By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Far from being extremists in any rational sense of the term, nearly all anti-globalization protesters are (though some may hate hearing it) well-behaved heirs to the Enlightenment. They march for democracy, free expression, economic justice and a rational global order. They believe in the possibility of progress.
They could hardly have found a better time to confront the World Economic Forum than in the midst of the Enron and Argentina debacles. These days, who‘s still so foolish that they would trust any big corporation to act in the public good? Enron’s collapse isn‘t merely the story of one company’s failure. It‘s the emblematic saga of an out-of-control system in which vast corporations are run by men who lie and cheat, yet are propped up by brokers, accountants, pro-business newspapers, boosterish TV pundits, bought-off politicians and regulators unwilling or unable to regulate. In short, this is crony capitalism of the kind that the IMF condemns in Thailand or South Korea.
The case of Argentina is just as damning. Only a few years ago, free marketeers idolized the country like a beauty queen -- putting it in the spotlight as a paragon of free-market virtue. Today, that beauty queen’s behaving like the star of a Girls Gone Wild video, with a gutted currency, riots in the streets and five presidents in two weeks (not to mention ex-President Carlos Menem, an IMF favorite, being investigated for taking Iranian bribes in connection with a massacre at a Buenos Aires synagogue). What‘s happening in Argentina is what happened during the Asian collapse of the late 1990s, and it’s far from coincidental that a dangerous new flash point in the ”War on Terror“ should be Indonesia, whose economy was crushed trying to obey the strictures of Western financiers.
If there was ever a time to protest the idea of a corporatized world, this is the moment to do it. These days, dissent isn‘t just important -- it’s downright patriotic.
”How should we live?“ someone asked me in a letter.
I had meant to ask him
the same question.
Again, and as ever,
as may be seen above,
the most pressing questions
are naive ones.
--Wislawa Szymborska, ”The Century‘s Decline“
Unlike opposing the war in Vietnam or racial segregation -- ideas that can be instantly grasped -- the issues surrounding globalization are hard to make clear to the public. In fact, trying to get a firm grasp on the anti-globalization movement is like trying to nail a blob of mercury to the wall. It possesses no clear structure or hierarchy, blurs the lines between left and right, and comes across as a crazy quilt of groups -- Trotskyites and Libertarians, veggies and anarchists, union members and proselytizers for hemp, wonky NGO reformers and whatever-means-necessary radicals with bricks in their hands.
What binds them is (to put the matter crudely) the perception that we’re all being rocketed into a future that most of us didn‘t choose and over which we have little control. This is a world ruled not by individual states or even corporations but by a vast, de-centered, market-based system in which power, like capital, can no longer be pinned down to a particular place. ”Empire“ is what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri term this system in their book of the same title (perhaps the most ill-written volume that ever aspired to change the world). Like the Internet, Empire is everywhere and nowhere.
In fighting it, the anti-globalizers sometimes seem to be equally amorphous. They’ve put forward numerous ideas and demands -- everything from opening up the World Trade Organization and abolishing the World Bank to forgiving Third World debt and ending consumerism. (For more detail, see ”Hitting the Streets,“ below.) The sum of these ideas sounds wildly implausible, even utopian, and can appear even wilder given some protesters‘ foolish belief that the U.S. is like Nazi Germany or that most people in undeveloped countries would rather not enjoy the Western comforts that most of us take for granted. (A trip to the Congo, Vietnam or a Brazil will quickly disabuse you of that notion.)
Yet even without its rhetorical excesses, the movement has created a shiver of fear among the guardians of the elite consensus. It’s constantly thumped not only by The Wall Street Journal but by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who, in a Nixonian flourish, compared the Seattle protesters to Soviet commissars, and the editorial pages of the Washington Post, which claimed that the anti-globalists ”parrot the rhetoric that used to be heard from the military dictatorships and corrupt populists who governed much of Latin America and Africa in the 1970s and ‘80s.“ Confronted with protests against, say, a Nike factory in Indonesia, such pundits argue that the factory is pumping money into the local economy as a whole, then triumphantly exclaim, ”See, your economic ideas would actually hurt the poor people of Java.“
These cocky pro-globalists remind me of a man whose wife tells him she’s unhappy with their marriage. Each time she tries to explain why, he tells her in precise and painful detail why she‘s completely wrong, why her complaints are irrational. ”Don’t be so emotional,“ he says firmly, confident that he‘s proved there’s absolutely nothing wrong with their marriage. Meanwhile, his wife is packing her bags -- his bullying certainty is part of what she‘s fleeing. Much the same is true of the fight over globalization, whose opponents may be wrong about individual issues (for instance, certain forms of protectionism), but still know they’re unhappily married to a worldwide process in which huge questions of labor rights, environmental protection and the distribution of wealth are decided not by democratically elected leaders but by corporate-approved trade representatives in secret meetings.