Euro Protests Challenge Bush’s ‘Cowboy Globalisation’ 

— Dipankar Bhattacharya

IF HIS trip to Quebec last April had given President Bush his first taste of anti-globalisation anger in his own continent, his first Euro tour in June has also been greeted with equally loud protests. Gothenburg in Sweden hogged the global limelight not so much for whatever transpired in the US-EU summit as for the wave of protests that greeted the venue. Similar and simultaneous protests were witnessed in many other European countries. The World Bank has been forced to call off the annual Bank Conference on Development Economics scheduled in Barcelona in Spain on 25-27 June because of the intensity of protests. Genoa in Italy is being planned to be sealed off for three days by rail, road and air to enable the G-8 to hold its meeting, possibly on board in a ship! London had witnessed similar security overdrive by Blair’s New Labour on the May Day. And the World Trade Organisation has decided to hold its next ministerial summit in November in Doha in Qatar hoping obviously to get a protest-free environment finally in the seclusion of the Gulf. The heat of globalisation is being turned on the globalisers themselves. It is now their turn to look for some ‘delinked’ island away from the ocean of protests!

Behind this remarkable wave of Euro protests lay a whole range of issues. The Bush visit had just been preceded by his provocative NMD pronouncements. In place of the promised goal of disarmament, the NMD can only signal a throwback into the dangerous trap of arms race, something the world had been told was buried for good with the collapse of the Soviet union and the consequent end of the Cold War era. Except for India’s saffron rulers the whole world is naturally demanding the burial of the NMD programme and renewal of the spirit of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty between the US and the then Soviet Union. Environmentalists all over the world are annoyed with Bush’s open opposition to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol concerning reduction in the level of emission of dangerous gases and other particles inimical to the environment. And since this was the key immediate agenda of the US-EU summit, environmentalists had gathered in good numbers. Human rights activists, especially opponents of death penalty, had also their own reason as on 12 June the US had just carried out its first Federal death sentence in four decades. Incidentally, during Bush’s period of governorship, as many as 152 executions were carried out in Texas, fetching him the label of a serial executioner. And then there are the whole gamut of issues and concerns associated more directly with globalisation. 

The protests were marked by considerable mass participation and also a high degree of militancy. Indeed anti-globalisation protests are getting increasingly loud and fierce and some sections of protesters are worried that the protests should not degenerate into acts of vandalism or expressions of mute rage. The ‘democratic’ states of advanced capitalist countries have once again started baring their fangs and some forces are inclined to believe that the bourgeois state has started planting agent provocateurs and is trying to criminalise the protests to justify its growing acts of repression. All this is however only to be expected, as are the inevitable tactical and ideological debates among the diverse streams of protest. 

Beyond the issues and the violence, what however is really remarkable about the Euro protests, and also about the Quebec demonstrations earlier in April, is their explicitly political and anti-US character. Protests against corporate globalisation and resentment against the doctrine of neo-liberalism and against the multilateral institutions like the IMF, World Bank and WTO have started getting channelised against the most aggressive imperialist power, the US. For this reason, the protests also enjoyed a much wider support in the European media as they articulated the growing contradiction between the European Union and the US. Like their counterparts in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the anti-globalisation protesters of Europe, too, increasingly realise that globalisation also means Americanisation and hence anti-globalisation protests need to be targeted increasingly against the US, the military-financial fountainhead of imperialist globalisation. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington has been trying hard to consolidate its grip over Europe by expanding NATO and getting Europe on board in its military expeditions like the wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia. All sorts of arguments have since been invented to justify a unipolar world under exclusive American hegemony with Europe playing only second fiddle. There was Professor Huntington who came up with his thesis of clashes of civilisations, portraying Europe and the US as two threatened wings of a beleaguered western civilisation who must get their act together to combat the growing threat from the Chinese civilisation on the one hand and Islamic civilisation on the other. This however never had many takers and now the storm over globalisation seems to have blown away Huntington’s hypothesis of civilisations to oblivion. 

We now have Thomas Friedman, the celebrated author of the globalisation best-seller, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and a staunch defender of the project of what he calls sustainable globalisation. Friedman, a student of the Clinton school, who calls himself a pro-globalisation safety-netter, does not shy away from acknowledging the growing perception of globalisation as Americanisation. He seems to be worried about the cultural dimension of this equation, in fact he is opposed to the idea of universalisation of American culture or homogenisation of the cultural diversity of the world to fit the American straitjacket; but when it comes to the question of power, military power in particular, this liberal multi-culturalist jumps on to his barely concealed thesis of ‘American essentialism’, echoing the often heard line that no nation is more indispensable than the US! 

“Sustainable globalization requires a stable power structure, and no country is more essential for this than the United States”, argues Friedman. “Markets,” he points out, “function and flourish only when property rights are secure and can be enforced, which, in turn requires a political framework protected and backed by military power.” And he then hits the nail on its head: “Indeed, McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the US Air Force F-15. … Without America on duty, there will be no America Online.” 

Friedman tries to sell his ‘American essentialism’ to both his American and non-American readers. For the reluctant American taxpayer and the Republican politician who resent paying the dues America owes to the UN, IMF and all those multilateral institutions, he has this word of caution: “These multilateral institutions also give those nations adapting to American geopolitical leadership some sense that they have a voice in the decision-making. Maintaining that sense is critical if America is to remain a successful shaper.” To the Silicon Valley executives who tend to take their multinational character too seriously and would like to treat the American nation-state as an unnecessary liability for global capital and technology, he throws this simple challenge: “the next time IBM China gets in trouble in China, call Jiang Zemin for help. And the next time Congress closes another military base in Asia – and you don’t care because you don’t care about Washington – call Microsoft’s navy to secure the sea-lanes of the Pacific.” And for both categories of his non-American readers, who are either carried away by ‘rational exuberance’ about the great American dream or are worried and sceptical about the future, he has this consolation and hope: “America is not at its best every day, but when it’s good, it’s very, very good. …There is no better model (for sustainable globalization) on earth today than America. And that’s why I believe so strongly that for globalization to be sustainable America must be at its best – today, tomorrow, all the time. It not only can be, it must be a beacon for the whole world.” 

Unfortunately for Friedman, the Democrat globaliser, America has meanwhile gone back to the Republican leadership and has thus ceased to be at its best, by his chosen standards, soon after he came up with his book on globalisation. Europe is however still sticking to Blair’s ‘third way’, which is more akin to Friedman’s doctrine of sustainable globalisation with safety net. As Marxists, we are of course well aware about the structural, organic unity of the American bourgeoisie and the American state underpinning the alternating rule of the Democrats and the Republicans, or for that matter about the logical continuum that connects every Tony Blair with his corresponding John Major. 

As Washington moves from Clinton’s CTBT to Bush’s NMD, it will not take long for the anti-imperialist forces of the world to form a cohesive picture of US imperialism, ugly and unmasked, in the era of globalisation. The Euro protests have signalled the rise or renewal of a popular anti-imperialist awakening as the central and unifying core of what have come to be known as anti-globalisation protests. Washington will find it increasingly difficult to browbeat the rest of the world, and hopefully the US itself, into submitting before Bush’s cowboy ways of Americanised globalisation.