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AFTER ARGENTINA, WHO'LL BE NEXT TO GO?
A Post Script for the Global Anticapitalist Movement
"Argentina's crisis is fast emerging as a sort of economic
Rorschach test, used by economists and theoreticians of all ideological
persuasions to prove their point," says the Financial Times.
"Opponents of the 'Washington Consensus' say Argentina's experience
shows the perils of following the recipes of the IMF. Supporters
of free markets say Argentina's experience shows the danger of not
opening up [the economy] enough."
Argentina may well prove to be the crisis which irrevocably splits
the ever-widening crack in the neo-liberal armour, especially if
things continue to unravel in other parts of Latin America. Recent
events in Venezuela, and the possibility of left wing gains in this
year's Brazilian presidential elections, point to a shift away from
the "Washington Consensus" across much of the region.
The last decade has seen the increasing delegitimazation of the
neo liberal model, as a movement of movements has sprung up on every
continent, challenging the seemingly unstoppable expansion of capital.
From Chiapas to Genoa, Seattle to Porto Alegre, Bangalore to Soweto,
people have occupied the streets, taken direct action, practiced
models of self-organization, and celebrated a radical spirit of
autonomy, diversity, and interdependence. The movements seemed unstoppable,
as mass mobilizations got bigger, more diverse populations converged,
and the World Bank, WTO, IMF, and G8 were forced to meet on mountain
tops, protected by repressive regimes, or behind fences defended
by thousands of riot police. Seeing them on the defensive, having
to justify their existence, gave the movements an extraordinary
sense of hope.
By identifying the underlying global problem as capitalism, and
by developing extraordinary international networks of inspiration
in very short amounts of time, it felt almost as though history
were speeding up, that perhaps we could succeed in the next phase,
the process of imagining and constructing worlds which exist beyond
greed and competition. Then, history did what it does best, surprising
us all on September 11th when the twin towers were brought down,
and it seemed for a while that everything had changed.
Suddenly hope was replaced by the politics of despair and fear.
Demonstrations were called off, funding was pulled, and mass backpedaling
and distancing occurred within the movement itself. Commentators
immediately declared anticapitalism dead. The editor of The Guardian
wrote "since September 11th, there is no appetite for [anti-globalisation],
no interest, and the issues that were all-consuming a few months
ago seem irrelevant now." Others suggested that the movement
was somehow linked to the terrorists. Clare Short, the UK development
minister, stated that the movement's demands were very similar to
those of Al-Qaida.
September the 11th forced a reappraisal among activists, particularly
in the global north. It challenged us all to take a deep breath,
put our rhetoric into practice, and think strategically, and fast.
Then three months later, history seemed to resume its accelerated
speed, when Argentina erupted, followed closely by the collapse
of Enron. It seemed that despite the blindly nationalist, racist,
and indefinite "war on terror" to distract the world,
neoliberalism was continuing to disintegrate.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the global movements face now is
to realize that the first round is over, and that the slogan first
sprayed on a building in Seattle and last seen on a burning police
van in Genoa, "We Are Winning," may actually be true.
The "crisis of legitimacy" expands exponentially almost
daily. Corporations and institutions such as the World Bank and
the G8 are constantly trying to appease the growing global uprising,
with empty promises of environmental sustainability and poverty
On May Day, 2002 a new book is being launched by academics who
lament, "Today there is an anticapitalist orthodoxy that goes
beyond a latent hostility to big business. Its a well-organized
critique of capitalism." The book argues that we must "start
standing up for capitalism" because it's "the best thing
that ever happened to the world," and that "if we want
to change the world then we should do it through business,"
and treat capitalism as a "hero, not a villain." Perhaps
a few hours on the streets of Argentina, or a chat with former employees
of Enron would show them the true villainy and absurdity of capitalism.
With mainstream commentators falling over themselves to declare
that capitalism is good for us and will save the world, it seems
clear that the first round of this movement has been a victory.
There has been a "...nearly complete collapse of the prevailing
economic theory," according to economist James K. Galbraith.
But the next round will be the hardest. It will involve applying
our critiques and principles to our everyday lives; it will be a
stage of working close to home. A stage where mass conflict on the
streets is balanced (but not entirely replaced) with creating alternatives
to capitalism in our neighborhoods, our towns and cities, our bio-regions.
This is exactly where Argentina can show us an inspiring way to
The situation in Argentina contains many elements of the anti-capitalist
movements: the practice of direct action, self-management and direct
democracy; the belief in the power of diversity, decentralization,
and solidarity; the convergence of radically different social sectors;
the rejection of the state, multinational corporations, and financial
institutions. Yet, what is most incredible is that the form of the
uprising arose spontaneously, it was not imposed or suggested by
activists, but rather, created by ordinary people from the ground
up, resulting in a truly popular rebellion that is taking place
every day, every week, and including every sort of person imaginable.
Argentina has become a living laboratory of struggle, a place where
the popular politics of the future are being invented. In the face
of poverty and economic meltdown, people have found enough hope
to continue resisting, and have mustered sufficient creativity to
begin building alternatives to the despair of capitalism. The global
movements can learn much in this laboratory. In many ways it is
comparable with the social revolutions of Spain in 1936, of France
in May 1968, and more recently, in southern Mexico, with the 1994
uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) - all
rebellions which inspired, then and now, millions around the world.
It was a spirit of innovative solidarity that sparked a transformation
of the practice of politics, and led us into the first stage of
this new evolution of people's movements. The Zapatistas sowed the
seeds for creating "rebellions which listen" to local
needs and demands, and which are therefore particular to each place,
and activists from around the world responded, not only through
traditional forms of international solidarity as practiced during
the 1970-80s, particularly by Central American solidarity groups,
but also through applying the spirit of Zapatismo by "listening"
This network of listening that has occurred between many different
cultures has been a cornerstone for the first round of this global
movement, as it wove together its multiple differences, forming
a powerful fabric of struggle. The second round needs to maintain
these networks that nurture mutual inspiration flowing, because
no revolution can succeed without hope. But the global anticapitalist
movement also needs the reassurance of seeing its desires and aspirations
being lived on a daily basis. The Zapatista autonomous municipalities
in Chiapas are a kind of model, but are firmly rooted in indigenous
culture, are small enclaves within a larger state, and are largely
unexportable. Argentina, however, is an entire society undergoing
transformation. It is a model that is much easier for the movements,
especially those of the global North, to imagine occurring at home.
However, the movement in Argentina is in danger of isolation; without
the security and the mutual inspiration of international solidarity,
it will suffer greatly. The mainstream press has mostly ignored
the situation since the December riots, and most people we met felt
that the world was unaware of their plight. For once, no one was
chanting "the whole world is watching," because of course,
it is in the interest of capitalism's defense team to ensure that
we don't get to watch, don't get to see what's really going on.
Although many anticapitalists worldwide have said "Thank god
for Argentina," as we've had our hopes rekindled in the dark
days post 9-11, most of the people on the streets of Argentina have
no idea that they've provided such widespread optimism.
If Chiapas was the place from which the seeds of the first round
of this movement blew, then Argentina could well be where those
seeds land, begin to sprout, and put down roots. We need to find
creative ways to support and learn from the rebellion there as we
did with the Zapatistas. Some solidarity actions have been taken
- the Argentinean embassy in London was occupied and an anarchist
flag hung out front, cacerolazos have taken place from Seattle to
Sao Paolo, Rome to Nairobi. A chant directed against the World Economic
Forum when they met in New York, proclaimed, "They are Enron,
we are Argentina!" But much more could be done, more stories
could be exchanged, actions coordinated, and visits to the laboratory
There is a joke currently circulating the Japanese banking community,
that goes: "What's the difference between Japan and Argentina?"
"About eighteen months." These bankers well know that
the economic situation in Argentina will occur elsewhere, and that
it is inevitable that the tug of war between people's desires for
a better life and the demands of global capital will result in explosions
across the planet. A recent report (also published in this book)
by the World Development Movement documents 77 separate incidents
of civil unrest in 23 countries, all relating to IMF protests, and
all occurring in the year 2001. From Angola to Nepal to Columbia
to Turkey, the same cracks are appearing in the neoliberal "logic,"
and people are resisting. A dozen countries are poised to be the
"next Argentina," and some of them may be a lot closer
to home than we ever imagined. We need to be prepared, not only
to resist, but to find ways to rebuild our societies when the economic
crisis hits. If the popular rebellion in Argentina succeeds, it
could show the world that people are able to live through severe
economic crisis and come out the other side, not merely having survived,
but stronger, and happier for struggling for new ways of living.
As this goes to print, the economic crisis in Argentina continues
to spiral out of control. Having succeeded in winning legal battles
against the government (setting legal precedent that ricochets around
the globe) and recovering their savings from banks, thousands of
depositors are withdrawing their money from the banking system as
fast as they can. In recent days a judge has sent a police contingent
and a locksmith to a branch of HSBC to recover a claimant's savings,
while the vault of a branch of Banco Provincia was opened with the
aid of a blowtorch. With the banking system about to go belly up,
the government decided to close all banks for an "indefinite
holiday." When the IMF refused again to loan more money and
the Argentinean congress threw out a bill that proposed converting
the frozen bank savings into IOU government bonds, the new minister
of economy resigned. In an emergency press conference, Duhalde declared
"Banks will have to open again and God knows what will happen
then. Banks cannot be closed permanently. It would be absurd to
think of a capitalist system without banks."
It may be absurd to think of a capitalist system without banks,
but it is equally absurd to believe in the continuation of the present
global system. Perhaps the most realistic thing to imagine at the
beginning of this already war-torn century, is a system free of
capitalism, one without banks, without poverty, without despair,
a system whose currency is creativity and hope, a system that rewards
cooperation rather than competition, a system that values the will
of the people over the rule of the market. One day we may look back
at the absurdity of the present and remember how the people of Argentina
inspired us to demand the impossible, and invited us to build new
worlds which spread outwards from our own neighborhoods.
John Jordan and Jennifer Whitney, May Day 2002