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The Red and the Green: Part Two - What kind of development?

by William Bowles Tuesday, 2 October 2007
 

If we are to deal with the threat to the planet’s biosphere, it should be obvious to all that there has to be both political and economic democracy if we are to stand even a chance of stabilising what we’ve totally buggered up. And judging by the concern people are expressing about what’s happening to our Home (let alone how it’s actually impacting on those with no control over anything and what they feel, what’s the betting that if we had the opportunity to directly participate in the economic process as more than damn drones of capital, we would arrive at very different conclusions than our so-called political leaders have as to what steps to take. Nobody’s pretending that at this late date, it’s not an immense task, and one with no guarantee of success, but at least folks if we are truly in charge of our own destinies, if we screw up, we have nobody to blame but our good, collective selves.The Red and the Green Part One

The word development implies ‘progress’ but by whose definition and anyway, what is progress, and where exactly, are we progressing to?

Are the rainforest peoples’ of the Amazon for example, ‘given’ progress when they are forcibly resettled and their forests chopped down (for their own good you understand)?

When we, in the ‘testosterone world’ are forced to go into debt and our children, for all of our lives, is this progress?

And how does the socialist conception of development differ from that ‘offered’ by capitalism? I think we are seeing glimpses of it emerge out of South America (see below) and once more in the ‘undeveloped’ part of the planet. Is there a message here? I think so. For so long it has been assumed that ‘real’ socialism could only be created in the developed world, at least that was the one of the implications found in Marx’s writings on the subject (not that he wrote an awful lot about the future, being naturally more concerned with his present, and anyway I think he pawned his crystal ball on the way to the British Library).

So do we need to rewrite the ‘textbook’ on revolution? I don’t think so, perhaps we need to be a little more modest in our ambitions? Much of the previous attempts at buliding socialism were about catching up with capitalism, but playing catch-up has caught up with us big time?

One country, Cuba, and again under the most horrendous of circumstances, seems to have gotten the message after many false starts. Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, spoke at the UN high-level event on climate change in New York on Monday, September 24, where he said the following,

‘it is increasingly clear that this dramatic situation will not be tackled unless there is a shift in the current unbridled production and consumption patterns, presented as the dream to achieve through an unscrupulous and ongoing worldwide advertising campaign on which a trillion dollars is invested every year.’

Quoting Fidel, Roque said,

‘… consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment.’

Roque continued,

‘The problem will not be resolved by purchasing the quota [of carbon emissions] of the poor countries. That is a selfish and inefficient path. Nor will it be resolved by turning food into fuels as proposed by President Bush. It is a sinister idea.’

And perhaps most importantly,

‘What is more, the portion of global emissions pertaining to the underdeveloped countries must increase in order to meet the needs of their socio-economic development. The developed countries have no moral authority to demand anything on this issue.’

Right on Companéro Roque! But on the other hand, he not calling for the construction of some kind of socialist consumer society, which in effect is what the former Soviet Union tried to do (and what it appears China is doing today). Instead, he threw down the gauntlet so to speak,

‘Cuba also expects that a mechanism be adopted to ensure the expeditious transfer to the underdeveloped countries of clean technologies under preferential terms, with the utmost priority to the small island states and the least developed countries, which are the most vulnerable.’[1]

As I attempted to show in Part One, previous attempts at socialist development were hampered by all kinds of obstacles, not the least of which was the emulation of capitalist production techniques and a political elite disconnected from the economics of life and of course, the nightmare of ‘competition’ that nearly did for us all (it’s no accident that most politicians are wealthy and thus divorced from the day-to-day struggle to survive).

Now I’m no Luddite, the appropriate use of our knowledge of the natural world and how it works, and critically, our relationship to the whole, has been our byline ever since we made our first tool (most probably the lever, in any case, a stick), who knows how many million years ago. One thing is pretty certain, the earliest examples of pots we have found have a woman’s fingerprints baked into them, but I digress (kindof).

Under capitalism, development is called growth and measured by the so-called Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is, the amount of crap that can be produced, well if not produced at any rate sold, in any given year, and in the UK over 60% of our GDP is directly attributable to consumer spending. It’s the ‘measure’ by which our wealth is calculated, in fact it’s the only measure that’s used and gross pretty well sums up its usefullness.

So what is it that we want—or should that be need?

“Work, family, duty, country” — PM Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference, Sept 1897, whoops sorry, 2007.

Is this the best capitalism has to offer? A return to some mythical age where the drones knew their place in the capitalist scheme of things? Thank goodness such expressions make most people laugh. But what a tired, dead man Gordon Brown is. A creature of Calvinist repression, passionless, as cold as a dead fish and devoid of a single original thought in his head. But these are the people leading us to destruction. Is this what you want? Is it above all, what you need?

Under capitalism we are told, we have political freedom (now please, no sniggers) and the freedom to buy and that’s about the sum total of the freedoms we possess. ‘Development’, as such, consists of the accumulation of things, possessions, lots of things, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Thus development, in spite of all the fine words, omits our development as people, our ‘inner life’ as well as our collective life, the very things that make us human. These are values that have no financial measure, thus fall outside of the ‘freedoms’ proffered by capitalism, just as the ‘values’ that make Nature a thing of wonder, are immeasurable. And it seems, as we see Nature go down the drain of capitalism to be replaced by dead things, so people are actually waking up to what we used to have and how valuable it is to our spiritual and collective life and how its destruction makes us infinitely poorer and irreplaceable by a million shopping malls (and definately not by, what is it, 1 billion vehicles?).[2]

‘The inhabitants of this wilderness [the Taiga] are so remote that they may never encounter humanity, and long may it be that way.’ — David Attenborough, ‘Planet Earth’

It explains why the work of the naturalist David Attenborough is so popular for he brings a humility as well as a sense of wonder through his observations of our 4 billion year history. At least he knows his place in the scheme of things. His calm yet urgent calls for us to heed what our ancestors have known for millenia, that we are a part of Nature, yet Nature can just as easily do without us and not even notice our passing. But is this what we want, is this what we need, that understanding and compassion are reduced to nothing more than a fleeting television documentary?

The less you eat, drink, buy books, go to the theater, go dancing, go drinking, think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save and the greater will become that treasure which neither moths nor maggots can consume — your capital. The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life ... So all passions and all activity are submerged in greed — Karl Marx, Notebooks, 1844

Yes, I know, I’ve used this quote several times in my writings and still some readers don’t get it. So what is it that good ol’ Karl is saying here and why is it so relevant to our times (just as it was so relevant to his times also)?

‘The United States and Europe consume, on average, 8.4 times more that the world average. It is necessary for them to reduce their level of consumption and recognise that all of us are guests on this same land; of the same Pachamama.’ — ‘Let's respect our Mother Earth’, Address from President Evo Morales to the member representatives of the United Nations on the issue of the environment - September 24, 2007.[3]

Yet of course we consume so much because capitalism demands that we do. How many times have we read—in the context of reducing carbon emissions—that such and such an approach to reduction will nevertheless maintain growth? In other words, damn business as usual! What the apologists for capitalism won’t tell you is that ‘growth’ is hardwired into the system.

What is so interesting and important, is that world leaders are emerging from the developing countries who are now articulating something so fundamentally important to our collective well-being, perhaps because they are still connected to the land?

Unlike leaders of earlier liberation movements who were borne out of a direct struggle with colonialism, we are now seeing a new generation emerge, who recognise that taking on imperialism head-on is an unequal struggle (which in an earlier era was their only option), are not only articulating a groundswell of support that is not confined to national bounderies (or solidarity movements), but who recognise that following the Western definition of ‘development’ is a dead-end.

Thus ‘development’ must be seen in an entirely new light, one that connects our over-consumption to the developing world’s under-consumption (which explains why the US and other Western states are so anxious to drag the poor countries of the world into the issue of carbon emissions, which comes down to an attempt to get the poor of the world to bear the cost of capitalism).

Thus for us in the developed countries, the struggle has finally moved beyond solidarity, for if it wasn’t clear before, it is surely obvious now that squeezing the poor of the planet impacts on all of us.

What is most telling for example about Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa’s courageous rejection of Western values in not exploiting further his country’s petroleum resources, is that he hasn’t been seduced by the lie that has been perpetrated on the rest of us.

This is an historic moment, made all the more so by the fact that the Western media have almost completely ignored his call![4]

Now you well may argue that surely Correa’s rejection is cutting of his nose to spite his face, after all, a projected annual income of $2 billion is not be sneezed at, but it signals a sea change in values, that development can be measured by a different yardstick than ‘GDP’. Moreover, it also sends a message to other developing countries who are seduced by the lure of filthy lucre.

The issue for us is clear, we have to reveal the connections between our situation to that of the poor countries of the world because climate chaos reveals the thread that connects poverty to wealth, war to peace, greed to modesty, life to death, in a word, capitalism. The time for romance is over.

Notes

1.‘A Real Energy Revolution Must Take Place’, Climate and Capitalism.

2. ‘In 2002, the world's passenger car fleet hit 531 million. A quarter of these cars were in the United States, a country with just five percent of the world's population, and a long known love affair for the automobile. The average car in the US travels 10 percent more each year than a car in the United Kingdom, about 50 percent more than one in Germany, and almost 200 percent more than a car in Japan.’ Source: ‘Five Hundred Million Cars, One Planet - Who's Going to Give?’ Michael Renner: Senior Researcher, Worldwatch.

3. See ‘Bolivia Rising’

4. See ‘Ecuador President Rafael Correa to UN: We Offer to Forsake Oil Revenue, for the Sake of Humanity’

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