further on Stan Goff

Patrick Bond pbond at sn.apc.org
Fri Aug 1 23:02:02 MDT 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Xenon Zi-Neng Yuan"
> please then, suggest how the anti-war movement should have dealt with the
> question of the UN.  ignore or dismiss it completely?

Just by way of comparison, a year ago we were asking this question of the
UN's eco-development conference here in Johannesburg (the World Summit on
Sustainable Development). After lots of discussions in the movement, the
answer was: shut them down. More than 20,000 marched 12 km from the main
black township near the bourgeois suburb of Sandton. (A pro-WSSD march
convened by SA president Thabo Mbeki had 1,000 or so, a couple of hours

I'm nearly done with a book that describes that event plus a dozen other
futile attempts at global reformism. Here's an extract. The UN is a
cesspool, and I think those 20,000 did a great service by giving comrades
around the world a precedent for not only protesting the WB/IMF/WTO/G8
meetings, but also showing that in its concrete activities -- whether or not
that included delay of the war (entailing pre-war destruction of more of the
Iraqi defense, by the way) -- the United Nations is a big big part of the
problem of global capitalism... (Here's a small excerpt on the content of
the WSSD; much more about the march and SA government repression...)


Johannesburg’s largest white-oriented suburban newspaper reported it as ‘one
of the greatest international conferences ever’ and ‘an inspiration for our
 In contrast, the assessment from the world’s credible, critical civil
society voices was nearly entirely negative.

• Vandana Shiva described the outcome simply: ‘What happened in Jo’burg
amounts to a privatisation of the Earth, an auction house in which the
rights of the poor were given away.’
• Friends of the Earth cited backsliding on the Convention on Biological
• The NGO Energy and Climate Caucus concluded, ‘The agreement on energy is
an outright disaster, with the dropping of all targets and timetables.’
• The Gaia Foundation called the final summit document ‘an incredibly weak
• An Australian Green Party senator charged, ‘Like ostriches, the wealthy
nations have stuck their heads into the sand and have let down the next
generation in an appalling way.’
• Even the centrist Oxfam called the WSSD ‘a triumph for greed and
self-interest, a tragedy for the poor and environment.’

In the key fields of water, energy and healthcare, the Geneva-based WTO
considers essential state services to be typical commodities, and likewise
the WSSD’s Type 2 Agreements codified privatisation, as a replacement for
intergovernmental agreements and actions--which have been extremely scarce
in any case since Rio in 1992. Monthly Review’s Foster asked why the WSSD
went ‘down in history as an absolute failure,’ and answered:

 The first reason is perhaps the most obvious, at least to
environmentalists. The decade between Rio and Johannesburg has seen the
almost complete failure of the Rio Earth Summit and its Agenda 21 to produce
meaningful results. This has highlighted the weaknesses of global
environmental summitry.
  Second, the US refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention on
Biological Diversity--the two main conventions evolving out of Rio--has
raised questions about the capacity of capitalism to address the world
environmental crisis. The United States, as the hegemonic power of the
capitalist system, further signaled its rejection of global environmental
reform by announcing that President Bush would not be attending the
Johannesburg summit.
  Third, both the rapid globalisation of the neoliberal agenda in the 1990s
and the emergence of a massive antiglobalisation movement in Seattle in
November 1999 have highlighted the system’s antagonism toward all attempts
to promote economic and environmental justice.
  Fourth, the capitalist world economy as a whole is experiencing global
recession. Hardest hit are the countries of the global South, which--thanks
to neoliberal globalisation--are caught in worsening economic crises over
which they have less and less control.
  Fifth, we are witnessing the growth of a new virulent wave of imperialism
as the United States has begun a world war on terrorism in response to the
events of September 11, 2001. This is taking the form of US military
interventions not only in Afghanistan but also potentially against Iraq,
along with stepped﷓up US military activities in locations throughout the
third world. Under these circumstances, war is likely to trump the
  Sixth, South Africa, which nearly ten years ago became a symbol of human
freedom with the overthrow of apartheid, was chosen mainly for that reason
as the site of the second earth summit. It has now come to symbolise for
many something quite different: the rapacious growth of neoliberalism and
the refusal to address major environmental and social crises.

These are some of the deep structural reasons which guaranteed failure. But
Pretoria’s own role should not be excused. Valli Moosa claimed that Mbeki
bent over backwards to accommodate civil society concerns about both process
and content concerns. In ‘the broader NGO world... all the major groups’ did
want to work with Pretoria, and met Mbeki twice during the WSSD, according
to Moosa: ‘The international director of the World Wildlife Federation, in
his introductory remarks said he wanted us to know that when he addressed
the global forum he had told them that never before at any international
conference had the president of the host country taken the time to sit down
with the leaders of civil society and listen to them. He said this was
unique, “You have a new benchmark.” They were all full of praise.’ As for
Mbeki, said Moosa, ‘The president took detailed notes, I was sitting next to
him, and at the end of all the inputs he said he more or less agreed with
everything they had said and there was no need for a discussion because
these are the issues that were agreed.’
 Perceptions about both ‘agreement’ and process were far different amongst
the less compromising NGOs.  The handling of the WSSD was ‘way out of line
with the normal procedure of UN conferences’ Third World Network director
Martin Khor insisted, but not in a way that favoured civil society inputs.
For example, according to Khor, ‘the extended six-hour final plenary was
held up halfway as delegates haggled over a second draft of the political
declaration that was released only after the plenary had started.’ As a
result, ‘A great deal of disquiet was expressed by many delegations on the
utter lack of transparency and procedure of the political declaration
process, and some delegates, familiar with the WTO, remarked in frustration
that the infamous WTO Green Room process had now crossed over to the usually
open and participatory UN system.’ Khor concluded, ‘With such small results
for such a heavy expense in personnel, time and resources, it will be quite
a long time before a convincing case is made for another world summit of
this type.’
 The same conclusion was reached by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez,
speaking for the Group of 77 countries and China: ‘We have to have a radical
change in the formats of these summits... We just read a speech, almost as a
task which has been imposed on us. There is no proper dialogue, it seems to
be a dialogue of the deaf. Some people go from summit to summit. Our people
go from abyss to abyss.’
 Still, even if the WSSD failed on its own terms to catch up with--much less
advance beyond--the Rio Agenda, the event was a useful exercise for the
global justice movements. It also helped to repoliticise South Africa, after
a period of eight years of relative political predictability in the wake of
the painful but ultimately successful elite transition to non-racial
democracy. It demonstrated conclusively that while global apartheid had come
to South Africa, so too had resistance emerged to tackle its main local
transmission belt, the ANC government.

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