Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Countdown to COP26 – Part 3 (2021)

From the October 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Time is not on our side.

COP26 is almost upon us and already we have had a flurry of advance statements and declarations. In November we can expect a multitude of government departments, industry bodies, scientific committees, NGOs and think-tanks plus myriad grassroot pressure groups and political organisations, offering up arguments to support their solutions. The Socialist Party, too, will be in attendance at Glasgow, presenting our own unique analysis that only a revolutionary transformation of society and the ending of the capitalist system can offer humanity the opportunity to proceed along the path of social evolution towards a better world for all.

Thousands of people will bring all sorts of ideas to Glasgow. We will for our part give the socialist vision. We will expose the blind irrationality of the capitalist market, with its short-sighted profit-and-loss accounting. We will try to explain that climate change crises are not aberrations but are an inevitable consequence of the capitalist system. We say society’s prosperity and the planet’s well-being can only be guaranteed by world socialism. We perceive a dark future when we witness the wilful burning of the Amazon rainforest in the hunger for profit.

One way or another, COP26 will be decisive for the fate of humanity. Unless greenhouse gases are swiftly and drastically curbed the result could be environmental catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale.

Capitalism has inflicted incalculable harm on the inhabitants of the earth. Tragically, the future could be even worse for a simple reason: capitalism’s destructive power, driven by its inner logic to expand, is doing irreversible damage to life in all its forms all around the planet. Rosa Luxemburg famously said that humanity had a choice, ‘socialism or barbarism.’ Given the climate crisis, her warning has even more meaning. Daily we hear of species extinction, global warming, resource depletion, deforestation, desertification, on and on to the point where we have almost become accustomed to impending catastrophe. Our planet cannot indefinitely absorb the impact of profit-driven, growth-without-limits capitalism. Unless we change this, we will reach the point where the harm becomes irreversible. Yet even the most modest environmental reforms are resisted by sections of the capitalist class. The goal of the big corporations is to secure the greatest possible profits for their super-rich owners — regardless of the consequences for the planet and its people. This makes the establishment of a socialist society all the more imperative.

We are dealing with the problem of an outmoded and unnecessary economic system dominated by a class whose primary purpose is to maximise capital accumulation and profits. This is condemning the planet. The Socialist Party does not accept this status quo and rejects the values and priorities of capitalist exploitation and production for profit. The mounting realisation that humanity faces critical risks from global warming must create an awareness of the danger that capitalism presents.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Sunrise and Extinction Rebellion focus on the single issue of the environment as the most pressing matter of our time. They may well be right, in one sense. However, we say that if all the combined energy campaigning against individual problems the system throws up had been spent on attacking capitalism as a system, instead of distracting millions of workers, then our task of building a new cooperative commonwealth would have been vastly aided. A great amount of our political work has been taken up in attempts to rectify the damage done to socialist ideas by other political organisations and in challenging the single-issue mentality of thousands of organisations. If people eliminate the cause of the problems, the problems won’t keep cropping up. Instead of trying to fix the symptoms, forever and forever, year in and year out, people can eliminate the cause, once and for all.

Voices in the ecology movement inform us that we are individually responsible for climate change and imply that it is our personal fault that the planet’s environment is fouled up. They tell us that it is ‘mankind’ which contributes to carbon emissions because our ‘excessive’ consumerism makes manufacturers increase their production to satisfy demand. In fact the carbon footprint of one individual is very small and practically irrelevant. The biggest culprit in global warming is the business interests of the industries which produce almost all the emissions. Corporations are less concerned with stopping pollution than with making more profits than the next corporation. Carbon capture technology is expensive, so companies would have to cut deeply into their profits to take any real steps toward stopping emissions. Business is not about to lower its profits for anybody. Business has not reduced its profits to end poverty nor to cease wars. Why should we expect them to do such a thing in order to halt global warming?

What comfort can people get from the assurance of governments that they can solve the global warming crisis? The promises politicians make are fraudulent. They talk endlessly about what they will do some day, but it always remains talk. They have promised policies and action that will slow down greenhouse gas emissions, yet are doing almost the least they can get away with doing. How can anyone be satisfied with politicians who promise and never deliver?

A socialist society which has control of the means of production and distribution can assure adequate comfort for the population. The potential to create such a society exists, but that potential can be realised only if working people act to gain control of their own lives by organising, politically and industrially, for socialism. The aim of socialist production is not profits but simply what people need to live comfortably.

What is required to stabilise the rise in temperature is a global political and social revolution to end capitalism and put humanity in charge of its interaction with the rest of nature. This can only be done if the Earth’s natural and industrial resources become the common property of all humanity. We need to wrest control of science and technology from the hands of our ‘masters’. There is little time left, for humanity stands at the crossroads now and must make its choice now. Socialism will open doors that have been locked to humanity throughout our history, and finally allow us to enter a new stage in our social evolution.

Countdown to COP26 – Part 2 (2021)

From the September 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do Environmentalists Know What Capitalism is?

November’s COP26 at Glasgow draws closer and many organisations are preparing to attend to make their proposals and arguments known, and we in the World Socialist Movement will be doing likewise to present our case for socialism as the solution to global warming and all its accompanying crises.

Capitalism is the root cause of most of the environmental problems we face, and is also the biggest obstacle to implementing the solutions. Yet few recognise the culpability of capitalism, and if they do, their remedies involve little more than passing legislation to regulate the capitalist system such as the proposed Green New Deal, and encouraging small life-style changes.

Many activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement consider our proposition of a world without states and borders, markets, prices or money, as something for science-fiction writers.

Nevertheless, the more radical environmentalist campaigners will concede that a revolutionary change on a world scale is required, a revolution to overthrow capitalism. On marches there are certainly enough placards and banners with the slogan, ‘System Change, not Climate Change.’

Believing themselves to be radical progressives they talk of co-operatives run in a decentralised manner, and advocate that such a system can solve pollution and global warming. However, on further investigation, it becomes clearer that this sustainable society is not socialism, for the continuance of money and the market is assumed, together with private ownership. The aim is a localised economy, based on small-scale enterprise, with a greatly reduced dependence on the world market, yet still wedded to a form of capitalism and holding to a belief that capitalism can be reformed so it can be compatible with achieving an environmentally sustainable society.

Bandying around terms such as anti-capitalism without fully comprehending their meaning doesn’t get us anywhere. These protesters define capitalism so vaguely that if they did successfully accomplish the abolition of their form of ‘capitalism’, the actual fundamentals of the capitalist system would remain intact and still be exerting its harmful effects upon our society and our ecology. Capitalism is the nefarious cycle of endless growth and expanding markets for the ceaseless accumulation of capital to provide profits. As a system it must continually grow or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. Capitalist investors want to end up with more money than they started out with. The cycle is thus money—goods for sale—more money—more products to sell—even more money.

Capitalism won’t disappear with a few reforms and some greenwash. Those who think it will should be aware that they are setting out to impose upon capitalism something that is incompatible with and contrary to its core ethos.

So not many in the environmentalist movement actually reject capitalism outright. Their underlying philosophy is ‘small is beautiful’.

However, as the name says, global warming is a global phenomenon and not a localised effect. Capitalism worldwide is despoiling the environment, changing the weather patterns, degrading land and water, extinguishing animal species. Capitalism is polarising the planet, making a few fabulously wealthy while impoverishing the many, seizing the best land and evicting small farmers and devastating rural communities, leaving destitution in its wake. The capitalists sacrifice the balance of nature for the sake of plunder.

Essentially, if capitalism is the reason why we have the climate change crisis, then any attempt to halt it must by definition be anti-capitalist and, therefore, the socialist prescription is to scrap rather than reform capitalism. A cooperative commonwealth of the associated producers, rationally interacting with nature for mutual benefit is the precondition for a sustainable planet.

As Marx pointed out:
‘a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, [beneficiaries] and, like boni patres familias [good heads of households], they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.’
The environmental threat to human survival must come to occupy central place among the concerns that inspire people to work for socialism. Our collective well-being is contingent on the establishment of world socialism. The longer capitalism continues, the more our prospects worsen. The sooner we establish socialism the better, and better late than never.

The only sure protection against climate change is the replacement of a society based on accumulation for profit with one based on production for need. That will not come about by futile appeals to governments and corporations to mend their ways. Environmental activists must make a choice between global catastrophe or revolutionary change.

When we see the priorities of capitalism, we can understand why politicians have failed to seriously reduce emissions. Capitalism is a barrier to reducing emissions, not simply because of the system’s historic reliance on fossil fuels, but also because of its reliance on market forces.

Capitalism is an economic system, incompatible with human aspiration for sustainability. It is a global economy that requires constant expansion and increasing exploitation. We will have to operate in a fundamentally different manner than we do now. By concentrating its labour resources on the real needs of people, socialism would be able to stop vast numbers of wasteful and destructive jobs that are only needed by the profit system. With the end of commercial competition, socialism would not be constantly driven to use the cheapest and dirtiest production methods, but could instead apply eco-friendly methods. A cooperative worldwide commonwealth would put an end to the unchecked power and authority exercised by both governments and corporate powers.

New technology, transportation and communication will facilitate a world in which the entire population could participate in the creation of a sharing society. Perhaps, if we come to understand how to deal with climate change and the consequences of the pandemic it will be the irreversible tipping point for social revolution.

Climate change could have a radicalising potential, for many people have started to question the prevailing economic system and its detrimental effect upon the environment. However, mainstream environmental groups don’t present a coherent critique of capitalism’s ecological consequences nor do they do the spadework of offering an alternative.

What is required is transformational change, a mass mobilisation of peoples for an entirely new society based upon a fundamentally different economic system. Those intent upon defending the environment must organise worldwide for socialism which is the antidote to the despair and despondency that prevails in many people’s attitudes to the global warming threat.

Our fight is to show that for almost all our current and future material requirements we produce at sufficient levels already. Abundance exists and to provide plenty-for-all need not involve the intensification of the extraction process to the detriment of the environment. Production can be geared to satisfying human needs which, contrary to the mythology used to justify capitalism, are not limitless and can be met without over-stretching nature’s resources. Imagine a society where each individual has the means to live a life of dignity and fulfilment, without exception; where discrimination and prejudice are wiped out; where all members of society are guaranteed a decent standard of life; and where the environment is protected and rehabilitated. This is socialism — a truly humane world.

Countdown to COP26 - Part 1 (2021)

From the August 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Can Reforms Save The Environment?

The upcoming November UN Conference of the Parties (COP) on Climate Change in Glasgow will be the 26th. There have been 40 Earth Days, while Earth Hours have been ongoing since 2007, plus there have been countless other diplomatic and scientific conferences on the climate. Only someone skilled in sophistry would ascribe to them any significant success. It is accepted opinion that the ‘landmark’ Paris Agreement of 2015 has failed in most of its targets.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine, Pestilence, War and Death, are galloping across the globe, plunging our planet into catastrophe and chaos. Experts raise the prospect of coastal cities sinking into the oceans, deadly flooding, disastrous droughts, desertification and deforestation, devastating storms, decreasing soil fertility and harvests failing, and pollution of land, air and water. And all of it leading to the mass migration of climate refugees. It is described as a climate Armageddon.

The World Socialist Movement (WSM), however, is not parading about with placards calling upon fellow-workers to ‘Prepare to meet thy doom’. We are not predicting the end of the human race, as a species, humans are too adaptive for that. But we are suggesting that many people may possibly see society falling apart around them.

The WSM has been criticised for our sceptical and dismissive response to reforms aimed towards mitigating climate change. Environmentalists have presented a vast array of legislative and regulatory proposals, the Green New Deal being one example, that they insist will provide more time for further fundamental policies which will halt and reverse global warming. The WSM is accused of not possessing any answer to the ecological crises, other than assuming negative attitudes about parliaments passing ‘practical’ measures.

‘Socialism may be the ultimate answer, but we’ll have to wait a long time for it to come and so in the meantime we need to do something right now.’ is what we hear from campaigners.

It is just that procrastination that delays the advent of socialism, which can come as soon as the majority wishes and enacts it. Then decisions will be made with a view to satisfying the real human needs of everyone on the planet, and the removal of harm to the environment. What causes global warming can be addressed with sanity and science.

Instead, we are told that we can learn from the success story of the 1987 Montreal Protocol where the world banned excessive use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to close the holes in the ozone layer as an example of what can be accomplished. What is not mentioned is that there was no conservative lobby opposing government intervention even though the issues were similar with the State curbing the freedom of industry, but back then, the vested interests involved were few and there was little need for any political push-back.

Why are we socialists so sure that government action won’t work? First, we do not deny that some government initiatives might make a marginal difference in curtailing the worst of climate change, however a marginal difference is not enough. What is needed is a massive change, not just in government policy but in the way capitalism ultimately functions, and we don’t think governments can ever deliver that. As far as we’re concerned, under capitalism, the environmental emergency is unsolvable.

World socialists reject the plunder and pillage of our environment in the interests of the rich and not in the interests of ourselves, homo sapiens. The manner in which humans organise to meet their own material needs always has to be the basis of any society. This is its mode of production and it is the same thing as its relationship to the rest of nature. Humans survive by interfering in the rest of nature to change it for their own benefit.

It is a mistake to view this intervention as inherently destructive of nature. There is no reason why it should be. That humans have to interfere in nature is simply a fact of human existence. How it is done depends on the type of society we live under. It is unreasonable to regard human involvement in nature as some disturbing alien force. In fact we are part of nature, so it is natural for us to do so. At present, the way we are encroaching on the environment is destroying the natural balances and cycles, yet the crucial point is that human beings, unlike other species, are capable of changing their behaviour.

Countless scientific studies and innumerable academic papers have been written on the climate crisis. Many describe the effects, but nearly all avoid explaining the core issue and without defining and determining the root cause there can be no real solutions.

Some commentators point an accusatory finger at modern technology and seek a return to pre-industrial pastoral life. Others argue that since technology got us into this mess, then it can get us out of it, so they propose all sorts of techno-fixes and anti-pollution gadgets. Meanwhile the bankers and financiers concentrate their focus on fiscal policies and trading carbon credits.

Whatever their answers, they can never remove the requirement for one corporation to compete against its business rivals. No matter how sound and sensible a policy may be, it cannot be placed in the way of accumulating capital and making profits. And this corporate entitlement to compete will always be safeguarded by the government. The environment becomes a casualty and unavoidable collateral damage.

A great number of people concerned about the environment have been naive enough to believe that their protests and demonstrations would force the captains of industry to take action to head off climate change, even if only because of self-interest. But this is a cruel illusion. The people can demonstrate on the streets all they like. But the CEOs won’t listen as they cannot disregard their responsibility to produce shareholder dividends.

Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation derived out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into a crisis of stagnation. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist’s dream of a sustainable future within the logic of capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organise its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must gear production directly to the satisfaction of peoples’ needs and not capital accumulation

Many ecologists talk about ’zero-growth’ and a ’steady-state’ society and this is something we should be aiming at. This is what socialism could do. But if we want this, we cannot retain the market system in which goods are produced to sell at a profit. The market can only function with a constant pressure to generate sales and if it fails to do this, people are made unemployed and incomes are cut. It is a fundamental flaw and an insoluble contradiction in the eco-activists’ argument that they can have a green economy along with a market system. These aims are totally incompatible with each other.

The World Socialist Movement rejects the idea that capitalism has any self-correcting economic mechanism. If nothing changes, the depressing prognosis will be climate chaos and the human tragedies that will accompany it. In this circumstance, a redistribution of resources for a world of abundance, without pollution, disease and squalor makes total sense. The skills and the science already exist, and rather than using them to add to environmental destruction, we can apply them for constructive purposes. Unless the capitalist system of profit-making is superseded the grim reality may be a dystopian future ahead for all of us.