Remembrance Day in a fearful, servile culture

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…The historian Peter Cochrane recently reminded us in his book Best We Forget that prime minister Billy Hughes spelled it out explicitly. “I bid you go and fight for White Australia in France,” he told Australians in 1916.

It underlined a complicated truth: one of Australia’s central reasons for entering World War I was not as simple as standing with the “mother country”. It was to seal in blood a relationship to ensure Britain would protect White Australia against the feared future expansionist ambitions of Japan, even though Japan was an ally in World War I.

White Australia remained an article of domestic faith and international condemnation until the policy was dismantled in the 1960s and replaced with multiculturalism in 1972.

Yet, a century on, echoes remain. Australians and their parliamentarians in 2018 are restive about immigration, express anxiety about the expansionist ambitions of Asians to our north – it’s China now – and recently, senators even tied themselves in knots over the question of whether it was “OK to be white”.

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The Mongolian Octopus: his grip on Australia 1886

White Australia began dealing with those it deemed “undesirable” or a threat at home during the Great War by detaining and deporting thousands of mainly German-Australians, including naturalised Australians.

More than 7000 were detained in what were called “concentration camps”, and more than 5000 were deported. Scores of German-sounding towns were renamed — 69 of them in South Australia alone under an Act of Parliament known as the Nomenclature Committee’s Report On Enemy Place Names.

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A century later, Australia still detains and deports those it doesn’t want on its shores. And today’s Australia – which long ago switched its hopes of protection to the United States, marching and sailing off to American-led wars from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – remains a constitutional monarchy, its head of state the Queen.

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Old ties, sealed in blood, die hard. …

Tony Wright, ‘The long reach of old war ties, sealed in blood’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 09.11.18

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It is proved in the pamphlet that the war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence of finance capital, etc.

Proof of what was the true social, or rather, the true class character of the war is naturally to be found, not in the diplomatic history of the war, but in an analysis of the objective position of the ruling classes in all the belligerent countries. In order to depict this objective position one must not take examples or isolated data (in view of the extreme complexity of the phenomena of social life it is always possible to select any number of examples or separate data to prove any proposition), but all the data on the basis of economic life in all the belligerent countries and the whole world.

It is precisely irrefutable summarised data of this kind that I quoted in describing the partition of the world in 1876 and 1914 (in Chapter VI) and the division of the world’s railways in 1890 and 1913 (in Chapter VII). Railways are a summation of the basic capitalist industries, coal, iron and steel; a summation and the most striking index of the development of world trade and bourgeois-democratic civilisation. How the railways are linked up with large-scale industry, with monopolies, syndicates, cartels, trusts, banks and the financial oligarchy is shown in the preceding chapters of the book. The uneven distribution of the railways, their uneven development—sums up, as it were, modern monopolist capitalism on a world-wide scale. And this summary proves that imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable under such an economic system, as long as private property in the means of production exists.

The building of railways seems to be a simple, natural, democratic, cultural and civilising enterprise; that is what it is in the opinion of the bourgeois professors who are paid to depict capitalist slavery in bright colours, and in the opinion of petty-bourgeois philistines. But as a matter of fact the capitalist threads, which in thousands of different intercrossings bind these enterprises with private property in the means of production in general, have converted this railway construction into an instrument for oppressing a thousand million people (in the colonies and semicolonies), that is, more than half the population of the globe that inhabits the dependent countries, as well as the wage-slaves of capital in the “civilised” countries.

Private property based on the labour of the small proprietor, free competition, democracy, all the catchwords with which the capitalists and their press deceive the workers and the peasants are things of the distant past. Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries. And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty. …

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Private Alfred Jackson Coombs was one of at least 1000 Indigenous Australians who fought in WWI (and who were pushed aside on their return).

…The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk dictated by monarchist Germany, and the subsequent much more brutal and despicable Treaty of Versailles dictated by the “democratic” republics of America and France and also by “free” Britain, have rendered a most useful service to humanity by exposing both imperialism’s hired coolies of the pen and petty-bourgeois reactionaries who, although they call themselves pacifists and socialists, sang praises to “Wilsonism”, and insisted that peace and reforms were possible under imperialism.

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This man was not named. The only information with this image: ‘Australian War Memorial PO6131.006, PO6131.004’

The tens of millions of dead and maimed left by the war—a war to decide whether the British or German group of financial plunderers is to receive the most booty—and those two “peace treaties”, are with unprecedented rapidity opening the eyes of the millions and tens of millions of people who are downtrodden, oppressed, deceived and duped by the bourgeoisie. Thus, out of the universal ruin caused by the war a world-wide revolutionary crisis is arising which, however prolonged and arduous its stages may be, cannot end otherwise than in a proletarian revolution and in its victory.

V.I.Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1917, Preface to the French and German Editions

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Images: 1,3,4,5,6; 2

The most powerful country of capital

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Trotsky in a 1922 ‘cubist’ portrait by Yuri Annenkov. A version of this appeared on one of the earliest covers of Time magazine – November 21, 1927.

In the United States, the most powerful country of capital, the present crisis has laid bare frightful social contradictions with striking forcefulness. After an unprecedented period of prosperity which amazed the whole world with its fireworks of millions and billions, the United States suddenly entered a period of unemployment for millions of people, of the most appalling physical destitution for the toilers. Such a gigantic social convulsion cannot fail to leave its traces on the political development of the country. Today it is still hard to ascertain, at least from this distance, any measure of important radicalisation in the American working masses. It may be assumed that the masses themselves have been so startled by the catastrophic upheaval in the conjuncture, so stunned and crushed by unemployment or by the fear of unemployment, that they have not as yet been able to draw even the most elementary political conclusions from the calamity that has befallen them. This requires a certain amount of time. But the conclusions will be drawn. The tremendous economic crisis, which has taken on the character of a social crisis, will inevitably be converted into a crisis of the political consciousness of the American working class. It is quite possible that the revolutionary radicalisation of the broadest layers of workers will reveal itself, not in the period of the greatest decline in the conjuncture, but on the contrary, during the turn toward revival and upswing. In either case, the present crisis will open up a new epoch in the life of the American proletariat and of the people as a whole. Serious regroupments and clashes among the ruling parties are to be expected, as well as new attempts to create a third party, etc. With the first signs of a rise in the conjuncture, the trade union movement will acutely sense the necessity of tearing itself loose from the claws of the despicable AFL bureaucracy. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will unfold themselves for Communism.

In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly, because America every time entered a new phase of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterised by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness. These two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing (and one cannot consider it excluded in advance) will have to be based, not on the internal ‘equilibrium’, but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions. On the other hand, in the form of Communism the masses of the American proletariat possess – rather, could possess, provided with a correct policy – no longer the old mélange of empiricism, mysticism and quackery, but a scientifically grounded, up—to-date doctrine. These radical changes permit us to predict with certainty that the inevitable and relatively rapid, revolutionary transformation of the American proletariat will no more be the former, easily extinguishable ‘straw fire’, but the beginning of a veritable revolutionary conflagration. In America, Communism can face its great future with confidence.

Leon Trotsky, Germany 1931-1932, New Park Publications Ltd., London, 1970, 5-7

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Comment on ‘The Suicidal Empire’ and the rise of China

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Deng Xiaoping in 1979

I disagree with ‘salvaging the principle of empire’ (Dmitry Orlov, ‘The Suicidal Empire’, Desultory Heroics) as a solution to the problems discussed by the author above. To do that would be to remain entrenched in them, under the name of another nation.

Engels predicted in 1894 that the development of capitalism in China would force millions from that country and, given the size of China and the number of Chinese, would force the US and Europe to become socialist – in order to continue competing with China. He wrote ‘thus the conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impulse for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America…’ (Engels to Friedrich Adolf Sorge in Hoboken; London, November 10, 1894, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 450-451)

China is not capitalist and it carries the lessons of socialism – learned at immense cost both from its own history and from that of its revolutionary precursor the Soviet Union. Where Lenin, while acutely aware of the problems in developing from an impoverished base, failed with his limited NEP because of his hatred for the bourgeoisie, the Chinese, in also developing from an impoverished base, have learnt a crucial lesson – to relax an obsession with Marxist theory and a hatred for anything bourgeois and to recognise the necessity of incorporating financial reward for individual initiative as a key driver for economic development. The benefits of this have shown clearly since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping.

Those reforms have resulted in hundreds of millions being rapidly lifted into a degree of wealth referred to in the West as ‘the middle class’ – a development still very much underway. The middle class in the West, on the basis of its wealth, education and common values has had and continues to have (despite the present ongoing depletion of that class) a powerful political voice and I expect the Chinese with that same degree of wealth to want that as well. 

And this in a state governed by and with the benefits of a single party (without the wasteful stupidity of obligatory opposition) which shows not only great sensitivity to what is taking place in China and its position of leadership (e.g. their continuing crackdown on corruption) but a flexibility and a willingness to experiment with socialism.

The Chinese Communist Party is doing what the Communist Party in the Soviet Union would not and could not do. The significance of this sensitivity, flexibility and willingness by the Chinese Communist Party can’t be overstated.

In my view, the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and this rapidly growing number of millions with wealth in China, in particular, will develop such that not only may Engels be proven correct in his prognostication that the development of China will motivate the advance of Europe and the United States (and hence the rest of the West) to socialism, but this process in China will also generate economic, political and social forms of organisation that will be models for the world.

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Why China will lead the world and why the West will become socialist

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Konstantin Yuon, ‘A New Planet,’ 1921. Tempera on cardboard, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The West:

‘…it is not difficult to see that ours is a birth-time and a period of transition to a new era. Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and is of a mind to submerge it in the past, and in the labour of its own transformation. Spirit is indeed never at rest but always engaged in moving forward. But just as the first breath drawn by a child after its long, quiet nourishment breaks the gradualness of merely quantitative growth – there is a qualitative leap, and the child is born – so likewise the Spirit in its formation matures slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering state is only hinted at by isolated symptoms. The frivolity and boredom which unsettle the established order, the vague foreboding of something unknown, these are the heralds of approaching change. The gradual crumbling that left unaltered the face of the whole is cut short by a sunburst which, in one flash, illuminates the features of the new world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 6-7

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Shanghai maglev train

China:

‘What, particularly, makes old capitalism so far prevail over young socialism? It is not because of the riches it possesses, nor the gold it keeps in cellars, nor the volume of accumulated and stolen wealth. Past accumulations of wealth may have their importance, but they are not the determining factors. A living society cannot exist on old accumulations; it feeds on the products of living labour. Despite all her riches, ancient Rome could not withstand the onslaught of the ‘barbarians’, when they developed a higher productive capacity than that of her decaying regime of slavery. The bourgeois society of France, roused by the Great Revolution, simply looted the wealth accumulated from the Middle Ages by the aristocratic town communities of France. Were output in America to fall below the European standard, the nine milliards of gold kept in the cellars of her banks, would not help her. The economic superiority of bourgeois states lies in the fact that so far capitalism produces cheaper goods than socialism and of a better quality. In other words, the output, so far, is still much higher in countries living by the inertia of old capitalist civilisation than in a country which has only just begun to adopt socialist methods under inherited uncivilised conditions.

We know the fundamental law of history – in the end that regime will conquer which ensures human society a higher economic standard. …

A State which possesses nationalised industries, a monopoly of foreign trade, the monopoly of attracting foreign capital to one or other branch of its economy, has at its disposal a vast arsenal of resources by means of which it can speed up the rate of economic development.’

Leon Trotsky, Towards Socialism or Capitalism, 1925, New Park Publications, London, 1976, 29, 47

The result:

‘The war in China has given the death-blow to the old China. Isolation has become impossible; the introduction of railways, steam-engines, electricity, and modern large-scale industry has become a necessity, if only for reasons of military defence. But with it the old economic system of small peasant agriculture, where the family also made its industrial products itself, falls to pieces too, and with it the whole old social system which made relatively dense population possible. Millions will be turned out and forced to emigrate; and these millions will find their way even to Europe, and en masse. But as soon as Chinese competition sets in on a mass scale, it will rapidly bring things to a head in your country and over here, and thus the conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impulse for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America…’

Engels to Friedrich Adolf Sorge in Hoboken; London, November 10, 1894, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 450-451

Engels was wrong when he wrote that China would become capitalist, but he was correct in recognising that the more developed China became (particularly given Trotsky’s words above), the greater the pressure on the West in competing with it, such that the West would have to become socialist.

The Chinese have learnt from their own history and from the failures of the Soviet Union, particularly the importance of individual initiative and financial reward for that initiative in a developing economy. The result of the Chinese Communist Party’s employment of this lesson has enabled it to rapidly lift millions into that stratum of wealth being hollowed out in the West. These millions are consumers of an increasing range of goods of high quality being made in their own country. The Party has shown a willingness to take the reforms of Deng Xiaoping further. Their current crackdown on corruption is also very significant. The dynamic between Party and people will continue to evolve.

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Top image: Art of the October Revolution, Compiler, Mikhail Guerman, Trans., W.Freeman, D.Saunders, C.Binns, Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1986

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A capitalist journalist on China

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‘Why the Chinese are cheerful about the future’, Peter Hartcher, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26.02.18

In survey after survey, China’s people are full of bounce. In comparisons with the people of other countries, the Chinese show an optimism and a confidence that puts them among the most positive on the planet.

Chinese consumers are brimful of confidence, outdone by only those in India, Indonesia and Iceland. China’s people are the most optimistic in the world that they will have better living conditions in the future.

And among the world’s young people, it’s the Chinese and the Indians who feel most positive that the world is becoming a better place. One reason is that their economies are booming, But they also have great faith in the power of technology to do good.

And, surprisingly perhaps in a dictatorship, Chinese have confidence in their government. This is not just a piece of Communist Party propaganda. It’s a consistent result from surveys by credible international organisations.

A survey of people in 34 countries by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre five years ago found that 66 per cent of Chinese citizens expressed “confidence” in their government. That was the fifth highest in the world, almost double the level in America and equal to that in Norway. Interestingly, Indonesia also had a very high rating on this measure.

And in the annual Edelman Trust Barometer published last month measuring sentiment internationally, a whopping 84 per cent of respondents in China said that they had “trust” in government. That was an increase of 8 percentage points over the course of a year. And it was the highest among the 28 countries surveyed.

Should we be suspicious of polls conducted in a one-party state where criticism of the national leaders is rigorously censored and where dissidents are arrested? Yes, we should be.

And yet there are clues that it’s probably broadly true that the Chinese have high trust in government. One reason is that, again, India and Indonesia, democracies both, show similarly high levels. There seems to be a correlation of broad confidence among the three big, thrusting, emerging countries, all headed by leaders with a sense of purpose and a rockstar aura.

And another is the consistency of findings across different areas of Chinese life, measured by different outfits. The country is on the rise, its ordinary people are better off than they’ve been in centuries, and their government is waging a vigorous campaign against the problem that Chinese have long nominated as their biggest concern – corruption.

As the BBC’s Beijing correspondent Stephen McDonell commented a year and a half ago: “Elsewhere there is fear and uncertainty. Here optimism trumps all.”

And if the people’s trust is earned, above all else, by sheer results, then the Chinese people’s trust in government is no surprise. A new World Bank report, which went online without fanfare a few days ago, sets out some remarkable results. Here are just three.

The world has a rough grasp of the fact that China has made great inroads on its poverty problem. But the World Bank report makes an extraordinary finding. Using the international poverty line adopted in 2011 of income of $US1.90 ($2.40) a person a day, adjusted for a country’s cost of living, it says: “The share of the population living in poverty fell from 88.3 per cent in 1981 to 66.6 per cent in 1990 and 1.9 per cent in 2013.”

The number of people lifted out of poverty in that span? A total of 850 million. That’s two-and-a-half times the population of the US.

It’s the equivalent of the entire number of humans on the planet until the 19th century. The World Bank observes that of all the people in the world who managed to escape poverty in the last four decades, seven of every 10 were Chinese. It describes the scale and speed of this achievement as “unprecedented in scope and scale”. Undeniably.

China has about 25 million citizens still living under the poverty line, and the bank predicts that it will make further progress.

China’s breakneck economic growth made this transformation possible, but while it was necessary it was not sufficient. Many countries in history have managed bursts of rapid growth; very few have lifted such a broad swath of its people out of poverty. Because it’s not just how much money a country makes but how it’s used to the benefit of its people that’s crucial.

And this is point two. China has leapfrogged other wealthier countries in offering a social safety net to its people. “Since the 1990s, China has introduced an array of social protection programs at a speed that is unprecedented internationally,” the World Bank remarks.

Among its reforms are pension and health insurance programs, unemployment benefits, sickness and workplace injury assistance, and maternity insurance for women working in formal job sectors in the cities.

Weaving such a broad safety net so quickly “is a feat that took decades to achieve in OECD countries, and one that many middle-income countries have not realised” the bank observes. Health and education services have been much improved.

China still has shocking inequality and rural areas suffer most. But while it was worsening for decades and became as severe as US experience, the inequality gap has started gradually to close since 2008, according to the World Bank.

Point three helps explain how China managed to deliver so much growth with such broad benefit so quickly. The World Bank assesses China’s institutions as well-functioning. Interestingly, it finds that Communist Party political loyalties among officialdom has not corroded the effectiveness of its institutions.

It says that the party has shaped the “core of a high-performing bureaucracy by integrating features of party loyalty with professionalisation of the civil service in a unique way”. It has “provided incentives through promotion and rewards to bureaucrats and local officials in return for their attainment of growth and job creation targets”.

And instead of finding a deadening political oppressiveness in government departments, the World Bank reports that “the cadre management system and the broader political systems in China have facilitated vigorous contest ability of policy ideas, which promoted policy effectiveness”. The success and durability of the one-party state point to China as a standing challenge to democratic countries.

The World Bank report, with the delightfully evocative title Systematic Country Diagnostic, is not, however, a portrait of a socialist Utopia. The bank finds huge problems. Environmental collapse beckons. Pollution is “an all-encompassing challenge” and climate change is wreaking havoc. Similarly, the levels of debt in the economy pose the danger of acute financial crisis. And the ageing of the population, set to accelerate, will pose new problems of national solvency.

But China’s successes and its people’s surging confidence help explain why President Xi Jinping feels that he can now do what no Chinese leader since Mao has done, something even the autocratic Vladimir Putin has not attempted – rewrite the constitution to make himself emperor for life, as Hong Kong University’s Willy Lam has described it.

There is confidence. And then there is hubris.

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