Genoa's protesters are addled. But why do global leaders lack the courage of their convictions?

By Guy Sorman
In: The Wall Street Journal Europe, July 20-21, 2001

Antiglobalization protestors are packing for Genoa. Thanks to the nonprofits and protest Web sites, cheap travel tickets, food and lodging will be widely available in and around Genoa. In summer, Italy is a feast that no earnest Green, anarchist or lover of endangered species will miss.

We know in advance how the summit and its disruption will proceed. The script has been more or less the same since the November 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, though the plot has been refined through repetition in Quebec, Davos and Goteborg. We are in for no surprise in Genoa.

In the antiglobalization drama, the actors divide into three groups with well-defined roles. The first wave comprises nice, law-abiding good-looking NGO members asking politely for more democracy in the global decision-making process. The media loves them, as they provide personable images and impassioned sound bytes to contrast the dullness of any summit. The fact that government representatives are democratically elected and self-appointed NGOs are not will, of course, be overlooked.

Paradoxically, while the do-gooders accuse governments of meeting secretively behind closed doors, it is the threat posed by the protesters themselves that necessitates a fortress-style approach. More, these purportedly pro-democratic protestors deliberately create the very havoc they foretell. Their strategy is to demonstrate that the governments are dictators who can rule the world only because the anti-riot forces protect them from popular outcry. In Genoa, as in Seattle or Goteborg, be assured that this first wave of attack will succeed. Moreover, the governments' representatives will humbly concede the protestors' claim that big companies and governments need to be more democratic. As in the 1936 Moscow trials, the victims will accuse themselves of being the culprits.


After this first wave of attack in the name of transparency, the Greens and the other advocates of gentle causes follow, demanding to protect nature, the whales or working children in third-world countries. Tree-huggers tend to be more aggressive than the pro-democracy protestors. No ordinary rioters, the Greens are the priests of a new religion that puts nature above humankind. The ecology movement is not a nice peace-and-love lobby but a revolutionary force. Like many a modernday religion, its designated evils are ostensibly decried on the basis of scientific knowledge: global warming, species extinction, loss of biodiversity, superweeds. In fact, all these threats are figments of the Green imagination. Greens borrow their vocabulary for science without availing themselves of its rationality. Their method is not new; Marx and Engels also pretended to root their world vision in the science of their time, Darwinism. By exploiting the ignorance of the masses and the common fear of change, the Greens, too, will carry the day in Genoa. The G-8 governments will not dare contradict them, from horror of seeming politically incorrect.

The field is then been prepared for the third wave, the really tough guys, the true anarchists. The media tend to confuse anarchists with hooligans. Yet proper anarchists are more methodic than mere hell-raisers, and operate according to a clearer, though purely destructive, agenda. Most of their leaders live in the U.S., some in the Netherlands and Sweden. Their historical inspiration is a mixture of the Berkeley 1968 revolt and more recent renegades like the Unabomber, a hero for technophobians. For anarchists, violence is not only a means toward and end but an end in itself; Marx called them the "dreamers of the absolute." To enter the anarchist network and download their doctrine is relatively easy. Like NGOs and the Greens, they also have Web sites and publications. They produce samizdats in the U.S., as if they were persecuted -- which they are not.

One of the most literate of the anarchist thinkers these days is John Zerzan, who lives in Eugene, Oregon. Mr. Zerzan's book, "Future Primitive" argues that, because humankind has spiraled downward since the invention of agriculture, we need to regress to the Paleolithic times in order to rediscover genuine happiness. Utopian ideologies commonly hearken back to a lost paradise, as do many religions. But few go back as far as Mr. Zerzan. The "computer smashings" he promotes on university campuses are meant to symbolically destroy the technical obstacles to our true inner life. At least Zerzan has a faintly positive agenda, which is more than one can say for most antiglobalization movements.

Indeed, one of the unifying characteristics of all three types of protester is their absence of a clear alternative to what they oppose. If asked, many would doubtless mention the Tobin tax on foreign exchange. But ironically the Tobin tax, if implemented, would demand more globalization, not less, as it could be imposed only by a totalitarian global government able to repress any capital flight and tax evasion. Actually, the promoters of the tax are less interested in the tax itself than in disrupting the free market by whatever means that fall to hand.


Concerted attempts to find coherence in the antiglobalization movement generally dredge up all the classical Marxist arguments against capitalism -- nothing new, although these contemporary formulations of socialism rarely display the consistency of Marx himself. Rather, today's protesters resemble the early 19th-century utopians waiting for a Marx to come along and unify their ideology.

Whatever the philosophical contradictions of the antiglobalistas, their intellectual shallowness, their incoherent discourse, and their disreputable behavior, the G-8 representatives are worse. These are grown-ups who should know better. Yet they cower as if they were culprits. They excuse themselves constantly, promising to take into consideration the absurd appeals of the protesters. In Genoa, once again, world leaders in fine suits are sure to whimper like beaten underdogs. With the merciful exception of the American delegation, the entire convocation is bound to bend over backwards to please the Green, anarchist and Marxist constituencies, if to no avail. These leaders should better talk to their own people and explain what globalization is about.

No, it is not a perfect world. But it is the best we've ever had in terms of person freedom, peace, scientific advancement and economic progress. Yes, nations that are globalized are more prosperous than nations that remain isolated, because trade creates opportunity. Yes, economic progress is the best guarantee of environmental protection. No, "real" jobs are not being destroyed forever. No, humanly caused global warming hasn't been convincingly proven. And yes, while globalization tends to promote a global American subculture, it also brings a new dynamism to cultures that otherwise would have remained ossified folklores.

Yet the very parties who have the most at stake in putting these arguments forcefully and cogently in Genoa are almost certain to hold their tongues. Meanwhile the protesters will once more confirm that they have no ideas but a lot of stamina. "People do not know the history they make," argues Karl Marx; this rings true for the globalists and antiglobalists alike. But the G-8 protesters are an unelected and poorly informed rabble, many of whom can at least claim the legitimate excuse of being young. The moral and intellectual excuse of being young. The moral and intellectual cowardice of the global bourgeoisie in our time is far more depressing.


Mr. Sorman is a French author living in Paris whose next book, "Progress and Its Enemies," will be published in September.

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