Betway have slashed their odds on Theresa May being deposed this year, from 5/4 to 4/5. Three other UK bookmakers are offering short odds or evens that Theresa May will be gone this year. Sky Bet is offering even money with William Hill offering odds of 11/10 and Corals 5/4, at time of writing. You can get more generous odds from Paddy Power who divide 2018 into four quarters, with quarter 1, the shortest odds at 5/1. But given that rumours are circulating that the local elections results in May will be so bad for the Tory party, that this will trigger a challenge to the prime minister, quarter 2 may be a better bet, at 6/1.
Tuesday 30 January 2018
Betway have slashed their odds on Theresa May being deposed this year, from 5/4 to 4/5. Three other UK bookmakers are offering short odds or evens that Theresa May will be gone this year. Sky Bet is offering even money with William Hill offering odds of 11/10 and Corals 5/4, at time of writing. You can get more generous odds from Paddy Power who divide 2018 into four quarters, with quarter 1, the shortest odds at 5/1. But given that rumours are circulating that the local elections results in May will be so bad for the Tory party, that this will trigger a challenge to the prime minister, quarter 2 may be a better bet, at 6/1.
Discontent is growing with May, amongst the party’s MPs, with more of them publicly calling for her to up her game or go, although some have stuck to the line that now is not the time to change the prime minister. Rumours also suggest that close to the 48 MPs needed for a vote of confidence in May, have submitted letters to the 1922 committee chair. Patience appears to be running out with May over domestic policy drift and in-fighting over the exact terms of the UKs exit from the European Union (EU).
May has only survived as long as she has since last June’s disastrous general election, when she threw away a ruling majority, because Tory MPs couldn’t agree on a successor and they worried that a general election might follow, which they would lose to the Labour party. This calculation appears to be changing though, with the feeling spreading that nothing could be worse than May carrying on for much longer.
But something else has changed too. The most hard-line Brexit Tory MPs have been supportive of May, as she talked tough on the exit negotiations. But her concession just before Christmas of paying a £39 billion ‘divorce’ settlement to the EU, and caving in by agreeing to in effect staying in the European customs union (and possibly European single market), to get an agreement on the Irish border, has caused a re-think. Leading hard-line Brexiteer, Jacob Rees Mogg has said May’s plan would leave the UK as a ‘vassal state’ of the EU.
Theresa Villiers, a former minister and also from the party’s hard-line Brexit wing, said that the UK appears set to remain in the EU 'in all but name.' This was sparked by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, speaking at the Davos conference last week, saying the UK’s trade relations with the EU would change only “very modestly” after Brexit. The hardliners are feeling betrayed, and now may be convinced that the only way to secure their demands of a hard Brexit, is to replace May with someone they view as ideologically sound on the matter.
This is certainly the most serious situation for May’s leadership that she has faced, and it is starting to look like the beginning of the end. May might conceivably survive a vote of no confidence, but even this may not be enough to save her. She might be so fatally damaged by the result that she is forced to resign.
In 1990, under different rules, then Tory prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, won the first round of a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine, only to resign a few days later. The Tories can be pretty brutal with a failing leader, and May is definitely failing.
If a hard-line Brexiteer wins the Tory leadership this could throw the whole process of Brexit into even more disarray than it is. The minimal progress achieved so far in the negotiations might be reversed, which is an alarming prospect for anyone with the good of the country at heart. It would likely tear the Tory apart at the same time, but that is of scant concern.
If there is one thing that gets the Tories going it is Europe, and it looks like they are going to take a chance with our future by casting the country into chaos, over their ideological obsession.
Let’s hope that this also leads to an early general election, where the stable can be swept clean, and this most self-indulgent of parties are ejected from office, for the common good.
Sunday 28 January 2018
Program – International Transform Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark,Saturday, 17 March 2018:
Title: “Global and Institutional Crises and Red-Green Alternatives”
How to respond to the growing systemic crisis in Europe and globally? This is a combination of multiple crises – political, social, climate and environmental – requiring systemic alternatives. System criticism is not enough. The conference is a contribution to the debate on if and how to break with the capitalist system underlying the crises and to develop red and green alternatives?
Venue: HK København, Svend Aukens Plads 11, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark
Price: 100 DKK, to be paid at the entrance.
Registration: send email to email@example.com
9:30 Registration and coffee/tea etc.
10:00-10:45 Daniel Tanuro, Belgium, author of ‘Green Capitalism: Why it can’t work’ and contributor to the book ‘Økosocialisme – fra systemkritik til alternativ’ (Solidaritet, 2015), ecosocialist and writer in La Gauche, certified agriculturalist.
“Urgency of an Ecosocialist Alternative. How to fill the gaps in emissions and in consciousness?”
There is an objective gap between the path of emissions reduction compatible with a 1.5°C temperature increase on the one hand, and the projections based on the Nationally determined contributions (NDC) on the other hand. There is also a huge subjective gap between the ecosocialist consciousness needed to break with the productivist logic of capitalism, on the one hand, and the alienated consciousness of the vast majority of the population, on the other hand. Bridging the first gap entails bridging the second. What strategy for ecosocialism?
10:45-11:30 Elizabeth Mpofu, Zimbabwe, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina International.
“Alternatives to the ecological crisis, the food crises and the climate crisis”
11:45-13.15 Questions and debate Break
14:15-17:00 Parallel seminars on 1) To combat climate change – the role of ecosocialism and ecofeminism; 2) Our common goods – reclaiming public services
Seminar 1: To combat climate change – the role of ecosocialism and ecofeminism
Yayo Herrero, Spain, Anthropologist, Director of FUHEM, Ecologistas en Acción
“Ecofeminist views to confront the Anthropocene“
Asbjørn Wahl, Norway, author and trade unionist, director of the Campaign for the Welfare state
”The role of labour in the fight against climate change”
Action to combat climate change will require major societal transformation. We have most of what is required in terms of technology, knowledge and competence to avert a climate disaster. What we lack is the social power to translate words into action. The role of organized labour will therefore be decisive. The climate struggle will have to be unified with the social struggle.
Seminar 2: Our common goods – resisting privatization; reclaiming public services
Birgit Daiber; Germany, author and publisher, Transform commons working group, The Common-Good-of-Humanity-Network
“Left politics and Commons-movements in Europe”
The impressive and rich diversity of commons initiatives all over the world can be seen as acts of resistance against exploitation of nature and people, or more specific: against the continuous and ever-growing greed of reactionary politics and capital for privatisation of natural resources. It’s time to discuss strategies on European level: Commons as one dimension of initiatives to reclaim a social, ecological and democratic Europe.
Nanna Clifforth, Denmark, NOAH – Friends of the Earth Denmark
“Earth Incorporated: The impacts of trade and privatisation on nature”
Nature, biodiversity and ecosystem functions are increasingly included in trade agreements as well as turned into aims of financialisation and off-setting with severe environmental and social consequences.
Wanda Wyporska, Britain, Executive Director at The Equality Trust, campaigning organization working for greater equality
“Our common goods – reclaiming public services”
Access to and provision of public services play a key role in inequality, whether reducing or increasing the gaps in society. How the fragmentation of education, health and social security is affecting the UK and those who deliver these services.
The Equality Trust was launched in 2009 by Bill Kerry, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett after the publishing of “The Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone” (In Danish: “Lighed – Hvorfor alle klarer sig bedre i mere lige samfund”).
16:00-16:15 Coffee break
16:15-17:00 Workshops and networking
The intention is to make workshops around each of the topics of the talks of the conference, and possibly build working groups for ongoing work on these issues.
17:00-18:00 Concluding debate in plenary between the speakers of the conference and the participants on the main topics of the day.
Organizers: Transform!Danmark in cooperation with transform!europe, Enhedslisten/the Red-Green Alliance, Afrika Kontakt, Solidaritet, Det Ny Clarté, DiEM25-Copenhagen, Miljøbevægelsen NOAH (Friends of the Earth Denmark) and others.
More information about the conference here.
Thursday 25 January 2018
It is not just a lefty like me pondering this matter, the Tories are openly posing this question themselves. Rumours are circulating that membership has fallen to as low as 70,000, and this is causing some soul searching in the party. Tory MPs like Nick Boles and Nicolas Soames, admittedly from the liberal wing of the party, have publicly urged the prime minister, Theresa May, ‘to up her game,’ with calls for a ‘big idea,’ a ‘vision of the future more uplifting’ that what we have seen from her so far.
It could be that they are just laying the ground work for replacing her as leader, but it is certainly true, try as she has, May, just doesn’t inspire anyone with her vague rhetoric, delivered in trade mark, robotic fashion. To be fair to May though, no one else in the party seems to be able to come up with anything credible either, save Michael Gove’s exhuming of previous leader David Cameron’s greening of their image. I think the Tories problems run much deeper though, than the present leadership.
May has made a number of speeches setting out her vision, from when she first became leader, on the back of the Brexit vote, in a speech outside 10 Downing Street, claiming she would defend the interests of ‘working people,’ ‘the left behind,’ and the ‘just about managing.’ Then there was the Lancaster House speech a year ago, where she railed against the ‘citizens of nowhere,’ meaning global corporations and their management and liberal thinkers more generally.
The latest attempt was a piece written for the Observer newspaper, last Sunday, titled ‘I will fine greedy bosses who betray their workers,’ pledging to toughen up company pension laws, in the wake of the Carillion scandal. Company executives loosened their rules around bonus payments to themselves, just before the company went bust, with a £500 million pounds deficit in their pension fund.
We heard this type of thing before the general election which went so disastrously for the Tories and May herself. No one really believes anything much will change, it is just empty rhetoric. In last year’s general election, the Tories only finished as the largest party because some Labour supporters who voted for Brexit, backed the Tories to deliver the hardest form of leaving the EU. It was a double edged sword though, with many Remain voters deserting the Tories, and mainly backing Labour, and May duly lost the small Parliamentary majority she had inherited.
James Frayne a Tory member and also of the think-tank, Policy Exchange, writing on the Conservative Home website for party activists, identifies six barriers to people voting Tory. He says these are, healthcare, being a party for the rich, public service cuts, cultural hostility, liberal social attitudes and a lack of positivity in campaigning. All of these things do make it difficult for the Tories to connect with some, mainly younger and Metropolitan voters. In London, for example, the Tories were nearly completely wiped out in last year’s general election.
Frayne concedes that in the short term anyway these barriers may be insurmountable, but thinks that a proper audit of these areas needs to be undertaken urgently. Lord Ashcroft, the pollster and former deputy chair of the Tory party, also writing at Conservative Home, says that the Tories can’t rely on Brexit to win them the next general election. Apart from making a complete mess of Brexit, at some stage a post Brexit deal with the EU is bound to upset some of their MPs and supporters, perhaps all, whether it is soft or hard.
Ashcroft concludes his piece by saying, ‘the post-Brexit political landscape won’t be shaped after the deal is done, it is being shaped now. Without some ideas, the Tories will surrender much of it to the left without firing a shot.’
So, much angst in the Tory party about future prospects then, and they are surely right to worry about their unpopularity with voters under 50 of years of age. The longer we wait for the next general election, the more there will be of younger voters coming onto the register, and more elderly ones leaving the register, by dying.
The problem as I see it for the Tories, is of ideology, that is, private markets are the solution to everything. Before Margaret Thatcher became Tory leader, it was a quite pragmatic party, bending with the times, although always the party of the establishment. Post Thatcher, the Tories became very ideological, neo-liberal front runners at the time. Political cycles do run their term, and are replaced by another, different orthodoxy, and perhaps we have reached this point now.
Harold Macmillan, as Tory housing minister and prime minister built hundreds of thousands of council houses, and was popular amongst the working class for it. This pragmatism is now nowhere to be seen.
Take the housing crisis, for example. Selling off council houses, at as much as a 50% discount, in the 1980s was very popular with people living in good properties, in reasonably good areas. The house price inflation that we have had over the last 30 years, has also been good for those who own property, older people. These older people benefited from the welfare state, with good housing and free higher education, but now the less wealthy younger people, are being shut out from these things.
The Tories approach to the housing crisis, is a help to buy scheme which will cost billions to the tax payer, but benefit less than an estimated 4,000 people. The slight raising of the cap on what local authorities can borrow to build houses, in as yet undefined areas ‘of high demand’ is again piecemeal, given the scale of the housing crisis.
But we are back to market ideology again, because you ‘can’t buck the market,’ as Thatcher was fond of saying. But the market is failing for all to see in housing provision. If the Tories don’t change their ideology they won’t be able to attract younger voters, and they may become largely an ageing, white, rural party, rather than a truly national party.
Tuesday 23 January 2018
The UKIP leader, Henry Bolton, has vowed to carry on as leader of the party, despite losing a unanimous vote of confidence from the party’s National Executive Committee, the ruling body of UKIP. They argued that events in Bolton’s personal life had led to him losing credibility. It means that an Emergency General Meeting of the party will be called, in 28 days time, where the membership of UKIP will decide Bolton’s fate.
Given that Bolton won a leadership election only four months ago, and he has the semi-backing of ex-leader Nigel Farage, it can’t be entirely discounted that he will lose the vote. But things do look ominous for him. On Monday a succession of senior party figures tendered their resignations as spokespersons for the party on various matters, 16 of them at time of writing, two thirds of UKIPs front bench.
To recap, the furore began when Bolton’s girlfriend, Jo Marney tweeted racist comments, in particular about the unsuitability of Meghan Markle marrying Prince Harry, later this year. Bolton said that he had ended the relationship, but has been spotted still going out with Marney, with the inference being that it was a fake break up.
UKIP has got form on changing leaders quickly, ever since Farage stood down after the EU referendum, getting through as many as Chelsea football club do managers. Former UKIP leader Diane James, who succeeded Farage as leader but has now left the party, notoriously lasted for only 18 days, citing that she couldn’t work with other senior members of the party.
Paul Nuttall, lasted a little longer, but clearly didn’t like the job and resigned after the 2017 general election disaster, where UKIP bombed, falling from 12% of the vote two years earlier to just 2%. Of course UKIP’s big issue, leaving the European Union (EU), has now been superseded by the vote to leave the EU and many of their members have left to join the Tories.
Infighting (quite literally on occasions) in UKIP is apparently the normal state of play. Robert Kilroy-Silk flounced out of the party to form a new party, Veritas, which lasted for about eighteen months, before folding. The MEPs Steven Woolfe and Mike Hookem were involved in a fracas in their offices in Brussels, which ended with Woolfe being taken to hospital.
UKIPs membership figures of 39,000 were last declared before the EU referendum, and it’s a racing certainty to be less, probably a lot less now, if polling and election results are anything to go by. There have been high profile resignations as well, like James and Woolfe. Most people now view the Tories as the anti-EU party, so it is hard to see where UKIP goes from here.
They have also lost the status of main protest party, vacated by the Lib Dems when they went into coalition with the Tories. The party’s finances are said not to be good either, and of course when we do leave the EU, they will lose that stream of funding.
Bolton appears to be taking a leaf out Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s book, with his refusal to be ousted by people at the top of the party, and appealing to the rank and file of the party, although on a much smaller scale, in terms of membership.
It is at least entertaining, unlike the civil war in the Tory party, which has made the party so shambolic that it is ruining the country. UKIP doesn’t matter, they are nowhere near power, so we can sit back and enjoy the Carry On. Ironic really, given UKIPs nostalgia for the Britain of yesteryear. Sid James would have been perfect playing Bolton and Barbara Windsor, Marney. The Carry On films series lasted for about as long as UKIP has now.
All things come to an end, and it looks like UKIP is in terminal decline, which could turn rapidly into complete collapse. As we know, there is a small constituency vote for a far right, anti immigrant, anti Muslim party in this country, which the BNP have exploited in the past, to some extent. UKIP could carry on courting these voters, but this would leave them very much on the margins of British politics.
Good riddance, I say.
Sunday 21 January 2018
Book Review: Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy
Written by Steve Knight and first published at Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
In the 135 years since his passing, many commentators on Marx’s work have maintained that his view of humanity’s relationship to the Earth is “Promethean,” i.e. that mastery over nature is a key step to achieving the communist state. A counter-tendency in Marxian analysis, however, led first in the 1960s and 70s by scholars like Raymond Williams and Istvan Meszaros, then in the past twenty years by a new generation including John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, has maintained that ecology’s conflict with capitalist relations is central to understanding Marx’s political economy.
Kohei Saito, author of Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism, belongs firmly in the latter camp. For Saito, associate professor at Osaka City University, Marx is not simply an economist who sometimes refers to nature; he insists that “it is not possible to comprehend the full scope of his critique of political economy if one ignores its ecological dimension…Marx actually deals with the whole of nature, the ‘material’ world, as a place of resistance against capital, where the contradictions of capitalism are manifested most clearly.”
Drawing extensively upon Marx’s “excerpt notebooks” that have been published as part of the ongoing research project Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (aka MEGA), the author paints a compelling portrait of Marx first as a young man with a philosophical conviction of how capitalist relations alienate us from nature, then as a determined student of natural sciences, eager to find scientific verification of the ecological contradictions of capital.
In Part One, “Ecology and Economy,” Saito traces the systematic development of Marx’s ecological critique from the Paris Notebooks of the 1840s through the mature work of Capital. Marx’s Paris work (a portion of which was published in the twentieth century with the title Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts) shows a young scholar still under the philosophical influence of Feuerbach and the Young Hegelian school. He develops his fourfold definition of alienation under capitalist relations: within capitalism, Marx claims, one becomes alienated from the product of the one’s labor, from the labor process itself, from one’s free and creative “species-being,” and from one’s fellow workers.
Marx proposes overcoming these forms of alienation through the abolition of private property (the product of alienated labor), so that humans can relate to nature in a free, cooperative manner. While he arrived at valuable insights in this period that laid the groundwork for later ecological thinking, Marx at this point was still enamored of an ahistorical, Feuerbachian idealism that he would need to transcend in order to make way for the “scientific socialism” informing his later work.
The turning point in Marx’s materialist critique came with The German Ideology (1846), manuscripts he co-wrote with Friedrich Engels. Here Marx shifts from a purely philosophical approach to ecology, into a “natural scientific” one based on a historical understanding of evolving relations between humans and nature. He begins using the term “metabolism”—a concept first used in the nineteenth century by physiologists, later by philosophers—to describe this dynamic interchange, where nature becomes man’s “inorganic body” upon which he depends for survival.
Over the next decade, culminating in his writing of the Grundrisse in the mid-1850s, Marx refined his understanding of the concept to posit a general metabolic tendency of capital: in aiming for continuous expansion, capitalism exploits natural forces--including human labor power--in search of cheaper inputs; but this process deepens capitalism’s own contradictions (deforestation, carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, etc.), all of which have intensified since the time of Marx’s writing. Human civilization will likely become impossible long before capital accumulation ceases due to ecological degradation; therefore, capitalism’s metabolic relations are incompatible with sustainable human development.
Saito’s analysis is also valuable for the emphasis it gives to the concept of “reification” as a keystone of Marx’s ecosocialism. While reification perhaps receives its fullest expression in the chapters on “The Working Day” and “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry” in Volume 1 of Capital, Marx developed it gradually as part of his ecological critique. In brief, reification refers to the process whereby private producers exchange commodities whose value is determined as the sum total of abstract labor used in their production.
Nature’s materials are molded into economic forms, and those forms become ossified into “things,” but these material things can never be fully subsumed under capital. Thus, capital threatens the continuity of man’s metabolism with nature, by reorganizing nature to extract the maximum amount of abstract labor; reification insures that society can be produced—and reproduced—only through the mediation of value. Saito clarifies the point nicely: Marx does not simply claim that humanity destroys the environment.
Rather, his ‘materialist method’ investigates how the reified movement of capital reorganizes the trans-historical metabolism between humans and nature and negates the fundamental material condition for sustainable human development. Accordingly, Marx’s socialist project demands the rehabilitation of the humans-nature relationship through the restriction and finally the transcendence of the alien force of reification.
In Part II, “Marx’s Ecology and the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe,” Saito scrutinizes newly available material from Marx’s natural science notebooks, showing the many writers Marx studied carefully for years to refine his ecological critique of capital. Saito concedes that there is some evidence that Marx’s earlier thinking about nature was “productivist,” i.e., he was optimistic that scientific and technological advances could overcome nature’s limits.
His excerpts from the earlier editions of Justus von Liebig’s Agricultural Chemistry and James F.W. Johnston’s Notes on North America, both published in the 1850s, strike a hopeful note that David Ricardo’s law of diminishing agricultural returns could be overcome through improved soil science and land management. Liebig’s earlier work assumed that productivity could be improved through the use of synthetic fertilizers (a convenient position, perhaps, for an agronomist with a sideline capitalist business as a manufacturer of chemical fertilizer!).
The turning point for both Liebig and Marx, however, was the publication of the seventh edition of Agricultural Chemistry in 1862, where Liebig adopted a darker theory of “robbery agriculture” under capitalist relations. Liebig now posited a “law of replenishment,” in which soil needs a mixture of organic and inorganic elements to maintain productivity. While organic elements can be replenished continuously through the atmosphere and rainfall, the loss of inorganic (“mineral”) elements must be minimized as they are much harder to replace under the pressure of capitalist production. Reading Liebig’s seventh edition “deepened his [Marx’s] insight that nature cannot be arbitrarily subordinated and manipulated through technological development.
There are insurmountable natural limits. Marx’s demand for the rational regulation of human-nature metabolism sprang from the recognition of natural limits, as well as that social production must be radically reorganized to achieve sustainable human development. Capitalism, Marx realized, is inherently inimical to this more rational metabolism, as it mediates all relations through reified values.
Liebig’s idea of robbery agriculture became one source of inspiration for Marx’s theory of a “metabolic rift” between town and country in the first volume of Capital (discussed at some length by John Bellamy Foster in his book Marx’s Ecology). But Saito’s access to the MEGA notebooks reveals that following the publication of Capital in 1867, Marx began reading another agronomist, Carl Fraas, whose work—especially his 1866 book Agrarian Crises and Their Remedies—both modified his previously unqualified praise of Liebig, and opened a new scientific window for understanding capitalism’s ecological contradictions.
Fraas espoused an “agricultural physics” counterpoised to Liebig’s “agricultural chemistry”; while he did not discount the importance of much of Liebig’s work, he believed that climatic factors were of more importance than chemical ones to soil productivity. Fraas writes at one point that cultivation can take place without exhaustion in a favorable climate even if nutrients are not returned to the soil in a metabolic cycle by humans.
Fraas also maintained—particularly in another of his studies, Climate and the Plant World Over Time—that deforestation was the primary driver of climate change, as it inevitably led to rising temperatures and lower humidity (i.e., desertification), tracing this as an historical tendency in the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece.
The problem, according to Fraas, is that civilization consumes an enormous amount of wood in activities like building ships and houses, as well as producing iron and sugar; therefore replanting deforested land is often not feasible. Saito observes that “Marx, reading Fraas’s work, rightly thinks it necessary to study much more thoroughly the negative aspect of the development of productive forces and technology and their disruption of natural metabolism with regard to other factors of production.”
Much work remains for future scholars to plumb the development of Marx’s ecosocialism. As Saito points out, the MEGA project has to date published Marx’s excerpt notebooks only up to 1868; notebooks that track his developing ecological awareness over his final fifteen years await full publication of the fourth section of the MEGA. Nevertheless, “Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism” is an indispensable addition to the burgeoning literature on Marxian ecosocialism.
Kohei Saito provides an intellectually rigorous, yet accessible, guide for readers not only as to why healing capital’s ecological rifts was essential to Marx’s socialist project, but also how Marx’s decades-long reading project in the natural sciences informed his analysis from The German Ideology onwards. “Marx did not answer all of the questions and did not predict today’s world,”
Saito writes in his conclusion, “but it is does not follow that his ecology is of no use today. It is undeniable that his critique of capitalism provides an extremely helpful theoretical foundation for further critical investigation of the current ecological crisis, and that with regard to ecology Marx’s notebooks can prove their great importance.” Ecosocialists everywhere should appreciate Saito’s meticulous elucidation of Marx’s evolving understanding of capital’s incompatibility with the earth.
Saturday 20 January 2018
Written by Ted Trainer, first published at Resilience.org
This is a remarkable and inspiring movement in Spain, now involving hundreds of people in what I regard as an example of The Simpler Way transition strategy … which is primarily about going underneath the conventional economy to build our own new collective economy to meet community needs, turning our backs on and deliberately undermining and eventually replacing both the capitalist system and control by the state.
It is now abundantly clear that a just and sustainable world cannot be achieved unless consumer-capitalist society is basically scrapped. It involves levels of resource use and environmental impact that are already grossly unsustainable, yet growth is the supreme goal. The basic form the alternative must take is not difficult to imagine. (For the detail see TSW: Summary Case.) The essential concept must be mostly small, highly self-sufficient and self-governing communities in which we can live frugally but well putting local resources directly into producing to meet local needs … without allowing market forces or the profit motive or the global economy to determine what happens.
Unfortunately even many green and left people do not grasp the magnitude of the De-growth that is required. We will probably have to go down to around 10% of the present rich world per capita levels of resource use. This can only be done in the kind of settlements and systems we refer to as The Simpler Way. Most of the alarming global problems now threatening our survival, especially ecological damage, resource depletion, conflict over resources and markets, and deteriorating social cohesion, cannot be solved unless we achieve a global transition to a general settlement pattern of this kind.
For some time the Eco-village and Transition Towns movements have been developing elements of the alternative we need to build, and there are impressive radically alternative development initiatives in the Third World, notably the Zapatistas and the Kurdish PKK. But the Catalan Integral Cooperative provides us with an inspiring demonstration of what can be done and what we need to take up.
The CIC response
Although only begun in 2010 the cooperative now involves many hundreds of people and many productive ventures, 400 of them involving growing or making things. Although there are far more things going on than those within the CIC its annual budget is now $480,000! (More on the scale later.)
It is not just about enabling people to collectively provide many things for themselves underneath and despite the market system — it is explicitly, deliberately, about the long term goal of replacing both capitalism and control by the state. These people have not waited for the government to save them, they are taking control over their own fate, setting up their own productive arrangements, food supply systems, warehouses and shops, basic income schemes, information and education functions, legal and tax advice, technical R and D, and even an investment bank. Best of all is the collectivist world view and spirit, the determination to prevent the market and profit from driving the economy and to establish cooperative arrangements that benefit all people, not just co-op members. The explicit intention is to develop systems which in time will “ … overcome the state and the capitalist system.” In other words the orientation differs fundamentally from the typical “socialist” assumption that the state has to run things.
We are in an era in which the conventional economy will increasingly fail to provide for people. What we urgently need are examples where “ordinary” people, not officials or governments, just start getting together to set set up the arrangements that gear the productive capacity they have around them to meeting their collective needs. The remarkable CIC shows that people everywhere could do this, especially in the many regions Neoliberalism has condemned to poverty, stagnation and “austerity”.
Stated principles and practices
Note that this not just a wish list of future goals or ideals, it is mostly a list of the aims and values guiding practices that have already been implemented.
Concern for social justice, equity, diversity, mutual support, cooperation, inclusion and solidarity, and for the common good.
Social transformation here and now, informed by utopianism.
Focusing on transformation of the whole of society, not just on securing benefits for members of the participating cooperatives.
Applying resources directly to meeting the needs of people in the region, as distinct from enabling prosperity for individuals or co-op members, or stimulating economic growth.
People contribute according to their capacity to do so.
Getting rid of materialism. Aiming at satisfaction with “non-material living standards”.
Sufficiency. “Not seeking accumulation as an end.”
…and above all, getting rid of capitalism. Dafermos (2017) says, “The main objective of the CIC is nothing less than to build an alternative economy in Catalonia capable of satisfying the needs of the local community more effectively than the existing system, thereby creating the conditions for the transition to a post-capitalist mode of organization of social and economic life.” The long term objective is “ … to be an organizational platform for the development of a self-sufficient economy that is autonomous from the State and the capitalist market.”
The CIC is not a central agency running everything; it is an umbrella organisation facilitating, supporting and advising re the activities of many and varied cooperatives. Thus it is not like typical cooperatives wherein members focus on a single mutual interest, and work only for the benefit of members.
It is important to recognise the significance of the concept ”integral”. The word “integral” refers to the concern with, “ … the radical transformation of all facets of social and economic life.” That is, they are out to eventually bring about comprehensive social revolution. Simpler Way thinking about settlement design emphasises integration, i.e., the way interconnections between functions that small scale makes possible enables synergism and huge reductions in resource use. For instance backyard and cooperative poultry production enables “wastes” to go straight to gardens, imperfect fruit to be used, chickens to clean up garden beds, and elimination of almost all energy intensive inputs such as fertilizer, trucking and super-marketing.
The CIC is establishing projects which benefit all people in the region whether or not they are members of the CIC or associated cooperatives. “Unlike most cooperatives, the CIC develops structures and tools which are not reserved just for its members, but are accessible to everyone.” For instance non-members can use the arrangements that have been set up for providing legal advice, they can use the technologies developed, and they can use the new local currency. There are about six hundred people who are not in cooperatives but are self-employed and are able to use the services the CIC has created. Similarly the machines and agricultural tools developed for small scale producers are “…freely reproducible”, i.e., their design information is available to all free, giving anyone the ability to build them on their own and customize them according to their needs.
Thus the concern is to prevent goods being treated as commodities produced to make a profit, but to see them as things that are produced to meet needs; “… basic needs like food and health care are not commodities but social goods everyone has access to.”
To be part of the CIC cooperative projects need to practise consensus decision making and to follow certain basic principles including transparency and sustainability. Once the assembly embraces a new project it enjoys legal and other provisions and its income is managed via the CIC accounting office, where a portion goes toward funding the shared infrastructure.
The huge significance of all this could be easily overlooked. In a world where capital, profit and market forces dump large numbers into “exclusion” and poverty, and governments will not deal properly with the resulting problems, these people have decided to do the job themselves. They are literally building an alternative society, not just organising the provision of basic goods and services, but moving into providing free public services like health and transport. Note again the noble and radically subversive world view and values here; people are working to meet the needs of their community, driven not by self-interest or profit but by the desire to build good social systems. This ridicules the dominant capitalist ideology that is conventional economic theory!
Many people in different groups participate in varying degrees. There are about six hundred self-employed members, mostly independent professionals and small producers, who use the legal and economic services made available by the cooperative, such as insurance at less than the normal rate in Spain. There are more than 2,500 who use the LETS system. Many are involved in the Catalan Supply Center (CAC), which is the CIC committee coordinating the transportation and delivery of food and other items from the producers to the “pantries”, i.e., distribution points. In addition there are several co-ops associated with the CIC.
The headquarters of the CIC is in their 1,400 square metre building, which includes space for a library and for rent. The “eco-network” has 2,634 members. The scale and numbers are also indicated by the food distribution system described below.
As noted above the project involves creating an economic system which contradicts and rejects the mainstream economy. It is an economy that is not driven by profit, self interest or what will maximise the wealth of those with capital to invest. There is social control over their economy, that is, there are collective decisions and planning in order to set up systems to meet community needs. People work to build and run good systems, not to get rich.
Non-monetary forms of exchange are encouraged, including free goods and services, barter, direct connections between producers and consumers, and mutual giving. The CIC regulates the estimation of fair prices, and informs producers of consumers’ needs.
There is a LETS-type currency, the ECO, which cannot be converted into euros, and cannot be invested or yield interest. About 2,600 people have accounts. Anyone can see the balance in another’s account. “The currency is not just a medium of exchange; it’s a measure of the CIC’s independence from capitalism.” There is a “Social Currency Monitoring Commission whose job it is to contact members not making many transactions and to help them figure out how they can meet more of their needs using the currency.”
The CIC’s financial operations do not involve any interest payments. No interest is paid on loans made by the cooperative. In this radically subversive economy finance is about enabling the creation of socially-necessary production, not providing lucrative profits to the rich few who have capital to lend. (The US finance industry was recently making about 40% of all corporate income.) The committee entitled ‘Cooperative of Social and Network Self-financing’ deals with savings, donations and project funding in order to “ … finance self-managed individual or collective projects aiming at the common good”. It has 155 members. Contributions to this agency earn no interest, so “… it is truly remarkable that the total amount of deposits made in the last four years exceeds €250.000.”
It is especially noteworthy that emphasis is put on the sustainability of activities, Permaculture, localism, and De-growth. National and global systems are avoided as much as possible and local arrangements are set up. As advocates of the Simpler Way emphasise, unless rich world per capita levels of resource use can be cut enormously sustainability cannot be achieved, and this requires local economies and happy acceptance of frugal lifestyles. Frugality is an explicit goal of the CIC.
The creation of commons is of central importance. There is “Collective ownership of resources to generate common goods.” That is, they seek to develop common properties for the benefit of whole communities. Some lands have been purchased by cooperatives, and some donated by individuals. Included in the category of commons are non-material “assets” such as the LETS system, the software for accounting purposes, and other services made available. Each of these is managed by a committee. “We promote forms of communal property and of cooperative property as formulas that … enhance … self-management and self-organization …” Again the intent is to develop systems run entirely by citizens and that do not involve either capitalism or the state.
One participant says, “I cultivate a garden and I hardly buy any food in euros: I acquire everything I need in the eco-network and through the CIC with the ecos I earn by selling my vegetables.” Fairs and market days are organised. “Going to the markets and the fairs is like recreation, it’s meeting up with friends and family in a spiritual sense.”
Note again the remarkable anti-capitalist element that loans are extended to assist the establishment of new ventures enabling people to begin producing … but no interest is charged. (Kennedy, 1995, estimated that in the normal economy interest charges make up 40% of all prices paid.) Another radical element is the refusal to regard things like food as commodities, that is to be produced and sold to make a profit. In seeing the point of economics as producing to meet needs they are contradicting a central taken-for granted premise of the conventional mentality.
The CIC has two main expenses: the ‘basic income’ paid to the members of its committees and the funding it provides for projects. It pays half of these expenses with fees levied on the 600 member individuals, firms and co-ops (e.g., E25/month from the self employed businesses). Most of the remaining 50% of income comes from tax refunds the CIC’s legal people are able to engineer. In addition donations are received.
“Shops”: The distribution outlets
Many goods are distributed through the “Catalan Supply Centre”, one of the most active CIC committees. It is a network for the transportation and delivery of the products of many small producers across the entire Catalonia region. These are brought to “… the self-managed pantries that the CIC has set up all over Catalonia – twenty of them … Each one of them is run autonomously by a local consumer group that wishes to have access to local products as well as products made (by producers associated with the CIC) in other parts of Catalonia. “This system cuts out middlemen, reducing costs. The CIC currently lists more than a thousand products. “The Supply Centre provides the markets throughout the region with about 4,500 pounds of goods each month, most of which come from the cooperative’s farmers and producers.”
“Of all the initiatives, by far the most successful is the one focused on food.”
Again note the scale of operations.
The technology R and D committee
There is a technology committee responsible for the development of tools and machines adapted to the needs of member producers. They often find that devices on sale are not appropriate for the needs of small scale or commons-oriented projects. They develop machines mostly for agriculture and small firms. These devices, “…exemplify the principles of open design, appropriate technology and the integral revolution – geared to the needs of small cooperative projects.” This committee also organizes training workshops to share knowledge. The agency occupies a 4,000 square metre site, and no longer needs financial assistance from the CIC.
Dafermos sketches several of the settlements and projects whereby people are coming together to set up arrangements to enable communities to apply their productive capacities to providing a wide range of things for each other.
For instance the Calafou village of twenty-two people has a housing cooperative managing twenty-seven small houses. Tenants pay €175 per month for each house. The aim is to become “… a collectivist model for living and organizing the productive activities of a small self-managed community.” It has “ … a multitude of productive activities and community infrastructures, including a carpentry, a mechanical workshop, a botanical garden, a community kitchen, a biolab, a hacklab, a soap production lab, a professional music studio, a guest-house for visitors, a social centre …, as well as a plethora of other productive projects.” There is a general assembly each Sunday, operating on the consensus principle.
Members of the AureaSocial cooperative can choose to live in an affiliated block of apartments in Barcelona or at a farming commune with teepees, yurts and horses, where residents organize themselves into “families”.
Macus is a group occupying a 600 square metre space hosting a close-knit group of modern as well as traditional craft producers of wooden furniture, clothes and herbal medicine, photography, sculpture and digital music, as well as fixing bicycles and repairing home electronics.
Their form of government is a direct deliberative, participatory democracy involving decentralization, self-management, voluntary committees, “town assemblies” … and no bureaucracy and no top-down ruling or domination. Note that “direct” means more than “participatory”; all individual members meet to make (or ratify) the decisions. “Each cooperative project, working commission, eco-network or local group makes its own decisions.” Committees and fortnightly general assemblies work out mutually agreed solutions, decisions are not handed down by executives, CEOs or political parties.
In all meetings the goal is consensus decision making; there is no voting. “ In case of a predicament, the proposal is reformulated until the consensus is reached, thus eliminating the minorities and the majorities. All previous agreements are revocable.” “…the quality of the agreements is a great success, and there hasn’t been any major decision-making conflict in all these years.”
All issues are handled at the lowest level possible, as distinct from being taken by higher or central agencies. This is the basic Anarchist principle of “subsidiarity.”
There are about a dozen main committees, including Reception to handle inquiries from groups wishing to join, an Economic Management Committee, a Legal Committee, an IT Committee, and one managing Common Spaces. The Productive Projects Committee facilitates ‘self-employment’ and the exchange of knowledge and skills and helps job seekers to match their skills to jobs, using an online directory of self-managed and cooperative projects in Catalonia. That is, they have set up their own employment agency, independent of the state, and its focus is on helping people to find opportunities to get into socially useful productive activity.
“CIC committee members receive a kind of salary from the cooperative, known as ‘basic income’, which has the purpose of freeing them from having to work somewhere else, thus allowing them to commit themselves full-time to their work at the CIC.”
Creating public services
No aspect is more remarkable than the concern to set up public services. The intention is “… to displace the centrally-managed state apparatus of public services with a truly cooperative model for organizing the provision of social goods such as health, food, education, energy, housing and transport.” The legal services, the technology contribution and the currency are also in this category. Again these are projects that are not designed by or for the members of specific cooperatives; they are services for the benefit of people in general.
One of these service operations, organized by the “Productive Projects Committee” is the employment facilitation agency mentioned above. It helps people to become “self-employed, and to share knowledge and skills enabling people to increase their earning capacity.” It makes it possible for “ … job seekers to match their skills to jobs posted by productive projects associated with the CIC …” There is “…. an online directory of self-managed and cooperative projects in Catalonia…” in which people can function using the ECO currency. Thus this committee assists people who are unemployed, without many skills and likely to be poor, to find some socially useful activity they can take up in order to earn an income. “…anyone has some abilities that they can offer to people and with that acquire what they need.”
The activities of the above mentioned supply centre constitute another public service. It enables small producers to sell their produce and many to buy what they need, without having to earn normal money.
This public service providing realm is only developing slowly, which Dafermos thinks is because Spain’s service sector is relatively satisfactory.
Problems, questions, doubts?
It is important to look for problems and faults in alternative initiatives because we urgently need to clarify what the best options are. Although I have little information apart from the Dafermos report, I am not aware of any serious problems or criticisms that might detract from its potential. However, following are some of the concerns I have come across.
Does the underlying “theory of transition” lack depth? Does the rationale derive from a comprehensive global analysis of the many alarming and terminal problems consumer-capitalism is generating, (including environmental destruction, Third World poverty, resource wars…) and is the CIC seen as the solution to them all (… I firmly believe it is the beginning of the solution.) The Simpler Way analysis of our situation includes detailed argument on the global scene; does the CIC vision extend far enough beyond setting up coops?
This involves the question of long term strategy for getting rid of capitalism. This question is studiously ignored by the Transition Towns movement …at least my attempts to get them to deal with it have failed. Their strategy is just do something, anything alternative in your town and eventually it will all add up to the existence of a beautiful, sustainable and just world. The red left rightly scathes at this; they want to know how precisely are your community gardens and clothing swaps going to lead to us taking state power and eliminating the capitalist class? Simpler Way analysis has an answer to this question; whether it’s satisfactory is another issue. It could be that CIC people also have an answer but if so it’s important that they should make it clear to us.
This leads to the need for a manual. One would hope that we can all soon benefit from a document designed to assist us to set up similar projects, especially suggesting mistakes to avoid.
Some people believe the CIC was established using funds acquired via questionable financial activities. I am not able to pronounce on this but I think it is irrelevant. What I want to focus on is the fact that the CIC now seems to be an extremely effective movement and model, one that I think could be followed with little or no funds, and that I can see no reason why it cannot thrive in the wreckage neoliberalism has wrought.
There is however an associated issue that I think requires careful thought, i.e., the role and nature of alternative currencies. The CIC uses a basic LETS system and this seems to me to be the ideal. However much effort is going into establishing another system, “FairCoin”, intended to enable new alternative economies. I am uneasy about this; it seems complex, costly to set up, a “substitution” currency (requiring normal money to purchase), and not easily capable of enabling the amount of economic activity that would occur in a whole economy. It seems to be geared to longer distance trade and in the coming world of intense scarcity and localism we won’t need much of that. It seems similar to Bitcoin in being a commodity open to speculative investment and price rises. But a sacred principle on the left is that money, labour and land should not be commodities. Above all it seems to me to be unnecessary; a kind of LETS will do.
I am also uneasy about any focus on currency; I would rather see most attention being given to getting people to understand the goals and to join the co-ops.
It is not clear to me the extent to which the success of the CIC has been due to an initial access to capital. (It is said to be self-funding now.) What we want are strategies that require little or no money to set up, and I believe these are available.
Spreading the revolution
Considerable effort is being put into “spreading the model.” “The members give talks about eco-networks, the cooperative, and social currency in various parts of the country. As a result there are seeds of integrated cooperatives in Basque Country, Madrid and other regions of Spain and France.” In 2017 the Athens Integral Cooperative began.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of the CIC achievement. The scale of its activities and the good that is being done are now huge. But what is most remarkable is its subversive focus and power, and potential. To repeat, the CIC is “…an activism for the construction of alternatives to capitalism.” In my view it is one of the leading initiatives in a movement that constitutes by far the greatest threat that capitalism has ever confronted. Along with the Zapatistas, the Kurdish PKK, the Senegalese Eco-villages, and many others it is demonstrating that there is a marvellous alternative way, that it can be built by ordinary people, quickly, and without overt conflict or violence (at least not yet.). It is shredding the taken for granted TINA legitimacy and inevitability of allowing capital, market forces and profit to determine what happens to us. Above all it is showing that ordinary people can and must come together to collectively take control of their own economic and political situation, without having to depend on capital or the state.
Consider the implications for Third World development. The conventional view takes it for granted that “Development” can only mean investment of capital to crank up more business activity, more production for sale into the global economy in order to earn money to enable purchasing from it, and to create jobs. It is taken for granted that profit and the market must drive the process, meaning that it enriches the already rich and the rest must wait for trickle down…while their national resources are shipped out to rich world supermarkets. Thus about four billion are very poor and will remain so for a long time … yet the CIC is showing how quickly and easily they could implement a totally different model of development, a different path to different goals, without approval or assistance from existing state governments. Obviously even a little state assistance would make a huge difference to what could be done. In Senegal thousands of villages are moving in the Eco-village direction, assisted by the government. (St Onge, 2015.)
It is not surprising that the CIC has originated in the Catalan region. That’s where the Spanish Anarchists In the 1930’s performed miracles, establishing an entire economy on worker-cooperative lines. In the Barcelona region containing up to a million people voluntary committees of citizens ran factories, transport systems, hospitals, health clinics etc., strenuously rejecting any role for paid bureaucrats or politicians. The CIC seems to be a text book example of Anarchism … at least the variety I’m in favour of. Consider again the themes noted above; citizens coming together to turn their backs on the market system, the capitalist class and central government, and on any form of top-down rule, and resolving to govern themselves, setting up arrangements for collective benefit, using thoroughly direct and participatory processes that do not involve bureaucrats or politicians of superior authorities, striving for consensus decisions, subsidiarity and spontaneity, thereby “prefiguring” ways they want to become the norm in the new society. This is precisely what The Simper Way vision has been about for decades, and it is the only way the required revolution can come about.
Consider the built-in but easily overlooked wisdom. The inclusiveness and empowerment of all and the prioritising of arrangements that attend to the needs of all generate community morale, public spirit, enthusiasm and willingness to contribute. Thus synergism is increased; for instance giving is appreciated and generates further generosity. Motivation is positive: doing good things like joining a working bee or giving away surpluses is enjoyable, not a burdensome duty. Contrast this with present competitive, individualistic, winner-take-all society which often forces us into situations that do not bring out the best in us.
The power to release resources and spiritual energy is also easily overlooked. My study of an outer Sydney, Australia dormitory suburb (TSW: Remaking Settlements) found that by reorganising space and use of time the suburb might be able to produce a high proportion of its own food and other needs, while dramatically reducing resource and environmental impacts. Consider the fact that if people in the suburb gave only two hours a week to community working bees, rather to watching trivia on a screen, the equivalent input of 150 full time council workers would be going into community gardens etc. And they would be much more happy, conscientious and productive workers than council employees, and community familiarity and solidarity would be generated.
And then there are the consequences for the personal development of citizens. Bookchin pointed out the profound educational benefits the Ancient Greeks saw when every individual had the responsibility of participating directly in the process of government. This means that there is no government up there to do it for us and we had better take responsibility for thinking carefully, discussing ideas, considering the good of all, being well informed, …or w might make the wrong decisions and have to live with the consequences. If we take a long historical perspective it is evident that accepting being governed, ruled over, represents an immature stage of political development; we will not have grown up until we all take part in governing ourselves, in direct and participatory ways.
Also easily overlooked is the significance of empowerment. Ivan Illich stressed the passivity and lack of responsibility characteristic of consumer society. Your role is to obey the rules set by others. If something goes wrong it’s up to some official or professional to fix it. As I see it the crucial turning point in the Transition Towns process is the shift from being a passive acceptor of the system designed and run by unseen others, to seeing it as your system and if it’s not working well it’s a problem you worry about and want to do something about. Good citizens have the sense of owning their communities, of knowing that they share control over what’s going on and willingly sharing responsibility for making things work well. In other words they feel empowered. “This is this my town. I’m proud of it. If there’s a problem that’s my/our problem, let’s get at it.” This seems to be a strongly held orientation among CIC participants.
All this clarifies the distinction between Eco-socialist and Eco-Anarchist perspectives. Both recognise the need to transcend capitalism but the former assumes the transition must come through the taking of state power and then “leadership” by the state. But fundamental to Simpler Way analysis is the fact that when the realities of limits and scarcity are grasped it is clear that the alternative society must be extremely localised, not centralised, that it cannot be established or run by the state, and that it can only work satisfactorily if it is run by communities via participatory means. Although there will always be a role for some central agencies it will be a relatively minor one as most of the decisions and administration will (have to) be handled down at the small community level. Note again that the CIC emphatically rejects the state as a means for achieving or running the new society.
The Simpler Way vision of a workable and attractive alternative society (See TSW: The Alternative) is sometimes criticised as unachievable because it is unrealistically utopian. The existence of the CIC demolishes that criticism. Its significance cannot be exaggerated; it and related movements are showing that the path that has to be taken if we are to get to a sustainable and just world can easily be taken.
CIC website: https://cooperativa.cat/en/
Dafermos, G., (2017), The Catalan Integral Cooperative: an organizational study of a post-capitalist cooperative”, Commons Transition, 19th Oct. https://cooperativa.cat/en/george-dafermos-publishes-his-report-about-catalan-integral-cooperative/
Kennedy, M., (1995), Interest and Inflation Free Money: Creating an Exchange Medium That Works for Everybody and Protects the Earth, Seva International.
St Onge, E., (2015), “Senegal Transforming 14,000 Villages Into Ecovillages!” Collective Evolution: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/06/17/senegal-transforming-14000-villages-into-ecovillages/
TSW: Remaking Settlements. http://thesimplerway.info/RemakingSettlements.htm
TSW: Summary Case. http://thesimplerway.info/main.htm
TSW: The Alternative. http://thesimplerway.info/THEALTSOCLong.htm