You may have heard the name Peoples Global Action, but you may not quite know what political dynamic and what groups it includes. So here is a quick flashback, in light of the preparation of PGA Europes Belgrade conference, scheduled for summer 2004, and also to help further develop structures for communication and exchange among anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist movements. This text focuses on introducing PGA Europe, but occasionally extends to cover the general history and worldwide process. The acronym PGAe in this text refers to PGA in Europe. Needless to say, this text does not purport to establish any kind of orthodoxy, neither regarding the history of PGAe nor regarding its political goals. No one is empowered to act as a PGAe spokesperson. No one can represent PGAe. The comments outlined below should therefore be seen as one point of view among many, and a partial one at that. It is the point of view of a handful of committed individuals engaged in the broad, complex and fascinating process that is PGAe.
From the earliest days to the counter-summits...
In the wake of the Zapatista insurrection in January 1994, in Mexico, a number of encounters took place. Among these were the famous Intergalactic Encounters against Neo-Liberalism and in favour of Humanity, held first in the Chiapas and subsequently in the spanish state. The political context was glum. The Wall had just fallen and free-market capitalism was - however briefly -triumphant. The indigenous peoples of the Zapatista movement had created a shock of hope. It ran round the world. It was in the aftermath of these encounters that the idea of a worldwide network for coordination and information exchange among activists first arose in theoretical discussion - and then in practice. One early goal was to attack the World Trade Organization. The First Worldwide Peoples Global Action against WTO and free trade conference took place in Geneva, in February 1998. Several hundred representatives of peoples movements from around the world gathered. They managed to agree on a political manifesto. Amongst the participants were Canadian Postal Workers, Earth First ecologists, French farmers and anti-nuclear campaigners, Maori, Uwa and Ogoni people, Korean trades unionists, North American native womens organizations, radical Ukrainian eco-people, and peasant movements from all continents. Their manifesto covered such issues as the use of direct action as a means of political struggle; the establishment of an organisational principles based on decentralisation and autonomy; and building direct democracy alternatives. This entire structure was to be moved forward by 12 different groups, called convenors, distributed regionally throughout the planet.
Convenors are collectives acting as contact, information, and coordination points. They co-organise global and regional conferences and used to put out the calls for Global Days of decentralised Action (GDA), notably on the occasion of WTO summits. In the first convenors committee there were 3 from Latin America, 1 from western europe, 1 from Eastern Europe and 2 from Asia. At the time of writing, there are sometimes several convenors per region, especially in Latin America. Convenors share their workload with other collectives. The earliest European convenors were Reclaim the Streets, a group with its roots in radical ecology and road protests that had helped renew anti-capitalist directaction techniques, notably through the use of street parties as blockades and by establishing connections with workers organisations such as the Liverpool dockers or London Underground workers. In Asia, convenership work has been done by organisations like KRRS, an Indian farmers union with a membership of several million, best-known for setting fire to Monsanto GM crop fields, and the National Alliance of Peoples Movements, a national platform of grassroots movements from the whole country (which includes Narmada Bachao Andolan, the National Fisherfolk Forum, the Union of Landless Labourers of Andhra Pradesh, etc). The current Asian convenor is the Krishok Federation (the landless or otherwise marginalised peasant movement) from Bangladesh. In Latin America, PGA has gathered very diverse cultures and backgrounds, from CONFEUNASCC, a small-scale farmers union in ecuador, Movimiento de la Juventud Kuna, the Bolivian cocalero movement in Chapare, to the Colombian Process of Black Communities.
And so resistance became as global as capital...
In May 1998, the first fruits of PGA were seen in four days of worldwide resistance against the G8 summit in Great Britain and the WTO summit in Geneva, which was the second Ministerial Conference since the creation of the WTO, and a celebration of 50 years of GATT and post-World-War-II capitalist world order. This was the first of a long series of counter-summits. It included some of the hottest protests that Geneva had ever seen and in Birmingham participants in the G8 summit were forced to stage a secret evasion to escape a newly occupied city. Meanwhile, some 200,000 Indian farmers demonstrated to demand that the WTO be dissolved. In those days, the dynamic remained locally-based. PGA-initiated Global Days of Action were decentralized events. One of the most impressive was J18, on June 18th 1999, an anti-capitalist day to correspond with the G8 summit in Cologne. Actions were organized in 72 different locations, including the arrival in Cologne of the Inter-Continental Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance (formed by grassroots groups from India and other Southern countries) and a festive occupation of the City of London which ended with the financial centre being ransacked by a few thousand demonstrators. During this period, the expression anti-capitalist made a massive return both among militants and in the media. The slogan Capital is global, the struggle is global was put into practice.
In Seattle, in November 1999, the closure of the ministerial conference of the WTO showed the effectiveness of combining the many different direct actions - sometimes highly coordinated, like the blockades of all the streets leading to the summit - that were organized by small affinity groups. There were solidarity actions in more than 70 countries. The so-called Battle of Seattle which had radicals at its forefront, was nonetheless quickly exploited by traditional leftist citizen reform groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which sought to use it as a creation myth for their new strategies of power-sharing among trade bodies and civil society. In September 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank summit in Prague, Czech Republic, was PGAes chance to see how well actions using a diversity of tactics, such as street parties -dancing and mobile confrontation (the pink line), sabotage (the blue line) and confrontational civil disobedience (the yellow line), could complement each other. There was also a multitude of preparatory initiatives, such as the caravan against capitalism, a roving series of actions in French-speaking parts of Europe, initiated by the Reseau Sans Titre (the Untitled Network).
The counter-summits and global protests rapidly transformed into occasions for mass convergences of activists from all over, and these convergences have continued to this day, despite the precedent set by the ominous repression during the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy. Todays counter-summits bring together a spectrum of groups, political parties, and civil society NGOs that is much broader than just the ensemble of groups involved with PGA. Indeed, it is often forgotten that the original impetus behind these counter-summits came from radical groups opposed to lobbying and who denounce the welfare-state and parlementary democracy as much as (neoliberal) capitalism.
Political evolutions and other kind of actions...
Apart from mass events, the frequency of which is determined big capitalist institutions calendars, PGA has also been responsible for the development of other processes, that are sometimes less well-known. The Intercontinental Caravan enabled some 400 members of Indian farmers organizations and some 50 members of other third world peoples movements to come to Europe and demonstrate outside major institutions such as the WTO, the IMF, the OECD, NATO and so on, as well as outside multinational companies European headquarters. They destroyed GM crop fields and a state research laboratory. Crucially, the caravan enabled these third world groups to build bridges with a variety of European movements.
PGA-inspired Global Days of Action provided a context within which to develop creative forms of direct action, even for quite small collectives. Thus, street parties, blockages, occupations, anti-capitalist carnivals and so on. The very decentralization and proliferation of contacts between various groups led to the establishment of participative outward communication tools such as Indymedia (There are currently more than 130 separate Independent Media Centers, IMCs, throughout the world, with many more sub-collectives within IMCs as well as rogue IMCs operating independently from the network; Indymedia has been called the largest all-volunteer organization in the world.). Other internal tools such as PGAs internal lists were developed, providing a noticeboard for actions and analyses round the world.
In July 2002, the international no-border camp in Strasbourg, France, marked a coming-together of PGAes various organizational modes and approaches to anti-capitalism, as well as practical actions centered on the theme of immigration and confrontational border-camping practices that are particular to the international No Border network. The result was the next (shaky) step in the evolving practices of self-management and autonomous living, direct democracy, and decentralized actions, involving 2,000 people over a period of 9 days. This experience would provide a base of experience that helped to launch the other camps and similar autonomous villages that proliferated during the anti-G8 demonstrations in May and June 2003, in France and Switzerland.
PGAs Second Global Conference took place in Bangalore, India in August 1999. On this occasion, the network proclaimed its intention of going beyond free exchange of ideas and information, to promote a generalized attack on capitalism and other forms of domination such as sexism and racism. A decision was reached to clearly identify the differences between PGA and other anti-globalization groups whose ideas are fundamentally opposed to ours such as, extreme right-wing groups, political parties and reformist NGOs.
PGAs 3rd Global Conference took place in Cochabamba in Bolivia. It stressed the importance of local and regional processes.
Despite these positive developments and after several years of - perhaps too frenetic - activism, a number of criticisms of the organizational modes and political goals of PGA were expressed with increasing force. PGAes European conference at Leiden in August 2002 aimed to confront these criticisms and act on them.
PGAe 2nd conference...
The first European PGA conference took place in the year 2000 in Milan, Italy, and was hosted by the Italian Ya Basta! movement for civil and social disobedience. The second took place in September, 2002, in the small city of Leiden, Netherlands, and was hosted by EuroDusnie, an anarchist collective, which was a European co-convener with the Catalan Movimiento de Resistencia Global (Global Resistance Movement). Lots of people from across Europe converged to share analyses and discussions; at least 650 were officially signed up, and many more just attended. One of the main points of a conference like this was simply to facilitate face-to-face encounters and to bring to light, even in the eyes of the participants themselves, the existence of a common movement and a common state of mind. The conference was also an opportunity to bring about a common understanding of the forces and struggles represented there, to consider questions the movement faces in common, and then to move forward with concrete proposals in response to the question, What now?
Our Dutch hosts had put in place an organizational structure aimed at ensuring the participation of all those present. All participants were invited to get involved in the cooking and cleaning; preparing and moderating meetings, workshops and discussions; creating a daily newsletter summarizing the outcomes of the discussions and debates. Help was also provided with transport, particularly for groups from beyond the European Unions Eastern border, by means of a redistribution of Western Europeans registration fees.
The question of who might be admitted to the conference was raised, bearing in mind that the purpose of PGA exchanges and the PGA network is to connect local groups recognizing the founding hallmarks.
There was no strict mode of selection, though registration did include a request for reasons for participating. People were actively encourage to prepare for the conference at a local level. Discussion days were seriously hard work. They mainly took the form of small discussion groups on all the many themes suggested by participants, but also on general strategic questions relevant to the movement as a whole and working groups of PGAe organizational structures. The issue of how discussion should be conducted and how decisions should be reached was the subject of lively debate, with a view to encouraging egalitarian participation and counteracting power-plays. Techniques used include facilitation, hand-signals, small groups, progressive consensus and so on.
The tyranny of having no (formal) structure...
The balance between formal and informal, in the ways that PGAe works as a network, was another main focus of the structure debates. PGAe has a strong preference for organic and affinity-based relationships. But it became equally apparent that the lack of clarity as to who takes care of what makes the distribution of responsibility overly fluid and makes it unclear exactly how and where decisions are made and makes it difficult for new people to integrate. This in turn leads to informal hierarchies which are particularly hard to read because they are invisible. The challenge is therefore to make it more explicit how the structure works, without rigidity and without falling back into the bureaucratic and authoritarian structures that we have been reflexively conditioned to expect. Finally, the work on the PGAe structures (mailing lists, web-sites, information relay systems, contact lists, and conference organization) should be done in a much more formal and open way... so as to invite many more people to get involved. Faced with the absence of new conveners and the need to clarify the work to be done on the network structures, a new working-group meeting for PGAe was held at the Tanneries, an autonomous self-managed space at Dijon in France in March 2003. It was at this meeting that DSM, a Belgrade-based anti-capitalist group, offered to act as convenors.
Detailed summaries of discussions and decisions made about PGAe process in Leiden, which were completed in Dijon, are available on the web. They are based on the organizational principles of PGA, which were affirmed at Cochabamba.
The info points...
To move PGAe forward on a large scale and to promote it on a local basis, the Leiden conference decided to set up several info points, a series of local groups that are involved in PGAe. Eachinfo point group is responsible for spreading information about the conferences, history and projects of the PGA network to people who are interested. These info points are not members of PGA, because PGA has no membership, but they do work to make this network more visible, an important task, considering that the network does not speak as a whole or as an organization. You can find a contact list for these info points on the net.
The sustained campaigns...
In Leiden, thematic working groups were set up, based on PGA principles. One was on water, and another was on creating alternative forums (hub projects) during the various social forums. Since Dijon, there has been a specific working-group dynamic focussed on gender.
Finally, what is PGA? a Network? a coordination? an exchange ?...
These discussions posed the question of the possibilities and limits to a network that claims to be based on decentralization and autonomy, which has no official membership, offices, or bank accounts, a network without spokespersons, where nobody speaks in the name of the network or makes decisions on its behalf. The debate on the role of PGAe has continued since Leiden and Dijon, and is still far from being resolved. For some, the crucial point is that, in contrast to political parties and other coordination structures, PGA should not aim to launch action campaigns in its own name, even though the encounters between groups, communication structures, and contact networks that it offers have been able to greatly facilitate the establishment of concrete common initiatives, even recently such as the global day of action in December 2002 in solidarity with Argentinas popular uprising or some of the anti-G8 blockades and events in 2003.
This doesn't mean that PGA conferences, convenors, or simply groups in the network cant take the initiative of launching propositions or campaigns to the whole network. On the contrary, the originality and dynamism of PGA is that - thanks to a minimal agreement on goals and means of action and coordinated autonomy - it is a network capable of inspiring action. (In practice, the origin of propositions have been quite decentralised. The calls for action during Seattle or Prague for example where first made by local groups there, and picked up after by the convenors.) In contrast to traditional organisations, not only propositions can come from anywhere, but there is also no effort to make the actions appear as an international action of PGA. The action is that of the organisations that take it up, acting locally in their own name. For this reason the network as such goes relatively unnoticed, which does not make it necessarily less efficient than a traditional kind of organisation. It is certainly not PGAes goal to make consensual decisions on global strategy for world revolution. Apart from the hallmarks and manifesto, PGA groups can disagree on all kinds of things (particular forms of action or going to Social Forums, for instance) without having to split or argue endlessly. Thus some groups can try a political hypothesis and come back to discuss it after.
For some, PGAe shouldnt officially decide anything but its own structure and the manner in which to set up gatherings, lists, web sites, and other means of communication. To people of this opinion, PGAe is basically a means of exchange between various groups who share a commitment to its principles. There is considerable potential here, since it enables regional and global moments of coordination; it provides a means of getting to know each other, of contrasting our various approaches to political theories and struggles, of sharing ideas for action, contacts and resources, of providing ourselves with quality time to judge the success of our actions and to engage in thematic analysis. Despite this emphasis on decentralized and autonomous action, others also feel that, PGAe ought also to be able to regularly find ways to put forward campaigns and coordinated days of action, in its own name. The issue remains under discussion.