Alan Woods speaking at the
24th congress of The Struggle
On Sunday, 27 March, Alan Woods, the editor of Marxist.com was interviewed for GEO Television, the Pakistan TV network with the biggest audience worldwide. The programme, which should be shown sometime this week, will be seen not only in Pakistan, but also in India, the USA, Canada and all over the Middle East.
The interview, which lasted half an hour, was conducted in English and will be shown with Urdu subtitles. It was conducted by the well-known Pakistani presenter, Huma Masroor, who asked Alan some very searching questions on a wide-ranging series of topics. She first asked whether after the fall of the USSR, socialism could still be regarded as viable.
Alan answered that what had failed in the Soviet Union was not socialism but only a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature. At that time the bourgeoisie and its ideologists were euphoric. They promised a marvellous future of peace, prosperity and democracy thanks to the so-called market economy. But just over a decade later, not one stone upon another was left of these illusions. Everywhere we look there are wars, terrorism like a terrible epidemic, unemployment, poverty and starvation.
Alan pointed out that the most recent report of the World Bank (“hardly a Marxist organization”) states that there are 1.1 billion people living in conditions of extreme poverty, defined as less than one dollar a day. Of these, eight million men, women and children die each year simply because they do not have enough money to stay alive. This is what the “free market economy” has achieved.
Q: But with the vast power of the USA, are revolutions still possible?
A: After the collapse of the USSR, we have a unique position, previously unknown to history. In the past there were always at least three or four great powers, which achieved some sort of global balance: Germany, Britain, France, Russia, the USA, Japan. Since the Second World War, the USA and the USSR practically balanced themselves out.
But now there is just one big power. The USA is a formidable economic and military state that spends about 38 percent of all the money that goes on arms worldwide. By comparison, Britain, Germany and France spend 5 percent each, and Russia only six percent. The USA is currently spending the astonishing figure of 500 billion dollars on arms every year. It possesses a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear, chemical, bacteriological, as well as conventional arms, satellites, etc.
Yes, the USA is a colossus. But it is not true that the power of the USA is unlimited. It has very definite limits, and we are seeing those limits in Iraq. Despite the presence of 150,000 soldiers, the USA is unable to control the situation. George Bush said that they had won and pointed to the “success” of the elections. These were a vulgar farce. How is it possible to have democracy in a country that is militarily occupied by a foreign power?
The real situation was admitted by George Bush when, in the same speech, he asked the Congress for more money and more troops. He said: “the Iraqi insurgency is increasing and will increase even more.” How can the two statements be squared? How can they speak of victory and in the same breath demand more money and troops? In reality the USA is bogged down in a war it cannot win.
Q: How can you explain the economic successes of the USA and China? Does this not prove that capitalism works?
A: The present world situation contains many paradoxes. It really is unique in more than one sense. If we take the world economy since 1945, there were always several motor forces: the USA, Japan, West Germany. Now that is not the case. The economies of Germany and Japan are stagnant. In fact, Japan has a negative growth rate, while in the past it achieved growth rates of ten percent a year, sometimes even more.
The world economy is being held up by the USA, and to some extent by China. But the boom in the USA is of a very unsound and artificial character. It is a boom in demand – a consumer boom based on credit. This spending boom has been built upon a mountain of debt and, as we know, mountains sooner or later suffer avalanches. There are huge deficits – corporate and private debt, budget deficits and current account deficits.
This cannot be maintained indefinitely. In fact, if this situation existed in any other country, say Pakistan or Britain, the IMF and World Bank would be knocking at the door demanding savage budget cuts and austerity. But since the culprit is the USA nobody says anything of the sort. However, the dollar is already falling, they are raising interest rates and this will mean a new economic crisis in the USA in the next period – possibly the next six or twelve months.
It is what they call a bubble economy, a speculative boom based on credit. This is shown by the rise in housing and property prices – even in Lahore this is the case. But it will not last. There will be new and steep falls on the stock exchange and the housing and property boom will collapse.
I would add one more fact. This boom has been at the expense of the working class everywhere – including in the USA. Recently The Economist carried an interesting editorial that pointed out that the portion of US national income accounted for by wages is at its lowest point for the last 75 years, whereas that portion dedicated to wages is at its lowest point for 75 years. There is a huge and growing gulf between rich and poor in America and the situation in Europe is not much different.
Q: And China?
A: China is now growing at around ten percent a year – one of the fastest rates of growth in the world. This colossal growth is largely a result of the extraordinary development of China that took place thanks to the nationalized planned economy established by the Chinese Revolution of 1949. This was the greatest event in history after the Russian Revolution of 1917! You only have to compare China with India and Pakistan that achieved their independence roughly at the same time to see the colossal superiority of a nationalized planned economy.
Now the Chinese bureaucracy is moving towards capitalism, although very slowly. This has led to a huge increase in foreign investment. I think it is about $500 billion – a huge amount. This has led to a rapid development of the economy, but there are huge and growing contradictions. Some have grown fabulously rich while the great majority – particularly the 800 million who live in the villages – are sinking into poverty. There is probably greater inequality now in China than in any other country in the world, including the USA.
Do you know how many unemployed people there are in China at present? Nobody knows for certain but the figure cannot be less than 150 millions. That is equivalent to the entire population of Pakistan! There has been a spate of terrible accidents in the mines and other workplaces, because of the tremendous pressure put on the workers. Every year hundreds – probably thousands – of miners are killed in explosions and other accidents. This is causing anger and bitterness in the masses that is expressed in strikes and peasant disturbances, which are not reported in the press. I predict that there can be a social explosion in China in the next period. Capitalism offers no future to the people of China.
Q: What do you think of the WTO?
A: Well, they talk a lot about a new world order, but it is more like a general world disorder. They talk a lot about liberalization of trade and so on, but it is a very unequal kind of liberalization. Let me tell you a little story if I may.
Once upon a time there was a man who had a robber (a “dacoit” I think you call them here) as his next door neighbour. One day the dacoit comes and says to him: “you are really not a very nice neighbour. Why do you keep your doors and windows shut every night? That is not very friendly!”
The good man was a little bit stupid and left all his doors and windows open. That night the dacoit went into his house and stole everything inside. The next day the man went to the dacoit to complain but when he got there he found all the doors and windows securely locked.
Do you know what I have just described to you? I have accurately described the mechanism of world trade. Successive governments in Pakistan have accepted the advice of the economists from Chicago to liberalize, to dismantle tariff barriers etc. As a result, there has been an invasion of foreign products that have destroyed Pakistan’s industries. But when Pakistan tries to export its wheat or textiles to the USA or Europe, they find themselves shut out.
It is complete nonsense to tell developing countries to abolish protectionism. Let us recall that Germany, France, America and Japan all had high tariff walls in the beginning to protect their weak fledgling industries. Only when they were strong enough to compete did they begin to beat the drum for free trade. Even then, as we have seen, their faith in free trade is not so firm as they try to make us believe.
Q: Is the war in Iraq a conflict of two civilizations?
A: To begin with I would question the word civilization when applied to US imperialism, which is conducting a barbarous and criminal occupation in Iraq! But to answer the question, no I do not accept the idea, so frequently expressed in countries like Pakistan, that this is a war between the Christian West and the world of Islam. I do not think it is a religious question at all. America’s designs on Iraq are not motivated by religion but by the greed for profits and oil, and also important strategic considerations.
The answer to those who say that this is a war of two cultures is very simple. At the start of the war, there were mass demonstrations all over the world, but especially in Europe. In my own country, Britain, there were two million people on the streets of London. This was the biggest demonstration in British history. The opinion polls showed that 70 percent of the British people were against the war.
Of course, Tony Blair took Britain into the war anyway. After all, he is only George Bush’s pet poodle, as everyone knows. But that is not the fault of the British people. In general, it is wrong to make the people responsible for the actions of their government. The people of Britain are no more responsible for the actions of Blair than the people of Pakistan are responsible for the actions of Musharraf.
In Spain six millions demonstrated and in Italy about three millions if I remember correctly. The people of Spain actually overthrew the government of Aznar and forced Spain to pull its troops out of Iraq. In the future we can see something similar in the USA. Do you know how much this occupation is costing America? The last figure I saw was around six billion dollars a month. Not even the richest country on earth can tolerate such a haemorrhage indefinitely. There will be big movements in the USA, as there were over Vietnam.
Therefore it is entirely wrong to pose the question in terms of Islam versus the West. This only divides and weakens the anti-war movement when what is necessary is to unite all the anti-imperialist forces in the world to fight this criminal occupation.
Q: Can the Islamic system provide a solution for countries like Pakistan?
A: First of all, I do not know what is meant by “the Islamic system”. What I can say, and what is quite obvious, is that in the almost sixty years since Pakistan won formal independence from Britain, not a single one of the fundamental problems has been solved. What has been solved? The agrarian question has not been solved. The country has not been modernised. The national question has not been solved: just look at Balochistan! Women have not been given their rights. And there is no democracy.
Last, but not least, Pakistan has not even got genuine independence, and neither has India. Both countries are more dependent on imperialism than they were in 1947. The only difference is that whereas in the past the control was exercised directly from London by military and bureaucratic means, today there is an indirect control exercised through the mechanism of world trade, foreign debt and the market.
What I am saying is that there is no solution for Pakistan, or for any other developing country, on the basis of capitalism. That has been proven by the history of the last six decades – and that is quite a long time. It is not a question of religion, but of the capitalist system.
Q: But can socialism solve the problems of developing nations?
A: I do not have the slightest doubt about this. Let us take just one example. In 1917 tsarist Russia was a backward country – far more backward than Pakistan today. Let me illustrate the point. The population of Russia was 150 million, which by coincidence is exactly the population of Pakistan today. Yet there were under four million industrial workers in Russia – far less than in Pakistan today. The majority of the population were illiterate peasants. They had no access to education or health facilities.
Then came the October Revolution. The Bolsheviks abolished landlordism and capitalism, and instituted a nationalized planned economy. As a result, in a couple of decades, the USSR became transformed into a mighty industrial state and the second most powerful nation on earth. It had high standards of health care and education. Its scientists were the best in the world. They were the first to send a satellite into space and the first man (and woman!) in space were Soviet citizens.
They say that Pakistan is a poor country but that is not true. Pakistan has a potentially rich agriculture and quite a good industrial base. You have many educated young men and women in the schools and universities. But all this productive potential is being wasted because the land, the banks and industries are in the hands of a few. Only by nationalizing these things can Pakistan raise itself up to its full potential.
The experience of the Soviet Union and China proves that a nationalized planned economy can transform even a backward country. But it has to be on a democratic basis, or it cannot survive. What is necessary is a nationalized planned economy together with a genuine democracy, a democracy for all the working people. Socialism is democratic or it is nothing.