Saturday, 24 October 2020

Ecosocialism and the Potential for Cultural Change


Ecosocialism is a wide ranging philosophy covering how we interact with our planet and how we interact with each other. The basic premise is that the capitalist system is inherently ruinous to the well-being of our planet’s ecology and all those who live on it, both human and non-human. If we are to solve the ecological crisis then ecosocialism demands an end to the capitalist system. In conventional terms, this is unthinkable, so how can ecosocialists make this proposition be an accepted reality amongst the majority of people around the world? I suggest that it means making a profound shift in cultural values, to bring about this change of thinking. 

The prevailing approach to combating climate change and other ecological problems is to generate more energy from renewable sources and rely on often unproven technological solutions, which have proved to be woefully unsuccessful. The global land and ocean surface temperature of the earth for March 2020 was 1.16°C above the 20th century average and the second highest in the 141-year history of record keeping. 

So, with time running out to reverse global warming and stabilise the situation why has the response been so feeble? 

The answer lies in in our economic system, capitalism, with its inherent need to grow, but also in the culture that this economic system has created. The levels of growth since the industrial revolution would not have been possible without the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy, and without this growth the system would have collapsed. Sustaining this growth will require even more energy in the future than we are using today and, I think, renewable sourced energy will never be enough. This is what the ruling class seems to think, too, which is why such inadequate remedies are suggested, such as Carbon Capture and Storage.

The culture that capitalism has created, with ever increasing levels of consumption and the belief that the system will always find a technological solution to any problems that the system throws up, is extremely strong and attempts to think outside of its parameters are rejected as unrealistic pipe dreams. 

This is what Antonio Gramsci, the twentieth century Italian socialist termed Cultural Hegemony, by which capitalist nation states and their ruling class use cultural norms and institutions as a means to hold onto power. Culture in this sense is a belief system of social mores which can be manipulated by the rulers to make the status quo seem to be the cultural norm or natural 


Gramsci supported the call for a Cultural Association in Turin, which was a city where he thought the proletariat was mature enough for it to succeed. Writing in Socialism and Culture he describes culture this way: 

‘It is the organisation, the disciplining of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality; the attainment of a higher awareness, through which we can come to understand our value and place within history, our proper function in life, our rights and duties. But all this cannot happen through spontaneous evolution…’ 

Gramsci believed that cultural norms had to be changed first, before a successful revolution could be launched. He noted that the French Revolution would not have happened in all likelihood if The Enlightenment period had not already taken place.

He argued that there were essentially two stages to bringing about the revolution. He called these stages the war of position and the war of manoeuvre, where the war of position, the first part, is a struggle for intellectual and cultural change. A change to a new culture in favour of the masses, one which will rival the prevailing establishment culture. Then the war of manoeuvre, the struggle for the control of the state, will begin and be supported by most of the people. 

I’ve not come across much direct mention of culture from ecosocialist writers. Joel Kovel in The Enemy of Nature writes of capital’s ‘force field’ which is another way I think of describing hegemony, in similar terms to Gramsci’s writings, but there are a couple of ecosocialist’s who have addressed the cultural problem head on and are worthy of mention. 

David Bollier writing for the Next Project, an ecosocialist initiative in the US, suggests that by restoring commons practices, we can change the prevailing culture. The Next Project site introduction to his piece says: 

‘In the commons-based society that Bollier envisions, economics, governance, politics, and culture are blended, and based on de-commodification, mutualisation, and the organization and control of resources outside of the market.’ 

Bollier quotes Karl Polanyi, the political economists and originator of substantivism, a socialist and cultural approach to economics. In The Great Transformation Polanyi explains that market culture in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries gradually supplanted ‘kinship, custom, religion, morality, and community to become the primary ordering principle of society.' 

Polanyi observed that the change from the pre-modern society to a market society in the nineteenth century was made possible by first changing the economic mentalities of the people at large. The transformation could then be made to the economic orthodoxies that are the norm today. This was the job of the modern state, to push through the cultural change that made markets the principle determinant of people’s lives.  

Commons cooperation, or maybe sharing, in today’s social media language leads to ‘commoning’ which has the potential to: 

‘regenerate people’s social connections with each other and with “nature.” It helps build new aspirations and identities. By giving people significant new opportunities for personal agency that go well beyond the roles of consumer, citizen, and voter, the commons introduces people to new social roles that embody wholesome cultural values and entail both responsibility and entitlement. In a time when market culture is ubiquitous and invasive, commoning cultivates new cultural spaces and nourishes inner, subjective experiences that have far more to do with the human condition and social change than the manipulative branding and disempowering spectacles of market culture.’   

Bollier goes onto suggest that cooperative movements that connect together can create new social spaces and the digital commons has the potential for advancing a new kind of culture. Free software, peer to peer cooperation, Wikipedia and writer’s commons licences are examples of this cultural model. I would say in more extremis, the hackers Anonymous as well things like Wikileaks. 

He concludes his piece this way: 

'The Anonymous Invisible Committee in France has observed that “an insurrection is not like a plague or forest fire—a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It takes the shape of music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythms of their own vibrations.” That describes the unfolding odyssey of the commons movement, whose rhythms are producing a lot of resonance.' 

Saral Sarkar in his book Eco-socialism or Eco-capitalism, says that we need to invent a new culture, as all other existing or previously existing cultures have proved incapable of dealing with the ecological crisis, and are indeed the cause of the crisis This new culture will need to encompass ecology, equality, peace and the rights of other species to life (and space). Sarkar thinks that this new culture is a prerequisite to the forming of an ecosocialist culture and economy and an ecosocialist government. He notes that the ideals of The Enlightenment and the French Revolution failed to achieve true equality because it sought only equality before the law and so crucially, cultural norms were not changed to embed equality in society at large. 


Sarkar believes that for such a cultural shift to happen, it needs to begin with a change in values. He thinks this is why the radical ecological position of the 1970s, which sought to move away from materialistic culture, was so short lived and in the 1980s took on board industrial prosperity as a way to achieve its programme of ecological and social reconstruction of society. It followed the prevailing culture of accumulation. 

Sarkar describes the new culture, not in terms of art, literature, music, science and philosophy but in terms of values: 

‘…questions such as whether a society has abolished exploitation and oppression, whether it is exploiting other peoples, whether its members are free from hunger, whether the burdens of heavy and unpleasant work are distributed equally, whether patriarchy has vanished, whether the economic and socio-political organisation is such that no hierarchy is necessary for its proper functioning, and above all, whether it is living in harmony with nature.' 

In my lifetime, I have seen many cultural changes in the UK, and further afield. In the UK, things like, capital punishment has been abolished, homosexuality legalised and same sex marriages legalised, equal pay for women (in theory if not quite all practice) and gender and racial discrimination outlawed, although without removing it all together. 

The two biggest global political cultural shifts that I have seen are the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR and its satellites, and the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa. It was pretty much unimaginable that these changes would take place, even a short time before they did. But what all of these cultural changes have in common, is that they were driven by the establishment, in some cases in combination with a cultural change from the general populace, but this was widely accepted by the ruling classes. 

Earlier in the twentieth century, shifts such as the Suffragettes' campaign, managed to succeed in gaining enfranchisement for women, and the formation of the National Health Service and welfare state in the UK after the second world war, were driven from below. Great achievements as these things are, they do not fundamentally change the economic system, and so can be absorbed into the prevailing order, without too much disruption. 

The kind of cultural shifts required to bring about ecosocialism, are highly unlikely to be accepted by the powers that be, because all of the above examples of cultural change, didn’t get in the way of the ruling classes making money. Some capitalists could even see opportunities for making money out of the changes, where before none existed.

Carbon Trading, for example, is a market and uses the logic of the market, to try and solve a problem which has effectively been caused by the market. Where this has been tried, in the European Union (EU) for example, it has not resulted in a reduction of carbon being emitted, but it has made money for emitters of carbon and the traders, so it is perfectly acceptable to the establishment view. 

In recent years politics in the US and UK particularly, but many other countries too, have been deliberately shifted into what have been termed ‘culture wars’ with the UK’s referendum on EU membership and Brexit, and the election of President Trump in the US. These movements, from the political right, have sought to exploit patriotism and nationalism, with an emphasis on xenophobia and racism. The political left has it found hard to combat this cultural shift, and indeed shares some of the blame with the liberal left being identified with the neo-liberal economics of globalisation. 

In my view, ecology, realised through ecosocialism, holds the key to changing cultural norms. Ecosocialism will be international or nothing, of course, but in a reverse of globalised economics, and towards a rational, within ecological limits, system of political economy. International movements like Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the school students climate strikes which have emerged in the last couple of years, offer encouragement of a cultural shift away from the neo-liberal status quo. But sadly seem to fail to grasp that the politicians can’t be convinced to make the necessary changes. 


The Suffragettes, who XR likens itself to, the mainstream of the movement anyway, did not aim to overthrow the forces of capitalist order, as noted above, which is necessary to solve the ecological crisis. The ‘Votes for Women’ aim wasn’t going to stop the capitalists from making money, and so was not so unthinkable. The role of the capitalist state is to protect the established order, and the politicians are often in the pay of the very corporations that have caused the ecological crisis, and so cannot be relied upon to take the necessary action. It will cost them money! 

In the same way XR’s demands of ‘calling a climate emergency’ and ‘setting up people’s assemblies’ on climate change will not in themselves bring about the changes needed, but can they play a part in moving to Gramsci’s first stage of Cultural Hegemony? Raising debate in these assemblies can make the logical connections between our economic system and what it does, in destroying the planet and exploiting the mass of the people on it. 

Similarly, advocates of a Green New Deal, and there are many varieties of this idea, some more radical than others, but can this at least help to move cultural norms in the direction of an ecologically rational system? It is certainly the basis for a ‘just transition’ from the old world to the new, and could carry people with it, who quite rightly are concerned about jobs and having enough money to live on. These things can be stepping stones to ecosocialism, because they have the potential to shift cultural thinking. 

But we have another cultural problem, whether ecosocialists like it not, socialism, is associated in many people’s minds with the authoritarian regimes of the USSR and China, and their satellite states. A self inflicted wound on socialism, which has become another cultural barrier to be overcome, but we might as well acknowledge it first, and demonstrate in whatever ways we can, that this was not real socialism, and is undesirable for any future socialism. 

Younger people are often the drivers of cultural change, or at least more receptive to it. Climate change will affect them more seriously than older people, and we have seen this in the impressive numbers supporting the school climate strikes. It appears that they may be more receptive to socialist ideas too, who will not have known the socialisms of the twentieth century. It appears that the younger generation is a more fertile ground for ecosocialism. 

I wish I knew the answer to how a favourable cultural shift could be achieved, but if an ecosocialist analysis of the ecological crisis is correct, and logic suggests it is, as events unfold, more and more people will begin to think these thoughts. This is the only thing that gives me hope.      

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Social Self-Defense Against the Impending Trump Coup

 


Written by Jeremy Brecher and first published at Labor Network for Sustainability 

President Donald Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power no matter who wins the election. What is to be done if Trump loses the election but refuses to concede? The purpose of this commentary is to stimulate discussion and preparation for how to overcome such a Trump coup. 

Even before the 2016 election, Donald Trump hinted that if he lost he might not accept the outcome. Now, far behind in the polls, Trump is taking action to disrupt the 2020 election and laying obvious groundwork for refusing to leave office if he loses. As this threat has moved from a hypothetical concern to an immediate fear, the media have been filled with stories about Trumpite plans for red state legislatures to overturn popular votes, destroy mail ballots, and send in the military to quell demonstrators defending the vote. 

But reports have also begun appearing about plans to defend the ballot and resist a Trump Coup d’état – an “executive usurpation” sometimes referred to as a “self-coup.”(1) This commentary gives a brief historical background on the effective use of “people power” to contest coups and stolen elections and reviews recent writing and organizing against a Trump Coup. It presents resistance to a Trump Coup not as primarily a matter of Biden vs. Trump or Democrats vs. Republicans, but rather as Social Self-Defense — a defense of society against an attack on the very things that make our life together possible.(2) 

Anti-Coups Have Succeeded 

Tyrannical regimes from Serbia to the Philippines to Brazil and many other places have been brought down by “people power” — nonviolent revolts that made society ungovernable and led to regime change. While the U.S. has a strong tradition of social movements based on people power, it does not have a tradition of using mass action and general strikes for the defense of democracy. However, in other countries where democratic institutions have been so weakened or eliminated that they provide no alternative to tyranny, such methods have emerged and been used effectively. 

There is now an extensive literature analyzing popular resistance to subversion of elections and other forms of coup d’état. The pioneer of such research was theorist and historian of nonviolence Gene Sharp. His Waging Nonviolent Struggle provides extensive analysis and many case studies of effective nonviolent resistance; his The Anti-Coup focuses in on the use of these methods against illegal seizures of government power.(3) It proposes such guidelines as: 

  • Repudiate the coup and denounce its leaders as illegitimate 
  • Regard all decrees and orders from the coup leaders contradicting established law as illegal and refuse to obey them 
  • Keep all resistance strictly nonviolent – refuse to be provoked into violence 
  • Noncooperate with the coup leaders in all ways

Steven Zunes’ Civil Resistance Against Coups analyzes the resistance to twelve coups and provides an expanded theoretical framework.(4) Sharp and Zunes provide invaluable background for anyone who contemplates resisting a possible Trump coup. Here are two examples that involve popular resistance to coups that utilized stolen elections: 


In 1988, despite the circumventing of electoral laws, repression of universities and media, and ethnic cleansing, Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic was still holding elections of a sort. An activist group called Otpor formed around the goal of driving Milosevic from power and began hundreds of small actions of resistance around the country to counter pervasive fear of the regime. 

Its plan was that activists would compel the regime to call elections; they would create massive turnout around a united opposition candidate; they would join other nongovernmental organizations in carefully monitoring election results so they could document their victory; and they would use mass noncompliance – leading up to a general strike – if and when Milosevic refused to step down. 

In 2000, Otpor pushed 18 of Serbia’s squabbling opposition parties to form a coalition to support a unity candidate, promising to deliver 500,000 votes to the unity candidate but threatening to put 100,000 protesters at the door of any politician who betrayed the coalition. As elections approached, the regime called Otpor an “illegal terrorist organization”; police raided its offices and shut down independent radio and TV stations; each day an average of seven activists were arrested. 

Meanwhile, the opposition organized ten thousand election monitors. They announced exit polls showing Milosevic had been defeated by a 50% to 35% margin. Instead of accepting the results, Milosevic refused to leave office and demanded a run-off election. 

Otpor announced a deadline for Milosevic to concede and 200,000 people demonstrated in Belgrade. The opposition called on the population throughout the country to “perform any acts of civil disobedience they have at their disposal.” Miners struck; TV and radio stations opened their airwaves to opposition voices.  As the deadline approached, cars and trucks filled the highways heading toward Belgrade. 

Police put up roadblocks and were issued orders to shoot, but seeing the size of the convoys they abandoned their barricades. Half-a-million people gathered in Belgrade. Police fired tear gas, but when the crowd stood its ground riot police began running away or joining the crowd. The opposition candidate declared victory and Milosevic accepted his defeat. 

There are many other cases where popular action has forestalled or reversed efforts to subvert the outcome of a democratic election. After the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. in 1983, Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos met growing protests. 

Marcos called a presidential election to be held in February, 1986. Aquino’s widow Corazon Aquino was backed by all major opposition parties. Marcos’ campaign included vote-buying and the murder of more than 70 opposition workers. On election day casting of fake ballots and falsification of returns was widely witnessed. 

Marcos claimed victory, but Mrs. Aquino met with opposition leaders and proposed a long nonviolent campaign of what she dubbed “people power.” Top military officers resigned, withdrew support from Marcos, recognized Aquino as the legitimate winner, and fled to military camps in Manilla. The city’s Roman Catholic Church leader appealed on nationwide radio for people to nonviolently protect the officers and prevent bloodshed. 

By midnight 50,000 surrounded the camps; two days later it was more than a million. Marcos ordered tanks and armored transports to attack. Nuns knelt in front of the tanks and priests climbed on them and led a million protesters – plus soldiers – in prayer. The troops turned back. Next day Marcos ordered another assault, but the commanding officer ordered his troops to return to their base. The military rebels announced that ninety percent of the Armed Forces had defected. Large crowds took over the government television station. 


The next day Marcos fled the country and Aquino was inaugurated president. Ever after mass nonviolent direct action has been known around the world as “People power.”(5)

How the Trump Coup Is Unfolding 

This summer a group called the Transition Integrity Project held a series of “war games” with more than 100 current and former senior government and campaign leaders and other experts to review possible scenarios for the upcoming election and presidential transition. The result: 

We assess with a high degree of likelihood that November’s elections will be marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape. We also assess that President Trump is likely to contest the result by both legal and extra-legal means, in an attempt to hold onto power. Recent events, including the President’s own unwillingness to commit to abiding by the results of the election, the Attorney General’s embrace of the President’s groundless electoral fraud claims, and the unprecedented deployment of federal agents to put down leftwing protests, underscore the extreme lengths to which President Trump may be willing to go in order to stay in office. 

Their likely scenarios included: Trump’s refusal to concede; Attorney General William Barr opening investigation of vote-by-mail fraud allegations and Democratic ties to antifa; and rival selection of pro-Trump electoral college slates by Republican state legislatures. Meanwhile Trump would call for armed supporters to challenge pro-Biden demonstrators, leading to multiple killings of demonstrators; Trump says he will invoke the Insurrection Act to teach anti-American terrorists a lesson. All this before Thanksgiving. 

Except in the case of a big Biden win, each scenario “reached the brink of catastrophe, with massive disinformation campaigns, violence in the streets and a constitutional impasse.” In two of the scenarios there was no agreement on the winner by Inauguration Day.(6) 


An extended article in The Atlantic by Barton Gellman released in late September presented evidence that Trump and Republican officials are already laying the groundwork for such scenarios. The disruption of the Post Office and the plans to intimidate voters and prevent full vote counting are already under way. Gellman maintains that after election day, “Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede,” and that he may “obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in the Congress.”

Preparations are already being made for red state legislators to replace elected members of the Electoral College with their own appointees. Barton spells out in detail this and many other strategies available and likely to be used to prevent a losing President Trump from being forced to leave office.(7)

 How to Overcome a Trump Coup 

In late September, four movement activists and experts on civil resistance issued a manual called Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy. Reminiscent of the Indivisible manual that helped launch the resistance to Trump in 2016, it presents a detailed plan for locally-based resistance to a Trump Coup.(8) It lays out various scenarios in which Trump refuses to leave office. It calls for forming community-based “election protection” groups. These can start immediately with meetings by a small core group that develops a response plan and recruits others to participate in it. 

These groups will “hold the line” that all votes must be counted; all irregularities must be investigated impartially and remedied; and election results must be respected, regardless of who wins. Public officials can be called on in advance to state their commitment to these principles. Violation of these “Red Lines” by Trump or other officials will trigger these groups into action. 

The guide provides sample meeting agendas, templates for “Power Maps” of forces to influence, tactics “brainstorming sheets,” and other planning tools. It outlines targeted action to “undermine the pillars of support” for an illegal Trump regime. It calls for mass popular mobilization based on disciplined nonviolence because “violence will backfire badly against the side that uses it.” 

It discusses tactics including displaying symbols of protest; engaging in demonstrations, marches, and nonviolent blockades; strikes of all kinds; deliberate work slowdowns; boycotts of all kinds; divestment; refusing to pay certain fees, bills, taxes, or other costs; or refusal to observe certain expected social norms or behaviors. 

Trade unionists Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Jose La Luz have made a related proposal for organized labor to establish “pro-democracy volunteer brigades” in preparation for the election. 

We need volunteers who will assist with voter registration; mobilize in large numbers should law enforcement and right-wing militias show up at polling places in order to intimidate voters; block the right-wing from challenging legitimate voters and ballots; and lay the groundwork for massive civil disobedience should the Trump administration attempt to forestall the elections and/or refuse to recognize the results.(9)

Organizing So Far Against a Trump Coup 

The Trump presidency has been an era of mass resistance, an upwelling of direct action that came to be known as the Trump Resistance or simply The Resistance. A social science organization called the Crowd Counting Consortium listed more than eighty-seven hundred protests with six to nine million participants in the first year of the Trump administration, 90 percent opposing Trump’s agenda.(10) The Black Lives Matter protests following the 2020 murder of George Floyd constituted the largest mass uprising in the U.S. in half a century with an estimated 15 to 26 million participants.(11) The base for contesting a Trump Coup is already in motion. 

At the start of September, a coalition of 50 organizations called the Fight Back Table, which includes Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, Color of Change, Indivisible, and MoveOn, established a post-election planning vehicle called the Democracy Defense Nerve Center. Taking off from the Transition Integrity Project war games, they have begun to chart out what it would take to stand up a multi-state communications arm to fight disinformation, a training program for nonviolent civil disobedience, and the underpinnings of what one official described as “mass public unrest.” 

They began to struggle with such questions as how do you maintain sustained strikes and occupations and what do you do if armed right-wing militias show up at polling places?(12)

A number of other groups have been mobilizing to forestall or overcome a Trump coup. Protect the Results, a joint project of Indivisible and Stand Up America supported by 80 other groups, is planning mass mobilization in more than 1,000 locations.(13) Keep Our Republic is organizing to support a “civic creed” to “Let all citizens vote. Let all votes be counted. Let the count stand.” 

The group Peoples Strike has issued a Pledge of Resistance committing to occupy civic squares on Wednesday, November 4th, to occupy state capitols on Saturday, November 7th, and to engage in “strategic rolling strikes” thereafter. No doubt other preparations are under way as well. 

Other sectors of society are also beginning to consider what their responsibilities will be if Trump refuses to concede electoral defeat. On September 25 AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released this statement about the post-election transition: 

The AFL-CIO categorically rejects all threats to the peaceful transition of power. The labor movement simply will not allow any breach of the U.S. Constitution or other effort to deny the will of the people. Union members across the political spectrum are united in our fundamental belief that the votes of the American people must always determine the presidency. America’s workers will continue to be steadfast in defense of our democracy in the face of President Trump’s antics, and we stand ready to do our part to ensure his defeat in this election is followed by his removal from office.(14) 

A recent New York Times article reported that: 

senior leaders at the Pentagon, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that they were talking among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump, who will still be president from Election Day to Inauguration Day, invokes the Insurrection Act and tries to send troops into the streets, as he threatened to do during the protests against police brutality and systemic racism.(15)

Several Pentagon officials said there could be resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley, should troops be ordered into the streets at the time of the election. As we have seen in the opposition to the Serbian and Philippine electoral coups, the role of various sectors and levels of the military – from the brass to the privates — can be critical. 

But as revealed by the top brass’ second thoughts after the military was called in to provide Trump a photo op confrontation in Lafayette Square during a June Black Lives Matter demonstration, they are most likely to come to a sense of their responsibilities when they are called on to suppress peaceful protestors in the interests of a tyrant. 

Social Self-Defense 

Resisting the rise of tyranny will no doubt require sacrifice. After all, we are dealing with an aspiring tyrant who lionizes someone who shoots down demonstrators in the street. But that sacrifice will not be primarily on behalf of one political party vs. another, of Democrats vs. Republicans. It will be a defense of democracy – defense of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. 

Beyond that, it is the protection of that which makes our life together on earth possible. It is defense of the human rights of all people; of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; of the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; of global cooperation to provide a secure future for our people and planet; and of our ability to live together in our communities, our country, and our world. It is a threat to all of us as members of society. Overcoming a Trump Coup is Social Self-Defense. 

Notes 

1.     From the Spanish autogolpe, used to describe cases in Latin America in the early 1960s. Sharp and Jenkins, Anti-Coup, p. 6. https://novact.org/2012/09/the-anti-coup-bruce-jenkins-and-gene-sharp/?lang=en.

2.     The term “Social Self-Defense” has its origin in the Polish Committee for Social Self-Defense which led to the creation of the Solidarity trade union and ultimately the dissolution of Poland’s Communist dictatorship. I have used it before to characterize the Trump Resistance. Jeremy Brecher, “Social Self-Defense: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism,” https://www.labor4sustainability.org/uncategorized/social-self-defense-protecting-people-and-planet-against-trump-and-trumpism/.

3.     Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle (Boston: Porter Sargent, 2005).  Gene Sharp & Bruce Jenkins, The Anti-Coup (Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution). Sharp’s magisterial three-volume The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent) lays out how and why nonviolent direct action is able to work.

4.     Steven Zunes, Civil Resistance Against Coups: A Comparative and Historical Perspective (ICNC Monograph Series) https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Stephen-Zunes-Monograph_Final.pdf.

5.     Joshua Paulson, “People Power Against the Philippine Dictator – 1986,” in Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle (Boston: Porter Sargent, 2005), Ibid.

6.     “Preventing a Disrupted Presidential Election and Transition,” Transition Integrity Project, August 3, 2020. https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/7013152/Preventing-a-Disrupted-Presidential-Election-and.pdf and  Rosa Brooks, “What’s the worst that could happen? The election will likely spark violence – and a constitutional crisis,” Washington Post, September 3, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/03/trump-stay-in-office/?arc404=true.

7.     Barton Gellman, “What If Trump Refuses to Concede?,” The Atlantic, pre-released in late September from November, 2020 issue. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/ Much of the same material is covered and confirmed with additional details in David Smith, “Recipe for Chaos,” The Guardian, September 27, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/27/recipe-for-chaos-2020-election-threatens-snap-us-already-pushed-limit.

8.     Hardy Merriman, Ankur Asthana, Marium Navid, Kifah Shah. Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy. version 1.1. 2020.  http://holdthelineguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Hold-The-Line_-A-Guide-to-Defending-Democracy.pdf.

9.     Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Jose Alejandro La Luz, “Organized Labor and the ‘Cold Civil War,’” Portside, September 17, 2020. https://portside.org/2020-09-17/organized-labor-and-cold-civil-war.

10.  The Trump Resistance and other mass opposition to Trump and Trumpism is recounted in Jeremy Brecher, Strike! Revised, Expanded, and Updated Edition (Oakland CA: PM Press, 2020) Chapter 12, “Harbingers.” https://www.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=1085.

11.  Larry Buchanan, Quoctrung Bui, Jugal K. Patel, “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History,” The New York Times, July 3, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html.

12.  Sam Stein, “The Left Secretly Preps for MAGA Violence After Election Day,” The Daily Beast, September 8, 2020. https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-left-secretly-preps-for-violence-after-election-day . Developing efforts against a Trump Coup are also described in Sasha Abramsky, “Is Trump Planning a Coup d’État?,” The Nation, September 7, 2020. https://www.thenation.com/article/society/trump-coup-elections-gop/.

13.  Sam Stein.

14.  Richard Trumka, “We Will Not Tolerate Any Constitutional Breach,” AFL-CIO, September 25, 2020.  https://aflcio.org/press/releases/trumka-we-will-not-tolerate-any-constitutional-breach.

15.  Jennifer Steinhauer and Helene Cooper, “At Pentagon, Fears Grow That Trump Will Pull Military into Election Unrest,” New York Times, September 25, 2020. https://portside.org/2020-09-25/pentagon-fears-grow-trump-will-pull-military-election-unrest.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Ecosocialism and/or Degrowth?

 


Written by Michael Löwy and first published at Rise 

Ecosocialism and the de-growth movement are among the most important currents of the ecological left. Ecosocialists agree that a significant measure of de-growth in production and consumption is necessary in order to avoid ecological collapse. But they have a critical assessment of the de-growth theories because: a) the concept of “de-growth” is insufficient to define an alternative programme; b) it does not make clear if de-growth can be achieved in the framework of capitalism or not; c) it does not distinguish between activities that need to be reduced and those that need to be developed. 

It is important to take into account that the de-growth current, which is particularly influential in France, is not homogeneous: inspired by critics of the  consumer society, Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, and of the “technical system”, Jacques Ellul, it contains different political outlooks. There are at least two poles which are quite distant, if not opposed: on one side, critics of Western culture tempted by cultural relativism (Serge Latouche), on the other side, universalist left ecologists (Vincent Cheynet, Paul Ariés).  

Serge Latouche, who is well known worldwide, is one of the most controversial French de-growth theoreticians. For sure, some of his arguments are legitimate: demystification of “sustainable development”, critique of the religion of growth and “progress”, call for a cultural revolution. But his wholesale rejection of Western humanism, of the Enlightenment and of representative democracy, as well as his cultural relativism (no universal values) and his immoderate celebration of the Stone Age are very much open to criticism. 

But there is worse. His critique of ecosocialist development proposals for countries of the Global South – more clean water, schools and hospitals – as “ethnocentric”, “Westernizing” and “destructive of local ways of life”, is quite unbearable. Last but not least, his argument that there is no need to talk about capitalism, since this critique “has already been done, and done well, by Marx” is not serious: it is as if one would say that there is no need to denounce the productivist destruction of the planet because this has already been done, “and done well”, by André Gorz (or Rachel Carson). 

Nearer to the Left is the universalist current, represented in France by the journal La Décroissance (“The De-Growth”), even if one can criticize the French “republicanism” of some of its theoreticians (Vincent Cheynet, Paul Ariès). Unlike the first, this second pole of the de-growth movement has many points of convergence – despite occasional polemics – with the Global Justice movements (ATTAC), the ecosocialists and the radical left parties: extension of gratuity [goods, services, or amenities that are offered for free], predominance of use-value over exchange-value, reduction of labour time, struggle against social inequalities, development of “non-market” activities, reorganisation of production according to social needs and the protection of the environment.  

Many de-growth theoreticians seem to believe that the only alternative to productivism is to stop growth altogether, or to replace it by negative growth, i.e. to drastically reduce the excessively high level of consumption of the population by cutting by half the expenditure of energy, by renouncing individual houses, central heating, washing machines etc. Since these and similar measures of draconian austerity risk being quite unpopular, some of them – including such an important author as Hans Jonas, in his Principle Responsibility – play with the idea of a sort of “ecological dictatorship”. 

Against such pessimistic views, socialist optimists believe that technical progress and the use of renewable sources of energy will permit an unlimited growth and abundance, so that each can receive “according to his needs”. 

It seems to me that these two schools share a purely quantitative conception of – positive or negative – “growth”, or of the development of productive forces. There is a third position, which seems to me more appropriate: a qualitative transformation of development. This means putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources by capitalism, based on the production, on a large scale, of useless and/or harmful products: the armaments industry is a good example, but a great part of the “goods” produced in capitalism, with their inbuilt obsolescence, have no other usefulness but to generate profit for the big corporations. 

The issue is not “excessive consumption” in the abstract, but the prevalent type of consumption, based as it is on conspicuous acquisition, massive waste, mercantile alienation, obsessive accumulation of goods, and the compulsive purchase of pseudo-novelties imposed by “fashion”. A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, beginning with those which could be described as “biblical” – water, food, clothing, housing – but including also the basic services: health, education, transport, culture. 

How to distinguish the authentic from the artificial, factitious (artificially created) and makeshift needs? The last ones are induced by mental manipulation, i.e. advertisement. The advertising system has invaded all spheres of human life in modern capitalist societies: not only food and clothing, but sports, culture, religion and politics are shaped according to its rules. It has invaded our streets, mail boxes, TV-screens, newspapers, landscapes, in a permanent, aggressive and insidious way, and it decisively contributes to habits of conspicuous and compulsive consumption. 

Moreover, it wastes an astronomical amount of oil, electricity, labour time, paper, chemicals, and other raw materials – all paid by the consumers – in a branch of “production” which is not only useless, from a human viewpoint, but directly in contradiction with real social needs. While advertisement is an indispensable dimension of the capitalist market economy, it would have no place in a society in transition to socialism, where it would be replaced by information on goods and services provided by consumer associations. 

The criteria for distinguishing an authentic from an artificial need, is its persistence after the suppression of advertisement (Coca Cola!). Of course, during some years, old habits of consumption would persist, and nobody has the right to tell the people what their needs are. The change in the patterns of consumption is a historical process, as well as an educational challenge.

Some commodities, such as the individual car, raise more complex problems. Private cars are a public nuisance, killing and maiming hundreds of thousand people yearly on a world scale, polluting the air in the great towns, with dire consequences for the health of children and older people, and significantly contributing to climate change. However, they correspond to a real need, by transporting people to their work, home or leisure. 

Local experiences in some European towns with ecologically minded administrations show that it is possible, and approved by the majority of the population, to progressively limit the part of the individual car in circulation, to the advantage of buses and trams.  

In a process of transition to ecosocialism, where public transportation, above or underground, would be vastly extended and free of charge for the users, and where pedestrians and cyclists will have protected lanes, the private car would have a much smaller role than in bourgeois society, where it has become a fetishised commodity, promoted by insistent and aggressive advertisement, a prestige symbol, a sign of identity. In the US, a driving license is the recognized ID – and the centre of personal, social or erotic life. 

It will be much easier, in the transition to a new society, to drastically reduce the transportation of goods by trucks – responsible for terrible accidents, and high levels of pollution – replacing it by the train, or by what the French call ferroutage (trucks transported in trains from one town to the other): only the absurd logic of capitalist “competitivity” explains the dangerous growth of the truck-system.   

Yes, will answer the pessimists, but individuals are moved by infinite aspirations and desires, that have to be controlled, checked, contained and if necessary repressed, and this may need some limitations on democracy. Now, ecosocialism is based on a wager, which was already Marx’s: the predominance, in a society without classes and liberated of capitalist alienation, of “being” over “having”, i.e. of free time for the personal accomplishment by cultural, sportive, playful, scientific, erotic, artistic and political activities, rather than the desire for an infinite possession of products. 

Compulsive acquisitiveness is induced by the commodity fetishism inherent in the capitalist system, by the dominant ideology and by advertisement: nothing proves that it is part of an “eternal human nature”, as the reactionary discourse wants us to believe. As Ernest Mandel emphasized: “The continual accumulation of more and more goods (with declining “marginal utility”) is by no means a universal and even predominant feature of human behaviour. The development of talents and inclinations for their own sake; the protection of health and life; care for children; the development of rich social relations … all these become major motivations once basic material needs have been satisfied”.  

This does not mean that there will not arise conflicts, particularly during the transitional process, between the requirements of environmental protection and social needs, between ecological imperatives and the necessity of developing basic infra-structures, particularly in the poor countries, between popular consumer habits and the scarcity of resources. 

Such contradictions are inevitable: it will be the task of democratic planning, in an ecosocialist perspective, liberated from the imperatives of capital and profit-making, to solve them, by a pluralist and open discussion, leading to decision-making by society itself. Such a grassroots and participative democracy is the only way, not to avoid errors, but to permit self-correction, of its own mistakes, by society collectively. 

What could be the relations between ecosocialists and the de-growth movement? In spite of the disagreements, can there be an active alliance around common objectives? In a book published some years ago, La décroissance est –elle souhaitable? (“Is de-growth a desirable aim?”), French ecologist Stéphane Lavignotte proposes such an alliance. He acknowledges that there are many controversial issues between both viewpoints. 

Should one emphasize the social class relations and the struggle against inequalities or the denunciation of the unlimited growth of the productive forces? What is more important, individual initiatives, local experiences, voluntary simplicity, or changing the productive apparatus and the capitalist “mega-machine”?  

Lavignotte refuses to choose, and proposes to associate these two complementary practices. The challenge is, he argues, to combine the struggle for the ecological class interest of the majority, i.e. the non-owners of capital, and the politics of active minorities for a radical cultural transformation. In other words, to achieve, without hiding the inevitable disagreements, a “political composition” of all those who have understood that the survival of life on the planet and of humanity in particular are contradictory to capitalism and productivism, and therefore look for the way out of this destructive and inhumane system.  

As an ecosocialist, and as a member of the Fourth International, I share this viewpoint. The coming together of all varieties of anti-capitalist ecology is an important step towards the urgent and necessary task of stopping the suicidal course of the present civilisation – before it is too late… 

Michael Löwy is a French-Brazillian Marxist professor, author and activist. He is emeritus research director in social sciences at the CNRS (French National Center of Scientific Research) and lectures at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS; Paris, France). He co-authored the ‘International Ecosocialist Manifesto’ with Joel Kovel

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Will COP26 Achieve anything Meaningful for the Ecological Crisis?


The next United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), delayed by the Covid 19 pandemic, will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, next year from 1 to 12 November 2021. It is the first time that the UK has hosted the conference, which will likely open against a backdrop of grim evidence that the planet’s ecology is under serious threat. Currently, the facts detail the scale of the looming disaster:

·        A global temperature increase of 0.85C against a 1951-1980 baseline, whilst being on course for global warming of an expected 4.1°C – 4.8°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

·       Atmospheric CO2 at 412.75 parts per million, when CO2 needs to kept to no more 350 ppm to avoid drastically rising temperatures.

·       The Greenland ice mass reduced by -4040 Giga Tonnes since 1992.

·       Arctic ice cover reduced by 2 million square metres since 1979.

·       A rise in sea levels of +69.21 mm since 1992.

Figures above supplied by The Guardian.

·       90% of the global population breathes air exceeding World Health Organisation exposure targets.

·       There are now close to 500 dead marine zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom, caused by various pollutants.

·       The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, since 1900.

These statistics point to ecocatastrophe and possibly extinction for humanity and all other species on the planet. And all of this after 25 previous world conferences on these matters, so the chances of anything positive being agreed appear to be slim in the extreme, even with the stakes being so high.

The much heralded COP21 held in Paris in 2015, which was meant reduce CO2 emissions and so keep global temperatures below 2C, was largely a fraud. The Trump administration in the US has now pulled out of the agreement, but even if the US had remained committed to the actions agreed in Paris, it would have had little effect on rising emissions.

Some of the pledges included non-existent (on any large scale) technological fixes, like carbon sequestration, which are entirely meaningless.  

A report written by climate scientists in 2019, “The Truth Behind the Paris Agreement Climate Pledges,” concluded:

“Countries need to double and triple their 2030 reduction commitments to be aligned with the Paris target,” said Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-author of the report that closely examined the 184 voluntary pledges under the Paris Agreement.   

The report’s analysis of the 184 pledges found that almost 75 percent were insufficient. In fact, the world’s first and fourth biggest emitters, China and India, will have higher emissions in 2030. The US is the second largest and its pledge was too low. Russia, the fifth largest emitter, hasn’t even bothered to make a pledge. The European Union is likely to exceed its pledges, but not by the margin required for it to be effective.

Given the seriousness of the situation, why is there such reluctance to take the necessary mitigating actions from the worst offenders? And secondly, why do environmental campaigners, especially the large NGOs put so much effort into these useless conferences?

The industrial capitalist states and their corporations that produce most CO2 emissions in their production processes, make a lot money out of the status quo. These processes require huge energy inputs, which mostly comes from burning fossil fuels, as it is the cheapest and most reliable source of this energy.

Fossil fuel produced energy can be produced close to where it is needed too, reducing transmission losses, unlike renewable sources, which in the main need to be produced further away from the point of use, and will lose power on the way, even if enough could be produced for the system’s ever expanding needs. The imperative to grow, or die is inherent to the capitalist system.

As for the environmental campaigners, they really can’t see the wood for the trees, if you will forgive the pun, when it comes to inadequate pledges on emissions reduction, and buy into false techno solutions and ‘market based’ solutions like carbon trading, which have failed wherever they have been tried. The 100% clean energy movement led by the US based Sierra Club with a $80 million donation by billionaire capitalist Michael Bloomberg, has created a renewable front for natural gas.

In the UK, the prime minister, Boris Johnson last week announced a plan to power all UK homes from off-shore wind farms by 2030. It is not clear whether this means replacing natural gas for heating, as well as current electrical demand, but it seems a tall order if it does. Not to mention, other buildings, transport, industry and farming power supplies. At the same time, his government has made fracking licences easier to obtain by businesses that extract shale gas.

All demand for power will grow as it does inevitably under a system that requires ever expanding markets to survive. All those new gadgets and those to come, need energy to operate them, as well that used to produce them.

The problem to a large extent is that people just can’t imagine a world run other than by capitalism. This is what Joel Kovel, the ecosocialist writer refers to as the ‘force-field’ of the system, and so all attempted solutions to climate change and other ecological ills, have to fit with capitalism. Which in turn means they will not be effective, and tend to be piecemeal or green washing fantasies.

Perhaps another recent announcement by the UK government reveals that the ruling classes are only too well aware of this. Government tells English schools not to use anti-capitalist material for teaching leaves me with the impression that they don’t want the young, who are most likely to have ecological concerns, to join up the dots and reveal the truth about how the world is run. Censorship never works, especially in these days of the world wide web. These dots will be joined, or we will have no future worth living.  

Thursday, 8 October 2020

For an Egalitarian, Cooperative Road to an Ecosocialist Future

 


This important Ecosocialist Manifesto, published by the Green Left emerges out of Australia in preparation for the forthcoming conference, Ecosocialism 2020: From rebellion to revolution, supported by the Socialist Alliance. It will be open for further discussion and development through a series of Ecosocialism conferences in several cities across Australia in late October.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency and there is no way out without radically changing the way society is organized. If humanity does not free itself from the capitalist drive for ever greater profits and ever-expanding economic growth, rising global temperatures alone will make the planet uninhabitable for humans and millions of other living species.

We urgently need to find a collective road to a new way of living that is based on human solidarity and ecological sustainability.

1. The Emergency is Now

Catastrophic fires, extreme weather events, rising sea levels and the shocking collapse of biodiversity are a reality after just 1°C of global warming. At current rates of greenhouse gas global emissions we are heading for 2–3°C rise.

Despite numerous warnings from the world’s leading scientists, none of the global climate summits have produced the targets, let alone actions, needed to address the climate emergency.

The governments of a number of rich countries – including the United States and Australia – are defending the profit greed of the giant fossil fuel companies. They are also stubbornly resisting calls for binding and effective greenhouse gas emission cuts and for the richest countries to pay the climate debt owed to the rest of the world that they have ruthlessly exploited and oppressed for generations.

The climate emergency is just part of the historic clash between the capitalist system and nature.

Corporate greed has destroyed entire ecosystems and poisoned land and seas with toxic waste. Land clearing, driven by capitalist agribusiness, has robbed the planet of the forest cover needed to absorb carbon dioxide and provide a home for many species. It has also unleashed deadly new pandemics, such as COVID-19.

The climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic are symptoms of the dangerous rift that capitalism has created with nature and which it continues to exacerbate.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also shows us that the privileged ruling elites and the majority they exploit and oppress cannot carry on in the old way.

The huge death toll from COVID-19 in the US, the world’s richest and most powerful country, demonstrates that even the most privileged will not be spared the impact of the existential crisis that capitalism has created.

2. We Need to Move Beyond Capitalism to Ecosocialism

Just 100 fossil fuel corporations account for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Leading climate activist Greta Thunberg has pointed out that the capitalist class has already contracted out a lot more than the world’s carbon budget, which the Paris Agreement said is needed to keep global warming to 1.5°C.

Attempts by the climate summits to find capitalist-friendly solutions to the climate emergency have not worked. “Market solutions,” such as carbon trading, have failed even in the few capitalist states where they have been implemented. Any “greening” of capitalism, that such market solutions may have encouraged, is too little and too late.

To pull back from catastrophic climate change requires emergency action to democratize the economy. To do this, critical industries such as energy, transport, agribusiness and the financial institutions that invest in them need to be brought under social control – now.

This will be necessary to move rapidly to 100% renewable energy and to reduce net carbon emissions to as close to zero as possible.

This all points to the urgent need to replace capitalism with an ecosocialist society, that could address gross injustices and repair capital’s rift with nature.

The corporate rich, that now rule the world, stole much of their starting capital directly or indirectly through colonial plunder. They destroyed numerous societies around the globe, many of whom were organized for thousands of years around Indigenous social values of egalitarianism, cooperation and co-existence with nature.

An ecosocialist future would require a return to such principles, with the benefit of technological advances used for social good.

Under capitalism, almost every technological advance is used to deepen the exploitation of the majority and nature, or to build dangerous weapons of mass destruction and suppression.

An ecosocialist society would liberate human creativity through translating productivity gains into a radically shorter working week. This is also necessary to free the majority of the population – now exploited to the point of exhaustion or discarded as surplus labour – to exercise direct democratic control of society.

An ecosocialist society will need to be based on grassroots direct democracy that allows communities to have real control over their destinies.

3. Capitalism’s Violent Defense of Power and Privilege

The giant corporations are using all their power and privilege to defend their narrow interests – even as it becomes increasingly clear that humanity cannot carry on as before.

They buy off governments or remove any that challenge their interests. They promote and fund climate denialist, racist, misogynist and nakedly fascist movements.

They have already plunged entire nations into permanent war to protect their right to plunder and exploit the world. Now, they are even supporting violent right-wing forces in the US threatening civil war.

They are prepared to use the disproportionate military power of the US and its rich country allies to preserve a grossly unequal capitalist global division of labour and a presumed “right” to continue passing the costs of the ecological crisis on to the poorest countries.

They are resisting calls for reparations to be paid to those countries they have plundered and poisoned. They are blocking calls for rich countries to adopt sharper and deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and for renewable technologies to be shared across the globe.

4. Building a Movement for Ecosocialist Revolution

A new mass movement for ecosocialist revolution needs to be built from the radicalizing climate emergency movement and other progressive mass movements, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, that are challenging the capitalist system in the face of rising fascist movements, racism, sexism and attacks on civil liberties.

In all these movements, we hear calls to end capitalism and build a new future based on the collective and ecologically sustainable traditions that capitalism has tried its best to wipe out over the last 400 years.

Ecosocialists seek to unite and amplify those voices for real change.

History teaches us that people’s political consciousness can develop rapidly in the process of sustained collective struggle and that such movements act as schools of direct democracy. They can also give birth to new institutions of popular democracy.

Therefore, it is of critical importance to build mass movements around programs of immediate and transitional measures that the climate emergency demands.

The radical green new deal programs, championed by former British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the US Green Party and US Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, are examples for such a program.

But the system change potential of any such transitional program can only be realized by an independent mass movement that goes beyond the limits of electoral campaigns.

The deepening crisis that we are confronting today makes it clear that time is of the essence.

The time to stop capitalism from destroying our common future is running out. The need to build this mass movement for change means we urgently need to build ecosocialist organizations and global networks that can unite their impact.