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A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, April 15, 2019

Capitalist dynamics are at the very heart of the current crisis that humanity faces over global warming.

When we talk of “global warming,” we’re talking about the rapid — and on-going — rise in the average world-wide surface and ocean temperature. Thus far a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two-thirds of this temperature increase has occurred since 1975. A one-degree rise in temperature might seem like no big deal. As the NASA scientists point out, however, “A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.”

We know that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is at the heart of the problem. For many centuries the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. By the 1950s the growth of industrial capitalism since the 1800s had pushed this to the top of this range — 310 parts per million. Since then the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen very rapidly — to more than 410 parts per million by 2018. This is the result of the vast rise in the burning of fossil fuels in the era since World War 2 — coal, petroleum, natural gas.

The problem is rooted in the very structure of capitalism itself. Cost-shifting is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production. An electric power company burns coal to generate electricity because the price per kilowatt hour from coal-fired electricity has long been cheaper than alternatives. But the emissions from burning coal travel downwind and cause damage to the respiratory systems of thousands of people — including preventable deaths to people with respiratory ailments. This is in addition to the powerful contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emissions. But the power firm doesn’t have to pay money for these human costs. If the firm had to pay fees that would be equivalent to the human cost in death, respiratory damage and contribution to global warming and its effects, burning coal would not be profitable for the power company.

Firms also externalize costs onto workers, such as the health effects of stress or chemical exposures. The “free market” pundit or hack economist might deny that companies externalize costs onto workers. They might say that wages and benefits paid to workers for each hour of work measure the cost of labor. But the human cost of work can be increased without an increase in the compensation paid to workers. If a company speeds up the pace of work, if people are working harder, if they are more tightly controlled by supervisors, paced by machines or software, this increases the cost in human terms.

Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, in agriculture and other industries pose a threat to both the workers and to people who live in nearby areas. Usually working class people live in neighborhoods near polluting industries, and often these are communities of color. This is another form of capitalist cost-shifting.

State regulation of pesticides or air pollution often ends up acting as a “cover” for the profit-making firms. Despite the existence of pollutants generated by leaky oil refineries and pollutants emitted by other industries in industrial areas in California — such as the “cancer alley” of oil refineries in the Contra Costa County area  or the similar refinery zone in Wilmington — the government agencies set up to deal with air pollution in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County protected polluters for years by focusing almost exclusively on pollution generated  by vehicle exhaust. In this way the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been an example of “regulatory capture” by corporate capital.

Power firms that generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions — and firms that make profits from building fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks or from the sale of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel — have not had to pay any fees or penalties for the growing build up of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere. The global warming crisis thus has its explanation in cost shifting and the search for short-term profits and ever growing markets — features that are at the heart of the capitalist system.

If global capitalism continues with “business as usual”, the warming will have major impacts — killer heat waves, more ocean heat pumping energy into hurricanes and cyclones, rising ocean levels from melting of ice in the polar regions and melting of glaciers, destruction of corals in the oceans, and a greater danger to the survival of many species of living things.

Communism Without Workers: An Anarcho-syndicalist Critique Of The Communisation Current

By Ivysyn - LibCom, March 31, 2019

The communist, socialist, and Marxist movement has undergone a fundamental change since the late 1960s (as has the global capitalist system itself). While Stalinists, Trotskyists, and social democrats continue to hang around like a bad headache, much newer tendencies that claim to be innovative in theory and practice have cropped up to jockey for the position of interpreting communism through the modern capitalist system and it's adaptations since the late 20th century. Once such tendency which has gained some intellectual fan fair is "communisation". Various things go under this label, but this discussion will focus on the the tradition of "ultra-left" Marxism this label is often used to describe. Since the uprisings of 1968 by workers across the world (especially in France) and their repression by capitalist forces and, shockingly (depending on how you look at it), leftist parties and governments, certain Marxism oriented activists and thinkers have tried to redraw the lines of struggle for a communist society.

These militants have gone back to Marx's theory of value to emphasize value (in Marx's sense) as a social relation at the base of capitalism, and taken a critical stance toward the leftist efforts of the past from Leninist, to Anarchist, to social democratic. The basis of this "communisation current" is threefold; a critique of capitalism along with a critique of the existing left, from which fallows "communisation", or the strategy purposed by the "communisation current" for achieving communism. We will address all of these in order to evaluate communisation's ability to really provide a winning strategy for attaining a communist society. We start from the conclusion that a communist society is not only desirable, but necessary. For this reason we shall define communism to generally outline the fundamental necessity of it's success.

Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us

Some Notes On Mass Refusal: Kim Kelly Interview with IGD

By staff - It's Going Down, January 25, 2019

Recently, It’s Going Down was asked by Kim Kelly (who we have interviewed on our podcast) to talk about the history and impact of general strikes within the United States, as well as the possibilities of its current applications for an op-ed in the pages of Teen Vogue. You can read the finished article here. What follows is our complete responses.

KK: Historically speaking, how successful of a tactic is the general strike?

In the American context general strikes have historically been very important, leading to not only the winning of key demands or beating back this or that attack, but also in fundamentally changing society, and at times, creating a potentially revolutionary situation, as workers have used them as a staging point for the taking over of cities and regions, and large sections of industries, and running them themselves.

One of the most successful general strikes, as noted by Black liberation and socialist author W.E.B. Du Bois, was when millions of enslaved Africans during the Civil War in the American south left plantations en masse and headed for the North, crippling the economy and the war machine. This, coupled with mass desertion of poor white Confederate soldiers, led to a crippling of the Confederacy, as many poor whites refused to die for the rich, white planter class, who was excused from fighting if they owned enough slaves. This combined desertion and mass general strike, played a key role in the collapse of the Confederate State, and also highlights the power of mass refusal under a neo-colonial power structure that thrives on a regimented caste system.

In the contemporary period, in 2006, a wave of wildcat strikes and school walkouts began in response to HR-4437, a bill that attempted to criminalize both undocumented people but also anyone that willingly offered them aid; for instance teachers at school could be charged if they did not turn in undocumented students. Starting from schools and growing to include strikes at workplaces, this mass movement that was largely self-organized and not led by political parties and unions, culminated in a massive May 1st demonstrations that saw a general strike of immigrant workers under the banner, “A Day Without An Immigrant.” The legislation was defeated soon after.

The immigrant general strike of 2006 also revived in the US popular lexicon the importance of May Day, which began as a celebration of the anarchist Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State for their role in strikes in support of the 8-hour work day and against violent attacks on strikers. In this struggle, a variety of tactics were used, including mass strikes, which finally secured the right to the 8 hour work day.

But beyond simply attacking unjust legislation or as a means to win a reform, general strikes have also been the kicking off point for workers in the US to go about seizing the means of existence; in some cases, entire cities and regions.

A Green New Deal vs. Revolutionary Ecosocialism

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, January 2, 2019

Ecosocialism: reformist or revolutionary, statist or libertarian?

The idea of a "Green New Deal" has been raised in response to the threat of climate and ecological catastrophe. Two such proposals are analyzed here and counterposed to the program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism.

According to the climate scientists, industrial civilization has at most a dozen years until global warming is irreversible. This will cause (and is already causing) extremes of weather, accelerating extermination of species, droughts and floods, loss of useable water, vast storms, rising sea levels which will destroy islands and coastal cities, raging wildfires, loss of crops, and, overall, environmental conditions in which neither humans nor other organisms evolved to exist. The economic, political, and social results will be horrifying.

The scientists write that humans have the technological knowledge to avoid the worst results. But this would take enormous efforts to drastically reduce the output of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses. The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes that this “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems…unprecedented in terms of scale.” (quoted in Smith 2018) At the least this means a rapid transition to shutting down fossil-fuel producing industries, leaving most oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground and rationing what is currently available. It means replacing them with conservation and renewable energy sources. It means drastic changes in the carbon-based-fuel using industries, from construction to manufacturing. It means providing alternate jobs and services for all those put out of work by these changes.

To the scientists’ warnings, there have been rumblings of concern from some financial investors, businesspeople (in non-oil-producing industries), and local politicians. But overall, the response of conventional politicians has been business-as-usual. The main proposals for limiting climate change has been to place some sort of taxes on carbon emissions. From liberals to conservatives, this has been lauded as a”pro-market” reform. But, as Richard Smith (2018) has explained, these are inadequate, and even fraudulent, proposals. “If the tax is too light, it fails to suppress fossil fuels enough to help the climate. But…no government will set a price high enough to spur truly deep reductions in carbon emissions because they all understand that this would force companies out of business, throw workers out of work, and possibly precipitate recession or worse.

In the U.S., one of the two major parties outright denies the scientific evidence as a “hoax.” As if declaring, “After us, the deluge,” its policies have been to increase as much as possible the production of greenhouse-gas emissions and other attacks on the environment. The other party accepts in words the reality of global warming but only advocates inadequate and limited steps to deal with it. It too has promoted increased drilling, fracking, and carbon-fuels burning. These Republicans, Democrats, and their corporate sponsors are enemies of humanity and nature, worse than war criminals.

On the Left, there have been serious efforts to take up the scientists’ challenge. Various ecosocialists and other radicals have advocated a massive effort to change the path of industrial society. This is sometimes called a “Green New Deal.” This approach is modeled on the U.S.’s New Deal of F. D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression. Its advocates also usually model their programs on the World War II industrial mobilization which followed the New Deal. (For examples, see Aronoff 2018; Ocasio-Cortez 2018; Rugh 2018; Simpson 2018; Smith 2018; Wikipedia.)

There does need to be a massive social effort to change our current technological course. A drastic transformation of industrial civilization is needed if we are (in Richard Smith’s phrase) to “save the humans,” as well as our fellow animals and plants. Nothing less than a revolution is needed. Yet I think that there are serious weaknesses in this specific approach, not least in modeling itself on the New Deal and the World War II mobilization—which were not revolutions, however romanticized. The proponents of a Green New Deal are almost all reformists—by which I do not mean advocates of reforms, but those who think that a series of reforms will be enough. They are state-socialists who primarily rely on the state to intervene in the economy and even take it over; in practice this program creates not socialism but state capitalism.

Capitalism is the Climate Crisis; Our Hope is Each Other

By Patrick O’Donoghue -  First of May Anarchist Alliance, November 6, 2018

The results are in: The planet is getting strangled and we’re running out of time.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a normally conservative and cautious body, warns that on our current trajectory the world is set to warm by a global average of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by 2040, and that carbon emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 and go carbon neutral by 2050 if we want to avoid worse warming. Even with these changes, we are staring down the barrel of climate chaos– sea level rise, droughts, and severe weather are set to disrupt agriculture and the economy on a global scale, forcing the immense displacement of people and bringing with it conflict over resources and borders. These effects of warming are already hitting us, and are only set to get worse without a thorough restructuring not just of our energy system, but of our economy.  

From where we stand now, this seems almost impossible, after decades of inaction by politicians, financed by fossil fuel companies that knew full well the truth about climate change years before it became public knowledge. The 2015 Paris Climate Accords saw the world’s powers agree to reduce emissions enough to limit the warming to 2 degrees Celsius, none of the signatories of that treaty are currently on track to reduce their emissions to the agreed levels. Carbon in the atmosphere is over 400 parts per million, up from 280 parts per million at the dawn of the industrial revolution, and well over the 350 parts per million that NASA climatologist James Hansen has described as the safe upper operating limit for the climate.

The report confirms once more what we’ve known for decades– that our current relationship with the planet we live on is unsustainable, and that without an immense restructuring of society, we will see the unraveling and degradation of the ecosystems that sustain our life. We should be dead clear here that this is a political, economic issue, and not simply “humanity” or “civilization”. It’s capitalism.

State, Capital, and Ecology: A Report to the International Marxist-Humanist Organization

By Mariah Brennan Clegg - Climate Justice Project, July 26, 2018

I would like to begin today’s talk with a quote from Kevin Anderson. No, not that Kevin Anderson. In discussing impending ecological collapse and the shortcomings of the now dramatically undermined Paris Agreement, climate scientist Kevin Anderson says, “You add up all of the commitments that every country has made, and it’s probably somewhere between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius warming.” “…there is a widespread view that a 4 degrees Celsius future is incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable, and civilized global community.”

To be sure, ecological calamity will not permit an organized, equitable, and civilized global community. Marxist Humanists and others would like to add, “it doesn’t come from one, either.” Anti-capitalism is becoming more mainstream as the (perhaps too easy) slogan, “Infinite growth cannot be sustained on a finite planet”, gains traction even on the centrist fringes of Left wing environmentalism. This is good news. From here, it is crucial that we develop a rigorous and concrete, alternative method of organizing our political economy and a plan for how to get there. Today I will begin with a Marxist-humanist analysis of the ecological crisis. From there I will explore a variety of common solutions and argue that there are theoretical and strategic reasons to pursue more radical alternatives. I will conclude by fleshing out one such solution based on freely associated labor and participatory governance.

Let’s begin with a statement of the problem. The fact that capitalism is causing ecological collapse has enough consensus within our group and has been written about so extensively that it is hardly possible to contribute anything new on the matter. Still, for the purposes of affirming a common footing, several points bear repeating. I do not endeavor to be exhaustive; I seek only to get to the main issues quickly so that solutions can be developed on solid ground.

The problem with capitalism most relevant to the ecological crisis is that it causes a rift in the social metabolism. Joel Kovel explains how this split begins with the dual character of money as use-value and as exchange-value. Because use-value is purely qualitative, physically grounded in the sensuous world, and only realized in use and for subsistence, the growth of use-value is finite. In contrast, exchange-value diminishes all things to an objective quantity, which by definition cleaves them from their particular subjectivity, their being for themselves. Moreover, exchange-value is entirely unhinged from use, its movement limitless and indifferent to natural and human content. Thus, where capitalism is built on exchange-value, we must reorient our economy toward the satisfaction of use-values.

Socialism Will Be Free, Or It Will Not Be At All!

By Arthur Pye - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, July 19, 2018

Introduction

Socialism is officially a buzzword again. According to a recent poll, 44% of U.S. millennials “prefer socialism to capitalism”, and even mainstream Democrats are starting to call themselves socialist. As one headline put it: “Socialism is so hot right now.” Used to describe everything from Bernie Sanders to Stalinist Russia, there are few words which inspire such varied and contradictory meanings. Like most buzzwords, socialism’s true meaning has been obscured by its popularity.

But what does socialism actually mean, and what does it look like in practice?

At its core, socialism is the idea that resources and institutions in society should be managed democratically by the community as a whole. Whereas under capitalism, economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of the rich, socialists fight for a society in which the means of producing and distributing goods and services are held in common through the democratic self-management of workplaces and communities.

This article will make the case that libertarian socialism represents the most thorough and consistent embodiment of core socialist principles. In essence, libertarian socialism is a politics of freedom and collective self-determination, realized through a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, state power and social oppression in all its forms.

An Anarchism for Today: The Simpler Way

By Ted Trainer - Capitalism Nature Socialism, June 14, 2018

A sustainable and just world cannot be achieved without enormous structural and cultural change. The argument presented below is that when our situation is understood in terms of resource and ecological limits, it is evident firstly that getting rid of capitalism is not sufficient. A satisfactory alternative society cannot be highly industrialised or centralised, and it must involve highly selfsufficient local economies and largely self-governing communities that prioritise cooperation and participation. Above all, there must be degrowth to a far lower GDP per capita than that exists in rich countries today, with a concomitant embracing of very frugal material “living standards.” Only a basically anarchist society can meet these conditions satisfactorily. Secondly, given this goal the transition to it can only be achieved via an anarchist strategy. Both these themes point to the need for substantial rethinking of essential elements in mainstream socialist and Marxist theory.

Download (PDF).

Resist-Occupy-Produce

By Leroy Maisiri and Lucien van der Walt - Pambazuka News, May 24, 2018

The authors use the example of the working class in Argentina to demonstrate how social movements and working people can create alternative models of production that serve the interests of people and not of those of capitalism. 

Introduction

The remarkable “recovered factories” (fábricas recuperadas) movement saw hundreds of closed factories reopened by the workers, run democratically, creating jobs and helping working class and poor communities. It showed that there is only so much protesting can accomplish – at some point you have to create something new. But it also shows it is essential that such alternative sites of production form alliances with, and become embedded, in other movements of the working class, poor and peasantry, including unions and unemployed movements. This assists them in building larger struggles, and provides them with some protection from the capitalist market and the state.

It is, meanwhile, important for unions and social movements to start to systematically develop alternatives to capitalist—and state—run social services and media. However, it is simply impossible to escape capitalism by creating cooperatives, social centres or alternative spaces – almost all means of production remain in ruling class hands, secured by force and backed by huge bureaucracies. It is essential to build a mass revolutionary front of unions and other movements, embracing popularly-run social services, media and production, and aiming at complete socialisation of the economy and of decision-making through a revolutionary rupture.

Documentaries like The Take—a movie that has been widely seen in South African labour and left circles—have drawn global attention to a remarkable challenge to neo-liberalism. In Argentina, in South America, economic crisis saw a collapse in working class conditions. High unemployment, low wages, attacks on social services: we are familiar with such things in South Africa. But something happened, which is very different. In Argentina, from the 1990s, something new started.

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