Monday, December 17, 2018

Organise for a Better Life

Cop24 has concluded its negotiations. The difficult issues such as how to scale up existing commitments on cutting emissions, in line with stark scientific advice, and how to provide finance for poor countries to do the same, were put off for future years. The only thing that counts is cold, hard, day-to-day business. Coal is still cheap in comparison and will continue to be so unless heavy taxes are imposed on greenhouse gas emissions. And the Arab states, the US, Russia, the Eastern Europeans and Germany have opposed such taxes, as well as any idea of politically imposing an end to the use of coal and oil, despite the fact that experts know that coal's days are numbered and that it's hardly worth making any new investment in it. All over the world, emissions continue to rise: from vehicles, airplanes, ships. And that's why little progress is being made right now in climate protection.  Climate change is a global problem that can be resolved only if all countries work together. This is often said, but it is, quite simply, the truth. But the other truth is that capitalism has ensured that each and every nation is a rival and vye with with one another for their own economic benefit. Each delegation to those COP conferences possess its own domestic interests.

Nicholas Stern, the former World Bank chief economist and author of a seminal review of the economics of climate change, said: “It is clear that the progress we are making is inadequate, given the scale and urgency of the risks we face. The latest figures show carbon dioxide emissions are still rising. A much more attractive, clean and efficient path for economic development and poverty reduction is in our hands.”

Johan Rockstrom, director designate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “My biggest concern is that the UN talks failed to align ambitions with science. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events hit people across the planet already, at only 1C of warming.”
Greens are committed to a gradualist, reformist strategy: seeking support on the basis of a programme of environmentalist reforms.  Such a strategy won’t work as it is setting out to impose on capitalism something that is incompatible with its nature. They would sooner or later come up against this restraint and learn that they could not proceed except at the expense of provoking an economic crisis, as inevitably happens when governments try to make the profit system work other than as a profit system.
 Green activists are facing the same choice of strategy as did the first socialists in Britain at the end of the 19th century: to build up support on the basis of the maximum programme of fundamental social change and remain small till people have become convinced of the need for the change in question or to build up support on the basis of reforms within the system and grow faster but at the price of abandoning the maximum programme or relegating it to a vague remote, non-operational long-term objective.
 In "The Coming of the Greens" Jonathan Porritt and David Winner they write environmentalism “is essentially a reformist movement, based on the premise that industrialism can be perfected, or at least improved, to the point where it no longer endangers the environment”. Greens who want a radical transformation of the world can stick to their principles but come to realise, as the Socialist Party has done, that a sustainable society can only be achieved within the context of a world in which all the Earth’s resources, natural and industrial, have become the common heritage, under democratic control at local, regional and world level, of all humanity.
Over and over again we see a similar theme. The new society will come about through people undergoing change individually. Once enough people have changed radically enough, a new society will spontaneously evolve which will reflect the healthy characteristics of these new persons. Well, what’s wrong with that? Don’t socialists want people to change before we can hope to bring socialism into existence. Well yes, but we see changing present-day society as rather different. To get socialism you need a majority of workers in the world who are clear beforehand of how they see a new society working. But environmental  writers are prepared to accept that big improvements can be brought about in the way people relate without radically changing society first. The problem is how it’s supposed to bring about social transformation is that changing the person's lifestyle  often becomes a lot more important than changing society. Capitalism is a world economic system, it isn’t just a scatter of individuals.  Unless we change the whole obscene system, there will always be serious limits to what “enlightened” individuals can achieve when they try to humanize its consequences. Socialists argue that unless you change the way that things are produced and distributed, social problems will always come up no matter how in touch we are with nature.  Attempting to get rid of human misery by giving people a list of lifestyle reforms is like trying to cure cholera by treating each individual case. It may help a few people, but in the long run it’s far better to clean up the water supply, or in the case of society, end capitalism. As long as things are produced to make a profit, the poor will stay poor, work will be boring and arduous, states will go to war to win economic influence, and valuable resources will be used up persuading us to buy things we don’t want or need.  Any system based on private property and money is too inflexible to ever meet fully people’s needs.  Unless we’re clear on the sort of society we want, we can all end up being pulled in a variety of ways. We need to start to talk about a revolution in social relations. Unless we challenge the basis of capitalism our ideas will be incorporated into the very society that we have set out to revolutionise.
The Socialist Party believe that you share our concern for the well-being of people in our society for the welfare of Earth itself and all its dependants. We appeal to you as members of a long-established independent democratic movement which seeks by persuasion and worlds-wide peaceful political organisation to transform our present society into one fit for humankind. The problems of our planet cannot be solved within the existing structures of production and government. Our world is divided into national areas dominated by class minorities in each country, which, either by private or corporate ownership or by state bureaucratic parties monopolise the means of production. Our access to food, clothing, shelter and other needs is rationed by money. It is a world-system based upon the class monopoly of the means of production where things are produced and services rendered as commodities for sale at a profit. Labour-power also is a commodity; its price is what we receive as a wage or salary. The class interests, values and drive for profit of the world-system have been the underlying reasons for the unprecedented destruction of life and resources throughout this century. This appalling process, made worse by new forms of pollution, including the cutting-down of the rain forests. This uncontrolled madness will continue unless we take the necessary democratic action to transform our way of life throughout the planet.
The Socialist Party believes that socialism can only be brought about by an overwhelming majority of the population, a majority which understands why capitalism must be replaced by socialism. If we are to bring into being production solely for use, where needs are self-determined, we must have a clear idea of how such a society could be established, organised and sustained. We must also ensure that the values and methods of the World Socialist Movement are fully consistent with its aims. Socialism is a new world society where the means of production are commonly owned and where governments and systems of exchange, whether barter or money, have been replaced by democratic administration at local, regional and world levels: a society where there could be decentralised co-ordination of production with free access according to need.
Why have previous attempts to build a better world failed? In our view the terrible events of the twentieth century are in part a consequence of the fact that most of those who sought to ameliorate the lot of the majority had no clear alternative distinct from some form of the system of nations, of wage labour and capital, of money, prices, profits, of buying and selling. They had no clear understanding of the dynamics of capitalism. They had illusions about the politics of gradualism or insurrection or about revolutionary vanguards and state-capitalism. They clung to their illusions in the face of the facts of Labour Party administrations of capitalism or of the brutal dictatorships over the workers. As a result of their unsound theories these “practical” men and women diverted the enthusiasm, unselfish devotion and energies of millions into political blind alleys. The advances that have been made are largely those made by workers themselves in producing in greater quantities and in organising to obtain more of the products. However, while capitalism is allowed to exist gains made are not necessarily permanent. When confronted by the programme of socialism, “left-wing” reformists (apart from seldom being in favour of it) always pose the question: “What do we do in the meantime?” — never waking up to the fact that the appalling present is the “meantime” which their political activities, in opposition to the vigorous pursuit of socialism helped to bring into being. In any event, the attitude of genuine socialists is not one of passivity, awaiting a socialist millennium, it is one of active informed organisation for a better way of life.
The more reformists abandon their illusions and inadequate activities, seek to understand the nature of genuine socialism and play their part in building a strong World Socialist Movement, the more effective we can be against capitalism now, prior to an early transformation of society. Such a movement, with the clear objective of taking the means of production out of the hands of a minority and making them the common property of society, would become much more influential than the present parties of the “Left”.
Today many aware of past political errors, propose different approaches to the problems of humankind. They put forward schemes which though rightly concerned with holistic, ecologically benign, locally democratic, “human scale” production are still seen as being within the framework of money, wages, prices and profit. These proposals are attractive to a new political generation, which, failing to identify correctly the process responsible for our major problems, are likely to become a new wave of reformists.
The above comments, of course, are large generalisations, needing further elucidation and discussion. We hope that we have been able to interest you in our ideas and look forward to hearing from you or seeing you at one of our meetings.


Tim Hart said...

Another great article! But couldn’t you have waited until after Christmas? Millions of people are on the brink of engaging in an orgy of gluttonous over-consumption to hasten the destruction of the planet - courtesy of the diktats of capitalism – and you come along and put the mockers on it by highlighting the failures of the latest charade of saving the planet at the farcical COP 24.

ajohnstone said...

Christmas also has a positive aspect, an example of the gift economy ;-)