Report on IIRE Fellows’ Seminar (« Les éducateurs s’éduquent »)

Amsterdam, 12-13 July 2003


The discussions we had among ten fellows of the school on the weekend of 12-13 July were, we all agreed, far too short, a bare beginning to the discussions we need to have in order to renew and improve the school’s programme. Nevertheless, they were far too rich to summarize in a brief report. This report makes no claim to be comprehensive. Rather, it has three main goals:

This report is in English, since this is the language Susan and Peter write in most quickly and easily. But much of the discussion before and at the seminar was in French, and the discussion should continue in both languages. Please don’t hesitate to intervene at length in either language! And please send your reactions to the full list of recipients for this report.

The questions for discussion that were proposed in late March did not always have a clear relation to the discussions that actually took place. This report sums up the debates that took place in Amsterdam under seven headings (without holding strictly to the order in which things were said):

A. Economics of globalization

1. Limits to globalization?

2. Anti-neoliberal strategies

3. Globalization and social recomposition

B. Politics in the epoch of globalization

4. A different conception of democracy?

5. Beyond the nation-state?

6. Redefining our political identity

C. Pedagogy

7. Transforming the school

1. Limits to globalization?

Bruno introduced the theme of the economics of globalization, beginning with a summary of the most notable trends: rapid growth of world trade, internationalization of finance and investment (mainly still within the core capitalist countries), increasing role and concentration of multinationals, dominance of the financial sector (though all our comrades seem to agree that there are limits to the autonomy of finance). He stressed the heterogeneity of the process, mentioning Italy and Austria as two countries that are still very closed to foreign investment. He raised the question of whether the process of internationalization and concentration of capital will continue until there are only 1, 2 or 3 companies dominating any given sector of the economy (given that the US, EU and Japan will presumably each insist on having a multinational “of its own” in key markets). All our comrades seem to agree on a sort of middle position on the scope of today’s globalization: no one argues that there is nothing new as compared with earlier periods of internationalization (e.g. 1896-1914); no one argues that globalization is a completed process that has made national markets and states irrelevant.

In any event, Bruno suggested, there is a limit to the international unification of markets set by national differences in consumer tastes. Everyone agrees that no multinational today is truly “footloose”, truly autonomous of any single national market. Bruno’s own research on the auto industry for example shows that only one auto multinational (Honda) sells less than 50% of its production in its home region, that US multinationals like GM and Ford still have at least two-thirds of their production located in the US, etc. with the implications this has relative to the globalization of labour. Others questioned whether any strictly economic limit to globalization (as opposed to limits set by social and political struggles) really exists. Claude (Gabriel) argued that most of the major markets in the imperialist countries are saturated, so that the only way to increase profitability is to cut costs, in particular through international economies of scale, as well as seek now market. In a whole series of markets (high-speed trains, pharmaceuticals, etc.) the only market on which research and development costs can be recouped is the world market. In many cases consumer tastes (e.g. the demand for artificial sweeteners instead of natural sugar) are created by corporate strategies rather than vice versa; McDonald’s provides evidence that global multinationals can take account of local variations without much difficulty. Peter cited Robert Went’s argument that the current wave of globalization goes beyond any previous one inasmuch as all three circuits of capital – not only trading capital and finance capital but also productive capital – are being internationalized. Susan raised the issue of the expansion of the transnational production being based on the use of women workers because of gender based wage differentials, thus driving down the cost of the reproduction of labour power. Thus the new globalization cannot be understood without looking at the gender issue.

2. Anti-neoliberal strategies

Bruno introduced one debate that we have with prominent figures in the global justice movement like Walden Bello and Martin Khorr, who advocate strategies of “de-globalization”.  Their arguments are that the nation-state is still the privileged site for democracy, so that a strategy for economic democracy has to be nationally based and require a high degree of national economic self-sufficiency; and that diversity is a good in itself, so that more uniformity across the world is necessarily a bad thing. Bruno criticized these arguments as being blind to class and gender dynamics, treating national “communities” as monolithic, and exaggerating the progressive character of the nation state; to this extent all seminar participants seemed to agree. But when Bruno argued against the demand to open imperialist countries’ markets to dependent countries’ products (e.g. agricultural), that raised some doubts. Peter asked whether it is possible to reject the orientation of “everything for export” and at the same time defend the perspective that e.g. Michel Husson has put forward of “asymmetrical protectionism,” defending dependent countries’ protectionist measures while rejecting imperialist countries’ protectionism.

This debate may be related to other strategic disagreements that surfaced at the seminar. Buster for example dismissed the vision of returning to small farm production as flatly reactionary; Pierre emphatically disagreed. Livio argued that the perspective of some kind of neo-Keynesian exit from the crisis is ruled out; it is not clear that everyone agrees.

3. Globalization and social recomposition

Claude introduced a discussion of how changes in capitalist production and corporate restructuring have drastically changed the face of the working class. Corporate restructuring has led to a process of industrial deconcentration and segmentation of the proletariat, with workers in different categories and regions having increasingly different situations and even to some extent different interests. New forms of bureaucracy play a crucial role in our societies today. This raised questions in some participants’ minds – beyond our already existing consensus (formulated by Stephanie Coontz) that class is not the only “moving contradiction” (« contradiction motrice ») in patriarchal capitalism - of whether or in what sense the working class can still be considered the central subject of social transformation today (this discussion took place mainly by email before the seminar). Penny raised the distinction that socialist feminists have always made: the autonomy of e.g. the women’s movement from class and political organizations does not mean its autonomy from class struggle. Susan stressed how important it is to see the gendered nature of work and class; for example, women entering paid labour have a different impact on households and consumption than male entry. Women workers have played a distinctive role in neoliberal globalization; Penny pointed out that casualization of labour began with women. Susan also stressed the importance of violence against women and the development of the sex trade.

Clearly there is no unifying identity common to all the subjects joining in the “movement of movements” today. Pierre drew the conclusion that it makes more sense now to talk about « luttes citoyennes » and « le peuple rassemblé » than about class and gender contradictions alone. Others asked whether a new unifying identity could still emerge, and if so how and what form it could take. Livio mentioned for example Rifondazione’s call for a “new workers’ movement”.

4. A different conception of democracy for organizing the movements?

Pierre defended the global justice movement against charges that it is undemocratic.  Our conception of democracy is too much based on the old “representative pyramid,” he said, or on a juxtaposition of the old representative pyramid to an old model of direct democracy.  Networking meets a need of the constantly expanding and shifting movements today that neither the representative pyramid nor simple direct participation ever could. Efficiency is not the central issue here; inclusion is, so as to sustain the dynamic of the movement. Even “network” is an inaccurate concept as networks are usually composed of equals while the global justice movement is made of radically different components from individuals to mass organizations.

What then is the role of the party in all this (Pierre asked)? Our organizations have tended to be invisible networks, except at election time (a particular problem for sections that no longer fight elections); we need to see that political organizations also embody the choices that movements need to make. This does not mean that the party is the privileged place where programme is developed (for those of us who came from feminist or lesbian/gay movements this was always clear). Penny said that there is no hierarchical relationship between party and social movements, but the party consciously strives to develop a programme that defends the interests of the majority of society. Peter said that any existing party is always at best an approximation of the vanguard in the movements; it is the broader vanguard that needs to provide programmatic answers at each moment before, during and after a revolutionary crisis. In that sense he rejected the old vision that Claude mentioned, of the party as the « clé de voûte de la prise du pouvoir ». Livio stressed the importance of the lesson Rifondazione has learned, that the party must not try to manipulate the movements. Vincent asked how we define the utility of a party: there is a tension between mere propagandism on the one hand, and degenerating into the movements’ (more or less left-wing) bureaucrats on the other. Josep Maria asked how it is that our deepest debates (like this one) are often external to the movements, and how we can change this. Pierre raised the problem that the new movements have no strategic horizon.

5. Beyond the nation-state?

Buster laid out the conscious programme defined in the World Economic Forum (Davos) and carried out for years now to change the character of the state from redistributive to neoliberal. The state bureaucracy plays a key role in the neoliberal project and in circumventing representative democracy; but the nation-state was shaped by the international context of other nation-states (after 1945 the UN and Bretton Woods institutions), and is now being reshaped by the new international context of regional blocs, new international institutions (like the WTO), and unilateral US hegemony. The European Union for example is now writing the neoliberal character of the state into its constitution. In response (said Buster) we need to reshape our own conception of the role of the state, for example defending the idea of multicultural and feminized citizenship. We need a conception of “socialist international governance”, including for example priorities for redistribution, democratization and environmental defence and our own perspective on problems like “failed states”. Some participants were not enthusiastic about the term “governance”, which Pierre said lacked any legitimacy. Claude said self-organization has to be central to our alternative; it is the only answer to the neoliberal “society of risks”. Bruno responded that self-organization is never permanent and Buster added that, alongside self-organization, permanent administrative instruments and a set of rules, processes and sanctions are also necessary. Susan stressed the importance of “prefigurative” experiences.

6. Redefining our political identity

Peter defined a series of challenges that we face as revolutionary Marxists, particularly in light of experiences like the argentinazo and Lula’s presidency: to make an idea of politics credible to people that would be fundamentally different from the failed or inadequate politics of reformism, vanguardism and anti-politics (e.g. the Zapatistas), and could thus relegitimize left politics in the eyes of masses of activists who are sceptical or disgusted. In response to Pierre’s argument that the neoliberal state order lacks the capacity to manage resistance movements and therefore cannot possibly survive, Peter cited a whole list of mechanisms at the neoliberal state’s disposal for defusing resistance, as described by Claudio Katz in Argentina in the past two years: co-optation through subsidies, marketing, polarizing the population along ethnic, communal or traditional political lines, manipulating the rules of the political game, and outright fraud. We need (in response to anarchists and the Zapatistas) to insist on the continued necessity of developing medium-term political alternatives and not abandoning the political terrain, Peter argued, while distinguishing our own kind of politics more clearly and explicitly from the kind of failed reformism represented today by Lula (and potentially by other broad regroupments we take part in?) and the kind of self-proclamatory vanguards represented by the Argentine sectarian Trotskyist organizations, British SWP and LO – Penny said that parties like the SWP and LO should not be caricatured as merely propagandist or as “marketing operations”. Peter cited the Besancenot campaign in France as an example of the importance of our public profile in defining our politics and our orientation to building the broader movements, but said we need to do far more with our gender profile, ethnic profile, etc.

The evolution of the Brazilian PT should not surprise us, Claude said; ten years ago the South African ANC was also co-opted by the neoliberal state inside six months. Nor should we underestimate the crisis of politics: look at the immigrants in the Paris suburbs who have literally nothing to say about any issue. Penny commented that fundamentalism is sometimes the only visible alternative in these communities, given that the old “labour lieutenants of capital” no longer play anything like the role they used to in our societies. Pierre said that in a country like France there is a real crisis of the regime, if not of the state as such, reflecting the depth of the social crisis. He suggested that the PT was vulnerable to pressures in a way that no other party we work in is, simply because of the scale of Brazil and of the party; and our own organizations are in any event protected by the very strict rules we have about full timers’ wages and so forth. Peter stressed that he was not talking about betrayals or individual corruption of our own comrades, nor did he want to caricature other far left currents. But the very depth of the social crisis can make politics incredibly volatile, he said, with far right and far left forces capable of making big gains very quickly. This gives us a particularly big responsibility to be as prepared as possible and anticipate the dangers.

7. Transforming the school

Discussion on the purpose of the school concluded that its primary purpose is to train national leadership into an international leadership. A corollary purpose is that through this process we will develop a political analysis that allows us to intervene in the global political debate.


On functioning: the IIRE has the responsibility for education at the international level. There should also be education at every national level, with certain issues being more appropriate to national education rather than at the international level. We need to have a greater coordination between the education at the national level and the IIRE, especially with the European sections that are the most likely to be able to send comrades to the IIRE sessions. Thus there is a need to integrate members from the European national leaderships into the IIRE team.

Questions: how to use our web site, and Internet in general, to augment functioning of sessions and functioning of coordination? How to improve recruitment for the sessions, with what sort of publicity?


Curriculum: two aspects – content and process. The role of the school is to pose questions, provide  provisional responses (i.e. ones that should be tested in practice, of an intermediary character, etc.), based upon our historic matrix (ossature) of concepts that our current has to offer to the political debate and analysis.

How should the content be structured? Should we focus on the debates within the global justice movement or begin from without our own framework and link to debates within movements?  How important are the ‘historical models’ (Russian Revolution, Chinese revolution, etc.)? We concluded that within the time constraints of the current sessions, there was little time to truly explore the historical models but references should be made to them. What are the basic concepts and values we should include, such as labour theory of value, concept of historical period (non-revolutionary, pre-revolutionary, revolutionary) and historical materialism? Do we teach methodology? One answer was historical materialism as conscious empiricism, that is, trying to understand new tendencies based on what is happening rather than a prognostication from a theory about what SHOULD happen.

On the issue of process, the key question is how to integrate the reports and reporters into an ongoing discussion, where an emphasis is placed on the overall coherence of the curriculum of any session and the conscious links made between the reports.

Based on our weekend of discussions, Susan and Peter have drawn up the following “ideal programme” for the Global Justice School 2003. (The real programme will of course depend on people’s availability.)