Attac: Another World is Possible
by Matthias Greffrath
[This article originally published in: die tageszeitung, July 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.taz.de/pt/.nf/spText.Name,neoliberalismus.idx,0.]
"Another world is possible." 200,000 demonstrators drew through the streets of Genoa on July 20, 2001. NGOs from all continents, unionists and Christians protested against the commodification of the world into a department store. The magazine Der Spiegel raised the question of the 21st century "Who owns the world?" a few weeks after the G8 summit. The debate around the shady sides of globalization moved from the entertainment pages to the political section. Abbreviations like IMF, OECD and WTO became household words.
What is happening today, a year later? Attac has become the most important European organization critical of globalization. In Germany, Attac grew to 6,000 members within a year. Attac's first "summer university" will be held this summer in Marburg. In an economic literacy campaign, Europe's citizens learn they need not be helplessly subject to the opinions of experts.
Still the chasm between the growing public consciousness and the errors of politics only becomes more striking. The proposals of the World Social Forum to replace pitiful economic aid with global taxes only found a weak echo at the UN conference in Monterey. The German finance minister's proposal to prosecute the very normal financial criminality and not only terrorist accounts in the Cayman Islands tax oases has fizzled out. Government discussions mock the demand for a parliamentary legitimated economic- and social policy.
Social movements depend on strategic successes. Protest must reach the institutions, issue laws and change international agreements, in short find the connection to politics. This becomes harder after September 11 and with the end of the brief social democratic decade in Europe. The urgency becomes greater. "The barbaric terrorist attacks were not needed to open our eyes that the world is in a decisive phase of global conflicts. We witness nothing less than a "battle for the soul of the 21st century", wrote German chancellor Gerhard Schroder full of sympathy for the `young persons' demonstrating against an economic order that provokes the "sense of justice of every decent person". The chancellor supports the European model that "doesn't resign to glaring income disparities and social exclusion as are common in Africa, Asia and America." He presented a global agenda to the UN.
This was not enough. September 11 made visible the alternative that has been discussed for ten years: either a hegemony of great capital secured by rules of the WTO and militarily protected by the imperial protector or a democratic world trade order, a global management of global goods, a world police legitimated by the world of states, in short, the beginning of a domestic world policy whose sharpest adversary is the US as manifest in Kyoto, the world criminal court, the persistent humiliation of the UN and the political degradation of Nato partners to logistic aids. The shamelessness with which the new Caesars calculated in Foreign Affairs magazine that twenty years will be needed until the alliance of Russia, China, Japan and Germany can be realized makes the hope for such a world domestic policy fade at least before the next great historical catastrophe.
Attac and its partners must bear witness to this powerlessness. The radical demands aiming at the core of power which make these movements so attractive (equalization of world burdens, global taxes, global economic democracy) may not only warm the hearts of social democrats. How can they be converted from protest to policy?
The only conceivable power is Europe, the social and democratic Europe. the "empire", the global network of media, multinationals, monetary power and the military, spins its threads in Germany. "The duty of every citizen in the 21st century is to oppose the power of the financial markets." This was the call that Attac started five years ago. A radical citizens movement - against the status quo - must begin from the fact that the institutions of democracies can still reestablish the primacy of politics. A radical citizens movement must go beyond symbolic protests and demands and "activate politics" as a non-parliamentary civil defense that forces and doesn't merely urge. This movement must become capable of campaigns in the "larger public" and not only in the sub-arenas.
Decreeing forms to a movement would be arrogant or presumptuous. These forms could include (learning from the French truck drivers) blockades of access roads to tax havens like Liechtenstein, "voluntary tax resistance" (model: Greenpeace actions) making the scandal of tax gifts permanently unbearable, "enlightenment" of elected officials to control government delegates in the WTO and a kind of permanent siege of the impotent parliament in Strassburg until it enforces the tax sovereignty of European citizens, a necessity for democracy.
The next great event of Attac and its partners will be the "European Social Forum" in November 2002. A European front is necessary against the "new Rome" to enforce the most basic universalist demands: the urgency of new social democracies and the propagation of another concept of security than the militarization of world trade. Developing "European visions" and strengthening the partisans in the parties and parliament with transnational campaigns are essential. The defeat of social democracies (and the end of "socialism") has left behind a empty space where resignation nestles and populism grows. Attac and its partners have a great future - not as protesting truth-tellers but as a movement for Europe and its best traditions. The struggle for the eight-hour day lasted a hundred years. The greatest challenge for this "action-oriented educational movement" is learning to think in long spaces of time. Capitalism has also damaged long-term thinking.