The Socialist Party place ourselves unambiguously in the camp of those who argue that capitalism and a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature are not compatible and unless the environmentalists embrace socialism, their vision is unachievable. Because people believe there is no alternative to capitalism, it keeps on existing. The environmentalist’s dream of a sustainable ‘zero growth’ within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organise its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must abolish the capitalist economic mechanism of capital accumulation and gear production instead to the direct satisfaction of needs.
The excessive consumption of both renewal and non-renewable resources and the release of waste that nature can’t absorb that currently goes on are not just accidental but an inevitable result of capitalism’s very essence. The capitalist system creates vast amounts of energy waste in the military and its socially useless jobs such as marketing, finance, and banking which are part of its profit-making machine. Endless growth and the growing consumption of nature-given materials this involves is built into capitalism. Greens have never been able to answer the question which is how it can achieve a zero growth, sustainable society whilst retaining a market system which includes an irresistible, built-in pressure to increase sales for profit and where if sales collapse, society tends to break down in recession, unemployment and financial crisis.
In capitalism, natural resources are used for the production of commodities which are sold on for profit to the consumer through the markets. This means that the potential of resources to be used for enjoyment and the satisfaction of needs is subordinate to the profit interests of their owners. If the production of something is profitable, then it continues, and if it is unprofitable, it stops. The profitability of a product is linked to the cost of its being produced, and the extent to which it can be sold. In order to maximise profits, companies produce as cheaply as possible. This means that corners are cut and the methods and techniques used are those which bring in short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability. Labour and resources in developing countries are exploited to the hilt because they are cheaper. This is why cheap forest-land in South America and Africa is being decimated. In order for production to be of minimum cost to the company, it often ends up as being of maximum cost to the environment, and humanity. If a business adopts a method of production which is environmentally safe, but expensive in terms of labour or materials, it will become uncompetitive. A rival organisation producing a similar product cheaper will have the advantage, no matter what the ecological or human cost. Measures in favour of the environment come up against the interests of enterprises and their shareholders because of increasing costs they decrease profits. No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at the international level which will disadvantage none of them.
Eventually, capitalist organisations have to take notice of the state of the environment, but it is usually a case of too little, too late. They only take notice once the damage has been done - once a resource has become scarce, once a reserve of needed water has become polluted.
When land, resources, and factories are owned communally and controlled democratically, there will be no them-and-us. It is only after having placed the means of society’s existence under the control of the community that we will be able to at least ensure their management, no longer in the selfish interest of their present owners, but this time really in the general interest. Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable eco-system and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them in face of international competition. No agreement to limit the activities of the multi-nationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. So it is not “Humans” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems and the capitalist class and their representatives, they themselves are subject to the laws of profit and competition.
Whilst the means of production are owned by a minority, the motivation for production is to make a profit for that minority. Satisfying the needs and wants of humanity and protecting the environment is incidental to this, so no wonder many people are left without enough food and other goods, and no wonder resources are scarce or polluted.
Only by replacing the profit system with a truly democratic organisation can we give the environment the priority it deserves. The Socialist Party does not presume to lay down in advance what decisions will be made in socialism we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. You achieve this “steady state” and you don’t go on expanding production. This would be the opposite of cheap, shoddy, “throw-away” goods and built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources. Suggestions such as improving public transport, expanding renewable energy supplies and recycling will not be news to anyone and offer the kind vision of sustainable production many aspects of which could be taken on board in a socialist society. Imagine standardising the production of all bottles and glass containers so they can be returned to food and drink producers to be used again. It’s a sensible idea - socialism would do it. Seen solely from a technical point of view there are no doubt many ways in which the damage caused to the environment could be reduced with different uses of labour. But before any of these can become real options on which communities can freely make democratic decisions, labour itself must first be liberated. Labour must enjoy its own freedom outside the present enclosed system of commodity exchange in which it is confined to its function of profit-making and the accumulation of capital.
What is required is political action - political action aimed at replacing this system with a new and different one. There can be no justification, on any grounds whatsoever, for wanting to retain an exploitative system which robs workers of the products of their labour, which puts privileged class interests and profit before the needs of the community, which robs the soil of its fertility, plunders nature of its resources and destroys the natural systems on which all our lives depend. Ecologists fail to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.
Few in the environmentalist movement actually reject capitalism. Most are in favour of some form of capitalism, generally small-scale capitalism involving small firms serving local markets and if they desire to be seen as progressive they call for “co-operatives”. An underlying philosophy that “small is beautiful” and a philosophy that leads to mistakenly blaming large-scale industry and modern technology as such for causing pollution and not the capitalist system per se.
Murray Bookchin argues that human beings are both a part and a product of nature and humans have a unique significance in nature since they are the only life-form capable of reflective thought and so of conscious intervention to change the environment. It is absurd to regard human intervention in nature as some outside disturbing 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. True, that at the present time, the form human intervention in the rest of Nature takes is upsetting natural balances and cycles, but the point is that humans, unlike other life-forms, are capable of changing their behaviour. In this sense the human species is the brain and voice of nature i.e. nature become self-conscious. But to fulfil this role humans must change the social system which mediates their intervention in nature. 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, too, is critical of those with the highly misleading notion that society can live with a market economy that is ‘green’, ‘ecological’, or ‘moral’, under conditions of wage labour, exchange, competition and the like.
Those who want a radical transformation of the world can stick to their core beliefs and principles but come to realise, as those in the Socialist Party have 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. In such a society production and distribution can be geared to satisfying human needs which, contrary to the mythology used to justify capitalism, are not limitless and can be met without over-stretching nature’s resources.