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After a year long hiatus from interviewing Russia watchers, I decided it was time to get back in the game. As it happens, my attention first fell on a Europe blogger – and not just any incisive, counter-intuitive scribbler whose intellect and analytical acumen is matched only by the number of themes he is prepared to expound upon, but also someone who has experience in politics (work in both the US Congress and the European Parliament), journalism (with the EU policy news site EurActiv), ideological adventurer (started off very neocon, but Iraq War and education fixed that), and a fellow rootless cosmopolitan (having been raised in France and briefly in the US, and studied at the London School of Economics). I am talking of none other than Craig Willy, who writes the irreverent (and informed) Letters from Europe.

Craig Willy: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in blogging and Europe, and how did the twain meet?

I’ve been in love with history, politics, thought and argument since I was maybe 14. I remember very clearly telling a friend at the time that I wanted to “be paid to say my opinion”… Perhaps not the easiest career path and not one I persistently pursued!

Blogs don’t provide money, usually, but they are an absolute liberation for the aspiring writer: costs are zero, middlemen are eliminated, and you can reach every person on the planet who has Internet. How could I not blog? I started my first blog in 2004 and I don’t think I’ve changed the mix of more analytical pieces with humor, including on Euro-nonsense.

I have always been interested in Europe as I was born and raised here (specifically in France and the UK). I have been interested in the EU insofar as it seemed to represent Europeans reclaiming their power in the world and historical agency. It usually fails in this respect and hence I used to find the United States of America – its historical role, politics and foreign policy organizations – much more interesting. I now think all areas of the world are worthy of study. The US is probably over-written about and, being based in Brussels and involved in EU journalism, I can genuinely add value writing about European affairs. If I wrote about the US I would be just another opinion. I also think Europe needs more pan-European writers: it is a very real entity but it has no public space.

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a blogger, journalist, or pundit? What are your best and worst experiences in these roles?

I do not see these as mutually exclusive. They all feed into each other as I often draw on my journalistic work for my blog and the people I meet through blogging often end up being professionally useful. I am not a pundit because I don’t have the fame.

My best experience, and it is ongoing, was beginning formal journalistic work in Brussels a mere three months ago. It’s the first job I really enjoy and find stimulation in, and one that doesn’t feel “false”. It’s also one in which I’ve learned a really incredible amount about how media really work, the complicity between politicians and journalists, the endless plethora of lobbies, pols, NGOs, etc trying to influence the news with their inane press releases, as well as the intricacies of various EU policy areas in practice.

The worst I don’t know. Well, as every blogger knows, blogging can be a lonely, unglamorous and perfectly un-remunerated activity. And still we do it. I don’t think we can do otherwise!

In the long run, I hope to become a completely independent blogger-journalist. In truth, objective text does not exist and to the extent that blogs recognize their subjectivity they are more honest than “normal journalism”. The main difference is in tone, a different idea of balance, and adapting to the publication’s style. In being part of a large organization – which has its culture, clients and priorities – you are obviously also far less free.

I am very attached to my freedom.

Who are the best Europe commentators? Who are the worst?

You know my Google Reader is chock full of European blogs and RSS feeds, and I have some difficulty answering that question…

Actually, the worst is undoubtedly one of the neo-Maurrassian race-baiting French pundits. I will pick Éric Zemmour as he is by far the most famous and influential of them and because as a Jew himself he should really know better than to constantly (and smugly!) demonize black and/or Muslim Frenchmen.

As to the best it is very difficult to say… J. Clive-Matthews, aka NoseMonkey, might have been the best EU blogger but he no longer writes much. Fistful of Euros was easily the best pan-European blog, but it was collaborative and the project has declined in output and coherence. There are lots of very good bloggers whom I usually disagree with but who both have large audiences and are worth reading whether Euroskeptic Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, Libération journalist Jean Quatremer or the Leninist Richard “Didn’t Get the Memo” Seymour. I wouldn’t settle on one person however and there is no really good pan-European blogger. It’s a hole I kind of aspire to fill…

You lived for substantial periods of time in France, the UK, and the US. What are their respective charms and blemishes? If you had to choose, where would you prefer to reside permanently?

The UK tends to be more down-to-earth and unpretentious than the other two. Americans, particularly those of the Midwest and my Dad in particular, have a wonderful “can-do” spirit and optimism. The French, if you can get a secure job, I think have succeeded most in reconciling the constraints of modern civilization with living a “good, flourishing life.”

Oh dear… I often go on rants about the absurdities and prejudices of this or that country. I don’t spare anyone and I could go on forever if I start… So I won’t!

If you could recommend three books about European politics and/or history, what would they be?

First, I urge everyone to read In Defense of Decadent Europe [AK: Click to buy] by the great French intellectual Raymond Aron, ideally in the original French though an abridged English version is available. Written in 1977, there is no better analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of “Western Europe” and the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU), its democracies and economies, their superiority to the Communist bloc, the unremarkable nature of the Communist countries, the course the Soviet Empire’s collapse would take, the mirage of Socialism (it appeared the Communists might win elections in Italy and a Socialist-Communist coalition nearly did in France)… The book is so lucid and right – it has nothing to do with Neoconservative simplifications and idiocies – that it convinced me a contemporary observer really can understand the world he inhabits. You don’t need to wait for time to give you “perspective” or the opening of the government archives. It is a better analysis of Europe in the Cold War than probably the majority of books that have appeared on the subject since.

Some of this might seem dated – environmentalism, neoliberalism and the War on Terror had yet to appear – but it is quite amazing how many subjects he touches upon that are still perfectly relevant, such as dysfunctional oil-rich countries and the glut of unemployed and overqualified graduates (already!). Incidentally, people should read everything by Aron. Most of it is available in English (The Opium of the Intellectuals [AK: Click to buy], Progress and Disillusion, War and Peace between Nations, Clausewitz…) but it is worth learning the French language just to be able to know his thoughts in the original.

Second, read everything by the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, and in particular Age of Extremes [AK: Click to buy], his history of the “Short Twentieth Century”. It is world history but Europe dominates it. He is a very lucid, very balanced and incredibly erudite historian and you can only come out of his books feeling more knowledgeable and intelligent.

Third, I have some trouble. I have yet to read a really good book on the EU actually. Tony Judt’s Postwar is more of a continental encyclopedia and doesn’t really deal with the EU. All the books that explain the EU tend to be textbook-style and very boring. I’ve heard Alan S. Milward’s The European Rescue of the Nation-State and Edgar Morin’s Penser l’Europe are very good, the latter is resting on my bookshelf, but I’ve yet to read them. Jeremy Rifkin’s The European Dream [AK: Click to buy] and John McCormick’s The European Superpower are worth reading but are pop works rather than “great”.

I suppose I will settle on Perry Anderson’s The New Old World [AK: Click to buy]. It is a very good introduction to Europe today from a Marxist perspective. As such it is mostly critical but like Hobsbawm very informed and provides a very good overview of various national politics, enlargement, the EU itself and EU integration theory (if you’re into that sort of thing…).

The US vs. EU quality of life debate may be cliché and overdone, but I can’t help asking a Europe buff this question: which would you say offers the preferable socio-economic model? (OK, it’s obvious from your posts that EU > USA. Please expound.)

The first point I want to make is that anyone who claims lack of “government” systematically leads to more economic efficiency and better outcomes is simply misinformed, wrong and perhaps arguing in very bad faith. You have the whole history of industrial civilization contradicting them. Look at 19th century America, Bismarckian Germany, Meiji Japan, Stalin’s Soviet Union, postwar Europe and Japan, the “Asian Tigers” or China today: each of these countries achieved stunning economic and industrial growth with some combination of tariffs (all of them, basically), industrial policy (publicly-funded railroads), mercantilism (support for export-oriented “national champions”, the undervalued Yuan) or even outright State control of the economy.

So I get pretty frustrated with the whole Republican spiel about laissez-faire dynamism and sclerotic Europe. You have to be incredibly ignorant of economic history – and I would say they very probably are – to believe what they do and the slurs they sling at Europe to justify the economic and social mess they’re making of their own country.

The second point is that though I am not an economist or an expert on economic or industrial policy, I can read statistics and they tend to indicate that modern civilization leads us to produce and consume more without this necessarily adding to either national well-being or personal happiness. It is true that the US’s GDP per capita is significantly higher than Europe’s. Why is this? It is due to a proportionally larger and younger active population, to longer working hours, and – it is true – to very high productivity (slightly higher than in most European countries).

But what have they done with this wealth? The numbers are eloquent. Americans eat so poorly and are so inactive that generals warn youth obesity is a threat to recruitment and national security. Energy efficiency and transport are catastrophic: the US emits almost 40% more CO2 than Europe (including Turkey and the Balkans) despite having a smaller economy and over 300 million less people. And it isn’t like the transport system is any good! Incidentally, this inefficiency, beyond environmental concerns, is a completely needless attack on America’s energy independence and national security.

The healthcare system is an economic and social disaster, costing almost twice as much per capita as that of France (one of the more expensive European healthcare systems), for not noticeably better and much more unequal outcomes. So much for “market efficiency.” Then there’s the prison-industrial complex, some 2.3 million people behind bars, on the scale of the Soviet gulag and by far the most in the world today, with many millions more under probation and other forms of police-state supervision. This reduces the unemployment figures and provides jobs for prison wardens in certain districts, but the costs are huge: billions of dollars wasted are nothing compared to the ruin this has inflicted on the black community. This is not due principally to excess criminality, but to draconian drug laws, discriminatory justice, weak welfare, and a conscious decision that the defense of the socio-economic system should be done in the most coercive way possible.

Most of these problems are not inherent to the American character or even US politics. They can be traced back, very precisely, to the failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Liberalism and the triumph of Ronald Reagan’s Conservatism. That was when the country and its political leadership completely failed to address oil dependence, the expanding prison population, embraced the doctrine of eternal war as an integral part of American nationalism, lost the egalitarian tendency, and so on.

If anything, I do not champion Europe’s various economic and welfare models. Europe is far from perfect and no one claims it is. It’s simply that the American alternative is unalloyed crap and the discourse about it, particularly by Republicans, is so manifestly false, hollow and hypocritical. An informed person could only see the US model for what it is: sickeningly inefficient and unjust. Even Americans see this: when Americans say in polls they want the income distribution on Sweden (easily the most “Communist” country today) but elect a Republican Congress, my brain simply can’t cope with fathoming that level cognitive dissonance in the American public (you made this point once). [AK: You mean here, where I talk of American false consciousness?] It is literally maddening.

As this blog focuses quite a lot on Russia, I can’t avoid asking you for your thoughts on EU – Russia relations. Are they improving or worsening? Is it at all plausible for Russia to enter the EU by 2025, and would it serve either of the two parties’ interests?

I think relations are good. There are no fundamental problems. Of course there are serious divisions within Europe – the new members understandably being very suspicious. (Although I like to tell them it only took a few years for France and Germany to make up after the Second World War…) Russia’s relations with France and Germany, incidentally, are very good. Paris and Moscow have similar visions of a multipolar world and both aspire to be genuine world powers while Berlin and Moscow are united by economic collaboration that can get downright incestuous (see Gerhard Schröder).

I cannot say what Russia’s destiny is. On the one hand, Russia and its near-abroad make up one of the four great poles of Western civilization, the others being (Western) Europe, North America and Latin America. That is to say as an economic, cultural and geopolitical space, it is and has long been distinct from “Europe” and, in my opinion, Russia needs to think about how it can weld the post-Soviet space into some kind of coherent economic and social union. I am not someone who believes that much was gained by the replacement of a stable Soviet Union with the collection of ethnic conflicts, impoverished and corrupt oligarchies, and poxy Central Asian dictatorships we have now.

On the other hand, I often think Russia must be reconciled with Europe in some way. There is an undeniable kinship and shared history but I don’t see how closer ties could work in practice. We are still very, very different and I don’t see all that much convergence. I think there is no chance of membership by 2025. Maybe by 2050 if Russia continues to grow but also becomes much more democratic. On the other hand, in the long run, how could Russia not join? The level of economic interdependence is always growing and the logic of regional integration often genuinely ineluctable. It would certainly make the linguistic situation very interesting if the Union has 150 million Russophones and perhaps more if Ukraine and others join…

How dangerous do you consider Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas? With the anti-nuclear fallout post Fukushima, and France’s recent banning of gas fracking, do you think this dependence will grow in the next decade?

I don’t think it is all that dangerous. Russia needs European money almost as much as Europe needs gas. Russia can pick a fight with smallish poor Eastern European countries but I don’t see what it could possibly gain in conflicts with its Western European partners and the gatekeepers to the biggest economic area in the world.

I am not sold on nuclear as a way of reducing energy independence. It can be used en masse to provide almost all your electricity, but electricity is only about 20% of the energy we use! A lot depends on whether renewables become a non-negligible source of energy and the extent to which fossil fuels are replaced by electricity (particularly in transport). Clearly nuclear has taken a catastrophic hit in Europe though, everyone but France is pretty much giving it up. France will maintain its capacity however and who can say which way the wind will blow in 10 or 15 years?

One of the biggest Russian gripes regarding Europe is its travel restrictions. To visit many European countries, Russians need to expend considerable time and effort to procure a visa. Is a visa-free regime possible within the next 5 years?

Access to its labor market is one of the most valuable things the EU can grant to another country. It is also, today, one of the most controversial due to the current anti-immigrant sentiment and race-baiting politicians. I can’t really say whether a visa-free regime will be possible within five years.

On the one hand, the very charming and funny Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said in an interview said he was upset by the recent developments in Europe because it would undermine his negotiations for a visa-free regime (by the way a very interesting interview covering lots of other subjects).

On the other hand, I was very surprised last November when EU granted visa-free travel rights to Albanians and Bosnians. They’re the sort of foreigners whose alleged criminality politicians would normally make noise about. The European Commission, which has little power itself, would normally cave in to the demands of said politicians.

HARD Talk with Craig Willy

ANATOLY KARLIN: I know that you have a great deal of enthusiasm for the European project. However, many observers – including myself – are skeptical about its longterm sustainability. The economic crisis has fueled popular resentment, e.g. the Greeks cursing outside financial authorities for imposing steep cuts to public spending, while the Germans deride them for their fiscal profligacy and dislike having to bail them out (recent polls suggest a majority of Germans want the Deutsche Mark back). The political right is enjoying a Europe-wide resurgence. National interests appear to be diverging, e.g. with France focusing on the Mediterranean, while Germany deepens ties with Russia. Border controls are reappearing. The global economic situation is cloudy, and high oil prices seem to be here to stay, presenting a further panoply of challenges to European solidarity. So is ever deeper union a realistic prospect, or is there a chance that the EU will end up as little more than a glorified free trade area by 2020?

CRAIG WILLY: As a disclaimer, I’ve gotten much, much more critical of EU officials and pols since I’ve come to Brussels. I am still wedded to the project however and I think most of the nonsense EU officials engage in is ultimately due to structural constraints imposed on them by the national governments.

The EU is not much more than an economic entity but it is much more than a free trade area. In fact, as soon as you have a commitment to a customs union (e.g.: a common external tariff and common trade negotiations with foreigners) and genuine single market, you can’t help but be a de facto economic power and have substantial integration, such as a common EU patent, common EU property rights, common EU approach to GMOs, and so on. The EU remains the world’s biggest economy and the truth is most international relations today involve economic issues above all. As such, the EU isn’t a wholly inappropriate entity for the (let’s call it) postmodern world.

I am pessimistic about further integration for at least another ten years. A lot depends on whether the national governments decide to reform the EU to actually make it democratic. There needs to be a connection between the elections to the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission. There is nothing in the treaties that makes this impossible; the pan-European parties only need to get their act together and agree on candidates. Commissioner Michel Barnier recently suggested that this happen and that the Commission and Council presidencies incidentally be merged. If this were done, there would be a genuine European politics and an identifiable face/mandated chief executive for the EU.

It is possible if they want it. Democracy is impossible without a common language but English has long been establishing itself as the lingua franca among Europeans. South Africa and India, much poorer countries with if anything harsher internal ethnic divisions, prove that multilingual and multiethnic democracy is possible. Of course, national leaders don’t want a democratic EU, like the old Italian and German princely states they prefer to maintain their own power, they prefer division to the common good. It doesn’t help that the current panoply of European leaders – Merkel, Sarkozy and Berlusconi in particular – are absolutely disgraceful for their lack of ambition and venality.

ANATOLY KARLIN: The discourse on Europe’s demography is decidedly pessimistic, though perhaps unreasonably so (in 2010, France may have overtaken the US in total fertility rates). Nonetheless, the pessimism is not without cause, as France (and the UK) are exceptions rather than the rule. Most of Europe, including the biggest countries – Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland – have been reproducing at well below replacement level rates for over two decades. What impact will this have on Europe’s economic dynamism and the welfare state? And in a world of limits to growth, could Europe’s demographic clouds have a silver lining?

CRAIG WILLY: I think the world needs less babies. Europe is less wasteful environmentally than America, but if every Asian and African achieved a European standard of living the Earth would become unlivable and exhausted within a few years.

Ageing is a huge challenge and will put incredible strain on Europe’s finances and lead to reduced power in the world. Low birthrates can also be a problem and the relative decline of France in Europe in the 19th Century can be directly attributed to the fertility of its German and British neighbors.

On the other hand, these are universal challenges characteristic of modern civilization. I would point to three things that make me optimistic about Europe:

  1. Birth rates on the whole are collapsing in developing countries. UN reports stress that, by the time they reach our oldish demographic profile, they will not have achieved the West’s current levels of wealth. As such, their pension, economic and health problems will be significantly worse than what Europe faces. (I hope that doesn’t sound like Schadenfreude!)
  2. East Asia’s birth rates and ageing are even more catastrophic than Europe’s! There is a very clear pattern here: an East Asian country develops very fast, Western commentators fret about our “decadence” and how we will be bought out by said East Asians, said East Asian country turns more-or-less gracefully into a fortified retirement home. I think of Japan of course but also of the forgotten “Tigers” South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. They all have birth rates around 1.2-1.4, lower than Europe. China, big scary China, is if anything in a worse situation. It is still very poor on a per capita basis but its fertility rate has dropped below 1.5. Given the trend in neighboring countries, I don’t know that the one-child policy is the only reason for this.
  3. The EU’s latest demography report points to some very interesting and counter-intuitive trends in terms of future family patterns that suggest godless French-style cohabitation, late-age childbearing and strong childcare policies are the cause of higher birthrates in certain countries. It is definitely worth reading the introduction at least. Another thing was that it points to the recent increase of EU fertility to 1.6 and perhaps soon to 1.7. It is unevenly divided across the Union but it not all that different from American non-Hispanic whites’ 1.8. Of course America has massive immigration and, as such, the US’s demographic weight in the world will continue to increase massively, while Europe’s has basically peaked. Speaking of “Eurabia”, Hispanics have a fertility rate of 2.9, almost 50% over the average, and immigration is not really letting up. Isn’t it much more likely that we see a Hispanicization of America? Certainly California, New Mexico, Texas and Florida look like they might be destined to return to Latin civilization…

ANATOLY KARLIN: You’re not the biggest fan of the “Eurabia” thesis. I totally agree with you, but I will play devil’s advocate. Please explain why you discount the possibility that: (1) the number of Muslims in Europe is under-counted (e.g. due to political correctness); (2) that migration from Muslim countries will not grow in the coming years, on the background of Europe’s demographic problems and population stress in Africa and the Middle East; and (3) the increasing radicalization of Europe’s Muslim populations (e.g. one third of British Muslims support the death penalty for apostasy).

CRAIG WILLY: I can’t talk to the statistics. I think they are basically accurate: 10% in France, 2-5% in most Western European countries, zero in Eastern Europe, and a certain number in Britain but outnumbered by immigrants of other origins (Indians, West Indians, Christian Africans, not to mention other Europeans…). The number of Muslims will increase over the next 40 years but will not be overwhelming.

There is clearly a strong, perhaps growing, cultural divide between European “natives” and European Muslims. Muslims are more conservative on the whole, somewhat like Hispanics in the United States but the difference is definitely more pronounced. I am not convinced Muslims are radicalizing. In France and Italy, the places where Muslims now live used to be poor working-class white areas. These areas tended to vote Communist (20-40% of the vote in France and Italy used to be Communist). I don’t see even the beginnings of mass political radicalization among European Muslims despite the fact they live in if anything more difficult circumstances. I actually would like more radical politics, not Islamist, but perhaps more of France’s anticolonial Indigènes de la République, its answer to America’s Black Power movement.

I am not convinced European countries are fully capable of accepting Muslims as equals and integrating them. Many Europeans seem to think the immigrant can and must integrate first before he is allowed to have the same job, have his children go to a decent school, or move into a nice area. It’s obviously a chicken and egg thing but many people aren’t able to accept this.

The climate and discourse in France in particular is getting pretty scary, the Front National acquiring a veneer of respectability and professionalism, and Sarkozy’s center-right actually embracing its anti-Muslim discourse. E.g.: the burqa ban, the “polygamous welfare-frauds” (our “welfare queens”), the ridiculous “Debate on National Identity,” openly racist statements by ministers (quote “too many Muslims”). It is quite depressing.

Europeans have demons sleeping inside them, like every other human being in the world. But our history has meant our demons came out in a horrifying way. Less than 70 years ago we slaughtered as many Jews and Roma we could get our hands on in a fit of organized psychosis and industrialized murder. Less than 20 years ago some Europeans decided there were “too many Muslims” and that there was only one solution to this “problem.” It’s something worth worrying about. We live in what are, even with the recession, relatively good and peaceful times. I worry for the Muslims if we ever started having really serious economic and social difficulties in Europe.

Back to the Future

Many pundits don’t like to put their money where they mouth is. Though I’m sure you’re not that type, feel free to confirm it by making a few falsifiable predictions about Europe’s future. After a few years, we’ll see if you were worth listening to.

Oh dear, I’ll have a crack at it:

  • No significant additional integration until 2020 or even 2025. No significant “rolling back” either however.
  • The Eurozone survives and expands to several Eastern European countries by 2020. Britain does not join.
  • The cultural divorce between Britain and the continent will grow. It will perhaps become insurmountable if Scotland acquires its independence. Britain will stay inside the EU however albeit with its continued semi-obstructive “yes-but-no” denialism.
  • The European economy will have near-zero growth in the coming decades for demographic reasons, productivity will continue to rise, its technological leadership will continue, and its overall size might increase if enlargement continues.
  • Turkey will not join before at least 2035, if ever. Most of the Balkans will have joined by then.
  • Socialism will not make a significant return barring an even more serious economic crisis. Social equity in Europe will decline somewhat, but not as much as in America.
  • Race relations will get worse.
  • European leaders will continue to be wholly materially and psychologically dependent on the Americans. They will not develop an independent foreign policy or a “common” foreign policy.
  • The socio-economic gap between the US and Europe will grow, as will the cultural one on abortion, gay rights, militarism and the like.
  • “European politics” will very slowly but surely emerge as interdependence becomes more glaring, the use of English spreads, and the Union is democratized. It’s an apparently undetectable process, like tectonic plates moving, but you can very clearly see the trend decade on decade.

What are your future blogging plans?

I plan on continuing with Letters from Europe but am also looking to start much more semi-professional and collaborative blogging.

These include revamping Future Challenges, a blogging platform on long-term trends funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. As its Western Europe editor, I’m hoping to turn it into the standard for analyzing the continent’s long-term trends on energy, demographics, migration and economics.

I’m also involved with, a very useful aggregator that brings together the sleepy world of EU bloggers. Its readership is not incredibly high, but it includes a fair number of prominent EU journalists and communications professionals. I highly recommend you sign up to its daily RSS of best posts from the EU blogosphere (a very good filter).

Finally, I’m thinking of launching some sort of multilingual pan-European blog. It’s still a little sketchy but it would involve something like national-oriented bloggers writing in German or French (and thus it being possible to get reasonable audiences, unlike for EU-centric blogs) while also translating these posts systematically into an English main feed. You’d then have overlapping global, EU and national audiences. I don’t know if it can work but my dream would be a cross between Glenn Greenwald (God bless him) and Fistful of Euros.

Arthur Miller once said “a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.” I think that is true. Currently, even European leaders don’t read each others’ newspapers. They discover themselves and their continent, collectively, through the pages of The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Besides the particular political agenda of these publications, there is something wrong here in having the “continental conversation” through media that are either foreign or from not the most committed European country. Besides that, Europe is hardly their main focus. I hope to contribute in a small way to creating that infamous “European public space”.

I wish you the best of luck in that endeavor, Craig, and thank you for answering S/O’s questions!

As I said at the start, I’m planning to revive the Watching the Russia Watchers (and interesting others) series again in the next few days, carrying on from the interviews with Kevin Rochrock (A Good Treaty) and Peter Lavelle (Russia Today) last year.

If you wish me to interview you or another Russia watcher, feel free to contact me.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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За нас за вас и за десант и за спецназ! I would like to start off by expressing my deepest respects to the Red Army veterans who fought and died so that (literally) hundreds of millions of their Slavic brethren could live. Вечная слава героям!

Last year I discussed four myths about the Eastern Front, and Fedia Kriukov unraveled a fifth in the comments. This year, I’m going to comment on one of the most contradictory, even harrowing, debates in Russia. How to reconcile Stalin, the despotic Messiah, and Victory 1945, now emerging as the primary national myth consolidating the Russian nation-state. I don’t intend to resolve this debate (I don’t believe that’s even possible), but I do believe it is necessary for people on all sides – Westerners, ordinary Russians, Russian liberals, and Stalinists alike – to understand it a bit better. This is my humble hope in writing this.

First, the facts. Russians are not hardcore Stalinists. Neither is the Russian government. President Medvedev unequivocally condemned Stalin, saying there is “no justification for the repressions”, and spoke out against Moscow mayor Luzhkov’s initiative to publicly display a few Stalin posters (amongst thousands) during the Victory celebrations. He was backed in this sentiment by 51% of Russians, while only 12% fully supported Luzhkov. Today, most Russians are either conflicted on or indifferent to Stalin. Neither for, nor fully against. Ambiguous.

Many Westerners, sparing themselves from hard critical reflection, like to condemn Russians for their ambivalence towards Stalin. Wasn’t he a mass murderer who killed more Russians than Hitler? (This is a constant theme of anti-Stalin and general Russophobe propaganda). Quite apart from this being simply wrong according to all objective estimates, Russians themselves say they suffered far more under four years of the Nazi yoke than under twenty plus years of Stalinism*.

According to polls, 50% had a close relative die in the Great Patriotic War (33% – injured, 16% – missing in action). Only 14% say that nothing particularly bad happened to a close relative during the war. These answers are in line with the statistics on wartime demographic losses – some 27mn Soviet citizens died in that war (13mn Russian), of them 8.7mn soldiers (5.7mn Russian)**. That’s out of a total Soviet population of 197mn in June 1941.

In contrast, in response to the question, “Did anyone in your family suffer from the repressions shortly before or after the war?”, 22% of Russians said “yes”, while 63% said “no”. (Note that “suffer” does not imply death, since contrary to the popular anti-Soviet mythology most Gulag inmates survived). This also tallies with the hard statistics. During the entire 1921-53 period, some 4.1mn people were condemned for counter-revolutionary activities, of them 0.8mn to death and 1.1mn of whom died in camps and prisons. After adding the 3.5-5.0mn excess deaths from the collectivization famines, it is hard to see how Stalin could have been responsible for more than ten million deaths at the absolute maximum.

Russian man with Stalin portrait, May Day 2010 (h/t Sean Guillory).

Russian man with Stalin portrait, May Day 2010 (h/t Sean Guillory).

And before some ideological fanatic comes out with the cheap “You’re a filthy Stalinist!” card, I would note that it is quite possible to condemn Stalin on the basis of his real crimes, without resorting to neo-Goebbelsian propaganda about “62 million victims of the Red Plague” or “Stalin killed more Russians than Hitler” spread by the ideologue Rummel. If anything, such rhetoric actually encourages the rehabilitation of Stalinism. No, really. Scratch a Stalinist, and you reveal a can of understandable human emotions – pride, nostalgia, defiance. From Sean Guillory’s post on meeting a small, old KPRF man holding a Stalin portrait during the May Day protest a week ago:

But for a little old man holding a photo of Stalin? For him, the dictator means something wholly different. There is certainly a large element of historical nostalgia embedded in Stalin’s portrait. Stalin is mostly about the USSR’s victory over the Nazis and a time when Russia was a superpower… The Stalin posters also signify a longing for an imagined past of stability, predictability, and ironically, a paternal state that dealt a measure of social and economic justice… Lastly, Stalin is also defiance. People carry posters of Stalin simply because others tell them they shouldn’t. Hoisting Stalin to the sun is about the current war over memory. It’s about saying without hyperbole: This is my Stalin and he has nothing to do with yours.

In contrast to Russians’ conflicted views on Stalin, the Victory is unambiguous, unequivocal, absolute. The Victory that cost 26.6mn Soviet lives, but saved the Slavic world entire from a historyless future of deportations, slavery, and death. A Victory reverently regarded by all Russians with a profound, bittersweet pride. And not only by Russians. Despite Yuschenko’s five year anti-Russian campaign***, 87% of Ukrainians say they believe Victory Day belongs to all people, only slightly lower than 91% of Russians. In a very real sense, Victory isn’t just Russia’s national myth. It belongs to and unites all the peoples of the former Soviet Union.


But here we stumble across the central contradiction. This Victory was won under the supreme leadership of Generalissimo Stalin, the despotic Messiah who ruled Russians like the God of the Old Testament. This isn’t fawning hyperbole. The tendency to ascribe semi-divine or “natural force” characteristics to Stalin is actually rather common amongst Russians. I suspect that is because it’s the clearest way to resolve their radical ambiguity towards Him.

The Kremlin is faced with a dilemma in reconciling Stalin with Victory. Promoting the Victory isn’t only feelgood propaganda. It is very useful. It stokes the social cohesion that Russia needs to consolidate itself, and to actualize her shift towards sobornost’ (the catch-all term for a deep sense of internal peace and unity between races, religions, sexes, etc, within a society). It also creates powerful bonds with other peoples of the erstwhile USSR, buttressing the Kremlin’s drive to (re)gather the Russian lands. For this reason, under Putin, Russia has devoted lavish attention to the public spectacle of Victory. The Victory parades in Moscow become ever more impressive, – indeed, imperial – with every passing year. Under the initiative of Kremlin-affiliated youth movements, the Ribbon of Saint George was popularized as a symbol of Victory since 2005. This harkens back to the Medal For the Victory Over Germany, which was awarded after the war to all the soldiers, officers and partisans who directly participated in live combat actions against the European Axis. A medal dominated by Stalin’s visage.

This very symbology reveals the crux of the dilemma. Stalin. Not as man, but as avatar. The idea. The imagined past of sobornost’. A Golden Age in which the intelligentsia and old Bolsheviks; the corrupt bureaucrats and oligarchs; the Western idolizers and rootless cosmopolitans, were condemned, and extirpated. Above all, the singular emancipation of Victory. Even neglecting the moral dimension, all this opens a frightening, churning vistage that the Kremlin elites dare not approach. Nor is repudiating Stalin an option, for that would also mean repudiation of Russia’s national myth. And that is the surest path to ruin…

So the Kremlin’s position is neither the rose-hued nostalgia of the old Stalinist protester, nor the desaturated grey of the moral relativist. Not in thrall to kitsch, like the blogger behind the Stalin bus (for even discredited kitsch can resurrect itself if enough people begin to believe in it again). Nor the uniform shadows of the Russian liberals (since that is simply too depressing).

When called out to defend or condemn it, the Kremlin is forced by the tides of history and fate into a position of radical ambiguity towards the Stalinist project.

A turbulent world of clashing white and black, the very essence of Stalinist metapolitics. Ironically, the permanent contradiction of both Russians and the Kremlin towards the Stalinist legacy is also its most fitting epitaph, for that was its very essence. Slavoj Zizek on When the Party Commits Suicide:

Precisely as Marxists, we should then have no fear in acknowledging that the purges under Stalinism were in a way more “irrational” than the Fascist violence: paradoxically, this very excess is an unmistakable sign that, in contrast to Fascism, Stalinism was the case of a perverted authentic revolution… the “irrationality” of Nazism was “condensed” in anti-Semitism, in its belief in the Jewish plot, while the Stalinist “irrationality” pervaded the entire social body. For that reason, Nazi police investigators were still looking for proofs and traces of actual activity against the regime, while Stalinist investigators were engaged in clear and unambiguous fabrications (invented plots and sabotages, etc.).

However, this very violence inflicted by the Communist Power on its own members bears witness to the radical self-contradiction of the regime, i.e. to the fact that, at the origins of the regime, there was an “authentic” revolutionary project — incessant purges were necessary not only to erase the traces of the regime’s own origins, but also as a kind of “return of the repressed,” a reminder of the radical negativity at the heart of the regime. The Stalinist purges of high Party echelons relied on this fundamental betrayal: the accused were effectively guilty insofar as they, as the members of the new nomenklatura, betrayed the Revolution. The Stalinist terror is thus not simply the betrayal of the Revolution, i.e. the attempt to erase the traces of the authentic revolutionary past; it rather bears witness to a kind of “imp of perversity” which compels the post-revolutionary new order to (re)inscribe its betrayal of the Revolution within itself, to “reflect” it or “remark” it in the guise of arbitrary arrests and killings which threatened all members of the nomenklatura — as in psychoanalysis, the Stalinist confession of guilt conceals the true guilt… This inherent tension between the stability of the rule of the new nomenklatura and the perverted “return of the repressed” in the guise of the repeated purges of the ranks of the nomenklatura is at the very heart of the Stalinist phenomenon: purges are the very form in which the betrayed revolutionary heritage survives and haunts the regime. The dream of Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist presidential candidate in 1996 (things would have turned out OK in the Soviet Union if only Stalin had lived at least 5 years longer and accomplished his final project of having done with cosmopolitanism and bringing about the reconciliation between the Russian state and the Orthodox Church — in other words, if only Stalin had realized his anti-Semitic purge…), aims precisely at the point of pacification at which the revolutionary regime would finally get rid of its inherent tension and stabilize itself — the paradox, of course, is that in order to reach this stability, Stalin’s last purge, the planned “mother of all purges” which was to take place in the Summer of 1953 and was prevented by his death, would have to succeed. Here, then, perhaps, the classic Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist “Thermidor” is not fully adequate: the actual Thermidor happened only after Stalin’s death (or, rather, even after Khruschev’s fall), with the Brezhnev years of “stagnation,” when nomenklatura finally stabilized itself into a “new class.” Stalinism proper is rather the enigmatic “vanishing mediator” between the authentic Leninist revolutionary outburst and its Thermidor…

But some things are certain. Victory can never be fully disassociated from Stalin. And Stalin is far too complex a historical figure to be reduced to an ideological for/against binary. Of course, by now I’m only repeating myself…

* Of course, there are some Russian families – and relatively more Ukrainian and national minority families – who did suffer more from Stalinist policies than under Nazism. That is because Stalin’s repressions tended to target particular social groups and families, such as former nobles or wealthy farmers. Their descendants tend to remember Stalin with much greater distaste than “normal Russians”, for whom just keeping your head down more or less nullified their chances of being repressed. Though even here, a qualification is necessary. On hearing of Stalin’s death, there were reports of even the Gulag inmates weeping. The contradictions, confusions, warping, psychoses, call them what you will, of Stalinism – they have always been there with us.

** Not directly related to this year’s topic, but I do want to recall one of the myths I covered last year on the GPW, the (Western) myth that the “Russians” lost five or ten or whatever soldier for every heroic Aryan. In reality, the ratio of Soviet to Axis losses on the Eastern Front was 1.3:1.

*** From the same article – the Ukrainian Minister of Education also said that Ukrainian textbooks will again refer to the “Great Patriotic War”, reverting back from Yuschenko’s ideological campaign to call it just the “Second World War”.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Green Communism is humanity's last and only chance to avert environmental catastrophe.
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Communism is not usually regarded as a green political system.The lack of attention to negative environmental externalities on the part of central planners bequeathed the areas under their control a legacy of wilted forests, poisoned waters and darkened skies. The dissolution of the Soviet empire revealed these failures to the world – the overflowing chemical sink of Dzerzhinsk, the black sulfurous snows of Norilsk and, most iconically, the radioactive zone of Chernobyl. The post-Soviet economic collapse idled the smokestacks and destroyed many of the most egregiously polluting enterprises; yet the hellish mills grind on in China, home of 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. So the claim that Communism could have saved the planet from ecological oblivion will no doubt be met with a fair amount of skepticism.

However, we must first define what kind of pollution we’re talking about. For instance, European medieval cities lacked the most basic sanitation and epicenters of pestilence. Until the nineteenth century, their death rates were permanently higher than their death rates, and needed a constant influx of people from the countryside to sustain themselves. However, in that period humanity’s ecological footprint, even measured per capita, was very small and sustainable. This is because that kind of pollution was extremely localized. Modern man would no doubt find life in the medieval city unbearable, at least initially. However, if you venture outside its (typically small) perimeter, a lost world of bucolic idyll would open up before you. (Then you’d get hanged for vagrancy or killed by bandits or starve to death, but that’s beside the point).

In pre-industrial and early industrial civilizations, although localized pollution may be extreme, global pollution is minimal. As is well-known, CO2 is the major greenhouse gas that contributes to anthropogenic global warming. Between 1000 and 1840, the global CO2 concentration fluctuated between 275-285ppm. It only began rising appreciably when the world entered the age of iron and steel around 1850, still very slowly albeit extremely fast by geological standards. Although disrupted by the discontinuities of the Great Depression and the Second World War, the post-1950 age of cheap oil that fueled the American economic miracle, European recovery and the large-scale industrialization of the Soviet bloc and Japan turbocharged CO2 emissions. The 1970′s oil shocks moderated but did not check this secular trend. High oil prices spurred investment into oil operations in remoter regions free of OPEC’s price-setting and eventually brought prices down. The opening of China from the late 1970′s resulted in its becoming the coal-powered workshop of the world by the new millennium. This was part of a general global trend in which the developing world ditched Marxist-inspired theories of economic development in favor of freer markets, albeit outside Asia the economic results were usually mixed. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions again spike on up, while its atmospheric concentration kinks ever more upwards – a dark singularity that may potentially doom human civilization.

Viewed from a long timescale, the past century of environmental vandalism looks like a singularity. Unlike the human lifespan, which is measured in decades, the biosphere is measured in hundreds of millions of years. As such, to Gaia humanity already appears as a disruptive and alien technological Singularity. From the dialectical materialist perspective, this is the Law of Negation at work - just as each class begets its own gravedigger, so homo sapiens builds its civilization upon the bones of the biosphere that gave it birth, leaving behind only desert.

Viewed from a long timescale, the past century of environmental vandalism looks like a singularity. Unlike the human lifespan, which is measured in decades, the biosphere is measured in hundreds of millions of years. As such, to Gaia humanity already appears as a disruptive and alien technological Singularity. From the dialectical materialist perspective, this is the Law of Negation at work – just as each class begets its own gravedigger, so homo sapiens builds its civilization upon the bones of the biosphere that gave it birth, leaving behind only desert.

One of the effects of Communism in the twentieth century was that it stifled the growth rates of the countries it infected. In 1950, China and Taiwan had similar levels of economic development. However, there was a generational difference between when these two countries opened themselves up to globalization. Taiwan began developing as a market-driven export hub from the 1950′s; China joined the Asian tigers only in the 1980′s. Today Taiwan belongs to the rich club of nations, while China is still in the throes of development and only recently moved into the ‘lower middle-income’ rank. Since these countries are culturally similar (most of the world recognizes them de jure as ‘one China’) and were at roughly the same level of development prior to the Chinese Revolution, the difference between them can be safely attributed to Maoist inefficiency and chaos.

Energy, or more precisely exergy that is used for useful work, is a key factor of growth – a neglected topic in classical economic growth theory that has only relatively recently been addressed by the work of Robert Ayres and others. Since up till now the most intense and effective energy sources have been hydrocarbon based, they make up the lifeblood of our industrial civilization. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2. First, heavy industrialization boosts CO2 emissions per capita to around 5-10 tons; afterward, automobiles and other consumption push them up by another 5-10 tons. From 1990 to 2003, Taiwanese CO2 emissions doubled to 12.4 tons as its citizens became rich and bought up vehicles and household appliances. South Korea went up from 5.6 tons in 1990 to 9.8 tons in 2004. Massive industrial expansion in China raised their emissions from a meager 2.1 tons in 1990, to 3.8 tons in 2004 and more than 5 tons by 2007 – the consequence of becoming the world’s largest producer of steel, cement, aluminium and a whole host of other heavy industrial products. The difference, however, is that the combined population of South Korea and Taiwan are less than 10% that of China, so increasing per capita emissions in the latter are having a vastly greater global impact. In absolute terms the increase in world CO2 emissions since the millennium has been the greatest in human history.

Although China’s economic potential was the most suppressed of any country under Communism in absolute size, Russia’s has been held down for the longest period. At the dawn of World War One, the Russian Empire enjoyed the fastest rate of industrial growth of any European country. Without the ‘lost decades’ of the Civil War (1916-28) and the Great Patriotic War (1941-50), it is entirely feasible that it could have become a fully industrialized country by the 1950′s, instead of the 1970′s. Furthermore, like Japan it would have developed a mature consumer economy by the 1970′s, instead of the 2010′s or 2020′s as seems likely today. The demographic dividend from cutting out the Civil War, Stalinism, World War Two (it is unlikely that Hitler could have come to power in Germany were it not for the Communist specter) and falling post-1965 life expectancy would have meant that Russia’s population today, assuming similar fertility trends, would be around 200mn rather than 141mn. This demographic dividend would also be reflected in Eurasia and east-central Europe in general. What all this implies is that per capita CO2 emissions would have reached around 20 tons per capita by the 1970′s (similar to Canada or the US – remember that Russia is a cold, resource-rich country). In conclusion, Eurasia’s and east-central Europe’s potential contributions to CO2 emissions could have been as as great or even greater than China’s during the course of a non-Communist twentieth century, due to the fact that their development (and pollution) was suppressed for a longer period of time.

Finally, without a respected and powerful bastion of Communism in the world in the form of the Soviet superpower, Marxist economic ideas would not have enjoyed such wide traction in the post-colonial developing world. The ‘License Raj’ might not have been a feature of Indian life, thus possibly accelerating its development by one or two decades such that today it would be an industrialized if not yet consumer-orientated country. Without its legacy of import substitution and bureaucratic overload, Latin America would probably be both richer and a bigger global pollutant. (This is not to say, however, that the region will have converged to advanced country living standards. Like the Arabs and Africans, and unlike east Europeans or the Chinese, the low emphasis these cultures place on education means their basic economic problem, low human capital, would have put a plateau on their potential GDP well below developed standards, as I argued extensively here).

Taking historical CO2 emissions since 1950 as my base, I constructed two scenarios – Capitalist China, in which the Chinese Revolution of 1949 was averted; and No Communism, in which the 1917 Russian Revolution was thwarted and no other severely anti-capitalist ideology took over a large share of the world’s economic capacity in the twentieth century.

To construct Capitalist China, I assumed historical CO2 emissions up to 1975, a rise to 5 tons per capita (versus historical 2.1 tons) by 1990, and a further rise to 10 tons per capita (versus 3.8 tons) by 2004. This assumes that like South Korea or Taiwan, the latter stages of heavy industrialization occur in 1975-1990 (in reality: 1990-2008) and that 1990-2004 sees the development of a prosperous consumer economy. In No Communism, I just crudely assumed a flat 50% increase in CO2 emissions for 1950-2006.

To construct Capitalist China, I assumed historical CO2 emissions up to 1975, a rise to 5 tons per capita (versus historical 2.1 tons) by 1990, and a further rise to 10 tons per capita (versus 3.8 tons) by 2004. This assumes that like South Korea or Taiwan, the latter stages of heavy industrialization occur in 1975-1990 (in reality: 1990-2008) and that 1990-2004 sees the development of a prosperous consumer economy. In No Communism, I just crudely assumed a flat 50% increase in CO2 emissions for 1950-2006.

The Capitalist China scenario is, I believe, robust albeit crude. I worked out a new value for 1990 and for 2004 global CO2 emissions, assuming the above increases in Chinese pollution, and linearly connected them with straight lines. It suffocates the details out of the picture, e.g. the oil shocks and their effect on CO2 emissions. Nonetheless, this is permissible since we’re talking about an alternate history decades down from its branching point, so assuming a simple repetition of the Arab oil embargoes is pointless. It does however show the huge impacts on cumulative CO2 pollution caused by delayed Chinese industrialization.

Since there is no ordered data for national CO2 emissions prior to 1990 (and in any case aggregating and manipulating them all would require far more work than I’m willing to do – we’re talking generalities here), I basically assume a 50% increase of CO2 every year over historical levels. Although towards the high end, I do believe it’s justified. If Russia and its peripheries had become industrialized by the 1950′s, rather than the 1970′s, that would have added around 250mn more people into the industrialized world, at a time when it consisted of perhaps 350mn Europeans whose economies were devastated by war and 150mn Americans. The Third World would have started developing a great deal quicker without the influence of Marxist thought on economics, which is pernicious to traditional growth. The oil shocks of the 1970′s would instead have correlated to the oil shock of 2008, the harbinger of peak oil. After that, with renewable energies still in their infancy, the late twentieth century would have seen the substitution of oil for much dirtier coal, whose increased pollution would have canceled out the effects of more natural gas and nuclear power, let alone fledgling wind or as yet non-existent solar. Therefore, overall I think the 50% over historical levels CO2 pollution is a reasonable assumption for a non-Communist century.

That said, what role would these increased emissions have had on atmospheric CO2 levels, in a world where Eurasia and the Third World declined Marxist economics and China followed Taiwan’s and South Korea’s development path?

When looking at the historical data, I found that in any year the gross amount of CO2 emissions and the increase in the level of atmospheric CO2 are very closely correlated (to the extent that there's no need to even bother with a proper straight line fit). This stands to reason - human emissions of greenhouse gases have long since far surpassed the ability of the world's sinks to swallow them. After simplifying the relation between emissions and CO2 levels as a basic linear formula, I applied it to the two emissions scenarios detailed above and came up with this graph. Note - to account for Eurasian industrialization and no World War Two between 1917 and 1950, the CO2 level in 1950 is set at 317ppm, corresponding to the real 1960 level, instead of the real 1950 level of 311ppm.

When looking at the historical data, I found that in any year the gross amount of CO2 emissions and the increase in the level of atmospheric CO2 are very closely correlated (to the extent that there’s no need to even bother with a proper straight line fit). This stands to reason – human emissions of greenhouse gases have long since far surpassed the ability of the world’s sinks to swallow them. After simplifying the relation between emissions and CO2 levels as a basic linear formula, I applied it to the two emissions scenarios detailed above and came up with this graph. Note – to account for Eurasian industrialization and no World War Two between 1917 and 1950, the CO2 level in 1950 is set at 317ppm, corresponding to the real 1960 level, instead of the real 1950 level of 311ppm.

As of 2006, the atmospheric CO2 level was at 382ppm and soaring at a blistering rate. However, had just one country, China, embraced globalized markets just a generation before it did, the CO2 level in 2006 would have been a full 10ppm higher, at 392ppm. That it did not, bought the world five additional years in which to curb material throughput or make a technological breakthrough that would avert climate catastrophe. Furthermore, if the globalized idyll of before 1914 were not shattered and if Communism remained confined to the world’s libraries and universities, CO2 levels in 2006 would have been at 421ppm – at today’s rate of CO2 increase, equivalent to fifteen years of breathing space. Peoples suffered under Communist regimes so that humanity could survive.

That is a bold statement that might seem rather insane and perhaps callous. Let me explain. The EU defined anything greater than a 2C rise in global temperatures to be a ‘dangerous’ level of warming and set itself targets to avoid it. Although at those temperatures the Great Plains breadbasket, coral reefs and the Arctic icecap are all doomed to desertification and extinction, truly catastrophic warming and widespread human ‘die-off’ are likely to be averted. According to climate modeler Meinshausen, meeting the 2 degrees C climate target means that atmospheric CO2 levels have to be stabilized somewhere around 400ppm – and even then, we’re only giving ourselves a slightly greater than break even chance. For this to occur, emissions must peak by 2015, halve from 1990 levels by 2050 and peak atmospheric CO2 levels must not exceed about 450ppm. (Consult the linked paper for more details, it has caveats on probabilities, the effects of other ‘CO2 equivalent’ greenhouse gases, etc).

Furthermore, the above work neglects recent research into positive feedbacks in the global climate system. Should the global temperature reach a certain ‘tipping point’, it is possible that it will unleash self-reinforcing ‘runaway warming’. The vegetation and forests of the world will switch from being carbon sinks to carbon sources, as decay overtakes growth. Large parts of the Amazon are projected to burn up and become desert, releasing more CO2. In possibly the most under-reported story of 2008, vast tracts of Siberian permafrost and Arctic gas hydrates are already melting rapidly and releasing methane, a gas twenty times as potent as CO2 in its contribution to global warming. The past decade saw the biggest relative growth of global CO2 emissions since the 1960′s (and the biggest in absolute terms), so we are very far from stabilizing them. The current economic crisis is hurting the renewable energy industry and public commitment to green projects, even as the world once again bathes in a cheap noxious brew of hydrocarbons. And all this is quite disturbing.

We are already at the edge of the precipice, and this in a world where Communism suppressed the economic and polluting potential of vast swathes of humanity like a compressed spring for most of a century. If Eurasia had been allowed to become a normal consumer economy and if China and the rest of the old Third World hadn’t been stalled in their large-scale industrialization by the shackles of socialism, we would already be at an atmospheric CO2 level of 420ppm or so and well on the road to oblivion. Meanwhile, we would still be at around the same technological level as we are today. Thus, Communism played a key role in the last century in the salvation of mankind.

However, as discussed above, the survival of advanced civilization is still far from assured. Yes, we might still be rescued by a technological breakthrough. For instance, recursively self-improving machine intelligence could negate humanity and transcend its climatic problems. Unfortunately, the dates postulated for the technological Singularity by most thinkers, around the middle of the century, are just about the time when credible ‘business-as-usual’ models of climate catastrophe and resource depletion foresee the collapse of advanced industrial civilization amid a global die-off. It would do no good if computer scientists finally unlock the inner secrets of the human brain just before their lab is stormed by a starving mob that lynches them and destroys the machine that just minutes before had passed the Turing test with flying colors… The twenty-first century will be a make or break century – Olduvai Gorge or technological Singularity. Of course, it’s possible that just before falling over the cliff, humanity does manage to incubate machine intelligence, which will precede to take over the world on the bones of their biological parents, just as we in our time took over the biosphere and left behind deserts. That would make for a most sublime demonstration of the Laws of Negation and of Transformation in dialectical materialism.

It should be transparently clear that Green Communism is the wave of the future. The capitalists are morally, and now financially, bankrupt, with the Ponzi scheme that is global finance unraveling before our eyes. We can live without the Madoffs and made-offs of this world; we cannot live in a world of metastasizing deserts and encroaching oceans. The zombie masses of the consumerist have blindly worshipped the false Gods of material growth, directed in their idolatry by cultural hegemony of the capitalist elites. The masses must be woken from their gasoline-fume induced stupor, before stern Mother Nature does it for us. Green Communism is the road to redemption for consumerist sins of greed and gluttony.

The Europeans are too soft and effete to give up on their luxuries, the Americans too enamored of their bankrupt and soulless capitalist system. Russias are already infected with the poisoned chalice of mass consumerism, and never made good Communists anyway. Ironically, the best hopes of foisting a true values shift upon the world may lie in China. They have finished building up their heavy industrial base, but have not yet developed to the stage of mindless consumerism. Now they stand at a crossroads. Their Communist party can either opt for the patently bankrupt philosophy and way of life that is neoliberalism, or they could ignore the temptations of listening to shallow popular sentiment and start focusing on material and spiritual transformation.

The world must arise as one in revolt against the neoliberal System, overthrow the warmongers and capitalists and institute a global network that will focus its energies on technological innovation and spiritual advancement – surely worthier goals than today’s prevailing commodity fetishism. China may be the locus, but whichever nation or region first takes upon itself the holy burden should not be left alone – otherwise, surrounded by predatory and cynical capitalist Powers, it will fall into the same militarism and parochialism that destroyed the Soviet soul and ultimately its material foundations. Society should be fundamentally restructured. The productive capacities already exist to provide everyone with food, shelter and a reasonable standard of living. Economic activity should be geared almost exclusively to technological research, as well as maintaining existing productive capacities and social obligations. Material throughput must be drastically reduced and all major economic activities subject to stringent sustainability criteria. Patents and elite universities should be replaced by and the collaborative spirit that is aspired to in academia and free, quality education over the Internet (on the model of MIT’s courses). The workers must be guided out of their false consciences, which the elites hoisted so long upon them to imprison them, and new, smaller generations should be reared in factory incubators. The development of bottom-up nano-manufacturing and deep machine intelligence will bridge the Olduvai Gorge and transform human civilization into the post-scarcity paradise that is Green Communism.

Notes: My main sources were the Earth Policy Institute for global CO2 emissions and atmospheric levels, and Wikipedia for national CO2 data. You can also look over the data file (.opd) used.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.