The problem with moral indignation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Dec 6 12:20:07 MST 1999

Russell Grinker:
>Please explain how the one thing implies the other.  From where I sit in the
>most backward province in South Africa, nobody would disagree that we
>urgently "need to develop"  - supplies of clean water, electricity, roads,
>decent housing and a modern industrial base.  We also know that this area is
>the way it is because it was used as a dumping ground for surplus labour and
>was granted phoney independence to absolve the apartheid regime of
>responsibility for social provision - not because of some accident of
>nature.  Maybe things look different to you in the US and we should just
>sustain ourselves using current resources so as not to upset the balance of
>nature or perhaps wait for nationalisation of the commanding heights of the
>economy or even the proletarian dictatorship as suggested by Lou Proyect in
>another post?

Unless I'm way offbase, it seems to me that the number one task in South
Africa is to break through the illusions in the ANC program, which in many
ways is Kerenskyism/1999. You sneer at the talk of nationalization when it
is this very sort of topic that is swept under the rug by people like Thabo
Mbeki. It would seem to be the number one job of Marxists in South Africa
to find a way to break through reformist illusions, rather than to adapt to
them which talk about the need of clean water, etc, absent of any
engagement with political economy. In reality, the blather being put
forward by Mick Hume is virtually identical not only to the ANC top
muck-a-mucks but also what a Blairite just wrote in the latest Newsweek:

The Threat to Globalization

It doesn't come from those who will gather in Seattle, but from darker
political forces

By Denis MacShane
Newsweek International, November 1, 1999

There is a new political specter haunting the world. The politics of
antiglobalization are growing into a powerful force aimed at liberal
democracy and market economies in a way not seen since communism's heyday
earlier this century. Like all major new ideologies, antiglobalization
conveys a surface message of a better, purer, more honest life. Yet it also
masks darker and more dangerous forces.

Supporters of democratic, open economies should not worry too much about
the green eco-warriors who plan to turn the World Trade Organization's
conference in Seattle into the biggest political demonstrations seen since
1968. Rather, they should be concerned about the backlash against
globalization that is being integrated into national politics and taking
new and dangerous forms. The most obvious expression of this phenomenon is
the rise of the nation, of religion and of ethnicity as causes that have to
be protected against outside influence.

The world is seeing a rash of nation-first-or region-first- politics. It
can be seen in the success of politicians like Jorg Haider in Austria, in
the Northern League of Italy, the neo-communist PDS party in eastern
Germany, and in the turn to isolationist anti-European politics by
Britain's Conservative Party. All of these are expressions of the fear of
the other, the outsider and the foreign which lies at the heart of
antiglobalization. The BJP rides the same tiger in India; so do
fundamentalists who adopt a politics that elevates religion over all. The
same fear of the unknown is at work among those who dislike new sciences
like biogenetics, as it is in the U.S. Senate's refusal to ratify a global
nuclear test ban. It can even be seen in those-like the mayor of New
York-who treat foreign art with contempt, or among those French politicians
determined to block the free flow of mass entertainment originating outside
France's borders.

Historically, the antiglobalization backlash represents the revenge of the
19th century-nationalist, protectionist, racist, credulous and gothic-over
the values of the 18th century-rational, universalist, modernizing,
humanist and classical. We are witnessing, if you like, a fight between
Voltaire and Nietzche; between Adam Smith's commitment to free trade and
Otto von Bismarck's preference for tariff barriers. There is a political
contest too. On the one hand are those who welcome the international
economy and understand the need for postnational rules set by imperfect but
necessary international bodies. On the other hand are those, of left and
right, who want national or ethnic vetoes on any interference from outside.

Those who stand for open economies and liberal democracies need to face the
new threat. After a decade of denying the linkage, there is now belated
acknowledgment that global trade does need to take into consideration
environmental and social issues. Bill Clinton stressed the connection when
he became the first American president ever to address the annual
conference of the International Labor Organization earlier this year. World
trade bureaucrats have finally begun to understand the real political
threat posed by their arrogant dismissals of the claim that nature nor
human beings should not be penalized by global trade.

In truth, the removal of barriers to trade has not caused world poverty,
but revealed it. Compared to the 1960s there are hundreds of millions of
people who have a better life because of world trade. In 1960, South Korea
had a per-capita annual income of $250. Now the country exports whole auto
plants to provide new jobs and an entry into the world market for workers
in East Europe and Latin America. Life expectancy has shot up everywhere;
decent health care is no longer the preserve of the rich north. A
liberalized world economy has allowed millions more people to reach
adulthood and have children.

Unfortunately, those who have a stake in world trade have been its worst
advocates. Too many banks and multinational businesses still refuse to heed
calls for ethical trading and social responsibility. Too often,
organizations like Transparency International and the International Labor
Organization are ignored. Governments from poorer countries in Asia and
Latin America-often ones that waste money on weapons, security police and
the trappings of power-have demanded protection from global rules which
would permit their civil society, consumer, labor and environmental groups
to organize freely. Fundamentalist free traders reinforce antiglobalization
by arrogantly asserting that society and the environment can look after
themselves provided the bottom line is secured-this does nothing but fuel
the backlash against globalization. The WTO has wasted the 10 years since
the end of communism refusing to discuss the links between trade and

It is not too late to win the fight for open markets. But sup- porters of
free trade must widen their base of support beyond the multinational
business community. The forces of antiglobalization and the new
protectionists can and must be pushed back into their box. But to achieve
that necessary victory will require new language and new leadership.
Seattle would be a good place to start.

MacShane is a Labour Party member of the British Parliament.

Louis Proyect

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