Defending China's Right to Self-Determination

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed May 24 18:44:35 MDT 2000

Defending China's Right to Self-Determination:

Confronting Imperialism, Racism, Chauvinism, and Anti-Communism in the
United States

by Eric Mann

The current struggle over the People's Republic of China — granting or
denying that nation "permanent normal" trade status with the U.S. and
granting or denying it admission into the World Trade Organization —
requires a strong intervention by those of us who see our work as building
an anti-racist, anti-imperialist U.S. Left against U.S. chauvinism and in
favor of China's rights to equality and self-determination in the world.

There is an urgent need to sharpen the anti-imperialist tendency at a time
when a series of demonstrations in Seattle and Washington D.C. have the
potential to become either a refreshing anti-imperialist intervention in
U.S. society or the replication of pro-imperialist politics masquerading as
progressive internationalism. In the United States, the world's only
superpower, the litmus test of whether a movement is progressive or
reactionary is whether it confronts or allies with U.S. imperialism,
supports or undermines the movements of self- determination of oppressed
nations against its own ruling class, builds or undermines a world wide
united front against racism, xenophobia, colonialism, and imperialism.

Throughout U.S. history the vast majority of social movements have been
objectively or consciously racist and pro-imperialist. Given the
deep-seated racism, national chauvinism, and anti-communism of all sectors
of U.S. society, and in particular, the chauvinism of most white U.S.
progressives (even most of those calling themselves radicals or even
revolutionaries), unconditional support for China's permanent normal trade
status, and unconditional admission of China into the WTO are essential
challenges to the hysterical and hypocritical moralism of the AFL-CIO labor
bureaucracy, and many "human rights," "labor" and "environmental" groups.

Let me outline some of my core assumptions.

* The United States and the G7 nations are the main danger to human rights,
labor rights, environmental rights, and the main obstacle to anti- colonial
forms of self-determination, including socialism, in the world today.

As the world's superpower, the United States dominates every international
institution in which it operates — UN, NATO, IMF, World Bank, WTO. When it
fails to dominate an organization, it seeks to destroy it. Thus, during the
height of its power after WW II the U.S. pushed the United Nations as one
of its essential arms in world affairs (and fought to keep Communist China
out for many years.) Then, when China was admitted and the Third World and
socialist nations had some power in the UN, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon,
and Reagan/Bush evaded any UN authority to challenge U.S. imperialist
intervention. Later, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and many
anti-colonial forces in the Third World were disoriented and weakened, the
U.S. and the Clinton administration turned again to the UN, twisting many
arms to get UN approval of the attacks and blockades of Iraq. Then, in
Kosovo, when the U.S. saw it did not have Security Council support for its
aggression, (because of the opposition of the Soviet Union and China!) it
undermined the UN and unilaterally invaded through NATO. In each situation
the U.S. dominates and bullies the world. But no one votes whether or not
the U.S. should be kicked out of the UN, or NATO, or the WTO. Instead, it
is always the U.S. that manipulates discussions about everyone else's human
rights records to serve its own objectives — in the past to stop Communist
China from impacting the UN, now to advance its own trade objectives by
admitting China into the WTO, tomorrow to try to kick China out of the UN
if China proves to be too strong an adversary.

It makes sense for the U.S. ruling class to have such tactical flexibility,
but it is disgraceful for alleged progressives in the world's superpower to
join in the hypocritical pontificating about whether they think China has
made enough "progress" on human rights to warrant "normal" trade status, or
should it be admitted into world bodies dominated by their own ruling
class. This is little more than the white man's burden revisited.

When we more accurately rename these international institutions —
U.S.-dominated UN, U.S.-dominated NATO, US-dominated IMF, U.S.- dominated
World Bank, and U.S.-dominated WTO — it becomes more apparent just how
offensive it is to hear the AFL-CIO and self-appointed U.S. "international
human rights groups" demand "Keep China out of the US-dominated WTO."

The U.S. seeks to achieve unfair advantage in all of its trade dealings and
will try to impose the most onerous conditions of trade and investment on
China. The U.S. objective is to import Chinese goods at the lowest possible
prices, and impose U.S. technology, investment, and exports on the Chinese
people on terms most favorable to the U.S. — as well as to use trade and
investment as a Trojan horse to undermine Chinese sovereignty if possible.

Conversely, from the perspective of the Chinese people, regardless of their
political difference, trade is fundamentally a weapon in the struggle
against colonialism and foreign domination. China's objectives, regardless
of whether we think their government is socialist or capitalist, is to sell
its goods on the world market and to attract foreign capital on terms most
beneficial to the Chinese government, the Communist Party, and the Chinese

Both parties understand that "normal" trade relations and mutual
participation in world bodies such as the WTO do not end the struggle
between the imperialist superpower and the Asian Third World nation — it
simply "normalizes" some of the rules of the conflict for an international
class struggle between oppressor nation and oppressed nation.

Contrary to the assertions of anticommunist liberals such as Senator Paul
Wellstone, "most favored nation" status is not a "privilege" to be doled
out by the U.S. Congress based on annual reviews of China's behavior by the
world's superpower. Granting China permanent normal trade status, and
admission into the WTO will simply curtail the annual rite of imperialist
judgementalism and hypocrisy — and that will be a victory for the
international united front against racism and imperialism.

The anti-imperialist left should support the unconditional granting of
trade status with China, and the unconditional admission of China into the
WTO to challenge the efforts by the Clinton/Gore and other G7
administrations to impose unfair conditions on China — such as the demand
that U.S. and other transnationals be allowed to own more 50% or more of
Chinese enterprises. That is why the demand for unconditional admission by
the Left is so important, for it then confronts the conditional and
imperialist demands of the Clinton administration to exact even further
concessions from the Chinese people. The protests of liberal democrats,
pro-imperialist environmentalists, and the AFL-CIO against China simply
strengthen Clinton's bargaining position — trying to extract more
concessions from China in order to justify his "taking on" the reactionary
labor movement in his own country. In this international power play, the
role of young white Seattle radicals in joining this shakedown of China is

Seeing the World Through An Anti-Colonial Lens.

The Chinese people have carried out one of the great revolutions of the
20th century, freeing their people from colonialism, opium, footbinding,
prostitution, poverty, starvation, war, and subjugation. They stopped the
U.S. invasion of Korea, supported the Vietnamese revolution, and been of
enormous help for many Third World revolutions — including the Black
Liberation struggle in the U.S.

Conversely, they have also attacked Vietnam after its successful
revolution, moved their economy and society in a capitalist direction, and
suppressed internal dissent within the Communist Party, as well as in the
trade unions and society at large. But as Mao said, "we must divide one
into two" — China, as with all societies, contains a struggle between
progressive and reactionary tendencies. As Chinese leftists and democrats
fight it out among themselves as to the best direction for Chinese society,
the U.S. Left should focus its main blow on its own government, and the
human rights atrocities throughout the world inflicted by the U.S. government.

The debate led by U.S. liberals, labor bureaucrats, and capitalists about
the best way to use trade to "civilize" China is racist and reactionary. It
must be opposed.

 The U.S. Labor bureaucracy — reactionary at home, reactionary abroad

The AFL-CIO labor bureaucracy is perhaps most hypocritical. In the name of
"human rights," "labor rights," and if you can believe this — "the
environment" — it opposes China's admission to the WTO and opposes
permanent and normal trade status. The strategy of the AFL-CIO labor
bureaucracy and the Sweeney administration is reactionary — a desperate
effort to maintain the privileged status of U.S. workers versus other
workers in the world, to seek unfair advantage by keeping out both Chinese
imports and the export of capital to China by U.S. multinationals. If the
AFL-CIO had its way, China could neither import or export unless each
transaction helped U.S. transnationals generate a net surplus of jobs for
U.S. workers in companies represented by, and long since "organized by"
U.S. unions — representing only a tiny percentage of U.S. workers in
manufacturing industries anyway.

I have been working for more than 20 years in the U.S. labor movement — 15
years of which were spent inside the Service Employees International Union,
and the United Auto Workers, as a shop floor and assembly line worker. I
have witnessed the U.S. AFL-CIO:

* suppress local labor insurgencies, collaborate with management to fire
dissident workers, place dissident and democratic locals into trusteeship,

* work with management to secure every narrow capitalist objective, from
labor union "cooperation," Japan bashing against Toyota, and the
disgraceful kiss-up campaign of the Steelworkers, "Stand up for Steel"
against Japanese steel imports

* deliver their own membership to the Democratic party hook, line, and
sinker. The AFL-CIO is as close to a state controlled labor union as any in
China or any other country, its only difference is that it is an arm of the
Democratic party whereas the Chinese trade unions are an arm of the
Communist Party. From my long-term perspective the Chinese party, while
dominating its trade unions and often suppressing dissent, has done a lot
better job for its workers and trade unions than the Democrats have done
for their subordinates in the AFL-CIO,

* opposed every environmental and community based challenge to polluting
industries in which their members work — becoming often the armed
protectors of the oil, chemical, and atomic industries, the auto industry,
and every other polluting industry. Virtually every AFL-CIO union would
rather protect one job for its last member making napalm or benzene or a
host of known carcinogens rather than shut down production to challenge
capital. The same UAW that is attacking China on the environment has become
the enemy of the Honda Civic and the booster of every SUV that is a symbol
of bourgeois consumption and a massive assault on the atmosphere.

The U.S. anti-imperialist Left needs a strong presence in the trade unions,
and the trade union left needs the most direct confrontation with the
AFL-CIO bureaucracy on its reactionary attacks on China. Most U.S. workers
in the factories, especially the most privileged and well-paid and yes,
white, male workers, see their jobs as part of empire, part of privilege.
They rarely want to challenge their own company or their own union, but
prefer to rail against the Japanese, the Chinese, anyone threatening their
house or car payment. There is a new group of workers, immigrants, women,
low-wage service and manufacturing workers who are crying out to be
organized. But there is nothing progressive about organizing them against
the Chinese, nothing progressive to demand that the U.S. government protect
them against Chinese imports. This is a line in the sand — the U.S. labor
Left must take a stand.

 Independence in the International Arena: An Anti-Imperialist Focus for the

What are some components of an independent, progressive, and
internationalist policy? :

1) Stop the China bashing — admit China into the WTO and grant China
permanent and normal trade status without conditions.

2) Focus the struggle on the role of U.S-based transnational corporations
and the U.S. labor bureaucracy that suppresses worker rights, human rights,
and environmental rights inside the U.S. and in the world.

3) Generate independent anti-racist, anti-imperialist demands.

* Stop the U.S. blockade of Iraq

* Stop the U.S. embargo of Cuba

* Reinstate Aid to Families with Dependent Children

* Repeal the "Effective Death Penalty Act," the "Three Strikes Law" and
other racist and repressive criminal justice measures

* Free Mumia Abu Jamal and hundreds of political prisoners inside the U.S.

* Free the U.S. One Million — the One Million Overwhelmingly Black and
Latino prisoners inside U.S. jails, the largest percentage of prisoners of
any nation in the world

* Decriminalize drugs

* End the death penalty

* Zero tolerance for carcinogenic chemicals — a banning of all industrial
and auto toxins

* Create a national network of shelters and safe houses for battered women,
and initiate a national campaign against male brutality in the family

* No More Kosovo's — An End to U.S. saturation bombing of civilians and
provocative attacks on other nations

 These demands are not a coherent program, but an effort to hint at a
coherent approach to demand development. As the new internationalist left
is looking for a strategic sense of direction, focusing on institutions
such as the WTO and the World Bank still avoids the main institution that
must be named and targeted — U.S. imperialism. It would be of far greater
value for that movement to focus on lifting the blockades of Cuba and Iraq,
stopping the U.S. domination of the UN, stopping the U.S. intervention in
Europe through NATO, and fighting for international standards on worker
rights, and environmental rights. The "race to the bottom" is not created
by the Third World, it is created by U.S. imperialism. Demanding from the
U.S. a series of policies to strengthen the hand of Third world nations —
such as the unconditional cancellation of imperialist imposed debt, (not
forgiveness for Third World "sinners") is also progressive. Demanding that
U.S. transnationals be required to pay high minimum wages in any country in
which they do business, these demands are already being raised by many in
the international human rights, workers, rights, and environmental movement.

If we agree that the primary strategy at this point in history is the
construction of a world-wide anti-racist anti-imperialist united front, the
fight to grant self-determination for China allows the left to find an
independent voice against the bullying and hypocrisy of its own ruling class.

For those of us who were active in the mass movements against the war in
Vietnam and in the Black liberation movement, there was once an
understanding that a U.S. left to be progressive had to begin and end with
the struggle against empire. Today, before a potentially progressive new
set of struggles is contaminated with white chauvinism and xenophobic
moralism, the debate about China will allow us to ask a new generation of
activists, in the struggle against U.S. imperialism, which side are you on?

(Eric Mann was an organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality, Students
for a Democratic Society, and a shop floor activist with the United Auto
Workers. He is presently the director of the Labor/Community Strategy
Center and a member of the Planning Committee of the Bus Riders Union. The
views in this article are his own.)

Louis Proyect
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