Capitalist Hegemony: The Political Challenge of Alter-Globalization

By Jessica C. Tselepy
2015, Vol. 7 No. 03 | pg. 2/2 |

The second key political challenge the movement faces is its absence of a feasible mode for a globalized and democratic political structure, rendering the creation of substantive political goals doubtful. While internal disparity exists within the movement, a key consensus appears in their search for democratic political organization. is conceptualized within the movement as a source of legitimacy, grounded in the principles of transparency and accountability: principles that the dominant capitalist powers are seen to lack (Masse 2013: 31). Numerous participants have encouraged the WSF to evolve into a clear-cut political movement so that they can make a “real political difference by altering the course of globalization” (Pickerill 2007: 2668).

The WSF’s official process stance remains, however, that “political projects that go beyond the Charter of Principles can be an attribute of the organizations that take part in the WSF but never of the WSF itself” (Ibid). While it is clear that the WSF’s primary purpose was not to produce a well-defined political structure, it is questionable whether it is feasible to achieve anything but the simple organization of a pluralist space for discussion.

When evaluating the potential for political structure within alter-, the common conception of politics held by members of the movement must be addressed briefly. There is a general agreement that traditional party politics is not sufficient to epitomize a counter-hegemony that could transform global consciousness and awareness. George Monbiot (2002) has proposed that the WSF instead could become a part of the course of developing a “world parliament in exile” (342).

This, however, underestimates the fact that many institutions that are globally projected are entrenched in national political societies, raising the risk that they may “reproduce the problematic aspects of domestic analogies” (Bull 2002: 86). Further, the WSF cannot realistically be deemed a parliament in the modern, deliberative sense, as it does not address the creation of legislation (Patomäki and Teivainen 2005: 14). Given that attempts to reproduce domestic democracy into a global sense prove problematic, a key challenge for alter-globalization then would be to change the meaning of politics.

There are two caveats to achieving this change effectively. The first is to avoid a reproduction of the national political categories represented in the Western world towards the end of 20th century. The standard of polyarchy that triumphed in the West since the is as much of a pitfall as the polycentrism alter-globalization is currently caught in (Held 1999: 445). The second is to be mindful of the historical attempts to create political structures representative of humanity’s collective interests. The emergence in the 19th century, after the 1917 Russian , of a one-party totalitarian state was originally aimed towards this goal (Patomäki 2005: 4). This circumstance raises a requisite distancing from the potentially authoritarian results of traditional left practices so explicitly demonstrated throughout the 20th century.

Systemic transformation will then depend on a reconstructing of popular consensus in an emancipatory, egalitarian direction to maintain reformation in numerous state-society systems. Given that this is presently not an agreed upon goal within the movement, alter-globalization still fails to capture the positions that were unlocked by globalization’s destabilizing impacts that are more freely conquered by dominant regressive powers.

The final political challenge that the alter-globalization movement faces is in the top-level approach of the Porto Alegre Manifesto. The points articulated within this document prematurely target institutions at the core of the capitalist system, rather than attempting to create a substantive strategy to unify the movement. For instance, the economic measures alone demand “debt cancellation for southern countries,” a dismantling of “all tax havens and corporate havens,” and a rejection of “all free trade agreements and World Trade Organization laws” (Fisher & Ponniah 2003: 267). While it is clear that these proposals were aimed towards the “construction of another, different world,” the movement here overestimates its own authority (Stephen 2009: 484). They risk falling into the trap of the “inflation of the scale or achievements of an embryonic movement” (Stephen 2011: 211).

Without establishing the grassroots cooperation that the movement professes to seek, any attempt to challenge neoliberal hegemony will reduce the movement to an easy target for criticism.

This is further demonstrated in a speech delivered at Porto Alegre in 2003, in which the nascent movement was compared with equal legitimacy as the ‘Davos-like types’ of the World Economic Forum (WEF) (Patomäki and Teivainen 2005: 153). It is not surprising that the WSF was inspired in direct opposition to WEF, yet insinuating that simply conceptualizing counter-hegemonic potential directly undervalues the very historical structure of dominant material institutions and capabilities they oppose seems wildly overrated. Striving for the possibility of change is important, but not when it comes at the sacrifice of political . Without establishing the grassroots cooperation that the movement professes to seek, any attempt to challenge neoliberal hegemony will reduce the movement to an easy target for criticism.

In conclusion, while the alter-globalization movement has inspired a global contemplation of the inherent flaws in capitalist hegemony, the political impracticality of polycentrism has left it unable to articulate effective counter-hegemonic collective will. By examining the movement’s lack of unifying ideology, inability to construct a feasible political structure, and its counter-productive attempt to implement top-level proposals, alter-globalization is revealed as a movement that requires serious introspection. By rethinking the conceptualizations, agents, and strategies of progressive politics, alter-globalization may prove eventually efficient in an era of global social transformation. The potential implications of the movement lie in the construction of a world emboldened to take action against a history of globalization overwhelmed by the of multinational corporations. If participants can find a way to reconstruct political agency in a way that accommodates the essential diversity of a global movement, then the hegemony of common sense may be transformed into the counter-hegemony of good sense.


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