Sunday, March 11, 2007

What drugs are the socialists on?
(and why don't they share?)

Recently a lot of socialists have been talking about major cuts in carbon emissions, firgures like 50% or even 90%. While cuts like these would be nice I am quite confused by what they say next. For example these are taken from in response to climactions recent street party.

"In reality, the cause of global warming is global capitalism, not the bloke filling up his Holden at the Swanson BP"

"It is big capitalist firms who pollute. The fact that we consume the energy (for example) that they produce does not in any way argue for reduced consumption. It demands the profits of these big companies be spent on improving the quality of their production and distribution, creating more jobs, as well as safer and cleaner production. Furthermore it points out that capitalism is unable to do this, that only the socialist transformation of society, the rational, democratic and scientific planning of production will allow such a development.

While capitalism continues pollution will get worse and so will their contribution to climate change, with all the attendant destruction and devastation that brings with it. We will all pay the price but will not enjoy improved living standards as a result. The capitalist class will improve its profits at our expense, with no concern for the wages and conditions of the workforce, or the destruction of the environment. Far from arguing for limiting consumption, we do indeed believe in a society of superabundance, but point out too that this can only be achieved by the pooling and planning of the world's resources."

Which of course leads me to my next question what drugs are these socialists taking that make them think we can continue our current level of consumption without killing the planet? How on earth does our current unsustainable life argue for socialism? Cuba, one of their socialist utopias has been through the sorts of cuts we need to see, and their entire population fell in weight a few kilos because of food shortages. A large percentage of their population had to move back out to the country and their cities only have water and power for a few hours a day. I plan to visit Cuba and I think they have a lot of ideas we can copy, however the changes hurt, they were significant, and even their socialism didnt save them from cuts in consumption.

Our consumption levels are unsustainable and we need to deindustrialise. A socialist revolution that has at its heart increasing productivity and industrial growth will kill the planet just as efficiently as a capitalist system. While our society is fixated on growth and consumption it doesnt matter who is in charge.

To be fair readingthemaps goes on to say "In other words, the solution to ecological problems like global warming is not a change in consumption choices by individual workers but a change of economic and social system. Cars are not to blame for global warming; nor are their drivers" I agree with this, we need to destroy the industrial system which is systematically killing ecosystems to further consumption in the west. We need to destroy this system which values human life above the rest of the natural world. We must come to live in balance with the limits of this planet. We need to take down the current system if we want to stop climate change, this means losing all the things this system provides such as cheap energy and high levels of consumption.

All of this will require a transformation in the way we live, it will require increasing community control, it will require the end to all sectors of the econmomy which involve extracting resources and it will require an end to all industrys which require that extraction. It will mean living in an agrarian society not an industrial society.

Socialists can't have their cake and eat it too. They cannot claim to want to halt climate change and still want high standards of consumption in the west. Their is a choice that has to be made: to continue living as we currently do until our ecosystems collapse or to begin a voluntary transformation to a sustainable way of living.

Blaming corporations for global waming without facing the fact that almost everything we currently take for granted must go to prevent climate change is at worst deception and at best ill informed. Yes climate change needs to be stopped, but so does industrial civilisation. I don't particularly care whether it is a socialist coal power plant or a capitalist coal power plant, that power plant needs to be destroyed. I dont care whether its a capitalist mine or a socialist mine that mining needs to stop.


Angela said...

This partisanship seems to be a new tactic in the global warming discussion. Americans are becoming particularly adept at accusing "Democrats" of trying to overthrow the "Republicans" with environmental overhauling, while New Zealand pits the "Capitalists" against the "Socialists". I have read conspiracy theories that accuse Europe of trying to bully the rest of the world into reducing CO2 so that they can benefit from UN carbon taxes. Where does this all come from? If we examine the energy industry corporations and their lobbying methods, patterns of financing (and the public relations work that accompanies it) begin to emerge. has interesting entries and resources that reveal how the public is given to believe a certain version of the story.

Anonymous said...

So it doesn't matter who controls technology, a capitalist elite or the working class which constitutes the vast majority of the world's population?

You'd just as sooner have Rupert Murdoch and George Bush et al in charge of the ship as mass democratic control of technology? Technology will destroy us, regardless of the radically different choices that these two groups would make about how to use it? You don't have much faith in human agency do you, old boy?

Socialism in essence means democratic control of the economy by the majority that produces wealth, rather than the minority that lives off the majority. To date we haven't had any shining example of perfect socialism, only a few rough working models - the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian revolution before its degeneration, and a handful of others. The best bets in the near future are Venezuela and Bolivia.

But the bottom line is that under socialism the mass of the population gets to make decisions about how the economy works - what gets produced and for whom, how it gets produced, and so on - instead of the tiny minority of big capitalists.

There's no set rule about how socialist societies should use technology - that's up for the majority to decide. I hope very much that they would adopt a more sensible and balanced attitude toward the environment than capitalism, but I doubt whether more than a handful would want to follow you in arguing for deindustrialising.

In fact, the socialist movements that have emerged in Latin America in recent years have in some respects been movements *against* deindustrialisation. In nations like Argentina and Venezuela workers have seized hundreds of factories slated for closure by the bosses and kept them running, making decisions about what to produce and how democratically. This is socialism in action, on a small scale - and it is directly opposed to all your talk about the necessity of deindustrialisation.

So do you stand with the bosses, who want to shut the factories down, or with the workers, who want to keep them running? The logic of the arguents you make here would lead you to stand against the workers of the occupied factories.

In the same way, it would have you stand against virtually every group of workers organising in this country. Whether they're supermarket workers on strike for better wages, hotel cleaners campaigning for the same, or airport workers fighting redundancies, they're all fighting for a bigger slice of the wealth produced by industrial society - something you want to abolish in to to.

Let's face it: your primitivism is simply incompatible with the most basic parts of left-wing emancipatory politics. That's not surprising, because it's built on an old and rather tired current in bourgeois thought. At least Rosseau was original. Go and read Geoff Park's criticisms of fundamentalist environmentalism and the scenic reserves movement in 'Nga Uruora' and have a ponder.

Tom said...

MAPS, for a phd student, you seem to operate in a black and white world. Industrial socialism is being increasingly turned away from. Sure, a few big factories in Latin America may have gained the attention of doctrinaire trotskyists such as yourself, but the vast bulk of popular participation in such movements is in the construction of small-scale cooperatives etc. In Argentina, many of these co-ops are directly involved in improving eco-structures such as local coop gardens. In USA, the environmental justice movement goes from strength to strength. Check out
to have a clue where the cutting edge is

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the handful of small co-ops you mention do admirable things, but you can't deny the reality that the workers' and peasants' movements which have shaken Latin America in recent years are firmly based in the demand that the fruits of industrial society be given to the workers.

There is no way that the Bolivarian revolution or similar less spectacular movements in other countries can be assimilated to the sort of primitivist politics that this blog promotes.

You try to trivilaise the occupied factories movement, but there are 1,200 factories which are petitioning for nationalisation under some form of workers' control in Venezuela.
Trade unions there are also pushing for greater control by workers in the crucial oil sector and in the newly-nationalised telecommunications sector. Experiments in state-workers co-management have begun in the aluminium industry.

In the countryside, the land reform programme initiated by the 2001 Land Law is seeing the establishment of collective farms and agricultural co-ops, but these enterprises are not abandoning industrial forms of agriculture.
For instance, land expropriated from the British beef baron Vesteys is being turned turned into a series of collectively-run cattle farms.

On a smaller scale, we see a similar desire to take over, rather than abolish, industrial society in Argentina. Factories like Brukman and Zanon are famous because their workers have fought the desire of their erstwhile bosses to deindustrialise and shed jobs.

All of this activity is being driven by workers and peasants themselves. It is workers who seized mothballed factories like Venepal in Venezuela and pressured the government into nationalisation under workers' control and a rescue package; it is peasants who have defied right-wing death squads and occupied land that is now being redistributed in Venezuela.

If you're a consistent primitivist, who believes that industrial society is bad and has to be opposed in toto, then I don't see how you can support the workers and peasants occupying factories and farms. They become part of the problem, not part of the solution, because they want to run aluminium plants and beef frms rather than go back toliving in thatched huts without electricity.

That's why I say - and I think many anarchists (cf Murray Bookchin's great polemic) would agree with me - that primitivism is incompatible with any sort of left-wing politics. Take your pick.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to Bookchin's book, which demolishes primitivism from an eco-friendly class struggle anarchist perspective:
It's not only Maxists who have a problem with the idea that electricity is the source of all our woes.

John said...

Regarding the need to deindustrialise, this is what would be effectively needed to lower our consumption of fossil fuels enough to prevent global warming. In other words to cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 50 or 90% would require a massive reshaping of our current economic and industrial system.

These kinds of cuts would put a lot of people out of work and would require us to cut our consumption levels. What I wanted to do with my post was point out the hypocrisy of calling for large scale cuts in carbon emissions without accepting the steps necessary to brng about these cuts. If you can show me how you could get 50% cuts in carbon dioxide emissions without large scale cuts in consumption and probably lifestyle please tell me and I will try and implement it.

Regarding the democratic or undemocratic nature of the need to deindustrialise, the current system which is warming our biosphere needs to be stopped. Relying on the opinions of those addicted to fossil fuels to make decisions about this would be like asking slave owners about getting rid of slavery.

If as you seem to imply that a socialist revolution would not recognize the problem of industry then there is no way it would deal with climate change. As you a socialist are calling for cuts in carbon emissions then you are either knowingly or unknowingly being duplicitous – calling for something you seem to be saying that socialism will never do – end large scale industry.

If a socialist revolution still had production and the exploitation on the earth at its heart then yes I would oppose it as I currently oppose this exploitative capitalist system. I do believe that if communitys are allowed to take control of their own area that things such as industrial agriculture and deep sea trawling will quickly disappear. I believe that most of our current problems are a result of a centralized system in which those living in areas are not allowed to make decisions regarding the health of their community. I do think a decentralized socialist model would solve many of our current problems fairly and democratically. On the other hand I think a centralized socialist model would probably further destroy this planet.

Allmost all of our most destructive industry’s require centralization and the destruction of community control to survive. I think we should take this on board as well as realistically assessing what needs to change for humans to survive and work towards this. Blindly thinking socialism will solve all our problems as seems to be being advocated would be dangerous when we have so little time to halt the global degradation of the planet.

I am not a primitivist and do believe technology has a useful place in the transition to a low energy use culture. I do however oppose the industrial system which is destroying the planet. I value animal life and the survival of ecosystems on the same level as I value human life because I know that we cannot survive for very long if our ecosystems are destroyed.

-I would appreciate some answers as to how socialism will bring about cuts in emissions.

Anonymous said...

I'll think through your arguments and reply when I have time, but I see that you still haven't told me what your attitude is to the occupied factories and farms movement in Latin America. Do you support workers or not, when they seek to take the fruits of industrial society from the bosses?

The following passage suggests to me that you don't:

'relying on the opinions of those addicted to fossil fuels to make decisions about this world would be like relying on slave owners to get rid of slavery'

Assuming that you think that most ordinary people in industrial societies are 'addicted to fossil fuels', then it looks like you are once again conflating workers with the people who exploit them. So much for the idea of workers taking over the economy and running it democratically.

Your apocalyptic predictions are really just a way of escaping the fact that there is no sign that a sizeable group of people wants to embrace your call for a return to a pre-industrial society.

Revolutions of the past and the revolutions under way in Latin America show that workers do not challenge capitalism because they want to go backwards, into an era before electricity. They want to take over industrial society and mould it to their own ends.

Lucky that they won't get a choice, and that secret primitivst Mother Nature will destroy industrial society for them, isn't it? ;)

John said...

Hey sorry I didnt answer your questions about the occupations, I typed up my response on the train from memeory and havnt had time to write anything.

I definetly support workers who take control of their factorys, I think that democratic control even of advaned technology is far better than the current set up. What I meant to highlight even if I did so bluntly is that these things will gradually become unmaintainable as our society enters an energy descent culture.

Instead of opposing workers who are taking over machinery I think the important work is in teaching and spreading skills in sustainable agriculture and other such techniques which do not require systematic oppresion of the indegenous and third world cultures as our current system does.

If rather than democratic control the industrial system were controlled by a socialist state then I would completely oppose it.

As for my doomsday phrophecys merely working out what I want, Peak oil, climate change and agricultural degradation are all well known and accepted processes. One simply needs to look at a graph of population to figure the rest out.

Socialist workers will not have an oppurtunity to continue the process of undustrialisation unless they rely on coal.