Thursday 30 April 2020

May Day 2020 – Covid 19 and a Call for System Change

World capitalism, is only concerned with its own survival, it exploits and abandons the working class to the contagion. Capitalism can and must be overthrown - everywhere.

Capitalism is responsible for the losses caused by this epidemic. In all continents the chaotic cramming of rural people, in search of a wage to live on, in the frightening and insane urban agglomerations of capitalism, and the convulsive migration of people makes any preventive care impossible.

For years, medical science has predicted the worldwide spread of a new virus and its dire effects. However, epidemics can neither be avoided nor contained within present-day society. Capital, always in search of immediate profit, has no interest in predicting and preventing.

It has not set aside adequate stocks of medical devices and has not trained an adequate number of medical personnel. Indeed, it has drastically reduced them everywhere, forcing them into intolerable overwork; it has closed many hospitals and turned others into “companies”. Its imperative is always to save on the maintenance and care of the working class.

The expected contagion has finally arrived, upsetting a humanity completely unprepared to face it and shattering the latest misplaced certainties about capitalism’s ability to protect health and life on the planet.

In the face of the universal scourge, which can only be attacked with a coordinated world-wide plan of science and solidarity, each state does its own thing. Worse, the crisis intensifies the competition between national centers of capital and their hateful and inhuman selfishness. It exacerbates the trade war in the fear that competitors from other countries will take advantage of the situation to deprive them of market share. In this war between national bourgeoisies, workers have nothing to gain and everything to suffer.

Industrialists have postponed the closure of factories to the point where further delay was impossible: from China to Italy and France, to the United Kingdom and to the United States, which has seriously extended the contagion. Even when measures to close commercial and recreational activities were no longer postponed, the managers of the majority of industries found ways to circumvent the rules to continue production, apart from companies where it was convenient to close, finding easy loopholes in the ambiguous rules of governing blocs.

So, they forced workers to go to the factory, even in industries that have nothing to do with the health emergency, such as steel production, and to flock onto public transport, grossly dividing society along class boundaries: proletarians today are no longer even masters of their own lives. As in war, they must sacrifice themselves to the god of bourgeois profit.

While factories are kept open, strikes and worker assemblies are prohibited. The unions, which have sold out to the regime in the name of “national solidarity”, endorse the bourgeois dogma that reducing production “is not an option”. Be content with a little more soap and masks: a few dollars.

And it is true. In order to continue generating and appropriating profits, capitalists must infinitely grow the scale of production. For this reason, each company, without any agreement with the others in the sector, indeed at war with them, pushes the rhythm and scale of work to the maximum, in the vain hope of being able to find a buyer for the crazy growth of goods of all kinds, a deranged and anarchic system.

Capitalism does not produce based on what is needed; it produces based on the expected profit. The majority of goods produced therefore have no social utility and increasingly penalize the workers who manufacture them, the consumers who are driven to use them, and the environment, which is unnecessarily cluttered and intoxicated.

This irreparable and obvious absurdity must necessarily block all the apparatus for the reproduction of capital and commerce with increasing frequency. It is now a single and closely interconnected global machine, a monstrosity in which up to 95% of activity is useless or harmful.

In fact, in the course of the past year, well before the outbreak of the epidemic, the general, historical, centuries-old, inescapable crisis of the capitalist mode of production had arrived punctually and was already affecting all spheres of life and society.

So, it was not the plague that caused the crisis. Sanitary isolation, which is blocking the consumption of all the goods that are not really necessary for life, around the world and simultaneously, amplifies the pre-existing overproduction of goods, and is almost bringing the infernal cycles of capital accumulation to a standstill.

The panic spread among the bourgeoisie, who ran to sell on the stock exchange, while entrepreneurs were horrified at the decline of their profits. Desperate capitalists in all countries appeal to the State for orders, credits and commercial protection, as well as to help them defend against the workers’ struggle.

But states are nothing more than associations between capitalists and, in the end, they only derive sustenance from capitalist production. They are not above the economic laws of capitalism: they can only transfer wealth from one part of the ruling classes to the other. Or anticipate something that must come back sooner or later.

The failure of this political, economic, social system is so evident that even many bourgeois, in the scientific, political and religious fields, are calling for its profound reform: a different relationship with nature, a different way of producing and a different choice of what to produce: “hospitals, not weapons”, they say. All empty talk. As soon as the emergency is over, and maybe even before, everything will go back to business as usual. This system is as absurd as it is incapable of reform.

The ruling classes will not peacefully surrender their power or give up their petty privileges, the immense profits and the repressive paraphernalia of their states. The present upheaval of the rhythms of life must not only teach us the failure of capitalism, but that the working class can do without capitalism, this entire social and economic system. It is the bourgeoisie that needs the working class and not vice versa.

The international anti-worker solidarity of the bosses, who attack workers’ very existence, must be opposed with the international solidarity of the working class fighting for its emancipation and for the salvation of all humanity.

The working class will have to mobilize in all countries to defend itself from the disastrous effects of this crisis, to impose its longstanding demands through struggle:

- wages in full for the unemployed

- generalized reduction of working hours for the same wages

- regularization of the status of immigrant workers

- free health care for all workers

The working class, well organized in its true class unions and well directed by its party, the custodian of its long-established internationalist program, must succeed with its revolution in breaking through the thick shell of prejudices and forces of repression that still imprisons the new, communist society, which will be classless and stateless, and which is ready, robust and complete to free itself and spread to all the countries of the world.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

The Natural World and Covid-19

Written by Allan Todd

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between, (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1975), p.7

In the midst of this global Covid-19 pandemic, Wednesday 22 April marked the 50th. Anniversary of Earth Day. Fifty years ago, on 22 April 1970, 20m people in the US (around10% of the total population) took to the streets and university campuses to protest against environmental degradation: such as oil spills, smog and rivers that, quite literally, caught fire. The protesters demanded a new way forward for Planet Earth - and, initially, in the early 1970s, some important environmental gains were made: such as the setting up of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the establishment of the principle that "the polluter pays".

But the fifty years since 1970 has shown that the past is indeed “a foreign country” - certainly as regards the environment. From the late 1970s, rampant neoliberal capitalism has not only wiped out most of those gains - it has even made things much worse. In particular, its rapid and on-going destruction of the natural world has resulted in an ever-worsening Climate Crisis - and in dangerous zoonotic pathogens and viruses increasingly crossing from the dwindling number of wild animal species to humans.

As well as the Covid-19 coronavirus, this century has also experienced three other coronavirus epidemics: SARS, in 2002 and 2004; and MERS in 2012. Most recently, from 2013-16, there was the Ebola epidemic, caused by a filovirus. The combined evidence of dangerous global warming and ecological crisis shows that the world is experiencing nothing short of capitalist ecocide.

As Michael Löwy, (Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe) one of the leading ecosocialist thinkers, has said, “…preserving the ecological equilibrium of the planet and therefore an environment favourable to living species, including ours, is incompatible with the expansive and destructive logic of the capitalist system.”

In the 21st. C., the planet - and all life on it - is now facing an unprecedented combination of threats, all as a result of the expansion of the global capitalist system: catastrophic climate breakdown as a result of global warming; a huge loss of ecosystems and biodiversity via a Sixth Mass Extinction; and, as a result of both these dangers, an increase in the frequency of dangerous pathogens crossing from wild animal species to humans.

Twenty-first century ecosocialists are not alone in having recognised the negative impacts of capitalism on the natural world. As well as William Blake - whose poem Jerusalem was one of the earliest literary attacks on the “dark Satanic Mills” of early industrial capitalism - William Wordsworth also pointed out, in a critical way, both the growing encroachments of industrial capitalism on nature (at what has since come to be seen as the start of the Anthropocene), and emerging consumerism:

“The world is too much with us: late and soon, 

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; 

Little we see in Nature that is ours; 

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

...For this, for everything, we are out of tune; ”

William Wordsworth, The World Is Too Much With Us in William Wordsworth, S. Gill (ed.), (Oxford, OUP, 1990), p.270

Much more recently, in 1979, James Lovelock’s Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, summarised the main points of the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’, that he had developed earlier with Lynn Margulis. In fact, it was the novelist William Golding who suggested the name ‘Gaia’ - as Gaia was the Ancient Greek goddess of Earth. 

And that theory - as briefly summarised by Bryan Appleyard - is that: “Life and the Earth are an interacting whole and the planet can be seen as a single organism:…”  Since then, we have become increasingly aware of just how dangerous it can be to radically alter/interfere with the complex ways in which this organism functions.

However, one of the clearest summaries of the negative impacts of capitalism was drawn up by Michael Löwy in 2005:

“The reigning capitalist system is bringing the planet’s inhabitants a long list of irreparable calamities….All the warning signs are red: it is clear that the insatiable quest for profits, the productivist and mercantile logic of capitalist/industrial civilization is leading us into an ecological disaster of incalculable proportions. This is not to give in to ‘catastrophism’ but to verify that the dynamic of infinite ‘growth’ brought about by capitalist expansion is threatening the natural foundations of human life on the planet.”

If nothing else, this pandemic crisis is making it painfully clear that ‘system change’ is now needed, as quickly as possible, in order to create an economic system that allows for a habitable and sustainable planet. The past 50 years has shown that the ‘System’s’ – i.e. capitalism’s - imperative to push for ever-continued and - increased productivity and consumption, in order to expand short-term profitability, is increasingly exposing the planet’s ecosystems, natural habitats and species to serious threats that are already significantly undermining the planet’s ecological balance.

Furthermore, the unsuccessful global attempts to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases - primarily, but not solely, CO2 - show that the ‘System’ cannot even regulate its destructive actions, let alone overcome the planetary and ecological crises it has already triggered. Faced with the choice of ‘Grow - or die!’, it is clear that, as regards the natural world, neoliberal capitalism continues to favour the latter.

Thus, if capitalism remains - at the very least - unchecked, it will have increasingly devastating impacts on human, animal and plant life. It is now abundantly clear that one of those impacts - especially, but not exclusively, on the poorest and most vulnerable members of all societies - will be ”Epidemics of malaria, cholera, and even deadlier diseases…”

Zoonotic pathogens

As the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives - and ‘business as usual’ - many are looking for explanations. In part, this is because this is the fourth time this century that humans have been hit by a zoonotic pandemic or epidemic: in 2002, and again in 2004, there was SARS; in 2012, there was MERS; and, from 2013-16, there was the Ebola epidemic.

One aspect that all four infections have in common is that they were all viruses - zoonotic pathogens - that crossed over from wildlife species to humans. The first two - SARS and MERS - like Covid-19, were both coronaviruses; Ebola was a filovirus.

A second feature of these recent infections is that they can all be linked to the climate and ecological crises which have all got worse since the start of this century. Jem Bendell is one researcher and writer who has made the point that climate change has made humans more vulnerable to such viruses. For instance, he explains how declining food sources force wild species - such as bats - to range into new areas:

In addition, lack of sufficient food sources renders such species weaker and therefore more susceptible to infections.

Another factor he highlights is how climate change is increasing our risk of catching diseases like Covid19 by its impact in destroying and degrading natural habitats, and by the resultant biodiversity loss. As he explains:

“The reduction of the total number of wild animals like birds and bats has implications for our exposure to disease. Why?  Because these are ‘reservoir host populations’ for pathogens, and the fewer birds and bats there are, then pathogen concentration and mixing tends to be higher (for reasons of lowered genetic diversity and easier spread). This increases ‘spillover risk’ for zoonotic infections to humans.”

Another to have warned recently about the likelihood of this increased risk of new infections and pandemics because of the growing convergence of ecological crises is Ian Angus:

“Global warming…Species extinction…Deforestation…New diseases and plagues. The list goes on. We face a planetary emergency,…”

However, it is not just global warming and climate change that is causing the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity. As has been seen, one of the biggest drivers of the destruction of natural habitats - and of the resulting ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ of species - is the global capitalist agricultural system. 

This is especially true of the industrialised meat and dairy industries, which, firstly, destroy ever-larger sections of the natural world; and, secondly, also create unhealthy conditions for factory-farmed animals, which make it much easier for animal viruses to cross-over to humans. In addition, there is the use and abuse of wild animals - such as the capturing, breeding and eating of various species.

Even during this pandemic, Brazilian president Bolsonaro has stepped up the destruction of the tropical rainforest in Brazil - from August 2019 to March 2020, satellite photographs show that an area the size of Germany has been cleared. 

Yet scientists and researchers have known for some time that disturbance and destruction of such natural habitats is one of the principal drivers of the transfer of animal-borne infectious diseases from wild animals to humans. Kate Jones, Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London, has said that such developments are resulting in an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.”

In 2008, she was part of a research team that determined that at least 60% of the 335 new diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004 originated with non-human animals.

To deal with the wider ecological dimensions of this pandemic, as Alan Thornett explains in a very timely article:

will involve “…a revolution in the infrastructure, [in] how we live; the size of cities, how we travel, and what we eat. The task is gigantic but there is no alternative if we are to forge a sustainable future for the planet which resolves the contradiction between ourselves as modern humans and [the] myriad of other non-human species we live alongside.” 

In a way, pathogens like Covid-19 could be seen as Nature’s equivalent of Walt Kowalski in the film Gran Torino (2008), taking its revenge on humans for the damage we are doing to it:

“Ever noticed how you come across somebody once in a while that you shouldn’t have f**ked with? That’s me.”


One very radical way to overcome these problems is proposed by world-renowned biologist Edward Wilson, who has argued for what has been described as “a visionary blueprint for saving the planet”. This blueprint calls for half of the surface of the Earth to be dedicated to nature. He sees such a scheme as essential if we are to stave off the mass extinction of species - including of humans. Essentially, he sees the current situation as too large to be solved by piecemeal measures, because:

“For the first time in history, a conviction has developed among those who can actually think more than a decade ahead that we are facing a global endgame. Humanity’s grasp on the planet is not strong. It is growing weaker.”

He goes on to argue that anything less than half would not be enough to deal with the threats currently being faced by the natural world:

“Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global diversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. The Half-Earth proposal offers a first, emergency solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.”

As has already been seen, one aspect of human activity which has already destroyed large amounts of natural habitats and biodiversity is the ever-expanding meat and dairy components of capitalist agriculture. This ‘conventional’ agricultural system needs to be changed in order to save what remains of biodiversity - and one of the quickest ways to do so would be, at very least, to drastically reduce meat and dairy consumption.

This would allow some already-existing agricultural land to be used, instead, to provide humans with plant-based sources of proteins and other nutrients. In addition, other areas of land could be returned to the natural world. Such a move would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions - and thus contribute to the slowing of global warming which is another factor destroying so much of the natural habitat required by so many species. 

In addition, a shift to a more plant-based diet for humans would play a big part in reducing humanity’s overall ecological footprint, which is necessary to allow the development of a genuinely-sustainable economic system. This doesn’t mean less food for humans - on the contrary, it actually means more food; and food which is not full of the antibiotics and hormones that are often present in meat and dairy products. Such a shift would also form an essential element in creating a world where wealth would be based on quality of life rather than on the quantity of material goods. 

This is a view expressed by the UK’s Royal Society, in their 2012 Report, People and the Planet - which was subsequently endorsed by a global network of scientists and ecologists. In particular, it referred to the need for “systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact” and pointed out the urgent need to reduce “…deforestation, and land use…” Instead, the Report saw greater valuing of “natural capital” as the way to improve human welfare so that people can flourish rather than just survive;

Currently, it can be argued that the destruction of so many ecosystems - and the Sixth Mass Extinction of species such destruction is causing - is a threat as big as that posed by the worsening Climate Crisis. As Covid-19 is currently showing, both of these linked and deadly Anthropocene developments are linked to the increased frequency of pandemics.

The Half-Earth proposal also makes sense as an insurance policy: because, in addition to global warming and the destruction of so much of the natural world, there will always be natural disasters to contend with. Our Anthropocene epoch has seen many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that have impacted on human life - and earlier epochs have also experienced significant climate damage as a result of asteroid strikes. By ensuring sufficient biodiversity remains on Earth, the chances of coping with such additional natural crises are significantly increased.

An important point to grasp as regards the destruction of the natural world is that it’s not, per se, a problem of ‘excessive consumption’ by humans, all of which thus needs to be limited. Rather, it is a problem of the types of consumption - of many products, including food - associated with capitalism. In a more rational society, as Ernest Mandel commented, instead of:

“The continual accumulation of more and more goods (with declining ‘marginal utility’)…” other priorities, such as “…the protection of health and life” would “become major motivations once basic material needs have been satisfied.”

Allan Todd is a member of Left Unity, an environmental and anti-fascist activist, and author of Revolutions 1789-1917. 

Saturday 25 April 2020

Ecological Crisis and Revolutionary Solutions


As part of the Global #ClimateStrike, activists from the campaign Make Rojava Green Again spoke with Jiyan, from the young women structures of Rojava.

 Jiyan talks in a 45-minute interview about democratic confederalism, the importance of ecology and the role of youth and young women in building a democratic, free and ecological society. She also sends her greetings to all activists worldwide who are fighting for an ecological society.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Ecological and social planning and transition

Written by Michael Löwy and first published at Life on the Left. Translated into English from the original French by Richard Fidler.

The need for economic planning in any serious and radical process of socio-ecological transition is winning greater acceptance, in contrast to the traditional positions of the Green parties, favorable to an ecological variant of “market economy,” that is, “green capitalism.”

In her latest book, Naomi Klein observes that any serious reaction to the climate threat “involves recovering an art that has been relentlessly vilified during these decades of market fundamentalism: planning.” This includes, in her view, industrial planning, land use planning, agricultural planning, employment planning for workers whose occupations are made obsolescent by the transition, etc. “This means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than profitability….”[1]

Democratic planning

The socio-ecological transition — towards an ecosocialist alternative — implies public control of the principal means of production and democratic planning. Decisions concerning investment and technological change must be taken away from the banks and capitalist businesses, if we want them to serve the common good of society and respect for the environment.

Who should make these decisions? Socialists often responded: “the workers.” In Volume III of Capital, Marx defines socialism as a society of “the associated producers rationally regulating their interchange (Stoffwechsel) with Nature.” However, in Volume I of Capital, we find a broader approach: socialism is conceived as “an association of free men, working with the means of production (gemeinschaftlichen) held in common.” This is a much more appropriate concept: production and consumption must be organized rationally not only by the “producers” but also by consumers and, in fact, the whole of society, the productive or “unproductive” population: students, youth, women (and men) homemakers, retired persons, etc.

In this sense, society as a whole will be free to democratically choose the productive lines to be promoted and the level of resources that should be invested in education, health or culture. The prices of goods themselves would no longer respond to the law of supply and demand, but would be determined as much as possible according to social, political and ecological criteria.

Far from being “despotic” in itself, democratic planning is the exercise of the free decision-making of the whole of society — a necessary exercise to free ourselves from the alienating and reified “economic laws” and “iron cages” within capitalist and bureaucratic structures. Democratic planning associated with a reduction of working time would be a considerable step forward by humanity towards what Marx called “the realm of freedom”: the increase in free time is in fact a condition for the participation of workers in democratic discussion and management of the economy and society.

Advocates of the free market tirelessly use the failure of Soviet planning to justify their categorical opposition to any form of organized economy. We know, without getting into a discussion on the successes and failures of the Soviet experience, that it was obviously a form of “dictatorship over needs,” to quote the expression used by György Markus and his colleagues from the Budapest School: an undemocratic and authoritarian system which gave a monopoly over decisions to a small oligarchy of techno-bureaucrats.

It was not planning that led to the dictatorship. It was the growing limitation of democracy within the Soviet state and the establishment of totalitarian bureaucratic power after Lenin’s death that gave rise to an increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic planning system. If socialism is to be defined as control of production processes by workers and the general population, the Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors fell far short of this definition.

The failure of the USSR illustrates the limits and contradictions of bureaucratic planning with its flagrant ineffectiveness and arbitrariness: it cannot serve as an argument against the application of genuinely democratic planning. The socialist conception of planning is nothing other than the radical democratization of the economy: if political decisions should not be made by a small elite of leaders, why not apply the same principle to economic decisions?

The question of the balance between market and planning mechanisms is undoubtedly a complex issue: during the first phases of the new society, markets will certainly still occupy a significant place, but as the transition to socialism progresses, planning will become increasingly important.

In the capitalist system use value is only a means — and often a device — subordinated to exchange value and profitability (this in fact explains why there are so many products in our society without any utility). In a planned socialist economy, the production of goods and services responds only to the criterion of use value, which entails spectacular economic, social and ecological consequences.

Of course, democratic planning concerns the major economic choices and not the administration of local restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, small shops, craft businesses or services. Likewise, it is important to emphasize that planning does not contradict the self-management of workers in their production units. Whereas the decision to convert, for example, an automobile factory to bus or rail vehicle production would be up to society as a whole; the internal organization and operation of the factory would be managed democratically by the workers themselves.

There has been much debate over the “centralized” or “decentralized” nature of planning, but the important thing remains democratic control of the plan at all levels — local, regional, national, continental and, hopefully, global — since ecological issues such as climate warming are global and can only be addressed at that level. This proposal could be called “comprehensive democratic planning.” Even at this level, it is planning which contrasts with what is often described as “central planning” because economic and social decisions are not taken by any “center” but democratically determined by the populations concerned.

There would, of course, be tensions and contradictions between self-governing institutions and local democratic administrations and other larger social groups. Negotiating mechanisms can help resolve many such conflicts, but in the final analysis, it will be up to the larger groups involved, and only if they are in the majority, to exercise their right to impose their opinions.

To give an example: a self-managed factory decides to dump its toxic waste in a river. The population of an entire region is threatened by this pollution. It may then, following a democratic debate, decide that the production of this unit must be stopped until a satisfactory solution to control its waste is found. Ideally, in an ecosocialist society, the factory workers themselves will have sufficient ecological awareness to avoid making decisions that are dangerous for the environment and the health of the local population.

However, the fact of introducing methods to guarantee the decision-making power of the population to defend the most general interests, as in the previous example, does not mean that questions concerning internal management should not be submitted to the citizens at the level of the factory, school, neighborhood, hospital or village.

Ecosocialist planning must be based on a democratic and pluralist debate, at each level of decision. Organized in the form of parties, platforms or any other political movement, the delegates of the planning bodies are elected and the various proposals are presented to everyone they concern. In other words, representative democracy must be enriched — and improved — by direct democracy which allows people to choose directly — locally, nationally and, ultimately, internationally — between different proposals.

The whole population would then make decisions on free public transit, on a special tax paid by car owners to subsidize public transport, on the subsidization of solar energy to make it competitive with fossil energy, on the reduction of the hours of work to 30, 25 hours a week or less, even if this entails a reduction in production.

The democratic nature of planning does not make it incompatible with the participation of experts whose role is not to decide, but to present their arguments — often different, even opposed — during the democratic decision-making process. As Ernest Mandel said:

“Governments, parties, planning boards, scientists, technocrats or whoever can make suggestions, put forward proposals, try to influence people. To prevent them from doing so would be to restrict political freedom. But under a multi-party system, such proposals will never be unanimous: people will have the choice between coherent alternatives. And the right and power to decide should be in the hands of the majority of producers / consumers / citizens, not of anybody else. What is paternalist or despotic about that?”[2]

A question arises: what guarantee do we have that people will make the right choices, those that protect the environment, even if the price to pay is to change part of their consumption habits? There is no such “guarantee,” only the reasonable prospect that the rationality of democratic decisions will triumph once the fetishism of consumer goods has been abolished. People will of course make mistakes by making bad choices, but don’t the experts make mistakes themselves? It is impossible to imagine the construction of a new society without the majority of the people having reached a great socialist and ecological awareness thanks to their struggles, their self-education and their social experience.

So, it is reasonable to believe that serious errors — including decisions inconsistent with environmental needs — will be corrected. In any case, one wonders if the alternatives — the ruthless market, an ecological dictatorship of “experts” — are not much more dangerous than the democratic process, with all its limits.

Admittedly, for planning to work, there must be executive and technical bodies capable of implementing decisions, but their authority would be limited by the permanent and democratic control exercised by the lower levels, where workers’ self-management takes place in the process of democratic administration. It cannot be expected, of course, that the majority of the population will spend all of their free time in self-management or participatory meetings. As Ernest Mandel remarked: “Self-administration does not entail the disappearance of delegation. It combines decision-making by the citizens with stricter control of delegates by their respective electorate.”[3]

A long process not free from contradictions

The transition from the “destructive progress” of the capitalist system to ecosocialism is a historic process, a revolutionary and constant transformation of society, culture and mentalities — and politics in the broad sense, as defined above, is undeniably at the heart of this process. It is important to specify that such an evolution cannot be initiated without a revolutionary change in the social and political structures and without the active support to the ecosocialist program by a large majority of the population.

Socialist and ecological awareness is a process whose decisive factors are the collective experience and struggles of the population, which, starting from partial confrontations at the local level, progress towards the prospect of a radical change in society. This transition would lead not only to a new mode of production and a democratic and egalitarian society but also to an alternative way of life, a truly ecosocialist civilization beyond the imperium of money with its consumption patterns artificially induced by advertising and its limitless production of useless and/or environmentally harmful goods.

Some environmentalists believe that the only alternative to productivism is to stop growth as a whole, or to replace it with negative growth — called in France “degrowth.” To do this, it is necessary to drastically reduce the excessive level of consumption of the population and to give up individual houses, central heating and washing machines, among other things, in order to reduce energy consumption by half.

As these and other similarly draconian austerity measures may be very unpopular, some advocates of degrowth play with the idea of a kind of “ecological dictatorship.”[4] Against such pessimistic points of view, some socialists display an optimism which leads them to think that technical progress and the use of renewable energy sources will allow unlimited growth and prosperity so that everyone receives “according to their needs.”

It seems to me that these two schools share a purely quantitative conception of “growth” — positive or negative — and of the development of the productive forces. I think there is a third posture that seems more appropriate to me: a real qualitative transformation of development. This implies putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources caused by capitalism, which is based on the large-scale production of useless and/or harmful products. The arms industry is a good example, as are all these “products” manufactured in the capitalist system — with their planned obsolescence — which have no other purpose than to create profits for big companies.

The question is not “excessive consumption” in the abstract, but rather the dominant type of consumption whose main characteristics are: ostensible property, massive waste, obsessive accumulation of goods and the compulsive acquisition of pseudo-novelties imposed by “fashion.” A new society would orient production towards meeting authentic needs, starting with what could be described as “biblical” — water, food, clothing and housing — but including essential services: health, education, culture and transportation.

It is obvious that the countries where these needs are far from being met, that is to say the countries of the southern hemisphere, will have to “develop” much more — build railways, hospitals, sewers and other infrastructures — than industrialized countries, but this should be compatible with a production system based on renewable energy and therefore not harmful to the environment.

These countries will need to produce large quantities of food for their populations already hit by famine, but — as the farmers’ movements organized at an international level by the Via Campesina network have argued for years — this is an objective much easier to reach through organic peasant farming organized by family units, cooperatives or collective farms, than by the destructive and antisocial methods of industrial agrobusiness with its intensive use of pesticides, chemical substances and GMOs.

The present system of odious debt and imperialist exploitation of the resources of the South by the capitalist and industrialized countries would give way to a surge of technical and economic support from the North to the South. There would be no need — as some Puritan and ascetic ecologists seem to believe — to reduce, in absolute terms, the standard of living of the European or North American populations. These populations should simply get rid of useless products, those which do not meet any real need and whose obsessive consumption is upheld by the capitalist system. While reducing their consumption, they would redefine the concept of standard of living to make way for a lifestyle that is actually richer.

How to distinguish authentic needs from artificial, false or simulated needs? The advertising industry — which exerts its influence on needs through mental manipulation — has penetrated into all spheres of human life in modern capitalist societies. Everything is shaped according to its rules, not only food and clothing, but also areas as diverse as sport, culture, religion and politics. Advertising has invaded our streets, our mailboxes, our television screens, our newspapers and our landscapes in an insidious, permanent and aggressive manner.

This sector contributes directly to conspicuous and compulsive consumption habits. In addition, it leads to a phenomenal waste of oil, electricity, labour time, paper and chemical substances, among other raw materials — all paid for by consumers. It is a branch of “production” which is not only useless from the human point of view, but which is also at odds with real social needs. While advertising is an indispensable dimension in a capitalist market economy, it would have no place in a society in transition to socialism. It would be replaced by information on the products and services provided by consumer associations.

The criterion for distinguishing an authentic need from an artificial need would be its permanence after the removal of advertising. It is clear that for some time the past habits of consumption will persist because no one has the right to tell people what they need. The change in consumption models is an historical process and an educational challenge.

Certain products, such as the private car, raise more complex problems. Passenger cars are a public nuisance. Globally, they kill or maim hundreds of thousands of people each year. They pollute the air in big cities — with harmful consequences for the health of children and the elderly — and they contribute considerably to climate change. However, the car satisfies real needs under the current conditions of capitalism.

In European cities where the authorities are concerned about the environment, some local experiments — approved by the majority of the population — show that it is possible to gradually limit the place of the private car in favour of buses and trams. In a process of transition to ecosocialism, public transit would be widespread and free — on land as well as underground — while paths would be protected for pedestrians and cyclists.

Consequently, the private car would play a much less important role than in bourgeois society where the car has become a fetish product promoted by insistent and aggressive advertising. The car is a symbol of prestige, a sign of identity (in the United States, the driver’s license is the recognized identity card). It is at the heart of personal, social and erotic life. In this transition to a new society, it will be much easier to drastically reduce over-the-road transportation of commodities — a source of tragic accidents and excessive pollution — and to replace it with rail or container transport. Only the absurd logic of capitalist “competitiveness” explains the present development of truck transportation.

To these proposals, the pessimists will answer: yes, but individuals are motivated by infinite aspirations and desires which must be controlled, analyzed, suppressed and even repressed if necessary. Democracy could then be subject to certain restrictions. Yet ecosocialism is based on a reasonable assumption, previously advanced by Marx: the predominance of “being” over “having” in a non-capitalist society, that is to say the primacy of free time over the desire to own countless objects: personal achievement through real activities, cultural, sports, recreational, scientific, erotic, artistic and political.

The fetishism of the commodity encourages compulsive buying through the ideology and advertising specific to the capitalist system. There is no evidence that this is part of “eternal human nature.” Ernest Mandel pointed out:

“The continual accumulation of more and more goods (with declining ‘marginal utility’) is by no means a universal or even predominant feature of human behaviour. The development of talents and inclinations for their own sake; the protection of health and life; care for children; the development of rich social relations as a prerequisite of mental stability and happiness — all these become major motivations once basic material needs have been satisfied.”[5]

As we mentioned above, this does not mean, especially during the transition period, that conflicts will be non-existent: between environmental protection needs and social needs, between ecological obligations and the need to develop basic infrastructures, especially in poor countries, between popular consumption habits and lack of resources.

A society without social classes is not a society without contradictions or conflicts. These are inevitable: it will be the role of democratic planning, from an ecosocialist perspective freed from the constraints of capital and profit, to resolve them through open and pluralistic discussions leading society itself to take decisions. Such a democracy, common and participative, is the only way, not to avoid making errors, but to correct them through the social collectivity itself.

To dream of a green socialism or even, in the words of some, of a solar communism, and to fight for this dream, does not mean that we are not trying to implement concrete and urgent reforms. While we should not have illusions about “clean capitalism,” we must nevertheless try to gain time and impose on the public authorities some elementary changes: a general moratorium on genetically modified organisms, a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, strict regulation of industrial fishing and the use of pesticides as chemical substances in agro-industrial production, a much greater development of public transit, the gradual replacement of trucks by trains.

These urgent eco-social demands can lead to a process of radicalization, provided that they are not adapted to the requirements of “competitiveness.” According to the logic of what Marxists call a “transitional program,” each small victory, each partial advance immediately leads to a greater demand, to a more radical objective. These struggles around concrete questions are important, not only because partial victories are useful in themselves, but also because they contribute to ecological and socialist awareness. Moreover, these victories promote activity and self-organization from below: these are two necessary and decisive pre-conditions for achieving a radical, that is to say revolutionary, transformation of the world.

There will be no radical transformation as long as the forces engaged in a radical, socialist and ecological program are not hegemonic, in the sense understood by Antonio Gramsci. In a sense, time is our ally, because we are working for the only change capable of solving environmental problems, which are only getting worse with threats — such as climate change — which are more and more close.

On the other hand, time is running out, and in a few years — no one can say how much — the damage could be irreversible. There is no reason for optimism: the power of the current elites at the head of the system is immense, and the forces of radical opposition are still modest. However, they are the only hope we have to put a brake on the “destructive progress” of capitalism.

[1] Naomi Klein, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal (Random House, 2019), pp. 95, 98.

[2] Ernest Mandel, Power and Money (Verso, London, 1992), p. 209.

[3] Mandel, ibid., p. 204.

[4] The German philosopher Hans Jonas (Le principe responsabilité, Éd. du Cerf, 1979) raised the possibility of a “benevolent tyranny” to save nature, and the Finnish ecofascist Pentti Linkola (Voisiko elämä voittaa, Helsinki, Tammi, 2004) advocated a dictatorship capable of preventing any economic growth.

[5] Mandel, ibid., p. 206.

Michael Löwy is a Franco-Brazilian philosopher and sociologist, and emeritus research director at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). He is the author of numerous books, including The War of the Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America and Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History.” He is also a leading member of the Global Ecosocialist Network.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Climate Science & Ecosocialism - the changing of public perception

Written by Malcolm Bailey

Extreme weather patterns, fires across Australia, ocean and air pollution, decimation of the rain forests, plastic waste, melting of polar ice, loss of species diversity and other environmental degradations have recently shocked the public imagination, especially the young. Human caused climate change and global warming now meet growing public understanding and recognition of impending catastrophe.

The public mood is changing. Climate and environmental science is respected, in contrast to distrust of politicians and anger at ‘fake news’. President Trump and anti-science lobbies are seen as mistaken whilst recognition of climate change is founded on evidence from decades of research by scientists. Our confidence in what is happening to the global climate is testimony to the power of scientific methodology.

This positive view of science has spread beyond environmental science. This evidence-based view is of intrinsic benefit. Public interest in nuclear and particle physics has waned despite the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson discovery, but enthusiasm, excitement and wonder at amazing planetary exploration and merging black holes is growing. Advances in biology and medicine yield new approaches to treating disease.

Inevitably there are areas of disquiet, conspiracy theorists are still active. New 5G networks generate health fears which are not supported by adequate scientific evidence commanding scientific consensus, however, surveillance issues go mostly unchallenged, and AI and robotics concern many. Some still distrust vaccines but the importance of facts, rigorous science and evidence-based policies is widespread and growing.

Applied science and technology can be a scourge or boon for humankind, and it’s important to recognise the difference between them. Scientific theories must be falsifiable, and scientists accept that favoured theories may be wrong. Science is the organised attempt by humankind to discover how things work. Waddington [1] has defined the scientific attitude of mind as an interest in such questions. Science is not neutral. Scientists have a social and ethical responsibility to speak out on human behaviour.

Climate science has moved forward driven and coordinated internationally since 1988 by the work of the United Nations agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The remit of the IPCC is to report on the ‘scientific and technical information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation’ [2].  Thousands of scientists contribute to IPCC reports,

Professor Myles Allen, lead author of the recent IPCC ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C’ has explained [3] what the 12 year scenario means: there is between a 1-in-2 and 2-in-3 chance of keeping global warming below 1.5° C if emissions are reduced to around half their present (2018) level by 2030: ‘Climate change is not so much an emergency as a festering injustice: it means we have to act now, and even if we do, success is not guaranteed’.

The New Scientist [4] comments that ’thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg, public acceptance of the basic science of climate change, and awareness of the dangers it poses, has, of late, grown hugely across the globe, even in parts that were previously resistant, such as the US ….  the world seems to be waking up to the need for radical action on this and other serious environmental challenges.’

Yet there is failure to act on climate change and progress the Paris Agreement of 2015. There are obstacles and struggles, shown internationally by the tortuous progress of the annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) meetings, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which receives the IPCC science reports.

The latest COP25, last December, emphasised the difficulties. The 27,000 delegates conferred for a record two weeks plus, but there was no overall consensus. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, ‘the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis’. Even the latest IPCC science reports were merely ‘noted’ rather than ‘welcomed’ – a feeble response. Greta Thunberg told the plenary session that COP25 ‘seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes’.

The New Scientist [4] states ‘Even when it comes to climate change, undoubtedly the defining issue of the coming decade, there are grounds for cautious optimism that we can pull together to stave off catastrophe’. But where? The present global economic system depends on endless growth. Governments appear to act with a misplaced confidence in the capacity of a greener capitalism to solve the climate and social justice crises. It’s an unconvincing prescription of greenwash, techno-fix and ecomodernism.

Ecosocialism identifies and indicts capitalism as the enemy of nature (5), bringing together social justice and environment crises, linked and interacting. The fundamental significance of this linkage must be recognised, based on analysis underpinned by a scientific, evidence-based approach, forming the foundation of a rational response to the crises. Sometimes the current economic system appears impregnable and permanent, but it has intrinsic stresses which will become ever more tested under the deepening global environmental and social justice crises. 


1          Waddington, C.H., 1941, The Scientific Attitude, Pelican

2          IPCC,

4          New Scientist, 2019

5          Joel Kovel:  The Enemy of Nature, Zed Books, 2007

Malcolm Bailey is a member of Luton and Bedfordshire Green party and the Chair of Green Left

Thursday 9 April 2020

Open Letter to Communists of The Whole World: Total Class War Is Coming

Written by Jehu Eaves of Charley2U. This was sent by email to me and many other left activists worldwide, with an appeal to share far and wide.

We are urgently calling for a shift in the strategy of all communists that takes into account the new reality created by the emergency measures imposed by the state on the capitalist accumulation process. Because of this pandemic, the state has been forced to shut down the capitalist accumulation process. Workers are off the job not because of a general strike, but because the state has closed all non-essential businesses. 

There are millions of workers who are now set free from productive employment; they are unemployed. We need to fight to convert this huge mass of unemployment into free time for every member of society. The alternative will be total class war, the likes of which has never been seen in the whole of the history of capitalism. It will unfold against the backdrop of extreme deprivation and barbarous competition for jobs among the working class as the state tries desperately to re-establish the old relations of production.

It is essential that prominent communist thinkers today take the lead in urging communists worldwide to shift their focus to the urgent need for a radical reduction of hours of labor. This will be necessary if we are to prevent savage competition among the proletarians over jobs when nation states attempt to restart the capitalist accumulation process with billions still unemployed.

The failure of communists to take urgent action right now will result in unnecessary suffering by the working class of every country.


The pandemic public health emergency is NOT a crisis. According to Marx, “crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions” within the mode of production. They arise from the working out of the contradictions within the mode of production itself. This emergency is obviously external to the mode of production. Based on reports, it began with the emergence of a viral infection of unknown origin in the People’s Republic of China, which rapidly spread to engulf most of the world market. The pandemic soon forced most nation states to take aggressive public health measures to contain it. 

Among these measures were so-called social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. These measures led states to close down many so-called non-essential business operations and confine citizens to their homes.

The public health measures thus interrupted both the sale of labor power and the circulation of capital. To implement a necessary public health measure to contain the spread of a deadly disease, nation states were compelled to interrupt the global capitalist accumulation process itself; they were forced to shut it down. 

Now, some may think the mode of production can be restarted. We question this assumption. It is not as simple as they think to restart the capitalist accumulation process. 

For one thing, no one knows the value of anything. Capital is value in motion, self-expanding value. What is the value of capital that is no longer self-expanding? What is the value of labor power that cannot be sold at any wage? These questions are not settled on a spreadsheet, but in a competitive struggle between and among classes. When people are told to go back to work, that competitive struggle will begin. It likely will not end with the restoration of the normal operation of the capitalist mode of production.


The emergency measures necessary to slow the spread of the contagion has led to the interruption of the process of capitalist accumulation as millions of workers were directed to stay at home and non-essential capitalist firms were forced to close. This has produced an economic contraction that is likely larger than any previous contraction in history. As a result, the various nation states have been compelled to step in and implement assorted relief measures to replace the wages of the working class -- lost because of social distancing measures -- and to bail out idle and failing capitalist firms that are teetering on the edge of collapse. 

These interventions nation states have made to contain the pandemic have given communists the world over the opportunity to approach the coming crisis with a degree of coordination that is far greater than anything seen in recent years. The working classes of every country now face almost the exact same set of difficulties -- massive unemployment and lost wages. This calls for the same response: a dramatic reduction of hours of labor in all countries.

The alternative--massive stimulus and relief measures--just will not work for most countries. The capacity of nation states to implement relief measures designed to replace the wages of the working class -- lost because of social distancing measures -- is not uniform among nation states. The United States, of course, can operate rather freely, since it controls the world reserve currency. Similarly, nations states, like Germany and China, who have accumulated large reserves of foreign exchange, can, if they choose, expend some of these reserves to maintain their national capitals on life support for some time. 

Aside from these few countries however, the ability of most countries to run the massive deficits necessary to finance these interventions are questionable. Some countries have standing to borrow in a pinch, but the capacity to maintain their national capitals on life support for long periods of time is circumscribed by foreign and domestic creditors. And at the bottom of the pyramid are the vast majority of nations that have few resources and are utterly dependent on foreign assistance. Communists have to offer an approach that works not just for the rich countries, but for all countries -- even, and especially, the poorest.


To paraphrase that American officer in Vietnam, the fascists found it necessary to destroy capitalism in order to save it. At a minimum, it is obvious that capitalist accumulation has largely come to a standstill. But here is the thing: capital, as we all know, is value in motion, self-expanding value. How does value in motion come to a standstill? What happens to capital, when value itself no longer circulates as self-expanding value? Can one simply turn capital off, like a light switch, for weeks, or even months, and turn it back on again, once the “All clear” has been given by the public health authorities?

Communists should not be so quick to answer, “Yes.” We have never been here before. And, largely, our immediate actions will be determined by the answer we give. If we assume capital is dead, we will act one way. If we assume capital is alive and just waiting to spring back into action, we will act another way. The unusually swift action that led to the adoption of a relief package in Washington suggests the fascists do not think capital is as resilient as communists seem to think it is.

The Federal Reserve has predicted that as much as 30 percent of workers will be displaced from their jobs as a result of this emergency. It is difficult to tell how much of this has already been realized, since the archaic unemployment reporting system completely broke down in this emergency, according to one media outlet. Basically, the March monthly non-farm payroll report, which tells us how bad unemployment has become, shows that overall unemployment in the United States fell only 701,000 persons (although millions already have lost their jobs over the last two weeks). The reasons for this is the way the data is collected and published by Washington. (The Economic Policy Institute has an article on the problem.)

The horrendous damage actually done to the productive forces by this emergency may be hidden from official unemployment statistics for a month. This is a problem. Often, reality is only real for communists if the government reports it and the media echoes it. But the way the U.S. government collects data is deliberately designed to blunt public perception of things like rising unemployment and inflation (for obvious reasons).

However, we do have access to slightly more reliable proxies. There is the BLS weekly initial jobless claims report which shows unimaginably huge jumps in jobless claims over the last two weeks of nearly 10 million persons. This is more jobless claims than the whole of the 2008 financial crisis.

We can also look at other countries. Israel, facing the same state public health lockdown, has seen its unemployment rate jump from historic lows to 24% in a single month. While Spain has also seen a massive jump in jobless claims that has almost wiped out all employment gains back to its historic financial crisis highs in 2013.

We have other indicators that suggest massive damage as well: the auto industry remains completely shut in, subway ridership is down 75%, airline travel is down 93%, and retail foot traffic is down 97%.

Beyond this, the European services purchasing managers index (PMI), a forward looking survey of purchasing managers in the services sector, is near apocalyptic levels. Italy has fallen from 52.1 to a deeply contractionary reading of 17.4; Spain has fallen from 52.1 to 23; France collapsed from 52.5 to 27.4 and Germany plunged from 52.5 to 31.7.

Taken together, these assorted proxies suggest the public health measures to contain the pandemic are inflicting savage and ongoing damage to the capitalist accumulation process.

Another, less direct reason to expect unprecedented carnage to the productive forces is that we suspect the terrain of the world market has been prepared for this event in the same way years of drought prepares a region for uncontrollable wildfires. The literature has long marked the accumulation of a very large mass of superfluous capital and a very large population of surplus workers, resulting from the transformation of agriculture and the improvement in productivity of social labor in industry, combined with state efforts to engineer continuous expansion of empty labor in the tertiary sector, through massive deficit spending.

The measures taken in the present emergency appear to have punctured a bubble that has been at least nine decades in the making — back to the Great Depression. We cannot over-emphasize how significant this situation is. We already have accumulated a huge surplus population from previous economic contractions that have not been absorbed back into productive employment from both the 2001 and 2008 crisis, respectively. The emergency measures taken in response to this pandemic will easily increase those numbers by a magnitude at least. And it is likely that profound changes in the economy predicted to take place over the next decade, (e.g. widespread automation), may now be realized in a matter of months or even weeks.

You do not have to be a catastrophist to understand what has happened here. In two short weeks, capital values have been destroyed and workers have been set free from production on an unimaginable scale seldom seen in a full-blown economic contraction lasting years, perhaps decades. And this has occurred not just in one or two countries, but in almost every nation on the planet and all together. We hardly think anyone contemplating this situation can operate from the baseline assumption that capitalism has survived. 

This suggests our options as a class going forward will be to accept an attempted restoration of the capitalist accumulation process by the state or press ahead with fundamental alterations of all existing relations.


The state is determined to restore capitalist accumulation. They will not let anything prevent the return to the pre-Covid-19 status quo. They will throw the kitchen sink at the problem, but we don’t expect much original thinking here. 

On track one, we think the state will follow the standard Keynesian recession/depression playbook. That means a huge fiscal/monetary stimulus bolus and massive tax cuts targeted to businesses and the very wealthy. The Democrats and the Republicans will argue as usual over who gets how much of what — as if it makes a difference under wage slavery which slave master gets the actual subsidy. Following the United States, Japan has announced a relief package said to amount to 25 percent of GDP. Italy has proposed a stimulus plan that amounts to an astonishing fifty percent of its GDP. Spain has floated the idea of a universal basic income -- but they have been saying the same thing for at least four years.

Anyone expecting any creativity here is likely to be disappointed. We haven’t seen anyone thinking outside the box so far, when it comes to “getting the economy back on its feet.” If creative thinking is going to happen, it will happen only when this uninspired stuff fails. The Obama administration, for instance, never attempted to recover any of the jobs and output lost in the 2008 crisis over its eight years. It just let all of that lost output and those lost jobs go. We expect the Trump administration will do the same.

Meanwhile, on track two, the state will roll out the notorious class warfare wishlist. This starts with elimination of things like the minimum wage, OSHA, and various labor protection laws, as well as some federal version of a right to work law, etc. NLRB, as useless as it is, will likely be abolished or just gutted. (In this vein, Trump’s NLRB is making it almost impossible to unionize in the United States.)

This will be total class war, the likes of which has never been seen in the whole of the history of capitalism. It will unfold against the backdrop of extreme deprivation and barbarous competition for jobs among the working class. Even as we speak, the plans are being laid for this total class war in the White House.


The only way to prevent capitalist accumulation from restarting is to immediately reduce hours of labor. We need to replace the present emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses with a strict reduction on hours of labor of a similar magnitude. By radically reducing hours of labor and imposing compensation through a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, we can at least impose severe restrictions on the scale of any future attempt to re-establish capitalist accumulation.

How this works:

It is estimated that this emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses will eventually lead to roughly 47 million workers being unemployed, furloughed or otherwise idled. This translates into an estimated reduction of GDP by about 30-35% and actual employment by about 30%. The approach we advocate is simple: since we are already looking at a large drop in GDP and employment, we should convert this drop into a dramatic reduction of the 40hour workweek  to 24 hours per week. This would impose a reduction of hours of labor on a scale that is similar in scale to the 30% unemployment already made necessary by the public health emergency.

There are five advantages to this approach.

First, the absolute accumulation of excess capital and a surplus population of workers has been stopped for the most part, globally. By locking in a deep reduction of hours of labor at this point, we prevent the capitalists from restarting it. We could go further and reduce hours of labor still more to 15 hours or even 10 hours — imposing draconian limits on accumulation and forcing introduction of automation to compensate for a rapidly shrinking labor pool.

Second, as satellite data is showing, the present level of employment hours is having a dramatic impact on global climate change. Reduction of hours of labor has an immediate impact on this problem that can be visualized noticeably. We would be doubling down on this positive development.

Third, we produce a labor shock effect: as the labor hours supplied to the market fall, wages rise. Writers also are beginning to note that reduction of hours of labor has a positive impact on the cohesiveness of the working class and their ability to organize. This is, by far, the most important factor for communists to think about. Reduction of working hours undercuts competition and fragmentation within the working class by reducing the aggregate amount of labor supplied to capital.

Fourth, reducing hours of labor, especially in the rich countries, will, naturally, cause capital flight. As bizarre as this sounds, this is actually a good thing. Africa, Asia and Latin America need investment. They will not get it unless capital currently locked up in the rich countries is forced to flee to the less developed regions of the world market. A dramatic reduction of hours of labor here will accelerate this process.

Fifth, reducing hours of labor will accelerate automation. There is no better way to force capitalists to introduce improved methods of production than to dramatically drive up labor costs. Reducing hours of labor can do this by increasing the cohesiveness and bargaining power of the working class — just as leaving 47 million workers unemployed can weaken the working class, by leaving it balkanized and fragmented.

Finally, we want to warn those who are complacent about an attempt by the state to restart the capitalist accumulation process that the damage done to labor markets in this period is unimaginably extensive. Once this pandemic emergency is declared over, people will be told to go back to work. Millions will already have lost their jobs by then. To give an example: retail brick and mortar is likely never coming back. 

That’s one out of every four workers in the United States. Where will those workers go for jobs? Forty-seven million workers frantically looking for work at the same time is not something we should ever want to see happening in the United States. But this is exactly what is likely to happen if the emergency passes and restoration of the status quo ante is attempted.


People should be clear that the emergency measures taken to control the pandemic are not the actual crisis. They are only the trigger to the actual crisis. The crisis, i.e., the sudden and forcible adjustment of the global labor market, will begin once the emergency measures to contain the pandemic are relaxed and workers are told to go back to work.

Forty-seven million have been unemployed in the United States — billions worldwide. This implies competition on a scale that is unimaginable to us today. All this has been prepared by the impact of the emergency measures taken to contain the pandemic on capitalist relations of production.

When people are told to get back to work, millions of workers in the United States and billions more around the world will no longer have jobs and no prospect of finding a job. Capitalist relations of production will experience a sudden, sharp and forcible adjustment to this new reality (again, the likes of which we have probably have never witnessed in the history of the mode of production.)

As those who are familiar with Marx’s theory are aware, a crisis is not some sort of magic carpet ride to communism. It is a violent eruption that cannot, of itself, go beyond the limits of the mode of production. We believe this will be the granddaddy of all crises.


There is one idea communists must work on now to prepare. It is extremely important to forge solidarity between workers who are still at work and the millions who have lost their jobs. This effort must be given the highest priority by communists now, before the emergency is declared over and workers are forced to return to the labor market looking for jobs.

We suggest communists everywhere at least form mutual aid funds of workers helping workers to provide mutual aid between the employed and unemployed -- no state, church, NGO or charity involvement! (We would even discourage labor union involvement, since they are often controlled by the fascists.) Efforts should be made to take up collections of money, food and clothing at your workplaces to aid the unemployed. 

This campaign should be a pure worker to worker mutual aid effort. Committees should be formed covering both workplace and community. People need to facilitate it by doing research in their communities to find out who has already lost their jobs in their community, collect names etc. We want to build ties of solidarity within the class outside the state, church and charities. If these ties are not forged between the employed and unemployed, workers will be set against one another when the crisis hits.

We are urgently calling for a shift in the strategy of all communists that takes into account the new reality created by the emergency measures imposed by the state on the capitalist accumulation process. Because of this pandemic, the state has been forced to do what communists have been aiming to do since the time of the Communist Manifesto: shut down the capitalist accumulation process.

Admittedly, it has happened in a way we did not expect. The impact of the public health measures taken to respond to the pandemic on capitalist relations of production turned out to be a black swan. And it takes a second to wrap our heads around the fact that it happened. Workers are off the job not because of a general strike, but because the state has closed all non-essential businesses. This did not happen the way we expected it to happen. But it happened! The accumulation process has been shut down. This is actually where we are now!

The state has been forced, very much against its will, to shut down all non-essential businesses; to shut down the accumulation process itself. What can we do this very instant to keep it shut down? There are millions of workers who are now set free from productive employment; they are unemployed. We need to fight to convert this huge mass of unemployment into free time for every member of society. The alternative is one relief bill after another as the state tries desperately to re-establish the old relations of production.

We cannot let another opportunity pass us as happened during the Great Depression when capital ground to a halt and workers fought for a shorter work week, but were given the New Deal, Auschwitz and World War II instead.