New political course in 2005 - mobilise against neo-liberalism

Speech given at the closing session of the Globalisation Conference, Oslo 2004 by Asbjørn Wahl, Campaign for the Welfare State and Attac Norway.

Dear friends!

We are approaching the end of this fifth and biggest of all globalisation conferences which have been held in our country. At this conference we have identified the forces that threaten, undermine and limit democracy. We have discussed the fundamental principles which form the basis for our alternatives, for democratic governance, for the redistribution of power and resources - not only in this country, but globally. In addition to this, we have covered a number of issues of vital importance to the development of our societies, our solidarity and our freedom. Actually, there are no other arenas in our society these days where these issues are discussed to such an extent. In the course of some few years, the Globalisation Conference has become the biggest political workshop in our country, placing the most burning political issues of our time on the agenda - and we have only just started.

We do not have all the answers. Good heavens, no! Neither can we have them. Anyway, we will continue discussing and developing them, be sure! Just as important as developing alternatives, however, is it that we are able shift the balance of power in society - through mobilisation, building of alliances and direct action. Only in this way can we create the preconditions which make it possible for people themselves, through real democratic processes, to develop the institutions and organisations necessary to build a better society. Only in this way can people gain freedom and control of their own lives. This means to remove the obstacles for real democracy. This means to confront the counter-forces which we have identified at this conference - the multinational corporations, the international financial institutions, the so-called free trade agreements and our neo-liberal governments.

This is our great task - and we are senselessly impatient. The neo-liberal project, which was pushed through by powerful economic and political forces in the wake of the global economic crises in the 1970s, has dramatically shifted the balance of power in society. It has undermined democracy and resulted in increasing powerlessness, apathy and right wing populism - and a formidable redistribution of wealth in society. It is the revolt of the elites, the revolution of the rich, that we have seen unfold around us the past two decades, and it has certainly not been a beautiful scene.

Nothing of this has happened just by itself, and it will not disappear just by itself. It has never happened, neither in today's world, nor in previous times, that members of the economic and political elites one day suddenly have leaned back, put their hands satisfied on their bellies and said; "Now, finally, have we got enough." It has never happened, and it will not happen. The economic and political elites do not voluntarily give up their positions, their privileges, their power and their luxurious wealth. These people must be deprived of their power, and this can only be done through the democratisation of the economy and society, through a radical redistribution of wealth - between countries as well as internally - and by the building of popular movements and alliances from below, as is now being done through the global Social Forum movement and not least through our own 2005-alliance against neo-liberalism, for a new political course, which is now being developed in connection with the coming parliamentary election.

During this mobilisation and struggle we have now received unexpected help from neo-liberalism itself. At a rate which we hardly believed possible, this project is about to become totally scandalized. Neo-liberalism is namely no longer only a theory or political allegations that everything will become better. To an increasing degree, locally as well as globally, we are confronted with the results of the neo-liberal havocs, and these results are far from what the neo-liberal high priests promised when they launched their fascinating stories of the blessings of unregulated markets. We no longer have any idea of the number of corruption scandals connected with greedy multinational corporations. We have lost count of destructive and unsuccessful privatisation projects in the North as well as in the South. We are no longer able to keep track of all the countless environmental disasters and plundering of resources in the South. We hardly have words for the economic and social devastation that is being carried out in developing countries under cover of the so-called structural adjustment programs - which moreover repeatedly are restyled and relabelled, and whose policies are also being used as preconditions for Norwegian foreign aid programmes. Thus, reality, my friends, reality is now about to become one of our most important allies. Times are changing!

There is no popular support for the policy which is now being carried out in this country. As an example, when did you last time see a protest march move ahead through any of our towns or cities with demands for the privatisation of our schools, the competitive tendering of our hospitals or more power to the market? When did the masses in our country claim more freedom for currency speculators and stock traders? It has of course never happened. The current policy is not at all rooted in the people of this country. Neo-liberalism is yesterdays' answer to the challenges of tomorrow. The neo-liberalists have got their inspiration from the 18th century economist Adam Smith, and they call it modernisation!

The 2005-alliance is an answer to this economy of madness. The alliance represents a new way of developing policy and political power in this country. More than 20 years of neo-liberalism, under a number of different governments, forms the basis of our reorientation. The fundamental, underlying developments in our society have hardly been affected by which government we have had in this period. The policy has been characterized by privatisation, redistribution of wealth and increased market orientation - regardless of the colour of the government - including an increasingly stronger global alliance with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, to destroy the environment, exploit developing countries and the poorest people of the world. Our task is therefore not to get married with any of the existing political parties, but to mobilise far and wide to build social movements and thereby achieve enough strength from below to increase the pressure on the political parties and create a climate for political change. This is actually what we are about to do now.

We must be aware of what enormous task we thus are undertaking - all of us who are here. We are no longer going to limit ourselves to demonstrations against injustice, misery and poverty, against exploitation and oppression, against terror and war - like we did in our mobilisation against the World Bank in the spring of 2002 and our massive mobilisation against the Iraq war in February last year. We will of course continue this mobilisation, because it is decisive for the building up of social power, but we shall no longer restrict ourselves to merely protesting. This is only the first step in our project. The second step is about developing alternatives, our fundamental principles for another society - but not even there will we stop.

What we are now doing in this movement, by joining the 2005-alliance, is to take the third decisive step in a necessary process. We are now putting the power relations in society on the agenda. We are not only demanding a new government, we are first and foremost demanding a new policy. This is the ambitious goal of the 2005-alliance. We are now starting our march to capture power, we are now aiming at influencing the development of society in this country. We cannot do that by taking over the present power structures. 25 years of continuing neo-liberalism has proved more than anything else that radical change does not come from within existing institutions. Changes can only be achieved through pressure from outside and from below. Social and political power gains strength from the movements. This struggle for power must therefore also be a struggle that, in the way it is being organised, contributes to empowering the powerless, and it does not end on the day of election in September 2005. On the contrary, it is then of vital importance that the pressure is carried on.

Bid us nothing small! It is a huge project we have undertaken. Through the initiatives we are now taking, through the fundamental political directions we are pointing out, through the alliances we are building between the new movements, the trade union movement and other social movements and organisations, we are just about to write the first pages in the history of the 21st century.

Finally, I would like to strike a blow for making a poem of the Finnish poet Pentti Saarkoski this movement's poem. It is called "I will not forgive them" and goes like this:

I will not forgive them, for they know very well what they are doing.
They wanted me to write songs for them about the wind, about the bird and the tree,
beautiful songs that they later at night could read to their souls' delight,
to forget what they have been doing during the day:
poisoned the wind, killed the bird and the tree.

I will not leave them in peace.
I do not speak incomprehensible to satisfy them,
I am not waiting until the prison they are building is finished around me,
I do not believe in their knowledge, not in their money,
not in their God and not in their victory.

They brought me up, they wanted to tame me and make me a humble servant,
and now they are full of hatred,
they see that their efforts were in vain,
I became their opponent, and all their teaching now turns against themselves.

I give them no calm until they are deprived of the power they control people by,
they, who are not even able to control things any longer.
They are businessmen, and businessmen should always be paid more
than they themselves pay, but I pay them with their own coin,
they have poisoned the wind, killed the bird and the tree, all my joy.

They own the earth and they own the sky,
but the earth and the sky are not on their side.
This they know, therefore they arm for war,
they spoil the earth and sky rather than giving up their wealth.

I do not believe in their victory, because they are ever fewer,
ever more are those who are not just waiting, we are ever more,
in their narrow cities, in their schools, in their factories, are we ever more,
more and more do they need us, less and less do we need them.
We have carried them on our shoulders long enough and endured
their incompetent leadership, their miserable household, their false teaching.

We carry them on our shoulders, we only need to straighten our backs
and they will fall, we only need to open our mouths and they become silent,
the bird sings again, the tree turns green.

----------

Let us get started, my friends. It is a long march we have started. However, it is not late in the world, it is still early. We have only just started. Good luck!

smartedit