Seeing the US Everywhere

November 16, 2011 § 3 Comments

By Stephen Gowans

The New York Times ran an article today about Washington’s plans to strengthen its military presence in Australia. Australia is to be used by the US military “as a new center of operations in Asia” from which the United States will seek “to reassert itself in the region and grapple with China’s rise.”

The problem for policy planners in Washington is that “China has become the largest trading partner with most of the countries in the region, undercutting American economic influence.” And so the United States will beef up its presence in the Pacific to prove that “it intends to remain a crucial military and economic power” in Asia.

In simple language this means that China has secured export and investment opportunities in its own backyard and that US corporations, banks and investors want them for themselves. So Washington will use its military to take them away from the Chinese.

For obvious reasons, China thinks this smacks of old-fashioned gun-boat imperialism.

Not so curiously, the headline of the Ian Johnson and Jackie Calmes article announcing Washington’s plan to muscle China out of economic primacy in the region put a chauvinistic spin on the story: “As US looks to Asia, it sees China everywhere.”

Imagine China setting up military bases in Venezuela and sending aircraft carriers to the Gulf of Mexico in order to “assert itself in the region.” How strange would seem a newspaper headline that read: “As China looks to the Gulf of Mexico, it sees the United States everywhere,” as if this were an unexpected discovery.

The New York Times’ headline could have been more aptly written this way: As China looks around its neighborhood, it sees the US military everywhere. But then this would have made US imperialism uncomfortably obvious.

An article by Johnson and Calmes’ New York Times’ colleagues Nada Bakri and Rick Gladstone, also in today’s edition of the newspaper (“Syria faces new threats as opposition seeks allies”) is equally worthy of comment. Their article used “one human rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” as a source for the number of people killed in recent clashes with Syrian government forces.

One might get the impression that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is a neutral human rights monitor without a political agenda. After all, Bakri and Gladstone refer to it as “one human rights group”, and nothing more.

Were it an opposition group seeking to overthrow the Syrian government we might think twice about trusting it as a source of unbiased information.

Well, think twice.

A statement posted to the group’s website on November 15, 2011, makes clear that it is more than just “one human rights group.” In the statement, the group calls for a no-fly zone over Syria “in accordance with its duty and commitment to echo the voice of Syrian Popular Revolution.”

The Observatory makes no secret of the reason it wants “the international community” (which is to say, Nato) dropping bombs on Syrian military installations and Assad supporters: “the acceleration of overthrowing Syrian brutal regime.”

Meanwhile, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the group of US-allied oil autocracies that had been acting as arms and propaganda suppliers to Libyan rebels, played a key role in pushing through the recent Arab League suspension of Syria.

The Council has also become a key to Washington’s plans to continue to dominate the Persian Gulf, even as—or rather, precisely because–US troops are being withdrawn from Iraq.

Both US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said that the United States will “maintain a large military presence in the region, in part as a counterweight to Iran.” The US military will rely on “the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new ‘security architecture’ for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.”

It’s not only China that is hemmed in by the US military. As Iran looks around its neighborhood, it too sees the US everywhere.

In Libya, the end of 42 years of….

November 11, 2011 § 5 Comments

…self-directed economic development aimed at giving Libyans a stake in their economy.

I’m not saying Gaddafi’s Libya was a model society, but it did offer its own citizens advantages that are conspicuously missing in Washington’s Third World satellites.

Margaret Coker, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal (“Libya speeds oil output but sees hurdles ahead”) serves up an example of Gaddafi’s friendly-to-Libyans, not-so-friendly-to-overseas-investor policies. Among “many of (Gadaffi’s) heavy-handed state policies” were “foreign-currency exchange limits and a law that forced private enterprises to make Libyan employees shareholders of the business.” These policies “crimped corporate work during the Gadhafi regime,” writes Coker, by which she means encroached on the profits of Western banks, corporations and investors. Bad man.

In the same issue of the WSJ we learn that Washington is quietly funnelling bunker buster bombs and other ammunition to the group of anti-democratic oil monarchies that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. The aim is to build up these despotic regimes as “a unified counter-weight to Iran” (“U.S. plans bomb sales in Gulf to counter Iran.”)

The GCC, it will be recalled, dispatched tanks and troops to crush a popular uprising in one of its member states, Bahrain, while it was also helping rebels oust the Gaddafi government in Libya. GCC member, Qatar, an absolutist state, was particularly helpful to the Libyan rebels, dispatching hundreds of ground troops to aid the cause of…

• (A) Building democracy in Libya?
• (B) Ending Gaddafi policies that crimped corporate work?

You decide.

Finally, yesterday’s WSJ ( “U.S. to build up military in Australia”) points to plans for “a new and permanent U.S. military presence in Australia…a step aimed at countering China’s influence and reasserting U.S. interests in the region.” Notes WSJ reporter Laura Meckler, the “South China Sea, which China considers as its sovereign territory…is important economically.”

Indeed it is.

Fortunately, the combined forces of the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force and the CIA exist to make sure the South China Sea—and every other economically important region of the globe—is available to Wall Street for its aggrandizement…and free from anyone who might exercise their sovereignty to impose policies that crimp corporate work.

Liu’s Nobel Prize for Capitalism

October 12, 2010 § 9 Comments

By Stephen Gowans

Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has been hailed as a champion of human rights and democracy. His jailing by Chinese authorities for inciting subversion of the state is widely regarded as an unjust stifling of advocacy rights by a Chinese state intolerant of dissent and hostile to ”universal values”. But what Western accounts have failed to mention is that Charter 08, the manifesto Liu had a hand in writing and whose signing led to his arrest, is more than a demand for political and civil liberties. It is a blueprint for making over China into a replica of US society and eliminating the last vestiges of the country’s socialism. If Liu had his druthers, China would: become a free market, free enterprise paradise; welcome domination by foreign banks; hold taxes to a minimum; and allow the Chinese version of the Democrats and Republicans to keep the country safe for corporations, bankers and wealthy investors. Liu’s problem with the Communist Party isn’t that it has travelled the capitalist road, but that it hasn’t traveled it far enough, and has failed to put in place a politically pluralist republican system to facilitate the smooth and efficient operation of an unrestrained capitalist economy.

Liu taught literature at Columbia University as a visiting scholar, but decamped for his homeland in 1989 to participate in the Tiananmen Square protests, bringing with him the pro-imperialist values he imbibed in the United States. For his role in the protests—which ultimately aimed at toppling Communist Party-rule and promoting a US-style economic and political system–he served two years in prison.

Liu is committed to a pluralist political model and untrammelled capitalist system of the kind he witnessed firsthand in the United States. Charter 08, the Nobel committee, the US government, and the Western media have all anointed free markets, free enterprise, and multi-party representative democracy as “universal values”. The aim is to discredit any system that is at variance with capitalist democracy as being against universal values and therefore doomed to failure.

Liu served more jail time in the 1990s for advocating an end to Communist Party-rule and conciliation of the CIA-backed Dalai Lama, the once head of a feudal aristocracy who owned slaves and lived a sumptuous life on the backs of Tibetan serfs, before the People’s Army put an end to his oppressive rule.

Liu’s latest run-in with Chinese authorities happened in December, 2008 after he signed Charter 08, a manifesto he helped draft. The charter was published on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms (UDHRF) and is a reference to Charter 77, an anti-communist manifesto issued by dissidents in Czechoslovakia. While the UDHRF endorses economic rights (the right to work and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control), the only economic rights Charter 08 endorses are bourgeois privileges. In that respect, it is hardly in the same class as the UDHRF and, significantly, is emblematic of the kind of truncated human rights protocol favored in the United States.

On June 24 of last year Liu was charged with agitation aimed at subversion of the Chinese government and overthrowing the socialist system. He was convicted and is now serving an 11-year sentence.

The Western press describes Charter 08 as a “manifesto calling for political reform, human rights and an end to one-party rule”, but it is more than that. It is a manifesto for the untrammelled operation of capitalism in China.

The charter calls for a free and open market economy, protection of the freedom of entrepreneurship, land privatization, and the protection of property rights. Property rights, under the charter’s terms, refer not to the right to own a house or a car of a toothbrush for personal use but to the freedom of individuals to legally claim the economic surplus produced by farmers and wage laborers—that is, the right, through the private ownership of capital, to exploit the labor of others through profits, interest and rents.

While capitalism thrives in China, it does not thrive unchecked and without some oversight and direction by the Communist Party. Nor is China’s economy entirely privately owned. Many enterprises remain in state hands. The drafters of Charter 08 have in mind the elimination of all state ownership and industrial planning–in other words, the purging of the remaining socialist elements of the Chinese economy. At the same time, the Communist Party as the one mass organization with a programmatic commitment to socialism (if only to be realized in full in a distant future) and which zealously preserves China’s freedom to operate outside the US imperialist orbit, would be required to surrender its lead role in Chinese society. Political power would pass to parties that would inevitably come to be dominated by the Chinese bourgeoisie through its money power. (1) Rather than being a country with a mix of socialist and capitalist characteristics presided over by the Communist Party, it would become a thoroughly capitalist society with bankers and captains of industry firmly in control, their rule governed by the need to enrich their class, not make progress toward a distant socialism by raising standards of living and expanding the country’s productive base.

The charter also calls for the implementation of “major reforms in the tax system to reduce the tax rate”, and to “create conditions for the development of privately-owned banking.”

The US State Department itself could have written a manifesto no more congenial to corporate and financial interests.

Charter 08’s champions gathered 10,000 signatures before Beijing blocked its circulation on the Internet. While the Western media cite this as evidence of a groundswell of support for the charter’s demands (though 10,000 represents an infinitesimally small fraction of a population of one billion), the ANSWER Coalition in the United States has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to letters calling for the lifting of the US blockade on Cuba, a level of opposition to US policy that dwarfs Charter 08’s support. Yet ANSWER’s collection of signatures in opposition to a policy aimed at promoting the interests of US capital is virtually ignored in the Western media, while a smaller movement that would benefit US capital is presented as having widespread backing. This, of course, is not unexpected. The Western media quite naturally represent the interests of the class of hereditary capitalist families and financiers from whose ranks its owners come. The class nature of capitalist society and patterns of ownership within it mean that the mass media construct a reality congruent with their owners’ interests.

Likewise, the Nobel Prize, founded by a Swedish chemist and engineer who amassed a fortune as an armaments manufacturer, is not free from politics. The Nobel committee, a five-person committee selected by the Norwegian parliament, has strayed quite a distance from Alfred Nobel’s original intentions. In his will, Nobel set out conditions for establishing and awarding the prize. “The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” While arguments may be made on either side of the question of whether Liu’s actions are praiseworthy, there is no question that trying to organize the transformation of People’s China into a replica of the United States of America, and getting arrested for it, amounts in no way to working for fraternity between nations, abolishing standing armies, or the holding of peace congresses.

A further double standard is evident in the condemnation of China’s crackdown on anti-communist dissent—one of the goals of awarding Liu the Nobel Prize (the others: to legitimize Charter 08 and demonize Communist Party-rule in China.) The reality is that any revolutionary society, if it is to successfully defend itself against counter-revolution, must limit the rights that would be used to organize the revolution’s reversal. To place political and civil liberties ahead of the preservation of the revolution, where the revolution is aimed at improving the economic condition of Chinese peasants and workers, would be to declare political rights to be senior to economic rights. Liu has clearly worked toward a counter-revolution that would push economic rights to the margins and bring the rights of the owners of capital to organize society exclusively in their interests to the fore. Allowing Liu to freely organize the overthrow of the current system and to replace it with one modelled on the US political and economic system would be to set political liberties above goals of achieving independence from imperialist domination and building the material basis of a communist society.

Other societies—including those which trumpet their credentials as liberal democracy’s champions—have freely violated their own pluralist and liberal principles to counter individuals, movements and parties which have threatened the capitalist mode of property ownership. The history of Western capitalist democracy is replete with instances of states running roughshod over their own supposedly cherished liberal democratic values, from the persecution, harassment and jailing of labor, socialist and communist militants to the banning of strikes and left political parties to open fascist dictatorship. Whenever militant leftists have seriously threatened to disrupt the tranquil digestion of big business profits, their freedom to openly advocate, organize and act has been abridged. Think of the Palmer raids in the United States, jailing of anti-WWI activists, the purge of communists from the civil service and Hollywood, the banning of the Socialist Workers Party, and the suppression of the Black Panthers. Similar practices were replicated in many other capitalist countries. In Italy and Germany, strong workers’ movements were suppressed by fascist dictatorship.

This is a pattern of behaviour so recurrent as to have the status of a social scientific law. The state, whether in capitalist or revolutionary societies, almost invariably violates rights of advocacy, free association, and the press, in order to preserve the dominant mode of property ownership wherever it is seriously under threat.

As a matter of politics, restrictions on the rights of individuals, movements and parties to openly advocate and organize the overthrow of the current economic system are good or bad depending on what one’s politics are. Nationalists in liberated countries will approve restrictions on the rights of foreigners and colonial settlers to own productive property unchecked; measures to prevent movements from encroaching on capitalist interests will be deemed warranted restrictions by capitalists; and communists will oppose the right of individuals and groups to openly organize a capitalist restoration within socialist societies, just as republicans opposed the right of individuals and groups to openly organize the restoration of monarchies within republican societies.

While Liu is cleverly portrayed by the Western media as a fighter for human rights and democracy, his organizing for low taxes, call for the jettisoning of the remaining elements of China’s socialism, and promotion of a robust capitalism, have received virtually no Western media attention. It is difficult to persuade people that capitalism is “a universal value”, and Liu’s commitment to making over China into a replica of the United States—with its economic crises, bail-outs for wealthy financiers and mass unemployment for the rest—is hardly the kind of thing that is going to marshal much popular support. Hence, the Western media have wisely (from their point of view) dwelled on Beijing’s seemingly unjustified crackdown on dissent and failed to elaborate on Charter 08’s implications for China, while playing up Liu’s advocacy of the pleasant sounding terms, democracy and human rights, pushing his commitment to free markets, free enterprise and low taxes into the shadows. Carrying out all the charter demands would almost certainly result in China being sucked into the US imperialist orbit, and whatever chances the country has of achieving socialism, would be forever dashed.

For anyone concerned with the promotion of economic rights, or the weakening of US imperialism, or with the chances that socialism might one day flourish in the world’s most populous country, the Nobel committee’s attempt to lend credibility to Charter 08 by conferring its peace prize on Liu Xiaobo is hardly to be welcome. It is as inimical to the interests of peace and the welfare of humanity as was last year’s awarding of the prize to US President Barack Obama, who has expanded the number of countries in which the US is waging war, and has tried to create the illusion that the continuing US combat mission in Iraq has ended by renaming it. Likewise, Liu has done nothing to advance the welfare of humanity. His remit, as that of last year’s peace prize winner, is to expand the interests of the owners of capital, particularly those based in the United States. He deserves no support, except from the tiny fraction of the world’s population that would reap the benefits of Charter 08’s demands. Instead, it is Beijing’s action to preserve its freedom and independence from outside domination, and to maintain elements of a socialist economy, that deserve our support.

1. The Chinese Communist Party has, with justification, rejected “Western-style elections …(as)a game for the rich.” As a party representative explained: “They are affected by the resources and funding that a candidate can utilize. Those who manage to win elections are easily in the shoes of their parties or sponsors and become spokespeople for the minority.”

Edward Wong, “Official in China says Western-style democracy won’t take root there,” The New York Times, March 20, 2010

See also Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, “Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for?” The Guardian (UK), December 15, 2010.

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