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Red into Green — will it go?

by William Bowles Thursday, June 28, 2007 7:14

Humpty-Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty-Dumpty had a big fall
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again*

Well, would you believe I took a giant step and actually joined the Alliance for Green Socialism whilst attending a meeting they’d organised. Now I’m not sure if they’re headed in the right direction (who is?) but for many of us what’s missing is having no involvement with something bigger than just our individual thoughts and actions. An increasing number know there’s got to be change but have no idea which way to turn or what to do. The established Left that I grew up with, that which remains anyway, still seems trapped in a time-warp, having the same arguments that they’ve been having for decades, and with no apparent resolution.

On the other hand, the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement seems unfocused and without a coherent alternative aside from slogans and inspiring public demonstrations. Clearly these new circumstances warrant a new approach and new methods of action but unless one actually engages in discussion and debate, how are we to arrive at solutions? And in having the chance to meet with people who think pretty much the same way about things, is itself a morale booster.

And while we’re at it check out ‘Climate and Capitalism’, a Canadian-based Website that publishes some very interesting essays on socialism and the environment. Their tagline says it all; “EcoSocialism or Barbarism: There is no third way.” Two other resources are ‘Capitalism Nature Socialism’ and ‘State of Nature’ and no doubt there are others that I don’t know about.

As I’ve mentioned here before, one of the drawbacks of the Web is that it fragments issues and actions and unless one is clued up on every related resource and even then, keeping track of it all is one big pain, good ideas come and go without our ever knowing about them.

So now I’m thinking that all these orgs need to hook up and share/exchange information. So if readers know of other websites or organizations that are connecting the environment and socialism, I’d like to know about them.

Thus, how about the idea of a ‘clearinghouse’ of everything Green and Socialist, it need only be a page that could be added, listing as many environment and socialism resources and activities as possible, so that readers interested in the subject could access it all from one handy location.

One of the interesting aspects that was raised at the meeting was the observation that there is a ‘movement’, small though it is at present, that is rejecting consumerism. Predictably it is a largely well-educated and affluent body of people but so what?

The issue for socialists is connecting the rejection of consumerism with a positive alternative—socialism, no easy task given the fact that consumerism is in reality an addiction, which like cocaine can only be assuaged by continually consuming in the vain hope that the latest purchase will make the pain will go away.

And the idea of a ‘green socialism’ necessary though it is, faces immense obstacles not the least of which are the millions of jobs that depend on us consuming an endless stream of garbage.

A valid parallel is the arms conversion movement, for although the abolition of the production of weapons is an obvious objective, again millions of people depend on weapons-related jobs, simply closing factories is not the answer without being able to offer a positive alternative (see the ‘Project on Defense Alternatives’ for more on this vital issue).

Such an ambitious programme requires a long-term strategy for change and massive investment in retraining and only makes sense when viewed in the context of a larger conception for social transformation.

I suppose my real concern is not the objectives of AGS as such but does it have a viable programme to offer? Slogans are okay for marches and demos but if we are to stand a chance of surviving the barbarians, we have to be able to offer a realistic alternative that can stand the test of debate and analysis and above all, grab peoples’ imaginations and move them to action.

The other major issue concerns democracy, for any revolutionary organisation has to be internally democratic else it’s once more a question of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. The lessons of the past should have by now taught us something (have they?).

As ever, the real problems are not only devising the alternative but how to realise it, and let’s not kid ourselves, the obstacles are immense over and above convincing a ‘critical mass’ that without a radical change, we are doomed to live out another generation or more under this insane system, assuming of course that it’s not already too late.

But there are some signs of an increasing disenchantment with the ‘system’ such as the one mentioned above, but is it only a passing fad or does it signify something more, a questioning, let alone a rejection of fundamental capitalist ‘values’?

One thing is obvious, namely that the ruling elites are only too aware of their lack of legitimacy and have finally realised that the growing questioning of capitalist society’s aims and objectives needs to be redirected. That’s why ‘green’ advertising and propaganda is now pouring out of the ideas factories in the hope that consumerism by another name can be kept going. For capitalism the alternative is just too awful to contemplate.

However unlike earlier attempts at building a socialist society we are back to basics with values now firmly at the centre. But what kind of values and who and how do we decide what they should be?

For example, what is to replace consumerism? We still need products but once you remove the arbitrary and profit-driven basis for production who and how do we decide what should be produced?

“If we’re going to stop the capitalist economic locomotive from driving us off the cliff, we are going to have to fundamentally rethink our entire economic life, reassert the visible hand of conscious scientific, rational economic planning, and implement democratic control over our economies and resources.” – ‘The Eco-Suicidal Economics of Adam Smith’ by Richard A. Smith

Certain aspects appear to be obvious, for example, all production has to use sustainable resources and processes but obviously the creation of new products and services cannot be based on some kind of ‘vote’. Currently there are no mechanisms for deciding what or how they should be produced, the mythical ‘market’ allegedly decides. But demand has to be created, else why have advertising that feeds off our fears and insecurities.

After all, what we call innovation is merely another word for the endless reproduction of capital as markets become saturated with the last round of ‘innovation’. But once we remove the arbitrary nature of production an entirely new terrain is exposed for examination.

Rejecting consumerism also challenges our concepts about the nature of work. Modern production is so prolific and efficient that only a fraction of the labour force is needed to produce all our basic needs, so what do we do with our ‘free’ time (or alternatively, do we work four-hour days or one year on, one year off)? These are concepts that are alien to capitalism, for it’s not the amount of time we work, but how productive that time is, in other words how much surplus value can be extracted from our labours?

And of course the burning question: The existing system is not just going to sit idly by and accept its own abolition, it will fight back using all the resources of the state to defend its right to exist. Chavez And RCTV – Tilting The Balance Against ‘The Bad Guy’ for a current example of the venom expressed by any government which dares challenge the might of capital.)

This may seem an academic question right now but if we are to convince sufficient numbers of the dire necessity for a radical change, we should at least have some idea of how we aim to achieve them.

In the UK for example, the entire parliamentary system is fundamentally anti-democratic, thus the odds of a small political organisation ‘crashing the party’ are all but non-existent, for what we have is essentially a one-party system with virtually nothing to choose between the three main political parties.

Even ‘left’ Labour MPs are not going to rock the boat, there is just too much at stake. Just how bankrupt the system is can be seen from the fact that more Labour MPs voted to abolish fox-hunting than to oppose the invasion of Iraq. Clearly foxes have a greater political value than human beings. How could anybody in his or her right mind vote for any political party that behaves in such a manner?

It seems reasonable to assume therefore that any changes are going to come first from extra-parliamentary actions, in particular, mobilising at the community or locality level. The problem with this is that such struggles tend to become ‘single-issues’ and once resolved, those involved tend to revert to form.

However, the burning question of the environment and its connection to capitalism is universal, it affects everyone to a lesser or greater degree and it does it on two levels, the first being the obvious changes to the climate and the second being how capitalism responds to these changes and in turn, our demands for solutions.

The central dilemma is how best to connect climate change to capitalism because it’s not an issue of reducing greenhouse gases by consuming less or driving less but of challenging the fundamental basis of capitalist production for the sake of nothing but profit.

If nothing else, the threat to our climate unleashed by an out-of-control capitalism reveals just how everything is interconnected and indivisible and just how dependent we are on Nature for everything. Is it possible that more than anything else, more even than wars, the threat to our collective home will motivate us to get rid of the class that is prepared to sacrifice millions on the altar of profit? After all, just think about the alternative if we allow things to continue as they are?

* Apparently, Humpty-Dumpty was the nickname for a massive cannon used by the Royalists during the only real revolution this country’s ever had, Cromwell’s and which got blown apart during a battle between the Royalists and the Roundheads.


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