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social ecology

Envisioning a Leap Forward: How We Can Replace Neoliberalism With a Caring Economy

By Cliff Durand - Truthout, May 26, 2018

In her timely book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, Naomi Klein calls on us to resist President Trump and the turn to reactionary-right politics in the US. She also reminds us that, even if we succeed, we will still be left with the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place. We’ve got to do more than resist Trump. She calls us to change the neoliberal paradigm that has guided (or rather, misguided) public and private life for the last four decades in the United States and much of the rest of the world. This is no small challenge, but without a new way forward, life will become increasingly unlivable. 

As I have discussed previously, neoliberalism is a renewal of the 19th century liberalism of laissez faire, free market, unbridled capitalism of the robber baron era. The 20th century social liberalism we are more familiar with is the opposite of that. Born of the crisis of the Great Depression of the 1930s, it accepts the need for an active state to protect ordinary people from the depredations of the market while also regulating and guiding the economy to make capitalism work. That social liberalism, or “social democracy” as it is also called, was the dominant public ideology in the US up through the 1970s.

But then, with the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher’s leadership in the United Kingdom, a new ideology began to eclipse “social democracy.” Rather than seeing the state as the instrument for democratic self-government, this ideology saw government as the source of our problems. In this view, government should just “get out of the way” and let the market direct society.

The dirty little secret that advocates of neoliberalism try to hide from us is that government is still needed to structure markets so they will work for capitalism. For example, unions must be curtailed since organized workers bargaining collectively distort a free market in labor. Individual workers are to be free to sell their labor as they choose. Powerless as individuals, the “right to work” in reality amounts to a right to work for less. At the same time, investors can organize collectively into corporations and operate freely in the market. In neoliberalism, grossly unequal power relation between individuals and corporations is ignored or even perpetuated. This means that neoliberalism favors the interests of corporate capitalism over working people, and that neoliberalism is a project for unbridled capitalism. It is the default position of capital when unrestrained by popular forces.

Capitalism Is Killing the Earth: An Anarchist Guide to Ecology

By JohnWarwick, et. al. - Anarchist Federation, 2018

We are in a period of crisis that we in MEDCs cannot yet see. The signs are there if you look hard enough but at the moment the water is still flowing, the crops are still reliable the ski lifts are still running. The first wave of climate refugees are trying to make their way into Europe but they are being dismissed as "economic migrants" or those displaced by war. In all likelihood, MEDCs will not feel the effects of climate change for some time; our relative wealth will push the impacts onto those who haven't the means to adapt or whose local climates were less temperate to begin with. The longer we wait to act, however, the bigger the coming crunch will be.

Collectively, MEDCs are responsible for the overwhelming majority of cumulative carbon emissions and will have to radically change their energy and transport systems if an ecological disaster is to be avoided. Who will bear the brunt of the costs and who will get rich from this process is sadly predictable. The working class in MEDCs and most people in LEDCs will pay for the fossil fuel addiction and growth-at-all-costs model of the capitalist system. We have already begun to see this happen in the black, working-class communities devastated by natural disasters in the USA and flooding killing thousands in Bangladesh.

Capitalism relies on constantly increasing accumulation of profits. This has been achieved historically by appropriations (a polite term for thefts) both internal and external to the nation state. Internally, in Europe from the fifteenth century onwards, this has followed the model of stealing common land from the people to create a proletarian class dependent on wage labour to support itself. Externally, this expansion was tied to a move outside Europe's borders to exploit natural resources and labour in other locations. Thus colonialism and capitalism were, from the beginning, linked to processes of resource extraction and accumulation.

Capitalism is now in crisis; with so few areas beyond its reach, there are no easy sources of growth to appropriate, and the ability of the earth's ecosystems to accommodate further growth is being seriously questioned. How then to continue growth and profit? In MEDCs, we are seeing a fresh attack on workers? rights, with more precarious jobs, lower pay and poorer social care. In LEDCs, the neoliberal development model is pushed with privatisation and financial deregulation extracting the most profit for the capitalists.

We write this pamphlet to discuss the environmental problems that capitalism has created, with a focus on climate change and the false solutions offered up to us. There has been wider understanding of environmental issues since mainstream publications such as Silent Spring, Gaia and An Inconvenient Truth; however, an anti-capitalist critique has been lacking.

Read the report (PDF).

Third Memorandum or Grexit: What are the implications for the Future of Greece’s Energy System?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 18, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Presentation, July 18, 2015, Democracy Rising conference, Athens, Greece

Third-Memorandum-or-Grexit-word document (full presentation)

It is understandable that this conference, Democracy Rising, should be deeply engaged in the intense political debates going on in Athens and all over the world about the decision by the Syriza government to sign the Third Memorandum and not walk down the Grexit road.

So the future of Greece’s energy system is not exactly the stuff of intense coffee-shop conversations going on right now. But energy will be at the heart of the struggles in Greece in the years ahead, Memorandum or Grexit. Energy poverty has grown with austerity and recession, and Syriza has taken measures to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from, for example, electricity disconnections.

But it is clear that the structure of Greece’s energy system also needs to change. The “Institutions”, through the Memorandum, have a clear sense of what restructuring energy means for them—full-on privatization. However, a left restructuring would seek to address two major challenges: firstly, Greece’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and, secondly, how to take advantage of its potential to generate large amounts of renewable energy. I will return to this later.

How to build a new world in the shell of the old

By By Mason Herson-Hord, Aaron Vansintjan, Jason Geils, and Katie Horvath - The Ecologist, April 23, 2018

Every city has its graveyard of nonprofits, cooperatives, social clubs, and community centers. Without a strategic vision, local projects cannot possibly amount to a systemic alternative to capitalism. The latest contribution from the SYMBIOSIS RESEARCH COLLECTIVE

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” - Arundhati Roy

In the first two articles of this series, we alluded to a new strategic vision that is emerging across many different movements, through which we can achieve a genuinely democratic, egalitarian, and ecological society. In this next installment, we sketch this vision of a transition out of capitalism through grassroots organising to build the new world in the shell of the old.

If we want real change, should we draw up a sketch of a just society and then simply march towards it? We think it's better to look around and find the seeds of a better future—perhaps dormant—in the present, and nurture them into a viable alternative that can challenge and transform the world around us.

Even as we carry the dream of ecological utopia in our hearts, our visions of the future cannot be divorced from the process by which they could realistically come about. To bring about lasting change, we need to identify, build up, and bring together existing utopias in the present, creating actual power in the places we live and work.

How power works

To build power, we need to understand how it works. The German-American political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that intolerable situations such as ours can be cast aside by the public’s withdrawal of support from its governing institutions. While not a leftist, Arendt was a prominent theorist of totalitarianism, political violence, and direct democracy who developed important concepts that can help us chart a path forward.

Power is conventionally understood as the ability to make others do things, often through violence or coercion. In On Violence, however, Arendt argues that power works quite differently. She defines “power” as people’s ability to act in concert—the capacity for collective action, and thus a property of groups, not individuals. Leaders possess their power only because their constituents have empowered them to direct the group’s collective action.

Arendt asserts that all power, in every political system from dictatorships to participatory democracies, emerges from public support. No dictator can carry out his or her will without obedience from subjects; nor can any project requiring collective action be achieved without the support, begrudging or enthusiastic, of the group.

When people begin to withdraw their support and refuse to obey, a government may turn to violence, but even that control lasts only as long as the army or police choose to obey. “Where commands are no longer obeyed,” Arendt writes, “the means of violence are of no use… Everything depends on the power behind the violence.” Power, for the rulers as well as those who would resist them, comes through collective action, rather than force.

As a basis for a revolutionary political strategy, Arendt’s theory of power has several important limitations—limitations which we think can be overcome by focusing our efforts into organising real democratic institutions in communities where we live, in our everyday lives.

On Consumerism, Capitalism, and Ecosocialism

By Sebastian Livingston - Hampton Institute, March 29, 2018

This piece is intended to be an introduction to an ecosocialist approach to production and consumption. What we have today is a hegemonic obsession with mass production that is catastrophic to the evolutionary processes which allow the biosphere to uphold life as we know it. Capitalist modes of production based upon endless economic expansion and mass consumption disrupt the equilibrium of ecosystems by reshaping the metabolism of nature which regulates earth systems. Within this article I will discuss some issues that I see as problematic in achieving an ecological society and address possible solutions. This is not intended to provide a critique of consumers, my aim is to develop an assault on the hegemonic creation of consumer culture and its devastating impact in maintaining the status quo. This is not an outline for revolution, it is merely my attempt to put forth issues as I see them and contribute to the discussion about the construction of consumer culture as a barrier to achieving social transformation.

"Once upon a time the working class had nothing to lose but its chains; but now it has been absorbed within capitalism, is a prisoner of consumerism, and its articles of consumption own and consume it." -Michael A. Lebowitz

We have the productive means to fulfil our material needs and to liberate ourselves from alienated labor. However this idea is incompatible with capital which does not aim to address real human needs beyond what is required to reproduce itself. Rather capitalism is contingent upon the realization of wealth accumulation, an endless expansion that is based upon the production and consumption of alienated products. This mass production is a fundamental problem that restricts our ability to create an ecological society by being the unshakable cause of most of the environmental problems we face today.

How to change the course of human history

By David Graeber and David Wengrow - Eurozine, March 2, 2018

The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of 'agricultural revolution' remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

It isn’t true.

Make Rojava Green Again as a bridge for internationalist solidarity

By staff - Internationalist Commune of Rojava, February 2018

We, the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, want to contribute to the ecological revolution in Northern Syria. To this end, we have started the campaign Make Rojava Green Again, campaign in cooperation with the Ecology Committee of the Cizire Canton. The campaign has three aspects:

  1. Building up the Internationalist Academy with an ecological ethos, to serve as a working example for comparable projects and concepts for the entire society. The academy will facilitate education for internationalists and for the general population of Rojava, to strengthen awareness and environmental consciousness, pushing to build up an ecological society.
  1. Joining the work of ecological projects for reforestation, and building up a cooperative tree nursery as part of the Internationalist Academy.
  1. Material support for existing and future ecological projects of the Democratic Self-administration, including sharing of knowledge between activists, scientists and experts with committees and structures in Rojava, developing a long-term perspective for an ecological Northern Syria Federation.

The first two concrete projects of the Make Rojava Green Again campaign are:

  • Realization of the concepts of an ecological life and work in the Internationalist Academy, partly with the building up a nursery as a part of the Academy. In the spring of 2018, we will plant 2,000 trees in the area of the academy, and 50,000 shoots in the nursery.

  • Practical and financial support for the Committee for Natural Conservation in the reforestation of the Hayaka natural reserve, near the city of Derik, in Cizire Canton. Over the next five years, we plan to plant more then 50,000 trees along the shores of Sefan Lake.

The Growth Paradigm: Measuring Nothing

By Chad Frederick - Institute for Social Ecology, January 2018

The following essay is an excerpt from America’s Addiction to Automobiles, by Chad Frederick. The book argues that contrary to the ethos of much contemporary urban planning, simply increasing the multimodal infrastructure of our cities is not enough to free them from automobile dependency. This task requires that we change the underlying logic of city governance, away from the growth paradigm to the sustainable development paradigm, with equity at its center.

Chad Frederick is an instructor of public affairs at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky and a senior research associate at the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville. Visit his new blog, Cities are the Key or connect with him via Twitter @CitiesAreTheKey. The introduction and first chapter can be read for free following this link to book’s publisher. 

THE GROWTH PARADIGM: MEASURING NOTHING

Cities are currently developed, maintained, and most importantly, governed according to the standard of growth, particularly economic growth. Despite being shown insufficient for the task of producing stable, just, and sustainable cities, the resilience of the growth paradigm is that it has become a habit; it is “normal.” It has been around long enough, and has been correlated to progress and stability well enough, to pre-empt any discussion of evolving beyond it. As Stephen Purdey (2010) writes, “The paradigm is thoroughly implicit in all aspects of the socio-economic and political life of modern human society, and as such is so transparently normal that its presence, character and consequences rarely provoke critical scrutiny” (p. 8). In this way, it is quite powerful.

The growth paradigm is based on the deeply flawed and utopian assumption that growth creates all the other good things in life, such as quality of life, stability, and opportunity. For example, it is popularly—but uncritically—assumed that as the economy grows, more people can join the middle class. Certainly, the middle class has grown since the 18th century; the Industrial Age created the conditions for the growth paradigm to emerge. But correlation is not causation. The fact that the middle class grew as the national economy grew over the past 200 years has less to do with some “natural outcome” of a growing economy, and more to do with people actively and collectively advocating on their own behalf, particularly by demanding higher wages that otherwise would not have been given.

Still, whatever the case might have been from the founding of the United States until the end of World War II, there is no correlation between the size and strength of the middle class and growth in the U.S. economy since then. In fact, from 1980 to 2014, the correlation is negative. The Center for American Progress (Miller and Madland 2014) reported that “the share of working-age households falling into the middle-class range fell from 56.5% in 1979 to only 45.1% in 2012.” In contrast, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2016) (OECD), the national economy grew from $12,500 per capita to nearly $56,000 per capita in 2014.

Libertarian Municipalism: Networked Cities as Resilient Platforms for Post-Capitalist Transition

By - C4SS, January 20, 2018

We live in a time of terminal crisis for centralized institutions of all kinds, including the two most notable members of the genus: states and large corporations. Both a major cause and major symptom of this transition is the steady reduction in the amount of labor needed to produce a given level of output, and consequently in total aggregate demand for wage labor. This shows up in shrinking rates of workforce participation, and a shift of a growing part of the remaining workforce from full-time work to part-time and precarious employment (the latter including temporary and contract work). Another symptom is the retrenchment of the state in the face of fiscal crisis and a trend towards social austerity in most Western countries; this is paralleled by a disintegration of traditional employer-based safety nets, as part of the decline in full-time employment.

Peak Oil (and other fossil fuels) is creating pressure to shorten global supply and distribution chains. At the same time, the shift in advantage from military technologies for power projection to technologies for area denial means that the imperial costs of enforcing a globalized economic system of outsourced production under the legal control of Western capital are becoming prohibitive.

The same technological trends that are reducing the total need for labor also, in many cases, make direct production for use in the informal, social and household economies much more economically feasible. Cheap open-source CNC machine tools, networked information and digital platforms, Permaculture and community gardens, alternative currencies and mutual credit systems, all reduce the scale of feasible production for many goods to the household, multiple household and neighborhood levels, and similarly reduce the capital outlays required for directly producing consumption needs to a scale within the means of such groupings

Put all these trends together, and we see the old model of secure livelihood through wages collapsing at the same time new technology is destroying the material basis for dependence on corporations and the state.

But like all transitions, this is a transition not only from something, but to something. That something bears a more than passing resemblance to the libertarian communist future Pyotr Kropotkin described in The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops: the relocalization of most economic functions into mixed agricultural/industrial villages, the control of production by those directly engaged in it, and a fading of the differences between town and country, work and leisure, and brain-work and muscle-work.

Excerpt from the new book, ‘On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont’

By David Van Deusen - It's Going Down, January 18, 2018

What follows is an excerpt from the new book On Anarchism: Dispatches From The People’s Republic of Vermont. Dispatches contains works written by David Van Deusen, and in some cases, the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective. This excerpt is the introduction to a strategic plan that was put forward by the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective in 2004. The proposal, until now, how never been made available to the public.

The Old Socialist Labor Hall, Barre, Vermont 2004 – The current social and political dynamic within North America, and much of the western industrialized world, is one of both growing hope and an escalation of capitalist oppression.[1]  While workers are being attacked by the forces of capital, and while the U.S. ruling class embarks upon imperialist campaigns of war, conquest, and cultural-political-economic homogenization, a mass movement is building within the very walls of the empire.

The 1999 Battle of Seattle witnessed the coming together of a great and diverse new American left.  As the anti-globalization movement matured, culminating in the 70,000-100,000 strong Battle of Quebec City in 2001, a mass anti-capitalist, pro-democracy movement was in full swing.  This momentum was effectively stalled due to the hesitation demonstrated on the part of the left immediately following the tragic September 11th terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, and the four civilian jetliners.

However, momentum against the empire not only became reinvigorated, but grew to massive proportions with the people’s movement against the imperialist invasion of Iraq.  Let us not forget the more than half-a-million people who marched in opposition through New York City on February 15th.  Nor should we forget the tens-of-thousands of others who marched in hundreds of other North American cities and small towns.[2] Let us also remember the 13 million people who took part in sister demonstrations across the world, making February 15th, 2003, the largest day of global protest in the history of humankind.

While we did not succeed in stopping the war, we did, temporarily, make the neo-conservative’s scale back their rhetoric about invading other nations such as socialist Cuba, communist Korea, Ba’ath controlled Syria, and Islamic Iran. And like in the streets of Seattle, DC, and Quebec, this opposition included millions of union workers (i.e. U.S. Labor Against The War), socialists, anarchists, students, environmentalists, and many others.  In short, while the audacity of the ruling class grows, so too does our movement towards socialism and direct democracy. It is with this in mind that NEFAC must begin to up the ante, and develop a coordinated strategy with the end goal of popular victory.

What is this popular victory?  While it would be arrogant to state exactly what a post-capitalist, democratic, socialist world would look like (as this will be defined by the people themselves), we can, at minimum, say that it will be one where communities are organized by directly democratic assemblies, industry and agriculture will be coordinated by directly democratic unions, and all people will have (among other things) access to food, housing, healthcare, higher education, childcare, jobs, and social security.

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