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Attac: Critical, Pragmatic and Convincing

Attac, a growing anti-globalization movement, is increasing in support in France and Germany. "The rise of Attac is based on a promise that we can do something despite the paralyzing inscrutability and seeming naturalness of the globalization processes. Attac took the stage with the right demand at the right time: the Tobin tax." This article is translated from the German.
Attac - Critical, Pragmatic and Convincing

By Stefan Reinecke

[Attac, the growing European anti-globalization movement, relies on the need for spontaneity and more relaxed bonds to social organizations. The success of this movement is underscored in this book review of Christiane Grefe, Mathias Greffrath and Harald Schumann, "Attac: Was wollen die Globilisierungskritiker?" (Attac: What do Globalization Critics Want?), Rowohlt, Berlin 2002. Originally published in: die tageszeitung, March 21, 2002, this book review is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.taz.de/pt/2002/03/21/a0253.nf/text.name.ask.MiwRvh.n,1.]

In the 90s, one could end nearly every debate with one word: "old left". The old left slept through the epochal breach of 1989. The old Federal German republican pacifism broken down before the ethnic wars. The stock market boom and hip young independents made fools of the old leftist belief in the state as a distribution machine. Earning money was emphasized; justice debates were for evangelical academies.

At the end of the 90s, counteracting forces formed, relying on remnants of the left but reaching far beyond. Since the new economy crash, many see the neoliberal charms more skeptically. After the "people of Seattle" demonstrated, capitalism criticism is no longer automatically regarded as graybeard. Opposition is announced again. The magazine Stern chose Attac as the organization of 2001. This is reason enough to explore the phenomenon.

Zeit-editor Christiane Grefe, journalist Mathias Greffrath and Spiegel editor Harald Schumann describe the motivation and rise of the globalization critics. The book "Attac" is a patchwork, a colorful mixture of analysis, features and interviews (with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the few Greens who has understood the significance of Attac and Thomas Fischer, director of the Deutsche Bank).

In the first half of the book, Schumann continues hi9s 1996 bestseller "The Globalization Trap". Events like the Asian crisis or Argentina's collapse are new. The structure is the same as six years ago. Multinationals save taxes at the expense of weakened nation states and uncontrolled offshore centers flourish. Global financial markets determine the rules of the game and plunge whole states into ruin. Globalization actually enlarges the distance between poor and rich. Globalization isn't a chance of ascending for the poor as many neoliberals think. Schumann shows in detail how Korea and Thailand fell into an overheated speculative financial crisis in 1997.

The prescription of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - higher taxes, higher interests, fewer social expenditures - was just as disastrous as the sickness to be combated. The crisis ended with the expropriation of parts of the Korean economy which are today in Western hands. Only Malaysia escaped the speculative thunderstorm somewhat undamaged: without the dubious assistance of the IMF and with strict capital controls.

Schumann sketches the world economic history since Bretton Woods 1944 in fast forward mode. This isn't new but is explained pointedly with abundant facts. This history is essential for understanding the success of Attac.

Globalization is a complex, confusing interplay of international political and economic factors. It has no author as the protest has no addressants or many addressants. The analysis of this tricky politico-financial-economic complex is just as difficult as changing its rules of the game.

The rise of Attac is based on a promise that we can do something despite the paralyzing inscrutability and seeming naturalness of the globalization processes. Attac took the stage with the right demand at the right time: the Tobin tax. The idea of levying a trifling tax on international currency transactions seemed plausible. This was a means of de-accelerating the financial markets, impeding speculation and siphoning off needed money for economic assistance. The Tobin tax was a sign for which many had waited. Whoever voted for that signaled not only dissent to the dominant globalization praxis but simultaneously made a practical proposal. The Tobin tax seemed to combine morality and realpolitik in a simple and genial way.

In France, as Mathias Greffrath explains, the successful "hard-core actions" of Attac were developed: "Tobin tax, drying up of financial oases, debt adjustments". Only a few full-time persons work in the Paris headquarters since a firm out of the house manages the membership card index. Effectiveness counts even if outsourcing is scorned as neoliberal.

In Germany, Attac was also the promise that an effective capitalism criticism liberated from ideology junk is possible, in short the Greenpeace image. Attac took up the theme that the Greens had forgotten in their march to the ministries. In the most profound part of the book, Christiane Grefe asks where the success of the German Attac-movement is rooted: in the self-discipline vital for an open organization and in its expert competence. What unites noisy young revolutionaries and anthroposophic natural health food retailers? Attac, according to Grefe, "makes use of the need of the individualized society for spontaneity and the desire not to be firmly bound to organizations"" This formula --inner tolerance and loose bonds - is a key to its success and the greatest danger. Ultimately one cannot be eternally common and different.

Attac is an unstable structure. Parties can simply do nothing, not movements. As a result, something new that fits must be constantly proposed. A misguided campaign theme can ruin many things. Recently Attac doesn't want to be a single-issue movement and emphasizes health- and pension policies. That pleases the unions. Health- and pension policies are complex subjects. Lobbying and morality cannot be simply separated. There is no demand like the Tobin tax that focuses all the needs. Can the alliance of natural food shopkeepers and radicals survive the question of net wage adjustment of pensions and health care financing?

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