Monday, 8 December 2014

Winning Some Battles, but Losing the War -- An Overview of the Present-day World Situation

About two months ago I read an article on the war against the Islamic State (IS). The author Andrew J. Bacevich1 wrote inter alia: “Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. …. Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive. … U.S. efforts to promote stability [in the region] have tended to produce just the opposite.”
    Here I am not going to write on the IS. My concern here is not the Greater Middle East, but the world, not the Iraq War III, but the “war” (if I am allowed to use this term) to prevent the coming worldwide collapse and to start the transition to a peaceful and sustainable world society. I have started with the Iraq War III because it is at present the clearest, the strongest and the most convincing pointer to the coming collapse.

    This has several manifestations: (1) conflicts and wars – fought with varying degrees of violence – raging since the past few decades in various parts of the world, (2) global warming, climate catastrophes and global all-round ecological degradation going on unabated, (3) societies disintegrating, followed by failed or failing states.

    As regards violent conflicts, even though Prof. Steven Pinker tells us in his book The Better Engels of our nature that the world of the past was much worse, and that we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence, it is little comfort. For in the last two decades, we have been observing a worsening of the situation. Compared to the great hopes raised in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, when commentators even spoke of a huge peace dividend waiting for us to take, the following years plagued mankind with many small, medium size, and large violent conflicts: the genocide in Rwanda, followed by the unending small war in Eastern Congo; the Yugoslavia wars leading to the violent breakdown of that socialist federal republic; the rise of Islamist terrorism in many parts of the world, with the Al-Qaeda. the Taliban or the ISIL at the forefront; the bloody 26 years long ethnic war in Sri Lanka; the violent independence movement of the Kurds in South-Eastern Turkey; then the decades old civil war in Colombia – FARC etc. against the state forces; the terror of the drug-dealer gangs in Colombia and Mexico; the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and the Ukraine; and the many small-scale conflicts and insurgencies, for instance, in the Philippines, in Central India, in Xinjiang province of China, in the Russian Caucasia.

    Some of these conflicts and wars have been settled, have been won or lost or ended with a compromise: North Ireland, Rwanda, Yugoslavia etc. But they have only been so many “battles” that have been won. We are losing the “war” to prevent the threatening worldwide collapse and to start the transition to a peaceful and sustainable world society. As Bacevich wrote in connection with the war against the IS: “Suppress the symptoms, and the disease simply manifests itself in other ways. There is always another Islamic State waiting in the wings.” We could here perhaps mention Nigeria and Pakistan.

    That exactly is the point. Mankind is today, so to speak, suffering from a grave disease, but we are only fighting to suppress the symptoms.

The Disease and Its Symptoms

    The difference between the violent conflicts of the past and those of recent times is that in the past, humanity in general and the particular peoples hit by wars and violent conflicts could hope that after the end of the particular wars and conflicts there would again be peace and recovery followed by prosperity. Even after the devastating 30 Years War in the 17th century, central Europe recovered, albeit slowly, and again prospered. After the two World Wars in the 20th century, societies and economies of all the devastated countries quickly recovered and prospered, along with those of many others that were not directly affected by the wars. Today, however, we fear that the social and economic structure of many countries is going to break down, that the number of failed states will grow; and all that, although, compared to past eras, the number and severity of wars and violent conflicts have gone down.

    Today’s threats of collapse are not really coming from wars and violent conflicts. The latter are merely symptoms or results of a disease. They are coming from the very prosperity that could be created in the recent past for the greater part of the human population. It is somewhat like the inordinately obese person, who has eaten too much in the past years, and, as a result, suffering from many diseases. We have undoubtedly vanquished hunger. For some time past, there has not been any severe famine anywhere – like the one witnessed in the 1980s in Ethiopia. At the earliest sign of famine anywhere, help can be rushed from food surplus countries. Although poverty is still there, it is no longer the dire poverty that could be observed in many parts of the world some twenty or thirty years ago, e.g. in India, Africa etc. Today, in most formerly poverty-stricken countries, a large part of people from the lower strata are enjoying TV-shows and communicating through cell phones. Yet, today, hundreds of millions of people, particularly young people, are without work. Since the 2008 crash of capitalism, the economies of many countries are experiencing recession, stagnation or falling growth rates; real incomes and welfare benefits are being cut. Hundreds of thousands are leaving their native countries in the quest of refuge in the rich countries – risking thereby tremendous suffering, even dying of drowning in the sees.

    All these are happening because the very basis of the relative prosperity of the recent past is fast eroding. Global warming is wreaking havoc with climatic stability. Storms, storm surges, floods and landslides are devastating large tracts of inhabited land, destroying houses, infrastructure and crops. Essential resources needed for keeping the present-day world economy afloat are dwindling, while the world population continues to grow. And the environment is being incessantly degraded.

    In an earlier article in this blog2, I have shown how the civil war in Syria has been to a large extent the result of a severe drought and population growth. Generally speaking, the so-called Arab Spring, the revolt of the Arab youth in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen was caused by the frustration of the youth, who did not only demand democracy but also wanted to see prosperity and gainful employment coming. Youth revolt and general, partly destructive, manifestations of discontent are also taking place in European countries (Greece, France and England, for example). In the USA, the black minority is massively protesting against institutional racism, police violence and a broken justice system. The costs of just repairing, maintaining and defending the capitalist industrial society that is in place today are immensely growing, while the resources are dwindling.

    A war usually has many fronts, also a “war” to prevent the threatening worldwide collapse and to start the transition to a peaceful and sustainable world society. It is necessary to fight at all the fronts. But activists must have an overview of the whole. It seems to me, however, that most activists are fixated on the battles they are fighting at the moment and ignoring the “war” that is necessary, namely the “war” against the industrial-capitalist system. Sometimes they already celebrate the small insignificant successes in their particular battles.

When Do We Celebrate Victory?
Thus I recently read a letter written by Bill Mckibben, one of the awardees of the Right Livelihood Award (the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) of this year, addressed to his fellow activists who, together with him, organized in September of this year the great People’s Climate March in New York and other cities of the world. He wrote2a:

“… by the time that day was over (and remember that it ended with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announcing their divestment from fossil fuels) I was letting myself think that we’d seen the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry.” He wrote further:

“Which doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed a victory, of course.  Unless that end to coal and oil and gas comes swiftly, the damage from global warming will overwhelm us. Winning too slowly is the same as losing, so we have a crucial series of fights ahead: divestment, fracking, Keystone, and many others that we don’t yet know about.”

    Note that he is already celebrating a victory after the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has announced their divestment from fossil fuels. But it is not even a victory in a battle, it is only an announcement. It is being suggested in this quote that everything will be well when the fossil fuel industry has been abandoned and the renewable energy industries have taken over the task of powering the industrial societies of the world. There is no question raised about the viability (energy balance) of the so-called renewable energy industries, no questioning the sustainability of industrial society, no questioning of capitalism.

    Also the announcement made by the USA and China in the run-up to the UN climate conference in Lima – namely that these two giant CO2 emitters have agreed to stop the growth of their emissions in ten to fifteen years – was much celebrated. Roughly around the same time, however, The New York Times International Weekly (28.11.2014) published an article entitled India’s Ruinous Pursuit of Coal (ruinous for the climate, naturally), in which they reported that India plans to double the output of coal in five years. I recently read in a report3 from the said Lima conference that, at half-time, the European delegates are highly satisfied with the progress made. They are very optimistic, they think that this time a positive agreement can be reached. But at the same time it has been reported4 that at the conference all difficult and controversial questions are being studiously avoided – e.g. whether oil- and coal-rich countries (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Australia, Poland etc.) would be prohibited from exploiting their mineral riches; whether economic growth, that particularly less developed countries strive for, would still be possible when consumption of fossil fuels has been drastically curtailed; whether Ecuador and Bolivia, the two countries that most loudly preach “buen vivir” (good life, in contradistinction to rich life) will stop exploiting their fossil fuel riches; whether capitalism is compatible with the goal of protecting the climatic balance and, more generally speaking, the natural environment.

    My readers know my views on these questions. They can be found in the previous articles published in this blog. Therefore I do not want to repeat them here. Only so much for conclusion: We should postpone our celebrations until real victory has been achieved. And now at the latest, let us stop deceiving ourselves, let us take up in right earnest the real issues for our struggles, namely gradually overcoming the industrial mode of living and capitalism. For as long as these two dominate our life and societies, little else can be achieved. Then we are sure to lose the “war”.


1. “Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war”, in The Washington Post online, October 3, 2014,
2. “The Tragedy of Lampedusa – What To Do?”
2a. My friend Kamran Nayeri forwarded the letter to me. He didn’t however give a link.
3. Bayerischer Rundfunk
4. die tageszeitung


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Eco-socialisme ou éco-capitalisme?

My Belgian friends Prof. Christine Pagnoullé and Prof. Michel Kefer and their students at the University of Liege translated my book «Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices » into French. They did it as voluntary political work, without demanding any payment. I am grateful to them for this and take this opportunity to thank them all sincerely.


 Eco-socialisme ou éco-capitalisme?

 Une analyse critique des choix fondamentaux de l'humanité

Saral Sarkar

Traduit de l'anglais


To get to this book, use first the link:

and then click on the colored and underlined words:

französische Manuskript.

Once More On Transition -- Critical Thoughts On A Debate On Goal and Strategy

Some time back I posted in this blog an article entitled Some Thoughts On Resilience and Transition(13 August 2014). Recently, I read in internet a debate on the same subject consisting of two articles: Ted Trainer (2014) wrote a sympathetic critique of the Transition Town Movement (in the following simply called “Transition”, with capital T). Soon after, Rob Hopkins (2014a), who is the most prominent figure in this movement, responded in defense of Transition. In addition to what I wrote in the above-mentioned blog-post (which I would not repeat), I would like to make some comments on this debate – in the hope of helping clarify some issues. Since Ted and I largely agree on the questions debated, I shall here focus on the response of Hopkins.

If readers of and participants in this discussion want to make some progress in finding the right strategy for the transition to, generally speaking, a better world, then it is necessary first to correct the mistakes in our understanding of the present situation, remove the contradictions in our own positions and, in general, create clarity about the matters being discussed. If we at the end still disagree, then we shall at least know on which points exactly we disagree. That too would be some progress in the discussion.

Different goals

When two or more persons participate in a strategy discussion, then one logical assumption is that they share a common goal. For it is nonsensical to search for a common strategy for different goals.

It is clear that Hopkins and Trainer are basically pursuing different long-term goals. That is also the reason why they cannot agree on strategy. (That does not however rule out that they would have differences on strategy even if hey pursued a fully common goal.) For Trainer, if a “sustainable and just world is to be achieved”, the rich countries’ “resource [consumption] and ecological impact rates” “must be cut by something like 90%”, a “growth economy” must be scrapped, GDP must be reduced “to a small fraction of present levels”, “market forces” i.e. capitalism, must be stopped from “determining our fate” etc.

These are important points in Trainer’s packet of long-term goals. Hopkins does not say all that is totally nonsense. He even finds most of Trainer’s arguments “entirely reasonable.”But”, he writes, “there is no way that will happen unless we have the different models in place which are able to provide the things we need: schools, jobs, homes and so on.” Hopkins also writes: “The ambition of Transition … goes … into reimagining local economies, shifting their focus, modeling how it can meet public health ambitions better than the current approach, how it can create better and more meaningful livelihoods, create healthier communities, create safer investments offering a social return.” In olden days, all that used to be called development. Since the mid 1980s they are being called sustainable development. Hopkins now adds, they must be community-led.

The word “unless” may give the impression that Hopkins and Transition may go further after they have achieved these short-term goals and come closure to sharing Trainer’s long-term goals. At one point he even writes something like that: He criticizes Trainer for assuming “that movements like Transition [Trainer also mentions eco-village and permaculture movement] aren’t thinking in terms of deep systems change.” But he disappoints us. For he writes referring to his goals quoted in the previous paragraph, “We’re not there yet, but it’s where we’re headed.” The word “ambition” and the sentence “it’s where we’re headed.” convey an air of final goal, give the impression that Hopkins and Transition do not share Trainer’s long-term goal of scrapping the present-day economy and market forces. They only want to “shift the focus”, make things “better”, ”healthier”, and “safer” than they are today. That is of course much more than community gardens, but it is not clear how they are different from “sustainable development” of the 1980s. Only one thing is clear; they definitely want to overcome economic globalization, make the economy as local as possible.

Hopkins knows “that we live in a world of limits”, he knows about capitalism’s growth imperative. But I have not found any clear statement saying that in rich countries resource consumption must be reduced by 90%. He is thinking of investments and social returns. In an interview he gave to a German magazine Hopkins (2014b) says: “We have started a forum for local entrepreneurship, in which people with ideas for sustainable business can meet with potential investors and promoters.” He says further in the same interview: „But how big must an enterprise really be so that it can earn enough to ensure the livelihood of its employees and at the same time make profits for further local projects? I do not think that for this purpose we must open up export markets in China or set up franchise firms everywhere in the world.“

From all that one gets the impression that Hopkins and Transition, although they want to see many things change, do not want to change the system. But Trainer is striving for system change, a very radical one. He thinks not only capitalism but also industrial society has to be scrapped in order to save the biosphere and create a sustainable and just human society. This perspective is not only pessimistic, but also fearsome, particularly for the European and North American middle class. In the meantime, it is also fearsome for the middle classes of China, India, Brazil etc. No wonder that Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker in his transition perspective presented in 1992 wrote:

„To ask Europeans, Americans and Japanese to dress in sackcloth and ashes and renounce prosperity and progress, is a strategy doomed to failure. So, in order to be politically accepted by the public, the new way of running the economy should have the character of a new model of prosperity "(1992, 12).

The changes Transition wants to bring about have also been desired and striven for by previous generations of Green and social movement activists since the early 1980s. Their perspective has been called “restructuring industrial society”, “sustainable development”, “sustainable growth”, “green growth”, and “green capitalism”.

So the long-term goals of the two are clearly different, although Trainer supports the Transition movement, whose declared goals and activities he misinterprets to be only immediate ones and hence considers not to be enough. I have the sense that Hopkins and Transition do not want to go any further, because they are afraid of even thinking of radical system change. After all, they in their majority, as Hopkins (2014b) himself has noted, belong to the middle class of Europe and North America, where the movement is very popular. They would have much to lose, much more than the average middle-class African or Indian, if the present system were to be scrapped. That is why, apart from a few honorable exceptions like Trainer, most of their thinkers love to imagine that all problems could be solved through further technological developments like solar and wind energy, carbon capture and sequestering, increasing resource efficiency etc. Hopkins (2014b) finds Germany’s energy transition program “inspiring.” He thinks solar energy, wind energy and local energy combines are making the large energy corporations superfluous. The existing skepticism about renewable energies (shared by Trainer) is apparently unknown to him. Definitely unknown to him are doubts about the viability of solar energy technologies, especially in the bad-weather countries like the UK. It may also be unknown to him that even James Lovelock (father of the Gaia hypothesis) could not be enthusiastic about wind energy and therefore supported nuclear energy.

There is also a qualitative difference between the respective perspectives of Trainer and Hopkins. The local and small-scale economies of Trainer’s grassroots communities would come up in anticipation of and/or as a result of the crisis, possibly collapse, of capitalist industrial economies. They would be planned and administered in an anarchistic socialist way. Hopkins favors bringing assets into community ownership. But for his “vibrant new social enterprises”, he accepts capitalism (investors, profits), albeit one freed from globalization. Although he says he is aware of the growth imperative inherent in capitalism, he (naively) thinks the investors who would invest in local businesses would be satisfied with the meager profits that could be earned by the latter. But anybody with some knowledge of history knows that capitalism began as mainly local, small scale and embedded in society. The monstrous capitalism we see today is the result of capitalism’s inherent growth dynamics. To give one modern-day example, the solar energy industry/movement began with the conception of local, i.e. decentralized, and roof-top solar electricity generation for local consumption. Today we see projects like Desertec (huge solar power plants in the Sahara that would supply 15% of Europe’s total electricity needs) and competition between European and Chinese solar panel producers for larger chunks of the world market.
Finally, Hopkins also writes sentences that confuse the reader. It sometimes seems as if he and Transition are not pursuing any clear goal at all. One of his books is entitled The Power of Just Doing Stuff. In it he quotes a participant in the Transition movement as saying: “I felt …that in… my town … there were people that were in need of changing something, just like me. I thought that was amazing, … I thought ‘this is it, we can do something. We can actually change something’.”. The word “something” makes me think, any good thing is enough for this person. Finally, this person and some other people together started a small community garden in their town. Of course, nobody, not even the staunchest capitalist in town, would have any objection to a small community garden.

At one place, Hopkins writes he wants to “enable people to long for” “the world we need to create”. At another place he uses the phrase “where we need to go”. And he concludes the article with the words “…. leading to the change we all want to see”. The italicized words suggest as if Hopkins has a clear idea of his long-term goals. No, wrong. For he also writes: Transition is “evolving. It remains open to new ideas and to processes that work with people to ask questions and shape then where the process goes, what was termed ‘let it go where it wants to go’ in The Transition Handbook.“ And he caps this uncertainty by writing in the last paragraph “Time will tell”.

Such words suggest he does not know yet where the world needs to go. There is no trace of an effort to objectively and rigorously analyze the present world situation, and, therefore, no trace of trying to draw a logical conclusion as regards the long-term goals of the movement. Hopkins does not even know whether he and Transition want to reform or radically change the system. He writes: “It may be that the future will reveal Transition to have been ‘a reformist project posing no threat to consumer-capitalist society’. We’ll see.” This reminds me of the radical but multi-strand origin of the green movement and Green Party of Germany and the latter’s present role of a pillar of consumer-capitalist society.

This is utter confusion.

Different Strategies

Different long-term goals (in the case of Hopkins rather the lack of a clear one) necessarily led Hopkins and Trainer to conceive different strategies. Even in this regard, Hopkins writes contradictory things.

If Transition is only a reform project trying to improve the present consumer-capitalist society, then it is better not to use the term transition, because it connotes, at least in our context, transition to a different socio-economic system that replaces the present one. By whatever name it may be called, also a reform project is a legitimate one, because not all people are convinced that system change is possible, and because many are convinced that the present system can be improved and thus enabled to solve the problems plaguing us. But how does one do it best.

Hopkins first makes an attempt at explaining “why we [including the green Left] are so catastrophically losing the struggle to save the climate.” He stresses one of several factors: It is “the trap that some on the green Left have fallen into for 40years”. He elaborates: “It is a mindset that seeks differences rather than common ground.” We talk to everyone, but not to each other. And “there is little mindfulness about how the way in which we communicate our message comes across to people beyond the bubble.”

I beg to differ. Nobody on the Left or the green Left seeks differences. The differences are real, they simply exist, and are often based on different material interests. Yet, in my decades of experience in India and Germany, more often than not, I have seen various progressive groups in the list of George Lakoff (whom Hopkins quotes) building alliances, united fronts etc. for particular struggles (e.g. in the peace movement, environmental protection movement etc.) One glaring example of failure to do so was when in the early 1930s Communists and Social Democrats failed to build an alliance against the Nazis, which indeed resulted in a catastrophe.

As regards the second point, Hopkins criticizes Trainer for using “language” (i.e. the way in which he communicates his message) that is unsuitable for the purpose. He writes, Trainer communicates in a “language” that is “guaranteed to exclude most of the community”, “guaranteed to turn off 98% of the population.” Trainer certainly does not want to exclude anybody. But it is true that at present most people in the world are not listening to him and to people like him.

However, to make the matter clear, it is not actually Trainer’s “language” that is turning off the 98%. All his addressees understand English, and the words Trainer uses are very clear. He is also not inciting people to stage a coup or an armed uprising. It is actually the contents of his writings, not the way he communicates his message, that are the problem. For the 98% in Europe and North America, unfortunately, it is still inconceivable that they must reduce their resource consumption by 90% and abolish capitalism, that has brought them so much prosperity, in order to protect the environment and adjust to the rapid exhaustion of resources.

But what do you do then? Do you then change your goals, give up your conviction? Do you then hide inconvenient facts, say only nice things, against your conviction, in order to be loved by the majority? Or do you strain to be noncommittal and say vague things that cannot put anybody off? In that case, you are a typical politician in the worst sense of the term, and not a political activist. Even a genuine reform project needs committed activists who tell the truth and are not afraid of displeasing voters. Such activists tell people frankly what changes they think are necessary in order to improve the present system. Hopkins finds Trainer’s arguments “entirely reasonable”; yet he chastises him for presenting them frankly.

But here I also differ with Trainer a bit. In his critique of Transition, Trainer, surprisingly for me, wrote: “Sudden or noisy calls for more radical goals would harm these movements.” How? Does Trainer think that the time is not ripe yet? Or that the masses are not intelligent or mature enough? I think it is high time that all citizens of the world are fully informed about the dire situation humanity and the earth are in today. And I think all people are intelligent and mature enough to understand the basic truths of this situation. We only need to present them to the people. The goals he calls “more radical” are actually absolute necessities. True, many activists with whom you must form alliances would say this or that goal is not realistic because the rulers, or even the masses, would by no means accept the corresponding demands. In that case you can still continue cooperation with the alliance partners on the basis of a list of immediate minimum demands (which Hopkins calls seeking common grounds), while carrying on your no-holds-barred educative work outside the alliance. This quoted view of Trainer even bewilders Hopkins, who writes: “Trainer’s is a bewildering perspective. On the one hand he argues that ‘sudden or noisy calls for more radical goals would harm these movements’ and on the other he argues that the path Transition is on ‘will lead only to a grossly and increasingly unsustainable and unjust consumer society, containing a lot of community gardens etc.” 

Hopkins writes: “… whatever gets us to where we need to go will need to think bigger, reimagine the language it uses, and seek to build common ground [with the 98%] rather than talking itself into a corner while everyone else is looking in a different direction.” As I (also Trainer) have shown, Hopkins has no clear idea as to where we need to go in the long run in order to make the world resilient to the serious crises that are ongoing and impending. He therefore adopts what may be called a weathercock strategy in order not to talk himself into a corner. But in the times we are living in, it is necessary to tell the truth, however unpleasant it may be to the 98%. It is necessary, if need be, to talk oneself into a corner rather than joining the 98% on their common ground. It is the minority’s duty to honestly criticize the 98% majority, even if the personal price to be paid for that may be high. It is the minority’s duty to lead the majority to the unpleasant truth and to the unpleasant solutions to our problems and crises rather than enjoy the pleasant warmth of being a member of the majority. In practical life, for just living, we are compelled to make many compromises. Let us not make compromises even in our thinking and expressing our thoughts. Fortunately, today, people like Trainer are no longer as isolated as Hopkins imagines. People are not little children from whom you must hide inconvenient facts. There was recently a De-growth Conference in Leipzig, in which 3000 people took part. In 2011, a congress entitled “Beyond Growth” took place in Berlin.

Elsewhere in his article, Hopkins has written things in the posture of a skilful leader, although he is only following the majority. He writes for example: “But this is only going to work if we find the skilful means to take people along with us, indeed, the skilful means to enable people to long for the world we need to create, because the very possibilities it presents make their hearts sing”. I am all for skilful means of doing things. I am all for able people taking the leadership in any project. But the leaders must know clearly – on the basis of an objective, free-of-illusions analysis of the present situation – where the journey should go. However, I am doubtful about “enabl[ing] people to long for the world we need to create.” They will not long for it, when they have heard the truth. But they can be convinced that it is a matter of necessity. The possibilities this world will offer will not exactly make the hearts of the global middle class sing. But it will be a just world, for the poor of today and also for the other species that share the earth with us. And that will somehow make us happy, though not jubilant.

It is right, as Hopkins expresses it, that “banging on at people about the need to ‘revolution’ and peppering sentences with ‘radical’ and so on have clearly failed to bring about the change needed. It doesn’t work. It’s a busted flush. It has failed in nearly everything it has tried to achieve.” But these have been some of the old Left’s methods, not its strategy of bringing about a socialist society. Of course the strategy too has failed, but it is irrelevant to say this here. For neither Trainer nor other kinds of Left (for example, eco-socialists) are today proposing to follow the old strategy (class struggle, proletarian revolution etc.) of the old Left for attaining the old goal of realizing the old model of a socialist society. Why the old Left failed to attain its goal has been analyzed by various people including many leftists (for my analysis see Sarkar 1999). The old theory of change is not valid any more. New theories and strategies have been proposed by many including Trainer (for my theory and strategy of change, see ibid and Sarkar 2013).

Hopkins says he (with Transition) is taking a different route, a more skilful one. He is welcome to try it. As of today, we may safely say that no ideal path has yet been found that guarantees success in our efforts to achieve our respective goals. We can also safely say that whatever path we take, it would be full of difficulties and pain. For to forgo the comforts and luxuries resulting from economic growth would undoubtedly be painful for people who have till now enjoyed them. Sometimes people imagine it to be easy to withdraw our support for the system (Hopkins) or to simply walk out of it (Trainer). But actually it is the most difficult thing. For over the centuries we have increasingly become dependent on it. It is also not easy for activists to design whole settlements of a new kind (Trainer) or to take collective control of our town (Trainer).

However, it has been seen in the history of mankind that we humans are also capable of being inspired by ideals and values. If Transition can, through its skilful methods, inspire people for ist goals – which, of course, are not enough, but nevertheless deserve our support – if it can instill confidence (a can-do feeling) in ordinary people, then we “radicals” may also hope that our superior ideals and values will one day gain support, at least acceptance, among the broad masses, although they will not exactly “riot” for it. There are one thousand reasons to be pessimistic. But we are not dead yet. So let us go on trying.


Hopkins, Rob & Katrin Lange (2014b) “Wir wollen das Wirtschaftssystem verändern” (interview), in Evident (magazine: a supplement in Süddeutsche Zeitung), No. 1/2014.

Hopkins, Rob (2014a): “Responding to Ted Trainer: there's a lot more to Transition than community gardens”:

Sarkar, Saral (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices. London: Zed Books.

Sarkar, Saral (2013) Correspondence with Kamran Nayeri:!searchin/thesimplerway/Letter$20to$20Kamran%7Csort:relevance/thesimplerway/kiIWzW7uu2U/NUTvILJPtsQJ

Trainer, Ted (2014)Transition Townspeople, We Need To Think About Transition: Just Doing Stuff Is Far From Enough!”:

Weizsäcker, Ernst Ulrich von (1992) Erdpolitik. Ökologische Realpolitik an der Schwelle zum Jahrhundert der Umwelt. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Comprendre la crise économique actuelle -- Une approche écosocialiste

Dear friends,

 In 2010, I wrote and published the paper

Understanding the present-day World Economic Crisis – An Eco-Socialist


In 2012, my francophone Belgian friends kindly translated it into French. Since I do not have a blog in French, it was posted on the German language website of the Initiative Eco-Socialism.

    Since, however, because of the language barrier, this website is hardly known in francophone countries, I am posting the paper in this English language blog of mine. I hope all educated French people can also effortlessly read English.

    If you know potentially interested people in French reading countries, I would be much obliged if you could inform them about the availability of this text in French.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar

Here is the Link:


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Eco-Socialism or Barbarism : An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism

Dear friends,

together with my comrade Bruno Kern, I had written/published an important text in German, English, French and Spanish before I could get my English language blog made by a friend. All four versions of the text – Eco-Socialism or Barbarism: An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism – were therefore posted on the German language website of ours, i.e. of the Initiative Eco-Socialism. Because of the language barrier, non-German readers hardly visit a German language website. This text therefore remained unknown to the greater part of the public for whom it was meant. I am now posting the English version on this blog

Since English is the lingua franca of the whole world, I hope this text will reach all interested people in all countries, if they are posted on this blog.

If you know potentially interested people in French or Spanish reading countries, I would be much obliged if you could inform them about the availability of this text. The French and Spanish versions are being posted separately on this blog.

With warm regards

Saral Sarkar


Eco-Socialism or Barbarism – An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism


Écosocialisme ou barbarie -- Une critique modern du capitalisme

Dear friends,

together with my comrade Bruno Kern, I had written/published an important text in German, English, French and Spanish before I could get my English language blog made by a friend. All four versions of the text – Eco-Socialism or Barbarism: An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism – were therefore posted on the German language website of ours, i.e. of the Initiative Eco-Socialism. Because of the language barrier, non-German readers hardly visit a German language website. This text therefore remained unknown to the greater part of the public for whom it was meant. I am now posting the French version on this blog.

If you know potentially interested people in French reading countries, I would be much obliged if you could inform them about the availability of this text. The English and Spanish versions are being posted separately on this blog.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar


Écosocialisme ou barbarie –

Une critique modern du capitalisme


Socialismo Ecologico o Barbarie -- Una critica contemporanea al capitalismo

Dear friends,

together with my comrade Bruno Kern, I had written/published an important text in German, English, French and Spanish before I could get my English language blog made by a friend. All four versions of the text – Eco-Socialism or Barbarism: An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism – were therefore posted on the German language website of ours, i.e. of the Initiative Eco-Socialism. Because of the language barrier, non-German readers hardly visit a German language website. This text therefore remained unknown to the greater part of the public for whom it was meant. I am now posting the Spanish version on this blog.

If you know potentially interested people in Spanish reading countries, I would be much obliged if you could inform them about the availability of this text. The English and French versions are being posted separately on this blog.

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar

SOCIALISMO ECOLOGICO O BARBARIE – Una critica contemporánea al capitalismo


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Unity Or Separation? -- Did The Scots decide Sensibly?

In the three days between the 18th and the 21st September, the media reported on two major events that, taken together, ought to give rise to some new concerns about the state of the world.

    On the 18th the Scots took a vote on the question whether Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom (UK) and become an independent state. The majority of the voters (55%) said no. The so-called unionists, the no-voters, of course initially rejoiced at the outcome of the referendum. Later, however, many of them expressed worry about it, because it was found that a very large minority, 45 percent of the voters, wanted Scotland to leave the Union. This is too high a percentage to return to business-as-usual.

    Indeed, shortly before the referendum, after an opinion poll had predicted a majority for the yes-voters, the government in London and all the leaders of the three major parties had panicked. This was followed by big promises of reform and more autonomy for Scotland. For the English majority of the UK, and also the Scottish unionists, feared that exit of Scotland from the union would have unforeseeable negative economic and political consequences for all parts of the UK.

    The yes-voters had no such fear. They were totally confident that an independent Scotland would not only be economically viable but also be a success story. When asked about this, they said an independent Scotland with its only 5.3 million inhabitants (in a total population of nearly 64 million) would be a rich country. The main reason for this confidence was the North Sea oil. For about 90 percent of the deposits belonging to the United Kingdom would, in the case of secession, belong to Scotland.

    The other major event was a global day of action. On 21st September, in each of over 150 cities around the world thousands of people (in New York three hundred thousand) demonstrated in order to give voice to their demand that the presidents and prime ministers of the states of the world finally take concrete and effective measures for climate protection. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who had invited the latter to New York for a consultation on climate change, marched with the demonstrators.

Hardly convincing arguments

What I found disconcerting in the independence movement of the Scots was their argumentation. They did not say that they were being oppressed or somehow disadvantaged by the English majority. The laws of the UK were equally valid for all its member peoples – the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish. The Scots even enjoy for now several years a certain degree of autonomy. They even have their own government. They of course say they are Scots, not Britons. But how strong and how widespread is this sense of identity? All Scots speak and write English as their main language, Scottish-Gaelic is spoken by only 1 percent. They are all white (except for immigrants from South Asia and Africa), and they are all Christians. A person has after all, usually, several identities!

    One can of course say, to want to be independent is very human, both for individuals and for a people. A disappointed yes-voter said after the referendum, he could not understand that a people does not want its independence. But, in the real world, neither individuals nor a people can follow only their feelings. All must also weigh advantages against disadvantages of possible decisions. The majority of Scots, on both sides, have done that. During their campaign, the independence advocates repeatedly emphasized that secession from the United Kingdom would bring no economic disadvantages for the Scots. When the no-voters argued that the oil wealth would not last long, the yes-voters simply asserted that there is still a lot of oil under the seabed. They also wanted, for practical reasons, to both continue after independence to use the pound sterling as their currency and let the British Monarch function as their Head of state.

Not willing to share the wealth

There can be several motives for an action. Just wanting to be independent has certainly been a strong motive for the Scots. Anyhow, among them, there was a lot of antipathy toward the central government dominated by English Tories and their policies, especially toward their economic policies favorable to the rich and hostile to the poor. And the Labor Party has also been quite strong there. So, many Scots thought they could pursue a better policy for themselves if Scotland could secede from the United Kingdom. Moreover, a people cannot forget its history totally. Scotland's union with England 307 years ago was not really a voluntary one. The Scots remember they were compelled to accept it because of an economic crisis and military superiority of the English kingdom that was threatening to invade their country. However, I suspect that in the present independence movement a different motive played the main role. As mentioned above, independence advocates think there still is a lot of oil in the oil fields in their part of the North Sea. This oil wealth, the income from it, they do not want to share any longer with the other British peoples.

    Not being any longer prepared to share “their” wealth with the poorer peoples in the same state is a motive that plays the main role in other (though not all) separatist movements too. This also works in states in which large deposits of valuable minerals do not play any role. Thus Catalonia is, even without oil and other such valuable natural resources, the economically strongest province of Spain. Although it is true that Catalans have a developed language of their own, which they also use for all purposes, and although it is true that they, therefore, strongly feel a Catalan identity, it may be that not wanting any more to share the wealth produced in their province may be the unspoken main motive for their current independence movement. This can also be said about the separatism of the Flemish people (in northern Belgium) and that of the northern Italians. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the rich provinces – Bavaria, Baden Wurttemberg, and Hessen – are of course not trying to secede, but since about ten years ago they are unwilling to pay large sums of money to the poorer provinces, which they are obliged to do according to the present constitution.

    A convincing example of how far this kind of separatism can go is the tragic break up of the former socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia. It was accomplished through a brutal civil war resulting from the selfish separatism of the Slovenes and Croats. Misha Glenny, British journalist and expert on the Balkans, summarized in 1992 a conversation on this topic that he had with Mate Babic, former Deputy Prime Minister of the Croatian government, as follows:

"[T] he imbalance between Slovene sophistication and the developing-world conditions prevailing 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 fuelled 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 republics, the economic tensions ensured that this mistrust would deepen.” (Glenny 1996: 63f.)

Cooperation is needed, not separation

But this is a very short-sighted policy. The oil age is gradually but surely nearing its end. The old oil fields and deposits of other important raw materials are rapidly getting exhausted. Who has not heard of peak oil, peak everything? With the progressive rise in the price of crude oil – this main lubricant of the world economy – the industrial countries that are still rich but are not themselves oil producers, are losing the foundation of their prosperity. That also is the main reason for the crisis (and/or stagnation) that is plaguing the world economy for the last 6 years (see Sarkar 2011 & 2012). And even if the oil age is not going to come to an end soon, global consumption of fossil fuels must be reduced rapidly in order to protect humanity from increasingly adverse climatic disasters. Humanity is in a pincer-grip crisis.

    A solution to this crisis is not in sight. One international climate summit is failing after the other. And it is totally uncertain whether at all and, if yes, to what extent, the so-called renewable energy sources can one day replace the non-renewable fossil and nuclear energy sources (see Sarkar 1999 & 2008).

    Actually, in such a situation, the peoples of the world should rather pull together. They should cooperate and jointly seek solutions to the great problems humanity is facing today. The movements for splitting up existing states are therefore a very deplorable and reprehensible development, especially since they involve the risk of violent conflict, even civil war. All peoples including minorities that live in multiracial (multiethnic), multi-religious or multilingual countries should rather fight for human rights, minority rights, and the right to equal treatment, within the existing state. Only when these rights have no chance of being accepted by the powers that be, can, in my view, a separatist movement be justified. And a violent separatist movement can only be justified, if the dominant people or the majority exercises a ruthless or brutal rule over the others. In the world today, in most countries, even small cities and towns are populated by different racial, ethnic, religious and language groups. In India, even after the country was divided up in 1947 on the basis of religion, villages have Muslim areas and Hindu areas. Should also such villages be split up?

    It has also to be considered that in today's globalized neoliberal capitalism, it is the large transnational corporations with their global alliances that are the most powerful rulers of the world. It is a truism that today's states have lost much of their former power. They are actually no longer fully sovereign. Today, in the ultimate analysis, the main opponent of all political activists, no matter what their great cause is, are these transnational corporations and their alliances. In this situation, we can say: the smaller a country is, the more powerless it is, the more it is at the mercy of large corporations, the less sovereign it is, and the more it is reduced to a stooge of the corporations.

    Eco-socialists and like-minded people know that for various reasons, in the long-term, political and economic affairs of societies must be managed in small, largely self-sufficient and largely autonomous units. But that situation is still far away. In the period of transition to our goal, we must follow the motto “unity is strength”. It is by now abundantly clear that only strong states and political unions like the USA and the EU can to some extent control large corporations like Google, Microsoft, Deutsche Bank, UBS etc. Today, separatist movements are extremely counterproductive. They only distract us from our original goal.

Glenny, Misha (1996) The Fall of Yugoslavia. London: Penguin.

Sarkar, Saral (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices. London: Zed Books.

Sarkar, Saral & Bruno Kern (2008) Eco-Socialism or Barbarism An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism. Mainz, Cologne: Initiative Eco-Socialism.

Sarkar, Saral (2011) Understanding the Present-day World Economic Crisis – An Eco-Socialist Approach.

Sarkar, Saral (2012) The Crises of Capitalism – A Different Study of Political Economy. Berkeley (USA): Counterpoint.