Engels on GATT

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 25 11:19:27 MDT 2001


Regarding "free trade" and "globalization," the key Marxist question is,
what attitude towards these issues best advances communism in the current
conditions?

A key point of Marx's theory of history is that we can't properly address
and solve certain social problems if we -- as producers -- (or most of us)
have not yet reached a high level of wealth-producing capacity.  The fact is
that, nowadays, most direct producers in the world have yet to be turned
into highly productive agents, our living and working conditions have yet to
transform us into actual historical agents -- people with some real clout.
This is a task that proto-communist structures -- including those best
inspired by Marx's ideas -- have failed to fulfill until now.  (That's the
historical record.  To witness it, a concurrent thread in this list is
debating the causes of the Soviet collapse.)  One way or another, this
historically crucial task is being fulfilled by capitalism -- IMO more
sweepingly now that at any time in the 19th century.  I’m afraid,
until now, capitalist societies have proved to be better by comparison at
generating -- at the massive scale required -- the inter-connected,
educated, technologically savvy, capable, disciplined, and
politically-demanding producer who is an absolutely necessary premise to
build communism.

IMO, the key premise to build communism is not our ability to imagine a
different allocation of the world's wealth and labor such that, under
current technological conditions, we be able to meet basic human needs at a
world scale.  Obviously, such a reallocation of the world resources is not
impossible.  Initially, it would "only" require a few acts of expropriation
and redistributive justice.  But would it be sustainable?  Communism is not
only about redistribution regardless of the conditions of production.  It is
not either about transforming our consumption conditions while leaving
production lagging behind.  The fact is producers in poor regions of the
world do not need a welfare package, however generous and sensitively
implemented by the socialist union of rich countries.  What we need, I
believe, is to transform ourselves into the kind of producer outlined above.
  IMO, only a "critical mass" (a clear majority) of producers of this type
at a world scale could ensure that communism is feasible and sustainable in
practice.

The question is then, how will this critical mass of producers emerge?
Will it be the outcome of capitalist production spreading itself -- with its
sequel of horrors -- onto every corner of the world and every tiny area of
our social life?  Is there a shortcut to avoid the horrors and speed up the
preparation?  I do not know.  What I do know is that the "inherited
miseries" of precapitalist production and ways of life that still plague us
in the "Third World" are often forgotten, ignored, or underestimated when
discussing these issues.  (And I fail to see how the events early last
century that led Lenin to make bold statements about a new and final stage
of capitalist development alter in any fundamental way the question.)

IMO, Marx and Engels' casuistic assessment of "free trade" is a good example
of the devil-is-in-the-details kind of approach we should use in dealing
with these issues.  To the extent that capital internationalization and
technological change promote the socialization of production and generates
the kind of producer mentioned above, at a world scale, we should not oppose
it.  Neither is it our task to actively promote capitalist
internationalization -- that's the job of capitalists and their
organizations.  It is up to us to struggle for higher real wages and, in
general, better working and living conditions, and other reforms.  And if we
are capable of outlining a feasible political shortcut to avoid the horrors
mentioned above and accelerate the creation of an advanced labor force, then
it is up to us to struggle for political power.  But only by ignoring the
basics of Marxism we can forget that the economic and political
opportunities available to the workers' struggles depend crucially on the
level and growth rate of productivity attained in the capitalist society in
question.  In this sense, the expansion in productive power made possible by
"globalization" can and should allow us to conquer better working and living
conditions.  Also, capitalist internationalization may and should facilitate
the international solidarity of workers.  Still, it won't do it for us: It's
up to workers of all countries to unite.  I realize this is a fine line, but
all real struggles go along fine lines.
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