Analysis of China Trade Vote

jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net
Thu May 25 19:46:17 MDT 2000


Analysis of China Trade Vote

By Jack A. Smith, Highland, NY, May 25, 2000

        Almost everything about the China trade bill approved by the House May
25 was misrepresented to one degree or another by both sides of the
debate.
        The winning side, backed by the Clinton Administration, most
Republicans, and big business, argued that permanent normal trade
relations (PNTR) with Beijing would be a great economic boon to the
people of the United States and would act to improve human rights in
China.
        The losing side, backed by the AFL-CIO, many Democrats and liberals,
argued that the bill would reward the Beijing government for alleged
human rights abuses and would take good jobs away from American workers
as big corporations moved operations to China.
        Underlying both arguments was evident antagonism toward the government
of China for not fully embracing capitalism and for the remaining
socialism in its political system. Some of the discussion was right out
of the Cold War.
        In terms of the human rights issue that both sides of the U.S. debate
continually raised, neither passage nor failure of the trade bill would
have changed anything.  China is justly proud of its history, culture
and accomplishments and is hardly unaware of its importance.  It is
simply not going to accept political dictates from American politicians
about what it should and should not do.
        Frankly, what most Americans think they know about China is influenced
by 50 years of gross distortions coming from Washington and the
corporate media.  China has made extraordinary progress since the
revolution and its 1.2 billion people have benefited considerably in
terms of their standard of living, health and education.  It’s still
poor, and  is a society with many shortcomings, but it has done far
better for its people than the U.S. government and detractors, liberal
as well as reactionary, will ever admit.
        For its part in the trade clash, China’s government won a victory, but
it was more of a political victory internationally and domestically than
a great economic victory because there were plenty of big corporations
and export-import businesses from other parts of the capitalist world
which would have rushed in to fill any void caused by the trade bill’s
failure.
        China’s international victory is that the world’s dominant capitalist
state has been forced to remove barriers to its becoming fully
integrated into the global economy. It was past time to end Washington’s
abridgment of China’s sovereign right to normal relations.  The Beijing
government’s internal victory was over the minority left wing of the
Communist Party which believes China is going too far too fast down the
capitalist road and is reported not pleased about either the trade bill
or the prospect of joining the World Trade Organization.
        What will normalized trade relations actually mean? In terms of the
impact on the U.S. economy, there will be some gains and some loses--and
most of it would have happened anyway.
        The gains will be in corporate profits earned through investments in
low-wage industries and greater exports to China.  The Clinton
administration and the U.S. capitalism in general supported normal trade
relations to garner enormous profits from bringing China ever closer to
outright capitalism and being better able to exploit China’s huge
markets and workers.
        The rich will get even richer in the U.S. as corporate profits pile
up.  This undoubtedly would have happened under the old “impermanent”
trade rules as well. The big difference is that U.S. corporations will
now enjoy a more stable investment and trading atmosphere, no longer
fearing that foreign rivals will enjoy a competitive advantage should
Congress withhold normal relations one year.
        The U.S. losses could be in terms of jobs and thus the economic impact
on American workers as more domestic investment relocates abroad. The
pact might mean the working class will have fewer quality jobs and its
standard of living will continue to stagnate.  At the same time, prices
on some imported goods may go down, but not enough to impact this
decline.
        The AFL-CIO and its liberal backers wanted to save union jobs by
keeping  Chinese goods out of the U.S. market through protectionist
devices that cannot succeed in today's era of global capitalism.
So-called "globalization" is not a choice but a consequence of
capitalism’s drive for profits accelerated by higher levels of
technology, more efficient transportation, expanding markets resulting
from the collapse of the socialist camp, and sharpening intra-capitalist
competition,
         Capitalist globalization is a system driven by internal rules.  The
big bucks inevitably will go after cheap labor in order to make even
bigger bucks, at home and abroad, resulting in some nations and
individuals accumulating great riches while many nations and billions of
individuals accumulate poverty and sorrow.
        It is true that such a system can be reformed to a degree, but its main
features cannot be altered without changing from one system to
another.    Thus, while the U.S. progressive movement focuses on greedy
corporations and such institutions as the World Trade Organization,
International Monitory Fund, and World Bank,  all these entities are
components of a particular economic system that can be tinkered with but
not substantially changed until the entire economic system itself is
replaced by a different system.  The only alternative, it seems to me,
is one or another form of socialism.
        The AFL-CIO, the political liberals, and most people who opposed the
trade bill not only subscribe to the economic system that created the
problems they deplore but support the political parties of capitalism as
well. The union federation is already spending some $40 million to elect
Al Gore and Democratic Party congresspeople.  With apologies to the late
Deng Xiaoping, the original target of this epithet during China’s
cultural revolution, why is the federation focusing its formidable
resources on electing as president “the second leading person in power
taking the capitalist road”? These union and liberal forces will quite
rightly excoriate the uses to which “free trade globalization” has been
put, argue against plant relocation abroad, downsizing, reductions in
the quality of life, the exploitation of foreign workers and so forth,
but then vote for the very political leaders which represent the
interests of the existing economic system and its wealthiest
beneficiaries--those identified by impolite society as the Ruling Class.
         Some progressives will vote for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader, one of
the strongest voices against China in the trade debate. Any serious
progressive alternative to the two-party system is worthy of support,
though the Greens are hardly a labor-based party (which is required to
be effective in at least attaining reforms), much less a socialist
alternative to capitalism.  (By “labor-based” party I am not indicating
a manifestation such as New York State’s Working Families Party, which
essentially functions “independently” as the Democratic Party’s left
wing.  In terms of socialist alternatives, the dedicated will vote for
one or another socialist or communist party that makes it on to the
ballot, as this writer certainly shall.)
        For its part, the Chinese economy will grow as a result of more normal
trade relations with the U.S. and in its eventual membership in the WTO,
but sectors of its own working class will probably suffer as a result of
closed “inefficient” factories, exploitative labor conditions, and the
continuing reduction in social services as the Chinese government adds
more and more elements of capitalism to its socialist system.  There are
signs, however, that the Chinese working class is getting fed up with
this situation.  The number of strikes and protests against these
conditions is increasing--and the government seems willing to make some
reforms to avoid a confrontation with angry workers.  It is still
possible for the Chinese left to once again dramatically and decisively
assert itself in favor of the humanitarian and egalitarian revolutionary
socialist ideals and goals which motivated the Chinese revolution in the
first place, only this time with a much larger and trained working
class.  (The genuine power brokers in American society are well aware
that the Chinese political pendulum could swing back to the left, which
is another reason why the ruling class essentially united behind PNTR
and seeks to more quickly entrap China in a capitalist web.)
        This writer supported the normalization of U.S. trade relations with
China because it was necessary to openly oppose the demagogic Cold War
arguments used to continue treating China as a second-class trading
partner and a “rogue” country.  I also support China’s entry into the
World Trade Organization for similar reasons, even though I believe the
WTO should be abolished, and hope that the Chinese working class
eventually will take a stand against it as a tool of capitalist
domination.  The overriding issue for the left in this regard is the
fight against anti-socialist/anti-communist red-baiting that threatened
to infect the developing movement against the corporations.  (“They
first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a
Communist....” Pastor Niemoeller’s words must never be forgotten--in
this context as well as Germany circa 1940, though I’m told his famous
statement has been bowdlerized into, ”They first came for the
Socialists....”)
        Some of the arguments against China used by  opponents of normal trade
relations were provocative, to say the least, especially under the
conditions that the United States is the richest country in the world
and China--but 50 years out of colonialism, neo-colonialism,
semi-feudalism and mass poverty--is a poor country, despite its economic
growth.  One among many fearful Emails I received from labor friends
actually warned against  “opening up the world's largest pool of forced
labor to U.S.-based transitional corporations.”  It was as though
passage of the bill would have resulted in Darkness at Noon.
        Some of the China bashing was just plain unseemly.  We live in a
society where over 85% of the jobholders have no union protection, but
China’s trade unions were raked over the coals.  Chinese unions, it was
imparted in scandalized terms, reflect the views of their
“human-rights-abusing” government, as though most U.S. unions do not
reflect most of the views of their own “human-rights-abusing”
government--from supporting the anti-worker assumptions implicit in the
very structure of the free enterprise system to its penchant for world
domination through force of arms.
        We live in a society where workers have  no say in the major decisions
affecting their lives and only have the choice between Tweedledee and
Tweedledum for presidential office, but China doesn’t “deserve” equal
trade rights because it spurns our kind of democracy.  We live in a
nation where scores of thousands of prisoners are working for subminimum
wages,  but China should be isolated for alleged “forced labor”
practices. We live where tens of millions of workers are superexploited
(not counting the merely exploited), where sweatshops continue to exist,
where social services for the poor are dreadful, where health care is a
commodity priced to high for  many American workers, yet China should be
denied trade equality because sectors of its working class are
superexploited.
        This is said not to justify inequality in China as it trucks on down
the capitalist road, but to suggest that a certain dishonesty and
opportunistic Cold War fanaticism resides behind the touching “sympathy”
shown toward Chinese workers by liberal opponents of the trade deal.
China is far better than the Cold Warriors say it is, and in any event
the Chinese people will decide their country’s political future, not the
“Americans for Algeorge Gorebush” movement.   As a leftist I hope the
Chinese people move toward socialism and away from theotherism, building
on their revolutionary legacy; and as an American I’ll do everything
possible to fight against the obstacles Washington will place in China’s
way if this gets on the agenda.
        The problem of the ever-expanding worldwide and domestic gap between
rich and poor, which the growing new oppositional movement correctly
opposes, is a problem of the global capitalist economic order, not of
trade or the fact that corporations treat workers like dirt. There is
only one dominant economy in the world today, and it presides over the
lives and well-being of the six billion people of Earth.  As such, this
system must take responsibility for the fact that 20% of the global
population  consumes 86% of the world’s goods.  The remaining 80%
consumes 14% of the goods, including the poorest 20%, with 1.3% of the
goods.  This situation is getting worse, not better, as global
capitalism consolidates itself.   All things being equal, according to
the United Nations in 1998, in 50 years some 8 billion human beings out
of a projected world population of 9.8 billion, will be living in poor
countries.
        The current anti-corporation struggle launched by U.S.  student and
progressive forces, unions, liberal think-tanks, consumer and
environmental groups is an important part of the struggle against global
economic exploitation and oppression.   This movement has some distance
to go, however, to develop an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist
critique.   At the same time, this fight can be diverted by right-wing
elements which  agree with aspects of the struggle (against “free
trade,” for example) but also bring with them strong reactionary views
which must be opposed.  In addition, a liberal force such as the
AFL-CIO, while displaying a more progressive stance in recent years on a
number of matters, is quite backward in suggesting the enemy  of the
U.S. working class is “communist China,” not the American  corporations
or--dare they?--capitalism itself.  The union movement's million dollar
“no blank check” campaign against normal trade  and  WTO membership for
China contained elements of the  old Yellow Peril racism,  rightist
nationalism and anti-communism wrapped into a new opportunist package
for the 2000s.
        In terms of saving jobs, curbing corporate abuses,  and attempting to
“humanize” such institutions as the World Bank, IMF and WTO, it seems
bizarre that the labor movement and its supporters fail to recognize
that it is self-destructive to support a political party (the Democrats)
which has moved sharply to the center-right in recent years and
increasingly opposes the very goals toward which labor is supposed to
strive.   Even greatly weakened compared to a few decades ago, the
AFL-CIO could easily become a very powerful force in American
progressive politics, especially in combination with the broad popular
movements and hundreds of liberal/left single-issue groups, think-tanks,
community groups and so on.  It is long overdue to form a labor-based
mass progressive party to challenge the two-party stranglehold on U.S.
politics.  But the current labor leadership, however much in advance of
its predecessor, is too far behind to contemplate such a move.  Until it
does, American labor will remain the tail that will never be able to wag
the corporate dog.
        Even without a party, a progressive-leaning AFL-CIO could enhance its
fight against corporate greed and runaway companies a hundred fold
through launching a serious campaign of international working-class
solidarity by forming close alliances with unions and movements in every
country around the world, including with the 100 million member Chinese
Federation of Trade Unions. The AFL-CIO has spent the last half of the
20th century undermining left, socialist and communist unions around the
world for the CIA and the corporate bosses.  And all it got for its
efforts was greatly diminished political power, runaway shops,
downsizing and a declining standard of living for the working class.
Isn’t it time to try something new, such as militantly linking arms with
worldwide labor (including the left for a change)  against global
corporations and taking vigorous action to back up its demands?
Millions of Americans outside the labor movement would get behind such a
campaign.  This wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems, but it would be
a big step in that direction.
        Until then, let’s build the new movement against corporate greed and
the institutions of  “globalization,” but also work to bury Cold War
thinking within our ranks, break up the two-party system and always keep
our eyes on the proverbial prize                                                (end)







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