Coordinated on-slaught on ‘globalization’ critics?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 19 July 2001 - The world’s ‘neo-liberal establishment’, promoting under the slogan of ‘globalization’ a transnational corporate global governance system and attempting to enforce it on the governments and peoples of the world, in particular of the developing world, by a set of norms, principles and rules of the game in the economic, political and social space of countries, appears to be engaged in a coordinated attempt to denigrate and discredit civil society movements across the world opposing such policies.

On the one hand there is an attempt at international, inter-governmental levels, to promote a single view and in effect monopolise the ‘information’ base in economic and development policy discourse (as the World Bank is attempting through its socalled Global Development Gateway, GDG, project and initiative), and on the other divide and split the growing mass movements of opposition by associating them with ‘anarchists’.

Government leaders of the powerful and rich countries, the media promoting corporate interests and ideologies, and academics and others - benefiting from the current system - are joining in.

Within the international system, the voices of dissent and critiques, are being sought to be isolated and silenced - by transfers of international professionals to other jobs, and bringing in more pliant people as new recruits or by promotions, mediocre and pliant professionals to senior staff positions.

The IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, with enormous resources (compared to the UN system and developing countries) have long been able to monopolise economic research activities and agenda setting; and the Bank and the OECD since early 1990s, have moved  to set policies in the social, health and other fields.

For a while, both their resources and the quality of their professional staff enabled them to dominate the discourse, drowning out the political economists in the UN system.

But more recently, with civil society movements now professionally better qualified and better informed than in the past and doing their own research and presenting position papers challenging the establishment views, and using the relatively more democratic horizontal communications of the internet, to present their views bypassing the established corporate media, the Bank appears to be attempting to re-establish its claims to knowledge and research monopoly.

The GDG initiative and other such efforts has now been challenged in the ‘hotline’ complaint to the Bank’s Oversight committee.

(see separate story, ‘Development: Fraud, misuse of funds charge over Bank’s Internet project’).

When in 1946, the United Nations debated the idea of having a public information office, it was quite a controversial a move (for those times), and there were extensive discussions involving the member-governments, the media and others.

The UN General Assembly fifth committee (budget and administrative committee) in ultimately recommending the establishment of the unit and its being made part of the UN budget, laid out some ground rules.  Subsequently, from time to time, one or the other parts of it  have been modified, but the 1946 policy decision and guidelines still lay down the legislative view, about the proper role of public information activities (of the UN and its specialized agencies too) in any democratic polity.

The  World Trade Organization secretariat produces every week-day a ‘journal’ of press clippings - mostly of news and views promoting its line, but occasionally from the established media a dissenting view - and distributes it to the delegations and others, thus subtly trying to influence their thinking.

The secretariat has now been ‘cleared’ by its Budget Committee, and its WTO General Council, to accept funding from a German foundation (the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, close to the ruling social democrats) for a WTO training course for journalists to be run by the WTO media office.  As set out to the WTO’s Budget Committee report, the  2-1/2 day seminars are designed to familiarise journalists with  current WTO issues and build their capacity to write on WTO topics.

Frank Vogl of the Transparency International, in a comment (cited in the hotline complaint against the Bank management) on the ‘journalist training’ activities of aid agencies, bilateral and multilateral, and agencies ‘owned’ by governments, says: “There are good reasons not to support state-owned is inappropriate for state-run agencies, including the World Bank, which is totally publicly owned, to engage in media training programs...”

While the Bank in a very major way through the Gateway initiative, and the WTO and others through other ways of  ‘managing information’, are trying to influence policies and thinking of the developing country governments and the public, in the direction of their own neo-liberal worldview and promotion of global corporate interests, there is also a simultaneous campaign to denigrate critics of these policies - a campaign that has the ‘smell’ of a coordinated one, with a ‘leader’ setting the one and others following and imitating.

The campaign ranges from attempts of  newspaper columnists like Flora Lewis (in the International Herald Tribune , 6 July), to dub critics and protests against globalization as ‘anarchists’ and ‘terrorists’, and accusing named (Third World Network and Focus-on-Global-South), and other unnamed civil society organizations as activist centres behind the violent terrorist campaigns. These ‘activist centres’ (which are doing no more than providing, via websites or list-servers, alternative information and critiques of economic theories and false claims being used to force neo-liberal policies on the developing world) are accused of being behind the anti- globalization protestors.

The way this is all being done is reminiscent of the Mccarthyist style campaigns of the late 1950s which sought to discredit critics by dubbing them communists, and silencing most of them. 

Flora Lewis in her column cited Canadian academic Sylvia Ostrey as the author of the study that has identified the groups behind the anti-globalization protestors moving from site to site.

Ostrey, a moderator in a panel on civil society at the recent WTO-organized NGO symposium (6-7 July), was confronted by several of the NGOs, and appears to have attempted to distance herself from the Flora Lewis column, implying that though she had talked with her ‘friend’, Flora Lewis, the opinions attributed in the column to Ostrey were not what she had said. The NGOs reportedly told her that this was not enough, and she had to write to the IHT to counter the views attributed to her.

But so far there has been no clarification in the IHT.

At the closing plenary session of the WTO symposium, Ostrey also made a public declaration clarifying that she had dinner with Flora Lewis in Paris and that Lewis had taken Ostry’s discussion on issue of NGOs and “made this into an article in the IHT that bore no resemblance to my academic piece. I will write to Flora. It is slightly misleading, in the portions where she allude or drew from my piece.”

Ostrey is not a detached academic; she is a neo-liberal  exponent, a former senior Canadian trade official during the Uruguay Round negotiations, and a former chief economist of the Paris-based OECD secretariat. Prior to and after Seattle, she issued a questionnaire, using her academic credentials to seek information from NGOs about their funding and activities. But several did not respond, and some did. The study, cited by Flora Lewis, is presumably one outcome.

In all these protests and disturbances  - Seattle, Washington DC, Prague, Gothenburg etc - the western police and security apparatus, with all its sophistications and information-sharing, and the linkages and cooperation among their intelligence agencies, have not apprehended any of the ‘violent anarchists’ and interrogated them to find out their links and connections. This has engendered the suspicion that some of the protestors are agent provocateurs, trying to discredit the growing mass movements against the state of affairs.

Such agent provocateur attempts are known, even in modern history - from the Reichstag fire used by Hitler to establish a dictatorship, to the Bologna station bomb explosion in the 70s that enabled the Italian and other European security apparatuses to come down heavily against leftwing protests etc.

And the ‘establishment’ is also demanding the other NGOs to repudiate street protests and condemn them, and disassociate from organizations involved in these mass protests, with the bait that if they do so they may come and ‘dialogue’ with the secretariat officials.

And at the symposium, Mr. Moore also wanted to set a code of conduct for the NGOs. Several leading activist grass-roots groups scorned his contemptuous view of the NGOs.

Still relevant to those in power, and the establishments close to them, demanding such repudiations, and attempting to split the opposition groups, is the answer that Gandhi gave in 1940 in India in relation to the Polish resistance to Hitler’s occupation.

In 1940-41, before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Gandhi in his weekly paper, Harijan, had praised the Polish resistance to Hitler and the occupation. A German prisoner of war interned in a camp in west India wrote to Gandhi questioning how, Gandhi, an apostle of Non-violence, could condone the violence of the Polish resistance, of those who stealthily crept  behind isolated German soldiers and killing them. Gandhi replied that while he himself would have acted in open non-violent resistance, keeping quiet and accepting the occupation would have been cowardice. And, in the face of the violence that Hitler represented, the Polish resistance was ‘almost non-violent’.

Gandhi repeated this view, while writing to the British Government from jail in 1942-43, when that government blamed him for the violent outbreaks that erupted in August 1942, when Gandhi and his associates were jailed even when they were seeking negotiations with the government, with the police arresting Gandhi and others in a midnight swoop, suppressing publication of news and views, and acting with ‘leonine violence’ as Gandhi called it, on protests in order to suppress all dissent and demands for freedom in India. – SUNS4940

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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