Against this globalization
Domenico Pacitti talks to Vittorio Agnoletto
Agnoletto recently represented the Italian movement at the
international council of the World Social Forum. In 1987, just two
years after graduating in industrial medicine at Milan’s state
university, he co-founded LILA, the Italian League for the Fight
against AIDS and was president from 1992 until November 2001.
Agnoletto has been a member of the International AIDS Society
since 1999 and has written various books and over 100 articles on
AIDS-related issues. I talked with him this spring.
The Italian movement that you represent is commonly referred to by
the media here in Italy as the “no global” or
anti-globalization movement. Do you accept this denomination?
Not at all. In fact, it’s quite misleading. We are not opposed
to globalization as such, but simply to the present form of
Could you outline the sort of globalization that the movement is
opposed to and the sort you wish to promote?
We are against the globalization of profits in a world dominated
by economic considerations in the absence of political rules. That
is our basic position. We support the globalization of rights, for
example, safeguarding the rights of all those who work. That means
demanding respect for trade union rights throughout the world,
including full maternity and health rights.
rights means protecting the environment, so that signing the Kyoto
agreement is an indispensable first step. It means refusing to
accept a world in which over one billion people live on less than
a dollar a day. It means the refusal to believe in a world in
which nearly a billion people still have no access to drinking
the other hand, we have realistic aims and are not just idle
dreamers. According to both UNICEF and a recent UN development
program, it would require the relatively modest figure of U.S.$80
billion to supply everyone with drinking water, a decent food
diet, and basic health care. Here in Italy we have proposed the
Tobin tax. If it were to be applied to the world’s eight stock
markets simultaneously, it would go a long way towards remedying
poverty and hunger.
are certainly not advocating a return to the Stone Age. Computers
and the Internet are fundamental. But we want to see a world with
a different development. That is why we oppose institutions that
are illegitimate—the WTO or G-8, which was never elected by
anyone to govern the world.
wish to see a new role for UNO that would allow it to make
political decisions, a less bureaucratic UNO in which everyone
would have the right to vote and no one the right of veto. That is
why we are opposed to the IMF and World Bank.
What exactly are the components of the movement in Italy and how
many organizations are there?
The Italian movement is quite distinctive in that it did not arise
suddenly, but was the result of the work carried out by hundreds
of associations and groups that began working in specific areas
from the mid-1980s. Many of these people had previously been
engaged in political activities.
the cultural defeat of the left, which preceded its political
defeat, each of us began working in his or her own specific
specialist field. In my own case, that has meant 15 years in the
AIDS field fighting to have the rights of HIV-positive people
upheld. Others have been carrying out parallel work in other
Has your own work been limited to Italy?
I do a lot of work in the Balkans and am involved in solidarity
intervention programs in South Africa and Nigeria. In 1996 new
medicines began to appear. Protease inhibitors are a particularly
important example. They completely transform the lives of AIDS
sufferers. Since 1996 their administration has prolonged life
expectancy by 16-18 years.
we know that almost 95 percent of HIV-positive people are unable
to use the inhibitors on account of their high cost —about
U.S.$10,000 a year per person.
we ask why this medicine is so expensive and whether its high
price is somehow an unalterable fact of life, we discover that
there is absolutely no relation between market price and research
and production costs and that the reason for this is because they
are running a monopoly.
Would you name some of the people we’re talking about here?
GlaxoSmithKline, Abbott, and Merck [based respectively in England,
Illinois, and New Jersey]. Those are the main ones.
How is it that they are allowed to run a monopoly?
Because the WTO has established a patent regulation that
guarantees the interests of these corporations for over 20 years.
It safeguards the intellectual ownership of such medicines and
that means that no one else is allowed to produce them. So if we
want to defend the rights of HIV-positive people, we have to fight
against the WTO.
How united is the Italian movement, given the fact that it
reflects a wide cross-section of opinion?
A fundamental characteristic of the Italian movement is that it is
wholly united. This is something that is quite unique in Europe
and perhaps even in the world.
How did this come about?
It goes back to Genoa. In order to contest the G-8 Summit, in
November 2000 we drew up a plan of action that stressed the ideals
that held us together and set out our common objectives and
programs. At a certain point we realized that we needed a
spokesperson to speak for the whole movement and I was nominated.
When was this exactly?
It was in May 2001 during the lead-up to the Genoa Social Forum.
The November 2000 plan of action document was signed by 1,000
associations—600 Italian and 400 foreign.
Genoa, social forums began to spring up throughout Italy as a
response to state repression and in order to help carry forward
our plans and programs. Today we have over 130 social forums in
Italy—virtually one in every key town and area. This spring, we
held our National Social Forum convention and did some more
organizing. We hold a national convention every two or three
months and a coordinating group meets once a month with one
representative from each social forum and representatives from
each of the national associations.
So what’s the next step?
This document now has to be signed by the 130 local social forums
and also by all the national associations, which run into
hundreds. We have a coordinating group for every social forum and
one for every association, which meets every month. Then we have
six national work groups that work on different themes. One of
these themes is no to war and terrorism. Another work group
organizes our presence at every meeting of FAO [Food and
second work group organized for the world meeting of FAO held this
June in Rome. A third group is organizing the ESF. A fourth is
dealing with immigrant labor. There are also a couple of others.
Each group will establish two, three, or four spokespeople, but
one only on the respective themes of each group.
Given the present adverse political situation in Italy in terms of
the Silvio Berlusconi government and the left’s weak opposition
and disarray, isn’t there a political role for your movement?
We are essentially a social movement with social, cultural, and
political objectives and a social movement we must remain. I am
totally opposed to any transformation of this movement into a
But do you believe you can influence politicians sufficiently from
outside the political arena?
Our proposals always command the maximum attention and even
succeed in dividing individual parties. We are working for the
reorganization of the left and I am in favor of an organization of
the left that is genuinely alternative, substantially pluralist,
and non-ideological. The fact that we are working towards this
objective doesn’t mean that the movement has to be transformed
into a political party.
movement raises problems and proposes issues and it does so with
such vigor that it upsets and divides the political framework,
which we also try to put together again with the hypothesis of an
alternative left, but not by transforming ourselves. As a movement
we are much stronger than a political organization. So in all
these months the real opposition to the Berlusconi government has
been our movement, which has held open the door of democracy and
How do you feel media indoctrination is faring in Italy?
Italy has a very large and varied media with a particularly high
number of local television networks, probably more than any other
European country. Ours is the so-called nation of the thousand
towns and cities each of which has one or two daily newspapers,
but the ownership is concentrated in very few hands. Berlusconi
owns three national TV networks in addition to major publishing
houses. He recently helped a group of entrepreneurs to prevent
Italia 7 from becoming an independent TV network.
Can we quantify the sort of damage that’s being done?
Well, the risk is that we could be getting information that is all
one way. The risk is that people don’t know what’s happening
and that they confuse television with reality.
Do you have any particular cases in mind?
Take a look at the way Genoa was handled. We won the information
battle in Genoa because we were able to develop an alternative
network of radios, newspapers, and magazines to counter
misinformation. We won because thousands of people working within
the Italian cinema gave us their support. They filmed what
actually happened and flooded all the TV networks with their
videotapes so that the truth got shown.
point is that the journalists who had been sent to Genoa by those
same newspapers were meanwhile writing the truth and were
producing articles for the local news pages, which went in our
favor. So, on the one hand, you had the prestigious front-page
article by the editorialist writing under pressure from the
ownership and attacking us; and, in the local news pages where the
articles were written by people who had actually been there and
witnessed what had happened, they only had to tell the truth and
we were automatically being defended.
government would have liked to close the Genoa affair with the
claim that it had all been about a subversive movement organized
by Vittorio Agnoletto. But all the documentation showed that this
was untrue. So, despite being in a country where all the main
networks are under the control of the government and Berlusconi,
we displayed a great capacity to counter misinformation. The
problem is that this great capacity to counter misinformation is
something we are only able to produce at the high points in a
conflict. We obviously aren’t able to get through to people in
this way every day.
Say something about the positive results of the World Social Forum
2 in Porto Alegre last February.
No one can call us “no global” after Porto Alegre because we
demonstrated that we are in favor of another type of
globalization. Secondly, no one can accuse us of being only
capable of protesting since there were 900 work groups, all
perfectly capable of proposing alternatives. At Porto Alegre we
succeeded in showing how a union between the movements of the
north and the large mass movements and populations of the south is
not a union built purely on ideology and solidarity. We are
fighting battles in which we have common interests.
another world is possible is fundamental. But it is the only world
that is possible and we want that world also for ourselves.
What would you say is the lesson we should learn from 9/11?
AGNOLETTO: The lesson is that the only real antidote to terrorism is our movement. We have been accused of providing a fertile terrain for terrorism. It is rather neoliberal policies that provide such a terrain. If we succeed in consolidating as a world movement and manage to obtain a few victories—we also need to win a few times—we’ll become more credible in the eyes of the great masses in the world’s south. Terrorism has nothing whatsoever to do with our movement. That is why we are building the African Social Forum and the Asian Social Forum and giving spaces to the alternative movements. So we remain the only antidote to terrorism to the same extent that we can succeed in our battle against neoliberalism. In producing hunger and poverty, neoliberalism is the very cradle of terrorism.
Note: This article was published by Z Magazine, July/August 2002, Vol.15, No.7.