Tuesday, 29 May 2007
Capitalism, by its very nature, is a permanent state of war
In this chapter, I briefly examine the origins of the anti-capitalist movement, outline the arguments of their opponents who support free market globalisation and describe the different variants of anti-capitalism discussed in later chapters.
Well the introductory bit of the introductory chapter, setting the scene.
cold concepts = economic concepts drive the world
warm conspiracies = small elite groups rule the world
I play with these phrases...the balance between economic structures and maniputlation is a big and interesting question.
I don't go simply for what I describe delicately as the 'political economy of evil bastards', our problems our deeper than Bush, Blair and Brown.
The quotes at the head of each chapter are aimed to provoke a bit and give a literary feel.
1 WARM CONSPIRACIES AND COLD CONCEPTS
‘It was you who told me,’ I said gently, ‘that capitalism, by its very nature, is a permanent state of war, a constant struggle which can never end.’
‘That’s true,’ she agreed without hesitation, ‘But it’s not always the same people doing the fighting.’ (Houellebecq 2003: 284)
Everything becomes saleable and purchasable. Nothing is immune from this alchemy, the bones of the saints cannot withstand it […] Ancient society therefore denounced it as tending to destroy the economic and moral order. Modern society, which already in its infancy had pulled Pluto by the hair of his head from the bowels of the earth, greets gold as its Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of its innermost principle of life. (Marx 1979: 229-230)
October 1998, Davos, Switzerland. Grey suited civil servants are meeting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the creation of its free trade successor the World Trade Organisation (WTO). A little ritualised cake cutting and mutual backslapping is all the local film crews are expecting. Instead of such self-aggrandisement, the cameras roll to the sight of:
a colourful crowd of demonstrators on the far side of rolls of barbed wire […] Free trade”, they claim, “despoils the environment and enslaves dispossessed peoples”. “God is dead”, reads one banner; “The WTO has replaced Him.”’ The protest, organised by a new network Peoples Global Action, starts quietly but becomes noisier. Most of the demonstrators act peacefully but some start to throwing stones, and bottles, then overturn cars and set them ablaze. (Economist, 1 October 1998)
Since 1998 international trade conferences, summits and other state-corporate jamborees have been disrupted on a continual basis (Anon 2000c; Katsiaficas et al 2002). If Davos marked some kind of a start, Seattle is better known. In November 1999 huge protests involving hundreds of thousands of critics of free trade disrupted the WTO talks at Seattle. Since Seattle, a huge, militant and diverse anti-capitalist movement has emerged as a global force. The aim of this book is to explain the economics of this anti-capitalist movement and, in so doing, to examine how a fairer and more ecologically sustainable world can be created.
The movement challenges the misdeeds of powerful globalising elites who seek to redistribute resources from poor to rich, to open up areas of ecologically diverse wilderness to loggers and oil companies and to start profitable wars for weapons manufacturers. However, the removal of such elites is unlikely to be sufficient to achieve a just and ecological world. At its most subversive the anti-capitalist movement is about ideas, it attacks the key concepts of conventional economics. The movement has challenged not just genetically modified crops and social injustice but contested economic assumptions ranging from free trade and economic growth to property rights. This is a rebellion against cold economics concepts as well as assumed warm conspiracies by corporations and right wing politicians. The most radical anti-capitalists tell us that almost everything we know about economics is wrong and given economic logic is the logic that runs modern society the implications of such a critique, if correct, are breathtaking.
The movement has been surprisingly successful, often slowing and sometimes reversing the supposedly irresistible march of global market forces. Not only did the Seattle trade talks collapse largely because of the protest but in September 2003, some four years on, WTO agenda setting discussions at Cancun, Mexico fell apart after an alliance of developing countries put forward many demands of the anti-globalisers. In 2003, anti-capitalists who rose up to prevent water privatisation toppled the Bolivian government (Guardian, 21 October 2003). The once forgotten global financial architecture of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, G8 and associated institutions is constantly in the news, visible and under almost continuous criticism. From opposition to genetically modified food to successful demands to reduce third world debt, movement victories are multiple.
The movement’s diversity is also important. Mid-west anarchists have come together with trade unionists, socialists and major non-governmental organisations like the World Development Movement and Oxfam along with radical farmers like José Bové from France in the Confédération Paysanne, Greens and others. Revolutionaries in Mexico and Argentina have been part of a movement that stretches to local community groups in the more conservative parts of Birmingham or Kyoto. This has been the first radical movement to fully utilise the internet to coordinate days of action and other protests on a global scale. The movement in all its multiplicity argues that neo-liberal globalisation creates poverty, destroys diversity, wrecks the environment and erodes democracy. The globalisers on the contrary argue that there is no alternative to conventional market economics and neo-liberalism is the only secure path to prosperity. The stakes are very high.
For all these reasons and more, the anti-capitalist movement demands attention but while its slogans seem self-apparent its ideas are often contradictory, sometimes complex and have deep historical roots. It is an amalgam of different schools of thought with different forms of analysis and varied demands. The aim of this volume is to unpick the intellectual knots in the protest network, to show how anti-capitalist ideas have developed. In this chapter, I briefly examine the origins of the anti-capitalist movement, outline the arguments of their opponents who support free market globalisation and describe the different variants of anti-capitalism discussed in later chapters.