Friday, November 25, 2016

Towards Steady-State Socialism

“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 [good head of the household], they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.” Marx, Capital Vol 3

The environment movement has a choice: either it can understand that capitalism is the cause of the damage to our eco-systems and work to end capitalism or it can fool itself into believing that reforms and governments will halt and reverse global warming. The Socialist Party has made its decision that for humanity to produce and consume in ecologically acceptable ways, it must first replace capitalism and its drive to make profits with a system of common ownership, democratic participation and production for use, which can make full use of modern science and technology but for ecological and human ends instead of profit. Capitalism with its built-in mechanism of seeking profits to accumulate as more and more capital is the cause of environmental problems and that therefore no solution can be found to these problems within it. Too often, too many environmentalists hold that the degradation of the planet is the fault of us all. They have no agreed understanding of why capitalism plunders and pollutes as it does: and therefore they have no appreciation of what it will take to stop the rape of the world. They act as though they think indignation and protest will be enough - and it won't. The Greens' arguments and their policies are based on the assumption that under capitalism political parties in government can do what they like, and make a positive difference for the whole of society. The motivation is good, but unfortunately, the assumption is false. Capitalism is not open to manipulation so that it benefits the majority; it's a system that is very tightly structured to benefit only the wealthy few. Put simply, support for the Greens means not only ignoring market forces but also ignoring an obvious contradiction in their argument. The contradiction is this: with market forces essentially causing and creating a sick society how can you realistically expect those self-same forces to solve it by proposing a form of eco-capitalism? The Greens continually assert that they can make the market system a nicer kind of capitalism. But capitalism will still be capitalism, with no fundamental change in how we live and how we could live as it will be business as usual.

The Socialist Party has frequently expressed its anger at the waste and the despoliation which capitalism generates. We are fully aware that the profit system poses a serious threat to the environment and have been sounding the alarm about the state and future of the world's ecology for decades. We contend that it demonstrates the urgent need to establish world-wide socialism. The environmentalist lobby, though deserving credit for exposing the details of this threat, would do well to bear in mind that what enrages them are symptoms of a sick world economic system; a cure can only be obtained by removing the cause of the sickness. Socialists draw the conclusion that if the environment is to be safeguarded then capitalism must go. This must mean the complete disappearance of the market and money. Production for sale and profit gives way to production for use and need. Buying and selling are replaced by giving and taking; people give to society directly in the form of work and take from society directly in the form of useful goods and services to satisfy their needs. The only way to green the planet is to first make it the common heritage of all of us. Then we will be freed from the tyranny of market forces and money and in a position to consciously regulate our relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way.

Unlike the UN international agreements, multi-lateral accords and protocols which are repeatedly undermined by one or more powerful states consistently overruling decisions and agreements the socialism is rooted in the people, the world belonging to all and to none. If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way we must first be able to control production --- or, put another way, able to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature --- and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, with production solely for human and environmental needs. We are up against a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class and property and governed by coercive economic laws. Reforms, however, well-meaning can never solve the environmental crisis - the most they can do is to palliate some aspect of it on a precarious temporary basis. They can certainly never turn capitalism into a democratic, ecological society.

Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system, it must continually accumulate or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is waste, pollution, environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist's dream of a sustainable 'zero growth' within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. However, on the new basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use, socialist society will be able to sustain a stable and sympathetic relationship with nature. After clearing up the mess left by capitalism and a possible initial increase in production to eliminate poverty, production can be expected to settle down and level off at a level sufficient to provide for human and environmental needs.

Many environmentalists oppose not only ‘growth’ in the capitalist sense of capital accumulation but also any increase in overall productive activity; in fact they want a decrease in this – ‘degrowth’ – in order to save the planet. This may or may not be necessary in the long run but in the short run, to eliminate world hunger, ill-health and shanty-town slums, the production will surely need to be increased. In any event, society won’t be able to control the amount and kind of production as long as resources are owned and controlled by a minority. Replacing this by the common ownership of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources under various forms of democratic control is an essential first step before anything lasting and constructive can be done. It is not enough to criticise capitalism but its critics must put forward an alternative.