Correspondence on the Asian Tsunami Catastrophe
(This letter is published as a supplement to World Revolution 281, February 2005)
Following the immense earthquake and its terrible effects radiating from and around the Indian Ocean, communists can only express their solidarity and commiserations with the great numbers affected. The tales of life saving, assistance and sustenance from local populations and tourists alike in the midst of the most terrible suffering contradicts the ‘each for themselves’ of the ruling class. This solidarity, with the vast majority of workers and poor who took the brunt of the grief, stands in stark contrast to the hypocrisy, parochialism and charity of the bourgeoisie.
Some newspaper columnists are already talking about the “no-blame” disaster. Of course it was a natural disaster but one whose effects were made a thousand times worse by a decomposing system of production for profit. Local nuclear powers and other local regimes who spend fortunes on the military decided only last year that a relatively cheap and effective warning system was “too expensive” (an advance warning of typhoons from weather stations in Bangla Desh involving people going out on push bikes and blowing whistles has reduced the loss of life from flash floods by 90%).
Two of the regions hit are major war torn areas: Aceh, Indonesia and the Tamil region of Sri Lanka. Already here the majority of the populations were on the floor mentally and physically. Tens of thousands of land mines have been churned up here to add to the ongoing carnage. There have been hints that the governments involved have been restricting aid to these areas thus making full use of nature’s “dirty bomb”. Outside of the war zones, most people were making a precarious living at best in countries with little infrastructure and welfare and dominated by corrupt politicians who work with the Godfathers of the major imperialisms.
We once again see clearly that capitalism is not set up to save people in danger. In the first day and a half after the event, dozens and dozens of aircraft left the European metropoles to pick up stranded tourists. Apart from the flight crews every one of these planes were empty, while the wide ranging scale of the disaster was obvious after a couple of hours of the news breaking. Only after 4 whole days did the first help begin to trickle in.
The UN has shown it is worse than useless. Kofi Annan, the great champion of the poor, carried on with his holiday and made his first – empty – statement over 4 days later. The British government was forced to up its paltry “aid” in the face of a massive response from individuals who wanted to help. As with the Bam earthquake of a year ago the majority of this promised aid will not materialise. Five days later and no British military aircraft have even been put on standby in order to assist (6 days later and Hilary Benn, Minister of Overseas Development, has said that that military transport will be “ made ready” at “the Government’s expense”), i.e., for some two weeks later.
Imperialist rivalries have inevitably reared their heads: European diplomats criticising the US and vice versa. The US taking the lead in setting up a “coalition” of itself, India, Australia and Japan has annoyed the British bourgeoisie and led to anti-US leaks from them to the British media. This important military alliance undermines the UK’s position in the region.
In short, while expressing solidarity with the victims, communists can only denounce the bourgeoisie and their system of production for profit which has laid the basis for and exacerbated the toll of death and misery here, and will continue to do so as long as it exists.