Sunday 27 December 2015

What it Means to be Leftist

A few days ago, I read an article entitled

What it Means to be Leftist,

which appeared in India as an editorial in the political magazine Frontier. I read it because the question is very important. Here is the link

I was very dissatisfied with the text, which is the response of the editor to the question she herself had put. So I wrote the following letter to the editor. I do not know whether the magazine will publish it. So I post it on this blog.
    I hope my readers would be interested.

Letter to the editor

the editor
Reg. The editorial What it Means to be Leftist
         In Frontier, December 20 – 26, 2015

Dear Sir,
the title attracted me very much, but the text disappointed me at least as much. You put a fundamental question, but what you serve us in response is only a critique of the current political maneuvers of only two Indian parties that are traditionally considered to be left parties. It is far from adequate to the title-question. I know this question is being put in many parts of the world.
    In the last paragraph you write: "The communist left needs theory …". I agree very much. I suppose you mean a new theory. Otherwise you would have written that the communist left should follow their traditional theory, namely Marxism or Marxism-Leninsm or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, in order to define their task at the present time. But then you yourself arbitrarily lay down very narrow parameters within which this new theory should be produced: "… a theory which can generate momentum in people's struggles within Indian borders, … ." Why within Indian borders? A new theory, especially one that should be produced by the communist left, should be meant to have validity for the whole world. Communists are not supposed to be provincial. Such a new theory building process must begin with an objective analysis of the present world situation. Only then should one define the task at the present juncture.
    Why don't you tell the author of the editorial that she herself should suggest the outlines of this new theory? I am feeling tempted to suggest a beginning of this new theory building process: Walter Benjamin wrote:

"Marx says revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps it is entirely different. Revolutions are perhaps the attempt of humanity travelling in a train to pull the emergency brake."

With best wishes

Saral Sarkar

Tuesday 24 November 2015

The Refugee-Migrant Crisis of the EU -- Its Deeper Causes and Messages

The media are bubbling with the refugee-migrant crisis, the new great crisis of the EU, the significance of which dwarfs that of the Greek economic crisis. It may appear that everything that can be said on this subject has already been said and written. But it is not so. What is missing in the discussions till now is an in-depth understanding of the crisis, without which even highly competent and experienced politicians and administrators would not find a lasting solution to it. I am not going to tell them what they should immediately do in order to gain control of the crisis. But allow me to try to fill up the big gap between describing and really understanding the problem.

Some Facts and clarifications:

Let us begin by taking cognizance of some facts that usually remain unmentioned in the discussions. I do not however intend to repeat those that my readers can be expected to regularly get through TV and newspapers.

Three categories of "Refugees"

Let us first differentiate between three categories of "refugees". (1) Let us call those who were suffering political persecution in their native country and are therefore seeking asylum political refugees. (2) Those fleeing because of some kind of war or violent conflict should better be called war refugees. (3) Those who are leaving their native country in search of a better life or a better job in another country should be called (economic) migrants. They may be just poor people from un(der)developed countries or people who are unemployed for a long time. This categorization cannot be a clear-cut one, for people may have two or all of the above reasons to flee their native country. For the sake of convenience, let us use the term refugee-migrants.

It is a global Problem

Let us leave aside the legal migrants, who are more or less welcome or at least tolerated in the host countries.
    The refugee-migrant problem is a global one and exists since long. There are today worldwide 60 Million such people. Some 11 million Latino migrants are illegally living in the USA. It is not as if only rich countries like the USA and EU attract refugee-migrants. Even countries that are not really rich but are only perceived to be a little better off and having relatively better job opportunities (actually, only a little less unemployment) than the neighboring countries attract migrants from the latter. Thus India has an unknown number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Malaysia has a large number of legal and illegal migrants from Indonesia, the Republic of South Africa from the neighboring African countries. In Kenia, the largest refugee camp of the world (in Dadaab ) is the temporary home of half a million Somali war refugees. In the Sahel Zone too there is a regular – legal and just tolerated – intra-regional flow and outflow of migrant workers. Some years ago, I also read of illegal Chinese migrant workers in the UK. Russia has its legal and illegal migrants from central Asia – most of them Muslims.
    At several international borders, walls and fences have been built to keep unwelcome refugee-migrants away, e.g. between the USA and Mexico, between India and Bangladesh, and most recently between Hungary and its neighboring countries. The EU created the Frontex, a high-tech border police organization, to prevent illegal entry. Australia uses force to prevent all ships carrying illegal migrants from touching its shores. Those who succeed in illegally landing in Australia are immediately deported to the neighboring pacific island of Nauru. Malaysia expels illegal Indonesian workers and even legal ones who have lost their job. Sometimes, the poor ones among them, who generally take cheap and unsafe boats for returning home, die of drowning in the sea. So we can say that the present acute refugee-migrant crisis of the EU is only the latest manifestation of a long-standing global problem.

The Economic Pull Factor

The global refugee-migrant problem therefore forms the general background against which we should discuss about any particular refugee-migrant problem. That of the EU, particularly of Germany, is, at present, only the most conspicuous sign of the very bad general state of the world and of the current system of global governance. For many European officials it is outrageous that hundreds of thousands of foreigners are gate-crashing one European country after the other – openly, illegally and without being registered by any authority. As a Bavarian politician recently said, it is tantamount to capitulation of the state if it cannot protect its borders.
    They are mostly young men and women. There are hardly any purely political refugees among them. And not all are fleeing only because of some war or violent conflict in their native country. It is clear that most of them are, at least partly, migrants. They are in search of a better life in one of the rich countries of the world. They are simply trying their luck. Proportionately perhaps not many, but in absolute terms significant numbers of them are going to the emerging industrial countries, such as India, Brazil and South Africa. Those who are migrating from North Africa, the Sahel region, and central Africa are mostly poor and unemployed. Their hope is to get work, some work and income. In TV interviews they even say that openly, do not pretend to be a refugee. A young Ghanaian said: "I have no problem with my state, politics here is all right. But here there is no job for me." An elderly poor peasant couple in a Senegal village told the TV journalist in the presence of their twelve year old son: "We told him, son, there is no future for you in this country. Go to Europe, somehow, we shall give you the money." Even the refugees from Syria, where the strong push factor of war is operating, are not at all thinking of leaving Europe and going back home once peace has returned there. They too want to build up a better future for themselves and their children. One Syrian man with a child on his shoulders said after arriving in Lesbos: "Thank God, I have now arrived in Europe. Here I can live in safety. Here I can fulfill my ambition." Another man from Syria said he has studied economics in Aleppo. His wife and children would come later, after he has settled down here. His ambition is to do a doctorate in Germany. A young man from Lahore was asked why he left Pakistan; after all, no war is raging there. He answered, it is because of the Taliban, they are making living there very difficult. Contrast this with the Somali refugees in Kenia's Dadaab camp, who are very happy to be able to return home.
    Except for the huge numbers this time, there is nothing new in this. I remember having seen in the 1990s a fictional film – entitled "The March"1 – on the same phenomenon. In 1991, we have seen photos of several thousand Albanian would-be migrants in a few chartered ocean-going ships arriving in Bari (Italy).2 Even barbed wire fences we have seen before. In 2005, we have seen TV-pictures of hundreds of young Africans trying to scale those of Ceuta and Melilla3 , and in this way enter EU territory. We have seen TV-pictures of young Africans trying to reach the Canary Islands on flimsy fishing boats.

The real and Deeper Causes

Ecology, Economy and the Prosperity Gap

We should differentiate the immediate, i.e. the superficial, causes from the root causes. Most European politicians are saying the really effective solution of their current refugee-migrant crisis would require removing its root causes, which they identify as the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and poverty in Africa.
    But political persecution and civil wars, even poverty, are, generally speaking, the superficial causes of migration, only the symptoms or effects of a disease, not the disease itself. More often than not, particularly in such crisis conditions as are prevailing today in the EU, politicians cannot and do not take cognizance of the disease behind the symptoms, i.e. of that which makes political persecution necessary, of the root causes that give rise to conflicts and wars. Much less can they do something about them. They must first, so to speak, quickly suppress the fever. The root causes mostly lie at much deeper levels of reality, and they build up slowly over a long period. They are therefore imperceptible to ordinary people like politicians before they explode onto the surface creating the clearly visible crisis at any particular time.
    To my mind, the root causes of the refugee-migrant crisis can be summed up in the following words:
the continuously growing demands, aspirations and ambitions (for short, DAAs) of a continuously growing population, while our resource base is continuously diminishing and the environment continuously degrading. Let me give an extreme example: Asked what he wants to become in future, a boy from a poor family going to an Indian slum school replied he wants to become like Bill Gates. None of his class mates said he wants to become a craftsman; even engine driver was nothing for them. These DAAs go so much beyond the really basic needs of any human being, namely satisfying hunger, quenching thirst, protection from adverse weather, sexual satisfaction, and belonging to a group in society. The continuous growth of DAAs are being propelled by, as it were, autonomously proceeding technological developments, which have their roots in human intelligence and greed, i.e. wanting to have more than one really needs. The catalogue of things the UN declared in 1948 to be universal human rights include "a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing … including food, clothing, housing and medical care, … necessary social services, … the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, … education, … full development of the human personality " etc. (articles 25 and 26). In 1948, even these simple things were totally unrealistic for the greater part of humanity. Moreover, many expressions in this formulation are vague. How much is "adequate"? And what is "wellbeing"? And what is "full development of the human personality"? But this "holy" declaration and pictures and narratives transported by TV etc. from the rich countries of the West to the remotest corners of the undeveloped countries fired the aspirations and ambitions of all poor people of the world.
    Today, 67 years later, in the greater part of the world, they still remain largely unrealized. What is more, the hope that they would be realized in the near future has evaporated. Many scientists and general observers believe that things would become worse – for objective reasons, namely continuous population growth, deepening global ecological crisis, extreme weather events due to global warming, rapid resource depletion, spreading desertification etc. Even in Germany, one of the richest countries of the world, there are many citizens who are homeless; the number of the "working poor" is growing, i.e. they cannot make their living although they work fulltime, which is why they have to apply for social welfare doles.
    In the past, we leftists used to say this kind of poverty exists due to inequitable distribution of the global and/or national income in capitalism, imperialism etc. We also proffered lack of sufficient development or wrong kinds of development as explanation of the misery in the underdeveloped countries. That was and still is largely true. But today we must say that is not the whole story. As Otto Ullrich wrote:

 "... in a system that tries to satisfy needs through material products there will always be, for every attained level of material prosperity, new unsatisfied material basic needs, above all because this system is necessarily very ingenious in the production of new luxury goods, which then become models for new material 'basic needs'. This system will always be too poor … . What was day before yesterday the radio, was yesterday the black-and-white TV, is today the color TV and will tomorrow be the three-dimensional picture projector." (Ullrich 1979: 108).4

I agree. As we know, even the socialist system could not satisfy all the "basic needs" of all its citizens in countries where it held sway till 1989.
    Also managers, share holders, and ordinary employees of companies and corporations, even small shop owners, refuse to accept any upper limit to profit/income. Therefore, in globalised capitalism there will always be a prosperity gap. As we know, this gap is continuously growing, not only between the countries, but also within each country, even within the richest ones. We are also seeing a growing discrepancy between the great development promises made in the past by ideologues of both capitalism and cornucopian socialism on the one hand and the gloomy reality of the present and prospects of future catastrophes on the other.
    In middle school I learnt in physics lessons that if two containers standing on the same level contain water under different degrees of pressure, then, if they somehow get connected, water under higher pressure will automatically flow to the container having water under lower pressure. This law of physics can be metaphorically applied to migration of humans (and animals) from densely populated and/or poor countries, where the pressure of poverty is high, to sparsely populated and/or rich countries where poverty is not so acute. Now, we know that the various countries of the world are since long getting ever more connected. After all, we nowadays talk of the world having become a global village.
    If we now multiply the continuously growing DAAs by the continuously growing population in the poorer countries, then we will understand why the universal human rights were, already in 1948, doomed to remain unrealized. They were unrealizable, because also the carrying capacity of this planet has simultaneously and continuously been diminishing – in truth, since human civilization began, albeit very slowly at first. We shall then also understand why migration has been a more or less permanent feature of human history. Capitalism, feudalism, imperialism, inequitable distribution, particular famines, dictatorship, oppression, wars, civil wars, violent conflicts etc. are only superficial or secondary explanations of the phenomenon, sometimes only the immediate causes of particular waves of migration. The real and deeper causes of the permanent phenomenon of migration are what I have stated above. For some individuals, however, who are not really unbearably poor,
the lure of greener foreign pastures in the relatively prosperous countries of the West is too great to resist.

Violent Conflicts and Civil Wars

To say that the civil wars in Syria and Iraq have caused the current refugee-migrant crisis is not very original. We also have to know what caused these wars.
    The state of affairs mentioned in the above section toward explaining poverty-related migration has also led, directly or indirectly, to many kinds of violent conflict over distribution of resources – both between nations and within nations. As we know, they too cause people to flee their native country. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait for oil (1991), Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara for phosphate, and the Jewish people's occupation of Palestinian land for founding their state Israel and subsequently for settlements building are some examples from our days.
    Within nations, in most countries, the ruling and dominant class(es), race(s), ethnie(s), regional population(s), religious and language group(s), that presently own (s), rake(s) in or claim(s) the lion's share of the nations resources and national income, must oppress, in one way or another, those below them who feel deprived and demand their fare share: ordinary workers, poor or landless peasants, the unemployed, and the underclass. But why must the former group(s) oppress the latter, who may (or may not) constitute the majority of the population? It is because in the greater part of the world there simply is not enough to satisfy all the demands and wishes of all groups of the nation. In the past we have seen and we are still seeing plenty of conflicts, more or less violent, arising from this state of affairs. So we can say that when some violent conflict appears to be the cause of a particular flow of refugees from a country, it is, in the final analysis, mainly, though not exclusively, the prosperity gap prevailing in that country that is the real and the deeper cause. Of course, cause-and-effect models of explanation are never that simple. Remember Tunisia in 2011? There, after 4 weeks of popular demonstrations the despotic ruler left the country and the matter took a good turn. But not so in Syria.
    It is logical to fear that in future there would be many more such conflicts and they would generate many more streams of refugees – especially if one considers that in the immediate future the on-going ecological and climate crises will further worsen.
    A special phenomenon in this category has been the renaissance of piracy on the high seas. At least Somali pirates said that they were originally fishermen by trade, and that they had no other alternative but to take to piracy when trawlers from distant rich countries began to empty their fishing grounds. At the same time the country's population has been growing at the rate of 3.48% (2002) to 2.81% (2011) per annum. More recent figures are not available or unreliable because of civil war and-large scale emigration. We read in the internet however that in
"… 2014 population was estimated at 10.8 million, up from the 2013 estimate of 10 million. The country is rapidly expanding with almost 3% annual population growth and a high fertility rate of 6.26 children per woman, which is the 4th highest in the world." As for the size, Somalia is a very large country. Its population density is just 17.1 per km2. But it is also a very arid country; arable land is just 1.64% of the whole. We can then imagine how the environmental situation might be. A Somali NGO activist writes: "I was born in 1947 and until I was seven years old I lived in an area that was savannah-like, … I first visited Somalia again about thirty years ago – the land that I had remembered as lush green savannah was total desert, with only huge sandstorms blowing." 5 In this and other texts there is also mention of overgrazing, deforestation, and production, even export, of charcoal, which surely contributed to desertification. Another Somali activist writes:

"Environmental issues play a key role in conflicts in Somaliland [the northern province of Somalia]. I would go as far as to say such issues play a daily role in conflict situations across Somaliland. Confrontations frequently occur over disputes over grazing lands, watering holes and land that has been sealed off by individuals for private use."5

It is therefore not very meaningful to point only at the foreign trawlers to explain the phenomenon of piracy on Somalia's coast.
    I have shown elsewhere5a how ecological degradation combined with population growth caused economic troubles, which in turn lent force to the popular revolts against oppressive and exploitative regimes (Egypt, Syria), and which, in Syria, ultimately led to the now over four years old civil war. In the meantime, some more information of this category has been made available by Agnès Sinai.6 Sinai, to quote just one example, writes about the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria:

"In northern Nigeria soil degradation has destroyed the traditional way of life of peasants and cowherds, and impaired the paths of nomads. Several hundred villages have been given up. It resulted in migratory movements that have destabilized the region. In this way the ground was prepared for the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram."

Unfortunately, Sinai failed to point out that, in the meantime, the population of Nigeria has been growing at the annual rate of 2.67% (2000) to 2.47% (2014), a typical omission of most publicists on the subject. Sinai concludes:

"The great crush of refugees at the borders of the prosperity-island of Europe will become stronger in the 21st century. For, at the time, at least as many people are fleeing the consequences of environmental destruction as from violence and wars."6

    In some cases, because in the popular media we hardly get any report on the state of the environment and resource base of the concerned country, it appears that the conflict there is only a power struggle between different religious and/or ethnic groups. Thus, to take another example, the current civil war in Yemen is often being depicted as a war between the Shia Huthis, the minority supported by Iran, and the Sunni majority supported by Saudi Arabia. In reality, however, the Huthis are fighting against the Sunni majority because they are not getting their fair share of power and resources. One also finds in the internet the following information: Between 2000 and 2008, Yemen's population grew at an annual rate of 3.36% to 3.46%. Then the rate started slightly falling. In 2014 the population was still growing at the rate of 2.72%. On the state of the environment we read: "Yemen's main environmental problems have long been scarcity of water, soil erosion, and desertification. Water pollution is a problem due to contaminates from the oil industry, untreated sewage, and salinization. Natural forests in mountainous areas have been destroyed by agricultural clearing and livestock overgrazing."
    This is, however, not to deny that the Shia-Sunni schism that took place in the 7th century A.D. plays a big role in the current conflicts in the Middle East. But it would probably not cause such severe conflicts if the material conditions of life had not been deteriorating. That may be the reason why in the oil-rich Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia – despite the existence of the Shia-Sunni divide – no violent conflict between the two sects has come up. Bahrain is the only exception.
    I do not want to end this section without mentioning the case of Rwanda, where an ethnic conflict led to a genocidal massacre (1994) and ended in a large refugee outflow. Asked why they are killing the others, although both ethnies worship the same Christian God and whose holy scripture demands of them: "… thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself", one participant replied: "In Africa, blood (ethnic loyalty) is thicker (more important) than faith". But that was certainly only the superficial cause. The real and deeper cause was ecological degradation and dwindling resource availability. On Rwanda's environmental situation we read:

“...Rwanda’s mountainous topography and growing human population have resulted in increasingly severe environmental degradation: soil erosion from cultivation of steep slopes; pollution and sedimentation of water sources; and loss of forests, protected areas, and biodiversity to new human settlements.”7

On population growth in Rwanda we read: "…the population had increased from 1.5 million in 1930 to 2.1 million in 1952, 3.6 million in 1970, 4.8 million in 1978 and 7.5 million in 1993. Another doubling to 15 million is expected to take place in the next 21 years." 8That means, in 1993, the population was growing at the rate of 3.1% per annum. And the population density of Rwanda amounted to 271 inhabitants per square Kilometer.8  After the civil war ended, a huge number of Hutus fled to the DR Congo when their ethnic enemies, the Tutsis, conquered power. The greater part of them has still not returned to Rwanda.

The Strength of Identity Feelings

Although defending existing prosperity gaps and/or striving for (more) prosperity are the main reasons why individuals and ruling and dominant groups exploit and oppress the others and the others revolt, there is no denying that on both sides there are people who also enjoy having power itself. So they may also fight for power for the sake of power, i.e. without thereby intending to increase or defend their prosperity. Then also groups not defined purely by economic interests but, e.g., by race, ethnicity, nation, language, religion, sect etc. may do that. All kinds of liberation struggles fall under this category. In reality, however, what one finds in most cases is a contingent mixture of several motivations.
    In the process, a strong group identity, a we-feeling, comes into play. Then the fighters may not (only) be fighting for advancing or defending their economic interests or against usurpers, exploiters or oppressors; they may (also) be hating and/or fighting against the others because they are in some way different. In this way, the oppressed and the exploited of one group may be fighting against the oppressed and the exploited of the others. Thus white racists in the USA and their militant groups (e.g. the Ku Klux Klan) hate, oppress and persecute the blacks not because the latter somehow threaten their economic interests, but because they are different, black. In India, Hindus and Muslims may fight against each other because they worship different gods in different kinds of temples. Similar is the case in Myanmar, where the Rohingyas – who are dark-skinned and are, moreover, Muslims – are hated and persecuted by the fair-skinned and Buddhist Burmese majority. The fight of Al Qaida, IS and Al-Nusra against the West can be understood as the fight of the "faithful" against the "infidels". In this sense, the civil wars in Syria and Iraq can also be declared as a Shia-versus-Sunni conflict. We can then say that many violent conflicts – on-going and of the past – at least partly owe(d) their origin or intensification to non-economic identity conflicts
Such conflicts often get fed by historical memories. The Shias cannot forget nor forgive the murder of their religious leader and his followers by the Sunnis in Kerbela in the 7th century AD. The Hindu-nationalists cannot forget that Hindu kings were defeated by and lost power to Muslim conquerors about one thousand years ago. The struggle of the Islamist Jihadists can also be seen as a process of taking revenge on the imperial West for the humiliations it inflicted upon the Muslims in the past. The Crusades have not been forgotten. That also may be one explanation for the persecution they are meting out to Christians, even Arab Christians. Such conflicts can be triggered off by the slightest provocation. The majority may then think of teaching the others a lesson, which then escalates into a big thing. Conflicts of this kind of origin too have often led to emigration of the underdogs or the defeated.
    Actually, this we versus the others feeling exists also among animals. Think of Chimpanzee groups. They do not allow any stranger from any other group to even approach the borders of their territory. Same is the case with street dog Groups in any Indian City. It belongs to our pristine biological inheritance. The gang wars in Los Angeles take place along borders of clearly divided territories. But in modern times, mostly, any identity group (we-group) is compelled to live in the same state with many other identity groups, thus together forming one mixed population without any group having an exclusive territory of its own. In such cases, identity groups are formed and conflicts break out on other lines, as enumerated above. 
    But in the process of our cultural evolution we humans have learnt to control this primitive feeling, though not fully. Success in controlling it and accepting the others in our community may have been aided by the fact that in advanced societies, human beings generally have more than one identity.9 A person can feel e.g. that she is a German and hence different from a Chinese. But she may also feel that she is a capitalist and hence make common cause with Chinese capitalists. So despite differences in nationality, there are international organizations of both capitalists and workers. Thus in the early 1990s, when xenophobic-racist attacks against Vietnamese immigrant workers were taking place in Eastern Germany, visitors from Japan, whom average Germans cannot distinguish from Vietnamese because of their similar looks, were advised to somehow mark themselves as Japanese. It was taken for granted that xenophobic-racist Germans would not attack Japanese visitors because they both belong to the First World.
    Such identity feelings become very strong, highly ingrained, almost indelible when they prove to be the only remaining means of mobilizing the masses against some perceived evil or injustice.10

Some Concluding Remarks
. What can be done?

Since even top politicians and thinkers of the EU and Germany are at their wits' end to solve the crisis, it may be tolerated that I make a few general remarks and suggest some policies.
    The Europeans, particularly Germans, are divided in their sentiments and feelings. The volunteers, the so-called"good people" ("Gutmenschen"), are doing their best to help people in dire need, practicing "a humanitarian culture", "a welcoming culture", and showing a "friendly face". These noble sentiments and practices are invaluable. They show that we can still hope for a future in which all humans will think they belong to one humanity. But there are still many hurdles to overcome and much work to be done to realize such a vision. In the meantime, we cannot ignore the fact that most humans cannot yet jettison their basic animal instincts. Every animal and every animal group tends to defend its territory and other "vital" interests. That is what the so-called "bad people" are doing. The truth is that more than a half of the Germans are afraid they are losing territory, some think, to a foreign "invading" army. But also the "good people" in Germany know, and they are increasingly saying so, that there is a limit to what they and their native country can do, that they cannot help all the poor people of the world.
    This limit is, firstly, a matter of material resources. Captains of the German economy and their representatives in politics and media, but also many standard economists, are saying that the German economy needs about half a million more workers, that the refugee-migrants constitute, so to speak, a demographic dividend, and that they can and should soon be integrated in this aging society. They are expecting a new economic boom as in the 1960s, because the new immigrant-workers would produce new wealth. They are asserting that the immediate costs of integrating them would be manageable, that, after all, Germany could bear the costs of integrating the whole population (17 million) of the former GDR etc.
    This is utter nonsense; nothing can be more misleading. They are talking as if they have never heard of the climate crisis, the general ecological crisis, and the contradiction between ecology and economy. Moreover, they are not mentioning that the East Germans did not come to join West Germany empty-handed like the refugee-migrants of today, that they brought along their fertile land, buildings, highly developed infrastructure and advanced knowledge and know-how of the people. Particularly Germans in the lower strata of society are fearing more intensive competition for low level jobs and affordable rented accommodation. Captains of industry are already demanding that exceptions to the minimum wage law be allowed.
    Secondly, even for modern humans living in an era of globalization there is a psychological limit to tolerance of foreigners in their forecourt. It is not for nothing that radical rightist parties are gaining ground in all EU countries. And thirdly, social scientists know that, in many areas of life, there is also a "social-critical limit", after crossing which a social organization begins malfunctioning. Today, the EU seems to have crossed several such limits.
    All these have led to tensions between the member nations of the EU as well as cracks within some of them, even within parties. Recently, Marine Le Pen, leader of the French radical rightist party Front National, characterized the liberal German policy on the current refugee-migrant crisis as a project to recruit cheap slave labor for the country's economy. Some time back, a Greek woman asked some young male Syrian refugee-migrants: "Why don't you go back and fight against the IS at home?" The foreign affairs minister of the newly elected Polish government recently asked a German TV reporter (in the general sense): Do you think we should send our soldiers to Syria while young men from there let themselves be housed and fed by Germans and drink coffee in a Berlin restaurant? The East-European member states of the EU have totally refused to accept any refugee in their country. The Hungarian Prime Minister said bluntly: "It is not our problem. It is the problem of the Germans."
    I leave it to the politicians and administrators of the EU and Germany to define their immediate tasks and perform them. It is they who have competence in that area. But I know what must and should be done in the middle and long term: (a) help stop population growth where it is still growing, (b) tell people, also in the rich countries, to curtail their material aspirations and consumption desires, (c) regulate capitalism, if you do not want to overthrow it, and control international trade and investment in order to force capitalists to act in socially and ecologically responsible manner, and (d) start, already now, a publicity campaign for these long-term goals and corresponding policies.
    Recently, the EU leaders have shown readiness to give African countries more financial aid in order to enable them to motivate their young citizens to stay in their native country. This is a commendable idea. But, firstly, the purpose of this aid should not be to bribe the leaders of the concerned countries and demand in exchange that they somehow hold back the would-be migrants. The aid should be used to reduce the prosperity gap, which can also be achieved by reducing the consumption level of e.g. the Germans. As long as the present huge gap remains, no amount of aid to poor African countries will help stop migration to Europe. The youth of Africa and other poor countries do not just want to have enough to eat. They also want to have the good things of life. Secondly, at least this new aid should be given with a condition attached, namely that it should be used for programs to stop further population growth. And finally, the people of the rich countries must give up their policy of extracting as much profit as possible from the poor countries. An African refugee-migrant told European journalists: "We are here because you are (were) in our countries"
     Let me stop here for today. Those who are more interested in this line of thinking may read my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices11, in which I have thoroughly discussed many of these and other related issues. It also appeared in German translation.12


If not otherwise stated, statistical and other data are from the internet.

1. The March is a movie that was aired by BBC One for "One World Week" in 1990. The plot concerns a charismatic Muslim leader from the Sudan who leads 250,000 Africans on a 3,000 miles (4,800 km) march towards Europe
with the slogan, "We are poor because you are rich."

The story is about an indefinite future in which, due to climate change, large parts of Africa have become uninhabitable and in Europe racial tensions have increased. What was in those days thought to be the future scenario has today unexpectedly become reality (Source for both passages:Wikipedia)
2. Twenty years ago, on 8 August 1991, several ships carrying approximately 15,000 Albanian migrants succeeded in entering the port of Bari, Italy. The Italian government’s response was harsh.  Most of the Albanians were detained in a sports stadium without adequate food, water, or access to bathrooms.  Italian authorities dropped supplies to the detained migrants by helicopter.  Within several weeks most of the migrants were deported to Albania.  Their harsh treatment was criticised by human rights organisations and the Pope, but was justified by the Italian government as necessary to deter further irregular migration from Albania. (Source Wikipedia)

3.Ceuta und Melilla: Europas Hightech-Festung in Afrika
Von Katharina Graça Peters

"The distance between Poverty and a new start is only a few meters: The Spanish exclaves Ceuta and Melilla are parts of Europe, but they are situated in Africa. Ever since, six years ago, refugees stormed the fences in large numbers, the two cities have shielded themselves off more strongly by means of high-tech equipment." (Source Wikipedia)
4. Ullrich, Otto (1979) Weltniveau – In der Sackgasse des Industriesystems. Berlin: Rotbuch.

5. Bandare, Shukhri Haji Ismail and Jibrell, Fatima (2015) "Women, Conflict and the Environment in Somali Society". In
Hawley, Jenny (ed.) (2015)Why Women Will Save the Planet. London: Zed Books. PP. 141, 144.

5a.Sarkar, Saral: The Tragedy of Lampedusa – What to Do?

6. Sinai, Agnès: "Verwüstung. – Wie der Klimawandel  Konflikte anheizt." In: Le Monde Diplomatiqe. September 2015. (This journal also has an English edition).

7. Thaxton, Melissa (february 2009) Integrating Population, Health, and Environment in Rwanda (Source Wikipedia) )

8. Diessenbacher, Hartmut (1998) Kriege der Zukunft – Die Bevölkerungsexplosion gefährdet den Frieden. Munich & Vienna: Carl Hanser. Pp 67-68.

9. See: Sen, Amartya (2006) Identity and Violence – The Illusion of Destiny. London: Penguin (Allen Lane)

10. See: Sarkar, Saral (2012)"The Power of the Religions and the Helplessness of the Leftists"

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

12. Sarkar, Saral (2001) Die Nachhaltige Gesellschaft – Eine kritische Analyse der Systemalternativen. Zürich: Rotpunkt (vergriffen), and Saarbrücken: SVH (as book on demand).

Friday 2 October 2015

The Environment of India's Silicon Valley Capital Bangalore - a few pictures


Dear friends,

On Mahatma Gandhi's birthday anniversary, I would not write too much. Just a quote. He wrote in 1928:

"The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [Britain] is keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts."

And, in a sort of corroboration, I offer a few pictures of India's Silicon Valley capital Bangalore. This is only a part of the price a Third World country pays for getting richer and getting more populous simultaneously. India's current population is roughly 1.3 billion.


Wednesday 2 September 2015

Root Causes of the Cleavages in the Ecological Left

Some time back, a political friend, who understands himself as an eco-anarchist but also sympathizes with eco-socialism, had a controversial discussion with an activist, who understands himself as an eco-socialist, on the question of the cleavages in the ecological left. My eco-anarchist friend requested me and some others to respond to the controversial discussion, which I gladly did because I thought at least the root causes of the cleavages must be understood if the latter cannot be overcome at present.
    They did not want me to give the links to their own original contributions written in the form of letters, arguing that they did not write them with sufficient care.
    I am publishing below my response to the controversy, putting down only a few points that are more important and ignoring the less important ones. The reader will easily understand which points made by the others I am referring to. They are colored red.


    There indeed are some cleavages in, generally speaking, the ecological left movement. That does not necessarily mean that any group is sectarian. The differences are genuine and they might be overcome through further thinking, reading, discussion, and joint activities. I have identified four root causes of the cleavages.

The Energy Question

I think the most primary root cause of the cleavages lies in different understandings of the energy problematique. If one is an optimist, if one believes like Ongerth that
100% renewables is not only achievable, but it’s also EASILY achievable, then why should one at all object to further economic growth and advocate a steady-state economy as Ongerth and his anarchist and socialist friends do? After all, then there would be no CO2 emission any more, and if some are allowed for any reason, that would be reabsorbed soon, would not hang on in the atmosphere. Then the problem of global warming would not exist any more! Then there would not be any environmental pollution at all, for, with cheap and abundant renewable energy, any waste can be easily recycled. Hermann Scheer, until his death the high priest of solar energy in Europe, wrote:

“For an inconceivably long time the sun will donate its energy to humans, animals, and plants. And it will do that so lavishly that it could satisfy even the most sumptuous energy needs of the worlds of humans, animals and plants experiencing drastic growth: [for] the sun supplies every year 15,000 times more energy than what the world population commercially consumes … .” (Scheer 1999: 66)1

    Then the resource problem would also be solved! Then we can get by without extracting a single molecule more. And we can then even have further economic growth (why remain stuck up in steady state at the present level?). Then why shouldn't all the poor people of the world also enjoy each, individually, a swimming pool, a sailboat, skis, a big house and other wasteful luxuries? Why not for all at least a car powered by renewable energy? Or powered by electricity drawn from hydrogen fuel cells? (If they want to use a car collectively, then not because it would not be possible to own and use a car individually and without damaging the environment!).
    But if the optimism of Ongerth, Scheer etc. are unfounded, then we must soon begin the process of economic contraction (one can call it so if one does not like the term de-growth because of its alleged association with reactionaries and white-supremacists.) Then, and only then, is an egalitarian or socialist policy the best way to achieve that contraction for the sake of saving the planet. And that is the compelling new argument for socialism in the 21st century. I hope Ongerth and his optimist friends will now notice the inner contradiction in their position.
    I think this optimism is based on nothing but so many illusions and misinformation. Ongerth has read one dozen books and 1000 articles on this subject. So may I suggest that he reads only a few more? : Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen's book The entropy Law and the Economic Process,2 especially his 1978 article, a very short one: "Technology Assessment: The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy".3 My own effort to understand and present the problematique is contained in my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?4 (Ch. 4, PP. 102 –139). The latest of my efforts to present the problem is contained in: "Krugman's Illusion: We Becoming Richer, But Not Damaging the Environment"5:
    Very important is to understand the following: (1) the difference between feasible and viable, (2) the entropy law6, (3) the difference between price (money cost) and energy cost, (4) the difference between energy production technologies and all other kinds of technologies, (5) the difference between gross energy and net energy (AKA energy balance, EROEI, and energy pay-back time).
    Examples and explanations of the above differences are given below: (1) It is feasible to put a few humans on the moon, but it is not viable to maintain a human colony there because of the enormous costs in terms of energy and materials. (2) The entropy law makes it impossible to recycle all waste. (3) The price (money cost) of solar cells (at the market) may fall for many reasons, but the energy cost thereof may rise at the same time. (4) When we want to fly by an airplane or have light in the evening, we may be prepared to pay any price (also in energy terms) for the flight/light. But if we want to produce energy (e.g. by using solar cells), then it does not make sense to incur more energy cost for manufacturing all the required equipment (by using energy from coal and oil which we are doing till today) than the total amount of energy produced. (5) It is at least very doubtful that the net energy coming from solar, wind and some other renewable energy technologies is high enough to maintain the industrial society as we know it. We cannot save the planet without drastically reducing our present standard of living. We only do not know by how much we must reduce it. Saving the planet should be our top priority, for our own sake, and not saving the average standard of living of First World workers.
    It is wrong to argue, as Ted Trainer does,
that renewables are likely to be unaffordable to run energy-intensive growth-capitalist-consumer society because of unaffordable capital costs required to maintain a constant energy supply using intermittent sources. That may at best be a secondary or tertiary argument. The transition from the energy system of the 17th and 18th centuries based on renewables (wood, fodder for draught animals, sundry biomass, wind and water mills) to the energy system based mainly on fossil fuels (plus a little hydropower) also involved enormous capital costs. Mankind could afford that, first the rich countries, then also the Third World countries. It of course took a long time and a lot of sacrifice to accumulate the necessary amount of capital, but it could be done. The question that must be answered now is why we (both Ted and I) think that this time the capital costs involved in the transition from today's energy system mainly based on fossil fuels to an energy system based wholly on renewable energies should be unaffordable. The answer lies in the concept of energy density (or energy content) and not so much on intermittency of the renewables. One Kilogram of coal or oil contains many times more energy than the same amount of wood etc. (for details of the argumentation see my 1999 book.) From the first named transition (from the renewables to the fossil sources), mankind came out richer. From the increased wealth, our forefathers could accumulate enough capital for completing the transition. But this time, from the transition from the fossil sources to the renewables (if that at all takes place, for which I am not seeing sufficient signs), mankind would come out poorer. That is why mankind would not be able to accumulate enough capital to build the second generation of renewable power plants that would have to be built as replacement for the worn out first generation thereof. But why should mankind come out poorer from the second named transition, should it take place?
    There has been a lot of dispute about the exact EROEI (or net energy or energy pay back time) of solar electricity, wind electricity etc. at different places and under different conditions. But nobody has till now asserted that e.g. one unit of sunshine (say, on one square meter of the earth's surface) contains as much or more energy than, say, one Kilogram of bituminous coal. Even a lay person perceives and knows that coal and oil are already highly concentrated solar energy, concentrated and stored by nature over several millions of years, whereas sunshine reaches the surface of the earth in weak and diffuse form and must first be collected and concentrated by us before we can use it as electricity. It is therefore easier and much less costly to collect and use fossil fuels than sunshine and wind. This common sense led India and China – both rich in sunshine and wind – to mainly use fossil fuels for energy rather than sunshine and wind. India has recently decided to double its coal production in the next five years.

2. Scientific and Technological progress

The second root cause of the cleavages lies in our expectations from science and technology. Almost all optimists (both socialists and pro-capitalists) believe that it is only a matter of a few decades more when 100% renewables will be achieved. Haven't we succeeded in overcoming gravity? Are we not talking with persons who live 20 000 miles away? Or think of the computer and internet! Particularly the computer has been cited by the optimists again and again. I saw the first IBM computers in the mid 1970s – three big cupboards and a one meter long key-board for punching holes in cards. After only ten years, I saw small table-top PCs in every office. In another five years, PCs had become so cheap that I could see, in Germany, a PC in almost every household. If all that has become possible, why shouldn't 100% renewables be possible?
    It is true, these achievements appear like miracles. Yet I am quite skeptical about 100% renewables. Flying by an airplane, landing on the moon, telephoning a friend who lives 20.000 miles away, computers etc. – all these achievements were possible only after we discovered and started using the fossil fuels, their immense amount of concentrated energy. But even these energy sources are going to be exhausted or become unaffordable, sooner or later. And their use must also be drastically curtailed for stopping further global warming.
    But, as Georgescu-Roegen (1978) argued, manufacture of all equipment from A to Z involved in generating renewable energies (from earth removers and foundry equipment to silicon wafers, rotors, turbines, reinforced concrete towers of windmills, copper wires etc. etc. etc.) require expenditure of large amounts of fossil fuels. That means, renewable energy technologies will only exist as long as fossil fuels remain cheap and abundant. That is, the former are parasites of the latter. 7
    In my youth, in the early fifties, I too was an optimist. I accepted the hope shared by many that progress in science and technology will one day also enable us to make the Sahara bloom, that nuclear energy will make electricity so cheap and abundant that it would not be worth the trouble to measure its consumption in individual households. Only much later did I realize that there are several things that are, of course, feasible but are not viable on a large scale. Thus I saw the first solar panel pumping water in the mid 1970s. Forty years later, today, unlike the computer, solar electricity still has not been able to make a breakthrough. It still needs state subsidies of various kinds.

3. The Population Problem

The third root cause of the cleavages lies in our respective stances on the population question. However much one may denigrate Malthus, Garret Hardin and Paul Ehrlich as reactionaries and anti-communists, the fact remains that a certain quantity of national (or world) income divided by a population of, say, 2 millions will yield half as much income per capita as when it is divided by a population of one million. This is true in any society, in a capitalist one or in a classless socialist one. Moreover, the allergic reaction of most leftists in North America and other rich or huge but sparsely populated countries to the population issue shows that they have not understood at all what ecology is about. Ecology is the study of the relation of a population to the (natural) resources available in its habitat. I am a socialist from my school days and I have lived in India for 46 years (current population 1.26 billion). Malthus was my first ecology teacher. From Paul Ehrlich I learnt, "Whatever your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth].".8 The more India and China (current population 1.4 billion) try to improve the standard of living of their populace, the more they degrade their environment. There indeed is a fundamental contradiction between ecology and economy, and not just between ecology and capitalism (what Marx, Marxists and old leftists have been trying to make us believe). If Ongerth is prepared to read another article, I would recommend him the following one of mine: "
Polemics is Useless  – A Proposal For An Eco-socialist Synthesis In The Overpopulation Dispute.9

4. The Agency Question

The fourth root cause lies in the question of faith or lack thereof in the revolutionary role of the working class. You know what Marx expected from the working class: that the workers of the whole world would unite for making the revolution. He thought they had nothing to lose but their chains, that they had no fatherland etc. etc. But already by 1914, on the eve of the First World War, these expectations proved to be utterly baseless. The workers of Europe could not unite, they showed that they were divided, and each group had a fatherland. They killed each other en masse. And already a decade or two earlier, The party of German workers, the SPD, had said that Germans as a Kulturvolk (people with culture) must also have colonies.10
    If one asks me who then would change the world, I cannot give a clear answer, but a vague answer might be what Erich Fromm said. Fromm said, in regard to this question, he recognized only two camps among humans, namely "
those who care and those who don’t care".11. I think my provisional and very vague answer would be: those who are concerned about the state of the world must take up this responsibility. They may come from any class, nation, race, religious group etc.
    Since I count all leftists (also a vague term) and environmentalists among those who are concerned, I would call upon them to unite on the basis of whatever agreements today exist and start the work of changing the world. We may at the same time continue to discuss our differences on analysis, goals and strategy in order to come to further agreements.


1. Scheer, Herrmann (1999) Solare Weltwirtschaft – Strategie für die ökologische Moderne. Munich.

2. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1971/1981) The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge. MA.
3. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1978) »Technology Assessment: The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy«. In: Atlantic Economic Journal, December 1978.

4. Sarkar, Saral (1999 ) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? London.

5. Sarkar, Saral (2014)
"Krugman's Illusion: We Becoming Richer, But Not Damaging the Environment":

6. There is a short presentation thereof in
Sarkar, Saral (2012) The Crises of Capitalism. Berkeley. PP. 286–290.

7. See Georgescu-Roegen (note 3).

8. Ehrlich, Paul, quoted in Weissman, Steve (1971) "Foreward", in
Meek, Ronald L. (ed.) (1971) Marx and Engels on the Population Bomb. Berkeley.

9. Sarkar, Saral (2012)

See Mandelbaum, Kurt (1974) Sozialdemokratie und Leninismus. Berlin.

11. Fromm, Erich (
1982) To Have or To Be. London. P. 191.

Saturday 8 August 2015

A Modern-day Classical Greek Tragedy -- a Contribution Toward Understanding The Greek Crisis

  The phrase "classical Greek tragedy" occurred to me several times during the current economic and political crisis in Greece and the European Union. It did not occur to me in the usual sense of the term "tragedy", i.e. in the sense of a sad failure with very bad consequences, but in the sense of classical Greek dramaturgy. The essence of the latter meaning is that the protagonists are entangled in a tragic situation, from which there is no escape, because it is their fate, which has been determined by the gods. No matter how much they try to evade their tragic fate, they fail. The very actions they undertake in that effort lead them to the tragic end. In the process, some innocent protagonists become victims of the guilt of others and themselves become guilty. Other innocent people become involved as causal factors in the tragedy. The best example of such a tragedy is the mythical story of Oedipus the King.1
    In this article I take it for granted that all my readers have been following in the media the details of the story of the current five years long crisis in Greece. So I shall limit myself to some analytical remarks on some aspects of the story, which lay bare some EU ideologies (in the sense of false consciousness) cherished by many EU citizens and some grand delusions (Lebenslügen) of the present-day Greeks. In the process it will become clear why the present tragic outcome of the whole story was inevitable, almost like destiny (fate) in classical Greek tragedy. Finally, I shall express some fundamental criticism of a few basic assumptions – comparable to articles of faith of a religion – of both the present-day economic system and the competing economic theories and ideologies that uphold it. Only then, I hope, we shall have a better understanding of the Greek crisis, and not only of the Greek crisis but of all crises of the modern world.2

Ideologies, Grand Delusions (Lebenslügen) and Misconceptions

Recently, during a popular German TV talk show, the moderator quoted an experienced Brussels correspondent (Mr. Krause) of the channel (ARD) who had said: "Actually, Greece is a Third World country that is living like an advanced industrial country." To this, the Greek participant in the talk show, Mr. Chondros, a member of the Central Committee of SYRIZA retorted angrily, and twice: "He is talking nonsense. Convey this opinion to him with my compliments." Later, he added that the Channel ARD was mostly spreading propaganda.
    Despite all my sympathies for the Greeks, I must say that the root cause of the current Greek crisis lies here. Greece is certainly not a Third World country. But it has never been as prosperous as, e.g., Germany. From 2002 onward, when Greece joined the Euro Zone, it got much easier terms for borrowing at the international financial market. Whereas previously it had to pay roughly 25 percent effective interest on its state bonds denominated in Drachma, after joining the Euro-Zone it had to pay only 5 percent on its bonds denominated in the highly valued and strong Euro. The difference of 20% was a net gain for the Greeks. But at the same time, the state, perhaps also Greek banks, businesses, and ordinary citizens then became strongly tempted to borrow more than what could be economically justified.
    And why shouldn't they have borrowed more? In standard economics borrowing is recommended for creating wealth and increasing income and prosperity. It is argued that an entrepreneur borrows money, invests it in some business, and makes profit. The state borrows, invests in infrastructure development or promotes industries, sometimes state-owned industries, and so the nation becomes prosperous. In both cases, the debt can be serviced or even fully repaid from the increased income.
    In this connection it must be said that all those who participated in the media discussions, including Greek economists, failed to say even once that Greece's current problems are not entirely of its own making. The Great Recession that began in 2007–2008, and from which also several other countries are still suffering, exacerbated the plight of the Greek economy which had already been weakened by the debt burden.
    Further below, I shall once more take up the economic causes of the present-day crisis in Greece. Here however it first needs to be remembered that the generation of politicians who had applied for and pushed Greece's entry in the Euro Zone had falsified the statistics on the basis of which the country was judged to have satisfied the criteria to become a member. That was the original sin, if you will, the consequences of which the young Greeks of today are bearing.
    Ever since January 2015, when the left party SYRIZA came to power, some of its spokespersons and supporters in the other European countries have been repeatedly saying that despite all the troubles Greece is giving the Euro Zone, the place of the country that taught Europe democracy is in Europe and not outside. It has also been reported that in 2001 the EU bosses knew that the statistics were false, but they thought they could not deny Plato the right to play in the first division.
    In 2001, Europe did not need to learn democracy from the present-day Greeks. The real reason why Greece wanted to be admitted to the Euro Zone were the economic advantages mentioned above. It is, moreover, dishonest to intentionally obfuscate the difference between the European Union and the Euro Zone. During the present crisis, nobody advised Greece to leave the EU. Only some courageous people, including some serious economists and the German finance minister Mr. Schäuble, said that it would be good for both the Greeks and the rest of the Euro Zone if Greece opted out of the Euro club for a few years. Exasperated at the continued obfuscation in the talk shows, a participant, namely Prof. Hans-Werner Sinn, cried out (in the general sense): but the Euro is only a currency; the Euro Zone is only a currency union and not an economic or political union based on values. A currency union cannot exist if all participants feel free to ignore the rules.
    This obfuscation may only have been a tactic, with which the Greeks intended to get better terms for the new credits or even debt forgiveness. And their left and green supporters in Western and Northern Europe perhaps only wanted to show that they value solidarity and sympathize with the suffering Greeks, while the conservatives, like Merkel and Schäuble, were merciless and wanted to punish the Greeks for having elected a left party to power. But neither Tsipras and SYRIZA nor their supporters could suggest any other middle-term solution of the problem than the obsolete Keynesian one: further borrowing and spending and waiting for the time when the economy would again start growing. I shall below come back to these questions of economic policy.
    After the referendum of 5th July, when 61.3 percent of the Greek voters said No to further austerity, leftists all over the world waxed eloquent about democracy. But neither before nor after the referendum did anybody know what Tsipras would do if the creditors remained stubborn and refused to give Greece what it wanted unless he agreed to their harsh conditions. Would he in that case lead Greece out of the Euro-Zone? This question, widely discussed outside Greece, was never discussed in Greece, at least not in public. The referendum was therefore no good example of democratic decision making.
    In other words, neither SYRIZA nor the Greek government had a plan B, for the majority of the Greeks simultaneously said No to further austerity and (in opinion polls) No to exit from the Euro Zone (Grexit). This question was a hot potato that no Greek politician dared to touch. Most No-voters simply imagined that the other 18 leaders of the Euro Zone would bow to the wish of the majority in a small member country.  Yanis Varoufakis, the then finance minister said (in the general sense): If you have a debt of only 30 million, you are weak, but if it is 300 million, you are strong. This was at best naivety, if not a delusion.
    After the overwhelming No vote to austerity, a few young Greeks said to TV journalists, they were very proud of Greece etc. But what exactly were they proud of? Some said they were proud because Greece demonstrated resistance in spite of the very bad situation. But can any people be proud at all, if they are so heavily indebted as the Greeks are, and can they call their No-vote resistance if through it they ask their Prime Minister to go with a begging bowl to the same hated rich creditors and beg for further debt forgiveness and easier repayment terms? They would have had reason to be proud if they had declared: we herewith end this debt-slavery, we exit from the Euro-Zone, and introduce our own new currency. But they didn't take this path.
    It is not correct to speak sweepingly of "the Greeks" and for that matter, of any people, e.g. "the Vietnamese". Like any society, Greek society too is divided into classes and interest groups. And particular political proposals are generally supported or rejected on the basis of personal and class interest in the given situation. During the hours long big demonstrations on the days before the referendum, political observers could easily find out that it was mainly young people, workers, students, the unemployed, and people with a low income who would vote No. These were the people who thought they had no future, had nothing more to lose, or things could not become any worse for them. The prospective Yes-voters were mostly teachers, multilingual intellectuals connected with Western.Europe, entrepreneurs, elderly people, pensioners, middle and upper middle class people, people with safe jobs, all of whom wanted to protect what they had.
    After winning the referendum, Tsipras went to Brussels in a fighting spirit. But on 13th July he returned with a worse deal than the one he was offered before and which he had asked his countrymen to reject in the referendum. He had to sign the worse deal, because he did not see any way out of the unsolvable dilemma he faced. In the words of Varoufakis, the Greeks
“were given a choice between being executed and capitulating. And he (Tsipras) decided that capitulation was the ultimate strategy… ”. So the SYRIZA leader, who had been celebrated on 25th January after winning the election, and again on 5th July, returned to Athens on 13th July as a defeated and humiliated general. After returning home, he said totally contradictory things: he did not believe the deal he accepted would save Greece; it would certainly cause more pain and further recession. But he had to sign it and, what is worse, he must also try to implement it, for “this deal secures for Greece conditions of financial stability, gives it opportunities for recovery”; he promised that after a period of suffering, there would be light. A truly tragic figure, an anti-hero.
    After this outcome, some of his radical critics called Tsipras a pseudo-leftist, accused him of betraying the people who had voted for him. This is rather unfair. To use another classical Greek imagery, he, as captain, had to steer his ship, the Greek nation, between Scylla and Charybdis.3 But unlike Odysseus, the hero of the epic Odyssee, who succeded in steering his ship out of the twin dangers with only moderate sacrifices,3 Tsipras has till now failed to achieve anything. Even the third debt relief packet, that the Euro-Zone bosses had dangled before him, may not materialize. Tsipras could not but fail. Why? I shall deal with this question further below.

The Pseudo European Idea and Its Pseudo Values

Before that, I must refer to another delusion. During the whole debate – both in Greece and the rest of the EU – there was a lot of talk about values and the European idea. Tsipras once said – that was, I think, a few days before his humiliating capitulation in Brussels –:"Europe is about democracy and solidarity". It was a mockery of the reality. For throughout the crisis period, many insults were hurled by both Greeks and Germans at each other (e.g. the Greeks want to steal money out of our pocket, lazy, corrupt Greeks. In Greece, many placards depicted Merkel and Schäuble as Nazis. The Greek government demanded reparation from the German state for the destructions and crimes of the German Nazis in the Second World War. etc. etc.)
    And note the angry tone and language of some Greek ministers. Already before the capitulation, Varoufakis had likened the negotiation positions and style of the creditors to "terrorism". After
the capitulation, energy minister Lafazanis said in a statement that the country’s creditors had “acted like cold-blooded blackmailers and economic assassins". Mr. Kammenos, the defence minister, angrily said: "They blackmailed the prime minister, … . This agreement is not close to our values."  He also characterized the deal as "a coup by Germany” and its allies. And in Germany, the opposition leaders, supporters of the SYRIZA government, accused Merkel and Schäuble of destroying the "great European idea".
    But the "great European Idea" and its "values" – democracy, solidarity, human rights etc. are just ideology, instances of make-believe, a veil to cover up the reality. In real life, when something becomes a success, or becomes attractive for whatever reason, many opportunists want to belong to that entity, be it a political party, a nation, a football club, or an identity. They either expect to get some material benefit by joining that entity or they want to bask in the glory or good reputation thereof. Thus, in recent German history, I could personally observe how, in the 1980s, hundreds of unsuccessful leftists and members of established parties streamed into the Green Party as soon as the latter scored some electoral success. There, many of them made a political career, became MP or even minister. But there were also people who simply wanted to enjoy the satisfaction of belonging to the avant-garde of environmentalists without themselves being one.
    Or take for example the young woman from Azerbaijan, whom I met sometime in the early 1990s at a youth conference in Germany. In her speech, she grumbled that her Azerbaijani money could not be exchanged anywhere in Western Europe. "How can we build up a united Europe", she said, "if we do not even accept each other's currency?" I was surprised. During a recess, I asked her: "You think Azerbaijan belongs to Europe? I thought it is a Muslim majority country in central Asia!" She replied: "Europe extends from the Atlantic to the Ural and the Caspian Sea." I had a similar doubt when, in the mid 1980s, Gorbachev started talking about "Our Common House Europe". At an international conference of the Green Party of Germany, of which I was a rather conspicuously brown and non-German member, I asked a senior delegate from the Soviet Union, Mr. Kolontai, a Russian, whether he could imagine that also the Kazaks, the Uzbeks, the Turkmens etc. – in those days citizens of the Soviet Union – would also live in that "our common house Europe". Mr. Kolontai hesitated a little before answering: Yes.
    So far as Gorbachev's motive behind the idea was concerned, it was certainly not opportunistic. But today we see how hollow this idea in reality is. Not even all citizens of all the member countries of the EU are treated equally everywhere in the EU, e.g. the Romas and Sintis. When e.g. unemployed Romanians and Bulgarians travel to Germany, German officials suspect them of trying to exploit their more generous social welfare system. To take another example, when recently the EU Commission tried to fairly distribute the burden of accommodating the tens of thousands of refugees among all EU member countries, some flatly refused to accept any. They insisted on the original agreement that the burden of accommodating refugees will have to be borne by those EU member countries where the refugees first arrive. Mr. Rentsi, the prime minister of Italy, that is bearing the heaviest burden of this kind, was so angry after the failure of the deliberations that he openly said in the direction of the refusing countries: "If this is your EU solidarity, then you can keep it." The second heaviest refugee burden is being borne, of all EU countries, by the most crisis-ridden Greece. Here too no solidarity. But, in spite of the no-bail-out clause in the Euro Zone treaty, member countries showed a lot of solidarity, at least in the beginning, with Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland when the issue was saving the Euro. After all, it was also their currency that was in danger, whereas the poor foreign refugees were only burdens. So much for solidarity and values. Crisis times are testing times. Against the background of and due to the economic crisis, this good image of the EU, which was false from the very beginning, is now rapidly unraveling. It is doubtful that in future the EU and the Euro Zone would remain as they are today. For some time now, ideas are circulating which want to see the EU divided into two groups: the Protestant-Calvinistic North EU and the Catholic South EU, EU of "two speeds", the economically strong countries and the economically weak ones.
    To come back to the Greek crisis,
Time and again, critics of the SYRIZA government pointed out that it is impossible for anybody to demand that poorer EU countries like e.g. Slovakia and Estonia – where the average wage, average pension and average social welfare benefits are lower than those in Greece – should also give surety for the huge credits already given to Greece and new credits that Greece was demanding. To this, the above-mentioned Mr. Chondros once replied: (in the general sense) the ideal of the EU is not to bring about equality among member countries by pushing down the standard of living of the different peoples to the level of Slovakia, Estonia etc., but by raising the standard of living of the poorer member countries to the level of Greece and then further to higher levels.
    It seems to me that Mr. Chondros and all the leftists of the EU do not know what the EU in fact is and what it is not. It is not a union of socialist republics, it is only a union of unequal countries, where neo-liberal capitalism, free market economy, and competition prevail. In fact, the rules of the EU and the Euro Zone do not even allow bailing out a member country that is in danger of going bankrupt. The reason why the Euro Zone leaders tried to save Greece was not sympathy, solidarity etc., but the certainty that Grexit would entail loss of trust at the international financial market in the solidity of the Euro. In reality, they wanted to save the Euro, not Greece.
    And secondly, they did not want to let Greece get out for geopolitical reasons. Most EU members are also NATO members. And Greece lies in a strategically important area, very close to the Balkan states, the Ukraine, Turkey and the Bosporus Straight through which Russian war ships pass on their way to and from the Mediterranean Sea. This argument was openly articulated by Mr. Röttgen, the foreign policy spokesperson of the German ruling party CDU. It is no secret that geopolitical considerations had been the force behind the creation of the EU and the currency union. (a) Without the EU, every European country would be too small – in comparison to the USA, USSR, and later China – to have sufficient weight in world politics; (b) and it is well known that the then French President Mitterrand pushed the idea of the common currency Euro, because the French were afraid of Germany again becoming the hegemonic power in Europe.

Wrong-headed economic policy

A capitulation is not per se reprehensible. And no capitulator is ipso facto a traitor. When the German generals capitulated on 8th May 1945, it was, in the given situation, the best thing to do to serve the German people. Justifying his capitulation, Tsipras said in his speech in the Parliament: he himself did not believe this deal would solve the problems of Greece. If anybody knew a better solution, he should come and tell him what he should do. But his question was a bit unclear: What should he do to solve which problem or to satisfactorily perform which task? Was it (a) to immediately prevent the impending disaster, i.e. avert state bankruptcy and Grexit, and somehow getting the banks reopened and functioning again? Or was it (b) to overcome the economic crisis in the middle and long term?
    I do not know whether any Greek MP came forward that night to present a better solution. But, in fact, already before Tsipras signed the humiliating deal, some serious economists outside the political class of Greece had made two convincing proposals for addressing these tasks: (1) The govt. could have immediately introduced a New Drachma as a parallel currency. Euro would have remained in circulation for foreign trade. And the Greek government would have had the sovereign right to issue the New Drachma. This solution would not have had the immediate negative effects of a formal Grexit. In fact, there is a precedent for this policy, viz. Argentina in the crisis of 2001. (2) The govt. could have formally declared Greece's bankruptcy and the country's exit from the Euro-Zone, what many German economists, and Schäuble, advised them to do. The other members of the Euro Zone would have helped them in making a smooth transition to the New Drachma. And the creditors would have been compelled to agree to grant Greece substantial debt forgiveness.
    In both cases the New Drachma would have been a weak currency suffering more or less rapid devaluation. It would have led to inflation by making imported goods dearer for those who would receive their income only in the new Drachma. But the weak New Drachma would also have had the advantage of attracting investors and buyers from outside and promoting exports and thus also export industries. In the short term, of course, there would be no advantage only more pain. Particularly the standard of living would continue to fall, while the advantages would have taken some time to come.
    But Tsipras, also SYRIZA, had already rejected both options. Obviously, the majority of the Greeks thought they could not bear the pain any longer, did not want to make any experiment, and opted for the continuation of their debt-servitude – not a sign of a proud people. Only a few said, as far as I could gather, they would prefer to be independent again with a new national currency and were prepared to pay the price for that. What I found so bad in this story was that all the leftists collected in the SYRIZA – including ex-communist Tsipras – had not told the Greek public the truth about their situation. They had sold illusions just to win the general election. Even after winning the election, they did not at all prepare the voters for independence. So they had to capitulate. I have shown in a previous article in this blog4 that even the Vietnamese communists had to capitulate to the capitalists and imperialists soon after defeating the latter on the battlefield. And Tsipras and SYRIZA did not have even a fraction of the real power in Greece that the Vietnamese communists had in Vietnam after 1975.

Bankrupt economic theories

However, it may also be that they were misled by false economic theories. Till now, I have not come across any prominent standard economist from any school of thought who has not given the Greeks the (false) hope that the Greek economy can again grow and the Greek people again prosper. They all have projected for Greece the same perspective: export-led growth. They have only debated about the best path to growth. The economic advisers of the SYRIZA government must have been Neo-Keynesians (like Krugman, Stieglitz, Sachs, Flassbeck and Co.). They roughly said that it was only the austerity policies of Merkel, Schäuble and the sundry supply-side economists (Sinn, Fuest, Schuknecht, for instance), that were responsible for their misery as well as that of the whole Euro Zone, that not only Greece, but also the whole EU could return to the growth path, if they would (were allowed to) spend more on investments and/or stop cutting the incomes and social welfare benefits/services of/for the common people. None of them, however, answered the question how and from where Greece would get the funds for new investments if nobody was prepared to give them more new credits, even if the creditors would write off all its debts.
    And the neo-liberal supply-siders, who nowadays dominate economic policy everywhere, also in Brussels and Berlin, went on repeating their Mantra, which are well known: Greece must implement radical reforms: i.e. cut costs of production by reducing wages and deregulating the labor market, i.e. reducing the rights of workers and their trades unions; Greece must reduce pensions and rights of pensioners, must privatize state enterprises etc. They also advised Greece to increase the tax rate – not for the personal income tax or the corporation tax, but only for the value added tax, that everybody has to indirectly pay and by which the poor are more affected than the rich. Only this way, they asserted, could Greece again become attractive for investors and competitive in the world market, and only this way could its economy come back to the growth path.
    There are several common points between the views of the devaluationists (let us call them so), i.e. those who were advocating a Grexit, and those of the supply-siders. But the former also argued politically: If the SYRIZA government, for political reasons, cannot themselves impose more austerity on the people, then they should accept the demands for and proposals of their exit out of the Euro Zone. For in this case they can blame the Germans and the world market for the fall in the exchange rate of their new currency. They opined that for countries in a situation like that of today's Greece, devaluation is the only path left to achieve growth. I too would advise the Greeks to take this path, not because I think it would enable the Greek economy to come back to the growth path, but because it would enable the Greek people to free themselves from the shame of debt-servitude of the past five years and regain their independence and dignity.
    Whatever path the Greeks may choose to take, their economy would not experience any growth in the near future. When Germany was experiencing a long stagnation at the beginning of the present century, supply-siders were saying that unit costs of German products were too high because wages and social welfare benefits in Germany were too high. Lafontaine, a former leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) replied to that view (in the general sense) that in the matter of wages, Germany cannot compete with China in the race to the bottom. So, Germans must concentrate their efforts on high-tech and sophisticated industrial products like machines, cars etc.
    Greece too, with its average wage of about 15 Euro per hour cannot compete with other EU and non-EU countries in the same region, where the average wage ranges between 4 and 5 Euro per hour. And it cannot compete with, e.g., Germany, not even with France and the UK, in the matter of high-tech and sophisticated products or international finance. Low-tech goods are being produced in China etc. Ordinary products like shoes garments etc. have long ago been out-sourced into really Third World countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia etc. And even if a Greek government in the near future succeeds in making the economy competitive by implementing the recommendations of the supply-siders in Brussels and Berlin, where will it find the markets that are not already being supplied by its competitors? It can at most with great effort win a share of the world market in cheap products. That will, to be sure, create some low wage jobs for the Greeks and profit for foreign investors. But Greece will not become a prosperous country again.
    There are three fundamental flaws in all the economic theories that were represented in the media discussions: (1) their age-old basic assumption that unlimited economic growth is possible, as if they have never heard of limits to growth –; (2) their ignoring the fact that at the present level of world GDP, any further economic growth can only come at the price of severe, partly irreversible, environmental destruction that might outweigh all benefit that might accrue from the growth; and (3) their basic assumption that capitalist free market economy and competition are together the best way to make the peoples of all countries more and more prosperous.
    But since there indeed are limits to growth in the finite world, it is not possible that all peoples of the world can continuously prosper. I think in the middle of the previous decade (around 2007) a new era in the economic history of mankind has begun. It can be called the era of limits to growth and secular stagnation (sluggish growth, falling growth rates). In parts of the world one can even observe economic contraction. Some countries of the EU are examples of this thesis: Greece is only the clearest one. Signs of this change are not clearly discernible yet, because always, there are some economies that are growing and will grow for some time, and there are always some people who are prospering. But they are growing/prospering at the expense of others and at the price of continuous ecological destruction. It has now become a zero-sum game. This is quite evident, even among and within the rich countries. Just a few years ago, Ms. Lagard, then the French finance minister, held against Germany that its economy was growing at the expense of those of France and other EU countries. She said that Germany was purposely keeping the wages low compared to the productivity of its economy. And in countries like the USA, the income of a small stratum at the top (the 1%) is increasing rapidly while the middle class is shrinking.
    Even some neo-Keynesians have realized this. One of them, Heiner Flassbeck, rejected the view that Greece can come out of the morass by improving its competitiveness through introducing and devaluing a new currency. He argued that this way Greece can for a short time become competitive, but only at the expense of the other nations that will not have devalued their currency; and these would subsequently also devalue their currency in order to recover their competitiveness. Competitive devaluation is a beggar-thy neighbor policy, which was largely responsible for deepening the Great Depression of the 1930s.
    In sum, as Res Strehle wrote two decades ago,

“In the future, supply-side economic policies and demand-oriented Keynesianism will alternate in the major economic centers like fashion trends. They may even be synthesized, because, alone, both have only a limited ability to avert capitalist crises: supply-side economic policies increase the degree of exploitation and thus attract investors; demand-oriented Keynesianism prevents a drop in mass purchasing power, but scares off investors. Keynesianism will only then finally come out of fashion when the interest payments on growing public debts cannot be financed any longer.” 5

This exactly is the situation in Greece for the last few years.

Conclusion, and Prospects for the European Left

All that means, however much Greece may try and whichever economic policy it might pursue, there is little chance that its economy would recover up to the prosperity level of 2007. That means, there is no escape from austerity; austerity, more or less, is unavoidable. But it is not a bad thing, it is even necessary, in both economic and political interest of the Greek people as well as in the interest of the natural environment of Greece and the world. However, the pains and burdens thereof can be shared equally or unequally. Guarantying that these are shared equally or at least "fairly" is not possible without regulating the economy and a great degree of planning. That exactly is the task of a left government today. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the new Spanish left party Podemos, of course expressed his disappointment at the deal that Tsipras had to accept on 13th July. But he also heaved a sigh of relief on noting that Merkel, Schäuble, and the Troika hawks failed in their objective, namely the overthrow of the [leftist] Greek government.
    It is wonderful that in January 2015 the Greeks voted a left party into power. It was not just a protest vote, not just done in desperation. It seems a large section of the Greek people has realized that capitalism is the problem. That is why, in the years and months before this election, in many demonstrations, one could see placards and banners carrying anti-capitalist slogans. That was the case not only in Greece, but also in the other crisis-ridden countries of Europe. But in truth, capitalism is only one half of the problem. The other half is that there are limits to growth. It does not look as if the European Left (including SYRIZA and Podemos) has realized this. They are still talking of solving the problems of their people through economic growth.
    But it is possible that they will come into contact with those who are propagating ideas like de-growth, post-growth economy, sustainable society, solidarity-based economy, eco-socialism etc. If that happens, and if they could be convinced of the correctness of these ideas, they may take steps toward realizing them. After all, they now have some political power.
    The first step could be to end the madness that Greeks import 60 percent of what they eat, e.g. Dutch tomato. They could emulate the Dutch and use bicycles rather than cars and buses for local transportation etc. etc.6 Both tomatoes and bicycles could be produced in Greece, thus also creating more employment in the country. These changes would require government action. That would certainly give rise to conflict with the EU watchdogs of a neo-liberal free market economy. That could be the beginning of Greece's latest independence struggle and transition to an eco-socialist society. If all these things happen, then the present crisis may after all have the effect of a catharsis7. The story may then have an happy end.



1. In this story, King Laius, father of Oedipus, had committed the original sin of trying to sexually seduce a boy, son of another king, who was his friend. The oracle of Delphi prophesied that as punishment for this sin Laius would be killed by his own son who would then marry his widow (mother of his son). In the end, this also happened without any of the protagonists (other than Laius) having knowingly done anything wrong. What is more, through this incestuous relationship with his mother, Oedipus also fathered two children, who were also his siblings.

2. I have expressed this criticism in detail in my book The Crises of Capitalism (Berkeley, 2012, Counterpoint), and in the brochure Understanding the Present-day World Economic Crisis – An Eco-socialist Approach.

3.  Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters noted by Homer; Greek mythology sited them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was rationalized as a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as a sea hazard located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer, Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.

4. Victorious in War But Defeated in Peace -- How Development-Socialism Ended in Capitalism

5. Strehle, Res (1994) Wenn die Netze reißen: Marktwirtschaft auf freier Wildbahn. Zurich:Rotpunkt.

6. Cuba adopted a policy like this when, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, they could no longer get cheap (because subsidized) oil from their former allies.

7. Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body. (from Wikipedia, English)