Can Cancun? By William Bowles

13 September 2003

As things stand, it looks increasingly likely that either the WTO meeting will end with no decision being reached or the rich world will have to bite the bullet and make deep compromises over subsidies and open up its markets to the products of the poor countries of the world. This is a decisive moment in history for the entire planet that will decide in which direction we head as a species.

The battle lines are drawn. The US-EU bluff has been called. A whinging Margaret Beckett (minister of overseas development) whined on the radio that, “we have already made a big sacrifice over subsidies” referring to government support for western agribusiness. But I did detect more than a whiff of the lady protesting just a little too much as she sought to defend the indefensible. She said little more of consequence as well she might. There’s little else left for her to say is there.

The newly created G-21 block of developing nations which includes Brazil, India, China and South Africa, and which collectively represents over half the world’s population, is possibly the last chance we have of challenging the hegemony of supra-national capitalism in the battle over who is to control the world’s resources and determine the direction we will take for the next 100 years.

The so-called Free Trade issue goes to the very heart of the battle between the rich and poor countries and it’s an issue that the West is finding harder and harder to make excuses for, especially as the populations of the rich world are swinging behind the poor in increasing numbers. After all, we can afford to, such is the disparity between income levels. Moreover, the $650 billion in subsidies to a relatively small number of large agribusinesses comes out of our taxes.

We have reached a point whereby once more — as with the invasion of Iraq — the populations of Europe have parted ways with their rulers, only this time it’s over the rich ripping off the poor. These are unprecedented times and point toward a genuine watershed in the post-Soviet period.

In less than a dozen years, the bankrupt nature of the capitalist economic system has been exposed. The crisis of capital has been accelerated by so-called globalisation as the uncontrolled power of production that has been unleashed on the world through globalising production (and de-industrialising the developed world). Short term gain has quickly translated into a deep crisis of capital that threatens to drag us all down, if we let it.

These two issues, the imperialist project and the question of trade are inextricably linked and it’s becoming all but impossible for the relationship between the two and the so-called war on terror to be hidden from view no matter what kind of propaganda war is waged to persuade us otherwise.

The third issue, redefining the role of the UN is yet to be determined, but already as the Iraq adventure has shown, it is only a question of time before this too will reveal the deep fault lines that separates the rich world from the poor. Even Kofi Annan and the other managers of the UN, all pawns of the US are finding it increasingly difficult to straddle an ever-widening gap and sooner or later, the UN will be called to task and have to make a decision about whether it broadly serves the interests of the majority of the planet or those of the rich.

Can the UN’s role be redefined given the way the UN is dominated by the Security Council and the five major capitalist powers? Given the weakness of the US it’s not inconceivable. All the bluster in the world about the irrelevance of the UN has not changed the fundamental reality — that we live in an inter-dependent world. Bush was forced to come crawling on his hands and knees back to the UN and unlike the pre-Iraq invasion, no amount of arm-twisting or bribery has managed to alter the fact, that the US imperialists are not getting their own way. Limited though it is, this represents a major victory for progressive opinion.

It’s obvious that the US cannot go it alone in Iraq and the UK, a mere minnow and already stretched to breaking point both militarily and economically is of no use. And whatever good will the UK may have enjoyed in the Arab world has been used up. In just few short months the imperialist project has been shown to have feet of clay.

In addition, there are two other major elements that have to be incorporated into any viable programme for change, the issue of the poor world’s debt and the threat to the biosphere brought about by uncontrolled capitalist production and consumption. Collectively they are:

  • Challenging the USUK alliance and its imperialist objectives;
  • Transforming World Trade Organisation from a tool of big capital to One that serves the interests of the entire planet;
  • Transforming the UN into a platform for the poor countries to articulate their demands;
  • Renegotiating the poor world’s debt;
  • The ecological crisis and the development of a sustainable model for economic development.

Bringing together these five strands together has got to be central to any strategy that challenges the rich world. All five elements are obviously intimately connected but clearly, continuing down the current road is simply not an option that the world can tolerate in spite of those dinosaurs in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing Street or Bruxelles. No amount of WMDs can alter the reality that the problems that confront us as a global species cannot be solved by waging war on the poor of the planet or the insane consumption of our resources to benefit the few.

Conquering Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria, the Palestinians, wherever, will not alter the reality of a bankrupt economic system whose only ‘solution’ is to wage war on the rest of us in an insane attempt to forestall the inevitable, namely, that a cooperative economic system is the only solution to the global crisis that confronts us all.

It’s a race against time and everything points to an increasingly desperate ruling elite, whether we hear it in the words Colin Powell uttered in Iraq or those of the Israeli imperialists who publicly announce that they intend to assassinate Yassir Arafat or the whinging from the apologists for unequal trade. Will the ruling elite destroy everything rather than relinquish their stranglehold on the planet’s resources? Only if we let them.

A luta continua!

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