Socialist Worker

Does this revolution go far enough?

Alex Callinicos, author of An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto, welcomes George Monbiot's call for a global democratic revolution but wants changes that go deeper

Issue No. 1857

ANYONE INVOLVED in the anti-capitalist movement can only welcome the call that George Monbiot makes in his interview in Socialist Worker last week and in his new book The Age of Consent for 'a global democratic revolution'. Monbiot unflinchingly targets what he calls 'the global dictatorship of vested interests'.

More than that, he seeks to take the debate inside the movement forward by setting out a vision of the alternative to the current tyranny of the big corporations. 'There is no future in a movement that does not have a programme,' Monbiot told Socialist Worker. 'Until we set the agenda we have no possibility of creating positive change.'

His programme rightly rejects the idea, supported by many activists influenced by Green or autonomist approaches, that the answer is to trade and produce locally. Monbiot argues powerfully that 'localisation' would simply perpetuate the global inequalities that trap the poor countries in producing raw materials for the rich.

He contends that the problem isn't too much but too little globalisation. The so called institutions of 'global governance', such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, are dominated by national states in general, and by the United States in particular. Hence Monbiot's solution is to extend democracy from the national to the global level.

His programme comprises four changes - creating a directly elected world parliament, making the UN General Assembly more representative, setting up an International Clearing Union, and instituting a global system of fair trade.

These last two measures, Monbiot concedes towards the end of his book, are the most urgent. He wants poor countries to be able to build up their industries protected from competition by the great multinational corporations of the North. He draws on an idea originally proposed by Maynard Keynes during the Second World War of an International Clearing Union.

He believes such a body would end the current situation where poor countries are trapped in cycles of increasing debt while more and more wealth cascades into the lap of the rich countries. Reforming international trade and finance will, in other words, permit a global redistribution of wealth and power.

But are trade and finance the root of the problem? Appalling and growing inequalities divide rich and poor throughout the world. But what drives this process is not trade, but the investments that allocate resources for economic purposes. Currently the bulk of investment is controlled by a few hundred multinational corporations who concentrate largely on the rich countries.

Hardly any countries in the South, apart from China, receive significant foreign direct investment. They are the victims of what the sociologist Michael Mann has called 'ostracising imperialism' - effectively excluded from the global production system.

The investment decisions of the big corporations do not involve the rational allocation of resources to meet human needs. They are driven by a blind process of competition in which firms vie to grab a larger share of markets and profits than their rivals.

This leads to what Marxist economists call 'over-accumulation'. Resources are wasted in investment projects that have to be abandoned because they will never make a profit. During the boom of the 1990s, 39 million miles of fibre-optic cable were laid in the US, enough to span the globe 1566 times.

It is this process of competitive accumulation that leads to the cycle of boom and slump that runs throughout the history of capitalism. Tinkering around with international trade and the payments system doesn't really address this destructive logic.

The solution lies in a planned economy, where networks of democratically organised producers and consumers collectively control the world's resources and decide how to use them.

Versions of such an alternative are sketched out by Michael Albert in his new book Parecon and in my An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto.

In a sense, Monbiot acknowledges the limitations of his programme. He refers to the 'paradox' that his proposals 'may permit us, through the deployment of a modified species of capitalism, to create the conditions in which capitalism can be destroyed'.

Though Monbiot wants a peaceful revolution he predicts that it may face 'armed force'. But then he must face the objection he makes to George Soros, who advocates reforming the IMF and the World Bank.

If we won even these changes, 'we would then have forced the world's only superpower to have volunteered to surrender its hegemonic status. If that is possible anything is.' So, he asks, why settle for the 'puny' reforms proposed by Soros?

But the same logic applies to Monbiot as well. If we can override the resistance of the American ruling class, why stop at an International Clearance Union? Instead of going for 'a modified species of capitalism', why not try to get rid of capitalism altogether?

George Monbiot is right to advocate a 'global democratic revolution'. The trouble is that his conception of such a revolution doesn't go anything like deep or far enough.

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Sat 28 Jun 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1857
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