Friday, November 30, 2018

The Green Marxists

“From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth, they are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of the household]” - Marx

Marx reminds us that human beings, through social action, create the economic system; then we forget that the economy is a human construct and worship it as if it were eternal. Ecological sanity can only come when we recognise that the present economic system of capitalism is a social construct that must be overthrown. Real prosperity means that we have access to useful things; it is quite different from wasteful increases in Gross National Product (GNP). Under capitalism resources that are free - from land to ideas - are essentially stolen, fenced in and sold back to us. The enclosure and commodification of labour is the most important form of enclosure. This increases exchange value (GNP) but makes us poorer. Some of Marx’s earliest political writings examined the imposition of laws that prevented peasants from gathering fallen wood in German forests. The open source principle of free access and creativity is an example of how enclosure can and should be fought. A society controlled by the few must be replaced by one that works for all. We must overcome a society based on blind accumulation.

Activists within the environmentalist campaigns largely do not recognise that they require a struggle against the capitalist system. It's true that the environment movement has brought a new vocabulary and discourse into political life with a steady growth in concern about environmental issues. In the process, many of the traditional socialist themes – e.g., distribution, power and property, planning and democracy – linked up. Those involved in Extinction Rebellion are clearly sincere in their opposition to various versions of capitalism and their desire for a better world, but they seem to have no real conception of what "socialism" might mean. Their "socialism" is more a catchphrase for good reforms in general than a vision of the democratic transformation of society, by workers, from below. While the ecology movement may hold some good socialistic members it is not a party of socialism and in the end, the Socialist Party must challenge show just how and why environmental issues are of top relevance to the quality of life of working people.

The reformists for a “green economy” focus on the market for solutions. Yet the market takes too long to resolve problems, and the big corporations behind fossil fuels want to get a foothold in “green energy” at the same time as keeping their fixed capital. Their idea of a “green economy” favours technological fixes based on private property, for example, transcontinental super-grids for long-distance energy exports from Sahara desert solar facilities. Yet it is impossible to meet the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and catapulting the entire economy from the 150-year old age of coal and oil into the future of solar and wind without provoking crises. It is necessary to transform the mode of production and living so it is predictable that when some of the old branches of industry and their capital come under attack, it will in turn trigger resistance. 

Conversion of polluting and resource-intensive capital stock to environmentally benign alternatives? Impose green taxes? Just how viable will they be to the likes of the Koch brothers? The hope of a "steady state" capitalism beloved of Herman Daly and Lester Brown and the Sharing the World website are simply that — aspiration. They accept that the market system as untouchable and look for salvation in changing the behaviour of individual consumers and adoption of energy-saving technology. However, since capitalism is addicted to expansion, and devotes vast resources to this effort, there's no reason at all to expect that gains in resource efficiency will go into reduced use of resources and not into increased throughput and growth rates. The principle that "the polluter pays" will be a principle more honoured in the breach than the observance. But modern corporations have corporate lawyers who find loopholes and who appeal the penalties.

The Socialist Party is aware of how very far down the road to making the planet uninhabitable for humans capitalism is, and how many humans have already suffered and will suffer from the damage the profit system has done to our planet. We possibly have one more generation before it is too late. There won’t be any socialists, there won’t be any socialism when nobody can breathe. Climate change is real and it’s as urgent as it gets that we make radical changes if we want a future on this planet. The Socialist Party viewpoint simply means that, until the majority sets the rules of the political and economic game, any gains in such battles are provisional and vulnerable to co-option and reversal.

What is at stake in this discussion is not whether governments can't be induced to change their mind on this or that carbon tax, but whether any capitalist government can subordinate the overall interests of capital to those of the environment for any length of time. 

Once that impossibility is truly grasped then environmentalists have no choice but seriously to measure their present ideas against the basic concepts of socialist theory and politics. Activity in Extinction Rebellion involves serious commitment to campaigns, but almost always involving confusion about goals and vulnerable to drowning in parliamentary tomfoolery of reformism.

The concerned environmentalist has a choice between an ecologically sustainable socialism or capitalism. The central issue is that of political consciousness, of imparting the true picture of a capitalism whose insatiable hunger for profit is not only devouring the working and living conditions of hundreds of millions of working people but the underpinnings of life itself. The future of our planet depends on building a livable environment and a socialist movement powerful enough to displace capitalism.

‘Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making; or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers…Worthy work carries with it the hope of pleasure in rest, the hope of the pleasure in our using what it makes, and the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill. All other work but this is worthless; it is slaves’ work — mere toiling to live, that we may live to toil.’ William Morris

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