MH -17 aftermath – between capitalism, high politics and personal responsibility

France is poised to sell two Mistral war-ships to Moscow. London has been hosting the fortunes and déboires of Russian oligarchs for years now, not to mention its political parties and individual politicians receiving a steady stream of contributions from these oligarch’s wives and close relations since 2007. In addition to that, it emerges that, despite vehement protestations, the UK continues to sell weapons to Russia, as evidenced in a recently released parliamentary report. It would appear that the value of licences rocketed by more than half in the last year from £86m to £131.5m in terms of arms sales.

Germany is known to have long and tight ties with Russia, not only due to the ironically volatile but at the same time extremely solid gas connection, but also due to huge exports and investments that Germany has in Russia: 300,000 German jobs depend on trade with Russia, 6,200 companies with German owners are active in Russia, and German companies have invested €20 billion there.

These are only Europe’s largest economies’ relations with Russia. As one blog describes the entanglements of Russia’s richest, they have estates in the UK, Castles in Germany, Greek Islands, you name it.

No wonder then that in the aftermath of the MH-17 disaster we are witness to a pathetic cacophony of condemnation and cuddling of Russia, which further undermines European countries’ credibility as democracies.

Yet, in the ensuing schoolyard brawl between England and France, between them and Germany, and everyone against the US, the bigger picture that never gets mentioned is that dealings with Russia (and with China for that matter) have been accepted for years in the name of more profits, more high yielding investments and in the idea that, eventually, through economic development its system will change. Even today a reputable British paper upholds this thesis.

The discourse of getting people more (stable) jobs and income was fully used in this process, thus entangling further not only European leadership and businesses with criminal regimes, but ordinary citizens, who more than happily choose not to think what happens with the weapons, warships, cars and many other things that they produce.  I woke up this morning wondering what would I be doing were I a worker participating in the building of one of the Mistral ships that France has agreed to deliver to the Russians by the end of 2014. Would I just gloss over the news and say “it’s their dirty business, I am just trying to make an honest living”?

Frankly, the answer I reached was different, at the very least I would start looking for another job, and resign. Other options would be to try to mobilise internally in the company and see if the management were amenable to a protest action or to an action that de-legitimises this sale and another, even more socially engaged, would be to mobilise protests to raise awareness about what this sale means. Because what it means is that somewhere in France, an honest worker trying to keep his family, through a fragmented chain of contracts and deals, essentially participates in acts perpetrated by a regime which at best is demagogic and at its worst is criminal. This is after all the genius of capitalist production: an infinite division of labour separating the labourer from the ultimate consequences of their work, thus numbing any type of conscience or impact it might otherwise have on them.

It is easy to speak like this when one is not actually in this situation, and the article published today in Le Monde on the subject shows well the rock and the hard place in between which France finds itself on this matter: its fledgling economy can ill afford further loss of jobs and revenue. However, this is only so in the space of the capitalist and neo-liberal discourse which its leaders, like many others have adopted and perpetrated until it does not work anymore.

As I live and breathe in this world, it becomes apparent to me every day that even as simple citizens we can no longer abide such a course of things. The more feeble and illegitimate political power becomes, and the less representative the elected appear to be, the more that means that responsibility is devolved to citizens, and they must make their voice heard as to what they feel and think the course of things should be. That might involve tough choices such as taking paycuts, and job losses, and enduring periods of hardships. Because the truth is that even when we think that by doing otherwise we keep such dangers at bay, the system is such that it can only bring a delay, but not stop the inevitable, which is not joblessness and poverty (that is only just a stage) but eventual moral collapse and loss of any intrinsic humanity we might have.  And if you think I speak as a prophet of doom, check what certain Israelis are doing these days, while Gaza is being bombed. Such people bring humanity one step closer to its worse nightmares and are the product of a radicalised version of the system we currently bathe in.

That being said, my thesis is predicated on the belief that humans have a moral compass and are capable to define and express courses of action that are mindful of their kin. Centuries of war and ongoing conflicts show us this is not something that happens naturally, and checks and balances must be put in place for this to be achieved.

We must never ever delegate those, though, away from our human interest and personal responsibility.