Workers Vanguard No. 1008
14 September 2012
For Workers Solidarity Around the Pacific Rim!
U.S.-South Korea Trade Pact Targets China, Korean Workers
Last November, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 21 in the small port town of Longview, Washington, were locked in a battle for the very existence of their union against the giant grain-exporting conglomerate EGT. That same month, more than 40,000 trade unionists and others mobilized in Seoul, South Korea, in a massive protest against ratification of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KorUS FTA), which went into effect in March this year. For U.S. grain exporters like EGT, the agreement promises a profit bonanza. With the treaty’s elimination of South Korean tariffs on two-thirds of U.S. farm products, the U.S. government predicted a $1.9 billion growth in American agricultural exports.
U.S.-based Bunge, the dominant partner in EGT along with South Korea’s STX and Itochu of Japan, salivated over the prospect. “Bunge CEO Sees High Grain Prices Into Fall,” declared a Fox Business news headline (26 April). The trade agreement was designed to secure U.S. imperialism’s plunder and subordination of South Korea, the world’s fourth-largest grain importer, which already gets 80 percent of its corn from the U.S. The KorUS FTA threatens to wipe out what remains of South Korea’s farm sector. The payoff for American agricultural giants will come through the increasing immiseration of South Korea’s working people enforced by that country’s capitalist regime. And behind South Korea’s capitalist rulers stands a U.S. military presence—today numbering 28,000 troops—that dates back to the 1950-53 Korean War.
EGT’s efforts to bust the ILWU were backed by the full force of the capitalist state, from local and regional cops and courts to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and, in the end, an armed Coast Guard flotilla. EGT did not succeed in driving the ILWU out of its Longview terminal, but the union is now saddled with a deeply concessionary contract including 12-hour shifts and the serious undermining of the union hiring hall and other hard-won gains. In announcing the first ship to be loaded under the settlement with EGT, ILWU International president Bob McEllrath heralded it as evidence of the “partnership between the ILWU and EGT” and the beginning of “many years of safe, productive operation at the facility, and stability in the Pacific Northwest grain export industry.” As we wrote in “Lessons of the Battle of Longview” (WV No. 996, 17 February):
“But the whole battle at Longview gives the lie to the bureaucracy’s promotion of a ‘partnership’ between the longshoremen and the EGT owners, a lie that is at the heart of the virtually unchallenged offensive by the bosses and their state that has gutted the unions in this country.
“The ‘stability’ of the multibillion dollar U.S. grain industry, the biggest and most profitable in the world, means skyrocketing food prices and the starvation and death of millions around the globe. The world’s grain supply is controlled by a handful of agribusiness giants, including U.S.-based Cargill and Archer-Daniels-Midland. At home, their profits are created through the increasing exploitation of the working class, which is why EGT was out to bust the ILWU at its Longview terminal.”
Now, with the union in the midst of negotiations over the master grain handlers agreement in the Pacific Northwest, all the grain export bosses will be aiming to boost their profit margin by taking it out of the hide of the ILWU. The most elementary precondition for mobilizing the fighting strength of the union to take them on is the understanding that employers are not the “partners” of longshoremen but their class enemy. That in turn means opposing the capitalists’ depredations against workers and oppressed peoples of the world.
While the ILWU International leaders speak hypocritically of international working-class solidarity, their defense of “our grain industry” is a body blow against the interests of the workers and oppressed across the globe. A resolution passed at the recent ILWU convention opposes “free trade” agreements like the KorUS FTA and the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently under negotiation, from the American chauvinist perspective that they cost “millions of U.S. jobs.” What this means in practice is a “partnership” with U.S. capitalists to boost their profits by pitting U.S. workers against their working-class brothers and sisters abroad. Far from fighting unemployment, which is rooted in the capitalist system, such economic protectionism poisons the struggle of U.S. workers against their exploiters at home.
Had EGT succeeded in loading the first ship using scab labor under Coast Guard protection last February, the ILWU’s fight would have depended crucially on the refusal of dockworkers in the destination port of Kunsan, South Korea, to unload the scab cargo. The ILWU’s only true allies are the workers of the world. Forging unity across national lines requires U.S. workers to oppose their “own” rapacious imperialist rulers. The Spartacist League/U.S. and the International Communist League’s sections in Asia—the Spartacist Group of Japan and Spartacist League/Australia—oppose the KorUS FTA from this revolutionary perspective of proletarian internationalism. For international proletarian solidarity! Down with the KorUS FTA!
U.S. Imperialists and
The so-called “free trade” pacts negotiated by Washington have nothing to do with equitable trade and distribution of the world’s resources. On the contrary, they are aimed at advancing the economic and political dominance of America’s capitalist rulers against their rivals through the further subjugation of dependent and economically backward countries. Rivalry, dominance and subjugation are in the very nature of relations between nations in the modern imperialist epoch.
Today’s industrial economies are far from the domains of “free market competition” conjured up by bourgeois economists. The very process of capitalist competition has led to the domination of monopolies—giant cartels and trusts. The huge amounts of capital needed for profitable investment mean that banks and other financial enterprises are dominant. The need to maintain high rates of profit, especially through exploiting cheap labor in more backward countries, and to obtain raw material and sell manufactured goods drove the countries where capitalist production first developed—centrally the European powers, the United States and Japan—to send out their armies in competition with each other. Though most of the colonies they seized are now nominally independent, the small handful of imperialist countries still dominates the world economy. They not only engage in countless wars against neocolonial peoples but twice in the last century engulfed the world in conflagrations—World Wars I and II—in which they battled each other to redivide the world.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provides a graphic example of “free trade,” imperialist style. While the protectionist AFL-CIO misleaders opposed NAFTA as detrimental to “American” industry, we accurately denounced it as the “free trade rape” of Mexico by U.S. imperialism. The economic devastation NAFTA wreaked on the workers and peasants of Mexico was briefly encapsulated by liberal journalist David Bacon in the Web publication truthout (11 October 2011):
“Mexico lost a million jobs just in the first year the treaty took effect. Because the treaty allowed US grain companies to dump corn in Mexico, 1.3 million farmers lost their livelihood as well. Pork dumping cost another 120,000 jobs. Eliminating its domestic content laws cost the jobs of thousands of auto parts workers.
“Six million people from Mexico came to live and work in the US as a result of this displacement.”
The KorUS FTA is the U.S.’s second most comprehensive FTA after NAFTA. Unlike Mexico, South Korea has a modern industrial base that competes with the imperialists in some global markets and has its own investments abroad. But at the same time, South Korean capitalism remains dependent on both imperialist finance capital and U.S. military protection. Besides imposing trade conditions on South Korea that favor the U.S., the treaty also aims to counter inroads into South Korea by Japan, its former colonial master and Wall Street’s principal imperialist competitor in Asia. In the first half of 2012, Japan’s annual rate of direct investment in South Korea nearly doubled over the same period in 2011.
The South Korean government of Lee Myung-bak’s New Frontier Party and most of the country’s ruling class supported the agreement on the grounds that it would lessen dependence on trade with China and deepen South Korea’s alliance with the U.S. against North Korea, which, like China, is a bureaucratically deformed workers state. The treaty’s bourgeois opponents, led by the main opposition Democratic United Party, argued that without revisions, the pact could encroach upon South Korea’s economic sovereignty.
Under a 2010 Supplemental Agreement, resolving an issue that had previously blocked the trade pact’s ratification by the U.S. Congress, South Korea will cut its tariffs on U.S. auto imports in half for the next five years, while the U.S. will maintain its tariffs on imported South Korean cars. A South Korean delegation to Washington objected that the supplemental deal was struck when military tension on the Korean Peninsula was at a high point following an alleged North Korean attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in late November 2010. The delegation protested that “the vast majority of Korean people believe that the outcome of the supplemental deal is an unacceptable humiliation and an overly high price to pay for the Americans’ role in providing national defense.”
U.S. Sets Sights on China
As the South Korean group “Occupy FTA” accurately observed on its Web site (4 November 2011), “The Korea-US FTA is not just an economic agreement. It will further integrate South Korea into the US-led world order politically and militarily.” Behind the trade pact lie greater stakes than squeezing more U.S. profit out of South Korea. Its main aim is to strengthen the U.S. imperialists’ hold on their South Korean client state as an anti-Communist bulwark against North Korea and, more critically, China.
The U.S., which has been tied down in brutal neocolonial occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is planning over the next several years to redeploy more than half its military forces to the Pacific, continuing to pursue the military encirclement of China (see “U.S. Imperialism Tightens Military Vise on China,” WV No. 1005, 6 July). In addition, Washington is working to build up an anti-China economic and political bloc in the region. A 2006 report of the U.S. Congressional Research Service titled “The Rise of China and Its Effect on Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea: U.S. Policy Choices” advised among other things that Washington “actively counterbalance the rising economic influence of China and the trading networks it is building by pursuing free trade agreements and closer investment relations with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.”
In February 2006, the month following the report’s final update, the Bush administration initiated the KorUS FTA. The U.S. has since signed separate trade deals with 20 countries, and current negotiations for the much larger Trans-Pacific Partnership draw in countries around the Pacific Rim. Japan has expressed interest in the TPP but has thus far been denied participation in the meetings.
In World War II, the U.S. and Japanese rulers fought to determine which of these two gangs of robbers would dominate Asia and the Pacific, with China as the main treasure. But this prize was snatched from the clutches of victorious U.S. imperialism by the 1949 Revolution, in which a peasant-based uprising led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) drove out the imperialist overlords and their local henchmen and overthrew capitalist-landlord rule. Despite its deformation from birth by the political rule of a parasitic bureaucratic caste under Mao’s Stalinist regime, the Chinese Revolution was an important victory for the working people of the world, establishing the collective property forms of working-class rule essential to building an egalitarian socialist society. Since that time, the capitalist powers have been intent on overturning the revolution by one means or another.
The key prerequisite for socialism is the elimination of economic scarcity. This, in turn, requires the revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat internationally, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, in order to develop and expand modern industrial production worldwide. This aim was the fundamental premise of the October Revolution of 1917, when Russian workers under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party established their own class rule based on workers councils (soviets) in a country still heavily mired in economic backwardness.
But in China from the outset, the deeply nationalist Maoist regime embraced the utopian-reactionary dogma of building “socialism in one country,” which was adopted by J.V. Stalin in late 1924 in the course of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. With the Soviet proletariat isolated by the failures of revolutions in Germany and elsewhere in Europe after World War I, encircled by hostile imperialist powers and suffering widespread want and exhaustion following the destructive Civil War, a privileged bureaucratic caste was able to wrest political control of the workers state from the workers themselves. The resulting anti-working-class bureaucratic regime—a parasite on the socialized property forms established by the revolution—actively opposed revolutions in other countries in a futile attempt to conciliate the imperialists.
So, too, have the Chinese Stalinists in power, for whom Stalin’s regime has served as a model. The CCP bureaucracy has suppressed the exercise of political power by the Chinese proletariat, which is critical to the healthy operation of a planned economy as well as to the international extension of the revolution. Instead, in order to gain the wherewithal for technological and industrial development, the Beijing regime under Deng Xiaoping and his successors has acted as labor contractors for international capitalists, offering up Chinese workers for exploitation in designated sectors of the economy. This in turn has both fostered the growth of internal forces of capitalist restoration and encouraged imperialist economic penetration.
Contrary to the claims of many self-proclaimed socialists, China today is not capitalist but continues to be a deformed workers state, with heavy industry, the land and the core financial system remaining collectivized state property. Because economic decisions are not driven centrally by the rate of profit, the country has been sheltered from the full destructive anarchy and extreme ebbs and flows of the capitalist world market. In the face of the global recession, the Chinese government has been able to undertake a level of national “stimulus” investment in infrastructure inconceivable in the capitalist world, maintaining a healthy rate of economic growth.
U.S. Troops Out of South Korea!
Korea was a colony of imperialist Japan from 1910 until Japan’s 1945 defeat in WWII. In the aftermath of the Japanese surrender, worker/peasant uprisings spread throughout the country, including under U.S. occupying forces in the south. In the north, Korean Communist partisans under Kim Il Sung backed by the Soviet Red Army took power, establishing a deformed workers state similar in kind to Stalin’s USSR.
In the Korean War, the U.S. and its puppet forces slaughtered three and a half million Koreans in order to smash the revolution underway on the peninsula and “roll back” the Chinese Revolution. Massive intervention by Mao’s People’s Liberation Army drove the invading imperialists back to the 38th parallel, where the war ended in a truce. The capitalist ruling class of South Korea owes its very existence to the U.S. imperialist military, whose massive presence is a dagger aimed at North Korea and China as well as the militant South Korean working class.
For some two decades after the Korean War, South Korea remained a backward, peasant-based society, while in Soviet-aided North Korea, which had been literally bombed to rubble by the U.S., planned development brought modern industry, infrastructure and relative prosperity. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 cut North Korea off from its principal economic partners and left it isolated under a decades-long imperialist embargo. This precipitated an economic crisis greatly worsened by a series of natural disasters as well as by the misrule of the Pyongyang bureaucracy, which has taken on an extreme expression of a Stalinist cult of personality and the nationalist pipe dream of economic “self-sufficiency.” In line with Washington’s policy of using its control of food stocks as a weapon of mass starvation, in mid April Obama’s White House once again canceled promised food aid to North Korea—which is experiencing another drought-provoked famine, now worsened by flooding—in retaliation for its unsuccessful launch of a long-range missile.
The Spartacist League stands for the unconditional military defense of the deformed workers states—China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba—against the imperialists and against internal counterrevolutionary forces. Our defense of North Korea includes supporting its development of nuclear weapons and effective delivery systems—the more the better. Just as workers in the capitalist world must defend their unions against the employers, despite a union leadership whose support to the capitalist order cripples labor struggle, so too must they defend the gains of the social revolutions in the workers states against the imperialists, who strive to recover them as fields for brutal exploitation. We demand the removal of all U.S. bases and troops from South Korea and the rest of Asia as part of the struggle to mobilize the U.S. working class against its rulers and their predatory military adventures.
In the U.S. and other capitalist countries, defense of the workers requires a political struggle to replace the “labor lieutenants of capital” with a new leadership based on a program of class struggle. In the deformed workers states, the defense and extension of the revolutionary gains requires workers political revolutions to oust the bureaucratic misrulers and establish the rule of workers councils based on defense of the existing socialized property forms and working-class internationalism.
Class Struggle in South Korea
The growth of massive, modern industry in South Korea created a powerful proletariat, which waged explosive class battles in the 1980s in the face of a brutal military police state, forging trade unions in key sectors of the economy. The gains of those struggles have been under assault particularly since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, when the country underwent austerity and economic restructuring under the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, greatly increasing its dependence on foreign investment and exports. From a high of almost 20 percent in 1989, union affiliation has dropped by half. Temporary or contract workers represent up to 70 percent of all workers according to a South Korean union official.
South Korean workers, who have carried out the kind of mass strike action and plant occupations that have long since been buried by the American union misleaders, could teach workers in the U.S. a thing or two about class struggle. But militancy is not enough. Workers in South Korea are also hamstrung by misleaders, whose class collaboration takes the form of nationalism, drawing on the country’s history of domination by foreign powers. Both of the principal union federations—the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) forged by the proletarian battles of the 1980s and the older and more conservative Federation of Korean Trade Unions—push support for the political representatives of the capitalists.
In a political bloc with liberal bourgeois forces, the KCTU opposes the KorUS FTA on the basis of South Korea-first bourgeois nationalism, championing the “ability of governments from relatively less developed countries to pursue independent policies to meet economic and social needs and sustainable social and economic development” (kctu.org/9928). To think that a capitalist South Korea will ever either be “independent” or “meet economic and social needs” of the masses is a pipe dream. The South Korean capitalist class will always ally with the imperialists in its attempt to crush Korean workers North and South, however much it may resent mistreatment by its foreign masters. Nationalism is an obstacle to the struggle of the working class for its own class rule internationally, which will make possible the cooperation and planning that are essential to meet the needs of the world’s peoples.
Ending the grinding exploitation of South Korean workers, liberating the country from imperialist domination and defending North Korean workers from imperialist-backed counterrevolution can be achieved only through a program of revolutionary reunification—socialist revolution to overturn capitalist rule in the South and workers political revolution in the North—linked to the fight for workers rule in Japan, the U.S. and other imperialist centers.
“National Unity”: Poison to Working-Class Struggle
The United Auto Workers (UAW) tops in the U.S. saluted the KorUS FTA after the signing of the 2010 Supplemental Agreement, trumpeting that Korean markets would now be opened up to American-made vehicles. These are the same bureaucrats who leapt at the chance to help Obama shove his 2009 union-busting bailout of U.S. automakers down their members’ throats, with its massive cuts to wages and benefits. In the case of the Korean FTA, the UAW officialdom has embraced unity with the bosses on the basis of “free trade” because the agreement benefits GM, Ford and Chrysler. In the early 1980s, the same chauvinist, pro-imperialist outlook led UAW bureaucrats to mobilize Detroit autoworkers to bash Japanese imports with sledgehammers, demanding more trade barriers.
For his part, ILWU International president McEllrath wrote Democratic Party House leader Nancy Pelosi to oppose the pact, complaining that the FTA “awards special rights to foreign investors, allows banks to practice the same disastrous policies that resulted in the current economic downturn, opens domestic environmental laws to foreign challenge, increases the trade deficit, and costs jobs.” McEllrath’s letter urged support for the TRADE Act, which would uphold “Buy America” laws in cases where a trade agreement would otherwise override them. For the ILWU bureaucracy, whose members’ jobs depend on world trade, to line up with the protectionist chorus against the incursion of foreign imports is, on the face it, not only absurd but self-defeating. But it is a real measure of the loyalty of these labor bureaucrats to the profitability of American capitalism, profits extracted through the increasingly brutal exploitation of labor.
Both the ILWU and UAW leaderships have endorsed Obama for president, just as they did in 2008. The Democratic Party president, whose NLRB brought suits carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against the ILWU during its battle against EGT and who mobilized the armed might of the Coast Guard against the union, is still being sold as the only supposed “friend of labor” option. But while the Republicans openly revel in union-busting and racist reaction, the Democrats are no less a party of Wall Street. The difference is in how they serve the same interests. The Democratic Party’s pretense to be the friend of workers, blacks and immigrants is a lie designed to keep them tied to the system that perpetuates their exploitation and oppression.
The product of the bureaucracy’s allegiance to the Democrats can be seen in the growing masses of unemployed workers, in busted unions and in the misery of the ghettos and barrios. The workers need their own party, a multiracial revolutionary workers party, in order to mobilize in struggle together with their true allies—the oppressed black and immigrant masses here, their Korean, Chinese, Mexican and Japanese brothers and sisters abroad—to put an end to Wall Street rule and establish a workers government and a planned, socialist economy.
Capitalism brought into being a world market and global division of labor that are the prerequisites for using the resources of the planet for the benefit of humanity. But that potential collides head-on with the private ownership of the means of production, based on the nation-state, that is the very foundation of capitalist production for profit. While production is socialized in giant industrial enterprises, its fruits are expropriated in the form of profit by a tiny minority, the capitalist class. And while so-called multinational enterprises have extended their reach into countries and continents around the world, to defend the profits they extract requires the armed force of a capitalist state. The globe has been divided up among the most developed, strongest capitalist powers, which compete with each other over who gets to loot the rest.
In its relentless search for profit, capitalism continually brings into being new sections of the international working class, while also throwing millions onto the scrap heap. As the collective producer of the wealth, the international proletariat has both every interest in reorganizing society on a new foundation, putting the world’s productive machinery at the disposal of the working people, and the objective capacity to do so.
A socialist world order might well count on the high productivity of U.S. agriculture to eliminate world hunger, the steel mills and heavy machinery production of China and South Korea to construct the world’s bridges, railroads and ships, and assembly plants from Korea to Mexico and Brazil to produce automobiles. An international planned economy will apply the powerful resources of developed countries like the U.S., Japan and Germany to bring, over time, every country up to the same advanced level and continue to develop from there, making possible the final elimination of social classes, inequality and exploitation. The alternative under the continued domination of imperialism is to see the world driven to destruction through more capitalist economic crises and war.
To defeat the repressive forces of the capitalists and bring the working class to power requires first and foremost the forging of revolutionary Trotskyist parties that champion this perspective of international socialist revolution. As Karl Marx said more than 160 years ago: Workers of the world, unite!