Globalization from below, or ending industrial civilization?

                                             A Commentary by David Orton

        Global Showdown: How the New Activists Are Fighting Global Corporate Rule
        by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Stoddard Publishing Co. Limited, Toronto Canada,
        2001, hardcover, ISBN 0-7737-3264-0.

        This commentary will outline why I think this book is important, explain the critique in
    Global Showdown,and bring out what seems to me to be some of the important questions,
    which reading this book raises for the radical, deep ecology-influenced environmental

        First, one has to say that this book is an excellent source of information on the various
    corporate structures which are trying to make the world safe for international Capital - for
    example the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank -
    and the ideas of the mainstream groups in opposition to this. I agree with the authors when
    they note that “civil society politics are the politics of the twenty first century.” (p. 5)
    Although most of us reading this commentary share an opposition to the belief that trade is
    the supreme good, there is an ongoing discussion on what will be the nature of such politics.
    This book advocates a mainstream view of civil society politics that ultimately can be
    accommodated within industrial capitalism. (The People’s Summit in Quebec City in April
    of 2001, was partly financed by the federal and Québec governments.)

        Global Showdown shows the historical emergence of global economic institutions and,
    following the ending of the Second World War, how United Nations supervision of such
    institutions was replaced by US control, with what has come to be called “The Washington
        “Led by American business interests, the free-market doctrine would
         eventually force most governments in the world to give up controls on
         foreign investment, liberalize trade, deregulate their internal economies,
         privatize state services, and enter into head-to-head global competition.”
         (p. 57)
    Because of the necessary exposure of the labyrinth corporate and bureaucratic structures
    which underpin the ever expanding globalization of Capital, this book is not easy, although
    it is essential reading.

         Maude Barlow is the chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Barlow has played a major
    role in educating and arousing Canadians to fight back against the forces of globalization and
    increasing corporate governance. Anyone who has heard her speak, knows she is a very
    effective and knowledgeable speaker, who “eats up” the apologists for more unrestricted free
    trade. Tony Clarke is the director of the Polaris Institute of Canada. This institute, which
    emerged in 1997, describes itself in its mission statement as seeking “to provide a compass
    for social movements”, in order “to bring about democratic social change” in this era of
    corporate driven globalization. Both authors know their stuff, and reading this book brings
    about a growing rage at the sell-out, and its extent, of the interests of the Canadian (and the
    world’s) people to a transnational corporate agenda.

        Barlow and Clarke do not basically oppose globalization; they seek “fair” trade, not free
    trade. The authors want “Canada to help bring democratic governance to the operation of
    the global economy.” (p. 176) They want to democratize, not dismantle, the institutions of
    global economic governance. Taken for granted is the spread of capitalist industrialism all
    over the globe. Barlow and Clarke want to control globalization from below, not the
    corporate control from the top. So they do not oppose global trade, foreign investment or
    capitalism. They support “compensating” corporations when the state expropriates. (p. 193)
    Their book reflects the Declaration of the Second People’s Summit of the Americas in
    Québec City (April 19, 2001), which said:
        “We want socially productive and ecologically responsible investment.
        The rules applied across the continent should encourage foreign investors
        who will guarantee the creation of quality jobs, sustainable production
        and economic stability, while blocking speculative investments.”

        Barlow and Clarke do not share the anarchist critique of the state, which they essentially
    dismiss without discussion. They even give support in the book to arresting anarchists involved
    in property damage at the Seattle demonstration in 1999! (p. 13.) (Anarchism advocates
    some type of stateless society, that is a society without government, or at least extremely
    limited government, and sees attempts to work within existing states as futile activity.)

        The authors’ view seems to be that we once had “democracy” in Canada and that the state
    was in control of the economy. I think this assumption is false. They want the nation state to
    become strengthened and “redemocratized”.

        This is a progressive book, but it stays within a “human” context. The Earth itself and the
    millions of nonhuman organisms are largely excluded from the authors’ human-centered vision
    of democracy. The primacy of the Earth is absent. There is no fundamental ecological critique
    in Global Showdown. There is no sense of having exceeded the ecological footprint of
    industrial humankind. The “democratic rights” put forward as desirable, presuppose a high
    standard of living. There is no understanding that socially worthy measures may be just as
    ecologically harmful and unsustainable as socially unworthy ones. There is no understanding
    that the ecological question is deeper, and of a different nature, than trying to democratically
    control the global economy. Human history shows much waste and ecological destruction, so
    a politics of controlling globalization, or for that matter a politics of anti-globalization or
    anti-capitalism, while important, is not sufficient. There is no sense that there are too many
    people and that the existing lifestyle “role model” in North America or Western Europe is
    a recipe for ecological disaster for the rest of the world. There is no sense that economic
    growth and consumerism need to be ended,  for a sustainable planet to exist for all species,
    not just humans. Finally, there is no sense that, even from a social perspective, for us to
    achieve global sustainability means focusing on redistributing wealth nationally and
    internationally, not promoting more “investment” and economic growth.

        The radical ecocentric activist who is also socially aware sees that the forces of
    globalization and increasing world trade attack all the social buffers from the marketplace as
    “impediments” to trade, but also sees how these forces undermine the ecological integrity of
    the planet. In Global Showdown and in the anti-globalization movement in Canada, it is the
    first concern which is overwhelmingly dominant.

    Final Reflections
        I think it important to try and think outside of the existing paradigm and the self-
    destructive industrial growth society that seemingly overwhelms us. We do not have to
    accept thinking within the framework of the current society. (This is what Arne Naess referred
    to as “shallow” ecology.) A major issue is how to deal with “property” - a human- and
    class-centered concept. Governments and corporations want to turn everything into private
    property, as in the fishery. (Yet even many inshore fishermen, while they oppose ITQs
    [Individual Transferable Quotas], see no apparent contradiction in “selling” lobster licenses
    for hundreds of thousands of dollars.) To preserve Nature’s “Commons” we need to move
    to “usufruct rights” and to see the concept of private property as a social fiction used to
    justify Earth exploitation. Usufruct rights, in a society that is Earth-centered and socially just,
    would be accountable to an all-species community of life forms and not privately transferable.

        To corporations and the governments which serve them, anti-globalization activists have
    become the new subversives and are being defined as “nonpersons” against whom very
    severe measures can be used. “Democracy” can always be withdrawn in the interest of Capital.
    If rubber bullets and tear gas do not suffice, then live ammunition will be used, as was the
    case recently in Sweden, the home of social democracy. Corporations want consumers not
    politically active citizens.

        Global Showdown ignores the dilemma that long-time activists face, that as the world
    becomes increasingly complex, most citizens do not seem to want to spend the time to
    understand and work to change it. Yet democracy requires such an involvement.

        In a recent book by Hugh Brody, The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers And
    The Shaping Of The World, he points out that until 12,000 years ago, all of us lived as
    hunter-gatherers, and that in such societies the material wellbeing of people depended on
    knowing, rather than changing their environment. Such societies were spiritual, with
    worldviews of respect for Nature, grounded in animism. Somehow we must reorient to this.
    It is quite a task that we face, more encompassing than the theme of this edition of
    Elements:   “Localization versus Globalization.” Rather than trying to tame industrial
    globalization, as in Global Showdown, with its underlying destructive belief that all of
    Nature is subject to human control and exploitation, we need to mentally revisit and reorient
    towards those cultures which for 90 percent of our human history served us well.

        Global Showdown presents a social democratic “nonviolent” model for reigning in the
    global economy, with a major role for labour unions. The overall thrust of the book is
    reformist but with hints of a more radical agenda. The deep green and deep ecology
    alternative to this model, urgently awaits conceptualization.

                                                                                                                July 15, 2001

    Published in the September 2001 edition of the online magazine of the New Brunswick Environmental
    Network, Elements:

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