China begins the “transformation of capitalism”

Is a new “cultural revolution” starting in China? For many days in the Celestial Empire, they have been discussing the article “Everyone can feel that a deep transformation is taking place” – about the new course of Xi Jinping .Here is the most striking quote from it:

“If we continue to have to rely on big capitalists as the main force in the fight against imperialism and hegemonism, or we continue to cooperate with the American industry of ‘mass entertainment’, our youth will lose their strong and courageous energy, and we will suffer the same collapse. like the Soviet Union, even before we get a real attack. “

The publication appeared on WeChat on August 28 on the personal blog of Li Guangman. He is a little-known journalist and former editor-in-chief of a small newspaper. But in the following days, the text was reprinted by various state media, including the People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency. That is, the theses of Guanman’s article received the highest support – and everyone began to perceive them as a signal of the upcoming radical transformations. Moreover, the article appeared 55 years after the beginning of the “great proletarian cultural revolution” – a turmoil that lasted for several years, during which Mao, relying on the extreme left, dealt a terrible blow not only to the Chinese nomenclature, but also to the entire way of life of educated Chinese.

And is there another storm of communist heights ahead?

Of course not. No matter how frightened the Chinese liberal Westernizers may be. No matter what they think up in the West. There can be no return to the practice of the “cultural revolution”. Nobody is going to curtail the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, and the market economy is not going to be canceled. China’s goal remains to build a “society of common prosperity” by 2049, that is, by the centenary of the founding of the PRC.

But China is not going to give up the leading role of the Communist Party either – as well as the assertions that it is socialism with Chinese characteristics that is being built. The same Xi Jinping said at the celebration of the centenary of the CCP in July that “we must continue to promote the Sinification of Marxism, persistently combine the basic principles of Marxism with the concrete reality of China and with the excellent traditional culture of China.” 

But if socialism is Chinese, then the market economy, that is, capitalist, must also be Chinese. That is, a kind, national and consistent with Chinese values. It is precisely its change that Xi Jinping is engaged in. That is why the article of the blogger Guanman received such a resonance. What does Guanman write about? The fact that everything that has been happening in China in recent months is not separate events. It is part of a larger plan, which he calls “the deepest transformation” carried out by Xi Jinping.

Regulation of a very large IT businesses

First, Beijing tightened regulation of a very large IT business. Then restrictions were introduced on the activities of tutors (a huge market in China). And also access of schoolchildren to video games (no more than three hours a week). Now hands have reached show business – fines and bans on performances have been introduced for some stars. 

Moreover, at first there were warnings, and the main measures against the “cultural figures” were taken just after the publication of Li Guangman’s article – which, of course, added to the conspiracy theorists the confidence that the text about deep transformation appeared for a reason. Already on September 2, the management of the television and radio broadcasting announced a new strategy – limiting television programs and reality shows that cultivate youth idols. It is clear which ones, because at the same time we are talking about the need to establish the correct standards of beauty and expel “effeminate men.” 

Show business was offered to “deliberately abandon vulgarity, bad taste. And also to deliberately rebuff the decadent ideas of worshiping money, hedonism and extreme individualism. “Moreover, all the measures of the Chinese authorities have not only a market, but also a completely understandable moral dimension. Moreover, they are caused precisely by concern for the moral and ethical health of the nation. The financial costs are deeply secondary here. Because health, especially moral, cannot be bought. And then you cannot re-educate young people brought up on someone else’s matrix. And Xi Jinping is deliberately taking tough measures.

Li Guangman explains it as follows:

“This is a return from a group of capital to the masses of people and the transformation of a capital-oriented model into a model oriented towards the people. Thus, this is a political change, and the people again become the main organ of this change. Those who will prevent this change from being implemented in the direction of the people will be discarded.

This is also a return to the original intentions of the CCP. A return to the essence of socialism. “Moreover, Guanman promises that soon new rules of the game will come to the real estate and medical services sector. There the authorities intend to fight unnecessarily high prices. As a result, people will benefit from the reform of the education, medical and property sectors. It will lead to “shared prosperity.” The path to it lies through the reduction of social inequality. And it has become enormous in China.

“The capital market will no longer be a haven for capitalists who can get rich overnight. The cultural market will no longer be a paradise for sissy stars. News and public opinion will no longer worship Western culture. Therefore, we need control all cultural chaos and build a vibrant, healthy, courageous, strong and people-centered culture. “

Yes, this is the goal that Xi Jinping sets for himself. Chinese society over the past decades has gone through serious Westernization, the cult of consumerism and pleasure. The new CCP policy will not suffer defeat. Because with all the profound changes, with all the contradictions and problems, the majority of the Chinese still retained a sense of national unity and solidarity. And an understanding of justice.

Correction will be difficult and painful

The correction will be very difficult and painful. However, the CCP has another ally in this struggle. This is Chinese patriotism, and it is really massive. It is no coincidence that Guangman explaining the necessity and inevitability of a “deep transformation”. At present, China is facing an increasingly harsh and complex international situation. The United States is carrying out military threats against the country. It is conducting an economic and technological blockade, inflicting financial blows and conducting a political and diplomatic siege of China.

In addition, the United States. launched a biological and cyber war against us, attacks on public opinion in China. “That is, the “profound transformations” taking place in China in themselves are needed in order to “respond to the brutal and ferocious attacks of the United States. As well as to the current difficult international situation,” explains Guangman. 

The Chinese understand this very well – a weak and weak-willed China will become a victim of external expansion. As it was already in the 19th century. Hence the most important warning of Guangman: If China, in its confrontation with the West, relies on its capitalists and educates young people on global mass culture, then the fate of the USSR awaits it.

Resisting external challenges

It will collapse even before it is attacked. Indeed, such civilizing powers as China and Russia cannot be defeated from the outside. They can only be undermined from within. Split, take advantage of their internal mistakes, internal weakness, make them manageable. Take the future away from them, bring up new generations to be weak and devoid of national character, add opium, real or ideological. China understands this very well – including from the experience of Russia, which has already paid a terrible price for the collapse of the country. And both powers will do everything to ensure that their internal order meets the interests of the peoples and their civilizational code. That is, it is resistant to any external challenges.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan – Leonid Ivashov

A shameful flight or a move in a big game?

Leonid Ivashov and Igor Shishkin on what is behind the US defeat in Afghanistan. What are the consequences of the change of power in this country can have for Russia and the world. Why Afghanistan is called the solar plexus of Eurasia.

I. Shishkin: Leonid Grigorievich, this is the first question I have for you in connection with what happened in Afghanistan: the flight of the United States is very much reminiscent of what happened in Vietnam, they are talking a lot about this now, showing some footage, drawing parallels. And the question for you, in fact, as a specialist is to understand what is behind such an escape? Or they are deliberately doing this in order to provoke chaos in this territory, which will engulf its neighbors, China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia. Or, secondly, the United States really could not otherwise hold on to the situation. According to some experts, the United States has demonstrated by such a flight that it is a fading power, they say, there can be many ambitions, but not so many abilities.

Leonid Grigorievich Ivashov. Russian military and public figure, colonel general. Specialist in the field of geopolitics, conflict management, international relations, military history. President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems.

L. Ivashov: Igor Sergeyevich, I generally exclude “flight” from my vocabulary when assessing the actions of the Americans. Let’s think about why the Americans are organizing their military presence, for some reason we think, since they have come, then they will put things in order there, make the population happy, stabilize the situation, and so on. Alas, Americans do not go anywhere for this purpose. They came there to take control of this very important geostrategic region. Afghanistan is the solar plexus of Eurasia, as it is called. Here is an access to powerful states, even civilizations, for example, like China. They once deliberately did this, their nuclear missile test site. Plus access to Pakistan, which has good relations with China lately. There is also an exit to India, then Iran, and so on.

In general, this is a very important region of the world, especially for Eurasia. The Americans built an airfield there, they came to influence the former Soviet, Central Central Asia, to influence Iran, India and so on from here. How to influence? Not only where to carry out some kind of military provocations or special operations, but to influence the maintenance of uncontrollable chaos. Let’s not forget that it was with the arrival of the Americans that drug trafficking increased, because this is the impact on your opponents through drug flows. Americans leave from wherever they go, they stay when they leave. 

So I, while still in the service for several years, noticed that they are campaigning, including among Afghans, in Russia, luring people to their territory in the United States. Moreover, there they are given appropriate education, training, and so on. The question is: what for? This is the preparation of the fifth column, or you can call it whatever you like. They stirred up, created this powerful Taliban movement and calmly leave, they were not even touched at the airport. And now, when they leave, they say, they say, you are going to clean up now. They armed, in fact, this population, everyone lives with some kind of weapon, created these warring groups and left. Further, we see that it is not the Americans who are alarmed now, but precisely the neighboring countries are alarmed. Therefore, to consider it a defeat or flight is, well, at least premature. that it is not the Americans who are alarmed now, but the neighboring countries are alarmed. 

I. Shishkin: This raises the following question then. You say that they came there not to make happy, not to deal with international terrorism, but they came in order to create a lot of trouble for their geopolitical opponents. But, doesn’t this mean that they were still unable to keep Afghanistan? After all, it was probably more profitable for them not to plunge into chaos, but to create powerful bases there, from which they could threaten China, for example, India and Russia, Central Asia and so on.

L. Ivashov:I think that all of this in the aggregate was at the same time and was planned. There is a continuous war, of course, the population is tired, the population wants peace, and I believe there will be peace. But, Americans, look where they just did not conduct these military actions, the same Iraq, Yugoslavia, in Libya. And then they calmly leave, therefore, did they try to stay there? Yes, of course, they would like to have military bases there, and so on, because they have already begun to build airfields there. It was not even Biden who decided this, it was even under Trump that it was decided that the troops would withdraw. 

You need to understand that the nature of this war has changed. And then, let’s see who’s coming there now? Turkey is paired with Qatar, it goes there. We are talking about the current moment, some of the Syrian militants were not accidentally transferred there, although the Afghans themselves are against the presence of other countries in general. China and Pakistan, for example, they also act in pairs, they were very interested in the Americans leaving. But, China is very powerful there, let’s face it. You can’t see it, nothing, but it is present, because China needs a stable and calm Afghanistan. But the Anglo-Saxons learned to do well, not to be present by military force, but to be present in a different way. 

Well, for example, we saw Syria, in Syria the Americans were little present, but look what movements they created there. They were in the shadows, but at the same time they created very powerful movements. We wish, of course, stability to be there. But, the question arises: will different groups of the Taliban start fighting among themselves tomorrow? And will they not create some other movements with American money that will fight against China and others, for example. they were very interested in the Americans leaving. 

I. Shishkin: Considering that the United States absolutely does not need “one belt, one road”, they are very interested in such a development of events.

L. Ivashov: Let’s see, God forbid, that this happens. But, experience suggests that the Americans, it seems, were not present somewhere militarily too strongly, but the states are gradually being destroyed. And it is not known how long such cases will last, because they are always and everywhere.

I. Shishkin: That is, to paraphrase the famous phrase that Great Britain has no eternal enemies, no eternal allies, but only eternal interests, then we can say that the Anglo-Saxons are guided by that there are no eternal victories and eternal defeats. After all, each victory will then turn into a defeat, but this defeat can be turned into a victory.

L. Ivashov: It was recorded that British intelligence spoke about its tasks, they say, that the Arabs should fight against the Arabs for our British interests.

I. Shishkin: One more question: nevertheless, the interest of the Americans is understandable, they are masters of organizing chaos in their own interests, but what about the regimes? They left Saigon, what they were creating collapsed instantly. They did not have time to leave Afghanistan completely, the regime they created collapses instantly. Vietnam still exists, for example, Cuba still exists, even though we left. It turns out that the regimes they create collapse instantly as soon as the bayonet disappears, and the regimes that we created exist and are very stable.

L. Ivashov: Well, they really consider Vietnam their defeat there. But, they know how to benefit from defeats, and then the same Middle East, stirred everything up there, brought some regimes that are unstable. As a result, the entire Middle East is unstable now, but here you must always look at what economic damage the Americans have suffered. Have they suffered any economic damage at all?

I. Shishkin: It seems that no.

Iran wants to join Eurasian Economic Union

Will Russia allow it?

There are some good reasons for Moscow’s lukewarm response to the possibility of Tehran’s admission to the EAEU. What are factors for and against Iran joining Eurasian Economic Union from Russian point of view?

By NIKOLA MIKOVIC

The Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union might soon be acquiring a new member: Iran. Boxed in because of its rivalry with other states in the Middle East, and laboring under US-imposed sanctions, Tehran believes it needs to strengthen ties with such neighbors as might be willing to accept it.

Iran appears to think that membership in the EAEU is a done deal. That is despite officials of the bloc denying they had received any formal request. When Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Speaker of the Iranian parliament, visited Moscow on February 10, he declared Iran would “permanently join the EAEU in two weeks.” Apart from the fact that the date has passed, such optimism is extremely premature.

The response from Mikhail Myasnikovich, chairman of the board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, was telling. The Eurasian union wants Iran to have “a special view on cooperation with Eurasia,” he said. It hardly sounds like a warm welcome. Other EAEU officials have stressed that Iran must formally apply for membership. A veiled warning, perhaps, that Iran cannot expect to bypass procedures.

On the face of it, there are reasons for Tehran and Moscow to support Iran’s inclusion into the bloc. The economic area is an integrated market of 180 million people with a combined GDP of more than US$5 trillion. It encourages the free movement of goods and services and can formulate common policy in key areas such as energy, agriculture, transport, customs, and foreign trade and investment.

Iran already has had a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian union since 2018. In 2020, trade turnover between Iran and the EAEU increased by 2%, exceeding $2 billion.

Mutual benefits

Food products and agricultural raw materials accounted for most of that trade in both directions. 80% of the goods that the EAEU supplied to Iran and 68% of what Iran sent to the EAEU.

Joining the EAEU would improve Iran’s economic and political position globally and help to offset, at least partly, the cost of US sanctions.

On the Russian side, Moscow wants another pathway to the markets of the Middle East. That is why the Kremlin strongly supports the construction of the Nakhchivan corridor. It is a land route connecting not only Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave between Turkey and Armenia, but also Russia and Turkey and – crucially – Russia and Iran.

A future rail link between Russia and Iran, passing though Azerbaijan and Armenia, will undoubtedly enhance economic ties between the two countries as well as Iran’s trading relations with other Eurasian union member states.

However, how receptive Arab Middle East states would be to Russian goods transiting through Iran is another question altogether. This might be a reason for Moscow’s distinctly lukewarm response to the possibility of Tehran’s admission to the bloc.

In fact, there are several large questions hanging over inducting a new member into the bloc. Bloc consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in addition to Russia. Uzbekistan, Moldova and Cuba have observer status.

Impact on Russian relationship with Israel and Arab States

It is not improbable that closer economic ties would lead to stronger military ones. The UN Security Council embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran expired in October. It is no secret that Iran is interested in purchasing Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft system. As well as Su-30 fighter jets. But such a deal would almost certainly ramp up tensions between Moscow and Washington and raise alarm bells in Gulf Arab states.

Then there is Russia’s relationship with Iran’s arch-enemy, Israel. The Russians have not prevented Israel from striking at Iranian targets in Syria, despite operating S-400 units in the area. Russia was the mediator in a prisoner exchange between its ally, Syria, and Israel that took place this month and there are rumors of further ongoing negotiations on humanitarian issues and even on wider geopolitical matters.

Speculation aside, what is known is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed continued coordination between their two countries in light of developments in regional security. Was Iran also on the agenda?

Moscow, after all, must maintain its own delicate balancing act and guard its geopolitical interests. The normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and other Arab states has changed interest-dynamics in the region, tilting the balance further toward the Arab Gulf region’s anti-Iran alliance. How does Russia profit from the new Middle East?

Some other countries are already in the queue to join

Finally, there is the fact that there are others ahead of Iran in the queue to join the Eurasian union. Syria is one of them; 40 other countries also have stated their wish to develop trade and economic cooperation with the bloc.

As well as declaring that Iran would soon join the EAEU, Qalibaf said he had brought “a very important message” from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It may well be that Moscow is composing its own, equally important message to send back to Tehran.

NIKOLA MIKOVIC

Nikola Mikovic is a political analyst in Serbia. His work focuses mostly on the foreign policies of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with special attention on energy and “pipeline politics.” 

More by Nikola Mikovic

America’s Forever Wars Have Come Back Home

It’s no coincidence that, after years of fighting abroad, the United States is beset with paranoia, loss of trust, and increasingly bitter divisions

BY STEPHEN M. WALT

“Fortress America” is a derogatory term that usually refers to extreme forms of isolationism. Last week, however, CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria gave the idea a new and equally disturbing twist. In a thought-provoking column in the Washington PostZakaria described how excessive concerns for security are making the United States more “imperial” in appearance than the old colonial empires, with embassies, public buildings, and even the U.S. Capitol itself surrounded by barricades, moats, or fortifications. Instead of presenting a welcoming visage to the outside world and to the American people, one that conveys confidence, strength, and openness, America’s public face appears uncertain, vulnerable, fearful, and distant.

According to Zakaria, such concerns have also encouraged an excessive regard for secrecy, new layers of hierarchy and restriction, and a timid and sclerotic approach to public policy. In his words, “the U.S. government now resembles a dinosaur—a large, lumbering beast with much body and little brain, increasingly well-protected but distant from ordinary people and unresponsive to the real challenges that confront the nation.”

I couldn’t agree more, having noticed much the same tendency a few years ago. But the big question is: Why is this happening? Is it simply because the world has gotten more dangerous, or is there a connection between how the United States has been acting abroad and various threats to liberty at home?

I think there is. What follows is somewhat speculative, but there are several obvious ways in which America’s recent conduct abroad has led to greater insecurity, paranoia, loss of trust, and division within the United States, so much so that officials now have to erect barricades all over Washington (and in plenty of other cities as well).

Reason No. 1 is the familiar problem of “blowback.” During the “unipolar moment,” U.S. officials were convinced that a crusading foreign policy would be good for the United States and good for the rest of the world. As former President George W. Bush put it a few years before he took office, remaking the world in America’s image would usher in “generations of democratic peace.” Instead, we’ve seen a steady deterioration in democracy and eroding security at home and abroad. Whatever Americans’ intentions may have been, U.S. actions have sometimes caused enormous suffering in other countries—through sanctions, covert action, support for thuggish dictators, and a remarkable ability to turn a blind eye to the brutal conduct of close allies—not to mention America’s own far-flung military activities. Given the countries the United States has invaded, the bombs it’s dropped, and the drone strikes it’s conducted, it is any wonder that some people in other places wish Americans ill?

Bush used to say that terrorists came after the United States because they “hate our freedoms,” but there is a mountain of evidence—including the official 9/11 Commission Report—showing that what drove anti-American extremism was opposition to U.S. policy. Given what the United States had done—especially in the Middle East—it was entirely predictable that some groups would try to hit it back, and that a few of them would occasionally succeed. To say this is not to justify their actions or imply everything the United States has done was wrong; it is simply to remind us that U.S. actions are a key part of this story too.

Second, the vast sums Americans have spent trying to nation-build, spread democracy, or defeat all “terrorists of global reach” inevitably left fewer resources available to help Americans at home (including the veterans of the country’s protracted wars). The United States still spends more on national security than the next six or seven countries combinedand there’s little doubt that all that money has produced an impressive amount of military power. But the United States doesn’t have the world’s best primary and secondary schoolsthe best health care; best WiFi; best railways, roads, or bridges; or best power grids, and it lacks well-funded public institutions that can serve U.S. citizens’ needs in a pandemic or enable the country to maintain the technological edge it will need to compete with other countries for the rest of this century. Looking back, the over $6 trillion spent on what Bush dubbed the “war on terror”—including the money spent on unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—could surely have been spent helping Americans live more comfortable and secure lives at home (or merely left in taxpayers’ pockets). Add to the list the decisions to promote rapid globalization and financial deregulation, which did significant harm to some sectors of the economy and led to the 2008 financial crisis, and you begin to see why confidence in the elite has taken a hit.

Third, running an ambitious and highly interventionist foreign policy—and, in particular, one that tries to manipulate, manage, and ultimately shape the internal politics of foreign countries—requires a lot of deception. To sustain public support for it, elites have to spend a lot of time inflating threats, exaggerating benefits, acting in secret, and manipulating what the public is told. But eventually at least some of the truth comes out, dealing another blow to public trust. And when actions abroad prompt blowback at home, government officials feel compelled to impose even more restrictions and start monitoring what ordinary citizens are doing, fueling suspicion and distrust of government even more.

To make matters worse, the architects of failure are rarely, if ever, held accountable. Instead of acknowledging their mistakes openly, even discredited former officials can head off to corporate boards, safe sinecures, or lucrative consulting firms, hoping to return to power as soon as their party regains the White House. Once back in office, they are free to repeat their previous mistakes, backed by a chorus of pundits whose recommendations never change no matter how often they’ve failed.

Why should ordinary Americans trust an elite that has misled them repeatedly, failed to deliver as promised, accrued an ever-larger share of the nation’s wealth, and suffered so few consequences for past errors? At this point it becomes easy to persuade someone that “the system is rigged” and that mainstream media is filled with “fake news.” Donald Trump didn’t learn how to lie in 2016—on the contrary, his career was founded on lies from day one—but he got elected president in part because Americans no longer believed anyone could be relied upon to tell the truth.

Weave these strands together, and you have a fertile environment for conspiracy theories, especially after Americans have been told over and over that a vast array of shadowy and ruthless adversaries were plotting to snatch their freedom away from them. In the 1950s, it was the fear of communist infiltration; after 9/11 it was the supposedly mortal peril of Islam, or immigrants, or a “refugee invasion.” Once you’ve been persuaded that the Islamic State posed an existential threat (as opposed to being a serious but manageable problem), it might not be hard to convince you that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor. Too bad we didn’t spend more time worrying about some real dangers, like a new and highly contagious virus.

What I am suggesting is that America’s actions abroad helped create the dangers Americans now face at home. The United States set out to remake the world in its image, and when some parts of that world pushed back, it reacted the way that most societies do when they are attacked. Americans got scared, lashed out even more, stopped thinking clearly and strategically, and looked around for someone to blame. Instead of seeking out leaders who were genuinely interested in solving the real problems the United States faced, Americans ended up with the performative patriotism of a Ted Cruz or a Mike Pompeo—all swagger and no substance.

I’m not the first to point this out, of course, and the ideas sketched above are surely not the full story. Social media helped get us here, along with the emergence of the galaxy of media figures who figured out you could get rich being hateful, outrageous, and deceitful. I think Julian Zelizer is right to pin some of the blame on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose desire for power alone did more than anyone to destroy the norms of bipartisan cooperation and compromise. And the Republican Party’s decision to pin its political future on gerrymandering, voter suppression, and mobilizing a shrinking base and not on trying to appeal to the median voter is surely part of the problem, too, along with the twisted soul of Trump himself.

But the connection between imperial adventures abroad and domestic turmoil at home should not be overlooked. President James Madison once warned that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” and we would do well to reflect on his warning today. Endless campaigns abroad unleash a host of political forces—militarism, secrecy, enhanced executive authority, xenophobia, faux patriotism, demagoguery, etc.—all of them contrary to the civic virtues on which a healthy democracy depends. If President Joe Biden genuinely wants to heal America’s divisions on the home front, he needs to start doing less elsewhere. Otherwise, the United States is going to need some bigger walls, and I don’t mean on its borders.


Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.


Eurasia-news-online comment:

This appears to be just another article showing internal divisions in United States. The fact is – Forever Wars started long before Trump became president. Another shocking fact is – Trump is the first USA president that did not start new war in forty years. Unfortunately – the only conclusion (based on this article) is that divisions in USA will get bigger and wider instead of smaller.

The moral case for China to fight a war

Ancient Chinese philosophy draws a clear and moral distinction between an ‘attack’ and ‘punishment’

By FRANCESCO SISCI

War sounds nearer for China while its contours remain rather foggy. But Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, a popular newspaper associated with the Communist Party organ the People’s Daily, recently broached the possibility of a real war.

“Chinese people don’t want war, but we have territorial disputes with several neighboring countries encouraged by the US to confront China. Some of these countries believe that the US support provides them with a strategic opportunity and try to treat China outrageously.

“They believe that China, under the US’s strategic pressure, is afraid, unwilling or unable to engage in military conflict with them. Thus, they want to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. Considering that there is also the Taiwan question, the risk of the Chinese mainland being forced into a war has risen sharply in recent times,” he wrote.

In this context, Hu makes some interesting and important points. War must have a solid moral justification; thus, China would not fire the first shot and it should be clear that it is the victim and not the aggressor.

The point harks back to ancient times: Mozi, an ancient philosopher who deals with the reasons for war, condemns the aggressive war of big states against small ones (gong 攻) but supports the actions sanctioned by the supreme Son of Heaven who punishes (zhu 誅) unruly rulers.

今遝夫好攻伐之君,又飾其說以非子墨子曰:「以攻伐之為不義,非利物與?昔者禹征有苗,湯伐桀,武王伐紂,此皆立為聖王,是何故也?」墨子曰:「以攻伐之為不義,非利物與?昔者禹征有苗,湯伐桀,武王伐紂,此皆立為聖王,是何故也?」子墨子曰:「子未察吾言之類,未明其故者也。彼非所謂攻,謂誅也.

The warring lords would gloss over their conduct with arguments to confute Mozi, saying: “Do you condemn attack and assault as unrighteous and not beneficial? But anciently Yu made war on the Prince of Miao, Tang on Jie and King Wu on Zhou. Yet these men are all regarded as sages. What is your explanation for this?”

Mozi replied: “You have not examined the terminology of my teaching and you do not understand its motive. What they did is not to be called ‘attack’ but ‘punishment.’”

The issue is crucial for Mozi, and we are in a situation totally different compared with that of Sunzi, who has no moral qualms but wants to win the military engagement. He utters:

攻其無備,出其不意,此兵家之勝,不可先傳也。

“Attack him with superior forces where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.”

Hu Xijin, like Mozi and unlike Sunzi, is not concerned here with actual military success, but with a very important and delicate point that helps to lead to military success: how to build a moral case justifying a military intervention.

If the moral case is well built, it will help to reinforce domestic consensus and undermine enemy consensus, both crucial elements for a victory.

Chinese philosopher Mozi differentiated between attacks and punishments. Image: Wikimedia

International consensus-building

The point from this is how to build a domestic consensus in an authoritarian society and take it abroad successfully. In theory, the first part is simple. The government has a monopoly on information and what it says is true. It should be enough not to be too rough and naive with the use of its tools.

The problem is how to export the authoritarian truth to an open world. In theory, this was already done. Communist governments effectively engaged free capitalist societies for decades. In the Vietnam War, for example, they positively helped to undermine the enemy’s will to fight. This was no simple effort.

Communism was a complex ideology with a body of articulated and fascinating literature promising to improve the lives of people and the structure of state and society. It built a church and a theology in which all elements of the socialist life were encoded. The coding was fine-looking and so attractive that it cut a lot of ice in Western capitalist societies.

The ideological “capitalist” answer to the communist philosophical-propaganda offensive was also extremely complex, mixing theoretical elements with practical results, ie, tangible improvement of livelihoods in the capitalist West versus dwindling economic performance in the communist East.

Most importantly, both “capitalist” and “socialist” ideologies had no spatial border. Both were concerned with the well-being of everybody in the world and both wanted to change the whole world.

China now doesn’t want to export its socialist system; it wants to defend what it deems are its sovereign rights against a perceived aggression on many fronts of its frontiers: India, Vietnam, Japan, a “splittist” Taiwan, the US, and possibly other countries. But its size and its different system by themselves undermine the global US-dominated system.

This scares many countries at its borders, which may feel that if China’s ambitions are not territorially restrained, they will fall under Beijing’s economic and political clout.

Beijing may believe these concerns are totally unwarranted, it may want to assuage them and win over public opinion in these countries, just as these countries may try to do with Chinese public opinion.

Yet China doesn’t have a global philosophical outlook developed through decades of international debate. Russian communism, battling international physical and philosophical assaults in the 1920s, inherited communist literature dating back at least to the 1848 Marx-Engels Communist Manifesto. China has nothing similar.

Moreover, its stress on patriotism, borders and protection give a sense that China’s interests and those of its neighbors are at odds over specific nationalistic issues. In a nationalistic brawl, everybody sticks to their own nation.

Lastly, in a world adhering mostly to free exchange of opinions, ideas coming from an authoritarian, possibly nationalist, society cut little or no ice and conversely can be proof of Chinese bad and deceptive intentions.

To change this situation – that is, to have an effective philosophical-propaganda machine –China should develop an internationalist reach, like communism or “capitalism,” or stop being an authoritarian regime. For a better result, it should do both.

Short of that, Beijing finds itself painted in a corner. It doesn’t matter if India, Taiwan, Japan or anybody else is right or wrong with its grievances against China; Beijing’s reasons have little or no appeal outside of China. That is, its reasons for war will work only domestically and only as long as its monopoly on information holds.

Internal morale can be easily undermined in a public information onslaught by its enemies. They, in theory, can basically construct whatever reason to attack China and will get away with it because Beijing will have no credible voice.

Fake news is nothing new, but battling it is a very sophisticated game that a monopoly on information can sort out only if imposed on a global and absolute scale. On top of that, Beijing may actually be wrong.

Why Beijing is not totally wrong

But this is beside the point. Even if Beijing is right, without an open debate platform, without an appealing internationalist ideology, it will only have brute force and money to fend for itself and its morale.

If force and money were enough to hold power, Mao would have died in a ditch and Chiang Kai-shek’s grandson would rule China now.

Then this leaves the final, practical point: what did Hu Xijin want to say in the article?

Possibly by arguing about the moral issues in going to war he is building an argument that tries to cool down the animus of domestic hardliners. They are growing annoyed and nervous about what some in China perceive as a state of siege led by the US.

Hu is basically saying, it is impossible to go to war if we don’t have a clear-cut case and to have that we cannot be the ones who move first. It appears as an internal message against Chinese war-mongers to wait longer. It is a command not to rush things and ponder them.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers marching with their bayonets during a military parade. Photo: AFP/Stephen Shaver

But, actually, as soon as China speaks of war, many countries are impatient about the details of its arguments; they simply shrug, taking it as naive braggadocio. Conversely, some in Beijing may believe that this grand talk could actually intimidate certain foreign parties.

Now, given the international mood around China and the long shadow of events in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and on other fronts, it is possible that outside of China the message will be simply received as “Beijing is talking of going to war.”

China may be seen as trying to build a case to start a war and be provocative. Then, the foreign parties may think: this must be taken seriously and countermeasures must be arranged.

In this way, we are all one step closer to a slippery slope of massive misunderstandings leading to a war.


Used with permission of Settimana News. Read the original here.

Starting from the bottom: a tale of the informal economy and inequality

By Namira Samir

Of the five administrative cities of the Special Capital Region (DKI Jakarta), East Jakarta has the second-highest number of people living below the poverty line, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. My minibus trip to East Jakarta has taught me about poverty and inequality more than books and lectures have ever done.

The journey turned out to be an experience that is likely to endure through time. I was the first passenger to make my way inside the bus. I waited for about 15 minutes, and it was still only me, no one else.

Then a middle-age woman, possibly in her early 50s, joined me. She was carrying quite a lot of shopping bags. I presumed she came from Tanah Abang Market, the largest and possibly one of the cheapest textile markets in Asia.

From our brief chat, I learned that she was a frequent user of the minibus. I asked her when the bus would depart, because it was way behind schedule. She said, “It will not depart until the bus is at least half full, my dear.”

I was disappointed, because I had decided to take the bus to avoid traffic and it was the most efficient option available, or at least that was what I thought based on my Internet research.

Five minutes later, the driver stepped in and we finally left the station. Throughout the journey, I beheld people from different professions and backgrounds. But here’s the thing: They all were people who struggled to meet their basic needs.

There were fruit and vegetable sellers who I believed were on their way to another market where they would sell their products. There were beggars who despite seeming physically healthy, kept asking for easy money. There were elderly people who were hardly capable of walking on their own feet but had no other choice.

There were also food and goods vendors marketing their products during the journey until the bus reached its final destination. None of us paid even the slightest attention to the vendors. One man optimistically elaborated the perks of the product he was selling, pointing to the price, which was significantly lower than if we were to purchase such products in the retail shops or shopping malls.

I suppose the ending of the story is predictable. None of us passengers bought the product. He left the bus empty-handed.

That was and still is the reality of the Indonesian economy that most of us fail to recognize. Our attention and interest are only on how to create grand programs, tackling unemployment with projects that eventually fail to reach the right beneficiaries.

Pericles, a prominent and influential Greek statesman, once said, “There’s no shame in poverty, only in not doing something with it.” The vendor that I met, despite living in hardship, chose not to give up on his situation. Shouldn’t we be ashamed of doing nothing to help transform their situation into something better?

GDP per capita in Indonesia averaged US$3,877 in December 2017. The poverty rate fell to 9.82% of the total population in the first quarter of 2018. Yet Indonesia still has very high income inequality, and the unemployment rate rose from 5.13% in the first quarter of 2018 to 5.34% in the second quarter.

In addition to high unemployment, many of the existing jobs, especially those in the informal sector that absorb the largest proportion of the Indonesian workforce, are of low quality, which constitutes a major drag on workers’ well-being.

Looking at this issue, the scholars David Simon and Sarah Birch in their 1992 paper “Formalizing the Informal Sector in a Changing South Africa: Small-scale Manufacturing on the Witwatersrand” suggested the formalization of the informal sector in South Africa. The idea is often repeated in various research and reports such as in “Transitioning the Informal to the Formal Economy,” a 2014 report by the International Labor Organization.

There is no doubt that the informal sector in Indonesia is characterized by acute shortages of decent jobs. It is where the majority of the destitute make a living, although it hardly offers reasonable livelihoods and incomes. They are prone to inadequate and unsafe working conditions, and have high illiteracy levels. They are not able to benefit from social-security schemes or labor protection.

But proposing to formalize the informal economy is not the appropriate policy response. Doing so would require workers to obtain a license, register and pay taxes, which would add costs to the people whose livelihoods depend on this sector.

People who work in the informal sector lack the education and skills necessary for a more sustainable means of livelihood. Data from Statistics Indonesia (BPS, 2015) demonstrate that about 80% of employment in the informal sector is for those who are junior-high-school graduates or below.

The formal sector, such as office work, requires administrative or analytical skills. Therefore, without improving human-resources quality, those working in the informal economy will always be excluded from better job opportunities.

As such, policymakers must address this issue in order to improve the welfare of the workers in the informal economy as well as improving the overall national economy.

There are several things that government can do to solve this problem. First, local and national governments can design programs that can directly reach this layer of society, for example by providing training and providing easier access to education for workers who are still at compulsory school age.

Improving the quality of human resources needs to start from the bottom. Imagine the powerful impact it would create if the quality of human resources in the informal economy, which makes up 60% of the workforce of Indonesia, were escalated.

As documented in the ILO’s World Social Protection Report (2017), 61.1% of people in Asia and the Pacific remain without social protection. Such underinvestment in social protection or so-called exclusionary policy will jeopardize workers’ well-being and prevent Indonesia from achieving sustainable economic growth.

Therefore, in addition to enhancing the quality of human resources in the informal sector, macroeconomic policy needs to ensure that labor rights are protected. Referring to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2016), policymakers need to develop social protection system which can reduce labour market insecurity.

Second, the Indonesian government needs to provide workers in the informal economy access to financial services, since low financial inclusion may pose threats to both the societies affected and the country’s overall economy.

To illustrate this, the relationship among financial inclusion, real output and interest rates might be provided as an example. According to the neo-Keynesian macroeconomic model, an increase in policy interest rates contributes to lower private expenditures, which reduces real output, and vice versa.

However, the model is flawed in the way it assumes that all consumers as private agents have access to financial services. This would certainly ring false in a lower-middle-income country like Indonesia, where more than 60% of the total population are excluded from accessing financial services. Hence these financially excluded private agents would weaken the elasticity of private spending and reduce the monetary transmission mechanism through interest rates that might affect aggregate demand.

According to a 2015 analysis by Aaron Mehrotra and James Yetman, accessibility to saving or borrowing is the essential characteristic of financial inclusion. Since financial inclusion helps smooth consumption, increased financial inclusion will increase the incentive to buy of the workers, propel the demand for goods and services, hence causing gross domestic product to rise.

Seeing that the degree of financial inclusion is associated with the outcome of monetary and fiscal policies whose underlying motives include financial and economic stability, and seems to reduce inequality, the government needs to put more emphasis on improving financial inclusion in Indonesia.

The government can utilize technology to facilitate credit for workers in the informal sector who want to develop businesses or want to become entrepreneurs so that they can get more secure jobs while the government progressively reforms the human capital of the country.

Poverty and inequality are the biggest threats to the world’s sustainability, and only if we attempt to address the core issues we would all live happily and peacefully.

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Namira Samir Namira Samir is an economist and consultant specializing in Islamic finance, multidimensional poverty and women’s empowerment. She holds a master’s degree in Islamic finance and management from Durham University in the UK.

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