Committee for a Workers International (CWI) held a School this year from 2-7 August in Gent, Belgium. There was a plenary session on Asia – a new area of capitalist conflict and class struggle. Below is Ravie Chandren’s contribution on Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand) on the need for Revolutionary Parties and a Revolutionary International.The 1997, Asian Currency Crisis plunged the Southeast Asian region into political crisis. The Reformasi movement against Suharto regime overthrew him in Indonesia, the Mahatir-Anwar power struggle in Malaysia, the uprising against economic policies of Ramos government in Philippines, the farmer?s movement in Thailand against neo-liberal agendas, were some of the resistance to economic uncertainties and repression against working class and farmers in 1997-98. We are now seeing the possibilities of economic slowdown in the US, China and Japan, which are dominant trade partners of ASEAN. If there would be another economic crisis then it would be more disastrous economically and politically than the 1997 crisis in this region.
The rapid economic growth of China in recent years has been big tribulations for the countries in Southeast Asia. Multinational and trans-national companies, which are looking for cheap labours and business favourable labour laws, are moving from this region to China. In order to counter the economic losses from the growth of China and maintain the competitiveness, more neo-liberal agendas (privatisation of public utilities) and further repressive labour laws against working class are enacted. In some cases, the government (such as in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) are importing cheaper foreign labour from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam to maintain the cheap labour policies to satisfy and attract the foreign capital.
Historically, Southeast Asia is a region full of working class struggle against imperialism and capitalism. In the 1960s, CPI (Communist Party of Indonesia) was one of the biggest and powerful working class parties in the world. Meanwhile, the Communist Parties in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines and others played big roles in the struggle against imperialism. However, the influence of Stalinist and Maoist methods and programs had weakened them and finally crushed brutally by state with the help of imperialist powers.
Even in last 10 years, although there were various repressive laws against working class and theirs organisations, the working class and youth forced to stand against state and ruling class repression in Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.
On the other hand, during the uprising, the left parties and organisations, rather than put forward clear working class programs and analysis to counter right wing political parties, had political alignment with right wing opposition parties.
In 1998, with the huge reforms movement against Suharto, PRD (People’s Democratic Party) gave uncritical support to Megawati by promoting democratic reforms, and isolated the working class. When Megawati came to power, she attacked the working class with neo-liberal agendas and repressive laws. Now PRD has not only failed to progress with momentum of working class struggle but split among themselves.
On the other hand, the leadership of Assembly of Poor, a progressive farmer?s movement in Thailand in 1995 failed to give clear political direction (such as linking to the working class, and building a mass workers party) after a big mobilisation to a sit-in protest against government neo-liberal agendas. Now it is functioning merely as an NGO.
Meanwhile in the Malaysia 1998 Reformasi Movement, Anwar Ibrahim (former Deputy Prime Minister) with his influence in IMF in one hand and influence among middle class youths and students with the rhetoric to promote democracy reforms in another hand, failed to uproot the Mahatir regime. Now, since he has been released from prison last year, not only he has pacified and betrayed the radical youths and students in the reformasi movement, but he has also shown his true pro-capitalist identity by promoting capitalist propaganda to garner international and national capitalist supports to come into power in next general election.
In the Philippines in1986, the Stalinist CPP (Communist Party of Philippines) and various leftist elements backed Aquino, and subordinated working people to the interests of the capitalist class and major powers like the US. In 1998, these political tendencies were doing the same with Estrada, claiming he represents a more progressive section of the ruling elite. Now to oust Arroyo Macapagal, it seems that, the left tendencies (Such as Bayan-CPP and Laban- Struggle of Masses) in the name of popular fronts work hand in hand with former bourgeois leaders linked to former presidents such as Estrada and Aquino.
Undoubtedly, the false methods and unclear analysis of internal and world political circumstances had weakened the growth and disillusioned the programs and ideologies of these left tendencies among working class and youths.
This was mainly because, the inabilities of these organisation and parties to understand or might opportunistically ignored the historical experiences of previous left parties or organisations in its country or internationally. For instance, PRD had not learned the great mistakes of CPI in 1960s, which uncritically backed Sukarno, the nationalist, which had resulted up to 1
millions communist and its supporters killed by Suharto military regime, with the support of CIA and bourgeoisie. While, the CPP and other left tendencies in Philippines still promoting the opportunistic and reactionary ideas of Stalinism/Maoism , and the ideas of Social Democrats which had proven disastrous to working class struggle in many countries in the world.
Big portions of population in this region are still farmers. The left organisations (in Thailand for instance) have also failed to link the land reforms and farmers? demands in rural areas with the working class struggle in urban area. They also failed to link between democratic demands and socialist programs under the leadership of working class. Basically, they failed to understand the practicality of Trotsky’s ideas of Permanent revolution in neo-colonial countries. Rather than empowering the working class to lead the struggles, they put the trust on so-called progressive bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie or even the middle class.
Undoubtedly, these comrades were very progressive and committed in organisations such as PRD at that time, but the backwardness in Marxist understandings and analysis resulted in the big political mistakes at the critical stage of struggles. On the other hand, DSP (Democratic Socialist Perspectives in Australia- the so-called International) which has abandoned Trotsky’s ideas and undermined the Permanent Revolution (with their book on Leninist Critics on Permanent Revolution) had given false interpretations and methods to organisation such as PRD in the name of Marxism and Leninism. For instance, DSP gave uncritical support to PRD when they backed Megawati in 1998.
On another hand, the national questions also play an important issue in this region, in which the left parties merely aligned to right wing parties with illusions to solve them. However, it would need proper Marxist approaches according to the nature of the country with the link to working class struggles.
As we can see, especially from the experiences in Indonesia and Philippines, the lack of revolutionary working class parties with clear socialist programs to link with the working class day to day struggle in these countries is a big vacuum for the building a working class leadership with the link to poor farmers and youths movement.
Seeing the possibilities of crisis in capitalist ruling class in this region and internationally, these would create more struggles in coming years, and these would be huge potential for working class and youths to be radicalised again. The question is, whether this left parties and organisations would repeat the same mistakes or would develop theirs forces in these countries according to Marxist methods and socialist programs?
Trotsky described a revolutionary party as being like a steam engine, where the masses are the steam that drives it. Without direction, the enormous energy of the masses will be dissipated into the air. However, with a revolutionary party to help guide the movement this energy will be directed to where it is most needed, with enormous effect.
Therefore, there is a crucial need to build revolutionary parties as well as revolutionary international in this region.