cc Western civilisation has been going through a deepening crisis over the last 120 years, writes Yash Tandon, and it is deeper than most people realise or are willing to acknowledge. Focusing on the present systemic crisis – the most recent manifestations of which are the global financial crisis and the ecological crisis – Tandon sets out how progessive forces both in the South and the North could respond to the array of challenges the world currently faces. The time has come he says, for ordinary people to take back the right to think and plan their futures from the institutions, that have in part, been the authors of the situation we find ourselves in.
Western civilisation has been going through a deepening crisis over the last 120 years – to be precise since around mid-1880s when serious colonisation began of the African continent as a desperate attempt to get out of the crisis created by the limits to growth within Europe. The present systemic crisis – whose most recent manifestations are the global financial crisis and the ecological crisis – is only its latest manifestation. Western civilisation’s crisis is deeper than most people realise or willing to acknowledge.
There are profound dangers inherent in the impending collapse of Western civilisation. The ruling political and corporate elites in the West are losing control both in their own countries and over much of the South. Judging by the attempts made by them in recent months, it is evident that they have no clue about how to get out of the dual political-economic and ecological crises. They have serious problems of resource depletion and global warming which compound to create a situation not unlike what they experienced in the 1880s when they faced limits to growth in Europe.
The re-colonisation option does not look promising for the future, because although they are presently attempting to neo-colonise the South, this will meet with stiff resistance not only from the South but also from progressive peoples in the North. By 2099 the white races will be swamped by the non-whites whether they like it or not, even in many of their own countries, including significantly the United States and Israel. (This is not supposed to be a racist statement, only a highly likely demographic prediction). Fear has become a major international relations factor in the behaviour of Western nations. There are serious dangers of increasing militarism, fascism and racism in the West, possibly aggressive wars in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’ or ‘failed states’, or ‘human rights violations’. Such prospects bode ill for progressive efforts to create an all-inclusive alternative civilisation.
So the question is: What do the peoples of the South and progressive peoples everywhere do in this impending collapse of Western civilisation?
There are many possible answers – depending on ones political and human perspectives. Some people in the South are likely to take an aggressive and combative view in a revengeful spirit. This would be utterly wrong. An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth spirit will destroy the entire civilisation. I believe that there has to be a more sensible approach to this question. In the short to medium term the peoples of the South should resist being re-colonised. They should demand justice and the right to determine their own destinies without interference from the North. They should demand a fair share of the world’s resources whilst working out a joint strategy with the North to save this planet – the only one we know – and its natural resources and the environment.
However, in the long run, the peoples of the South should show understanding and compassion to the peoples of the North – despite history. They will need to assure the North that there will never be unity of the South to cause serious concern to the North – which is a good thing. Non-white populations living in the North (as immigrant citizens, short term workers, or as refugees) must fight for their rights within those countries, of course, but they must integrate or merge (depending on the circumstances of each country) within the communities of their host nations. Also, the peoples of the South must recognise that there are aspects of Western civilisation that are positive and progressive in the evolution of world history; that there are common values which they share with the West – a common humanity. The South should celebrate these positive virtues of Western civilisation, and make their own contributions for a better, peaceful and just world. Above all, and in the immediate to medium term, the progressive peoples all over the world – South and North – should reflect on alternatives to the impending collapse of the West-dominated present civilisation. An alternative global civilisation will take hundreds of years to evolve and mature, but the time to start is now.
The West (also referred to as the North, depending on the context) is currently in serious crisis, which it may survive only if progressive civil society movements in the North take heed of the gravity of the situation facing them, and if they work closely with progressive peoples and movements in the South.
WESTERN CIVILISATION IN CRISIS
The crisis in the North began with the completion of the first phase of the industrialisation project by the end of the 1880s. Here we refer to the modern phase of the developments in the North, namely, the capitalist phase. There were crises in earlier periods –both in the South as well as in the North, much worse indeed impacting civilisations in the South than in the North. By the end of the 16th century, however, the North had managed to get out of their ‘dark ages’ and with the enlightenment and the reformation, a reinvigorated Western Europe was able to create nation-states out of warring tribes, and develop their productive forces – science and technology and the organisation of production and society – at an astonishing pace and with a huge global impact.
The first major crisis modern Europe faced in the capitalist era was in the late 1880s. Having finished the early phase of industrialisation, the European ruling oligarchy faced dual crises. One was that Europe reached its limits of growth within its own geographical space, and the lack of adequate local resources for further development of its productive forces. The second was the upsurge in the class consciousness of the workers in the North that demanded a fair return to their labour which had spawned a burgeoning and hideously exploitative capitalist class.
The resolution of these problems was, however, not possible within Europe itself. The only way out was imperial expansion in the South. When the British arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes said ‘the Empire is a bread and butter question’, he meant every word of it, adding, self-righteously, that to ‘save’ England from ‘a bloody civil war’ it was necessary to ‘acquire new lands to settle the surplus population’. In further explanation, and speaking for all Europe, he said, ‘We are the first race in the world, and the more of the world we inherit the better it is for the human race.’ The historical parody in our own times is that the British now make harsh judgment on present-day Zimbabwe, which was acquired by the British based on deceitful signing of a treaty with Chief Lo Bengula. The theft of land was more insidious than the theft of public money by the greedy officials of the American Insurance General (AIG) today. The land was named ‘Rhodesia’ after Cecil Rhodes.
Why is it necessary to recount this story? Is it not best forgotten? Perhaps it is. However, because mainstream European historiography obfuscates history, it is important to tell the story also from the other side. Also, the present crisis in Western civilisation makes it important to look at where we have come from, and to acknowledge the legacy of European exploitation of weaker or weakened civilisations in the South. It is important to remember history, even in its not very flattering details, in order to be able to go beyond it, to sublimate it, to pardon those who may have perpetrated acts of brutality in the course of what they regarded as their so-called ‘the white man’s burden’.
Close on the heels of England were the other European countries, just industrialising out of medieval rural backwardness. Led by Germany’s Bismarck the European political leadership met in Berlin (in this city where we assemble today) in 1884 to partition Africa amongst themselves as their colonies. Imperial exploitation enabled European capitalists to reduce their cost of production through importation of cheap raw materials as well as secure captive markets for their manufactured products and lands for the settlement of European farmers and bureaucrats. All this ensured high rates of profits for the capitalist class, out of which they could now afford to pay higher wages to their own workers at home (the imperial labour aristocracy), and thus continue to develop their national productive forces. The gains of imperialism were unequal, if there were indeed any gains for the South. The Austrian-American political-economist, Joseph Schumpeter, was later to describe capitalism as ‘creative destruction’, but he failed to notice that there was more destruction in the South and more creation in the North.
The story of the first half of the twentieth century is all too familiar – the collapse of the pre-first World War economy with the Wall Street crash of 1929; the years of the Great Depression; the emergence of ‘new deal’ economics brilliantly crafted by Keynes to rescue the Empire; the rise of fascism and militarism; and then the Second World War. And, finally, there was the Jewish holocaust, which ended with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 – an imperial extension of Europe into the heartland of the Middle East – through which Europe was able, or so it thought, to expunge its guilt. The two world wars were essentially inter-imperialist wars, except for the complication of the Second World War where a revolutionised Soviet Union entered the War as an ally of one sub-set of imperialist countries (the Allied powers), but soon after the War, the communist challenge posed a threat to the global domination of the capitalist West. That story of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union is also well known.
All this time, the South did not matter. It was colonised (like most of Africa and Asia) or semi-colonised (like China and most of Latin America). But, further down the road, the loss of the colonies between 1950 and 1970 presented Europe with a major crisis. The US benefitted for a short time out of the liquidation of the European empire, but the Cold War soon wiped out, or corrupted, most of those gains. The process of decolonisation was not always peaceful – Algeria, Kenya, Vietnam, Indonesia, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa, among others, are testimony to the bitter struggle of the Europeans to maintain control over their empire. The ‘loss’ of China to communism was a shock to the West, and so also the rebellion of Cuba after the 1959 revolution. Now we have a new situation. The indigenous peoples of South America are gaining collective political consciousness and self-confidence, and in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, demanding a rightful ownership and control over their natural resources.
The second oil crisis in 1979 hit the North as well as the South. The West was already facing other multi-pronged crises – the saturation of western markets in invest¬ment finance and goods, the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the invasion of Afghanistan in the same year, the domestic crisis of profitability, the rising demand of the working classes (especially in the UK) for a better share in the national income, and the loom¬ing recession.
Faced with this situation, among other policy measures, the British government deregulated its economy, privatised state assets, and took away welfare benefits from the people (including pensions) and siphoned these to their business corporations to salvage them from declining profits and higher wage demands from their workers. Then, at the international level, a rapid move towards trade liberalisation followed by the demand for removing all restrictions on the movement of capital, and ‘national treatment’ for the owners of imperial capital - the demand that they be given the same treatment as nationals in the third countries. The UK was quickly followed by the US under Reagan and then by other Northern countries. In this they used their power in rule-making bodies such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). In the WIPO, they used their power to enforce property rules on the South to enforce intellectual property systems that hinder technology transfer from the Empire. At the same time – through the WTO TRIPS agreement, strict rules of intellectual property and other means – it promoted expropriation of traditional knowledge of food and medicines. This undermines the systems of the commons, which rules in many African traditional societies in the areas of water, seeds, herbal medicine, etc.
This is an important detail of history that is not sufficiently acknowledged, or even understood, by those who talk about globalisation in general terms. What is not realised is that the specific policies put in place to get the Anglo-Saxon economies out of their multiple crises got translated into policies for universal application under the banner of ‘globalisation’ taken out of their political and geographical context. It is this – namely the official adoption by the institutions of economic global governance of the Anglo-Saxon liberalisation of the economy – that was the beginning of what is now identified as the neoliberal ideology. Globalisation in this period (from about the mid-1980s to 2005), in other words, had a distinct Anglo-Saxon face. It was not just any kind of globalisation; it was neo-liberal globalisation. The countries of the south that were compelled to borrow from the IMF or the World Bank or the donors were subjected to stiff conditions and penalties in order to force them to conform to certain macroeconomic policies as set out by the donors and the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs). These included:
- Free market ideology – let the market decide
- Privatisation of state assets and denationalisation
- Deregulation (minimum state interference in the economy)
- Control over wages and conditions of work
- Stiff budget deficit controls
- Trade liberalisation and reduction of tariffs
- Reduction of social expenditure on things like health and education; and
- Forcing the South to open up of the capital market to investments from the North.
From an intellectual point of view, the tragedy of this particular phase of globalisation is that the evolution of ‘development theory’ got decoupled from the political-economic context of the south. The mainstream development theory had been constructed not for the benefit of the developing countries, as it purported, but for integrating them into a global economy for the benefit of those who dominated the global economy.
However, now we enter a new phase of history.
The twenty years of Western hegemony is ending fast as we speak. For twenty years, the West imposed its will on the governments and peoples of the South using agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the regional banks and agencies of the IMF/WB in the South, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The most outstanding success of the Western offensive was that most of the leaders of the South, as well as the post-1989 leadership of Russia, accepted the ‘triumph’ of Western ideologies and Western methods of work. But now Western ideas and ideologies are being seriously questioned not only in the South but also within the countries of the North.
This is where we are now. The assault on America on 11 September 2001 has put the US and its citizens in a state of panic and paranoia. The bursting of the dot-com bubble soon after blew the whistle against the hazards of financialised speculative capitalism – a warning, however, that was largely ignored by the euphoric ruling political and corporate elite. And then, predictably, the sub-prime house mortgage crisis broke surface in September 2007, and since then financialised capitalism is swallowing down its own authors, like a snake swallowing its own tail.
In the process speculative finance capital has left behind a trail of misdeeds, among them the following:
- It has mopped up all the small savings of the people through credit institutions, and the securitisation process, that evolved into the so-called ‘democratisation’ of the stock exchange, the emergence of the ‘Casino Society’, and the bubbling of the speculative capital. The 1990s dot-com bubble and the housing bubble (post 2005) are concrete outcomes of this ‘democratisation’ of wealth.
- It internationalised securities as a way of expanding the shrinking national base of Western economies into the emerging countries of the South, and ‘dematerialised’ the commodity market through for example the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, thus robbing commodities of their real value, creating highly volatile, unpredictable and unsustainable productive base in the commodity-exporting countries of the South, many of which, especially in Africa, are now critically on the verge of collapse.
- It is now at a point where, using state power and ‘public savings’ to back the ‘value’ of fictitious capital, the political leaders of the West are on the dilemma, having been captive of finance capital for over 120 years, of deciding whether to win the confidence of the banks or of the people.
The North is looking in the mirror only to see its less than 300 years of capitalist civilisation crumbling. From the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to 1914, it took 460 years for the Ottoman Empire to finally collapse. From Adam Smith (1723-90) to Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve who admitted on October 24, 2008 that he found a serious ‘flaw in the free market theory’ which he had been nursing for forty years, it has taken barely 260 years for ‘free market imperialism’ to begin to sound its own death knell. The crisis of confidence, the loss of moral high ground, the utter non-functionality of the neoliberal paradigm that has created chasms between nations and within nations, the ruinous exploitation of the environment, and the fear of the rise of China, India and Latin American countries on the historical train of the Bolivarian revolution – all these are making the political and corporate leadership in the North extremely jittery, anxious and nervous. The 250 years of Renaissance (c.1340 to 1600) that helped Europe to jump out of its dark hole, has sadly turned into its opposite – the North is sinking into another hole of its own making.
And so now the question for us all is: what next? Should the people of the South take delight in this? Should the working classes in the North rejoice in the impending demise of capitalism?
Before we answer these questions, it is necessary to examine the main blind spots of the Western response to the looming crisis so that the same mistakes are not repeated on the way forward.
BLIND SPOTS OF WESTERN RESPONSE TO ITS LOOMING CIVILISATIONAL CRISIS
The first blind spot is that the pundits of finance capital who advise the political leadership in the West (and now among them some of the leaders of the South sitting on the round table with the West in the so-called G20 gatherings) have not fully acknowledged the scale of the crisis, and the gravity of the situation. The fire-fighting measures put in place by the US and European governments, such as the bailing out of banks, deficit financing, and other countercyclical measures, touch barely the surface of the crisis. The present crisis is not a trade cyclical phenomenon, nor a simple ‘recession’ that will be ‘turned around’ in a couple of years, as they continue to believe. At its roots the crisis is deeply embedded within the very fabric of capitalist production and distribution.
To those who are now turning to Keynes for ‘answers’ to the present crisis (as somebody said, ‘We are all Keynesians today’), it should be sobering for them to be reminded that Keynesianism was an answer to the Empire in crisis, and it achieved its purpose for fifty years. But it has come to the end of its mission. In any case, Keynesianism addresses only rather superficial aspects of a crisis that is more deeply rooted in the capitalist system than is generally understood or appreciated. The Keynesians talk about restoring the regulatory function of the state, forgetting that in the now all too familiar cant about the ‘greed’ of corporate managers ‘craving for money as a disease’ etc, the capitalist state has been complicit all along.
A second blind spot of the West (shared by many political leaders in the South as well) is to continue to believe that the private sector is the ‘engine of growth’. This is now belied by facts. The private sector is now maligned as ‘greedy, corrupt, selfish, and parasitic’. The latest (March 2009) debacle with the AIG is tragic-comic; some US Congressmen have suggested that the AIG directors who paid themselves hefty bonuses for their ‘failure’ should offer to commit ‘hara-kiri’, or suicide Japanese style.
Beyond economics, there are other blind spots. These include:
- Attempts to maintain nuclear monopoly
- Attempts to hold back immigration from the South
- Attempts to maintain ideological hegemony and moral high ground – for example, with reference to democracy and human rights (in the case of Darfur, for example)
- Attempts to fight that ill-defined enemy called ‘terrorism’ in what is described by Western military intelligentsia, with obvious irony, as ‘asymmetric war’
- Attempts to buy off the political and business leadership in the South by promises of 0.7 per cent of their GNPs as ‘development aid’, and securing their consent to neo-colonisation of their economies in the name of ‘aid effectiveness’ under the World Bank–OECD led ‘Paris Declaration’ that was thrust on Southern leaders in Accra in September 2008
- Attempts to pass on to the South the burden of rectifying the historical damage inflicted on the climate by Northern profligacy in callous consumerism;
- Attempts to enforce a ‘two states solution’ on the unwilling Jewish and Arab populations of Palestine. Israel is a guilt-ridden blind spot of the West, especially in Germany.
Each of these responses to the multiple crises the West faces is very short-sighted and indeed selfish. Take the attempt to hold back immigration from the South, a measure also widely supported by the Western public, especially the working classes. Personally I find this reaction on the part of the Western general public and workers understandable – except the most virulent and racist expressions of it. I can even empathise. But the matter has to be put in proper perspective. All history can be written as a history of migration of people from resource-deficit to resource-surplus countries and from war-torn to relatively peaceful surroundings. This is nothing new. What is new in the present epoch is that whereas the migration of the people of the North to the South continues relatively unrestricted, as indeed also between North and North, that between the South and the North (and indeed between South and South) is substantially blocked by border controls, barbed wire fences, police patrols, and ghettoised refugee settlements.
SUGGESTIONS FOR RESPONSE OF THE PROGRESSIVE FORCES IN THE SOUTH AND THE NORTH
How do the progressive forces in the South as well as in the North respond to these challenges?
Many on the left believe, mistakenly, that capitalism is already dead or dying. Many have gone back to reading Karl Marx in the hope that they would find answers there for the future. We owe a lot Marx, of course. He was a shrewd analyst of the capitalist system, and showed us where its fault lines lie. But he did not have concrete answers to where to go from here beyond some general propositions about ‘the stateless society’ and the working classes marching on to seize the means of production in order to usher in an era of communism.
So where do we go from here? The following is offered as some ideas among many that need further reflection and discussion among the progressive left of the South as well of the North.
1. Our first responsibility is to try and understand the dynamics of the unfolding drama. This is not easy. We know some of the dynamics, and I have tried to analyse some of these as I understand them, but we must in all humility say that we do not know all. It is necessary to debate and listen to one another, especially the voices of the people on the ground (both in the North as well as in the South) who are victims of the present catastrophic impending demise of the capitalist-imperialist system.
2. Since Marx’s theoretical treatise, we have accumulated considerable knowledge of extant socialist experiments, including those in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and Cuba, all of which need to be synthesised in order to learn from their weaknesses as well as strengths.
3. It is important to recognise some of the gains of the masses of people over the last 120 years of struggle, both in the South as well as in the North. These gains cannot be brushed aside. The democratic struggles, the struggles for a fair distribution of the wealth of nations, the struggles for human rights including the rights of women, children and indigenous peoples, the struggles against violence and war – all these have to be acknowledged in their invaluable contributions to charting a way forward.
4. We must recognise the extraordinary and exponential development of the productive forces of the last 120 years through the intellectual labour of the world’s scientific community. The application of the increased knowledge in science and technology to production is overall, globally, a positive force. However, these gains have been appropriated as ‘intellectual property’ by the corporate world, mostly in the North but also by a small part in the South, and, moreover, the distribution of its benefits is uneven, within and between countries. This has to be rectified.
5. It must be recognised that much of the South is still in the phase of consolidating the gains of national struggles. The vilification of these efforts as ‘failed states’ or as ‘terrorist states’ is misguided and dangerous. We must not fall into that trap.
6. On the question of aid, the dominant view in the North, especially among the left, is that the developed countries have an obligation to provide aid to the poor countries of the world. This is correct only from a Northern citizen ethical perspective. But looking from the perspective of the South, it is imperative that we recognise that development is a self-defined process, and that ‘aid’ from outside is often a hindrance to real development. This does not mean that there is no place for genuinely ‘solidarity aid’ – fraternal help to advance common causes of peace and justice as long as it does not come packaged in ‘conditionalities’, such as ‘good governance’, the demand to respect human rights, and certain North-defined macro-economic policies. This kind of ‘aid’ – aid tied to strings – must be rejected. The nations of the South must stand on their own feet, and not look for crutches from the North.
That said, it is possible to agree that certain kinds of ‘assistance’ (not ‘development aid’) is useful. For example:
- Emergency assistance against the effects of natural disasters.
- Negotiated purchase or provision of, for example, vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat diseases which are widespread.
- Building the capacity of weaker countries and Southern institutions to negotiate in the international fora, especially the WTO, WIPO, and the United Nations and related agencies, such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), ILO (International Labour Organisation), ITU (International Telecommunication Union), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), and EPA (Economic Partnership Agreements) negotiations between the EU (European Union) and ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States) countries.
- Adjustment costs imposed on the poor countries forced on the road to trade and financial liberalisation before they are ready.
- Compensation costs when such forced liberalisation results in losses in revenue or employment to the poor nations of the world.
- Compensation costs when small-island developing states (SIDS) are endangered by, for example, the effects of climate change.
- Assistance to fulfil obligations under international agreements and conventions.
The above are not part of the ‘development aid’; they are best characterised as humanitarian help, or solidarity help, or compensatory financing.
7. There are some gains made at the global level that must not be wiped out in our zest to change things. These include the so-called Global Public Goods (GPGs). Many of these GPGs are already enshrined in international agreements and conventions, such as:
- The Convention on Bio-diversity.
- The Montreal Protocol.
- The 1997 Ottawa Convention to ban land-mines.
- Conventions on Human rights and gender equality.
- The Tokyo Agreement on Climate Change.
The following must be borne in mind when working out the modalities of cooperation at the global level:
- The South is usually more vulnerable to natural catastrophes such as the tsunami than the North, although the South’s share of the destabilization of the global ecology (e.g. global warming) is less than of the North;
- Many countries in the South do not have the capacity or the resources to supply GPGs.
- The market is not a reliable mechanism for delivering GPGs.
- The provision of National Public Goods (NPGs), as distinct from the GPGs, must be left to the developing countries themselves, and not be either globalized or privatized.
8. Much of what applies at the global level applies also at the South-South level too. For example, the richer countries in the South can provide humanitarian or solidarity help to the poorer nations of the South, provided they do not project themselves as ‘donors’, and provided there are no conditions attached to them. Some of the areas in which more effort is called for are:
- Help resist pressures to turn land and forests of the South away from the food needs of the people towards the production of export crops or bio-fuels because of pressure to sustain a pattern of elite consumption in the South as well as in the North that is clearly unsustainable.
- Help build solidarity to vigorously pursue the provision of Global Public Goods (GPGs), but also vigorously resist pressure to open up National Public Goods (NPGs) to global corporations, and these include the corporations of the South. The NPGs include, for example, the provision of water for household use, energy and electricity for national enterprises, education at all level, indigenous knowledge and cultural expressions.
- Provide instruments to undertake genuine transfers of technology on non-commercial terms and outside the intellectual property regimes.
- Help build capacity to negotiate with Western providers of technology and investment capital. Here, for example, countries such as India, China and Brazil have an experience and knowledge from which countries in Africa or the Caribbean may learn.
- Help build capacity building to negotiate in the WTO and related trading fora.
Create southern financial and credit institutions (the creation of the Bank of the South, for example, is a step in the right direction).
- Give further impetus to the Global System of Trade Preferences (GSTP) that allows the countries of the South to make preferential concessions to one another without having to extend these to the countries of the North.
Development of regional markets and free trade areas outside of the ambit of North-dominated FTAs such as, for example, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
- South-South news agencies and broadcasting systems.
- South-South exchange of knowledge and capacity to develop and utilise knowledge-intensive productive assets.
- Liberal rules allowing for the movement of people across borders, including relaxation of visa requirements.
9. What is to be done with the inherited institutional baggage of the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the IMF? The unrepresentative and illegitimate grouping of the so-called G20 countries (which, in essence, is the old G7/8 plus a few selected countries from the South) is seeking to extend a lifeline to these institutions looking for ways to survive the present crisis. The progressive forces of the South should put pressure on policy-makers in their countries not to bale out these institutions for to do so would be like inviting the fox back into the henhouse. If these institutions are dying, they should be allowed to die. The South and all progressive forces in the North must now try and create alternative financial structures, starting with the national to regional levels.
10. There is horrendous deficit in the global governance of the health of this planet and the environment. There is increasing consciousness that something has to be done about it, that the 1972 Rio agenda needs to be revisited, and that serious action is called for at the global as well as local level. The immediate priority for all concerned about climate change, to be sure, is to find the ways and means to achieve the goals set by the UNFCCC, Kyoto and Bali as we move towards Copenhagen. These must be done on the basis of the following principles:
a) The recognition of climate as a global public good;
b) Common but differentiated responsibility and capabilities for climate change;
c) Factoring into any negotiations of the historical responsibility of the industrialised countries for global warming;
d) The primacy of the United Nations process; and
e) The commitment to the broader human rights and development goals.
Equity demands that in the long run the world moves towards an equal per capita emissions at ecologically sustainable levels. Realism demands that we all must change our life-styles. If everybody were to emulate the ‘Western life style’ then we will need many more planets. But we only have this one planet with its finite resources. We are already reaching critical tipping points in large parts of the world such as in the Arctic sea, the Atlantic deep water formation, the meltdown of Greenland ice sheet, permafrost and tundra loss; etc. Small islands, such as the Maldives, are already facing the almost certainty of a catastrophe in not too distant a future.
The challenge humanity faces at this point in time is to balance the demands and needs of the immediate in the on-going negotiations on climate change under the UNFCCC with a move (also starting immediately) towards the longer term objective of a sensible approach to life-style and the search for alternative sources of renewable energy and replenishing of life-sustaining resources. The mitigation measures that are in place or in the pipeline for transport, building construction, industry, agriculture, urban planning, etc. are all very well, but unless an alternative source of energy is found – and quickly – all these mitigation measures will not ensure climate security whilst meeting the fair demand for an equitable development for all the citizens of the world. Changing life-style is the most pressing immediate to long-term objective.
The other immediate to long term pressing need is the search for a viable alternative source of energy than either hydro-carbons or nuclear. The Ecuadorian Yasuni project of leaving oil in the ground is an excellent initiative. The international community should seriously consider paying half the cost to the people of Ecuador for not bringing oil to the ground. If a small step, at least it is a step in the right direction, given that self-indulgent oil consumption is one of the major causes of global warming.
The bigger challenge is to reverse the 500 years old dependence on fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The reasons are not far to seek:
- Fossil fuel is a finite resource, no matter how hard profit-driven corporations try to persuade us that there is enough potential coal, oil and gas buried in land and under the seas.
- Even if emissions are reduced by 50 per cent of 2000 levels by 2050, this might reach emissions to around 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide but that would still mean a rise of 2-2.4 degrees celsius in temperature by 2050; whether this will stabilise the climate is still debatable;
- The global energy crisis and the rush for bio-fuels have serious implications for food security across the world, especially in the poor South;
- And, above all, and this is often overlooked in climate change debates, the scramble for oil and gas is a major source of conflicts in the world (Caucasus, Middle East, Africa, Latin America), that has led, and could lead, to increased instances of war, violence and violations of human rights.
11. Finally, there is need for the North, and this includes the left in the North, to remove their 50 years of blinkers on the Palestine question. Guilt-ridden Europe and America had dumped what was essentially a European problem into the heartland of the Middle East. The fact of the matter is that the West is exploiting the Jews in Israel for their own geo-political and strategic interests in the Persian Gulf area, and the Jews, in turn, are super-exploiting the Arabs amongst them and oppressing the Arab nation. The war in Gaza has finally brought home the point that the two-state ‘solution’ is not workable. I have written on the subject on one of the issues of the South Centre publication, South Bulletin, suggesting a possible way out of this age-old problem, including the relocation of the willing Jewish population from Israel to lands allocated between Nevada and California in the US, a prospect that may look unrealistic now, but one that is quite doable, once the futility of the two-state imposed solution becomes evident.
The above is a list of my ideas. They are neither a blueprint nor an agenda. They are reflections focused on the global or systemic aspects of the crisis of Western civilisation. I have not touched the complex set of issues that need to be faced at the regional, national and sub-national level. This is a vast area, and needs a whole new paper.
At the end of the day, it is the people that are the drivers for change. These include, among others:
- People in villages and peri-urban areas where the vast majority of the peoples of the South live, and that means the bulk of humanity
- Peoples` movements and leaders of progressive and pro-people non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
- Academic and social activists that seek to create a more just and humane society.
Many of these are already involved in reflecting on, and working on, alternative paths to human development based on the principles of justice, common values of humanity, and peace. One example of this is the ANSA project in Southern Africa. ANSA stands for Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa – a broad-based movement led by sections of the trade unions and progressive intellectuals in the region of southern Africa, a movement that is still in its early stages, and that is supported, among others, by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation on the basis of the principles of solidarity.
We, as peoples of the world, have to take back the right to think and plan, which for 30 years and more we have surrendered to the very people and institutions that are the authors of the civilisational crisis that stares at us with multiple faces and manifestations. We must claim back the lost grounds. We must come out in the open to declare that the G20 meeting that is in session in London – now as I speak – is unrepresentative, illegitimate and does not have the mandate of the people of the world. We cannot allow the very authors of the present civilisational crisis and ask them to write the future history of mankind. We cannot surrender to the banks and global financial institutions to determine the destiny of our future generations and the global environment when they have been so reckless in managing their own finances.
We must get out of the intellectual and ideological ghettoes created by neoliberal orthodoxy and their global and national institutions of research and learning. The time has come for a radical paradigm shift in the way we think and act.
The time has come for the ordinary people of the world to own the universe.
* Yash Tandon is former executive director of the South Centre, and chairman of SEATINI (Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute)
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.