Occupy Together | by Pierre Rousset

by Mar 15, 2012Magazine

Neoliberal globalization has pushed for the emergence of a new internationalism. Today, it is the violence of the social crisis in the North that is creating the conditions for this new internationalism.
occupy-togetherNeoliberal globalisation effectively emerged at the beginning of the 1990s, immediately after the implosion of the Soviet Bloc. While it has been the pretext for a powerful attack against social and democratic rights, it has also showed the system’s incapacity to stabilise the new international order, as seen with the 1997–1998 first financial crises, then centred in Asia. Since then, the crises have succeeded each other, up until 2008, when their epicentre became the North, first the USA with the sub-primes, and today the European Union.
The 2008–2011 crisis had a considerable impact on popular struggles and their dynamics, on an international scale.  After the Second World War, the ruling classes in the North had secured their rule, surviving the 1968-74 crises of workers and student uprisings, particularly in the USA and in Europe. The global South was then perceived as a ‘tempest zone’ in a world shaken by the Cold War, at least until the generalised decline of liberation struggles in the 1980s, South Africa being the last of them.
Neoliberal globalisation has favoured the emergence of a new internationalism,because of its universality and brutality. This internationalism is new in that it has given a fresh breath and vigour to an aspiration that had been profoundly discredited- in part because of Stalinism. New also because for the first time, from the North to the South and from the East to the West, emancipation struggles are fighting the same international institutions (IMF, WB, WTO …) that set and implemented the same neoliberal policies throughout the world. The social conditions are admittedly very different across countries, but as early as 1996 (the counter-G7 in France, the Zapatista conference in Mexico), progressive movements started to underline the common aspects of resistance to the neoliberal order.
Today, the social situation in the North is declining rapidly. The social fabric is being ripped apart very brutally (Greece) or more gradually (France). In the face of this great extension of poverty and the erosion of public goods (including education and health), not only do we have to defend the rights obtained through the post-war struggles, but we now have to re-conquer them. This resounds with campaigns lead in the Global South, as in ‘Reclaim people’s dignity’ in Asia.
More and more, what was once only characteristic of the ‘third world’ is strongly re-emerging in the capitalist ‘developed’ countries. The debt issue is central in the North and it raises the same political problems as in the South. It is used to justify a general assault against social and democratic rights. This is seen as profoundly illegitimate from the public’s perspective. It is the direct product of neoliberal policies that considerably reduced state budgets because of constant hand-outs and tax cuts to the rich. In the North and in the South, the debt begs the same question regarding its moratorium, citizen audits and its possible cancellation.
The violence of the crisis also explains the changes in the dynamics of mobilisation. The struggle never really ceased. However, from Seattle (1999) onwards, the anti-globalisation movement only mobilised during international summits like the G7/G8-G0 and WTO. While these counter-summits remain important political instances, they attract less people. Increasingly, mobilizations are directed at the national state. Significantly, the Indignados in Spain turned firstly against their own government. In the Arab region as well, while the Palestinian question is at the backdrop of the regime crisis, every uprising is lead against its own dictatorship.
We have entered a new cycle of struggles, one that is responding to a general crisis of capitalist domination, nourished by chronic instabilities of globalisation and amplified by the ecological crisis. We could say that everything is possible, but maybe it is safer to say that nothing is impossible. In effect, the situation for the radical left – the social movement left and the political left – is far, very far, from being easy.
The situations in Tunisia and Egypt illustrate this paradoxical situation. Going against many predictions, the popular uprisings were not, in both countries, made under a religious banner, but driven by social issues like unemployment, followed with democratic demands. The worker’s movement played a central role in the struggle, with a significant participation of women. The far left emerged again. However, once the dictators were overthrown, conservative forces took the initiatives, as in the cases of the Islamist groups like the Muslim Brothers in Egypt or Ennahdha in Tunisia.
In Europe, the violence of the crisis is feeding a real anti-capitalist rage, but it still hasn’t lead to the strengthening of the radical left. The situation unfolds unevenly: there was a severe defeat for the left in Portugal, a major success in Denmark for the Green-Red Alliance … but overall, there is a leaning towards the right, including in the structures of the anti-globalisation movement that is becoming more moderate.
It is in fact the extreme right that is benefiting from the current rejection of neo-liberalism, as seen by the emergence of fascist formations within the Hungarian government. The European ruling elite is ‘dividing and conquering’ much more than in preceding decades. The left is undergoing tremendous difficulties to counteract this strategy that favours the xenophobic and racist right, as seen in the violence against Muslims and Roma (nomadic Christian population).
There are very profound causes for the difficulties the radical left is facing. The end of the 1990s was a change of era (with the end of the Cold War and the triumph of capitalist globalisation), an identity split for the left (the crisis of the socialist reference) and a generational rebirth. This mix created a gap between the militant experience of the sixties and seventies, and the ‘Seattle generation’. This gap is probably less potent in Asia, where the extreme left is more alive than in Europe, but it doesn’t constitute less of an international pattern.
This gap is particularly visible around the question of organising. In the preceding period, any extension and radicalisation of mobilisations would translate immediately into waves of union memberships, movements, and progressive parties. It is not so much the case today. Some would like to call this ‘fluid organisation’ a step forward. However, the progress seems to be somewhere else, in the (unequal) expression of a militant culture that is more respectful of the diversity and autonomy of movements, a more democratic one. But the frequent rejection of permanent organising seems like a dangerous weakness when class struggle is intensifying.
Furthermore, the worker’s movement in Western Europe hadn’t gone through such a generalised social crisis since the end of the 1940s. At the beginning of the 1990s, the organising of the long-term unemployed people became a new issue (as in Africa and certain Asian countries like Korea or Japan). Beyond classic political cleavages between moderates and radicals, it is in fact the entire ‘culture’ of the union movement, its ‘knowledge’ and its mode of functioning that are proving to be inadequate today. The radical experience of the 1968–1978 decade could have useful lessons, but is largely disregarded because it is seen as belonging to a different era by the current militant generations.
Hence, the aggravation of the social crisis does not mechanically translate into the strengthening of the radical left. Yet, the criticism of the current system continues to spread and the profoundly undemocratic character of Western democracies is being revealed: the functioning of European institutions, the measures imposed to Greece… hence the injunction of the Indignados: ‘For a real democracy, now!’ The internationalist spirit is not extinguished, and it’s truly revitalising.
The example of ‘occupying’ squares came from Egypt. It spread to Spain, Greece, the United Sates – and it gave birth to the World-wide occupation call of 15th of October, which found echoes all the way to Hong Kong and Lahore, even when the ‘occupations’ were often more symbolic than massive. It was the most important day of global action since 15 March 2003 against the announced Iraq war, which was very large in scale. The Indignados recognise each other and call international appeals together, learning from each other.
Learning from each other … That is maybe one of the keys to ensure the reinforcing of the radical left. The French have a lot to learn from the Greeks, as Greece is the future of Europe in several respects. The movements in the North have a lot to learn from the experience in the South, whether in terms of ways to mobilise, programmes, social organisation or fighting divisive politics.
Many ideas come from the South today to nourish the new internationalism!
Pierre Rousset is a member of the leadership of the Fourth International particularly involved in solidarity with Asia. He is a member of the NPA in France.
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