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Issue #1623      January 22, 2014

Culture & Life

Carry on spying

Have you noticed how the brouhaha over the revelations that America’s spy agencies eavesdropped on everybody’s phone calls, correspondence, conversations and so on, with the willing co-operation of so-called “social media” companies, have quietly been allowed to fade away?

True, in the USA, President Obama has enacted some milk-sop legislation that is supposed to curb the “excesses” of the intelligence agencies, but which in reality merely adds an annoying level of extra bureaucracy to be negotiated before it’s “business as usual”.

In Britain, the country that leads the world in domestic surveillance, David Cameron’s Tory government has not only refrained from joining the global criticism of US “extraterritorial” surveillance, but has continued to make its GCHQ electronic spying centre in Cheltenham available to support the USA’s NSA bugging program.

You will recall that the global outcry over this US spying spree, disclosed in all its gobsmacking breadth by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, was fended off by US authorities as necessary to fight terrorism. That argument looked a bit threadbare when the victims of this US bugging were revealed to include German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Bugging her phone would surely reveal nothing about terrorist groups, but it could reveal much about German capitalism’s approach to US plans to dominate the world’s energy resources, about German capital’s response to the US push for free trade agreements (giving the US much-needed market access), and about German imperialism’s own plans for German domination of south-eastern Europe.

Knowing just exactly what your “friends” are doing in the area of international trade can give a government a trillion dollar advantage, something not to be sneezed at.

It was Henry Kissinger who memorably said “America has no friends, only interests”. Today, all around the world, governments that used to be proud to be numbered among those “interests” are now reassessing their relationship with the American superpower. Just what benefits do they get for allowing their rights to be walked on quite so blatantly?

The present US assault on democratic rights and national sovereignty is meant to be the spearhead of a general capitalist assault on working people, on the poor and have-nots, by a system that is staring catastrophe in the face. The richest, most powerful capitalist country, the USA, is watching its economic empire crumble. By reducing the bulk of the people to the status of peons, the chiefs of the big corporations hope to ride out the coming crisis with minimum discomfort. But the writing is already on the wall.

Just last week, the ABC ran a short news story about China’s financial assets. Pointing to a clutch of high-rise office buildings in one of China’s east-coast cities, the commentator observed that the headquarters of many of the world’s most important and profitable companies were located in China. “And what is more important”, he said, “they are owned by the State.”

And it is an important point: whereas in other countries, big corporations tell the government what to do (“to make business conditions better”), in China the government tells the big corporations where it wants capital invested and in what manner.

The Bank of China has more financial assets than the World Bank and the Bank of Asian Development combined. Every fourth thing manufactured in the world is made in China. In the US, manufacturing – once the mainstay of the country’s economy – is disappearing down the drain. Look at Detroit: once the epitome of ascendant capitalism, now almost a ghost town.

US imperialism is in deep trouble. More and more countries are writing their international contracts in currencies other than US dollars, once the universal choice for such transactions. Now, with the US owing trillions of dollars, making it the world’s biggest debtor nation by far, foreign governments have become fearful that a crash could wipe out their foreign reserves as well as the US government’s.

It was this potential global threat that prompted Chinese economist Liu Chang in October of last year to call for the “de-Americanisation of the world”. I imagine that did not go down well in Washington!

In all this economic turmoil, there is a growing possibility of an alliance of sorts between the increasingly significant BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the EU countries. The latter of course are having all sorts of problems of their own, with austerity measures, raging unemployment and no sign of improvement in the future.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the right-wing have been staging mass rallies demanding the government join the EU as a way of overcoming their economic difficulties. The people of Spain, Portugal, France and Greece would probably wonder at the wisdom of that particular approach! (The Right in Ukraine is, of course, more interested in avoiding closer ties to Russia than in whether the EU is really the economic nirvana that they are claiming it is.)

If an alliance between the BRICS countries and the EU were to replace the USA as the dominant economic force in the world, the world would still be predominantly capitalist. But there would be a mix of economies, and it would be a multi-polar world. And that would be a big step forward from where we are now.

In the meantime, however, imperialism is fighting to protect its foothold on power, and that means continued surveillance, continued spying on unions, revolutionaries, even vaguely progressive politicians, governments and movements everywhere around the world, in fact any one any where who might help or hinder US interests. But people, all over the world, have come out in a remarkable show of support for Edward Snowden and against US spying.

In Australia, we have our own spy scandal as we learn of the role of this country’s Signals Directorate in spying on impoverished East Timor in order to more easily steal that country’s natural gas reserves. How morally bankrupt can Australian capitalism get?

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