GLOBALISATION - AUSTRALIA: A CLIENT STATE - REVIEW
and Ted Wheelwright
For more than
twenty years, Ted Wheelwright has alerted Australians to the dangers of
foreign ownership. Some of those who once sided with him have gone on to
become propagandists in the courts of our exploiters. Better Australians
have taken their places at Wheelwright’s side and of those recruits
none is more soundly equipped than Greg Crough.
A Client State brings together decades of Wheelwright’s research
with Crough’s detailed studies of freshly significant zones of
domination, especially financial ones. Everyone who cares about the fate
of Australia’s working peoples must benefit from an acquaintance with
the material that the authors have assembled and which no review could
justly paraphrase. Only a glimpse of their range and depth can be given
in the following examples.
The current craze for
“free trade” is shown up for what it is, namely, a programme of
protection for some of the TransNational Corporations (TNCs). The claim
that Australia should lower tariffs to assist the starving Asians is
exposed for the cant it is: the only beneficiaries would be the TNCs
operating slave labour shops in Asia while the cost would be the jobs of
the those Australians least able to afford it, immigrant women.
TNCs operate out of
“free trade” zones in Asian countries which can deliver a controlled
workforce. Crough and Wheelwright go on to attack the centrally planned
economies that offer the same service.
The two chapters on
financial aspects of TNCs destroy the myth that Australia needed massive
foreign investment: they then document the dangers facing our balance of
payments; hey show how the Campbell Committee’s recommendations would
remove the most important remaining hurdle to the plundering of
Australia. These chapters also deal with the tax avoidance practices of
mining companies. If you have time to read nothing else in A
Client State, read chapters 7 & 8.
In the manner of Brian
Fitzpatrick, Crough and Wheelwright explain Australia’s problems by
tracing the imperial patterns as well as internal processes. Hence, a
lot of their evidence details events outside this country, giving two
chapters to the Pacific Rim Strategy, so that they can trace
Australia’s part in a proposed New Corporate World Economic Order.
Their account tends to
minimise the disorder inherent in all stages of capitalism and so
strategy begins to sound like accomplished fact. For instance, in
documenting the power of IBM, they understate the challenge from
Because of its evidence
and explanations, A Client State
is too significant to treat with anything less than the political
seriousness which it inspires. If this book had been available early
last year, my Gone Tomorrow would have been sharper in its contentions and
prescriptions. Thus, the following critique is also a self-criticism.
The rest of this review
takes up Crough’s and Wheelwright’s central proposition which is
that “the political power of the state no longer corresponds to the
scope of capital’s power – there is capital where there is no
state.” That statement depends on a inadequate appreciation of the
cross-hatchings made by class, state, market and nation.
We can enter this
debate by recognising that the decision to call corporations
multi-national or trans-national is more than a semantic one.
Multi-national can imply several nations getting together to form a
corporation. Crough and Wheelwright prove that, by and large, that is
not what happens. Trans-national is closer to the truth for countries
placed as Australia is because we client states do not get much of a say
in running the corporations that operate here.
Yet trans-national is
not entirely satisfactory. Crough and Wheelwright prefer that term
because it stresses their belief that the rise of TNCs has involved
dissolution of the nation-state. Their belief is not the whole story as
they themselves frequently acknowledge when they point to the necessary
links between the TNCs and state agencies such as the CIA in Chile.
If the authors had paid
further attention to the organisation of Japanese capital they would be
even harder pressed to argue for a shrinking of the nation-state against
What Crough and
Wheelwright have done is to apply the same criterion to both sides of an
unequal relationship. The real position is that the TNCs are national in
terms of their own imperial states but trans-national (ie anti-national)
in their impact on client states such as Australia. Thus, contrary to
the authors’ formulations, but in line with most of their evidence,
TNCs correspond to the scope of imperial states; in addition, the TNCs
and imperial states work together to crack only those aspects of state
power in a client country that impede their interests while repressive
and military elements are strengthened through integration with those of
the imperial state.
The book’s lack of
clarity on this question comes partly from a faulty historical
understanding in which the nation-state is seen as once having held
control over the firms operating within its borders. In fact, it was
exceptional for the regulatory role of any capitalist state to be as
powerful as Crough’s and Wheelwright’s version requires and their
notion is touched by some Fabian ideas about the pre-TNC state as a
Similarly, they draw
too sharp a line between the pre-1950s and post-1950s roles taken by
imperialist, comprador and national strata of the bourgeoisie in this
country. Since 1788, the ruling class in Australia has been dominated by
imperialist-comprador groupings while national elements have been
subordinate though occasionally stroppy. In addition, the state was
organised to keep things that way.
Given their thesis of
clienthood, more attention could have been given to the federal
arrangement of the post-1900 state in Australia where “States’
Rights” still allow certain imperial needs to prosper.
Of course, there has
been a major change since the 1950s though Crough and Wheelwright do not
spell out its twin drives as cogently as they might have done. Those
forces were, one, the US imperium’s taking over from Britain which
required, two, the “selling” of our resources. For as long as
Australia was run from Britain’s, its firms had an unspoken claim to
buy us up, but in order for the US to take over here, there had to be
the clearance sale of the century. This time round, the US has been
largely allied with Japan against Australia.
By somewhat dislocating
TNCs from their imperial-states. Crough and Wheelwright pass over the
inter-dependence of US capital with its military machine and although
arms spending is mentioned a couple of times it is not given its
importance as a conveyor belt for post-war boom and repression.
Another source of the
book’s lack of precision on the theory of the nation-state is the
authors’ tendency to rely on reporting the conclusions of other
writers without re-working these opinions into an analysis of their own.
The political half of their political economy is underdeveloped.
One consequence of
Crough and Wheelwright’s unraveled ideas about the nation-state is a
mixed bag of recommendations which wisely avoids trusting the ALP but
puts too much hope in the unions and too much emphasis on public
ownership, though worker control is praised elsewhere. Crough and
Wheelwright call upon Australians to “capture state power and turn it
to the use of the majority.” If that demand means that the majority
have to do away with the existing state whilst building a new one of our
own, then that call captures Australia’s only salvation against being
beggared into the Third World.
No degree of conceptual
clarity will preserve us from that end unless it informs an agenda for
extra-parliamentary politics: that solution needs much more than another