No. 8, June 2000
for Socialist Revolution
Repression From Seattle to D.C.
From mass protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit late last year to demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, D.C. this April, the campaign against “globalization” has dominated the left and labor movement in the U.S. Tens of thousands marched in the streets where they were met by massive police force and mass arrests: over 600 in Seattle, 1,300 in D.C. After seeing the WTO meeting collapse, the government from the White House on down was determined to show that the U.S.-dominated “international financial institutions” could meet in the capital of the American empire. Demonstration leaders, for their part, proclaimed victory for having drawn unprecedented media attention to their anti-WTO/IMF/World Bank protests. The police-state repression is a token of what U.S. rulers have in store for anyone who gets in the way of their “New World Order.” Yet while fighting this, we must plainly state that behind the “progressive” rhetoric of the demonstration organizers is a program of chauvinist national protectionism.
The Seattle and D.C. protests have been portrayed in the bourgeois media and in much of the left press as protests against global capital. Prominent “rad-lib” commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Alex Cockburn have depicted them as the start of a new New Left, harking back to Students for a Democratic Society in the ’60s. Most of the reformist and centrist pseudo- socialists have been scrambling over each other to gain organizational influence in politically shaping what they see as a “new movement.” There were plenty of youth in the demonstrations. Many came to protest against Third World poverty, sweatshops, ecological devastation and any symbol of “corporate colonial” domination. Some have embraced anti-imperialist rhetoric, and an anarchist “black bloc” was very visible. Yet who’s setting the agenda is not radical-minded youth in the ranks but the pro-capitalist social democrats and labor bureaucrats who are the linchpin of this amorphous “coalition.” And their program is: protectionism, anti-Communism and pressuring the Democratic Party to put a “human rights” face on U.S. imperialism.
Various groups refer to the “diverse” character of the crowd in Seattle and D.C. One student interviewed by the Washington Post talked of “this strange coalition.” The central fact in both cases was that youth and unionists, many of them sincerely internationalist-minded, were being cynically used to build support for a reactionary national-chauvinist program. The crowds were certainly diverse, and the bedfellows in this “coalition” are so strange that it can’t last. In Seattle, when anarchist youth began trashing Starbucks, some of the “mainstream” (pro-Democratic Party) eco-liberals and anti-sweatshop activists formed chains in front of the Gap and other targets. Global Exchange leader Medea Benjamin remarked, “Here we are protecting Nike, McDonald’s, the Gap and all the while I’m thinking, ‘Where are the police? These anarchists should be arrested’” (New York Times, 2 December 1999). In fact, some of the self-appointed marshals physically seized some of the “troublemakers” and took them to the police, demanding they be jailed, and complaining when they weren’t.
“Human rights” imperialism is a calling card of the Clinton administration, as it was of the anti-Soviet Cold War II launched by the last Democrat in the White House, Jimmy Carter. It was the ideological justification for the U.S./UN/NATO war on Yugoslavia. Indeed, many of those leading the anti-“globalization” protests supported that imperialist slaughter supposedly in favor of the human rights of Kosovo Albanians. (After NATO won, its Kosovo Liberation Army puppets have undertaken systematic “ethnic cleansing” of Serbs, Roma [Gypsies] and dissident Albanians from the province.) A key force behind the scenes is the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America. They play a prominent role in the “new” AFL-CIO leadership under DSAer John Sweeney and in environmental and “fair trade” outfits like Global Exchange. They want to clean up the blatantly chauvinist rhetoric that used to be the hallmark of the labor lieutenants of U.S. imperialism. So instead of the old ILGWU (ladies garment workers) “Buy American” jingles on the radio, now UNITE (clothing and textile workers) professes concern about starvation wages in (foreign) sweatshops, calling for a “living wage” to slightly raise labor costs overseas and thus make U.S. sweatshops more “competitive.”
Their particular target has been to block trade with China. Following the wave of counterrevolution that swept through East Europe and destroyed the Soviet Union, the imperialists’ next main aim is to restore capitalist rule in “Red China,” as the Cold Warriors called it. In fact, the Stalinist bureaucracy that has run the Chinese deformed workers state from the outset has sought “peaceful coexistence” with U.S. imperialism. At the height of the Vietnam war, in the early ’70s Mao Zedong himself offered China’s services as a cat’s paw for U.S. imperialism against the USSR and Soviet-allied Vietnam. The Beijing governing caste has gone a long way in opening the door to capitalist restoration, inviting in thousands of Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Western companies to exploit low-wage workers (many of them women) inside China. Although greatly weakened, key gains of the Chinese Revolution remain, notably collectivized industry, which the imperialists are determined to wipe out. But they have differences over how to do it: Clinton and many on Wall Street want to “open up China” by including it in the WTO, undermining it from within by expanding capitalist production and privatizing or bankrupting state industry. Cold War hardliners, however, including the rabidly anti-Communist AFL-CIO tops, want to ratchet up imperialist pressure on China to produce a collapse.
United Steelworkers of America
Both in Seattle and in Washington, D.C., labor officialdom focused on bashing China. There were contingents demonstrating for a “Free Tibet,” a CIA favorite since the 1959 revolt it orchestrated there collapsed and the Nazi-educated Dalai Lama fled to India. Unions marched with signs saying “No Blank Check for China” and opposing “permanent normal trade relations” (PNTR) with Beijing. They denounced the use of prison labor in China, even though the U.S. has more people in jail than any other country – now over 2 million – and an AFL-CIO rep sits on the board of Federal Prison Industries, which runs more than 100 factories. U.S. prisoners working for private companies, some paid as little as 25 cents an hour, do everything from building circuit boards to sewing “made in the U.S.A.” labels on T-shirts! Against the AFL-CIO China-bashers who want to keep out Chinese products, Trotskyists defend Chinese workers against encroaching capitalist exploitation and layoffs by state industry, as well as demanding the liberation of the hundreds of Chinese workers arrested in the suppression of the 1989 Beijing uprising. We unconditionally defend the Chinese workers state against counterrevolution and imperialist attack, fighting for a workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy which is opening the door for capitalist restoration, not least through pushing to join the WTO.
The source of the worldwide assault on union gains and social programs for the poor and working people is not “globalization” of production, as the labor lieutenants of U.S. capital and national-reformists everywhere proclaim. Whether their aim is to “save American jobs” or to defend fast-disappearing European “welfare states,” even as they attack the WTO, IMF, World Bank and “transnational corporations,” they make low-wage “foreign labor” the enemy. By focusing on a cabal of anti-democratic “international financial institutions,” they divert attention from the system of capitalist exploitation. With their populist appeal, they make common cause with some of the most reactionary labor-haters and fascistic elements. And in pressuring the Clinton administration to adopt labor and environmental trade “safeguards,” they seek to use U.S. power against imperialist rivals and semi-colonial countries and to promote counterrevolution, notably in China. The origin of the current onslaught against the working people around the globe is capitalist imperialism, and it will take international socialist revolution to sweep it onto the garbage heap of history.
N30: The “Battle of Seattle”
Washington officials saw the “Millenium Round” of negotiations at the World Trade Organization meetings beginning last November 30 as a chance to pull off a free trade coup. They would showcase export-oriented Seattle, home of Boeing Aircraft, Microsoft and Starbucks coffee bars, while twisting arms of European, Japanese and Third World trade negotiators to lower tariffs (particularly those affecting U.S. products). “Meanwhile, carefully choreographed street protests would enable President Clinton to nudge the delegates into taking action against such excesses of the global economy as child labor and pollution,” commented the New York Times (5 December 1999). Instead, the streets of Seattle turned into a surreal battle zone, with clouds of tear gas and riot cops in Darth Vadar outfits firing rubber bullets loaded with pepper spray point-blank at the “No to the WTO” protesters.
On November 30, tens of thousands of demonstrators managed to prevent the WTO meeting, as a huge labor rally moved downtown to link up with a second march by the Direct Action Network. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) staged a work stoppage at all West Coast ports in support of the WTO protests. After cops rioted and anarchists trashed Starbucks and Nike Town, city authorities declared a civil emergency. Seattle was put into lockdown, as National Guard troops and armored personnel carriers were brought in to enforce a “no demonstration zone.” The trade negotiators, after being trapped in their luxury hotels for hours, began squabbling. In the end, they left town without achieving anything or even issuing a final communiqué. The “Clinton Round” was dead. Anti-WTO demonstrators cheered.
The result was an instant mythology of the “Battle of Seattle” in which capitalist top hatters were laid low by a revolt of the plebeian masses. Internationally, many were buoyed by the dramatic unrest in the heart of the “single superpower” which has been arrogantly lording it over the rest of the world. Mexican leftist intellectuals hailed the “revolt of the globalized against the globalizers.” The French liberal establishment daily Le Monde (5 December) declared Seattle “A Victory for Poor Countries and Citizens’ Movements.” In the U.S., left liberals were ecstatic. The Progressive (January 2000) proclaimed: “In Seattle, we witnessed an event of historic importance: the first coordinated mass revolt in the United States against global capitalism in the modern era. No less than that.”
Clinton’s well-laid plans certainly went up in smoke. The impact of the anti-WTO protests was magnified by sharp fights of the U.S. vs. Europe and Japan over agricultural subsidies, and of the U.S. and European imperialists vs. their semi-colonial satraps over labor “safeguards.” The talks broke down because Washington could not enforce its “consensus” on the other capitalist rulers. Beyond the inter-imperialist rivalries and clashes of the national interests of the world’s bourgeoisies, the demonstrations against the WTO were hardly a revolutionary mobilization aimed at bringing down capitalism on a global scale. Rather, they were animated by a reformist utopia of returning to a more “national” capitalist framework.
There was lots of pageantry in the streets, but while international in scope it was far from internationalist politically: demonstrators in monarch butterfly outfits and sea turtle suits objecting to Mexican fisheries’ nets; tree-squatters opposed to clear-cutting forests for timber to export to Japan; José Bové, the French farmer, distributing Roquefort cheese and inveighing against McDonald’s; Tibetan monks and anti-Communists dressed up as Chinese Red Army soldiers; thousands of union members in union jackets carrying signs like “Fair Trade Not Free Trade”; farmers demonstrating to preserve the family farm against multinational grain and agricultural chemical giants like Cargill and Monsanto.
Demonstration organizers called it a “festival of resistance,” a phrase picked up by much of the left, seeking to cover up the numerous contradictions. In reality, the Seattle protests were street theater for protectionism.
Calls for “fair trade,” however they are packaged, whether with the Steelworkers’ stars-and-stripes appeals to “Stand Up for Steel, Stand Up for America,” or ILWU longshoremen’s left-sounding calls to “Stop Corporate Globalism,” are appeals for protectionist trade restrictions, setting U.S. workers against their class brothers and sisters around the world. The objections to Chinese entry into the WTO were virulent Cold War anti-Communism and chauvinist “defense” of “American jobs.” Even the eco-green protests were protectionist: why protest logging and not the environmental damage caused by U.S. oil companies, like Exxon in Alaska?
Moreover, far from being a frontal assault on the Clinton administration’s trade policies, the protests were in fact planned in coordination with the government, from the Democrat in the White House to the Democrat in Seattle’s city hall. How could it be otherwise, since the main organizers were labor and environmental groups that are two of the main Democratic Party “constituencies”? Organizers of the Direct Action Network, the Ruckus Society and Global Trade Watch repeatedly met with the Seattle Police to work out modalities for the choreographed civil disobedience. AFL-CIO leader Sweeney even had “a private meeting with Clinton” where he urged the U.S. president to get the WTO to adopt enforceable labor rights. Sweeney reported that Clinton said “he’s all for it. But he said he’s having a tough time with the developing countries” (New York Times, 3 December).
In fact, despite the recent lobbying showdown between the White House and the AFL-CIO over permanent trade relations with China, last fall Sweeney endorsed a letter together with 34 heads of companies and trade groups that approved the U.S. bargaining objectives for the WTO meetings: “We support the emphasis by the United States on increasing market access,” the letter said (Washington Post, 29 October). And Clinton did his part. At Seattle, he ostentatiously praised the demonstrators, saying “what they are telling us in the streets” is that the WTO has to be “open and accessible.” And in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (1 December), Clinton said the WTO should develop “core labor standards” which should become part of every trade agreement and subject to “sanctions” if they are violated.
So here was the top U.S. labor bureaucrat pressuring the commander-in-chief of U.S. imperialism to use his clout to bring the capitalist rulers of semi-colonial countries to heel, which Clinton agreed to. While denouncing corporate “globalization,” the AFL-CIO demands for “labor standards” are a protectionist device to support American capitalism, and these demands were wielded by the American president as an imperialist big stick. Labor-populist rhetoric in the service of imperialism: this was the bottom-line political line of the “battle in Seattle.”
The Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization were not politically supportable by proletarian internationalists. Trotskyists fight not for national trade controls but for a global planned socialist economy. We oppose China’s entry into the WTO because it would hurt Chinese workers and sharply increase counterrevolutionary pressures. We seek not to push the Clinton administration into imposing labor and environmental “safeguards,” but to sweep away imperialism through international workers revolution.
The “AFL-CIA”: Teamsters, Turtle-Lovers and Rabid Anti-Communism
Acting as an instrument of U.S. imperialism is nothing new for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations bureaucracy, which was forged in the post-World War II “red purge.” Widely known in Latin America as the “AFL-CIA,” it got its nickname by aiding Washington in destroying leftist unions from France to El Salvador, acting as labor operatives in CIA plots to overthrow elected governments from Cheddi Jagan in Guyana in 1959 to Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. It was a spearhead of the anti-Soviet Cold War, boycotting grain shipments to the Soviet Union and financing the counterrevolutionary Polish nationalist Solidarnoíº in the 1980s.
Under its new chief John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO has been updating its image – but not its fundamental aims. Today its protectionism is presented in eco-green and multi-hued multi-cultural colors – although there’s still plenty of red-white-and-blue flag-waving. Various leftist groups pretend that the labor marches are a sideshow to the street action by radical youth. But labor played a key role organizationally in bringing out thousands of union members, as well as politically by giving the Seattle and D.C. demonstrations a “mainstream” aura. They were a big reason why, as the Maoist Revolutionary Worker (7 May) quoted an exultant California youth, “the impact of Seattle reverberated way past the radical left” reaching “status quo people.”
Just how decisive labor officialdom’s role was could be seen in the aftermath of the WTO meetings. The front page of the 24 February Seattle Weekly headlined, “Seattle’s New Revolutionaries.” It reported on plans by the Direct Action Network to shut down Bill Gates’ Microsoft headquarters in suburban Redmond to celebrate the anniversary of Seattle’s 1919 general strike. “But the Microsoft protest was scaled back from blockade to street theater when labor withdrew its support,” the alternative weekly reported. The giant puppets were there, but without a mass turnout of unionists in the streets they were a non-event.
The anti-globalization “coalition” with student youth and environmental groups is a key part of the union tops’ makeover. The AFL-CIO statement on the Washington, D.C. protests began: “Union members joined green-haired students dressed as sea turtles….” Speaking at the April 16 rally at the Eclipse, labor federation vice president Richard Trumka declared: “Let them know that we are indeed Teamsters and turtle-lovers, students and Steelworkers and we are protesting together.” But this “coalition” extends even further to include the fascistic Pat Buchanan, who donned a union jacket and spoke at an April 12 Teamsters demonstration protesting administration plans to grant normal trade relations to China. At that rally, Buchanan got a big cheer when he said he would tell Chinese trade negotiators, “You stop persecuting Christians, you stop threatening my country, or you guys have sold your last pair of chopsticks in any mall in the United States.”
When liberals and reformist pseudo-socialists talk about a “new movement” and “new coalition” they are participating in a political bloc that extends to this American nativist, immigrant-bashing Hitler apologist. Speaking on the same platform with Buchanan at the Teamster rally was the “independent socialist” (DSA) Representative Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who denounced foreign labor driving Americans out of high-paying union jobs. So did Democratic liberal Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Congressman David Bonior of Michigan at the AFL-CIO anti-China rally later that day. “Thousands of Americans fought and died in Korea to stop the Chinese Communists,” declared United Steelworkers leader George Becker. The next night at a candlelight vigil opposite the White House, Becker proclaimed in vintage Reaganese, “China is the evil empire.”
A graphic example that captures the essence of this “left-right” bourgeois-reformist coalition: in Seattle, the Steelworkers mobilized heavily to protest about Chinese steel (China is the largest steel producer in the world today, edging out the U.S.). They poured USWA members into town, and drove around a truck with a billboard proclaiming: “The WTO: Destroying Millions of American Jobs!” A high point of their schedule was a show on the Seattle docks. “Hundreds of Steelworkers were joined by more than a thousand student protesters at the port of Seattle yesterday where they dumped mock steel I-beams into the water in a demonstration aimed at dramatizing the continuing crisis of steel being dumped into the American market,” said a USWA statement.
Today the union tops claim they oppose normal trade relations with China out of concern for the fate of Chinese unionists and the low wages of Chinese workers. In fact, they are trying to keep out Chinese steel and to prevent Boeing from building more airplanes in China. And they sell this protectionist line with the “yellow peril” racist poison and Cold War anti-Communism pushed by Buchanan. The New York Times (14 April) reported that union members attending the AFL-CIO anti-China rally were opposed to a deal that would “steal the jobs that are the backbone of the American middle class,” and quoted demonstrators “asking our leaders to keep our jobs in our country.” That is the chauvinist program of the “new coalition” against globalization.
A16: “Seattle East” in D.C.
The demonstrations in Washington, D.C. culminating in the April 16 (A16) attempt to shut down the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund were largely a replay of the Seattle protests against the WTO. While the Mobilization for Global Justice signs outside the IMF and World Bank were a little less openly protectionist, since those are not seen as trade bodies, the anti-China message was pervasive, from the virulently protectionist April 12 labor rallies to the April 16 mega-rally in the Ellipse.
The Washington police, meanwhile, had more than four months to review the Seattle fiasco and buy at least $1 million in new riot control equipment. The police-state repression was massive. The Washington Post (2 April) reported: “Some protesters think they are being watched. They are correct. Police are monitoring the Web pages.” And going around trying to intimidate organizers, and getting American University and George Washington University authorities to throw “outsiders” out of dorms and off campus, and closing down several Kinko’s copy centers to prevent the reproduction of leaflets, staking out homes of activists, “monitoring the movements of nearly two dozen self-proclaimed anarchists” (USA Today, 13 April), etc.
On Friday April 15 , the Washington Metropolitan Police and agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided demonstration headquarters, rousting several hundred protesters. On Saturday, when a demonstration protesting the “prison-industrial complex” and calling to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal headed toward the Department of Justice, D.C. cops boxed them in and arrested at least 635. On Sunday, police concentrated on perimeter defense of the World Bank headquarters, skirmishing with demonstrators all day. On Monday they arrested more than 400 in ritual civil disobedience, bringing the total to more than 1,300 jailed during the weekend.
The reformist left hailed the continuation of the “spirit of Seattle,” but lamented that the D.C. protests didn’t have the impact of the earlier “no to the WTO” demonstrations. The Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, Stalinoid Workers World Party and social-democratic International Socialist Organization made virtually identical disclaimers about the AFL-CIO’s April 12 China-bashing rally and the presence of Hitler apologist Buchanan, acting as if this had nothing to do with the main event. The WWP and ISO simultaneously complained that the labor tops hadn’t mobilized for the weekend, while the RCP hailed the April 16 rally of “15,000 people of many diverse views” (including AFL-CIO China-bashers Trumka and Becker).
James Levitt/Impact Visuals
The China issue crystallizes the popular-front class collaboration of the reformists. The ISO denounces “China bashing” by the fascistic Buchanan, but doesn’t say a word about the China-bashing by DSA social democrats. And no wonder, for the ISO has long participated in the imperialist anti-Communist anti-China chorus, even proclaiming their defense of Taiwan, the refuge of the butcher Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang. On the other hand, Workers World vociferously proclaims its “political support” for Stalinist-ruled China and the “right” of the Beijing bureaucracy to join the WTO, which will escalate the drive to capitalist restoration, at the same time as the WWP assiduously builds the “anti-globalization” mobilizations whose main target is China. Opportunism, as Trotsky noted, is always national in scope.
Seattle has exacerbated a simmering transatlantic feud among the followers of the recently deceased Tony Cliff, whose calling card is the profoundly anti-Marxist theory of “state capitalism” in the former Soviet Union. Cliff & Co. used this shibboleth to justify hailing every imperialist-backed force for counterrevolution from the Afghan mujahedin to Polish Solidarnoíº in the 1980s to Yeltsin-Bush counterrevolution in the USSR in August 1991. The British Cliffites have now accused their American cohorts, the ISO, of “fail[ing] to mobilize significantly for the great Seattle protest” and “play[ing] down the significance” of the event–in other words, even the ISO’s breathless tailism was insufficient for them. The ISO screamed that the British were interfering in their national bailiwick. Since the Cliffites pride themselves on not having an international organization, the rift between the two groups is primarily expressed by the withdrawal of writers and delegations from each other’s publications and events.
A few on the left have tried to distinguish between the Seattle and Washington, D.C. demonstrations. The Spartacist League, which characterized Seattle as a “protectionist circus,” wrote of the D.C. protests:
“The student youth who converged on Washington over the weekend did not share this flag-waving enthusiasm for trade protectionism and belligerence toward China. Most hadn’t even heard of the April 12 China-bashing rally, which was organized by many of the same union officials who provided organizational backbone for the anti-IMF/World Bank protests. SL/SYC comrades encountered little overt anti-Communism except for a few pockets of right-wingers like the ‘Free Tibet’ crowd and sold hundreds of copies of Workers Vanguard….”Certainly most of the student youth who showed up in Washington on April 16-17 weren’t motivated by protectionism or flag-waving anti-Communism. But that was undoubtedly true of the motivation of many if not most of the youth who participated in Seattle as well. It’s quite possible that many of those protesting outside the IMF/World Bank meetings didn’t know about the China-bashing rallies earlier in the week. But it is opportunistic prettifying of the anti-IMF/World Bank demos for the SL to pretend that the youth were in a world apart from this. A Time (24 April) photo shows radical youth cavorting at the April 12 Teamster event where Buchanan and others were spewing out anti-Communist protectionism.
In its latest article, the Spartacist League consciously tries to avoid a political characterization of the overall D.C. mobilization. And the fact is that the anti-IMF/World Bank mobilization was characterized by the same perspective of national protectionism and imperialist “reform” as was the anti-WTO mobilization. What’s going on here is that the Spartacist League is engaging in another political flip-flop. Over Seattle, the SL Political Bureau had voted a motion on November 4:
“not to participate in, or sell at, the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle on November 30, which are a circus – including ecology types, those battling ‘genetically modified’ food, the Reform Party and others – all dominated by national chauvinism, racist protectionism and counterrevolutionary attacks on the Chinese deformed workers state.”Evidently after some internal “rectification” over the self-isolating position of refusing to sell their press in Seattle, having decided to sell in Washington, WV had to opportunistically distinguish “Seattle East” from its model, even though the same ecology types, Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, national chauvinism, racist protectionism and counterrevolutionary attacks on the Chinese deformed workers state were no less present in D.C.
And then there was the misnamed Bolshevik Tendency, a centrist grouping which ever since its founders fled the Spartacist League at the start of Cold War II has followed the “discipline” of labor officialdom, including participating in and even organizing scabbing (on other unions’ strikes). In a 7 December statement, the BT described the Seattle demonstrations as “politically heterogeneous,” claiming that “the AFL-CIO bureaucrats were unable to politically hegemonize the protests.” The statement referred to an IWW banner at the Steelworkers rally reading “Capitalism Cannot Be Reformed,” as well as other anti-capitalist slogans. It omitted that the USWA rally was hard-core protectionism, which ended by dumping mock Chinese steel beams into the harbor!
The BT notes that the ILWU longshoremen carried out a several-hour West Coast port shutdown in solidarity with the anti-WTO protests. It doesn’t mention that ILWU leader Brian McWilliams in a speech to the November 30 AFL-CIO rally in Seattle called for “fair trade,” which is at bottom a call for protectionist trade limitations. For these laborites whose program for every situation is a ubiquitous “united front,” thus perverting this Leninist tactic into an opportunist strategy, the Seattle protests were politically characterized as “populist internationalism with reformist illusions.” The reformist illusions are those of the BT, for the bourgeois ideology of populism is always national in character.
“Black Bloc”: Liberals Under the Ski Masks
Following the WTO fiasco, the bourgeois press exploded with ominous articles about shadowy anarchists who communicate on walkie-talkies with supposedly sinister designs. “Dark Parallels with Anarchy Concocted in Oregon” headlined the New York Times (3 December). Reporters were urgently dispatched to Eugene, Oregon to track down John Zeran, said to carry on a correspondence with reputed “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. National magazines (Harper’s, May 2000) published “Notes from the Underground” revealing the deeper meaning of tree-sitting and other arcane practices of “Radicals of the Pacific Northwest.” But even though for the social-democratic organizers, things got a bit “out of hand” in Seattle, in fact they had planned all along for the presence of “direct action” contingents in their elaborate guerrilla theater. They figured that the black-clad “street warriors” would attract more press, which they did, and the eco-liberals could then distance themselves from anything deemed too radical, which they did.
As for the anarchists, they ultimately went along with the demands of their protectionist/imperialist reform bloc partners. In the weeks leading up to the April protests in Washington, an “A16 Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc” put forward a manifesto which in its earliest drafts said protectionism, China-bashing, etc. were not acceptable, and denounced attempts to impose the discipline of having “purely symbolic” demonstrations. But when Mobilization organizers objected, they toned down the final version of their manifesto to make it clear that they wouldn’t get in the way of the “peaceful, legal” types: “We wish to support the larger anti-globalization movement by organizing our contingent. We do not intend to be divisive in any way….” After the D.C. protests, a “Message from Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc Militants to A-16 Participants” printed in the Eugene, Oregon Insurgent (April 2000) states:
“Overall, we managed to refrain from the overt property destruction seen in Seattle…, not because we consider this to be an invalid expression of protest, but rather to prove our sincerity in supporting the official A16 call to action and not trumping the participation of others.”The Bloc’s Manifesto declared that “protectionism and national sovereignty pit the working class of each nation against each other,” criticized calls for “fair trade” as “ignor[ing] the history of working peoples’ struggle against wage slavery,” and called in the anarchist tradition not only for abolition of capitalism but also of the state and “all forms of hierarchy.” Yet in practice, in order not to be “divisive,” the Black Bloc accepted the hierarchical discipline of the class-collaborationist bloc with pro-capitalist labor protectionists and bourgeois Democratic Party politicians. The reason is not just tactical but rooted in fundamental program. Calling to “sabotage wage slavery,” the program put forward by the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc does not go beyond guerrilla warfare against capitalist exploitation.
This puts them well to the left of the ISO/RCP/WWP reformists, but it is not a revolutionary program for the overthrow of capitalism by the international proletariat, which requires its own revolutionary party to lead the fight for a workers state. It is by erecting a collectivized economy and achieving generalized plenty that the ultimate elimination of the state will be made possible under socialism. The anarchist collectives were attracted to the anti-WTO, IMF and World Bank protests not only because of their loose organizational structure, but also because of political affinity with populism. As Marx pointed out in polemics against Proudhon and Bakunin, at bottom anarchy is the political program of petty producers. It is not accidental that the bulk of the Russian Narodniks evolved from anarchists into bourgeois populists who sided with White Guard counterrevolution against the Bolsheviks.
For Proletarian Internationalism Against Nationalist Labor Populism!
While reformist and centrist left groups and anarchists have eagerly signed on to the “anti-globalization” mobilizations, this “new movement” was in fact generated by liberals and social democrats. Its best builders are liberal publications like The Progressive and The Nation, which has devoted special issues to the anti-sweatshop movement (7 June 1999) and the protests against the IMF and World Bank (24 April 2000). Indeed, the prominence of the media coverage given to the Seattle and D.C. protests reflects the fact that a section of U.S. bourgeois opinion would like to do away with or radically change these “international financial institutions.” Right-wing Republicans have long criticized the IMF, but in recent months prominent liberal economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz (former chief economist of the World Bank) have accused the IMF of worsening the 1997 Asian financial crisis with its austerity policies.
It’s not unusual when a new generation becomes politically active for it to reflect bourgeois political currents. Nor does this mean that they are closed to revolutionary politics. When Students for a Democratic Society arose in the early 1960s it came out of a right-wing social-democratic current, the student group of the League for Industrial Democracy. Politically SDS was initially quite moderate, but it radicalized because it intersected the contradictions between U.S. professions of democracy and the McCarthyite witchhunt, Jim Crow segregation and the Vietnam War. Many of the youth who today have been attracted to the anti-WTO/IMF/World Bank mobilizations can be won to the understanding that what’s needed is international socialist revolution to sweep away imperialism. But this can only be accomplished through sharp political struggle against the national-populist politics of the protests against “globalization.”
These politics are reflected in the very terms of the debate. When anti-WTO groups talk of “global corporate domination,” many students may see this as code words for imperialism, as when their ex-Marxist professors talk of “post-colonial studies.” But the social democrats who lead these protests are not objecting to capitalist domination – they want to introduce Keynesian government policies to specifically limit corporate power. When they object to “free market” politics it is because they are for a “social market economy,” the social democrats’ description of “welfare state” capitalism. When they issue radical-sounding denunciations of “global capital,” they do so not from the standpoint of revolutionary socialism but on the basis of a political program for national capital. And this is not just semantics: the bourgeois populism of the Seattle and D.C. protests has a long history.
One of the top leaders of the anti-WTO protests was Lori Wallach, who is the director of the Global Trade Watch project of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen. Nader is the presidential candidate of the bourgeois Green Party. In a lengthy interview with the liberal journal Foreign Policy (Spring 2000), Wallach described her politics as “progressive” as opposed to liberal. Coming from rural Wisconsin which was the home of Robert LaFollette’s Progressive Party in the 1920s, her political self-definition has real content. Senator and later Governor LaFollette opposed the imperialist World War I from the standpoint of “prairie populism,” a political current going back to the 1896 presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan. This tradition lives on today in The Progressive magazine edited in Madison, Wisconsin.
Where Bryan at the beginning of the imperialist era declared that Midwestern farmers were being crucified on a “cross of gold” (the monetary gold standard), today’s populists say that family farmers are being wiped out by the WTO. Then and now, by focusing on particular symbols of international capital they divert struggle away from the capitalist system. This reflects real economic interests. In her Foreign Policy interview, Wallach declared she was for “good trade” as opposed to “bad trade,” meaning that “when a country or region truly has an advantage in something, it should be able to supply the rest of the world with that thing.” China, by her standard, does not have a comparative advantage in producing blue jeans.
But Midwestern U.S. farmers do have a comparative advantage in producing milk products and grain (corn, wheat, soy beans), of which they are by far the most efficient producers in the world, thanks to climate, soil and a proportionately higher investment in machinery per worker than any other U.S. industry. This is nothing less than a call for industrialized U.S. agriculture to wipe out Mexican peasants, which is exactly what is happening under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)! And these are not just Naderite musings: Midwestern family farm groups prominently participated in the Seattle protests against the WTO.
From its very inception, populism as a bourgeois political current in the United States has been directed against socialism. William Jennings Bryan ran for president in 1896 as the candidate of the Populist Party and the Democrats in good part in order to undercut burgeoning support for the Socialist Eugene Debs, who had led the 1894 American Railway Union strike and was jailed for leading the 1895 Pullman strike. Labor-populism briefly became an important current in the AFL, particularly in the Midwest. Again following World War I, in 1923-24 LaFollette’s Progressive Party won considerable support in the Chicago Federation of Labor against the Workers (Communist) Party. The Workers Party had opportunistically become involved in the Farmer-Labor Party movement, which sought LaFollette as its candidate, and the WP paid dearly for its failure to fight bourgeois populism head-on.
Today, as capitalism around the world intensifies attacks on labor and social programs for poor and working people, the labor bureaucrats and bourgeois “progressives” are pushing the fool’s gold of protectionism. Despite its rhetoric against “corporate domination,” this program necessarily takes aim at “foreign” workers. The Teamsters (both under Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. and his predecessor, the Justice Department-installed “reformer” Ron Carey) have successfully pushed to get Clinton’s Department of Transportation to bar Mexican truck drivers from driving in the U.S. outside of border areas. The Steelworkers under George Becker got the U.S. to slap prohibitive tariffs on Brazilian steel. Now the bureaucrats have mobilized against trade relations with China. Yet most of the U.S. left tries to ignore or prettify the blatant chauvinism of their adopted new “movement,” the better to tail it.
As the class struggle heats up, it is crucial to forge a genuinely internationalist, revolutionary workers party steeled in the fight against these bourgeois political currents. It is necessary to build a party that can appeal to Brazilian, Mexican and Chinese as well as U.S. workers on the basis of a common program of socialist revolution. Such a Trotskyist party would counterpose to the protectionist poison pushed by the pro-capitalist labor fakers a fight for jobs for all through a shorter workweek at no loss in pay – a transitional demand that points toward a socialist planned economy. Such a Leninist party would act as a “tribune of the people,” fighting for the liberation of all the oppressed, warning that protectionism in the U.S. threatens layoffs in China especially of women workers, who as in the former Soviet Union and all over East Europe are the first hit by the destruction of collectivized industry and the rise of capitalist counterrevolution.
The response of revolutionary Marxists to the anti-WTO/IMF/World Bank
protests is a litmus test for their policy toward the pro-capitalist labor
bureaucracy, the key obstacle within the workers movement to revolutionary
struggle. Tailism today spells defeat tomorrow. A firm defense of internationalist
principles, telling the truth about the national-protectionist politics
of this “new coalition,” may be unpopular at first. But this alone can
prepare the way to sweeping away global capitalism, through international
socialist revolution. As Leon Trotsky wrote in the founding program of
the Fourth International: “To face reality squarely; not to seek the line
of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the
truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be,” these are the rules
that will lead a reforged Fourth International to victory. n
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