Big step forward for the radical movement

Stuart Lawrence stuartwl at
Sun Feb 3 10:57:05 MST 2002

Louis Proyect wrote
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.

I'm a little surprised by the optimistic tone in Lou's report of yesterday's
march. Whether there were 25,000 as he says or a third of that number, as the most
generous press reports have it (my own estimate would fall somewhere in between),
there were almost no union contingents (I only saw one and that was from the
Toronto steelworkers) and far too few people of color. If unions and others were
reluctant to participate because organizers would not give assurances that no CD
or property destruction would take place, that suggests that the organizers valued
the autonomy of direct-action-oriented affinity groups over the possibility of
mobilizing a larger and more diverse demonstration than the one that took place.

If the direct-action tactics that Lou regards as adventurism were all but shelved
this time around, it was indeed mainly because New York City has the means and
manpower to project an overwhelming armed force to surround every protest
gathering in the streets, large or small, and to make mass arrests as soon as
their control of street protests is challenged. The NYPD is the world leader in
crowd control; gatherings large and small are met by numbers of cops, deployed in
closely supervised and specialized units, that astonish visitors from out of town.
I'm not convinced that there has been any change of heart and mind among US
anti-globalization activists, who would still prefer to "shut it down" but fear
the combination of a large and disciplined police force and the public's potential
conflation of direct action with terrorism.

What lesson did the ruling class learn from Seattle, Quebec, Davos, Genoa, and
9/11? Intensifyhe the rule of force at home as it intensifies it abroad. What will
the anarchist-oriented, youth-dominated US anti-globalization movement learn from
having its preferred tactics neutralized post-9/11? I think Louis and I would
agree that the elitism of decentralism and "diversity of tactics" has to be
sacrificed when the balance of forces means there's little hope of challenging the
state's control of the streets. Activists like the organizers of Saturday's march
must learn that they can't go it alone, and need to work in truly diverse
coalitions with trade unions, NGOs, organizations of people of color, and
immigrant communities, even if this requires adopting something as distastefully
"hierarchical" as a disciplined approach to tactics.

I agree with much that Lou says but would remind him that his reference to
the"rank and file" in the anti-globalization protests begs the question of
leadership, something that is distinctly problematic in a movement that is wedded
to non-hierarchical organizing and autonomous direct action. If activists of the
60's and 70's turned to Marxist organizations as a result of the exhaustion of
"rudimentary activism" as Lou terms it, what will happen when the reality of a
well-policed state (or a police state) sinks in among today's protestors? Neither
the US civil rights movement nor the anti-Vietnam War protest movement can provide
an easily adopted model for an anti-capitalist movement concerned with broad
issues of the global political economy, militarism and state terror, and
environmental destruction. Lou is primarily concerned with developing a
theoretical pole of attraction rooted in Marxist analyses of these issues, but I
would urge him to continue thinking about the organizational and tactical
challenges of the movement he took part in yesterday.

Stuart Lawrence
stuartwl at

"The tradition of all dead generations weighs
 like an nightmare on the brains of the living."
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

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