Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Varieties of Eco-Socialism: Comparing the Thought of John Bellamy Foster With Saral Sarkar's


Some of you might be interested in an essay I wrote for the Simplicity Institute, title 'Varieties of Eco-Socialism: Comparing the thought of John Bellamy Foster with Saral Sarkar". The impetus for the essay was an online debate between these two prominent eco-socialists last year. It struck me how divergent their views were, despite the common label they attach to their views. My essay is an attempt to explore and draw out those differences, in order to aid further discussion and debate within the eco-socialist (and broader) camp.


Feel free to forward to anyone who may be interested. 

Jonathan

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Green Party of Germany -- From Beacon of Hope to a Bog-Standard Party


Of late, given the troubling international environmental scenario, eco-activists all over the world have been wondering whether attempts should be made in more countries, particularly in the developing world, to form green parties. My advice to them is: do not hurry. No serious discussion has taken place, yet. However, just a few weeks ago, Pallav Das, editor of the RED website, requested me to write a contribution to the discussion on the basis of my study of and experience in the Green Party of Germany. The following text is the result of my trying to fulfil that request. I hope it would be useful for colleagues and readers of the RED website.

Theory Deficits and Programmatic Contradictions

Already in my first year (1982) as an activist of the Green-alternative movement and a member of the Green Party, I found that the majority of their activists and members, and those leading persons whom I came to know, were rather unaware of the basic theoretical reasoning behind the compelling necessity of a green party: It was the fact that there are limits to growth, and that no established party was paying heed to it. I found that the majority had not even read the basic literature on this subject, e.g. Limits to Growth by Meadows et al., Ein Planet wird geplündert (a planet is being plundered) by Herbert Gruhl, Weltniveau – In der Sackgasse des Industriesystems (World Level – in the blind alley of the industrial system), by Otto Ullrich, Kommunismus ohne Wachstum (communism without growth) by Wolfgang Harich. These works were published in the 1970s. They had also sold very well.
    The Green Party was founded in 1980, and the first members joined in the two years thereafter. But they were not really motivated by the discovery of the limits to growth. The majority of the early members were mainly disgruntled members of the established parties and cadres of the numerous small communist parties and groups. The main reason for their disgruntlement was, firstly, the failure of the antinuclear energy movement (hereafter, ANE-movement), in which many of them were very active, to persuade the German government to renounce nuclear energy, and, secondly, the failure of the peace movement to dissuade the government from deploying new middle range nukes aimed at the USSR. Their opposition to nuclear energy was due to the dangers that were associated with it. Among the founders and early members were also some sincere ecologists, but they were a small minority.
    This was before the Chernobyl catastrophe (1986), which confirmed all the fears of the Greens and the ANE-movement . Thereafter, their sympathizers along with about 50 percent of the German population started to vehemently demand decommissioning of all nuclear power plants. When the ruling parties retorted, “Do you want the lights to go off?”, they could not give a convincing reply, for, in the meantime, they had also become aware of the worsening of the CO2-related warming problem, which is why they were opposing lignite mining. Or they replied that all nuclear power plants could be replaced with gas-fired power plants, which emit much less CO2 than coal-fired ones, and that gas could be imported from the USSR. This was rejected by the ruling parties.
    I criticized the proposed solution as follows: Nuclear energy is dangerous, but it is dangerous everywhere including in the USSR. So why should we want the Soviets to export their gas to the Germans instead of using it for replacing all their own nuclear power plants? I did not get any proper reply to my question. In all these discussions, no Green leader said that the Germans must then simply reduce their energy consumption, although both in the programs of the forerunner organizations and in the party program there have also been statements against economic growth.
    A similar drama was repeated in 2011 after the Fukushima catastrophe – with the difference that this time, rapid expansion of so-called “clean” and “renewable” energy technologies were advocated as replacement for nuclear energy, and the government accepted the proposal.
    But also in respect of the “renewable” energies, they are unaware of the many doubts (which I share) about the usefulness and viability of solar and wind energy technologies that have been expressed by many including some renowned scientists and economists, such as James Lovelock and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegan.1 If such doubts can be ignored, then, of course, everything can go on as before. But can they be ignored?2

The Melon Character of the Green Party

It is not for nothing that the Green Party was often ridiculed as the “Melon party” – outwardly green, but inside red. Sometimes it was also described as a tomato – in the beginning green, but later red. For example, in the program of one of its precursor organizations called Green Action for the Future, one reads inter alia:
“The untenable ideology of growth is in the process of breaking down … . The present efforts to achieve economic growth by force will aggravate the crisis and will lead to a much greater catastrophe.”3
It was an anti-materialistic, radical ecological program , but it threatened to cause job losses. It generated a lot of antipathy among working class people, who already felt threatened by the ANE movement.
    The Bunte Liste (Chequered List) of Hamburg, one of its leftist precursor groups, however, felt called upon primarily to defend and promote the interests of the working class and its already achieved prosperity. In their program, one finds, for example sentences like the following:
“We do not want destruction of jobs through nuclear energy and excessive rationalization. …We want more money for our children and adolescents. Schools that children can enjoy, playgrounds, kindergartens, youth centers, and training opportunities.”4
    This stark contradiction between the two groups’ programs was glossed over when the Green Party was founded. There was a strong desire on both sides to found the party, because without this unity, neither the radical ecologists nor the radical leftists had any chance of winning some seats in the elections. So compromise formulations were found, which were facilitated by the advent of new technologies, including solar and wind energy technologies. In their first program, on the crucial question of economic growth, the Greens wrote:
“We are fundamentally against every quantitative growth. … But we are for qualitative growth, [i.e.] if it is possible with the same or less use of energy and with the same or less use of raw materials.”5
The question whether qualitative growth in this sense was at all possible, and if possible, what that would mean for income and standard of living of Germans, was conveniently left undiscussed. In this vein remained unexamined was also the economic soundness of the advocacy of solar and wind energy, which, as the Bunte Liste, Hamburg, correctly asserted, “create [i.e. require] eight times more jobs [i.e. labor cost] than nuclear energy.”

A Programmatic Synthesis Would Have been Possible

This kind of fudging in programmatic and policy statements, which had made cohabitation of radical ecological and radical leftist forces possible, could only go on for some time. Soon after the birth of the party, however, radical ecologists found that they had no influence in the party, that radical leftists, who were more numerous in the party committees, were systematically ignoring some of their fundamental positions, such as those expressed in the following sentences:
“Truthful enlightenment must replace untenable promises, which only strengthen the materialist habit of making ever more demands – demands that cannot be fulfilled on a finite and overcrowded earth. It is no longer possible to make maximum promises to one section of the people after the other.”
…………
“Everything must become simpler: the human being, administration, technology, traffic. Only then shall we have more freedom, less compulsive consumption, less performance terror, and with it less stress, neurosis, and other sufferings.”6
    These fundamental positions were obviously contradictory to the fundamental positions of the radical leftists with their Marxist theories, with their total faith in and allegiance to the working class and their trade unions. When conflicts arising from this contradiction became unavoidable, the radical ecologists started refusing to accept majority decisions.
    Yet, even in proper Marxist philosophical sense, these conflicts could have been resolved. Out of the contradiction between the old socialist thesis of the necessity of development of productive forces and the radical ecological antithesis of its impossibility without ruining the environment (hence its undesirability), a synthesis could have arisen if the leading people of the two major wings of the party opposing each other would have thought deeply about their respective positions. After all, one independent theoretical leader of the formation period of the Green Party, Rudolf Bahro, had already loudly proclaimed: “Red and green, Green and Red go well together.” 7
    Theoretical seeds of such a synthesis already existed in the works cited above. Harich’s book Communism without Growth hinted at this possibility. Ullrich’s new conception of socialism presented in the following two quotes cleared the debris of old thought from the path to that synthesis. Ullrich wrote:
“Socialism is a question of social constitution, of relations of humans to each other. It is unnecessary … even fatal to connect this question [as Marxists do] with an undefinable minimum technological and organizational development of equipment of work.”
And
“There is no lower limit of ‘development of productive forces’ below which socialism is impossible, but there is an upper limit. The level of industrialization that has been reached today by the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] and the GDR [German Democratic Republic] is creating, via technology, a social structure which by itself makes a socialist relationship between humans impossible.” 8
    For those not conversant with Marxist political philosophy, the two quotes can be translated into plain English as follows: Socialism is possible even in a technologically and organizationally “underdeveloped” society. And, secondly, in highly industrialized societies, production and distribution processes become so complex that relations of humans to each other cannot be(come) socialistic.

The Green Party Lost Its Way

But the synthesis did not arise. I am sure, at least some of the leaders of the Marxist-leftist wing had read the two books of Harich and Ullrich. I knew them, they were intellectually aware enough to understand the challenge that the latter posed to their received traditional conception of socialism. But, I think, they did not have the courage to reject such a fundamental tenet of Marxist socialism that Harich and Ullrich were in effect demanding of them.

    There may also have been some other reasons for that. Firstly, the new technologies like solar and wind energy, recycling technologies etc. and the expectation of more to come, may have given them the hope, as it did to many others, that the conflict between economy and ecology could after all be overcome. How false this hope has been could not be surmised in 1979–80, although Georgescu-Roegen had published his doubts already in 1971,9 and although the inexorable entropy law had become known among the reading public of Germany through the German translation of Jeremy Rifkin’s book on the subject.10
    A second factor that played a strong role has been the usual inertia of thought observable in the general public. I could also observe it among large numbers of members of the Green Party and among the activists of the Green-alternative movement. Their resistance to any thought of an unresolvable contradiction between ecology and economy of the current type was expressed in simple arguments like “If scientific and technological development could land man on the moon, why shouldn’t it be able to resolve this contradiction?”
    I once offered to deal with this question in a workshop. But already on the second day, a participant said: “That is too much theory. I do not like theory. We need action.” My riposte – “But with wrong theory and wrong analysis you may engage in wrong action” – was of no avail. The workshop was discontinued.
    Another argument I sometimes heard, especially from leftists, was that one should not trust the Club of Rome, because Aurelio Peccei, its president, was a big capitalist. Similarly, they simply did not like the radical ecologists, because many of the latter, e.g. Herbert Gruhl and Baldur Springmann, came from a conservative background. They even disliked Rudolf Bahro, who, before he became a radical ecologist, was a renowned communist and had been exiled from his native country GDR for trying to reform traditional communism. Their more radical comrades outside the Green Party later branded him as a rightist.
    A third reason was that it might not have helped at all even if some left leaders had accepted the arguments of the radical ecologists. Their dogmatic followers and comrades simply would not have listened to them. For, in the meantime, under the influence of anarchists, a culture of rejecting and defying any leadership, euphemistically called basis democracy, had become widespread both in the movement and in the Party.
    For their part, also value-conservative radical ecologists were too rigid. They refused to make any ideological compromise with socialism, the ideology of the leftists, with whom they had made a practical compromise. One may ask, why then did they, the two wings, who actually were adversaries, at all join hands to found this party? It was a big mistake. If I had been there at that time, I would have asked Herbert Gruhl, the leader of the value-conservative radical ecologists:
Do you think your radical ecological goals, which I share, can be realized within the framework of capitalism? If yes, then tell us how. If not, then should you not accept that they can only be realized in a new kind of socialist society with a planned economy? At least as a transitional stage to your ultimate ideal society?
I don’t know whether anybody had put this question to him, and whether he had gone into it. I at least did not find any text containing Gruhl’s reply to it.
    The big mistake was however knowingly made, for some practical reason. In the German proportional representation electoral system, there has been a so-called 5-percent clause. It says that only parties or electoral lists that get at least 5 percent of all the votes cast get seats in the parliaments. In 1979–80, none of the left parties nor any united left party could have cleared this hurdle. Same was the case with the value-conservative radical ecological groups. Later, many Greens said quite candidly that the Green Party owed its birth only to the 5-percent clause.
    This chapter of the party was closed, when, after months of bickering, the federal executive committee dominated by the leftists gave the radical ecologists an ultimatum. They were told either to leave the party or get expelled. They left.
    The theoretical synthesis ultimately came, but much later, and not in but outside the Green Party. That however is another story.11

Opportunists Took Over

In the Bundestag election of 1983, the Green Party, founded just 3 years ago, won 5.5% votes and got 27 seats. There was great jubilation over the “victory”, but it was also the beginning of its end as an ecological party.
    The opportunistic alliance of disparate groups with disparate programs that had made its quick rise possible also attracted thousands of opportunists who just wanted to get some political posts quickly, without having to
work their way up the hard way in the established parties. They simply jumped on the bandwagon. It should be noted here that in Germany, to be a member of the federal or a state parliament is a highly paid job with many perks, hence highly coveted. Moreover, it brings the MP in the limelight, which is very useful for her future career.
    The Green Party too, which was until then a small party, wanted to have more members. Anybody and everybody who wanted to become a member could become one by just signing a membership application form. Nobody cared about the bona fides of the applicants. Nobody was asked whether she had read the program. All kinds of people became members: political opportunists and apolitical sympathizers. For many of the latter it was a pastime-activity, but it was also a matter of some prestige to be a member of the new winning group which purported to be both an ecology party and a left party. They all claimed to want to protect the environment.12 or to work for peace.  Most of them however remained just names in the file. Also groups with a particular interest seeking a place on the political stage joined en masse: gays, lesbians, pedophiles, feminists, Christians, atheists, professional groups, foreigner groups etc. etc.
In such a motley crowd of new members, gradually, also the radical leftists started getting outnumbered in the committees.
    The opportunists, who called themselves “Realos” (realists), put through their policy of becoming a power factor, i.e. becoming a ruling party in coalition with one of the big established parties. In 1985, they succeeded for the first time in the state of Hessen.
    This was a U-turn point. Sometime in the early1980s, Petra Kelly, one of its leaders, had declared that the Green Party would be a new kind of party, that it would be an “anti-parties party”. Other leaders had promised that it would be the “parliamentary arm of the anti-establishment movements”. In the years following 1985, however, the Green Party became an ordinary party, just like any other, competing for a share of power. In 1987, they passed a new program, in which they gave up their opposition to industrial society. Henceforth, they only wanted to “restructure” it (Umbau der Industriegesellschaft). Ten years later, in 1997, they became a ruling party at the center, in coalition with the Social-Democratic Party.
    As a ruling party, in 1999, along with the NATO, they also waged war against Serbia. Radical leftists had already deserted the party, now even serious peace activists left it. When the movement against neoliberal globalization began, the party even criticized the movement. In 2004, together with the coalition partner SPD, they put through the anti-labor law known as Hartz IV. Today, it is a totally nondescript party, neither ecological (it is a reliable ally of the German car industry), nor leftist, nor a party of the movements.

In Conclusion, If I Am Allowed to Give an Advice

Today, any intelligent person can perceive everywhere signs and in some places even real pictures of impending or ongoing ecological and social collapse. In such a situation, if I am allowed to give an advice, those who are active in ecological and social movements that they understand as transformative, should not rush to form a green party or something like that, especially not in India. It is necessary first to do the groundwork, i.e. a thorough, objective and sincere analysis of the whole situation, in the world and in developing world countries, free from our personal likes and dislikes, our private interests, our myths and our wishful thinking. Only then can we sketch an achievable good society. Make-believe utopias are no use. As far as I can see, till now, not many activists have done this groundwork.
    Also, only on the basis of such an analysis can we correctly decide what to do, when and in which order. However, I see among political activists, everywhere, too much arbitrariness in selecting one’s area of activity, as if anything and everything is good and important. There is simply no focus in the whole story of movements. But if everything is important, then really nothing is important. In the end, actually, it is a question of the right strategy.
    I hope, with this article I have helped my readers to at least get some clarity on what not to do, which pitfalls to avoid.

Notes and References

1. Georgescu-Roegan, Nicholas (1978)
"Technology Assessment. The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy";

http://www.peakoilindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Georgescu-Roegen-The-Case-of-the-Direct-Use-of-Solar-Energy.pdf

In the 1990s, I heard James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory, expressing in a BBC interview strong doubts about the usefulness of wind energy.

2 See Saral Sarkar (2017)
The Global Crisis and Role of So-Called Renewable Energies in Solving It
http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/search?q=global+crisis

3, 4, 5, & 6. Quoted in Ch. 3 of my book:

Green-Alternative Politics in West Germany. Vol. II: The Greens. Tokyo and New Delhi: UNU Press, and Promilla. 1994.
    (Vol. I of the book is entitled The New Social Movements. 1993.)

7. Quoted in my above-mentioned book (P. 28).

8. The quotes from Ullrich are to be found on P. 203 of my book:

Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices. London and New Delhi: Zed Books & Orient Longman. 1999, 2000.
    (I published a longish review article on Ullrich’s book entitled “Marxism and Productive Forces – A Critique” in Alternatives (New York and New Delhi) in 1983.)

9. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1971) The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

(Georgescu-Roegen himself wrote a much shorter presentation of the substance of the book with the title: The Entropy Law and the Economic Process in Retrospect, which was published in 1986 in Eastern Economic Journal.)

10. Rifkin, Jeremy (1980) Entropy: A New World View. New York: Viking Press.

11. I claim I have made this synthesis in my Eco-Socialism book (see note 8), a synthesis being much more than and different from just an addition of environmental concerns to old Marxist conceptions of socialism.
    In this connection, I would like to recommend a paper by a young Australian scholar, Jonathan Rutherford, who speaks of varieties of eco-socialism:
http://simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Varieties-of-Eco-Socialism-Simplicity-Institute-1.pdf

12. In this context, I think it is necessary to distinguish between an “environment protector“ (environmentalist”, Umweltschützer) and an “ecologist”. People like Herbert Gruhl are true ecologists. A person who e.g. merely fights to protect a few trees from being felled should better be called “environment protector”. The de-growth movement of today can be understood as an ecology movement.

NB. This article has also been published in RED webjournal. Here is the link

http://www.radicalecologicaldemocracy.org/the-green-party-of-germany-from-beacon-of-hope-to-a-bog-standard-party/


Saral Sarkar is also the author of

The Crises of Capitalism –A Different Study of Political Economy. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2012.
He blogs at  
www.eco-socialism.blogspot.de


Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Two Drivers of Ecological Collapse and the Two Tasks

After I had posted my essay

For Saving the Earth We Need to Tell the Whole Truth – an eco-socialist's response to Richard Smith

in my own blogsite
www.eco-socialist.blogspot.com

and also published it in an online journal (for link, see the previous post below), a lively and critical debate/discussion ensued in a different online discussion forum (see the following link)

https://scncc.net/threads/climate-crisis-and-managed-deindustrialization-debating-alternatives-to-ecological-collapse.223/

    I contributed two more texts to the discussion/debate – both meant as response to some of my critics as well as clarification of my positions. I am now also posting them on my own blogsite, for which I have revised them slightly.


What Can Be Done Today?–Response to Richard's response

Richard has clarified his position. In the concluding paragraph, there is this clear statement: Overpopulation is a real problem, which he does not mean to ignore. But it is for him very much "a secondary driver" of planetary ecological collapse. That is why he does not concern himself much with the population problem. His priority is to "overthrow capitalism", the primary driver ….. . This is his analysis and his decision. We have to take cognizance of this. But is it a good decision? Should other eco-socialists follow it? Allow me to say a few words on this question.
    To me, it seems Richard is saying that the two – overthrowing capitalism and stopping population growth – are somehow separate tasks. First we must overthrow capitalism, then ….. . But, firstly they are not separate tasks. (Below, I shall try to show how they are connected.) And secondly,
it is not easy to overthrow capitalism and then start de-industrializing the country? Richard himself has shown with the example of the jobs question how difficult it is. Since the mid-19th century, beginning with Marx and Engels, generations of all kinds of socialists/communists have been trying to overthrow or overcome capitalism. But it was "socialism" that was overthrown in the USSR and Eastern Europe in just a span of two years (1989–1991) – both concretely and ideologically, by the very people who had been its champions. In China the process had began a decade earlier.
    This is not the place to explain how overthrowing socialism became possible. I have done that elsewhere, in detail. Here I want to give two part-answers to the other question, namely why it has been (and still is) so difficult to overthrow capitalism. Here we shall see the connection between the two drivers of planetary ecological collapse and that between our two tasks.
    India is a good place to see these two connections. In the early 1990s, (late 1980s???) the country was in the midst of a serious financial and economic crisis. It had to take a big credit from the IMF. India got it, but under the usual IMF conditions, namely opening up of the until then semi-socialist economy for neoliberal-globalist policies. To make the story short, this policy change led to a long economic boom. India is today a big economic power house. At the same time, the population continued to grow as ever. These two trends, economic and demographic, were complementary to each other, the demographic sector (children producing industry) supplying all the cheap laborers, and a huge reserve army of the same, needed in the economic sector. Today, the population of the country (nearly 1.3 billion) is growing at the rate of some 16 million (1.25 percent) per annum. The economic elite are rejoicing at the two growth rates. The population growth is being called "our demographic dividend", growing at a
compound interest rate. Today, almost every Indian is using a handi or even a smartphone, and, at the same time, the air in the cities is becoming unbreathable and the waters of lakes and rivers undrinkable. Everybody is worshipping the God Capitalism, and the influence of the communist and socialist parties is rapidly vanishing.
    The working class is no longer a threat to capital, because more people lead to more struggle for survival, more competition for jobs, less solidarity among workers, more fights of national and ethnic groups of workers against each other.
The working class and the trade unions are the strongest opponents of the Greens and Eco-activists. Even in rich Western capitalist countries with zero natural population growth, it is easy to get strike-breakers, because they can be imported from Eastern Europe or Mexico and Central America. The Great Crisis of capitalism of the year 2008 came and passed over again to business as usual. All the celebrated movements in the developed West brought nothing but yet another social-democratic party. In Spain we got the PODEMOS, in Greece SYRIZA; and in the USA, Occupy Wall Street fizzled out soon enough.
    I am at a loss to know how my US-American eco-socialist comrades are going to overthrow capitalism soon. I myself do not have any strategy for that yet. I do not see anywhere any revolutionary class, agents or party who are preparing to do this. This state of the world today reminds me of a quote from Schumpeter, from a book entitled
Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. He wrote there: "The capitalist or any other order of things may evidently break down – or economic and social evolution may outgrow it – and yet the socialist phoenix may fail to rise from the ashes." (1943: 56f.)
   
I think, today, it is infinitely easier to convince couples in the problem countries that limiting the number of progenies to two is a good thing – for themselves, for their children, the future generations, for their environment, for their country, and for the world in general. Let us start with what is easier to do at present. For me, at present, counteracting the rapidly approaching global ecological collapse has top priority. The fight against capitalism we can also take up as soon as the situation is ripe for that.

---------------------------------------

On the Value of the Equation I = P x T x A

Ted F. writes inter alia:

" … what is the point of the formula except to advance the claim that ecological damage of every society is directly proportional to population--a claim that fits in equally well with the right-wing passion to "exterminate the brutes" as our ecological vision."

    The point of the formula is to make clear that three factors (not just one, namely population, as Ted F. alleges) are involved in ecological destruction (and resource use, I should add). As in the case of most equations (formulae), it says that if T and A would remain unchanged, ecological destruction and resource use would rise if population rises and fall if population falls. This is easy to understand. Isn't it? This kind of general equations are used in every walk of life to make things clear. Nobody quantifies a factor at this generalized level. If one would quantify all the factors (e.g. 2 x 2 x 2 = 8), then indeed it would be a tautology, totally useless in any general discussion. But since all the factors here as well as the result are variable and unknown in our discussion, it is better to use this general equation.
    Why I have brought it into our discussion? Because in my long life as a political activist, I have made the experience that leftists, especially radical leftists, Marxists, feminists, liberals and 3rd world solidarity people, scrupulously avoid
the P-word. Why? Because they are afraid of being abused by people from the 3rd world, for whom the word "overpopulation" is like a red rag to a bull. I have often made the experience (in Germany, Europe, and also in India) of being abused as a fascist, once even as a racist, although I come from India and have a dark-brown complexion. But that is no reason, at least for me, for not telling the whole truth.
    Look at the part-sentence of Ted F. quoted above: "… a claim that fits in equally well with the right-wing passion to "exterminate the brutes" …. ." Is this style helpful for our cause? Is it helpful for our cause to suppress part of the truth? I don't think so. Thank god, Richard is above this kind of political correctness.

Fallacy of One World

Many participants in such discussions say: more than enough food is being produced in the world to satisfy the hunger of all the 7.5 billion humans in the world. Correct! But (1) is that any reason to let the world population go on rising? To about 10 billion by 2050? After all, hunger is not the only problem in this world, also our ecological footprint is a big problem. Isn't it? (2) Moreover, is it not totally useless, because at present unrealistic, to think that the farmers (or farming companies) of the few countries where surplus food grains are being produced should gift away their surplus to the poor people of the least developed countries? And (3) isn't "
food sovereignty" a very good idea for all peoples of the world? The planet Earth is one, but the world (of humans) is not one. One world, our ideal, has not yet been realized.

On the Agency Question

I think, most leftists in Canada and USA (the continent of origin of SCNCC), but partly also in Europe, have no real knowledge of the
consciousness of the really living proletariat of today. That is why one can find such delusive sentences on the opening page of the Website:

"SCNCC believes the climate justice movement will unite with the labor movement … to create an alternative."

And 

"I am inspired ... to join hands with the working class in China to save the planet."


    Inspiration is absolutely necessary for having any cause, but it is better to mix it with a good dose of knowledge of the reality, of the whole truth.
    My position on the agency question can be summarized as follows: There are "only two camps: those who care and those who don't care." (Erich Fromm, a great interpreter of the best in Marx, wrote that in 1979).

Friday, 1 December 2017

For Saving the Earth We Need to Tell the Whole Truth -- an eco-socialist's response to Richard Smith


By Saral Sarkar

In his article,1 Richard calls upon his readers to "change the conversation". He asks, "What are your thoughts?"
He says, if we don't "come up with a viable alternative, our goose is cooked." I fully agree. So I join the conversation, in order to improve it.
    Let me first say I appreciate Richard's article very much. It is very useful, indeed necessary, to also present one's cause in a short article – for those who are interested but, for whatever reason, cannot read a whole book. Richard has ably presented the eco-socialist case against both capitalism and "green" capitalism.
    But the alternative Richard has come up with is deficient in one very important respect, namely in respect of viability. Allow me to present here my comradely criticisms. It will be short.

Is only Capitalism the Problem?

(1) Richard writes, "
Capitalism, not population is the main driver of planetary ecological collapse … .". It sounds like an echo of statements from old-Marxist-socialism. It is not serious. Is Richard telling us that, while we are fighting a long-drawn-out battle against capitalism in order to overcome it, we can allow population to continuously grow without risking any further destruction of the environment? Should we then think that a world population of ten billion by 2050 would not be any problem?
    I would agree if Richard would say that capitalism is, because of its growth compulsion,
one of the main drivers of ecological collapse. But anybody who has learnt even a little about ecology knows that in any particular eco-region, exponential growth of any one species leads to collapse of its ecological balance. If we now think of the planet Earth as one whole eco-region and consider all the scientific reports on rapid bio-diversity loss and rapid dwindling of the numbers of larger animals, then we cannot but correlate these facts with the exponential growth of our own species, homo sapiens sapiens, the latter being the cause of the former two.
    No doubt,
capitalism – together with the development of technologies, especially agricultural and medical technologies – has largely enabled the huge growth of human numbers in the last two hundred years. But human population growth has been occurring even in pre-capitalist and pre-medieval eras, albeit at a slower rate. Parallel to this, also environmental destruction has been occurring and growing in these eras.
    It is not good to tell our readers only half the truth. The
whole truth is succinctly stated in the equation:

                                                        I = P  x  T  x  A

where
I stands for ecological impact (we can also call it ecological destruction), P for population, T for Technology and A for affluence. All these three factors are highly variable. Let me here also quote Paul Ehrlich, one of my teachers in political ecology. Addressing leftists, he once wrote, "Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth]". Note the phrase "whatever your cause". Ehrlich meant to say, and I too think so, the cause may be environmental protection, saving the earth, protecting biodiversity, overcoming poverty and unemployment, women's liberation, preventing racist and ethnic conflicts and cleansings, preventing huge unwelcome migration flows, preventing crime, fighting modern-day slavery, bringing peace in the world, creating a socialist world order etc. etc. etc., in all cases stopping population growth is a very important factor. Sure, that will in no case be enough. But that is an essential part of the solutions.
    Note that in the equation cited above, there is no mention of capitalism. Instead, we find there the two factors technology and affluence. We can call (and we generally do call) the product of T x A (production of affluence by means of industrial technologies)
industrialism, of which there has until now been two main varieties: the capitalist one and the planned socialist one (of the soviet type). Nothing will be gained for saving the ecological balance of the Earth if only capitalism is replaced with socialism, and ruling socialists then try to increase production at a higher rate, which they must do under the pressure of a growing population which, moreover, develops higher ambitions and aspirations, and demands all the good things that middle class Americans enjoy.

(2) Modern-day
old-socialists do not deny the existence of an ecological problem. They have also developed several pseudo-solutions such as "clean" and "renewable" energies and materials, efficiency revolution, decoupling of GDP growth from resource use etc.
    Good that Richard rejects the idea that
green capitalism can save us. But why can't it? "Because", he writes, "companies can’t commit economic suicide to save the humans. There’s just no solution to our crisis within the framework of any conceivable capitalism." This is good, but not enough. Because there are old-socialists (I know many in Germany) who believe that it is only individual capitalists/companies and the system capitalism that are preventing a rapid transition to 100 percent clean renewable energies and 100 percent recycling of all materials. Thanks to these possibilities, they believe, old-socialist type of industrialism, and even economic and population growth, can be reconciled with the requirements of sustainability. I don't think that is possible, and I have also earlier elaborately explained why.2 Said briefly, "renewable energies" are neither clean nor renewable, and 100 percent recycling is impossible because the Entropy Law also applies to matter. What Richard thinks is not clear from this article of his. It is necessary to make his thoughts on this point clear.

Is Bottom-up Democracy of Any Use in the Transition Period?

(3) Richard writes, "Rational planning requires
bottom-up democracy." I do not understand the connection between the two, planning and democracy. At the most, one could say that for better planning for the villages, the planning commission should also listen to the villagers. But at the national level? Should, e.g., the inhabitants of each and every 500 souls village in the Ganges basin codetermine in a bottom up democratic planning process how the waters of the said river and its tributaries should be distributed among ca. 500 million inhabitants of the basin? If that were ever to be attempted, the result would be chaos, not planning. Moreover, how do you ensure that the villagers are capable of understanding the national interest and overcoming their particular interests? Such phrases are only illusions.
    In his 6th thesis, Richard sketches a rosy,
idealistic picture of a future eco-socialist society and its citizens. That may be attractive for him, me and other eco-socialists. But this future lies in distant future. First we would need a long transition period of contracting economies, and that would cause a lot of pain to millions of people spoilt by consumerism or promises of a consumerist future. We shall have to convince such people, and that would be an altogether difficult job. We should tell them the truth, namely that austerity is necessary for saving the earth. We can promise them only one thing, namely that all the pains and burdens as well as the benefits of austerity will be equitably distributed among all.

What to Do About Jobs?

(4) Richard writes: "Needless to say, retrenching and closing down such industries would mean
job losses, millions of jobs from here to China. Yet if we don’t shut down those unsustainable industries, we’re doomed." And then he puts the question "What to do?" We can be sure that all people who wholly depend on a paid job for their livelihood, whom we must also win over, will confront us with this jobs question. Let me finish my contribution to this conversation with an answer to this question.
    There is not much use talking to ourselves, the already converted. We need to
start work, immediately and all over the world, especially in those countries where poverty and unemployment is very high. We know that, generally, these countries are also those where population growth is very high. People from the rich countries cannot simply tell their people, sorry, we have to close down many factories and we cannot further invest in industrializing your countries. But the former can tell the latter that they can help them in controlling population growth. The latter will understand easily that it is an immediately effective way to reduce poverty and unemployment. A massive educative campaign will of course be necessary in addition to concrete monetary and technical help.
    In the rich countries, contrary to what Richard perhaps thinks, it will not be possible to provide new equivalent jobs to replace those jobs we need to abolish. For such countries, reducing working hours and job-sharing in the short term, and, in the long term, ostracizing automation and labor-saving technologies, and using labor-intensive methods of production instead, are together the only solution. That is already known. Another thing that would be needed is to negate free trade and international competition. However, it must also be said openly that high wages and salaries cannot be earned under such circumstances.
    We eco-socialist activists must begin the work with a massive world-wide
political campaign in favor of such ideas and policies.

Notes and References

1. Smith, Richard (2017) "
Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse."
https://forhumanliberation.blogspot.de/2017/11/2753-climate-crisis-and-managed.html
and
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/11/21/climate-crisis-and-managed-deindustrialization-debating-alternatives-ecological

2. My views expressed in this article have been elaborately presented in my book:
Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices (1999). London: Zed Books,
and in various articles published in my blog-site
www.eco-socialist.blogspot.com

Monday, 13 November 2017

Understanding Secessionism in the Era of Globalization -- An Eco-Socialist View

In September 2014, I had occasion to write an article entitled Unity or Separation? – Did the Scots Decide Sensibly?1 In that year, the provincial government of Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP), and a large part of the Scottish people, who wanted to secede from the United Kingdom, held a referendum on the question. A majority voted No. The secessionists were disappointed, but the SNP is still governing Scotland.
    This year, 2017, between September and October, three referenda took place that have a roughly similar character: two in Europe and one in the Middle East. And we know that in Europe alone several other regions have their own independence/separatist movement.2  In this article, I would like to take up the issue once more, in order to elaborate on some basic points.
    In a referendum that took place on October 1, 2017, the Catalans declared their wish to secede from Spain and make out of their autonomous region an independent state. Separatist leaders claim that a good 90 percent of the Catalans voted for secession. But that was the result of a referendum in which only 42 percent of the eligible voters voted (or could vote), because the Spanish central government had declared it illegal and had tried to prevent voting by means of police violence.
    Also the Kurds of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq held a nonbinding independence referendum in September of this year. Also in this case,  more than 90 percent of the voters voted in favor of independence.
    These are the minimal facts required for an introduction to this text. My readers, I assume, have been following the current events as much as I. My purpose here is mainly to try to give a tentative answer to the question why, in recent times – in the era of globalization, in which the world is said to have become a global village – large sections of many peoples living in certain regions have been trying to secede from a larger state or a union of states to which they belong(ed) till now? Some examples are the Basques and Catalans in Spain, the Baltic peoples in the erstwhile Soviet Union, Scots in the UK, the Corsicans in France, the English people (not all the peoples of the UK) in the European Union, the peoples of the erstwhile Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia  etc. I think it is possible to indicate an answer and briefly discuss it and some evidences for it.

The Right Of Peoples To Self-determination

There are some contradictions in human nature. We are gregarious animals, we love to, but also must for the sake of security, live in bands and societies and states. But we also cherish independence and self-determination and hate compulsion to live in undesired unions with other people. In chapter 1, article 2 of the charter of the United Nations it is written that its purpose is "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, …." . This principle is what secessionists everywhere invoke in support of their right to self-determination. But the trouble is, it is only a declaration of respect for a principle. Although widely used in formal and informal political speeches and writings, this right mostly doesn't have the status of a statute law, that is, it is not always a written law passed by a legislative body such as a parliament or a constituent assembly. Another trouble is, there is no clear definition of the terms "nation" and "people". It seems, the UN charter is saying that a people is not a nation, but it can become one if it can, by exercising its right to self-determination, create its own state. Then it can be recognized by the UN as a nation.
    In the case of the European Union, it has been made clear in its statute that it is possible for a member state to leave the Union, Brexit being a good example. In the constitution of the erstwhile Soviet Union, there was a clear article that gave the constituent republics the right to secede (although the procedural details thereof were left undecided). It was this constitutional provision that the Baltic republics invoked when they wanted to be independent in the late 1980s. In the case of the Scottish independence referendum (2014), a law was passed in the British parliament that allowed the referendum to be held. If the majority of the voters had voted in the affirmative, Scotland would today be an independent state. These cases of (attempted) secession were undisputedly legal.
    But does that mean that a people, minority or not, that happens to live with other peoples in a state whose constitution does not expressly give the possibility of secession, can never become independent? That exactly is the argument of the Spanish and the Iraqi governments. They say it is unconstitutional to strive for independence, therefore it is illegal. It is a tricky question. Firstly, such a people can indeed become independent, and that even peacefully, if the other people(s) living in the concerned state agree to the idea. Thus the Czechs and the Slovaks separated by mutual agreement and two independent states were made out of the former Czechoslovakia (1993). Also the dissolution of the former Soviet Union took place (1991) by mutual agreement, although in this case, the above mentioned imprecise provision in the constitution of the USSR and, effectively, the will of the then leaders of the Russian Federation to get rid of the burden, were very helpful. In the opposite case, the armed forces of the USSR could have violently suppressed such processes. (But later, Russia refused to let Chechnya become independent).
    Here we see that two conflicting principles are being invoked by the opposing parties. For the Catalan and Kurd secessionists, it is the right of self-determination of peoples, which, they seem to say, is a fundamental right that stands above any constitution. But for the central governments of Spain and Iraq, the constitution of a sovereign state is sacrosanct. In fact, as stated above, the latter is a statute law, whereas the former is only a principle, at best a common law.
    It is not possible here to examine the constitutions of all the concerned states where an independence movement of this type has been an issue. But it is a fact that the independence struggles of Bangladesh, Kosovo, and South Sudan could only succeed through military struggle. De facto, then, it is also possible for a people living in a clearly delineated province or region of any state to win its independence irrespective of the articles of the constitution of the concerned country – through an uprising, military victory, and/or support of powerful allies.

Factors involved in secession Conflicts

Economic Interest

Catalan secessionists have two problems with remaining a part of Spain. They say they are not Spaniards, but Catalans. They say they are a nation, they have their own language with a developed literature. So why can't a nation have a state, the most normal thing in the world? That may appear to be their main argument for secession, but they have another strong reason for desiring independence, namely economic interest, and they say that openly. Catalonia is the most prosperous region in Spain. It produces 20 percent of Spain's GDP and raises 20 percent of the state's revenue, but gets back from the centre much less than that, which they find to be unfair.
    Similar is the argument of Lombardy and Veneto (Venetia) for demanding more autonomy, particularly over the revenue raised in their own province. These two northern provinces are economically the most developed in Italy. In a process similar to that in Catalonia, they have to de facto subsidize the relatively underdeveloped South. Lombardy claims it has to give away 45 percent of its tax revenue to the South. They do not say they are a separate nation, nor are they now striving for independence. They all speak Italian, yet they have their own regional party, the Lega Nord, the main point of the program of which was at the beginning independence.
    Let me lay stress on   this factor, the economic reasons for secession, with a telling example from the recent past. 26 years ago, Slovenia and Croatia, then constituent republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, wanted to break away from Yugoslavia and become fully independent. In the process, they let loose a devastating war that broke up Yugoslavia. In those days, ordinary readers/viewers of popular media used to think of this war as an ethnic war in which the Croats and Slovenes (later also the Kosovans) fought against the Serbs who dominated over all the other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia. But a passage quoted below from a book written by an expert on the Balkan region shows that it was mainly for economic reasons that the Croats and Slovenes wanted to break away from Yugoslavia. Misha Glenny, the author, summarizes his interview (in 1992) with Mate Babic, a professor of economics at the University of Zagreb and a former deputy prime minister responsible for the economy in the Croatian government, as follows:
"Yugoslavia … was constructed in the wake of the Great War [WWII] as a political imperative without regard to the region's economic requirements. In the post-war communist federation, the imbalance between Slovene sophistication and the developing world conditions in Kosovo, southern Serbia and Macedonia could only be rectified by massive state control of the economy. This created resentment in the prosperous north, the fruits of whose productivity were transferred to the dusty climates of the south where they rotted in the sun. Above all, a taut mistrust grew up between Slovenia and Croatia [on the one side], where a more industrious work ethic was the tradition, and Serbia [on the other], the borderland of the Ottoman empire's corrupt economic values. Being inextricably involved with the Serbian economy, which appears to be fueled by lotus leaves, had a damaging long-term effect on the Croat and Slovene economies. When the political decay in Yugoslavia accelerated, following the multi-party elections in the [constituent] republics, the economic tensions ensured that this mistrust would deepen."3

    However, there are also cases in which economic interest led people to decide against independence. The best known recent case is of course that of the Scottish independence referendum (2014). A majority of the voters (55% ) rejected the independence drive of the SNP. A nationalist Scot said in bewilderment: "I cannot understand that the majority of a people refuses to be independent." He had underestimated the power of the factor economic interest
    I can give two more little known examples. In the Indian Ocean, situated north of Madagascar, there is a group of islands called the Comoro Archipelago. They had been for long colonies of France. In 1974, France asked the people whether they wished to have independence. In the referendum held on this question, three of the bigger four islands decided to be independent. But 63 percent of the inhabitants of Mayotte voted against. In another referendum two years later, 99 percent of the people repeated their decision to forgo independence and retain their status as a French colony. Today, Mayotte is a fully integrated part of France, its residents are French citizens.
    One may ask: how is it possible that a population of 213 000, the vast majority of which are Muslims and of African origin refuse to become independent and live with their ethnically and religiously similar neighbors in one state? Here too, the answer is: economic interest. Although Mayotte is the poorest of all the departments of France, it is still, thanks to its being a part of France and the EU, much more prosperous than the other countries of the Mozambique Channel, so much so that it is a major destination of illegal migrants. Many come with women in advanced stage of pregnancy, who want to deliver their babies here, so that the latter (the babies) automatically get French citizenship. Compared to Mayotte's relative prosperity, the Union of the Comoros, consisting of the other three bigger islands and some smaller ones, is one of the so-called least developed countries (LDC), more than 20 percent of whose population of working age are unemployed.
    Another such example is the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Sea, also a former French Colony, and since 1946 a part of the French state. Here too there is an independence movement. But the majority does not want to be independent.

Unforgettable Historical Memories

We may call them whatever we like – ethnic group, nation, sub-nation, nationality – the concerned aggrieved people that are today striving for independence and their own state, have some unforgettable historical memories of subjugation, oppression, exploitation, military defeat, betrayal or broken promises perpetrated against them by some superior power. That is mostly enough to give rise to protracted rebellions aiming at independence.
    The struggle of the Kurdish people for independence and a state of their own is a telling example of this factor. Until exportable quantities of oil were found in the Iraqi Kurdish region, economic interest did not play any role in the conflict. On the contrary. Living as they do in a land-locked territory, they have many good economic reasons to maintain good relations with their neighbors. Yet they are fighting and dying for independence. Why?
    Let us take a cursory glance at Kurdish history in search of an answer. Rulers of the states in which the Kurdish majority areas lie, generally avoided using the term Kurd, or even prohibited its use. For long, even the existence of this people with an identity was denied. The official Turkish denomination for them was hill Turks (Bergtürken in German).
    After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, the victorious powers had granted the Kurds the right to self-determination (1920). During the Turkish resistance against the occupation powers and formation of the new Turkish state, Kemal Atatürk had promised to build a state of both people (Turks and Kurds) and so received the support of Kurdish chiefs and sheikhs. But then, after victory, he refused to honor the promise of self-determination given to the Kurdish people by the victorious powers. Nor was there any question of a state of both peoples. Instead, he built up a centralist, unitary, national state of Turkey on the pattern of the French state – following the motto "one state, one nation, one language, one identity". The various nationalities and minorities were called upon to become one nation in a melting pot. But the Kurds did not accept the idea. Since then, they have attempted several rebellions, in 1925, 1930, and 1938. But every time, the much stronger Turkish army could suppress them. The recent history of guerilla actions led by PKK is well known. Similar has been the case in Iraq and Syria.
    The Catalans too cannot forget and forgive their grievances against Spain. Their desire for independence is not based only on financial injustice. They also argue that they are not Spaniards, that they have been a nation through several centuries of history and have been oppressed and exploited by their neighboring nations: first, as the principality of Catalonia under the crown of Aragon and later, since the early 18th century, as a conquered territory of the kingdom of Spain that came into existence through the forced unification of the crown of Aragon with the crown of Castile. The Spanish crown abolished all non-Castilian institutions, and Catalan, along with all other languages, was replaced with Spanish in government and legal matters. During the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939), a typical Catalan institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, an autonomous form of government, was restored. After the Spanish Civil War, the Franco dictatorship enacted repressive measures abolishing Catalan institutions and banning again the official use of the Catalan language. To sum up, Catalonia was, of course, a part of Spain for over three centuries, but it never was unified with Castile or Spain in a peaceful process and of the Catalans' own free will.
    These are actually also examples of struggles of smaller and weaker peoples to assert their ethnic/group identity against attempts to assimilate them into a bigger political entity (nation, federal state or union of states).

Hurt Cultural identity

A group identity can also form around a language. In that case it had better be called language identity categorized under cultural identity. In Turkey, for a long time, the Kurdish language was suppressed, could not be used in government, and was not allowed to be taught in schools. In 1945 even their national dress for men, the Sal Sapik, was prohibited. In 1967, the Turkish government once more banned the Kurdish language and, along with it, Kurdish music, literature and newspapers.

    The concept cultural identity should also include identity formed around a
religion as it happened among Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. We have seen above that both the Kurds and the Catalans complain that in the past their cultural identity was sought to be suppressed by the Turks and the Spaniards respectively. But they had no grievance in regard to their religion. The best example, however, of secessionism purely on the basis of language-identity is the formation of Bangladesh.
    The people of what is today called Bangladesh, the vast majority of whom were (still are) Muslim, had decided to be a part of Pakistan when India was divided into two states in 1947. This decision violated all principles of economic rationality. It was purely based on their Muslim identity, on the idea of all Muslims of the subcontinent being one nation, the Hindus being the other.
    But soon they realized that they were being treated as a colony by the West Pakistanis. The dissatisfaction came to the fore when, in 1948, the central government – with its seat in Karachi in the western part of the country – dictated that Urdu was to be the sole national language of the state. The Diktat sparked off extensive protests and demonstrations among the Bengali-speaking East Pakistanis, who demanded that Bengali be recognized as an official language of the country. They also found that
ethnic and linguistic discrimination was common in Pakistan's civil and military services, in which Bengalis were under-represented. The state also banned Bengali literature and music in state media including the works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who was a Hindu Bengali, whose works nonetheless were read and sung with great respect by educated Bengali Muslims.
    Against the background of these resentments, protests and demands there arose a language movement (Bhasa Andolon), in the course of which some students were killed by the police (1952), who since then have been regarded as martyrs for their language. This movement signified a decisive
identity shift in the country: From being primarily East-Pakistani Muslims in the 1940s, the people became, after the successful liberation war of 1971, Bengali speaking citizens of a newly founded secular state.
    Also in Belgium, the major issue in the conflict between Flanders and Wallonia is language identity – the Flemish people (of Flanders) speak Dutch and the Walloon people are Francophone. However, the other two factors also play a role in it. As in Catalonia, for a long time in the past, French was the dominant language, and the former's language, Dutch, was suppressed. And today, as opposed to the situation in the past, Flanders is the more prosperous region of Belgium. Many compromises had to be found to keep the two regions together. But a Flemish separatism is still there. In fact, all parties of Belgium are split into two separate parties.

Conclusions

The Reality of the World Situation

Let me make a few points in conclusion – in the sense of an eco-socia.list's take of the recent trend toward and current events of secessionism.
    (1) We cannot ignore feelings of people. They are there. But we should not also ignore the reality. There is no doubt that about half, perhaps even a slight majority, of the Catalans want independence, that because of bad memories from past history, this half does not want to be governed by the Spaniards any longer, they may even hate Spaniards in general. But they have no objection to ceding part of their sovereignty to the EU. Isn't it a contradiction (if you leave aside the fact of hatred)? The same can be said of the desire of a large part of the Scots to see Scotland break away from the UK but remain a member of the EU. Of somewhat similar character is the desire of a majority of English people to be politically more independent (through Brexit) and at the same time enjoy the economic advantages of being a member of the EU. Reality is, Globalization has today become such a strong economic factor that no people can any longer maintain the attained general standard of living without bowing to it, albeit at the price of losing a large part of its economic freedom.
    (2) The argument of the central governments of Spain and Iraq that their constitutions do not allow independence of regions is nonsensical. Constitutions and laws are made by people and they can be changed. The state of Iraq itself was artificially created by two imperialist powers. If constitutions were sacrosanct, written down for all future time, no people could ever have become independent, no subjugated or oppressed people would ever be able to push out their oppressors.
    Today, the all-important question for us is whether it is not only legally and morally, but also politically good, hence justifiable, that Catalans and Iraqi Kurds unilaterally declare independence. One may say the moral question has been unequivocally answered by the UN principle of right of peoples to self-determination. I do not think that is right. Today, there is hardly any country, any region in the world that is not inhabited by a mix of peoples – a result of past history. To suddenly make many of them foreigners in a country where they have taken roots (e.g. Spaniards in Catalonia, Turkmens in Kurdistan), is not a good decision, neither morally nor politically. Politically, it would be a bad decision, if it were surely to have bad repercussions in the region. I can well understand why many Spaniards, including those who declare themselves to be both Catalans and Spaniards, hate the Catalan secessionists. Firstly, it is not a long time ago that the Basque secessionists tried to achieve their goal of independence by violent means (bombings and killings and all that). And secondly, it would create serious economic problems when Spain hasn't yet fully recovered from the great crisis of 2008.
    (3) It would be a valid moral argument for secessionist efforts if one could say that, in the present set-up, the minority people living in a region of the concerned country are being oppressed or discriminated against as a people. But where was oppression and discrimination in Catalonia before October 1, 2017, when the Guardia Civil used violence to prevent the referendum happening? Where was oppression and discrimination in Scotland and in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq? The only concrete argument that remained for these three cases was an immoral one: The Catalans did not like to share their prosperity with the poorer regions of Spain, and the Scots and the Iraqi Kurds did not want to share their oil wealth.
    (4) I have much understanding for the emotional sensibility of people to their native country (in German, Heimat) and their native language. I can understand that today, some three decades after the beginning of the era of globalization, in some countries of Europe and in the USA many among the native people fear they are losing their country, fear they will soon become a minority in their own country – for instance, in England (Brexit supporters), Netherlands (supports of Geert Wilders' party), Germany (supporters of the AFD party), France (supporters of FN), and in the US (Trump supporters). The Serbs feel they have already lost their province Kosovo to the Albanians. Human nature hasn't changed yet. We and the others, that is still how most people think.

What is to be done in regard to these trends?

I cannot find secessionism good, nor even OK, unless a people is really being oppressed and/or badly exploited as a whole, as under an imperialist/colonial rule or by another people living in the same state. The existence of an abstract and unclear principle in the UN charter should not be regarded as sufficient ground for starting a secessionist movement. Recent history as well as the current world situation shows that any such movement, if it gathers momentum, may cause enormous damage to the peoples concerned and, in general, to the world. In the Bangladesh liberation war, according to Bangladeshi estimates, some three million people were killed, and a few million had to seek refuge in India. Some other examples are the struggle of the ETA to free Basque Country from Spain, the struggle of the Kashmiri Muslims and that of the Punjabi Sikhs (in the 1980s) to effect secession of their respective provinces from India, the liberation war of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. All these efforts, except that of the Bangladeshis, failed, causing huge loss of life and other associated sufferings. Today, without a successful war it is nearly impossible, at least enormously difficult for a region to secede from a state that has become established. No ruling politician would agree to break up a state that she was elected to govern, nor would politicians of other states like to rock the boat. The two cases of tolerance, Scotland and Czechoslovakia, are exceptions and would probably remain exceptions until and unless human civilization starts collapsing. We are today getting a foretaste of this latter scenario in Somalia, where a separate, but internationally unrecognized state has come up, namely Somaliland.
    Today, we are suffering from so many great crises and problems that urgently need to be addressed by the whole humanity – ecology crises, climate crisis, finance crisis, global illegal migration, large-scale poverty, huge inequality, danger of wars etc. So no new small crises and problems should be created in the name of self-determination of people, least of all because of prosperity-separatism. True, all individuals and all peoples love independence, but all also need cooperation and help from the others. Today, secessionist movements are only distractions from the main tasks. In regions like Catalonia, Kashmir etc. right to self-determination should take a back seat behind realizing all human rights for all and peaceful coexistence of peoples in multi-ethnic, multi-lingual states. The latter goal can be achieved through federal constitutions that guarantee minority rights. An example thereof is India, a federal republic, which is the home of 1.3 billion people with 22 official languages. Even the PKK was once ready to make peace on the basis of regional autonomy within Turkey. Maybe new state names can be introduced to replace problematic ones, e.g. United Republic of Anatolia in place of Turkey, United Kingdom of Iberian peoples in place of Spain.
    So far as language identity is concerned, there is no need to fight for it any more. No people in the world is nowadays being punished for speaking and writing its own language, not even the Kurds in Turkey. And English as lingua franca of the world is increasingly pulling down all the language barriers between peoples. Take again India as an example.

References

1.Sarkar, Saral (2014) Unity or Separation? – Did the Scots Decide Sensibly?
http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/search?q=Scots

2. See for example:
"This map shows the European regions fighting to achieve independence."
Jun. 17, 2017, in RT(online).
http://www.businessinsider.com/map-of-european-independence-movements-2017-6?IR=T and

"Spain, Italy, Belgium: Battle lines drawn for independence after Scottish vote."
Published time: September 19, 2014, in RT News (online).
https://www.rt.com/news/188752-scottish-no-independence-movements/

3. GlennyMisha (1996The Fall of Yugoslavia. London: Penguin.