Drums of War, Drums of Development

John Walsh

The causes and effects of the rapid industrialisation of countries in East and Southeast Asia continue to inspire scholars seeking to understand how such transformations take place and what can be done, therefore, to promote them. When I first came to the issue myself, as part of my doctoral research, the agenda was being set by the World Bank, through its annual World Development Reports and by papers in influential academic journals that focused on cross-country regressions so as to try to identify the causal factors of growth. The World Bank straddled the two positions that were then emerging as the leading contenders for being the explanatory constructs: the role of markers and putting resources to work (as expressed by economists such as Paul Krugman) on the one hand and the role of the state (in a scholarly tradition following the work of Chalmers Johnson) on the other hand in driving development, which latter was the position I favoured. This argument had echoes of a left–right political debate but the issues as a whole did not fully map on to such a simple schema. As more scholars took up the cudgels, understanding of the evidence became both more evident and more tenuous, as the apparent divisions between state and market-led activities began to melt and thaw. The influential work of Ha-Joon Chang has helped to frame the debate in a wider focus:

'Development strategy is a multidimensional problem involving such wide-ranging areas as the establishment of long-term targets for growth and structural change, investments in productive facilities and infrastructure, the supply of an adequate labour force with industrial competence and discipline, and technological catching-up and development. Development strategy should not be discussed in terms of the misconceived dichotomy between export-led (or outward-looking) and import-substituting (or inward-looking) strategies.' (Ha-Joon Chang, The East Asian Development Experience: The Miracle, the Crisis and the Future, London and New York: Zed Books, 2006, 100-1).

This requires, therefore, a series of processes that necessitate cross-agency cooperation over an extended period of time that will, also, involve the resolution of contradictory demands for resources and attention. Such actions cannot be separated from the international environment in which the processes are being enacted and that environment necessarily changes as the result of events and of the intensifying processes of globalization (and, of course, the increasingly obvious results of global climate change). It cannot be denied that the countries perhaps most intensively studied in the respect – the Four Tigers of South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong – all faced existential threats to their very survival which made the struggle for industrialisation and, hence, the power to resist external aggression, all the more urgent.

As attention has moved to using the lessons learned from study of the Tigers to try to predict how the ultra-late development taking place in countries such as India, Vietnam, and the Philippines will be manifested, Jim Glassman has returned to the core issue of development from the very beginning of the process, which was the reconstruction of Japan from 1945, when the country was required radically to shift from its pursuit of imperial expansionism to a trajectory towards bourgeois passivity and willing recipient of foreign capital and consumer goods. Glassman argues that neither the proponents of the markets, whom he characterises as neoliberals, nor the proponents of state-led developmentalism, whom he characterises as neo-Weberians, can properly explain actually existing development:

‘I frame East and Southeast Asian industrial transformation as a transnational class phenomenon, rather than a phenomenon of either highly abstract – or “place-less” – global market forces (the typical neoliberal approach) or of concrete national development states anchored fundamentally within Asia (the typical neo-Weberian approach)’ (p. 4).

To move beyond this binary opposition, Glassman proposes a Gramscian approach which recognises that state and class interests are not monolithic in nature and are, in fact, subject to various exigencies:

‘States – autonomous or otherwise – do not act; rather, classes and class fractions act through them, just as they act through markets. If one imagines that “the state” can provide a stable site from which to marshal forces of development, one can only miss the messy, contingent, and ultimately more interesting geo-political economic struggle that constitutes the deepest driving force of development’ (p. 378).

The use of class fractions is an elegant response to the otherwise sometimes apparently contradictory nature of relationships within East Asian development. For example, business interests are at first generally supportive of state initiatives for industrial transformation, for obvious reasons. Yet those same interests appear to resent and resist later stages of such policies. In fact, corporations lack international experience and foreign currency at the early stage of the process which they can obtain by virtue of doing what the state requires of them and, subsequently, view their own ability to employ that experience and currency to their own ends as superior to what might be achieved by continuing to follow external direction. This leads to the demand for a re-evaluation of relations and the selection of new national champions. The business class, that is, if it may be said to exist as such, is not unified in pursuing a simple pro-industrialisation strategy but, instead, selects some opportunities from that process that will emerge for some elements within the class at different periods. The same may be said, generally speaking, of the working classes. Some sections – or fractions – will benefit from the different aspects of industrialisation but not to the same extent or in the same time frame. Some will find their interests will ultimately be better served by turning against what once was in their favour, at which point another fraction may wish to take advantage of a related emergent opportunity.

Armed with this approach, Glassman presents his central and eponymous theses. The overwhelmingly important force in East Asia in 1945 was the presence of the US military forces, as representations of hard state power, in a region in which the hard power of colonial regimes was dissolving at greater or lesser rates and with greater or lesser attempts to re-establish it. As a newly outward looking neo-imperialist power, the United States had few resources with which to understand this previously undiscovered world and set about expanding its capabilities to be able to understand the region with a view to dominating it. As Benedict Anderson (A Life beyond Boundaries, London and New York: Verso, 2016, 31-62) has observed, this was the time when the concept of areas studies emerged and the contribution of American thought was to go beyond the limits of European scholars, who were limited to the annals and connections available in the nations of individual imperial holdings. In its place, a comparative approach became rapidly embedded in the American approach to East and Southeast Asia.

In the initial period of intellectual and political vacuum, the US military industrial complex (MIC) rushed in to structure the nature of subsequent development. At first, Glassman argues, the vision was to include Chinese capital in a system in which the Japanese ruling class could be reinvented as the patrons of a new industrial and manufacturing order. However, the victory of the Chinese Communist Party and the expulsion of the Kuomintang faction at the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War brought about an end to one form of this vision, although it did mean that Taiwan became incorporated into the MIC system:

‘Up until the US intensification of its war effort in Vietnam during the mid-1960s, this was to leave the Pacific ruling class a relatively limited undertaking, at least compared to the development of the Atlantic ruling class. The Vietnam War was to see a considerable expansion of the Pacific ruling class – one that, like the original incorporation of Japanese leaders, depended in central ways on the activities of the US MIC’ (pp. 248-9).

To ensure its influence spread throughout the region on a sustainable basis, therefore, the United States employed the MIC to find different but effective ways to entrench Pacific ruling class members and to ensure that their position of power depended on their ability and willingness to maintain their loyalty to the MIC. Glassman develops these theses at considerable length – this volume runs to 699 pages and it is not possible to cover all elements of its arguments here – and using a commendably wide range of sources and approaches. Inevitably, with a work of this sort, there are some epistemological challenges: there will be readers who will wonder where is the data on which the arguments are based? The approach is critical-analytical and rooted in the historical materialism paradigm and draws upon original sources, case studies and secondary literature and the arguments are well-chosen and marshalled. Glassman has shown in his previous work, particularly that relating to Thailand, that he has a deep understanding of the fundamental driving forces of development and the reasons why it is structured in the way it is in specific circumstances and contexts. In this book, he has made a major contribution to the understanding of the nature of East and Southeast Asian industrial transformation. It is not an argument that will be universally welcomed: ‘In this study, I have argued … through both a theorisation of the role of violence as an element of capital and a specific case study of successful – if uneven – capitalist development in Cold War Asia’ (p. 626). The appropriate application of this argument to other parts of the world seems obvious.