Victory Impossible for IMF/World Bank
Apparently, whoever schedules and plans meetings for the IMF and the World Bank just doesn’t get it.
In the wake of a rising tide of international protest against the globalization of capitalism-and capitalism itself-which has disrupted meetings of numerous world bodies, the IMF/World Bank is scheduled to meet in Washington DC from September 28 – October 4.
Not surprisingly, thousands of anti-capitalists, anarchists, environmental militants and radicals, as well as members of the labor movement, students and the rest of civil society, are expected to converge on Washington DC during that period to protest, challenge, disrupt, and potentially crush the global Joint Annual General Meeting. The confrontation could end up being the largest and most militant anti-capitalist showdown Washington has ever seen. Already, hundreds of affinity groups are forming, plans of attack are being drawn up, buildings cased, and gas masks stockpiled.
Just in the past couple of months, there have been numerous indications that the global anti-capitalist movement is on the move. and is clarifying its goals – moving beyond mere “anti-globalization” to “anti-capitalist.” Washington DC has already been declared the “Anti-Capitalist Convergence.”
In April, Quebec was rocked by days of militant protests against the Summit of the Americas. The courage of the protesters, and the violence of the police, was unlike anything seen in North America in decades. The coalition that organized the resistance was explicitly anti-capitalist, and embraced a diversity of tactics, declaring that “CLAC adopts a confrontational attitude and rejects reformist alternatives such as lobbying which cannot have a major impact on anti-democratic processes.”
In May, the IMF/World Bank decided to cancel a scheduled global meeting in Barcelona, Spain, rather than risk humiliation and defeat at the hands of hundreds of thousands of militant Europeans who vowed to shut down the meetings, if not the entire city.
And earlier in the Spring, the WTO was forced to select the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar for their first global meeting since their disastrous defeat in Seattle in 1999. No other country would take the WTO, knowing the chaos that would accompany a meeting, so trade ministers will have to fly to the equivalent of the dark side of the moon, where they’ll have to stay on cruise ships because Qatar’s hotel facilities are too small to accommodate the meeting.
Clearly, global capitalist meeting planners are in a pickle and running scared. The last time the IMF/World Bank met in Washington, delegates had to wake up at 3 a.m. to take buses escorted by hordes of police to circumvent activist blockades.
Given this context – what an opportunity to have the IMF/World Bank meet right in Washington, DC. The leaders of the neoliberal project will have to make the impossible choice between almost certain disruption of their meeting, or turning the capital of the “free world” to an armed camp. Either way, they lose the most important battle, that for political hegemony.
Because the Battle of Washington is impossible for the IMF/World Bank to win, it is the most important confrontation of the year for opponents of capitalist domination. Everyone reading this article is strongly encouraged to get time off work September 28 – October 4, buy a plane ticket to Washington DC, organize your friends, family and neighbors, and help turn this opportunity to a legendary defeat for the neoliberal project.
The battle for political hegemony is the kind of battle where those in power have everything to lose, and one in which they are vulnerable even given their superior resources – domination of the media and control of the police and the legal system.
Hegemony means that those in power – essentially the whole capitalist/political structure – get to define the subjects of discussion, the limits of debate, and the rules of the game. The essential rules are that the market regulates everything, profit and money are the sole human motivation, economic “growth” is continuous and is the goal of everything. Acceptable topics of discussion and debate within the “democratic” political process are limited to “more regulation / less regulation” “welfare state / privatization” “schools or prisons.” Discussions about alternatives to the whole system are simply off the radar: not discussed, not featured in the media, invisible. In subtle and not so subtle ways, the legitimacy of the systems’ basic assumptions are reinforced through debate on “acceptable” topics in the “democratic” political process, the media, education, and every other facet of modern life. Dissent that posits alternatives outside of the “acceptable” field of debate appears not to exist.
But at rare moments, no matter how much officials and the media attempt to confine discussion within “acceptable” limits and confirm that “everything is fine” and “economic growth continues to make life better”, the system’s hegemony is rudely disturbed by events which overwhelm the system’s definitions of “reality.”
Scenes of Washington DC, the center of “freedom” and “free speech”, surrounded by razor wire, of police dressed as storm troopers firing tear gas at fleeing crowds, of thousands, hands raised above their heads, marched to detention centers at the points of bayonets as the city burns. All of these scenes impossible to ignore because all of the heads of the world’s government have gathered in one city for the world’s most important annual meeting. No matter how the spin doctors attempt to explain these images and fit them into the “acceptable” limits of debate, these are the scenes that form a question in people’s minds.
“If the whole point of globalization is to promote freedom, how come it’s run in private, by and for corporations, and must be protected behind an iron fenced police state?”
It’s up to us to force the question to be posed. There are damn few opportunities available these days to give capitalist hegemony a rude awakening. There are likely to be even fewer in the future if the world’s trade ministers like Qatar’s weather.
If we’re successful, the next stage is to begin answering the question and promoting discussion outside hegemony in millions of much less dramatic moments, in thousands of communities across the globe. The last two years have shown that over-emphasis on “mega-demos” is a big mistake, leading to a hollow movement that’s all tear gas with no base and no local organizing.
But even as anti-capitalists have sensed the weaknesses of only focusing on Seattle copy-cat actions, these mega-actions aren’t irrelevant. With fewer and fewer chances to confront power on the streets, Washington DC is a rare opportunity, in an inviting location at a critical time. Anti-capitalist forces are more organized in North America than they have been in decades, largely because of the boost from Seattle.
ABCs of the IMF
The IMF and the World Bank, deeply threatened by the millions around the world calling for their abolition, have their propaganda machine turned on high to spread the story that their mission is to “alleviate poverty” in the developing world. The IMF/World Bank claim that because they are promoting development, they are working against poverty. But the development promoted by these bodies is designed to benefit multi-national corporations and capitalist/industrial world domination, not regular folks. The inevitable result of IMF/World Bank development is less freedom, less self-sufficiency, more environmental degradation, more vulnerability to unpredictable markets and more power for the few over the many.
The IMF/World Bank are like international loan sharks that prey on the world’s weakest nations. Funded by the world’s richest countries, they exist to perpetuate colonialism into the new millennium. Typically, the IMF/World Bank identifies capital intensive development projects like roads, dams and electrical infrastructure in relatively un-industrialized countries. Without this infrastructure, global capitalism, and its representatives – multinational corporations – are unable to make use of a poor nation’s cheap labor, natural resources and markets.
The IMF/World bank then “helps” the poor nation by loaning money to build these projects. Corrupt, authoritarian local governments have a keen interest in getting the loans. Big projects often permit these governments to skim millions into private bank accounts through bribes and sweetheart construction contracts. Much of the rest of the benefits of these projects are directed to corporate interests outside the developing nation. Most of the material, machines and experience needed to build dams, roads and power grids are imported from the same rich nations making the loans in the first place. Once these projects are completed, the benefits go to sweatshop operators who can now locate in the “developing” nation and reap its cheap labor.
And to top it all off, the loans must be repaid, with interest. But paying off these loans can be difficult, because many projects turn out to be boondoggles – more expensive to build than anticipated and providing more modest “benefits” (i.e. profits.) Just like southern tenant farmers could never escape debt as poor harvests were consumed by high interest, leading to debt passed down through the generations, third world countries that borrowed IMF/World Bank money decades ago are still paying off those loans. When they can’t pay enough, the IMF/World Bank kindly offers new loans to cover payments on the old loans, but with conditions called Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP).
SAPs are intended to create “favorable” economic conditions to spur capitalist growth in the target nation’s economy so that it can pay its debts. In a typical case, a country agrees to devalue its currency, open its markets to foreign products and services, cut government subsidies for food, energy transit, etc. and sell government held utilities, factories, mines and oil companies to foreigners.
The SAPs may increase debt repayment because a nation attracts more foreign investment, but the costs for common people are huge. Corporate investment focuses on extracting raw materials, displacing subsistence farmers as their farms are eliminated by plantations and cattle ranches, and destroying ancient forests for paper pulp, hardwood, ore and oil. The displaced population is then “free” to move to cities to find jobs in sweatshops. Cheap labor, along with raw materials. are two of the three things third world countries can offer to global capitalism. The third is markets. SAPs open markets to cheap foreign imports of food and manufactured items, destroying local self-sufficient agriculture and production and undermining traditional social organization. Finally, resource extraction required for debt repayment causes disastrous environmental degradation.
The net result of IMF/World Bank activity is to preserve, although in a different form, traditional colonial relations between countries in the North and South.
Since most or all of a developing nation’s exports of raw materials and cheap labor is immediately required to pay back debts owed to first world nations, it’s like the raw materials and cheap labor flow to the north for free, without cost. The only difference between these economic relationships and that of colonialism is that now, third world countries have “independent” “local” governments that extract and export the raw materials and labor. These resources are no longer merely stolen – they are “sold” on the “free” market, and then debt payments made with the proceeds. There are documents justifying it all.
But it’s a rigged market. The very loans creating the debt benefit the capitalist system by building infrastructure to accelerate capitalist growth. The “local” ruling classes in these nations have interests generally aligned with the boards of directors of the multinationals: increasing “growth”, promoting resource extraction, reducing all human activity to service of the techno-corporate machine.
When the IMF/World Bank argues that they exist to promote “development” to end poverty, they are speaking about a kind of “tough love” that benefits the few in huge, profound ways and that permits “benefits” like increased urbanism and involvement in the market to “trickle down” to the many.
Activists on the East Coast have declared an Anti-Capitalist Convergence to protest and disrupt the IMF/World Bank meeting. Many more moderate forces (labor, mainstream environmental, religious, etc.) will also be on hand. More details will be available as the event approaches.
For more information contact the (anarchist based) Anti-Capitalist Convergence at: