Can Marxism strengthen our understanding of ecological crises? The author of Marx’s Ecology replies to a critic on metabolic rift, sustainable human development, degrowth, population growth, and industrialism.
For many years, left-wing organizations did not pay much attention to environmental issues in general but at least since its 15th Congress, the Fourth International seems to be increasingly concerned about what we call an “Ecological Crisis”. What has changed?
In classic capitalist fantasy, the “private” marketplace is a land of liberty and the state is a dungeon of oppression. Modern social democrats have tended to invert the formula, upholding the state as a force for social protection against the tyranny of the capitalist market.
The truth is more complex than either narrative allows. As Marxists and other leftists have long known, “free market” relations and the state combine to impose class oppression on the working-class majority under capitalism. Both the market and the state are under the interrelated and overlapping, mutually reinforcing control of capital. This is especially true in the United States, where government’s social-democratic functions – and the popular movements that have historically fought to install those functions – are much weaker than they are than in other “developed” capitalist nations.
The common worker and citizen faces a double whammy under the U.S. profit system. She must rent out her critical life energy – her labor power – and subject herself to the despotic, exploitative (surplus value-extracting) direction of “free” market-ruling capital to obtain the means of exchange required to obtain basic life necessities sold on the market by capital. To make matters worse, she must contend with a government that functions not so much to protect her and the broader community from capital (including capital as employer) as to deepen capital’s political, social, and market power over and against her, other workers, and the common good.
It may seem like a truism that all human societies share key universal characteristics. Incredibly, however, we all too easily forget this basic fact and mostly assume that our respective cultures are unique compared to all others, and for the most part exceptional. Iranians, for example, know that they are unique, especially when contrasted to Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis. Chinese people have no doubt that they are exceptionally unique, as do the Japanese, the Russians, the French, Germans, Italians, Egyptians and Moroccans. Americans especially consider themselves exceptional.
We’re all focused on the drama and entertainment of Trump’s takeover of the world’s centre of military, security and economic power. For some it’s exciting and entertaining, for others terrifying and apocalyptic. I too have been glued to the news – at various times having each of those responses! But now I’ve come back to earth, recognising it all for what it is. Important, but a sideshow to a much bigger and more important game. And on reflection, I’m glad he got elected.
How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback – to action on climate change, to addressing inequality, to human rights and global security. Doesn’t it make the world a scarier and less stable place? In isolation, all true, but in context, not so much. The context is the key.
Trump’s election is not a trend. It should not be seen as evidence of a swing to the right, to nationalism and xenophobia etc. It is simply a symptom of the volatility inherent in the accelerating breakdown of our current economic approach and model.
What we are seeing is the last hurrah of a dying approach. A desperate attempt by the incumbents to rescue the now failing economic model that did deliver great progress for humanity but has come to the end of its road – and that road finishes at a cliff.
A cliff is the right analogy for a range of reasons. Perhaps most starkly it’s climate change and resource scarcity but also inequality and the failure of the old model to deliver further progress for most people in Western countries. There are many other issues we face, but these two – climate change (and with it food supply and geopolitical security risks) and inequality within countries – are the systemic risks. They define the cliff because neither can continue to worsen without the system responding – either transforming or breaking down. So the old approach is finished, along with the fossil fuel industry, and the walking dead taking over Washington won’t bring it back to life.
This leads to why, on reflection, I’m surprisingly pleased Trump was elected, rather than Hillary Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine how someone as appalling as Trump is better than the alternative, so let me expand.
We are now accelerating towards the cliff and we don’t have much time left to change course. If Clinton had been elected, we would have continued to suffer the delusion that we were addressing the systemic risks we face in an inadequate but still worthwhile way. There would have been the same debates about fossil fuel companies having too much influence on politics, the conservative wealthy elites (yes there are liberal wealthy elites!) manipulating the system to their benefit etc. But we would have seen some progress.
Meanwhile business people would have argued the need for less regulation and “freeing up” the economy. They would have argued we needed to run the country like business people run companies, that if only we had strong (i.e. autocratic) leadership, we could get things done. And the Tea Party style extremists would have had their favourite enemy – another Clinton – to rail against and blame for it all, as they mobilized their base.
Now there’s no debate – it’s all there to see. The fossil fuel industry dominates the administration, gaining unfettered access to more coal, oil and gas. The iconic symbol and long term funder of climate change denial, Exxon has seen their CEO put in charge of US foreign policy and climate negotiations. Trump is “the businessman in charge” and can slash regulation, free up the financial markets to unleash more mayhem and wind back those pesky environmental protections.
He will attack the media, mobilise extremists and unleash all the autocratic and nationalistic tendencies that the system has – but normally suppresses. His solution to inequality will be to give tax breaks to the rich (you can’t make this stuff up!) when we know only government intervention – or catastrophe– prevents inequality being the inevitable result of unfettered markets.
The critical result of all this? No change to the fundamental direction we are on. The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate, racism and conflict will worsen and we will be less secure – all while climate change destabilises civilisation. How is this good?
Left Renewal is a group of left-leaning rank and file members of the NSW Greens party that caused a stir amongst the broader Australian Greens, when they announced their presence in December last year and declared their anti-capitalist agenda
The arrival of this socialist group has posed a challenge to the mainstream Greens as a whole, as they’ve always stated that there are no factions within the party ranks. The party line has always been that they’re self-governing and their policies are based on a consensus model.
However, Left Renewal tend to differ on these points. They believe the Greens have strayed from their more radical roots. And that today, the party doesn’t formulate all of their policies democratically and some of the party leaders aren’t elected.
Calling themselves a tendency, as the term faction has negative connotations, Left Renewal base their ideology on the four pillars that the Australian Greens were founded upon. These are ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice, and peace and non-violence.
Anand Gopal, Owen Jones, Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Verso Books, February 21, 2017
“It’s not enough to simply say ‘No’ to attacks [from the Trump administration]. It’s not enough because we know that where we are now, before the attacks come, is entirely unacceptable. The levels of inequality, the levels of racism―and the planet chaos that we have unleashed. We need radical system change.” —Naomi Klein
The Anti-Inauguration presents an initial discussion of what resistance should look like in the age of Trump—and what kind of future we should be fighting for. Featuring contributions from Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Anand Gopal, and Owen Jones.
The five essential speeches presented here are taken from “The Anti-Inauguration,” held on inauguration night 2017 at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC. The Anti-Inauguration event and ebook are joint projects of Jacobin, Haymarket Books and Verso Books.
The forces arrayed against Donald Trump’s presidency and neo-fascist movement range from the Central Intelligence Agency to oppressed minorities, and will soon encompass the whole world once his climate change threats are carried out. From above, conflicts will continue with moderate Republicans, Democratic Party elites, so-called Deep State opponents including neoconservative factions of the military, exporting companies concerned about protectionism, and deficit hawks worried about excess spending on filthy-Keynesian infrastructure.
But it’s likely that elite opposition will fade within weeks. Then what about resistance from below? Learning explicitly from apartheid’s defeat, it makes sense to prepare a global Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) strategy against Trump, his leading cronies and United States corporations more generally.
For human rights victims in the US, mutual aid commitments like the new United Resistance linking dozens of campaigning groups and a sanctuary movement (hated by the far right) offer close-to-home “social self-defence,” as activist Jeremy Brecher remarks in his survey of myriad anti-Trump struggles.
When it comes to raising the costs of Trump’s noxious politics internationally and preventing corporations from full cohesion to his program, the US oppressed still must take the lead. Evidence of this is already emerging, with Trump boycotts seeking to delegitimise his political agenda and companies that support it. Internationally, we can predict that when Rex Tillerson takes trips or Trump attends the Hamburg G20 in July, protesters will be out.
THERE IS A growing suspicion among many people involved in movements against war, for social justice, and for an ecologically sustainable society that capitalism can only create a world of war, injustice and environmental destruction. There is widespread and growing understanding that the current social order cannot continue without catastrophe occurring —yet we lack a vision of what might replace it.