Issue 260 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review

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ANTI-CAPITALIST CONFERENCE

Parliament of the people

Part of the huge anti-capitalist demonstration in Brussels
Part of the huge anti-capitalist demonstration in Brussels

The international movement against capitalist globalisation faces two important tests. The first is the protests against the bosses' jamboree of the World Economic Forum, moved this year from Davos in Switzerland to New York. The second is the World Social Forum (WSF) that meets in Porto Alegre in Brazil between 31 January and 5 February.

Porto Alegre is the capital of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. It first sprang to prominence a year ago, when 13,000 people from 117 countries gathered there to attend the first WSF. A kind of global parliament of the anti-capitalist movement, the WSF throbbed with the life of all the different campaigns and coalitions represented there. A live television link-up allowed representatives of the movement led by Walden Bello to debate--and wipe the floor--with George Soros and other corporate stiffs in Davos. Even the Blairite journalist John Lloyd had to concede that 'unlike Davos, it sounded sure of itself. It had a moral wind in its sails.'

The second WSF promises to be much bigger. The organisers hope that between 60,000 and 80,000 people will take part in 26 plenaries, 60 seminars and 900 workshops. Among those due to take part are the great critic of US imperialism Noam Chomsky and the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff. Nor will it just be a talking shop, as there are several demonstrations planned.

The movement assembled at Porto Alegre will face much tougher questions than it did a year ago. Then it was still celebrating its own emergence after a decade of capitalist triumphalism. Today, however, it must confront the aftermath of Genoa and 11 September. The leading capitalist states have demonstrated their willingness ruthlessly to use force, not just against protesters, but also to maintain their domination of the world.

Porto Alegre will confirm what was already evident at the demonstrations in Brussels in December--that the movement against capitalist globalisation has survived the backlash after 11 September. But different strategies are being presented to the movement. At the first WSF in January 2001 a polarisation began to emerge over whether the nation-state could be an ally against global capitalism. Leading figures associated with the influential French monthly Le Monde diplomatique, allied to the left nationalist politician Jean Pierre Chevènement, pushed the statist approach. The Le Monde diplomatique team is a major force within Attac, the movement against financial speculation. Particularly after Genoa, Attac began to be courted by various social democratic governments. In September last year the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, both facing closely fought elections in the near future, agreed to set up a joint working party on how to regulate financial markets. The leadership of Attac France have held several meetings with Jospin's chief of staff. The French National Assembly passed a resolution in November supporting the Tobin tax on international financial speculation. Perhaps because of this courtship, the Attac leadership did not mobilise its considerable influence against the war in Afghanistan.

This courtship will continue at Porto Alegre. Among the notables present will be Danielle Mitterrand, widow of the former French president. It is reported that Fidel Castro will also be there. With presidential elections coming up in Brazil, the Workers Party, which governs Rio Grande do Sul, will be much in evidence.

The crisis in Argentina has demonstrated yet again the bankruptcy of neoliberal policies. But there is a powerful lobby that argues that the alternative should be an international version of the old national reformist strategy. This is well summed up by the US writer and activist Jeremy Brecher, who advocates 'tying down Gulliver'--regulating and controlling global capitalism.

Brecher has argued that Porto Alegre can put 'a debtors' cartel on the agenda'. In other words, indebted Third World states should get together to impose a collective moratorium on debt repayments and, if necessary, to jointly default on their debts to Northern banks. In itself this isn't a bad demand, but it begs two questions. First, where is the driving force for change--does it lie below, in the developing mass movements, or above, in progressive national governments? Second, are we aiming for a more benevolent version of capitalism, or do we really believe that 'another world is possible'? These debates won't be settled in Porto Alegre, but the WSF can act as an important forum for strategic argument, and a rallying point for the anti-capitalist movement.
Alex Callinicos


BETWEEN THE LINES

  • Kodak is refusing to honour sales of a £330 camera which it advertised for £100, after thousands of people tried to take advantage of the offer. Disgruntled customers have set up a website which has so far attracted 13,000 visitors. The debacle is similar to the Hoover flights to America scheme which led to thousands of legal claims.
  • Direct Line telephone
  • Insurance companies have a new way to find out if false claimants are telling porkies. Instead of asking questions they will encourage claimants to talk for up to 20 minutes. 'This is very difficult for a fraudster,' claimed a spokesman from Direct Line, 'because he or she does not have emotions about the event because it is not genuine.' So next time you put in a claim, breaking into tears might help.
  • Some 40 million people will lose their jobs if China joins the World Trade Organisation claims UN representative Kerstin Leitner. This will be a 50 percent rise in unemployment. She also warns that growing inequalities will lead to serious social unrest.
  • NEW YORK

    Forum for protest

    Last year the World Economic Forum (WEF), which had been meeting in Davos in Switzerland for decades, declared that it would hold its next gathering in New York City between 31 January and 4 February at the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. No one knows for sure the reasoning behind this sudden change of venue.

    The official line from WEF organisers is that they were coming to show solidarity with New Yorkers after 11 September. It is more likely that the real reason for the move comes down to the growing protests the WEF was facing in Davos. However, the 3,000 business executives, politicians, and the sundry cream of the elite that gather at the WEF in New York can be reassured that there will be protests.

    Organising against the WEF began almost immediately after the move was announced. Clearly, the repressive and patriotic atmosphere in the US after 11 September has rattled many sections of the anti-capitalist movement. A number of NGOs have tried, for example, to get reassurances--in some cases signed pledges--from the more radical elements in the movement that commit them to non-violence. It was left to direct action and independent activists working in the newly formed Another World Is Possible (AWIP) coalition to initiate and organise much of the activity.

    The AFL-CIO trade union federation has plans for a forum on globalisation followed by a march against sweatshops two days before the 2 February day of action. Student activists, mainly from the anti-war movement on campuses like Berkeley and Columbia, are organising a major counter-conference that combines anti-capitalist and anti-war themes.

    The WEF will focus on how it can continue to sell its increasingly bankrupt economic prescriptions to a dubious public and make sure that their investments and companies get through the coming recession unscathed. The protests will make sure that the WEF's plans for more devastation do not pass unopposed.
    Bilal El-Amine


    ENRON

    Digging the dirt on New Labour's friends

    The end of the road for Enron
    The end of the road for Enron

    The fall of Enron is a very British scandal because it relied on a British cast as well as friendships with Bush and Clinton to give it respectability. Lord Wakeham sat on the board, chairing the firm's 'Audit Committee'. Labour invited Enron executives to its 'gala dinners'. In return the party received somewhere between £15,000 and £30,000 a year from 1997 to 2001 from Enron. Even the queen was roped into the sanitisation of Enron, making Enron Europe chairman Ralph Hodge a 'Commander of the British Empire'.

    Peter Mandelson let Enron buy Wessex Water in 1998. Enron wanted Wessex to act as a bridgehead to break into the international water privatisation market. The Labour Party was repeatedly warned to steer clear of Enron. However, as most of those who pointed to the firm's appalling human rights record came from the left, they were ignored. Blair and Mandelson also turned a blind eye to Enron's endless regulatory violations in Britain.

    Enron traded commodities. Last July the London metals exchange fined the firm £190,000 for irregularities in settling trades. Enron also generated electricity at Teesside. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will not report on the deaths of three of its employees until later this year. However, in 1998 Enron was fined £10,000 by the HSE when another worker received burns after liquid naphtha leaked from a pipe at the same plant. The HSE also fined Enron £17,000 in 1992 after a worker was killed while working on the plant's construction. Enron does not recognise unions at the plant.

    Enron also liberally and literally scattered shit across the south west. Last December Enron's Wessex Water was fined £3,450 for pouring 'crude sewage' into the River Trym. In June 2001 Wessex was fined £6,598 for pouring raw sewage into a Dorset stream. The month before it was fined £2,425 for discharging filth into the River Avon. In January 2001 Wessex was fined £1,800 by the Environment Agency after it pumped muck into the Avon. Last July Enron was fined £5,350 for flooding 9,000 litres of diesel fuel into groundwater near Wimborne. In May 2000 Wessex was fined £10,300 after letting effluent coat Somerset's River Sheppey with sewage fungus. In May of the previous year Wessex had to pay another £3,250 in fines after poisoning fish in Bitham brook with ammonia-filled sewage discharges.

    Labour's response to Wessex Water's shameful pollution record was swift and sure. At the last Labour conference Robin Cook, Blair guru Charlie Leadbetter and Socialist Review's favourite commentator, Polly Toynbee, addressed a Fabian meeting sponsored by Wessex.
    Solomon Hughes


    BLOODY SUNDAY INQUIRY

    A cover up that went right to the top

    Shot in cold blood by the British military
    Shot in cold blood by the British military

    Thirty years after it happened, why is there still such a fuss about Bloody Sunday? Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail commentators rant and rage about the huge political, legal and media concentration on Bloody Sunday, and about the cost of the Saville tribunal of inquiry into the events of 30 January 1972. They point to the fact that other atrocities have seen as many, or more, innocent people cut down, and just as cruelly. There was no justification for those killings either. So why isn't there a film, much less two films, about the IRA's Remembrance Day bomb in 1987, which left 11 dead? And why are the Bloody Sunday soldiers being pursued when paramilitaries have an effective amnesty?

    Of course, the Paras don't need an amnesty. They've never been classified as having done wrong. Bloody Sunday was not the work of people labelled terrorists working in the dead of night. It happened in broad daylight in a built-up area crowded with people. Hundreds watched as men representing the British state went on a killing spree. The long campaign for a new inquiry to repudiate the finding of the Widgery tribunal in 1972 did not arise from a need to know the truth, but from the fact that, knowing the truth, the families of the dead needed to have it acknowledged.

    Saville's inquiry may cost as much as £200 million and not report until 2004, six years after it was set up. But already something has been achieved--the inquiry is a triumph for the relatives of the dead and for the Bloody Sunday campaign. In appointing Saville, the British government was accepting that the Widgery tribunal could be repudiated. If Saville ends up acknowledging that Widgery was a whitewash, an 'appalling vista' will face Widgery's office, the Lord Chief Justice, and the British state institutions generally--especially if it is shown that he acted on the urging of high political figures. This, along with the damning implications for the reputation of the Parachute Regiment of the truth coming out, is what fuels the anger of some who attack the cost and the timescale of the Saville proceedings.

    Yes, the Saville inquiry has already cost almost £100 million and the lawyers are earning huge fees. One of the reasons the tribunal has cost so much is the insistence of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on obstructing Saville at every turn to try and block the emergence of the truth. All the British army photographs from the day are missing--there were at least ten army photographers taking photographs of the march, which had been declared illegal. Most of the remaining rifles used on the day were destroyed by the MoD after the inquiry asked to have access to them.

    So where has the inquiry got to so far? From the start lawyers for the soldiers have told the inquiry that they 'would not argue that any of the known dead and injured were armed with guns, nail-bombs, petrol bombs or acid bombs'. However, they say, 'Those who fired live rounds will say without exception that they aimed and shot at, and only at, those who they believed to be using firearms or to be threatening lethal violence to them or to others... We do positively make that assertion...that gunmen and bombers were killed on Bloody Sunday.'

    The Paras' lawyers say there were about 34 unacknowledged casualties on the day and these were the IRA men the soldiers were in a gunfight with when they inadvertently killed the acknowledged dead. They contend that over 30 families in a town as small as Derry [80,000 people] have for 30 years been covering up the death of a loved one they had buried in secret. People in Derry just laugh at the idea, while lawyers for the soldiers grasp at any lapse of memory they can say is evidence for it. It doesn't seem to occur to the soldiers' lawyers to explain how not 13 but over 40 people could have been killed on the day, with the only casualty on the army side a soldier who shot himself in the foot before the massacre began.

    Documents already published by the inquiry have revealed much about the political and military background to Bloody Sunday. In particular, they show the fury of army commanders and politicians right up to Downing Street about the 'no-go area'. This was the area known as 'Free Derry', which had fought the police and army on the barricades and established that it was a 'no-go area' for state forces. Unionist politicians, in particular, were apoplectic at its continued existence.

    In December 1971 home secretary Maudling was told by the general officer in command in the North, General Harry Tuzo, that 'a choice had to be made between accepting that Creggan and Bogside were areas where the army were not able to go...or to mount a major operation...which would involve, at some stage, shooting at unarmed civilians.' Maudling did not object to the idea.

    On 7 January 1972 General Robert Ford declared in a memo to Tuzo, 'I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary...is to shoot selected ringleaders among the Derry young hooligans after clear warnings have been issued... I am convinced that our duty to restore law and order requires us to consider this step.'

    At Downing Street four days later prime minister Heath told his Northern Ireland cabinet committee, 'As to Londonderry, a military operation to re-impose law and order would...be a major operation necessarily involving numerous civilian casualties.' When Jimmy McGovern's superior film Sunday put Tory prime minister Edward Heath on screen urging Lord Widgery to 'remember...we are fighting in Northern Ireland not just a military war but a propaganda war', he was quoting directly from one of the papers released by the Saville inquiry.

    So that is why there still is, and should be, a fuss about Bloody Sunday after 30 years--the British government sent the Paras into Derry knowing that 'numerous civilian casualties' would be the result and then engaged in a cover-up involving the highest legal official in the land.
    Goretti Horgan


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