“You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.” This expression has been attributed to a number of sources, including Joseph Stalin. Whether he said it or not, the Russian leader certainly believed that desirable goals sometimes required undesirable acts. The end justifies the means, and all that.
After the Russian revolution of 1917, many sympathizers in the west looked to the “Russian experiment” as a beacon for humanity. Then came the purges, the show trials of old Bolsheviks, and a succession of “five year plans” that dislocated millions of people and led to mass starvation. When Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939, upending the historical opposition of communists and fascists, “dialectical reasoning” came to the rescue. This marriage of convenience didn’t contradict Marxist principles, Moscow insisted. It was just another counterintuitive twist of historical materialism.
From Paris to Berlin to New York and beyond, the fellow travellers swallowed their doubts. Some eggs were getting smashed, but surely the glorious scent of omelettes hung over the Russian steppes. Westerners just had to be patient, and give the Slavic cooks time.
So what has any of this to do with today? Well, I’m struck how much the right-wing media pundits and policy wonks of today resemble the blinkered leftists of the early 20th century. Since the late 1980s, when Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney took the first kicks at the public sector, we’ve been told to politely wait for the splendid effects of economic deregulation and trade liberalization to kick in.
It’s been 20 years since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since then we’ve been offered an alphabet soup spelling out various strange terms, including FTAA, MAI and FIPPA. Over that period of time, I’ve seen political candidates opposed to free trade come and go, like Connie Fogal and political gadfly David Orchard.
In 1998, Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians helped to push the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) right off the menu. However, the Powers That Broil play a long game. The reheated agreements always return to the table with new acronyms and even more toxic provisions. And the critics have to warn the public all over again.
For years, free trade critics have warned us that these agreements will result in weakened legislative power, diminished sovereignty, greater corporate unaccountability and wider income gaps. Is it just coincidence that all these trends have played out, domestically and beyond?
A succession of trade agreements have opened up global markets like shattered piñatas for the plutocratic class. Their model of “free trade” involves erasing local barriers to transnational corporations, to ensure market penetration reigns supreme over community values across the world. The trade agreements, along with the predations of giant lending institutions like the IMF and World Bank, have helped create islands of wealth and privilege in an expanding sea of poverty.
Oh, but “a rising tide lifts all boats,” the comfortable Margaret Wentes, Thomas Friedmans and William Kristols keep telling us. Just give it time. The revolution is not complete.
Such people are apparatchiks: true believers who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. It’s no accident that the late journalist Christopher Hitchens began his intellectual life as a Trotskyite and ended as a cheerleader for American shock-and-awe. Ditto for Trotskyite Paul Wolfowitz, who became deputy defense secretary under George W. Bush before assuming the presidency of the World Bank. Both men simply traded one ideology of “permanent revolution” for another.
And now we’ve been served with the most toxic agreement of all, pegged for final approval by the feds on Nov 2. Critics say the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA) will green-light secret tribunals for Chinese businesses to sue our nation, and possibly compromise our judicial system, environment, and sovereignty. The deal will tie the hands of government until 2043.
So here we are, with a Conservative government that’s free market bosom buddy with the Chinese communist party (shades of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact). Strange bedfellows indeed — but just wait until they come downstairs for breakfast. Pristine wilderness and parliamentary processes are just ingredients on the front burner. Eggs, if you will. And you can’t make an omelette without breaking them, hard.
The Vancouver Courier, Nov. 2