We would like to thank Ellen Meiksins Wood and Michael Yates for their help at different stages in the development of this special issue. Ellen proposed the idea of having such an issue this summer, initiated it, and started the ball rolling by sending invitations defining the issue to the bulk of the contributors included here. Michael worked mightly, editing manuscripts and helping bring the project to fruition. We owe a debt of gratitude to them both.
These are rapidly becoming extraordinary times. One of us has had the privilege of lecturing at nearly three dozen campuses over the past two years, and we can report that there is a vibrant and exciting new, anticapitalist, student left emerging. It is a sophisticated left with strong links to antiracist, labor, environmental, and feminist movements. The change from only four or five years ago is palpable. And we are not talking just about the Madisons and the Berkeleys, but also the University of Dayton and Northern Illinois University. Community colleges and even high schools are establishing antisweatshop groups. How far this left will go is very much up in the air, so we at Monthly Review are doing everything we can to fan the flames.
It is amazing what getting off your duff and into the street can do for your morale, especially when you are joined by twenty or thirty thousand like-minded people. You also get a very clear idea about how power operates in an inegalitarian society. In the early 1990s, shortly before his death, the great Ernest Mandel spoke at a U.S. conference on Marxism and was appalled by the defeatism and demoralization he witnessed on the left. “All the working class needs is one victory,” he told the audience, “and the blood will return to its veins.”
Seattle may well have been that victory and, if it wasn’t, it will surely come sooner rather than later. The blood is returning to our veins. The main event so far in 2000 has been the Washington, DC, demonstrations in April. Here is some of what we saw that has not received much media attention.
In the days before the April actions in DC, the police (backed by the U.S. marshals’ brutality and secret service agents’ disregard for the Constitution), made hundreds of pre-emptive arrests. Activists with a puppet in the backseat of their car were pulled over and had their vehicle searched; others were charged with possessing “instrumentalities of crime” (chicken wire and duct tape); hundreds of people (including at least one journalist and folks on their way home from work) were suddenly surrounded and arrested on Saturday, April 15, and held for up to thirty hours; planning meetings were infiltrated; the convergence center was raided and closed down by the Fire Department (and cops with their badges covered) for alleged fire-code violations; and members of the all-volunteer Midnight Special Law Collective were harassed and intimidated in public and private. This was all done in an attempt to keep people off the streets on the days of mass action and to manufacture fear about the danger the activists posed.
The brutality of the police and, especially, the U.S. marshals has also been downplayed in all of the self-congratulatory rhetoric about “restraint” and the protests being “a win for both sides.” During the protests and in the days following, protesters were pepper-sprayed, teargassed, threatened, and beaten bloody on buses and in jail cells. A man who went limp as he was arrested had his finger intentionally broken by his arresting officer. U.S. marshals took thirty men into the basement of the DC jail, threatened them, and hit anyone who tried to look up in the face with a baton. Over and over, protesters heard “there are no cameras here.”
The protests, which forced finance ministers to sneak into IMF and World Bank meetings at four o’ clock in the morning and caused the police to shut the city down, were effective. And we had conversations with taxi drivers, deli owners, and waiters (many from countries suffering under structural adjustment programs), who encouraged us and considered the struggle their own. New and personal alliances were built between the global North and global South.
The media coverage of the events in Washington tended to be atrocious. There were occasional good reports, but they were generally drowned in the sea of corporate media enthusiasm for the status quo. The corporate news media are the property of firms that rank among the foremost beneficiaries of the global neoliberal capitalist regime—and their main advertisers tend to be global players as well—so it is hardly in their interest to promote discussion and understanding of its possible defects. Moreover, the commercial news media have increasingly been pitched to the middle and upper classes over the past two decades and business news has been morphed with “regular” news to the point that the two are nearly indistinguishable. As reactionary as the U.S. press was fifty years ago, it still had hundreds of full-time labor-beat reporters on daily newspapers. Today those positions no longer exist, and the working class has disappeared from the pages of newspapers. Instead, all the main sources journalists look to for stories on economics tend to be stridently in favor of neoliberal globalization.
One of the heartening developments in Washington was the further evolution of independent media (that began in Seattle in 1999) to provide coverage of that which the corporate media ignore or distort. Currently, this coverage only reaches a fraction of the population, so it is imperative for the movement to struggle to extend and deepen the role of nonprofit, noncommercial media in our society. Monthly Review and the other left periodicals have much to contribute as well. At MR, we see our role as explaining how the world economy works in plain language and illustrating that we can only understand how social problems are interconnected by understanding the nature of capitalism. In our view, the evidence is overwhelming that any humane and democratic solution to these problems ultimately will necessitate eliminating capitalism, the basic cause of the economic, social, and environmental problems of our era.
Young organizations are reflecting on the past few months and making decisions about the future. In New York, for example, the Direct Action Network (DAN) has been negotiating the global/local question (deciding how to connect its anticorporate, global-justice focus to pressing local and national issues like police brutality and the prison-industrial complex); discussing its role in the conventions, given many people’s utter lack of faith in electoral politics; and figuring out how to root out internal racism. As we said, these are becoming extraordinary times. We will be paying attention as this new movement develops, so stay tuned.
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