It is hard not to notice the shift in the emphasis of American left protest and activism since 9-11. The so-called â€œnew New Leftâ€ is looking a bit more like the old New Left as the struggle against corporate globalization makes way for â€“ or transforms into â€“ the struggle against American imperialism. The leading targets of protest have changed from the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the White House and the Pentagon. The emphasis has shifted from resisting transnational corporate-financial domination of the planet to stopping a specifically American assault on one nation â€“
A related emphasis resists the state-capitalist â€œhomelandâ€ assault on people of color and economic disadvantage and on domestic civil liberties. This assault comes along with the at once regressive and repressive â€œWar on Terrorismâ€ like white on rice.
Important goals of the global justice movement â€“ democracy, ecologically sustainable development, and the reduction of economic inequality within and between nations â€“ seem to have been placed on the back burners.
Is this shift in focus disturbing? Has the American left been set back, pushed to the margins, rolled back to the 1960s, so to speak, forced to step down from a promising movement for planetary democracy, equality and environmental sustainability to mount a sadly elementary retro-struggle against one nationâ€™s imperialism and racism?
No. We should resist such pessimistic conclusions for at least five related reasons. First, far from experiencing rollback, the current
Second, the antiwar movement provides an opportunity for global justice activists to overcome some of their movementâ€™s well-known problems in developing a diverse and mass base. For one thing, it presupposes among its members much less sophisticated knowledge about and conscious alienation from the dominant system of socioeconomic management (capitalism) than does the global justice movement. To be sure, there is little mysterious about how the global â€œtradeâ€ and financial institutions rape people and the earth. Still, it is frankly easier to talk to people about how the White House is preparing to directly and quickly kill innocent Iraqis than about how corporate globalization murder people and ecosystems more slowly around the world.
At the same time, the proposed warâ€™s regressive domestic impact, diverting yet more scarce (for social functions at least) public money from social to military expenditures, is also more immediately and graphically evident than the (undeniably negative) domestic consequences of corporate globalization. And the drive for war is strongly linked to an illegitimate, unpopular (indeed non-elected), and brazenly plutocratic Presidency in ways that redound to the benefit of the peace movement.
The greater transparency and simplicity of the antiwar relative to the a â€œanti-globalizationâ€ movement means that the peace movement provides an opportunity for global justice activists to make meaningful contact with progressively inclined people they would not otherwise meet. Global justice activists should welcome and learn from the peace movementâ€™s clearer connection to domestic poverty and race issues. Excessively white and middle-class, the global justice movement has failed to develop adequate linkages to the urban racial and social justice movement and to communities of poverty and color. Those communities experience more than their share of difficulties (racial profiling, crime, poverty, mass incarceration, gentrification and a shortage of affordable housing, toxic waste sites, etc.) right here at home, in the eye of globalizationâ€™s hurricane.
Third, the Bush administrationâ€™s push for war in the
Pilgerâ€™s analysis might sound like a left-dystopian fantasy, but it is based on a sober reading of US plannersâ€™ documentary record. That record includes the White Houseâ€™s latest National Security Strategy of the United States, a pivotal September 2000 report issued by the Project for a New American Century, the US Space Commandâ€™s chilling Vision for 2020 (advancing American global â€œFull Specter Dominanceâ€ in defense of transnational corporate interests), Paul Wolfowitzâ€™s 1992 Pentagon policy paper Defense Planning Guidance, and the horrifying book Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, penned by Harlan Ullman of the federally contracted â€œDefense Group, Inc.â€™sâ€ Rapid Dominance Study Group and posted on the web site of the U.S. â€œDefenseâ€ Departmentâ€™s Command and Control Research Program.
Fifth, our current confrontation with the tightening fist of specifically American state power is not really a diversion from the struggle against corporate globalization. According to a mistaken analytical tendency among some â€œanti-globalizationâ€ activists, modern transnational globalization has de-nationalized world power and stripped away the relevance of the nation state. This tendency correctly observes that the architects of globalization seek to institutionalize the special rights and privileges of multinational corporations that owe allegiance to no single nation state. It rightly notes that globalization reduces the policy leverage of national governments, even in the core (formerly called
It forgets, however, that globalization remains fundamentally imperial. Globalization continues to be all about enriching the
No nation has benefited more than the
In reality, the Soviets contained the Americans more than vice versa and neither American nor global capitalism is either â€œdemocraticâ€ or based on â€œfree markets.â€ Still, Friedmanâ€™s identification between globalization and American economic power is not inaccurate.
Global justice activists have also tended to downplay the very significant extent to which modern globalization is fundamentally shaped and underpinned by core and especially US state power and policy. The worldâ€™s leading transnational corporations owe their existence and much of their exalted market power to government charters and to numerous forms of core state protection (including but hardly restricted to tariffs and intellectual property rights) and subsidy (including the
The great world financial institutions that do so much to impose the disastrous neo-liberal model on non-core states â€“ kicking away the ladder of development by denying similar state protections, guidance and subsidy to poorer nations â€“ are the deliberate creatures of the US government (specifically of the US Treasury). It is with the blessing, directives and funding of that government that the IMF and the World Bank impose the First-World friendly â€œfree trade, free investmentâ€ model on nations that need precisely the opposite if they are ever to follow in the footsteps of the exalted core states.
There is, of course, a strong military dimension to the
The terrible jetliner attacks of September 2001 have combined with the collapse of the Soviet deterrent more than a decade ago to provide the corporate-plutocratic arch-imperialists in the Bush administration an opportunity to brandish Freidmanâ€™s â€œhidden handâ€ like no time in recent memory. They are showing and flexing the iron fist of empire partly in defense and pursuit of embarrassingly obvious economic or interests. The smell of petroleum wafts with great pungency in the current â€œoiligarchicâ€ White House.
It is a mistake, however, to see the Bush gang as little more than corporate lackeys who have surrendered state power to transnational energy corporations. They have attained significantly autonomous, unprecedented and for them intoxicating military state power â€“ far greater than anything they could expect to experience in the so-called â€œprivate sector.â€
September 11thâ€™s imperial aftermath has provided the American and global left a powerful wake up call. It has graphically reminded us that the state has yet to â€œwither awayâ€ and that globalization is still imperialism, replete with a heavy dose
The nature of the complex relationship between capitalist globalization and the world state system will spark debate among left intellectuals for years to come. In the meantime, we would do well to appreciate the wisdom of a basic formulation from one such intellectual – veteran Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin. As Amin told fellow attendees at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, Brazil, â€œthere is not on the one hand social and economic problems and on the other hand political and military problemsâ€¦One cannot defeat the IMF and other institutions that obey the United States without defeating the military strategy of the