The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.61/No.28           August 25, 1997 
Why Workers Should Never Back `Their' Gov't  
Readers Loren Meyer and Lars Erlandsson ask the Militant to clarify its stand on imperialist trade and economic agreements (see letters on opposite page). Erlandsson says he agrees with the Militant's opposition to workers supporting their capitalist government's entry into the European Union (EU). But he thinks we may have been inconsistent in how we have approached this and other trade pacts in the past. Meyer agrees with the Militant's opposition to the EU and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but thinks the door should be left open for supporting "progressive" capitalist trade pacts.

I urge Meyer, Erlandsson, and other interested readers to look at the document "Imperialism's march toward fascism and war" that appears in the Marxist magazine New International (No. 10). This report by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, was adopted by the SWP's 1994 national convention. It has served as a guide to the Militant's editors on this and other questions.

Washington, Barnes points out, claims it's for free trade and less protectionism. But, he adds, "None of this has anything to do with advancing free trade, remedying unfair competition, or any of the other high-flown rationalizations emanating from the White House and bipartisan Congress. It's the use of power to drain surplus value from wherever it's produced by workers and toiling farmers into the pockets of capitalists in the United States."

Washington's political and military clout has given it an edge in imposing what it wants in recent trade deals, but every capitalist government is attempting to improve the competitiveness of the dominant capitalists in their countries. This involves trying to protect goods that have difficulty competing in the world market and breaking down the obstacles to getting more competitive goods into other countries. Both aspects become intertwined in all trade agreements. And by strengthening themselves against their rivals, each capitalist class is also trying to improve its ability to exploit working people at home.

Barnes points to the experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement. This, he says, was neither about free trade nor a plot by Yankee capitalists. Rather, Barnes states, "it is the codification of an agreement between capitalists in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, among other things, to carry through the wrenching, violent transformation of a still largely agricultural country into one that will serve as a platform for exporting manufactured goods. Capitalists on both sides of the border will profit."

Working people clearly cannot be neutral toward a pact with such devastating consequences for exploited producers. "But this does not mean," Barnes states, "there was anything at all progressive about the anti-NAFTA campaign waged over the past few years by the union officialdom, a minority of business interests, and capitalist politicians of both liberal and ultraright stripes in the United States and Canada. Often shedding crocodile tears over the low wages and poor working conditions of workers in Mexico, these `America-' and `Canada-firsters' warned against the `flight of capital' abroad and in fact counterposed defense of `U.S.' or `Canadian' jobs to the jobs of Mexican workers. On the part of the labor officialdom, this is nothing more than another rationalization for their class collaborationist course of refusing to organize workers anywhere - on either side of the borders - to defend our living and working conditions against the capitalist rulers in all three countries and beyond."

Meyer calls for a "neutral" position on capitalist trade pacts, but in point of fact, doesn't take a neutral stance in practice. Our reader opposes many, if not most, capitalist trade deals, while possibly backing others. It would be helpful, however, if Meyer pointed to a specific example of a capitalist trade pact that workers and farmers should be neutral on or endorse. I can't think of any. If working people in the United States, Japan, Sweden, or any other capitalist country get behind a trade deal being pushed by a section of the capitalist exploiters in their nations this can only lead to collaborating with "our" employers against "their" employers. We become accomplices in helping to squeeze more surplus value out of workers and farmers in other countries. It's by getting workers to accept the framework of the "national interest" in the economic field that the employers and their governments prepare the ground for defending the "national interest" when they go to war. This is what the experience of working people has clearly shown in relation to the EU, NAFTA, and other such accords.

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