Speech for the First National Congress of ATTAC Germany

21 October 2001

Between 3000 and 4000 people attended this Congress, organised by the formidable team of young people of ATTAC Germany. I am proud to say the following speech was greeted with a standing ovation, but the organisers deserved it more.

Susan George speaking in Berlin

Dear Friends, dear Colleagues,
Greetings! You've been listening to speeches all morning long and now without even taking a break you have to listen to another one and not even in your own language. Please forgive me-not speaking German is one of my many regrets in life. It's a great honour for me to have been asked to give the closing speech.

First I want to congratulate the organisers of the immensely succesful Congress. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to organise such an event for thousands of people-and not just the material organisation which is difficult enough, but the political organisation, the alliance building as well. The organisers of from ATTAC Germany should be proud of themselves and all of you who are attending, I hope, especially for the youngest among you, that you will tell your grandchildren that you were present at the founding Congress of ATTAC; that the movement will fulfill its destiny and be remembered many years from now.

Of course the real question is: What are we organising for? Why are we here? Politics used to be a lot simpler-if you said "US get out of Vietnam" or "Stop Apartheid Now", everyone understood what you were talking about. Now we have to do a lot more explaining about how the world system works. The media told us for a long time that it was impossible to organise a mass movement around complex ideas. They told us that their readers or listeners didn't want to hear about such "technical", "austere" subjects. ATTAC-Germany, like other national ATTAC movements, is proving exactly the contrary. People want to understand the forces of globalisation that are shaping their lives and that's why ATTAC, at least in France, calls itself a "Movement of popular education turned towards action".

We're learning and organising for nothing less than changing the future, changing the world. Germany is a hugely important player in this connection: it's the world's third largest economy, a formidable power in Europe and in the world and frankly, without you, we're unlikely to get very far. That's why ATTACs everywhere are rejoicing in your success and will welcome the news of this Congress.

I've got good news for you, for us all. We are no longer on the defensive. This movement has already changed the terms of the debate. We have obliged the powers-that-be to take us seriously, to take our arguments seriously. Neo-liberalism is no longer the world's dominant religion for the excellent reason that it doesn't work, and we are battering its ideology. Soon, I think, we will have smashed it to pieces.

We are working at different levels. First, we have to try to prevent terrible, new things from happening. The neo-liberals haven't given up, far from it, and they are still taking initiatives. For example, we prevented the Multilateral Agreement on Investment from being completed. In Nice last December we stopped the Qualified Majority Voting that Commissioner Pascal Lamy was so anxious to obtain-at least we stopped it for commercial negociations concerning education, health and culture, which is something. We are trying to protect public services which are under threat everywhere and we will soon be demonstrating against the WTO and the New Round they hope for.

We're also working for new rights and against the gross inequalities that exist in the world today. I won't go into any detail on these-you have already heard a great deal from other speakers. We want new rights and guarantees for people worldwide. The problems we face are those created by globalisation and the solutions have to be by definition international.

Since the horrible events of 11 September, much of the media has tried to criminilise the movement in the crudest possible way: the arguments goes "Anti-globalisation equals anti-americanism equals tacit support for terrorism". This is nonsense. Our programme is more than ever necessary and relevant in the wake of these events. I've summed up my views on this in what I call a proposal for a "Planetary Contract".

[Here I described the Planetary Contract which readers will find elsewhere on this site].

As we move forward together, we have to think strategically. This is the time to recall what the great Chinese general of 2500 years ago said: "Do not do what you most want to do. Do what your adversary least wants you to do". The terrorists would like to see world inequalities continue because they know that they breed anger and resentment which make good recruiting grounds for terrorism. Our neo-liberal adversaries are not stupid and they want to keep their power and profits. Power and profits have never in the history of the world been given up voluntarily and they never will be. We shall have to struggle in order to make this outcome inevitable.

I can see at least three temptations which could slow us down in this struggle or even cause us to lose. We must avoid giving in to these temptations at all costs.

The first temptation is theological, doctrinal purity. The left, progressives have been historically good at demanding purity, which of course engenders splits and lead to impotence and irrelevance. Let's never get into the position of the circular firing squad, with our rifles pointed at each other: let's turn outward and aim at our adversaries. The point is always to concentrate on what unites us and to build alliances. You don't have to agree on every minor point to work together on the main issues. We need to build alliances, first making strong national coalitions. These are the basis of the whole movement. Only when we have strong national coalitions can we build a strong international movement.

The second temptation is to give into violence or to allow violent elements into our own ranks. Our ennemies are looking for every occasion to criminalise us, they began their campaign anew on the 12th of September and we must not give them any excuses. Although I'm quite aware of the arguments concerning structural violence, and I know the State can be far more violent than any people who say they are "on our side", I still believe we must refuse and isolate violent elements because they are undemocratic. They spoil the patient work of alliance building and don't care what 99% of the movement thinks. Trade unions and the peace movement will never join us unless we succeed in expelling these elements. They prevent our positive message from being taken up by the media and thus reaching a broader public. They keep lots of ordinary people, especially older people or families away from our demonstrations out of fear. These elements are also easily infiltrated by fascists and by the police. So we have to be inventive, creative and avoid being infiltrated ourselves.

The third temptation is discouragement. It's a hard fact of life and politics that you usually don't get your demands on the first go. Change can take a long time and this can indeed be discouraging. Here we have to take a historical perspective and remember that everything we cherish today, all the gains of the past were won by people who fought and lost, and fought and lost and then finally one day they won! They didn't give up. Democracy has to be both our goal and our method and democracy is a slow process too. But let me tell you that if you stay in the fight, you'll have a better time! You'll have better comrades and a more gratifying life because you will be on the side of solidarity and human freedom, not of greed and selfishness.

In conclusion, let me say that together, we are trying to do something no one else has ever done before in human history. No wonder it's hard! It would be astonishing if it weren't. We are trying to democratise the international sphere and to create a world in which every human being can lead a decent and dignified life. So let's remember this and be true to the spirit of this inspiring and remarkable Congress of ATTAC-Germany. Let's remember too that all of us are actors in history. Our historical task is to make this movement grow: across Germany, across Europe, across continents until, like the tide, it becomes unstoppable.