- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Some thoughts on 'the protests'

Posted by: Barry Stoller on December 07, 1999 at 11:02:03:

The W.T.O. protests have come and gone. Although some näive participants might claim that the street action 'stopped' the W.T.O., most sensible people realize---and not without considerable pride---that the street action brought to the surface some momentary opposition to capitalism.

Within minutes, not surprisingly, the fiendish capitalist media struck out against the protests. The 'paper of record' (i.e. the one so many other editors follow) opened fire with cynical newspeak:

What did the protesters want? Many were not sure. Their signs called for elimination of the trade organization. But the environmental and labor groups actually wanted a stronger institution, one that could enforce rulings that China was illegally barring unions or India was dumping too many pollutants into its rivers. Violators could face economic sanctions.(1)

Or: if only the protesters KNEW that the W.T.O. was convening so the United States and Europe could make Third World countries (infamous for child labor, low-wages, and rampant disregard for the environment) comply with Western 'standards' for labor, wages, and environmental protection, then all sensible people would have been SUPPORTING the W.T.O.

Pretty cynical. . .

All really sensible people, however, KNOW that Western capitalists WANT child labor, low-wages, and rampant disregard for the environment. That, after all, is the 'freedom' sought: the 'freedom' to move factories to semi-feudal economies and turn back the capitalist clock to an earlier era---the era of 1800 England. . .

Indeed, the Western ideal is a labor aristocracy in the West AND brazen wage bondage overseas. Lenin, who saw all this before:

Imperialism has the tendency to create privileged sections. . . among the workers, and to detach them from the broad masses of the proletariat.(2)

The post-war 'boom' and subsequent advances in productivity has only acerbated the great material and ideological expanse between the First and the Third World proletariat. Cheap overseas commodities are, in part, what cushions the incremental lowering of American wages. If Third World workers actually got paid what they 'should' (i.e. Western wages), then First World workers would quickly be priced out of the shopping malls.

Let us check in with the institutional liberals at The Nation:

The day the W.T.O. stipulates the phase-in of a Third World minimum wage of $3 an hour is the day the corporations destroy it and move on.(3)

A far more likely possibility is that capitalists, in collusion with First World workers (led by union mismanagers), WOULD find such a situation acceptable: pay Third World workers $3 while First World workers go on receiving 10 times a much. THAT, I'm afraid, has been the historical model for this century.

It would behoove sensible people to realize that REAL opposition to the W.T.O. and everything it represents is, for the most part, in the hands of the Third World proletariat. Sure, we can protest once in a while (calling in sick from our jobs, perhaps) but the real protest usually comes from those who experience the horrors of EARLY capitalism. They are the greatest hope of First World socialists.

One thing we can do here in the cushy First World is remember: when imperialism breaks out in active trade disputes (as it inevitably must), THE ENEMY IS AT HOME.


1. The New York Times, 5 December 1999, sec. A, p. 14.

2. Lenin, ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,’ Selected Works volume one, International 1970, p. 751.

3. The Nation, 20 December 1999, p. 8.

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