Transcend Media Service — The 41st St. Gallen Symposium, an academic version of the Davos World Economic Forum, took place recently (May 12–13, 2011). It was organized by the students of that business school. Leaders of today meeting leaders of tomorrow kind of stuff; it was competently done.
Western right-wing mentality was easily identifiable during the event. For example:
* The primacy of the free market, as against state and civil society
* The primacy in the market of free companies competing for market share, as opposed to clients-consumers, communities, nature
* The primacy in the company of free chief executive officers, leaders, entrepreneurs, as opposed to workers, even shareholders
* The supporting role of the state to guarantee these freedoms
* The supporting role of democracy to produce legitimacy
* The supporting role of the police to protect CEO’s companies
* The supporting role of the military to protect free markets
* The supporting role of religion-culture to produce legitimacy
Such mentality has consequences: callousness toward sufferings at the bottom end of companies, societies, and the world; and toward US killings in support of dictatorships; furthermore, privatization that limits accountability in the economy.
This is more than just ideological preference for capitalism. There is also the cult of the strong individual, the entrepreneur, and above all leader hovering over these seminars and discussions. There is endless exploration of the nature of the magic of leadership. The leader leads by giving the followers good reasons to follow. It does not exclude a dialogue, but the landscape of individual participants is not even. Leadership talent should be identified at an early age for all walks of life. But given the primacy of the market, within the market of the company, and within the company of the leader, the CEO attains a magical aura. Much is expected in this scenario: the rewards are high, the fall is deep, the parachute is golden.
‘Leaders’ in science, arts, and religion would agree that they are at their best when free to pursue their lights. But their pursuits of knowledge are mainly nonmaterial. Scarce material goods are not involved, as they are for the hugely paid business executives. The decisions these executives take go on to affect the material livelihoods of millions, billions. Human rights in this scenario can be seen as setting vast numbers of people ‘free’ to find their place in the market as producers or consumers, suppliers or workers. Choice of products and choice of political parties is seen as ‘freedom’ being self-reinforcing. In this scenario, the almost unquestioning support for the USA actually means backing for the major sponsor of the ‘free market’ – including military intervention when states are suspected of not lending that unquestioning support.
This right-wing package combines elements from the centuries-old ideas of ‘capital over state’ and ‘capitalize over workers’ with contemporary geopolitics. The question is whether there a matching left-wing package today.
The answer is ‘No.’ The left in the West is severely weakened, a shadow of what it was only a generation ago. It is segmented, fragmented, and marginalized. Of course, there are ideas opposing the points I have mentioned above:
* The primacy of human life, basic needs, life itself, of nature
* The primacy of civil society–traditional clans, modern NGOs
* The primacy of joint decision-making, of dialogue and consensus
* The role of state and capital cooperating to guarantee this
* The role of democracy that includes transparency, dialogue and consensus, debate and elections, in family and workplace, in the local, national and global settings
* Increased capacity to handle domestic conflicts without police
* Increased capacity to handle global conflicts without military
* A culture of peace, conflict resolution; more emphasis on ‘us,’ less on only ‘me.’
All this is compatible with business,1 if it is more cooperative than competitive. It requires softening of the right-wing package, with faith in the individual if s/he is strong enough, and faith in the market if the market is strong enough. The right wing has made dramatic and anti-human choices.
Of course, there is the old left, social-democrat, industrial, today embracing the market and the company, trying to soften ‘CEO power’ in Western Europe. However, it is unable to develop alternatives to US politics, and to distinguish between the US empire and the US republic. The old left in Europe is, by and large, absorbed, co-opted like the Democrats in the USA.
And, of course, there is also the new left, green, defending nature, as well as local entities and ways of running societies. But it is unable to develop an alternative economy, friendly to nature and without flagrant inequalities. Thus the World Social Forum is a mere ‘forum,’ nothing more.
So there is a vacuum. Why? Did it occur because the Left was more Marxist and Soviet-inspired than it admitted, and it collapsed with the demise of the Soviet Union? Or because it was never able to bridge the gap between tough Marxist materialism and the softer spiritual approaches drifting in from the Orient? Or was the Left callous about the dark sides of the Soviet experiment with humanity?
The Western right wing is not challenged by the Western Left today. It is challenged by the more subtle Chinese synthesis of capi-communism (capitalism-communism) and the desirability of a balance between positive and negative forces (yin-yang). So today Islamist terrorism is countered by right wing hard Christianist (fundamentalist) and Judaist state terrorism. The Western Left fails to understand the former, rejects the latter, and is unable to be enriched by the best in the Buddhist, Muslim, Japanese, and Chinese models. The Western Left is stuck in its own Westernness as the right wing delights in a globalization in its own image.
The Western Left has to open up, not only recite ‘Globalization NO!’ No takes you nowhere. Some ‘Yeses’ and creativity are needed.
See Peace Business, TRANSCEND University Press, 2009; www.transcend.org/tup.