At the same time, U.S. imperialism's protectionist assaults against its trade rivals have bipartisan support. Just this month, for example, the Bush administration threatened to levy a 200 percent import tax on white wine and other European Community products in order to force the EC, especially the capitalists in France, to back off subsidies on soybeans and other agricultural products. These are aggressive, unilateral acts by Washington. They will be repeated in one form or another over and over again. The U.S. rulers' European rivals may well back off this time, but crises like this will recur in the deflationary, depression conditions the capitalist world has entered. The stability and the patterns of world trade will be threatened. No one is in control of the pressures that erupt in these conflicts. Unilateral acts are taken in reaction to the perceived national interests of powerful capitalist classes that come into conflict with the national interests of competing capitalist classes. No one plans these clashes, and no one can ultimately prevent them.
No one plotted six months ago, for example, that a dispute over soybean oil would pose a threat to patterns of world trade that have been built up by the capitalist powers through negotiations since the end of World War II. But the conflict shaping up between Washington and Paris and other European imperialist powers is no joke. Carla Hills, the chief U.S. trade representative, is standing in front of TV cameras and saying, in essence, "Cheat us on soybeans and we'll zap your white wine!"
Why is all this happening? The big-business media offers an explanation. From reading the papers and watching TV, you would think the dispute is about farmers. The problem is that farmers are being voraciously greedy especially dirt farmers in France, who are portrayed as having more power than any social force on earth. They have supposedly pushed the entire French government to the wall. They have the European Community on the run. Working farmers in France, some of whom can barely eke out a living, are threatening to bring world trade to its knees!
But this is all demagogic camouflage. The dispute over soybeans and white wine is a direct conflict between some of the most powerful interests of rival national capitals not a clash between debt-burdened independent commodity producers on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. France is today the number-two exporter of farm products in the world, following the United States. The profits are raked in by giant French commercial trusts that monopolize trade and banking both not by working farmers. U.S. capitalists are the world's largest traders of soybeans, accounting for close to 63 of the 86 million tons produced worldwide. So, there are big stakes for some of the largest monopolies in both countries.2
Moreover, the threatened tax on imported wine is less an assault on the French ruling class than it is a broadside by both Washington and London against the German ruling class, Paris's partner in the conflict. We should not forget what Bonn did a month or so ago. In September, the world's financiers, including those in Germany, decided to treat the pound sterling like a two-bit overvalued currency and crammed it down the Tory government's throat. That was after finance capital had squeezed the pound for years, helping to precipitate the deepest and most prolonged recession in Britain since the Great Depression of the 1930s, one it is just now beginning to come out of. The German government and banks, however, teamed up with the French rulers to prevent the same thing from happening to the French franc. So, when Wall Street and Washington take aim at Paris over trade and financial policy, they often have locked Bonn in the cross hair as well.
These conflicts between rival national capitalist classes and governments are blowing apart the myth of a "united Europe" at an accelerating pace. Since the end of the so-called Cold War, bourgeois politicians and commentators have had trouble coming up with phrases to describe the world balance of power. They talked about a New World Order for awhile, but that did not seem to fit so well in light of the outcome of the Gulf War, the permanent crises in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, and the onset of depression conditions. So some of them began talking about "the tripolar world" the United States, Europe, and Japan were the three poles. But that description of power relationships in today's world has already bumped up against a big problem there is no Europe pole.
How long ago was it that many ruling-class figures in Europe (especially in Bonn, and to a lesser degree Paris) were insisting that the European imperialist powers whatever their problems and frictions were on the road toward political unity? Members of the European Community would pool their funds so the story went and give some money to Ireland, to Portugal, to Greece, and even a little bit to Spain, so these countries could catch up and narrow the economic and social gap with the rest of capitalist Europe. They would adopt common social welfare rules, labor standards, and pollution controls. Eventually they would converge toward a common foreign and military policy. They would smooth out differences in productivity and eventually all agree to use the same tokens as a common currency. And then, this new and united Europe with class differences slowly but surely disappearing for all practical purposes would emerge big, powerful, and competitive with the United States and Japan.
The opposite has actually happened over the last decade, however. Despite all the talk about unity, the evolution of world capitalism has increased uneven development across Europe and made its character more explosive. And not just between the weakest capitalist powers in southern Europe and the rest. The gap has also widened, for example, between rates of capital accumulation and economic development in Britain and other, more powerful capitalist countries in Europe.3
1 After wresting further concessions from Ottawa and Mexico City, Clinton did put NAFTA on the "fast track" for ratification by Congress, which did so in a bipartisan vote in November 1993; the trade agreement took effect in January 1994. Opposition to NAFTA also cut across bourgeois party lines, involving forces on the far right of the Republican party such as Buchanan; much of the so-called labor-liberal-civil rights coalition in the Democratic Party; and Perot and his supporters.
2 The U.S. government withdrew its threatened import tax later in November 1992, when Washington wrested a concession from the European Community over protests by Paris on cuts in EC agricultural subsidies. In mid-1995 Washington threatened to impose a 100 percent import tax on thirteen models of Japanese-made automobiles until Tokyo agreed to "voluntary" quotas increasing the purchase of U.S.-made auto parts.
3 According to a study reported in the May 14, 1996, issue of the London Financial Times, total manufacturing output in the United Kingdom between 1973 and 1992 grew by only 1.3 percent, compared to 16.5 percent in France, 32.1 percent in West Germany, and 68.6 percent in Italy. Over the same period, industrial output expanded by 68.9 percent in Japan and 55.2 percent in the United States, according to the same study.
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