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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.

In Defense Of A/S: Is Anarcho-syndicalism Outdated?

By Piper Tompkins - Rage Against Capital, September 19, 2018

This article will be the first in a consistent series on this blog that will be updated as ideas come to the author. It’s title is “In Defense Of A/S”. The aim will be to evaluate counter-arguments to Anarcho-syndicalism and sufficiently defend Anarcho-syndicalism against these arguments. One can think of it as a sort of frequently asked questions pertaining specifically to criticisms of Anarcho-syndicalism. In this vein some criticisms addressed in this series will be commonly made criticisms of Anarcho-syndicalism. Some criticisms will be less commonly made and may only come from a specific individual, or group of individuals. The ambition is to provide a hefty counter-weight to theories and practices opposed to Anarcho-syndicalism that acts as a resource which Anarcho-syndicalists can draw from in making convincing arguments for our cause. The argument addressed in this addition of In Defense is the argument that Anarcho-syndicalism is outdated.

This was all prompted by a comment that was left on my recent article about Noam Chomsky. I will quote the comment in full:

“As much as I agree with the author here, isn’t calling someone or oneself nowadays an ‘Anarcho-syndicalist’ somewhat like wearing a bowler hat? Just like ‘capitalism’ is so dramatically changed from that era that one really should use a different word (though we keep using the same one). Syndicalism is highly relevant historically, but today consider the diminution of actual (human) production jobs, rise in bullshit jobs, along with the exponential debt enslavement, acute wealth extraction, and annihilation of the planet – problems that were slight back then. The article author keeps rolling back to reference the 1930s as if it is the handbook for 2018. I get it, but I also feel like it is spinning the tires a bit. Perhaps the idea of scaling down productivity and abandoning it altogether is a strategy for saving the earth. Maybe this would mean less emphasis on traditional unionization and syndicalism and more on general assemblies based around job obsolescence, debt, and climate crises.”

This is a common criticism made of Anarcho-syndicalism. Since traditional Marxism and Anarcho-syndicalism first developed at a relatively early stage of capitalism’s existence which is depending on how you chart the development of these ideas, between one and two centuries ago, both are viewed as fossils of bygone leftist politics. When comrades from my organization, Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, published a critique of Center For A Stateless Society one of it’s major figures, Kevin Carson, argued in turn that Anarcho-syndicalism is a “dinosaur”. To quote Corson; “It’s ironic that they describe my practical vision as “far removed from reality” — and use the term “fantasy” in their title — because those are exactly the terms I’d use for the anarcho-syndicalist model they advocate. This is a heroic Old Left fantasy based on an obsolete mass-production technological model that resembles the real world less and less every day. And the authors ignore left-wing currents around the world that have developed specifically in response to the obsolescence of their model.” Ecologist Murray Bookchin made very similar arguments in 1992. According to Bookchin Anarchist proximity to Marxists in the first International Workingmen’s Association lead Anarcho-syndicalism to develop out of Marx’s preoccupation with an industrial proletariat concentrated in European factories in the 19th century. “Marx and Engels personally eschewed terms like “workers,” “toilers,” and “laborers,” although they were quite prepared to use these words in their popular works. They preferred to characterize industrial workers by the “scientifically” precise name of “proletarians” — that is, people who had nothing to sell but their labor power, and even more, who were the authentic producers of surplus value on production lines (an attribute that even Marxists tend to ignore these days). Insofar as the European proletariat as a class evolved from displaced preindustrial strata like landless peasants who had drifted toward the cities, the factory system became their economic home, a place that — presumably unlike the dispersed farmsteads and villages of agrarian folk — “organized” them into a cohesive whole. Driven to immiseration by capitalist accumulation and competition, this increasingly (and hopefully) class-conscious proletariat would be inexorably forced to lock horns with the capitalist order as a “hegemonic” revolutionary class and eventually overthrow bourgeois society, laying the foundations for socialism and ultimately communism. However compelling this Marxian analysis seemed from the 1840s onward, its attempt to reason out the proletariat’s “hegemonic” role in a future revolution by analogy with the seemingly revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie in feudal society was as specious as the latter was itself historically erroneous (see Bookchin, 1971, pp. 181–92). It is not my intention here to critically examine this fallacious historical scenario, which carries considerable weight among many historians to this very day. Suffice it to say that it was a very catchy thesis — and attracted not only a great variety of socialists but also many anarchists. For anarchists, Marx’s analysis provided a precise argument for why they should focus their attention on industrial workers, adopt a largely economistic approach to social development, and single out the factory as a model for a future society, more recently in particular, based on some form of “workers’ control” and “federal” form of industrial organization.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Capital’s Destruction of the Environment: Marx’s Inadequate Response

By Ignacio Guerrero - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, June 4, 2017; image by William Morris (1834-96)

This piece engages claims around Marx’s legacy as a thinker and his relation to ecology. A promotional blurb for a volume recently published by Haymarket Books on the subject, Marx and the Earth by John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, goes so far as to claim that the authors are the “founders of Eco-socialist thought.” This narrative is taken to task in detail here by the author, who concludes with some brief reflections on an alternative vision of ecologically oriented socialism. 

Kohei Saito, writing in Monthly Review in February 2016 on Marx’s “Ecological Notebooks” (1868), distinguishes between “first-stage” and “second-stage” eco-socialists, with the former, an earlier wave, recognizing Karl Marx’s passing references to environmentalism but considering him overall to be a Promethean, and the latter instead claiming Marx to have been a profound ecological thinker. The main theorist presenting this alternative reading has been John Bellamy Foster, author of Marx’s Ecology (2000) and The Ecological Revolution (2009), co-author of The Ecological Rift (2010) and Marx and the Earth (2016/7), and editor of Monthly Review.

Foster bases his argumentation for second-stage ecosocialism on Marx’s statement at the end of “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry” in Capital, vol. 1, in the section on industrial-capitalist agriculture, where Marx states that, besides “concentrat[ing]” the proletariat—the “historical motive power of society”—in the cities through the enclosure of the commons and the dispossession of the peasantry, capitalism “disturbs the metabolic interaction between man [sic] and the Earth” in the sense that it exhausts the soil by demanding unsustainable extraction from it (637-8). Capitalism thus proceeds by “undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker” (638). Marx even states that “[t]he more a country proceeds from large-scale industry as the background of its development, as in […] the United States, the more rapid is this process of destruction” (638, emphasis added). Yet he views such environmental degradation as dynamically “compel[ling the] systematic restoration [of the metabolic interaction] as a regulative law of social production.”

Marx isn’t very specific here about what a movement to restore the “natural metabolic interaction” between humanity and the rest of nature would look like, and he doesn’t clarify whether environmental sustainability would be assured in a post-capitalist society, or whether the question of the domination of nature goes beyond the humanistic struggle for the liberation of the proletariat. Initially, it must be said that a passing comment on the capitalist degradation of the soil does not make Marx a radical ecologist, especially when juxtaposed with many of his more Promethean statements. In this sense, the first-stage ecosocialists make a convincing argument. Let’s not forget that this famous statement on the soil comes in the same volume wherein Marx effectively endorses the very dispossession of the peasantry for “dialectically” giving rise to capitalism and thereafter socialism and communism, per the stages theory of history. In “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry,” Marx explicitly calls large-scale industrial-capitalist agriculture revolutionary, “for the reason that it annihilates the bulwark of the old society, the ‘peasant,’ and substitutes for him the wage-labourer” (637), while in “The Communist Manifesto,” Marx and Engels deploy similar reasoning in lauding the bourgeoisie for having destroyed the putative “idiocy of rural life.”

Beyond the limits of nature: a social-ecological view of growth and degrowth

By Eleanor Finley - Entitle Blog, February 7, 2017

In this second article of the series “Ecology after capitalism“, Finley revisits the concept of growth from the libertarian socialist perspective of social ecology. She draws on Bookchin’s work to interrogate the limits of a degrowth conception of ‘growth’ and argues that we might find more opportunities for social and political transformation in social ecology’s analysis of post-scarcity and growth as ecological development. 

For more than two centuries, a critical narrative has emerged problematizing economic development, consumption, and growth. While its terms and definitions have shifted over time, the underlying logic remains the same: human society is growing too fast, faster than the limits of nature can accommodate.

In order to avoid global catastrophe by destroying the environment on which we depend, human beings must dramatically reduce the quantity of our own energetic and material consumption. Since the 2008 global financial collapse, a revised form of this analysis called degrowth has gained momentum among European environmental activists and Left academics.

In contrast to their predecessors who rejected the ‘industrial society’,  degrowth advocates blame capitalism as the engine of current ecological crisis. Joining a chorus of eco-socialists and radical ecologists, degrowth advocates argue that a planet of finite resources simply cannot sustain a social system based upon an axiom of production and consumption for its own sake.

In Can there be a socialist degrowth? ecological economist Giorgios Kallis argues that a tension is present between socialism and the apparent need for degrowth, arguing that a socialist society may not necessarily be post-growth, and thus ecologically sustainable. Such a conclusion rightly suggests that degrowth calls for the transcendence of traditional socialist concerns of labor, production, and technological advance. Yet, it does not yet account for how a socialist society may pursue growth along qualitatively different lines to produce a comfortable, materially abundant, and technologically sophisticated society.

Anthropocene vs Capitalocene: a Reflection on the Question, “What Have I Done?”

By Chris Burnett - Counterpunch, May 13, 2016

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) has yet to recognize, for scientific reasons, our current geological epoch as the Anthropocene, or “Age of Humans”. The term was coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 due to the fact that humans are changing the face of the planet, and are clearly responsible for the current 6th mass extinction event and climate disruption. Eco-radicals – black-red-green – might prefer the term Capitalocene, or the “Age of Capital”.

The former implies that humanity is an undifferentiated whole while the latter suggests that capital, and its system of class and power relations, are the real problem, the real driving force that has altered the planet so extensively. I prefer the latter, of course, for political reasons.

There is no substitute for understanding the historical forces of capitalism that has brought us to the edge. The logic of capitalism is grow or die, and we are all being dragged towards the die part. We need targets of accountability, and we need remedies for the dispossessed. There is a biological debt that must be paid by the most rapacious among us.

But yet, I am still sympathetic to the Anthropocene label because it makes me feel personally responsible. The collective “we”. There is something unsettling about it, and we all need to be immediately unsettled. It puts the burden of action on all of us, and counterintuitively, might pull us out of our comfortable anthropocentric worldview. Eco-radicals rightly put the blame at the doorstep of capitalism and the state, but we should all feel personally responsible, in our collective guts.

There are approximately 150-200 species going extinct everyday. The background rate of the normal extinction process is roughly one to five species a year. We are at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate today due to human activities. As far as the last members of a doomed species might be concerned, humans are responsible, not just the capitalist class. To them, it is the Anthropocene. Might your perspective on this issue be determined by which side of the axe you are on?

If I were to anthropomorphize those lost species, they might provide us an analogy to chew on. They might say, “imagine the surviving members of countless families murdered from bombs dropped by Bush, or assassinated with drones sent by Obama. Do you think they would care about the internal political dynamics of the US after such a tragedy?”

From the survivors perspective, it is the US government, the US Empire system, that killed their relatives. Our friends pondering this analogy for us might just make the same argument in regards to the human race: “yes, okay, we understand there are class distinctions. But, from our perspective, you are the problem. You are that system.”

I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s use of the word “we” when discussing the crimes of empire. I recall feeling defensive when he implied we all had responsibility, because, well, I opposed imperialism! But I think he was right. In his 1967 essay, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, he writes, reflecting on Dwight Macdonald’s question as to what extent the people are responsible for their own government’s crimes,

“We can hardly avoid asking ourselves to what extent the American people bear responsibility for the savage American assault on a largely helpless rural population in Vietnam… As for those of us who stood by in silence and apathy as this catastrophe slowly took shape over the past dozen years – on what page of history do we find our proper place? Only the most insensible can escape these questions.”

Continuing at the end of the essay,

“Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. “Why should they? What have I done?” he asked. Macdonald concludes: “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.” The question, “What have I done?” is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam – as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom.”

That is the question we are all faced with today, “What have I done?”, as we observe fresh atrocities committed against the biosphere and all life on this planet. Only those that resist authority and capitalism have the right to condemn our modern death-camp paymasters.

Eco-Socialism and Decentralism

By Wayne Price - Infoshop.org, January 11, 2016

Theorists of the climate-justice movement have been raising decentralist ideas as part of their programs for an ecologically-balanced society. This ecological program means more local democracy, workers’ management of industry, consumer coops, and federations of radically-democratic institutions. Such ideas revive the decentralist ideas of anarchism.

From conservatives and liberals to Marxists, there is faith in big machines, big industries, big corporations, big cities, big countries, big buildings, and big government—a belief in the necessity of centralized, bureaucratic, top-down, socially-alienated, institutions. This is not to say that most people like giant cities, big business, or big government; but they do not see any alternative.

Instead, anarchists have advocated localism, face-to-face direct democracy, self-governing agricultural-industrial communes, workers’ self-management of industry, consumer cooperatives, appropriate technology, and federations and networks of such radically-democratic institutions. Many people reject anarchism because they believe such decentralism to be unrealistic.

However, in our time there is a new development: writers and theorists of the ecology/environmental/climate-justice movement have been raising decentralist concepts as part of their programs. They include moderate liberals, radical ecologists, and even Marxists. Mostly they have no idea that they are redeveloping anarchism. I will examine this phenomenon.

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