Anti-globalisation movements: a case of anarchism?


The term globalisation is highly contentious and contested, defined in various ways by scholars and those affected by it. It usually describes important changes occurring to global economic structures and the effect these changes are having on national and global economies, various cultures and politics. Globalisation has its supporters and opponents. Its opponents however been more vocal and have articulated their opposition in more visible, expressive and combative ways. This therefore explains the high visibility of the anti-globalisation movement, also known as the global justice movement with its diversity of participants and different forms of dissent. This movement represents the people’s resistance against the adverse impacts of globalisation underpinned by neo-liberal values (Curran, 2006).


The so-called “anti-globalisation movement” showcases a significant illustration of social conflict and contentious political behavior for the past few decades in history. A growing number of boisterous and well-attended protest events against the neoliberal globalisation these days have provided evidence of the rise of a transnational movement where domestic and internationally-represented protests have developed solidarities and stirred public debate committed to challenging neoliberal policies and institutions (Ayres, 2004).

The various names of the anti globalisation movement

The anti-globalisation has, as mentioned above, several names, some of which may be conflicting or overlapping. The understandings may vary between the traditional leftist, the non-traditional leftist to the innovatory. Some even insist that this is not a movement but a ‘field’ (Aguiton, 2001). Alex Callinicos (2003) from the UK suggests that majority of the anti-globalisation activists are not anti-capitalist. (Callinicos, 2003, pp 14-16.) Christophe Aguiton from France, a leading figure within the World Social Forum (WSF), tentatively identifies three ‘poles’ in the global justice movement - ‘Radical internationalist’, ‘nationalist’, and ‘neo-reformist’. The first overlooks both capitalism and the nation-state, the second is more of a Southern response, and the third is the type of ‘global governance’ tendency which is strongly present within the WSF (Rikkilä and Patomäki 2001).

Starr and Adams from the USA identify significant, ‘modes’ within the anti-globalisation movement: ‘radical reform’, which is state-friendly; ‘people’s globalisation’, related to the WSF; and ‘autonomy’, known for the ecological friendliness and democratic qualities of freely co-operating communities (Waterman, 2003).

Mario Pianta from Italy, divides the responses to neoliberal globalisation into ‘supporters of current arrangements,’ ‘reformists,’ ‘radical critics favouring another globalisation,’ ‘alternatives outside the mainstream’, and ‘nationalist rejectionists’ (Waterman, 2003).

Overview of anti-globalisation movements

The World Social Forum (WSF) has become the most popular forum associated with the recent international wave of protest known as the 'anti-globalisation movement'. The forum is promoted by a group of Brazilian, French and other non-governmental organisations, trade unions and individuals. An informal Forum event, known as the ‘Call of Social Movements’, has been attendedby many WSF participant bodies. (Vargas, 2003)

The term  ‘Global Justice and Solidarity Movement’ (GJ&SM) was proposed by the WSF, for the general wave of protest against corporate-dominated globalisation, and against the US-sponsored neoliberalism/neo-conservatism and war (Cleaver 1998).  Moreover, the movement changes shape, reach, scale, target and aims as per the events. So, sometimes it may be focussed against neoliberal economic globalisation, whereas at other times against the US-led war on Iraq. (Waterman, 2003).

It is easier to categorise the GJ&SM by what it is not than by what it is :

◗“It is not an international labour or socialist movement, though unions and socialists are prominently involved;

◗ It is not a 'transnational advocacy network',(Keck and Sikkink,1998).

 though it is much marked by the presence of international and national NGOs;

◗ It is not a reincarnation of the international protest wave following 1968, though Che Guevara icons are still popular, and it includes other clear echoes of the sixties and seventies;

◗ It is not an anarchist movement, though anarchists, autonomists and libertarians are highly active within it;

◗ It is not a nationalist or thirdworldist movement, though nationalist, third worldist and anti-imperialist forces and notes can be clearly identified within it;

It is, on the other hand, not too difficult to identify a rising number of processes that have provoked this movement. These include:

◗ the increasing predominance, in the international sphere, of multinational corporations and international financial institutions, along with the neoliberal policies that have been imposed on both North and the South

◗ The shrinking of the public sphere and reduction of State social programmes and subsidies;

◗ the feminisation of poverty, the commodification of women (the sex trade), the simultaneous formal endorsement and political denial of women's and sexual rights;

◗ de-industrialisation, unemployment and the informalisation of employment;

◗ the ideology of competitiveness as the court of first and last appeal;

◗ the undermining of market protection (primarily of weaker national economies);

◗ the simultaneous preaching and practical undermining of traditional structures and notions of national sovereignty;

◗ the simultaneous creation of new international institutions and regulations, alongside the marginalisation of the United Nations and such agencies as the International Labour Organisation (ILO);

◗ increasing talk of and the continuing undermining of ecological sustainability; corporate attempts to copyright genetic resources, to genetically modify foodstuffs, to commercialise them and then coerce people into buying them; the continuation and even increase of militarism, militarisation and warfare despite hopes raised by the end of the Cold War;

◗ the increase in globalised epidemics and threats to the climate;

◗ the demonisation of immigrants, asylum-seekers, and of Islam and other 'others’. ' (Waterman, 2003).

But the anti globalisation movement cannot be limited just to major protest events, nor to events that have occurred since 1999. It can also be traced both back and down, at least to the ‘food riots’ that were provoked by the International Monetary Fund in the South of the eighties, during which there were urban protests against the externally-imposed end of food subsidies. Widespread protests against ecologically damaging dam projects, as promoted by the World Bank and other developmentalist local elites, have also been witnessed during the eighties and earlier. For example, there were big demonstrations against the poll tax in the UK in 1990. Moreover, throughout the 1990s, there were myriad protests across the South against the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) (Aguiton, 2001).

A chief example of the US-initiated neoliberalism has been the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has provoked widespread protest in both Canada and Mexico. In Canada, the initial national-protectionist campaign was turned into one of international solidarity, first with Mexico specifically, then with Latin America more generally, thus leading to the formation of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, which also included the USA. In Mexico, the launching date of the NAFTA (January 1, 1994) was used to start the Zapatista movement in the severely globalised, marginalised and exploited state of Chiapas, in the South of Mexico (Zapatista Index website).

The Zapatista movement initially appeared as as a classical armed guerrilla movement started by the discriminated and land-hungry Mayan ethnic communities of Chiapas. It then revealed entirely novel characteristics: an address to the Mexican civil society, a high-profile internationalism, and a better understanding and use of both the mass media and alternative electronic communications. This can be seen in the speeches and writings of the movement’s primary spokesperson, Sub-Commander Marcos (Rafael Guillén) a university-educated non-indigene, who had been trained in guerrilla warfare in Cuba. (Olesen,2005).

There were other major contributors to the new movement, particularly as part of the rising wave of protest against unemployment, privatisation and cuts in social services throughout the nineties, specifically in Europe, noreover, there was an increasing development of ‘counter-expertise’, embedded in international and national NGOs which had been honed at various UN conferences through the 1990s, specially the 1992 World Conference on Environment and Development and the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women. (Abramsky, 2001).

Finally, the social movements of the seventies and the eighties movements can be said for having served as forerunners to the rise of the New Social Movements. The movemenst have expressed ‘identity’ more than ‘interest’ and represented women, indigenous peoples, and sexual minorities. These became noted in the South as well as the North (Alvarez et al.,1998). They also brought to public attention various hidden forms of alienation, and suggested new forms of ‘self-articulation’. These movements also raised issues that the old international ‘interest’ movement had ignored or marginalised (Omvedt, 1993a).

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Objectives of the movement

1. Comprehensive globalisation

Before addressing the objectives of the anti-globalisation movement, it is important to understand whether globalisation refers only to rules governing economic exchange or whether it also includes rules of social and political engagement. Literature on this question suggests that the Anti Globalisation Movement (AGM) clearly shares the latter view. Therefore, it can be labeled as a Comprehensive Globalisation Movement (CGM) (Smith, 2009).

 The CGM requires a holistic definition of globalisation, wherein social and political integration is met alongside economic integration. The various groups within the movement differ in the ...

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