This blog is about history, but history is little use unless we can apply it to the present. What do the economic models of Maoism and the USSR and other East European countries have to do with the current time? The answer is pretty much everything, as exactly the same issues that drove these countries towards the much-maligned policy of ‘socialism in one country’ have now reappeared.
After more than 50 years of globalisation, we are back to a situation where the world’s largest imperial power is seeking to protect its own industries and crush its main economic rivals-principally China but also Russia and other possible challenger powers. Mao and Stalin would have predicted all this as such behaviour among the imperialist powers laid the foundation of their own policies.
The economic ideology of Mao and Stalin was forged in the 1930s. At the time the main imperial powers were attempting to destroy each other through trade wars and then through a world war. The British, already in the shadow of the USA, were desperately trying to preserve their empire. The British imperialists had hoped that the Treaty of Versailles would cripple Germany’s economy and prevent it from continuing to be a threat to their dominance. Both Britain and America were concerned with the rise of Japan and the military threat it posed to their imperial interests in the Pacific as well the general economic threat it presented. US sanctions would eventually lead to the attack on Pearl Harbour.
Of course, none of this was new. The British Empire prospered by siphoning the wealth of its colonies through the Navigation Acts. It had tried to hold back the development of American industry through such measures as the Iron Act. It successfully condemned Ireland to poverty by swingeing restrictions on its wool exports as well as most of its other industries. Britain’s system of tax plunder kept India in a state of permanent poverty and underdevelopment. The discriminatory western system of tariffs was designed to keep Africa as an exporter of commodities not manufactured goods.
Mao and Stalin knew perfectly well that imperialism was about the suppression, enslavement and economic destruction of any power that rivalled the dominant imperial nations. They knew that socialist countries had to aspire to self-sufficiency. Some trade is desirable, especially for a smaller country . But a socialist nation in an imperialist world must be able to stand alone economically if need be.
Any developing nation, socialist or capitalist, that relied on trade links with the West would never be allowed to grow beyond a certain point. As soon as it became too strong, some excuse would be found to cut it down to size through war or sanctions. Was not the reason for the plundering and devastation of China by the imperialist powers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century at least in part due to the racist scare about the ‘yellow peril’? The imperialists feared that the sheer size of the Chinese population married to some level of economic development could create an industrial and military threat to Western domination.
But after the Second World War, something began to change. Firstly, the USA told a despondent Churchill that the age of European empires was over and there would be only one empire in the future. Britain’s barbaric and cruel imperium breathed its last with Suez in 1956, although conflicts rumbled on as the British retreated. Secondly, tariffs started coming down. Japan and then the four ‘Asian Tigers’-South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong developed rapidly through export-led growth. The old Stalin-Mao belief in the necessity of economic independence started to look old-fashioned. A new era of renewed globalisation was born.
The political consequences of this hardly need repeating. First Deng Xiaoping overthrew socialism in China in the name of ‘reform and opening up’, hoping his own country could follow in the footsteps of the Asian Tigers. Secondly, sections of the population in Eastern Europe revolted with an eye on joining with the affluent nations of Western Europe that had now left behind the centuries of mutual rivalry and war.
But in the present day we are back to the geo-politics of the 1930s. The USA has declared China the principal threat to itself. Again, it is that combination of a large population and rising income per person that creates the arithmetical danger of a country that will be economically (and therefore militarily) much more powerful than the USA. So the USA responds by undermining one of China’s leading companies through import bans and export bans of components, as well as getting its Canadian puppet to arrest its Chief Financial Officer. It imposes tariffs on China in the hope of destroying its economic growth potential. The old policy of trying to wreck any economy that is a threat to you has returned.
It was not long ago that commentators were talking about the rise of the BRICS countries. But then the US began its pressure on China over its currency, causing appreciation and slower growth. Brazil was hit by lower Chinese demand for commodities. Russia was hit by sanctions as it pushed back against western attempts to isolate it. India’s ‘high’ growth rates have been rather a mirage for the last few years in any case. The fact is that globalisation was making these countries into potential rivals for the USA-and as far as the Americans were concerned something had to be done.
People may believe that the current descent into global economic conflict is all down to Trump’s idiocy, but the efforts to undermine China started even before Obama. If Trump loses the next election to a Democrat, then at best, we will see a difference in style; the substance will be the same. It is an iron law of world history that the dominant power will not tolerate the rise of a competitor. ‘Globalisation’ is not coming back. This is a world crisis point-a time of profound change which will remake the world. Russia, China and the oppressed nations of the world face the choice between the adoption or re-adoption of ‘socialism in one country’ or an eternity of poverty and humiliation. The purpose of this blog is to show that socialism is indeed a viable economic alternative to capitalism and let us hope that there are others around the world who are coming to the same conclusion.