a ZNet commentary last month, Noam Chomsky observed South-South-North alliances "taking shape at the grassroots level--an
impressive development, rich in opportunity and promise, and surely causing no little concern in high places." I want to firmly
endorse this trend and today reflect upon some tangible evidence of activism, visible from even my Johannesburg armchair.
(Last month, I reviewed some key African movements' statements and resolutions against neoliberalism and compradorism.)
set the scene, I just read a fantastic e-account of Prague: "The People's Battle," by Boris Kagarlitsky. In a September 23
debate organised by Vaclav Havel, the outstanding Filippino political-economist Walden Bello was trashing Bank president Jim
Wolfensohn and IMF managing director Horst Kohler. Recounts Kagarlitsky,
"Trevor Manuel, a one-time communist and
revolutionary, and now South African finance minister, objects to Bello: `Without the international financial institutions,
things would be even worse for poor countries.' The right-wingers applaud. Someone among the leftists mutters: `Traitor!'"
is one of the most interesting cleavages in global politics today. Over the coming weekend, Manuel--who is chairperson of
the IMF/Bank Board of Governors--and other finance minister from the "emerging market" countries will meet in Montreal with
G8 leaders, especially the notorious skinflint Larry Summers, who has spent the past few days lobbying the Senate against
a House of Representatives prohibition on IMF/Bank imposition of userfees in Third World education and primary healthcare
and his colleagues often allege that anti-neoliberal protests represent merely the misguided efforts of spoiled, Northern,
petit-bourgeois youth. Manuel's press secretary last week had this to say about recent university audiences at the film "Two
Trevors go to Washington" (about the A16 protests): "They are the richest students in the world and would hardly miss the
World Bank." (Tonight, the film wraps up its leg of a N.American tour associated with the excellent World Bank Bonds Boycott
campaign--victorious a few days ago in San Francisco! www.worldbankboycott.org--at New York's Monthly Review office, 122 W.27th
St, at 6PM, so if you're in town, don't miss it; http://go.to/two.trevors).
as it may be for Manuel and co. to appreciate, Northern leftists, feminists and greens are not the only ones angry with the
Bank and IMF. All too often over the past year, the struggle sites under media glare--Seattle (N30), Washington (A16), Prague
(S26), and to a lesser extent Davos (January), London (May), Geneva (June), Windsor (July), Okinawa (July), Philly/LA (August),
Melbourne (September) and NY (September)--have deflected attention from much larger actions in the Third World, as well as
from smaller-scale but even braver anti-neoliberal campaigns against the Bretton Woods Institutions and the repressive governments
my ongoing (and merely partial) list of events that link grassroots and labour struggles in the South to the higher-profile
protests of which the global movement is justifiably proud.
indigenous people's uprising against neoliberal policies in Ecuador in January generated a momentarily-successful alliance
with military coup-makers in January.
movement's energy shifted to steamy Bangkok in February, where a formidable Thai network of unemployed rural and urban activists
protested daily at the semi-decennial meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
early April, grassroots anti-globalization protest intensified in the main square of Cochabamba, Bolivia, where thousands
of residents forced water-privatiser Bechtel out of the country (and precipitated a national state of emergency in the process).
soon thereafter, Washington came under unprecedented attack from 30,000 militants who paralysed a large area surrounding the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank headquarters, substantial solidarity protests were held in various Third
World settings, including Brazil and South Africa. Especially notable, under harsh circumstances, were anti-IMF demonstrations
mainly by small groups of women in Lusaka and Nairobi, which were harshly broken up by police.
next month, the small Thai city of Chiang Mai was awoken by 5,000 angry students, unemployed workers, environmentalists and
displaced rural people, who overwhelmed police lines protecting an Asian Development Bank meeting.
May 10, South Africa was the site of a national general strike by half the country's workforce, furious over job-killing neoliberal
policies adopted at the behest of the World Bank, and protest marches brought 200,000 out into the streets in several cities
next day, twenty million Indian workers went on strike explicitly to protest the surrender of national sovereignty to the
IMF and Bank.
but still very sharp anti-IMF demonstrations quickly led to police crackdowns in Argentina in mid-May, followed by a mass
protest of 80,000.
police also repressed anti-austerity demonstrations in May.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti in June, thousands turned out in June for anti-debt activities.
Paraguay, a two-day general strike was called against IMF-mandated privatisation.
in June, Nigeria's trade unions allied with Lagos residents in a mass strike aimed at reversing an IMF-mandated oil price
increase, which also had the effect of cutting short Larry Summers' visit.
July, South Korean workers repeatedly demonstrated against IMF-mandated austerity policies.
Brazilian left hosted a plebiscite in August on whether the society should accept an IMF austerity programme, and more than
six million voted, nearly all against.
solidarity events occurred all over the world, and in South Africa (as a leading example) included a march by 1,000 NGO activists
in Durban, a demo at the US consulate in Cape Town, and a march by hundreds into the lobby of the Johannesburg headquarters
of Africa's largest company (Anglo American Corp), attracting violence and pepperspray by corporate security guards.
of thousands of Korean workers, students and social-movement protesters are preparing for a day of confrontation on October
20, at a Seoul gathering of European and Asian leaders.
get a sense, in these discrete examples, of a broader and potentially universal maturity, in which the most powerful structural
forces responsible for Third World degradation are now being named and forcefully confronted. Each setting has a different
emphasis, but most aim for decommodified, destratified and even degendered, environmentally-responsible access to basic goods
and services: jobs, water, electricity, free anti-retroviral drugs to combat AIDS, education, lower food and petrol prices.
be sure, some of the ongoing activism in Africa is difficult to interpret from a distance, since much of it is based on a
liberal-sounding "rights discourse" rather than an explicitly "redistributionist agenda," to recall an argument presented
at a Harare conference last month by Zimbabwe's leading civil-society scholar-activist, Brian Raftopoulos. In that setting,
Raftopoulos hopes that the official opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, will ultimately encourage its mass-movement
supporters to counteract quite damaging internal neoliberal pressure (associated with campaign fund-raising for the June 2000
parliamentary elections), and thus begin to harness the potent, anti-neoliberal (and anti-government) sentiments of poor and
not nurtured and harnessed, such sentiments have tragically led to "IMF riots" in Harare on several occasions over the past
decade, including earlier this week, after prices on staple goods were hiked yet again. Indeed, most Third World social movements
have this trouble--i.e., they are often unprepared to work with those most prone to socio-economic rioting, instead relying
too much upon traditional "governance" demands.
yet, instead of synthesising with mass-lumpen protest, some local activities undertaken by grassroots groups too easily fall
into the trap of neoliberal economic policies. Consider a warning by the great Nigerian intellectual Claude Ake, in a book
(The Feasibility of Democracy in Africa) finished prior to his 1996 death, which has just been published by Codesria Press
in Dakar. Since the 1980s, Ake reports,
"there has been an explosion of associational life in rural Africa. By
all indications, this is a by-product of a general acceptance of the necessity of self-reliance, yielding a proliferation
of institutions such as craft centres, rural credit unions, farmers' associations, community-run skill development centres,
community banks, cooperatives, community-financed schools and hospitals and civic centres, local credit unions, even community
vigilante groups for security. Some have welcomed this development as a sign of a vibrant civil society in Africa. It may
well be that. However, before we begin to idealise this phenomenon, it is well to remind ourselves that whatever else it is,
it is first and foremost a child of necessity, of desperation even."
rise of "Community-Based Organisations" (CBOs) and associated development NGOs closely corresponds with the desire of the
international agencies to shrink Third World states as part of the overall effort to lower the social wage. The result is
an ongoing conflict between technicist, apolitical development interventions on the one hand, and the people-centered strategies
(and militant tactics) of mass-oriented social movements of the oppressed on the other hand.
by the early 1990s, two out of five World Bank projects involved NGOs (including well over half in Africa), and in projects
involving population, nutrition, primary health care, and small enterprise, the ratio rose to more than four out of five.
In his seminal 1995 study, Paul Nelson found that NGOs were "primarily implementors of project components designed by World
Bank and government officials." Moreover, especially since an upsurge in such participation began in 1988, NGOs have often
been used to "deliver compensatory services to soften the effects of an adjustment plan"; in some cases the NGOs were not
even pre-existing but were "custom-built for projects" and hence could "neither sustain themselves nor represent poor people's
from a recent era in which "Co-Opted NGOs"--CoNGOs, as they're termed--happily picked up crumbs from the neoliberal table,
I think we may be on the verge of a return to dominance by radical, people's-movement NGOs. In South Africa, the 3,000 member
SA NonGovernmental Coalition deserves this recognition, as do component think-tanks and campaigning groups currently fighting
for free access to anti-retroviral drugs, water, electricity and the like. (Next month, I'll provide an update on the mixed
reactions from government and the ruling ANC, as the December 5 municipal elections approach, thereby heightening populist
campaigning promises rather more than I sense from the US election.)
campaigns really do, now, think globally, act locally, and network globally for support. In his new book, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh,
Edinburgh University Press), marxist scholar David Harvey seeks out instances of the "global and universal taken together,"
which in practical terms means we must "take globalisation seriously and make universal claims of precisely the sort that
the Zapatistas have advanced from their mountainous retreats in Southern Mexico. These claims rest firmly on local experience
but operate more dialectically in relation to globalisation."
Zapatistas' international alliances are a model along these lines, but so too are their distinctly radical-democratic "development"
strategies, based upon short-term demands to their nation-state. Tellingly, when these are not forthcoming due to neoliberalism,
Zapatista self-activity takes forms such as liberating household electricity supplies from the pylons that cross Chiapas,
invading underutilised ranches and plantations, and declaring municipal autonomy in dozens of sites of community struggle.
the rest of us, working in solidarity with such Southern rebellions and in self-interest, too, the common target appears global
and universal taken together: shutting down the IMF, Bank and WTO. A prerequisite to global social justice is to fell the
agencies which most directly negate our claims of universal access to decommodified, destratified, degendered and environmentally-responsible
"rights," such as essential drugs and clean water. It is here that evolving grassroots activity in Africa has lots to teach
the international movement.
(By the way, I'll be presenting a longer version of this article in New York, at Columbia University's Institute
of African Studies at noon on October 19--11th floor of the International Affairs building--in the event anyone wants to stop
by and check it out.)