Anti-Corporatism: An Overview of Resistance to Globalization

January 1999

 

Since WWII the United States has played a leading role in defining economic means and ends internationally, and most of the world has come in line with the visions and strategies put forth. This leadership has been accomplished through secretive domestic and international organizations that have built consensus among economic elites and indoctrinated political leaders to assure their cooperation. These organizations include the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (founded 1918), the U.S.-European Bilderberg (founded 1954), the U.S. Business Roundtable (founded 1972), and the U.S.-European-Japanese Trilateral Commission (founded 1973). [Sklar 1980] While none of these organizations has jurisdiction or authority to make policy, many of their members do, so the consensus achieved within the ranks of these organizations has been effectively transferred into consistent domestic and international policies. It is through these organizations that "economic globalization has been crafted and carried forward as a policy agenda largely outside the public discourse." [Korten 1995: 133] As Lori Wallach emphasizes, this agenda "took a lot of planning" and is now being promoted as "evolutionary" and "inevitable". Creation of the World Trade Organization took seven years of tedious negotiation. [at IFG3 1997] Caufield [1997] argues that free trade policies were developed experimentally by the IMF and World Bank.

Brecher and Costello call Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) part of a "Corporate Agenda", a planned international project to achieve "downward leveling" not only by pitting workers against each other and driving wages down, but also through "harmonization" of pollution, product safety, labor law, worker safety, and protected local markets. [1994: 4-5] (The problem with harmonization is not the idea of worldwide standards, but the process through which FTAs produce harmonization.) Elites use the desperation of the poor to justify any form of economic activity, no matter how unsafe, as providing people with needed "opportunities". Corporations’ ability to externalize the costs of workers’ health means that Maquilladora workers become unemployable after 3-4 years of work. [IFG3 1997] People of color internationally are brutalized by globalization. [Sivanandan 1989] In almost every locality, small businesses now face competition from powerful multinational corporations, who use huge advertising budgets to monopolize and homogenize cultural preferences, cut prices based on their socially costly comparative advantage, have eliminated costly regulations and protectionist policies of all kinds, and now have the very definition of competition legally defined in their interest.

"Free trade" is really forced trade, in which local control over economies is superseded by the most powerful global interests and subjected to their law. In 1974, Barnet & Müller summarized the concerns of the business world as the need for "acceptance of the global corporation as the most effective and rational force to develop and distribute the resources of the world. In short, political legitimacy." [24] By 1995 it is a fait accompli that industry (and its public relations agents) has "convinced the public that the corporate interest is the public interest." [Korten 1995: 143] Corporate leaders acknowledge their accomplishments: When asked what had changed in the last 25 years, David Rockefeller said "Corporations were just standing on the sidelines then. Now we’re in the driver’s seat." Meanwhile, citizens are reduced to consumers, and rights are narrowed to the right to consume — thus the only role for the public sphere is facilitating that consumption. According to McKinsey & Co. Japan’s Kenichi Ohmae, the only role left for "obsolete" governments is "ensuring that their people have the widest range of choice among the best and the cheapest goods and services from around the world." [in Korten 1995: 127] The only difference between postmodern corporate colonialism and modern European colonialism is that corporations have slipped their moorings and are no longer responsible to nations. They have advanced from agents of the sovereign to sovereign agents accountable to no political entity.

Anti-Corporatism

How can economic globalization be opposed? I’ve just completed a study of movements which are fighting economic globalization. More precisely, I have studied movements which are anti-corporate in some way. Why ‘anti-corporate’? Because corporations are the agents of the actual devastation of globalization and their collective agenda is the basis of the instruments of globalization, the Free Trade Agreements. [Sklair 1998] In studying anti-corporate social movements, I was primarily curious about how these movements understood their enemy and how they imagine rebuilding the world. (I did not evaluate their size, scope, or effectiveness.) As far as I can tell, this is the first systematic study of such movements.

I find the movements to take three general modes of anti-corporatism. While the three modes mirror traditional modes of responding to industrialization, they were arrived at inductively, not theoretically. Of course no movement exists exclusively in one mode, so the modes should be read as archetypes. I studied twenty-nine movements at all, including all those which were at least potentially anti-corporate.

The first mode is what I call "contestation & reform", which is where the most explicit forms of anti-corporatism appear. Collectively, these protest movements are experimenting with ways to bar corporations’ path and turn them back. They include a wide range of types of action and activists and include both old and new movements. Many of these movements work through existing democratic institutions in an effort to restrain corporate power. They include corporate welfare reform and campaign finance reform, peace and human rights movements, the explicit anti-corporate movements (such as the Alliance for Democracy in the U.S. and the Council of Canadians), and anti-growth movements. Also included here are movements which take direct action to try to weaken corporations, buzzing and stinging them, stealing from them. These movements include popular boycotts, weekly street actions against corporations (the best-known and most international of these is the anti-McDonalds campaign), homeless squatting, and cyberpunk. This mode is the most first world and the most elite of the three modes, but not exclusively so.

Rainforest Action Network has participated actively in the Mitsubishi boycott, struggles to save particular forests in North and South America and Africa, in debates over alternative forestry strategies, and in defense of the rights of indigenous peoples. Their newsletters constantly urge readers to write letters of protest to corporate executives whose companies are destroying rainforests and indigenous peoples’ lives. RAN included a member survey in a 1997 Action Alert, asking members to select the "biggest problem facing the rainforests" from the following list: "transnational corporations, government inaction, or over-population".

This example suggests that the shift to an anti-corporate framework may be increasingly explicit among organizations not initially founded with such a perspective. The emergence of a set of movements that call themselves "anti-corporate", who mobilize against specific corporations as "just one example", has expanded the politics of loyal boycotters, environmentalists, and peace and human rights activists. That research, education, and policy organizations of many political stripes doing basic research (with very little funding), figuring out how to educate and recruit constituencies to stop corporate depredation is a manifestation of the reemergence of praxis in scholarship. Even (especially) cyberpunks, the most disorganized (in social movements terms) of these movements, is self-conscious and articulate about naming the enemy. Strands of the explicit anti-corporate movement have begun to make connections, as, clearly, have politicos in the anti-corporate welfare and campaign reform movements. Radical networks connect peace and human rights activists with much of the explicit anti-corporate movement.

The second mode, known as "global village", "people’s globalization", or "globalization from below" [Falk 1993], refers to the development of a people’s internationalist populism. This is the traditional Marxist vision of "workers of the world" uniting but in a widened framework of dispossession. It is a hopeful vision, which assumes the possibility of international, democratic, non-violent revolution (to be achieved by the rising up of peoples’ movements everywhere), and empirical glimmers of it are indeed emerging. These movements include environmental justice movements, new labor movements, socialist parties, socialist alternative institutions, the anti-FTA movements, and Zapatismo. The movements that fit this mode are interested and capable of alliances, they are (not entirely, but more so) movements of working class people (broadly defined to include peasants, unemployed, and non-union workers), and they hold Western secular democratic humanistic ideals both as goals for their movements and as the anvil on which to shatter corporate rule.

The SouthWest Organizing Project is a well-known U.S. environmental justice organizations. Their largest campaign was against Intel, which received massive state subsidies for locating in New Mexico. SWOP’s newsletter, Voces Unidas, documents SWOP’s development toward an anti-corporate perspective that takes on the many different ways that corporations affect their constituents. The August 1997 issue discussed opposition to a highway through sacred land, water contamination, corporate purchase of water rights, a special section on corporate welfare vs. family welfare, Chicanos’ regaining of the right to collect firewood in national forest, the corporatization of universities, Maquilladora factories’ anti-union activities, a celebration of the UPS strike victory, a critique of money-based electoral politics that seek to divide people of color, and an exposé of border violence in the name of the war on drugs in addition to coverage of Chicano history issues and youth issues. This newsletter, beginning from a local and identity-rooted environmental justice perspective, has become increasingly multi-issue and internationalist.

The distinction between "globalization from below" and protest/confrontation is the expansion of issues and allies into a populism which envisions democratic ascendance over existing political and economic formations. In May 1998, during a meeting of the WTO ministers in Geneva, thousands of youth held an angry "street party" which included breaking into McDonalds franchises. According to observers and interviewers, the youths did not mention GATT. Their anger was articulated against "marginalization of the poor", "centralization of power", and "corporate rule".

The third mode is "relocalization", "delinking" [Amin 1985], or "local sovereignty". It proposes a radical restructuring of political economy as localities voluntarily cut themselves off from the global market and its denizens. This is perhaps the least familiar mode, rarely discussed in scholarship on globalization. I have found its goals and its anti-corporatism articulated by an astonishing array of movements, including anarchists, sustainable development activists, a variety of small business movements (informal markets, anti-"Big Box", punk Do-It-Yourself, community currency, and ethnic entrepreneurship), indigenous peoples’ sovereignty movements, and religious nationalist movements. It is the most international of the three modes. The movements of the third mode, diverse as they are, share several important characteristics: They all call out to people to rediscover basic values, cherish tradition and community, and refuse the goodies of modernity. They assert an alternative epistemology and get right to work building the kind of world they think ought to be, simultaneously celebrating the pleasures of the limitations of locality and undermining colonial interlopers. Relocalization rebuilds the local economy and kicks out colonizing corporations by refusing to participate in their activities. The International NGO forum at the 1992 Rio Conference achieved consensus on the need to rebuild "decentralized relatively self-reliant local economies." Many globalization scholars have called for the articulation of alternative political economies to go along with the confrontational modes. They write without consideration of rather sophisticated alternatives put forth by movements of this mode.

The First National Conference of the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), held October 24-26, 1997 in Los Angeles, provided several valuable insights into the meaning of a radical movement at this historical juncture. Neither the CFSC conference nor the International Forum on Globalization’s [IFG] April "Teach-In on Globalization" included explicit Marxist or socialist analysis. But at CFSC, the sanctity of private property was questioned (by both audience and panelists) during the first panel discussion. Panelists acknowledged small farmers’ need for "secure land tenure" but denied that corporations should have the right to control land. Environmental justice activist Carl Anthony challenged the audience to think about land in the context of a social system in which African Americans and women "used to be property". This radical discussion occurred at a conference at which panelists and audience members were continually joking about how conservatives loved their movement because it is self-help, mutual aid, and "non-ideological". Yet at the IFG Teach-In, a much larger conference, both conservative populism and Marxism were thoroughly excluded. Anti-corporatism and anti-FTA critiques were approximately equivalent. CFSC participants showed complete clarity about Cargill’s behavior and intentions. Shayam Shabaka of the Strong Roots Program (an Oakland CA intergenerational garden project) explains his relationship to his work as "I’m not interested in fighting any battles that aren’t about changing structures."

CFS and other relocalization movements are neither escapist nor apologists for capitalism. They are also not liberal. They speak with clarity about enemies and also determinedly build alternatives. Jerry Brown’s organization, We The People, has regrouped in Oakland with a decentralist focus on Oakland as an "ecopolis". Still critiquing corporations vigorously in daily radio shows, We The People also has established a pesticide-free rooftop vegetable garden and is encouraging economic, housing, and transportation development for Oakland that will articulate environmental and political self-sufficiency. It could be argued that these low-tech, material movements are postmodern, because they address daily life with an integrated vision of change that addresses the episteme. This is why it was so important to coopt sustainable development, to enfold it back into the economic growth paradigm. [see Starr 1998]

Analysis

Many of these movements are not left movements. Few are Marxist. Yet all provide tools, ideas, and models of opposing globalization. Examining these movements enables several kinds of analysis. How do their economic analyses compare with that of scholars of globalization? What mediating tools do they use? What do they suggest for the current shape of social movements?

Theory and vision of the economy: It is certainly the case that most of the anti-corporate movements have no interest in socialism (as they know it). Consistent with critical globalization scholars [Barnet & Müller 1974, Weinberg 1991, The Ecologist 1993, Goldsmith 1993, Khor 1993, Nader et. al., 1993, Barnet & Cavanagh 1994, Korten 1995, Danaher, ed., 1996, IFG 1997], they do not call their enemy "capitalism" but neither are they apologists for it. In careful reading of the diverse movements’ visions, I find that they are interested in important political economic changes. Alongside critical globalization scholars, most of the movements critique growth and consumption as the basis of economic health. They are concerned with dependent development (production of dependent workers, consumers, and communities) and even echo Raghavan’s thesis of "recolonization" [1990], arguing that corporate projects are colonial (in every sense).

It’s interesting to look at which movements do not make these critiques. A glaring example is the labor movement. While emerging labor internationalism is a source of great hope and new strategies employed by a reinvigorated labor movement are exciting, this movement is the least anti-corporate of the movements studied here. Its entire economic vision is about jobs — jobs provided by corporations. The movement has neither a critique of dependency nor an alternate vision of political economy. This finding sheds important light on labor-based approaches to people’s globalization (which is the most commonly theorized approach to anti-globalization). Workers of the world may be uniting, but they have yet put forth a vision of how to rehumanize the economy or to deal with the ecological limitations of an economy based on current —let alone rising— levels of consumption.

In terms of the economic visions of these movements, the most important political economic change is the need to analyze the effects of scale of the economy on communities’ economic health. After spending a lot of time wrestling with religious nationalism, and why it made sense to me (and only to me) to include it, however tentatively, in the study, I realized that religious nationalisms’ attempts to reassert what Mark Juergensmeyer calls "moral order" over the economy is a way to re-appropriate the means of production. [1993] The small business movement, too, uses moral terms, emphasizes externalities, defines business in relation to a community, eschews convenience and artificially low prices, and denies the legitimacy of corporate acts. This could be understood as an attempt to change the rules (cosmology) of capitalism without actually resigning. (Yet it is certainly not reformist.) A political economy attentive to scale encourages the application of anti-colonial political and economic critiques to first world and sub-national areas.

Mediative Tools: How do the movements come to their anti-corporatism? Democracy is an important tool. Several of the movements use analytic tools derived from alternative epistemologies or those developed by humanitarian, racial liberation, and environmental movements.

None of the movements subscribe to what Macpherson [1977] terms "equilibrium democracy", the height of liberalism, in which voters are political consumers choosing from a small menu of choices provided by elite political entrepreneurs. Collectively the movements are articulating a critical form of democracy that begins to move away from liberal models. This takes two distinct forms: an interest in Leveller/Rousseauian democracy based on equality between smallholders (often with distinct limits on the size and rights of private property) and a return to J.S. Mill’s notion of developmental democracy, which Macpherson describes as morally uplifting. [47-8]

Movements of the second mode, "globalization from below", the mode espoused by humanitarian leftists, are those whose goals are those of socialist democracy. It is primarily in this mode that we find movements aspiring to all three of Green’s [1985] social democratic criteria. In other modes, the only movements which aspire to all three of Green’s criteria (greater material equity, equal rights, fuller participation in decision-making) are Anarchy and Punk DIY (which see some Rousseauian system as the basis for equal rights) and Indigenous Sovereignty movements. However, it is important to note that one or two of these social democratic goals are indeed held by all sorts of movements in all of the modes. Movements of the second mode (and to a lesser extent those of the first mode) rely most on statist bureaucratic approaches to achieving democracy. [Boron 1995]

Rousseauian and liberal democracy are held fairly equally in the first mode. Liberal is stronger in the second mode and Rousseauian is stronger in the third mode. The third mode is interested in Rousseauian and socialist democracy, but not in state-based, regulatory approaches to achieving those social goals. Many (but not all) relocalization movements practice forms of democracy (including consensus) within their organizations, but more importantly, their assertion of local autonomy is a form of deep democracy. For example: In early 1997, the Tribal Areas, which are about 7% of India, partly in response to GATT, declared the village to be the highest form of government. The kinds of issues multi-national corporations are trying to control via FTAs will require adjudication village-by-village, through local decision-making bodies.

In his 1980 Terms of Order, Cedric Robinson suggests that democratic logics are infected by the Western notion of political order not only in the political realm, but in other aspects of society as well. He argues that political order is "the dominating myth of our consciousness of being together", casting a shadow on Laclau & Mouffe’s [1985] celebration of the liberatory power of extensions of the "democratic imaginary". I suspect that Laclau & Mouffe would see the movements studied here as assertions made possible by such "extensions". Yet, as described above, most of the movements studied here (nearly all of those which take the secular humanist form of the first two modes) do draw on formal democratic procedures and logics.

Are there, however, any movements which use the democratic imaginary but might not be adopting notions of political order? Those movements which do not merely use, but work to be entirely structured by non-Western epistemology, are doing more to escape the mythical structures of secular political order. Investigating and investing in non-Western, non-modern epistemology is a way to "subvert that way of realizing ourselves." [Robinson 1980: 218] Certainly movements which show tolerance for severe social diversity, including conflicting systems of order, might be those closest to achieving Robinson’s vision. These would include indigenous sovereignty movements, the Zapatistas, punk DIYers, cyberpunks, the agricultural component of the sustainable development movement, and religious nationalists. These movements show the most promise of breaking with bureaucratic centralization and massification of the nation-state and creating alternative forms of national autonomy.

As discussed with regard to Rainforest Action Network, the anti-corporate critique itself seems to be emerging as a mediative tool. The explicit anti-corporate movement and the anti-globalization movements express this most strongly, but the critique is increasingly used by pre-existing movements. Shell Oil (not the Nigerian government) has been the target of the peace and human rights movements’ outrage over Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution, and that framing may be produced by the growing recognition of the role of corporations at this historically specific moment.

As outlined in the chart below, each movement contributes to the project of undermining corporate legitimacy.

How do the Movements Challenge Corporate Logics?

Corp Welf Ref corporate good ¹ public good
"welfare reform should start with the least needy"

Peace & Hm Rts expose gov’t collusion with industry

people have a right to moral arbitration of public policy

"We see these ships as blasphemy…they should not exist."

Explicit Anti-Corp globalization is not inevitable; McDonalds is just one example

"total democratic sovereignty over the corporation"

Cyberpunk "information wants to be free"

Env Justice "the compromise between a dead baby and a healthy baby is a sick baby", "not in anyone’s backyard"; "the authority of mother"

Labor corporate responsibility outside of legal ownership

Socialism worker coops show that businesses can be run democratically and non-exploitatively

Anti-FTA "free trade isn’t free"

human rights are more important than corporate rights

Zapatismo "We did not count…in the accounts of big capital"

"indigenous heart"

Anarchy large scale systems can never be equitable

Sustainable Dev labor-intensive decentralized systems are more secure and democratic, history of abundant human societies

Small Business yeomanship = basis of democracy

small businesses are more accountable, ecological, secure

Sovereignty corporations have no right to destroy indigenous peoples, right to cultural integrity and historic land

Religious Nat’lism corps = colonial invasion of moral order

The Corporate Welfare Reform alliances show that conservative premises can be used to address environmental and social equity concerns, paving the way for new ideological bridges. The Peace and Human Rights movements built first world-third world connections on humanitarian grounds. The Explicit Anti-Corporate movement provides an explicit naming of the enemy, builds new praxis relationships, strengthens first world solidarity with the third world through critical development perspectives, and develops new legal strategies ("3 strikes you’re out" for corporations, revoking corporate charters, 7th Generation Amendment). The Labor movement too, is developing new legal institutions, most importantly creating mechanisms of legal responsibility between legally separate enterprises (garment manufacturers [label] and their subcontractors). Anarchy and Cyberpunk are nurturing youth constituencies. Cyberpunk contributes expert critiques of technology and also promulgates tactics to the wider population (undermining corps by stealing from them, circumventing voicemail and voice recognition systems to maintain consumer demand for live operators and thus for the employment of humans). The anti-FTA movement and its surprise victories are made possible by all of these movements, by an insurgent political economy, its popularization, and solidarity across class, race, national, and ideological borders.

These moral frameworks and alternative epistemologies can be positioned in popular consciousness as the basis of a new political economy. The Environmental Justice movement demands "cessation of production of toxins" and refuses the choice between jobs and health. Small Business movements may be building a break in capitalist cosmology and creating important new constituencies for sustainability and equity. Personal narratives from homeless newspapers suggest that in such movements people may be developing critiques based on lived contradictions. The Zapatistas and other sovereignty movements invite people of all oppressions into their vision and struggle — modeling multi-cultural internationalism and offering alternative epistemologies to the stuck West. Anarchists offer their long-term work on the relationship between delinked communities and equity. Sustainable development activists worldwide have articulated a variety of political economic systems for materially abundant communal life. And Religious Nationalists may be modeling an effective strategy for enforcing moral order over the economy. Access to and use of alternative epistemology is a great strength for anti-corporate movements both for critique and, crucially, if they are to articulate positive alternatives.

Implications for Social Movement Organization: Very few of the movements are organized as identity movements. Neither the Zapatistas themselves nor their supporters understand their movement as a movement of identity. It is discussed in terms of its political economy: indigenous lands, corn, NAFTA, and the purchase of the Mexican political system.

In becoming anti-corporate, identity-based movements neither abandon their identity nor adopt a new one; they oppose corporations from their identity-based stance, while also making connections outside of an identity-politics mode. Organizations like SWOP certainly continue to include culture and celebration of Chicano identity in their organizing and they continue Black Power traditions of self-determination and community leadership. But they have redefined enemies in ways that do not depend on identity as the basis of understanding and allies in ways that do not depend on a subtle and fragile "politics of difference". Women organizing against sweatshops and NAFTA are doing so as women, but their enemies are not only women’s enemies and threaten the women in ways that are both gendered (hiring only women workers) and not gendered (poisoning communities). And even though few of the movements use identity, most of the anti-corporate movements do not deny the idea of multiple oppressions, but center it in their analysis of the enemy and their visions of rebuilding the world.

The diverse anti-corporate movement poses the possibility for a "unity of many determinations" [Marx, Grundrisse]. The explicitly anti-corporate & anti-FTA movements are well connected with sovereignty, Zapatistas, sustainable development, small business, and peace movements. Indigenous sovereignty movements are well connected with other movements and environmental justice is forging many new connections. There is a lot of potential unity still to be explored. Left out in the cold are homeless movements, cyberpunks, anarchists, socialism, and religious nationalism. In some of these cases the barriers are class and youth. In the case of religious nationalism, alternative epistemology is a barrier (the very aspect of indigenous sovereignty movements which gains them broad Left support) which alienates the movement from secular humanists.

In thinking about the emergence of a "unity of many determinations", I wondered which movements had managed to make connections across ideology, across race, class, or first world/third world/fourth world borders. There’s actually a lot of that and some exciting new alliances. The multi-ideological alliances against corporate welfare and for campaign finance reform have brought together the most unlikely parties. Another new alliance is the cutting edge of the formerly bourgeois organic movement. At the Community Food Security Conference panelists insisted on the need to work to "systematically cultivate allies", and spoke about their successful experiences in bringing together rural white small farmers and urban people of color. "Of course, at first", said one panelist, "racism was a barrier. But it didn’t take long" before people recognized their economic commonalities and were excited about building new economic relationships. Community Food Security is also an example of how anti-corporate movements are valuing third world practices such as public markets and urban gardens and building them in the first world. Other sustainable development practitioners are allying with local businesses to rebuild local economies, using community currency systems and other economic tools, such as "shortening the food links" [Norberg-Hodge at IFG 1997]. Such practices both work to lift the first world’s boot off the throat of the third world (as firstworlders learn to live on their own resources) and build alliances between farmers around the world who support one another in the struggle to maintain traditional techniques. The theory being collectively put forth is one which proposes that making business local will make it environmental and accountable to citizens.

Other new formations include the anti-FTA alliances, which signal a vital return to praxis: intelligentsia are producing both scholarship and activism in constant conversation with union and non-union working people. It is due to the work of these scholars really that Americans know much at all about these agreements. Usually I am reluctant to include intelligentsia in the category of activists, but in this case it is obvious that they have made important contributions to the critiques and the organization of the movement. The people who leaked documents should also be included here. The North American support for the Zapatistas apparently was made possible by new relationships between women, environmentalists, and labor activists. These approaches are not anti-capitalist and not socialist — they are anti-corporate.

What sites of action do the movements use? Of three traditional sites, street, legislative/judicial, and direct pressure, street is the most commonly used strategy and a little over half of the movements (dispersed through the modes) use all three strategies. So we could say that there is both an effective strategic focus on the street and also a commitment to using diverse strategies. In terms of postmodern techniques, most of the movements I studied depend on modern technology for day-to-day operations, but none use postmodern techniques of struggle. Even the cyberpunks see mass culture as a distraction, not a boon to their struggle. Consumption, the basis of postmodern popcultural struggle, is explicitly critiqued by many of the movements.

In Conclusion

If the nation state is being undermined as champion of civil, human, and workers’ rights, what are the options? Any country may choose to defend its laws from WTO and other free trade-based repeals by choosing to accept trade sanctions. Surviving such sanctions will require reducing dependence on export-based income and on imports of basic needs. (Presumably, aggressive punishment of GATT violators will include embargoes in basic goods.) Similarly, third world countries can only escape structural adjustment policies by refusing all loans, including those needed to pay existing debt. This situation is survivable by the same means, reduction of dependency on import and export. Cuba offers many examples of national independence in energy, food, agricultural inputs, and medicine. [see Rosset & Benjamin 1994] Tim Lang and Colin Hines have written a book entitled The New Protectionism [1993] which explains the policies that would be required to rebuild sovereign nation-states. They say that protectionism can be good if it does two things: {1} asserts that international competitiveness is stupid, corrosive, dangerous ("it rots your brain" —Hines) and {2} protects and rebuilds the local internationally. Trade laws can be redesigned around the goal of protecting and rebuilding local economies. Lang & Hines encourage localities to enact legislation requiring foreign retailers to "site [factories] here to sell here" and to require that local savings be used only for local investments.

The other potential course of action is to follow the lead of Indian tribal areas and declare absolute political and economic sovereignty over much smaller areas. These areas, too, will need to become independent, not relying on imports and exports. However, the logistics of such a transition may be easier on a small scale than on a national scale. Bioregionalist analysis has produced viable and sustainable plans for regional political-economic units. That may be a more highly developed model than anything available from national government, because existing government plans are designed to facilitate corporate business, not to meet needs. A more tentative model would simply be to decouple economic and political units/scales: Villages (or bioregions) could be economically independent, but allied for some political purposes, like civil and human rights and public health.

The assertion of the right to say "no" and other insistences of autonomy, raise questions that can be organized intellectually around discourses of nationalism, self-determination, and secession (which has recently been the subject of debate here). Such assertions are seen by some movements as crucial components of resisting globalization. Several scholars have explored possibilities for autonomy, most notably Hurst Hannum [1990], who draws on an extensive review of case studies to suggest that we see sovereignty as a flexible tool to deal with various complex political situations, rather than seeing it as a threat to the unitary nation-state. This approach is confirmed by Livingston’s [1998] and others’ defense of federalism as against unitary states and of secession. These explorations will be helpful to exploring the potentials of the third mode as a response to globalization.

I will be thrilled if green socialist feminist anti-corporate contestors reform corporations or if international Zapatismo thwarts corporate rule and hosts a new equalitarian democratic era. However, I am worried about the ultimate vision of reform-based movements. I particularly worry about the extent to which the explicit anti-corporate movements are actually interested in attempting to maintain living standards, consumption, and technology. Is it possible? What will they give up to keep these things? Will they make deadly compromises? I am equally worried about the ability of "people’s globalization" to develop mechanisms of international democracy; we simple haven’t had much practice. Even Mondragón, the Basque coops which have long held up the flagging hopes of the socialist left, have abandoned their commitment to worker ownership; in order to "compete in…the global market" they needed "a more dispensable sector of the workforce". The Mondragón Cooperative Corporation now employs non-coop labor in low wage havens including Thailand, China, and Morocco. [Huet 1997] Economies (even socialist ones) which secure social welfare by relying on exports (or imports) do not have the autonomy necessary to prioritize democratic and equalitarian goals.

It may be that the extent to which corporations’ new international legal status will effectively increase corporate power depends on the extent to which social movements depend on legal channels and state regulations for meeting community needs and regulating corporate behavior. It is becoming more apparent that first and third world communities may need to employ similar extra-legal means of struggle against globalization. Recent protests against genetically-engineered crops have taken the form of occupations of fields and burning crops in first and third world alike, while European legislative barriers to engineered foods have been struck down by the WTO.

Neither wresting justice from corporations nor a massive populist revolution provide a clear vision of liberatory political economy. In other words, as critical development theorists articulate, a fundamental shift must be made from seeing economic growth as the engine for social development to some other basic theory of relationship between economy and society. [Trainer 1989, Douthwaite 1993] Anti-corporate movements within these two paradigms have yet to fully address this relationship. As of yet, only the movements of relocalization have a real political economic project. Relocalization is promising for several reasons: There have been thousands of successful models of local political economies/societies (including both indigenous peoples’ systems and more recent first world experiments), the scale of governance is one we know to be democratizable. Localized economies automatically and by necessity recognize ecological limits, and locality protects diversity (biological, cultural, and social).

Leftists, dependent on secular national enforcement of social justice and social equity, fear autonomous localities. Some of this is fear of the potential for local fascist essentialism. Another aspect of the fear arises from simplified notions of the meaning of traditionalism. Similarly, the concept of community is used constantly by movements of relocalization and raises fears among many leftists. Without addressing these large and serious concerns here, let me just suggest that the dangers of community and locality must be considered fully in the context of the dangers of corporate globalization and the record of nation-state collaboration with its projects.

With the frightening acceleration of the loss of regulatory power through the sovereign state, accompanied by the non-ascendance of humanitarian international organizations, secular humanists face a crisis of vessels for their agenda, blame "the right", and hope the unions will lead an international revolution for the codification of green socialist feminist secularism. Dependent on institutionalization, formalization, and centralization, Western humanism ignores the rather bad experiences that most people have had at the hands of such systems (whether of the right or left), and keeps insisting it is possible. Meanwhile, many folks turn toward traditional systems of meaning, authority, order, and hope, systems with rather more significant history.

In facing the fear of autonomous, potentially homogenizing, communities, it’s important to keep in mind that we have a history of developed models for democratic relocalization. The oldest and richest Western tradition is anarchism. We can also examine European local democratic systems, the most famous of which is the Swiss cantons (although we might want to incorporate gender equity into that model). Similarly, indigenous societies’ technologies of multiculturalism and of democracy could be models. Experimental alternative institutions, which include a wide variety of organizations from production and consumer cooperatives to social service organizations, can provide models. Finally, within political movements, experience with various internal democratic structures has been developed. A range of social movements, from Black Power to the organic farming movement have pursued a bounded entrepreneurship committed to community-centered goods provision yet unwilling to trade off human, cultural, and environmental values in favor of profit. The need to establish a new and viable economic system will benefit from study of such models. It will also require a coherent set of alternative values and a cultural system for sharing and celebrating them.

 

Endnotes

 

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