Michael Albert: 'Anti-globalisation movement has survived September 11'

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Michael Albert, co-founder of the Boston-based Z Magazine () will be one of the feature speakers at the Second Asia-Pacific International Solidarity Conference to be held in Sydney on March 28-April 2. He is also the keynote speaker at the Brisbane Social Forum (March 16-17) and at public meetings in Adelaide and Melbourne (see calendar, page 23). He was interviewed, just before he left for Australia, by PETER BOYLE for Green Left Weekly.

Six months after the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration is still on the offensive. In your opinion, has the movement against capitalist globalisation in the US survived this offensive?

Sure it has. There is organising at a local level around the "terrorism" campaign — I hesitate to call it war, the US doesn't engage in wars, it imposes massacres in which the other side is virtually defenceless. And there is organising around globalisation. And organising on many other fronts as well. There are other signs, for example, in the great interest in anti-war and anti-globalisation ideas and presentations. Thus, Michael Moore's new book on the Bush administration — Stupid White Men — and Noam Chomsky's book on September 11 are both doing better by far than any other book by either author ever has in the past.

In my limited time abroad I have noticed that people have this media-induced feeling that the US population has become fascist, the government is flying toward Nazism, and so on. This is overwhelmingly hype, in my opinion. Sure, the administration is trying its best to exploit September 11 domestically and internationally. Sure, it has high ratings. How could it be otherwise in the aftermath of such events, with media like ours. But just how long these ratings will last, and just how much ground it will take, and whether it will be able to hold off efforts to reverse its gains, are very much open questions.

How did September 11 impact on the debate over tactics in the movement?

There was a practical short-term implication, tempering activism, that was in my view way beyond what was required. But as far as attitudes to tactical options, I suspect there was little lasting impact at all about matters such as civil disobedience or more militant tactics, multi-issue focus or not, and so on.

I think movements around the world were intimidated by outpourings of patriotism, especially in the US, and to that extent failed to notice the parallel and very wide outpourings of concern and interest among the broader populace, including in leftist analyses and prescriptions. Many activists were quiet, somewhat fearful. My experience was that honest explanations and entreaties were highly welcomed and very successful and continue to be so.

To the extent that the movement has had to address more directly the military offensive of the US state and its allies, has this eroded among activists the sense that this was a "new movement", with new forms of organising and with a new politics?

The anti-corporate globalisation movement's main new features weren't, in fact, its approach to decision making, its militance, or its size, those most often listed. These features are familiar in the US and elsewhere.

What was new, instead, at least in recent history, was its international scope and its focus on specific institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and even capitalist corporations rather than solely on manifestations and policies like poverty or war. This institutional focus persists, but in addition there is now the opposition to the "terror" war project.

While global solidarity is undoubtedly a core value of many activists, do you think that the anti-capitalist globalisation movement in the Third World is significantly linked up with its First World component?

I think there are very important linkages, yes. I think the World Social Forum provides clear evidence of that, quite easy to perceive, emerging as it did partly from Europe and partly from Brazil and other Third World sources, and channelling energies from all over the planet into mutual support.

The real weak connection, as best I can tell, is between movements in the US and movements throughout the rest of the world — even Europe and certainly elsewhere. The US left is quite isolated, more so than the left in other countries, something that needs to be overcome.

While both the corporate media and many activists often describe this movement as "anti-capitalist", a significant component of the forces mobilising in the US seem clearly to be for a more regulated and less monopolistic capitalism rather than for a replacement of capitalism. How to you see this contradiction working out?

Every movement on the planet that wishes to improve the lives of suffering people fights for various reforms. To not fight for reforms is to be callous and cruel, it seems to me. These reforms include redistributive programs, regulatory programs, affirmative programs, impeding and curtailing war policies, replacing the IMF and World bank, and so on.

Some movements see such reforms as ends in themselves and argue for them as correctives to current relations which are otherwise acceptable/inevitable. This is a reformist approach.

Other movements see these reforms not only as valuable in themselves, but as part of seeking a trajectory of increasing changes until basic institutions are themselves redefined. For these movements the reforms are part ends, but also part means. The idea is to increase movement strength and demands so as to win steadily more. This is a non-reformist approach to winning reforms.

Sometimes these two types of movements will augment each other's efforts, whether by intent or not. Sometimes they will be at odds, particularly about how to organise, about what broader aims and issues to address, about what lessons to try to convey, and so on.

One hopes that the non-reformist efforts will grow and prove their worth so clearly that they will grow steadily larger and reduce the debate to nil by their very successes.

From Green Left Weekly, March 20, 2002.
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