FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From New York to Porto Alegre

by C.G. Estabrook

The second month of the second year of the new century began with the two ways open to us set, as it were, side by side. In New York the WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM met privately and secretly, an elite collection of big business leaders, government officials, and their intellectual bodyguards — surrounded by a real bodyguard of thousands of police.

Meanwhile, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, thousands of representatives of popular organizations from more than 110 countries convened publicly in the second annual WORLD SOCIAL FORUM. In New York, the Bill of Rights was suspended in the ways that have become typical for US and other police forces at these businessmen’s meetings; in Brazil, something of the spirit of carnival pervaded the sessions.

The WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM brought together those whom the financial press have called — half in jest, all in earnest — “the Masters of the Universe.” There were roughly four cops for every participant, and attempts to demonstrate against them were harshly controlled. In contrast, the WORLD SOCIAL FORUM opened with a colorful parade under the banner “Another World Is Possible”; thousands of people marched through the center of Porto Alegre, a Brazilian city that has had a labor-based social democratic government for a dozen years, to open a discussion of practical alternatives to the “neoliberal” privatization being cried up in New York.

There were a thousand “masters” in New York and perhaps 70,000 attendees in Porto Alegre, but the disproportion between the world economic elite and the rest of us is much greater. Those who control the disposition of the world’s wealth — and hence the possibilities for the rest of us to employ the talents of our heads and hands — are a tiny group: try as they might (and as the media demonstrate, they do try hard — there was little coverage of the Brazilian meeting in the US press), they cannot keep up the fiction that their interests coincide with those of the rest of us.

More than a hundred and fifty years ago, a now largely forgotten German student of the Greek and Latin classics described the “globalization” that had already come upon the world: “The masters of the universe [not his phrase, but a reasonable translation of it] have, through their exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, they have drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it had stood … They compel all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt their mode of production; they compel them to introduce what they call ‘liberalization’ into their midst, i.e., to become like themselves. In one word, the masters of the universe create a world after their own image.”

And that world is one of sharp and increasing inequality. Noam Chomsky, one of the principal speakers at the WORLD SOCIAL FORUM, points to US government studies (from the Clinton years) showing that neoliberal economic integration will continue and enlarge the gap between “haves” and “have-nots.” The Pentagon stated their simple conclusion: that will produce “turmoil among growing numbers of impoverished people throughout the world, who will have to be controlled by force.” As Chomsky comments, “Apart from the horrendous consequences for the victims, that is also a prescription for global disaster.”

The German student of a century and a half ago was of course Karl Marx, and he concluded his description of actually-existing globalization with a call for more, but of a different sort: “The working people of the world have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries, unite!”

The question is not whether there will be globalization — as Marx noted, it has been around for centuries — but what form it will take. Will world-wide economic integration be under the control of those who met in New York and the people they work for — and therefore continue the subjection of the world’s majority to the authoritarian institutions in which we carry on our working lives — or will it take the forms pioneered in thought and action by the popular organizations meeting in Porto Alegre?

The former are adamant that, in Margaret Thatcher’s favorite phrase, “There is no alternative” — because they own all the important productive property, so decisions about how the world’s wealth is to be invested are in their hands. The latter insist that another world — a human and humane world — is possible. These are “sharply different programs of globalization,” Chomsky concludes. “Apart from whatever else one might think about it, the [New York] version really does threaten the survival of the species. One reason is that the underlying principles, if taken seriously, lead to the conclusion that it is quite rational to destroy the environment for our grandchildren….”

The Hebrew bible — the basis for all modern Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — includes the following exhortation: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Life was on display in Brazil last week; in New York, death.

Carl Estabrook teaches at the University of Illinois and is the host of News From Neptune, a weekly radio show on politics and the media. He writes a regular column for CounterPunch.

More articles by:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail