Sunday, 20 September 2020



I was 'berated' for negative China coverage — and then officials invited me in for a 'cup of tea'

A man stands on a boat with a Chinese flag and highrise in the background while another man looks through a video camera
Matthew Carney, ABC China bureau chief, with cameraman Steve Wang(Supplied)

It was late on a Friday evening and I was about to head home from the ABC's Beijing office when the telephone rang.

On the other end of the line was a man from the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission.

He refused to give his name but insisted one of the ABC's Chinese staff write down the statement he was about to dictate.

The man told us our reporting had "violated China's laws and regulations, spread rumours and illegal, harmful information which endangered state security and damaged national pride".

It was August 31, 2018, and I had been the ABC's China bureau chief since January 2016, working alongside reporter Bill Birtles.

A man with his family stands on a brick wall with mountains in the background
Matthew Carney hiking with his wife Catherine and three children on the Great Wall in China.(Supplied)

Three weeks earlier the ABC's website had been suddenly banned in China and ever since I had been pushing for an official reason why. The telephone call came, and there it was.

But the call also marked the beginning of something else: more than three months of intimidation until my family and I were effectively forced to leave China.

They wanted me to know they were watching

I am telling this story for the first time. After my departure from China I was reluctant to report what had happened because I did not want to harm the ABC's operations in China, put staff at risk or threaten the chances of my successor as bureau chief, Sarah Ferguson, being granted a journalist's visa to China.

But all that changed with the expulsion of Birtles and Mike Smith from the Australian Financial Review this month.

My story — which occurred two years earlier — suggests there is more to their actions against foreign journalists than tit-for-tat reprisals as the Chinese portray it.

The fact is that every foreign journalist in China is under surveillance. But tracking of my activities picked up significantly after that Friday night phone call.

There is the kind of surveillance the Chinese government wants you to know about. When I was reporting on the mass detentions of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, for example, the ABC team was surrounded by about 20 security officials, followed by midnight knocks on our hotel room doors and questioning about our daily activities.

But there is also the hidden cyber surveillance and occasionally I saw it in action.

One night in the early hours of the morning I woke to see someone remotely controlling my phone and accessing my email account. They searched and found an email from activists in New York that I was CC'd into requesting to have the famous ABC "tank man" footage from the Tiananmen Square massacre given a UNESCO heritage listing.

A man stands in front of a row of tanks
The photo of a man in front of a convoy of tanks became the defining image of the Tiananmen crackdown.(Reuters)

The email was left open so I could see it, which I believe was a deliberate attempt to let me know they were watching.

I continued to work as normal. I feel strongly that the moment you adjust your reporting to placate the Chinese authorities, it is the moment you should leave.

Our future was in the hands of Chinese authorities

One way the Chinese authorities try to force foreign journalists to self-censor their work is by threatening not to renew the 12-month residency visas.

I anticipated trouble, so submitted my renewal application six weeks before it was due to expire. If things were okay, you could expect approval in about 10 days. I didn't get a response.

Instead, I was ordered to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for "a cup of tea", a phrase that every foreign journalist knows is a euphemism for a dressing down.

When I entered the room, my government-appointed minder Mr Ouyong was standing with Ms Sun, an unassuming, bespectacled Chinese bureaucrat. She poured me a cup of tea.

Ms Sun had a pile of my story transcripts sitting in her lap. She drew them out one-by-one, referring to each in turn: "Re-education camps in Xinjiang! Political executions! Imprisoning of labour activists! Experts labelling Xi Jinping a dictator!!!" With each story her anger grew until she was enraged.

The session continued for two hours and it was quite a performance.

Ms Sun claimed I had abused all the people and leadership of China. I countered that I didn't know how that could be possible considering the ABC website had been banned in China.

This infuriated her further and she went on to lay out a more serious charge: I had personally broken Chinese laws and was now under investigation.

As I left the meeting that day, I felt vulnerable. I knew my future, and that of my family, was now in the hands of the Chinese authorities.

I was berated for any 'negative' China coverage

Over the next two weeks I was called in twice more for "cups of tea". The meetings were always angry and always lead by Ms Sun. But the focus had widened.

I was berated for any "negative" China coverage the ABC did on any platform and any program, particularly the Four Corners stories investigating Chinese interference in Australia's democracy.

As the ABC bureau chief, the boss, they believed I should take responsibility for these stories. In their view I was an appointment of the Australian Government and as such could be pressured as a means of passing a message to Canberra.

A man in a suit and red scarf is filmed by a camera
Ideological differences between China and foreign journalists often causes over tension over the role of journalism.

In a country like China where media is tightly controlled, understanding the concept of independence — the fundamental difference between a state broadcaster and a public broadcaster like the ABC — is not straightforward.

In my last meeting, Ms Sun still would not tell me if my visa renewal was going ahead.

But she did reveal one important detail: the matter was now out of her hands.

A "higher authority was in charge of the investigation", she said, and was outraged by Australia's new interference laws (some of the toughest in the world at that point).

Something was wrong

It was now a week before my visa was due to expire and with it the supporting visas for my wife and three children.

We booked flights back to Sydney for the following Friday night. The plan was to shield the kids from the drama and if worst came to worst, pick them up from school and leave straight for the airport.

We continued life as normally as possible. My wife, Catherine, was incredible under this pressure making calm, rational judgements all the way through the saga.

Early on Monday morning it appeared we had a breakthrough. I was told the visa had been approved and when I arrived at the office Mr Ouyong was waiting.

The atmosphere was tense.

He told me, with a cold anger, I had an extension of only two months (I'd asked for a year) and then added pointedly: "Don't expect to return to the People's Republic of China" and "don't think this mess ends with you".

Relieved the uncertainly and stress appeared to be over, Catherine and I went to the immigration police to have visa extensions stamped into our passports.

The official at the desk began entering our details into the system, but suddenly the mood changed. Something was wrong. We were told to immediately report to Public Security.

It was clear this ordeal was far from over. In fact, there had just been a major escalation.

Then the penny dropped

Once in the hands of Public Security we entered into territory where interrogations and detentions are the norm. As I mulled the possibilities, fear sank into my gut. If this is where our investigation had ended up, then we were in serious trouble.

We were instructed to report to a facility in north Beijing and told to bring my daughter Yasmine, who was 14 at the time, as she was now part of the investigation.

A man in a hat and a girl stand on the Great Wall in China with a green hill behind them
Matthew in China with his daughter Yasmine, who at 14 was an adult under the law.(Supplied)

This felt like a line in the sand for me. I could not accept that they would involve my children.

At the same time I was frightened. It felt like part of the Chinese playbook: to go after family members as a way to exact punishment and revenge.

We turned up the next morning at 7:30am and walked into a large security complex. By this stage the Australian Embassy, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and my ABC bosses were aware of what was happening and were monitoring my movements.

The complex was newly built but mostly empty, except for the staff sitting dutifully at their workstations. It was so clean you could smell antiseptic. At end of a corridor an official told us to wait.

A short time later I was called into an office where three people were waiting at a desk. A woman, flanked by two older men, was clearly in charge. They did not give their titles or names. The women told me in a tone that came across as arrogant that the investigation was about a visa violation.

Then the penny dropped — this is how I would be expelled from China: a visa violation would avoid a possible escalation with the Australian Government if I was charged with a more serious offence.

I had spent the past three years reporting on dissidents and Communist Party purges where the targets were often convicted of lesser crimes like arson or immoral behaviour.

'You will be put into detention'

The most pressing question was to yet to be answered: Why my daughter?

Then the lead interrogator, the women, replied in slow, strident English: "Your daughter is 14 years old. She is an adult under Chinese law and as the People's Republic of China is a law-abiding country she will be charged with the visa crime".

I replied that as her father I would take responsibility for her "visa crimes". After all, I had put her in this position.

After a pause the women answered: "Do you know that as a law-abiding country we have the right to detain your daughter?".

She knew she had total power over me and she let the words sink in. After some time she added: "I do have to inform you, Mr Carney, that we have a right to keep your daughter in an undisclosed location and I do have to inform you there would be other adults present".

I told her any attempt at this, and I would escalate the situation by involving the Australian Embassy and Australian Government, which was aware of my case.

But if she was trying to terrify me, it was working.

As my final offering, I said to her that we would leave China the next day, no problem.

She laughed in response and said: "Mr Carney, you can't leave the People's Republic of China! You are under investigation and we have put an exit ban on your passport".

Ok, I said. What happens when our visas run out this Saturday? I hoped she might say we would be expelled immediately.

Instead she smiled and said, "Well, you will be put into detention".

Was it all just theatre?

Panic was setting in, but I had to pull myself together and come up with a plan.

In a break I made a pact with Catherine: we would never let Yasmine out of our sight or be moved to separate locations.

After a round of calls to embassy staff, Chinese colleagues and the ABC, we all decided the best approach was to confess guilt and apologise for the "visa crime", with the condition that Yasmine stayed with us. She was mostly unaware of the severity of the situation.

I returned to the woman in the security office and did just that.

A man in a green jacket stands outside a building with columns and red flags on the top and a red and gold emblem
Carney outside the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.(Supplied)

One of the men with her, who had a friendly, chubby face, explained the visa violation had come about because I had not transferred the visa that was about to expire from my current passport into a new passport that I had just had issued, within a 10-day timeframe. Instead (as advised) I was applying to have the new visa placed directly into the new passport. Was I guilty? Oh yes, I was! I was just relieved there was no other serious charges.

My best hope was this interrogation was all just theatre, designed to scare and humiliate.

The women then interjected and instructed us to return the next day when my daughter and I would be required to give a taped video confession.

I went in first at 9:00am. The chubby-faced man set up a camera and pushed record and answered question after question about my travel itinerary over the past year.

Finally, it was time to confess my guilt: "Yes, I didn't put visas in my new passport."

My daughter, with my wife beside her, was called in next to give her confession.

By this stage the man with the chubby face was quite friendly. If this was all it was going to be, then it felt like a good sign. But you never knew.

'The investigation is over'

When the lead interrogator returned she told us she would consider our confessions, write a report on our case and send it to "the higher authority" for judgement.

To heighten the tension once again, she said a result could take weeks. Our visas were running out in four days and by now we knew the consequences.

We went home defeated and with no idea what would happen next. But at least we were all still together.

A piece of paper in Chinese language with a red ink fingerprint
The signed and finger-printed confession which states Matthew had "violated the People's Republic of China exit and entry management law, Article 33".(Supplied)

Then suddenly, early the next morning, we got a phone call.

"The investigation is over. The visa extension of two months has been granted. Come immediately back to the security office".

The man with the chubby face was waiting for us.

My daughter and I were asked to sign and thumb print every page of the transcripts from our "confessions", many pages long.

Then with a handshake and a smile he presented us with a certificate stating we were guilty of a visa violation. Our lead interrogator looked on sternly as we left the building, relieved.

A flight out never felt so good

There was one more twist to my story.

A program I made on China's social credit system which uses digital technology to keep control of the population, was getting tens of millions of views around the world.

The Chinese woman I featured in the story as a "model citizen" threatened legal action against me in the civil courts for defamation. Her husband was an active and ambitious Communist Party member. Was this another way to intimidate me and the ABC?

I took advice from an American lawyer based in Beijing who urged me to leave China immediately. As soon as legal proceedings were lodged against me, an exit ban would be activated.

He claimed to be representing dozens of foreigners in a similar position, some who had been stuck for years.

I was counting down the days before we could leave China for good. This wasn't the way I wanted it to end my posting, leaving behind one the world's biggest stories and many good Chinese friends.

But boarding the plane for a night flight back to Sydney with my family on a cold December night had never felt so good.

Matthew Carney is the executive producer of Foreign Correspondent. From 2016-2018 he was the ABC's China bureau chief.


Proteste in Minsk: Erneut demonstrieren Zehntausende Menschen in Belarus

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Proteste in Minsk: Demonstrantinnen protestieren gegen den belarussischen Präsidenten Alexander Lukaschenko. Sie tragen die ehemaligen weiß-rot-weißen Flaggen von Belarus über die Schulter gehängt.
Demonstrantinnen protestieren gegen den belarussischen Präsidenten Alexander Lukaschenko. Sie tragen die ehemaligen weiß-rot-weißen Flaggen von Belarus über die Schulter gehängt. © TUT.BY/​AFP/​Getty Images

Sechs Wochen nach der umstrittenen Präsidentschaftswahl in Belarus sind erneut Zehntausende Menschen für einen "Marsch der Gerechtigkeit" gegen den Staatschef Alexander Lukaschenko auf die Straße gegangen. Die Demonstrantinnen und Demonstranten trugen rote und weiße Kleidung, die Farben der Opposition, und marschierten in Richtung des Amtssitzes von Lukaschenko im Nordwesten von Minsk, wie ein AFP-Korrespondent berichtete. Nach Angaben eines dpa-Korrespondenten haben Uniformierte mit Sturmhauben mit der Festnahme von Demonstrantinnen begonnen.

Die Demonstrantinnen strömten zu Fuß aus verschiedenen Richtungen ins Zentrum. Am Palast der Republik standen mit Sturmgewehren bewaffnete Soldaten in Kampfuniformen. Auch in Seitenstraßen des Prospekts der Unabhängigkeit bezogen Truppen der Miliz, wie sie in Belarus heißen, und des Militärs Stellung. Das stärkste Aufgebot an Einsatzkräften gab es wie an den vorherigen Sonntagen am Präsidentenpalast. Der 66 Jahre alte Lukaschenko hatte sich dort zuletzt zweimal mit Kalaschnikow gezeigt, um eine Erstürmung des Palastes zu verhindern. Die Proteste sind allerdings stets friedlich. 

Die Behörden sperrten am Sonntag Metrostationen in der Innenstadt, um einen Zustrom von Menschen zu verhindern. Auch das mobile Internet funktionierte nicht. Es waren Hundertschaften von Polizei und Armee im Einsatz, um einen neuen Massenprotest gegen "Europas letzten Diktator", wie Gegner Lukaschenko nennen, zu verhindern. Einsatzkräfte fassten im Zentrum der Hauptstadt Minsk friedliche Demonstrantinnen und zwängten sie in Gefangenentransporter. Am Vortag waren bei Protesten bereits Hunderte von ihnen festgenommen worden. Trotz dieser Einschränkungen und Drohkulisse hatten sich nach Einschätzung von Beobachterinnen allein am vergangenen Sonntag 150.000 Menschen in der Stadt versammelt.

EU erkennt Lukaschenko nicht als legitimen Staatschef an

Auch in anderen Städten kam es erneut zu Protesten gegen Lukaschenko, darunter in Grodno, Gomel, Witebsk und Chodino. "Es lohnt sich, um die Freiheit zu kämpfen. Habt keine Angst, frei zu sein!", ließ die inhaftierte Oppositionsführerin Maria Kolesnikowa mitteilen. Sie hatte die Proteste gegen Lukaschenko mit angeführt, bevor sie vor zwei Wochen entführt worden war und dann in Haft kam. Der 38-Jährigen drohen bis zu fünf Jahre Haft wegen Gefährdung der nationalen Sicherheit. Kolesnikowa wies dies als absurd zurück. Sie meinte aber, dass sie nichts bereue und alles wieder so tun würde.

Seit der umstrittenen Präsidentschaftswahl am 9. August gehen die Belarussen jeden Sonntag gegen den seit 26 Jahren regierenden Präsidenten auf die Straße, werfen ihm Wahlfälschung vor und fordern Neuwahlen. Dabei lassen sie sich auch von dem gewaltsamen Vorgehen der Sicherheitskräfte nicht abschrecken. Lukaschenko hat jedoch mehrfach deutlich gemacht, dass er an einen freiwilligen Rücktritt nicht denkt. Vielmehr setzt er auf die Hilfe seiner russischen Verbündeten, um an der Macht zu bleiben. Die EU erkennt Lukaschenko nicht als Staatschef von Belarus an und bereitet derzeit Sanktionen vor.



The problem with the late-romantic critique of capitalism is that it confuses its social relations of production with the positivism of “science and technology”; and the problem with the late-romantic critique of positivism is that it confuses it with capitalism. The strategic political need of the bourgeoisie to identify social relations with relations between things, or in other words to reify social reality, is what is behind this pervasive and deleterious critical deficiency because the rule of the bourgeoisie, like every rule, to the extent that it is political, is also dependent on the violent control over material production, and to the extent that it controls material production must also depend on political legitimacy. The Marxian notion of “social relations of production” is all here: it is meant to emphasize the political continuity between the “social relations” (the political, social, cultural and religious aspects) of the society of capital and the fact that capitalism is a specific mode of political domination that relies almost exclusively on the exchange of political freedom for material production, or in other words on the absurd “exchange” of living activity with its “pro-ducts”, that is, with “dead labour”. The difference between “the freedom of the ancients” and “the liberties of the moderns” (Frederic Constant and John Locke, the founders of liberalism) is that the former was based on the democratic participation of all citizens to political decision-making in the State whereas the latter is based on the protection on the part of a state apparatus (a civil and military bureaucracy) of the “private rights” of citizens to their possessions: under capitalism, “freedom” has been reduced to the legal claim over possessions – to “liberty”, or to what we call “free-dom” or “greed-dom”. Bourgeois late-romantics – whom Weber called disparagingly “literati” - pine for the “freedom” that their own political violence has reduced to “greed-dom” by shifting the blame for this reduction to an “impersonal” or “neutral” perpetrator, the positivism of “science and technology” – absurdly transforming thereby a political reality into the very “techno-scientific” reification that they seek to denounce!


Our aim in this piece is to illustrate through an exposition of Schumpeter’s “methodological individualism”, the real capitalist political strategy that constitutes its ultimate foundation. The “science” intended by Schumpeter is that of the negatives Denken from Hobbes through Schopenhauer  and beyond. It is a neo-Kantian, Berkeleyan-Machian or “idealist-empiricist” notion of science that differs significantly from the Galilean-Newtonian science that preceded the Industrial Revolution when the bourgeoisie was still consolidating its social power and needed to justify its hegemony as the fruit of “labour”. The universe of Galileo is a divine creation whose secret hidden laws are amenable to human discovery by virtue of the fact that humans have been gifted with the divine powers of Reason. The task of Science is therefore to discover in Nature the divine “rational laws” or “order” by which Nature is bound through the faculty of Reason that the Divinity has bestowed upon humans. Human beings do not “make” these laws, they exist independently of humanity because they are of divine origin and yet they are accessible to humans by virtue of the faculty that they share with the Divinity – Reason. Science is therefore the application of human reason to the discovery of the divine laws that govern it and Nature: consequently, science must be subordinate to Reason, values must prevail over facts. This is an essentialist or objectivist science in the sense that the universe is governed by laws independent of the human ability to discover them: in the Galileo-Newtonian worldview, Nature and Reason, Object and Subject, are separate yet interdependent entities.


Although human reason is able to discover the laws by which Nature is governed, due to the faculty of free will – liberum arbitrium – and its “arbitrariness”, its “voluntariness”, and therefore the human ability to prefer Evil over Good, human affairs could never be classified in accordance with the same Ratio-Ordo, the same rational order, with which the Divinity had crafted the universe. The “rationality” of the laws governing nature – the rationality of science and the corresponding “rational order” of Nature – could be established and proven only upon condition that the rules of Reason themselves could be proven unconditionally or ab-solutely, that is to say, according to a principle that was itself so certain as to be devoid or independent of any rational proof. Yet such an intuitus originarius (Leibniz, Kant) is by definition not accessible to human reason and must therefore exist without rational proof. Already Adam Smith (in The History of Astronomy) had attacked the Newtonian worldview on the grounds that Humean scepticism showed how “metaphorical” – and therefore “conventional” - its supposedly “universal laws of physics” were in reality: human reason, let alone science, could not survive the application of its own principles to itself! Both the Cartesian cogito – a fallimentary attempt at syllogism – and the Kantian formalism of the Categorical Imperative so cruelly derided by Nietzsche hinted at the coming ex-haustion (or com-pletion, Heidegger’s Voll-endung) of the summum bonum of Western metaphysics – the identity of value and fact, of the rational and the real. First Machiavelli, then Hobbes and Vico established long before Nietzsche that the “truth” of human reason was not “ab-solute” in any divine sense external to human beings but was ab-solute and certain precisely to the degree that it could be imposed “conventionally” or symbolically – that is to say, “by definition” – by human beings themselves by virtue of their actions. Human reason was “true” not in the sense that its truth was “universal” or “ab-solute” (a legibus soluta), but rather on the inverse principle that it was entirely “arbitrary”: it is the very arbitrariness or conventionality of human principles that assures us of their absolute certainty! Scientific truth becomes thereby the ability of some human beings to assert their interests over other human beings by force if necessary.  (The devastating finality of what we have called “Nietzsche’s Invariance” is all here – cf. our Nietzschebuch at


Kant described his idealism as “critical” because it traced the limits of human knowledge set by the impenetrability of the thing-in-itself; and he called it also “trans-scendental” because the validity of human reason can be deduced only as a requisite of its formal consistency and not by its identification with its Object (the famous Scholastic adaequatio rei et intellectus). But the very fact that the thing-in-itself is unknowable decrees the absolute “futility” of both pure and practical reason and of metaphysics altogether. Kant believed to have traced the limits of human knowledge, but the effect of his philosophy was to establish conclusively that no Object could delimit any longer the use of knowledge as the application of the power of the Subject. This is the real reason why his idealism is “transcendental”. But if the Subject no longer knows or admits of a non-Subject or Object, a natural order, that can sub-ordinate the Subject by the power of its over-arching rationality (Kant designated this with the architectural term “contignatio”) – the ab-solute primacy of the Ratio-Ordo -, the question then arises of how this power of human action is to be governed and restrained inter homines, between Subjects. Herein lies the mortal danger of solipsism: If “man is the measure of all things”, what then is the measure to be applied by some men to other men? As Nietzsche poignantly observes in the Genealogie der Moral, man’s experiments on nature are like nothing compared with those conducted by some men on other men – for the simple reason that if “science” is the rationalization of human domination over nature, then the ultimate abuse of nature is that perpetrated by some men against other men who are also an indivisible part of nature. Our central point here is that there is nothing at all “rational” about this Rationalisierung because it consists solely in the subordination of human living activity to an abstract rule – logical and political – that can be given a quantifiable form.


The problem with the Vichian verum ipsum factum is that if truth is to be found in human actions themselves, then the end not only justifies and sanctions but also actually ascertains and verifies the means and the means ascertain and verify the end: if truth is certainty, then even the most diabolical violence can be true so long as its outcomes are certain! Both Galileo and  in the physical sciences, as well as Machiavelli in political theory, had taken care to distinguish the laws of nature from the laws governing human affairs. After Hobbes, Vico and Kant, and finally with Mach, the two realms become indistinguishable because certainty, not truth, is the object and limit – the objective - of science: hence, we have a politics of science and a science of politics. The problem with positivism as the bourgeois philosophy par excellence is not so much that it substitutes values with facts (cf. Koyre, From Closed World to Infinite Universe, and Husserl’s Crisis lecture) or that it con-fuses the two (Kirchhoff): the real problem is that Positivism as a philosophy of science means that the truth of human action is no longer “science” but certainty, that is, the effectuality of domination and violence.


The capitalist bourgeoisie was the first historical agency to put this principle into political practice by giving the name “science and technology” to its politically-enforceable and politically certain objectives. The Italian philosophic critic and historian Paolo Rossi is perhaps one of the few to have remarked upon the crucial difference between the essentialism of the Classical and the subjectivism of the Neo-Classical worldview:

"[For Vico i]the criterion of truth is not (as the Cartesians wanted) neither in the immediate evidence nor in the clarity and distinction of ideas but instead in the conversion of the true with the fact....the criterion of truth of a thing lies in doing it....[23] Mathematics and geometry are not, as Galileo had understood, revealing the divine language present in nature, they do not say anything about the world: they are a product of that singular ability that man had to reap useful fruits from the constitutional limit of his mind....Vico now extends the criterion of  verum-factum  to historical reality, enlarges it to understand that world that is the work and construction of man," (Paul Rossi, Introduction to GB Vico, New Science, pp.22-3).


Not certainty itself is the problem, then; the problem is the object of certainty – its political objective - and the violence that the bourgeoisie must exert to demonstrate the certainty, and therefore the factuality or “truth”, of its political objectives. Schumpeter was entirely conscious of the “arbitrariness” of the abstract rules (again, intended in a logical and a political sense) that subtend bourgeois “economic science”:


Pure static economics is nothing but an abstract picture [or model] of certain

economic facts, i.e. a schema that should serve as a description about them. It

depends on certain assumptions, and in this respect, it is a creation of our

arbitrariness, just as every exact science is. … [But] this does not prevent

theories from fitting facts. (Schumpeter, 1908, 527; trans. by Shionoya, 1997,



But the “theory” that fits the facts relies on a reality, social and institutional, that has been created and shaped by capitalist violence such that “the facts fit the theory” – this is the incestuous facticity of bourgeois science whereby theoria is subordinated to praxis. The schemata, the frame-work of bourgeois science, then, does not simply “describe” reality, as Schumpeter wrongly believes: rather, its axiological essence serves the essential purpose of prescribing the shape that reality must take if bourgeois rule is to prevail! The “arbitrariness” to which Schumpeter refers is not the Scholastic liberum arbitrium or the humanist and idealist “freedom of the will” or freedom “of choice”! In the Hobbesian axiological and mechanical paradigm of the negatives Denken, freedom is not contrary to “reason” intended as calculative rationality, it is not “irrational” or “unpredictable” or “indeterminate”: emphatically, it is not “freedom of choice”!  As Weber argued, a “choice” is “free” when it is “rational”, not when it is “irrational”, because an “irrational” choice must have been conditioned by factors beyond the control of the decision-maker and therefore it must be “un-free”.  It is not “choice” that determines “freedom” but “freedom” understood as “free-dom” that determines or conditions “choice”. In other words, freedom becomes a function of coercion (by other human beings) now seen as objective impersonal necessity!  For Weber and Schumpeter, as for the entirety of the negatives Denken, free-dom is the ability to make rational decisions, not the ability to choose rationally or irrationally. It follows inescapably therefore that mechanical rationality is the true foundation and origin of “freedom”: and mechanical rationality is possible only if it relates to “individuals” whose irresoluble conflict with one another, the ineluctable clash of their self-interests, “reduces” their freedom to free-dom and their conduct to that of the “inert bodies” of mechanical physics by making their living activity quantifiable through sheer political violence!


Political “freedom” is conceivable in this schema only as the “free-dom” of self-interested individuals. And the ultima ratio of human conduct must be the preservation of one’s life in a world in which individuals in the state of nature will destroy humanity itself because of their unbridled cupidity. The Rationalisierung as intended by the negatives Denken therefore is the exact opposite of humanistic freedom because it is instead the expression of free-dom intended as “the clash of wills” of atomistic selfish individuals - as “dis-enchantment” (Ent-zauberung), as the relinquishment of any and every illusion about the freedom of the human will, the abandonment of any sentimentality about the inviolability and invincibility of the human spirit as a universal goal! (The inability to grasp this crucial point is perhaps the biggest lapse in Karl Lowith’s interpretation of Weber’s work in Max Weber and Karl Marx. Specifically, Lowith confuses Weberian dis-enchantment and Marxian alienation in that the former concept is ineluctable whereas the latter contains its own dissolution or supersession.)




The market mechanism described by the axioms of neoclassical equilibrium theory and marginal utility that only apparently does away with ethico-political considerations in favour of the “productive efficiency” of its paradigm, by eliminating Objective Value, the subject-matter of economic theory, can artificially and arbitrarily limit and confine the ambit, the sphere, of economic science away from its metabolic aspects. The daft excuse opined by Joan Robinson that “a one-to-one map of reality is useless” again marginalizes the reality of production as metabolic interaction and reduces the problem of the ethico-political effectuality of theory to one of “neutral scientific usefulness”, of “universal human instrumentality”. But the very essence of an instrument or a tool rests on the human agency in whose hands it is held! Whereas in the case of market process it is the facts themselves that impose the theory of market process as the ec-sistence of equilibrium, as its extrinsication, unfolding and implementation; in the case of equilibrium, from the perspective of equilibrium analysis, it is the theory itself, its schema, that selects and frames the facts and fits them to a particular Vision or Frame-work of social reality. Schumpeter always conceded the “arbitrariness” of this process:



The whole of pure economics rests with Walras on the two

conditions that every economic unit wants to maximize utility and

that demand for every good equals supply. All his theorems follow

from· these two assumptions. Edgeworth, Barone, and others may

have supplemented his work; Pareto and others may have gone

beyond it in individual points: the significance of his work is not

thereby touched. Whoever knows the origin and the workings of

the exact natural sciences knows also that their great achievements

are, in method and essence, of the same kind as Walras'. To find

exact forms for the phenomena whose interdependence is given us

by experience, to reduce these forms to, and derive them from, each

other: this is what the physicists do, and this is what Walras did.

(Schumpeter, TGE 79)



The Hobbesian roots of Schumpeter’s “scientific” framework are unmistakeable: human beings pursue their self-interest in violent conflict with one another and until the exhaustion of all available resources – in other words, to the verge of total civil war (bellum omnium contra omnes). The “measure” of utility is the ability of each individual to impose violently his will and self-interest on others. In this context, the mechanical rationality of Walrasian and Neoclassical equilibrium theory does not describe an “objective reality”, an “essence” or “goal” of the economic system as the maximization of “welfare” or “common-wealth”, but is rather a benchmark, a blueprint against which to measure the effectuality of actions based on possessive individualism. The analytical axiomatic framework of equilibrium theory sets out axiologically – that is to say, prescriptively, not descriptively as it claims to do! - the “rational limits” or “domain” of human action that need to be applied in the “space” of social con-vention outside of which only the bellum civium, the Hobbesian civil war of all against all, is possible. This framework sets out both the axiological hypothetical limits or boundaries of human action and the “tendencies” of conventional agreement based not on a common humanity, on inter esse, but on the “fear of death” held by each individual at the hands of every other individual. The ultimate equality of human beings, as Hobbes established, lies in the fact that each individual is capable of murdering another individual! Within these axiological limits or boundaries, only the “exchange” of existing individual possessions or endowments is possible because any pro-duction of new goods and services would only demonstrate the impossibility of “agreement” by market agents about their respective entitlements to the new pro-ducts!


Infallibly, then, “rationality” is not a neutrally or scientifically determinable quality: rationality is the sheer violence of quantifying human action. The “integration of theory and history” that we find in Marx and whose absence many critics decry in Schumpeter pre-supposes the interpretation of “choice” or human agency as the expression of the “convergence of human interests” in the preservation of this very “freedom”. At the very least, this “freedom” implies the existential unpredictability of human decisions (Heidegger’s “possibility” or, as Weber would say, their “irrationality”). Yet what is peculiar about the “pure” framework of analysis of Neoclassical Economics is precisely the absence of such universal humanistic “freedom” and certainly of its telos of Reason as inter esse (Hegel, Marx) in the sense that the “freedom” of human choice or agency as an existential and ontological reality is limited and circumscribed instead by the equal “free-dom” of each individual will, and is therefore turned into the “necessity” and “co-ercion” of human conflict (not free con-vention and agreement): the “freedom” of economic theory is not a “rationalist” Freedom epitomized by the Freiheit of Classical German Idealism as a faculty that human beings share and that reveals the identity and community of their interests as members of the human race; it is not the Augustinian initium or a common human faculty that in its uniqueness leads to communion, to comunitas, the inter esse of a common humanity, founded on the notion of the soul of Judaeo-Christian religion and the free will of Western metaphysics; and it is not even the existentialist “contingency” of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre or the “uncertainty” of Knights and Keynes. It is instead a “mechanically rational” free-dom, a “room to manoeuvre” (Weber’s Ellenbongsraum) or “living space” - the ineluctable conflict of the Euclidean-Galilean mechanical scientific hypothesis of Hobbesian political theory dictated by self-preservation and self-interest.



It is the very impossibility of finding both theoretically or scientifically and practically or politically a conventum, a “social harmony” or “agreement”, or an objective measure of social equality or “development” – a social synthesis -, it is this impossibility of establishing a universal, objective, scientific theory of capitalist development, let alone a universal human goal – a summum bonum – in the interests of Power, against the Ohn-macht of late-romantic existentialisms or humanisms, that necessitates for Schumpeter the recourse to a rigid instrumental theoretical measure such as that of equilibrium theory that preserves the scientific economic status of the Dynamik by anchoring it to the axiological mechanical foundations of the Statik!  This is why for Schumpeter the Dynamik can never be reconciled with the Statik: this is why for him the two theoretical frameworks must remain logically contradictory and practically incompatible.  Consciously or not the Austrian economist himself recognized the impossibility of bridging this particular hiatus irrationale between Statik and Dynamik because, for one, he believed that social reality is irreconcilably and immutably conflictual so that no “theory” (Statik) can ever correspond to “history” (Dynamik), and, consequently, any attempt or claim to such integration would mean that the “reason” in “history” was not just “instrumental” but “teleological” or “metaphysical”, giving rise therefore to a “prophetic rationalism” that Schumpeter, like Weber, always imputed to and impugned against Marx’s own theory of capitalism and of history (cf. “Marx the Prophet” in CS&D). The “reason” in Schumpeter’s notion of “histoire raisonnee” is entirely “instrumental” and not “teleological” as in the “prophetic-dialectical” Marx (or indeed in Hegel and even in Husserl [philosophy as totality] and Heidegger [philosophy as thinking rather than thinking as technique, p.240, Pathmarks, “Letter on Humanism”]).



Europe Needs to Recognize the Threat From Russia

Putin’s challenge to international norms requires a more forceful response.


Editorial Board

September 15, 2020, 10:00 PM GMT+10During two decades as Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin has rarely concealed his contempt for Western-style democracy and the rule of law. The poisoning of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny, amid a widening Russia-supported crackdown on opposition leaders in Belarus, indicates the lengths to which Putin and his cronies will go to silence their enemies and maintain power.

Russia’s forthright challenge to international norms demands a forceful Western response. It won’t come from the Trump administration, whose mild rebukes are consistently undercut by the president’s evident regard for Putin. In America’s absence, European leaders should develop a coordinated strategy to counter Russia’s threat to the continent’s stability and impose steeper costs for its misconduct.

The crisis in Belarus is the most immediate test. Five weeks since a fraudulent election sparked mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, the government has begun arresting and deporting leading opposition figures and opening criminal prosecutions against them. Putin has reportedly dispatched Russian operatives to assume control of Belarusian state media outlets and hinted at more forceful intervention if anti-government protests grow violent. Putin and Lukashenko, who met face-to-face on Monday, also seem to be exploring moves toward political integration — a form of “soft annexation” long sought by Putin, allowing him to extend Russian influence deeper into the heart of Europe.

The West has limited influence over events in Belarus, but European leaders should do what they can to bolster its democracy. The EU should impose travel and asset bans on members of Lukashenko’s regime involved in abducting and imprisoning opposition leaders. It should suspend economic and political cooperation until all political prisoners are released and a new election is held under international supervision. Collectively and individually, Europe’s governments should support pro-democracy groups with money, professional and educational exchanges, and technical help for social-media channels that Belarusians rely on to counter Russian-backed disinformation.

Confronting Putin also requires Europe to wean itself off Russia’s most potent geopolitical weapon: natural gas. The obvious target is Nord Stream 2, the pipeline built under the Baltic Sea to carry gas directly from Russia to Germany. The attack on Navalny, who remains hospitalized in Berlin after being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok, has raised pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to halt the pipeline project. Having previously insisted on completing construction, Merkel’s position has shifted. She now says it would be “wrong to rule anything out” until Putin provides an explanation for Navalny’s poisoning.

Germany ought to scrap Nord Stream 2 immediately. Its dependence on gas imports from Russia is already too high — and, with prices falling due to soft global demand, this is a good time to diversify. Germany could import more gas from the U.S. and Gulf states, and from reserves in the eastern Mediterranean if tensions between Greece and Turkey can be eased. Ending German dependence on Russian energy would reduce Putin’s leverage over Europe and weaken the Russian economy, undermining Putin’s support at home.

Hard power counts as well. Europe’s governments must work together to upgrade their military capacity, with modern weapons, joint training and stronger cyber defenses. With luck, a new U.S. administration can help, by restoring America’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance. But whoever wins the White House in November, containing Putin’s Russia is a job Europe needs to face more squarely.


Hong Kong Offers a Glimpse of One Belarus Future

Before Minsk, another unpopular leader backed by a powerful patron faced down a pro-democracy uprising. It may hold lessons.

A powerful patron can be a useful thing. Lukashenko and Putin, seen here in 2015.
A powerful patron can be a useful thing. Lukashenko and Putin, seen here in 2015. Photographer: Sergey Guneev/Host Photo Agency/Ria Novosti/Getty Images

Two unpopular leaders, two powerful backers. Pictures this week of Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko beaming for the cameras, leaning in eagerly to address an impassive Russian president, evoked another pair 4,000 miles away and months earlier. Against a similar background of street unrest, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam found support from China’s President Xi Jinping last year. It’s not a parallel that bodes well for Minsk’s burgeoning opposition.

Under pressure since claiming victory in a disputed election last month, and facing demonstrations that show no sign of fading, Lukashenko has turned to Vladimir Putin for succor. Moscow sees its smaller neighbor as a crucial, Russia-friendly buffer with Europe, and has no desire to see a popular uprising result in genuine democracy. Belarus’s leader, meanwhile, needs financial fortification and a hint of military support. Lam, too, received solace in Beijing last year during months of tumult and after a painful local election defeat. Both got what they wanted: a televised display of support to appease elites and security forces at home.

From the start, the crowds in Minsk learned from Hong Kong’s broad-based, leaderless campaign. They, too, were making demands of a system ill-equipped to compromise. The current stalemate between the opposition and Lukashenko looks familiar. Could Hong Kong, then, offer a hint of what may be next for Belarus, as the leadership digs in? It’s a path that includes more aggressive tactics by police and protesters, more government efforts to silence opponents, and economic stagnation.

There are pronounced differences between the two. Hong Kong, after all, is a Chinese autonomous territory and a financial center with a penchant for laissez-faire capitalism. Belarus is an independent country in the heart of Europe with many Soviet traits. Hong Kong’s demonstrations were triggered by efforts to preserve the former colony’s freedoms; marchers on the other side of the world were demanding a change from the status quo.

Yet both are pro-democracy movements under the shadow of a superpower. Hong Kong’s endgame provides a glimpse of one possible future.

In the first instance, this would include increasingly tough tactics as the government compensates for lost legitimacy. In Hong Kong, violence escalated as protests dragged on, Lam remained unmoved and police began to deploy tear gas and water cannon. Eventually huge quantities of gas were used, along with rubber bullets and even live ammunition. 

A Hong Kong-style escalation in Belarus would probably require the government to perceive a greater threat: say, if widespread strikes resumed in tandem with protests. That isn’t impossible. The past weeks’ demonstrations have been relatively peaceful, after the beatings and rubber bullets of the first days after the August presidential election, yet arrests continue and masked special forces police are pulling people off the street.

Support from a muscular power removes the incentive to meet halfway, and Lukashenko has already hounded out or jailed all opposition leaders. Maryia Rohava of the University of Oslo points out that officials are going to great lengths to remove symbols, like the white-red-white flags associated with the opposition, or painting over protest murals. That’s familiar to Hong Kong, where Lennon Walls have been scrubbed and a television director was pressed to quit this week after rubber gloves were displayed in a sitcom in a way that hinted at a protest slogan.

The former British colony shows that such crises offer the opportunity for the protecting nation to step in more forcefully. Beijing has tightened its grip, as seen with the passing of a national security law for Hong Kong. Minsk’s predicament is more complex. Lukashenko needs Putin’s support, but with few alternatives the Kremlin also needs him, says Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus who’s now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The shape of a closer union and intervention is still unclear, but dependence links will be tighter.

The economic front looks little better. Hong Kong has struggled since last year, as mainland tourists and shoppers stay home — a slump exacerbated by the pandemic. Multinationals have become increasingly wary, as the independence of Hong Kong’s judicial system and its broader autonomy comes into question. Still, Chinese corporates have the firepower to make a difference and are keeping the stock market active. Belarus is no global financial hub and Russia will ensure it survives, but not that it thrives: Its IT industry, a growing part of an otherwise unimpressive economy, is already seeing a brain drain

Every comparison has its limits. While Belarus may be in a Hong Kong-style impasse, its trajectory could be very different if the elite begins to crack, perhaps encouraged by an organized opposition in exile. A heavily personalized system is also limited by the mortality of the leader. Hong Kong’s precedent serves to temper any flights of optimism.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.