IIRE Global Justice School

28 May 18 June 2005

General introduction

The past two decades have brought major changes in the functioning of the world capitalist system, which pose big theoretical, programmatic, strategic and practical challenges for revolutionary socialists. The long depressive wave that began with the generalized recession of 1974-75 led to a bourgeois offensive, including the rise of neoliberal globalization and Structural Adjustment Programmes since the 1980s. The world capitalist economy and the firms that make it up are in a process of (still open-ended) restructuring, with far-reaching implications for the imperialist bourgeoisies of North America, Western Europe and Japan, the bourgeoisies and elites of dependent countries, and workers and popular movements.

As working-class movements went on the defensive in the late 1970s and '80s, new or resurgent social movements ecological, feminist, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender, indigenous and others raised issues that Marxists had neglected. Rethinking became even more urgent late in the 1990s as the left began to recover from the disorienting collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union and a new activist generation began to emerge, most dramatically since the 1999 Seattle protests and the rise of the Social Forums. But since 11 September 2001, the left's prospects for an upturn have been complicated by a new wave of aggressive US interventions and a flare-up of resistance.

Revolutionary Marxists have barely begun to grasp what all these changes mean for us. The IIRE Global Justice School is meant to help us rearm ourselves theoretically and strategically for the transformed world we are active in. Debates on the left will be presented and discussed in an open, questing spirit. There is time for reporters who have gone deeply into particular themes to share the understanding they have developed, but also and crucially time for all participants to add other pieces to the puzzle. The school is divided into three parts: Globalization, Strategic Challenges, and Alternatives.

In Globalization: The World Transformed we analyze economic, social and geopolitical changes in capitalism. We begin with a discussion of capitalism's economic long waves, the downward wave that began in the early 1970s, its consequences for our societies, and myths and debates around a possible new upward turn. Further reports examine different forms of social recomposition resulting from capitalist restructuring: fragmentation and reorganization of working classes; changes in family structures, the gender dimension of social reproduction and production, gender roles and (in a later, separate report) sexualities; migration accompanied by a rise in ethnic conflicts and racism; and transformations of agriculture and thus of both peasant life and food consumption.

In the second part of the school we turn to Strategic Challenges, global as well as regional, faced by the left. One feature of globalization today is growing inequality among different parts of the world, and crises in one region after another of the dominated four-fifths of the planet. One report examines newly powerful regional and international institutions (EU, IMF, WB, WTO), the changing role of nation-states, and reactions that take the form of nationalism, communalism or other kinds of 'identity politics', while a later report looks at religious fundamentalism as another form of political reaction. Another report examines the apparent omnipotence of US imperialism and the major difficulties it faces in reality: state disintegration, 'asymmetrical warfare' and competing forms of barbarism. Interspersed with these global reports are reports focusing on particular continents: Africa, where these developments raise questions about the role or even practical existence of the state; Latin America, where the contradictions of neoliberalism and spread of social resistance have paradoxically helped throw the political left into crisis; Europe, where the anti-capitalist left is trying to regroup and resist the construction of a potential second superpower; and Asia, destabilized by both the 1997 financial crisis and the aftermath of September 11.

Faced with these challenges, what alternatives do social movements and left parties have to offer? In Alternatives: The Politics of Global Justice we discuss how left responses can begin to point the way towards new anti-capitalist strategies and new visions of a socialist future. Questions raised include: To what extent can the left try to break with neoliberal globalization in one country or region; to what extent is a global alternative now unavoidable? How can we propose to structure world production, trade and finance in fundamentally different ways? What do we make of the new organizational forms in the global justice movement; what issues do they raise about democracy and the role of revolutionary socialists? We conclude with a discussion of the revolutionary left itself, what the revolutionary Marxist and feminist traditions have to contribute to current debates, and particularly the challenge of building an anti-capitalist International.