Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No logic (2003)

Book Review from the May 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fences and Windows. By Naomi Klein. Flamingo, 2002.
The protests in Seattle, London, Genoa and many other places between 1999 and 2001 gave rise not just to labels such as J18 but also to a widespread movement known variously as anti-corporate, anti-globalisation and even anti-capitalist. Naomi Klein's book No Logo came to be seen as a manifesto for this movement, and Klein herself as a spokesperson for it, despite her protestations to the contrary on both counts. No Logo (on which see the Socialist Standard for December 2000 and August 2001) chronicled the rise of massive global companies such as Nike and McDonalds, and of resistance to them. Klein's latest book is explicitly not a follow-up to her earlier work, though inevitably it deals with similar issues.
Fences and Windows consists of a selection of Klein's journalism and speeches, mainly from 2000 and 2001, and this is both its strength and its weakness. It gains immediacy from having been written in the midst or the aftermath of demos, protests and large-scale discussions, but lacks any overall theme or coherence. Nevertheless, a number of topics that it deals with can be singled out. The fences of the title are the (literal and metaphorical) barriers that prevent people from protesting, from using various resources and from gaining access to education and so on. And the windows are the various kinds of opposition, from mass efforts at direct democracy to landless Brazilian farmers cutting down fences around unused land.
A chapter written in Prague is interesting for what it reveals of the views of many young Czechs. They see both capitalism and “communism” (read: state capitalism) as centralising power in the hands of a few and of treating people as less than fully human. The issue is not whether the state or multinationals are in power, but of how power is distributed. As argued in other pieces, poor countries are required to follow the economic rules laid down by the rich – who then disregard them themselves when they see fit. Post 9/11, even Canada has been forced by the US to toughen security at its borders, and give up a great deal of control over them to US security officials.
The power-holders have of course not just sat idly by while the protesters make their protests. As a way to avoid the objectors, they have moved some of their meetings to virtually inaccessible places. More worryingly, protest and dissent have themselves been criminalised, with police violence becoming more or less the norm, with prominent resisters being arrested on trumped-up charges and so kept out of the way during demonstrations, and with all civil disobedience being equated with violence. (This has become worse since the invasion of Iraq, especially in the US, with any protest regarded as helping “the nation's enemies”.)
The final section of the book turns to positive proposals. A chapter entitled “Limits of Political Parties” attacks the New Democratic Party, Canada's nearest equivalent of the Labour Party (Klein is herself Canadian, and this piece originally appeared in a Toronto newspaper). Klein notes that the most socially excluded parts of Canada's population support “an idea entirely absent from the mainstream left: a deep distrust of the state”. While the NDP advocates strong interventionist central government, a true left-wing party should “articulate a different vision, one founded on local democracy and sustainable economic development”. The last chapter proposes a merger of two forces, international anti-globalisation activists and community-based organizations.
But there is still no real picture of a society to replace capitalism, or of what the real implications of local democracy and sustainability might be. These cannot be valued or implemented in a world divided along the lines of class and nation, where profit is the priority. A thoroughgoing change to a world without classes, nations, governments or profit is needed. Sadly, Klein and the rest of the anti-globalisation movement, despite the sincerity and effectiveness of much of their critique of capitalism, have taken the first steps but have yet to see through to the genuine alternative.
Paul Bennett

Spot the difference (2009)

The Cooking the Books column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The British National Party has an economic policy? Apparently, and it's not just send all non-white people (and Poles) back to where they came from and give their jobs to British workers. Their manifesto for last month's European elections said:
“All the old parties are in the pockets of the banks and big business. Lab-Lib-Con all pretend to be worried about job losses but have allowed globalisation to destroy jobs and drag down wages . . . We will protect British jobs from cut-throat foreign competition and put British workers first – every time!”
How they propose to do this can be found on their website:
“Globalisation has caused the export of jobs and industries to the Far East, and has brought ruin and unemployment to British industries and the communities who depend on them. Accordingly, the BNP calls for the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports. We will ensure that our manufactured goods are, wherever possible, produced in British factories, employing British workers. When this is done, unemployment in this country will be brought to an end and secure, well-paid employment will flourish.” (http://bnp.org.uk/tag/bnp-economic-policy/)
That's easier said than done. Basically, it's a proposal to try to isolate capitalist Britain from the world market. But this couldn't be done without making things worse.
It is naïve to assume that if a British government imposed a "selective exclusion of foreign-made goods", i.e. protectionism, the governments of other capitalist countries would just take this lying down. They would adopt similar measures aimed at selectively excluding British, i.e. for them "foreign", imports. British manufacturing exports would be bound to suffer. Unemployment would return (if it ever disappeared) and "secure, well-paid employment" would wither not flourish.
The BNP was not the only party to advocate such a pie-in-the-sky policy as a supposed way to secure jobs and end unemployment. Here is what the No2EU list, led by Bob Crow of the RMT union and supported by the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star) and the ex-Militant Tendency Trotskyists:
“Nation states with the right to self-determination and their governments are the only institutions that can control the movement of big capital and clip the wings of the trans-national corporations and banks. . . . To revitalise the economy, Britain must return to creating wealth based especially in manufacturing, hi-tech and trade across the world . . . To return to an economy based on manufacturing requires massive investment and where appropriate protection of home industries. It is the only way to ensure jobs and a decent safe future for the peoples of Britain.” (http://www.no2eu.com/economiccrisis.html)
They don’t explain any more than the BNP where the profitable market for these extra manufacturing goods is to come from. They, too, dream of a national capitalism permanently providing high wages and steady jobs.
No wonder the groups that made up No2EU refuse to debate with the BNP. When it comes to economic policy, it wouldn't be much of a debate as they wouldn't find much to disagree about, especially as the BNP also advocates "the renationalisation of monopoly utilities and services, compensating only individual investors and pension funds". We, on the other hand, are prepared to debate against both of them (together if need be, to save time) and put the socialist case that, as capitalism is already a world system, there are no national solutions to the problems it causes for workers and that the only answer is go forward to world-wide socialism not back to the Nation State.
For more on the BNP, see:


  • From the July 2009 Socialist Standard, 'Who's afraid of the BNP?'