In an unprecedented response to the inauguration of a United States president, the Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21, drew more than 500,000 people to Washington, D.C., and 400,000 to New York City. All across the U.S., across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax and all across the world, support marches were held.
This was an inspiring, principled and necessary rebuke to a right-wing authoritarian Republican administration with fascist undertones that vows to introduce a new world order. This response, possibly the largest global mobilization ever, showed that the incoming billionaire administration does not have a mandate from the people to do what it wills and that it will be met with opposition.
But a word of caution: When the U.S. attacked Iraq, tens of millions of people protested worldwide. Nothing stopped the destruction of a culture, the dismemberment of a nation, or what contributed to a “war on terror.” Massive demonstrations do not a movement make. I do not doubt that a movement will arise in the U.S. and around the world. But what is the context in which these movements will develop?
We live in a world where power – social, political, military – is centralized and embedded in a global economic system whose purpose is to reproduce itself and increase profits no matter the cost. It is a world where capital concentration and inequality are unprecedented. What this portends is that a few people who hold enormous power can impact the world. This should indeed frighten us.
But global capitalism is beset by many contradictions. For example, a saturated global market and decades of stagnation force nations to retreat into tariff wars and other protectionist policies. The rise of China creates a whole other set of problems. The system creates demagogues such as Trump and other right-wing alternatives coming to the fore in Europe today. Alternatives to what? Bourgeois democracy sees no alternative to capitalism and so must resort to populist tactics to mask the problems generated by capitalism itself.
Consider that Trump’s inauguration speech outlined exactly what global capitalism has done in the U.S.: closing factories and sending jobs outside of the country where labour laws are less stringent and taxes are lower. But, of course, Trump cannot call global capitalism by name, but rather must point to some malignancy that has deprived the people of jobs and opportunity. And the response is to reintroduce populism for the times: push xenophobia, foist blame on Mexicans and Muslims, use divisiveness as a distraction from the root causes.
In my opinion, a movement today that does not address these root causes of climate change, unprecedented wealth hoarding and income inequality, race and class divisions cannot begin to create the kind of movement that may possibly build an alternative to global capitalism. And this applies whether you are trying to get the Sackville town council to oppose the Energy East pipeline, or are confronting Swastika-makers or homophobia in the dorms.
We have to fight for reforms, absolutely. But these efforts must be seen as bridges to alternatives, not as ends in themselves.
Someone said that people can accept the end of the world more readily than the end to capitalism. These may be the choices. We’ve entered the anthropocene epoch. Our earth, life itself, is up for grabs. It is not the time for half measures, wishful thinking, timidity. It is time to imagine big, witness and resist.