Alternative to global capitalist offensive: Asia’s response *
The background – war and disruption
The international situation remains highly charged with potential for new wars in several spheres. US imperialism is desperately pursuing its unchanged strategy for global domination despite economic crises at home and in the economies of its traditional allies, including Australia.
The US is relying on its allies to fund a substantial part of its military interventions through increased military spending, closer “interoperability” of their militaries and the hosting of more bases and facilities. Japan is being prepared to take a more active role in the world, in East Asia in particular. Proxy wars, such as those being conducted in Syria and the Ukraine are being used more widely. The US is working with Israel to re-draw the map of the Middle East to reduce existing sovereign, independently minded countries to warring fiefdoms posing little threat to Israeli and US interests.
This is a dangerous strategy with a number of predictable consequences such as the need for a more or less permanent military presence, as in Afghanistan; the proliferation of terrorist organisations; and a massive refugee crisis. The US and its NATO allies are continuing their eastward push with a coup in the Ukraine that has led to a state of simmering civil war.
The objective is to dismember Russia in order to neutralise it as a power and gain open access to its resources. Russia has resisted these attempts effectively to this point. In the South China Sea a territorial dispute between the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has become a flashpoint for US aggression. Chinese actions are being presented, without evidence from the US, as an attempt to limit free navigation of the seas in the region. There is no doubt events in Hong Kong last year were instigated by forces cultivated by the US. This was another attempt at a “colour revolution” of the sort carried out in the Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia and elsewhere. Separatists of all sorts are encouraged in order to weaken China.
The US continues to threaten progressive change in Latin America. Despite the easing of tensions with Cuba, the destabilisation and even military posturing against Venezuela continues. Hostility towards other progressive governments in the region, such as in Ecuador and Bolivia, continues unabated.
The economic assault – towards corporate dictatorship
Military aggression is one aspect of the global capitalist offensive. It is the most obvious one, responsible for the most appalling images and headlines in the media. But for a long time it has been accompanied by an economic assault begun with the shift from relatively discreet national economies to a global economy. In the more developed countries, national economies were protected and social security provided for citizens. There was a sizable public sector. Some economies were described, inaccurately, as “mixed economies”, sharing capitalist and socialist features.
The error of this definition was shown with the rapid shift towards “globalisation” in the late 1970s. Governments, including Australia’s, privatised public assets and “outsourced” services to private operators, deregulated markets and eased or removed controls over the operations of transnational corporations. The natural resources of the country, once thought to be strategic and requiring protection from plunder by overseas investors, were declared open for exploitation.
Tariffs, import quotas and other barriers to “free” (i.e. monopoly dominated) trade were removed or sharply reduced. The objectives of the multilateral General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, first signed in 1947, shifted from a distant goal to an immediate reality. The development of “globalisation” saw the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in 1995. Bilateral and multilateral “free” trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada proliferated. Assisted by developments in production and communications, manufacturing began to shift to low wage centres, particularly in Asia.
What was presented as bilateral and multilateral economic “liberalisation” was, in fact, a massive assault by US corporations. While the relocation of manufacturing to countries of the economic South brought about improvements in the living standards for sections of local populations and caused sudden, major internal migration in those countries. The blessings were mixed. Jobs were created but brutal, super-exploitative methods were applied in workplaces. The environment was ravaged. Disruption and insecurity ruled. Traditional farming was replaced by agro-industrial enterprises.
The punitive aspects of the agreements came to the fore. The possibility of “violating” undertakings under the new economic order limits legislators seeking to serve the interests of their own populations. The latest wave of multilateral trade and investment deals takes this to the point of corporate dictatorship over previously sovereign countries.
The Trans Pacific Partnership comprises 12 signatory countries – the US, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Canada, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. This accounts for roughly 40 percent of the world’s economy. If and when it comes into effect and combined with the corresponding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), 85 percent of the global economy would be operating under a new, very different order. The related Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) would complete the transformation to untrammelled corporate dictatorship.
These agreements trump other international commitments such as any flowing from the 2015 Paris climate change talks. They contain a legal mechanism called the Investor State Dispute Settlement that allows a small club of investment lawyers, with no effective control of conflict of interest rules, to adjudicate disputes between national governments and transnational corporations with a heavy bias towards the latter.
The case of Oceana Gold versus El Salvador, which has the mining giant suing the Central American country for affecting profits through a moratorium on mining activity, is a foretaste of the sort of corporate bullying to become widespread under the TPP and other such pacts.
The ideological assault and “austerity”
These developments since the 1970s have been accompanied by a massive ideological assault against the alternative, peaceful, mutually beneficial socialist path. The ideological pillars of the state, including what is now being called the “media-industrial complex” and the education system have been directed towards convincing workers and other exploited people that there is no alternative to capitalism. This includes the prescription for its economic “health” – unfettered markets, balanced national budgets, the sale of public enterprises, self-provisioning for health, education and aged care. The message is delivered unrelentingly – private enterprise is superior to social ownership and control. The activity of trade unions “distorts” the market for labour - a cardinal sin. Communism was buried with the Soviet Union. The new global capitalist order is so natural that it is said to be “non-ideological”. So they claim.
The new order was never designed to deliver benefits to ordinary people. The beneficiaries have been what was described by the Occupy movement as the “one percent”, the capitalist ruling class. Their wealth has increased astronomically at the cost of the millions and billions of workers, peasants and family farmers and those excluded from economic activity. The global economy is not a “zero sum game” while it grows but when it stalls or crashes, as it did dramatically in 2008, the enrichment of the already wealthy must come at the expense of the masses. Wages, conditions and services that once were taken for granted, were reduced or removed. People’s ability to defend themselves had been weakened by the ideological warfare carried out against them in recent decades. Trade unions were trussed up and immobilised by legislation or even more direct assaults. Terrorism, a by-product of US and NATO military aggression, has been used as an excuse for the stripping of long-standing civil rights.
This grab-back of the rights, income and property of the people is called “austerity”. It is not some shared tightening of the belt such as was carried out by the people of London during the blitz, even though it is presented that way. People are waking up.
More and more people are resisting the imperialist agenda, even in the heartlands of imperialism. The situation in crisis-wracked Europe is full of potential for radical change. While the revolutionary forces in countries like Portugal and Greece are not yet strong enough to force a major shift in the austerity policies of their national governments, change is clearly in the wind. We note that the Portuguese Communist Party is to become part of the governing coalition. The ruling class is not looking to fascism yet but those forces are being developed.
The alternative and Asia
It is basic to the ideology of Communist parties that the interests of the working class (and other exploited people) are irreconcilable with those of their exploiters in the capitalist ruling class. The contradiction between the social nature of production and the private appropriate of wealth gives rise to the class struggle. The contradiction will only be resolved with the creation of a socialist society, which is the state power of the working class and the social ownership and control of the means of production. The struggle for socialism is a revolutionary process. Unfortunately, while promising developments are taking place in a number of centres as noted above, there are no immediate prospects for the triumph of a new socialist revolution. This assessment includes Asia.
Asia is home to four socialist countries, the People’s Republic of China, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. They are all subject to economic assault from the imperialists and quite real military threat, particularly in the cases of China and the DPRK. In spite of this, China’s economic power and influence continues to grow.
It has caused a rift among the allies of US imperialism. Australia’s economic fortunes are bound closer and closer to those of China, its major trading partner. At the same time Australia is becoming more and more integrally tied to the US war machine with expansion of US bases and deployment of US forces in Australia. This is creating divisions within the Australian ruling class, some of whom are questioning Australia’s military alliance with the US, fearing it might harm their economic relations with China.
When China took the initiative to create the Asian Investment Bank (AIIB), the US rightly saw it as a challenge to its economic stranglehold by means of the World Bank over its “friends” and actively discouraged them from joining. The US alliance and economic relationship is sacred to leaders of both major political parties in Australia but, after much agonising, the Australian government signed on to the AIIB in March of this year.
The government is, no doubt, seeking a lifeline for the ailing economy, which has been battered by plummeting mineral resource prices on world markets. It is, regardless of motivation, a good move in terms of Australia’s sovereignty.
China is also part of BRICS – the economic co-operation framework established between Brazil, Russia, India and China. This development is another challenge to the enforced, post-WW2 military and economic dominance by the US and its currency. It is made up of countries at different stages of development and with different social systems. India has been courted into a closer relationship with the US following the election of Prime Minister Modi last year, but BRICS appears secure.
ASEAN already plays an important role in the region. Its principles for cooperation – peaceful co-existence and non-interference among member nations – don’t sit well with outsiders such as the US and its deputy sheriff in the region, Australia. It has reached beyond its member states to the hold meetings of “ASEAN plus three”, i.e. the People’s Republic of China, Japan and South Korea. ASEAN’s cooperation goes beyond basic questions of trade to collaborate on achieving food security and raising of education levels among member states.
These developments are undoubtedly in the interests of the working class internationally and in Asia. The break-up of the dominance of US imperialism and its efforts to keep Asia subjugated play a critical role in the region. The US is paying attention. This focus is evident in the “Pivot” or “Rebalance” of its military forces to the region and the TPP. Developments that present the people of the world and the region with an anti-imperialist alternative must be welcomed and encouraged.
The drawing of countries away from the grip of US imperialism will continue as its economic power declines. The idea that “there is no alternative” is coming under pressure but it is not yet pressure of a sort that will produce new socialist societies in the region. The economic realignments are not as radical as those in Latin America, where the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA) brings the more progressive countries of the region together in an agreement to promote fair trade, solidarity and mutual development.
ALBA has a pillar of mutual defence. This is an important model that could serve the future alternative for Asia. At the same time, the reduction of tensions and moves towards a nuclear-free region should be taken. The current stand-off between nuclear weapon states India and Pakistan is an intolerable threat to the security of the people of the entire region. Such moves to nuclear disarmament would have the overwhelming support of the people of the region. Of course, the special circumstances of China and the DPRK, who are under threat from the world’s largest nuclear weapons power, the US, must be taken into consideration. The alternative for Asia would become a force for global nuclear disarmament.
A new Asia would cooperate in the area of food security and would work against the dominance of transnationals to impose GMOs. Healthier and traditional agricultural practices would be encouraged and the destructive, land-grabbing role of agri-business rolled back. Cooperation in the area of health and medicine would go way beyond the current levels and would work to overcome the grip of big pharmaceutical companies over vital medicines.
The rights of Indigenous people would be made a high priority. The theft of traditional lands by mining, agri-business and other transnationals, including in Australia, would be reversed. Languages and culture would be preserved. Self-government would be encouraged.
Trade union rights would be enhanced. The current agenda to drive trade unions out of workplaces, making them unsafe and insecure in every sense, would be thrown into reverse. Trade unions are under attack as never before in Australia. The trade union movement has been seriously weakened both ideologically and in density to its lowest level for over 100 years. International solidarity in the trade union sphere, as currently practised through bodies like the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR), would be expanded dramatically.
Major progress towards all these goals has been made by the countries of Latin America. The establishment of an Asian ALBA would require stronger left forces and new left governments in Asia. This won’t happen without a major strengthening of the left political forces in the region, including in the more developed countries such as Australia. And this won’t take place without an improvement in the position of the Marxist-Leninist party in the country, the Communist Party of Australia. The current relative weakness of the left in Australia is not just a frustration for Communists in Australia and a handicap for the workers in their struggles here, it is an obstacle in the way of the socialist future for Asia.
Of course, given the description of the antagonistic contradiction between the interests of the working class and the capitalist ruling class above, genuine and lasting improvements in the conditions and political engagement of working people will only come with socialism. An Asian ALBA, a further erosion of the power of the US over nations in our community will bring major benefit but will be resisted at every step by reactionary forces. The problems to be addressed by the alternative are all subject of vigorous mass action right now. But the ultimate solution to the many problems of development will require the transformation of current capitalist societies into socialist ones.
We don’t have endless time to resolve this problem. As representatives participate in the seminar “Alternative to Global Capitalist Offensive: Asia’s Response” hosted by the Communist Party of India, world leaders are gathering in Paris to consider the question of climate change. Countries in Asia are already under threat from rising sea levels and the salination of water and agricultural land. Catastrophic weather events are becoming more frequent. Average temperatures are climbing towards a point of no return. It should be noted that in Australia there is a growing movement taking on the mining corporations in defence of farming land and the environment. But, again, these struggles need to be taken to a much higher level of effectiveness.
It is unlikely the representatives of mostly capitalist countries will come up with an agreement for changes commensurate with the problem. Their efforts, so far, have indulged the worst of the polluting transnationals and focussed on “market” mechanisms ignoring the fact that capitalist markets got the planet into the current predicament in the first place. Socialist forces must come to the fore in Asia and globally if disaster is to be averted. And this must happen soon. Cooperation among the socialist forces and mutual assistance is crucial to the future well-being of its peoples.
Finally, while we were regrettably unable on this occasion to participate in the conference, the CPA believes such regional conferences are important in building relations between parties, for the sharing of ideas and the development of joint campaigns. We look for closer cooperation, more communication, including seminars and conferences, and other measures of mutual assistance.
* This essay was a contribution from the Communist Party of Australia to a seminar with the theme “Alternative to Global Capitalist Offensive: Asia’s Response” hosted by the Communist Party of India in Delhi on 28-29 November, 2015.