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Building a Global Grassroots Infrastructure-4, Strategy for replacing capitalism
by George Salzman
Email: george.salzman (nospam) umb.edu
Address: Cambridge, Massachusetts
05 Aug 2001
A multipronged strategy for getting rid of global capitalism is proposed, in which building a global grassroots infrastructure plays a key strategic role.
This is N°4 of a series of notes on Building a Global Grassroots Infrastructure. Notes 1, 2, and 3 are on the Global IMC website as articles 30615, 30973, and 51380 respectively. This is a critical time in the current struggle against global capitalism. If this huge broad-based popular movement to change the world is to avoid being terrorized out of existence, as was the even more massive anti-nuclear movement in Europe in the late 1970's, we have to constantly reassess our situation. The fierce repression by the Berlusconi government in Genoa in late July must be seen as the true face of global capitalism, prepared to do 'whatever it takes' to crush us and our aspirations.
I'll start with an excerpt from a note written on May 8.
These are days of massive civil protests against the onslaught of global capitalism. The first of these giant demonstrations was spawned in Seattle at the end of November and the first couple of days in December 1999. The summit meeting of the World Trade Organization at that occasion was completely disrupted by many tens of thousands of protesters from all over the world. Since that spectacular groundbreaking protest event the tempo hasn't lessened. Again and again enormous mobilizations of ordinary citizens demonstrate widespread growing awareness of the danger of global capitalism, and the urgency of stopping its destruction of our world.
Just last month in Quebec a summit conference on the proposed Free Trade of the Americas Agreement was opposed by an even larger demonstration than the one in Seattle. And already I see notices of planning for the upcoming meeting in Washington in November. Clearly, a sign of the times. Very encouraging. But there's a question. Isn't there always!
In the long run, we have to disable capitalism's drive to commodify the whole globe, to exploit every natural 'resource' and every possible pair of working hands. Giant protest demonstrations are enormously effective in waking people up. They show the realities of the social/political structure, the ready use of brutality by nearly every nation-state to prevent free expression of dissident viewpoints by the citizenry. They highlight the use of militarized police forces employing overwhelming physical force. They repeatedly show officials lying, misnaming police terror and rioting as 'justified prevention of violence', the maintenance of law and order. And they show, just as importantly, the spirit and courage of every-day people confronting organized state violence.
In order to disable capitalism's drive to exploit everything, we have to replace capitalism itself. We have to do away with it. We can't expect sweet logic to change the minds of the heads of the World Bank, the Federal Reserve System or others of the richest and most powerful of the capitalist world system. The only way to stop the destruction they and their system are carrying out is to deprive capitalism itself of the wealth and power at its disposal. And that will take more than sweet logic and more than massive demonstrations. Many have said this before. Of course it's true.
We need to build a global grassroots infrastructure, made up of millions of autonomous grassroots groups linked through a global grassroots communication network. We need an infrastructure into which we will gradually (but as rapidly as possible) transfer from corporate control as much material and other resources as we can. We need to build our lives as we want them to become. The bases for this infrastructure already exist to far greater extent than many of us are yet aware.
Every community in the world that is struggling to hold on to or to gain a degree of autonomy over its own internal life is already, whether unknowingly or consciously, one of the bases for the infrastructure. Such a community is the small town of Tanetze de Zaragoza in the northeastern Sierra of Oaxaca State, Mexico.
The above excerpt is from an essay about a local conflict, a conflict which highlights two critical factors: 1) a local grassroots struggle to defend communality, and 2) the effectiveness of grassroots communication networks. The complete essay is at: http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Grassroots/Tanetze/
The circumstances now are of course different from those in the late 1970's.
1) I believe, although I'm not certain about this, that the current struggle is more broadly based, encompassing huge areas of the southern hemisphere.
2) Popular awareness of ecological damage caused by capitalism has grown enormously since then.
3) The existence of a rapidly growing global grassroots communication infrastructure is a totally new development.
Nothing is more vital than wresting away the near-monoply control of sources of information that, to a large extent, governments and corporate media still maintain. Building the communications part of the global grassroots infrastructure is essential. It should be a top priority. Attacks on Independent Media Centers (IMC's) by governments, such as that on the IMC in Genoa, attest to the importance the major forces of capital (the nation-states) place on maintaining their control of information sources.
HOW OUGHT WE PROCEED?
We need to recognize our own strength, both actual and potential. That strength lies not only in the many tens of thousands -- upwards of one or two hundred thousand -- who are able to participate in the massive demonstrations against the agents of global capitalism. It includes, just as importantly, the many many millions of people in all parts of the world who make up a developing grassroots infrastructure. Less visible, less publicized by the corporate media than the 'up-front' demonstrators, the myriad grassroots groups and individuals dedicated to working for improved social conditions make up an enormous base of potential strength.
This vast conglomeration of individuals and grassroots groups is neither structured nor homogeneous. In common is their wish for improved social conditions and their voluntary participation in working towards that end. A few examples of such grassroots efforts are:
The Boston Women's Health Book Collective,
Common Courage Press,
Bikes Not Bombs,
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),
The Lucy Parsons Center,
Citizens' Media Corps,
Food Not Bombs,
The Boston Independent Media Center,
South End Press,
East Timor Action Network,
Native Forest Network,
Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America,
Chiapas Media Project,
MADRE, for the Women and Children,
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
and, to name a few individuals, Alberto Giordano (http://www.narconews.com, the Narco News website), Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky, whose publications and lectures contribute importantly to growing public awareness of the realities that shape our world.
I would venture to guess that in the United States alone there are a hundred thousand or more grassroots groups working to deal with the everyday problems in people's lives, most of which result from the dominant (capitalistic, anti-democratic) structure of the society. And worldwide, with Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, the number probably swells to the order of a million.
I see the massive demonstrations and the grassroots infrastructure as somewhat analogous to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and the network of self-declared autonomous communities in Chiapas. The communities are of course grassroots organizations. They constitute an infrastructure 'in rebellion' against the dominance of their lives by the nation-state. The EZLN (Spanish acronym of the Zapatista Army) captures a great deal of media attention, as do our massive demonstrations. The communities, which are essential for the possibility of long-term success of the Zapatista struggle, receive, by comparison, scant media attention. Similarly, the global collection of grassroots groups and individuals working for social betterment gets little media coverage, but is in my view as necessary for our long-term success in replacing global capitalism as the Chiapas Zapatista base communities in rebellion are for the EZLN's ultimate success.
Many of the grassroots groups in the United States, and I'm sure this is true elsewhere, do not fully comprehend the source of the problems they are trying to address. Many of them do not see capitalism as a flawed system, or, if they do, believe that it can be reformed. But of one thing we can be quite certain: they all want to have a greater degree of control over their own lives. They want more autonomy, more independence, more freedom, more happiness. An essential task for us is that of education, of ourselves and of them. That is why I believe the development of a global grassroots communications network should be a top priority.
I think it would be romantic, and probably fatal to our aspirations if we relied only on massive demonstrations against global capitalism, and failed to build simultaneously a new kind of 'community', that is, a real, conscious, geographically dispersed grassroots infrastructure. It seems to me that in order to succeed, it will be necessary to continue a vast number of efforts, which can be roughly grouped as follows:
1) massive demonstrations and/or other actions that publicize the widespread condemnation of global capitalism;
2) development of an in-depth global grassroots communications infrastructure;
3) development of the other parts of a global grassroots infrastructure, and the transfer to it, to the greatest extent possible, of resources of all kinds, removing them from corporate and governmental control and thereby 'hollowing out' the dominant structures.
In a subsequent note in this series, Building a Global Grassroots Infrastructure, I will give the reasons why I think all three kinds of efforts are needed for our ultimate success.