A deficit of democracy

October 3, 2000 / The Independent

The Independent labelled those who protested against globalisation in Prague “economic illiterates”. The imposition of an identical economic model into every corner of the planet is not some immutable law of nature, but a planned process of unaccountable power concentration that must be challenged. When you have a deficit of democracy on this colossal scale, you get the scenes in Prague.

Delegates raised their heads above the parapets to see the faces of real people.

They were Indian peasant movements fighting against big dams. They were Italian anarchists in white suits, armed with balloons. They were marginalised indigenous peoples from countries such as Colombia and Bolivia. They were refusing a single economic model and demanding diverse, people-centred alternatives.

The media look at this diversity and call it a miscellany. They can see the variety of causes, but not the connections between them. It is the protesters who have grasped the systemic nature of globalisation’s impacts: job insecurity, lowered labour standards and destroyed livelihoods of farmers.

Debt relief is hampered not by “bureaucratic sclerosis” but because the G7 states profit from debt. The protesters know their power lies in making new coalitions that aim for the heart of the hydra, the globalisation process itself. In Prague they strengthened the voices of the poor outside the conference hall and the votes of the Southern countries inside, too.

The face-off between popular power and transnational capital is the defining story of our time. As the globalisation critic Susan George has observed: “There are some who get it. Some who don’t. And some who’ll never know what hit them.”