Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sustainable Socialism

We live in a time, where the prevailing mood is one of cynicism and despair, where our horizons are narrow and our aspirations are low. Poverty continues to rise to new levels. Each day brings another revelation of corporate crime and corruption. Despite capitalism being mired with a myriad of problems, any talk of an alternative society is dismissed with scepticism. There seems to be little expression of hope for bringing about a society not dominated by the most voracious and destructive economic system ever known. Capitalism offers only one savagery after another. Capitalists exacerbate every social division to keep the working class divided. Even radicals have lost their sense of direction having rejected fundamental socialist principles as “old fashioned”, class politics being “no longer relevant”.

The Socialist Party see the present time as one of opportunity to help with the rebirth of socialist thought, based unequivocally upon the concept of self-emancipation, centred on human freedom, and it is upon the richness of socialist ideas that we wish to see flourish and grow. The productive forces have reached the point where life without starvation and homelessness is within reach, for all. Only the rule of one class over the rest prevents it. Technology and the organisation of production has reached the level where the potential to adequately supply the entire world population with the requirements for a healthy fruitful life is achievable. But this creation of abundance would end exploitation and destroy profits, so the capitalist class stand as a barrier to a society which can provide plenty for all.

We speak of socialism in terms of abundance but our green critics claim that human wants are "infinite", meaning that socialism will be a society of increased consumption, of people consuming more and more food and acquiring more and more material goods. If humans wants were indeed "infinite" then this would be the result, but human wants are socially-determined and limited. Humans can only consume so much food, for instance, and only seek to accumulate more and more material goods in a society of economic insecurity like capitalism.

In socialism where people could be sure that what they required to satisfy their needs would always be available then we would soon settle down to only taking what we needed and no more. This is all we mean by talking of socialism as a "society of abundance": that enough food, shelter, healthcare and other material goods can be produced to allow every man, woman and child in society to satisfy their likely material needs. It does not imply some orgy of consumption, but simply to indicate that it is technologically possible to produce more than enough to satisfy everyone's material needs, thanks to artificial intelligence, robotics and automation. 

Meeting everyone's likely material needs will indeed involve an overall increase in what people consume. There are millions and millions of people in the developing and undeveloped world who are suffering from horrendous problems of destitution and disease. So, yes, socialism will involve raising personal consumption for three-quarters or more of the world's population. Yet unwilling to share the benefits of the developed world's prosperity with the less fortunate, many in the environmentalist movement say this we cannot do. It is impossible, we are told by even the liberals and progressives in the campaigns to end climate change because such ambitious aspirations would exceed the Earth's carrying capacity and make environmental destruction even worse.

Not necessarily so, is the Socialist Party's reply.

What our critics confuse is consumption per head with what individuals actually consume. To arrive at a figure for consumption per head, what the statisticians do is to take total energy-use or whatever and then divide it by the total population. But this doesn't give a figure for what people consume as, in addition to individual usage, it includes what manufacturing industries and the military consume. It a grossly misleading to equate consumption per head with personal consumption since it ignores the fact that consumption per head can be reduced without reducing personal consumption and that this is, in fact, compatible with an increase in personal consumption.

Socialists propose to eliminate the waste of capitalism, not just of armaments and militaries but of all the overhead costs involved in the buying and selling exchange economy. It has been conservatively estimated that, at the very least, half of the workforce is engaged in such socially-useless, non-productive activity.

In a socialist society all this waste will be eliminated, so drastically reducing consumption per head. This will allow for the personal consumption of those who need it to be increased to a decent level. Diverting resources to do this and ensuring that every human on the planet does have a decent standard of living will as the initial aim of socialism will put up consumption per head again, but to nowhere near the level now obtaining under capitalism.

The amount of “arable land on the planet is according to Wikipedia about 14 million sq. km. If we only use this amount of arable land, we would have about 20 times the land we need to feed all of us on the planet. If we include permanent pastures, which amount to about 33 million sq. km and is used for livestock, and grow vegetables there instead, we end up with more than 60-100 times of what we actually need. But of course, as we don’t need all that land there can be plenty of space for grass-fed free-range animals.

Our planet does possess limits. However, the total number of people that can be supported by Earth’s resources cannot be predicted merely by knowing the total amount of matter or surface area on Earth. So indeed those analogies of everybody in the world can stand on the Isle of Wight is irrelevant. Every time we get into a conversation with someone, and we hear “well, everyone knows the earth is over-populated” we can start by clearing up the misconception by showing it is directly contrary to the facts.

Globally, women today have half as many babies as their mothers did, mostly out of choice. They are doing it for their own good, the good of their families, and, if it helps the planet too, then so much the better. Nothing the Catholic priests say can stop it. Women are doing this because, for the first time in history, they can. Better healthcare and sanitation mean that most babies now live to grow up. It is no longer necessary to have five or six children to ensure the next generation—so they don’t. Lower infant death rates mean families don’t need to have as many children in order to guarantee that some will survive. At the same time improvements in quality of life make it less necessary to have many children working to support their families. Greater access to contraception gives families more control over fertility.

Today the reality is that the world is experiencing falling birth rates and rising life expectancy. Countries with a fertility rate (FR) below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) now number more than 80 worldwide — and counting. Greece with an FR of 1.34; Italy has an FR of 1.4. The United Kingdom’s overall FR has risen to 1.98 due to Muslim baby-booming, but indigenous Britons’ FR is lower. The same demographic reality is evident in most of Asia, with China (1.7), Japan (1.4), Hong Kong (1.2), Singapore (1.3), and South Korea (1.2) being prime examples. And many developing nations are on the same trajectory, with Uruguay (1.9) and Brazil (1.8), illustrating the point. Then there’s Mexico: While its women bore almost seven children each in the 1960s, the FR rate is declining fast and stands at 2.3 today. Overall, the world’s 1950 to 1955 FR of 4.95 has declined by more than half and now stands at 2.36. Professional demographers tell us this will continue and that perhaps as early as 2050 and no later than 2100, the Earth’s population will begin declining.

The “graying” that has plagued Japan and Europe will envelop the planet. The world population is getting much older: by 2050 the number of people over the age of 65 will triple from 531 million to 1.5 billion. In fact, perhaps the real issue of the world population is not those being born, it is those not dying. There is a growing life expectancy gap where the affluent may expect to live to 120 or more while the poor won't see 60. In most developed countries actual fertility is lower than desired. We should allow immigration from overpopulated countries to keep the ratio of working age to elderly dependents constant. Unfortunately, most immigration policies severely limit the migration of unskilled people.

 If better survival rates for babies and longer lives for the elderly contribute to “over-population”, what is the eugenic social engineers' policy going to be, infanticide and euthanasia? Let people die of epidemics and war?

The exception to the drop in population rate trend at the moment appears to be Africa, a continent with a rich potential. Ethiopia is among nine African countries whose rate of population growth is declining. Others are Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda. Ethiopia has seen a massive cut in its fertility rate, from an average of seven children per woman in the 1990s to 4.6 currently. Experts say reducing poverty rates also leads to a decline in fertility. "It's not the population growth that is the problem - it's the extreme poverty that is the underlying reason," says Hans Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. "If you continue to have extreme poverty areas where women give birth to six children and the population doubles in one generation, then you'll have problems." A case in point is Niger, the country with the highest fertility rate in the world - 7.6. It is also one of the poorest  

On the question of resource, its availability or lack of it, and therefore its ability or inability to support the African population - another component of Africa’s ‘over-population’ fallacy - well over 50 per cent of Uganda’s arable land, some of the richest in Africa, remains uncultivated. Were Uganda to expand its current food production significantly, not only would it be completely self-sufficient, but it would be able to feed all the countries contiguous to its territory without difficulty. Just about a quarter of the potentially arable land of Africa is being cultivated presently. Even here, an increasingly high proportion of the cultivated area is assigned to so-called cash-crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, groundnut, sisal, cut flowers, etc.) for export. As for the remaining 75 per cent of Africa’s uncultivated land, this represents 66 per cent of the entire world’s potential. This vast acreage of rich farmlands with the capacity to optimally support the food needs of generations of African peoples indefinitely. In addition, the famous fish industry in Senegal, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, for instance, Botswana’s rich cattle farms, West Africa’s yam and plantain belts extending from southern Cameroon to the Casamance province of Senegal, the continent’s rich rice production fields, etc. The current economic situation demonstrates that if the acreage devoted to cultivation is expanded and expressly targeted to address Africa’s own internal consumption needs rather than land use directed to the calamitous waste of cash-crop production for export there need be no food shortages. It is an inexcusable tragedy that any African child, woman, or man could go without food in the light of the staggering endowment of resources in Africa. Africa constitutes a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population, which is still one of the world’s least densely populated and distributed, into the indefinite future.

It is clear that the factors which have contributed to determining the very poor quality of life of Africa’s population presently possess is to do with the non-use, partial-use, or the misuse of the continent’s resources year in, year out thanks to foreign capitalists and the native overseers - the national government and its indigenous domestic capitalists.

When we look at the world around us we cannot fail to notice the extent to which nature is being ravaged in the name of short-term economic gain. It is all too clear that the prevailing economic system of capitalist competition is quite incapable of seriously taking into account the long-term considerations of a healthy planet. On a global basis, the alteration in the natural balance is taking place on a massive and unprecedented scale. One of the gravest criticisms that can be leveled against the capitalist system is that the application of the profit motive has been disastrous to the land. Throughout virtually the entire world, the land is not used to produce the crop best adapted to it on a permanent basis but to produce as much cash as possible, as cheaply as possible, and as quickly as possible - the same system exalted by the industrial manufacturer. Almost everywhere, the land is being impoverished; its fertility flushed down the world's rivers or blown away by its winds or simply buried under an expanding carpet of concrete. 

A socialist world would obviously want to halt and reverse the long-term decline in soil fertility by improving the humus content of the soil. Not only would this make for the more efficient absorption of chemical fertilisers but would help contain further topsoil loss as a result of erosion. Whilst this would involve more labour intensive work which would require a larger agricultural workforce it should be borne in mind that one of the greatest productive advantages of socialism over capitalism is that it would release a tremendous amount of labour for socially productive work.

 Concentrating on population confuses symptoms with causes while simultaneously validating apologists for the system. Population growth arguments fit in with the ideological needs of the system rather than challenging them and is the primary reason that they receive so much publicity. It is completely acceptable to capitalism to place the blame for hunger and ecological crises on the number of people rather than on capitalism.

The simple fact is that being apologists for over-population advocates makes us allies with the racists and the various greens who accept capitalism.

After clearing up the mess inherited from capitalism, then both consumption and production can be expected to level off and something approaching a "steady-state economy" reached. In a society geared to meeting human needs, once those needs are being met there is no need to go on producing more. Population levels will stabilise too. This is a reasonable assumption and is already beginning to happen, even under capitalism, in the developed parts of the world. Population growth is a feature of the poorer parts of the world, suggesting a link between it and poverty and the insecurity that goes with it (the more children you have the more chance there is of someone to care for you in your old age). If you reject socialism all that is left is to envisage either compulsory sterilisation programmes, the revival of eugenics or letting starvation, disease take their course. 

The Socialist Party emphatically reject such an anti-human approach. If that's what an "Earth-centred ethics" teach then we want nothing to do with it. We'll stick to our human-centred approach, which embraces the view that the balanced functioning of the biosphere is something that humans should try to achieve since, as part of the biosphere, it is in our interest that it should function properly. There is, in fact, no antagonism between the interest of humanity and the interest of the biosphere. 

This system must go.

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