Thursday, January 18, 2007

Look Left For Leadership

If you thought embracing capitalism was ‘the’ sure-shot way to any nation’s success, allow us to whisper sweetly that you couldn’t have been far from being magnanimously... wrong!

More than three decades ago, the Vietnam War ended and US troops went home. Yet, ‘Nam still haunts the psyche of many Americans. After all, the US had done then to Vietnam, exactly what it did to Iraq a few years ago. Even today, the grey images of the Vietnam War are fresh in people’s minds. Images of a girl running in terror, her body scorched by napalm; images of people fighting to board a helicopter, as it took off from the roof of the US embassy; images of a nation destroyed and devastated by the US of A. Yet, a few months ago, when George Bush arrived in Hanoi for a trade summit, he saw a country that was booming. Most interestingly, today, America has become Vietnam’s biggest trading partner.

Vietnam, which is known as ‘the Paris of the East’, with its beautiful lakes and lush green parks, is today glistening. Vietnam is today the fastest growing economy in South-East Asia. The war, which had scared the nation years ago, today has turned into a big tourist attraction. You would find war memorabilia being traded like hot cakes in the market place. Hawkers jostle to sell dog tags and Zippo lighters that supposedly belonged to American Pilots! The war is over, today Vietnam is racing ahead. It promises to become a developed nation by 2020. Vietnam’s growth rate of 8.4% has exceeded that of Thailand, Malyasia, Taiwan, South Korea and even India in some quarters. In fact, American companies like Intel and Nike are pouring in billions of dollars into Vietnam. In 1990, 51% of the people of Vietnam were living in abject poverty. Today, only 8% of its people earn less than $1 a day. Vietnam is the latest Asian economic tiger and it’s roaring real loud. This time, it’s truly – good morning Vietnam!

Vietnam may have opened its gates to the outside world, yet it’s a communist country and has an authoritarian one-party state. Freedom of speech and democracy may be an alien concept, and still no one seems to be complaining. To top it all, the pace of its exports to the United States is rising faster than even China’s. The new middle class wealth is visible in the swarm of motorcycles that have filled the city streets. In fact, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie could not resist a ride in one of them when they visited Vietnam sometime back. Researchers predict that it won’t be long before people start switching form bikes to cars – after all, the country is really doing well for itself. Life expectancy has increased, infant mortality has decreased. Most of the children in Vietnam are enrolled in schools.

Vietnam leaders have promised to make Vietnam a modern industrial nation by 2020. Of course, many nations, including ours, have promised this to their people; the only difference being – Vietnam means it!

If the Vietnam saga sounds great, China perhaps would be nothing short of brilliant. Take a look at a few numbers and statistics and then decide for yourself. Between 1979 and 1997, China’s GDP grew by 9.8% annually, about three times greater than the world average. Some 170 million people were lifted out of poverty. Even the United Nations had to admit that never in the history of the world have so many people made such economic progress in a single generation.

In the 1970s, China was an insignificant participant in the international market. Reforms started in 1978; and since then, China has recorded one of the world’s highest growth rates. Today, China is unarguably one of the most dominant players in the international arena.

Even the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 did not halt the wheels of growth of China. At that time, when the West and Japan stopped investing in China, the Chinese living outside the mainland put in huge investments and provided the much needed funds to China. In three years, China’s growth went upto 12% per annum. The world was startled and soon the Americans, Europeans & Japanese were once again interested in China. After all, a little repression, a little violation of human rights, are not reasons enough to stop a good investor. Bill Clinton soon granted China the MFN (most favoured nation) status and the World Bank once again resumed lending to China.

Today, China is booming. China’s GDP rose from $150 billion in 1978 to more than $1.6 trillion in 2004. And to say China’s exports are booming, is a very huge understatement.

Deng Xiaoping had said, “To get rich is glorious;” and China has shown this to the world. The ideological debate of whether capitalism or socialism is better has come to a conclusion. You see China and you realise that communism is not only relevant, but potentially the key to deciding the shape of the country’s future.

Notably, the socialism of the 21st century seems to be different. It’s more of a planned economy than a bureaucratic totalitarian state that existed in Stalinist Russia. Many countries, especially the Latin American ones, have realised that prosperity and happiness can be achieved by supporting and promoting this 21st century socialism.

And if there is one country that has shown what a socialist government can do, that is Chile. From 1973 to 1990, the country dwindled and withered away under the nasty dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Then came Ricardo Lagos whose socialist party changed things, and how. Today, the reigns have been taken over by Michelle Bachelet and Chile seems to be doing very well. Lagos was a genius, whose thesis (written in 1960) earned him the title, “The Mozart of the Economy.” Creditably, he helped reduce the inflation in his economy. In 2005, Chile grew at an impressive rate of 6.5%. Poverty has fallen sharply in Chile, from 39% in 1990 to about 19% today. The Chileans are realising that their economy is looking up and what seemed like a distant dream – of becoming a prosperous and developed country – seems to be well within their grasp. Chile has shown that you don’t have to kowtow the US to be successful. It is firmly against Washington, but with the right kind of leadership it has nothing to fear.

There seems to be yet another socialist who minces no words when it comes to expressing his feelings about USA. It’s the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavéz (above top). He is totally anti-capitalist and knows that the only way to reach promised objectives of a better life and the end of exploitation is through a socialist form of government. Not surprising that 82% of Venezuelans think Chavéz is doing a good job. Come to think of it, it’s more than twice the approval rating by Americans of Bush. Chavéz has used Venezuela’s oil profits to lift the poor out of poverty. Bush used oil to destroy a whole nation and kill its leader (Saddam). The poor love Chavéz, for they see their lives improving under him. Is he the next Fidel Castro? Perhaps, but he is surely a hero. Cheers once again to his leadership – for Venezuela is today the fastest growing economy in the hemisphere.

There’s definitely something about socialism. From Hugo Chavéz to Evo Morales of Bolivia, it seems like a wave of “leftism” has swept over Latin America. There is Lula and his Worker’s Party in Brazil, there’s Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Vazques in Uruguay. They have probably seen that democracy did little to eradicate poverty and corruption or reduce inequalities. The “Left” is returning. And this time, it’s making sure it does not commit the mistakes it made in Soviet Union. This “new Left” is more viable, more sensitive and sensible; and definitely very effective. It would not be long before this region becomes a force to reckon with. Vietnam and China have shown the way and many are following them.

“Revolution is not a dinner party,” wrote Mao Tse-tung when he was a young Communist leader. It required grit, determination, and most of all, compassion towards the poor. Only then can a nation truly progress and become a force to reckon with. Socialism is a very young system. Capitalism could not achieve what socialism has done to Latin America or Asia. Socialism has shown what it can do. Look at USSR and Cuba. It’s probably worth putting our faith in the system and giving it a chance.

India has the best natural resources, the best brains, the best people, the best culture and yet it’s not growing the way it should. What it lacks is a proper ideology and a strong leader. Isn’t it time we learn from others? Isn’t it time to look Left for leadership?

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