Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Ecological Crisis, Capitalism and Ecososcialism

By Laurence H. Shoup
ICSS Crisis Group
April 2009

Humanity is now facing the greatest challenge in its history, a rapidly maturing ecological crisis. This long-term crisis constitutes the gravest direct threat to civilization and human life that we as a species have ever encountered.

It signifies that the socio-economic regime of capital has now reached its limits, meaning that there must be an end to capitalist business as usual and the advent of a massive struggle for new life affirming socio-ecological regime, best labeled ecosocialism. An ecological perspective is central to our full understanding of alienation under capitalism, the failure of the attempt to create socialism in the former USSR, and the overall struggle for an egalitarian and sustainable human future.

The Ecological Crisis

Human existence and all life on earth are framed by the world’s natural ecosystems, integrated webs of life that interact holistically across human created frontiers. When ecosystems are fragmented and ruined, their ability to support life is also destroyed. The capitalist domination of nature is now spiraling out of control on a planetary scale, resulting in the denaturing of everything, a complete alienation from nature.

The ecological crisis is a complex mix of dangerous trends and must be seen systemically. These negative trends include a buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels, but also by massive de-forestation; the toxicity of numerous processes of production, resulting in toxic commodities, creating an increase in cancer among humans; the pollution of the air, scarce water supplies and other vital natural goods; soil depletion and loss; and the reckless manipulation of basic natural processes through profit seeking activities such as genetic engineering.

Left unchecked, the ecological crisis will have devastating effects on human, animal and plant life, and crop yields will drop drastically, causing famine. Droughts and rising ocean levels due to melting of the ice caps will displace and impoverish billions of people. Air, water, soil and the oceans will be further poisoned. Epidemics of malaria, cholera, denge fever and other diseases will strike the most vulnerable. Some of these effects are already beginning to be evident, as the “tipping point,” the moment when irreversible ecological decline sets in, approaches.

Capitalism and Alienation from Nature

The global ecological crisis is deeply rooted in the logic of capitalist profit and accumulation. Capitalism’s sole motor is the imperative of production and exchange for profit. This anti-ecological system requires constant growth: “expand or die” are its watchwords. Its only measure of success is how much capital is accumulated, so commodities are produced that are directly harmful to life. Forests and entire ecosystems are demolished and nature treated as a sewer for the disposal of capitalist industrial waste. Capitalism is therefore the angel of death, a death for all prepared by the fragmentation of ecosystems through alienation from nature. This alienation begins with the separation of the means of production, including land, from the worker, which also separates the worker from the means of life.

The objects produced by labor are taken over by the capitalist and become alien to and independent of the producers. Human beings become alienated from themselves. The worker is then forced down to the level of a mere commodity, separated from his own natural life force. The resulting alienated labor is fundamental to capitalism, acting as it does on the principles of exploitation of human labor, conversion of nature into commodities and exchanging those commodities into capitalist value. Capitalism pushes on in an endless pursuit of more and more production, profit and accumulation on a larger and larger scale.

Capitalism has legions of bought and paid for defenders, media people and kept intellectuals who minimize its harms and whose job it is to convince us that everything will be all right under the rule of capital. Green washing is a constant. Their “reforms,” such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, an international attempt to deal with this key problem, are a monstrous failure in that this agreement has not controlled global carbon emissions, which have greatly increased since 1997. There is a kind of game being played with the people, as politicians and capitalists constantly promise to seriously cut emissions sometime in the future, and make the ecological crisis into yet another profit making opportunity with the so called market based “cap and trade” system. Meanwhile, the time bomb of global warming and ecological destruction is ticking faster.

Technological bullets such as agro-fuels, nuclear energy or “clean coal” are also touted as the ultimate solution, but they do not solve the problem, as they do not address the fundamental cause: the expansive capitalist system itself. They also often have unintended consequences. The result of technological fixes is therefore a shell game at best, moving problems around instead of solving them.

Lying behind the entire system is a worldwide plutocratic capitalist ruling class who organizes, supervises and benefits from the exploitation of nature and humanity. These wealthy holders of capital are far more wedded to their continued frenzied accumulation of wealth than to the earth upon which they live, far more concerned with the fate of their fortunes than with the fate of life itself. The impending eco-apocalypse is thus a class act, created by and for the benefit of the few, at a terrible cost to the vast majority. The people and nations which have contributed least to the global warming problem, for example, are those most vulnerable to the droughts, fires, coastal flooding, loss of wetlands and fisheries, declining crop yields, scarce fresh water supplies and other serious problems now intensifying. These populations often live in the poorer parts of the world, in the tropics and subtropics. Just to point out one looming catastrophe, the rise of sea levels will destroy an important percentage of the arable land of the nation of Bangladesh, with mass starvation and emigration a likely outcome.

In sum, capitalism amounts to a cancer system, a death march that cannot reform itself, that is incapable of interacting with nature in a sustainable manner, that is rapidly exhausting the vital conditions of life on our planet.

For Life: The Ecosocialist Alternative

We must put an end to capitalist ecocide and make life the center of the world, not profit and capital accumulation. Human beings are much more than mere profit making machines, much more than “consumers.” We have a responsibility to ourselves and a human future to envision what a rational, life-affirming economy and society would look like and struggle to bring that system into reality. That system is ecosocialism, Marx’s community of freely associated workers collectively owning the land and means of production and living in harmony with the earth, living ecologically.

Ecosocialism means workers control of economy and society, a high degree of equality and solidarity, planning by the associated producers for social need, and eliminating divisions between imperial center and colonized periphery, town and countryside, gender, race, and sexual orientation. This is possible only through revolution, a fundamental change in our relation with nature and our fellow human beings, ending the alienation of both nature and humanity. This is the rational choice for life, for survival of all of earth’s life forms and the full development of the human species. The defense of life and solidarity with each other valorizes the kind of work traditionally assigned to the feminine half of humanity and extends this collective work to each and every one of us. All of this will allow us to overcome alienation by changing the content and meaning of labor to make us all whole and full human beings.

A popular movement is needed, a green cultural transformation that would make possible a new consensus on the requirements for a good life free of the disease of out of control production and consumption. This means human development with a low ecological footprint, stressing education, personal growth, health and the healing of nature. We need to end of the dominance of acquisitive drive, the curse of “having” that now rules the world. Part of this is an end to militarism and imperialism which are part of the capitalist profit drive to dominate and exploit people and resources.

The transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are one and the same, as the human relation to nature lies at the heart of the transition to ecosocialism. Only by working through and not over nature can ecosocialism be created. We need decommodification, a vast expansion of the natural commons, renewable energy, especially solar energy, as well as ecologically informed collective management of the land with urban organic gardens and pesticide free agriculture. As a transitional program we must reduce the sphere of exchange value and expand the scope of use-value, the production of durable, non-polluting goods and nutritious organic food for human need.

The “realism” of the existing political and economic leadership in the overdeveloped imperialist world has lost all sense of reality, for the survival of the planet and its life forms cannot be coaxed out of a system which tramples everything in its way. The revolutionary road has now become the only realistic one. The entrenched capitalist ruling classes are powerful, but more and more bankrupt, unable to overcome the crises they and their system create. Making the transition from capitalism to ecosocialism, and thereby saving the planet and humanity will require all the intelligence, courage, generosity, selflessness, high ethical standards, heroism and love that our species is capable of, and this collective struggle must succeed for all of us to survive and thrive together as one world community.

Larry Shoup is a historian and activist. He is the author of three books, numerous magazine articles and has been a political activist for social justice, solidarity and peace for 45 years.

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