Sunday, 29 September 2019

Prominent Green Party Member Accuses Other Member of Antisemitism


A complaint has been made through the Green Party’s internal complaints procedure about Shahrar Ali, a former deputy leader of the party, accusing him of antisemitism. A statement has been issued by supporters of Ali in the party, reproduced in full here below, with permission, about the allegations. 

London Green Left Blog has learnt that the complainant member, is a very prominent member indeed, but we are not at liberty now to reveal their identity. When the original external complaint was made by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) in August last year, I wrote a piece on this blog criticising the Left Foot Forward, for twisting the story. I also raised the question of the motivation of the writer.

Well, I have to question the motivation of the complainant member is in this instance as well. Would it be normal for a member, especially such a prominent member, to point the CAA in the direction of the party's external communications procedure, rather than initiate the complaint for them? Why use the members procedure, personally, yourself? I won't speculate further than this, at this stage.

Members of the Green Party of England and Wales can add their support to the statement, by following the instructions at the end. By Sunday night 71 members had signed the statement, including myself.

Statement   

SUPPORT SHAHRAR ALI AGAINST GREEN PARTY INVESTIGATION INTO IHRA-FRAMED CAA ANTISEMITISM
   
We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled to learn of the Green Party’s complicity in targeting Shahrar Ali for allegations of antisemitism. A prominent Party member has now chosen to facilitate a complaint against Ali on behalf of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and the Party’s own Disciplinary Committee has decided to launch an investigation.

CAA is a campaign which systematically makes accusations of antisemitism against pro-Palestine activists (esp. Jewish ones). To take up this complaint would be to collude in an anti-Palestinian agenda that would also discredit the Green Party. It is astonishing that the Party could fall for such a tactic, unwittingly or through lack of political courage.

CAA continue to make unfounded allegations about Ali’s 2009 speech – in which he spoke out against Israel’s onslaught of the Gaza children – and now they choose to criticise his 2018 speech to Autumn conference, in which he spoke against the Party’s adoption of the IHRA definition (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R0KpG36w8A).

Conference voted to refer back the pro-IHRA motion, despite initial support from prominent GP politicians. Ali, alongside concerned Jewish Greens and others, spoke against its adoption and the associated contentious examples. The outcome was widely reported (https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/green-party-fails-to-adopt-ihra-antisemitism-definition-at-conference-1.470718).

The IHRA definition poses a serious threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression by conflating opposition to Israeli policies with antisemitism and threatening to undermine many years of practical solidarity with the Palestinian people, including BDS in the face of decades of dispossession and occupation.

A complaint which now exploits the definition, without the backing of conference, in order to frame allegations against a member is itself evidence of this threat. For the Green Party to sponsor a politically motivated external campaign against one of its own spokespersons is an affront on the following grounds:

1.       It would undermine the members’ complaints process, which is for members only, and thereby breach the constitution.

2.       It would enable those who have lost a conference debate to collaborate or conspire with external groups to interfere with our internal democracy and policy-making.

One wouldn’t expect a Party member to stoop so low, but it’s happening now.

Following the 2018 leadership elections, and negative campaign against Ali, GPRC confirmed that Ali was not under investigation for his 2009 speech and ruled “the matter closed” (29 Aug). In Jan 2019, the Green Party condemned the way in which its statements “were used to fuel further stories and negative comment” towards Ali: https://www.greenparty.org.uk/green-party-clarification-regarding-shahrar-ali-and-allegations-of-antisemitism.html. Given that Ali received full sign off for the 2009 speech, a complaint against him would be a complaint against the Party itself.

The Party has since suspended a member for their role in the antisemitism smear campaign, and subsequent harassment of Ali. It is completely untenable now for the Green Party to bring a complaint against Ali on similar, now discredited, grounds.

It is vitally important that Greens are able to continue to speak out to challenge Israel’s history of racism towards the Palestinians without fear of being labelled as antisemitic. In 2014, Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told a news conference that Israeli policies bore, “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.

We call upon the Green Party to withdraw this politically motivated and internally damaging complaint and to work alongside Shahrar Ali to respond, as appropriate, to politically motivated attacks in the best tradition of the Party.

The Green Party must instead investigate the misuse and abuse of process which risks engendering a hostile environment internally.

In order to support this petition please email GPEWAAS@gmail.com with your name and affiliation and please say if you do not wish to receive updates on the progress of this petition.

Delegates to the forthcoming Party conference should also be alive to motions and amendments that would have the effect of further weaponising the Party’s complaints process – and vote accordingly.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Perspectives on eco-socialism


A review of two books about ecosocialism.

Facing the Apocalypse: Arguments for Ecosocialism
by Alan Thornett
Resistance Books, 2019

Eco-socialism has been a topic addressed by an increasing number of books in recent years. 2019 has already witnessed the addition of two books to the body of literature. In Facing the Apocalypse, Alan Thornett, a former trade union activist in the British automobile industry during the 1960s and 1970s, has written a readable and engaging argument for the need to turn to eco-socialism as a strategy to mitigate climate change. He supports the Red Green Labour network, an eco-socialist current within the Labour Party. Conversely, in Eco-Socialism for Now and the Future, the prolific political economist Robert Albritton, a professor emeritus at York University in Toronto, provides a detailed litany of the short-comings of the capitalist world system, but has far less to say about eco-socialism per se than the former.

Facing the apocalypse

The key motivating factor for Thornett in Facing the Apocalypse is his opinion that the left’s record on the environment has been ‘bleak’. Thornett laments that most left organizations across the world, including socialist and Marxist groups, give scant attention to the ecological crisis, often arguing that they have many other demands upon them. Thornett’s stated aim is to provoke discussion about strategies which will better enable the left to play a positive role in the current struggle to avert ecological apocalypse. 

He begins by covering a lot of material that will be familiar to eco-socialists, namely on planetary boundaries; water issues, agriculture, biofuel production, and urban water consumption; pollution, such as oceanic dead zones, air pollution, and plastic waste; and the 6th extinction of species, which is essential reading for leftists not as familiar with these topics. 

Turning to how the left can begin to make sense of these issues, Thornett provides an excellent overview of the ecological legacy of both classical Marxism, as exemplified in the work of Marx, Engels, William Morris, and Edward Carpenter, and later leftist thinkers concerned with the ecological crisis, including Scott Nearing, Murray Bookchin, Rachel Carson, Roderick Frazier Nash, Barry Commoner, Raymond Williams and Derek Wall. 

Shifting to the Global South, he also discusses the indigenous struggle for environmental sustainability as highlighted by the work of Hugo Blanco in Peru, Vandana Shiva in India, and Chico Mendes and Sister Dorothy Stag in Brazil. While the term eco-socialism has only appeared over the course of the past 35 years or so, Thornett makes it clear that eco-socialism draws from a line of thinkers extending back to Marx himself.

In his analysis of the efforts that have been made to address the climate change crisis thus far, Thornett juxtaposes conventional and Global South approaches. In the case of the former, he argues that the Paris Agreement was ‘deeply flawed’ in various ways, particularly in that it ‘was based on non-legally binding pledges to reduce remissions’ (pp. 78-29). 

Nevertheless, while he acknowledges that the Paris Agreement operates within capitalist parameters, he maintains it provides a ‘new dynamic from which a new round (or stage) for the struggle could be launched’ (p.82). In my view this is a little too optimistic. I tend to view the Paris Agreement as a distraction, creating the false sense that the powers-that-be now take climate change seriously. Various analysts have argued that even if all countries were to meet their voluntary reduction targets, the climate is still slated to rise by 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. 

As such, the Paris Agreement fails to carry on the spirit of the 2010 Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth drafted in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which was led by indigenous people and recognized the role of global capitalism in exploiting nature, thus contributing to the ecological crisis and climate change. Unfortunately, to date, there appears to be no clear indications that either the earlier People’s Conference resolutions or the 2015 Paris Agreement have significantly reversed an on-going increase in greenhouse gas emissions, let alone mount a serious challenge to the growth paradigm of global capitalism that drives this increase.

After laying his foundations by summarizing the various facets of the environmental crisis and laying out the basis for a Marxist position on ecology, Thornett moves on to assessing recent attempts that have been made to further eco-socialism as a political project. The book discusses various eco-socialist developments, but particularly focusses upon the Ecosocialist International Network (EIN), which served as the platform for an eco-socialist manifesto drafted by Michael Lowy and the late Joel Kovel in 2001. He laments that the EIN ‘has failed to make progress in recent years, and eco-socialism remains a minority position on the radical left today’ (p. 92). 

Nevertheless, some European parties define themselves as eco-socialist, including the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Socialist Left Party in Norway, and the Parti de Gauche in France. From my position in Australia, I would also note that the Socialist Alliance, a small party in Australia, defines itself as eco-socialist and publishes the Green Left Weekly newspaper. Conversely, Socialist Alternative, the largest socialist group in Australia, does not define itself as eco-socialist. Ringing true in relation to my own national experience, Thornett’s argument that too many socialists continue to ignore or at least downplay the environmental devastation created by capitalism, choosing to focus on exclusively on its exploitation of the working class, is a compelling one.

Turning to the question of ‘what is to be done’ if these eco-socialist currents are to have a greater impact, Thornett draws attention to various matters that need to be urgently addressed, including the need to develop a strategy that forces capitalism to ‘make major change in the course of the long struggle for socialism’ (p. 100), whether carbon taxes can serve as a radical transitional reform, the Stalinist legacy vis-à-vis environmental degradation, and population growth, with the latter being a contested issue on the far left. 

While carbon taxes are in my view preferable to emissions trading schemes, thus far most countries that have implemented them, particularly the Scandinavian ones, have not established particularly high carbon prices that have resulted in significant reductions in emissions. In his analysis of population growth, which he defines as an ecofeminist concern, Thornett argues that the ‘stabilisation of the global human populations would create a better basis on which to tackle the ecological crisis’ (p. 161-162). 

Any effort to reduce population growth would have to address two issues: (1) improving the overall standard of living among the poorest people in the world, which would require creating an even playing field, and reducing the wealth of the affluent sectors of both developed and developing countries and (2) empowering women and girls by challenging patriarchy on all fronts, including in religious institutions. When considering Thornett’s emphasis on the need to address the Stalinist legacy of environmental degradation, it is clear that we must acknowledge that the Soviet bloc countries were forced to play catch-up with developed capitalist countries, particularly the United States, in the context of the Cold War. 

I personally witnessed this first hand during my stint as a Fulbright Lecturer in the German Democratic Republic, a country which relied on lignite coal for energy production due to short supply of alternative sources. Therefore, it is essential that those who take-on Thornett’s call to challenge Stalinist legacies take note of the much changed international context we face today.

In his concluding chapters of the book, Thornett provides an assessment of the environmental struggle in Britain. Notably he praises the progress the Labour Party has made under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, which has pledged support for the Paris Agreement, a new clean air act, banning fracking, renationalizing Britain’s energy system, and promoting a renewables industry with unionized labor. 

Hopefully, however, eco-socialists within the Labour Party can push it beyond a largely ecological modernization agenda that can be incorporated within a green capitalist framework. He appeals to the left, given the gravity of the ecological and climate crises, to ‘become far more engaged with the environmental struggle’ (p. 222). I could not agree more.

Eco-socialism for now and the future

Albritton’s book is worthwhile reading because it provides us with a detailed litany of the short-comings of the capitalist world system that warrant contemplating an eco-socialist alternative. He reports that the earliest usage of the term eco-socialism may harken back to a pamphlet titled Eco-Socialism in a Nutshell published in 1980 in Britain by the Socialist Environment and Resources Association. Albritton argues that ‘since the publication of this pamphlet, ‘eco-socialism’ has come to be seen by large numbers of people as the theoretical and action concept most appropriate for mobilizing against capitalism in the twenty-first century’ (p. 5).

One of Albritton’s key aims in his book is to promote ‘practical utopias’ to conceptualize changes that are seen as desirable but may also seem too global or too difficult to achieve without a very distant time frame (i.e. hopefully less than a century for the more difficult changes) (p. 23). Unfortunately, he fails to acknowledge an earlier book that is highly relevant in this regard: Envisioning Real Utopias (2010) by the late sociologist Erik Olin Wright, in which he defines ‘real utopias’ as visions that are achievable through much theorizing and social experimentation and provides numerous examples of real utopias.

Albritton observes that while capitalism is the source of numerous crises, he asserts that the ‘greatest crises that we now face are primarily ecological’, and that ‘for the most part, capitalism cannot deal with ecological crises in an effective way’ (p. 42). He calls for an ethics of caring for both humanity and the eco-system, noting that a good educational system can play a key role in promoting ethical behavior, including in terms of dealing with ‘democracy, social justice, equality, climate change, cooperation, generosity, citizenship, openness to diversity, or caring for the earth’s inhabitants and bio-systems’ (p. 49).

In contrast to communism, socialism as a transitional stage would still entail some differential material reward structure. Albritton suggests that possibly a ‘ratio of highest income to lowest of four to one might be justified, but such a ratio would need to be debated’ (p. 67). He recommends several gradual approaches for redistributing wealth, including raising taxes for the rich, shortening the work day, lowering the cost of basic necessities (or even making them free), extending education and training, and eliminating tax dodging, tax loopholes, and tax havens. 

Although Albritton’s catalogue of practical utopian reforms seem desirable, they have plainly been thought out with application to developed capitalist countries in mind.  In contrast, the book does not spell out how such measures might apply to developing countries or how to resolve the inequalities existing between developed and developing societies.

While Albritton recognizes that the problems that humanity faces must be addressed at many levels, ranging from local to global, he nevertheless acknowledges that overall ‘it is easier to start locally and build up’ (p. 121). Unfortunately, he does not touch in detail upon the role of anti-systemic movements and radical political parties in contributing to such a process. In my view, coordinating the efforts of a wide array of anti-systemic movements, and in a sense create a global meta-movement that seeks to achieve social justice and parity, democratic processes, environmental sustainability, and a safe climate, is vitally important. 

This is especially so when we can observe that even when radical political parties come to power, as we have seen in recent times under the guise of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia and Syriza in Greece, they face incredible opposition both internally, from local elites and even middle-class people, and externally from hegemonic powers, ranging from multi-national corporations to the United States to the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Beyond green capitalism

As a long-time eco-socialist who has worked on environmental issues for some time, including climate change since 2005, I find both Facing the Apocalypse and Eco-Socialism for Now and the Future to be engaging and readable books accessible to both academics and social activists. Thornett’s book provides us with valuable information on efforts to promote eco-socialism within the British Labour Party, something which has not happened to its rough counterpart in the United States, the Democratic Party, even on the part of Bernie Sanders. 

Sadly, in Australia the Australian Labor Party, which lost the recent federal election, is completely clueless of an eco-socialist agenda and the leadership of the Greens are resistant to it, even if some of its members are eco-socialists or ‘water melons’ (green on the outside, red on the inside). 

Albritton’s book makes some valuable suggestions for system-challenging transitional reforms that could pave the way to eco-socialism. I welcome both books to the growing literature on eco-socialism, a space to which both academics and activists continue to add, in a time when it becomes increasingly apparent that green capitalist and green social democratic proposals are insufficient to contain the ecological and climatic crises and address social justice issues. 

Humanity faces two overarching imperatives which are intricately interwoven, how do we live in harmony with each other and how do we live in harmony with our fragile eco-system. The more difficult task is how to go from the existing capitalist world system to an eco-socialist one.

Hans A Baer is based at the at the University of Melbourne. He has published on a diversity of research topics, including Mormonism, African-American religion, socio-political life in East Germany, critical health anthropology, and Australian climate politics. Baer’s most recent books include Global Warming and the Political Ecology of Health (with Merrill Singer, Left Coast Press, 2009), Global Capitalism and Climate Change (AltaMira, 2012), Climate Politics and the Climate Movement in Australia (with Verity Burgmann, Melbourne University Press, 2012),  The Anthropology of Climate Change (with Merrill Singer, Routledge, 2014; 2nd edition, 2018), Democratic Eco-Socialism as a Real Utopia (Berghahn Books, 2018).

Friday, 20 September 2019

Global Climate Strike - London - Photos and Report


On a beautiful sunny Autumn day in London, an estimated 100,000 people turned out at a rally for the Global Climate Strike, close to the Houses Parliament. The crowd was noisy, but good humoured, as they listened to speeches from politicians and activists, urging the British government to take urgent action on the climate emergency.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, was one of those who addressed the demonstrators. She began by noting that in May parliament had passed a motion declaring a climate emergency. “So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not making a difference,” she told the crowd. “You are making history.”

Calling it “the biggest social justice issue of our time”, Lucas said the government needed to make more urgent plans than the commitment of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

She said:

"The truth is that a climate target of net zero by 2050 is not climate leadership. When your house is on fire you don’t call 999 and ask for a fire engine in 30 years’ time. You want urgent action now."















As with other FridayForFuture events, there were many school students and young people on the demonstration, but were joined by trade unionists today.


   














There were protests all over the world today, stressing the same sentiment. This is our home, there is no planet B.

Great day out, and so inspiring to see that our climate emergency is concerning more and more people. The politicians need to wake up, and take actions to reduce human impact on the earth. 

Thursday, 19 September 2019

System Change needed to fight Climate Change


Written By Mike Cease and first published at Tucson Sentinel

Climate change is the most catastrophic environmental, social and economic crisis that the human species has ever faced. Impacts include rising average temperatures, vanishing polar ice, melting glaciers, stronger storms, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, worsening droughts, growing deserts, increasing wildfires, more disease, hunger, world-wide climate refugees and human misery.

While the ruling class mostly denies or ignores the issue, young people get it. 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed into New York last month and led hundreds of young people striking in front of the United Nations for climate action now. Thunberg was interviewed on Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!" program this week and she said, "We are striking to disrupt the system."

System change to fight climate change is what is needed now. I believe that too much of the discussion on climate change is framed as what we need to do to "prevent it" such as "by 2030" or "by 2050." This phraseology fails to acknowledge that we have already entered into the realm of a CCC (Climate Change Catastrophe).

In order for our response to the CCC to be effective, the solutions must be massive, far-reaching and systemic. The Green Party's vision for mobilization and transformation is known as the Green New Deal. The real GND will fundamentally change the decaying fossil fuel economy into a new, green economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically secure and socially just.

F.D.R.'s New Deal of the 1930s provides historical context of scale. The Green Party's GND also encompasses our vision for eco-socialism and reparations.

[W]e will build an economy based on large-scale green public works, municipalization, and workplace and community democracy. Some call this decentralized system 'ecological socialism,' 'communalism,' or the 'cooperative commonwealth,' but whatever the terminology, we believe it will help end labor exploitation, environmental exploitation, and racial, gender, and wealth inequality and bring about economic and social justice … Production is best for people and planet when democratically owned and operated by those who do the work.

We commit to full and complete reparations to the African American community of this nation for the past four hundred plus years of genocide, slavery, land-loss, destruction of original identity and the stark disparities which haunt the present evidenced in unemployment statistics, substandard and inadequate education, higher levels of mortality including infant and maternal mortality and the practice of mass incarceration. We recognize that reparations are a debt (not charity) ... We believe that the leadership on the question of what our nation owes to this process of right ought to come from the African American community, whose right to self-determination and autonomy to chart the path to healing we fully recognize.

According to Tony Davis of the Arizona Daily Star's and Andrew Howard of Cronkite News' April 29, 2019 article, Tucson is the third-fastest-warming city in the U.S. A National Climate Assessment report for the Southwest region details climate change impact to the region and to Southern Arizona in terms of water, wildfires, extreme heat and human health.

What does the Green New Deal look like for the city of Tucson?

One example is the city of Seattle in an article entitled "What would a city-level green new deal look like? Seattle's about to find out" by Kristoffer Tigue of Insideclimatenews.org, August 17, 2019. Tucson is also going to have a city-level Green New Deal. As mayor, I am going to bring System Change to fight Climate Change right here in our own community.

In addition to facing a climate crisis, Tucson also faces an economic crisis. We are one of the top-ten most economically distressed cities in the nation according to CityLab's Sarah Holder in an article entitled America's Most and Least Distressed Cities" on September 26, 2017.

As mayor, I will implement the real Green New Deal for Tucson in a large-scale mobilization to respond to the dual challenges posed by both the climate and the economy. This will include retrofitting hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses with energy conservation, solar and water harvesting with thousands of new living-wage jobs for our community. Furthermore, the city of Tucson's office of Procurement contracting codes will be restructured to include conservation and fair-wage employment criteria.

Tucson's new green economy will also bring long-needed economic and social justice transformations to end exploitation and wealth inequality. Studies have shown that the single most-import measure to improve the economic health and well-being of a community is to enact a living-wage minimum wage ordinance of $15 per hour. It's been done in Flagstaff and other cities and we will do it here on day one. What has been lacking is the political will and that will change.

The question is often posed, "how can we afford to pay for these programs?" I believe that we need to re-frame this question and ask, given both the climate imperative and the economic imperative, "How can we afford NOT to invest in our community?"

The city of Tucson currently has $86 million investment holdings in Wells Fargo Bank, a principle supporter of the socially and environmentally disastrous Dakota Access Pipeline project. We will divest and re-invest these funds into a new municipal community bank. Zero-interest loans will be made to homeowners and businesses based upon future-savings in energy and water bills as one funding mechanism for thousands of energy conservation, solar and water-harvesting retrofit projects to transform our community. 

An additional funding mechanism will be to completely transform economic development spending away from bringing out-of-state firms such as Caterpillar into a new local-first investment paradigm. The city of Tucson currently has a $1.6 billion operating budget. Some of these taxpayer resources must be prioritized to address both the climate crisis and the economic crisis facing our community.

Furthermore, I believe in protecting Tucson's air-quality and water resources. As mayor, I will use the full capacity of the mayor's office to stop the Rosemont mine. If this project goes forward it will have an immensely damaging impact on the quality of life in this community for decades to come. Water is Life!

Mike Cease is the Green Party nominee for mayor of Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Lib Dems and Electoral Pacts


The Liberal Democrats are making a lot of noise in the media about electoral pacts in the almost certainly upcoming General Election. They have been forced to deny a pact in Scotland with the Tories, which would seem to be aimed at taking some seats off the SNP, in some sort of anti-independence alliance, although no talks have been mentioned with Labour in Scotland.

The new leader of the party Jo Swinson, was also forced to deny rumours of standing aside in favour of former Tory MP Rory Stewart in Penrith and the Borders, Cumbria, because of differences about leaving the European Union (EU). Recent weeks have seen a small procession of former Tory MPs, expelled from their party for voting against the government’s leaving the EU with no deal, joining the Lib Dems. Two of these MPs, Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah, have distinctly illiberal, if not down right homophobic views, but why let principles get in the way of a good political news story?

The Lib Dems have though admitted that they are looking at a pro-Remain electoral alliance with parties, in England and Wales, who support staying in the EU, or at least want another referendum on the issue, with remain an option. Given the Labour party’s latest policy shift, towards holding a referendum on any leave deal they can negotiate with EU, with Remain the other option, the Lib Dems are not looking for any deal with Labour. Perhaps this is why they have moved to a revoke Article 50 policy, putting clear yellow water between the parties?

Swinson was on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Monday:

The Press Association reports, Swinson said that a pro-Remain agreement had worked well previously, including in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election last month where Jane Dodds was elected as a new MP for the party. She went on:

There was obviously success for that kind of arrangement in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Plaid Cymru and the Green party stood aside, stood shoulder to shoulder if you like, with the Liberal Democrats and Jane Dodds was elected to be a very unequivocal voice in parliament for remain. So, that happened already and it’s successful.

Asked whether the party would stand aside for Labour candidates, the Lib Dem leader said:

That’s a different question because Labour are not a remain party, Labour are trying to deliver a Labour Brexit. But where we agree with others on stopping Brexit, we are in those discussions.

The first thing to say about this, is that in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, the local Green party did not endorse the Lib Dem candidate. They did not field a candidate, but they didn’t in the 2017 General Election either, judging it was not worthwhile, given the associated required spending. This has not stopped the Lib Dems propagating this untruth though, ever since the Greens decided not to stand.

Plaid Cymru did say that they had stood down in favour of a pro-Remain candidate, but they only polled about 3% in the constituency in 2017, so probably didn’t make much difference to the outcome, albeit in a narrow triumph for the Lib Dems, on a low turn out. It is possible that such arrangements will happen in some constituencies at the next General Election, but I wouldn’t expect it to be on a large scale.

It comes as no surprise that the Lib Dems will not contemplate any arrangements with the Labour party. Firstly, Labour don’t do pre-election deals with any other party anyway, and given the Lib Dem’s record on propping up David Cameron’s Tory coalition government, the Lib Dems would be the last party (apart from the Tories) they would break with their usual stance on alliances.

But it also appears to be part of the Lib Dems wider electoral strategy. Something like five million Tory voters voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, and it is these pro-Remain Tories that the Lib Dems are hoping to court. These voters are unlikely to support a party that they see in some kind of electoral alliance with the Labour party, so it fits with their strategy to attack Labour, not do deals with them.

It is also evident in the blind eye approach to defecting Tory MPs, who hold questionable views on gay people, as each Tory MP (or ex- Tory MP) provides a media story of Remain supporting Tories going over to the Lib Dems. The defecting ex Labour MPs, are seen as New Labour types who were at odds with Corbyn’s Labour, so can safely be pouched in the hope that some Labour voters who liked Tony Blair, may be persuaded to shift to the Lib Dems. This is only a minor part of the Lib Dems electoral strategy though, it is Tory Remain voters that they are really after.

Labour may decide not to try too hard in constituencies they have no hope of winning, to concentrate resources where they can win. This may help the Lib Dems, but is a side issue for Labour.

At the end of the day, electing Lib Dems, is just electing another type of Tory. The Lib Dems appear to want to resurrect a David Cameron style Tory party, and although marginally better than the head bangers running the Tory party now, it would still be Tory.

Where does all of this leave the Green party? Well, I would suggest that local parties be very careful about helping the Lib Dems, for the reasons above, and the possibility of being tarred with the same brush. 

As for helping Labour, by standing aside in some places, this should be a local decision, and taken on a case by case basis. Labour's new stance of a referendum on their deal or Remain, seems to be reasonable to me. But we should remember too, that not all Green voters will vote Labour in any case.  

Friday, 13 September 2019

Marx’s lessons for today’s climate rebels


Written by Peter Boyle and first published at Green Left Weekly

Imagine you came across a 150-year-old message in a bottle that predicted the world would face a catastrophic crisis as a result of profit-driven capitalism.

Imagine that prediction also explained why capitalism — sustained for generations through the exploitation of nature and human labour — would push aside all moral, rational and scientific objections in the blind pursuit of profit.

And imagine that prediction said it would come to a point where the majority of people would have to choose between capitalism or a new democratic, rational and socially just system capable of maintaining a sustainable relationship with Earth.

Such a message would have summed up humanity’s predicament today — and it is precisely what 19th century socialist rebel Karl Marx wrote.

Marx not only named the enemy — capitalism — but explained why this system is the cause of the existential crisis facing humanity and the planet.

“Capitalist production,” Marx explained, “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.”

According to Marx’s analysis of capitalism, there is a double contradiction at the heart of the capitalist system’s transformation of everything into a commodity.

Under capitalism, everything is a commodity for sale. The exchange value of a commodity is worked out on the basis of the average amount of human labour required to create or extract the commodity.

The first contradiction is that workers who create or extract the commodity are only paid the average cost of reproducing their labour power. All value above that is appropriated by the capitalists as profit.

The second contradiction is that nature is viewed as something that has no value; something that can be robbed indefinitely and for free.

Capitalism’s progress, as such, is a process “not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil”.

Metabolic rift

Marx saw humanity as being, like all other living species, in a metabolic relationship with nature. However, capitalism systematically disrupts this system, causing ever greater and multiplying metabolic rifts.

In Capital Volume 1, Marx wrote: “Capitalist production disturbs the metabolic interaction between humans and the Earth, that is, it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by humans in the form of food and clothing.”

Climate and Capitalism editor Ian Angus, one of several ecosocialists who have pointed out the invaluable insights that Marx offers to those confronting the climate emergency today, explained: “The only way life has continued on the planet for 3 billion years is by constantly recycling and re-using resources.”

But metabolic rifts have disrupted this recycling and “a million species are about to go extinct if we don't change our way of interacting with nature, because rifts in nature's metabolisms are expanding too fast for many species to adapt.”

“For millions of years, natural processes kept the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stable but in the past century or so, especially in the last 20 or 30 years, more carbon dioxide has been put into the atmosphere than all the natural processes can take out.”

Ecologist Barry Commoner, who wrote The Closing Circle, was strongly influenced by the ideas of Marx. He argued: “The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else.

“To survive we must close the circle. We must learn to restore to nature the wealth we borrow from it.”

Commoner’s conclusion, one shared by millions of today’s climate emergency rebels, was that: “Our options have become reduced to two: either the rational and social organisation and distribution of the Earth's resources, or a new barbarism.”

Imperialism

Marx did much more than name capitalism as the enemy. He carried out a forensic study of how capitalism operated in his time and worked out the dynamics of the system.

He found that the fierce competition between various capitalists for profits would cause regular crises in which the weakest capitalists would either go to the wall or be swallowed up by the most profitable.

Competition would give way to monopoly and, in the process, millions of workers would be thrown onto the army of the unemployed, entire communities and ecosystems would be destroyed, nations enslaved and the world torn asunder by war.

The cleaving of the world into imperialist robber nations and economically enslaved and impoverished colonies and semi-colonies flowed from this dynamic and shapes the global climate emergency today.

As US Marxist John Bellamy Foster explained in “Imperialism and the Anthropocene” in The Monthly Review: “There can be no ecological revolution in the face of the current existential crisis unless it is an anti-imperialist one, drawing its power from the great mass of suffering humanity.

“The global ecological movement must thus be a movement for the unification of the oppressed, emanating from innumerable Extinction Rebellions, and leading to the first true International of the world’s workers and peoples.

“The poor shall inherit the Earth or there will be no Earth left to inherit.”

Zombie-like drive for profit

The “robbery of nature” was taken as “free” by the capitalists from the start and “surplus labour” is appropriated from the workers as the capitalist’s “right”. The profit gained is then reproduced as capital to begin another cycle of robbery of Earth and labour.

By definition, the search for the highest profit is at the heart of all economic activity by capitalists because, by its own dynamic, capital either gets a higher profit return or is destroyed or swallowed up by more profitable capitalists.

This drives capitalism towards chronic crises of overproduction. Commodities are produced that people cannot afford and often do not need.

To “fix” this problem, out-of-control advertising and financial industries grow. Not content with making the 99% wage slaves, capitalism also turns us into debt slaves.

Marx’s study of history convinced him that the periodic crises that capitalism produced could be compared to a “sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.

Capitalism’s crazy profit drive is beyond the rationality of individuals. Capital demands the highest return and the corporate CEOs who are prepared to kill, destroy or do whatever it takes to get that return will exist as long as this system continues.

Gravediggers

However, Marx also predicted that capitalism would “create its own gravediggers” by relentlessly driving an ever greater section of the population into the ranks of those who have only their labour to sell to survive — the modern working class, or “the 99%” as the Occupy generation of rebels described it eight years ago.

Under capitalism:

Labour is increasingly socialised, but its product is privatised and concentrated in the hands of fewer people.

The working class not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated and its strength grows.

Sections of the middle class, and even some capitalists, are forced to become workers.

The various interests and conditions of life within the working class are more and more equalised as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level.

The competition of worker against worker is reduced in the process of uniting in struggle against the capitalists.

Consciousness shift

Marx predicted a profound and qualitative shift in consciousness of the 99% as constant upheaval and capitalism’s war against people and nature force it into greater and more profound struggles.

Rebels and revolutionaries have long realised that working together in struggle is the best teacher.

This was certainly the message driven home by Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. He argued that revolutionaries should draw to the fore and share as widely as possible the broadest lessons of the struggles against capitalism and burst out of the narrow focus of trade union struggle for better wages and conditions.

In his famous book What Is To Be Done?, Lenin argued: “Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse.”

The shift in consciousness could only happen if the oppressed learned “from concrete, and above all from topical, political facts and events” the behaviour of the different classes and apply in practice this understanding in a struggle against “all oppressions”.

The “struggle against all oppressions” today is unavoidably focused around the climate emergency because of the existential threat it poses.

We can see this played out in the challenge that the September 20 Global Climate Strike has posed to trade union leaders. They are forced to confront the false dichotomy promoted by the capitalist class (which is hooked on fossil fuels) between jobs and facing up to climate change.

Socialism

Today’s rebels and revolutionaries argue that trade unions must concern themselves not just with creating and saving jobs, but also with what sort of jobs society and the environment need.

Leaving this to the market is out of the question. The market (that is, the powerful vested interests of coal, gas and associated financial partners) got us into this mess. We cannot count on the market to get us out of it.

We cannot even allow the shift to renewables to be “left to the market”. We do not have the luxury of time to try this course and, moreover, the market will never produce good jobs. Significant sections of the renewables industry share with other capitalists the nasty tendency to resort to exploitative and dangerous labour practices.

For these reasons, and more, the economy must be taken out of the hands of the capitalists and democratised if it is to be re-synched with nature.

In its place we need a different system in which, as Marx argued, “the associated producers govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control … accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”

Call it "socialism" or something else — but that is the future we need.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Getting lost on the road to Communist Utopia


Written by Gabriel Levy and first published at People and Nature

A response to Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto by Aaron Bastani (Verso Books, 2019)

Communist utopias are the stuff of life. They have given hope, widened horizons and fired imaginations, from Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done (1863) and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) through to Woman On the Edge of Time (1985) by Marge Piercy.

So when my copy of Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto arrived, I had high hopes. They were not all realised.

There were things in Bastani’s book I really liked: his optimism, and his conviction that any communist society – that is, any society free of exploitation and hierarchy – will be based on material abundance. But his ideas about how this might be achieved were unconvincing.

Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC), he writes in the concluding chapter, is

a map by which we escape the labyrinth of scarcity and a society built on jobs; the platform from which we can begin to answer the most difficult question of all, of what it means, as [the economist John Maynard] Keynes once put it, to live ‘wisely and agreeably and well’ (p. 243).

Bastani writes that FALC, unlike the world of actually existing neoliberalism,

will not demand constant sacrifices on the altar of profit and growth. Whether it’s ‘paying down the debt for future generations’, as our politicians are so keen to repeat, or growth and rising wages always coming ‘next year’ it’s becoming ever clearer that the good times aren’t coming back. What remains absent, however, is a language able to articulate that which is both accessible and emotionally resonant.

Bastani aspires to provide that language – by identifying political principles for a movement beyond capitalism; by returning abundance to a central place in socialist thought; and by pointing to technological change as the basis for social change. I will comment on these three aspects of the book in turn.

Politics and transitions

To put society on the road to a communist future, “a populist politics is necessary”, Bastani writes (p. 187). A politics that

blends culture and government with ideas of personal and social renewal. One that, to borrow a term, invents the future.[1] Anything less will fall short.

This politics includes elements widely shared by the left wing of social democracy (i.e. “Corbynism” in the UK): a break with neoliberalism; “relocalisation of economies through progressive procurement and municipal protectionism”; “socialising finance and creating a network of local and regional [state] banks”; and “a set of universal basic services which take much of the national economy into public ownership” (p. 208).

On an international level, Bastani suggests a tax of $25/tonne on carbon emissions from high-GDP countries, to channel resources from rich countries responsible for climate change to poorer ones (p. 222).

Where Bastani completely loses me is with his vague suggestions about how we might move from these social-democratic reforms of the capitalist state towards communism, and about who might be the motive forces of such a movement.

“The return of ‘the people’ as the main political actor is inevitable”, he writes (p. 191) – but sees this less as the active participation of people in changing society as an appeal (by who? politicians? activists?) to the people.

“Many” understand that the problems are large and unprecedented, and that the solutions must be, too, Bastani writes. So, given the possibilities afforded by technological change, “promise them what they deserve – promise everything” (p. 192). But who is making these promises?

Not a party based on the model of the 1917 Russian revolution, he argues. I don’t want one of those either, but the alternative Bastani offers – a focus on electoral politics – is equally unattractive. He writes:

The majority of people are only able to be politically active for brief periods of time. To an extent this is regrettable, the outgrowth of a culture that intentionally cultivates apathy and constrains a wider sense of popular power. […] The problem is not, therefore, that most people do not care about politics but rather they can not afford to care [in the face of work commitments, family, and so on]. […] it is often only around elections when large sections of society – particularly the most exploited – are open to new possibilities regarding how society works […]

This seems to me a dismal, conservative perspective, based on a misunderstanding of how social change happens. The most significant political shifts of recent decades – the fall of the Stalinist regimes in the former Soviet bloc in 1989-91, the “Arab spring” of 2011, the Greek revolt against austerity policy imposed by the EU – have all been initiated and carried through by mass movements on the streets and in communities. The defeats and setbacks, most obviously in Egypt and Syria after the revolts, do not alter that reality.

In the rich countries too, many of the greatest changes in our lifetimes have been brought about by movements in society – trade union movements, the women’s movement, struggles around environmental protection – that originated outside parliament and only found reflection there subsequently. In all these cases, people engaged in social movements outside parliament with little regard for electoral process.

I cannot imagine an earth-shaking social transformation – the movement towards communism – that does not have at its centre the active participation of millions of people. This was a core belief of 19th century communists, and it is one we should retain.

In the 1840s, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about the working class doing away with labour and doing away with the whole idea of classes and nationalities; for the “production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness”, “a practical movement, a revolution” is necessary; to achieve it, not only would the ruling class have to be overthrown, but the class doing the overthrowing would have to “rid itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew”.[2]

I agree with Bastani that a “revolution” taking us towards communism can not and will not be a re-run of Russia in 1917. It can only be something completely different. But I can not envisage it without the active participation of millions of people. It’s not about politicians “promising them what they deserve”. They must become the historical subject of a process in which politics as a way of doing things would be superceded. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, “when […] class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character.”

Obviously, there is a long, complex discussion to be had about this. I thought Bastani could have paid more attention to the piles of books by communist writers who have considered this transition to communism.

Even the utopian fiction writers imagined not only communist futures, but also the paths by which people might get there. Think of the characters in The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, who recall the bitter struggle to establish an anarchist commune on one of the planets depicted. When it comes to prefiguring the social character of this transition, Bastani’s book is pretty light.

Scarcity and abundance

The future will be shaped by the rapid development of computers, robots and other forms of automation, Bastani writes, which mean that there will be “extreme supply” of both information and labour (p. 37); this abundance will form the basis for FALC.

Capitalism, Bastani argues, operates with “a central presumption” that “scarcity will always exist” (p. 137). Twentieth-century “socialism”, in the Soviet Union for example, was also based on scarcity. Now a “tendency to extreme supply” in energy, labour and resources undermines this presumption. In the present technological revolution, which Bastani defines as the “third disruption”,[3] “the ‘fact’ of scarcity is moving from inevitable certainty to political imposition” (p. 243); now, the market imposes “artificial scarcity” (pages 154-156).

We are moving into a post-scarcity age, Bastani believes; information wants to be free; labour wants to be free; these driving forces will not only overcome what he calls the “five crises” of our times – climate change, resource scarcity, aging population, a “surplus of the global poor” and the “new machine age which will herald ever-greater technological unemployment” – but also bring the possibility of FALC (pages 22-23).

Here, again, Bastani loses me. I do not believe we live at a historical turning point between past scarcity and future abundance. And I do not believe the dividing-line between scarcity and abundance is as clear-cut as he thinks it is.

Firstly, it all depends on what you mean by scarcity. Radical scholars long ago took a hammer to this concept. Nicholas Xenos showed how the emerging capitalist class in 18th century Europe “invented scarcity”, at the same time as they accumulated unprecedented wealth. Lyla Mehta and other researchers long ago dissected the way that politicians, development agencies and international financial institutions use the idea of “scarcity” to justify the imposition of hardship and misery across the global south.[4]

So when Bastani writes that capitalism has always been characterised by scarcity, I can not agree. Capitalism has manufactured “scarcity” throughout its history. The Irish potato famine of the 1840s started as a potato harvest failure that was real enough, but was turned into a catastrophe by social structures and trade policies. Mike Davis’s powerful, and frightful, book Late Victorian Holocausts shows how this cruelty was reproduced across the world in the late 19th century.

Both real scarcity and manufactured “scarcity” are to a large degree socially constructed; they are not caused by the lack of the right technology. There were no natural or technological barriers to feeding the world’s population in the twentieth century, but it was not fed. As the Indian economist Amartya Sen showed over a life’s work, famines were caused not by shortages of food, but by the food being in the wrong place, controlled by the wrong people, and having its supply disrupted by wars.

Nor is it so obvious that the 21st century will be a time of “post-scarcity”. The expansion of the capitalist economy in its late-20th-century form produced a new set of tensions between humanity and nature, often referred to as “planetary boundaries”, that could also be called “scarcities”. What is the global warming effect, the main cause of climate change, if not a “scarcity” of atmosphere into which the economy can pour endless quantities of carbon dioxide and methane? What is the global “fresh water crisis” if not a shortage of water resources caused in the first place by the unplanned plunder inherent in capitalist industry and urban infrastructure? But these “scarcities”, too, are essentially produced by the social and economic structures in which we live: they are not the natural or inevitable outcome of human population.

The technological transformations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the invention of electricity, motorised transport and agricultural fertilisers, did not – given a world economy and social structure dominated by capitalism – prevent famine or other so-called “scarcities”. Indeed the most cutting-edge technology was used to visit disaster on society in the form of war. And there is plenty of evidence that the technological transformations of our times will – again, given capitalist domination – be turned against humanity by aggravating the climate crisis.

Technology and society

Technological innovation, rather than social change, is the central driving-force towards communism, in Bastani’s view. Under capitalism, a “tendency to perpetually innovate as a result of competition, to constantly supplant work performed by humans and maximise productivity” has produced the “third disruption” (p. 37); this has tended to make information the basis of value under modern capitalism; technologies “now paradoxically tend towards destroying the scarcity of information, and therefore its value” (p. 49); the law of “extreme supply” is in full swing; this is the basis for “a world beyond jobs, profit and even scarcity” (p. 49).

(Bastani incorrectly attributes the view that “technological innovation is an inherent feature of capitalism” to Karl Marx. Actually, Marx’s view was far more complex: he saw in 19th century capitalism not only a tendency to push technologies forward, but also the way in which, in capital’s hands, they towered over humanity, feeding into the tyranny of dead labour over living labour. I wrote about this here and here.)

Having set out his claim that capitalist competition inevitably pushes technology forward, Bastani gives us chapter after chapter on the progressive potential of automation; of “post-scarcity in energy” thanks to renewables; of asteroid mining; of gene editing to transform health care; and for synthetic food to replace meat consumption.

Only after this relentless hymn to technology’s virtues, in the very last chapter, does Bastani comment that “how technology is created and used, and to whose advantage, depends on the political, ethical and social context from which it emerges” (p. 237). And, without considering a single example of the corrosive, poisonous impact of 21st century capitalism on the technologies emerging within it, cites only examples to show that technologies have “developed alongside news ideas of nature, selfhood and forms of production”, e.g. synthetic meat came alongside environmentalism and renewable energy alongside concern about climate change (pages 238-239).

Once again, Bastani has lost me.

Firstly, the idea that the relationship between capitalism and technology can be summed up as a “tendency to perpetually innovate as a result of competition” is a gross over-simplification. As historians of technology have shown time and time again, innovation is shaped – pushed forward but also constrained – not only by competition between capitalists, but by all the other forces at work in capitalist society.

How many examples do you need? In medicine, the corralling of cheap and generic treatments by multinational corporations, to make them a means for looting state budgets rather than for healing the sick, has long been an international scandal. In agriculture, the privileging of monocultures fed by fossil-fuel-produced fertilisers has for decades been weaponised against technologies that support small farmers in the global south. In the field of energy, some crucial innovations in electricity generation from wind and solar came in the early 20th century, others in the 1980s; in first-world electricity markets dominated by big corporations, these technologies (together with heat and electricity co-generation techniques) were starved of funds and stopped from diffusing, to protect the domination of fossil fuels and the hopelessly expensive (and ultimately not so successful) expansion of nuclear power.

I could go on. In Bastani’s book, closer attention to such examples might have helped. But that would have spoiled the picture he paints, of technology as a fundamentally progressive force, nurtured by the capitalist market and requiring only “appropriate politics” to free itself from that market. Here are three examples of technologies where this approach leads him to absurd conclusions.

Information technology, robotics and automation, Bastani argues, will produce “technological unemployment”; if only neo-liberalism can be superceded by a welfare state providing universal basic services, FALC beckons. It seems not to have occurred to him that one of the first obstacles to be overcome in a movement to supercede capitalism is the use of information technology by multinational corporations and governments, to reinforce repressive social control on one hand and the individualising logic of consumer society on the other. (I recommend Shoshana Zuboff’s frightening and detailed discussion of these processes in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, or James Bridle’s journalistic descriptions in The New Dark Age.)

For Bastani, capitalism drives technology forward by the law of competition; if this can only be suppressed, the technology will drive forward social change. So he takes no account of the fact that social structure shapes technology and changes the way that it develops. The transformation of the internet from the global collective its pioneers dreamed of, to a tool for state and corporate power, is a lesson.

With regard to energy, Bastani focuses on the sharply falling costs of solar electricity generation, which, he says, will make possible a transition away from fossil fuels. The internet of things and electric cars mean that “in just a few years” saving energy “will be entirely automated” (p. 111). Most electricity will be produced by renewables – indeed “this is already starting to happen”, he claims, noting that in 2016 in the UK wind farms generated more electricity than coal for the first time (p. 112).

This very poor passage reads like a National Grid corporate brochure. For producing electricity in the UK, it’s true that wind is used more than coal – but it’s also true that gas, a fossil fuel, is used far, far more than both. What’s more, only about a quarter of all the fuels used go to producing electricity; the rest are for transport, for industrial processes, for heating, and so on. These are the harder bits to decarbonise, and almost no progress has been made. As for electric cars storing energy: that will not reduce carbon emissions by much as long as the steel for the cars is produced with coal (and that’s a really tricky technology to change) and the electricity is produced with gas.

It is entirely possible to move away from fossil fuels. But it will mean changing whole technological systems, remaking urban infrastructure, confounding consumerist culture, rethinking the way we live – and, above all, challenging the power of oil companies, electricity companies, car manufacturers and all the rest who dominate the current system.

For Bastani, technological change inevitably provides an impetus to social change. I think he’s looking at it the wrong way round. In my view, only radical social change will make possible the technological transformations needed to move away from fossil fuels.

Asteroid mining is another of Bastani’s enthusiasms. Competition between technology companies will drive down the costs of space travel, he claims, and free humanity from shortages of the rare metals needed for computer technologies. He doesn’t comment on the dangers that an industry controlled completely by a handful of companies working closely with the military will move in nefarious, even destructive, directions. Post-capitalism will be forever released from “conditions of abiding scarcity”, he writes; “the limits of the earth won’t matter any more – because we’ll mine the sky instead” (p. 119).

This gave me that corporate brochure feeling again. There are any number of capitalist adventurers out there on line, promising investors a new gold rush. But journalists and academics who cover this stuff make clear that, if asteroid mining has any significance in the next few decades – and it might not do – it will be for providing tiny quantities of material from near-earth asteroids for use in space, e.g. on long-range missions, space stations, and so on. (See a quick, sceptical overview here or a detailed, more optimistic academic paper here.)

Shipping substantial quantities of metals back to earth is just not on the horizon of even the most imaginitive researchers, given the laws of gravity, economics, and so on.

But there’s no telling Bastani. He writes that the asteroid 16 Psyche, between Mars and Jupiter is “the most instructive example”, which shows that “mining space would create such outlandish supply as to collapse prices on Earth” (p. 134). And to underline this point, he cites a figure of $10,000 quadrillion for the value of iron on 16 Psyche. It’s a shame he didn’t also cite Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the space researcher who came up with that number, who said: “I calculated it for fun. […] But of course it’s an irrelevant number because (a) if you brought it to Earth it wouldn’t be worth that any more and (b) there’s no way to bring it to Earth. It’s a complete fantasy.”

I have no clue whether someone will be mining asteroids in a hundred years’ time. But I do know that, in that time frame, humanity will damn well have to have tackled climate change, or it will have more things to worry about than ferrying rare metals around in space. Asteroid mining will not solve the problem of mineral resources to supply the renewable energy industry. The time scales are all wrong. Other solutions will have to be found.

This is one more example of the reality that Bastani avoids: that 21st century technologies, and the ways they are used, are shaped by the relations of power and wealth that dominate society. Without social change, these technologies will be mobilised, now and maybe in future, for the interests of power and wealth against humanity.

Bastani’s one-sided view of technology, as a force that inevitably drives towards a communist future, is far less than the forces fighting for radical social change deserve. We can do better. 

[1] Inventing the Future: postcapitalism and a world without work is the title of a book, by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, that Bastani cites. You can read my response to the book, prepared prior to a debate with Nick Srnicek, here
[2] This is a key passage of The German Ideology (1846), a book in which Marx and Engels worked out many of their communist ideas in detail for the first time
[3] According to Bastani, the first disruption was the start of agriculture in the Neolithic era, the second was the 18th century industrial revolution, and the third is the current technological revolution.
[4] See Nicholas Xenos, Scarcity and Modernity (Routledge, 1989), and Lyla Mehta (ed.), The Limits to Scarcity (Earthscan, 2010)