The present crisis, a real systemic, economical, social, ecological, energy and food crisis, is coming after a long period of increasing resistance to neoliberalism and criticism of global capitalism, although marked by difficulties of popular movements to reverse a very unfavourable global balance of forces to capital. The crisis has confirmed the relevance of a radical criticism of the present order of things. Frankly, what seems difficult today is not to be anti-capitalist but not to be it although the leaders of the G20, who have met these days in Washington, don’t obviously see it like that.
The previous century ended with the abrupt emergence of the global justice movement in Seattle at the WTO summit in November of 1999. The movement later followed a phase of growth until the mobilisations against the G-8 in Genoa in July 2001 and the attacks of S11 in New York. After some initial hesitations, in which the movement seemed to lose steam, the new stage was characterised by the centrality acquired by the fight against the “permanent global war”, whose zenith was the mobilisations of 2003 against the invasion of Iraq.
From then, we entered in a new phase marked by a loss of centrality of the global justice movement and of its capacity to gather and unify. This phase is also marked by a greater dispersion and fragmentation of social conflicts. Although the general dynamic of the last years conveyed increasing resistances, these have been very unequal all around the world and they suffered from important difficulties in Europe and in the US where they have had a general defensive logic and have secured few victories that would have allowed to accumulate forces. In Latin America, however, a deep crisis of the neoliberal accumulation model and an ascent of popular movements have occurred.
Since the collapse of Wall Street, discussion on the “refoundation of capitalism” has spread. Social movements and popular organisations should have no doubt: one cannot hope much from the “refoundation of capitalism” sponsored by Sarkozy, Brown and company, beyond the implementation of some regulatory measures of the financial system that are necessary for its correct operation capitalist-wise, and some reforms. And it does not seem reasonable either that the mainstream “social-liberalised” left, the one that has deregulated, privatised and flexibilised everywhere, would now transform itself into a defender of another model of society. On the contrary, the policies implemented to deal with the crisis go in the direction of “socialisation of costs” and of making popular classes pay for the crisis of the capital.
The agenda of the G-20 is not the one of the popular movements. In front of the attempts of systemic regulations and of giving a favourable exit to the crisis for capital, it is necessary to clearly raise another agenda, the one of a rupture with the neoliberal paradigm from an anticapitalist logic. It is necessary to oppose to capital’s logic another one, completely different, the one of the common good. But that will only be possible as a result of social mobilisation and of the creation of a global balance of forces more favourable to the popular sectors. Progress is necessary in the coordination of protests on the international, national and local scale, and to look for spaces of convergence and solidarities in order to avoid isolation and fragmentation of social resistances. The mobilisations of this weekend in Washington, in several cities of the Spanish State and in other places of the world are a first attempt, although weak, to articulate an international answer to the crisis and to give a general visibility to many particular struggles in course.
Rather than false inconsistent “alternatives”, that look for correcting the “excesses” of the system and assure its viability, it is necessary to raise real changes. It's time to flesh out proposals for truly alternatives and to radicalise their content. In a way, the impact of the crisis has meant that some of the ideas and demands made by the alternative movements in recent years (the Tobin Tax, the abolition of tax havens...) seem like small things, even though they are not. In parallel to the struggle for the implementation of these demands, it is now time to defend concrete measures against the crisis and to raise again “major proposals” in order to put on the table alternatives until now out of the debate as they seemed too far from reality. Examples include the nationalisation without compensation and the democratic public control of the banking system, the slogan "zero layoffs” in companies with profits that use the crisis as a pretext, a progressive tax reform and a special tax on large fortunes to create a solidarity fund, or the emphasis on democratic, public and social control of the main resources of the economy.
The crisis increases the social unease with the current economic system, it will increase contradictions and social resistances, although in a very defensive way, and it opens possibilities for the articulation of an alternative project. But at the same time it multiplies the risks of a failure in this task, in terms of dismay or demoralisation of people, or growth of reactionary alternatives.
"Another world is possible" was the slogan, vague and generic, popularised by the global justice movement. In truth, as sometimes has recalled the French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, we do not really know if it is possible, but there is no doubt that it is absolutely necessary.
Josep María Antentas is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Viento Sur, and a professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She is author of the book in Spanish “Stand up against external debt” and co-coordinator of the books also in Spanish “Supermarkets, No Thanks” and “Where is Fair Trade headed?”. She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur (www.vientosur.info).
(This article was published in originally in the Spanish newspaper Publico the 15/10/2008. Translated into English by Carine Simon.)