Alex Callinicos &
Mike Gonzalez


Which way for the movement?

(9 February 2002)

From Socialist Worker, No.1786, 9 February 2002.
Downloaded from Socialist Worker On-Line.
Marked up by Mike Gavin for REDS – Die Roten.

The debates at the World Social Forum have underlined the polarisation that is beginning to develop within the anti-capitalist movement. Undoubtedly Porto Alegre has witnessed a determined effort to co-opt the movement.

When Noam Chomsky spoke, sitting next to him was Olivio Dutra, governor of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Both Rio Grande do Sul and Porto Alegre, its capital, are controlled by the Workers Party (PT). Lula, the national leader of the PT, stands a good chance of winning Brazil’s presidential elections later this year. Association with the global movement represented at Porto Alegre won’t hurt the PT’s electoral chances. Brazil’s election isn’t the only presidential election in which the forum is a factor.

The Parisian daily Le Monde – which devoted an eight-page supplement to Porto Alegre – said the French presidential election had begun there. Six ministers belonging to Lionel Jospin’s “plural left” government have come to Porto Alegre. Even Jacques Chirac, the right wing incumbent, sent a member of his staff. This official attempt at co-option isn’t entirely unwelcome to one wing of the anti-capitalist movement.

Bernard Cassen, a key figure in ATTAC, the French movement against financial speculation, is close to Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former minister under Jospin. Chevenement is running for president on a platform of defending “national sovereignty”. Some other leading figures in ATTAC are increasingly hostile to mass mobilisation.

Susan George, speaking last Saturday, repeated her claim that the violence of the anarchist Black Bloc at Genoa threatened to wreck the movement by making future demonstrations impossible. Others have echoed the same argument. The Filipino writer and activist Walden Bello has in several meetings portrayed the movement as “struggling to regain the initiative” since Genoa and 11 September.

This analysis completely ignores the radicalising impact that Genoa had in Italy, Britain and Greece – the three countries in Europe that have seen the strongest anti-war movements develop. Where the movement has confronted the issue of the war it has grown. In France, by contrast, the ATTAC leadership formally opposed the war but did not make any real effort to mobilise against it.

For Bello and George the struggle against neo-liberal economic policies belongs in a separate compartment from the struggle against militarism and war. But many activists understand the connections between the military and economic faces of capitalist globalisation. Not surprisingly, the strongest challenge to efforts to co-opt the movement has come from Italy.

On Friday of last week the Genoa Social Forum mounted a demonstration against the MPs in Porto Alegre who had supported the war. The MPs were forced to pass a resolution condemning neo-liberalism and war. Vittorio Agnoletto, chair of the Genoa Social Forum, attacked the MPs trying to ride two horses, saying, “There are only two choices – to be with the World Bank or with the people of Porto Alegre.”

Other voices have been raised against the reformist wing of the movement. Naomi Klein in a session last Sunday denounced “doubletalk and co-option”. Susan George’s obsession with violence was challenged by Petros Constantinou from the Greek Genoa 2001 campaign and the Russian socialist Boris Kagarlitsky. The movement at Porto Alegre is much more radical than many of its leaders. There is a desire for real debate that often does not find expression, especially in the larger sessions that offer few opportunities for discussion from the floor.

One expression of this desire was a workshop organised on Sunday by the International Socialist Tendency (IST). More than 120 people packed in to hear – and argue with – Alex Callinicos from Britain and Javier Carles from Uruguay. Over 70 people signed up for more information about the IST.

None of the arguments within the anti-capitalist movement will be settled here at Porto Alegre. But the forum here has done two things. First, alongside the demonstrations against the World Economic Forum in New York, it has removed any doubts over whether the movement is still in business. Second, Porto Alegre has brought into focus some of the strategic issues that anti-capitalists will have to address to make real the “other world” for which we are all fighting.


Last updated on 1.3.2002