by Alexander Cockburn
InJune 1900, troops of the Western powers broke the Boxer siege of the embassies in Peking, looted the Empress Dowager's summer palace, and thus, destroyed for a time the valiant nationalist effort to halt colonial exploitation of China. And now, here we are at the other end of the century, listening to leading lights of progressive American politics, from Nader's fair-trade campaign, from the AFL-CIO and assorted NGOs, plus, leading lights of right-wing American politics, all calling for China to be denied admission to the WTO. What happened in between? Oh, it's an old story now. China had a revolution, a series of revolutions, in fact. Other poor countries did, too. They tried to redistribute land and wealth, build an industrial base, foster internal demand, get a fair price for the commodities they needed to sell abroad. The Western powers didn't care for that any more than they liked the Boxers. They mustered armies to crush these revolutions, hired mercenaries, saboteurs and spies. They never relented, never forgave.
Some revolutions struggled on for several decades, in varying states of siege, boycotts, embargoes, economic sabotage. One survives. Whole continents drowned in blood. As the world nears its rendezvous with the third Christian millennium, a refined system of exploitation has been put into almost universally successful execution. The poor countries are to be held in helotry, just as they were in the colonial world of the 19th century, their assigned task still the provision of raw materials or cheap goods manufactured under imperial license. There's nothing new about "globalization," just refinement of the process. To ensure that these poor countries continue to depend on exports for survival, the Western powers have made sure that all possibility of robust internal markets is undercut. Austerity programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have laid waste the domestic sectors of these economies, creating small elites servile to the imperial powers, amid vast oceans of poverty and desperation.
So, should we not regard with at least preliminarily mixed emotions the launching of a campaign by progressive liberals to deny China entry to WTO? Should we not reflect at least for a moment on the fact that the WTO talks in Seattle broke down in part because African and Caribbean nations regarded those proposals for labor and environmental standards as nothing more than a protectionist ruse by the Western powers?
"China, we're coming atcha," yells Mike Dolan, the Nader group's organizer in Seattle, as he discusses the next item of business. "There's no question about it. The next item of business is China." Jeff Faux, director of the AFL-CIO-backed Economic Policy Institute, tells reporters that with China in the WTO, it will be "impossible to get labor and environmental standards" installed, because China's too big for the sort of coercion that could be brought to bear on, say, Indonesia." "The China vote is going to become proxy for all our concerns about globalization," says Denise Mitchell of the AFL-CIO.
So, who exactly is the enemy here? China? The WTO? Or capitalism? After all, the WTO has been merely an expression of what the capitalist corporate chieftains of the Western world want to lock in. The corporations probably could accept in some form those famous labor and environmental standards. It doesn't take much by way of a pledge or a few more cents a month or an itinerant bunch of inspectors to bring most of the NGO watchdogs to heel.
Do I feel comfortable at the sight of Western progressives execrating China? Not particularly, even though I know there are Chinese elites oppressing Chinese masses, inflicting dreadful working conditions and pay scales. The progressive intellectuals from the Economic Policy Institute, who denounce China's "state-controlled economic system" as "market distorting," thus, Robert E. Scott in "Working USA," aren't so far removed from those who have administered the siege of Cuba all these years. The liberal NGOs are interventionist by disposition. The Somalian debacle, and to some extent the Kosovan nightmare, were their shows.
There's no win-win situation for workers of the world, in the current era at least. American steelworkers here do better, ergo, Russian and South Korean steelworkers overseas do worse. A garment worker here loses a job, a Central American makes a dime. Capitalism dictates the choices.
What can we do here? I don't think we should be trying to fix up the WTO or keep China out. That's not the sort of currency we, as radicals, should have truck with. Our currency is solidarity. We should be helping these poor countries develop internal markets, hence, better-paid workers and stronger agriculture, by making war on the IMF and World Bank. The Jubilee campaign against World Bank bonds is a great thing. The campaign against the World Bank was terrific, at least until World Bank president John Wolfenson was smart enough to co-opt some of the relevant NGOs by hiring many of their technocrats.
We have 2 million in prison. We have Pelican Bay prison, and hundreds more hellish dungeons. We're the world's leading arms peddler, the world's leading polluter. We don't need, on the edge of 2000, at the end of this imperial century, to be signing on to a Yellow Peril campaign.
December 19, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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