Asia and Africa: Processes of revolution and counter-revolution

Masses need socialist alternative to end poverty, wars and oppression

Over 70 representatives of sections and supporters of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa met in Belgium, from 2-9 December, to discuss the world situation in a period of deep capitalist crisis and when working people are facing intense attacks against their living standards.

We previously published a summary of the CWI International Executive Committee (IEC) meeting discussion on the ‘World economy and World Relations’, a Statement on the current world situation adopted by the CWI IEC (‘World Perspectives: Global capitalism’s enduring crisis), a report on the discussion on Europe and a discussion on ‘Programme and Demands’ (the Transitional Programme today).

Our final report concerns the situation facing workers and the poor in Africa and Asia and perspectives for the development of a socialist alternative.

The discussion on the growing potential of revolution and the threat of counter-revolution in Africa and Asia showed not just the depth of the forces of the CWI in important countries but also the vital important role the CWI can play.

Clare Doyle (CWI International Secretariat) led off the discussion, raising the sheer enormity of the problems besetting working people in Asia and Africa. These two continents hold the two most populated nations, as well as the largest number of the world’s poor. They also hold some of the very richest. The heritage of colonialism persists in the form of vicious oppression, dictatorship and corruption. Mass movements of revolutionary proportions developed after the 1997 crisis in Asia and up to seven mass general strikes have taken place in Nigeria since 2000.

The ruling classes’ desperate attempts to hold on to power can provoke new waves of revolution as, with the new downturn in the world economy, the condition of the majority of the population in the neo-colonial world goes from bad to worse. Even in countries like India and China, where growth rates give the appearance of not being affected by the world economic crisis, the economic tsunami is preparing the way for convulsions in both continents, presaged by the dramatic struggles taking place in South Africa every day.

In a number of countries, the so-called Left have carried out neo-liberal attacks on workers and poor people. Not least, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which suffered severe losses in recent elections and is now mired in corruption. In South Africa, the Communist Party and the union organisation, Cosatu, are feeling huge pressure from below as union leaders are attacked for betraying the membership. The nightmare conditions of life in Pakistan, including bombings in the major cities, have depressed the fighting capacity of the working class, but the CWI has maintained a fighting force in tact. In Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party (CWI) held a successful congress recently and has declared its intention to stand a candidate in the presidential election.

The struggle for democratic rights – freedom of the media, the right to organise and strike, the right to freely stand and vote in elections and the right of oppressed nations to self-determination – are a vital part of the programme of the socialists of the CWI and its sections in the neo-colonial countries.

An economic tsunami

It is ironic that the supposed ‘modern’ and ‘democratic’ advanced capitalist countries have come to depend on these countries, where some of the most barbaric forms of oppression are used. However these economies face economic tsunamis of their own.

India and China have been seen as “engines of growth” and Nigeria’s economy was supposed to become ‘Africa’s Tiger’. While China’s economy has been able to weather the current storm with a huge stimulus package, and India is not so affected by falling exports, they will be buffeted by economic and social storms in the near future. Nigeria is almost completely reliant on exporting its oil. Textile manufacturing has gone from employing one million workers to just 40,000 in the past period. Even the war destruction in Sri Lanka is being viewed as an economic opportunity, with the ‘peace dividend’ more likely to benefit Indian and Chinese re-construction companies than the hundreds of thousands of people displaced during the slaughter.

Repression and the struggle for democracy

In the discussion, comrade Senan (England & Wales) pointed to how, in Sri Lanka, the brutal slaughter, that supposedly ended the civil war, was carried out by the Rajapakse regime armed to the teeth by India and China. It claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. At the end of the war, up to 300,000 people were still in effect, in prison camps. The Sri Lankan state is using its victory to crack down on any dissenters. One journalist was jailed for 20 years recently for writing a single critical article. The USP leaders are constantly in danger.

The regime has been temporarily strengthened by its victory over the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). The country now faces an election where even some Tamil leaders are backing one or other of the two mass murderers who are standing as the main candidates; Mahinda Rajapakse, the current president, and General Fonseka, army commander for much of the war.

Military repression has not been limited to Sri Lanka alone; it is symptomatic of how capitalism maintains its control. Comrade Jagadish (India) pointed to the ¾ million Indian troops now occupying Kashmir – the largest concentration of troops in the world. In reality, there is not one but a number of civil wars raging in different parts of India.

The banning of a CWI comrade from China recently was a set-back but for thousands of workers, youth and ethnic minorities who come into conflict with the state apparatus, they are dealt brutal suppression.

Billions of workers, youth and poor masses in Africa and Asia face a struggle for even some of the most basic rights. 70% of Indians and 80% of Indonesians live below the poverty line. Inevitably working and poor people will struggle and are struggling. Their battle to lift themselves out of dire poverty, by getting a few dollars more, will not be enough. It will be linked to fighting for democratic rights and to the struggle to take over and run society themselves by mobilising against capitalism.

In India – called “the largest democracy in the world” – a senior economist even spoke of moving from “one person, one vote to one rupee, one vote”! In Hong Kong, the Beijing-backed proposals for changes in the voting system would go further in the direction of making the right to vote the privilege of the wealthy. Functional constituencies which give multiple votes to the rich will be increased. In one such constituency, representing the financial sector, a member of the Legislative Council (Legco) is elected in a ward of 140 votes and has the same powers as a member from a ward of 250,000 votes! The people of Hong Kong are even further away from achieving real democracy than when it was promised in1984.

Nigeria has been under military dictatorship for 29 of its 50 years of independence. Comrade Segun Sango (Nigeria) outlined that the deeply unpopular Umaru Musa Yar’Adua regime is very weak. There has been a long campaign for self-determination in the Niger Delta led by MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) that has been temporarily stopped with the fighters’ leaders being bought off. Nigeria could face the prospect of another military coup, but also of explosive movements of workers, including new general strikes.

Comrade Anthony (Australia) reported on his recent visit to Indonesia. He explained the on the draconian restrictions to stop the formation of political parties; thousands of registered members are needed in a large number of regions. Even then it is on the whim of administrators whether a party can stand or not. With only different wings of the capitalist class standing, and their candidates having Suharto-era military commanders as running mates, the working class has no voice. KASBI, a left trade union federation representing 128,000 workers, along with a number of left groups, campaigned for a boycott in the last election. Over 38% of people abstained but a struggle to build a new workers’ party is under way. Anthony also visited the Tamil refugees trapped on a boat in the port of Merak. First fleeing the horrors of the prison camps, they are struggling for full rights of asylum in Indonesia or Australia.

No future for workers and poor under capitalism

The idea that the neo-colonial world should be called ‘developing’ is a complete fallacy. Comrade Weizmann (South Africa) pointed out that South Africa is the most unequal society in the world, a title that many capitalist countries are all vying for. Workers in Hong Kong have been reduced to living in wire cages containing their personal items and a mattress, while a world record-breaking $57 million was spent on one luxury flat recently. Workers and youth will be, and in many cases already are, drawing important conclusions about the need to replace capitalism.

Comrade Robert Bechert (CWI International Secretariat) replied to the discussion, explaining the fundamental role that a socialist party can play in re-developing working class organisations, such as the foundation of the Progressive Workers’ Federation of Pakistan, by CWI supporters, which already has 600,000 members.

The difference between the victory of social revolution or counter-revolution can be reduced ultimately to the question of leadership of the working class and poor. Nothing illustrates the need for a socialist leadership of the masses more than when it is absent or fails to live up to the tasks facing it. It was the collapse of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the largest section of the Fourth International (Trotskyists) after the Second World War that led directly to the horrors of communalist violence we have seen since then.

A correct socialist leadership can show a clear way out of the quagmire of capitalism and this can and will draw to it the best activists in the fight against the profit system. Anthony (Australia), during in his visit to Indonesia, held discussions with organisations interested in working with the CWI. In Africa, CWI support in Nigeria and Africa can act as a launching pad to spreading the genuine ideas of Marxism to other countries in the continent. The work of comrade Ravie and other CWI supporters has led to the presence of the CWI in Malaysia and also laid the basis for developing links to socialists in Burma, Thailand and Burma.

The CWI continues to be an effective force, capable of applying the ideas of Marxism in some of the most difficult situations in the world. The endless horrors that capitalism is now inflicting upon the mass of the population in Africa and Asia will only be stopped when capitalism is overthrown through a struggle led by the working class. A socialist federation of African and Asian states, and a democratically planned global economy geared to meet the needs of the most deprived people on the planet and the whole working class, would bring to an end the destructive effect that the ‘free market’ has on people, the environment and our future.

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December 2009