Free Trade Abrogation Is a Diversion

By Brown, Howard | Canadian Dimension, May-June 1993 | Go to article overview

Free Trade Abrogation Is a Diversion


Brown, Howard, Canadian Dimension


Abrogation of the Canada-US and North American free trade agreements "constitutes a fundamental challenge to capital," Canadian Dimension editorializes in its first issue of 1993.

Abrogation "is not just another policy issue. It is much more fundamental, more systemic." Abrogation challenges "the increasingly internationalized and liberalized direction that capital is being forced to pursue if it is to solve its profitability problems," Dimension argues.

The so-called free trade agreements are an important element of capital's response to the global crisis of the market system. To the mutual gain of the Canadian and US ruling classes, the trade deals configure leaner, meaner, more competitive North American imperialist economies as machines for international trade warfare -- including, day by day, major skirmishes between the agreements' main signatories.

The "trade" deals combine continental protectionist measures against overseas competitors, with restructuring that intensifies the overall rate of labour exploitation in North America. Their consequence in reinforcing this latter capitalist objective is the class basis of socialist opposition to the "trade" agreements.

Patriotic prattle

These pacts are instruments of class warfare, and workers and farmers are their prime victims. But socialists should not view Canada-US trade relations per se as a field of working class contention. Capitalists, not working people, are international traders. "The question of Free Trade or Protection," as Frederick Engels expressed it, "moves entirely within the bounds of capitalist production, and has, therefore, no direct interest for us Socialists who want to do away with that system."

Bruce Campbell in the same issue of Dimension urges us to rally in defense of "our resources," "our own manufacturers," "our agriculture industry," "our exports," and the sovereign powers of "our government." Such nationalist abstractions defy the most elementary principles of class analysis and class-struggle politics.

Campbell undisguisedly offers a perspective of capitalist reform predicated on the panacea of "trade" deal abrogation -- permitting "us" to "thrive in this new era of economic globalization," and "preserve our No. 1 status as the world's most livable country as we enter the 21st century."

"Freed from the shackles of the FTA, Canada could respond to the globalization challenge in a way that puts the social needs of all Canadians ahead of the narrow profit-making priorities of big business," Campbell dreams.

For Campbell, it seems, the capitalists are a powerful interest group to be countervailed in their pursuit of a mistaken policy, rather than rulers of a system in crisis owing to its basic workings. Imagined threats to the "sovereignty" of the Canadian state are Campbell's preoccupation, not its intrinsic character as supreme instrument of capitalist class rule. "Our" state might readily serve as a vehicle of progressive change -- if only "Canadians" committed to abrogating the "free" trade agreement could win the next election. Or so Campbell seems to imagine.

"Consciously and proudly socialist," surely Canadian Dimension doesn't subscribe to Campbell's patriotic prattle.

Capitalist imperative

For socialists, it should be clear, the "trade" accords themselves are not the "root of all evil," as in some nationalist morality play or tract by Mel Hurtig or Maude Barlow. Rather, the corporate agenda, including the "trade" deals, expresses a capitalist class imperative as the international profit system struggles with a period of depression. Indeed, as Dimension argues, the "trade" pacts are "systemic" to capitalism.

The "free trade" agreements exacerbate the jobs crisis -- but, as socialists understand, massive unemployment is rooted in this period of persistent stagnation in the global market economy.

The "trade" pacts are a club for beating down workers' wages and conditions -- but the drive against working people's rights and living standards (alongside the drive toward war) are capital's inescapable response to sagging profit rates. …

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