Publication: Prism Volume: 8 Issue: 2

By Aleksandr Buzgalin

In the final years of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, the so-called “antiglobalist” movement has begun to attract worldwide attention. Born in the mid-1990s after Seattle, Prague and Genoa, it became a powerful factor in the social and political life of the world community, though, as is so often the case, Russia has been very slow in feeling the effect of this new world phenomenon.


Russia’s first antiglobalists emerged clearly only in the fall of 2001. On November 9, a day of coordinated anti-WTO events took place in Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other Russian cities–a range of conferences, lectures, seminars and meetings dedicated to the need to find alternative approaches to globalization and the question of Russia’s entry into the WTO (which the antiglobalists naturally oppose). In Moscow’s House of Journalists, public hearings were addressed by members of the State Duma, academic experts and youth leaders, while in the city center a small rally took place, at which (let us be self-critical here) there were almost as many police as participants. Seminars and demonstrations took place in St. Petersburg also.

But the repercussions of these first events were much greater than might have been expected. There were numerous news items on national television, a series of radio broadcasts (including one on the Ekho Moskvy station) and much more coverage, emanating outwards from Moscow to the provinces. From this point onwards, people began to talk of the antiglobalists as an interesting (if alarming for some) but unfamiliar new sociopolitical phenomenon.

Why did the first very modest and peaceable steps taken by the new movement have such an unexpectedly powerful impact in Russia?

We should note first that the movement did not appear out of thin air. In Russia, the search for alternatives to the absolute power of the global players has long been on the agenda of the most diverse social groupings. The international dimension is especially significant: Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on the streets of Genoa, clashes with the police, the violent protest against their murder of a young Italian–all this could not fail to give the movement a definite international backdrop. Given that during that very period in early November the so-called Little Davos conference was underway, and that the Moscow hotel where the delegates were staying was surrounded by police in numbers not seen in the capital even during the opposition demonstrations, everyone was expecting trouble. But, instead, disappointed journalists could find only qualified experts and intelligent, active but completely peaceable young people. (Admittedly, two were arrested during the rally for trying to steal a WTO mascot, intending to batter it with inflatable hammers, which the police decided was an tantamount to attack on the fabric of the state).

But this is not the main reason for the general interest: The search for alternatives to the current model of globalization has become a more pressing problem for the whole world than ever before, and Russia is no exception. In this context, the question of whether Russia should join the WTO, though extremely important, can be seen as just one of a number of no less significant problems: Ever-increasing debt, the role of the multinational corporations (MNCs) in the Russian economy, the information and cultural imperialism of the West towards Third World countries, including Russia–the list is endless.

So who took the first steps in Russia’s antiglobalist movement? It was chiefly a handful of little-known democratic left-wing voluntary organizations: The Russia-wide social movement supporting worker’s social initiatives, called “Alternatives”; a group of regional trade union bodies known as ‘Zashchita’ (Defense/Protection); youth groups; a group of intellectuals and community activists going under the name of “ATTAK Russia”; and a substantial number of other youth, trade union and political organizations, which put on various events in the regions in collaboration with the regional subdivisions of Alternatives and Zashchita. Alongside these democratic, internationalist left-wingers, the opponents of globalization in Russia include practically every social and political organization of a great-power and statist orientation (from powerful moderates such as the KPRF to small-scale radicals such as the National Bolshevist Party, headed by Eduard Limonov).

The same sorts of problems face antiglobalists in every country, but in Russia the contradictions inherent in the movement are especially strong because of the domination of great-power theories amongst the opposition. The new movement therefore has many problems to address, of a substantive as well as an organizational nature. The most difficult is to develop a positive program and strategy for the movement. But there are much more pressing issues that urgently need addressing in the social and political debates currently exercising the nation, foremost of which is the question of whether Russia should join the WTO.


Entry to the WTO would appear to be not only disadvantageous, but also extremely dangerous for Russia. In the first place, the WTO’s proposition of a formally equitable, tariff-free trading environment in reality makes no distinction between the manufacturers who are only now re-emerging in Russia at a more or less up-to-date level and the ultra-powerful MNCs. Without state support it is impossible to cultivate competitive businesses on an international level. Let me stress that we do not want to create a closed, inefficient economy, “hidden” from international competition. What we do want is to carefully nurture the shoots of our modern high-tech competitive production in a sheltered environment (in greenhouse conditions, if you like), so that the producers may then enter the world market (organized, ideally, with government assistance, as global super-corporations), and compete on equal terms with businesses worth several tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. (The capitalization of the world’s top ten multinationals ranges from US$200 billion to US$490 billion). This is exactly the way that global players from those countries entering the world market after America, the United Kingdom and others have been nurtured. Any other strategy will cast Russia in the role of a country with poor production processes and cheap labor, where the offshoots of the MNCs rule the roost while domestic producers are left merely to fill any remaining gaps.

Second, the WTO offers competition according to rules set by, and advantageous to, the global players. It is common knowledge that the market is now ruled not so much by whoever offers the best and cheapest goods as by whoever has the most effective marketing (especially advertising), the greatest power to apply financial pressure, the best established PR machine and other such corporate resources for influencing the client. Everyone knows that, in the current economic climate, it is important not so much to produce a drink of a higher quality than, say, Pepsi (or Coca-Cola, Fanta and so on), but rather to instill the idea that today’s young people are “the Pepsi generation,” or that only Coca-Cola is “it” and so on. If Russia enters the WTO, we will have to answer the following questions: Are our own national producers capable of creating an equally powerful marketing impact on the people of Russia, and should we even be trying to compete with global capital in this area–or are we better off looking for alternatives?

There are other problems in playing the game according to WTO rules. A typical example is the ban on price dumping, by which the WTO actually means any price below the level of the cost-plus average profit of the MNCs, thereby depriving us of our most important competitive advantages, which derive from our ability to produce goods at a lower cost.

Even more important for Russia’s current economy is the fact that WTO rules maintain the worldwide division of labor that has evolved in recent years, whereby the “North” keeps its monopoly on high technology and know-how, while we are consigned to the production of raw materials. How this happens is familiar both from the examples of other countries and from our own recent history. Let me give you just one example: Every effort by Russia to break into the West’s pharmaceuticals market with our highly effective but low-price products runs up against the obstacle that we can only obtain permission to do so, if at all, from national state bodies in the United States and Western Europe, and then only after many years of testing, while these countries enjoy rapid and effectively unlimited access to our own market.

Furthermore, it is clear that entry to world markets today is possible only with substantial financial backing (to the tune of several billions or tens of billions of dollars). In Russia, such support can be provided, if at all, only by the state. (The only alternative, as already observed, and then only on a very small scale, might be the clans currently engaged in the export of our natural resources).

Third, while advocating free trade, the WTO in fact covertly restricts the import of goods into developed nations. Methods range from the textbook example of rigid quotas on agricultural imports (while these countries’ own agriculture is heavily subsidized), direct import restrictions on many goods, and the labeling of many hi-tech items as defense-related products which are excluded from the realm of free competition, to further indirect restrictions such as the antidumping regulation mentioned above.

To sum up, let me stress that in their pursuit of what is effectively a strongly protectionist policy, the governments of the “powerful” countries tend to use indirect methods. Further examples include the use of financial pressure, geopolitical measures (including sanctions against rogue states, which they accuse of human rights violations or brand as “hotbeds of terrorism”), interference in internal affairs (sometimes obliquely, such as by granting credits only to IMF-approved governments), and even military intervention.

Fourth, the WTO is currently planning to reorganize its policy on the provision of services, to allow private capital equal rights as service-providers and permit free international competition. This will signal a decisive transformation of the institutions providing health-care, education, public transport, water-supply and so on, into profit-making companies, controlled by multinational corporations.

The investment company Merrill Lynch predicts that in the next decade public educational establishments will be privatized worldwide, generating profits on a previously unimagined scale.

Finally, let us not forget that the WTO leaves those countries whose rights are violated with recourse to just one main weapon: economic sanctions. But while, for example, the sort of economic sanctions the United States might use against Russia are clear, how effective would the economic sanctions Russia might impose on the United States be? And would our liberal government ever even dare to take measures that might encroach on U.S. interests?

Russian supporters of entry to the WTO point out that it will make foreign goods cheaper and more accessible, bringing many benefits to the Russian consumer, and will also help Russian exporters by boosting our economy and increasing budget revenue.

Let us examine these arguments, beginning with the interests of the consumer. Even if you suppose that joining the WTO will make foreign goods cheaper for Russian importers (which, as I have shown, is very doubtful), the ordinary consumer will gain little from this. Most of the imports bought by the majority of dealers on the wholesale-retail markets in fact enter Russia via channels which are unregulated by the WTO. For the street-traders (chelnoki) and their customers, Russia’s entry into the WTO will make little difference. If anyone does benefit from price reductions, it will only be the people who shop at smart boutiques, car showrooms and the quality supermarkets–in other words, the top 10-15 percent of the population–and also, to a limited extent, consumers of Coke, Pepsi and other sodas (though even this is not certain, as in most Russian towns the demand is for imitations rather than the genuine article).

Furthermore, even if entry to the WTO does bring price reductions on legally imported goods, the reductions will be on the purchase price paid by trading companies. As we know from experience, this does not necessarily lead to a cut in retail prices: The most likely outcome will simply be increased profits for the middlemen.

So it should be appreciated that the intensification of competition will hit Russia’s national producers hard and lead to an erosion of the relatively low-priced range of Russian goods.

Where the benefits for exporters are concerned, the burgeoning Russian MNCs–predominantly exporting raw materials such as oil, gas, nonferrous metals and so on–may indeed find entry to the WTO of some benefit (though for our “giant” corporations, with a capital of US$1-2 billion, competition with firms whose capitalization is 100 times greater is unlikely to be very fruitful). But as experience shows, rather than helping to boost budget receipts, these benefits will instead boost the profits of these companies and increase the incomes of, first, the most powerful oligarchs, second the top-ranking executives of these Russian clan-based corporate groups (who are chiefly Muscovites), and, third, the media bosses who rely on injections of funds from the oligarchs.

It is therefore highly doubtful that we stand to gain anything as consumers from joining the WTO. If anyone does benefit, I repeat, it will be the oligarchs, the top executives of Russian MNCs and trading companies, their advisers and other senior professionals. The overwhelming majority of consumers of cheap home-produced sausage, bread and tacky imported merchandise from the wholesale markets will remain empty-handed.

On the other hand the majority of toilers in Russia–teachers and workers, professors and farmers, librarians and doctors–will almost certainly lose out on entry to the WTO, both as workers and as citizens entitled to state support in the form of free education, healthcare, pensions, allowances and so on. The inevitable consequences of our subordination to the “global players”, disguised beneath a banner of equitable competition within the framework of the WTO, have been addressed above. As seen elsewhere in the world, these include falling wages, deteriorating social services, rising unemployment and much more.

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The key counterargument in all the debates on Russia’s entry into the WTO and other similar international bodies is the claim that there is no alternative: Nonparticipation in the current process of globalization, it is said, will automatically lead to isolationism, technological and economic regression and leave Russia subsiding into the morass of countries characterized by backwardness, nationalism and fundamentalism. Last month, suspicion of supporting international terrorism, based on the simple Stalinist criterion of “whoever does not directly support NATO must be a supporter of terrorism”, was added to the list. The question, therefore, is whether there is in fact any alternative to globalization, or whether this is objectively the only possible way forward, one which has its shortcomings but which is in fact inevitable?


The above-mentioned movement opposing capitalist globalization demonstrates in both theory and practice that there is an alternative to the power of the global players. And this alternative is by no means only isolationism and fundamentalism.

Before outlining the main positive principles, let me stress that we are not criticizing the processes of technical, economic, cultural or national integration here–these have objective and progressive value. It is their social manifestations–the prevailing hegemony and power of global corporate capital–that we wish to scrutinize.

The positive aspects of the movement are easy to identify, though they do require theoretical interpretation. They include, first, the developing solidarity between national forces active in various countries in the struggle against neo-liberal expansionism and mass assaults on the social gains achieved by ordinary people. This international collective struggle for our rights is in fact necessary if we are to resist the worldwide spread of “market fundamentalism” (not a spontaneous trend but one coordinated by the global players). This threatens us with the rolling back of the state, the introduction of antiworker labor legislation, pension reforms that leave the older generation impoverished, the voucherization and privatization of education, communal services reforms that disregard social guarantees, restrictions on the rights of trade unions and voluntary organizations, and the commercialization of culture. All these are familiar to the citizens of Russia and can be seen as part of a general worldwide advance of the Right.

Second, we consider the transition to a different form of integration of different players to be of strategic importance. Broadly, this means the integration of peoples, citizens and their democratically chosen representatives rather than corporate, closed structures controlled by the global nomenklatura. This has been discussed frequently and in greater detail at the various social forums held around the world in recent years as alternatives to the official summits. It proposes a whole system of democratic, social and ecological initiatives:

–the precedence of democratically structured bodies responsible for the control of corporate entities at all levels, from local government to the UN; the formation of a network (not a bureaucratic pyramid) of democratic supra-national bodies for the regulation of international relations (more on this below);

–democratic control of financial and other markets; the introduction of special taxation on financial speculation (the introduction of the “Tobin tax” shows that even a 0.5 percent tax on financial speculations would give the world sufficient resources in the next ten years to provide food, drinking water, healthcare and education for all the world’s poorest peoples);

–cancellation of Third World debt; a democratic solution to the problem of financial support for the poorest regions of the world (democratic control over the activities of the IMF, the World Bank and so on);

–democratic regulation of international trading relations, serving the interests of all countries and, in particular, control over the activities of multinationals, including restrictions on advertising;

–the introduction of set–or at least coordinated–standards for the organization and remuneration of labor, and for welfare services aimed at the gradual equalization of workers’ earnings in different countries and regions; a ban on forced labor, discrimination against workers by nationality or on any other basis, the double exploitation of immigrants and so on;

–the introduction of set ecological standards, an equitable distribution of the burden of environmental pollution among various countries. Many countries of the North have refused to comply with even the most modest demands for the reduction of pollution necessary to sustainable development.

Third, integration in today’s world assumes, as a minimum, the development of principles for a social market economy at an international level. In particular, this requires the creation of a system of a stable, guaranteed (that is, achieved not by means of credits that just increase debt, or one-off hand-outs by corporate bodies in return for meeting their demands, but through compulsory, stable payments) redistribution of a proportion of the world’s wealth (principally the earnings of the MNCs and other major corporate structures) in favor of the world’s poorest people, similar to the practices of the welfare states of the First World; and, in the future, the development of further principles for the establishment of a welfare state on an international level.

Fourth, the formation of a system of supra-state (international) coordinating and regulatory institutions, comprising representatives from democratically elected national state bodies and effective international democratic organizations, with egalitarian rather than hierarchical principles determining their activities, openness, publicity and transparency.

Incidentally, let me stress that the international antiglobalist movement (or rather the supporters of democratic integration and an alliance of citizens and peoples) is itself already organized as an open network, based on an alliance of genuinely effective social structures. One emerging weakness of the movement, though, is its extreme heterogeneity, embracing reformist and radical wings, social and political organizations, advocates of compromise with the global players and the improvement of the existing system as well as rigidly anticapitalist revolutionary groups. All these are able to contribute something to the movement because of its principle of complementation, interactivity within the network, and joint participation by interested parties in the movement’s practical activities. As a result, the most diverse people with the most diverse views, united only by the common ambition of wanting to create a more democratically organized society and the desire to protest against the power of the global players, find themselves working side by side.

Fifth, a positive alternative to globalization can be found in the development of existing forms of modern, highly effective local production (for example, organic farming), which are capable of overcoming the hypertrophied, artificially overdeveloped international division of labor (which results in southern Russia importing Australian apples).

I could easily continue this list of positive demands, which are widely disseminated by the mass democratic organizations, on the internet, and in the periodicals and scientific publications of the antiglobalists. ( See,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

To sum up: The antithesis to the power of the global players in today’s world can and must be not isolationism and fundamentalism, but a different, more democratic, socially and ecologically oriented model for integration. This is not a regression but progress, promoting economic and social development, which is focused on the interests of individual citizens rather than on any upsurge in financial speculation, militarism or the power of the global nomenklatura.


In Russia, the movement opposing liberal globalization is evolving in highly contradictory forms. Regrettably, it is still dominated today by a nationalist statist tendency, which is less interested in different models for integration than in protectionism, reliance on Russia’s own strengths, and reinforcement of domestic capital and national and state institutions (up to and including the “firm hand” at the top). This article is not the place for a debate with the advocates of that path. The main thing is to show that there are other strategic and tactical approaches to the search for alternatives to today’s model of globalization and to draw attention to the formation in Russia of a democratic movement aiming for solidarity with antiglobalists worldwide in their struggle for a different type of integration, and against the subjection of Russia and other nations to the demands and regulations of the WTO, the IMF, NATO and multinational corporations. The strategic aims of Russia’s movement in its quest for alternatives to globalization will coincide broadly with the positive program of the international antiglobalist movement.

Amongst the Russian movement’s specific tasks, the following are of particular note:

–continuation of the struggle for even a partial improvement to the Codex of Labor Laws (KZOT), opposition to the government’s proposed reforms in pensions, communal services and education (voucherization, adoption of state-registered debentures [GIFO] and universal examinations), and to other antisocial moves by Putin and his government as part of a worldwide advance of the Right. Let there be no illusions here: Putin consistently bows to the demands of the IMF, WTO and other global players at the expense of the interests of his own people;

–expansion of the campaign against Russia’s entry into the WTO;

–advancement of and publicity for demands for the cancellation of foreign debt;

–struggle against national and other forms of discrimination against minorities, defense of the rights of immigrants in Russia;

–opposition to the growth of nationalism, superpower chauvinism and orthodox fundamentalism as reactionary pseudo-alternatives to globalization.

Let me highlight especially the most important task of the current phase–the expansion of antiwar campaigning, primarily against the war in Chechnya and Russia’s involvement in the international aggression in Afghanistan or any other military operations initiated by the global players and their Russian satellites.

Depending on how well we succeed in organizing such a democratic movement, Russia will see the formation of a positive, progressive alternative both to the expansion of the power of the global players in our country, and to the descent of our homeland into a morass of isolationism and reaction.

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The author’s work on this text was interrupted by a visit to Brazil, where he was a delegate to the World Social Forum. This truly global antiglobalist event (15,000 delegates from 4,900 organizations from 123 countries; over 60,000 participants, over 1000 conferences, seminars and discussions; a business-like yet celebratory atmosphere; no fear of terrorist attack; an almost complete absence of police–all this in a city teeming with antiglobalists) creates the most powerful impression of a qualitatively new and constructive force, growing independently and irrepressibly from the grass roots upwards.

In the days following this forum, Russia saw a new wave of lectures, seminars and discussions in the most diverse circles–from youth clubs to academic institutions. Interest in the new social movement is growing not only around the world, but also in Russia, and the author reserves the right to continue discussion of this theme, covering, amongst other things, the nature of the new movement, its new principles and its character.

Aleksandr Buzgalin is a doctor of economics and a professor at Moscow State University. He is a leader of Russia’s Democratic Socialist Movement.