From 26 to 28 June — just over a month after the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos — the heads of state and government of G7 member countries, along with government representatives from the invited partner countries Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal, and South Africa, met at Schloss Elmau in southern Bavaria. The time it takes to travel from Davos to Elmau by car is a good three-hour tour through the Alps. In the grand scheme of things, the geographical distance between these two locations is negligible. Even the panorama remains the same: tall mountains and a grand, sweeping view of nature.
The distance is even smaller in intellectual terms: what distinguishes the “Davos Spirit”, allegedly dedicated to “improving the state of the world” from the motto that the Germans, who have held the G7 presidency since January 2022, chose for this year’s meeting? Indeed, there are no differences at all in terms of the means designated for the realization of this just and better world: the assumption is that the capitalist market economy and the economic and political actors that dominate it will somehow make it happen.
Ulrich Brand is Professor of International Politics at the University of Vienna and a board member of Diskurs. Das Wissenschaftsnet. He is currently a fellow at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Institute for Critical Social Analysis.
Patrick Makal studies social theory and philosophy at the University of Jena. He is currently an intern at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Institute for Critical Social Analysis.
Translated by Hunter Bolin and Louise Pain for Gegensatz Translation Collective.
The G7 countries comprise roughly ten percent of the world’s total population and account for 45 percent of the global gross national income. Facts like this seem to corroborate the well-known theory posited Francis Fukuyama posited 30 years ago that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of actually existing socialism marked the end of history — liberal democracy and the capitalist market economy had proven themselves to be historically superior. His deterministic view of history states that any future political movement will only be able to make reformist demands — anything beyond that is out of the question.
The neoliberal policies propagated and implemented by the G7 (or G8, with the participation of Russia) have always attested to the fact that the real assertion contained in Fukuyama’s thesis concerns not the “end of history”, but the end of what is politically conceivable. If all forms of an historical future are declared obsolete, then thinking about the future is an inherently political act.
The events of the 1990s made it clear that both the emancipatory political and social forces and the marginalized communities in the Global South and the Global North considered history to be far from over. The then-nascent alter-globalization movement emerged as a global political force to declare that history, which had been declared dead, was still in tempus praesens.
In hindsight, the movement’s greatest accomplishment was twofold: on the one hand, it confronted the supposed lack of alternatives to liberal democracy and the capitalist market with its contradictions, and on the other, it succeeded in drawing attention to the power relations inherent in capitalism — that is, the plundering of human and natural resources — thus making them perceptible to a broader public. Furthermore, it demonstrated that an abundance of alternatives for a more humane and ecologically sustainable world already exist.
Accordingly, “alter-globalization movement” is understood here to refer to more than just the public protests and conferences such as the World Social Forum, however important these have been and continue to be. The critique of globalization has been taken up by a broad social movement that is associated not only with well-known organizations such as ATTAC, but also with comprehensive changes in the public sphere, in associations and companies, in the scientific community, and even in everyday life. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation has supported the visible elements of the movement and attempted to anchor its concerns within both the political sphere and society more broadly.
The alter-globalization movement began by confronting the dominant tendencies of globalized capitalism: the deregulation of the market and attendant dismantling of social rights, as well as the further commodification or re-commodification of social relations — for example, by privatizing public enterprises, restructuring social welfare systems, or commodifying human and non-human nature. These globalized power relations had to be fought on a global scale. From the beginning, one of the movement’s primary objectives has been to effect change and comprehensive democratization with regard to institutional and everyday practices, as well as social values. There was and still is a broad consensus that conflict with those who occupy positions of power is every bit as necessary and indispensable as nonviolent direct action, such as civil disobedience, which is a legitimate means of political struggle.
The Beginnings of the Movement
The critique of globalization is, in essence, almost 175 years old. Marx and Engels, in what remains to this day a widely read piece of writing, had the foresight to suggest that capitalism’s destructive and exploitative tendencies know no national borders and are essential to its exorbitant dynamics. Their Communist Manifesto of 1848 provided a fundamental basis for understanding the world of the early workers’ movement. Until the world economic crisis of 1929, globalization — then described in other terms, such as “the production of the world market” by big industry — seemed like an unstoppable force. Although the internationalization of capital was regulated more closely in subsequent years, free trade and foreign investment increased again after the end of World War II.
The internationalist and student movements of the 1960s were highly critical of capitalism’s tendencies towards internationalization. Nonetheless, what is now referred to as neoliberal globalization took shape in the 1970s. In the 1980s, there were mobilizations against the prevailing political order: for example, in Bonn in 1985, a demonstration against the G7 summit was paired with an alternative congress. Perhaps more memorable were the protests held in September 1988 in West Berlin against the meeting of the IMF and the World Bank. Approximately 80,000 people took part in the main demonstration, and the campaign, which lasted several years, had a considerable influence on the broader public.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political Left initially seemed to lack any clear sense of direction. On the other hand, the steady rise of emerging economies gave neoliberal globalization even more momentum and — as intellectuals like Fukuyama claimed — seemed increasingly to be devoid of an alternative.
But this was not the case.
In the wake of the 500-year commemoration of the beginning of the 1492 conquest of the Americas, indigenous peoples in Latin America began to organize, and on 1 January 1994, the Zapatistas in Mexico began an uprising that garnered worldwide attention. The Mexican writer Octavio Paz spoke of the “first rebellion of the 21st century”, and an inaugural international meeting in Chiapas with the title “For Humanity and Against Neoliberalism” attracted more than 3,000 participants from all over the world. At the same time, the global network La Vía Campesina was established with the explicit goal of strengthening alternatives to industrial and profit-driven agriculture.
In 1995, the “first revolt against globalization”, as Le Monde put it, took place in Europe. A three-week strike by workers in the rail and transport sector received unexpected support from broad swathes of civil society. The protests were motivated by cuts to pensions as well as by plans to restructure the entire railroad network. The planned route reductions necessarily entailed the loss of a considerable number of jobs. Roughly two million people protested throughout the country against the proposed governmental measures, which were criticized as an extension of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and its attendant policies.
In the 1990s, the movement made a significant show of global solidarity by demanding that countries in the Global South be deleveraged because the neoliberal policies generating high interest rates — driven largely by the United States, which was able to effect such considerable influence due to the hegemony of the US dollar — were gradually bankrupting them. So-called structural adjustment programmes were imposed on many countries (and often welcomed by the elites there), allowing for the implementation of neoliberal policies such as the weakening of the state and of workers’ rights, cuts to public spending, extensive privatization, and a strengthening of shareholders.
In the mid-1990s, the Jubilee 2000 campaign was able to give fresh impetus to the campaign for debt relief. This was strategically timed to coincide with the increasing number of counter-summits being organized at the time, most of which were held at the locations hosting the meetings of the international officials responsible for making decisions pertaining to globalization policy. Although it garnered less media attention than other counter-summits (see below), the mass demonstration, which amassed some 80,000 people at the G8 meeting in Birmingham in 1998, was a high point of that campaign. But the severe financial and economic crises that plagued Mexico in the mid-1990s, as well as those in Brazil, Russia, and Southeast Asia toward the end of the decade, showed that the globalization that had been so celebrated by the establishment was responsible for the systematic and brutal production of a world divided between winners and losers.
Increasingly, the emergent alter-globalization movement found its antagonist embodied in particular by international political treaties and institutions. Central to this was the Washington Consensus — named after the US government and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, also based in Washington — which was the clearest political instrument of neoliberal globalization. The World Trade Organization (WTO) intended to translate its neoliberal principles into binding global policies. After the WTO was founded, a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) had been negotiated first between the OECD countries and then with the governments of the countries of the Global South, which would have granted extensive rights to transnational investors far beyond those stipulated by WTO provisions, which were already corporate-friendly to begin with. Civil society groups learned of the secret negotiations and launched an ultimately successful campaign against the Washington Consensus.
The Battle of Seattle
The third WTO conference, which took place in Seattle at the end of 1999, garnered global attention for the alter-globalization movement. A significant amount of media attention focused on the violent clashes between demonstrators and the repressive police outside of the conference, which ultimately gave the protests their name: the “Battle of Seattle”. The large number of mass actions and blockades that successfully obstructed the negotiations were equally impressive.
The WTO conference in Seattle was also a failure in terms of negotiations: the European Union did not want to concede the US demand for the liberalization of European agricultural markets. This outcome was seen as a success by the movement and led to protests against subsequent meetings of the IMF and World Bank, such as those held in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2000, and in Prague in autumn of the same year.
The success of the movement was contingent upon two key factors: firstly, in order for mass mobilizations on the streets to lead to institutional change, they had to be accompanied by sympathetic media coverage. For example, when a draft treaty of the aforementioned MAI was made public in 1997, this prompted a wave of demonstrations by members of civil society in a number of different countries. The protests were so successful in France that parliament spoke out against this agreement and the government ended the negotiations.
Secondly, the movement needed broad alliances. For example, the protests in Seattle brought together trade unions and the ecology movement under the motto “Teamsters and Turtles”. Beyond that, a number of conservative truck drivers took to the streets with radical environmental activists to launch a joint criticism of the negative effects of neoliberal globalization.
The years from 2000 onwards were marked by a vast array of different political actions on the part of the alter-globalization movement, which cannot be reduced to the summits and mass demonstrations, even though these were still important for the movements, both internally and in the eyes of the public. Many existing organizations, smaller media outlets, or sections of different trade unions made critical remarks about neoliberal globalization in their actions and programmes, objecting to the increasing social divisions and the fact that the predominant policies were primarily geared towards the interests of the wealthy.
In many cases, they also established a kind of organizational infrastructure. Even back then it had become clear that international protest movements were dependent upon the organizational and financial support of political institutions in particular. Non-governmental organizations often assumed this role.
“Another World Is Possible!”
Another landmark event for the alter-globalization movement was the founding of ATTAC in 1998 in France. When ATTAC groups emerged in other countries — for example in Germany in 2000 — the NGO was able to exert political influence across national borders. While ATTAC was at first focused on the political regulation of the financial markets, it soon took up other issues as well. ATTAC was a movement rooted in campaigning and popular education and initially had strong local and regional roots. In the Global South, the network People’s Global Action, founded in 1997, brought together activists and radical organizations with the aim of fighting together against the negative effects of neoliberal globalization.
The protests waged in the summer of 2001 against the EU summit in Gothenburg — where protestors were once again met with repressive police violence — and against the G8 summit in Genoa a few weeks later, where approximately 200,000 people took to the streets, caused a worldwide sensation. In Genoa, the police employed extreme forms of violence, ultimately shooting and killing a demonstrator named Carlo Giuliani. The mass mobilizations in the Italian port city showed that domestic political situations played an important role in shaping the protests. In Italy, these protests were the first to be held against the right-wing and neoliberal Silvio Berlusconi, who had just been elected prime minister for the second time.
The events of 11 September 2001 in New York City marked a turning point for the alter-globalization movement. Media headlines were now dominated by talk of the “War on Terror”, but this war engendered a structural form of state repression that came to be used against all kinds of demonstrations, so that violent clashes with the police at anti-globalization protests in the US ran the risk of being portrayed as acts of terrorism by the media. Nonetheless, the so-called World Social Forums, which were originally created as a counter-event to the World Economic Forum in Davos, attracted an ever-increasing number of participants in the following years. The first World Social Forum held in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil was attended by some 20,000 people. Three years later this figure had risen to more than 100,000.
The motto of the World Social Forums was: “Another world is possible, if only we want it”. Part of the reason why this slogan appealed to so many people was because the alter-globalization movement extended beyond mere critique by pointing to existing or possible alternatives.
At the World Social Forums, it became abundantly clear how diverse the movement was in terms of the people involved and the issues it addressed. Judith Dellheim from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation described these forums as a “place of global communication and cooperation”. Expert discussions were held on very specific issues such as financial markets, trade policy, water privatization, resistance against mining, trade union rights, and the rights of indigenous peoples, and strategies were devised for counteracting the effects of neoliberal globalization. Although no politicians were allowed to participate in the World Social Forum, left-wing icons like Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, and Lula da Silva appeared at separately organized events.
In an analysis of the alter-globalization movement, political scientist Aram Ziai concludes that at the very least, the movement succeeded in ushering new issues onto the political agenda at both a national and international level, including debt relief, the negative impact of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on many countries, or financial transaction taxes. This was a substantial achievement, even if powerful economic elites prevented the majority of these demands from being implemented. The inconclusive WTO negotiations, which were blocked for years also in part due to the criticism they garnered from the alter-globalization movement, were followed by the conclusion of several bilateral and often highly inequitable trade agreements.
Parallel to international networking and meetings, the struggle to counter the numerous problems and crises of capitalist globalization in the 2000s often took place locally or in the form of campaigns at the national level. This was no accident — it was the result of strategic decisions that had now become necessary. For example, in Germany in 2004, several alter-globalization groups formed an action coalition to fight against the privatization of Deutsche Bahn. From 2001 onwards, the movement broadened its focus beyond the single issue of economic globalization: some of the new political challenges included war, security, the aforementioned “war on terrorism”, and the accompanying political shift to the right.
The alter-globalization movement played a central role in the mobilizations against the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the help of the movement, the worldwide protests held on 15 February 2003 against the war in Iraq were probably the largest anti-war demonstrations in history.
In Germany, the alter-globalization groups organized a number of large-scale events to draw attention to the ecological crisis, which was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Between 2003 and 2012, a total of six so-called McPlanet congresses took place (five of them in Berlin, one in Hamburg), each of which was attended by between 1,500 and 2,000 people. The Capitalism Congress held in March 2009 in Berlin, which was organized by ATTAC, and attracted over 2,000 participants, was also significant.
Another highlight of the alter-globalization movement in Germany was the protests against the G8 summit in Heiligendamm and Rostock in June 2007. Here in particular it became apparent that it was not only about the protests and the big counter-congress, but also about the ability for people to communicate their own criticism of the prevailing economic and climate policies to the general public in the months leading up to the event.
The extensive and diverse protests against the G8 summit in Heiligendamm also marked an end of sorts for the first phase of the alter-globalization movement. A global financial and economic crisis took place in 2008, which shifted the agenda and increased the prevalence of criticism of neoliberal policies and their manifestation in the form of risky banking and real estate transactions. The crises that ensued resulted in a kind of re-nationalization of politics, which made it increasingly difficult to keep internationalist concerns on the table. This led to the movement’s robust ecological agenda taking up increasingly less space in the public sphere.
And yet, the movements of the past decade, such as Occupy Wall Street, with its criticism of the power of the wealthy elites, austerity policies, and the resulting increase in internal and international divisions, as well as their slogan “We are the 99 percent!”, made a clear display of the influence they took from the alter-globalization movement. In Germany in 2012, the Blockupy coalition was formed, which organized several days of action to protest European neoliberal policies. In March 2015, more than 17,000 people heeded the call for blockades and a demonstration on the occasion of the opening of the new European Central Bank building in Frankfurt am Main.
The Alter-Globalization Movement Didn’t Fail
In his analyses of the development of the alter-globalization movement, Aram Ziai, who was quoted earlier, highlights three of its most prominent features: firstly, the movement took advantage of online forms of communication, which enabled rapid and inexpensive exchange on a global scale. Secondly, by pinpointing globalization, the movement challenged not only a historically novel feature of capitalism, but also the nation states and their networks (the G8 or G7), as well as international economic policy institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union. The aforementioned actors form a kind of global neoliberal constitution, which is designed to embody the interests of capital, thereby securing them against the policies and possible interventions of progressive national governments.
And thirdly, the alter-globalization movement turned away from vanguardism and extended its focus beyond the issues of class that otherwise characterize traditional left-wing politics. In addition to class interests, it upholds issues of diversity, lived plurality, as well as feminist and anti-racist issues; it has a very strong focus on consensus-based organizing and has adopted grassroots democratic principles. This is one of the reasons why many activists today are unfamiliar with more traditional left-wing party structures.
Yet despite the many successful mobilizations and the successes achieved in terms of networking and building a convincing political narrative, there are still a number of questions that need to be asked: why has there been no impactful intervention in social power relations to date? Why have parties, trade unions, or associations in Germany (with the exception of Die Linke) failed to adopt the agenda set by the alter-globalization movement?
The lack of success in the medium term and the inability to effect any kind of meaningful shift at the political-institutional level has diminished the movement’s relevance in the eyes of the media and weakened its appeal for people searching for meaningful opportunities for their own political engagement. In addition, the movement’s relationship to state actors has all too often remained unclear or been the subject of justified criticism, because state functionaries were and are central in the implementation of neoliberal and authoritarian policies.
However, opting for a blanket rejection of the state without first exploring possible entry points turned out to be more of a strategic weakness. Especially in times of crisis, capitalism tends to fall back on the state and its financial resources, and this presents opportunities for political engagement, for example, by demanding that compliance with social and environmental policy requirements be made a precondition for corporate bailouts.
The protests held in Hamburg in 2017 against the G20 summit, and the well-organized counter-congress demonstrated that it is still possible to mobilize sections of the alter-globalization movement. Over 50,000 people took part in the main demonstration. However, there was one point — namely that of the potential for violence on both sides — that some sections of the movement, key political figures, and the police became fixated on, ultimately engendering a kind of mutually reinforcing echo chamber that drowned out the true political substance and objectives of the movement. In the lead-up to the summit, there had been discussions about possible excesses of violence from both sides, and both sides wanted and expected burning trash bins and Molotov cocktails. Unfortunately, the political agenda of the still relevant alter-globalization movement was lost in the clashes that ensued.
Generally speaking, however, we can say that the critique of globalization in its neoliberal and increasingly authoritarian-militaristic forms has managed to reach large swathes of society over the years and has been adopted by a number of different stakeholders. These include not only right-wing forces, but also those on the progressive political spectrum. Although neoliberal policies continued to dominate in both institutions and everyday power relations up until the coronavirus pandemic, different voices from trade unions, social democratic organizations, the Greens, as well as environmental and social organizations have been making themselves heard for some years now.
The momentum of the alter-globalization movement has ebbed away, but it is still possible to reconsolidate this energy in a renewed form. To do this, it will be necessary to unite it with the climate justice movement, a prospect that will be discussed at the end of this text.
Alter-Globalization from the Right
For a long time, critiques of neoliberal globalization were formulated primarily by those on the left of the political spectrum, against the might of those who benefit the most from globalization both politically and economically — the wealthy. But during and after the 2008 economic crisis, right-wing and extreme right-wing forces also took up this issue, claiming to represent the interests of those whom globalization had left behind.
In the European context, sociologist Walden Bello notes that the extreme Right has detached itself from the neoliberal agenda of free trade, which it used to support in the interest of its petty-bourgeois base and its alliance with the centre-right. It has opportunistically adopted the anti-neoliberal and globalization-sceptic stance, as well as advocated for the welfare state, which, according to Bello, was the ticket to the “antechamber of power”. In its attempt to steal the Left’s original base of support — the workers — the far-right added two ingredients to the critique of globalization, namely racism and reactionary nationalism.
Donald Trump’s well-known slogan was “America First”, which he adopted with great success, ultimately winning a large number of votes from the white working class (mostly men) in the US. Nonetheless, in terms of actual policy, he served the interests of the wealthy elites.
With their model of an “exclusionary nationalist political welfare economy”, the right-wingers, according to Bello, neither want to achieve redistribution within society nor counteract global division. On the contrary, the aim is to perpetuate the divide between the Global North and South, as well as discrimination and the defence systems in place against migrants, and to instrumentalize existing fears and resentments in service of their own political ends. Brexit was driven by similar political forces and orchestrated using similar populist narratives.
New Pathways towards a Solidarity-Based Globalization
The alter-globalization movement, as it has evolved over the past nearly three decades, is not an anti-globalization movement, but an alter-globalization movement. The groups and organizations involved in the movement stand for a different kind of globalization — one based on principles of solidarity.
The neoliberal policies of the ruling classes have not so much been replaced by authoritarian and racist ones as they have increasingly come to be supplemented by them. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the current war in Ukraine, the policies of the prevailing world order were based on an increasingly selective globalization that prioritizes the interests of the ruling class. In his book Das Chaos verstehen, Peter Wahl, founding member of ATTAC in Germany, writes about the fact that contemporary political disputes increasingly tend to take on a classic hegemonic geopolitical form, which resolutely oppose neoliberal globalization. These changes need to be understood more precisely if current protest movements and those fighting for alternative futures are to be successful in their endeavours.
Feminist movements like Ni Una Menos or anti-racist movements like Black Lives Matter, which have been effective in recent years, also constitute part of the emancipatory and transnational tradition of the alter-globalization movement. Political scientist Achim Brunnengräber sees a developmental trend in the field of internationalism away from “NGOs and back towards protest mobilization”, which can be observed in the noticeable uptick in movements doing more to translate current conflicts and social grievances into political campaigns. The movements for climate justice — most famously Fridays for Future — are currently perceived to be the strongest critical voice. The adherents of this movement seek to respond to the ecological crisis by way of an ecological modernization of capitalism.
It would be short-sighted to conclude that the alter-globalization movement had “merged” with Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion, or that either of these movements represented its continuation. While there are certainly many overlapping points — especially considering the enormous increase in ecological problems in recent decades — the demands for climate justice are primarily aimed at persuading states and governments to take action. They emphasize the moral accountability of those in positions of power and rely on the assurances ostensibly guaranteed by the rule of law.
However, the critique put forth by these movements often omits or downplays any structural analysis of the relationship between state policy and the capitalist economy. In order to be considered part of the alter-globalization movement or even its successors, these ecological movements must do more than merely appeal to politicians and demand compliance with the 1.5-degree climate target — they must also insist that the structural causes of ecological destruction stem from capitalism and strive for an alternative to the capitalist system (which the majority of the movement currently does not do).
A radical critique of the system is made difficult by the fact that these movements emphasize how urgent it is for states and political representatives to take action. Instead of settling for a diagnosis that identifies these movements with the end of history, it would make more sense to develop strategies that encourage the contemporary climate movements to incorporate the critique of capitalism propagated by the alter-globalization movement. In our view, this would provide an opportunity to revitalize the alter-globalization movement, which has lost momentum in many places due to demobilization, dispersal, and institutionalization, and to build on its diverse analyses, insights, and achievements.
Experience, Momentum, and Left-Wing Politics
The experience gathered by the alter-globalization movement during its endeavours over the past 30 years could make for a decisive contribution to the development of a collective and successful movement policy, provided that it is possible — as indicated above — to work together with other movements and political actors. In this context, it is important to view historical experience and the momentum that currently exists as two distinct but symbiotic forces.
The history of the alter-globalization movement demonstrates that the effectiveness of political movements depends on two essential preconditions: mass mobilizations and positive media coverage. Both of these are fulfilled by the climate justice movement, in particular Fridays for Future. A sound political strategy for this movement would also build alliances with left-wing or potentially progressive organizations with a mass base. To achieve this, Fridays for Future would need to work with unions to develop a cross-class alliance based on common interests. Steps have already been taken in this direction, as was demonstrated recently by parts of Fridays for Future cooperating with ver.di in the collective bargaining disputes in the public transport sector.
The climate justice movements could benefit from the kind of visions of an alternative and fairer future developed by the alter-globalization movements over the past 30 years. The most effective way to counter the brutal exploitation of nature and human beings engendered by the capitalist system is to generate new ideas and proposals on how to overcome and replace capitalism with a different economic arrangement and new forms of collective living. These “positive visions” could mitigate or supplement the dystopian moments of the current environmental and climate movements.
Both the alter-globalization and the climate justice movements have succeeded in putting their concerns and demands on the political agenda, but the successful lobbying of their opponents and systemic constraints have by and large prevented these from ever being implemented. One task for the alter-globalization movement could be to provide an encouraging antidote to the frustration that comes with being a climate activist by suggesting a structural analysis of the relationship between politics and economy, the provision of which constitutes a challenge in and of itself.
Furthermore, the climate justice movements — especially Fridays for Future — are faced with the question of how to extend the current interventions and confrontations with governments and (national) state institutions to international economic policy actors. Attempts at this sort of thing have already been made, such as the protests held in Munich in 2021 against the International Motor Show IAA.
There are many challenges on the road ahead, and we in Germany must rise to meet them. In addition to an indispensable overhaul of the existing political structures, especially of Die Linke, a left-wing politics also requires terms and concepts that can function as political signifiers for the broader public. For example, concepts such as the “socio-ecological system change” or “socio-ecological transformation” could serve as common points of reference for left-wing social and ecological movements, and a concept such as “infrastructures of solidarity” could be deployed in more concrete ways. Current government policy uses the concept of transformation in a non-concrete way, precisely because it always transcends the content of its own policies and exposes its structural limitations.
Beyond the Mountains and What Exists
In light of the ever-intensifying crises we currently face, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the World Economic Forums in Davos and the meetings of the leaders of major industrialized nations to continue to conceal the truth of what they have always actually been at their core: symbols of the arrogance of the ruling class.
In their ivory tower, the political elites, led by the ruling classes of the Global North, attest year after year to their own competence and good intentions. With their view of the mountain-studded horizon blocked, they remain blind to any kind of future beyond that which currently exists — they can think only in terms of reform, in terms that conform with the system and the prevailing power structures. Contemporary political movements must vehemently and persistently criticize this incompetence and the way those in power cling to their unjustified privileges. It is up to us to bid farewell to the supposed end of history. It is up to us to imagine another possible world.
If there is a promising future for the alter-globalization movement, then in our view it consists in constructively linking the current movements for climate justice with those older movements that offered sustained critiques of the capitalist system. While the former contains the radicalism necessary to carry the struggle forward, the latter has the capacity to mobilize momentum.
The demand to overcome the climate crisis can only be realized if it goes hand in hand with overcoming the very real threat to human civilization. The demand for the climate crisis to merely be managed remains in essence reformist and would ultimately steer development towards a green capitalist system. Selectively reforming capitalism, especially at the expense of the Global South, will not lead to the elimination of its inherent contradictions. In times of worsening crises, it is necessary to stand up and revolt against the real end: the ecological self-destruction in the name of economic growth and profit brought about by capitalism.
The plural emancipatory critique of capitalist globalization will always have to renew itself in order to keep abreast of the times. However, its goal will always remain the same: to think beyond what exists and to reach what lies beyond by way of political struggles.