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revolutionary ecology

Creating a Socialism that Meets Needs

By Sam Friedman - Against the Current, January 2017

THERE IS A growing suspicion among many people involved in movements against war, for social justice, and for an ecologically sustainable society that capitalism can only create a world of war, injustice and environmental destruction. There is widespread and growing understanding that the current social order cannot continue without catastrophe occurring —yet we lack a vision of what might replace it.

Karl Marx wrote relatively little about what he saw as a viable post-capitalist society. What he did write, however, has considerable value (Hudis 2012). Since Marx wrote his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1938) in 1875, we have had 140 years of additional experience, including watching the transformation of both the Russian Revolution and social democracy into the opposite of what was hoped for.

In addition, capitalism has had an equal number of years both to develop new technologies and to bring humanity and other species to the brink of many environmental disasters including global warming, acidification and overfishing of the seas, widespread degradation of soil and water quality and the threats from nuclear waste, nuclear accidents and nuclear war.

This article proposes a vision in which socially validated needs form the basis of production and in which democratic bodies resolve conflicts over whether a need is socially validated or harmful. This contrasts with ”market socialist” visions in which production continues on a commodity basis.

A model based on socially-validated needs should also provide a framework for coping with the emerging environmental crisis, which requires creating social solidarity and forms of politically-coordinated decision making in a system that does not require perpetual growth.

A number of authors have attempted to produce such a vision, including Alperovitz (2013), Alpert (2000), Schweickart (in Ollman 1998) and Wolff (2012). All of them suggest one or another form of worker self-directed enterprises that compete with each other, and some form of socially-directed investment, as the core for a new society. Explicit or implicit in what they propose is that production continues to be on the basis of workers of various sorts being hired to produce tangible or intangible commodities in order to sell them.

These authors argue that their model is fundamentally different from commodity capitalism and its needs to destroy the environment, create social injustice and create conditions that lead to global warfare. I am not going to attempt to argue against this claim of theirs here. (But see Friedman 2008; Hudis 2012; and Ollman 1998 for further discussion.) Instead, I want to offer a different view of what kind of new world we might aim for.

This article addresses these questions from a socialist perspective. It discusses the kind of world we might produce and how we might do it when and if the world working class(1) (which is the vast majority of the population) is able to take control over the world away from capital and its states.(2)

Let me add a disclaimer here: This paper does not attempt to resolve the question of how the working class (or “the 95%”) might oust capitalism from power.(3) This would require a book, not an article. Instead, in this paper, to provoke discussion and debate as widely as possible, I focus on what kind of society we might produce. Such discussion is needed to help the various movements of workers, communities, and others who are currently fighting the consequences of capital’s power to devise a clearer picture of what we are for.

A New Economic System for a World in Rapid Disintegration

By C.J. Polychroniou and Lily Sage - Truthout, September 8, 2016

We live in ominously dangerous times. The world capitalist system -- having fueled colonialism, imperialism and the constant intensification of labor power exploitation for roughly 500 years -- now threatens the planet with an ecological collapse of unprecedented proportions. Unsustainable resource exploitation, water pollution (the transformation of lakes, rivers and oceans into garbage dumps) and massive economic inequality are at the root of the possibly irreversible collapse of industrial civilization. Meanwhile, however, too many of us remain caught up in abstract and ahistorical predictions of collapse that fail to offer an alternative realistic vision of a future socio-economic order.

Simultaneously, the phenomenon of global warming, driven mainly by the dynamics and contradictions of a fossil-based economy, has prepared the soil for the eruption of new sources of conflict with the manifestation of historically unique destabilizing social forces. Climate change directly threatens billions of people and most other beings -- besides the occasional cockroach, diadem or tardigrade -- with outright extinction brought on by droughts, floods and other "natural" disasters.

Nonetheless, the catastrophic scenario sketched out behind the operations of global capitalism does not merely represent the other side of a wild socio-economic system bent on constant and abstract growth in pursuit of ever greater rates of profit. The so-called Golden Age of capitalism ended decades ago and the system has now run into a brick wall, as it appears to have reached a point where it is no longer capable of sustaining a constant momentum of growth to keep the economy reproducing itself at a pace that generates higher standards of living for the next generation.

Indeed, the productivity rates in the advanced industrialized regions of the world (such as the US, Europe and Japan) since the eruption of the financial crisis of 2007-08 are far slower than those of previous decades, thereby confirming the claims of various experts who argue that we have reached the end of the age of growth.

Moreover, in spite of all the talk about the marvelous and awe-inspiring accomplishments of the high-tech revolution, these innovations pale in comparison to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution. The new technologies reach billions of people, generating mythical fortunes for founders and investors, but increasingly employ only a handful of privileged workers. In the meantime, the problems of massive unemployment, increased inequality, growing economic insecurity, and dangerous levels of public and corporate debt are mounting.

In this context, the present crisis facing the world economy as a whole "consists precisely in the fact," as Antonio Gramsci put it in his Prison Notebooks, "that the old is dying and the new cannot be born," and all of the above represent the "morbid symptoms" of this antinomy that the great Italian revolutionary underscored as being part of this interregnum.

Some Thoughts on the Environmental Movement

By Flint Jones - December 2, 2014

In 2010, I was part of a workshop at the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference in Baltimore, MD.  Also on the panel were Michael Loadenthal and Chris Spannos. The panel was givein these questions:

  • What types of nonhierarchical organizational forms are applicable to the environmental movement as well as up to the challenge of contesting and ultimately offering a dual power to those forces that are destroying the planet and separating humans from the nonhuman world? 
  • How would a society based on anarchist principles resolve the ecological problems inherent in various aspects of the current system, from transportation to the food supply to energy production?

My answers, I think, still hold up: One thing that environmental movement has been successful at is atleast temporarily halting some kinds of ecological destruction;whether it’s stopping construction of a lumber mill or a nuclear power plant.  Unfortunately, many of these campaigns are quite localized andexamples of “Not In My Backyard” environmentalism.   Ecological destruction can then often relocate to a location in which thepolitical climate is more open to natural exploitation.  WhileNIMBYism might work in a limited matter in terms of conservation ofsome relatively underexploited bit of wilderness--it doesn’t matter where coal is being burned for it to effect global warming and climate change.  Stopping a particular environmental abuse in one location does not change the demand that stimulated that environmentally destructive process.  I grew up in rural West Virginia and my fatherworked the coal trains.  While many people have turned against mountain top removal or coal mining in general, the coal industry hasa simple effective slogan, “Coal keeps the lights on!”.   Until we either convince people to do without light, produce light with less energy or find another way to produce the light without coal... there is still going to be a huge demand for mining and burning coal--regardless of which ancient mountain they destroy in which county, state or country.

There has been considerable emphasis in the environmental movement in regards to influencing consumers to individually change their consumption practices.  One example is the advocacy of a vegetarian or vegan diet.  I’m a vegetarian, myself.  In terms of bringing about a shift in food consumption in the U.S. for environmental reasons--that movement has failed; and spectacularly so.  While the number ofvegetarians/vegans amounts to 3.7% of population (with 10% being vegetarian inclined), since the 1950s the per capita meat consumptionin the U.S. has increased from 150 to 200 pounds (even with the growth of vegetarianism).  Americans eat twice the global average for meat. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we grow and kill nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total. When we are talking about environmental problems we are talking about the collective impacts of all people.   In terms of the impact of diet upon the environment, we would have been more effective if we had encouraged the majority to only reduce their meat consumption or if we had limited meat production to only open range grass fed meat (rather than grain fed feed lots)--rather than convincing a tiny minority to eliminate meat entirely from their diet. Individual consumption patterns matter far less than the aggregate impact of all people. The infrastructure and industrial method of how energy and goods areproduced and delivered matter more than the specific product beingconsumed.

When white people start talking about overpopulation, I get nervous. Globally, the population growth rate has been reducing for some time. In many industrialized countries, there is now even negative population growth.  Population predictions have the global population growing to nine billion before declining--all the while the median age will increase.  The problem isn’t so much the sheer quantity of people but how those people use resources.  The third most populated country in the world is the United States. The problem is very much with the U.S. and. how it has been built up and consumes resources.  Outside of some black carbon from cooking fires, the carbon footprint of the poorest billion people on the planet is negligible. The impact of of 310 million folks in the U.S. is huge.  An average U.S. resident emits twice as much carbon dioxide as an European and 20 times as much as an African.  We must meet the needs and demands of nine billion peopleand a discussion on how to more rapidly decrease population in the next fifty years is as much a distraction as any kind of viablepolicy.  If noone in the U.S. environmental movement ever mentioned overpopulation again and we stuck only to a conversation about how to reduce our per capita resource use nationally--I think we’d be better off.

For similar reasons, attempts to form small autonomous communities within the U.S that are disconnected from the majority of the population will not solve our environmental problems.  This panel description suggested a dual power situation between our anarchist ecological ideas and presumably the status quo.  Given that climate change is a global phenomenon and any intentional anarchist community would share bio-region and watersheds with environmentally destructive capitalists states; there can be no parallel development.  We must systematically transform the current industrial mode of production and we can not wait to do that by building an separate alternative as merely a demonstration.  Green Potemkin villages will not change people’s mind or have any significant impact.  It’s not enough for asmall group of activists to create a back yard victory garden in abandoned lots to address our demands for food.  If we are serious about addressing the ecological destruction caused by our food production, we need large scale systematic change of how we grow food. If small urban farms can’t even provide all calories their farmers need, they certainly can’t meet the demand of all those people who are not farming.  The new society must be built literally in the shell ofthe old; not just down the road from it.  We must build organizations capable of winning immediate demands from the status quo.

PROTEST IN THE PLAINS: We Will Die For Our Grandchildren

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.

Leaders of the Oceti Sakowin say "No more" to the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. They are making their stand and promise the construction of the oil pipeline will not get past them without taking the lives of its defenders.

Chapter 6 : If Somebody Kills Themselves, Just Blame it on Earth First!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Haul it to the sawmill, Got to make a buck,
Your blades are worn and dangerous, Better trust your luck,
Don’t stop for the workers’ safety, Never fear the worst,
‘Cause if somebody kills themselves, Just blame it on Earth First!,
L-P…

—Lyrics excerpted from L-P, by Judi Bari, 1990.

“Anybody who ever advocated tree spiking of course has to rethink their position.”

—Darryl Cherney, June 1987.[1]

Earth First! received much negative press for its advocacy of biocentrism, the notion that all species (including humans) were intrinsically valuable. Their slogan “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!” was forceful and militant, and given the misanthropic leanings of some of its cofounders, it was often taken to mean that they valued the lives of nonhuman species above humans—even if it meant the suffering or death of the latter—which wasn’t actually the case. The situation was complicated further by Earth First!’s advocacy of monkeywrenching: industrial “ecotage” which included everything from deflagging roads to putting sugar in the fuel tanks of earth moving and/or logging equipment. Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman described monkeywrenching thusly:

“It is resistance to insanity that is encapsu­lated in Monkeywrenching…(it) fits in with the bioregional concept. You go back to a place and you peacefully re-inhabit it. You learn about it. You become a part of the place. You develop an informal and al­ternative political and social struc­ture that is somehow apart from the sys­tem… it’s also a means of self-empowerment, of finding alternative means of relat­ing to other people, and other life forms…there is a funda­mental difference between ecodefense resistance and classic revolutionary or terrorist behavior.” [2]

Such a description, while informative, was hardly likely to silence critics on the right. The most controversial of these controversial tactics by far, was Earth First!’s advocacy of “tree spiking”, the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter timber sales. [3]

An Open Letter to the NO KXL Movement

An open letter from some students at Green Mountain College re: XL DISSENT - March 3, 2014

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.

This isn’t personal, honest. Nothing holier-than-thou. Most of us are playing the same game as you– conference calls, teach-ins, unpaid internships. And it’s for the same reasons, or at least we think so-we’ve seen some of what this way of life is doing to the world, and we know that there’s more out there that we don’t know, more than we could ever absorb. And we’re scared, and we want it to stop.

But we’ve started, slowly, to realize something even scarier. The ways that we’ve been taught to fight back aren’t cutting it. Not even close. Candlelight vigils, petitions, chaining yourself to the White House fence, none of it is going to make the continued extraction of fossil fuels less profitable, and none of it is going to shift our communities away from a way of life centered on profit.

Barack Obama does not care about your arrest record any more than he cares about a soundbite he delivered to a bunch of rich college kids at Georgetown a couple years back. When he told some fellow students trying to speak truth to power that “We had the pipeline rally in the summer,” it summed up pretty well how much pressure he’s actually feeling from all of the environmentalists’ efforts to stop KXL.

Let’s break it down a little bit. This KXL dissent thing, as well as pretty much all of 350 and friends’ strategy, is meant to draw media attention and put political pressure on the president. We’re gonna hold Obama accountable, make him deliver on his promises. The problem is, there’s absolutely nothing in it for him. Even if we all have to hold our noses, the vast majority of self-identified environmentalists are going to vote for Democrats in 2016 and beyond because there’s no other viable option. Third parties sound nice but we all took Gov in high school and know that it’s not gonna happen. The Democrats also know it. It would be nice for them if we knocked and doors and phone banked in 2016, but it’s nothing compared to the money they need from Wall St. And I’m sure you know where Wall St. stands on the whole pipeline thing.

A Toxic Culture of Violence and Shame: How DGR’s Denial of Transphobia Exposes Worse Tendencies

By The Letter Collective - Earth First! Journal Online, February 23, 2014

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.

Lierre Keith’s Platform of Hate

Deep Green Resistance’s gender doyen, Rachel Ivy, has posted a new attack on trans* people, called “A Partial List of Lies (With Corrections) in Recent Anti-Feminist Letter.” Cloaked as a defense against a sign on letter that we organized, Ivey’s screed attempts to deconstruct the letter signed by more than 30 organizations across a broad spectrum of social and environmental causes.[1] Even when insisting that they are not trans* phobic, Ivey makes numerous trans* phobic claims.

The open letter, co-signed by the Earth First! Journal Collective, Greenpeace USA, Rising Tide North America, local groups ranging from the Cascadia Forest Defenders to the Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and other groups like Tar Sands Blockade, the Queer Caucus of the National Lawyers Guild, RAMPS, and Peaceful Uprising, presents three main principles: (1) Lierre Keith is transphobic and does not support safer spaces policies, and (2) Keith’s gender analysis has led to increasingly divisive behavior by DGR, which is deleterious for the environmental movement as a whole (3) Keith should not be allowed to give a keynote speech at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC).

Calling this huge list of groups across Turtle Island “liars” and “anti-feminist” for taking a strong stance against transphobia is something we have come to expect from such an alienated and isolated group as DGR. In fact, a majority of those who contributed their ideas, time, and words to the sign on letter were women. This fact was totally skipped over by DGR, an organization that reflexively assumes activists who are critical of the ideas of their advisory board are automatically liars and anti-feminist.[2] For instance, in another post, Ivey even attacks the Civil Liberties Defense Center, an incredibly important legal organization with women in the positions of president and executive director, for “horizontal hostility” after they released a solidarity statement against DGR’s transphobia.[3] The first comment on the website comes from a DGR supporter who caustically states, “Because the most entire important thing in the world is bullying women into believing penis is female!… Accepting the Ladystick into lesbian vaginas is much more important than long-term survival.”

Student, Eco and Indigenous Groups Oppose Transphobia at Conference

Originally published at earthfirstjournal.org, February 17, 2014

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.

More than 30 radical environmental organizations took a strong stance against transphobia by calling for the removal of outspoken transphobe Lierre Keith from the list of keynote speakers at the University of Oregon’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

With signatories including national and local forest defense groups, the letter represents key voices of environmental justice to appalachia defense to indigenous solidarity. The letter states, “PIELC has an obligation to promote safer spaces inclusive of LGBQTTI people. PIELC must not become a venue for trans* exclusionary hate that breeds an environment of hostility and violence.”

Keith has described the trans* community as “deeply misogynist and reactionary,” stating that “men insisting they are women is insulting and absurd.”

Though relatively unknown in the environmental movement until a few years ago, Keith was brought to a larger audience through her co-authorship of Deep Green Resistance, alongside McBay and primitivist author Derrick Jensen. Since then, she has been a part of an organization modeled after the book, also called Deep Green Resistance (DGR), which many see as divisive and sectarian.

The letter asserts, “Neither Keith nor DGR have played decisive or visible roles in campaigns against clearcutting, fossil fuel infrastructure, and climate change in Cascadia, while many of us have dedicated our lives to making these causes inclusive and non-reactionary.”

Here is the PIELC  sign on letter in full:

What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?

By David Graeber - The Baffler, February 13, 2014

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.

My friend June Thunderstorm and I once spent a half an hour sitting in a meadow by a mountain lake, watching an inchworm dangle from the top of a stalk of grass, twist about in every possible direction, and then leap to the next stalk and do the same thing. And so it proceeded, in a vast circle, with what must have been a vast expenditure of energy, for what seemed like absolutely no reason at all.

“All animals play,” June had once said to me. “Even ants.” She’d spent many years working as a professional gardener and had plenty of incidents like this to observe and ponder. “Look,” she said, with an air of modest triumph. “See what I mean?”

Most of us, hearing this story, would insist on proof. How do we know the worm was playing? Perhaps the invisible circles it traced in the air were really just a search for some unknown sort of prey. Or a mating ritual. Can we prove they weren’t? Even if the worm was playing, how do we know this form of play did not serve some ultimately practical purpose: exercise, or self-training for some possible future inchworm emergency?

This would be the reaction of most professional ethologists as well. Generally speaking, an analysis of animal behavior is not considered scientific unless the animal is assumed, at least tacitly, to be operating according to the same means/end calculations that one would apply to economic transactions. Under this assumption, an expenditure of energy must be directed toward some goal, whether it be obtaining food, securing territory, achieving dominance, or maximizing reproductive success—unless one can absolutely prove that it isn’t, and absolute proof in such matters is, as one might imagine, very hard to come by.

Why Environmentalists Must Support Workers’ Struggles

By Stephanie McMillan - December 18, 2013

This is to specifically address class struggle as it relates to the ecological crisis. It will not address all the other (many!) reasons that working class struggle must be waged and supported.

First, we must recognize the fact that global capitalism is driving ecocide.

The problem reaches much farther back than capitalism itself. The combination of an early gendered division of labor with the adoption of agriculture and corresponding formation of permanent settlements set the stage for class divisions and the private accumulation of surplus wealth. Maintaining this arrangement required the development of states with armies, social oppression and repression to weaken internal opposition, and ideologies to make it all seem normal and pre-ordained. And as land was degraded and resources used up faster than they naturally replenished themselves, expansion became imperative, leading to conquest and forced unequal trade.

These intertwined and matured over time into an ever-more complex tangle, culminating in late-stage capitalism: the all-encompassing, all-devouring, spectacular horror that is our current global social living arrangement. The environmental crisis, specifically climate change, is the most urgent problem we collectively face. It is a simple fact that if our planet no longer supports life, then all human pursuits, including social justice, will also come to a screaming halt.

But attempts to solve the environmental crisis head-on, without addressing the underlying structural causes, will ultimately fail. Approaching it directly (for example by blocking a pipeline to prevent tar sands oil from reaching a refinery) can not overturn the socio-economic system that makes resource extraction a non-negotiable necessity. Capital is relentless, and will flow around any obstacle—or smash through it. Throughout history, it has demonstrated the willingness and capacity to wipe out anyone—including entire populations—who attempt to resist.

Historically only one class has been able to challenge capital and offer an alternative to it: the working class. This is not because of any sort of moral superiority, nor is it a matter of suffering the most. In fact, there are many others who are deprived of any means of survival altogether, which is an even worse situation than being exploited as a worker.

The reason that the working class has this capacity is that it is strategically placed. Workers have the most direct relationship with capital: they produce it. Even capitalists themselves merely manage and accumulate it, which they accomplish through the exploitation of workers in the production of commodities. Commodities embody surplus value in the form of unpaid labor, combined with natural materials (which capitalists simply claim ownership of through legal or other violent means). This surplus value, when it’s realized as profit and re-invested, becomes new capital.

Capitalism runs on exploitation, by paying the aggregate of workers less than the total value of their products (the rest becomes profit). So in order to sell all the surplus commodities that can’t be profitably consumed within a social formation, capitalism is structurally required to “expand or die.” The problem with this economic model on a finite planet is obvious.

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