Globalise Resistance and the politics of manipulation

Ian Donovan looks at this strange front of the Socialist Workers Party

Globalise Resistance is a smallish organisation, initially based in Britain, though with imitators abroad. It acts as part of the broad protest movement that has erupted against ‘corporate power’ and ‘globalisation’, especially since the demonstrations against the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999.

The Seattle demonstrations, which gave birth to a new and often militant, but diffuse and somewhat incoherent leftwing movement against the consequences of globalisation. It united trade unionists and NGOs campaigning against the impoverishment of the underdeveloped world by neoliberalism with a new generation of radicalised, often anarchist-influenced youth. Seattle also provided the ruling class of the advanced capitalist counties, which for years had been trumpeting its ‘triumph’ over so-called ‘communism’, with something of a salutary shock: new generations were beginning to embrace a project that pointed, however hesitantly, beyond capitalism towards the struggle for a better society.

Globalise Resistance is a product of an attempt by the largest organisation of the British left, the Socialist Workers Party, to make an impact in this new movement. The written material put out by GR incorporates many of the classic themes of the anti-globalisation movement. The fight against sweatshop labour around the world, especially that employed by transnational monopolies. The struggles of the Zapatistas in Mexico’s Chiapas region. Generally admirable materials opposing privatisation and cuts, exposing the role of drugs companies in Africa in allowing millions of Aids victims to face death because of the high price of drugs under production for profit. Material on Enron, the US energy monopoly that collapsed in 2001 amid deep corruption and faked balance sheets. All that, as far as it goes, no socialist could really have any argument with.

Globalise Resistance’s statement of purpose reads like a calendar of pure anti-globalisation activism, with nothing to say about the subject in hand - what GR stands for. The nearest thing to what its adherents actually collectively believe is the statement that the “policies” of neoliberalism, privatisation, etc “don’t work”.       

Although GR concentrates on highlighting the injustices and atrocities committed by globalised capitalism in the course of its daily operations, it also hints at solutions to this. For instance, under the banner of ‘Solidarity with the Bolivian resistance’, its website has recently been updated with a number of quite useful items, albeit almost completely factual and lacking political generalisation, about the recent working class-led upsurge that toppled the former brutal, pro-US, neoliberal austerity regime. There are a number of eye-witness and contemporary press accounts of these events. Such coverage, along with other links and fragmentary material on things like asylum-seekers/refugees (implicitly supporting the wider - and correct - SWP policy on opposing all immigration controls), points to socialist solutions to many of the burning issues that animate the anti-globalisation movement.

It is worth noting, however, that the solution really does go no further than hints. Explicit socialist propaganda or advocacy of working class power is virtually impossible to find on GR’s website (or in its bulletins). The most you can find are pointers in the links section to the SWP, Socialist Alliance or Workers Power websites (Workers Power is another, much smaller revolutionary socialist organisation in Britain that also has some people involved in Globalise Resistance).

The problem lies in the way GR is conceived, its own guiding ethos in fact. By its very nature it cannot even begin to offer any solutions to the problems it identifies.

It knows what it is against (broadly speaking); however, it offers nothing at all about what should be done about them in a programmatic sense (apart from organising more and more endless protests, that is). This is a weakness that is of course shared by a large part of the anti-globalisation movement itself. In the case of the ordinary activists, whether influenced by anarchism/spontaneism or other forms of diffuse radical sentiment, this is a political weakness that could potentially be overcome, though the acquisition of political experience, a deepening of thought growing out of such experience, etc.

An obstacle to this is the hostility to ‘parties’ that pervades the spontaneist anarcho-left milieu which makes up much of the constituency appealed to by GR. However, surely the job of a socialist grouping that seeks to immerse itself in the struggle of a budding anti-capitalist movement is to fight against this kind of anti-political sentiment.

It has to be said that Globalise Resistance does not appear to do anything of the sort. Rather than engage in agitation and polemic against anarcho-spontan-eism, while seeking to apply the Marxist tactic of the united front to those engaged in such struggles (providing genuine assistance with concrete progressive tasks undertaken by the movement, while maintaining and advocating one’s own distinctively socialist/communist standpoint), GR goes along with the spontaneism for the most part.

Indeed, SWPers involved in this often manage to unconsciously parody the anarcho-types themselves. Such silliness as middle-aged SWP cadres (and to some extent Workers Power too), bobbing up and down brandishing placards declaring ‘F**k capitalism’ must really only provoke ridicule. Such daring radicalism - they do not even dare to spell out the word ‘fuck’. The more knowledgeable anarcho-youth snigger, privately or more crudely in public, at these antics. But this kind of accommodation to a new épater le bourgeois, shock-your-parents ethos really does not advance the socialist cause one iota.

A simple search on the GR website is illustrative. Tap in the word ‘socialism’ and you will get precisely one result returned - a reference to SWP leader Lindsey German as the author of the book Sex, class and socialism. Search for ‘socialist’ and you get around a couple of dozen entries, referring exclusively to the affiliations of members of this or that organisation. You will search in vain for any written material advocating socialism as a solution to the problems of globalised capitalism.

GR does openly advocate socialist ideas in the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements because that is not its purpose. If sections of these movements were won to socialist ideas, they would also inevitably generate insights of their own, based on their own experience, of how to fight for socialism, which would not necessarily match up with the operational methods of the SWP. That is why Globalise Resistance must be kept as just an SWP front, conceived of as yet another transmission belt for the best anti-globalisation activists into ‘the party’. The ‘best’ being those who are susceptible to being absorbed into an organisation that has many of the worst features of a sterile sect. Indeed, rather than fighting in an open political manner for socialist ideas among the anarcho-spontaneists, GR has generally specialised in trying to outdo them in their own methods using the SWP’s political machine.

The GR Steering Group contains 16 independents, 10 SWP members, and one lone member of Workers Power. Thus, as with the SWP’s other ‘united fronts’, it does not have a formal majority on the leading body of the organisation. Invariably, because the SWP has the organisational muscle to sustain a grouping like GR, which otherwise would be unlikely to have the wherewithal or political purpose to survive, in practice such organisations tend to develop a layer of ‘independents’ that in reality act as political slaves of the SWP.

Indeed, once again, the exclusion of explicitly socialist ideas and views from the formal ideology of GR is instrumental in this regard. The same division is maintained: socialism (or rather a highly regimented parody of socialist organisation) is reserved for the SWP sect; essentially mindless activism is the lot of the ordinary GR membership.

In practice, however, the membership of GR is tiny, around 200 and far less than that of the SWP. Despite the SWP’s evident ambitions to use GR as a tool to manipulate the healthier sections of the anti-globalisation/anti-capitalist milieux and draw them into its cynical sect ethos, in reality this kind of frontist practice only repels and alienates the best elements and, if anything, acts as a barrier to the emergence of socialist consciousness among them. As usual, such get-rich-quick schemes defeat the very intentions of those who set them up.