The world lost a great prophet last week. Peggy and I lost a great friend and mentor. He died of Covid-19 in Oaxaca, Mexico, his hometown.
No doubt, Gustavo would be shocked by my characterizing him as a prophet. After all, he always claimed to be an atheist. He was a harsh critic of the Catholic Church — and all religions for that matter.
Gustavo was once an IBM executive, and an official high-up in the Mexican government. At one time he was also a revolutionary guerrilla. But for many years, he called himself “a de-professionalized intellectual and itinerant story-teller.” He’s the founder of an alternative university (Unitierra). He also authored more than 30 books, among them Grassroots Postmodernismand Escaping Education.
Nonetheless, I’ll stick with my assertion: he was a prophet – not in the sense of a forecaster of future events, but of a powerful voice for Truth, which some of us still insist on calling “God.”
In the presence of someone like that, you can imagine the transcendent conversations we had around our dinner table each time Peggy and I got together with him in Berea (Kentucky) – sometimes with dear friends listening in and sharing. At others, it was just the three of us. Invariably, we talked of almost nothing else but politics, literature, spirituality, and the direction of history.
Among Gustavo’s most outstanding roles was the position he occupied as advisor to the Zapatista revolutionaries. Perhaps you remember them. They were the Native Americans who on January 1, 1994 captured the imagination of Mexico (and many of us outside) when their lightly armed military forces occupied five Mexican towns around San Cristobal in the state of Chiapas.
They were protesting the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they said spelled the death of their culture and way of life. Their courageous “Indian Uprising” made them instant international heroes. So did their eventual abandonment of armed struggle in favor of non-violent resistance.
With Gustavo’s blessings, on more than one occasion, Peggy and I led Berea College students into Zapatista communities to experience their radically counter-cultural lives firsthand.
According to the Zapatistas, women were leading the way they had embarked upon. In fact, 60% of their army commanders were women.
The importance of women’s leadership was the heart of the extraordinary convocation I remember Gustavo giving at the beginning of his “scholar-in-residence” stint at Berea College. It was a theme to which he returned often during his many classes and lectures there. Women are leading the way, he said, into the “other world” that is not only possible but required if our planet is to survive.
Our threatened survival is where Gustavo always started. He said our world stands in a position of unprecedented danger. It is threatened by climate chaos, oligarchical governments, tremendous wealth disparities, an economic system that simply doesn’t work, schools and communications media that propagandize rather than inform, and by an emerging and universal police state with its system of perpetual war that (suicidally) defends the status quo. Under the present world order, the line between governments, the military, the police, and the judiciary on the one hand and the criminals and thugs on the other has completely disappeared. Not a pretty picture.
During that general convocation I mentioned, Gustavo held us all spell bound as he outlined the seven principles to guide us out of the morass just described. The principles represent the North Star that guided not only the Zapatista movement, but Gustavo’s entire life. In fact, the Zapatista principles call into question our entire way of life.
Here they are as Gustavo explained them:
To serve others, not self. For Zapatistas, the goal of life was the common good, not the accumulation of money or power.
To represent, not supplant. The Zapatista model of revolution was not the seizure of power (supplanting one government with its mirror image), but the representation of the majority without reproducing old relationships of domination.
To construct, not destroy. The Zapatistas taught that the new order could not be built upon violence.
To obey, not command. However, the Zapatista model of obedience was never that of servant to master or of soldier to comandante. It was that of mother to her infant child.
To convince, not to win. As taught by Gustavo, the Zapatista way centralized respectful dialog based not primarily on logical argument, but supplementing logic with intuition derived from the experience of life.
To propose, not impose. Imposition represented the violence rejected by Zapatismo.
To go down, not up. For Zapatistas the geography of social discourse and action had changed. Old categories of left and right, conservative and liberal were no longer applicable. The new more relevant topography directed our gaze up and down, north and south – to recognize the gap between the one percent and the rest of us.
Not surprisingly, not everyone welcomed Gustavo’s convocation message of cooperation, non-violence, care, and acceptance. During the Q&A following his principal address, a particularly articulate young man posed a question that must have been on the minds of many “exceptionalist Americans” in the audience.
“You’ve described a rather bleak world, Gustavo,” the young man said. “But surely, you’re talking about a reality outside the United States. After all, here we enjoy extraordinary freedom and prosperity. That’s shown by the fact that so many foreigners are anxious to come to America. Isn’t that true?”
Gustavo responded, “I have bad news for you, my friend. The United States you describe is fast disappearing and is harder and harder to find. Your country with its pot-holed highways, homeless beggars, and falling bridges increasingly resembles what you call the “Third World.”
“And that’s the purpose of your politicians’ New World Order – to create a reality where we’re all racing to the bottom, while they enjoy the cream on top. Unfortunately, that cream is also fast evaporating. Soon the system benefitting the 1% will collapse entirely. (In fact, it’s happening before our very eyes.) There is simply no exception to the collapse I’ve described. To save ourselves we have no alternative to a complete change of guidelines and world vision. The Zapatista principles I’ve just described, and which centralize women’s ways of knowing show us the way.”
That’s how real prophets talk. They’re usually right. This time however the warning was planetary and universal.
All of that is why I called Gustavo Esteva a prophet and why Peggy and I will miss his powerful voice, friendship, and guidance. His words still echo from his newly turned grave.
Today near the middle of my 80th year, I’m off to Tijuana to work for a couple of weeks with refugees and immigrants at the border. I mention my age not because I feel old, but because 80 used to seem ancient to me. Yes, I’ve done lots of these fact-finding trips before beginning with our family’s six months in Brazil during the military dictatorship there back in 1984. Then there were all those trips to revolutionary Nicaragua beginning the next year, and many visits to Cuba. This time around, I find myself wondering if my age will be a factor in the eyes of my co-workers.
In any case, this is the first in a series of daily reports I plan to make on this blog site. I want to take readers with me on this particular expedition of first-hand observation and discovery.
So, I’m now seated on Delta Flight 2685, in seat 23B on my way from New York’s JFK Airport to San Diego CA. It’s a 5 hour and 45-minute flight. I’ll stay overnight in San Diego’s Gaslight District. Then, tomorrow I’ll cross over into Tijuana, and begin work on Monday at 9:00 a.m.
My plan is to join forces with Al Otro Lado (AOL), a Tijuana-based social justice and legal services organization whose task is to help asylum-seekers in their quest to find refuge in the United States. I’m not sure what my function with the group will be. I might end up sweeping, washing floors, making beds, working in the kitchen, and serving meals. That would be fine. But I’m hoping my Spanish will be of some use. (For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been burnishing my skills in hour-long Skype sessions with a wonderful Spanish teacher in Cuernavaca.)
My main task however is to learn. I want to build on what I’ve gathered throughout my professional life as a theologian, researcher, teacher and habitual traveler to Global South stress points.
More specifically, my past observations (during those long stays in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil and Cuba) as well as my study with Global South thought leaders (especially in Costa Rica’s Departamento Ecumenico de Investigaciones and during my years teaching in an on-site Latin American Studies Program) have already taught me that today’s refugees are seeking escape from:
The effects of U.S. wars during the 1980s which destroyed families, church communities, businesses, towns, and entire countries. Those wars were aimed at keeping in power brutal dictators who served U.S. business interests such as Chiquita Banana. They were intended to prevent democracy from replacing the tyranny of Latin America’s wealthy classes allied with their counterparts across the U.S. border.
Gang violence inflicted on whole communities by the now decommissioned national soldiers and paramilitaries employed 40 years ago by the United States in South and Central America in the wars just referenced. [During the years of cooperation with the CIA and U.S. Army, those terrorists (that’s what they were) supported their illegal war efforts by deep involvement in drug trafficking – with CIA facilitation. Now, with the wars over, the former U.S. assets are simply continuing the work they learned all during those years of conflict – including the associated threats, bribes, kickbacks, death squads, assassinations, rapes, and torture.]
The devastating results of free trade pacts (like the North and Central American Free Trade Agreements – NAFTA and CAFTA) that have allowed the United States to e.g. dump cheap corn on the international market thus driving millions of small farmers off their land and into unemployment in big city slums.
The effects of climate change such as rising temperatures, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires, exacerbated by the entire Republican Party which insists not only on denying scientific fact, but on doubling down on the ecocide’s causes.
Domestic violence exacerbated by rampant unemployment (caused by those free trade deals) that has made mothers and their children absolutely desperate to escape the violent men in their lives.
Virtually none of those causes are explained to the American people. Instead, the multifaceted central role of the U.S. government and CIA in creating the crisis is completely overlooked as politicians and the mainstream media (MSM) ahistorically “explain” the problem in terms of freeloaders, drug dealers, rapists, gangbangers and general criminality.
Ignored as well is the undeniable moral obligation of the United States to make reparations by rebuilding the economies and infrastructures they’ve destroyed and by giving generous and easy asylum (not to mention jobs and cash payments) to the refugees manufactured in the process. WE ABSOLUTELY OWE THESE PEOPLE SHELTER, PROTECTION, AND RESTITUTION! THIS IS NOT A QUESTION OF CHARITY. WE ARE MORALLY OBLIGED!
As you can see, my project here is to help balance our MSM-cultivated ignorance by acquainting readers with actual refugees and immigrants and their full stories.
Most of us are scratching our heads over the magnitude of the Labor Party’s loss in last week’s election in the United Kingdom. The mainstream media (MSM) would have us believe that the Tory Party’s victory under Boris Johnson represents a massive rejection of left politics by the British working class.
However, that’s by no means the only conclusion possible. Indeed, it is entirely credible to conclude the opposite, viz. that last week’s vote was a resounding victory for the working class. That is, it represented their rejection of the very type of free trade pacts that have made lives miserable for wage earners across the planet.
It’s also possible to conclude that the British elections have issued to the world a clarion call to reform all free trade pacts while suggesting a clear direction for reform.
Let me explain.
The Elections and Brexit
To begin with, think about the elections and Brexit.
That, of course, is what the voting was about – Brexit (British withdrawal from the European Union). No other country has yet exhibited the courage needed to do so – not even Greece, despite the extreme austerity the EU has imposed upon it for years – and despite the promises of SYRIZA and the will of the people expressed in huge demonstrations and national referenda.
So, unlike the Greeks, the Brits set the stage for the actual exit of a member state from the European Union, which is the kind of free trade pact that has cursed working classes for more than 25 years.
Remember that: the EU is basically a free trade arrangement. Its central feature is its single market allowing its “four freedoms:” free movement of goods, services, capital, and people within EU borders.
The EU was formed in 1993. Its counterpart across the pond, NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) was signed a year later. Then came CAFTA (The Central American Free Trade Agreement) in 2004. As indicated, working classes have been suffering ever since not only from NAFTA and CAFTA but from EU austerity administered by unelected and therefore unaccountable bureaucrats headquartered in far-off Brussels.
With such hardship and lack of democratic control in mind, voters chose Johnson over Jeremy Corbyn. That’s because no one, including Corbyn and his Labor Party, was as clear as Johnson and his Tories about withdrawing from the EU come hell or high water.
On the other hand, Corbyn and Labor were not only relentlessly vilified by the country’s corporate media; they also remained ambivalent and split about Brexit. Together those factors proved fatal. The best the denigrated Laborites could do was to promise yet another referendum on the topic.
Clearly, that wasn’t enough. Evidently, the British were tired of the entire debate. As a result, Labor suffered the consequences. However, British laborers made the point that eluded their Greek counterparts: no more unelected decision-makers in Brussels, no more free trade agreements favoring capital over workers; no more neoliberal austerity, and no more unrestricted immigration to drive down wages.
Last week’s election results represented the Brits way of courageously joining the protests against neoliberal capitalism now taking place across the planet.
Free Trade and Immigration
Now, think about free trade agreements and that just-mentioned issue of immigration. Obviously, it has become a free trade sore point both here and in the United Kingdom. However, immigration pain has originated from opposite but intimately related sources.
Within the boundaries of the EU, the immigrant problem has stemmed from the earlier-listed “four freedoms,” while in North and Central America it comes precisely from the fact that only three of those freedoms are honored.
More specifically, the EU free trade arrangement recognizes that provision of goods and services essentially involves both capital and labor as roughly equal partners. Consequently, if a treaty allows free movement of capital across borders, justice and the logic of capitalism demands that it also permit similar liberty to labor which is as essential to the free market equation as capital. So, borders must be permeable to immigrants from one member-country to another.
This recognition has led to major relocations of population across frontiers that were closed in the pre-EU world. Movements of this sort have occurred with a vengeance in Great Britain, whose borders have long been open to immigrants from the country’s former colonies, e.g. India and Pakistan. Add to these the climate and war refugees who have also found refuge in Europe in general including Great Britain, and you’ll begin to understand why many there might blame their growing sense of lost national identity exclusively on the European Union. Boris Johnson has given effective voice to such discontent.
Similar unhappiness with the NAFTA and CAFTA has surfaced in North and Central America.
However, there the pinch of globalization is caused by closed rather than open borders.
That is, while NAFTA and CAFTA allow free movement of goods, services, and capital across the borders of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the countries of Central America, they deny such freedom of movement to labor. Consequently, the agreements have at their disposal a captive labor force. So, while capital can go wherever it finds low wages, Mexican labor for instance cannot freely move to high wage areas in the United States or Canada. This has been a source of great frustration (and poverty) for workers under NAFTA and CAFTA.
As a result, Latinix workers have taken matters into their own hands. In what some have called a modern reconquista (a reconquering or reclaiming) of lands confiscated from Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America have ignored one-sided laws prohibiting labor’s mobility. Regardless of the consciousness behind them, their actions implicitly insist that if capital is allowed to move freely across borders, so should labor be permitted cross-border transit.
Such economic rebels added to victims of climate change and of U.S. wars in Central America during the 1980s comprise the immigrant multitudes that President Trump has blamed for U.S. economic problems. In reality, they represent the collateral damage of free trade pacts as much as do their counterparts in the European Union.
(In other words, despite Trump’s assertions, it is right wing capitalists not liberals or progressives who insist on absolutely open southern borders – however, for themselves, but not for workers.)
Reforming Free Trade
So, what’s the answer to the EU, NAFTA, and CAFTA conundrums? Is it abandonment of free trade agreements altogether? Not necessarily. (And this brings us to the implications of reform involved in last week’s vote.)
In a word, the answer is DEMOCRACY.
That is, the defects of free trade agreements can only be remedied satisfactorily by democratizing them to protect jobs, cultures, and local social values.
To begin with, democracy demands that all stakeholders (not merely corporate representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians) be present at the renegotiating conference table. This includes trade unionists, environmentalists, and groups representing the specific rights of indigenous peoples, women and children. All those affected must have equal voice and vote. Nothing else will work. Nothing else is just.
Yet, if all stakeholders have voice and vote, they will predictably complicate matters. (Democracy, remember, is messy.) Predictably, they’ll make demands that will radically restrain the freedoms of the corporations involved – even to the point of rendering unworkable the type of trade pacts we’ve come to know.
For instance, (and perhaps most crucially) workers in places not only like Greece and Italy, but in Mexico and Central America will require the same freedom their employers enjoy to move to where the money is. Developed world workers will demand compensation for their lost jobs. Everyone will vote for the unrestricted right to unionize. They’ll want seats on corporate boards of directors. At the same time, environmentalists will demand industrial technology that is clean and non-polluting. They’ll want waste and chemical dumps along with polluted rivers and aqua firs repaired.
Once again, meeting such demands requires profound democratic changes in common understandings of international trade arrangements. We can thank UK voters for suggesting that requirement in the clearest of terms.
Following Labor’s defeat in the UK, the corporate media and mainstream politicians have rushed in to announce the end of progressive programs like those advocated by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. For instance, Joe Biden argued that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resounding victory should “warn Democrats against veering too far left in their fight to defeat President Donald Trump.”
Instead, thoughtful analysts should see the results of Great Britain’s electoral process as yet another instance of a world-wide rebellion against neoliberal capitalism. Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are essential elements of that insurgency.
True, voters have elected a Trump-like figure in Boris Johnson. And he will predictably immiserate the lives of wage earners even further. However, voters’ overriding intention was to reject EU membership once and for all. For them, one-sided free trade agreements that prioritize capital over labor are no longer acceptable.
Such unambiguous rejection of capitalism-as-we-know it, is now evident throughout the world – including at our border, where immigrants and refugees implicitly declare the system’s absolute failure in their own lives.
Our Y’s Men of Westport/Westin (CT) and its Current Affairs Discussion Group has decided that the focus of its next meeting will be Brexit (British exit from the European Union) and the future of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
The Y’s Men umbrellas a group of 400 or so retired men who meet weekly for fellowship and informative programs on community and national concerns. Its clever name comes from some association with the YMCA that has never been clearly explained to me.
In any case, one of the Y’s Men’s many subgroups meets bi-weekly to discuss world issues precisely like Brexit and NATO. That topic was chosen because at the time of its selection, NATO was holding its 70th anniversary meeting in London. Meanwhile, Great Britain was looking forward to a General Election on December 12th, which would once again centralize the Brexit issue.
In preparation for the meeting, the leader of the Current Affairs Group shared numerous articles with us. One was entitled “12 Questions about Brexit You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask.” Others were drawn mainly from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. They detailed further information about Great Britain’s attempt to withdraw from the international trade agreement known as the European Union. Other articles asked the question whether or not NATO should or should not be dissolved.
As it turns out, both issues are intimately connected with questions of borders and immigration. After all, the European Union has virtually erased borders across the continent to facilitate what it terms its “four freedoms.” These include free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Meanwhile NATO is also and obviously a multinational body. In fact, it treats member states as one. According to its central policy, an attack on any single member is considered an attack on all.
So, with those two issues in mind (borders and immigration) let me pose three questions related to Brexit and NATO. They are intended not only for Westport’s Y’s Men, but for thoughtful people in general.
Here are the questions:
Are you in favor of absolutely open borders for people?
Are you in favor of absolutely open borders for multinational corporations (MNCs) and/or military operations?
What’s the connection between Brexit and borders on the one hand and NATO on the other?
Open Borders for People
So, what about immigration and open borders? Should foreign workers be allowed to cross unrestrictedly from one country to another as they currently are under the European Union rubric?
To this question, I’m quite confident that most people’s initial answer would probably be “no.”
At least that’s what 52% of Great Britain’s voting population said last March when asked whether or not their country should remain within the European Union. By most accounts, disapproval of the Union’s policy of unrestricted immigration lay behind the votes of those approving exit from the EU.
That’s because open borders in Europe have led to massive relocations of population across frontiers that were closed in the pre-EU world. Such migrations especially intensified “foreign” presence in Great Britain whose borders had already long been open to immigrants from the country’s former colonies, e.g. India and Pakistan. Add to these the climate and war victims who have also found refuge in Europe in general including Great Britain, and you’ll begin to understand why many there might rashly blame their growing sense of lost national identity exclusively on the European Union. Boris Johnson has given voice to such discontent.
And all of that stands to reason, doesn’t it? That’s true even for those of us who (unlike the British) have not actually experienced free movement of people from one country to another. We can hardly imagine a world without passports, visas, or government control of entry or exit. It all sounds like a recipe for anarchy and chaos.
In our context, it would mean, for instance, that low wage workers could enter the United States and take our jobs. Our way of life would be completely upended. Our culture would be profoundly and unacceptably altered as well.
No, I’d venture to say that open borders are completely unacceptable to most of us. That’s why conservatives can get away with constantly ridiculing opponents of Mr. Trump’s border wall as advocating “open borders.” Life without borders simply doesn’t make sense. It’s clearly threatening to most Americans. And it’s largely the lived experience of open borders that has driven Great Britain out of the European Union.
Open Borders for MNCs
Yet despite our objections to free movement of people, most of us take for granted open borders for transnational corporations. We do and so does Mr. Trump! So, I’m quite confident in predicting that the answer of most Y’s Men to my second question would be “yes” — at least implicitly. “Yes, I approve of free movement of capital from one country to another. And yes, (in the case of NATO) I approve of attacks on other countries even though those forays pay no attention to borders.” Or (perhaps more accurately) the “wise” response might be: “Well, I’ve never thought about that.”
The latter response comes from the fact that on the face of it and for most of us, the movement of capital and of armies seems somehow harmlessly abstract and less devastating than the unrestricted movement of people. Moreover, we’re taught that treaties like the EU, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and the proposed TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Area) are good for us because they create jobs. So, why not allow transnational companies like Exxon, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Ford Motor, Kennecott Mining, Weyerhaeuser Lumber, Ralston Purina, and Del Monte to cross borders freely?
The answer to that query comes loud and clear especially from the Global South – from indigenous tribes, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, or Salvadorans. They shout: “Free movement of capital is far more devastating to us than you’ve experienced in the European Union or imagine in North America. Free movement of capital destroys more jobs than it creates. It’s the main reason behind what you describe as your ‘immigration crisis.’”
Their evidence? Mom and Pop stores are driven out of business by Wal-Mart. Millions of campesino farmers are forced off their land when, for instance, Ralston Purina lobbyists persuade the U.S. government to dump subsidized corn on the Mexican market. The displaced farmers are forced off the land and driven into urban slums. Food consumption patterns are altered by McDonalds. Indigenous tribes have burial sites dug up and defiled by Exxon’s oil pipelines. Rain forests are cut down indiscriminately by Weyerhaeuser regardless of the impact on ecosystems and climate. Entire ways of living and interacting with nature and community are disrupted and thrown into chaos.
But that’s not the end of the devastation wreaked by the open borders most of us take for granted. NATO and its de facto leader, the U.S. military, demonstrate little to no respect for borders either. Think about it. Despite international laws to the contrary, those military entities claim the right to indiscriminately cross national frontiers to bomb and drone wherever they see fit — and without the required approval of the United Nations. In the recent past they’ve done so on a large scale in the former Yugoslavia, as well as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ethiopia. We don’t even know where they’re bombing; borders make no difference to them.
And the chaos produced by such disregard of borders is unbelievable. As its result, homes, schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues, mosques, stores, warehouses, factories, water, sewage, and communication systems lay in ruins across the planet.
The NATO Connection
But what’s the connection between all of this and NATO? The short answer is that a disbanded NATO represents a source of funding for remedying the just noted deficiencies of free trade agreements like the EU, NAFTA, CAFTA, and TAFTA.
To begin with, those defects can only be remedied satisfactorily by democratizing them to protect jobs, cultures, and local social values. And that will cost a lot of money. That’s because true reform demands that all stakeholders (not merely corporate representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians) be present at the renegotiating conference table. This includes trade unionists, environmentalists, and groups representing the specific rights of indigenous peoples, women and children. All those affected must have equal voice and vote. Nothing else will work. Nothing else is just.
Yet, if all stakeholders have voice and vote, they will predictably complicate matters. (Democracy, remember, is messy.) Predictably, they’ll make demands that will radically restrain the freedoms of the corporations involved – even to the point of rendering unworkable the type of trade pacts we’ve come to know.
For instance, (and perhaps most crucially) workers in places not only like Greece and Italy, but in Mexico and Central America will require the same freedom their employers enjoy to move to where the money is. Developed world workers will demand compensation for their lost jobs. Everyone will vote for the unrestricted right to unionize. They’ll want seats on corporate boards of directors. At the same time, environmentalists will demand industrial technology that is clean and non-polluting. They’ll want waste and chemical dumps along with polluted rivers and aqua firs repaired. Those whose towns, homes, churches, schools, and hospitals have been destroyed by NATO wars will want them rebuilt. They’ll demand compensation for the needless deaths caused by the bombs, drones, planes, tanks, and military personnel employed in the service of corporate-friendly trade pacts.
Again, all of that will take money – lots of it!
And the source of the money should be NATO. It must be dissolved. And its annual funding must be diverted to meet the working class demands just listed.
After all, the organization has outlived its usefulness. Its enemies have disappeared. The Soviet Union (the very raison d’etre for NATO) vanished 30 years ago. Moreover, announcements that the Russians are coming once again and that a new Yellow Peril is on the horizon are nearly laughable.
In fact, when those threats are examined, they turn out to be only pale reflections of standard practices the United States has engaged in since the conclusion of the Second Inter-capitalist War.
Take Russia first. Its “crimes” include:
Interference in the 2016 U.S. elections
Dissemination of “fake news”
Aggression against the Ukraine
Annexation of Crimea
China’s alleged threat is represented by:
Its repression of democracy in Hong Kong
Its attempts to take over the world through its Belt and Road Initiative
“Stealing” intellectual property of U.S. corporations
Its jailing of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities
To repeat: “crimes” like those have been central (and on much larger scales) to United States policy for the past 75 years and more.
For instance, since 1823 under the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has routinely claimed the right to intervene militarily in its “backyard” (all of Latin America) whenever it perceives any undue foreign influence in the region. All during the 1980s, the U.S. invoked Monroe to counter Russian influence in Central America.
Yet, the U.S. insists that Russian military action in the Ukraine and Crimea (which arguably remain parts of Russia) is a threat to world peace. And this even though the new leadership in Ukraine promises to seek membership in NATO in clear violation of a 1990 agreement that the alliance would not expand eastward. In fact, NATO bases currently surround Russia. If the U.S. claims Monroe Doctrine protection for itself, logic demands honoring parallel claims by Russia.
Similarly, immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States interfered in the Russian electoral process to ensure that Boris Yeltsin would be elected president there. And U.S. interference in electoral processes world-wide is beyond dispute.
The bottom line here is that Russia is only doing in its backyard what the United States has long practiced in its own backyard and across the world.
The case is similar with the alleged Chinese threat. Remember, Hong Kong is not in China’s backyard; it is indisputably part of China itself. Moreover, if the U.S. and its NATO allies were implementing their own Belt and Road Initiative, they would be trumpeting it as an example of their generosity and openhanded foreign aid.
As for China’s alleged stealing of intellectual property . . . As Vijay Prashad has noted, such ownership is a fiction concocted by industrially developed countries to guarantee that their former colonies will remain in situations of extreme dependence and relative poverty. The concept of intellectual property ignores the essentially communal nature of human knowledge. For instance, concepts foundational to modern science (such as the links between the Vedic zero in the east and imaginary numbers in the west) are part of the world’s intellectual commons. To pretend otherwise itself constitutes an act of intellectual larceny.
In fact, reverse engineering has long been the backbone of industrial development everywhere in the world including the United States as it strove during the 19th century to catch up with its European competitors. It is inevitable that workers and states will attempt to understand and replicate rather than purchase the technology they are asked to operate.
With all of the foregoing said about trade agreements, military spending and the artificially manufactured threats posed by Russia and China, it now becomes possible to recognize that the Global North has no enemies. And in turn, that realization frees up huge caches of money already there, allocated, and set for diversion towards correcting the defects of so-called free trade agreements – even like the European Union.
The money’s to be found in the NATO budget; it’s also there in Pentagon allocations. (In fact, just last week, the U.S. Congress set aside more than $2 billion each day for military purposes, even though the prime reason for doing so has completely disappeared from the world stage.)
So, the answers to my original questions might well be these:
No: Immigrants should not be allowed to move unrestrictedly from one country to another
Unless that freedom is extended to MNCs. Or to reverse the assertion: MNCs should not be allowed to move unrestrictedly from one country to another unless labor is accorded the same freedom.
A disbanded and now pointless NATO can provide any funds necessary for democratizing otherwise one-sided trade pacts like the European Union, NAFTA, CAFTA, and TAFTA.
As I reported recently, I spent my Christmas vacation tracking down and studying France’s “Yellow Vest” movement. In December, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman did something similar. However, as expressed in his piece, “The End of Europe,” his conclusions mirror old threadbare thinking about social transformation. Most tellingly, while honoring the voices of the Yellow Vests as grassroots activists, Friedman’s responses exclude the very democratic input the Yellow Vests demand. Instead, he looks to government and business leaders to save what he termed “the idea of Europe.”
conclusions are the reverse. I see the Yellow Vests as advocating a democratically
radical, comprehensive and bottom-up approach to what distresses our world. In
fact, the issues and demands of the Yellow Vests suggest proven reforms that
are clearly feasible, since they’ve worked in the past. The economic and
political restructurings implicit in their working-class demands could save our
planet and create the other world that all progressives sense is possible. Consciously
or unconsciously, the Yellow vests propose a program worthy of support by us
Friedman & the Yellow Vests
According to Friedman, France represents the last barrier against the disintegration of Europe itself. Across the European Union (EU), England is committing collective suicide (because of Brexit), Germany is turning inward, and Italy (along with Greece) is in full rebellion against EU austerity measures. Meanwhile, the United States incipient withdrawal from the world increasingly leaves the continent without its traditional life insurance policy against “predatory threats from the East.” That insurance is needed now more than ever in a world where Russia is again asserting its power, and where China promises to become the center of the world.
says, the Yellow Vest Movement reveals that France itself is in danger of
disintegration. The movement has arisen because the country’s working poor and
anxious middle class have not benefitted from the liberal order of
political-economy characterized by globalization, technological development,
and mass migration of workers from the former Soviet Union and from France’s colonial
empire. In the face of such developments, the poor have been completely
marginalized, while robotics, artificial intelligence, outsourcing and
competition from Chinese imports have made it increasingly difficult for middle
class wage-earners to sustain accustomed life styles.
For France, all of this has been complicated by the ineptitude of its president Emmanuel Macron. On Friedman’s analysis, Macron has done the right things, but in an arrogant top-down, “let them eat cake” manner. The right things have included giving tax breaks to the rich, while imposing austerity (and job re-training programs) on workers. Austerity has meant raising taxes on diesel fuel, reducing pensions, and making it easier for employers to fire their workers.
words, Friedman approves of the very policies that have given rise to the
“Yellow Vests” in the first place. For him, it’s just that austerity’s
necessarily bitter pill wasn’t administered with the proper bedside manner.
according to the New York Times
columnist, there is no apparent alternative. In the face of globalization, he
holds that old solutions (simply cutting or raising taxes) cannot work.
Instead, he vaguely calls for cities and local leaders to become “more nimble.”
In his words, that means forming coalitions of business leaders, educators, and
small entrepreneurs who can compete locally, regionally, nationally and
That’s Friedman’s analysis and solution.
absent from his considerations is any mention of “Yellow Vests” (i.e. working
class) involvement in the solutions he finds so elusive. That is, Friedman’s own approach, like that
of Macron is entirely top-down. Like Macron he seems tone deaf to the “Yellow
Vest” demand for inclusion in decision-making processes.
Necessary Changes in Consciousness
would such inclusion entail?
first of all necessitate changes in the very consciousness exhibited in the
Friedman piece. These changes would include recognition of:
The Fundamental Failure of Capitalism: Friedman begins his article by celebrating capitalism. He writes “Ever since World War II, the liberal global order. . . has spread more freedom and prosperity around the world than at any other time in history. . .” Granted, such triumphalism might have been defensible (for those ignoring, for example, U.S. interventions in the Global South) before the dawn of the climate and immigration crises. However, today its uncritical hubris is embarrassing as the system’s train of destruction stretching back to capitalism’s dawning are seen as threatening the very continuation of human life as we know it. We can now see that capitalism has not really been successful. Quite the opposite. Persisting in lionizing the system while ignoring its run-away destruction prevents serious analysts from imagining the fundamental changes necessary to address the system’s basic failure. Apparently, it prevented Friedman from doing so.
Yellow Vest Criticism of Neo-liberalism: What consciously or unconsciously irks the international working class about neo-liberal globalization is the fact that the reigning economic model accords rights to capital that it steadfastly denies or severely restricts in the case of labor. It grants capital the right to cross borders wherever it will in pursuit of low wages and high profits. Meanwhile, it insists that labor, an equally important element of the capitalist equation, respect borders and/or severe restrictions on its mobility. Evidently, this is because the authors of the system (politicians, corporate boards, and lawyers) realize that freer movement of labor especially from the East or Global South would outrage constituents and consumers within industrialized countries in the developed world. The “Yellow Vests” prove that such outrage has taken hold in France and threatens to spread across the continent as workers from Europe’s former colonies extend and appropriate for themselves the logic of “free trade” heretofore acted upon only by capitalists and denied to labor. The immigration crisis is the result.
earlier, the Friedman article throws up its hands in surrender before the
changes he describes as perhaps signaling the end of Europe. He writes, “Here is what’s really scary, though. I don’t
think there are national solutions to this problem — simply cut taxes or raise
taxes — in the way there were in the past.” So (to repeat) our author is left
with the standard neo-liberal policies earlier described – trickle-down tax
cuts for corporations and austerity for workers – implemented by the usual
suspects with no mention of worker input.
None of that will work for
the Yellow Vests. They want their voices heard. They want democracy at all
levels. Such democratic ideal suggests changes far beyond the tired nostrums
offered by Friedman – or perhaps even imagined by the French protestors
themselves. These might include:
Democratized International Trade Agreements: Trade agreements like the European Union or NAFTA for that matter need to be negotiated with workers taking part. That means that the real EU question isn’t whether or not Great Britain should renegotiate its Brexit. The real issue is the reformulation of the EU Charter itself. The whole thing has to be rethought with the circle of negotiators widened to include all stakeholders. This means going beyond politicians, corporate heads, and lawyers to include trade unionists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, educators, social workers, women, and representatives of children. In the process, each stake-holding group must have equal votes to complement their intellectual input. The same holds true for NAFTA.
Democracy at Work: Workers like the Yellow Vests spend most of their lives at work. Hence, their demands for democracy suggest, that any concept of self-governance must be broadened from the exercise of voting franchise every few years to include democracy at work. In its most effective form, democracy there takes the form of worker-owned cooperatives, where workers decide what to produce, where to produce it, and what to do with the profits. Enterprises of this type would never elect to pollute their neighborhoods, to pay outlandish salaries to administrators, to move their firm to a foreign country, or to lay off workers because of technological advance (all Yellow Vest complaints). Introducing such change is entirely possible. For instance, since 1985 Italy has taken steps to favor cooperative ownership. According to the country’s Marcora Law any company going out of business must extend to workers the right of first refusal in the case of a firm’s transfer of ownership.
Democratization of the New Technology: Democratic movements like the Yellow Vests need not be Luddite vis a vis the introduction of new technology. Instead, they might welcome any “labor saving” technologies. However, the point of such introduction would not be to down-size the labor force, but to shrink time spent on-the-job. For too long computers and artificial intelligence have been used by employers to cut labor costs and increase profits rather than to expand worker free time. By contrast, worker-friendly technological policies could make widespread job-sharing possible to eliminate unemployment. Four-hour workdays could replace present overwork. It could become possible to work only 6 months per year, or to take sabbaticals every few years without any reduction in pay.
A Green New Deal: Part of eliminating unemployment entails implementation of a Green New Deal (GND) to address climate chaos in ways that mirror Roosevelt’s original New Deal to combat the disastrous effects of the Great Depression. Prominent among the GND’s provisions must be the contemporary equivalent of the old Civilian Conservation Corps – this time to accomplish the environmental ends that the economy’s private sector is unwilling or unable to achieve.
A Marshall Plan for the Former Colonies: To reverse the influx of immigrant workers, the former colonial powers must stop the wars and environmental policies that end up creating refugees and migrants in the first place. This means, first of all, ending their resource-wars and the failed war-on-terrorism. Secondly, however, the old colonists need to implement a New Marshall Plan in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia, where centuries-long resource-extraction policies have created the very poverty, hunger, and unemployment that has transformed the Global South from a natural paradise to a cauldron of social inequities. Besides being a remedy for the migration crisis, a grand Marshal Plan for the Global South is a matter of reparations.
Implementation of the NIEO: Specifically, reparations should entail something like the implementation of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) demanded by the Group of 77 within the United Nations in 1974. The New Order would grant Global South countries the power to control multinational investments within their borders. Recognizing that no country has ever achieved “development” as a mere supplier of raw materials to already industrialized countries, the order would require the latter to make large transfers of capital to the former colonies in the form of money and technology. It would also guarantee stable prices for raw materials from previously colonized nations in exchange for finished products (like tractors and computers), with the prices for the latter indexed to the established value of the raw materials.
Implementation of A New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO): As recognized by the UNESCO McBride Report in 1980, the former colonies need not only a new economic order, but one in which special attention is given to the international flow of information. The Global South needs a world information system that gives its inhabitants themselves the ability to portray and understand their own reality rather than being dependent on their former keepers for information about their lives, cultures and politics.
Deep Cuts in Military Spending: All of this would be financed by higher taxes on the world’s 1% and by developed world cuts in military spending. Such increases and cuts would (1) recognize that the present war on terror is an utter failure, and (2) divert money now spent on attacking countries in the less developed world to constructive projects there such as rebuilding homes, schools, hospitals, power plants and water purification systems. Arguably, this would do more to combat terrorism than wars and bombing campaigns which many see as aggravating the problem of global terror. Again, this is a question of reparations.
The elegance of the just-listed responses to France’s Yellow Vests and to the crisis of the neo-liberal order the protestors are rebelling against is that they are not new. In the cases of the New Deal and Marshall Plan, they enjoy a proven track record. At the same time, the prescriptions are much more detailed than the abstract cliches reflected in Thomas Friedman’s endorsements of neo-liberal austerity and “more nimble” decision-makers drawn from the professional classes.
Instead, the suggestions just listed have been with us since the 1930s (in the case of the New Deal), since the 1940s with the Marshall Plan, and since the mid’70s and early ‘80s with the proposed NIEO and NWICO. For their part, as Richard Wolff points out, worker co-ops have been hugely successful, for instance in the Mondragon Corporation in Spain and throughout the world, including France and the United States. Across the globe, worker cooperatives already employ 250 million people and in 2013 represented $3 trillion in revenue. Meanwhile, a huge body of literature from the 1960s and early ‘70s described a world in which computers and robotics would be used not to one-sidedly increase corporate profits, but to provide lives of leisure and enjoyment for ordinary people.
None of this is unrealistic, dreamy or impractical.
In other words, we have the Yellow Vests to thank for
helping us recall that another world is not only possible, but that we’ve
already experienced it!
Isn’t it interesting how the world’s richest 1% have managed to convince most among us that the world’s poorest 1% are responsible for all of our problems? These days, they have us talking about almost nothing else.
Yes, billionaires like Donald Trump and his effete allies in D.C. have pulled “the immigrant problem” completely out of the air. And they’ve done it precisely to paper over the fact that they themselves, not the poor, are the cause of our genuinely distressing economic and social problems. It’s all a familiar diversionary tactic to keep us from seeing how the rich are screwing us over every single day.
Think about it. What troubles us aren’t immigrants and refugees who are somehow alien. Hell, if we’re not Native Americans, every one of us comes from immigrant (not to say “invader”) stock or from slaves brought here against their wills by immigrants. Every one of us!
No, our problems are persistent low wages, the emergence of the gig-economy, withdrawal of worker benefits, destruction of unions, police brutality towards people of color, lack of decent health care, deteriorating infrastructure, underfunded schools, impoverishing student debt, disappearance of retirement prospects, a bloated military budget, the threat of nuclear war, climate change denial, voter suppression, mass imprisonment of non-violent offenders, and a nation-wide drug problem induced by Big Pharma.
That’s the short list of our country’s real dilemmas. They are caused by the filthy rich who give themselves the very tax breaks that rob our common treasury and necessitate the austerity measures the wealthy prescribe for the rest of us.
Nonetheless, those plutocrats want us to take our eyes off that particular ball. Instead, they’d have us believe that the very refugees whose homes and jobs, schools and hospitals have been destroyed by the one-percent’s endless wars in the Middle East are somehow attacking the rest of us. Similarly-guilty, they say, are those fleeing the chaos and gang violence produced by the illegal counter-revolutionary wars waged by “our” country in Central America throughout the 1980s. The same for simple Mexican farmers displaced by NAFTA provisions favoring U.S. corn over locally-produced maize; that’s what’s made them poor and jobless.
As a result, all of those just mentioned – victims of our unjust wars and one-sided trade policies – along with their children, have been excluded from entry to the U.S. whose borders, our “leaders” tell us are somehow sacrosanct as if created by God. So, (we are told) we must pay for a multi-billion-dollar wall to exclude the victims the billionaires have created and characterized as rapists, gang-members, drug dealers, and criminals.
Thing is: borders are completely arbitrary; they’re fictions the rich would have the rest of us worship, while they pay them no mind. That’s another thing to think about.
In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.
The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.
But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.
Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.
In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.
Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are holy, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.
So, let’s consider that second point.
Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one questionably “legal” and the other completely otherwise.
So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.
Meanwhile, workers (the second equally key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.
Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission.
The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless – for the rich.
The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?
I’ll say it again: in the eyes of Mr. Trump, borders are for suckers and poor working stiffs, not for people like him.
The truth is, however, that borders should be the same for everyone, regardless of wealth and power. If capital has the right to disregard borders, so should labor. If the workers cannot cross them, neither should rich investors.
Like everyone else I know, I watched the first presidential debate last night. I tuned in to “Democracy Now” (DN) to witness the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Afterwards I kept my dial set right there for the après debate discussion.
Then just this morning, I returned to DN to view debate highlights and the space host, Amy Goodman, gave to Jill Stein to answer the questions posed the night before by NBC News anchor, Lester Holt. Ms. Goodman had also invited Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, to participate in her two hour “Expanding the Debate” special. However, Mr. Johnson claimed he was otherwise occupied.
Despite polls that show most Americans would like their participation, both Dr. Stein and Mr. Johnson had been excluded from the previous evening’s debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates entirely controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties.
This morning I was relieved to find the Washington Post supporting my own judgment. It detailed a nearly unanimous verdict that Secretary Clinton had trounced Mr. Trump even according to conservative media outlets.
For me, the debate’s most important question addressed to both candidates was “If you happen to lose the election on November 8th, will you support your opponent as President of the United States?” Of course, both candidates answered in the affirmative.
If the question were posed to me – will I support either candidate? – my answer would be negative.
As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is entirely unqualified to be POTUS. Last night he came off like some guy you’d meet in a bar – or your nutty uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, who after one too many, rants on in broad generalizations without any rational argument or factual support. At times he seemed completely incoherent. He definitely generated more heat than light.
Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton had the opposite problem. Yes, she was coherent. And yes, she had done her homework.
But she promises nothing more than continuation of the status quo. That in turn means perpetual war, more bombing, drone attacks, and regime change fueled by nostalgia for the 1990 Clinton years where “My husband did a pretty good job.”
What I’m saying is that Mrs. Clinton represents a depressing continuation of the status quo that millennials and other progressives have largely repudiated.
Forgotten in all of this is the fact that the alternative to business as usual was stymied by Hillary and her minion, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Under Shultz, the Democratic National Committee worked in concert with the Clinton campaign to discredit Bernie Sanders and, it seems, to prevent accurate vote tallies. In other words, Hillary is very likely where she is because of election fraud – one of the causes of voter apathy in relation to this Democratic candidate – and to elections in general.
With all of this in mind, I’m voting for Jill Stein, just as I did in the last election. That’s because as a citizen of Kentucky, I’m disenfranchised by our current dysfunctional electoral system. So in my irredeemably Red State, my vote carries no weight at all, except as a protest. My protest vote then will be for the Green Party candidate.
As she showed this morning on DN and in other interviews I’ve seen, Dr. Stein is on top of issues and offers a truly progressive agenda largely ignored last night. That agenda includes:
A Green New Deal that amounts to a huge jobs program that will turn the tide on climate change.
For debt-ridden students (43 million of them), a bail-out analogous to the Bush-Obama 2008 $1.3 trillion Wall Street bail-out.
Tax increases on the 1% and on corporations to fund such programs.
The end of foreign policies whose guiding principle entails global dominance, imperialism, and regime change. (That policy, in turn, generates and feeds the problem of terrorism.)
Corresponding and substantial cut-backs in military spending that currently consumes nearly half of the U.S. budget.
Community-controlled policing with Citizen Review Boards for U.S. police departments. These boards would have investigative and subpoena power and authority to fire and hire police chiefs.
The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address racism, its causes and remedies including reparations for slavery.
Halting the Obama $1 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and replacing it with world-wide nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Dismantling nuclear power plants which with the likelihood of a 9-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 are in line to “go Fukushima” by then.
Absent the Electoral College nonsense, I’d hold my nose and vote for Hillary. But that would only be a “damage control” measure on my part. This time around we have no choice – just two highly defective corporate candidates. And Trump is clearly unqualified for Dog Catcher.
Between now and 2020, we have to work with Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and others to implement a program with features like the ones just listed.
On June 24th Great Britain shocked the world by voting to exit the European Union (Brexit). Some celebrated the succession as a left wing “Peasant Revolt” against so-called “free trade agreements.” They were right. Europe (and the world) needs an economic revolution from below. And Brexit was a shot across the bow of corporate globalization.
Others however ascribed the Brexit to narrow right wing anti-immigrant nationalism. They were also correct. However right wing focus on immigrants as if they were the root and sum of Europe’s problems obscures potential connections of interest between the right and its revolutionary counterpart seeking lasting solutions to the problems Brexit lays bare. Those solutions must go far beyond building walls and otherwise restricting immigration. They have to address globalism’s inherent contradictions and the various causes of the largest movement of peoples in world history.
For starters, think of those unprecedented migrations in the light of globalism’s contradictions as reflected in free trade pacts in our hemisphere as compared with the European Union.
Over here, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its Central American analogue (CAFTA) grant owners of capital the right to cross borders with abandon regardless of the destruction they wreak on local economies in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere in the Global South. For instance, the dumping low-priced U.S. corn on Mexican markets has converted innumerable peasant farmers into urban workers seeking employment illegally in the United States.
The illegality results from NAFTA’s refusal to recognize that labor is just as essential as capital in the free market paradigm. If so (and capitalist theory tells us it is), then logic dictates that the freedom of movement accorded one element, must also be granted the other.
However if labor were to enjoy the mobility of capital, the detrimental effects of globalism’s so-called “free trade” would become apparent to all. Workers from Mexico would be free to go where the money is – to the U.S. and Canada. In turn, workers in those countries would see their jobs threatened. They would rebel and reject corporate globalization by demanding the repeal of NAFTA and CAFTA.
Multi-national employers in the U.S. and Canada protect themselves from such reaction by formally pretending to stand with U.S. and Canadian workers against unrestricted immigration. Politically and with great bluster they support building walls. Actually, however, they find immigration essential because Global South workers are required, for example, to harvest tomatoes and lettuce in the United States. Immigrants also exert downward pressure on U.S. wages generally and in construction and service industries in particular. All of that is good for business. The wall-talk is just window dressing.
That’s what’s happening on this side of the pond.
By way of contrast, the granddaddy of all free trade agreements, the European Union (EU) has been less illogical than NAFTA and CAFTA. It has granted labor the same mobility as capital. So workers in the European Union are free to cross borders from economically depressed member states such as Bulgaria and Greece to where the money is in Germany and Great Britain. The results are predictable. In the context of a tight labor market induced by the Great Recession, a huge backlash has resulted against immigrants for reasons described above. Brexit was the outcome.
But the immigrant problem is far more complicated than meets the eye. Ignoring that complexity blocks necessarily nuanced responses. It also blocks union of those right and left wing concerns earlier referenced.
The fact is: not all immigrants are economic. Instead, there are really three types of immigrants taking part in today’s mass migrations. True: some contemporary refugees are economically driven. Many others however are war refugees; a third group seeks refuge from the effects of climate chaos. The legitimate interests of each of these groups dictate separate policy changes that are generally ignored in xenophobic rhetoric about building walls, and protecting national identity.
Economic immigrants are those earlier-mentioned working people who demand the same rights as big capital. Within the European Union, and as already indicated, they have been moving legally from low wage countries to higher wage venues. In our hemisphere, workers from Mexico and Central America have intuitively followed free-trade logic. They have voted with their feet against the labor restrictions of NAFTA and CAFTA despite the trade agreements’ legal prohibitions.
For their part, war refugees are flooding the world as a result of United States’ and U.S.-supported bombing campaigns (including drones) in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, Yemen, and elsewhere. Such campaigns have demolished the refugees’ homes, and destroyed their communities and jobs. It’s no wonder then that they reluctantly seek refuge in Europe and the United States. Under international law, they have the legal right to do so. Morally speaking, those responsible for the bombings are most obliged to receive them. The culprit United States should lead the way.
Finally, refugees from climate chaos form a separate category. Many migrants from Syria, for instance, are fleeing not only U.S.-sponsored bombing raids; they are farmers whose fields have been devastated by a years-long drought. Other refugees from island nations and coastal regions find their homes swallowed by rising sea-levels caused by melting polar icecaps. As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, this category of refugees will soon dwarf the other two.
In light of such distinctions about free trade, the logic of globalized capitalism, and the three classes of refugees, clear remedies suggest themselves – all inspired by Brexit. In a word, the basic remedy is democracy. More specifically, required policy changes include: (1) Exiting all free trade agreements responsible for economic refugees; (2) Stopping the bombing and wars that create homeless refugees, and (3) Leaving fossil fuels in the ground while adopting mandatory regulations to prevent further warming of the planet.
Though unlikely, all of this is possible. As the Brexit vote demonstrates, there is nothing mandatory or inevitable about free trade agreements. In developing countries, they all can be replaced by what in the past was called “import substitution.” That meant industrialization by Global South economies and instituting protectionist policies to keep imports out and economic emigrants at home.
Such substitution is based three realizations: (1) that no country has ever achieved “developed” status by reliance on supplying raw materials and agricultural products to industrialized nations, (2) that such policy of protectionism and import substitution was itself responsible for the economic advancement of the United States, and (3) after World War II, it worked in Global South countries such as Costa Rica with the result of separating it from its unindustrialized neighbors as economically successful.
[Please note that if free trade agreements remain under consideration, democracy demands that their discussion involve all affected parties with equal representation and vote. Such negotiations would include environmentalists and their concerns for air, water plants and animals. They would involve workers whose jobs might be lost, and community members whose neighborhoods and cities might be devastated by mass emigration, increased pollution or by waves of immigrants. Here absolute transparency is required. There can be no secret negotiations, top-secret documents, or one-sided elite authorship of policies that end up affecting millions of disenfranchised workers including women and children.]
If Brexit was the start of a peasant revolution, it’s time for all of us to join our brothers and sisters at the barricades across the pond, pitchforks in hand. Our enemies in this struggle are not immigrant workers victims of our wars, or those whom one-percenters call environmental extremists. They are instead the extremist negotiators of secret trade pacts, belligerent prosecutors of wars and obtuse deniers of humanly-induced climate change.
Those are the exploiters whom the Brexit vote indicates we must unite to overthrow and replace.
No doubt, the seer would be shocked by my characterization. After all, Gustavo says he’s an atheist. He’s a harsh critic of the Catholic Church — and all religions for that matter.
Gustavo was once an IBM executive, and an official high-up in the Mexican government. At one time he was also a revolutionary guerrilla. Now he calls himself a de-professionalized intellectual and itinerant story-teller. He’s the founder of an alternative university (Unitierra). He has authored more than 30 books, among them Grassroots Postmodernismand Escaping Education.
But I stick with my assertion: he’s a prophet.
In the presence of someone like that, you can imagine the transcendent conversations we had around our dinner table each evening during his ten-day stopover in our home. Sometimes dear friends were there with us. At others, it was just Peggy and I. We talked of almost nothing else but politics, literature, spirituality and the direction of history.
Gustavo is from Oaxaca in Mexico.
Among his outstanding qualifications is his position as advisor to the Zapatista revolutionaries. Perhaps you remember them. They’re the Native Americans who on January 1, 1994 captured the imagination of Mexico (and many of us outside) when their lightly armed military forces occupied five Mexican towns around San Cristobal in the state of Chiapas.
They were protesting the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they said spelled the death of their culture and way of life. Their courageous Indian Uprising made them instant international heroes. So did their eventual abandonment of armed struggle in favor of non-violent resistance.
On more than one occasion, Peggy and I have led students into Zapatista communities to experience their radically counter-cultural lives first hand.
According to the Zapatistas, women are leading the way they have embarked upon. In fact, 60% of their army commanders are women.
The importance of women’s leadership was the heart of the extraordinary convocation Gustavo gave at the beginning of his “scholar-in-residence” stint at Berea College. It was a theme to which he returned often during his many classes and lectures there. Women are leading the way, he said, into the “other world” that is not only possible but required if our planet is to survive.
Our threatened survival is where Gustavo started. He said our world stands in a position of unprecedented danger. It is threatened by climate chaos, oligarchical governments, tremendous wealth disparities, an economic system that simply doesn’t work, schools and communications media that propagandize rather than inform, and by an emerging and universal police state with its system of perpetual war that (suicidally) defends the status quo. Under the present world order, the line between governments, the military, the police and the judiciary on the one hand and the criminals and thugs on the other has completely disappeared. Not a pretty picture.
During his general convocation, Gustavo held us all spell-bound as he outlined the seven principles to guide us out of the morass just described. They represent the North Star that guides the Zapatista movement as Native Americans once again mark out the path to planetary survival. The Zapatista principles call into question our entire way of life.
Here they are as Gustavo explained them:
To serve others, not self. For Zapatistas, the goal of life is the common good, not the accumulation of money or power.
To represent, not supplant. The Zapatista model of revolution is not the seizure of power (supplanting one government with its mirror image), but the representation of the majority without reproducing old relationships of domination.
To construct, not destroy. The new order cannot be built upon violence.
To obey, not command. However, the Zapatista model of obedience is not that of servant to master or of soldier to comandante, but of mother to her infant child.
To convince, not to win. The Zapatista way centralizes respectful dialog based not primarily on logical argument, but supplementing logic with intuition derived from the experience of life.
To propose, not impose. Imposition represents the violence rejected by Zapatismo.
To go down, not up. For Zapatistas the geography of social discourse and action has changed. Old categories of left and right, conservative and liberal are no longer applicable. The new more relevant topography directs our gaze up and down, north and south – to recognize the gap between the one-percent and the rest of us.
Not surprisingly, not everyone welcomed that message of coöperation, non-violence, care and acceptance. During the Q&A following Gustavo’s principal address, a particularly articulate young man posed a question that must have been on the minds of many “exceptionalist Americans” in the audience.
“You’ve described a rather bleak world, Gustavo,” the young man said. “But surely you’re talking about a reality outside the United States. After all, here we enjoy extraordinary freedom and prosperity. That’s shown by the fact that so many foreigners are anxious to come here. Isn’t that true?”
Gustavo responded, “I have bad news for you, my friend. The United States you describe is fast disappearing, and is harder and harder to find. Your country with its pot-holed highways, homeless beggars, and falling bridges increasingly resembles what you call the Third World.
“And that’s the purpose of your politicians’ New World Order – to create a reality where we’re all racing to the bottom, while they enjoy the cream on top. Unfortunately, that cream is also fast evaporating. Soon the system benefitting the 1% will collapse entirely. (In fact it’s happening before our eyes.) There is simply no exception to the collapse I’ve described. To save ourselves we have no alternative to a complete change of guiding principles. The Zapatista principles I’ve just described and which centralize women’s ways of knowing show us the way.”
That’s the way real prophets talk. They’re usually right. This time however the warning is planetary and universal.
I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving. Oh, it’s not that I don’t like turkey and won’t eat my share. It’s just that, like most of you, I’ve got this Fox News brother-in-law, and he gives me indigestion. I see Harry once a year, and for the past six Thanksgivings it’s always the same: complaints about Obama. You know the drill; just read Rush Limbaugh’s current talking points. They’re all sure to surface at Thanksgiving dinner.
This year, no doubt, we’ll end up arguing about immigrants, immigration reform, and the imperial presidency. My brother-in-law will complain about “illegals” (that’s what he’ll call undocumented workers), the law, amnesty, border security, and Obama’s failure to reach across the aisle to well-meaning and otherwise cooperative Republicans.
But most of all, my dear relative will complain about the disruptive effects of “the brown peril” – waves of immigrants pouring over our borders and disrupting our economy. “I mean,” he’ll say, “if we keep giving amnesty to ‘those people,’ they’ll disrupt everything. You just can’t let everybody into the country without rules. ‘Freedom’ like that is simply anarchy. And anarchy is destructive. They’ll eventually take all the good jobs.”
Well, here’s what I plan on telling old Harry this year:
“You see, Harry, we’re finally getting a taste of the disruption economies like Mexico have experienced since 1994 and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It was then that in the name of “free trade” tsunami waves of capital investment were unleashed across the Mexican border. To Mexican farmers it was an onslaught of “white peril” that dwarfs any threat you and I might experience from brown people.
“For instance, cheap American corn (actually subsidized in the NAFTA agreement) drove Mexican farmers out of business. True, a relatively few of them got employment in maquiladoras (assembly plants). But many of those factories soon closed when it became possible to hire lower wage workers in China and Vietnam. And in any case, working in the maquilas meant moving from the countryside to polluted and dangerous cities. It also meant accepting wages of $1.50 a day with no bathroom breaks. Conditions like those inevitably cause desperate workers to relocate to where the money is – to where the jobs are. And that’s the United States.
“Remember, Harry, there are two main components of the economic equation – not just capital. Labor is just as important. So any “free trade agreement” that allows capital to move without regulation should allow the same liberty to labor. Instead, the NAFTA insisted on free movement of capital alongside a captive labor force.
“Workers implicitly recognize the injustice of all that even if they can’t say the words. So despite ‘state law’ forbidding it, the labor force will obey the dictates of capitalism’s Sacred Law of supply and demand – of self-interest. Like capital, labor will migrate to where the money is. And you can’t really stop it. That’s capitalism.
“So here’s the way to stem the brown peril:
Renegotiate the NAFTA recognizing labor’s freedom of movement as well as capital’s.
That will mean electing governments on all sides of “free trade agreements” that truly represent working people and not just the corporations.
Make sure that ALL stake-holders are represented at the negotiating table – including male and female workers, children, environmentalists, and trade unionists.
Make sure the final product protects the environment and addresses climate change.
See that the newly elected people’s governments establish a living NAFTA wage of $15.00 an hour – indexed to inflation rates.
“Without such provisions, Harry, I’m afraid workers will look abroad to better their condition. They’ll continue (like their capitalist counterparts) to act in their own self-interest relocating quite naturally to where the money is. Really, we can’t do anything about it.