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Neoliberal Globalization and Social Movements: Interview with Eric Toussaint

"A new reality is involved, a response of the social movements to globalization that could become a political union. We are on similar paths on different spots of the earth. A qualitative leap of ideas and a convergence is occurring..after the brutal offensive of capital against labor..and the ruling classes of the industrialized countries against the peoples of the periphery."
Eric Toussaint is an activist in the Committee for Ending the Third World Debts
Neoliberal Globalization and Social Movements

Social Movements and the Offensive as a Challenge

Interview with Eric Toussaint

[This interview is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.quom.ch/info_all/d_global/d3.html.]

[Eric Toussaint, European activist against neoliberal globalization, explains that social movements are living through a new phase on the global plane. The dynamic and openness for convergence are different from the past. This is the opinion of Eric Toussaint, leader of the committee for canceling the debts of the Third World (CCDTW) with its headquarters in Brussels. CCDTW is one of the most engaged organizations of the anti-globalization movement. The dialectical analysis leads Toussaint to be unsatisfied with partial successes. Utopia should become concrete to efficiently combat globalization. In the debt question, for example, this would mean a declaration of payment cessation by the nations of the South. As an activist and visionary, Toussaint anticipates stages and discovers the art of thinking and acting for change.]

How should the phase of social movements today in Latin America and in the South generally be described, as a development-, consolidation- or completely new stage?

A completely new phase is occurring, an unparalleled convergence between rural sectors, unions and new citizen movements. Attac (the association for taxation of speculative financial transactions to help citizens), feminist organizations, indigeneous groups and a new generation of active youths strengthen and revive this initiative.

This convergence is unique in the post-war time. The debates at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre demonstrated thisc

Is a formal or substantive convergence occurring?

cThe convergence between movements reflecting different classes and sectors, supporters of their respective histories and defenders of different ideological concepts and platforms arises in view of the globalization of common enemies (institutions, corporations, governments) and resists policies against the interests of the oppressed of the planet!

Does this relative homogeneityh of alternative thinking result from a qualitative leap of the very different social movements on the global plane or does it indicate a lack of creativity in the left seducing many actors in different places to mechanical repetition of similar concepts?

A new reality is involved, a response of the social movements to globalization that could become a political union. We are on similar paths on different spots of the earth. A qualitative leap of ideas and a convergence are occurring!

To understand this process, we have experienced for 20 years a brutal offensive of capital against labor and of the ruling classes of the industrialized countries against the peoples of countries at the periphery.

A combination of these two offensive maneuvers exists that began with Thatcher and Reagan. Obviously it had positive results for their representatives.

This offensive has not ended. Here are two examples: The announcements by multinational corporations of mass dismissals (redundancies) in the countries of the center and the neoliberal solutions of the current crises in Argentina and Turkey. Both examples show that the ruling classes of the North are directed against the nations at the periphery and against wage-earners in the North.

This also means that the ruling classes of periphery countries, whether the Argentine or Turkish bourgeoisie, work together with the ruling classes of the most industrialized countries. No populist or development project exists on the part of the ruling sectors of the countries of the South.

I return to my preceding analysis. The convergence of the social movements is a consequence of this offensive after an important maturation process in the orientation crisis of the left. The crisis of ideas was demonstrated in Latin America at the forum of Sao Paulo (the platform of the most important leftist parties of the continent representing a vital framework of the progressive political-ideological debate).

In this defensive phase, the social movements fill the empty spaces left behind by the political leftist parties. Until recently, these movements worried about defending the interests of their own sector. Now they project these interests on a common global plane and attempt to find common answers.

Does the emergence of these new actors suggest the solution of the crisis of ideas of the gtraditionalh left?

My conclusion is not that no leftist parties are necessary. However there are more radical and more capable social movements in taking initiatives than the majority of leftist parties. For example, Brazilfs landless movement (MST) is more capable and shows a stronger will for action than the workersf party (PT). The crises of the Frente Sandinista in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador and the URNG in Guatemala have alarming tendencies.

I donft believe that the social movements have the answers to all questions. Still I think they are often the most consistent on this stage of struggle regarding the necessity of organizing resistance and creating conditions for the counter-offensive against capital.

On this background, where is the place for leftist parties and where is the space for the social movements?

I have no final opinion and cannot anticipate definitive options. Radical leftist parties could be founded in some countries starting from the social movements while maintaining a strict distinction between movement and party.

Social movements should not be converted into parties. Parties of workers and oppressed, whether farmers or teachers, should be supported. Leftist forces exist that could participate in this process without raising claims of leadership.

Seattle, Washington, Prague, Porto Alegre, Quebecc What should be the direction of the next steps of the worldwide anti-globalization movement?

The final declaration of the social movements in Porto Alegre represents a vital agreement. A great consensus was realized in this phase. The problem now shifts to the concretization of the declaration. While it can still be improved in the future, the document is an important advance. Coordination between the movements must be improved although creating an international superstructure doesnft seem opportune right now since it would be artificial and overly rash and bring more problems than solutions.

Further mobilizations followed the mobilization in Quebec against the agreement on free trade in the Americas: Genoa in July at the G8 meeting challenging the seven richest nations and Russia, Washington at the end of September with the meeting of the IMF and the World Bank as well as Qatar at the beginning of November as the scene of the World Trade Organization. These were all important dates for the movements against neoliberal globalization. The declaration of Porto Alegre must be converted into action.

In addition, campaigns must be launched in countries and regions involved in the main points of the declaration. For me, mobilization against the foreign debt of the South is central. Sensitivity is necessary along with concrete initiatives. We can expect nothing from the IMF, the World Bank or the G8. This is the moment to urge non-payment of debts! We must struggle as international movements. As an activist from the North, I strive to apply pressure on the powerful in the North and limit their room to maneuver if the debtor states decide for a cessation of payments.

Important countries like Argentina that must pay $20 billion this year are in a position to challenge the empire. Why? Because Argentinafs declaration not to pay the foreign debt would cause a real trauma in the North.

Does a higher foreign debt paradoxically mean more counter-power in negotiations, assuming the political will exists?

Undoubtedly. Argentina alone could cause a destabilization this year and force the North to negotiate new conditions. A non-payment front could include Argentina and Brazil or the Latin American regionc I know this idea sounds unrealistic to some parties or movements. From my perspective, this is the only objectively realizable option. If we donft accept central questions as the anti-globalization movement, we tarry on the level of important but defensive sub-battles and miss the real counter-offensive against globalization.

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