Miami FTAA Protest: Cops Rampage Against Youth, Labor
What Strategy to Defeat Imperialism?
Reprinted from Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 817, 9 January 2004.
This article is based on eyewitness reports from SYC comrades.
Thousands of protesters from across the U.S., and to a lesser extent Canada and Latin America, gathered in Miami during the week of November 17 to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), as government ministers holed up in the downtown Hotel Inter-Continental were negotiating the pact’s terms.
The FTAA represents the potential extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere, excluding Cuba. From NAFTA’s inception in 1994, the International Communist League has opposed the pact as U.S. imperialism’s “free trade” rape of Mexico; it has since brought increased misery and poverty to the people of Mexico. The U.S. is pursuing the FTAA as a means to further cement its control over the smaller capitalist states in Central and South America in the face of greater economic competition from rival imperialist powers in Europe and Asia. The fight against NAFTA and the FTAA is a battle against imperialist domination of Mexico and all of the Americas.
One unofficial slogan of the anti-globalization movement is “Another world is possible.” Some steel workers in Miami even had the slogan emblazoned across the backs of their union T-shirts. How to bring about that other world? A range of political opinions was on display. The AFL-CIO officials presented the protests as an opportunity “to educate our elected officials and candidates in preparation for the 2004 elections” and collected “ballots” from “millions of workers” from the Americas opposing the FTAA. Liberals like those in the coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), in a call endorsed by the reformist International Socialist Organization and Left Turn among others, sought to inspire the delegates of poorer countries at the FTAA talks to walk out, as Brazil’s Lula did at the Cancún WTO meetings earlier last year. Many youth activists, identifying themselves as anarchists and rejecting reliance on any government officials, wanted to disrupt the FTAA meeting through direct action. None of these tactics will actually stop the FTAA.
The FTAA talks did end a day early, without a broad agreement. But this failure was not a result of the protests. As one radio reporter observed, at the Inter-Continental the demonstrations went unheeded by the delegates, confident in the protection accorded by the armed police camp in the downtown area. Instead, this failure was due to the competing national economic interests of the capitalist governments involved in the FTAA.
Ultimately there is no way to stop capitalist exploitation and bring about a just world short of working-class socialist revolution. We look to the working class as the only force in society that has the ability and class interest to defeat imperialism.
Miami Blues: Armed Police Camp
Miami was witness to a massive police mobilization, now routine at anti-globalization demos. The “security” measures were underwritten by $8.5 million from the federal government, allocated in the spending bill for the Iraq occupation. Also borrowed from the “war on terror” in Iraq: Miami police invited reporters to “embed” with them in armored vehicles and helicopters. The bourgeois media, civic leaders and Miami police engaged in an orgy of anarchist-bashing in the lead-up to the protests; several “suspected anarchists” (youth with backpacks walking down the street) were arrested. Days before the protests began, the Miami City Commission passed an ordinance banning the use and possession of common items like glass bottles and the puppets used in street theater.
On Thursday, the main day of protests, the cops totally shut down central Miami. Stores and offices were closed, the streets were empty, the elevated rail system was locked up, with cops perched at the stations. The police, many in full riot gear, unleashed a variety of weapons from batons and tasers to rubber bullets and water cannons. Youth were allowed to gather at Government Center Park at 7 a.m. but were swarmed by cops when they broke off into smaller groups engaging in direct actions.
Later that day at the end of the AFL-CIO-sponsored parade demanding “No to the FTAA!”, some anarchoid youth and a small number of steel workers advanced to the security perimeter fence separating the rally site from the Inter-Continental. The cops decided to end the rally on their own terms, attacking and dispersing the protesters. Youth and steel workers alike were injured in the onslaught. As we retreated, we talked to several youth who were assaulted, including a young man who was shot in the leg and hobbled and another who was shot in the back with a paint ball. Outside the “Wellness Center,” the temporary medical clinic set up by the protesters, a long line had formed. The cops later attacked the center.
“This should be a model for homeland defense,” Miami mayor Manny Diaz would later say. Almost 300 protesters were arrested, including 62 in a protest outside Miami-Dade County Jail the next day in solidarity with those arrested on Thursday. The Partisan Defense Committee issued a statement on November 24 demanding: “Free the arrested protesters and drop all charges now!”
The Miami events were a vivid lesson in how the capitalist state cannot be neutral but is rather the armed and violent defender of the capitalist order. The armed police camp in downtown Miami was a complete refutation of those leftists who peddle the illusion that the capitalist state, sufficiently pressured, can serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. However, this lesson was not necessarily generalized by all. Even youth crippled in the cop rampages thought that the “Convergence Center” was a safe place to assemble afterwards. While it was not raided, police had it staked out and picked off protesters as they came and went. There was this dangerous belief that if one declares a “safe space” or “autonomous zone” it thereby exists. Not so—black inner-city youth or the hundreds of immigrants locked up in federal detention centers can attest to the brutal daily reality of police repression.
Proletarian Internationalism or Pressure Politics?
Despite the naked display of capitalist “law and order” in Miami, many youth were intent on somehow disrupting the meetings. This impulse to fight the “system” through well-intentioned, but futile, acts of self-sacrifice sprang from a gut hatred of their “own” government and its attempts to ride roughshod over the rest of the globe. What often was behind this justified hatred was a misplaced feeling of responsibility for the fundamentally oppressive character of American capitalism.
But youth and the working masses do not share the blame for the crimes of the brutal U.S. ruling class, which exploits workers, makes life miserable for black people and goes to war for itself alone. It only serves the class enemy for radical youth in this country to feel guilt for these crimes, because this guilt flows from the dangerously false idea that the capitalist U.S. is or could be pressured into being a democracy “for the people” if only the anti-globalization youth were determined or creative enough to make the rulers pay attention. Under the circumstances of the anti-globalization protests, the cops will assault, brutalize and arrest youth without fail. Lacking a perspective of mobilizing the working class against the rule of capital, such confrontations with the cops amount to the streetfighting face of reformism.
Ultimately what is at work is an idealist conception of social change, which sees the transformation of society as resulting from enlightening the “misinformed” or tempering social attitudes like “greed” and racism in capitalist society. From the exploitation of the working masses to the racial oppression of black people, the evils of the capitalist world are not simply a matter of retrograde ideas; they are materially rooted in a system based on exploitation and oppression. This material reality we seek to change.
The direct action protests were meant to “raise consciousness” and inspire others to follow, thereby building a mass movement against “globalization” and bringing closer victory in the future. Who was to be inspired? For some, it was the representatives of “progressive” Third World countries at the FTAA negotiating table, e.g., the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments. A speaker from Venezuela at an anti-globalization conference on the University of Miami campus that Friday hailed Hugo Chávez for supposedly carrying forward the “Bolivarian Revolution” by refusing to sign on to an FTAA lacking human rights provisions and, above all, protections of national sovereignty. Stickers from the group Alternativa Bolivariana para América Latina (ALBA), an outfit with ties to the Venezuelan government, were popular. Mention of Lula likewise brought praise and admiration for his leading the walkout at the Cancún WTO meeting.
A Spartacus Youth Club supporter responded to the Venezuelan speaker in the discussion round, pointing out how the Chávez government is tied in a thousand ways to the imperialist system. She counterposed the blow to that system delivered by the working class in the 1917 Russian Revolution. Whether it is the social democrat Lula attacking the Brazilian pension system or the nationalist strongman Chávez deregulating the Venezuelan banks, these politicians protect and defend the capitalist order. Notwithstanding the differences in their countries, their backgrounds and their politics, both Lula and Chávez are openly servile to the IMF, enforcing economic austerity dictates to curry favor with the imperialist powers. As well, both have sought to bring powerful unions to heel and reneged on promises of agrarian reform. Lula went so far as to recently expel left-wing critics of his economic policy from his own Workers Party. As our comrades in the Grupo Espartaquista de México observed:
“The history of Latin American capitalism has been one of constant swings between populist protectionism and nationalist rhetoric on the one hand and ‘free market’ trade liberalization on the other. Alternatively, the bourgeoisie of these countries, frightened by the unrest of the masses, resorts to populism and protects its industry with tariff barriers and subsidies. Then, under the political pressure of imperialism and because of its own internal inefficacy, this model fails. The bourgeoisie, handing over the economy to the imperialists, resorts again to ‘free market’ liberalism, which in a few years fails, too, as it destroys the internal market and condemns the masses to even greater impoverishment, and then the cycle begins again. The rise of bourgeois rulers with populist rhetoric like Chávez in Venezuela and the social democrat Lula in Brazil points to the latter. The only constants in this inhuman wheel of fortune are imperialist subjugation and the human misery of millions of peasants and workers.”
— “¡Por movilizaciones obreras contra el TLC, el ALCA y las privatizaciones!” [For Workers Mobilizations Against NAFTA, FTAA and Privatizations!], Espartaco No. 20 (Spring-Summer 2003)
More consistent left-leaning anarchist youth had little affection for the capitalist governments of the Third World. One young woman observed how Lula put himself forward as a leftist candidate of the workers but was actually doing exactly what the U.S. demanded of him. Another “hoped to cause headaches” to the U.S. by arousing the Latin American masses.
Naomi Klein expressed a clearly reformist take on this position in her article on the Miami protests: “Despite the [Bush] brothers’ best efforts, the dream of a hemisphere united into a single free-market economy died last week—killed not by demonstrators in Miami but by the populations of Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, who let their politicians know that if they sign away more power to foreign multinationals, they may as well not come home” (London Guardian, 25 November 2003). This perspective, too, is the dead end of seeking to pressure bourgeois governments, in this case those of Latin America, to stand up to the depredations of capital.
It was “the people” that the more radical youth wanted to inspire. But “the people” invariably consists of members of different classes that have their own distinct interests. Lula and the Brazilian bourgeoisie have some interests in opposition to the U.S. imperialists, but are dependent on imperialism to maintain their own class rule and are not going to challenge the system as a whole. The existence of imperialism has arrested the development of the Third World, as the imperialist countries have already divided up the vast majority of the wealth and power. The investment of imperialist capital in countries like Mexico has resulted in uneven and combined development; age-old conditions of subjugation in the countryside exist alongside modern industry and a powerful proletariat.
As our comrades in the GEM wrote: “The social, economic and cultural development of Mexico can only be achieved through a socialist revolution which puts the proletariat in power, leading the peasant and indigenous masses and all the oppressed, and establishes a planned, socialist economy. From its inception, a victorious workers state in a backward country—which also shares a border with the U.S.—would have to fight to promote proletarian revolution inside the American imperialist beast and on a world scale. A socialist revolution in Mexico would really have an electrifying effect on the workers in the U.S.”
Fighting the Imperialist Order
It is essential to understand what imperialism actually is in order to defeat it. Imperialism is a system, capitalism at its most developed stage, and is marked by the export of finance capital. What it is not is a series of belligerent government policies. The imperialist bourgeoisies, in pursuit of profits and spheres of economic influence, exploit the world’s backward countries for raw resources, cheap labor and new markets. The constant competition and conflict between nation-states over such influence is the impetus to war. War is therefore an inevitable characteristic of imperialism.
Although it is an agreement between governments, the FTAA is referenced as another case of “globalization,” supposedly a new world system in which sovereign nation-states are overtaken by transnational corporations. But these corporations do not and cannot operate without a national base. For example, many of the corporations involved in “rebuilding” Iraq today are multinational in the sense that they have capital invested in more than one country. Yet the corporations still retain their national base—it is ultimately the U.S. military and none other that enforces the property rights of these corporations.
Several groups claimed that “globalization” promotes war. Typical was the US Labor Against the War statement, which concludes: “Unfair trade policies destroy American jobs, impoverish workers around the globe, and lead to violence and military conflicts.” Likewise, in a leaflet it distributed, the UFPJ argued: “Globalization undermines the ability of governments to regulate and mitigate the damaging effects of the market, which leads to an intensification of all of the economic causes of war.” There is no fundamental separation of interests between the bourgeois state and its capitalist economy, whatever the particular policies of the government. The above views wrongly imply that the governments of capitalist states could betray the fundamental interests of their propertied class and that the imperialist system could be a peaceful one.
All the talk in recent years about “globalization” is a reflection not of any profound new economic transformation but rather of a tremendous political defeat, the collapse of the Soviet Union. As we noted in our pamphlet on “globalization”:
“A fundamental political condition for the present triumph of capitalist ‘globalization’ was the retreat of Soviet global power under Gorbachev, the disintegration of the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy and the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. It was no accident that the electoral overthrow of the [Nicaraguan] Sandinista regime in 1990, capping a contra war armed and organized by Washington, coincided with the beginning of a massive investment boom by U.S. banks and corporations in Mexico. At the same time, capitalist counterrevolution in the former Soviet sphere has opened up a new, huge sphere for exploitation, especially for German imperialism.”
— Imperialism, the “Global Economy” and Labor Reformism (September 1999)
We had several lengthy discussions with youth about the Soviet Union. One anarchist youth dismissed the USSR as a “statist” superpower; his attitude was one superpower down, one to go. To the contrary, the collapse of the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state cleared the field for the hegemonic power of the U.S. The Soviet Union when it existed was a counterweight to U.S. imperialism.
A member of the North Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists argued that the precipitous drop in the standard of living in post-Soviet Russia was due not to the restoration of capitalism but rather to the defeat of the USSR at the hands of (and its subsequent economic trampling by) the U.S. He made a comparison to the economic devastation in Germany following the First World War. He considered the class character of the society and its form of economic organization to be subordinate to the degree to which the state “interfered” with people’s daily lives.
But the Soviet Union was not a capitalist country, in which production is for profit; it was a society based on the establishment of collectivized property and a planned economy, made possible by the expropriation of the capitalist class. Despite the degeneration of the Soviet workers state under Stalinist misrule, it was a measure of the power of the planned, collectivized economy that it provided jobs, housing, education and health care for all. Today, however, Russian life in all aspects is in drastic decline.
Opposition to imperialism requires defense of those gains the international working class has already won. We Trotskyists fought tooth and nail against capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union.
Treachery of the Labor Bureaucracy
The fundamental contradiction in capitalist society is the antagonism between labor and capital. Workers create the wealth of this society with their labor and can bring the capitalists to their knees by withholding that labor power. With its vast numbers, its location in the urban centers and its hands on the means of production in the factories, where the common experience of workers lays the basis for solidarity and organization, the proletariat is the key social force to bring about the shattering of the imperialist order.
More than one youth argued that the American proletariat no longer has any social power due to the disappearance of jobs and the transformation of the American economy from manufacturing to service-oriented industries. One pro-working-class anarchist youth argued that proletarian centrality is impossible today, essentially claiming that only by defeating the FTAA and other supranational economic institutions will the working class recapture its social power in this country and save the Third World proletariat from the ravages of the “multinationals.”
The decline of the American labor movement is not fundamentally caused by the objective effects of “globalization” but by the defeatist and treacherous policies of the AFL-CIO misleaders. The transfer of production to low-wage areas in semicolonial countries has led to a sharp decline in unionized manufacturing jobs here, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. But instead of seeking to organize international class struggle against attacks on jobs and unions, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy limits union struggle to what is acceptable to the U.S. capitalist rulers.
The strength of the unions is not in their paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill but in their numbers, their militancy, their organization and discipline. What is crucial is the question of leadership. The existence of “multinationals” only underscores the historic need for an internationalist class-struggle perspective that transcends parochial, nationally limited trade unionism. We are for a class-struggle leadership in the trade unions. This is part of the fight to build a revolutionary workers party that mobilizes the working class and all the oppressed against imperialist rule.
In Miami, the labor tops worked to keep the radical youth separate from the union ranks and the working class away from radical politics. Union marshals wearing “Peacekeeper” badges forcibly kept any youth wearing black from entering the amphitheater where the union rally was held; security patted down those who were not in labor contingents and used metal detector wands on them. Youth were disgusted by this exclusion, and we found anger at the treatment of the leftist youth among the workers.
Given that the protest was to “raise consciousness” against globalization, the “unity of anti-FTAA forces” was very important for many youth, irrespective of the broader political program of any of those forces. Whether one was for or against capitalism did not so much matter; in fact, an “anti-corporate” attitude was sometimes what youth meant when they said they were against capitalism. By this they meant opposition to “large monopolistic” corporations, not capitalism per se. Others subscribed to an anti-technology attitude. Much of the resentment against the AFL-CIO bureaucrats was not so much for making anarchist youth persona non grata as for breaking this unity. But pleas for “unity” with those who alibi capitalist rule can only reduce what is fought for to the lowest common denominator, namely Democratic Party electoralism.
Many youth did make a distinction between the steel workers and the AFL-CIO apparatus. The steel workers were spoken of with admiration for standing down cops harassing youth activists and widely cheered when they first arrived on Thursday. Then, the steel workers were prevented from entering the union rally site by the cops and later marched together with the youth to the security fence, taking arrests. But the leadership of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) is politically indistinguishable from that of the other AFL-CIO unions. Following the protests, the USWA tops called for a Congressional investigation into the police assaults, breeding illusions in supposed Congressional “impartiality” when the police repression had been paid for with money approved by Congress!
Central to the political outlook of the USWA officials is their protectionist “Stand Up For Steel” tariffs campaign, with its rhetoric of saving “American jobs” for “American workers.” This outlook is shared by liberal Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, whose supporters mobilized widely for the demo. Protectionism is poison to the workers movement because it sets workers of one country against workers of another country, obscuring the reality that the enemy of both is the capitalist rulers at home. In his 11 November 2003 “anti-FTAA” campaign flyer laced with protectionism and patriotism, Kucinich intones: “NAFTA allows foreign owned companies to challenge our Constitution, our Congress, and our rights to enact American laws.”
Those youth who were pro-labor offered boycotts against particular companies as the best means of defending the interests of working people here and in other countries, citing campaigns against Taco Bell and Wal-Mart. Consumer boycotts were seen as the “practical” alternative to organizing the unorganized because residents of the U.S. “are not there” in the countries miserably exploited by sweatshop labor. Boycotts may occasionally serve a useful purpose in conjunction with a strike action, but behind timeless consumer boycotts is a liberal-moralist worldview positing that one corporation is more benevolent than another. This presupposes that capitalism can be made into a humane system and is counterposed to mobilizing the power of labor.
Defend Cuba, China Against Counterrevolution!
Che Guevara probably was the most highly regarded political figure among the youth, though the anarchists would distinguish between the Che before and the one after he was a part of the ruling state apparatus in Cuba. The adulation of Che generally came from a romantic identification with the guerrilla road, i.e., “armed direct action.” While opposing imperialism, Che’s program was fundamentally elitist, posing a band of intellectuals as leadership for the peasant masses—an isolated, parochial social layer whose primary aspiration is property holding. This program is an obstacle to workers taking power in their own name.
Some anarchist youth we talked to defended Cuba and the gains of its revolution (e.g., education, health care) but did not like Castro, whom they considered an authoritarian. A group of youth asked about the dollarization of Cuba out of justified concern over the threat to the Cuban Revolution. Indeed, making U.S. tender legal opened a breach in the state monopoly of foreign trade, a serious danger making the Cuban deformed workers state more susceptible to capitalist forces. This has sharply increased social divisions, particularly affecting women and black Cubans.
The Cuban Revolution has survived decades of CIA plots, a U.S. blockade and imperialist economic penetration. Miami itself is a haven for the gusanos, the counterrevolutionary Cubans who fled the 1959 Revolution. In fact, the stretch of Biscayne Boulevard where much of the anti-FTAA protests took place was renamed Jorge Mas Canosa Boulevard, after one of the more vicious historic gusano leaders.
Although the Cuban workers state was deformed from the outset by the rule of the nationalist Castro bureaucracy and the absence of the proletariat in the revolution, the smashing of capitalist class rule in 1960-61 has enabled the Cuban masses to make great strides forward in their living conditions. The restoration of capitalism would bring many horrors to the people of Cuba and would further embolden U.S. imperialism in exploiting the peoples of Latin America, more than any “free trade” agreement could ever do.
It is part of our struggle against imperialist capitalism that we stand for the unconditional military defense of Cuba, China, North Korea and Vietnam—the remaining deformed workers states—against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution. Simultaneously, we call for workers political revolution to oust the sellout Stalinist bureaucrats and fight to extend proletarian rule to the advanced capitalist countries.
World socialist revolution is the prerequisite to raising the productive forces of society to a level where material scarcity is eliminated. Opposition to trade between nations leads either to support for protectionism or to primitivist economic decentralization and isolation, programs that would exacerbate the differences between the industrial and the underdeveloped worlds. It is only through centralized planning on an international scale, based on global exchange terms favorable to underdeveloped nations, that the divide separating the impoverished of the world from the wealthy of this country can be overcome. The way forward is to build a revolutionary party that can infuse the working class with an understanding of its historic task to overturn the imperialist order and reorganize society on an egalitarian socialist basis.