What should socialists say about the WTO and the protests in Seattle?
By Rhodri Evans
Capitalism is evil. It has lesser evils and greater evils. The World Trade Organisation, which opened its conference in Seattle on 30 November 1999, is one of the largest-scale lesser evils.
Capitalism means ruthless competition between rival profit-makers, and thus also between the rival states which serve the big nationally-based associations of profit-makers. It has an inbuilt drive to war. Together with its companion organisations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the WTO organises the actually-available capitalist alternative to world war.
Yet the protesters in Seattle say that the global "imperialism of free trade" organised by the WTO, IMF and World Bank means a few billionaires becoming ultra-rich while one quarter of the world's children do not get adequate food. Global inequality is increasing rapidly. While $2000 billion in speculation whizzes around the world's financial markets every day, workers are pushed into a "race to bottom" to "compete globally", and small farmers are ruined by unchecked competition from giant agribusinesses. Millions are pushed into poverty so that the big international banks can secure their profits from payments on Third World debt. Environmental and safety regulations are trashed in the name of free trade. The world is made a free-fire zone for the big transnational corporations, especially the US transnationals which are usually the biggest and have the strongest state power behind them.
Every word of it is true. Our sympathies are with the demonstrators in Seattle. Our friends and comrades in the USA were there with them, on the streets. Capitalism does not offer a fair and harmonious alternative to world war. Its alternative to military war between exploiters is a compromise between the biggest, strongest exploiters for joint economic war against the poor. That is what the WTO represents.
We support neither capitalist free trade, nor capitalist nation-state economic barriers. We oppose the WTO, but eschew slogans like "Scrap the WTO" or "Kill the WTO" which imply that some immediately-available capitalist alternative to the WTO would be better. Our answer is neither free trade, nor protectionism, but working-class solidarity across all national borders, to create a global economy planned for human need rather than for profit.
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