(Warsaw, Poland. Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky (2017) All Rights Reserved (C)).
12 February 2018
By Joshua Tartakovsky
We live in times of such fascinating transformation, that not to write about them, not to analyze them, however imperfectly, not to put what we see into writing, is a pity, even though nowadays few bother to read and people’s minds are shaped by images and short statements that often cannot be backed up by a more comprehensive argument besides “I feel this to be the truth.” (Which, by the way, is not of course to say that people should not rely on the whispers of their intuition in their approach to life, but that they should develop the ability to reason and consider possibilities that oppose their views, even though we live at a time where due to the advanced decline of the west, the massive comfortable lives we have obtained, we do not like to examine uncomfortable truths or anything that may disturb our narcissism which we will justify in self-righteous indignation).
The harbingers of a new world
As economic realities have pushed to the end of what we have known so far and the beginning of the unknown. Sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, and many others, have long predicted that capitalism of the past 500 years is coming to an end, and we are currently at its death pangs in a process that can continue another forty years at least. What this means, is that as this system comes to an end, chaos and anarchy will grow. Equally significant is the fact that the current system, which is not the worse of all systems as Wallerstein often points out, will not necessarily be replaced by a more humane system but can be replaced also by a more authoritarian and less-egalitarian system (think of feudalism; and at times when the majority of wealth is in the hands of relatively a small percentage of people while the rest of people are in debt, than surely those who have the wealth will not, reasonably, seek to spread it out to others, and therefore a police state or a dictatorship of sorts may ensue).
Signs of the crisis are all over, but here are some examples:
- The difficulty of western democratic parties to form stable coalitions as people are becoming equally and bitterly divided between the left and the right and as no side gains a clear majority. At the moment Germany formed an unstable Grand Coalition which will come to the vote of the SPD voters in March 4 and is likely to be short-lived).
- The growth of parties on the fringe, both right and left, that seek to overthrow what they perceive to be an unsustainable status-quo.
- The rapid automation and stagnant salaries which means more unemployment and rising cost of living respectively. (While unemployment has been historically low in the US, many Americans are in debt).
- The growing economic crisis in western countries where a significant percentage of the population (at least 25% is unemployed): Spain, Greece, Italy while the economy has improved and employment has grown in many EU members that lie in eastern Europe (Poland, for example). This can be explained, perhaps, partly because the former have reached the end of their development while the latter still have many unexplored and unexploited opportunities as they modernize from the former Communist systems to EU capitalism.
- The growing cost of living and the stagnation of salaries that has remained in place in the US since the 1970s (which has also marked the beginning era of neoliberalism, i.e., privatizations, cutting of social spending, less wasteful spending etc.)
At the same time, while the western hemisphere has largely been afflicted by an economic crisis, the East has been largely awakening and rising from its slumber and its growth has been constant. (It should also be said that placing this as a west versus east issue is overly simplistic. There has been growth in Poland and decline in Italy, growth in Kenya and decline in Japan, etc.)
Generally speaking, the US is now a hugely indebted country, just as the majority of citizens in western countries are indebted citizens. We have a huge bubble in our midst (indeed, Wall Street has recently begun to blame the insurance debt bubble for the recent slide in the markets). As more bubbles explode, we are likely to face growing economic pressures, polarization, chaos and the rise of the fringes.
Interestingly, some countries are likely to go the path of protectionism (UK, EU, US, China), which means that in the coming interim era mobilization will hit a wall. As we speak, it is becoming harder and will soon be impossible for EU citizens to relocate to the UK. It would be interesting to see if a trade war that has begun only mildly, between the US, EU and China will also result in the US and EU revoking visa agreements between the two powers. An unlikely scenario but not an impossible one).
Poland, that has suffered immensely under the Nazi occupation introduced a new law that made it illegal to refer to the death camps built on its land by the German occupying force as “Polish death camps.” Poland was occupied and raped and 6 million of its people (3 million of whom Polish Jews) were exterminated. To refer to Auschwitz as a Polish death camp, would suggest, at the very least that the Polish state carried the extermination, that the camp was run by Poles, or that the Poles took active part in a genocide as a people. While there were acts of murder of Jews carried out by Poles in large scales, and these should be investigated, researched and exposed, Poland as a nation and state were dismantled and dismembered by Germany. Moreover, many Poles fought against the Nazi (the most well-known heroic example being the Warsaw Ghetto revolt), and only a small percentage of Poles collaborated with the Nazis and murdered Jews, unlike in Lithuania and West Ukraine where much larger percentages participated. Moreover, the law did not prohibit academic research. While the law may be too nationalistic for some, its existence makes sense.
However, for Israel the law was too much. This was not only since the Poles dared to claim that they were victims too, but also since they dared to speak about World War II from the position of its victims, a position taken by Israel that sees all other claims as threatening.
Truth be told, both many Israelis and many Poles have victim-like-mentalities, for justified historical reasons, and it is not surprising that the two countries have engaged in a bitter and cynical war of words on this issue. But while many Jews were financially compensated for the Holocaust, Poland was not (nor was Greece for that matter). And many youth in Israel today do not understand or know how the Nazis carried out their occupation of Poland, the many acts of rebellion taken by Polish underground groups, and Nazi views of Poland as a land to be subjugated and raped for the master-race. This is besides the fact that Israel has enough unfriendly allies, and it is strange that it seeks to pick up a fight with Poland, a staunch ally that is also a strongly pro-US nation. While Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennet made various ignorant comments about Poland and clearly does not know history, Prime Minister Netanyahu who for all his faults is too intelligent not to not know, should have corrected him.
Changing Rules of Engagement, Syria’s Brings Down an Israeli plane
On Sunday, following an incursion into the Golan Heights of an Iranian drone that was brought down by Israel, Israel bombed targets in Syria and one of its F-16 crashed to the ground after it was brought down by a Soviet S-200. A wounded Israeli pilot who managed to escape was treated in Israel. I stand to be corrected, but I believe this is the first time in 20 years that an Israeli war plane was brought down.
While high ranking Israeli officials have been warning Iran that they will engage against it, the fact that a major war did not unfold following the humiliating crash of a state-of-the-art F-16 by an ageing Soviet rocket, means that Israel is weaker than it pretends to be. Syria, with Russian and Iranian support, made it clear that it will no longer tolerate aerial incursions in violation of its sovereignty, and following talks with Russian president Putin and with Secretary of State Tillerson, Netanyahu has not retaliated as many in Israel would have expected.
The middle east is changing rapidly. Syria under Assad is here to stay, a well-equipped Hezbollah is here to stay and Israel no longer enjoys the freedom to operate as it wishes. Israel may seek to destroy Hezbollah’s missiles that can threaten its citizens, but by doing so it would be engulfed in a three-front-war, facing attacks from Syria, Lebanon and Gaza (with uprisings in the West Bank too) and days of bombardments (from the north) without end that will bring all economic activity to a halt and after which a victory is not secured (as it was not secured in the 2006 war).
Some in Israel wish to bring down Hezbollah since they cannot tolerate losing their hegemonic status by having an advanced enemy threatening them, but by doing so they would usher in a wide war that Israel (and Lebanon) will pay a heavy price for.
Palestinian families still survive every day, living proudly on their land and enjoying agricultural produce. They may have not modernized before 1948 and may have not carried out massive industrialization, but they carry the history, food, spices, cooking, legacy, architecture and traditions of the land, and if they are gone, as will never happen and as many in Israel wish, so will the spirit, tradition and soul of this indigenous people disappear with it, creating a frozen, western, modern, soulless civilization (which in fact what the Israeli settler youth by settling on stolen hilltops seeks to prevent). The Jews, who returned to their homeland, have much to learn from the Palestinians and vice versa. But Zionism never sought to integrate into the region and merge into the people, instead it sought to destroy the living history of the land as embodied in its residents and to impose a fantasy and a western construct.
China’s Socialist Market Economy has the People in Mind
If I were to differentiate or asked to summarize the difference between the US and China economy I would say the following: In China, the government sets the tone in the direction of what it sees as the well-being of its citizens. It therefore prohibits and limits the activity of companies that do not benefit the goal of providing for the general good, and promotes economic growth and employment. The government controls the corporation and not vice versa.
In the US, on the other hand, the corporations control the government and tell it what to pursue. They seek private profit and not the well-being of the majority of citizens and the US government complies with their requests.
While Trump has brought back corporations to the US and should be praised for this by Americans, lobbying groups representing corporations still hold disproportionate sway over US representatives decision-making, and the elected officials serve these financial interests (big Pharma for example), not those of the American people.