January 2002

Globalize Resistance

By Eric Toussaint (CADTM)

Francés Español English

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 as currently carried out cannot be avoided; everyone must ultimately comply.

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). From 1945 onward, responding to the pressure of organised labour, a number of Western European governments carried out extensive nationalisations, including in the banking sector.

Neoliberal theoretical 'certainties' held forth in recent years are no more valid than those of the liberals and 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. Furthermore, there are growing contradictions between the Centre and the Periphery, due to the exclusive nature of globalisation in its present form. Yet the countries of the Periphery account for 85 per cent 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. Even in the midst of hellish conditions, such as those found in Rwanda and Algeria, there are significant forces seeking out progressive solutions.

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. The untouchable nature of private property is another mote point |1|. Indeed, if we wish to defend the common good and universal access to basic services, we have to posit the need to establish a public control on those private companies that claim to themselves part of mankind's common heritage and prevent the legitimate fulfilment of fundamental human rights.

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 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 'from below' 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. Concerted action 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. The best recent example is that of the French strike movement of December 1995, which elicited such a wave of sympathy that the media could not play things down. By relaying this sympathy so far and wide, the media sparked a broadening of the movement.

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' (immigrants without legal documents) movement in France. The struggle by South Korean trade unions to defend their social gains is at one with the social movements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demanding the cancellation of Africa's debt. The struggle of the Thai population against the implementation of a draconian austerity package is at one with the popular mobilisation in Belgium against political and legal institutions unable to halt the sexual trade in children. 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 Nicaraguan students is at one with Greenpeace campaigns for the environment. 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'. In many places around the world, the warlords of neoliberalism have not gone unchallenged.

Context of the current stage in world struggles (2000 - 2001)

The current stage in neoliberal globalisation started around the turn of the 1980s when the election victories of Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the United States signalled an all-round offensive of capital against labour and of capitalist super powers against dependent capitalist countries (with their populations as the first targets).

What have been the main signs of this concerted offensive? The attempt to destroy trade unions (destruction of the US air traffic controllers' union by the Reagan administration and of the miners' union in Thatcher's Britain), massive privatisation, rise of interest rates, frozen wages, more taxes on labour and less taxation on capital, Third World debt crisis, implementation of structural adjustment policies in poor countries, military alliances of industrialised countries waging war against poor countries on humanitarian pretexts, industrialised countries closing their borders, reinforcement of the intervention power of multilateral institutions controlled by industrialised countries - the United States in particular (IMF, World Bank, WTO), curbing of the United Nations by these same institutions, reinforcement of the power of multinational corporations, flexibility of working hours and of status enforced on workers, poverty hitting women even more than men, dismantling of social security.

The global dimension of the offensive and the enforcement of the same kind of neoliberal policies all over the world result in a synchronisation effect which can be compared with other historical turning points over the last two centuries (year of European revolutions in 1848, World War I and its aftermath, victory of fascism and WWII, independence movements in colonies in the 1950s and 1960s, May '68...). True, there are major differences. So far we are faced a synchronisation of attacks, not yet of resistance movements or counter-attacks, except if we think of the movement for another globalisation that organises demonstrations and forums on the occasion of international summits. Perhaps for the first time in history the various components of the offensive that are listed above can be experienced simultaneously by a vast majority of people all over the world. And more than at other periods in the history of capitalism some international institutions represent those ills that a large part of mankind has to suffer: IMF, World Bank, WTO, large multinational corporations, main money markets, G7...

Resistance to this large-scale offensive takes on numerous forms and has developed over the past twenty years though it has often been partly foiled. Since the battle of Seattle in November 1999 it is generally agreed that the movement against neoliberal globalisation has become international.

If we were to find a turning points leading to this international dimension, we could elect the year 1994 which was marked among other events by the zapatist rebellion in the Chiapas in January 1994, an uprising that used a universal language to define oppression issues that so far had been thought of as specific and that appealed to several generations. Second, the 50th anniversary of the IMF and World Bank in Madrid in September prompted a large international demonstration with a significant participation of young people. Third, the Mexican crisis that broke up in December splintered the myth of a neoliberal pattern of development in poor countries.

Major international demonstrations had been organised before (the huge demonstration against the IMF in Berlin in 1982; demonstrations on the occasion of the G7 meeting in Paris in 1989) but they were still overshadowed by such bogus references as the 'end of history' and the 'final victory of capitalism'.

From 1994 onward a process involving a concerted counter-attack against the system started developing. It is neither linear nor regular in its progression; it is still comparatively marginal, but it has been growing steadily. A few dates are landmarks in the experience accumulated over the years 1994 - 2000: the powerful social movement that paralysed France in the autumn of 1995 (although it did not directly relate to the struggle against neoliberal globalisation it had a significant impact on the movement), the counter-summit "The Planet's Other Voices" on the occasion of the G7 summit in Lyon in June 1996 (which resulted in a 30,000 strong demonstration that had been called by a united front of national trade unions), the intercontinental meeting organised by the Zapatistas in the Chiapas in 1996, the victorious strike of UPS (United Parcels Service) workers, the strike movement of Korean workers in the winter of 1996-97, Indian workers' protest movements against the WTO, citizens' mobilisations against the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) resulting in the project being abandoned in October 1998, the Jubilee 2000 mobilisations at Birmingham in May 1998 and at Köln in June 1999, European marches at Amsterdam in May 1997 and at Köln in May 1999, the battle of Seattle in November 1999 and the countless protest movements and counter-summits on the occasion of meetings of international institutions in 2000 (Bangkok in February, Washington in April, Geneva in June, Okinawa in July, Melbourne and Prague in September, and Seoul in October ; the Women's World March in Brussels, New York and Washington in October; the protest against the European summit in Nice in December), international conferences to define alternatives such as 'Africa: from Resistance to Alternatives' in Dakar in December 2000 and the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in January 2001; mobilisations against the summit of the Americas in Buenos Aires and Quebec in April 2001; Genoa in July 2001 (where about 300,000 people demonstrated against the G8 summit), Washington in October 2001.

Each of these events brought together several thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of demonstrators or participants or strikers. Most were directly related to globalisation issues.

From the failure of MAI (1998) to Buenos Aires (dec. 2001) via Seattle, Dakar, Porto Alegre, and Genoa

Key instruments of the capital's attack on labour and of the industrialised centre against the developing periphery as they are, the IMF, World Bank and WTO have been going through a deep legitimacy crisis since 1998. The economic, social and environmental disaster resulting from the implementation of adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank on poor countries has led to an obvious loss of legitimacy for these institutions. Policies enforcing trade deregulation and curtailing the sovereignty of states also led to distrust towards the WTO in industrialised as well as (un)developing countries.

This legitimacy crisis is aggravated by internal debates and struggles within the US state apparatus. The absence of a consensual position within the leading circles of the world power that indisputably controls both IMF and World Bank deepens the crisis they go through: the American Congress refusing to pay the US's contribution to some of the IMF's initiatives, the American Congress' Meltzer bipartite commission proposing a drastic reduction of the role played by the IMF and the World Bank (February 2000).

The internal crisis within the IMF and the World Bank is yet a further layer. It can be noted in the departure of a number of key personalities, for instance, Joseph Stiglitz, chief economist and vice president of the world bank in November 99, the officer for environmental issues and (in a dramatic gesture of withdrawal) Ravi Kanbur, in charge of the world bank's annual report on development in the world (June 2000). To this we could add the subdued struggle between Michel Camdessus and Stanley Fischer in 1998 and 1999 resulting in Camdessus' resigning before the end of his term of office.

Another element also contributes to the crisis, namely the contradictions among super powers, the trade war within the Triad (bananas, hormone beef, subsidies to industrial and agricultural products, etc.), struggles of influence (for instance about who would replace Camdessus in February-March 2000), such conflicts obviously weaken the industrialised countries' ability to enforce their policies.

France's withdrawing from the negotiations on MAI, which signified a provisional end to this particular offensive, illustrates this point. Indeed if Prime Minister Jospin announced that France was pulling out, it was not only because of citizens' mobilisations but also because of trade wars between France, the United States and some other Western powers.

We should add contradictions between the Triad on the one hand and countries of the Periphery on the other. The nomination of Mike Moore as Director-General of WTO was long and fiercely disputed between those countries that supported him (among which the United States) and poorer countries that supported the Thai candidate. The battle ended in a compromise: Mike Moore would be Director-General of the WTO for the first half of the term of office and the Thai candidate for the second half.

The failure of the Millennium round in Seattle results from the conjunction of the several above listed components in the crisis: legitimacy crisis reflected in large demonstrations, contradictions within the Triad and discontent among poorer countries towards the claims of industrial powers.

Moreover, the World Bank and IMF that yield considerable power when it comes to implementing structural adjustment policies or forcing poorer countries to pay back their debts are pretty helpless when they should prevent crises such as the one that affected south-east Asia in 1997, Russia in 1998, Brazil in 1999, Argentina and Turkey in 2000-2001. Not to mention their complete inability to anticipate an international krach - or to boost a world economy now infected with anaemia.

To conclude on this section, a characteristic feature of the situation that started with the failure of the MAI is the irruption of the citizens' movement on the agenda of negotiations held by major institutions and major international powers. Over the last two years there hasn't been one major international meeting that has not been an occasion for mass demonstrations, which have lately disorganised if not completely paralysed the official meetings. While the neoliberal offensive has not stopped it now proceeds jerkily and is delayed in the implementation of new plans, which is a source of concern for those who stand behind the system.

The legitimacy crisis currently undergone by the G8, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO is such that they will have to give up the showy meetings they used to stage. In the future they will meet in smaller numbers and in places that are inaccessible as possible to protest. The WTO will meet in Doha (Qatar) in November 2001. In 2002 the G8 will meet in a remote village of the Canadian Rockies. The IMF and the World Bank (which had to cancel the meeting it was to be held in Barcelona in June 2001) will from now on meet as discreetly as they can.

Those who claim that they rule the world have no intention to concede anything to more and more numerous protesters. Consequently they combine two tactical moves to counter the protest movement: on the one hand, they increase the violence of the repression and spread negative images about protesters, who are said not to be truly representative and to be incapable of suggesting viable alternatives while deliberately confusing the peaceful majority of the movement with small violent groups; on the other hand, they try to recuperate part of the movement, the NGOs in particular.

As dictator Napoleon Buonaparte said: 'You can do anything with bayonets, except sitting on them' (which Gramsci translated in a less trivial manner by referring to hegemony and need for a consensus to insure the system's stability). The legitimacy crisis and the absence of a consensus feed the need to find alternative solutions and explain the increasing success of protest mobilisations. The repeated recourse to police violence with its recurring toll of victims (including shot demonstrators) will further erode the legitimacy of those institutions that claim to lead neoliberal globalisation.

Several positive elements are merging within the protest movement. First there is a convergence between social movements associations of a different kind (Via Campesina, Attac, Women's World March, some trade unions, reflection groups such as the World Forum for Alternatives, Focus on the Global South, movements for the cancellation of the debt such as Jubilee South, COCAD), which leads to a common agenda, on this see the declaration at the end of the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre in January 2001

Points of agreements among social movements present at the WSF at Porto Alegre (January 2001)

Need for a democratic and international alternative to the neoliberal capitalist globalisation; need to achieve equality between genders; need to deepen the legitimacy crisis that the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the Davos Forum, the G7 (G8) and large multinational corporations currently go through; demand the cancellation of the Third World debt and the suppression of structural adjustment policies; demand that trade deregulation should be stopped, oppose some specific use of GMOs and refuse the agreement on Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPs); counter the current militarist policies such as the US policy in Columbia; assert peoples' right to endogenous development; find financing resources based on taxing capital, starting with a Tobin-like tax on transactions; assert the rights of native people; need to develop an agrarian reform and to reduce working hours; need to develop a common front that brings together North/South and East/West; promote democratic experiments such as the participatory budget implemented in Porto Alegre. /

Second, the movement is weaving networks on a global scale, even though direct involvement in the network will be more difficult in some areas of the world such as Eastern Europe, China and Africa. Third, a significant number of young people are joining the movement though again there are geographical differences: the most advanced areas being North America and the south of Europe as well as Britain and the Nordic countries. Involvement of young people is quickly spreading everywhere in the world as can be seen in Algeria (Kabyls), in South Korea, Peru and Mexico.

TO Be TRANSLATED into english : Les attentats perpétrés à New York et Washington le 11 septembre 2001 et la guerre lancée ensuite par les USA et leurs alliés ont modifié profondément la situation internationale. La crise économique qui a debuté en début d'année 2001 va de pair avec une vague de licenciements massifs à l'échelle planétaire. Une nouvelle crise de la dette a explosé dans les pays de la Périphérie. Les tenants de la mondialisation néolibérale ont lancé une offensive visant à mettre sur la défensive le mouvement contre la mondialisation néolibérale en combinant deux tactiques: l'appel à l'union sacrée, d'une part, et la criminalisation, d'autre part. A partir du 11 septembre 2001, le mouvement a du intégrer dans sa plate forme la lutte contre la guerre et la nouvelle course aux armements. L'année 2001 s'est terminée par une imposante révolte populaire sur tout le territoire argentin. Le gouvernant de centre-gauche qui appliquait les recettes du FMI a été balayé par le mécontentement de la rue. Le second Forum Social Mondial tenu à Porto Alegre en février 2002 a réuni des dizaines de milliers de participants venus des quatre coins de la planète pour élaborer des alternatives. Malgré de formidables obstacles, le mouvement alter mondialiste n'est pas prêt de s'arrêter.

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 time, 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.

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? In short, how can class consciousness be sustained? Surely, getting directly involved in debates and exchanges on an international level is the only solution. 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 or a pension funds as main shareholder. It is useless to take on national governments, since the European Council of ministers 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 problems -- but also the potential advantages -- of the current situation, and moreover 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 skepticism 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 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 worldview rooted in solidarity.

The time is ripe.

An example of convergence: the Belgian-based Committee for the Cancellation 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 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 in Brussels with Perrault was an undeniable success. It provided an occasion to take stock of wide-ranging enthusiasm for work around the debt question, however removed this question may have seemed at first glance from the daily concerns of those present.

The Belgian-based Committee for the Cancellation of the Third World Debt (COCAD or CADTM in French) 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 COCAD's dynamism and success.

COCAD's pluralist character has been the keystone for setting up a unitary framework for every initiative, whether for contacting and co-operating 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'. COCAD participants never saw the organisation as a mere think tank or study circle. Other groups of this sort already exist; COCAD has co-operated with them on an ongoing basis. Since 1990, COCAD campaigns have attracted a wider and wider spectrum of people. The names of past COCAD campaigns speak for themselves: 'The Third World Debt Time Bomb'; 'Third World Debt in a Time of Cholera'; 'While 40,000 Children Die Each Day, Every Minute Counts'; 'Third World Debt: Necessary Solidarity Among Peoples'. The current campaign is called 'From North to South, Up to Our Ears in Debt'.

COCAD 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 in 1999, Bangkok, Geneva and Dakar in 2000, Porto Alegre en 2001 are some examples of key events where COCAD 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.

COCAD 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, COCAD 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 COCAD has been building itself up patiently in Belgium, at the same time it has directly linked up with movements in other countries. Whenever possible, activists from other parts of the world have been invited to COCAD events; COCAD itself has accepted invitations elsewhere from those who had already made the trip to Belgium.

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

>From 1997-1998 a large international campaign developed around the theme of Jubilee 2000. Huge demonstrations took place: Birmingham on the occasion of the G8 meeting in May 1998 (a human chain joining 70,000 people), Köln on the occasion of the G8 meeting in June 1999 (35,000 people bringing 17 million signatures demanding the cancellation of the Third World Debt). From 1999 onward movements in countries of the south that demand the cancellation of the debt were co-ordinated as Jubilee South, in which COCAD participates. The campaign for the cancellation of the debt has gradually turned into a mass movement: in Spain with the 'consulta' that was organised by the Citizens' Network for the Cancellation of the External Debt in March 2000 (more than one million people participated), in Brazil with the referendum organised by the social movements in September 2000 (6 million votes). Continental and global initiatives have proved fully successful (notably the Dakar conference 'Africa: from Resistance to Alternatives' and the first 'South-North consultation'). The movement is not about to stop.

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, COCAD 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.

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.

COCAD does not seek to take the place of other initiatives. 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, COCAD's activities fall well short of the current challenge. There is an urgent need 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. COCAD has provided proof, however modest, that it is indeed possible to make progress in the building of just such a movement.

For further information please check the COCAD website.

1. François Chesnais is spot on when he writes:'It is difficult to see how humanity will be able to avoid measures involving the expropriation of capital. New methods for doing so will have to be invented, keeping in mind all the lessons of the twentieth century. It may well be that we have once again underestimated both the flexibility of the current system of domination and the talent of those who run it. As far as a few basic objectives are concerned, events may indeed prove otherwise but it seems unlikely that the G7 governments will soon re-establish their control over financial markets and tightly regulate them. Or that they will cancel the Third and Fourth World debt. Or that a significant majority of companies in OECD countries will agree -- thanks to the mere intellectual persuasiveness of the measure -- to reduce the length of the working week to 35 or 30 hours. As a result, this book aims at contributing to the debate among those 'from below' and all those who identify with them.' (Chesnais, 1994). Volver


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Este documento ha sido publicado el 25ene02 por el Equipo Nizkor y Derechos Human Rights