Friday, 11 June 2021

Eco-socialism, democracy and the case for proportional representation

 


Written by Claire Fairbrother

“It is not enough to be a revolutionary and an advocate of socialism in general. It is necessary to know at every moment how to find the particular link in the chain which must be grasped with all one’s strength in order to keep the whole chain in place and prepare to move on resolutely to the next link”. 

Lenin, Sochineniya, xxii, 466. November 2017.

There are no signs today of anything comparable to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets in the UK. Nor is there any evidence that a serious dual power situation will ever present itself in this country, but for the General Strike when the Prime Minister declared a State of Emergency.  After 10 days into the strike and on 12th May 1926, three member’s leaders of the TUC General Council visited 10 Downing Street. They were swiftly challenged by Stanley Baldwin about their readiness to take power.  As they failed to grasp the strength of their position, they called the strike off.  

Much has been made since of their “betrayal” of the working class.  However those three formidable trade-union leaders, Robert Smilie (Miners), J. H Thomas ( Railways)  and Ernest Bevin (Transport) were solid social democrats. They believed in reforming capitalism gradually rather than overthrowing the state by revolutionary means.  

Having created the Labour Party to represent the interest of their members and of the working class in Parliament for over a century now, the trade union movement has played a key role in supporting social democracy in the UK.

To this day, the Labour Party depends almost entirely on trade union members’ political levy for the financing of its local and national elections campaigns. It is debateable that the Labour Party would be financially viable if links with its Affiliated Trade Unions were to be severed.

Although it has only been in power for 35 years since its foundation in 1900 and Ramsay MacDonald’s first Labour administration in 1924, the Labour Party has been relatively successful in delivering on some of its reformist electoral promises to trade union members. The creation of the NHS by Clement Attlee’s government in 1945 remains its most enduring legacy as does what is now left of the Welfare State.

But the Labour Party has been out of power since 2010 and has suffered four successive electoral defeats. This downwards trend over the last decade culminated in its historical and humiliating crash in December 2019 when the Conservatives picked up 3.5 million former Labour voters and swept into power with an 80 strong majority.  

A review as to why the Labour Party lost so spectacularly in 2019  undertaken by Ed Miliband and Lucy Powell* commented  that in order to win a majority of just one under the existing First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system, Labour would have to win an additional 123-124 since Hartlepool byelection loss - at the next General Election.  This would need a uniform swing of 10.52%, larger than Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997 and the post-war-election of 1945.

Sir Keir Starmer is determined to win, as he keeps reminding everyone since he was elected as the new leader of the Labour Party, but he is also acutely aware that this will indeed be “a mountain to climb”.  However, genuine concerns are being expressed by a growing number of Labour MPs, a few trade union leaders and grass roots activists that for the Labour Party to win an absolute majority under our existing FPTP voting system will prove to be mission impossible.  

Interestingly enough for a would-be future leader of the Labour Party and when asked by Make Vote Matters about his views on Proportional Representation on the eve of his successful re-election as Mayor of Greater Manchester  - with a 67.3% share of the vote -  Andy Burnham declared he had “come round to it” *.    

Although trade unions have seen a marked drop in their membership over the past two decades, they remain a strong voice for workers and are willing to continue providing critical support to the political party they created.

But the key question that is being raised is:  for how long? The dire prospect of a fifth electoral defeat in a row is concentrating the minds.

Always pragmatic rather than ideological, members from trade union branches and their elected officers have begun to express their concerns. They worry that Labour may no longer be able to deliver on their “investment”.

A suggestion was made recently by one of the candidates for the general secretaries’ post of a large trade union that his members’ £19 million paid into the Labour Party’s coffers could perhaps be put to better use by investing the money in a new TV channel.  

Whilst this is a long held dream from the left which will probably never materialise, others are turning their attention to the role played by our unfair and undemocratic FPTP voting system which is keeping the Conservative Party in power.

At the December 2019 General Election, the Conservative/Brexit Party electoral pact got less than 2 million votes than all the left/centre left and nationalists  parties’ votes put together.  But they still won a huge majority in Parliament because of the  voting system.

As a result, we are now subjected to the most authoritarian, criminally incompetent, and corrupt populist government this country has ever seen.

So why should eco-socialists concern themselves at this point “in the link of the chain” of events about something as bourgeois  as universal suffrage?  

Scrapping FPTP and replacing it with a fairer system where every vote counts is not going to lead to a storming of the Bastille, the Winter Palace or even the Mother of All Parliaments by the “working class” or the working classes.  

It will however put a significant break to the grip on power by the most experienced imperialist political party in the history of Western Democracies.

As evidenced in Scotland for Holyrood Parliament and the Senedd in Wales where members are elected under the Additional Member System (AMS), it is clear that such voting systems can achieve a greater level of consensus in policies and decision making and that voters welcome this.

We have also seen recently how some Conservative Ministers went into panic mode with a proposal to scrap the Supplementary Voting (SV) system used for the Mayoral elections as Labour made some considerable gains.

In this early part of our 21st century, we are facing an existential crisis.  As declared in the Paris Ecosocialist Conference of 2007, “Humanity today faces a stark choice: eco-socialism or barbarism”. The survival of humanity and all living species is indeed at stake. Time is fast running out and we all know it.

But our democracy is broken. This is the case in the UK in particular where we are facing the prospect of a permanent pro-capitalist authoritarian conservative /populist government elected with a minority of votes.

At this precise moment in time, people and young people in particular, are demanding that politicians take action against profit driven exploitative and polluting multi-nationals operating in the fossil fuel, plastic, genetically modified food and poisonous agribusiness sectors. 

Unfortunately, it is hard to see how the environmental catastrophe we are facing will be stopped with negotiated treaties or international agreements approved or implemented by entrenched pro-capitalist politicians.

This is because what is needed over the next decade is a radical transformation of the world economy. We need concrete and urgent reforms to drastically reduce greenhouse gases, fast-track the development of clean energy sources and anti-pollution clean-ups, build an extensive free public transport system, eliminate nuclear energy and nuclear bombs and redistribute of wealth to eliminate poverty and inequalities on a scale never seen before. 

Under our First-Past-the -Post voting system, our battered and fragmented Labour Party founded by the trade union movement over 100 years ago can no longer deliver a majority for government. It must commit to include PR in its next election manifesto as a pre-condition to any electoral deals to keep the Tories out.

With a fair voting system where every vote would count, together with the mobilisation of the Youth, the labour movement as a whole and its allies from the environment and social justice movements, such change could open the door – and minds – to the creation of a healthy,  participative democracy essential to laying the foundation towards a 21st century eco-socialist revolution.

https://electionreview.labourtogether.uk/chapters/the=scale-of-the-challenge

https://twitter.com/AndyBurnhamGM/status/1389630600143855618?s=20

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=we+divide+they+conquer

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/09/government-to-change-english-voting-system-after-labour-mayoral-victories

Claire Fairbrother is a British ecosocialist activist and a co-founder of Get PR Done !

Friday, 4 June 2021

Ecosocialist Alliance Calls on G7 for a Just Transition

 


On this, World Environment Day (BST), an Ecosocialist Alliance has released a public statement (reproduced below), ahead of the G7 conference, calling on the leaders of those nations, for a Just Transition away from social inequality and the ecological crisis. The G7 conference is from 11 to 13 June, in Cornwall, England. Ecosocialist organisations and individuals from the UK and other countries have signed up to the statement.

This is the effective launch of a campaign begun by ecosocialist activists in the UK, which will see other actions taken in the lead up to the COP26 Climate Conference, in November later this year in Glasgow, Scotland. The statement will be released by the signatory groups on their websites and social media today (5 June).

The Ecosocialist Alliance will make the case for ecosocialist solutions to the economic recovery and ecological crisis, publicly, in the months ahead, leading up to the COP26 conference of world leaders.

Many groups will protest at G7 and COP26, and be asking for similar things, and we join with them in this. But in what is, I think, the first of a kind for a growing world ecosocialist movement, we will promote an explicitly ecosocialist agenda.

There is an email address at the end of the statement, to use if you would like to add your support, and to receive details of future actions, including a public Zoom meeting on 9 June, at 19:00 hours (BST).

Ecosocialist Alliance Statement on G7 Conference 

Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US (and the EU) have a great part of the immense wealth of the richest countries in the world in 2021. This wealth is more than sufficient to provide for the needs for food, water, health, housing and education of the global population.

We face multiple interlinked and inseparable crises. Climate, environment, mass extinctions, emergent infectious diseases and economic. Oligarchic ownership of industry and the transnational corporations are key contributors to environmental degradation and to emergent infectious diseases crises. They are inimical and a core barrier to the urgent measures needed to address the nested crises we face. 

The world and its population need system change, a just ecosocialist transition from the unsustainable chaos of neo-liberal capitalism. 

We call upon the G7 nations to agree a plan in preparation for the COP26 meeting in November this year: 

On the Covid-19 pandemic and emergent infectious disease crisis to: 

· Immediately introduce a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines that would allow countries to manufacture treatments locally, fully fund COVAX, and set up an aid fund to help with vaccine manufacturing, research and development. 

· Increase funding to the WHO. 

On the Climate Crisis: 

· Agree that fossil fuels must stay in the ground – (no new coal mine in west Cumbria, UK) – We need a massive global program of green public works investing in green jobs to develop renewable energy, replace harmful technology reliant on fossil fuel energy in homes, industry and agriculture, with free technology transfer for developing countries. 

· Agree and implement a significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 70% by 2030, from a 1990 baseline. We need honest and transparent accounting in measurement of emissions, taking account of outsourcing, exposing the dishonesty of offsetting calculations, and including military greenhouse gas emissions in calculations of the reductions needed. 

· End emissions trading schemes and make genuine reductions in harmful emissions. 

· Recognise the particular impacts of the long-term global crisis and the knock-on effects on the localised catastrophic events on women, children, elders and disabled people – catastrophe climate events and sea level rises produce the casualties of the event, but the victims are the result of systematic abuse, discrimination, and failure of governmental and corporate responsibility. 

On the environment and mass extinction crises: 

· Move away from massive factory farms and large scale monoculture agribusiness as a method of producing food and support small farmers and eco-friendly farming methods, and invest in green agricultural technology to reduce synthetic fertiliser and pesticide use in agriculture, replacing these with organic methods. 

· End deforestation in the tropical and boreal forests by reducing demand in G7 countries for food, timber and biofuel imports. 

· End food and nutrition insecurity for small farmers in the global south by promoting an agricultural system based on human rights and food sovereignty through giving local control over natural resources, seeds, land, water, forests and knowledge and technology. 

· Commit to a massive increase in protected areas for biodiversity conservation, both in the G7 countries and make funding and support available to do this in the global south. 

· To recognise that migration is already and will increasingly be driven by long term environmental change and degradation resulting from climate change, driven primarily by the historic emissions of the metropolitan countries of the global north – accommodating and supporting free movement of people must be a core policy and necessary part of planning for the future. 

On the Economic Crisis: 

· Increase wages and cut working hours for all G7 workers and involve trade unions in the economic transition without any loss of living standards, and to allow for greater worker involvement in workplace safety and resilience. 

· Adopt ‘Just Transition’ principles, creating well paid jobs in the new economy. 

· Outlaw tax havens, so wealthy corporations and individuals pay their fair share to the economic recovery. The economic costs of the pandemic should not be borne by those least able to do so. 

· Cancel all international debt of the global south. 

· Support urgent development of sustainable and affordable public transport. 

· Provide resources for popular education and involvement in implementing and enhancing a just transition. 

If groups/individuals would like to add their name to this statement please email eco-socialist-action@protonmail.com, stating your country of residence. You can also get details of our future actions including our public Zoom meeting on 9 June, 19:00 hours (BST).

Supporters

Groups

Green Left (UK)

Left Unity (UK)

RISE (Ireland)

Anti Capitalist Resistance (UK)

Ecosocialist Independent Group (UK) Lancaster City Council

Global Ecosocialist Network (International)

Anti-Fracking Nanas (UK)

Green Eco-Socialist Network (USA)

Socialist Project (Canada)

System Change Not Climate Change (USA/Canada)

Pittsburgh Green Left (USA)

Climate and Capitalism (International)

Individuals

Beatrix Campbell (UK) (OBE, writer and broadcaster)

Romayne Phoenix (UK)

Victor Wallis (USA) (ecosocialist author)

Professor Krista Cowman (UK), historian

Dee Searle (UK)

Lucy Early (UK)

Patrick Bond (South Africa)

Derek Wall (UK) ecosocialist author, Lecturer in Political Economy, former Green Party of England and Wales International Co-ordinator

John Foran (USA)

Felicity Dowling (UK)

Steve Masters (UK) (Green Party of England and Wales activist & West Berkshire District Councillor)

Dr. Henry Adams (UK) (ecologist & environmental activist)

Charles Gate, (UK)

Nicole Haydock (UK)

Gordon Peters (UK)

Mark Hollinrake (UK)

Pat McCarthy (UK)

Clive Healiss (UK)

Rafael Arturo Guariguata (Germany)

Declan Walsh (UK)

Jim Hollinshead (UK)

Ken Barker (UK)

Tina Rothery (UK)

John Burr (UK)

Emma Lorraine Coulling (UK)

Andrew Francis Robinson (UK)

Richard Finnigan (UK)

 Frank McEntaggart (UK)

Roger Silverman (UK)

Oliver Charleston (UK)

Louise Channon (UK)

Ian Angus (Canada)

Richard Mellor  (USA)

Peter Sainsbury (Australia)

Cathy Slaughter (UK)

Steve Ongerth (USA) Occupied Ohlone Territory - Co-founder, IWW Environmental Union Caucus (listed for ID purposes only) 

Monday, 24 May 2021

Review - The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology

 

Written by Camilla Royle and first published at Science for the People

The Return of Nature is a genealogy of ecological thinking. The word ‘ecology’ was not in common usage until the twentieth century, leading many to consider ecological thinking a fairly recent development. However, in this impressive volume, John Bellamy Foster convincingly identifies a materialist ecological sensibility within works dating back a century prior to ecology’s popularization.

Starting with the funerals of Darwin and Marx in 1882 and 1883 respectively, the book traces how socialist thinkers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were integral to developing an outlook that acknowledges the complex relationship between human production and the rest of nature. 

The scientific discipline of ecology is sometimes assumed to have developed from a series of scientific studies, free from social and political influences. By the same logic, some also suppose that the socialist thinkers of the nineteenth century had little interest in ecological concerns, and consequently that the left were latecomers to the environmental movement in the late twentieth century.

 Foster’s work, both here and in his earlier books, has been driven by a desire to counter these views and therefore demonstrate the importance of Marxism for today’s radical ecological movements. His aim is to show that Marx adopted an ecological worldview throughout his writings; Marx saw humans as part of nature but also able to actively relate to nature through their labor.  

The Return of Nature was published at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (which is briefly mentioned in the prologue), yet much of the discussion is relevant to how we might analyze its origins and effects. Victorian cities such as London suffered terrifying epidemics of diseases including typhoid, typhus and cholera. As with COVID-19 today, these disproportionately affected the poorest residents with the worst living conditions. This is something Marx was also familiar with, especially as the Marx family was living in Soho in central London during a particularly deadly cholera outbreak in 1854.

The story of how the source of the cholera epidemic was identified is well known. The physician John Snow convinced the authorities that cholera was a waterborne disease, rather than one spread through the air, and located the source at a water pump on Broad Street. When the handle of the water pump was removed such that people couldn’t drink the water, the epidemic subsided. 

Less well known is the mutual influence of science and socialism among some of the other protagonists of the story. After the epidemic, further investigations carried out by Edwin Lankester found that the well feeding the Broad Street pump was contaminated by a cesspit at 40 Broad Street, the site of one of the first cases of cholera. Lankester was part of a struggle against the conditions in which nineteenth century workers lived and worked, including crowded homes, overwork, and poor sanitation.

In the discussion of Victorian working conditions, Marx, in Volume 1 of Capital, cites Lankester’s investigation into the case of a dressmaker named Mary Ann Walkley, who died after being made to work more than twenty-six hours without a break.

Although not a revolutionary, Lankester had radical views and talked about being on the side of the masses. His son, E. Ray Lankester, was a similarly impressive figure, a member of the Royal Society who directed the Natural History Museum in London between 1898 and 1907 — although he was apparently dismissed from this role for his attacks on the museum establishment. The younger Lankester was also a close associate of Marx and one of the few people to attend his funeral.

Stephen Jay Gould, in “The Darwinian Gentleman at Marx’s Funeral,” referred to him as “a basically conservative biologist” and suggested that he saw in Marx’s friendship little more than an opportunity to discuss art and philosophy with another brilliant intellectual. However, Foster has a different take on their relationship. He accepts that Lankester did have some conservative views in later life. Depressingly, he did oppose women’s suffrage on the basis that he thought women did not have the same intellectual abilities as men.

But Foster also highlights Lankester’s critique of the way in which a capitalist system driven by the needs of the market would have dangerous ecological consequences, including the spread of new disease epidemics and the increasing extinction of species. Lankester once wrote that “the capitalist wants cheap labour, and he would rather see the English people poor and ready to do his work for him, than better off.”

Foster also makes much of Lankester’s views on degeneration. In essence, Lankester was critical of the assumption that biological evolution was a story of continual progress towards more complex forms and argued that it could also result in less complex organisms. This form of what he called “degeneration” could be said to apply to human civilizations when humans undermine the ecological conditions of their own existence.

So for Lankester, human history was, like the evolution of species, not simply a case of linear progress. Instead, he followed Marx in stressing the agency of humans to make their own history, though not under conditions of their choosing. Seeing the association between Marx and Lankester as a mere curiosity overlooks the radical implications of some of Lankester’s views as well as Marx’s own deep interest in Darwin and evolution. 

According to Foster, there are two lines of influence that can be detected by examining the thought of ecological socialist thinkers. One goes from Marx to Lankester and subsequently to figures such as ecologist Arthur Tansley and H. G. Wells, a Fabian socialist as well as an author. The other line runs from Engels via the 1930s generation of “red scientists” and into the late twentieth century.  

Engels was indeed one of the most important Marxist figures in the development of an ecological materialist worldview; a substantial portion of this book is devoted to “Engels’s Ecology.” Engels set out to produce an account of how the dialectical processes Marx had uncovered in his study of society could also be observed by studying nature.

As Foster explains, dialectics takes “as its fundamental reality the ever-changing character — as well as resulting contradictions, negations, and qualitative transformations — of both the material world at large and the human condition within it.” It is a philosophy that sees dynamism as inherent to the way the world works rather than assuming that things remain static unless they are influenced by an outside force. 

Engels’s notes were published decades after his death as The Dialectics of Nature with the help of JBS Haldane, one of the founding figures of modern evolutionary biology and a sympathizer of the Communist Party. From the early twentieth century, there has been a protracted debate among Marxists surrounding this text and, more broadly, whether Engels was right or wrong to argue that dialectical processes exist in nature — where human subjectivity does not play a role.

This is not helped by the fact that The Dialectics of Nature was not published in Engels’ lifetime and the various published editions have been translated and edited posthumously by others. Therefore, it is difficult to know what a final text from Engels would have looked like or whether he would have expressed his ideas in the same way if he had been able to finish working through his ideas.  

However, this does not mean that we cannot learn much from Engels. He developed an account of nature that recognized that it could be understood in historical terms. Processes of change and development, and sometimes abrupt or qualitative leaps, are inherent to the natural world. In the nineteenth century, this would have been demonstrated most strikingly by Darwin’s account of the evolution of new species.

Key to Engels’s thinking was the recognition that humans are a part of nature but are also able consciously to manipulate the environment around them and, in the process, change themselves. Engels’ dialectical materialism was at odds with the prevalent mechanical materialist views of the late nineteenth century, which tended to reduce the natural world to passive matter and treat it as fixed rather than dynamic.

As Foster demonstrates, if we want to address Engels’ ecological thought, we should also turn our attention to his other works, including The Condition of the Working Class in England, a much earlier book in which he describes the effects of water and air pollution and disease epidemics, and analyzes how capitalism has created the conditions for these environmental hazards. 

A later chapter, “A Science for the People,” discusses the organization of that name in the 1970s and 1980s (whose magazine, also called Science for the People, was a forerunner of this publication) and the nearest thing to a British equivalent, the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Foster rightly points out that the original Science for the People was influenced by the 1930s generation in their critique of the idea that science is separate from social relations.

But they had some key political differences. As part of the New Left, they were less likely to be sympathetic to greater state control of science compared to previous generations. Several members of the organization were associated with developments in biological and ecological thinking. For example, Science for the People member Richard Levins was part of developing an ecological critique of the assumption that there is harmony in nature.

He described a co-evolutionary relationship of humanity and nature where processes of change are inherent to both. Foster also points to a 1973 editorial in the original magazine, “Ecology for the People,” in which members of the organization called for revolution as the solution to the social inequality and ecological devastation that is typical under capitalism. 

The example set by the likes of Levins or Lankester shows how scientific enquiry has often been influenced by the philosophical viewpoints of scientists and their concerns for social and environmental justice. It demonstrates that we cannot treat science as a neutral activity carried out by apolitical thinkers.

Indeed, as Foster argues, the politics of these scientists informed their ecological worldview and “it is this method of ecological critique arising out of the socialist critique of capitalist society that is seen here as most important, since it provides the indispensable means for a revolutionary dialectical ecology.”

Most of the key thinkers described in the book are men. However, Foster does point to some fascinating examples of women in science going back to the nineteenth century, whose work has not been so well known. For example, it is likely that the biologist Phebe Lankester (the wife of Edwin) was part of the investigation of the water from the Broad Street well. But as a woman, her work would have been carried out “behind the scenes.” Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England was first translated to English by an American woman, Florence Kelley, in the 1880s.

Kelley was the chief inspector of factories in Chicago, who investigated the brutal conditions of child laborers in the city and campaigned for an 8-hour day. She played a major role in the social history of the United States. 

The Return of Nature is focused on Britain, with a few exceptions including the section on Science for the People. This has allowed Foster to trace a coherent narrative, drawing out the influence of Marx, Engels, and Darwin in the country where they spent most of their lives.

Of course, any project of this type is bound to be limited in the amount of ground it can cover, but it is worth acknowledging some of the gaps as readers may want to consider how their own research could add to our knowledge of the contributions of women or thinkers from other parts of the world. The book also leaves open the question of whether we are now seeing the start of a new generation of scientific radicals in the twenty-first century. 

Rather than providing a conclusion, Foster ends the book with a short chapter on the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the subject of Marx’s doctoral thesis. It seems that Foster would prefer to let the thinkers whose work he discusses speak for themselves, rather than try to provide an overall summary of their varied thought — which would also be impossible to attempt in this short review.

Perhaps what we can say is that one of the central contributions of dialectical thinking is its rebuke to the assumption that “nature” is a fixed or stable realm separate from human society. This dualistic way of thinking so often results in the environment being treated as an afterthought in our understanding of social relations — or worse — as an externality to the economic calculations of capitalists.

By contrast, ecology as a scientific discipline addresses the relationships between living things and with their abiotic surroundings. This emphasis has led some ecologists towards an understanding of the role of human activity within such systems.

As Foster therefore argues, the legacy of the nineteenth and twentieth century thinkers discussed in the book is one “that we can no longer afford to do without in our age of combined ecological and social crisis.”  

The Return of Nature shows how — if we want to understand issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, or the emergence of new pandemics today — it will take thorough research into ecological systems that also addresses the influence of human activity. That research will be driven by a demand for transformative societal change.

We can use the analytical tools of the thinkers presented here to start to make sense of the destructive influence of capitalism on the biosphere and also paint a more hopeful picture of what a more rational relationship to the rest of the natural world might look like. 

The Return of Nature introduces us to some of the key figures in the development of an ecological worldview. Some of them, such as the writer and designer William Morris or biologist JBS Haldane, are relatively famous.

Others, such as biologist Lancelot Hogben and the extraordinary British writer Christopher Caudwell are less widely known. Foster has shone new light on their lives and work. The book took years to write (at over 500 pages excluding the notes, Foster describes this as his “big book”) and involved dedicated research from numerous archival resources.

The result is a volume full of biographical detail as well as sketches of the key contributions of the various thinkers to ecological thinking. Readers of Science for the People will be rewarded with many examples of great scientific radicals from previous generations to admire, and an opportunity to find out more about the figures who are, in many ways, the forebears of the producers and readers of this magazine.   

Monthly Review Press

2020

672 Pages

$28

About the Author

Camilla Royle teaches Geography at King’s College London and the London School of Economics. Her PhD research addressed the ideas of Richard Levins, Richard Lewontin, and other dialectical biologists. Her work has been published in International SocialismAntipode, and Human Geography.

Editors

Erik Wallenberg (Lead Editor)
Cliff Conner (Co-Editor)
Rebecca Roskill (Technical Editor)
Sonja Soo (Copy Editor)

Friday, 14 May 2021

The Labour Party's antisemitism crisis: what mistake to avoid in the Green Party?


Written by Les Levidow

Amidst internal conflict over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, some Green Party members have said that we should avoid the Labour Party's mistake on antisemitism.  Indeed, yet ‘the mistake’ has contrary meanings. On the pro-IHRA side, some apparently accept the dominant storyline that the Labour Party tolerated widespread antisemitic behaviour. The anti-IHRA side instead means that the Labour Party pursued many false allegations of antisemitism.  

So, which was the real mistake around ‘the antisemitism crisis’?  And what was its underlying politics?

As this article argues: The socialist anti-imperialist Corbyn leadership posed a threat to the British ruling elite, especially its partnership with the Israeli regime. Hence the leadership’s diverse enemies jointly reinforced false allegations of antisemitism from the pro-Israel lobby. These allegations conveniently displaced the racism problem away from the settler-colonial Israeli regime onto its anti-racist critics. For this racist pro-Israel agenda, the IHRA mis-definition of antisemitism has been a key weapon in the Labour Party and plays a similar role in the Green Party, as promoted by the leadership.  

For the full version of this argument, see my May 2021 journal article, ‘Bad Consciences: projecting Israel’s settler-colonial racist aggression onto Labour Party antisemitism’.

Denying and projecting racism

Like other settler-colonial regimes, the Zionist one has subordinated, dispossessed and expelled the indigenous people. These aims formed the basis of the Israeli state in 1948. It has denied its own racist aggression and projected this onto the Palestinians, increasingly since Israel’s 1967 expansion to the West Bank and Gaza. In recent decades Israel has further promoted itself as a front-line defence against ‘Islamist terrorism’, whereby Israel’s regional counter-insurgency role protects the West from mortal threats. This narrative should be understood as paranoic, i.e. denying unsavoury parts of one’s self or nation, splitting off these parts and projecting them onto one’s victims. 

This paranoic narrative has complemented the securitisation agenda of Western states, supporting allies abroad as ‘counter-terror’ forces against threats to the West. This paranoiac displacement has a long history in UK state-sponsored domestic practices over many years, such as ‘inter-faith’ events suppressing pro-Palestine dissent and the Prevent programme targeting it as ‘extremism’. So-called preventive measures have pursued ‘extremism’ through pervasive surveillance identifying pro-Palestine views. Thus Britain’s domestic practices have internalised Israel’s racist paranoiac projections.

Moreover, state practices have essentialised Jews as a pro-Israel ‘Jewish community’ being victimised by pro-Palestine antisemitism and so needing special protection.  Within the Western elite, this philosemitic narrative has constructed Jews as heroic colonists in the Middle East and pro-Israel model citizens at home. Jews’ essentialization has gained a broad appeal for various reasons. Many Western Jews identify with Israel, while also needing to feel morally special. Their sensibility is offended by reminders of Israel’s institutionally racist practices,  provoking a bad conscience; the offence is projected onto the putative antisemitism of Israel’s critics. 

Elite philosemitism for a UK-Israel partnership

Those practices reinforce a homogeneous social identity, as a basis to demand universal deference to a single pro-Israel ‘Jewish community’, especially as a test of antisemitism. Instrumentalising that narrative, UK politicians justify their pro-Israel commitment along two lines: as crucial for ‘social cohesion’, i.e. reassuring Jews about British support for Israel, as well as ‘national security’, i.e. needing Israel as a front-line defence against the Islamist threat. This elite philosemitism  has helped to shield the UK’s pro-Israel commitment from criticism.

Along similar lines, over several decades the Labour Party leadership has made great efforts to contain and stigmatise pro-Palestine dissent.  The New Labour leadership promoted a more aggressively pro-Israel policy within the ‘war on terror’ securitisation agenda since 2001, complemented by the Prevent programme since 2006. Together these efforts stigmatised Israel’s opponents as security threats, e.g. as ‘extremists’ or ‘radical Islamists’. 

Sponsored by dominant Western states, the IHRA was established in 1998. It has served to sanitise Nazi Germany of its racist colonial legacies and its Western capitalist complicity. This framing helped to legitimise Western states as anti-racist forces and to instrumentalise Holocaust memorial education for this political purpose.

As the IHRA’s next step, its website posted the Working Definition of Antisemitism (with all the examples) from a US pro-Israel lobby group, the American Jewish Committee. This document provided an extra weapon for false allegations of antisemitism by conflating this with anti-Zionism. As the wider context, Palestine solidarity activists had been highlighting how Israel’s institutionally racist character was driving its systematic violations of international law. They could be falsely accused of antisemitism by deploying the so-called IHRA Definition.


False allegations undermining the Corbyn leadership

Together those practices provided a ready-made framework to contain the Corbyn-led Labour Party during 2016-19. When the membership greatly rose to support a pro-Palestine anti-imperialist leadership, this rise jeopardised the Labour Party’s century-long role within the elite pro-Zionist consensus. Members’ pro-Palestine voices aggravated and offended the bad consciences of Jewish Zionist members, who resented the offenders.

Given the Corbyn leadership’s diverse enemies, they jointly mobilised an elite pro-Israel strategy to stigmatise and silence pro-Palestine voices: In the dominant narrative, the Labour Party was tolerating ‘endemic antisemitism’,  creating an ‘unsafe space for Jews’. According to the pro-Israel lobby, moreover, the leadership posed ‘an existential threat to Jewish existence’. The racist aggression of Zionist settler-colonialism was denied, split off and projected onto pro-Palestine critics.   

Antisemitism was more broadly equated with ‘hurt to the Jewish community’ or simply ‘offence to Jews’. Pro-Israel Jewish organisations demanded and gained a monopoly voice to speak for ‘the Jewish community’. The pro-Israel lobby demanded that the Labour Party create a ‘safe space for Jews’, i.e. for a racist Zionist identity beyond debate

The Labour Party’s disciplinary procedure increasingly targeted pro-Corbyn anti-racist members (including Jewish ones) who were falsely accused of antisemitism.  The procedure in turn often accused them of ‘behaviour bringing the Labour Party into disrepute’; this euphemistically evaded the political issue. At the same time, the procedure delayed any action against the real antisemitism of other members; hence the pro-Israel lobby could more easily claim that the Party was tolerating antisemitic behaviour.

The British elite strategy conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism as perceived by pro-Israel Jews, thus inverting racism and anti-racism. The inversion has been put sarcastically by Hajo Meyer, a Holocaust survivor: ‘An antisemite used to be a person who disliked Jews. Now it is a person whom Jews dislike’, especially Israel’s critics.

IHRA mis-definition serves a racist pro-Israel agenda

Given that political context, let us return to the initial question: What mistake of the Labour Party should be avoided?  At recent Green Party of England and Wales conferences the leadership has supported a motion that would incorporate the IHRA Definition into the disciplinary procedure.  According to the motion, it’s irrelevant how the Definition has been used by other organizations. Such a claim is politically naive, disingenuous or both. 

The IHRA mis-definition has already been the basis for external organisations to make false allegations against some pro-Palestine Green Party members, who then had to undergo the disciplinary procedure.  This has ominous analogies with the Labour Party’s procedures. Adopting the IHRA Definition has obvious consequences, namely: to encourage more false allegations of antisemitism, to reinforce them internally and to deter criticisms of Israel’s racist character.

More generally, the IHRA Definition has been widely cited worldwide for false allegations against pro-Palestine events, speakers and comments. In response to such allegations, major institutions have suppressed or severely restricted pro-Palestine events. Such incidents have been well documented, e.g. in a journal paper on the UK, and in the Jewish-led global report, The IHRA Definition at Work

In all those ways the IHRA mis-definition helps to protect Israel’s institutional racism from criticism, thus serving the pro-Israel commitment of the British ruling elite. By promoting the mis-definition, the Green Party leadership has shamefully colluded with this racist pro-Israel agenda since 2017. Let’s reject it and so avoid the mistake of the Labour Party. 

AuthorLes Levidow is a member of Green Left within the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW). Since the 1980s he has participated in several Jewish pro-Palestine groups, including many Jews who have faced false allegations of antisemitism by the pro-Israel lobby. His current focus is Jewish Network for Palestine (JNP), loosely connected with the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). 

Monday, 10 May 2021

What Would a Deep Green New Deal Look Like?


Written by Don Fitz and first published at Green Social Thought

The Green New Deal has attracted perhaps the greatest attention of any proposal for decades. It would guarantee Medicare-for-All, Housing-for-All, student loan forgiveness and propose the largest economic growth in human history to address unemployment and climate change.

But the last of these hits a stumbling block. Creation of all forms of energy contributes to the destruction of nature and human life. It is possible to increase the global quality of life at the same time we reduce the use of fossil fuels and other sources of energy. Therefore, a “deep” GND would focus on energy reduction, otherwise known as energy conservation. Decreasing total energy use is a prerequisite for securing human existence.

Recognizing True Dangers

Fossil fuel (FF) dangers are well-known and include the destruction of Life via global heating. FF problems also include land grabs from indigenous peoples, farmers, and communities throughout the world as well as the poisoning of air from burning and destruction of terrestrial and aquatic life from spills. But those who focus on climate change tend to minimize very real danger of other types of energy production. A first step in developing a genuine GND is to acknowledge the destructive potential of “alternative energy” (AltE).

Nuclear power (nukes). Though dangers of nuclear disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima are horrific, problems with the rest of its life cycle are often glossed over. Mining, milling, and transporting radioactive material to supply nukes with fuel and “dispose” of it exposes entire communities to poisoning that results in a variety of cancers. Though operation of nukes produces few greenhouse gases (GHGs), enormous quantities are released during production of steel, cement and other materials for building nuclear plants. They must be located next to water (for cooling), which means their discharge of hot water is an attack on aquatic life. Radioactive waste from nukes, kept in caskets for 30-50 years, threatens to poison humanity not for decades or centuries, but for millennia (or eternity), which makes nukes at least as dangerous as FFs. Inclusion of nuclear power as part of a GND is not the slightest bit green. The only way to address nuclear power is how to abolish it as rapidly as possible while causing the least harm to those who depend on it for energy and income.

Solar power requires manufacturing processes with chemicals which are highly toxic to those who work with them. Even before production begins, many different minerals must be mined and processed, which endangers workers and communities while destroying wildlife habitat. Additional minerals must be obtained for batteries. Once solar systems are used, they are discarded into large toxic dumps. Though few GHGs are created during use of solar panels, large amounts are created during their life cycle.

Wind power creates its own syndrome of nerve-wracking vibrations for those living next to “wind farms,” along with even larger issues with disposal of 160-foot blades. Like solar farms, wind farms undermine ecosystems where they are located. The life cycle of wind power includes toxic radioactive elements to produce circular rotation of blades.

Hydro-power from dams hurts terrestrial as well as aquatic life by altering the flow of river water. Dams undermine communities whose culture center around water and animals. Dams destroy farms. They exacerbate international conflicts when rivers flow through multiple countries, threaten the lives of construction workers, and result in collapses which can kill over 100,000 people at a time.

Several problems run through multiple AltE systems:

  • Despite claims of “zero emissions,” every type of AltE requires large amounts of FFs during their life cycle;
  • Every type of AltE is deeply intertwined with attacks on civil liberties, land grabs from indigenous communities, and/or murders of Earth defenders;
  • Many have cost overruns which undermine the budgets of communities tricked into financing them.
  • Transmission lines require additional land grabs, squashing of citizen and community rights, and increased species extinctions; and,
  • Since the most available resources (such as uranium for nukes, sunny land for solar arrays, mountain tops for wind farms, rivers for dams) are used first, each level of expansion requires a greater level of resource use than the previous one, which means the harvesting of AltE is increasingly harmful as time goes by.

Taking into account the extreme problems of the life cycle of every type of energy extraction leads to the following requirements for a genuine GND: Nuclear energy must be halted as quickly and as safely as possible with employment replacement. FF extraction should be dramatically reduced immediately (perhaps by 70-90% of 2020 levels) and be reduced 5-10% annually for the next 10 years thereafter. Rather than being increased, extraction for other forms of energy should be reduced (perhaps 2-5% annually).

Since honesty requires recognition that every form of energy becomes more destructive with time, the critical question for a deep GND is: “How do we reduce energy use while increasing employment and the necessities of life?”

The Naming of Things

But before exploring how to increase employment while reducing production, it is necessary to clean up some greenwashing language that has become common in recent years.

Decades ago, Barry Commoner used the phrase “linguistic detoxification” to describe the way corporations come up with a word or phrase to hide the true nature of an ecological obscenity. One of the best examples is the nuclear industry’s term “spent fuel rods” which implies that, once used, fuel rods are not radioactive, when, in fact, they are so deadly that they must be guarded for eternity. An accurate term would be “irradiated fuel rods.”

Perhaps the classic example is the way agribusiness came up with “biosolids” for renaming animal sewage sludge containing dioxin, asbestos, lead, and DDT. As John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton describe in Toxic Sludge Is Good for You (1995), industry persuaded the Environmental Protection Agency to reclassify hazardous animal waste to “Class A fertilizer” biosolids so they could be dumped on fields where food is grown.

Rather than preserving traditions of early environmentalists, many current proponents of AltE use the terms “clean” and “renewable” to describe energy which is neither. AltE is not “clean” due to the many GHG emissions throughout the life cycle of all types of energy in addition to assaults on ecosystems and human health. Though the sun, wind and river power may be eternal, products that must be mined are very much exhaustible, meaning that no form of AltE is renewable.

An honest GND would never refer to AltE as either “clean” or “renewable.” Such a GND proposal would advocate the reduction of FFs but would not suggest a goal 0% of FFs by such-and-such a date because it is unattainable. Every type of AltE requires FFs. While it may be possible to produce some steel and some cement by AltE, it is impossible to produce massive quantities of energy for the entire world with AltE. Instead, a genuine GND would explain that the only form of clean energy is less energy and specify ways to use less energy while improving the quality of life.

A genuine GND would never imply that FFs are the only source of monstrously negative effects. Privileging AltE corporations over FF corporations is stating that environmental problems will be solved by choosing one clique of capitalists over another. This means that (a) if FFs should be nationalized, then all mining, milling and manufacturing processes to produced materials needed for AltE should be nationalized; and, (b) if FFs should remain in the ground, then all components for operating nuclear plants, dams, solar facilities and wind farms should also remain in the ground.

A Shorter Work Week for All

The greatest contradiction in current versions of the GND is advocating environmental improvement while having the most massive increase in production the world has ever seen. These two goals are completely irreconcilable. A progressive GND would address this enigma via shortening the work week, which would reduce environmental damage by using less energy.

It is quite odd that versions of the GND call for Medicare-for-All, Housing-for-All, Student Loan Forgiveness-for-All; but none of them suggest a Shorter-Work-Week-for-All. The absence of this old progressive demand could be due to the incorrect neoliberal assumption that the best way to solve unemployment is via increased production.

Increased production of goods cannot create a long-term increase in employment. (It was WW II and not Roosevelt’s New Deal that consistently increased employment.) US production increased 300-fold from 1913 to 2013. If employment had increased at the same pace, everyone would be working at dozens of jobs today.

Unemployment increases from recent economic disruptions like the 2008 financial crisis and Covid in 2020 were due to the inability to shift work from some areas of the economy to others. A planned shrinking of the economy would require including the entire workforce in deciding to shift from negative to positive employment.

As the work week is reduced, every group of workers should evaluate what it does, how labor is organized, and how jobs should be redefined so that full employment is preserved. The only part of this idea which is novel is making changes democratically – job categories continuously change, with some types of work shrinking (or disappearing entirely) and other types of work expanding or coming into existence. Just as economic growth does not guarantee increases in employment, economic shrinking need not worsen unemployment if the work week is shortened.

However, a shorter work week will not accomplish environmental goals if it is accompanied by an “intensification of labor” (such as requiring workers at Amazon to handle more packages per hour or increasing class size for teachers). This means that a genuine GND requires workers’ forming strong unions which have a central role in determining what is produced as well as working conditions.

Producing According to Need Instead of According to Profit

If a core part of a GND becomes a shorter work week (without speed-up), the question naturally arises: “Will lowering the amount of production result in people going without basic necessities of life?” It is important to understand that production for profit causes the manufacture of goods that have no part of improving our lives.

Current versions of the GND are based on the neoliberal assumption that the best way to provide for necessities of life is through increased payments for purchases (ie, market economics). A progressive GND would advocate that the best way to provide the necessities of life is by guaranteeing them as human rights. This is often referred so as replacing individual wages with “social wages.” For example, the neoliberal approach to healthcare is offering medical insurance while a progressive approach is to offer medical care directly (without giving a cut to insurance companies). Likewise, a neoliberal GND would offer cash for food, housing, transportation, education and other necessities while a progressive GND would provide them directly to people. Green economics must be based on making dollar amounts less important by replacing individual wages with social wages.

Current versions of the GND seek to provide necessities by increasing the quantity of products rather than focusing on creating things that are useful, reliable and durable. A massive increase in production is an unnecessary attack on ecosystems when there is already much more production than required to provide essentials for everyone on the planet. Needs are not being met because of production which …

  • …is negative, including war materials, police forces and production which destroys farmland and habitat (all of which should be reduced immediately);
  • …is wasteful, which includes both (a) playthings of the richest 1%, and (b) things which many of us are forced to buy for survival and getting to work, the most notable being cars;
  • …requires unnecessary processing and transportation, the most notable example being food which is processed to lose nutritional value, packaged to absurd levels, and shipped over 1000 miles before being consumed; and,
  • …involves planned obsolescence, including design to fall apart or go out of style.

One important aspect of reducing production is often ignored. Each product manufactured must have a repairability index. At a minimum, criteria for the index should include (a) availability of technical documents to aid in repair, (b) ease of disassembly, (c) availability of spare parts, (d) price of spare parts, and (e) repair issues specific to the class of products. The index should become a basis for strengthening production requirements each year. A durablility index should similarly be developed and strengthened annually. Since those who do the labor of manufacturing products are more likely than owners or stockholders to attain knowledge of how to make commodities that are more reliable and durable, they must have the right to make their knowledge public without repercussions from management.

There will always be differences of opinion regarding what is needed versus what is merely desired. A progressive GND should state how those decisions would be made. A major cause of unnecessary production is that decisions concerning what to manufacture and standards for creating them are made by investors and corporate bosses rather than community residents and workers manufacturing them. A genuine GND would confront problems regarding what is produced by involving all citizens in economic decisions, and not merely the richest.

Reparations!

Perhaps the issue which is least likely to be linked to the GND is reparations to poor communities in Africa, Latin America, and Asia who have been victims of Western imperialism for 500 years. This connection forces us to ask: “Since most minerals necessary for AltE lie in poor countries, will rich countries continue to plunder their resources, exterminate what remains of indigenous cultures, force inhabitants to work for a pittance, jail and kill those who resist, destroy farmland, and leave the country a toxic wasteland for generations to come?”

For example, plans to massively expand electric vehicles (EVs) undermine the vastly more sustainable approach of urban redesign for walkable/cyclable communities. Plans would result in manufacturing EVs for the rich world while poor and working class communities would suffer from the extraction of lithium, cobalt and dozens of other materials required for these cars.

Africa may be the most mineral-rich continent. In addition to cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo for EVs, Mali is the source of 75% of the uranium for French nukes, Zambia is mined for copper for AltE and hundreds of other minerals are taken from dozens of African countries.

If there are to be agreements involving corporations seeking minerals for AltE, who will those agreements be with? Will the agreements be between the ultra-rich owners of the Western empire and its puppet governments? Or, will extraction agreements be with villages and communities which will be most affected by removal of minerals for the production of energy?

Discussions of relationships between rich and poor countries make much of having “free, prior and informed consent” prior to an extraction project. Such an agreement is far from reality because (a) corporate and governmental bodies are so mired in corruption that they contaminate bodies which define and judge the meaning of “free, prior and informed,” (b) no prediction of the effects of extraction can be “informed” since it is impossible to know what the interaction of the multitude of physical, chemical, biological and ecological factors will be prior to extraction taking place, and (c) affected communities are typically bullied into accepting extraction because they fear that families will die from starvation, lack of medical care or unemployment if they do not do so. Thus, the following are essential components of a socially just GND:

  • Reparations which are sufficient to eliminate poverty must be paid prior to signing extraction agreements; and,
  • Every community must have the right to terminate an extraction agreement at any stage of the project.

This is where the other meaning of “deep” comes in. When people hear “deep green,” they often think of how industrial activity deeply affects ecosystems. “Deep” can also refer to having a deep respect for poor communities whose lives are most affected by extraction. Respect is not deep if it is unwilling to accept an answer of “No” to a request for exorbitant, profit-gouging extraction. Peoples across the world may decide that since they have received so little for so long, it may be time for rich countries to share the wealth they have stolen and dig up new wealth much, much more slowly.

A New Green Culture

Just to make sure that it is clear and not forgotten, the fundamental question regarding extraction of material needed for AltE is: “Will rich countries continue to plunder minerals underneath or adjacent to poor communities at a rate that corporations decide? Will they expect poor communities to be satisfied with a vague promise that, for the very first time, great things will happen after the plundering? Or should reparations be fully paid for past and current plundering, with poor communities deciding how much extraction they will allow and at what speed?”

Essential for building a New Green World is the creation of a New Green Culture which asks all of the billions of people on the planet to share their ideas for obtaining the necessities of life while using less energy. Such a culture would aim for one idea to spark to many ideas, all of which strive more toward living together than on inventing energy-guzzling gadgets.

In order to build a New Green Culture which puts the sharing of wealth above personal greed, several things that must happen:

1. To bring billions of people out of economic misery, every country should establish a maximum income which is a multiple of the minimum income, with that multiple being voted on (no less than every five years) by all living in the country.

2. Every country should establish a maximum wealth which is a multiple of the minimum wealth, with that multiple being voted on (no less than every five years) by all living in the country.

3. Global reparations, including sharing wealth and technological know-how between rich and poor countries, is essential for overcoming past and ongoing effects of imperialism. Establishing maximum incomes and maximum wealth possession within countries must be quickly followed by establishing such maximum levels between countries.

A core problem of current versions of the GND is that they propose to solve employment, social justice and energy problems with increased production, which is not necessary to solve any of these. Attempts to solve problems by increasing wealth feeds into the corporate culture of greed and become a barrier to creation of a New Green Culture. Increasing production beyond what is necessary increases environmental problems that threaten the Earth. It tells those who are already rich that they should grab more, more and more. It tells those who are not rich that happiness depends upon the possession of objects. The survival of Humanity depends on the building of a green culture that prizes sharing above all else.

Don Fitz (fitzdon@aol.com) is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought where a version of this article was first published. He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. His book on Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution has been available since June 2020.