complete cluelessness of the chattering classes on this subject
is exemplified by Andrew
Sullivan, writing in the London Times,
who starts off his sneering piece homing right in on what
is, for him, the central issue of our times. Sullivan quotes
one of the protesters, Mike Crudes, trade unionist, as saying:
don't get me wrong. I think those guys who marched around
dressed up like turtles are probably fairies. But as long
as they're against the same thing as me, I got no problem.
I think this shows how bad the World Trade Organization is,
that so many different people can protest together."
RUDE, AND POLITICALLY INCORRECT
How, uh, crude, huffs the openly gay former editor
of the New Republic, who has written extensively in
favor of gay rights, including a decent book, Virtually
Normal, and strikes quite a figure as a gay Catholic expatriate
Brit who is often mistaken for a conservative. The horrified
Sullivan haughtily opines that "his was not the only
epiphany to be found on the mocha-strewn pavements of the
northwest capital": the leftists at the Nation
magazine, he relates in a similarly stricken and astonished
tone, "rhapsodized" over the protesters, praising
them as a "phantasmagorical mix of tens of thousands
of peaceful demonstrators [who] stood against the WTO."
For them, Sullivan can hardly contain his contempt:
gets it just about right. Fat old union bosses and multi-pierced
grunge kids who last saw shampoo in 1992 joined hands with
right-wing militia groups from the Rocky Mountains and frizzy-haired
professors who still keep their Vietnam posters in the sideboard."
VANITY FAIR SCHOOL OF SOCIAL CRITICISM
weirdly apolitical critique might be called the Vanity
Fair school of social commentary. Never mind all this
nonsense about such side issues as globalization and national
sovereignty: Andrew Sullivan sees the world through the lens
of an aesthete focused on the important issues, like
fashion and physical attractiveness. Who cares what
those "union bosses" who are, after all,
"old" and "fat" have to say about
anything? Not to mention those frightfully homophobic
right-wing "militia groups," who don't seem to realize
that olive green combat fatigues are out, out, out
this year. And as for all those scruffy tweedy middle-aged
"professors" among the protesters everyone
knows that anyone with "frizzy hair" simply cannot
be taken seriously.
what drew 50,000-plus demonstrators into the streets in what
was clearly an attempt to shut down the WTO? According to
who knows Seattle will not have been over-surprised. The northwest
isn't home to only Boeing and Microsoft; it also has more
than its fair share of 1960s leftovers. The smell in the streets
might have been tear gas last week, but usually it's a mix
of dope and coffee. For months, dogged lefties in basements
across the country had been e-mailing their way to a mass
demonstration in this center of grunge protest. They succeeded
beyond their wildest dreams, and they should not be denied
their brief moment of joy."
"knows" much less about Seattle than he would have
us believe. To begin with, to describe the streets as "mocha-strewn"
is stretching it just a bit. Anyone who has actually been
there would know that the constant rain is more than enough
to wash away any mocha buildup on the pavement.
NEW YOUTH REBELLION
Sullivan's crude caricature of the protesters as Sixties "leftovers"
is not based on any fact another danger in commenting
from a distance while relying on second- and third-hand information.
Although the national mainstream (i.e. print) media is spinning
the Seattle rebellion as the second childhood of Sixties leftovers,
on the scene reports from Seattle media indicate that thousands
of local high school and college students participated in
the protests. This is, once again, a movement of the young
that is being excoriated by the pundits and pounded by the
police. That old fogies left, right, and center
are on the other side of the barricades is not exactly a surprising
development, but rather what seems to be a law of social development.
As in the Vietnam protests, the liberal left and the respectable
right have issued what amounts to a joint declaration of their
disdain for rebellious youth and, in the process, missed
the social and political significance of yet another turning
point in American history.
MOMENT OF JOY
hallmark of the Vanity Fair school of journalism, a
glossy complacency that manages to trivialize (and misperceive)
everything, is here displayed in Sullivan's slick dismissal
of the protests as a transitory "moment of joy"
as if nothing can or ever will change the cultural
and political status quo. Furthermore, this analysis of the
protests as a leftist conspiracy hatched over the Internet
a "story" the British tabloids are currently
running with contradicts his own observation about
the ideological diversity of the anti-WTO movement. What about
all those "right-wing militia" types were
they mobilized by "dogged lefties in basements"?
Sullivan would have it that Pat Buchanan packed his bags and
headed for Seattle just as soon as he got that email from
the Rainforest Action Network but don't you believe
may, perhaps, be forgiven if he misperceives the Seattle rebellion
as a victory for what he calls "America's latte left."
In his native Britain, the only protest movements are on the
left: there are no Tory revolutionaries. Unable to imagine
the mass appeal of right-wing populism, which has no real
equivalent in his native country, he reflexively labels the
Seattle events as a conspiracy of the far left. This is, by
the way, a favorite tactic within the Blairite Labor Party
in purging all resistance to the Prime Minister and his Third
LEFT AND RIGHT
this import won't sell on the American side of the Atlantic
for the simple reason that the ideological divide between
left and right is, here, much less well-defined. The left-right
dichotomy originated in Europe and reflected the struggle
between feudalism and rising capitalism, between the aristocracy
and landless peasants, and is not all that applicable to the
American character and political landscape. Yet Sullivan labors
mightily to bend the American reality to his European model.
Aside from the Nation, Sullivan goes on to cite Ralph
Nader certainly one of the most idiosyncratic political
figures since Jerry Brown as typical of the leftist
character of the anti-WTO crusade. Yet the
other day on Crossfire, as I related in
my last column, it was Nader scolding the dim Mary Matalin
on a question that has long concerned many American conservatives:
preserving America's national sovereignty: "Why Mary,"
he chuckled, "I'm surprised at you that you would be
willing to give up American sovereignty so easily." In
the politics of the new millennium, left and right meet and
merge and switch places but it won't be the first time
politics switched polarities.
a "liberal" used to mean opposing state power:
the great classical liberals of the 19th and early 20th centuries
were considered men of the left because they were the great
defenders of individual rights and laissez-faire. Conservatives
were absolutist defenders of the centralized state and the
divine right of kings. Political categories and terminology
are in constant flux, and during a period of crisis
war, or some other great struggle often change into
their opposites. The Battle of Seattle is not the first indication
that we are approaching such times, nor will it be the last.
labels Nader a "socialist," but all the real socialists
are in the Democratic Party. Nader is running for President
as the official candidate of the Green Party, hardly a Marxist
cabal, and his presence on the ballot in more than a few states
could mean bad news for Al Gore perhaps another reason
why Sullivan sounds so peevish. As further evidence that this
is all a Trotskyite plot, Sullivan cites trade union leader
Gerald Entee, who "told the cheering throngs in Seattle.
'We have to name the system that tolerates sweatshops and
child labor and that system is corporate capitalism.'"
IS "CORPORATE CAPITALISM"?
what, exactly, is corporate capitalism? ? Isn't all
capitalism "corporate"? Naturally, no practitioner
of the Vanity Fair school of journalism would ever
stoop to defining his terms; and, besides, why bother with
all those tiresome details? They don't call economics "the
dismal science" for nothing! But when it comes to matters
that require more than having a good fashion sense, such as
economic and political analysis, Sullivan is really in over
notion that people, as consumers, have anything to gain from
corporate capitalism was apparently lost on the protesters.
As was the notion that the poor, huddled masses of the developing
world might have something to gain from freer, less regulated
trade. In Seattle were gathered not only the stylistic contradictions
of the counter-cultural, but also the political contradictions."
TRADE" AND FRIZZY HAIR
"stylistic contradictions" the Seattle protesters
may be guilty of such as "frizzy hair" or
dandruff it is the contradictions in Sullivan's own
argument that were shown up in very short order. Sullivan's
thesis was exploded the day after it was published, when "the
poor, huddled masses of the developing world" rejected
the WTO's attempt to impose labor regulations on their nascent
industries. The international extension of the Third Way into
the Third World was nixed, at least for now, and this is what
really annoys Sullivan and the other enthusiasts of "corporate
capitalism," from Washington to London. For "corporate
capitalism" is known to economists and political theorists
as state capitalism, or corporatism that is,
an economy no less centrally-planned than the classic Marxist
model, in which the planners are corporate executives and
financiers acting through and in coordination with the instrument
of government. "Corporate capitalism," in short,
has nothing to do with the free market, just as the WTO was
not an effort to usher in an era of free trade.
Sullivan and his fellow economic illiterates fail to understand
is that a truly free trade policy pursued by the US would
not require a 15,000-page treaty only a unilateral
declaration by the US government that we were immediately
dropping all tariff barriers to entry on our markets. This
would take up considerably less than a single page
even alongside an ultimatum that would cut off all foreign
aid to countries that did not reciprocate. But the "free
traders" of Sullivan's ilk are not advocating this: instead,
we are asked to give up our sovereignty to secret "trade
tribunals" and a shadowy transnational bureaucracy.
THE FOAM ON A MOCHA
Seattle protests will come to nothing, avers Sullivan: "As
protest politics, Seattle was a spectacular success. But like
the foam on a mocha, it is likely to evaporate sooner rather
than later into the city's mist" because there is (and
can be) no real vehicle for anti-globalism.
deeper irony, of course, is that the only mass party that
has any claim to the anti-corporate, protectionist, isolationist
bandwagon is the Reform party, and that is now being fought
over by Pat Buchanan, the former Republican, and Donald Trump,
the multimillionaire. Neither of them has very solid left-wing
credentials. Moreover, all four big party candidates
George W Bush, Al Gore, McCain and Bill Bradley support
free trade and the WTO."
TRADE, GLOBALIZATION AND "THE DONALD"
there is a sure mark of the Vanity Fair school
of social criticism taking the alleged presidential
campaign of "The Donald" seriously. Or, for that
matter, taking Donald Trump seriously about anything outside
of real estate, gambling casinos, and dames. Just as Sullivan
misperceives the Seattle rebellion as an effusion of the left,
so he underestimates the mass appeal of Buchanan. Blind to
a populism where the only credentials are the ability to tap
into popular sentiment and get a place on the ballot
he cannot see how the Buchanan campaign is effectively
erasing the ill-drawn and often fuzzy lines between left and
right in America.
collections of acronyms WTO, NATO, EU, etc., ad
nauseum usurp the traditional functions of the
nation-state, the battlelines are being drawn in the struggles
that will dominate the new millennium. While the centralizers
and global planners seek to impose their political and economic
hegemony on the post-cold war world, they are meeting opposition
from the left and the right. But it won't be long before the
various components of the anti-globalist revolt, having a
common enemy, will forge a common analysis of what is wrong
with the new order and how to right it. For the outlines
of that new order are coming into focus with alarming rapidity,
and elements of both the left and the right have major problems
KOSOVO TO SEATTLE
seems to be emerging from the mists of the post-cold war world
is an evolving de facto world government, with NATO as the
military arm, the UN Security Council as the nascent executive
branch, the evolving World Court along with the various War
Crimes Tribunals as the judiciary, and the IMF, the World
Bank, and the WTO regulating and dominating the world economy.
From Kosovo to Seattle the emerging world state is reaching
its tentacles into every aspect of life on this earth, from
trade and the environment to the use of military force
but the monster got slapped in Seattle. Every patriot is cheering.
the chattering classes, of which Sullivan is the epitome,
titter and carp from the sidelines; let them critique the
dress, hairstyles, and fashion sense of the anti-globalist
rebels. The rest of us have more serious subjects to discuss.
The British Euroskeptics, the European opponents of NATO and
the EU, the rising populist movements in Switzerland and Austria,
the growing Pan-Slavic reaction to Western incursions into
the Balkans and the Caucasus all these rising movements
are part of a worldwide reaction to the newly-aggressive and
emboldened corporate and political elites and their vision
of a completely statized and globalized corporate capitalism.
They include every sort of opposition to the global monoculture
and its evolving political superstructure, including a growing
nationalist and "isolationist" sentiment in this
country. To this list we can now add the Seattle protesters.