Thursday, November 29, 2018

Being "anti-capitalist" is not enough

The Socialist Party has been saying for a very long time that workers must wake up to the enormous environmental damage which the profit system does to the world around us. It has been cheaper for capitalists to pollute the air we breathe than to adopt clean techniques and healthy practices. Methods of production which are unsafe and disease-spreading have long existed. Workers' food has long been adulterated. Animals are made to suffer and die needlessly; endangered species which have no exchange value in the market is allowed to become extinct. There is nothing new about any of this. The planet belongs to us, we, the workers, who produce everything and run the planet from top to bottom, yet we have given it to the ruling class. Our task is to take it back from them; to reclaim the planet. Those who do not stand for the socialist transformation of society, cannot take the planet back from the capitalists. A society which is not constrained by private property, commodity production, and buying and selling would use, as a matter of course, the best possible technology at hand to ensure the safety of those working in the plants and the protection of the natural environment. The social cost would be the deciding factor, not commercial cost. Capitalism is unable to do this. Those who believe that the threat to the environment can be dealt with within the capitalist system and who imagine that politicians whose task it is to run the production for profit system can be persuaded to act on the danger which climate change brings to the planet are sadly wrong. They are dreaming.

Those who campaign for a greener world are doubtlessly sincere and caring people who want something different. In their own lifestyles, perhaps some of them have made genuine adjustments which are in line with a socially more co-operative way of living. So have many in the Socialist Party, but we are well aware that individual lifestyle changes, whether they involve not eating meat or using “environment-friendly" products, is not going to change the fundamental nature of the social system which oppresses us. Million of us might give up using products which destroy the environment, but what power do we have in comparison with the minority who own and control the means of wealth production? The ruling class, be they corporate CEOs, state-capitalist bureaucrats or small manufacturers, have an interest in keeping their costs down. If their profits come before the long-term interests of people, who can blame them for sacrificing our needs? After all, it is us who constantly vote for the profit system. Only by abolishing the system which is the cause of these problems can the effects be eliminated. Many ecologists present an appealingly radical message, but when examined closer, It’s clear that it is a case for the market economy with a green tint. It is simply impossible to humanise this capitalist system.

Many would argue that politics is about pragmatism, that is a cynical compromise. It is about “lesser evils". But why vote for the lesser evil when capitalism, which creates the evils, can be abolished altogether? The usual answer is that the lesser evil will take less time to achieve than the grand socialist aim. It is a foolish myth that partial objectives are more worthy of support than realisable big ones. There is unlikely ever to be a government passing substantive green legislation. It is inevitable with reformism; it must sell-out in order to fit in with the needs of the system. Capitalism will pass a few minor reforms to appease green voters, but also because the capitalists themselves realise that some of their investments may be harmed a lack of environmental concern. Yet, it is needless to say, these laws will be evaded by those rich and powerful enough to do so. Even when the capitalists are agreed on their common interest, there will always be one or two who will try to sneak behind the others’ backs and make a quick buck. Derek Wall, once a Green Party spokesperson put this rather well:
‘A Green government will be controlled by the economy rather than being in control. On coming to office through coalition or more absolute electoral success, it would be met by an instant collapse of sterling as 'hot money' and entrepreneurial capital went elsewhere. The exchange rate would fall and industrialists would move their factories to countries with more relaxed environmental controls and workplace regulation. Sources of finance would dry up as unemployment rocketed, slashing the revenue from taxation and pushing up the social security bills. The money for ecological reconstruction – the building of railways, the closing of motorways and construction of a proper sewage system – would run out’ (Getting There)

Environmentalists such as Extinction Rebellion may not like capitalism in its present form and want to "re-balance" it, but they still see no alternative to capitalism as a system of production for profit based on wage-labour and are resigned to working within it. It is true that the sort of capitalism they envisage would not be dominated by tax-dodging fossil-fuel guzzling multinationals but one in which the profit-seeking enterprises would be small and eco-friendly. But there is no more chance of an eco-friendly capitalism than there is of going back to small-scale capitalism. Transforming the capitalist economy so that it works for the common good is precisely what cannot be done. Capitalism is a class-divided society driven by the imperative for those who own and control the means of wealth production to make a profit. It can only function as a profit system in the interest of those who live off profits.

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