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ABCs of Alternatives

by Rosa Luxemburg foundation
The "ABCs of Alternatives" published in May 2013 includes chapters on democratization, globalization capitalism criticism, global social rights, good work, Keynesianism, knowledge commons, liberation pedagogy, no person is illegal, peace, rebellion, redistribution and the World Social Forum. More articles and free Internet books at

[The following chapters are translated from the German in the May 2013 book “ABCs der Alternativen” from the Rosa Luxemburg foundation,]


By Bettina Loesch

In the classical sense, democracy means the self-government of citizens and aims at the self-determination of people. Democratization can be understood both as the production of democratic conditions and their further development. In a far-reaching sense, democratization aims at reappropriating politics and dismantling conditions of rule, exclusion and oppression. Democratization implies an expansion of political participation with the involvement of everyone. A formal equality with parliamentary procedures and an understanding of democracy limited to government institutions usually prevails. In the time of the Weimar Republic when basic democratic and social rights were fought for, the coexistence of capitalist economy and political democracy were themes of great political controversies. To what extent capitalist- and property-relations and social inequality and class rule represent a limit of civil-liberal democracy was a contested point. Democratization meant more than liberation from authoritarian rule. The organization form of the political community was up for decision as representative-parliamentary democracy or as council-democracy resting on base-democratic structures, respecting the social presuppositions of democracy without separation of the spheres of economy and politics (>economic democracy). The further development from liberal to socialist or social democracy was urged in Germany’s founding phase (cf. Wolfgang Abendroth).

In the 1960s the revived protest movements, civil rights initiatives and new social movements sharply criticized civil-liberal democracy. Spokespersons like Johannes Agnoli diagnosed a degeneration of democracy, criticized the unfulfilled representation promises and the authoritarian mechanisms (emergency laws, edicts on radicals etc). Political emancipation was understood as “politics in the first person” and as lived radical democratic praxis. The founding of anti-authoritarian play groups, self-governed enterprises, critical universities etc. brought about a cultural revolution and led to the opening of the postwar society.

The demand of democratization is now raised by social movements from Latin America. Democratization stimulated by the Mexican Zapatistas goes beyond the nation-state and forms a transnational culture of resistance. Alternative political forms are urged and tested with radical criticism of the failure and destructive effects of neoliberal policy. For the Zapatistas, democratization stands for the installation of autonomous communities and base-democratic and dialogical forms of politics and organizations.

The global justice movement is a global democratization movement surpassing the nation state that re-articulates the social question and demands the democratization of European and international politics. The demand of re-democratization and re-appropriation of privatized areas and goods created by the general public and representing public property is central. The goal of democratization is the democratic control of political institutions and decision-making processes that are increasingly influenced or captured by private actors (corporations, think tanks, lobbyists etc).

“Another world is possible” refers to the demand of another politics. Democratization includes the conquest of rule relations in living-, working-, and everyday-conditions (racism, sexism and class rule) as well as the development of political-social self-organization and cooperation. The challenge is accomplishing this without neglecting criticism of state rule and conditions of economic oppression and coercion.


By Christina Deckwirth

Globalization criticism is a specific form of criticism of current social conditions supported by a global justice movement. Globalization criticism began because of a new phase of capitalist development since the 1990s (“neoliberal globalization”). The central slogans are still powerful: “Globalization is not a fate” and “Another world is possible.” These slogans reject a practical constraint logic and e4mphasize that alternatives exist to the present economic and social system. “The world is not a commodity” attacks the increasing commodification of many areas of life through privatization, liberalization and deregulation. The starting points of criticism are the extreme social divisions, increased environmental destruction, loss of democratic control and the growing influence of transnational corporations and international economic organizations like the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO.

Globalization criticism includes system-transforming positions (>Appropriation) and makes concrete demands like stronger regulation of “unfettered capitalism” to ward off neoliberal restructurings. Complementing anti-capitalist groups, the global justice movement includes spectrums that either take no position on capitalism or explicitly advocate a strategy of reform. The term “globalization critic” helps in slandering. While rightwing globalization criticism stresses the importance of national identity, a positive relation to the globalization of social rights and protest movements is part of the self-image of an emancipatory globalization criticism.

Globalization criticism offers many starting points for developing substantive alternatives. The Novum of globalization criticism is bringing together different political traditions and spectrums – workers movements, new social movements with their different benchmarks and North-South solidarity work – through terms like “global solidarity,” “global social rights” and “ecological justice.” The development of alternatives is marked more by searches and practical discussion than by concrete conceptions of “another world.” Organizational alternatives exist. The global justice movement is characterized by a far-reaching base-democratic, alliance-oriented and international network. Besides many autonomous local groups, the global justice movement embraces broad and diverse left forums like Attac, Via Campesina, People’s Global Action, Internet platforms as well as NGOs like Focus on the Global South. Social forums or summit protests are typical organizational forms where experience exchange, education work and action trainings work out substantive alternatives and new forms of protest.

The global water movement is one example for practical globalization criticism. It is typical because it first thematicizes the effects and causes of the privatization and commercialization of the water supply in the North and South, second reunites nationally and internationally different spectrums (environmental- and development study groups, unions, indigenous people etc) and third supports appropriation battlers for a democratic and need-oriented water supply along with defensive battles against concrete privatization projects and the policy of certain institutions (World Bank, World Water forum). The water movement had a positive and symbolic reference point with the successful “water war” of Cochabamba.

One strength of globalization criticism is that it is often oriented in praxis and closely linked to concrete political struggles. On the other hand, the global justice movement is often lacking in profound discussion and reflection. Frequently there is only a vague intuitive understanding of the role of market and state and of rule and strategic options among many participants. One advantage of the very broad substantive umbrella of globalization criticism is the possibility of alliances of spectrums and learning among many political initiatives. A conceptual concretization is necessary to avert the danger of confiscation and maintain substantive clarity. In the future criticism of the global justice movement will need to refer to “globalized capitalism” more than to “neoliberal globalization.”


By Werner Ratz

In the last few years, people have tried to envision what another world would look like with this term. The insight that global social rights are possible is no longer enough for many activists. They try to identify contents and more precise definitions. Global social rights can happen very concretely (securing material needs through an unconditional global basic income, personal freedom, intact environment etc) and then are usually part of traditional human rights. In a more general way, global social rights can also be a starting point for seeing the common interest in intellectual and activist movements. This represents a cautious and groping advance more than a certain and rapid progress. Global social rights are not fixed but controversially discussable.

The right to have rights is the most fundamental of all human rights. People should not be objects of a third party. Human existence begins in that a person exists. No one has to earn and no one can lose a human right. Understood this way, human rights are not a contradiction to global social rights even if traditional leftist criticism always stressed the deficiencies of the former… Global social rights were originally formulated as defensive rights against the state, more exactly as defensive rights of the citizen (in the masculine and singular form) against the access of the state to his property. This contradiction between the claim and reality of social human rights conditions can be made fruitful in the liberal-civil debate as a claim to the right of development.

Human rights are valid individually and universally. What is due one person must be due to everyone. In addition, global social rights focus on the social totality. The claim to a good life for all is not consistent with a real world where possibilities and power, wealth and participation, consumption of resources and rights are distributed extremely unequally. Therefore global social rights include ecological questions and questions of democracy and personal freedom. In general, global social rights question the economic, patriarchal, racist or other conditions of rule. Global social rights are different from traditional human rights since they are closely connected with appropriation practices. These practices are similar to citizens’ original defense of property who thought of their own immediate interests when they spoke of “rights.” The formalization process of rights conceals this attitude. Appropriation includes a different criticism of human rights than the traditional leftist criticism that insisted that human rights cannot be systematically realized in a class society. With that, the whole appropriation practice was postponed to the revolutionary upheaval. In the past, human rights were only sporadically realized.

When global social rights are understood as a continuous appropriation process, we could ask where these practices occur and what conditions make them possible. This realization can happen very practically as for example with migrants, with occupations/ appropriations (land occupations in Brazil), in solidarity economies, in individual “self-denial,” that is in appropriating freedom possibilities as in gainful work (sick leave) or in theft (cf. free economy), in using the infrastructure of the employer (e.g. telephone, Internet), in the rather symbolic struggles for more possibilities (e.g. house occupations, the conversion of public services into private independence, in voluntary precariousness or in renunciation on family).

Human rights must be demanded from the state, possibly fought for against the state and ultimately guaranteed by the state. The world of global capitalism resists this model. States are not powerless and irrelevant and also are not the only actors.


By Klaus Pickshaus

Gainful work is the central theme of the unions. Since time immemorial, maintaining, promoting and organizing work “humanly” has been the core of their self-image. Therefore labor policy with the task of regulation was always an important field of action even if often displaced by other priorities. The 1990s could be described as a “lost decade” for labor policy since job- and income security pushes back all attempts at qualitative organization of work. At the same time humanization successes from the 1970s and 1980s were often cancelled. The basic constellations have changed compared to the time when the humanization of work was an accepted project. Short-term orientation of businesses and location- and cost-cutting competition shrivel the quality of work into an addendum. The conflicts around extensions of working hours are symptomatic here. Under the slogan “work is the main thing,” quality standards are perforated and legal protections deregulated with the result that the demands of people who have work or want work are lowered.

Against this neoliberal mainstream, the German IG Metal union started a Good Work initiative in 2003 “to develop a reform concept for a modern humane world of work integrating individual themes on labor policy.” Such a “concrete utopia of good work” could also have a far-reaching radiation today despite the change in values. However not much would be gained with only a political utopia on labor. Rather a new humanization project on labor policy must be connected to the tradition of the “humanization of labor projects of the 1970s and 1980s” (Pickshaus/Urban). The Good Work project emphasizes both the everyday organization of working conditions and the quality of work as a social-political theme. The re-politization of a field of activity is involved.

This project has several dimensions. Good work, first of all, is a concept of resistance. Setting limits to bad work and building lines of resistance to stop the downward adjustment spiral of the standard of good work are vital. This means firstly waging a struggle against further extensions of working hours and expansion of precarious jobs. In addition good work is a chance of intervention for changing working conditions. In a defensive situation, good work is also a future concept that strengthens the claims and interests of employees in good work and helps release their social imagination in a situation of resistance. Good work can also be connected to far-reaching aspects of ecology and democracy at work.

The German government claims “good work” for the European social model. More and better jobs are guaranteed in the framework of the Lisbon process to make Europe “the most competitive economic zone of the world.” Meanwhile the SPD also adopts “good work” for its programmatic debate without distancing itself from the political labor market deregulations (Hartz laws) whose results contradict all criteria of good work.

An initiative for good work must be understood as a “counterpoint project” against such a competitive monopolization. Good work is a project that stresses the health-, social- and labor-related interests of employees and draws movement energy from the impulses promoting productivity and competition” (Pickshaus/Urban). Strengthening the core claims of employees and focusing on the quality of present working conditions is the theme of the 2007 German DGB Union index “Good Work.” The chance of re-establishing labor policy as an important work field of the whole union movement opens up with this new instrument.


By Jorg Huffschmid

Keynesianism is a term for theoretical economic and political concepts based on the works of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). The experiences of the worldwide economic crisis and the failure of the economic theory and policy dominant at that time to explain and effectively combat that crisis were the background. His two essential messages were: capitalist market economies are unstable and can be stabilized through state-political intervention.

New discoveries of Keynesian theory involve firstly the central role of aggregate economic demand. Unlike neoclassical theory, Keynes assumed that a capitalist economy does not automatically tend to full employment produced through wage adjustments on the labor market. Rather the demand for goods and services is crucial for the level of employment. Therefore the demand-gaps should be closed through greater private and public demand instead of lowering wages in a recession. Secondly, uncertainty and uncertain expectations under which decisions about investments, consumption and savings (formation of financial assets) have a central role. This uncertainty promotes speculation on the financial markets and can destabilize the economy. Thirdly, stagnation tendencies of capitalist systems are long-term. In 1941 Keynes forecast three phases of the long-term development of industrial countries after the Second World War. The first phase is marked by capital shortage, the second by an approximate balance between supply of and demand for capital and the third that on one side savings increase on account of higher incomes while profitable investment possibilities decrease on the other side. To counteract these stagnation tendencies, a higher private consumption, a “socialization of investments” and a reduction of individual working hours are necessary. An economic long-term prognosis for the second half of the past century is vital. Fourthly and lastly, international monetary cooperation is necessary to avoid global (financial) crises and inter-state conflicts escalating from them.

At the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, Keynes proposed a system including stable exchange rates and political interventions to produce balanced balance of payments – through control of long-term surpluses! The polarization in the world economy increasing since the middle of the 1970s demonstrates the intense actuality of these basic ideas against deregulated world market competition.

Keynesian demand-oriented economic policy was practiced successfully in many countries after the Second World War. In Germany, it helped in quickly overcoming the recession of 1966/67. From the end of the 1960s, the neoclassical theoretical counter-revolution superseded the Keynesian revolution of economic thinking. The triumphant advance of neoliberal policy began with the coup-de-etat in Chile and the dismantling of the Bretton Woods system in 1973. As a rule, leftist criticism refers to the ecological blindness and the fixation on economic growth. The first criticism calls for a policy that respects material and regional structures. The second is incorrect for the long-term perspective. Keynes regarded more public investments and reduced working hours as necessary and desirable future perspectives of capitalism.

The potential of Keynesian theory for criticism of neoliberalism and development of alternatives is still great. Alongside economic steering, the stabilization and control of the financial markets, precise ideas about a socialization of investments and new international cooperation (global governance) are central aspects of a modern Keynesianism. Structures of economic democracy and welfare state systems that oppose a possible malformation of Keynesianism in authoritarian state structures and activities are crucial for such a further development. In this connection, one serious deficiency of the theory must be overcome: the missing confrontation with the hierarchy of power, class relations and power relations of capitalist societies.


By Petra Buhr

A kind of gold intoxication has erupted in the knowledge society in which claims for intellectual property rights like patents, brands or author rights are marked out. Owners may determine for a certain time who can use their knowledge and at what price. The most different knowledge assets are privatized in this way: software and culture, genes and seeds, technical inventions and designs. This knowledge world restricted by fences and barriers faces the vision of a knowledge commons – like the common pasture land of the Middle Ages: an intellectual world without limits where the “community asset” knowledge belongs to everyone. Everyone participates in preserving and caring for the commons and enhancing the public welfare. Rules and necessary framing conditions must be discussed since the knowledge commons is whittled down more and more by privatization and other barriers.

Although the term knowledge commons is a few years old, the underlying idea has existed since time immemorial. Commonly used knowledge is essential for the development of humanity. Today’s knowledge is the basis of the “new.” “If I saw further than others, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants” (Isaac Newton). While a concrete good like an apple loses value when it is eaten, knowledge loses social value when it is not used. Therefore every limitation of the knowledge commons must be well thought out and remain an exception. Again and again strengthened intellectual property rights like patents or copyrights, for example, lead to under-utilization. The knowledge commons should really be strengthened through these rights since they offer monetary incentives for providing new knowledge and helping enlarge the treasure of shared knowledge that helps in the long-term. A temporary under-utilization has to be accepted.

In the area of health, the damage inflicted through the executed privatization of knowledge is considerable. Since holders of patents can determine prices, a few corporations can dictate high prices and make medicines unaffordable for large parts of the world population – for example for HIV/AIDS sufferers in Africa. There are alternatives to intellectual property rights. For instance, state funds could pay researchers who make their knowledge available to the general public. An alternative system for medicines was recommended in the World Health Organization. Millions of people who die of curable illnesses today could be saved.

In other areas, the knowledge commons is already reality today. Developers of free and open source software write programs that are available to everyone. The search for errors is made easier and duplicate developments avoided. Science is one of the traditional knowledge commons in which the monetary needs of scientists are mostly satisfied through public financing – not through the privatization of knowledge. However patents appear more and more as research findings are privatized – despite public promotion.

A shared idea of a knowledge commons and its economy could help change the present “knowledge” policy, according to James Boyle’s thesis. For example, the term “environment” brought together bird protectors and climate researchers in the 1960s through the common idea of a vulnerable oikos. Doctors and software developers could also be united under the term “knowledge commons” and thus gain strength. Free Knowledge represents this approach in Germany.

The question whether abolishing intellectual property rights is the best solution has been contested since their introduction and has not been satisfactorily answered up to now. The disadvantages become increasingly serious the more the rights are extended. The consequences are visible all over the world but most clearly in developing countries. Over 80% of worldwide intellectual property rights belong to businesses from industrial states that defend their advantages. Intellectual property rights are central for this development. The knowledge commons should be better protected and a rethinking encouraged in the area of intellectual property rights in the sense of a more just world economic system.


By Raul Zelik

Socialist experiments faced a recurring problem in the 20th century. In the long-term, soci8alization of the means of production on the state plane and in smaller units like cooperatives led to a noticeable decline in productivity nearly everywhere, Trickle down or middle class economics explains this as a deficiency in individual incentives.

This problem cannot be denied even if the political interest of this argumentation is obvious. Collective forms of production in the 20th century mostly developed only a trifling dynamic. On this background, an international debate about the so-called incentive problem eased up in the 1960s. Soviet Marxist and Yugoslavian economists (like liberal thinkers in the West) supported political-economic structures involving both selfish motives and social benefits. Supplementary payments for individual persons and employees were introduced as performance-incentives. This was criticized as a backward step by Marxists and by the Cuban minister of industry at that time Che Guevara. Instead Guevara proposed an education policy where the “new socialist person” could be discovered as a productive force. In this way the moral appeal to collective responsibility and the heroising of personal sacrifice became characteristic features of the Guevarist period in Cuba. The permanent political mobilization changed suddenly into brutal education dictatorships in China and Cambodia.

On this background the liberation pedagogy that arose in Latin America is a vital contribution to future social projects. Alternative social relations must be learned. But what does a learning process look like that does not end up as authoritarian education? The Brazilian Paulo Freire (1921-1997) who coined the term liberation pedagogy developed his concept on the basis of literacy programs in Brazil and Chile. Starting from the question why certain learning methods cannot break the apathy of students, he concluded that learning cannot be a neutral process of knowledge transmission. Learning is only successful when it takes up specific experiences of individuals. Thus learning is a self-empowerment process in which the social situation of learners is actively changed. Unlike state socialist pedagogy that sought to “inspire” the oppressed masses with a kind of enlightenment, Freire rejected political agitation because this produces new estranged relations between leaders and the led. The literacy programs referring back to Freire took the specific knowledge of the oppressed as their basis and postulated the collectivity of learning processes and the collectivity of the teachers. The literacy seekers would learn constantly since all participants bring knowledge and collective processes produce unforeseeable results. In this regard, liberation pedagogy has a remarkable parallel to Foucault’s “repressed kinds of knowledge.” Liberation pedagogy also propagates the liberating power of repressed knowledge and urges breaking open discursive power systems.

Interestingly liberation pedagogy gains its impetus from a leftist Christian praxis (>Liberation theology). Base church movements (like the workers’ church) discussed the question how pastors can be brought into communities and their knowledge made useful for emancipation without their gaining power positions. Terms like devotion and humility that play a great role in Freire’s orientation came from this connection. The liberation educator must continuously carry out his or her own role.

Liberation pedagogy asks how far pedagogy is a concept of bio-political power. The problem of children’s education was first actual historically when new forms of production and government needed citizens and workers disciplining themselves… The diverse approaches of a base-oriented Educacion Popular inspired by Freire certainly helped the social movements in Latin America reconstitute themselves in the past 30 years despite brutal repression. They gave self-assurance to the oppressed and perspectives for communal actions.

- Freire, Paulo (1990), Pedagogy of the Oppressed


By Silke Veth

No person is illegal was one of the most important political campaigns and linking initiatives of the 1990s in Germany. The home of the idea, the hybrid workspace of documenta X 1997 in Kassel, stands for the new beginning. The connection of art, politics and media, the strict focus on the public nature, renunciation on demands to the state and moral arguments and the use of new media and forms of action broke with the classical anti-racist politics of the 1980s. After the 1993 abolition of the right of asylum, the racist escalation and increased deportations, no person is illegal – the name is taken from a quotation of the author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel – consciously chose a radical human rights standpoint that emphasized protection of the affected and defense of existing rights.

No person is illegal became known to a broad public for the first time through a call published in October 1997. Rights and freedom of movement are demanded for all in the sense of a legalization from below, practical help for the illegalized, alliances with legal migrants and state production of new illegalized must be discussed. Attempts to create a general public and a counter-movement with refugees and migrants include linking with the Sans Papiers in France, connection to the European No Border movement and with female US workers in the cleaning- and textile branches on initiatives for self-organization. Reflection on these experiences helps connect struggles of migrants in low-wage sectors with the demand for legalization. Social resistance and anti-racism must be joined. No Person is Illegal succeeded with new forms of action like an Online demonstration, a virtual sit-in in putting Lufthansa on the defensive and preventing concrete deportations through publically effective campaigns like “Stop Deportation Class” – campaign against Lufthansa. Camps on the European borders set the demand for freedom of movement and personal freedom as a universal human right on the daily agenda.

No Person is Illegal stands for a change of view: from victim and object of state repression and charitable love and affection to migrants and refugees as political subjects. New theoretical and practical linkages arise to feminist, global justice and critical whiteness debates etc. The fading out of Germany’s colonial history and the continuity of racist discrimination are criticized and the resistance of migrants thematicized. Autonomy of migration has become part of the anti-racist discussion.

No Person is Illegal has created spaces in which different campaigns and networks arise. The question of work migration is discussed and migration policy is understood as a reaction to the self-determined mobility of migrants…

No Person is Illegal was a transforming agent for avoiding hierarchization within the anti-racist movement, dissolving identities and seeking intersections, transitions, tactical common interests and productive misunderstandings. No Person is Illegal has brought the figure of the illegalized into discussion and made refugees and migrants into subjects. No Person is Illegal was and is the reference point for a broad spectrum of active players. Self-organization initiatives of migrants like The Voice and The Brandenburg Refugee initiative appeared. The challenge is to thematicize lines of communication between work, migration and the legalization demand and thus give a strong leftist political perspective to the economizing of migration policy and current discussion about inner security: a re-economization and internationalization of anti-racist policy.


By Erhard Crome

The desire to live in peace is characteristic of people since they have lived in organized societies. Peace means a contractual and secure cooperative life of people within social groups and between them. Peace is the opposite of war in relations between large groups, societies and states. Written history appears as a history of wars over power, territories, resources or dogmas and peace times as interruptions between wars. Peace must be made consciously and tied to a system of law. The assertion of an innate disposition to violence and aggression cannot be sustained. Group aggressions to destroy the enemy are always instilled when enemies are declared non-persons.

The Roman Empire assumed its wars were “just” (bella justa) since the Pax Romana, the peace imposed by the kingdom of the attainable world, was the natural order. Therefore every war against the empire was an “unjust” war (bella injusta) which authorized the masters of the empire to the most drastic measures. At the end the once rich Carthage was razed to the ground. The idea of just war in God’s name and not for the empire pervaded the Christian Middle Ages. In Leninism, the “just” war in the service of the working class and the respective General Secretary decided what was just at that time. Since the reasons can exclude one another in the construction of a “just war” in the arbitrariness of the warlords, Kant in his famous treatise “On Eternal Peace” proposed creating an international legal system that guarantees peace. In five preliminary articles, he explicitly rejected the violent intervention in the internal affairs of another state: “No state should violently intervene in the internal affairs of another state.” This approach became the foundation of the 1945 UN Charter. Article 1 says “maintaining world peace and international security” is the goal of the UN. In the Cold War, maintaining peace could not function as it was originally institutionally intended. However the principle of peaceful coexistence helped to the pacification of the East-West conflict. At the same time the idea gained acceptance that political, social and cultural human rights form a unity. Nevertheless the end of the Cold War brought a new age of intervention and imperial wars, not an era of peace as generally hoped in 1989/1990. The US and its allies have made war into a “normal” means of politics. In 2006 worldwide military spending was over $1.2 trillion, in the case of the US nearly double since 2001. Worldwide armaments increased 25% since 1990…

Globalization and war are two sides of one coin. The “New World Order,” postulated by President Bush senior with his Gulf War at the beginning of the 1990s, aimed at control of raw materials, above all oil and natural gas and control over strategic spaces. This line was continued with the wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq… The “war against terror” under President Bush junior led to a militarization of foreign policy, worsening relations to the Muslim world and dismantling civil rights in the countries of the West.

Peace today is a goal and strategy at once. The internal restoration of civil rights and freedom rights and an international order on the foundation of the rule of law as intended in the UN Charter are central instead of the “right of the stronger.” This strategy aims at de-militarizing international politics, peaceful solutions to conflict and withdrawing foreign occupation troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. More funds are necessary for the worldwide battle against poverty, hunger and avoidable sicknesses and protection of the natural environment that are only possible through disarmament. Peace education promotes a humanist view of the person and dissolves the clichés of the dehumanization of the “enemy.” Inner capacity for peace is the prerequisite for the outer capacity for peace of the state and society.


By John Holloway

Rebellion is normality today. A repressive society inevitably produces a rebellious society. We rebel constantly. Sometimes we do this openly. Someone tells us we should do something and we say No. Often rebellion does not occur openly. When we should do something, we say Yes and do something else. When the work stress increases, we may strike or stay away from work to play with the children or go to the park and read a book. Even when we do everything possible to obey, our body or our spirit sometimes rebels. We become sick, increasingly neurotic or simply mad.

Rebellion is all around us. At times it is simple to see when it occurs on a large scale as in the rebellion of the Zapatistas in Chiapas at the beginning of 1994, of the argentinazo (in Argentina) on December 19-20 or the rebellions in Bolivia between 2000 and 2005. In other cases we do not see rebellion or take it seriously: a young girl goes to a movie theater instead of school or a mother refuses to prepare dinner. Setting this young girl alongside the great Zapatista rebellion may seem strange. One represents an important revolutionary act and the other an individual apolitical and at best petty-bourgeoisie angry outburst. But we make rebellion into a special event and separate it from the daily routine if we do not try to understand lines of continuity. Then we fail in the challenge implicit in the most profound and most difficult declaration of the Zapatistas: “We are entirely normal women and men, children and seniors, that is rebels, nonconformists, critics and dreamers” (La Jornada, August 4, 1999). Rebellion is part of the everyday (>everyday culture) when common people are rebels.

When rebellion is part of the daily routine, this is because the everyday cannot be separated from repression. Repression leads inevitably to rebellion. In the left, there is a long tradition of separating the two. Most attention is directed at the capitalist hegemony. When rebellion is mentioned – and that does not happen often -, it is seen as something outside rule. (In Marxist analysis, capital and class struggle are customarily considered as separate – a strange idea). The problem is that being a rebel becomes something extraordinary when rebellion is not seen as a simple part of the daily experience of repression. When being a rebel is something special, we rebels take a leadership role and see ourselves as a kind of avant-garde. The elitist premises of Leninism are frequently reproduced even among those who reject the Leninist organization model.

Understanding rebellion as inseparable with repression is like saying repression is never all-embracing. The oppressed are never completely broken. Some reaction to oppression always survives. Our actions are never entirely subsumed in abstract labor. We are never completely assimilated in the roles assigned to us by capitalist society. There is always a surplus, a non-identity that cannot be limited by identity. An ecstatic space or moment always exists, a projection outside and beyond concrete oppression. That is what the Zapatistas call dignity. That is the rebellion that cannot be separated from oppression, the rebellion actualized in every moment of life.

Rebellion linked with every aspect of life leads to another political form. Anti-capitalist politics is not focused on bringing consciousness to people or encouraging people to be rebels. People already rebel. Our problem is to connect these rebellions with our own rebellions, to recognize this dignity and find ways to take these rebellions seriously. A policy of listening follows from that, the attempt to hear what is inaudible, not a policy of speaking. This means a policy of resonance that finds ways to resonate with the dignity and rebellion surrounding us.

The middle class theory that understands rebellion as an unusual event leads to considerable confusion. This corresponds with the general tendency to turn the world upside down and represent the normal as abnormal and the abnormal as normal. An analogy exists here to middle class economic theories that treat crises as extraordinary breaches with the normal balance instead of seeing crises as endemic to capitalist society.


By Hans-Jurgen Urban

[This article is translated from the German in “ABCs der Alternativen,” May 2013 from the Rosa Luxemburg foundation,]

Redistribution is the correction of the allocation of material or immaterial goods to individuals, groups or social classes in a society. Structures and mechanisms of (re-) distribution influence the conditions of the growth and development of the economy and the social quality of society. In capitalist societies, the structure and mechanisms of distribution are influenced by the functioning principles of capitalist markets. The capitalist property system produces a way of appropriation in which the owners of the means of production are given the right to the private appropriation of value creation. This distribution system leads to a systemic unequal distribution of incomes, assets and social life chances between the classes and within the class of wage-earners and an over-utilization of the natural foundations of life. Within this basic structure, different development variants are possible that will be decided in social battles and conflicts over political actions.

The western European social-democratic Keynesian welfare state aimed at the correction of structurally unequal market- and power-mediated distribution through redistribution policy. Unions had an important and often structurally guaranteed role in the framework of the welfare state compromise. Even if the welfare state left intact the foundations of the capitalist property- and appropriation-system, women and migrants were denied equality in the world of life and work and based on a nature-endangering growth model, the welfare state could realize considerable successes in redistribution and social standards. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the welfare state fell into crisis through the structural problems of its socio-economic development model. (“Fordist accumulation regime”), the conceptual deficits of its supporters and the offensive of neoliberal and new social-democratic politicians. Both political concepts meet in the goal of deregulating the labor markets, opening the social security systems for the exploitation interests of financial market actors, “taming” unions and weakening the institutions of collective labor relations. All this amounts to the dissolution of welfare state distribution and class compromises and the expropriation of social property rights of wage-earners gained by struggle. The competition state promoting capital and the market replaces the welfare state. The old distribution regime is replaced by a new variant of “accumulation through expropriation” (Harvey).

The perspective of a leftist emancipatory policy cannot be limited to defending the traditional welfare state. A “neo-solidarian (re-) distribution regime” could emphasize four redistribution projects: firstly, the redistribution of socially protected, meaningful, ecologically-friendly gainful work oriented in gender-fairness (>Good Work), secondly the redistribution of income and assets by a solidarity income policy of the unions and a social tax policy of the state (for example, by a progressive income, assets and inheritance tax), thirdly the generated financial revenue should be invested in renewing need-oriented social systems and an extensive provision of public goods (education, health care, mobility, communication and family reproduction) accessible without social access barriers and fourthly, reduction and redistribution of the consumption of nature between the capitalist metropolises and the other world regions along with renewing the energistic basis of economics.

National unions and nation states are indispensable key actors for realizing such a redistribution regime. The limits of national concepts must be overcome. In globalized finance-market capitalism, life chances must be redistributed transnationally and secured and fixed institutionally through global regulatory structures (“global governance”). This presupposes overcoming production and consumption in an ecologically-friendly development model. Such a project would go beyond the present finance-capitalist appropriation- and development system.


By Stefan Thimmel

“Another world is possible.” This motto has been all-pervasive since 2002. The arbitrariness of the slogan has also been criticized. Many critics say it must really mean “Another world is necessary.” Both are right: another world is necessary and possible.

The forum has developed into the largest meeting of civil society since the first World Social Forum in January 2001 in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil (organized by eight Brazilian networks as a counterpoint to the parallel World Economic Forum occurring in Davos in which 12,000 people participated. In 2005 it was hardly reported as news although 150,000 people from 135 countries came together in Porto Alegre and 6500 organizations were involved in 2500 activities. In 2005 the desired “other world” was again clearly Brazilian. For this reason, the forum was decentralized and hosted on three continents. From January to March 2006, forums took place in Bamako/Mali, Caracas/Venezuela and Karatschi/Pakistan. This model was only conditionally successful. 80,000 Americans assembled in Caracas; activists from Mali constituted the majority of the 20,000 participants in Bamako who discussed their demands like “No to Africa’s sale” and “No to genetic engineering.”… In January 2007 the caravan pulled into Nairobi, Kenya. The first World Social Forum in Africa was a great success because local African struggles were mixed in partly against the resistance of the organization’s committee, not only because of over 50,000 participants.

The great themes of the Social Forum were and are the privatization of public goods, human rights, and the struggle against unjust world trade and globalized capitalism. A change of themes occurred in Mumbia 2004. With the massive participation of the marginalized like the Dalits (untouchables) and the Adivasi (aborigines), racism, social rights and working conditions were emphasized. Seminars on political economics were poorly attended. Women were the spokespersons with concrete action proposals like the author and activist Arundhati Roy and the Iranian Nobel Prize sinner Shirin Ebadi. Structural- and meta-debates were carried on by and among men.

The question is raised again and again about the political influence of the World Social Forum. The pluralist strictly anti-hierarchical structure of the “Charter of Principles” with its 14 points composed in the middle of 2001 stresses process and “open space.” The dilemma is that concrete counter-designs to globalization are offered on one side and no one is authorized to give declarations on the other side. Helplessness seems to prevail, as is associated with the World Social Forum phenomenon. Can the unique character of the people’s festival be preserved and can the forum be prevented from sinking into arbitrariness as an instrument for forging ideas and a market of alternatives?

“Open space” (point 1 of the Charter) is a place of action-oriented exchange, of forming networks and “learning to forget” (Alain Bertha, co-organizer of the 2nd European Social Forum in 2003 in Paris) even if many are convinced that global mega-events have had their day and something new must be invented. An idea of what the “other possible and necessary world” could look like arises in the chaotic turmoil.

In 2008 a Global Action Day is scheduled on January 26 instead of a World Social Forum. In 2009 the forum will return to Brazil, in the “poor” Northern Belem, not in the “rich” southern Brazil. “Another world is possible even for slum dwellers.” This motto of the final demonstration in Nairobi makes clear the challenge. Difference, diversity, politization, participation and democratization are strengths of the forum. However the forum remains elitist if the cry of the excluded (Grito de los las Excluldos las) – the name of a Latin American campaign against poverty and exclusion is not taken up. In Bombay 2004 Arundhati Roy answered the criticism that the World Social Forum is a “talking kiosk”: “It is not enough that we are right. It is not enough to say we will expel them. We have to forge ahead. Therefore we must unite on something. That is a small step.”
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