Another World Is Possible
by Susan George
The Nation magazine, February 18, 2002
For a magic moment, the citizens' movement was no longer on
the defensive. From Seattle to Genoa, via Washington, Prague,
Quebec, Nice and a dozen other destinations, the dispiriting decades
of unbridled corporate greed and freewheeling financial markets
seemed to be drawing to an ignominious close, smothered under
their own sheer awfulness. Or if such a perception was mere wishful
thinking and a bit premature, at least neoliberalism was under
credible and forceful attack.
Negatively labeled "antiglobalization" by the media
but known to its thousands of participants and millions of sympathizers
as the movement for global justice, the nebula of protest and
proposals was coalescing and gaining strength. The corporate and
political elites could no longer meet in plush peace and confidential
quiet to do their deals, and were obliged to retreat to fortresses
whose defenses the demonstrators regularly stormed both physically
and ideologically. The winds of history were blowing in a new
and refreshing direction.
Then came September 11. Like the rest of the world, Europeans
were shocked and horrified, especially by the sheer scale of the
destruction and the potent symbolism of the targets, but in another
and admittedly limited sense, we'd been there before. We'd had
bombs in our metros, terrorist attacks on our railways and exploding
cars in our streets, not to mention centuries of wars, invasions
As the initial trauma wore off, we also tried to analyze what
precisely lay behind the attacks and to ask political as well
as moral questions. While everyone agreed that nothing could justify
the terrorist attacks on the United States, some also recalled
another September 11 when the American-sponsored coup d'etat in
Chile brought down the democratically elected Allende government,
ushering in a fascist regime that murdered and "disappeared"
thousands. American support for the contras in Nicaragua; the
training of Latin American torturers in North America; the attacks
against weak and defenseless countries like Panama, Grenada and
Sudan; the bombing and blockading of Iraq leaving civilians dead
and maimed but Saddam Hussein firmly in place-all these were remembered
and discussed, as was the crucial US role in the endlessly destructive
While the prestigious French daily Le Monde headlined "We
Are All Americans," others felt that this assertion very
much depended on "which" Americans. Yes, without question,
if it meant mourning for the victims and their families; no, if
it meant unqualified support for the corporate, financial and
government elites, and for business as usual.
Nor were we surprised when these same elites in Europe, our
neoliberal corporate adversaries and their domestics, instantly
seized upon the atrocities to advance their cause. By the morning
of the 12th they had already sharpened their sticks. Using crude,
faulty but sometimes effective logic in an attempt to intimidate
and criminalize the citizens' movement, they declared, "You're
antiglobalization, therefore you're anti-American, therefore you're
on the side of the terrorists." For weeks, the media gleefully
and unrelentingly framed their coverage and their questions in
that light alone.
So we've had to explain incessantly why such arguments are
not just wrong but pernicious, and we've refused them the pleasure
of painting us into the villain's corner they had reserved for
us. We reject as well the "antiglobalization" label
and, in order to counter accusations h of "anti-Americanism,"
stress our ties with our American friends in the global justice
movement. We've also continued to mobilize, and on that score,
it's gratifying to report that September 11 has had relatively
little long-term impact. Although virtually unreported in the
mainstream press and, alas, with zero effect on the negotiations
themselves, the recent WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar,
brought far more people into the streets than had gathered in
Seattle. Decentralized demonstrations were organized in at least
thirty countries, including forty locations in France and twenty-five
The demonstrations in Lacken at the end of the Belgian EU
presidency in December brought out tens of thousands, including
a large number of trade unionists, with almost no violence (one
or two shattered bank windows). On January 19, ATTAC-France (ATTAC
is an acronym for the Association for the Taxation of Financial
Transactions to Aid Citizens, whose program now reaches well beyond
the push for the so-called Tobin Tax, the proposed small tax on
international currency transactions) filled to overflowing the
largest rock concert hall in Paris for the kickoff of the upcoming
presidential and legislative election season. While we have no
intention of becoming a party, we do promise to harass all the
candidates unmercifully around our issues. Next month, ATTAC-Hungary
will be launched, the fortieth country to join this international
movement. The CGIL, Italy's largest and most progressive trade
union, recently decided to become a "founding institutional
member" of ATTAC-Italy. Kids all over Europe asked their
parents to give them the airfare to Porto Alegre for Christmas
so they could attend the historic international citizens' gathering
there January 31-February 5.
We know that for Americans, the backlash of the terrorist
attacks has been far more powerful and the aftermath more lingering.
With flags flying on every corner, the obligatory rallying around
President George W. Bush no matter what he decides, and a kind
of suffocating and frequently phony patriotism dominating the
debate, it's clear that the pressure is considerable.
Allow me still to argue that it's time to pull ourselves together,
pull up our socks and pull together-take your pick of metaphors,
but also take heart: September 11 is not the end of the world.
History may even be handing us a radically new moment, one we
did not choose but ours to seize. Our message is more relevant
today than it was on the eve of September 11.
The emotions the atrocities awakened in all the rich Western
countries caused me briefly to entertain the naive hope that their
leadership might finally recognize the gravity of the situation
and provide an appropriate response. I should have known better.
Those who hold our futures in their hands are not serious. They
see no farther than the noses of their bombers. Frightening though
the prospect may seem, citizens must accept the risk of being
serious in their place.
What does "being serious" mean? For starters, recognizing
what our leadership refuses to admit: that terrorist nihilism
is one response to poverty, despair and hopelessness. I don't
mean to imply that redistribution of resources and aid programs,
however well conceived, could have stopped bin Laden and his immediate
followers. They care nothing about the poverty of their own compatriots,
but they do know that terrorism thrives in the rich soil of exclusion
On September 10, half the world was already living, if one
can call it that, on less than $2 a day, with a fifth surviving
on half of that. Thirty thousand children were already dying needless
deaths daily. Inequality is exploding both within and among nations,
and perhaps contrary to the poor of the nineteenth century, today's
poor know they are poor. The plausible fantasies of Western television
constantly remind them of their own failure to capture the material
rewards of modernity.
The only rational response to global problems is global solutions.
"Foreign direct investment," the panacea of the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund, consists mostly of mergers
and acquisitions that result in harmful economic concentration
and job losses, and in any case such investment flows to only
a dozen or so countries. The UN target of 0.7 percent of the wealthy
countries' GNP for development aid is never going to be met, and
we should stop pretending that it will be, because this particular
pot of money is shrinking by some 5 percent a year. What resources
do exist are unaccompanied by control over the local elites, who
all too frequently use them for their own ends, a recipe for waste,
corruption and inefficiency. What's needed is to ratchet up our
efforts to the international level and launch a global Marshall
Plan, financed by various international tax instruments (including
but not confined to Tobin-type taxes) and made conditional on
genuine civil society participation and rigorous auditing. Debt
relief ought to be a precondition of a properly functioning world
system; otherwise the debtors are competing on the "level
playing field" the neoliberals never tire of extolling with
lead in their sneakers.
The cash is out there. It can be found not only by taxing
financial transactions but in tax havens where, as Bush himself
has proven, it's possible to identify, target and close down accounts
belonging to anyone the United States identifies as a terrorist-so
why not the accounts of drug barons and traffickers in women,
children, endangered species and armaments? Thanks to these same
cozy locations in the Caribbean and other fiscal paradises, taxes
on transnational corporations are undermined while taxes on labor
and consumption contribute far more than their fair share.
"Free trade" as managed by the World Trade Organization
and reinvigorated at the recent negotiations in Doha is largely
the freedom of the fox in the henhouse. Despite the advance on
generic drugs for pandemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,
the South's needs are shelved and the transnationals continue
to run the show according to their own preferred rules.
None of the profound changes we call for will, however, happen
spontaneously, and our present elites certainly don't want them.
Clearly the shock of September was not great enough to force them
to change their minds and their behavior.
So, American friends, where does all this leave us? First
of all, please bring the United States back. We need you, the
world needs you. Although people on every continent are joining
in this struggle, there are no guarantees we can win. Without
a strong US movement, in the bastion of corporate and financial-market
driven globalization, we are in fact likely to fail.
I hope not to be misunderstood in saying that September 11
must not lead to an unhealthy inwardness and self-preoccupation
but to tough-minded analysis followed by outward-looking action.
The adversary hasn't changed since September 11. That adversary
is still "Davos" and everything Davos stands for, whether
meeting in the mountains or on the banks of the Hudson. Homo davosiensis
wants all the resources, all the wealth, all the power and all
the freedom to extend his ascendancy across time and space. This
means that we too must be world-spanners and history-inventors,
right now. As we say in French, I'histoire ne repasse pas les
plats-"History doesn't offer second helpings"-so we'd
better deal with what's on our plate now, which is world poverty,
inequality, exploitation and hopelessness. How?
The great Chinese general Sun Tzu said 2,400 years ago, "Do
not do what you would most like to do. Do what your adversary
would least like you to do." In Porto Alegre, people from
all over the world will be trying to determine what the adversary
least wants and how to deliver it. In New York, we hope you will
be supremely inconveniencing the Davos mob, denying it whatever
it may want just now and in future (one thing it does want is
for violence to spoil the proceedings and attract exclusive media
attention, so watch out for agents provocateurs).
Personally, I have not been so hopeful in decades. The mood
is changing. People no longer believe that the unjust world order
is inevitable. To Margaret Thatcher's TINA-"There is no alternative"-they
are replying that there are thousands of them. Now it's up to
us all, especially to Americans, to prove that, as we say in ATTAC,
"Another world is possible." And urgent.
Susan George is associate director of the International Institute
in Amsterdam and vice president of ATTAC-France. Her most recent
book in English is The Lugano Report (Pluto).