The Activist - Number 11, Volume 10, October 2000
By Peter Boyle
[The general line of this report was adoptred by the October 14-15, 2000 DSP National Committee plenum.]
Let us look at the dynamics and characteristics of the new global movement against corporate tyranny, that really only came to Australia with the S11 blockade of the World Economic Forum. At our June NC plenum we took a cursory look at this global movement. Seattle and Washington were far away. We didn't have that much to say. Perhaps we were wondering like Naomi Klein, the author of a recent book on the power of corporate brands, if the post-Seattle movement was merely "a movement of meeting-stalkers, following the trade bureaucrats as if they were the Grateful Dead"? But on S11, the show came to town, and what a show it was! Now we have a few more things to say about this new movement for globalising solidarity.
A little less than a year ago 60-80,000 people demonstrated in Seattle at a meeting of the WTO. Seattle wasn't the first large demonstration against the global capitalist neo-liberal offensive. There had been earlier protests in Europe against G8 summits and such like and there were the dramatic revolts against neo-liberalism in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. But Seattle was the first major mass mobilisation that could claim a global victory — the postponement of a new round of trade negotiations that was being demanded by the imperialist states — and it has engendered sequel mobilisations in the imperialist countries against the global institutions of the capitalist neo-liberal offensive.
The Seattle victory encapsulated the present relationship between the movement and the broader class forces moving against neo- liberal capitalist globalisation. The abandonment of the new round of neo-liberal trade negotiations was a result of two pressures: the people in the streets of Seattle and the first significant rebellion by governments of the South against more "reforms" that mainly served the imperialist countries.
It is easy for us to understand the tensions between the two currents in the streets of Seattle — because this tension was played out right through the S11 experience. But what we didn't see in Melbourne was the impact of the rebellion in the South (except for the presence of Romawaty Sinaga from the FNPBI, Walden Bello, Vandana Shiva and a few other speakers from the South brought here to address NGO conferences before the blockade).
The growing rebellion against neo-liberalism in the South was at least half of the Seattle victory. But there was little direct connection between the activists in the South and in the North that wrought this victory. The links between the radical activists in the US and the South were mediated by NGOs (often selected "representatives" of the South paid by wealthy NGOs in the North). The votes against a new trade round were cast by officials of the governments of the South, most of which are pro-capitalist neo-colonial regimes.
The Seattle street protests probably gave courage to delegates who had been beaten back for two decades by the imperialists in earlier "negotiations" on trade rules and debt. However part of the reason why the capitalist regimes of the South voted against a new trade round was that they faced public pressure in their own countries: the mass unrest in Ecuador, Indonesia, Argentina, Bolivia, South Korea, etc all have made these governments nervous about further neo-liberal reform.
There is, of course, another very important factor here: the political lead to the South — and to the new post-Seattle movement in the North — provided by the revolutionary government of Cuba. Cuba's leaders got the biggest applause at summit after summit when they exposed the imperialists' greedy and destructive drive in the name of "globalisation" and "free trade". But at summit after summit most of the delegates of the South eventually bowed to the imperialists' demands.
For years Cuba has been waging a lonely leadership battle at these international summits, first on the debt question and now on neo-liberal globalisation. But the post-Seattle movement signaled that Cuba was no longer fighting alone on this front. At the G77 Summit of the South in Havana last April, Fidel Castro hailed Seattle as "a revolt against neo-liberalism".
As one of the few fighting revolutionary movements with state power, Cuba will help pave the way for the other revolutionary movements in the South to link up directly with the anti-neo- liberal activists in the North. The revolutionary Cuban government articulates all the main elements of the line that Marxists take into this movement. That is why we did not have to invent the slogans to take into S11. Fidel Castro had summed it up for us in his G77 intervention, published in our booklet Neo- Liberal Globalisation and the Third World. We agree 100% with that line and with the program of immediate demands Cuba raises to address neo-liberal globalisation. It is one of our most important political weapons in this movement. And we have only just begun to wield it.
The enemy shakes
Since Seattle this movement has mobilised several times around the world: Washington in April, Philadelphia and Los Angeles in August, Melbourne on September 11 and Prague on September 26. This movement has forced powerful capitalist institutions to adjust their plans, as a worried editorial of the British Economist magazine bemoaned recently:
The anti-capitalist protesters who wrecked the Seattle trade talks last year, and who hope to make a great nuisance of themselves in Prague next week when the city hosts this year's annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are wrong about most things. However, they are right on two matters, and the importance of these points would be difficult to exaggerate. The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is third world poverty. And they are right that the tide of "globalisation", powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back. The fact that both these things are true is what makes the protesters — and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathises with them — so terribly dangerous...
The mighty forces driving globalisation are surely, you might think, impervious to the petty aggravation of street protesters wearing silly costumes. Certainly, one would have hoped so, but it is proving otherwise. Street protests did in fact succeed in shutting down the Seattle trade talks last year. More generally, governments and their international agencies — which means the IMF and the World Bank, among others — are these days mindful that public opinion is anything but squarely behind them. They are not merely listening to the activists but increasingly are pandering to them, adjusting both their policies and the way these policies are presented to the public at large. Companies too are bending to the pressure, modest as it might seem, and are conceding to the anti-capitalists not just specific changes in corporate policy but also large parts of the dissenters' specious argument.
There is truly a smell of panic in the ruling class in this issue of the Economist. Its focus on a disagreement in the ruling class about what tactics to apply to the post-Seattle movement underlines their quandarry. Should small concessions be offered, as the IMF and World Bank officials have opted for? Will this succeed in giving the capitalist offensive a "human face"? Or will it backfire? Will people buy renaming the IMF's Structural Adjustment Plans as "Poverty Reduction Strategies"? Or should the ruling class take the hard line and, as the Economist's editors suggest, stop "apologising for globalisation and promising to civilise it" and, instead, accelerate it, celebrate it, exult in it!
Last week, all the major newspapers in Australia ran an article by a Professor Anne Krueger of Stanford University, entitled "Why our global phobia hurts poor nations the most" where she sought to justify child labour in the Third World because it was a better option than child prostitution or begging!
"In most industrial countries", Krueger argued, "child labour was used until people became rich enough that they could afford to let children attend school."
Now Krueger is being toured around the world as a big gun for the corporate globalisers' case but if that's her case for global trickle down, you can see why some sections of the ruling class are nervous about taking the hard line.
It takes a powerful movement to cause the ruling class — which is wealthier and better resourced than ever in history — to divide on tactics just months after it began. What's the secret? The strength of this movement is the fact that mighty class forces — the working class in the imperialist countries and the workers and peasants in the semi-colonial countries — are increasingly moving into dissent against actually existing capitalism. These classes have yet to move in masses onto the streets but already the new movement already commands its attention and at least passive support. And the capitalist ruling class, which lives parasitically off the labour of these great working masses is already pretty worried.
At present these two great social forces are at different stages of dissent and only partly working together. The tension between these two social forces are summed up in two antagonistic responses to corporate globalisation:
1. To try to turn back and preserve the relative privileges of the working class in the imperialist countries through protectionist measures.
2. To replace neo-liberal globalisation with globalisation for all people and for environmental sustainability, and to fight it with a movement that seeks to "globalise solidarity", as the S26 activists from Prague put it.
Obviously there is a temptation for the working class in the imperialist countries to try to defend their privileges. But the post-Seattle movement's most powerful ideological weapon is its response to what the Economist conceded is "the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time" — Third World poverty.
If the movement takes its name from Seattle, its ideological heart is solidarity with the oppressed and exploited masses in the South. The great moral issue at the heart of this movement is solidarity with the South, where the 80% of the world's population that do not share any benefits of neo-liberal globalisation live.
This movement arose out of the growing moral crisis of capitalism today which was captured succinctly by Fidel Castro in his message to the September 1999 G77 Ministerial Meeting:
Globalisation is an irreversible reality characterised by the growing interaction of all countries in the world, their economies and peoples. The major scinetific and technical advances have shortened distances and allowed for direct communication and transmission of information among countries located anywhere on the planet.
With its impressive technological achievements, globalisation holds tremendous potential for development, the eradication of poverty and fostering well-being in conditions of social equality for all humanity. Never before has the world commanded today's technological resources.
However the world is still very far from materialising the potential of globalisation. It develops today under the aegis of neo-liberal policies that impose unregulated markets and unbridled privatisation.
Far from promoting the expansion of development throughout an increasingly interdependent badly in need of sharing the progresses achieved, neo-liberal globalisation has aggravated existing inequalities and raised to inordinate heights social inequities and the most disturbing contrasts between extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
This is the moral issue at the heart of the new movement and it is a scary one for the capitalists. This movement is fundamentally a movement against capitalism, as the editors of Economist concede. Ideologically, it is a rag-tag army whose leading detachments comprise socialists, anarchists, feminists, environmentalists, anti-racists, neo-hippies, alternate lifestylists, etc. But these currents are united in opposition to corporate tyranny.
The Economist's editors identify a second strength of the movement: it is tapping a popular "backlash" against the neo- liberal offensive in the North:
Many of the issues they raise reflect popular concern about the hard edges of globalisation — fears, genuine if muddled, about leaving the poor behind, harming the environment, caring about profits more than people, unleashing dubious genetically modified foods, and the rest. The radicals on the streets are voicing an organised and extremist expression of these widely shared anxieties. Along with mainstream NGOs, the protesters are prevailing over firms, international institutions and government partly because, for now, they do reflect that broader mood.
Now if this movement is one for global solidarity, how is it that it can tap the mass "backlash" against globalisation in the imperialist countries, especially when the official leaderships of the trade unions in these countries is still pushing protectionist "solutions".
Two important reasons. First, the trade union leaders and social democratic politicians who are pushing protectionism in the imperialist countries have been seen by the masses to have done little to resist the capitalist neo-liberalism offensive. They have had two decades to start resisting. But what have they done? Zilch. Now some militant young people take to the streets with a startling audacity and that makes an impact, even if — for now -- it's mostly via the TV set. Second, many workers have enough experience to know that protectionism does not defend jobs and conditions. They've seen their greedy bosses take the handouts and run or buy new machines that make their jobs redundant.
Is the movement protectionist?
Some crazy left sects, such as the Communist League (the Australian mini-outpost of the US Socialist Workers Party) and the Socialist Equality Party denounce S11 as protectionist but they are truly off the planet. At S11, the official Australian Council Trade Union-Victorian Trades Hall Council rally on September 12 had a clear protectionist theme — "Save Aussie jobs!" — but it was not a big part of S11. The official trade union contingent of about 7000 marched to the Crown Casino site but didn't join or endorse the blockade.
While forcing this rally to end at the site was a victory against the attempts by the ALP and the VTHC leadership to try to isolate the blockade, the trade union rally was actually peripheral to the blockade. About a third of the trade unionists went off to join blockades after the rally but most of the militant unionists who were part of the blockade came before the official rally.
In fact, the S11 blockade was built against the wishes of the main trade union leaderships in Victoria. Part of the reason for this is that they came under massive pressure from the Bracks Labor government not to disrupt the WEF but another reason was that they knew that the S11 blockaders had different politics.
The main forces active in the S11 blockade would probably have agreed with the proposition put succinctly by Fidel Castro at the G77 summit that we are not against globalisation as such but against neo-liberal globalisation — that deformed globalisation shaped by the giant corporations. In fact, we are for a "globalisation" that serves working people and is ecologically sustainable.
Now there was never a motion to this effect adopted by the blockaders or even by the S11 Alliance or S11 AWOL or the autonomous Green Bloc, but it's our impression from the many diverse and colourful expressions of the blockaders — the numerous pamphlets, chants, placards, floats and grafitti — that this was a common sentiment.
One of the most important ways in which S11 was an advance on Seattle and Washington was the relative marginalisation of the protectionists. In Seattle the trade unions mobilised independently of the rest of the protesters. They had their own demands, their own march routes and their own tactics. And they had numbers.
At Washington the main trade union contingents sharpened their protectionist message by rallying around the AFL-CIO's campaign to block the normalisation of trade relations between the USA and China, an utterly reactionary demand. Some unions were addressed by arch-rightwinger Pat Buchanan at their rally.
The more militant activists — led mainly by anarchists and new activists — failed to make an effective public criticism of the reactionary thrust of the official trade unions. There is a debate in the US, but, if the discussion in the publications of Solidarity are any indication, even some of the Marxists in the unions are a bit defensive about condemning the AFL-CIO's protectionist politics.
At S11 we saw a different balance of forces. An internationalist leadership of the blockade emerged and won the battle for authority, and our comrades were a key component of that leadership.
Essentially this reflects a different balance of forces in the social movements between the US and Australia. The organised socialist left is much more influential here than it is in the US. It may not be large but its got much more influence. Anarchists and new radical but still liberal activists have a much bigger sway in the movement in the US.
At Prague, S26, the balance of forces was more in favour of the anarchist and the more anarchist-influenced left. In the streets, the organised left was represented mainly by the British Socialist Workers Party. Now this balance of forces does not reflect the broader balance of forces in Western Europe, where the organised left is much stronger than in the US or Australia. But the main forces of the left in Western Europe, the Communist parties were absent, as were the unions they control. These CPs and the unions they still lead didn't even mobilise seperately like the US unions did in Seattle and Washington, with their protectionist slogans.
Protectionists on the defensive
Why was this the case? Did the union chiefs underestimate the response to Prague? The union leaders certainly did in Melbourne. They were shocked at the numbers that turned out at S11 even after Leigh Hubbard had made his concerns about "violent protests" so clear in the capitalist media and with his letter to trade unions telling them not to endorse the S11 Alliance and the blockade. The old leadership of the social movements still has the illusion that they only have the authority to mobilise the masses. They cannot accept the reality of the growing alienation of workers with conservative union leaderships and even with unions themselves. Union numbers are falling particularly in Australia after the union movement's collaboration with the former federal Labor government's attacks on workers under the ALP-ACTU Accord.
The working class in the imperialist countries is still relatively privileged but it has suffered under the neo-liberal offensive and it increasingly distrusts its official union leaders who have supported governments which have implemented neo-liberal attacks.
Many historians say that the Vietnam war was lost by the US because it was the first televised war. Today, workers in the imperialist countries also get to watch more of the growing global misery on the TV. Unlike their bosses, most workers still have a fair measure of human solidarity. So a trade union bureaucrat is on dangerous moral ground when he/she stands before workers and says we'll try and save your jobs at the expense of those workers over there. This is why the protectionist trend in the trade unions in the imperialist countries today tries to hide its protectionist demands under the cloak of global solidarity.
Doug Cameron's "fair trade" campaign captures this defensiveness. Is "fair trade" about defending all workers or only about defending Aussie jobs? It depends who he is speaking to. To some workers he says, the jobs of workers in Asia is not our worry. When he addressed the forum called by the S11 Coalition he was his weasley best. "Fair trade" is not just about protectionism whined an apologist for Cameron at a forum here a week ago. Reminds you of the One Nation racists claiming they are "not the racists".
But the more smokescreen Cameron has to pump out about "fair trade" the more boring he gets. My impression on September 12 is that most workers found his speech a total yawn. Many workers headed off to the blockades or to the nearest pub. Workers responded much more enthusiastically to Comrade Tim Gooden's call from the stage to tell the bosses and politicians at the WEF to "fuck off". They responded warmly to AMWU Victoria Secretary Craig Johnston's appeal for basic working class solidarity with the victims of the corporate giants here and abroad and Martin Kingham's call for "respect" for human dignity and the right to decent living standards.
We saw this defensiveness of the protectionists in the union bureaucrats and NGOs inability to vote one way or the other on the internationalist Community Declaration on the WEF that we drafted with the Friends of the Earth. They did not agree with the politics but they were reluctant to declare this with a vote.
What makes the protectionists in the unions in Australia even more pathetic is the fact that "their party" the ALP has clearly decided that it is hanging on to the bi-partisan "free trade" line. So Cameron sounds pretty hopeless when he tells his audience to stay in the ALP to change it.
So there is a struggle between the new movements and the leaderships of the old movements. However the old leaderships still have control over the mass organisations of the working class in the imperialist countries. The polls show most workers in the US and Australia support protectionist measures. Further, the mass of the working class is disgruntled but still passive. However the post-Seattle movement has begun to force the conservative union leaders into ideological defensiveness. The old leaderships will fight hang on but, like the ruling class, they are uncertain about how to relate to the new movement.
We saw that at S11. VTHC secretary Leigh Hubbard was torn between wanting to totally distance himself from the blockade or try and hang in there and influence the political message of the movement while risking the union ranks. In the end Hubbard was forced into a middle position and got the worst of both tactics. Comrade Jorge Jorquera colourfully described Hubbard's appearance at the joint S11 Alliance-VTHC press conference on September 10: Hubbard looked "like a squeezed pimple"!
So which way will the union bureaucrats jump at the next major mobilisation of this new movement? We'll see and we will try our best to make sure they land somewhere painful.
Rejecting the 'proper channels' of dissent
One expression of this movement's partial rebellion against the political leaderships and structures of the old social movements is its preferred form of protest: civil disobedience. This expresses the strong desire in this movement to break out from the "normal channels" of dissent. And after S11 we wouldn't want to forget that the tactic of peaceful, mass blockading captured the desire of tens of thousands who are sick of "going through the proper channels".
Probably many of these people who turned out at S11 would not have bothered if it was just another rally addressed by trade union bureaucrats or Labor politicians who are not interested in changing society very much at all. The mass blockade tactic had a lot to do with the success of S11.
In Australia, the "proper channel for reform" has traditionally been seen as the ALP. You want change? Beg your Labor MP, get the union to apply a little pressure, pass motions in ALP branches, sign petitions, vote Labor in for reform. These are the usual "proper channels" but over last two decades many people have come to realise that these channels don't deliver. Labor governments are barely distinguishable from Liberal governments.
Some 20,000 people at S11 voted with their bodies on the picket line for breaking out of the "proper channels" and Labor's attempts to weaken/isolate the blockade only underlined the political independence of S11, and made our victory all the sweeter.
The post-Seattle movement has a lot of activists who still have a liberal understanding of politics. So we must acknowledge that the attraction of civil disobedience also has roots in infantile politics. There were probably some people at S11 who had the illusion that blockading might shock the ruling class into changing. The were also the small groups of professional political posturers, such as the dangerous looking anarchists in their battle gear who remained little more than colourful diversions. And then there was the ISO and Socialist Alternative, each with their antics to prove that they were the most "militant".
It took a lot of work — over the months leading up to S11 and during the actual blockade — on the part of our comrades and some of the saner elements in the S11 Alliance to ensure that these ultralefts' fantasy of a one or two hour stoush with the police was not all the blockade amounted to. It took work to ensure that S11 won the political battle over who was responsible for the violence. And in the end it was a tremendously successful action.
We took a tactical decision to build S11 as a non-violent, mass blockade mainly on the basis that it was more important to confront the Laborites than to fight over tactics but with hindsight we can now better appreciate the political importance of this tactical choice.
S11 showed us that we could lead with such tactics even though our comrades did not have that much picket line or blockade experience. Our political training showed most comrades what to do on the blockades and they did excellently! We were able to keep our eyes on the challenge to make these actions mass action and keep our eyes on the political game.
Phobia about leadership and democracy
While the post-Seattle movement seeks to symbolically break from the conservativism of the "old movements" with its confrontationist tactics, it is also marked by the defeats and retreats of earlier social movements. For instance, the movement has phobias about "leadership" and "centralism" because of the experiences under earlier movements dominated by social- democratic or Stalinist bureaucrats.
It loves to pretend that it is a movement "with no leaders" and its rejection of hierarchy is ostentatious. There is a near- sacred regard for the Seattle model of organising built upon an idealised convergence of small, autonomous "affinity groups", all linked by the internet. One professional I-was-at-Seattle- activists who spent some time in Australia in the build up to S11 could talk on for hours about this great new form of organising. A lot of it is semi-anarchist fantasy and when applied does not work too well. By the time the US activists got to the protests at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles some people were saying, hey, this doesn't work too well. And how democratic is it anyway?
After S26, many activists commented on the inherently anti- democratic (and painful) effect of small, closed affinity groups having the "right" to provoke the cops into violent responses, then running away and letting masses of peaceful demonstrators cop the baton charges, teargas and water cannon.
Only democratic functioning can prevent small counterproductive factions (or police provocateurs) from dictating its forms of struggle and political message under the guise of "opposing centralism". The movement is learning from experience.
The post-Seattle movement also has a complementary naivety about the "democracy" of the internet, which also can exponentially enhance that well known "democratic principle" of consensus politics: The person with the loudest voice, most domineering/manipulative personality gets to be the de facto leader. The internet has the ability to spread misinformation as well as information, slander as well as debate.
We have to understand the movement's worship of the internet. It is a fantastic tool for activists. In an article in the Economist, Debra Spar of the Harvard Business School warns that the activists have globalised faster than the firms they target. Indeed the precedent to the Seattle victory was the collapse of the secret Multilateral Agreement of Investment (MAI), which was brought about by the rapid exposure of the secret draft document through the internet. In addition the internet allows a mushrooming of subversive sites and discussion lists, adding to the sense of growing "people's power". So it's understandable that activists in the post-Seattle movement hold the internet in awe.
Movement needs it own voice
Another critical challenge for the new movement is to independently articulate its anti-capitalist politics. The fear of "centralisation" inhibits the movement from expressing its demands thus leaving it to NGOs, trade union bureaucrats and other conservative institutions to speak out "for the movement" on the issues and policies.
The failure of S11 Alliance to move beyond the demand "Shut down the WEF" set in place an informal "division of labour" that made more conservative "experts" the issues spokespersons, or, allowed big mouths like David Glanz and Steve Jolly to present their views as the movement's.
The movement also needs to become more coherent about its political message. A combination of inexperience, political eclecticism, too much observance of form (there is a special kind of affinity group speak that sounds remarkably like how some parents talk to their little children). The movement is still overcoming the implicit divisiveness of "identity politics" — that scourge of the 1990s — which assumes that everyone can only speak on their own oppression (which is a fantastic way of ending all real discussion because you might offend someone!).
To the extent the movement fails to articulate its message this so allows the bourgeoisie to either paint the movement as being "anti-globalist" in the same way as One Nation, Doug Cameron or the NGOs.
How will the movement get over its organisational hang ups? Experience and education. Negative experiences have already prompted rethinking and positive experiences in popular blockade democracy, such as at S11, must be built upon to help advance the movement's ability to democratically come to a common political program and express it independently.
The experiences and lessons of previous popular social movements will have to be studied and absorbed, and we have to promote this.
But the big driver here will be the movement's pressing need to get better organised. Inclusive and democratic functioning will prove their worth in the process and with every experience in popular democracy the movement will grow in confidence.
A global movement that is basically taking on the capitalist system has to develop a confidence in popular democracy because that is an essential basis for an alternative society, which cannot be anything but a socialist society. Most of the movement activists hesitate at embracing the "S" word, some prefer to talk of a new "global democracy". Well there will be no global democracy without socialism. So call itself what it likes this is a new left in formation.
The movement's basic message of people's power vs. corporate tyranny is popular but the majority of working people in this country, and around the world, are still to be convinced that socialism can work and will be democratic.
The problem is not just one of finding new labels for socialism. The challenge for the new left is not just to disassociate itself from the collapsed Soviet Union and Eastern European regimes but to build mass working class confidence in the possibility of democratic working class power.
At S11 there was a glimpse of the potential of such "people's power" in the three-day mini-democracies that were built at the various blockade points around Crown casino. These blockades exercised popular power in a very democratic way, discussing and voting on all key decisions. Most of the S11 Alliance marshals did not act like self-appointed commissars — or "little generals" as one Murdoch hack sneered — but as communicators and facilitators of blockade democracy. This was a modest but significant experience of the possibility and power of popular and participatory democracy.
For the movement this was a tremendously empowering experience and we should work it for all its worth, show the S11 films till the tapes run bare and talk up our individual and collective experiences at S11 till we are hoarse.
S11 and Australian politics
Comrades, let me start this second section of the report with two propositions:
1. S11 has significantly altered the political terrain in Australia. As more than one commentator in the capitalist press noted: S11 is to Labor what One Nation was to the Coalition parties. Labor has serious problems on its left flank. For the first time in decades it has lost control of a significant social movement.
2. S11 was a very significant milestone for our party. The important role that the DSP and Resistance and some of our key movement allies — radical environmentalists and the militant minority in the union movement — played in leading S11 distinguished this mobilisation significantly from Seattle and US sequels and even Prague S26 at the level of democratic organisation and leadership. Since then our allies and supporters will look at us differently, as will our enemies.
Think about it. If these two propositions are true, then comrades we have a lot of work to do over these two days. We have a lot of thinking to do, a lot of plans to make. And then we have to go away and make them happen. The next report will continue this discussion but perhaps a two-day NC meeting won't be anywhere enough to finish this discussion. But fortunately we are in a pre-Congress discussion period, so this NC plenum should be used to open up the discussion on where to next after S11.
S11 significantly changed the political terrain we confront in Australia. The working class as a whole continues to retreat but a militant minority is breaking free from Labor's dead hand and is ready for a fight.
This process did not begin with S11. We noted the progress at earlier NC meetings. S11 was very much a political sequel to the mass blockades in solidarity with the MUA, the high school walkouts against One Nation and last year's East Timor solidarity campaign. These were all movements that temporarily escaped Labor's dead hand.
The militant MUA pickets were a partial political break from Labor's conservative hold on the trade unions but S11 developed the break out a little further. The Victorian leaderships of two powerful unions, the AMWU and CFMEU, showed that they were prepared to act more independently of a Labor government than any union has for many years. Independently even of the VTHC leadership, which actually lead the break out element in the MUA struggle.
The Bracks Labor government's wild attempts to attack the challenge from the left, that S11 posed, hurt their dwindling public support. The Labor premiers of Victoria and NSW looked like conservative lunatics by trying to label the peaceful and democratic S11 movement "bully boy fascism" since police violence was the only violence at S11 and the police were urged to get more violent by a Labor government.
When Hubbard wrote to unions telling them not to support the S11 Alliance and the blockade it was a tremendous victory for us to get the Workers First led AMWU to sign on as a sponsor. And it was another great victory to get the Victorian CFMEU to provide the stage, first aid tent, assistance with equipment and training of the marshals.
But the political pressure these two militant trade unionist leaderships put on Hubbard and Bracks was far greater than this moral and material support. I think it was greater than they realised, and the full political significance of this rebellion probably is yet to be fully absorbed by all the parties concerned. What does this mean for the balance of forces in the left of the trade unions. Where was that other leader of this section, Deane Mighell of the ETU?
But the break from Labor also was on an ideological level. The Labor politicians were shown to the public to be defending the corporate rich again, hand in hand with Howard's Liberals. Kim Beazley laid low, perhaps wisely. The job of defending the WEF and corporate globalisation was left to Bracks, Peter Costello and John Howard. Bob Carr couldn't resist jumping in.But the Labor and Coalition arguments that corporate institutions like the WEF are on anything but a mission to boost the profits of the giant corporations were met with public derision. The corporate chiefs at the WEF meeting could only lamely concede that they had to work harder at convincing the public that their objective was to help the world's poor!
The spectacular failure of this bi-partisan defence of corporate globalisation echoed the exposure of bi-partisan support for the toppled Suharto dictatorship and bi-partisan complicity in the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor.
The anti-Hanson protests were robbed of a lasting victory because Howard became Hanson. And after the MUA mass pickets were called off, the union bureaucrats did a dirty deal with the stevedoring bosses. And the victory for East Timor's independence was partly soured by the fact that we had to rely on imperialist troops to achieve that end. But so far S11 has only delivered victories — though at the cost of 30 protesters getting hospitalised after the unprovoked and brutal police violence.
Now there is an attempt by Labor to try limit the damage in Victoria. But they can't agree on how best to do it. Some are still weighing in against "Trotskyite thugs", while others think Bracks should say "sorry" and not host a barbecue to congratulate the police for beating up non-violent blockaders.
What are the next steps for the movement?
The S11 movement in Australia did not end on September 13. And we will be making a big mistake if we act like it did.
First, the movement still has to complete the victory and make the Bracks Labor government pay the biggest price the movement can exact. In the wake of the Bracks-applauded police violence at S11, a wave of disgust at the Labor government is sweeping Victoria. "Jeff" Bracks is the joke of the season. Resignations from the ALP are mounting, unions and even Bracks' local branch of the ALP have passed motions of condemnation.
This part of the campaign is mainly in Victoria and our branches in that state should have a big visible presence at the demonstration at the ALP State conference — with a big banner that names the ALP as a party of the corporate rich. We should also have similar banners and placards at the other smaller actions, like the one planned in Sydney for John Howard's "Millenium Address" on October 20. In Melbourne our comrades have to make sure that we report on all the progress with the public inquiries, civil suits against the police, etc.
Second, the movement still has to contest the capitalist ideological counter offensive. If you have been reading the newspapers you will realise there is a huge ideological drive on to justify neo-liberal globalisation. It is especially strong in the Melbourne newspapers because S11 had its biggest impact there. Now we have the arguments but we need to put them more often. The movement should not remain silent, and we have to take the lead on this front. One of our biggest weakenesses in Melbourne was our failure to use our official S11 spokespeople enough. Instead people like David Glanz and Steve Jolly often became the effective media spokespersons for the Alliance. We've been attacked in the press numerous times in Melbourne but we haven't tried to exercise our right of reply.
Third, the movement should learn the lessons of S11 and its fore-runners and sequels. We want frank discussions, especially on the campuses before they break up this year. Comrades who were at S11 should make a big deal about it. We've got the film showings going. People want to know about S11. Interestingly the ISO tried to put a lid on on discussions about S11. Could it be that they know their role was very bad and ours the opposite? According to Graham even their video footage backs this up.
Fourth, the movement needs a next major focus. We want to keep the good S11 alliances going or initiate new ones (especially if the existing alliance is narrow, sectarian, etc.) around a proposal to make Tuesday May 1, 2001 (Codename : M1-2K01) the next major mass mobilisation. This gives us a few months to build up a serious mass mobilisation.
The movement needs such a focus otherwise the alliances will fall apart for lack of a project or under the strain of ISO proposals for a sequel to S11 every week. The demo a week tactic will exhaust and demoralise the movement and create little stages for "militant" posturers, like the ISO, to prance about.
The NE proposes that we adopt at this NC plenum a call (which we will make public in the name of the DSP and Resistance) for a Global Strike Against Corporate Tyranny on May 1 and a demonstration/blockade of the stock exchanges in the cities where they exist. Activists in other cities can choose alternative targets or travel to cities where there are stock exchanges. It is proposed that we seek international support for such a call as well as propose them to local alliances as soon as possible.
A global strike might seem "over the top" but a bit of "over the top" is what we need to attract the activists in this movement. It should be seen as a workers' and students' strike and we will combine this with a high school walk-out.
Now Melbourne S11 Alliance has already called a meeting for November 1 to discuss such a proposal, and if it is adopted our job will be easier around the country.
The fact that there will be an international anti-corporate mobilisation on this date is a big plus because there are not going to be too many WEF type summits in Australia.
Another plus is the fact that the ossified existing May Day committees are ripe to be rebelled against. Given the real role that the ALP and its trade union hacks played in trying to sabotage S11, the totally tokenistic nature of any trade union participation in May Day marches, the WRA regime with its "legal" and "illegal strikes", etc., M1-2K01 might be subversive enough to be a goer.
Our approach should be to try to attract the most militant trade union leaderships into supporting the proposal but if they don't we should not be deterred. Because this proposal is a rebellion against trade union conservativism and economism we'd be happy to try to attract individual unionists.
It would be interesting to have the bourgeois press and trade union bureaucrats attacking us for daring to call for an illegal strike. It will be interesting to have them defending the role of the stock exchange. It may be a big gamble but a chance at legitimising the calling of a strike by someone other than the TU bureaucracy would also be a massive political gain in this country.
The fact that Workers Power has already called for an international general strike on May 1 might be useful in the Melbourne Alliance, giving us a tactical ally in a very difficult group. Other key allies to court would be Melbourne FOE, radical migrant groups (especially Turkish and Kurdish, for whom observing May Day on May 1 is a principle) and the AMWU, CFMEU and any trade union lefts that dare to break ranks.
For this kind of action to succeed the new alliance would have to be better organised and prepared to put more effort into publicising its political message. We will have to fights for the movement to take up some broader demands. S26 didn't seem to have a phobia so we should go in aggressively on this.
Other key events which we want to incorporate into the movement's agenda include the student and workers exposure tours to Indonesia and the International Student Solidarity Conference in Sydney over Easter. Possibly we can put the Jakarta conference in June on the global movement's agenda too. Next year we will also have joint film showings of Pilger's new film on the IMF in Indonesia and Jill Hickson's film on East Timor.
We have to remember here that our links with the PRD, PST and other left parties in Asia are big assets in the movement for globalising solidarity. We have to use it much better than we have to date. We have some initial work with UACT but there is much more we could do. As I noted earlier, the post-Seattle movement's links with the movements in the South are very poor. The movement is naive about speakers projected by NGOs.
Similarly we have to figure out how to use the many years of work we have put into CISLAC to build the movement and educate its activists. We've got the Che tour and we will be bringing a Cuban CP comrade to our congress.
CISLAC now has a film on the civil war in Columbia and that is also another important asset.
With the ambitious proposal for May 1, we need a fresh mindset for our interventions in several areas: ASIET, CISLAC, IWD, campus work. S11 showed that there are tens of thousands of people out there who would be interested in helping us out with all these areas of work. S11 shows us we don't have to do it alone. S11 shows us we can lead and organise others. Surely, this has to show up in these areas of work. If it doesn't in the next period then either we have got our analysis of the significance of S11 wrong or perhaps we are not trying hard enough, creatively enough to organise other people in these committees and collectives. Let's chew on this between now and congress.
When an organised and relatively disciplined party like ours goes through a period of class retreat we end up taking on more and more of the movements task as others drop back in demoralisation. But when the situation begins to turn, as it is now, then a party like ours has to change the way we intervene in the movements.
All these other areas of intervention must be integrated into our post S11 movement plan. Comrades can see how they are politically linked but detail plans need to be worked out at the branch and district leadership levels to bring our total agenda for the next nine months into a coherent and workable plan.
Finally, we need to struggle to keep the movement open, inclusive and democratic. "Invitation only" outfits like NSW CFMEU hack Phil Davey's Sydney S11 Coalition should be exposed and marginalised. Comrades must get it absolutely clear that just because its May 1 and it's a strike we are proposing does not mean we have to kow tow to the union bureaucrats. M1-2K01 could be a success even without the support of a single union.
We should not sacrifice democratic functioning to adapt to the undemocratic anarchist organisational forms — even if they were used in Seattle. This is an important fight. People who don't want democracy can go and set up their own affinity groups, councils of spokes or whatever. I think the AWOL split in Melbourne was probably a good thing. The most hard-line anarchists went off and did their own thing.
The failed Olympics protests
Now it might be asked, if S11 changed the political terrain how come the planned protests during the Olympics fizzed? I don't want to spend much time about this because I think the answer is pretty obvious:
1. There was no significant Aboriginal leadership in favour of the protest. Most thought that the opening and closing ceremonies and Cathy Freeman would do a better job than — as Geoff Clarke put it — "any protest we could manufacture". The tent embassy was manipulated by the police against the left, and the Metropolitan Lands Council was manipulated by SOCOG. There is generally a serious crisis of indigenous political leadership, as Noel Pearson's largely uncontested attacks on welfare rights signals. And there is also a crisis of leadership of the "reconciliation movement".
2. The Olympics was not a suitable target for anti-corporate mobilisation. Whatever the ISO comrades think, their slogan "Stuff the Corporate Games!" was never going to mobilise thousands.
3. The Olympics was too close to S11 for its effect to be felt.
Now we made a few tactical errors during the organisation of the protests but that wouldn't have made that much difference to the size of the protests. In the end our comrades salvaged what was left of a protest on September 15, and they did so bravely and with good effect for the couple of hundred who participated. Enough said on this.