November 29th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

THE PROBLEM WITH RADICALS, I’ve often said, is they’re just too conservative.

It’s especially true in the U.S., where there’s no real radical political movement–just a lifestyle subculture that pretends to be one.

Where a real Left would seek solidarity with working-class folk, America’s Lifestyle Left loves few things better than sneering at the sap masses.

Instead of proposing new socioeconomic arrangements to replace the apparently-dead Eurosocialist dream of enlightened central planning, the Lifestyle Left prefers to merely complain about the moral inferiority of meat eaters, suburb dwellers, TV viewers, church goers, and just about everyone else other than themselves.

And instead of organizing a movement to bring any new proposals into practice, they’d rather just protest.

Protesting alone, at its feeblest, can be little more than a display of Attitude (a way-overused commodity these days). It lets you feel good about yourself and bad about whatever enemy you’re protesting, and can bond you with your fellow protesters in a shared-group experience. But it won’t change a damn thing.

This week, as you may know, Seattle’s supposed to become Protest Central. The World Trade Organization’s holding a bigass international conference starting tomorrow. In what might be the biggest public “radical” showing since the Gulf War protests in ’91, as many as 50,000 demonstraters (a number far outnumbering the invited WTO guests) are expected to show up to tie up streets, disrupt daily life, and otherwise make their message heard.

Their message: The WTO is A Really Bad Thing.

It’s a tool of global corporations, out to make the world even safer for business by gutting tarrifs, environmental protections, child-labor prohibitions, and anything else that gets in the way of guys with money making even more money. It subverts democracy by making individual nations’ laws subject to rebuke or even dismemberment by unelected offshore bureaucrats.

What the protesters don’t say as loudly is that the governments within the WTO’s member nations (some more democratic, some less) have voluntarily agreed to listen to and, in most cases, abide by the WTO bureaucracy’s rulings; all in the name of Almighty Commerce. Any country that wanted to could just say no to WTO, resign from the group, and go back to negotiating individual commercial pacts on its own with every other nation.

WTO is an instrument of central planning–just like the old socialist and fascist central-planning schemes the WTO’s “conservative” advocates claim to have always hated, and which some leftists once advocated. (Many of the WTO protesters are self-styled anarchists–folks who don’t like any big central authority system, not even a socialistic system claiming to operate on “the people’s” behalf.)

As you’ve probably surmised, I don’t hold out the greatest of hopes for the WTO-protest spectacle. But by announcing their intentions so loudly, so far in advance of the conference, they’ve done at least one thing the Lifestyle Left seldom accomplishes.

They’ve gotten the local mainstream print media to mention their grievances, in detail.

Even protest coverage built on giving WTO defenders the final say publicizes the questions.

The Wired guys, the cyber-libertarians, the Global Business Network butt-kissers, and the techno-conservatives have spent the past half-decade gleefully proclaiming that history’s over and they won; that there’s no way any society can ever be organized that doesn’t worshipfully cede all real power to Sacred Business. The techno-corporatists predict lots of “revolutions” within business, but don’t want anyone to even imagine a future not led by big corporations running everything.

If we’re lucky, the WTO protests might lead a few people outside the Lifestyle Left to start imagining a post-corporate world, and then to start working toward one.

(More anti-WTO stuff is at the Independent Media Center and SeattleWTO.org.)

TOMORROW: Visions of government as business’s enemy vs. government as business’s handservant.

IN OTHER NEWS: Babies are apparently still being lured by money on fishing rods…


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