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Klein opens the window on globalisation

Review by Robert Silver

Naomi Klein’s Fences and Windows, brings together her best news columns and previously unpublished speeches since the anti-capitalist protests of Seattle in 1991.

This collection, which supersedes No Logo, her previous book about the rise of anti-corporate activism, reflects her transition from eyewitness and commentator to active participant. More importantly, her account traces the emergence of attempts to reach for alternatives to the global crisis.

She reveals how discussions and disagreements within and between the movements over objectives and tactics are moving beyond the one-sided negativity of protest. Beyond protest is the question of what comes next. In Klein’s view the future lies in participative democracy.

The fences that surround the global summits became metaphors for an economic model that exiles billions to poverty and exclusion. The windows are about the liberation of democracy, and alternatives to centralised power.

Klein documents the experiences of the movements  - unions in Mexico fighting Nike, Asian farmers resisting GM food, landless peasants in Brazil occupying unused land, South African workers' opposition to economic apartheid, public outrage in Canada against staggering increases in homelessness, cuts in social welfare, unemployment, environmental degradation.

She offers her own views, which – reflecting the views of many of the activists - challenge the dogmas of the failed, outmoded politics of the past.

There is much to be studied and learned from this period of mass protest and direct action. Although the media insisted on the "anti-globalisation" label, the use of communication technologies in some ways made the movement more global than the operations of the corporations themselves.

Many take their lessons from the EZLN – the Zapatistas, who favour inclusive "social movements’" over compartmentalised struggles by workers, warriors, farmers and students; direct action, collective decision-making, decentralised organisation, and avoidance of direct confrontation.

In the study commissioned by the US military from the RAND Corporation the EZLN is studied as a "new mode of conflict – ‘netwar’- in which the protagonists depend on using network forms of organisation, doctrine, strategy and technology".

Klein dissects the criminalisation of dissent, and the ways in which the state capitalises on terror. She recognises the need for a new politics, a new political process, but, reflecting the mass rejection of the capitalist political process, is reluctant to call for a new party - "at least not yet".

On an initiative by ATTAC, the most public face of the anti-globalisation movement in Europe, the first World Social Forum was convened, in March 2001, in Porto Alegre. Hosted by Brazil’s Workers Party, the emphasis was on alternatives coming from the countries experiencing most acutely the negative effects of globalisation: mass migration of people, widening wealth disparities, weakening political power. ATTAC hoped for the "emergence of a common agenda".

The result of the gathering was something much more complicated: as much chaos as cohesion, as much division as unity.

Ironically, since the Forum, but after the book was completed, Lula’s Worker’s Party was resoundingly elected – but shackled by the IMF’s economic conditions.

Klein's book shows that the struggle has to move, and is indeed moving, beyond protests against the transnational corporations, the national governments which kow-tow to capital, and its proliferating multilateral representatives - the WTO, the World Bank, NAFTA, the FTAA.

In the phase now emerging, the movement must and will evolve new political forms. If capitalist globalisation is to be defeated, the movements that fight it will have to achieve unity of purpose in their diversity through a new form of democracy.

However uncomfortable the prospect, and however the current movements’ leaders and activists may twist and turn to avoid conflict, success will mean challenging the capitalists for power - and defeating them. The question of creating the organsiation to lead the fight for power is equally unavoidable.

It's time to open Klein's window and raise our sights to a future not only beyond protest but beyond globalised capitalism too.

Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Globalization Debate by Naomi Klein. Flamingo Paperback £8.99

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