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Naomi Klein: Neoliberalism is War

There are few explosions and death by starvation doesn't make for exciting TV. But Naomi Klein says that neoliberalism (globalization, capitalism) is a deadly war on the world's poor. The Right wrote off the global pro-democracy movement after 9-11. Cancun proves they were wrong.

Activists must follow the money

Protestors in Cancun understand that neo-liberalism is a form of war

Naomi Klein
Friday September 12, 2003
The Guardian

On Monday, seven anti-privatisation activists were arrested in Soweto for blocking the installation of prepaid water meters. The meters are a privatised answer to the fact that millions of South Africans cannot pay their water bills. The new gadgets work like pay-as-you-go mobile phones, only instead of having a dead phone when you run out of money, you have dead people, sickened by cholera-infested water.

On the day South Africa's "water warriors" were locked up, Argentina's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund bogged down. The sticking point was rate hikes for privatised utility companies. In a country where 50% of the people live in poverty, the IMF is demanding that multinational water and electricity companies be allowed to increase their rates by a staggering 30%. At trade summits, debates about privatisation seem wonkish. On the ground, they are as clear and urgent as the right to survive.

After September 11, rightwing pundits couldn't bury the globalisation movement fast enough. In times of war, they said, no one would care about frivolous issues like water privatisation. Much of the anti-war movement fell into a related trap: now was not the time to focus on divisive economic debates, but to come together to call for peace.

All this nonsense ended in Cancun this week, when thousands of activists converged to declare that the brutal economic model advanced by the WTO is itself a form of war. War because privatisation and deregulation kill &emdash; by pushing up prices on necessities like water and medicines, and pushing down prices on raw commodities like coffee, making small farms unsustainable. War because those who resist are routinely arrested, beaten and even killed. War because when this low-intensity repression fails to clear the path to corporate liberation, the real wars begin. The global anti-war protests grew out of the networks built by years of globalisation activism. And despite attempts to keep the movements separate, their only future lies in the convergence represented by Cancun.

Past movements have tried to fight wars without confronting the economic interests behind them, or to win economic justice without confronting military power. Today's activists, experts at following the money, aren't making the same mistake. Take Rachel Corrie. Although engraved in our minds as the 23-year-old in an orange jacket who faced down Israeli bulldozers, Corrie had already glimpsed a larger threat looming behind the military hardware. "It is counterproductive to only draw attention to crisis points &emdash; the demolition of houses, shootings, overt violence," she wrote in one of her last emails. "So much of what happens in Rafah is related to this slow elimination of people's ability to survive. Water, in particular, seems critical and invisible." The 1999 "battle of Seattle" was Corrie's first big protest. She had already trained herself not only to see the repression on the surface but to dig deeper, to search for the economic interests served by the Israeli attacks. This led Corrie to the wells in nearby settlements, which she suspected of diverting water from Gaza to Israeli land.

Similarly, when Washington started handing out reconstruction contracts in Iraq, veterans of the globalisation debate spotted the underlying agenda in the familiar names of deregulation and privatisation pushers Bechtel and Halliburton. If these guys are leading the charge, it means Iraq is being sold off, not rebuilt. Even those who opposed the war exclusively for how it was waged (without UN approval, with insufficient evidence of WMDs) now cannot help but see why it was waged: to implement the same policies being protested in Cancun &emdash; mass privatisation, unrestricted access for multinationals and drastic public sector cutbacks.

The Bush administration has let it be known that if the Cancun meetings fail, it will simply barrel ahead with more bilateral free trade deals, like the one just signed with Chile. Insignificant in economic terms, the deal's real power is as a wedge: already, Washington is using it to bully Brazil and Argentina into supporting the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It is 30 years since Pinochet, with the help of the CIA, brought the free market to Chile "with blood and fire". But that terror is paying dividends to this day: the left never recovered, and Chile remains the most pliant country in the region.

In August 1976, Orlando Letelier, a former minister in Allende's overthrown government, asked how the international community could profess horror at Pinochet's human rights abuses while supporting his free-market policies: "Repression for the majorities and 'economic freedom' for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin," he wrote. Less than a month later, he was killed by a car bomb in Washington, DC. The greatest enemies of terror never lose sight of the economic interests served by violence, or the violence of capitalism itself. Letelier understood that. So did Rachel Corrie. As our movements converge in Cancun, so must we.

? A version of this article appears in The Nation

Capitalist NeoLiberalism is Terrorism 19.Sep.2003 23:07

Black Flag

Capitalist Neoliberalism isn't just war. IT is a form of economic terrorism whereby the First World rapes, loots, and pillages the resources, labor, and markets of the Third World in order to sustain "our way of life" in the pampered Western world.

That is Capitalist Terror in everything but name.

Out of curiosity 20.Sep.2003 00:19


Black Flag,

What would you say if the United States unilaterally lowered its trade barriers to every nation in the world, without asking for any concession in return?

You are asking the Wrong Question 20.Sep.2003 01:33

Black Flag

"What would you say if the United States unilaterally lowered its trade barriers to every nation in the world, without asking for any concession in return? "

I'd say that your scenario is ass backwards, as this is what America, Europe and the First World in general have been actually demanding and GETTING for the past several decades from the Third World through the WTO.

You know damn well that the entire Free market/globalization racket is nothing more than a disguised form of Economic looting and raping of the Third World by the First World.

No amount of American demagoguery or propaganda spin can hide the true nature of this NeoLiberal terror.

You want proof?

Look at the most recent WTO talks at CANCUN, where the Third World finally got sick of this shit and said enough is enough and decided to unite and fight back with a coaltion, the G-22, which told the First World to take their intimidation tactics, that backroom dealing, and of course their "Divide and Conquer" tactics--and shove it where the sun don't shine.

It was only one battle in a broader war for social justice, but it was significant nonetheless.




James 20.Sep.2003 10:18


No nation should blindly lower its trade barriers

Just like no person should blindly be open to any interaction with anyone else.

If someone told you had to be open to any exchange that anyone else wanted and that you had no right to set your own boundaries and make your own choices, you would be angry about it and fight against it - and rightly so

All interactions between individuals, communities and nations should be mutual and voluntary, not mandated by a governing body. If it is mandated by a governing body then it is coerced and not free.

Free trade means you are free to choose it, not mandated to have to accept it.

Free Trade needs to TRULY free 20.Sep.2003 13:31

human being

Free Trade is of no value if it does not abide by the universal human rights of equality, opportunity, and fairness.

Free Trade isn't free if it allows the prejudiced to limit the exhange of goods and services to others based on the absurdities of race, religion, philosophy, etc.

Free Trade can only truly be free if it is guaranteed to be equally Free and Open to all participants.

Free Markets and Free Trade are a Fraud 20.Sep.2003 13:57

Black Flag

"No nation should blindly lower its trade barriers"

Then I take it you support the Third World nations and their political position in the WTO, who have been COMPELLED AND STRONG ARMED into "blindly lowering its trade barriers" by the West and for the interest of predatory Western capitalism for the past several decades.

What Americans want is to have their cake and eat it to. American demand and expect that Third World nations will liberalize (i.e. open up for exploitation) their markets and their resources for plunder by Western capitalism--all the while America has a right to protext and subsidize its own industries and markets.

This is the fundamental hypocrisy of American Free Market Fundamentalists. And it is just another example of the arrogance of Imperialist American policy in general--"Do as I say not as I do."

Well those days are over.

Bilateral trade agreements 20.Sep.2003 18:56


James and Black Flag--

What is wrong with relatively simple bilateral trade agreements between sovereign nations.

Assuming, of course, that some way can be found to decide who is sovereign-- for example, the Kurds, the Basque, the Native Americans, the Palestinians-- are they sovereign nations--

But assuming that little problem is solved, why do we need such lofty, and ultimately unfair, agreements as WTO that simply multiply the power of multinational corporations at the expense of sovereign nations?

Seems like "Free Trade" WTO style has more in common with what used to be called "mercantilism" than with Adam Smiths notion of "free trade"

Bilaterialism is Bullshit 20.Sep.2003 20:05

Black Flag

"What is wrong with relatively simple bilateral trade agreements between sovereign nations."

The problem is that when First World nations enter into a bilateral aggreement with some piss-poor Third Nation like say Ecquador they will have the political, economic, and strategic leverage to extract unfair and outrageous concessions from this Third World Nation.

That is why Bilateral aggreements--like those that Dennis Kucinich are advocating--are bullshit and would only increase inequality between the First World and the Third.

Bilateral aggreements of this type would be similar to a multibillion dollar corporation like Microsoft negotiating some trade agreement with your local small software business. The latter would have no negotiating leverage whatsoever and would get screwed big time.

A better solution than either the WTO or bilateral aggreements is Solidarity and regional trade aggreements between Third World nations of comparable economic strength. These type of regional trade aggreements in turn would give the Third World much greater negotiating leverage when dealing with the First World. The recent development of the G-22 and G-16 coalition involving various Developing nations at the recent WTO talks at Cancun is thus a step in the right direction.

And that is one of the reasons why First World nations are so pissed off. The poor and impoverished nations of the world are starting to unite and fight back against an injust global economic system which is controlled by and for the First World.

"But assuming that little problem is solved, why do we need such lofty, and ultimately unfair, agreements as WTO that simply multiply the power of multinational corporations at the expense of sovereign nations? "

Your understanding of how the WTO works is somewhat off. Like many First World "antiglobalization" activists, you seem to believe that the WTO is merely some tool of mutinational corporations, when in fact it is a tool of the First World nations such as American, Europe, and Japan who use it to benefit their OWN multinational corporations.

Put another way, the WTO is used to violate the soverignty of nations alright--the sovereignty of Third World nations by the First World in the service of First World multinationals.

multilateralism is good 21.Sep.2003 17:22


Multilateraiism is a Good Thing, provided that poor countries can use it to collectively bargain against the rich countries. The problem is that in the WTO it works the other way around. That's why ordinary citizens of the rich countries who care about justice have to force their own countries to play fair. Instead of WTO, we should be looking to organizations like UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to set trade rules that will create a just international economy that prioritizes basic human needs and ecological sanity, not profit maximization for the already rich.

This was starting to happen under UNCTAD in the '70s, which, combined with the nonaligned movement, was starting to gain traction for the idea, most eloquently expressed by Frantz Fanon (cf. _The Wretched of the Earth_) that the developed countries really owed reparations to the poor ones for decades and centuries of plunder and genocide, in much the same spirit and for the same reasons that Germany was forced to pay vast reparations to the victims of its crimes in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the wake of the recent bloodletting in Vietnam and Algeria and so many other places by European powers, this was a potent argument. It still is, of course, despite the utmost vigorous efforts of the rightwing neoliberal ideologues of the rich countries to drown it. These ideologues of the rich and powerful saw the threat of movements like UNCTAD, the nonaligned movement, and, in its own way, OPEC, and were determined to stop at nothing to put a halt to the ambitions of the poor nations of the world for a more equitable world economy.

There are any forms of terrorism 22.Sep.2003 06:44


Poignant article, however, Ms. Klein forgot or decided to omit the Palestinian form of violence which has been ripping through and littering with body parts and shredded bodies, Israel' s streets, cafes, busses and food markets deliberately and sadistically killing and maiming, with the objective to instill, spread and maintain a constant level of terror through a population and also designed to slowly eliminate people's ability to survive.