Corps de l’article
Not long ago, Margaret Thatcher’s triumphant “there is no alternative” to global neoliberalism echoed everywhere, the common sense of our times. That was before Seattle, Vancouver, Quebec City, Genoa, Washington, Prague, and Porto Alegre, and before what Naomi Klein calls the “most internationally minded, globally linked movement the world has ever seen.” The successes of the movement for global justice are impressive. Not least are the victories against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, the land mines agreement, and stopping the World Bank’s Narmada dam project. Underlying these victories is the mobilization of a new political constituency across space and class around an array of global issues, from debt to sweatshops. For the authors of Globalization from Below the longer run significance of this new political formation lies in the convergence taking place among diverse movements: their overlapping memberships and concerns, increasing awareness of common interests, and their incessant networking around the world. This, they argue, is leading to an “historic break” defined by a choice between “globalization from above,” engineered by corporate and state elites, and an internationalist, democratic and solidaristic “globalization from below.”
The authors’ starting point is that globalization from above fosters a “race to the bottom” in which countries compete with each other for trade and investment through privatization and deregulation, by offering tax and other incentives for investors, and by reducing labour standards and the social wage. This race is not only between the global North and South but often most destructively among Southern countries. In this context, globalization from below is entering a new phase. The main thesis of the book is that global justice movements must evolve past resistance to new forms of popular democratic control. This requires solidarity across national borders, identities and narrow and immediate interests. Hence the authors reject alliances with nationalist right wing movements in the U.S., France and elsewhere on the grounds that they are antagonistic to equality and democracy, and to labour, environmentalists, feminists, immigrants, racial and other minorities—in short, to much of the constituency of globalization from below. The authors are silent, however, about nationalist movements in parts of the Third World where national capital is weak and where nationalism is often aligned with popular democratic and anti-imperialist politics that may be consistent with globalization from below.
Much of this book is devoted to explaining the nature of the new politics of social movement coalitions and “advocacy networks, particularly those that are central to the global justice movement in the U.S. These networks knit together various non governmental organizations, religious bodies, popular media, foundations, consumer groups, intellectuals, parts of governments and state structures, and a host of varied, often local social movements. Each is autonomous from the others, yet they are increasingly converging, we are told, coordinated by decentralized leadership and new information technologies. This new organizational form, with its emphasis on individual responsibility, reflects the breakdown of older forms of community-based politics in much of the North, particularly those based on the industrial working class. This new form, it is argued, also parallels new decentralized, globalized forms of “networked capitalism.”
The analysis of social movements draws on Gramsci’s work on counter hegemonic movements and on Michael Mann’s seminal Sources of Social Power. Mann argues that major societal changes develop out of “interstitial locations” around dominant institutions. By linking marginal forces into networks and by creating new ideologies for disparate beliefs and traditions, social movements have historically changed dominant societal institutions.
A recurring theme of Globalization from Below is the development of a strategy of “tension without polarization” in order to work with adversaries who may become allies. Among other things, this means framing issues so that they align with the interests of potential allies who constitute, it is claimed, a majority of U.S. citizens. This is part of the supple yet principled “political ju jitsu” the authors advocate for this new phase of globalization from below. They believe the global justice movement, with its diverse base and decentralized yet coordinated organizational forms has the potential to become a majoritarian, multiclass movement with the capacity to create anti-authoritarian, democratic, global politics.
Emphasizing both the grassroots nature of the global justice movements, and the solidarity and networking properties which link them across traditional (state, organizational, ideational, identity) boundaries, Brecher, Costello and Smith dub these the “Lilliput Strategy,” after Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The common Lilliputian vision is a way of living that “allows one to live in a way that asserts human values other than greed and domination. It involves politics not just as legislation and elections but as a way that people live life together. […] Globalization from below represents not just a single goal but the process of democracy.”
The most valuable contribution to globalization from below is the authors’ “draft global program.” They articulate a radical, yet pragmatic vision intended to bring together major parts of the global justice movement from their “nooks and crannies” while at the same time attracting the uncommitted and neutralizing the opposition. The program revolves around seven principles: levelling upward labour, environmental, and social conditions and a strengthening of human rights; democratization of every level of institution in society, from local to global; decision making as close as possible to those the decisions affect; greater equality in the global distribution of wealth and power; environmental sustainability; full employment and prosperity through policies to meet unmet human and environmental needs; and stabilization of the global economy against the “boom and bust” tendencies of capitalism. Each principle is illustrated by concrete tactics and policies, some of which show considerable practical political imagination, and many of which are already being pursued through globalization from below.
To an important degree, this program centres on Keynesian remedies. However, in contrast to orthodox Keynesianism, which stabilized the postwar order through class compromises that left capitalism intact, the authors’ prescriptions are based on democratic and implicitly anti-capitalist politics. Unlike many global justice activists, the authors do not call for the abolition of the major postwar international economic institutions, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. Instead they call for the reconstruction of their functions under U.N. and civil society auspices, arguing that these regulatory functions are critical to providing a global alternative to U.S. hegemony, and an antidote to the decentralism of the nationalist U.S. right which leaves communities at the mercy of corporations and financiers. Without such regulatory functions, it is hard to imagine how to prevent disintegration of the global trading system along the lines of the 1930s. It is debates about issues such as these, and the ways politics around these debates shape the interplay between globalization “from above” and “from below,” that will determine the future of us all. Globalization from Below is an accessible, thoughtful, and well informed introduction to these issues and to the new politics of global justice.