Recently, I was surprised to read these lines from Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under none other than President Ronald Reagan:
None of us in the Reagan administration foresaw jobs offshoring as the consequence of the Soviet collapse. We had no idea that, by bringing down the Soviet Union, we would be bringing down America. During the Reagan years India was socialist and would not allow foreign corporations, had they been interested, to touch their labor force. China was communist and no foreign capital could enter the country.
However, once the Soviet Union was gone from the earth, the remaining socialist and communist regimes decided to go with the winners. They opened to Western corporations and sucked jobs out of the developed West.
Even more recently, the selfsame Roberts, in a November 3, 2010 piece in CounterPunch entitled, "The Impotence of Elections," reiterated and expanded on these thoughts, stating that:
Jobs offshoring, which began on a large scale with the collapse of the Soviet Union, has merged the Democrats and Republicans into one party with two names. The Soviet collapse changed attitudes in socialist India and communist China and opened those countries, with their large excess supplies of labor, to Western capital.
Given the source, these ideas cannot be ignored, and they are important, for workers, union members and progressives in the U.S.
The U.S., during the post-World War II decades, was largely united around the shared goal of fighting the Soviet Union and the specter of Communism. For its part, the U.S. labor movement, organized almost exclusively in the labor federation known as the AFL-CIO after 1955, shared this goal. Indeed, while this is not widely known, internationally the AFL-CIO for decades was an arm of the U.S. State Department and even the CIA, helping to bring down progressive (and may I add, democratic) governments in Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, to nameÂ but two, and assisting in the effort to wipe out revolutions in Central America in the 1980’s.
All of this was done in the name of fighting Communism, though many of the regimes being fought against were not in fact "Communist," in return for the U.S. government and U.S. corporations tolerating unions and guaranteeing a decent living for workers.
For a wonderful description of the AFL-CIO’s anti-communist and anti-progressive efforts abroad, read The AFL-CIO’s Secret War: Solidarity or Sabotage, by Kim Scipes.
This deal paid off to some extent until the 1970’s when the long-time trend of increased wages for U.S. workers ended and real wages began to decline steadily over the next decades. In other words, the U.S. government and capitalists largely kept their side of the Cold War bargain until the 1970’s at which time they unilaterally reneged.
However, it took labor around three decades more to realize that the deal was off, even though President Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controllers’ strike and union in 1981 should have been a big tip off.
As Fidel Castro recently lamented, on December 25, 1991 "the red flag bearing the hammer and sickle was lowered from the Kremlin." And, what result for American workers despite the best efforts of the AFL-CIO to help bring about this result? In the words of Reaganite Paul Craig Roberts, the result was misery.
Jobs Â especially heavily unionized jobs in the industrial sector Â poured out of the U.S. like water through a sieve with the result being an increase in unemployment, a huge downward pressure on wages and the collapse of the union movement itself. So much for a post-Cold War dividend for labor. Indeed, this would go under the category of "be careful what you wish for."
The other result, to which Roberts alludes above, was the total collapse of the Democratic Party as a progressive, political alternative to the Republicans.
Indeed, the very philosophy of enlightened liberalism Â a more soft-hearted and kinder form of capitalism Â itself collapsed, with neo-liberalism perhaps best represented by President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair),arising in its stead.
Boris Kagarlitsky, a progressive Russian intellectual, though not a Communist, described this phenomenon in a marvelous 1997 piece entitled, "The Unfinished Revolution," published in the Green Left Weekly. In this piece, Kagarlitsky describes how the collapse of the Soviet Union spelled doom for liberalism and social democracy:
The collapse of the Soviet system was not only a fatal blow to the communist movement. The damage suffered by social democracy was not less, and in a certain sense was even more.
Now that left-centrist governments have come to power in many countries of Europe, this is even more obvious. Leftists are coming to power not in order to implement their own program, but to continue the policies of the neo-liberals. In many ways, these neophytes of capitalism are not less but more dangerous than "normal" bourgeois politicians. Why should the defeat of communism have been accompanied by the moral collapse of social democracy, which wasted no opportunity to condemn communists?
Although rightwing social democracy in the west in the early years of the [20th] century set out to show that by constantly increasing the number of their electoral supporters, left parties would sooner or later win the support of the majority and come peacefully to office, not a single government of the left won power in Europe before the Russian Revolution of 1917. Perhaps this was no more than coincidence. But the events in Russia could not fail to have an enormous influence on both the bourgeoisie and the working class of the west.
Meanwhile the western workers’ movement rejected the revolutionary path and opted for social compromise. But compromise requires a readiness for concessions by both sides.
And, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the capitalists of the Western world, and particularly of the U.S., no longer felt the need for compromise with or concessions to trade unions, workers, or the poor.
And, thus, in the U.S., Democratic President Bill Clinton proceeded to dismantle the welfare system created under prior Democratic administrations, to enter into "free trade" agreements such as NAFTA which destroyed jobs and the environment on all sides of the border, and unleashed finance capital from all restraint by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act Â this repeal being greatly credited for the financial collapse of 2008.
Now, President Obama is continuing in this neo-liberal tradition by threatening to destroy the last vestiges of the New Deal through fatal cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
Sadly, the U.S. labor movement and, quite ironically, the Communist Party USA, have not yet realized that the compromise period with the capitalists ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. And so, they continue to wed themselves to a party which no longer has anything to offer workers or labor, much less those desirous of even greater social change.
Until this realization sinks in, workers will be led down a dead end by the collaborationist policies of both the U.S. labor movement and the CP. They will continue to be so misled until, in the words of Boris Kagarlitsky, they again are inspired by the "revolutionary impulse" expressed so well by Lenin and the early Bolsheviks.
It is that impulse which we must help to inspire in them.
Alberto C. Ruiz is a long-time labor, human rights and peace activist.
December 25, 2010