Asian tsunami: capitalism is the real disaster!

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The end of 2004 brought with it an immense human tragedy in South Asia. An exceptionally violent earthquake caused a tidal wave in the Indian Ocean, which devastated no less than twelve countries around it. In a few hours, the tsunamis killed more than 160,000 people; tens of thousands are still missing, hundreds of thousands are injured, and five million have been left homeless or refugees. Tragically, this terrible toll is only provisional, since many areas, in Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka in particular, remain inaccessible as a result of the complete destruction of the road network.

In the coastal regions, whole villages have been razed to the ground, hundreds of fishing boats have been smashed to pieces, and salt water has filled the fields, leaving more than five million people without shelter, drinking water, or food, which can only cause more deaths. The humanitarian organisations worry that epidemics could kill tens of thousands more people. Once again, it is the poorest strata of the population, including the workers in the tourist industry, who have been the main victims of this tragedy.

Capitalism alone is responsible for the human disaster

As with every disaster of this kind, we are told that human beings are impotent in the face of “Mother Nature”, bad luck, fate, or the poverty of the affected countries which are unable to acquire the techniques to prevent such disasters.

Rubbish, and lies!

How and why has a well-known natural disaster like the tsunami been transformed in just a few hours into such a massive social disaster?

Obviously, capitalism cannot be accused of causing the earthquake which created the enormous tidal wave. But it is the cause of the negligence and utter irresponsibility of the governments both of the region and in the west which has led to this immense human catastrophe.

All of them were aware that this region of the world is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.

The experts on the spot knew that a disaster was imminent. During a meeting of physicists in Jakarta in December, a group of Indonesian seismologists brought up the subject with a French expert. They were perfectly aware of the danger of tsunamis, since earthquakes occur constantly in the region” (Libération, 31/12/04).

The experts were therefore aware of the danger. Moreover, we are told by the ex-director of the International Centre for Information on Tsunamis, George Pararas-Carayannis, that a major quake took place two days before the disaster of 26th December: “The Indian Ocean possesses the basic infrastructure and communications for seismic measurement. And nobody should have been taken by surprise, since an earthquake of 8.1 on the Richter scale occurred on 24th December. This should have alerted the authorities. What is lacking is the political will in the countries concerned, and an international coordination on the scale of what has been built in the Pacific” (Libération, 28/12/04).

Nobody should have been surprised, and yet the disaster came. But this was not the end of the ruling classes’ negligence!

Within 15 minutes of the earthquake, the American weather bureau in Hawaii warned 26 countries of the danger of tsunamis close to the epicentre, and yet the Japanese weather bureau failed to pass on the information, because the news did not concern Japan.

The Indian Air Force HQ received the information, but it then had to follow an extremely hierarchical and bureaucratic path. The warning fax got lost, because the weather bureau no longer had the correct fax number for the Research Ministry, which had changed since a new government took office in May 2004. “The same pattern of events occurred in Thailand, where the weather bureau dared not launch a national alert for fear of causing useless panic, and this despite the fact that they already knew that a major earthquake had occurred at 08:10, hours before the tsunami hit the beaches of Phuket” (Libération, 31/12/04).

Simple prudence (not to mention the principal of precaution) demanded that the population be warned. Even without the technical means of Japan or the United States, there was enough information available about the coming disaster for the governments to act and to avoid such a slaughter.

This was not negligence, it was a criminal policy which reveals the profound contempt of the ruling class for the population and the proletariat, who are the main victims of the bourgeois policies of the local governments!

Today it is clear and even officially recognised that the alert was not given… for fear of harming the tourist industry! In other words, tens of thousands of human lives have been sacrificed in the defence of sordid economic and financial interests.

This governmental irresponsibility is yet another illustration of the way of life of this class of sharks who run society’s productive activity. The bourgeois states are ready to sacrifice so many human lives in order to preserve capitalist profit and exploitation.

The policy of the ruling class is always dictated by capitalist interest, and in capitalism, disaster prevention is not profitable, as the media recognise today: “The countries of the region have so far turned a deaf ear to appeals to set up a warning system, because of the cost involved. According to the experts, such a system would have cost tens of millions of dollars, and yet it would allowed tens of thousands of human lives to be saved” (Les Echos, 30/12/04).

At the sight of these endless TV reports, showing the tens of thousands of dead, the decimated families, the orphaned children, we can only be revolted by the abject cynicism with which those responsible for the slaughter announce that now they will do everything in their power to equip Asia with the same system of earthquake and tsunami detection as exists in the United States and Japan.

The human tragedy in South Asia is yet another expression of the barbarity of a system which is leading humanity to its doom. For it is this decadent system that is truly responsible for the endless series of catastrophes. Last year, an earthquake in Iran left tens of thousands dead. Just before that, it was the turn of Turkey and Armenia. The population is massed in earthquake areas in precarious buildings, when all the technology exists to prevent such natural phenomena from turning into social disasters.

If the tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed so many tourists, this is because capitalism's development of tourist complexes has been completely anarchic, and in particular because it has destroyed many of the mangrove swamps which could have offered some protection from the tidal-wave and all the flotsam and jetsam it brought with it.

This is another expression of the aberrant situation in the industrialised countries, where housing is built in areas dangerously subject to flooding.

Because it is based on the frantic search for profit, and not on the satisfaction of human need, capitalism can only, more than ever, cause yet more disasters. Capitalist development has made possible the flourishing of a formidable technical and industrial capacity, and tends towards a certain mastery of nature; yet in its decadent phase, this system is no longer capable of offering any progress to humanity. On the contrary, just as technical development should make it possible for humanity to live in harmony with nature, the latter seems to be "reasserting its rights".

Capitalism today is a social system in decomposition. It has become a barrier to the development of the human species, and even a threat to its very survival. It is the duty of revolutionaries to answer the partial, but above all the base and cynical, explanations of the ruling class, with a marxist analysis.

"The more capitalism develops, then rots on its feet, the more it prostitutes the technology which should be a force for liberation to the demands of its exploitation, domination, and imperialist pillage, to the point where it injects its own rottenness into technical development and turns it against the human species (...) In every domain of daily life in the 'peaceful' phases that it allows us, between imperialist massacres or periods of repression, capitalism crams together, poisons, asphyxiates, mutilates and massacres human individuals with its prostituted technology, spurred on as it is by its ceaseless search for a better rate of profit (...) Nor is capitalism innocent of the so-called 'natural' disasters. While there are of course natural forces which are outside human control, marxism shows that many disasters are directly provoked or worsened by social causes (...) Not only does bourgeois civilisation directly provoke disasters by its thirst for profit and the domination of the administrative apparatus by racketeering (...) it is incapable of organising effective preventive measures, inasmuch as prevention is not a profitable activity" (Amadeo Bordiga, Earth's crust and the human species).

The hypocrisy and cynicism of the world bourgeoisie

Despite the gravity of the disaster, it took several days for the international ruling class to mobilise, and to despatch assistance to the affected countries. Once there, aid had to be transported to where it was needed: a campaign hospital sent to Indonesia by the French had to wait two weeks before the arrival of the helicopters needed to transport the personnel and equipment.

In defence of their imperialist interests, in so-called "humanitarian" wars, these states are always capable of a rapid reactions when it comes to despatching troops and ever more sophisticated equipment to bombard civilian populations at the four corners of the planet. All these capitalist gangsters have never hesitated to pour the most gigantic sums of money into arms production, and the destruction of entire countries.

As for the financial aid initially promised by governments around the world, and notably by the most developed countries, it was so miserly that the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland even described the "international community" as skinflints.

Faced with the extent of the disaster, the various capitalist states have behaved like real vultures, bidding up their aid with the sole objective of appearing more "generous" than their rivals.

The USA has proposed $350 million, instead of the initial announcement of $35 million (while they are spending $1 billion a week on the war in Iraq, and $1 billion a month in Afghanistan!), Japan has offered $500 million, and the European Union $436 million. France, which spends €1 billion a year on its military interventions, even thought it could take the lead among donor countries with its $50 million; then it was the turn of Australia, Britain, Germany, etc.

Each state proposed a higher sum than its predecessor, as if they were at an auction.

This verbal upping the stakes is all the more disgusting, in that it is a pure sham, since the promised aid is seldom followed by payment. We should remember that the "international community" of imperialist gangsters promised $100 million after the earthquake in Iran (December 2003), of which only $17 million has been paid. The same thing happened in Liberia: $1 billion promised, $70 million paid.

There is no end of examples, not to mention all the armed conflicts sinking into oblivion and horror and for which no promises are made, despite the human suffering every bit as terrible as that caused by the tsunami: Darfur, the Congo...

As for the proposed moratorium on debt repayments for the countries hit by the disaster, this is a bubble that will soon burst, since it is merely proposed to put off payment of interest on the debt, not to wipe it out completely. Moreover, among the countries most affected by the tidal wave, five will have to pay $32 billion dollars of debt next year, in other words ten times more than they have been promised in "humanitarian aid" (and which is probably far more than they will actually receive). Of course, if these countries, like Iraq, enjoyed the privilege of being occupied by the US Army, then they could have benefited from a straightforward abolition of their debt.

Not only does the bourgeoisie tell the most outrageous lies about its so-called "generosity", it hides the real motives behind this "humanitarian" auction.

The governments' "humanitarian" aid is in fact nothing but a pretext to hide their imperialist appetites.

Behind the ideological smokescreen of humanitarian propaganda, it is striking to see the haste with which each state rushed to get its own representatives on the ground, before its rivals, whereas the disaster called for an international coordination of aid efforts. In fact, each national bourgeoisie is defending its own capitalist and imperialist interests in a region which is important strategically and militarily.

The same diverging interests that were present in Afghanistan and Iraq are clashing around the Indian Ocean. France has sent its Foreign Minister to accompany a first plane-load of medicines, and French President Chirac, supported by Germany, has proposed the creation of a "humanitarian rapid reaction force", controlled by the European states but at the service of the United Nations.

The US response was not long in coming: the United States not only sent its ships, helicopters and aircraft to the region, it announced the creation of an international humanitarian coalition (with Australia, India, and Japan) to "coordinate their assistance".

As with the war in Iraq, the aim of US policy is to demonstrate to the other powers that the United States is boss, and that it intends to defend its interests here as elsewhere. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, and President Bush's brother, have been despatched to the region to exalt "American values in action". Colin Powell, who commanded the American forces during the first Gulf War and was responsible, amongst other things, for burying alive the Iraqi troops caught in the front lines, even had the gall, as he flew over the devastated region of Banda Aceh to shed crocodile tears, declaring that "I've been in war and through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and relief operations, but I have never seen anything like this" (USA Today, 5th January 2005).

The discord among the great powers, each state trying to gain an advantage over the others, are eloquent testimony to the humanitarian "concerns" of these capitalist vultures. As one US official pointed out: "This is a tragedy, but also an opportunity. Rapid and generous help from the United States could improve our relations with the Asian countries".

Given Indonesia's strategic importance in the Indian Ocean, it is obvious that the United States will try to profit from the disaster to gain a military footing in the region (something that the Indonesian armed forces rejected, accusing the USA of interfering in Indonesian affairs when Washington suspended its military aid to Jakarta in 1999, on the grounds of the massacres committed by the Indonesian army in East Timor). US "humanitarian relief" in Sri Lanka has taken the form of a "peaceful" landing by amphibious tanks (unarmed according to one officer), whose mission is "not to destroy but to help the population".

The European states would also like to establish a military and diplomatic presence in the region. China is trying to assert itself as a regional power, and in doing so is coming up against opposition from Japan. And if India has refused all foreign aid, even if this means leaving the victims of the disaster to die, it is solely because it wants to assert its own presence as a regional power to be reckoned with.

This is what is hidden behind the chaotic "humanitarian relief" offered by the world bourgeoisie: the defence of sordid imperialist interests! The hypocrisy of the bourgeois class that rules the world is truly vile!

It is capitalism that is the real disaster for humanity, its law of profit and its ruling class which pauses only to count the dead before unleashing the next round of barbarism. At the same time as capitalism leaves whole populations at the mercy of tidal waves, it has created chaos in Afghanistan, a bloodbath of terrorist attacks and state reprisals in Iraq and Palestine, famine in Darfur and slaughter in the Congo.

This bloody spiral shows that capitalism has nothing to offer but the destruction of humanity in ever more devastating disasters, ever more barbaric wars, more poverty, more famine, more epidemics. This rotting system can only offer the destruction of the entire planet, region by region.

What solidarity can we offer the victims of the disaster?

Confronted with this social and human tragedy, revolutionaries and the whole world proletariat must declare, loud and strong, their class solidarity with the victims.

They must salute the great élan of human solidarity that appeared immediately across the planet. The survivors did not wait for relief before helping each other. In the tourist areas, the local population helped out travellers who had lost everything, while tourists set to, to help clear debris and start rebuilding. Spontaneously, millions of people, and workers in particular, offered food, clothing, and money to help the victims.

But this natural solidarity, which is the basis for social existence and the preservation of the human species, has immediately been recuperated by the ruling class and its NGOs.

The steamroller of endless televised news reporting has the function of preventing any reflection as to the causes of this social disaster.

According to the ruling class, through its media and its humanitarian specialists, we are impotent in the face of such events, and can do no more than give money to this or that charity, in the hope that a gift will get through to the population in need of relief.

These "Non-Governmental" organisations have shown once again that they are in reality in the service of governments. We need only look at the shambles on the spot: fifty or more NGOs are present, and each national TV channel promotes different NGOs which in turn defend the competing interests of their governments, depending on the country they come from. And so, for the bourgeoisie solidarity is transformed into chauvinism.

The working class' indignation at these dramatic events and its spontaneous solidarity with the victims, has been manipulated and derailed by the ruling class in a disgusting "humanitarian" campaign. Thanks to its NGOs, the bourgeoisie has taken over a real élan of solidarity to turn it into the dead-end of charity donations. When the bourgeois states urge us to give money to help the populations suffering from the disaster, they want us to think that we can "buy" a "clean conscience" by contributing to the "humanitarian aid" offered by the governments.

This massive ideological campaign, conducted through daily media broadcasts, aims to cloud the consciousness of the workers and prevent them from thinking about the real causes of the disaster.

By preventing the workers from understanding that capitalism alone is responsible, these campaigns aim to adulterate their class solidarity and mislead it into a dead-end.

But class solidarity cannot be limited, as the ruling class and its NGOs would like us to think, to mere charity.

On the one hand, because the financial help offered will be no more than a drop in the ocean given the extent of the catastrophe.

On the other, because the money collected will never relieve the moral distress of the men, women and children who have lost their nearest and dearest, whose bodies have had to be dumped without ceremony in common graves.

Money cannot repair the irreparable.

Nor can these gestures of financial solidarity attack the problem at its root: the cannot prevent the repetition of new disasters in other parts of the world.

This is why the class solidarity of the workers cannot be that of the priests and the NGOs.

The aim of proletarian solidarity is not to buy a "clean conscience" or to save our souls, by giving in to the feelings of guilt that the ruling class is trying to spread.

Class solidarity can only develop on the basis of a denunciation of the capitalist system's ruling class: they alone are guilty of this disaster!

The workers of the world must understand that by resisting the ruling class, and by overthrowing its system of death, they alone can raise a worthy monument to all those human lives sacrificed on the altar of capitalism in the name of profitability.

They must develop their struggles and their class solidarity against all the states and all the governments, which not only exploit them and attack their living conditions, but then have the nerve to ask them to pay up in order to repair the damage caused by capitalism.

Only by a daily struggle against the system until it is overthrown can the working class demonstrate a real solidarity towards the proletarians and the populations in the countries devastated by the tsunami.

Such solidarity will obviously not have an immediate effect. But nor will it be a mere flash in the pan, unlike the relief proposed by the ruling class and the NGOs.

In a few months, for the ruling class and its charity organisations, this disaster will be lost in the dustbin of history.

The working class cannot forget it, just as it cannot forget the massacres perpetrated by the Gulf War and all the other wars and so-called "natural" disasters.

The workers of the world can never consider this disaster "resolved". It must remain in their memory, and spur on their determination to develop their struggle and their class unity against the barbarity of capitalism.

The working class is the only force in society today which can offer a real gift to the victims of the bourgeoisie by overthrowing capitalism and building a new society, based not on profit but on the satisfaction of human need. It is the only class whose revolutionary perspective can offer a future to the human race.

This is why the solidarity of the proletariat must go much further than an emotional solidarity. It must be based, not on feelings of impotence or guilt, but above all on class consciousness.

Only the development of proletarian class solidarity, a solidarity based on the awareness of capitalism's bankruptcy, will be able to lay the foundations for a society where the crimes that the bourgeoisie presents to us as "natural" disasters can no longer be committed, where all this abominable barbarism can at last be overcome and abolished.

"Capitalism in its death throes wants to accustom us to horror, to make us consider the barbarism for which it is responsible as somehow “normal”. The workers can only react with indignation against such cynicism, and with solidarity towards the victims of these endless wars and the massacres perpetrated by all the capitalist gangs. Disgust and the rejection of everything that decomposing capitalism imposes on society, solidarity among members of a class all of whose interests are common, are essential factors in the development of a consciousness that another perspective is possible, and that a united working class has the strength to impose it" (International Review n°119).

The workers of the world can only express their solidarity to the victims of the disaster by their struggles against capitalist exploitation, poverty, and barbarism: by giving life to the slogan: "Down with all governments! Down with capitalism! Workers of the world, unite!"

DM, 8th January 2005