Tuesday, 5 June 2007
Diversity or chaos: Cataloguing different anti-capitalisms
The most militant participants in the anti-capitalist protests have been the anarchists, many are non violent but others participate in the street fighting ‘black blocs’. The anarchists are inspired by diverse thinkers but perhaps most prominently by the ‘autonomists’ such as the academics Harry Cleaver, Michael Hardt and Toni Negri. Like Marx, they argue that globalisation is a product of the most destructive tendencies of capitalism. For them the market is not a means of regulating the economy but a weapon used to imprison workers. They see the work place as a prison and believe that workers’ struggles to escape from the power of capitalism have encouraged firms to relocate globally.
The demands of the movement seem relatively straightforward. Neo-liberal globalisation is delivering poverty, injustice, authoritarian controls and environmental destruction, so demands our opposition. However, a closer look at the movement indicates intellectual confusion and a chaotic mismatch of contradictory assumptions. While it may be difficult to reach agreement on all issues given the diversity of the groups and networks involved, some of these contradictions seem extreme.
An excellent example is the issue of trade. Groups such as Oxfam believe that the removal of tariffs and other barriers to trade will help developing countries. At present the European Union, the USA and Japan heavily subsidise their own farmers and place huge tax on food imports from the rest of the world. A fair trade campaign put together by the NGOs is aimed at removing barriers to trade so countries in the south of the globe can sell more of their agricultural products in the wealthier parts of the world.
Many others in the anti-capitalist movement including farmers from the south of the globe believe that free trade, which after all is the aim of the WTO, will actually create greater poverty and drive them away from the land. Free trade means that large scale western farmers, particularly in the mid West of the USA can undercut small developing country producers and drive them out of business by providing farm products at a fraction of the price. Such fears motivated one Korean beef farmer at Cancun to commit suicide in protest (Guardian, 16 September 2003).
How can advocates of free trade and protectionism be part of the same movement? To an extent, the dichotomy is artificial. The US, EU and Japan have embodied the same contradiction ever since GATT was established in 1947. The US government has campaigned strongly for free trade in agriculture when it has benefited and against when it is not in the perceived US interest. For example, the US, under President Clinton, took the EU to court to force them to end support for small-scale banana producers in the Caribbean because this was detrimental to US multinationals like Del Monte who have large banana plantations in South America. Successive US governments have given huge subsidies to American cotton farmers because this is seen as politically expedient. May be the anti-capitalists could simply advocate protectionism when it helps the south and promote free trade where it brings benefit? Nonetheless, the trade issue is an excellent illustration of the contradictions that the movement must address if it is to succeed in creating a fairer, greener and more democratic world order.
It is possible to disentangle a series of different, although to some extent overlapping, anti-capitalisms. One group whose work under pins the protest and who are examined in chapter two, can be termed ‘anti-capitalist capitalists’. While ‘anti-capitalist capitalists’ are unlikely to be on the streets at major international protest, they are none less important to the movement. They don’t reject the market, greater international trade or economic growth. In the past, they have been prominent supporters of neo-liberalism. As establishment figures who have participated in global economic institutions, they cannot easily be dismissed by advocates of globalisation. George Soros and Joseph Stiglitz are excellent examples. Soros, an international financier who has made millions of dollars from playing the money markets, has come to argue that unrestrained free market forces erode democracy and create social chaos. Stiglitz, who won a Nobel Price for his development of micro economic theory, who echoes many of Soros concerns, is a prominent economist who headed the World Bank and was one of Bill Clinton‘s key advisors (Stiglitz 2002 and 2003).
Others in the movement focus on the destructive role of multinational corporations, arguing that footloose international companies drive down wages, hypnotize us into destructive consumerism and lower environmental standards. Naomi Klein’s book No Logo sees globalisation as leading to a race to the bottom, where countries struggle to lower standards so as to attract inward investment (2000). Multinationals selling brands outsource production to companies that use the cheapest of labour. David Korten, author of When Corporations Ruled the World argue that large corporations should be removed and replaced with a local markets based on family and community run business (2001).
It is possible to contrast those NGOs who support further free trade, albeit in a ‘fair’ context, with those who see trade as damaging. Green localists that free trade will impoverish millions of small peasant farmers and accelerate ecological damage. Colin Hines, who co-wrote The New Protectionists with Tim Lang (1993) and Localization (2000), is representative of such a trend. The new protectionists or localists have also been instrumental in creating the International Forum on Globalisation, a major anti-capitalist think tank and campaigning body. While Hines concurs with many of the concerns of Korten and Klein his emphasis is on the need to build largely self-sufficient local economies. Perhaps the best-known green localist is Caroline Lucas, the charismatic Green Party MEP who with the late Mike Woodin wrote Green Alternatives to Globalisation (2004). The Indian academic Vandana Shiva is another localist. Others such as the journalist George Monbiot have attacked the localists in the movement for ignoring the real benefits of trade and for failing to examine how global economic forces can be democratized(2003). Chapter four deals with green localism.
A section of the anti-capitalist movement focuses on money, banking and debt. The international debt crisis has created the Jubilee movement for debt relief in the South of the globe, while economist James Tobin has suggested that a tax could be levied on speculative flows of currency to create a more stable economic system and to inject some of the money made by financiers back into the real economy. The ATTAC movement, originally formed by journalist from the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique but now with branches in many countries has been campaigning with some success for this ‘Tobin Tax’. ‘Social creditors’ and other related ‘monetary reformers’, inspired by the unorthodox theories of figures like Major Douglas and Silvio Gesell see finance as an evil and advocate the creation of debt-free money by the community to generate a different kind of world order (Hutchinson, Mellor and Olsen 2002; Rowbotham 1998 and 2000). The critics of finance capital are discussed in chapter five.
Marxists, other socialists and trade unionists have marched at Seattle and other protests against neo-liberal globalisation. Marxist explanations of crisis are particularly important in discussing the approach of socialist opponents of neo-liberal globalisation including Communits Parties, the Fourth International or Socialist Workers Party (Callinicos 2003; Petras and Veltmeyer 2001 and 2003; Went 2000). The President of Cuba, Fidel Castro has produced a fascinating socialist account of global capitalism (Castro 2002). Some Marxists and ex-Marxists have argued that globalisation may lead to a post-capitalist society and the liberation of humanity. Nigel Harris (2003) and Meghnad Desai (2004) both suggest that Marx argued that capitalism by industrializing the planet would create the conditions necessary to sustain a prosperous socialist society. Marx they suggest argued that capitalism by industrialising the planet would create the conditions necessary for a fair and prosperous society. Chapter six introduces Marxist accounts of globalisation.
The most militant participants in the anti-capitalist protests have been the anarchists, many are non violent but others participate in the street fighting ‘black blocs’. The anarchists are inspired by diverse thinkers but perhaps most prominently by the ‘autonomists’ such as the academics Harry Cleaver, Michael Hardt and Toni Negri. Like Marx, they argue that globalisation is a product of the most destructive tendencies of capitalism. For them the market is not a means of regulating the economy but a weapon used to imprison workers. They see the work place as a prison and believe that workers’ struggles to escape from the power of capitalism have encouraged firms to relocate globally. In Empire Hardt and Negri (2001) argue that a militant movement, the multitude, can over throw capitalism and create a new kind of society. Autonomism is placed in a historical tradition of anarchist economic thought ranging from Kropotkin to the workers communes of the Spanish Civil War. The Marxist and post-modern influences on militant autonomism are also outlined in chapter seven with an emphasis on Empire.
Ecosocialists such as the US Green presidential challenger Joel Kovel (2002) maintain that the best insights of both Marx and the Greens need to be combined if globalisation is to be understood and resisted. For ecosocialists the basic atoms and molecules of capitalist production conjure up debt, multinational corporations, the dislocations of ‘free’ trade and all the rest. For the ecosocialists, analysed in chapter eight, the idea that capitalism must continue to grow and dominate the planet is alien. Chapter eight outlines the case for ecosocialism. Finally chapter nine concludes with a look at how an anti-capitalist economy can be built and sustained.