The Confederacy of Conspirators

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
19 November, 2018
Editorial: 257
Fecha de publicación original: 6 marzo, 2001

Pardon one offence and you encourage many

Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista Front of National Liberation (EZLN), who is leading the Peace March of indigenous peoples on Mexico City, is the living incarnation of globalisation. With a discreet microphone over his balaclava, a mobile phone on one side of his cartridge belt and a transmitter on the other. He, and all he stands for, are connected to the Internet. Millions of people scattered all over the world are following his progress to the capital step by step as though they were almost travelling on the bus with him, stopping in every city and taking part in every demonstration. If the idea behind globalisation was to penetrate the most far flung corners of the earth, disarm the poor and conquer the minds of all via universal one-way thinking, something has indeed gone wrong. Although perhaps the real mistake has been to view globalisation from this perspective only, a mistake which many have committed certain groups on the left –including a large number of Marcos’ own followers– who cling fiercely to the most solid traditions of capitalism and the industrial revolution.

Marcos, displaying his customary caution, admitted in an interview with Ignacio Ramonet published 27 February in Spanish newspaper El Pais, that one of the key factors in the changes occurring in Mexico which have led to his leaving the jungle in Chiapas, has been the fact that, “The Mexican people have become more politicised, better informed and more interested in participating in the political arena”. Later on in the conversation, he rejected the old idea of the conquest of power as though this were still “in the hands of the nation States”. “What we are trying to do is build another relationship, to move towards a “citizenisation” of politics. For, after all, what gives a meaning to the nation is us, the citizens, and not the State”, he said.

Curiously enough, the march on Mexico based on these ideas has coincided with the release in various countries of Susan George’s latest book “The Lugano Report”. Ms. George is President of the “Observatoire de la Mondialisation” and vice-President of ATTAC. In her work of fiction, this well-known political scientist has the “Lords of the world” (her definition) forced to act in the light of stark revelations from a secret report they themselves have requested from a group of experts. George’s book, apart from the scenario she describes and the political implications of its conclusions –the discreet annihilation of half of the world’s population to ensure market governability–, captures the imagination because it belongs to that branch of literature which all good spy novels belong to, with their conspiracies and earth-shattering reports in the hands of those who hold “the reins of power”.

Susan George, in an interview published on the same day and in the same newspaper as the one with Marcos, claims not to believe in conspiracies but in interests. “I have shown that the rulers of the universe do what they have to do as a result of who they are, which is not a conspiracy”. Quite so, for the definition and defence of “interests” does not require conspiracies, above all because, something which the fictitious Lugano Report does not say and which Susan George herself does not mention in her book, we encourage the conspiracy. Conspiracy is, for example, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which in a quarter of a century has caused more people to die of hunger in the world than in all the wars during the same period put together. The CAP, a cornerstone in the construction of Europe over the last fifty years, aimed to keep rural areas intact and prevent immigration into the cities, closing the markets to external competition and subsidising European agricultural and livestock production.

Thanks to policies of this kind, standards of living on the Old Continent have soared while whole regions of the world have sunk into endemic poverty and chronic famine. The effects of this ‘defence of interests’ were multiplied by similar policies in the US as regards its agricultural production and its way of structuring the world’s food market since the Second World War. These were decisions made by governments, political parties, companies and institutions at all levels, which we welcomed warmly in the name of the defence of democratic values, amongst which were the world market and international trade. In other words, the very crux of the matter lies at home. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation are the bulwarks that defend these policies in the rest of the world lest all that the industrialised world has so carefully constructed come tumbling down.

The question, it seems to me, is not whether we are prepared to stop the horror that a handful of people are planning for us ‘a la Susan George’, but instead whether we are prepared to stop the horror that we ourselves have unleashed and enjoyed. Are we prepared to leave our living rooms and decide that the market really should work towards benefiting everyone? Because that supposes exactly the opposite of what is happening right now, where subsidies and barriers mean that the market does not work and that there is a pyramid of the weak which are getting weaker, based on famine, the destruction of the environment and lack of defences against diseases that we consider innocuous, such as chest infections, but which literally wipe out millions of children each year. And it is this question that is finally starting to be answered.

Susan George keeps the decision-making power in the hands of a small group of transnational companies, just at a time when the fabric of the economy is being crisscrossed by mini-transnationals made up of people, organisations, companies and institutions of all kinds that operate all over the world via the Net. This is the new political landscape and it is here that what George calls the chaos of the system lies. We are in the phase of getting access to these networks and beginning to establish what will undoubtedly be new institutions however vague they might seem to us now. New citizen-based politics logically enough overlaps with traditional politics inherited from the Industrial Revolution. But, while the latter appeals to the traditional powers “to behave themselves and not do anything naughty”, citizen-based politics is trying to open up new areas of its own, which opens complex contradictions and conflict with the ‘status quo’

At first glance, things appears on the surface to be considerably chaotic, above all because the institutional powers, from the States to the transnational corporations themselves, have no way of imposing their laws. And it seems there is no disciplinary force capable of doing so. In fact, the powers that be are the first victims of their own lack of vision and need a Lugano Report to explain why the present situation has no clear solution. Power concentrated in the hands of the corporations and a small group of States has been having a rough ride for a while now. Some years ago I wrote in “All the power based on the strategic use of information regarding military force, the GNP, population, energy and human resources, did not give us the power to predict even by a second the fall of the USSR (nor the rise of Japan as an economic power)” (see the editorial of 22/10/96 ‘The Birth of ‘Soft Power” ). It was in this article in fact that I analysed the emergence of a new form of power, which I called “soft power”, based on the spread of information technology, a more invasive and constant education, the organisational flexibility of institutions, companies and collectives, all connected together by the thread of networked interaction.

Unlike Susan George, I believe that the big question we are facing is quite a lot more stark and challenging: Can we manage a world through corporate structures like those developed by industrial capitalism when the scale of civil action is starting to emerge as a substitute political force? Over the last few years we have seen mergers that have done away with large industrial conglomerates at the stroke of a pen, and there are less and less of them on the cusp. Does this tendency point to a world governed by a few corporations or towards a fragmentation of economic units in order to respond to policies based on personal, citizen, action?

In the above-mentioned interview, when asked if she felt pessimistic or optimistic, George quoted Gramsci who said that he lived between the optimism of will and the pessimism of reason. But Gramsci’s reason was that of the Industrial Revolution’s worker’s movement. We don’t know what the rationale behind the productive forces of globalisation are yet, nor is there anything written that says the logic of events dictates continuity. Quite the contrary, there are signs pointing in the opposite direction all over the place. The “noisy uprising” against the rich takes on millions of different forms these days, in contrast with what has happened over the last two centuries. From educational advances, to the individual use of money, there have been few times in history when such a wide range of decisions have been subjected to criticism. It is true to say that what happens may not be to our personal taste — or that you can’t keep all of the people happy all of the time. But demands for participation in processes and events that directly affect us, to not be excluded from fundamental decisions, to guarantee generalised access to information technology as a factor for social change, to belong to a physical and mental space which is getting smaller and more threatened, constitutes, amongst other things, a complex political, economic and social agenda which doesn’t fit the established norms of the culture of the Industrial Society.
The big corporations are going to find it more and more difficult to deal with the social demands expressed in the networks, whatever kind they might be, which at the same time channel different and discreet ways of showing solidarity. At the same time as the organisations of the old regime –however worthy their intentions– keep insisting that we are on the way to a world that shows less and less solidarity, we are seeing the birth of a lot of interconnected and interactive social activity which would have given Karl Marx sleepless nights. Instead of formal traditional commitments, these new movements propose commitments to projects that can achieve specific aims in a globalised world.

As the indigenous Mexicans said at the III Congreso Nacional Indígena on the way to Mexico: “More practical activism, more engineers and biologists committed to the development of poor communities on the ground”. The territory for doing this these days is the local place each of us occupies individually, in order to project oneself globally via the Net. This political side of the Internet has always existed no matter how many people have gone wild about becoming Net millionaires or wanting to forget again that the world is knocking at their…computer.
Translation: Bridget King