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On Incivility and Transnationality :

Towards Alliances of Critical Hope

Steps towards critically engaging with Muto Ichiyo’s concept of transborder participatory democracy

Part 1 (external link) | Part 2 (external link)

Equally, and despite some change during the Mumbai edition in 2004, this is also startlingly true of the World Social Forum, despite the fact that Brazil (where the Forum was born) is such a mixed society, and also, for example, of the European Social Forum that was held in London in October 2004, despite the rich intercultural character of that city and country now. In Mumbai too, a city with an important Muslim population, they were few present at the Forum, and – in a country where Muslims constitute the largest ‘minority’ and one of the largest such populations in the world – there were none in the WSF India Organising Committee, and it was openly accused of discrimination and domination. We need to ask ourselves : Why does this singular pattern persist ?

Even as I say this, I accept completely that there are many within civil society, and perhaps especially within the emerging global movement, who are struggling to break out of these confines, and that the boundaries are not always so clear. (The turtles were, for instance, very much a part of what happened at Seattle, as also in all the other demos, and they can hardly be called ‘civil’ !) I also accept, and am grateful for, John Brown Childs’ contribution to this question. But I nevertheless believe that the question and deep dialectic of ‘civility’ is a issue those in alliance building need to engage with, and that in order to grasp its meaning, we need to search still more deeply and look at the question of civility in more structural terms.

In short, whereas I have no problems with agreeing that ‘global cooperation and alliance’ among social and political actors is an important indication of the emergence of what is called ‘global civil society’, and through this of the democratisation of global society, I suggest to you these terms are in fact at the same time both far more accurate and revealing than we sometimes realise. They are also hugely deceptive insofar as that they mask the true nature of what is happening within such processes, and also, crucially, the terms on which these alliances take shape; because these processes are in fact still tending to be, perhaps sometimes subconsciously but sometimes also consciously and strategically, processes for the spread of the control of ‘civil society’ over the world – and therefore, if we agree that emancipation – not ‘inclusion’ – is fundamental to democracy and equality, they have the potential to be profoundly anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian in character.

Please note that this is of course not just a factor of what is more commonly pointed out, of the domination of alliances by NGOs, or of global alliances by NGOs of the North and especially by big corporate NGOs. These are certainly important manifestations of the process I am trying to highlight, but it goes far deeper than this.

And that there are therefore also good reasons why peoples of colour, and incivil society more generally, tend to keep away from such alliances, or at best, to also see and use them only instrumentally.

Even if all this rings only partly true, I believe that we need to look seriously and critically at the possibility that this is what is happening, and at our own roles in helping this to happen – and in helping to challenge and overcome it.

At least three further points come out of all this, for our discussion here. One, it is in these terms that I feel we therefore need to take a deeper look at some of Muto san’s propositions regarding the roles of NGOs – the vast majority of which belong to civil society – in the Alliance of Hope that he has proposed. While it is quite clear from his writings that he is by no means unqualifiedly celebrating them, as some authors do, and to the contrary he is challenging them to review their role in society, on the other hand we need, I believe, to look more critically at the proposition that NGOs can and will play the role of helping ‘the people’ come forward, towards a “steady but systematic replacement of NGOs with people’s organisations as the representation in the global arena”[xli].

While I would like to share this hope, my experience and research into transnational civil politics suggest that in practice, the reverse of this happens, and that we need to be more aware of the structural dynamics involved in such situations – and to be sceptical about the possibilities of this happening without much greater mobilisation on the ground, among ‘the people’ – and by the people themselves[xlii].

In particular, we need to recognise that NGOs – as a sector; there are always exceptions – are not disinterested actors but agency for the introduction and installation of certain values; and we need to develop a vocabulary that can help us analyse their interests, so that we can critically support popular movement in realising its own emancipation.

Secondly, I believe we need to also shift our gaze and bring into focus the realities that myriad globalisations are today taking place, and have taken place in history – and crucially, that both incivil and uncivil societies all over the world are also taking part in this drama, independently and interdependently with yet other actors such as institutions of faith.

And finally, I think we must look hard at the possibility that the incivil – and the uncivil – are today, more than ever before, themselves independently and insurgently building transnational coalitions and alliances, some progressive and some regressive (just as civil society is doing), and that it is this world, rather than those who are part of the much more visible global alliances and actions that are taking place that constitute the real globalisation from below.

And that what has come to be known as ‘globalisation from below’ refers more accurately to a globalisation from the middle.

In making this assertion, I openly acknowledge my admiration for the idea of a GfB, as first put forward by Richard Falk[xliii] and then developed and elaborated very substantially by Jeremy Brecher and his colleagues in their landmark book on the subjectxliv. I also put on record the fact that I asked almost precisely these questions to Jeremy and others back in 2000, while commenting in a spirit of solidarity on the manuscript for their book. Notwithstanding this however, I strongly believe it is essential we focus on this issue.

Rather than attempting to paraphrase, it seems best to quote from my comments (though please note that these comments were on the draft manuscript, after which Jeremy and his colleagues made some adjustments to their text),

One very strong impression that I have been left with however, is that your book is about, and aimed only at, one very specific form (and skein) of ‘globalisation from below’– that which is made up of the actions of activist civil groups and organisations; and not about the ‘other’ GfB that is taking place as the result of the myriad ordinary everyday actions and struggles of ordinary peoples all around the world, both voluntarily and involuntarily. (One of the most important forms of this of course, is through labour migration and the struggle of migrant labour against marginalisation and exclusion, and the extraordinary networks that have been developed by peoples to enable them to sustain their struggles. But these networks are surely equally transnational – if indeed, not more so -, and playing their own role in globalisation from below.) To be frank, this absence has been a little surprising for me, given where I think your concerns lie. I kept thinking that this would emerge, somewhere somehow, and kept noting that ‘it hasn’t, till here’, but it wasn’t to be. For instance, I do certainly think that the work of BAYAN in the Philippines is interesting and important, and I respect their militancy in demonstrations, but I do also feel that the less-known, probably anonymous networks of brokers and others – in the Philippines and elsewhere – who ship people around is probably having a far greater impact on the world. What is the nature of these changes ? Of this globalisation – of this other globalisation ? This is not a subject that I have studied, but I do think that in a book about GfB, and which is taking a look at the quite remarkable things that are happening in the world today, ideally this should be there. Otherwise it becomes a civil-led GfB – just as much as GfA is corporate-led. It would seem to me that there are also important other dimensions, and/or forms, of this which are also equally relevant, and even though they are not exactly ‘liberatory’ (though I suppose that this depends strongly on where you are standing). I am referring to transnational ethnic networks (‘TENs’ ?!) and also, for that matter, transnational religious networks – which nowadays (or always ?) are increasingly fundamentalist. The work and effects of these too, surely also contribute to the overall GfB that is taking place in the world today[xlv].

Beyond this, and if indeed this possibility of plural and intersecting globalisations holds true, then we also need to look at :

… the question of how the GfB you are writing about will relate to the struggles of the historically and structurally oppressed and marginalised, around the world; the fourth world. … In India at least, the majority is not so much silent as sullen; biding their time. They do not want to get sucked into upper caste led anything, and their more militant and informed leaders are very clear on this, that they are taking their time to build their own societies, and then they will decide – for themselves. By and large, this includes keeping away from the transnationalisation of issues and struggles that the middle-class led groups are leading (and advocating). But this tactic is being intersected by other processes, including the historical process of GfA, as well as of the sheer necessity of survival – which is leading increasingly to migration. The leadership – in my limited understanding – is so far tending to ignore this, seeing their constituency as being infinitely big and the migration therefore as being mere leakage. They also do not have any clear idea of ‘alternatives’; the model of the future that they are wielding is, whether we like it or not, modelled on what they have historically experienced – but where they now would be in control. There is no other paradigm that they have to offer (and even if groups such as the NBA do tend to emphasise Adivasi values, even some of their supporters feel they glorify them, and more importantly, groups such as the NBA remain marginal within Adivasi politics in the country). How do you see GfB relating to this world, this dynamic ? There are certainly a few groups that have come out of this experience, and who have in fact leapfrogged into the transnational, and are taking advantage of regimes of universality for whatever they are worth. I don’t see this as being at all illegitimate. But I also don’t see this phenomenon as being

representative – at least in the Indian context – of the politics and dynamics of these peoples as a whole. As I understand things, this is really the ‘below’.

Finally, it will be essential to address the question of how, if these realities and currents exist, and if indeed these divisions are only being deepened in the course of contemporary capitalist globalisation, we – in building alliances of hope – can and should relate to these other words of globalisation and alliance building. In short, I believe it would be hazardous and inappropriate to assume that they can and should simply ‘join’ alliance processes instituted from within civil society, for this would be tantamount to an assimilationist and integrationist approach. We will have to develop new languages and codes of association, ones that recognise and accept differences.

In short, it seems to me essential that our discussion of transborder participatory democracy and of alliances of hope must also take into account both the dynamics of civility and incivility, the real and multiple worlds of globalisation, and the question of relationships between different worlds.

But these, of course, are precisely the questions raised by Brown Childs in his concept of transcommunality, so let me turn to that.

Communality and transcommunality

I have already touched on this question above, in several ways, and keeping also the length of this paper in mind, will only briefly develop this issue here.

I agree fully with Muto san and Brown Childs that the rapacious dynamic of global capitalism is profoundly disintegrating societies in all parts of the world, South and North, and that this is a profound challenge for those in struggle to build other worlds, and that – to use Brown Childs’ terminology – to do this, we must move from a politics of conversion to an ethics of respect.

(In parentheses let me say it is interesting to see how Brown Childs’ term ‘transcommunality’ potentially allows a potentially very significant flowing together of two so far different and sometimes opposing, conflicting, coinages of the root term ‘communal’. In India and south Asia we have a particular usage of the term ‘communalism’, referring to the regressive use of religious identities in politics, and the retreat into these identities. My experience however, is that this usage and understanding is often rejected and opposed by activists in the North, especially those involved in movements for radical alternatives, who see the term ‘communal’ in a positive sense, in essence communitarian. Brown Childs’ new term, and arguments, challenge us all to rethink our language, so that we can indeed build a transnational and transcultural – transcommunal – sharing of ideas, and not get lost in such battles.)

It seems to me essential however, that we must also bring into this discussion the dynamics discussed above, of civility and incivility. In 1989, Muto san outlined his concept of ‘inter-people autonomy’. Based on a principle of ‘peopleness’ – which he defined as “that which makes possible an Alliance of Hope”, he argued :

Peopleness is not an idealist construct. It is what is actually at work in the existing solidarity movements among seemingly very different groups of people. It is what is behind the real sympathy and compassion for other people’s struggles. It is what is behind the sacrifices being made for the people’s cause everywhere. Denying the working of peopleness would be to deny the reality of these movements – or to render them incomprehensible. Peopleness represents our radical equality and our equal radicality. Only by recourse to peopleness can we expect to overcome internecine conflicts between people’s groups and imagine the formation of the people worldwide as the subject of transborder participatory democracy. This is a process of action and counteraction – not like the signalling of an agreement in a ceremonious atmosphere. When people’s groups being to regulate their mutual relationships spontaneously and for themselves, this destroying the system of forced mutual relationships, then we shall have inter-people autonomy cutting across the state boundaries and replacing the interstate system. Inter-people autonomy will represent the people of the world collaborating with each other while developing all their rich diversities. Inter-people autonomy thus is an affair of billions of people and it is still a vague picture of the 21st century. But one thing is certain is that an alliance of hope of billions should be preceded by an alliance of hope of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands : an alliance based on inter-movement autonomy, an arena and network where people’s movements from different concerns and backgrounds meet, recognize each other’s peopleness, and enter into a dynamic process of interaction. Let us engage in this task[xlci].

And in 2004, Brown Childs wrote :

….. Important parts of Marxist practice, for all its heroic and courageous developments, are heirs to the politics of conversion, and this should be addressed directly. Conversionary politics requires its adherents to assert a distinct set of beliefs to which others, if they are to be partners in the struggle for justice, must convert. By contrast, transcommunality emphasizes a general ethics of respect in which mutual recognition and acceptance of diverse, en divergent perspectives occur among partners. Transcommunality sees distinct group locations with their often clear-cut boundaries and well-developed internal senses of communal integrity as essential. It is precisely from these clearly defined, rooted locations that diverse communities can reach out to one another, creating constellations of cooperation that reinforce rather than undermine a positively interactive heterogeneity[xlvii].

I believe that these are significant formulations, and have already accepted the importance of the principle of an ethics of respect. Given the complementarity I see between these two concepts, where the latter very substantially develops the essential thesis of the former, I propose to address them together.

In short, in terms of the formulation I have developed and put forward in this paper, in particular regarding the dialectic of civility, it seems to me that although Brown Childs’ thesis is framed in terms of relations between the civil and the incivil, the arguments he has presented – through examples – are largely located in terms of relations between the (what I have termed) incivil, and do not address, other than in terms of the principle of an ethics of respect, the former. I intuitively agree completely with the significance and relevance of his formulations in terms of incivil alliance; but my sense is that when it is applied to the civil-incivil border, the dynamics are likely to be much more turbulent – and therefore suggest that we need to go more deeply into this question.

Beyond this, I believe that if we look at the two sets of ideas together, and look at the possibility of an alliance of hope built on the principle of transcommunality, we are still talking about what can be said to be the field and universe of alternative politics – which is, after all is said, a small minority in society.

This raises two issues. One, while it is wonderful to contemplate the possibility that Muto san puts forward, of “inter-people autonomy cutting across the state boundaries and replacing the interstate system”, this presumes a praxis of power that remains to be spelt out. Perhaps we can draw here from the work of John Hollowayxlviii. Second, and in particular, how can and should such processes relate to and address the reality of conventional, communalising, mainstream politics ? Especially in the context of the disintegrating impacts of capitalist globalisation ?

I rest my case, and salute Muto san for his challenging ideas.

The last and remaining part of this paper, as mentioned in the opening section, is made of two case studies that attempt to illustrate some of the issues I have tried raising above.

On internationalism and transnationality

In an outstanding recent paper on Marx and Engels, August Nimtz argued that ‘M&E’ were perhaps the ‘prototypical transnational actors’ – or, if I may take a liberty and use the terms I use, ‘transnational civil activistsxlix. One aspect he did not specifically deal with however, is the question of how M&E viewed their activities – which were, at one level, fundamentally about transcending national boundaries and particularities – and their relationships with the sections of society they were organising and campaigning on behalf of, in relation to their own nationalities; and vice versa.

As I have already argued, I believe that it is essential to explore this terrain if we are to gain a full understanding of the dynamics of transnational activism. In part precisely because of the iconic role of Marx and Engels in the history of international / transnational activism, and in part because there are few if any equivalent biographies on more contemporary civil activists that I could similarly draw on to build my argument, in this section I draw on the work Nimtz has done to draw some out some classic dilemmas in transnational work – dilemmas that my research shows clearly is relevant to our own times[l].

In particular, I attempt to briefly explore here the dialectical relationship of citizenship, nationality, and transnationalism, and the equally dialectical relationship of activists – and also of those who I suggest could be more accurately called ‘campaignists’ [li] – and organic intellectuals to the people they are organising and/or campaigning or speaking on behalf of.

Workers of the German world, unite ! In the mid 19th century (now, suddenly and breathtakingly, almost two full centuries ago), Marx and Engels built what was perhaps one of the first transnational advocacy networks in history, the International Working Men’s Association – which was later widely referred to as the ‘First International’. From 1864 to 1872, this organisation played a crucial role not just in building working class solidarity in Europe but for the first time in human history, putting forward the interests and viewpoint of the working classes in Europe (as perceived by M&E and the organisations they built).

Under Marx’s firm tutelage that proletarian internationalism was the historic duty of the working classes, this advocacy was not limited to only the direct interests of the working classes but also intervened in larger civil and political questions of the day. On the one hand therefore, the IWMA became the ‘definitive world-wide strike centre’ during the wave of strikes that rocked the Europe continent during 1867-69; on the other, in 1865 the IWMA also helped to bring into existence the Reforms League, a working class organisation in Britain that played a key role in pressuring the British Parliament to enact the 1867 Reforms Act that extended suffrage to almost half of British male heads of households[lii]. And in 1870, Marx led the IWMA in a not-unsuccessful anti-war campaign, to urge workers in France and Germany to refrain from participating in or supporting the war efforts of their country’s rulers and instead, to fraternise among themselves, and to put pressure on the British government to recognise the new French republic that emerged in the wake of the defeat and not give in to pressures from the British oligarchy to intervene in the conflict on behalf of Bismarck and his king, a relative of Queen Victoria[liii].

In other words, the achievements of the IWMA were not small. In the assessment of Collins and Abramsky, who have written what Nimtz says is the most authoritative history of the IWMA,

Despite its comparatively short life, that organisation [the IWMA] changed the history of the world. … The International was the first working class organisation to make a decisive impact on European politics. If it helped actively in shaping and moulding the early labour organisations in Europe [which Nimtz argues in turn played a major role in the democratic breakthrough that was achieved in the 19th century – JS], this was largely the achievement of one man – Karl Marx[liv].

How the IWMA – and the M&E team – achieved this extraordinary outcome is almost as important as what they achieved. In his paper, Nimtz showed that one of the hallmarks of the IWMA, and in general of the specific mode of activism developed by M&E, was that it was highly organised, and was undergirded by a series of organisational principles that were forged in the course of the campaigns it waged. These ranged from the necessity of constantly striving for proletarian internationalism by overcoming national particularism, to the value of discussion as a basis for revolutionary political action, to the basic recognition that it is necessary to organise to make ideas influential[lv]. Most fundamentally, in the context of the ‘Age of Capital’ that M&E waged their campaigns, they argued that “… owing to the globalization of capital ‘workingmen have no fatherland’, and [consequently] proletarian internationalism is labour’s only defense in the face of its adversary”lvi.

Much of this character came from the leadership given to the organisation/s by Karl Marx as activist. As Nimtz has shown, Marx was the de facto leader of the IWMA, and his “leadership … both politically and organizationally was indispensable for the International’s success. Precisely because of the conclusions that he and Engels had reached two decades earlier, that is, owing to the globalization of capital ‘workingmen have no fatherland’, and [consequently] proletarian internationalism is labour’s only defense in the face of its adversary, Marx had long expected and, therefore, was prepared to respond to the new transnational orientation in the labour movement prompted by the ‘Age of Capital’”[lvii].

Engels played a vital background role in this activity that was also crucial to the success of the M&E team’s work, of networking. Nimtz emphasised that Engels’ sustained ‘transnational activism’ played a key role in opening doors for them[lviii].

But there were perhaps also some other patterns which were also there in the life of the IWMA and the other organisations that were built by M&E in that period, that were never formalised and are perhaps less recognised but that are also of great significance and may well have played crucial background roles in the structuring of the organisations and campaign – and lessons for us even today. The first is that the most important organisation built by M&E before the IWMA, the League of Communists (and for which Marx drafted The Manifesto of the Communist Party, in 1848), was largely – though not exclusively – built among German workers in exile[lix]; and in general, Marx’s standing in this community played a key role in his gaining and maintaining his leadership in the IWMA[lx].

After their earlier organising work in Germany, M&E were first based in Brussels and active through the Brussels Democratic Association. During their very first visit to Britain, in 1845, they formed an internationalist organisation, in London, the Society of Fraternal Democrats, which was established, in its own words, “to succour the militant democracy of every country”[lxi]. M&E were able to do this within a few months of their reaching London for the first time, because – according to Nimtz – of “Engels’ prior transnational activism”, and where, more specifically, they were able to quickly make contact not only with the English movement but also with revolutionary German workers who were in Britain in exile. They took their initiative to forge the Society of Fraternal Democrats on the basis of these contacts. Nimtz points out that “Although the organisation came to an end within a few years, these initial efforts constituted in fact the first transnational organising for the M&E team and laid the basis of much of their subsequent work.”[lxii]

Back on the continent after their visit to England and still in exile, their next step was to capitalise on their just-made contacts by establishing what they termed “a new system of propaganda”, the Communist Correspondence Societies (CCCs), headquartered in Brussels. It is useful to quote Nimtz here in detail, also to get a feel of the times and of the initiative :

Taking their name from the ventures of Thomas Paine – testimony to the influence of his own transnational activism on subsequent generations – and the Jacobins, the CCCs, with their center in Brussels, sought to institute the exchange of letters among various socialists and communists on the continent and in England. The CCCs were intended to be a network through which self-styled socialists and communists in different countries would begin to talk to one another in a systematic way. Their conception of the committee’s modus operandi … revealed some of the most basic assumptions that would always inform M&E’s practice – the necessity to strive for proletarian internationalism by overcoming national particularism and the value of discussion as basis of revolutionary political action. … [lxiii]


The CCC’s real success was that it laid the basis, owing to the contacts, for the first Marxist party, the League of Communists, established in 1847. One of those contacts was with the largely German exile proletarian group, the League of the Just. Like virtually every revolutionary group after 1815, the League’s modus operandi was conspiratorial. Its own roots went back to Babeuf’s Conspiracy of Equals in 1796 and Augusts Blanqui’s Society of Seasons – the prototypes of conspiratorial organizing. Convinced of M&E’s views, the leadership of the League invited them in 1847 to join their organization (that they were recruited by the workers is of utmost significance given later efforts that suggest that M&E imposed themselves on the workers’ movement). They agreed provided the League abandon its conspiratorial tradition and adopt a new program that they would help to formulate. By the end of the year a new organization was born, the League of Communists (LC). A few months later in February 1848 Marx had completed, on the basis of Engels’ drafts, its new program, the Manifesto of the Communist Party[lxiv].

And finally – for the purposes of this discussion – they played a major role in the formation of the IWMA in 1864, of setting its directions, and of leading it. The organisation was formed at a meeting called in London, to support the Polish and Italian struggles for self-determination. “Because Marx possessed a party nucleus with a definite program, one of whose planks was proletarian internationalism, he quickly emerged as the body’s guiding force”, and he remained its de facto leader throughout its life, from 1864-72. Crucially however, he was also “able to leverage his standing in the German workers’ movements to advance his perspective in the IWMA as well as to do the same in the former by drawing on his influence in the latter …”. [lxv]

There are three key issues here. One is the internationalism insisted upon by the leaders of the organisation; second, that the initial and primary membership and its leadership were all German, and crucially, that this membership was in exile; and third, that Marx was able to leverage this power and along with Engels, came to be and to remain in the leadership of all the institutions created – all of which were moreover interconnected.

This condition provided an opportunity that structured the League of Communists, and then the IWMA, in a fundamental way. The conventional and very persuasive understanding is that the internationalism formulated, advocated, and practised by M&E and their organisations came out of their ideological formulations, as already given above. But it perhaps useful to also at least recognise, as Waterman points out, that this ‘internationalism’ was not only voluntarily adopted by the members of the League of Communists as an ideology but was also a condition of the very fact that they were exiles – living in countries other than ‘their own’, and being concerned with conditions in ‘their own’ countries as well as in other countries. In this sense, those who shared this condition and outlook became potential candidate members of an imagined community, which was both a nation without a state and also an ‘international’[lxvi].

Conversely however, the crucial second foundational character of the League was that it was not only built among workers in exile in general but primarily among those who were German by origin. There was important logic in this commonality – the most obvious being that Marx and Engels were themselves German and had earlier built a base among workers in Germany.

While pointing this out, it is important for me – following Nimtz – to also emphasise that contrary to the picture that is often portrayed of them, M&E never counterposed the national and international and were never principled opponents of nationalism. They firmly believed that “… true internationalism must necessarily be based upon a distinct national organisation”[lxvii].

Several issues flow from even this brief glance.

First, even though proletarian internationalism was the formal objective formulated for the movement by M&E, the nationality of the mass membership and the political and existential reality for large sections of the membership, of exile, were background but strategic components in the formulation.

Relying as I have done here on Nimtz’ paper alone, where he does not discuss these questions[lxviii], I am not in a position to explore these background patterns in more depth, but at the minimum it seems essential to recognise them and to ask the question of how this character influenced the formulations arrived at by communists in the 19th century and also the positions and tactics that were then predicated on this formulation, and to draw lessons from that groundbreaking experience for our work today.

Second, and as already noted, Marx and Engels – themselves also German by origin – also became exiles, at least for the most part of their activist lives, and that most of their later organising work was done in and from places other than Germany. As already pointed earlier, citing Waterman, the ‘internationalism’ that M&E conceptualised and attempted arguably came out of their own existential condition and that of their constituency, of exiles without a state.

Third, this exploration also reveals and underlines the importance of ‘the national’ in internationalist and transnational work, at a number of levels, and especially for people who, as Waterman points out, are without a state, and are attempting to win a state – a condition as relevant today for large numbers, as then.

And finally, fourth, the question that even this brief glance at the work of two of the most important transnational activists in history – who, in their time and in the times to come, literally changed the world – also provokes one to think about is : What role is a sense of alienation from nation and the nation-state, or even actual statelessness, playing in the kinds of alliance that we are today discussing, and building ?

A world to win – but whose world is it, anyway ?

[lxix] Explanatory note : This section draws in part on the concluding section of an earlier monograph of the same title as I have used for this section, and on subsequent research. I need to make clear that my discussion here is by no means meant as an overall assessment of the campaigns I studied and discuss here. I here focus on the tensions and contradictions that have arisen because of the nature and focus of my present paper, and indeed of my earlier paper on which I am drawing. A broader discussion, which I am presently working on, will also show how remarkably creative and positive the campaigns were, and how extraordinarily successful they were, not only in formal terms of their overall objectives but also in terms of building and sustaining an almost global alliance, over several years, and of the human relations that took shape within that experience – but where many of those involved, based in countries across the globe, never actually met each other. And also how they not only negotiated but mastered and successfully took strategic advantage of the rapidly changing communication technologies that successively came in through the campaign (from airmail letters and phone calls, to fax, to email). The original essay on which this section draws was in fact a comparative discussion of the dynamics and politics of two international civil campaigns (around the Narmada dams project in India and the Polonoroeste road-building and land colonisation project in Brazil, followed by a campaign around the extension of the Polonoroeste highway through a neighbouring state, that came to be resisted by local rubber tappers led by Chico Mendes). To some extent therefore, the points mentioned here also coloured by my findings on the Polonoroeste campaigns and by my comparative assessment. In my understanding of the objectives and nature of this Conference however, this transborder character will hopefully be taken as only adding to what I have to say.

During 1983-85, and 1983-93, two major civil campaigns took place around World Bank-funded projects that led to major changes in Bank policy and management, to the establishment of new institutions (such as the Bank’s Inspection Panel), and to the first time ever that the Bank withdrew from a major project : The so-called MDB (multilateral development bank) campaign around the Polonoroeste road-building and land colonisation project in north-western Brazil, and then the set of three international campaigns that took place around the Narmada / Sardar Sarovar dams project in western India, including the next round of the MDB campaign. The latter, which is the best-known part of the second set, and which was around the work of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (‘Save the Narmada Movement’), came to be one of the best-known and most widely-celebrated campaigns in recent world history, in some circles achieving an almost iconic character in relation to the then-emerging wider, global struggle for what can be collectively termed ‘social justice and sustainable development’[lxx].

Changes in the Bank were not the only achievements of these campaigns : On the one hand, the Narmada campaigns contributed to a process of activating national legislatures across the North in relation to international finance institutions, and thereby in a way to the democratisation of such institutions and of global governance; and it also inspired several other movements in India and other countries to take similar steps. On the other hand, I believe that the language that civil campaignists forged in the course of these two campaigns – the vocabulary and the grammar they developed – also contributed strongly to the emergence, language, and culture of the global solidarity and justice movement that we see today[lxxi].

Again, and even though not at the same scale of the historical significance of M&E’s work, these were not small achievements.

In terms of the concerns of this paper, there are a few points I would like to bring out from these experiences. I have also integrated some of this into the opening section of this paper, the prologue.

First, while the two civil campaigns very effectively used the multilateral nature of the World Bank system (and in particular, the voting power of Northern shareholders) to achieve their ends – by publicly criticising the Bank’s practices and policies and causing intense international pressure on it to change -, their doing so also contained severe paradoxes and contradictions : Because by using this powerful but non-democratic, heavily-weighted system to achieve their objectives, in many ways they only reinforced conventional North-South? state geopolitics. They also fuelled reactionary debate in the two countries about ‘environmental issues’ being vehicles for foreign interests – of a variety of kinds – to intervene, or to interfere, depending on one’s point of view, in what were seen by many within the countries as being essentially domestic issues.

To my mind, these are key questions that I believe civil groups – given their umbilical relation with the state – always need to ask themselves in relation to the conduct of (civil) politics, especially at the present historical stage of enforced and accelerating ‘globalisation’ and so-called ‘liberalisation’, which has followed an historically-significant period of resurgence of the South and clearly seek to undo those gains. The sovereignty issue has been around for some decades now, and it is one that should, I believe, be seen by civil campaignists as a fundamental, generic issue. The central question that arises for civil entities is the classic political question of means and ends.

Second, the experience also raised the difficult dialectics of the internationalisation of issues, especially as they relate to the question of the emancipation and empowerment (and at the most basic level, protection) of the peoples around whom (and often, in whose name) campaigns are organised. Related to this is the question of the content and practice of alternative politics.

My studies suggest that precisely as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (henceforth NBA) tried to avoid getting coopted by conventional politics and to practise ‘alternative politics’, and precisely as it subsequently tried to move to raising broader issues (such as the distorting effects of the World Bank’s presence in what initially were domestic projects such as the Sardar Sarovar Project), the audiences to which it spoke, and the arenas in which decisions tended to be made, tended over time to move from the local and state to the national level, and then on to the international. In other words, the locus of decisions tended to move further and further away from levels where the people who were being directly affected by the project, could have an effective say in decisions – which constituted a dynamic that contradicted everything that the movement stood for.

Equally, although the NBA was perhaps more successful than any other movement in India in raising a debate in the public domain – and thereby in taking its politics to arenas beyond the state -, and although it always asserted its own independent character and the centrality of popular will and was widely projected as being ‘anti-state’, the irony is that by always focussing on The State as its adversary during its first decade (and not on the interests that were behind the project), it perhaps played an important role in only re-validating the state – and therefore also, in effect, practised what effectively became statist politics[lxxii].

This tendency was only deeply concretised by it – as one of the most prominent popular movements in the country – approaching one of the most pillars of the Indian state, the Supreme Court of the country, for a decision on the project – and therefore, in a deeply symbolic way, on the direction that the movement should take. Even if the NBA disclaimed this in public, it knew that it was tying its hands irrevocably by this decision[lxxiii].

Indeed, beyond this, the earlier tendency of the NBA had also been to focus on political action at state, national and international levels, rather than engaging with the local interests which wanted the dam (big industrialists, big farmers, big traders), or in mobilising local politicians; or even in putting forward and into practise alternative forms of local governance or local economy, or even local river management. By doing so however, it can plausibly be argued that in its own way, the movement tended to only reinforce centralised politics, centralised planning, and centralised development – remote from the people that it sought to represent and, once again, contradictory to what it formally stood for. To the NBA’s credit however, it seems to have learned from feedback and criticism it received in these areas, and in the past five years or so, it has taken several initiatives that begin to bring it back to this crucial ground (such as in its campaign on the Maheshwar dams project).

So, and in relation to widespread allegation that the NBA was and is ‘anti-development’, it would perhaps be more accurate to say, as another researcher has put it, that “… the NBA has articulated a discourse of resistance which is arguably centred on a notion of reclaiming, as opposed to rejecting, development”[lxxiv].

Another powerful current has been the cultural-political. My reading of the NBA’s campaign is that as it advanced, and specifically as it advanced into the territory of its perceived enemy, its vocabulary changed. It changed, over time but progressively, from articulating and defending the cultural rights of the peoples they were working with, in particular the Adivasis, and looking for alternative futures, to being concerned with critiques of what the state technocrats were doing and increasingly, to ‘how to do things better’ than them; in short, to speaking the language of their opponents – and therefore to losing the very ground they stood on[lxxv].

This shift also required that the campaignists call upon a wide range of sympathetic but highly technical opinion (scientists, engineers, environmentalists, lawyers, and other professionals), and to broaden their alliances accordingly. On the one hand, there is no question that broad-based technical expertise became a major strength of both of the two campaigns, and is in general the case for successful civil campaigns. But on the other hand, this tactical alliance in turn also played, I submit, important roles in determining both the language and structure of the movements as well as the class character of its leadership. In my understanding, this is endemic to civil movement.

A particularly poignant example of the downstream effect of this shift took place in December 1996, where – at a national meeting on a ‘people’s water policy’ called by the NBA – a fascinating but troubling exchange arose about the very meaning of ‘water’ that the movement was working with and that by calling this meeting, the movement was giving legitimacy to. As it turned out, the keynote speakers – as chosen by the NBA, and therefore to some extent representing its current thinking – chose to focus the meeting’s attention on the technical aspects of water flow (how many cusecs of water were available in the river), and to show that the project planners were wrong in their calculations and how the ‘alternative engineers’ had got their sums right, to a point where the cultural meanings of water to the people of the valley – in earlier years, so important to the movement – were not mentioned at all. For several participants who had been associated with the campaign since its beginnings, this seemed to suggest a major shift in how the leaders of the movement were now seeing the meaning of the struggle they were leading.

Equally poignant is that despite the widespread solidarity for the NBA in the North, at least some of the prominent individuals and organisations in the North who acted in support of the local movement had a very poor understanding of the actual social situation in the Narmada Valley. For instance, in relation to the social composition of those being displaced for the Sardar Sarovar Project, I found in my research that several of my respondents had quite uninformed notions regarding the people to be displaced by the project (‘all impoverished tribals’), and also in relation the social composition and base of the movement they were supporting (‘a tribal movement’), when in fact a very substantial and important section of the NBA’s base (in other words, those to be displaced) was made up of prosperous middle farmers in the Narmada valley, the Patidars. Their solidarity was therefore extended somewhat uncritically and/or in terms of their own particular understandings and goals of ‘India’, ‘the South’, and the character of the movement they were supporting, and the NBA consequently remains quite widely understood in the North (and in metropolitan India) as a ‘tribal movement’. The wider implications of this however, since at least some of these individuals and organisations were heavily involved in public campaigning and/or political advocacy in their own countries, are that they also broadcast a distorted picture of the local situation in their countries, and thereby created something of a ‘false consciousness’ among people they lobbied and influenced as a part of the Narmada campaign[lxxvi].

This becomes only more ironic when seen in relation to yet another factor : That there is, or was in the late 90s, a fairly definite separation in the states and in India as a whole, between mainstream tribal politics and those claiming to represent Adivasis (‘tribals’, or indigenous peoples) in Indian society as a whole, and the ‘new social movements’, such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan. In addition, while the NBA had strong positive relations with some rapidly growing, new mass organisations in its region whose mass membership was Adivasi but whose leadership is basically middle-class activist, there was also distance, if not actual opposition, between it and other also increasingly important new grassroot Adivasi organisations at the state level.

These dynamics would seem to several implications for the movement, and for popular movements more generally. Insofar as any particular movement or campaign in favour of subordinated sections would presumably also want to be of wider relevance to that section in general, the question is what impact can – for the sake of argument – ‘successful’ international campaigns such as those around the Narmada project (which were strongly focussed on the conditions of the Adivasis, as discussed above) have on the conditions and emancipation of Adivasis in the region or country as a whole, if there is indeed this kind of stand-off ? What are the means by which movements such as the NBA, and together with it its partners in the North, think this broader task can be addressed ?

In general therefore, and aside from the question of ends and means, as touched on above, I believe that the Narmada campaigns came to be substantively changed by their deciding to challenge their opponents in their own arenas and in their own language (and even if they managed to do so remarkably well) and by focussing on oppositional politics as their main tactic (ie by making their opponents their main focus, as opposed to constructive programmes of putting into practice the alternative ideas they stand for). The increasingly intense – if also highly effective – use of modern information and communication technologies as a part of the campaign only reinforced these tendencies[lxxvii]. And all these factors in turn, I believe, also had deep influences in terms of limiting the degree of internal democracy and institutionalisation that became possible within the movement, and also of tending to keep the campaigns (and campaignists) distanced from the broader movements that have been emerging among the very sections they also speak for, the Adivasis in India.

Third, I have suggested elsewhere that the campaigns around the Narmada project – and in this sense, also around the Polonoroeste project – were contexts where there was significant reconceptualisation on (among other things) the nature of the societies from which they (the campaigns) were being conducted. I have also argued that this is also more generally true of the instrument of social action that was forged through these particular experiences, the TNCA (transnational civil alliance), and that such experiences have often been contexts for strategising about social and political alternatives[lxxviii]. Both the NBA-related Narmada campaign and also, especially, the CNS/Chico Mendes-related MDB campaign that followed the Polonoroeste campaign came to become symbols, even icons, for the struggle for alternative futures. Chico Mendes received two international awards in recognition of his work, and Medha Patkar and the NBA have received several including the Right Livelihood Award – ‘the so-called ‘alternative Nobel prize’ – in 1991, explicitly for its contribution to ‘alternatives’.

The question of whether such awards in fact represent alternatives, is a separate issue. The question we need to look at, is : How much conscious re-thinking was there, in fact, in the course of the campaigns, towards preferred social and political futures, as distinct from just using – even if creatively – established channels and institutions, and accepting the given political structure ? When the accounts are done, where did the balance lie, in terms of focus ? And in particular, to the extent that deliberations indeed took place, and keeping in mind the reality that the roots of the environmental and material problems that face the world today, and the world in each one of us, lie primarily in the North, not the South, how much of this was in relation to the North, as distinct from the South and about how change should take place there ?

Sonia Alvarez and Arturo Escobar have argued that ‘new social movements’ such as the NBA in their essence represent and must be seen “equally and inseparably as struggles over meaning and material conditions, that is, as cultural struggles”[lxxix]. True; but the issue that arises out of this look at movements in the Narmada valley is how we should understand the inversions and paradoxes that grow within movements that were formed to struggle for another future and for other meanings, or for the recovery of meaning.

Paradoxes such as these are perhaps contained in movement, as in life. To single out the NBA is not to suggest that similar or other contradictions have not arisen in the case of the other phases of movement. I do so here only to illustrate the richness of the landscape, and in many ways I choose to focus on the NBA’s experience for this illustration only because it is the richest.

Finally, I would like to suggest that what is conventionally referred to as the ‘internationalisation’ of issues and campaigns, needs careful re-examination and more precise articulation. Insofar as the term means that issues are being taken beyond national boundaries (either physical-geographical and/or organisational-political), any such action can indeed be termed ‘internationalisation’. My studies however, suggest that ‘internationalisation’ does not only refer to ‘international’ space. To the contrary, the experience of both the cases suggest that ‘internationalisation’ in fact refers centrally both to the building of ‘domestic’ debate and ‘national’ space in other countries, as well as to working in international institutions and in transnational space.

Specifically, in today’s world and especially as related to multilateral institutions such as the Bank, this means engaging in domestic state and civil politics in countries of the North. At a time therefore, when it has become common to speak of globalisation leading to the reduction of the significance of the nation state and domestic politics, these experiences at least – which in themselves were early, path-breaking experiences in the globalisation of socio-environmental issues – strongly re-affirm the central strategic importance of the ‘national’ and of domestic politics; and indeed, they suggest that this remains the single most powerful lever over multilateral institutions, at least for civil alliances. Whether one chooses to use the lever, is another matter; but the relevance of the national seems only underlined.

As the Narmada experience showed so well, the building and strategic deployment of a strong domestic constituency – in this case, a mass movement – in the project country played a powerful role in forcing the Bank to change its mind, and more generally in the ‘international’ campaign; but equally, the building of vibrant domestic campaigns in what can be called ‘solidarity countries’ was also very important. These might almost be called prerequisites for a successful campaign aimed at a multilateral institution.

In many ways, and at many levels, the campaigns around the Polonoroeste and Narmada projects have raised some of the most fundamental and complex political, social, ecological, and ethical questions that confront humankind (not to speak of the economic, which I consider as a subset). But while also looking at the more specific question of ‘what happened at the Bank’, I have found it necessary to bring to the surface some of the issues contained in this complex and turbulent current.

Among the most difficult and essential of all the questions that arise – and in way, the whole subject of ‘advocacy’ and of ‘campaigning’, in general, is suffused with this – is the question of representation and legitimacy. The campaigns that took place, were at all time conducted by civil campaignists in the name of either certain proposals or certain peoples. At the bottom line, there was – to borrow from the original Communist Manifesto, which appeared a century and a half ago now – ‘a world to win’. I believe it is incontestable that each of the campaigns made, in their own separate but very related ways, some very major contributions to the histories of the regions and countries they were conducted in (both in the South and the North) and to the lives of the peoples around whom they were conducted. The organisations, and some of the individuals involved, also came to be quite celebrated, aside from personally growing through the experience.

But the net result of these complex current has been a process of a possibly inadvertent but nevertheless very real strengthening of a process of the ‘representation’ of local interests in international arenas by more cosmopolitan, English speaking sections of the movement – which in other words means a strengthening of conventional class, caste, and other social relations. As the campaign came to be celebrated internationally, and its leaders given all the major civil international awards, in a very real way they became citizens of a transnational world, and achieved a kind of transnationality; and the transnational alliance they built and worked through, became a world in itself – but peopled only by the key activists in each country.

In short, there is indeed a world to win – but whose world is it, anyway ?

Annexure :

Muto Ichiyo’s Work on Civil Alliance : A First Bibliography

Jai Sen, July 2005[lxxx]

Muto Ichiyo, 1985 – ‘Beyond the New Left’, in AMPO : Japan-Asia? Quarterly Review vol 17 no 3

Muto Ichiyo, 1993 1989 – ‘For an Alliance of Hope’. Keynote speech at the first People’s Plan 21 gathering in Minamata, Japan, in 1989. Published in Jeremy Brecher, John Brown Childs, and Jill Cutler, eds, 1993 – Global Visions, Beyond the New World Order. Boston, Mass : South End Press, pp 147-162

Muto Ichiyo, August 1996 – ‘Hope in Kathmandu : Third Major PP21 Program in South Asia’, in AMPO : Japan-Asia? Quarterly Review, vol 27 no 2, pp 40-45

Muto Ichiyo, November 1996 – ‘Global Democracy and the Transborder Alliance of People’. Paper presented at the Manila Peoples Forum on APEC held in November 1996. Published by Corporate Watch, November 1996. 9 pp

Muto Ichiyo, February 1997 – ‘Ecological perspectives to alternative development, with a focus on the discussion of the Rainbow Plan case’. Paper for ARENA workshop, Manila, February 24-27 1997. 16 pp

Muto Ichiyo, June 2000 – ‘Redefine and practice our peace, our security, if they do theirs’, Keynote address to the Okinawa International Forum on People’s Security, June 30-July 2000, Urasoe, Okinawa, Japan. 11 pp. Posted August 15 2004 at http://www.ppjaponesia.org/modules/articles/article.php?id=8 (external link)

Muto Ichiyo, February 2001– ‘The Cold War and Post-Cold? War Dynamics of Taiwan and East Asia in People’s Security Perspective’. Posted August 15 2004 at : http://www.inter-asia.org/journal/issues/vol3/no1/newpage7.htm. (external link) Originally written as keynote speech for international forum organised by the Presbyterian Church in Taipei, Taiwan, in February 2001

Muto Ichiyo, May 2002 – ‘Empire, Global Power Centers, and People’s Alliances’. Paper originally presented to a roundtable discussion on the war issue held by ARENA, May 8-9 2002 in Hong Kong. 7 pp. Available at http://www.afsc.org/pwork/0209/020917.htm (external link)

Muto Ichiyo, June 2002 – ‘Neo-Liberal Globalization and People’s Alliance’. Paper for People’s Plan 21 General Assembly, Rajabhat Institute, Bangkok, Thailand, June 22-23 2002

Muto Ichiyo, October 2002 – ‘1947 Constitution situated in the context of the post-war Japanese state’. Summary & incomplete draft. Paper presented at the 2002 Workshop on ‘National Security and Constitutional Rights in the Asia Pacific Region’, Australia National University, October 8-9 2002. Available at http://eprints.anu.edu.au/archive/00002685/01/Muto_2002Workshop.pdf (external link)

Muto Ichiyo, Summer 2003 – ‘Asian Peace Movements and Empire’, in Multitude no 13 (in French); forthcoming in English in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol 4, No 3 (Routledge). Reprinted in edited form in Jai Sen, Anita Anand, Arturo Escobar, and Peter Waterman, eds, 2004 – World Social Forum : Challenging Empires.New Delhi : Viveka

Muto Ichiyo, June 2004 – ‘Alliance of Hope and Challenges of Global Democracy’. Keynote address at Alliance of Hope : Encounter of 1993 Regional Networks, June 18-22 2004, Geneva. Posted August 15 2004 at http://www.ppjaponesia.org/modules/articles/article.php?id=11 (external link)

Muto Ichiyo and Inoue Reiko, 1985a – ‘Beyond the New Left (Part 1) : In Search of a Radical Base in Japan,’ in Ampo, vol 17, no 2, pp 20-35

Muto Ichiyo and Inoue Reiko, 1995a – ‘Beyond the New Left (Part 2) : In Search of a Radical Base in Japan,’ in Ampo, vol 17, no 3, pp 54-73, continued in Ampo, vol 17, no 4, pp 51-57

Endnotes & References

i This paper is written on the basis of work that I have been doing over the past some years on the history and dynamics of campaigns around the Narmada project in India and the Polonoroeste and related projects in Brazil, and more recently on the transnationalisation of civil movement in the context of the current phase of economic globalisation, including as manifested in the World Social Forum. I have done much of this work with the support of research and writing grants from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur? Foundation, Chicago, and the Ford Foundation, New Delhi and New York, and I am currently working as a Nehru Fellow, awarded by the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi.

I would like to take this opportunity to also thank the many, many people involved in these and other campaigns whom I have met and interviewed over these years, for sharing their experiences and thoughts with me, and for often encouraging me to explore new ground such as this. But I also wish to thank, in particular, Jeremy Brecher and Jonathan Fox, for the sustained support and encouragement they have given me in this journey, in so many ways; the organisers of this Conference for inviting me and thereby giving me the opportunity to think through and present these thoughts, which – as these endnotes will reveal – I have been working with for some years now; and most especially Muto Ichiyo for the great honour he has done me by suggesting my name for this Conference and also for having had translated and published in Japanese a book I co-edited, World Social Forum : Challenging Empires (Viveka, New Delhi, 2004). I hope that by this paper, I can in some small way repay my debt to him.

ii Muto Ichiyo, 1993 1989 – ‘For an Alliance of Hope’. Keynote speech at the first People's Plan 21 gathering in Minamata, Japan, in 1989. Published in Jeremy Brecher, John Brown Childs, and Jill Cutler, eds, 1993 – Global Visions, Beyond the New World Order (Boston, Mass : South End Press), pp 147-162.

iii John Brown Childs, 2003 – Transcommunality, From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect