Fabel self-interview about quitting the campaigns against "free trade"

In June 1999 De Fabel van de illegaal decided to quit with the campaigns against "free trade". After taking a closer look we concluded that to take "free trade" as a primary target is not a logical choice based on a radical-left analysis, but instead comes more from a New Right analysis. Our decision was definite when we discovered that in the International Forum on Globalisation (IFG), the network which initiated the international campaigns against "free trade", the New-Right ideologist Goldsmith plays an important role. In an earlier series of articles De Fabel explained its decision to quit. Still some readers and fellow activists had questions about it. That's why we have tried to bring these questions together in a self-interview.

Is Edward Goldsmith, the director of the well-known magazine The Ecologist, really a New-Right ideologist?

Yes, for sure. We have described his extreme-right ideas and contacts in two other separate articles that we wrote recently.

How does he influence political movements?

He was involved in the founding of many influential organisations like Friends of the Earth, the Green Party in the UK, Survival International, Ecoropa, The Ecologist, and the IFG. Goldsmith can make use of a part of the capital which his brother James brought together. His brother was the 6th richest person in the UK when he died and he had about 1.5 billion dollars at that time. Edward has been sponsoring dozens of activist groups and lobby groups for some 30 years. Especially now that the left is very small and has therefore little access to money, the networks sponsored by Goldsmith and their campaigning issues are more visible. Goldsmith primarily funds actions against gene technology, nuclear power and the supposed "globalisation". As far as we know, activist groups fighting racism and sexism are not being sponsored by him. In this way Goldsmith contributes to a situation in which issues that are of concern to the New Right get more attention and influence in activist circuits. But it is surely not so that Goldsmith pulls the strings from behind the scenes. On the contrary, he seems to almost casually give his money away to groups working on these issues, without setting many further conditions.

A lack of self-criticism

How do organisations which have contacts with Goldsmith react to your criticism?

Many of them don't seem very self-critical. They thought that Goldsmith had his heart in the right place, despite his conservative and patriarchal ideas. He is against "globalisation" and against environmental destruction so he must be okay, they thought. But they had hardly any idea about his real politics and to be honest many of them were not very motivated to find out either. "Whose bread one eats, whose word one speaks" goes the saying.

Of course left-wing organisations are not immediately becoming New Right after receiving funding from Goldsmith. But they seem to have problems distancing themselves from him and surely don't draw the conclusion to fight him because of his New-Right ideology. The money flow would then surely stop.

As you say Goldsmith plays an important role in the IFG. Do you now regard this platform to be New Right?

No, but the IFG is certainly not on the left. It's a very elitist club that doesn't fight capitalism or patriarchy. They are mainly afraid of the disappearance of local economies, religions and cultures if those come in contact with anything foreign. In the near future we will write a more extensive analysis of the right-wing ideas within the IFG, which have developed the international campaigns against "globalisation" and "free trade".

Campaigns in which you don't want to take part anymore....


It is a bit unusual to stop your activities so suddenly. For almost one year now we have pointed out the interests of the New Right in campaigns against "free trade". Practically nobody, including ourselves, drew conclusions or realised the consequences of this for a long time. Our final decision came after a discussion of several months within our own group.

Would the bureaucrats at the Dutch ministry of economic affairs, who are striving for the "free trade" agreements, be relieved now that the campaign has quit?

That seems to us a big exaggeration of the current power of leftist activist groups.

Running to the Right

How was your criticism received by organisations that are active against the MAI and the WTO?

Their response is closely related to their political colour. Organisations which only aim at fighting "free trade" reject our criticism. Groups that combine an anti-capitalist view with anti-racism and anti-sexism mostly recognise the problem and see the necessity of a fundamental discussion.

Is there not a danger that such discussions would cause confusion and division within the left, which would lead to a further decline of activism?

Under influence of the ongoing shift to the right, the leftist world-vision is watering down. For the left to survive and to ever regain influence, a coherent ideology is a necessity. De Fabel doesn't want to run from action to meeting and back, without having a clear radical leftist frame of reference and goal to go for. Otherwise there is a growing risk that we will all be running to the right, quite possibly without even realising this ourselves.

Wouldn't a radical leftist positioning lead to isolation from other movements?

Because of the political crisis there are not many radical-left groups to cooperate with anymore. But we don't think that's a reason to join forces with the right, as if they were left-wing allies. If this were to happen, it would lead to self-overestimation, and as a result the organisational and ideological crisis of the left would be absent from our minds. Left-wing activists should wonder why their ideas are suddenly so well appreciated by NGO's (Non-Governmental Organisations) when in reality they have very different interests from grassroots movements. Or when, in these times of right-wing domination, activists suddenly succeed in mobilising great numbers of people internationally with a new focus such as "globalisation". It's not impossible that the left would unexpectedly gain more support, but it is very well possible that you are mobilising people on mainly nationalist sentiments.

The MAI agreement on "free trade" was finally abandoned because of French nationalism....

The French government quit the negotiations. They were afraid that because of foreign investments they 'd lose the remaining influence on the French economy and especially on the national production of culture via the film industry.

But some activists are claiming this as a victory for the left.

They point out that activists in the French communist party have played a big role in the decision of the French government. That's true, but nationalism and fear of foreign corporations currently play a major role in the ideas within that party.

"Globalisation" and anti-racism

Is it not possible to be against "globalisation" and "free trade" from a left perspective? Do you want to leave this field to the extreme right?

You can look at the worldwide system of oppression and exploitation from various angles. The left will use concepts like capitalism, patriarchy, racism and imperialism. The extreme right traditionally limits itself to national conflicts, international conspiracies and "free trade". The vague and fashionable term "globalisation" is part of the right-wing ideology. It suggests, whether intended or not, that local or better national capitalism is alright, and that the real problems are coming from outside.

It doesn't help when left-wing activists against "globalisation" and "free trade" write in their pamphlets that they oppose nationalism, because their central concept, the supposed "globalisation", forces upon their readers a right-wing and nationalist conceptual framework and way of thinking. Every action and choice of focus has a meta-political effect and it's crucial for left-wing activists to consider this effect seriously. The New Right is much more aware of this. They have realised for a long time that because of actions by small movements, the **meta-political** and therefore indirect effect is inherently much larger than the direct influence on the power relations. So to conclude, De Fabel indeed leaves the supposed "globalisation" and the accompanying focus of "free trade" to the extreme right. We want to analyse the worldwide exploitation and oppression by using a radical-left conceptual framework, and fight it via totally different focus of action. But first we want to contribute to starting an international discussion about the intrusion of right-wing ideas in campaigns which are meant to be left wing. We can prevent that by consequently connecting anti-capitalism with an anti-racist and an anti-patriarchal analysis, without stressing one of these as to being the main problem.

Some activists say that fighting "globalisation" is already anti-racist. They say racism is growing because of poverty and insecurity caused by "globalisation" and "free trade".

Racism is not an automatic or natural response to poverty and insecurity. Racism exists as well among people who are not suffering from this at all. You can't derive racism from the capitalist order. It is surely connected to it, but exists by itself too. There is another flaw in this line of reasoning too. Poverty and insecurity are not caused by "free trade" or something undefined like "globalisation". They are caused by the capitalist system. The local types of capitalism which many anti-"globalisation" activists advocate, will just as much judge people on their productivity, and therefore make them suffer from insecurity. On top of that, many anti-"globalisation" activists daydream about "going back" to an idealised feudal era when society was supposedly manageable and all people knew their place. They often use a very conservative image of society where there is no place for immigrants, refugees and other "foreign elements".

Potential anti-Semitism

What is exactly wrong with the term "free trade"?

You can't truly analyse the reality of the capitalist system when using this concept. In the concept of "free trade" there is the flaw of thinking that capitalism could exist without state interference, without states that guarantee property rights, discipline the workers, make sure that roads are built, etc. It suggests a conflict between the state and capital that does not exist in reality. Both advocates and opponents of "free trade" are using the same limited analysis of capitalism. We think that the concept of the international division of labour is much more appropriate to an analysis of the international shipment of capital and goods.

Are the campaigns against "free trade" anti-Semitic, in your opinion?

No, potentially anti-Semitic. That is not the same. For activists, "free trade" is a senseless focus-point. Unless they use a traditional extreme-right analytical framework. Anti-Semitism will practically always be part of that. It's a step that is historically not far from there, that's why we use the term potentially anti-Semitic. The many extreme-right activists who are attracted by the international campaigns against "free trade", easily recognise this anti-Semitic potential. It's not even 55 years since Auschwitz and left-wing activists are hardly capable of recognising the traditional anti-Semitic ideology any more. That makes the campaigns against "free trade" even more dangerous.

Is that why in the previous issue of your magazine there was a comparison between a recent anti-"free trade" poster and a number of historic anti-Semitic pictures?

We wanted to show the striking similarities in the language of the images that are being used. This isn't a coincidence but a result of the strategically choice to emphasise on an elusive and invisible group of international capital owners who are supposed to pull the ropes of the world. The images used almost always draw on anti-Semitism.

Eric Krebbers
Harry Westerink
Merijn Schoenmaker

De Fabel van de illegaal
September 1999

Some editing of the English translation by Alain Kessi

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Right-Left - critical texts / Pressebüro Savanne / savanne@savanne.ch
Last updated 1999-11-25