(an appeal from the Editorial Board of the Italian Marxist journal FalceMartello)
Only a few weeks away from the anti-G8 demonstration in Genoa, few people have any doubts that this is going to be a mass demonstration. On July 21st some 200,000 people are expected to turn out. The security forces will do their utmost to physically stop them from arriving in Genoa. The 'red zone' is already being policed by 20,000 officers who check 241 selected routes where even the local residents need a special pass to cross. The manhole lids have been welded down, the harbour will be shut, as well as the train station and the airport, which will only be open to special flights bringing in the G8 delegates. Of all the demonstrations of the "Seattle movement", Genoa is expected to be the biggest.
What are the social ingredients that have transformed this movement from a protest limited to a few thousand people into a mass event of such dimensions?
Over the last ten years the bourgeois have been on a neo-liberal binge: they have repeatedly promised that many benefits would flow from the process of European unification, the policies of the IMF, the World Bank, the policy of balanced budgets applied by all governments, the destruction of the welfare state and the attacks on the workers' rights and living conditions. Now that the binge is over, all that is left is a massive headache.
There is a paradox here. The past period has been one in which the leaders of the labour movement have least challenged the capitalist system, and yet at the same time it has been an unstable period with an accumulation of enormous contradictions within the capitalist system.
Whilst the concentration and production of wealth world-wide has reached unheard of levels, the living standards of billions of people have worsened.
Between 1995 and 2000 the combined wealth of the world increased by six times while the average income and life expectancy of the people in 100 countries around the world have gone down. The worst relative decline has been precisely in the United States themselves. The US economy is about to end its longest period of growth since the Second World War. But this has been a boom which has not had any positive effect on the living standards of the American masses. While the richest 1% of the US population owns 40% of the national wealth (an unprecedented figure), 35% of American workers, even though they have a job, live below the poverty line. It was not by chance that the movement itself started in the USA.
As the liberal economist and former editor of Sole 24ore, [Italian financial journal, similar to the British Financial Times] Deaglio recognises, the amount of people who think that the globalised economy is the worse of all possible evils is rapidly increasing. This process inevitably had to find an expression in a mass movement, sooner or later. That's what has happened since Seattle.
Apart from the international factors that propel this movement, there are a number of national [Italian] factors that also contribute to it. Since 1991 the Italian workers have been swamped by the logic of 'social partnership' put forward by their own organisations. The centre-left government represented the high point of this period. The Prodi government, that came to power as a result of the long wave of the movement against Berlusconi in 1994, very soon shattered all the expectations and hopes of millions of people who had looked to the centre-left. The period of 1996-98 was one of profound shock. With the willing participation of all the main labour movement organisations, almost all the past gains of 20 years of struggle have been rolled back. Between 1996 and 1998, 10% of privatisations worldwide took place in Italy. The 'Treu package' introduced a rapid casualisation of the labour market. The Turco-Napolitano bill led to the expulsion of 90,000 immigrants. The counter-reform of the education system destroyed the already slim right to study, with the allocation of public funds for private sector education. The D'Alema government then completed this process with the armed intervention in the Balkans.
Thus the centre-right coalition was able to win the elections on the basis of disillusionment with the centre-left. Compared to 1996 the "House of Liberties" (Berlusconi's centre-right coalition) did not increase its votes. On the contrary, it lost about a million. But the workers' parties lost even more.
However the last period has not only been marked by the election victory of the right. There have been, and there are, signs of a reawakening of the labour movement: the struggle at Fiat for the new collective agreement and against the sacking of 147 young CFL workers [CFL is a scheme by which young workers are employed on a lower wage and with no guarantee that they will have a permanent contract at the end of the CFL period], the struggle at Zanussi, the struggle at Arneg in Padua, the struggle of the Bologna TIM [mobile phone] temporary workers, and the metalworkers' strike on May 18 with a demonstration of 30,000 workers in Milan alone. We have the good fortune that the list is a long one. On the students front we have seen the struggle at La Sapienza University in Rome, a struggle that did not find the conditions nor the channels to spread, but which represents a qualitative change in the situation after a decade of silence of the university students' movement.
These struggles show the malaise that has accumulated amongst the less well-off layers of society. This malaise has been stifled by the leaders of the left parties and trade union organisations. Thus, just as electricity passes through the cable which offers the least resistance, the Genoa demonstration has become in a short space of time a channel through which thousands of workers, students and unemployed can express their feelings.
The Seattle movement, despite its heterogeneity, is based on a deeply felt conviction: the current system is not compatible with the needs and development of humankind. This has been repeated since Seattle at every international summit, be it the WTO, the European Union or any other international capitalist institution. This is a fundamental starting point, but we cannot stop there. Recently Naomi Klein, considered one of the theoreticians of this movement, took part in a TV programme where South Africa's struggle against the drug multinationals was mentioned. A journalist asked her in a provocative fashion: "But if we abolish patents, the companies will no longer have an interest in carrying out research, since they will no longer have the stimulus of profit. Then how will research take place?" Klein did not have an answer. As we can see the need for a qualitative step forward is posed by the events themselves.
The question we have to pose ourselves is: what is it that we do not accept within this system? What alternative do we propose? How do we take the movement forward after Genoa? The questions are the same throughout the whole movement, but the answers that are put forward are extremely varied.
A whole series of organisations or networks attempt to put forward the following concept: the struggle against the domination of the multinationals must be carried through a mass boycott of their products or brands. This position is justified by the alleged de-industrialisation of the advanced countries where there are only "consumers" left and where there are no longer any workers. But reality is different: the proletariat has increased its numbers not only worldwide, but also in the advanced countries. In the countries of the OECD there were 112 million industrial workers in 1973 and 113 million in 1995, despite the massive "industrial restructuring" which has taken place. And these are not solely the classical industrial workers of the past. In the so-called service sector (which used to be dominated by small scale companies and is now controlled by economic giants), a whole new sector of workers has been created. These have no trade union rights, but they are increasingly starting to get organised and struggling against casualisation and for an improvement in their working conditions. We are referring to the call centres, big supermarkets, fast food outlets, etc.
Those who advocate consumer boycotts assume that an alternative market can be created based on the following points: ethical buying, fair trade, and organic production by small scale producers. But is it possible to achieve even a small reduction of the domination of the multinationals with these methods? We do not think so. The big monopolies dominate the world market because of their low prices and their total control of distribution. But even if it were possible to replace the present market with another market, what would we had achieved? Even within an "alternative market" the same logic that dominates the market today would be reproduced.
The question is not to replace one market by another, but rather to question the very existence of the market.
These kinds of ideas do not fall from the clear blue sky. They have a concrete social basis. The big companies do not only attack the workers. They also make a whole layer of small enterpreneurs go bankrupt. This sector dreams of a return to the past, to a market place which was dominated by small industry and free market competition. The problem is that that market has already developed and has turned precisely into what we have today. The clock of history cannot be turned back 200 years. The capitalist market has developed through the internationalisation of the market, and through the creation of giant companies. The question now is: who should control all this? A handful of capitalists who are only interested in profits or the workers themselves?
Even more utopian are those who advocate the reform of the World Bank, the IMF and so on, or who propose the "democratisation" of these institutions, with an approach which goes from the alleged "realism" of taking one small step at a time, to the return to the Christian duty of charity towards the weak. A typical example of the first approach is the ATTAC association, the organisation which proposes a 0.5% tax on the movement of speculative capital (something which is obviously laudable in itself) and which states in all seriousness that this would somehow be an obstacle to the plans of international financial capital and at the same time a means of fighting against unemployment. Examples of the second approach are the different campaigns to reduce the Third World debt, none of which even dream of tackling the brutal mechanisms which generate the oppression and poverty of the former colonial countries.
Together with these proposals we also have the different networks of "ethical buying" (Rete di Lilliput and others) which appeal to the consciousness of the consumers to buy "clean products", invest in "ethical" banks, and so on.
Some might say that there is no point in rejecting these proposals, because even though they might be limited and partial, at least they point in the right direction. Now, it is obviously true that what pushes thousands of people towards this kind of idea is a spirit of radical criticism of the society we live in. This is certainly not what we are criticising. Rather, we are criticising the utopian character of this ideology, and above all the fact that all those who appeal to the individual consciousness, the actions of individuals, however "illuminated" or critical, are in practice opposed to any perspective of mass collective action, based on the working class.
Thus the only moments of real collective action that would remain would be the protests against summits like the one that is planned in Genoa. We must insist that this cannot be the only perspective facing the movement. Following the summits of the international institutions around the world is a perspective which will lead to the death of the movement as a mass movement, transforming it into a kind of "tour operator" (accessible only to those who have the time and the money to pursue such activities) that follows the "great powers".
A recent opinion poll revealed that 60% of the population thinks it is right to protest against globalisation. This latent sympathy could be transformed into active support for a movement of struggle in the near future. If the 100,000 or 200,000 people who are going to Genoa return home with the conviction that they can "Take Genoa" back to their workplaces or colleges, then this demonstration can become a launching pad for a new large scale wave of social and political conflict. We invite everyone to work towards the perspective of an upturn in the class struggle as a means of breaking the equilibrium of the system and of struggling for the revolutionary transformation of society.
We know well that however big the G8 meeting in Genoa may be, the power of capitalism is not limited to these summits and institutions. A group of 37,000 companies, which control another 200,000 subsidiaries, controls the world market. These 37,000 companies control the decisive levers of the world economy, politics and finance. These are the tools we must control if we want to change the fate of the planet. The only way to control them is to expropriate them and put them under the democratic control and planning of the workers. Workers' democracy where the workers of the world themselves can decide through a plan, and through their own committees, on such questions as how much, what and in which conditions to produce, is the only way of bringing production into harmony with the needs of human kind. This is the meaning of the word Communism for us: democratic control over the means of production by the workers and by the consumers, by society as a whole.
We do not want to go to Genoa to simply petition the "great powers" of the world, to pray them to reduce the suffering of the peoples, nor as a symbolic protest against this society. We are going in order to state a simple truth, and this is that it is we who make the world work, that the workers have created the massive wealth they are deciding about in these summits, and that all over the world the conditions are mature for the working class and the other oppressed sections of society to take this wealth back and use it to the benefit of humankind and its needs.
We are also going to Genoa to state another truth: if this is not achieved, the future that capitalism is preparing is a future of barbarism without end, of arms races, racism, wars and poverty. The development of scientific research in the last years is an indication of the potential for the human race, but also shows us a glimpse of the possible abyss humankind could fall into: uncontrolled genetic modification, private control over all aspects of human, animal and vegetable life, weapons with unthinkable destructive power, etc.
We may be accused of being utopians? But we would reply that the real utopians are those who think they can put an end to all this with appeals to "men and women of good will"?