Challenges and Dilemmas of the Public Intellectual: Martin Khor: The Making of a Global Activist
Thinking over Barry’s assignment last night, I would say that there are three key lessons I have learned: – The first is that truths only become true through action. – The second is that to get at the truth, one must sometimes resort to unorthodox research methods. – And the third is that one must accept that there is an inevitable and permanent tension between theory and practice, between thought and action, between truth and power, and thinking that this tension can be eliminated is one of the worst illusions a public intellectual can fall into.
Truths only Become True through Action Let us take up the first, that truths need action to become true. This was perhaps brought home decisively to me by the events in Seattle in late November and early December 1999. In the decade prior to Seattle, there were a lot of studies, including UN reports, that questioned the claim that globalization and free market policies were leading to sustained growth and prosperity. Instead, the data showed that globalization and pro-market policies were promoting more inequality and more poverty and consolidating economic stagnation, especially in the global South. However, these figures remained “factoids” rather than facts in the eyes of academics, the press, and policymakers, who dutifully repeated the neoliberal mantra that economic liberalization promoted growth and prosperity. The orthodox view, repeated ad nauseam in the classroom, the media, and policy circles were that the critics of globalization were Luddites or, as Thomas Friedman disdainfully called us, believers in a flat earth. Then we had the massive anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle that led to the collapse of the Third Ministerial of the World Trade Organization. It was not just a ministerial that collapsed but a creed that had been believed to be true. After Seattle, the press began to talk about the “dark side of globalization,” about the inequalities and poverty being created by globalization. After that, we had the spectacular defections from the globalist camp, such as those of the financier George Soros, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the star economist Jeffery Sachs. Then came the widely publicized findings a year and a half ago of two independent sources—a study by American University Professor Robin Broad published in the Review of International Political Economy and a report of a panel of neoclassical economists headed by Princeton’s Angus Deaton and former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff–that the World Bank Research Department, the source of most assertions that globalization and trade liberalization were leading to lower rates of poverty and less inequality, had been deliberately distorting its data and making unwarranted claims. It is now the partisans of corporate-driven globalization and liberalization that have the burden of proof. What made the difference? Not so much research or debate but action. It took the militant anti-globalization actions of masses of people and the spectacular collapse of a WTO ministerial to translate factoids into facts, into truth. Truth is not just there. Truth is completed, made real, and ratified by action. Like Columbus’ voyage in relation to the theory of the earth as a sphere, Seattle was a world-historic event that made the truth “true.” Now I know using Columbus does not sound politically correct, but bear with me because it was the best analogy I could find.
Unorthodox Methods The second lesson of public scholarship that I would like to talk about has to do with research methods. One of the conclusions I have come to is that often, when it comes to analyzing really big issues, our normal research methods in the social sciences, like qualitative analysis or quantitative analysis, are not applicable. They don’t work because power is often involved, and the powerful want things to be non-transparent. This became very clear to me when it came to studying the World Bank. Let me take you back to 1975—ancient history to many of you–when I had just finished my PhD at Princeton. At that time, an academic career was something that I had no intention of pursuing. The task at that time was quite clear to me: to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship. I became part of an international network connected to the Philippine underground and a full time activist. I went to Washington and helped set up an office that lobbied the US Congress to cut aid to the Marcos regime. Soon we realized that in order to do an effective work, we had to look at all the dimensions of US support for the dictatorship. For example, the largest part of US aid to Marcos was channeled through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the problem was that the lack of transparency of the Bank meant that we couldn’t get any information about the Bank programs. The only information that we got were sanitized press releases. It became clear that to show what the Bank was doing and expose it, the only way was to get the documents from within the Bank itself. At first, we slowly formed a network of informants within the Bank. These were acquaintances, liberals with a conscience. Our work was part of a process of building what was effectively a counter-intelligence network not only within the Bank but also within the State Department and other agencies of the US government. Well, these people started to occasionally bring us some documents, but this was a tedious–although necessary–process. The information was not enough, so we thought that it was necessary to resort to more radical means. So, my associates and I investigated the patterns of behavior of Bank people and we realized that there were some times in the year when there was nobody in the Bank: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, July 4, Memorial Day, etc. On those days and over a period of three years, we went to the Bank pretending that we were returning from a mission, with our ties askew, and that we were just coming from Africa, India, etc. The security guards always asked for our ID’s and when we pretended to fumble for them and as we looked so tired, they said “ok, just go inside”. It always worked. As you can imagine, security was quite lax on those days. Once we were inside, we were like kids let loose in a candy store. We took as many documents as we could, and not only on the Philippines, and photocopy them using the Bank facilities. This happened over three years! The documents—some 3000 pages of them on practically every Bank-supported project and program in the country provided an unparalleled look at the workings of a close relationship between two non-transparent authoritarian institutions, the World Bank and the Marcos regime. First, we held press conferences to expose the documents piece by piece, to the embarrassment of both the Bank and the Marcos regime, and eventually, we came out with the book in 1982 entitled Development Debacle: the World Bank in the Philippines, one of whose authors was Robin Broad. According to many people, this publication contributed to the unraveling of Marcos regime. I hope they were right. As for what I learned, well it was that accepted or orthodox methods have their limitations, that to do really effective research sometimes you need to break the law. And you have to be utterly professional in the process. But we were quite careful about going about it and we were not able to tell the real story about how we got the documents until after 10 years (1992), when what was called the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution in the US had lapsed. My associates and I could have gotten 25 years in jail had we been caught breaking into the Bank, though Robin told me to make it clear here that she was not one of the people who went into 1818 H Street NW. But on a less lighthearted note, the decision we had to make was not easy. It is never easy to decide to break the law not only because of the penalties involved but because we all are so deeply socialized to follow the law. But we felt that we had no choice. Otherwise, the truth would have been buried for a long, long time.
Theory and Practice The third thing I’d like to talk about is the tension between analysis and action, between truth and politics. Managing this relationship is not easy, since our moral side is very demanding, especially when it comes to dealing with unpleasant truths. I first experienced being caught between the divergent demands of truth and politics when I was doing my PhD dissertation. In 1972, I started my doctoral research on the topic of political organizing was in shantytowns in Santiago, Chile, during a revolutionary period. At that moment, I felt a great deal of sympathy for Salvador Allende’s government and its so-called “peaceful road to socialism.” In fact, I think that this was the moment when I became a progressive. However, after three months in the shantytowns, what I realized was that what the country was experiencing was not a profound revolution but a rising counter-revolution. Allende’s revolution was beleaguered. At that point, I felt that if I was to do a relevant research, both politically and intellectually, then it was important to study the counter-revolution. So, I shifted my dissertation topic to the dynamics of counter-revolution and ended up interviewing middle class right-wing people who couldn’t understand why a brown skinned person like me was asking them the questions that I was asking. Often, they were really hostile and I was nearly beaten up twice. Some thought that I was a Cuban agent and they pointed to the left-wing newspapers that I was foolishly carrying with me along with the more conservative newspapers. They laughed angrily and told me to get lost when I explained I needed to follow what both sides were thinking. By mid 1972, it was clear that these people, many of them young people affiliated with the youth wing of the Christian Democratic Party, controlled the streets of Santiago, something that I thought was similar to what had earlier happened in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Eventually, I finished my research and returned to Princeton and got involved in solidarity work against the Pinochet dictatorship after the September 1973 coup. By then, I was both an activist and an engaged intellectual trying to understand class conflict in revolutionary times. The thesis, titled The Roots and Dynamics of Revolution and Counterrevolution in Chile, ended up as a comparison of the counterrevolutionary role of the middle class in Chile in 1971-1973 and in Italy and Germany in the 1920’s. Two politically inconvenient truths, to borrow from Al Gore, became quite clear to me while doing this dissertation. First, contrary to the prevailing explanations on the coup pointing to Pinochet’s success as something that he owed to US intervention and the CIA, the counterrevolution was already there prior to the US destabilization efforts, that it was largely determined by internal class dynamics, and that the Chilean elites were able to connect with middle class sectors terrified by the prospects of poor sectors rising up with their agenda of justice and equality. In sum, the US intervention was successful because it was inserted into an ongoing counterrevolutionary process. CIA destabilization was just one of the factors but not the decisive one. This was not something that progressives wanted to hear then, since many wanted a simple black and white picture, that is, that the overthrow of Allende was orchestrated from the outside by the United States. The second, related but equally politically inconvenient truth that came out in the thesis was the role of the middle class. Among both liberals and progressives, it is common to portray the middle class as an ally of the working class and the lower classes generally and that it is by and large a force for democratization. The thesis showed that contrary to this assumption, the middle classes are not necessarily forces for democratization in developing countries. In fact, when the poorer classes are being mobilized with a revolutionary agenda, the middle classes can become a mass base for counterrevolution, as in Germany and Italy in the 1920’s, when the middle class provided the foot soldiers of the Fascist and Nazi movements. But progressives really have a hard time accepting this characterization of the middle class, and part of the subliminal reason for this is that this is oftentimes the class that they come from. In fact, I’ve recently had to restate my position in a review of Naomi Klein’s bestselling book The Shock Doctrine. Naomi is a great progressive writer and she is a good friend, but I had to point out that her portrayal of the overthrow of Allende as a product of a plot between the military and the Chicago Boys, an alliance that was without a mass base was not only simplistic but wrong. It would have been like saying that the overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand in September 2006 was solely the product of a conspiracy between the military and some people in the Royal Privy Council, without reference to the role of the Bangkok middle classes in creating the political conditions for the coup. Like the Thai middle class in the case of Thaksin, the Chilean middle class was instrumental in the overthrow of Allende. It is the role of the public intellectual to point out such truths—truths that are not convenient from the point of view of one’s politics. The tension between truth and politics becomes greatest when the public intellectual is part of a political organization. What happens when the demands of truth and the demands of the organization begin to diverge? This has been the greatest fear of intellectuals of the left, for, as I said, our moral or political side is very demanding In the interests of the bigger battle against the right, against reaction, and against imperialism, it is a very great temptation to ignore, rationalize, and defend abuses committed by our side and close ranks… [Owing to a study I did of human rights abuses by some progressive organizations in the Philippines] I was labelled a “counterrevolutionary.” That I continued to view and struggle against US hegemony and neoliberal policies as the main obstacles to the Philippines’ economic and political development was of no account. I was now, “objectively,” an agent of US imperialism. I felt I was in good company, though, since one of the figures I have most admired, Nikolai Bukharin, was, during the Moscow Trials in 1937, also judged as being “objectively” an agent of Nazi Germany. Now, my experience is not unique. Engaged intellectuals at other periods and other circumstances have found themselves coming to the same juncture, when they have to make their decision on whether to toe the line or break with an organization or even a movement. They often come to the point when they realize that they must either stick with a movement despite its abuses because its ends are worthy or to break with it because they believe that the objective of change cannot be divorced from the process of achieving it. That is the moment of truth—when they finally have to decide whether to be faithful to the [organization] or remain faithful to their role as engaged intellectuals. It is not an easy choice, and one is never certain one made the right choice. And certainly, one finds it difficult to be judgmental of those who have gone the other way. Let me sum this up by saying that intellectual work and political work are complementary. But they also exist in tension with each other. Living this tension is the challenge, and, in my view, one of the engaged intellectual’s worst mistakes is to subordinate truth to power in the belief that this is the best route to justice. One needs power to realize truth and to bring about a more just order, but one cannot allow truth to be ensnared by power in the process. What I have done here this afternoon is to illustrate the challenges as well as the dilemmas of public scholarship from my own experience. As I noted earlier, I do not have 100 per cent certainty that I have made the right choices. Indeed, my enemies—and I unfortunately have not a few, ranging from the World Bank and the WTO to the Philippine military and…—are betting I have not and will have my come-uppance, hopefully in the near future. In this regard, someone once said—I think it was Sartre—that one of the certainties about being an engaged intellectual is you create more enemies than friends, and, may I add, what few new acquaintances you do make, such as Hugo Chavez, Hamas, and the Hezbollah, are precisely the ones calculated to create even more enemies. The demand for public scholarship is great today, given the accumulating problems of climate change, globalization, financial meltdown, and the universal crisis of democracy. These are times when everywhere–in the United States, the Philippines, Thailand, China–it is getting to be impossible to do orthodox research, in which there is a comfortable distance between the observer and the object of study. As we all become more engaged, it is useful for us to remember that the public intellectual is faced with the multiple and contradictory tasks of marrying truth to power, speaking truth to power, and opposing truth to power. How to balance these conflicting demands is the challenge and the dilemma we face. Let me end by taking this opportunity to compliment the ISA for instituting this very important award. It represents a recognition of the path that not a few have taken, one that does not have the security and rewards of academic life and all the pitfalls of a radical political trajectory but which is just as critical for the public interest as the work of the professor and the analyst. I do not think that I have been a better public scholar than others. Indeed, I think that in a world filled with contingency I have merely been more lucky, having been spared the really, really rough situations and really, really tough choices. To the less lucky but more deserving public intellectuals I dedicate this award.
Martin Khor: The Making of a Global Activist Apr 7, 2020 | 0 comments
The late Martin Khor united activists, officials, and thought leaders against trade and climate policies that plundered the Global South. Here’s how his comrades remember him. (Originally posted on fpif.org) When future students of North-South relations look back to the history of the last 35 years or so, among the key figures they will most likely mark as one of the most decisive in shaping the course of events is one who did not owe his power to a position in government or business. Martin Khor, who passed away recently in Penang, Malaysia, at the age of 68, was present in almost every area of North-South confrontation, from intellectual property rights to the role of multilateral institutions, trade, biodiversity, finance, and climate change. He represented the reemergence in the late 1980s of an actor that had last been seen during the glory days of the Communist International in the 1920s: the borderless activist. Reacting to his passing, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said, “Almost every peak memory I have of each battlefront of fighting corporate-rigged globalization during the last 30 years includes Martin, because he was central to each fight.”
Globalization’s Antithesis Martin the phenomenon was, in a very real sense, produced by globalization, and he emerged as the antithesis to it. His rise to prominence began in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, when transnational capital moved its focus from restructuring domestic economies along neoliberal lines through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to reshaping the rules of international trade via the World Trade Organization. Martin caught the drift of events early on and realized that opposing corporate-driven globalization would necessitate a resistance that also needed to be global. Martin began his work from his twin organizational bases in Penang, the Consumer Association of Penang and the Third World Network (TWN). I first met him, in fact, when he invited me to attend several of the gatherings the TWN hosted in the late 1980s, meetings that tackled issues ranging from the monopolistic practices of the pharmaceutical monopoly to “structural adjustment” of developing country economies by the World Bank to the ravaging of tropical forests. These meetings, which saw intellectual exchange result in concrete agreements to work together, became the means by which an informal global network was created that brought together intellectuals, activists, and sympathetic government officials from both the global North and the global South. Even before thinkers like Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri theorized the decentralized, non-hierarchical network as the response to global capital, Martin was putting its elements in place. Of course, it was not only him that was building international networks during this period, but he was a vital nodal point of this activity.
Striking at the Enemy’s Weak Points Martin was clear about the enemy, and this was corporate-driven globalization. He was also clear about his fundamental goal: to ensure that the developing world, or global South, was protected from the corporate assault. “Martin consistently brought the Third World perspective to all global issues, from trade to climate,” observes Vandana Shiva, the Indian ecofeminist and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award. The aim of his strategy of networking was to create a defense in depth linking developing country governments to international civil society while striking at the weak points of the enemy. These points of vulnerability were the multilateral institutions — the World Bank, IMF, and WTO — that served as the political canopy of global capital. These institutions were tasked with rewriting international economic rules in favor of capital and obtaining the global “consensus,” to use Gramsci’s term, to make them legitimate and effective. The niche that he forged for himself was to bring the pressure of international civil society and developing country governments to bear on multilateral institutions and feed information on what these agencies were concocting to the former. This pivotal position showed its value in the struggle against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in the late nineties. The MAI was a corporate attempt via the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also known as the “club of rich countries,” to knock down restrictions to investment not only among its members but also in developing countries they had relations with. Shortly before news of the secret agreement leaked out, Martin, along with a number of other prominent activists — among them the anti-capitalist author Jerry Mander, Right Livelihood Award recipient Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, indigenous leader Victoria Tauli Corpuz, and Chilean environmentalist Sara Larrain — had formed the International Forum on Globalization (IFG). It was in this transnational formation that Martin revealed the drastic implications of the secret accord for the global South and, acting on his urgent warning, the IFG led what became a global campaign to sink the MAI. The global mobilization stunned technocrats in the North and killed the agreement. The surprising victory, which generated wind in the sails of the rising anti-globalization movement, “would not have happened but for Martin’s early warning, constant guidance, and relentless direct advocacy,” says Public Citizen’s Wallach.
Seattle The fight over the MAI turned out, in fact, to be a dress rehearsal for a bigger battle, one provoked by the push of the powerful countries behind the World Trade Organization, which was formed in 1995, to expand its powers to control areas beyond trade like investment and competition policy and override environmental and labor laws in the name of free trade. Developing country governments gasped at the ambition of the TNC-controlled trade body since they had barely begun implementing the changes in their trade laws mandated by the “Uruguay Round” of Trade Negotiations that had set up the WTO. The Third Ministerial Meeting of the WTO in Seattle in late November 1999 turned out to be the perfect storm bringing together the disparate sectors negatively impacted on by the corporate push for a new trade round, and at the center of that storm was Martin. It was in Seattle that Martin perfected the so-called “inside-outside” strategy, which involved him and others participating in the official discussions to help block pro-corporate initiatives while also assisting in the mobilization of activists outside the convention center by holding teach-ins to inform people about what was at stake. In a 20-minute speech at an IFG teach-in attended by hundreds that was laced with humor and interrupted by frequent applause, he stripped neutrally worded issues such as” trade-related intellectual property rights,” “trade related investment measures,” and “special and differential treatment” to their essence. He damned the lack of transparency and democratic decision-making in the official negotiations, saying, “The kind of transparency and participation which is being offered are, more information and more symposiums, but no real participation not only for us. Not only that the parliamentarians are not really invited, but even the ministers and the senior officials themselves — the majority of them — are not invited to the real negotiations.” Then, with an uncanny sense of what was emerging as a possibility, he told his audience: “So we have before us, in the next few days, a historic event. Either they will cook up a consensus in four days…Or, there really will be no new round and turnaround. We the citizens may have some influence on that. It depends on the messages we are going to put forward when we go on the streets and when we talk to the media. A lot of it will depend on what happens inside there irrespective of us… But let us spend the next four or five days exchanging information and analysis among ourselves, trying to influence as much as possible, showing the world that we care and because we care we are protesting. And then spend the next few years really fighting. Either fighting the WTO or for a better WTO if that is possible.” The Seattle Ministerial collapsed owing to the synergy between the mass mobilization of some 50,000 people in the streets and the resistance to further liberalization of their economies by the delegates from developing countries in the negotiations, and Martin was central to making that synergy happen. The debacle was one from which the WTO never really recovered.
Leadership Style Martin’s leadership style would merit a study by itself. Leadership via influence and informal authority, not formally acquired and exercised power, was his currency, and it was informal authority that was accumulated through his unique combination of analytical acuity and detailed mastery of the issues, an ability to translate superficially complex texts into understandable terms, a style of gently encouraging people to deliver their best — and, at all times, not taking one’s eyes away from the ball. As his speech at the IFG Seattle teach-in demonstrated, Martin had a unique ability to fire up a crowd. His IFG colleague Victor Menotti recalled how at the organization’s teach-in before the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, “he had folks from the townships in a call-and-response cadence within twelve seconds of starting his short speech… I actually clocked it.” Developing country officials and negotiators meeting him, according to Aileen Kwa, a colleague at the South Center, were “not always the easiest audiences to sway, yet without fail, he was able to win them over” with his technical command of the issues, his ability to break them down into simple terms, and his congenial personality. Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute observed, “He had this ability to make you feel special — so you were ready to take on the world, like him.” One of Martin’s strengths, according to Pablo Solon, former ambassador of Bolivia to the United Nations, was not only his ability to “ferret out the devil that was in the detail of climate, trade, and finance texts that were being discussed in the UN,” but his grasp of what Michel Foucault called the power of discourse — that is, that discourse is structured by power relations and structures power relations. The more technical and technocratic the language, the more it veiled power relations. Martin saw as his task deconstructing the text of multilateral agreements and unveiling the real relations they concealed. This made people like Pascal Lamy of France and Mike Moore of New Zealand, two former directors general of the WTO, extremely uneasy in face to face combat with him. While they droned on loftily about the need for rules to create “an even playing field” for developed and developing countries, Martin would bring them back to earth with his witty repartee, “Yes, you want an even playing field where you have a basketball team of six footers playing against one of four footers.”
Climate Politics The climate became Martin’s principal battlefront after the WTO became an increasingly unworkable instrument for global trade liberalization in the mid-2000s owing to civil society and developing country resistance. In this area, his influence was just as great as in trade. One of Martin’s contributions to the climate debate was to popularize what came to be called “negative emissions.” “He personally turned climate politics on its head at the 2007 Bali COP (Conference of Parties),” IFG’s Menotti recounts. Developing countries… “were almost ready to accept developed nations’ commitment to cut emissions by only 80 percent. It still sounds like a lot but he explained to everyone from campaigners to ministers that this was not nearly enough when historical emissions and other often-ignored factors were included. The world now thinks in terms of the North having to do ‘negative emissions,’ and that’s only part of how he helped to align everyone’s thinking on environment and development agendas, which was also a pretty painful process for some people especially in the North.” Martin moved his base of operations from Penang to Geneva in 2009, when he accepted an offer to head up the South Centre, an intergovernmental organization of developing countries focusing on North-South trade and development issues, especially as they related to multilateral negotiations. While he led in expanding the Centre’s engagements in multiple fronts, his primary concern was making sure the global South was not short-changed in the climate negotiations that increasingly dominated North-South relations. According to his Geneva-based colleagues Yilmaz Akyuz and Richard Kozul-Wright, “Martin was a strong critic of tighter intellectual property rights, particularly through trade agreements, that restricted the transfer of the technologies developing countries needed to help in the fight against rising global temperatures and to mitigate the climate damage they were already experiencing.” His voice was also an important one in discrediting “a naïve belief in market-friendly solutions to the climate challenge.” Another former colleague at the Centre, Vice Yu, added that Martin stood for “a development and environmental equity-oriented approach to the climate change problematique,” and that he fought to have as much of this as possible reflected in the historic 2015 Paris Climate Declaration.
Tensions among Friends As with all activists with strong convictions, Martin was not without disagreements with some of his allies. Climate strategy was one area of tension. His perspective on how to approach the climate crisis was summed up by Institute for Policy Studies director John Cavanagh: “The Global South, Martin argued, should have space to ‘develop’ using more emissions as the world overall cut back on emissions, while the North should adopt more rapid measures to end emissions.” While his intent was most likely different, to many climate activists in the North as well as to some in the South, this came across as a plea for leniency for some notorious developing country climate polluters, namely India and China. Also, there were those who thought he invested great importance on supporting developing country governments while paying insufficient attention to conflicts between these governments and their citizens. These were, however, differences among comrades. As Shalmali Guttal, executive director of Focus on the Global South, put it in her eulogy to Martin, “Martin may not have seen eye to eye with some of his allies on some tactical issues, but there was never any doubt in the minds of the latter that their strategic objectives were the same and they appreciated his role as a pivotal leader in this common struggle.”
Broader Vision While defense of developing country interests on various fronts was Martin’s abiding objective, what was his vision for a better world and how was one to get there? IPS’s Cavanagh discerned Martin operating with two paradigms: “The first paradigm involves the choice to work in the system of globalization in which we feel we are trapped. If we do work within that system, we begin by asking: ‘Are the rules of the game fair?’ In this paradigm, we ‘fight for the reform of the rules of the game.’ But, Martin argued, we need to simultaneously fight for a second paradigm ‘because in 20 to 30 years the whole system will blow up anyway. So, in the second paradigm, we work for Gandhian-style, community-based, self-reliant family units of production, trading mainly with the community and the region and only making occasional exchanges with the rest of the world.’” At the peak of his influence from his vantage point at the South Centre, Martin was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015. The next few years, according to his partner and comrade in arms Meena Raman of Friends of the Earth International, were marked by ups and downs as he went from one seemingly successful surgery to another. He did not cease working until 2018, when he was too ill to continue to direct the South Centre and moved from Geneva to his original activist base in Penang. There the global activist par excellence passed away peacefully on April 1. With the current global havoc wreaked by COVID-19, Martin’s prediction of the global system blowing up was remarkably prescient. But the pandemic also underlines what it lost with the passing of Martin. As Rob Davies, former Trade Minister of South Africa put it, “As the world grapples to find a better future after COVID-19, we need more of the likes of Martin Khor.”