.... we are no more anti- APEC or anti-NAFTA than pro-APEC or pro-NAFTA.
The biggest problem with participating in these kinds of activities is that class conscious workers get mired in the framework of a debate occurring within capitalist politics. There isn't a single sentence or slogan that gets at what communists stand for on this. We don't "campaign" for or against the ways the ruling families choose to organize their trade. Both positions are camps of the capitalist rulers that promote different ways to use Washington's imperial power to extend domination over Latin America and Asia.
When workers try to engage the debate from the standpoint of for or against imperialist trade pacts, the capitalist rulers always win because they draw us into arguing for or against how the capitalists should better run and organize their system. If communists were in Congress, they would vote against U.S. participation in NAFTA, APEC, or any other military or economic pact - not because we "reject imperialist trade pacts," but because we oppose the U.S. government speaking in the name of the whole nation as it engineers moves to wield its mighty power. Similarly communists in the legislature would vote against the government's budget as a whole, not just against its "war budget."
One of the dangerous consequences of adaptation to the campaign of the trade union officialdom, including through the pages of the Militant, is that it contributes to disarming working-class militants and revolutionary-minded youth in the face of Washington's war preparations. The chauvinist campaign by the mossbacks who sit astride the labor movement and the assorted petty-bourgeois radicals is part of the political preparations that the exploiting class uses to try to drag the working class into war. The capitalist rulers don't just count on demonizing the adversaries against whom they are preparing an attack; they also bank on economic arguments transmitted by their lieutenants in the labor movement, the union bureaucracy. Their goal is to convince working people that they have common national interests with the employers that stand above class differences. So we're fed demagogy that to protect jobs in "our own country," we need to support "our employers," including in the arena of trade.
Most important, even in the absence of a war drive, when workers come to think of themselves as "Americans" first, last, and always we are hamstrung to fight the bosses and advance the struggle for a just society that puts human needs first, not profits. This means defending the interests of our class, the working class, that has no borders, not the interests of "our nation" or "our country."
After the Clinton administration failed to get "fast track" authority through the latest session of Congress, union officials throughout the country hailed it as a victory and opportunity for working people. But a setback for Clinton isn't automatically a gain for workers. To the contrary, working people are more disoriented as a result of the strengthening of the reactionary, protectionist campaign of the labor officials than they were before. Working people have been softened up a little more for Washington's attempts to ready itself for war, whether against Iraq, Russia, north Korea, China, Cuba, or some other country that it wants to bring to heel.
`Sweat shop' rallies promote `America First'
Some sections of the labor bureaucracy and their supporters attempt to put a social veneer on their arguments. They contend that protectionist measures are necessary to safeguard the environment and to promote better working conditions for workers in other countries. The conferences and other activities against sweatshops, for example, that are being organized throughout this country in recent months are part of this effort. The Nov./Dec. 1997 issue of the NACLA Reporter describes an October 4 action in New York against sweatshops. Protest organizers, the article states, hope that "once parents know that those 101 Dalmations pajamas are made by Third World sweatshop workers .. they will shop elsewhere, pressuring CEOs and investors to rethink their global practices."
"Elsewhere" is transparently "America."
In the November 24 Militant article cited earlier on the Twin Cities forum, I'm quoted as saying that many union officials look at workers of Mexico and other countries "as victims and not as fellow combatants." How the labor fakers see workers in other countries is not the central matter here (many actually view workers here and abroad as trash, pure and simple). The key problem is their nationalist campaign - they try to convince workers to think of themselves as "Americans" above all.
Underneath all the demagogy of protesting pollution, child labor, and abysmal wages one theme emerges - protect jobs in the United States and buy "Made in America" products. The logic of the argument is: environmental protection is so inadequate in Mexico, or whatever country, that we should make sure U.S. companies don't set up operations there and hire Mexican workers. Or working conditions are so bad there - no unions, long working days, unsanitary conditions - that it would be better to make sure those jobs stay in the United States. One way to do this, they contend, is fight against imports from other countries. This is arrogant chauvinism through and through, and undercuts rather than welds international solidarity.
Buchanan's fascist trap
Increasingly the labor bureaucracy and an entire spectrum of petty-bourgeois radicals are walking working people into the "America First" framework of right-wing politicians like Patrick Buchanan. "If I sound like [AFL-CIO President John] Sweeny on the issue of protecting the wages of our workers and keeping manufacturing at home, it is because on this issue, I agree with the AFL-CIO leader," Buchanan wrote in a September 24 column. To my knowledge no refutation of this by Sweeny or any other top AFL-CIO official has appeared.
Far from providing an effective political answer or fight against the fascist-type threat posed by Buchanan and his ilk, the labor bureaucrats and their boosters help grease the skids for the rightist "radicals" to get a broader hearing within the working class. Buchanan is a more consistent, more explicit, and more radical proponent of nationalism.
In a November 19 column Buchanan pronounced the defeat of "fast track" as the "first triumph of blazing new nationalism" and predicted that "when the coming tsunami of Asian exports hits America's shores, flooding our manufacturing base, and drowning industries and factories, the day of the economic nationalist will be at hand." Buchanan rejoices that "The New World Order evanesces as the old world of nation-states reappears. Multilateralism has been discredited; a new era of American unilateralism is upon us."
After the "craven" response of Washington's imperialist rivals and the UN Security Council to the Iraqi government last month, he writes, Washington now stands alone. Increasingly Buchanan and the ultrarightists he speaks for are assuming the leadership of the capitalist war party in the United States. Buchanan has sometimes been referred to as "isolationist" or even "antiwar" for positions such as his opposition to the U.S. government's policy during Washington's assault on Iraq in 1991 or the deployment of U.S. troops in Bosnia under the aegis of the United Nations. But the opposite is the case. Buchanan will mobilize the rightist movement he is building to demand Washington use all its imperial might to support "our boys."
But he's determined to win the war at home first against the working class, as a precondition to do the job right. And then America must do it, unilaterally! "Indeed, if deterrence - the threat of massive retaliation - worked against Stalin and Mao, why would it not work against an Iraq with no navy and air force and a GDP that is but 1 percent of our own?" Buchanan wrote in a column in the December 3 Conservative Chronicle, a weekly compilation of articles by conservative and right-wing writers published Hampton, Iowa. Foreign policy, ultimately, is the fundamental question underlying the ultranationalism of the incipient fascist movement.
In a column in the December 17 Conservative Chronicle, titled "New nationalism overtakes both left and right," Samuel Francis spoke explicitly of the fledgling alliance between ultrarightists and labor tops in campaigning against fast track, indicating that the ultrarightists have emerged stronger as a result. Referring to a New Republic article by Peter Beinart on the "nationalist revolt," Francis said: "When Mr. Beinart speaks of nationalism, he mainly means economic nationalism, the belief promoted by Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in recent years, that America as a nation possesses an economic interest that `free trade,' favored by both the orthodox left and the orthodox right, doesn't reflect."
He continued, "But nationalism promises to go a bit further than just trade issues.
"Nationalism also underlies the popular revolt against uncontrolled immigration, not only for economic reasons but also for what are basically cultural ones... The cultural dimension of the revolt against immigration also happens to connect with the domestic culture war waged by the religious right and its allies."
On economic and trade issues, the right-wing columnist noted, "protectionists of the right can gain support from allies on the left like Ralph Nader, labor unions and environmentalists. But the protectionists of the left usually run for the hills when their allies on the right start invoking non-economic, cultural and political nationalist themes."
Concentrating his fire on his bourgeois opponents who pushed for fast track, the writer concluded, "They have a good reason to fear, because the nationalism that is beginning to unite Americans of both left and right is the most serious threat to their power yet to appear, and there is no sign that it is going to stop."
This underlines the stakes in doing everything possible to show fellow workers and revolutionary-minded youth a different course, an internationalist perspective, and to have nothing to do with the conferences, forums, and protests of the labor bureaucrats and other peddlers of American nationalism in the labor movement. Socialist workers need to discuss with fighters what capitalism and imperialism are and the need for working people to wage a fight for international solidarity that can lay the basis for the working class wresting power from the capitalist rulers.
Only then will capitalist governments in Washington, Ottawa, Tokyo, London, and other imperial centers be stopped from using their power through trade pacts, embargoes, bail-out schemes, and other such policies to deepen the exploitation and oppression of working people around the world.