Ten years of WTO and five years since the victory of civil society and the Third World in Seattle is a good time to pause and reflect on the debate on globalisation.
I bought Jagdish Bhagwati’s book “In Defense of Globalisation” with a hope that it would be stimulating and challenging, and would move the debate on economic globalisation and alternatives to it to the next stage.
I was deeply disappointed and saddened. Disappointed because Bhagwati is recognised as a leading intellectual, but his book is intellectually dishonest and sloppy. Saddened because a fellow Indian is ignoring the farmers suicides, the hunger deaths, the creation of unemployment by the policies of trade liberalization and economic globalisation, and defending the projects and profits of MNC’s by attacking those of us who struggle to defend our rights and our freedoms, our planet and our health, our livelihoods and our cultures.
The book should have been called “An attack on peoples’ movements” not “In defense of globalisation” because its entire content is an attack on civil society, its institutions and its leaders. There are no arguments in defense of globalisation. There are no empirical facts, no concrete realities. The dominant paradigm has to be loosing when one of its leading proponents spends more time quoting Shakespeare than giving us a picture of people’s economic realities.
The first intellectual dishonesty on Bhagwati’s part is to present the resistance to corporate rule and economic globalisation as a western phenomena, which started in Seattle . A decade before Seattle our movements had started in India against the Uruguay Round negotiations of GATT which were seeking to force free trade in agriculture, create IPR monopolies in seeds and medicines, deregulate foreign direct investment, and privatize basic needs and essential services such as water, energy, health, transport and education.
In 1988 we had protests in India against TRIPS and the special and super 301 clauses of the U.S Trade Act. In 1991, 5,00,000 farmers marched on streets of Bangalore to say “no” to the patenting of seed, commodification of food and corporatisation of agriculture which provides livelihoods to their quarters of India’s one billion population. This is nearly 15 Seattle ‘s.
Bhagwati chooses to ignore the fact that the agrarian crisis engendered by economic globalisation has pushed 25,000 farmers to suicide. He chooses to ignore the fact that just as he is singing praises of the success of globalisation, the BJP tried to return to power on the “Shining India” slogan. They were voted out in the 2004 general elections. Indian peoples vote was against globalisation. Ignoring the vote of millions of his countrymen, Bhagwati chooses to cite a study by the World Economic Forum to reiterate the falsehood that fighting globalisation is rich kids past time.
The Indian People’s campaign against WTO is a coalition of 200 organisations with membership of more than 100 million people. The Indian Ambassador to GATT during the Uruguay Round S.P. Shukla is its convenor.
Ignoring the southern discontent with the unjust rules and undemocratic processes of WTO Bhagwati writes,
“The debate on globalisation is overlaid and overwhelmed by yet another fallacy that asserts that the disillusionment with globalisation, typified by the street theater and the campus protests, is worldwide and reflects a majoritarian discontent. But this belief is true.
In fact, anti-globalisation sentiments are more prevalent in the rich countries of the North, while pluralities of policy makers and the public in the poor countries of the South see globalisation instead as a positive force. This was the finding of the World Economic Forum’s extensive poll on global public opinion on globalisation, carried out by the Canadian polling firm Environics International, with twenty-five thousand urban respondents in twenty-five countries, and presented at the WEF’s annual meeting in New York in early 2002″.
Bhagwati deliberately erases the movements of the South and the concern of rural people, including the Korean farmer who took his life in Cancun saying “WTO kills farmers”.
Bhagwati is again intellectually dishonest when he refers to the debate at the Town Hall of Seattle during the WTO meetings and deliberately hides the fact that he also debated me, not just Ralph Nader, because the presence of Third World intellectuals and activists like me ruin his false manipulated picture of people who resist globalisation being stupid northern youth.
In his Trilogy of Discontents there are no peasant movements, no Via Campesinas. There are not tribal and indigenous movements. No women and no workers, there are no parliamentarians, no citizens.
The tribal women of Plachimada who shut down Coke’s plant do not exist in Bhagwati’s world which is inhabited by a fiction of young people of the North who watch TV and then run to the streets to protest. As our eminent economist from Columbia rationalises :
“I also think that an altogether new factor on the scene that propels the young into anti-capitalist attitudes comes from a different technological source in a rather curious fashion.
Today, thanks to television, we have what I call the paradox of inversion of the philosopher David Hume’s concentric circles of reducing loyalty and empathy. Each of us feels diminishing empathy as we go from our nuclear family to the extended family, to our local community, to our state or county (say, Lancashire or Louisiana), to our nation, to our geographical region (say, Europe or the Americas), and then to the world?.
What the Internet and CNN have done is to take Hume’s outermost circle and turn it into the innermost. No longer can we snore while the other half of humanity suffers plague and pestilence and the continuing misery of extreme poverty. Television has distributed our sleep, perhaps short of the fitful fever but certainly arousing our finest instincts.
So the young see and are anguished by the poverty and the civil wars and the famines in remote areas of the world but often have no intellectual training to cope with their anguish and follow it through rationally in terms of appropriate action.”
What Prof. Bhagwati is ignoring is that CNN transmits propaganda like his book does; it does not communicate the reality of the Third World or of ordinary people worldwide. That reality has reached the youth through books, through their travels. Young people brought up on a CNN diet are not today’s’ activists.
In fact the youth on the streets of Seattle, Geneva, Washington, Miami are creating alternatives to corporate controlled media like Indy Media which lets the world know the truth of police violence on the streets of Geneva and Seattle which has been passed off as the movements “hostile passions and violent protests” in Bhagwati’s book.
Prof. Bhagwati’s defense of globalisation is not just based on attacking strawmen. It is based on an imaginary globalisation. He identifies “flows of technology” as an intrinsic component of globalisation. But IPR’s block technology transfer and TRIPS promotes monopolies on seeds and medicines and piracy of Third World biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.
That is why we had to fight WR Grace and USDA to revoke the Neem Patent, we had to fight Ricetec to prevent them claiming our basmati as their invention. And we have successfully fought Monsanto’s biopiracy of a native India wheat variety. The rules of WTO were designed to impoverish poor people and poor countries, transform their biodiversity and water commons into corporate property so that seed MNC’s like Monsanto could sell us our seeds for $ 1 tr. per year and water giants like Suez and Bechtel could sell us our water for another trillion. And the free trade rules of agriculture are robbing Indian peasants of $ 1 trillion per year through falling prices because of $ 400 billion subsidies in rich countries distorting trade by distorting prices.
This is not just a recipe for poverty, it is a recipe for genocide. In the free trade world that Bhagwati upholds, peasants sell kidneys to pay debt for poisons, displaced rural women sell their bodies to feed their children, hospitals become centers of organ theft, and India which sold the finest fabrics and tastiest spices to the world becomes the dumping ground for the toxic wste of 9/11 and the exploded and unexploded shells from the war in Afganistan and Iraq. Free trade is becoming a mechanism to take our wealth ? our biodiversity, our minerals, our brains and give us trash and toxic in exchange. It is an exchange of “bads” for “goods”. This is not comparative advantage, it is loot. Which is why we say, “Our World is not for sale”.
Instead of listening to people, and citizens movements, as an honest intellectual Bhagwati chooses the dishonest path of reproducing the corporate spin against civil society. In spite of knowing me personally, in spite of having had many debates and discussions on globalisation with me, in spite of having acknowledged in a conversation that I was right in my critique of TRIPS, he quotes unknown strangers to introduce me to his readers. This manipulation and dishonesty has saddened me. This is how he presents me in this book,
“So we find that the mantle of social activism in India , long worn mostly by men, has now fallen on the shoulders mostly of women. The ecofeminist Vandana Shiva is the most prominent in the Western media, but she is just one of the multitude. Indeed, doing good has become so much the thing to do in India that where the parents of a young man once might have bid for a bride by offering riches or a green card for immigration into the United States through marriage, the joke today on the Indian subcontinent is that they must offer the bride her own NGO.”
And again, quoting Doug Henwoood, “the editor of the Left Business Observer. In reaction to a meeting o the International Forum on Globalisation at Riverside Church , the famous site of anti-Vietnam War protests, in New York in 1995, where the speakers included the famous Indian activist Vandana Shiva, an accomplished physicist by training, the editor wrote?
The ecofeminist Vandana Shiva views technology as a male disruption of the sacred woman-natured dyad, and advocates a “subsistence” economic model. ? Shiva opened her talk at the conference by noting that one of the “positive externalities” of globalisation was that she’d made so many good friends around the world?. If “globalisation” can produce such desirable things as friends ?. Perhaps it’s wrong to name it as your main enemy. Its ironic that people should rack up the frequent flyer miles while touting the virtues of localism ?writing books and running institutes while telling the masses that they should stay home and tend to their lentils”.
In the end, the indigenous peoples will have to confront the fact that the old yields to the new. Only active nurturing of the collective memory and a selective preservation of cultural artifacts can be a response, not the impractical fossilization of traditional attitudes and values.”
The seeds we have been saving through Navdanya to resist corporate monopolies and keep farmers options of freedom alive are not “fossilized”, they are seeds of hope. There are no suicides among farming communities who save and exchange their seeds and practise organic farming.
If the new giving way to the old means McDonald and Coke spreading a disease epidemic of obesity and diabetes and destroying our healthy food cultures, I will both tend my lentils, and write about it. I will grow my lentils and work in solidarity with others growing theirs.
The spokesmen for Economic Globalisation treat our international solidarity as support of free mobility of capital and goods even though globalisation of corporate rule and greed and globalisation of compassion and humanity are opposite forces. They treat freedom for corporations as the same as freedom for citizens, even though the former destroys the latter. Which is why we organise against the corporate hijack of our planet both locally and globally.
I traveled the world as a physicist and academic. As an ecologist I had hoped I could work locally. But the destruction of our homes, our forests, our biodiversity by the World Bank and now the WTO forced me to join forces with others worldwide who care about the planet and people. In 1985 Wangari Mathai, this year’s Nobel Prize winner and I jointly launched the Campaign to Save the World Tropical Forests. Corporate interests of course cannot tolerate the emergence of global people’s solidarity which was recognised by the Time Magazine as the second super power of our times. This emerging super power of organised civil society is what Prof. Bhagwati is attacking while pretending to defend globalisation.
Prof. Bhagwati, I had the option to be a comfortable tenure track professor in a U.S University like you, since I did my Ph.D in the West. I started Navdanya to fight seed patents and keep alive farmers alternatives. I take no money from the organisations I have started to defend the earth, people’s livelihoods and freedom from the assault of corporations.
I make my living exactly like you ? teaching and writing, not from an NGO which I serve as a volunteer. The difference is that I write to serve the poor and marginalized, you spin arguments to serve the rich and powerful. I chose to continue to live in India ; you chose to become a U.S citizen. An of course you write to serve your masters.
If you had solid arguments and evidence in defense of globalisation, you would have responded to my books Biopiracy, Stolen Harvest and Water Wars. You would have engaged in a serious and informed debate on why Indian peasants are committing suicide in thousands, and how agriculture trade can be regulated to protect farmers livelihoods and consumer health.
When arguments are substituted by such false, ad hominum attacks as you have made on me, you have already lost the intellectual contest. It is time for you to bow out gracefully from the debate. The debate will continue and it is ordinary people defending their rights, who will determine its outcome. Not armchair intellectuals like you.