Nation-building in the 21st century or empire-building

160501-TorontoMayDay-02cropFinding a practical way forward for the workers’ movement to make the struggle for rights effective at this time | ROLF GERSTENBERGER*

Nation-building in the 21st century has to overcome the obstacles that developed during the 20th century. These obstacles derive primarily from the empire-building of the global monopolies and the big powers with which they are connected. Empire-building of the global monopolies during the twentieth century overwhelmed and defeated the nation-builders of the nineteenth century, the nascent period of capitalism, and the heroic nation-building attempt of the working class in the Soviet Union.

The empire-builders have established monopoly right as the dominant right worldwide overpowering public right. Through free trade under the domination of the monopolies and their global financial agencies including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the monopolies have trampled on the reality and politics of self-reliant economies serving the well-being of the people and acting as the material guarantor of their rights.

Brandishing the medieval dictum of might makes right, especially the might of the U.S. military and those of the other big powers through military alliances such as NATO, NORAD and the U.S./Japan military alliance, monopoly right imposes upon the entire world the narrow private interests of those who control great social wealth crushing public right and the governments of laws that nation-builders have attempted to create.

The world has entered a period of lawlessness where the empire-builders and their monopoly right, free trade and military might makes right are blocking the people from solving problems in the public interest, and stifling all efforts towards nation-building. Everything from the earlier period, the victories and institutions of the great anti-fascist war and dismantling of colonialism has become profane and subject to the demand to serve the narrow private interests of the empire-builders, especially their insatiable thirst to reap maximum private profit from the value the working people produce.

Rolf Gerstenberger

Rolf Gerstenberger

I worked my entire adult employed life producing steel at Stelco’s Hamilton Steel Works. The U.S. empire-builders who arrived in 2007 were contemptuous of our mill, did not regard it as a precious asset in building Canada, which should have been constantly renewed and modernized. They eventually destroyed its main productive capacity because it did not fit into their secret global plans, if they even had a plan other than to eliminate it as a competitor of their U.S. mills and strip it of its assets. The steel mill and its companion works, which at one time stretched throughout Canada including right here in Quebec, became pawns of the striving of private interests to amass fortunes, not through building anything but rather through intrigue, wrecking and state-organized pay-the-rich schemes.

Through their neo-liberal political representatives, the empire-builders have concocted instruments to subvert the government of laws and long-held arrangements such as collective agreements with the organized working class. Public revenue is being pillaged through privatizations, P3s [public-private partnerships] and other pay-the-rich schemes. The rich constantly devise methods mainly based on parasitism to “move money around” or entice the gullible to invest in reckless schemes such as bonds of amassed subprime mortgages, schemes that are all directed at claiming for the rich an ever greater portion of the value the working class produces.

151008-TorontoSteelworkersvsCCAA-03crOne institution those who control the monopolies have concocted to fleece the working class and others is a kind of kangaroo court, a Wild West show where anything goes that serves their narrow private interests. They call it the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) which has now become so infamous.

Stelco steel works is now in its second misadventure in CCAA and our comrades in Algoma Steel are in their third go-around. The CCAA is all about wrecking and pillaging. No problems are resolved. Nothing is built. Working lives are ruined. Retirees suffer. Many youth never get a chance to step into industrial production because it is dismantled and outsourced. With CCAA, the empire-builders seek to negate all previous arrangements with the working class such as their collective agreements or the laws governing their pensions. In some cases, the productive entity itself and its sales are fine but the empire-builders have gone off the cliff elsewhere in the world – which appears to be the case with Essar in Sault Ste. Marie, where the global company headquartered in one of those tax havens exposed in the Panama Papers is deeply in debt and is facing many problems outside Canada.

A common thread with CCAA is the refusal of the empire-builders to face up to the contradictions of the transitional capitalist system as they present themselves, and the reality that problems must be resolved if the economic unit and economy are to move forward. Proponents of neo-liberalism are advocating free trade as the only way to sort out the problems at Stelco and Essar. They even suggest a steel sector is not needed in Canada and steel should simply be bought from wherever within the global economy. Some so-called experts are quoted as saying that our mills should be sold off as so much scrap. Essar Algoma is located in Sault Ste. Marie, a northern Ontario city of 80,000 people where 70 per cent of the population depend on the Algoma steel works in one way or another. Those experts who call for its liquidation and other free trade disasters should be publicly denounced as criminals.

120323-WinnipegManitobaAveosRally-IAMAW714-05crThe wrecking of heavy industry is not only a great crime against active workers, retirees and their communities but also an enormous step backwards because it deprives our youth of a chance to participate in industrial production. Such is the crime of Air Canada and the Aveos scandal to attack our most important asset of the modern world, the industrial working class. Now the Trudeau Liberal government is rewriting history and changing retroactively the law from 1988 that said a privatized Air Canada would have “to maintain operational and overhaul centres in the City of Winnipeg, the Montreal Urban Community and the City of Mississauga.” Trudeau’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau has tabled a bill to legalize Air Canada’s decades-long flaunting of that law. The mealy-mouthed empire-builder Garneau excused the crime with the typical neo-liberal jargon saying, “We’re recognizing that in today’s competitive world, Air Canada – which competes not only in Canada but also internationally – should not have certain restrictions imposed upon it which make it more difficult for it to be competitive.”

Everything is excused for the greater good of the monopolies in opposition to the greater good and rights of the workers and the national economy. The Trudeau Liberals want no restrictions put on the empire-building of a privatized Air Canada so it can compete internationally to enrich its main owners and executives while industrial workers lose their jobs and three local economies are weakened.

Any principle can be trampled in the mud with this pathetic imperialist pragmatism to give monopolies free rein and “not have restrictions imposed on them.” The human factor and objective conditions of production are viewed as mere pawns to pay the rich. The working class has the opposite viewpoint: for the sake of nation-building and the public good, the monopolies must have restrictions placed on their monopoly right and operations; otherwise they are out-of-control train wrecks such as tragically witnessed in Lac-Mégantic.

No nation can call itself modern and human-centred without public health care and education as a right for all without exception but also no nation can be built and establish the material basis to guarantee the rights of all without a vigorous and large industrial working class and its objective conditions of production. To attack industry, to wreck industry and have the empire-builders ship it out of the country to who knows where is to attack the industrial working class and any chance of modern nation-building.

Vivid examples testify to the attacks on nation-building and the working class, such as the terrible tragedy unfolding in the energy sector where workers and entire communities are reeling in pain. The callous response of the Prime Minister to this pain should be roundly denounced. His words that to be fired from the energy sector in Edmonton is better than to be fired in Calgary, and the unemployed in Edmonton should not receive the same number of weeks of employment insurance can only come from someone who was brought up and lives within a protected world of class privilege. He certainly does not share weal and woe with the working people. He does not have the same conditions of life as the workers in the energy sector or Indigenous peoples on the reserves or in urban settings. A CCAA judge is also not our peer. His retirement conditions are not the same as ours. He should not be ruling on our pensions. So too the Ministers who are cutting social programs are not facing the consequences of their actions. They may have private means to look after themselves and educate their children. We do not.

The conclusion is that we can expect nothing from this ruling elite which has changed the aim of the society from serving a public good to making the monopolies number one on world markets.

160130-HamiltonDayofAction-signs-21The organized working class has to turn the situation around in favour of the people and their empowerment, in favour of public right and public interest. Through organized actions with analysis the working class can present an agenda and new direction to stop the suffering, to put an end to the vicious cycle of booms and busts and recurring crises. This is what we have done at Stelco. Our slogans to Keep Stelco Producing, Keep Hamilton Producing, Keep Canada Producing represent the expectations of the people of this country. Ours is the voice of the working class at a time organized labour is not championing these views, they are succumbing to the views of those who want one section of the monopolies to prevail over another in the inter-monopoly competition for domination over the different sectors of the economy. They still believe that negotiations are possible despite the dictate of the monopolies and their refusal to negotiate and they are not forming a block to deprive those who are depriving us of what belongs to us by right. This too is a serious problem we have to deal with.

In building anything, the people are faced with obstacles. Those obstacles are found in nature and in society, especially in the relations that bind us to a certain way of doing things. At this point the biggest obstacle we face as nation-builders is found in the entanglement of social relations the empire-builders have wrapped around the objective and subjective conditions of production. The subjective conditions are held in place primarily through ideological entanglements that cloud our minds and make us feel helpless and incapable of changing and building anything.

100906-WindsorLabourDay-CAWLocal444-05To turn the objective conditions of production into instruments that serve nation-building we need to confront the subjective conditions over which we can definitely do something. The subjective conditions are the way we think about ourselves and our predicament, how we relate to one another and to our objective conditions of production and what organizational and other measures we must take to remove the cloud and obstacles obscuring and blocking the way forward.

The working class everywhere is faced with the necessity of confronting the empire-builders with its own agenda for nation-building in the present. We know what we do not like but we are not so sure about how to make the step forward towards what we do like. The first step is to deprive the empire-builders of their hold over our thinking and organizations, to deprive them of imposing their political, economic, social and theoretical agenda on us. We have to cast off their capital-centred agenda and fashion our own human-centred agenda with our own powerful organizations.

I learned firsthand that without organization and without combating the ideological pressure the resistance cannot be sustained.

From my working life in the steel mill and fighting to protect the interests of myself and my fellow steelworkers, I learned firsthand that without organization and without combating the ideological pressure the resistance cannot be sustained. Without internal organizing and ideologizing there can be no external strength and practical politics amongst the broad masses of the people; and conversely, without using the internal organizing and ideologizing to advance and broaden the external strength and practical politics amongst the people, the internal organizing withers, becomes dogmatic and eventually collapses.

We learned this at Stelco with the help of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and its leadership. Without the internal strength of organizing and thinking things through and summing them up, without taking our own thinking and agenda out to the entire working class in the mills and city and our allies in other strata throughout the city, province and country we could not prevail. But even then we could not prevent the attacks of the empire-builders because they control the social wealth; they control the objective conditions of production; they control the official politics and instruments of state power. We soon realized we need the organization and numerical strength of the entire working class and its allies from coast to coast to coast throughout Canada and Quebec if our own organizing and practical politics are to advance within a broad nation-building project.

We have to consolidate this organizational internal strength so that we can extend it externally to the entire working class and all those yearning for empowerment and a modern agenda for nation-building.

In June 2013 Local 1005 USW celebrated 10 years of Thursday meetings where workers  develop their independent politics.

In June 2013 Local 1005 USW celebrated 10 years of Thursday meetings where workers develop their independent politics.

Hamilton steelworkers rally on Parliament Hill, May Day 2011.

Hamilton steelworkers rally on Parliament Hill, May Day 2011.

Let me speak on some practical things we have learned about the human-centred economic agenda through our 20-year struggle at Stelco to defend our rights in the face of monopoly right.

The steel sector is dominated by empire-builders. We have U.S. Steel, Essar, ArcelorMittal and a few others. They all like to complain that Chinese steel is the main problem plaguing the steel sector in North America. How could Chinese steel be the problem in your own economy if that economy has a nation-building agenda? It would never be a problem and possibly even a blessing under a trading regime of mutual benefit in supplying certain types of steel that we have yet to learn how to produce and which we could learn from them and they could learn from us.

If the public in a nation cannot exercise control over what products come in and leave, then what kind of national economy is that? Certainly not one under the control of the actual producers and broad masses of the people, serving the public good and interests and constantly being strengthened. The global monopolies control imports and exports under free trade. If the steel monopolies were serious about building a Canadian steel sector, they would be opposed to free trade but they are not and their political champion now is Trudeau. For them, free trade is the freedom to dictate their views and private interests on us and on the Chinese and everyone else. They want to whine when some imports hurt their particular sales but they do not want a public authority that can control what comes into the country and at what prices. They are hypocrites who simply want to divert the working class from taking up its own agenda to deprive the empire-builders of imposing their anti-social anti-national agenda.

151007-Toronto-Local1005CCAA-5cr2The human-centred agenda for the steel sector is quite simple in its initial stage. Steel is a strategic product for any economy. Any nation, especially one as large as Canada and Quebec must produce enough steel to meet the economy’s apparent need with an appropriate quality without disruptions.

The empire-builders say no, no, that is bad, that will not be good for the economy. They say this with a straight face even in the face of the recurring crises and serious problems of their free trade empire-building agenda where bankruptcy protection is more common than not and brandished as a threat against the working class and where without pay-the-rich schemes from the public treasury the monopolies say they cannot compete and survive.

All five regions of Canada should have a vigorous self-reliant steel sector – the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and BC.

120121-LondonDayofActionSigns-05cropWhy is it not good for the economy to produce what the economy needs and to build up the internal skill and expertise and objective conditions of production to meet those needs without ups and downs, wild swings and crises? You hardly have any steel production anymore in Quebec. Why is it shipped in from elsewhere at great expense and to the detriment of the Quebec working class? Because Quebec has been victimized by the empire-builders and has had its nation-building project hijacked and suppressed. All five regions of Canada should have a vigorous self-reliant steel sector – the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and BC.

What about prices of production? The energy, steel and raw material sectors are all suffering because global market prices have fallen. Why should prices fall below their prices of production? Why do market prices fluctuate wildly up and down away from their prices of production? Because we humans are not in control. We humans pride ourselves on controlling the forces of production to produce steel from raw material to finished product. We pride ourselves on the ability to bring oil and iron ore out of the ground and refine it for our use and put airlines into the air and spaceships into space, but when it comes to pricing commodities we stare at each other dumbfounded because the empire-builders tell us some non-human magician is in charge of prices, some non-human force called the market with its invisible hand is controlling the prices and nothing can or should be done. Can you imagine this nonsense that nothing can be done? We humans can send fellow humans into space and transform heat into mechanical motion but nothing can be done to control prices. Meanwhile our lives are turned upside down because this mysterious non-human market kicks us in the gut. This monopoly dictate is anti-human nonsense that should be rejected with contempt.

In January 2004, steel prices were low and Stelco executives said the company had a liquidity problem because of low prices and because they wanted to rid the company of steelworkers’ defined-benefit pensions. But the empire-builders in control had an even bigger agenda; they saw an opportunity to make a big score using the weapon of CCAA. So they went into CCAA bankruptcy protection, which our Local 1005 immediately denounced as a fraud. And you know what? Within the first month in CCAA, steel prices jumped higher and the company was having not one but month after month of stupendous profits, some of the best on record. But this did not stop them from continuing the CCAA fraud and manipulating the situation in an effort to eliminate our defined-benefit pensions and hit a big score. Well, they did hit a big score three years later with the sale of the company to U.S. Steel but they did not eliminate our pensions because of steelworkers’ organized resistance.

160130-HamiltonDayofAction-signs-15cropSteelworkers in Local 1005 refused to participate in the CCAA farce. We denounced it from the beginning as a fraud and produced reams of material to prove our point; we took our views out into the community and won widespread support and saved our defined-benefit pensions for the time being. But the empire-builders are persistent; they kept hammering away at us. The province gave the schemers $150 million and an extension of the payment holiday to make the pension plans whole until the end of 2015. So Stelco was fattened up so to speak for the sell-out to U.S. Steel and that monopoly with its many mills in the U.S. and Europe proved to be an even bigger enemy with more resources to attack us and attack us they did.

Ontario’s $150 million was essentially the entire equity value of the company at the time Stelco exited CCAA, when its debts and obligations were considered. Instead of the province giving the money to the schemers so they could then turn around and sell the company for a big score to U.S. Steel, the province could have bought Stelco outright and made something of it instead of the wrecking mess that U.S. Steel has thrown in our faces.

But an important point in all this is that the province buying the mills would not have been enough. Public buying of companies under the control of the empire-builders is not enough to turn the economy around in a new direction towards nation-building. More often than not at this point in history so-called nationalization, such as the U.S. and Canadian governments’ purchase of General Motors during the economic crisis in 2008-09, is to pay the rich. That was not called a nationalization but ownership of shares, as part of the general empire-building agenda to pay the rich. Today both the Quebec and the federal governments are making arrangements to fork over a lot of money to Bombardier all in the name of saving jobs. But it too is for empire-building and to pay the rich.

100626-TorontoNoG8G20-71crop2If nationalization is to amount to anything positive in the public interest, it must be part of a broad nation-building agenda where the aim of the society must be set by the workers and people themselves. As an example, in the steel sector it must include the building of public institutions with the authority to control the wholesale market and prices, with the authority to control what comes in and goes out of the country. It has to be part of a nation-building project to deprive the empire-builders of their power to pay the rich and block nation building, the power to deprive the empire builders of the power to deprive the people of their rights, interests and future. It must be a new direction for the economy.

We steelworkers know exactly what value goes into producing steel.

We steelworkers know exactly what value goes into producing steel. We know the transferred-value that we transfer and preserve in the steel from the value of inputs of material, energy, machines and buildings. We know how much work-time we put into the steel to produce and reproduce value, which is the new value we create. The new value together with the old value from the inputs is the total value. It is not a big mystery. With the knowledge of the sum of the new and old value, a modern formula exists to find the price of production of all commodities with an average rate of profit, and that should become the exchange-value in the market.

090321-HamiltonSteelworkersRally-09-crop3The internal market of a self-reliant diverse Canadian and Quebec economy should be the base from which our economy reaches out to others internationally and trades for mutual benefit. With a public institution in control, a public wholesale sector of basic commodities is not only possible but necessary for the good of the economy and to free it from recurring crises. Not just any old public institution but one where the actual producers from each sector are actively and consciously involved to defend their interests and those of the public, a public institution in which the public has confidence in exercising its control and oversight so that it remains free from corruption, monopoly right and narrow private interests.

Issues of public concern exist with all economic sectors, but of particular importance is the building of social programs and public services that guarantee the rights of the people. No excuse should be tolerated for interference from the rich and their monopolies in the building of social programs and public services, the vast public social and material infrastructure that a modern nation needs and without which the economy cannot function, cannot guarantee the rights of the people. Public enterprise, social programs and public services are a great guarantor of stability in the economy and cornerstone of the people’s well-being and source of revenue for the state.

The Trudeau empire-builders are saying they are going to invest in infrastructure. But two very different agendas surround the building of infrastructure: empire-building versus nation-building. The Trudeau Liberals are borrowing vast sums from the global financial oligarchy, over $100 billion in the initial stages. That is not nation-building. That is indebting the people to the international plutocrats who want nothing better than to park their social wealth in Canadian government bonds even when the interest rate is low. No better safe place exists at this point where the empire-builders can put their excess money. The interest service charges on this Trudeau debt over the years covered in budget 2016 will be greater even than the sum of deficits.

Nation-building cannot advance with the private financial plutocrats in control of the country’s social wealth. The financial sector now dominated by the big private banks, insurance and lending monopolies must change and be challenged by public enterprises. All the regulations that protect the private financial enterprises, provide them with public funds and allow them to control the money supply must be renewed on a modern basis if any advance is to be made in overcoming the recurring economic crises and in nation-building.

No excuse exists for public borrowing from private interests. No excuse exists to allow private banks to control the money supply to serve their narrow private interests for empire-building. Public banks should become the norm in all regions along with a strengthened Bank of Canada in which Canadians can have confidence and over which they can exercise control. No excuse exists for the continued existence of the big private financial enterprises where Canadians put their social wealth, which the state supports through pay-the-rich schemes, and a handful of autocrats control and dictate how the country’s social wealth is distributed and used.

150501-HalifaxMayDay-LMelanson-02crAnother aspect of Trudeau’s empire-building infrastructure agenda is very simply who is in control. The Trudeau Liberals and those in Quebec and elsewhere all hand over control of the building of infrastructure to the big private monopolies. They have even concocted a fanciful term called public-private partnerships or P3s. Giant construction companies such as Bechtel from the U.S., SNC Lavalin and others gorge themselves at the trough of publicly funded and guaranteed infrastructure projects including military projects such as the building of Coast Guard and Navy ships, helicopters and fighter jets. This should change; it must change for Quebec and Canada to advance. Social and material infrastructure must be public from beginning to end and throughout their productive lives; they must be public from top to bottom from building structures to supplying those hospitals and educational institutions with material supplies and the human factor.

Another crucial aspect of infrastructure empire-building that must change is how the produced value from the social and material infrastructure is realized or rather not realized at present. Instead of an exchange of equivalent value, infrastructure value is paid for mostly from individual taxation, which is a farce as infrastructure is mostly means of production not articles of consumption.

All economic units active in the economy, both public and private, must realize or pay for the value they consume that comes from the social and material infrastructure. The value that economic units consume from public health care, education and the vast network of transportation, roads, bridges, mass transit, water, sewage, waste disposal etc. must be realized as a normal aspect of doing business. Just as we steelworkers know exactly the price of production of what we produce so too do those active in the social and material infrastructure know the price of production of what they produce or at least they would know once organized to do so. How to price the value they produce and how much the economic units in the economy consume, and should therefore realize as buyers of value are all matters of economic science and entirely knowable. For as long as the economy is based on the production of commodities for exchange and not use then the value of our social and material infrastructure, our national means of production, much be exchanged and realized similar to any means of production consumed within the economy.

This issue raises the importance of renewing the taxation system and eliminating all forms of individual taxation such as income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and user fees for public services, and instituting state claims on the value it requires directly from the economy through public enterprise and other methods and not indirectly from workers and other individuals. Finding a new direction for the taxation system, on how the state claims the value it requires directly from the economy is an important issue the working class must take up as part of its nation-building agenda.

Finally on the economic front, it is important to have some discussion on wages and benefits that make up workers’ individual reproduced-value, which has been the traditional area of main concern of trade unions. Within the nation-building agenda, individual reproduced-value is important and the working class is in a constant battle to defend and improve the individual claim on the value workers produce. But individual reproduced-value is just one portion of the new value the working class produces and reproduces, and which workers and the nation need to guarantee their and their families’ well-being throughout their lives and for the economy to grow and thrive and become modern and gain the capacity to humanize the social and natural environment.

The other parts of the new value workers produce, the social reproduced-value and added-value, are essential for nation-building and should be on the radar of the working class and central within its human-centred agenda. I already mentioned the social reproduced-value, which is that part of the newly produced value that reproduces the social infrastructure, the public health care, education and other social programs necessary for any modern nation. The individual and social reproduced-value is in contradiction with the added-value because the added-value plus reproduced-value is the new value workers produce during their work-time. The added-value is the value available to expand the economy so that it can meet the growing needs of all and guarantee their rights. No nation-building project can succeed without an agenda to defend social reproduced-value and to expand control over the added-value in opposition to the claims of the empire-builders, and to enhance the social and material infrastructure and ensure it is properly realized. This should all be on our plates as nation-builders not just the defence of our individual reproduced-value.

The working class as the advanced force and actual producers must expand its control over the entire new value it produces. Only in that way can it guarantee that the social wealth it produces goes towards guaranteeing the rights of the people, their empowerment and nation-building. The working class with organization and its own thinking and agenda can deprive the empire-builders of their power to deprive the people and nation of their rights.

The first task is to challenge the ideological underpinnings of their sell-out and warmongering agenda. It is to say NO! to their schemes, as the workers and people are already doing so that they cannot say they have our consent. It is to make that voice heard countrywide.

120501-HalifaxMayDay-02crop2This great organizational task may look forbidding but it is doable. The Marxist-Leninist Party has the organization. It has very experienced cadre and must train more cadre – especially young people of working class origin as well as others it requires and step up the work to strengthen the Workers’ Centre of the Marxist-Leninist Party to smash the silence on the living and working conditions faced by workers in all sectors of the economy and, most importantly, to share their experiences in fighting the anti-social offensive. This requires funds which is an important aspect but the decisive factor is the human factor – the human beings who see the necessity of this at this time. We can sit with them and help them to carry out this work.

I urge you to take up this great organizational work. Take up this work of ideological and political mobilization so as to seize the reins of nation-building in the 21st century!

*A presentation made by Rolf Gerstenberger at the Conference on Rights April 10 in Montreal organized by the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec. Rolf is President of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada and former President of Local 1005 USW. 

Source: TML Weekly

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