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DIGEST is a compilation of important and interesting articles and papers on a wide range of

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DIGEST
Issue No. 80
October, 2015
Asmara

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Research & Documentation Center

For-profit education
The $1-a-week school
Private schools are booming in poor countries. Governments should either
help them or get out of their way
Across the highway from the lawns of Nairobis Muthaiga Country Club is Mathare, a slum that
stretches as far as the eye can see. Although Mathare has virtually no services like paved streets
or sanitation, it has a sizeable and growing number of classrooms. Not because of the statethe
slums half-million people have just four public schoolsbut because the private sector has
moved in. Mathare boasts 120 private schools.
This pattern is repeated across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The failure of the state to
provide children with a decent education is leading to a burgeoning of private places, which can
cost as little as $1 a week. The parents who send their children to these schools in their millions
welcome this. But governments, teachers unions and NGOs tend to take the view that private
education should be discouraged or heavily regulated. That must change.

Chalk and fees


Education in most of the developing world is shocking. Half of children in South Asia and a third
of those in Africa who complete four years of schooling cannot read properly. In India 60% of
six- to 14-year-olds cannot read at the level of a child who has finished two years of schooling.
Most governments have promised to provide universal primary education and to promote
secondary education. But even when public schools exist, they often fail. In a survey of rural
Indian schools, a quarter of teachers were absent. In Africa the World Bank found teacherabsenteeism rates of 15-25%. Pakistan recently discovered that it had over 8,000 non-existent
state schools, 17% of the total. Sierra Leone spotted 6,000 ghost teachers, nearly a fifth the
number on the state payroll.
Powerful teachers unions are part of the problem. They often see jobs as hereditary sinecures,
the state education budget as a revenue stream to be milked and any attempt to monitor the
quality of education as an intrusion. The unions can be fearsome enemies, so governments leave
them to run schools in the interests of teachers rather than pupils.
The failure of state education, combined with the shift in emerging economies from farming to
jobs that need at least a modicum of education, has caused a private-school boom. According to
the World Bank, across the developing world a fifth of primary-school pupils are enrolled in
private schools, twice as many as 20 years ago. So many private schools are unregistered that the
real figure is likely to be much higher. A census in Lagos found 12,000 private schools, four
1

times as many as on government records. Across Nigeria 26% of primary-age children were in
private schools in 2010, up from 18% in 2004. In India in 2013, 29% were, up from 19% in
2006. In Liberia and Sierra Leone around 60% and 50% respectively of secondary-school
enrolments are private.
By and large, politicians and educationalists are unenthusiastic. Governments see education as
the states job. Teachers unions dislike private schools because they pay less and are harder to
organise in. NGOs tend to be ideologically opposed to the private sector. The UN special
rapporteur on education, Kishore Singh, has said that for-profit education should not be allowed
in order to safeguard the noble cause of education. This attitude harms those whom
educationalists claim to serve: children. The boom in private education is excellent news for
them and their countries, for three reasons.
First, it is bringing in moneynot just from parents, but also from investors, some in search of a
profit. Most private schools in the developing world are single operators that charge a few dollars
a month, but chains are now emerging. Bridge International Academies, for instance, has 400
nursery and primary schools in Kenya and Uganda which teach in standardised classrooms that
look rather like stacked shipping containers. It plans to expand into Nigeria and India. Mark
Zuckerberg, Facebooks founder, Bill Gates and the International Finance Corporation, the
World Banks private-sector arm, are among its investors. Chains are a healthy development,
because they have reputations to guard.
Second, private schools are often better value for money than state ones. Measuring this is hard,
since the children who go to private schools tend to be better off, and therefore likely to perform
better. But a rigorous four-year study of 6,000 pupils in Andhra Pradesh, in southern India,
suggested that private pupils performed better in English and Hindi than public-school pupils,
and at a similar level in maths and Telugu, the local language. The private schools achieved these
results at a third of the cost of the public schools.
Lastly, private schools are innovative. Since technology has great (though as yet mostly
unrealised) potential in education, this could be important. Bridge gives teachers tablets linked to
a central system that provides teaching materials and monitors their work. Such robo-teaching
may not be ideal, but it is better than lessons without either materials or monitoring. Critics of
the private sector are right that it has problems. Quality ranges from top-notch international
standard to not much more than cheap child care. But the alternative is often a public school that
is worseor no school at all.

Those who can


Governments should therefore be asking not how to discourage private education, but how to
boost it. Ideally, they would subsidise private schools, preferably through a voucher which
parents could spend at the school of their choice and top up; they would regulate schools to
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ensure quality; they would run public exams to help parents make informed choices. But
governments that cannot run decent public schools may not be able to do these things well; and
doing them badly may be worse than not doing them at all. Such governments would do better to
hand parents cash and leave schools alone. Where public exams are corrupt, donors and NGOs
should consider offering reliable tests that will help parents make well-informed choices and thus
drive up standards. The growth of private schools is a manifestation of the healthiest of instincts:
parents desire to do the best for their children. Governments that are too disorganized or corrupt
to foster this trend should get out of the way.
The Economist
1-7 August 2015

Low-cost private schools


Learning unleashed
Where governments are failing to provide youngsters with a decent education,
the private sector is stepping in
The Ken Ade Private School is not much to look at. Its classrooms are corrugated tin shacks
scattered through the stinking streets of Makoko, Lagoss best-known slum, two grades to a
room. The windows are glassless; the light sockets without bulbs. The ceiling fans are still. But
by mid-morning deafening chants rise above the mess, as teachers lead gingham-clad pupils in
educational games and dance. Chalk-boards spell out the A-B-Cs for the day. A smart, twostorey government school looms over its ramshackle private neighbour. Its children sit twiddling
their thumbs. The teachers have not shown up.
Recent estimates put the number of low-cost private schools in Lagos, Nigerias commercial
capital, as high as 18,000. Hundreds more open each year. Fees average around 7,000 naira ($35)
per term, and can be as low as 3,000 naira. By comparison, in 2010-11 the city had just 1,600
government schools. Some districts, including the floating half of Makoko, where wooden
shacks stand on stilts above the water, contain not a single one.
In the developed world private schools charge high fees and teach the elite. But Ken Ade is more
typical of the sector, not just in Nigeria but worldwide. In 2010 there were an estimated 1m
private schools in the developing world. Some are run by charities and churches, or rely on state
subsidies. But the fastest-growing group are small low-cost schools, run by entrepreneurs in poor
areas, that cater to those living on less than $2 a day.

Private schools enroll a much bigger share of primary-school pupils in poor countries than in rich
ones: a fifth, according to data compiled from official sources, up from a tenth two decades ago
(see chart 1). Since they are often unregistered, this is sure to be an underestimate. A school
census in Lagos in 2010-11, for example, found four times as many private schools as in
government records. UNESCO, the UN agency responsible for education, estimates that half of
all spending on education in poor countries comes out of parents pockets (see chart 2). In rich
countries the share is much lower.
One reason for the developing worlds boom in private education is that aspirational parents are
increasingly seeking alternatives to dismal state schools. In south and west Asian countries half
of children who have finished four years of school cannot read at the minimum expected
standard (see chart 3). In Africa the share is a third. In 2012 Kaushik Basu, now at the World
Bank but then an adviser to Indias government, argued that Indias rapidly rising literacy rate
was mostly propelled by parents spending on education to help their children get ahead.
Ordinary people realised that, in a more globalised economy, they could gain quickly if they
were better educated, he said.
Many poor countries have failed to build enough schools or train enough teachers to keep up
with the growth in their populations. Half have more than 50 school-age children per qualified
teacher. And though quite a few dedicate a big share of their government budgets to education,
this is from a low tax base. Some money is siphoned off in scams such as salaries for teachers
who have moved or died, or funding for non-existent schools. Since 2009 Sierra Leone has
struck 6,000 fake teachers off its payroll by checking identities before paying salaries. A national
survey in Pakistan recently found that over 8,000 state schools did not actually exist.
State schools are often plagued by teacher strikes and absenteeism. In a slum in eastern Delhi
where migrants from north-east India cluster, pupils split their days between lessons in small
private schools in abandoned warehouses that charge 80-150 rupees ($1.25-2.35) a month, and a
free government school around the corner, which supplies cooked midday meals and a few
books, but little teaching. When researchers visited rural schools in India in 2010 they found that
a quarter of teachers were absent.
A study by the World Bank found that teachers in state-run primary schools in some African
countries were absent 15-25% of the time. The public teachers dont feel obligated coming to
school, says Emmanuel Essien, a driver who hustles day and night to send his youngsters to a
private school in Alimosho, a suburb of Lagos. If they come, they might just tell the student to
go hawking. They tell you that your children have to attend an extra class, or buy an extra book,
just so they can make money in their own pocket.

Privatising Parnassus

Given the choice between a free state school where little teaching happens and a private school
where their children might actually learn something, parents who can scrape together the fees
will plump for the latter. In a properly functioning market, the need to attract their custom would
unleash competition and over time improve quality for all. But as a paper by Tahir Andrabi,
Jishnu Das and Asim Ijaz Khwaja published by the World Bank explains, market failures can
stop that happening. Choosing a private school can be a perfectly rational personal choice, but
have only a limited effect on overall results.
One such failure is that parents often lack objective information about standards. Countries
where state schools are weak rarely have trustworthy national exam systems. To attract clients,
private schools may exaggerate their performance by marking generously. Mr Essien says he has
taken to testing his children himself to cross-check their progress. Though paying customers like
him can hold private-school teachers to account, making them more likely to turn up and try
hard, good teachers cannot be conjured out of thin air.
Matters are further complicated by the fact that education is to a great extent a positional good:
the aim is to get a job or university place, for which it is enough to beat the other candidates,
rather than reach the highest possible absolute standard. Especially in rural areas where there is
unlikely to be much choice, being just a bit better than public schools is enough to keep the
clients coming, says Joanna Harma of the Centre for International Education at the University of
Sussex. And sheltered from market forces, those public schools have no incentive to improve.

That means school choice can sort children into different types of schools: the most informed
and committed parents colonise the better ones, which may then rely on their reputations to keep
their position in the pecking order. Research from several parts of Africa and south Asia finds
that children in low-cost private schools are from families that are better-off, get more help from
parents with homework and have spent more time in pre-school. A round-up of research, much
of it from south Asia, found that their pupils did better in assessments, though often only in some
subjects. In the few studies that accounted for differences in family background and so on, their
lead shrank.
Chiles voucher scheme, which started in 1981 under the dictatorship of General Augusto
Pinochet, aimed to enable poor students to move from bad public schools to good private ones
and to raise standards by generating competition between the two. Today 38% of pupils are in
state schools, 53% in private ones that accept vouchers and 7% in elite institutions that charge
full fees. In the 1990s a post-Pinochet centre-left government allowed subsidised schools to
charge top-up fees. They can also select their pupils by ability.
Chile does better than any other Latin American country in PISA, an international assessment of
15-year-olds in literacy, mathematics and science, suggesting a positive overall effect. But that is
hardly a ringing endorsement: all the regions countries come in the bottom third globally. And
once the relatively privileged background of private-school pupils is taken into account, says
Emiliana Vegas of the Inter-American Development Bank, state schools do better, especially
since they serve the hardest-to-teach children.
Where private schools trounce state ones is in cost-effectiveness. A recent study in the Indian
state of Andhra Pradesh gave vouchers for low-cost private schools to around 6,000 randomly
chosen pupils. Four years later they were compared with applicants who did not receive the
vouchers. Both groups did equally well in mathematics and Telugu, the local language. But
private schools had spent less time on these subjects in order to make space in the curriculum for
English and Hindi, in which their pupils did better. And spending on each pupil was only around
7

a third that in the state sector. Lagos state spent at least $230 on each child it put through primary
school between 2011 and 2013, public data suggest, around twice as much as a typical private
school charges.

Marks for effort


A centre-left government in Chile is now unwinding Pinochets reforms. One of its changes is to
bar for-profit schools from the voucher scheme. The new standard-bearer for market-based
education reform is the Pakistani province of Punjab. Nationally, 25m children are out of school,
and reformist politicians are turning to the private sector to expand capacity quickly and cheaply.
To make the market work better, they are exploring ways to give parents more information about
standards and to help successful schools grow.
Authority over education is devolved to Pakistans four provinces, and Punjabs energetic chief
minister, Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of the prime minister, Nawaz, has decreed that the
government will not build any of the new schools needed to achieve its 100% enrolment target
for school-age children by 2018. Instead money is being funnelled to the private sector via the
Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), an independent body with a focus on extremely poor
families.
One scheme helps entrepreneurs set up new schools, particularly in rural areas. Another gives
vouchers to parents living in slums to send children who are not in school to PEF-approved
institutions. All the places in some schools have also been bought up. Those schools cannot
charge fees and must submit to monitoring and teacher training. Although the funding per pupil
is less than half of what is spent by state schools, results are at least as good, says Aneela
Salman, PEFs managing director. The private sector can be much more flexible about who it
hires, and can set up schools quickly in rented buildings and hire teachers from the local
community.
Crucially, the province is also improving oversight and working out how to inform parents about
standards. It has dispatched 1,000 inspectors armed with tablet computers to conduct basic
checks on whether schools are operating and staff and children are turning up. They have begun
quizzing teachers, using questions from the exams they are meant to be teaching their pupils to
pass. The early results, says one official grimly, are not good.
In a joint study by the World Bank, Harvard University and Punjabs government, parents in
some villages were given report cards showing the test scores of their children and the average
for schools nearby, both public and private. A year later participating villages had more children
in school and their test scores in maths, English and Urdu were higher than in comparable
villages where the cards were not distributed. The scheme was very cheap, and the improvement

in results larger than that from some much pricier interventions, such as paying parents to send
their children to school.
PEF now educates 2m of Punjabs 25m children, a share likely to grow by another million by
2018. Meanwhile the number of state schools has fallen by around 2,000 as some have been
merged and others closed. Such a wholesale shift to private-sector provision would create a
storm of protest in Britain, whose Department for International Development is backing Punjabs
reforms. But there are few signs of anxiety in a country where many parents aspire to send their
children to a private school and the countrys recent Nobel laureate, the education activist Malala
Yousafzai, is the daughter of a private-school owner.

Schooling on tick
NGOs and education activists often oppose the spread of private schools, sometimes because
they fear the poorest will be left behind, but often because of ideology. In October Kishore
Singh, the UN special rapporteur on the right to education, told the UN General Assembly that
for-profit education should not be allowed in order to safeguard the noble cause of education.
Others, seemingly more reasonably, demand greater oversight of the sector: in a resolution on
July 1st the UN Human Rights Council urged countries to regulate and monitor private schools.

Crammed in, cramming


But where governments are hostile to private schools, regulation is often a pretext to harass
them. And many of the criteria commonly used, such as the quality of facilities, or teachers
qualifications and pay, have been shown by research in several countries to have no bearing on a
schools effectiveness. In recent years many poor countries staffed state schools with unqualified
teachers on temporary contracts, paying them much less than permanent staff. In India, Kenya,
Pakistan and Mali their pupils learn at least as much as those taught by permanent teachers.
Many small private schools do not try to get on any official register, knowing that they have no
chance of succeeding, not least because of widespread corruption. A federal law from 2009
means that all private schools in India must be registered. This means satisfying onerous
9

conditions, to which states have added their own. They must have access to playgrounds
(immediately barring almost all those in urban slums), and qualified teachers who are paid
salaries that match government-run schools. The state of Uttar Pradesh limits tuition-fee
increases to 10% every three years. The main effect of this blizzard of bureaucracy has been to
provide corrupt officials with a new excuse to seek bribes.
The need to fly under the radar means that schools lack access to credit and cannot grow or reap
economies of scale. One small study in rural India found that a quarter of private schools visited
by researchers had closed down when they returned a year later. Some will have been sound
businesses brought down by cash-flow problems, as parents with precarious, low-paid jobs
struggled to pay the fees. Others will have been run by people with an enthusiasm for education,
but no business acumen.
Another study in Punjab shows how much the lack of credit hamstrings private schools. All those
in some randomly selected villages were given a $500 grant and asked to submit proposals for
using the money to improve, just as a bank might demand a business plan in return for a small
loan. Audits a year later found that the grants had been entirely spent on school improvements
and test scores had risen more than in a control group of villages.
A promising development is the spread of low-cost for-profit school chains in big cities in Africa
and south Asia. Some started by catering to better-off families and are now moving into the mass
market. Their founders have more in common with the highly educated young enthusiasts who
start charter schools in America than the owners of the single institutions that dominate the
sector, says Julia Moffett of the Future of Learning Fund, which backs education entrepreneurs
in Africa.
Bridge International Academies, which runs around 400 primary schools in Kenya and Uganda,
and plans to open more in Nigeria and India, is the biggest, with backers including Facebooks
chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. Omega Schools has 38 institutions in Ghana.
(Pearson, which owns 50% of The Economist, has stakes in both Bridge and Omega.) Low-cost
chains with a dozen schools or fewer have recently been established in India, Nigeria, the
Philippines and South Africa.
Bridges cost-cutting strategies include using standardised buildings made of unfinished wooden
beams, corrugated steel and iron mesh, and scripted lessons that teachers recite from hand-held
computers linked to a central system. That saves on teacher training and monitoring. An
independent evaluation is under way to find out whether such robo-teaching is better than the
alternativetoo often ill-educated teachers struggling through material they do not understand
themselves. The potential of technology to transform education is unlikely to be realised in state
institutions, where teachers and unions resist anything that might increase oversight or reduce the
need for staff.
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Another trend, says Prachi Srivastava of the University of Ottawa, is the emergence of providers
of auxiliary services for private schools, including curriculum development, science kits and
school-management training. Credit facilities are also cropping up. The Indian School Finance
Company, funded by Grey Ghost Ventures, an Atlanta-based impact investor, has expanded to
six Indian states since it started in 2009. The IDP Rising Schools Programme, a small-loans
programme in Ghana, also offers its clients teacher training. Private schooling may turn out to be
good business for these firms and their investorsand, if governments allow it to flourish, for
pupils, too.

The Economist
1-7 August 2015

11

SANCTIONS ARE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITYS AUTOMATIC RESPONSE

The New Gunboat Diplomacy


UN sanctions dont work: they are too late or they hit the wrong people. In
Darfur, after a decade of war, all that the UN Security Council can agree on is
to condemn the rebels actions.
Claudio Gramizzi and Jerome Tubiana
Adam Yacub Sharif was a prominent figure in the rebellion in Darfur (western Sudan) when it
began around a decade ago (1). With Kalashnikov, turban, satellite phone, and amulets around
his neck, Sharif, nicknamed Bambino, controlled Shangal Tobay in North Darfur for the
Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA). When we met him in hiding in Khartoum in 2011, he looked
thin and tired, and the rebellion in Darfur was weak, factionalised and out of favour
internationally. The West had grown tired of the conflict, and relegated it far down the priority
list. A few months later, it was announced that he had died after an illness; but his name still
appears on the short list of people sanctioned by the UN Security Council.
The UNs group of experts on Sudan was created in 2005; it is not widely known or influential,
but it can nominate people (or companies) involved in the war in Darfur for sanction (based on
chapter VII of the UN charter) because of human rights violations or refusal to participate in
peace negotiations. Sanctions are limited to travel bans and the freezing of assets. The aim is to
dissuade key players from further violence. Since 2006 dozens of names have been put forward:
heads of state (such as Sudans president, Omar al-Bashir, and Chads Idriss Deby Itno) and
leaders of rebel factions. But the Security Council has ratified just four recommendations.
The 2006 list (2) shows a desire for balance. On Khartoums side are Gaffar Mohammed
Elhassan, a general in the Sudanese army, and Musa Hilal Abdalla Alnsiem, a senior leader of
the Janjaweed militias responsible for many atrocities. On the rebels side are Sharif and Jibril
Abdelkarim Ibrahim Mayu, known as Tek, a defector from the Chadian army who became
leader of the Justice and Equality movement before forming his own group. Since the list was
drawn up, Bambino has died and General Elhassan has retired; Tek has gone back to the
government camp; and Alnsiem has set up his own political-military movement, the Sudanese
Revolutionary Awakening Council (SRAC). Not only has the UNs lumbering machinery had
little influence on these developments, it doesnt seem able to take them into account.

12

No right to self-defence
Until 2011 the only one of the four that the experts had met was Elhassan; none had had the
chance to defend themselves. The absence of inquiries and the lack of respect for the right to
self-defence are typical of the sanctions process; Cte dIvoire and the Democratic Republic of
the Congo are further evidence of this. But even if it is easy to get caught up in the UNs
workings, the experts are not investigators or judges. In a clearer legal system, the accused would
easily be able to mount a defence case, so sketchy are the charges against them.
Bambino was accused of having broken a ceasefire by attacking a government convoy in 2005,
but none of the parties had ever respected this ceasefire. The charge was based on just two
sources, W1 and W2, African Union officers who had been sent to the scene. Though Alnsiem
was responsible for many attacks on civilians, he was accused only of a raid on a region where
he had limited authority.
The sanctions have missed their goal: no one sanctioned has a bank account or assets that could
be frozen, and the travel ban did not stop them crossing borders unimpeded. We met Tek in 2011
in the luxury Mvenpick hotel in Doha (Qatar); an official UN pass enabled him to stay there for
almost a year (3).
The Doha peace talks would have been undermined if sanctions had been strictly observed.
Alnsiem told us: Any peace process on Darfur that didnt include me would be worthless. This
dilemma is the same as that faced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Darfur.
Ideally, justice and international sanctions would be independent of political considerations. But
introducing sanctions to force warring parties to sign peace agreements has been used in Darfur
and more recently in South Sudan. In 2010 the UN experts attention turned to rebel leader
Abdel Wahid al-Nur, who had been in exile in France since 2006 and was known for his total
opposition to dialogue with the Sudanese government, which he called genocidal. The Security
Council was about to impose sanctions on him until the US halted this, suspecting it was illegal,
and conscious that a peace agreement signed under duress had little chance of lasting.
The UN system is dominated by the five permanent members of the Security Council. A vote
against sanctions from any of them is enough to prevent their imposition. The experts who report
to the Council are in principle independent, but some member states are happy to propose or
reject candidates, censor reports or block their publication (4). The situation becomes more
complicated when, as in Darfur and Syria, the Security Council is divided. After a decade of war
in Darfur, all that the permanent members can agree on is to condemn the rebels actions. The
Sudanese government is a more awkward target because China and Russia reject any western
initiative against Sudan.
13

Sanctions not intervention


In 2005 the Council, unable to reach agreement on military intervention in Darfur, entrusted the
ICC with investigating the crimes. The UN decision maintained the illusion of action, as did the
sanctions adopted two days earlier, which included an arms embargo. The embargo applied only
to the Darfur region, and allowed the main arms-exporting countries especially China and
Russia to continue supplying Khartoum. Russia and China seemed satisfied with Sudans
assurances that the weapons would not be used in Darfur. In 2013 the US tried to extend the
embargo to South Kordofan and Damazin (Blue Nile state), but was not backed by any other
Council members: China and Russia demurred, as did France and the UK.
Western nations still enthusiastically support sanctions (5). They often try to extend their
geographical or economic scope. Implementation is another matter: German military trucks and
Canadian armoured vehicles were sold to Sudan between 2010 and 2012, as were Iranian drones
containing European components, in violation of sanctions against both Iran and Sudan (6).
In 2012 those drones, assembled in Sudanese factories, flew over a western diplomat invited to
attend a demonstration.
In spite of the failure of measures taken over Darfur, sanctions continue to be imposed. They are
the international communitys automatic response to every new conflict, especially in Africa.
In 2011 an arms embargo on Libya was approved, but flouted almost immediately by French
shipments to the rebels for the self-defence of civilians, according to French foreign
minister Alain Jupp (7). The failed sanctions against Libya outlived the fall of Gaddafi, though
they did not stop Libyan arms crossing the borders.

Moves against the CAR


In 2013 similar measures were taken against the Central African Republic. Since the outbreak of
South Sudans civil war in December 2013, NGOs have been arguing that embargos and
sanctions should be applied there. The request has not received enough backing to be adopted by
the UN, but the US put its own measures in place in May 2014, followed by the EU in June. An
equal number of people were designated in the rebel and government camps (two each for the
US, one each for the EU), focusing on the second, rather than the top, tier of leadership. The EU
selected the rebel leader Peter Gadet because of a raid on the town of Bentiu during which
several hundred civilians were killed on ethnic grounds. The attack was led by James Koang,
then in military command of the South Sudanese opposition, who has since become a member of
its peace talks delegation. He was eventually sanctioned by the US in August 2014. But there is
no sign that the measures, or the threat of other sanctions from the regional mediation led by
Ethiopia, will make the belligerents more inclined to peace or their troops less likely to commit
ethnic murder, even within UN bases.

14

Sanctions are a weak echo of 19th-century gunboat diplomacy or its recent manifestations, the
right to interfere and the responsibility to protect. They are now seen as illegitimate, even in
those African states most dependent on the rest of the world. They seem even more fragile in
conflicts where the members of the Security Council or other powers are directly involved, such
as Ukraine. Russia has no objection to sanctions against Islamist leaders in the Middle East, and
believes that the UN is too soft on them. But in Crimea or Donbass, Russia knows its right of
veto rules UN sanctions out.
That is why the US and the EU have dispensed with UN backing to punish Russia. Commercial
and financial sanctions could cost Russia between $60bn and $90bn a year, worsening the woe of
plummeting oil prices. But such measures can produce unforeseen political results. Just as
Sudans president Al-Bashir and Kenyas president, Uhuru Kenyatta, have tried to take
advantage of the ICC charges against them by accusing it of imperialism and even racism,
sanctions let Vladimir Putin cast himself as a victim, and could strengthen his power and his
alliances with others on the outlaw list.
Le Monde Diplomatique
January, 2015

15

Powering Africa
Antonio Castellano, Adam Kendall, Mikhail Nikomarov, and Tarryn Swemmer
Sub-Saharan Africa is starved for electricity. The regions power sector is significantly
underdeveloped, whether we look at energy access, installed capacity, or overall consumption.
The fact that sub-Saharan Africas residential and industrial sectors suffer electricity shortages
means that countries struggle to sustain GDP growth. The stakes are enormous. Indeed, fulfilling
the economic and social promise of the region, and Africa in general, depends on the ability of
government and investors to develop the continents huge electricity capacity.
Countries with electrification rates of less than 80 percent of the population consistently suffer
from reduced GDP per capita (Exhibit 1). The only countries that have electrification rates of
less than 80 percent with GDP per capita greater than $3,500 are those with significant wealth in
natural resources, such as Angola, Botswana, and Gabon. But even they fall well short of
economic prosperity. Whether people can obtain electricity (access), and if so, how much they
are able to consume (consumption) are the two most important metrics that can indicate the
degree to which the power sector is
supporting national development.
From an electricity-access point of view,
sub-Saharan Africas situation is the
worlds worst. It has 13 percent of the
worlds population, but 48 percent of the
share of the global population without
access to electricity. The only other
region with a similar imbalance is South
Asia, with 23 percent of the worlds
population and 34 percent of the people
without access to electricity. This means
that almost 600 million people in subSaharan Africa lack access to electricity.
Only seven countriesCameroon, Cte dIvoire, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal and South
Africahave electricity access rates exceeding 50 percent. The rest of the region has an average
grid access rate of just 20 percent. Moreover, even when there is access to electricity, there may
not be enough to go around.

16

Regarding consumption, Africas rates are far below other emerging markets. Average electricity
consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, is only about 150 kilowatt-hours
per capita. This is a fraction of consumption rates in Brazil, India, and South Africa.
Our new report, Brighter Africa: The growth potential of the sub-Saharan electricity sector,
explores how power demand will evolve in the region, along with the associated supply
requirements; how much it will cost to supply the needed power, plus the options available to
manage the expense; and what is required to ensure that the new capacity gets built. In brief, subSaharan Africa has an extraordinary opportunity but will have to do a lot of work to take
advantage of it.

Meeting a four-fold increase in demand


We took a demand-driven approach to better understand the likely evolution of the sub-Saharan
African power sector and the resulting opportunity for the players who will help propel it. We
project that sub-Saharan Africa will consume nearly 1,600 terawatt hours by 2040, four times
what was used in 2010. That forecast is based on a number of important factors, including a
fivefold increase in GDP, a doubling of population, electricity-access levels reaching more than
70 percent by 2040, and increased urbanization. By 2040, sub-Saharan Africa will consume as
much electricity
as India and
Latin
America
combined did in
2010 (Exhibit 2).
Nevertheless, we
forecast
that
electrification
levels will only
reach 70 to 80
percent by 2040
given
the
challenges
associated with
getting the power
to where it needs
to go. It takes on
average 25 years to progress from a 20 percent electrification rate to 80 percent electrification
rate, our research found.
We know there will be demand. What about supply? Sub-Saharan Africa is incredibly rich in
potential power-generation capacity. Excluding solar, we estimate there is 1.2 terawatts of
17

capacity; including solar, there is a staggering 10 terawatts of potential capacity or more. There
is potential for about 400 gigawatts of gas-generated power, with Mozambique, Nigeria, and
Tanzania alone representing 60 percent of the total capacity; about 350 gigawatts of hydro, with
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) accounting for 50 percent; about 300 gigawatts of
coal capacity, with Botswana, Mozambique, and South Africa representing 95 percent of this;
and 109 gigawatts of wind capacity, although it is relatively expensive compared with other
sources. The proven geothermal resource potential is only 15 gigawatts, but this is an important
technology for Ethiopia and Kenya, which hold 80 percent of it.
Gas would account for more than 40 percent of the electricity generated from 2020 onward, with
hydro remaining a very important technology. Solar would take off significantly after 2030,
representing 8 percent of the generation mix by 2040 and more than 30 percent of capacity
additions between 2030 and 2040. Even in the absence of active incentives, more than 25 percent
of total energy in 2040 would come from clean sourcesgeothermal, hydro, solar, and wind
compared with 21 percent today, almost all of which is from hydroelectric sources. Southern
Africa will continue to build coal capacity, but its overall importance in the continents fuel mix
will diminish from 51 to 23 percent. We found that the average levelized cost of energy
generated would be about $70 per megawatt-hour with relative emissions of 0.48 tons1 of CO2
per megawatt-hour in 2030, dropping to 0.43 tons of CO2 per megawatt-hour in 2040.
If every country builds what it needs, we estimate that the region would require about $490
billion of capital for new generating capacity, plus another $345 billion for transmission and
distribution.
Also, we studied ways to facilitate the development of the sector and the trade-offs they entail.
Regional integration, such as power pools, and promotion of renewable generation are game
changers that could shape the energy landscape in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 25 years. We
found that significantly increasing regional integration could save more than $40 billion in
capital spending, and save the African consumer nearly $10 billion per year by 2040, as the
levelized cost of energy falls from $70 per megawatt-hour to $64 per megawatt-hour. Higher
levels of integration would result in larger regional gas options being favored over some of the
smaller in-country solar and wind additions, leading to an increase in carbon emissions.
If sub-Saharan Africa aggressively promotes renewables, it could obtain a 27 percent reduction
in CO2 emissions; this would result in a 35 percent higher installed capacity base and 31 percent
higher capital spending (or an additional $153 billion).
There are also a series of shocks that could fundamentally change the sector in Africa. For one,
the massive Grand Inga Dam hydroelectric project could help save $32 billion in capital
spending as well as 63 megatons in carbon emissions annually. In addition, Africa is
18

significantly underexplored from a gas perspective, so there is the real possibility of further gas
discoveries on the east or west coasts. Tapping such sources could result in a much cheaper
levelized cost of energy.
To move ahead on development of the sector, national governments should take the initiative in a
number of areas. For one, they could focus on ensuring the financial viability of the power
sector. Four points matter here: electricity tariffs should reflect the true cost of electricity, costs
should be transparent, the country should make the most of what it already has in the sector, and
officials should pursue least cost options in investments.
A second imperative involves creating an environment that will attract a broad range of funding
mechanisms. Private-sector involvement is critical and central to effectively delivering new
capacity. To attract the private sector, it is necessary to provide clear, consistent regulations;
allocate risks to the parties best suited to carry them; ensure that a credible buyer (off-taker)
exists; and seek support from external institutions to guarantee the risks.
Last, it is important for governments to demonstrate political will. To do this, they can prioritize
efforts, keep an eye on the long term, and focus on the regulations and capabilities needed for the
sector to thrive, not just on the plants and associated infrastructure.
While the sub-Saharan African power sector faces many challenges, there is real momentum for
change. For example, the UN program on Sustainable Energy for All is sparking private-sector
activity in many different parts of the value chain. The region has the ability to take development
of the sector to the next level. Success will propel economic growth of the continent and greatly
enhance the lives of hundreds of millions of people, as well as potentially create a thriving
electricity-supply industry and an associated 2.5 million temporary and permanent jobs across
the continent.
mckinsey.com
March 12, 2015

19

EAST AND WEST GERMAN WOMEN BOTH LOSE OUT

A Harder Life after the Wall Fell


The women of what used to be East Germany miss their old equality,
independence and excellent childcare provision.
Sabine Kergel
Most sociologists believed that, after the reunification of Germany, living conditions for women
on both sides of the old border would eventually equalise. They were too optimistic. In the
former Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) only 16% of mothers with children aged between
three and five were in full-time employment in 2007, against 52% in the former German
Democratic Republic (GDR). While the birth rate in former East Germany has now fallen to
West German levels, there are still considerable differences (1). In 2009, 61% of births in the
former GDR were out of wedlock, compared with 26% in the former FRG.
East German women were especially hit by the social and political changes of reunification. In
the old GDR, working mothers easily reconciled family and professional lives, unlike their
counterparts in the West. Reunification led to a sharp rise in female unemployment in the East
and resulted in drastic changes to their way of life and future plans, as well as a loss of selfconfidence.
In Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, the labour participation rate for women rose after the
1950s, but was far higher in the GDR than in the FRG. Just before the fall of the Wall, 92% of
East German women were employed, compared with 60% in the West enjoying near-equality
with men, unique in the world. Where West German women adapted their life plans to fit in with
an overall scheme still shaped by the traditional image of the patriarchal family, in the East
womens economic independence from their husbands was a given.
The spectacular fall in the birth rate in East Germany during the 1970s encouraged the regime to
provide incentives for working women to have children, and special efforts were made for single
or divorced women. Although the ideological justification (producing manpower to build a
socialist society) was often mocked, the governments policy enabled women to reconcile career
plans with parental constraints, whereas on the other side of the Wall, motherhood often led to
privation and even poverty, especially in the event of divorce or abandonment.

Single parents suffer


It is not surprising that East German women perceived unification as detrimental to their
standard of living. With the unprecedented experience of unemployment they discovered that a
system of values they had taken for granted had collapsed. When you go to the employment
20

agency today and say single parent with two children, they dont know what youre talking
about. The agent I was talking to didnt even look at me, said a former shop assistant in East
Berlin. In East Germany women were protected by the omnipresent state, which relegated the
roles of fathers and families to second place. Children were socialised in institutions largely
disconnected from the family unit. Reunification did nothing to eradicate East German womens
desire for independence.
A survey of unemployed female Berliners in the early 2000s revealed that they had very different
attitudes to work and children on either side of the Wall. All the women felt that children were
central to their lives but only those from former West Berlin attached more importance to
children than to their jobs. While fully aware of the hardships that lay ahead, they tended to see
unemployment as an opportunity to fulfil themselves as mothers. The East Berliners wanted to
balance their childrens education and their careers, believing that children would grow up in
better conditions if their mothers worked. They thought they would be happier as working
mothers and better able to fulfil their maternal roles, since their financial independence would
benefit them as well as their families.
West Berlin mothers felt that they were the best able to take care of their children. They
recognised the usefulness of day nurseries, but adapted to their rigid opening hours. East Berlin
mothers, used to more flexible hours in the GDR, considered that access to day care was
essential, since employers consider it when hiring. In 2000 an unemployed sales assistant was
indignant about the jobs she didnt get because she was a single mother. People keep saying to
me, youve got two children? Oh well, Im afraid that wont be possible. They dont even listen
when I tell them that I have access to day care. For young women the situation is made worse
by the expectation that they may have another child: she felt obliged to tell a prospective
employer she wouldnt be having another child, and she could not have imagined having to say
that in a job interview during the Communist era.
All the job-seeking East Berlin mothers had to accept these humiliations, show their
qualifications and convince their future employers that they had mastered the new rules of the
game. Their counterparts in West Berlin found the demands of the employment market were the
real issue. A single mother applied for a job close to her home. It would have been perfect.
They wanted me to type, make phone calls, look after clients, etc. And then the woman director
said, We may sometimes ask you to work for more than 40 hours a week or at weekends. I
replied that it was impossible, that Id prefer to work a 30-hour week as in my previous jobs.
That was a mistake. She got really angry and started shouting at me that with all the
unemployment I should consider myself lucky to find a job at all. Then she asked me how it felt
to be a welfare scrounger, a parasite living off society ... I really want to work, but what kind of
society are we living in if we have to leave our children in care from dawn to dusk?
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According to sociologists Jutta Gysi and Dagmar Meyer, The most positive outcome of East
German family policy was womens economic independence quite inconceivable today. True,
their wages were on average 30% below those of men because they were in less qualified jobs ...
but they didnt live in fear of losing their homes or not having a place in childcare, because they
could depend on solid and reliable social welfare. That is an important prerequisite for equal
rights, perhaps even the essential one (2).
In 1999 a chef, 28, married and with two children, who found it hard to adapt to the new social
order and be dependent on her husband, said: Weve become dependent on our partners,
dependent on the money theyre willing to give us, and dependent on the way the government
assesses all of that. If it decides to stop your benefits, thats it. There you are with a headache,
because money is a subject that returns time and again and theres nothing we can do about it.
That East German model of gender equality collapsed with the Wall, but a quarter of a century
later it still shapes the way mothers brought up under it see themselves and their role in society.
Le Monde Diplomatique
June, 2015

22

Stimulating Upward Mobility in Indonesia


Indera Ratna Irawati
Indonesia experienced tremendous economic recovery after the 1997 Asian financial crisis,
going from a low middle-income country to joining the G-20 group. In addition, Indonesia has
attained political, financial and economic stability, and become one of the worlds largest
democracies (World Bank, 2014a). Despite impressive growth, inequality is also rising, as
evidenced in Indonesias Gini coefficient, which rose from 0.33 in 1999 to 0.41 in 2011. This
increased inequality may lead to slower poverty reduction, decelerated economic growth, and
increased conflict and social tension. Moreover, inequality both reflects and creates unfair access
to public services: a child from the bottom decile of the population has a 43% likelihood of being
physically stunted, compared to only 14% for the top decile. Likewise, the probability of
dropping out of school is far higher for children from poorer homes: 71% of the lowest decile
will leave school early, compared to 26% from the top (World Bank, 2014b).
For many years, inequality in Indonesia has been most obvious in unequal opportunities for
upward social mobility. Which people are most successful in improving their social position, and
what factors produce upward social mobility? My research examined inequality in the urban
areas of two provinces, West and East Java, drawing on the longitudinal data compiled by the
Indonesian Family Life Survey (IFLS) 1993-2007. The sample includes 1,177 men and women
aged 20-64.
Opportunities for upward social mobility in urban Indonesia are greater for individuals from
higher social classes than for lower-class Indonesians (Pattinasarany, 2012). The data shows
around 27% social mobility from lower to middle classes compared to 45% from middle to upper
classes. In fact, opportunities for social mobility barely exist in the lowest classes. In Indonesia,
as in much of the world, the lower the social class, the smaller the chance for upward mobility.
As well as class rigidity, there is also positional rigidity, keeping most respondents in the same
class as their parents.
With regard to gender, men are more likely to move upward than similarly-situated women,
especially for those who start out in the lower social class. The demands on women to fulfil
gender roles, in the household as well as in professional life, complicate womens careers,
limiting their upward mobility. Education clearly influences upward social mobility in Indonesia.
The higher the education level the greater the opportunity for upward social mobility. Paternal

23

social class has the strongest influence on respondents class, while respondents education is the
second strongest variable.
My qualitative research in rural Java supports the results of quantitative studies that lower-class
individuals find it difficult to move into the middle or upper classes. However, there are some
interesting exceptions whereby people from lower classes rise to the middle class, even without
schooling. Here are three examples.
Many Indonesians opt to work abroad as migrant workers, mostly as domestic workers (usually
women) and factory or construction workers (mainly men). Decisions to work as migrants are
mainly driven by the lack of job opportunities for less-educated Indonesians. Moreover, migrants
may earn more than they could in Indonesia for a similar work and many send remittances to
relatives living in villages. With these remittances families may move into a higher social class.
Another path is through the inter-generational transmission of special skills. A community in
Garut (West Java) is famous for producing the best mens barbers in Java. For decades, this skill
has been passed on from one generation to the next. Most successful professional hair clippers
temporarily work outside their village in big cities such as Jakarta. Through their specific skills
as barbers, many have successfully raised their familys economic and social status.
Thirdly, entrepreneurship offers an alternative path for moving up the social ladder. In most
villages there is a small number of entrepreneurs who usually start as self-employed, but later
moving on to micro-scale enterprises, and some even manage to expand their business into
neighboring villages. They typically work in small shops, restaurants or trade. Depending on the
location, some of these entrepreneurs may start their business with credit from bank or
government programs or through corporate social responsibility programs. Successful
entrepreneurs may be able to advance into higher social classes.
Further studies to explain and overcome the rigidity of Indonesias class structure, in particular
the lack of upward mobility for those at the bottom of the income ladder, are ongoing. These
studies are expected to open up discussion of potential government and private sector programs
to mitigate unequal opportunities for social mobility.

Global Dialogue
Feb 22, 2015

24

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?


We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledgefrom climate
change to vaccinationsfaces furious opposition. Some even have doubts
about the moon landing.
Joel Achenbach
Ripper, an American general whos gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet
Union, unspools his paranoid worldviewand the explanation for why he drinks only distilled
water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcoholto Lionel Mandrake, a dizzy-with-anxiety
group captain in the Royal Air Force.
Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water?
Mandrake: Ah, yes, I have heard of that, Jack. Yes, yes.
Ripper: Well, do you know what it is?
Mandrake: No. No, I dont know what it is. No.
Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous
communist plot we have ever had to face?
The movie came out in 1964, by which time the health benefits of fluoridation had been
thoroughly established, and antifluoridation conspiracy theories could be the stuff of comedy. So
you might be surprised to learn that, half a century later, fluoridation continues to incite fear and
paranoia. In 2013 citizens in Portland, Oregon, one of only a few major American cities that
dont fluoridate their water, blocked a plan by local officials to do so. Opponents didnt like the
idea of the government adding chemicals to their water. They claimed that fluoride could be
harmful to human health.
Actually fluoride is a natural mineral that, in the weak concentrations used in public drinking
water systems, hardens tooth enamel and prevents tooth decaya cheap and safe way to
improve dental health for everyone, rich or poor, conscientious brusher or not. Thats the
scientific and medical consensus. To which some people in Portland, echoing antifluoridation
activists around the world, reply: We dont believe you.

25

We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledgefrom the safety of fluoride and
vaccines to the reality of climate changefaces organized and often furious opposition.
Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research,
doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these
controversies these days, youd think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make
people argumentative. And theres so much talk about the trend these daysin books, articles,
and academic conferencesthat science doubt itself has become a pop-culture meme. In the
recent movie Interstellar, set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA has been forced
into hiding, school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.
In a sense all this is not surprising. Our lives are permeated by science and technology as never
before. For many of us this new world is wondrous, comfortable, and rich in rewardsbut also
more complicated and sometimes unnerving. We now face risks we cant easily analyze.
Were asked to accept, for example, that its safe to eat food containing genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) because, the experts point out, theres no evidence that it isnt and no reason
to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale
through traditional breeding. But to some people the very idea of transferring genes between
species conjures up mad scientists running amokand so, two centuries after Mary Shelley
wrote Frankenstein, they talk about Frankenfood.
The world crackles with real and imaginary hazards, and distinguishing the former from the
latter isnt easy. Should we be afraid that the Ebola virus, which is spread only by direct contact
with bodily fluids, will mutate into an airborne superplague? The scientific consensus says thats
extremely unlikely: No virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of
transmission in humans, and theres zero evidence that the latest strain of Ebola is any different.
But type airborne Ebola into an Internet search engine, and youll enter a dystopia where this
virus has almost supernatural powers, including the power to kill us all.
In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle
thats what science is for. Science is not a body of facts, says geophysicist Marcia McNutt,
who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious
journal. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the
laws of nature or not. But that method doesnt come naturally to most of us. And so we run into
trouble, again and again.

26

SQUARE INTUITIONS DIE HARD


That the Earth is round has been known since antiquityColumbus knew he wouldnt sail off
the edge of the worldbut alternative geographies persisted even after circumnavigations had
become common. This 1893 map by Orlando Ferguson, a South Dakota businessman, is a loopy
variation on 19th-century flat-Earth beliefs. Flat-Earthers held that the planet was centered on the
North Pole and bounded by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, and planets a few hundred miles
above the surface. Science often demands that we discount our direct sensory experiencessuch
as seeing the sun cross the sky as if circling the Earthin favor of theories that challenge our
beliefs about our place in the universe.
The trouble goes way back, of course. The scientific method leads us to truths that are less than
self-evident, often mind-blowing, and sometimes hard to swallow. In the early 17th century,
when Galileo claimed that the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, he wasnt just rejecting
church doctrine. He was asking people to believe something that defied common sensebecause
it sure looks like the suns going around the Earth, and you cant feel the Earth spinning. Galileo
was put on trial and forced to recant. Two centuries later Charles Darwin escaped that fate. But
his idea that all life on Earth evolved from a primordial ancestor and that we humans are distant
cousins of apes, whales, and even deep-sea mollusks is still a big ask for a lot of people. So is
another 19th-century notion: that carbon dioxide, an invisible gas that we all exhale all the time
and that makes up less than a tenth of one percent of the atmosphere, could be affecting Earths
climate.
Even when we intellectually accept these precepts of science, we subconsciously cling to our
intuitionswhat researchers call our naive beliefs. A recent study by Andrew Shtulman of
Occidental College showed that even students with an advanced science education had a hitch in
their mental gait when asked to affirm or deny that humans are descended from sea animals or
that Earth goes around the sun. Both truths are counterintuitive. The students, even those who
correctly marked true, were slower to answer those questions than questions about whether
humans are descended from tree-dwelling creatures (also true but easier to grasp) or whether the
moon goes around the Earth (also true but intuitive). Shtulmans research indicates that as we
27

become scientifically literate, we repress our naive beliefs but never eliminate them entirely.
They lurk in our brains, chirping at us as we try to make sense of the world.
Most of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than
statistics. We might get a prostate-specific antigen test, even though its no longer generally
recommended, because it caught a close friends cancerand we pay less attention to statistical
evidence, painstakingly compiled through multiple studies, showing that the test rarely saves
lives but triggers many unnecessary surgeries. Or we hear about a cluster of cancer cases in a
town with a hazardous waste dump, and we assume pollution caused the cancers. Yet just
because two things happened together doesnt mean one caused the other, and just because
events are clustered doesnt mean theyre not still random.
We have trouble digesting randomness; our brains crave pattern and meaning. Science warns us,
however, that we can deceive ourselves. To be confident theres a causal connection between the
dump and the cancers, you need statistical analysis showing that there are many more cancers
than would be expected randomly, evidence that the victims were exposed to chemicals from the
dump, and evidence that the chemicals really can cause cancer.

PHOTO: BETTMAN/CORBIS
EVOLUTION ON TRIAL
In 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, where John Scopes was standing trial for teaching evolution in
high school, a creationist bookseller hawked his wares. Modern biology makes no sense without
the concept of evolution, but religious activists in the United States continue to demand that
creationism be taught as an alternative in biology class. When science conflicts with a persons
core beliefs, it usually loses.
Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. Like the rest of us, theyre
vulnerable to what they call confirmation biasthe tendency to look for and see only evidence
28

that confirms what they already believe. But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to
formal peer review before publishing them. Once their results are published, if theyre important
enough, other scientists will try to reproduce themand, being congenitally skeptical and
competitive, will be very happy to announce that they dont hold up. Scientific results are always
provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists
rarely proclaim an absolute truth or absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of
knowledge.
Sometimes scientists fall short of the ideals of the scientific method. Especially in biomedical
research, theres a disturbing trend toward results that cant be reproduced outside the lab that
found them, a trend that has prompted a push for greater transparency about how experiments are
conducted. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, worries about the
secret saucespecialized procedures, customized software, quirky ingredientsthat
researchers dont share with their colleagues. But he still has faith in the larger enterprise.
Science will find the truth, Collins says. It may get it wrong the first time and maybe the
second time, but ultimately it will find the truth. That provisional quality of science is another
thing a lot of people have trouble with. To some climate change skeptics, for example, the fact
that a few scientists in the 1970s were worried (quite reasonably, it seemed at the time) about the
possibility of a coming ice age is enough to discredit the concern about global warming now.
Last fall the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which consists of hundreds of
scientists operating under the auspices of the United Nations, released its fifth report in the past
25 years. This one repeated louder and clearer than ever the consensus of the worlds scientists:
The planets surface temperature has risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 130 years,
and human actions, including the burning of fossil fuels, are extremely likely to have been the
dominant cause of the warming since the mid-20th century. Many people in the United Statesa
far greater percentage than in other countriesretain doubts about that consensus or believe that
climate activists are using the threat of global warming to attack the free market and industrial
society generally. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the most powerful Republican
voices on environmental matters, has long declared global warming a hoax.
The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast
hoax is laughablescientists love to debunk one another. Its very clear, however, that
organizations funded in part by the fossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the
publics understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics.
The news media give abundant attention to such mavericks, naysayers, professional
controversialists, and table thumpers. The media would also have you believe that science is full
of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that it usually
29

advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many
people over many years. So it has been with the consensus on climate change. Thats not about
to go poof with the next thermometer reading. But industry PR, however misleading, isnt
enough to explain why only 40 percent of Americans, according to the most recent poll from the
Pew Research Center, accept that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming.
The science communication problem, as its blandly called by the scientists who study it, has
yielded abundant new research into how people decide what to believeand why they so often
dont accept the scientific consensus. Its not that they cant grasp it, according to Dan Kahan of
Yale University. In one study he asked 1,540 Americans, a representative sample, to rate the
threat of climate change on a scale of zero to ten. Then he correlated that with the subjects
science literacy. He found that higher literacy was associated with stronger viewsat both ends
of the spectrum. Science literacy promoted polarization on climate, not consensus. According to
Kahan, thats because people tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs that have
already been shaped by their worldview.
Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says. Those with a more egalitarian and
communitarian mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think its up to
something dangerous that calls for government regulation; theyre likely to see the risks of
climate change. In contrast, people with a hierarchical and individualistic mind-set respect
leaders of industry and dont like government interfering in their affairs; theyre apt to reject
warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead tosome
kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.
In the U.S., climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to
one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, were
actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. Were thinking, People like us believe
this. People like that do not believe this. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, its not
irrational to reject established climate science: Accepting it wouldnt change the world, but it
might get him thrown out of his tribe.
Take a barber in a rural town in South Carolina, Kahan has written. Is it a good idea for him
to implore his customers to sign a petition urging Congress to take action on climate change? No.
If he does, he will find himself out of a job, just as his former congressman, Bob Inglis, did when
he himself proposed such action.
Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the
biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers. Were all in high school. Weve never left
high school, says Marcia McNutt. People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so
30

strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue
to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.
Meanwhile the Internet makes it easier than ever for climate skeptics and doubters of all kinds to
find their own information and experts. Gone are the days when a small number of powerful
institutionselite universities, encyclopedias, major news organizations, even National
Geographicserved as gatekeepers of scientific information. The Internet has democratized
information, which is a good thing. But along with cable TV, it has made it possible to live in a
filter bubble that lets in only the information with which you already agree.
How to penetrate the bubble? How to convert climate skeptics? Throwing more facts at them
doesnt help. Liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization
called Compass, says that people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their
fundamental values. She has personal experience with this. Her father is a climate change skeptic
and gets most of his information on the issue from conservative media. In exasperation she
finally confronted him: Do you believe them or me? She told him she believes the scientists
who research climate change and knows many of them personally. If you think Im wrong, she
said, then youre telling me that you dont trust me. Her fathers stance on the issue softened.
But it wasnt the facts that did it. If youre a rationalist, theres something a little dispiriting
about all this. In Kahans descriptions of how we decide what to believe, what we decide
sometimes sounds almost incidental. Those of us in the science-communication business are as
tribal as anyone else, he told me. We believe in scientific ideas not because we have truly
evaluated all the evidence but because we feel an affinity for the scientific community. When I
mentioned to Kahan that I fully accept evolution, he said, Believing in evolution is just a
description about you. Its not an account of how you reason.
Maybeexcept that evolution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There
arent really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines really do save
lives. Being right does matterand the science tribe has a long track record of getting things
right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right.
Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autismoften
well educated and affluent, by the wayare undermining herd immunity to such diseases as
whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since the
prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a study in 1998 linking a common
vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But
the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced
through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously
said on the Oprah Winfrey Show, The University of Google is where I got my degree from.)
31

In the climate debate the consequences of doubt are likely global and enduring. In the U.S.,
climate change skeptics have achieved their fundamental goal of halting legislative action to
combat global warming. They havent had to win the debate on the merits; theyve merely had to
fog the room enough to keep laws governing greenhouse gas emissions from being enacted.
Some environmental activists want scientists to emerge from their ivory towers and get more
involved in the policy battles. Any scientist going that route needs to do so carefully, says Liz
Neeley. That line between science communication and advocacy is very hard to step back
from, she says. In the debate over climate change the central allegation of the skeptics is that the
science saying its real and a serious threat is politically tinged, driven by environmental
activism and not hard data. Thats not true, and it slanders honest scientists. But it becomes more
likely to be seen as plausible if scientists go beyond their professional expertise and begin
advocating specific policies.
Its their very detachment, what you might call the cold-bloodedness of science, that makes
science the killer app. Its the way science tells us the truth rather than what wed like the truth to
be. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone elsebut their dogma is always wilting in the hot
glare of new research. In science its not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands
it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is
more important than the tribe.
Scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes its not taught well, McNutt says. Students
come away thinking of science as a collection of facts, not a method. Shtulmans research has
shown that even many college students dont really understand what evidence is. The scientific
method doesnt come naturallybut if you think about it, neither does democracy. For most of
human history neither existed. We went around killing each other to get on a throne, praying to a
rain god, and for better and much worse, doing things pretty much as our ancestors did.
Now we have incredibly rapid change, and its scary sometimes. Its not all progress. Our
science has made us the dominant organisms, with all due respect to ants and blue-green algae,
and were changing the whole planet. Of course were right to ask questions about some of the
things science and technology allow us to do. Everybody should be questioning, says McNutt.
Thats a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people
using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions. We need to get a
lot better at finding answers, because its certain the questions wont be getting any simpler.
National Geography
March, 2015

32

How America's Global Financial System Blocks


Development
Joseph E. Stiglitz
NEW YORK -- The Third International Conference on Financing for Development recently
convened in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. The conference came at a time when developing
countries and emerging markets have demonstrated their ability to absorb huge amounts of
money productively. Indeed, the tasks that these countries are undertaking -- investing in
infrastructure (roads, electricity, ports and much else), building cities that will one day be home
to billions and moving toward a green economy -- are truly enormous.
At the same time, there is no shortage of money waiting to be put to productive use. Just a few
years ago, Ben Bernanke, then the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, talked about
a global savings glut. And yet investment projects with high social returns were being starved of
funds. That remains true today. The problem, then as now, is that the world's financial markets,
meant to intermediate efficiently between savings and investment opportunities, instead
misallocate capital and create risk.
There is another irony. Most of the investment projects that the emerging world needs are long
term, as are much of the available savings -- the trillions in retirement accounts, pension funds
and sovereign wealth funds. But our increasingly shortsighted financial markets stand between
the two. Much has changed in the 13 years since the first International Conference on Financing
for Development was held in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002. Back then, the G-7 dominated global
economic policymaking; today, China is the world's largest economy (in purchasing-powerparity terms), with savings some 50 percent larger than that of the U.S. In 2002, Western
financial institutions were thought to be wizards at managing risk and allocating capital; today,
we see that they are wizards at market manipulation and other deceptive practices.
Gone are the calls for the developed countries to live up to their commitment to give at least 0.7
percent of their GNI in development aid. A few northern European countries -- Denmark,
Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and most surprisingly, the United Kingdom -- in the midst of its
self-inflicted austerity -- fulfilled their pledges in 2014. But the United States (which gave 0.19
percent of GNI in 2014) lags far, far behind.
Today, developing countries and emerging markets say to the U.S. and others: If you will not
live up to your promises, at least get out of the way and let us create an international architecture
33

for a global economy that works for the poor, too. Not surprisingly, the existing hegemons, led
by the U.S., are doing whatever they can to thwart such efforts. When China proposed the Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank to help recycle some of the surfeit of global savings to where
financing is badly needed, the U.S. sought to torpedo the effort. President Barack Obama's
administration suffered a stinging (and highly embarrassing) defeat.
The U.S. is also blocking the world's path toward an international rule of law for debt and
finance. If bond markets, for example, are to work well, an orderly way of resolving cases of
sovereign insolvency must be found. But today, there is no such way. Ukraine, Greece and
Argentina are all examples of the failure of existing international arrangements. The vast
majority of countries have called for the creation of a framework for sovereign-debt
restructuring. The U.S. remains the major obstacle.
Private investment is important, too. But the new investment provisions embedded in the trade
agreements that the Obama administration is negotiating across both oceans imply that
accompanying any such foreign direct investment comes a marked reduction in governments'
abilities to regulate the environment, health, working conditions and even the economy.
The U.S. stance concerning the most disputed part of the Addis Ababa conference was
particularly disappointing. As developing countries and emerging markets open themselves to
multinationals, it becomes increasingly important that they can tax these behemoths on the
profits generated by the business that occurs within their borders. Apple, Google and General
Electric have demonstrated a genius for avoiding taxes that exceeds what they employed in
creating innovative products.
All countries -- both developed and developing -- have been losing billions of dollars in tax
revenues. Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
released information about Luxembourg's tax rulings that exposed the scale of tax avoidance and
evasion. While a rich country like the U.S. arguably can afford the behavior described in the socalled Luxembourg Leaks, the poor cannot.
I was a member of an international commission, the Independent Commission for the Reform of
International Corporate Taxation, examining ways to reform the current tax system. In
a report presented to the International Conference on Financing for Development, we
unanimously agreed that the current system is broken, and that minor tweaks will not fix it. We
proposed an alternative -- similar to the way corporations are taxed within the U.S., with profits
allocated to each state on the basis of the economic activity occurring within state borders.
The U.S. and other advanced countries have been pushing for much smaller changes, to be
recommended by the OECD, the advanced countries' club. In other words, the countries from
34

which the politically powerful tax evaders and avoiders come are supposed to design a system to
reduce tax evasion. Our commission explains why the OECD reforms were at best tweaks in a
fundamentally flawed system and were simply inadequate. Developing countries and emerging
markets, led by India, argued that the proper forum for discussing such global issues was an
already established group within the United Nations, the Committee of Experts on International
Cooperation in Tax Matters, whose status and funding needed to be elevated. The U.S. strongly
opposed: it wanted to keep things the same as in the past, with global governance by and for the
advanced countries.
New geopolitical realities demand new forms of global governance, with a greater voice for
developing and emerging countries. The U.S. prevailed in Addis, but it also showed itself to be
on the wrong side of history.
www.huffingtonpost.com
August 10, 2015

35

Diary
Tariq Ali
In the early hours of 16 July, the Greek parliament voted overwhelmingly to give up its
sovereignty and become a semi-colonial appendage of the EU. A majority of the Syriza Central
Committee had already come out against the capitulation. There had been a partial general strike.
Tsipras had threatened to resign if fifty of his MPs voted against him. In the event six abstained
and 32 voted against him, including Yanis Varoufakis, who had resigned as finance minister
after the referendum, because, he said, some Eurogroup participants had expressed a desire for
his absence from its meetings. Now parliament had effectively declared the result of the
referendum null and void. Outside in Syntagma Square thousands of young Syriza activists
demonstrated against their government. Then the anarchists arrived with Molotov cocktails and
the riot police responded with tear-gas grenades. Everyone else left the square and by midnight it
was silent again. Its difficult not to feel depressed by all this. Greece has been betrayed by a
government that when elected only six months ago offered hope. As I walked away from the
empty square the EUs coup brought back memories of another.
I first went to Greece at Easter 1967. The occasion was a peace conference in Athens honouring
the left-wing Greek deputy, Grigoris Lambrakis, murdered by fascists in Salonika in 1963 as the
police looked on, and later immortalised in Costa-Gavrass movie Z. Half a million people
attended his funeral in Athens. During the conference wild rumours began to spread around the
hall. On the podium, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam couldnt understand why people had
stopped listening to him. Someone with family connections in the military had reported that the
Greek military, backed by Washington, was about to launch a coup to pre-empt elections in
which they feared the left might do a bit too well. The foreign delegates were advised to leave
the country straightaway. I caught an early-morning flight back to London. That afternoon tanks
occupied the streets. Greece remained under the Colonels for the next seven years.
I went to Athens this month for the same reason: to speak at a conference, this one ironically
entitled Rising Democracy. Waiting for a friend in a caf in Exarchia, I heard people discussing
when the government would collapse. Tsipras still has supporters convinced that he will triumph
whenever the next election is held. Im not so sure. It has been an inglorious six months. The
young people who voted for Syriza in large numbers and who went out and campaigned
enthusiastically for a No vote in the referendum are trying to come to grips with whats
happened. The caf was packed with them, arguing furiously. At the beginning of the month they
were celebrating the No vote. They were prepared to make more sacrifices, to risk life outside
the Eurozone. Syriza turned its back on them. The date 12 July 2015, when Tsipras agreed to the
36

EUs terms, will become as infamous as 21 April 1967. The tanks have been replaced by banks,
as Varoufakis put it after he was made finance minister.
Greece, in fact, has a lot of tanks, because the German and French arms industries, eager to get
rid of surplus hardware in a world where wars are fought by bombers and drones, bribed the
politicians. During the first decade of this century Greece was among the top five importers of
weapons, mainly from the German companies Ferrostaal, Rheinmetall and Daimler-Benz. In
2009, the year after the crash, Greece spent 8 billion 3.5 per cent of GDP on defence. The
then Greek defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who accepted huge bribes from these
companies, was convicted of corruption by a Greek court in 2013. Prison for the Greek; small
fines for the German bosses. None of this has been mentioned by the financial press in recent
weeks. It didnt quite tally with the need to portray Greece as the sole transgressor. Yet a Greek
court has been provided with conclusive evidence that the largest tax avoider in the country is
Hochtief, the giant German construction company that runs Athens airport. It has not paid VAT
for twenty years, and owes 500 million euros in VAT arrears alone. Nor has it paid the
contributions due to social security. Estimates suggest that Hochtiefs total debt to the exchequer
could top one billion euros.
It is often in times of crisis that radical politicians discover how useless they are. Paralysed by
the discovery that those they thought were friends are not their friends at all, they worry about
outrunning their voters and lose their nerve. When their enemies, surprised that they have agreed
to more than the pound of flesh demanded, demand more still, the trapped politicians finally turn
to their supporters, only to discover that the people are way ahead of them: 61 per cent of Greeks
voted to reject the bailout offer.
Its no longer a secret here that Tsipras and his inner circle were expecting a Yes or a very
narrow No. Taken by surprise, they panicked. An emergency cabinet meeting showed them in
full retreat. They refused to get rid of the ECB placeman in charge of the Greek State Bank, and
rejected the idea of nationalising the banks. Instead of embracing the referendum results, Tsipras
capitulated. Varoufakis was sacrificed. The EU ministers loathed him because he spoke to them
as an equal and his ego was a match for Schubles.
Why did Tsipras hold a referendum at all? Hes so hard and ideological, Merkel complained to
her advisers. If only. It was a calculated risk. He thought the Yes camp would win, and planned
to resign and let EU stooges run the government. The EU leaders launched a propaganda blitz
and pressured the Greek banks to restrict access to deposits, warning that a No vote meant
Grexit. Tsiprass acceptance of Varoufakiss resignation was an early signal to the EU that he
was about to cave in. Euclid Tsakalotos, his mild-mannered successor, won the rapid approval of
37

Schuble: here was someone he could do business with. Syriza accepted everything, but when
more was demanded, more was given. This had nothing to do with the economy, and everything
to do with politics. They crucified Tsipras, an EU official told the FT. Greece had sold its
sovereignty for a third bailout and an IMF promise to help reduce its debt burden Syriza had
begun to resemble the worm-ridden cadaver of the discredited Pasok.
It, too, was once a party of the left. In 1981, when it first came to power, its leader, Andreas
Papandreou, was hugely popular and in his first six months in office he pushed through real
reforms not the regressions that neoliberals call reforms today. Many students radicalised by
the struggle against the dictatorship, as well as many Marxist intellectuals who had contested US
hegemony, flocked to join it. Within a few years some of the best known among them had been
integrated morally and politically within the new structures of power as Papandreou took the
country into the EU. But as the years passed Pasok degenerated. In this century it has been
virtually indistinguishable from its old rival, New Democracy.
Syriza is a child of the current crisis and the movements spawned by it. A political instrument
was needed to challenge the existing parties and Syriza was it. The aims that Tsipras has now
abandoned were listed in the Thessaloniki programme, republished below, which the party
accepted unanimously in September last year.
On their first trip to Berlin on 20 February this year, Schuble made clear to Tsipras and
Varoufakis that their programme was incompatible with membership of the Eurozone. Tsipras
agreed to put the programme on hold and was offered a few concessions: the Troika the
auditors representing the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF was
replaced with a structure that was supposedly more accountable and whose bureaucrats would
not be allowed to enter Greek ministries. This was claimed by Tsipras and Varoufakis as a
victory. The truth was the opposite. It is now known that Schuble offered an amicable,
organised Grexit and a cheque for 50 billion euros. This was refused on the grounds that it would
seem to be a capitulation. This is bizarre logic. It would have preserved Greek sovereignty, and if
Syriza had taken charge of the Greek banking system a recovery could have been planned on its
terms. The offer was repeated later. How much do you want to leave the Eurozone? Schuble
asked Varoufakis just before the referendum. Again Schuble was snubbed. Of course the
Germans made the offer for their own reasons, but a planned Grexit would have been far better
for Greece than what has happened.
When capitalism went into crisis in 2008, the scale of the disaster was such that Joseph Stiglitz
was convinced it was the end of neoliberalism, that new economic structures would be needed.
Wrong, alas, on both counts. The EU rejected any notion of stimulus, except for the banks whose
recklessness, backed by politicians, had been responsible for the crisis in the first place.
Taxpayers in Europe and the United States gave trillions to the banks. The Greek debt by
comparison was trivial. But the EU didnt want to make any shifts that could damage the process
38

of financialisation that they had insisted was the only way forward. Greece, the weakest link in
the EU chain, went first, followed by Spain, Portugal, Ireland. Italy was on the brink. The Troika
dictated the policies to be followed in all these countries. Conditions in Greece have been
horrific: a quarter of a million Greeks applied for humanitarian relief to buy food and help with
rent and electricity; the percentage of children living in poverty leaped from 23 per cent in 2008
to 40.5 per cent in 2014 and is now approaching 50 per cent. In March 2015 youth
unemployment stood at 49.7 per cent, 300,000 people had no access to electricity and the
Prolepsis Institute of Preventive Medicine found that 54 per cent of Greeks were undernourished.
Pensions dropped by 27 per cent between 2011 and 2014. Syriza insisted that this constituted
collective punishment, and that a new deal was needed, one that aimed to bring some
improvement to the conditions of everyday life.
The EU has now succeeded in crushing the political alternative that Syriza represented. The
German attitude to Greece, long before the rise of Syriza, was shaped by the discovery that
Athens (helped by Goldman Sachs) had cooked its books in order to get into the Eurozone. This
is indisputable. But isnt it dangerous, as well as wrong, to punish the Greek people and to
carry on doing so even after they have rejected the political parties responsible for the lies?
According to Timothy Geithner, the former US treasury secretary, the attitude of the European
finance ministers at the start of the crisis was: Were going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They
lied to us, they suck and they were profligate and took advantage of the whole thing and were
going to crush them. Geithner says that in reply he told them, You can put your foot on the
neck of those guys if thats what you want to do, but insisted that investors mustnt be punished,
which meant that the Germans had to underwrite a large chunk of the Greek debt. As it happens,
French and German banks had the most exposure to Greek debt and their governments acted to
protect them. Bailing out the rich became EU policy. Debt restructuring is being discussed now,
with the IMFs leaked report, but the Germans are leading the resistance to it. No guarantees
without control: Merkels response in 2012 remains in force.
The capitulation means more suffering, but it has also led to questions being asked more widely
about the EU, its structures and its policies. For Greeks of virtually all political persuasions the
EU was once seen as a family to which one must belong. It has turned out to be a pretty
dysfunctional family. I hadnt been thinking of voting in the EU referendum in Britain whenever
it takes place. Now I will. Ill vote No.
17 July
London Review of Books
July, 2015

39

A SINGLE CURRENCY CHALLENGES NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY

The Europe we dont want


Sergei Halmi
The Eurogroup and the International Monetary Fund have crushed the hopes of a youthful
movement that sought to transform a nation and rouse a continent. Beyond the shock that events
in Greece have given supporters of the European project, there are other noteworthy features.
The EU is becoming increasingly authoritarian, as Germany imposes its wishes and obsessions
unchecked. Though founded on a promise of peace, the EU seems incapable of drawing lessons
from history, even when recent and violent; what matters most to it is sanctioning bad debtors,
and the headstrong. This amnesiac authoritarianism is a challenge to those who saw the EU as
the place to experiment with going beyond the framework of the nation state, and achieving
democratic renewal.
At the outset, European integration lavished material advantages on its citizens, against a
backdrop of the East-West confrontation. In the immediate post-war period, the project was
driven forward by the US, which sought a market for its goods and a buffer against Soviet
expansion. The US recognised that if the free world wanted to compete effectively with the
democratic republics of the Warsaw Pact, it had to win hearts and minds, which meant
demonstrating its goodwill through social policies. Since this strategic lifeline disappeared,
Europe has behaved like the board of directors of a bank.
Some participants in the cold war, such as NATO, survived the fall of the Berlin Wall by
inventing new monsters to destroy on other continents. The EUs institutions have also redefined
their enemy. The peace and stability they claim as their objective now demand peoples be
politically neutralised, and their remaining tools of national sovereignty destroyed. This means
integration at the pace of a forced march, the burial of political questions in a one-size-fits-all
treaty, a federal project. This venture is not new, but the Greek case illustrates the brutality with
which it is now being pursued.
How many divisions does the pope have? was reportedly Joseph Stalins dismissive response
to a French leader who urged him to deal tactfully with the Vatican. The states in the Eurogroup
now seem to be applying the same approach to Greece; reckoning that the government they find
so exasperating would be unable to defend itself, they have destabilised it through enforced bank
closures and import suspensions. Relations between members of the same union, who belong to
the same institutions, return representatives to the same parliament and use the same currency,
should preclude such machinations. Yet the Eurogroup countries, with Germany at their head,
safe in the knowledge of their superiority, imposed a diktat on a weakened Greece which
40

everyone acknowledges will worsen most of its problems. This whole episode exposes just how
deep the cracks in the EU go (1).
When Syriza won Januarys election, it was right on almost every single count. Right to link the
collapse of the Greek economy to the austerity programme administered for five years by both
socialists and the right. Right to argue that no state with a crumbling manufacturing sector would
be able to rebuild itself if it had to devote increasing sums to paying off its creditors. Right to
point out that in a democracy sovereignty belongs to the people and that if a policy is imposed on
them despite what they decide, it constitutes an act of dispossession.

Cant pay, wont pay


Syriza appeared to have an unbeatable hand, but success depends on who you are playing with.
In the EU, Syrizas aces were turned against it; Syriza was compared to southern Marxists, so out
of touch with reality that they dared question the economic assumptions that underlie German
ideology (see Germanys iron cage). The weapons of reason and conviction are useless in such
circumstances. Whats the good of pleading your case in front of a firing squad? During the
months of negotiations, the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis noticed his European
counterparts stared at him as though they were thinking: Youre right in what you are saying,
but we are going to crush you anyway (2) (see The defeat of Europe).
However, the success (for now) of Germanys plan to relegate Greece to the status of a
Eurogroup protectorate is also the result of failed gambles by Greeces leftwing majority, in the
over-optimistic hope of changing Europe (3). The gamble that the leaders of France and Italy
would help Greece overcome the German rights monetarist taboos. The gamble that other
European peoples, overwhelmed by austerity policies, would pressure their governments into a
Keynesian reorientation (Greece thought it was the torchbearer for this). The gamble that this
change would be conceivable within the eurozone; noexit scenario had been envisaged or
prepared. And the gamble that intermittent hints of a Russian option would, for geopolitical
reasons, contain Germanys temptation to punish Greece and encourage the US to stay
Germanys hand. At no point did any of these gambles seem likely to pay off. Its not possible to
hold off a tank with violets and a catapult.
Greeces leaders, guilty only of being too innocent, thought that creditors would heed the
democratic will of the Greeks, especially the young. The legislative election of 25 January and
the referendum of 5 July, however, provoked dumbfounded outrage among the Germans and
their allies. They had only one remaining aim: to punish the rebels, and anyone who might be
inspired by their bravery. Capitulation was no longer enough; there had to be apologies (Greece
has admitted that its economic choices caused a breakdown in confidence with its partners) and
even reparations: public assets, capable of being privatised, to a value equal to 25% of Greek
GDP are to be pledged to the creditors. Everyone claims to be relieved: Greece will pay.

41

Germany will pay was the phrase French finance minister Louis Klotz whispered to President
Clemenceau at the end of the first world war. It became the watchword of French savers who had
lent to the Treasury during the conflict. They had not forgotten that in 1870 France paid the
whole of the tribute demanded by Bismarck, though the sum was higher than Germanys costs.
This precedent inspired French prime minister Raymond Poincar when, frustrated at not
receiving the reparations stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles (4), he decided to occupy the Ruhr
in 1923.
John Maynard Keynes had already grasped the vanity of such a policy of humiliation and seizure
of securities: Germany did not pay because it could not pay, and the same goes for Greece now.
Only through time, with a positive balance of payments, could Germany have paid off its
massive debt. France refused to allow its rivals economic rebirth, which would have enabled it
to pay, but also to finance an army, risking the possibility of a third bloody conflict. The
economic success of the Greek left would hardly have had such dramatic repercussions for
Europeans, but it would have scotched eurozone leaders justifications for austerity.

A totally non-viable debt


After a year, Poincar had to raise taxes by 20% to fund his occupation, a cruel paradox for a
rightwing leader opposed to taxation who had insisted Germany would pay. He lost the next
election and his successor evacuated the Ruhr. No one has yet imagined such consequences in
any of the countries that have crushed Greece to make it settle a debt that even the IMF admits is
totally non-viable. Yet the Eurogroup countries fixation on punishment has already obliged
them to commit three times the sum (around 86bn) required had funds been released five
months earlier; in the meantime the Greek economy had collapsed through lack of liquidity (5).
So the price of German finance minister Wolfgang Schubles inflexibility will be almost as high
as Poincars. But Greeces humiliation will serve as an example for other potential offenders.
(Spain, Italy, France?) It will be a reminder of the Juncker theorem formulated by the
European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, four days after the Greek lefts electoral
victory: There can be no democratic choice that is counter to European treaties (6).
One bed is too narrow to accommodate 19 different dreams. It was an almost imperial
undertaking to impose the same currency on Austria and Cyprus, Luxembourg and Spain, on
peoples who do not have a shared history, political culture or standard of living, the same
alliances or languages. How can a state conceive an economic and social policy that is open to
debate and democratic negotiation if all the mechanisms of monetary regulation are outside its
control? How can peoples who may not even know each other accept a degree of solidarity
comparable to the inhabitants of Florida and those of Montana? The whole thing rested on a
hypothesis: that federalism at an accelerated pace would bring European peoples together. Yet
15 years after the creation of the euro, animosity has never been greater. So much so that, when
Tsipras announced his referendum, he used language like a declaration of war a [Eurogroup]
proposition in the form of an ultimatum addressed to Greek democracy and accused some
42

partners of seeking to humiliate an entire people. The Greeks massively backed their
government and the Germans rallied behind the quite opposite demands of their government.
Could their destinies be any more closely linked without risking domestic violence?
But the hostility is no longer just between Greece and Germany. We do not want to be a
German colony, insisted Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos in Spain. Italys prime minister
Matteo Renzi whose reticence throughout has been noteworthy let slip: I say to Germany:
thats enough. Humiliating a European partner is unthinkable. According to German sociologist
Wolfgang Streeck, in Mediterranean countries, and to some extent in France, Germany is more
hated than at any time since 1945. ... Economic and monetary union, which was supposed to
consolidate European unity once and for all, now stands a good chance of shattering it (7).

Youve done too little, too slowly


The Greeks are attracting hostility, too. Junker is said to have told Tsipras: If the Eurogroup
functioned like a parliamentary democracy, you would already be out, because that is what
nearly all your partners want (8). Using a well-known conservative mechanism, now deployed
at nation-state level, poor states have been encouraged in their mutual suspicion that others, like
the proverbial welfare chiselers of Ronald Reagans speeches, are living at their expense. The
Estonian education minister castigated Greece: Youve done too little, too slowly, and much
less than Estonia. We have suffered much more than Greece. But we didnt stop to complain; we
just got on with it (9). The Slovaks were aggrieved at the level of pensions in Greece, which
should be finally declared bankrupt in order to clear the atmosphere, as the Czech finance
minister kindly suggested (10).
Pierre Moscovici, the French Socialist and EU commissioner for economic and financial affairs,
eagerly repeated an anecdote to any listening journalist: At a Eurogroup meeting, a Lithuanian
socialist minister told Varoufakis, Its very nice that you want to raise the minimum wage by
40%, but your minimum wage is already twice ours. And you want to raise it with money you
owe us, with debt. And thats a pretty strong argument (11). A strong argument indeed,
especially coming from Moscovici whose party had announced only a year earlier: We want a
Europe which protects its workers. A Europe of social progress, not social roll-back.
At a European Council meeting on 7 July, several EU leaders conveyed their exasperation to
Tsipras: We cant take any more. Greece is all weve talked about for months. A decision needs
to be taken. If youre incapable of taking it, it will be taken for you (12). Is that not already a
rough and ready brand of federalism? We must go forward, Hollande concluded from this. In
which direction? The same as always: economic governance, a eurozone budget,
convergence with Germany. In Europe, when a medicine severely damages the economic or
democratic health of a patient, the dose is doubled. Therefore, since, according Hollande, the
eurozone has been able to reaffirm its cohesion with Greece, the circumstances are leading us to
speed up (13).
43

To leftwing activists and trade unionists, stopping and thinking seems a better option. Even for
those who fear that an exit from the euro would encourage the break-up of the European project
and the revival of nationalisms, the Greek crisis demonstrates that a single currency stands
against popular sovereignty. Far from containing the far right, such an obvious
realisation encourages it, since the far right mocks its enemies lectures on democracy. How can
anyone imagine that the single currency could one day accommodate a progressive social policy,
having seen the plans that the Eurogroup states gave Tsipras to force this leftwing prime minister
to implement rigid neoliberalism?
Once Greece raised big, universal questions. Now it has revealed the true face of the Europe we
no longer want.
Le Mond diplomatique
August, 2015

44

Diasporas Gone but not forgotten


Governments believe their diasporas can solve all sorts of problems. But they
are a picky, unbiddable bunch
If your surname is McNamara and you live outside Ireland, expect a letter. Ireland Reaching Out,
a non-profit organisation financed largely by the Irish government, has pioneered what it calls
reverse genealogy. Rather than waiting for people to trace their Irish ancestry, it constructs
family trees from root to branch, tracking down the descendants of those who left for America,
Australia and other countries. Volunteers then invite them to visit the homeland. It is a mighty
task: Mike Feerick, the outfits founder, wants to build a database of the Irish diaspora
containing 30m or 40m names.
Last year Ireland appointed its first minister for the Irish diaspora; this spring it unveiled a
diaspora strategy. As well as Ireland Reaching Out, the government supports hundreds of groups
that serve needy Irish emigrants or court successful ones. One of them, Connect Ireland, uses the
diaspora as spies for inward investment: it pays for tip-offs that lead to foreign companies
creating jobs in the country.
In the early 1980s barely a dozen countries had a ministry, a government department or some
other official institution dedicated to their diasporas. And a few countries, including America,
still ignore those who have leftexcept perhaps to send them tax demands. But these are a
shrinking minority (see chart). Kingsley Aikins, an Irishman who advises governments on how
to deal with their far-flung folk, has travelled in the past few weeks to Lebanon, Malawi and
Wales.

Ministers and bureaucrats are multiplying partly because diasporas are too. The World Bank
reckons that about 250m people live outside the country of their birth; the number of foreign
migrants living in OECD countries rose by 38% in the 2000s. And diasporas are not just
45

composed of emigrants. The Irish government thinks that everybody of Irish descentperhaps
60m or 70m peopleis part of the Irish diaspora. Israel claims all Jews.
Countries are also paying more attention these days because they believe their diasporas can
make them rich. When the World Bank began to publish estimates of remittance flows in 2003,
you could see the dollar signs flashing in finance ministers eyes, says Kathleen Newland of
the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank. And that was only the beginning of an infatuation.
Politicians and officials have since concluded that diasporas can help cure an extraordinarily
wide range of national ills, from poor global reputations to weak infrastructure to a shortage of
scientific talent. But can they?
A few months after his victory in Indias elections last year, Narendra Modi addressed a
whooping crowd of some 20,000 Indian-Americans in Madison Square Garden in New York.
Thanks to them, the new prime minister said, India was no longer seen as a land of snake
charmers but as a technology powerhouse. This was flattery, but with serious intent. India sees
its diaspora, which the government thinks is about 25m strong, as a means of projecting soft
power and burnishing the countrys image. No country has had such a large brain drain and
been so proud of it, says Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania.
Inspired partly by the example of Israel, many countries have come to believe that their diasporas
can advance their geopolitical interests. The Turkish government counts on its diaspora in
Europe, especially Germany, to push for closer relations with the EU; Mexico knows that
Mexican-Americans will campaign against attempts to crack down on illegal immigrants. In
exchange for their help, and to bind them to the politics of their homeland, a growing number of
countries offer diasporas long-term visas (as India has done), dual citizenship or some voting
rights. In 2010 Frances parliament created 11 new constituencies for the French abroad.
Poor and middle-income countries also see their diasporas as a source of cash. Emigrants send
remittances, often in vast quantitiesIndia receives $70 billion a year, and remittances to
Tajikistan are worth half of the countrys GDP. Because they are a source of foreign exchange,
rating agencies can take remittances into account when assessing a countrys creditworthiness.
Future flows of money can be securitised, as Brazil and Jamaica, among others, have done.
Governments have also hawked infrastructure bonds to their diasporas, who might buy them for
patriotic reasons, and also might not object to repayment in local currency. Israel, which has
been doing this since 1951, is once again the country to copy.

Prodigious sons
These days, however, diasporas are increasingly seen as talent pools that can be pumped. When
its economy crashed in 2009, Ireland summoned some of its most successful overseas progeny to
an economic forum, which continues to meet every two years. Mexico used to think of its
46

diaspora in America mostly as working-class remittance senders. It now encourages its young
citizens to study in American universitiesand then bring their skills home. Ghana, which has a
particularly talented diaspora (see article), has set up a support unit to schmooze them.
No country is hungrier than China. Emulating Taiwan, which built a technology industry with
the help of Taiwanese Stanford graduates, it is trying to woo its most talented foreign-educated
citizens to come back; those who do are called sea turtles. Provincial cities offer tax breaks to
returning entrepreneurs and create industrial parks for them. Under the thousand talents
scheme (which is even more ambitious than it sounds) academics who have built careers abroad
are offered far more money than is usually paid to Chinese professors. The wooing is broad and
relentless: one Chinese-British academic contacted for this article had been approached that very
morning.
She is not interested, thoughand in that she is typical. Patrick Gaul, a researcher in Prague,
has tracked the careers of foreign-born scientists in America. He estimates that less than 9% will
return during their working lives. Scientists from well-off countries are most likely to go back:
the Taiwanese are about five times more likely to return than are the mainland Chinese, for
example. Surveys of PhD students in America find that 82% of Chinese and 84% of Indians plan
to stay.
Apart from all the obvious things that bind people to their adopted homesfriends, children in
school, husbands and wives reluctant to leaveit is often hard to find jobs in the countries where
they were born. Returnees may have fewer contacts than those who never left. And Kaifu Lee,
who was born in Taiwan, worked in America and now invests in technology firms in China, says
that although foreign-educated computer scientists are technically excellent, they can suffer from
inflated expectationsthe result, in part, of comparing themselves to the earlier returnees who
built Chinas great technology firms. And never mind the tax breaks and the industrial parks, he
says: almost everybody who returns wants to be in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and
Shenzhen.
Nor can diasporas cure many financial ills. Whereas India and a few other countries have done
well out of diaspora bonds, others (such as Ethiopia) have struggled to find buyers: expats turn
out to be less patriotic and more hard-headed than is often supposed. Remittances are reliable
more so, in a recession, than foreign direct investment. But even these suffer from exchange-rate
fluctuations: flows from Russia to Central Asia have plunged in dollar terms as the rouble has
collapsed.
Trying to use diasporans to lobby for national interests is even harder. People leave countries for
a reason, and that reason is often disdain. Mexicans did not leave Mexico por gusto [for
pleasure], says Carlos Gonzlez Gutirrez, the Mexican consul in Austin, Texas. Older migrants
47

in particular frequently distrust the government. And expat politics is often a hothouse, in which
intransigent views flourish and ancient battles are endlessly refought, whether or not they benefit
the homeland.
Even when expats are on the side of the government, they are tough to wrangle. The American
branch of Overseas Friends of BJP dispatched volunteers to India and manned phone banks
during last years Indian elections. No sooner had its man, Mr Modi, been elected prime minister
than the outfit sent him a list of demands. Overseas Indians would like the vote, please. They
would also like more flights between America and India, kinder treatment at consulates, fewer
restrictions on buying land and better arrangements for shipping dead bodies back to India.

A thankless, noble task


So the wooing is hard. Yet the effort is worthwhile, even if a countrys diaspora resists its
entreaties. Indeed, it is worthwhile precisely because diasporas are so churlish and hard to court.
The difficult things that expats tend to demand of their governmentsrepresentation, a good
business climate, decent investment returnsare the sort of things that governments ought to be
trying to provide anyway.
India reformed its antiquated venture-capital regulations at the instigation of Indian-Americans
in Silicon Valley. China is now cutting some of the red tape that is required to start a business
partly because of pressure from returnees, says Wang Huiyao of the Centre for China and
Globalisation, a think-tank in Beijing. And China is no longer just trying to bring back its
diaspora: it also wants Western talent.
The diaspora is a powerful engine of change, and for good, says Mr Gonzlez Gutirrez, in
Texas. They are the first people to advocate for openness, for free markets, for better-quality
democracy. Most countries could do with more of that.
The Economist
June 27, 2015

48

The Western Model is Broken


The west has lost the power to shape the world in its own image as recent
events, from Ukraine to Iraq, make all too clear. So why does it still preach
the pernicious myth that every society must evolve along western lines?
Pankaj Mishra
So far, the 21st century has been a rotten one for the western model, according to a new
book, The Fourth Revolution, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. This seems an
extraordinary admission from two editors of the Economist, the flag-bearer of English liberalism,
which has long insisted that the non-west could only achieve prosperity and stability through
western prescriptions. It almost obscures the fact that the 20th century was blighted by the same
pathologies that today make the western model seem unworkable, and render its fervent
advocates a bit lost. The most violent century in human history, it was hardly the best
advertisement for the bland fanatics of western civilisation, as the American
theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called them at the height of the cold war, who regard the highly
contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence.
Niebuhr was critiquing a fundamentalist creed that has coloured our view of the world for more
than a century: that western institutions of the nation-state and liberal democracy will be
gradually generalised around the world, and that the aspiring middle classes created by industrial
capitalism will bring about accountable, representative and stable governments that every
society, in short, is destined to evolve just as the west did. Critics of this teleological view, which
defines progress exclusively as development along western lines, have long perceived its
absolutist nature. Secular liberalism, the Russian thinker Alexander Herzen cautioned as early as
1862, is the final religion, though its church is not of the other world but of this. But it has had
many presumptive popes and encyclicals: from the 19th-century dream of a westernised world
long championed by the Economist, in which capital, goods, jobs and people freely circulate, to
Henry Luces proclamation of an American century of free trade, and modernisation theory
the attempt by American cold warriors to seduce the postcolonial world away from communiststyle revolution and into the gradualist alternative of consumer capitalism and democracy.
The collapse of communist regimes in 1989 further emboldened Niebuhrs bland fanatics. The
old Marxist teleology was retrofitted rather than discarded in Francis Fukuyamas influential
end-of-history thesis, and cruder theories about the inevitable march to worldwide prosperity and
stability were vended by such Panglosses of globalisation as Thomas Friedman. Arguing that
people privileged enough to consume McDonalds burgers dont go to war with each other, the
New York Times columnist was not alone in mixing old-fangled Eurocentrism with American
49

can-doism, a doctrine that grew from Americas uninterrupted good fortune and unchallenged
power in the century before September 2001.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 briefly disrupted celebrations of a world globalised by capital and
consumption. But the shock to naive minds only further entrenched in them the intellectual
habits of the cold war thinking through binary oppositions of free and unfree worlds and
redoubled an old delusion: liberal democracy, conceived by modernisation theorists as the
inevitable preference of the beneficiaries of capitalism, could now be implanted by force in
recalcitrant societies. Invocations of a new long struggle against Islamofascism aroused
many superannuated cold warriors who missed the ideological certainties of battling
communism. Intellectual narcissism survived, and was often deepened by, the realisation that
economic power had begun to shift from the west. The Chinese, who had got capitalism, were,
after all, now downloading western apps, according to Niall Ferguson. As late as 2008, Fareed
Zakaria declared in his much-cited book, The Post-American World, that the rise of the rest is a
consequence of American ideas and actions and that the world is going Americas way, with
countries becoming more open, market-friendly and democratic.

A world in flames
One event after another in recent months has cruelly exposed such facile narratives. China,
though market-friendly, looks further from democracy than before. The experiment with freemarket capitalism in Russia has entrenched a kleptocratic regime with a messianic belief in
Russian supremacism. Authoritarian leaders, anti-democratic backlashes and rightwing
extremism define the politics of even such ostensibly democratic countries as India, Israel, Sri
Lanka, Thailand and Turkey.
The atrocities of this summer in particular have plunged political and media elites in the west
into stunned bewilderment and some truly desperate cliches. The extraordinary hegemonic power
of their ideas had helped them escape radical examination when the world could still be
presented as going Americas way. But their preferred image of the west the idealised one in
which they sought to remake the rest of the world has been consistently challenged by many
critics, left or right, in the west as well as the east.
Herzen was already warning in the 19th century that our classic ignorance of the western
European will be productive of a great deal of harm; racial hatred and bloody collisions will
develop from it. Herzen was sceptical of those liberal westernisers who believed that Russia
could progress only by diligently emulating western institutions and ideologies. Intimate
experience and knowledge of Europe during his long exile there had convinced him that
European dominance, arrived at after much fratricidal violence and underpinned by much
intellectual deception and self-deception, did not amount to progress. Herzen, a believer in
cultural pluralism, asked a question that rarely occurs to todays westernisers: Why should a
50

nation that has developed in its own way, under completely different conditions from those of the
west European states, with different elements in its life, live through the European past, and that,
too, when it knows perfectly well what that past leads to?
The brutality that Herzen saw as underpinning Europes progress turned out, in the next century,
to be a mere prelude to the biggest bloodbath in history: two world wars, and ferocious ethnic
cleansing that claimed tens of millions of victims. The imperative to emulate Europes progress
was nevertheless embraced by the ruling elites of dozens of new nation-states that emerged from
the ruins of European empires in the mid-20th century, and embarked on a fantastic quest for
western-style wealth and power. Today, racial hatred and bloody collisions ravage the world
where liberal democracy and capitalism were expected to jointly reign.
This moment demands a fresh interrogation of what Neibuhr euphemistically called the highly
contingent achievements of the west, and closer attention to the varied histories of the non-west.
Instead, the most common response to the present crisis has been despair over western
weakness and much acrimony over what Barack Obama, president of the sole superpower
and the indispensable nation should have done to fix it. Will the West Win? Prospect asks on
the cover of its latest issue, underlining the forlornness of the question with a picture of Henry
Kissinger, whose complicity in various murderous fiascos from Vietnam to Iraq has not
prevented his re-incarnation among the perplexed as a sage of hardheaded realism.
Robert Kagan, writing in the Wall Street Journal at the start of September, articulated a defiant
neoconservative faith that America is condemned to use hard power against the enemies of
liberal modernity who understand no other language, such as Japan and Germany in the early
20th century, and Putins Russia today. Kagan doesnt say which manifestation of hard power
firebombing Germany, nuking Japan, napalming Vietnam the United States should aim against
Russia, or if the shock-and-awe campaign that he cheerled in Iraq is a better template. Roger
Cohen of the New York Times provides a milder variation on the clash of civilisations discourse
when he laments that European nations with populations from former colonies often seem
unable to celebrate their values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Such diehard believers in the wests capacity to shape global events and congratulate itself
eternally were afflicted with an obsolete assumption even in 1989: that the 20th century was
defined by the battles between liberal democracy and totalitarian ideologies, such as fascism and
communism. Their obsession with a largely intra-western dispute obscured the fact that the most
significant event of the 20th century was decolonisation, and the emergence of new nation-states
across Asia and Africa. They barely registered the fact that liberal democracies were experienced
as ruthlessly imperialist by their colonial subjects.

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For people luxuriating at a high level of abstraction, and accustomed to dealing during the cold
war with nation-states organised simply into blocs and superblocs, it was always too
inconvenient to examine whether the freshly imagined communities of Asia and Africa were
innately strong and cohesive enough to withhold the strains and divisions of state-building and
economic growth. If they had indeed risked engaging with complexity and contradiction, they
would have found that the urge to be a wealthy and powerful nation-state along western lines
initially ordered and then disordered first Russia, Germany and Japan, and then, in our own time,
plunged a vast swath of the postcolonial world into bloody conflict.

Historys long-term losers


The temptation to imitate the evidently triumphant western model, as Herzen feared, was always
greater than the urge to reject it. For many in the old and sophisticated societies of Asia and
Africa, chafing under the domination of western Europes very small countries, it seemed clear
that human beings could muster up an unprecedented collective power through new European
forms of organisation like the nation-state and the industrialised economy. Much of Europe had
first learned this harsh lesson in political and military innovation from Napoleons all-conquering
army. In the century after the Napoleonic wars, European societies gradually learned how to
deploy effectively a modern military, technology, railways, roads, judicial and educational
systems and create a feeling of belonging and solidarity, most often by identifying dangerous
enemies within and without.
As Eugen Weber showed in his classic book Peasants into Frenchmen (1976), this was a
uniformly brutal process in France itself. Much of Europe then went on to suffer widespread
dispossession, the destruction of regional languages and cultures, and the institutionalisation of
hoary prejudices like antisemitism. The 19th centurys most sensitive minds, from Kierkegaard
to Ruskin, recoiled from such modernisation, though they did not always know the darker side of
it: rapacious European colonialism in Asia and Africa. By the 1940s, competitive nationalisms in
Europe stood implicated in the most vicious wars and crimes against religious and ethnic
minorities witnessed in human history. After the second world war, European countries under
American auspices and the pressures of the cold war were forced to imagine less antagonistic
political and economic relations, which eventually resulted in the European Union.
But the new nation-states in Asia and Africa had already started on their own fraught journey to
modernity, riding roughshod over ethnic and religious diversity and older ways of life. Asians
and Africans educated in western-style institutions despaired of their traditionalist elites as much
as they resented European dominance over their societies. They sought true power and
sovereignty in a world of powerful nation-states what alone seemed to guarantee them and
their peoples a fair chance at strength, equality and dignity in the white mans world. In this
quest Chinas Mao Zedong and Turkeys Mustafa Kemal Atatrk as much as Irans
52

democratically-elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh followed the western model of


mass-mobilisation and state-building.
By then European and American dominance over the worlds economies and peoples had, as
the Cambridge historian Christopher Bayly writes in The Birth of the Modern World, turned a
large part of humanity into long-term losers in the scramble for resources and dignity.
Nevertheless, the explicitly defined aim of Asia and Africas first nationalist icons, who tended
to be socialist and secular (Atatrk, Nehru, Nasser, Nkrumah, Mao, and Sukarno), was catchup with the west. Recent ruling classes of the non-west have looked to McKinsey rather than
Marx to help define their socioeconomic future; but they have not dared to alter the founding
basis of their legitimacy as modernisers leading their countries to convergence with the west
and attainment of European and American living standards. As it turns out, the latecomers to
modernity, dumping protectionist socialism for global capitalism, have got their timing wrong
again.
In the 21st century that old spell of universal progress through western ideologies socialism
and capitalism has been decisively broken. If we are appalled and dumbfounded by a world in
flames it is because we have been living in the east and south as well as west and north with
vanities and illusions: that Asian and African societies would become, like Europe, more secular
and instrumentally rational as economic growth accelerated; that with socialism dead and buried,
free markets would guarantee rapid economic growth and worldwide prosperity. What these
fantasies of inverted Hegelianism always disguised was a sobering fact: that the dynamics and
specific features of western progress were not and could not be replicated or correctly
sequenced in the non-west.
The enabling conditions of Europes 19th-century success small, relatively homogenous
populations, or the ability to send surplus populations abroad as soldiers, merchants and
missionaries were missing in the large and populous countries of Asia and Africa. Furthermore,
imperialism had deprived them, as Basil Davidson argued in The Black Mans Burden: Africa
and the Curse of the Nation-State, of the resources to pursue western-style economic
development; it had also imposed ruinous ideologies and institutions upon societies that had
developed, over centuries, their own viable political units and social structures.
Recklessly exported worldwide even today, the wests successful formulas have continued to
cause much invisible suffering. What may have been the right fit for 19th-century colonialists in
countries with endless resources cannot secure a stable future for India, China, and other late
arrivals to the modern world, which can only colonise their own territories and uproot their own
indigenous peoples in the search for valuable commodities and resources.

53

The result is endless insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, wars and massacres, the rise of such
bizarre anachronisms and novelties as Maoist guerrillas in India and self-immolating monks in
Tibet, the increased attraction of unemployed and unemployable youth to extremist
organisations, and the endless misery that provokes thousands of desperate Asians and Africans
to make the risky journey to what they see as the centre of successful modernity.
It should be no surprise that religion in the non-western world has failed to disappear under the
juggernaut of industrial capitalism, or that liberal democracy finds its most dedicated saboteurs
among the new middle classes. The political and economic institutions and ideologies of western
Europe and the United States had been forged by specific events revolts against clerical
authority, industrial innovations, capitalist consolidation through colonial conquest that did not
occur elsewhere. So formal religion not only Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and the Russian
Orthodox Church, but also such quietist religions as Buddhism is actually now increasingly
allied with rather than detached from state power. The middle classes, whether in India,
Thailand, Turkey or Egypt, betray a greater liking for authoritarian leaders and even uniformed
despots than for the rule of law and social justice.
But then western ideologues during the cold war absurdly prettified the rise of the democratic
west. The long struggle against communism, which claimed superior moral virtue, required
many expedient feints. And so the centuries of civil war, imperial conquest, brutal exploitation,
and genocide were suppressed in accounts that showed how westerners made the modern world,
and became with their liberal democracies the superior people everyone else ought to catch up
with. All of the western nations, James Baldwin warned during the cold war in 1963, are
caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral
justification, and the west has no moral authority. The deception that an African-American
easily divined has continued, nevertheless, to enjoy political support and intellectual
respectability long after the end of the cold war.
Thus the editors of the Economist elide in The Fourth Revolution the history of mass slaughter in
the west itself that led to the modern nation-state: the religious wars of the 17th century, the
terror of French revolutions, the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian war and the wars of
Italian unification, among others. Mainstream Anglo-American writers who vend popular
explanations of how the west made the modern world veer between intellectual equivocation and
insouciance about the wests comparative advantage of colonialism, slavery and indentured
labour. We cannot pretend, Ferguson avers, that the mobilisation of cheap and probably
underemployed Asian labour to grow rubber and dig gold had no economic value. A recent
review in the Economist of a history explaining the compact between capitalism and slavery
protests that almost all the blacks in the book are victims, and almost all the whites
villains.
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Understandably, history has to be balanced for Davos Men, who cannot bear too much reality
in their effervescent prognoses of convergence between the west and the rest. But obscuring
the monstrous costs of the wests own progress destroys any possibility of explaining the
proliferation of large-scale violence in the world today, let along finding a way to contain it.
Evasions, suppressions and downright falsehoods have resulted, over time, in a massive store of
defective knowledge an ignorance that Herzen correctly feared to be pernicious about the
west and the non-west alike. Simple-minded and misleading ideas and assumptions, drawn from
this blinkered history, today shape the speeches of western statesmen, thinktank reports and
newspaper editorials, while supplying fuel to countless log-rolling columnists, TV pundits and
terrorism experts.

The price of progress


A faith in the wests superiority has not always been an obstacle to understanding the tormented
process of modernisation in the rest of the world, as the French anti-communist Raymond Aron
demonstrated in books like Progress and Disillusion (1968) and The Opium of the Intellectuals
(1955). Aron believed the west made the modern world with its political and economic
innovations and material goals, but did not flinch from examining what this fact really augured
about the modern world. As he saw it, the conflicts and contradictions thrown up by the pursuit
of modernity had been hard enough to manage for western societies for much of the last century.
Industrial societies alone had seemed able to improve material conditions, and bring about a
measure of social and economic equality; but the promise of equality, which staved off social
unrest, was increasingly difficult to fulfill because specialisation kept producing fresh
hierarchies.
Some parts of the west had achieved some reduction in material inequalities, due to a market
economy which produced both desirable goods and the means to acquire them; organised labour,
which made it possible for workers to demand higher wages; and political liberty, which made
the rulers accountable to the ruled. And some western countries had also, however brutally, got
the sequencing broadly right: they had managed to build resilient states before trying to turn
peasants into citizens. (We have made Italy; now we must make the Italians, the Italian
nationalist Massimo dAzeglio famously proclaimed in 1860.) The most successful European
states had also accomplished a measure of economic growth before gradually extending
democratic rights to a majority of the population. No European country, Aron pointed out,
ever went through the phase of economic development which India and China are now
experiencing, under a regime that was representative and democratic. Nowhere in Europe, he
wrote in The Opium of Intellectuals, during the long years when industrial populations were
growing rapidly, factory chimneys looming up over the suburbs and railways and bridges being
constructed, were personal liberties, universal suffrage and the parliamentary system combined.

55

Countries outside the west, however, faced simultaneously the arduous tasks of establishing
strong nation-states and viable economies, and satisfying the demands for dignity and equality of
freshly politicised peoples. This made the importation of western measures and techniques of
success in places that have not yet emerged from feudal poverty an unprecedented and perilous
experiment. Travelling through Asia and Africa in the 1950s, Aron discerned the potential for
authoritarianism as well as dark chaos.
There were not many political choices before societies that had lost their old traditional sources
of authority while embarking on the adventure of building new nation-states and industrial
economies in a secular and materialist ethos. These rationalised societies, constituted by
individuals and their desires, had to either build a social and political consensus themselves or
have it imposed on them by a strongman. Failure would plunge them into violent anarchy.
Aron was no vulgar can-doist. American individualism, the product of a short history of
unrepeatable national success, in his view, spreads unlimited optimism, denigrates the past, and
encourages the adoption of institutions which are in themselves destructive of the collective
unity. Nor was he a partisan of the blood-splattered French revolutionary tradition, which
requires people to submit to the strictest discipline in the name of the ultimate freedom
whose latest incarnation is Isis and its attempt to construct an utopian Islamic State through a
reign of terror.

The state under siege


Applied to the many nation-states that emerged in the mid-20th century, Arons sombre analysis
can only embarrass those who have been daydreaming since 1989 about a worldwide upsurge of
liberal democracy in tandem with capitalism. Indeed, long before the rise of European
totalitarianisms, urgent state-building and the search for rapid and high economic growth had
doomed individual liberties to a precarious existence in Japan. Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and
South Korea went on to show, after 1945, that a flourishing capitalist economy always was
compatible with the denial of democratic rights.
China has more recently achieved a form of capitalist modernity without embracing liberal
democracy. Turkey now enjoys economic growth as well as regular elections; but these have not
made the country break with long decades of authoritarian rule. The arrival of Anatolian masses
in politics has actually enabled a demagogue like Erdoan to imagine himself as a second
Atatrk.
Turkey, however, may have been relatively fortunate in being able to build a modern state out of
the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Disorder was the fate of many new nations that had been
insufficiently or too fervidly imagined, such as Myanmar and Pakistan; their weak state
structures and fragmented civil society have condemned them to oscillate perennially between
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civilian and military despots while warding off challenges from disaffected minorities and
religious fanatics. Until the Arab spring, ruthless despots kept a lid on sectarian animosities in
the nation-states carved out of the Ottoman empire. Today, as the shattering of Iraq, Libya and
Syria reveals, despotism, far from being a bulwark against militant disaffection, is an effective
furnace for it.
Countries that managed to rebuild commanding state structures after popular nationalist
revolutions such as China, Vietnam, and Iran look stable and cohesive when compared with a
traditional monarchy such as Thailand or wholly artificial nation-states like Iraq and Syria. The
bloody regimes inaugurated by Khomeini and Mao survived some terrible internal and external
conflicts the Korean and Iran-Iraq wars, the Cultural Revolution and much fratricidal
bloodletting partly because their core nationalist ideologies secured consent from many of their
subjects.
Since 1989, however, this strenuously achieved national consensus in many countries has been
under siege from a fresh quarter: an ideology of endless economic expansion and private wealthcreation that had been tamed in the mid-20th century. After its most severe global crisis in the
1930s, capitalism had suffered a decline in legitimacy, and in much of the non-western world,
planned and protected economic growth had become the chosen means to such ends as social
justice and gender equality. In our own age, feral forms of capitalism, which after the Depression
were defanged by social-welfarism in the west and protectionist economies elsewhere, have
turned into an elemental force. Thus, nation-states already struggling against secessionist
movements by ethnic and religious minorities have seen their internal unity further undermined
by capitalisms dominant ethic of primitive accumulation and individual gratification.
China, once the worlds most egalitarian society, is now even more unequal than the United
States 1% of its population owns one-third of the national wealth and prone to defuse its
increasing social contradictions through a hardline nationalism directed at its neighbours,
particularly Japan. Many formally democratic nation-states, such as India, Indonesia, and South
Africa, have struggled to maintain their national consensus in the face of the imperative to
privatise basic services such as water, health and education (and also, for many countries, to deindustrialise, and surrender their sovereignty to markets). Mobile and transnational capital, which
de-territorialises wealth and poverty, has made state-building and its original goals of broad
social and economic uplift nearly impossible to achieve within national boundaries.
The elites primarily benefitting from global capitalism have had to devise new ideologies to
make their dominance seem natural. Thus, India and Israel, which started out as nation-states
committed to social justice, have seen their foundational ideals radically reconfigured by a nexus
of neoliberal politicians and majoritarian nationalists, who now try to bludgeon their disaffected
subjects into loyalty to a Jewish state and a Hindu nation. Demagogues in Thailand,
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Myanmar, and Pakistan have emerged at the head of populations angry and fearful about being
deprived of the endlessly postponed fruits of modernity.
Identified with elite or sectarian interests, the unrepresentative central state in many countries
struggles to compete with offers of stability and order from non-state actors. Not surprisingly,
even the vicious Isis claims to offer better governance to Sunnis angry with the Shiite-dominated
government in Baghdad. So do Maoist insurgents who control large territories in Central India,
and even drug-traffickers in Myanmar and Mexico.

A shattered mirror
Fukuyama, asserting that the power of the democratic ideal remains immense, claimed earlier
this year that we should have no doubt as to what kind of society lies at the end of History. But
the time for grand Hegelian theories about the rational spirit of history incarnated in the nationstate, socialism, capitalism, or liberal democracy is now over. Looking at our own complex
disorder we can no longer accept that it manifests an a priori moral and rational order, visible
only to an elite thus far, that will ultimately be revealed to all.
How then do we interpret it? Reflecting on the worlds pervasive raggedness in the last essay
he wrote before his death in 2006, the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz spoke of how
the shattering of larger coherences has made relating local realities with overarching ones
extremely difficult. If the general is to be grasped at all, Geertz wrote, and new unities
uncovered, it must, it seems, be grasped not directly, all at once, but via instances, differences,
variations, particulars piecemeal, case by case. In a splintered world, we must address the
splinters.
Such an approach would necessarily demand greater attention to historical specificity and detail,
the presence of contingency, and the ever-deepening contradictions of nation-states amid the
crises of capitalism. It would require asking why nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq failed
catastrophically while decentralisation helped stabilise Indonesia, the worlds largest Muslim
country, after a long spell of despotic rule supported by the middle class. It would require an
admission that Iraq can achieve a modicum of stability not by reviving the doomed project of
nation-state but through a return to Ottoman-style confederal institutions that devolve power and
guarantee minority rights. Addressing the splinters leaves no scope for vacuous moralising
against Islamic extremism: in their puritanical and utopian zeal, the Islamic revolutionaries
brutally advancing across Syria and Iraq resemble the fanatically secular Khmer Rouge more
than anything in the long history of Islam.
A fresh grasp of the general also necessitates understanding the precise ways in which western
ideologues, and their non-western epigones, continue to make the modern world. Shocktherapy administered to a hapless Russian population in the 1990s and the horrific suffering
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afterwards set the stage for Putins messianic Eurasianism. But, following Geertzs insistence on
differences and variations, the ressentiment of the west articulated by nationalists in Russia,
China, and India cannot be conflated with the resistance to a predatory form of modernisation
ruthless dispossession by a profit-driven nexus of the state and business mounted by
indigenous peoples in Tibet, India, Peru and Bolivia.
In any case, the doubters of western-style progress today include more than just marginal
communities and some angry environmental activists. Last month the Economist said that, on the
basis of IMF data, emerging economies or the large part of humanity that Bayly called the
long-term losers of history might have to wait for three centuries in order to catch up with
the west. In the Economists assessment, which pitilessly annuls the upbeat projections beloved
of consultants and investors, the last decade of rapid growth was an aberration and billions of
people will be poorer for a lot longer than they might have expected just a few years ago.
The implications are sobering: the non-west not only finds itself replicating the wests violence
and trauma on an infinitely larger scale. While helping inflict the profoundest damage yet on the
environment manifest today in rising sea levels, erratic rainfall, drought, declining harvests,
and devastating floods the non-west also has no real prospect of catching up with the west.
How do we chart our way out of this impasse? His own discovery of the tragically insuperable
contradictions of westernisation led Aron into the odd company of the many thinkers in the east
and the west who questioned the exalting of economic growth as an end in itself. Of course,
other ways of conceiving of the good life have existed long before a crudely utilitarian calculus
which institutionalises greed, credits slavery with economic value and confuses individual
freedom with consumer choice replaced thinking in our most prominent minds.
Such re-examinations of liberal capitalist ideas of development, and exploration of suppressed
intellectual traditions, are not nearly as rousing or self-flattering as the rhetorical binaries that
make laptop bombers pound the keyboard with the caps lock glowing green. Barack Obama, who
struggled to adhere to a wise policy of not doing stupid stuff, has launched another open-ended
war after he was assailed for being weak by assorted can-doists. Plainly, Anglo-American elites
who are handsomely compensated to live forever in the early 20th century, when the liberaldemocratic west crushed its most vicious enemies, will never cease to find more brutes to
exterminate. The rest of us, however, have to live in the 21st century, and prevent it from turning
into yet another rotten one for the western model.
theguardian
Oct 14, 2014

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Yanis Varoufakis: How I Became an Erratic Marxist


Before he entered politics, Yanis Varoufakis, the iconoclastic Greek finance
minister at the center of the latest eurozone standoff, wrote this searing
account of European capitalism and how the left can learn from Marxs
mistakes
In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that
pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europes present situation is
not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or,
indeed, nations. No, Europes current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.
If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be
overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European
capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about
it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?
To me, the answer is clear. Europes crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to
capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a
humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations
to come.
For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being defeatist and of
trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts.
And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.
I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in
combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europes
peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned
on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I
confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison dtre of which is to
replace European capitalism with a different system.
Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose
implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to
convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European
capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

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Why a Marxist?
When I chose the subject of my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I deliberately focused on a highly
mathematical topic within which Marxs thought was irrelevant. When, later on, I embarked on
an academic career, as a lecturer in mainstream economics departments, the implicit contract
between myself and the departments that offered me lectureships was that I would be teaching
the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx. In the late 1980s, I was hired by the
University of Sydneys school of economics in order to keep out a leftwing candidate (although I
did not know this at the time).
After I returned to Greece in 2000, I threw my lot in with the future prime minister George
Papandreou, hoping to help stem the return to power of a resurgent right wing that wanted to
push Greece towards xenophobia both domestically and in its foreign policy. As the whole world
now knows, Papandreous party not only failed to stem xenophobia but, in the end, presided over
the most virulent neoliberal macroeconomic policies that spearheaded the eurozones so-called
bailouts thus, unwittingly, causing the return of Nazis to the streets of Athens. Even though I
resigned as Papandreous adviser early in 2006, and turned into his governments staunchest
critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion, my public interventions in the
debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism.
Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist. But, in truth, Karl Marx was
responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day.
This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in polite society because the very
mention of the M-word switches audiences off. But I never deny it either. After a few years of
addressing audiences with whom I do not share an ideology, a need has crept up on me to talk
about Marxs imprint on my thinking. To explain why, while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it
is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in ones
Marxism.
If my whole academic career largely ignored Marx, and my current policy recommendations are
impossible to describe as Marxist, why bring up my Marxism now? The answer is simple: Even
my non-Marxist economics was guided by a mindset influenced by Marx.
A radical social theorist can challenge the economic mainstream in two different ways, I always
thought. One way is by means of immanent criticism. To accept the mainstreams axioms and
then expose its internal contradictions. To say: I shall not contest your assumptions but here is
why your own conclusions do not logically flow on from them. This was, indeed, Marxs
method of undermining British political economics. He accepted every axiom by Adam Smith
and David Ricardo in order to demonstrate that, in the context of their assumptions, capitalism
was a contradictory system. The second avenue that a radical theorist can pursue is, of course,
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the construction of alternative theories to those of the establishment, hoping that they will be
taken seriously.
My view on this dilemma has always been that the powers that be are never perturbed by
theories that embark from assumptions different to their own. The only thing that can destabilise
and genuinely challenge mainstream, neoclassical economists is the demonstration of the internal
inconsistency of their own models. It was for this reason that, from the very beginning, I chose to
delve into the guts of neoclassical theory and to spend next to no energy trying to develop
alternative, Marxist models of capitalism. My reasons, I submit, were quite Marxist.
When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on
the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed
upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process.
How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history; how the
discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and how silicon-based IT technologies are
fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.
My first encounter with Marxs writings came very early in life, as a result of the strange times I
grew up in, with Greece exiting the nightmare of the neofascist dictatorship of 1967-74. What
caught my eye was Marxs mesmerising gift for writing a dramatic script for human history,
indeed for human damnation, that was also laced with the possibility of salvation and authentic
spirituality.
Marx created a narrative populated by workers, capitalists, officials and scientists who were
historys dramatis personae. They struggled to harness reason and science in the context of
empowering humanity while, contrary to their intentions, unleashing demonic forces that
usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity.
This dialectical perspective, where everything is pregnant with its opposite, and the eager eye
with which Marx discerned the potential for change in what seemed to be the most unchanging
of social structures, helped me to grasp the great contradictions of the capitalist era. It dissolved
the paradox of an age that generated the most remarkable wealth and, in the same breath, the
most conspicuous poverty. Today, turning to the European crisis, the crisis in the United States
and the long-term stagnation of Japanese capitalism, most commentators fail to appreciate the
dialectical process under their nose. They recognise the mountain of debts and banking losses but
neglect the opposite side of the same coin: the mountain of idle savings that are frozen by fear
and thus fail to convert into productive investments. A Marxist alertness to binary oppositions
might have opened their eyes.

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A major reason why established opinion fails to come to terms with contemporary reality is that
it never understood the dialectically tense joint production of debts and surpluses, of growth
and unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil. Marxs script alerted us
these binary oppositions as the sources of historys cunning.
From my first steps of thinking like an economist, to this very day, it occurred to me that Marx
had made a discovery that must remain at the heart of any useful analysis of capitalism. It was
the discovery of another binary opposition deep within human labour. Between labours two
quite different natures: i) labour as a value-creating activity that can never be quantified in
advance (and is therefore impossible to commodify), and ii) labour as a quantity (eg, numbers of
hours worked) that is for sale and comes at a price. That is what distinguishes labour from other
productive inputs such as electricity: its twin, contradictory, nature. A differentiation-cumcontradiction that political economics neglected to make before Marx came along and that
mainstream economics is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge today.
Both electricity and labour can be thought of as commodities. Indeed, both employers and
workers struggle to commodify labour. Employers use all their ingenuity, and that of their HR
management minions, to quantify, measure and homogenise labour. Meanwhile, prospective
employees go through the wringer in an anxious attempt to commodify their labour power, to
write and rewrite their CVs in order to portray themselves as purveyors of quantifiable labour
units. And theres the rub. If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully,
capitalism will perish. This is an insight without which capitalisms tendency to generate crises
can never be fully grasped and, also, an insight that no one has access to without some exposure
to Marxs thought.

Science fiction becomes documentary


In the classic 1953 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the alien force does not attack us head
on, unlike in, say, HG Wellss The War of the Worlds. Instead, people are taken over from
within, until nothing is left of their human spirit and emotions. Their bodies are shells that used
to contain a free will and which now labour, go through the motions of everyday life, and
function as human simulacra liberated from the unquantifiable essence of human nature. This
is something like what would have transpired if human labour had become perfectly reducible to
human capital and thus fit for insertion into the vulgar economists models.
Every non-Marxist economic theory that treats human and non-human productive inputs as
interchangeable assumes that the dehumanisation of human labour is complete. But if it could
ever be completed, the result would be the end of capitalism as a system capable of creating and
distributing value. For a start, a society of dehumanised automata would resemble a mechanical
watch full of cogs and springs, each with its own unique function, together producing a good:
timekeeping. Yet if that society contained nothing but other automata, timekeeping would not be
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a good. It would certainly be an output but why a good? Without real humans to
experience the clocks function, there can be no such thing as good or bad.
If capital ever succeeds in quantifying, and subsequently fully commodifying, labour, as it is
constantly trying to, it will also squeeze that indeterminate, recalcitrant human freedom from
within labour that allows for the generation of value. Marxs brilliant insight into the essence of
capitalist crises was precisely this: the greater capitalisms success in turning labour into a
commodity the less the value of each unit of output it generates, the lower the profit rate and,
ultimately, the nearer the next recession of the economy as a system. The portrayal of human
freedom as an economic category is unique in Marx, making possible a distinctively dramatic
and analytically astute interpretation of capitalisms propensity to snatch recession, even
depression, from the jaws of growth.
When Marx was writing that labour is the living, form-giving fire; the transitoriness of things;
their temporality; he was making the greatest contribution any economist has ever made to our
understanding of the acute contradiction buried inside capitalisms DNA. When he portrayed
capital as a force we must submit to it develops a cosmopolitan, universal energy which
breaks through every limit and every bond and posts itself as the only policy, the only
universality the only limit and the only bond, he was highlighting the reality that labour can be
purchased by liquid capital (ie money), in its commodity form, but that it will always carry with
it a will hostile to the capitalist buyer. But Marx was not just making a psychological,
philosophical or political statement. He was, rather, supplying a remarkable analysis of why the
moment that labour (as an unquantifiable activity) sheds this hostility, it becomes sterile,
incapable of producing value.
At a time when neoliberals have ensnared the majority in their theoretical tentacles, incessantly
regurgitating the ideology of enhancing labour productivity in an effort to enhance
competitiveness with a view to creating growth etc, Marxs analysis offers a powerful antidote.
Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input,
without destroying itself. That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp.
If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery, wrote Marx how
terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!

What has Marx done for us?


Almost all schools of thought, including those of some progressive economists, like to pretend
that, though Marx was a powerful figure, very little of his contribution remains relevant today. I
beg to differ. Besides having captured the basic drama of capitalist dynamics, Marx has given me
the tools with which to become immune to the toxic propaganda of neoliberalism. For example,
the idea that wealth is privately produced and then appropriated by a quasi-illegitimate state,
through taxation, is easy to succumb to if one has not been exposed first to Marxs poignant
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argument that precisely the opposite applies: wealth is collectively produced and then privately
appropriated through social relations of production and property rights that rely, for their
reproduction, almost exclusively on false consciousness.
In his recent book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, the historian of economic thought,
Philip Mirowski, has highlighted the neoliberals success in convincing a large array of people
that markets are not just a useful means to an end but also an end in themselves. According to
this view, while collective action and public institutions are never able to get it right, the
unfettered operations of decentralised private interest are guaranteed to produce not only the
right outcomes but also the right desires, character, ethos even. The best example of this form of
neoliberal crassness is, of course, the debate on how to deal with climate change. Neoliberals
have rushed in to argue that, if anything is to be done, it must take the form of creating a quasimarket for bads (eg an emissions trading scheme), since only markets know how to price
goods and bads appropriately. To understand why such a quasi-market solution is bound to fail
and, more importantly, where the motivation comes from for such solutions, one can do much
worse than to become acquainted with the logic of capital accumulation that Marx outlined and
the Polish economist Michal Kaleckiadapted to a world ruled by networked oligopolies.
In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marxs thought were
the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and,
indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marxs lead in a crucial regard: instead of
embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for
equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals. Marx was adamant:
The problem with capitalism is not that it is unfair but that it is irrational, as it habitually
condemns whole generations to deprivation and unemployment and even turns capitalists into
angst-ridden automata, living in permanent fear that unless they commodify their fellow humans
fully so as to serve capital accumulation more efficiently, they will cease to be capitalists. So, if
capitalism appears unjust this is because it enslaves everyone; it wastes human and natural
resources; the same production line that pumps out remarkable gizmos and untold wealth, also
produces deep unhappiness and crises.
Having failed to couch a critique of capitalism in terms of freedom and rationality, as Marx
thought essential, social democracy and the left in general allowed the neoliberals to usurp the
mantle of freedom and to win a spectacular triumph in the contest of ideologies.
Perhaps the most significant dimension of the neoliberal triumph is what has come to be known
as the democratic deficit. Rivers of crocodile tears have flowed over the decline of our great
democracies during the past three decades of financialisation and globalisation. Marx would
have laughed long and hard at those who seem surprised, or upset, by the democratic deficit.
What was the great objective behind 19th-century liberalism? It was, as Marx never tired of
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pointing out, to separate the economic sphere from the political sphere and to confine politics to
the latter while leaving the economic sphere to capital. It is liberalisms splendid success in
achieving this long-held goal that we are now observing. Take a look at South Africa today,
more than two decades after Nelson Mandela was freed and the political sphere, at long last,
embraced the whole population. The ANCs predicament was that, in order to be allowed to
dominate the political sphere, it had to give up power over the economic one. And if you think
otherwise, I suggest that you talk to the dozens of miners gunned down by armed guards paid by
their employers after they dared demand a wage rise.

Why erratic?
Having explained why I owe whatever understanding of our social world I may possess largely
to Karl Marx, I now want to explain why I remain terribly angry with him. In other words, I shall
outline why I am by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist. Marx committed two spectacular
mistakes, one of them an error of omission, the other one of commission. Even today, these
mistakes still hamper the lefts effectiveness, especially in Europe.
Marxs first error the error of omission was that he failed to give sufficient thought to the
impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about. His theory is discursively
exceptionally powerful, and Marx had a sense of its power. So how come he showed no concern
that his disciples, people with a better grasp of these powerful ideas than the average worker,
might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marxs own ideas, in order to abuse other
comrades, to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence?
Marxs second error, the one I ascribe to commission, was worse. It was his assumption that
truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models. This was the worst
disservice he could have delivered to his own theoretical system. The man who equipped us with
human freedom as a first-order economic concept; the scholar who elevated radical
indeterminacy to its rightful place within political economics; he was the same person who ended
up toying around with simplistic algebraic models, in which labour units were, naturally, fully
quantified, hoping against hope to evince from these equations some additional insights about
capitalism. After his death, Marxist economists wasted long careers indulging a similar type of
scholastic mechanism. Fully immersed in irrelevant debates on the transformation problem and
what to do about it, they eventually became an almost extinct species, as the neoliberal
juggernaut crushed all dissent in its path.
How could Marx be so deluded? Why did he not recognise that no truth about capitalism can
ever spring out of any mathematical model, however brilliant the modeller may be? Did he not
have the intellectual tools to realise that capitalist dynamics spring from the unquantifiable part
of human labour; ie from a variable that can never be well-defined mathematically? Of course he
did, since he forged these tools! No, the reason for his error is a little more sinister: just like the
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vulgar economists that he so brilliantly admonished (and who continue to dominate the
departments of economics today), he coveted the power that mathematical proof afforded him.
If I am right, Marx knew what he was doing. He understood, or had the capacity to know, that a
comprehensive theory of value cannot be accommodated within a mathematical model of a
dynamic capitalist economy. He was, I have no doubt, aware that a proper economic theory must
respect the idea that the rules of the undetermined are themselves undetermined. In economic
terms this meant a recognition that the market power, and thus the profitability, of capitalists was
not necessarily reducible to their capacity to extract labour from employees; that some capitalists
can extract more from a given pool of labour or from a given community of consumers for
reasons that are external to Marxs own theory.
Alas, that recognition would be tantamount to accepting that his laws were not immutable. He
would have to concede to competing voices in the trades union movement that his theory was
indeterminate and, therefore, that his pronouncements could not be uniquely and unambiguously
correct. That they were permanently provisional. This determination to have the complete, closed
story, or model, the final word, is something I cannot forgive Marx for. It proved, after all,
responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, authoritarianism. Errors and
authoritarianism that are largely responsible for the lefts current impotence as a force of good
and as a check on the abuses of reason and liberty that the neoliberal crew are overseeing today.

Mrs Thatchers lesson


I moved to England to attend university in September 1978, six months or so before Margaret
Thatchers victory changed Britain forever. Watching the Labour government disintegrate, under
the weight of its degenerate social democratic programme, led me to a serious error: to the
thought that Thatchers victory could be a good thing, delivering to Britains working and middle
classes the short, sharp shock necessary to reinvigorate progressive politics; to give the left a
chance to create a fresh, radical agenda for a new type of effective, progressive politics.
Even as unemployment doubled and then trebled, under Thatchers radical neoliberal
interventions, I continued to harbour hope that Lenin was right: Things have to get worse before
they get better. As life became nastier, more brutish and, for many, shorter, it occurred to me
that I was tragically in error: things could get worse in perpetuity, without ever getting better.
The hope that the deterioration of public goods, the diminution of the lives of the majority, the
spread of deprivation to every corner of the land would, automatically, lead to a renaissance of
the left was just that: hope.
The reality was, however, painfully different. With every turn of the recessions screw, the left
became more introverted, less capable of producing a convincing progressive agenda and,
meanwhile, the working class was being divided between those who dropped out of society and
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those co-opted into the neoliberal mindset. My hope that Thatcher would inadvertently bring
about a new political revolution was well and truly bogus. All that sprang out of Thatcherism
were extreme financialisation, the triumph of the shopping mall over the corner store, the
fetishisation of housing and Tony Blair.
Instead of radicalising British society, the recession that Thatchers government so carefully
engineered, as part of its class war against organised labour and against the public institutions of
social security and redistribution that had been established after the war, permanently destroyed
the very possibility of radical, progressive politics in Britain. Indeed, it rendered impossible the
very notion of values that transcended what the market determined as the right price.
The lesson Thatcher taught me about the capacity of a long-lasting recession to undermine
progressive politics, is one that I carry with me into todays European crisis. It is, indeed, the
most important determinant of my stance in relation to the crisis. It is the reason I am happy to
confess to the sin I am accused of by some of my critics on the left: the sin of choosing not to
propose radical political programs that seek to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow
European capitalism, to dismantle the awful eurozone, and to undermine the European Union of
the cartels and the bankrupt bankers.
Yes, I would love to put forward such a radical agenda. But, no, I am not prepared to commit the
same error twice. What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an
agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Thatchers
neoliberal trap? Precisely none. What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the
eurozone, of the European Union itself, when European capitalism is doing its utmost to
undermine the eurozone, the European Union, indeed itself?
A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation
of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and
north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe is would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do
you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like
from the ashes of Europes public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted
neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will
do best from a disintegration of the eurozone.
I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the
1930s. If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European
capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for
Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the
unnecessary human toll from this crisis.
68

What should Marxists do?


Europes elites are behaving today as if they understand neither the nature of the crisis that they
are presiding over, nor its implications for the future of European civilisation. Atavistically, they
are choosing to plunder the diminishing stocks of the weak and the dispossessed in order to plug
the gaping holes of the financial sector, refusing to come to terms with the unsustainability of the
task.
Yet with Europes elites deep in denial and disarray, the left must admit that we are just not
ready to plug the chasm that a collapse of European capitalism would open up with a functioning
socialist system. Our task should then be twofold. First, to put forward an analysis of the current
state of play that non-Marxist, well meaning Europeans who have been lured by the sirens of
neoliberalism, find insightful. Second, to follow this sound analysis up with proposals for
stabilising Europe for ending the downward spiral that, in the end, reinforces only the bigots.
Let me now conclude with two confessions. First, while I am happy to defend as genuinely
radical the pursuit of a modest agenda for stabilising a system that I criticise, I shall not pretend
to be enthusiastic about it. This may be what we must do, under the present circumstances, but I
am sad that I shall probably not be around to see a more radical agenda being adopted.
My final confession is of a highly personal nature: I know that I run the risk of, surreptitiously,
lessening the sadness from ditching any hope of replacing capitalism in my lifetime by indulging
a feeling of having become agreeable to the circles of polite society. The sense of selfsatisfaction from being feted by the high and mighty did begin, on occasion, to creep up on me.
And what a non-radical, ugly, corruptive and corrosive sense it was.
My personal nadir came at an airport. Some moneyed outfit had invited me to give a keynote
speech on the European crisis and had forked out the ludicrous sum necessary to buy me a firstclass ticket. On my way back home, tired and with several flights under my belt, I was making
my way past the long queue of economy passengers, to get to my gate. Suddenly I noticed, with
horror, how easy it was for my mind to be infected with the sense that I was entitled to bypass
the hoi polloi. I realised how readily I could forget that which my leftwing mind had always
known: that nothing succeeds in reproducing itself better than a false sense of entitlement.
Forging alliances with reactionary forces, as I think we should do to stabilise Europe today,
brings us up against the risk of becoming co-opted, of shedding our radicalism through the warm
glow of having arrived in the corridors of power.
Radical confessions, like the one I have attempted here, are perhaps the only programmatic
antidote to ideological slippage that threatens to turn us into cogs of the machine. If we are to
forge alliances with our political adversaries we must avoid becoming like the socialists who
failed to change the world but succeeded in improving their private circumstances. The trick is to
69

avoid the revolutionary maximalism that, in the end, helps the neoliberals bypass all opposition
to their self-defeating policies and to retain in our sights capitalisms inherent failures while
trying to save it, for strategic purposes, from itself.
theguardian.com
February 18, 2015

70

An African Cultural Modernity: Achebe, Fanon,


Cabral, and the Philosophy of Decolonization
Some Recurrent Themes on the Challenges of an African Cultural Modernity
I start with the contention that if we are to derive much-needed illumination from the literature
and critical thought of Africa of the last half a century with regard to the profound crises
engendered by arrested decolonization in the postindependence period, three recurrent, closely
related themes on the problem of modernization and modernity in the continent ought to engage
our serious attention. I wish to frame my reflections here around a synoptic review of these three
themes.
The first theme involves a deep sense of perplexity with regard to all available cognitive or
explanatory models and paradigms, precolonial, colonial and postcolonial. Indeed, this perplexity
is so deep, so profound that it amounts to nothing less than an epistemic impasse. Sometimes,
this theme is rendered in literary criticism of the conventional kind in the simplistic and
distortive framework of a culture clash between Africa and the West, tradition and modernity,
the old and the new, the indigenous and the alien. Soyinka, among others, has confronted this
critical reductionism with one of its most devastating rebuttals.1 A much more resonant
articulation of this theme of epistemic impasse is suggested by both the title and the narrative of
Achebes classic novel, Things Fall Apart, especially in its exploration in depth of the forcible
transition of Umuofia, standing metonymically for all of precolonial Africa, into a historical
space which seems to make invalid all pre-existing cognitive systems, all paradigms for making
confounding or traumatic experiences comprehensible or negotiable.
This theme is often apprehended in the larger imaginative topography of anomie, spiritual or
psychological. However, what I am emphasizing here are the specifically epistemic dimensions
of the theme. Thus the narration of the collapse of all the identity-forming and socially
cementing institutions of Umuofia in Things Fall Apart is underscored by the simultaneous
telescoping and fragmenting of vast temporalities and synchronicities of precolonial experience.
It is this particular form of the disintegration of the institutional matrices which organise and
shape cognition which is conveyed by the Yeatsian/Achebean image of the center which can no
longer hold. In other words, beside the collapse of ordered practices and values of kinship,
identity and community, it is the terror of losing ones cognitive moorings and having little to
shape the fashioning of new and viable markers or paradigms to make experience meaningful
that leads to the deep historical melancholia at the end of the novel.
Of the many texts in the corpus of modern African writing which have given a compelling,
mature exploration of this theme of epistemic impasse or terminus, we may point to the
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exemplary cases of Soyinkas A Dance of the Forests, Armahs The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet
Born and Fragments, Cheikh Hamidou Kanes Ambiguous Adventure, Bessie Heads A
Question of Power, and Dambudzo Marecheras House of Hunger and Black Sunlight. In these
texts we encounter protagonists, characters and imaginative lifeworlds in which old, hitherto
stable meanings, codes, inscriptions and significations no longer suffice to make experience
easily or reassuringly cognizable, at the same time that new syntheses can only very dimly be
perceived if at all.
It is important, I believe, to draw attention to one often ignored but crucial aspect of this theme
of epistemic, cognitive crisis and its corresponding historical melancholia: its initial articulation
literally preceded the attainment of formal independence, indeed coincided with the inception of
the movement toward decolonization. Moreover, in many notable cases, the imaginative
landscape of the literary expression of this theme involves a retrospective projection into both
pre-colonial, pre-capitalist African social formations and the forcibly imposed disarticulations of
colonial capitalism. I believe it is important to recall this point if only to underscore the fact that
this theme of epistemic impasse did not emerge, as many critics seem to think, with
postcolonial disillusionment.2
The second theme - which I designate radical alterity and hegemony - is perhaps more overtly
political; it entails two distinct but closely interlocking ideas. On one side is the idea that in the
modern world and more specifically the global order of late capitalism, very powerful, almost
insuperable external forces and interests are ranged against Africa and African peoples and
societies; on the other side is the idea that these mostly Western foreign interests and forces are
so alien to our cultures and societies as to constitute, compositely, a difference that is radically
incommensurable to Africa. It is on the basis of the convergence of these two ideas that we
should look for a deeper resonance of this theme of radical alterity and hegemony beyond its
normative inscription in our critical discourse as economic and political imperialism against
Africa. In the deeper articulations of this theme in African literature and critical discourse, the
putative difference between the cultural and civilizational ensembles of Africa and the West are
reified in the form of difference made so incommensurable as to be endlessly inimical and
threatening.
Among the literary works which have explored this theme at some length and with imaginative
force are Achebes Arrow of God, Soyinkas Death and the Kings Horseman, Ayi Kwei
Armahs Two Thousand Seasons, and Yambo Ouloguems Bound to Violence. It might be useful
to remark here that Negritude was, in its classical phase, indeed initially an ideological, perhaps
doctrinal codification of this theme of the radically incommensurable alterity of the West to
Africa.3 Furthermore, most of the varieties of the vigorously revisionary nativism of recent
critical discourse, as in the notable cases of Chinweizu and Armah, correspond to a sort of postNegritude consolidation of this theme.4 I would thus argue that this theme, conceived as a set of
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dispersed tropes or idiologemes in contemporary African critical discourse, occupies a deep


structure of the political unconscious of the modern African nationalist or Pan-Africanist literarycultural imagination.5
The third theme of our review of contemporary African thought derives dialectically from the
second and is indeed a refinement or sublation of it.6 This theme I identify as that of culturalism.
It essentially entails the view that given the vastly unequal technological, military and economic
dimensions of the encounter of colonized Africa with the colonizing West - indeed on account
of this very factor of a massively disproportionate distribution of power and advantage culture constitutes the only real bulwark, the last redoubt, the kernel of both effective
resistance to the West and neutralization of Africas enormous disadvantage. In all the varied
formulations of this view, culture is recognized as being the target of a massive Western
onslaught; however, culture is at the same time seen not only as the most resistant front but
as the very ground of resistance on all other fronts, economic, political, military, ideological.
Thus, if this theme, as we have noted, is a dialectical response to the reification of the presumed
incommensurable and inimical alterity of the West to Africa, it is a response by way of a
counter-reification: African culture is saved by the very fact of its presumed absolute
difference from the West. In varying formalistic and thematic expressions, with their divergent
ideological inflections, this idea animates such diverse literary texts as Kobina Sekyis The
Blinkards, Hampate Bas The Fortunes of Wangrin, Ebrahim Husseins Kinjeketile, Okot
pBiteks Song of Lawino, Armahs The Healers and, again, Soyinkas Death and the Kings
Horseman.

A Changed Historical Ground


It is important to recall these central themes of the literary-critical discourse on cultural
modernity and African societies because, since the 1980s at least, a changed historical ground
has given them a new pertinence, a fresh lease of discursive life. In other words, these themes are
being discursively reinscribed, albeit in greatly altered forms. We shall engage some of these at
the end of this essay, but first, a word on the changed historical ground. Since the terms which
define this have been extensively delineated and analysed, only its barest outline will be given
here, not in any particular order, but as a composite profile.7
Perhaps the most important feature of this altered historical terrain is the polarization of the
global economic order into two warring camps of creditor nations and debtor nations.
Expressed differently, the old polarization between colonizers and colonized, between empire
and colony, has been transmuted into the far more rarified and finessed antagonism between, as
some now put it, nations that restructure and those that adjust. Africa is solidly and almostly
completely mired among the most desperately indebted; other things follow, and ramify from
this central factor:
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Effective control and initiative for the present and future direction of the continent now lie with
the creditor nations, acting through institutional proxies like the IMF and the World Bank. This
spells virtual recolonization of the continent;
As most of the African states enter a kind of collective debt peonage in which a laissez-faire
market economy is imposed on them, there is a much-touted view that both socialism and
capitalism, as paradigms of mobilization for economic and social progress, have failed in the
continent;
Given these factors which have reduced Africas growth rate to virtual nullity, or even
stagnation and real decline, Africa is effectively excluded from the current explosion of
knowledge by the technologization and computerization of information data and new
knowledges and techniques;
Given the massive reduction of social expenditure on the public sectors of the African
economies, there is now a virtual collapse of higher education and high-level manpower training,
with a corresponding demoralization of educational personnel and other professional groups;
With the enormous shrinkage of credit and investment capital which accompany these
interlocking developments, there is a monumental reduction of the cost of reproduction of labor
power and general productive capacities; consequently there is every possibility that
competencies and capacities of the present generation, already almost fatally depressed, will
further deteriorate in the next generation;
The greatest human cost is imposed: the immiseration and pauperization of virtually all urban
and rural producers and toilers, especially women and children;
There occurs a perceivable weakening, or even implosion, of the postcolonial state, given the
disappearance of the extractable surplus on which its apparatus, as well as its legitimacy, rests;
consequently, there seems to be an intensification of more primordial bases of community,
allegiance and sociality.
Given the fact that these patterns and developments are to be found in virtually all the African
states, with perhaps only South Africa as a historic exception, the total import lies not in
particular, differentiated expressions in each African country, but rather in the way in which
these developments combine to homogenize, objectify and reify the continent, the race, as a
weak, stagnating, dependent and tragic zone of humanity. Given this factor, racial or continental
awareness becomes a sort of community of consciousness of unassuageable suffering desperately
in search of, in Walter Benjamins famous construct, messianic time.8

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This condition is a fertile ground for a special kind of reification, a special kind of hypostasis
which generates and naturalizes racial explanations in place of scrupulous attention to the
historically contingent crystallization and intensification of unequal relationships between and
within nations and peoples. In its most extreme negative expression, this reification of race as
the ground of all explanatory or analytical paradigms indeed engenders what I would describe as
the mythicization and annulment of history. Thus again today we confront the increasing
racialization of thought and culture about which Fanon had given insightful warnings. In the
cloudy light of this re-racialization of thought, historical experience and social phenomena
assume the extremely mystifying appearance of new phantasms of the white man or the Black
race.9
In such conditions, a truly radical African critical discourse calls for intellectual vigilance, for
sustained, unyielding and rigorous acts of theoretical demythologization. Our reflections on
Achebe, Fanon and Cabral and the philosophy of decolonization thus hope to establish a line of
departure from the tendency toward the reification and obfuscation which the current historical
melancholia all too easily engenders. What links these three writers indeed is their efforts to
demystify reification, not by ignoring it, but by engaging it directly in both lucid and complex
ways. In this regard, it becomes important to uncover how, on the one hand, each of the writers
engages our three central themes and, on the other, how we might read each of these
engagements - Achebes, Fanons and Cabrals - against one another, and against the more
generalized philosophy of decolonization which we deem a fundamental aspect of contemporary
intellectual culture.

Achebe: Telos, Progressivism and De-mythologization


To read Achebes ideas on the genealogy and evolution of an African cultural modernity, on the
one hand, in his imaginative works and, on the other, in his non-fictional essays, is to become
acutely conscious of the need for very discriminating, hermeneutically flexible and open reading
strategies. For scattered throughout Achebes fictional and non-fictional prose works are ideas
which, at one level might seem inconsistent and contradictory, but at another level reveal deep
structural, dialectical regularities and unities (if it is remembered that the unity of the dialectic
not only admits, but consists of contradiction and tension).10 This calls for careful elaboration.
Even a cursory reading of many of Achebes fictional and non-fictional prose works shows
immediately that the themes of a radical incommensurability of Africa and Europe and of
the great disproportion in power and historic advantage between them, are explored extensively
by him, and in quite unique representational terms. Consider the sort of inscription of these
themes that we find in Achebes novelistic masterpiece, Arrow of God,11 in the account given
by Winterbottom (the colonial District Officer) of a particular episode in the military
pacification of Umuaro:
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I think I can say with all modesty that this change came after I had gathered and publicly
destroyed all firearms, except of course, this collection here. You will be going there frequently
on tour. If you hear anyone talking about Otiji-Egbe, you know that they are talking about me.
Otiji-Egbe means Breaker of Guns. I am even told that all children born in that year belong to
a new age-grade of the Breaking of the Guns. [36-7]
The triumphalism of this account, which savours and re-enacts the psychic violence it narrates, is
all the more interesting in that it seems to find complicity in the way in which the colonized have
ritualized and encoded the event in collective memory. Clearly, Winterbottom intends a
ritualization of the colonizers military superiority or invincibility in the ceremonial, pubic
enactment of the event. As some scholars have noted, this reveals the European colonizers
consumate love of spectacle - of ceremonial display of power and majesty - that played a
crucial role in the consolidation and stabilization of colonial rule in Africa and Asia.12 Thus, if
this is a recognizable part of the culture of colonialism, what is extraordinary in Achebes
depiction is the seeming complicity, even acquiescence, of the colonized in the ritualization of
the colonizers military superiority. This seems to be even more pointed in the following account
of Ezeulus ruminations on book and writing as indices of a vast chasm in cultural
achievement and advantage between the white man and the black man:
The messenger pointed in his direction and the other man followed with his eye and saw Ezeulu.
But he only nodded and continued to write in his big book. When he finished what he was
writing he opened a connecting door and disappeared into another room. He did not stay long
there; when he came out again be beckoned at Ezeulu, and showed him into the white mans
presence. He too was writing, but with his left hand. The first thought that came to Ezeulu on
seeing him was to wonder whether any black man ould ever achieve the same mastery over book
as to write it with the left hand. [173]
Since this is Ezeulu the proud priest who refuses to be the white mans warrant chief, it
behoves us not to read this pasage in isolation from other kinds, or orders, of narrative and
representation in the novel. For Ezeulu is not like the benighted fireman on the riverboat in
Conrads Heart of Darkness who, thanks to Conrads totalizing and totalitarian exclusion of
native versions of reality other than his own narcissitically European point of view,13
cannot have any conception of the riverboats engine-room boiler or furnace other than as a
malevolent, fiery spirit who must be constantly and endlessly appeased. Thus, even though
Ezeulu, from the conditioned gaze of an analphabetic, non-literate culture, mystifies book and
writing, in many other respects, especially on the level of ethical and spiritual reflectiveness and
acceptance of moral responsibilitity, Ezeulu considers himself, and aspects of his culture,
superior to the culture and values of the white man. This is definitely the spirit of his testimony
against his own community of Umuaro in the white mans court in which he makes a
deposition against what he sees as a war of blame by his own people against Okperi, a
76

neighboring community. In making that deposition, Ezeulu stands completely alone, distanced as
much from the land-grabbing, aggressive opportunism of his own community as from the
manipulative, divide-and-dominate politicking of the white colonial administration. But
significantly, Ezeulu invokes ethical imperatives from his culture in maintaining his lonely
unpopular stand.
This line of interpretation allows us to see that the structure of Achebes representations and
narratives on the historic encounter of Europe and Africa is intricately dialectical and is shaped
by ambiguity and irony. At the very least, I identify three levels of narratological,
representational or ideological matrices, all deeply interconnected. Here, I will attempt only a
brief unravelling of these matrices.
At one level, the superb realist logic of Achebes narrative art shows a deep intuitive grasp of
objective, impersonal mediations and determinations on the encounter of the colonizer and the
colonized. Moreover, this is matched by a rigorous fidelity to the exploration of these processes
and determinations in their own right and at that level at which they are not only ultimately
beyond the control of either side, but cannot even be adequately perceived, let alone understood
and mastered. The most widely discussed of these is the case of Oduche, Ezeulus son who, at
his fathers behest, goes to the white mans church and school in order to be his fathers eyes
and ears; however, Oduche disappoints his father and culture by the way that his formation as a
newly colonized subject, an unintended volu, exceeds his fathers plans. This is the level of
the external, objective operation of the dialectic of history and subjectivity, and Achebes realist
art is superbly attentive to it.
At another level, that of interiority and personal volition, Achebe does not cede individuals, their
passions, anxieties, eccentricities, strengths and weaknesses to total control and determination by
abstract, impersonal forces and processes. This is perhaps a product both of his version of
realism and his deep strain of humanist sympathies. Thus, it should be remarked that Achebe
extends his understanding, and his solicitude and compassion, to both the colonizer and the
colonized, both the victims and the perpetrators of reification. One instantiation of this is the
total portrait of Winterbottom, the Breaker of Guns: even at the very moment of glorying in his
triumph as Otiji-Ogbe, Breaker of Guns, the vulnerable, wasting man behind the mythic
lionization is deftly shown to be succumbing to that classic of the wages or nemesis of colonial
sin - tropical fever - and the relentless human vitiation lodged within the natural cycle of
aging.
The most intricate, daunting level of these matrices of Achebes representations of historical
experience concerns his infusion into his characteristic realist detachment and irony passionate
espousals of particular causes and somewhat more limited communal, national and even racial
interests. Some of these are: the human worth and fundamental dignity of the African precolonial
past, with all its imperfections and limitations;14 the cause of women and all marginalized
77

groups and classes;15 the vocation of writing in particular and art in general in an increasingly
philistine, vulgarly materialistic African postcoloniality;16 the cause of Biafra during the
Nigerian civil war and of the Igbo people in the skewed, explosively antagonistic peace of
post-civil war Nigeria;17 and the Pan-Africanist internationalism of an African humanity which
embraces the continent and the diaspora.18 This is perhaps the greatest challenge to
interpretation posed by Achebes fictional and non-fictional works: the intersection and
convergence in these works of realist detachment and objectivity, intuitive grasp of the inner
movement of complex mediations and determinations, a broad, catholic humanist sympathy, and
the espousal of particularist causes.
It is against this complex tapestry of Achebes narrative art, broad moral and philosophical
temper, and passionate political and ideological enthusiams that one must, I believe, read what
comes across in his writings as the most recurrent, the most insistent, and the most problematic
theme on modernity and modernization: a much too linear and teleological view of historical
change, a much too schematic division between backwardness and progressiveness, between
cultural immobilism and dynamism. I would like to examine this issue briefly by juxtaposing
three passages from different fictional and non-fictional works of the Nigerian author.
The first passage, the earliest of our three examples, comes from some fragmentary, non-fictional
notes titled Tourist Sketches published in 1962 which bore the subtitle being part of an
unwritten travel book:
The Wachagga who inhabit the slopes of Kilimanjaro are today a very progressive people. They
are comparatively wealthy because they grow coffee on the most modern cooperative lines. I am
told that the Wachagga used not to be very popular with the British administration, especially
with one particular Governor who did not fancy natives in lounge suits.
The Masai their neighbours took one look at western civilization and turned their back on it; the
Wachagga plunged in without taking a look. They are always trying out new things. In the fifties
they decided to unite their 300,000 people under a paramount chief, and chose as their first ruler
Tom Marealle who was educated at the London School of Economics. In 1960 they found him
too ambitious and replaced him with an elected President, Solomon Eliufo who had been
educated at Makerere and the United States and was one of Mr. Nyereres brightest ministers
Personally I think New Africa belongs to those who, like the Wachagga, are ready to take in new
ideas. Like all those with open minds they will take in a lot of rubbish. They will certainly not be
a tourist attraction. But in the end life will favour those who come to terms with it and not those
who run away.19
Our second passage takes us back to Arrow of God in Winterbottoms speech on the breaking
of guns. The echoes of the earlier text on Massais and Wachaggas are unmistakable:
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Those guns have a long and interesting history. The people of Okperi and their neighbours
Umuaro are great enemies. Or they were before I came into the story. A big savage war had
broken out between them over a piece of land. This feud was made worse by the fact that Okperi
welcomed missionaries and government while Umuaro, on the other hand, has remained
backward. It was only in the last four or five years that any kind of impression has been made
there. [36]
Finally, a passage from Achebes book of trenchant social criticism, The Trouble with Nigeria,
published in 1983. The quote is from an essay titled The Igbo Problem:
The origin of the national resentment of the Igbo is as old as Nigeria and quite as complicated.
But it can be summarized thus: The Igbo culture being receptive to change, individualistic and
highly competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his compatriots in
securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian colonial society. Unlike the Hausa/Fulani he
was unhindered by a wary religion and unlike the Yoruba unhampered by traditional hierarchies.
This kind of creature, fearing nor God nor man, was custom-made to grasp the opportunities,
such as they were, of the white mans dispensation. And the Igbo did so with both hands.
Although the Yoruba had a huge historical and geographical head-start the Igbo wiped out their
handicap in one fantastic burst of energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950.20
The implicit teleological, progressivist, quasi-Darwinian view in these quotes on the topic of
modernization and modernity is, as is now very well known, a major aspect of the hegemonist
ideology of empire-building Europe in its global reach over the course of four hundred years.21
It achieves one of its most scientific expressions in W.W. Rostows famous key text of 1960s
bourgeois sociology of development, Stages of Economic Growth.22 And as Byran Turner has
demonstrated in his important book, Marx and the End of Orientalism, when applied to the socalled developing world, this teleological, progressivist view of modernity fastens almost
exclusively on internalist or culturalist obstacles to modernization and development.23 Thus
this teleological progressivism marks a point of theoretical and ideological weakness in Achebes
ideas on culture and development, even though, as we have seen, his works constitute a powerful
critique of reification and abstraction of culture from historical processes and the competitive
struggles between social groups, nations, peoples. Alongside Achebes teleological formulations,
there has thus always been something of an internal critique of them in his writings, and some of
his recent essays and fictional works have indeed deepened and expanded on the more muted
articulation of this critique in his earlier writings.24 This is particularly true of the novel Anthills
of the Savannah25 and the collection of essays, Hopes and Impediments. In these works we
encounter a much more complex view of culture as the kernel of resistance to both local and
foreign domination and as a germ of renewal and transformation. In other words, we find a
transcendence of the schematic, binary division of history and experience in the teleological,
progressivist formulation of a radical separation and antagonism between stronger and
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weaker peoples and social groups, more dynamic and static cultures, the precolonial,
precapitalist past and the varied capitalisms of the present. In Anthills of the Savannah, this
exemplary transcendence of cultural or experiential binarisms is symbolized by the novels
extraordinary closing narrative and representational tropes: Elewas new baby girl is given a
boys name and during this emblematic enactment the men, as traditional embodiments of
strength, initiative and decisiveness, are noticeably in the background. And consider the
radical critique of, even the break with, teleological thought in the following passage from the
eloquent essay on culture and development, What Has Literature Got to Do with It:
In one sense [there is] a travelling away from [an] old self towards a cosmopolitan, modern
identity, while in another sense [there is a] journeying back to regain a threatened past and
selfhood. To comprehend the dimensions of this gigantic paradox and coax from it such
unparalleled inventiveness requires not mere technical flair but the archaic energy, the
perspective, the temperament of creation myths and symbolism. It is in the very nature of
creativity, in its prodigious complexity and richness, that it will accommodate paradoxes and
ambiguities. But this, it seems, will always elude and pose a problem for the uncreative, literal
mind. The literal mind is the one-track mind, the simplistic mind, the mind that cannot
comprehend that where one thing stands, another will stand beside it - the mind (finally and
alas!) which appears to dominate our current thinking on Nigerias need for technology.26

Fanon and Cabral: Materialist Hermeneutics and Cultural Theory


In approaching the immensely crucial works of Fanon and Cabral, it is perhaps useful to recall
the extraordinary idea that we extrapolated above from Achebes essay, What Has Literature
Got to Do With It? which states that the problematic of modernization and modernity for nonWestern societies involves a janus-faced embrace of the past and the future: a moving outward
and forward toward technological mastery and cosmopolitan identity as well as a moving inward
and backward in time to repossess an archaic cultural energy and creativity lodged in residual
sediments derived from the preindustrial, precapitalist and precolonial cultures. This notion flies
in the face of the dominant discourses on development and modernity in African and Third
World societies, which are all mostly based on teleologically progressivist and evolutionist
theories. Sometimes, as in the case of a W.W. Rostow, these theories are quite explicit in
affirming that there are definite, sequential stages to necessarily and progressively pass through
in the forward march to modernization, affirming in effect that one cannot skip intermediate
stages with impunity in order to arrive at real modernity. Mostly, however, these theoretical
suppositions on stagist evolutionism are muted, implicit; nonetheless they run deep.
Most theorists and popularizing pundits of this school, Africans and non-Africans alike, locate
Africa at the earlier phases of this teleological-evolutionist schema, thereby implying that the
problems and challenges of modernization and modernity in Africa are almost insuperable on
account of the presumed cultural provenance of backwardness. If Achebes formulation of the
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engine of modernity facing forward and looking back at the same time is a powerful metaphoric
rebuttal of this telos, the writings of Fanon and Cabral constitute important theoretical validation
of this rebuttal.
Since most of Fanons mature writings on cultural theory are in his last three books, The
Wretched of the Earth, A Dying Colonialism and Toward The African Revolution, it may be
useful to raise the question of how his first book, Black Skins, White Masks, a more youthful,
passionate, tortured self-analysis, relates to the later works. The title is pertinent here: masks and
phantoms of a black subjectivity overdetermined by deep complexes of alienation and selfhatred. In other words, the book was a courageous, unflinching, brilliant look at the sources
which generate, and the forms/shades which express the black man as the absolute Other, the
incarnation of negativity and inferiority. Beyond this, the book also explored how this phantasm
became internalized, lived and acted out in elaborate forms of schizophrenia (e.g. linguistic and
psychosexual) and how it could and should be terminated. What Fanon was thus later able to do
in his mature works came by way of deepening and generalizing these insights of Black Skins,
White Masks to wider historical, political and ideological contexts implied, for instance, in the
title The Wretched of the Earth.
Indeed one can, I believe, plot a sort of movement in Fanons thought in general, and on cultural
theory in particular, in the ideas and achievements of these four titles: from the most concrete,
personal and confessional descent into subjetivity in Black Skins, White Masks, through a more
muted form of the searing, poetic prose of the earlier book as he articulates a sort of manifesto
and primer of revolt (in the context of historic decolonization) in A Dying Colonialism and The
Wretched of the Earth, to the essays of Toward the African Revolution which, in a visionary,
proleptic register, look ahead beyond formal decolonization to the consolidation of the
momentum of emancipation. Thus in Fanons work we find an internal dynamic which is rare not
only in intellectual history in general but also among revolutionary intellectuals: a trajectory
which progresses from the most intimate, personal, concrete and particular expression of
suffering and thwarted desire, to its generalization and universalisation to encompass the truths
of collective class, national and racial oppressions of the most marginalized of a world order
under colonial and imperial domination. This is perhaps what has, in the decades since his death,
turned Fanon into the leading theorist of national liberation as vehicle of revolutionary
transcendence of many forms of oppression in the developing world: psycho-social and psycosexual alienation; economic and political domination and marginalization; the usurpation of the
right to self-representation.
From the perspective of our own present reflections, perhaps the most important lesson of
Fanons life and work is that, starting from the most personal experience of racial negation, he
made so thorough a theoretical investigation of it as to link it with virtually every other form and
site of negation and oppression. And he turned his searing demystification both on the oppressor
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and the oppressed, both on arrogant, triumphalist Europe in its imperial project and on Africa
beaten down, exploited, inferiorized, condemned to backwardness. By totally absorbing the
insights of the major Western intellectual currents of his day - structuralism, phenomenology,
psychoanalysis, linguistics and revolutionary socialist theory - and by engaging thinkers like
Hegel, Marx, Sorrel, Adler and Lacan, he was extraordinarily penetrating on the contradictions
and hypocrisies at the heart of Europes finest ideas and institutions - humanism, democracy,
the secular, rationalist legacy of the Enlightenment. Conversely, while he was deeply
sympathetic to the racialized, nationalist or culturalist turning way from Europe, he was
penetrating in his account of its dangers, pitfalls, delusions and, ultimately, self-reification. In
this particular respect, the penetrating reach of his critique of Negritude is perhaps still to be
matched.
Above all else, Fanon demonstrated that successful, emancipatory resistance is possible for
oppressed races, peoples, nations and classes at whatever level of economic, psychological and
historic disadvantage and devastation by cultural imperialism; but he insisted that this was
possible only on the basis of avoiding the reification both of the racial or nationalist self as
incarnation of virtue, and of the colonizing Other as the embodiment of evil. This was the crux of
Fanons expos on the dangers of freezing the initial manicheanism of the culture of colonialism
into a permanent binarism; regrettably, this insight has been widely ignored or misunderstood.
Finally, Fanon cautioned the middle-class African intellectual or writer to be aware of seductions
and inducements to moral vaccilations and ideological compromises which are inherent in his or
her being part of the colonized elite, part of the pseudo-bourgeoisie whose role, according to
Fanon, would in all probability, be to betray the promise of independence, to arrest or set back
the forward motion of historical decolonization.
With the possible exception of the descent into a personal, intensely subjective experience of
racial alienation and its theoretical generalization into a collective psychohistory of racial
disalienation, most of these themes of Fanons mature writings are present in Cabrals work. The
important differences between the two revolutionary thinkers pertain to points of emphasis and
contexts of theoretical reflections. Thus, in general, Cabrals writings are less personal, less
confessional than Fanons; they are more grounded in close, extensive and exacting analyses
of African societies and cultures in the context of what was perhaps the best organized, most
ideologically developed anti-colonial, anti-imperialist national liberation struggle in Africa,
namely that of the former Portuguese colonies. And since Cabral was arguably the greatest
theoretician of that extraordinary anti-colonial, anti-imperialist movement, what we have in his
work by way of the philosophy of decolonization, especially in the domain of cultural theory,
marks perhaps the highest point of theoretical elaboration prior to the consolidation of
recolonization in its present stage.

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Given the many points of convergence between Fanon and Cabral, we can only in the present
context indicate, in summary fashion, the main ideas of Cabral. Three closely connected ideas
seem to be of exceptional significance.
First, there is the notion that whatever the level of economic development, whatever the material
conditions of a particular society, it is a bearer and creator of culture and thus capable of selfregeneration and self-renewal, capable of mastery of techniques and processes necessary for
survival and social reproduction relative to that societys level of development. We can see that
this point directly addresses the themes of the radical incommensurability between Africa and
the West and the great disproportion in initiative, power and advantage between them. Secondly,
there is Cabrals thesis that, without underestimating the importance of positive contributions
from the oppressors culture and other cultures, emancipation, progress, transformation will
come to Africa and other Third World societies only if they return to the upward paths of the
liberation of their productive capacities, distorted or paralysed by colonialisms devaluation of
the culture of the colonized. Without the liberation of these productive capacities, Cabral insists
that no progress is possible. Finally, there is Cabrals thesis on the multiform, complex,
asymetrical and contradictory nature of culture, especially in Africa with regard to the historical
heterogeneity of its peoples and societies, and their violent disaggregation by colonial capitalism.
Indeed, it is perhaps best to bring our observations and reflections in this essay to a close by
quoting directly from Cabral on this point:
In the specific conditions of our country - and we should say of Africa - the horizontal and
vertical distribution of levels of culture is somewhat complex. In fact, from the villages to the
towns, from one ethnic group to another, from the peasant to the artisan or to the more or less
assimilated indigenous intellectual, from one social class to another, and even as we have said
from individual to individual within the same social category, there are significant variations in
the quantitative and qualitative levels of culture. For culture to play the important role which
falls to it in the framework of development of the liberation movement, the movement must be
able to conserve the positive cultural values of every well-defined social group, of every
category, and to achieve the confluence of these values into the stream of struggle, giving them a
new dimension - the national dimension.27
Sdonline.com
March 13, 2011

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From Archive

Mission of a Free Thinker


Dr. Ali Shariati

Dr. Ali Shariati was born in Mazinan, a suburb of Sabzevar, Iran. After graduating from college
in 1960, on a scholarship he pursued graduate studies in France. Dr. Shariati, an honor student,
received his doctorate in sociology in 1964 from Sorbonne University. As a sociologist, he
sought to explain the problems of Muslim societies and third world societies in general. Dr.
Shariati studied and experienced many philosophical and social schools of thought. Dr. Shariati
wrote many books. The following is one of his interviews.
Question: Assuming we are the real free-thinkers, what must our relationship be with the
society? What route should we choose?
Answer: I think before we talk about the relationship between free-thinkers and people, we must
first start with the free-thinker himself. That is, we must understand the free-thinking in its true
sense. Can we be sure that we can let our hair down with the free-thinkers of our society and
share with them what we have?
I believe we have not yet reached the second stage (the relationship between free-thinkers and
people). But assuming that we have, when we get together with the masses, do we know how to
talk to them? What have we got to share with them? What message have we for them? This is a
difficult problem indeed. Should we, considering the fact that our society is a religious one,
reject the opinions and the thoughts of the masses? Must we dictate to the masses? If so, are we
not strengthening and making the masses the more determined in their religious stupor? If we
denied their thoughts, have we not become estranged from them and relegated them into the lap
of the reactionaries who are fighting us? We notice that in both cases the problem has remained
unsolved. On the other hand, we arc essentially still feeding upon the European intellectuals'
thoughts of the last couple of centuries. To what extent can such thoughts, designs, and ideas
illuminate our atmosphere as well as our responsibilities?
First, the European intellectual is dealing with a worker who has gone through three centuries of
the Middle Ages and two centuries of Renaissance. Second, this worker lives in an atmosphere
not dominated by a religious spirit. Third, he has reached the industrial proletariat stage. Fourth,
he lives in a well-developed industrial bourgeois system in which the relationships are of an
industrial type, and finally, the worker has attained a higher stage of growth, and self84

consciousness. More important, the European intellectual listeners (the industrial proletariat),
have formed a layer a distinct and independent class in society which has developed a special
cultures concession, and form in the foundation of the Western European economy. Now
suppose as a free-thinker, (who wants to imitate the ideas of the 19th century intellectuals). I try
to speak to an Iranian worker who does not have any of the characteristics of the 19th century
intellectual listener. I live in a society in which the bourgeoisie, except in big cities, is in its
nascent stage The comprador bourgeoisie is a middle-man, not a bourgeoisie of the genuine
producing system. Apart from this we still do not have a workers' class in our society. What we
have are just groups.
There are groups of workers in the most primitive as well as corrupt societies. For instance, in
Saudi Arabia (where there are industrial resources and western production), about 500-2000
workers live in the top echelon, but the country as a whole lacks the workers' foundation; it has a
tribal, agricultural, or feudalistic base.
Further, we are not living in the 19th century. When we compare the characteristics of our
societies in Asia and Africa with a European society we notice that we are living in the thirteenth
century. Therefore, we must first discover in what century we live, and then understand our own
ideas and teach them. To use 19th century ideas on a 13th century society not only leaves us
hanging in the air, but it is also useless when we are unable to find any listener the same things
that our free-thinkers are faced with now.
Our free-thinkers are living in the 13th century but their words, thoughts, and ideas are borrowed
from the Western European intellectuals of the 19th and 20th Centuries. And as such, they
cannot find any listener. Our listeners are "classic" bourgeoisie who have nothing in common
with the European bourgeoisie. Our bazaars bourgeoisie is 100 % religious, while the European
one is 100 % non-religious. The European bourgeoisie is so progressive that it created the French
revolution while ours just huddle in the bazaars a base for seeking tradition.
From our masses' point of view, the average citizenry is a villager. They are our listeners and you
cannot talk to them the same way. John Moore talked to the British workers in 1864. And so, it is
a mistake to think that we are living in the 19th or 20th century, as well as it is a mistake to
follow the European intellectuals of these two centuries as our models. Therefore, we must first
throw the 10th century European "contents" out of our heads and for the first time discover our
own century.
There are nations in the world now which are living in a pre-historic stage, namely, they have not
entered the historic period yet. Therefore, to be in the 20th century is different than living in it.
Accordingly, we must first discover our own century, and then learn from identical free-thinkers
of Europe who are sympathetic to our ideas of our centuries. We are now living in the 13th or
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14th centuries (the end of the Middle Ages, or the onset of the modern age). In Europe, these
were the periods of transition from feudalism and traditional religion to a bourgeoisie which
signifies an open world-vision, revolutionary bourgeoisie, and protest against religion. At the
present we have all these conditions in our society. However, we have to find out what Europe
did in the 13th and 14th centuries. And what were the reasons that European free-thinkers played
their role so well that they changed the frozen and the stagnant Middle Ages to a new Europe?
The basic factors that helped to bring about the new civilization in Europe were economical and
intellectual in nature. Economically feudalism changed to bourgeoisie. In place of the reactionary
and lowly aristocrats, bourgeoisie emerged. This was due to East-West relations, the crusaders,
the discovery of America and Australia, mercantilism, and the exploitation of Africa, Asia, Latin
America, and even North America. Intellectually, the change was from Catholicism to
Protestantism. The 14th century free-thinker did not negate religion, he transformed his
inclination from the hereafter to this world; from tendency towards spirit, nature, ethics, and
ascetism to work and effort; from sufism to objection and from self-centeredness to societycenteredness. In short, the same powerful cultural and religious resources which lay dormant in
the heart of Europe were changed to moving, emerging, creative, and constructive forces by the
free-thinkers.
Therefore, we must depend upon this fact, rather than what Sartre, Marx, and Rousseau say.
What these people say has to do with our next two centuries. We must work for the society in
which we live now rather than for our own sole mental and physical satisfaction. What is
important to us now are Luther's and Calvin's works, since they transformed the Catholic ethics
(which had imprisoned Europe in tradition from centuries) to a moving and creative force. For
instance, Max Weber discussed the relationship between capitalism to the Protestant ethic. He
argued that those predominantly Catholic Countries such as Spain, France, and Italy were less
progressive than England, Germany, and the United States which were predominantly Protestant.
Namely Weber maintained that there was a direct relationship between Protestant ethic and
capitalism.
We notice that those countries which have changed the Catholic religion from its reactionary
form to a creative and protesting force have made headway. On the other hand, those countries
which have kept Catholicism have remained in the condition of the Middle Ages.
Geographically, Spain and historically, Italy were in a position to have been the most progressive
countries in Europe. First, Spain had the brightest past in Europe and Rome was the center of
Christian civilization (before Islam). Second, the Renaissance movement of the 15th and the 16th
centuries originated in Italy with such great artists and thinkers as De Vinci, Michelangelo, and
Galileo.
Although in the past Spain was not like Rome, from the 8th to 12th centuries she had the greatest
Islamic civilization, and thereafter she played the role of transmitter of Islamic Culture to
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Europe. Ironically, these two vanguards of civilization are the two most backwards in Europe
now. While America, England, and Germany, which were the last ones caught up with
civilization, are the most advanced. In these, civilization, industry, capitalism, and material
strength are explainable only in light of religious factors and religious differences. And so, at this
point we reach the conclusion that the flee-thinkers of the 14th through 17th centuries found their
new destiny by destroying their old faith, and transforming traditional Catholicism to a
protesting, world-minded, political, and materialist Protestantism.
Such a mission is also available to the religious East which is living at the end of the Medieval
period. But it is not fitting that we mimic the European flee-thinkers of the 19th and 20th
centuries and reject religion. In a society like Iran, whose foundation is a religious one, we must
not turn ourselves into a so-called free-thinker cadre (that gathers in coffee houses, cabarets, and
parties to "talk big," and show off by reciting new personalities), while our average citizens are
still living in the Middle Ages, having no access to our talents, religion, ideology, and writing.
Any school which is not based upon the cultural foundations of a society looks like a good book
in a library which is used only by a small group of students and professors. Even if thousands of
such books are printed, they will have no effect upon the masses. The greatest danger, however,
is self-separation of the free-thinker from the society's context. If a free-thinker separates himself
from his society, no matter where he goes or what he does, his society will remain in everlasting
corruption. For example, in the 5th and 6th centuries A.H., thinkers such as Avicenna, Ghazali
(two of history's great teachers) died in a society which was wallowing in the corruption in the
Seljuk and Ghaznavi periods. Why? Because these free-thinkers stayed away from the society
(consequently, we would have been better off if, in place of Avicenna, Ghazali, Fakhr, and
Zakaria Razi, we had one Abu Zar; all the Islamic societies would have been saved from the
grips of Seljuk, Ghaznavi, and the Mongols.
In ancient Greece too, there were free-thinkers like Aristotle. But throughout Aristotle's lifetime,
the Athenian people were suffering from corruption, aristocracy, and slavery. On the other hand,
there was not one single philosopher in Sparta, but here people were sportsmen and brave. In
Athens, hundreds of writers, philosophers and so forth could not change and organize the
society, their presence and absence did not make a bit of difference.
Our problem in the East, (e.g. Iran), is that we have created a platonic garden out of our
countries. For example, if you go to Tehran and visit a few cafes you will meet many freethinkers, socialists, existentialists, and so forth. They have a super market of ideas along with
their own special publications. But unfortunately, the average man in the street does not know
who these "idealists" are and what they are doing,
Q: In order to be able to talk to peoples is it sufficient to know their language ?
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It is quite obvious. Suppose I go to one of the villages and visit a mosque. A mullah is preaching
something incomprehensible and vague. If I can take his place and talk to people so they could
see the preacher's flaws and perhaps misleading statements, then I know my mission as a freethinker. However, if I cringe in a corner and shun talking to the villager, thinking that he is
stupid or because of fear or being accused by the mullah of "uncleanliness," then I would be
ignorant and a fool. I must observe what the mullah does and how he deals with people. Why are
people listening to him? Is it his talk that has attracted people or some other kind of tradition and
heritage? If we find our answers not only can we talk to villagers more effectively and sincerely,
but consequently, we can occupy the mullah's position and find a base for the free-thinker in the
society. Otherwise, we are going to get nowhere by sitting and philosophizing.
Q: Can you impose yourself upon people as you are or is it enough to talk their language?
For instance, if I wanted to be a free-thinker and talk to them, is it necessary to wear the same
outfit as they do?
It is not necessary to wear their type of outfit. These types of procedures or mannerisms belong
to American sociologists. It is not necessary to either change my clothes or face and mimic
foreigners. If I go to a mosque and explain a more appealing and logical Hossein to the masses
than what the mullah does, they will listen to me more. However, as long as the mullah is
dominating the villagers' mentality and I (as a free-thinker) am yakking on the peripheries, no
matter how modern my yammering are, they are not worth a farthing. There is no difference
between the yammering of the existentialists and those of the socialists. My job is to influence
the villagers' minds.
Once I was reading an article by the Iranian movie director who made, When The Storks Fly. He
said, "If a director wants to know a villager, he must become a friend to one in order to find out
what he says and feels as well as what kinds of problems, ideals, and pains he has. We must learn
how to talk and live with him so we can discover his style." Therefore, a free-thinker must be the
director of his society; that is, he must constantly feel and be the designer of his society. Suppose
a couple of us free-thinkers drop inside a coffee shop in which ordinary men chat around and
drink tea. All of a sudden the shop will become dead silent everyone will stop joking, talking,
and working! They will stare at us as though we are from Mars, wishing to see us out of there as
soon as possible. We free-thinkers are out of context in this atmosphere, since we come to this
coffee shop to speak rather than to listen. The point is, we must go in the heart of the masses not
with an arrogant attitude.
Once Jalal told me, "When I was coming out of the holy shrine in Mashhad, I started to amble
along with my coat hanging over my shoulder. A villager approached me and said, 'Hey, man,
how much are you selling this coat for?' I said, 'My man, it is not for sale.' Jalal was very elated
about the whole incident since the villager had mistaken him for one of his own kind, so much so
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that he wanted to buy his coat. He thought this was a remarkable achievement for a Tehrani to be
mistaken for a villager. I told Jalal, "Yes, it was a great achievement but the man had a better
insight than you did, since he treated you properly while you answered him badly. 'My man, it is
not for sale' was not the proper response of a free-thinker, since you forced him to figure out that
he had made a mistake. Thus, he reproached himself for having mistaken you for someone else.
You should not have chased him away since he would have ultimately figured out that a man
with a top coat on his shoulder would not say, 'My man....' since this utterance communicated to
the villager that you were a stranger and you belonged to a different class!
Q: What you are proposing takes a long time to accomplish. How can we accomplish them
all?
In solving social problems, we must not think of the shortest way, rather, we must think of the
most correct way. The reason why most of our free-thinkers have not been able to get anywhere
is because they have been waiting to discover several ways. And when they realized that they
could not do much, they became desperate and resorted to writing modern poetry: for instance,
"For the past eighteen years, a few times we made some catcalls in the streets. Alas! to no avail!
So we became desperate. Ah! we have no right to become desperate!"
The point is we must choose the best and the most logical way that leads us to our objective.
What do we want to do? If we are after superficial jobs, they have been done myriads of times,
and each time disillusioned we have returned to our starting point.
A free-thinker's function is not to lead the society. This is one of the most serious mistakes that
free-thinkers around the world commit. The most worthless elements for leading people are freethinkers. In all the African and Asian uprisings you will never see free-thinkers' faces. Rather the
revolutionary leaders are from among the masses and the common people. Free-thinkers have
always been the worst disaster to revolutions.
In 1960, in a conference which was held in Northern Africa, it was decided that in the event that
the Northern African revolution became successful and Africa free, the leadership positions
(ministry of education, economics, etc) should be given to free-thinkers rather than to
revolutionaries and guerillas. But who were the free-thinkers? Those who were overseas working
on their doctorates while the revolutionaries were fighting in the trenches. And so, the
revolutionary must leave his gun, go about his business so the engineer and the doctor (who were
abroad) could lead. Unfortunately, those societies which have had successful revolutions became
conservative and corrupt when intellectuals and the educated wrested the leadership from the
revolutionaries. Tunis is a typical example. Therefore, the function of free-thinkers is not the
political leadership of a society, rather, their sole job is to bestow awareness on the masses, that's
all. lf a free-thinker earn awaken his society, the product of his mission will be heroes who can
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lead the free-thinkers themselves. And as long as there are no heroes, the mission of the freethinker is not yet over. Religion, art, how to communicate with people, poetry, and theatre are all
important factors with which free-thinkers can work; trying to handle more than these is useless.
That is, the mission of a free-thinker is confined to returning the alienated society (by Europeans)
to her real self, restoring her character and her "usurped" human sentiment and bestowing class
consciousness, faith, and national history upon her. In accomplishing such a mission, the most
logical way (rather than the shortest) must be chosen.
Unlike free-thinkers who expect more and sacrifice less, we must sacrifice more and expect less.
I would rather see two to three generations work before they get any results. For instance, if we
reach our goals within ten years, we are apt to fall behind a hundred years. We have always had a
strange experience in Africa and Asia. Those countries which have reached their objectives
quickly, have lost their former concessions as well. This is why I denounce all "quick" and
immature revolutions.
Q: In your opinion who must make us, ourselves or someone else?
No one. Only ourselves. The same way African free-thinkers did it. Who made them? An
African used to be denounced in France, thrown out of restaurants in the U.S., and was not
heeded as a human being in England. However, he has gained self-consciousness now even
though some of them still do not know how to write.
Once I came across a vendor in France. He was Muslim, and the verses of the Qur'an he had
memorized were the ones that were beneficial to his social struggle. The same thing was true
about the personalities he knew and the history he had read. All these were giving him
consciousness. He was so familiar with each country and was analyzing the world's problem's to
such a degree that I was stunned. Who had trained this man? Had he been trained by a UNESCO
expert, a prophet, Sorbonne leftist professors, or himself ?
Q: In case of the African thinker, he was despised so much that it helped him to gain
consciousness. But being despised is not so true in our case. Is it?
It is not true that we are not being despised. The fact is that we are not aware that we are being
despised. Today's blackman is the same man who was being despised in the 17th and 18th
centuries in Paris. In the 15th and 16th centuries they were stowed away in ships (like
cucumbers) destined for America. They were bought at insignificant prices and sold at much
higher prices in the U.S. and Australia. At the time these slaves did not realize that they were
being despised, but they do now.

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However, the nature of the contempt and the existence of contradiction by themselves are not
responsible factors for gaining consciousness. As long as man's volition has not discovered the
contradiction, it will remain in societal context for a thousand years. A blackman must feel the
contempt in order to become a factor in awakening others. I must recognize and feel my enemy.
But as long as I have not felt him, I go to him blindfolded, and even take pride in going close to
him so he would not be my enemy anymore. The Iranian man who is proud of working under a
European (who has destroyed his country and history), no longer has an enemy but a boss. And
the boss does not create consciousness in the servant. An enemy is anti-thesis who can create
consciousness but only if it is "realized" that such a contradiction exists.
The free-thinker's and artist's functions are to remove the contradictions and discrepancies that
exist in the heart of a society and enter them into the feeling and consciousness of the society. As
long as such contradictions exist in objectivity they will not cause any movement. In the
twentieth century we still witness societies that live in feudalism; something that belongs to the
second and third epochs of man's history. Or, there are still societies which have not entered the
historical period; that is, they possess no clothing and no handwriting. Therefore, contradiction
must enter subjectivity in order to cause movement. This is why poverty does not cause
movement, it is the feeling of poverty that does. Isn't that so? Often times poverty is even
accepted and once this happens, there is no more contradiction. The poor must develop
consciousness of poverty.
One of the ways to enter the contradiction and positive realities into the consciousness of the
present generation is to seek help from those who have covered this route already. That is,
instead of studying Marx, Sartre, Heiddeger, and so forth (which have nothing to do with our
condition anyway) we need to find out what Fanon, Mawloud, Yassin, Radhakrishnan, the
thinkers of Chad, the Congo, and so forth have said. These people who are like ourselves and
have an identical mission as ours which they have accomplished. We must learn from these
people and countries, rather than imitate them. This is mere translation and duplication. And
duplicating Aime Cesaire is no different than imitating Sartre. We must utilize them in our
teaching, research, and methodology.
Q: Assuming we are living in the cultural atmosphere of the 13th and 14th centuries, must
we also accept that the 20th century European ideas are for our use six hundred years from
now ?
You asked a very good question. Yes. However, you must note that sometimes we can cover five
centuries in twenty years. We now have societies in Asia and Africa which have through correct
planning covered a few centuries in thirty years. Basically, the problem of intellectual revolution
and social movement is not subject to calendrical measurement criteria. Sometimes a society
covers an epoch in a thousand years, at other times in a much shorter period of time. I believe
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that if a free-thinker lives in a primitive society he must not wait for that society to change to
feudalism, bourgeoisie, capitalism, imperialism, socialism, and so forth. One can bypass these
stages if one is familiar with his society. This is why a free-thinker can employ historical
determinism, cut it short, omit it, or change it.
If we recognize that we are in the 14th century and subsequently work with our society with 14th
century methods, we will reach the 20th century in less than half a century. I don't mean copying
the 20th century. As Fanon states, "We never want to make another Europe or America out of
Africa." What was meant to be accomplished in the U.S.? A different Europe, but they ended up
with the U.S. of A! If we try to turn Africa into Europe we will have two Americas. Is it worth
it?
We neither want to make a Europe, nor another America, but a human society. Europe and
America tried to create a human society. They talked and bluffed, but they did just the opposite
and ironically they have always killed all the humans they could find. We absolutely do not want
to catch up with England, the U.S., and France. Never!
Q: What is a free-thinker's mission in building up a society?
If a free-thinker has a mission, it is leaping forward, otherwise he must wait for historical
determinism. In that case man will be subject to determinism rather than having a responsibility
and a mission. What is the difference between providential determinism and historical
determinism? One claims that God has made us the way we are, while the other relates man's fate
to historical determinism. In my opinion it is better that man be made by God than by the latter.
Q: In order to be able to gain independence of thinking so that we can make a leap, must we
first possess technology?
How can a society which lacks identity possess technology and become independent of Western
technology? Which society has ever done so? Japan has technology since she has identity. A
society which lacks spiritual character will always remain a consumer. Even if she can produce
she will still remain a tool in the hands of the Capitalist.
Q: Can we create technology and go our own way rather than dance to their tune?
In order to reach economic production, we must first accomplish cultural production. We cannot
"culturally" remain a colony of the West and industrially become independent; this is impossible.
How can an individual who cannot choose a simple thing gain his technological independence in
front of the West?

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A servant must first gain his human independence in order to find his economic independence.
Mentally and morally he must first find his human independence; leave the boss's house, and go
after a different job.
And so, we must first start cultural production so we can have economic production, otherwise
we will remain a consumer forever. Have you ever seen a man behind a 1970 Buick in Tehran?
He acts so puffed up, it's as though he has invented it! Even a rat can save its money and buy
one! The Westerners announce that they have reached the moon and we become excited here!
What does this have to do with us?
Q: Should not cultural production and economic production go hand in hand?
As long as man has not gained self-consciousness, he cannot have economic consciousness. He
must become a human being first; think, choose, create, quit regurgitating European talks, and
instead talk about himself. In order to become independent of the West, I must get to know her
and reach a stage of 'mental independence.'
Q: But the West does not wait for us to reach her. Will their technological rate of advance be
proportionate to our pace?
Yes. This theory was designed in the 'conference of the year 2000.' However, it was put forward
by the tricky Western sociologists. They told us that thirty years from now the Asian GNP will
advance 5 times, but that of the West will advance 30 times. That is, the gap between us will
widen much more in the future than it is now. However, they are not taking into account the
"leap" factor. How are they measuring? With their present rate of progress. Of course, if we keep
the existing factors constant for thirty years they are right. But these factors do not remain
constant. We now have societies in Asia which have had a constant production rate for the past
thousand years. However, suddenly in the past ten years they have made a multiple leap. Due to
a mental and social leap their GNP has made phenomenal advances. The Western sociologists do
not take this "leap factor" into account (which the East brims with).
Q: If you do not accept the predictions of the year 2000 conference, how do you see the
future?
I do not predict. Prediction belongs to Western sociologists. I study the present. However, I
know that in the year 2000 consumerism will vanish. And I know that "ideology" has always
been the victor in history. We now have ideology in Asia and Africa. I have been witnessing the
Western decline ever since the Spengler period. The Asian graph is going up, and the Western
graph is coming down. The victory belongs to the East.

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Q: Can we ever reach an internationalism?


Internationalism is a big lie. It is used to universally exploit and deceive us. Assuming it can
become a reality some day, then "sir" will be replaced by "Mr. proletariat."
I accept internationalism only when Asia and Africa can have a "free-choice" personality on par
with the 500 million Westerners. In that case I will accept it as humanism, meaning equality of
humanity. However, as long as I am not a human being, and I am accused of being a primitive, I
cannot do anything. The Westerner's partnership with me will be like a slave-foreman
relationship, or an empty-handed man with a Capitalist. The former should toil, so the latter
could get all the profit. Internationalism is a big reason for creating a fake partnership between
the East and the West. Is not the partnership of an empty-handed man with a rich man a lie? Can
a rich man, based upon his own volition and money, accomplish this task? This is like a Hajji
Bazzari, while he is exploiting everyone, he claims that he is everyone's religious brother and he
goes to mosque to mourn Hossein! What does religious brotherhood mean here anyway!?
When a Proletariat is bourgeoisified, he is a bourgeoisie; I don't care about his background! Yea,
Edward Heath was the son of a carpenter too; do we see him as a carpenter boy now? Thus,
when a proletariat becomes a bourgeoisie, the society is a bourgeoisie. In this case we no longer
have a bourgeois class, we have a bourgeois society which exploits everyone in order to step up
his consumption.
I must think and be myself. Whenever I have turned into a human being, achieved an equal status
with the international community, as well as the power of decision-making, then I would claim
that all men are equal. But so long as internationalism does not recognize me as a human being, I
have nothing to say to it. What is internationalism? Even the proletariat of the Western nations
are ripping me off!
Q: Is it due to their technical progress that the Western countries have attained such an
economic prosperity?
Do you think it is due to only eight hours of work that Europeans have a prosperous economy? A
taxi driver in France works 6 hours and lays around for the remaining 18 hours, and in the
meantime he is secure from financial anxiety. Is this due to his work or his country's looting of
Africa? France buys a bottle of Vin Rose from Algiers for 10 cents, tomatoes from Africa for
almost nothing, and rents Chad's coffee farms for free! She pays $9.00 a day to a few naked and
poor Africans to harvest the coffee and in the meantime she boasts that Capitalism is nice
because she pays a lot to workers. In the meantime she turns around and sells the same coffee for
millions of dollars. France does not pay a penny out of her pocket, she steals them all!

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Q: So, you are proposing a theory?


No. I am not a theory maker. Whoever makes up theory is only good for universities. What is a
theory for anyway?
Q: Europeans have reached a progressive thinking stage, why are they behaving this way?
I think they are biased. They believe in their own superiority, and have created a type of thinking
atmosphere, called, "egocentrism," which is self-centeredness. An egocentric individual does not
count others as human beings. This philosophy has existed in the West ever since ancient
Greece. Even humanists, anthropologists, and socialists are caught in the snare of egocentrism.
Human relations to them is limited to the relations among their own classes. They do not discuss
universal relations.
I can never forget that in the 19th century the great socialists, humanists, and upholders of
democracy and equality talked about everything (they even meticulously analyzed the minute
relationships between the worker and the employer), but never mentioned exploitation!
I must point out to something here, and that is, in human and social problems we must not apply
strict scientific methodology. For instance, when dealing with a scientific issue, we concentrate
upon its validity or invalidity. However, in social problems we must not pay attention to the logic
of the statement, rather, we must focus on the geography of the issue.
In the East, we are the victims of the same talks which bestowed life upon the West. For
instance, sometimes an "ism" which saved the West from slavery and united her, found its way
to the East in a particular historical epoch and caused disparity and dissension. Or, the same
nationalism which was the cause of progress in the 16th and 17th centuries and built Australia,
France, England, and Germany, it caused disparity and the consequent break-up of the Islamic
power in the 19th century.
Thus, it is obvious that apart from the truth and falsity and logicality and illogicality of a social
issue, one must take into consideration the geography of an issue. Suppose there is an orphan
who has inherited some property. In the meantime I have my eyes on his riches and am thinking
of a way to rip him off. What should I do so he can't read into my thought? I must create lots of
sensitivities in him. For instance, I must tell him, "The best way to become a man is to resort to
knowledge." I must keep poking into his head the usefulness of knowledge and send him away to
London. I must force him to read scientific and philosophical books. Or, if the child has religious
sentiments, I must order him to go after praying and so forth. The child if he were going to do the
right thing he would grab my collar and say, "Hey, pass the money!"

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Thus everything must be understood and placed in its proper context its geography. We must not
concentrate on mere "talks and words," rather, we must evaluate the "talker" first.
Q: What sources do you suggest for awareness?
We must not think of a particular source which gives us awareness. For instance, when I was a
university student I used to read many old books. These remained in my head as a collection of
superstition and myths until I went to Europe and became a student of Berg. With the
methodology I learned there, I transformed all those superstitions and myths to awareness
producing elements. For instance, an untrue story about the seventh century would provide me
with awareness since I would look for the context, the persons, and the purpose for which the
story was written.
The point is when one has a methodology at hand, a lie will help him to recognize specific period
in the past. In order to accomplish this, one must have a specific outlook, and look for particular
things in history as well as look at history from a specific angle. We can, then, use a piece of
information to find the necessary ingredients for building our present cultural foundations and
awareness, as well as familiarize ourselves with the conditions of our today as well as our
tomorrow.
For instance look at existentialism. The philosophical basis of existentialism is this: man has
existence first, and he makes his own essence (characteristics and specifics) afterwards. We
notice that our own Mulla-Sadra has talked about the same thing in the past. So, if we maintain a
historical and philosophical connection with our past, we will have well-developed fresh
mentalities and ideologies, rather than a Persian dubbing of what Westerners say. Existentialism
our country is an immature Western imitation which is in need being enriched with our 3000
year old theosophical experience in order eligible to be called philosophy.
When I was in Europe, Radhakrishnan had come to Belgium. Since I like him I went to see him.
In Belgium he delivered a lecture on the history of religions. I witnessed the great scientists from
all over Europe who felt like children in his presence. That is, whenever Mr. Radhakrishnan
expressed a viewpoint, he was so well-versed with his subject matter that European scientists felt
like apostles around their prophet. And when they wanted to ask a question, they were cautious
and timid. When a man like Krishnan (so familiar with the Eastern theosophical schools) talked,
one became enchanted with all that beauty and depth. In those moments Europeans realized there
was a new personality in Europe! Unfortunately we turn around and hash over European
regurgitations, while a man like Kirshnan has offered humanity's dinner table a new and fresh
dish.

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In 1961, when Nehru came to France, the Indian embassy (unlike all others which try to imitate
French dance and wine) served Indian dishes. When European dignitaries came to visit, they
noticed things were different. This made the French feel inferior, since after two centuries of
suffering under exploitation, the Indians were standing firm in their own tradition. This roused
the European's respect.
This is what I mean by originality and free-thinking, rather than our Iranian free-thinker's
hundred years of regurgitation of Marx's ideas which are of no use to anyone. Those individuals
who have been successful in Africa and Asia have been the ones that have been able to teach
European philosophies and forget them. They were able to get to know their societies, find and
propose new solutions, based upon their existing cultural, historical, and social resources, and
create a new foundation. We see that they have become successful too!
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