Book on social justice movement strikes a chord

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States, social justice groups suffered a serious setback. They had previously been on the rise, particularly through their large-scale protests at international gatherings of political and economic leaders. But the terror attacks ushered in a climate of fear in North America, along with a clampdown on expressions of discontent in the name of security.

David McNally (right), professor of political science at York, thought that in this new environment, his book Another World is Possible: Globalization & Anti-Capitalism, which he calls his "contribution to the social justice movement," would be short-lived. Instead, the book went on to become a bestseller, and a new revised and expanded edition will be launched today at Founders College.

"When I wrote the book, global justice movements in North America were very much in the ascendance and were becoming more and more a factor in political life. Much to my amazement, in the post 9-11 period, the book has done remarkably well," says McNally, who is Chair of the Department of Political Science in York’s Faculty of Arts.

The book has been picked as a text by at least 10 universities in Canada, says McNally. Its appeal to students lies in its contemporariness, he says: "I didn’t want to simply say: ‘here’s a textbook definition of capitalism, racism, or empire’. I wanted to show these as phenomena in the world around us.

"I think that’s meant that it has been more accessible to students than works that are more theoretical, that rely less on contemporary historical examples. This book is about the history that we’re living; perhaps a lot of students have been able to relate to and connect to it."

In the book, McNally discusses contemporary social justice movements around the world by situating them within a historical context, focusing his lens specifically on the history of capitalism. At the end, he offers 10 prescriptive principles that would bring about a more just society.

The second edition goes beyond the first by bringing in material related to the US invasion of Iraq and the consequences of the war on terror on social justice movements. New sections on China and India have been added and data throughout the book has been updated.

At heart, Another World is Possible is an indictment of capitalism; McNally argues that capitalism "emerged through violent and bloody struggles against previous and non-capitalist forms of life." According to McNally, anti-globalization movements shy away from blaming capitalism specifically for social injustices. As a result, they focus on changing specific policies, when in fact the problems are systemic.

Social inequality, a lack of participatory democracy, racism, gender discrimination and the commodification of life and labour, argues McNally, have their roots in capitalism. "I hoped that it would help them [social justice movement activists] to understand where in the structures of capitalism many of the problems that they were trying to address originate," he says.

The book gives many examples of anti-globalization groups around the world, in countries including Mexico, Korea, Bolivia, Indonesia and Brazil, who have mobilized to rein in the capitalist system. McNally says he wanted to prod North American social justice groups "to see themselves as part of a truly global nexus of movements and not just to see their own local situations" and to "help provide them with a more internationalist vision."

At the launch of the second edition at York University, McNally will be speaking about what has happened in the social justice movement in the intervening period since the first was published. He says he will also explain why, even in the current political climate in North America, he believes that there is still a powerful hope for the kind of radical democracy that he promotes in Another World is Possible.

The book launch is the first of a series of Founders College symposia on the "Resources of Hope in Modern and Contemporary Culture and Scholarship." The series, which aims to find spaces of hope to counter the nihilism of much of modern and contemporary scholarship, has been established by Professor Mauro Buccheri, master of Founders College.

The event, which takes place in the Senior Common Room, 305 Founders College, from 4 to 6pm, is presented by the Master’s Office of Founders College and the York University Bookstore.

This article was written by Olena Wawryshyn, York communications officer.