Workers Hammer No. 234
Australian union tops push chauvinism against trade pact
The following article is abridged from Australasian Spartacist no 228 (Autumn 2016), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia.
Following over ten years of negotiations, in June last year government officials from capitalist Australia and the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state signed off on a China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA). The agreement was approved by the Australian Senate in November. Under ChAFTA, Beijing has agreed to slash tariffs for Australian coal, mineral resources, seafood, wine, pork, sheep, dairy and other commodities over the next two to nine years. If implemented, the agreement will also allow for the expansion of Australian banks, insurance operators, tourism and private education, aged care and healthcare providers in China.
For its part, the Australian government has agreed to increased Chinese investment in Australian agriculture, resource projects and a greater role in infrastructure development. Chinese projects in excess of $150 million [£79 million] will be able to import labour into Australia under Investment Facilitation Agreements (IFAs). IFAs are similar to Enterprise Migration Agreements that allow companies to employ overseas guest workers on large resource projects. While the Australian capitalist rulers are celebrating ChAFTA and salivating at the prospect of greater economic penetration of China, the deal precipitated an ugly chauvinist backlash from within the union movement. A cornerstone of the xenophobic union tops’ campaign has been opposition to the clause allowing overseas workers into Australia on special visas to work on Chinese projects. Counterposed to the nationalist outlook of the pro-capitalist union leaders, the future for workers in Australia lies in common class struggle with the Asian working masses as part of the fight for a socialist Asia.
The signing of ChAFTA takes place in the context of a growing US-led imperialist campaign to promote capitalist counterrevolution in China, the largest remaining country where capitalism has been overthrown, a workers state albeit deformed from its inception by the rule of the parasitic Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bureaucracy. Against China, the imperialists are pursuing a combined strategy of economic pressure and military encirclement. Under the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia, repeated US military provocations in the South China Sea have been accompanied by a push to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If ratified, the TPP would be the largest trade agreement in history. Encompassing one third of all global trade and deliberately excluding China, the TPP is an economic bloc against that country. It is designed to undercut China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. In a clear indication that the TPP is the economic analogue to the US’s flagrant military provocations, last year US defence secretary, Ashton Carter, declared “Passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”
Dominated by US imperialism, and consisting of nine other capitalist states, including Japan and Australia, and the Vietnamese deformed workers state, the TPP aims to drive up exploitation of labour across the board while increasing imperialist domination of dependent countries. There is an urgent need for common class struggle against the TPP by the working masses around the globe. Key to our proletarian internationalist opposition to the TPP is unconditional military defence of the Chinese deformed workers state against internal capitalist counterrevolution and imperialist attack.
As for ChAFTA, we recognise that the Chinese and other deformed workers states — Laos, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba — have both the right and often the necessity to formalise economic relations with the capitalist world through trade pacts and joint ventures with Western and Japanese corporations and governments. Greater integration into the world capitalist market not only creates opportunities to build up their economies but also brings counterrevolutionary dangers. A key question is the terms and the method of implementation of such trade deals and the extent to which the workers states are prepared to protect their economies against the influence, penetration and fluctuations of the world capitalist market.
It is possible for the Chinese bureaucracy to make agreements with capitalist powers that can benefit the deformed workers state (eg, by increasing the supply of iron ore and other minerals, or by helping to neutralise US attempts to economically isolate China). But, opposed to a revolutionary internationalist perspective, the bureaucracy pursues such benefits in its own narrow, nationalist way. Thus the Chinese Stalinists help prop up the global bourgeois order. This ultimately undermines and endangers the gains of the revolution. However, while the Chinese bureaucracy is not motivated by proletarian internationalism, neither are its international investments driven by the relentless pursuit of profit as is the case with the imperialist powers (see “Hue and Cry Over China’s Role in Africa”, Workers Vanguard no 987, 30 September 2011).
Why China is not capitalist
In 1949 China experienced a profound social revolution as the peasant-based People’s Liberation Army (PLA) led by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party overthrew the imperialist-backed bourgeois-nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang (GMD). The PLA’s victory destroyed the Chinese capitalist state and smashed the rule of the Chinese bourgeoisie and landlords. It freed China from imperialist subjugation and further ignited anti-colonial and revolutionary struggles in Asia. The subsequent creation of a collectivised, planned economy laid the basis for an acceleration of industrial development and brought enormous social gains to China’s worker and peasant masses, particularly women.
However, unlike the 1917 Russian Revolution, which was made by a class-conscious proletariat guided by the internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik party, the Chinese Revolution, based on the peasant masses, was shaped by the absence of the Chinese workers struggling for power in their own right. Thus, from its inception, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was bureaucratically deformed by the rule of a nationalist petty-bourgeois caste resting atop the collectivised property forms issuing from the revolution. The CCP patterned their regime on the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, which had usurped political power from the Soviet proletariat in a political counterrevolution beginning in 1923-24.
Like their Kremlin counterparts before them, the Chinese bureaucrats promulgate the fantasy that there can be “peaceful co-existence” with imperialism. From Mao’s time to now, the CCP’s policies have expressed the nationalist Stalinist dogma that socialism — a society of material abundance marked by the disappearance of classes — can be built in a single country. This is completely counterposed to the Marxist programme of world proletarian revolution — the prerequisite to creating an internationally planned economy that would eliminate scarcity.
From the beginning, the development of a collectivised economy in China was immensely distorted by bureaucratic mismanagement. In 1978 when Deng Xiaoping came to power he introduced “market reforms” which he called building “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. These reforms were an attempt, within the framework of Stalinist bonapartism, to use the whip of the market to spur modernisation and overcome stagnating productivity engendered by bureaucratic commandism. In addressing “market socialism” in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, we wrote:
“Within the framework of Stalinism, there is thus an inherent tendency to replace centralized planning and management with market mechanisms. Since managers and workers cannot be subject to the discipline of soviet democracy (workers councils), increasingly the bureaucracy sees subjecting the economic actors to the discipline of market competition as the only answer to economic inefficiency.”
— “For Central Planning Through Soviet Democracy”, Workers Vanguard no 454, 3 June 1988
Over time, the Chinese regime has invited imperialist investment into the country, given up the state monopoly of foreign trade and instituted market mechanisms. However, despite major capitalist inroads, the economy as a whole is not organised on the basis of capitalist production for profit. The core of the Chinese economy remains collectivised; state-owned enterprises dominate strategic industrial sectors and much of the surplus they create is channelled into the banks and treasury of the workers state. Testifying to the superiority of a collectivised economy over capitalist production for profit, China’s economy continued to grow rapidly during the 2007-08 capitalist world economic meltdown.
Since the 1949 Revolution, China has gone from being a backward peasant country to a majority urban one, lifting some 600 million people out of poverty and creating a powerful industrial proletariat. China nonetheless remains a country of extreme contradictions, with great backwardness and a widening disparity in wealth between the richest and poorest. On mainland China there is a nascent capitalist class. Although they have no cohered political leadership and do not hold state power, this bourgeois layer poses a threat of internal capitalist counterrevolution. At the same time, hundreds of millions of workers as well as poor peasants wage countless strikes, protests and riots every day against the consequences of bureaucratic misrule. The social contradictions in China are growing and, when they blow, either capitalist counterrevolution or workers political revolution will be posed.
The Chinese workers need a leadership whose perspective is to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and replace them with the rule of workers, peasants and soldiers councils (soviets). A government based on soviets and led by a Leninist-Trotskyist party would expropriate the new class of domestic capitalists. It would seek to utilise the world market to accelerate economic development. Based on defence of the collectivised economy, it would re-establish a central plan and restore the state monopoly of foreign trade, while renegotiating the terms of foreign investment in the interests of the working people.
However, even the most farsighted communist leadership would not be able to overcome the limits facing China in a world dominated by powerful imperialist states. The establishment of a revolutionary internationalist government in China would spark revolutionary upsurges from Korea to Japan through to the oppressed masses of Southeast Asia. Ultimately, only the overthrow of capitalist class rule internationally, particularly in the advanced imperialist centres of North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia, can lay the material basis for the all-round modernisation of China as part of a socialist Asia.
Imperialists’ anti-China crusade
Far from peacefully co-existing with the Chinese deformed workers state, the imperialists are committed to returning the Chinese masses to the unfettered imperialist exploitation that existed prior to the 1949 Revolution. The Chinese deformed workers state is a strategic target for the imperialists. This can be seen with the growing US-led military aggression against China, which occurs in tandem with the strengthening of military alliances with imperialist Japan and Australia, and the impoverished neocolonial Philippines. Hardly a week goes by without some new imperialist military provocation directed at Chinese land reclamation and construction projects in the islands of the South China Sea. These islands are of strategic importance to China’s military defence and its ability to defend critical shipping lanes. Behind the imperialist gunboat diplomacy is the threat of embargo and war.
US sabre-rattling against China has been met with some disquiet by sections of the Australian capitalist class. With China being Australia’s largest trading partner and much of Australia’s trade passing through the South China Sea, the bourgeoisie are hardly enthusiastic about instability in that region. Thus the Australian government has tried to walk a diplomatic tightrope, repeatedly indicating that they would not take sides while simultaneously asserting their “right to passage” through the disputed sea lanes, in keeping with US military provocations. Whatever the diplomatic double-speak, in any military conflict between China and the US, the Australian bourgeoisie would back the US to the hilt.
While Australia’s economic penetration of China (including under ChAFTA) is not in itself a significant contributor to the development of an indigenous bourgeoisie or the undermining of the collectivised property forms, its part in the US military alliance against China is significant. Sharing the US’s strategic aim for capitalist restoration in China, the Australian imperialists play an aggressive role as a gendarme under the US umbrella, while pursuing their own predatory neocolonial interests. US military and spy bases in Australia target the deformed workers states in Asia, particularly China. In a transparent “message” to China, the Australian federal government recently announced that it will recruit an additional 5000 personnel to run a more potent force of new warships, submarines, aircraft and army equipment. Canberra’s intention to beef up its military and their ongoing military assistance to Indonesia and the Philippines are all aimed at countering China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific as part of the counterrevolutionary US/Australia alliance. We stand for class-struggle opposition to the Australian imperialist military and in the tradition of our revolutionary communist forebears — Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and VI Lenin — we demand not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military! As proletarian internationalists we say: Down with the US/Australia alliance! All US military and spy bases out now!
The Chinese government has responded to imperialist military belligerence and economic pressure through a concerted effort to upgrade and modernise its military and by major economic initiatives like the Beijing-centred Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the “new Silk Road” project. Much to the chagrin of the US, there has been a stampede of countries joining the AIIB. These include European imperialist powers and rusted-on lackey allies like Australia. Unlike imperialist-dominated institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, who dictate how countries they invest in should be governed and starve out those who don’t toe the line, the AIIB will reportedly offer loans for infrastructure development at below-market interest rates and with no strings attached.
To further undercut US imperialism’s attempted containment and to facilitate Eurasian economic integration, China’s “new Silk Road” projects multiple trading routes linking Asia with Western Europe through a vast system of pipelines, rail, air and maritime routes as well as high-tech communications systems. At the same time, in direct counterposition to the TPP, the Chinese regime is pushing for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). Speaking at an APEC conference in Manila late last year, Chinese president Xi Jinping made a direct link between the FTAAP and the “new Silk Road”. The former, he said, would reduce barriers to trade across the whole region and the latter would facilitate the physical movement of goods through infrastructure connectivity. ChAFTA and the many other free-trade agreements that the Chinese bureaucracy has signed with Southeast Asian and Pacific nations fall within this overall framework.
Trade and economic relations between workers states and a hostile capitalist world are not just about economics. History shows that they can and have been used to play one imperialist/capitalist country off against another. Having established a state monopoly of foreign trade, the early Soviet government in Russia under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership pushed hard to institute economic relations with the West. Beginning in 1918, with Soviet Russia under siege from counterrevolutionary forces and its economy under great stress, the Soviet government strove to establish foreign concessions in Russia and trade pacts with imperialist powers. Lenin energetically pursued a proposal by one Vanderlip (which he quipped was expressed with “the frankness, cynicism and crudity of the American kulak”) to open concessions for exploration of mineral resources on the Kamchatka peninsula. For Lenin this deal would not only have boosted the Soviet economy, but he also saw it as a way of stymieing Japanese encroachments in Siberia. In 1920, during the Soviet-Polish War, the Soviet Union began negotiations with imperialist Britain to conclude a trade pact. This resulted in strained relations amongst the Allied powers.
While revolutionary Marxists recognise that a workers state might be compelled to strike trade deals and diplomatic agreements with capitalist states, this must not be confused with the task of the communist party to lead the struggle for international proletarian socialist revolution. Unlike the Stalinist Chinese leadership which, in pursuit of “ peaceful co-existence” with imperialism, has helped to perpetuate the capitalist-imperialist system on a global scale, the early Bolshevik regime was motivated by genuine working-class internationalism as part of the fight for world revolution.
Union tops reprise “White Australia” nationalism
The Laborite trade union misleaders are a key obstacle to proletarian internationalist struggle in this country. This is exemplified by the chauvinist outburst they led against ChAFTA, along with their ALP [Australian Labor Party] parliamentary brethren. Through leaflets, media advertisements and public rallies, the union tops called on the government to enact stronger measures to defend “Aussie” jobs and to “Stop the China FTA”. A well-publicised TV advertisement produced by the CFMEU construction union shows a “typical” Australian worker telling his son that under ChAFTA the Australian government is “letting Chinese companies bring in their own workers” and that “you won’t even get a look in”. At a Sydney rally, an Australian Workers Union spokesman reportedly bellowed, “good fair dinkum [genuine] Aussies are being done over”, and under ChAFTA, “There’ll be no work in this country. It’s going to end up with the Chinese
The arch-protectionist Australian manufacturing union (AMWU) leadership have been in the forefront of this reactionary campaign. They railed against “cheap Chinese imports that are unfairly subsidised and do not meet Australian standards.” The AMWU’s pernicious anti-China protectionism lines workers up behind the imperialist rulers against the Chinese deformed workers state. Encouraging anti-China xenophobia, the union leaders’ anti-ChAFTA campaign reflects the Australian imperialist rulers’ fear and hatred of the Asian masses and fuses it with deep-seated anti-Communism. While the union tops cynically deny that their campaign is hostile to overseas workers, their divisive nationalism has clearly become a magnet for reactionaries. The fascistic “Party for Freedom” (PFF) joined Sydney’s thousands-strong union rally against ChAFTA last July. So attractive has the union misleaders’ campaign been for racist anti-union elements like the PFF, the union tops shamefacedly felt compelled to include a “racism not welcome” disclaimer on their anti-ChAFTA rally leaflets.
The union leaders’ appeals to the government to defend “Australian jobs” are a cover for their prostration before the capitalist rulers’ attacks on unions, jobs and conditions. While hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been shredded over the last seven or eight years, the union misleaders have not lifted a finger to mobilise their base in a class-struggle fight to defend workers’ livelihoods. Instead, appealing to governments to subsidise “local” industry and to only use “Australian-made” materials on government projects, they have repeatedly sold out workers’ struggles in the bosses’ courts.
Their outcry against ChAFTA continues a years-long campaign against the employment of overseas guest workers on temporary 457 visas. To be sure, some unions, under pressure from their multiracial base and more class-conscious members, have on occasion defended and organised such workers. However, as is the case with their anti-ChAFTA campaign, the union tops’ overall “Australia-first” approach to immigrant labour has not been about securing more jobs or any gains for the working class as a whole but about distributing jobs according to the nationality of the workers. Such chauvinism towards overseas workers reprises the worst traditions of the Australian labour movement. It recalls the very roots of Laborism, which lie in explicit rejection of class struggle and the adoption of “White Australia” racism. The exclusion of “cheap Asian labour” was the basis of the ALP’s class-collaborationist chimera of bringing prosperity to its white Australian working-class base through domestic capital ownership and the exploitation of Australia’s natural resources.
The pro-capitalist economic nationalism that underpins the Laborite worldview means protecting the Australian bosses’ profits while lining workers up behind the capitalist rulers against “foreign” rivals and against workers overseas. What’s desperately necessary is a concerted fight to organise overseas workers into the unions with full union wages and conditions. A class-struggle leadership of the unions would oppose deportations and champion full citizenship rights for all who have made it here. This would include access to social services, healthcare and education.
As we stated a few years ago:
“In opposition to the chauvinism promoted by the union bureaucracy it is necessary to make clear that it is not overseas workers that cause unemployment but the bosses and their irrational capitalist system. A class-struggle leadership of the unions would fight layoffs through using the weapons of the class struggle, such as occupations and mass pickets, while demanding a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to spread the available work around. It would adopt special measures to recruit the most oppressed (including 457 visa workers), recognising that this would strengthen the organised working class as a whole. Bringing new layers of immigrant workers into the unions would crucially forge a living bridge to proletarian struggles overseas.”
—“Unions Must Defend ‘Guest Workers’!” ASp no 220, Winter 2013
The presence of Chinese workers on Chinese development projects in Australia, so vehemently opposed by the union tops, could potentially provide a vital point of contact between the Australian and Chinese proletariat. This would be especially important should proletarian political revolution in China (or socialist revolution in Australia) be posed.
Against the chauvinism of the union tops and the ALP to which they are connected, it is necessary to forge a new class-struggle leadership in the unions. Such a leadership would begin with the understanding that the interests of labour and capital are irreconcilably counterposed. The ALP is a bourgeois workers party—thoroughly pro-capitalist in its programme and leadership but based on the trade unions. A revolutionary workers party must be built through splitting the proletarian base away from this pro-capitalist leadership.
In contrast to the reformist left, our model is the Russian Revolution of October 1917. The young Soviet workers state led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik party was based on the principle that workers of the world should unite against their capitalist oppressors. In opposition to Laborism we seek to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party like the Bolsheviks. This party would be a tribune of the people, ready to take up the struggle against all manifestations of capitalist oppression as part of the fight to overthrow racist capitalist rule and establish a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia.