Capitalism, born in Europe, utilized the continent of its birth as a launching pad to colonize the rest of the world. World economics in the shape of the global market paved the way for world politics. Expansionist capital created the conditions for wars and revolutions on an unprecedented scale. It was the results of these truly international events that shaped the map of the modern world. The First World War marked a turning point in capitalism’s history, as the system proved that it was no longer capable of solving the problems of its own international coordination in a peaceful way. The aggression inherent in capitalism, which had so far been witnessed largely in the domestic sphere or in the colonies, now exploded in an inter-imperialist conflict that cost millions of lives, bringing the belle époque to a deadly conclusion. The violence inflicted on Africa and Asia by the European imperialist powers in the two preceding centuries now returned to its lair. The price paid for this by Capital was heavy. World War One accelerated the conditions that brought about the Russian Revolution of 1917, forcing
If the First World War had transformed Europe, the Second World War began the transformation of Asia. It is debatable whether the Chinese revolutionaries would have succeeded in liberating the world’s largest country had it not been for the Japanese occupation. Japan’s entry into China had a dual effect, which was well utilized by Mao Zedong’s partisans. It showed that the Chinese Communists were the only political force interested in defeating the Japanese, while the occupation forces themselves set about destroying the state apparatuses of the Kuomintang in the cities. In other words, it was the conflict between the major imperialist powers which helped to lay the basis for the overthrow of capitalism both in Tsarist Russia and in a feeble, postimperial China. The success of October 1917 introduced a new concept to the oppressed everywhere, which transformed the art of politics: internationalism. If the originator of this idea was Marx, the credit for attempting to make it a practical possibility must go to Lenin and his comrades. 1917 marked the beginning of a new politics on a world scale, which affects the functioning of all social classes and forces throughout the globe.
It follows that when we review today the strategic aspects of Asia in the world system, we have to analyse the ways in which the multifarious manifestations of world politics intersect in the countries that form the largest and most heavily populated continent on our planet. The postwar settlement in Europe was dominated by the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. The United States, which had emerged strengthened after the Second World War, was now economically and militarily the strongest power on earth. It saw the continent of Europe, however, as the pivot of world politics and, accordingly, sought to reconstruct the war-shattered capitalist system in its traditional heartlands. Yalta and Potsdam represented the price the usa and uk had to pay for preserving capitalism in France, Italy and Greece. The one Asian state affected by Potsdam was Imperial Japan. The use of nuclear weapons to devastate Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not essential militarily. Its main function was two-fold: to use an Asian country as a laboratory for testing these weapons of terror, and to fire a shot across the bows of Moscow. Hiroshima marked, in that sense, the end of World War Two and the beginning of a Cold War which continues to this very day.
Outside Japan there were no agreements on Asia. Nor were they possible. In the first place there was little agreement between the Allies themselves. The interests of the new imperialism of the usa clashed with the priorities of the old imperialist powers—Britain, France and Holland. Roosevelt had stated openly that he favoured the independence of India. Churchill disagreed. The military expansionism of Japan brought it into conflict with the European powers that had occupied India, Indochina, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, and so on. Many nationalists in these regions were prepared to ally with Japan in order to defeat ‘indigenous’ imperialisms. The United States wanted to circum
In China, a wave of peasant uprisings allowed Mao Zedong and the Red Armies to settle accounts with the discredited and demoralized nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek. In October 1949, the pla marched into Peking and proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Therewith the world’s largest state freed itself from some of the constraints of the capitalist world market. The Chinese Revolution immediately had farreaching effects on the global position as a whole. After 1917 the imperialist powers had directly sent in armies to defeat the Russian Revolution. They had failed, but the economic costs to the ussr had been great. After 1949 there was an indirect attempt to contain China, when the ‘United Nations’ (alias for Western imperialism) invaded Korea to roll back the Revolution there to the Yalu, forcing China to enter the war to defend the dprk. This was America’s first military failure in the post-war world.
Within the ‘socialist camp’ the effects of the Chinese Revolution were to be equally profound. The victory of the ccp meant the definitive end of ‘socialism in one country’. In Europe the success of the Yugoslav Revolution, and the ‘overturns from above’ in the rest of Eastern Europe, had already undermined the pretensions of the doctrine. The Chinese Revolution demonstrated to all that there could be no single centre of power in the non-capitalist world. The Communist International had been disbanded by Stalin in 1943 to appease his Western allies. In the post-war epoch there was a desperate need for an international framework within which political differences in the ‘socialist camp’ could be rationally hammered out and mediated. No such body came into existence. Ideological disputes were soon to acquire nationalist overtones, with disastrous results.
Meanwhile, the British withdrawal from India in August 1947 saw the creation of two states in that sub-continent. Pakistan emerged as a confessional monstrosity, constructed on extremely shaky foundations, which were to collapse within two decades and a half. The break-up of India represented a major defeat for the citizens of that region, creating a permanent division between peoples which was to feed communalism and irrationalism in both states. The independence of South Asia raised, at the same time, new questions. How would the new countries relate to their former masters? Pakistan decided, at an early stage, to align itself firmly with the West. First London and then Washington determined the entire pattern of the country’s development and its politicomilitary priorities. India pioneered the principles of non-alignment. These were not, contrary to mythology, the result of pure idealism on the part of India’s post-independence leadership. Non-alignment also reflected the refusal of the powerful Indian bourgeoisie to kow-tow to the priorities of British multinationals. The Indian capitalist class was a national bourgeoisie in the real sense of the word, favouring a nationalist political orientation at home and abroad. Nonetheless, nonalignment angered the Cold Warriors in Washington, who, unable to bring India into their network of treaties and pacts (seato and cento), armed its Muslim neighbour to the teeth and developed a direct relationship with the one instrument they felt could serve Western interests in the region: the Pakistani Army. Contacts between the Pentagon and Rawalpindi did not require the mediation of Pakistan’s weak-kneed political leaders, every military coup in that country being first given the green light by Washington. In sharp contrast India played an active role in defusing the cold war in Asia. On the other hand, the eruption of the Sino-Soviet dispute did generate a by-blow in the Himalayas in the shape of a border war between the two Asian giants, China and India. China won, and the result was a strengthening of the pro-imperialist lobby in Delhi. Yet non-alignment has remained the official aim of successive Indian leaderships, and India’s refusal to join any us-sponsored military bloc remains a central obstacle to American designs in the region. Here Asia has helped to offer an image of nonalignment even to Europe.