Tens of thousands of people are converging on Washington to protest and disrupt the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Linked to the World Trade Organization, whose meeting in Seattle last fall was successfully interrupted by mass demonstrations and sit-downs, these are the most powerful financial institutions on earth. No question – the bloodsuckers who feed off mass misery and ravage the environment must be stopped, their stranglehold on the world economy ended. Seattle was a victory, and we hope Washington will be too; however, these “anti-globalization” actions are not the answer to the imperialist horrors infesting the world.
The organizations leading the protests are pushing agendas that have absolutely no hope of stopping imperialism. Nor do they represent the real aims of most of the fighters who have come to Washington.
The strongest blows against IMF/World Bank policies have been the powerful working-class upheavals around the world. And they are only beginning. In Indonesia it was mass strikes, street battles and student protests that brought down the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, in a struggle that erupted against the regime’s enforcement of IMF dictates. General strikes in Korea and Zimbabwe in recent years were likewise aimed at IMF-backed austerity programs. The ouster a few months ago of the president of Ecuador by an unprecedented mobilization of indigenous peasants was in protest against U.S.-imposed neo-liberal policies. This month general strikes broke out in Costa Rica and Bolivia for similar reasons.
Mass action by working people is the real way to halt the crimes of imperialist capitalism. It is also the only way to get rid of imperialism and super-exploitation forever – through proletarian socialist revolution.
Some of the organizations sponsoring the April actions want the IMF and World Bank to reform. They demand that the financiers cancel the enormous debts owed to them, cease imposing their “structural adjustment” programs that deepen poverty and inequality, and compensate the peoples and governments harmed by their policies.
Others say that the evils the IMF promotes are the very reason for its existence and therefore it must be abolished – not repaired so that it can do its work with a better cover. Their goal is to shut down the April IMF/World Bank meetings to awaken the public to their crimes – and ultimately to shut down the institutions themselves.
This is the “fix it or nix it” debate. One position is more militant than the other – but both in the end are reformist, since even the “abolitionists” ignore the real nature of the IMF and World Bank. These institutions are the agents of the imperialist powers, the United States above all. One or another of them can be abolished, but then similar institutions will replace them to carry out the inescapable demands of imperialist capitalism.
The problem is not “globalization” – the spread of production across national borders and the diminution of the powers of national governments. The evil is imperialism, the capitalism of our time: the domination of the global economy by a narrow elite of nations ruled by an even narrower class of top capitalists. The IMF/World Bank are their servants.
Imperialism signifies capitalism in its epoch of decay. The neo-liberal policies that are pushed as inevitable consequences of globalization – privatization, “free trade,” unrestricted foreign ownership – derive from imperialism’s weakness, not strength. Declining profit rates followed the post-World War II boom, and today’s grossly unequal prosperity in the U.S. faces a crisis-ridden world.
Moreover, imperialism is not just bankers and bureaucrats sitting in posh offices in world capitals. The real enforcers of their rule are the armed forces of the capitalist rulers whose truncheons and guns crush working-class people everywhere. The IMF is the NATO planes that blasted Serbia, the Indonesian militias that devastated East Timor, the bombing and genocidal strangulation of the Iraqi population by the U.S. and its U.N. allies – even the “People’s Liberation Army” of “Communist” China, as we will see.
The same interests that govern capitalism abroad are also served by the racist police forces that stop, search and shoot in Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York in order to intimidate the most exploited sections of the working class. Racism is a weapon used to keep the whole class divided. Military repression abroad is accompanied by suppression of Black, Latino, Asian and immigrant workers at home – for the same reason: to deepen the exploitation of all workers everywhere. Imperialist capitalism turns race against race, nationality against nationality, indigenous workers against immigrants – to promote its war of all against all.
Because capitalism enforces its demands with bullets and blood, the only way to stop it is with real, not just symbolic power – the mass struggles of the international working class. Tragically, the mass eruptions we pointed to above fell short of proletarian revolution, the only real solution. The great majority of working people are not yet conscious of the full role of imperialism. They don’t yet see how to break the grip of the nationalist leaderships that falsely claim to be anti-imperialist. To confront and defeat the counterrevolutionary armies, a revolutionary army is needed. That means building a general staff today, the nucleus of the workers’ revolutionary party worldwide that can win the leadership of the mass upsurges tomorrow.
Of course, in the eyes of the reformist protest leaders, revolution is a pipedream or at best a hope for the remotely distant future. And socialism is a failed ideology, we are told – what is needed now is practical accomplishments. But it is reformism that is utopian. To actually destroy ravaging exploitation, revolution is the only answer.
Let us look at some of the “practical” solutions the reformists propose. One sponsor of the April protests in Washington is the “50 Years Is Enough” Network for Global Economic Justice. Their list of demands against the World Bank and IMF amounts to a detailed proposal for self-reform. The financiers are urged to cancel the international debt of over 2 trillion dollars, halt privatization campaigns and use their capital not for profits but for reparations and rebuilding the devastation they have caused. This is indeed a pipedream, asking capitalism not to be capitalist!
In the same crackpot reformist spirit of relying on the good will of the exploiters and oppressors, the organization Jubilee 2000/USA declares: “Governments of the wealthiest nations, including the U.S. ... should require that the debt be cancelled in a way that benefits ordinary people and without conditions that lead to more poverty and environmental destruction.” Yes, and pigs should fly.
Indeed, the IMF and World Bank do have policies for canceling the debts of the poorest countries, but these are shams. They amount to “canceling” debts that have already proved to be unpayable while maintaining exorbitant terms on the remainder. They are schemes to fool the working masses into collaborating in their own subjugation.
Some of the reformist organizations more clearly reflect needs of sectors of the business world. Global Exchange describes itself as “part of the Fair Trade Federation, an association of producers, wholesalers, and retailers, that is launching a major consumer education campaign in the U.S.” This outfit relies on deals with capitalist retailers to safeguard the rights of super-exploited workers abroad – not on the struggles of the workers themselves.
Bourgeois morality is not far from bourgeois law and order. Global Exchange’s leader in Seattle, Medea Benjamin, was roundly censured for her “peacekeeping” (a term properly analogous to what imperialist troops do around the world): she defended Niketown against anarchist protesters aiming to break a few windows, even suggesting that the cops should have arrested insufficiently peaceful protesters!
Despite the “peacekeepers,” many demonstrators hope to physically shut down the IMF and World Bank meetings. Aside from the fact that the ruling class and their cops are unlikely to be caught unprepared this time, even preventing a meeting or two is in itself no answer. It is fine to raise public awareness, but then what? What is missing is a clear perspective about how to deal a lasting defeat to the institutions of capital.
The most radical of the official and semi-official plans comes from the “Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc,” formed around several organizations styling themselves anarchist and “anti-authoritarian.” The bloc opposes the reformists’ nationalism and protectionism. But in practical terms it counterposes only the “individual’s right to act autonomously however they see fit,” including “aggressive self-defense or property destruction.”
This attempt to defy authority ignores the reality that the massive action necessary, including self-defense against police attacks, needs organization and leadership, not individual autonomy. We have no interest in defending capitalist property, but we simply note that it is fruitless to focus on breaking a few windows one day in downtown DC while Nike et al are destroying lives every day, everywhere.
The bloc’s call for April 16 culminates this way:
We envision an active and creative contingent of revolutionaries marching under black, red & black, and green & black flags, anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian banners, and a hail of revolutionary drumbeats. We are mobilizing marching bands, radical cheerleaders, and planning a whole assortment of highly organized creative mayhem!
No doubt all this will be fun to see and hear – but really, comrades, cheerleaders, drummers and bands are a sideshow. Mischief is no substitute for a strategy that helps mobilize masses to overthrow their oppressors. It is the mass detachments of the working class that must be built.
The official leaders of the working class, the AFL-CIO labor bureaucrats, are nominally in support of the protests. They have organized their own lobbying day on April 12 to urge Congress not to approve China’s membership in the WTO. The bureaucrats claim to be speaking for the interests of both Chinese and U.S. workers because of China’s “unfair labor practices.” In this they are supported by Global Exchange and Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen group.
In reality the anti-China campaign relies on protectionist and nationalist, not internationalist, motives. The U.S. unions are quick to condemn and campaign against miserable labor conditions abroad – in selected countries. But they don’t wage an all-out fight for the needs of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the U.S. who work in sweatshops at sub-minimum wages under hazardous conditions and abusive bosses. There are also hundreds of thousands of prison inmates compelled to work for pennies an hour producing a growing variety of goods and services. Ignored by the AFL-CIO leaders, tens of thousands of workfare participants nationally work under slave-labor conditions for welfare checks well below the minimum wage.
The labor tops claim that the U.S. trade deficit with China lowers wages here. There has indeed been a decline in real wages in the U.S. over more than a quarter-century, well before China loomed large in U.S. trade or the world economy. The major reason has been the failure of the AFL-CIO bureaucrats to fight the ruling class’s “one-sided class war” since the early 1970’s, preferring instead to rely on electing “pro-labor” Democrats to office.
The futility of that strategy is clear. The most dramatic phase of this class war was the shock treatment started in 1979 under Democratic president Jimmy Carter, an attack that wiped out innumerable industrial jobs in the Midwest. The openly anti-labor Ronald Reagan only extended what Carter had begun. The attack continued under Clinton, who greatly expanded the super-exploitative practices of sweatshops, prison labor and workfare.
On top of that, attacking foreigners for capitalism’s evils is chauvinist poison. John Sweeney and the other union bureaucrats, along with the China-bashing liberals, are opening the door to reactionaries like Pat Buchanan and his “Fortress America” demagogy and racist hysteria.
One group, the Campaign for Labor Rights, gives protectionism a radical cover by claiming that “China’s entry into the WTO would weaken the hand of workers around the world (including workers in China) and strengthen the hand of corporations.” And indeed it might. But accommodating to the campaign of a wing of U.S. capitalists and their labor collaborators to demonize China really means aiding an imperialist effort to impose even tougher trade conditions. That weakens China’s workers far more.
We in the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) are under no illusion that China’s Stalinist regime is in any way “socialist”; genuine socialism means that state power has been taken by the working class. China’s economic system is statified capitalism; its rulers enforce a particularly vicious super-exploitation – for their own benefit and for that of the imperialists, many of them American, who invest in China.
No wonder Chinese workers have protested in massive numbers against Beijing’s expanding privatization of state-owned companies, which wipes out housing and other benefits linked to state jobs. Just this February, 20,000 miners who were fired from their jobs in China’s industrial northeast blocked roads, smashed windows, burned cars and fought with armed police for days – a protest that ended only when the People’s Liberation Army was brought in.
According to the London Financial Times (April 3):
Instances of industrial unrest have been increasing in recent years as the government of Zhu Rongji, China’s hard-driving premier, attempts to accelerate the restructuring of inefficient state-owned enterprises. All across the northeast of the country there are regular reports of demonstrations by retired workers, unable to draw their pensions, and the jobless, protesting at the lack of welfare.
In brief, just what the IMF ordered. As Polish workers facing a Stalinist regime did in the 1980’s, Chinese workers are defending their gains embodied in nationalized property against the anti-worker state trying to impose even harsher bourgeois rule. It is the Chinese workers who are the allies of workers everywhere – not the U.S. politicians and capitalists whom the AFL-CIO is pressing to punish China.
The bureaucrats have been granted a leading role in the April demonstrations. This means that Democratic politicians as well as union bureaucrats will be featured speakers and that bashing China will be a prominent theme. The U.S.-chauvinist program spearheaded by the “Sweeney-Greenie” alliance aids the criminal bourgeois campaign to racially divide the international working-class struggle.
Imperialism is in deep crisis and the world economy is being torn apart. For a moment, U.S. capitalism has benefited, maintaining a fragile prosperity mostly for its topmost layers. The uneven boom has kept the middle class and labor aristocracy from being wiped out and has provided a basis for reformist illusions. It also allows the anarchist mirage of middle-class individualist solutions to entrance youth who want to fight the system.
There are obvious clues to the class outlook of the protest leaders. Even though domestic oppression is not the IMF’s direct province, IMF policies abroad are a central reason why millions of workers in Latin America and Asia flee their immiserated homelands to seek work in the U.S. It is revealing but not surprising that the slogans of protest leaders against the evils of “globalization” do not include demands to defend the rights and free movement of immigrant workers.
The character of the April actions is also illustrated by their class and racial composition – in a city with a vast population of Black and immigrant workers. Millions of exploited and oppressed workers in the U.S. are furious at miserable wages and jobs, racism, national chauvinism and police brutality. Yet they do not see protests like these as part their struggle, and for good reason.
Why should they follow labor leaders who have favored endless givebacks to the bosses and undermined militant struggles and strikes? Why should they look to middle-class do-gooders who patronize them as victims, not fighters, and ignore their concerns? Why should they support politicians who spout nonsense about reforming police departments, when they know that cop brutality is part of the system? Why listen to leaders who embrace the Democratic Party as an answer, when fewer and fewer workers vote in each election, seeing nothing to choose between the capitalist parties? Last-minute “outreach” programs to attract the oppressed are no answer for angry workers who have grown cynical about phony promises and strategies that have led nowhere. It is a class question.
As an organization of workers in the United States, the LRP believes that the tens of thousands of young student and worker activists who have joined movements against global exploitation want to fight for a genuinely better world. They must not be misled into campaigns that objectively pit workers of different countries against each other and serve U.S. imperialism.
Genuine revolutionaries have to see the world from the point of view of the international working class. Workers in many countries have been on the march, in massive general strikes and anti-government actions. Shutting down the production of profits is what makes imperialism tremble. The U.S. will not be immune to the spreading upsurges of the exploited and oppressed. American workers too will learn to use their power in the factories and streets to bring the bosses to their knees.
Working-class revolutionaries – authentic communists – differ sharply from the liberals and middle-class radicals by addressing our program to the mass organizations of workers and oppressed people, not the imperialist bankers.
For example, the demand for debt cancellation has to be taken out of the hands of liberals who never challenge imperialism. In countries victimized by the criminal burdens of debt payments, workers should demand the repudiation of the debt. In the imperialist countries, the working class should demand the cancellation of debts owed to “their own” bankers and governments. By placing such demands on the mass leaders who claim to stand for their interests, the mobilized workers and peasants can see which class their leaders actually serve. They will also see that demands so necessary for their survival and well-being can only come through socialist revolution.
A campaign of mass struggle can show workers the power we have as a class to overthrow the capitalist system and build a new world free of exploitation and oppression. The world economy long ago developed the technology and productive power to produce abundance for all. Homelessness, starvation and all forms of mass suffering are unnecessary – except for the capitalists, who hold the economy and state power in their hands. As long as capitalism rules, humanity will be wracked by injustice and inequality and will be plunged into economic crises, repression and wars.
The economy and state cannot be turned from producing for profit to producing for the needs of all through reforms. While some real reforms can be won through struggle, it will take revolutions by the armed and organized working class internationally to wrest power from the capitalists and build a new society. A society of workers’ states can plan production in the interest of all. All work will be divided among all workers, eliminating unemployment. Technologies that are used today to throw workers out of their jobs will be used instead to free workers from hard labor and to constantly reduce the length of the working day for all.
The capitalists and the governments they run use low wages and high prices to set workers in vicious competition with one another. To the same end they push racism, sexism, nationalism and homophobia. In a world of material abundance, the material basis for all oppression will be ended. Through the on-going struggle, a truly human society of peace and freedom will emerge.
To start, working people cannot let the struggle remain under the control of leaders who cater to capitalism and the capitalist Democratic Party. The most politically conscious workers and youth need to join together in building a revolutionary proletarian party that can take our struggles forward and convince our fellow workers about the true nature of the system. This is the really practical answer.
Inevitably the American working class will explode. But building the necessary revolutionary leadership takes years of proving the validity of Marxism in concrete struggles. The most practical goal anti-imperialist fighters can have today is not achieving utopian reforms but to join in the process of building the revolutionary workers’ party here and abroad.