The war in Ukraine and the challenges of the Western alter-globalization movements

, by  Ronald Cameron

Since February, the war in Ukraine has been spilling a lot of ink and, unfortunately, a lot of blood. Images from Ukraine are constantly circulating in the media and on social networks. The left is no exception. Opinion pieces are numerous, often repeating themselves and sometimes answering each other. Notably, left-wing supporters in Eastern Europe have published several open letters and appeals to the Western left to stand together against Russian imperialism. On the eve of a new edition of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Mexico City from May 1 to 6, what is the future of alterglobalism and the movements that have supported it? As an anti-systemic movement, we must first recognize that it has developed outside of countries under the influence of the USSR and that these calls equally challenge it.

We will not be able to review all the points of view expressed on the different dimensions of dialogue between the left on the planet. However, we want to question the alterglobalist perspective and identify the impact of this conflict on the main concerns of this movement. As Pierre Khalfa mentions, alterglobalist social and political movements must "at the same time, avoid binary simplism, the ineffectiveness of simple proclamations of abstract principles and opportunism in the name of realism."

Is another world possible?

The alterglobalist approach came out to propose "another world" in the middle of the decade following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Western elites seized this event to celebrate their victory against "socialism." At the time, the protest against neoliberal globalization challenged the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank, free trade agreements, and, in 2011 in particular, growing inequality through the Occupy movement. The alterglobalist approach has thus developed in opposition to the globalist project of Western capital, instrumentalizing and subjecting the "Global South" to its policies. The leitmotiv of the world social forums: "another world is possible" as a systemic alternative.

Indeed, the "other world" desired by the alterglobalists was also different from the model of socialism that had just collapsed. The alterglobalist perspective is a more democratic, participatory society concerned with social needs and aspirations. A laborious work of inventory of the popular imagination was on the agenda to nourish a project from the popular experiences on the common good. For many, it was a question of re-founding the original idea of socialism as an egalitarian society.

The alterglobalist proposal is defined as anti-systemic to triumphant capitalism. The Eastern bloc collapse confirmed the disappearance of the threat that the socialist project exerted as an alternative to capitalism at the beginning of the last century. Of course, the revolutionary project of the time had long since ceased to shake the Western ruling classes. However, faced with the historical significance of the events, Western capital did not fail to seize upon the collapse of the socialist bloc as its victory to roll back the threat of social transformation, proclaiming "the end of history" with the end of the Cold War.

The alter globalist movement defined itself mainly as opposition to neoliberal globalization, despite the hope of expressing an alternative globalist project based on solidarity. Most currents of the Western left have claimed to alterglobalism as an anti-systemic movement and have prioritized the struggle against this neoliberal globalization. In the global South, this idea was heard, especially in Latin America. However, this was less the case in Eastern Europe. The possible New World did not appear as an answer to the one desired by the populations of Eastern Europe, caught between regimes with stifled freedoms and the lure of the liberal society that promised endless growth!

The appeal of the post-Soviet left

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine is a brutal reminder to the Western alterglobalist left of the need to review its strategic references. In other words, these events force it to question its posture to consider all the realities of the international situation. From this perspective, it is essential to hear the call of the "post-Soviet" left from the generation that did not experience the Cold War and grew up after the collapse of the Soviet regimes in Western Europe.

Several appeals are circulating in the West. Many of the open letters came from Ukraine for obvious reasons. These are correspondences from left-wing movements that oppose their ruling classes, which are dominated by those who rule in Russia. In Ukraine, some of the most prominent columnists on the Commons site have published appeals targeting mainly that fraction of the "Western Left," which is only concerned with fighting US supremacy on the planet. American imperialism is undoubtedly the first imperialist power of Western capitalism, but it is not the same that dominated the earth during the Cold War.

The calls of the post-Soviet left ask the Western left to unhook from the idea that US hegemonism still shapes the world. They tell us to take note of the "decline of the American empire": the United States "can no longer impose its norms through military power, and its economic influence is diminishing." They criticize the Western left, which sees the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine as the result of "NATO’s aggression in Ukraine" for being "incapable of seeing Russian aggression."

What internationalism in the face of the war in Ukraine?

The Western left, including the anti-globalization movements, must hear the call of the young post-Soviet left. Is it blind to the "imperialist tiger"? It certainly has blind spots. However, disavowing the Russian aggression against Ukraine, calling for an end to these hostilities, and affirming a willingness to respect the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people are essential considerations for any position of international solidarity and internationalism in today’s changing world. The principle that people cannot be free if it oppresses another is a foundation of the alterglobalism perspective.

Moreover, it is not a question of being blind to the role of NATO. It is the armed wing of the Western imperialist bloc, which aims to make a contemporary capitalist economic model hegemonic. Like MacArthur, however, one must ask why it was not dismantled in the 1990s when the Cold War ended. The very fact that this alliance continues to exist demonstrates the ambition of the Western bloc to protect and even strengthen its will to hegemony on the planet. On the other hand, it is also important to remember the crimes of the West. However, to claim to explain the war in Ukraine by the action of NATO is wrong. It is a refusal to consider the new realities of a world marked by the recomposition of the global hegemonic system.

The Western Left must move away from the idea that NATO is the primary cause of Russian aggression. A genuinely global vision must consider the confrontation of power blocs of variable geometry but interdependent. The campism of the Western left, which reduces the complexity of the situation to the opposition to its only Western ruling class, empties the humanist and pacifist charge of international solidarity and internationalism. During the cold war, it took the form of the blind defense of the homeland of socialism! Today, it refuses to consider the monsters resurfacing from the turning points of history.

The relevance of alterglobalism

Alter globalism remains a perspective still relevant for the Western left, as evidenced by the revival of the slogan "Another world is possible" as one of those put forward at the end of Jean-Luc Mélanchon’s campaign in France. Nevertheless, the movements, which pursue the alter globalist struggle in action, are not necessarily in the more formal meetings like the World Social Forum. However, they often organize anti-systemic resistance to respond to the new realities of political and social issues.

For example, the World March movement may no longer have the same resonance, but it still shines. And Feminist movements are unfolding differently and keeping up the pressure against violence against women since Me Too. Anti-racist and decolonial movements are growing stronger in most Western countries, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. The war in Europe has pushed the European left to organize transnationally in the European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine and against the war. 

Furthermore, following the opposition demonstrations at COP 26, mobilizations are resuming with the lifting of sanitary measures. The international network Glasgow Agreement / Peoples Climate Commitment has launched a new Occupy for Climate movement. It calls for global youth to establish "End Fossil Now-Occupy for Climate" activities to occupy colleges and universities this fall to demand an end to fossil fuels. In doing so, it joins the revival of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for the Future movement. 

The 2022 Mexican meeting

Nevertheless, the traditional alterglobalist meetings are not at the end of their rope. Although many Mexican networks are in a facilitation committee, there is not the same rallying that we saw in Montreal and the WSF. Some sectors still refuse to participate, including the Zapatista movement in Yucatan. Internal divisions within the WSF International Council about the WSF future are adding to the obstacles created by the pandemic, especially in terms of international travel, which are contributing to a reduction in interest in participating in WSF 2022. 

To remedy this, the World Social Forum organization doesn’t need to transform itself into the headquarters of social movements to support the actuality of alterglobalism. Based on one of the pillar movements of the WSF, that of popular education, and Paulo Freire, the work of political education in a perspective of awareness and mobilization action is essential to demonstrate the relevance of alterglobalism.

Yes, "another world is possible and necessary." To demonstrate this and make its anti-systemic project credible, the social movements, and more broadly the alter globalist movement, must respond to the calls of the post-Soviet left to form a block with it. The basis of this commitment is pacifism and the development of a democratic vision opposed to Russian imperialism. It is up to us to demonstrate the limits of Western liberal democracy.