The Guardian February 9, 2000


Opposing capital

by Rob Gowland

If Seattle demonstrated one thing, it was that the people of the world were 
not going to sit quietly by while big corporations rode roughshod over 
their governments, their rights and their lives.

Despite all the propaganda about the New World Order, the benefits of 
"investing" in stocks and shares and the magical if not divine power of the 
market, people still figured that they were being screwed by rich people 
out to make themselves even richer.

Every world gathering of big business leaders in future looks set to be the 
focus of an international mass protest, as the people engage with the 
champions of imperialism face to face and toe to toe.

On January 29, that confrontation was in Davos, a skiing resort in 
Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum gathers every year to better 
arrange the division and exploitation of the world's markets and resources.

Present on the capitalist side were heads of such corporations as Renault 
and Textron, global speculators like George Soros, politicians like the 
Presidents of Mexico and the United States, the Prime Ministers of Turkey 
and Britain, the Secretary-General of the UN and the Director-General of 
the WTO (no doubt as anxious as anyone to avoid a repetition of Seattle).

On the other side, were a couple of thousand demonstrators (despite a ban 
on demonstrations and a hefty police presence with rubber bullets and tear 
gas) from all over Europe and further afield as well.

Communists, anarchists, environmentalists, anti-poverty activists, all 
determined to maintain the momentum of the Seattle protests.

US union leader John Sweeney said that "if globalisation brings more 
inequality, then it will generate a volatile reaction that will make 
Seattle look tame. Seattle was just the beginning", he warned the corporate 
elite gathered in Davos.

But while a number of those present in the official forums were keen to 
reassure the world of their concern for the poor and the powerless, as 
well as for higher profits and unrestricted access to markets, there 
was unsurprisingly little of any practical value to the former actually 
proposed.

Typically, Goran Lindahl, president and chief executive of ABB, the Swiss-
Swedish engineering company, generously sought to include "society at 
large" among the new stakeholders in business, along with "stockholders, 
employees and customers". (The last two groups would probably be surprised 
to learn that they were "stakeholders" in business).

The most "caring" speeches were delivered by leaders who last year launched 
a devastating war against Yugoslavia and maintain a deadly sanctions regime 
against Iraq: Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Not all their listeners were convinced that the groups protesting against 
their right to rule the world deserved their soft words, however insincere.

According to the correspondent of the British weekly The Guardian, 
"some of the American chief executives in the bars after [Blair's speech] 
were muttering darkly that for all his fine pro-business words Blair was 
too much of a `liberal' for them."

Some, like the President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, tried to take the high 
moral ground, stoutly, if illogically, maintaining that the global 
corporations and their political supporters were really all about rescuing 
the people of the Third World from poverty free trade, which he claimed, 
"creates jobs".

He scornfully labelled the critics of big business in Seattle and Davos "a 
curious alliance of forces from the extreme left, environmentalists and 
other self-appointed critics in a common endeavour  to save the people of 
developing countries from development".

But despite the shock of the Seattle demonstrations, and the realisation 
that an anti-big business, anti-free trade movement is growing in the 
world, the prevailing mood among the participants at Davos was still one of 
triumphalism. Capitalism is on top and riding high.

The sentiment is shared even by bourgeois commentators who are themselves 
critical of the big corporations' concept of a new world order: the British 
weekly The Guardian gloomily informing its readers that "the forces 
which might challenge this vision are weak  organised labour is stale and 
has no alternative case, national governments grow ever feebler and 
socialism as an idea has lost all its capacity to animate".

Strange lines to write in the aftermath of Seattle and during the protests 
in Davos.

The people are challenging capital. Organised labour is reviving in 
the developed world and is very lively in Third World countries. People and 
governments are increasingly standing up for their sovereignty and 
socialism is regaining the ground it lost.

Capitalism is the system in crisis, and the people in Seattle and in Davos 
are helping to dig its grave.

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