Obstacles to the China Path in Latin America: a talk that fails to address the elephant north of Latin America

Paul Cockshott, “Obstacles to the China Path in Latin America” (19 December 2021)

This video is a recording of a brief talk that UK economics academic Paul Cockshott gave to a panel at the World Association of Political Economy in Shanghai, in December 2021. The talk is accompanied by a small series of slides which essentially illustrate significant points in Cockshott’s talk. The main thrust of this brief lecture is that without significant land reform in Latin America, the continent will be unable to replicate China’s path from poverty in the 1970s to global success with the world’s largest economy and largest middle class – and the political clout that goes with that economic success – in the space of roughly 45 years.

In his talk, Cockshott quotes from 18th-century British classical economists Adam Smith and David Richardo, both of whom noted that in a society where the bulk of national income or the income from production goes to a landlord class that spends the income on unproductive uses (such as gambling, property speculation or spending on luxury goods), there is little capital accumulation that can be directed into investing in production. Production cannot expand and new jobs cannot be created for workers. In a later century, Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto wrote that the unproductive landlord class had to be abolished through heavy progressive taxation, the abolition of inheritance rights and the abolition of property in land, with rent income from land to be used for public purposes. These principles were followed by the Communist Party of China after 1949, with rent income going to communes for local investment purposes or, in the form of taxes, to the government for national public projects; the result has been that China has been able to accumulate large amounts of capital necessary for investment in major economic projects and enterprises, both public and private. In turn, labour productivity rises, new jobs are created, the demand for labour rises rapidly, and real wages (what people are able to buy with the money they earn) rise quickly as well.

There are other principles that Marx noted in The Communist Manifesto – the centralisation of credit in the form of a national bank controlled by the State; State centralisation of the means of communication and transport; extending factories and State-owned instruments of production by improving soils and bringing waste-lands into productive use – which the CPC has also followed, with the State controlling or regulating China’s financial industry and transport networks, investing in or controlling essential industries, and carrying large-scale conservation projects that have turned huge areas of desert into forest and land that can be cultivated.

For Cockshott, the path that Latin American nations need to follow is clear: these nations must do what China did and get rid of their unproductive, parasitic and corrupt landowning classes (who may also dominate politics and the media, financial and transport industries) and establish governments under the leadership of workers and peasants.

Unfortunately in his brief talk, Cockshott does not say how the power of the landowners in nations like Brazil, Chile or Ecuador can be broken and transferred to the working classes; neither does he note that all Latin American nations may have distinctive characteristics that mean that following China’s path precisely may either be difficult or need to follow a different path. The failure of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to revive agriculture in his country and make it more self-sufficient in staple foodstuffs because, among other things, the oil industry offered more money and easier working conditions to labourers illustrates that Venezuela’s particular path must take a direction that acknowledges the country’s particular characteristics and economic context in which dependence on energy resources will hamper efforts towards economic autarky. Above all, in carrying out revolutionary economic reforms aiming at redistributing wealth, especially land, among the working classes and being able to control credit and capital accumulation for investment purposes, Latin American nations risk the ire of a huge and jealous power to their north, one that will not hesitate to overthrow their governments either directly or indirectly and replace them with governments that maintain corrupt elites whom that jealous power the United States can control.

On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today): a vision and path for capitalist societies towards Communism

Paul Cockshott, “On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today)” (25 June 2021)

In response to a request, UK computer scientist / Marxist economist Paul Cockshott produced a slideshow presentation on what he believes a new Communist program (that is, one that transforms a society from capitalism to Communism) should involve. His presentation is structured chronologically, starting with the founding documents of Communism written by Karl Marx in 1848, and moving through the experience and failure of liberal democratic parliamentary systems and Soviet-style Communism to the current global environmental crisis created by neoliberal political / economic ideologies. Cockshott then alights on why Communism is needed and what its goals are: because the capitalist classes are organised internationally, working classes must also be organised internationally; because the control of science and technologies is in the hands of the capitalists, they are able to use such knowledge and tools to reshape the world according to their own narrow vision with the result that socio-economic inequalities are rising, working classes are becoming more impoverished and global ecosystems are suffering.

Cockshott is careful to distinguish among different groups of “socialists” such as reactionary socialists who use the language and tools of socialism against Communism (examples being the National Socialists of Germany in the mid 20th century); bourgeois socialists who demand a cradle-to-grave welfare-net socialism (that benefits them and which they can deny to working classes if the latter don’t vote the way they are expected to) while retaining capitalist structures and institutions; and classical social democrats who want some Communist measures to patch the loopholes of capitalist structures and existing constitutional systems. From there, Cockshott outlines a vision of Communist economy and society in which digital technologies can be used to restructure resource allocation, production and distribution of goods and services, and how these are accessed by the public according to its needs. Money as it is currently used, the debt-based systems that generate and circulate money and the global financial structures based on those systems will be abolished.

Cockshott then explains how modern States arose and how current political systems are structured to protect the interests of the wealthy and the classes that support them. He goes on to outline what changes are needed for political systems and their institutions to represent working classes and serve their interests. These changes are far-ranging and include changes to the judicial and legal systems, the educational systems from elementary education upwards, and the armed forces and security forces including the police. Cockshott advocates for land nationalisation and economic rents to be paid to local communities. Essential infrastructure and the creation and circulation of money, credit or their fungible equivalents should be centralised under public control.

The presentation ends very abruptly which I find a pity as Cockshott provides no explanation as to how such changes can be brought about and moreover can be sustained in the face of a vicious backlash by capitalist classes and their allies, some of whom will claim to be “socialist”, even “Communist”. As the long history of Western social democracy and its erosion and corruption by neoliberalism, and the failure of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union illustrate, those tasked with maintaining socialist and Communist systems and institutions can easily become a new wealthy class identifying with those they are supposed to combat. State-controlled infrastructures can be privatised, their assets sold off and the people working within them made unemployed. The constant struggle of Communist and socialist governments and systems in nations like China, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela to rediscover their original goals and visions, relearn hard lessons and remake themselves where necessary surely serves as a warning to us all.

AUKUS and the danger of war: a persuasive if simplistic argument on the stupidity of the AUKUS pact

Paul Cockshott, “AUKUS and the danger of war” (23 September 2021)

After a Twitter exchange on whether the US was in a fit state militarily to challenge China, and in the wake of the AUKUS naval and defence pact formed by the US, the UK and Australia – it should have been called USUKA but AUKUS flows more mellifluously than “you-suck-ah” – in September 2021, with the pact’s first initiative being to supply nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy (and those submarines to be purportedly built in Adelaide, compelling Australia to break its current contract with France to build 12 diesel submarines), Scottish computer scientist / economist Paul Cockshott created a slideshow explaining how the AUKUS alliance endangers Australia and the US in the event of a war with China in the western Pacific Ocean region. The slideshow demonstrates how dependent Australia will be on the UK and the US in obtaining highly enriched nuclear fuel to power the submarines (and the proliferation risks involved, since enriched nuclear fuel can be used to make bombs) as Australia lacks the know-how and the infrastructure (including nuclear plants) needed to enrich the fuel. From there Cockshott looks at why, after 70 years, Britain has suddenly decided to sell Australia its nuclear technology and expertise, and concludes from examining speeches made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory MP (and Johnson’s predecessor as Prime Minister) Theresa May that the reason for Australia having nuclear-powered submarines, as they are designed for attack and not defence purposes, is that they ultimately will be part of a US-led naval blockade of China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan based on Western assumptions that China will invade Taiwan – even though over the past 70 years China has respected Taiwan’s physical, political and economic integrity to the extent that China’s hi-tech industries depend on Taiwan for its semiconductors and other raw materials, and tourists, business people and others regularly travel from one country to the other quite freely.

After reaching this conclusion as to the purpose of AUKUS, Cockshott spends the rest of his presentation examining the most likely course of a war between China and AUKUS, and makes his case that a Western blockade of China would be extremely risky and hazardous to AUKUS forces. China would quickly establish air and sea dominance over Taiwan’s territory (including airspace and maritime territory) and US support would be limited to the kind of hurried airlift “rescues” of US citizens seen recently in Kabul when the puppet Ghani government there collapsed in the wake of the Taliban’s peaceful victory in Afghanistan. A possible US attack on China itself, on the assumption that US forces can break through Chinese air and sea defences, is shown to be nigh impossible due to the severe decline in US military capabilities and the advanced age of US bomber planes since 1945. An economic blockade based either on blocking trade routes in Southeast Asia or on sanctions on nations trading with China would disrupt economies all over the world – and encourage even more integration of the Eurasian continent in China’s Belt Road Initiative to circumvent a blockade or sanctions. Cockshott looks at the shipbuilding capabilities of the combatants and finds that China’s shipbuilding capabilities far outstrip those of the US. South Korea would most likely declare neutrality in the war but in the event that Seoul is compelled to side with AUKUS, South Korea would be exposed to attack from North Korea and China.

The result is that the economies of the AUKUS members and any others participating in the war against China will be severely damaged, so much so that their societies and politics will become unstable and the very polities themselves liable to break up. They will lose cultural prestige as well and the very concept of Western liberal democracy – itself hazy and contradictory with its emphasis on free markets unhindered by government oversight and regulation – will be discredited. While China and its allies will also suffer economic damage, they will be in a better position to recover through China’s BRI.

While Cockshott’s presentation is well set out if a bit slow and repetitive, it does appear simplistic to the point where the figures and facts he pulls out look cherry-picked. In a real war, China would have Russian support which could include Russia cutting off natural gas supplies to the UK. An economic blockade initiated by China or Russia of the UK and any European countries allied with that nation and involved in the US war against China could strain relations among them and among other things encourage the British public to turn against London, especially as (with the phasing out of the use of older fossil fuel technologies like coal-dependent technologies) Europe is becoming more and more dependent on importing Russian natural gas. The Taiwanese people themselves, as opposed to their government, might prefer Beijing’s domination to the extent that their forces might pledge to fight on the Chinese side. Australia itself will be a target for attacks and economic blockades and sanctions from China, Russia and their allies, and Australians themselves would have to choose whether remaining part of AUKUS or any alliance with the US is worth risking their future for.

At the same time Cockshott’s presentation is silent on China’s submarine capabilities against future combined AUKUS submarine attacks. One could argue though that there are many ways to fight “hot” wars and not all of them have to be purely military, let alone match one nation’s sub-set of military weapons against another’s exact equivalent. For China, the war AUKUS will wage against it will be a defensive war and defence calls for different strategies and the necessary tactics and hardware those require: the problem is how varied and how deep China’s defensive capabilities are, and if they can withstand the offensive strategies and capabilities of the AUKUS alliance. Cockshott’s presentation suggests that China will have more flexibility and more strategies, tactics and weapons (especially soft non-military weapons) at hand than the AUKUS alliance will.

The issue that remains is why Australian political and defence elites were so stupid and idiotic to sleepwalk into a pact that robs Australia of any sovereignty over its land, sea and air territory, and ultimately puts their own survival in doubt.

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