The New Face of the Left: Why the Protesters in Quebec City Bring on Nostalgia for Old-Fashioned Radicals

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, April 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

The New Face of the Left: Why the Protesters in Quebec City Bring on Nostalgia for Old-Fashioned Radicals


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


It seems pointless to rebut, one more time, the arguments made by the protesters in Quebec City, to note their misunderstanding of basic economics, to show that their slogans are confused and contradictory. By taunting the police, beating drums and throwing rocks, the rioters make it pretty clear that they want not a rational debate but the world's attention--and they have succeeded once again. We will now hear more calls from frightened free traders for "dialogue," "cooperation" and the development of a "new framework" for trade, all code words for retreat and protectionism. More significantly, the "success" of these protests--in Seattle, Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Quebec City--has begun to persuade some left-of-center politicians in the West to start speaking the new language of anti-globalization. In doing so, the left is turning its back on two of its most cherished stands--in favor of internationalism and democracy.

Historically, left-wing ideologies have been, almost by definition, international. Conservatism was usually the defender of distinct national traditions and institutions. By contrast the left, from the French Revolution onward, has argued for the rights of all human beings. Socialism's crucial organizations were international leagues and congresses, so much so that the history of communism is often dated by its various "internationals."

While the democratic left discarded much of socialism, it maintained, even strengthened, that sense of global responsibility. Think of its involvement in the Spanish Civil War, its fight against fascism in Germany and the long tradition of liberal anti-communism during the cold war. Indeed, the history of the struggle against the Soviet Union would be incomplete without noting the role of Western labor unions that supported dissidents, opposed trade with Russia and sent aid to workers in Eastern Europe. But beyond anti-communism, being concerned about Third World poverty was--almost in a cliched sense--part of what it meant to be a leftist.

No more. The leaders of anti-globalization now advocate policies for their own sheltered communities in rich Western countries. Of course, they claim their policies will help workers in Africa and Asia. But they won't. What developing countries need more than anything else--yes, even more than new labor and environmental regulations--is economic growth. And yet every proposal made by the protesters would slow down that growth and keep the Third World mired in medieval poverty. So much for international solidarity.

It would be more honorable if the demonstrators were philosophically against global capitalism and proposed an alternative system that they thought was better for the world. But they aren't; many of them say globalization is here to stay. …

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