Faux on Cockburn

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Tue Jan 11 01:19:21 PST 2000

Max sent Faux's response to Cockburn on 4 Jan, but I am way behind. A few general responses first.

1. If I remember correctly, Cockburn seemed to be arguing that the American labor movement should neither support nor reject the WTO, should neither militate for nor against non application for China. Under present conditions each track has intolerable consequences (nowhere did Cockburn deny some of those Faux mentions). Faux seems not to have grasped Cockburn's attempt to radically rethink the terms of the debate while he writes some wierd shrouded orientalist prose about the Chinese state somehow uniquely failing to maintain social solidarity (did anyone other than Max or Nathan understand this?)--this being the justification for keeping China out of the WTO.

2. As for Seattle, I think we need to understand that it became quite ritualistic in nature. Note what Gellner has written about ritual (1988):

"The way in which you restrain people from doing a wide variety of things not compatible with the social order of which they are members is that you subject them to ritual. The process is simple: you make them dance round a fortress pole until they are wild with excitement and become jellies in the hysteria of collective frenzy, you enhance their emotional state by any device, by all locally available audio visual aids, drugs, dances, music and so on, and once they are really high, you stamp upon their minds the type of concept or notion to which they subsequently become enslaved."

The emotional state was heightened in the case of course by riots, property destruction and police reprisals.

A notion for labor to have that is quite compatible with the social order is the responsibility of foreign ruling classes for their plight. It seems to me that this was the concept stamped into the minds of sweeney/greenie people about whom Todd Gitlin is so excited: foreign ruling classes with their trade barriers, slave and child labor, and eco deregulation are primarily responsible for forcing our greedy companies to move abroad or act irresponsibly at home as a defensive reaction; the first step to progress must be the legal regulation of foreign states and application of penalties on them.

The meaning of Seattle only seems radical but in fact conforms quite well with the strengthened operation of the bourgeois system, i.e. class peace at home, aggressive trade nationalism abroad.

All the left liberal institutions have tried to clarify for labor that that was the meaning it was to derive by emphasising that non application for China is the most important question today.

3. As for China's trade surplus with the US--Faux seems quite concerned about its size--there are several things to be said.

a. there is a substantial dispute between the Chinese and US govt as to its actual size.

b. much of China's export is of an entrepot nature with Hong Kong playing a pivotal role.

c. a great deal of FDI that came into China was by way of relocation of production by firsm from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, etc. As a result, the US trade balance with East Asia as a whole, i.e, China and these countries has not widened. Much of the trade surplus earlier enjoyed by Japan, Korea and Taiwan against the US or Japan has moved to China in recent years.

d. China passes on the lion's share of its revenue to its foreign partners, though such exports swell its trade surplus. Take those fast selling Barbie dolls at a retail price of $10 each, while the import price was only $2, and China received just $.35 (thirty five cents) on a net basis after deducting costs of imported raw materials and transport.

Faux says nothing about this rather pitifully small size.

Of course China will have to sell a great quantity of use values to the US. It has simply has to attract foreign investment for the purposes of export if it is to have a chance to resecure some of the massive amount of capital it has parked in US Treasuries and if it is to earn some of the greenbacks it needs for myriad reasons in a dollar dominated world.

For US labor to threaten protectionism while accepting the free flow of capital into its govt's coffers and the role of the dollar worldwide (which enables this great consumption binge) is simply to attempt to adjust to problems at the expense of other nations.

The liberal left intelligentsia, led here by the EPI (Faux) and the Nation (Greider), sanctions dark nationalist strategies for the ways out of crisis. But it is not surprising that they could not think of anything better; their hero Keynes descended into neo mercantalism in the context of the Depression.

> Without a shred of evidence, Alexander Cockburn (The Nation, January 3,
>2000) accuses the labor/environmental coalition opposed to Bill Clinton's
>scheme to bring China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) of racism.

The problem here is the demands Clinton has made on China in order to placate Faux so noisily concerned with the Seattle protestors about how bad the deal will be for us ordinary Americans. In trying to placate those who can shout the loudest, Clinton promises to open up China to more US exports so as to compensate for Chinese imports. Faux and friends have said nothing about what is being done to placate them, to make sure US labor turns out a net job gainer (eps in regards to high wage, high tech jobs in telecom, technical services, aircraft, services, etc) from the China deal though the reforms for which Clinton is fighting, viz. no foreign exchange balance requirements for foreign investors, will probably mean the destruction of much domestic industry and horrendous unemployment. In fact it seems that the EPI has published a study calling for China to open itself up to all kinds of exports and allow FDI in all kinds of product lines!

In this letter Faux pretends not to see what is being done to placate him and the other anti China loudmouths at the EPI and AFL CIO; he does not distance himself from it. But the silence (to say nothing of EPI publications) reveals him to be the junior imperialist that he is. At least Cockburn has the integrity to understand the nature of the problem today, and in historical context.

>result, he ends up singing left-wing harmony to the braying chorus of
>neo-liberals desperate to discredit the movement that derailed fast track in
>Washington, stopped the Multinational Agreement on Investment in Paris, and
>put 40,000 people into the streets to upset the WTO meeting in Seattle.

Washington is not as excited about free trade as you may think; it no longer needs to wean East Asian countries from state socialism; it does need to use China to defeat the Soviets. The US will no longer be as open to imports from these countries. This is post cold war after all

. The managers of China Inc. want in so they can accelerate
>their transition from the long march to socialism to the fast lane to
>state-subsidized capitalism.

Partly true. But mostly they want in to secure foreign effective demand. More importantly, foreign markets are a powerful channel to acquire know how from abroad, by allowing developments of production lines which the limited size of internal demand would otherwise never have made it possible to achieve. See Pasinetti. You would deny this to them, preventing them from completing their foray into higher value added goods like powertools and computers. Junior imperialist that he is, Faux seems to like the international division of labor just the way it is.

The deal with Clinton will lock in their access
>to foreign capital in return for bringing to Wall Street an immense labor
>pool kept cheap at the point of a bayonet.

The non unionized labor pool is already quite big--within the US. Kaiser, WA is not breaking the steel union with foreign labor but subcontracting to firms using non unionized domestic labor, no?

Absent democratic trade unions
>political institutions, workers have no bargaining power. In a country the
>size of China, the effect on wages in the global market is profound - and is
>everyone's business.

There is already massive downward pressure on US wages with or without China's entry into the WTO; the chief problem is that US capital creates a disproportionate number of low wage and very low wage jobs.

Moreover, China's entry into the WTO does not prevent US labor from pressing for the application of ILO standards. Perhaps the AFL CIO will fight to strengthen that institution. Anyways, keeping China out will not raise wages in Milliken's textile mills.

>He also advises "solidarity." But it is hardly solidarity with Chinese
>workers to concede the codification of their oppression implicit in the
>Clinton deal with their overseers. Already millions of Chinese workers have
>been structurally readjusted into the gutter, income is being rapidly
>redistributed upward, and the meager safety net - which included free health
>care - is being shredded.

This is in large part the effect of the reforms that China has had to accede to in order for Clinton to sell its entry into the WTO as good overall for American labor. Indeed Sweeney calls for just this kind of lowering of other countries trade barriers without an eye to its horrific consequences. That's the kind of solution Sweeney has said is acceptable to the problem of US trade deficits. So all this post Seattle opposition to China must be understood as pressure for it to make all kinds of concessions if its application is to be approved as good for American labor.

The Seattle protestors just turn out to have been a bodyguard proletariat that Clinton has used (if not created) to threaten China into making every conceivable concession for the US acceptance of China into the WTO.

But the saddest consequence is that the US labor movement has now schooled itself in a nationalist outlook which can only attentuate the class struggle in the long run.


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