Can seize The Day
17June , 2003
Last week Jack Straw illuminated
the depths of his political cowardice by shining upon them the full
and feeble beam of his political courage. He proposed to alter the constitution
of the UN security council. He would like to double its permanent membership,
though without granting the new members the privileges accorded to the
five existing ones. He must know that this scheme will be rejected by
the proposed new entrants, yet he fears to tread more firmly upon the
toes of the incumbents.
But Straw is desperate to save this undemocratic instrument of global
governance. He wants to save it because it provides a semblance of legitimacy
for a global system otherwise crudely governed by Britain's principal
ally. By tearing down the security council to go to war with Iraq, George
Bush has ripped the veil off his own intentions. The ambitions of his
project now stand before us, naked and undeniable. Straw, like a frantic
tailor, is seeking to restore his client's modesty. He knows that a
naked emperor cannot govern unopposed for long.
Straw's scheme is a response
to two colliding realities. The first is that the principal instruments
of political globalisation are in trouble. The security council, the
World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank, having already lost the support of the world's people, are now
losing the support of their principal sponsor. Other nations are beginning
to face a stark choice: they must either accept direct global rule from
Washington, or bypass the superpower and design a new, multilateral
system of global governance.
The second is that economic
globalisation, driven by corporate and financial integration, sweeps
all before it. It destroys, but it also creates. It is extending to
the world's people unprecedented opportunities for mobilisation. It
is establishing a single, planetary class interest, as the same forces
and the same institutions threaten the welfare of the people of all
nations. It is ripping down the cultural and linguistic barriers that
divide us. By breaking the social bonds which sustained local communities,
it destroys our geographical loyalties. It forces us to become a global
political community, whether we like it or not.
Simultaneously, it has placed
within our hands the weapons we need to attack the existing means of
global governance. By forcing governments to operate in the interests
of business, it has manufactured the disenchantment upon which all new
politics must feed. By expanding its own empire through new communication
and transport networks, it has granted the world's people the means
by which they can gather and coordinate their challenge.
We may, in other words, be
approaching a revolutionary moment. Economic globalisation has made
us stronger than ever before, just as the existing instruments of global
control have become weaker than ever before. But the global justice
movement, vast and determined as it is, is in no position to seize it.
The reason is simple: we do not possess a political programme. Without
a programme, we can only oppose. Without a programme, we permit our
opponents to select the field of battle.
We hesitate to develop one
for two reasons. The first is that hundreds of disparate factions have
buried their differences within this movement to fight their common
enemies. Those differences will re-emerge as we seek to coalesce around
a common set of solutions.
The second is that many of
us have mistaken the context for the problem. We have tended to reject
not only the undemocratic global governance which prevails today, but
also global governance itself. As a result, we remove ourselves from
the determination of precisely those issues - such as war, climate change,
international debt and trade between nations - which most concern us,
for these issues can be addressed only at the global level. Global governance
will take place whether we participate in it or not. Indeed, it must
take place if these issues are not to be resolved by the brute force
of the powerful. Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to
capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity's first global democratic
But, despite the fact that
many people understand these issues, we still hang back. We leave the
rest of the world with a question, repeatedly asked but seldom answered:
we know what they don't want, but what do they want?
I have sought to provide
an answer, with a series of proposals for a system of global governance
run by, and for, the world's people. I don't regard them as final or
definitive: on the contrary, I hope that other people will refine, transform
and, if necessary, overthrow them in favour of better ones. But until
we have a programme to reject, we will never develop a programme we
I have suggested the scrapping
of the World Bank and the IMF, and their replacement with a body rather
like the one designed by John Maynard Keynes in the 1940s, whose purpose
was to prevent excessive trade surpluses and deficits from forming,
and therefore international debt from accumulating. I have proposed
a transformation of the global trade rules. Poor nations should be permitted,
if they wish, to follow the route to development taken by the rich nations:
protecting their infant industries from foreign competition until they
are strong enough to fend for themselves, and seizing other countries'
intellectual property rights. Companies operating between nations should
be subject to mandatory fair trade rules, losing their licence to trade
if they break them.
The UN security council should
be scrapped, and its powers vested in a reformulated UN general assembly.
This would be democratised by means of weighted voting: nations' votes
would increase according to both the size of their populations and their
positions on a global democracy index. Perhaps most importantly, the
people of the world would elect representatives to a global parliament,
whose purpose would be to hold the other international bodies to account.
I have also suggested some
cruel and unusual means by which these proposals might be implemented.
Poor nations, for example, now owe so much that they own, in effect,
the world's financial systems. The threat of a sudden collective default
on their debts unless they get what they want would concentrate the
minds of even the most obdurate global powers.
You might regard this agenda
as either excessive or insufficient, wildly optimistic or boringly unambitious.
But it is not enough simply to reject it. Do so by all means, but only
once you have first proposed a better one of your own. For until we
have a programme behind which we can unite, we will neither present
a viable threat to the current rulers of the world, nor seize the revolutionary
moment which their miscalculation affords us. We cannot destroy the
existing world order until we have a better one with which to replace