From Communist Voice #25, Nov. 27, 2000:

On the New England Global Action Network Conference

About the upcoming demo against the
Free Trade Agreement of the Americas

. In April next year activists will demonstrate in Quebec City, Canada against the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas). Activists met on Nov. 11-12 in Worcester, Massachusetts to discuss this and other actions against the world economic bodies and their neo-liberal agenda. A supporter of the Communist Voice Organization attended the conference. Below are his comments, and then the leaflet which he distributed there.

Report on the NEGAN Conference
Nov. 11-12 in Worcester, MA

by Thomas

.

. NEGAN is a newly created umbrella group formed to organize for upcoming actions against globalization in general, the World Bank, IMF, NAFTA and FTAA in particular. There were close to 200 people in attendance (more than planned for), almost half of which were new people coming out for the first time to help organize. The other half had some organizational experience from conventions, Seattle, Prague, DC and Windsor events. Only a handful of people represented definite political groups: Progressive Party, Socialist Party, International Socialist Organization, Green Party and me. There were two anarchists there who identified themselves as anarcho-communists. There was also a strong labor presence.

. The labor presence consisted of representatives from various unions and councils who were given a prominent, visible position. The opening address was from a Canadian Postal Workers Union representative (rank and file, not official), followed by the local labor council president of the AFL-CIO. There was also a strong delegation from the Maine Labor Council, who had their own workshop on Maine-organizing-activities, tying local issues to the anti-globalization plans. The Canadian gave a strong anti-capitalist speech which drew a standing ovation. And that was the tone of the whole weekend -- a strong anti-capitalist underpinning, but with utter confusion about what that means. There were anti-capitalist slogans presented which called for "squashing the state" (non-violently of course, whatever that could mean), resist, revolution, smash capitalism, etc.

. The composition of the people there was mainly college students, with a definite labor presence as well. The ISO guy was a labor rep, and in general a lot of time was spent focusing on getting labor's involvement. The people leading the activity groups and meetings were from various environmental, anti-biotech, and PGA (People's Global Action) groups. The PGA leaders had various political affiliations, mostly Green. They were the ones with Seattle and Prague experience. One group of college students from Connecticut gave a presentation on an action they pulled off on Sept. 26 in sympathy with the Prague demos, where they shut down downtown Hartford streets and had extensive media coverage. The noteworthy part of that was the focus of the demo, which involved several hundred people, which was to support a local janitor strike at United Technologies by combining it with the anti-globalization demos in Prague. The strategy of the weekend was to develop similar activities linking local issues to the anti-FTAA plans this spring.

. Most of the weekend involved concrete planning tasks to mobilize people and coordinate local GAN activities in preparation for Quebec City in April 2001. Quebec is hosting the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) meetings of the 35 western hemisphere countries(except Cuba) on April 20 to 22. The Quebec government has already started recruiting and training a force five times the size of the existing police force in preparation, and building a three-mile concrete perimeter around the meeting site. PGA groups from all of North, Central and South America are making plans for what looks to be a major showdown there. We heard representatives from many of them and the plans they are already making. The groups taking the lead are from Quebec (see below).

. The weekend had two political positions plainly presented and supported by everyone I could see and hear -- anti-capitalism and anti-globalization. They were stronger on the latter. When pressed as to what they meant by anti-capitalism they didn't know, and it was plain that most had never thought it through or understood all the ramifications. They did seem to know that the globalization plans of the capitalists must be opposed down the line, that the interests of the imperialists meant death and destruction to the people. The meetings had a mass character to them, and you could see plainly from the reports of local organizing that a mass movement was developing. The ordinary, inexperienced activists played a leading role in preparations, and an atmosphere of an umbrella group pervaded -- all who opposed globalization plans were welcome. The core of their analysis on globalization was that it enabled capital to move freely but prevented people and labor from free movement, thereby creating a free hand for capital in dealing with labor.

. Inevitably, reformism took the lead in most of the agendas. Here is a typical exchange that took place. In a workshop on the World Bank and IMF, the leader was from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in DC. His line initially was that the World Bank and IMF were not to be reformed but eliminated, but then proceeded to outline actions like boycotting World Bank bonds and making the Bank disclose meeting records. I pointed out that it would serve the movement and people better if you took a position that the Bank represented what imperialism is and it should be closed down not reformed. His comeback was that this will never happen in our lifetime so let's get some reforms we can attain. This is the political level of most of the experienced PGA people, although some of them agreed with me. When talking with the new people they seemed to favor the position of letting both positions be supported at once -- after all, "we are all fighting the same enemy", etc. The emphasis on an umbrella approach to organizing reminded me of the anti-Vietnam war coalitions. All the anti-globalization issues came down to the same questions, and fighting for a militant line was tolerated but not openly supported. The "labor" representatives tended to be more conservative than the PGA people, looking for "healthy" reforms and curbing the globalization plans of the capitalists without attacking the system itself (not surprising), with the exception of the Canadian postal worker who had experience back to the late 60's fighting to form the union against the government.

. So the anti-capitalism sentiments came down to opposing what was happening, realizing that the FTAA and other globalization plans were part and parcel of capitalism in operation, being open to "socialist" alternatives, but not yet ready to grapple about what that actually is. To quote from the handout of the organizers:

. "Ultimately, if we don't like international agencies because they elevate corporate profit over popular well-being, private power over democratic participation, and short-run expediency for the few over long-run fulfillment and sustainability for the many, then we should also reject private ownership, corporate structure, and markets on the exact same grounds. But what alternatives are there? This is controversial, of course, but an alternative economy might include things like: remuneration according to effort and sacrifice rather than according to private property, power, or output; jobs balanced for quality of life and empowerment plus workers and consumers council democracy rather than hierarchical corporate structure and authoritarian administration from above; and participatory cooperative social planning rather than individualist, corporatist, competitive market exchange." And "Movements for short-run programs such as reforming or eliminating WTO can benefit greatly from orienting their analyses, program and strategies in tune with longer-run aims."

. You can see the level of naivete, but potential if this does further develop into a mass movement of some size. The issues themselves make an analysis of capitalism an urgent and immediate question. My literature was accepted openly with some interest, but I could see that it didn't yet strike home because the issues didn't reach that deep yet to them. (More than half the attendees got a leaflet, and ten Communist Voice's were bought or circulated.) When I asked what they thought of the long term, and how we should be organizing for an independent working class movement and party, the general response was support, but not exactly in line with what we mean. They would say things like: "Yes, getting labor involved with the anti-FTAA movement could lead to a Green/Labor Party." When I explained about the labor aristocracy their eyes glazed because they couldn't understand the difference -- after all, wasn't "labor" here supporting us? Most of the people there had no knowledge of the history of this struggle, the history of the left or the struggle within the working class itself. They were operating from a gut instinct against the capitalist system and so were both open to discussion and susceptible to bogus notions at the same time. An oft-repeated phrase, for example, was let the people use local solutions to problems, and they praised the Ecuadorian peasant movement for rejecting state power. Chiapas was also supported in the abstract without much knowledge of the issues in that movement. And a great deal of time was spent on Plan Colombia and how that struggle will be at the center of the April demos. The article in Communist Voice went over very well with the few who read it there.

. QUEBEC: The two groups representing Quebec were of special interest. There was CLIC and CLAC (believe it or not). CLIC is Operation Salami, in existence for 4 years, formed over these anti-globalization, anti-NAFTA activities. Their Convergence Table is a coalition of Quebec groups united on these issues, not all of them claim to be anti-capitalist, such as the Quebec City Coalition, the nursing unions in Quebec, and various non-violent anti-globalization, environmental groups. They stress non-violence. Their presentation to the conference took the wind out of things when they declared that you can't shut down the meetings, the police are too strong. They called for big teach-ins outside the city and marches to the gates, citizen arrests and such, all very non-violent.

. CLAC is a coalition of anti-capitalist groups in Quebec, much more militant, who don't concede it's impossible to shut the meetings down. There approach was everyone is welcome to help fight, and if you want to try and shut them down we won't argue. They were the ones who declared on day one of the conference that we must all stop pussyfooting around fighting against capitalism and imperialism and use these honest words, and they got strong support from the people there. They are organizing a Carnival Against Capitalism that week, and favor direct action politics (whatever that means).

. Between now and April caravans, teach-ins and tours across the US and Canada will focus on raising a small army for Quebec. According to some leaders, there is far more planning and a far greater reception for this event than Seattle. The obstacles are far greater however. A massive, concerted effort to close the borders to demonstrators is already being planned.

. I am sending copies of literature obtained there. There are also web sites and contacts on the internet:

CLAC -- clac@tao.ca
Operation Salami -- salami@colba.net
Organizing packets can be ordered from -- acerca@sover.net
NEGAN can be reached at -- newenglandstopftaa@egroups.com
General website (new ones will be coming on line) -- www.ftaa-alca.org

Oppose free trade and protectionism!

Capitalism is the problem,
class struggle is the answer

.

. The following leaflet by a supporter of the Communist Voice Organization was distributed at the New England Global Action Network Conference of November 11-12. See the report above on the NEGAN conference.

Fiery demonstrations continue to break out in the U.S. and around the world against the atrocities being committed against the masses by various international or regional organizations controlled by the big capitalist exploiters. At the end of 1999, massive street battles against the WTO engulfed Seattle. This year the drumbeat of protest continues. In April, a major action in Washington, D.C. targeted the IMF and the World Bank. This June, in Windsor, Canada (and Detroit) activists organized against the Organization of American States and their efforts to help establish a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) which would create a "free trade" zone of the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Spirited demonstrations greeted both the Republican and Democratic party conventions. In Prague in the Czech Republic, another round of militant actions took place in September against the IMF. Meanwhile activists here and elsewhere are organizing for further actions, such as the upcoming protest in Quebec in April, 2001 against the FTAA.

. The FTAA "free trade" zone is being touted by the capitalist governments throughout the hemisphere. Even without such an agreement there exists extensive economic ties between the dominant imperialist bully, the U.S., Canadian imperialism, and the capitalist exploiters who rule Latin America and the Caribbean. What the FTAA would do is help accelerate and lock in place this flow of investment capital and trade. Once again, the neo-liberal free trade policy is being offered as a panacea by the lords of finance and industry and their political representatives. According to the fashionable neo-liberal "wisdom" of the last couple of decades, just eliminate all restrictions on capitalist businesses, and all problems will be solved. The reality? The workers and other oppressed are being hammered as profits of the powerful corporations soar. Even during the boom in the U.S., workers are hit with layoffs, increased workloads and wage cuts. Workers are also being hammered with cutbacks in social programs, which particularly ravage 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. Already weak environmental measures are being undermined. At the end of this road lies ruin for the downtrodden and unprecedented wealth for the elite.

. Meanwhile, just as the gap between the rich and poor has grown within the powerful industrial countries, so the gap between rich and less developed countries has also grown. The multinationals roam around the poorer capitalist countries not to uplift the masses, but to find ever-cheaper sources of labor, grab resources and markets, and dump their toxic wastes. It is this legacy of ruining the masses and the environment that has fueled the outrage expressed against the capitalist agencies and trade agreements that assist this process.



Capitalism itself is the underlying problem

. But to wage an effective fight against the ills that are rightly protested, one of the major issues that confronts activists is what is the root cause of the ills we protest? These ills 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 policy of this or that government, but the inevitable by-product of the rule of capitalist business. The underlying problem is capitalism, a social system whose very operation requires the ruining of the masses and the environment.

. The present neo-liberal crusade is one form of this system, but not the system itself. In fact, 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 weaker capitalist countries) feel threatened by competition, they demand protectionist measures and state subsidies, and a whole system of "corporate welfare" continues to exist. Today, even as the bourgeoisie claims everything is supposed to be solved by the market itself, they are in fact building a system of world rules for economic activity greater than anything seen in the past. Presently, this is mainly for the goal of attacking protectionism, but when the world bourgeoisie needs to save itself with a heavy dose of state intervention, their international institutions can adopt themselves 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 and all forms of capitalist oppressions that is what the world bourgeoisie fears. While the capitalist representatives of Latin America and North America haggle over trade rules, an armed mass rebellion is going on in Columbia, which the Colombian bourgeoisie, with massive U.S. aid, is trying to quell. In Peru there is also a mass guerrilla movement and several months ago the Fujimori regime was rocked by mass actions against its fraudulent elections. In recent months, mass protests in Ecuador toppled the country's president and there have been major strikes and protests in Argentina. The demonstrations against the world capitalist agencies, no matter how militant, cannot in themselves stop the ruination of the masses by the exploiters. But they can call attention to various outrages, show the justice in the struggle of the downtrodden against the exploiters and expose the attempts of the bourgeoisie to smother these struggles. They can likewise encourage strikes, the mass movements against racial oppression and sexism, the struggle against imperialist war and bullying and other struggles that have developed in Canada and the U.S. As well, these demonstrations provide an opportunity for activists to examine the views of different political trends and see whether or not they help advance the class struggle.

Class struggle or AFL-CIO reformism?

. Support for the class struggle must include a fight against the class collaborationist trends. 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 the workers in the U.S. That's true. But the AFL-CIO officialdom itself collaborates with "our" capitalists. They have allowed the capitalists to steamroller the workers with "downsizing" and wage and benefit concessions. Rather than build militant class battles here, the AFL-CIO promotes that the problem is unfair policies by foreign competition, thus diverting workers away from targeting their home-grown exploiters with slogans about "fair trade." In many cases this involves lining up directly with certain capitalist industrialists who want protectionist measures to save their profits. In other cases, the AFL-CIO bureaucrats condemn capitalists here for establishing themselves in other countries where workers have no rights. But the AFL-CIO seeks to establish only meek trends like itself overseas while maintaining a chauvinist fury about workers overseas taking jobs from American workers. Meanwhile, it is hard to take their fight against neo-liberalism seriously when they cannot even break with Democratic Party politicians who are touting the neo-liberal agenda. Thus, the vast bulk of the AFL-CIO misleaders campaigned for free-trader Gore.

Nader

. The Nader campaign of the Green Party has also put itself forward as a champion of the ordinary people. They rightly point out that the Republicans and Democrats are under the thumb of big business. But Nader is not interested in building a militant class movement against the oppressors. His idea of the workers' movement is courting the sellout AFL-CIO hacks, who nonetheless rejected his overtures and are kissing Gore's butt. True, Nader has proposed some useful reforms here and there. But overall his proposals are tailored so as to be no real threat to the power and profits of the capitalists and, in most respects, they don't go much beyond what the more liberal wing of the Democratic party says. While activists denounce U.S. imperialist warmongering and military aid around the world, Nader boasts that he can trim expenses in the war machine while keeping the U.S. military the most powerful in the world, replete with a lean and mean nuclear arsenal so "we would still have overwhelming deterrent capacity".

. Indeed, for all Nader's attacks on the Democrats, he defended himself against charges that he would steal votes from Gore and thus help Bush win by insisting that his campaign would help the Democrats increase their strength in Congress. Meanwhile Green Party candidates and financial backers carefully calculated where they might jeopardize the election of Democratic Party candidates and did not contest those races or toned down their campaigns. So it seems that for all their protests, they too are guilty of "evil of two lessers" politics.

Reformism and the Latin American bourgeoisie

. Another part of the struggle against reformist class collaboration involves what attitude to take toward the bourgeoisie outside the big imperialist powers. When we look at the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, the problem isn't simply U.S. imperialism, the world superpower. The Canadian bourgeoisie and the Latin American bourgeoisies are also exploiters with their own rotten missions. Indeed, it's notable that the Latin American bourgeoisie has already established it's own neo-liberal "free-trade" zones such as Mercosur and the Andean Pact. The Latin American bourgeoisie rides roughshod over the workers and poor peasantry who have waged heated battles and uprisings against their local exploiters. At the same time, the masses also target U.S. imperialism which, being the strongest power, has great economic and political leverage with which to squeeze the other countries in the region, make them bend to its will (with the help of agencies like the IMF), and a shameful record of making or breaking regimes.

. Despite the many strikes and protests, independent class organization remains weak in the oppositional movements in Latin America. The dominant trends in the movement may oppose this or that government. But they also tend to look to local capitalism, albeit with some reforms, as the alternative. Such ideas permeate not only the more mainstream oppositional trends like Peronism in Argentina, or the politics of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and the PRD in Mexico, but are also strong among radical mass organizations. Indeed Castroism has long promoted alliances with the bourgeois forces in Latin America.

Anarchism

. The advance of the class struggle both here and abroad is needed to push back the neo-liberal agenda. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that most everywhere the mass movements face serious problems of orientation and class organization is very weak. Thus, the fight against the neo-liberal offensive puts on the agenda protracted work to establish new revolutionary class organization. Anarchism poses as the militant alternative to reformism. But while the workers and oppressed masses are desperately in need of their own parties, their own organizations, and their own orientation, anarchism decries the need for any organized leadership as inherently tyrannical. While bourgeois and reformist political parties are spreading their poison among the workers, the anarchists denounce a revolutionary political party. Some anarchists even denounce trade unions. For them, the main issue is each group should be autonomous, which supposedly will automatically overcome all problems of organizing the class movement.

. Building a revolutionary class trend also involves work to show that the liberation of the workers and oppressed is impossible without overthrowing capitalism and establishing socialism. Only when the working masses smash the capitalist machinery of oppression, establish their own revolutionary rule, and stepwise place economic enterprises under the control of society as a whole can they become masters of society, not its slaves. 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, for a period of time, to make use of their own government to keep down their former oppressors. As for the future economy, it proposes that each economic enterprise be sovereign rather than a mere part of societal property. As a result, the transactions between them will create a new market, along with anarchy of production and other ills inherent in capitalism. But the anarchists wrongly imagine that the transactions among these autonomous enterprises will automatically turn out to meet society's needs and can substitute for an overall plan reflecting the desires of bodies representing society as a whole.

Anti-revisionist communism and the anti-capitalist trend

. We in the Communist Voice Organization support the vision of communism upheld by Marx, Engels and Lenin. But to uphold this perspective requires opposition 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, the working masses lost their say over what was being done and the institutions that were established. These so-called "communist" societies, and the pseudo-Marxist trends that support them, have revised Marxism beyond recognition. This is why real communism today is anti-revisionist communism. The revisionist societies have considerable state sectors and extensive state economic plans which makes them look like they're not capitalistic. But a closer look shows that beneath the veneer of planning and state ownership, anarchy of production reigned. Private interests developed between the different enterprises and ministries. The state property became in fact the property of an elite class of bureaucrats who lived high on the hog off the sweat of the workers and enforced a tyranny over them. The development of private interests under state-capitalism paved the way for the eventual transition from state- capitalism to market capitalism, a process that is well under way in China and Cuba. These countries have all become havens for the imperialist multinationals as well.

. Socialism is the act of the working class, not something handed to it by benevolent despots. And the struggle against neo-liberalism must be used to encourage a class movement. This means taking a stand independent of the reformist misleaders. It means standing up against the imperialist powers while not shrinking from the struggle against the exploiters in the weaker countries. The path of encouraging the class struggle is the alternative to the program of the world agencies of neo-liberalism and the capitalist system that stand behind them.

--Leaflet by a supporter of the Communist Voice Organization


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