The discussion on Asia was introduced by Clare Doyle and summed up by Peter Taaffe, both from the International Secretariat of the CWI. They underlined how hard Asia had been hit by the world economic crisis. No single country has been left untouched; social and political upheavals can take on revolutionary features in the near future.
Speakers from a number of countries made informative contributions to the discussion on developments in Japan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and China. Perspectives for imperialism in Afghanistan and for the struggle in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines were touched on. So was the situation in Burma and on the Korean peninsula.
The majority of the countries of eastern Asia have seen a double digit decline in GDP. The effect of the recession in many ways is worse than during the Asian crisis of a decade ago. In Japan, the crisis has been described as worse than the stagnation of the 1990s. It has even been suggested that it is worse than the economic conditions during the Second World War. Some huge companies like Toyota and Sony and others are making losses, in some cases for the first time since those companies were formed in the last century.
This crisis, even more than previous crises, is exposing the rotten capitalists in power in the countries in Asia. Like many western governments they have resorted to Keynesian measures, such as so-called stimulus packages. But, also similar to the western governments, they have been accompanied by massive attacks on public services. This is fuelling the social crisis and means more people are plunged into malnutrition and poverty in a region which already has the biggest proportion of people who live on less than $1 a day.
The majority of these countries are ruled by the most corrupt, unstable, weak and extremely unpopular elites, whose main concern is clinging to power. In the absence of alternative mass socialist forces to defend the workers and poor, right-wing parties have come to power. Right-wing governments are assuming dictatorial power and arming themselves to the teeth to protect themselves from the increasingly angry masses.
Parasitic ruling elites
None of the countries in the region has a ruling class that represents or has any real links with the workers and poor. In the Philippines, where the majority live below the poverty line, president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo implements horrific neoliberal policies. She represents the 3% of the population who control 70% of the country’s wealth. Burma has been under military dictatorship for the last two decades. Pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi is still in prison. The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, is reported to have a maximum of five years to live and to be now preparing the way for his favourite son to take over. In Thailand the leading capitalist parties, the nationalist ‘red’ side and the pro-monarchy ‘yellow’ side are totally disconnected from the masses.
Compared to most western countries, the economies of China and India are still going forward, but the cost of the slowdown is already making a massive impact on the life of ordinary Chinese and Indian workers. In China, a staggering stimulus package, expected to reach up to $9 trillion, has not stopped the increase in unemployment and the drop in living standards, but may have prevented a greater slowing down in the economy. Already this year twenty million workers have lost their jobs and returned to the countryside. They join the millions who already live in poverty.
In India, euphemistically called the world’s ‘largest democracy’, where just 50 billionaires control 20% of GDP, poverty means around 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in the last 10 years. 128 out of the 543 members in the parliament face criminal charges or investigation, including 83 cases of murder.
In the last election, the Congress party scored a significant victory against the Hindu fundamental party the BJP, and the left front. The left front involving the communist’s parties suffered a major defeat, punished for supporting the capitalist, pro-US government prior to the election and carrying out anti-working class measures where they are in state or local government. In areas where they are in power they set up special economic zones for multinational corporations to exploit cheap labour. The use of violent state forces against farmers in Nandigram and corruption charges in Kerala also helped to seal their fate. This collapse in support stems from their flawed political outlook. Fundamentally the CPM has the perspective that developing a strong capitalist economy is the best route to socialism. In the world economic crisis this stagiest theory approach has blown up in their faces.
In Vietnam, the ruling communist party is implementing neo liberal economic policies. Eight new areas have been opened up for international capitalists to exploit the cheap labour. The average salary is around ten eurocent per day.
In Indonesia, the third largest so called democracy in the world the incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was victorious in securing more then 60% of the vote. This was less a reflection of support than a consequence of none of the parties standing in the election provided any alternative for the suffering masses. One of Yudhoyono’s opponents was Jusuf Kalla of the Golkar party, the political machine behind the Suharto dictatorship, which was toppled in 1998. The other opponent was former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose running mate was a former general of the special forces, notorious for massacring the east Timorese.
We have warned against the dangers of supporting so-called democratic capitalism and explained that it will not lead to an increase in the standard of living for the majority of the workers. Megawati is not an alternative. She is seen as a safe pair of hands for capitalists. Many supporters of Megawati among some left organisations have been discredited as she continued with attacks on workers’ rights and democratic rights when she was in power. Among the 44 political parties in Indonesia none represent the interests of the workers and poor.
In Malaysia, Najib Razak, currently in power, is opening up the country to foreign investment. The Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), an electoral coalition of parties that cannot agree with each other, does not offer any alternative to the right-wing Bahasa Nasional (National Front).
In Japan the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, that has been in power for most of the past half century is more unpopular than ever. The highly unpopular prime minister is even seen as a liability by his own party leadership, so much so that they have adopted the acronym ABBA - ‘Any Body Better than Aso’ to lead the party in the coming general election.
War and bloodshed
Pakistan is another country ruled more by military force than by elected personnel. This country has seen the biggest displacement of people since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Clashes between the Taliban and the military have created more than two million refugees in the Swat Valley. Due to the lack of aid some of them are now returning back to the unimaginably dangerous and worsening conditions.
In Afghanistan the American army has claimed to have hit 2% of their targets. Collateral damage has been 98%. In other words in order to hit a handful of Taliban fighters, whole villages have been wiped out.
One of history’s longest civil wars has been fought in Sri Lanka. This year it appeared to have come to an end with the Sri Lankan military’s victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) which saw over 20,000 Tamil people slaughtered in a matter of months. Over 300,000 are held in World War Two style camps, in conditions that have been described as the worst in the world. The cost of killing Tamils will now be forced down on the heads of the poor Sinhala masses.
The world economic crisis is also creating deep social and ethnic tensions. In the biggest state in the region, China, we have seen the outbreak of deadly violence in Xinjiang. Clashes between Han and Uighur people were brutally suppressed by the Chinese regime with hundreds killed. Displaying grave concern, president Hu Jintao had even left the G8 summit in Italy to attend to the crisis.
Increased attacks on the poor and working masses by capitalist governments while bailing out the bosses with public money, is sure to create a fight back. Increased repression by military means cannot hold back the tide of mounting anger. As a result we are beginning to see an increase in interest in socialist ideas. In Japan, for example, the Communist Party is currently seen as the only left in Japan and it has seen a rise in its membership. The JCP is now the third largest party with around 2,000 members joining every month. As a warning to the Japanese ruling class youth have raised the slogan: “If you can’t change it, we will change it”.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The remembrance events in Hong Kong on 4 June were the biggest ever. Young people who were not even born in 1989 participated with thousands crossing the borders from China. Many more were probably refused entry due to heightened security and visa control by the Chinese regime which is afraid of political upheavals. Its fundamental aim is to remain in power at all costs. They will take any measures to consolidate their position. This was demonstrated in the Xinjiang province.
Building a workers’ alternative
But the CWI, with forces in many of the countries in the region, is waging a heroic battle against the ruling elite and the capitalist class. The CWI section in Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party, is defying intimidation and death threats and, is building a formidable fight against one of the most dangerous, warmongering, chauvinist Bonapartist regimes in the world. In Pakistan, where activists are faced with the constant danger of losing their lives, we are building a massive fightback among the workers and in defence of trade union rights. CWI members are helping to build a new trade union federation to give a voice and a base for action to the workers of Pakistan, who have already waged tremendous strikes, particularly in the telecom industry.
In India, the Tamil Solidarity campaign attracted over 600 people to the first public meeting. Young members of the CWI are taking big steps to provide an alternative to the Indian poor masses and workers. For the first time in Malaysia the CWI is organising among industrial workers and students. In a country where socialist books are banned by law we have begun the work of popularising socialist ideas and leading workers in struggle. In these and other countries the CWI is building a real socialist alternative. As the consequences of the world economic crisis bear down, we will see huge movements of the workers and poor masses. Building powerful independent parties of the working class and putting forward a socialist programme for change are among the tasks ahead.