Thursday, November 24, 2016

Social Ecology

“Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combination together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the labourer.” Marx Capital, Vol I

The environment has become a major political issue. And rightly so. Questions regarding the environment are rarely out of the news. If it's not global warming and climate change, there is concern over future energy resources and rain forest depletion. The environmental list seems never-ending with the increasing human impact making serious inroads on finite resources. Hardly a day goes by when politicians, economists, environmentalists and the scientific community are not voicing their opinions and offering various explanations for the continual global degradation. Obviously, what is needed is an alternative solution outside of the capitalist mindset and one that takes into consideration the ownership and control of our productive processes; in short the social ownership of the means of life. Only then will we be able to address solutions which will not only benefit all of humanity but also the global environment.

Murray Bookchin was one of those in the ecological movement who refrained from the spiritual terms such as Mother Earth or Gaia. He also took objection to those who followed the doctrine of "deep ecology" which he consider irrational and anti-humanism. Bookchin argued that humans have a unique significance in nature since we are the only life-form capable of reflective thought and with the ability to conscious intervene to change the environment. Human intervention in nature is not some alien force since humans are precisely that part of nature which has evolved that consciously intervenes in the rest of nature; it is our nature to do so. He readily admits that it is true that our present form human intervention is upsetting natural balances and cycles, but he makes the point that human beings are capable of changing their behaviour. Bookchin describes the human species as the brain and voice of nature, nature becomes self-conscious, so to speak. But to accomplish this, humanity must change the social system, a change from capitalism to a "community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund of produce what he or she needs." Bookchin explains, "The earth can no longer be owned; it must be shared. Its fruits, including those produced by technology and labour, can no longer be expropriated by the few; they must be rendered available to all on the basis of need. Power, no less than material things, must be freed from the control of the elites; it must be redistributed in a form that renders its use participatory."

This what those of us in the World Socialist Movement recognise as world socialism: a global society of common ownership, democratic control and production geared to meeting needs.

Bookchin criticizes environmentalists and Greens. "To substitute words like industrial society for capitalism can thus be misleading . . . To speak of an 'industrial society' without clear reference to the new social relations introduced by capitalism, namely wage labour and a dispossessed proletariat, often wilfully endows technology with mystical powers and a degree of autonomy that it does not really have. It also creates the highly misleading notion that society can live with a market economy that is 'green', 'ecological', or 'moral', even under conditions of wage labour, exchange, competition and the like. This misuse of language imputes to technology - much of which may be very useful socially and ecologically - what should really be directed against a very distinct body of social relationships, namely, capitalistic ones.”

To find an effective solution, awareness, and indignation about a problem must be accompanied by an understanding of its cause. Some Greens blame modern technology rather than the use — or, more accurately, the abuse — that is made of it under the present system. Many other Greens attribute pressure on resources and the environment to overpopulation and that humans are too greedy. They preach a gospel of restraint on consumption. Yet being in harmony with Nature does not mean abandoning modern technological knowledge and regressing to pre-industrial levels.  What it means is using materials and applying methods compatible with a balanced functioning of nature. With appropriate modification, modern industrial techniques of production are quite capable of providing enough food, clothing, and shelter for every person on Earth and of doing this without damaging the environment.

Nature and the environment are being damaged today because the productive activity is oriented towards the accumulation of profits rather than towards the direct satisfaction of human needs. The economic mechanism of the profit system can function in no other way. Profits always take priority both over meeting needs and over protecting the environment. This is why the Earth's resources have been plundered throughout the history of capitalism without a thought for the future, why chemical fertilisers and pesticides are used in agriculture, why animals are injected with hormones, why power stations and factories release all sorts of dangerous and noxious substances into the air and water, why waste is not recycled, why goods are made not to last. The list of anti-ecological practices under capitalism because it is more profitable is endless.

Reforms under capitalism, no matter how well-meaning can never solve the environmental crisis and the conclusion is clear - capitalism must go. It must be replaced by a socialist society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Only on the basis of common ownership can the aims of the ecologists be achieved. Only in a society in which goods are no longer produced for profit can the problems of pollution and adulteration be eliminated. Only in a society where goods are no longer produced for sale can high-quality, long-lasting goods be produced. Only, finally, on the basis of the common ownership of the earth’s resources can humans restore the balance which capitalism has upset between them and nature and live in harmony with their natural environment, live ecologically if you like.