The early social justice movement
The anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist movement, now definitively rebranded as the global social justice movement, famously burst on the scene at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999. As discussed in many places, it had roots in anti-imperialist thinking and specific struggles in the South such as the Zapatista uprising and the Ogoni movement, as well as in environmental and labour rights movements in the North. While the mix of groups and intellectual traditions was rich, human rights activism was remarkably absent from it. For instance, neither the anti-Bank coalition 50 Years is Enough nor the loose anti-corporate and anti-WTO network Peoples Global Action had any participation from human rights groups, or, for that matter, from specialised economic and social rights groups (50 Years is Enough URL; Peoples’ Global Action URL).
Globalisation processes, being pervasive and therefore often equated with our world as a whole, have become the target for those seeking to redress the imbalances and injustices in that system. Institutionalisation, equated with absorption into a global system, is then often seen as a cause for the inability of the system to change. It was resistance to this process by the anti-globalisation movement that captured global media attention when its demonstrations brought the Seattle meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in December 1999, to a premature end.
Given the rapidly changing contours of global climate policy, those groups that are flexible in their approach to the issue and that show themselves willing to engage with new actors in order to construct imaginative and diverse coalitions of interest are likely to be more successful in the long- term. A reading of where power lies in the climate debate suggests that attention increasingly needs to turn to the power brokers in the global political economy. Pension funds, export credit-rating agencies, banks, as well of course as the larger multilateral development banks that oversee the allocation and use of significant sums of aid money, are central actors in day-to-day decision-making, in direct and indirect ways, about whether resources are channelled into activities which benefit or undermine the goal of climate protection. Groups with more access to the legal and scientific expertise necessary to meaningfully engage the international negotiations on climate change appear to enjoy the most influence on climate policy, as traditionally understood. Yet ultimately the real agents of change may be those groups which are able to alter the behaviour of economic and corporate actors whose decisions chart the climate footprint of the global economy in more direct and immediate ways than the governments that continue to attract most attention from civil society activists.
The Mobilisation around the Republican National Convention in New York
The Republican Party held its 2004 National Convention (RNC) from 30 August to 2 September amid heightened expectations of disturbances caused by anti-Bush activists. The run-up to the New York convention was characterised by reports and rumours of planned and potentially spontaneous protests and of how the police and security agencies were preparing to deal with these incidents (Carpenter 2004; Gibbs 2004; Shachtman 2004; Terdiman 2004). Comparisons were made to the battle of Seattle in 1999, when over 40,000 protesters descended on the city from all over the world to protest against the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO), leading to scenes of violence and contributing to the breakdown of the WTO talks. What was particularly interesting about these reports was that the central role of wireless communication was taken for granted, not just in the protests but in all aspects of the convention. In the event, several (mostly non-violent) protests were indeed coordinated primarily via wireless communication and the internet, leading to over 17,000 arrests. The convention itself was hardly affected by the protests apart from a few minor disruptions. In fact, President Bush experienced a bounce of two percentage points in the polls (among likely voters) after the convention (The Economist 2004; Jones 2004). These events occurred too recently for any judgements to be made about their immediate or long-term impact. Preliminary examination, however, indicates that this was a case where the use of wireless communication technologies served to enhance efficiency but not to effect change.
But it can be argued that the benefits to the global economy and to global emancipation that would flow from the freer movement of labour could negate security fears. Free movement of labour would contribute to prosperity and welfare in both rich and poor countries. The former would benefit from the increased availability of young skilled workers, in terms of both pensions and economic growth. The latter would benefit from remittances and, hopefully, compensation for the brain drain. Just as both Europe and America benefited from migration in the 19th century, so both North and South could benefit today. Such a virtuous circle could turn out to be the best way to minimise security fears. Criminals and terrorists can always circumvent borders. Indeed, the more that borders are fortified, the more this encourages illegal trafficking. The best way to deal with criminals and terrorists is to marginalise the informal economy and the economic sources of insecurity in which they thrive.
Economic theory of movements in goods and people
In economic theory, both classical and neo-classical, labour is categorised as free labour, that is, free to move about and free to enter into contracts. In classical economics, labour was seen as a class comparable to capitalists and landlords. In neo-classical economics a labourer is anyone willing to supply labour services. Karl Marx added a historical dimension to this definition. He said that under previous modes of production, such as ancient (slavery) and feudalism (serfdom), workers had access to the means of production – land, tools, and so on, but no freedom to move and no right to contract out their labour services. With the advent of capitalism, workers were separated from the means of production and therefore had to sell their labour power, their capacity to work, on a periodic basis. They were thus free in the double sense of being divested of any means of production and free to move and enter into contracts (Marx 1867/1887).
A second and more sensitive priority is the drafting of clearly legible ‘sets’ of proposals resulting from the Forums, designed not only for the participating organisations but as a means of mobilising others at the national, continental and global levels. It is clear that neoliberalism functions as a system, and cannot be challenged only by random, single-issue responses. In order to capture the attention of wider audiences and sectors, as well as to neutralise its adversaries who accuse it of ‘not proposing’ viable alternatives, the WSF movement must put forth sets of coherent measures serving both as a system and as an official public manifesto. In order to succeed in this complex task, two major pitfalls must be avoided: first, that of generalised concepts contained in verbal form in the programmes of governments and parties; and second, that of over-specification, potentially appealing only to the most radical factions of the movement. Here, the objective should be the creation of a new paradigm divergent from the neoliberal one, while leaving enough doors open to respect the diversity of the movement’s participants and preserve all prospects for enlargement.
It seems to me that the World Social Forum process represents a double historical turning point: first, through the continuing elaboration, at the local, national and global levels, of a growing body of analyses and proposals widely shared by social players committed to finding viable alternatives to neoliberal policies; and second, through the geographic multiplicity of its forces and actors. This is clearly expressed in its choice of a Brazilian city, a city of the South, as its symbolic headquarters.
The dates selected for the Venezuela meeting parallel those of the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) so as to prevent world leaders from marking the beginning of each year by dominating the media’s agenda with the unchallenged expression of their vision for the planet’s future. Past experience has shown that the simultaneity of these two events is an important asset. This had been acknowledged by Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the WEF who, addressing journalists in Buenos Aires on 21 March 2001 (two months after the first WSF), argued that the World Social Forum had affected the WEF’s reputation in a negative way: ‘Very smartly, place your name next to another, globally known one, and you become famous.’ In other words, Schwab’s statement was effectively saying, ‘Without Davos, nobody would have ever heard of Porto Alegre.’ While this claim is certainly exaggerated, one has to recognise that we have indeed been able to make the most out of the concurrence of these two events.
It should be stressed, however, that the novelty of the utopia has managed so far to overcome the emergence of severe political divergences. At this juncture, it is adequate to distinguish between high-intensity cleavages and low-intensity cleavages. The former are the cleavages where radical discursive differences translate themselves into some form of factionalism, be it collective splits and abandonment of the political organisation or organised tendencies inside the organisation; the latter, by contrast, are those in which the discursive differences, no matter how radical, do not preclude continued participation in the organisation. So far, the divergences or cleavages within the WSF have been of the low-intensity kind. Contrary to what happened in the thinking and practice of the left in Western capitalist modernity throughout the twentieth century, the WSF managed to create a style and an atmosphere of inclusion of and respect for divergences that made it very difficult for the different political factions to exclude themselves from the start with the excuse that they were being excluded. The WSF’s ‘minimalist’ programme, stated in its Charter of Principles, contributed decisively to this effect: emphatic assertion of respect for diversity; access denied only to movements or groups that advocate political violence; no voting or deliberations at the Forum as such; no representative entity to speak for the Forum. It is almost like a tabula rasa where all forms of struggle against neoliberalism and for a more just society may have their place. Confronted with such openness, those who choose to exclude themselves find it difficult to define what exactly they are excluding themselves from.
Thus, in the context of globalisation, accountability is a persistent and growing problem in search of a solution rather than a solution in response to a problem, in part because it relates to questions of legitimacy. Accountability becomes part of the global political economy: some stakeholders have more voice than others and are the preferred audience of accountability for legitimacy reasons; some jurisdictions are more ‘hands off’ and others are more controlling, even restrictive; some audits in some countries are demanding, others are easy. Accountability becomes a political issue that reflects power differentials among stakeholders, and an economic issue that reflects transaction and compliance costs.
Some version of this market, I contended, has existed everywhere and at all times. What differs in today’s market is the range of participants, the scope of boundaries of relevant markets and the limitations on the regulatory bodies capable of establishing and enforcing rules for participation and exclusion. The question for this chapter is how to define a global version of such a market and the role of civil society players within it. Put differently, one may ask how a new array of global voices and forces seeks to arrange or manipulate law and technology so that their messages can reach target audiences and have a competitive edge.
Others point to the ‘simultaneity’ problem – the fact that the transition to democracy is taking place at the same time as the transition from a statist planned economy to a market system. The introduction of economic liberalisation and privatisation has often led to dramatic falls in income and deterioration in public services, as well as increased inequality. These all contribute to dissatisfaction with the political class (see Bozoki in Kaldor and Vejvoda 1998; also Elster, Offe and Preuss 1998).
Finally, changes in media systems are confounded with numerous other global changes, seriously complicating judgments about the effects of communication per se. The adaptation of new technologies is ongoing and ever evolving, with ICTs put to many different purposes by myriad users, advocacy groups and governments. This has produced a wide open field of experimental application. Anecdotal stories of success may be found, but these successful deployments of the new media are not easily separated from the larger, democratically oriented efforts in which they are embedded. Thus, the same ends might well have been achieved by other means. The effects of new communication technologies then, are difficult to disentangle from the effects of other ongoing processes, such as the liberalisation of markets, the reform of education, or infusions of foreign subsidies. Communication effects, even if they can be isolated, are also not constant over the course of diffusion. Complex systems are very difficult to observe, given changes in what is done (that is, the introduction of new behaviour), changes in how things are done (performing existing functions in new ways) and changes in who does things and with whom.
It is in the practices of activists themselves where we find responses adequate to the challenge posed by that the unprecedented levels of the power of capital. For instance, as Victor Pickard describes in Chapter 10, Indymedia is committed to radical democratic practices in its networks both locally and globally, yet whether this is adequate to the task of democratising global governance is open to question when, as Clifford Bob shows, the same technologies are open to the National Rifle Association and, as Thomas Keenan describes, are central to the idea of global Jihad. Deane shows that activists are now going beyond attempts to practice deliberative democracy within their own spaces, to address global governance structures with the new norm of a ‘right to communicate.’ Yet that right has to be guaranteed in some way and the dilemmas around which the debate between Lippman and Dewey revolved, between management of information, individual participation and democratic decision making are ever more acute in a world confronted with global issues that require collective responses. Global civil society is forced to engage with state structures if it is to secure their democratisation. It has to take communicative democracy to the centre of state power if it is to build global governance and redress the inequalities that stand in the way of adequate action on a global scale.
Moreover that discursive model has its impact in turn on the practices of NGOs, sensing the demands of a global public opinion and responding to the urgings of activists. In Chapter 7 Helmut Anheier’s and Amber Hawkes’ review of the shifting locus of accountability shows the backlash against the gross excesses of capitalist organisations like Enron has gathered pace and extended to NGOs, and joined up with a broader sense of social accountability that informs debate about new kinds of democracy for a globalised world. The self-critique of capitalist organisations looks increasingly like the demand for participatory democracy and checks and balances that advocates of communicative power to the people have long demanded. We might say ‘suspiciously like’ of course, because this rapprochement between the agents and critics of the global corporation looks very like a replay of the earlier compact between governments and NGOs. The rise of private equity that bypasses the constraints on public corporations suggests new power strategies by the owners of capital. We may now be moving to a new stage of the continuing struggle to sustain democracy: a kind of democracy-lite in the form of accountability being forced upon and embraced by the corporate sector.
Finally, even if an ideal-typical public sphere were taking shape in global civil society, one may wonder how it could eliminate the tendency to concentrate power. Instead of the kind of formal equality of access that the ideal type of the? global public sphere requires, what is developing, in Monroe Price’s analysis, are precisely the kind of inequalities of power that correspond to the formal equalities of market capitalism. Everyone going around expressing opinions, even freely and equally, is not enough. A democratic theory must also have something to do with decision making. In Habermas’ conception, public opinion was somehow informing governmental decision making. How this link operated was always a problematic aspect of the theory, but it has not been theorised at all for the messy power landscape of political globalisation.