Guest Opinion: Globalization and Its Discontents
Globalization and Its Discontents
by Mitchel Cohen
"My approach to Africa is in some ways like the Japanese approach to Asia, and my approach is not necessarily humanitarian. It is in the long-range interests of access to resources and the creation of markets for American goods and services."
- Andrew Young, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the presidency of Jimmy Carter
"It's pretty straightforward," said former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has been one of the leading advocates of forcing Hussein from power. "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them." But he added: "If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."
- Washington Post, Sunday, September 15, 2002 ("In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue: U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool," by Dan Morgan and David B. Ottaway)
The administration of Clinton/Gore, successfully rammed legislation through Congress that is essential to the globalization of capital -- NAFTA, GATT, WTO, genetic engineering, emergence of coordinated federal police apparatus, the mass construction of prisons, and continued imposition of the death penalty. This legislation could never have been passed under George Bush, Sr. and it is why, despite the melodrama of politicians challenging Bill Clinton's sex-life, that the vast majority of the global corporate power structure financed and supported Clinton's presidential campaigns.
Clinton/Gore continued the policies of Bush, Sr., whose job was to hammer the often disparate elements of the ruling class into a unified strategy, which he called the "New World Order." Bush used the bombing of Iraq in 1991 as the basis for knocking that global strategy into place.
Then came the need to consolidate that program. Regardless of what any of the individuals in the administration individually believed, the Clinton/Gore administration's policies succeeded where Bush's would have failed: in dividing and co-opting the potential opposition to globalization -- big labor unions, the big environmental groups, and important sectors of the Black community -- into supporting the program of global Capital.
Now those institutions are in place, though they are shaky due to the vast movement against the global debt owed to Western banks and the growing worldwide movement against the globalization of capital (including control of the world's oil production and imposition of the IMF/World Bank's structural adjustment programs). From a longterm perspective, that's what the Clinton/Gore regime accomplished in its eight years in power.
Today, a further development of that program is needed by the globalizers: to smash down the anti-globalization movement, which is threatening to undo the entire edifice -- something that could not have been done effectively or quickly under Clinton/Gore. That is why they selected Bush/Cheney, and imposed them upon the American people even though it became obvious to most that they did not even win the election. With the almost unanimous support of Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress for the so-called PATRIOT Act (only one Senator voted against it) and the criminalization and mass-roundup of immigrants and political dissidents, the Bush White House has effectively used the criminal attacks on 9-11 as a means for putting the Bill of Rights and the Constitution on the chopping block, as one conservative writer puts it, in ways that Clinton/Gore could have never dared to attempt.
Rebellion against the globalization of capital first needed to be co-opted; now that it has grown large it needs to be crushed. That is Bush/Cheney's role. The sole debate in ruling circles is over how to do this, and at what pace. But they all agree: First the ruling class had to be hammered into unity behind a common global strategy (Bush Sr.'s "New World Order"); then, the institutions of global power needed to be put into place (Clinton/Gore's "Globalization"); now, under Bush/Cheney they need to be protected and strengthened, at any cost.
The first movements to effectively battle the neoliberal framework came from abroad: Resistance in Africa to the imposition of the IMF's structural adjustment/austerity programs (Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria, who was imprisoned and then hung under orders of Shell Oil and Mobil); the Zapatistas in Mexico, who launched their rebellion consciously on that fateful day (January 1, 1994) that NAFTA was to go into effect; small farmers in India who organized against the World Bank's construction of giant dams to flood their lands, and the mass-suicides of more than 10,000 women farmers (we didn't hear much about that here, did we?) in protest of the private corporate patenting of the genetic sequences of the seeds they needed to plant. And of course, the worldwide movement to revoke the hundreds of billions of dollars of debt to Western banks. The turning point in the US came in Seattle in November, 1999, when it became clear that members of labor unions and environmental groups were beginning to see through the hoax that had been perpetrated on them and began to join forces in militant opposition to the IMF, NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO.
In reality, only 4,000 - 5,000 people took part in the militant nonviolent blockades of the World Trade organization in Seattle. Our spirits were certainly buoyed by the tens of thousands who took part in the official labor-sponsored rally there, and the general support we had from working class institutions, union halls, etc. (We also remember that James Hoffa, leader of the Teamsters Union, changed the endpoint of the legal march so that the marchers would end half-a-mile shy of the barricades, at which point his membership was told to get on buses and return home instead of joining the militant protests. Fortunately, many rank-and-filers disregarded those orders and joined the activist ranks.) In terms of absolute numbers of active blockaders, the figure does not rise much above 5,000 people in Seattle.
The same held true for an earlier turning point: August 1968 in Chicago, as antiwar protesters pounded the streets day after day against the Democrats who were holding their presidential nominating convention amidst a huge police riot against the antiwar movement. In an interesting parallel, around the same number of people actually took part in the Chicago demonstrations as in Seattle. Today, people tend to think that hundreds of thousands of people participated in them, so dramatic an effect did both of them have on subsequent history. But in actuality, in both turning points the number of active participants numbered around 5,000. On both occasions those few thousands of people, who were willing to put their bodies on the line, found an acupuncture point in the body politic, and used their intervention to re-orient the energy flows so that they would shortly become huge worldwide movements.
There are two things that are different today, as a result: 1) The internationalization of the movement against globalization (fostered by the creation of our own independent media, which started with the "democracy movement" in China and then with the Zapatistas, and really took off during and following Seattle with the creation of IndyMedia networks throughout the world); and 2) The emergence of a third political force. I am talking here about the Green Party. This is why I organize with the Greens (as well as take part in mobilizing for anti-globalization protests). The POTENTIAL is there to throw off the policies of BOTH Clinton/Gore and Bush/Cheney, to jump off the seesaw of neo-liberal corporate globalization, on the one hand, and fascist repression on the other -- actually, two sides to the same coin. The potential is there to actually have an organized effect on what is happening in the world, and to change it.
Indeed, I write the word "potential" writ large. The pull of the twin corporate parties and the shell game they play with us is powerful, and no movement or organization is immune to it. The battles within the anti-globalization movement and within the Greens (as one political expression of that global movement) will be major factors in determining whether we will survive and flourish as a free people in a preserved ecology (we are close to the endgame on both counts) or whether we will be sucked into the orbit of one or the other co-dependent strategies of global capital, as the puppetmasters this go 'round turn the Bill of Rights into a rag to wipe our blood off their jackboots.
That is the framework, as I see it. To all those who are thinking of leaving the Greens (yes, I know there are many) out of disgust with the petty politics and narrow electoral-only frameworks of a number of Green leaders, I urge you to stay in it and fight. Don't make the same mistake that the Alternative List and other radicals in Germany made when they left the Greens in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and thus ceded that potential to the policies of neoliberal opportunists.
To those anti-globalization activists who have not joined the Greens I urge you to do so -- not as fetishists of the electoral arena, but as activists to help influence the policies of the larger movement. Here is where a relatively small number of people will be making decisions that will have tremendous effects on the course of our movements and, hopefully, on the future of this society. The Greens need YOU: people who think clearly and who are willing to act outside the box, and support others who do. As a different philosopher once put it: Here is the rose, here we must dance.