Is anti-globalization the same as anti-capitalism? Discuss
What has become known as the ‘anti-globalization’ movement, can be seen to have emerged, as Myers argues (2002, p.26), from the protests against the World Trade Organization ministerial talks in Seattle in December 1999. It has since changed and evolved through mobilizations in a variety of contexts including protests at a series of G8 and G20 summits, notably in Genoa in 2001, where a protestor was killed (Thomas, 2002), and in Barcelona in 2002 where an estimated half a million activists marched “against global capitalism” (Callinicos, 2003, p.18). The label of ‘anti-globalization’ seemed, in some ways, an appropriate label to unify the protests, which took as their target non-state organizations of power and the resulting inequalities of a new global order. As Foran has argued, ‘globalization’ can be interpreted as “the highest stage of capitalism” (2003, p.4) so defining these protests anti-globalization can seem equivalent to defining them as anti- the most advanced form of capitalism. It will be argued here, however, that conflating the two terms can be misleading and counter-productive. Anti-capitalism is not necessarily anti-globalization. Rather, it depends on globalization for its organization, structure, mobilization and impact. What is at stake is the very definition of globalization, a debate over whose interests it operates in, and attempts to universalize a particular form of capitalist-driven globalization as Globalization itself. The opposition movement, it will be argued, drawing on work from Klein, Callinicos, Myers, Amoore and others, can be best understood as a contesting of capitalist-oriented globalization from a globalized perspective, demanding and creating new definitions as part of its goal.
A consideration of whether anti-capitalist protests can accurately be termed ‘anti-globalization’ necessitates firstly an understanding of what globalization itself is. As a term, it has been defined in multiple and varied ways. Fundamental elements can however be identified. Myers defines it simply as “the connection of all parts of the globe to one another” (2002, p.26), which leads to and explains Tarrow’s definition of “increased flows of trade, finance and people across borders” (2005, p.8). Foran’s analysis provides a more complex definition drawing on elements such as financial deregulation, decentralization of global power, rapid technological innovation and the development of new media leading to worldwide instantaneous financial transaction (2003, p.4). Bearing in mind the complexities of definition and competing accounts, Amoore proposes that perhaps ‘what is globalization?’ is the wrong question to ask (2003, p.3). We should consider it, instead, in its effects and impact on social practices, how it is lived, how it is controlled and to what aims. Taking these definitions as a starting point it can quickly be seen that the ‘anti-globalization’ movement is not ‘anti’ the process of globalization as such. The connection of people across the globe, movement across borders and the increasing social functions of new technologies outside of state control have all been vital elements of the movement itself rather than something it sets out to critique. Tactics such as the use of social media as ‘citizen journalism’ to oppose state controlled media representation, and the organization of protest through internet groups have been fundamental to anti-globalization protests since 1999. The movement, as Callinicos has argued (2003, p.13) is itself international and mobilized effectively across national borders. It is, in other words, global.
As Myers argues, such protests are not anti-globalization but are against, “the domination of that process – and of the world itself – by the forces and logic of capitalism” (2002, p.26). Naomi Klein takes a similar view in her analysis of the origins of the movement:
The protestors in Seattle are not anti-globalization; they have been bitten by the globalization bug as surely as the trade lawyers inside the official meetings. Rather, if this movement is ‘anti’ anything, it is anti-corporate, opposing the logic that what’s good for business – less regulation, more mobility, more access – will trickle down into good news for everybody else (2002, p.3).
The protests, in other words, are ‘anti-capitalism’, but not ‘anti-globalization’. The opposition, actually, comes from the way in which globalization has been used purely for capitalist ends. It is a particular form of globalization that is the target, one that allows free reign to market forces in order to maximize profit while taking no account of social equality. It opposes an economic philosophy which assumes the rich getting richer will also improve the lives of the poorest people on the planet. It does not pitch local state power against global forces but instead considers an opposition, as Myers states, between global capitalism and a global working class (2002, p.25). One way to approach the issue then is to distinguish between different types of globalization. Callinicos, for example, draws on Falk’s distinction between globalization-from-above and globalization-from-below. The former reflects “the collaboration between leading states and the main agents of capital formation” (Callinicos, 2003, p.14). It is a type of globalization that enables the spread of Anglo-American capitalism, maintaining the power of certain states at the expense of others, more of an interplay between state and global power rather than the complete loss of state sovereignty. The latter, on the other hand, suggests what Callinicos defines as “an array of transnational social forces animated by environmental concerns, human rights, hostility to patriarchy, and a vision of human community based on the unity of diverse cultures seeking an end to poverty, oppression and collective violence” (2003, p.14). This, in other words is a form of global grassroots self-organization unifying a diverse network of protest groups who can be loosely unified by the desire to place human needs, equality and the future of the planet ahead of the freedom of a small number of companies to maximize their profit at the expense of anything else. It is a global form of anti-capitalism rather than anti-globalization. Callinicos argues that ‘anti-capitalism’ is a more useful term (2003, p.14), while Tarrow uses ‘transnational activism’ (2005, p.6), which captures the sense of active oppositional protest as well as global organization.
Another way to approach the issue is to understand anti-globalization as a protest against those institutions that have come to define the particular capitalist form of globalization that has become dominant. As Klein has argued, the global institutions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which were established as transnational bodies of power, have tended to act in as agents of the universalizing of capitalist values in the interest of the richer states of the world. The IMF may assist countries, she argues, but this is dependent on them achieving strict regulations relating to opening up their markets and operating according to more capitalistic principles (2002, pp.51-55). While seeming to operate as a ‘neutral’ global organization, outside of the manipulation of state power, the IMF acts as a way to enforce a model of capitalism beneficial to states such as the US on those countries of the world most in need of assistance. Globalization in this sense is a kind of ideological shifting of state enforcement onto supposedly detached bodies. The example of the collapse of the Argentinean economy between 1999 and 2002 (2002, p.55) shows how such transnational bodies were used to enforce a particular model of reform, which spectacularly failed to work. Danaher and Burbach also define the movement against the power of these organizations and their “blatant corporate bias” (2000, p.9; cited in Foran, 2003, p.12). The World Trade Organization, according to their argument, “advances corporate-managed trade at all costs” (2000, p.98). Against the power of these organizations, they propose an alternative global revolution which “seeks to replace the money values of the current system with the life values of a truly democratic system” (2000, p.9; cited in Foran, 2003, p.12). This central opposition can be seen as central to anti-globalization as a global movement. Globalization driven by capitalist values of the increase of profit is opposed by a form of globalization which values human life and community. Klein gives many examples of the type of liberalization enforced by globalized organizations – the World Bank’s decision to build a dam without consulting the communities to be displaced; the World Trade Organization’s enforcing of privatization of mail companies, or the IMF’s enforced reductions in health care budgets, to name but a few (2002, pp.45-47). This is not necessarily the case of forces of globalization challenging national interests but rather global enforcing bodies being used as an ‘excuse’ to expand western capitalist models with little care for those affected by the rulings.
Amoore proposes that the term ‘anti-globalization’ allows for a focus on the negative as well as aspects of globalization, allowing for a “less comfortable and optimistic image” (2003, p.1) of the process than that produced within capitalist discourse. To be ‘anti-globalization’ is to challenge the fact that there it has one single, inexorable and unavoidable definition, to contest the inequalities and problems that this leads to. In this sense, the term is useful to counter what Amoore describes as ‘technologically determinist’ accounts. These accounts suggest, essentially, that globalization is a process outside of our control, it is happening whether we like it or not (2003, p.1). As a counter to this ‘globalist’ argument, she proposes a more local interpretation, one that defines globalization as something “uniquely understood and experienced by people in the context of their known and familiar social practices” (2003, p.20). In this sense, anti-globalization as a counter to neo-liberal or ‘official’ globalization is a performative practice, which is played out and actively produced through a network of events including anti-capitalist protests and more local acts and activism. Amoore goes on to introduce further categorizations. ‘Hyperglobalists’ argue that globalization removes economic and political power from the nation state, while ‘sceptics’, on the other hand, argue that globalization is overstated and functions as a myth to extend territorial state power (2003, p.3). Held and Mcgrew, for example, take on a secptical stance by arguing that globalism has been replaced by “a new imperialism, as humanity adjusts to the realities of the unipolar moment and violent reassertion of geopolitical competition” (2002, p.6). Amoore uses the third term ‘transnationalist’ to define those who understand globalization more as the oscillation and readjustment of state and trans-state power, globalization as a constantly changing process rather than unavoidable situation (2003, p.3).
The anti-globalization movement, it could be argued, is not necessarily ‘anti-globalist’ – it does not contest the idea that globalization is actually happening, moved to a certain extent by factors beyond immediate control. Alert to the contingency of the term, it can be defined more usefully as a struggle over how the term has come to be used in purely capitalistic terms. This has led many to propose anti-capitalism as a more appropriate term. Myers, for example, connects the movement to a history of anti-capitalist revolutions going back beyond events in Seattle or Genoa (2002, pp.30-31). Such a definition, however, is also problematic as it fails to account for the multiplicity of diverse views, politics and desires represented in what has been neatly categorized as ‘anti-globalization’. While Myers seems determined to maintain a kind of ‘purity’ of anti-capitalism in the movement, arguing that it should not be confused with anti-colonial struggles, identity politics or environmental politics (2002, p.30), others such as Callinicos see the opposition as far more diverse (2003, p.14). Indeed, as Klein points out, it is questionable whether the opposition could really be described as a ‘movement’ as it is not really unified at all (2002, p.15). As some theorists, such as Thomas (2002, p.47) have argued, the force of the opposition movement lies exactly in its potential to redefine the political, seeking out and actively producing new forms which can’t be reduced to existing categories and terminology. In this sense, any unifying term is misleading as it suggests a coherence that may not be there and, even if it were, may be limiting. If this is the case then new terminology entirely is needed. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri make some attempt to do this in their two works Empire (2001) and Multitude (2005). Rather than using terms like capitalism and globalization, they use the term ‘empire’ to refer to the transnational power that operates in the interests of capitalism. This they define as sovereignty in a new form, “a series of national and supranational organisms unifying under a single logic of rule. This new global form of power is what we call Empire” (2001, p.xii). Against this, the global counter-movement is not defined as ‘anti-capitalist’ but is defined more positively as ‘the multitude’, “the productive force that sustains Empire at the same time it calls for and makes possible its destruction” (2001, p.62). Crucially, for Hardt and Negri, simply inverting terms such as capitalism and anti-capitalism means that one still has to operate within the same binary structure. Multitude, on the other hand, embodies a form of common creativity, which can be shared by all and which emerges from the same global structures of power as Empire, “the multitude is a set of singularities that produce a common life; it is a kind of social flesh that organizes itself into a new social body” (2005, p.34). Indeed, importantly for their argument, they invert the idea that capitalism came first and then an opposition movement formed. For Hardt and Negri, the creativity of the multitude is primary, and Empire is premised on an exploitation of this. Globalization is vital for the production of the multitude, yet it still stands in opposition to capitalism. The mass protests of the anti-globalization movement can be understood in these terms as the re-emergence of the global multitude. Although there are problems with Hardt and Negri’s argument, it can at times seem unrealistically utopian for example, it does show an understanding that in order to be ‘anti-capitalist’ one must challenge the very terms and definition that capitalism itself employs. To be ‘anti-globalization’ is not to critique the movement of people across borders but it is and must be a critique of the poverty and attempts at universalization of definitions of ‘globalization’ that capitalism, in its state and trans-state forms allows.
Ultimately ‘anti-globalization’ can be understood as a protest against the universalizing, capitalization and naming of Globalization as the only choice. This Globalization operates in the interests of capitalism, and is named as such through capitalist processes. It increases gaps between rich and poor, disregards the environment and social equality and is enforced by transnational bodies such as the World Bank, the WTO and the IMF. ‘Anti-globalization’ suggests that this is not the only way – globalization does not have to be organized along purely capitalist lines. It provided a useful label for an emergent network of opposition, but has now become a confusing term as the movement itself relies on using contesting and redefining discourses of globalization rather than standing in direct opposition to them. Anti-capitalism operates around the discovery and putting into practice of new forms of globalization, and in order to do this new terminology and new definitions are needed.
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Callinicos, A. (2003), An Anti-capitalist Manifesto. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Danaher, K. and Burbach, R. (2000) Globalize This! The Battle Against The World Trade Organization. Berkeley, CA: Common Courage Press.
Foran, J. (ed.) (2003) The Future of Revolutions: Rethinking Radical Change in the Age of Globalization. London: Zed Books.
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Tarrow, S.G. (2005) The New Transnational Activism: Cambridge: CUP.
Thomas, P. (2002) ‘What News from Genoa? Varieties of Anti-Capitalist Experience’, in J.Schalit (Ed.) The Anti-capitalism Reader: Imagining a Geography of Opposition. New York: Akashic Books, pp.46-54.