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Strategies against neoliberalism – for another world

We live in a time of redistribution of wealth and resources! The
social and economic inequalities between people are increasing
dramatically. We live in a time of market liberalism, in which
multinational companies are taking over a rapidly increasing part
of the world economy. We live in a time when more than 80 per cent
of all international economic transactions are about buying and
selling the currency of other countries – in other words
currency speculation. We live in an economy of madness –
created and developed through deliberate political decisions.
However, we do also live in a time in which resistance is growing,
people are organising and are hitting back. Power breeds
counter-power, and the struggle is already well under way.

Let me first, with a concrete example, illustrate some of the
dramatic consequences of the change in the balance of forces which
follows in the wake of neo-liberalism.

A couple of months ago, the German Volkswagen company threatened
to set up a new factory, involving 5000 workers, in an East
European country rather than in Germany under current conditions.
The German metal workers’ union, IG Metall, which is considered to
be one of the strongest trade unions in the world, then negotiated
an agreement which gave Volkswagen the right to employ the 5000 new
workers at wages below the rates in the existing contract, with
more flexible working hours, with a six day working week and a
number of other exceptions from the current regulations in force.
With that Volkswagen had achieved what it wanted and decided to
build the factory in Germany. You can probably imagine what effect
this will have on workers in other car manufacturing companies in
Germany and next, when this leads to ever more increased
competition in European car markets, on workers at the Renault
factories in France or the Fiat factories in Italy.

This is how multinational companies today are using blackmailing
strategies – against politicians and against workers. Through
the abolition of capital control, the cancellation of fixed
currency exchange rates, privatisation and market orientation of an
ever increasing part the economy, our politicians in national as
well as at international bodies have awarded capital forces
enormous advantages in terms of power in society. It is not the
capital forces which have thrown off their fetters, but politicians
who, through systematic and conscious decisions, have released
capital forces from their chains and regulations.

Politicians have given market forces ever more scope, but they
refuse to take responsibility for the consequences of this policy.
What politician in this country has stood for election over the
last years, with promises of increased social and economic
differences in society? Who has promised us more poverty and
housing famine? Who has stood up and defended the current
brutalisation of work that until now has expelled 10-15 per cent of
the work force out of the labour market? Who has run campaigns for
the necessity of an unrestrained global economy of speculation? No,
of course, nobody has done so. In spite of that, those are exactly
the dominating trends in today’s society – and the results of
political decisions.

What made a social democratic reform policy possible during the
first 30 years after WW2 was precisely the existence of capital
control, fixed exchange rates and a number of other regulatory
mechanisms in the markets. This was what made it possible for a
country to introduce stronger labour health and safety standards
that made it possible for the trade union movement to fight for and
achieve welfare reforms – without having to fear the flight of
capital overnight. Through systematic deregulation of the economy,
politicians have awarded the capital forces the upper hand –
increased power served on a gold plate. This is what has led to,
and is still leading to, a world increasingly subject to corporate
government and a massive redistribution of power from
democratically elected bodies to multinational companies, finance
institutions and speculators.

This has led the labour movement into a deep political and
ideological crisis. In the social democratic movement there is a
struggle going on all over the world between the so-called
«traditionalists» and «modernisers.» The modernisers have declared
the ideologies dead, the class struggle historical and have
developed a form of depoliticised economics, in which economic
growth and competitiveness are the goals and the market, to an
increasing degree, the means. All conflicts of interests are being
interpreted as sectional interests which hamper the market from
working for the public benefit. They have given up the ambition of
influencing the long lines in the development of society and have
in stead become centred on the individual, focused on competence
and flexibility within the frames of the existing system. They let
themselves be deluded into the neo-liberal system-criticism with an
aim of modernising, but the modernisation has mainly been reduced
to an adaptation to the new balance of forces.

Without going into details regarding the reasons for this
development, my contention is that to a high degree this backlash
has been caused by the depolitisation and deradicalisation of the
labour movement which followed as results of the post-war class
compromise and consensus policy. It is nothing but tragic that
great parts of the trade union and labour movement are now
considering «globalisation» not primarily as a question of power,
but as a question of technology and geography.

I have become more and more fed up at hearing this meaningless
mantra that «globalisation has come to be», that I have set up a
list of control questions which I ask those who reel off this kind
of nonsense;

What is it that has come to be, I ask;

If people still think that this has come to be, well, then we
are not on the same team, then we do not work on the same project.
Then we stand on opposite sides in the social struggle which is
about to develop.

It is all about power, and power is first and foremost
constituted in the production, not in the of distribution of goods
and services in society. Unequal distribution of consumption or
increased social differences in society arise out of the power and
ownership structures in the production sphere of society. The
fundamentally wrong thesis of right wing politicians that
individual freedom increases when the state reduces its role,
totally neglects the power of capital in society and the power
structure in the sphere of production. The market is being
described as the free choice of consumers. This represents an
idyllisation of the market, a denial of the economic power and an
individualisation of social problems.

The struggle for alternative social systems is in other words a
struggle for power, and there are currently no complete
alternatives available. If anybody had pretended to have one, I
would probably have considered it with deep scepticism. This is not
a time for the presentation of package solutions of alternative
social systems, but a time for alternative thinking and for the
encouragement to come forward with more or less well developed
ideas for the road forward.

Firstly, it is a question of the right to develop, and of the
possibility of developing alternative social systems. We have to
remember that through our membership and links to the World Trade
organisation (WTO), the EU and the EEA (European Economic Area),
most alternative social structures would actually be in defiance of
existing agreements and regulations in these supranational
institutions. Alternative social structures would today be a
barrier to trade and thus be judged in the Dispute Settlement
Mechanism of the WTO and consequently met by massive trade
sanctions. If another world is possible, it will in other words
have to be struggled for in confrontation with the World Trade
Organisation and through international co-ordination of the
fight.

Secondly, we shall not accept the pressure from our opponents
when they call for our alternatives as soon as we raise criticism
of existing social structures. I am tempted to use Susan George’s
well aimed remark at a meeting in Seattle in the autumn of 1999:
«sometimes it is as simple that the alternative to cancer is not to
have cancer.» The alternative to the corporate annexation of ever
greater parts of out societies and our lives is actually to stop
them. The alternative to privatisation is not to privatise,
etc.

The struggle against neo-liberalism will have to be carried out
at many levels and in many arenas. I will in the following focus on
three areas with great strategic importance. The first is the
struggle about our interpretation of reality, in other words the
analysis of the existing order. This part of the struggle must not
be underestimated – particularly in the current phase of the
struggle. Without a clear and correct analysis of the power
structure of the new economic world order, it will be impossible to
develop anything sensible with regard to strategies and tactics. We
have seen that clearly in this country over the last couple of
years. The political waves of discontent have splashed to and fro –
soon to one, soon to the other political party. This, in a rational
context, meaningless movements of voters arises precisely out of
how people understand the world around them. The struggle for our
interpretation of reality is therefore decisive. It is this which
in the last resort will decide whether the well-founded
dissatisfaction with the existing order will end up in reactionary
right wing populism or in a radical alternative based on democratic
governance, justice, solidarity, redistribution of wealth and
communal solutions to social problems. Then we will need an
analysis which explains to people why social and economic
inequalities in society are increasing, why working life is
becoming more brutal, why the welfare state is being put under
increased pressure, why economic growth no longer leads to
increased well-being.

An understanding of entirety and coherence, of causes and
driving forces, are in other words more important than ever. The
era of single-issue movements is over. This is the reason why one
after the other of non-governmental organisations, almost
irrespective of how narrow their platform was, are joining the ever
broader and stronger coalition of resistance against corporate
globalisation which has developed in the wake of the struggle
against the Multilateral Agreement of Investment (MAI) and the
struggle during the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999. This is also the
reason why it did not make any sense when it was proposed, during
the creation of ATTAC in this country last spring, to make it a
narrow issue-focused organisation – a so-called broad campaign for
four single-issues. Such movements no longer have any future.
Without analyses of connections, causes and driving forces we will
lose track in today’s struggle at the global level. More than ever
we will have to search for the connections between wealth and
poverty, between power and powerlessness, between oppression and
terror, between social and economic interests and war. If we win
the struggle about the analysis of the existing order, we are
halfway to the goal.

The second area is about the content and the aim of our
struggle. When our analyses and studies, our concept of the
existing world order, have proved that it is not evil individuals
that are creating the current power structures of society, but the
built-in logic of our economic system, in other words the systemic
force of the capitalist economy, it becomes self-evident that our
project will have to be a relentless struggle against this
system.

National isolation is of course no meaningful answer to the
global offensive of capital, even though the nation-state will
still play a central role as a regulating instrument in the
economy. It is the economic system that will have to be changed. It
is a question of curbing the capital forces – not of closing
national borders. In the long term I can see no other solution to
these problems than the abolition of the systemic force of the
capitalist economy. This means that the economic life must be
subject to democratic control and governance – something that can
be realised only through social struggle. The concrete demands
which will have to be raised in this struggle, have to be based on
an analysis of the actual balance of forces.

Tobin tax is one method that can represent a start of the
struggle to curb the economic forces, but it is far from
sufficient. The important thing with the Tobin tax is that it has
given us a unifying symbolic cause and, if we succeed, it will
represent a turning point in social and economic development – a
beginning of the hard and long road towards developing an economic
order in which human needs and not profit should form the basis of
the social organisation of the economy.

The next step, and I think the time is ripe to launch it now,
will be to demand the reintroduction of capital control. We have to
deprive the capital interests of the upper hand they have been
granted through the free movement of capital, which gives them the
opportunity to use their strategy of blackmailing governments as
well as workers with threats of flight of capital and registration
abroad. We did indeed have capital control in the entire
industrialised world from WW2 till well into the 1980s. It was
initially introduced as a reaction to the economic crisis of the
1930s. How many financial crises we are going to face before the
demand of capital control is again raised with strength, I do not
know, but I have no doubt that it will happen. Let us make the
demand now! It is certainly not in line with current ruling
thoughts, but those are exactly the sort of ideas that we will have
to challenge, and we do actually have the UN organisation for trade
and development, UNCTAD, on our side. Already in its «Trade and
Development Report 1998» it dissociated itself from the free
movement of capital and claimed that capital control «plays a key
role if you want to avoid economic crises.»

The third area is about how to realise the alternatives. This is
a question of how to raise and strengthen the resistance necessary
to push the alternatives forward. In this regard our insight into
and knowledge of the driving forces and effects of the so-called
«globalisation» will be decisive. We will have to analyse current
developments and discuss thoroughly how to confront the offensive
of the capital forces, how to curb them, which alliances we will
have to build, what kind of mobilisation of popular forces which
will be necessary, etc.

To this end we will need strong organisations that are ready to
take action at the national level, at the same time as the
international co-ordination will have to be strengthened. More than
ever broad alliances are necessary to confront the massive forces
that are today attacking and undermining our positions all over the
world. Lobbying is a waste of resources, and pretty frustrating, if
it does not rest on strong social forces and movements that, in
certain situations, are able to put power behind their demands.

The same goes for all the well-meant proposals that are
currently being presented by a number of individuals and NGOs to
replace the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank with other
international institutions, even to have them abolished. It is not
these institutions per se which are the causes of all the evil in
the world. These institutions mainly reflect the fundamental
balance of power in today’s world, first and foremost the balance
of forces between labour and capital, between the market forces and
civil society. Any new international institution of this kind will
in the current situation be imprinted by the same balance of
forces. Demanding new institutions before we have laid the
foundations of a change of the balance of forces through massive
mobilisation of popular forces from below, will represent a dead
end. This is not where our main efforts should be today.

Our strategy must be based on the fact that it is the capital
forces that have to be confronted. In the last resort this is a
question of power – economic and political power. The struggle must
be rooted in the social groups that are being hit by the offensive
of the capital forces. Most important among these is the trade
union movement, since it organises those who, through their work,
produce the capital values in society. This gives it the most
important strategic position in society with an immense potential
for power. All proposals of alternative social structures must be
based on this kind of consideration. Proposals and strategies that
are not rooted in the social contradictions that are produced by
the current economic system, will end up as nothing but idealism,
voluntarism and a policy of illusions. We have got enough and to
spare of this kind of alternatives these days. Armchair policies
with little or no connection with the predominant conflict lines or
conflicting interests in society, are of no interest in these
circumstances.

At the international level we have experienced over the last
years that the ravaging of neo-liberalism provokes resistance in
country after country. The political elite has tied itself to the
mast – obviously without any ability to correct the course. The
organisation of a popular movement from below therefore remains the
only power that can contribute to recapturing democratic governance
of our societies. And we are the ones to organise the
counter-power!

This comprehensive social struggle is already in progress.
Internationally we are witnessing different groups, movements and
organisations that are developing an ever higher degree of unity in
their struggle against free-capitalism and speculative economy –
against the economy of madness. We are not only witnessing growing
resistance against corporate globalisation, but also a growing
globalisation of the resistance. In addition to that, more and more
people are realising that the current form of globalisation not
only illustrates the aggressiveness of capital, but also its
weaknesses, its vulnerability and internal contradictions. The
struggle against the international politburo of neo-liberalism, in
the shape of the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank, has released
forces with a strength which hardly anybody dared to hope for just
a couple of years ago. Only some few months ago, we witnessed the
biggest and most comprehensive mobilisation so far, when more than
200,000 peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets of Genoa
in a protest against the G8-meeting and the social and economic
development which this world political elite represents.

Resistance is growing also in our country – in the form of the
campaign For the Welfare State, in the Network against Market
Power, in ATTAC Norway, in regional revolts in the north of Norway,
in tendencies to municipal uproars against public under-funding,
etc. Increasing numbers of people react against the economy of
speculation, against market orientation, privatisation, new poverty
and social distress. It is the counter-forces that are now
representing decency in the world – against money-grubbers and the
culture of greed.

Moreover, in order to keep up our spirits, we should frequently
ask ourselves the following questions: why do we not today have a
multilateral agreement of investment, which should further transfer
power, scope and rights to multinational companies? Why has not the
WTO over the last couple of years been working on its huge project
of further liberalising the world economy through a new round of
negotiations, which it intended to start in Seattle in 1999? Well,
firstly because there are internal conflicts in the world power
elite – mainly between the US and the EU. Secondly, because a
number of developing countries, in spite of their economic misery,
were able to stand up and say No! Thirdly, because popular
resistance is growing.

Last spring this popular resistance was, through a massive
international mobilisation, able to stop the attack from the
pharmaceutical industry on the right of poor countries to produce
cheap medicines for their own populations, when the pharmaceutical
industry was forced to withdraw their lawsuit against South Africa.
The perverse attitude of these companies, that human rights should
be subordinated to intellectual property rights, suffered a defeat.
There are, in other words, both edifying and encouraging signs in a
situation which is otherwise characterised by corporate forces on
the offensive. Through a number of confrontations we have actually
been able to pressure the international power elite out into open
landscape – a landscape that they are extremely bad at
managing.

It is not late in the world, my friends, it is early!