Statement of the International Workers’ Committee:
Smash the capitalists’ WTO scheme! For a World Federation of Socialist Republics!
For armed workers’ self-defense against police terror!
Down with the WTO rape of developing countries!
For international workers’ action to smash the WTO!
As the opening session of the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) began in Seattle, Washington, tens of thousands of workers, youth and radical leftists attempted to make their voices heard. Their payment for such action was a near police riot.
Demonstrators were able to delay the start of the 135-member WTO meeting through civil disobedience actions, including blockading the streets with their bodies. At the same time, teams of protestors blocked cars carrying delegates to the meeting from entering the venue.
Areas of downtown Seattle looked like armed camps, with phalanxes of armed police wearing gas masks guarding the meeting locations. Units of armored cars and mounted police ringed the Paramount Theater and Seattle conference center where the WTO is meeting.
Over 1,000 police in riot gear battled demonstrators in the streets outside the convention center on Tuesday. By the day’s end, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell had declared a state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and Washington Governor Gary Locke had dispatched two units of National Guard troops to assist the police in suppressing further protests.
Black-clad, helmeted police in body armor fired rubber bullets and paintballs at demonstrators. Tear gas and pepper spray saturated downtown Seattle, forming clouds so intense that office workers going home eight hours later reported being nauseated. The pepper spray, called OC, or Oleoresin Capsicum, made from jalapeño peppers, causes severe burning of the eyes, mucous membranes and breathing passages. A number of demonstrators went to hospital emergency rooms because of its effects.
An hour after the initial melee between the police and the protestors, over 30,000 unionists — members of the AFL-CIO trade union federation in the U.S. — joined the protests with the goal of promoting “fair trade” between the capitalist powers.
The building of a viable international movement against capitalism, however, raises vast historical and political questions. The 20th century has been full of contradiction and often bitter experiences. The experiences of the USSR and the European deformed workers’ states are a prime example of these contradictions. It will prove impossible to wage a successful struggle without assimilating the lessons of those experiences.
What is the WTO?
The World Trade Organization was established as the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1995. It is designed to act as a regulator for international trade and commerce, and an arbiter of disputes between different sections of the bourgeoisie.
The WTO’s mandate allows them to regulate and arbitrate issues as wide-ranging as tariffs on manufactured goods and government purchasing. The WTO can eliminate standards and quotas on imports and exports, redefine the trade practices of a country, and dictate terms of trade and commerce.
For example, the WTO can eliminate the monopoly on banking policy (the maintenance of a central national bank) that many countries have. Also, the WTO can eliminate food safety standard and endangered species legislation. Most importantly, the WTO has the power to rewrite and redefine labor and workplace safety laws.
Essentially, the WTO can restructure the world economy for the benefit of a certain section of the bourgeoisie. But what section? Who benefits from the WTO?
Marxists believe that politics is concentrated economics. The political moves of the bourgeoisie are dictated by the needs of capitalism. The WTO, as an international economic regulator and legislator, is an arm of imperialist rule. Specifically, it is an arm of U.S. imperialism in the economic sphere.
The American bourgeoisie is positioned to gain the most from the full implementation of the World Trade Organization. The WTO’s recent decisions on hormone-treated U.S. beef exports to Europe and banking policies in semicolonial countries expose the true benefactor of the WTO.
But the benefits of the WTO are not universal to the U.S. capitalists. Many sections of the bourgeoisie — primarily the regional and local bourgeoisie — have been locked out of the benefits that the WTO brings. For the “commanding heights” of U.S. capitalism and imperialism, these local and regional bosses are an anachronism; they are no longer necessary and should be swallowed whole by the largest capitalist firms.
The character of the anti-WTO movement
A variety of organizations have mobilized for the protest in Seattle. Among them are liberal lobby groups that want labor and human rights standards to be incorporated into trade deals, environmental groups like Greenpeace, a few petty-bourgeois left groups (including some that refer to themselves as “Marxists”), the AFL-CIO bureaucrats and right-wing nationalists like Pat Buchanan.
Thousands of young people, including many not affiliated with any of the groups organizing the protests, participated in the protests. They came to Seattle because they are repulsed by the decay of capitalist America: growing class differences and antagonisms, “law-and-order” hysteria and police brutality, an increase of racism, sexism, anti-gay attacks and national chauvinism, and the malign neglect of the needs of poor and working people.
The actions of these young anti-corporate and anti-government protestors stood in sharp contract to the micromanaged rally led by the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. Seattle police were pulled from duty along the line of the union march, in keeping with an agreement that the union bureaucracy would itself police the demonstration.
More than 1,500 union officials — greater than the 1,300 Seattle cops, and including 800 shop stewards from the huge Boeing aircraft complex — served as marshals. Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, who personally directed the attacks on demonstrators in the downtown area, praised union officials for what he called “a true partnership” with the police.
As part of the labor actions, the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union called a one-day strike along the entire Pacific Coast, involving over 9,500 workers and shutting down the ports from San Diego, California, to Vancouver, Canada.
Taxi drivers in Seattle also staged a half-day strike, which added to the chaos in the city’s downtown. They sought to draw attention to grievances over working conditions and harassment by city regulators. The Cab Drivers’ Alliance of King County organized the protest.
It is interesting to note that the AFL-CIO bureaucracy consciously avoided any direct confrontation with the police, and any direct contact with the young protestors that were downtown. The tens of thousands of organized workers that came to Seattle to protest against the WTO have the capacity to cripple production and bring the U.S. economy to a screeching halt. As well, these workers, with the right organization and leadership, could have turned the WTO meeting into a wake.
But this is a question of leadership. The working class is the only force that can challenge and defeat capitalism. But that force requires a direction and a leadership that can take it beyond moral appeals to the “good nature” of the capitalists. This is at the heart of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy’s heavy-handed approach to the labor protest in Seattle.
The AFL-CIO bureaucracy is wedded to the capitalist system. Their interests do not lie with those they claim to represent. On the contrary, these betrayers are a transmission belt for the bosses’ ideology and outlook into the ranks of the working class.
The AFL-CIO bureaucrats embrace protectionism and “America First” nationalism. They reject the need for building real ties with workers in other countries in favor of currying favor with those sections of the capitalist class that could be threatened by the WTO.
This has been made clear in the steelworkers union’s rallies against “steel dumping,” the practice of exporting overproduced steel to other countries. The steelworkers union bureaucrats are not against steel dumping per se, they are against it happening to the U.S. These bureaucrats have no problem if steelworkers in China, Korea or Britain lose their jobs.
The AFL-CIO bureaucracy is a transmission belt for the most backward ideology of the bosses into the U.S. labor movement. This is why it forged a de facto alliance with Buchanan over the WTO while attempting to maintain its ties with Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore.
The role of anti-China chauvinism
One of the key weapons in the arsenal of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy has been its anti-China lobby. China, a major world producer of steel, has applied to the WTO to become a member state.
It is more than noteworthy that the AFL-CIO bureaucrats have saved most of their fire for China on the question of “steel dumping,” even though the steel bosses from Britain, Russia and Korea succeed in dumping more of their product in the U.S. than China could dream of doing.
The union bureaucrats have spent a great deal of time outlining why they oppose any kind of trade relations between the “democratic” U.S. and “totalitarian,” “Communist” China. In the end, all of these arguments are nothing more than a smokescreen.
For example, one of the main charges used by the AFL-CIO bureaucrats is that China employs prison and slave labor to make products that are exported to other countries, including the U.S. and Canada. While this is true in and of itself, it is the height of hypocrisy for the bureaucrats to attack this.
The U.S. capitalists have made a regular habit of using prison labor for certain products. The classic cartoon image of prisoners making license plates has a bitter truth to it. Prison labor is used for everything from road repair to telemarketing. Prisoners are used in many areas as a wedge for unionbusting and strikebreaking.
As well, in the last decade, the use of “workfare” – the forced labor of welfare recipients – has become common. “Workfare” is nothing more than a slave-labor program designed by the capitalists to undercut the power of the unions.
But you do not anything but the weakest of protest of the unions over the use of prison and slave labor in the U.S. In fact, many of the AFL-CIO union officials have given backhanded approval to these barbaric programs.
A major part of the union bureaucrats’ attack on China is also peppered with relics from the Cold War hysteria that dominated the U.S. for the last half of this century. Because the Beijing government still refers to itself as “Communist,” the AFL-CIO bureaucracy has tried to latch on to the leftovers of Cold War triumphalism to whip up anti-China sentiment.
This is in spite of the fact that China has, in the last decade, done everything it can to dismantle the gains of the 1949 Revolution. The growth of private property in the “Special Enterprise Zones,” the continued dismantling of the State-Owned Enterprises, mass unemployment and poverty are signs that the Beijing regime no longer defends the collectivized property forms that were created when Mao’s Communist Party came to power.
In other words: while the governmental party in China still calls itself “Communist,” it is only a deceptive cover for their mass program of privatization and counterrevolution.
Political perspectives in the fight against the WTO
The fight against bodies like the World Trade Organization must be bound up with the struggle against the capitalist system as a whole. The cornerstones of such a struggle lie in the principles of proletarian internationalism and working-class leadership.
Proletarian internationalism is fundamentally different and opposed to the so-called “internationalism” of capitalism today. It is the international unity of the working class, from North America to South Asia, against the exploitation and oppression of capitalism and imperialism.
It’s basic goal is to unite workers across borders to fight in a common struggle against the same capitalist class that seeks to drive down our wages and living conditions. In today’s capitalism, workers from Indonesia to Indiana are likely to work for the same capitalists. Proletarian internationalism calls for these workers to come together and unite to defeat these bosses when they attempt to pit workers in one country against another.
The central slogan and demand of proletarian internationalism is and remains: “Workers of all countries, unite!”
Bound up with the principle of proletarian internationalism is a no less fundamental question: working-class leadership. One of the historic drawbacks of previous social protest movements has been the dominance of petty-bourgeois radicals and bourgeois reformists. These forces seek to use mass movements to either channel them back into the capitalist system or to build themselves up as “leaders.” Both the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces are united in their perspective of keeping the working class from taking control.
So, what should be the social and political basis for such a movement? In our view, the essential foundation must be the international unity of the working class.
The working class must form the backbone and leading social force of any movement against capitalism. Far from shrinking in size or significance, the working class has grown on a world scale, both in numbers and social weight.
The growth of capitalism internationally over the last generation has meant the expansion of industry into areas in economically backward countries where none previously existed. This has meant the growth of the working class by the hundreds of millions. This growth has also created an unprecedented degree of polarization between the capitalist and petty-bourgeois elite and the working class. The struggle between the working class and capital has not disappeared. On the contrary, it has expanded in scope and sharpened in intensity.
Also, there is no lack of combativity and militancy on the part of workers in defense of their jobs and living standards. The sharpening of class contradictions has been demonstrated in every part of the world; no continent has been untouched by mass workers’ struggles in the last five years.
Workers have made their greatest gains historically when their most advanced elements have taken matters into their own hands. It was the understanding that workers themselves can build a new world that guided the Russian working class in the 1917 October Revolution.
But internationalism and working-class leadership alone can only take the struggle against capitalism so far. Workers around the world must organize and build an independent, international political party to fight for their own interests and their own power.
The questions and problems raised in Seattle cannot be solved by protest alone. No amount of pressure placed on the WTO or any other capitalist institution will fundamentally change the situation of the working class.
The record of previous social protest movements, including the struggle against the Vietnam War, proves that activism and even the willingness to make great sacrifices are not sufficient. The most complicated task facing human beings is the organization of a movement against the existing system.
The chief difficulty today is that workers around the world have been abandoned and betrayed by the old organizations and representatives of the working class — the so-called “Communist,” “Socialist” and “Labor” parties, the trade union bureaucracy, etc. The political consciousness of the working class has suffered as the result of decades of domination by these organizations and layers.
Today, the primary force that continues to shackle the international working class to the capitalist system is the trade union bureaucracy. This layer, which feeds of the working class like a parasite, must be politically and organizationally neutralized before the trade unions can become useful tools for the workers in their fight against exploitation and the capitalist system.
The building of opposition movements in the trade unions, based on the principles of workers’ control and internationalism, and armed with a program of class-struggle demands, is a key part of the process of uniting the working class to fight for power.
But the trade union bureaucracy is not the only obstacle to building a mass international workers’ movement. Workers must also fight their way through the myriad of “Communist,” “Socialist” and “Labor” organizations that seek to disarm the working class in favor of the dominance of the petty bourgeoisie.
Central to this fight, and central to building an independent, international political organization of the working class, is the education of our class brothers and sisters in the political program and method that can lead us all out of this rotten and barbaric existence — Marxism.
The development of the working class as Marxists — and specifically as Marxist leaders — is essential to the success in building an international party of the working class that can win the confidence and trust of the majority of workers, and rally millions to its banner of workers’ power and international socialist revolution.
The building of an international Marxist party of the working class would not only unite the most advanced layers of our class in a common struggle against capitalism, but would also subject all organizations claiming to be the leadership of the working class to the test of history. It is only through this test that a Marxist party can grow.
The International Workers’ Committee fights to build an international Marxist party of the working class that can lead the struggle for workers’ power. Through our work in the class struggle, we seek to win the most advanced elements of the working class to our perspective that the working class is the only force that can win real, lasting liberation.
Our perspective demands an unyielding struggle against capitalism. We do not fight to “fix” the WTO; we fight to smash it. We do not support imperialist “unity” at the expense of the working class. We call for workers’ unity to overthrow the capitalist system.
We oppose the capitalists’ scheme of exploitative and oppressive “unity” through bodies like the WTO. We counterpose to this our alternative of a World Federation of Socialist Republics, based on elected workers’ councils, as part of the process of building a world without classes, without borders, without war and without poverty.
If you also want this kind of world, then join with us. You have nothing to lose, and a world to win.
Workers of all countries, unite!
December 4, 1999