Thursday, 16 November 2017

Why are the UK Establishment so Terrified of a Corbyn Government?



Attitudes may be breaking a little in the UK establishment, with British employers groups starting to warm to the relative certainty of Labour’s stance on remaining in the European Single Market and Customs Union after Brexit, compared to the chaotic approach of the Tory government. 

Business leaders also like the idea of Labour making huge investments in infrastructure, at a time of record low interest rates. This is probably more of a reflection on the hapless Tories though, than any ringing endorsement of Corbyn’s Labour, but it is happening all the same.

Even Tories are breaking ranks. Tory member and journalist Matthew d'Ancona, writing about the Tory Party's predicament in The Guardian, says:

‘I can think of far worse things than a left-wing Labour victory that such oligarchic arrogance might eventually spawn…..In truth, their worst enemy is not Corbyn, but the stultified inertia of their own government, and its leaden inability to see how unbelievably awful it is.’

But there is a substantial proportion of the UK establishment that is very worried about what a Labour government would mean, in terms of taxing corporations and wealthy individuals fairly. Led by the ring-wing media, the Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun, they are trying to create hysteria amongst the public, about what a Corbyn government would be like. With some success it would seem, as I wrote last month on this blog, posing the question, ‘Why are the Incompetent Tories at around 40% in the Opinion Polls?

At the 2015 general election, the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband (dubbed Red Ed, of course) on a much more modest soft left platform was called a Marxist, and all kinds of calamity forecast by the same media, if he won. At this year’s general election, the same accusations and more were thrown at Corbyn, but with much less success though. The barrage has continued ever since.

Re-nationalisation of public services would fell one of the magic money tree scams that fill capital’s coffers and a modest (0.5%) Robin Hood tax on financial transactions are further concerns to the elites.

But concern is not just on the financial front. The media has tried to paint a picture of Labour as anti-Sematic, with little evidence to support it, but the casual observer wouldn’t notice that. This is conflated with Corbyn’s years-long support for the cause of Palestinian self-determination, and wider foreign policy concerns, such as his distain for the arms trade with Saudi Arabia.

Corbyn’s lack of support for NATO and his personal distaste, at least, for Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, are also cited as demonstrating his unsuitability for prime minister.

Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, writing in The Telegraph said, “the leader of the Labour Party is an old-fashioned international socialist who has forged links with those quite ready to use terror when they haven’t got their way: the IRA, Hizbollah, Hamas. As a result he is completely unfit to govern and Britain would be less safe with him in No 10.”

Dearlove appears to be oblivious to fact that the UK’s foreign policy in the middle east of recent years is the cause of most of our foreign affairs woes, including international terrorism. The situation in Northern Ireland was resolved through dialogue, although it is now in peril if a hard Brexit takes place. Relations with Russia are also at their worst since the end of the cold war. Hardly anything to be proud of and certainly no justification for a status quo approach.

So, establishment opposition falls into broadly two areas, class war against any significant redistribution of wealth downwards in the UK and fear of foreign policy changes that have existed for decades and are a part of the geo-political order, backed by the US and its allies around the world.

By historical standards, what Corbyn’s Labour is proposing is not anywhere near Marxism or even some of the more radical polices of Labour governments past. It is a measure of how far to the right politically the centre ground has shifted, that what is quite tame social democratic positions are painted in such extreme colours.

The truth of the matter is, what Corbyn represents is a small push back against the class war winners of the last nearly forty years, nothing more. And certainly nothing for the vast majority of people to worry about, who will benefit from such policies. Nothing could be worse than the shambles the Tories are making of the country.

Nothing at all.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A No Deal Brexit Should Lead to a General Election


    
The ‘concession’ made by David Davis, the Brexit Secretary yesterday, to allow a vote in Parliament on the final deal negotiated by him for our withdrawal from the European Union (EU), is no concession at all. Davis said that any deal he negotiates will be put to a vote on a take it or leave it basis, and leaving it, will mean we crash out of the EU without any deal.  

More than this, if no deal is negotiated in the end, there will be nothing for Parliament to vote on, so that will be that, crashed out without our representatives having even a limited say in this important matter for the country. There will be numerous amendments submitted to the Brexit Bill, aimed at stopping the government in its tracks over the next week or so, but what if the government defeats these amendments?

We should remember that the country was offered the option of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ at this year’s general election, and it was promptly rejected by the electorate, with the government losing its majority in the House of Commons. 

The government is only kept afloat by its deal with the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) ten MPs, and although the DUP is all for Brexit, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU at the 2016 referendum. The ten MPs that were elected in this year’s general election, were elected because of the Northern Ireland political situation generally, and was nothing to do with Brexit as such.

For the government to claim that it has any kind of mandate for leaving the EU without a deal, is a perversion of what mandate they do have on the issue. But because the Tory Party have effectively been captured by a minority of its MPs who actually want a no deal Brexit, and probably are backed by a majority of the Tory Party’s aged membership, they appear to be unwiling to make any concessions.

A no deal scenario would presumably mean that a hard border be re-established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The DUP are keen to avoid this, so there is no guarantee that the DUP will not support some of the amendments to Brexit Bill, in which case the government will be defeated in Parliament.

Then there are the Tory rebel MPs, maybe as many as twenty or so who want to avoid a hard Brexit and reports suggest they will not back the government’s take it or leave it offer. Should the government be defeated over the next week as the debate in Parliament proceeds, the government could well fall. But the other option would be for them to cling on, by withdrawing the Brexit Bill for now and instead pursue a no deal in negotiations. To all intents and purposes this looks like what they have been doing since Article 50 was triggered by Parliament anyway.

This would provide a dilemma for the DUP and for the Tory rebels. Will they just watch the car crash of a hard Brexit in horror, but powerless to stop it? Will they put loyalty to the Tory government above what they think is best for the country? Are they so terrified of a Corbyn led Labour government that they let the government get away with it? If they conclude that the interests of country come first, they will have only one option left.

If we get into the situation where the government is heading for a no deal Brexit, either through incompetence in the negotiation process or by wilful negligence, then the opposition parties should put down a motion of no confidence in the government in the House of Commons. 

The DUP and rebel Tories would need to support the no confidence motion for the government to lose, which in turn would lead to Labour being asked if it can form a government. If after a maximum of two weeks, Labour decides it cannot form a government, then a general election will have to be called.

There is no other way to proceed, if MPs want to avoid the cliff edge Brexit which it appears the government is seriously courting. For rebel Tory MPs particularly, it will be hard to bring down their own government, but this matter is so serious it demands that a stand be made. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Ecosocialism - The Dynamics of Capitalism’s Destructive effects on the Biosphere



Written by Kris Forkasiewicz and first published at Capitalism Nature Socialism

Introduction

Ecosocialism is a radical social theory and variant of red-green politics. It documents the connections between the dynamics of capitalist relations and their destructive effects on the biosphere, including human life. Given the ecosocialist commitment to Marxian analysis, it is also dubbed ecological Marxism.

Ecosocialism is constructed through a series of critiques: critique of “green” economics, liberal environmentalism, and other “within-the-system” remedies to ecological degradation; critique of deep ecology and bioregionalism; critique of classical socialist politics and of “actually existing socialisms” etc. (see, e.g., Kovel 2007). But it is capitalism―in its multiple, interwoven expressions―that is the ecosocialist’s primary focus and starting point of conceptualization and praxis.

Capitalism and Ecological Devastation

For ecosocialists, capitalism is an irremediably expansionist, productivist order responsible for the emergence of a fundamental rift in the metabolic relation between human society and the rest of the natural world (Foster, B. Clark, and York 2010). Originally parts of a complex whole, the two come to be increasingly separated with the maturing of capitalist relations as the driver of a socio-ecological crisis.

By the force of capital, all external boundaries―be it ecological, economic, cultural, geographic, biological, even ontological―are reconfigured as mere barriers to be overcome new jumping-off points for expansion are established: In Marx’s words, “capital is the endless and limitless drive to go beyond its limiting barrier“ (334). Capital is “caught in the cycle of ‘grow or die’ that characterizes accumulation under the terms of relentless competition” (Kovel 1995: 32). If capital ceased to increase, it would cease to be capital, i.e., money used to make more money.

Commodifying the natural world, capitalist relations reduce the variegated richness of its forms into mere stuff for appropriation and exploitation. This violation proceeds by squeezing the multidimensional complexity of the world into a one-dimensional fodder for capital. Intrinsic value (wealth unconnected with the efforts of labor) and use-value (nature transformed by labor) are forcibly erased and replaced with exchange value (with money established as the measure of all things).

In addition to the sea of individual and collective misery this brings about, capitalism causes severe ecological disarticulations, which are brushed aside for as long as possible, leading ultimately all the way up to ecosystemic breakdown of planetary proportions (Foster, Clark, and York 2010).

In one sense, capital may seem like an alien force, wholly autonomous and external to human/natural activity―and it is, in the sense that it alienates humans and other beings from their lifeworlds in myriad ways. More importantly, however, it is through the life activity of human and non-human bodies that capital propagates itself. Capital is, in essence, a nexus of exploitative social relations whereby the surplus produced by labor is appropriated by owners/managers of the means of production.

The Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalist development produces a complex of interrelated structural contradictions leading to accumulation crises, where capital stumbles on its own destructiveness (O’Connor 1997; Kovel 2007). The first contradiction, theorized by Marx, consists in capital being pitted against labor which it must systematically exploit as a prerequisite for continued accumulation.

The rising rate of surplus value thus extracted puts barriers in the way of future accumulation which depends on the sale of goods and services back to producers in a system of unequal wealth. This leads to a crisis of overproduction. In addition to this “first” contradiction of capitalism, ecosocialists have theorized a second, in which capitalism undermines itself by destroying the ecosystem―including human society―upon which it depends, i.e., degrades the conditions of its own reproduction. This, in turn, is said to lead to a crisis of underproduction (O’Connor 1997).

The way capitalism overcomes accumulation crises does not eliminate its essentially contradictory character; it merely enables further expansion by modifying and adapting the social and physical infrastructures necessary for accumulation to continue (transformations of labor and other social relations, technological innovation, and public bailouts of failed capitalists are good examples). It thus sets in motion processes that lead to more extensive and deeper future breakdowns.

Thanks to its immense elasticity, capital is able to turn vice into virtue and can profit from the ecological destruction its operations cause. This happens in myriad ways: through invention of new financial instruments like carbon emissions trading which provide new spaces of speculation and profit; through profitable increases in efficiency of energy use that allow for increased extraction and use of energy (the so-called “Jevons Paradox” [see Foster, Clark, and York 2010]); and through the development of whole new industries working on technological fixes to mitigate pollution resultant from past economic activity and to facilitate further growth.

With these processes firmly in place, “the overall result [of the system’s operation is] additive and combinative” (Kovel 2007: 287, n. 12). While the appearance of the system (the particular solutions and forms it assumes, also in terms of infrastructure) changes, the root of capitalism in the processes of accumulation persists. In this way conditions are created for the crises to follow, and for ever more of the biosphere to be sacrificed in the process. Instead of being combated, global warming is adapted to, with new opportunities for growth sought in the changing climatic conditions (Foster 2002).

Ecosocialism, Carnality, and the Animals

Capitalism does not exhaust the formula for systematic objectification, commodification, oppression, and exploitation―neither that of whole ecosystems, nor that of nature’s countless sensuous beings, including humans. That is to say, it cannot be equated with the condition of unfreedom as such, in which the sentient beings of the world are presently caught, a condition which precedes capitalism both chronologically and substantively.

However, capital does provide a central if elusive nexus through which that condition is maintained and proliferated, and constitutes arguably the single most powerful alienating force shaping daily life (see, e.g., Kovel 2007). It is this feature of the capitalist world-system that increasingly gathers numerous critics, activists, and social movements―including, in a progressively overlapping manner, workers, aborigines, ecologists, feminists, and anarchists―around a vision of a more egalitarian, sustainable, and fulfilling post-capitalist form of life.

Unfortunately, ecosocialists have been slow to accommodate an animalist perspective into their outlook. The concrete, live body is easily lost in a globalized system of exploitation which pulls at the very roots of life, manipulating its tiniest building-blocks, or eradicating it wholesale, forming a global mess which seems to call for an antidote of abstract theorizing and schematic generalizations. The latter may offer comprehension of the crisis in a general way, but it is the vulnerable, animal body―sometimes a horse, sometimes a human, sometimes a sow―that encounters the capitalist juggernaut and registers its full, crushing impact.

It is to their credit that some ecosocialists acknowledge the recuperation of free sensuous experience as crucial to a sane life: one group of authors recently remarked that “to recapture the necessary metabolic conditions of the society-nature interaction what is needed is not simply a new social praxis, but a revived natural praxis―a reappropriation and emancipation of the human senses and human sensuousness in relation to nature… [a] natural praxis… that encompasses human activity as a whole, that is, the life of the senses… [where] the senses ‘become directly theoreticians in practice'” (Foster, Clark, and York 2010, 230 emphases in original). An ecosocialist future is possible only if the human survives as an animal.

From an animal liberationist standpoint, these hints of reclamation of the naturalness of the human animal for its free expression constitute significant progress over the age-old devaluation of earthly life. As such, they are a stepping stone towards a full-fledged materialism that ecosocialists professes to endorse. This insight into the centrality of embodiment will remain incomplete, however, so long as the human is perceived in isolation and the ideology and practice of human species-imperialism is not overcome.

Human uniqueness, itself internally differentiated, has nothing particularly unique about it, and constitutes but one mode of world-making among many equally unique others. But a sense of species-humility, implicit in the ecological insight that Homo sapiens is merely a piece of a much bigger puzzle, is mostly lacking in ecosocialist literature and discourse. And yet, it is only when ecosocialists perceive other, non-human earthlings as equally deserving of an opportunity to develop their specific potentialities in free rapport with one another and with the surrounding ecologies, that ecosocialism will assume a proper liberatory scope. For this to happen, much ecosocialist theorizing will have to overcome the humanist-speciesist bias that has lingered over socialism since its inception as a modern movement in the Enlightenment.

[Originally published in Ferrari, Arianna, and Klaus Petrus, eds. Lexicon der Mensch-Tiere-Beziehungen. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2015.]

Literature

Foster, J. B. 2000. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press.

———. 2002. Capitalism and Ecology: The Nature of the Contradiction. Monthly Review 54        (4), September. http://monthlyreview.org/2002/09/01/capitalism-and-ecology.

———, B. Clark, and R. York. 2011. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Kovel, J. 1995. Ecological Marxism and Dialectic. Capitalism Nature Socialism 6 (4),        December, 31-50.

———. 2007. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?         London and New York: Zed Books Ltd.

Marx, K. 1993. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, translated by Martin Nicholaus. London: Penguin Books.

O’Connor, J. 1997. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford    Press.

Pepper, D. 1993. Eco-socialism. From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. London and New   York: Routledge.

Further Reading

Benton, T., ed. 1996. The Greening of Marxism. London and New York: Guilford Press.

Capitalism Nature Socialism. Quarterly Journal. London and New York: Taylor & Francis.

Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Current Conflict In Spain Has a Lot to Do With Economic Failure



Written by Mark Weisbrot

As Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatens to take over the autonomous region of Catalonia, it is becoming clearer even to casual observers who the bad guys are in this conflict. Generally, when one side is peaceful and seeks dialogue, and the other is committed to resolving the disagreement through force, repression, and violence — well, you get the picture.

The Spanish government’s argument that the October 1 referendum on independence was unconstitutional is not so determinative as they would like us to believe. As Vicente Navarro, who has written for many years on Spain’s incomplete transition to democracy, notes: the 1978 constitution was much more a product of the 36-year dictatorship than it was of the democracy that was struggling to be born. And Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) in particular has deep roots in political forces and people who were part of the Franco dictatorship.

The anti-democratic character and fascist heritage of the PP government became glaringly evident when Rajoy sent thousands of troops into Catalonia in a failed attempt to stop people from voting. This was not, as he claimed, to enforce the law: the Spanish government could simply have allowed the vote and refused to recognize the result. Rather it was to crush the independence movement and the expression of their ideas by force; and hundreds of people were injured by the Civil Guard. The repression also included unprecedented censorship of the Internet, as well as of newspapers and radio. If Rajoy follows through with his threatened takeover of Catalonia, we will see more of this Francoist repression of basic civil rights and liberties.

As many have noted, the independence movement in Catalonia has deep roots — it goes back at least 300 years, and Catalans were denied even to the right to their language during the dictatorship. But there is another reason, besides the repression and infringements on Catalonia’s limited autonomy under the constitution, that it has flared up in recent years. That is Spain’s profound economic failure since the world financial crisis and recession of 2008–2009, and especially its impact on young people and the long-term unemployed, so many of whom have been left without a future in Spain. This is worth looking at in some detail, as the Spanish economy has lately been described in positive terms since it returned to economic growth four years ago.

First, the current state of the damage. Over the past year (from August), unemployment has averaged 18 percent, more than four times the level of the United States. And it would be a lot higher if not for about 1.7 million foreign nationals having left the country.

For 2016, about 43 percent of the unemployed were out of work for more than a year. In terms of finding employment, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently concluded that “prospects for this group are particularly grim.”

The number of people deemed to be at risk for poverty and social exclusion is at 27.9 percent.

Inequality has risen dramatically since 2008; the income of the top 20 percent is now 7.5 times that of the bottom 20 percent, the third worst in the European Union. As the IMF has noted, this is mainly because employment fell by 20 percent from 2008 to 2013, and lower-income groups were disproportionately among the victims of this collapse.

Furthermore, the majority of new jobs are temporary labor contracts, heightening insecurity even for those who are lucky enough to find a new job.

This is not a pretty picture. But the IMF — which is here representing the views of the European authorities and the Rajoy government — nonetheless appears to accept mass unemployment as the new normal. The Fund projects that the economy will reach its full potential output sometime in the next year. But unemployment will still be at about 16 percent. In other words, 16 percent unemployment is as good as it gets, it’s now being redefined as “full employment.” And youth unemployment is about double the overall unemployment rate. This is an abomination; no one who cares about the majority of people in Spain and especially the future of a generation of young people, should accept the policies that have wrecked the Spanish economy and continue to constrain the recovery of the labor market.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. The yield on Spain’s 10 year bonds is just 1.6 percent — the same as its current rate of inflation. In other words, Spain can borrow long-term for free, at a real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate of zero. Pundits rant about Spain’s public debt, but when a government can lock in borrowing at zero real interest rates, it’s a good time for public investment that can create jobs and increase the productivity of the economy. Productivity growth has been very weak during this recovery.

But the Popular Party government, in collaboration with the European authorities, has a very different vision of “progress.” Together, they are committed to further budget tightening, even though the economy is already slowing. They are also worried about backsliding with respect to the “structural reforms” that they argue are best for increasing employment and the efficiency of the economy.

Part of the theory of the austerity that has been implemented since 2010 was that since Spain could not devalue its currency (the euro), it would have to undergo an “internal devaluation.” This means that mass unemployment and other pressures (including labor law changes) would push down wages enough so that Spain could be more competitive, and increase exports, even with a euro that had previously been overvalued for its economy. Spain has certainly increased its exports since the bottom of the depression. But since the economic recovery began four years ago, imports have also increased, and so net exports (the difference between exports and imports) have not contributed anything to the recovery. It is therefore difficult to argue that Spain has adjusted its economy so as to produce a new growth model.

The other argument for austerity was that tightening the budget and implementing structural reforms would lower interest rates and payments on Spain’s public debt, by restoring market confidence. But in fact Spain’s interest rates dropped as a result of drastic changes in the policy of the ECB: in 2012 the ECB decided to basically guarantee Spanish and Italian bonds; it has lowered short-term interest rates and also began quantitative easing in March 2015 to lower long-term rates and provide a monetary stimulus.

So there is little in the data that would indicate that Spain’s austerity “worked.” On the contrary, not only is the economy still a wreck for millions of Spain’s residents, the recovery that has occurred owes much to the reduction of austerity and the implementation of a small stimulus that needs to be expanded in order to move toward full employment.

Under these conditions, it is no wonder that many Catalans think they could do better economically as an independent country. Their economic problem is similar to that of most of the people living in the eurozone — including the rest of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. The European authorities, and those governments who either choose to go along with them or are forced to do so (as in Greece), are essentially committed to mass unemployment — as well as a number of regressive economic reforms — for the foreseeable future.

It is in this deep structural and practical sense that separatist movements, as well as those who want to leave the eurozone or the European Union, have a real economic basis in the failed economic policies of the European authorities and most eurozone governments. So, too, has the increased voting share of the far right in countries such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany. It remains to be seen whether Europe’s elite will abandon its attachment to failed economic policies before these centrifugal forces grow stronger.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of “Social Security: The Phony Crisis” (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

This article originally appeared on Alternet.org.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Theresa May – For the Good of the Country, Call a General Election



We really can’t go on like this. Two Cabinet ministers resigned in a week, first the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, amid allegations of sexual harassment, and yesterday Priti Patel, the Foreign Aid Secretary, after revelations that she was making free-lance unofficial foreign policy at meetings with Israeli government officials and the prime minister. On its own this is bad enough for the government, but there is more.

Two further Cabinet ministers have question marks against them. Damian Green, effectively the deputy prime minister, is facing allegations of sexual harassment and downloading porn onto his workplace computer.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, made inaccurate remarks to a House of Commons committee about a British national held in prison in Iran, which has prompted the Iranians to consider increasing her sentence from five to ten years on espionage charges. Johnson is of course no stranger to making free-lance foreign policy as well, such as his recent piece in The Telegraph setting out his red lines for Brexit negotiations. Both ministers are on shaky ground.

Several MPs are also facing allegations of sexual harassment, and more serious sexual assaults, from other political parties too, but mainly Tories. The government is unable to get much policy through Parliament, reliant as they are on the votes from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which covers only supporting government Budget votes and votes of confidence in the government.

This situation could well get worse if several Tory MPs are forced to resign from Parliament and their replacements lose subsequent by-elections. The government is deeply divided on their approach to Brexit and has a prime minister who’s authority is in tatters after the disastrous June general election where May lost her majority in Parliament. There is a good chance the Tories will lose any by-elections that are forced into, making matters even more unstable.

All of this against a backdrop of a sluggish economy, rising inflation, wages falling for most people, the NHS in crisis, homelessness up sharply and the ongoing dog’s breakfast that is the government’s negotiations with the European Union on our exit from the organisation. A government drifting rudderless, battered about by scandals, incompetence and political events. This government is a national and international laughing stock.

So, what is to be done? Tory MPs are briefing journalists that May has until Xmas to turn things around, before a formal challenge to her leadership is launched. Reports say that now 40 of the required 48 Tory MPs are prepared to support a challenge. But this wouldn’t really change the fundamentals for the government though, just the front person. The country would be no further forward.

There seems to be only one option left for Theresa May, to call a general election. Given we are close to Xmas, in reality this would have to be in the new year, preferably earlier rather than later in the new year. This fits with Tories giving May until Xmas to get a grip, so she could call an election before rebel MPs have the chance of challenging her leadership in a vote of confidence. It would pull the rug from beneath the rebels.

There is the thorny issue of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, but it didn’t stop May calling a general election this year, although the situation is very different now. Two thirds of MPs would need to approve of an election taking place, which many may not be happy about. But all things are possible at the moment.

The advantage for the prime minister, is that she might win a majority this time and restore some authority to her premiership. This seems unlikely though. But even if she lost the election and the opposition formed a government, at least her personal torment would be ended. 

Either way the status quo is profoundly damaging to the country, so the patriotic thing to do, is to give the people the opportunity to back or sack the government. The county's interests need to be put above the interests of the Tory party. Be bold Mrs May, just do it.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Greens Discuss Cooperating with Labour at London Council Election



My local Green Party, Haringey in north London, are to discuss accommodating some Labour Party candidates at next year’s full London council elections. In London, all councillors are elected every four years, so three candidates are all elected to serve as councillors in all wards at the same time. In Haringey this amounts to 57 councillors in total.

In Haringey the big issue at the moment is the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) which aims to sell off residential council properties and land for the redevelopment of housing in the borough. This £2 billion deal has caused much controversy as the suspicion is that this is an exercise in gentrification, as has happened in other parts of London with similar schemes, where social housing forms only a small part of the new development.

The local ruling Labour Party is split on the issue, with Momentum and fellow travellers trying to replace Labour councillors who support the development, including the leader of the council Claire Kober. Local Greens are set to discuss the motion below at their next meeting on 13 November.

Whilst I do not agree with the specifics of the motion, as a former election agent of eight years standing and for the last two full council elections, I do think we should build into our candidate selection some flexibility. We might not stand a full state of candidates, as we have for the last two full council elections, to help Momentum to change the balance of the Labour council against HDV. We may well not know until late in the day who Labour has selected, but I think we should keep the option open.

I also think Labour (or the faction of it against HDV) should reciprocate in some way.     

Here is the slightly redacted motion:

Pre-amble/explanation

Haringey Green Party believes that the changing local political situation and the substantial divisions within the local Labour Party require a flexible response for our electoral strategy for the 2018 council elections which should be reflected in the Action Plan to be discussed at the AGM in January. In particular:-

a) a deep rift is emerging between Labour councillors who support their leadership on the HDV and those opposed

b) Labour councillors are similarly divided on estate demolitions, Tottenham ‘regeneration’ plans and social care cuts, with some following the Kober/Strickland leadership on these issues and others opposed

c) where ward Labour parties disagree with their sitting councillors, some of these councillors may be de-selected as candidates for 2018 and replaced by individuals more opposed to the HDV and to estate demolitions

If we want Greens elected we should target those councillors who are close to the increasingly unpopular Kober leadership and not those already opposed to the HDV with whom we can work on that issue and possibly on other issues. Our target ward of XXXX already has XXXX as a prominent opponent of the HDV and of cuts in social care. 

The unpopularity of XXXX and XXXX make it particularly worthwhile to challenge them in XXXX.

Proposals

Haringey Green Party should adopt the following objectives (to be voted on one by one):-

1) We should avoid taking votes from sitting Labour councillors who have consistently stood out against the Labour leadership and opposed the HDV. We should invite voters to consider the views of all candidates about the HDV and vote for Greens and any other candidates who can be relied on to defend social housing and oppose estate demolitions which are against the wishes of residents.

2) This would mean that whilst we would continue campaigning in XXXX as our first target ward, if XXXX is standing again there we would re-deploy one of our already selected candidates to another ward, so that those voters convinced by our arguments against the HDV and against social care cuts will find no contradiction in supporting 2 Green candidates alongside XXXX; that is, they will not have to choose between Green candidates and a Labour candidate with specific views that are similar to our own on some key issues.

3) We will consider challenging all sitting councillors, whichever party they represent, to a series of Green demands (to be discussed at the AGM but e.g. no more land transferred to the HDV if it goes ahead, no estate demolitions, no loss or privatisation of parks, maximum permitted ‘precept’ for social care, renewed resources and attention to the Greenest Borough strategy, etc); and tell them that if any councillor who is standing for re-election supports all of our demands, we will reduce the full ‘slate’ of 3 Green candidates in his/her ward by one.

4) We should adopt XXXX as our second target ward, since XXXX and XXXX are both sitting councillors there.

5) We should retain some flexibility in our electoral strategy for the 2018 council elections in case any sitting councillors are de-selected and are replaced by candidates with different views. We should take note of information which is likely to become available through Labour Party contacts in December, to try to find out the selection decisions of other parties far enough in advance to tailor our own strategy to their candidate selection for particular wards.

6) We should earnestly and urgently seek out Green candidates for wards across the borough who are able and willing to speak at hustings and engage in no-cost social media and press work, and who really want to become councillors, and provide them with adequate training and briefing on local issues in order to take forward our 2018 campaign.

7) We should agree at the AGM a set of 4 to 6 main demands which will be our platform for the 2018 elections and which will be reflected in point 3 if adopted.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Marx, Engels, and Ecology



Written by Michael Löwy, and first published at Capitalism Nature Socialism

ABSTRACT: The following is a brief survey of Marx and Engels’ views on ecology, from the viewpoint of their relevance for 21th-century ecosocialism. While there are some serious limitations in the way both consider the “development of productive forces,” there are powerful insights in their discussion of the destructive consequences of capitalist expansion for the environment—an expansion that generates a disastrous metabolic rift in the exchanges between human societies and nature. Some ecological Marxists distinguish between “first stage ecosocialists”—who believe that Marx analyses on ecological issues are too incomplete and dated to be of real relevance today—and “second stage ecosocialists,” who emphasize the contemporary methodological significance of Marx’s ecological critique of capitalism. This paper tries to argue for a third position (which probably could be accepted by several people of the two groups above): Marx and Engels’ discussion on ecological issues is incomplete and dated but despite these shortcomings it does have real relevance and methodological significance today.

While mainstream ecology has been dismissive of Marx, serious research in the last decades has shown that Marx and Engels developed some very important insights on ecological issues. The pioneers of this research have been James O’Connor and the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, but in the recent years, the most systematic and thorough investigations in this respect has been developed by John Bellamy Foster and his friends at Monthly Review.

Does this mean that ecology occupies a central place in the Marxian theoretical apparatus? I do not think so, but this does not result from any shortcoming; it simply reflects the fact that the ecological crisis in the 19th century was just beginning and was far from being as catastrophic as in our days. As I will try to show below, there are also some problems in Marxian discussion of the “development of productive forces” and some internal tensions in the understanding of socialism. Nevertheless, one can find in Marx and Engels’ writings a series of arguments and concepts that are essential to understanding the connection between capitalism and the destruction of the natural environment, as well as to define a social-ecological alternative to the prevailing system.

Let us begin by discussing certain criticisms addressed by mainstream ecologists against Marx and Engels:

(1) “The founders of historical materialism saw human beings as in permanent struggle with nature. They had a Promethean view of humanity as the master and conqueror of nature.” Indeed, there are passages in Marx and Engels’ writings which can be interpreted this way. For instance, when they celebrate the achievements of the bourgeoisie in the Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels state:

Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour? (1987, Ch. 1)

Foster criticizes my use of the term “Prometheanism” for Marx and Engels. I agree that this is an inadequate generalization, but I cannot follow him in his “non-Promethean” reading of this specific passage in the Communist Manifesto (2000, 135–140). In a recent discussion on this passage of the Communist Manifesto, Saito acknowledges that “Löwy’s reading of Marx’s alleged ‘Prometheanism’ might seem hard to refute here ... but can hardly be generalized across Marx’s entire career ... ” (2016). Agreed! Indeed, it would be a serious mistake to conclude that these lines represent Marx’s general outlook on the issue of humanity’s relations to the natural world. As Kovel convincingly argues—against Ted Benton, Rainer Grundmann and others—a close reading of Marx would clearly show that he was not a Promethean, that is, “an unreconstructed apostle of Enlightenment in its rankest industrial form” (2007, 231).

What is striking in Marx’s early writings is his outspoken naturalism, his vision of the human being as a natural, inseparable from the natural environment. For instance, here is what Marx stresses in his Manuscripts of 1844: “That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is part of nature.” True, Marx is a humanist thinker, but he defines communism as a form of humanism that is, “at the same time, an accomplished naturalism, as well as the genuine solution of the conflict between man and nature.” Thanks to the positive abolition of private property, human society will become “the perfected unity in essence of man with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the realized naturalism of man and the realized humanism of nature” (Marx 1975, 348–349). These passages do not deal directly with the ecological issues and the threats to the environment, but the logic of this sort of naturalism permits an approach of the human/nature relationship that is not one-sided.

This attitude is not limited to Marx’s early writings. One can find a very similar naturalist approach in a well-known writing by Friedrich Engels from 1876 on The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man. Here, the naturalist stance becomes the foundation for a radical critique of predatory forms of human relationships to the environment:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest of nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us ... The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamt that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry of their region ... Thus at every step, we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery consists in the fact that we have the advantage of all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws (Engels 1964, 291–292).

For sure, this passage has a very general character—it does not deal with the capitalist mode of production but with older civilizations—but it is nevertheless an ecological argument of an impressive and surprising modernity, both by its critique of the “conquering” attitude of human societies and, specifically, by drawing attention to the disasters resulting from deforestation.

(2) According to many ecologists, “Marx, following David Ricardo, sees human labor as the origin of all value and all wealth, neglecting the contribution of nature.” This criticism simply results from a misunderstanding. Marx uses the labour-value theory to explain the origin of exchange-value, in the framework of the capitalist system. Nature, however, participates in the constitution of real wealth, which is not exchange-value, but use-value. This argument is explicitly presented by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), against the ideas of Ferdinand Lassalle and his followers in the German labour movement:

Labour is not the source [die Quelle] of all wealth. Nature is as much the source of use-values [Gebrauchswerte] (which are, after all, the real wealth !) as labour, which is itself nothing but the expression of a natural force, human labour force. (Marx 1965, 15)

(3) Many ecologists accuse Marx and Engels of “productivism.” Is this accusation justified? No, insofar as nobody denounced as much as Marx the capitalist logic of production for production’s sake: the accumulation of capital, wealth and commodities as an aim in itself. The fundamental idea of a socialist economy—in contrast to its miserable bureaucratic caricatures—is one of producing use-values, goods which are necessary for the satisfaction of human needs. Moreover, the main importance of technical progress for Marx was not the infinite growth of goods (“having”) but the reduction of the labour journey and the increase of free time (“being”). The opposition between “having” and “being” is often discussed in the Manuscripts of 1844. In Capital, Vol. III, Marx emphasizes free time as the foundation of the socialist “Kingdom of Freedom” (1968, III, 828). As Burkett has perceptively shown, Marx’s emphasis on communist self-development, on free time for artistic, erotic or intellectual activities—in contrast to the capitalist obsession with the consumption of more and more material goods—leads to a decisive reduction of production pressure on the natural environment (2009, 329).

However, it is true that one can find in Marx and Engels—and even more in the dominant Marxist currents that followed—a rather uncritical stance towards the productive forces created by capital, and a tendency to see in the “development of productive forces” the main factor of human progress. The “canonical” text in this respect is the famous Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), one of Marx’s writings most loaded with a certain evolutionism, a belief in inevitable historical progress, and an unproblematic view of the existing productive forces:

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces enter in contradiction with the existing relations of production ... From being forms of development of the productive forces, these relations become fetters (Fesseln). Then opens an epoch of social revolution ... A social formation never disappears before all productive forces for which it is broad enough are developed ... . (Marx 1964, 9)
In this well-known passage, productive forces created by capital appear as “neutral,” and revolution has only the task of suppressing the relations of production which have become “fetters,” “shackles,” for a larger (unlimited?) development of the productive forces. I will discuss this issue below.

The following passage from the Grundrisse is a good example of the sec- tions of Marx’s work which bears witness to an uncritical admiration for the “civilizing action” of capitalist production, and its overcoming of “nature-worship” as well as other “barriers and prejudices”:

Just as production founded on capital created universal industriousness on one side ... so does it create on the other side a system of general exploitation of the natural and human qualities ... Thus capital creates the bourgeois society, and the universal appropriation of nature as well as of the social bond itself by the members of society. Hence the great civilizing action of capital; its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry. For the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subject it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production. In accordance to this tendency, capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices, as much as beyond nature worship, as well as all traditional ... old ways of life. (Marx 1973, 539)1

In contrast to this celebration of the “universal appropriation of nature” by capital, in several other writings, and in particular those concerning agriculture in the three volumes of Capital, one can perceive key elements for a truly ecological approach, through a radical criticism of the disastrous results of capitalist productivism. As Foster has shown with great acumen, we can find in Marx’s writings a theory of the metabolic rift between human societies and nature, as a consequence of the destructive logic of capital (2000, 155–167). Marx’s starting point is the work of German chemist and agronomist Justus von Liebig, to whom he pays homage: “[T]o have developed from the point of view of natural science the negative, i.e. destructive side of modern agriculture, is one of Liebig’s immortal merits” (1970, 638).

The expression Riss des Stoffwechsels, metabolic rift—a break in the material exchanges between humanity and the environment—appears as well, for instance, in Chapter 47,“Genesis of the Capitalist Ground Rent,” in Capital Vol. III:

Large landed property reduces the agricultural population to a constantly falling minimum, and confronts it with a constantly growing industrial population crowded together in large cities. It thereby creates conditions which cause an irreparable break in the coherence of social interchange prescribed by the natural laws of life. As a result, the vitality of the soil is squandered, and this prodigality is carried by commerce far beyond the borders of a particular state (Liebig)...Large-scale industry and large-scale mechanised agriculture work together. If originally distinguished by the fact that the former lays waste and destroys principally labour-power, hence the natural force of human beings, whereas the latter more directly exhausts the natural vitality of the soil, they join hands in the further course of development in that the industrial system in the countryside also enervates the labourers, and industry and commerce on their part supply agriculture with the means for exhausting the soil. (Marx 1959, 588)

As with most other examples which we will discuss below, Marx’s attention focuses on agriculture and the problem of soil exhaustion, but he relates this issue to a more general principle: the rift in the metabolism—that is, system of material exchanges (Stoffwechsel) between human societies and the environment—in contradiction with the “natural laws of life.” It is interesting to note also two important suggestions, even if they were not developed by Marx: the cooperation between industry and agriculture in the rift process, and the extension of the destruction, thanks to international trade, on a global scale.

The issue of the metabolic rift can be found also in another well-known passage in Capital Vol. I: the conclusion of the chapter on great industry and agriculture. It is one of the most important writings of Marx, because it has a dialectical vision of the contradictions of “progress” and of its destructive consequences for the natural environment under capitalist rule:

Capitalist production ... disturbs the metabolic interaction (Stoffwechsel) between man and the earth, i.e. prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural conditions for the lasting fertility of the soil ... All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long- lasting sources of fertility. The more a country, the United States of North America, for instance, develops itself on the basis of great industry, the more this process of destruction takes place quickly. Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the technique and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker. (Marx 1970, 637–638)
Several elements are significant in this important passage:
 . (1)  The idea that progress can be destructive, a “progress” in the degradation and deterioration of the natural environment. The example chosen by Marx is limited—the loss of fertility by the soil—but it leads him to raise the larger issue of the attacks on nature, on the “eternal natural conditions,” by capitalist production.
 
 . (2)  The exploitation and debasement of the workers and of nature are presented from a similar viewpoint, as result of the same predatory logic, the logic of capitalist great industry and industrial agriculture. This is a topic that often appears in Capital (see Foster 2000, 155–157).

The direct association between the brutal capitalist exploitation of the proletariat and of the earth lays the theoretical ground for a strategy articulating class struggle and ecological struggle, in a common fight against the domination of capital.

Marx (1959, 85) is persuaded that “a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system ... and needs either the hand of the small farmer living by his own labour or the control of associated producers.” There is a radical opposition between the immediatist logic of capital and the possibility of a “rational” agriculture, based on a much longer temporality and in a sustainable and intergenerational perspective, which respects the natural environment. Marx rejoices that even conservative chemists such as James Johnston recognize that private property is an “insurmountable barrier” for a really rational agriculture. 
The reason for this is that:
the whole spirit of capitalist production, which is directed toward the immediate gain of money are in contradiction to agriculture, which has to minister to the entire range of permanent necessities of life required by the chain of successive generations. (Marx 1959, 477)
A striking example of this contradiction, according to Marx, is the forests, which are only managed according to the general interest when they escape private property and are under public control. The issue of forest destruction is, next to the exhaustion of soils, the main example of ecological disasters discussed by Marx and Engels. The issue is often discussed in Capital: “agriculture and industry have been so active (tätig) in the destruction of forests, writes Marx, that anything that has been done for their conservation is insignificant in comparison” (Marx 1968, 247). The two phenomena—degradation of forests and of land—are in fact perceived as directly related. In a passage from Dialectics of Nature, Engels mentions the destruction of the Cuban forests by the large Spanish coffee producers and the resulting desertification of the soils as a typical example of the short-sighted and predatory attitude towards nature of the “present mode of production,” and its indifference for the long-term harmful consequences on the natural environment (1964, 185).

If Marx and Engels have a clear and coherent diagnosis of the destructive dynamics of capitalism on nature, the way they understood the socialist programme in relation to the environment is not without internal tensions. On one side, as we saw above, we have several passages that seem to conceive socialist production as being simply the collective appropriation of the forces and means of production developed by capitalism: once suppressed, the “shackles” represented by the capitalist relations of production—in particular the property relations—these forces will be able to develop without fetters. There seems to be here a sort of substantial continuity between the capitalist and the socialist productive apparatus, the issue for socialism being essentially the planned and rational collective administration of the material civilization created by capital. For instance, in the famous conclusion to the chapter on primitive accumulation in Capital Vol. I, Marx emphasizes:

The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter (Fessel) for the mode of production which grew and prospered under it. The socialisation of labour and the centralisation of the means of production arrived at a point where they cannot any more remain in their capitalist husk (Hülle). This husk breaks into pieces. The hour of capitalist property has sound ... Capitalist production engenders its own negation with the necessity of a natural process. (Marx 1970, 791)

This passage seems to leave untouched, in a socialist perspective, the whole productive process created by capitalism, challenging only the “husk” represented by private property (“monopoly”), which became an obstacle for the economic progress.

The same type of logic of continuity can be found in certain passages of Engels’ Anti-Dühring, where socialism is perceived as synonymous with the unlimited development of productive forces:

The expansive force of the means of production breaks the chains (Bande) which the capitalist mode of production had laid on them. Their liberation from these chains is the only condition required for an uninterrupted development of the productive forces, progressing always faster, and therefore, for a practically unlimited (schrankenlosen) growth of production itself. (Engels 1959, 263)

In this sort of conception of socialism, there is little room for any concern with the natural limits of the planet. However, there are several other writings, by both Marx and Engels, where the ecological dimension of the socialist programme is taken into account, thus laying the ground for an ecosocialist perspective. In an interesting passage in Capital Vol. I, Marx suggests that in pre-capitalist societies, the metabolism between human communities and nature was assured “spontaneously” (naturwüchsig); in a socialist society (the word does not appear but its meaning is clarified) the Stoffwechsel with nature will be re-established in a systematic and rational way (1970, 528). Marx did not develop this intuition, but it is significant that he saw as the task of socialism to restore, in a new form, the spontaneous harmony with nature of pre-capitalist communities with that of a rational and planned one—a very relevant discussion in the context of indigenous social-ecological struggles in Latin America today, for example.

In fact, Marx considered the preservation of natural conditions as an essential task of socialism. For instance, in Vol. III of Capital, he opposes to the capitalist logic in agriculture, based on brutal exploitation and exhaustion of the soil, a different logic, a socialist one, grounded in “the conscious and rational treatment of the land as permanent communal property”—a treatment that considers the soil not as the source for short-sighted profit, but as “the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations.” A few pages earlier, we find a very significant statement, which again directly associates the overcoming of private property with

 From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (Marx 1959, 567)

In other words, Marx takes fully into account what Hans Jonas will call, much later, the Principle of Responsibility, the obligation of each generation to respect the natural environment—the condition of existence for future human generations.
Moreover, in the same Vol. III of Capital Marx does not define socialism as human “subjugation” or domination over nature but rather as the rational control of human material exchange with nature. In the sphere of material production, he writes,

Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature. (Marx 1959, 593)2

This proposition will be adopted, almost word by word, by Walter Benjamin, one of the first Marxists of the 20th century to raise this sort of questions. In 1928, in his book One Way Street, Benjamin denounced the idea of human domination of nature as “an imperialist doctrine,” and proposed instead a new conception of the technique as “domination of the relationship between humanity and nature” (1972, 147). It would not be difficult to find in Marx and Engels’ writings other examples of a real interest in the issue of the natural environment, even if they lacked a general and systematic reflection on it. In a recent and very interesting article, Saito argues that Marx’s scientific-natural notebooks following 1868 suggest that:

Marx’s critique of political economy, if completed, would have put a much stronger emphasis on the disturbance of the ‘metabolic interaction’ (Stoffwechsel) between humanity and nature as the fundamental contradiction within capitalism. (2016)

This may be so, but it means, reversely, that in its existing incomplete state, Marx’s work does not present the ecological issue as “the fundamental contra- diction.” Summarizing the discussions on Marx among ecosocialists, Saito asserts that “first stage ecosocialists” (to use John Bellamy Foster’s categorization)—such as André Gorz and James O’Connor—believed that Marx’s analyses on ecological issues “are too incomplete and dated to be of real relevance today.” In contrast, “second stage ecosocialists”—such as Foster himself and Paul Burkett—“emphasize the contemporary methodological significance of Marx’s ecological critique of capitalism” (Saito 2016). I would modestly argue for a third position (which probably could be accepted by several people in the two groups above): Marx and Engels’ discussion on ecological issues is incomplete and dated, but despite these shortcomings, it does have real relevance and methodological significance today. In other words, 21st- century ecosocialists cannot satisfy themselves with a 19th-century Marxian ecological heritage, and need a critical distance towards some of its limitations. But on the other hand, an ecology able to confront the contemporary challenges cannot exist without the Marxist critique of political economy and its remarkable analysis of the destructive logic inherent to the unlimited accumulation of capital. An ecology which ignores or despises Marx, his theory of value or his critique of commodity fetishism and reification, is doomed to become nothing more than a “correction” of the “excesses” of capitalist productivism. Present-day ecosocialists can build on the more advanced and coherent arguments of Marx and Engels in order to: (1) achieve a real materialist understanding of the perverse dynamics of the system; (2) to develop a radical critique of the capitalist destruction of the environment; and (3) project the perspective of a socialist society respecting the “inalienable conditions” of life on Earth.

As Naomi Klein has forcefully argued, climate change “changes everything.” It is a mortal threat, not for “the planet”—a silly mantra in the media—but for life on the planet, and in particular human life. The ecological issue—first of all, but not only, disastrous global warming—is already, and will become increasingly so, the main challenge for a renewal of Marxist thought in our times. It requires from Marxists a radical break with the ideology of linear progress, and with the foundations of the modern capitalist/industrial civilization. The blind spot which appears in some “canonical” texts from Marx and Engels is an uncritical view of the productive forces created by capital—that is, the technical/industrial apparatus of modern capitalism—as if they were “neutral,” and as if revolutionaries had only to socialize them, replacing private by collective appropriation, and putting them to function at the service of the working class.

Ecosocialists should take their inspiration from Marx’s remarks on the Paris Commune: Workers cannot take possession of the capitalist state apparatus and put it to work at their service. They have to “break it” and replace it by a radically different, democratic and non-statist form of political power. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the productive apparatus, which is not “neutral,” but carries in its structure the imprint of its development at the service of capital accumulation and the unlimited expansion of the market. This puts it in contradiction with the needs of environmental protection and with the health of the population. One must therefore “revolutionize” it in a process of radical transformation. Of course, many scientific and technological achievements of modernity are precious, but the whole productive system must be transformed, and this can be done only by ecosocialist methods, that is, through the social appropriation of the main means of production and a democratic planning of the economy which takes into account the preservation of the ecological equilibrium. This means first of all the rapid replacement of fossil-fuel energy—responsible for the catastrophic process of climate change—with renewable sources of energy (wind, sun, water), but also an end to destructive agro-industry, a profound change in transport systems, in consumption patterns etc. In other words, ecosocialism means a radical, i.e. revolutionary, break with the whole capitalist pattern of civilization. It aims not only at a new mode of production and a new form of society, but in the last analysis at a new paradigm of civilization, a new way of life, based on values of freedom, equality, solidarity, and respect for “Mother Nature.”

Endnotes:

1John Bellamy Foster (2010, 93–106) has an interesting analysis of the Grundrisse, but I’m afraid I cannot agree with his interpretation of this specific passage.
2The control refers to the metabolism (the masculineihm) and not to nature (feminine noun in German).

References

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