rn: strategies: “dirty” politics or ?


Jan Slakov

Date: Tue, 09 Nov 1999 10:29:05 +0000
From: Marjaleena Repo <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: rn- another movement resisting WTO domination

Richard K. Moore wrote:

> Dear rn,
> The WTO meeting in Seattle seems to be serving a useful function in
> focusing activist attention on the WTO, as shown again in the posting
> below.  This is a sign of realism, as regards the structure of elite power
> in the world today.  Activists are realistically bypassing the bankrupt
> national political process and targeting attention where real power lies.
> Such a focus also opens the door to collaboration between third-world
> activists and Western activists, as the WTO is a common threat.  A focus on
> national politics divides the world's population; a focus on the WTO can
> unite.
> solidarity,
> rkm

"Activists  are realistically bypassing the bankrupt national political process
and targeting attention where real power lies."

This sentence stood out for me, as it declares that the "politics of the
street" (demonstration, alternate conferences etc.) is more "realistic" than
participating in the "bankrupt national process." Real perhaps, but not
necessarily realistic, I think, in terms of affecting changes, passing laws,
rules, regulations in support of those alternative politics and economics. If
one is not aspiring to implement one's position on what needs to be done, I
wouldn't call that "realistic"  at all, more like wishful thinking.

I wrote a piece sometime last year discussing this very issue, of "taking on
the corporations" and by-passing the political process. I want to submit it to
this list for further debate.


by Marjaleena Repo, National organizer
Citizens Concerned About Free Trade

[Note: This document was originally prepared for the Globalization Teach-in
that took place in Toronto on November 7,8 and 9, '97.  I am now submitting it
to the various lists, after having attended a conference in honour of (former?)
economic nationalist Mel Watkins at the University of Toronto on April 17 & 18,
'98, during which the "national question" in Canada barely surfaced.  Slightly
edited from the original, my position paper invites discussion, debate,
questions, comments, rebuttals... Let's have some healthy debate about these
issues, for a change! ]

There is a new fad out there among those who are unhappy with the status quo:
it's the discovery that capitalism is nasty, brutish and, yes, powerful. "The
corporations are running everything -- the parliament is useless -- nothing can
be done through the political process," these folks clamour and tell us that we
have to forget about politics and concentrate on "taking on the corporations."
     Well, be my guest! Up to this point, however, it has been demonstrated
over and over again that we control, limit and regulate the excesses of
corporations exactly through politics, parliamentary and sometimes
extra-parliamentary. This has been the case very explicitly with our own
country, Canada, where our mixed economy of private and (increasingly
diminishing) public ownership is proof positive that through politics -- the
setting up of crown corporations such as the CBC, the Canadian Wheat Board, Air
Canada, and establishing public programmes such as Medicare and the
Unemployment Insurance, was a highly political act -- we control capitalism to
some, often significant extent.
     Those who use their influence to discourage people from engaging in
"politics"  have, it becomes evident after a short discourse, no alternative to
offer. They end up urging people to study corporations that control our lives,
"to expose them," but then leave you holding the bag, with yet another book
exposing big business in it. But the questions always returns to them like a
boomerang: "What's to be done?" With book in hand, do we picket the banks and
corporate headquarters (the latter quite cumbersome for Canadians since most of
them are in the U.S.), do we stage sit-ins in corporate boardrooms? And when we
are unceremoniously removed by the police and security from our spot in "taking
on the corporations," then what?
     I'm afraid we're back-- and quite quickly -- to "dirty politics," using
whatever process is available to us to control the excesses of capital and high
finance. We will mobilize to change laws, rules, regulations as people have
done since the industrial revolution. We will use parliamentary and
extra-parliamentary methods, and we will fight to express our will in the
political arena through party programmes and platforms, pressure groups and
lobbies, as well as working to change the electoral system (from the miserable
and undemocratic "first past the post" to one of proportional representation --
a high priority us in Canada).
    The other side of the wide-eyed re-discovery of the power of corporations,
particularly the (by-and-large American) multinationals, is that it feeds into
the prevalent cynical fad of viewing all politics as "dirty" and all
politicians as either unaccountable or crooks or both. This combination of
shallow analysis and cynical posture results in the withdrawal of people from
serious politics and will guarantee, of course, that politicians remain exactly
as they are at their worst, unaccountable, while the very people who should be
challenging them in a systematic way have found something better to do and are
staring themselves blind at the multinational corporations. It's a vicious
circle - the result of which is also that corporate exploitation remains
effectively unchallenged, and the frustration of our progressive thinkers and
doers and just plain folk grows to high heavens. At the same time politicians
are handed, on a silver platter, a wonderful excuse of "we can't do anything
because of international trade agreements," an excuse already shamelessly used
by Liberal (and other) politicians. (For a reality check: these same
politicians can cancel these free trade agreements, if they so wish!).
     Let us now attempt to straighten out this spiral of thinking leading to
dead ends.
     First of all: politics are here to stay. There is no other way to curb the
corporations (read: capitalism) than through legislation. (Unions can engage in
combat with individual bosses, but cannot by themselves, bring about medicare,
unemployment insurance, worker-friendly labour legislation, free public
education, public broadcasting and so on). There are, of course, those who
demand "international revolution now" or " global resistance now" (they start
sounding oddly the same!) -- but both turn up empty-handed after years of heady
rhetoric. (Just for the record: there hasn't been an international revolution
yet, they stubbornly insist on starting in nations. Just check your history
     Secondly, those in Canada who talk about "corporate takeover" make the
fatal flaw of ignoring the fact that these corporations are by and large
American. Canada is NOT the United States (or Sweden, or Norway, or
Switzerland), folks; Canada is a colony -- economic, political,  cultural --
thereof. Therefore taking your analysis straight out of the U.S. (from author's
like David Korten and others who keep pouring out books on how the corporations
rule the world - now replicated by Canadian authors Tony Clarke, Maude Barlow,
Ed Finn, Murray Dobbin and others), as if Canada was a highly developed
capitalist country, with a huge corporate sector and ruling class, is to miss
the boat and drown in the waters. It will lead you exactly nowhere, into a
never-never land of fantasies and confusion and immense frustration at "not
getting anywhere."
     In Canada, the "primary contradiction," the feature that requires our
utmost attention and which we ignore at our peril, is the outlandishly
excessive foreign ownership and control (Canada is, without doubt, the most
foreign-controlled country in the world). This foreign domination does not come
from Japan, France, Switzerland or Germany; it comes from the U.S., with which
Canada has had a problematic relationship, to say the least, from the
beginning. (When military invasions of Canada did not do the trick, the U.S.
started to use trade as a weapon. Read David Orchard's The Fight for Canada:
Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism, Stoddart, which tells
the full story of Canada's resistance to being absorbed by the U.S., and is a
book that every Canadian needs to read to make sense of her country's history,
present and future. Those abroad who want to understand the contradictions in
North America and the nature of Canada, ought to do the same.)
     The crowning glory of the U.S. attempts to take over Canada under the
guise of its "Manifest Destiny" to control the continent, was the Free Trade
Agreement of 1989 which Brian Mulroney signed, sealed and delivered over the
objections of the Canadian citizens. ( Heck, there are still folks, even some
of those who vocally opposed free trade, that claim with a straight face that
"Canadians voted for free trade in 1988" and that we therefore have to "live
with it." The undeniable fact is that 57% of Canadians voted against Mulroney
who referred to the 1988 election as a "referendum on free trade.")
     The FTA cements U.S. domination of Canada by giving away this country's
right to determine its own economic, cultural and social policies, and turning
the country's lifelines away from the east-west links so essential to its
survival, to north-south dependency and super-exploitation.The ten years since
the FTA was signed in 1987 have been one unmitigated disaster from which we are
not about to recover until we get OUT of the FTA and NAFTA, the latter also
negotiated by Mulroney and signed without second thought by Jean Chretien whose
party had promised to cancel the FTA and not sign NAFTA unless they were
renegotiated in Canada's interest. They weren't and he signed anyway. And the
interesting thing is that although the Liberal party got a lot of media flack
about its lies about the GST, correctly described as the "free trade tax"
(which replaced the tariff revenues lost because of the FTA), forcing the
resignation of one of its cabinet members, Sheila Copps, this total turnabout
(lie, in other words) about the promise to cancel the FTA, has been utterly
ignored by the media. It is like it never happened.
     Canada's particular experience of globalization is directly connected to
the FTA and NAFTA. These treaties are both cancellable by six months notice, a
fact that most Canadians are not even aware of. With focussed public pressure
on -- yes, politicians! -- they could have been cancelled already, and the
question must be asked WHY such pressure was not exerted. We cannot just move
on to other strategies, claiming that what we did before "didn't work," without
an in-depth and honest analysis of what the various free trade opponents -- the
Canadian Labour Congress, its Action Canada with various affiliated groups, the
Council of Canadians, Citizens Concerned About Free Trade and the New
Democratic party (and all those Liberals who got elected on an anti-free trade
vote in 1988 and 1993) -- did or didn't do. This is the debate, among these
constituent parts that must come before we start dreaming about pie-in-the-sky
global resistance to globalization, be it FTA/NAFTA or MAI. (The MAI, by the
way, is an extension of NAFTA, not a brand new thing, although there are plenty
of people out there who'd like you to think that MAI is something utterly new,
and there are even those, the New Democratic party among them, who oppose MAI
but have declared, just prior to the last election in spring 1997, their
willingness to live with FTA/NAFTA! Talk about an absurd -- and dangerous --
position to take!)
     In conclusion, let us not fall for snake-oil remedies for social change.
Let us understand that Canada's struggle for political and economic
independence is also an anti-imperialist struggle worthy of support. Let  us
not pretend that we are (already) Americans, albeit  "progressive " ones, and
adopt their analysis and experiences as our own. Let us not let the one-time
free trade opponents who have "moved on"  and telling us to do likewise, and
who are no longer calling for the cancellation of the FTA/NAFTA (CCAFT is!),
walk away from critical scrutiny of their actions.
Get more info from CCAFT in order to understand the FTA and NAFTA, which are,
in effect, the new constitution of Canada. Sign and circulate our petition to
cancel the FTA/NAFTA. Visit our website at http://web.idirect.com/~ccaft
Tell us what you think!  e-mail to Marjaleena Repo at: •••@••.•••

P.O.Box 1983, Saskatoon, Sask., S7K 3S5
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