Thursday, 26 February 2015

Cricket: What is Momentum and how relevant is it?

Mark Nicholas in Cricinfo

What exactly is momentum in sport and how relevant is it? Do New Zealand's cricketers have enough momentum to carry them past Australia this weekend? Can momentum overcome talent?

Essentially momentum is form and confidence. It is usually associated with a winning streak, a succession of performances that either truly reflect ability or, better still, lift that ability beyond its norm. This is presently the case with Brendon McCullum, whose bravado is driven by the need to prove to his team that anything is possible. He wants them to play without inhibition of any kind and if that means breaking boundaries (metaphorically and literally) then so be it. This is because most cricketers play with traffic in their head. The game bares heart, mind and soul. Insecurity, affectation and failure are the enemies. The enemies play tricks and cause confusion. A clear head is the holy grail.

McCullum might as well be saying: "If you think you can or you think you can't, you are probably right."

In Riding the Wave of Momentum, American author Jeff Greenwald says: "The reason momentum is so powerful is the heightened sense of self-confidence it gives us. There is a phrase in sports psychology known as self-efficacy, which is simply a player's belief in his or her ability to perform a specific task or shot. Typically, a player's success depends on this efficacy."

I once asked Andy Flower what he thought was the most important part of his job as the England coach. He said it was to have the players ready and able to make the right choices under pressure. This caught me off guard but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Single moments define cricket matches. At critical times these may be any one of a brave shot made, or one not attempted; a brilliant ball that outthinks the batsman; smart anticipation by a fielder that leads to a run-out; a masterly move by the captain who understands what the opponent likes least.

Flower felt that for a period under Andrew Strauss, England consistently made good choices. This led them to become the No. 1 team in the world. The flaw in Strauss' team was the formulaic nature of the play. If an opponent had the mind to challenge it, and the efficacy to pull it off, the England team seemed oddly unable to react. Witness Hashim Amla's 311 at The Oval, during which Graeme Swann, a key figure for Strauss, was so comfortably played from a guard on and outside off stump. In all the time I watched Swann bowl, I never saw him so witless in response. And by such a simple tactic!

During a momentum shift, self-efficacy is very high as the players have immediate proof of their ability to match the challenge. They then experience subsequent increases in energy and motivation that lead to a feeling of enthusiasm and control. The corollary is that a sportsman's image of himself changes. He feels invincible, which, naturally enough, takes him to a higher level.

David Warner is a good illustration of this. First a devastating T20 batsman, then a prolific Test batsman and now an intimidating 50-over batsman. With the various ages of Warner have come a variety of changes - some to technique and application, some to attitude, others to fitness, health and lifestyle. His momentum has run parallel to the improved performances by the Australian team. This is no surprise. They go hand in hand. The trick for Warner now is to retain - some might say regain - humility.

In his formative years Robin Smith was coached by the highly intelligent former Natal player Grayson Heath. Probably Robin was over-coached. Heath grooved technique and shot execution. But he did not free the mind. This is less a criticism than a reflection of the time. It was a more respectful age, both in society and of bowlers, whose examination of technique was greater than it is now.

Heath - a wonderful man, with cricket set deep in his soul - would marvel at McCullum, or AB de Villiers, as much for their carefree approach as their inspirational effect. Heath preached an equation: A + H = C. Arrogance plus humility equals confidence. Both de Villiers and McCullum perfectly reflect the equation. Humility in a sportsman is paramount. Without humility, momentum will easily be derailed. After all, momentum is winning and no person or team wins all the time.

The key to not losing momentum is to retain perspective and to remain grounded. Why do Chelsea, dominant in the Premiership, suddenly concede four goals and lose to Bradford in the FA Cup? I wasn't there but the fair bet would be indifference (inexcusable) or complacency (believable). Hard as José Mourinho must work to avoid this, even he cannot invade the heads of his players and correct them in a season of some 60-odd matches.

The other explanation for such a defeat is fatigue. Mourinho watches this closely but tends to play his MVPs for long stretches. No sportsman can beat fatigue. It is inevitable. The point is that you will lose some time. How you lose is what matters. Did you cover all bases? If so, momentum need not be lost.

The test for New Zealand, though it may not apply to Saturday's group match, will be to deal with the pressure of an event that troubles the mind. Australian cricketers trouble the mind. McCullum's assault against England was a real f*** you of a performance. It said to his men: "They are not worthy." Had he got out cheaply, it would have said the same dismissive thing - like his approach in the chase against Scotland. Had New Zealand lost, it would have been awkward and may have derailed the team. But he didn't think for a minute they would lose and his innings sent that message loud and clear.

His captaincy does much the same: "We are all over you and don't forget it." His tactics challenge prosaic thinking. His bowlers are empowered to take wickets. His fieldsmen are inspired by his own startling fielding performances. This style is more All Black than Black Cap. But for Richie McCaw read Brendon McCullum.

All Black or Black Caps? © Getty Images

The journey has not been easy. Ross Taylor was popular and the fall-out from McCullum's obvious desire to take his job was unpleasant. Taylor withdrew into himself, a loss of cricket expression that New Zealand could ill afford. Former players raged against the machine. McCullum had to deliver or he was toast.

Like Taylor, he is a good man. Arguably, he is more secure. This tournament will define him.

In the face of Australia, the Black Caps must, and surely will, continue to play McCullum's game. This means sticking to the flow, not overthinking or overanalysing. The minute you change approach, or even marginalise, you screw up. If you focus too much on the outcome, it becomes difficult to play so freely. An attacking mindset can all too easily become a defensive mindset. The outcome needs to be a given. Concern for the consequences diverts attention from what must be done.

Australia are the more talented team but they have been sleeping for a fortnight; the captain has been immobilised for three months. This is the time to get them. Momentum should carry New Zealand over this line because the consequences are not a major issue. Come the knockout stage, the traffic will creep in. Creep, creep until the brain is scrambled. Can McCullum's bold interpretation of cricket remain New Zealand's force when the stakes are at their highest? Or will momentum suddenly count for nothing?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The jihadi girls are just part of a long line attracted to mad, bad men

Yasmin Alibhai Brown in The Independent

As I write this, the three Muslim teenage girls from East London are still missing. Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16 and an unnamed 15-year-old are believed to have gone off to join Isis. Their friend, another 15-year-old, took off in December and seems to have “inspired” them to do the same. In their photographs they are dressed like average British teenagers. These are academically gifted girls, whose parents are bewildered and distraught.

I used to teach English to young Bangladeshi and Somali mothers in this area. Denied education themselves when they were young, what they all wanted was for their daughters to become doctors, businesswomen and teachers, grab life chances, reach the top.

One of them, Razia, gave me her purse to look after. It contained her savings and cash she had got after selling some of her wedding jewellery. She was building up a fund so her daughter could go to college one day. Her husband was a boor and bully but she somehow kept her hopes and dreams alive for her children. When she finished the course, the purse contained almost £1,200. I rang her to ask how she felt about these East End girl jihadis. “My daughter became a teacher. She can’t understand. Allah, what is happening to them? The devil must have got into their heads. Or maybe they want to shock their parents. To be bad, not good.” Wise words.

Hundreds of impressionable young Muslim girls from around the world have been enticed to join Isis. Some have taken up arms, others have handed themselves over to some of the most violent men in the world today. A study by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue found evidence that such groupies “revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation”. They seem willing to accept Isis’s hardline code of conduct and want to submit to brute male power.

This phenomenon is widespread and not confined to fanatic Islam. Women and girls throughout history have been fatally attracted to fascists, communists, revolutionary armies and serial killers. Sometimes it is the cause that consumes them. I have just returned from Vietnam where, during the many wars that have beset that lovely country, beautiful, innocent young girls volunteered to fight with guerrilla forces and to die.

In Cuba, similarly, teenage girls rushed to join the resistance armies. Much is made of their “beautiful sacrifice”. But did they even understand what they were signing up to? In her book, Women and Guerrilla Movements (2002), Karen Kampwirth suggests that some of the youthful volunteers “want to escape the tedium of their homes, to join another sort of family, start life anew”.

Then there are those who are drawn to monstrous men and extreme politics. Messianic fervour, millenarianism and magnetism can whip up female hormones alarmingly. In one of Sylvia Plath’s last poems, “Daddy”, she delves into her complicated relationship with her German father. “Every woman adores a fascist/The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you.”

In the Thirties, fascist Oswald Moseley was one of Britain’s most charismatic politicians. Joan Bond, a young poetess, glorified this nasty man who promoted the cult of motherhood and obedience. He married Diana Mitford, an aristocrat. The wedding took place in the living room of Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler was the only other guest. Diana remained loyal to her husband and other fascists till she died in 2003. Her sister Unity was besotted with Hitler and another, Decca, was lured by communism.

Mussolini had a limitless supply of nubile mistresses, many of whom described with pride the pain he inflicted on them. Teenage girls were recruited into Piccole Italiane, a training camp for Italian fascists. In Germany the equivalent was The League of German Girls. When you look at pictures of the recruits, with ribbons in their hair and faces full of optimism, you wonder how this could ever happen. Just as we do now over the Isis handmaidens. 

In the dark web of the female psyche lie these desires for pain, self destruction and annihilation. And cravings too for notoriety, the thrill of transgression, of doing something seriously wrong. Those who court danger don’t all go join armies and cults. Some, for example, choose to befriend and even marry callous murderers. It is the ultimate romantic adventure.

Denise Knowles, the Relate counsellor, believes: “These women crave recognition that comes from being attached to a gangster or dangerous criminal.” Sometimes it is an extension of teenage rebellion. Women who have had a sheltered upbringing are most prone to these liaisons. Within this spectrum, I would also include women who go for abusive partners and never break from the pattern.

The female Isis jihadis are no different from all those women who seem to go for men and messages outside the civilised norms. It may be madly exciting but for most, anguish will surely follow and then death or desolation without end.

Are low oil prices here to stay?

 By Richard Anderson 

Business reporter, BBC News

Predicting the oil price is a bit of a mug's game.
There are simply too many variables involved to make any kind of meaningful, definitive forecast.
What we do know is that, despite a recent upturn, the price of oil has slumped almost 50% since last summer following the longest-running decline for 20 years.
And we know why - US shale oil, and to a lesser extent Libyan oil returning to the market, has pushed up supply while a slowdown in the Chinese and EU economies has reduced demand.
Add to the mix a strong US dollar making oil more expensive in real terms, pushing demand even lower, and you have a recipe for a plummeting oil price.
What happens next is a little harder to see.
With the booming US shale industry showing little signs of slowing, and growing concerns about the strength of the global economy, there are good reasons to suspect that the current slump in the oil price will continue for some time.
This is precisely when Opec, the cartel of major global oil producers, would normally step in to stabilise prices by cutting production. It has done so many times in the past, so often in fact that the market expects Opec to intervene.
This time it hasn't. In a historic move at the end of last year, Opec said not only that it would not cut production from its 30 million barrels a day (mb/d) quota, but had no intention of doing so even if oil fell to $20 a barrel.
And this was no empty threat. Despite furious opposition from Venezuela, Iran and Algeria, Opec kingpin Saudi Arabia simply refused to bail out its more vulnerable cohorts - many Opec members need an oil price of $100 or more to balance their budgets, but with an estimated $900bn in reserves, Saudi can afford to play the waiting game.
Opec now supplies a little over 30% of the world's oil, down from almost 50% in the 1970s, partly due to US shale producers flooding the market with almost 4 mb/d from a standing start 10 years ago.
"Given this scenario, who should be expected to cut production to put a floor under prices?" Opec argued last month.
Equally, Saudi is not prepared to sacrifice more market share while its competitors, not least US shale oil producers, prosper. Safe in the knowledge that it can withstand very low oil prices for the best part of a decade, it would rather stand back and, as Philip Whittaker at Boston Consulting Group says, "let economics do the work".
The implications of Opec's decision, therefore, go way beyond sending the oil price crashing even further.
"We have entered a new chapter in the history of the oil market, which is now starting to operate like any non-cartel commodity market," says Stuart Elliott at energy specialist Platts.
The fallout has been immediate in many parts of the industry, and promises to wreak further havoc in the coming months and, quite possibly, years.
'Serious risks'

Without Opec artificially supporting the oil price, and with potentially weaker demand due to sluggish global economic growth, the oil price is likely to remain below $100 for years to come.
The futures market suggests the price will recover slowly to hit about $70 by 2019, while most experts forecast a range of $40-$80 for the next few years. Anything more precise is futile.
At these kinds of prices, a great many oil wells become uneconomic. First at risk are those developing hard to access reserves, such as deepwater wells. Arctic oil, for example, does not work at less than $100 a barrel, says Brendan Cronin at Poyry Managing Consultants, so any plans for polar drilling are likely to be shelved for the foreseeable future.
World's top oil producers, 2014 (million barrels a day)

  • US: 11.75
  • Russia: 10.93
  • Saudi Arabia: 9.53
  • China: 4.20
  • Canada: 4.16
  • Iraq: 3.33
  • Iran: 2.81
  • Mexico: 2.78
  • UAE: 2.75
  • Kuwait: 2.61
Source: IEA
North Sea oil production is also at serious risk, certainly in terms of new wells that need an oil price of about $70-$80 to justify drilling. Indeed in a recent interview with Platts, the head of Oil & Gas UK said at $50, North Sea oil production could fall by 20%, dealing a hammer blow not just to the companies involved but to the Scottish economy as a whole.
Exploration into unproven reserves in regions such as Southern and West Africa will also grind to a halt.
Questions are also being asked about fracking. Costs vary a great deal, but research by Scotiabank suggests the average breakeven price for US shale producers is about $60. At the same price, energy research group Wood Mackenzie estimates that investment in new wells would halve, wiping out production growth.
"The vast majority [of US shale wells] just don't work at $40-$50," says Mr Cronin.
Oil majors are already suffering, having announced tens of billions of dollars of cuts in exploration spending. But while the share prices of BP, Total and Chevron are all down about 15% since last summer, the majors have the resources to see out a sustained period of low oil prices.
There are hundreds of other much smaller oil groups across the world with a far more uncertain future, not least in the US. Shale companies there have borrowed $160bn in the past five years, all predicated on selling oil at a higher price than we have today. Banks' patience can only be tested so far.
Oilfield services companies are also "feeling severe pain", according to Mr Whittaker, with share prices in the sector down an average 30%-50%. Last month, US giant Schlumberger announced 9,000 job cuts, some 8% of its entire workforce.
But it's not just oil companies that are being hit by lower oil prices - the renewables sector is suffering as well.
In the Middle East and parts of Central and South America, oil is in direct competition with renewables to generate electricity, so solar power in particular will suffer at the hands of cheap oil.
Fuel price calculator 

Elsewhere, falling oil prices are helping drive down the price of gas, the direct rival of renewables. Subsidies, therefore, may have to rise to compensate.
Indeed lower oil and gas prices undermine a fundamental economic argument propounded by many governments to support renewables - that fossil fuels will continue to rise in price.
The impact is already being felt - shares in Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, are down 15% since the summer, while those in Chinese solar panel giant JA Solar have slumped 20%.
Lower oil prices are also a grave concern for electric carmakers, with sales of hybrids in the US falling while those of gas-guzzling SUVs surge.
'Profound impact'

The knock-on effects within the energy industry of a sustained period of lower oil prices are, then, both widespread and profound.
But while Saudi Arabia's decision to call time on supporting the oil price marks an important milestone in the industry, oil's self-stabilising price mechanism remains very much intact - prices fall, production drops, supply falls, prices rise.
As a direct result of lower prices, exploration and production will be curtailed, and while it may take a number of years to filter through, supply will fall and prices will rise. After all, while there may be hundreds of new small suppliers entering the fray, there are still too few big players controlling oil supply for a truly free market to develop.
But real change is on the way. There is a growing realisation that fossil fuels need to be left in the ground if the world is to meet climate change targets and avoid dangerous levels of global warming.
Against this backdrop, it is only a matter of time before a meaningful carbon price - hitting polluters for emitting CO2 - is introduced, a price that will have a profound impact on the global oil market.
Equally, for the first time oil is facing a genuine competitor in the transport sector, which currently accounts for more than half of all oil consumption. Electric vehicles may be a niche market now, but as battery technology in particular advances, they will move inexorably into the mainstream, significantly reducing demand for oil.
The oil market is undergoing significant transformation, but more fundamental change is on the horizon.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The bishops’ letter to British politicians is a true act of leadership

Jon Cruddas in The Guardian

I welcome the pastoral letter by the bishops of the Church of England at many levels.

It expresses concern about the condition of our country and its public institutions, so it is by definition political; but it is not party political – and is all the better for it. It is as much a challenge to the left, and our commitment to the state and centralisation, as it is to the right with its unquestioning embrace of the market. Its roots are far deeper than 20th-century ideologies, drawing upon Aristotle and Catholic social thought every bit as much as the English commonwealth tradition of federal democracy.

It is a profound, complex letter, as brutal as it is tender, as Catholic as it is reformed, as conservative as it is radical. It draws upon ideas of virtue and vocation in the economy that are out of fashion, but necessary for our country as we defend ourselves from a repetition of the vices that led to the financial crash and its subsequent debt and deficit. It invites us to move away from grievance, disenchantment and blame, and towards the pursuit of the common good. 

It cannot be the case that any criticism of capitalism is received as leftwing Keynesian welfarism, and any public sector reform as an attack on the poor. This is precisely what the letter warns against, and it is a dismal reality of our public conversation that it has been received in that way.

I also welcome the letter as a profound contribution by the church to the political life of our nation. Christianity and the church have always been part of that story. Not as a dominant voice, but bringing an important perspective from an ancient institution that is present in every part of our country as a witness and participant. From the introduction of a legal order and the development of education, the church has been part of our body politic, so it is incorrect to say that the church should stay out of politics: it is morally committed to participation and democracy as a means, and the common good as the end.

One of the great things about faith traditions is that they do not think that the free market created the world. They have a concept of a person that is neither just a commodity nor an administrative unit, but a relational being capable of power and responsibility and of living with others in civic peace and prosperity. They also do not view the natural environment as a commodity, but an inheritance that requires careful stewardship. Conservatives and socialists have shared these assumptions and they could be the basis of a new consensus.

The bishops have said that the two big postwar political dreams – the collectivism of 1945 with its nationalisation and centralised universal welfare state, and the1979 dream of a free-market revolution – have both failed and we need to develop an alternative vision. As we know, 1997 was not the answer either. The financial markets and the administrative state are too strong and society is too weak. The bishops are right to say that the “big society” was a good idea that dissolved into an aspiration, by turns pious and cynical. The answer is not to return to the old certainties, but to ask why things failed and how society could be made stronger. I think that Labour’s policy review has made a strong start in this direction. 

The letter has a lot of interesting things to say about character and virtue and how these are best supported in human-scale institutions; how the family is a school of love and sacrifice, and how we can support relationships in a world that encourages immediate gratification and is in danger of losing the precious art of negotiation and accommodation. There is not enough love in the economic or political system, and the bishops are right to bring this to our attention.

In another expression of the generosity of thought in this letter, the lead taken by Pope Francis in addressing economic issues has been embraced. When the banks are borrowing at 2% and lending to payday lenders at 7%, which lend to the poor at 5,500%, the bishops are right to call this usury and to say that it is wrong. They are also right to say that there needs to be a decentralisation of economic as well as political power. They are right to say that there are incentives to vice when there should be incentives to virtue. They are right to say that work is a noble calling, that good work generates value, and that workers should be treated with dignity. They are right to value work and support a living wage, and to build up credit unions as an alternative to payday lenders.

They are also right to point out that competition is opposed to monopoly and not cooperation, which is necessary for a successful economy: an isolated individual can never become an autonomous person. They are also right to remind us of the importance of place and to warn us against a carelessness to its wellbeing.

That is why decentralisation and subsidiarity are vital for our country, so that we do not become a society of strangers, but can build bonds of solidarity and mutual obligation.

Above all, the bishops are right to assert that autonomous self-governing institutions that mediate between the state and the market are a vital part of our national renewal. The BBC, our great universities and schools, city governments and the church are our civic inheritance, and vital to the wellbeing of the nation. All are threatened by the centralised control of the market and state. We cannot do this alone, and that is why politics – doing things together – is important; and that is why the body politic and not just the state is important. Our cities and towns cannot take responsibility unless they have power.

As the election approaches there will be a tendency to turn everything into a party political conflict. That is understandable, but there is also a place for us to engage in a longer-term conversation, a covenantal conversation, about how we renew our inheritance and rise to the challenge of living together for the good.

I have read the letter and learned a great deal from it. I will read it again and reflect on its teaching because the issues it raises will endure beyond May.

Issues of how to build a common life under conditions of pluralism, how to engage people in political participation and self-government, how to decentralise political and economic power, how to resist the domination of the rich and the powerful, how to renew love and work so that life can be meaningful and fulfilling. These are the right questions to be asking.

I am grateful to the bishops for challenging us to develop a better and more generous politics and public conversation. It is an act of leadership.

Friday, 20 February 2015

World Cup 2015 is fixed, WhatsApp message claims

TNN - Times of India

NEW DELHI: In what may serve as a big blow to cricket enthusiasts, a message on WhatsApp that has gone viral claims that the ongoing ICC World Cup 2015 is fixed.

The shocking fact about this message is that all the results of the World Cup 2015 matches so far have come true and have matched what the message states.

According to the message, India will not be able defend their World Cup title and will also go on to lose against South Africa and Zimbabwe.

According to the message, India will beat New Zealand in the first quarterfinal, but will go down to Australia in the semifinal.

The message states that the second quarterfinal will be between Australia and Zimbabwe, in which Australia will be the winners, South Africa will beat England in the third quarterfinal and Sri Lanka will register their first World Cup victory against Pakistan by beating the 1992 champions in the fourth quarterfinal.

The message shows that South Africa will defeat hosts Australia in the final for their maiden World Cup title victory.

But Asian giants India and Sri Lanka won't progress beyond the semifinals as they will be beaten by arguably the two best teams in the competition - Australia and South Africa respectively, the message claims.

The message shows that South Africa will defeat hosts Australia in the final on March 29 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for their maiden World Cup title victory.

If this message is true indeed, then all the work done by the International Cricket Council against the fixers will clearly come to naught.

Why India v UAE is a win-win for Kollengode

Anand Vasu in Wisden India

At noon on February 28, the more enthusiastic cricket lovers of the village of Kollengode, some 20 km from the town of Palakkad in Kerala, will gather at a clearing and congregate before a giant screen erected to showcase one match. India will be playing a World Cup match in Perth, and a Kollengode boy will be proudly strutting his stuff. Ironically, it will not be for his beloved country, but for the United Arab Emirates, against India.
Krishna Chandran Karate – and he is quick to explain he is no lover of martial arts; the name is his mother’s family name, pronounced kaa-raa-te – will bat in the top order and bowl medium pace, much like his idol, Jacques Kallis.
At last count, the population of Kollengode was less than 20,000, and barely anyone from the village, known mostly for an Ayurveda centre, had made it even to the dizzy heights of playing for Kerala in the Ranji Trophy, forget about beyond.
“See, it’s going to be a big moment for people back home,” Krishna Chandran told Wisden India. “For people who saw me playing in my shorts, with a tennis ball, on the streets of Kollengode, it’s going to be a big thing to watch me on TV, playing against India, in a World Cup match, at a ground like the WACA.”
If the story began on the streets of Kollengode, it progressed more rapidly in Chennai, where Krishna Chandran studied in St John’s International school. “At first, I used cricket as an escape, just to get over feeling homesick,” says Krishna Chandran. “Then I began to enjoy being good at it and enjoy working on it.”
In inter-school tournaments, Krishna Chandran played against Dinesh Karthik. When he moved to Bangalore, he was in the same school as Robin Uthappa, and in college, Stuart Binny was his mate. When Krishna Chandran rose through the ranks in Kerala junior cricket and made it to the Under-19 team, Sreesanth was his room-mate. Today, in a second irony, Sreesanth will be at home, watching on TV as Krishna Chandran plays in the World Cup.
“It was a dream to one day play in the World Cup, but, frankly, I never thought it would happen. Many of my friends had gone on to play at that level, and I did feel left out,” he says. “In India you have to be consistent as a first class player for someone to even look at you. But I was never given an opportunity to do that. In that sense, my dream was crushed.”
Without a doubt, Krishna Chandran was never really given the opportunity to succeed by his home state. In 2008, he made his debut in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, against a strong Tamil Nadu team that included the likes of R Ashwin, M Vijay and S Badrinath; Krishna Chandran top-scored with 35 at No. 6 as all around him wickets fell and Kerala put on a lowly 91. In the next match, against Andhra, Krishna Chandran did not bat and took 1 for 31 as Kerala posted 317 and still lost. After this, he would never be picked to play a 50-over game for his state again.
Krishna Chandran tried different things to find his way back, moving clubs from Indian Bank to State Bank of Travancore and even chancing his arm with the Railways. When nothing worked, he got a job at a freight forwarding company in Dubai and packed his bags, but could not bring himself to turn his back on cricket.
“I never ever thought of giving up playing cricket,” he says. “But, all around me, people were telling me there was no point, that I was not going to get chances, that I didn’t have a job, that I was the elder son and that my family needed me to work. Everywhere I went, I had all these negative things being dumped into my mind by everyone. But if I don’t play cricket, it’s like I’m not able to breathe. I was so addicted to this game that it was my lover, my wife, my everything.”
Krishna Chandran made his debut for Kerala against Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2008, but didn't get an extended run to showcase his ability. © Wisden India
Krishna Chandran made his debut for Kerala against Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2008, but didn't get an extended run to showcase his ability. © Wisden India
The move to Dubai was not an immediate solution to all problems. For someone who spent his days out on a cricket field, sitting in front of a computer was not easy. It was a struggle to make the adjustment, and many, many errors were committed at work. But, cricket remained in Krishna Chandran’s life, through the Fanatics Club, and it was this that got him his current job, as a customer service representative at the cargo wing of Emirates. Krishna Chandran’s current boss is Narendra Jadeja, cousin of Ajay, and the son of a former Gujarat Ranji Trophy cricketer. Now, Krishna Chandran gets a bit of extra leeway on the morning after a match. Typically a 50-over match would begin at 5pm and end after 1am, meaning that it was past 2am when he reached home and close to 4am when he hit the sack. On such days, he would be allowed to come in later than the usual 8am.
Not everyone is so fortunate. “It’s very difficult for a lot of talented guys from back home. Firstly, if you are a Malayali, people in Dubai think you must be good at football but not cricket. Secondly, when you come from Kerala, you come there to work, not play,” he says, feeling for an explanation as to why he was the first Keralite to make it to the UAE national team, despite his compatriots breaking glass ceilings in almost every other profession.
“You might have once been a good cricketer back home, but in Dubai, no one really wants to hear about this. It’s about the 42 hours of work you have to put in a week. Among Indians, it is mostly Malayalis who play cricket in the UAE, and yet none had gone on to play for the national team. It’s a good feeling that my name will be in the history books as the first one. Hopefully this will open a door for other Malayalis there who want to play cricket as a career.”
Krishna Chandran’s phone has been buzzing, his parents are being recognised back home, and even in sleepy Nelson, a Malayali lady at a local restaurant couldn’t hide her excitement when she met him. “You know what they say, even if you go to the moon there will already be a Malayali there running a tea shop,” he says with a warm smile, his diamond-stud earring and thick gold chain making him look more like a piratical West Indian than a hard working Gulf Malayali.
“If I can make my parents proud, that is the biggest thing, beyond even playing in the World Cup. When you are getting recognised and along with that your family is, that is a great feeling.”
This feeling will be amplified a thousand times over in Kollengode and Palakkad over the coming days, when locals point excitedly at the television, beaming with pride at one of their own. In a third irony, Krishna Chandran himself was never one to sit in front of the TV. “I did not even watch a complete India match. When Sachin Tendulkar was batting, I would watch, and between every ball, I would run to the puja room to pray that he would not get out, and run back,” he says. “I did that through Tendulkar’s innings against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup, when he smashed Shoaib Akhtar. When Tendulkar got out, I would switch off the TV and go out to play.”
On February 28, Tendulkar will be in a television studio, watching India’s match against UAE as an expert. How ironic it would be, if Krishna Chandran was scoring runs, taking wickets and holding catches against his idol’s team. Ironic, and poetic, for it will show that sometimes, dreams do come true after all.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Thai Politics

Tariq Ali in conversation with journalist and author, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, on Thailand's biggest taboo: It's monarchy. Marshall is the author of "A Kindom in crisis" and he's prosecuted in the country for this publication. The two experts discuss the power struggle and transition in Thailand, the last coup, the regime's repression and Thai society's resistance.

The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State - Chasing a Mirage

Tarek Fatah

In Chasing a Mirage , Tarek Fatah writes: Islamists argue that the period following the passing away of Muhammad was Islam′s golden era and that we Muslims need to re–create that caliphate to emulate that political system in today′s world. I wish to demonstrate that when Muslims buried the Prophet, they also buried with him many of the universal values of Islam that he had preached. The history of Islam can be described essentially as the history of an unending power struggle, where men have killed each other to claim the mantle of Muhammad. This strife is a painful story that started within hours of the Prophet closing his eyes forever, and needs to be told. I firmly believe the message of the Quran is strong enough to withstand the facts of history. It is my conviction that Muslims are mature and secure in their identities to face the truth. This is that story.

A PDF version of the book can be found here

How I became an erratic Marxist

Yanis Varoufakis in The Guardian

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.

If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.

For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.

I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.

Yet my aim here is instead to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

Why a Marxist?

When I chose the subject of my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I deliberately focused on a highly mathematical topic within which Marx’s thought was irrelevant. When, later on, I embarked on an academic career, as a lecturer in mainstream economics departments, the implicit contract between myself and the departments that offered me lectureships was that I would be teaching the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx. In the late 1980s, I was hired by the University of Sydney’s school of economics in order to keep out a leftwing candidate (although I did not know this at the time).
FacebookTwitterPinterest Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day.’ Photograph: PA

After I returned to Greece in 2000, I threw my lot in with the future prime minister George Papandreou, hoping to help stem the return to power of a resurgent right wing that wanted to push Greece towards xenophobia both domestically and in its foreign policy. As the whole world now knows, Papandreou’s party not only failed to stem xenophobia but, in the end, presided over the most virulent neoliberal macroeconomic policies that spearheaded the eurozone’s so-called bailouts thus, unwittingly, causing the return of Nazis to the streets of Athens. Even though I resigned as Papandreou’s adviser early in 2006, and turned into his government’s staunchest critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion, my public interventions in the debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism.

Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist. But, in truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in “polite society” because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off. But I never deny it either. After a few years of addressing audiences with whom I do not share an ideology, a need has crept up on me to talk about Marx’s imprint on my thinking. To explain why, while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in one’s Marxism.

If my whole academic career largely ignored Marx, and my current policy recommendations are impossible to describe as Marxist, why bring up my Marxism now? The answer is simple: Even my non-Marxist economics was guided by a mindset influenced by Marx. A radical social theorist can challenge the economic mainstream in two different ways, I always thought. One way is by means of immanent criticism. To accept the mainstream’s axioms and then expose its internal contradictions. To say: “I shall not contest your assumptions but here is why your own conclusions do not logically flow on from them.” This was, indeed, Marx’s method of undermining British political economics. He accepted every axiom by Adam Smith and David Ricardo in order to demonstrate that, in the context of their assumptions, capitalism was a contradictory system. The second avenue that a radical theorist can pursue is, of course, the construction of alternative theories to those of the establishment, hoping that they will be taken seriously.

My view on this dilemma has always been that the powers that be are never perturbed by theories that embark from assumptions different to their own. The only thing that can destabilise and genuinely challenge mainstream, neoclassical economists is the demonstration of the internal inconsistency of their own models. It was for this reason that, from the very beginning, I chose to delve into the guts of neoclassical theory and to spend next to no energy trying to develop alternative, Marxist models of capitalism. My reasons, I submit, were quite Marxist.

When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process. How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history; how the discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and how silicon-based IT technologies are fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.

My first encounter with Marx’s writings came very early in life, as a result of the strange times I grew up in, with Greece exiting the nightmare of the neofascist dictatorship of 1967-74. What caught my eye was Marx’s mesmerising gift for writing a dramatic script for human history, indeed for human damnation, that was also laced with the possibility of salvation and authentic spirituality.

Marx created a narrative populated by workers, capitalists, officials and scientists who were history’s dramatis personae. They struggled to harness reason and science in the context of empowering humanity while, contrary to their intentions, unleashing demonic forces that usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity.

This dialectical perspective, where everything is pregnant with its opposite, and the eager eye with which Marx discerned the potential for change in what seemed to be the most unchanging of social structures, helped me to grasp the great contradictions of the capitalist era. It dissolved the paradox of an age that generated the most remarkable wealth and, in the same breath, the most conspicuous poverty. Today, turning to the European crisis, the crisis in the United States and the long-term stagnation of Japanese capitalism, most commentators fail to appreciate the dialectical process under their nose. They recognise the mountain of debts and banking losses but neglect the opposite side of the same coin: the mountain of idle savings that are “frozen” by fear and thus fail to convert into productive investments. A Marxist alertness to binary oppositions might have opened their eyes.

A major reason why established opinion fails to come to terms with contemporary reality is that it never understood the dialectically tense “joint production” of debts and surpluses, of growth and unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil. Marx’s script alerted us these binary oppositions as the sources of history’s cunning.

From my first steps of thinking like an economist, to this very day, it occurred to me that Marx had made a discovery that must remain at the heart of any useful analysis of capitalism. It was the discovery of another binary opposition deep within human labour. Between labour’s two quite different natures: i) labour as a value-creating activity that can never be quantified in advance (and is therefore impossible to commodify), and ii) labour as a quantity (eg, numbers of hours worked) that is for sale and comes at a price. That is what distinguishes labour from other productive inputs such as electricity: its twin, contradictory, nature. A differentiation-cum-contradiction that political economics neglected to make before Marx came along and that mainstream economics is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge today.

Both electricity and labour can be thought of as commodities. Indeed, both employers and workers struggle to commodify labour. Employers use all their ingenuity, and that of their HR management minions, to quantify, measure and homogenise labour. Meanwhile, prospective employees go through the wringer in an anxious attempt to commodify their labour power, to write and rewrite their CVs in order to portray themselves as purveyors of quantifiable labour units. And there’s the rub. If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish. This is an insight without which capitalism’s tendency to generate crises can never be fully grasped and, also, an insight that no one has access to without some exposure to Marx’s thought.
Science fiction becomes documentary

In the classic 1953 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the alien force does not attack us head on, unlike in, say, HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Instead, people are taken over from within, until nothing is left of their human spirit and emotions. Their bodies are shells that used to contain a free will and which now labour, go through the motions of everyday “life”, and function as human simulacra “liberated” from the unquantifiable essence of human nature. This is something like what would have transpired if human labour had become perfectly reducible to human capital and thus fit for insertion into the vulgar economists’ models.

FacebookTwitterPinterest Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Photograph: SNAP/REX

Every non-Marxist economic theory that treats human and non-human productive inputs as interchangeable assumes that the dehumanisation of human labour is complete. But if it could ever be completed, the result would be the end of capitalism as a system capable of creating and distributing value. For a start, a society of dehumanised automata would resemble a mechanical watch full of cogs and springs, each with its own unique function, together producing a “good”: timekeeping. Yet if that society contained nothing but other automata, timekeeping would not be a “good”. It would certainly be an “output” but why a “good”? Without real humans to experience the clock’s function, there can be no such thing as “good” or “bad”.

If capital ever succeeds in quantifying, and subsequently fully commodifying, labour, as it is constantly trying to, it will also squeeze that indeterminate, recalcitrant human freedom from within labour that allows for the generation of value. Marx’s brilliant insight into the essence of capitalist crises was precisely this: the greater capitalism’s success in turning labour into a commodity the less the value of each unit of output it generates, the lower the profit rate and, ultimately, the nearer the next recession of the economy as a system. The portrayal of human freedom as an economic category is unique in Marx, making possible a distinctively dramatic and analytically astute interpretation of capitalism’s propensity to snatch recession, even depression, from the jaws of growth.

When Marx was writing that labour is the living, form-giving fire; the transitoriness of things; their temporality; he was making the greatest contribution any economist has ever made to our understanding of the acute contradiction buried inside capitalism’s DNA. When he portrayed capital as a “… force we must submit to … it develops a cosmopolitan, universal energy which breaks through every limit and every bond and posts itself as the only policy, the only universality the only limit and the only bond”, he was highlighting the reality that labour can be purchased by liquid capital (ie money), in its commodity form, but that it will always carry with it a will hostile to the capitalist buyer. But Marx was not just making a psychological, philosophical or political statement. He was, rather, supplying a remarkable analysis of why the moment that labour (as an unquantifiable activity) sheds this hostility, it becomes sterile, incapable of producing value.

At a time when neoliberals have ensnared the majority in their theoretical tentacles, incessantly regurgitating the ideology of enhancing labour productivity in an effort to enhance competitiveness with a view to creating growth etc, Marx’s analysis offers a powerful antidote. Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input, without destroying itself. That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp. “If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery”, wrote Marx “how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!”

What has Marx done for us?

Almost all schools of thought, including those of some progressive economists, like to pretend that, though Marx was a powerful figure, very little of his contribution remains relevant today. I beg to differ. Besides having captured the basic drama of capitalist dynamics, Marx has given me the tools with which to become immune to the toxic propaganda of neoliberalism. For example, the idea that wealth is privately produced and then appropriated by a quasi-illegitimate state, through taxation, is easy to succumb to if one has not been exposed first to Marx’s poignant argument that precisely the opposite applies: wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production and property rights that rely, for their reproduction, almost exclusively on false consciousness.

In his recent book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, the historian of economic thought, Philip Mirowski, has highlighted the neoliberals’ success in convincing a large array of people that markets are not just a useful means to an end but also an end in themselves. According to this view, while collective action and public institutions are never able to “get it right”, the unfettered operations of decentralised private interest are guaranteed to produce not only the right outcomes but also the right desires, character, ethos even. The best example of this form of neoliberal crassness is, of course, the debate on how to deal with climate change. Neoliberals have rushed in to argue that, if anything is to be done, it must take the form of creating a quasi-market for “bads” (eg an emissions trading scheme), since only markets “know” how to price goods and bads appropriately. To understand why such a quasi-market solution is bound to fail and, more importantly, where the motivation comes from for such “solutions”, one can do much worse than to become acquainted with the logic of capital accumulation that Marx outlined and the Polish economist Michal Kalecki adapted to a world ruled by networked oligopolies.

FacebookTwitterPinterest Neoliberals have rushed in with quasi-market responses to climate change, such as emissions trading schemes. Photograph: Jon Woo/Reuters

In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marx’s thought were the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and, indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marx’s lead in a crucial regard: instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals. Marx was adamant: The problem with capitalism is not that it is unfair but that it is irrational, as it habitually condemns whole generations to deprivation and unemployment and even turns capitalists into angst-ridden automata, living in permanent fear that unless they commodify their fellow humans fully so as to serve capital accumulation more efficiently, they will cease to be capitalists. So, if capitalism appears unjust this is because it enslaves everyone; it wastes human and natural resources; the same production line that pumps out remarkable gizmos and untold wealth, also produces deep unhappiness and crises.

Having failed to couch a critique of capitalism in terms of freedom and rationality, as Marx thought essential, social democracy and the left in general allowed the neoliberals to usurp the mantle of freedom and to win a spectacular triumph in the contest of ideologies.

Perhaps the most significant dimension of the neoliberal triumph is what has come to be known as the “democratic deficit”. Rivers of crocodile tears have flowed over the decline of our great democracies during the past three decades of financialisation and globalisation. Marx would have laughed long and hard at those who seem surprised, or upset, by the “democratic deficit”. What was the great objective behind 19th-century liberalism? It was, as Marx never tired of pointing out, to separate the economic sphere from the political sphere and to confine politics to the latter while leaving the economic sphere to capital. It is liberalism’s splendid success in achieving this long-held goal that we are now observing. Take a look at South Africa today, more than two decades after Nelson Mandela was freed and the political sphere, at long last, embraced the whole population. The ANC’s predicament was that, in order to be allowed to dominate the political sphere, it had to give up power over the economic one. And if you think otherwise, I suggest that you talk to the dozens of miners gunned down by armed guards paid by their employers after they dared demand a wage rise.

Why erratic?

Having explained why I owe whatever understanding of our social world I may possess largely to Karl Marx, I now want to explain why I remain terribly angry with him. In other words, I shall outline why I am by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist. Marx committed two spectacular mistakes, one of them an error of omission, the other one of commission. Even today, these mistakes still hamper the left’s effectiveness, especially in Europe.

Marx’s first error – the error of omission was that he failed to give sufficient thought to the impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about. His theory is discursively exceptionally powerful, and Marx had a sense of its power. So how come he showed no concern that his disciples, people with a better grasp of these powerful ideas than the average worker, might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marx’s own ideas, in order to abuse other comrades, to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence?

Marx’s second error, the one I ascribe to commission, was worse. It was his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models. This was the worst disservice he could have delivered to his own theoretical system. The man who equipped us with human freedom as a first-order economic concept; the scholar who elevated radical indeterminacy to its rightful place within political economics; he was the same person who ended up toying around with simplistic algebraic models, in which labour units were, naturally, fully quantified, hoping against hope to evince from these equations some additional insights about capitalism. After his death, Marxist economists wasted long careers indulging a similar type of scholastic mechanism. Fully immersed in irrelevant debates on “the transformation problem” and what to do about it, they eventually became an almost extinct species, as the neoliberal juggernaut crushed all dissent in its path.

How could Marx be so deluded? Why did he not recognise that no truth about capitalism can ever spring out of any mathematical model, however brilliant the modeller may be? Did he not have the intellectual tools to realise that capitalist dynamics spring from the unquantifiable part of human labour; ie from a variable that can never be well-defined mathematically? Of course he did, since he forged these tools! No, the reason for his error is a little more sinister: just like the vulgar economists that he so brilliantly admonished (and who continue to dominate the departments of economics today), he coveted the power that mathematical “proof” afforded him.

If I am right, Marx knew what he was doing. He understood, or had the capacity to know, that a comprehensive theory of value cannot be accommodated within a mathematical model of a dynamic capitalist economy. He was, I have no doubt, aware that a proper economic theory must respect the idea that the rules of the undetermined are themselves undetermined. In economic terms this meant a recognition that the market power, and thus the profitability, of capitalists was not necessarily reducible to their capacity to extract labour from employees; that some capitalists can extract more from a given pool of labour or from a given community of consumers for reasons that are external to Marx’s own theory.

Alas, that recognition would be tantamount to accepting that his “laws” were not immutable. He would have to concede to competing voices in the trades union movement that his theory was indeterminate and, therefore, that his pronouncements could not be uniquely and unambiguously correct. That they were permanently provisional. This determination to have the complete, closed story, or model, the final word, is something I cannot forgive Marx for. It proved, after all, responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, authoritarianism. Errors and authoritarianism that are largely responsible for the left’s current impotence as a force of good and as a check on the abuses of reason and liberty that the neoliberal crew are overseeing today.
Mrs Thatcher’s lesson

I moved to England to attend university in September 1978, six months or so before Margaret Thatcher’s victory changed Britain forever. Watching the Labour government disintegrate, under the weight of its degenerate social democratic programme, led me to a serious error: to the thought that Thatcher’s victory could be a good thing, delivering to Britain’s working and middle classes the short, sharp shock necessary to reinvigorate progressive politics; to give the left a chance to create a fresh, radical agenda for a new type of effective, progressive politics.

Even as unemployment doubled and then trebled, under Thatcher’s radical neoliberal interventions, I continued to harbour hope that Lenin was right: “Things have to get worse before they get better.” As life became nastier, more brutish and, for many, shorter, it occurred to me that I was tragically in error: things could get worse in perpetuity, without ever getting better. The hope that the deterioration of public goods, the diminution of the lives of the majority, the spread of deprivation to every corner of the land would, automatically, lead to a renaissance of the left was just that: hope.

The reality was, however, painfully different. With every turn of the recession’s screw, the left became more introverted, less capable of producing a convincing progressive agenda and, meanwhile, the working class was being divided between those who dropped out of society and those co-opted into the neoliberal mindset. My hope that Thatcher would inadvertently bring about a new political revolution was well and truly bogus. All that sprang out of Thatcherism were extreme financialisation, the triumph of the shopping mall over the corner store, the fetishisation of housing and Tony Blair.

FacebookTwitterPinterest Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative party conference in 1982. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features

Instead of radicalising British society, the recession that Thatcher’s government so carefully engineered, as part of its class war against organised labour and against the public institutions of social security and redistribution that had been established after the war, permanently destroyed the very possibility of radical, progressive politics in Britain. Indeed, it rendered impossible the very notion of values that transcended what the market determined as the “right” price.

The lesson Thatcher taught me about the capacity of a long‑lasting recession to undermine progressive politics, is one that I carry with me into today’s European crisis. It is, indeed, the most important determinant of my stance in relation to the crisis. It is the reason I am happy to confess to the sin I am accused of by some of my critics on the left: the sin of choosing not to propose radical political programs that seek to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow European capitalism, to dismantle the awful eurozone, and to undermine the European Union of the cartels and the bankrupt bankers.

Yes, I would love to put forward such a radical agenda. But, no, I am not prepared to commit the same error twice. What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Thatcher’s neoliberal trap? Precisely none. What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the eurozone, of the European Union itself, when European capitalism is doing its utmost to undermine the eurozone, the European Union, indeed itself?

A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone.

I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s. If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis.

What should Marxists do?

Europe’s elites are behaving today as if they understand neither the nature of the crisis that they are presiding over, nor its implications for the future of European civilisation. Atavistically, they are choosing to plunder the diminishing stocks of the weak and the dispossessed in order to plug the gaping holes of the financial sector, refusing to come to terms with the unsustainability of the task.

Yet with Europe’s elites deep in denial and disarray, the left must admit that we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapse of European capitalism would open up with a functioning socialist system. Our task should then be twofold. First, to put forward an analysis of the current state of play that non-Marxist, well meaning Europeans who have been lured by the sirens of neoliberalism, find insightful. Second, to follow this sound analysis up with proposals for stabilising Europe – for ending the downward spiral that, in the end, reinforces only the bigots.

Let me now conclude with two confessions. First, while I am happy to defend as genuinely radical the pursuit of a modest agenda for stabilising a system that I criticise, I shall not pretend to be enthusiastic about it. This may be what we must do, under the present circumstances, but I am sad that I shall probably not be around to see a more radical agenda being adopted.

My final confession is of a highly personal nature: I know that I run the risk of, surreptitiously, lessening the sadness from ditching any hope of replacing capitalism in my lifetime by indulging a feeling of having become agreeable to the circles of polite society. The sense of self-satisfaction from being feted by the high and mighty did begin, on occasion, to creep up on me. And what a non-radical, ugly, corruptive and corrosive sense it was.

My personal nadir came at an airport. Some moneyed outfit had invited me to give a keynote speech on the European crisis and had forked out the ludicrous sum necessary to buy me a first-class ticket. On my way back home, tired and with several flights under my belt, I was making my way past the long queue of economy passengers, to get to my gate. Suddenly I noticed, with horror, how easy it was for my mind to be infected with the sense that I was entitled to bypass the hoi polloi. I realised how readily I could forget that which my leftwing mind had always known: that nothing succeeds in reproducing itself better than a false sense of entitlement. Forging alliances with reactionary forces, as I think we should do to stabilise Europe today, brings us up against the risk of becoming co-opted, of shedding our radicalism through the warm glow of having “arrived” in the corridors of power.

Radical confessions, like the one I have attempted here, are perhaps the only programmatic antidote to ideological slippage that threatens to turn us into cogs of the machine. If we are to forge alliances with our political adversaries we must avoid becoming like the socialists who failed to change the world but succeeded in improving their private circumstances. The trick is to avoid the revolutionary maximalism that, in the end, helps the neoliberals bypass all opposition to their self-defeating policies and to retain in our sights capitalism’s inherent failures while trying to save it, for strategic purposes, from itself.

This article is adapted from a lecture originally delivered at the 6th Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013