Laurence Coates, from the International Executive Committee of the CWI, introduced the discussion on Asia. He made the point that Asia is a crucial region for world capitalism and that the message sent by the Chinese regime at the Olympic Games will be that this is Asia’s, and particularly China’s, century. The tectonic plates of power in world politics are beginning to move in the direction of Asia but this process is just beginning- for the moment the USA remains the dominant world power. However, the power of the USA government to intervene in its own favour has been eroded, as shown by the failure of the Doha round of world trade talks. The US ruling class is trying to build new alliances to shore up its influence in the region, as shown by its attempts build an alliance with India to block the rise of China.
The most serious crisis in 60 years is developing for global capitalism and Asia will not be immune from this process. Decoupling will prove to be a myth. The downturn will shake confidence in neo-liberalism and lead to a reversal of policy involving a return to nationalizations. Its possible that under some circumstances that they can succeed in temporarily postponing or softening the crisis, but only at the expense of an even bigger bill to pay in the future. But countries such as Japan are in a weak position because of existing large budget deficits. In Vietnam, a crisis is developing due to the high level of food inflation. Indeed, the country has been likened to a canary in a cage that gives a warning of future crises. In South Korea, big protests have taken place over the ending of the ban on beef imports from the USA due to BSE or mad cow disease.
The discussion was wide ranging, covering developments in Sri-Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia, Tibet and China. Senan, a Sri-Lankan Tamil refugee, living in England, explained what is currently happening in Sri-Lanka, on the 25th anniversary of the massacre of Tamils under the Jayawardena government. He quoted from a speech of the president at the time, that openly incited the racism and communalism which precipitated the killings, and which had the effect of driving many Tamil youth into the ranks of the LTTE (Tigers). This lurch into communalism was made possible by the collapse of the left in the previous decade, particularly the decline of the LSSP, which was once a semi-mass party based on Trotsky’s ideas, following its involvement in coalition government with capitalist parties. The present government is the most racist since 1983, and is whipping up communalism. But there is also increasing radicalism, with recent general strike action and growing support for the United Socialist Party, the CWI section in the country.
Sean, from Ireland, highlighted the terrible conditions that the people of Tibet live under, including the forced sterilization of women, something that is largely ignored by the Western media. He thought a theocratic regime under the Dali Lama would be no way forward for the Tibetan people and only a democratic socialist Tibet could satisfy their aspirations.
Comrade Zayer, from Pakistan, discussed the changing big power relationships in the region. The Bush administration now threatens the newly elected government of the PPP coalition that it will invade the Pashtun areas if it does not more effectively deal with the threat from Al-Qaeda. To put more pressure on Pakistan, the USA is moving much closer to India on the diplomatic plane. The present rulers of his country have proved incapable of solving the tasks posed by history and they have instead plundered the state.
Comrade Ravie, from Malaysia, spoke next and explained that his country is also affected by the global economic slowdown. He outlined the new political situation after the elections on 8 March, when the ruling party was seriously weakened by gains from the opposition People’s Alliance, which won a third of the seats. For the majority of the working class and the people, the reforms of the government have been insignificant. But where the opposition has gained power locally, no fundamental change has taken place, although corruption has been reduced somewhat. The extremely interesting situation in Vietnam was described by a CWI member from Belgium who has been living in the country. There is no sign that the ‘Communist’ government will reverse the policy they have embarked on of neo-liberalism. This has lead to Vietnam having the lowest wages in the region, including China. This has been an attraction for Western imperialism, which has been investing in the country. There are, however, big problems emerging, with the stock market collapsing this year and the trade balance in the red. A weakness of the local Movement for Democracy is that it looks to Western governments for support. There is still the legacy of the war against US imperialism embedded into people’s consciousness, which gives support to the establishment and the status quo, because the masses are afraid of a return to the chaos of the past.
Peter Taaffe, from the International Secretariat of the CWI, contributed to the discussion, pointing out that the staging of the Olympic Games will not solve any of the contradictions of society in China. Huge social and political upheavals are on the agenda in China, and in some respects, the situation is similar to that of Russia at the end of the 19th Century, when profound revolutionary developments were maturing as capitalism developed.
There was also a lively and comradely discussion during the commission that debated the issues about the exact nature of the development of capitalism in China, and the class character of the society that has emerged in the nearly three decades since Deng set out on the capitalist road. This revolved around the question: has China completed the road to a fully capitalist state or is the process not yet completed.
The discussion was summed up by Clare Doyle; from the CWI International Secretariat. She said that in often difficult circumstances the supporters of the CWI were building increased support for the ideas of Marxism, in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. For the first time, the small forces of the CWI in Asia are in a position to begin to retie the knot of history.