• Alterglobalism and Marxism: Dialectic of Interrelations in the Epoch of the Proto-Empire

  • Alexander Buzgalin , Elisabeth Gauthier , Christophe Ventura , Jorge Martín | 25 May 09
  • The European Social Forum in Malmö included a series of seminars organised by transform! or by its partner organisations. The following four papers were given at one of these seminars: “Marxism and Altermondialism“.

    Jorge Martín - International Marxist Tendency

    Nearly 20 years ago, after the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe, the ruling class launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign directed against Marxist ideas. “Socialism has failed”, “there is no alternative”, were some of the common refrains of this campaign. Now these ideas are not so popular, and the apologists of capitalism are not so euphoric, but their propaganda nevertheless had an impact. Many leaders of left parties and movements swallowed it and some even jumped ship and openly joined the bourgeois camp.
    However, capitalism was not able to solve its fundamental contradictions, and slowly but surely a new wave of struggle set in. The 1998 election of Chávez in Venezuela, the anti-capitalist demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, the uprising in Ecuador in 2000, the water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the same year, the massive anti-war demonstrations around the globe in 2003, these all marked the beginning of a recovery of the movement of workers, peasants and youth. In the advanced capitalist countries, the confused and instinctive rejection of capitalism and its consequences created a movement, mainly of young people, which is generaly called “altermondialisme”.
    This new wave of struggle began precisely at a time when Marxism’s prestige was at a very low ebb. The movement, in the beginning, was necessarily confused in its aims, ideas, methods, structures, etc. But then, gradually, things became clearer. In 2005 President Chávez said publicly that “within the limits of capitalism, the problems of inequality, poverty and misery of the masses cannot be solved” and for the first time raised the idea of socialism as the way forward.
    Now is the time to reclaim the ideas of Marxism and speak clearly. What we are fighting against is capitalism and imperialism. What we want is the socialist transformation of society. The working class, because of the unique position it occupies in capitalist production, is the only class able to lead this revolution.
    Some argue that “capitalism has changed” since the times of Marx and Lenin. This is true. Capitalism has certainly changed. Capitalism can only exist “by constantly revolutionising the means of production”, as Marx said. However, none of these changes require a revision of the fundamental ideas of Marxism. On the contrary, the most up-to-date analysis of the current world situation (imperialist wars, crisis of overproduction, the domination of finance capital, casualisation of labour) is to be found in the pages of the Communist Manifesto, Lenin’s Imperialism, and the writings of the Marxist classics. And the best analysis of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union is to be found in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed.
    Revolutionary events take place in waves. We are now conmemorating 40 years since May 1968, which marked the beginning of the previous wave, when millions of ordinary working people and youth around the world sought to storm heaven. That wave was defeated because of the lack of a clear revolutionary leadership. Tens of thousands of the best working class activists paid the price through jail, death, torture and disillusionment. Now that a new revolutionary wave has appeared (beginning in Latin America, but spreading worldwide), we need to make sure that we arm ourselves with the revolutionary ideas of Marxism and lead it to victory. The choice is in our hands, the alternative is socialism or barbarism. 


    Christophe Ventura - member of ATTAC France and of the Association Mémoire des Luttes (Association for Memory of Struggles), co-author of En finir avec l’eurolibéralisme, Editions des 1001 Nuits, Paris, 2008.

    The altermondialist movement is a “movement of movements” born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It has brought together, since the beginning of the crisis of the Washington Consensus (with the 1994 rejection of the free-trade agreements in Mexico by the Zapatista movement, the Asian financial crises of 1997, the failure of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in 1999, etc.), a galaxy of organisations and networks characterised by a great diversity of traditions and philosophical and political practices.
    The “altermondialist consensus” was cemented around the identification, by all the players, of a common and homogeneous adversary: neoliberalism. Because of the crisis of the capitalist system the concept itself is in deep crisis today. The crisis of neoliberalism and its international institutions is being borne out on all levels.
    While this situation should strengthen the cohesion and the visibility of the altermondialist movement, the opposite is occurring. The movement is teetering and is revealing various internal contradictions, notably in the tension between coming up with analyses of globalisation and proposing real alternatives (rather than a strategy of mere opposition). 

    In this new context what can Marxism teach us?
    We suggest two non-exhaustive possibilities: l Beyond the simple criticism of the “neoliberal ideology”, Marxism reminds us that it is the power struggle between capital and labour which is the source of capitalism’s development. It is thus in the analysis of classes that we should look for the direction of a structural criticism of this system. The issue of classes is being posed again with the objective of building alliances with the popular classes to create a new political hegemony. Our movement, since its inception, has not adequately thought about this question. Marxism exhorts us to radicalise our struggles and our goals. l
    The history of Marxism also shows us that the development of a protest movement always contains in seed form the question of the passage of the “social” to the “political”. Marxism took part, through a polemical debate within the intellectual forces of 19th century socialism, in the building of a directly political project by extending the social mobilisation of the working class. Our movement is faced with this challenge today. It is entering its post-altermondialist phase. 


    1 Read the contributions to the symposium « Altermondialisme et post-altermondialisme » held in Paris on 26 January 2008: www.medelu.org. It was organized by the Association Mémoire des Luttes and the internationale journal, Utopie critique.  

    Elisabeth Gauthier - director of the managing board of transform!, director of Espaces Marx and member of the national executive comitee of the PCF.

    Ten years after Seattle, the issues facing the “alter-global movement”1# and its various components have changed radically. The growth of the crisis into a general one (financial, real estate, food, power, social and international relations) has not surprised this movement, which has been working on these questions for several years. However, the nature and extent of the crisis, the further development and consequences of which are still hard to calculate, constitute an unprecedented challenge for the movement — as indeed it does for the left as a whole. This is the time for an intense effort, one that leads us to question our own attitudes. It is also, moreover, the moment to try and re-activate the movement’s dynamism — especially as a crisis of this extent does not automatically spark protests from the left but can also generate demagogy and authoritarian reactions on the right.
    The “anti-liberal” approach, based on the “alternate-world consensus”, clearly has reached its limits; it must evolve to face the crisis and find a new dynamic for action. It is not enough to move from “anti-liberalism” to “anti-capitalism”.  In so far as this is a global and systemic crisis (with devastating consequences for the world’s peoples) we must work concretely to define what we mean by “another world is possible”. To advance along these lines requires a critical examination of the achievements and inadequacies of the “alter- lobal” movement.
    Identifying the destructive role of the financial markets, of neoliberal policies and of international institutions, both of which subordinate the world to financial interests, has enabled the development of a coherent analysis and the basis for a multitude of actions. Important points have been scored by the struggles against the “marchandisation of the world”, against “free” competition, the power of the markets and against war and in favour of the commonweal and human rights.
    However, there is a blind spot which could become fatal in today’s context. We cannot limit ourselves to the sphere of capital circulation. We must also look into its mode of accumulation. To the extent that the crisis is clearly global, its criticism must also become “global”. This means understanding the transformations capitalism has undergone over the last thirty years that have led to this series of crises – because, beyond the obvious crisis, we are seeing a change in the mode of accumulation and of production, leading to an acute crisis of social relations, of work. However, the relation between the financialisation of the economy and the transformation of social relations has not been at the heart of the movement’s discussions. 
    If the massive transfers of wealth from labour to capital are objects of study by some alter-global researchers, the way the sphere of distribution and circulation articulates with that of production has not so far been central to the common reflection, although some groups within the alternate–world movement do pay great attention to it. Wanting to discuss another possible world at a time of acute and global crisis requires a more complete critique of fundamental contradictions and a more profound study of alternatives — which presupposes going beyond the usual alter-globalist approaches.
    We must welcome and value anything that can be proposed to curb the powers of the financial markets; but, at the same time, it is vital to curb the powers of shareholders over the wage-earners, and fight against making the people — especially the most dominated and exploited social classes — pay for the crisis. It is not enough to seek to cancel neoliberal policies at a time when political leaders are developing new forms of state intervention to save the system and its logic and to reduce the costs of massive destruction at the expense of the wageearners and taxpayers. 
    In view of all these challenges, thinking things through with Marx can help. The political economy approach aims at clarifying what rules the real world, behind surface appearances. It then becomes possible to dissect the changes that have taken place in the mode of accumulation and exploitation in the last thirty years, with the consequences that they have had on social relations, consciousness, the balance of power between capital and labour, the ideological and political realities, pubic space and international relations. From this point of view, the real contours of the crisis of the mode of production, the crisis of labour and the social crisis become apparent and can no longer be buried beneath what is too loosely called “the financial crisis”. Too often the expression “systemic crisis” is used to mean a crisis merely of the financial system, while in reality the crisis is that of the mode of production and reproduction, of capitalism in its financialised and globalised phase.

    Pursuing this approach opens up new paths for alter-globalists, and I would like to try and indicate three of them: 

    1. An approach starting from an analysis based on the labour-capital contradiction would make possible a response to some of the movement’s difficulties and provide strong and more coherent answers better able to rally the different social groupings than are analyses that compartmentalise the themes and social categories.
    The very rapid destabilisation of labour, and of wage-earners, has produced the disintegration of the social security systems and of public revenue based on labour, with consequences for the public sector, principles of solidarity, the underlying foundations of societies and the workings of the state. The financialisation of capitalism creates hard conditions for both companies and the work force, starting with the most vulnerable: immigrants, women and the young. Job insecurity has already reached 40% of all wageearners in the E.U. and has become a new means of domination, accelerating the consequences of the crisis through lack of protection. This figure has to be compared with the 8.6% share of GNP lost by labour to capital in the last 13 years. Redistribution and accumulation increase the financial flows, which in turn work against firms.
    Analysing these processes in their overall context would allow building more interconnected campaigns and mobilisations by going further than the mere addition of different goals advocated by forces too widely separated from one another. Such an approach would enable the Social Forums to construct their strength in a different way, not on the basis of categories such as “the unemployed”, “wage-earners”, “the insecure” etc. (a categorisation which unwittingly reproduces the dominant conception of social divisions) but on the basis of positing “insecurity as a mode of domination”, which could lead to an organic convergence, not one based just on voluntarism, which as a basis is so fragile. This requires a common effort to design campaigns that are really common campaigns, rich with the diversity of the different components of the movement. 

    2. In such an innovative approach the question of “politics” is also changed, not because of a preconceived notion but by a process of deduction based on a coherent analysis of the confrontation actually occurring.
    In capitalism’s unbridled financialised phase, not only is labour undermined but so is society, the public sector and democracy — the balance of power is distorted at the expense of the people, the citizens. If the alter-globalist movement has for some time now found it difficult to come up with a new way of connecting resistances to the construction of a real alternative, this question has taken on a new urgency in the present context. Striving only to be a counter-force is now too limited and outdated. However, going beyond mere protest does not mean rallying round existing political forces, as this would not enable the forces of change to grow. It is not up to the alter-globalist movement to settle the problems of the left; however, it could try to overcome an attitude that is limited to challenging and questioning the political forces (i.e. parties, etc.). Rather it could promote today’s necessary debates and issues and approaches that tend to break with the logic of the system in crisis and reject approaches that tend to “patch up” the system or go along with it. Maintaining the recent tradition of a division between “movements” and “politics” is no longer acceptable today. The crisis of the left is so deep, the issues have become so explosive, that the questions under discussion within society must become politicised (a requirement frequently expressed at Malmö) so as to favour a greater awareness, a better balance of forces, a greater effectiveness of the movement.
    The ideological questions that run through the political sector (the struggle for cultural and political hegemony, the reasons for the successes of the right and the failures and weaknesses of the left) are not just matters for political activists. “Another world is possible and Oh how necessary!”– this objective presupposes, in the present context of global crisis, a large popular offensive around the kind of political intervention needed, and a new multidimensional politics of “economic democracy”, of a transformation of power and of the relationship between politics and economics. This opens up new fields of action for the alter-globalist movement. Raising the question of power on the basis of the conflict between labour and capital, and capital and society, would, moreover, allow us to resolve the issue of politics on the nation-state level. To the extent that the analysis of power is centred on the meaning of this labour or society vs. capital conflict, which is found at the national, the company, the European and world levels, the national phenomenon can be understood as no longer in opposition to the European phenomenon.
    In several countries, and in major regions like the E.U. or Latin America, we see the development of a search for new kinds of alliances between forces of different character, tradition, composition. How do we bring together, in a unified political entity, different forces in struggle for a new society — this is the question.2 The constitution of fronts able to unite in support of common objectives seems to be an interesting path, because it is flexible, evolutionary and respects the autonomy of each component.
    Much will depend in the coming period on the level of the crisis and of that of the popular counter-attack. Different attempts have been made in the recent past to propose a new trajectory – for example, “Post-Altermondialism” (Bernard Cassen/Christophe Ventura), or the development of social forums to encourage “strengthened cooperation” on the basis of affinities (Pierre Khalfa), and a strategic debate was launched by the International Council of the World Social Forum. The Social Forums are self-organised public spaces, dynamic and evolving forms3 that can perfectly well acquire new functions as soon as the organising forces accept them.



    1 On the continent, and especially in France, the term “anti-globalisation” is considered too negative, the term “alter-global” or “altermondialiste” being preferred – with the slogan “another world is possible”. The author has preferred to speak here of the “alterglobal movement” rather then “alter-globalism” as the former takes in the whole range of very diverse forces, some of which have their own long-standing traditions, that are willing to cooperate in various ways to confront the globalisation which develops under the dominance of finance capital and neoliberalism.

    2 Javier  Navascues, News from Nowhere: Participative Budgets and Social Transformation. Feb. 2008 issue of Transform!

    3 Elisabeth Gauthier, “Some new forms of cooperation, of endeavour, of convergence and of taking initiatives, of new practices. In Patrick Coulon (coord), Démocratie participative et transformation sociale, Espaces Marx/Syllepse, Paris 2008.


    Alexander Buzgalin - professor of economics at Lomonosov Moscow State University and Editor-in-Chief of the journal “Alternatives” (Russia)

    It was only at the beginning of the 21st century that the different movements fighting for another world were generally given the name “Alterglobalism”. There are still other names, but the essence remains the same: mass protest actions (against the G-8 and WTO, “local wars” and global warming…) and social forums (world, continental, national and even regional) prove that real global resistance does exist. People are not mere marionettes in the hands of global capital. They (We!) have our alternatives – intellectual and practical – and capacities of self-organisation and of demonstrating that our slogans “another world is possible” and “the world is not for sale” are constructive ones. A considerable diversity and breadth of positive programmatic proposals emerged from the more then 100 different social forums and meetings.
    Traditionally, classical Marxism is often associated with the idea of class struggle and the revolutionary role of the proletariat led by the vanguard party with the goal of negating the capitalist mode of production and building a new, socialist society. This model of, as it is called, “orthodox” Marxism was very popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Later, Stalinism disseminated a much more primitive and brutal version of so-called “Marxism-Leninism”, which became the theoretical and ideological basis for the authoritarian Soviet system. However, Marx himself (and in some respects Lenin) had created a much more complex theory of the movement towards a new society, towards “real freedom”, which was intended as a dialectical, positive negation not only of capitalism, but of all forms of alienation. These ideas were then essentially developed by western and critical Soviet Marxists in the second half of the last century and in recent years.
    If we ignore Stalin’s model and compare the “orthodox” version with the principles and forms of the “alterglobalist” movement, we will of course see differences. But if we examine modern critical Marxism in the context of “alterglobalist” politics, the difference is less dramatic.
    In this sense, the “alterglobalist” movement became the “negation of the negation” of the “old” left. The crisis undergone by the traditional left after the collapse of the USSR had been negated by “alterglobalism”. This movement dialectically develops many features of the “new” (or by now not so new) anti-Stalinist left of the late 60s many of whose ideas and programmatic aims characterise the current movement. But there is also a fundamental difference.
    The new social movements and NGOs involved in “alterglobalist” networks have developed very important new principles of organisation (or rather, self-organisation), that differ from the prevailing 20th-century models. They are based on the imperative and objective positive critique of all forms of the so-called “realm of necessity”, including not only “classical” capitalist exploitation, but all forms of human alienation within the realms of labour and culture, society and nature. “Alterglobalism” is the global opposition’s answer to the challenges of the new global problems of the current epoch and to the new (network-, knowledge-based) forms of technological, economic and social organisation, whose early and partial genesis (but nothing more than their genesis) became the reality. 
    That is why new movements are acting (1) as open associations without fixed membership, based (2) on common voluntary work (not on the approval of a formal status and programme) with (3) absolutely transparent and (4) very flexible forms (which very quickly change from one campaign, forum, or action to another), adopt (5) a network model of interrelations instead of a fixed hierarchical structure, are (6) based on a dialogue of equal subjects (personalities) rather than on the discipline of the organisation’s members, and on (7) consensus democracy and self-management rather than traditional representative democracy, and so on. 
    Of course, these principles of “alterglobalism” are an abstraction. They are only in process of emerging, and in practice they are mixed with traditional forms of hierarchy and so on. Additionally, our movements are involved with parties, and typically we do not have “pure” new social movements. “Alterglobalism” is a dynamic new phenomenon characterised by various internal and external contradictions, e.g. between leaders and accidental participants in the actions; “rich” NGOs from the global North and “poor” movements from the South; radical left and social-democratic tendencies… These contradictions are well-known. We are searching for, and partly have already found, different forms and mechanism, and in part learned how to resolve their differences.
    During the first years of the new century we – the militants and theorists of the movement – were optimistic. But in the last 2 to 3 years we have had to admit that the contradictions were increasing and the movement stagnating.
    The answer is of course very complex, and I will address only three aspects of it:

    (1) The traditional left model represented first of all by the socialist and communist parties, working with and even within social movements and organisation, was and still is quite adequate to classical capitalism and monopoly capitalism (the stage which Lenin, Luxemburg and others described as “imperialism”). Generally, however, modern late capitalism has moved far beyond this type of bourgeois society, although a large part of the non- orthern world is still living under conditions of early 20th-century capitalism (Russia is one of the very striking examples of this).
    (2) The new tendencies of northern late capitalism are not at all progressive ones. The USA and even the EU are regressing toward something resembling a “proto-empire” model of capitalism which can be characterised by (1) the domination of ever more concentrated and aggressive transnational corporate capital integrated with super-states (imperial centres); (2) a semi-authoritarian state, where political and ideological manipulation is becoming much more important than formal democratic procedures, and in which civil society is playing an increasingly less significant role; (3) the decline of the so-called “social state” and, as a consequence of all of these tendencies, (4) the growing conformity of the population along with brutal (even pre-capitalist) forms of social contradictions. All these factors are leading to the undermining of our movement’s social base and are creating new challenges for the opposition.
    (3) Subjective aspects: We never did find adequate forms for handling the really important contradictions between left parties and new social movements.
    But let’s not be too pessimistic. Even this brief analysis shows that we have at least a theoretical model for the interrelations between these two actors, between the socio-political model of “orthodox” Marxism, modern Marxism and of other left theories, on the one hand, and of “alterglobalism”, on the other. In a very simple form the answer is the following: To the extent that the world (or different parts of it) is (are) going through a stage of the genesis of knowledge-based-network social organisation with a strong civil society, we need the development of new social movements based on the principles of working, open, flexible and transparent association. On the other hand, to the extent that the world (or different parts of it) is (are) living within conditions of the “old” imperialism and/or “new” proto-empire, the opposition needs to be a more politically oriented and strongly mobilised force which will be (and partly is) the negation of negation of the old vanguard party (i.e. from party form to new-social-movement form to new post-party form).
    We are not yet in a position to say what the concrete model of a post-party form of socio-political organisation will be, but the positive experience of some left EU and Latin American organisations show that political groups of activists (they may be small or they may be as large as that of a “normal” party) are becoming the most powerful actors, the moral heart, the intellectual assistants of the movement(s) without attempting to be The Leader, to determine everything. Such groupings may become an adequate response to the contemporary challenges outlined above.
    One last remark, a proposal: It’s time now to take immediate new practical measures to consolidate the results of previous theoretical work. From month to month and day to day, the world is becoming more and more dangerous, and the opposition can be too late in organising itself, as we were in the late 1980s when we did not respond to the challenge of the Soviet Union’s demise and had terrible difficulties.
    As far as practice is concerned, we need the soonest possible meeting of real leaders of (1) the principal new social movements and progressive NGOs; (2) the left parties which are willing to participate in the real struggle for a new world and (3) those states which have already initiated ( successfully and efficiently? – second question) such a struggle.
    As far as theory is concerned, we need the soonest possible meeting of the leading left intellectuals who will help systematically present the main questions, answers, cross-roads and scenarios of the world development and left strategies.