“Secret diplomacy shall not be tolerated for a single moment during the negotiations. Our flyers and our radio service will keep all the nations informed of every proposition we make, and of the answers they elicit from Germany. We shall be sitting in a glass house, as it were, and the German soldiers, through thousands of newspapers in German, which we shall distribute to them, will be informed of every step we take and of every German answer.” (Leon Trotsky – November 1917)
“However, there should be no intention to publish any US documents or common negotiating documents without the explicit agreement of the US. The EU market opening offers on tariffs, services, investment and procurement should not, in principle, be made public either, as they are the essence of the confidential part of the negotiations.” (Communication to European Commission concerning transparency in TTIP negotiations, 25 November 2014)
In 1917 the Bolsheviks shook the world, as John Reed would say. The new “people’s commissar of foreign affairs” Leon Trotsky, in turn shook the foreign ministries of the world by releasing a batch of secret treaties, which showed how the leading powers had agreed to partition Europe after the war. Something long suspected by the Bolsheviks, but which remained secret up until that time. Trotsky pointed to how: “Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests”. Suggesting how secrecy in foreign relations was essentially a tool of the ruling elite, to be used against the interests of the majority. And adding that: “The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy”. With this statement he formulated a radically different way of doing foreign politics. Running counter to the one promoted under capitalism, where elite interests are dominant, and where democratic control, and the transparency necessary to exert such control, remain limited at best. The starting quote made by the same man repeats this alternative view on diplomacy promoted by the early Bolsheviks. Explaining how radical transparency would be imposed upon Soviet foreign policy in its peace negotiations with the Germans. They would do this by exposing to the Soviet and German working-classes what Bolshevik intentions were, and in turn what were those of their counterparts. Opening the window for democratic control by the people over their representatives. Of course this initial radicalness eventually fell victim to the creeping authoritarianism of the beleaguered Soviet-Union. A sad nadir being reached when in 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed, which included a secret provision to divide Eastern-Europe into spheres of influence between Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders becoming what they had denounced only a few decades before. The working-class apparently not needing to “be informed of every step we take and of every German answer” anymore.
Nevertheless the early radical vision of democratic control and transparency formulated by the Bolsheviks strikes a chord. Certainly in the context of the second starting quote, made by the European Commissioner for Trade’s office, regarding the TTIP negotiations (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Saying how even though, according to them, the negotiations have been the most transparent trade deal negotiations in recent memory. Critical documents, particularly those related to the position of the United States, would not be released. Signalling a further commitment by the European Commission to secrecy in negotiations of a trade deal that have come under increased pressure from civil society and particularly the left. However, outrage on TTIP has largely been focused on the presumed contents of the treaty, particularly the infamous ISDS mechanism, and only in lesser degree on the lack of transparency during negotiations. Now this does not mean that the contents of the treaty should not be critiqued, far from it, the actual content of it could be devastating for the majority of Europeans. Nevertheless this focus leaves the left open to criticism, as negotiations are still ongoing, and it will not be clear which aspects of the treaty are to be maintained. Or even whether ISDS will even be in the eventual treaty itself. This unclarity of its actual contents can make the left look like a horde of uninformed rabble-rousers not understanding what is actually being discussed. Secrecy being amply used by proponents of TTIP to constantly change the meaning of the treaty and in turn make any fundamental critique of it impossible.
Yet precisely this argument exposes the perversity of TTIP, and broader elite control over foreign policy. We simply do not know what is actually in the treaty, even member states and MEPs are only granted limited and restricted access to the treaty, and are constrained in their capacity to exert democratic control over it. Even though they are supposed to give orders to negotiators. And this while business lobbies are given ample meeting time with the European Commission on the subject. It is however time for the left to go beyond criticizing the contents of this particular treaty, and use TTIP to provide a broader critique of secrecy in promoting elite interests, formulating an alternative path to take. Particularly one of radical transparency and democratic control over foreign policy. In the same vein as the left has historically argued for the extension of democratic control into the economy.
However when we look at left positions on international politics, we can conclude that the left has largely remained content in only criticizing the international order. Not in suggesting an alternative to it. Trotsky’s earlier statements could provide the starting point for such an alternative, one consisting of democratizing the international sphere. Breaking through the traditional division of the internal sphere, with its nominal control over power by the majority, and the external sphere, where the interests of states reign supreme. Interests spearheaded by historically undemocratic foreign ministries, which remained until quite recently the domain of aristocratic bureaucrats, not unlike the army.
Promoting a programme of transparency in foreign policy would be a first step in constructing an alternative to the capitalist international system. And we should start by putting TTIP negotiators in the “glass house” referred to by Trotsky. Formulating such a programme would equally allow us to transform the anti-TTIP movement from a defensive struggle into an offensive one. Thereby not only defending the livelihoods of millions across the Trans-Atlantic divide. But also challenging elite control over foreign policy, and helping to democratize the international sphere.