Seattle and the myth of 'globalisation'

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And what a victory it was. Who would have thought, even a year ago, that sixty thousand people would turn up to greet delegates of the World Trade Organisation. Who'd have thought that trade unionists would be marching with environmentalists people dressed as turtles marching with sacked steelworkers, the topless lesbian avengers mingling with farmers. Churchgoers with the anarchist black-block. The mass protests helped focus world-wide attention on what the WTO really stands for and it crumbled under the pressure. Forget all their talk about 'free trade', the WTO is nothing more than a nasty little organisation fighting for the rights of multinational organisations to dismantle every country's labour and environmental laws" SchNEWS website bulletin, 10.12.99

This vision of the Seattle events last December is common to many who see mobilisations of this kind like the June 18 'Carnival against Capitalism' in London or the various events timed to coincide witous events timed to coincide with the Seattle demonstration, including a protest against the privatisation of the tubes in London as a new and effective way of fighting against capitalism. We don't doubt that of many of those who take part in these actions are motivated by a sincere and increasingly widespread disgust with what capitalism is doing to this planet. But those who actually want to get rid of this system need to consider why this view is also being broadcast by the big guns of the bourgeois media. The latter have given enormous publicity to the events in Seattle (and London) and have unfailingly described them as a new form of anti-capitalism, either as a dangerously subversive movement or as a refreshing response of ordinary citizens and of small countries to the monster of 'globalisation', and furthermore, as a movement that can win significant victories even faced with the massive presence of the police. In short, it is time to sniff out the presence of a vast manipulation by the ruling class.

The mythology of globalisation

For a start, the theory of 'globalisation' is basically a product of the huge bourgeois campaigns about the 'death of communism' which followed the collapse of the eastern bloc at the end of the 80s. Essential to this theory is the idea tl to this theory is the idea that with the disappearance of the old 'Communist' bloc, capitalism has become a truly global system. Its more open ideologists those who were already singing the praises of liberalism and free trade in the 80s argued that now the last barriers to the free movement of capital had been removed, and with the generous assistance of the 'computer revolution' and the world-wide web the entire system could look forward to an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity.

The whole theory was deeply anti-marxist, not only because it made the usual false amalgam between Stalinism and communism, but also because it aimed to strike a blow against the marxist conception of the decadence of capitalism, which holds that capitalism is a system in historic decline and has been since the first world war. For marxism capitalism effectively became 'globalised' not at the end but at the beginning of the 20th century, and it was for this very reason that the system reached the end of its progressive function for mankind and became a giant barrier to further development, dragging humanity down in the coils of its mortal crisis. Capital has created a world economy, but because of its inherent contradictions, this can only be the basis for a really unified world through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

But just as the bourgeois drug of fascism engenders the equally bourgeois side-effect of anti-fascism, so globalisation ideology gives rise to a bourgeois anti-globalisation ideology. This latter points to the undoubted ravages of capitalism especially the accelerating destruction of the environment and the savage exploitation of workers in the poorest countries and then erects a wholly false alternative between, on the one hand, global corporations owing allegiance only to their own profit margins, and, on the other hand, the national rights of peoples and small countries (and even big ones). A radical version of this ideology is provided by the Schnews report mentioned at the beginning:

"We want a new millennium based on economic democracy, not economic totalitarianism. The future is possible for humans and other species only if the principles of competition, organised greed, commodification of all life, monoculture, monopolies and centralised corporate control of our daily lives enshrined in the WTO are replaced by the principles of protection of people and nature, the obligation of giving and sharing diversity, and the decentralisation and self-organisation enshrined in our diverse cultures and national constitutions" (Vandana Shiva).

/i> (Vandana Shiva).

The key to this statement isn't the parts that are true like how capitalism turns everything into commodities, goods for sale, but the part at the end about preserving "our national constitutions". This same commitment to defending the rights of the nation against unpatriotic international capitalism was emphasised by Clinton who said that he was in deep sympathy with the Seattle protesters, and by the US trade unions who shared his abiding concern about the vicious exploitation of children in the poorer countries as a pretext for advocating US trade embargoes on the products of such exploitation and thus protecting the American economy and American jobs. But it was also demonstrated by the French delegation at the WTO which distinguished itself with its anti-American rhetoric on issues such as GM foods and ecology, and by the French 'peasant leader' Jose Bove who was filmed by the French media promoting French cheese outside MacDonalds Seattle. This is bourgeois anti-globalisation in a nutshell.

The real reasons for the failure of the Seattle WTO conference

These apparently absurd contradictions are a perfect expression of the fact that while global capital is indeed a real power, it exists only as the al power, it exists only as the product of the clash between national economies, between what the Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin once described as the national "state capitalists trusts" which dominate the planet. The so-called 'multinationals' do not constitute another power standing over all the national economies in the final analysis these companies are merely a subordinate expression of the state capitalist and imperialist leviathans. Neither are the different countries divided into a protectionist camp and a free trade camp: those who advocate free trade for their own products abroad are the most fervent defenders of protectionism for their own domestic economies. And it's this ceaseless rivalry between the great national capitalist predators, not the protests on the Seattle streets, that is the real reason for the failure of the latest WTO talks.

In fact, from the beginning the WTO was itself a spawn of these very rivalries. Its predecessor, the GATT, created in 1947, had been an instrument of the USA, its function being to express and strengthen America's commercial domination of its imperialist bloc through preferential customs duties. After the break-up of the Russian bloc it was the European states, now striving to escape US hegemony, which took the initiative of replacing the GATT with a more 'flexible' and morT with a more 'flexible' and more 'equal' structure. This led to the formation of the WTO in 1994. What the 1999 WTO summit showed was the sharpening of the trade war between the USA and the European states: its failure to adopt new rules of functioning at this conference expressed the fact that the conflicts of interests it seeks to regulate are becoming more and more irreconcilable.

The only movement against capitalism is proletarian and communist

The bourgeoisie has every reason to hide the real reasons for the failure of the Seattle conference, because they show the impossibility of capitalism ever overcoming its anarchic and dismembered nature. At the same time, the exploiters in every country have a common interest in selling the idea that capitalism can be tamed or even threatened to the core by a 'movement' made up of any number of different classes, categories and causes in which the working class appears as just one pressure group among many, duly identified with the trade unions, a 'movement' which propagates the notion that national interests are somehow a more democratic and human alternative to the impersonal global power of capital. A real 'anti-capitalism' would have to turn this inverted logic right side up: moribund capitalism cannot be reformed or tamed, and it can only be threatened and overthrown by an international movement of the internationally exploited class, the proletariat, which has rediscovered its programme of constituting a world-wide communist society.

Amos