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ecosocialism

The reversal of privatization and an urban coming of age

By staff - Rabble.Ca, June 23, 2017

A gentle revolution is underway in Barcelona, Spain. Until recently, prevailing wisdom has been that efficient, quality and cheap services are best provided by handing everything over to the private sector. These days are gone. From energy supply to kindergartens to funeral services, the municipality is providing more and more of the basic needs of its citizens at affordable and transparent prices. Following a city council motion in December 2016, Barcelona is now aiming to municipalize its water service. Since the progressive coalition Barcelona en Comú gained power in the Catalan capital, the city has introduced a wide-ranging policy of remunicipalizing outsourced public services and creating new ones.

Barcelona is not unique in this respect. Thousands of public officials, workers, unions and social movements are working to create effective public services that address the basic needs of people and respond to social, environmental and climate challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Reclaiming Public Services, a new report, found that there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalization of public services worldwide in recent years, involving more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries.

Cities and towns around the world are following different models of public ownership, with citizens and workers involved in a variety of ways. People are moving away from private options and developing new, public ways to deliver services. Far from being an anomaly, bringing services like transport, health care and energy back under public control is a worldwide trend -- and one that makes sense.

Privatization has been given ample chance to succeed and has come up short. The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive, inefficient and outdated, and that we, as citizens and users, should resign ourselves to paying ever higher tariffs for ever lower standards has not yet abated. Nor has the idea that service workers have no choice but to accept ever more degraded conditions. Because everything is seen to have a price, many politicians have lost sight of the common good, while "taxpayers" are sometimes only interested in their own individual pursuits.

The remunicipalization movement tells a very different story. While it is still in its infancy in Canada, the remunicipalization movement in Europe can be seen as a response to austerity policies and is being carried forward by an increasingly diverse array of politicians. Successful (re)municipalization experiences inspire and empower other local authorities to follow suit. We see it in the way municipalities and citizens have joined forces in Germany to push for energy democracy. In France and Catalonia, networks of public water operators pool resources and expertise, working together to deal with the challenges of remunicipalization.

There are many examples from outside Europe too. In India, the city of Delhi began the process of delivering affordable primary public health care in 2015 by setting up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics in 2015. Since then more than 2.6 million of its poorest residents have received free quality services.

These locally rooted changes are providing improved services as well as savings for local authorities and the public. The Nottingham City Council in the U.K., for example, decided to set up a new energy supply company in 2015 after finding that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills. Robin Hood Energy offers a cheaper service than private providers because it neither extracts profits nor confuses customers with complicated pricing schemes. The company, which offers the lowest energy prices in the country, has the motto: "No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing." They have also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership. Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

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.”

C. L. R. James in the Age of Climate Change

By Justin Slaughter - Jacobin, June 7, 2017

In 1952, the US government detained Trinidadian socialist C. L. R. James on Ellis Island for four months. The official reason was that James threatened the “morals of the people of the United States.” More likely, it stemmed from the red company the author had kept since immigrating in 1938, the same year he published his seminal book The Black Jacobins.

Rejecting an immigration officer’s suggestion to “drink [his] Papaya juice” in the Caribbean, the fifty-one-year-old subsisted on milk and bread and fought his deportation order. As he awaited the court’s decision, James drafted a long essay on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, which he mailed, along with a plea for citizenship, to every member of Congress. It had no effect, and he was deported the following summer.

But James soon published the Ellis Island essay as a proper book: Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways. There, he describes Melville’s 1851 novel as the “grandest conception that has ever been made to see the modern world . . . and the future that lay before it.” For him, the book’s fateful whaling voyage was the first to conjure the madness that would subsume civilization a century later: a “world of massed bombers, of cities in flames, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Today, James’s reading of Moby-Dick resonates even more strongly, as we face not only bombers and burning cities but rising oceans.

For those who slept through high school English, Moby-Dick is a loose and high-flown epic that follows a Nantucket whaling crew as they track the eponymous sperm whale. The inscrutable, nigh-insane Captain Ahab drives their ship, the Pequod, across the globe, seeking revenge on the whale that previously ate his leg.

Ahab’s obsession becomes an “independent being of its own,” which “glared out of bodily eyes . . . a formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light . . . without an object to colour,” Melville writes. The massive creature eventually wrecks the ship and kills most of the crew. After the battle, the “great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

James’s interest in the book derived first from Melville’s sheer literary brilliance: he ranked the novelist’s command of language up there with Edmund Burke’s and William Shakespeare’s. More important, though, was Melville’s deft rendering of modern capitalism in living, breathing characters.

In the Pequod’s captain and crew, James sees the social relations that would produce world wars, genocides, and weapons of mass destruction. And though he couldn’t have imagined it while tearing at bits of bread in jail, the forces Melville animates in Moby-Dick also explain why weather this February in the US broke or tied almost twelve thousand warm temperature records.

James draws out the ways in which the Pequod’s crew and captain illustrate the structure of capitalism. Chief mate Starbuck (yes, the one your coffee is named for) and second mate Stubb are today’s technocratic managers, unwaveringly loyal to rules, procedures, and authority. Below them is the crew, on whose work the ship depends. These “mariners, renegades, and castaways” come from all corners of the earth, James writes, “living as the vast majority of human beings live . . . seeking to avoid pain and misery and struggling for happiness.”

Above them all sits Captain Ahab, the chief executive who wields centuries of accumulated knowledge and labor for his own gain, but who — not unlike Donald Trump and his circle — would blindly throw all of it into the abyss.

Capitalism is destructive and unsustainable: It needs to be replaced

By John Bachtell - People's World, June 6, 2017

This article is based on remarks made by the author at the CPUSA National Labor Conference, May 20-21, in Chicago.

Several crises of contemporary capitalism have reached or are reaching dangerous tipping points. They are rooted in a path of destructive and unsustainable development.

They include extreme wealth and social inequality, job loss and dislocation from automation, and the existential threat posed by the ecological crisis.

These interconnected crises are impacting everything and must be addressed together. And they can be.

But standing in the way are Trump, the GOP and extreme right, and their main support base: monopoly-finance capital, the fossil fuel industry, and the military-industrial complex. Their agenda is intensifying these crises and must be defeated.

This underscores the urgency to build the broadest resistance movement and radically elevate the fight for unity of our multi-racial, male-female, LGBTQ, immigrant and native-born working class and people. This is central to guarantee the working class emerges as leader of the entire movement to break the extreme right political stranglehold and open the way for the challenging, contested, and complex transition to a just, peaceful, eco-socialist society.

Trump spurns Paris Climate Accord

By Michael Schrieber - Socialist Action, June 5, 2017

“We’re getting out!” President Trump declared before the press and a knot of governmental officials who had gathered in the White House Rose Garden on June 1. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.”

Trump characterized the Accord as being “less about the climate and more about other countries’ gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”

He continued his xenophobic message: “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement—they went wild; they were so happy—for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

Trump singled out in particular the “Green Climate Fund,” which he said has been siphoning billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy, “a massive re-distribution of United States wealth to other countries.” The fund was intended to help underdeveloped nations move to renewable energy and mitigate the effects of climate change. So far, the fund has raised a total of around $10 billion from wealthier capitalist countries, including $3 billion from the U.S. (about one-hundredth of one percent of the U.S. budget).

According to the precepts of the Paris Accord, it will take more than three years for the U.S. to formally withdraw from it. But Trump indicated in his speech that he believes his announcement can help dampen any legal challenge to the measures that his administration has already put into place that weaken environmental safeguards in order to ramp up oil, coal, and other extractive industries.

And what about the climate? That burning issue was scarcely apparent in Trump’s June 1 speech. Although his address was long, rambling, and repetitive, Trump never found a single moment to utter the words “climate change.”

Celebrating Barry Commoner, Father of the Modern Environmental Movement

By Peter Dreier; image by Oliver Morris - Common Dreams, May 29, 2017

Described in 1970 by Time magazine as the “Paul Revere of ecology,” Commoner followed Rachel Carson as America’s most prominent modern environmentalist. But unlike Carson, Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology accounted for the undermining of “the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings.” Today’s environmental activists and thinkers — including radicals like Van Jones, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Bullard, and Beverly Wright — stand on Commoner’s shoulders.

Commoner — who was born 100 years ago, on May 28, 1917, and died in 2012 — insisted that scientists had an obligation to make scientific information accessible to the general public, so that citizens could participate in public debates that involved scientific questions. Citizens, he said, have a right to know the health hazards of the consumer products and technologies used in everyday life. Those were radical ideas in the 1950s and ’60s, when most Americans were still mesmerized by the cult of scientific expertise and such new technologies as cars, plastics, chemical sprays and atomic energy.

Commoner linked environmental issues to a broader vision of social and economic justice. He called attention to the parallels among the environmental, civil rights, labor and peace movements. He connected the environmental crisis to the problems of poverty, injustice, racism, public health, national security and war.

Commoner first came to public attention in the late 1950s when he warned about the hazards of fallout caused by the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. He later used his scientific platform to raise awareness about the dangers posed by the petrochemical industry, nuclear power and toxic substances such as dioxins. He was one of the first scientists to point out that although environmental hazards hurt everyone, they disproportionately hurt the poor and racial minorities because of the location of dangerous chemicals and because of the hazardous conditions in blue-collar workplaces. Commoner thus laid the groundwork for what later become known as the environmental justice movement.

Commoner grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the child of Russian Jewish immigrants. He studied zoology at Columbia University and received a doctorate in biology from Harvard University in 1941. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Commoner was an associate editor for Science Illustrated and then became a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, a position he held for thirty-four years. There he founded, in 1966, the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to promote research on ecological systems. He later moved the center to Queens College in New York.

While serving in the Navy, Commoner discovered a disturbing unintended consequences of technology. He was put in charge of a project to devise an apparatus to allow bombers to spray DDT on beachheads to kill insects that caused disease among soldiers. The military wanted to remove the insects before troops landed. Commoner’s crew discovered that the DDT sprayed from bombers effectively eliminated hordes of flies on the beach, but also that more flies soon came to feast on the tons of fish that the DDT had also killed. This lesson became a central theme for Commoner throughout his career: humans cannot take action on one part of the ecosystem without triggering a reaction elsewhere.

After the war, many scientists, including Albert Einstein, alarmed by America’s use of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, began to rethink their role in society. They questioned whether dropping the bomb had been necessary for the United States to win the war. They were shocked by the scale of the damage in terms of both immediate deaths and long-term human suffering. And they worried about the potential for a prolonged arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which, they feared, could end in a nuclear war in which all humanity would be the losers.

3 Steps to Building Just Transition Now with a Permanent Community Energy Cooperative

By Subin Varghese - P2P Foundation, May 9, 2017

Step 1. Start now

Don’t wait. That’s rule #1 for living in a world where we’re already feeling the impacts of climate change; millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk — or stand to benefit from solutions — in this and future decades. We needed a just transition of our energy economy yesterday. And while there are challenges to universal access and equitably shared benefits from clean energy, there are steps we can take today to start building projects, jobs, and improved health in local communities.

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Which way for the climate movement?

By Michael Schreiber - Socialist Action, May 11, 2017

On April 29, more than 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., in a powerful show of determination to rescue the earth from the ravages of climate change. Over 370 sister marches took place simultaneously across the United States and in countries around the world from Britain to Brazil, and from Mexico to Kenya and the Philippines.

The size of the crowd in Washington far surpassed earlier expectations by the organizers and the National Park Service. At precisely 2 p.m., virtually the entire march, which at that point extended more than 20 blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, grew quiet as people sat down as an ensemble. Drums kept the rhythm as the marchers thumped their chests to show that while coming from many backgrounds, their hearts beat as one.

In addition to the colorful puppets and banners carried by organized contingents, most of the marchers brought hand-lettered signs, with slogans reflecting a variety of related social concerns (such as “Black Lives Matter”) in addition to that of the environment.

Although the organized trade-union contingents were meager, spirited groups of Native Americans, LGBTQ people, and communities of color—including a number of Washington, D.C., youth—made their presence felt.

“In the face of a federal administration that would rather reap profits than protect people, our communities are rising up,” Jeremiah Lowery, climate justice organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a press statement on the eve of the march. “In Washington, D.C. and around the world, it’s low-income communities, communities of color, and workers who are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis they did the least to contribute to.”

There is no doubt that the threats by the Trump administration to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords and to rescind environmental measures put in place by Obama—which themselves were far from adequate—were responsible for swelling the numbers of people who joined the demonstration.

18 Theses on Ecosocialism

By the collective - Conferences for Ecosocialism, February 2013

I. What is Ecosocialism?

1. A concrete and radical alternative.

Toward an Ecological Revolution

By David Johnson - CounterPunch, May 5, 2017

Climate change, as it has emerged as a defining political issue of our time, has a peculiar exceptionalism attached to it. While we know it is in some sense a political problem, or at least demands a political solution, we nevertheless tend to think of it as a problem in nature – one that transcends social issues and threatens social life itself. Every year, waves of liberal students enter environmental science programs at universities across the West, determined to study the changes human beings are causing in the earth’s ecosystems. We know that human activity in general, and the burning of fossil fuels in particular, is the primary agent of climate change, with very serious implications for the natural environment upon which humans depend, and for human life itself

The need to drastically reduce carbon emissions, then, is as clear as it is urgent.  Technologically speaking, there is a path forward: innovations in energy production abound, including in renewable sources like sun and wind. It would seem we have a problem and a solution. Why then do we see little meaningful reform, when the stakes are so high and the answers so clear?

Here the conversation often crumbles into a series of dead-ends. A significant portion of the public has resorted to denying the scientific consensus on climate change, and there is no shortage of funding for such a campaign. Others who accept the science nevertheless become cynical from the scale of the problem; the obstacle, many conclude, is “human nature” itself. Still others, determined to fight, seek to appease large corporations with innovations that are both environmentally friendly and profitable – so-called Green capitalism. Can the profit motive save us?

A new book edited by Vijay Prashad bursts through this rigid state of affairs. Focused around Naomi Klein’s Edward Said lecture, delivered in London on 4 May 2016, Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt is a short collection of narrative essays and analysis that responds to the global climate crisis in a refreshingly expansive way.

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