A Conversation between Maria Mies and Theresa Wolfwood

 Globalization, Democracy, MAI & Alternatives


TW: Much of the concern in Canada about the MAI and globalization is focused on issues around sovereignty and Canadian independence cultural and economic domination and the loss of our social programs. How does that differ from MAI issues in Germany?

MM: … your activities are much broader. There is a public awareness in Canada about the MAI. You have been much more active than Germany. Your campaign has been more successful, you started earlier than us. Nevertheless, I think there are particular obstacles and differences in Germany. Your campaign has concentrated around national sovereignty, freedom from the USA.

TW:…dependence …

MM:…domination and preserving social programs in Canada. In Germany we could not raise the issue of national sovereignty or even anti-Americanism in the same breath or style. Germany has its own history of national sovereignty. When we translated and distributed Tony Clarke’s article, we had a reaction from left and feminist friends, “What do you mean by national sovereignty?”

Most left-wing people feel that the nation-state is not threatened, they believe it is an accomplice in this process…and when you raise the nation-state in Germany, you are put in a right-wing corner. At our congress in Bonn, on April 25, against the MAI, we were accused of paving the way for the right, which is using the MAI to promote its ideas.

TW: That is a difference – in Canada, all the right parties, including the Liberals who are in power, support the MAI…all accomplices of the corporate economy. So our opposition has come from the left, community groups and social movements. Canada has already had the experience of NAFTA with the decline in industry and rise in unemployment. We have also been concerned with the loss of democracy with NAFTA and MAI. You have the European Union; how does German experience of the EU compare with us in NAFTA?

MM: It does compare … there was little discussion or awareness of EU when it was negotiated and signed. Now people begin to realize what the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties mean. Nations have lost power – we have foreign policy in the hands of the European Commission, which is an unelected body – a loss of democratic rights. People begin to understand and become anxious, fearful and angry. The critique of the MAI is usually combined with a critique of the EU.

The critique of the right is one of opposing EU, MAI, multinationals and globalization. They want to have small-scale German firms.

From a German perspective, I would not call your main parties far right, conservative maybe. The German right is always against foreign workers and immigrants – that is the test to find out where people stand.

TW: We have that also … most right-wingers here are opposed to non-European immigration. But the right here sees its benefits coming from the alliance of Canadian and USA corporate elites. Culturally, we are so dominated by the vulgar greed of the Hollywood mentality.

We do have a small social democratic party that opposes MAI and belatedly opposed the NAFTA. What about Social Democrats in Germany?

MM: No, that is not all our experience. The Social Democrats don’t deviate from the general philosophy of neoliberalization. Gerhard Schroeder says, “We do not want to change anything. We only want to do everything better.”

TW: Like Tony Blair’s party, which supports MAI.

MM: Exactly

TW: We don’t know what our NDP would do if it ever came close to national power. So where does the popular opposition to MAI in Germany come from?

MM: Not the Green Party, as we hoped. It shares power with the Social Democrats, so it says even less than them. Most opposition comes from individuals – and very few of us. As you know, we started a “Resistance Against the MAI” committee after you spoke to us in 1997. Some feminists and environmentalists … others are too tied to government funding to speak out.

Some do not want to go completely against the MAI. We say, “MAI cannot be remedied. It has to disappear.”

Our committee sees it in the context of globalization, as a sort of summit of all these processes – building up one treaty after another. So far, MAI is the most dangerous. In the rich countries it is an attack on social welfare programs in Europe and Canada based on Keynesianism. Clearly these efforts: globalization, liberalization, deregulation, have one aim – to undermine the Keynesian welfare state and to give total freedom to corporate capital worldwide. It is more than a national issue.

TW: There is also the major concern about the loss of democracy. MAI takes power away from citizens and all levels of government. That is why we oppose NAFTA and see the same thing in APEC and other agreements. Here in Canada, we are very aware of what is happening in Mexico since NAFTA, impoverishing most Mexican people. We have a lot of solidarity with Chiapas and the goals of the Zapatistas, who are trying to ensure that people, particularily indigenous, retain control of their land and lives. We are in solidarity with Indonesian workers and activists and the people of East Timor who fight for independence and the right to their own self-sufficient society. I have read the IMF described as “the stalking horse for MAI.”

MM: The concern for what MAI would do for the “south” or majority world is very much part of our campaign. In Bonn, Martin Khor of the Third World Network spoke to us about what MAI means there. What is already happening in Asia is a MAI-like condition, prepared by the IMF, where capital flows in and out, uncontrolled. Khor says such disaster can happen to us also.

TW: Can you talk about reformist movements and the “MAI charm offensive”?

MM: Yes, some critics say we can’t do away with MAI and globalization. They say these are realities – let’s see how we can work with them. They follow the “MAI-charm offensive.” That expression was coined by Lori Wallach of the Public Citizens’ Trade Watch Institute in USA. The treaty negotiators were surprised by citizen opposition and now say they want a dialogue with civil society. But really such groups would only sit and observe and have no control over the process. Some German groups that get government funding follow that line.

TW: People ask me when I give talks – why don’t we work with the government and try to influence it? I answer: this is the government that said it would renegotiate NAFTA. They ran an election campaign without revealing MAI existence. Until the first draft of MAI was leaked here in B.C., nobody knew about it. The citizen groups that publicize it, research it and oppose it are totally funded by citizens. So how can we believe the government? I don’t think we can be co-opted; we have no reason to trust this government. After a brief flurry about MAI in mainstream media, we have been told it is over, and citizen groups have a false sense of security. We know negotiations will resume, probably in WTO … much continues behind closed doors.

MM: That is more than we have had. It was impossible to get a copy of the draft MAI in German. We have very little media coverage.

TW: We have covered some of the “D” s of political resistance. First they denied the MAI existed, then they delayed it, they do there best to discredit us and now through the “MAI Charm Offensive” they try to divide us. Even among those aware of the MAI and globalization, there is despair. It’s hard to feel despair on such an idyllic day on Hornby Island, but ..

MM: Yes, when we start to talk about the MAI, people agree with us – but then comes the question – what do we want? Do we really want this ideology? What I call the new creed: the capitalist creed of permanent growth, permanent exploitation of the earth.

TW: “The God of Development.”

MM: We have to get away from it, and I see an opportunity in the MAI resistance … we have to mobilize.

TW: Now, about the future and alternatives. But first, let’s check the smoked mackerel and see if it’s ready to enjoy – the junk fish that fishers throw away. Then we can answer the lie of TINA – there is no alternative.

How can we empower ourselves to act here in the Minority world and also to be in solidarity with and be inspired by activists in the Majority world. We need their examples – like the farmers’ movement in India, women in Kenya turning land for cash crops into vegetable gardens … what is our alternative? How do we build social and economic justice?

MM: One stream has been proposed here by Tony Clarke – a citizen’s MAI. This basis is that we should go back to the UN charter of 1974 – the social charter, where labour, health, social services, environment rights were laid down. Another kind of global agreement that would really serve people, not corporations. I agree, many of these fights have already been eroded … rolled back.

TW: “Rollback” is one of those MAI words… meaning all initial exemptions will be eliminated.

MM: The UN charter is being rolled back… if governments are not able or willing to implement these rights based in the UN charter, then where do we get the power to enforce it? We must make our national governments responsible. We can’t let them get away from their responsibility to citizens.

TW: We can do that with citizen activism as we have done in the last year but …

MM: It is just not enough. So far, we have fought a political struggle. We need economic alternatives which do not have as their main focus the governments, but focus on the multinationals and their capitalist economy.

It is more difficult to do than to say – but I see a chance in the present struggle.

If we get more MAI-free provinces, states, cities, town – like here in BC where even your government has said it doesn’t want the MAI … .these places are saying, “We do not agree; we want to control our own economy, our social welfare, etc.” If they mean that, not only politically but economically, they have built an economy that gets them out of the clutches of multinationals and enables them to say, “OK, go to Hell, we don’t need you.” It would be difficult in the industrialized world.

TW: Yes, more than the Majority world, where most people are not involved in the export production-driven economy, most are subsistence living, not part of the corporate world. They live in a “localized” world, but are affected by globalization..

MM: Yes, they never had a welfare state to be dismantled. They have to fend for themselves. There are movements in Kenya, India, and in Bangladesh village women are resisting multinationals and saying,” We don’t want to buy any pesticides, herbicides, any high-yielding varieties from you. We want to be biesh-free (poison-free) areas.” These people are reclaiming their sovereignty over their economy. If more people did that, it would really threaten the multinationals.

In Austria, an interesting movement started – practically initiated, again, by you. My friend, Claudia v. Werlhof, took your papers and organized a conference at Innsbruck University and started a successful movement. Your example of MAI-free zones led to two (Salzburg and Frauberg), and possibly one more (South Tyrolia) states declaring in parliament that they are against the MAI and demanding that the federal government not sign MAI. If more regional governments made such statements, it would be difficult for national governments to sign. Then people will begin to think about alternatives, to start from the grassroots and build a different kind of economy.

The Citizens’ MAI is an important effort from the top; we need to bring it down to the grassroots without creating hierarchy, new levels of domination and manipulation. We need both.

TW: We have a good chance in Canada – governments of three provinces and one territory have opposed MAI and some communities as well. But they have to generate reality as well as political publicity and bring in policies that will be against MAI and globalization.

We say, “OK, you are against the MAI; now what are you going to do about it?”

A very savvy environmentalist once told me that if you want to make change, start at the local level. As activists we must prepare to work locally, to be involved in local elections and initial change at the grassroots.

MM: The answer to DINA can be SITA – subsistence is the answer!

TW: Or: self-reliance is the answer!

Canada has a tradition of self-reliance. When I give talks, I encourage people to remember our own history. We are a pioneer people, who live in a vast land with a generally harsh climate. People who farmed and worked in resource extraction were poor and hard-working, we supported major war efforts and survived a depression. Yet we created a nation that envisioned social equity and we won universal education, health care and social welfare – we did it without foreign capital drifting in and out. We need to regain our history – these social programs are our national treasures.

A Nicaraguan speaker at a forum said, in response to there being no alternative to ruthless competition and capitalism: There is an alternative – Canada is the alternative for us. We look at you and we see democracy and social security. I have never forgotten that.

MM: Exactly. What I have learned that you have in Canada, that we do not have in Germany, is power of communities. I see it here on Hornby where you have so many community efforts the recycling centre, the Co-op, seniors’ centres, parks, local farmers and social centres, etc. If you have a base like this, you can create a self-reliant life and economy and have alternatives to globalization.

TW: Yes, we have examples of localization being the alternative to globalization ..

We also have to be aware of the larger political picture. Large-scale development on this island is strictly controlled by provincial regulation – like the Gulf Islands Trust and the Agricultural Land Reserve. Now we are fighting to preserve fish stocks and habitat. We can take these ideals of social community and conservation and connect them to the globalization struggle, we already have the ingredients and the means of resistance.

MM: Yes, I feel this is the opportunity to put all these things together.

TW: This relates to what the people in Chiapas are saying. When I was a human rights observer in Chiapas, our village leader said, “We do not want to live in the slums of Mexico City. We want to stay here.” They are willing to fight for the land that is their life and their wealth. They don’t want small plots that get exhausted and then they have to use chemical fertilizers, enter the cash economy and …

MM: … have to grow some cash crop, like coffee. It’s like Kenyan women taking back land from cash crops to grow their own food.

This dependency on land is something to be valued, not done away with. Relationship to the land has been so degraded in our societies, in all industrialized countries, particularly Germany.

With the EU treaty and global agrarian policies, the plan is to get land into the hands of the multinationals. MAI allows foreign investors to get access to any land, and land laws in countries will have to be abolished – that’s what the USA trade representative said at the TO – a new recolonization of the world by a handful of agricultural and food corporations.

TW: That is happening in Canada too – but we also have alternatives in many community groups that link rural and urban people, support for organic farms, saving heritage seeds and developing new forms of renewal farming, co-operatives and community work. RAFI – Pat Mooney’s group in Manitoba – is one of many groups working on these concerns.

We talked with a USA activist last week about the First Grassroots Gathering on Biodiversity, where they discussed these issues and had a demonstration at Monsanto’s headquarters the maker of gene-manipulated seeds which can’t be regrown, and the terminator seeds that render any plant fertilized by it infertile. Monsanto controls soy seeds – many of our supporters are vegetarians and eat a lot of soy – another connection between these issues.

MM: We have been mobilizing women worldwide on the food issue; we had a forum at the World Food Summit in Rome and a Biodiversity Conference this year. We not only oppose seed monopolies and monoculture, we are for plant and cultural diversity.

TW: I heard from women at the Beijing Forum how local food is being devalued. Children not only want to wear USA-type clothing, but also want to eat USA fast food.

MM: Our cultures, our food, our health are being devalued; it’s a very materialistic impoverishment. We are living in a poor world, even in rich countries. We must reclaim diversity and richness and get control over our resources and land.

TW: I think Canadians are beginning to see it’s not just a nationalistic issue. We need to have a Canadian culture because it is an alternative, an opportunity for expression and creativity, and respect diversity and creativity in other cultures.

MM: It is harder in Germany. We are an industrial nation and we neglect agriculture and we have such a USA culture; as yet, there is no rebellion against it. We can’t defend German culture without being chauvinists. We couldn’t get German-text MAI because they think we should learn English. We were really colonized by the USA after World War H and we can’t criticize the USA, even today.

TW: We try to say we are pro-Canadian, and we are pro-global social and economic justice for all. I think all things flow from this stance.

MM: We who have that position in Germany are a small, but growing minority.

We admire your stance and your methods – the theatre MAI in OZ, Piggy Awards, MMT street theatre demonstrations, etc. We quote you in our book, the first book on MAI in Germany, The MAI: The New Totalitarianism. It’s a compilation of speeches at our Bonn conference by Tony Clarke, Martin Khor, women from German trade unions, and by my Austrian friend Claudia and me. We make a deeper analysis of the MAI and the economy it would produce that would do away with workers’ rights, environmental rights, human rights – basically democracy.

That is what shocks people most in Germany – that the basis of what we understand of democracy is being destroyed. How could it happen? We try to explain understand what capitalism is … then we can really find an alternative.

TW: Canada also – we are looking for local and regional solutions that can empower us. The challenge is recognizing the theft of democracy and people’s sovereignty.

MM: That’s the issue everywhere, not just our countries. The Third World is coming back to the First – not just symbolically but very materially.

TW: The other side of that is we are making the connections with people struggling all over the world and these connections are very close. Together we can build a new and democratic globalism.

MM: We should look at women in all these issues – not only because they are the most affected by these processes, but I feel women have the most creative ideas on how to transcend this nonsensical, brutal and inhuman model of capitalism.

TW: If you have always been marginalized, it’s easier to take action on the periphery because you haven’t been in the centre of power.

MM: Yes, and you don’t get the blindness of people in power.

TW: That’s what we say in the women’s peace movement – we were never there to begin with, so it’s easier to be anti-military and for peace. That connects with this globalization because the military and the arms trade are special exemptions. They grow unfettered and can get government support whenever they want and can back up the corporate agenda. The struggles are connected on all issues.

MM: My husband spoke at a youth conference in Turkey, and they will now start a major anti-MAI campaign. It’s very encouraging to see how we all link up and how we feel and act together.

TW: And we take inspiration from knowing that people on the other side of the world are part of this same global force. We continue to resist, we are spreading like seeds, and our work will be fruitful.

Maria Mies is a German sociologist and activist and author/coauthor of Ecofeminism, A Cow for Hilary, and other books. This interview was recorded on Hornby Island, BC, CANADA & originally printed in Canadian Dimension 11/99.

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