TPP – and a Defense of Marx On Trade

Published on political affairs PA, by John Case, Oct. 25, 2012.

Once again the US Left – broadly defined, including a range from the Sierra Club to the Communist Party – is getting ready to oppose a new trade agreement covering many pacific rim nations and peoples.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP negotiations, launched in 2007, and strongly supported by the Obama administration, is envisioned as a new and much expanded multilateral free trade agreement.  

The current list of participating, negotiating, and observing countries includes: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, United States, Vietnam, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea,  Taiwan, and the Philippines.

The opposition to the agreement on the Left is in much the same spirit as its prior vocal opposition to NAFTA (the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement), and to the very existence of the World Trade Organization WTO, and indeed all “capitalist” globalization.

These ongoing negotiations have drawn criticism and protest not just from the Left, but also a number of public and elected officials, in part due to the secrecy of the negotiations and a number of controversial clauses in draft agreements leaked to the public. For example, the Citizens Trade Campaign writes, “Of the 26 chapters under negotiation, only a few have to do directly with trade. The other chapters enshrine new rights and privileges for major corporations while weakening the power of nation states to oppose them.”

Most controversy to this point (according to leaks) has centered around intellectual property rights, agriculture, and negotiation secrecy. A number of United States Congresspeople, including Senator Bernard Sanders and Representatives Henry Waxman, Sander M. Levin, John Conyers, Jim McDermott, John Lewis, Pete Stark, Charles B. Rangel, Earl Blumenauer, and Lloyd Doggett, have expressed concerns about the effect the TPP requirements would have on access to medicine. In particular, TPP may protect intellectual property to the detriment of efforts to provide access to affordable medicine in the developing world … //

… Should the Left Have a Pro-Free-Trade Policy, and What Would That Policy Be?

First, A dose of Karl Marx on Trade. Engels provided  a short summary of Marx’s widely circulated 1848 speech on Free Trade:

To [Marx]  Free Trade is the normal condition of modern capitalist production. Only under Free Trade can the immense productive powers of steam, of electricity, of machinery, be full developed; and the quicker the pace of this development, the sooner and the more fully will be realized its inevitable results; society splits up into two classes, capitalists here, wage-laborers there; hereditary wealth on one side, hereditary poverty on the other; supply outstripping demand, the markets being unable to absorb the ever growing mass of the production of industry; an ever recurring cycle of prosperity, glut, crisis, panic, chronic depression, and gradual revival of trade, the harbinger not of permanent improvement but of renewed overproduction and crisis; in short, productive forces expanding to such a degree that they rebel, as against unbearable fetters, against the social institutions under which they are put in motion; the only possible solution: a social revolution, freeing the social productive forces from the fetters of an antiquated social order, and the actual producers, the great mass of the people, from wage slavery. And because Free Trade is the natural, the normal atmosphere for this historical evolution, the economic medium in which the conditions for the inevitable social revolution will be the soonest created – for this reason, and for this alone, did Marx declare in favor of Free Trade.

Both Marx and Engels observe no fundamental distinction between free trade vs protectionist policies with respect to workers immediate interests. Not much has changed since then to refute this assessment, and there is good ground to explore their deeper observation  — that free trade breaks down national and other barriers to trade faster, and thus accelerates the development of capitalism, the enlargement of the working class, the intensive application of technology, and the prospects for social progress. Most important, trade brings the workers of the world face to face with each other — to confront each other as they really are, with more interest in common with each other than their respective employers … //

… Conclusion:

Meetings between workers of trading partner countries should be the FIRST action item on the left trade agenda. Next, identifying common ground—Assess common ground potential BEFORE taking a position on the agreement. Next: agitating the government to include ILO representation with standing to demand “labor and human rights” arbitration powers to enforce compliance with ILO universal human right principles.

US labor law is in fact not currently in compliance ILO fundamental rights.  And a supra-national sanction against firing and threatening people for engaging in union activity would be welcomed by millions of workers.

“… and the final lesson, that those who do the work of the world, ought to be united, is still to be learned …”,  Int’l Rep Don Tormey, 1978 UE District Council 2 meeting.
(full long text).

Links:

US gov: Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP;

North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA on en.wikipedia;

International Labour Organization ILO on en.wikipedia;

Communist Party USA on en.wikipedia;

Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership on en.wikipedia.

Comments are closed.