Protest the anti-worker FTAA!

April 21, noon, Hart Plaza/Cobo Hall, Detroit

Build the class struggle to
fight the "free-trade" offensive!

From Detroit Workers' Voice #26, April 16, 2001
(reprinted in Communist Voice #26, vol. 7, #1, May 1, 2001)


. The capitalists across the Western Hemisphere are plotting to further ruin the working masses and the environment. U.S. imperialism, Canadian imperialism, and the capitalist exploiters from 32 other nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are meeting in Quebec City, Canada, to work out the details of their latest "free-trade" assault on the workers and poor called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).The outrages contained in the FTAA are not merely some misguided policy, but spring from the nature of capitalism itself. To build serious resistance, the task is to rebuild genuine class organization among the working masses who today are either totally unorganized or are restricted by the class collaborationist policy of the AFL-CIO bureaucrats or other timid reformist trends who now dominate the mass movements.

FTAA's anti-worker agenda

. The FTAA agreement will contain provisions that will hasten the dismantling of public services of all types (social programs, health, education, postal, etc.) by ending regulations limiting privatization by profit-hungry companies in these fields. It will also assist battering down the few weak laws that slightly protect working conditions and the environment. Indeed, under measures contemplated by the FTAA, a company can sue any government in the hemisphere for damages by claiming environmental laws or public services are anti-free trade. For example, the government of Brazil, which is pro-FTAA overall, is reportedly worried that FTAA measures may force it to end its free distribution of generic AIDS drugs. Such a government program may be considered as interfering with the private drug monopolies' rights to profiteer from sky-high drug prices. For the backers of the FTAA, the ravaging of a country by AIDS is a necessary sacrifice on the altar of free trade. No wonder the details of the FTAA agreement are being kept secret and the FTAA delegates in Quebec City are obligated to meet behind concrete barricades and a wall of 5,000 police to save them from the wrath of demonstrators.

The neo-liberal offensive

. Today, the capitalists and their international organizations and trade pacts (FTAA, WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc.) follow the fashionable neo- liberal "wisdom" that if only all restrictions on capitalist businesses are eliminated, they will create a heaven on earth. The reality? Workers and other oppressed are being hammered while profits have skyrocketed for years on end. Even during the profit "boom", and more so now that an economic downturn has begun, the corporate bloodsuckers demand the workers suffer with mass layoffs, austerity wages, and increased workloads. Meanwhile social programs are being slashed, hitting hardest the lower-paid working families and the black and Latino communities. Privatization has meant expanding the fields of profiteering while letting public services and education rot. And already-weak environmental measures are being undermined, too. Meanwhile, just as the neo-liberal offensive has increased the gap between rich and poor within the stronger industrial countries, so the gap between rich and less developed countries has also grown. The multinationals roam the poorer capitalist countries not to uplift the masses, but to find ever-cheaper sources of labor, grab resources and markets, and dump toxic wastes.

The California energy crisis: neo-liberal fiasco

. The on-going energy crisis in California and other regions has shown the wonders of neo-liberal dogma in all its glory. There, private energy- producing corporations promised cheap and plentiful energy through "deregulation."The state-regulated public utilities, jumped on the bandwagon. They figured that by spinning off their energy-producing plants as separate entities and then buying energy on the open market, they might make more money as middlemen than by generating power themselves. For a couple of years the energy utilities made money and big businesses were given low power rates while ordinary consumers were charged high, but stable, prices. Then the crisis hit, with spectacular price hikes, shortages and blackouts.

. As the crisis proceeded, the profits of the unregulated energy suppliers, who the utilities now buy their power from, have multiplied several times over through giant price hikes extorted by withholding energy supplies. The Republican and Democratic officials who ushered in deregulation now complain they have been swindled by the energy companies to the tune of $6.2 billion in overcharges in less than a year. Nevertheless, these same politicians are making the masses bear its costs by granting the utilities huge rate increases and giving them billions in tax dollars to help them pay the energy producers.

. Some people are looking, as a solution to the crisis, towards Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs), where local government owns the energy-producing facilities. Such things still exist in a few places like Los Angeles, and they have had more stable prices and service than the deregulated system elsewhere in California. This show that the energy crisis isn't due mainly to power shortages, but to deregulation itself. But because the municipal governments themselves represent various capitalist groupings, the MUDs are not a form of "people power", as some reformists make them out to be. For instance, the MUDs' managements mistreat their workers and dodge environmental concerns.

Capitalism itself is the underlying problem

. What is the root cause of the outrages committed against the masses at home and abroad? They are not mainly the product of this or that trade arrangement or one or the other international capitalist organization. Nor are they just the result of neo-liberal policies in general. Imperialist domination, exploitation and oppression are not a mere product of this or that government, but the inevitable by-product of the rule of capitalist business itself. The underlying problem is capitalism, a social system whose very operation requires the ruining of the masses.

.The present neo-liberal crusade is one form of this system, but not the system itself. While today the world capitalist agencies are on a free-trade kick, they have historically gone back and forth between free trade and state regulation of the market. For example, for a long time after World War II, the World Bank and other bourgeois agencies encouraged government-backed infrastructure projects and the building of state sectors in the Third World. Even now, when various imperialist monopolies (and the bourgeoisie in the weaker capitalist countries) feel threatened by competition, they demand protectionist measures and state subsidies, and a whole system of "corporate welfare" exists. While the bourgeoisie claims the market itself will solve everything, the representatives of the strongest monopolies are building up international institutions that dictate world economic policy to an unprecedented extent. While today they focus on attacking government regulation, when the world bourgeoisie needs to save itself with a heavy dose of state intervention, their international bodies can adopt to that policy too.

Class struggle is the answer

. The answer to the offensive of the bourgeoisie is to build a class movement of the workers and other oppressed. It is the organizations, demonstrations, strikes, mass uprisings and rebellions of the working masses against poverty, cutbacks, racist and sexist oppression, environmental ruin and all other forms of capitalist oppression that the bourgeoisie fears. Though today, generally speaking, the level of struggle is low, mass discontent is brewing beneath the surface. The series of demonstrations against the world capitalist agencies are a sign of this discontent. These demonstrations have shown the determination and militancy of a new wave of activists. But most everywhere the mass movements face serious problems of orientation and class organization is very weak. There is a crying need to re-establish new revolutionary class organization and win the masses away from the influence of the reformist trends which seek keep the class struggle under wraps. This is a huge problem not only in the U.S. and Canada, but throughout Latin America.

Class struggle or AFL-CIO reformism?

. Take for instance the AFL-CIO bureaucrats. They point out how the corporations here are taking advantage of "cheap labor" and repressive tyrants around the world to undermine the conditions of workers in the U.S. True. But the AFL-CIO officials themselves collaborate with "our" capitalists. They have allowed the workers to be steamrollered with "downsizing" and wage and benefit concessions. Here in Detroit these labor traitors disgraced themselves during the newspaper strike. Thousands of workers showed they could shut down the newspaper plants, and wanted to try to keep them shut despite an injunction, but the bureaucrats called off the plant blockades. They preached reliance on the NLRB and the courts to find unfair labor practices by the owners. Ultimately, the courts ruled for the owners and workers that got their jobs back were forced to accept the onerous terms that sparked the strike.

. Rather than build militant class battles here, the AFL-CIO complains about the alleged unfair advantages enjoyed by foreign competition. Under cries of "fair trade", in many cases they line up directly with certain capitalist industrialists who want protectionist measures to save their profits. In other cases, the AFL-CIO leaders condemn capitalists here for moving overseas where workers have no rights. But at most they only assist meek trends like themselves overseas while keeping up a constant drumbeat about workers overseas taking jobs from American workers. They "fight" neo-liberalism by supporting the Democratic Party politicians who push the neo-liberal agenda. True, a few of the more "radical" bureaucrats opted for Ralph Nader, but Nader barely went beyond the timid reforms of the liberal Democrats.


. Many activists today who seek an alternative to reformism look to anarchism. Many anarchist activists want to see a radical movement develop and want capitalism abolished altogether. But the anarchist ideology works against this worthy goal. While the workers and oppressed are desperately in need of their own new class organizations, anarchism decries the need for any organized leadership as inherently tyrannical. Under outcries against "leadership" in general, revolutionary political parties are denounced. Some anarchists even denounce trade unions, ignoring that the problem is the class collaborationist AFL-CIO structures, not unions per se. For the anarchists, the main thing is that each activist group be autonomous in relation to each other. Then, supposedly, leadership will cease to exist. In reality, preaching against revolutionary leadership only means subordinating the masses to the presently dominant trends in the mass movement, i.e., reformism. Some anarchists may actually try to organize the masses, but anarchist ideology introduces anti-organizational tendencies that will only weaken the process of rebuilding a revolutionary class trend.

. Anarchism also promises to overcome capitalism. But it ignores that the day after the revolution antagonistic classes will not instantly disappear and therefore the workers will need, albeit temporarily, to make use of their own government to keep down the former oppressors and create the conditions to abolish classes, which will then undermine any basis for the political state. As for the future economy, anarchism proposes that economic enterprises be run by small groups that are sovereign in relation to each other and society as a whole, though some anarchists support loose federations between the groups. They fail to see that the trade that takes place between these autonomous groups will re-create the market and the laws that govern it just as certainly as the transactions that take place between buyers and sellers today. Eventually this will lead to a differentiation between the more and less successful producers, and a return of class oppression. This is not mere theory, but is a process that is proven by, for instance, the divisions that have arisen among small peasant producers under the most diverse circumstances. Along with the market will also come anarchy of production. But the anarchists wrongly imagine that the transactions among their autonomous enterprises will automatically meet society's needs and can substitute for having an overall plan reflecting the desires of society as a whole.

Anti-revisionist communism

. We in the Communist Voice Organization support the vision of communism upheld by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Such a trend is necessarily opposed to the phony "communism" of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a system that still exists to some extent in China and Cuba. The revolutions in these countries died out and the working masses lost their say over what was being done and the institutions that were established. These "communist" societies and the pseudo-Marxist trends that have supported them, have revised Marxism beyond recognition. This is why real communism today is anti-revisionist communism. The revisionist societies have had considerable state sectors and extensive economic plans which makes them look like they're not capitalistic. But a closer looks shows that beneath the planning and state ownership, private interests blossomed between the different enterprises and ministries, creating anarchic production. State property became in fact the property of an elite class of bureaucrats who lived well off the sweat of the workers and enforced a tyranny over them. These societies were not "workers' states" or "socialist" but a new form of state-capitalism. And the private interests that developed under state-capitalism paved the way for the eventual transition to market capitalism and the return of imperialist multinationals.

Build the class trend

. Socialism is the act of the working class, not something handed to it by benevolent despots. As we protest the outrages of the neo-liberal "free market", let's work to encourage a class movement. We must clarify that capitalism, whether in neo-liberal or state-regulated form, is the root cause of the social ills the workers face. Activists must encourage the workers and poor to take a distinct political stand from the meek reformist misleaders and establish new fighting class organizations. Such work is arduous, and when the mass motion is low, does not quickly lead to spectacular gains. But this is what revolutionary work involves in today's conditions. Rebuilding class organization, however limited the immediate results, will strengthen the present fight against neo-liberalism and help prepare for the revolutionary battles of the future that will bring down the capitalist system that stands behind neo-liberalism.

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Last changed on October 16, 2001.