Monday, May 20, 2019

The vision of things to come.

The task of socialists was not to concoct Utopian schemes but to enlighten and organise the forces capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new. In the beginning, mankind was composed of many, many very primitive communities. The purpose of socialist revolution is not to restore a “natural order of things”. This much is admitted by most people: we cannot return to primitive society’s way of life. Despite this, however, there are still some who argue that we need to return to the past, and as far back in the past as possible. But these people forget that the “primitive values” they are so nostalgic for were the expression or reflection of social relations that no longer exist, social relations that corresponded to a very backward level of development and incomparably less scientific understanding than we have today. The purpose of socialist revolution is to provide today’s society with a form of organisation that corresponds to the material possibilities open to us today, to put an end to capitalist exploitation and all the forms of oppression that it perpetuates. This is the basic and primary reason for working for socialism.

The history of humanity is the history of human communities involved in the struggle for their existence. These communities gradually evolved into the global society of today. All societies throughout the world are now interdependent. Mankind has acquired steadily increasing control over nature, but at a costly price. Marx was scathing of the capitalist economic notion that the air, rivers, seas and soil can be treated as a "free gift of nature" to business."
"In London," Karl Marx wrote "they can find no better use for the excretion of four and a half million human beings than to contaminate the Thames with it at heavy expense"

Today, with climate change threatening life itself, the ecological contradictions of capitalism have reached such truly dire proportions that it will undoubtedly play a far larger role in the demise of the system than Marx and Engels realised 150 years ago and we can witness this in the global protests that have engaged many environmentalist campaigners.

The socialist analysis of the environment under capitalism shows how saving the planet is inextricably linked to transforming our society. Our current climate crises are inescapable outcomes of the system itself. This is because capitalism is dominated by corporations devoted to profit above all else. According to Marx, capitalism is an economic system profoundly at odds with a sustainable planet. The exploitation of nature is as fundamental to the profit system as the exploitation of working people.

Capitalist farming is unsustainable because it inevitably starves the soil of nutrients. It is nothing less than "an art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil"

The Socialist party argues that we humans are all part of nature. As Engels put it: “The present poisoning of the air, water and land can only be put an end to by the fusion of town and country” under “one single vast plan.” Despite its potential cost to society in terms of increased labour time, he viewed this fusion as “no more and no less utopian than the abolition of the antithesis between capitalist and wage-workers.”

The market system is incapable of preserving the environment for future generations because it cannot take into account the long-term requirements of people and planet. The competition between individual enterprises and industries to make a profitable return on their investment tends to exclude rational and sustainable planning. Because capitalism promotes the accumulation of capital on a never-ending and always expanding scale it cannot be sustainable. Engels explained this destructive dynamic: "As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of the immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account. As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he is satisfied and does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers. The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions"

We disrupt the natural ecosystem at our peril, Engels warned. "Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first." Engels added: "At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature." On the other hand, "we have the advantage of all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly." That is, we can organise society in line with nature's limits.

This is impossible unless the profit motive is removed from determining production in human society and a system of participatory democracy and rational planning is built in its stead. A rational agriculture, which needs either small independent farmers producing on their own, or the action of the associated producers, is impossible under modern capitalist conditions; and existing conditions demand a rational regulation of the metabolic relation between human beings and the earth, pointing beyond capitalist society to socialism and communism. Engels argued that only the working people organised as "associated producers" can "govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way". This "requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order."

For the Socialist Party, people and nature are not two separate things. Marx wrote that: “Man lives from nature, i.e., nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.” Marx goes so far as to define socialism as “the unity of being of man with nature.”

Marx does not see this as conferring a right to over-exploit land and other natural conditions in order to serve the production and consumption needs of the associated producers. Instead, he foresees an eclipse of capitalist notions of land ownership by a communal system of user rights and responsibilities:

"From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition." 

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