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Why fighting corporate globalization means opposing war
Global justice and the war

November 16, 2001 | Page 8

LEE SUSTAR looks at the relationship between the global justice and antiwar movements.

WASHINGTON IS using the war in Afghanistan to justify–and accelerate–its agenda of corporate globalization. At the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit last week in Qatar, the U.S., Europe and Japan invoked the war to demand that developing nations make more concessions to rich, advanced countries.

And in Ottawa this week, the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank will dole out a few favors to Pakistan and Turkey–Washington's allies in the war–while condemning most developing countries to crushing debt and austerity.

All this is seen as necessary to defend "civilization" in the "war against terrorism."

There has also been an escalation in the effort to criminalize the global justice movement. New Republic editor Peter Beinart wrote that if global justice protesters had proceeded with plans to march on Washington after September 11, the movement would, "in the eyes of the nation, have joined the terrorists in a united front."

In the aftermath of September 11, Italian courts cleared police of wrongdoing in the murder of Carlo Giuliani, who was gunned down during the Group of Eight summit in Genoa.

And now the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of the world's elite normally held in the exclusive resort of Davos, Switzerland, will be held in New York City–in "solidarity," organizers say, with victims of the World Trade Center attack.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair now claim to lead the fight for global justice–delivered in cluster-bomb canisters and sanctified in free-trade agreements. The war in Afghanistan presents in concentrated form everything that the global justice movement opposes–the enforced will of the great powers on small and weak nations, while workers in advanced countries bear the brunt of a recession and a crackdown on civil liberties.

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THE PEOPLE who run the Pentagon, the advertising agencies and the corporate boardrooms are absolutely clear on this point. The global justice movement, however, is not.

Many liberals who sympathized with the global justice protests have lined up behind Bush's war. And the AFL-CIO, the main force behind the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle, backs the war and is pressuring allies to follow suit or shut up.

But this isn't the first division in the "Seattle coalition" of organized labor, environmental organizations and Third World solidarity activists. While labor formally endorsed the April 16, 2000, protest against the IMF and World Bank, unions put their weight behind a highly nationalistic effort to block normal trade status for China. Divisions reemerged over Ralph Nader's presidential campaign–and then labor's support for Bush's Alaska oil drilling scheme.

All this has had a conservatizing influence on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Jobs with Justice and 50 Years is Enough, staff-based organizations that depend on unions and foundations for financial and political backing. That's why NGOs successfully pressured the Mobilization for Global Justice into canceling September 30 protests in Washington, D.C., planned for the IMF and World Bank meetings–rather than turn them into anti-war demonstrations.

"The political moment has changed, street protests in D.C. are not appropriate because the police and D.C. residents are still dealing with the aftermath of September 11," reads the minutes of a Mobilization for Global Justice meeting.

Corporate America, of course, placed no such limitations on its behavior, demanding that resources be taken away from rescue and recovery efforts to reopen Wall Street's stock markets.

To be sure, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, an antiwar protest in Washington wouldn't have attracted the tens of thousands expected for September 30. But canceling the protests only disoriented and set back the movement.

Since then, some anarchist groups and currents involved in the global justice movement have become involved in antiwar work. However, many have tried to continue largely as before–placing top priority on issues like consensus decision making and direct-action tactics rather than trying to build a broad movement that can reach those newly politicized by the war.

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WHAT THESE apparently different approaches of liberals and anarchists have in common is a view of the war as essentially a distraction from key issues. This is in part because the movement hasn't yet developed a clear analysis of the state.

For example, many in the global justice movement believe that the main problem with corporate globalization is that multinational corporations and international financial institutions compromise state sovereignty–for example, undermining U.S. environmental laws. Thus the AFL-CIO and moderate NGOs demanded a "seat at the table."

This framework of analysis led journalist William Greider to argue in the Nation magazine that the war could be used to reassert powers that the U.S. has supposedly surrendered to international trade and financial authorities. "An important first step is to reestablish the nation's sovereign prerogative to legislate its own standards of decency as governing values in global trade," he wrote.

Many more radical global justice activists reject such efforts to strengthen the state–but agree that globalization has made the state increasingly irrelevent. This is mistaken–as New York Times columnist and globalization booster Thomas Friedman helpfully pointed out.

"For globalization to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is," he wrote. "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technology is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

Friedman acknowledges what socialists have argued since Karl Marx's day–that the drive to war is a central feature of the world capitalist economy.

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THE BARBARIC U.S. war in Afghanistan–and open calls for imperialism and colonialism by leading politicians and commentators–shows how this dynamic is still at the core of the world system.

Whether it uses financial pressure, trade wars, debt traps or military intervention, the U.S. government's goal is always the same–ensuring the economic and political domination of the world by Washington.

Opposing U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan–or Colombia or anywhere else–shouldn't be seen as a distraction, but the central task of those committed to building a movement for global justice.

If Washington gets away with imposing its will by force in Afghanistan, it will become even more aggressive in using the IMF and World Bank to reward its friends and punish its enemies. At the same time, Bush and Corporate America have so blatantly used the war to bash labor and attack working people that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney–a supporter of the war–has been compelled to repeatedly denounce them.

This gives the lie to the patriotic call for "national unity"–and creates space for the argument that the war on Afghanistan not only kills innocent people but directly undermines U.S. workers' interests.

War allows governments to pursue the interests of capital with mass killing and political repression–all under the banner of justice. It is being used today to drive through major changes in the world economy and politics–furthering the agenda that the global justice movement was built to oppose.

The movement must reappraise its politics, strategies and tactics if it is to meet the challenges posed by this war–and to pursue the goal of global justice.

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