Archive for August, 2011

The Grand Stagnation

August 22, 2011

It has been said that things are going very fast lately. Perhaps it can be said that, equally, there is a slowing-down effect, a stagnation. Things don’t seem to be going very well for the world economy lately, but I am nevertheless tempted to say that this one of the “happy” periods of capitalism. One of the reasons why is that a financial crisis does not necessarily weaken capitalism as a mode of production, it can indeed serve to strengthen it in the long-term. Not even individual capitalists seem to be particularly worse off – the number of millionaires just keep growing.

The primary reason I can say it is a happy period for capitalism, though, is through looking at history – and the emphasis on class struggle. World War Two is usually said to have had a knock-off effect on labour strengthening its position. But as James Heartfield writes in the article World War as Class War the war served to weaken it. The economical growth in the 50’s was tremendous, mostly due to the technological knock-off effects from the war. There was a lot of stagnation in the “social” field, though, with the glass roof ever-present and the Cold War environment hampering the development of commons.

The thing with how society worked in the West (the state capitalist USSR not deserving much of a mention) is the strong position labour nevertheless came to have, due to the craftskill of each individual worker and the general shortage of labour, giving great negotiation power. This was most visible in Sweden, which was the least effected by the privations of war. A high minimum wage and great security of the worker forced companies to constantly innovate. A turning point would perhaps be the wild strikes and general social upheaval of the ’68 revolutions.

The Oil Crisis, when the oil-producing countries of the Middle East used their oil as a political weapon could perhaps obfuscate matters here, since it happened in 1974, very close to ’68. I am not sure if they excacerbated the tendencies I shall elaborate upon next or not. The artifical oil shortage did push innovation in alternative energy sources, only for them to be mostly discarded once the crisis was over.

Anyway, this turmoil forced capital to renew itself, try to shake off the dependencies of the worker, or the strong unionized one of the West at least. Note that this way of looking at the developments of capitalism differs from how the worker is often painted as a passive subject of the reshaping of capital. Labour-saving technology was invested in – contrary to the trumpeting of technology as requiring more poly-technical skill – as part of the so-called “knowledge society” – these machines defanged the worker as it required less skill to use. Requiring less people overall to use made capital less vulnerable to labour shortage, and unemployment levels worsen the position of the working class overall.

After, and as this went on, capital also found another weapon in its struggle against labour. Letting production happen overseas, especially in Far East Asia, where labour standards are worse and the cost of production markedly lower, despite the distance. This pushed countries in the West to carry out the seemingly foolish action of disestablishing its own industrial base.

There’s a conundrum for capital here, of course, one which has been present in capitalism as a way of production from the very beginning, and which Karl Marx has written about in great detail. Overproduction. This way of breaking the position of labour through labour-saving technology and outsourcing has the obvious effect of pressing wages down, and thus leaving fewer to actually buy the products being produced. A  way to try to combat this has been the increased financialization of the economy. Simplified, the people in the West are the consumers which the global economy hinges on, and the way to try to keep their consumerism going has been through increasinly indebting these. The current crisis could be seen to be partly caused by this specific type of action. Heck, even the Eastern countries have fallen prey to this, as debt keeps increasing behind the bureaucratic walls of China.

Capitalism thus have the wheels burrowed in the mud again, and looks to be needing a push. Capitalism has the odd ability of being able to die, but to keep going as a zombie, but we need to dezombiefy it and ensure it’s actually living and… OK, I’m not sure where I’m going with these metaphors, but try to misunderstand me correctly. Commons can serve as an alternative to capitalism. Voluntary labour between free people on the basis of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” can compete directly with capitalism, mayhaps forcing it to reshape as it always has done. The thing is to try to keep pushing until it dies. And stays dead. “The shortening of the working day is its basic prerequisite”, as Karl Marx put it.


The 19th Century Deislamification of Europe

August 2, 2011

Stumbled upon this post on today which I found quite interesting:

Here is a map of the population of the Ottoman Balkans by subprovince that I painstakingly assembled, which I think is pretty interesting, and opens a lot of AH channels as well. I did this as research for a TL that I’m working on with a different outcome of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78 and Treaty of Berlin (1878).

A few striking points:

1. Muslims were a majority or at least a plurality in a surprising proportion of the Balkans – the only place where they are not a strong presence is the Aegean Islands. On the continent there are only three provinces where they are not a majority/plurality: Sofya, Manastir, and Yanya. They constitute approximately 43% of the total population of the Balkans (not including the Istanbul province).

2. Bulgaria was put in the wrong place. Large swaths of it contained very few Bulgars at all, necessitating the ethnic cleansing of huge numbers of Muslims, and the Bulgars of Macedonia were left out of the Bulgarian state.

3. The position of the Muslim population probably goes a long way to explain the resilience and longevity of the empire – and the border regions tended to be heavily Muslim.

4. The Muslim area of the Tuna province (today’s northern Bulgaria) was principally Turkish, with a large number of Tatars and Circassians, the latter two constituting about a third of the Muslim population. Much of the Turkic element actually preceded the Ottoman period and had lived in the area as long as the Bulgars had.

5. Muslims were nearly a majority in Bosnia, which included Novi Pazar. They were overwhelmingly converted Serbo-Croats.

6. There is more detail for Bosnia and Bulgaria because these provinces were investigated before the Russo-Ottoman War. Figures from the census of 1881 are good, but by then the remaining territories of the empire were much more heavily Muslim, so it’s only possible to determine the overall Muslim percentage of the population for the province as a whole, except Iskodra, where no refugees went.

7. Language ran in a continuum, running roughly West to East, beginning as Serbo-Croatian and drifting into Bulgarian – it was not until after the creation of ethnic nationalist states that dialects were standardized. That is why the question of to whom Macedonia “belonged” was so tricky. Obviously though, Greek, Albanian, and Turkish were totally separate languages.

8. The category “Greek” is tricky because in censuses this included all Orthodox Christians until the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate. The Patriarchate attempted to Hellenize as much of the Slavic and Albanian population as possible in pursuit of the Megali Idea. They had some success.

The Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78 was a human catastophe as well as a geopolitical one.

The Muslims of the region suffered horrendous mortality. Approximately 850,000 were massacred outright, a similar number died as refugees, and many more were resettled in the remaining Ottoman Balkans and Anatolia.

The best statistics available in the post-war period are not surprisingly the Austrian census data for Bosnia. There we see the tell-tale drop off in the number of young males which is characteristic of ethnic cleansing, and continued long into the Hapsburg period. The Muslim birthrate also plummeted.

The influx of refugees and the continuing stream of Muslim immigrants from the Balkan states had a drastic impact on the ethnic balance of the territories remaining to the empire. By the turn of the 20th c, only Yanya did not have a Muslim majority or comfortable plurality.

The Balkan Wars resulted in an even greater loss of life, followed by WWI which topped even that. This is the primary reason why modern Turkey is so paranoid about separatism – it has inevitably been accompanied by ethnic cleansing, if not genocide, on a massive scale.

Anyway, with regard to AH possibilities, the following spring to mind:

1. The loss of the Balkans is not inevitable. If the Ottomans can stay out of wars with Great Powers, the population balance is likely to increasingly tilt Muslim as rail lines are built and people move from poorer areas or the empire to the more developed regions of the Balkans. If the Capitulations are abolished and universal conscription is introduced, a number of Christians will emmigrate. This did happen in the 20th c when conscription of Christians was instituted.

2. There seems to be to be a great likelihood that if Bulgaria had achieved statehood under more “normal” circumstances (i.e. through gradual increases of autonomy as experienced by Serbia and Rumania), it would have been located further West.

3. If Bulgaria does gain independence, the Ottoman position in Albania and Bosnia is untenable. However, it does seem quite possible that the Ottomans would be able to retain a large swath in the Balkans covering the Eastern half of today’s Bulgaria and stretching to Salonika.

4. Due to the language issue in point 7 above, the creation of a large South Slav state including Bulgaria is conceivable. Serbia is the fulcrum, and is the obvious focal point for it, but not necessarily as there are a lot more Bulgars than there are Serbs.

5. The areas that are Albanian Orthodox are vulnerable to Hellenization. This happened to an extent even during the Ottoman period, and Greece managed to almost totally obliterate Albanian identity in the areas it absorbed in the Balkan Wars. It’s interesting that the areas Greece ended up with were largely Greek or at least Greek-Orthodox plurality or majority.

The principal source for this is Kemal Karpat, Ottoman Population, 1830-1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics

I have also used Justin McCarthy’s works as well as a lot of 19th c European ethnographic studies.