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Globalization and the New Political Movements

by Peter Ulrich Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2009 at 10:34 AM

Attac, a global justice network in many European countries, demands closing off-shore tax havens and debt cancellation for the third world. The word globalization has a function as a threat. Be flexible because capital is flexible and the state can do nothing!


The Planet in Upheaval

By Peter Ulrich [1]

[This essay published in 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.rosa-luxemburg-stiftung-sachsen.de/ebook/2005-10-25-ullrich.pdf&ei=XbifSvilDJP6MOT9neYP&sa=X&oi=spellmeleon_result&resnum=1&ct=result&usg=AFQjCNG1OMZV8OWpGI6XrVESv-7pOG9irw.

Peter Ulrich is a professor of economic ethics at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and author of "Integrative Economic Ethics: Foundations of a Civilized Market Economy"..]


In the media democracy, Attac emphasizes the theme globalization criticism. My subject here is Globalization and the New Political Movement. First I will outline the history of this new movement that is often labeled “globalization criticism.” In the second part, we will discuss whether one or several movements should be our theme. There is homogeneity and heterogeneity within this protest spectrum. I will refer in particular to the organization of a certain protest event, namely the protests against the G8 summit in Genoa in the summer of 2001 and develop several theses. There are two reasons for this focus. Firstly, Genoa was the last great peak in attention for the movements and secondly a spirit literature exists. [2] In conclusion, I will present several theses on relations of Left political forces and heterogeneous social movements.


If one believes the 2001 annual report of the Swiss police’s “Office of Analysis and Prevention,” then the roots of the “Movement against Globalization” go back to 1994. At that time the North Atlantic Free trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect. 3000 indigenous farmers of the EZLN (Zapatista army of national liberation) revolted and demonstrated in the Mexican state of Chiapas against this agreement and in general for democracy, social justice and self-determination and against “exploitation and oppression.” Their protest concentrated on a transnational structure (NAFTA). The protest itself was transnational. Solidarity with the Zapatistas and criticism of the actions of the Mexican government were central. Today the “summit hotheads” as they were often called speak positively of the Zapatistas and their struggle.

The protests against the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) in 1997 were another event that is important for its history. The MAI was an attempt of the OECD countries to adjust the investment conditions for firms in all states that are recognized today by the WTO, GATT etc. The agreement provided only rights and no obligations for corporations. In addition, the agreement should be effective for all countries although only the club of the richest negotiated them. The “third world” was excluded from the negotiation process. “Anti-globalization activists” were prominent in 1997.

The first great peak in mobilization and publicity occurred with the protests against the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999. Seattle was the “mantra of a worldwide protest movement,” as Claus Leggewie once formulated. The mass protests prevented the meeting from taking place since all the participants could not reach the conference site. The meeting was adjourned early largely because of the opposition between the negotiating partners. “Globalization critics” arrived in the public consciousness.

Wherever the true beginning of the “anti-globalization movement” may lie, the fact is this movement stands in a long tradition and is joined to networks. In the 1980s, there were also protests against bug summits. For example, 30,000 persons demonstrated against the G7 summit in Koln and Bonn in 1985. In 1988, 80,000 demonstrated against the meeting of the World Bank and the IMF in West Berlin. These demonstrations were only possible because there was a large network of leftist development-, peace- and other groups. Since the 1990s, a process of transnationalization has marked these protests. Internationality is no longer only guaranteed today by foreign greeters.

In the meantime there are signs of an institutionalization of segments of the movement. This appears in the association of certain themes, slogans and actions with the “anti-globalization” movement. The counter-summit and the social forums are such actions. Typical slogans are heard again and again like “Our world is not for sale” and “Another world is possible.” Symbols turn up again and again, mostly representing the earth.

Political groups and networks were also founded explicitly in connection with the summit protests and the globalization theme, like Attac, People’s Global Action and Indymedia.

People’s Global Action (PGA) is not a rigid organization but an open network and means for the coordination and communication of groups and movements. Participating groups keep their full autonomy. People’s Global Action was founded in 1998 out of base movements on all continents to link worldwide resistance. There is no membership or centralization. The principles of PGA are:

1. a clear rejection of the WTO and other liberalization agreements (like APEC, the EU, NAFTA and so forth) and active institutions of a socially and ecologically destructive globalization;

2. a rejection of all systems of rule and discrimination including but not limited to patriarchy, racism and all kinds of religious fundamentalism. We recognize the full dignity of all people;

3. a confrontational attitude because lobbying can have a considerable influence in an undemocratic organization swayed by transnational capital;

4. a call to nonviolent civil disobedience and building local alternatives by the local population as an answer to the activities of governments and corporations;

5. a decentralized and autonomous organization philosophy.

Attac was founded in 1997 in France around the former chief editor of the journal “Le Monde diplomatique,” Ignacio Ramonet. The name “Association pour une Taxation de Transactions finaciers pour l’Aide aux Citoyen-ne-s” (Association for Taxation of Financial Transactions to Benefit Citizens) refers to Attac’s main initial demand, the so-called Tobin tax on border-crossing capital flows to slow down the mobility of capital and thus stabilize the international financial system. In addition, Attac demands closing offshore tax havens and debt cancellation for the “third world.” With 90,000 members and affiliates in 50 countries, Attac is not a single-issue group any more. For example, Attac Germany joined in the mobilization against the Afghanistan war in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and against the Iraq war in the spring of 2003. The theme economic globalization and the summit protests are main areas of action. In Germany, there are several thousand members and many large organizations like the service union ver.di and the German Alliance for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND). Attac plays a special role in the so-called anti-globalization protests.

Indymedia offers a media platform for summit hotheads. Its genesis is mainly connected with the protests of Seattle. The reporting of the middle class press about leftist social criticism is notorious. As a rule, there is only reporting about violence but usually not about the violence of the police. Indymedia wanted to counter this with its own reports of activists. In its media tents, direct eyewitness accounts, photos and videos could be put on the Internet and instantly made available worldwide.


My study analyzes the protest against the G* summit in Genoa in the summer of 2001. After the famous “Battle of Seattle,” Genoa was the main focus of attention for “globalization critics.” Up to 300,000 people demonstrated in the Italian city against the policy of the G8, capitalism, debt cancellation and the flagrant injustices of this world. The violent excesses of the police unparalleled in Italy since the 1970s included a dead demonstrator – shot by a Carabineer and run over by a police jeep. An ominous black bloc threw stones and set ablaze banks, businesses, houses and cars – big flashy cars and small trucks. All in all, this was a sensational event.

The organization of this tremendous event was in the hands of large alliances. I analyzed the differences in these alliances that usually are very heterogeneous and what made the differences bearable.


Three examples from the calls to protest illustrate the colorful spectrum of protest. The Christian campaign Jubilee 2000 called people to protest in the following text:

“In Geneva, the next G7 summit will take place. We must show we are not satisfied with past debt cancellation measures. Debt cancellation is imperative.”

Further on we read:

“Genoa is a city on the Ligurian sea with mountains a few miles away at its back. Genoa has the charm of a small ancient city that attracts tourists with its very narrow streets and alleyways offering protection from the hot summer sun in July. In addition, there are several wide streets and a large number of museums and historical buildings.”

Without the tourist accent, the description of the Italian anarchist network sounds very different.

“The G8 will meet in Genoa, Italy from July 20 to 22. This meeting of the most powerful is a spectacular display of the unparalleled concentration of the political and economic powers of the world. The so-called globalization process will divide the future world into rich and poor. The population of whole continents will starve to death. Whole population groups will be marginalized within individual nations, all kinds of jobs endangered and every form of social security eliminated where jobs still survive. All this will happen in the name of profit and capitalist accumulation without norms or laws. At the same time social control is being strengthened within individual states and through international repression machines like the police and the military. We must resist all this.

The battle cry by the Antifa from Gottingen was even clearer:

Smash capitalism! – Fight fortress Europe!

is a reference to the racist screening of the EU from migrants!

In these three examples, very heterogeneous themes are represented and very different cultures meet one another. This heterogeneity was typical for all planes of this mobilization…


Conceptual Clarification and Leftist Positions

By Peter Ulrich

[This essay published 10/25/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.rosa-luxemburg-stiftung-sachsen.de/ebook/2005-10-25-ullrich.pdf&ei=XbifSvilDJP6MOT9neYP&sa=X&oi=spellmeleon_result&resnum=1&ct=result&usg=AFQjCNG1OMZV8OWpGI6XrVESv-7pOG9irw.

Peter Ulrich is a professor of economic ethics at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and author of “Integrative Economic Ethics.”]


The challenge of explaining globalization and leftist positions on globalization is not easy. A clear answer to this question is impossible because too much is hidden behind this many-sided term. Nevertheless several aspects of the discussion could help us understand the different meaning of the triad globalization-neoliberalism-left.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were two of the earliest globalization theoreticians. In the 19th century, a time of free trade under English hegemony, they wrote in: “The German Ideology (1846):

“In past history, individuals were enslaved under foreign powers with the extension of activity to the world plane. This enslavement is an empirical fact. This power has increasingly proven to be a world power.”

[Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology in: MEW, vol.3]

After this retrospect, there is also an outlook, namely the comment that history in communism will ultimately become world history. Two years later in the Communist Manifesto, a very wise and powerful specification was made:

“The need for constantly expanding sales for their products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole globe. Everywhere they must settle, grow and make connections.

Through the exploitation of the world market, the bourgeoisie organizes the production and consumption of all countries in a cosmopolitan way… Very old national industries are pushed back by new industries that process raw materials from the most distant zones instead of indigenous raw materials. A general traffic, an all-round dependence of nations on each other, replaces the old local and national contentedness…”

[Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in: MEW, vol.4]

The two authors did not use the word globalization but described something that can easily be understood today as globalization. For them, “globalization” would be the annexation of the whole world in the process of the exploitation of assets, the annexation of all countries and spheres in capitalism.

Ten persons questioned today on the theme “What is Globalization?” would offer at least seven different opinions. Globalization is a many-sided word. The Germanist Uwe Porksen calls it a “connotative stereotype in that it means `everything and nothing,’ sounds academic and presses for realization.” [Lutz Niethammer: Collective Identity. Secret Sources of an Incredible Economy, 2000] Very different and even contradictory phenomena, processes and structures are hidden behind this term. Political associations and action imperatives are awakened that are very vague and ambiguous.


Winfried Wolf writes: “For many years, trade in the capitalist world economy has grown faster than the domestic economy of large regions. This development is commonly described as globalization.”

[Wolf, Winfried 2005: Balance of Terror. A Glance at the World Economy, in: Konkret no.4, p.24-28] Globalization seems to involve the economy, especially trade.

A longer description is found in the program of the German Left party (Die Linke): “Globalization is the term for the present development trend of the world economy marked by three factors: information technology, lower transportation costs and the politically enforced deregulation of markets – above all of the financial markets.”


For the Left party, globalization involves the economy and trade and also information technology and deregulation of financial markets. Coming from a very different discourse, the political scientist Michael Zuern describes globalization as “un-simultaneous de-nationalization.” Another dimension of meaning is added. The increasingly unimportant nation state as a framework and control authority seemingly belongs to the term globalization. The social- and cultural-globalization discourse involves the economy and politics and also globalization of culture, consumption and music.

Cannot everything be included in globalization? In most countries, there are national specialty restaurants. There are Chinese restaurants, almost everywhere and typically McDonalds franchises. Is that globalization? American music and German cars are enjoyed in all countries. Beethoven is known all over the world and people listen to jazz. Is that also globalization? People today often have friends abroad and can easily visit them if they are affluent. A cosmopolitan class of artists is at home in the metropolises of this world, not in one country. Is that also globalization? These cultural developments are also treated in the globalization discourse. Some of the most important cultural theories of globalization should be named here.

For example, the thesis of “McDonaldization” by George Ritzer is a variant of the so-called homogenization theses that assume a worldwide adjustment of culture through globalization. McDonaldization is also a typical example for hyper-globalization positions that glorify globalization as something very important and new. In his book, Ritzer treats the worldwide acceptance of cultural consumer patterns according to the US fast-food restaurants model – that is, the Americanization of world culture.

The polarization thesis presented by Benjamin Barber in his book “Coca Cola and Holy War” is in partial opposition to the homogenization thesis. He describes a dialectical relation (contradictory and yet mutually conditioned) between global western-dominated homogenization one one side and Jihad on the other side. He portrays Jihad as the violent and dogmatic movement that starts from one specific meaning of Islamic mission against every homogenization of non-Islamic fundamentalists.

The theory of “glocalization” (Robertson’s word creation from “globalization” and “local”) and the world society thesis (Meyer) emphasize the teamwork or interplay of regional/local on one side and global determinants of social processes on the other side. Meyer sees global cultural models that spread learning on the basis of imitation learning and are regionally very differently adjusted to make something particular. That is why with all homogenization, there are kosher burgers at McDonalds in Israel.


The public debate on globalization turns mainly around the political and economic aspects. In the following, I will limit myself to this core area. Not without reason, I begin with Marx who saw market forces operating globally.

In their book “Global Transformations,” David Held and his colleagues Jonathan Peraton, David Goldblatt and Anthony McGrew distinguish hyper-globalizers from globalization skeptics. Between them are the balanced transformationalists.

What do the hyper-globalizers say?

· Capital, labor and information – everything is mobile!

· Problems are global, e.g. the environment

· Civil society is global

· Distances disappear, space becomes minor

· The nation state loses significance

· The world economy is completely integrated (Tucholsky: “The world economy is interwoven and linked”)

· Multinational corporations produce for a worldwide market with worldwide sources of resources

· The development in the capital market is most raging

· Capital is so mobile all locations must be ordered according to its conditions and offer the best conditions

· The basis for globalization is the immense informational linkage of the world (1st intercontinental telegraph cable 1866, today the Internet and shifting of capital in seconds)

That the largest corporations, the so-called multinational corporations, have sales greater than the annual budgets of whole states fits in this picture!

The globalization skeptics have powerful arguments:

· The nation state has not become entirely irrelevant. The economy is still very strongly nationally oriented!

· Financial and trade streams grow in an internationalization happening between national economies. The nation state can still act!

· International trade occurred in the time of the gold currency (around the turn to the 20th century). That trade grew internationally after 1945 is only a return to the status quo ante.

· All this is not global but a regionalization.

· Of the largest 200 firms, 187 have their headquarters in only 13 countries (77 in the US, 28 in Japan, 20 in Germany and France and 16 in Britain).

· The bulk of world trade occurs within the three great blocks of the triad: the US/NAFTA, the EU and Japan.

Thus we face the phenomenon of transnationalization in the large economic blocks. For example, only a minimal part of world trade is transacted with Africa. Africa is a loser of a very unequal "globalization.” The worldwide distribution of Internet use is a symptomatic example for the inconsistency of globalization. In Africa, there are 1% of worldwide Internet users although 14% of the world’s population lives there.

Basic questions are controversial in the globalization discourse. What is globalization? Is globalization something new? What areas does it concern? What are its counter-tendencies?

Finally, what happens when everything is included under this many-sided word? Why are there McDonalds and German cars everywhere? Why can capital be transferred in seconds? Is this only possible because of the Internet?

Held et.al. raise the most important argument against the hyper-globalizers. This argument reflects a political perspective. What does the left say?


The left should focus first on the term and its function.

In the political debate, the term globalization must take the rap for everything possible, for example that BMW in Leipzig will receive 50 million euro not to build its plant in Chechnya. Globalization justifies this gift of capital or that wages must be cut and working hours lengthened because the firm would otherwise move production abroad. This is substantiated with globalization pressure. Cutting social spending and reducing termination protection and other social securities is justified this way. We live in the age of globalization. We must keep pace on a global market. To that end, we must liberalize everything and make everything more flexible. Thus the word globalization has a certain function as a threat. This threat is often made actual: Be flexible because capital is flexible and the state can do nothing! Two themes exist side by side here:

1) The political-economic globalization discourse is connected intensely with neoliberalism. So-called globalization opponents mostly criticize “neoliberal globalization.”

2) Globalization is represented as a natural process, as a practical necessity that cannot be opposed. This is the argument of business associations and German politicians of all parties.

Let us look again at the Marx quotation:

“The need for constantly expanding sales for their products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole globe. The bourgeoisie must settle everywhere, grow everywhere and make connections everywhere.

The bourgeoisie organize the production and consumption of all countries in a cosmopolitan way through exploitation of the world market… Old industries are displaced by new industries. Raw materials from the most remote areas are processed and no longer indigenous raw materials… An all-pervasive traffic, a general dependence of nations on each other, replaces the old local and national contentedness.”

[Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party” in: MEW, vol..4]

Although everything does not ring true here, this text has two great strengths from a contemporary perspective. Concrete actors are named who are interested in producing this many-sided traffic, the world-spanning market. And so-called globalization is not a natural law process that simply occurs to which we are handed over.

The need of capital underlies this phenomenon. Capital is forced to constantly exploit itself, to make more money out of money again and again.

Two possibilities exist here. Capital can expand a) downwards or b) horizontally. Capital can (a) try to capitalize more and more areas of life. We experience this. We eat out less in restaurants today. Education is privatized. The freeways, postal services and railroads are all thrown in the exploitation process of capital. The second possibility (b) is horizontal expansion. Those geographic areas that have not yet been commercialized should be subjected to exploitation. This is also happening. Institutions like the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF and the G8 stand behind the two processes. Thus globalization, when we limit ourselves to the economic core, is not simply a natural process but is organized by governments joined together in the above-mentioned institutions. This can be briefly illustrated in the example of the WTO, the World Trade organization.

The WTO’s task consists in promoting trade and dismantling trade barriers. The focus of globalization criticism of the last years was the campaign against GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services), a core of the WTO work. GATS makes as many possible public assets into goods, e.g. the forced privatization of education, culture, medicine, energy, water supply, postal service and telecommunications. The market should take over everything that can be privately supplied, according to GATS. This is the purest advocacy of capital interests. Vital public necessities should become profitable markets (e.g. expansion of capital in the depths).

In addition, these agreements open up these market segments in countries and regions that previously were organized in traditional production methods (in subsistence economies) making possible a horizontal expansion. The means for this are the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and the World Bank. If a country wants credits from these institutions, this program is imposed. The country has to neo-liberalize and open its markets for foreign corporations. Global players can easily drive down local industries.

Leftist criticism of this kind of globalization starts here. Social movements that are called globalization critics are obviously not against the Internet. As a rule, they are not against Chinese restaurants. They fight against transnational institutions that are determined to enforce neoliberal market principles where it benefits the interests of the richest countries.

Leftist criticism of globalization is as heterogeneous as the interpretations of the term globalization.

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