Big step forward for the radical movement

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Feb 3 08:01:18 MST 2002

In a decisive victory for the student and radical movement, more than
25,000 anti-globalization protestors made their case against the
World Economic Forum in NYC yesterday (February 2, 2002) with
virtually no violence nor arrests.

This represents significant political growth in a movement that had
been marred by 'black bloc' fetishism over tactics. Demonstrators
organized by "Another World is Possible" seemed content to shout
slogans and carry banners without making "shutdown" of the actual
meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria some kind of litmus test. An obvious
factor militating against adventurism was the sheer quantity of NYC's
cop force--practically a small army. I would estimate that there was
probably at least one cop for every five demonstrators by the
appearance of things:

The demonstration was primarily youthful. I would strongly suspect
that students from all of NYC's sizable campuses turned out, as well
as many high schools. In what is becoming a new paradigm for the
radical movement, the participants in all likelihood learned of the
event as I did--over the Internet. Speaking as somebody who used to
wheat-paste antiwar demonstration posters on cold and rainy April
evenings back in the 1960s while looking for cops over my shoulder, I
would regard this as genuine progress.

In keeping with the better spirit of anti-globalization
demonstrations over the past couple of years, there was a festive
mood. With costumed marchers, oversized puppets and colorful banners,
the parade had somewhat of the character of a radical 'Mardi Gras'.

In addition, there were thousands of protestors who simply carried
signs with their own personal message of protest like this man: In another sign of the growing
awareness of this movement, many marchers made connections between
the US and Argentina. A large contingent carried signs in the shape
of pots and pans, bearing the words "WEF: They are all Enron. We are
all Argentina".

While the rank-and-file of the demonstrators showed an awareness of
the nature of the struggle, there are growing signs that their
erstwhile NGO allies have buckled under to post-911 wartime
pressures. The Village Voice
( reports:

>>The reformist perspective is likely to retreat further with groups
like the Sierra Club absent from WEF week and the AFL-CIO presence
reduced from a march to a rally. Danaher says Global Exchange will
focus instead on the alternative World Social Forum in Brazil.
Shooting more from the hip, Public Citizen staffer Mike Dolan, an
architect of Seattle, says his group has not yet endorsed the one
permitted march because the sponsor, Another World Is Possible,
"can't guarantee that the event will be nonviolent, and that the
movement won't be marred by vandalism." At press time, Drop the Debt,
Earth First!, Rainforest Action Network, and the Ruckus Society had
all not signed onto the march, either.<<

Unfortunately, the Voice reporter makes the assumption--and assented
to by Barbara Epstein--that this movement is somehow "anarchist"
because organized anarchism has been a key factor:

>>Unlike modern-day social reformers, who want Nike to let inspectors
into their factories or the World Bank to forgive some debt,
anarchists explicitly oppose capitalism itself. They don't attack the
International Monetary Fund or the WEF just because their policies
exploit the poor, but because their power is illegitimate. They
envision an egalitarian society without nation states, where wealth
and power have been redistributed, and they take great pains to model
their institutions in this vein, with autonomous, interconnected
structures and consensus-based decision making. UC Santa Cruz
professor Barbara Epstein, an expert on direct action, senses that
anarchism has now become "the pole that everyone revolves around,"
much as Marxism was in the '60s. In other words, even young activists
who don't identify as anarchists have to position themselves in
relation to its values.<<

In reality, despite Barbara Epstein (whose mushy views on anarchism I
critique at:,
Marxism was no such "pole" that everyone revolved around in the
1960s. The majority of activists were "New Left" radicals, who share
many of the same virtues and vices of today's rank-and-file
anarchists. These types of radicals have boundless energy for
activism, much less so for theory and patient base-building and
organization. It was only when rudimentary activism exhausted itself
that many activist veterans sought out Marxist organizations in the
60s and 70s. In the meantime, Marxists should not regard
"anti-globalization" protestors as opponents, even when they profess
some kind of belief in the eternal wisdom of a Bakunin or a Murray
Bookchin. Despite the labels they attach to themselves and those that
the Village Voice attributes to them, they are simply the rank and
file of a burgeoning mass movement, whose growth is beneficial for
all movements since it incorporates exactly what is needed across the
board--a spirit of resistance to the status quo.

Finally, if Marxism is going to be relevant to these sorts of
activists, it will have to confront the sort of "developmentalism"
that was on display here a while back, when Meera Nanda tried to
justify support for the Narmada dam in India. If these protestors
care about anything, it is the right of peasant villagers to be
protected from the kind of "primitive accumulation" sponsored by the
Indian bourgeoisie in alliance with the IMF and World Bank. For many
of us, this will require deeper thinking about Marxism, indigenous
struggles and ecology. To dispense with the unfortunate social
Darwinism that was packaged with Marxism by people like Kautsky is a
necessary first step, but much more is necessary if we are to be

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 02/03/2002

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