Thursday, March 12, 2020

Climate Crises and Capitalism

"Even an entire society, a nation or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth, they are simply its holders, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations..." Marx

No matter how well-intentioned many environmental activists are, very few address the question of how their objectives can be achieved without radical social and economic change. Some say socialism is just out of date on the issue of the environment and there are even those who suggest it is fundamentally anti-environment. Yet the Socialist Party seeks to build a society that is not based on the exploitation of the Earth at all — a society whose goal is to achieve a benign stable relationship with nature for the benefit of all species. This is the Socialist Partys task, to inspire people to demand real radical change.Only inside world socialism without any nation-states will human beings be able to really tackle the damage that has been done to their natural surroundings.But it is a fact that humanity cannot exist without disturbing the natural environment.

Unfortunately for those who believe the environmental movement is everything, there is no way that it can force politicians to to take transformative action towards a society that can sustain us and the planet. In places where the movement takes hold governments and politicians may well be pressured into adopting more radical environmental goals. Indeed some already are, although with questionable results.But as for any deeper substantive changes, the sort that could begin to remedy the damage already done, that requires a revolution on a world scale. A social revolution to overthrow capitalism.Increasingly more and more environmentalists are starting to agree with this. But first we need to understand what capitalism is.

In a world where the 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50% [Oxfam report 2019], it's easy to focus on getting rid of 'elites' in order to create a more just world. Certainly sequestrating the assets of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett will be part of any anti-capitalist revolution but that in itself won't alter the system that spawns such gross unfairness.

The core of the problem is that capitalism does not produce things to satisfy human needs. It produces “commodities” to be sold on the market in order to make a profit for the capitalists. The more commodities that are produced and sold, the more profit. Hence all the market research and advertising campaigns. It is an infernal cycle of endless growth and accumulation of capital where human beings are reduced to objects of production on the one hand and consumers of the products on the other.
As for the nature, capitalism still treats it as a source of free raw materials or a barrier to be broken down in the search for more profit and a dump for toxic trash. When businesses talk of 'sustainable' solutions, what they mean is sustainable for capitalism.
Even carbon emissions have been turned into commodities to be traded on financial markets. And every company keen to present a green image has a soothing statement to reassure its customers and investors.
The future of the human species - if there is to be a future - must be a socialist one. Capitalism is not the system through which we can have a sustainable future. Capitalism is only concerned with short term profits; and the costs to the environment like pollution and the extinction of plant, insect, animal life and pollution are simply “externalities”. Pollution from agricultural fertilisers, mining, and destruction of rain-forests are “externalities” to profits derived directly from these activities. In cities all around the world, pollution from the factories and vehicles of the profit machine cause lung disease and damages children’s brain development – further “externalities”. For capitalism it’s more important to make profits than for children to grow up healthy. The profit- system  is seriously flawed, but the answer is not to tinker around with it but to supersede that system with something better.
Some inside the environmental movement advocate a society based on cooperation and production-for-use, a sustainable society where production is in harmony with the environment and affairs are run in a decentralised and democratic manner. They argue that only in such a system can ecological problems such as pollution and global warming be solved. However, delving deeper, it is clear that their sustainable society is not socialism, for the continuance of money and the market is assumed, together with private ownership. The ultimate aim is a participatory economy, based on smaller-scale, more local enterprises.  
Yet, these are firmly wedded to a form of capitalism, holding a belief that capitalism can be tamed so as to be compatible with achieving an environmentally sustainable society. These eco-activists are setting out to impose upon capitalism something that is incompatible with its very essence. Capitalism and a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature are not compatible. The excessive consumption of both renewal and non-renewable resources and the release of waste that nature can’t absorb that currently goes on are not just accidental but an inevitable result of capitalism’s very essence. The capitalist system creates vast amounts of energy waste in the military and its socially useless jobs such as marketing, finance and banking which are part of its profit making machine. Endless growth and the growing consumption of nature-given materials this involves is built into capitalism. The greens have never effectively answered the question on how it can achieve a zero-growth, sustainable society while still retaining a market system which involves an irresistible, built-in tendency to increase sales for profit and  if sales collapses, society breaks down in recession, unemployment and financial crisis. Capitalism differs from previous class societies in that under it production is not for direct use, not even of the ruling class, but for sale on a market. Competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all their destructive effects on the rest of nature, are integral to capitalism. These make capitalism inherently environmentally unfriendly. The ecological contradictions of capitalism make sustainable, or "green" capitalism a confidence trick. The only way in which the aims of the environmentalists can be achieved is through socialism in which all the Earth's resources, natural and industrial, have become the common heritage, under democratic control at local, regional and world level, of all humanity.
 In such a society production and distribution can be geared to satisfying human needs which, contrary to the mythology used to justify capitalism, are not limitless and can be met without over-stretching nature’s resources. In fact satisfactions can be increased – which after all must be the aim of socialism – without doing this. Only by replacing the profit system with truly democratic organisation can we give the environment the priority it deserves. We do not presume to lay down in advance what decisions will be made in socialism we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. Capitalist politicians are incompetent to deal with the problem. The real powers of action are with the great majority of people. This will be when we decide to create a society in which we will be free to co-operate and to use all our great reserves of energy and ingenuity for our needs. We should construct permanent, durable means of production which you don’t constantly innovate. We would use these to produce durable equipment and machinery and durable consumer goods designed to last for a long time, designed for minimum maintenance and made from materials which if necessary can be re-cycled. In this way we would get a minimum loss of materials; once they’ve been extracted and processed they can be used over and over again. It also means that once you’ve achieved satisfactory levels of consumer goods, you don’t insist on producing more and more. Total social production could even be reduced. You achieve this “steady state” and you don’t go on expanding production. This would be the opposite of cheap, shoddy, “throw-away” goods and built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources. Suggestions such as improving public transport, expanding renewable energy supplies and recycling will not be news to anyone and offers the kind vision of sustainable production many aspects of which could be taken on board in a socialist society. Imagine standardising the production of all bottles and glass containers so they can be returned to food and drink producers to be used again. It’s a sensible idea - socialism would do it. Seen solely from a technical point of view there are no doubt many ways in which the damage caused to the environment could be reduced with different uses of labour. But before any of these can become real options on which communities can freely make democratic decisions, labour itself must first be liberated. Labour must enjoy its own freedom outside the present enclosed system of commodity exchange in which it is confined to its function of profit making and the accumulation of capital.

If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this capitalist system must go. What is required is political action - political action aimed at replacing this system by a new and different one. There can be no justification, on any grounds whatsoever, for wanting to retain an exploitative system which robs workers of the products of their labour, which puts privileged class interests and profit before the needs of the community, which robs the soil of its fertility, plunders nature of its resources and destroys the natural systems on which all our lives depend. The Greens fails to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.
"...buying and selling is the great cheat that robs and steals the earth from one another. It is that which makes some lords, others beggars, some rulers, others to be ruled; and makes great murderers and thieves to be imprisoners and hangers of little ones, or of sincere hearted men" - Gerrard Winstanley, 1649, "A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England"
Adapted from articles taken from editions (No. 48 & 50) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation at

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