International Socialist Review Issue 19, July-August 2001
Peoples globalization vs. elite globalization
By Kevin Danaher
Kevin Danaher is the public education director of Global Exchange. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently Democratizing the Global Economy: The Battle against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Common Courage Press).
ONE OF the most promising aspects of the growing movement against corporate globalization is that more and more people are asking questions about how capital gets invested. At the level of global rule making, protesters are demanding fundamental changes in the way the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank favor corporate profit making instead of prioritizing the needs of people and the environment.
Corporate accountability campaigners are pressuring companies to shift their policies toward social and environmental sustainability. Social entrepreneurs are creating alternative systems of finance, production, and distribution through socially responsible investing, renewable energy systems, community-supported agriculture, local currencies, micro-enterprise lending, fair trade practices, eco-labeling, and many other alternative economic institutions.
None of these activities is revolutionary in itself. But if we can build a movement that links all these tactical assaults on the power of monopoly capital, we will have a good chance of creating the first global revolution. All revolutions to date have been national revolutions, focused on gaining popular control over the capital city and its institutions. But now, more and more people are realizing that we must strategize how to create a transnational revolutionary movement.
It is very encouraging that so many tactical struggles have focused on some aspect of democratizing how capital gets invested. The process by which capital gets invested affects our jobs, our standard of living, the environment, gender inequality, race relations, housing, health care, transportation, immigration, our culture, and just about everything else in our lives.
Within the global movement for changing how capital gets invested, there are two key questions being raised. First, who is sitting at the table when the investment decisions get made? Second, what are the values guiding the process?
If the people sitting at the table are a mono-crop (wealthy, white males), then the policies coming from that decision-making process cannot reflect the needs and desires of the rest of us. Think of how a mono-crop works: All other forms of life must be suppressed. So a mono-crop of pro-corporate voices at the decision-making table will shut out other sectors of society, such as workers, environmentalists, churches, community groups, and others. Thus "democracy" becomes an empty phrase because the diversity of voices that is essential for real democracy is blocked by those with power not wanting to share it.
But from the standpoint of building a global movement, we can recapture the contested term "democracy" based on the Greek roots of the word: "demos," meaning people, and "kratos," meaning rule. Our question to the public in our organizing is, should the people rule or should the corporations rule?
The second basic question being posed regarding how capital gets invested is, what values guide the process? The free-market ideology that has dominated public discourse in recent decadesbut is now increasingly challengedrequires that values other than commerce be shut out of the policy debate: The love of life must be silenced so the love of money can hold sway. Greed and material acquisition replace human compassion and sensitivity to nature as the core values of society. The dominant criterion is to maximize the profits of private corporations by turning nature and human labor into marketable commodities, thus ensuring that the biosphere will be destroyed and human rights will get trampled.
There is now a mass movement demanding new values for the capital investment process: Meet all social needs (of all the worlds people) and save the environment. These radically different values are being manifested in many ways: socially responsible investing, consumer pressure campaigns, shareholder resolutions insisting on different types of corporate accountability, the anti-sweatshop movement, mass street demonstrations, and many others. The idea of social accountability and environmental protection is so widely accepted that the power brokers can no longer turn a blind eye.
The wall protecting free-market ideology is cracking. Large sections of the public are increasingly critical of corporate rule and its consequences. As the September 11, 2000, cover story in Business Week ("Too much corporate power?") revealed, 74 percent of the public say big corporations have too much power, and 73 percent say top executives get paid too much. Only 4 percent of those interviewed agreed with the statement, "U.S. corporations should have only one purposeto make the most profit for their shareholdersand their pursuit of that goal will be best for America in the long run." But 95 percent of those polled agreed with the following statement: "U.S. corporations should have more than one purpose. They also owe something to their workers and the communities in which they operate, and they should sometimes sacrifice some profit for the sake of making things better for their workers and communities."
There are many signs of hope not reported by the corporate media. For example, trade unions are rebounding from their decades-long slump and are increasing in size and sophistication. Especially encouraging are two trends in the global trade union movement. First, more and more unions are going beyond focusing solely on the needs of their members to build broader alliances with nongovernmental groups struggling for social justice and saving the environment. Second, unions are also gradually moving beyond nationalist politics to realize that if capital is transnational, then workers must also organize transnationally to be effective.
Grassroots organizations in all sectorsenvironmental, human rights, church-based, youth, and womens groupsare organizing transnationally. This grassroots internationalism has reached such proportions that it now challenges the elite, corporate version of globalization.
The grassroots, bottom-up version of globalization reaffirms the ethical principles that will form the foundation of a future, genuine democracy: equality, freedom, participation, human diversity, and solidarity. This peoples variant of globalization is made up of many large movements: the fair trade movement, social justice and human rights groups, antiracism coalitions, the movement for social and ecological labeling, environmental activism, the corporate accountability movement, trade union solidarity across borders, and many others.
While these constituents of grassroots globalization lack the money and government influence possessed by the corporations, they showed at the WTO protests in Seattle in late 1999 that they are capable of mobilizing enough people to halt the corporate agenda in its tracksat least, temporarily.
Yet we must do more than denounce and disrupt corporate rule. We must do more than make individual corporations more socially responsible (e.g., by adopting green labeling practices) or more publicly accountable (e.g., public disclosure of information on investments and operations). We need to go beyond "end-of-pipeline" politics (i.e., standing outside the factory trying to mitigate the negative impact of corporate policies on people and the environment) and instead focus on building a movement large and powerful enough to replace the current system, which is driven by money values, with a totally new system driven by life values.
In building this movement, our key principle should be unity. The dictionary definition of "solidarity" is "complete unity, as of opinion, purpose, interest, feeling." The movement must reject all forms of sectarianism. This means not just dumping ideological sectarianism, which keeps us from reaching out to people who dont use the same terminology or who dont agree with us 100 percent on every issue. But there is also a tactical sectarianism that has plagued the left and needs to be recognized for the destructive force it is.
Most groups working to democratize the economy favor a particular tactic (e.g., boycotts, shareholder resolutions, demonstrations), or they focus on a particular corporation or industry, or they are limited to a particular country or region. This is often because all of us have limited resources and we must focus our energy on specific targets with achievable objectives. But we shouldnt be denouncing other progressive groups who are focusing on a different part of the capitalist system or who are using a tactic that we dont use ourselves. This destroys trust within the movement and helps our class enemies.
It is only by building a large division of labor within the social justice networkcemented by respect and trustthat we will build a movement strong enough to replace the current system of exploitation. To accomplish such a huge task requires that we get more professional about the art and science of practicing democracy. We dont mean "democracy" in the current sense of occasionally entering a voting booth to choose from a narrow range of candidates selected by a process most of us dont understand. Rather, we are building a participatory democracy in which mainstream citizens redefine politics so they can embrace it and practice it as avidly as they now participate in sports or shopping.
More and more people are beginning to break through the cult of powerlessness and are beginning to believe that we can build a truly democratic global economy. But the pressing question is, can we achieve that goal soon enough to prevent the biosphere and millions of people from being destroyed by the built-in rapaciousness of global capitalism? The answer will be determined, in part, by what you do with your life!