EU, Globalization, Left and Labor -Interview with Greg Albo

Sendika.org: After the referendum in France that has refused the European Constitution, what do you think about the future of the European Union (EU) project?

Greg Albo: I think the result in France last week is particularly a reflection of dissent towards the lack of democracy in the EU and the direction of neo-liberalism that is embedded in EU. It is a sentiment across the EU, across the popular classes, of their alienation from the EU. All the pools of workers and the general population showed a strong sense of alienation and disenchantment with the EU. So the French referendum vote was the first time that the issue of the EU had been directly put to a population since some of the referendums around the Euro which were in Denmark and Austria which were also rejected, also in Sweden. But this was a wider assessment of the EU that has been expressed. So I think in the first instance, the French “no” vote was a “no” to the neo-liberalism that has become embedded in the structure of the EU. It had a lot of other characteristics of course in it, thus the vote what came both from the left and the right. But in the first instance what the vote took was dissent on neo-liberalism. What this exactly means for the EU?

I think it is clear that the constitutional process is blocked for quite a while, especially after the Dutch also voted this week; even a tiny and very pro-European Union country like Luxembourg is also looking like it might vote no. Of course a no vote will be almost preordained in Britain and they would just put off having any kind of vote. So the EU constitution as it has existed is finished. I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying that the grieve inauguration that has occurred in EU is done with, or they will all fall apart. I think the question now is that the problems of the implementations of the single currency in such a differentiated internal market has raised profound problems of macro stability and deepened problems of an uneven development in neo-liberalism in the EU, by taking away the certain advantages that come from a separate currency, with a country suffering less, lower levels of development or cost structure problems. So I think some of the tensions that have been emerging in EU over growth, over unemployment, over the direction of neo-liberalism, will continue. What is the projection for developing an alternative anti neo-liberal block is less certain. There is still no wide base for a political shift in that direction. There is no single state one could point to all dissent is taking an anti neo-liberal departure in the EU. The social democratic parties which control the popular vote and have the main electoral support across the EU remain integrationist, remain governing within the confines of neo-liberalism, remain or intend to carrying out neo liberal structural adjustment policies. So that project will continue, with or without additional EU-wide support. The question is then, whether another, alternative anti neo-liberal block is forming across the EU. And I think the vote was a bit of an expression about that there was a new alignment of forces on the left, in France a combination of the unions explosively being pushed by their membership to break with the support for neo-liberalism. So some of the main French confederations broke, their membership broke with their leadership, there was different kinds of cooperation among some of the radical parties in Europe, both communist and Trockist, cooperate on the campaign. And the other dimension that was unique is the large civic organizations like Attac-France, like those around Jose Bove and the agricultural workers movement also provided support of this wider organizational structure. Now that is has its parallels in new developments happening in Germany and in Italy. The new pole that has been forming around Refundazione Comunista has a base that is widening with those of the new civic organizations, also polarizing around Refundazione which is showing a kind of new development and has put a leverage through its work in anti-war movement opposing Italian intervention in Iraq, that has been widening its political foundations. And it is by now that was forced into the all of three coalitions that will likely to form a new government after Berlusconi loses the elections next year. The other thing of course has occurred in Germany, where there is now cooperation with the PDS and new left coalition that has formed in West Germany. And with Lafontaine getting kicked out and leaving the SPD, the former German Finance Minister, this brings one of the most powerful politicians in Germany on side with this new grouping, so there is a very strong potential for the developing a new radical left there. I think out of those processes if they can unfold elsewhere in Europe, we are beginning to see a structural formation of a new anti neo-liberal block.

Sendika.org: So what will happen then to the future of nation state and transnational political organs in Europe?

Greg Albo: I think the nation state system is not the same thing as capitalism. But has been central part of the power structure of capitalism. It became the way that this particular way of separation of the economic relations of exploitation and political relations became structural under capitalism which were formerly unified under feudal types of societies. So I think the nation state system is an irreducible part of capitalism. It can’t be abolished. And I think partly that question is the wrong one, about the nation state system, where people have talked about from the internationalization of production that there has been an abolition of the nation state system; this is quite clearly false. We’ve never living in a period where we have seen the dis-formation of nation states any time in history. So this is just an absurd empirical question. And it is really not an adequate scientific observation. What is in particular those theses are, is one-sided nostalgia. Nostalgia for a social democracy at the nation state level, which can no longer be re-created. On the other side I think, particularly in the writing of Hardt and Negri, to some extend John Holloway, it is wild utopian fantasies about the possible structuring of political relations at the international level and the formation of something beyond particular sovereignties under capitalism. This is quite clearly not the nature of power relations. At the same time when they were putting forth this thesis of the end of the sovereignty, the end of the nation state system, of course we were dealing with the period of the incredible assertion of the nation state system in the name of the American State. And of course we deal with it in another place in the name of the Chinese State. So just this doesn’t capture to me very well the notions of the nation state system and the power structures that are specific to capitalism and how important the nation state system is both for the structuring of the class formation; the working class formation, which we remains tied to the nation state system and the formations of particular relations between class and nation. But also seems to me not captured very well the transformations out of occurred in the nation state system has ruling class power how shifted. The nature of ruling class power has surely become more internationalized, has certainly reorganize itself internally, but it has not done this on the basis of an attack on the nation state system, it has done through the nation state system. So capitalist state have been integro to the project of internationalization, that we up to now prefer to globalization. But also it has been absolutely fundamental for the internal re-structuring of class relations inside states. It would be hard to think of the increase of exploitation that it has occurred during the past two decades of neo-liberalism and the whole neo-liberal project without the nation state system. That’s how the attack on the welfare system occurred, that’s how the
changes in wage relations have through, that’s how changes in collective bargaining had occurred, so I think this is a really fundamental empirical misreading of this time period and this empirical misreading has really miscalibrated how we have to think about the socialist strategies in this moment.

Sendika.org: What do you think of the role of AFL-CIO and ETUC in labor movements in North American and European labor movements and “labor imperialism” as they was recently discussed by Kim Spices in the last issue of Monthly Review?

Greg Albo: The structure of the North American labor movement has been deeply affected by the stratification internal to workers, the impact of migration flows. Also the conquering of the indigenous peoples in North America also occurred with racism. And the labor movements historically faced issues on how to address the diversity of the working classes. And sometimes it formed at historical junctures important cross-race, cross-ethnicity alliances but the strategy of the ruling classes to divide and conquer the working classes through also the use of racism eventually took hold in a deep racist stratification within the North American working class and in particular in US with its history of slavery. In this context, American unions formed out of this stratification, it formed out of quite complex processes of racial exclusion and quite strong orientations in different ways from the founding of the American Federation of Labor and of Samuel Gompers at the turn of the 20.th century towards the type of business unionism in collaboration with the employers. When the mass work industrial unions were being formed under the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1930’s there was a moment, there was a deep relationship with black workers and others; there was a moment of a possible different kind of unity. But that failed and the nature of then the amalgamated trade union of AFL-CIO was dominated by business unionism as it mergers in the 1940’s. In this context, after the collaborations that occurred with the government in the popular front period led to a strong orientation to rebuilding the American State with war demobilization. When the American state moved strongly towards McCarthyism during the Cold War this put pressure on that strategy of the AFL-CIO, in response to that strategy the AFL-CIO moved in the direction of Cold War unionism in collaboration with the American state in the fight against the communism. This in the first instance was less about its international policies then the attack on socialists and communists inside the American labor movement which followed the attacks that similarly occurred in the late 19th century on the emerging socialist movement in North America. This continued to push American unions in the direction of collaboration with the American state throughout 1950’s and 1960’s and became a terrible international policy of the American unions in particular in Latin America but also in its position in international confederation of trade unions towards the communist unions that formed in Western Europe as well. So its legacy was horrible. It collaborated through its international affairs department with the American imperialism in helping put down the emerging governments pro-south America continuously. It appeared that after many long campaigns there was going to be a break in the AFL-CIO’s international department in the early 1990’s when the old leadership was finally swept out by what was called as the new directions leadership under the current president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney who brought in a range of new people who met with Chavez and others. And it appeared that they were gonna take a new direction. And initially they did. To be fair. They started bringing some different account in relationship with the international affairs department, but over the long term we see in its relationship to the developments that have occurred in Venezuela and in few other places in Latin America there has not yet been a structural break of the international affairs department of the AFL-CIO. But the politics at the base in the US has mended this, is already on the of the ….. union activist across the US and they have been leading a campaign against these remnants of the Cold War in the international affairs department of the AFL-CIO. So there has been a lot of other kinds grass root support against this development. And some of the new challenges that are occurring in different places is also, challenges as occurring in the civil employees union and changes in the direction of the leadership is also shifting to the left on the international affairs issues. Even some of the most mainstream American unions are registering part of the shift for example just last month the steel workers, which were one of the backbones of the Cold War unionism in North America made an official apology to its membership for its historical attacks on communists in the union and withdrew that section of its constitution which withdrew membership from steel workers for being a communist. So different pressures are going on even if AFL-CIO international affairs department has still has some of its cold war influences. I think the issue in ETUC is a bit different. The ETUC was impacted of course by some of the cold war policies as well and a communist unions movement that existed was not part of, or on the margins of ETUC historically. The ETUC was centrally and politically has been structured as an organ of social democracy. As if one looks its policies, in negotiating with European Union its program is explicitly social democratic in its orientation, and has been quite third way and still pro-market in its analysis. But it hasn’t had the same kind of legacy on the international communist activities as the AFL-CIO. The difference now is of course is that all the unions in Europe have been largely integrated whether they are communist unions or not with ETUC but this has yet impact either the international affairs policy much but certainly the main political program as it is directed towards European Union basically remains in its place.

Sendika.org: I want to ask some questions about the new social movements in South Korea and South America, as we know they are huge movements but they do not have clear leadership fighting for the political power. What do you think about the future of the new social movements?

Greg Albo: I think the new movements that have been forming in South Korea and in Latin America have a number of differences from the new social movements as they formed in North America and Europe of the last two decades. To some extent the new social movements in North America and in Western Europe had moved away from organized political activity and to some extent have seen their work as a component of the left but not of building a new left. I think the difference in both South Korea and Latin America is that new social movements there have been emerging actually see themselves as significant part of building a new left and a new political level of organization on the left. In the case of South Korea of course this is still a moment of coming out of the dictatorship in that sense in the marketizing the South Korean society, and the large movements that have emerged whether that is the KCTU; trade union movement or the anti-war movement in South Korea, the student movement against the American military bases reflect the institutional deepening of left wing politics in South Korea that had been throated for a long time under the state of dictatorship. And I think there are also parties and movements also part of falling under the general span of the KDLP -Korean Democratic Labor Party that has formed. And I think the question there then has been the articulation between these different elements between specific social movement fights, the struggles in the KTCU against the liberalization, reforms that are occurring around the collective bargaining and the attempt to build the KDLP into a signifi
cant political force in South Korea. In Latin America of course it is very different. There obviously is a long history of the radical left in Latin America and its association with different political parties. But the context of Latin America with the end of Guevarism in the 1970’s, after end of the years overlade left a long political space in Latin America that the left has to reform. One of this of course was the direction of social democracy in the building of new social democratic parties. The direction was put particularly, intellectually by Castenada in his book “The Utopia Unarmed” which laid up the new strategy for a new social democracy in Latin America which was of course close to the previous Brazilian government and has its base also currently in the Argentinean government under Kirschner and Lagos. But what one now seeing also particularly with the spark that has been provided by Chavez in Venezuela is a new kind of radicalization of the social movements in Latin America. This is partly out of the two decades long decline that has occurred in Latin America, neo-liberalism’s spread, in general falling per capita incomes; about 17-18 percent of the new employment growth in Latin America is in the informal sector, over half the population is working in the informal sector. So out of this marginalization is developing a new radicalism. I think in terms of the new movements this radicalism is best seen in two fronts: one is the landless movements and particularly the MST in Brazil which has been an inspiration for direct action but not tying direct action to this random strategies of confrontation with theories within developing direct action strategy; for taking land and tying that to developing a political movement through the deepening of educational processes. So we see that just the germ of MST has formed a large school to educate its activists to help build that movement and it has been doing things like that to develop its cadre in new ways. So I think that is one development of this kind of new community radicalism that is forming across Latin America. The other one that is critical is that for the first time for many many many years the indigenous movements of Latin America, in the high Andean countries is mobilizing as a political force. The indigenous social form that outburst in 2004 in Ecuador in Quito reflects this kind of new consciousness of the indigenous movement of Latin America towards its claims to self-determination, its partly about territories, partly about indigenous language rights but it is also quite directly related with the struggle against neo liberalism as you can see in Cochabamba, the question of water privatization struggle in Bolivia or the fights over control over natural gas and oil, oil reserves in Peru, in Ecuador, in Colombia you see that kind of struggle as well. I think then one has to see how these new movements are being linked to a new radical left forming as well across Latin America. The spark of Chavez is to put down a challenge for the radical left to reform and develop a strategy that is different than Guevarism and to develop a new political foundation of organization as socialist politics. So you can see that in Venezuela there is new relationships that are forming between the Sandinistas, the Cubans and the Venezuelans, elements of the radical left in several other countries; for example Evo Morales’ movement; MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) and so and so. You have all the new articulation between these radical community movements that have been forming with new radical political organizations, this is still at a very preliminary moment, early stages of this, but the actual control over the state, the actual control over the means of production, over social relations in Venezuela is giving it a new momentum on top of that.

Sendika.org: Do you want to make some final comments on the political situation in Turkey?

Greg Albo: I think where Turkey find itself is partly with the developments that are occurring in Latin America and partly with those in Canada in fact. For different reasons. I think the comparison with Latin America is of course is the neo liberalism, in the IMF, structural adjustment policies have deeply impacted the Turkish working classes. When one looks at the living standards of the working class people in Turkey they fall tremendously under neo liberalism, the decline of unionized workers’ salaries has been horrible. And this is been coupled with incredible attacks on the capacity of the Turkish State to develop an alternative development trajectory. Whether one wants to buy into the whole project of national developmentalism or not the democratic capacities of the Turkish people to choose another direction has been severely vanished by neo liberalism and structural adjustment. In that sense there is a direct correlation with Latin America on that. I think the other correlation with Latin America is on the impact of American militarism and American intervention in Turkish society. As long as the American military play such a large role in Turkey it acts as an indirect spreation of the Turkish left and Turkish democracy. Because it strengthens the Turkish military. And the Turkish military is a negative force in my assessments both for the Turkish society but also some of the wider developments in this area of the world because of the role that the Turkish military then plays in the face of the other countries that the US wants to discipline in the region. So I think there are very strong parallels with Latin America but I think the parallels with Turkey and Canada to be found. In fact that we have relatively small lefts who need to think about how we gonna make ourselves bigger lefts. Some of that question is how we are going to develop socialist and Marxist ideas within the working classes, which has lot to do with developing cultural, educational resources, finding ways to link with the civic organization, bringing socialist ideas into civic organizations, working as good comrades with the people in ngos and bringing the arguments for socialism with us and to them. I think the other aspect that is similar is there is a job to be done in Turkey as in Canada to rebuild the left from the beginning.

sendika.org

3-6-2005 Istanbul

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