"Highly developed nations can use free trade to
extend their power and their control of
the world's wealth, and businesses can use it as a weapon against labour."
"We will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for
addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten
not only our interests, but also those of our allies or friends; our overall objective is to remain
the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region's oil."
Pentagon draft of Defence Planning Guidance, February 1992
Opposition to globalisation has spread rapidly across the world, as more and more recognise the awesome power of the giant corporations that straddle the globe and the carnage they leave in their wake. From Seattle to Prague, from Nice to Quebec, hundreds of thousands of workers and youth have forcefully demonstrated against the World Trade Organisation and the various international summits that defend the power of global capitalism.
In the United States, the citadel of world capitalism, opinion polls have demonstrated that a big section of the American population are opposed to the domination of Corporate America. In a poll conducted by BusinessWeek, 72% of Americans said that business had too much power over too many aspects of American life. Only 47% thought that 'what was good for business was good for most Americans', while 66% believed that large profits are more important to big companies than developing safe, reliable, quality products for consumers. "At home and abroad", states BusinessWeek, "citizens facing globalisation worry that powerful corporations override national sovereignty and can undermine political and monetary systems." (11th September 2000) In Britain, amid the anti-capitalist May Day protests, opinion polls in the capital showed widespread sympathy for the aims of the demonstrators. While in France people have made a hero of a local farmer who trashed a MacDonalds, not simply because they hate fast-food, but because multinationals crush local culture. Even after a nine-year boom, there is a growing questioning of the capitalist system, with opposition to the greed and inequality that accompanies it.
In Britain there is a massive revulsion against privatisation, which is seen as simply a racket to plunder state assets and make massive profits at the expense of ordinary people. Despite Thatcher's so-called revolution (in reality 'counter-revolution', now heralded by Blair and Co., even a majority of Conservative voters are now opposed to privatisation. This is a new development and has spread alarm amongst the serious strategists of Capital and their shadows in the labour movement.
"All those college students who show up at demonstrations against globalisation", states 'BusinessWeek', "see corporations such as Nike Inc. as self-serving organisations that violate human rights and pollute the earth. Even teens think it's cool to hate corporations." In schools and colleges, groups like the Student Committee Against Labour Exploitation have sprung up.
This anti-capitalist feeling - for that is what it represents - is most prevalent amongst the youth. Increasingly young people are beginning to rebel against a system that regards profit-making as a religion. They can see how global companies like MacDonalds, Nike and Microsoft are cartels that have no interest apart from conquering new areas of the world and making astronomical profits. They are desperate to exploit cheap labour in any apart of the world in the cause of "globalisation" and "free enterprise". They are determined to ride rough shod over the workers and oppressed of the world in the name of "free trade".
At the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, US President George Bush proclaimed that free trade and open borders would create jobs and boost income everywhere. "We seek freedom, not only for people living within our borders, but also for commerce moving across our borders," he said. He used the seven-year old North American Free Trade Area between the US, Mexico and Canada as an example to be followed elsewhere. But while big business reaps super-profits world-wide, the workers are subjected to super-exploitation at the hands of the corporate giants.
Nevertheless, others at the Summit, while welcoming increased globalisation, feared the social consequences. "There is much wealth, but there is still much that we need to address", warned Mexican President Fox, demagogically echoing the concerns about the polarisation of wealth in Mexico as well as the fear of revolutionary upheavals. "Our region continues to be one of the most inequitable regions in the world - 220 million Latin Americans live in poverty," he continued.
Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean supply cheap labour for foreign assembly plants, such as the maquiladora industries of northern Mexico, where harsh working conditions, low wages, and the absence of environmental controls offer highly profitable conditions for investors.
Ezequiel Tinajero was 16 when he went to work at the Auto Trim plant in Matamoros on Mexico's northern border with the US. For 12 hours a day, Monday to Saturday, he glued leather trim to the steering wheels of luxury cars.
For most of that time, he was exposed to toxic glues and solvents in a factory with limited ventilation. By the time he reached his 20s, he was suffering from chronic nausea, headaches and breathing problems, and his hair had begun to fall out. In 1995, his wife gave birth to a daughter with anencephaly, a rare condition in which the child has no brain. The baby died two hours after birth.
This is the true story, one of many, told by auto Trim workers last December in an inquiry into NAFTA. There have been no penalties or fines against these multinationals that benefit from the opening up of markets. Neither free trade nor protection, said Marx, have anything to offer the working class. Only the replacement of capitalism with a harmonious planned economy based upon production for need not profit, can offer a way out. Under capitalism, the likes of Ezequiel Tinajero are small change for the corporate bosses.
This thirst for world domination and exploitation is nothing new to capitalism. Globalisation itself is a product of capitalism. From so-called free competition capitalism has evolved into monopoly capitalism, where a handful of giant corporations dominate the globe and have more power than any elected government. They use their economic muscle to crush all opposition. They buy politicians of all colours and engage in corruption as a means of protecting their system.
As Marx and Engels explained in the 'Communist Manifesto': "The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind".
"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image."
It carries through this process in the most violent manner, through wars of conquest and subjugation. In the highest stage of capitalism, imperialism, the world is completely divided up between the main imperialist powers. According to the US President Theodore Roosevelt, "the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages," establishing the rule of "the dominant world races." This was the great vision of the ruling class in the United States, which has changed little in two hundred years. "In the post-world war two era", states Noam Chomsky, "the US has been the global enforcer, guaranteeing the interests of privilege. It has, therefore, complied an impressive record of aggression, international terrorism, slaughter, torture, chemical and biological warfare, human rights abuses of every imaginable variety."
Today, the collective exploitation of the 'third world' is carried out by the regional blocs around the United States, the European Union and Japan. Their agencies are the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organisation. Their domination of the globe is dressed-up as 'free trade' and 'open markets' for the benefit of all. The director of India's Working Group on Patent Laws comments that "the levels of contradiction and hypocrisy are breathtaking." The rich "call for competitiveness, but what they want is monopoly. It is blackmail. They are seeking to do through economic rules what formally the powerful did through armies of invasion and occupation. The manager of a Bombay drug company adds that the west "protected their own infant industries, and they pirated the world to create wealth; and now preach to other countries to practice what they never did themselves."
Lenin wrote of this imperialist epoch in his book, "Imperialism - the Highest stage of capitalism". Here he described the development of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism, with the fusion of the capitalist state and finance capital. "Thus, the principle stages in the history of monopolies are the following: 1) 1860-70, the highest stage, the apex of development of free competition; monopoly is in the barely discernible, embryonic stage. 2) After the crisis of 1873, a wide zone of development of cartels; but they are still the exception. They are not yet durable. They are still a transitory phenomenon. 3) The boom at the end of the nineteenth century and the crisis of 1900-03. Cartels become one of the foundations of the whole of economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into imperialism." And further: "Cartels come to an agreement on the conditions of sale, terms of payment, etc. They divide the markets among themselves. They fix the quantity of goods to be produced. They fix prices. They divide the profits among the various enterprises, etc." Today, such is the degree of monopolisation that a mere 500 companies dominate the world market.
However since Lenin wrote, imperialism has changed its method of rule. Rather than direct military conquest and subjugation, the imperialist powers dominate the world through their economic might and through the terms of trade. The high price of industrial goods is exchanged for low cost primary products. The ex-colonial world is forced to exchange more labour for less labour. The ex-colonial world is also crushed by the world powers by colossal indebtedness and the ruthless policies pursued by the IMF and World Bank. They are forced to tear down their tariff barriers and open up their markets to the imperialist powers. In the process, they are instructed to denationalise their utilities and cut subsidies on essentials such as food and fuel, education and health, pushing the population into deeper misery.
This does not mean that the imperialists do not use military means to further their aims. Far from it. The bombing of Serbia and Iraq are a reminder of the violence that is inflicted upon all those who dare challenge their power or interests. The imperialists, particularly US imperialism aided by its poodle Britain, indiscriminately bomb Iraq as a warning to the peoples of the 'third world' not to get out of line.
In an article written in the 'Financial Times' by James Morgan, the economic correspondent of the BBC World Service, the headline was: "The fall of the Soviet bloc has left the IMF and G7 to rule the world and create a new imperial age." This was none other than Bush's 'New World Order'. The crushing economic and political domination of the United States as the single world superpower, is unique in history.
The USA is the most counterrevolutionary force on the planet. The crushing domination of imperialism in the world arena, which was strengthened after the fall of Stalinism, has meant an increased exploitation of the 'third world' as a whole. The United States has intervened continually in its own "backyard", from Guatemala to Panama, from El Salvador to Chile to safeguard its interests. It now acts as the policeman of the world.
The US military manuals of the early 1960s, when America was stepping up its intervention in South East Asia, advocated "the tactic of intimidation, kidnapping, or assassinating carefully selected members of the opposition in a manner that will reap the maximum psychological benefit," the objective being "to frighten everyone from collaborating with the guerrilla movement." A similar technique is being developed in Colombia, where the US has committed over $1.3 billion in its efforts to crush the guerrillas.
The 'third world' is not only treated as an area for exploitation, but for dumping and experimentation. It is here that imperialism plays out its proxy wars, as can be witnessed in Africa. Western 'development' programmes promote cigarettes, drugs and pesticides in much the same way as Britain imposed opium on the Chinese 150 years ago. In Costa Rica, "legal pesticides - many of them imported from the United States - are making people sick, injuring them, even killing them," Christopher Scanlan reports in the 'Miami Herald' from Pitahaya, where a 15-year old farm worker had just died of poisoning by a highly toxic American Cyanamid product. The village cemetery of Pitahaya, he continues, "is a stark symbol of a global death toll from pesticides estimated at 220,000 a year by the World Health Organisation," along with 25 million incidents of illness, including chronic neurological damage; the Guaymi Indians who die from pesticide poisoning cleaning drainage ditches at US-owned plantations in Costa Rica and Panama are unlikely to make it to the village cemetery. More than 99% of deaths from acute pesticide poisoning occur in 'third world' countries, which use 20% of agricultural chemicals.
With "markets closed at home" by regulation to protect the population and the environment, "chemical companies shifted sales of these banned chemicals to the Third World where government regulations are weak." The corporations have also devised new "nonpersistent" pesticides that "are generally much more acutely toxic" to farm workers and their families, including some "first developed as nerve gas by the Germans before World War Two."
The ex-colonial world
The subjugation of the ex-colonial world has served to introduce the worse feature of capitalism. The squeeze on the 'third world' grinds the working masses deeper into poverty and squalor. As a consequence child labour or child slavery has become endemic and a valuable source of cheap labour for the multinationals. Amid potential riches, there is hunger and general misery. India alone is reported to have some 14 million child labourers, aged six and up, many working under conditions of virtual slavery for up to 16 hours a day.
The increased toll, even to the point of death through overwork, results from the "frenzied export drive". In Thailand, hailed again as another "success story for capitalism", we see a picture straight from Marx's Capital on the Working Day. Cambodia specialist Michael Vickery gives a sample, including cases of teenagers "freed" from a factory where they were allegedly detained for slave labour and tortured," tied up and beaten when they became too tired to work after 18-hour shifts; eighteen girls aged 12-14 rescued from a textile mill where they worked for over 15 hours a day "for almost no pay"; teenagers fleeing from poverty in the Northeast dragooned into factories or forced into brothels.
This living hell created by capitalism is an integral part of the world economy. Those who talk glibly about reforming the system fail to understand the nature of capitalism. Exploitation is the essence of the capitalist system, with all the human degradation that goes with it. The multinationals depend upon cheap labour in the 'third world' as much as cheap labour in the west. For them a world without regulation and trade unions is the ideal world for making profits. The threat of "globalisation" to which all countries must bow down is used to intimidate and break the resistance of workers to capital.
All the talk about the cancellation of debt for the poorest countries always ends in practice in a greater debt burden as a result of the conditions attached. To qualify for debt assistance, the countries involved have to put in practice the "recommendations" of the IMF. Failure to do so means to defy world capitalism, with all the ills that follow.
As Lenin explained, "Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination instead of the striving for liberty, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by an extremely small group of the richest or most powerful nations - all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism."
However, the increased power of the monopolies has not made capitalism more stable, but on the contrary, it is riddled with contradictions and tensions. There is a continuous drive to dominate the world market, in a cut-throat rivalry, which adds to growing trade frictions world-wide. As the world economy moves towards slump, these will multiply a hundred-fold.
Capitalism has created its grave-digger in the form of the working class. The impasse of the system has already provoked revolutionary crises and developments in South Asia and Latin America. Even in Europe, as witnessed by the general strikes in Greece and the strikes in France, things are beginning to develop.
Capitalism cannot be "reformed" into a humane system without its poverty wages and exploitation. It would be like teaching a tiger to live on vegetables. Profits come from the unpaid labour of the working class. That is why there is constant pressure to drive down wages, and multinationals threaten to close down their factories and relocate where wage costs are lower, irrespective of the social consequences.
The organs of imperialism, the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO, will always act in the class interests of the monopolies. That is their function. As long as the capitalists rule the earth, then despite the potential for plenty, billions will live in misery. While big business dominates the planet an environmental disaster unfolds before our very eyes.
Capitalism has created the world market and established the material basis for a new classless society. Ninety-five percent of scientists who have ever lived are alive today. Unfortunately, under this system their services are employed in the interests of big business. Through world-wide patents on medicines and agricultural products, as highlighted by the anti-AIDS drugs scandal in South Africa, they cripple the 'third world' through exorbitant prices and keep their monopoly-profits intact.
Only by eliminating capitalism internationally can production be geared to need and not profit. Only by ending the power of imperialism can the resources of the world be harmoniously developed and planned in the interests of all peoples. A world socialist revolution can break the power of the monopolies , and introduce a planned world economy using the resources and talents of the world's population. Only in this way can we end the pollution and rape of the world's resources in the interests of profit. War, poverty and hunger can be eliminated, and a new chapter opened up for the future of humankind. The protests in Seattle and elsewhere are only the first rumblings in the movement to change society. It is down to the new generation to arm themselves with a Marxist programme and prepare the way for the revolutionary events that lie ahead.