Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The International Report

Full disclosure: I am petty-bourgeois from the roots of my hair to the tips of my toes. Sorry. I was just born that way.

So it is impossible for me to do full justice to the article entitled Revolutionary Socialist Politics, Part 2, recently published in Socialist Action (SA). This article is part of a series reproducing the documents approved at SA’s August National Convention. For brevity I’ll refer to this part as the “International Report,” since that seems to accurately describe it. (I commented on Part 1 here.)

My muddled, middle-class brain, stuffed full of bourgeois values, is incapable of comprehending the majestic, proletarian beauty of this document. Nor can I follow the grand sweep of history therein described, nor likewise, the subtle strands of solidarity, the class-conscious arguments, or the seemingly telepathic attribution of motives. Instead, the best I can do is invoke those meager powers endowed to me by bourgeois education: logic, fact, and reasonable inference. With that, I’ll do the best I can for you.

From my blinkered perspective, it all reads like a giant conspiracy theory. We learn, for example, that

Today we are witness to a new world armaments race, with every major power striving to increase its military arsenal. This clearly indicates the desperate need of all capitalist nations to protect, expand, and develop new markets by force, when necessary. The U.S.-led NATO war against Libya served as a perfect example, when the U.S., England, France, and Italy jockeyed for position regarding whose military forces would predominate in the destruction of that nation and which would secure the largest percentage of the oil booty.

In one paragraph, we read that capitalist nations want to simultaneously develop new markets, destroy Libya, and secure the oil booty. One can’t develop new markets in a destroyed country deprived of revenue. Further, nowhere have I read that the American goal was to destroy Libya, or even to steal the oil. The oil has been on the world market for decades. And I am not aware of any major push by the likes of Google or Walmart to tap into the newly-opened, wealthy, Libyan market.

But the biggest whopper is the notion that the US’s enemy was not Gadhafi after all, but rather our so-called allies, England, France, and Italy. Who knew? It surely requires some bodacious feat of proletarian telepathy to draw that conclusion, because there is no material evidence. Instead, the true motivation for American and European involvement in Libya is precisely the reasons stated in the media: revenge for the Lockerbie bombing, Gadhafi was a total crackpot and shouldn’t be running a state, and the Libyan people surely deserve better than being brutalized by a megalomaniac psychopath. No conspiracy theory required. Why is this so hard?

The central theme of the document is that the US acts in its own best interest--or more specifically, the interests of its capitalist class. This is trivially true. But SA goes further and says that renders any claim to humanitarian principles both false and hypocritical. For SA, it is impossible for the US government to be both self-interested and humane at the same time.

The article cites an excellent example of where US self-interest and human progress coincide. They write

The U.S.-backed Philippines’ confrontations with China in the [South] China Sea is another major example of imperialist rivalry, wherein naval maneuvers are aimed at securing access to unpopulated and disputed islands that are known to be rich in fisheries as well as oil deposits.

Let’s consider the interests of the three countries. For the Philippines, the disputed islands are off the coasts of Luzon and Palawan, and lie partly within the country’s 200 mile exclusive economic zone. For the Philippines, the economic benefits of the islands--oil and fisheries--may be important. The country has a legitimate and long-standing claim to this area.

China is laying claim to the region circumscribed by the nine-dashed line, which includes most of the South China Sea, and infringes on claims made by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam.

The United States has no dog in the territorial dispute, but we adamantly oppose the nine-dashed line claim on a larger principle. The US is a seafaring nation, dependent on the ocean for trade. Accordingly, we have the largest navy in the world. For a country like the United States, the principle of international waterways is crucial, and maintaining the freedom of the seas is essential to our national security and autonomy.

The US abides by international waters even when it goes against its narrow self interest. The Panama Canal, for example, is wide open to world shipping, including military vessels. The US is almost as adamant as the Russians that the Bosporus remain an international seaway. And likewise the US defends free passage through the Skaggerat, the Strait of Molucca, the Strait of Hormuz, etc.

Americans fear that China will declare the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters, and thus regulate shipping in that area. This is anathema to the US, as it is to all the other littoral countries. The issue is our vital national interest, and if China pursues its claim beyond a certain point, it is casus belli.

While freedom of the seas is a vital, US interest, it is also in the interest of practically every other human being. Almost nobody--not even Chinese--will benefit from the legalization of piracy in the South China Sea. The only beneficiaries would be some Chinese politicians and naval officers who reap the rewards of theft. Everybody else will be made poorer by this.

So siding with the Philippines benefits the Philippines, to be sure. It serves a vital US interest, which is why we’re doing it. But it is also a profoundly humanitarian act. SA is wrong when it says the United States can’t act in the interests of humanity.

SA’s politics remind me of a hoary Russian joke: Two peasants are neighbors. The richer one has a cow, and the poorer one does not. One night a genie appears in the hut of the poor peasant and says “I will grant you one wish. Anything you want. What is your desire?” And the poor peasant replies “I wish for the death of my neighbor’s cow.”

And so it is with Socialist Action. Everything is zero-sum. Nothing can benefit both US capitalists and Filipino fishermen at the same time. Anything a capitalist wants, no matter how reasonable, has to be to the cost of everybody else. The sole sum of socialist politics is to wish for the death of their neighbor’s cow.

Happy New Year! I wish friends, readers, and comrades all the best for 2013.

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