Monday, September 30, 2019

Change is one way or another.

The recent climate action summit in New York became a climate inaction summit. Nothing much happened other than many fine speeches promising action. Climatic disasters will continue. We can't expect anything too much at the next IPCC meeting in Chile in December. The prognosis is poor and the patient is clearly worsening.

The climate crisis is an unprecedented emergency. Capitalism and its governments' servants are pushing us ever closer to irreversible environmental tipping points. How we respond to the climate crisis will shape the future. We are now in a time of great importance. The choices we make now and in the near future matter a great deal to the future of humanity. It's time to leave gradualism and business as usual behind so we can begin to solve the climate crisis. The stakes could not be higher. Given the high stakes and the short timetable, it is imperative that we strive to maximise the efficacy of our actions to avert an imminent catastrophe. A socialist cooperative commonwealth is what we need if we are to prevent a global cataclysm and have environmental stability. The forces arrayed against socialists are powerful. But on our side we possess the human desire to survive.

In a society where goods are produced solely for profit, social needs are subordinate to the demands of profitability. Profit is the goal of production under capitalism. It is why production is undertaken and is what every firm, whether private or state-owned, must seek to obtain. Profits are created in the process of production in the form of surplus value and represent the unpaid labour of the producers, the value of what they produce over and above what they are paid as wages. Profits, however, are realised — converted into money (the form in which they really are profits) only on the market when the products in which they are embodied are sold.

All businesses are therefore engaged in a competitive struggle to sell their products, precisely in order to realise the profits that are embodied in them. To succeed in this struggle they must be competitive in the sense that their production costs must be low enough to allow them to sell their wares at the going price and at the same time make enough profits to be able to invest in more up-to-date cost-reducing equipment. Competition can oblige all companies to run fast just to stay still. To remain in the race for profits, an enterprise must stay competitive and to stay competitive they must continually increase productivity; to increase productivity they must make profits and accumulate them as capital invested in new more productive equipment. Too little, too late is neither a rational nor a satisfactory approach to protecting the environment and the people's and planet's health but it is the very most that the rigid economic laws of capitalism will ever permit.

The change from capitalism to socialism will bring a change in the relationship of society to nature. These go together. Capitalism exploits anything in nature it can get its hands on. This means that before society can control its impact on the natural world it must first have social control over its own actions. Before society can organise itself in harmony with natural systems, society must first be able to co-operate within itself. As human beings we are, of course, a part of nature, but we tend also to view nature as something separate from ourselves in that it provides us with our means of life. We may see land, seas, forests, river valleys and deserts as beautiful, spectacular landscapes and we may also be aware that they contain useful resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, various metals such as iron ore, copper, tin and many other materials. In a capitalist system such natural wealth, like labour and useful goods, also exists in an economic form. 

Land can be a useful resource for the production of food but in the eyes of agribusiness, land is a capital asset to be used for profit. Timber, oil or mining companies do not view forests, oil reserves or iron ore deposits simply as useful features of the natural environment. Companies view them as things to be exploited for private money gain. 

As capitalism has spread across the world to become the dominant world system, almost the entire planet has come to exist in an economic form in which labour works on natural resources for the profits of companies. We see this now in the growth of multi-national corporations. This exploitation of the natural world is driven by markets and the pursuit of profit in ways that cannot be democratically, or even rationally, controlled. 

The consequences are well known but we seem powerless to stop them. Every year millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere; farmland is saturated with industrial chemicals; forests are destroyed whilst deserts are created and seas are polluted. We live with a real danger that natural systems such as those of the biosphere are being damaged on a scale which threatens their self recovery. These are the vital systems on which human life depends. 

Care of the environment is not a technical problem. Our destructive use of the planet is caused by the motives, limitations and economic relationships of the capitalist system. By freeing labour from its economic exploitation by capital, socialism will also free the natural world from this same exploitation. With people cooperating to produce directly for needs a socialist system would be free to use methods which could ensure care of the environment. The fact that such methods might involve the use of more labour will not matter. Socialism will have an abundance of labour and will not be constrained by the profit motive and competition to use the least amounts of labour in production. The aim would be to organise production in ways which would minimise any negative affects on the environment. 

Socialism would have no difficulty in adopting a practice which is impossible under capitalism. This would be the practice of "conservation production". In a socialist system we could protect the balance of natural systems and would also conserve natural materials. The profit motive involves a plundering of natural resources against a background of market pressure to constantly renew capacity for sales. Cheap, shoddy articles and "throw-away" goods involve a massive loss of materials. Design for "built in obsolescence" is deliberately aimed at a short time of use. The rotting hulks of million of cars and other consumption goods are the ugly evidence of massive waste. No sane society would burn millions of tonnes of oil and coal in power stations without considering the alternative technology which already exists to produce electricity.
Socialism could avoid the loss and destruction of resources. Production facilities could be designed and produced in a way which would be conserve materials. Such design could aim at a minimum of wearing parts, which, with simple maintenance, could be easily replaced. The parts not subject to wear could be made from durable materials, and if for some reason equipment or goods became redundant, these would be available for other uses. The materials lost from wearing parts would be a small fraction of the total materials in use. This practice of conservation production would mean that once materials became socially available after extraction and processing, they would be permanently available for use in one form or another. A useful analogy is with gold. A small amount may be lost through accident, but because it is a precious metal most of the gold that has ever been mined throughout history still exists. For this reason it is said that gold mined by the early Egyptians is still in use. 

Conservation production would mean the bringing into use of means of production of all kinds, permanent installation and structures, durable consumer goods, all designed and produced to last for a long time and, even when redundant, capable of being re-cycled for other uses. In this way, materials would be available as a lasting resource.

Socialism will be a matter, not of just self-sufficiency but of abundance, of full and universal co-operation and participation in all that the world has to offer humanity.

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