Sunday 31 January 2016

The House That Marx Built

Street art in San Francisco's Mission District, 2009 (Dave R / Flickr) 

Written by Benjamin Kunkel and first published at Dissent

The classical and continuing aim of Marxism, you might say, is to coordinate a complete theory of social evolution with a comprehensive politics of revolution: a very tall order. And precisely this systematic or totalizing character of Marxism has imposed a certain fragmentary quality on all political or intellectual activity carried out in its spirit. The impossibility of any single mind, or for that matter any pair of minds, achieving the total perspective required is obvious, and the program first drafted by Marx and Engels—at once a political program and a research program—was bound to remain incomplete, even in outline, during their lifetimes.

Some of the enduring incompleteness of the Marxist project, across later generations, is historical and regrettable. Since the demise of the Second International, the drift has been toward the mutual estrangement of intellectuals and activists, and intellectuals among themselves have tended to put on the blinders of their separate academic disciplines, forgetting that the borders within the social sciences and the divisions between those sciences and such realities as “nature” and “culture” are only features of maps of the world and not of its unbroken terrain. Activists, for their part, are liable to forget that ideas constitute a material force in history.

But there is another and better cause of the incomplete or fragmentary state of Marxism, which is simply its special openness as a way of thinking to the whole of human and indeed nonhuman life; its broken-off, frustrated, and even incoherent character is, in this sense, merely the sign of its ongoing life. It remains unfinished because so does history.

In recent years, Marxism has shown itself to be a living proposition particularly through the opening up of two lines of investigation that were, in the work of Marx and Engels and in that of most of their heirs, detectable but undeveloped.

The first of these lines of investigation resumes the elaboration of a Marxist ecology, to modify the title of an important book by John Bellamy Foster. Marx’s Ecology (2000) demonstrated that Marx and Engels were genuinely ecological thinkers, aware that the productive activity of human beings, based on whatever form of social relations, is also a way of managing or mismanaging the metabolic exchange between our uniquely political species and other kinds of terrestrial nature.

Marx was notably concerned with the matter of soil exhaustion. The capitalism of his time starved the soil of vital nutrients, first by concentrating the population in great cities where human waste no longer fertilized the earth but instead polluted streets and waterways, and, second, by encouraging mono-cropping through the commodification of agriculture. On this basis, Bellamy Foster derives a general concept of the metabolic rift between capitalist humanity and nonhuman nature. Though he doesn’t say so, there exists an obvious analogy between the tendency of capitalism to take from human laborers more than it returns in wages, and to take from nonhuman nature more than it replenishes in usable energy and biological life.

The green turn in Marxism advances old insights: capitalism, we read in Capital, undermines not just one but both of the “original sources of all wealth—the laborer and the soil.” Ecosocialist thought can nevertheless be criticized for not having gone far enough. Thinkers like Bellamy Foster, James O’Connor, and Paul Burkett in Marxism and Ecological Economics (2007) have so far mainly established the compatibility of Marxism with ecology. This is no small thing, given Marxism’s association, in theory, with the heedless development of “all the productive forces” available to any mode of production, and, in practice, with the disgraceful environmental record of the Soviet Union.

But due integration of Marxist ecology and economics, in empirical and analytic terms as well as abstract and axiomatic ones, doesn’t seem to have taken place yet. Jason W. Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life promises to do something to redress this failure.

Alongside the new Marxist ecology has also sprung up what might be called a Marxist oikology. Oikos, Greek for household, is the root shared by the words ecology and economics: ecology (from oikos plus logos, for discourse) literally means the study of a household, while economy (oikos plus nomia) means the management of one. Ecology refers, then, to studying the planetary household of the natural world; “the economy” refers to managing the—currently capitalist—household of formal commodity exchange; and oikology would have to do with the household or reproductive activities of human beings wherever these take place by means other than commodity exchange, that is, without money.

Oikological phenomena would thus encompass uncompensated household cleaning, repairs, and food preparation; uncompensated care for children, the sick, and the elderly (rather than the paid work of professional teachers and nurses); uncompensated counseling (by friends and family rather than psychiatrists), uncompensated sex (with volunteering lovers rather than sex workers), and so on. Because the burden of such unwaged labor has fallen disproportionately on women since the advent of capitalism and before, feminists have drawn special attention to the oikological arena. Silvia Federici’s “Wages Against Housework” (1975), a landmark of Marxist feminism, emphasized the indispensable role of unwaged and typically female labor in sustaining the household of the—at the time—typically male wage-laborer. More recently, Nancy Fraser’s 2014 essay in New Left Review, “Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode,” called “for an expanded conception of capitalism” that fully acknowledges the non-economic conditions essential to the maintenance of the capitalist economy.

These include both “the natural processes that sustain life and provide the material inputs for social provisioning,” and the “solidary relations” and “affective dispositions” that furnish “the appropriately socialized and skilled human beings who constitute ‘labor.’”

Marxism intuited something like this interdependency from the outset, as it fumbled toward the ungraspable object of totality, or “the evolution of society as a whole,” as Lukács put it. If it hasn’t yet taken the full measure of this intuition, it has started to look with sharper eyes at the eco-totality—simultaneously ecological, economic, and oikological—that was always in view. That alone is enough to distinguish it from all those varieties of scholarship, journalism, opinion, and ideology that are more congenial to capital, and to guarantee the pertinence of the tradition to any future worth pursuing. It would be facile to say, in a breath, that an enlarged theory should now unite with a renewed praxis, “proclaiming”—Lukács again—“the relation between the tasks of the immediate present and the totality of the historical process.” Still, at least two political results seem worth hoping for.

One is an expanded constituency for socialism, or whatever you want to call it: not just more feminists and greens but more people—surely the majority—alive to the interrelationship between economic distress, ecological anxiety, and household or community frustration and neglect.

A second and related result might be a better understanding of the vulnerabilities of a planetary capitalism that can appear omnipotent. After all, the same global economy that dominates the ecological and oikological spheres of life also helplessly depends upon those spheres for its continued expansion. It survives at the mercy not only of workers but of unwaged human life and nonhuman nature, should they turn uncooperative.

Benjamin Kunkel is the author, most recently, of Utopia or Bust (Verso, 2014), an essay collection, and Buzz, a play on ecological themes.

Friday 29 January 2016

How elites contained the climate justice movement

Written by Herbert Docena and first published at Transnational Institute

Corporate executives and climate skeptics that mobilise against strong international climate change agreements have rightly been the focus of attention of many people concerned about the climate crisis. But another group of elites—those who actually believe in climate change —may paradoxically have done more to block effective solutions to the crisis.

“The object is to change the heart and soul.” – Margaret Thatcher

On the final day of the UN summit held in Paris in December 2015, thousands of people defied a ban on public gatherings by converging at a boulevard leading to the business district in La Défense to denounce the new climate agreement that government negotiators were about to sign and celebrate at the conference venue in Le Bourget, 20 kilometres away. Hoping to counter governments’ attempts to control the narrative regarding the summit, they gathered behind giant inflatable ‘cobblestones’ and a red banner proclaiming “System change not climate change!”

Departing from some other environmentalist groups, they held placards criticising the undemocratic ways in which decisions regarding our relationship to nature are ultimately made only by capitalists and other powerful groups in the current global capitalist system.

In different ways, they put forward a more democratic alternative: a system in which ‘the people’ decide on important questions such as what sources of energy to use and what activities to power and for whose benefit, how many trees to fell and to produce what goods for whom or, more generally, how to organise our relationship to nature and in pursuit of what ends.

Broad and as defiant as the action turned out to be, however, it was still not as large or as confrontational as some of the organisers had hoped. Unable to rally more people behind them, the radical anti-capitalists had little choice but to abandon their original plan to barricade Le Bourget and also ruled out marching on La Défense. In the end, the protesters could only gather, lobbing their ‘cobblestones’ in the air, aimed at no targets. Meanwhile, the popping of champagne corks in Le Bourget or La Défense went undisturbed.

Why, as this particular but not uncommon episode indicates, are activists struggling for a more democratic system unable to attract more people to their side? Or why, despite the intensifying ecological crisis caused by capitalism, is the movement for radical system change still confined to the margins?

Part of the answer surely has to do with how the world’s elites have increasingly resorted to more coercive measures to keep people off the streets or prevent them from conceiving or expressing anti-systemic demands. But – as shown by the large number of people who refused to be cowed by the threat of force or to buy into the governments’ discourse in Paris and beyond – it is not merely the presence or absence of physical or ideological repression that determine people’s willingness to take on the powerful.

Indeed, it pushes us to ask why more people are not willing to defy repression to fight for a democratic system.

This essay seeks to contribute to understanding the causes of the movement’s weakness by drawing attention to another, typically overlooked, way by which the dominant seek to contain challenges to their undemocratic rule other than by trying to repress people’s bodies in order to dissuade or restrain them from overthrowing the system: that of trying to mould people’s very subjectivities – how they see their identities, how they make sense of their life situations, what they aspire to, whom they consider their ‘friends’ or their ‘enemies’ – in order to persuade people to actively defend the system.

I argue that part of the reason why activists struggling for a democratic alternative to capitalism find it difficult to draw more people to their cause is because a section of the world’s dominant classes have been waging what we can think of, extending Gramsci, as a kind of global “passive revolution”: an attempt to re-construct or secure (global) hegemony by attempting to fundamentally reform global capitalism in order to partially grant the demands of subordinate groups.

I show how, by purportedly trying to ‘change the system’, a particular section of the world’s elites have achieved some success in countering radicals’ attempts to reshape people’s subjectivities, thus preventing them from fighting for a radically democratic system.

A resurgent global counter-hegemonic movement

To better understand how world elites seek to contain counter-hegemonic challenges to their rule, it is useful to go back to the late 1960s when new radical movements, including those mobilising around ecological issues, burst onto the world stage as part of a broader resurgence of radicalism. Even before then, a growing number of people in industrialised countries and also in the ‘Third World’ had been increasingly concerned about their deteriorating living conditions as a result of the ecological degradation that came with capitalism’s renewed post-war global expansion.

Before the 1960s, many people still typically thought of these ecological problems and the impacts these had on their lives to be the result of others’ ‘bad personal habits’, ‘unscientific management’ of resources, or insufficient regulation of ‘big business’. They therefore generally thought that these problems could be solved and their suffering ended by the inculcation of better personal habits, more ‘scientific management’ of resources,’ or greater checks on big business.

Consequently, few directed their anger at the world’s dominant classes in response to ecological degradation. While there would be a growing number of protests as people ‘spontaneously’ defended themselves against direct attacks on their wellbeing, they did not amount to the kind of organised and sustained resistance that threatened the ruling classes in earlier revolutionary upheavals in various countries.1

Starting in the 1960s, however, various intellectuals began to advance a different way of making sense of, and responding to, ecological problems. Herbert Marcuse, Barry Commoner, Murray Bookchin, or Chico Mendes, along with other scientists, journalists, writers, and organisers, began drawing not only from Marx but also from Morris, Kropotkin, Weber, and other critical thinkers to popularise new ways of looking at the world that challenged not just the dominant worldviews but even those propagated by so-called ‘Old Left’ activists. Calling on ‘the people’ as members of exploited classes and other dominated groups whose interests were antagonistic to those of the world’s elites, they argued that deteriorating living conditions were not just  because of bad habits, poor management, or the insufficient regulation of big business by governments, but because of the historically-specific property relations under capitalism.

They revealed how capitalism drives capitalists, or those who own land, factories, power plants and other “means of production” and who therefore monopolise social decisions over production, to constantly intensify their exploitation of both workers and nature so as to maximise profits. To overcome their suffering, they argued that reforms such as regulating big business – while not necessarily wrong – would not suffice; they needed to challenge nothing less than capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and other forms of domination.

Though they did not necessarily agree on how to go about it, they urged them to end what Marx once called the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, or the system of rule in which only those who own the means of production ultimately make production decisions. This would involve fighting for the abolition of private property relations and building a society in which everyone collectively and democratically own the means of production and therefore have a say in making decisions about how to organise production.

Only then, they argued, would it be possible to prioritise people’s welfare and the planet’s well-being over the need to constantly maximise profits. Through their myriad efforts to propagate these new ways of making sense of and acting upon ‘ecological’ problems, these radical intellectuals began to reshape people’s subjectivities by providing alternative ways of looking at the world, of understanding their identities, of diagnosing and overcoming their suffering.

As indicated by the growing membership and supporters of radical anti-capitalist ‘environmental’ organisations or movements that were concerned with ‘environmental’ questions, ever more people would begin to see themselves and the environmental problems they suffered in a new light.2 Many started to think of themselves as members of oppressed and exploited classes and also began to connect ‘environmental problems’ and their social impacts to capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, racial or other forms of domination.

As one activist who came of age during this period put it: “a complete disaffection with ‘the system’… resonated deeply between East and West, North and South”.3 Protesters moved beyond critiques of particular aspects of capitalism and “challenged the very essence of capitalism”, according to the environmental historian, John McCormick. Many began to aspire to a post-capitalist, if not socialist, society. And they recognised the need to confront and overthrow the ruling classes and other dominant groups determined to perpetuate capitalism. “Whatever the cause”, notes McCormick, “by 1970, there had been a revolution in environmental attitudes”.4

With these changed subjectivities, people connected the struggle around ‘environmental’ problems to broader struggles for social justice and equality and channelled their anger about ecological degradation away from fighting other individuals or other subordinate groups towards the dominant classes, their allies in the state apparatus, and other influential groups. Struggles around pollution, nuclear power, pesticides, and so on would become central to a reinvigorated global radical anti-capitalist bloc and re-ignited something that world elites thought they had ended: a “global civil war”.5

Although they did not necessarily succeed in – or did not even attempt to – seize state power, their actions, the historian Eric Hobsbawm argued, were still revolutionary “in both the ancient utopian sense of seeking a permanent reversal of values, a new and perfect society, and in the operational sense of seeking to achieve it by action on streets and barricades”.6

Or, as geographer Michael Watts noted of the uprisings that swept the world in 1968, they were revolutionary not “because governments were, or might have been, overthrown but because a defining characteristic of revolution is that it abruptly calls into question existing society and presses people into action”.7

Critical of ‘existing society’ and pressed into action, a growing number of people began fighting for what later activists called ‘system change’ to address ecological problems.

Intra-elite struggles

This resurgence of radical environmentalism in particular and of radicalism in general troubled those intellectuals drawn from or aligned with the world’s dominant classes in the United States and other advanced industrialised countries. Barraged with unrelenting criticism – pickets, protests, boycotts, direct actions – and besieged by demands for stronger regulation and ‘system change,’ many US business leaders felt under attack.

One executive probably captured the mood when he said in jest: “At this rate business can soon expect support from the environmentalists. We can get them to put the corporation on the endangered species list”.8 Not since the Great Depression and the New Deal, notes political scientist David Vogel, did US capitalists feel so “politically vulnerable”.

Although the exact conditions varied, the situation was similar in other countries where radical movements emerged. Under siege, many dominant intellectuals and corporate elites struggled to understand what was going on, how to define their interests in the face of it, and how to react.
Many thought that the so-called ‘environmental problems’ were not ‘problems’ at all or that they could be solved through the normal workings of the market or through existing institutions.9 Insofar as they acknowledged the problem, many perceived only a threat to their company’s or their industry’s interests and sought to protect them by simply rejecting the grievances aired by subordinate groups, killing their proposals, and resorting to coercive measures to intimidate or discredit their proponents.10

But there were other intellectuals who pursued and advocated an altogether different response. Unlike most reactionary elites, these reformists were typically from patrician or bourgeois families in their respective countries. Others were from less privileged backgrounds but had assumed high government office or positions in ‘civil society’ organisations, most notably the philanthropic foundations. But unlike government officials, they were what Weber called the “notables”: those who lived for rather than off politics.11

Among those from such backgrounds who would play leading roles on climate-related issues would be people like Laurence and David Rockefeller, of the famous dynasty’s younger generation; Robert O. Anderson, owner of the oil giant Atlantic Richfield; McGeorge Bundy, the former dean of Harvard and National Security adviser and later president of the Ford Foundation; Robert McNamara, former CEO of Ford Motors, Defense Secretary, World Bank President, and Ford Foundation trustee.

In other countries across Europe, Latin America and Asia, they included those with very similar backgrounds to their US counterparts. Among them were the likes of Giovanni Agnelli, chairman of Italian car company Fiat; Aurelio Peccei, former president of Olivetti and convenor of the Club of Rome; Alexander King, an influential British scientist; Maurice Strong, former president of a large Canadian oil company and later head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Barbara Ward, a British economist and best-selling author, and adviser to numerous world leaders; Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau; Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India; Gamani Corea, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), from Sri Lanka; Mahbub ul-Haq, World Bank vice president from Pakistan; and numerous other ‘gentlemen lawyers’ and ‘learned cosmopolitans’.

Though they came from different countries, had their own specific interests, and pursued different and not always congruent projects, this loose network of elite intellectuals often pursued the same actions or took the same positions on particular issues. This was not because they were engaged in a ‘conspiracy’ but because their background meant that they generally thought about and acted upon global ecological issues through the lens of a common worldview.12

Unlike other elites, they were generally more open to the view that global warming and other ecological changes were indeed happening. Thus, for example, the oilman-turned-philanthropist who funded some of the key organisations that would push for action on climate change, Robert O. Anderson, called for a “steady mid-course between doom and gloom alarmists and those who resist acknowledging the clear danger to which the human environment is being subjected”.13

Similarly, the industrialists, executives, and scientists gathered in the Club of Rome would portray the environmental issue as nothing less than a “global crisis”.14 And, unlike other elites, they thought that the problem involved far larger threats than simply the diminution of specific firms’ prerogatives or countries’ economic competitiveness. They worried about pollution impairing their access to raw materials, intensifying international competition and prompting protectionism, and potentially even igniting inter-capitalist wars, such as World War I and World War II, that could once again fragment the global market and impede capitalist expansion.

But more than that, they also worried that environmental degradation would further fuel public dissatisfaction and anger and therefore encourage support for radicalism. Breaking with other elites, they effectively concluded that in order to defuse such a threat, at least some of the grievances and demands of subordinate groups needed to be addressed – something that could be done only by fundamentally reforming global capitalism. Bound by these common views, these “enlightened reactionaries” – to use Karl Polanyi’s label – set out to build a transnational reformist movement or “bloc from above”, bringing together otherwise isolated elites and drawing in members of other classes to push for their project of ‘changing the system.’ They did this despite more conservative elites who wanted no change at all, and of course, against the radicals who wanted a very different kind of system change.

Undertaking parallel, sometimes even clashing initiatives, they deployed their vast economic resources and social connections – straddling the worlds of business, politics and science – to build this movement’s capacity to engage in ideological and political struggle on the world stage.

Radical language, reformist ends

To attract support, they advocated a different way of making sense of, and, thus, of thinking, talking, and acting about ‘global environmental change’ that absorbed certain elements proposed by radicals while departing from them on the most fundamental questions. Like radicals, they sometimes called upon or “interpellated” members of subordinate groups as belonging to the ‘poor’ as opposed to the ‘rich’, and sometimes even borrowed from radicals in designating them as part of the ‘periphery’ as opposed to the ‘core’.

But they studiously avoided calling them members of exploited or dominated classes whose interests are in conflict with those of the exploiting or dominant classes; instead, they preferred to emphasise their identity as members of one “mankind” whose interests are not at odds with the interests of the world’s elites – all inhabitants of Only One Earth, as the title of Ward’s bestselling 1972 book for the first UN conference on the environment put it.

Echoing radicals, they told people that global ecological problems had less to do with ‘bad personal habits’ and more to do with the broader political and economic system. As the 1974 Cocoyoc Declaration, a follow-up to the 1972 Stockholm declaration written by Ward, ul-Haq, and others, put it: “[M]ankind’s predicament is rooted primarily in economic and social structures and behavior within and between countries”. But unlike radicals, they stressed that the problem was not the system as such but rather the lack of regulation and inadequate ‘scientific management’ of the system at the global level. Though they would disagree over what counts as “excessive”, all saw ecological problems as “evils which flow from excessive reliance on the market system”, in the words of the Cocoyoc Declaration.

So, like radicals, they explained to people that they could only alleviate their suffering by pushing for what radicals called ‘system change’. But against radicals, they told people that changing the system did not entail overthrowing capitalism, but rather enhancing the global regulation of capitalism through what the Club of Rome called “radical reform of institutions and political processes at all levels”. Countering both conservatives and radicals, they argued for the need neither to keep the system nor to junk it altogether but to improve it by reducing the “excessive reliance on the market” and by moving towards what the Cocoyoc Declaration calls the “management of resources and the environment on a global scale”.

The Club of Rome, for example, called for a “world resource management plan”15 while the Trilateral Commission advocated “international policy coordination” for managing the “global commons”16 in order to correct market failures, minimise inefficiencies, foster competition, and redistribute wealth in order to reduce poverty and mitigate ecological degradation. These proposals were what later scholars would call “international ecological managerialism”, or global “ecological modernization”.17

Put differently, they told people that they should aspire not to the creation of a post-capitalist society but to a greener, more regulated, capitalist society. For only by perpetuating reformed ‘green’ capitalism, pursuing more trade, more growth and ‘sustainable development’ could ‘mankind’ solve ecological problems, address social grievances, and realise the vision of the good life.

As the Founex Declaration put it: “development” – meaning capitalist development – is the “cure” for the environmental problems facing the poor. Consequently, against radicals who urge people to view the dominant classes as their oppressors and the targets of opposition, they urged the public to focus their anger only on particular members of the dominant group – i.e. ‘bad capitalists’ or those ‘bad elites’ (variously, the USA, the advanced economies, big business, the oil corporations, the Republicans, and so on).

At the same time, they called upon the public to join the moral, responsible elites as ‘partners’ in pushing for and bringing about ‘system change.’ Much of what succeeding reformists would say and prescribe from the 1970s through to the 2000s essentially built on these recurring discursive or ideological themes.

Building their movement’s capacity

Reformist intellectuals did not, however, stop at rallying people to their side and exhorting them to fight for their cause. Often in coordination, but also sometimes competing with each other, they mobilised to equip their supporters with cutting-edge knowledge on global environmental problems – and with ‘policy options’ for managing them – by funding or otherwise supporting hundreds if not thousands of universities and government or inter-governmental research departments and thinktanks.

Thus, for example, the Ford Foundation financed a whole battalion of academic centres, research departments and scientific networks such as the Aspen Institute, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Brookings Institute, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Trilateral Commission “study groups”, and many other outfits.

The Volkswagen Foundation funded the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth study. McNamara transformed the World Bank into the world’s largest centre for research on the relationship between environment and development. As its first Executive Director, Maurice Strong established UNEP as one of the key initiators of large-scale collaborative research on the ozone hole, biodiversity loss, and climate change. Reformists in developing countries formed the South Centre, a think-tank that became a key source of analysis for government officials from the South.18

This is not to say that they merely funded research with which they would agree. Indeed, probably as a result of their own lack of knowledge, uncertainties, or internal tensions, they chose, or at least strove, to ‘diversify their portfolios’ by supporting different researchers approaching the problem from dissimilar perspectives, including those they would subsequently disagree with.

To improve their ability to advocate for the reforms they wanted, they also undertook various initiatives to identify and groom scores of highly educated middle-class professionals – lawyers, economists and scientists – who were supportive of their reformist vision, and devoted considerable  resources and energy towards promoting the ‘professionalisation’ of their activism.

Ford, Rockefeller, Anderson and others, for example, bankrolled the formation of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), and possibly thousands of other moderate or non-radical groups across the world.19

These ‘capacity-building’ efforts extended to a wide range of organisations, in part because of a deliberate strategy of taking risks and finding innovative people. Ford, even as it supported more moderate or even more conservative reformists, also funded ‘public interest’ organisations that were more critical of ‘big business’ and more inclined to raise questions of social justice.

Through such investments in generating knowledge and building movements, they assembled a loose, decentralised, transnational network of highly-trained reformists, occupying strategic positions in various governments, international organisations and civil society groups worldwide, which then pushed the world’s governments to adopt a raft of far-reaching environmental measures to address global environmental problems at the local and global levels.

Thus, for example, equipped with research confirming global warming and with studies assessing possible policy options, this global network of reformists mobilised to raise the alarm and push for unprecedented global regulatory interventions to address climate change. It was UNEP, for example, that encouraged scientists to speak up and to push for an internationally coordinated response.

Scientists and activists associated with EDF and other reformist groups organised a flurry of international conferences on the issue and pressed the world’s governments to commence negotiations on an agreement. And it was EDF and others that spearheaded the formation of the Climate Action Network (CAN), which would go on to be become the world’s largest network of NGOs calling for government “action” on climate change.20

Simply put, if it had not been for the independent but converging initiatives of these reformists – and the elites that supported them – the UN negotiations on climate change might never have happened. Although they did not necessarily agree on all the details, they did converge in pushing for a strong, legally-binding international climate agreements. They united behind demands for unprecedented internationally coordinated interventions in the global economy that could oblige certain countries and industries to drastically reduce their emissions and for establishing a kind of de facto global ‘welfare scheme’ that could compel some countries to transfer finance and technology to others.

A global battle for hearts and souls

Thanks to all these investments in political and ideological mobilisation, the reformist movement was able to go on the offensive from the 1970s onwards. Effectively backed by the threat of the more radical alternatives posed by the movements to their left, it succeeded in overcoming conservative resistance and incrementally put in place a range of ambitious and far-reaching environmental regulatory measures in many countries, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act approved in the USA in the 1970s.

At the international level, this reformist bloc secured agreements tackling global environmental problems such as the ozone hole, biodiversity loss, desertification, and climate change. These measures, as limited as they may have been, likely prevented even worse outcomes had reformists not pushed for them. In so doing, reformist elites did more than just deliver limited relief and material concessions to members of the dominated classes; they also countered radicals’ attempts to reshape their subjectivities and succeeded in dispelling their attempts to channel people’s anger and anxiety towards fighting for radical system change.

This is because, by appearing to change the system and channelling limited benefits or advantages to subordinate groups, they undermined radicals’ capacity to convince people to diagnose their suffering as the inevitable result of capitalism and to see themselves as members of antagonistic classes whose interests are always incompatible with the dominant classes.

And, as an increasing number of people came to see themselves as members of harmonious communities, to believe that their suffering is caused only or primarily by the lack of regulation of capitalism, to conclude that they could improve their conditions without going so far as having to overthrow capitalism, and to view at least some elites as ‘partners’ or ‘leaders’ to support, so ever fewer would therefore be motivated to defy the powerful and to cast their lot with movements fighting for radical system change.

For this and other reasons, radicals worldwide have not only found it harder to gain new adherents from the 1970s on, but even once committed fighters would either lay down their arms or ‘defect’ altogether.21 Once on the upsurge, radical anti-capitalist movements would consequently be on the defensive, continuing to organise but increasingly pushed to the margins.

In the USA, Europe, and probably in other countries where the radical environmentalist message had only a few years before gained traction, radical critique would “fizzle out” and anti-capitalist environmentalism would suffer a “precipitous decline”.22


Thus, without always deploying the violence they constantly keep in the background, the more forward-looking of the world’s elites have at the very least been able to dissuade people from struggling to replace capitalism with a different, radically democratic system; at most, they have been able to persuade or motivate them to actively fight to ‘improve’ an inherently undemocratic system in order to prevent it from being overthrown.

By organising and mobilising a transnational movement from above to wage a global “passive revolution” in favour of regulating the market, they have been able to partially defuse the class antagonisms that the radical intellectuals had sought to kindle. By so doing, they have not only prevented or restrained more people from expressing or venting their anger, but have been able to harness that anger towards tinkering with the system in order to keep it the same.

Had these reformist elites not mounted this global passive revolution, it is unlikely that the world’s governments would have attempted to establish global-level regulation to address global ecological problems. And had the world’s governments not acted, it is unlikely that they would have staved off a global counter-hegemonic challenge to capitalism.

And yet, it is also important to stress that, as indicated by the willingness of a significant number of people to engage in mass civil disobedience action on the final day of the latest UN climate summit in Paris and the growing radicalisation of many climate activists worldwide, they still have not succeeded in completely defeating or eliminating this challenge altogether.

For reasons that have to do in part with leading reformists’ decision to accommodate conservative elites’ demands to weaken their proposed reforms, our movement has not only survived the reformist offensive but in recent years, we have even become resurgent again. But whether we will do more than survive ultimately depends on whether we can counter these more forward-looking elites’ sophisticated and well-organised attempts to change the hearts and souls of those we seek to draw to our side.

This does not necessarily mean always opposing the reforms and concessions that the more ‘radical’ among the reformists are promoting, or refusing to work with them. But it does mean constantly subverting their attempts to channel people’s anger to only their chosen enemies and to confine them to just aspiring for a greener, more ecologically-conscious ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.’

Put differently, it means pushing people to go beyond the horizon that the reformists seek to restrict them to, and to help empower them to dream of a democratic, because socialist, alternative. The alternative is that we just remain stuck in place without being able to march forward.

Herbert Villalon Docena is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of a workers’ group, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Solidarity of Filipino Workers), in the Philippines. Prior to pursuing graduate studies, he was a researcher and campaigner with Focus on the Global South.


1. On growing protests around environmental issues worldwide, see among others: Hays, Samuel (1987) Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press; Gottlieb, Robert (1993) Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, Washington, DC: Island Press; Brechin, Steven R. and Willett Kempton (1994) “Global Environmentalism: A Challenge to the Postmaterialism Thesis?” Social Science Quarterly 75(2):245–69; Doyle, Timothy (2005) Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective, New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press; Guha, Ramachandra (2000) Environmentalism: A Global History, New York: Longman.

2. See, among others: McCormick, John (1989) Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; O’Riordan, Timothy (1979) “Public Interest Environmental Groups in the United States and Britain,” Journal of American Studies 13(3):409–38; Schnaiberg, Allan (1980) The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity, New York: Oxford University Press; Vogel, David (1986) National Styles of Regulation: Environmental Policy in Great Britain and the United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

3. Watts, Michael (2001) “1968 and All That...,” Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 157-88.

4. McCormick, John (1989) Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

5. On the resurgence of the anti-capitalist Left in the 1960s, see Arrighi, G., and Silver, B. J. (1999) Chaos and governance in the modern world system. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; Schurmann, F. (1974) The logic of world power: an inquiry into the origins, currents, and contradictions of world politics. Pantheon Books; Vogel, D. (1978) “Why Businessmen Distrust Their State: The Political Consciousness of American Corporate Executives,” British Journal of Political Science, 8 (1), 45–78. The quote on the “global civil war” is from Watts 2001:162.

6. Hobsbawm, Eric (1996) The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991, New York: Vintage.

7. Watts, Michael (2001) “1968 and All That...,” Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 157-88.

8. Quoted in Vogel, David (1986) National Styles of Regulation: Environmental Policy in Great Britain and the United States, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, p.145; see also Vogel, David (1989) Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America, New York: Basic Books.

9. Caldwell, Lynton Keith and Weiland, Paul Stanley (1996) International Environmental Policy: From the Twentieth to the Twenty-First Century, Durham, NC: Duke University Press; Hays, Samuel P. (1989) “Three Decades of Environmental Politics: The Historical Context” in M.J. Lacey (Ed.), Government and environmental politics: essays on historical developments since World War Two, (pp. 19-80). Washington, DC and Lanham, MD: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press; Buttel, Frederick and Flinn, William (1978) “The Politics of Environmental Concern,” Environment and Behavior, 10 (1), 17-36.

10. Egan, Michael (2007) Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Gottlieb, Robert (1993) Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, Washington, DC: Island Press; Hays, Samuel (1987) Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press; Hays, Samuel P. (1989) “Three Decades of Environmental Politics: The Historical Context,” in M.J. Lacey (Ed.), Government and environmental politics: essays on historical developments since World War Two, (pp. 19-80). Washington, DC and Lanham, MD: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press; Vogel, David (1986) National Styles of Regulation: Environmental Policy in Great Britain and the United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; Schnaiberg, Allan (1980) The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity, New York: Oxford University Press.

11. For more on the social backgrounds of these intellectuals, see especially Dezalay, Yves and Garth, Bryant G. (2002) The Internationalization of Palace Wars: Lawyers, Economists, and the Contest to Transform Latin American States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. See also Arnove, Robert and Pinede, Nadine (2007) “Revisiting the ‘Big Three’ Foundations,” Critical Sociology, 33 (3), 389-425; Berman, Edward H. (1980) “The Foundations’ Role in American Foreign Policy,” in R. F. Arnove (Ed.), Philanthropy and cultural imperialism: the foundations at home and abroad. (pp. 203-32). Boston, MA: G.K. Hall; Fisher, Donald (1980) “American Philanthropy and the Social Sciences: The Reproduction of a Conservative Ideology,” In R.F. Arnove (Ed.), Philanthropy and cultural imperialism: the foundations at home and abroad, (pp. 1-23). Boston, MA: G.K. Hall; Gill, Stephen (1990) American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

12. For more on their worldview, see, among others: Arnove, Robert F. (1980) Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad, Boston, MA: G.K. Hall; Arnove, Robert and Pinede, Nadine (2007) “Revisiting the ‘Big Three’ Foundations,” Critical Sociology, 33 (3), 389-425; Berman, Edward H. (1980). “The Foundations’ Role in American Foreign Policy,” in R. F. Arnove (Ed.), Philanthropy and cultural imperialism: the foundations at home and abroad, (pp. 203-32). Boston, MA: G.K. Hall; Gill, Stephen (1990) American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press; Goldman, Michael (2006) Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Golub, Robert and Townsend, Joe (1977) “Malthus, multinationals and the Club of Rome,” Social Studies of Science, 7 (2), 201-22; Packenham, Robert A. (1973) Liberal America and the Third World; Political Development Ideas in Foreign Aid and Social Science. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Slaughter, Sheila and Silva, Edward T. (1980) “Looking Backwards: How Foundations Formulated Ideology in the Progressive Period,” in R.F. Arnove (Ed.), Philanthropy and cultural imperialism: the foundations at home and abroad. (pp. 55-86). Boston, MA: G.K. Hall.

13. Quoted in McCormick 1989:97.

14. Hajer, M. A. (1995) The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process. Oxford University Press.

15. Hajer 1995:83.

16. Gill 1990:174.

17. Hajer 1995: 3-32; see also Dryzek, John (1997) The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

18. On foundations’ support for RFF and the Conservation Foundation, see Barkley, Katherine and Weissman, Steve (1970) “The Eco-Establishment,” Ramparts, 48-58.; on EDF, see Newell, Peter (2000) Climate for Change: Non-State Actors and the Global Politics of the Greenhouse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Pooley, Eric (2010) The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth, New York: Hyperion; on the Trilateral Commission, see Gill, Stephen (1990) American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press; on IIED, see Morphet, Sally (1996). NGOs and the Environment. In P. Willetts (Ed.) ‘The conscience of the world’: the influence of non-governmental organizations in the UN system (pp. 116-46). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.: 131; on the IUCN, see McCormick, John (1989) Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; Hajer, M. A. (1995) The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process, Oxford University Press.

19. Bjork, Tord. 2012. The UN Participatory Rebellion - People's Stockholm Summits Stockholm: Association; Keck, Margaret E. and Sikkink, Kathryn (1998) Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.; Rich, Bruce (1994) Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development, Boston, MA: Beacon Press; Goldman, Michael (2006) Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

20. Andresen, Steinar and Agrawala, Shardul (2002) “Leaders, Pushers and Laggards in the Making of the Climate Regime,” Global Environmental Change, 12(1), 41-51; Newell, Peter (2000), Climate for Change: Non-State Actors and the Global Politics of the Greenhouse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Boehmer-Christiansen, Sonja (1994) “Scientific Uncertainty and Power Politics,” in B. Spector and I.W. Zartmann (Eds.), Negotiating international regimes: lessons learned from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (pp. 181-98). London and Boston, MA: Graham and Trotman/Martinus Nijhoff; Pulver, Simone (2004) Power in the Public Sphere: The Battles Between Oil Companies and Environmental Groups in the UN Climate Change Negotiations, 1991-2003 (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Berkeley; interviews with the author.

21. Watts, Michael (2001) “1968 and All That...,” Progress in Human Geography, 25(2),157-88; Dobson, Andrew (2000) Green Political Thought. London; New York: Routledge.

22. Boltanski, Luc and Chiapello, Eve (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism. London and New York: Verso.; Gottlieb, Robert (1993) Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, Washington, DC: Island Press; Hajer, M. A. (1995) The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process. Oxford University Press.; Mol, A. (2000) “The environmental movement in an era of ecological modernisation,” Geoforum, 31(1), 45-56; McCormick, John (1989) Reclaiming Paradise: The Global Environmental Movement, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; Buttel, Frederick and Flinn, William (1978) “The Politics of Environmental Concern,” Environment and Behavior, 10(1),17-36; Spaargaren, Gert and Mol, Arthur P. J. (1992). Sociology, Environment, and Modernity: Ecological Modernization as a Theory of Social Change, Society & Natural Resources, 5 (4), 323-44.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Green Left at the Socialist Resistance Forum on the Paris Climate Agreement

Socialist Resistance organised a forum to talk about the recent Paris Climate Agreement in Kings Cross, London.

Below is Camden Green Party and Green Left supporter Dee Searle's presentation at the forum, where she reflects on what was achieved and where the climate movement goes here, and more broadly on red green matters.

Sunday 24 January 2016

“Save Us Bill Gates!” Video Game Satirises Philanthrocapitalism

A bit fun from Global Justice Now who designed this video game mocking the Bill Gates foundation and its ill judged attempts to save the world.

A video game released today by campaign group Global Justice Now puts the player in the role of a super-hero Bill Gates flying above a stereotypical African landscape trying to disperse as much money as he can, while his portfolio of stocks and shares keeps generating more money.

The video follows the release of the report Gated Development - Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? earlier this week, which levelled a series of criticisms as to the way that the foundation was dangerously skewing international development towards corporate globalisation and techno-fixes.

The report also highlighted the relationship between the money that the foundation has to give away and Microsoft’s tax practices. A 2012 report from the US Senate found that Microsoft’s use of offshore subsidiaries enabled it to avoid taxes of $4.5 billion – a sum greater than the Gates Foundation’s annual grant making ($3.6 billion in 2014).

Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now said:
“The ’Save us Bill Gates!’ video game is clearly a tongue-in-cheek, piece of fun, but the underlying issues it points to are very serious. It’s very disturbing that a small handful of obscenely rich individuals can exert an enormous influence on the education, healthcare and agriculture policies around the world. The vision of development that the Gates Foundation is pushing is one derived from the free market, big business values of corporate America, and has the potential to make poverty and inequality even worse. People in countries across the global south don’t need ‘saving’ by the likes of Bill Gates. They want justice and not charity, with changes in the unfair trade rules and tax legislations that mean that these countries are systemically impoverished.”

Saturday 23 January 2016

Survey Finds that Every £1 Invested in Parks and Nature Reserves Delivers Over £50 in Social Benefits

A study commissioned by the Land Trust by economic consultants, Carney Green shows that access to nature by the public contributes £30 towards health and wellbeing benefits and £23 towards crime reduction and community safety.

The survey was of visitors to the Land Trust’s over 50 green spaces in the UK, but the exact methodology and the full details of the survey have not been released. You might expect that visitors to green spaces would give positive views of visits to nature reserves, but it does seem to be intuitively true that there is value in getting away from the toils of everyday life, and communing, even in a small way, with nature.

Here are some of the results:

The average rating for life satisfaction from people using our green spaces was higher at 8.14 the national average of 7.51.

The average rating for levels of anxiety from people using our green spaces was lower at 2.33 than the national average of 2.93.

For every £1 spent P.A. by the Land Trust, society benefits on average £30.30 in health care provision because people using our sites feel fitter and healthier.

For every £1 spent P.A. by the Land Trust, society benefits £23.30 towards the cost of crime and anti-social behaviour, as our green spaces offer community activities and bring people together.

The perceived reduction in crime and feeling safer, due to the Land Trust’s activities, is equivalent to a £40.9 million p.a. saving to society.

25 – 30 per cent of park users also saw the value in using open space to “relax and get away from work”, spend time with their family, relieve stress, ‘let off steam’ and ‘feel refreshed’.

All of this brings to mind the 'metabolic rift' between humans and nature that the capitalist system causes, according to John Bellamy Foster who coined the term, tracing it back to Marx’s notion of the "irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism” from Capital volume 3. Marx theorized a rupture in the metabolic interaction between humanity and the rest of nature emanating from capitalist production and the growing division between town and country.

Joel Kovel too talks about the rupture of ecosystems wrought by capitalist production, and of course human beings are ecosystems themselves, and by being placed in what is an alien environment, the daily struggle to earn money, just to survive, causes much mental ill health, stress, depression etc.

Whenever I visit one of these types of green spaces, I am always struck by the peace and quiet, and that time seems to drift away, a far cry from normal everyday life of commuting into London and back, and the pressures of the job and all of the management bullshit, when you are there.

So to those who would have us believe that there is something ‘natural’ about the capitalist system, or it is part of ‘human nature’ to behave in ways that are compatible with capitalism, this survey should come as a jolt.

The only thing that is natural about capitalism, is that it was invented by a creature of nature, us. If it was such a ‘natural’ thing, why did it only emerge a couple of hundred years ago? And why was it necessary to force it onto people, with violence, like the enclosures of common land in Britain, to force people into the towns and factories, the centres of production?

Take away people’s alternative way of living, and they are compelled to participate in the capitalist system, they have no choice. It is still happening today, enclosures of common land in developing countries is rife, because it is not natural to the peoples of these lands, to go and work in a factory, 16 hours a day. They are often forcibly removed from common land. 

This survey is useful, but is too timid in its monetised conclusions, it does though provide food for thought.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Capitalism in Crisis Again – Are we on the Brink of another Recession?

Stock exchanges all over the world were in sharp retreat today, with billions of dollars knocked off the value of shares, with Asian and European markets going officially into a ‘bear’ market, a fall of 20% from the level reached in April last year. The US stock exchange is expected to go the same way later today. Some market analysts are saying that this could well be worse than the 2008 melt down.

2008 is our starting point here, as you may remember, that recession was caused by an over inflated property market in the US and Europe, which was simply unsustainable, built on cheap and easily available credit (backed by the US government). This was necessary to maintain growth, as wages had been falling in the UK since 2003, and even longer in the US. At some point the chickens were going to come home to roost, and sure enough they did. The collapse was spectacular, and very damaging, and western economies have still not fully recovered to their 2008 level.

What was meant to happen was that the BRIC countries, but especially China, was going to provide the growth in the now interconnected world economy, to pull all other economies out of the slump. China now provides the bulk of manufacturing products in the global economy, and so was the prime candidate for getting the world back to economic growth.

There was a problem with this though, China needed to sell their products to somebody, mainly the US and Europe, but because wages continued to fall in the west, there wasn’t the market for what the Chinese were producing.

China countered this in a very western fashion, by inflating their own property bubble to maintain growth, but now whole new towns and cities in China are uninhabited, and property has crashed, just like it did in the US and Europe. This has put further pressure on the Chinese economy, as well as other factors which have pushed it to the brink of a massive crash.

Probably the main other factor, is the collapse in the price of oil. To some extent this has been caused by the flat lining or at best sluggish growth in western economies, producing a drop in demand, but also by more oil coming onto the world market from new sources, the Canadian tar sands and fracking in the US. Taken together there is only one way the price of oil would go, down.

This all conforms to the norms of capitalism, with its tendency to over produce, throwing the system into periodic (and it seems more frequent now) crisis. Firstly the over-production of financial credit for mortgages and other loans (credit cards etc), and then the over-production of a key product, oil, but other raw materials too, like iron ore and cement. All this with a global distribution system, cargo ships, to circulate these unwanted products around the world. So much so that even with the fall in the oil price, ships lie empty for lack of custom for their transported materials, and the downward spiral gets even worse.

What little growth there has been in western economies was boosted by the printing of huge amounts of money by central banks (Quantitive Easing), and the maintenance of very low interest rates on credit.

When the US raised interest rates last month, it looked risky with a fragile recovery of the global economy taking place. Now it looks positively foolish. Increasing the price of credit, to an already flat buying market, may have been the final straw which has tipped the world economy over the edge.

To reduce interest rates so quickly after raising them is something of a humiliation for the US, but they will probably have to do this. More importantly perhaps, Quantitive Easing can’t go on forever, and is useless anyway without a demand for credit in the system, which looks to be where we are heading.

Whilst this has been going on, rich individuals and corporations have of course got much richer, but for everyone else, this has been, and looks set to get even worse, very painful. It is hard to see what can be done from inside the logic of the capitalist system to get the problems rectified. But abandonment of the system logic is unthinkable by the elites who do so well out of it, even when most people are victims.

We the victims need to force a change on the elites, and only time will tell if we have the courage and organisation to do this? Perhaps it will get so bad that people will feel they have nothing to lose by ditching this crazy system, because that is when drastic changes occur. It is a sad thought, that we seem unable to make the connection between the economic system and all the damage that it causes, without having our noses thoroughly rubbed in the crap. But better late than never.  

Tuesday 19 January 2016

London Mayor and Assembly Election – Who to Second Preference for Mayor?

On Thursday 5th of May, millions of London voters will go to the polls to directly elect a Mayor and 25 London Assembly members. The current Mayor is the Tory Boris Johnson who is leaving the post and the 25 seat London Assembly is made up of 12 Labour Members, 9 Tory Members, 2 Lib Dem Members, 2 Green Party Members.

The Assembly is made up of the 14 winning constituency candidates (the ballot paper is coloured yellow), where up to four London boroughs can constitute a constituency. Locally, where I live, the constituency is Enfield and Haringey, won by Labour in 2012, and the Green Party candidate is Ronald Stewart.

The other 11 Assembly members are elected from the London wide Member List (orange coloured ballot paper) on a proportional basis, using what is known as the Modified d’Hondt Formula, similar to that used for European Parliament Elections, and called the ‘additional member’ system. This takes into account the total votes cast in the London-wide ballot together with the number of Constituency London Assembly Member seats that each political party has already won.

A party candidate needs to get 5% of the London wide Member vote to qualify to win one of these seats at least. Parties that win constituency seats (entirely Labour and Tory at the four elections since the first in 2000), have their London Member vote divided by the number of seats already won (plus 1), and each time a party wins a London Member seat, this is added to the number dividing their vote.

To simplify things, for parties who have not won constituency seats, 5% gets you one seat, around 8% gets you two, and around 10% gets you three, but all this depends how the votes actually fall. In 2010 the Green party secured 8.5% of the London Member vote, which yielded two seats.

If you want to see Greens elected to the London Assembly, then make sure you vote Green on the orange coloured ballot paper, as this is where we will win seats, and we can then continue to represent Londoners on green issues.

The Mayoral contest will once again be dominated by the Labour and Tory candidates, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith. The Green Party candidate is Sian Berry.

The ballot paper for the Mayoral election which is coloured pink, allows for a first and second preference vote. Second preference votes come into play if no single candidate gets more than 50% of the first preference vote. The top two candidates then go forward into a final round, where all the other candidates are eliminated, and their voters’ second preferences are counted. After this exercise the winning candidate is the one with the most first and second preference votes. This type of voting system is known as the ‘supplementary vote’.

At every London Mayor election the Labour and Tory candidates have been in the final run off, (with the exception of Ken Livingstone standing as an independent in 2000, but really he was 'Labour') by some distance, and it is a certainty that this will be case this year. If you vote second preference for any of the other candidates, it will be wasted, as all the other candidates will be eliminated by the final round.

So, who should Green voters second preference for Mayor, Khan or Goldsmith? The London Green Party has yet to decide on a second preference recommendation, but probably will do so in the next couple months.

There was a suggestion by Jenny Jones, one of the outgoing Green Assembly Members, that Greens might vote to second preference Zac Goldsmith, the Tory candidate, because he has green credentials. Goldsmith is a former editor of The Ecologist magazine and has campaigned on environmental issues, such as against the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

He is also very wealthy with an estimated fortune of over £1 billion and is, well, a very privileged Tory toff. However well-meaning his environmental thinking is, being Green doesn’t stop at giving to good causes like some Victorian philanthropist, it is about challenging the very system that has made Goldsmith so rich. He is one of 1%.

I disagree with Jenny Jones, and there is no way I’ll be voting second preference for Goldsmith, just because he has a bicycle or whatever. I could never vote for a Tory. Somewhat reluctantly, because I’m no big fan of Sadiq Khan either, I will second preference the Labour candidate for London Mayor.    

Saturday 16 January 2016

Greens are the most Left Wing Major Political Party in the UK

A survey was conducted by academics at Queen Mary University London and Sussex University (in association with YouGov) just after the General Election last year, seems to show that the voters in Britain think the Green Party is most left wing major party in the UK. The voters who identified themselves as strong supporters of Conservative, Labour, Lid Dem, SNP, UKIP and the Greens were surveyed and their findings are published at the LSE website.

The people surveyed were asked to rate the party they supported and the other party as Left or Right wing, on a scale where 0 is very left wing and 10 is very right wing. The results are illustrated above. If you look along the line horizontally, say of Green supporters, you can see that they rate the Greens as quite left wing (2.30), a full point ahead of Labour and more than two points more than the Lib Dems.

There is a rider here, this poll was conducted before Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party, so I would think that Labour would score more left wing now, although that is not apparent from the behaviour of Labour MPs so far. Interestingly, supporters Labour rated themselves as more left wing than the party, which does indicate that Corbyn was pushing at an open door in trying to move Labour left. Green supporters rated themselves slightly to the right of the Greens.

They surveyors rated the parties as well, and I don't know what criteria they used but it does seem to be fairly accurate (the last row of scores), although I'm unsure how they came to rate Labour as slightly to the left of the Greens?

The second table shows how supporters of these parties rated the other parties on the left/right scale. You can see that Labour supporters rated the Greens as more left wing than Labour (slightly), as did most supporters of the other parties, with the odd exception like the Tory and UKIP supporters rating Labour as more left than the Greens (and the SNP even more so), but this may be out of habit with Labour. The SNP were put about about in the Tory press dangerous left wingers which may have influenced their rating by Tories). In general though, from left to right, it runs Greens, Labour, SNP, Lib Dem, UKIP, and Conservative, on the left/right scale.

It does look from these results, and remember these are strong supporters of the parties and so no doubt quite politically engaged, more so than floating voters say, that voters in the UK are more left wing than has been suggested, certainly the mainstream media.

It we take the Tory rating, by its supporters, of 7.8 as the far right wing end of the scale, then the famous 'middle ground' would be a rating of 3.9, which the SNP (3.55) comes closest to. The Lib Dems are regarded, by their own supporters, as more to the right.

It could be that the public is more left wing than thought, and it may just come down to having an effective leader, like Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP to put across left policies, rather than any great reluctance on UK to support left policies and parties.

Thursday 14 January 2016

2015 was a Record Year for Protests

An interesting piece written by David J Bailey over at The Conversation informs us that last year was a record year for protesting. His data shows that in 2011 protests peaked, the year of the Arab Spring, Occupy, UK Uncut, urban riots and anti-austerity and tuition fee protests, but 2015 did surpass 2011. After a fall in protests over the next two years, they then rose sharply from 2013 to a new peak in 2015.

Bailey has calculated the number of protests in the UK from 1980. The graph below shows the trends up until 2015. Protests fell back in the 1980s and 1990s, before steadying in the naughties with a rise in 2003 due, I will assume, to the Iraq war and the huge demonstrations that were provoked by the Labour government’s ill-judged military adventure in that unfortunate country. Protests then fell back again, until the financial crisis in 2008, from where they have sharply risen, after a fall back in 2010.

The participants of protests has changed over this period, and it is like a visual history of the country and how content we, the political activists, have been with our lot over the last thirty five years. The chart below details this changing of the groups of people involved in protests over the period.    

It is noticeable, and comes as no great surprise really, that in 1980, workers (union members) were by far the biggest protest group. Margaret Thatcher's neo-liberal Tory party was in power, and workers were under constant attack from the government. At this time over 13 million people were members of trade unions, which has fallen dramatically to about 6 million members today, mainly confined to the public sector, or former public sector.

Workers accounted for 70% of protests in 1980 but only 20% in 2015. In 2015 environmentalists, housing activists, students, pro-minority groups (including those supporting refugees and asylum seekers) and anti-cuts activists groups, contributed 40% of protests (up from less than 10% in 1980).

Not only does this reflect the decline in union membership and tough anti-strike laws introduced over the last thirty five years, but also the nature of protests and protesters. Climate change chief amongst them, environmental concerns are growing, where they were a minority cause in 1980, but there does seem to be more inclination for other groups to demonstrate, such as housing activists, and for them to organise and campaign, on a wide range of issues.

2015 saw environmentalists, housing activists and ant-austerity groups drawing together, in the joint climate, housing and anti-austerity demonstration organised with the People’s Assembly over the summer. There appears to be a realisation that together we are stronger, rather than just pursuing separate, single issue campaigns and that these issues are profoundly linked to our political and economic system. Their struggle is our struggle, kind of solidarity, across class lines in many cases.

It is also illuminating to look at what people were actually protesting about. The graphic below gives an illustration of these issues.

We can see that strikes account for far less protests in 2015 as compared with 1980. Demonstrations have increased, although it is interesting to note that they fell a little after 2011, but the biggest increase between 1980 and 2015 is in 'disruption' and 'other'. 

These actions were in the form of direct action, occupations or stunts performed by protesters, like Vivienne Westwood driving a tank to the Prime Minister’s home.

Some of the biggest demonstrations of 2015 continued to focus on the government’s austerity measures, including the 100,000 attendees at the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in June and 50,000 people protesting outside the Conservative Party Conference in October. September also saw 30,000 demonstrators calling for the government to do more to help refugees, and in November 50,000 environmentalists demonstrated in support of stronger government action to be agreed at the Paris summit.

It looks likely that these trends will continue, as there is plenty to protest about with our nasty Tory government set on destroying what is left of our welfare state. Will there come a point when a critical mass is reached, and these protests explode into a potentially revolutionary force? The future is hard to read, but when we look back at things like the May 1968 French protests, nobody really saw that coming at the time, but it became a very powerful social movement.

Who knows, it might only take one spark, to ignite the whole situation. History also teaches us, that things never stay the same forever.  

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Murray Bookchin and Ecosocialism

Murray Bookchin has become rather fashionable again recently in radical political circles, mainly due to his ideas being adopted by the Kurdish PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who read Bookchin’s work whilst in a Turkish prison in the late 1990s. Can we count Bookchin as an Ecosocialist though?

Öcalan attempted in early 2004 to arrange a meeting with Bookchin through his lawyers, describing himself as Bookchin's "student" eager to adapt his thought to Middle Eastern society. Though Bookchin was too ill to accept the request, he sent back a message of support. When Bookchin died in 2006, the PKK hailed the American thinker as "one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century", and vowed to put his theory into practice.

Which they did, in the area of northern Syria which they call Rojava in 2012, and they are still fighting to fully establish themselves there, in that war torn area. Traditionally, the PKK, were a Marxist/Leninist organisation, but reinvented themselves as anarcho-communists, following Bookchin’s ideas on the forms of real local democracy.

Bookchin himself was a former Marxist socialist, but became disillusioned mainly with the thinking of contemporary Marxists’ in the 1960s, especially in American academia. He set out much of his new thinking in pamphlets and essays, the best of which are brought together in his book, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, published in 1970. In the introduction to the second edition of the book he wrote ‘Socialism has become an industry and its literary works are commodities.’

Although Bookchin acknowledged Marx’s ‘rich’ contribution to the understanding of and the potential overthrow of the capitalist system, he thought it outdated. He set Marx in the context of his time, where material scarcity was the norm, but viewed from 1960s America (quite rightly) which had no scarcity, that this changed the environment in which revolutionary conditions might occur.

In Listen Marxist! a chapter in Post-Scarcity Anarchism he really lays into Marxist thinking, and accuses Marx directly of being an undemocratic centraliser with all that goes with it, notably a lack of liberty, no better and even sometimes worse than the bourgeois system socialists wanted to replace. He also is very critical of the Bolsheviks and their role in emascalating the soviets and factory committees, after the Russian revolution.

Ecosocialists are to some extent divided on whether Marx was an Ecosocialist or not, some seeing him as mainly a ‘productivist’. Indeed, Ecosocialism is probably closer to Anarchism than mainsteam twentieth century socialisms. Certainly Marx has a big influence on Ecosocialism, but that was true of Bookchin as well. Personally, I tend to agree with Bookchin, but I am agnostic on the matter anyway, I don’t think it matters much whether Marx was Green, for example. We take from him his thoughts on capitalism and socialism and use them for our age.

Bookchin called his ideas anarcho-communist or anarcho-syndicalist but he also coined a term which alluded to ecological matters, and so was the theory of Social Ecology formed. I think he still had an affection for socialism though, as he did state that the ‘social’ stood for socialist, but he didn’t want to confuse this with the contemporary Marxist socialism of the time. From this perspective, Socialist Ecology is in many ways the same thing as Ecosocialism, a term that had not been used by the time Bookchin was formulating his thoughts.

Like Marx, Bookchin’s work now looks dated. I think scarcity will be back quite soon, as natural resources deplete and climate change makes land scarce and drinking water in all probability too. I don't share his faith in technology to save us, either. But I do take his point, the world has moved on from the nineteenth century when Marx was developing his ideas for a post capitalist socialist world.

Joel Kovel, a very important figure in the emergence of Ecosocialism, studied Bookchin’s work and concluded that Social Ecology is much the same thing as Ecosocialism. Particularly around the idea of not having nation states, with all the evidence we have had of socialist states in practice, which generally seem to stifle true freedom and democracy. Ecosocialist’s want democracy from the bottom up, not the top down, and horizontal power structures, just like Bookchin advocated.

So, I think we can say that Murray Bookchin was an important figure in the tradition of Ecosocialism, and in the end it is only a matter of terminology. Whether he counts as an Ecosocialist, I don't know, but I certainly like to think that he does.