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This way lies disaster

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 16:41 IST

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The continuing attacks on Indian students in Australia have led to a national outrage. Australia had aggressively marketed itself as a lucrative education destination. This resulted in nearly 100,00 Indian students going to that country. As of now, Indians form 18 per cent of the student community there and they contribute nearly Rs 1 lakh crore annually to Australia’s GDP.

Racist outrages against migrant population are not unknown. We have our own domestic variety like what was witnessed in Mumbai recently. We had seen such expressions earlier in the Northeast as well. The rivalry associated with the size of the share of the cake, so to say, is attributed as the main reason for ‘locals’ attacking migrants. Some have reaped political
benefit, like the Shiv Sena, which uses racism as its electoral mascot.

The record of racist abuses in Australia has been documented even by Hollywood in the 1990s. In 2004, a strident racist campaign was launched under the slogan ‘Australian universities for Australian students’.

However, to attribute such attacks as an expression of racism alone, in the present context of global recession, would be missing the wood for the trees. Racist outrages are an expression of a deeper malaise. Between January 2008 and January 2009, Australia’s GDP growth rate plummeted from 4.2 per cent to 0.3 per cent. The last quarter saw company profits falling by 7.2 per cent. Business investment tumbled at a record rate of nearly 9 per cent. Additionally, this year has seen one of Australia’s worst droughts. as a result, unemployment climbed to 5.4 per cent in April 2009 from 3.9 per cent in February 2008. The Australian Prime Minister has declared, for the first time, that the economy is in recession. Though the Labour government in Australia has begun distributing 9.9 billion Australian dollars to low-income families directly, clearly serious problems of livelihood are affecting its people.

The decision by the century-old world automobile leader, General Motors, to declare bankruptcy indicates that the recession is worsening. The World Bank has declared that 2009 will see the “first decline in world output on record”. How this recession will be tackled by the different governments will determine the nature of social conflicts that arise as people scramble for their share of the shrinking cake. Bailout packages for corporates, however necessary, cannot go unaccompanied by huge doses of public investments that will generate both employment and domestic demand. It is the latter that will provide the much-required stimulus for the economy. The method of tackling the present crisis must be based on putting people before profits, and not the other way around.

This, however, requires the recognition that the path of neo-liberal globalisation of recent decades has ended. Corporate India, however, continues to remain in the neo-liberal mindset, notwithstanding the collapse and bankruptcy of its global high priests. It is asking for speedier reforms, particularly since the UPA does not require the support of the Left. It is precisely because the Left had prevented the last government from undertaking unbridled financial reforms like the privatisation of pension funds, raising the cap on foreign investment in the insurance sector and banking reforms permitting foreign banks from virtually taking over Indian private banks that averted a far greater devastation of the Indian economy.

It is also necessary to learn from history. The devastation caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s was met in different ways by different capitalist countries. One of these ways laid the basis for the rise of fascism. The large-scale unemployment created by the crisis was a huge army that was mobilised by fascist demagogy heralding Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Nazi fascism was also the most extreme expression of racism — Aryan supremacy. The building of the fascist war machine was, probably, the biggest economic stimulus of that time.

Obviously, this cannot be the way chosen by any modern democratic civil society. On the contrary, popular pressures must be mounted to ensure that such a way of meeting the capitalist economic recession are prevented. This can only happen when the governments of different countries are forced through popular pressure to embark on a path of taking a quantum leap in public investments to build and strengthen the social and economic infrastructure.

In the meanwhile, all efforts must be made to ensure that ugly, uncivil and anti-democratic expressions like racist abuses are contained on the basis of decisive deterrent action by the authorities. The Australian government has been giving the right assurances but the racist attacks continue to take place. It is only hoped that the will of democratic civil society will prevail.

(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP)