The dangers of talking without action and legitimating the present world order

Tord Björk | MST,popular movements,Travel | Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Maybe Robert Nilsson shows us a general way out of the idealistic trap in North South relationships when he states that we have to focus upon the task to change our own societies and see our cooperation with MST or other popular movements in the South in the light of this.

My own experience have made me very criticial to much of the Northern solidarity and NGO development work. I belong to a Nordic popular movement tradition claiming the importance of a movement to have a local base and simultanously strive for changing the whole society and live as one preaches. The fragmentation of such movements into specific trends that suddenly due to media, business or governmental incitaments becomes suboptimized always have seemed comical and at times dangerous to me.

In the history of this nordic popular movement tradition one occasion strikes as typical of the swedish political culture. In the end of the 1970s a radical alternative movement emerged with its roots in the smaller origins in the 1950s among volunteer international work camps and direct action to promote dismantling of the swedish army using military resources for stopping world hunger and give foreign development aid. Consumer cooperatives was started again after 50 years when no new cooperatives had been established. The peace movement declared itself as part of a wider alternative movement and so did feminists and environmentalists to a large degree, all seeing third world solidarity as important as well as changing social and ecological relations in industrialised societies. This movement was even able to start struggling for alternative production by supporting female textile workers in their struggle to maintain production in a factory in North of sweden.

The most clear symbol of alternative production at this time was Lucas air space, a military company in Great Britain on its way to make cutbacks in its operations. Here the workers and engineers as Mike Cooley had been able to both plan and make some alternative products as alternatives to the weapons they mainly used to produce. As the peace movement in the end of the 1970s was on the way up Lucas air space became internationally very popular and recieved many foreign guests, among them very many Swedes. After a while the activists at Lucas air space found out according to the oral tradition in Nordic popular movements an odd reality. While other foreign visitors produced results using their visit to Lucas air space for domestic purposes or solidarity action the Swedes went back home and then nothing was more heard of them. It went so far that Swedes became blocked from visiting the alternative production at Lucas Air space as the British activists could see no use in swedish people coming there. This unbalance between claiming a serious interest and being able to constructively support alternatives in practice was also seen in Sweden. At a meeting on practical alternatives in North of Sweden with 50 participants only 3 were people who did something in practice, the rest were people writing about those that did something.

The reason behind this suboptimized interest in alternative production came from the compromise between the two main popular movement parties in Sweden at the time, the Center party with its links to the peasant movement and the many farmers cooperatives and the social democratic party with their links to the workers movement and their many consumer cooperatives. Thus there was an overwhelming amount of resources to study practical examples of local production with workers involved in managing the production while there was nothing or very little to study the popular movements as a whole and how to change society.

Ten years later 35 young Norwegian came into a meeting in Delhi with a new well-funded Nordic trend backing their presence, that of sustainable development as presented by the Brundtland commission that gave birth to the UN Conference claiming free trade as a solution to environmental cirisis. The purpose of such a big group coming to India was unclear, but there was a huge amount of money for anyone in Norway that wanted to jump on the band waggon of sustainable development promoted by a dialogue between governments, business and NGOs. In some few years the Norwegian envrionmental movement who had been among the most radical if not the most radical in Europé with a strong criticism against growth societies shifted opinion completly. Using the sustainable development concept that the Brundtland commission claimed was possible to achieve through technological effectiveness and thus made sustainable growth possible the movement turned into professionalised NGOs promoting technological solutions rather than social change. A huge NGO sector for environment and development was created with the help of governmental funding based on the principle that the international NGO developemnt work had to be disconnected to work to change Norway. In this professionalised sustainable devlopment NGO sector radical activists could find a good living and soon claimed themselves to be the vanguard of global democracy.

In general NGO development cooperation has been a method for creating an avenue for copncerned people to become active and feeling that they can do something valuable. As both economic resources and the dominant discourse in society splits development issues from changes in the societies were Northern development NGOs get their resources from these NGOs trends tend to create a split in political awareness. It becomes very important and economically possible to explain to the public an ever growing number of political interventions in the South as WTO, IMF, WB, SAP, TRIP. TRIM, FTAA, MAI etc while political concepts that unites the experience among people in common in the South with the experience of people in the North was more marginalised as privatisation whether this is carried out by the local parties, national government, EU, NAFTA of Bretton Woods instutions.

As NGOs also live on market mechanism for their survival collecting money from people they also tend to create images that maximises their income as studied by Jörgen Lissner in his seminal book The Politics of Altruism in 1977. To present people in the South both as victims and that there is no connection between the potential supporter of charity and the one that is supposed to recieve the gift is the two mechanisms for maximizing income. Pictures of starving children begging for help is the most effective image. The result is that people in the North believes that the situation in the South is worse than it is as well as that the global majority which is mainly based in the South is not seen as a subjective to work together with democratically in solving todays ecological and social crisis, they are instead seen as obejctives for charity, people to be helped.

If the opposite takes place and movements are seen as subjects in history, they regularly are put in an exotic context. Via Campesina in Sweden, Nordbruk, can point at many occasions when Via Campesina from Southern countries as MST are invited to Sweden while their national counterpart here are excluded from the discussion as if agriculture and developemnt is something that should be seen separate from what happens in Sweden. Visits of organisations from the South becomes a decoration for showing how global justice oriented we are at the same time as the need to change our own society gets excluded from the cooperation as well as the possibility for the Southern organisations to make contacts and cooperate with their counterparts in Sweden.

How can than the Nordic delegation at the MST 25th anniversary be seen. The future action will tell. As we know also the best intentions can turn out in the opposite direction from what was orginally thought. What is clear is that the number of partcipants is no argument at all for something good, maybe it rather can be seen as problematic if it is a part of a trend that creates exotic indvidualised political tourism rather than collective change in the Nordic countries. But the diversity of the delegation points in other directions. The age balance was more or less complete, from very young children to very old men. In Sarandi half was young and later the young participants became slightly more in the delegation, thus there was an age balance which is needed for dynamic results.

At the surface one could guess that the male dominance was strong among the senior members with access to some established resources. But this is partly a false image. It is true that Berge Furre had resources of both political and economical capital exceeding well the total capacity of the rest of the delegation. But these resources was not linked to any wider popular movement cooperation internationally and could rather be seen as a bilateral development cooperation than part of  growing dynamic cooperation involving both established and new movements although hopefully there could be such potentials in the Norwegian support of MST. The Finnish and Swedish nestors were both of a different kind. Pertti Simula has lived since 1973 in Sao Paulo, first working for the Finnish tractor company Valmet and than as a psycho therapeut. More or less a naturalised Brazilian but with strong ties to Finland and Sweden were he goes on lecture tours every year he has not the kind of connection to established resources in the Nordic countries but is rather an actvists in MST pedagogical development. As MST puts much effort into education this is an important field but the role here is not to give aid from Nordic countries to the South but to be one of the activists of the movement. Lennart Kjörling is also primarily in contact with MST in his professional job as journalist and as an activist rather than having good links to established resources and being part of an NGO bureacracy. He also have been living in Brazil for a long time and has thus qualified experience and knowledge of how MST and the Brazilian society has developed as well as the possibilities and difficulties in getting mass media in Sweden to present what happens in Brazil. He is also active in Friends of MST.

The person with maybe most flexible and considerable resources at her disposal is rather Kirsi from the Siemenpuu foundation. Although of young age her position is strong and the goals of the environmental foundation is such that it can contribute to strategic projects of interest to both environmental, landless, peasant and indigenous movements. Thus the gender balance is better than it looks at first sight. The biggest group are the activists in Friends of MST in Finland and Sweden, a strength as this organisation has support of MST as top of their agenda and thus a long term commitment of importance rather than having MST as an example they temporary are interested in according to a more wider goal. Here many activists have an interest in producing media. The young activists as their counterparts in MST are interested in making videos.  Mika Rönkkö and Ruby van der Wekken have long lived in Brazil and developed good contacts to many popular movements and have both specific fields were they are active beyond the development cooperation, he as journalist at Le Monde Diplomatique in Finland and active in Attac and Friend of MST and she as coordinator of Network Institute of Global Democracy. Robert Nilsson with his background as historian and in dialogue with historians and activists in the MST movement broadens the capacity of the Nordic delegation further. The students of the social forum process from Finland and Norway as well as an activist from Attac Norway also became part of the Nordic delgation in the Carajas Social Forum part of the MST celebrations. Finally the two environmentalists from FoE Finland and Sweden complemented each other well, Noora Ojala who continued the tour after Belem to Montevideo to meet other FoE groups and the World Rain forest movement and Tord Björk who went back to Sweden.

How many in the Nordic delgation that actually will cooperate after their MST journey is an open question. Friends of MST and Friends of the Earth in Finland and Sweden have already established joint campaigning to support MST which was further well developed during the trip. How much also other people and organisations can be involved the future will tell including the need to incorporate Denmark an maybe the rest of Europe as well in a wider campaign. How much it can become a part of real change is also an open question. One can hope that the diversity of the Nordic delegation were each one have a separate interest and people in MST to cooperate with who have similar interests could result in a more equal partnership resulting in change in both the North and the South. As the saying goes in Friends of the Earth Sweden, the most important form of solidarity with the the South is to change our own societies and tus stop them from exploiting the South.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI