From A World to Win News Service

Cancun: Another World Fights To Be Born

Revolutionary Worker #1215, October 12, 2003, posted at

The following is excerpted from an article from A World to Win News Service.

September 29, 2003. A World to Win News Service. The fact that for a moment, at least, the U.S. and the other imperialist countries could not get their way is wonderful and welcome. But this does not mean that, as UK anti-globalization writer George Monbiot said in the Guardian , "Poor nations, if they stick together, can begin to exercise a collective threat to the rich" and even turn the WTO into "the democratic body it was always supposed to have been." Nor was it "victory for the developing countries which have come into their own," as the Malaysian New Straits Times put it. In fact, the demand for a "level playing field" in international trade the G21 put forward is an illusion at best, as can be seen in the story of agriculture in the three core G21 countries.


Brazil was the leader. Apart from its size, one of the most important factors in Brazil's economic strength comes from the way it has combined very modern production in several industries and especially agriculture with extremely backward social relations.

Much agricultural production in Brazil, such as sugar and orange juice, is dominated by foreign capital. Brazil has some of the world's most modern sugar cane mills--enormous, gleaming complexes where long rows of equally shiny Swedish [trucks] wait outside to carry the processed sugar towards its ultimate destination abroad. But what makes the mills run are the workers from the poorest region in the country, the Northeast, who are all but prisoners in the factories. They can be paid very low wages and treated in a different way than wage workers in the advanced countries because their lives continue to be rooted in an area marked by both extreme poverty and feudalistic social relations. The employers don't have to pay wages sufficient to raise the next generation of workers, as they do in imperialist countries, because some of this cost is borne by the families left behind (and the men themselves, when they are not away) who scratch out an existence on tiny parcels of land.

These are the conditions that make it possible for Brazil to be a major sugar exporter. The development of that industry enriches above all foreign capital (the multinationals that often own the mills, those that sell the equipment and those that trade the finished product, and foreign investors in various forms), while actually helping to preserve backward social and economic relations and hold back the country's balanced development.

The same is true in the country's highly successful cattle industry. The cattle ranchers bulldoze and burn the Amazonian rain forests, ruining the land for many years to come, to produce beef for McDonalds and other foreign markets. The workers trucked in from the Northeast are held captive through debt and armed goons. In fact, the Brazilian government's own figures speak of tens of thousands of people who are not virtual but total slaves, treated as the property of the ranchers.

Today the most profitable export crop in Brazil and a major source of the country's wealth is soy, grown in southern Brazil, which is considered an economically advanced region. Just after the Cancún WTO meeting, the reform government of "Lula" Da Silva, whose Workers Party is the main sponsor of the annual World Social Forum so important to the anti-globalization movement, abruptly reversed course and overturned the ban on planting genetically modified soybeans.

For the anti-globalization movement, of course, this was a stab in the back. It is a stab in the back to the farmers of Rio Grande do Sul as well. These crops will thrust them deeper into the yoke of foreign capital. The U.S. multinational Monsanto will be able to collect large fees from the farmers every year for their "right" to use the genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" seeds, as well as sell them the Roundup insecticide these beans are bred to resist. Monsanto and Cargill, the international grain trading monopoly, will be the main beneficiaries.

The Landless Peasant Movement (MST), led by activists from Lula's own party, is leading mass protests against [the reversal of the ban on genetically modified soybeans] on the grounds that it brings no benefit to the small farmers, gives advantages to the biggest, fattens the multinationals, and is potentially dangerous to the environment.

Lula made this move on the eve of a visit to the U.S. The timing of the decree could be seen as a signal to Bush and the multinationals that they can trust him, after his representatives' performance in Cancún. It can also be seen as an indication of how dependence on exports makes a country's government little more than local managers for the multinationals.


India was another of the main leaders of the third world countries at Cancún. The Times of India claimed that its government had helped achieve "a great moral victory for the world's poor." The truth is that the Indian regime has let the U.S. determine its agricultural policy for many years. Ludhyana University in Punjab, where much of agricultural policy in South Asia is forged, is under American control.

The Indian government's program could be only slightly oversimplified like this: 1) Encourage world-market-oriented agriculture in certain more developed parts of the country. 2) In most of the countryside support feudal forces, who are a major power base for the ruling class, and murder any peasants who revolt against bondage. 3) Send the police to lathi-charge (attack with riot sticks) the hungry in the cities.

For example, the Indian state borrows imperialist capital to encourage farmers in Punjab to grow wheat and rice and build the transport and other infrastructure necessary for that. This strengthens the largest landowners and forces peasants to become their wage laborers and live a precarious existence. In other parts of the country, instead of getting aid, peasants engaged in subsistence agriculture are bled. While unsold potatoes rot in Punjabi railway stations, even people nearby in Uttar Pradesh and the poorest states like Bihar starve.


China is the third country at the core of the 21. When it was a socialist country, under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, it broke free of foreign and feudal domination and achieved a balanced development never before seen in the third world. The whole purpose of the economy changed. Agriculture was the base of the economy, to feed the people and provide raw materials for industry, while industry was also developed to raise the level of the economy as a whole.

In a coup d'état after Mao's death in 1976, those whom Mao condemned as "the capitalist roaders" within the Communist Party teamed up with the forces of the imperialist world market and snatched power. To focus only on one aspect, the breakup of the once-thriving collective forms of agriculture has had enormous consequences not only for China's people, but for the whole world.

The regime's program for agriculture could be caricatured like this: 1) Rob and ruin the peasants. 2) Drive them into working in foreign-owned sweatshops to produce export commodities. 3) Import food for the middle classes--Brazilian soy, for instance. In this way, the dismantling of Chinese socialism is felt as far away as Latin America. (Not to mention the impact of the world-historic shift of manufacturing to China. For instance, in Mexico, jobs in U.S.-owned maquiladora export goods assembly plants were supposed to replace the jobs lost when American imports ruined local agriculture. Now, in its eternal search for cheaper labor, capital is heading from Mexico to China.)

Capitalist "Free Trade" and Global Inequalities

The Cancún protesters so obviously had right on their side that some capitalist commentators did not dare openly attack them. Instead, they made it an occasion to trot out their own agenda. They argued that the way to overcome the gap between rich and poor nations is for the U.S., Europe and Japan to remove tariff barriers to imports from the third world and eliminate the subsidies paid to domestic agriculture.

But this is not the heart of the problem and cannot resolve it. The real basic conflict in the world is not between the interests of farmers in North America and Europe and poor third world farmers. To put it briefly, agricultural subsidies in rich countries most benefit agribusiness giants. Family farmers in the rich countries are squeezed by the same market forces and often the same multinationals (like Monsanto and Cargill) and financial interests that prey on third world agriculture.

In fact, to some extent the WTO focus on the issues of agricultural subsidies reflects different interests and opinions among the imperialists themselves. Agricultural exports are a central part of U.S. capital's world domination. They are particularly important as a balance to the U.S.'s massive imports of consumer goods (increasingly from China). Even more importantly, they are a battering ram that can bring whole countries to their knees in the face of American capital in general.

Agricultural subsidies are also vital to some European powers (like France), but to a lesser degree than the U.S. They are opposed by others (like the UK). Debate over subsidies naturally reflects these differences. If some opposition at Cancún--focused on the U.S. and the ruling class George Bush represents--was emboldened by these conflicts, so much the better, but a little of the light of reality needs to shine in on what really happened.

The idea that poor countries can change the world order by meetings, voting, and popular pressure doesn't stand up to experience. How many examples like Iraq do we need to recognize that we are dealing with what some anti-globalization forces call "militarized globalization"? The memory of how the U.S. overthrew Allende's reform government in Chile [in 1973] is certainly ever present in the mind of Lula. As a member of a generation of political activists who faced torture, death, prison, and exile when the CIA led Brazil's military in a violent coup in the '60s, Lula is unlikely to have forgotten what happens to elected leaders who don't follow Uncle Sam's orders.

But even more deeply, the basic problem is that for the world's people "free trade" has always been and always will be a losing game in the present framework of world relations. Rich-country trade barriers like subsidies and tariffs are a sign of the inherent inequality in the world order, but they are not the cause of it. The more third world countries gain "access" to rich country markets, the more their economies are distorted, and the more dependent on imperialism they become. When third world countries sell increasing amounts of their production to Europe and North America it may look like they are "accessing" these markets, but in reality it is foreign capital that is penetrating deeper and deeper into the third world countries, reorganizing and subordinating their economies to serve the interests of a handful of global corporations. In a word, the more these countries export, the worse off they become, not only in economic terms but socially and politically as well.

In fact, the inequality in the world order is rooted inside countries and not just a matter of their external relations. The road of independent capitalist development once travelled by the imperialist countries is now closed to the countries they have reduced to dependency. To liberate themselves, the people of these countries have to develop well-balanced, self-reliant and ultimately socialist economies.

The aim is not to achieve autarky and live in their own self-contained world, which would be impossible. The advance of revolution in one country ultimately depends on the advance of the world revolution. Because it developed a self-reliant economy, Mao's China could resist imperialist pressure and materially support the world revolution as well as advance internally. As a socialist country it could also exchange products internationally on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

Castro's Cuba, which tried the strategy of export-led development (sugar), had to drop even verbal support for revolution abroad when it came under the domination of the phony "socialist" and real imperialist Soviet Union. Now, still economically reliant on the world market, it is being forced to seek a humiliating arrangement with the lesser imperialist counties and/or the U.S. itself.

A different kind of world requires thoroughgoing revolution to change the social relations within the various countries and between them.

As explained in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, in "the colonial (or neo-colonial) countries subjugated by imperialism," the target of the revolution "is foreign imperialism and the comprador-bureaucrat bourgeoisie and feudals, which are classes closely linked to and dependent on imperialism." In the imperialist countries, the target is the monopoly capitalist ruling class that uses its control over the "homeland" as a base to seek to exploit and rule over the world. In the Maoist view, the world revolution "is composed essentially of two streams--the proletarian-socialist revolution waged by the proletariat and its allies in the imperialist citadels and the national liberation, or new democratic revolution waged by the nations and peoples subjugated to imperialism."

Even when the monopoly capitalists and their imperialist system are overthrown, there will be a real need to overcome the imbalances between nations and end the reactionary and environmentally unsustainable "division of labor" where some countries are relegated to feeding others. In the imperialist countries, small and medium farmers will be relied on as part of the revolutionary alliance against the common enemies of the peoples of the world and to transform the domestic economies through the development of agriculture as part of creating a new kind of economic system and saving the planet.

Another world is possible. As we saw yet again in Cancún, the forces fighting for it are on the rise.