There has been a huge exodus of Ukrainians into neighbouring countries fleeing the war in their country- three million and counting. Just as in Syria and in other countries engulfed by war, there has been a refugee disaster.
But this latest exodus from Ukraine adds to the millions who have already left in the last 30 years. Even before the Ukraine-Russia conflict, there was a rising demographic deficit in Ukraine and most of Eastern Europe, including Russia. Eastern Europe’s population has been shrinking like no other regional population in modern history.
Many war ridden countries like Syria have suffered significant population loss but a population drop throughout a whole region and over decades has never been observed in the world since the 1950s. The UN estimates that there are about 292 million people in Eastern Europe, and that’s 18 million less than in the early 1990s, or more than the population of the Netherlands disappearing from the region.
The population of Eastern Europe has been shrinking since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Why? Mainly because many people in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and other states bordering Russia have emigrated towards the ‘West’, into the European Union. They have done so in order to get work and a more prosperous life.
At least eleven countries have shrunk by more than 10% in terms of their population size since 1989, including Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. Latvia has lost over a quarter of its population (27%), Lithuania 23% and Bosnia and Herzegovina 21%. The Bulgarian population contracted from 9 million in 1989 to 7.1 million in 2017.
Looking forwards, the top ten countries with the fastest shrinking populations are all in Eastern Europe according to UN projections. Bulgaria, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine, Croatia, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia, Poland, Hungary, are estimated to see their population shrink by 15% or more by 2050. For Ukraine, that forecast will now be increased.
Bulgaria is the world’s fastest shrinking country, with its population is expected to drop from 7 million in 2017 to 5.4 million in 2050. In Latvia, the population is estimated to drop from 1.9 million in 2017 to 1.5 million, whilst in Moldova, the population is estimated to shrink from 4 million to 3.2 million.
Emigration has been the safety valve for very weak capitalist economies, which otherwise could not deliver employment or better living conditions. Indeed, the main reason that per capita income has risen in these weak economies in the 21st century is through a reduction in the number of people living there.
Emigration is a traditional solution for weak capitalist economies often driven into poverty by imperialism. Such was the case for Ireland for over 150 years: whenever the economy slumped, Irish people emigrated. Similarly, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese and Spanish emigrated in the post-1945 period. And in the euro-debt crisis of 2012-15, emigration in all these EU countries saw sharp rises in emigration to the richer northern EU economies – about one million moved from south to north.
On the flipside, any growth in Europe’s population was largely as a result of immigration). While the number of births and deaths were equal at 5.1 million each, net migration boosted the population by 1.5 million to 511.8 million. But emigration will not be enough to reverse the decline in population in the ageing economies of northern Europe like Germany, as I have shown before in a previous post.
And that is even more the case for southern Europe. According to the UN, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain will all see their working age populations decline by more than 25% These four countries are all in the top six globally on this measure, behind only South Korea and Japan. All four countries will see more dependents than working age people by 2050.
Figure 1. 2020-2050 working age population decline and 2050 worker gap
Poland, Romania, and Ukraine will also see working age populations fall by 25% or more between 2020 and 2050. They will also see rising old-age dependency ratios to 60% in the case of Poland, 52% in Romania and 46% in Ukraine. This “worker gap” is 50% or above in Poland, Portugal, Italy, and Greece and 30-40% in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Czechia.
Economies grow in GDP terms if employment rises and/or the productivity per worker rises. Most advanced capitalist economies are facing a fall in the working-age population and employment, but that is compensated by a rise in productivity per worker to achieve at least some real GDP growth. Increased productivity depends on rising productive investment per worker. Eastern Europe faces a demographic deficit ie a fall in its productive workforce more than any other region in the world. Can capitalism in that region deliver faster growth in the productivity of labour to compensate over the next decade or so? If not, the poorer parts of the region to the west of Ukraine will offer no economic security for Ukrainians now fleeing their homeland.
26 thoughts on “Eastern Europe’s demographic deficit”
I’ve had arguments with people over the population issue. I think large capital needs low-paid workers and consumers, while at the same time demonizing immigrants to make the labor even cheaper. Others contend that ‘labor’ in a global world is not actually portable and the capitalists don’t want them. Both things seem to be true at the same time for ‘different populations,’ but if your population is shrinking and isolated, that does not bode well for capitalist ‘growth.’ IE the EU doesn’t want impoverished people from Nigeria showing up, but Ukraine, Hungary, Poland – that is OK – and they will and have gotten them. London before Brexit was known to be the 2nd largest Hungarian city. That was one of the points of the overthrow of the eastern bloc.
Odd. You didn’t mention the cause of the emigration– the collapse of the former USSR and the ravaging of those economies by holy warriors of free markets. Life expectancies dropped about 15 percent, tuberculosis soared, and other lovely dividends of capitalism, like the export of women in the “Natasha” trade were introduced into the countries of the fSU– in short the market version of a neutron bomb. Building were left standing, the people disappeared.
“Can capitalism in that region deliver faster growth in the productivity of labour to compensate over the next decade or so? ” is not even a question when rising productivity historically is the product of a rising population as its the increasing surplus value extracted from a growing labor force that allows for investment in productivity.
In the UK the reverse has happened. In the last two decades Britain’s population has risen by its fastest rate since the 19th century. This is largely due to immigration between the years 2004 and 2016 in the wake of the enlargement of the European Union. Under Blair’s open door policy, approximately 8 million people came to the UK from other countries in the EU, especially from Eastern Europe. This raised the UK’s population from 58 million in 2001 (it had only risen by three million in the previous forty years) to 66 million in 2016. The result was that the working population rose from 24 million to 32 million in the same period. This massive growth of working people coincided with a continuing decline in available affordable housing and austerity cuts in public services. The result was naturally a huge rise in rents – they doubled in London – and a big increase in pressure on health, education and other services across Britain. All of this fed into popular discontent with the EU and contributed to the vote for Brexit.
Incidentally, the main argument in favour of extending the UK’s pension age – that we did not have enough people of working age to support our ageing population – was completely upended by this development. But there has been no reversal of the pension age change.
Siempre leo y muchas veces imprimo sus muy buenas notas. En el de hoy quisiera hacer una corrección geográfica: Bulgaria, Rumania y Ucrania no son países Bálticos sino Balcánicos.Ucrania entraría por cercanía. Posiblemente un error de imprenta. Saludos
The phenomenon is worldwide, albeit more dramatic in Eastern Europe because of the effects of the devastation caused by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Even India – thought to be the fortress of birth rates – is witnessing an accelerated fall in its fertility rates (falling below replacement level in 2020 for the first time).
Africa still has elevated birth rates, but there’s a catch: infant mortality rates are also sky-high, so, overall, its population is actually very low, if you take into account its immense territory (low population density). There won’t be a new capitalist era centered on Africa.
The USA already has a negative birth rate – its population only still grows very healthy because of constant mass immigration from Latin America (specially, Central America). However, birth rates in Latin America are also at all-time lows and this seemingly unlimited source of cheap labor power is waning quickly: immigration already barely compensates for population loss in the USA, which will have to incite more civil wars and austerity on Latin America in order to keep the desirable levels of mass immigration going from now on. Expect a new wave of liberal dictatorships in Latin America coming in in the 21st Century.
The diagnosis is very simple and clear: capitalism has reached its level of exhaustion. It cannot sustain those levels of fertility through its own development of the productive forces anymore.
That means not only Trotsky was wrong – there won’t be a “permanent revolution” – but capitalism will probably be succeeded by a long and painful dark age before socialism is painfully born.
“The diagnosis is very simple and clear: capitalism has reached its level of exhaustion. It cannot sustain those levels of fertility through its own development of the productive forces anymore.”
Maybe not that simple, since China, that socialist beacon in the east, has experienced a decline in births per female from over 6 in 1966 to 1.70 in 2019 (a slight increase over the record low 1.60 in the 90s).
Maybe it’s better explained by the entry into the social labor force of millions women around the world, who with the demands of work on their time, and the benefits of work toward economic independence put off pregnancy.
This is, as should be expected from this quarter, the covertly pro-capital “explanation.” The “demands of work on their time” is because wages are so low it now takes two workers, not one to support the family. How this is “economic independence” is a mystery? The notorious poverty of single mothers refutes the best guess at what that might even be.
The reduced need for children to serve as supports for old age due to lower child mortality and/or widespread pension benefits both public and private are probably more relevant. The one is due to better social technology, especially improved sanitation (a government service usually, not a free market triumph.) The other is due to the exigencies of class struggle, both in production and in the arena of politics.
The snide aside about “socialist beacon” is also wrong. The Cultural Revolution was not the nadir of human history in the twentieth century. The right turn may have put China back on the capitalist road, but there is no magic, a whole nation and people do not travel any road in seven league boots. The belief the advances of today’s China prove capitalism has a future is insane.
Once again SJ provides an ideological response. The issue is the fertility rate. Since the falling fertility is associated with the economic development of a society, and the economic development of society is directly related to the influx of women into the social, “non-domestic” labor force, it is clear that the decline infertility has its origins in that influx and the demands it places on women’s time, social time, labor time, being the critical need. This does not preclude, or eliminate, or counter the fact that for decades the fastest growing “sector” of the poor was single parent households with women at the head. Rather, both occur, sequentially, or co-incidentally, and find the same source in the need for female labor, and the need to drive the cost of labor below the previously existing standards for its reproduction. But the very fact that this sector is female headed emphasizes the expanded independence of women workers from male headed households.
In the US , the ratio of women above age 15 participating in the labor force increased from 35% in 1960 to reach a peak of 60 percent in 1999. Fertility rates declined by half between 1960 and 1976 before turning up slightly.
SJ forgets that fertility ratesare not exclusive to a specific class or percentile group based on income, but apply to and correlate with the overall participation of women in the labor force. Nothing about the facts of this trend implies an endorsement of capitalism as a great emancipator, or as anything but what capitalism is and remains, the mode of exploitation of human labor power.
SJ’s other remarks about China are pointless. VK, to whom my remarks were addressed, claims that the decline in fertility is simply a leading indicator that capitalism is exhausted, and the future, like the east, is red. Except the fertility rate in China declined some 40% since 1979, despite the relaxation of the one child policy.
So some advice, which will be ignored to those to whom it is addressed: check your ideological baggage at the door. Or join a church.
Sorry, no, “the expanded independence of women from male-headed households” is nothing but an ideological presumption that women being freed from men is by definition liberation. The sex struggle is more important than the class struggle. These are popular positions but they aren’t in the least anti-capitalist, despite the self-misnaming.
Is the high infant birth what causes the population projection to be so off? The UN seems to have corrected their model numerous times.
Please forgive me vkm but I prefer a more dialectical approach. The external world is objective, it doesn’t conveniently accord with the limits of existing human theoretical concepts which only partially reflect the massive contradictions of human social historical development over time. That is why we properly describe it as a revolutionary process, producing unexpected outcomes from its often as yet unseen, but existing essential and unanticipated contradictory self realisations. V. Lenin suggested “Form is essential. Essence is formed” (Collected works Vol38 P144). Check out what Leon Trotsky was actually referring to when he postulated the concept which was translated into the somewhat limited English phrase “permanent revolution”. It wasn’t a new final solution, incidence, or change to a final and henceforth unchanging transition into some new undialectical natural order.
That’s the sort of unscientific speculation churned out by formal “thinkers” in the tradition of Milton Friedman – with his “end of history” fantasies and so on. Trotsky was describing an ongoing process of revolutionary development – the continuing and continually altering / changing outcome reflected as new and ever more complex relative interactions emerging as “new reality”, the active motion of the universal. We have moved on from isolated concepts such as “politics” and “economics” to the more complex relationship implied by the term “political economy”.
Of course, we still need to consider these primary aspects of political development, and separately, economic developments, but we must also consider their intrinsic interconnections, as new moments of our changing circumstance which modify each other in new ways. Surely this is what the great collaborative mental work of Karl and Jenny Marx and Frederick Engels and Mary Burns, and Josef Dietzgen and so many others wrought with some difficulty out of W.G.F. Hegel’s retrieving of and toiling with Ancient Greek Thought. They transformed his mere ideal formulations into the living reflection of existential material actuality in its living movement, Thus bringing about a new science we are pleased to call Marxism today.
This more advanced concept includes the relative (but not “relativist”) interactions of these many contradictory essentials as each of these categories as real material aspects of the whole, the universal, mutually conditioning each other within a dynamic process. Globalisation has realised itself out of the conditions arising from the degeneration of the former partially realised revolutionary productive processes of the deformed worker’s states of eastern Europe, particularly in the context of their material dissolution as the attempt to construct socialism – abandoned through Stalinism and its resultant destructive retreats from reality over half a century.
This post Soviet era has created new contradictions, the effects of which are by no means yet clear. But the underlying contradiction of a profit-seeking production mode which has now become untenable through its own dominant intrinsic contradiction – the indebtedness which has become its essential functional characteristic but remains a block to the production of new surplus value thus creating, to coin a phrase, “permanent deterioration”.
The main problem with the post-Soviet era (End of History Era) is that the working classes of the First World countries betrayed the working classes of the rest of the world. They promised that, if the Third World working classes helped them to destroy the heretic version of the USSR (Eastern Marxism; Marxism-Leninism), then they would finally unite and lead the world to the true version of the world revolution (permanent revolution).
Not only they didn’t do that, but they turned out to be pro-imperialists, closeted liberals. The American Left turned out to be the child of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., not of Karl Marx (the same way the SPD always was the child of Ferdinand Lassalle, not of Karl Marx, as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebeknecht found out the hard way and too late).
Now, what we have now is a de facto center-left-center-center-right-far-right confederation or coalition, HQd in the USA, calling the world to unite to destroy the remnants of Eastern Marxism (China) and whatever reminds them Eastern Marxism (Russia, post-USSR space).
The true question is: when will the First World working classes stop? At which point will they be satisfied? Are they really ever going to do the promised worldwide communist revolution? Or are they just the farcical version of the tragic version of France in the 19th Century?
Weird. The above is just plain weird.
Strange?. More than that, it is highly imaginative story-fiction. Historian comrade VK amuses himself by imagining possible pasts and futures with little evidence. As for the present, he has only failed to label the working class of the first world as zombies-hypocrites. Working class to which he does not ” feel like ” today to make a world revolution according to VK. The slaves also “wanted” to be slaves, the serfs too, etc.. according to the same reasoning. On the objective, material and economic conditions (Distribution of the current capital, relations of production, extreme misery, knowledge of the working class, etc.) that prevent this revolution today, it seems that V.k. he knows them little or nothing.
There has been no such event in history, nor does it exist today, nor will it exist tomorrow. Trostky was completely wrong on this point (and others): he was only following the knowledge of his time. The revolution is only a brief and localized act in a certain time and place that must comply for its existence with certain and exact material conditions mentioned above. The (social) evolution if it is a permanent process and its fit with the revolution follows this sequence: revolution (for example 1917)-progressive evolution with phase of reforms favorable to the working class, (1917-1980)-regressive evolution that is a phase of reactionary counter-reforms unfavorable to the working class, (1980-2030/2040)-revolution, (2030/2040). Long to explain but easy to understand because of its science. And this is the current synthesized socialist (Marxist) theory that explains the revolutionary process. The rest of the explanations are history-fiction.
1)Any version of history where the “First World” working classes are the ruling class is false.
2)The working classes of countries like Brazil are as culpable as the “First World” working classes for strangling the revolution.
3)The commitment to bourgeois democracy is generally held to be a Good Thing, but bourgeois democracy is imperialism.
It’s necessary to get the specifics of “permanent revolution” correct before chucking it, or rather instead of chucking it into the dustbin for history. History “permanent revolution” does NOT mean that capitalism is permanently in the midst of a revolutionary ferment; it does NOT mean that regardless of external conditions, the working class is automatically assured of taking power.
Permanent revolution, or rather “uninterrupted” or “telescoped” revolution was the first expression of the recognition of uneven and combined development. This recognition grasped that a “stages” theory of revolution, i.e. bourgeois revolution must precede capitalist development; capitalist development must precede proletarian revolution, is a formalist construction that does not correspond to the actual material conditions where the “backward” “archaic” “pre-capitalist” are a)intertwined with the “advanced” capitalist relations and b) represent the inability of capitalism to sweep away the impediments to expanded productivity in relations of land and labor (agriculture), and thus capitalism cannot discharge those tasks of development historically thought to be part of the capitalist mode of production.
The revolutionary struggle, when it emerges from the conflict between means and relations of production, may APPEAR to be, or APPEAR to require, a bourgeoisie and a bourgeois revolution. However, the struggle is essentially a struggle against all the relations of private ownership and can only be resolved by the taking of power by the proletariat, a proletariat opposed to and independent of the bourgeoisie, big small national local, whatever. Clearly that has been the lesson of the Russian Revolution in its advance and decline; and also demonstrated by the defeats in the past of China, Spain, Vietnam in 1945, Chile in 1973, South Africa 1976–1994.
vk’s post is always fun to read especially when it comes to reply as their unabashedly non-Western view really, REALLY riles up some people here and even exposing their western chauvinism! Nothing could be more clear when the commenter of this blog has no qualm whatsoever calling the Communist Party of Portugal as communist despite them having to share power with left-leaning, non-Marxist parties. Meanwhile Communist Party of China achievement got dismissed wholesale because their apparent restoration of capitalism even though Michael Roberts time and times again (all respect to him to still call China’s economy as being ‘mixed’). No assessment whatsoever of Chinese Marxists perspective on their attempt at Marxism and socialism.
Western Marxist chauvinism is truly embarrassing.
“…the degeneration of the former partially realised revolutionary productive processes of the deformed worker’s states of eastern Europe, particularly in the context of their material dissolution as the attempt to construct socialism – abandoned through Stalinism and its resultant destructive retreats from reality over half a century.”
Does not the Marxist concept of historical development suggest that the revolutionary process only proceed in one direction?
If this is correct, how is it that regressive Stalinism arose?
Excuse me if I have mangled Marxist theory.
“Stalinism” doesn’t actually exist. It is a fantasy term created by the Trotskyists (which is also a fantasy term created by Stalin, to designate the sympathizers and alleged followers of Trotsky) in the 1920s-30s to describe whatever was happening in the USSR after 1929 at the earliest. That’s the simplest explanation.
But let’s assume this so-called Stalinism really existed. Was it regressive? From the point of view of History, it certainly wasn’t. The key here is how you interpret the “internationalist era” of the USSR, from 1917-1923.
The anti-Stalinists claim a worldwide, “permanent” revolution was still perfectly possible even after October 1923 (the second and definitive failed German revolution attempt). That was definitely Trotsky’s position, but not only his – there were a lot of remnants of the Old Bolsheviks who still bet on that. They basically defended the idea that the USSR should do whatever it took, whatever the cost in humans and material, to trigger a communist revolution in the West, specially Germany, thus completely ignoring the domestic front. It was basically an “all-in” strategy.
The majority of the Soviet people and Party (which was led by Stalin from the very beginning, after Lenin’s death), however, had interpreted the events of 1923 very differently. They saw it as the definite defeat of the communist cause, the beginning of an era of capitalist stabilization. However, by then, the Bolsheviks already were firmly in power of Russia – they couldn’t simply give up power, restore capitalism and thus commit suicide. It was then a very popular synthesis of that contradiction to claim socialism in one country was possible, even though not as good as the real deal.
Initially, the point of discord between the “internationalists” and the “socialists in one country” wasn’t so much about the long term goal: the former recognized that Russia should still industrialize, regardless of the outcome in the West; and the latter still recognized that socialism was the answer, and that, in the long term, socialism should become international if it wanted to survive. The discord was what to do in the short term, not the long term.
There was never any chance the internationalists could win the debate against the socialists-in-one-country. Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev were pure intellectuals, without any popular base, and their power and legitimacy in the Party depended solely on Lenin’s personal favoritism. Lenin was the incontestable leadership because he was both the intellectual and the party worker; he combined the qualities of both types of revolutionaries, as he did both the intellectual guidance and the “boring” tasks which were essential to make the whole thing take form in the real world.
It was only after Trotsky was expelled from the USSR and after he actively started to publish things openly calling for the toppling of the Soviet government that he really became “the enemy”. It was because of that – in a scenario of very tense international relations – that Trostky was murdered, not because of his “permanent revolution” theory.
After Lenin died, there was no illusion any one could ever fit in his shoes. It was promptly decided that there should be a “collective leadership” to replace him. It was only because of the catastrophes of the Comintern which culminated in Germany 1923 and the subsequent fiascos after that, that Stalin inexorably – almost by inertia – rose to the post of de facto leader of the USSR (as we can attest from British documents). Contrary to the drama told and perpetuated in the Western Left until the present day, Stalin’s rise to power was treated as both inevitable and natural by the Western powers. In the 1930s, the Comintern already was not taken seriously even by the Western powers.
Without “Stalinism”, the Nazis would have won WWII and established a Nazi Empire that stretched from Eastern France to the Urals, probably with a good chunk of the Middle East. Nazism would be a reality of life in the present-day without “Stalinist” (i.e. Socialism in One Country) USSR, like neofeudal Saudi Arabia or Theocratic Israel are today. The probably wouldn’t be a post-war center-leftist consensus in the West without “Stalinist” USSR, as a peace treaty would probably be struck between the USA and a victorious Third Reich, which would normalize far-right instead of far-left positions in the West. As a result, there probably wouldn’t be a welfare state in Europe (it wouldn’t be needed to begin with, because there would be no Communist threat from the East) and there would certainly not be anything like the Civil Rights Movement in the USA as it happened in 1968 (it would be violently crushed if it did). There would be no Marxism in the Western universities, and Marx’s works would have probably been destroyed (there would certainly be no MEGA). This blog would probably not exist had the USSR not held off Nazi Germany in 1941-1945.
More importantly, there would be no Socialist China and no Socialist Vietnam without “Stalinist” USSR. Few people notice it, but “Stalinism” still exists today: both China and Vietnam still are Marxist-Leninist (i.e. Stalinist).
So yeah, from the point of view of abstract sociological theory, you could claim Stalinism is regressive; from the point of view of abstract political science, you could argue Stalinism is regressive only if you embrace the hypothesis the very short-lived internationalist era of the USSR (1917-1923) had realistic chances of succeeding. But, from the point of view of History, there’s no doubt: without “Stalinist” USSR, the world would be much more regressive than a world with it. Can’t argue with results, which are clear and documented beyond doubt.
Thanks for the potted history. More grist for the mill.
To me what you are describing as the development of Stalinism seems more like an outcome almost forced by human activity and circumstances rather than the working out of contradictions which seems to be behind the development of history as Marx saw it.
Have I misread you?
Perhaps the development of Stalinism is too much history in the “small” rather than history in the “large” for the forces of contradiction to apply?
“abandoned through stalinism…” No, this should read: “stalinsim” because abandoned. VK is right in honoring the Soviet Union and its tragic defeat. But wrong, in, like you, bringing back the suicidal trotsky/stalin debate Thus leaving the stage to the wretched Rech, and a dying imperialism.
I should add to this, that the infiltration and corruption of the post war’s “left’s” leadership in the West was inevitable because the Soviet’s pyrrhic victory over facism, allowed for a US hegemony to bring capitalist development to its full neoliberal potential of privatizing everything, and in the process undermining itself and the West’s “privileged” working classes, who are awakening and fighting off a fierce psychological war by a psychopathic ruling elite who would rather we all be dead than red. We have to understand the role of China and Russia in resisting insanity.
Ukraine and the Empire of Capital
Certainly debates about stalinism and permanent revolution are interesting but they hardly relate to the subject of population and fertility. Nor can they be dealt with in a few paragraphs in the comments section of a blog.
Can I humbly suggest that comrades restrict here their remarks to population and fertility which is what Michael Roberts blogpiece was about.
Pat I agree. I’m afraid some commentators are using this blog to expound their political views at interminable length
Michael can I suggest your readers watch and listen to the speaker from India giving the kind of analysis of what is happening in Ukraine and the strategic context which is so sorely missing in Europe and North America.