A Global Left

Survey of European Left Movements

By Andrej Grubacic

There is no country in Europe where, after the defeat of social democracy, there arose resistance as effective as is in Italy. The overarching mood in Italy is to try to unify workers and all marginalized groups and strata: the unemployed, the poor, industrial and intellectual workers, whites, and people of all other races, men and women, and immigrants, in a “movement of movements.” A great acceleration of efforts started in Genoa, July 2001, where the anti-corporate globalization movement resisted the G8 Summit.

Tutte Bianche

Perhaps the most interesting part of the social movements in Italy is represented by the movement 'tutte bianche” (white overalls), who have since Genoa changed their name to Disobedienti. The movement is an interesting mixture of ideas and tactics of Zapatismo, Italian autonomous Marxism, and libertarian influences. The central groups of the movement comprise Zapatista support collectives, Ya Basta! The three-plank program of Ya Basta! calls for a universally guaranteed 'basic income,” global citizenship that guarantees free movement of people across borders, and free access to new technologies, which in practice implies extreme limits on patent rights.

Disobedienti advocates social disobedience as a means for political action expressed by white attire, which symbolizes invisibility: invisible as immigrants, workers stripped of rights, prisoners, various people who oppose genocide all over the world.

Tutte bianche is not, they tell us, a movement. It is an 'instrument,” a form of direct action. The main elements are transparency, the symbolic and media value of messages launched by actions, and conflict aimed at consensus creation, and still further social disobedience. Everyone can enrich and add to this practice with respect to his or her own political experience.

Social disobedience, claim the protagonists of this movement, is not only a political struggle, but also a cultural one. To be a Zapatista in Europe means to 'fight on the side of all victims of the neo-liberal monster through a 'networking of the world,” which, for the activists of Ya Basta!, means 'grassroots diplomacy and international horizontal correlation,” in their striving for a world 'where many worlds fit, a world without borders.”

A great inspiration for the Dissobedienti is the thought of Antonio Negri, considered the unofficial ideologist of the movement. Negri's concepts were introduced in his famous and much disparaged book Empire and have invigorated a major part of the Italian radical left.

Movimento Antagonista

Another movement inspired by the ideas of Italian Marxism, movimento antagonista, is more conservative. This movement, centered around unions and social centers, represents a continuity of the Marxist movement of the 1970s, 'Autonomia Operaia.”Aantagonists promote the widening of social conflict, working in unions, struggle for the right of workers, anti-fascist campaigns, solidarity with Intifada, and anti-capitalist campaigns.

Movimento Anarchico

The Italian anarchist movement, or movimento anarchico, is decentralized, with no structure, and deals with the problems of totalitarian institutions, psychiatry, ecology, and militarism. It is divided among pacifists, direct action advocates, individual action advocates, and primitivists. It rejects institutions and dialogue with them. It embodies regional networks and appears in demonstrations as the anarchist block, but has many strands. The most famous is FAI, which was founded in 1945 and has passed through different political periods.

FAI publishes the weekly paper Umanita Nuova dealing with news and topics written for anarchists. FAI branches are very active at a local level, but nationally FAI doesn't seem to have any official or public political line. The last congress launched the idea of building an 'anarchist strategy for social transformation.”

Movimento Pacifista

Movimento pacifista refers to the more moderate parts of the Italian movement, such as associations, Christian (catholic) dissidents, non-governmental organizations, various environmentalists, and some non-parliamentary parties. Pacifism in Italy developed in the 1980s during anti-nuclear campaigns, but today very active pacifist networks have sprung from those experiences. Numerous organizations develop humanitarian and social projects in war zones all over the world.

Movimento Dei Girotondi

Movimento dei girotondi is a civic movement that attempts to include what is left of 'centro sinistra” (left center). It has a lot of artists, directors, intellectuals, unionists, and judges. It is a movement for a more radical reformism, very diverse, and it's called 'girotondi,” which means 'circle games,” because it has acted in the form of a big circle, which surrounds corrupt institutions. On certain occasions Movimento dei girotondi has managed to mobilize a great number of people.

Movimento Critical Mass

In Italy, ecology and environmentalism (movimento critical mass) have always been one step behind northern European countries. The translation of radical policy into everyday life has not always been successful. The problem is cultural. But the move- ment of critical mass–a term coined by ecologists and left libertarians from San Francisco–has recently begun developing at incredible speed and has become very popular in Italy.

Social Centers

The most important institutional props of the Italian movement are social centers, social forums, and magazines. Social centers represent an attempt to create autonomous spaces free from capitalist social and economic relations. They became vital for the survival of anti-capitalist movements by the end of the 1970s. There are dozens of social centers in Italy with different experiences and different political-ideological nuances, but they are all descendants of 1960s and 1970s revolts.

Social Forums

The Italian movement of movements has been mixing and forming coalitions for years and is now trying to take root in popular society. The new Social Forums are an attempt to bridge differences in ideology, practice, and theory to create an open plural space.

The first social forum was created before Genoa and was inspired by the spirit of Porto Alegre. There are now 140 social forums in Italy. While the 'national” Italian Social Forum has had its spokespeople and hierarchy, local social forums act autonomously and represent a very important site of participation for citizens who have come closer to radical ideas after Genoa. The political map of social forums is complicated and intertwined. There are many who find this form outdated, but they have had impressive results, especially at the local level.

No Border Network

The movement for the rights of immigrants began in Paris. During the 1990s, hundreds of immigrants without papers–the Sans Papiers–started one of the most exciting rebellions. This rebellion detonated a movement.

Led by charismatic speakers, they occupied two Paris churches. Soon after that, they formulated a model of resistance and struggle that has spread through Europe. In Germany, the initiative 'no one is illegal” was decisively influenced by the events in Paris.

In Amsterdam in 1997, during a huge summit against the European Union, about 40 activist projects established a network called 'admission free.” The network gave way to the 'Noborder” network in 1999, formed in front of the Finnish Tampere Conference Center, where the EU-Migation Summit was taking place. Actions and activities were developed and executed across national borders, most dramatically in July 1998 when a few hundred activists put up tents for a ten day stay near the border of the River Neise, leading to summer camps in the following years along the borders of the European Union. Instead of campfire romanticism the motto was, “hacking the borderline.” Characteristic of the border camps was a multiple strategy consisting of the exchange of experience and political debate, classical political education in the remote areas, and direct actions to disrupt the idea of the border regime.

Offshoots sprang up along the Polish Ukrainian, Polish Belo Russian, and Slovenian Croatian borders, which quickly led to the independent network of no border activists in Eastern Europe.

The last Noborder Camp was held in Strasbourg, July 2002. During the ten days in Strasbourg, 2,000 to 3,000 participants from over 20 countries in Europe tried to find a mutual language of resistance and action against border regimes. Strasbourg, however, apart from great importance, revealed some shortcomings of the Noborder Camps that its critics keep pointing out.

According to an anecdote, an Italian dissident Scalcone cried out on one occasion: 'you are the prisoners of your own minds” and left the meeting. Although this episode made many laugh, it summarizes the shortcomings of the Noborder Camps: imposing one organizational culture within the decision-making procedures (the 'imperialism of consensus”), clumsy translating of South American models (Argentinean assemblies), insufficient organization, chaotic status in the camps (caused by the effort to have everything as 'spontaneous and democratic” as possible), non-constructive discussions, and ideological divisions.

Peoples Global Action

Much has already been written about PGA. In 1996, 3,000 activists from around the world gathered in the rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico. Their hosts, the Zapatistas, described the vision that inspired the meeting: 'This intercontinental network of resistance will be the medium in which distinct resistances may support one another. This intercontinental network of resistance is not an organizing structure; it doesn't have a central head or decision maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist.” Two years later, the founding conference of PGA was held in Geneva, at which 300 delegates from 71 countries hashed out a lengthy manifesto and “hallmarks” for collaboration. The hallmarks were later changed at the conference in Cochabamba:

Over the next few years, hundreds of grassroots organizations from every continent participated in the global days of action called by the PGA, and attended global and regional conferences. The PGA built a communicative structure that linked a wave of direct action protests across the planet. United around their rejection of neo-liberal policy and institutions and their refusal to engage in traditional lobbying, the organizations that participated in PGA appeared to have little else in common. Challenged by their differences in resources, organizational culture, and coalition experience, and yet pressured to act, they resisted the “iron law of oligarchy” to build a model that would remain both egalitarian and cohesive.

PGA is not an organization, but rather a kind of coalition, a group of organizations and individuals working together for a common purpose. No one may represent PGA nor does PGA represent any organization or person. Each continent can organize as it feels appropriate, but must provide an organization that acts as a contact point for the global network. While one participating organization volunteers to be the Secretariat office, its role is purely mechanical; the forwarding of mail, etc. The only central decision-making body is the Conveners Committee composed of representatives from organizations and movements on each continent. The composition of this committee must show a regional balance and a balance regarding the areas of work of the organizations and the movements that compose it. Like many informal coalitions, the PGA operates without a head office, budget, or formal mechanisms.

Indymedia has a major role in PGA projects in Europe. Its activists are among the most serious protagonists of PGA efforts. Among the most interesting campaigns this year is YoMango! “a social disobedience to provide everyday, enjoyable sabotage against capitalism, such as massive shoplifting against big corporations and their shopping malls. It focuses on exploring technical, legal, and logistical aspects of sabotaging capital while having fun.

European Social Consulta

The European Social Consulta has its origins in a Spanish experiment known as the Social Consulta for the abolition of external debt. In 2000, this Consulta turned into a vibrant and dynamic participatory exercise, successfully developing a working network. Without relying on any structure or acronym, 500 assemblies were formed in 500 communities and neighborhoods and around 10,000 people participated in an assembly-based structure, which led to more than 1,000,000 people voting 97 percent in favor of the abolition of the external debt. The Consulta was soon outlawed by the state, which turned it into a substantial experience in civil disobedience and rebellion through direct democracy.

The European Social Consulta represents a shift away from pure opposition towards constructive alternatives. It was conceived as a complement to the People's Global Action, which is itself centered, first and foremost, on direct actions of resistance. The Consulta emphasizes the “transformation of society.”


Though anarchism represents a very important inspiration for the radical and non-reformist part of the social movement, it is more fractionalized than ever. Perhaps anarchism is presented in the best possible manner within networks such as PGA. In this coalition, as well as in the movement in Europe, anarchism brings the ideals of libertarian anti-capitalism, the imperative of horizontal organization, different organizational forms, new decision-making forms, and the expansion of a culture of democracy.

A great number of anarchist groups “anarcho-syn- dicalists, anarcho-communists, anarcho-individualists, platformists” act outside PGA. These groups are mostly connected to Internationals such as International Workers Association or International Anarchist Federation. There are a certain number of synthesist organizations that attempt to unite anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist communists, and anarchist individualists in the same organizations as well.


ATTAC is a network of collectives, members of parties, individuals, and NGOs, many of whom are from the old left. ATTAC is torn between radicalism and reformism. There are left nationalist trends, often seen as connected to President Bernard Cassen; social-democratic trends, seen as related to ATTAC's vice-president, Susan George; Trotskyist trends, mainly around members of the LCR Party; and rank-and-file activists of diverse ideological orientations.

ATTAC began with an editorial written in 1998 by Ignacio Ramonet, director of Le Monde Diplomatique. The article analyzed the financial crisis in Asia and Russia and its social disasters, on one hand, and the new reports from the UN on increasing gaps between the rich and the poor, on the other. The conclusion of the article was a question: why don't we impose a tax on capital flows like the Nobel Prize winner James Tobin proposed some years before and use it to satisfy fundamental needs?

For Tobin, in reality, the proposed tax was not intended for redistribution. Its initial purpose was, before the development of financial speculation, to reduce instability coming from the free speculative flows of capital on foreign exchange.

Ignacio Ramonet, however, put a different emphasis on the redistribution aspects of the tax. The article came at the “right moment” and thousands of letters arrived at Le Monde Diplomatique supporting the idea. A regrouping of associations (trade unions, the Peasant Confederation of Jose Bové, associations against unemployment, feminist groups) and left reviews gathered around the Le Monde Diplomatique and launched ATTAC.

ATTAC became an association of popular education and action, with the idea that economic knowledge had to be spread among citizens to help them resist the so-called “experts” who were saying that economy had nothing to-do with alternative democratic choices.

ATTAC organized “summer popular universities” where hundreds of young and even younger people came. The context was marked by the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in winter 1999. ATTAC was one of the new types of movements mobilized from solidarity with the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas.

In France there are now hundreds of grassroots committees in ATTAC, with some 25,000 members. Since last year, the organization began to develop elsewhere, helped by the international editions of Le Monde Diplomatique. New groups have been founded with their own platform and structure in many European countries (including Sweden and Denmark).

ATTAC is also one of the most important organizers of the World Social Forum. The critics of ATTAC most often warn of the differences in regional ATTAC groups, the reformist orientation, the almost dictator-like structure of the French ATTAC, including the isolation of the presidency from the base, rigged elections, and lack of democracy inside the organization.

Globalize Resistance

Another network that is becoming increasingly influential is Globalize Resistance, a British answer to ATTAC. Gathered around the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, Globalize Resistance is an endeavor of the old left, under a new name, to establish itself as one of the pillars of resistance in Europe. It reflects the fact that the more intelligent part of the older old left has realized that there is something “radically new” in the movement and that it is better to abandon the traditionalist methods and to adjust.

Globalize Resistance has a steering committee composed of the SWP members and NGO representatives close to this political perspective. They have been present almost everywhere there is dissent and many actions in the UK, especially the anti-war ones, would have been impossible without their participation. The same note refers to the sister organization, also influenced by SWP, called the STOP THE WAR movement.

The criticism directed at Globalize Resistance relates mostly to their non-democratic structure, centrism, and the tricks by which old substance is presented as a new one, by way of cosmetic touches.

Movement of Movements

Tutte Bianche: www.yabasta.it, www.sherwood.it, www.altremappe.org, www.ecn.org/yabasta.milano www.rekombinant.org, and www.noglobal.org

Movimineto Atagonista: www.csaexemerson.it, www.ecn.org/askatasuna, www.ecn.org/cpa, www.ecn.org/magazzino47, and www.tmcrew.org www.cobas.it

FAI: www.ecn.org/breccia, www.ecn.org/contropotere, www.ecn.org/ponte, www.ecologiasociale.org and www.federazioneanarchica.org

Movimento Pacifista: http://www.peacelink.it, www.emergency.it, www.retelilliput.org, www.beati.org, and www.greenpeace.it

Movimento dei girotondi: www.igirotondi.it

Critical Mass: http://www.inventati.org/criticalmass and www.kyuzz.org/anarcociclismo

Social Centers: www.leoncavallo.org. Historical archive: www.ecn.org/leo

Social Forums: www.abruzzosocialforum.org/socialforum.htm

Noborder network: www.noborder.org

Eurodusnie: sqat.net/eurodusnie/english/every.htm

Reclaim the Streets!: www.reclaimthestreets.net

PGA: www.agp.org

YoMango: www.yomango.org and www.sccpp.org

European Social Consulta: www.europeanconsulta.org

ATTAC: www.attac.org

Globalize Resistance: www.resist.org.uk; www.resist.org.uk/about/standfor.html

Stop the War: www.stopwar.or.uk

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