This text was originally written in German for the weekly newspaper Jungle World and was published in slightly abridged form and without the footnotes in Issue 51, 24 November 1999 <>.

"Millenium Round" of the WTO under fire ...

... from both left and right

by Alain Kessi

When in May last year the World Trade Organization organized its second Ministerial Conference in Geneva eight thousand people took to the streets in Geneva, and tens of thousands world-wide in decentralized actions in order to protest against the power relations that the WTO helps imposing. [1] Some of the strategists of deregulation seem to be shaking with the shock. When on 23 September of the same year UN representatives and top managers of corporations met at the Geneva Business Dialogue, Helmut Maucher - President of the ICC-WBO (International Chamber of Commerce / World Business Organization) and Chairman of the Board of Nestlé -, who had called the meeting, felt obliged to castigate the protests - whose organizers "would do well to seek legitimacy" [2] - and call on the state governments to fulfil their policing duties.

Now it seems like things might get even better in Seattle where from 30 November to 3 December the third Ministerial Conference is going to take place. Already in the preparation phase the WTO is struggling with problems of legitimacy. "All you have to do is read the newspaper to know that the anti-WTO forces have been more effective, thus far, than we have," laments Scot Montrey, spokesman for the U.S. Alliance for Trade Expansion, a US coordination of large corporations. [3] Michael Dolan, who is coorganizing the protests and is a deputy director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, a group founded by Ralph Nader, rejoices: "I was thrilled when Seattle was selected," said. "It's almost like they're giving us home-field advantage." [4]

A whole range of activities are planned around the Ministerial Conference by radical left and progressive grassroots groups, NGOs and trade unions: from street theater and actions of civil disobedience all the way to large demonstrations. Kept at a distance by the aforementioned organizers, but nevertheless quite present in the weeks leading up to the protests are extreme-right Republicans as well as conservative environmental organizations with essentialist lines of argument like the Sierra Club. While the Republicans demand - just like the radical left - that the US government leave the WTO, the Sierra Club wants - like the established leftist NGOs - that "civil society", meaning themselves, be given a place in the decision-making process of the WTO.

The blurring of the difference between left-wing and right-wing approaches is especially visible in Seattle. The city council has declared a MAI-free zone (MAI - Multilateral Agreement on Investment) on the city territory. The symbolic anti-globalization measure was proposed by Brian Derdowski, Republican member of the King County council, where another such zone has been implemented. [5]

On a US-wide level John Talbott, spokesperson for the Reform Party, does not see much difference between Ralph Nader on the left and Pat Buchanan on the right when they talk about globalization, and proposes that a new party be created that is neither right nor left, but created to represent the hard-working average American. In this he closes his eyes on Pat Buchanan's racist, sexist and homophobic attitude. The latter's right-wing "producerist" [6] populism refers to a hard-working productive middle class and working class being squeezed from above and below by "lazy social parasites". [7]

What has gone awry, if one of the greatest leftist mobilizations of the past years - the one against "free" trade, against "globalization", against "transnational corporations" and especially against the MAI - is so attractive for right-wing conservative groups?

In June 1999 the Dutch antiracist group De Fabel van de illegaal, whose work had greatly contributed to building a strong movement against the MAI, decided to leave 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," the group explained in an open letter in September 1999. A year before that already, in October 1998, they had published a first discussion paper: "With 'New Right' against Globalization?" [8] They followed it up with a series of articles dealing with the weaknesses of the discourse on "globalization" and "free trade" as well as with people serving as intermediaries between left-wing and right-wing activists and groups.

In his analysis of the crisis of antiracism, Pierre-André Taguieff describes the appropriation of leftist discourses by the neoracists as retorsion (not in the sense of revenge, but in a slightly less common French meaning of the use of an argument against its author) [9] This raises the question of when a leftist discourse is open to retorsion. Or the other way around: How would a discourse have to be structured so that it would not serve right-wing propaganda. I would like to take a look at five characteristics which make discourses suitable for retorsion: a simplistic analysis of capitalism linked to an uncritical attitude towards the national (social) state, emotionalizing, a conspiracy theorist approach, and speaking of modernity destroying "nature".

The discourse on globalization fits so well into right-wing racist rhetoric because it blames an international capital not tied to a geographical location, for the economic and social difficulties. The simplistic analysis overlooks the role of the local capital in the process of accumulation and exploitation and thus allows the demand to protect the latter against the international financial capital, which is artificially separated from the "productive capital". Karl A. Schachtschneider, who together with others has filed a court action against the Monetary Union with the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in Karlsruhe, warns in the far-right newspaper Junge Freiheit: "We will be pushed further into globalization. This will serve as the big excuse for the social tensions. We have to compete with slave labor." [10]

Those who, like parts of the anti-MAI campaign, or like those Trotskyist and other old leftist theoreticians writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, defend the social state are especially prone to national-chauvinist retorsion. Since they describe the object of their desire as outside history and independent from colonialism and the conditions of the Keynesian era, they do not seem to notice that the nation-state by no means withers away with deregulation. They also close their eyes to the fact that it is national state governments who drive the deregulation ahead - and hope thereby to create an advantage for their respective nation-state. [11]

The imperialist nation-state serves as a door-opener for corporations as governments exert diplomatic and military pressure on dependent governments. Representatives of the large US corporations and the US diplomacy for instance work hand in hand in developing and securing the access to new investment zones. In this field of interconnections the efforts of some US corporations serve other US corporations as well. In order to do justice to this interconnectedness between corporation and "their" government, critical observers have in the past few years come to replace the delocalized term of multinational corporation by the transnational corporation which is rooted in one country and extends its activities from there beyond the state boundaries (transnationally).

The discourse on globalization easily fits in conspiracy theories. These already appear in the cliché of the disinterest in politics on the level of the nation-state - "Those guys in Berne/Berlin/Vienna do what they want anyway." Beyond the boundaries of the nation-state, as the distance to the relevant decision-making bodies becomes greater, the propensity to see conspiracies really breaks out.

It is not any longer the processes of production and of capital accumulation that are at the center of the attention, but clubs of influential men (and some women) who negotiate among themselves the future of the world behind closed doors. The outrage about the initially secret negotiations at the OECD played an essential role in the mobilization against the MAI. Since in this reading the actors of "globalization" are so powerful and their business so mysterious, it is hardly possible to oppose any resistance to them. Thus the work of the conspiracy theorists limits itself to the missionary "enlightment" about the dangers of the "New World Order" (a term that finds itself reified in the abbreviation NWO used on web sites drawn to conspiracy theories [12]), the Bilderberg meetings [13] or the World Economic Forum [14].

A substantial part of even the leftist variants of the discourse on "globalization" work through emotionalizing, calling upon fears about the threat on one's livelihood represented by "multinational corporations". This is very pronounced in the struggles against Monsanto and other gene technological corporations, for instance. Such emotionalizing distracts from societal analyses and makes people receptive for other emotionalized discourses - including those from the right-wing.

In parts of the ecological left the perceived threat on their livelihoods is not seen so much as a power relation between social groups, but as the destruction of "Mother Earth" by a "modern world" gone astray. Traditionally leftist ideas about self-management and autonomy get mixed with discourses on regionalism which tend towards racism, and leftist criticism of technology receives support from essentialist and fascistoid discourses about living in harmony with "nature", "according to the natural social laws of Gaia" (to quote Edward Goldsmith [15], the founder and chief editor of "The Ecologist", a newspaper that is widely read internationally, also by leftists).

Retorsion can, if we take those criteria into account, be made much more difficult. In the preparations for the Innercity Action Week in Germany in June 1997, many activists acquired the requisite know-how for analyses of the world market, of the competition between economic locations and the myths of globalization which would not so easily yield to retorsion. The close look at local consequences of global processes, the analysis well rooted in the material, and especially the connection made with a critical assessment of "public space" including the mechanisms of its racist regulation, are hard to integrate into a right-wing discourse.

During the preparations for the protests in Seattle, right-left overlaps were repeatedly brought up. One of the grassroots networks involved, the PGA (Peoples' Global Action against "free" trade and the WTO [16]), decided at its second conference in Bangalore, India, in August to direct its struggle no longer against "free" trade, but against capitalism. But the preparations for Seattle also made it clear that for a massive mobilization, a broad alliance was possible and desirable. The more radical groups and activists seem to have succeeded in the time before the actions to set forth their criticism of attitudes prone to retorsion to a wider audience. Especially the caravans inspired by the PGA [17], with their numerous stops, actions and events on the way to Seattle offer plenty of opportunities to approach people who have not so far been internationally networked, and to build up a reliable network in the USA also.


1 Reports can be found in the PGA Bulletin No. 2, <>.

2 Cf. Geneva Business Declaration, <>.

3 Michael Paulson: Business Leaders Fight Back Against Anti-WTO Forces. In: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 24 September 1999. <>.

4 Sam Howe Verhovek: For Seattle, Triumph and Protest. In: New York Times, 13 October 1999. <>.

5 Geov Parrish: Shutting down Seattle. In: Seattle Weekly, 19-25 August 1999. <>.

6 For a critical description, cf. <>.

7 Chip Berlet: Beware Right Wing Anti-Globalism. Political Research Associates, October 1999. <>.

8 This and other articles about right-wing influences on leftist campaigns can be found on <>.

9 Taguieff, Pierre-André: Die ideologischen Metamorphosen des Rassismus und die Krise des Antirassismus (The Ideological Metamorphoses of Racism and the Crisis of Antiracism). In: Bielefeld, Uli (Hg.): Das Eigene und das Fremde. Neuer Rassismus in der alten Welt? Hamburg 1991. pp. 221-268 (The Self and the Other. New Racism in the Old World?). Cf. also Schönberger, Klaus: Überlegungen zur Retorsion der Sozialen Frage, AZ-Seminar in Pesina (6.9.-13.9.1997) (Reflections on the Retorsion of the Social Question); as well as Terkessidis, Mark: Kulturkampf. Volk, Nation, der Westen und die Neue Rechte. Köln 1995, pp. 67 ff (Kulturkampf. People, Nation, the West and the New Right).

10 Stein, Dieter: Es geht um die Freiheit der Völker. Die Euro-Klage: Karl A. Schachtschneider zum juristischen Kampf gegen die Währungsunion, in: Junge Freiheit 4/98 (This Is About the Freedom of the Peoples. The Euro Court Action: Karl A. Schachtschneider About the Juridical Struggle Against the Monetary Union). Cf. also Jungle World 98, Issues 04, 05 und 14.

11 For a rebuttal of the myth of the state that abolishes itself through the MAI negotiations, cf. Peter Decker: Verkehrte Aufregung über das MAI - Die Staaten verschärfen ihre Standortkonkurrenz ... und Linke sorgen sich um das Überleben des Nationalstaates, Junge Welt, 29. April 1998, <> (False Exasperation About the MAI - The States Increase Their Competition Between Economic Locations ... and the Left Are Worried About the Survival of the Nation-State). More generally on the changed role of a still strong nation-state, Joachim Hirsch: Vom Sicherheitsstaat zum nationalen Wettbewerbsstaat, ID-Verlag, Berlin 1998 (From the Security State to the National Competition State).

12 Examples abound, cf. for instance <>.

13 A potpourri containing partly probably historical descriptions, partly imaginative conspiracy theories can be found on <>. The entire world elite is said to meet annually in the Bilderberg group in order to decide on the future of humanity.

14 See the official web pages of the World Economic Forum on <>. Besides the annual meetings in Davos, a number of regional meetings take place, like the one about Eastern Europe (in Salzburg, Austria) or about South-East Asia (Beijing and Shanghai).

15 Krebbers, Eric (De Fabel van de illegaal): Goldsmith and his Gaian hierarchy, <>. Gaia is the personified Earth in the Greek mythology (Theogony according to Hesiodos) and serves as a symbol to conservative environmental movements.

16 Cf. <>.

17 Cf. for the trans-US caravan <>, for the Canadian caravan <>.

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