by Dianne F and David F
Posted June 9, 2013
This is a followup on our previous document “U.S. Politics Rough Sketch” (Pre-convention DB #1). Here again we offer a rough and partial sketch, looking at aspects of global austerity and the U.S. imperial role in its phase of relative decline. Obviously, the issues touched on here can all be subjects of much more extended discussion.
1) Globally, the restructuring and insecurity it unleashed has created extraordinary benefits for the one percent, strengthened the hands of the capitalist elite, further unbalancing the scale between the powerful few and growing precariousness for the vast majority. This is dramatically illustrated in Europe, where many of the gains of 20th century working-class struggle that resulted in secure employment for the majority and a social network that functioned to reduce inequality have been attacked. Although the different countries are at different stages in the attack, Greece and Spain stand as countries that have been most affected. Along with Portugal, the Irish Republic and Italy, they confront the misery of a potential “lost decade.” (The Japanese economy has had essentially two consecutive lost decades.)
In terms of their stated goals of reducing government debt and restoring “fiscal health,” austerity policies are colossal failures. But in regard to the class agenda of undercutting workers’ organization, job security, pensions, health care etc. they have made great “advances.” The attacks will continue, as will resistance struggles and the openings for revolutionary socialists to participate and learn from them – and on occasion depending on circumstances, sometimes to play a leading role.
2) In regard to Latin America in particular, we can identify Washington’s priorities today as (i) trade policies that privilege U.S. corporations in the name of free trade, (ii) continued political interventions in the internal affairs of governments, graphically illustrated in the case of post-election Venezuela, and (iii) pursuing a drug war that has militarized much of the region and actually destroyed portions of Mexican society. (The war on drugs, developed as the Merida Initiative, is patterned after a similar undertaking in Colombia. Between 2019-10 alone Washington provided Mexico with $1.3 billion, funds that were matched by the Mexican government at rate of 13 to 1; Central America received $248 million during that same time period. As a result Mexico has suffered more than 60,000 drug-related deaths between 2006-11.)
Following the signing of peace accords in El Salvador (1992) and Guatemala (1996), and now under Obama, military coups as the preferred U.S. method for controlling Latin America are out of favor, with the notable exception of Honduras. Yet the much-praised democratization in the region has produced neither peace nor economic renewal, but rising police and criminal violence in the midst of poverty. As workers and peasants flee north for safety and work, they are increasingly trapped by gangs that target them. Just between April and September 2010, 11,000 Central American migrants were kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico. The economic destruction of much of Mexico and Central America is obviously connected with the politics of immigration and “immigration reform” battles in the United States. In fact remittances account for about 20% of these countries’ GDP.
South America was the laboratory for neoliberalism. Introduced following the 1973 military coup in Chile, neoliberal tools transformed the developmental model that had stimulated internal development into a market-driven ideology for a globalized economy. Thus nationalized and communal properties, including banks, were deregulated and sold off at bargain-basement prices while labor laws were rewritten to insure that working conditions were more flexible and precarious. In Chile even the social security system was privatized.
But the false promise of growth under a market-driven economy meant greater inequality, mass unemployment and displacement. Neoliberalism’s heavy hand produced a reaction that has transformed much of South America. By 2001 Argentina collapsed under the weight of its debts and the directives of the World Bank. Argentinian workers opposed the shutdown of their plants by taking them over and operating the businesses themselves; in Bolivia and Ecuador people refused to submit to corporate control over their water; in several countries indigenous people opposed large-scale dams and the mining operations that dispossessed them of their communal lands and poisoned their water.
Neoliberalism leads to a leaner but more repressive state apparatus. Washington plays an important role in training the police and military in these countries, providing an array of military hardware. This is done through cooperative programs, particularly justified by “the war on drugs” and ”the war on terrorism.” We see how these programs have destabilized countries such as Colombia and Mexico.
However the imposition of neoliberalism has unleashed a wave of struggle throughout Latin America, bringing to the forefront interrelated issues of national independence, indigenous people’s insurgencies and anti-neoliberal revolts. With the passage of NAFTA in 1994, the Zapatistas struck to show their opposition and to claim their space. Along with massive and diverse revolts by workers and peasants, electoral successes brought to power left of center governments, a mixed assortment ranging from pale pink to a deeper hue — Argentina, Bolivia (Evo Morales and MAS), Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador and Nicaragua (both headed by parties of former armed liberation movements, although the FMLN- and FSLN-led governments are seriously compromised in differing ways), Paraguay (subsequently overthrown and a landowner government restored), and of course Venezuela — and have joined with Cuba in a number of projects and statements.
These governments came to power on the votes of workers and peasants, although with contradictions on many levels between regime structures (both elected and bureaucratic) and grassroots activists. While not breaking with capitalism, and quite diverse in their relations with U.S. power, they have combined in an effort to mount an alternative to Washington’s trade agreements and its continental domination over the Organization of American States (OAS). The creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in December 2011 is an attempt to build regional cooperation and solidarity. Whether CLAS can succeed in becoming an alternative to the U.S.-driven OAS remains doubtful, but it does indicate a willingness of many of these countries to find space independent from Washington.
Most important for South America and the international left has been the “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela. The combination of Hugo Chavez’s charisma and grassroots organizing both within the workplace and in communities has continued to mobilize masses of people. Although the growth of the grassroots networks remains painfully slow, it nonetheless represents a hope that this revolutionary process can survive and deepen without Chavez himself. Today there are 30,000 community councils and a renationalized sector where there is some worker say in what were once “management” decisions – an inspiring development although still very far from a systematic exercise of workers’ control of production and a viable alternative to the capitalist state.
With Chavez’s death, the right wing and Washington feel they have a greater opportunity to maneuver and once again assume control over the government. The Obama administration’s refusal to recognize the electoral victory of Maduro is both imperial arrogance and an extremely dangerous game. Of course there are bureaucratic elements within the government and the PSUV, the party Chavez founded. Yet there are also important social movements pushing for the continuance of the revolutionary process. We look to these elements with comradely hope and pledge ourselves to follow their process in order to understand more clearly the difficult issues raised by the most advanced class struggle in the 21st century.
3) The “war on terror” and the Middle East crisis has meant, under Obama, the consolidation and even extension of the criminal activities of the George W. Bush regime. Obama’s semi-secret bombing of Yemen is “justified” under the same infamous legal pretenses that Nixon used for the bombing of Cambodia. No wonder Guantanamo prisoners are on mass hunger strike over the prospect of lifetime detention without charge or trial. Assassinations of “terror” suspects and even U.S. citizens are the new normal under an administration that has proven to be as vicious and cynical as the rest, and if anything even more secretive.
These brutal tactics, however, and other sickening examples don’t reflect an all-powerful position of U.S. imperialism, quite the contrary. Following the defeat in Iraq and the quagmire in Afghanistan, which is also ending badly, the United States is in no position to send “boots on the ground” into Yemen, Somalia, etc. and hence drone warfare, along with the use of Ethiopian and Kenyan troops as proxies, represents the fallback option.
All the choices confronting the Obama administration in Syria – to intervene or not to intervene, to arm or not to arm the insurgency – are bad ones riddled with dangers and contradictions. In regard to Iran, the United States has the capacity to begin a war but not to end it, nor to contain the potential consequences for the region and perhaps the world economy. In Egypt, the U.S. policy is dependent on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to control and suppress the mass movement and to police the blockade of Gaza. In Palestine, it is trying to put up the façade of “reviving the peace process” which no one took seriously even before Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad resigned in disgust.
4) China, India and South East Asia have become workshops of the world, with the South East Asian countries (south of China, east of India) specializing in textiles, shoes, electrical goods and auto parts and even auto assembly. Mining and tourism are also important to many of the South Asian economies.
At first Japanese industry developed South East Asia as a low-wage platform for manufacturing and subassembly but today Thailand has become the seventh largest exporter of the world’s cars and trucks. (Thailand has even been called “the Detroit of the East,” although this reflects a misunderstanding of both.) Indonesia, after a decade of restructuring its businesses and banks, projects a growth rate close to 7% in 2013.
As the various Asian countries have become integrated into global production, its elite worked to build an infrastructure capable of moving goods and capitals across the world. Although developing one’s infrastructure has a forward-sounding ring, the reality of “global free trade” can be captured in one word – “Bangladesh.” The horrific tragedies there, and thousand of unpublicized ones across the region, are consequences of the “friendly business environment” that provides tax incentives, low wages and minimal labor regulations, infrastructural projects that displace communities, and the pillage of natural resources by foreign investment. While the vast majority of these countries have succeeded in overturning colonialism since the end of World War II, they are all focused on developing regional and global trade relations within the framework of a market economy. Many of the governments hold elections but the democratic rights of their citizens remain limited at best.
For its part, Washington wants U.S. corporations to have access to these resources and industries but also seeks to control trade routes as a means of controlling other industrialized or industrializing countries. It also plays countries off against each other, as in the case of Pakistan and India. Washington’s occupation of Afghanistan, now more than a decade long, was justified as a war on terrorism. As predicted, the results have been to displace and kill people, prop up corrupt and reactionary officials, and destabilize the region.
5) U.S. interests in the more than 50 countries that make up the African continent vary, but the overall strategy is once again to support U.S. corporations in their extraction of the area’s natural resources. Many of these countries, carved into existence by colonial powers, remain unstable regimes with little internal infrastructure. Given a globalized economy, their elites seek foreign investment and market mechanisms to enrich themselves.
Industrial mining has supplanted artisanal modes and, along with oil production, leads to a de-peasantization that dramatically reduces food security and animal herding, replaces local markets with international ones, and builds an export-oriented infrastructure. Meanwhile in many areas “peasant household and communities have lost their coherence as social and economic units.” Deborah Bryceson points to how 3,500-year old rice economies in West Africa have been eliminated over a period of twenty years, remarking “This is what dispossession means.”
Food production has declined in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana and Senegal, with the Ivory Coast now importing 80% of their consumption. In 2012 the Horn of Africa experienced a food crisis that left 13 million dependent on humanitarian assistance — but this year is no better. Climate change is having severe and growing impacts on the most vulnerable nations and societies. Along with declining agricultural production, vast unemployment, several coups and growing militarization and violence, one-third of the continent remains locked into extreme poverty. And these factors bear down more heavily on the women of Africa.
Foreign investment in the continent has grown 87% over the past decade. It is concentrated in mining and oil extraction and export. Neoliberal theory predicted that applying its medicine would mean removing burdensome regulations that prevented the development of free trade. The reality is that the influx of capital fueled corruption, led to additional militarization and coups, and further distorted the economy. In some areas, warlords are the effective government.
It is also important to note that of the more than two dozen countries who held “terrorist” prisoners for Washington, a dozen were African countries, including Algeria, Djbouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, South Africa and Zambia.
In setting up a separate military command for Africa in 2007, President George W. Bush mentioned the importance of “countering terrorism.” Although centered in Germany, AFRICOM has an important base in Djibouti. The other two reasons for a military command are to keep an eye on oil resources and to checkmate China’s growing influence in the region. Yet this move, continued under the Obama Administration, cannot possibly address the problems that fuel terrorism.
This all too brief summary cannot possibly outline the particular issues of African countries, it is nonetheless important to mention the very different political experience of South Africa since the overthrow of the apartheid regime and electoral victory of the ANC in 1994. Instead of attacking inequality head on, many ANC militants –including trade unionists such as Cyril Ramaphosa, former head of the national Union of Mineworkers — used their positions of power to leverage deals where they became millionaires. Interestingly enough, Ramaphosa is now on the inside track to become the next president of South Africa.
By 1996 the initial hope of the post-apartheid regime was dead. The ANC shelved its redistributive program (Reconstruction and Development Program, 1994) for a neoliberal version with a left veneer, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution plan (GEAR, 1996). Today 40% of the total work force is unemployed; the majority of those who do work receive low wages (between $120-300 a month). The housing guarantee enshrined in the constitution has not been fulfilled. Overcrowded communities, without sanitary toilets, potable water or electricity, are the norm for the majority who live in urban areas. For the rural population or those who work in the mines and live in the nearby shanty towns belonging to the mine owners — such as the one owned by Lonmin at Marikana — are worse.
The massacre of the platinum mineworkers at Marikana in August 2012 revealed the regime’s level of corruption and barbarism. The killings were undertaken after of the corporation and the local police agreed, but also with the advice from the mineworkers union, government officials and senior ANC leaders, like Cyril Ramaphosa, an important Lonmin stockholder.
The fact of the matter is that South Africa is governed by a complex coalition of corporations, government officials and labor leaders who demand that the workers they represent carry out instructions, whatever their personal cost. This regime has recently joined Brazil, Russia, India and China in a political alliance. Known as BRICS, these countries might be best characterized as sub-imperialist. They collaborate with Washington, but have their own agendas, particularly in controlling what might be considered their resource-rich hinterlands.
Patrick Bond views the BRICS as “deputy sheriffs.” For South Africa today, this job entails above all keeping a watchful eye on Africa’s Great Lakes region with its abundance of natural resources. Bond pointed out that last January Pretoria deployed 400 troops during a coup attempt in the Central African Republic. Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim justified the action by remarking “We have assets [minerals] there that need protection.”
Bond also remarks that the BRICS are dependent on imperialism. He points to the high level of capital flight from South Africa to New York and London. Another characteristic of the BRICS is their super-exploitative extractive industries, based upon migrant labor and operating in total disregard of the community degradation these industries cause.
The continuation of the imperial presidency, and of imperialist war minus the overt large-scale insertion of U.S. boots on the ground, underlie the reality of the Obama presidency as an international and domestic human rights disaster – from Guantanamo and Bagram, to drone massacres of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, to the administration’s political and ethical cowardice and collapse in the face of Israel’s apartheid occupation practices, to the prosecution of Bradley Manning, “espionage” indictments of whistleblowers and the secret indictment and attempt to extradite Julian Assange, to the vindictive imprisonment of Lynne Stewart and continued incarceration of officers of Muslim charities. Obama has done NOTHING to commute sentences of long-imprisoned victims of political frameups (Leonard Peltier), even on compassionate medical grounds.
Neoliberalism under a Democratic Party president, as in the cases of Carter, Clinton or Obama, attacks the past gains of the working class and remains a principal obstacle to any meaningful international action on climate change and the environmental catastrophe – but this discussion belongs in the document to be prepared by the Ecosocialism Working Group.
- We oppose Washington’s political, economic and military intervention into other countries. We call for an end to all U.S. military bases around the world (at least 700 exist!) and returning the land to those countries (including Guantanamo), shutting down the School of the Americas and an end to all joint military operations in other countries.
- We call for an end to all trade treaties that privilege U.S. corporations, beginning with NAFTA, CAFTA and KORUS.
- We call for an end to the odious debts that hobble genuine and sustainable development across the world.
- We identify with social movements that fight for a sustainable economy that is democratically controlled through worker self-management and community control. We look to Venezuela as a country that has supported the development of solidaristic networks based on self-governance and look forward to their building an alternative to the capitalist state. We acknowledge that 21st century socialism is a process and not simply one moment in time; yet there must come a point at which the old state is supplanted by a working-class socialist alternative or the movement will be contained and ultimately crushed.
- Our role is to follow these international events, which are similar to our own struggles, to learn from studying their experiences, to publicize their development and to offer them solidarity. Another world is possible!