[GegenStandpunkt Index]

The WTO Conference in Seattle — “failed”
The Nations’ Struggle for the Wealth of the World and its Latest Battlefields

[translated from GegenStandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 3-2000, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]

Editor’s Introduction

Before it could even really get rolling, the latest World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Cancún “broke down,” and the international media’s economic and political experts are all shaking their heads and sighing: the “collapse” of these latest trade talks is doubly tragic, firstly because its goals were so modest — the talks were to be no more than a “mid-course stock-taking” of the ‘Doha round.’ Secondly, this ‘development round’ of trade talks was, apparently, supposed to be “pro-poor,” specifically intended to help the poorer countries, long considered by so many to be the victims of the WTO. And according to the pundits, pretty much everyone was to blame for its failure. The “unforgivable unwillingness” of the industrial nations in the matter of agricultural subsidies, as well as the “posturing” and “grandstanding” of the poorer countries, whose representatives seem to have forgotten that trade talks require compromise, all contributed to the debacle. And for all their moral superiority, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) couldn’t escape criticism for having deluged poorer countries with “muddleheaded” advice, and are ultimately the ones to blame for having “deluded” these same poorer countries into thinking they could stand up to the United States and Europe. Or is the structure of the WTO the whole problem? Many wonder whether the WTO’s requirement of consensus makes it “virtually impossible” for any decisions to be made. And of course, there is even the token conspiracy theory going around that the United States pressured the Mexican government into ending debate, having wanted it to fail all along.

And through it all, the experts and the public are having an eerie feeling of déjà vu. Only four years ago, the Seattle trade talks ended in a similar flop, and that means two collapses in four years; not exactly an encouraging ratio. In any case, it doesn’t look good: the ‘Doha round’ is in tatters, and the proponents of multilateral free trade fear that the WTO is “out” and that the United States will now only look to regional “coalitions of the willing” in the pursuit of its trade interests. And yet, public opinion-makers do not draw the conclusion from all this that world trade is in fact concerned with something quite other than international cooperation and international division of labor in the production and distribution of useful products. These pundits refuse to see that states are much more concerned with the money they could and should be making on the production and international sale of these products. Meanwhile, their assurances that world trade is actually in everybody’s best interest are continually refuted inside the conference rooms and outside on the barricaded streets. In the light of this, the following article — written in the fall of 2000 as a postscript concerning the last big WTO failure — is all the more worthy of reading, as it doesn’t bother to regret the deterioration of this treasured international achievement, nor with investigating who is really to blame for it all. Instead, it contents itself with an objective, and therefore dissenting, explanation of what actually failed and why.

1.

What goes for all the important institutions of the capitalist world goes for the World Trade Organization (WTO) too: hardly anybody wants to praise it. Those who wish to radiate global economic expertise like to rebuke it for its ‘conceptual weakness,’ its sorry willingness to compromise, its biased and wrong decisions, and the like. They worry about the excessive ‘influence of national egoism,’ and reproach it for its ‘failure.’ In all this, they are really only confirming their indestructible good faith in the WTO as an organization that actually exists to put the brakes on the ruinous competition between states, to bring about consensus in global trade and fairly distribute its blessings; in any case as a definite achievement. The expert commentary on the WTO conference in Seattle conformed to this line of thinking, a conference that was supposed to initiate a new ‘round’ of ‘liberalized’ cross-border business and yet didn’t even manage to create an agenda. Consistent with this, they reproached the — for whatever reasons — hostile demonstrators in Seattle for their ignorance of the true humanitarian mission of the organization; they feared narrow-minded national resistance to the perfectly good purpose of the conference; and they regretted the failure of the conference while expressing the hope that the flagging process of beneficent ‘deregulation’ of global business might continue as soon as possible under the aegis of the WTO as a kind of supranational regulatory authority. A quasi-legal authority over states for supervising the liberality of worldwide moneymaking just doesn’t seem at all paradoxical, or at least suspect, to global economic experts. They consider something like that in principle to be perfectly reasonable, even if its troubles — in this case the failed result of the conference — conspicuously reveal this organization to be about nothing but power struggles over trade policy — even with the drawing up of an agenda for future conferences — and show the widely welcomed “liberalization of world trade” to be nothing other than a pseudonym for the protection provided by the strongest economic powers for their national interests.

These commentaries, in their approval of a properly organized and monitored, i.e., extensively ‘liberalized,’ course of cross-border buying and selling, with the WTO as its guarantor, take a more fundamental judgment for granted as their premise. They indiscriminately side with whatever is to get regulated by WTO ‘deregulation.’ For, whoever wishes for the success of the World Trade Organization, however skeptically, supports an arrangement called world trade, which obviously makes necessary a good deal of diplomatic precautions, and requires an intricate set of regulations, along with courts of arbitration and institutionalized, political means of extortion, in order to take place at all reliably, and not degenerate into an uncontrolled, brawling free-for-all. Yet in the numerous, expert statements on the WTO, on its successes and mistakes, and on the meeting in Seattle, no further fuss is made at all about the point of all the worldwide buying and selling, about the calculations made in that regard with commodities, money and capital, set in motion and looked after with much time and effort. Without exception, all of these statements start from the assumption, and never look back, that an economy based on calculations beyond those currently in force doesn’t exist anyway, nor could it, nor should it — just because the whole world needs exactly one thing to nourish the economy: freely calculating and boundlessly bustling capital; that’s just the way it is.

This global, basic need appears to the informed economist wherever he looks:

No theoretician, let alone practitioner, of free world trade even attempts to make anybody believe that participation in this business is supposed to be some kind of picnic, possibly for all nations, not to mention their inhabitants. They don’t make the slightest secret of the hardships that arise, nor of the necessity of victims, nor of the indispensability of bitter efforts that a liberal, capitalist world economy brings. And why should they? Their affirmation of this precarious means of existence, their unreserved siding with submission under all the attendant hardships, is based on and refers to nothing other than the self-evident truth that what is affirmed happens anyway; is, in practice, in force without exception or alternative; and is therefore simply normal. Quite as if there were nobody at all who had an interest in making all the prevailing calculations, and who would deliberately stage-manage the globalized world of business and resolutely promote it. As if the world economy simply existed, and were not set up in accordance with politico-economic aims and goals that at the very least could be objectively noted. As if it were from the start not at all worth knowing which kind of calculations an institution like the WTO is really supposed to help to sweeping worldwide success…

2.

And yet, all this can be observed at the conference in Seattle.

It is there that nearly all the governments of the world, prominently represented, have come together; and not to act as mere accountants and notaries of a global world of business that goes on automatically, nor as victims of mindless, and in the end immutable objective constraints. The more important states, at any rate, appear unmistakably as organizers of world trade, and pursue a goal whose clarity doesn’t suffer at all from their ideological paraphrase — that they had nothing else in mind but the ‘liberalization’ of world trade. Under this rubric, those powers that actually have the resources to realize their claims invite all the other states, and mutually challenge each other, to make themselves available, along with all their economic resources and capabilities, their domestic business life and its growth, as means for the enrichment of others — in plain English, as means for their own national economies — and to grant all the freedoms necessary for this. That is, they are to subordinate themselves, and their economies along with their human appendages, to a corresponding regulation. The organizers also make no secret of the fact that they are thereby instituting anything but a relationship of “mutual benefit,” upon which — were this indeed the case — the parties involved might easily agree without any trouble. World business, which they have long since unfettered, and calculatingly propose to further “liberalize,” is a struggle among nations about economic benefit and disadvantage. Successful capital, whose buying and selling access no rival can match, makes work and wealth beyond the borders of its country of origin useful to itself. It thereby subjects entire national economies to its accumulation needs, pushing foreign states into a position of dependency that jeopardizes their ruling power. To achieve this, capital requires the power of a state that forces other countries to permit such activities; namely, to provide it with the necessary legal protection, and to do everything in their power to prepare their countries and people to meet its demands for commercial success. With this requirement, firms engaged in world business are in accordance with political rulers in their own countries that on their part make complementary demands: that their own economic policy and those to whom it is addressed, the capitalists as agents of national capital accumulation — and in addition of course the gainfully employed rank and file — perform so as to make the competitive access to foreign, capitalistic wealth — commodities, money, and productive conditions, even accumulating capital — irresistible. These governments already do on their own everything in their power to provide and secure for their capitalists rights of access to the sources of capitalistic wealth around the world. And observing these rights restricts, or even excludes, other interested parties; that is, competing national interests. Correspondingly, the leaders of powerful, capitalist nations go after each other and the rest of the world with the unreasonable demand that all others be at their disposal and that of their protégés. And not only are they to accept the negative effects of cross-border business on their national economic life, but also to respond by adapting all the more carefully to the needs of the most successful capital and to the demands of the political authorities responsible for looking after its success. That is what global “free trade” is then: a permanent struggle for the — as much as possible —one-sided, national appropriation of wealth produced worldwide. And this includes the political struggle over the requisite rights of access.

In no way does it speak well for this continuous, imperialist, economic war that it is carried out in modern times as a well-ordered diplomatic fight for general agreements in the form of laws that do not discriminate, that are equally binding for all nations; nor that the firmly institutionalized, main arena for this war is the WTO. Rather, this civilized progress — as opposed to former stages of capitalism, which are even officially allowed to be designated as ‘imperialism’ — only testifies that the submission of mankind to the capitalist bourgeoisie’s business interests, and to the political leaders’ corresponding demands for order, has been achieved on a worldwide scale.1 The states that have attained the position of global economic powers agree to be bound — for the time being — to a legally regulated trade diplomacy among each other and the rest of the world, because in that form they have at their disposal — for the time being — the optimal method for mutual use and one-sided exploitation. Everywhere else — the last, few exceptions proving the rule in their more or less urgent efforts to overcome their role as outsiders — the rulers bet on attracting successful capital as their national means of existence, or survival, even if in the wake of this they have long since managed to become hopelessly over-indebted — and then just more resolved than ever. These countries accept the dependency of their few economic instruments on the happenings at the stock exchanges in New York, London, Tokyo, and Frankfurt as an inalterable fact; they don’t consider any alternative to capitalist world business. They therefore also don’t know of any better means for promoting their national welfare than by attempting to gain influence over the distribution of capitalist wealth among nations by struggling for economic entitlements and concessions on the level of diplomacy. In this manner, the world of states is brought into line politico-economically. And this success is the basis for the most potent, global economic powers always referring immediately, and in proper form, to the whole world with their competition, and seeking, by means of universally valid rules, to turn it into a single, global field for business, on which no sovereign power places any obstacles in the way of universalizing their national success. Rather, the same willingness to be of service is to be found everywhere — service to the most potent capital. And which among the main powers of world trade and world money is the true politico-economic homeland of this same capital, is the object of the actual, permanent, economic war raging between them.

This battle is of course not to be decided by any formal agreements on “liberalization,” i.e., through an appropriate regulation of world trade. Nevertheless, this does not prevent the responsible powers from taking up the fight on this field with great commitment and even greater fierceness; namely, as a diplomatic fight over general rules that seem appropriate to the respective governments as instruments for their particular national advantage. At the same time, the hostile partners, who need, claim and try to groom each other as conditions for their own success, have long since gone beyond the sphere of mere cross-border commodity trade. To be sure, the calculating dialectics of “protective tariffs” and “free trade,” of opening and closing borders for certain industrial products, live merrily on in the midst of a general lowering of tariffs and a “deregulation” of “non-tariff trade barriers.” Above and beyond that, however, it has long since been a matter of intervening to regulate the domestic economic policy of other nations; and not just to selectively blackmail. For indeed, the great powers of world capitalism demand the enactment of a set of accommodating rules in the domestic laws of the rest of the nations, as part of these nations’ general politico-economic purposes and goals.

While this program admittedly may be as fundamentalistic as it is contradictory, the decisive trading partners themselves consider this demand to be entirely consistent with the achieved state of global business. After all, according to their logic, all states already have custody over capitalist affairs and are proponents of the world market. Therefore, they shouldn’t, at least not in principle, have anything against the demand that every business transaction occurring on their territory also be a source of gain at the disposal of every other nation — in plain English: at the disposal of the state doing the demanding at any given time. Particularly since all the other states likewise base their national growth on the extensive utilization of foreign sources of wealth; none of them lives exclusively from its “own” domestic capital. The revenue of each of these states likewise depends on the way in which other states politically organize the conditions under which purchase and sale, production, investment, and speculation may proceed under their authority. In light of this, it really must be regarded as completely intolerable when countries that live off worldwide business themselves insist on parochial, national calculations and orient business conditions toward their own narrow-minded, national advantage, instead of just letting capitalist calculations take their well-founded course — as the world market, being the common means of existence, demands anyway. This is how every trading nation agitates for the unlimited freedom of the world market — for itself. Each of them refers to what the internationalization of business has achieved, in order to push through its own national advantage. Each of them calls itself a promoter of the liberty of capital, all the while reproaching the other countries for sinning against the necessities of capital out of narrow-minded self-interest, necessities that allegedly arise out of the course of capital virtually as practical constraints, and that dictate to these countries the need for action in trade diplomacy. Nationalists urge each other to de-nationalize business — and none of the biased observers cares to notice that in this way, a new, higher level of national access to foreign wealth is to be opened up.

These are the sort of matters for negotiation that were supposed to be worked up into an agenda for the WTO’s great, new “round of liberalizing” world trade for the twenty-first century.

3.

The agenda may never have materialized, but the agenda items have certainly been declared. With these items, the main competitors of the world economy — the United States being once again in the leading position, though the Europeans and Japanese are right up there as well — define the business areas that they consider crucial for their economic future. These are the areas in which they seek to settle, at the expense of others and the rest of the world, the essential questions of competition whose resolution they fear they cannot — or can no longer — secure by means of classic commodity trade; consequently, these are the areas in which the proper allocation of ‘liberalization’ and ‘deregulation’ matters to them. What catches their eye is not without interest.

First and foremost, there is the broad field of services. The most disparate things are counted amongst them, yet they all have one crucial point in common: they concern sectors of the national economy external to basic industrial production that up to now are, in many cases, still subject to special governmental care. Consequently, these sectors are not at the disposal of foreign capital as a source of money to the extent that the relevant multinationals wish them to be, that American politicians and policymakers demand that they be,2 and that politicians in charge of other important sites of capital consider to be right and at the same time necessary — provided that the multinationals they look after are strong enough to succeed in the competition for these new spheres of investment. From there, it is but a small step to the problem of intellectual property, which still requires plenty of regulatory restrictions in various countries before it can be liberally employed as an article of business. The same is true for agriculture, which — according to the definitive judgment of global economy free-traders — is still being prevented from yielding profit for the world’s most efficient capitalists due to much too much national self-sufficiency. And finally, the powerful organizers of a ‘liberalized’ world market have focused their critical eye on the machinations by which — according to their view — poverty unfairly secures a position for itself in world business.

(a) Services I: Telecommunications

The free-traders in Seattle imperiously insist that everything that can be subsumed under the abstraction, “data transmission” — and that in the dim and distant past, i.e., up to about a decade ago, was still mainly run by public servants — has to be an object of capitalist business; therefore, it belongs in the hands of those who are able to make the most profit on it, worldwide, in every country on earth. Armed with this notion, and in their own way, namely at the level of international regulations, they participate in a speculation already firmly kicked off by their national stock exchanges and expanded into an economic sector with the hopeful name, “new economy.” The business world speculates on the fact that by now, the entire process of social existence is based on market relations everywhere in the world; that all of these fine relations of offers and orders, payments and advances, investments and speculations involve something like interpersonal contact; and that the processes by which this contact is established and expedited display all the characteristics of a very marketable commodity. They speculate that technical progress in this sector cannot but bring along a phenomenal multiplication of business with this commodity, promising fantastic rates of profit and accumulation that completely overshadow business with “old economy” commodities. Moreover, since it seems quite obvious to every confirmed market enthusiast that the techniques of carrying on a business are more important than the actual merchandise, and are nothing but methods for appropriating its money-shaped fruits, this speculation has rapidly brought forth a tremendous boom for its promoters. The boldest hopes for the future have been turned into real share prices, in other words, into present financial power.

The governments of the most important global trading nations have affirmed this boom without caring to distinguish between delusion and intention, chance and success, virtual and actual yields, proceeding as narrow-mindedly as the excited business world itself. According to their latest free trade standpoint, there are entirely new leading positions in this branch of business that can and must be acquired through the competitive efforts of the companies involved, as well as for those countries that offer a solid, domestic launching pad for these firms; leading positions that in general, and now once again, decide on the access of competing global trading nations to globally wired businesses and their profits. Therefore, they politely demand that, once and for all, all the sovereign nations of this world commercialize their sovereignty over the telephone and cable networks and the electromagnetic spectrum in their jurisdiction, and that they entrust their utilization to the care of those who have enough money to be able to make even a lot more money out of it.

Speaking of money:

(b) Services II: Banking

If any branch of capitalism is active all over the world, it is undoubtedly the credit business. It not only finances cross-border commodity trade, it also carries out, directs, and credits capital import and export worldwide, and trades around the globe in securities of all sorts as well as in the national currencies in which these securities are denominated. But this is not nearly enough for the political promoters of a free world trade. They take exception to the fact that in no other really arch-capitalist business sector do they find so much of the toughest nationalism as in the production of monetary claims and liabilities.

In fact, banks invariably have, by the very nature of their job, particularly much to do with their national state. It is the credit money of the state which forms the basis for the banks’ credit power; it is its promises of payment that they use as financial means and put into circulation as means of payment. The credit their state enables and authorizes them to create is the real source of all capitalist business activity, i.e., of any moneymaking in the respective country; the successes and failures of all business activities financed by their credit, i.e., of every business in the country, are summed up in the results of the financial sector. Conversely, these results decide on how useful the credit created and guaranteed by the state is as the starting point and motor of real capital accumulation, and consequently what the sovereignly-created means of credit, the national currency, is worth, in comparison to other world monies and in general. The material that makes up financial business is thus a national matter. The banks are themselves agencies for carrying out the service the state performs for its capitalist economy by creating credit money and supplying the capitalist economy with it. And that is why they are enlisted by the political sector for special national tasks: for financing the national budget in general; and in particular, for advancing credit to capitalistically dubious but nationally desired businesses, for example in otherwise possibly financially underserved sectors and regions.

Admittedly, the sovereignly-created and financially-employed national credit monies and debts have themselves long since become objects of cross-border speculative transactions: the few countries with successful currencies that have gained acceptance and proven their worth as world money have decided on this amongst each other and arranged things accordingly; and their banks make plenty of money on it. But as mentioned above, the political organizers of worldwide credit transactions have in the meantime made further plans. The insistence that national credit markets be “opened up” aims at handing over the entire business of financing — on which the making and accumulating of money in all the other nations is based and which the responsible national state guarantees with its creatively applied monetary sovereignty, in other words, the national substance and objective of foreign economies — to international speculation, to their preferred means of credit and to their financing decisions. What is supposed to take place are all those and only those credit transactions — not only between nations, but within them as well, and in principle all the way down to the last saving bank — that, to the world’s most powerful financial institutions, are worth the employment of genuine, national world money, i.e., money that is already the standard and criterion of validity for the credit monies of the various nations, and with which these institutions make just such a money. Of course, this means that nations with the inferior sort of money can immediately pack in their monetary sovereignty and the nationally autonomous finance economy based on it; while the money of the decisive economic powers, speculatively employed by the financial multinationals of the “First World” who are committed to this money, immediately turns into the measure of all business, and any business activity anywhere is put at the service of accumulating wealth for the most competitive banks, and attesting to the credit of the great, world money nations.

And that is exactly what the resolution submitted by the “liberalization” experts in Seattle intends: national currencies without real global validity are to forfeit their function as financial instruments of the global credit business, indeed even within the nations concerned, and the same applies to the responsible states in their capacity as autonomous creators of money and guarantors of financing.3 In their place, the agencies most skilled in the use of real world money are to take on national economic ‘responsibility’ — and the powers, in whose money the capitalistically-produced wealth of this world already finds its more or less exclusive manifestation anyway, are thereby to take global control over the power to create money. A dream of freedom and ‘deregulation’ would come true: just genuine money, i.e., the hard currencies, regulating the financing of capitalist business worldwide; just the really rich and powerful making a profit on it. They alone would have access to the world’s wealth; nobody but them would have the authority to keep national economies alive or let them die; their profit would be the yardstick for deciding whether less well-to-do nations had credit at their disposal for building up an economy and keeping it running. This would clarify and guarantee once and for all that only the custodians of these hard currencies were entitled to create credit politically, and to use it for national planning and taking care of business. Admittedly, there are at least three of them. And they want the same thing so much, namely, to monopolize free disposal over the world’s money, that they mutually blocked each other in Seattle for the time being. But as already mentioned, this demand has been submitted for the next agenda.

(c) Services III: The Insurance Business

Insurance is per se a highly speculative business. Respectable gamblers bet that the insured risk doesn’t occur, or comes off on the cheap side, and for that they rake in absolutely risk-free premiums. Because this branch of business is a wide-open invitation for shady or fraudulent financing tricks, the bourgeois state surrounds it with regulations in those areas impacting the reliability of the everyday course of business, the safeguarding of public solvency even in case of disaster, and the subsistence of ordinary people in the foreseeable phases of their being without an income. These regulations, by nature of national scope and design, place legal conditions on the freedom of speculation and even limit the maximum achievable profit rates. Although this is certainly not adverse to the system per se, it disturbs the Seattle-bound experts of an up-to-date free trade enormously. In these national safeguards traditionally tailored to specific national conditions, they see just one big, protectionist defensive strategy against the speculative undertakings of the really large and financially powerful insurance companies based in their own nations, companies strong enough to take on riskier speculations. This strikes them as a flouting of their own nations’ right to enrich themselves, by means of their mature insurance culture, on the interesting and varied risks formed by business dealings and the working life absolutely everywhere in the big, wide capitalist world. Therefore, they make known their pressing interest in moving their partners to more ‘liberality’ for the next WTO ‘round,’ to be precise, in committing them to enact new systems of rules for their respective national insurance industries that permit their occupation and exploitation by the competitively strongest companies on the globe as a source of income.

However, the elimination of discriminatory regulations is not enough. The largest sums can be earned in those insurance sectors that in quite a number of nations have yet to be commercially developed, being instead looked after by public funds that are not in the least bit profit-oriented. So for example, even in a capitalist Europe, American investors run up against such anti-capitalist and anti-American conditions as public pension funds, which ‘hand over’ vast sums of national wage income to the elderly as pensions, without a single private insurance firm being able to enrich itself thereby. In the meantime, even the responsible social policymakers of the Old World are showing some sense by introducing initial reforms that reorganize the old-age poverty occurring on a massive scale in the direction of becoming a profitably insurable risk. Nevertheless, there still remains a long way to go before all the hardships of a working life in capitalism are placed in the hands of the unrestricted competition of the financially strongest firms for customers able to pay for policies of every stripe. At any rate, since Seattle, it is clear that this path is to be followed: without this item on the agenda, there is no agenda for the WTO’s deferred ‘millennium’ round anyway.

(d) Services IV: Health, culture and the business with intellectual property

Experts know capitalist business to be their nation’s unbeatable source of wealth, and for that reason take, out of deep patriotic conviction, everything that escapes the appropriate exploitation for a violation of human rights. So when they scrutinize the economic life of other nations from top to bottom for withheld business opportunities, they inevitably come across further essential services — or quite a few not-yet-privatized remnants of them — that the bourgeois state considered too important for the consolidation of its national capitalism to entrust their operation to the narrowly-focused money-making undertakings of competing capitalists. They become aware of welfare measures of public authorities, which make privately unaffordable yet indispensable social services available to ordinary people. They discover public goods, which for higher political reasons are dispensed to the members of the community without proper payment, thus having not in the least the character of commodities. In all these items, they declare — just as in Seattle — a need for economic reform.4 After all, a state spends money there too, providing goods and services of this kind. And where money is involved, a source of money undeniably bubbles up on which competent capitalists could enrich themselves, and which therefore also has to be handed over to their exclusive disposal. Wherever a society cares for its sick, looks after its invalids, provides its members with education, pursues research, maintains a cultural life, fundamentally profitable markets wait for competitive capitalist health and entertainment industries, educational firms, research laboratories, and so on. Incidentally, all these industries have already been in existence for quite a while, and for their part are only waiting to bestow their unbeatable services upon all of mankind.5

Here as well, it is certainly not enough just to repeal some discriminating regulations. Like statutory social insurance, all other public welfare institutions and measures must, in most instances, first of all be made ready as markets; the funds allocated are to be made available to access by private business. In many places, the elementary, legal prerequisites for handling the more sophisticated kind of goods as merchandise, and for making money on them, are still lacking. WTO members have in principle acknowledged, in an agreement on ‘Trade Related Property Systems’ (TRIPS), that intellectual products — from scientific discoveries and their technological application, learning programs and reading material to pop melodies and brand names — are, despite their general nature which permits complete appropriation by comprehension, nevertheless in reality property, objects of an excluding right of disposal that have to be appropriated by payment of money.6 In fact though, the authorities of numerous countries have yet to legally prescribe, and above all, to thoroughly monitor their own and their people’s respect for this beneficial law of nature. This will cost them more than a little, and the entire expenditure merely ensures that the use of protected goods of this type in their own country becomes costly and beyond many people’s means. After all, these are the costs of freedom; ‘deregulation’ requires a good dose of regulation now and then; ‘liberalization’ cannot be had for nothing; and money is, from a global economic perspective, better invested in building up a sweeping patent protection system than in providing a people with illegally-copied computer programs or prescription pills they are unable to pay for. In some countries, nothing will remain of what has been achieved in the way of public services — while in the other countries, nothing at all will be achieved — other than what business-minded firms can profitably peddle. For the advocates of a truly free world trade, this is not the price of economic progress: this is the progress

(e) Agriculture

Ultimately, the demand for the worldwide liberalization of trade in agricultural products, too, is about the global commercialization of intellectual property. The United States government — once again in the driver’s seat — defines the rest of the world’s need for cereal products and agricultural crops as a field of business in which American capital, thanks to a revolutionary new technology it has at its disposal, would be unbeatable, if only it were allowed a fair chance of success everywhere.7 On the one hand, in order to achieve this, all reservations concerning the achievements of American genetic engineering must be dropped, reservations made under the pretext of consumer protection, which Washington has long since seen through, and with which certain states — the EU and Japan being here the chief targets — sponsor and seek to technologically modernize their own farming community, still comparatively backward in the area of genetic engineering.8 On the other hand, countries that up to now have had other concerns about their agriculture and public nutrition must finally and unreservedly uphold modern patent law, establish legal certainty for the American inventive genius realized in progressive agricultural goods, and get their peasants to understand that henceforth, respectable seeds come from U.S. laboratories, and with a small fee in recognition of their high-tech genetics. Incidentally, this fee is payable even when research scientists sponsored by these labs have deciphered genes on which the traditionally exploited, useful qualities of an exotic flora and fauna are based. Such achievements are henceforth simply too precious to serve small farmers as means of business, or to be allowed to be misused as a basis of survival by subsistence farmers unable to pay: even here, ‘liberalization’ requires effective legal supervision all the way down to the last seed stocks.9 Since only in this way can it be guaranteed that, in the case of agriculture as well, the most powerful capital monopolizes agribusiness, namely by emancipating the means of agricultural production from any vestige of naturalness, and by turning them into means of production produced by capital; in other words by monopolizing the right of disposal over them. In this way it is guaranteed that no agricultural producer simply gets hold of such means of production, that soon nothing in the world grows anymore, and that, above all, the soon-to-be ten billion earthly inhabitants have nothing to eat, unless the high-tech firms in the genetic engineering sector and their affiliated farmers make money on it. At any rate, the next WTO ‘round’ has to take care of that; then the illegal circumstance of subsistence without money, and consequently completely without any economic sense and purpose, comes at last to an end.

As can be seen, the misery in this world didn’t go unnoticed in Seattle. It was even doubly appreciated: as a potential source of money for the right persons — and as an actual source of money for the wrong ones. This brings us to the next item:

(f) Philanthropy I: ‘Social Standards’

The advocates of global free trade critically examine everything they discover in the existing constitution of the world of states that strikes them as an obstacle to the success of the most efficient, and, because of that, as an inadmissible defensive strategy against the progress of mankind in world trade — but not only that. In the same sensitive manner, they pursue their omnipresent suspicion that other states might gain unjustified competitive advantages through unfair offensive strategies. After all, the concession to the others to try out on their part everything they are capable of, or even merely that which occurs to critical observers from the leading metropolises as a special, or especially cunning means of competition, does not at all fit, in the world of ‘liberalized’ free trade, with obligating the rest of the world to swallow every course of action one takes. So, armed with this suspicion, experts of the only true free trade uncover not only such nasty machinations as export subsidies of every conceivable variety in their own countries. They also really strike it rich in a big way in states that are short on economic resources of any kind, and are at any rate incapable of building up their national industry so as to be able to keep up in globally crucial economic sectors, and whose economically all-too unproductive population is consequently materially ruined. It’s really only at first glance that this impoverishment is due to global capitalism. A critically biased second look reveals the true nature of the mass poverty that ‘integration into the world market’ brings to the inhabitants of “emerging” and “developing countries” — it has to do with a, no: the means of competition of these states; actually, in the most awful way with an unfair means, precisely because the wealthy global economic powers find themselves exposed here to a competition for the most wretched living standards of the working population, a competition they, with all the will in the world, just can’t keep pace with, for reasons of essential labor productivity.

Indeed, the domestic poverty of these states is attributed to social dumping, a distortion of competition on the part of those countries that, despite their industrial backwardness, have achieved one or another success in exports. Politicians and experts consider this absurdity to be entirely plausible, because they themselves actually and deliberately employ wage-cuts as a means for attracting capitalist business to their own countries, and not without effect. In the process, they disregard with the clearest of consciences that the slashing of mass living standards is an accepted means of competition in their own countries only because the productivity of labor, which capital organizes according to its dictate that all jobs be profitable, goes accordingly. They take it altogether for granted that poverty is one of the essential capitalist business conditions, and impoverishment one of the indispensable instruments of economic competition. And this is what they say in their commendably clear statements when complaining about unjustly low wages elsewhere, in the “Third World.”

Incidentally, their accusation makes clear as well how pitilessly the great economic powers’ interest in monopolizing the whole world as a source of their wealth aims at exclusiveness, at excluding and ousting all competitors who somewhere or other get in the way of the great powers’ monopolization of markets. Their incrimination of even the most wretched misery elsewhere as an underhanded competitive advantage really displays a certain totalitarianism of the will working to get access to everything, everywhere. The representatives of the wealthy metropolises then carry their fitting cynicism even further with their philanthropic comments to the effect that it is not least the extreme exploitation of the poor Third World workforce that they can’t possibly tolerate. As if their world market weren’t the reason that this exploitation results in such wretched consequences elsewhere! As if they of all people would reward exotic wage earners with better pay by paying more for the commodities they produce! As if it weren’t they who were the most proficient protagonists of the alternative, according to which wage earners in uncompetitive sites of capital deserve either rather especially low wages or even, for lack of profitable ‘employment,’ no wages at all! Be that as it may: in Seattle, the representatives of the well-situated economic powers declared their support for the lovely goal of ensuring fairness in world business, and simultaneously for the struggle against pauperism elsewhere by prohibiting it via the WTO. At least this way the vast number of paupers would finally get drastically reduced…

(f) Philanthropy II: ‘Environmental Standards’

One final topic cannot be left out when representatives of all governments converge in the United States, the most important manager of the world economy, in order to inform each other about where the last obstacles to a truly successful, worldwide business life lie — obstacles, that is, to the more and more complete success of the capitalistically most successful nations — and which of these obstacles are to be removed next and in what manner. Consideration for the “environment,” which is bad for business, and which these same governments formally imposed on each other and also on themselves in view of the progressing poisoning and devastation of the natural basis of humanity; this consideration comes up — as a competitive disadvantage. A responsible government can only ask such a thing of its national economy if its competitors let themselves be compelled and obligated to at least equally hefty restrictions on the more and more progressive yet consistently ruinous business practices in their respective area of jurisdiction. Therefore, in Seattle, no need for protection regarding the elementary prerequisites of social survival was announced, but rather demands for the protection of the national average rate of profit from endangerment by “environmental protection” goals. It is obvious against whom the relevant claims are directed: against those WTO partners that firstly have much less profitable industries than the great world economic powers have that would be hindered by environmental restrictions, and that secondly make much too little profit on a national scale to be able to economically afford to take precautions against the poisoning of land and people, or take measures for their decontamination. Once again, they are guilty of an unfair competitive maneuver: the advocates for progress in civilization complain here about “environmental dumping.” Here they confess that the will to monetary enrichment, as whose functionaries they assembled in Seattle, is as incompatible with the preservation of the natural prerequisites of life as with any moneymaking that a state with backward industry and a more or less unproductively devastated territory can achieve on the world market.

4.

The WTO conference in Seattle “failed” — so they say. The agenda for the planned and universally desired ‘millennium round’ for the further ‘liberalization’ and ‘deregulation’ of world trade was not achieved; that may well be true. What did not fail is the collection of material for the forthcoming stages in the global economic war of the imperialistic powers over the sources of capitalist wealth all over the world, and over anything at all that can still be so transformed. This fight continues, even without an agenda.

Editor’s Postscript

And indeed, with the failure of the Cancún conference, there are some new developments to be seen in this battle. The first regards the daring but ultimately unsuccessful efforts of Third World countries to band together and bring home some victories from this summit. The fact that these states failed so miserably demonstrates what kind of brutal demands they — or rather the people over whom they rule — must meet and against which they tried to defend themselves in accordance with WTO regulations. However, the fact that they themselves nevertheless so resolutely insisted on a “fair” application of WTO principles, demanding above all the reduction of agricultural subsidies on the part of the United States and Europe, demonstrates once and for all that these states, too, have unambiguously subscribed to world trade and international capital as their own means of existence. And for this goal, they enlist their own people and make the corresponding brutal demands on them.

The second development regards the cold reception they got from the economic world leaders, who are for their part more interested in forcing beneficial results out of world trade. By the means of extortion they have at hand, they not only demand corrections concerning the world trade regulations, they now also question the WTO’s foundational principles in general, finding it unbearable that all sovereigns have the same formal voting rights. Instead, countries should have as much say in the proceedings as their economic might justifies. This is tantamount to an official deprivation of power of all states that lack the economic power to determine the course and outcome of the negotiations.

The third development regards the point of view the United States has taken towards the whole matter. It now considers the WTO to be an unneeded, irrelevant instrument for its worldwide economic ambitions. As the leading economic power, it seeks to monopolize access to world market proceeds by means of bilateral trade deals, thus excluding other competitors. Since the world market — which is in principle regulated by rules which apply equally to all competitors — no longer satisfies the demands of its big players, the politically organized unity itself has been put in doubt by its main beneficiaries.

Notes

1 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Lenin identified “imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism.” Back then, in the struggle among the major, capitalist nations over the colonial partitioning of the world, in the rapacious confiscation and monopolistic safeguarding of raw material deposits from each other, in the forcible “opening” of foreign areas by “gunboat diplomacy” for the business of their monopolies and trusts, in the war of major imperialist powers against each other — in all this, he spotted the final, murderous consequence of the capitalist mode of production and, at the same time, the conclusive proof for the moral corruption and inhumanity of a state power that lets itself be placed in the service of big business.

By comparison, modern imperialists have an easy time of it — practically as well as morally. They need no longer concern themselves about the forceful establishment of political relations in which the “laws” of private property are unquestionably in force, since the entire world of states finally declared the market economy to be the sole, humane social order, and capital to be the solely conceivable means of national existence. Their modern economic war revolves about the national confiscation of foreign sources of economic growth in a capitalistically developed world in which the decisive balance of power has been settled — for the present. Their world trade enjoys the attribute, “peaceful,” and the service a state renders for the nationally profitable utilization of world trade receives the highest moral praise under the banner of “site policy.” And as for comrade Lenin’s “imperialist war,” none of the necessary politico-military precautions for it have been made obsolete by the civilizing of global capitalism; they now just serve the joint guarantee of the acknowledged good cause called ‘world order’ …

2 The U.S. government defines the need for action facing it as follows:

“The United States is the largest exporter of services in the world. The U.S. export of services increased 47% between 1992 and 1998 … the United States will pursue an agenda to increase opportunities for U.S. service providers by seeking commitments for more openness in key sectors, like finance, telecommunications and construction; ensuring growth for new services like telemedicine, satellite entertainment and on-line instruction; and preventing discrimination against particular modes of delivering services, including electronic commerce.” (The Clinton Administration Agenda For The Seattle WTO, The White House, November 24, 1999)

It is remarkable how a U.S. politician proves the lack of “openness” in foreign markets: with, of all things, the fact that American capital already does so much business abroad. He focuses mercilessly on the fact that there really still are areas in which other nations, and not the U.S., make money. In view of the clearly demonstrated superiority of American capital in the competition for market shares and profits, this terrible state of affairs refers to just one thing: other governments’ nationalist machinations are hindering American access …

3 Current WTO rules, as is their nature, still grant all states the right to be in charge of their national monetary system:

“The financial services annex says governments have the right to take prudential measures, such as those for the protection of investors, depositors and insurance policy holders, and to ensure the integrity and stability of the financial system.” (WTO briefing note for the 3rd WTO Ministerial Conference, General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), October 1999)

Today, the leading economic powers find such rights of reservation to be anachronistic, and are convinced that they are merely complying in this regard with the real progress being made by the “globalization of financial markets.” For, in the wake of various financial crises, the markets have demonstrated in practice that the only useful governmental means for “ensuring the integrity and stability of the financial system” lies in a solid national money, which — experience proves it — crisis-ridden nations simply lack. The world of states so affected has learnt its lesson in this respect and has developed appropriate ways of dealing with the actual revocation of monetary authority: “Currency boards,” which bind the internal creation of money directly to the amount of in-flowing foreign currencies, are increasingly spreading in certain regions of the globe. In one case — Ecuador — the transition to a conclusive handover of national monetary sovereignty to dollar-possessing capital has been made. For those in the know, this has offered some clear and conclusive evidence: states that have no money are not being done a favor when allowed to behave as if they had some.

4 The United States wants to see the declaration of intent already existing in WTO rules, according to which “the public sector must be opened up to international trade and foreign investment when commercialization or cooperation with the private sector already exist,” translated into action: “We can achieve great progress in Seattle in negotiating the expansion of U.S. business into foreign health markets… The U.S. is of the opinion that there exist business opportunities in the entire area of health and welfare institutions, including hospitals, out-patient departments, clinics, nursing homes and nursing services.” (The American Coalition of Service Industries, The Economist, December 4, 1999)

5 The United States’ suggestion, that national, special provisions in the film and television industries be eliminated as out-dated bastions of a narrow-minded, national cultural policy, provoked a EU statement that provides an example of the kind of highly-valued goods at stake:

“In order to maintain cultural diversity, the EU intends to ensure that the union and its member states retain the ability to protect and develop ‘their authority in defining and implementing their cultural and audiovisual policy.’ The EU thereby accommodates the French fear of being deluged by U.S. films and similar goods, without, however, entirely exempting culture or the audiovisual sector from agreements on liberalizing the service sector.” (Neue Züricher Zeitung, Switzerland, October 24, 1999)

Of course, the EU doesn’t have any objections to the principle that the size of capital and market power decide on the national supply of information, art and culture — what matters is only and always whose capital and power it concerns. And the Europeans harbor the fundamental prejudice that European firms are really more likely to be in agreement with the concerns of cultural policymakers, who want to see the masses continue being bewitched in the area of radio, film and television by “their” very own cultural traditions, which constitute the “national identity.” European politicians would like to continue co-deciding on the nationally-tinted glasses through which the citizen, as Frenchman, Spaniard or German, is presented with the appropriate glossing-over of the nation’s imperialistic deeds great and small. The love of free trade — and the willingness to “share” a lucrative, national source of money — then doesn’t really go so far that one bows down, as a European, to American cultural imperialism.

6

“With the Uruguay round, the protection of intellectual property in its various forms (patents, copyrights, brand names, industrial designs, company trade secrets, statements of geographic origin) has been incorporated into trade rules. By this means, multilateral standards for the protection of intellectual property have become binding, and at the same time achievable through the help of WTO dispute-settling mechanisms, and through the threat of trade sanctions in extreme cases.” (Für Politik und Zeitgeschichte [Journal for Politics and Contemporary History] 46/99, Germany)

So it won’t do that

“shopkeepers on every corner in the center of Beijing offer pirated copies of American compact discs, Hollywood films and computer programs. They really aren’t allowed to do this: in the year 1995, China concluded a treaty with the U.S. for the protection of intellectual property and bound itself to pull the plug on this illegal market… This has not even been attempted…The police grandly ignore the trade, and it’s an open secret that they have a share in the turnover.” (Neue Züricher Zeitung, Switzerland, November 11, 1999)

Typical of a state that disregards human rights: it’s always the wrong ones that get put behind bars.

7 When it comes to agriculture, the U.S. employs the same logic as it does with services: American farmers are the best, and are therefore entitled to more business:

“American farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers have always been the most productive and innovative in the world. Today, America is the largest exporter of agricultural products in the world and those exports support 750,000 American jobs that pay higher than average wages. In Seattle, the United States will push to make sure agriculture is traded as fairly as other sectors of the global economy, which is long overdue and will mean new opportunities for American farmers.…The European Union spends 50% of its overall budget on agricultural supports that distort trade. This includes $7 billion in export subsidies to support the 2% of its population involved in agriculture, accounting for 85% of all export subsidies in the world.” (The White House, op. cit.)

Moreover:

“America leads the world in agricultural products developed with biotechnology… In Seattle, we will continue to insist that market access for agricultural biotechnology products be based on sound science,”

(and not, so goes the reproach against the EU in the dispute over imports of “hormone meat,” on mere “conjectures.”) …

In the agricultural sector as well, the right of the United States to have no other standpoint be valid other than that of “fair trade,” i.e., of superior capital productivity, therefore requires that old WTO regulations be repealed, regulations that still allow states “to pursue legitimate agricultural policy goals including non-trade concerns … such as food security, the environment, structural adjustment (which can include rural development).” (WTO briefing note for the 3rd WTO Ministerial Conference, Agriculture (1), October 1999.)

8 The fictional character, “European consumer,” is allowed to serve as justification for this negotiating position, someone who, while easily tolerating Belgian poison chickens and Spanish pesticide strawberries, nonetheless has to fear serious damage to his health from U.S. genetically modified products. In the best tradition of European division of labor, the European commissioner for agriculture sets himself up as the consumer’s guardian angel, while his German colleague from the scientific front promotes Germany’s need to make strides in gene research.

9 Concerned friends of mankind report that

“…companies from industrial countries take out patents on developments based on genetic material found in developing countries. They do not have to pay any royalties for this material because biological source material or traditional seed developing cannot be patented, yet they are able to demand higher prices from peasants in the countries of origin of this genetic material for their patented products… According to WTO rules, even the poorest developing countries must prohibit by law unlicensed reproduction or trading in seeds at the latest by 2005, a practice similar to brand protection in Europe or the U.S. … Owing to license fees, not only would seeds become more expensive and therefore beyond the means of the poorer sections of the population, but even local farmers’ centuries-old practice, necessary for survival, of producing their own seeds could come to a standstill.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, September 23, 1999).

Such indictments are not about discovering the principle of capitalist accumulation of wealth in these practices. Rather, they bemoan a misuse of agribusiness market power, which — of all things!— state power should then clamp down on.