Monday, October 17, 2016

For the Common Good

Globally, the planet has been having the warmest year on record in a series of record-breaking years. The Polar regions have been experiencing warming. Most folk are now well-aware of these facts and the "climate skeptics," a handful of scientists many of whom are directly subsidised by the fossil-fuel lobby to place blatant misinformation in the public domain are declining in numbers. People have  given up on the myth the whole earth exists for human benefit. But, nevertheless, for most of the corporations, it is business as usual.

Under the rules of the capitalist system, corporations are compelled to maximize gains and minimise costs or lose to the competition. They do this by privatising gains and externalising costs to the public domain. So the environment serves as a free sewer to dump corporate wastes. Costs of cleanup are a public cost, financed by tax dollars. We have the technology to move to solar energy for electricity, and hydrogen-burning engines that produce only water vapor as exhaust. Cleaner, renewable sources of energy are available, affordable and waiting to be developed. But the capitalist system is acting as a cork on the teapot of human inventiveness and innovation. If something is profitable for corporations it happens - even if it is detrimental to the vast majority of people, our communities, and our global life-support system. But if something is not seen as profitable - even if it would be beneficial to the majority - then, sorry folks, corporations aren't interested. The deciding factor, the highest priority of capitalism, is short-term profit maximisation for the corporations.

The only way we can live at peace with the earth is to guarantee every living entity what it needs in order to thrive and prosper, and take from it only what it can afford to give. There is little hope that humans can do that until they treat each other the same way. But there is absolutely no hope of accomplishing this within capitalism. Capitalism by its very nature is exploitative. Humans exploit other humans, and humans exploit the earth. To survive, capitalism must continue to expand. It must produce more and more stuff, whether actually needed or not, using up the earth's resources and killing off life forms in the process.

The task of socialists is to shake our fellow-workers out of their apathy and wage a more effective campaign to dispel capitalist illusions and to explain that it was capitalism that got us into this mess to begin with. We can only be truly free when we, the working-class majority, join together and democratically decide what is produced, how it is produced and how the rewards are to be allocated. Only then can we dis-empower the parasites who are systematically stealing the wealth labor creates and wrecking the environment we all depend on. As workers we need to move beyond mere reformist single issues and transform our politics into class- and environmentally-conscious militant organizations that are also concerned with wresting control over technology decisions in order to enhance, not damage, environmental health. Sooner the sooner the better that we need to start building a cooperative commonwealth that will fundamentally change this world for the better. The first prerequisite for making the world better for all life, including our own, is getting rid of this deadly system. It is to the advantage of the ruling powers of our modern world to promote the idea that environmental problems, as well as all the other problems facing us, are caused by "human nature." They advance recommendations for individual life-style changes to counter climate change. If the majority accepts this view, all efforts for change are fruitless. A look at history shows that people's beliefs and feelings toward one another, and toward the environment, are conditioned by the society in which they live. And those beliefs and feelings change as society changes.

For thousands of years of tribal society, before the coming of civilisation divided people into antagonistic classes, humans lived in basic harmony with each other and with their environment. Cooperation was the key to their survival and their advancement. Greed was unknown. The earth and its animals were worshiped as sacred beings. Even the necessary killing of game for food had to be justified and purified through tribal rituals. The environmental damage of pre-capitalist societies was done in ignorance and had no overall long-term global impact. Although civilization took a mankind-centered attitude toward the environment, environmental destruction was at first incidental and occasional, until the period when capitalism, with its industrialization, became dominant. Profit, not the planet’s health, is what motivates global investors. Directly or indirectly, the drive for profit affects everything around us and is the major reason for environmental destruction. This profit-driven system is so all-pervasive that it is destroying the environment in every area of the world. There is no land, no people, no species that has not been affected in one way or another.

Overpopulation is not the main reason for pressure on the environment. For example, in vast areas of the third world, international agri-business has thrown formerly self-reliant peasants off the best land in order to produce cash crops. Those who can't find work at poverty-level wages on the land they formerly owned have no choice but to migrate to cities where they hope to hire themselves out to industrial capitalists. Others are shoved out into the diminishing rain forests, which they try to make suitable for farming. These poor peasants are simply trying to survive and feed their families.

In contrast to all previous social systems, the capitalist system is based on production for sale, and not for personal use or human welfare. Under capitalism, everything is a commodity to be bought and sold. Even labor is a commodity bought and sold on the labour market. The capitalist system is governed by the laws of the market. There are essentially two "laws" of capitalism that dominate every business, large or small, and affect every decision made by companies.

1. every cost factor in production must be carefully weighed. Wages must be kept to a minimum. Raw materials must be bought at the lowest price, or replaced by cheaper substitutes. Waste must be disposed of as cheaply as possible, which leads to the indiscriminate and criminal dumping of toxic chemicals and other waste by-products of industry.
2. that the costs of production must be constantly lowered. Every new labor-saving invention installed by one company requires industry-wide imitation by its competitors. The result is that the total amount of commodities increases in astronomical proportions as the number of needed workers diminishes.

The need to sell ever greater numbers of commodities creates, under capitalism, a throw-away culture. The system bombards us with commercials to buy, buy, buy, while creating products with a deliberately limited life span and which cost more to fix than to replace. While it's good to have people recycle and consume fewer unneeded products, these personal choices alone can't redirect the underlying compulsions of the system that are the real reason for the environmental crisis. While there is the need to sell ever-more commodities, the working class has less purchasing power because companies are reducing their labour costs through layoffs and pay cuts. The corporations must then make greater efforts to sell in the international market. But the corporations in each country face the same problem. Their respective working classes cannot buy back what they, the workers, create. With mounting inventories, the economic rivalry intensifies, and nothing is allowed to stand in the way of reducing costs to stay competitive.

Trying to solve environmental problems through government legislation has proved futile. Numerous laws that have been passed to protect the environment either are not enforced or are weakened in response to economic pressure from business. And the capitalists hold the ultimate weapon, the threat of moving their corporations to countries where there are no such laws. It is economic power that gives the capitalist owning class its tremendous political power. It logically follows that to redress our problems, we, the people, must gain economic as well as political control power.

The foundation for a real democracy is the ownership and control of the economy by society as a whole - not by private corporations, not by the state, not by any other entity standing above us. To establish an economic democracy, we will need to organize a political party to demand fundamental change. We must build a new mass movement based on the explicit goal of replacing capitalism with social democracy. The change to common ownership and collective control will make it possible to solve the problems capitalism has created. With the absence of conflicting economic interests, the new society will be able to tackle problems in a spirit of cooperation. Our number-one priority will be conservation and protection of the environment, not only for ourselves, but to benefit future generations. This is a call for a revolutionary transformation of society, a socialist revolution which will declare that the means of life rightfully belong to all the people. This will not be a simple or easy process. We workers need to rediscover the common needs and hopes that bind us in this dog-eat-dog world as a class that overrides our differences and diversity.  Above all, we need to understand that we, the working class, are the only necessary class. We do all the world's useful work, and we are the only ones who can change it for the better.