Just over a year ago, the anti-globalisation movement was making the political weather. The leading multinationals were ploughing cash into "strategies" to counter the protesters, Naomi Klein and George Monbiot were at the top of the bestseller lists, and last year's Genoa demonstrations had given the movement its first martyr, Carlo Guiliani, a young protester gunned down by the carabinieri. Yet as an expected 20,000 anti-globalisation activists congregate in Florence from 7 to 10 November for the European Social Forum (an international anti-globalisation think-in), they might well be asking themselves what went wrong. There has been no shortage of causes for them to trumpet in the past year, especially the economic collapse of the IMF's model pupil, Argentina. But the movement has dropped well below the public's radar, and talk of its death is in the air.
Partly, this is because anti-globalisation supporters were seen to have reacted equivocally to 9/11. Activists protesting outside an arms fair in London on 11 September 2001 cheered the news coming from across the Atlantic (although, to be fair, the full scale of the tragedy was not yet clear). Leading figures such as Hans-Peter Martin, author of the bestseller The Global Trap, gloated in the aftermath of the attack: "Neoliberalism collapsed with the World Trade Center . . . During the first decade of globalisation, which was carried out under US hegemony, we witnessed the greatest redistribution of assets in the peacetime history of mankind. This must have consequences."
Some parts of the anti-globalisation coalition began to flake away because of this talk, especially in the US. The AFL-CIO (the US equivalent to the TUC), which had played a big role at Seattle, very quickly threw its weight behind the "war on terror" and its president, John Sweeney, said: "We stand fully behind the president and the leadership of our nation." Other groups such as the Rainforest Action Network have chosen to quietly opt out of the debate and to pursue other campaigns.
Yet 9/11 was not a death-blow to the movement; it was a god-send. The "war on terror" provided a powerful rallying-cry for the activists, who speedily organised to oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many headed for the Occupied Territories, where Ariel Sharon stepped up his aggression, and several intend to act as human shields when the bombing of Iraq begins. Most activists see this shift of emphasis as entirely consistent, because they believe that the war on Iraq is entirely for corporate ends. Ralph Nader, who ran as Green candidate for the US presidency, says that George W Bush is "more a corporation than a human being", and that his interests in this war are exclusively to serve his oil-industry masters. Adam Ritscher of Youth for Socialist Action, a US-based anti-globalisation group, backs this up, saying that "a US war with Iraq would result in a new pro-US regime in Baghdad that would be sitting on top of the second-largest oil reserves in the world - oil reserves that US corporations have been cut off from for decades . . . This is war being fought for economic interests."
Maria Elena Martinez of CorpWatch, a San Francisco-based organisation of the moderate wing of the movement, believes that the drumbeats of war are a deliberate attempt to distract attention from the wave of corporate scandals in the US. She explains: "There is a connection between Iraq and Enron that should not be overlooked. The drumbeat for war drowns out the clink of handcuffs locking around American business leaders' wrists. It's the fact that the heady rush of patriotism helps mask the hangover of a bubble economy gone bust. We're not saying that President Bush's call to attack Iraq is strictly a sleight of hand . . . but at minimum, the war with Iraq presents the opportunity for Bush to duck the corporate scandals and reframe the national debate."
This intellectual analysis explains why the anti-globalisation movement has rapidly and seamlessly redeployed itself as an anti-war movement. Yet before this "war on terror" came along, the movement had in fact been coming apart at the seams.
By the time of the Genoa protests, in August 2001, the contradictions within the movement were becoming embarrassingly clear. The tag "anti-globalisation" itself was becoming deeply contested. As George Monbiot points out: "Nobody within the movement gives it that name any more. We seem to have settled on calling ourselves the 'global justice movement'." Yet this masks deep tensions. In Genoa, I saw anarchists marching uneasily alongside men carrying banners of Stalin, and I met Christian human rights groups who were profoundly uncomfortable at being in the company of either.
The many British factions present were increasingly at each other's throats. The Weekly SchNEWS, the British-based anarchist freesheet, launched a full-frontal attack on the other big British organiser, Globalise Resistance, accusing it of trying to hijack the movement. The freesheet argued that Globalise Resistance was merely a front for the Socialist Workers' Party, a hard-line Trotskyist sect. Globalise Resistance admits that a third of its executive committee are Trots, and there does seem to be a hardline Bolshevik edge to the organisation's campaigning. Increasingly, it became clear that anti-authoritarian anarchist groups and pro-Lenin authoritarians were pretty hard to accommodate in the same movement - and this was only one of many pairings of incompatible groups.
Yet even these significant and - before 9/11 - growing tensions are minor compared to those which can be summarised by looking at the French farmer Jose Bove. He is a militant defender of French agricultural subsidies, who dismantled a McDonald's branch in Millau, southern France, brick by brick. Lauded for this, he comes over as a political rock star at global justice demonstrations, where he puffs happily on his pipe and applauds speeches condemning African poverty. Yet it is precisely the western policy of grossly over-subsidising farmers like Bove that is strangling the economies of Africa. The African agricultural sector cannot compete in a marketplace against wealthy farmers who are already ten paces ahead of them because of subsidies.
Bove's position highlights the ambiguity at the heart of the movement. What is it actually for? In Naomi Klein's new book, Fences and Windows, the No Logo author seems to run the gamut of political philosophies. At some points, she sounds like an old-style anarchist, vowing to "challenge power centralisation on principle". Yet at others, she seems to defend Fidel Castro's Cuba, a hideous and authoritarian regime where political dissidents are jailed and the population lives in grinding poverty. On yet further occasions, she seems to represent a new intellectual phenomenon: militant social democracy. Just ten years ago, this would have sounded like a ridiculous contradiction in terms. Social democracy has always been associated with moderate left movements working through parliaments.
Yet it now seems that the traditional social-democratic goals of a mixed economy and sharing the wealth of capitalism with the poor have become so radical (and so contrary to the agenda of the IMF and World Bank) that they can only now be pursued outside parliaments.
For example, the Italian activist group Ya Basta! ("Enough is Enough") is engaged in squatting derelict buildings and turning them into thriving social centres where communities can meet, hang out and be provided with a range of social services. What is this but the establishment of a public sector where successive Italian governments have abandoned that responsibility?
The very structure of the movement itself makes it increasingly hard for it to stay together or act purposefully. Just as in 1968, when another young people's movement seemed set to change the world, the egalitarian, anti-leadership structure gives no focus and no clear public voices. Barbara Epstein, who teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has studied the 1960s movements and attributes their loss of energy largely to "structural and ideological rigidities associated with insistence on consensus decision-making and reluctance to acknowledge the existence of leadership within the movement". She asks if the global justice movement will share the fate of those earlier non-violent direct action movements. The coalition can work only as a very broad opposition force, first of all to the IMF and World Bank and now against the war.
The only global justice thinker who has candidly acknowledged this problem and has tried to craft an intellectual framework that moves beyond it is the British writer George Monbiot. He argues that "what we need now is to move from being an opposition movement to being a proposition movement". Instead of defining itself as against globalisation, it needs to offer an alternative globalising path. He admits that this will alienate some current activists: "It's time we had a bit of division and dropped the people who are pushing regressive ideas."
In particular, he wants the movement to turn against the proponents of "localisation". These activists oppose international trade altogether and want every local area to retreat into a self-sufficient autarkic state. Bove is a classic localiser. Monbiot rubbishes this approach, arguing that "trade is at the moment a clumsy way of distributing wealth - and it is in some ways regressive - but it possesses an enormous potential for redistribution. Trade is far better than aid, which evokes dependency and paternalism. But the localisers want us all to retreat behind borders - so bang goes the international transfer of assets which is so desperately needed. They criticise the WTO for having a "one size fits all" neoliberal model, but they are the mirror-image of that. They want everyone to become protectionist. Some poor countries have the right to protect their economies, but it would be a disaster if countries in the west continued to do that."
This new dividing-line between activists could be seen earlier this year when Oxfam issued a detailed plan to establish "fair trade" and open western markets to the world's poor. The Indian activist Vandana Shiva saw this as heresy, and savaged the plan as a "timid echo of current World Bank policies", claiming that Oxfam was becoming "a weak, co-opted voice of the dominant free-trade interests". She sees trade as the enemy, and wants to dismantle corporations in favour of "smaller, rooted enterprises" owned by workers, customers and other local groups.
In his new book, The Age of Consent, to be published next June, Monbiot counters this vision of a fragmented world with a positive vision for inter-linked global justice. He argues that "we should not retreat from globalisation but democratise it". This could involve a world parliament, because "all the important issues today are global - the environment, nuclear proliferation and so on. They can't be dealt with solely at the local level."
With conflicting agendas such as Monbiot's and Shiva's emerging, the fuzzy anti-globalisation movement as we saw it in Seattle and Genoa is passing into history. Opposition towards the war can serve only as a temporary glue. Anarchists will not back Monbiot's vision of a global state. Monbiot will not back nostalgists for Stalin. Stalinists will not back anybody sane . . . and so on. Sooner or later, the "war on terror" will end and the core agenda of the anti-globalisation movement will resurface. When it does, will there be anything coherent to go back to?
Milestones in anti-globalisation history
1 January 1994 Zapatista rebels from the Mexican state of Chiapas upstage the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) which outlaws the indigenous system of collective land ownership.
Summer 1995 Ruckus Society is founded in California. It claims to train and assist "hundreds of activists on the use of non-violent direct action".
July - August 1996 Zapatistas organise the Intercontinental Encuentro (encounter) for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism. Held in La Realidad in Chiapas, the event attracts activists from across the globe.
November 1996 The Philippines hosts the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC) summit, which draws thousands of opponents to free trade.
February 1997 Protesters publish on the internet a leaked copy of the draft Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Posted by the US campaign group Public Citizens, the leaked document ignites a worldwide campaign of opposition.
8 September 1997 Dockers from 21 countries stage a day of action in support of sacked Liverpool dockers fighting casualisation.
30 November - 2 December 1999 Negotiations of the World Trade Organisation are disrupted when 50,000 protesters clash with police in Seattle: 587 people are arrested.
January 2000 Naomi Klein's No Logo:taking aim at the brand bullies is published in the US. The book, a highly acclaimed assessment of multinational brand-name corporations, labour abuses and anti-corporate resistance, becomes the bible of the anti-globalisation movement.
16-17 April 2000 10,000 activists march past the White House in an attempt to prevent two days of meetings between the IMF and the World Bank. More than 600 are arrested.
26 September 2000 At the IMF and World Bank conference in Prague violent clashes with police result in 70 people being injured.
April 2001 60,000 protesters clash with police on the streets of Quebec during the three-day Summit of the Americas, where 34 leaders from North and South America and the Caribbean sign plans to establish a free-trade area in the western hemisphere: 392 people are arrested and more than 300 injured.
20-22 July 2001 Genoa's turn to host the G8 summit ends in death when a 23-year-old protester is shot by Italian police. The two-day conference,which was to cover issues such as climate control and arms reduction, sees roughly 180 protesters arrested and more than 500 injured, causing an estimated $50m of damage.
31 August 2002 Anti-globalisation protesters join a march of 10,000 people from the South African township Alexandra to the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg.
Nick Leader and Roland Lloyd Parry