Iqtidar Interviews Albert

Q; The word globalization seems to mean different things to different people. What exactly is anti-globalization? Can you please explain what defines the anti globalization movement, what are its key features, and what does it aim to accomplish?


Globalization does not refer to increasing international ties and relations, as some critics of the movement like to suggest. Who would oppose growing ties among nations and people? Globalization refers, instead to changes in the terms of trade and exchange that tilt the playing field even more dramatically to the advantage of the already powerful and the already rich at the expense of the still weak and poor. I like to use the phrase corporate globalization for this, to make sure this meaning is conveyed.


So anti-globalization, or anti-corporate globalization, has, as its shared motivation and purpose, exactly the opposite aim. It seeks to change the terms of international trade and exchange and relations on behalf of poorer and weaker nations and people, at the expense of those who are most powerful and wealthy. Exactly how it seeks to do this depends on context and on different sectors of the movement. For example, some want as their ultimate goal to adapt existing institutions like the WTO, World Bank, or IMF. Others want to abolish and replace them with entirely new structures. Some feel that that elites can be morally convinced. Others feel that the only thing elites will understand is movement power that threatens their interests and compels changes. I am of the latter camp on both these matters.


The goal of the movement’s many component parts — not all of whom agree on details, of course — is to protect and expand the rights and income of workers rather than owners, of weak countries rather than strong ones, of the poor rather than the rich, of the environment rather than the polluters, of women and indigenous people rather than rapists and colonizers, of the sick rather then the pharmaceutical corporations, of the hungry rather than the agricultural corporations…of people rather than profit…of peace and justice rather than war and injustice.



Q: We can, in Pakistan, identify with some of the issues raised by the movement but why do people in the West, where all these large corporations are based, want to oppose them?


Of course not everyone in the West, or in the U.S. where I live, wants to oppose corporations. Some people benefit greatly from them, and adapt their morals in accord with maintaining those benefits. This includes those who own the corporations but also many of those who manage and otherwise develop and impose corporate policies and ideologies.


A great many other people feel hopeless, so that while they would agree that corporations seek profits at the expense of human well being and agree that that is wrong, they don’t oppose corporations because they doubt the efficacy of doing so. They doubt that a better system is possible or that one is attainable. It is a little like not opposing gravity, old age, or the tide. These phenomena are facts of life, so you have to get on with your choices assuming their continuation. Regrettably, in the U.S. — and I think in other countries including those of the South — huge numbers of people feel that poverty and indignity and obedience and even starvation and war are as permanent as gravity and the tides…and therefore not sensible targets for change. Yes, with Herculean effort you might stem the tide of current injustice somewhere, they agree, but they feel that it will just return somewhere else. So they try to get on with their lives without wasting time opposing what they find unavoidable.


Other people oppose corporations, even though not sure where doing so might lead. They know opposition is morally warranted because they see how corporations centralize huge wealth and power and use it in the pursuit of even more advantage despite horrible implications for people over the world, including here in the U.S. There are as many people below the poverty level in the U.S. as there are citizens in three or perhaps even four Central American countries combined. There are about 7 million homeless people sleeping under bridges or in alleys, in boxes or tents, or perhaps sheltered in Church halls, each night in the U.S., perhaps more by now — my numbers are old — and there are almost exactly the same number of empty hotel rooms each night, as well. This type of injustice motivates these people and doubts about the efficacy of their opposition don’t seem to obstruct their dissent against corporations. In fact, many of these dissidents honestly don’t expect to win…the slogan “fight the good fight” is common and indicative.


And finally some people, still too few but nonetheless very important, have ideas about what ought to replace corporations and oppose corporate dominance not only to try to diminish their current power, but also to gain sufficient strength to abolish and replace them with better institutions. I feel that I am in this last group.



Q: Critics of the movement claim that the lack of a clear strategy or alternative practical vision to corporate globalization is one of the serious shortcomings of this movement, and you have just mentioned that many are involved without any real hope of ever changing anything. Is it just a reactive phenomenon? And even if it is, is that a major problem?


Some opponents of the movement attack it, saying that if you have no clear and compelling vision and strategy, you have no right to protest. That is of course utterly false and also generally quite hypocritical. These people would be even more upset if the movement was calling for a new economic or political system.


But there is more to say.


First, it isn’t a precondition for our opposing injustice that we know the full alternative to current relations and how to attain them. The slaves in the U.S. and the abolitionists here did not have to present a full blown solution for how to run the economy without slavery in order to be justified fighting for slavery’s abolition. It is not wrong or unwarranted to react to injustice, even if one lacks clear and shared aims.


But second, the fact that reacting without clear aims is legitimate doesn’t say that doing so is optimal. Reacting is much better than not reacting, but having positive aims is better than not having them – assuming they are desirable aims, of course.


So, third, some people critical of the relative absence of clear and compelling vision and strategy in the anti globalization movement are not trying to get people to stop protesting, but are instead trying to promote more effective and massive protest. Activists should not view them as being hostile, but as being allies.


But even more, fourth, the situation via a vis aims is a bit subtle. The anti-globalization movement in fact does not lack goals and strategy regarding globalization. There are plenty of very concrete and compelling goals – not least cancelling third world debt and replacing the IMF, World Bank, and WTO with new institutions devoted instead to protecting environments and expanding the well being and influence of currently weak and poor populations. These diverse and often interconnected goals are spelled out in some detail by numerous anti-globalization activists and movements. Even the means of attaining these aims are also more or less clear. The strategy is to build mass movements within countries and internationally, and to engage in networked social struggles that attain the sought goals when ruling sectors feel they can no longer resist the pressures being brought to bear. Details and methods for this too are made evident by anti globalization activists from all over the world – though the media that decry us for not having aims of course give no visibility to the aims that we reply with.


Fifth, the kind of vision and strategy that isn’t so widely shared, however, or even addressed, within our movements, is quite different. It doesn’t have to do with the international policies and institutions of globalization per se, but instead is about the underlying economic and political institutions of the societies of the world.


Globalization arises on top of capitalist market relations, corporate centralization of power, impersonal authoritarian political systems that seek to enlarge the power and advantages of elites, racist cultures and institutions stemming from them, and sexist relations of socialization, nurturance, and sexuality and institutions stemming from them. U.S. international policy toward trade, culture, and war and peace aren’t things unto themselves but instead arise on top of and propelled by the dictates of U.S. markets, U.S. corporations, U.S. political structures and agendas, U.S. racial and gender relations, and so on.


So the vision question that is largely unaddressed isn’t about short term program such as passing accords to defend the environment or laws to make available medicines, etc., or even about mid term large scale innovations such as replacing the IMF. The missing vision is instead about alternatives to the underlying structures of capitalism, for example, and for that matter, about alternatives to the underlying structures of political authoritarianism, and of racism and cultural oppressions of diverse kinds, and of sexism. Regarding these basic levels of social structure, our movements don’t as yet offer compelling and coherent answers.


In the new world we seek, how do we propose to have economies operate if not via corporations, markets, profit seeking, and class division and rule? What different structures of adjudication and legislation do we want that won’t be top down and elitist, or what structures of socialization and nurturance, or of celebration and cultural identification, do we desire that won’t produce and migrate sexism and racism throughout our societies?


Why does not having answers to these types of questions matter?


Well, some might say it doesn’t, but the problem with this perspective is that a great many oppressed people feel that even if we win immediate changes such as replacing the IMF or World Bank or WTO, or such as gaining some affirmative action, or raising some wages, or getting some progressive election law passed, if we leave the underlying structures of our societies unaltered, these gains will turn out to be quite temporary. The defining institutions that we have left in place and that we are not contesting will roll back our gains, or will find new ways of imposing their basic hierarchies. There is a feeling of hopelessness about short term benefits being anything more than merely short term, due to there being no alternative to capitalism itself.


When Margaret Thatcher, for example, proclaimed TINA – There Is No Alternative – she felt, I think rightly, that she was trumpeting a major obstacle to movement building. If people doubt there is a better world, then regardless of how much they dislike elements of this one, they will, in very large numbers, doubt the efficacy of activism. Many will not pursue change but will instead feel it is wiser to pursue only their immediate daily lives…where maybe they can do their families and closest friends some good.


So the reason I think we need more long term institutional vision in Our anti-globalization movement, and in other movements as well, is that I think to act with passion and commitment people understandably require that their efforts should be both likely to win immediate benefits and also likely to become part of an on-going process that will not only preserve but steadily enlarge those benefits, ultimately attaining a new social order. To feel this, people need vision and strategy.



Q: You mentioned that you belong to the group that feels that it is possible to replace the current institutions with better ones. Could you please talk about your own vision for a better world, or economy, and how to attain it?


It is a very large question. I do think we need better institutions in all dimensions of social life and I hope activists will, among their other efforts, work to produce it for polity, for culture, for gender and kinship, and so on.


Regarding economics, in particular, I advocate something called participatory economics. It highlights and of course spells out the meaning of some key values – equity, diversity, solidarity, and people controlling their own lives via what I call self-management. But it also goes beyond proposing values to advocating institutions including workers and consumers councils and federations of councils as the seats of decision making influence in the economy; self managed decision making norms in which workers and consumers – individually and in groups– have a say in decisions proportionate to the extent they are impacted by them; balanced job complexes in which people have work responsibilities that equitably apportion empowering and fulfilling tasks so that no one has work conditions which systematically elevate them over others; and remuneration for effort and sacrifice (and not for property, power, or output) to determine people’s incomes; and finally what we call participatory planning, which is a system of collective, cooperative, self managing negotiation of economic outcomes in place of markets and/or central planning.


Participatory economics thus seeks institutions for production, consumption, and allocation that meet needs and develop potentials while expanding values we hold dear, rather than obliterating those values, as now. Participatory economics is a coherent classless economic vision whose details are spelled out for further amendment, refinement, debate, and improvement in numerous places.




Q: What do you feel are the successes of the anti-globalization movement so far?


Most people focus on the demonstrations, the size of gatherings, and on successfully interrupting meetings and blocking odious trade agreements, as the main accomplishments. I think these are real and important. But for me the success has been increasing the awareness among tens and even hundreds of millions of people of the fact that international exchange isn’t some kind of inevitable fact of life, but is impacted by social decisions and institutions which serve vile interests, and which we can oppose and seek to replace.


The main success of the movement has been precisely to build the movement and it has been accomplished against the counter pressures of fragmented and demanding daily life, against mainstream media obscurantism, and against state repression, with few resources at our disposal, but with tremendous energy and effort – which is bearing fruit.


Movements seek to win changes that benefit people’s lives. It could be holding off or ending harmful relations – like debt, or IMF impositions, or war – or it could be winning new conditions like desirable terms of trade, ecological constraints on rapaciousness, etc. All these victories are very important. They improve people’s lives, which matters immeasurably. They sometimes, when really well conceived, win changes that not only better people’s immediate conditions, but empower and give people confidence and tools with which to win still more gains. But, alongside these markers of victory, there is the ever-present process of raising consciousness, developing networks of trust and mutual support, and creating institutions and infrastructure of struggle. These latter accomplishments are the main milestones, I think, and are our main successes to date, with more to come, of course.



Q: Is there a link between the anti war protests in many Western countries and the anti-globalization movement?


Both these movements are motivated by a desire to reduce injustice and conduct policy via a moral norm that respects life and freedom rather than seeking to profit elites. The actors and organizers of the two movements are largely interchangeable. Additionally, war is often itself a means of globalization — a tool for compelling international obedience and subservience, as well as a tool for scaring domestic populations into stances they would otherwise reject.


In the U.S., for example, Bush’s pursuit of imperial dominance in the world to roll back even the minimal means that populations in the South have to ward off rapacious violations is at bottom no different in motivation than Bush’s pursuit of rolling back domestic social programs that protect the rights of working people here. In both cases the goal is to further empower and enrich the masters of the universe — at the expense of those below. So the battle against war and the battle against corporate globalization are not only related, but are just two of many entwined components of the more encompassing battle for dignity, justice, equity, solidarity, diversity, and self management in every domain of social, political, and economic life.




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