With Part II of our feature "Perspectives on the Global Justice Movement: In the Belly of the Beast," we hope we have shed light on how and why the global justice movement emerged when it did in the United States.
In summary, although the US emerged from World War II as the economic and military hegemon, the ensuing global economic "golden age" crumbled in less than 30 years. This deep structural change in the capitalist system swept through the institutions created at Bretton Woods [the IMF, the World Bank, and GATT] as well as the institutions of government in the US and Britain. As the dominant power, the US was able to reconsolidate its military and economic strength while maintaining relative peace at home through the imposition of neoliberalism elsewhere, particularly on its neighbors to the south.
As the regime of Import Substitution Industrialization [ISI] fell apart in Latin America, and neoliberalism took its place, the workers and peasants of the region were visited with economic "shock therapy" and increasing political repression that gave birth to waves of resistance. The perspective of the Zapatistas, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the implementation of NAFTA, took root with many people in the world, including US environmental and social justice activists who traveled to Chiapas for the Encounters With Humanity. Those were the activists put out the original call for an anti-capitalist convergence in Seattle, which also drew labor, church, environmental and other groups into a network spun by open-source, direct democracy activists with Indymedia and other groupssome defunct, some thriving.
Our goal with this article has been to provide some general points of reference for understanding both the past 25-30 years of deep structural change in the global economy and the growth of social movementsparticularly in the US, the belly of the beastthat oppose the human costs of that deep structural change.
Since we end the article with the global justice movement as it was manifest in Seattle and in the first few World Social Forums, there is still a lot to say about how it has evolved since the US went to war, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, in early 2003. There are also questions that remain unanswered regarding contradictions within the global justice movement, and facing the inevitable contradictions in a mass movement is crucial for understanding its present and future perspectives.
The international convergence of NGOs, "networked" middle-class youth groups [many inspired by the anarchist tradition, particularly in the US], Left parties, and labor unions is an expression of a long repressed discontent with the new global order. Beginning in the mid- to late-1990s and culminating in the World Social Forum, these groups have been able to create forms of common political action. One of the most important questions for the future of the movement may well be whether the movement as a whole is able to assume a more definite anti-capitalist character. While this depends largely on the actual struggles faced by each particular movement, it also depends on how the larger movement's analysis of the capitalist system will evolve with time.
A related question that also deserves asking is whether the social composition of the movement matters for determining its potentially anti-capitalist profile. Marxists have traditionally emphasized the importance of class analysisor, of determining the role of groups who have similar roles in the overall social production processin understanding possibilities at different points in history for revolutionary action.
We see that, on the one hand, the working classes became extremely diversified in the course of the twentieth century. Never before in history have so many people lived as wage workers. Is the diversity of the working class and the diminution of the importance of workers directly employed in production an unsurpassable difficulty for working-class based political action? What is the future role of labor organizations in the global justice movement?
There are also questions concerning the movement's perspective[s] on participation in elections. The US presents an especially difficult situation. Political crisis in the Bush Administration has grown more severe since the invasion of Iraq, as revelations of lies about weapons of mass destruction and torture in the Abu Ghraib prison have come to light. The social tensions produced by this crisis in the US continue to escalate as we enter the season of frenzied campaigning before the presidential election in November, and the only apparent electable alternative to Bushthe expected Democratic candidate, John Kerryoffers no possibility for fundamental change.
The movement enters a new phase of action in the summer of 2004. New York and Boston will host the Republican and Democratic conventions, and activists will converge on those cities for a season of protest and gatherings in the spirit of the World Social Forum. The elections in the US encourage us to focus our next issue of Gloves Off on the challenges of perspective, tactics and analysis facing the movement at this time.
In the fall of 2004, we will conclude our feature on the global justice movement with a series of articles, interviews and dialogues with organizers and activists in the belly of the beast.
Sara Burke and Claudio Puty are in the editorial collective of Gloves Off.