Reclaiming ‘Free Markets’ from the Neo-Liberals? Thinking through Capitalist Coalitions in Anti-Globalization Movements

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Gabriel MENARD, University of Toronto, Canada
As the information revolution unfolds, concerns over access to information technologies are increasingly embroiled in wider concerns over the (anti)democratic implications of global capitalism. In the United States, these concerns are manifested in a social movement seeking to implement Network Neutrality regulations that prevent telecommunications service providers from exploiting their position as network gatekeepers, ostensibly to safeguard the freedom and openness of the Internet to democratic participation and endogenous, user-driven development. This movement draws on themes and tactics common to the broader anti-globalization movement, including opposition to the concentration of power among multi-national corporations, resistance to deregulatory pressures, promotion of economic self-determination, and the mass mobilization of supporters through the Internet. Unlike other such movements, however, Network Neutrality movement organizers have sought change on explicitly pro-capitalist terms, by casting demands as the legitimate expression of free market principles – based on meaningful competition – in opposition to the (neo-liberal) position of free markets as laissez-faire deregulation.

Drawing on a wide corpus of movement materials, including legislative committee testimony, SMO documents, and interviews, I argue this case raises questions about the utility of conceptualizing resistance to global capitalism as struggles against particular expressions of capitalism – and perhaps as struggles to enact particular visions of alternative capitalist possibilities – rather than as struggles against globalization or capitalism per se. This conceptualization poses a dilemma: on one hand, coalition-building with entrepreneurial capitalists aligned with the movement’s vision of Internet openness has been key to the movement’s success; on the other hand, there may be far-reaching consequences to further entrenching market mechanisms as the primary organizing principle of access to information technologies.