Our resistance is as transnational as capitalism

A contribution to the "Reflections on J18" collection, made up of extracts from an article originally printed in Do or Die! #8

The following text is made up of extracts of the article "Friday June 18th 1999: Confronting Capital And Smashing The State" Do or Die #8. (c/o 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 2GY) The author would like to point out that this represents just one voice, of an RTS'er in London

The June 18th (J18) international day of action in financial and banking districts across the world, was probably the largest and most diverse day of action against global capital in recent historywww.j18.org" href="#footnote1_gs3l6ht">1. Hundreds of actions took place ranging from a "Carnival of the Oppressed" in Nigeria, with 10,000 Ogoni, Ijaw and other tribes closing down Port Harcourt , to a spoof trade fair in Montevideo, Uruguay - from Barcelona where a piece of squatted land was turned into an urban oasis overnight , complete with vegetables, medicinal herbs and a lake to the City of London where a "Carnival against Capitalism" attended by thousands, radically transformed Europe's largest financial centre, and included attempts to occupy and electronically hack into the Futures Exchange - from an anti nuclear demonstration in Gujerat, Pakistan by trade Unionists , to actions against child labour in Senegal - from Street Parties across the United States to domestic and garment workers demonstrating against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Dhaka, Bangladesh ... all "in recognition that the global capitalist system is based on the exploitation of people and the planet for the profit of a few and is at the very root of our social and ecological troubles." But where did this extraordinary show of international solidarity spring from ? And how and why are such diverse groups building global networks of struggle to counter the globalisation2 of misery under capitalism ? As the economy has become increasingly transnational, so too has the resistance to its devastating social and ecological consequences. But until recently this world-wide resistance to the effects of globalisation has been little-recognised. June the 18th didn't come from nowhere. There is a fascinating history and process which led up to the day. This is a story that needs telling. (For the full story see the Do or Die article mentioned above - ed)

The useful contradictions of globalisation International solidarity and global protest is nothing new, from the European revolutions of 1848, the upheavals of 1917-18 following the Russian Revolution or the lighting flashes nearly everywhere in 1968, struggle has been able to communicate globally. But what is perhaps unique to our times is the speed and ease with which we can communicate between struggles and the fact that globalisation has meant that many people living in very different cultures across the world now share a common enemy. An enemy that is increasingly becoming less subtle and more excessive - "capitalism with its gloves off " - and therefore easier to see, understand and ultimately dismantle.3

Common enemy

The irony is that before the onslaught of globalisation , "the system" was sometimes hard to recognise in its diverse manifestations and policies. Abstract critical theory was confronting an abstract multifaceted system. But the reduction of diversity in the corporate landscape and the concentration of power within international Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) , the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the financial markets has clarified things and offered a focal point for protest and opposition. It is a lot easier to oppose concentrated uniform power than diverse and flexible forms.4 As power heads further and further in this direction, those opposing it seem to becoming more and more diverse and fluid. Hence much harder to diffuse and undermine. As the elite, their transnational corporations and their puppets the IMF and WTO , impose "free market" policies on every country on the planet, they are unwittingly creating a situation where diverse movements are able to recognise each others struggles as related and are beginning to work together on an unprecedented scale. The global "race to the bottom" in which workers , communities and whole countries are forced to compete by lowering wages, working conditions, environmental protections, and social spending, to facilitate maximum profit for corporations, is stimulating resistance all over the world. People everywhere are realising that this resistance is pointless if they are resisting in isolation. For example - say your community manages, after years of tireless campaigning, to shut down your local toxic waste dump, what does the Transnational Company that owns the dump do ? They simply move it to wherever their costs are less and the resistance weaker - probably somewhere in the Third World or Eastern Europe. Under this system, communities have a stark choice; either compete fiercely with each other or, co-operate in resisting the destruction of your lives, land and livelihoods by rampaging capital.

Diversity v Uniformity

To accelerate profit and create economies of scale global capital imposes monoculture on the world. Making everywhere look and feel like everywhere else. The same restaurants, the same hotels, the same supermarkets filled with the same musak. Sumner Redstone the multibillionaire owner of MTV summed up this denial of diversity when he said: "Just as teenagers are the same all over the world, children are the same all over the world" - on his business trips he obviously forgets to stop of and visit the slums of Delhi or the impoverished rural villages of Africa - In New York, London and Berlin, kids may have succumbed to his spell of sameness, as they sit prisoners of their own homes, their dull eyes glued to the screen. But the majority of the worlds children would rather have clean water than Jamiroquai. Herbert Read in "The Philosophy of Anarchism" wrote, "Progress is measured by the degree of differentiation within a society". The president of the Nabisco Corporation would obviously disagree, he is "looking forward to the day when Arabs and Americans, Latins and Scandinavians will be munching Ritz crackers as enthusiastically as they already drink Coke or brush their teeth with Colgate."5 Progress in the present system is measured by economic growth, which inevitably means monoculture. Just because more money is changing hands doesn't mean that life is getting any better, it is quite the opposite for the majority of the world. But by embracing diversity, social movements are proposing powerful challenges to capitals addiction to uniformity. Capital's loudest message in the 90's was that there is no alternative to the status quo, and that humanity had reached its highest level. The end of history had arrived. In the 1920's and 50's this same message was proclaimed by the elites - and the decades that followed, the radical upheavals of the 30s and the 60's - showed them that as soon as the end of history is declared it is time for radical changes.

Space for Utopias

Capital was only able to become truly global after the fall of the Berlin wall and the break up of the Eastern Block. The fall of communism not only opened up the space for capital to be unrestrained, but also gave a new lease of life to radical movements . For more than 70 years, Soviet Socialism was seen as the main model of revolutionary society, and of course it was a total social and ecological disaster; but its shadow lingered over most radical movements. Those who wished to discredit any forms of revolutionary thinking simply pointed to the Soviet model to prove the inevitable failures of any utopian project. Now that the Soviet Union has ceased to exist, it has become a lot easier for those of us working in radical movements to conceive of different societies without having to refer to a failed model. Ideas of utopia can return un-hindered. The space has been cleared and the power of radical imagination is back at the centre of revolutionary struggle. Not only has the imagination been freed, it has also become more diverse and fluid than it was able to be under the shadow of the strict monolithic ideology of soviet socialism. There is no longer any need for universal rules, there is not just one way, one utopia to apply globally, because that is exactly what the "free marketers" are trying to do. The radical social movements that are increasingly coming together don't want to seize power but to dissolve it. They are not vanguards but catalysts in the revolutionary process. They are dreaming up many autonomous alternative forms of social organisation. They are celebrating variety and rejoicing in autonomy.

The Ecology of Struggle

Murray Bookchin , in Post Scarcity Anarchism wrote that "in almost every period since the Renaissance the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science"6. He gives the examples of mathematics and mechanics for the Enlightenment and Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology for the 19th Century. Ecology has influenced many movements today and that is perhaps why their model of organisation and co-ordination resembles an ecological model, why it works like an ecosystem. Highly interconnected - it thrives on diversity, works best when imbedded in its own locality and context and develops most creatively at the edges, the overlap points, the in-between spaces. Those spaces where different cultures meet, such as the coming together of the American Earth First! and Logging Unions or London Tube Workers and Reclaim the Streets. The societies that they dream of creating will also be like ecosystems, diversified, balanced and harmonious.

The ecological crisis changes the way many of these movements think and act. KirkPatrick Sale illustrates the scale of the biological meltdown- "More goods and services have been consumed by the generation alive between 1950 and 1990, measured in constant dollars and on a global scale, than by all the generations in all of human history before."7 The level of ecological destruction is mind blowing and the present generation of activists feel an incredible urgency about the future. The know mere reform is useless, because it is clear that the whole basis of the present system is profoundly anti ecological, and there is no longer any use waiting for the right historical conditions for revolution, time is rapidly running out. Radically creative and subversive change must happen now, because there is no time left for anything else. During the May '68 insurrection in Paris, a message was scrawled on the walls of the Theatre de L'Odeon "Dare to go where none has gone before you. Dare to think what none has ever thought. " Despite capital's rapacious ability to enclose and recuperate everything, the space has now been opened up and we can pay attention to that message.

Transnational Resistance

On New years day 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, two thousand indigenous peoples from several groups came out from the mountains and forests of the Chiapas, the most Southern state of Mexico. Masked, armed and calling themselves Zapatistas, their battle cry was "Ya Basta" "Enough is Enough". An extraordinary popular uprising, which was to change the landscape of global resistance forever, had begun. Five towns were occupied and 12 days of fighting followed. This was not an isolated local act of rebellion, through the Zapatistas imaginative use of the internet which could not be censored by the Mexican state, people all over the world soon heard of the uprising. These masked rebels, from poverty stricken communities, were not only demanding that their own land and lives be given back, neither were they just asking for international support and solidarity; but they were talking about neoliberalism, about the "death sentence" that NAFTA and other Free trade agreements would impose on indigenous people. They were demanding the dissolution of power and the development of "civil society" and they were encouraging others all over the world to take on the fight against the enclosure of our lives by capital . Public sympathy in Mexico and abroad was overwhelming, on the day of the cease-fire, celebratory demonstrations took place in numerous countries, and in Mexico City 100,000 marched together , Shouting "First World HaHAHA". Phenomenal poetic communiqués came out of Chiapas ,and were rapidly circulated around the internet. There was a new sense of possibility, the Zapatistas and their supporters were weaving an electronic fabric of struggle to carry revolution around the world. Now resistance really could be as transnational as capital.8

Peoples' Global Action

In 1996, the Zapatistas , with trepidation as they thought no-one might come, put out a call for a gathering, called an "encuentro" ( encounter) , of international activists and intellectuals to meet in Chiapas and discuss common tactics, problems and solutions. 6000 people attended, and spent days talking and sharing their stories of struggle against the " common enemy": capitalism. This was followed a year later by a gathering in Spain, where the idea of a more concrete global campaign, named Peoples Global Action (PGA), was hatched by a group made up of ten of the largest and most innovative social movements, including the Movimento Sem Terra, the Brazilian Landless Peasants Movement and the Karnataka State Farmers Union , radical Indian Farmers (KRRS) . Four "hallmarks" were proposed by this group (who became the PGA convenors committee, a role which would rotate every year) in an attempt to get people to rally around shared principles. These were: "A very clear rejection of the institutions that multinationals and speculators have built to take power away from people like the WTO, and other trade liberalisation agreements (like APEC, the EU NAFTA, etc.)"

"A confrontational attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such a biased and undemocratic organisations in which transnational capital is the only real policy- maker".

"A call for non-violent civil disobedience and the construction of local alternatives by local people, as answers to the actions of governments and corporations."

"An organisational philosophy based on decentralisation and autonomy."

In February 1998, Peoples Global Action was born, for the first time ever the worlds grassroots movements were beginning to talk and share experiences without the mediation of Non Governmental Organisations (NGO's), and the first gathering of the PGA was held in Geneva - home of the much hated WTO. More than 300 delegates from 71 countries came to Geneva to share their anger over corporate rule. From the Uwa peoples, to Canadian Postal Workers, to Reclaim the Streets, to anti-nuclear campaigners, to French farmers, to Maori and Ogoni activist, to Korean Trade Unionists, to the Indigenous Women's Network of North America, to Ukrainian environmentalists, all were there to form, "a global instrument for communication and co-ordination for all those fighting against the destruction of humanity and the planet by the global market, while building up local alternatives and people power."

One of the participants spoke of this inspiring event : "It is difficult to describe the warmth and the depth of the encounters we had here. The global enemy is relatively well known, but the global resistance that it meets rarely passes through the filter of the media. And here we met the people who had shut down whole cities in Canada with general strikes, risked their lives to seize lands in Latin America, destroyed the seat of Cargill in India or Novartis's transgenic maize in France. The discussions, the concrete planning for action, the stories of struggle, the personalities, the enthusiastic hospitality of the Genevan squatters, the impassioned accents of the women and men facing the police outside the WTO building, all sealed an alliance between us. Scattered around the world again, we will not forget. We remain together. This is our common struggle."

One of the concrete aims of this gathering was to co-ordinate actions against two events of global importance that were coming up in May of that year, the G8 meeting (an annual event) of the leaders of the eight most industrialised nations , which was to take place in Birmingham and the second ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation which was being held a day later in Geneva. For 4 consecutive days in May 1998, acts of resistance echoed around the planet. In Hyderabad India, 200,000 peasant farmers called for the death of the WTO, in Brasilia landless peasants and unemployed workers joined forces and 50,000 of them took to the streets, over 30 Reclaim the Streets parties took place in many countries, ranging from Finland, to Sydney, San Francisco to Toronto, Lyon to Berlin. In Prague, the biggest single mobilisation, since the Velvet Revolution in '89, brought thousands into the streets for a mobile street party which ended the with several Mc Donalds being "redesigned" and running battles with the police. Meanwhile in the UK 5,000 people were paralysing central Birmingham as the G8 leaders fled the city to a local manor, to continue their meeting in a more tranquil location . The following day the streets of Geneva exploded. The G8 plus many more world leaders had congregated there for the WTO ministerial, and to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GAAT) the forerunner of the WTO. Over 15,000 people from all over Europe and many from other continents demonstrated against the tyranny of the WTO, banks had their windows smashed, the WTO Director General's Mercedes was turned over and three days of the heaviest rioting ever seen in Geneva followed. The dust settled, the world leaders stuck in their glass bunker, beside lake Geneva, made a statement saying that they wanted the WTO to become "more transparent"! As if that was going to make the blind bit of difference.

June the 18th: keep on building

It was clear that things were really moving, and we had to keep the momentum going and build on the success of the May actions. But how? Then came an idea, why not go for the jugular this time. Why not aim at the heart of the beast, the pulsating core of the global economy , the financial and banking districts, the engine room of all ecological and social devastation. This time we could make it bigger, better and even more diverse.(...) the desire to do something in this small square mile of land right, on our doorsteps, Europe's leading Financial centre, and one of capitals oldest and most powerful sites, proved too strong. Having a tendency to believe in the reality of our desires, we couldn't let this one go.

Then during a hot summers day in June 1998 a conversation occurred between a Reclaim the Streets (RTS) activist and someone from London Greenpeace, (LGP - the anarchist collective not linked to Greenpeace International) who had been involved in the Stop the City demonstrations during the 80's. It turned out that they had been thinking similar thoughts about having a City event this year, to bring all the single issue campaigns together around the common enemy of capital, and a date had already been set for a public meeting. LGP felt that the time was right to take on such an audacious target. The Stop the City's in the 80's had come out of the momentum of the peace movement. In the last few year the ecological direct action movement had been getting stronger, there seemed to be an upsurge in workplace action - the Jubilee line wildcat strikes, and the Tameside care workers being two examples , Street Parties had sprouted up across the country with thousands taking direct action and there was a sense that there was enough momentum to take on such an ambitious and cheeky action. The idea was taken back to RTS's weekly public meeting and to LGPs . In mid August the first of many public meetings about June the 18th was held in a community centre in central London. As well as RTS and LGP, several groups were present, ranging from Mexico Support Group, London Animal Action, to McLibel, to Class War. A date was decided, June the 18th, which coincided with this year's G8 summit and was a Friday - therefore a work day in the City.

(....)

Learning Together

There has been a tendency in the UK direct action movement to concentrate on action at the expense of more conscious thinking and ideological clarity. The positive side of this, is that it has enabled wildly imaginative actions and strategies to take place. It has also helped avoid the ideological factionalisation and bickering of much traditional politics. The downside of this however, is that if we want to build "organised popular movements which think things through, which debate, which act, which experiment, which try alternatives, which develop seeds of the future in the present society" then we have to get a lot better at thinking, talking and educating ourselves and others. June the 18th once again acted as a focusing agent, it brought together diverse activist some from different single issue campaigns, and got them to think about one question, the question of capital.

Few activists seriously understand economics and even fewer understand the complexities of the arcane currency, futures and options markets that lie at the heart of the worlds economy. There are very few places which will tell you about such things in clear and simple language. It is in the interest of the elites to make these things inaccessible, "difficult" to understand for the average citizen. In many ways it resembles the hold on power that has gone on for millennia within religious societies. The high priesthood would often hold arcane ceremonies in temples hidden from the populace; and for over a thousand years mass was held in Latin, which excluded the majority of the population from understanding it. Now in their towering glass temples of Mammon, the elite, the bankers, traders and financiers are still waking up at dawn and engaging in secret rituals. Aloof and isolated from the devastating effects of their magic, they sit safely in front of their screens playing with numbers and abstract mathematical equations, knowing that most people will never make a connection between these arcane games and the misery of their everyday life. As "a first step towards unlocking the City's mystique" and to help educate ourselves on the issues of contemporary capital and financial markets, Corporate Watch and Reclaim the Streets produced a clear and concise 32 page illustrated booklet entitled; Squaring Up to The Square Mile - A rough Guide to the City of London. 4000 copies of this excellent activist tool were distributed to groups preparing for J18, to alternative book shops and conferences. A version was also put up on the Web. Tucked inside the booklet was a full colour map of potential targets in the City ; banks, exchanges, corporate HQ's, Investment houses etc., to help activist plane their autonomous actions. A wonderful way of showing that theory without action is useless..

(...)

Meanwhile NATO is bombing Serbia back to the stone age, in order that Western Capital can enclose this last enclave of the Eastern Block. We asked ourselves - who is going to rebuild the bridges, oil refineries, roads, schools, hospitals and power stations and who is going to replace the millions of pounds worth of weapons used every day ? Could it possibly be Western oil companies, engineering, construction and arms companies. Many of us felt compelled to do something, to take action, but the timing was dreadful, and we were are all overworked with June 18 preparations, there was no way we could organise anything else. Would the war still be going on, on June 18th? The issues were clearly identical, but how could we successfully integrate it into the action?

(....)

A year on, from that hot summers day conversation, everything is set to go. Hundreds of groups in 43 countries have said they are going to do something on the day and the City of London Police estimate 10,000 people will turn up for the actions in the Square Mile. But despite all the endless meetings, careful preparations and military precision planning we know that only one thing will enable the day to succeed: spontaneity. The active spontaneous actions of the participants. Spontaneity is one more vital tool of resistance to join fluidity and diversity; it is the freedom to play beyond want and external compulsion, its the play of life itself, the very opposite of work, orders and hierarchy.

Revolutionary epochs are periods of convergence, apparently separate processes collect to form a socially explosive crisis -(...). A critical mass is building - every year, every month, every day it gets bigger and stronger - reports of strikes, of direct actions, of protest and occupations from across the world flow along the same lines of communication that carry the trillions of pounds involved in the reckless unsustainable money game of transnational capital. Soon there is going to be an explosion, an explosion which will be so different from any other revolutionary upsurge that those in power won't even realise it is about to transform their world for ever. There is much work to be done, but the hope and possibility expressed during June the 18th brought us one step close to this wondrous moment.

Judy

  • 1. See the June 18th web site for a complete list of actions www.j18.org
  • 2. Globalisation has become a buzz word and can be a confusing term. I prefer the term Neoliberalism, used in Europe and Latin America, but will use the more common English term. My understanding of Globalisation is best summed up in this section of Reclaim the Streets Agitprop "Capital has always been global. From the slave trade of earlier centuries to the imperial colonisation of lands and cultures across the world, its boundless drive for expansion - for short term financial gain - has recognised no limits. Backed up by state power, capitalist accumulation has created widespread social and ecological devastation where ever it extended. But now, capitalism is attempting a new strategy to reassert and intensify its dominance over us. Its name is economic globalisation, and it consists of the dismantling of national limitations to trade and to the free movement of capital. It enables companies, driven by the demands of the rapacious gambling of money markets, to ransack the entire globe in search for ever higher profits, lowering wages and environmental standards in their wake. Globalisation is arguably the most fundamental redesign of the planet's political and economic arrangements since the Industrial Revolution." Global Street Party agitprop - May 16th 1998.
  • 3. Ironically this was one of the central weaknesses of the Soviet-Style state. Uniformity undermines diversity and the capacity to diffuse opposition.
  • 4. The engines of capital, the financial markets, may be "anarchic", flexible, and fluid - but they are still governed by one unbreakable law - profit.
  • 5. Quoted in Trilaterism, edited by Holly Sklar, 1980 - quoted in The Case Against the Global Economy, and for a turn toward the local. Ed. Mander and Goldsmith , Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1996.
  • 6. Murray Bookchin, Post Scarcity Anarchism- Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1971.
  • 7. Kirkpatrick Sale - rebels Against the Future - Lessons for the computer age. Quartet Books. 1996
  • 8. See the excellent writings of US academic Harry Cleaver about the Zapatistas and computer linked social movements - available on the web at http://www.eco.utexas.edu/faculty/Cleaver/hmchtmlpapers.html