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Full Report from an “International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons” – Buenos Aires, Argentina (English)

By admin - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 27, 2017; English translation provided by Daniel Chavez of this original report.

The Energy Mix and the Commons

On 4-5 September 2017, an International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons was held at the ATE National trade union’s main office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The meeting was framed within a broader process of exchange of knowledge and experiences on climate and energy policies in Argentina, Latin America and the world. The Argentinian State Workers’ Association (Spanish acronym ATE; acronyms will be for Spanish names where applicable) and the Autonomous Argentinean Workers’ Congress (CTA-A) are engaged in international processes towards the construction of regional and global alternatives, in particular the Development Platform of the Americas (PLADA) and the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. The PLADA platform was conceived within the framework of the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA; CSA in Spanish) as a strategic political proposal centred around four dimensions—political, economic, social and environmental—aiming to contribute to the design and implementation of a regional model for sustainable development. PLADA proposes a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the universalisation of access to energy services, and the rationalization of those sectors of the economy that pollute the most. TUED, a global network composed of workers’ confederations and trade unions, focuses on democratizing generation, distribution and consumption of energy around the world.

The meeting was organised by ATE and CTA-A, with the support of the Transnational Institute (TNI, a worldwide network of scholar-activists based in the Netherlands) and the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of State Workers (CLATE).

After the Storms: Defeating Trumpism, Rebuilding America

By Gar Alperovitz and Ted Howard - Common Dreams, September 20, 2017

A political system haunted by racial violence and terror. An economy delivering great wealth for the few amid stagnation and indebtedness for the many. A rising millennial generation with deteriorating prospects increasingly willing to put their bodies on the line for something better. A climate catastrophe already beginning to unfold on the flooded streets of our largest cities. With the profoundly troubling events in Charlottesville—and before that in Ferguson, Berkeley, Baltimore, and elsewhere—the ghosts of America’s past have come crowding in. And the ghosts of our future made landfall with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Like all such ghosts, these demand a response. We must now produce one that is both deeply moral and capable of getting at the heart of our difficulties. We must overcome the nightmares of fear, hatred, and isolation that have seized our politics with a strategy that can deliver solutions commensurate with the scale of the problems we face.

Three challenges stand out against a backdrop of crisis and malaise. The first is the need to confront squarely, and on an ongoing basis, America’s deep history of racism that has led to armed white supremacists marching openly in the streets and a Neo-Nazi sympathizer sitting in the White House. The second is the imperative to get off the defensive and, coming together, put forward a much more powerful, transformative alternative to Trumpism—real, practicable solutions to the deep economic and ecological problems we are facing as a nation, building from the bottom up, as all serious movements must. The third calls for a political strategy capable of uniting a broad coalition around a shared agenda for building power, mobilizing the potential mass movement for fundamental transformation that is in the making if we develop the tools and alliances to bring about lasting change.

Our first commitment, as Cornel West has urged, has to be moral and political. We must mount an all-out attack on racism, racist leadership, and the so-called “alt-right”—including those who currently lead the country. America is not the only nation in the world in which the populist right has captured state power. Hungary and Poland each have right-wing authoritarian governments. Narendra Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, once incited a massacre, while Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu have each presided over one. But the presidency of the United States is unique in the extraordinary political, economic, and military resources it commands. It’s time to face up to the fact that racism has been central not incidental to this power, with deep roots extending all the way back to the origins of the nation.

After Harvey and Irma: Mitigation, Adaptation and Suffering

By Tim DeChristopher and Suren Moodliar - Counterpunch, September 20, 2017

In this conversation, the Climate Disobedience Center’s Tim DeChristopher looks at how the progressive movement’s strategies need to change in now that climate change’s real impacts are more obvious to the American public. He addresses the focus on carbon mitigation (policies for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) in light of the now very evident need for climate adaptation (adjusting how we live to deal with the changes that come with a warming planet), and the resulting suffering (the human, material, and environmental costs of warming).

Adaptation and Human Rights

Suren: Recently you challenged our community organizations and environmental movements to stop acting as if we’re able to forestall climate change and that all we must do is reduce carbon emissions.[1] What’s your general take on this mindset?

Tim:  Yeah. Well, that’s definitely been the focus of the climate movement for a long time, has been mitigating climate change, and there has been increasing discussion in some sort of policy circles about the need to also adapt and deal with impacts that will likely be inevitable at this point. One of the great contributions to the climate discourse that I think John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, made was emphasizing this point that there are three responses to climate change, mitigation, adaptation and suffering, and that it’ll be some combination of those three that will make our full response to it, and the less mitigation we do, the more of the others we will do.[2]

At this point in 2017, we’ve gone far enough down that road that we know that there’s going to be a significant amount of adaptation and suffering that will need to happen, because we’ve fallen short in a lot of ways on the mitigation front. Of course there’s still a lot of mitigation that needs to be done to impact the degree of that suffering that will occur, but by and large I think our movements and our organizations haven’t been able to find a way to talk about adaptation without drawing away from the continued urgency of maintaining those mitigation efforts. There’s often a sense within the leadership of these movements that the talk about adaptation distracts from the need for mitigation. A common sentiment that I hear is, “If we tell people that it’s too late to avoid major impacts, then everybody’ll just give up and not do any mitigation efforts anymore.”

We need to be entering into this nuanced territory where it’s not all of one or all of the other, but more of a both-end, and holding attention between not just two points but three points, you know, of the policies for mitigation, the policies for adaptation, but also the social and personal and spiritual response of learning how to deal with the suffering that I think will be unprecedented and a huge challenge for our society, dealing with that suffering in a way that doesn’t abandon our humanity, that doesn’t pit us against one another, that doesn’t bring out the worst in us. That’s a whole new front that needs to be explored and engaged, as we maintain the work that needs to happen in terms of mitigation and in terms of adaptation.

[We need] the policies for mitigation, for adaptation, but also for the social and personal and spiritual response [to] the suffering that I think will be unprecedented… dealing with that in a way that doesn’t abandon our humanity, that doesn’t pit us against one another, and that doesn’t bring out the worst in us.

I think the urgent point there that needs to be remembered is even if our movements are not leading the public discourse around adaptation and how we adapt to this in a way that’s in line with our shared values, someone is. There are powerful people in our power structure that recognize how far along we are, and after the failures of Copenhagen at the end of 2009, when it became clear that we were not going to stop climate change at a manageable level, and that places like Bangladesh would likely go underwater, there were clearly some conversations that were happening about what would become of the people in places like Bangladesh if they go underwater, where there’s 80 million people that live less than 10 meters above sea level in Bangladesh.

We weren’t having that conversation publicly, but in the years after Copenhagen, India began building a border fence almost the entire way around Bangladesh, a 1,790-mile, partially-electrified fence. Somewhere, at some level of the power structure, the decision was made that, “Our adaptation policy is that we’re going to keep the most impacted and vulnerable people right where they’re at,” and that happened at a time when our secretary of state, who certainly at least had some say in a major geopolitical move like that by a close ally of ours, with India, was Hillary Clinton, and there was no accountability around her greenlighting a genocidal adaptation policy to climate change, because we as a movement weren’t really spearheading and leading that conversation about what humane and just adaptation to the climate crisis would look like.

Should the left build an alternative energy commons?

By Patricia S. Mann - Climate and Capitalism, September 12, 2017

What could ignite a massive grassroots struggle to replace our fossil fueled capitalist system with a sustainable and just postcapitalist system? According to Marx and Engels historical materialist analysis in The German Ideology, a radical theory, and the revolutionary practices it supports must originate in the historical and material conditions of daily life, and specifically in the lived contradictions of daily life.[1] Such an analysis in the 19th Century supported their theory of a revolutionary proletariat and workplace struggles seeking to seize control of existing means of production.

However, a 21st Century application of historical materialist methodology supports a new theory of mass struggle, grounded in some very different lived contradictions in the daily lives of 21st Century fossil fuel users and abusers. As well as in new technologies capable of addressing these lived contradictions.

Contemporary Marxist theorists readily acknowledge some 21st C developments in capitalism. Sam Gindin suggests that contemporary capitalism rests on three legs: neoliberalism, financialization, globalization.[2] I would simply add that contemporary capitalism can only be comprehended if we recognize that it rests uneasily on a fourth leg, as well, catastrophic, fossil fuel-based climate change.

A Marx-inspired anticapitalist Left acknowledges climate change as the preeminent contradiction of capitalism today. (Capitalism will end, in either a catastrophic climactic 6th extinction, or in our last minute achievement of a sustainable post-capitalist society.) This Marx-inspired Left also embraces new technologies enabling a grass-roots politics of microproduction and sharing of renewable energy.

This microproduction and sharing of renewable energy should become the foundational dynamic of a global struggle for a post-capitalist commons, a sustainable energy-based post-capitalist commons.

Emphasizing the many sources of cheap renewable energy – not just sun and wind, but also hydro, geothermal heat, biomass, ocean waves and tides – Jeremy Rifkin maintains that with minimal capital investments in individual homes and local buildings, current technology could enable millions of people globally to become microproducers of renewable energy at “near zero marginal cost.”[3] Moreover, it will be a simple matter for microproducers of renewable energy to connect with others over an energy internet, creating local, regional, ultimately global networks of energy producers and consumers, sharing sustainable energy produced at minimal cost within the networks of energy producers and consumers.

Rifkin argues that these new technologies of renewable energy production, in combination with technologies of internet communication create the basis for a paradigm shift. Our contemporary system of capital-intensive, centralized, profit-generating fossil fuel energy production and distribution can be replaced by networks of individual microproducers and sharers of renewable energy. Rifkin’s analysis highlights democratizing, collaborative features of a decentralized, peer-to-peer, laterally scaled, renewable energy network of microproducers and consumers, supportive of a post-capitalist commons.

However, without a mass movement, without a Marx-inspired anticapitalist politics, seeking to develop a renewable energy commons off-the-capitalist-grid, these new technologies of renewable energy, and the internet grids for sharing it, will simply be absorbed by capitalism, commercially enclosed by capitalist energy grids. Transforming capitalism rather than displacing it.

Without a replacement strategy and a mass struggle to create and maintain an alternative grid, there is every reason to think the new technologies of green energy microproduction will simply contribute to a new form of what Jason Moore has called “cheap energy,” providing capitalism with a much-needed new source of surplus value.[4] And subsumed within a profit and growth based dynamics of global capitalism, these new technologies will not enable us to avoid catastrophic climate change. – Bechtel, typically the first in line for government subsidized corporate investments, has already made a huge investment in solar energy in the Mojave Dessert.[5]

There is no time to be lost. Capitalist commercial enclosure of this new sustainable energy commons will be rapid, at some not so distant point in time.

Municipalist syndicalism: organizing the new working class

By Alexander Kolokotronis - ROAR Mag, September 9, 2017

A municipalist revolution is impossible without the support and cooperation of labor unions. In some cases, labor unions might themselves take the lead in promulgating a municipalist shift. To effectively pursue this path, the left must grapple with the diverse composition and structure of the working class — joining calls for union democracy with nascent municipalist movements. Experiments in participatory democracy can then be tried and tested at the intra-union level, nourishing possibilities for subsequent municipal-wide implementation.

Developments in the United States and Spain are showing that municipalist participatory platforms can win. Examples include the mayoral election of Chokwe Lumumba Jr. in Jackson, Mississippi on a three-pronged platform of building peoples’ assemblies, a solidarity economy and a network of progressive political candidates. A number of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) candidates are running on platforms of expanding participatory democracy and the workers’ cooperative sector. Municipalist movements are proliferating as a means of resisting Donald Trump and a rising far-right.

This comes at a time when labor unions are in decline, with internal democratization needed for revitalization. To raise their appeal, stimulate favorable public opinion and extend their influence, labor unions must also provide and act on a political vision. This is a vision of attaining power at the municipal level, and working to transform it.

Kate Raworth on 'Doughnut Economics'

Kate Raworth interviewed by Adam Simpson - The Next System Project, August 23, 2017

Murray Bookchin: Anarchism without the Working Class

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, December 3, 2015

Although he died in 2006, Murray Bookchin is recently in the news.  Staid bourgeois newspapers report, with apparent shock, that part of the Kurdish revolutionary national movement has been influenced by the ideas of Murray Bookchin, a U.S. anarchist (Enzinna 2015).  However, I am not going to discuss this development here. My topic is not how Bookchin’s political philosophy may apply to the Kurds in Rojava (important as this is), but how it might apply to the U.S.A. and other industrialized and industrializing countries.

Nor will I review the whole range of Bookchin’s life and work (see White 2008).   Bookchin made enormous contributions to anarchism, especially—but not only—his integration of ecology with anarchism.  At the same time, in my opinion, his work was deeply flawed in that he rejected the working class as playing a major role in the transition from capitalism to anti-authoritarian socialism.  Like many other radicals in the period after World War II, he was shaken by the defeats of the world working class during the ‘thirties and ‘forties, and impressed by the prosperity and stability of the Western world after the Second World War. Previously a Communist and then a Trotskyist, he now turned to a version of anarchism which rejected working class revolution.

This was not the historically dominant view held by anarchists.  Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Makhno, Goldman, Durrutti,  the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarcho-communists—they believed that  “anarchism is a revolutionary, internationalist, class struggle form of libertarian socialism…. Syndicalism [revolutionary unionism—WP] was a form of mass anarchism…and the great majority of anarchists embraced it.” (Schmidt & van der Walt 2009; 170)  For them, the “broad anarchist tradition” was “‘class struggle’ anarchism, sometimes called revolutionary communist anarchism….” (19)

However, in his 1969 pamphlet, “Listen, Marxist!” (republished in Bookchin 1986; 195—242), Bookchin denounced “the myth of the proletariat.”  He wrote, "We have seen the working class neutralized as the ‘agent of revolutionary change,’ albeit still struggling within a bourgeois framework for more wages [and] shorter hours….The class struggle…has [been]…co-opted into capitalism…. " (202) The last collection of his writings repeats his belief, “…The Second World War…brought to an end to the entire era of revolutionary proletarian socialism…that had emerged in June 1848” (Bookchin 2015; 127). By an “era of revolutionary proletarian socialism,” he did not mean there had been successful workers’ revolutions, but that there had been mass working class movements (Socialist, Communist, and anarchist), with a number of attempted revolutions.

He wrote, “…The worker [is] dominated by the factory hierarchy, by the industrial routine, and by the work ethic….Capitalist production not only renews the social relations of capitalism with each working day…it also renews the psyche, values, and ideology of capitalism” (Bookchin 1986; 203 & 206). (Why these deadening effects of industrial capitalist production did not prevent the existence of a movement for “revolutionary proletarian socialism” for an “entire era” from 1848 to World War II, he did not explain.)

Bookchin did not deny that there still were workers’ struggles for better wages and shorter hours, but he no longer saw this low level class conflict as indicating a potential for a workers’ revolution.  Nor did he deny that workers might become revolutionary, but only, he said, if they stopped thinking of themselves as workers, focused on issues unrelated to their daily work, and regarded themselves as declassed “citizens.”

Living Well is the Best Revolution

By Seth Sandronsky - Progressive Populist, September 15, 2017

Review of - CREATING AN ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY Toward a Revolutionary Transformation by Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, Monthly Review Press, 2017

A book for a future society of buen vivir, or living well, with nature and other people? Yes.

How to achieve sustainability with humanity and the planet? Start with context and vision to transcend the status quo of bio-sphere destruction.

Reform is a part of the revolutionary process, according to the authors. It is not an either-or binary.

The vision thing matters when it comes to the false consciousness of blaming other people for the system’s baked-in flaws. Dividing the working class to weaken it is elites’ go-to tactic.

We see that now. Look no further than President Trump directing whites’ class resentment against Mexicans and Muslims.

Memo to the Democratic Party. Move progressively or empower neo-fascism, a product of neoliberalism.

In Magdoff and Williams’ view, “systemic environmental and social problems are caused by and are intrinsic to capitalism.” To this end, they review the science and history of horticultural societies and climactic changes.

Ideas matter. “If we can’t even imagine a different way of interacting with one another,” write Magdoff and Williams, “the economy, and the resources we use and depend upon, then the struggle for a just and ecologically sound world recedes into utopian fantasy.”

How? In the final of the book’s four parts, the authors see nascent revolutionary stirrings such as Black Lives and the Standing Rock resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline as a revolutionary way forward.

De-personalizing social relations in an era of identity politics run amuck is on our to-do list of how to get to a more ecologically balanced way of living and working. About 40% of the book unpacks the causes and outcomes of our socio-economic order.

Magdoff and Williams contribute to a growing body of eco-socialist books. Two of note are The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (2010) and Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (2016).

To buttress the case that post-capitalist alternatives are possible, the authors share examples from nature and history to help us to grasp competition and division are peculiar to capitalism. The authors’ command of the science of ecology is not limited to Marx’s concept of capitalism causing a rift in the human metabolism with the earth.

The book’s second part explores the obstacles to creating an eco-society. The authors examine the ideas underpinning the rule of capital over people, e.g., that oppression and exploitation along the color, ethnic and gender lines are hard-wired into human nature.

The authors’ voice is measured. They lay out the facts of the eco-crisis and potential cures, minus cant and jargon.

This is no mean feat, given the current bleakness and darkness of the present moment. If anything, Magdoff and Williams understate ruling elites’ capacity to co-opt and oppress systemic resistance.

They write: “Ultimately, we need to create a movement large and formidable enough to challenge the entire power structure of capitalism, one that is capable of winning the army and large portions of the population that up to that point had been passive, ambivalent, or even antagonistic.” Such a herculean task merits extended attention and discussion, to which Creating an Ecological Society contributes.

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

By Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counter Fire, August 24, 2017

In August 2016, the International Geological Congress voted formally to recognise that the world has entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene. The effect of human activity on the planet has now become as significant as that of the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous era. In recognising this, it is important not to fall into a view of human effects on the Earth that idealises a separation between human society and a reified ‘Nature’.

Human societies are part of, not separate from, the natural world, and have always affected it in different ways. Some of these, such as the creation of enriched terra praetasoil in the Amazon, have been largely beneficial; others, such as deforestation in Iron Age Britain, less so. Either way, their effects even before industrialisation have often been considerable. The importance of the Anthropocene is thus not that it shows a collective failure to tread sufficiently lightly upon the Earth, but rather that capitalism so extends the effects of human activity on the environment that previous quantitative shifts have become a qualitative change.

Angus shows how capitalism has created the ability to affect the world far more profoundly and far more destructively than any previous human system, and that this destructiveness is an integral, structural aspect. That climate change is capitalism’s fault is not universally acknowledged by environmentalists. Angus provides a useful reminder of the existence of groups like the Breakthrough Institute, who argue that market forces and private-sector dynamism are the answer to, rather than the cause of, the climate crisis.

He also deals concisely and devastatingly with the view that capitalism’s need not just for growth but for ever-increasing growth is just an ‘obsession’ or an ‘addiction.’ The ideology of growth, he explains, is there to justify the need for continued accumulation; it is not the cause of it. It is fair to say, however, that for eco-socialists, the conclusion that capitalism is the problem, and a systemic response the only answer, would be an unsurprising one. The importance of Angus’ argument is that it goes beyond the simple recognition of capitalism’s unique destructiveness to interrogate the precise factors which lie behind the shift into the Anthropocene.

Moving the trade unions past fossil fuels

Samantha Mason interviewed by Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, August 9, 2017

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has launched a pamphlet, Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective, urging trade union support for the transition away from fossil fuels and restructuring the energy system under public ownership. In this interview SAMANTHA MASON, PCS policy officer and main author of the pamphlet, published in May, talks about combating the pro-fossil-fuel lobby in the unions and the Labour Party, and how to unite social and environmental movements.

Gabriel Levy (GL). Could you describe the PCS’s long engagement with energy and climate policy, which has culminated in the Just Transition pamphlet?

Samantha Mason (SM). We have been engaged with climate change issues, and increasingly with the whole energy debate, for about ten years. This has in large part been due to motions coming to conference from the grassroots membership, and an assistant general secretary, Chris Baugh, leading on this, which has enabled us to develop our policy and campaigning agenda.We participate in meetings with other industrial and energy unions, mainly through the Trade Unions Sustainable Development Advisory Committee. [Note. This committee was set up as a joint government-union forum after the 1997 Kyoto climate talks, but government participation dried up under the Tories. It is now a meeting place for union policy officers, and latterly, industrial officers.]

Some of the unions there represent workers in the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors, so while we’re supposed to look at sustainable development issues, they have been more concerned with pushing fracking [that is, hydraulic fracturing, a mining technique that has been used to raise natural gas production in the US, and some people think might do so in the UK] as part of the TUC’s so called “balance energy policy” – supporting nuclear, natural gas, Carbon Capture and Storage, and the Heathrow third runway. [Note. See for example the TUC Powering Ahead document.]

We have real problems with this, as PCS is opposed to almost everything in the policy, on the basis of our national conference decisions. We have had a divide opening up between these pro-fracking unions on one side, and the PCS, and other unions who want to develop a policy for both social change and environmental change, on the other. The TUC says their policy is a result of Congress decisions. But they do little or nothing to take the debate forward.

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