Globalisation from below?

Around the web - Phil Hamilton reviews the website of Attac

It is fair to say that Attac’s central involvement in the European Social Forum process has forced its campaign for the introduction of a Tobin tax onto the left’s agenda across the continent. As yet, its influence in Britain is pretty marginal, but this could change as greater left unity is forged in the run-up to next year’s Euro-elections and London ESF.

Moving beyond the flashy introduction on Attac’s international website, we are greeted with a screen conveying a better impression than the ESF’s effort. Tucked at the side beneath the welcome and a choice of five languages (German, French, Spanish and Italian, as well as English) is Attac’s brief mission statement. Having set out its aim of an “international movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions”, it moves on to discuss how it is a pluralist and non-hierarchical organisation with nods toward “enrichment” and refusal to make binding decisions that affect the group as a whole. This may well suit the needs of Attac as a protest movement, but can mean a recipe for unaccountability - as the behaviour of its activists in mobilising the ESF has shown.

Scrolling from top to bottom, the page heads off with a panel of photos invoking images of protest, poverty, development and farming. Underneath are links to the four English-language sites - Australia, Britain, Ireland, and Jersey (presumably this has something to do with its status as a tax haven), and a link to a page of enfranchised websites. Also included on that page is an extended founding statement offering more semi-anarchist soundbites. Back on the main site, the next feature advertises a couple of international mailing lists maintained by Attac. The first is for the periodic press releases it puts out, and the second for its newsletter Sand in the wheels, which can be sampled in archives stretching back to 1999.

There are a few other items dotted around the website. The most important of these is the ‘Referring to the platform’ hyperlink that crops up at intervals. This is the official movement platform, describing how free-ranging capital has become an anti-democratic threat, leaving economic devastation and underdevelopment in its wake. It suggests how the Tobin tax on speculative transactions would be collected and redistributed to the world’s poor, and act as an impetus for resistance and the reclaiming of politics by ‘the people’. Despite the problems with Attac’s position, this does represent an attempt at thinking through a ‘globalisation from below’, and is in advance on the plodding calls made by much of the left for a return to the safe days of national reformist strategies (unfortunately, too much socialist opposition to the EU is couched in the rusty language of anti-globalisation).

The other international site maintained by Attac (http://www.attac.info) is, as the URL suggests, dedicated to information. It opens with an apology for the failure of this site to cover last week’s ESF. Unspecified “logistic and political” reasons are to blame, apparently. Still, comrades can instead immerse themselves in reports from the G8 meeting at Evian, January’s World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre, and the previous ESF at Florence (but be warned: relatively few documents are in English). Why the functions of this site cannot be subsumed into the other is beyond me.

The internet home of Attac Britain (http://www.attac.org.uk/attac) does not measure up well to its international relative, at least on first glance. Yet here the no-frills approach has the virtue of allowing the information to be plainly set out. The ‘About Attac’ page is a handy guide to what the movement is about, its origins in Britain, the movement’s structures and a list of existing branches. The ‘Library’ is a nice touch too, containing an archive of documents on finance, militarism, civil society and Attac itself. In all an interesting collection, which I hope will be the basis for a more complete resource.

Also worthy of note is a news item posted on November 17 by Matti Kohonen, a comrade active in London Attac. He reports on his experiences of the ESF, reviews coverage of it in the mainstream and left press, and argues for the planning of the 2004 ESF in London to be opened up. If it “looks like a party conference … or a Hyde Park rally, then it will be dismissed as nothing new, uninteresting and a dead end for both social movements and transformative political thinking.”

Quite right. SWP and friends, take note.