A Class Approach to Ecological Crisis

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Humanity is inextricably linked to the natural world on which we depend. We are facing environmental issues that threaten human development. Sustainable economics are not about sustainable profits for the few, they are about what is best for all humankind. Environmental issues are also class issues – struggles over political and economic power, control, and decision-making. The working class has a crucial role to play in the fight to save the earth’s capacity to provide the essentials of life. Socialists must address the new challenges posed by the latest ecological science, by the limits on growth required by nature’s limits.

 

In his graveside address for Marx, Frederick Engels (1883) noted that Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc. These are the fundamental realities of all human life: our lives are based on food, water, and resources that come from nature. As well, the ways in which we create and distribute food, drink, and shelter impact the natural world we depend on. We need nature for our survival. If the air becomes too polluted for human health, we cannot simply breathe something else. Pollution that is blown away is blown away to somewhere else; it does not just disappear. We cannot just stop eating. We require clean water daily. This understanding must underpin our views on ‘politics, science, art, religion, etc.’, as well as our views on economics, class struggle, and socialism.


Humans are not separate from their environment, and the environments of different countries are not separate from each other.What we experience in one region of the world is intimately connected to what people experience in other regions. What happens to natural global systems happens to all of us. All value to humanity comes either directly from nature or from nature altered by human labor. If we compromise nature’s ability to regenerate the materials we need for our survival, we compromise our own ability to survive. We face a series of linked environmental problems – climate change, water use, soil depletion – which have the potential to negatively affect sea levels, weather systems, our ability to grow food and drink water, and other essential aspects of human life. We cannot endlessly alter the balance of natural systems like the atmosphere or the oceans without suffering the consequences of that alteration.


Human survival requires a rebalancing of human activity with natural systems and resources. The list of environmental problems and crises that humanity faces is long and growing: global climate change; decreasing agricultural yields; increasing water stresses; the accumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the water, soil, and air; depletion and destruction of fisheries; ocean acidification; the depletion of many kinds of non-renewable resources; annihilation of many species of plants and animals; increases in extreme weather events; rapid increases in urbanization without corresponding increases in water and sewage infrastructure; destructive mining practices; deforestation; and more. The reality is that the world can no longer afford our current energy systems, our current financial system, our current industrial system. All these and more will have to change in order for the balance of humanity with nature to readjust to sustainable levels.


Issues of building the capacity to save the planet from environmental devastation are issues of democratic power for the majority. This means power for workers, their families, and poor people
who together make up the vast majority of all societies.


Humanity in general is not causing these problems. Capitalism, in addition to exploiting human nature, relies on ever-expanding markets, ever-expanding production of commodities, ever-expanding development, and ever-expanding growth of private profit, which are all root causes of the imbalance with nature. Short-term, short-sighted calculations of profit, as the sole measure of value, underlie many of the crises which affect humanity. Capitalism operates on several deadly assumptions: that nature is ‘free’, that natural resources are limitless, that the waste-absorbing capacity of nature is infinite, that economic activity and the natural world are separate, that short-term profit is more important than long-term sustainability, that economic profit can be reasonably calculated while ignoring social and environmental costs borne by society as a whole, and that the production of more commodities without end represents real progress. These are in addition to the human exploitation and oppression capitalism engenders and profits from.


There are direct human costs of capitalism, but there are also serious indirect costs, as capitalist production and agriculture exploit the non-renewable resources we depend upon in an ever-speedier race to catastrophe. Capitalism is the root cause of most of the environmental problems we face, and the biggest obstacle to finding real solutions. To counter the power of the capitalist class and its control of the levers of power in much of the world, the organized power of the working class is the only force capable of saving humanity from capitalism. This is why environmental issues are working-class issues, and why supposed solutions which ignore the class divisions in society can at best only postpone the worst impacts of global warming, the spread of persistent organic pollutants all over the world, and other environmental crises that face all of humanity. Without the organized force of the working class, we are stuck with an unsustainable economic system which will cause ever-increasing environmental catastrophes. We can either work with nature, or nature will work against us. Nature does not ‘care’ about humanity; humanity must care about nature. We must work to enable nature to sustain us.

 

Limitations of environmental discussion


Most discussions of global climate change and other serious environmental challenges are   limited. The problems are seen as problems of human interaction with natural systems (which hey are) or as problems in need of technological solutions (which they are). But little is done to connect any of this to our economic and social systems. In a private property system, when we collectively face problems that need collective solutions (and it does not get much bigger or more collective than global climate change, both on the problem side and the required solution side), we run into private property rights and private decision-making about production, land use, resources, disposal of waste, and investment. We also run into the limits of capitalist-funded political systems.


Much of the agitation and media discussion of global warming and other ecological crises promote a valuable goal: educating the public about the gravity of these problems and the need for action. However, most of that publicity blames the problem on ‘overpopulation’ or ‘excessive consumption’. This lets the capitalist system off the hook, and in the long run defeats the goal of decreasing the amounts of greenhouse gases, the main immediate causes of global warming, and of solving the other symptoms of the imbalanced human relationship with the environment on which we depend.


Approaches that blame ‘people’ in general fail to address the underlying causes of global warming. Few people, in any country, have or had much to do with the decisions that are causing many rapidly-developing environmental crises. Those decisions were private decisions, made by capitalists and their managers. As long as that continues to be the case, efforts to slow global warming and solve other environmental problems will fall far short of the fundamental transformations needed in our economic, political, agricultural, industrial, transportation, and social systems. International environmental problems are often explained using gross averages, which end up concealing more than they reveal. When figures for ‘average per capita energy consumption’ are used to compare the ‘energy footprint’ of people in different parts of the world, those averages conceal the gross differentials in energy usage within countries, and conceal who has decisionmaking authority over industrial production, energy production, distribution systems, and national environmental policy. The average person in the United States has no more of a role in deciding whether or not to build another coal-fired electricity generating plant than the average person in Indonesia plays in deciding how much of the rainforest to cut down. The average North American plays no more of a role in setting up the systems that require constant car use by individuals (suburbs, lack of public transportation, long commutes) than the average sub-Saharan African plays in setting up the systems (or lack thereof) that result in cutting down precious trees to make charcoal.


Most people are relegated to the role of victims, victims who are blamed for the problems to which they are subjected. People are blamed for a profligate lifestyle while corporations advertise endlessly for more consumer spending, more consumer debt, and more consumer behavior that ignores the effects of the increasing burden on the environment. Class aspects of environmental problems What are some of the main class aspects of environmental issues? One, while the main per capita emitters of greenhouse gases are the United States, Australia, Japan, and Western Europe, the main victims of global warming, at least in the early stages, are in the poorest countries. Those poorest nations are most negatively affected by capitalist resource extraction, by imperialist oppression, by the history of European colonialism, by the problems of international debt (which benefits the major capitalist banks), and by living the closest to the edge of survival already. Sometimes portrayed as a ‘North–South’ issue, this reality follows identically the centers of financial power and the current pathways of international trade. Justice, fairness, and basic human decency are all affronted by efforts to blame the global warming crisis on ‘too many people’. Acknowledging this is basic humanity, but it is also class reality – the international corporations did the most to create the problem, they benefit most from the way things are, and they also are among the main obstacles to seriously tackling solutions. Real solutions will hurt their bottom line and challenge their power and control over production decisions. Two, in any class-divided society, the rich and powerful use their wealth and power to escape the consequences of any type of crisis, including any type of environmental crisis. They seek to place the blame and the burden on workers and poor people. They seek to find ways to profit from human suffering. The rich and powerful have the largest vested interest in continuing to profit from maintaining unsustainable industry and resource extraction. Three, when environmental movements seek to bring about fundamental change, they run into aspects of capitalist power. The struggle over implementing real solutions to environmental problems is a struggle over control – control of resources, control of institutions, control of decisionmaking, control of production and industrial processes, control over land and land-use, and control over the political process. These struggles are class issues too. The struggles of workers to wrest power away from ‘employer prerogatives’ parallel and complement the struggle of citizens to wrest power away from private property prerogatives. The struggle for real democratic control over the economic decisions that affect our lives relates directly to the struggle for real democratic control in communities over the economic decisions that produce pollution, environmental degradation, reckless development, and many other challenges to a sustainable balance between immediate human needs and the long-term human need for a healthy environment. A short-sighted focus on environmental problems to the exclusion of the economic framework that creates and maintains those problems is as self-defeating as a short-sighted focus on global warming and greenhouse gases to the exclusion of other environmental threats.

As dialectical materialism shows, the world and all its systems are one interconnected web. The environmental movement needs workers, needs alliances with and participation from unions. Because organized workers have the potentialpower to wrest control of production decisions away from the capitalist class, they are an essential element to fighting for fundamental change. Another class issue is that workers are among the first to be victimized by toxic chemicals on the job, before those toxic chemicals are dumped in ways that affect all of us. Workers in the factories and workplaces die, contract environmentally induced diseases, and get a double dose of pollutants – by being exposed both where they work and where they live. Corporations are no more hesitant to hurt their employees than they are hesitant to hurt the communities where those employees and many others live. This is not a new phenomenon – coal miners and their communities have suffered severe respiratory problems for hundreds of years, and efforts to ameliorate those problems have been resisted by the corporations at every step.


Energy consumption and water consumption are driven by more than individual choice. Individual consumer choice has little to do with irrigation systems that draw down the water table faster than rainfall replenishes aquifers; little to do with power plant construction; little to do with the financial decisions that result in massive loans for energy industry projects; little to do with whether or not governments decide to subsidize nuclear energy plants or coal-fired plants. Individual choice has even less to do with foreign policy towards oil-producing countries (or else the majority of US individuals who wanted an end to the Iraq War would have ended it years ago1).


Environmental approaches that blame ‘all of us’ ignore the class divisions in society, ignore the predominant role of money, wealth, and power in governmental decision-making, ignore that 1In CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll conducted in March 2008, 68% respondents opposed the Iraq War; in the Gallup poll conducted in April 2008, 63% respondents believed that going to war in Iraq was a mistake; in the CBS poll conducted in February 2009, 55% respondents believed that United States should have stayed out of Iraq; in the CBS poll conducted in August 2010, 59% respondents believed that going to war in Iraq was a mistake; in the Gallup poll conducted in November 2011, 75% respondents approved Obama’s decision to withdraw US troops.


The financial benefits from the economy as currently constructed go disproportionately to the top few percent of the population (in other words, to the biggest capitalists), and ignore which groups within society have a vested interest in preventing change. Such limited approaches ignore the class divisions within ‘rich’ countries. Hurricane Katrina provided many examples of the existence of widespread poverty in the United States. The government and government agencies (i.e. the US Army Corps of Engineers) ignored clear warnings of the danger to the levee system, allowed thousands of poor people to remain in the path of the oncoming destruction, and responded slowly to the rising human catastrophe. This again proved that oppressed and exploited people do not share in the benefits of the United States’ ‘high standard of living’ (which has been going down for the majority for several decades now), and proved again that inequality and injustice exist within supposedly ‘rich’ societies.
Such class divisions within developed industrial countries show that the conflict is not between the ‘rich North’ and the ‘poor South’ of the world, it is between capitalists and rich landowners the world over on the one hand, and workers, family farmers and poor people the world over on the other.


Sustainability


The world and all the world’s peoples need a sustainable economic system, which includes sustainable agricultural and industrial processes for our survival. ‘Sustainability’ does not mean how to continue to make excess profits on endless development and endless production of more commodities. The keys to human sustainability are not gross economic measures; people and nature must be the measures of sustainability, not profits. Various capitalist interests are trying to take advantage of the climate crisis for their own advantage. The nuclear power industry wants the government to make it easier for them to build more nuclear power plants, which they claim produce no carbon dioxide emissions. They want us to ignore or forget that considerable carbon dioxide is created in the construction process, and creates more in the process of moving toxic nuclear waste for disposal, and ignore that no one knows how to deal with or protect us from that nuclear waste. There are differences between real solutions and advertising campaigns. Changing our industrial production so that it runs on different kinds of energy and so it does not create pollution in the first place are not the same as ‘green marketing’. Major government investments in improving the efficiency and affordability of solar power are not the same as adverts from British Petroleum claiming that it is now an energy company rather than an oil company. Figuring out how to better insulate our housing stock so that less energy is wasted is not the same as figuring out how to make money by trading carbon credits.


Sustainability is all about human survival at a level of advanced technological production and health. All humans have a powerful self-interest in their own survival and that of their offspring. When a few powerful capitalists maintain their power and enrich themselves by ignoring the need for immediate action or by obstructing positive action, it is foolish to expect them to lead programs for making changes that challenge their power and wealth. The issues facing humanity are not simple. They require many fundamental changes in how we produce food and goods, how we transport and distribute them, and how we stop depleting the soil, water, oil, forests, and natural gas. They require increasing the capability of the atmosphere, oceans, and climatic systems to absorb pollution and greenhouse gases. While these issues are in part about individual choices, lifestyles, and habits, the biggest impacts must come from changing our major agricultural, industrial, transportation, and marketing systems. These issues are class issues, and they need working-class solutions. Working-class solutions do not limit themselves just to consideration of carbon footprints or individual recycling. They do not rely on some magical market to solve problems for us. Solutions are based on understanding that technology is a tool, and that technological solutions and improvements must go hand in hand with social and economic changes to be effective. Workers need to work in safe workplaces, free of toxic chemicals. They need to live in neighborhoods and houses which minimize energy loss due to inadequate housing construction and endless commutes. They need to live free from toxic waste and industrial pollution. They need sources of clean, safe water. They need healthy, affordable food supplies that do not use chemical pesticides, and do not rely on carbon-burning transportation over huge distances. They want and need to know that their children will have the possibility of living healthy lives in a world where all people have choices, opportunities, and democratic and economic power. Workers need to shoulder their share of the costs of change, but they do not need to shoulder the share of the capitalists, their luxuries, their conspicuous consumption, their arrogant use of power, or their resistance to any change that challenges their ‘right’ to make excessive profits. Any serious discussion of environmental solutions points to more social decision-making, to more social control over what is produced, where it is produced, and how it is produced, packaged, distributed, and consumed. Society’s ability to implement solutions requires changes in political power, changes in governmental structures, changes in national priorities, and significant changes in economic decision-making.


Serious solutions require peace and international cooperation on a new level. Pre-emptive war, invasion, and occupation, research on developing ‘bunker-busting’ nuclear weapons, unilateral militarization of space, are the antithesis of what humanity needs. War is among the worst causes of serious environmental degradation, carbon dioxide release, and wasteful production unrelated to real human needs.


Environmental challenges to socialism


Socialism, the collective ownership of and authority over the major means of production, distribution, and finance, is necessary to mobilize the resources of whole societies and of the whole world to fund and accomplish the massive changes we need to make, to change the tools we use to measure progress and development, to put people and nature before profits. Socialism is an essential aspect of the changes we need to protect the survival of our species. Socialism is a necessary, essential precondition, but is not sufficient by itself. While socialism makes possible the massive changes we need, socialism by itself is no guarantee that the right choices will be made about what to do with limited resources.We also need education, democratic inputs from popular struggles, independent environmental organizations, more scientific knowledge, and a deeper understanding of the interrelationships between land, water, air and weather, agriculture, industry, and society.

Contradictions are not just between exploiters and exploited. There are many contradictions and tensions between humans and nature, and socialism does not make them disappear – those contradictions will still drive struggle and change. As well, uneven development is a reality of all change and that by itself can result in contradiction and conflict, and this is not only true of change from primitive society to feudalism to capitalism, it is true of socialism. The basic truth is that all development and change is driven by contradiction. Neither socialism nor communism will alter this  fundamental reality – contradictions of many kinds will continue to challenge humanity. Marxist economic concepts have to be expanded to include the restrictions of limited natural resources, the requirements of nature to not be so overloaded that it cannot absorb waste products, and the necessary limits of planetary climatic systems. Planned economies need to include nature’s requirements and limits in their plans.Marxist economists pay great attention to the necessary balance between production of consumer goods and production of the means of production. These concepts have to be expanded to include the limits of natural resources, and the environmental effects of production decisions. Serious environmental solutions require socialism based on a scientific understanding of the need to correct the current imbalance between human activity and production and the natural systems essential for human survival. Socialism is about ending hunger and poverty, about creating health care, jobs, equality, peace, international cooperation, an end to the exploitation of human labor for private profit, and about planned social and economic development. But it must also include what is beneficial for the environment. If we destroy the ability of natural systems to regenerate and recuperate, we destroy the possibility of all kinds of growth for humanity. We cannot have a healthy humanity without a healthy natural world.


An often unnoticed secondhand affect capitalism has on socialist countries is that in the rush to industrialization, when socialist countries adopt technology and machinery directly from capitalist countries, they unintentionally import the built-in capitalist economic and environmental assumptions made by engineers and designers. Those include assumptions about labor, waste disposal, and natural resource use. Ultimately, problems and shortcomings of socialism represent a failure to think, research, and implement dialectically and democratically. Economics and development are ultimately based on the ability of nature to reproduce itself, based on maintaining a healthy balance between human needs and the needs of the natural systems humanity depends on. If development does not work to maintain that balance, it works against the healthy survival of humanity, and that is as true of socialist development as any other kind.


While we can find in Marx and Engels many references to the necessity of basing ourselves on the imperatives of the natural world, many socialist planners subordinated these to the imperatives of increased production, increased industry. When these imperatives came into conflict, usually industrialization won out. Often, objective needs and pressures contributed to over-centralization and to ignoring the environmental consequences of development decisions.Unlike so-called ‘deep ecologists’ who argue for ignoring human needs to let nature triumph, and unlike limited socialist thinking based on fallacious assumptions of ‘man’s triumph over nature’, we need a rounded, all-sided, in-depth understanding of the interrelationships between human and natural systems. To accomplish the kind of socialism required needs greater cooperation and unity between the communist parties of the world, needs a higher level of scientific and environmental awareness in the programs of these parties, and needs increased communist, union, and workers participation in the growing environmental movements. Environmental issues, like issues of nuclear war and peace, are class issues but they also affect all humanity. As a result, it is possible and necessary to gather, around the working-class forces for change, broad coalitions that include cross-class forces – forces such as peace movements, environmental movements, movements for equality for women, movements for equal civil rights for racial minorities and nationalities, youth movements, and other movements for social and political change. This is not a substitute for working-class leadership and organization, but can complement it and bring additional strength to the movement for an environment that can sustain all humanity.


Conclusion


Nature is letting us know in no uncertain terms (through global warming, extreme weather events, decreasing agricultural yields, declining fisheries, and other escalating environmental problems) International Critical Thought 69 Downloaded by [Marc Brodine] at 09:52 30 March 2012 that the development path taken byWestern Europe, Japan, Australia, and the United States is not available to other countries, not without hurting everyone including the vast majority of people in the developing nations themselves. Humanity needs all developing countries to take a different path to industrialization. All of humanity also needs the United States, Europe, and other developed countries to transform their industrial production, transportation, and agricultural systems. As a world, we are headed for serious adjustments, either planned or involuntary or both, which will recalibrate the balance between humans and the nature on which we depend. The sooner we take a planned, cooperative approach to finding solutions, the less expensive and disruptive those changes will be. Conversely, the longer we take to seriously tackle these issues, the solutions will be more expensive and difficult. Since the world’s ecosystem is shared by all of us, changes to protect it must fall on all of us. More and more people are starting to understand that continuing in the old way is no longer a possibility. Part of our job is to help convince them that another world is possible, another system is necessary, and that human survival requires fundamental change.


Environmental change will not happen just because it ‘should’, just because humanity needs such change. Environmental change requires organized social forces to push and create such change. Fundamental change requires class struggle, along with scientific and educational work. It is not enough to understand environmental problems and their causes, we must change our industrial, agricultural, energy, and transportation systems; we must change our economic and financial systems.
We, the workers of the world, must transform the world. Humanity’s survival depends on it.

 

Notes on contributor Marc Brodine is a social activist and a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA. He chaired the committee that drafted the first new CPUSA program in 25 years, The road to socialism USA, adopted at the CPUSA’s 28th National Convention in 2005. He is co-author of the CPUSA’s environmental program, People and nature before profits. He is author of a mystery novel, Blood pressure (2010), and edited and wrote the introduction to Red roots, green shoots (2007), a collection of environmental writings by his mother, Virginia Brodine, a pioneering Marxist environmentalist. He is a community activist, writer, guitarist, and woodblock print artist.


References
CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Summary of CNN Iraq War polling from 2006-2008.
Pollingreport. http://www.pollingreport.com/iraq.htm.
Engels, Frederick. 1883. Frederick Engels’ speech at the grave of Karl Marx. http://www.marxists.org/
archive/marx/works/1883/death/burial.htm.
Jones, J. Opposition to Iraq War reaches new high. Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/106783/oppositioniraq-
war-reaches-new-high.aspx.
Jones, J. Three in four Americans back Obama on Iraq withdrawal. Gallup. http://www.gallup.com/poll/
150497/Three-Four-Americans-Back-Obama-Iraq-Withdrawal.aspx.
Montopoli, B. Poll: Most Americans say Iraq War was a mistake. CBS. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-
503544_162-20014856-503544.html?tag=contentMain;contentBody.
Roberts, J. Poll: Fading support for Iraq War. CBS. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/10/10/opinion/
polls/main930772.shtml.

 

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  • I liked your article very much and almost agree with your every single word except that socialism is not sufficient. I think that through right and efficient interference regarding ecological crisis and embedding environmantel awareness scientific socialism approach will be sufficient.

    Posted by Aynur Ozcan, 08/22/2013 3:16am (4 years ago)

  • Thank you John Case for this issue of Political Affairs with a focus on the environment. It is significant that, outside of the traditional Earth Day edition, an entire issue of PA is dedicated to the strategy, tactics, approaches and struggles around the environment from a political Left perspective.

    Marc Brodine’s article, A Class Approach to Ecological Crisis, integrates some basic Marxist tenets concerning nature and class. The framework of the piece is laid out in the title. It is about a specific approach to ecological crises, a class approach.
    A reading of this issue of PA supplies examples of struggles around the environment.

    While A Class Approach to Ecological Crisis would have benefitted by specific examples, its main import is its class framework. It explicates the need for this framework to better equip the environmental movement to meet its goals. It also calls for the working class, especially its organized sector, to take up environmental struggles.

    A Class Approach presents the socialist goal taking into account some of the lessons of the socialist experiment. It emphasizes the need for democratic inputs from mass movements, including an independent environmental movement, beyond the advent of socialism. Nationalizing the energy and financial sectors of the economy would certainly be part of the latter.

    Raising the socialist goal is a must or we implant dangerous illusions on the extent of what markets, even in a socialist setting, can do. The long-term interests of the working class and all people have to be made clear as we transition through stages of an all-peoples, antimonopoly and socialist government. The environment, along with a vibrant environmental movement, needs the warm sun of socialism.

    Now lets creatively take the points of A Class Approach to Ecology, combined with the other pieces in this PA edition, to our clubs, committees and movements.
    Submitted by Len Yannielli

    Posted by Len Yannielli, 10/15/2012 9:40am (5 years ago)

  • It's sometimes amazing how people can read the same thing and have so, so, different interpretations, at reading.
    Much of the litany of "weaknesses"(which obviously there will be weaknesses in much, if not all of anything we write, especially as individuals) maybe because of brother John Case's weaknesses in understanding.
    On the whole, this piece by brother Marc Brodine is powerful. It does not allow for a development of humanity within a capitalist framework, because this opportunity does not exist for established capitalists in the natural world, let alone humanity's worlds ruined by capitalism and imperialism itself.
    However dogmatic it sounds, nowadays, it's peaceful scientific socialism or extinction for the whole of humanity, including its current ruling classes. This is the message of M L K 1964 Nobel Peace Prize speech. It is our charge to communicate with the broad, broad, numbers of the multi-national, multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-religious,( because really we are naturally, one people)working people of all countries.
    Given the precepts of our methodology, we go first and last, to the working people, its best strategies, its proven tactics.
    Peace with the environment, including the human environment, is prime. Workers know what this peace is, best.
    That is why the messages of M L K, Rebel Girl, Jose' Marti', W. E. B. Du Bois and Race Woman resonate so, so clearly.
    That is why three of four back Obama peace in Iraq- let's start to make lists to fight for peace- instead of lists, fighting for criticism-you write a critique of reason-especially critical, of 12 points, the first of which is flatly untrue; the piece is chock-a-block with energy alternatives, and alternate people in struggle strategies, the last of which accuses the socialists and communists(brother Brodine and his Communist connection, the mass movement work of his mom and pop, the environmentalists- Marx/Engels and Marti' on this side the Atlantic, the great, recently passed Barry Commoner-this literature) of being possibly the most damaging, and source of "anti-democratic argument".

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 10/10/2012 12:19pm (5 years ago)

  • Marc has produced a well-written and provocative article -- but which has serious weaknesses, IMO.


    1. The analysis is very "leftist" -- it proposes no solutions to ecological crises except replacement of the "capitalist system" with "socialism", the latter offered with virtually no definition except some high sounding phrases.

    2. It proposes no tactics. It proposes no multi-class or even broad working-class coalition whose interests could achieve any progress through existing institutions. So, while it claims to be a class approach, I don't think it really is.

    3. It shortchanges democratic progress made in the struggles of the American people. It forecloses on their ability to exercise their will to roll back capital short of abolishing the capitalist system; it understates the ability of workers and allies to respond and direct environmental challenges in a more democratic and constructive direction. Example: the initiatives of the Obama admin on solar, electric cars are not trivial, and are gaining some traction. Its battle with the coal industry to uphold its promise to do CLEAN coal, or deny MTR licenses, is a serious one. These kind of developments are not even mentioned.

    4. There is a very naive, and somewhat dangerous, notion in the article that "good" environmental choices, covering an immense and vast span of market commodities, services and transactions, can be made administratively (and somehow democratically--not clear how that works) by a socialist government. Of course government choices, at least of a democratic government, tend, by definition, to be applicable to all citizens ideally with no distinction, even though there are also tendencies in the opposite direction. Administrative or universal choices make perfect sense if the choice is to prohibit human slavery, or protect a Bill of Rights, or provide social security, or legislate universal health care, or other rights. or provide public goods like Parks, Lighthouses, highways, health care, retirement, arts, sports and entertainment venues and projects. and public education. But many commodities and services -- especially those that are scarce, that are a long way from being affordable or even desirable universally, or that are new -- for them, markets cannot be disposed of administratively: Because they have an objective foundation. If people desire an object or service and the supply is scarce, a market will arise, either legal, or illegal. If made illegal, history shows there is a very high risk of corrosive corruption, including complete state failure and collapse--e.g. the USSR. Emerging green technologies and public policies like a Green New Deal must indeed include a large role for markets, both in raising investment funds and in modifying commodities, although there will be a constant struggle to insure those markets are made subordinate to, and are incentivized to support, an industrial policy which takes broader political and environmental interests into account.

    Nonetheless, any commodity, or service exchanged as a commodity (with a price), necessarily re-generates capitalist relations. But this regeneration typically occurs in a different and changed structural framework economically, and an altered class configuration and realigned ruling political coalitions in major institutions. The American revolution, the civil war, the suffrage movement, the labor movement of the 30s, the civil rights movements have all forced many institutional and class realignments. It assumes new forms. For example, the working class of the industrial era was not the same as the working class of the craft age (reflected, partly, in contrasts between the old and modern, post-CIO labor movements). The ratios of agriculture to craft, to manufacturing, to services, to engineering vary significantly from era to era. The level of tooling, skills, science, education, of diversity in culture, nationality, race -- varies greatly. The pre-Civil war class alignments differed from what came afterwards; the Roosevelt era showed the impact of the industrial working class upheaval on broad policy when mobilized.

    5.The class approach to the ecological crisis going forward from here, where we are and where we are likely to be reveals there simply is no evidence for not assuming a long period of mixed economies (parts socialized and parts not socialized) and define tactics and strategy accordingly.

    6. Understanding the role of mixed economies, does not mean the working class cannot rule! Our highest duty is to place effectively before the people the case for a much more broad-based ruling coalition in which the working class builds on the common infrastructures that expand rights, creativity, culture, wealth and responsibilities of all workers, who in turn can leave for their children if not a perfect balance, at least a more perfect union upon which to create their own balance with the earth, and the universe.

    7. The ecological crisis in this article seems to duck all these mundane matters that are the heart and soul of organizing, and argue for outright abolishing capitalism, and to also smuggle in a "command economy" version of socialism -- a discredited and unsustainable concept, especially for the United States.

    8. Everything in Marc's indictment of capitalism's role in the ecological crisis may be true, but it is one-sided. There is no evidence from the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba or any of the popular social-democracies, that ecological challenges disappear with capitalism. The society that "does not exploit human nature" has not come into being yet -- so there is a certain arrogance and lack of credibility in an ecological program that consists only of "socialism". Socialist countries also have serious imbalance challenges that accompany the drive for economic growth and advance.

    9. Marc denigrates wealth of all descriptions -- but what is progress if not increases in wealth? We demand more equity -- but not less or stagnant wealth for working people.

    10. In general, I submit slams against capitalism are much stronger when framed in a materialist, historical context. No system in history has unleashed human creativity and technological advance as much. Won't the future continue that pace of change? Will it not continue to consume more and more energy?

    11.How much capitalism must be smashed to change directions? Do all who derive income from capital have to give it up? the 401Ks, pension plans, insurance plans, real estate? Its true that the depression has wiped out significant amount of these kinds of assets in the working class -- but worker aspire to recovering them -- not abandoning them. What do you propose to replace them with?

    12. By the time one reaches the end of Marc's article, it reads more like an anti-democratic argument, not a pro-democratic one; that the American people have no democratic avenues that can prevail against capital short of overthrowing the capitalist system.

    This is bad politics in the current era, IMO, where a multi-class coalition based, in part, on a democratization of capital -- simply a broader division of wealth -- must be built to roll back the power of the most reactionary sections of monopoly and financial power.

    Posted by John Case, 10/08/2012 7:08pm (5 years ago)

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