Engels on GATT

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 20 17:03:42 MDT 2001

Brian quoting Engels:
>Indirectly, however, it interests us inasmuch as we must desire as the
>present system of production to develop and expand as freely and as
>quickly as possible: because along with it will develop also those
>economic phenomena which are its necessary consequences, and which must
>destroy the whole system: misery of the great mass of the people, in
>consequence of overproduction.

I don't understand why Brian was so reluctant to accept the charge I
leveled against him a month ago that he was a pro-Nafta Marxist. By
attaching Engels analysis (rather odd on its own terms--it borders on
vulgar Marxism with its assertion that "misery" will cause people to rise
up) out of context to a modern-day institution like GATT, he leaves no
doubt that he thinks Marxists should favor GATT, NAFTA, WTO, FTAA, etc.
This is a dogmatic mistake.

Engels' article was written in the pre-imperialist context when the
bourgeois revolution had not been completed in many countries. Marx and
Engels were confronted by powerful elements of the landed gentry in Europe
who tended to favor mercantilist policies. So, they supported free trade
*in a highly qualified manner* in the same way that they supported
consolidation of Germany or Italy into unified national states under the
industrial bourgeoisie. This process would hasten the development of a
unified proletariat.

That historical context no longer exists. We are living in the age of
imperialism, when the capitalist ruling class enjoys complete hegemony and
when the overwhelming majority of the populations in most countries lives
by selling its labor power. In the present context, such free trade
agreements have little to do with bourgeois revolution, or modernization,
etc. They are instead tools of imperialist powers to take advantage of
neo-colonial countries such as exist through Latin America, where the FTAA
would apply.

We know now that the passage of NAFTA, a precursor to GATT, had zero to do
with the concerns expressed in Engels' article from 125 years ago. NAFTA
was not about making Mexico less feudal, or creating conditions for a
unified proletariat, etc. It was instead about increasing the exploitation
of USA workers and the super-exploitation of Mexican workers.


Published on Thursday, April 12, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

The Secret Free-Trade Agenda
Accessing cheap foreign labour is good for companies, but only dreamers
think it benefits workers

by John R. MacArthur

The upcoming "free-trade" fest of politicians and their tenured valets
(also known as economists) in Quebec City has provoked the usual posturing
from both sides of the global political divide, with leftists denouncing
the conclave as antidemocratic, exploitative of the Third World and skewed
toward further enriching the rich. These critics of "globalization" are not
wrong, of course -- the two miles of chain link fence surrounding the FTAA
conference area and the 6,000 cops serve to make their point better than
they are capable of doing. We can safely say that President George W. Bush
and his 33 would-be counterparts are not coming to La Belle Province with a
plan to feed the masses more equitably. . .

It's not for lack of information that the left and the union bosses lose
their nerve when the conversation turns global. NAFTA is a fine test case
for anyone fantasizing about international labour and environmental
agreements raising standards in the poorer countries. Due largely to NAFTA,
by the end of 2000 there were about 3,700 maquiladoras in Mexico, mostly
concentrated along the U.S. border, employing 1.35 million people.

These assembly platforms, many of them deceptively modern and clean, are
the big lie of the free-trade lobby. Most of their workers still make about
$1 an hour for a 48-hour week; huge numbers subsist in sprawling shack
cities with no running water or electricity.

Visit a border city -- Matamoros; Juarez; Nogales; Tijuana -- and you will
be appalled by the open sewers, the parched landscapes, the gimcrack
structures made from pallets and tar paper, the ragged children. Here, the
Mexican worker can join the official union, the CTM, but woe unto anyone
who seeks to form an independent union that actually fights for higher
wages; he may pay with his life.

The new reform President of Mexico (and former Coca-Cola comprador),
Vicente Fox, has so far done nothing substantial to deregulate his
country's monopoly union, which helps keeps wages down and U.S. factories
humming. A realist, he understands how much Mexico, stripped of tariff
protection by former president Carlos Salinas, has become a labour colony
of the United States. One fact tells the story: Last year Mexican
contributions of raw material and components to maquiladora production fell
to a microscopic .82 per cent from an already infinitesimal 1.07 per cent
in 1999.

And yet the free traders have the gall to promote NAFTA and FTAA as foreign
aid to the disadvantaged, rather than exploitation of the indigent. Even
worse, they tout the NAFTA "side agreements," allegedly designed to protect
labour rights and the environment in Mexico. Not one such case before a
NAFTA "tribunal" has resulted in real redress for Mexican working stiffs.
(As well, remember the U.S. environmentalists suckered into supporting
NAFTA in hope of cleaning up the Rio Grande. It's now filthier than ever.)

Of course, no respectable economist would call NAFTA or FTAA a free-trade
agreement because real free trade implies not only duty-free movement of
goods and capital, but free movement of labour across borders, which
neither the U.S. nor Canada can tolerate. Pure free trade is a utopian
madhouse, even crazier in concept than communism. Just imagine the damage
to the social structure -- not to mention wages -- if either country
permitted unlimited Mexican immigration.

Louis Proyect
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