Imperialists shaken

So-called 'third world' countries are being forced to rebel against neoliberal economics. Ian Donovan believes that this is only the beginning

The collapse on September 15 of the world trade summit talks at Cancun, Mexico, has caused a degree of consternation in imperialist circles. A powerful bloc of recalcitrant ‘third world’ powers, centred around China, India and the Brazilian ‘left’ government of Lula, mobilised the bulk of so-called ‘developing countries’ to force a stalemate, refusing to go along with the arrogant demands of the United States and European Union over issues to do with protectionism.

What is actually at stake goes to the heart of the project of globalised neoliberalism that has become the dominant form of capitalism over the past three decades or so, and has achieved something approximating to complete hegemony - particularly during the period of ideological reaction that ensued since the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The neoliberal project, in dealing with the ex-colonial world, is expressed in the decades-long cascade of so-called ‘structural adjustment programmes’: ie, enforced marketisation, privatisation, deregulation and the opening up to exploitation by imperialist monopolies of any scrap of state provision or incipient welfare/non-marketised economic entities that can be found in those countries that are in the position of having to seek ‘aid’ from capitalist world institutions. The results of this social phenomenon were summed up powerfully by a Zambian newspaper after the trade talks collapsed:

“It really breaks one’s heart to hear and see what is going on in our slums; what is happening to the children, the women and the unemployed; what’s happening with education; the growing number of children who are homeless and have to try to survive on the streets; and what is happening with the health situation in most of our countries that now have HIV/Aids.

“Faced with this situation, people in the poor nations and their leaders are becoming truly desperate. It is only a matter of time, because this policy is creating a time bomb in the world. Are we going to wait for it to explode before we start thinking about these problems? …. Never before has humanity had such formidable scientific and technologic potential, such extraordinary capacity to produce riches and well-being, but never before have disparity and inequity been so profound in the world” (Lusaka Post September 16).

This protest against the inhuman consequences of the neoliberal world order is not in any way socialistic or communistic. It reflects the hard-headed outlook of states throughout the underdeveloped capitalist world. Bureaucratic elites fear for the future of their own ‘home grown’ capitalism, given the social consequences of decades of imperialist-dictated globalisation, which is, of course, counterposed to any kind of nationalist economic development - once pursued in an attempt to promote industrial development. Subsidies, social welfare and tariff walls are being torn down with no thought for the human cost, all for the sake of increasing the profits of the giant transnationals. Hence the rebellion against neoliberalism and its consequences.

The actual sticking point that led to the collapse of the Cancun talks was the batch of so-called Singapore issues - basically a list of demands from the US and EU - which were summarised very crudely by the BBC as:

(BBC news online, September 15).

These demands were presented by the US and the EU as a take-it-or-leave-it package to the ‘developing countries’. However, this latest tranche of marketisation proved too much - they refused to submit. Interestingly, though, this defiance is led by forces that are largely, though not entirely, advocates of various alternative capitalist models of development.

First there is China, whose ‘communist’ regime now presides over a most unstable situation - a hybrid economy, in fact. The state whose whole ethos was once the so-called ‘iron rice bowl’ of state employment and the supposed rule of the working class, is now the main guarantor of foreign capitalist investment and overseer of what has been in the last couple of decades an unprecedented boom in ‘controlled’ capitalism, with annual growth rates in excess of 10%.

It is rather obvious, however, that the Chinese regime regards its Stalinist economic prerogatives, exercised in modified form, as key instruments in building its own national capitalism. Many world commentators, and some hostile elements in the US bourgeoisie, regard China as a potent economic and strategic competitor for the US in the coming decades. Whatever the realism of such projections, these events certainly portend significant tensions and antagonisms.

Then there is India, currently governed by a coalition of religious and secular bourgeois parties led by the BJP, a notorious hindu chauvinist formation, which rode into power on the basis of communal tensions between India’s hindu majority and huge muslim minority (140 million or so of India’s population of around a billion). In recent years the Indian bourgeoisie has followed its own version of neoliberalism, as part of the same ‘modernised’ nationalist paradigm that has led to its development of nuclear weapons and subcontinental nuclear rivalry with Pakistan. However, as with China, such policy has its limits. The use of imperialist economic muscle to impose the lifting of restrictions on western economic penetration without any quid pro quo contradicts the national programmes of the ruling class, which aims to use neoliberalism for its own enrichment, not to surrender such development to the interest of the world’s most powerful corporations.

Then you have Brazil, where many similar considerations apply. The main difference here, of course, is the election earlier this year of a ‘left’ popular front coalition. Its central locus is the social democratic Workers Party (PT), led by Luis Ignacio da Silva (Lula), the former metalworkers’ leader, but it does include a Trotskyist minister (a supporter of the so-called Fourth International and a fellow thinker of Allan Thornett and the International Socialist Group in Britain).

Although the PT-led government has engaged in a lot of rhetoric about opposing neoliberalism, it is pushing ahead with privatisation and has not attempted to repudiate the crippling debts owed to imperialist financial institutions - the main cause of the superexploitation of the Brazilian workers and the landless poor. This despite the fact that it was precisely the struggles of such oppressed and exploited people that brought to power the PT in the first place.

In this respect - albeit in a rather different context, given the proletarian pressure that undoubtedly exists at the base of the PT - the considerations of the Brazilian government in allying with China and India to bring about the thwarting of the imperialists’ plans at Cancun were broadly similar to those of their bloc partners.

Of course, apart from the goings-on inside the conference, what also attracted international attention to Cancun was the demonstrations outside. The barbaric character of neoliberalism was symbolised by the suicide of a poor South Korean farmer outside the conference - a tragic waste, but a powerful symbol of the despair of imperialism’s victims.

Many made comparisons with the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle in 1999, where militant demonstrations of trade unionists and anti-capitalist protestors outside went hand in hand with deadlock inside to produce a spectacular, if symbolic, debacle for the imperialist financiers. Now, in the context of such events as the so-called ‘war against terrorism’, culminating in the US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq and the subsequent bogging down of the coalition forces in what looks more and more like a Lebanon-style quagmire, once again the imperialist attempts to crack the whip are running into serious problems. For us communists, that is a good thing, despite the unsavoury nature of many of the governments that are currently in dispute with the would-be masters of the world.

Communists are not partisans of national capitalist development in the underdeveloped world. Nor are we opponents of capitalist globalisation in itself - a process that leads to the growth of the proletariat as an international class (and that has often been an undeniable consequence of some aspects of globalisation, as evidenced in places as far apart as Mexico, South Korea and India). While at the same time fighting against the savage exploitation that inevitably accompanies such development, nevertheless we regard the growth of our class and the spread of the potential for class struggle that results from this as objectively progressive.

That does not, however, mean that such a positive outcome will emerge smoothly without the most dire consequences in individual countries. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in parts of Latin America (Argentina being a recent, dramatic example - though there are much worse cases), globalisation has brought whole societies to the brink of collapse. The genocidal neglect of Africa’s massive Aids crisis in the interests of the profits of imperialist drug monopolies is the ultimate example of capital’s destructiveness. In the former Soviet bloc also, in many cases economic ‘liberalisation’ has led to the wiping out of enormous productive potential in a manner that is completely damaging socially. And of course, the many evils of capitalist development in the other parts of the ‘third world’ have been well documented - from the sweatshops of the far east and Indonesia to the murderous pollution of the people of Bhopal, India, who are still being poisoned by the legacy of Union Carbide.

We do not support the developmental programmes of the Indian BJP, the Chinese Stalinists or Lula’s Brazil. We do, however, seek to use every opportunity, including those brought about by clashes between the imperialists and what are essentially national capitalist interests of less powerful countries, in order to bring to the fore the independent interests of the masses.

There is perhaps a very fleeting coincidence of interests in this respect - whereas sections of the masses are protesting against the socially irrational and exploitative manifestations of globalised imperialism, the national capitalist regimes are protesting that excessive neoliberal ruthlessness from the imperialists is undermining the stability of their own economies and destroying their human and infrastructural productive forces.

But, in the end, despite the all-inclusive appearance of the movement around Cancun (and indeed Seattle before it), these divergent interests are irreconcilable. Faced with real class struggles against the consequences of neoliberalism, which will inevitably develop a logic directed against the capitalist system itself, the bourgeois opponents of the currently dominant gang of imperialist robbers will inevitably unite with the same imperialists in an unholy alliance against the workers and peasants of the underdeveloped world.

Only a rather different alliance - one that unites the ‘third world’ masses with a revived, indeed thoroughly revolutionised, workers’ movement in the advanced capitalist/imperialist countries - can really shake imperialist world domination. Such a future development requires the rebirth of a genuine communist movement internationally - this alone can give rise to the conscious element necessary to take such struggles forward to a democratic and socialist conclusion.