Behind the Anti-Globalization Label

Behind the Anti-Globalization Label

The term “anti-globalization movement” (AGM) has come to refer to recent mass protests against global capitalist expansion. Much of the public, and even participants in the movement itself, have uncritically accepted the label. But the naming of something gives power to those bestowing names, and the proponents of the anti-globalization misnomer use it to deflect challenges to corporate-capitalist ideology. Pundits such as Thomas Friedman or Paul Krugman can easily convince their readers that the “anti-globalization” movement is an irrational attempt to stop inevitable and unambiguously good economic development. Along with many government officials (particularly those from rich countries), they frequently claim, We know what the movement is against, but what is it for?

The AGM label, in short, provides a convenient defense for global capitalist ideologies while it shifts public attention away from the critical message protesters seek to bring to the public agenda. The task of naming the movement should not be left to those in power; it is part of the struggle itself. So let’s look at some themes in protester discourse that suggest more pro-active alternatives.

A Movement for Comprehensive Globalization

A lingering image that I took away from the Quebec City protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas is of photocopies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that activists attached to the chain-link fence separating the public from the official meeting site. “Anti-globalization” protesters were, in fact, appealing to global norms to demonstrate the arguably anti-global tendencies of their opponents. If resistance to government efforts to enact less restrictive rules about the flow of goods and services across borders is “anti-global,” then governments’ own efforts to restrict internationally established democratic norms must also qualify as “anti-global.” The key question is whether globalization refers only to rules governing economic exchange or whether it also encompasses rules of social and political engagement. The AGM clearly shares the latter view. In this sense it is a Comprehensive Globalization Movement.

The CGM calls for a holistic definition of globalization, where social and political integration is negotiated alongside economic integration. Different groups within the movement differ in the relative weight they attach to each of these “pillars” of globalization, but everyone agrees that the prevailing policy discourse gives priority to economic integration (read unrestricted markets). Free trade advocates justify this priority with the claim that the benefits of trade will automatically “trickle-down” to all sectors of society. The messy and politically difficult issues of distribution and environmental sustainability are then ignored—even formally excluded from consideration by agreements drafted largely by trade bureau...