Mirror exposes Qatar’s World Cup slavery

March 31, 2014 at 8:12 pm (capitalism, Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, posted by JD, profiteers, Slavery, sport, unions, workers)

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The Daily Mirror today returned to its radical, campaigning best, with a front-page lead report by Kevin McGuire on slave labour in Qatar. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time a British tabloid has raised the issue of the murderous conditions of migrant workers in Qatar as the Emirate prepares for the 2022 World Cup (though Nick Cohen has written some excellent pieces for the Observer).

The Mirror‘s report:

Qatar is accused of working 1,200 people to death in its £39billion building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup.

An investigation by the Mirror into the oil-rich Emirate revealed horrific and deadly exploitation of migrant workers, who are forced to live in squalor, drink salt water and get paid just 57p an hour.

Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off. One worker told us: “We are treated like slaves and our deaths are cheap.”

FIFA faces renewed pressure to show Qatar a World Cup red card following the exposure of mass deaths and vile exploitation of construction workers in the region.

A team of British trade union leaders and MPs warned that the 2022 tournament is being built “on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour”, after uncovering appalling abuse during a visit to the Gulf monarchy.

Qatar is accused of working 1,200 migrants to death since being awarded the World Cup in 2010 and campaigners have insisted the shocking death toll could reach 4,000 before a ball is even kicked in the Finals.

On a mission organised by Geneva-based Building and Woodworkers’ International, a global federation of construction unions, I witnessed and heard distressing evidence of systematic mistreatment on an industrial scale. Sneaking into squalid labour camp slums under the cover of darkness, frightened workers lured to Qatar with false promises of high salaries complained of persecution.

One Nepalese carpenter, paid the equivalent of just 95p an hour, said: “We’re treated like slaves. They don’t see us as human and our deaths are cheap. They have our passports so we cannot go home. We are trapped.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism

March 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitalism, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, ex-SWP, Guest post, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, John Rees, Lindsey German, Marxism, national liberation, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, trotskyism, USSR)

Above: neo-Stalinists Rees, Murray and Galloway

Guest post by George Mellor

“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends” - Leon Trotsky (1938)

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the ‘Third Camp’ – independent working class politics that refuses to side with the main ruling class power blocs (or ‘camps’) of the world. At the outbreak of WW2 the majority of would-be revolutionary socialists (and quite a few reformists as well) supported Russia, seeing it as some form of socialist state. However a minority (the ‘Third Camp’ socialists, mainly grouped around Max Shachtman) disagreed, viewing it as imperialist – of a different type to Western imperialism, but imperialist nevertheless.

Some on the left who came out of the Third Camp tradition (and, remember, the SWP was once part of that current and over Ukraine has shown signs of returning to it) now come to the defence of capitalist Russia. In doing so these acolytes of Putin – the neo-Stalinists – use the same framework to defend Russian imperialism as their predecessors did to defend ‘Soviet’ imperialism.

The basic framework they take from the arsenal of Stalinism is the view of the world as divided into two camps: on the one hand the peace-loving countries who supported Stalin’s USSR and on the other, the enemies of peace, progress and socialism. In the period of the Popular Front (1934-39) this found Russia aligned with the bourgeois democracies of the West, but between 1939 and ’41 that policy was superseded by an alliance with Hitler and the Axis powers. The consequence of both policies (and the intellectual zig-zagging required of Comintern loyalists) was that communist politics were subordinated to Stalin’s foreign policy, effectively cauterising the revolution in the inter-war years and disorientating socialists for over a generation.

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

With the advent of the Ukraine crisis the neo-Stalinists were faced with the following problem: Russia invaded (using traditional Stalinist / Fascist methods) another county, after the people of that country overthrew the incumbent, corrupt, government. From what bourgeois - let alone socialist - principle does Russia have the right to invade an independent country? Of course there is none and so the neo-Stalinists have to invent one or two: the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten point statement is just such an invention.

The StWC statement provides a rationale which adds up to telling us the fact Russia has invaded a sovereign country is not as important as the new cold war (I feel a moral panic or, perhaps, political panic coming on as StWC functionaries stalk the land warning us of the dangers of ‘the new cold war’). Woven through the ‘ten points’ is the continual attempt to demonise the 1 million-plus movement which overthrew the Ukrainian government. They claim the movement is fascist / neo-con / in collusion with the European Union – in fact every bad thing one can think of. Such demonization is straight out of the Stalinist playbook, a classic example of blaming the victim. The character of the Ukraine movement has been largely shaped by its experience of greater Russia chauvinism: the idea that a pure democratic let alone socialist movement would spring fully formed out of the Euromaidan was never a possibility. For sure fascist and ultra-nationalist forces played a prominent role, and maybe even paid agents of the EU were present: the point is how should socialists relate to the million-strong movement and how can we seek to influence it? This is simply not an issue for the neo-Stalinists because they have written off the Ukrainian rebels as one reactionary mass not worth a second look.

In truth the StWC statement is neither here nor there, (a blogger at The Economist has taken apart the non sequiturs, half-truths and downright lies of the neo-Stalinists in a point by point rebuttal): it is simply a particularly crude example of the ‘campist’ world view.

For the neo-Stalinists the `hard headed’ geopolitical realties of the need to defend Russia against the ‘West’ always trumps the truth, morality, political principle and consistency: just as they support the invasion of the Ukraine and fit the facts around this, so they support the butcher Assad (crimes against humanity, mass murder, poison gas user, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starvation, state-sponsored terror, wholesale torture) and in that case, support for sheer barbarism.

Of course socialists are unlikely to affect events in the Ukraine, let alone Syria: however even if we can only proclaim it, we have a right – and a duty - to say we support neither Western or Russian imperialism but fight for independent working class action.

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The First World War: a history lesson for Gove

January 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, Daily Mail, Europe, Germany, history, imperialism, Marxism, posted by JD, Tory scum, tragedy, truth, war)

Following Michael Gove’s bizarre article in the Mail,  attacking ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ (and then fellow Tory Max Hastings’ equally fatuous follow-up), I thought it might be an idea to check up on what a proper historian has to say about the First World War. Here’s the late James Joll (Emeritus Professor of the University of London and a Fellow of the British Academy), in his 1973 book Europe Since 1870:

Any single explanation for the outbreak of war is likely to be too simple. While in the final crisis of July 1914 the German government acted in a way that made war more likely, the enthusiasm with which war was greeted by large sections of opinion in all the belligerent countries and the assumption by each of the governments concerned that their vital national interests were at stake were the result of an accumulation of factors — intellectual, social, economic, and even psychological, as well as political and diplomatic — which all contributed to the situation in 1914 and which can be illustrated in the events of the last weeks before the outbreak of war.

While some people have argued — and it was a popular view in the period between the wars — that the war was the result of the ‘old diplomacy’ and of an alliance system based on secret agreements, others, and especially some of the leading German historians since the Second World War, have seen in the war a half-conscious or in some cases deliberate attempt by governments to distract attention from insoluble domestic problems by means of an active foreign policy and an appeal to national solidarity at a time of war. For Marxists the war was inherent in the nature of capitalism; the forces which drove states to expand overseas were in this view leading inevitably to a clash in which the great international cartels would no longer be able to agree on a peaceful division of the under-developed world and would force governments into war for their own economic interests. Other writers have concentrated attention on the implications of strategic decisions and on the influence of for example the naval rivalry between Germany and Britain in creating international tension, or on the effects of the German decision finally taken in 1907 that, in order to defeat the French army before turning to fight the Russians on the Eastern Front, it would be necessary to violate the neutrality of Belgium, and thus run the risk of bringing Britain into the war as a guarantor of Belgian neutrality under the treaty of 1839

[...]

If we try to account for the widespread optimism and enthusiasm with which the war was initially greeted by many people in all the belligerent countries, we have to look at many of the factors described in the preceding chapters — the belief that the doctrine of the survival of the fittest could be applied to international relations, so that war seemed to be the supreme test of a nation’s right to survive; the belief, stemming from Nietzsche, that only by a supreme shock and effort could the limitations of bourgeois life be transcended and its essence transmuted into something nobler. Or again, even if the governments of Europe did not deliberately envisage war as a way out of their internal political difficulties, the fact remains that war briefly produced a sense of national solidarity in which bitter political quarrels were forgotten: Irish Catholics and Ulster Protestants could agree to shelve their differences ‘for the duration’, as the phrase went; right-wing Catholics and socialist free-thinkers who had not spoken for years shook hands with each other in the French Chamber of Deputies, and the Kaiser gave a warm greeting to a gentleman whom he mistakenly supposed to be the Social Democratic leader Scheidemann. In Germany in particular the war seemed to create a new sense of solidarity, of belonging to a Volsgemeinschaft such as a generation of social critics had been longing for, a national community in which class antagonisms were transcended and in which the Germans felt rightly or wrongly a sense of mission and of purpose which had been lacking since the 1860s and early 1870s.

But perhaps in addition to the illusion that the war would be a short one, the illusion which received the most bitter blow, even though it was to be revived hopefully by President Wilson in 1918, was the belief that international relations could be conducted on a rational basis in which the interests of the various nations could be made to harmonise with each other without the need for armed conflict. It was this illusion that had governed Grey’s diplomacy and his attempt to mediate between the continental powers in the last days of July 1914; and it was a similar belief that inspired the leaders of the Second International when they came to Brussels in the hope of finding a way to demonstrate that the international solidarity of the European working class was stronger than the division between their capitalist rulers. The ideological assumptions on which European liberalism had rested were already breaking down before 1914. The war was going to hasten this process in the field of practical politics and everyday social and economic life. The war destroyed the political, economic, social and territorial structure of the old Europe and neither conservatism nor liberalism nor even socialism were ever going to be the same again. From the standpoint of sixty years later there is all too much truth in the prophesy made by Jean Jaures in 1905: ‘From a European war a revolution may spring up and the ruling classes would do well to think of this. But it may also result, over a long period, in crises of counter-revolution, of furious reaction, of exasperated nationalism, of stifling dictatorships, of monstrous militarism, a long chain of retrograde violence.’

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I have little doubt that I shall be returning to James Joll from time to time throughout the coming year: in the meanwhile I recommend Europe Since 1870 (from which the excerpts quoted above were taken) and his The Origins of the First World War (1984, with Gordon Martel). I doubt that Michael Gove will want to read anything so objective, scholarly and challenging.

Comrade Coatesy: ‘Daily Mail Attacks My Granddad.’

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“It batters down all Chinese walls”

October 17, 2013 at 5:29 am (banks, capitalism, China, economics, grovelling, Human rights, Jim D, London, Tory scum)

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e; to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image” – Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne addresses staff and students at Peking University in Beijing.

Listening to George Osborne grovelling to the Chinese ruling class while his Tory sidekick Boris Johnson capered like a jester at the court of an all-powerful monarch, brought to mind Marx’s vivid descriptions of capitalism and the bourgeoisie sweeping aside outmoded social forms and cultural traditions. Just how strong, one wonders, is the Tory commitment to bourgeois democracy?
 
As Osborne and Johnson pleaded for Chinese investment and announced a simplified visa procedure for Chinese tourists, you can be damned sure no mention was made, even behind the scenes, of human rights or political prisoners. Britain must “show some respect” to the Chinese leadership, Osborne told BBC Radio 4, adding “of course we can bring up issues that we have concerns about. But we have to respect the fact that it is a deep and ancient civilisation that is tackling its own problems. We have to show some respect for that.”
 
As for the Dalai Lama: we’ve “no plans to meet him again.”

Nothing must stand in the way of Osborne’s “personal mission” to make London a Chinese offshore banking centre and a global renminbi hub.

The Torygraph‘s Michael Deacon gives a pretty fair account of Osborne’s grovelling:

“Long gone, thankfully,” said George Osborne, “are the days when Western politicians turned up here and simply demanded that China open up its economy to Western economies.”

He’s right. Our politicians no longer demand.

They beg.

The Chancellor’s speech at Peking University, on the first of his five days in China, was almost magnificently obsequious. Lavishly he praised “your great country”, “the depth and sophistication of the Chinese culture”, “the value you place on consistency and stability and on friendship”, and “your Vice Premier Ma Kai, whose reputation for economic reform and diligence impresses all”.

According to his script, available on the Government website, Mr Osborne is delighted that Britain and China have grown more “complimentary”. At first I thought he meant complementary, but on second thoughts I suspect not.

Normally when Mr Osborne encounters something he considers Left-wing – for example, Ed Miliband’s idea to freeze energy bills – he derides it. For some reason however his speech today contained no jokes at the expense of China’s ruling Communist Party. Perhaps he’s saving up those jokes for later in the trip. Although if he does tell them, he may find that the local authorities generously extend his visit. By, say, three or four decades.

Britain, gushed the Chancellor, would be only too delighted to welcome lots of lovely Chinese investment. We couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Not like those rotten Europeans, who “find all sorts of ways of making clear that Chinese investment is not welcome” – heavens, no, don’t invest in their snooty little countries! Invest in Britain! Do come in, sirs! May we take your coats, sirs? And may we recommend a bottle of the Chateau Margaux? On the house, sirs, of course!

His audience was largely made up of students. It was, he gurgled, “an honour” to be among them, “the students who are going to shape the future of the world”. Students who would make advances in technology, build new businesses, create jobs around the world – but more than that. “You,” said Mr Osborne, almost sighing with admiration, “are the students of today who will write the poems of tomorrow.”

And with any luck, they’ll come and open a vast new poem factory in Britain, employing thousands of British youths to mass-produce state-of-the-art villanelles at competitive prices…

Or, to put it another way:

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at least compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

Above: from the Financial Times

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The treachery of Mandelsnake

September 26, 2013 at 10:08 am (capitalism, economics, Jim D, labour party, profiteers, reformism, Tony Blair)

“As a result of the speech, I believe that perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards.  At the business department I tried to move on from the conventional choice in industrial policy between state control and laissez-faire. The industrial activism I developed showed that intervention in the economy – government doing some of the pump priming of important markets, sectors and technologies – was a sensible approach” – Peter Mandelson

Above: puppet of big business

It was, of course, inevitable that Ed Miliband’s modest proposal to freeze energy prices for 20 months would induce howls of outrage from the big six energy profiteers and their mouthpieces – one of whom performed exactly the same service for the banks not so long ago.

Scare stories  about the lights going out, and thinly-veiled threats of an investment strike, were entirely predictable from the energy giants, the City, the right-wing media and the Tories.

But doesn’t poor Miliband have the right to expect at least a discreet silence from people who - on paper at least – are in the Labour Party? Obviously not. Loathsome Lord Mandelsnake has emerged from the woodwork to denounce the plan and accuse Miliband of going “backwards” – by which the Snake presumably means being slightly less craven towards big business than he and his boss Mr Blair were when they were in government.

Actually, Miliband’s proposals are pretty weak: what he aught to be promising (especially now in the face of the blackout and investment strike blackmail) is simply to renationalise all power generation and distribution.

And Miliband needs to understand that there is a group of unreconstructed Blairites like Mandelsnake, organised by the ‘Progress‘ outfit, who are absolutely determined to thwart even the slightest suggestion of a leftward shift in Labour policy and don’t give a damn if the Party loses the next election.

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Was profit a factor in the Galician train crash?

July 27, 2013 at 9:11 am (capitalism, Jim D, profiteers, tragedy, transport, workers)

If this is true it should be more widely publicised:

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Profit behind Galician train crash?

From the Basque newspaper Gara:

The disaster took place on a curve where a new high speed rail line was connected to a slow one – to save money. Drivers were supposed to slow from 220 km to 80 km. There was nearly an accident during the inauguration run.
There was no automatic braking system -to save money… Drivers had to be punctual to avoid passengers claiming compensation (and save money.) The accident train was running late.

…But of course, it’ll be the driver who carries the can.


H/t: Pete Gillard (via Facebook)‬

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The Kilburn Manifesto

June 25, 2013 at 7:45 am (capitalism, capitalist crisis, democracy, economics, intellectuals, Jim D, left, socialism)

Valuable contribution to an essential debate…or the latest posturing from a discredited old ‘New Left’?

From ‘Soundings’:

After Neoliberalism?  The Kilburn Manifesto

Edited by Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin

Although the neoliberal economic settlement is unravelling, its  political underpinning remains largely unchallenged. Our manifesto calls into  question the neoliberal order itself, and argues that we need radical alternatives to its foundational assumptions.

After Neoliberalism: The Kilburn Manifesto

The manifesto will be published (free) in online instalments over the next 12 months.
Chapter 1 Framing statement After  neoliberalism: analysing the present Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey,  Michael Rustin

Chapter 2:      Vocabularies of the Economy Doreen Massey

Comment on the Kilburn manifesto
Next instalments Michael Rustin Relational welfare (June) Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea Neoliberal common sense (July) Beatrix Campbell Feminism and the new patriarchy (August) Ben Little Generational politics (September)

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Further comment introduced by Doreen Massey over at Open Democracy / Our Kingdom

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Bangladesh factory tragedy: statement from Labour Behind the Label

April 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm (Bangladesh, capitalism, Human rights, internationalism, profiteers, reblogged, rights, solidarity, tragedy, workers)

Bangladeshi soldiers use earth mover during rescue operation at site of factory collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. At least 161 people were killed.

Bangladeshi soldiers use earth mover during rescue operation at site of factory collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. At least 161 people were killed. / AP

Statement from Labour Behind the Label:

Labour Behind the Label today mourns the senseless loss of life, after an 8 story building in Savar, Bangladesh housing 3 clothing factories collapsed this morning (24.4.13). Over 82 workers [now known to be at least 161 -JD] were killed in the wreckage and 800 people injured, with the death toll set to rise as further bodies are found. Labour rights groups and trade unions in Bangladesh and internationally are calling for immediate action from international brands following the collapse.

 The building contained 3 separate clothing factories, which locals say housed around 6,000 workers. Following the collapse, activists were able to enter the ruins and discovered labels from brands including Primark and Mango, indicating that they were sourcing from the factories. Rana Plaza also produced for a host of well known brand names including C&A, Matalan and Wal-Mart.

This collapse follows the Tazreen factory fire in the same district that killed 112 workers five months ago, and the Spectrum Factory collapse of 2005 which caused the death of at least 64 workers. The speed of the garment industry expansion in the Savar area is an ongoing and pressing concern. Savar, just outside of Dhaka, has seen significant growth in garment factories in recent times, with factories being built on swamp land and without proper building regulations in place. Labour rights groups say unnecessary deaths will continue unless and until brands and government officials agree to an independent and binding fire and building safety program.

“It’s unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring is completely inadequate,” says Sam Maher of Labour Behind the Label.

She adds: “Right now the families of the victims are grieving and the community is in shock. But shortly they, and the hundreds injured in the collapse, will be without income and without support. Compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories, and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening.”

Labour Behind the Label is calling upon all major brands sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the ‘Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement’ immediately to stop future tragedies from happening. The Clean Clothes Campaign, together with local and global unions and labour rights organisations, has developed this sector-wide program that includes independent building inspections, worker rights training, public disclosure and a long-overdue review of safety standards. This transparent and practical agreement is unique in that it is supported by all key labour stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally.

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Note to political cartoonists: time to revisit and update this:

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1987: The triumph of Thatcherism and the collapse of ’1945 socialism’

April 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm (AWL, capitalism, capitalist crisis, class, Conseravative Party, elections, From the archives, history, Jim D, labour party, Marxism, socialism, Thatcher, Tory scum, trotskyism, unions, workers)

From the archives:

Following Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987, Workers Liberty magazine carried this editorial (unattributed at the time, but actually written by Sean Matgamna).

Above: Thatcher and sidekick Tebbit triumphant in 1987

No, socialism is not dying!

Labour gained ground slightly during the 1987 British general election campaign — the first time it had done so since 1959. But the Tories still won. The central lesson — Neil Kinnock said it and he was right — is that you don’t win an election in four weeks.

The failure of the Labour leaders to campaign (except against Labour’s own left wing) over the last four years, their terrible political timidity, and their efforts to pull Labour back from its leftism of the early leftism of the early 1980s to bourgeois respectability, meant that Labour started at a disadvantage and on the defensive.

But between 1945 and 1970 Labour always got at least 43% of the vote, even when it lost elections. This time we got only 30.8% — the lowest share, apart from 1983, since 1931. Since 1974 Labour has never scored above 39%. Obviously, there are longer-term problems.

The vainglorious Tory press says that socialism is dying, and that Thatcher’s third term will see it off. They are wrong. There is political decay not of working-class socialism, but of something else which has passed for socialism for too long.

In creating the Labour Party, the British working class went beyond pure and simple trade unionism; but not far beyond it. The Labour Party, in its fundamental politics, has always been no more than trade unionism extended to parliamentary politics. But the trade unions bargain within capitalism on the basis of market relations. They start from the existing relations of labour and capital, and do deals on that basis. They are bourgeois organisations. In periods of depression they may well collude in cuts in workers’ living standards. Essentially the same is true of the Labour Party.

The 1945 Labour government was not a break from that capitalist framework: the fundamentals of the policy of nationalisations and the welfare state were part of a national consensus created under the wartime coalition government. The Labour government left capitalism healthier than it found it.

When Labour returned to office in 1964 it presented itself as the party that would modernise Britain. The big-business magazine ‘The Economist’ , which today is Thatcherite, backed Labour. But Labour’s modernisation effort failed — primarily because of the strength of the working class, which saw off Wilson’s anti-union legislation. Labour turned against its own working-class base. This marked a basic point of decline in Labour’s history.

By the 1960s the long boom which had underpinned a relatively easy consensus in British politics was visibly decaying. Britain’s growth was grievously lagging behind other big capitalist countries. British capitalism needed to reorganise itself, to adjust to the loss of its empire, to replace old and stagnant industries by more modern enterprise, and to deal with its special problem — a too-mighty trade union movement.

The history of the last quarter-century is one of repeated attempts by governments, Tory and Labour, to carry out that restructuring of British capitalism; great struggles by the working class which thwarted them; but — and this is fundamental — a failure by the working class to create its own political alternative; and thus, finally, the victory (to an extent, and for now) of a radical ruling-class alternative, Thatcherism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chinese ruling class shuffle the pack

November 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm (AWL, capitalism, China, imperialism, Jim D, plutocrats, reblogged, stalinism)

Adapted (by Jim Denham) from an article originally written before the announcement of the new leadership, by Camila Bassi

One in five of the world’s populace now have new leaders for a decade’s term.

The 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was an assembly of the ruling class so tightly regulated that all that China’s people and the rest of the world saw was a well-orchestrated display of bureaucratic power.

Behind-the-scenes faction fights between the elites within the Party had already been settled for the sake of the ruling class’s survival.

The previous Vice-President Xi Jinping (a candidate accceptable to all of the Party’s factions) succeeded Hu Jintao as leader of the CCP.

After Xi and the No. 2 official, Li Keqiang, who becomes premier, the other top officials on the ageing Politburo Standing Committee, in order of their new rank, are Zhang Dejiang, 66, a North Korean-trained economist now running Chongqing; Yu Zhengsheng, 67, the Shanghai party boss; and Liu Yunshan, 65, the head of the Communist Party’s propaganda department, which is in charge of censorship. The final two on the seven-member committee are Wang Qishan, 64, known for his economic management skills, who will be in charge of anti-corruption efforts as head of the party’s discipline commission in the new government; and Zhang Gaoli, 66, the party boss in Tianjin.

Now seems an apt moment to pose the question, what defines the present political moment in China? I’ll provide a response through seven key observations.

China's politburo

Above: China’s new politburo standing committee at the Great Hall of the People

1. The Princelings, the Populists, and the Bo Xilai affair

Two defining factions at the top of the CCP are the “princelings” and the “populists”.

The princelings tend to have familial roots in the Party and geographical origins in the economically prosperous coastal areas of the country. They are seen to represent business interests.

The populists tend to have climbed the ranks of the Party and to have come from more inland (poorer) Chinese provinces. They are perceived to speak more for the vulnerable social interest groups.

Bo Xilai, while head of Chongqing, had ambitions for the Politburo Standing Committee. Bo (a princeling) represented — through the since-coined Chongqing Model — one avenue for more general political reform in China. In this major city he drove through a combination of high state control, which included a high-profile (but selective) clampdown on organised crime, the promotion of Maoist “red culture”, and the courting of foreign investment alongside large-scale public provision.

Bo’s downfall came from the death of a British businessman and his related corrupt business dealings, but also from factional fighting and his challenge to Party convention. The significance? The reaction of many of the populace, which questioned the deep-seated corrupt nature of the Party itself and how Bo had risen to such prominence.

His downfall was the biggest event in China since the 1989 revolutionary uprisings centred on Tiananmen Square. With approximately 500 million Chinese netizens, the Party cannot control everyday life as it once could.

2. Troubled times for the Chinese economy

China’s economic growth has been slowing down for seven consecutive quarters and this year it will have  the slowest economic growth rate since 1999.

The huge spending package launched in 2008 has, it is estimated, led to the building of half of all of the country’s physical assets within the last six years.

The “inevitable side effects of that stimulus — non-performing loans and potentially deflationary overcapacity — have not yet taken hold” (Pilling, 2012). Take housing as an example. About 30% of the country’s housing stock is currently lying empty. If we add to this that the economy has still to be rebalanced by the CCP from investment to consumption, and the economy’s dependence on exports to a recession-hit Europe, troubled days surely lie ahead.

3. working class protest and militancy

As surveyed in my article in Solidarity 258, both the quantity of working class protests in China has significantly increased this century and the qualitative nature has changed, with these protests becoming more militant.

As previously noted: “Whilst worker protests in the early 2000s predominantly involved laid-off workers from state-owned enterprises and rural migrants employed in the private sector, by the end of the decade a new group, or a ‘new generation’, emerged. Those born in the 1980s and 1990s have altered the nature of the migrant worker to one younger, better educated, more connected, and with higher expectations and more willingness to take on proactive demands.”

4. The rise of “middle class” discontent

This is less militant. So-called “middle class” protest in China is more about better government than the overthrow of the existing one. But the rise in discontent amongst middle-income Chinese includes currents desiring some form of bourgeois democracy.

Intense political discontents on housing, health, education, and the environment, are all fundamentally driven by a concern that the CCP pursuit of economic growth is at the expense of ordinary people.

The recent NIMBY protest in Ningbo against a petrochemical plant led to a concession by the local government to stop the plant’s expansion. This decision can be explained both by the fact that it occurred in the run up to the 18th Congress, during which the Party seeks an especially compliant population, and by the Party’s more general strategy (unlike the more violent one towards militant working class demands) of keeping the peace by piecemeal allowances.

5. Anxious maintenance of internal stability

Based on observations 1, 2, 3 and 4, an increasingly more assertive Chinese population — able and willing to take on its government — might well indicate that China is on the verge of a revolution.

One further factor needs to be brought into play for such an assessment, which is the ability of the CCP to (in its own words) “maintain internal stability”.

The Ministry of Public Security records the number of “mass incidents” rising from 8,700 in 1993, 32,000 in 1999, 50,000 in 2002, and at present 100,000 annually. More to the point, the Party is increasingly serious (paranoid even) about keeping control; currently spending as much if not more on the maintenance of internal stability than its defence force.

So, while my article in Solidarity 231 assesses the potential of an inspiring struggle against land seizures and for local democracy in Wukan village, any suggestion of meaningful political reform is tempered by the introduction of militias in Wukan since August of this year. This reflects, more generally across China, “the newest incarnation of a venerable approach to population control and social management” (Wagner, 2012).

6. The Sino-Japanese islands dispute and Chinese nationalism

The CCP is creating new facts on the water in its long-running maritime disputes with the Philippines and Japan.

Could this situation escalate further and draw China, Japan and the United States into a war? It cannot be ruled out.

Not unrelated is the nature and volatility of Chinese nationalism, which has deeply embedded within it a popular anti-Japanese racism, as seen in the recent wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations across the country. Herein lies a means for the CCP to unify the populace and distract them from the problems within by the problems without.

7. China in Africa

Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times (21 October) states: “The big picture remains the Pentagon’s AFRICOM spreading its militarized tentacles against the lure of Chinese soft power in Africa, which goes something like this: in exchange for oil and minerals, we build anything you want, and we don’t try to sell you ‘democracy for dummies’.”

A widespread view on the left, based on observations like this, is that US imperialism is the big bad evil, while China remains a palatable alternative. A serious assessment of Chinese imperialism is avoided.

China is now Africa’s largest trading partner and lends the continent more money than the World Bank. Chinese companies have entered profitable oil markets in, for instance, Angola, Nigeria, Algeria and Sudan, made big mining deals in countries like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are constructing what is claimed to be the world’s biggest iron mine in Gabon; additionally, land is being sought for large-scale agribusinesses, and physical infrastructure — to swiftly move capital and labour — is rapidly developing (French, 2012).

In terms of global geopolitics and imperialism, we need to take stock of what this means.

It is not so much the implications of any one of these observations but rather the consequences of them all climaxing and cumulating which makes China’s present moment so critical. Watch this space.

References

Associated Press (2012) ‘Successful pollution protest shows China takes careful line with rising middle class’. The Washington Post.

Bassi, C (2012) ‘China’s new worker militants’. Solidarity 258.

Bassi, C (2012) ‘Chinese workers fight for democracy’. Solidarity 231.

BBC (2012) ‘China’. BBC World Online.

French, H (2012) ‘The Next Empire’. The Atlantic.

Pilling, D (2012) ‘Xi should draw up a new social contract for China’. Financial Times.

Wagner, D (2012) ‘The Rise of the Chinese Urban Militias’. Huffington Post.

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