Yanis Varoufakis: Marx predicted our present crisis – and points the way out

The Communist Manifesto foresaw the predatory and polarised global capitalism of the 21st century. But Marx and Engels also showed us that we have the power to create a better world. By 

For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.

No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.

As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”

For Marx and Engels’ immediate readership, this was not an academic dilemma, debated in the salons of Europe. Their manifesto was a call to action, and heeding this spectre’s invocation often meant persecution, or, in some cases, lengthy imprisonment. Today, a similar dilemma faces young people: conform to an established order that is crumbling and incapable of reproducing itself, or oppose it, at considerable personal cost, in search of new ways of working, playing and living together? Even though communist parties have disappeared almost entirely from the political scene, the spirit of communism driving the manifesto is proving hard to silence.

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. But to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century-and-a-half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. And yet Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing-all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Of course, the predictive failure of The Communist Manifesto has long been exaggerated. I remember how even leftwing economists in the early 1970s challenged the pivotal manifesto prediction that capital would “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. Drawing upon the sad reality of what were then called third world countries, they argued that capital had lost its fizz well before expanding beyond its “metropolis” in Europe, America and Japan.

Empirically they were correct: European, US and Japanese multinational corporations operating in the “peripheries” of Africa, Asia and Latin America were confining themselves to the role of colonial resource extractors and failing to spread capitalism there. Instead of imbuing these countries with capitalist development (drawing “all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation”), they argued that foreign capital was reproducing the development of underdevelopment in the third world. It was as if the manifesto had placed too much faith in capital’s ability to spread into every nook and cranny. Most economists, including those sympathetic to Marx, doubted the manifesto’s prediction that “exploitation of the world-market” would give “a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country”.

As it turned out, the manifesto was right, albeit belatedly. It would take the collapse of the Soviet Union and the insertion of two billion Chinese and Indian workers into the capitalist labour market for its prediction to be vindicated. Indeed, for capital to globalise fully, the regimes that pledged allegiance to the manifesto had first to be torn asunder. Has history ever procured a more delicious irony?

Anyone reading the manifesto today will be surprised to discover a picture of a world much like our own, teetering fearfully on the edge of technological innovation. In the manifesto’s time, it was the steam engine that posed the greatest challenge to the rhythms and routines of feudal life. The peasantry were swept into the cogs and wheels of this machinery and a new class of masters, the factory owners and the merchants, usurped the landed gentry’s control over society. Now, it is artificial intelligence and automation that loom as disruptive threats, promising to sweep away “all fixed, fast-frozen relations”. “Constantly revolutionising … instruments of production,” the manifesto proclaims, transform “the whole relations of society”, bringing about “constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation”.

For Marx and Engels, however, this disruption is to be celebrated. It acts as a catalyst for the final push humanity needs to do away with our remaining prejudices that underpin the great divide between those who own the machines and those who design, operate and work with them. “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned,” they write in the manifesto of technology’s effect, “and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind”. By ruthlessly vaporising our preconceptions and false certainties, technological change is forcing us, kicking and screaming, to face up to how pathetic our relations with one another are.

Today, we see this reckoning in millions of words, in print and online, used to debate globalisation’s discontents. While celebrating how globalisation has shifted billions from abject poverty to relative poverty, venerable western newspapers, Hollywood personalities, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, bishops and even multibillionaire financiers all lament some of its less desirable ramifications: unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.

None of this should surprise a reader of the manifesto. “Society as a whole,” it argues, “is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine-owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. As for the middle class, it is the dinosaur in the room, set for extinction.

At the same time, the ultra-rich become guilt-ridden and stressed as they watch everyone else’s lives sink into the precariousness of insecure wage-slavery. Marx and Engels foresaw that this supremely powerful minority would eventually prove “unfit to rule” over such polarised societies, because they would not be in a position to guarantee the wage-slaves a reliable existence. Barricaded in their gated communities, they find themselves consumed by anxiety and incapable of enjoying their riches. Some of them, those smart enough to realise their true long-term self-interest, recognise the welfare state as the best available insurance policy. But alas, explains the manifesto, as a social class, it will be in their nature to skimp on the insurance premium, and they will work tirelessly to avoid paying the requisite taxes.

Is this not what has transpired? The ultra-rich are an insecure, permanently disgruntled clique, constantly in and out of detox clinics, relentlessly seeking solace from psychics, shrinks and entrepreneurial gurus. Meanwhile, everyone else struggles to put food on the table, pay tuition fees, juggle one credit card for another or fight depression. We act as if our lives are carefree, claiming to like what we do and do what we like. Yet in reality, we cry ourselves to sleep.

Do-gooders, establishment politicians and recovering academic economists all respond to this predicament in the same way, issuing fiery condemnations of the symptoms (income inequality) while ignoring the causes (exploitation resulting from the unequal property rights over machines, land, resources). Is it any wonder we are at an impasse, wallowing in hopelessness that only serves the populists seeking to court the worst instincts of the masses?

With the rapid rise of advanced technology, we are brought closer to the moment when we must decide how to relate to each other in a rational, civilised manner. We can no longer hide behind the inevitability of work and the oppressive social norms it necessitates. The manifesto gives its 21st-century reader an opportunity to see through this mess and to recognise what needs to be done so that the majority can escape from discontent into new social arrangements in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. Even though it contains no roadmap of how to get there, the manifesto remains a source of hope not to be dismissed.

If the manifesto holds the same power to excite, enthuse and shame us that it did in 1848, it is because the struggle between social classes is as old as time itself. Marx and Engels summed this up in 13 audacious words: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

From feudal aristocracies to industrialised empires, the engine of history has always been the conflict between constantly revolutionising technologies and prevailing class conventions. With each disruption of society’s technology, the conflict between us changes form. Old classes die out and eventually only two remain standing: the class that owns everything and the class that owns nothing – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

This is the predicament in which we find ourselves today. While we owe capitalism for having reduced all class distinctions to the gulf between owners and non-owners, Marx and Engels want us to realise that capitalism is insufficiently evolved to survive the technologies it spawns. It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources. Now, when new technologies are unleashed in societies bound by the primitive labour contract, wholesale misery follows. In the manifesto’s unforgettable words: “A society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”

The sorcerer will always imagine that their apps, search engines, robots and genetically engineered seeds will bring wealth and happiness to all. But, once released into societies divided between wage labourers and owners, these technological marvels will push wages and prices to levels that create low profits for most businesses. It is only big tech, big pharma and the few corporations that command exceptionally large political and economic power over us that truly benefit. If we continue to subscribe to labour contracts between employer and employee, then private property rights will govern and drive capital to inhuman ends. Only by abolishing private ownership of the instruments of mass production and replacing it with a new type of common ownership that works in sync with new technologies, will we lessen inequality and find collective happiness.

According to Marx and Engels’ 13-word theory of history, the current stand-off between worker and owner has always been guaranteed. “Equally inevitable,” the manifesto states, is the bourgeoisie’s “fall and the victory of the proletariat”. So far, history has not fulfilled this prediction, but critics forget that the manifesto, like any worthy piece of propaganda, presents hope in the form of certainty. Just as Lord Nelson rallied his troops before the Battle of Trafalgar by announcing that England “expected” them to do their duty (even if he had grave doubts that they would), the manifesto bestows upon the proletariat the expectation that they will do their duty to themselves, inspiring them to unite and liberate one another from the bonds of wage-slavery.

Will they? On current form, it seems unlikely. But, then again, we had to wait for globalisation to appear in the 1990s before the manifesto’s estimation of capital’s potential could be fully vindicated. Might it not be that the new global, increasingly precarious proletariat needs more time before it can play the historic role the manifesto anticipated? While the jury is still out, Marx and Engels tell us that, if we fear the rhetoric of revolution, or try to distract ourselves from our duty to one another, we will find ourselves caught in a vertiginous spiral in which capital saturates and bleaches the human spirit. The only thing we can be certain of, according to the manifesto, is that unless capital is socialised we are in for dystopic developments.


On the topic of dystopia, the sceptical reader will perk up: what of the manifesto’s own complicity in legitimising authoritarian regimes and steeling the spirit of gulag guards? Instead of responding defensively, pointing out that no one blames Adam Smith for the excesses of Wall Street, or the New Testament for the Spanish Inquisition, we can speculate how the authors of the manifesto might have answered this charge. I believe that, with the benefit of hindsight, Marx and Engels would confess to an important error in their analysis: insufficient reflexivity. This is to say that they failed to give sufficient thought, and kept a judicious silence, over the impact their own analysis would have on the world they were analysing.

The manifesto told a powerful story in uncompromising language, intended to stir readers from their apathy. What Marx and Engels failed to foresee was that powerful, prescriptive texts have a tendency to procure disciples, believers – a priesthood, even – and that this faithful might use the power bestowed upon them by the manifesto to their own advantage. With it, they might abuse other comrades, build their own power base, gain positions of influence, bed impressionable students, take control of the politburo and imprison anyone who resists them.

Similarly, Marx and Engels failed to estimate the impact of their writing on capitalism itself. To the extent that the manifesto helped fashion the Soviet Union, its eastern European satellites, Castro’s Cuba, Tito’s Yugoslavia and several social democratic governments in the west, would these developments not cause a chain reaction that would frustrate the manifesto’s predictions and analysis? After the Russian revolution and then the second world war, the fear of communism forced capitalist regimes to embrace pension schemes, national health services, even the idea of making the rich pay for poor and petit bourgeois students to attend purpose-built liberal universities. Meanwhile, rabid hostility to the Soviet Union stirred up paranoia and created a climate of fear that proved particularly fertile for figures such as Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.

I believe that Marx and Engels would have regretted not anticipating the manifesto’s impact on the communist parties it foreshadowed. They would be kicking themselves that they overlooked the kind of dialectic they loved to analyse: how workers’ states would become increasingly totalitarian in their response to capitalist state aggression, and how, in their response to the fear of communism, these capitalist states would grow increasingly civilised.

Blessed, of course, are the authors whose errors result from the power of their words. Even more blessed are those whose errors are self-correcting. In our present day, the workers’ states inspired by the manifesto are almost gone, and the communist parties disbanded or in disarray. Liberated from competition with regimes inspired by the manifesto, globalised capitalism is behaving as if it is determined to create a world best explained by the manifesto.


What makes the manifesto truly inspiring today is its recommendation for us in the here and now, in a world where our lives are being constantly shaped by what Marx described in his earlier Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts as “a universal energy which breaks every limit and every bond and posits itself as the only policy, the only universality, the only limit and the only bond”. From Uber drivers and finance ministers to banking executives and the wretchedly poor, we can all be excused for feeling overwhelmed by this “energy”. Capitalism’s reach is so pervasive it can sometimes seem impossible to imagine a world without it. It is only a small step from feelings of impotence to falling victim to the assertion there is no alternative. But, astonishingly (claims the manifesto), it is precisely when we are about to succumb to this idea that alternatives abound.

What we don’t need at this juncture are sermons on the injustice of it all, denunciations of rising inequality or vigils for our vanishing democratic sovereignty. Nor should we stomach desperate acts of regressive escapism: the cry to return to some pre-modern, pre-technological state where we can cling to the bosom of nationalism. What the manifesto promotes in moments of doubt and submission is a clear-headed, objective assessment of capitalism and its ills, seen through the cold, hard light of rationality.

The manifesto argues that the problem with capitalism is not that it produces too much technology, or that it is unfair. Capitalism’s problem is that it is irrational. Capital’s success at spreading its reach via accumulation for accumulation’s sake is causing human workers to work like machines for a pittance, while the robots are programmed to produce stuff that the workers can no longer afford and the robots do not need. Capital fails to make rational use of the brilliant machines it engenders, condemning whole generations to deprivation, a decrepit environment, underemployment and zero real leisure from the pursuit of employment and general survival. Even capitalists are turned into angst-ridden automatons. They live in permanent fear that unless they commodify their fellow humans, they will cease to be capitalists – joining the desolate ranks of the expanding precariat-proletariat.

If capitalism appears unjust it is because it enslaves everyone, rich and poor, wasting human and natural resources. The same “production line” that pumps out untold wealth also produces deep unhappiness and discontent on an industrial scale. So, our first task – according to the manifesto – is to recognise the tendency of this all-conquering “energy” to undermine itself.

When asked by journalists who or what is the greatest threat to capitalism today, I defy their expectations by answering: capital! Of course, this is an idea I have been plagiarising for decades from the manifesto. Given that it is neither possible nor desirable to annul capitalism’s “energy”, the trick is to help speed up capital’s development (so that it burns up like a meteor rushing through the atmosphere) while, on the other hand, resisting (through rational, collective action) its tendency to steamroller our human spirit. In short, the manifesto’s recommendation is that we push capital to its limits while limiting its consequences and preparing for its socialisation.

We need more robots, better solar panels, instant communication and sophisticated green transport networks. But equally, we need to organise politically to defend the weak, empower the many and prepare the ground for reversing the absurdities of capitalism. In practical terms, this means treating the idea that there is no alternative with the contempt it deserves while rejecting all calls for a “return” to a less modernised existence. There was nothing ethical about life under earlier forms of capitalism. TV shows that massively invest in calculated nostalgia, such as Downton Abbey, should make us glad to live when we do. At the same time, they might also encourage us to floor the accelerator of change.


The manifesto is one of those emotive texts that speak to each of us differently at different times, reflecting our own circumstances. Some years ago, I called myself an erratic, libertarian Marxist and I was roundly disparaged by non-Marxists and Marxists alike. Soon after, I found myself thrust into a political position of some prominence, during a period of intense conflict between the then Greek government and some of capitalism’s most powerful agents. Rereading the manifesto for the purposes of writing this introduction has been a little like inviting the ghosts of Marx and Engels to yell a mixture of censure and support in my ear.

Adults in the Room, my memoir of the time I served as Greece’s finance minister in 2015, tells the story of how the Greek spring was crushed via a combination of brute force (on the part of Greece’s creditors) and a divided front within my own government. It is as honest and accurate as I could make it. Seen from the perspective of the manifesto, however, the true historical agents were confined to cameo appearances or to the role of quasi-passive victims. “Where is the proletariat in your story?” I can almost hear Marx and Engels screaming at me now. “Should they not be the ones confronting capitalism’s most powerful, with you supporting from the sidelines?”

Thankfully, rereading the manifesto has offered some solace too, endorsing my view of it as a liberal text – a libertarian one, even. Where the manifesto lambasts bourgeois-liberal virtues, it does so because of its dedication and even love for them. Liberty happiness, autonomy, individuality, spirituality, self-guided development are ideals that Marx and Engels valued above everything else. If they are angry with the bourgeoisie, it is because the bourgeoisie seeks to deny the majority any opportunity to be free. Given Marx and Engels’ adherence to Hegel’s fantastic idea that no one is free as long as one person is in chains, their quarrel with the bourgeoisie is that they sacrifice everybody’s freedom and individuality on capitalism’s altar of accumulation.

Although Marx and Engels were not anarchists, they loathed the state and its potential to be manipulated by one class to suppress another. At best, they saw it as a necessary evil that would live on in the good, post-capitalist future coordinating a classless society. If this reading of the manifesto holds water, the only way of being a communist is to be a libertarian one. Heeding the manifesto’s call to “Unite!” is in fact inconsistent with becoming card-carrying Stalinists or with seeking to remake the world in the image of now-defunct communist regimes.

When everything is said and done, then, what is the bottom line of the manifesto? And why should anyone, especially young people today, care about history, politics and the like?

Marx and Engels based their manifesto on a touchingly simple answer: authentic human happiness and the genuine freedom that must accompany it. For them, these are the only things that truly matter. Their manifesto does not rely on strict Germanic invocations of duty, or appeals to historic responsibilities to inspire us to act. It does not moralise, or point its finger. Marx and Engels attempted to overcome the fixations of German moral philosophy and capitalist profit motives, with a rational, yet rousing appeal to the very basics of our shared human nature.

Key to their analysis is the ever-expanding chasm between those who produce and those who own the instruments of production. The problematic nexus of capital and waged labour stops us from enjoying our work and our artefacts, and turns employers and workers, rich and poor, into mindless, quivering pawns who are being quick-marched towards a pointless existence by forces beyond our control.

But why do we need politics to deal with this? Isn’t politics stultifying, especially socialist politics, which Oscar Wilde once claimed “takes up too many evenings”? Marx and Engels’ answer is: because we cannot end this idiocy individually; because no market can ever emerge that will produce an antidote to this stupidity. Collective, democratic political action is our only chance for freedom and enjoyment. And for this, the long nights seem a small price to pay.

Humanity may succeed in securing social arrangements that allow for “the free development of each” as the “condition for the free development of all”. But, then again, we may end up in the “common ruin” of nuclear war, environmental disaster or agonising discontent. In our present moment, there are no guarantees. We can turn to the manifesto for inspiration, wisdom and energy but, in the end, what prevails is up to us.

Adapted from Yanis Varoufakis’s introduction to The Communist Manifesto, published by Vintage Classics on 26 April

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/20/yanis-varoufakis-marx-crisis-communist-manifesto

Caspian Deal Highlights Shift in Azerbaijan

TOM LUONGO

As the US/Turkish relationship deteriorates it is having spillover effects around the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s continued defiance of US’s demands have placed Turkey in the cross-hairs of a vicious hybrid-war attack on the country’s fragile economic foundation.

So, I find it very interesting that during the week of the greatest turmoil in Turkish markets, notably a panic in the Turkish Lira, the five nations bordering the Caspian Sea reach an historic agreement which remained elusive for over 20 years.

And at the heart of that disagreement has been Azerbaijan’s claims over oil and gas rights in the Caspian which rankled both Turkmenistan to the north and Iran to the south.

For the past few years, as US/Russian relations have cratered, Russian/Azeri relations have improved. And it has been the diligent work of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov which laid the groundwork for this agreement.

Putin first organized a trilateral summit between himself, Azeri President Aliyev and Iranian President Rouhani two years ago this month.

But, more importantly, it has been Putin and Lavrov’s steady and consistent diplomatic efforts to improve relations between Russia and all the former Soviet states which the US has worked diligently since the early 1990’s to harm.

Azerbaijan has always fallen on the US side of the geopolitical chess board.

On top of this is Russia’s very successful campaign in countering the US/Saudi/Israeli-led civil war in Syria which resulted in a very significant turn in Russian/Turkish relations. And this, to me, is the key to understanding why these long-frozen conflicts around the region are changing, sometimes, like this weekend’s summit, dramatically.

To this point Russia has taken everything the US has thrown at it and survived. And if you don’t think smaller players like Azerbaijan aren’t taking notice, then you are hopelessly naïve. A Russia capable of standing up to the US is a Russia capable of being a valuable regional partner.

And that partnership extends around the entire region.

Take the frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh, for example. For the past twenty-plus years Turkey has backed Azeri claims and Russia, tacitly, Armenia’s. But, despite a flare-up a couple of years ago, just hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry left Baku, settling Nagorno-Karabakh is on everyone’s mind.

Over the weekend Nagorno-Karabakh was on the diplomatic menu in the meeting between Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart, Movlut Çavuşoğlu.

Even the new Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is ready to discuss the conflict.

“We have expressed political willingness to continue talks on Nagorno-Karabakh in a constructive way, in line with our political obligations and in the context of Armenia’s interests. However, a preparatory stage is required to revive negotiations, especially in the current political situation,” he stressed.

Pashinyan added that Yerevan “is ready for any scenario on Nagorno-Karabakh.”

I expect that a deal over Nagorno-Karabakh will be brokered by Russia with Turkey’s support now that Turkey will be dependent on Russia for its financial survival as it pursues a painful and necessary de-dollarization process, the beginnings of which have already begun.

With reports that the US is in peace talks with moderate factions within the Taliban out there, the possibility of a withdrawal becomes greater. Moreover, the Caspian Sea agreement precludes any third-party military presence, another sign of Azerbaijan’s shift away from the US’s orbit.

The regional change doesn’t stop there, however. The recent election of Imran Khan in Pakistan changes that country’s role again in the direction of Russian and Chinese integration plans, especially in brokering a long-term stabilization plan for Afghanistan.

The message is becoming very clear to all the smaller regional players, the board is changing. And you can be a part of it or you can be left behind. The US’s plans for permanent chaos in central Asia has harmed all of these places and now is the beginning of the transition period.

I’ve held from the moment it began that Russia’s intervention in Syria would mark the peak of the US’s ability to project power around the world, this is certainly now true in central Asia and the Middle East.

The current defiance by Turkey is another aftershock of that intervention which revealed the lies which everyone on the ground in Syria knew about but felt powerless to change.

That’s why Russia’s intervention and success was so significant. It created an Axis of Resistance that was credible and would pay the kinds of dividends we are seeing today.

This is not to downgrade the contributions of Russia’s partners in Syria, the Syrians themselves, Iran and Hezbollah, but it was Russia that tipped the balance of power in Syria. Because under no circumstances were the Obama or Trump administrations willing to risk a direct conflict with Russia over Syria.

Hillary Clinton was a different story, but, thankfully, one we never had to experience.

So, for Azerbaijan its relationships with its neighbors are about to undergo a sea change, which should see meat put on the bones of this weekend’s agreement about oil and gas rights.

Note, also that while Trump is adamant about there being no exemptions to trading with Iran after November, that the US State Department issued a waiver for Azerbaijan’s Southern Gas Corridor project which it partners with none other than British Petroleum.

The Southern Gas Corridor is one of those ridiculously expensive work-arounds created by US geopolitical meddling to free Europe from the yoke of Russia’s cheap and abundant gas supplies.

Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total were not given such waivers over the former’s involvement with Nordstream 2 or the latter’s deal with NIOC, which China’s CNPC took over at a discount.

As I’ve said before, never go nuclear in your negotiations, if your bluff is called you are left standing naked as the tide recedes. And the US’s real strength in central Asia has been for many years a weak and disjointed Russia allowing the chaos sowed to flourish.

That condition is no longer in effect and all that’s left for the US is unsustainable military deployments, both financially and logistically, and growing discontent at an international system of trade and finance which is abusive.

Viewed in that context, this weekend’s surprise agreement shouldn’t be much surprise at all.

Source: https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/08/17/caspian-deal-highlights-shift-in-azerbaijan.html

Taliban crosses the Rubicon with Tashkent meeting

Against the backdrop of strengthening Afghan-Uzbek ties, the Taliban pays a visit to Tashkent

The Taliban, against the backdrop of tightening Uzbek-Afghan relations, last week paid a landmark visit to Tashkent, heralding new regional stature for the militant group.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on Saturday released a terse statement confirming the visit had occurred.

A Taliban delegation, led by the head of its political office in Doha, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, visited Tashkent and the two sides “exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan,” it said.

The Taliban has been more forthcoming with details.

A press statement said the five-day visit (August 6-11) took place on the basis of a formal invitation from Tashkent and talks were held with Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov and the Special Representative of the President of Uzbekistan for Afghanistan Ismatulla Irgashev.

The parties discussed the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country as well as “current and future national projects such as security for railroad and power lines,” the Taliban said in a press release.

The Uzbeks have previously engaged in direct dealings with the Taliban.

Kamilov himself is known to have visited Afghanistan and negotiated with the Taliban government in the late 1990s.

Irgashev, too, is a familiar face to the Taliban, having served as deputy foreign minister under Kamilov.

But this is the first time that a Taliban delegation has visited Tashkent for formal talks at the Uzbek Foreign Ministry.

No doubt, this is an extraordinary development. It significantly enhances the Taliban’s regional profile and standing and is precedent setting.

Growing economic ties

In the run-up to the Taliban visit, relations between Tashkent and the Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani have been exceptionally warm.

Bilateral exchanges intensified in the past year with Uzbek companies picking up lucrative contracts in northern Afghanistan.

The United States has actively encouraged such collaboration.

Washington backed the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan on March 27, sending US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon to attend alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

It was patently intended as a Track 1.5 event to marshal some degree of regional consensus behind an “Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled” peace process, without preconditions.

President Donald Trump rewarded Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev with an invitation to visit the White House on May 16, a major coup for the Central Asian leader.

Indeed, things have been going splendidly well in the US-Afghan-Uzbek triangle.

Relations between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan were strengthened on July 9, when Uzbek Foreign Minister Kamilov paid a visit to Afghan President Ghani in Kabul.

They planned for a number of major investment projects, including a free trade zone spread over 3,000 hectares on the Uzbek-Afghan border, a $500 million railway project to connect Mazar-i-Sharif with Herat (linking northern and western Afghanistan), and the establishment of six textile factories in Afghanistan by Uzbek companies.

The Uzbeks make their foreign policy moves very cautiously and the Taliban meeting in Tashkent last week doesn’t signify a U-turn in the Uzbek policies toward Afghanistan.

Ostensibly, the Taliban visit follows up on an offer made by Mirziyoyev in March.

“We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban movement,” Mirziyoyev said.

It is improbable the Taliban will accept Ghani as its interlocutor.

But to be sure, Tashkent closely coordinated with Kabul, as well as Washington.

US officials engaged in landmark direct talks with the Taliban in Doha last month, and a second round is expected in September.

Clearly, Washington has encouraged Tashkent to be a peace broker between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Consistent with the Uzbek style of diplomacy, Tashkent touched base with Moscow before the Taliban arrived, with Kamilov making a phone call to Lavrov on July 31.

The readout from Russian Foreign Ministry cryptically said the two ministers “exchanged opinions on topical bilateral matters and cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan on the international agenda.”

Counterweight to Islamic State

There is a dire necessity today for Tashkent to maintain a direct line to the Taliban as the security situation in the Amu Darya region bordering Uzbekistan is steadily deteriorating.

The growing presence of Islamic State-Khorasan in northern Afghanistan worries Uzbekistan. Its ranks have a preponderance of fighters drawn from the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has vowed to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, Ghani’s ill-advised standoff with the Uzbek leader in Amu Darya, Rashid Dostum, has seriously destabilized the northern region.

Dostum’s yearlong exile in Turkey only worked to the advantage of Islamic State.

Ghani finally made peace with Dostum, going overboard and welcoming him back to Kabul last month in a grand ceremony.

But by then, the ground realities in northern Afghanistan had changed phenomenally.

The old stability that Dostum once provided as the protege of Tashkent, and then the Americans, has disappeared.

In sum, Dostum is today a freewheeling entity and no more the uncrowned king of the Amu Darya.

And it is the Taliban that has emerged as the most promising counterweight to the Islamic State-Khorasan.

In such murky situations, the Uzbek mind never loses clarity of purpose. Realism always prevails.

Tashkent sees the Taliban as a meaningful interlocutor for today and tomorrow on the Afghan chessboard.

For the Taliban, this is a game changer.

It has crossed the Rubicon in its long search for gaining international legitimacy.

Source: http://www.atimes.com/article/taliban-crosses-the-rubicon-with-tashkent-meeting/?utm_source=The+Daily+Report&utm_campaign=a9d939f599-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_08_13_01_32&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1f8bca137f-a9d939f599-21552319

Explaining Turkey’s interest in BRICS

Recent summit of the leaders of the BRICS countries held in South Africa had a number of guests from non-member countries, evidence for the grouping’s conscious efforts to create an effective mechanism of cooperation with other developing countries. One of these guests was Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who represented not only his own country at the summit, but went to Johannesburg as the current chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Erdoğan lost no opportunity for reiterating Turkey’s interest in establishing closer linkages with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which is hoped to evolve into full membership for Turkey in the grouping. He even proposed a new name for the grouping that could be used if and when Turkey joined: BRICST.

Why this interest? For sure, the BRICS grouping has a certain weight globally considering the member countries’ share in the world economy; however, it is not a framework for economic integration, it is not even a formal organization.

Yet it is a grouping of like-minded countries that represent not only a substantial economic potential, but also, and perhaps more important, a shared critique of the established balance of power and the current shape of global governance, which are seen to be biased in favor of the Western world and not reflecting the interests and expectations of the rising powers of the 21st century.

For Turkey, there are two benefits in establishing closer ties with this grouping.

First, BRICS countries can potentially offer a significant boost for Turkey’s efforts to diversify its economic relations with the rest of the world. The Turkish economy is going through rough times, with a chronic current-account deficit, weakening conditions for exports due to severe instabilities in the near neighborhood and overall contraction of demand in the global economy, and the after-effects of the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.

In order to reposition itself on a trajectory of sustainable growth, Turkey has to improve its competitiveness in global markets. On the supply side, the value-added of production needs to be increased, and for this greater technological capabilities are required. On the demand side, Turkey needs to explore new markets that would supplement its traditional export destinations such as the European Union.

Stronger relations with BRICS countries can be of help in this respect. In 2017, the value of Turkey’s exports to the five countries totaled US$7.3 billion, whereas its imports from the same countries amounted to a massive $53.4 billion, leading to a trade deficit of $46.1 billion. In the same year, Turkey’s overall trade deficit was $76.7 billion, which means that 60% of Turkey’s trade deficit was actually caused by BRICS countries.

This is not a rosy picture, but Turks have a different way of seeing it. In the full half of the glass, one can identify room for expanding exports to these five countries, which are not only selling their products to the rest of the world, but are also buying back in large amounts – China especially is doing so. The Turkish government is currently collaborating with the business community and academia in identifying the export possibilities to these countries and devising roadmaps for increasing Turkey’s market shares there.

BRICS offers a market potential for Turkish products, but more important, it is increasingly seen as a source for technology partnership. This is why, for example, Turkey has negotiated the purchase of a missile defense system with potential Chinese and Russian suppliers with the condition of technology transfer and co-production, toward which Turkey’s Western allies have never been sympathetic.

In Johannesburg, Erdoğan mentioned that for the country’s first nuclear plant Turkey was working with the Russians, for the second with a Japanese-French consortium, for the third with the Chinese, and for the fourth nuclear plant that is being planned there was no reason whatsoever for not working with the Chinese again.

In short, Turkey has to increase its technological capabilities, this requires collaboration with partners who have the technology, and Turkey wants to avoid the vulnerability of excessively depending on the West. BRICS could be the right address here.

The second reason Turkey wants to improve its ties with BRICS countries relates to the shared criticism of the Western-centric world order of the day. Erdoğan’s slogan of “the world is greater than five” refers to resentment that the world’s affairs are entrusted to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and this is a dictum that could resound well with the BRICS members. It is true that two of the BRICS countries, Russia and China, do actually have a seat on the UNSC, but it is also becoming increasingly evident that the council in its current shape lacks the capability to solve the world’s problems.

In other areas of global governance, the functionality of the World Trade Organization is increasingly questioned as trade wars rage on, and so is the role of, for example, the International Monetary Fund, where the United States is the only member that can singlehandedly veto any decision to be made.

While it may sound like anti-Western rhetoric to many, the call made here is not for BRICS to replace the Western hegemony in global governance with an alternative version of hegemony, but it is to get rid of any kind hegemony and to build a new system that is more equitable, participatory and representative of today’s world that is defined by increasing interdependence between countries. For Turkey, BRICS offers the perfect platform for making its case, being heard and engendering collective action.

Turkey sees great value in joining, in some form, the BRICS grouping. The Turkish economy stands to benefit from this, and the BRICS can also be supportive of Turkey’s vision for a new global order.

“Global” is indeed the keyword here. What Turkey wants is to position itself as a global actor, and despite frequent ups and downs, it still maintains strong and institutionalized relations with the West, and is more than likely to do so in the future.

It is not about replacing the country’s Western links with the BRICS or any other non-Western actor, it is about drawing strengths from each of them, establishing and maintaining mutual benefits, and being truly global.

Do not listen to pundits who tell you that “Turkey’s axis is shifting toward the ____” (where the blank is filled with anything that is not Western, for example: East, Eurasia, Muslim world, China, etc. Take your pick). The Cold War is long over, and in today’s world the only axis left is the global axis, on which Turkey is making efforts to position itself as a major stakeholder.