Solidarity in the time of choleric “trade” deals

This is republished from Anti-Capitalist Meetup at Daily Kos.

Epidemics of cholera as well as other serious diseases, including neoliberalism, can take a toll on solidarity. “Trade” deals, and the conduct used in pushing them through to adoption, can be purposely choleric in order to accentuate a breakdown in solidarity. A carefully-orchestrated disinformation and intimidation campaign can provide a loud and pushy disincentive to obtaining and sharing knowledge and growing into a healthier society.

The Gipper is credited with the famous saying “trust, but verify.” However, it is actually an old Russian proverb. The phrase came in handy when scrutinizing the actions of the potentially dastardly Russian Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

With matters of political economics, we have learned over the last hundred years that verification is not always easy because labels sometimes defy reality. Since the fall of the authoritarian state capitalist Soviet Union, which claimed to be real and scientific socialism, apathy has set in about true human choice on matters not having to do with consumer goods. The possibility of a heterodox deeply democratic vision for humanity is laughed at by commenters. They blithely point to North Korea and the supposedly happy riveters south of the border who produce things once made by Americans for the great now debt-driven and trade-imbalanced American marketplace.

Speaking of Russia, its dolls and other trinkets are now made in China too. Ironically, the British Green Quaker documentary filmmaker David Malone aptly says that modern “trade” agreements are like Russian dolls, with lots of other dolls inside that have nothing to do with trade. We are expected to place the doll up on a shelf and not worry what’s inside, even if the shelf is getting repossessed.

Anyway, it’s not really as simple as opening up to see the next doll inside, although it would be nice if we were allowed to at least do that before making the purchase. If the global “we” really wants to understand something that comes with risk, such as a disease, or a series of massive “trade” deals, we must first be able to put the pieces as well as the whole under a microscope, do DNA tests, and have plenty of time to learn what exactly it is we are seeing. Learning the ecological context is also critical.

Sounds like technical questions best left to experts! So, we can sit this one out. Maybe it is we who are dialectical dolls here, expected to live superficially without addressing our interior selves. Why concern one’s pretty little self with such manly and adult details?

More broadly, absolutely do not ponder whether the globalization of hegemonic capitalism is the disease or the cure. That would necessitate openly and closely studying and discussing, without fear of repression, the system that is being imposed, the crises it inevitably causes, the insolvency it constantly courts, the reserve army of unemployed workers, the lack of fair distribution of the winnings that arise from the system, and calmly comparing the available alternatives, including everything from tweaks to overhauls to repeal and replace.

Democracy is this potentially great mass experimental method if the powers that be would allow it to work deeply and openly. If we were allowed to trust but verify we could be engaged citizens. Instead, we are forced to leave democracy to neoliberal politicians, experts, and talking heads, as if they will explain to us what little it is that we need to know after they have made their decisions, which have bound within them unprecedented curtailments to democracy.

This sounds more like oligarchical exploitation than rule by the people. But what can we do to defend ourselves in times like these?

At least from the time of Spartacus, solidarity has been the enemy of exploitation, always has been and always will be. But woe unto those who take the risks of speaking the truth to power, or even seeking the truth. The doubt-inspiring whispers are reaching a chorus of “shut-up and know your place.” Self-doubt cannot help but set in:

In the end, did Spartacus really want to be free and in solidarity with other people in the struggle to be free? Wasn’t it really pretty nice being a Thracian gladiator after all? And for his followers, as they were hanging from crosses every bit as real as Jesus’s, might they not have had a little buyer’s remorse?

4 T

Come to daddy. Put aside those passions. Don’t question too much. It’s for your own good that you are being led through the valley of the shadow of death in a blindfold.

If only we would listen to President Obama and our other elders we too may yet make a nice match:

A young and accomplished national hero, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, meets Fermina and begins to court her. Despite her initial dislike of Urbino, Fermina gives in to her father’s persuasion and the security and wealth marrying Urbino offers, and they wed. Urbino is a medical doctor devoted to science, modernity, and “order and progress”. He is committed to the eradication of cholera and to the promotion of public works. He is a rational man whose life is organized precisely and who greatly values his importance and reputation in society. He is a herald of progress and modernization.

***

Time is too short for humanity to engage in coquetry with powerful capitalists and their emissaries. Until it is verified to be otherwise, it is only safe to assume that anti-democratic, commons-fencing, labor-busting, resource-grabbing, carbon-guzzling, toxics-spewing predatory capitalism, symbolized by, but far more than, free trade, is in the fine print and buried chapters inside the outer framework of platitudes described to us ad nauseum. It is safe to assume that neoliberalism is assumed to not merely be a national hero in those places that consciously adopt it on the ascendant sides of trade imbalances. Somehow it is also an international savior, sure to rid the global village of its uppityness, laziness, and other vices, plus provide “access” to high-priced medicines and other privatized consumables to those with cash or good credit, all while giving Americans safe high-paying jobs in high-tech.

A confident, smiling, sweet-talking professional shows up in our global village heralding progress and modernization, and perhaps we are ready to get hitched. Perhaps he’s sincere and really not a fraud. But still inquiring workers of the world say not so fast, time is too short to make a would-be permanent decision under duress.

We want to unite not with a supposedly all-knowing, wise, and powerful savior but with each other. And we want to unite sooner rather than later and to understand the details before we get bound for a long time by deals we do not get to study in a dangerous imperiled world. And what if we do our best to investigate and are sold a bad bill of goods? What then? Can we or those who come after us back out any time and jettison the deals the powerful enter on our behalf if we or those who come after us feel the need to in the future?

But how do we unite when the foremost potential political party of solidarity in the U.S. is itself increasingly an institution of purposeful disunity?

Solidarity operates on at least three major levels for the workers and disenfranchised of the U.S.–solidarity within the Democratic Party, solidarity outside the Democratic Party but within the U.S., and international solidarity. It was this last form of solidarity that the anti-capitalist democrat Rosa Luxemburg valued most. By the same token, it is this last form of solidarity that most threatens neoliberal hegemony.

To see why, one needs only to look as far as the most recent labor-humiliating cycle of TTP/TTIP/TISA Kabuki theatre.

Solidarity within the Democratic Party

Any hope of solidarity within the Democratic Party was destroyed when Secretary Clinton made the fateful decision not to oppose TTP/TTIP/TISA. The deadline for her to take a meaningful position in opposition was when the soon-to-be sellout Democratic Senators were going through their final Kabuki acting of being “pressured” by President Obama to allow passage from the Senate of fast track legislation.

One might ponder why she chose this strategy of inaction. Was it purely crass politics/gutlessness? I suspect it was more than that. Sometimes crass politics/gutlessness aligns with other motivations. Just like Secretary Clinton’s vote to support the absurdly foolish and immoral decision to invade Iraq, a country that was no threat to the U.S., I think there is once again more than meets the political eye. She is a smart person, and she knows what she is doing when she does it. To give her the benefit of the doubt of being stupid “like W” would be stupid. In other words, she has to know that her conduct may very well ultimately lead to the break-up of the Democratic Party.

For comparison purposes, let’s take a look back at then Senator Clinton’s Iraq war vote. When examined closely, her contextual perspectives on the soon to be murderous invasion of Iraq were generally aligned with Bush II. I am not saying she wanted Iraq to turn to crap, millions of people to suffer or die, and an unstable Middle East to get much worse but that she had other interests even beyond politics than preventing that possibility from the start. She was a U.S. version of the reckless Labour enabler Tony Blair.

From a “negative” standpoint, neither Bush II nor Hillary Clinton believed that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11 or presented a serious threat to the U.S. Any suggestions to the contrary were and are laughable if it were not such a deadly serious matter. From a “positive” standpoint, even a knuckleheaded invasion would have a lot of tangible benefits beyond the political from both of their standpoints. The Iraq invasion would be a boon to the defense industry and demonstrate her bona fides as a tough cookie. Iraq obviously has a lot of oil, which is a tantalizing reason for Kissingerian geopolitical intrigue by U.S. presidents and would-be presidents. Plus the invasion would enable a neoconservative fantasy game of attempting to bring neoliberal “democracy” to the Middle East. Finally, President Bill Clinton had already done a retribution bombing of Iraq in June 1993, within the first few months of his presidency, in order to revenge an attempted assassination of President George H. W. Bush. While there had at least been an arguable quid pro quo rationale for sending 23 Tomahawk missiles against the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Bush II’s unjustified, unprovoked Iraq War was envisioned as a bigger and better version of, and culmination to, that mission.

The fact that huge numbers of people died and that Iraq and the Middle East are now a complete mess is beside the point. They did not care enough to try to avoid taking the enormous risks, and when the worst case scenario occurred, they cannot rightfully hide behind their own feigned naiveté. Their deeper substantive missions were indeed to them accomplished at the time the fateful decision was made, even beyond the crass politics.

As to the “trade” deals, she wants to be president, undoubtedly, but she wants to be a certain kind of president: a neoliberal non-FDR kind of president. There’s Wall Street/transnational banking money to be raised, but there’s more even to it than that. It was not necessary for Senator Clinton to forego going through the motions of opposition to TPP to get tons of that money. The Clintons know how to raise money from the 1% with their eyes closed.

Nonetheless, through her inaction, and through the proxy of President Obama, she has knowingly joined in giving the middle finger to two of the Democratic Party’s largest and most loyal constituencies, labor and environmentalists, while the left of the party is apoplectic. Why wittingly and unnecessarily pay the “price” of discord within the Democratic Party unless you are reasonably comfortable with it happening?

She has to know the Democratic Party is being held together by a thread right now. The Democratic Party is basically being preserved by the lifelong democratic socialist independent Bernie Sanders. Just think about that.

Had he not decided to run for the Democratic Party nomination, she could have faced him as a considerable third party challenger. He easily could, if he wanted to, be the next Eugene V. Debs, which by itself would be a major historical accomplishment. But, because he cares much more about uniting and motivating the democratic grassroots base of the Democratic Party against the Republican Party than Secretary Clinton and President Obama, and because he realizes he is more likely to win as a Democrat than as a third party candidate, he has decided to run for the Democratic Party nomination.

But what happens if, heaven help us, Bernie loses the primary battle? Will labor, environmentalists, and the now highly energized left of the party remain in the party for the long term given the huge betrayal over “trade,” assuming most of them stick around for one or two more election cycles, hold their noses, and vote for Secretary Clinton? I have serious doubts about that.

The die is likely cast. Unless the fast track legislation on “trade” deals dies in the House, the Democratic Party is likely headed toward an eventual major split. But Hillary Clinton is good with that not only because by then she assumes she will have been elected president but also because she really is a neoliberal. Spreading neoliberalism around the world really is the gospel mission in which she, like President Obama, believes, and that is worth next to any price other than losing the race.

Solidarity Within the U.S. Outside the Democratic Party

I sincerely hope that the Democratic Party somehow will become the U.S. democratic (small “d”) party and not break up. I think that would be best for overall solidarity within the U.S. However, should labor, environmentalists, and the left of the party eventually bolt into a third party, this may for the Democratic Party be akin to what is happening in the United Kingdom with Labour’s apparent prolonged dance of death, made more pronounced by the enormous movement out of Labour in Scotland. (See NY brit expat’s ACM piece last week for the best analysis on the subject.)

That might produce some heightened solidarity in the U.S. outside the Democratic Party. But it might not overall. Other key constituencies, including women, minorities, and LGBTs, might not feel compelled to make a switch any time soon. In addition, would a new party actually mean that the U.S. would likely become a more deeply democratic place, outside of a few places? Sadly, I have to say, probably not, at least not until a lot of bad happened. If we had a parliamentary system, I would be more optimistic, but as we see with the United Kingdom, it still would be a long ugly slog.

One plausible scenario in the U.S. is that the right wing would be happily united around profit-making neoliberalism at home and abroad while the greatly diminished Democratic Party, propped up by a self-serving professional party leadership and powerful big money donors who see great value in divide and rule, would retain enough support to prevent this hypothetical new third party from winning effective control of the federal government as well as most of the state governments for the foreseeable future. More divide and rule would likely result, and that would not be good for solidarity and our world. For that reason, for the time being I am much more inclined to stay and fight with even more determination for a grassroots democratic takeover of the Democratic Party.

There is another reason why I am not expecting a third party in the U.S. to bring solidarity any time soon. Outside of electoral politics in this democracy-lite and the largely conservative judicial branch, the 1% is always “at work,” so to speak, stealing from the workers. Whether one is focused on electing more and better “Democrats” or more and better “[Insert New Third Party Name]” on a national or state level, neoliberal hegemony is increasingly taking an extra-governmental international corporatist approach, try as President Obama does to hide this fact behind the cute Russian outer doll of trade:

Canada may not opt to pursue a NAFTA case against the U.S. over the Volcker Rule. If it doesn’t, Canadian banks won’t have the right to sue on their own because NAFTA bars individual companies from suing sovereign nations over most financial services violations.

But the TPP would be different, according to congressional briefings by the U.S. Trade Representative, which are reflected in a December letter from Warren to Ambassador Michael Froman, the top Obama trade official. The TPP wouldn’t just empower foreign governments to sue the U.S. over bank regulations; it would allow individual companies and investors to bring such cases.

Under the “investor-state dispute settlement” process, an international tribunal cannot overrule a law or regulation, but it can assess financial penalties to encourage countries to change said law or regulation. In the past, under other trade deals, the mere existence of such cases has sometimes pressured governments into abandoning non-financial services regulations.

It gets worse:

Moreover, the TPP would reportedly allow foreign banks to sue the U.S. government for failing to provide them with a “minimum standard of treatment.” The term is vaguely defined, but international tribunals have interpreted it very broadly to make corporations eligible to receive damages for lost profits caused by policy changes that occurred after they invested in a country. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) raised similar concerns in her own December letter to Froman over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a pending trade deal with Europe.

Without unprecedented international solidarity to push the U.S. from the outside, one might actually be more pessimistic about the U.S. government’s ability to democratically disentangle itself from control by the powerful capitalists than even Karl Marx was. We live in a democracy-lite rapidly converting to de facto corporatist oligarchical control. These international neoliberal “trade” deals will only reinforce that control, as David Malone explains in the interview linked to at the beginning of this piece.

International Deep Democratic Solidarity

Marx and many other 19th Century leaders of the international workers’ movement (including libertarian socialists Marx pushed out only to have their legacy lead the massive highly successful workers’ movement in Spain) knew that they were involved with something that was much bigger than themselves or any parochial interests. Whether we are talking about the first or the second, it was called “the International” for a reason.

Marx, in his 1872 La Liberté speech, after holding out hope that in some places including the U.S. the workers could reach their goal of justice through electoral democracy, rested his ultimate hope in international solidarity:

Citizens, let us think of the basic principle of the International: Solidarity. Only when we have established this life-giving principle on a sound basis among the numerous workers of all countries will we attain the great final goal which we have set ourselves. The revolution must be carried out with solidarity; this is the great lesson of the French Commune, which fell because none of the other centres — Berlin, Madrid, etc. — developed great revolutionary movements comparable to the mighty uprising of the Paris proletariat.

So far as I am concerned, I will continue my work and constantly strive to strengthen among all workers this solidarity that is so fruitful for the future. No, I do not withdraw from the International, and all the rest of my life will be, as have been all my efforts of the past, dedicated to the triumph of the social ideas which — you may be assured! — will lead to the world domination by the proletariat.

To the Marxist modernizer Rosa Luxemburg, the need for anti-capitalist democratic internationalism was both a moral and a dialectical response to the unending need of capitalists for expansion, coupled with the perils of workers constantly being pitted against each other:

Expansion becomes in truth a coercive law, an economic condition of existence for the individual capitalist. Under the rule of competition, cheapness of commodities is the most important weapon of the individual capitalist in his struggle for a place in the market. Now all methods of reducing the cost of commodity production permanently amount in the end to an expansion of production; excepting those only which aim at a specific increase of the rate of surplus value by measures such as wage cutting or lengthening the hours of work.

The Accumulation of Capital, Ch. 1.

Despite its distant-sounding name, “international solidarity” should be understood as encompassing all of humanity, both locally and faraway. When Walt Whitman yearned for love to spring up in the world, he did not exclude the people, and even the leaves of grass, nearest to him. Yet, to love all that is around one is to recognize a universal kinship with all people and even all things, as each of us eventually heads back to the sacred compost from which the grass miraculously rises.

It is self-deceptive in a world of growing neoliberal hegemony to expect that the global oppressed will be able to escape into small “islands” of justice for very long. These islands of justice would merely present opportunities for capital accumulation once they became known. Section Three of Luxemburg’s master work details “The Historical Conditions of Accumulation” by which capitalists invade any place where profit-making is not yet god.

In the long run, for you to have justice, for me to have justice, for those closest to us physically and emotionally to have justice, all of the workers and needy of the world, the great masses of the global “we,” must affectionately embrace each other in the shared struggle for justice in the service of love. This is the essence of international solidarity. We can choose to be foreign to each other or tender comrades, wherever we live, notwithstanding national boundaries, transnational neoliberalism, and any other oligarchical constructs that will be devised to keep us in “our place.”

Let us educate and organize in our workplaces, communities, and schools against neoliberal “trade” deals, donate whatever we can to and GOTV like hell for Senator Sanders, and in general do all in our power to rejuvenate America, one socialist hug, one compost pile, one workers’ garden at a time. But let us never forget that we are part of the International of the spirit, ever seek verifiable deep democratic ties across national boundaries, and ever prepare to be part of the worldwide general strikes and other peaceful revolutionary acts that may miraculously arise from human solidarity. The one and only earth is our homeland.

One thought on “Solidarity in the time of choleric “trade” deals

  1. Thank you very much for this careful and thoughtful treatment of a more recent adaptation of an establishment tool. I am most interested in your closing comments regarding “international solidarity”. I agree with the likelihood of “islands of justice” becoming traps, but I can see no alternative way to progress. International workshops and conventions and congresses are nice, but do not afford the opportunity for one-on-one trust building that needs to happen over some period of time before a group can become unified/in agreement about much of anything. Such as we are and as spread out as we have become, any coalescence of persons concerned about justice must needs begin as an island…usually because of a constellation of events that brings them together in the first place. The commonality of such events includes the generation of an immediacy that requires quick action to address a known threat. And immediacy is emphasized by proximity: such a constellation is almost always localized. I wonder if such an island can guarantee sufficient start-up time if it carefully excludes everything that capitalists want?

    I had planned to respond to this essay through a message on caucus99percent, but found that I could no longer remain there in good faith. My manner of exiting may well have been managed to reduce the mess, but the constellation of events there demanded an immediate response. I wish you well in all things…keep writing!

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