upturned. We have set of tactics that are being practiced globally and it is the echo of the tactic which sends the message all over the world that we are together, which in some ways is more important than what kind of impact it has on a particular city.)

    1. Third, the police violence in Gottenburg and Genoa is connected quite explicitly by European movements to fascism. The banners all over Europe and in solidarity from Latin America said “Assassini”. Italy made an “assassination”. So the European governments have much less space to rationalize their policing or to blame the protesters. And the connection is being articulated there quite clearly that the processes of globalization are connected with familiar nationalist manipulations and authoritarian regimes. Which is a much more acute historical memory in Europe. In fact the first photo circulated on the internet of Carlo’s murder had a culture jam, which was that the blood coming out of his head was re-shaped into the shape of Italy, clearly interpreting his murder as fascism. Then the “real” photo was circulated.

    1. Fourth, as you know, anarchism has become a very active political movement. I want to refer you to a really useful book, which is the George Katsiaficas’ The Subversion of Politics from 1997, which is a really thorough documentation of the European autonomous movements since the 1960s. So in Europe, autonomy has been this very creative movement which has developed all kinds of new tactics and political spaces, including the Black Bloc, which has been used for many years in Germany and elsewhere. And it has been very important in anti-racist work in Europe for all this time, taking direct action against racist parties where the state refuses to do so. Europe of course has the most advanced consciousness of the dangers of nationalism and so to look at anarchist views on the state there is quite useful.
      Anarchism is very multi issue. env, fascism/immigration, capitalism, corporations, culture, commodification….

Also, because Europeans both East and West have already a very strong relationship and experience with socialism, their ability to compare that system with an anarchist one is far in advance of what Americans can do. And then of course in Eastern Europe the state socialist can produce very informed views on anarchism. Here in the US anarchists are just coming out of the woodwork. It is incredible how many activists in their 40s who have been doing all kinds of “progressive” community work for decades are now coming out, “yes, i’m an anarchist”. These are not people who wear black. And also here there are very interesting links between anarchism and black power, and issues of self-determination, which have been part of neighborhood organizing here for a long time.

So this is the 2nd admonishment: Please make sure you are including anarchism in your theory courses. I have not seen your syllabus but i know that in my entire training in social theory (much of which was Marxist, postmarxist, etc.) it was as if anarchism never happened. This is very irresponsible because as social theorists, and as Marxists, we have a responsibility to be able to explain it. I am just starting to learn about anarchism, but it was very important to the debates of social theory that shaped Marxism and praxis at the time that sociology emerged. Sociology did not come out of the 2nd international, did it?

  1. “Fair trade” is proposed as an immediate antidote to exploitative 1st world-3rd world trade relations. Through a certification system, third world producers are enabled to sell directly, or more directly, to first world consumers, who pay a “social premium” for labor and environmental concerns associated with production.

    Coffee is the #1 FT product, it’s growing by 30% a year. Affects 550K small farmers in 21 countries. Europe is importing 27M lbs, US imports rose from 2 to 4.3M lbs betw 99 and 2000. And now Starbucks is doing it! To be certified, producers must b e small growers, must be organized into democratic organizations not affiliated with any political party, and must pursue ecological goals. Importers must purchase directly from growers, must make long-term agreements with them, must pay minimum price and also a premium above world market prices.
    The premium paid to producers makes a difference, but does not transform the social relations of dependency between 3rd world producers and 1st world consumers. Moreover, the certifying organizations simply replace other actors in disciplining producers. Fair trade’s most significant benefit is political economic education for first world people, who will hopefully go beyond fair trade in their work and commitments. While fair trade coffee, for example, is becoming a hot commodity with more demand than certified supply, its meaning, like that of ‘organic’, is being rapidly eroded by massification and by enabling it to be another sales category for the same corporations whose excessive power and control have impoverished third world people. It is a new marketing category, through which first world consumers can purchase justice. Unfortunately, the consumers don’t have to be certified.

Now i’m going to move to discussing some of the more important concepts in terms of the third world or Global South anti-globalization movement.

  • The first concept, which, you must understand, is simply incontrovertible in the third world, is that globalization is a continuation of colonialism. The agents of colonialism are multinational corporations. They are doing exactly the same processes of military, economic social, cultural, ideological, and political invasion and control as in colonialism. The difference is that they have slipped the moorings to the nation-state and they now through the WTO control nation states. I kind of see the states The best example is india-cotton, india-cooking oil. We have nations showing up at the WTO, “ah, Mr. so-and-so, Minister from Zaire, you need to go to the technical assistance office.” Ah yes here we have your file, we have re-written your constitution to conform with WTO.

    And my 1st heresy is to say that colonialism is a much more comprehensive argument than capitalism. It does a much better job of accounting for culture, race, gender, than critiques of capitalism.

  • Imperialism/bullying: The US is described, quite distinctly from Europe, by third world nations as a “bully” in the WTO. At the World Economic Forum in NYC, the third world nations took a great deal of air time to reprimand the United States for forcing them to do free trade to the t, while the us still protects its markets. The us, specifically, is seen to not be playing fair, as yet another layer of injustice on top of the colonial setup of the WTO. Barshefsky was seen very clearly as the whip in Seattle.

    And connected with this is the third world perspective on 911 which is to express mourning for victims and to connect that sadness with the tragedy of 1/2 million Iraqi children dead due to sanctions, and to the thousands of deaths which can be directly attributed to excessive debt payments…. And this perspective raises the question of racism quite explicitly in trying to explain the discrepancy in terms of which lives are more highly valued.

    There is little doubt in the third world that the events of 911 are chickens coming home to roost, whether it was perpetrated by foreign or domestic elements, either way it is part of the arrogance of u.s. imperialism, u.s. unilateralism. my sort of favorite example of this is that during the whole hullabaloo about whether palestinians were or were not dancing in the streets, john ross filed a report from mexico city that said not only were people having celebrations, but the newscasters could barely conceal their glee. now this is just so much more interesting than palestine, because mexico is supposed to be the beneficiary of u.s.-led globalization. so imperialism is being used really specifically to talk about the u.s. totally forceful role in getting its way in this global system, in ways which sometimes go above and beyond in terms of mayhem of what corporations want and need, but which also assists a certain set of corporations, primarily military and oil. here’s another advertisement. we’re going to be showing the video satellite feeds from the wef protests in nyc tonight. and there’s a very nice piece where someone from the National Association of Peoples Movements India just very casually says “well of course both Bin Laden and Bush are terrorists.”…

    I was asked by Dollars & Sense to write an article on the movement post 911 and my co-author and i wrote: “We can not with integrity write another paper that condemns the s11 attacks and distances our movement from them. If indeed they were committed by forces from the Global South, it seems obvious but apparently needs to be stated that those respnsible are fighting the same imperialist system as the anti-globalization movement. Dismissal of s11 activists on the sole basis of tactical differences is reminiscent of the righteous condemnation and dismissial of the Black Bloc in the first few days after Seattle.” D&S withdrew the invitation to write the paper on the basis that this was not a “progressive” perspective.

  • Interesting questions are being raised about issues such as democracy, civil society, and participation. Participation has been a tortured signifier in development literature for 20 years. New Internationalist did an issue last year called “Democracy: Is that all there is?” which emphasized the emergence of whole new forms of democracy in places where there is no formal democratic structure. According to James Petras, the unemployed movements in Argentina have been for five years using a tactic of highway blockades. They are unemployed so they can’t stop production; instead they stop inputs and outputs of production. When the gov’t decides to negotiate, they demand that the gov’t comes to the highway. They don’t delegate representatives to the city, because they get bought out there.

    A really interesting critique raised in an Open Letter from some Brazilian trade unionists regarding the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre raises questions about some of the “members” of civil society, such as “employers associations” and World Bank officials. The trade unionists are concerned that civil society elides class. I argued in my book that the class structure is shifting in the us as small businesses join up with workers and other social sectors in opposing coporate predation on the economy. And Argentina shows that the capitalists will purge the middle class and then they are radicalized ¾ so this is a real possibility. (They just froze all the savings accounts.) And this is a great example of the changing nature of the state’s relationship with capitalism, because the state would never want to press the middle class into alliance with the working class; while capital doesn’t care.

    Anarchists had 2 protests @ WSF. They were left out of the process, so they blocked a sound truck during the big pmarch. They also did a squat in order to bring attention to the fact that Porto Allegre is not the social democratic paradise it pretends to be. Workers Party (the organizers of the WSF) sent riot cops to surround the squat. Anarchists also had a mtg which critiqued reformism and the social democratic ideological focus.

  • right to livelihood. This is the third point of heresy. In the Global South (and increasingly in the North) the delinking alternative to globalization is a return to small scale production and local trade. Via Campesina, the international farmers movement, is saying “Everything good produced in our land is for somebody else. The cheap imports we eat have no nutritional value. We reject the export model.” The Korean Confederation of Trade unions is saying that policy should protect & promote small and medium enterprises. They also have a strong alliance with farmers, who they credit with being the main force in opposing indiscriminate liberalisation. The 50 years is enough debt relief network is proposing “small-scale community solutions that promote economic self-reliance”. The land reform movements are saying that dependence on markets or subsidies for food endangers community sovereignty. The Third UN of the Peoples in Parugia in 1999 emphasized support of informal sector economies, self-employment, and food self-sufficiency. The Indigenous Peoples’ Seattle Declaration says that indigenous people have viable alternatives to the dominant economic growth, export-oriented development models. Their alternatives are based on traditional knowledge, cosmologies, collectivity, and traditional forms of sustainability. Peoples Global Action and many other international coalitions from the South say the same thing. Basically their political economic vision is pre-capitalist rather than anti-capitalist.

Within this category are those which are unable to compete with coca cola and also peasant movements such as Sem Terra which make land occupation. The most interesting thing about Sem Terra is that members include urbanized workers, who have chosen a “return” to the land; to self-sufficiency. These movements decommodify land but they also embrace private property, at least in part. Micro entrepreneurs are important economic units. They are not well treated by Marxist theory. ….
They reject factories and industry, and embrace rurality. The closest first world ideologies are anarchist primitivism and sustainable development. SD is appropriately confident in its mastery of technologies for agriculture, economies, water and waste management, energy, education, healthcare, and political life.
An important book is Helena Norberg-Hodge’s Ancient Futures, which documents pre-development culture in Ladakh and then, because she was there to witness it, the changes brought very rapidly with the arrival of modernization and int’l trade.

The closest thing in western economic terms is a quite strict Smithian system in which no enterprise should become too large and ownership must be rooted in place. Rousseau and Jefferson endorsed this particular vision of an economy, which they believed provided the basis for a democratic polity. But all of these folks came from a universalistic perspective, which flattens issues of culture. The next closest thing in Western political economic theory is anarchism, which unlike the universalistic visions of small-scale economies, acknowledges and encourages diversity both among and within communities.

Alongside the critical voices from the global south, anarchism envisions local communities as the appropriate basic unit of economy and politics. On a small scale, direct participatory democracy is possible, and people can organize themselves to meet their needs in ways most appropriate to their environment and amenable to their preferences. These two views also converge on the question of knowledge, with global south voices documenting quite impressively that local knowledge is the most efficient, sustainable, and secure.
An important way that this perspective is being articulated politically is food sovereignty. The 2001 Forum in Havana made a Definition of food sovereignty as “agriculture whose central concern is human beings”, insisting that national governments are obligated to feed people, that access to food should not be a form of assistance, food cannot be used as a weapon. They endorsed radical agrarian reforms, and affirm that small and medium sized enterprises and the knowledge of indigenous people and women are central. (Some other important related movements which focus on small scale food production are Slow Food and Multifunctional Agriculture, which says that neighbors are one of the outputs of small scale agriculture which is lost with industrial ag.)

  • “No”. Some people are saying we shouldn’t use the phrase ‘anti-globalization’ but i argue that we must defend the idea of anti-globalization because that is to defend the rights of 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. The right of towns to say “NO” to Starbucks and Walmart.. Movements of 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. They are not asking for new structures, but asserting their right to refuse the advances of outsiders, most particularly corporations.
    For indigenous people, sovereignty and self-determination is the most important thing and is essential to cultural survival. Every indigenous declaration you read, including the recent Seattle Declaration, says this. Increasingly peasant organizations are saying the same thing. The adivasis in India refused to let a WB representative speak to them. They said “dialogues had only the object of betraying, misleading, and deceiving adivasis while pushing through commercial & 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 they’re saying “get rid of them all”.

  • Debtors’ Cartel: This is one of the most powerful things that could happen in the movement. If the Global South refused to pay the debts, it would mean they would not have to liquidate their economies for export. They could keep hold of their own resources, and this would mean that we in the north would be pushed back on our own resources. In Argentina the idea of not paying the debt was a left position one month ago, now it is mainstream. There was talk of a debtors cartel at the WSF, but no confirmation on that yet. IMF riots and native resistance to resource extraction are the most longstanding and constant of the phase of resistance to globalization.

  • Lots of anarchists in the Global South as well. They have articulated the most sophisticated tactical and ideological positions. They have demanded that we deal with our diversity. the Zapatistas say “one no, many yesses”. The newest version of this from Southern Cone anarchists are “autonomy within solidarity” and “specifismo”.





videos on anti-globalization actions:

basic manifestos of anti-globalization and alternatives

People’s Global Action “Manifesto” (1998) 2001:

Indigenous Peoples’ Seattle Declaration:

International Forum on Globalization’s “Siena Declaration” 1998:

“Beyond the WTO: Alternatives to Globalization” 1999

ATTAC International 1998 “Platform”:

Jubilee Accra Declaration 1998:

South-South Summit, 1999 Gauteng SA:

Dakar Manifesto 2000:

structural adjustment:,

in Europe, see: Belén Balanyá, et. al., Europe Inc.; Regional & Global Restructuring and the Rise of Corporate Power London: Pluto Press, January 2000. and Corporate Europe Observatory at

anarchism: The [800 page] anarchist FAQ:

George Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life. Humanities Press, 1997.

IMF riots: World Development Movement, Jessica Woodroffe & Mark Ellis-Jones, “States of Unrest: Resistance to IMF Policies in Poor Countries, September 2000.

Fair Trade: for a good summary of issues, see: Josée Johnston, “Consuming social justice. Shopping for fair-trade chic” Arena Magazine 51 february – march 2001. 42-47.

livelihood: Helena Norbert-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. 1991: Sierra Club Books.

World Forum on Food Sovereignty, 2001:

MST/Sem Terra:

Slow Food Europe: Confédération Paysanne:

Multifunctional Agriculture: Agricultural University of Norway, Dept of Economics & Social Sciences report #21 (2000) at

on protest policing in US, see: Paul Rosenberg, “The Empire Strikes Back: Police Repression of Protest from Seattle to L.A. at

Amory’s website includes a page of resources, called “474 links”, for researching the anti-globalization movement, and a page of “texts”, including my reports from actions, briefings, newspaper articles, academic stuff etc.