The International Context of Global Outrage (in 5 parts)

Looking back on the movements that preceded the Arab Spring, the Indignados, and Occupy Wall Street

3 January 2012 by Eric Toussaint

In 2011, social and political rebellion has re-emerged in the streets and on squares all over the world. It has appeared in new forms and been given new names: the Arab Spring, the Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. The main regions affected are North Africa and the Middle East (including Israel), Europe and North America. Not all countries in those areas have been equally affected by this new wave of mobilizations and new forms of organization, but everybody has heard about the movement. In the countries in which it has not been massive, active minorities have attempted to give it wider legitimacy with varying results [1]. In the Southern hemisphere, only Chile has experienced a movement that can be compared to that of the Indignados in 2011 [2].

In 2011, social and political rebellion has re-emerged in the streets and on squares all over the world. It has appeared in new forms and been given new names: the Arab Spring, the Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. The main regions affected are North Africa and the Middle East (including Israel), Europe and North America. Not all countries in those areas have been equally affected by this new wave of mobilizations and new forms of organization, but everybody has heard about the movement. In the countries in which it has not been massive, active minorities have attempted to give it wider legitimacy with varying results. In the Southern hemisphere, only Chile has experienced a movement that can be compared to that of the Indignados in 2011.

If we try to sum up what has been achieved by the alterglobalist movement over the past two decades, we can distinguish between different phases related to the overall developments in the world.
From 1999 to 2005, in response to a heightening of the neoliberal offensive in Northern countries, large-scale mobilizations occurred against the WTO WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

(Seattle in November 1999), the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
, and the G8 G8 Group composed of the most powerful countries of the planet: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA, with Russia a full member since June 2002. Their heads of state meet annually, usually in June or July. (Washington in April 2000, Prague in September 2000, Genoa in July 2001). The World Social Forum emerged in that context in Porto Alegre in January 2001. Over the following years the movement spread to several continents (Latin America, Europe, Africa, South Asia, and North America). New international networks were created: Jubilee South (on the issue of debt), ATTAC (against the dictatorship of financial markets), the World March of Women, Our World Is Not for Sale, and others. Older networks (dating back to the first half of the 1990s) such as Via Campesina, CADTM (North/South network that focuses on the debt, the WB and the IMF) were strengthened. The antiglobalization movement developed in these years, mainly within the context of the WSF.

Key dates in the creation of the alterglobalist movement

The mobilizations that occurred in 1999-2000 were prepared for by other actions, such as
- the mobilization against the G7 in Paris in July 1989 on the occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution, which led to the Appel de la Bastille (Bastille Call) for canceling third world debt (the CADTM’s founding text, see;
- the (neo)zapatista uprising that irrupted on 1 January 1994 and had a major international impact for several years, particularly during an international meeting in the Chiapas in 1996 with the Surrealist name ‘Intergalactic meeting in defense of humankind’ (in which many international movements participated including the CADTM).
The 50th anniversary of the World Bank and IMF was commemorated by a huge protest in Madrid in 1994. This demonstration inspired the French when they founded ‘Les autres voix de la planète’ (the other voices of the planet) collectives during the mobilization against the G7 in Lyon in 1996. The Spanish initiative brought together NGOs, the CADTM Belgium and movements such as the 0.7 % platform in which young people struggled to convince their country to devote 0.7 % of the GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
to public aid to development, and also trade unions, feminist and environmental movements (Ecologistas en Accion). Already at the counter-summit in Spain an alliance of movements emerged that would later converge on Seattle in 1999, then on Porto Alegre in 2001, and so on. In 1997, European Marches against unemployment, job insecurity, and social exclusion played a decisive role in Amsterdam, during an EU counter-summit.

See CADTM Les manifestes du possible (Manifestoes of what is possible), Syllepse-CADTM, 2004

After 20 years of neoliberal domination in South America, massive uprisings in several countries proved to be successful: the water war in Bolivia in 2000, the Indian uprising in Ecuador that overturned the neoliberal president (2000), the rebellion that overruled Argentine’s neoliberal president (end of 2001) and opened onto a prerevolutionary crisis in December 2001 and on into 2002, the popular uprising in Venezuela in April 2002 to bring Hugo Chavez back to the presidency after a coup (11-13 April 2002), the gas war in Bolivia in 2003 with the pro-Washington neoliberal president being overruled, and similarly the overruling of the pro-US neoliberal president in Ecuador in 2005… In the wake of such mobilizations, governments that at least partly broke off with neoliberalism and opposed the US domination, launched political reforms and partly restored public control over natural resources (Venezuela from 1999, Bolivia in 2006, Ecuador in 2007). Yielding to popular pressure, the Argentine government, which was not particularly left-wing, implemented heterodox measures that contrasted with those taken by the PT government in Brazil and by the Uruguayan Broad Front, which paradoxically carried on with the same policies of their neoliberal predecessors while adding a significant amount of ‘assistancialism’ that improved the condition of the poorer classes and thus consolidated their voter base. The free trade area of the Americas that Washington wanted to set up was abandoned in 2005 thanks to the opposition of a majority of South American governments and social mobilization.

Meanwhile 9/11 2001 led to a new US war offensive in Afghanistan and Iraq that reeked of oil grabbing and military positioning. The offensive was accompanied by a restriction of democratic liberties, especially in the US and the UK: war on terror was the perfect excuse. Faced with such hard-line imperialism, the alterglobalization movement managed to bring out 12 to 13 million people to march against war all over the world in February 2003, but was unable to prevent the invasion of Iraq one month later. The decline of the WSF started in 2005. One of the reasons was the International Council’s refusal to allow the forum to develop from a forum where activists could meet and exchange ideas to an open and democratic instrument for political action. We should add the institutionalization of the process, dominated as it was by NGOs and leaders of social movements that were all too closely aligned with social liberal governments, such as the Lula government in Brazil and Prodi’s in Italy.

After 2004 there were no more large-scale international mobilizations against the IMF, the WB, the G8, NATO NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NATO ensures US military protection for the Europeans in case of aggression, but above all it gives the USA supremacy over the Western Bloc. Western European countries agreed to place their armed forces within a defence system under US command, and thus recognize the preponderance of the USA. NATO was founded in 1949 in Washington, but became less prominent after the end of the Cold War. In 2002, it had 19 members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK, the USA, to which were added Greece and Turkey in 1952, the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955 (replaced by Unified Germany in 1990), Spain in 1982, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1999.
, the WTO, or imperialist wars. The alterglobalization movement was obviously losing momentum though WSFs may have been quite successful, as in Belém (Brazil) in 2009, and to a lesser extent in Dakar in February 2011.
In 2005, when they adopted the EU constitutional treaty against the will of the people, the European ruling classes and governments reinforced the neoliberal capitalist orientation of an integrated Europe within the context of the EU and the euro zone that gradually extended to 17 countries. Industrialized capitalist countries as well as China and commodity exporting countries still seemed quite healthy. The ruling classes led their offensive by imposing more precarious working conditions and greater imbalance in the distribution of wealth, but consumption sustained through credit and the real estate bubble produced a misleading sense of abundance and well-being in countries such as the US, the UK, Spain, Ireland, Greece, and several central European countries that were new EU members. On the other hand, the perceptible effects of climate change triggered a growing awareness of the deleterious consequences of productivist capitalism.

Éric Toussaint, PhD in political science, President of CADTM Belgium, member of the International Council of the World Social Forum since it was created, and of the Scientific Committee of ATTAC France. Author with Damien Millet of Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank, Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Montly Review Press, New-York, 2010; editor (with Damien Millet) of La Dette ou la Vie (Debt or Life), Aden-CADTM, 2011. Contributor to Le piège de la dette publique. Comment s’en sortir (How to escape from the of public debt trap), Paris: Les liens qui libèrent, 2011.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle in collaboration with Charles La Via


[1In sub-Saharan Africa, there were student’s mobilizations in Burkina Faso in March-April 2011, in Togo in May-June 2011, and a movement called Y’en a marre (Fed up) against the authoritarian rule of President A. Wade in Senegal in June 2011. They made explicit reference to the Arab spring. In Senegal, the World Social Forum, which convened in February 2011, ten years after its first meeting, was greatly successful particularly because of the uprisings taking place in Tunisia and Egypt at that time (see Olivier Bonfond

[2See Franck Gaudichaud, ‘When triumphant liberalism begins to crack. Reflexions on the awakening of social movements and the Chilian May’

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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