The Other Davos

March 19, 2005 19:42 | reviewed by Brian Precious

Francois Hotart and Francois Poulet (eds), The Other Davos (Zed Books, 2001, £12.95)

In the year which saw the world's political/business elites get the shock of their lives in Seattle, the same burgeoning global movement, which rejects the propaganda that neoliberalism is the default setting of the universe, organised a protest at the annual capitalist confab in the Swiss resort of Davos.

This back-slapping and glad-handing exercise is known to you and me as the World Economic Forum (WEF).

A few weeks ago, you may have seen one of neoliberalism's arch-flunkies, Holy Tony Blair, delivering his latest sermon, in front of a background of deepest blue, to an attentive audience of business magnates and lobby "journalists" at this year's WEF, which is held every January.

The protest took the form of a press conference and meeting in which movements from around the world, and prominent academics, voiced their outrage at the extremist fundamentalism that goes by the name 'neoliberalism', and proposed alternatives to the dictatorship of capitalism over global society.

"The Other Davos" is a compilation of these discussions, featuring contributions from a range of global justice activists.

he book is in four parts: Part 1 analyses the present world situation, resulting from the recent meteoric rise of the ideas of the 'Mont Pelerin Sect'of Chicago economists, the pseudo-libertarian disciples (including a one Milton Friedman) of the Grand Old Man of 20th Century reaction, Friedrich Von Hayek.

Part 2 discusses the global response to this, while Part 3 culminates in a manifesto for a different kind of Davos . Part 4 is a conclusion asserting the necessity to reclaim the forward march of history from the depredations of neoliberalism , and then there is a postscript from the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre in 2001, calling for a global mobilization for people's sovereignty and a just world.

The Preface by Francois Houtart is encouraging. It recognises the extent to which much pseudo-left liberal discourse has placed various struggles into hermetically sealed boxes - to the benefit of the established order, which has been able to develop piecemeal responses which do not threaten entrenched power and wealth, as a result of not being confronted by a comprehensive and coherent alternative. Houtart asserts the need for short- and medium- term proposals within a "mobilizatory utopianism…with a view to creating a post-capitalist world".

After Francois Polet's brief survey of the hideous statistics of neoliberalism, we have a contribution from a figure very well-known to English-speaking campaigners: Susan George, leading member of the ATTAC movement and author of many exposes of modern imperialism, including The Lugano Report, a profoundly disturbing extrapolation of current neoliberal thinking. George gives us a history of the ideology of neoliberalism, remarking on the massive network of well-heeled foundations and think-tanks which have developed from the once-tiny Mont Pelerin sect. George stresses that neoliberalism is a construct from people with a purpose, not a natural law suddenly discovered by man or handed down by God. She describes how things like the public sector are anathema to the 'sect' ,as the latter provide goods and services outside the almighty nexus of competition for the biggest profit in the shortest time. George describes the hatchet job on postal services, railways, power systems and so on, which has mushroomed into what George aptly describes as "one of the greatest hold-up robberies perpetrated against ours or any previous generation" , whose social effects have reached the point where, for those not born into privilege, "radical exclusion is now the order of the day". Like Houtart, George calls for an ideological offensive as well as for immediate demands such as the Tobin Tax, recognising that "a tiny fraction, a ridiculous, infinitesimal proportion " of the world's wealth would be sufficient to give everyone on Earth a decent life.

In Samir Amin's searing essay, the indignation almost leaps off the page! In one of the punchiest chapters of the book, Amin describes the global strategy of capitalism to roll back the social citizenship gained by popular struggle over many generations. His remarks about the reality behind the call for market 'deregulation ' are particularly to the point. They have been made by others at other times, but oh!, how refreshing it is to read this point made in Amin's way:

"There are no deregulated markets except those in the fantasies of 'pure' economists…In reality markets function because they are regulated: the real question is by whom, and to whose benefit.

Deregulation is the fig-leaf that covers clandestine regulation (in contradiction, therefore, to the fundamental rule of democracy that demands transparency) by the dominant oligopolistic capital interests…The precarious state of wage-earners is due not to deregulation, but to the unilateral regulation of the work-market by the bosses. Rarely do we see accepted procedural rules so similar to those practised by the mafia." (page 19).

The other contributions to this cracking little book continue in the same on-target vein. There is a growing literature from the present anti-globalisation movement. Most of it is good. This book is excellent.

The reader will be aware that "The Other Davos" was published a while ago- 2001 to be precise.

But the contributions herein are as fresh as ever- and very prescient. It is important to go back and review previous discussions with the hindsight of subsequent events, and this book is a prime candidate for the list of 'reading you might have missed'.

The content of "The Other Davos" is contemporary with the great demonstration at Seattle in 1999, which seems to be the moment of the birth of the global justice movement as an active mass political force. The postcript and publication mark the tenth anniversary of the winding-up of the Soviet Union, when the leaders of the western capitalist establishment heaved their portly frames to dance on 'the grave of communism', waving neoliberalism's Little Red Book (Francis Fukuyama's The End of History) aloft as they echoed each other's propaganda about freedom and democracy for all .The Other Davos marks both the advent and the content of the movement which, subsequently, in response to the barbarous and criminal assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq (the latter aggression provoking the largest political mass-mobilisation in history, with 35 million people demonstrating on 15th Feb 2003), and over a wide range of issues, continues to confound those who would impose neoliberalism, one of the most obviously greedy and self-serving ideologies in history, upon the world's people.

The reviewer, Brian Precious, is a student and lives in London.