Sunday, 21 February 2021

The Ecosocialism / Degrowth Debate

A piece written by Timothée Parrique and Giorgos Kallis titled Degrowth: Socialism without Growth, which was re-posted on this blog a couple of weeks ago, has led to a debate within the ecosocialist community. The subject was discussed at the most recent Global Ecosocialist Network members meeting, prompting a number of different views from those present. This is my take on degrowth in an ecosocialist context.

In a way, it depends on what you mean by growth. The most widely used measure and definition of growth is that of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country, usually measured over one year. Value in this sense, is a monetary one, and so excludes many productive activities, many of them unpaid, and provided by women, child care, housework and so on. Like-wise nature is exploited, and not counted in GDP. Without which, we might add, GDP could not grow at the rates it does under capitalism.

More formal types of ‘voluntary’ work too, like the proliferation of foodbanks in the UK over the last decade or so, go unmeasured in the calculation of GDP growth. These activities have an important ‘use value’ which from an ecosocialist perspective is how we see the goal of productive activity in an ecosocialist society.

What GDP does, is only measure ‘exchange value’, and this for ecosocialists is where our problem with capitalist production begins. This pursuit of ever increasing exchange value, which is the whole point of capitalist production, to produce ‘surplus value’, that is profit for capital, would not be present in an ecosocialist economy.  

So, let us assume that future growth would only be in use value and consider whether degrowth is necessary in this case also. Parrique and Kallis insist that ‘Growth is a problem over and above capitalism’ although do acknowledge that the drive for surplus value would not be present under socialism.

They also acknowledge that use value is different from exchange value but argue that use value does not need to grow. I’m not sure that this is true though. If we are to live in a fairer way, then some growth in use value will need to happen. This is not to get into an argument about growth in population numbers, leading to increased needs, but in the qualitative value of people’s lives.

Some of this use value may not need to grow too much in some areas, but if we compare the global north and south, we see that a great deal of growth in use value will be necessary in the south, to improve the lives of millions of people. To try and limit this advancement, would not be socialism, and although more fairer sharing of wealth between the north and south would occur, they would still be much room for growing use value in the south. Clean water, reliable (sustainable) energy production, alleviating of poverty, free health care and so forth.

The socialist nations of the twentieth century, did aim for growth in GDP, and in some cases, grew at a faster rate than the capitalist nations they were competing against. Take the USSR, which went from a largely feudal economy at the point of the 1917 revolution, to putting the first man in space within forty years.

This incredible rise in growth, of course came at the price of authoritarian and brutal regimes, and is not something that is desirable to ecosocialists. Ecosocialism neither pursues growth in GDP or seeks to impose authoritarianism. The point is to increase the freedom of the people, when the need to produce surplus value is disposed of.

Where Parrique and Kallis have a valid point, is when they say that all (certainly most) growth requires natural materials, which is certainly true of renewable energy, and it cannot sustain the required endless growth inherent in the capitalist system of production. But that is not what ecosocialism is about. It aims to live within natural limits, by designing production that is ecocentric.

The planned obsolescence of capitalist production would end, with products produced that last longer, and are repairable. Ecocentric production would reduce the need for much of the production we have today, for profit. You could say that this is a form of degrowth, but it also increases the growth of repair shops.

With energy production, renewable energy should aim to replace energy produced from fossil fuels, but, I my view, should not emulate the growth in fossil fuel produced energy. This requires a complete re-ordering of how we organise society, with much more public transport over private vehicles, so reducing demand overall. The construction of buildings would be more energy efficient, with some designs not needing any heating systems, and again lead to a reduction in energy demand. More efficient localised power networks, would also reduce the waste of energy, and so demand falls again.

I think it is possible to degrow to some extent overall and achieve the welfare gains that we would like to see. I think it is also necessary to do so, as Parrique and Kallis point out, an average 3% annual growth in GDP that is exponential, means a doubling of growth in 24 years. That clearly can’t continue on a sustainable basis, with finite resources.

I think we can all agree that too much unnecessary growth is required by the capitalist system. But it doesn’t mean that we have to live in caves. Ecosocialism can produce enough for all, if it is implemented in the right way. It all comes back to what we mean by growth.  

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

On Green Socialism and Working Class Politics


First published at Pittsburgh Green Left

Green Socialism is inspired partly by traditional worker-oriented socialist views, but attempts to transcend class struggle by organizing popular struggle for true democracy, ecology, and freedom.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, ecological and social crisis exist simultaneously in multiple forms within the US and across the world. Global neoliberal capitalism has captured the world’s economic and political structures, and we feel the growing pressures of poverty and climate change under the threat of a pervasive police state.

These deteriorating conditions imply that historical socialist revolutionary movements have largely failed to produce the widespread change they described in their visions. There’s an increasing feeling, particularly by the youth, that the “old ways” are insufficient to confront 21st century capitalism and win — particularly with the climate change clock running out — and that a new form of social movement and politics is necessary to directly confront capitalism and broader ecological and social issues.

I believe the new model for the 21st century must be Green Politics, or what I will call “Green Socialism” here to distinguish from other tendencies that lay claim to the more broad term “eco-socialism”. Green Politics is today largely associated with the Green Party, however anyone can practice Green Politics in or outside of the Green Party.

A simplistic description of Green Politics might be to list the 4 pillars — grassroots democracy, peace, social justice, and ecological wisdom — and the 10 Key Values of the movement, but to create a deeper discussion of what Green Politics and Green Socialism really means, a good place to start might be to address some complaints and criticisms of the Green Party and Green Socialism that you have no doubt already heard, particularly from other socialists.

Left Voice for example ran an opinion piece by author Ezra Brain making “a socialist case against” the Green Party and Howie Hawkins, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate, which echoes a number of common leftist complaints against Green Politics. 

However these complaints often ring hollow, either as grave misunderstandings of the Green platform that betray a lack of deeper research and knowledge about the subject — ironically often appropriating bourgeois neoliberal talking points against Green Politics — or as legitimate complaints that have a feel of “stones thrown from glass houses” as those same complaints often apply to other socialist and leftist organizations in the US and simply illustrate the challenge of organizing against global neoliberal capitalism in the 21st century.

Not Merely “Environmentalism”

One of the first complaints Brain makes is that “the Green Party is organized around an ‘issue’ — the environment — rather than a class”. To understand how deeply flawed this statement is requires some background history on the Green Socialism movement. Rewind the clocks to the 1960s when numerous activist movements — the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the beginnings of an environmental movement spawned by outrage from books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring — are all growing in popular support and political power. These movements brought real change in the form of the end of segregation and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

However these changes were widely acknowledged to be a beginning, not an end point, and many activists wondered what the next step was. There was a growing sense that these issues were not independent issues but in fact connected in some mutual struggle. Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed a similar sentiment when he called out the “triple evils” of capitalism: poverty, militarism, and racism. The organization Greenpeace was formed by members of the environmental and anti-war movements joining together (Green + Peace). While cross-movement cooperation was growing, many activists still looked for a more cohesive ideology to better explain how these issues were interconnected, in a way that would guide future actions and demands.

This search led to a booming interest in leftist history and philosophy, with many activists finding themselves drawn to various leftist tendencies of socialism and anarchism. Enter socialist organizer and activist Murray Bookchin. Bookchin grappled with these tendencies and the issues himself, and after joining several socialist and anarchist groups in his youth, came to a few conclusions.

Firstly, Bookchin connected many of the dots between the different struggles and surmised that ecological crisis was rooted in social crisis. One cannot properly tackle ecological issues of climate change, “factory” farming, environmental damage due to industry, and more, without closely looking at the societies that produced it.

Upon deeper analysis, it becomes clear how capitalism’s exploitation of the working class for the benefit of the rich ruling class has led directly to capitalism’s exploitation and destruction of nature itself — the “Grow or Die” imperative of capitalism to always produce more and expand leads to not only stealing more wealth from the working class, but also to stealing and destroying more and more of nature. Instead of sustainable farming, for example, corporations deplete the soil and move on to new land “because it is cheap” — land often obtained “cheaply” historically via imperialist genocide of indigenous peoples living on such land. If we are to save the environment — nay, nature itself, including humanity — we must engage in struggle against capitalism and all forms of exploitation and dominance.

This struggle is what separates ecology from mere environmentalism. Taking the best ideas of socialism and anarchism and rooting them in an ecologically-based ethics, Bookchin created a political philosophy and praxis now known as Social Ecology.

Bookchin’s Social Ecology was well-received, and after some electoral success by the newly-formed German Green Party, members of the same civil rights, environmental, and anti-war movements gathered in the early 1980s to discuss forming a US Green Party. Bookchin and his Institute of Social Ecology hosted the first organizing meeting and strongly urged participants to adopt a social ecologist platform for the new party. Many participants were receptive to this message, and so the Left Green Network was formed shortly afterward to encourage continued discussion on creating a national Green Party built on social ecology and eco-socialist organizing principles.

The movements represented at the meeting essentially became the 4 pillars of the party — the civil rights (Social Justice), environmental (Ecology), and anti-war (Peace) movements, all linked by a common call for Grassroots Participatory Democracy and an acknowledgement that all of these issues were deeply intertwined and could only be resolved with mutual struggle to end capitalism and create real systemic change. This network eventually founded the Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA) in 1991 — whose founding platform and strategy shows heavy influence from social ecology thought — which merged with other Green groups to form the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) in 2000.

The influence of social ecology and eco-socialism can still be found within the GPUS, and this was made more explicit in 2016 when the party platform was amended to specifically call itself an “anti-capitalist” party that advocated for a community-based economics often referred to as “eco-socialism”. Make no mistake — this isn’t a recent change of heart, but rather acknowledging what has always been.

Circling back to Brain’s comment that the Green Party is built “around an issue”, it should be clear now that this is nonsense. Ecology, not mere environmentalism, is a broader and more fundamental concept, recognizing that ecological crisis is rooted in social crisis, or stated another way, that our vision of an ecological society must also be, by necessity, a critique of capitalist society.

Greens acknowledge that existential threats like climate change can only be resolved when social crisis caused by capitalism’s “Grow or Die” profit imperative is ended — which will require ecologically-minded socialist modes of production and distribution, and a popular social movement for cultural, economic, and political change. Therefore at the heart of ecological crisis is a social crisis rooted in class struggle, and more broadly, popular struggle against all forms of hierarchy and oppression.

Misunderstanding State and Class

Brain next argues that “Socialism means workers’ control of the means of production through a workers’ state, as a step toward the disappearance of all social classes” before berating Greens and Howie Hawkins by stating “At the end of the day, the Green Party believes in an economy that is neither capitalist nor socialist but rather ‘eco-socialist’.” (Emphasis mine, for clarity.) I believe Brain is deriving his statement from the GPUS platform, however it is a very poor paraphrasing that misrepresents the actual party stance. Let’s first quote the GPUS platform Section (IV)(A)(4) here (emphasis mine):

The Green Party seeks to build an alternative economic system based on ecology and decentralization of power, an alternative that rejects both the capitalist system that maintains private ownership over almost all production as well as the state-socialist system that assumes control over industries without democratic, local decision making.

As Brain explains: “Many countries have nationalized industries, but that doesn’t make them socialist — the state is still controlled by the bourgeoisie”, to which Brain clarifies that the key difference is that socialist industry must be “under workers’ control”.

As the platform states above, Green Socialists reject capitalism as well as state-socialism without local decision making — in other words, Greens reject collective ownership without local democratic control. There’s no disagreement from Greens here that nationalization alone does not make socialism, but there is a more subtle distinction here that “workers’ control” referenced by Brain is not the same as “local decision making” referenced by the Greens. What’s the distinction and why is that important?

In the essay “Workers’ Control, Community Control, and the Cooperative Commonwealth”, Howie Hawkins writes about the failures of the workplace organizing model of many socialists over the last century. Many worker-centric organizing models and the once radical unions promoting those models have essentially devolved into “managers” of capitalism — perhaps with improved working conditions and wages, but also nowhere near the worker-controlled socialism that the movements originally envisioned.

Union leadership now typically cooperates with capital for contracts rather than continuing to demand more democracy and oppose private ownership in the first place. The “Growth or Die” imperative eventually captures even the staunchest worker co-ops and unions, because if you aren’t growing, you are being undercut by your capitalist competitors and losing sales, and therefore losing the ability to pay your own workers.

Owning the means of production alone also did not stop the advance of fascism in Spain and other countries during the early 1900s, and neither did it prevent the Russian soviets from being captured by the Bolsheviks into a centralized authoritarian state after the Russian revolution.

There’s also a certain parochial elitism that can grow from trade unions, in which members view themselves separately from other workers — in other words, rather than finding working class solidarity, trade unions in a capitalist system ironically sometimes create new classes and subclasses to further divide the working class.

It’s not hard to find today trade union members in the oil and gas industry that not only have failed to advocate socialism within their workplaces, not only work for an industry that is destroying the planet and its habitability for humans, but will vote Republican and actively look down on service industry workers for being “unskilled” labor that merely needs to “pull itself up by the bootstraps” if it wishes to do better — better like they have it in their unionized oil and gas jobs, presumably.

If our goal is a democratic and ecological society without class distinctions, there’s clearly a missing ingredient here beyond simply advocating worker control. At a minimum, the organizing must be industry-wide and cross-industry, but as we discussed above, even such whole industry movements have historically not been successful at toppling capitalism.

Aside from the elitism trades may develop among themselves, such a model completely leaves many groups out of economic decision-making entirely — young adults still in school, the disabled, the child-rearers, the elderly care workers, to name a few groups that live in the community and are affected by economic decisions but are not industry workers.

Hawkins therefore advocates a community-controlled economy, where the community as a whole democratically sets economic policy and goals, better ensuring that everyone who may be affected by such decision-making gets a say in the decision. Workplaces would still be unionized, but unions would become more administrative, making day-to-day workplace decisions in line with, and accountable to, the community-decided policy that takes precedence.

When Hawkins speaks of “nationalization”, what he’s really calling for is municipalization — placing the economy into the direct control of communities via municipal organizations. Nationalization of “key industries” only serves as a first step to halt capitalist control prior to “breaking industry up” for municipal control. If Brain can advocate a model of a socialist state as a first transitional step toward ultimately ending class distinctions and the state itself, it is unfair to then criticize Hawkins’ campaign platform for also speaking about transitional steps while ignoring Hawkins’ deeper vision and strategy.

I should also note at this point Brain’s attack on Hawkins’ focus on “key industries” as somehow being evidence of a lack of socialist policy, but this discussion makes clear the distinction. Some industries, like energy via the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, are huge national and international industries that are already very centralized — Hawkins is advocating nationalizing those centralized structures, and then either quickly decommissioning them (replacing fossil fuels and nuclear with renewable energy, for example), or breaking them up into local control. However, not every industry is so centralized today, nor needs to be — these other industries can directly change to municipal control today without any national action required.

One might think of agriculture, which can begin the path to municipalization today by community action toward community gardens, food co-ops, and the like. One needs only form a community movement, and through local self-governance, begin to create the structures needed; no nationalization or national directive required. There is no inconsistency here, although the tendency to grow movements “bottom-up” from municipal levels is much more common among anarchist circles and perhaps a bit foreign sounding to the “top-down” centralizing views of many socialists, so perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Brain did not pick up on this distinction.

Hence, there is a clear and important distinction between Brain’s “workers’ control” and the Hawkins and Green Socialist view of “local democratic control”. Brain may disagree with this conclusion, but that doesn’t make the Green Socialist view any less socialist for having a different take on how to best democratize the economy.

Popular Struggle and Multi-Classism

Let’s return to an interesting point made in the last section regarding trade unions. Hawkins noted a tendency for worker-oriented movements to ironically create more class structure and further divide the working class between various industry trades and so-called “unskilled” workers. Brain makes several digs at the Green Party and Hawkins for being a “multi-class party,” including that it “operates on the principle that it is possible to reconcile the conflicting interests of the working class and the capitalist class”.

It should be evident from the discussion above that this is yet again a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Hawkins and a more general Green Socialist viewpoint. From Hawkins’ “Workers’ Control, Community Control, and the Cooperative Commonwealth” (emphasis mine):

After 150 years in which worker-oriented theories have dominated the Left, it is easy to forget that most of the high points of revolutionary upheaval in the last millennium have been communal peasant movements and urban municipal movements. From the free cities and the leagues or confederations they formed for periods from the tenth century on, through the many peasant uprisings seeking communal autonomy from oppressive landlords, the American and French Revolutions with their town meetings and neighborhood assemblies, and even such high points of ‘proletarian socialism’ as the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Spanish Revolution of 1936–37, it has been multi-class, popular movements aimed at local self-government in opposition to the centralized state that have shaken the foundations of hierarchical society, both feudal and capitalist. Indeed, in the larger historical perspective, it is the workers’ movement that is the ‘new social movement’ — and probably a transitory one corresponding to the rise and fall of the factory system.

To the contrary, for the last 40 years, it has been the transclass issues that have mobilized people — the so-called ‘new social movements’ around peace, the environment, feminism, gay liberation, racial equality, ethnic autonomy, community control, and a whole array of cultural movements that reject the alienated structure of needs and the compensatory consumption that have grown with the commodification of social relations. … The ‘immense majority’ today are the many alienated and oppressed sectors of society, not a single class defined by its relationship to the means of production. Economistic ‘class struggle’ is too one-sided and parochial to express the universalization of the struggle against multiple forms of hierarchy and irrationality. The democratic struggles of ‘The People’ better express this generalization of the struggle against myriad forms of domination than the two-class struggle of wage labor and capital.

The “one working class” originally envisioned by Marx and others has never actually materialized; as industrial capitalism has expanded into global neoliberal capitalism, if anything, the working class has stratified into various classes kept in tension with each other by the capitalist ruling class that exploits racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, even a fear of material scarcity and poverty, to maintain class distinctions. When Hawkins and Green Socialists speak of “multi-class” movements, we refer to uniting these various economic classes and social identities against their oppressors.

The struggle is not merely an economic class struggle at the point of production but a general popular struggle against all forms of hierarchy and oppression. Put another way: ending economic class distinctions alone will not immediately cure racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or xenophobia. Ironically, even the article’s publisher Left Voice says in their “Who We Are” page that “We are against all forms of oppression. Class reductionism isn’t welcome here.

We participate in social movements and for the rights of oppressed people; we are active parts of the socialist feminist, environmental, Black Lives Matter, LGTBQ+, immigrants rights movements, and more.” (Compare the social movements listed here with those listed in Hawkins’ article, for example.) Brain’s critique of multi-class organizing misrepresents the Green position and comes dangerously close to a class reductionist point of view.

Popular struggle against hierarchy is the more fundamental struggle that Green Socialists try to focus on, for hierarchies affect not only social relations but also human society’s relationship with nature; yes, class struggle is a part of that struggle, but not the only or the ultimate struggle. It’s not less socialist, as Brain implies, to try to keep the overarching struggle against hierarchy and exploitation in perspective.

Municipalism as Electoral Revolution

Brain’s final major complaint is the perceived Green focus on electoralism. Brain states, “Real change cannot be won through elections — We win real concessions by protesting in the streets and challenging the capitalists’ control of the means of production.” The implication here of course is that Greens rely too heavily on, and advocate change primarily through, elections, but similarly to our previous arguments, this appears to again largely be a misunderstanding — this time about elections and the term “political party”.

Hawkins, in his letter announcing his candidacy for president, cites one of his major goals as “To build the Green Party as an activist and viable opposition to the two-capitalist-party system of corporate rule.” (emphasis my own). The Green Party has always had its roots in activism and direct struggle; Hawkins himself came from the direct struggle movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and has even been arrested several times during his protests. I do not believe any Green would object to the idea of “protesting in the streets” to demand change and challenge capitalism.

The real question is more: exactly how do we win real change, and what role does “protesting in the streets” — or electoralism, for that matter — play in that strategy? What we’re really asking about is how to build popular power, and there’s a few different angles on this.

Firstly, does “protesting in the streets” necessarily build power? It depends largely on what is being done in the streets — in other words, the context of the action. A large-scale non-violent civil disobedience action, for example occupying public offices and shutting down the ability to conduct normal business, gets the attention of decision makers in today’s system and can often work. However it does generally require a lot of planning and preparation, as well as large numbers of people, to be effective — the key being that the protest or action must inconvenience those in power to get noticed.

A smaller demonstration might not be noticed or “felt” by those in power. All too often, folks “protest in the streets” on a Saturday morning when there is no pedestrian or vehicle traffic, when the ruling class is out on the golf course or at the beach home, and so the action “in the streets” gets zero attention, puts zero pressure or attention on the decision makers, and most decidedly does not “get the goods”. History is unfortunately full of major labor strikes and actions that failed because they weren’t large enough, or not planned well-enough, to succeed at pressuring the ruling class for long enough to matter — several strikes sadly ended up with workers, unsupported by the unions that instigated the action, being unable to put food on the family table and the workers walking right back to their jobs.

Brain’s commentary does not address what’s required for effective action, nor does it describe what to do when the action is effective and the state decides to retaliate with violence, such as police arrests. In short, while it is the start of an answer, it is not an answer on it’s own — we must be well-organized and prepared before “protesting in the streets” can work.

Naturally, the question arises: what sort of organizing is necessary then? Previously, the labor union was discussed as being insufficient for organizing a truly democratic movement that was inclusive of the whole community, but what other organizing structures exist? There is one option that is well-known by the general population — the political party. As a community-based political civic organization, a political party can — if well-designed, of course — provide the framework for community organizing.

Political parties are already understood to exist at local neighborhood levels, and send delegates to county, state, and national conventions. This structure actually supports well a community-wide directly democratic organization, which may serve as an umbrella for all types of political organizing — perhaps elections, but also to organize direct actions and mutual aid for party members. In short, the community-based organizing model appears to be best accomplished via political party rather than a trade union.

The Socialist Party of the late 1800s and early 1900s actually exemplified this model very well, using the party both to elect thousands of socialists to local office across the country, as well as help organize labor unions and represent them in public political debate. The Green Party is a natural extension of this concept from a worker-centric model to a community-wide model that represents not only labor, but all members of the community who may not be engaged in traditional paid labor, and even nature itself.

That said, we must acknowledge that despite the many successes of the Socialist Party, it too was unable to topple capitalism and ultimately disappeared into the Democratic Party, as its membership was attacked via sedition laws during World War 1, and the party’s platform was co-opted by the New Deal in order to “save capitalism” (as FDR put it) during the Great Depression.

Sadly, the combination of attacks and co-option led many socialist organizers to decide that their hopes and futures rode on using the New Deal to turn the Democratic Party into a working class party, and therefore the Socialist Party was largely abandoned by the 1960s. However, in the decades since, the Democratic Party has shifted further right-wing and continued to suppress progressive and socialist voices within the party, showing it too has been a failed strategy.

We must therefore recognize that the Green Party organizing model must learn from history, and take a different approach to building community power — it lies neither in “protesting the streets” nor electoralism alone, but some synthesis of these ideas that can directly challenge capitalism and the state while building new directly democratic institutions, avoiding at once both electoral co-option as well as avoiding the parochialism and lack of authentic grassroots democracy found in some workers’ or activist movements. What would such a synthesis look like?

Going back to Bookchin’s Social Ecology, which had a large influence and role on the foundations of the Green Party and helped define Green Socialism, we find that Bookchin also proposed a revolutionary praxis for implementing Green Socialism that appears to meet our criteria: he called it “libertarian municipalism”. After extensive research into the history of popular revolutions, Bookchin concluded that most successful revolutions in history of the last millennium shared a number of common traits, particularly that they were popular movements for democratic self-determination at the local community levels.

Attempt to summarize Bookchin’s extensive work: the Green Socialist view on municipalism is to use the town meeting and direct democracy to grow a movement. Face-to-face, direct democracy is critical to building community ties, likely first starting with community efforts in mutual aid that can then lead to political organizing at the municipal level. The community builds both “legal” organizing, in the form of running for municipal office, as well as “extra-legal” organizing in the form of people’s assemblies.

The main agenda of municipal electoralism would be to pass ordinances that would directly clear a path toward recognizing the people’s assemblies as the legitimate power in the municipality, rather than a small elected council — the council would then become primarily an administrative one, rather than a rule-making one. The municipality then becomes the revolutionary organization of the people, the location where the community gathers to debate and determine economic and social policy. The organizing to make this transition occur makes the most sense as a type of political party devoted to both activist and electoral struggle against capital and the State — this is exactly the Green Party’s mandate.

Like-minded municipalities would then form confederations for mutual aid and self-defense according to shared principles in order to expand the network. At some point, these revolutionary municipalities in confederation, through mutual aid organizing and democratic self-determination, will encroach severely on the powers the State affords itself — for example, when a municipality wants to ban fossil fuel infrastructure in an effort to develop municipal renewable energy — and it is this tension between municipality and State that directly confronts capitalism and forces a revolutionary moment.

Recall the discussion earlier that actions which did not grab the attention of the ruling class would fail; the direct tension between grassroots municipalities and top-down oligarchic state rule is one of the biggest ways to get their attention as it can directly stop their activities and profits. Popular institutions are essentially forced into revolution, to either side with municipalities or face popular wrath by attempting to prop up the capitalist State. If “The People” in their confederations have prepared enough for the confrontation, they will prevail, and the “new world will be born in the shell of the old”, to paraphrase an old anarchist saying.

Until that confrontation, it is critical to be involved in community organizing and direct actions including mutual aid, but also to develop a political organization particularly at the municipal levels against the State.

This is of course a brief summary and by no means a full elaboration of the concept or strategy, but hopefully this discussion was sufficient to dispel a number of Brain’s contentions. Firstly, to the extent that Greens are involved in “electoralism”, it is primarily to build local organizing along with grassroots municipal power. Secondly, since the end goal of this municipalist strategy is a revolutionary confrontation between socialist municipalities and the State, Brain’s remarks about Green Socialists not being revolutionary are clearly inaccurate.

One final remark: this discussion actually highlights a problem with Brain’s own remarks about socialism requiring a “workers’ state”. Green Socialists reject this view, in the sense that it is the State itself which we are opposing. The State is a hierarchical entity and therefore its own source of class and identity divisions, no matter whether the stewards of the State are elected bourgeoisie or socialist workers.

Class divides will always occur in such hierarchies; ideas such as work rotation, which Hawkins advocated in his essay, help mitigate the formation of classes at least on the basis of trade skills, but will never prevent all types of classes that may form under a hierarchical State. In this sense, Green Socialists see the very concept of a “workers’ state” as an oxymoron; instead, we seek a Green Socialist society built from the grassroots at the municipal level, cutting the State out entirely and transitioning more directly to a classless and hierarchy-free system. To be fair, the reality of the struggle is not as clear-cut as it sounds, but the cognitive dissonance in the typical worker-oriented approaches must be noted.

Yes, GPUS Is Not A Perfect Messenger — But We Can Work To Improve It

All of the more philosophical arguments aside, I believe one would be hardpressed to find a Green Party member that wouldn’t agree there are serious deficiencies in the way the GPUS is organized today. For various complex historical reasons, the GPUS bylaws are a bit of a mess lacking real teeth in key areas, and the platform does have some contradictions, particularly around economics and monetary theory, that Brain rightly points out.

The quick success of the German Green Party was in many ways more of a curse than a blessing because it brought a contingent of more “social democrat” neoliberal-minded “Greens” into the party in its early days, which is part of the reason the bylaws and platform are a bit Jekyll-and-Hyde. Some state parties have also not done the necessary organizing to grow, leading to a very haphazard view where some states have a stronger Green presence dedicated to socialist organizing, while other states barely register on the map other than to issue sadly liberal “critiques” of Democrats.

The German Green Party is itself a classic example of what not to do, as it quickly traded in its radical anti-capitalist stances for more mild social programs in order to quickly win votes and gain representation in government; as such, it essentially became exactly the kind of party it was trying to not be when it first declared itself the “anti-party party”.

However, none of this takes away from the fact that Green Socialism is a coherent socialist philosophy, even if a bit different from some other worker-oriented socialist movements. Green Socialists still make up a majority of the party, which is indicated for example by its vote in 2016 to more explicitly identify itself as such to the public, and for the GPUS Youth Caucus to rename itself the “Young Eco-Socialists” around the same time.

There are active currents and caucuses within the party organizing to correct many of the deficiencies identified: to hold members more accountable to our values with bylaws with “more teeth”; to update the platform to finally remove the inconsistent language that has been stuck since early drafts; to recognize that the sustaining donor model GPUS implemented in the early 2000s was a failure because it too closely emulated capitalist parties, and to return to a dues-paying working-class membership as the early GPUSA had in the 1990s.

There is progress on all of these fights; sometimes the hold up is the bylaws itself, which require a 2/3rd majority on all votes to implement, which is a fairly high bar for most organizations that has its roots in a desire to form as wide a consensus as possible. Some votes have failed by one or two votes (that is, 64% in agreement, a clear majority, rather than 66% necessary to pass), and the No votes are not always “liberals” or “capitalists” in the party but sometimes the various Leftist tendencies in the party dueling over how far to lean toward worker-oriented Marxist socialism versus more community-oriented anarchism or some other tendency.

These are all real socialist debates — over best organizing practices, over best policy, how to accomplish our goals as quickly as possible with the climate change clock counting down, etc. — that are worthy debates to have, and so slow changes in platforms and machinery shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of motion but rather the difficulty of challenging 21st century capitalism and the array of ideas on how to best approach it. Greens are not unique in facing this struggle; DSA, SAlt, PSL, and others face their own criticisms of organizing strategy and internal policy, and the ISO even disbanded over its own internal crisis.

Struggle against capitalism is hard, democracy is messy, and since we haven’t won yet against capitalism, there’s lots of ideas about how to best proceed, and lots of challenges in doing so, both internal and external. We probably all need to learn to be a bit more friendly and comradely with constructive criticism about our mutual struggle rather than looking for reasons to divide the movement and ostracize each other.

GPUS must adapt and change its structure in order to better represent Green Socialist thought, that much is certain. At the same time, I believe the future of Green Socialist thought is bright, if you’ll forgive the mild pun, precisely because it is a well-formed, coherent philosophy based in democracy and ecology as first principles thanks to its roots in Social Ecology. Green Socialism isn’t just a good idea, but is quickly becoming in my view the imperative as climate change accelerates.

US youth are looking for a philosophy and organizing principle that will save our communities and the whole planet and I encourage them to look more at Social Ecology and Green Socialism. I hope that more “traditional” socialists like Brain will give Green Socialism, and even GPUS, a second look — sure, with critiques as needed (many of which we acknowledge and invite help on solving), but also open-mindedness. Only together can we build a popular movement to confront capitalism and end climate change, social and natural exploitation, and hierarchy.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Degrowth: Socialism without Growth

Written by Timothée Parrique and Giorgos Kallis and first published at Brave New Europe

Notable (eco)socialists have recently criticized the idea of degrowth 1. Here we want to argue that such criticism is misplaced. Growth is a problem over and above capitalism. A sustainable eco-socialism should reject any association with the ideology and terminology of growth. 21st century socialists should start thinking how we can plan for societies that prosper without growth. Like it not, growth is bound to come to an end, the question is how; and whether this will happen soon or too late to avert planetary disasters.

Any form of endless growth is ecologically unsustainable

The typical socialist response to degrowth is that it is capitalism, and capitalist growth, that are the problem, not economic growth. But here’s the thing: no economic growth can be sustainable. An increase in material living standards will require, well, more materials. This is independent of whether the economy at stake is capitalist, socialist, anarchist, or primitive. 

Growth in the material standard of living requires growth in the extraction of materials and the excretion of pollution (growth in the standard of living in general does not; we discuss this below). Result: as of today – and very likely tomorrow as well – economic growth strongly correlates with energy and material use, at the global level which is the only one that shows the full picture in a globalised economy.

Leading Marxist theorist David Harvey calls the idea of compound growth the madness of economic reason, and the most lethal of capitalism’s lethal contradictions (which makes us wonder why would socialists spend their time trying to salvage this madness). To see how mad it is, consider the following. 

An innocent 3% growth each year, means a doubling of the economy every 24 years, some ten times bigger by the end of the century, quickly growing to an infinite size. Substitute the economy with whatever you like (‘energy’, ‘water’, ‘bicycles’, ‘massages’). The idea of infinity is pure madness, full stop. It is the generalisation of the logic of individual capitalists who expect to pocket their 3-5% return every year, rain or shine. But it is not something that a society can sustain for long.

Some socialists dream of a Fully Automated Luxury Communism where new technologies enable the absolute decoupling of economic output from the environment. So far, this has not happened, not even close, and there are doubts as to whether the future holds better prospects. Like it or not, economies too have to obey the laws of physics. 

For example, thermodynamics tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only transformed, and that its quality moves inexorably towards a less usable or useful state. This means there is no silver-bullet technology that can make an increase in the material standard of living immaterial – economy is fundamentally embedded within ecology.

Of course, certain activities are more nature-intensive than others; and so potentially these could grow for a longer period without disrupting the biosphere. For example, fossil fuels are more disruptive than solar energy. But that does not mean solar energy opens the door to boundless growth. A better organisation of production and new technologies can increase productivity and lead to a relative decoupling with less resources used per product – e.g. more efficient solar panels. 

But if the quantity of solar panels increases at a compound rate without limit, it will, one day, start to put pressure on either resource availability or lead to ecological damage. In other words, nothing material can be infinite, regardless of whether the economy is capitalist, socialist, or anything else in between.

Furthermore, it is one thing to decarbonise with renewable energies an energy system at its current size, or one fifth of it (a reduction in energy use which studies show is feasible with existing sufficiency and efficiency measures), and another to decarbonise a system that has grown ten times bigger by the end of the century (remember 3% growth per year).

Our suggestion: democratic socialist planning would have to consider the constraining requirement of a degrowth use of energy and materials. This is not too much of a problem because, as we will soon argue, many of the activities that are heavy in energy and materials today do not need to exist under socialism. 

There is too much superfluous activity under capitalism, which serves nothing else but the need of capitalists to extract surplus value and make profits. The goal instead should be socialism without growth, a sustainable socialism – an economic system that manages to satisfy the needs of its people without clinging to capitalist ideas of constant expansion and without of course overshooting planetary limits.

Growth requires accumulation and accumulation comes with exploitation

There is another problem. In the same way that economic growth is facing ecological limits, it is also facing social ones. Capitalists make a profit exploiting  wage earners (surplus value in Marxist terms), and also exploiting the unpaid work of an array of people, especially women doing unpaid care and housework, who ensure the socio-natural reproduction of the work force for free. 

Capital also relies on ‘free gifts of nature’ (free only from its perspective), which alongside unpaid care and housework keep the price of means of production and labour power cheap, allowing capital to squeeze surplus value. In effect, economic growth under capitalism often occurs at the expense of the social fabric, as it relies on systematic exploitation and cost shifting.

By not accounting for reproduction factors, such as rest, affection, caring, security, and the providing of sustenance, production can too easily lead to their depletion. For example, working full-time leaves little time for activities that are unpaid such as those which are key for social reproduction. As production increases, it will stretch the capacity for a society to reproduce its livelihood. 

Continued unabated, this accumulation via social deterioration comes to erode factors of reproduction that are crucial for all forms of production. Like a snake biting its own tail, economic growth is limited because it is inevitably based on the unsustainable exploitation of reproductive labour and ecosystem provisioning.

If socialism means the end of exploitation, it also means the end of endless accumulation. Again: this is socialism without growth. A genuine socialist economy would not exploit the work or resources of other economies; it would share care work evenly, rotate unpleasant tasks and compensate care workers with their dues for their reproductive work. With no one – humans and non-humans – being exploited, the economy would simply produce the goods and services it needs, channelling productivity gains into more free time.

Some socialists try to square the circle here, when they argue that socialism would be able to both end exploitation, and grow the economy as much or even more than capitalism. Sorry, but this is pure fantasy. If socialist production has to pay for the true labour time of producers, and for the true time necessary for ecosystems to recover and recuperate, or if human labour time has to be expended instead of ‘free gifts of nature’ that will be left unexploited, then there will be less surplus, and less surplus can only mean less growth of output. 

A genuine socialism will also be democratic, one would like to think. True democracy slows things down (those participating in the assemblies of their local cooperatives know what we’re talking about). Again to think that all this slowing down will lead to acceleration and not deceleration of production is truly wishful thinking.

Use values do not grow

The good news is that we can have prosperity without growth. In fact, it has been shown empirically that the main indicators of living standards, including well-being, health, and education, cease to increase after a certain threshold of output is reached – some call it the Well-being Turning Point. For example, Portugal has significantly better social outcomes than the United States, with 65% less GDP per capita. This is because welfare depends on the satisfaction of actual use values, expressing human needs, and not on the endless accumulation of money.

Socialists know this well: GDP is not a measure of use values, but one of exchange values. The indicator does not distinguish between desirable and undesirable activities. On top of that, it ignores all that is non-monetary (including nature and unpaid work), neglects the value of intangible wealth, and does not account for inequality. What GDP measures is the welfare of capitalism, not people.

Of course, the provision of certain useful goods and services must increase and should increase under socialism. However, let us not talk about “growth” for improvements in things like health, mobility, or education. These are not quantitative goals but qualitative ones. Children might need a freer and more holistic, polytechnic education. This requires a finite number of school buildings, teachers, and pens. Patients may need more human contact and care by their doctors; what they need is not an infinitely increasing compound rate of care, but just enough to feel better. People who do not have bikes need one bike – not a yearly increase of 3% in the production of bikes, forever.

The point is that use values do not grow at a compound rate. Fundamental human needs like subsistence, protection, freedom, or identity can all be understood as thresholds of sufficiency: enough food to be healthy, enough living space to be happy, enough means of mobility to feel free, etc. The story of endless consumption to match endless needs is a capitalist discourse, created precisely to legitimate accumulation for the elite. 

And this is the central argument of degrowth: standards of living can improve without growth by redistributing and sharing wealth, doing away with artificial desires and the superfluous goods and appropriation of our time destined to the making of profit, and by shifting from valuing material goods to valuing relations. There is already enough for everyone to have a decent share – if the pie cannot grow, then it is time to share it more evenly.

Conclusions: Degrowth is as anti-capitalist as it gets

The ideology of growth has become the powerhouse of modern capitalism and we do not understand why some socialists are reluctant to join the battle against a phenomenon that is socially divisive and ecologically unsustainable. A socialism without growth but with well-being. Socialism and degrowth are two of the most powerful concepts we have to criticise capitalism and open-up different futures. 

As is evident by now, we do use the C-word, a lot. Certain Marxist commentators have accused degrowth of never explicitly questioning capitalism. Phillips (2015) depicts degrowth as a “small-scale steady-state capitalism.” The degrowth project some would think resembles the film Downsizing (2017), where exuberant consumerism is made environmentally possible by shrinking people down to a few centimetres.

So, let us be clear: degrowth is not miniature capitalism with tiny corporations, tiny speculative financial instruments, and tiny free trade agreements. It is not austerity within capitalism. It is an alternative system of provision altogether – not just smaller and slower, but different.

You may ask why focus on growth and not just capitalism? Well, try to compare the occurrence of “economic growth” versus “capital accumulation” in the news. As Gareth Dale has forcefully argued, economic growth is the ideology that has turned the specific interest of capital to grow (for returns, and for keeping social peace) into a generalized social objective assimilated by the population. 

This is not an ideology that will go away by refusing to confront it or beautifying it with nice adjectives. The fact that this ideology survived even the end of capitalism (or at least of a certain type of capitalism) in ex-socialist regimes should give pause for thought. Socialists who defend growth must also think twice whether they are redwashing capital, redressing the dreams that capitalism sells as socialist dreams.

Growth is the child of capitalism, but the child grew up and took over the head of the family. Capitalism’s interest in accumulation is promoted and legitimised through – and in the name of – “growth.” The critique of growth is the most fundamental critique of capitalism – one that criticises not only the means capitalism uses but the very ends it sells. This makes degrowth and (eco)socialism natural allies, not adversaries.

1 Most recently, Ecosocialism and/or Degrowth?” by Michael Löwy (Oct. 2020), the “IMT theses on the climate crisis” published on the website In Defence of Marxism (Jun. 2020), and the lecture in “Degrowth and neo-Malthusianism: A socialist response” (Oct. 2020) by Olivia Rickson. And ‘How much stuff is just enough’ by Leigh Phillips at the Monde Diplomatique (

Giorgos Kallis is an environmental scientist working on ecological economics, political ecology, and water policy. He teaches political ecology and ecological economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and recently co-edited the book “The Case for Degrowth

Timothée Parrique holds a PhD in economics from the Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur le Développement (University of Clermont Auvergne, France) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University, Sweden)

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Pandemic Capitalism and Resistance

Written by Susan King and first published at Green Left (Australia)

Last year began with huge climate action rallies around Australia in response to the Black Summer bushfires — a climate-change-fuelled catastrophe that made international headlines.

However, by March, Australians, along with the rest of the world, were facing a new global threat — also connected to the climate crisis, agribusiness and habitat loss — COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing global inequality, and exposed the results of four decades of neoliberalism, including the privatisation of healthcare, and the undermining of the welfare state in the advanced capitalist countries.

The pandemic death toll is still rising, countries have experienced second and third waves of infection, as governments sacrifice lives to reopen their economies. The media reports on health systems overwhelmed in Italy, Britain and the United States, but less about the crisis in the Global South, where people are literally dying in the streets, and where health systems are collapsing under the weight of the pandemic.

Disaster capitalism

Thirteen years after the release of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrinewe are witnessing “pandemic disaster capitalism”, where governments on behalf of the ruling class are unleashing attacks on people and the environment under the cover of COVID-19.

There has been no debt relief for the Global South during the pandemic. Meanwhile, corporations have profiteered on the back of public bailouts, the exploitation of natural resources has accelerated and workers, farmers and indigenous communities are under attack. Authoritarian responses to a health crisis have become the norm in so many countries. Meanwhile, the vulnerable have been left to fend for themselves, even in the richest countries.

Working people and the vulnerable will be made to foot the bill for the COVID-19 recovery for decades to come.

In the search for a COVID-19 vaccine, Big Pharma is in the driver’s seat. The People’s Vaccine Alliance reports that 53% of all the most promising vaccines so far have been bought up by rich nations representing just 14% of the world’s population. Canada has bought up enough vaccine to inoculate each Canadian five times.

All of Moderna’s doses and 96% of Pfizer’s have been bought up by rich countries, while low to middle income countries have to rely on their quota in the WHO’s inadequate COVAX scheme.

Meanwhile, Cuba (which has low transmission) now has two vaccines in clinical trials (which attack the parts of the virus that allow it to attach to cells), but is up against the ongoing US economic blockade.

Capitalism’s rapacious destruction of our biosphere means COVID-19 will not be the last global pandemic we experience. Humanity’s ability to deal with (or prevent) future pandemics and begin to heal the damage to our biosphere and climate depends on uniting the power of people against corporate rule. We have to fight for an ecosocialist future, where people’s lives and the repair of our planet are at the centre.

Climate emergency

Climate is still the issue and five years on from the Paris Accord there are only seven years remaining of the global carbon budget to avoid 1.5°C warming. Imperialist capitalism in its decline is threatening the very existence of humanity.

In December, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for all nations to declare a “state of climate emergency”. He also said, which was not widely reported, that the Paris commitments were not sufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C and even these inadequate commitments are not being met. “Today we are 1.2°C hotter than before the Industrial Revolution. If we don’t change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3°C this century.”

The current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Long-Term Strategies (LTS) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions lock in a median warming of 2.7°C by 2100, according to Climate Action Tracker (Dec 2020), based on the NDCs and LTSs already submitted.

In Europe, the target of net zero emissions by 2050 being popularised by governments of the richest nations is tantamount to surrender.

While the new Joe Biden government in the US has brought the country back into the Paris framework, nothing short of radical cuts to GHG emissions (to beyond zero), carbon dioxide drawdown, changes to land use, and a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy sources will be enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. And more and more people are becoming convinced that it is unlikely to be achieved within a “business-as-usual” market-driven, capitalist economic system. The question is, what will it take to generalise that awareness and unleash the class power necessary to force a change?

Calls are growing around the world for Green New Deals (GND). In late August, the South African Climate Justice Charter was adopted by a coalition of groups.

We need to fight for GNDs that point beyond capitalist market-based solutions and for a climate justice movement that is anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and anti-racist — addressing the plight of displaced persons and climate refugees.

A call for action has been issued by the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow, to coincide with the COP to be held there in November 2021. The Global Ecosocialist Network, to which Socialist Alliance is affiliated, is seeking to popularise a call for a global climate strike, involving not only students, but workers and beyond.

Economic shocks

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived amidst a global economic backdrop of stagnating trade and the lowest rate of economic growth since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Escalating trade tensions, the sharp slowdown in China and climate change were all cited as economic risk factors by the OECD in its November 2019 World Economic Outlook.

Three months later, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, the world was plunged into deep recession and stock markets fell sharply. Due to the impacts of COVID-19 world gross domestic product (GDP) growth plunged to -4.2% in 2020 (-11% in Britain). China was the only country in the OECD to record positive GDP growth in 2020 (at 1.8%).

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted production, supply chains, trade in services, foreign investment flows, and has impacted on commodity prices, including oil and gas. Millions of people have been thrown into economic insecurity and unemployment levels have skyrocketed.

The World Bank’s revised October estimate was that COVID-19 would push an additional 88–115 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 (that is, those living on less than A$2 a day).

The capitalist economic crisis is escalating rivalries between major economic powers and trading blocs, and increasing the threat of war. Under then-US president Donald Trump, this reached new heights.

Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership and his anti-China rhetoric was calculated to serve his populist anti-globalisation domestic political messaging. This intersected with attempts by the US, Australia and Britain (representing the “old” imperialist powers) to contain China’s growing economic influence.

Looking behind the rhetoric, however, the US continues to count China top of the list of its 3 biggest trading partners (importing nearly four times in value from China as it exports to it), along with Mexico and Canada. In the 10 years since 1999, China went from Britain’s 15th largest sources of imports to its 4th.

The new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal signed in November between China, 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations members as well as Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea is the world’s largest free trade agreement, covering one-third of the world’s GDP and one-third of the world’s population.

Notably, the RCEP has relaxed intellectual property rules and no investor-state dispute settlement provision (widely criticised in the Trans Pacific Partnership). However, in general, capitalist free trade deals favour the larger economies and will do little to address people’s needs, protect the environment, workers rights and alleviate poverty.

Under Trump, US imperialism continued its bloody path: In the Middle East (threatening Iran, its ongoing support for Israel’s war on Palestine, its support for the six-year-long war on Yemen and its abandonment of the Kurds, opening the way to Turkey’s full scale invasion of northern Syria); in Latin America (backing coups and attempted coups in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and its close ties to Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government in Brazil, escalating the economic blockades against Cuba and Venezuela; in Asia (threatening North Korea); and in Africa (its recognition of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and operations involving US commandos in Niger, Somalia, Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia under the pretext of rooting out Islamic extremism). The US also maintains a military presence in 53 of the 54 countries in Africa through its US Africa Command.

Polarisation and resistance

Trump’s presidency has been a dominant factor in shaping recent world politics, with its America First, racial capitalism and white supremacist ideology. As the events in Washington on January 6 (and prior) illustrate, Trump and his cabal intend to continue to build a movement, for a potential tilt at the presidency in four years time.

The insurrection inside the US Capitol was incited by Trump, clearly aided by sections of the Washington police and given moral support by Republican Party figures inside Congress.

Now that Biden is in office, what can we expect from this administration? Will the US continue with its extradition request for Julian Assange? What about Biden’s attitude to the Kurds? We know that US domestic and foreign policy will still be dictated by the same class interests. The rest will be up to how much pressure can be exerted from the grassroots. The “Bernie Sanders effect” and the Black Lives Matter movement continue, but can this resistance be broadened out, mobilised and united as a powerful class force?

In late 2019, in the shadow of Brexit, the British Labour Party failed to electorally defeat Boris Johnson’s conservatives (the Tories even made gains in Labour heartlands). The white-anting by Labour’s establishment, which undermined Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership culminated in his suspension last year on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism, following a witch hunt that swept up other left figures and is still continuing against socialists in the party.

Corbyn and key Labour figure John McDonnell are still articulating a “stay and fight” position, so there are no immediate prospects for a split in Labour. The Brexit deal is now in place, and COVID-19 is raging across Britain and overwhelming its weakened National Health Service.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the rise of authoritarian regimes as a brutal expression of neoliberalism’s death throws.

But we have also seen rebellions break out in:  

NigeriaIraqLebanonSudanAlgeriaChileEcuadorGuatemalaBoliviaIndonesiaThailand and West Papua in the past couple of years — sparked by the impacts of decades-long International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs, and against military rule.

These revolts have, in many cases, broadened out into general movements against neoliberalism, and have even toppled regimes. But there has also been serious repression (in Iraq, Pakistan, Chile and elsewhere) and even violent counter-revolution, such as in Bolivia. Seizing political power still remains the central challenge to enable qualitative advances.

We have also been inspired by the ongoing resistance in Rojava to the invasion by the Turkish state, assisted by Islamic fundamentalist militia. Also inspiring is their determination to continue to build a revolutionary ecological, feminist, pluralist and democratic alternative for the past eight and a half years.

Asia-Pacific region

The Thai pro-democracy struggle continues, with bold action by a new youth movement supported by the people .

The courageous Hong Kong protests against Beijing’s authoritarianism continue, but could still be crushed

A new government has been elected in Bougainville and there are now prospects for independence, for greater sovereignty over Bougainville’s resources and for demanding reparations for the damage caused by mining company Rio Tinto and others.

The 2019 uprising in West Papua has elevated the struggle for self-determination to a new level within and outside Indonesia. In response, there have been escalating military incursions and killings of civilians by Indonesian security forces. There are differences within the West Papuan resistance forces, but also calls for unity from within the movement to maximise the push for a referendum and against the extension of Special Autonomy by Jakarta.

In Indonesia, students are coming to the forefront of struggle again, alongside sections of the trade union movement. They held mass protests in 2020 against the government’s new labour laws.

In India, the inspiring farmers’ sit-in protests are continuing against Narendra Modi’s deregulation and privatisation of the agricultural sector and to protect the minimum support price for grains.

In November, India experienced the largest general strike in history — 250 million people, led by farmers, workers and students, which drew huge support from within India and internationally. There have now been eight rounds of talks with the government, but the farmers remain strong. A further mass mobilisation was held on January 26. Could this struggle be a decisive flash point against the Modi government?

Australia continues to play the role of US deputy sheriff in the Asia-Pacific. It is also intent on protecting Australian capitalist interests in the region and countering China’s influence. It does this through a strategy combining paternalism dressed up as regional “friendship”, but also resorting to military and security intervention at times (such as sending Australian Federal Police to the Solomon Islands, its military involvement in Bougainville, and training of Indonesian soldiers and death squads).

Australia also participates in the “Five Eyes” intelligence agreement with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand and upholds the Australia-US military alliance.

To be a socialist is to be an internationalist. Firstly, because for the working class, there are no borders — “Workers of the world unite!” is not just an empty slogan. Secondly, solidarity means providing practical and political support to struggles elsewhere and drawing inspiration from them. Thirdly, internationalism extends to forging strong links with a range of migrant and refugee communities, and defending the rights of refugees and migrant workers.

[This article is based on a talk to the Socialist Alliance 2021 national conference. Susan Price is a member of the Socialist Alliance National Executive.]