Engelse vertaling, summer 2000

Auteur: Eric Krebbers

ATTAC's open flank

On november 1999 the Dutch branch of the French organisation ATTAC was founded. Through the introduction of a "tobin-tax" they want to curtail "the flow of speculative capital". In most Dutch Left-wing magazines (with the exception of DusNieuws) the initiative was embraced without much criticism. In other countries, however, discussions on the analyses and goals of ATTAC are more common.

ATTAC is a French abbreviation for "action for a tax on financial transactions for the aid to citizens". The organisation wants to impose a "tobin-tax" of 0,5 percent on all international moneytrade-transactions to "curtail flows of speculative capital".1 ATTAC started in june 1998 in reaction to the Asian economic crisis. By now there are sections in more than 20 countries. The Dutch branch is set up at the office of the XminY fund. ATTAC-Netherlands president Hans van Heijningen is also the coordinator at XminY. Attending their first meeting was the French-American political scientist Susan George, vice-president of ATTAC-international and also assistant-director of the Transnational Institute (TNI), also located at XminY.

Political economics

Economics are not a neutral science. It is always a political choise which models one uses to understand economic processes. The relatively onesided interest in "speculative capital" of ATTAC and many other opponents of "economic globalisation" goes together with the mostly quantitative economic models that are so fashionable today. Importance is simply attached to those sectors of the economy that host a lot of money.

The workers in the poor countries of the south, for instance, usually get a very low pay and economists therefore estimate their contribution to the world economy as very low. The same applies to the illegalised migrants and refugees. In the Dutch jails they get paid less than half a dollar an hour. However, their work is indispensable for a number of sectors of the Dutch economy. For instance, horticulture would not have survived without illegalised migrants.


Thinking along these same lines, Right-wing historians think they can prove that 500 years of colonialism have had almost no influence on the wealth of the colonizing countries. And indeed, the cost of the stolen raw materials and labour, mostly through slavery, was almost nothing compared to the prices that were paid in the colonial metropoles. But without centuries of slave labour and material theft capitalism would not be here today. The quantitative models simply deny all oppressed and exploited people a place in history and everything that is accomplished is attributed to the rich "western man".

In the same vein the unpaid or very low paid reproductive work done mostly by women is usually hardly perceived. And also the "work" done by nature and the destruction of it are no part of quantitative models. Modern quantitative models are therefore almost by definition racist, patriarchal and anti-ecological. They have no eye for the basis on which the whole structure of capitalism rests.

The importance of "speculative capital", on the other hand, is usually extremely overrated by these same quantitative models. Some estimated 1.500 billion dollar changes hands several times each day on the stock-exchanges in the rich countries. A huge amount indeed, but German writers Thomas Ebermann and Rainer Trampert, for instance, have showed that the share of "speculative capital" does grow slightly, but that no less than 90 percent of capital remains bound in the rich countries. According to them it is a political choise to focus the attention exclusively on the other 10 percent.2

Where do crises originate?

The dominant Right-wing models are a major force in putting "speculative capital" central at our analysis of economic crisis. According to ATTAC-Netherlands the worsening of working conditions, like flexibility, dismissal, social security are due to the free flow of capital.1

The British Earth First! think it is just the other way around. Due to the struggle of the workers against the worsening of their conditions, capital seeks refuge elsewhere. "Behind the talk of 'monetary instability', 'bad loans and trading practices' and warnings by financiers such as Georg Soros about the dangerous fragility of the financial system lies the reality that the ultimate source of the present crisis is not transgressions and mistakes by bankers and speculators but the reduction of profits by class struggle." The Mexican crisis was brought about, according to earth First!, by the Zapatista revolt, and the Asian crisis, which led to the establishment of ATTAC, by a series of general strikes from December 1996 to March 1997 by Korean workers who didn't allow a further intensivation of their exploitation.3

The model that ATTAC favors keeps our eyes focussed on the handing over of money between the rich. The resistance from below one cannot see in this way. ATTAC can therefore not offer the Left a real action-perspective, however much its president Van Heijningen dreams of his organisation growing into an "anti-capitalist people's movement".4 His model simply cannot see that economic changes come about in the struggle between top and bottom. It can, for instance, only interpret flexibilisation as something that is in times of a crisis forced upon a powerless mass. But in reality any "capitalist strategy can only succeed by picking up what is already in the behaviour of the workers: the refusal to be suffocated from education to pension in the certainty of a fulltime job is in this way being made into the flexibilisation of work", according to the German group Wildcat.5

Fat cigar smokers

Due to the fixation on "speculative capital", "not any longer the processes of production and of capital accumulation are at the centre of the attention, but clubs of influencial men (and some women) who negotiate among themselves the future of the world behind closed doors", wrote Alain Kessi in the German weekly Jungle World.6

But, writes Earth First!, "the law of profit has nothing to do with the actions of a few big capitalists or multinationals and getting the world we want does not mean ridding ourselves of fat cigar smokers wearing top hats at horse races. What matters is not the individual profits made by capitalists, but the constraint, the orientation, imposed upon production and society by this system which dictates how to work and what to consume. The whole demagogy about rich and poor and 'big' and 'small' merely confuses the issue. The abolition of capitalism does not mean taking money from the rich, nor revolutionairies distributing it to the poor, but the suppression of the totality of monetary relations."3

Capitalism is a social relation between all people, forcing the majority to sell their labour to survive. The image of a small elite of speculators against the rest of humanity pushes the awereness of all other (economic) balances of power to the background. In reality far most of the inhabitants of the rich west profit from the cheap labour of the people in the south. And most men profit from the free reproductive labour of women. An anti-capitalist analysis that focusses on "speculation capital" cannot see patriarchy and racism, and will inevitably consolidate these balances of power.

Le Monde diplomatique

Most of the people who took the initiative to establish ATTAC came from the Trotzkyte and old Left scenes, and many of them are working for the French monthly Le Monde diplomatique.6 Their plans to tax capital flows are receiving broad support from political and economic elites. That started with the deceased French president Mitterand. Soon joined by Jacques Delors (ex-president European Commission), Boutros-Ghali (ex-UN secretary), Barber Conable (ex-Worldbank president), Alan Greenspan (president Federal Bank US), and speculator George Soros - to name but a few. They are all in favor of such a tax.

All political parties in the Dutch parliament also support the plans, with the exception of the conservative liberal party VVD. In October 1999 Dutch prime minister Kok said: "People with capital speculate too much and are not enough enterpreneur." According to him we are living on "a sort of vulcan".7 Van Heijningen and his colleagues supported him, and emphasized that he should do more than just warn us. "It is about time that our government raises its voice for the constraint of the capital flows on earth."8


A possible "tobin-tax" will be cashed in by states or groups of states cooperating in the UN or the IMF. Many Left-wing groups in France are not happy that ATTAC feels so drawn towards the state. According to Michel Sahuc of the Groupe La Sociale, for instance, the "tobin tax" is especially attractive to that part of the elite that is looking for a way to calm social tensions. The tax is no more than a minimal change of the system and they have only to hand over an infinite small part of the profits. "The tax is pure capitalism. It means not only accepting financial speculation, but also profits, exploitation and economic inequality. It means making a gesture under the cloak of justice, which in reality is just a mechanism of control in the service of capitalism."9

The Belgian Alternative Libertaire thinks alike: "ATTAC is not anti-capitalist, but is for the regulation of capitalism. It believes that states are created for the common good, and that they are now a victim of a conspiracy of multinationals that robbed their power." In reality states are not created for "the common good", but to create the best possible conditions in their territory for capital to grow by exploitation. ATTAC really seems to believe that the revenues of a possible "tobin-tax" wil benefit the poor.

According to Alternative Libertaire ATTAC has basically two goals. It wants to encourage governments to try to stay in power and to prevent social explosions. "That means creating new instruments to regulate the barbaric capitalist changes and to protect them against the radical disturbances by the opposition that could be the result of these changes. And they say it themselves: it's all about facing two problems: a social implosion and political despair." Alternative Libertaire writes that ATTAC has never challanged the principle of profit or the unequal distribution of wealth. On the contrary, say the anarchists, "the "tobin-tax" stabilize the exploitative relations that are being threatened by the global financial adventures."10

Undemocratic? No problem!

ATTAC is not struggling for changes from below, on the contrary, they favor "enlarging the powers of national or regional states to shape their own financial and economic policies."1 Whether these states are in any way "democratic", does not really seem to matter to ATTAC. ATTAC-co-operator Jantien Meijer in Dutch magazine Dusnieuws on the politics of a number of Asian states to close the borders for foreign capital: "That policy is of course not based on all kinds of beautiful democratic principles, it is only to protect the elite... But I still find it inspiring when less powerfull countries do things like this."11

ATTAC sharply differentiates between state and capital and says it wants to employ states to harness capital. In reality both are totally intertwined. The Groupe Nantes of the Federation Anarchiste from France considers it "not only pervers, but also extremely dangerous" that ATTAC is ideologically separating the state from capital.

Michel Sahuc is not surprised bij ATTAC's strange views on state and capital, because the "tobin-tax" is just another project of the traditionally state orientated part of the Left. They are a current of technocrats and politicians that are traditionally in the service of the national bourgeoisie. So "take care", he warns us, "we are then on dangerous territory, because there is no clear boundary between this sort of Leftism and fascism."9

European parliament

In Germany a large number of groups are against the type of analysis that is at the basis of ATTAC's onesided actions against "speculative capital". According to Gruppe Demontage this type of reasoning has "an open flank against antisemite anti-capitalism, in the sense of a projection of the strange, unbound capital on 'the Jews'"13 More on this open flank can be read in the articles De Fabel van de illegaal wrote before on the issue of the New Right and the international movement against "globalisation".14

It comes as no surprise then that the Far Right has displayed interest in the ideas of the "tobin-tax" movement. In January 2000 the proposal to put the"tobin-tax" on the European Parliaments agenda got support not only of socialist, communist and green parties, but also of the Far Right, such as the fraction around Pasqua and De Villiers, the pompous brothers of Le Pen. One small Left-wing party from France witheld their vote because the proposal was in their eyes "a hymn of praise on the market economy". The proposal didn't make it in the end because the majority of social democratic and liberal conservative parties voted against it.15

It's now or never

Vice-president of ATTAC-international Susan George in 1999 wrote the book "The Lugano report". It is a fake report, supposedly written by a secret group of top-10 scientists who are meeting in the Swiss town of Lugano. Working for the financial elite, that according to the book secretly rules the world, the scientists give recommendations to end the crisis of capitalism. They propose to strongly reduce the number of people in the poor countries. George seems to foremost want to frighten her readers. Although she herself stresses that she completely made up everything in the book, she does seem to believe that the world is in fact ruled by such a small elite. "Which I shall not name so as not to invite legal action", she writes.16

Although coming from the Left and certainly well meant, the ideas in the book will remind many anti-fascists of the "Protocolls of the sages of Zion". In that book one can also read a fake report of a secret meeting of 'wise' and rich man, in that case Jews, talking about getting hold of worldpower. The Protocolls were used by the German Nazi's to justify their march to power. The Lugano Report is most certainly not antisemite, and it does not write against "the Jews" in any way. Far from it. But sadly, the analysis of the world processes of power differs much less from that of the Protocolls.

Now that the attention of the Left seems to be shifting from class struggle and struggle against racism and patriarchy towards a struggle against such a supposed small and elusive elite of speculators, collaboration with the Far Right is getting more likely. And even more likely when apocalyptic worldviews are getting more common, such as we see in the movement against "globalisation". It's now or never. George: "As a friend of mine said when watching two French agricultural confederations squabble over some relatively minor issue. 'Right-wing peasants, Left-wing peasants, who cares? There aren't going to be any peasants!'"

George acknowledges that collaboration with the Far Right is dangerous. But, according to her, also necessary. "In the USA, it took the Right and the Left joining forces to defeat the president's 'fast-track' authority (to sign free trade agreements into law with no amendments from congress)."16 Do such collaborations make us fascists too, George asked De Fabel retorically, after she learned of our criticism.17 No, we wouldn't say that, but it is also not very anti-fascist either. We cannot see how collaboration with fascists can ever bring us any closer to a more free and equal world.