“If the world economy and world relations are dominated by the dramatic economic and social developments in China, then for Asia the pace and scale of these developments is even more significant”.
Clare Doyle opened the discussion on developments in Asia at last December’s CWI International Executive Committee meeting. Once the Chinese economy begins to falter, let alone collapse, it will have dire consequences inside China and throughout the region. Although most economies in Asia are still experiencing relatively high growth, it is extremely fragile. Like China, they depend on cheap labour, on high levels of investment and on trade, with the USA as well as with other Asian states.
They have failed to develop any sizeable internal markets for their goods. The world-wide neo-liberal drive for super-profits, both by international and by national capitalists, has led to no improvement in the ability of Asia’s poverty-stricken majority to purchase even the basic necessities of life. On the contrary, many Asian countries have experienced some of the most rapidly widening gaps between rich and poor.
The present investment-led boom could rapidly give way to a new Asian crisis like that of 1997, only on an even bigger scale. The 1997 crisis was followed by mass movements, in some cases of revolutionary proportions. A number of regimes in the region were shaken and the dictatorship of General Suharto in Indonesia was brought down. Now, especially if the mighty bubble of over-production in China is punctured or if major class battles begin in that country, then we can expect far greater revolutionary convulsions to roll across the region.
Asia is still home to a large number of regimes that employ dictatorial methods to maintain their hold on power. Some, including China, deny even the most basic democratic rights to its citizens. 60 prisoners in China have been arrested for ‘internet offences’. China is 159th out of 167 in the league of press freedom drawn up by ‘Reporters without frontiers’. Demands for basic rights can, in the circumstances like those that exist under the dictatorships of Asia, can in themselves become revolutionary.
Street demonstrations and general strikes have been seen across the region – from Indonesia and the Philippines with mass protests against rocketing food and fuel prices, to India and South Korea, where millions of workers have taken strike action against privatisation and deregulation.
Hong Kong had seen a quarter million demonstrators on the streets on December 4, demanding the basic right to universal suffrage, and was bracing itself for anti-WTO protests in the following week. None of the major world powers was optimistic about the talks there achieving the results they wanted. As was borne out in the discussion, few of Asia’s ruling elites look to the future with confidence.
This perspective underlines the urgency of building new mass workers’ parties and strong revolutionary cadres in the region.
The CWI has for some time now been eager to understand more about the processes taking place in China and especially to understand the outlook and attitudes of its people. In the rapid industrialisation and transition to capitalist market relations that has dramatically speeded up in the last few years, the vast majority of the population have been left behind. There are more absolute poor in China than in India. Of the 248 million rural households, 200million depend on plots of land of on average 0.65 hectares! On the other hand, the biggest working class in the world has been created.
But, in spite of the official ’communist’ label of the ruling elite in China, as Laurence Coates from Sweden pointed out, no labour law protection applies in 60% of workplaces. “This is the biggest non-union work-force in the world”, in terms of genuine, organisations independent of the state. Yet, “There are 160 strikes or protest demonstrations every day and 90 to 120 rural protests”. As PerAke Westlund pointed out, this means now more in the cities than in the countryside.
Nevertheless, farmers and their families are constantly involved in brutal clashes with the forces of the state when they battle against the encroachment of government and private developers. Since 1992, an area the size of Italy has been illegally seized by property developers. There is stiff resistance to the bulldozing of homes to make way for Olympic Games construction sites and one particularly bitter battle was the three-week blockade of a main road for three weeks at Chonqing, a city of 30 million inhabitants. (Before the end of the CWI’s meeting in Belgium, reports were coming in of the worst massacre of civilians since Tiananmen at Dongzhou village in Guangdong province.)
The Harbin poisonous slick catastrophe had aroused the anger and indignation of the nine million people in the region who were lied to. Memories were revived of a cover-up over the SARS epidemic and fears that bird flu might develop without any official warning. Resentment is accumulating about disasters like this and those in the mining industry, where 10,000 workers a year perish. Suicides amongst poor farmers had reached one quarter of a million a year. How long before this level of frustration and anger takes on the form of struggles – at first regional, then national – analogous to those of the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century in Russia? Clare asked.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime in China will find it more and more difficult to hold the lid on information about these calamities and worse for them, about the corruption and malpractice of their own national and local officials. Even whipping up nationalism as a diversion can mean protests that turn against the regime itself.
In clinging to the image of Mao and still preaching ’marxist’ formuli, while moving in the direction of full capitalist market relations, the CCP is wielding a double-edged sword. There are bound to be deep-rooted feelings of justice, equality, collective ownership and enterprise in much of the population. Given that the ‘experiment’ of a move towards market relations began in China more than thirty years ago, illusions that it would bring major benefits for the majority are likely to have worn thin.
In trying to avoid the ‘shock therapy’ transition to capitalism that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CCP is storing up a huge explosion when things go wrong for them. What action they would take when the economy hits a wall is debatable, but it is doubtful that the present ruling clique would weather the storm. In a crisis, some measures of re-nationalisation might still be introduced but a full return to total state ownership and central planning in the old form is not on the agenda.
Commenting on points raised in the discussion on China, Peter Taaffe from Britain commented that there was no doubt that for now, this turbo-charged economy was still powering ahead. He referred to the difficulty of relying on official statistics coming from the regime (and since the meeting, the latest growth figures have been revised upwards to as much as 20%!). But Peter also felt there was no need to be over- hasty in giving a final characterisation to the actual nature of Chinese society. PerAke from Sweden quoted from an OECD report which said that China has completed the transition “from a centrally planned economy to a free market economy” but agreed with the importance of continually reassessing the concrete situation. The near future holds big challenges for the CWI in terms of analysis and in terms of building support for the ideas and traditions of Trotskyism.
A tumultuous period in China is undoubtedly opening up in which the development of independent trade unions and a revolutionary working class leadership will be crucial. A programme is needed which calls for a struggle in the state sector against privatisation and for genuine workers’ control and workers’ democracy and in the private sector for re-nationalisation and generally for a workers’ government which establishes genuine democratic rights for all. But such a programme must be elaborated and developed through dialogue and involvement with workers in struggle inside that vast country itself.
As a footnote to her comments on China in the introduction, Clare mentioned the recent recantation of Deng Xiaoping’s guru – the man who provided the ideological basis for describing capitalism as the first stage of communism. Apparently he is now saying that western market economics should be banned form the universities and Marxist economics re-instated!
The rest of the discussion in this session concentrated mostly on developments in the main countries where the CWI has forces but mention was made of one or two other significant developments in the region. The new workers’ party in South Korea, for example, the Korea Democratic and Labour Party, which had 10 MPs and 60,000 members, was currently suffering a major set-back. A corruption scandal had led to the resignation of the whole leadership of the independent trade union federation that had founded it – the KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions). An important bye-election in Ulsan had been lost by the party and the KCTU itself was having difficulty mobilising the heavy battalions in the engineering industry in its campaigns against casual labour and temporary contracts.
Across the region, rising fuel prices and the removal of subsidies had led to big protest movements. Possibly the most frequent and widespread in the recent period had been those in Indonesia. Under cover of the fight against terrorism, measures of suppression had been introduced which conjured up memories of the Suharto dictatorship.
A welcome side effect of the pressure exerted by US imperialism in the region, since 9/11 and after the Tsunami disaster, had been the moves towards ‘conflict resolution’ – in Aceh, Indonesia, in Kashmir and in Sri Lanka. But, on the basis of capitalism, final solutions and genuine inter-ethnic cooperation could not be guaranteed. These processes would see advances – demilitarisation, decommissioning, negotiation – and then new outbreaks of open conflict.
Peter Taaffe pointed by way of analogy with these processes to the on/off nature of the struggle for a settlement in South Africa from 1990 – 94. The bourgeois wanted a deal, but there was virtual civil war for a period before one person one vote was established. He also used the example of what De Gaulle had done in the ‘50s in France with the perspectives for what the new president of Sri Lanka may do. Mahinda Rajapakse had been elected on a platform of no reconciliation with the ‘liberation’ fighters of the Tamil Tigers. De Gaulle had been elected on the anti Algerian independence slogan of ‘Algerie Francaise’. Just as, to avoid a long and damaging war, De Gaulle then proceeded to arrange a peace deal with the National Liberation Front (NLF) that granted independence to the colony, so Rajapakse, under the pressure of imperialism, may be forced to come to the negotiating table with the LTTE and adopt some kind of compromise to prevent a resumption of open warfare.
This day-long discussion on Asia at the meeting of the International Executive Committee of the CWI was particularly enriched by the contributions from active participants in the class struggle in the region. These experienced comrades well understand the vital importance of working out perspectives for the development of events in order to intervene most effectively. Only in this way is it possible to concentrate the energies of the parties and groups they represent on those activities that will strengthen their own fighting capacity and that of the workers and poor people of their countries. In this way they prepare the CWI forces to take advantage of the opportunities that open up for building and consolidating the forces for revolutionary socialist change.
The scene for the discussion had been set by the recent major achievements of the forces of the CWI in Pakistan and Sri Lanka – in response to the two major ‘natural’ disasters of the past 12 months and in important strikes and elections.
The reputation of the SMP (Socialist Movement Pakistan) and the Trade Union Rights Campaign (TURC Pakistan) had grown by leaps and bounds in the struggle of 65,000 workers against telecomm privatisation – the biggest public sector strike for 30 years – and more recently in the magnificent mobilisation of practical and political aid after the massively destructive October earthquake.
Thirteen PSM comrades and supporters had been elected as local councillors in General Musharaf’s quasi-democratic elections. They are able to use these positions to help workers in numerous work-places to get organised. (Just 3% of the 11 million workforce of Pakistan is in the trade unions and this field of work is vital throughout the region.)
“Pakistan is a nation trapped between mosque and garrison”, declared Khalid Bhatti at the start of his contribution. Under Musharaf, the military had consolidated its domination. It owned $13bn. worth of assets, that is 24% of GDP. The Pakistani military is now the biggest land-owner in the country, owning at least 18 million hectares of land. They have become the dominant wing of the ruling class economically and have constantly peddled the line that the military was the only force you could trust.
Since the earthquake there had been a dramatic change in people’s attitudes. Mass hatred had erupted against the military. In spite of its mighty nuclear armoury, it was shown to have only 26 helicopters at its disposal and took five days to reach affected areas and carry out rescue work when millions of people’s homes, schools and hospitals had collapsed around them.
Now things have turned into their opposite. These days, abusing the military is taken to be an expression of love for your country! A recent poll showed 78% of the population do not trust the Army, only 11% trust the police and no more than 3% trust the judiciary. “99% hate the Americans – the ruling class Americans of course. Especially for what they are doing in Afghanistan,” said Khalid. “90% of the population want a revolution with bloodshed …they want to hang the rich.” Such is the level of poverty – 63% live below the poverty line and wages have declined 35% in a year. The CIA now counts Pakistan as, “A big danger to stability in Asia”.
Musharaf has found himself with no social base and has been seeking, (unsuccessfully it appears, since the IEC meeting) to form alliances with old opponents like the previous prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whom he ousted with his military coup, and Benazir Bhutto of the PPP (Pakistani People’s Party). Musharaf was seeking Bhutto’s support particularly to do some kind of deal with India on Kashmir. Under huge pressure from particularly US imperialism, it looks likely that a period of normalisation of relations can be achieved with the possible establishment of a de-militarised zone in Kashmir.
As Khalid pointed out, generally Benazir would implement the same kind of programme as Musharaf, including on economic policies. She would carry through more reforms and not reverse any privatisation. She also boasts of being able to “crush the fundamentalists more efficiently”.
In fact, the right wing Muslim fundamentalist groups had already been suffering a considerable loss of support in the recent period. Only the earthquake and the government’s criminal inaction had given them a chance to recuperate a bit.
At the end of his contribution Khalid pointed to a big rise in fundamentalism in nearby Bangladesh. Up to now the “most secular society” in the region, it had seen a massive 700 bomb explosions in four months. A naked military dictatorship cannot be ruled out and the American government would support it. As the mass walk-out across Bangladesh in protest at a day of bombings in August showed, “The working class is the only force that can stop this rise of barbarism”, and it is a country where the CWI must begin to get a base.
In the discussion, Peter Taaffe, who visited Pakistan this year, pointed to the pre-revolutionary mood developing in that poverty-stricken country. He also pointed to an important discussion in the CWI about the nature of political Islam. It had been said that in the East, mild forms of Islamic fundamentalism was of a milder variety but in fact there has been the growth of some particularly virulent forms of ‘jihadism’. He also pointed out that some of the large popular Muslim organisations in the region can pose as big if not even bigger obstacle to the development of socialist ideas and parties.
The comrades of the USP (CWI) in Sri Lanka played a vital role in the post-Tsunami struggle of the poor people of the island for survival and justice. The party secretary, Siritunga Jayasuriya, said at the IEC meeting that,” With the help of the comrades of the CWI, we were the only organisation that acted quickly in Sri Lanka”. If the government had not been so slow, they could have saved the lives of tens of thousands, including the 2,000 who perished on the train when it was thrown off the tracks by the second killer wave. “They can phone quickly enough to New York to save their stocks and shares but cannot lift the telephones to save lives!” he said.
The USP in 2005 had achieved a small vote compared to those for the main capitalist parties but the third highest vote of all contestants. “On the Richter scale of the labour movement”, as Peter Taaffe put it in his contribution, “the vote for the USP was extremely significant”.
Siri himself had been the candidate and pointed to the huge amount of publicity the party received after the result. One journalist had said a veritable hand grenade had been thrown into the proceedings when Siri was able to speak on live TV straight after the acceptance speech of the Mahinda Rajapakse. He pointed to the terrible consequences of the victor’s openly communalist attitude that had polarised society along ethnic lines. It was the first time in history that the president had been elected purely by the Sinhala population. “You let the dogs out and you will have to get them back into the kennel!” he had said, referring to the forces of the JVP (People’s Liberation Front) and JHU (Buddhist Monks’ organisation) and the wave of Sinhala chauvinism he had unleashed.
The oppressed minority Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka, Siri said, know they can expect nothing from the new president. And it was Chandrika Bandaranaike – the leader of his party – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – who had got a 62% victory when she said “I’ll stop the war” in the ’94 election. “It’s like when I was a child and my father took me on a merry-go-round. You think you’ve travelled something like two miles but when you get off, you’re still in the same place! This is what it’s like for the Tamils”.
Later in the discussion, Mahinda from Sri Lanka pointed to the scandal of 400,000 still without jobs after the Tsunami and the tens of thousands of families still in temporary accommodation. The anniversary of the tsunami disaster was approaching but with this present government there would be no re-activating of the agreement known as ‘P-TOMS’ for the distribution of aid resources to all areas of the country including those in the North and East controlled by the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam).
The JVP is pushing for war and insisting on a unitary state with no element of devolution of power. Since the election, there has been a lot of interest in our party from Tamil-speaking people who realise the USP is the only party to have stood up for them. But there have been threatening phone calls from people who do not want us to defend the rights of the Tamil minority. On the other hand, there were literally hundreds of phone calls of congratulation to the party when the results were known.
Many who thought the left was finished and had themselves moved away from the ideas of socialism, have now acknowledged that the USP is the main left force in Sri Lanka. The party has to tap new veins of energy and initiative to realise all the magnificent possibilities that have opened up. The USP can become a real force for socialist change in Sri Lanka and act as a beacon to other socialists in the region and internationally.
Developing in detail important points on Malaysia, Ravie from the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) spoke of the big hopes of the Malaysian people that when Abdullah Badawi took over the premiership from Mahathir Mohammad two years ago, things would change for the better. He had vowed to conduct a battle against corruption and to markedly improve democratic rights. In fact, apart from securing the release of Mahathir’s former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, from prison and clearing his name, Badawi had only dealt with the corruption of a few ’small fish’ politicians and businessman without touching the real ’sharks’. He has pursued a progressive and ‘politically correct’ version of Islam to counter the opposition Islamic Party (PAS) and ‘first world’ values and practices to replace ‘third world’ ones.
Badawi and the National Front government have maintained and even strengthened Mahathir’s pro-capitalist agenda. Police brutality and corruption at every level of government have become more rampant. Environmental destruction such as the haze problem has got worse. Foreign illegal labour is sent home by force. Union and workers’ rights are under attack and further attempts are being made to privatise health, education and basic utilities such as water. The Goods and Services Tax due to be implemented in 2007 means more tax on consumers to increase the profits of the capitalists.
Malaysia is at present the country with the highest disparity between rich and poor in South-East Asia. The dominant party in Malaysia – the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – has managed to sustain its totalitarian stranglehold on power for 48 years since independence. It is the dominant Malay party in the BN or National Front with various tame racially-based parties of Chinese, Indian and others. It has been able to hang on to political power for 48 years by using the divide and rule tactics introduced by British Colonialism. The ‘New Economic Policy’ and other measures were initially designed to alleviate poverty amongst Malay people but have been used instead to build up Malay tycoons to compete with Chinese businessmen!
The state-linked companies (SLCs), which make up only 5% of the firms listed on Malaysia’s stock market, account for 36% of its market capitalisation, are in crisis. The nationalist rhetoric used to justify the establishment of SLCs is now regarded as out of fashion. A 5% stake in Telekom has been sold to a Singaporean counterpart. “An American now runs the SilTerra micro-chip foundry and a Dutchman runs Rapid KL, which operates commuter trains in Kuala Lumpur.” Volkswagen might be buying part of Proton, the national carmaker, which is struggling, as are other SLCs like Malaysian Airlines and Islamic Bank.
In the face of jobs being sucked away into China, Ravie explained, the Malaysian government has been trying to attract new foreign investment by introducing labour laws to allow maximum flexibility and cheap labour by minimising union rights.
Only 8% of workers are unionised under the Malaysia Trade Union Congress (MTUC) which, in spite of some ‘radical’ leaders being elected, seems totally passive and disorientates the rank and file. The MTUC is unique as a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual organisation with the capacity to be a powerful working class organisation, as in the 1940s and ’50s. But at present, there is no organisation agitating in the MTUC to genuinely represent workers.
Ravie explained how the Malaysian government has been consistently using the Internal Security Act and other preventive detention laws against any workers, trade unionists, students, activists, opposition parties and media who criticise the government and defend democratic rights. He made an assessment of most of the opposition forces and the perspective for the Malaysian bourgeoisie using Anwar Ibrahim to protect their system against growing opposition.
There is a huge vacuum on the Malaysian left, he said. As Clare had indicated in her introduction, the PSM, is the only political party in Malaysia that has been championing the struggles of the working class and the poor against the brutality of capitalism. The Stalinist and Maoist regimes with their distorted ’socialism’ and ’Marxism’ had been a barrier in the past for the development of genuine working class leaderships and had obstructed many working class struggles in various countries, but socialist internationalism was vital for drawing all the necessary conclusions from these experiences.
The continued existence of large ‘Communist’ parties in India does to this day complicate the task of genuine Marxists. Not only do they totally distort the ideas of Marxism but through their size, make the task of arguing for a new mass workers’ party more difficult. The two ‘communist’ parties – the CPI and the CPI(M) – support the Congress-led Democratic Front government from outside. They are said to obstruct the carrying through of privatisation and other deregulation measures. The 50 million strong general strike of September 29 last year against neo-liberal policies of the government showed their ability to mobilise wide layers of workers in spite of not really trying. With elections in the offing in both Kerala and West Bengal, where the CPM controls the state governments, the ‘left’ image has to be maintained.
But in fact these administrations show how far they have gone in abandoning the ideas of struggle and socialism. The motto of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (or ‘Buddha’), head of the Calcutta-based state government, is “Reform or perish”! He is notorious for encouraging multinationals to move into West Bengal by promising a compliant work-force and declaring strikes illegal even in IT, which his state government has designated as an ‘essential service’! Clare had pointed to the scandal of $47 million worth of British taxpayers’ (workers’) money, dispensed through the Department for International Development, being used to pay off workers in West Bengal to smooth the path for the ‘Communist’ Party’s massive programme of privatisation.
In his contribution to the discussion, Jagadish from Socialist Alternative (CWI in India) was emphatic that the CPI(M) was a decidedly bourgeois formation at its top – more like a right-wing Social Democratic party. In Kerala where he had recently visited, the CP was a huge private enterprise owner!
The main burden of his speech had been to compare some statistics about the reality of the two ‘Giants’ of Asia – China and India. The value of the economy of the former stood at $1,266 billion while that of India was $510 billion. Foreign Direct Investment at $4.5 billion was less than 10% of that into China. Life expectancy is 8 years higher in China and electricity generation 3 times higher.
“If the Indian economy is going to take off, it needs a good runway”, Jagadish said, quoting from Thomas Freidman in the New York Times. Even the level of education of the new working class in India was affected by the infrastructure that has existed in the previous period. As Dagga from Nigeria had commented in the previous session, the present rapid rate of development in China is not unrelated to the development for decades under a planned economy of basic infrastructure, education etc. Jagadish pointed out that although there are now nine million students graduating each year, there are only 200,000 placements for graduates. It is not only desperate farmers who are resorting to suicide as the only solution to their problems but young qualified people whose hopes of a useful future have been dashed on the rocks of reality.
On the question of how to determine the size of the growing middle class is in India, it was difficult to say. Certainly it is not large enough in itself to sustain a healthy level of growth in the economy, given the absolute poverty of the rest of the population. In the competition for the greatest levels of corruption in the world, India must rank highly. At the top end of society, you have the monopoly oligarchs like the Tata and Hinduja brothers and various political cronies in government, amongst whom corruption is notoriously rife. But even officials responsible for the distribution of ration cards amongst the poorer sections of society amass fortunes. They are the recipients of meagre but regular bribes from those entitled to yellow ration cards who want to exchange them for green ones in order to receive a few more subsidies on the basic necessities of life!
“For the rich in India”, said Jagadish, “Globalisation is a success story; for the ordinary working class, it is a story of sadness and disgust”.
Other countries in the region
In the course of this discussion, comrades from Australia, Austria and Kazakhstan made valuable contributions on other developments in the region. Australia is an important power in the Asia Pacific and tries to play an imperialist role. It has the benefit of a trade surplus at present, Steve Jolly explained but what is happening in China is a bad thing for Australia. Jobs are going. Dissatisfaction with the government, including over the hike in anti-terrorist legislation is growing and an initiative for a new workers’ party has been taken in Victoria.
Having visited Malaysia in September for the PSM’s Socialism 2005 week-end, Steve looked forward to future cooperation, solidarity work and further mutual exchange of political ideas with these comrades. Steve emphasised the lessons to be learned from events in the region. While welcoming the trend towards conflict resolution, the failure of governments or opposition movements to insist on full inquiries into the atrocious killings by the Indonesian Army (TNI) in East Timor and now in Aceh, is unacceptable.
In Vietnam, as Sonja Grusch from Austria explained to the meeting, up to two thirds of the population are either unemployed or under-employed. Sonja has recently visited the country and written about it. Half of all those in work are still in the state sector although that seems to account for only 38% of production in the country. 25% of GDP is now produced through foreign countries. The capitalist class is well advanced in the process of formation. There are bound to be some illusions in capitalism, but there have also been some important strikes in Saigon and elsewhere. Vietnam is a country with great Trotskyist traditions, long-buried but, as capitalism fails to satisfy even basic needs in the country, they will be rediscovered.
Sergei from Kazakhstan described the situation in a country which now ranks in the top ten oil-producing countries. This is what lies behind the arrogance of the dictator/president Nazarbayev and his cronies. It came as no surprise that Nazarbayev again won the recent elections (actually with 90% of the vote)! His family controls all nine of the country’s TV channels.
The so-called communist party has failed to put up any opposition, let alone put a clear class alternative to Nazarbayev’s gangster capitalism. Its vote more than halved from the 12% it received last time round. But there have been important strikes in foreign-owned factories and land occupations against privatisation.
The comrades of the CWI in Kazakhstan, who face tough conditions of political repression, anticipate that, especially in the face of crippling inflation, there will be a considerable increase in class struggle in their country. This will provide the opportunity for their young comrades to build the embryo of a future mass workers’ party.
“The contributions of the comrades in this discussion have underlined the increase in tempo and upturn in the class struggle” said Kevin Simpson in concluding the session. They also indicated the accumulated knowledge and understanding of this International and the growing influence of our groups and parties. There is a rising curve of class struggle in China but gaining an understanding of the concrete situation and the consciousness of workers is vital for building anti-capitalist forces and in particular genuine revolutionary forces.
The freedom of operation of many companies in China that are foreign- or ostensibly privately-owned is severely restricted. If foreign-owned companies try to carry out operations that go against the interests of the ruling CCP, they will be stopped. Behind the Chinese ‘private’ companies is a heavy presence of the state. If there is a collapse in the economy, the response of the regime would not be simply a repetition of what Putin has done in Russia but there could be a rolling back of the privatisation process. We also need to be cautious, as we were in Eastern Europe, for example at the end of the ‘80s and early’90s in recognising that companies being run on the basis of market relations is not sufficient ‘proof’ of a society running on totally capitalist lines.
While some layers of society – in India and China for example – can benefit from the high rates of growth, other sections of society are being driven down into penury – teachers, lawyers and other members of the middle class. The main conflict in the area, that determines much of what is happening in the region, is the rivalry between the two powers – China and the USA. This is a struggle for prestige, power, markets and oil resources.
But the ruling layers in Asia itself are not confident about the future. An important element of instability in Asia is the emergence of the class struggle. The development of class consciousness and new formations is of vital importance for the CWI in working out its strategy and tactics. Where there is massive exploitation of workers, you can have explosions of anger but there still exists a huge gap between the advanced layer and the majority of the workers. This has been illustrated in the PTCL strike in Pakistan where many of the workers saw the ‘solution’ in burning down all the telephone exchanges!
The work of the CWI comrades in the region, especially the onerous tasks undertaken in the disaster areas of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, have laid the ground for a speeding up in the growth of the International. Kevin emphasised that just as important was the previous experience of often sharp and difficult debate and decision-making, for example on the Indo-Lanka Accord in Sri Lanka at the end of the ‘80s. In view of all this and the valuable lessons learned in the more recent period, the CWI’s groups and parties in Asia are well placed to develop into mass, or at least in the immediate period, semi-mass Trotskyist forces.