The Future in the Balance

Mar 08

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the supreme
institution of corporate-driven globalization, and the collapse of its
fifth ministerial in Cancún on Sept. 14 this year has dramatically
underlined the deepening crisis of legitimacy of the globalist agenda.

Less than 10 years ago, our movement was
marginalized. The founding of the WTO in 1995 seemed to signal that
globalization was the wave of the future, and that those who opposed it
were destined to suffer the same fate as the Luddites that fought
against the introduction of machines during the industrial revolution.
Globalization was going to bring prosperity in its wake, and how could
one oppose the promise of the greatest good for the greatest number
that the transnational corporations, guided by the invisible hand of
the market, were going to shower the world?

But the movement stood firm in the face of the scorn
of the establishment during the 1990’s, when the boom in the world’s
mightiest capitalist engine—the US economy—appeared to be destined to
go on and on. It was steadfast in its prediction that, driven by the
logic of corporate profitability, the liberalization and deregulation
of trade and finance would bring about crises, widen inequalities
within and across countries, and increase global poverty.

The Asian financial crisis in 1997 provided sudden,
savage proof of the destabilizing impact of eliminating controls from
the flow of global capital. Indeed, what could be more savage than the
fact that the crisis would bring 1 million people in Thailand and 22
million people in Indonesia below the poverty line in the space of a
few weeks in the fateful summer of 1997?

The Asian financial crisis was one of those
momentous events that removed the scales from people’s eyes and enabled
them see cold, brutal realities. And one of those realities was the
fact that the free market policies that the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank imposed on some 100 developing and transitional
economies between 1980 aand 2000 had induced, in all but a handful of
them, not a virtuous circle of growth, prosperity, and equality but a
vicious cycle of economic stagnation, poverty, and inequality. The year
2001 brought us not only Sept. 11. 2001 was also the year for reckoning
of free-market fundamentalism—the year that the Argentine economy, the
poster boy of neoliberal economics, crashed, and the US stock market
collapsed owing to the contradictions of finance-driven, deregulated
global capitalism, wiping out $4.6 trillion in investor wealth—half of
the US’ gross domestic product—and inaugurating a period of stagnation
and rising unemployment.

As global capitalism moved from crisis to crisis,
people organized in the streets, in work places, in the political arena
to counter its destructive logic. In December 1999, massive street
resistance by over 50,000 demonstrators combined with a revolt of the
developing governments inside the Seattle convention center to bring
down the third ministerial of the WTO. Global protests also eroded the
legitimacy of the IMF and the World Bank, the two other pillars of
global economic governance, albeit in less dramatic fashion.
Anti-neoliberal regimes came to power in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil,
and Ecuador. The fifth ministerial meeting in Cancún, an event
associated in many people’s minds with the altruistic suicide of the
Korean farmer Lee Kyung-Hae at the barricades, became Seattle II. And,
just three weeks ago, in Miami, the same alliance of civil society and
developing country governments forced Washington to retreat from the
neoliberal program of radical liberalization of trade, finance, and
investment that it had threatened to impose in the western hemisphere
via the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Justice and equity has been one thrust of our
movement. The other has been peace. For we never believed the
pro-globalization argument that accelerated globalization would bring
about the reign of "perpetual peace". Indeed, we warned that as
globalization proceeded, its economically and socially destabilizing
effects would multiply conflicts and insecurities. Driven by corporate
logic, globalization, we warned, would herald an era of aggressive
imperialism that would seek to batter down opposition, seize control of
natural resources, and secure markets.

It gave us no pleasure that we were proved right.
Instead, the movement swung into action, becoming a global force for
justice and peace that mobilized tens of millions of people throughout
the world on Feb. 15 of this year against the planned invasion of Iraq.
We did not succeed in stopping the American and British invasion, but
we have surely contributed to delegitimizing the Occupation and made it
increasingly difficult for invaders that brazenly violated
international law and many rules of the Geneva Convention to remain in

The New York Times, on the occasion of the Feb. 15
march, said that there are only two superpowers left in the world
today, the United States and global civil society. Let me add that I
have no doubt that the forces of justice and peace will prevail over
the contemporary incarnation of empire, blood, terror, and greed that
is the USA.

Our movement is on the ascendant. But our agenda is
massive, our tasks formidable. To name just a few: We have to drive the
US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must stop Israel from destroying the
Palestinian people. We must impose the rule of law on outlaw, rogue
states like the US, Britain, and Israel.

But above all, we must change the rules of the
global economy, for it is the logic of global capitalism that is the
source of the disruption of society and of the environment. The
challenge is that even as we deconstruct the old, we dare to imagine
and win over people to our visions and programs for the new.

Contrary to the claims of the ideologues of the
establishment, the principles that would serve as the pillars of a new
global order are present. The primordial principle is that instead of
the economy, the market, driving society, the market must be – to use
the image of the great Hungarian Social Democrat Karl Polanyi –
"reembedded" in society and governed by the overarching values of
community, solidarity, justice, and equity. At the international level,
the global economy must be deglobalized or rid of the distorting,
disfiguring logic of corporate profitability and truly
internationalized, meaning that participation in the international
economy must serve to strengthen and develop rather than disintegrate
and destroy local and national economies.

The perspective and principles are there; the
challenge is how each society can articulate these principles and
programs in unique ways that respond to their values, their rhythms,
their personality as societies. Call it post-modern, but central to our
movement is the conviction that, in contrast to the belief common to
both neoliberalism and bureaucratic socialism, there is no one shoe
that will fit all. It is no longer a question of an alternative but of

But there is an urgency to the task of articulating
credible and viable alternatives to the global community, for the dying
spasms of old orders have always presented not just great opportunity
but great risk. At the beginning of the 20th century, the revolutionary
thinker Rosa Luxemburg made her famous comment about the possibility
that the future might belong to "barbarism". Barbarism in the form of
fascism nearly triumphed in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Today,
corporate-driven globalization is creating so much of the same
instability, resentment, and crisis that are the breeding grounds of
fascist, fanatical, and authoritarian populist movements. Globalization
not only has lost its promise but it is embittering many. The forces
representing human solidarity and community have no choice but to step
in quickly to convince the disenchanted masses that, indeed, as the
banner of World Social Forum in Porto Alegre proclaims, "Another world
is possible". For the alternative is, as in the 1930’s, to see the
vacuum filled by terrorists, demagogues of the religious and secular
Right, and the purveyors of irrationality and nihilism.

The future, dear friends, is in the balance. Thank you.

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