Category Archives: Environment

Eisenhower’s Ghost Haunts Biden’s Foreign Policy Team

In his first words as President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, Antony  Blinken said, “we have to proceed with equal measures of humility and confidence.” Many around the world will welcome this promise of humility from the new administration, and Americans should too.

Biden’s foreign policy team will also need a special kind of confidence to confront the most serious challenge they face. That will not be a threat from a hostile foreign country, but the controlling and corrupting power of the Military-Industrial Complex, which President Eisenhower warned our grandparents about 60 years ago, but whose “unwarranted influence” has only grown ever since, as Eisenhower warned, and in spite of his warning.

The Covid pandemic is a tragic demonstration of why America’s new leaders should listen humbly to our neighbors around the world instead of trying to reassert American “leadership.” While the United States compromised with a deadly virus to protect corporate financial interests, abandoning Americans to both the pandemic and its economic effects, other countries put their people’s health first and contained, controlled or even eliminated the virus.

Many of those people have since returned to living normal, healthy lives. Biden and Blinken should listen humbly to their leaders and learn from them, instead of continuing to promote the U.S. neoliberal model that is failing us so badly.

As efforts to develop safe and effective vaccines begin to bear fruit, America is doubling down on its mistakes, relying on Big Pharma to produce expensive, profitable vaccines on an America First basis, even as China, Russia, the WHO’s Covax program and others are already starting to provide low-cost vaccines wherever they are needed around the world.

Chinese vaccines are already in use in Indonesia, Malaysia and the UAE, and China is making loans to poorer countries that can’t afford to pay for them up front. At the recent G20 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her Western colleagues that they are being eclipsed by China’s vaccine diplomacy.

Russia has orders from 50 countries for 1.2 billion doses of its Sputnik V vaccine. President Putin told the G20 that vaccines should be “common public assets,” universally available to rich and poor countries alike, and that Russia will provide them wherever they are needed.

The U.K. and Sweden’s Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is another non-profit venture that will cost about $3 per dose, a small fraction of the U.S.’s Pfizer and Moderna products.

From the beginning of the pandemic, it was predictable that U.S. failures and other countries’ successes would reshape global leadership. When the world finally recovers from this pandemic, people around the world will thank China, Russia, Cuba and other countries for saving their lives and helping them in their hour of need.

The Biden administration must also help our neighbors to defeat the pandemic, and it must do better than Trump and his corporate mafia in that respect, but it is already too late to speak of American leadership in this context.

The neoliberal roots of U.S. bad behavior

Decades of U.S. bad behavior in other areas have already led to a broader decline in American global leadership. The U.S. refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol or any binding agreement on climate change has led to an otherwise avoidable existential crisis for the entire human race, even as the United States is still producing record amounts of oil and natural gas. Biden’s climate czar John Kerry now says that the agreement he negotiated in Paris as Secretary of State “is not enough,” but he has only himself and Obama to blame for that.

Obama’s policy was to boost fracked natural gas as a “bridge fuel” for U.S. power plants, and to quash any possibility of a binding climate treaty in Copenhagen or Paris. U.S. climate policy, like the U.S. response to Covid, is a corrupt compromise between science and self-serving corporate interests that has predictably proved to be no solution at all. If Biden and Kerry bring more of that kind of American leadership to the Glasgow climate conference in 2021, humanity must reject it as a matter of survival.

America’s post-9/11 “Global War on Terror,” more accurately a “global war of terror,” has fueled war, chaos and terrorism across the world. The absurd notion that widespread U.S military violence could somehow put an end to terrorism quickly devolved into a cynical pretext for “regime change” wars against any country that resisted the imperial dictates of the wannabe “superpower.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell privately dubbed his colleagues the “fucking crazies,” even as he lied to the UN Security Council and the world to advance their plans for illegal aggression against Iraq. Joe Biden’s critical role as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was to orchestrate hearings that promoted their lies and excluded dissident voices who would have challenged them.

The resulting spiral of violence has killed millions of people, from 7,037 American troop deaths to five assassinations of Iranian scientists (under Obama and now Trump). Most of the victims have been either innocent civilians or people just trying to defend themselves, their families or their countries from foreign invaders, U.S.-trained death squads or actual CIA-backed terrorists.

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR only a week after the crimes of September 11th, “It can never be legitimate to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others.” Neither Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Palestine, Libya, Syria or Yemen was responsible for the crimes of September 11th, and yet U.S. and allied armed forces have filled miles upon miles of graveyards with the bodies of their innocent people.

Like the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis, the unimaginable horror of the “war on terror” is another calamitous case of corrupt U.S. policy-making leading to massive loss of life. The vested interests that dictate and pervert U.S. policy, in particular the supremely powerful Military-Industrial Complex, marginalized the inconvenient truths that none of these countries had attacked or even threatened to attack the United States, and that U.S. and allied attacks on them violated the most fundamental principles of international law.

If Biden and his team genuinely aspire for the United States to play a leading and constructive role in the world, they must find a way to turn the page on this ugly episode in the already bloody history of American foreign policy. Matt Duss, an advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders, has called for a formal commission to investigate how U.S. policymakers so deliberately and systematically violated and undermined the “rules-based international order” that their grandparents so carefully and wisely built after two world wars that killed a hundred million people.

Others have observed that the remedy provided for by that rules-based order would be to prosecute senior U.S. officials. That would probably include Biden and some of his team. Ben Ferencz has noted that the U.S. case for “preemptive” war is the same argument that the German defendants used to justify their crimes of aggression at Nuremberg.

“That argument was considered by three American judges at Nuremberg,” Ferencz explained, “and they sentenced Ohlendorf and twelve others to death by hanging. So it’s very disappointing to find that my government today is prepared to do something for which we hanged Germans as war criminals.”

Time to Break the Cross of Iron

Another critical problem facing the Biden team is the deterioration of U.S. relations with China and Russia. Both countries’ military forces are primarily defensive, and therefore cost a small fraction of what the U.S. spends on its global war machine – 9% in the case of Russia, and 36% for China. Russia, of all countries, has sound historical reasons to maintain strong defenses, and does so very cost-effectively.

As former President Carter reminded Trump, China has not been at war since a brief border war with Vietnam in 1979, and has instead focused on economic development and lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while the U.S. has been squandering its wealth on its lost wars. Is it any wonder that China’s economy is now healthier and more dynamic than ours?

For the United States to blame Russia and China for America’s unprecedented military spending and global militarism is a cynical reversal of cause and effect – as much of a nonsense and an injustice as using the crimes of September 11th as a pretext to attack countries and kill people who had nothing to do with the crimes committed.

So here too, Biden’s team face a stark choice between a policy based on objective reality and a deceptive one driven by the capture of U.S. policy by corrupt interests, in this case the most powerful of them all, Eisenhower’s infamous Military-Industrial Complex. Biden’s officials have spent their careers in a hall of mirrors and revolving doors that conflates and confuses defense with corrupt, self-serving militarism, but our future now depends on rescuing our country from that deal with the devil.

As the saying goes, the only tool the U.S. has invested in is a hammer, so every problem looks like a nail. The U.S. response to every dispute with another country is an expensive new weapons system, another U.S. military intervention, a coup, a covert operation, a proxy war, tighter sanctions or some other form of coercion, all based on the supposed power of the U.S. to impose its will on other countries, but all increasingly ineffective, destructive and impossible to undo once unleashed.

This has led to war without end in Afghanistan and Iraq; it has left Haiti, Honduras and Ukraine destabilized and mired in poverty as the result of U.S.-backed coups; it has destroyed Libya, Syria and Yemen with covert and proxy wars and resulting humanitarian crises; and to U.S. sanctions that affect a third of humanity.

So the first question for the first meeting of Biden’s foreign policy team should be whether they can sever their loyalties to the arms manufacturers, corporate-funded think tanks, lobbying and consultant firms, government contractors and corporations they have worked for or partnered with during their careers.

These conflicts of interest amount to a sickness at the roots of the most serious problems facing America and the world, and they will not be resolved without a clean break. Any member of Biden’s team who cannot make that commitment and mean it should resign now, before they do any more damage.

Long before his farewell speech in 1961, President Eisenhower made another speech, responding to the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. He said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

In his first year in office, Eisenhower ended the Korean War and cut military spending by 39% from its wartime peak. Then he resisted pressures to raise it again, despite his failure to end the Cold War.

Today, the Military-Industrial Complex is counting on a reversion to the Cold War against Russia and China as the key to its future power and profits, to keep us hanging from this rusty old cross of iron, squandering America’s wealth on trillion-dollar weapons programs as people go hungry, millions of Americans have no healthcare and our climate becomes unlivable.

Are Joe Biden, Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan the kind of leaders to just say “No” to the Military-Industrial Complex and consign this cross of iron to the junkyard of history, where it belongs? We will find out very soon.

The post Eisenhower's Ghost Haunts Biden's Foreign Policy Team first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Dead And Those About To Die: Climate Protests And The Corporate Media

The Roman poet Horace famously declared:

Dulce et decorum est pro patrie mori.

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. Wilfred Owen, the great English poet of the First World War, described this phrase as ‘the old Lie’ in his famous war poem, ‘Dulce et decorum est’. Patriotism so often means ‘honouring’ those who ‘fell in service to this country’, grand ceremonies at war memorials, feasts of royal pageantry. And then sending yet more generations of men and women to fight in yet more wars.

On Remembrance Day (11 November) last week, much of the ‘mainstream’ media queued up to condemn two Extinction Rebellion climate protesters who had ‘hijacked’ the Cenotaph, the famous war memorial in Whitehall, London. At 8am that day, after undertaking a two-minute silence, former soldier Donald Bell (64) and NHS nurse Anne White (53) hung a wreath on the Cenotaph with the inscription, ‘Climate change means war: Act now’. Together with two other unnamed climate protesters, they also unveiled a large black and white banner saying:

Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War

Within half an hour, the Metropolitan Police had cleared away the protest.

The Daily Mail’s headline screamed, ‘Fury at climate fanatics’ hijacking of Cenotaph’ 1, while its columnist Robert Hardman declared that the climate action was ‘a monumentally inappropriate protest’. The Mail, Sun and other papers gave prominence to Boris Johnson’s condemnation of the ‘profoundly disrespectful’ protesters.

The Daily Express declared that the action was ‘a disgrace to the fallen’ 2 The editorial fulminated that the:

activists who staged a demonstration at the Cenotaph yesterday craved publicity but disgusted the country. Only extremists devoid of a scintilla of sensitivity would consider staging such a stunt on Armistice Day… The Cenotaph must be protected from the antics of cranks and those who would want to inflict damage at this sacred site.

Express columnist Paul Baldwin, likewise in full splenetic mode, opined that the Cenotaph had been ‘desecrated’ and ‘those virtue-signalling gutless wonders at Extinction Rebellion’ had ‘no shame’.

The Daily Star asserted in an editorial titled, ‘Eco demo a disgrace’ 3 :

These moronic crusties have continually shown a complete lack of respect for the general public. Whether it’s interfering with everyday lives or generally being a nuisance, they are not making their point in the right way. But these hippy-dippy, airy-fairy prats have really crossed a line now.

The editorial continued:

They marred yesterday’s Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph with some shameful antics. Eco-warriors – including a disgracefully disrespectful veteran – trampled over poppy wreaths.

In fact, footage published by newspapers themselves shows that former soldier Donald Bell carefully avoided stepping on wreaths.

The Daily Star continued:

Their behaviour was disgustingly beyond the pale. This vital annual moment of solemnness and reflection must never be disrupted to make political points. And it will only set them back in achieving their aims. Nothing should ever get in the way of honouring our fallen heroes.

For the Sun, the protest was ‘a new low’ and:

Extinction Rebellion should hang their heads in shame and disband after abusing the Cenotaph.

The i newspaper ran with the headline:

Climate protest at Cenotaph condemned for “bad taste”

and its report led with:

Climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion drew condemnation from across the political spectrum yesterday after it staged a demonstration at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day. 4

Note the emphasis throughout press coverage on ‘condemnation’. Was there no support to quote from anywhere ‘across the political spectrum’, or did the national press just ignore it? Either way, consider what that means about a supposed broad range of views in what passes for political debate in the British media.

The response from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer indicated, once again, that he is no threat to the established order:

No one can doubt how serious the climate emergency is, but the protests at the Cenotaph are wrong. They are in bad taste. We do not support them.

As one astute observer noted via Twitter:

Starmer wouldn’t have supported the Tolpuddle Martyrs, suffragette movement, the bus boycott & Stonewall et al except retrospectively when sanitised by history & his overleaping ambitions

BBC News gave a brief mention to the Extinction Rebellion protest towards the bottom of its online report on Remembrance Day commemorations. The Guardian went one step further by relegating its account of the protest to a single line, buried deep in its coverage of Remembrance Day.

More was to come. True to form, the Daily Mail followed up its initial coverage by dredging up dirt on former soldier Donald Bell. Its headline shouted:

EXCLUSIVE – Revealed: Ex-soldier who sparked fury with Cenotaph Extinction Rebellion protest is DRUG DEALER jailed for selling heroin – and was accused of abusing his disabled wife.

The article boasted:

MailOnline can reveal he was jailed for four years in 2007 after being caught pushing his wheelchair-bound wife around the streets of Cambridge – while peddling heroin at the same time.

Buried at the bottom of the Mail’s gutter ‘journalism’, was a short extract from a statement by Extinction Rebellion:

Donald Bell left the army with serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at a time when the illness was still not fully recognised.

Donald was one of those people who, like so many, made mistakes and then worked hard to turn his life around.

Extinction Rebellion stands by him and his right to speak out about the Government’s complicity in knowingly taking us into future wars and a 4 degree world.

In its full statement published on its website, Extinction Rebellion noted:

Right now, what we’re seeing is papers like the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Express encouraging vitriol and abuse towards a veteran, a man who served his country, when PTSD, homelessness, addiction and alcoholism are the reality for thousands of people who have left the armed forces.

If national newspapers were truly motivated to ‘honour the fallen’, they would be challenging the government repeatedly to uphold its supposed moral commitments to look after former armed forces personnel, many of whom suffer from physical injuries and mental health issues.

Indeed, if the major news media were the responsible fourth estate they claim to be, they would scrutinise government foreign policy, not least statements of benign intent about ‘defending’ freedom and democracy around the world. The media would hold politicians to account for the mass deaths of civilians in the wars and ‘humanitarian interventions’ in which the UK has participated. This would be a fitting memorial to peace, rather than the endless succession of annual ceremonies that politicians and media purport as ‘honouring’ the dead.

As Mail on Sunday journalist, Peter Hitchens, whose courageous work in exposing the official narrative on a supposed chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, commented recently:

In recent years a very strange thing has happened to my trade. More and more journalists seem happy to be the mouthpieces of government, or of political parties. Worse, they attack other journalists for refusing to fall into step with the official line.

Hitchens added:

If such ideas had been around in the days of Watergate, Richard Nixon would have served two full terms as President and retired with honour.

If it had been so in 2003, you wouldn’t know, even now, that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction.

Moreover, a truly ‘mainstream’ media – pursuing genuine public-interest journalism – would be exposing the utter failure of successive governments to seriously address climate breakdown. The media would hail as heroes those climate activists who are protesting peacefully to draw attention to the very real risk of climate catastrophe, global mass loss of species and of human extinction itself.

Instead, the level of media debate is often shockingly poor. On ITV’s ‘This Morning’ last Thursday, the right-winger Andrew Neil, until recently masquerading as an ‘impartial’ BBC politics presenter, lambasted Extinction Rebellion, dismissing the warning that climate change will lead to wars. ‘There’s no evidence of that’, he declared.

This was an outrageous untruth. In fact, as Extinction Rebellion (XR) correctly point out, the UK Ministry of Defence itself warned in a June 2020 report of the:

growing recognition that climate change may aggravate existing threats to international peace and security’ and that society should prepare for between 2.3 – 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. As XR said, this would bring ‘unimaginable suffering’.

In other words, the MoD has provided powerful evidence precisely justifying the kind of protest, the kind of expression of free speech, that is absolutely vital if we are to save millions, perhaps billions of lives. Is not the best way of honouring the dead to honour and protect the living, to do whatever we can to avoid yet more unnecessary war deaths in future?

And it’s not just the MoD pointing to the link between global warming and war. The US Pentagon has warned of this for at least two decades. As news agency Bloomberg noted in January 2019, the most comprehensive study to investigate the link between climate change, war and refugee flows concluded:

Pentagon Fears Confirmed: Climate Change Leads to More Wars and Refugees

Later the same year, a report prepared by officials from the US Army, Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA and other agencies, warned of a more dangerous world under global warming. The effects would include increased electricity blackouts, starvation, thirst, disease and war over the next two decades. The US military itself may even be at risk of collapse within two decades.

Michael Klare, author of a new book titled All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, summed up in a recent interview:

What happens when you have states collapsing, multiple wars happening in the Middle East and Africa and South America, and many hurricanes and disasters in the United States all at the same time? The US military doesn’t have enough troops or resources to both defend the United States and to address all of these foreign catastrophes. That’s what I call an all-hell-breaking-loose scenario, and the Pentagon knows very well that US forces aren’t prepared or capable to deal with it.

Of course, from the selfish vantage point of imperial power, the US armed forces and the political and security establishment, are primarily motivated to maintain US hegemony in a warming world in which many of their military bases around the globe are threatened by rising sea levels and increased incidence and severity of storms; as well as the ‘threats’ that other countries or ‘terrorist’ groups may pose in trying to take advantage of climate change.

Indeed, the Pentagon has long viewed climate change as a ‘destabilising force‘ and a ‘threat multiplier‘ – increasing the risk of war in the Middle East, Africa and around the globe as food, water and other resources diminish. As long ago as 2004, a previously secret Pentagon report prepared by strategic planners warned of climate wars being waged around the world. There could even be conflict in new areas, notably in the melting Arctic with oil resources and trade routes being fought over in the region.

For Andrew Neil, a high-profile commentator who for 25 years has enjoyed a privileged BBC platform, to dismiss serious concerns about climate wars is yet another symptom of the abysmal state of climate debate in UK national media.

Climate Agreements Are ‘Greenwash’, ‘Fake’, ‘Fraud’

In previous media alerts on climate, we have elucidated the severe threats to climate stability, civilisation and even human existence posed by the madness of corporate-driven globalisation and the imperialistic grasping at diminishing resources. Rather than once again reprising a list of these threats, and the underlying destructive nature of capitalism that is fuelling these threats, consider a recent pledge demonstrating what should be the obvious, honest responsibility of scientists.

‘Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth’, is a core statement in a recently published ‘science oath for climate’. Climate scientists Chris Rapley, Sarah Bracking, Bill McGuire, Simon Lewis and Jonathan Bamber have invited others in the scientific community to join their initiative to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. Among their stated pledges is a commitment not to be hindered or intimidated by any sense of:

what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5C and 2C commitments, specified in the Paris climate agreement. And to speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them.

This is especially relevant right now when the ‘MSM’ is selling the idea of President-elect Joe Biden as a harbinger of hope for the climate. The Guardian wrote approvingly of his supposed ‘climate bet’, namely: ‘putting jobs first will bring historic change’. Biden has pledged:

to clean up electricity by 2035 and spend $2tn on clean energy as quickly as possible within four years.

While conceding a cautious note about Biden’s reluctance ‘to be tougher on the fossil fuel industry’, the Guardian declared that his plan was ‘significant and historic’ and it ‘would be just the beginning of a brutal slog to transform the way the nation operates’.

The paper even published a 16-page ‘souvenir supplement’, heralding Biden’s presidency as a ‘new start‘; in much the same way as the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media welcomed Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House in 2008. Obama, of course, then went on to bomb seven Muslim-majority countries, paid lip service to the reduction of nuclear weapons (after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009), shared complicity in Saudia Arabia’s terror campaign against Yemen, as well as in Israel’s crushing of Palestinian human rights, and continued to subsidise the planet-wrecking fossil fuel sector.

We were told back then that Obama would ‘wipe the slate clean’. A ‘new dawn’ was declared. We would ‘learn to love America’ again. In reality, it was all about relaunching ‘Brand America’, so that US imperialism could continue unimpeded. Why should it be any different today, given the way the US system selects for corporate-friendly candidates?

It certainly won’t be. As Kevin Gosztola explained in an article for The Grayzone website:

An eye-popping array of corporate consultants, war profiteers, and national security hawks have been appointed by President-elect Joe Biden to agency review teams that will set the agenda for his administration. A substantial percentage of them worked in the United States government when Barack Obama was president. The appointments should provide a rude awakening to anyone who believed a Biden administration could be pressured to move in a progressive direction…

Of the two presidential ‘choices’ delivered by a corrupt, corporate-financed US electoral system of ‘democracy’, Biden was the lesser evil compared to Trump, the latter described by Noam Chomsky as ‘the worst criminal in human history’ for the threat he represented to climate stability:

There is nothing like this in history. It’s not breaking with the American tradition. Can you think of anyone in human history who has dedicated his efforts to undermining the prospects for survival of organized human life on earth?

But be under no illusion that Biden, representing and backed by powerful corporate and financial elites, and with a sordid record of supporting US crimes around the world, represents any kind of significant departure from business-as-usual for US power.

This grim reality has been ignored or overlooked in the overwhelmingly meek, hopelessly Panglossian reactions of the ‘policy experts’ and climate scientists canvassed by website Carbon Brief in the wake of the US election. Understandable to some extent, there was widespread welcoming of the prospect of the US rejoining the Paris climate agreement which Trump had infamously rejected.

Dr Rachel Cleetus, of the US-based Union for Concerned Scientists, told Carbon Brief:

President-elect Joe Biden and vice-president elect Kamala Harris’ victory marks a new day in the fight for bold, just and equitable climate policy in the US.

Dr Maisa Rojas Corradi, Director of the Centre for Climate and Resilience Research, University of Chile, said:

Biden’s victory will give a tremendous momentum to climate action, a momentum that was building up after the giant Asian countries announced carbon-neutrality compromises recently. This means that in this crucial decade we will be able to tackle the climate crisis seriously.

Dr Niklas Höhne and Dr Bill Hare, who run the Climate Action Tracker initiative, declared:

If president-elect Joe Biden goes ahead with his net-zero emissions pledge by 2050 for the US, this could shave 0.1C off global warming by 2100.

The madness of having to be grateful for the feeble hope of ‘shaving off’ 0.1C of catastrophic heating needs no comment.

One climate expert conspicuously missing from the list of over twenty experts consulted was Dr James Hansen, the pioneering climate scientist who famously warned the US Congress in 1988 of the dangers of global warming. Hansen’s honesty about the politics of climate is legendary. In 2009, we asked him how much had been achieved in the decades since he and others scientists had raised the climate alarm. In particular, we asked him to estimate the percentage of required action to address the climate crisis had actually been implemented by governments. His blunt answer? Precisely zero per cent.5  Since then, carbon emissions, consumption and temperatures have continued to soar.

In 2015, Hansen was scathing about the Paris climate agreement:

It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.

In 2017, during the climate talks in Bonn, Hansen described the supposed political ambition of world leaders on climate as a ‘hoax’. He said:

As yet, these politicians are working more for the fossil fuel industry than they are for the public, in my opinion.

These are the kind of direct, honest and accurate statements that climate scientists should be making. Politicians need to be confronted with their chronic lack of action to tackle today’s – not tomorrow’s – climate emergency. Scientists should be explicit in declaring that the fossil fuel era needs to end.

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg is right to call political leaders ‘hypocrites’ and to denounce them for delivering no more than empty words and greenwash at international climate summits. She said that leaders were happy to set targets for carbon emissions decades into the future. But when immediate cuts were demanded, they flinched. When asked if there was any politician anywhere promising the climate action required, she said, ‘If only’.

She added:

As long as we don’t treat the climate crisis like a crisis, we can have as many conferences as we want, but it will just be negotiations, empty words, loopholes and greenwash.

Pledges by the UK, China, Japan and other nations – including the US under Biden – to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or 2060 are largely meaningless, she believes:

They mean something symbolically, but if you look at what they actually include, or more importantly exclude, there are so many loopholes. We shouldn’t be focusing on dates 10, 20 or even 30 years in the future. If we don’t reduce our emissions now, then those distant targets won’t mean anything because our carbon budgets will be long gone.

Thunberg says that there is not a single political leader on the world stage who ‘gets it’ on climate. When asked about what she has learned from meeting people in power, she has some interesting and astute observations:

I’ve spoken to many world leaders, and sometimes I wish I had a hidden camera. People wouldn’t believe what they say. It’s very funny. They say: “I can’t do anything because I don’t have the support. You need to help me.” They become desperate. It’s like they are begging for me to help them persuade the public that we need climate action. What that tells me is people are underestimating their power and the power of democracy and of putting pressure on people in power.

There is hope in that message. We, the public, have strength in numbers. Politicians are not necessarily forced to do the bidding of corporate, financial and military elites. They can be made to do the will of the people. Or, if not, they need to be replaced by politicians who do represent public interests and public power. When it comes to human civilisation – human survival even – it is imperative that we exert that power.

  1. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 13.
  2. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 11.
  3. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 6.
  4. Print Edition, 12 November, p. 5.
  5. Email, Hansen to Media Lens, June 18, 2009.

The post The Dead And Those About To Die: Climate Protests And The Corporate Media first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Future is in Our Hands

The election is now over and Joe Biden is the President-elect. What is likely to happen after Biden is inaugurated? The incoming Biden administration will face numerous huge problems left behind by the Trump administration. It is likely that Covid-19 will still be a major concern here and in many other nations around the world. President Biden will also have to deal with high levels of unemployment, of homelessness, of hunger, of people under-insured or without health insurance, of income and wealth inequality as well as an angry and divided people. In addition, the Biden administration will have to deal with the appalling systemic discrimination against minorities, women and the poor.

The Trump administration also took steps that will likely increase the severity of the climate catastrophe scientists have been warning about for decades. We are already seeing devastation caused by the rapidly changing climate and the risk of ever greater devastation continues to grow. This situation requires an urgent worldwide campaign larger than anything humans have ever done. To achieve this necessary international cooperation also requires a huge change in the criminal and barbaric US militaristic and sanctions-based foreign policy. The US must rely on diplomacy and, among other things, respect the sovereignty of other nations. This change will thus allow a huge reduction in the corporate welfare given to the military-industrial complex.

However, if we accept politics as usual under the Biden presidency, that is, politics directed and controlled by Wall Street and large corporate interests, the human rights of a large portion of the US population will continue to be ignored. When government fails to address the needs of its people, its legitimacy can be questioned and there is a risk of society falling apart. The low level of voter participation in our elections, particularly in non-presidential years, is already a concern. Do people not vote because they have given up on the system? Even this year with a hotly contested election, roughly 1/3 of the eligible electorate failed to vote. Making matters worse, the blatant politicization of the Supreme Court has weakened its already tenuous claims to legitimacy as a non-partisan and independent branch of government.

If we continue to allow the profit-driven corporate controlled media, including social media, to divide us from one another, we will be unable to overcome the huge problems mentioned above. It is necessary for ‘we the people’ to unite, to overcome the left/right, Democratic/Republican partisan divide, in order to force the US political system to work on behalf of the people instead of on behalf of the special interests of the wealthy. Only constant and strong nonviolent pressure on Congress and the White House from ‘we the people’ can overcome the power of money, that is, the legalized bribery in our national political system.

If the Biden administration adopts positions that clearly benefit ‘we the people’ instead of the wealthy and powerful, there is a good chance of overcoming much of our dangerous division. People of all political persuasions will realize we finally have a president who represents their interests instead of those of the super wealthy.

Note what we demand are universally recognized human rights that people deserve wherever they are on the left/right political spectrum. These rights include decent housing, living wage jobs, good food, health care, education, fair and equal treatment before the law, voting and a clean and safe environment. These are not extreme positions and people in many other nations have had these rights for decades. Unfortunately, we still don’t have these rights, making the US exceptional in the sense of how few basic human rights we actually have.

For example, in countries with these rights, people are not afraid of losing their health care if they lose their job or of going bankrupt due to high medical charges. There is not a loss of dignity or respect associated with receiving social benefits. Low and middle income students can go to college without a fear of graduating with huge debts.

Can we pressure President Biden enough for him to adopt this popular and winning approach? Can we put enough pressure on Congress to cause it to join in this campaign? Sí, se puede! This campaign requires that all of us across the political spectrum stand up for our legitimate rights. We have no other choice if we want to make the US live up to the lofty words that inspired millions here and around the world.

The post The Future is in Our Hands first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Troubling Discovery in the Arctic

A notable satellite-telephonic call to colleagues in late October from Swedish scientist Örjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University briefly described a haunting discovery. On board the research ship R/V Akademik Keldysh, a 6,240-ton Russian scientific research vessel equipped with 17 on-board laboratories and a library, far off the coast of Russia, Dr. Gustafsson reported:

This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing. 1

That satellite call referenced a sleeping giant that has enough carbon firepower to adversely impact the world’s climate system. The expedition discovered methane (CH4) that had been securely frozen in shallow subsea permafrost waters forever, and ever, and ever, now “stirring.” Colloquially, “The Monster of the North awakened.” (Although, in fairness to accuracy, the ESAS has been perturbed and leaking/seeping into the atmosphere for some time… but, now it’s much worse than ever before, and terrifyingly, it’s more noticeable to passersby, like expeditions of discerning scientists).

After all, there are scientists who believe the East Siberian Arctic Shelf and neighboring Russian coastline continental shelf seas contain enough methane in frozen hydrates to change human history forever, unfortunately, not for the betterment of civilization.

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, as well as other Arctic seas off Russia’s northern coastline, has been the subject of clashing opinions within the scientific community.

Over the years, mainstream science has “talked down the risks” of a massive methane breakout in Arctic waters which could start a vicious cycle of runaway global warming that would be devastating on several fronts for civilized societies, and uncivilized too.

Three years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey labeled Arctic hydrates as one of the world’s four most serious causation events of abrupt climate change. Yet, according to USGS geophysicist Carolyn Ruppel, who oversees the USGS Gas Hydrates Project:

After so many years spent determining where gas hydrates are breaking down and measuring methane flux at the sea-air interface, we suggest that conclusive evidence for release of hydrate-related methane to the atmosphere is lacking.2

According to USGS calculations, sediments in the Arctic contain a huge quantity of frozen methane and other gases – known as hydrates. Along those lines, it’s important to note that methane (CH4) has a warming effect 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over its initial 20 years. Meaning CH4 has a sharper, quicker impact on global warming than does CO2.

That USGS position (“no conclusive evidence”) about the risk of methane release is now three years old. Thus, this new discovery prompts a logical question: Does the current expedition provide conclusive evidence of a change? Meaning, what’s the likelihood of an abrupt shift in the planet’s climate system as a result of the new discovery?

Assuming a major CH4 release, or big burp, is it possible it could lead to planet-wide upheaval?  Accordingly, the expedition team reported:

At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered. (Gustafsson)

Therein lies the problem: “It has been triggered.”

Along those lines, a Latin proverb suffices: “Forewarned is forearmed.”  Clearly, the results of the Akademik Keldysh expedition qualify as “forewarned,” no doubt about that.

All of which prompts a significant question: How will countries throughout the world respond to this newly discovered risk to climate systems with its potential to damage agriculture and coastal cities beyond recognition?

In that regard, and based upon the nations of the world failing to adhere to voluntary commitments to the Paris 2015 climate accord to reduce carbon emissions, which, in fact, increase (Oops) year-over- year, the answer is: “It’s not encouraging, not at all.” Indeed, it is questionable that any nation/state anywhere will actually “forearm” as a result of this new report signaling: “The East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed.”

Furthermore, what does “forearmed” even look like? Realistically, how does a country prepare for an all-out assault on agriculture and coastlines by an out of whack runaway climate system? Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, according to the initial report from the 60-member team onboard the Akademik Keldysh expedition, the findings are only “preliminary.” The true scale of the discovery will be confirmed when full complements of data are analyzed and published peer-reviewed in a scientific journal.

Significantly, and tellingly, the discovery includes six monitoring points over a slope area of 150km (93 mi.) by 10km (6 mi.) with “clouds of bubbles released from sediment.” It should be noted that “clouds of bubbles” obviously implies one helluva lot of methane erupting from the seafloor. In point of fact, some measurements registered “methane concentrations 400 times higher than should be seen if the sea and the atmosphere were in equilibrium.” (Gustafsson)

By way of comparison to planetary distances, “400xs higher than equilibrium” is a trip to Pluto.

  1. “Sleeping Giant Arctic Methane Deposits Starting to Release, Scientists Find”, The Guardian, Oct. 27, 2020.
  2. “Gas Hydrate Breakdown Unlikely to Cause Massive Greenhouse Gas Release”, US Geological Survey, February 9, 2017.

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Saving Our Planet Is Our Responsibility

Destructive human behavior based on selfishness, greed and ignorance has created the interrelated environmental emergency. A global crisis of unprecedented scale that threatens the survival of over a million plant and animal species, the security of tens of millions of people and the health of the planet.

Unlimited irresponsible consumption of goods, services and animal food produce is the underlying cause; destructive unhealthy behavior encouraged by short-term political and business policies rooted in nationalism and the ideology of competition and greed.

Land sea and air are contaminated everywhere, more or less; the natural climatic rhythms have been radically disrupted, chaos created where order once held sway; the great rain forests of the world are being decimated, trees cut down, land turned over to cattle, or agriculture – principally to grow soya for animal feed – indigenous peoples displaced or killed, cultures shredded, ecosystems shattered, animal habitat destroyed, plant species crushed under the vile weight of corruption and money.

The scale and urgency of the crisis is impossible to overstate; with every new scientific paper that appears the reality becomes more and more overwhelming, the task of salvage more daunting, the need for action more urgent. Most people, of course, don’t read such texts or notice the rare piece of news coverage that they, or the natural world, more broadly receive. And despite being the most pressing issue of this or indeed any other time, within government circles, corporate boardrooms, as well as far too many individual households, the environmental catastrophe remains a marginal matter within the relentless urge for profit, economic growth and personal pleasure; little more than an afterthought within the business plan, a political add-on to appeal to the green contingent or customer base.

In opposition to this crippling complacency there is a growing army of people ringing alarm bells, trying to instill a sense of urgency and wake people up. Loud voices, some well known, like Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Prince Charles, who has been ‘banging on’ about environmental abuse for thirty years or more, together with movements like Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strike for Climate, and a raft of environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. All work tirelessly to share information about the scale and depth of the crisis and raise awareness.

And awareness is growing, behavior shifting; the details and scope of the emergency may not be known but there is a general awareness (in developed nations at least), however vague and inadequate, that the natural environment is in crisis, particularly among young people, who, in many cases are rightly appalled (and extremely worried) at the level of environmental vandalism perpetrated by previous generations. But the scale of change is nowhere near what is needed and it’s too slow; gradual changes over decades or generations will not cut it, neither will reliance solely on technology.

The response among corporations and governments is consistently inadequate, and the reaction of the mass of people is often indifference and/or a sense of individual inadequacy in the face of such massive issues. Most people live hard insecure lives, are physically tired, emotionally drained and mentally confused, overwhelmed by their own difficulties and trying, for the most part, simply to get by, to feed themselves and their families and find some lightness within what are often heavy days and dreary nights.

If, and it’s a large ominous if, humanity is to reverse the damage, education and widespread environmental/social responsibility are essential.

A global public information campaign is urgently needed. Coordinated by the UN Environment agency utilizing national media outlets and designed in conjunction with environmental groups to raise awareness not just of the scale of the emergency, but to encourage responsible ethical behavior among populations, corporations/businesses and Governments. Environmentally progressive policymaking can no longer be a series of ill conceived halfhearted add-ons within the manifestos of political parties and leaders running for office. Environmental responsibility must be fostered so that it becomes the central consideration in all decision making, for governments, businesses and individuals. It is part of a broader sense of social responsibility, which includes the recognition that we are responsible for one another, and requires the cultivation of a general attitude of positive communal living.

To be responsible is to respond. To respond to the need, whatever that may be, to the challenge or the urgency of the time. The nature and quality of the response is critical, what it is that we respond with. If the response is anchored in selfishness and conditioned by motive, if it is limited by ideology or constrained by considerations of personal gain, financial profit or economic growth, for example, then the response, and this is what happens in most cases, will not only be inadequate to the demands of the moment, it will intensify the issue, or crises. Such actions are rooted in the past and cannot, therefore sufficiently meet the crisis; whatever it is, in this case, the environmental crisis, fully, because the crisis is taking place now.

Being responsible also means being “accountable for one’s actions”, which is a quality of living that is lacking in varying degrees, among politicians and corporations – where it is virtually totally absent, as well as large swathes of the world’s population. In place of social/environmental responsibility the dual poisons of complacency and irresponsibility habitually condition action, adding to an overall atmosphere of selfishness and social division. We have come to believe in separation, identifying ourselves with a nation, race or belief system, divided from, superior or inferior to another, ‘the other’, who may not look, pray or think like we do, and therefore cannot be trusted. The ideology of division, based as it is on fear and hate, is anathema to responsibility.

If, and there again is that omnipresent if, there is to be an adequate response to the environmental emergency a new atmosphere of collective responsibility needs to be fostered and the nations of the world must unite; this call for united global action is a common-sense statement enunciated and agreed upon many times at various gatherings, but like world peace or equality its little more than a hollow ideal under which the pattern of competitive nationalism drones on, and on and on. International agreements are signed, no doubt in a spirit of optimism, and sincerity, but hypocrisy and duplicity are the worldwide hallmarks of politicians, and commitments are largely ignored, the business of corporate politics continues unhindered and little or nothing changes.

The greatest environmental impact, for good or ill, lies with governments and corporations, but the behavior of individuals is crucial; en-masse it is the neglect, greed and rampant consumerism of the people of the world (primarily the wealthier people of the world) that is the underlying cause of the interconnected environmental crisis. All of us are equally responsible – individuals, businesses and governments – particularly those of us living in the developed nations, and that responsibility demands a change in lifestyle: living simpler lives, consuming less, in many cases, much less, and making decisions based on environmental considerations first.

If we embrace this sense of individual responsibility for the whole, recognizing it to be not just true, but an opportunity to contribute in a positive manner, fully and deeply, then maybe, just maybe, the planet beautiful can be salvaged and with it social harmony and unity be realized.

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What We Are Up Against: Fascism In The United States

Are you or do you know an emerging activist who needs support? Popular Resistance and the Kevin Zeese family are launching the Kevin Zeese Emerging Activists Fund with an online celebration on his birthday, this Wednesday, October 28, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm Eastern.  Learn more and buy tickets here.  We will begin accepting applications after October 28.

Last week, I wrote about what is needed in this moment and urged people to look more deeply, beyond the Biden-Trump spectacle, to understand where we are as a country and what we must do to change course. I cited the work of Gabriel Rockhill. Read his three recent articles in Counterpunch and the fourth in the series here at Black Agenda Report for an enhanced understanding of how we got here and what we are up against.

This week, I delve more deeply into the question of where we are and what Rockhill means when he writes that “…liberalism and fascism, contrary to what the dominant ideology maintains, are not opposites. They are partners in capitalist crime.” What it all points to is that the path away from fascism to a future that respects human rights and protects the planet requires a mass movement working to create systemic change.

Listen to my interview with Gabriel Rockhill on Clearing the FOG (available Monday) and aired on WBAI in New York City and WPFW in Washington, DC.

From History.com.

Liberalism and Fascism

Liberalism, meaning liberal democracy, and fascism, which can become authoritarian but this isn’t a requirement, are forms of governance that both exist and serve to protect capitalism. John Curl, in “For All the People,” explains that prior to the founding of the United States, a real democracy movement of collectives, cooperatives and communalism existed, established by the settlers out of necessity. Of course, indigenous peoples have used these democratic structures throughout time.

The settlers’ communal practices threatened the oligarchs, the major land and slave owners, because the people had real power that couldn’t be controlled by the colonial governments. Thus, the founding Constitution, which exists today, was written to prevent participatory democracy and to establish property rights, and later corporate rights, over human rights. In 1776, the capitalist state was born.

In a liberal democracy, a mostly western institution, elections are held and those who hold power are supposed to represent the interests of the people and protect their rights. Fascism can take different forms in different circumstances, but it uses violence, repression and control to maintain power. Both liberalism and fascism can and do exist at the same time for different populations in the same country.

Rockhill explains in the interview that liberal democracies give the illusion of protecting the rights of people, but they only do so as long as the people are compliant with the capitalist system. In reality, the system serves the interests of the few while exploiting the working class and poor and degrading the planet. This is what we refer to in the Popular Resistance School as the official policy, what we are told something does, versus the operative policy, what it actually does.

In theory, in liberal democracies, people can choose to participate in governance through elections where different perspectives are represented and compete for power. There are checks and balances, including the rule of law, that prevent the ruling class from trampling on the people’s rights. That sounds good.

In practice, in the United States, voter suppression, suppression of third parties and an unaccountable voting system prevent full participation in the process, create a limited choice for voters and have the potential to rig the outcome. The checks and balances and rule of law have been undermined over time as those in power write laws to legalize consolidation of power, theft from the people and assaults on civil rights.

For the past few decades, using executive orders and laws like the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the power of the presidency has grown. Congress, through legislation such as the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, allows mass surveillance of the population and restrictions on our rights to due process. Studies show that Congress represents the interests of the wealthy elites and polls find the approval rating for Congress is extremely low, currently at only 17%. This couldn’t be more evident when looking at Congress’ current failure to protect the health and economic security of the people during a time of multiple serious crises while the wealthy have amassed more riches.

Fascism uses state actors, law enforcement and the military, and non-state actors, vigilantes and civil society groups, to violently suppress people. This can be blatant violence such as is occurring against black and brown people and those who support their struggle or it can be the structural violence of gentrification, discrimination and incarceration. People who support fascism are propagandized to believe they are protecting their rights while they are actually protecting the interests of the wealthy class. Once fascism achieves state power, through the process of liberal democracy, it may turn to authoritarianism. Rockhill describes how Hitler and Mussolini both rose to power through the governance structure, not outside of it.

Fascism is used when liberal democracy fails. Fascist elements have existed throughout the history of the United States. Think of the slave patrols that preceded the institution of police and white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion. It has been used to suppress dissent whenever segments of the population rise up to demand their rights. It is no coincidence that the “War on Drugs” and mass incarceration followed the rise and successes of the civil rights movement. It is no coincidence that the attack on worker rights and unions followed the period when taxes on the rich were very high and the middle class was growing.

The middle and upper classes live in the illusion that they are served by liberal democracy while the poor and working class, especially for people of color, are controlled through fascist practices of detention, segregation, lack of rights and violence. Those fascist practices will be unleashed against the middle and upper classes too if they recognize the charade and rebel. Capitalism knows no limits. We are living in end-stage capitalism and a falling empire.

From Al Jazeera.

Building a culture of resistance

Once we understand who and what our opponents are, we can strategize and organize to defeat them. Our foes are not the personalities, Trump and Biden, but the systems and institutions they represent. No matter who is elected in November, the systems stay the same. We need to find ways to work outside those systems to create the world we want to see. This requires building a culture of resistance, a culture of non-cooperation. If we are successful in building popular power, the systems will change either through what is referred to as “victorious retreat,” which means the power holders acquiesce to the demands of the people, or through attrition where new institutions built by the people grow and replace the old systems as they fade away.

The current struggle is being defined as Trump versus Biden and many progressives are convincing themselves that a Biden presidency is a step on the path we are seeking. There are serious risks for the struggle no matter who wins.

President Trump is open about what he is doing in empowering the extreme right and having no regard for human life. He sharpens the contradictions by showing what he plans to do and often in response, the institutions that make up our government and the people push back, forcing him in some cases to back down.

As we experienced under an Obama-Biden presidency, and Biden has differentiated himself from Obama by declaring himself in opposition to the needs of the people while Obama at least gave the pretense of believing in human rights, the administration was effective at dividing and weakening opposition to it. It convinced people it was doing one thing while it actually did another.

An example that I am very familiar with is the health reform process in 2008-2010. There was majority support for National Improved Medicare for All by the public and super-majority support for it by Democratic voters. The administration, working with major labor unions, ‘progressive’ organizations and faith-based groups, created a distraction, which it called the ‘public option’ and convinced people that this was achievable and would lead to Medicare for All. This divided the movement for universal health care. Tens of millions of dollars were poured into this effort and towards the end of the process, we witnessed that even this tiny crumb was never intended to be in the final legislation.

The resulting “Affordable Care Act” forced people to purchase private health insurance or pay a fine. Government resources were spent to aggressively market and subsidize health insurance products, even hiring salespeople called “navigators.” In return, people received health insurance that did not guarantee they would receive the healthcare they needed or protect them from financial ruin. Health insurers found ways to work around the regulations and their profits, along with those of the pharmaceutical, private hospital and other medical industries, soared.

The unanswered question is whether a Biden-Harris administration will be as successful at hoodwinking and dividing progressives as they enact an agenda that will continue to cut social services, degrade worker rights, pollute the environment, foment wars and repress dissent.

The actual struggle is not Trump versus Biden but putting people and planet over profit. It is people power versus the power of wealthy elites and corporations. We can only win if we organize and mobilize. Failure to do so means we will certainly continue on the destructive path we are on. Victory requires political clarity, a bold vision of a different future and building a culture of resistance, which means both stopping harmful policies and practices and creating new systems to meet our needs. We must and we can make what seems impossible in this moment inevitable.

The post What We Are Up Against: Fascism In The United States first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Capitalism is double-billing us

Here is a word that risks deterring you from reading on much further, even though it may hold the key to understanding why we are in such a terrible political, economic and social mess. That word is “externalities”.

It sounds like a piece of economic jargon. It is a piece of economic jargon. But it is also the foundation stone on which the west’s current economic and ideological system has been built. Focusing on how externalities work and how they have come to dominate every sphere of our lives is to understand how we are destroying our planet – and offer at the same time the way-post to a better future.

In economics, “externalities” are usually defined indifferently as the effects of a commercial or industrial process on a third party that are not costed into that process.

Here is what should be a familiar example. For decades, cigarette manufacturers made enormous profits by concealing scientific evidence that over time their product could prove lethal to customers. The firms profited by externalising the costs associated with cigarettes – of death and disease – on to those buying their cigarettes and wider society. People gave Philip Morris and British American Tobacco their money as these companies made those smoking Marlboros and Lucky Strikes progressively unhealthier.

The externalised cost was paid – is still paid – by the customers themselves, by grieving families, by local and national health services, and by the taxpayer. Had the firms been required to pick up these various tabs, it would have proved entirely unprofitable to manufacture cigarettes.

Inherently violent

Externalities are not incidental to the way capitalist economies run. They are integral to them. After all, it is a legal obligation on private companies to maximise profits for their shareholders – in addition, of course, to the personal incentive bosses have to enrich themselves, and each company’s need to avoid making themselves vulnerable to more profitable and predatory competitors in the marketplace.

Companies are therefore motivated to offload as many costs as possible on to others. As we shall see, externalities mean someone other than the company itself pays the true cost behind its profits, either because those others are too weak or ignorant to fight back or because the bill comes due further down the line. And for that reason, externalities – and capitalism – are inherently violent.

All this would be glaringly obvious if we didn’t live inside an ideological system – the ultimate echo chamber enforced by our corporate media – that is complicit either in hiding this violence or in normalising it. When externalities are particularly onerous or harmful, as they invariably are in one way or another, it becomes necessary for a company to obscure the connection between cause and effect, between its accumulation of profit and the resulting accumulation of damage caused to a community, a distant country or the natural world – or all three.

That is why corporations – those that inflict the biggest and worst externalities – invest a great deal of time and money in aggressively managing public perceptions. They achieve this through a combination of public relations, advertising, media control, political lobbying and the capture of regulatory institutions. Much of the business of business is deception, either making the externalised harm invisible or gaining the public’s resigned acceptance that the harm is inevitable.

In that sense, capitalism produces a business model that is not only rapacious but psychopathic. Those who pursue profit have no choice but to inflict damage on wider society, or the planet, and then cloak their deeply anti-social – even suicidal – actions.

Psychopathic demands

A recent film that alludes to how this form of violence works was last year’s Dark Waters, concerning the long-running legal battle with DuPont over the chemicals it developed to make non-stick coatings for pots and pans. From the outset, DuPont’s research showed that these chemicals were highly dangerous and accumulated in the body. The science overwhelmingly suggested that exposed individuals would be at risk of developing cancerous tumours or producing children with birth defects.

There were huge profits to be made for DuPont from its chemical discovery so long as it could keep the research hidden. So that’s exactly what its executives did. They set aside basic morality and acted in concert with the psychopathic demands of the marketplace.

DuPont produced pans that contaminated its customers’ food. Workers were exposed to a cocktail of lethal poisons in its factories. The company stored the toxic waste products in drums and then secretly disposed of them in landfills where they leached into the local water supply, killing cattle and producing an epidemic of disease among local residents. DuPont created a chemical that is now everywhere in our environment, risking the health of generations to come.

But a film like Dark Waters necessarily turned a case study in how capitalism commits violence by externalising its costs into something less threatening, less revelatory. We hiss at DuPont’s executives as though they are the ugly sisters in a pantomime rather than ordinary people not unlike our parents, our siblings, our offspring, ourselves.

In truth, there is nothing exceptional about the DuPont story – apart from the company’s failure to keep its secret hidden from the public. And that exposure was anomalous, occurring only belatedly and against great odds.

An important message the film’s feelgood ending fails to deliver is that other corporations have learnt from DuPont’s mistake – not the moral “mistake” of externalising their costs, but the financial mistake of getting caught doing so. Corporate lobbyists have worked since to further capture regulatory authorities and to amend transparency and legal discovery laws to avoid any repetition, to ensure they are not held legally liable, as DuPont was, in the future.

Victims of our bombs

Unlike the DuPont case, most externalities are never exposed. Instead they hide in plain sight. These externalities do not need to be concealed because they are either not perceived as externalities or because they are viewed as so unimportant as to be not worth factoring in.

The military-industrial complex – the one we were warned about more than half a century ago by President Dwight Eisenhower, a former US general – excels in these kinds of externalities. Its power derives from its ability to externalise its costs on to the victims of its bombs and its wars. These are people we know and care little about: they live far from us, they look and sound different to us, they are denied names and life stories like us. They are simply numbers, denoting them either as terrorists or, at best, unfortunate collateral damage.

The externalities of the west’s war industries are opaque to us. The chain of cause and effect is nowadays obscured as “humanitarian intervention”. And even when war’s externalities come knocking at our borders as refugees flee from the bloodshed, or from the nihilistic cults sucked into the power vacuums we leave behind, or from the wreckage of infrastructure our weapons cause, or from the environmental degradation and pollution we unleash, or from the economies ruined by our plunder of local resources, we still don’t recognise these externalities for what they are. Our politicians and media transform the victims of our wars and our resource grabs into, at best, economic migrants and, at worst, barbarians at the gate.

Snapshots of catastrophe

If we are entirely ignorant of the externalities inflicted by capitalism on victims beyond our shores, we are gradually and very late in the day waking up to some of capitalism’s externalities much closer to home. Parts of the corporate media are finally admitting that which can no longer be plausibly denied, that which is evident to our own senses.

For decades politicians and the corporate media managed to veil two things: that capitalism is an entirely unsustainable, profit-driven, endless consumption model; and that the environment is being gradually damaged in ways harmful to life. Each was obscured, as was the fact that the two are causally connected. The economic model is the primary cause of the environmental damage.

People, especially the young, are slowly awakening from this enforced state of ignorance. The corporate media, even its most liberal elements, is not leading this process; it is responding to that awakening.

Last week the Guardian newspaper prominently ran two stories about externalities, even if it failed to frame them as such. One was about micro-plastics leaching from feeding bottles into babies, and the other about the toll air pollution is taking on the populations of major European cities.

The latter story, based on new research, specifically assessed the cost of air pollution in European cities – in terms of “premature death, hospital treatment, lost working days and other health costs” – at £150 billion a year. Most of this was caused by pollution from vehicles, the profitable product of the car industry. The researchers admitted that their figure was an under-estimate of air pollution’s true cost.

But, of course, even that underestimate was arrived at solely on the basis of metrics prioritised by capitalist ideology: the cost to the economy of death and disease, not the incalculable cost in lost and damaged human lives, and even less the damage to other species and the natural world. Another report last week alluded to one of those many additional costs, showing a steep rise in depression and anxiety caused by air pollution.

The other story, on baby bottles, is part of a much bigger story of how the plastics industry – whose products are derivatives of the fossil fuel industry – has long been filling our oceans and soil with plastics, both of the visible and invisible kind. Last week’s report revealed that the sterilisation process in which bottles are heated in boiling water resulted in babies swallowing millions of micro-plastics each day. The study found that plastic food containers were shedding much higher loads of micro-plastics than expected.

These stories are snapshots of a much wider environmental catastrophe unfolding across the planet caused by profit-driven industrialised society. As well as heating up the climate, corporations are chopping down the forests that don’t burn down first, ridding the planet of its lungs; they are destroying natural habitats and soil quality; and they are rapidly killing off insect populations.

 

These industries’ externalities are, for the time being, impacting most severely on the natural world. But they will soon have more visible and dramatic effects that will be felt by our children and grandchildren. Neither of these constituences currently has a say in how our capitalist “democracies” are being run.

Perception managers

Capitalism isn’t only harming us, it’s double-billing us: taking first from our wallets and then depriving us of a future. We have now entered an era of deep cognitive dissonance.

Unlike a few years ago, many of us now understand that our futures are at grave risk from changes in our environment – the effect. But the task of today’s perception managers, like those of yesteryear, is to obscure the main cause – our economic system, capitalism.

The increasingly desperate effort to dissociate capitalism from the imminent environmental crisis – to break any perception of a causal link – was highlighted early this year. It emerged that counter-terrorism police in the UK had included Extinction Rebellion, the west’s main environmental protest group, on a list of extremist organisations. Under related “Prevent” regulations, teachers and government officials are already required by law to report anyone who they suspect of being “radicalised”.

In a guide explaining the purpose of the list, officials and teachers were told to identify anyone who speaks in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction, fracking, airport expansion or pollution”.

Why was Extinction Rebellion, a non-violent, civil disobedience group, included alongside neo-Nazis and Islamic jihadists? A whole page is dedicated to the threat posed by Extinction Rebellion. The guide explains that the organisation’s activism is rooted in an “anti-establishment philosophy that seeks system change”. That is, environmental activism risks making apparent – especially to the young – the causal connection between the economic system and damage to the environment.

Once the story broke, the police hastily rowed back, claiming that Extinction Rebellion’s inclusion was a mistake. But more recently establishment efforts to decouple capitalism from its catastrophic externalities have grown more explicit.

Last month England’s department of education ordered schools not to use any materials in the curriculum that question the legitimacy of capitalism. Opposition to capitalism was described as an “extreme political stance” – opposition, let us remember, to an economic system whose relentless pursuit of growth and profit treats the destruction of the natural world as an uncosted externality.

Paradoxically, education officials equated promotion of alternatives to capitalism as a threat to free speech, as well as an endorsement of illegal activity, and – inevitably – as evidence of antisemitism.

Suicidal trajectory

These desperate and draconian measures to shore up an increasingly discredited system are not about to end. They will get much worse.

The establishment is not preparing to give up on capitalism – the ideology that enriched and empowered it – without a fight. The political and media class proved that with their relentless and unprecedented attacks on Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn over several years. And Corbyn was offering only a reformist, democratic socialist agenda.

The establishment has also demonstrated its determination to cling on to the status quo in its relentless and unprecedented attacks on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is locked away, seemingly indefinitely, for revealing the externalities – the victims – of the west’s war industries and the psychopathic behaviour of those in power.

Efforts to end the suicidal trajectory of our current “free market” system will doubtless soon be equated with terrorism, as the Prevent strategy has already intimated. We should be ready.

There can be no escape from the death wish of capitalism without recognising that death wish, and then demanding and working for wholesale change. Externalities may sound like innocuous jargon, but they and the economic system that requires them are killing us, our children and the planet.

The nightmare can end, but only if we wake up.

The post Capitalism is double-billing us first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Large-Scale Permafrost Thawing

Ice is seen here under permafrost soil in Spitzbergen, the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. (SeppFriedhuber/Getty Images)

Twenty-five percent (25%) of the Northern Hemisphere is permafrost. By all appearances, it is melting well beyond natural background rates, in fact, substantially!

Making matters much, much worse, new research has identified past warming events of large-scale permafrost thaw in the Arctic that may be analogous to today, thus spotting a parallel problem of large-scale thawing accompanied by massively excessive carbon emissions spewing into the atmosphere, like there’s no tomorrow.1

Permafrost thawing is not, at all times, simply “thawing.” Of course, as a standalone, the word “thawing” implies a rather evenly keeled methodical process without any specific definition of scale. But, there’s thawing, and then, there’s “large-scale thawing,” which is kinda like turning loose a behemoth. The results are never pretty.

As global warming powers up, like it’s doing now, it has a penchant for finding enormous spans of frozen mud and silt filled with iced-species in quasi-permanent frozen states known as permafrost. As it melts, it’s full of surprises, some interesting, as well as some that are horribly dangerous, for example, emitting huge quantities of carbon, thus kicking into high gear some level of runaway global warming that threatens to wipeout agriculture.

As a matter of fact, according to the research, no more than a few degrees of warming, only a few, can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen land thereby releasing vast quantities of greenhouse gases as a product of collapsing landscapes, and it feeds upon itself. Indeed, the research effort identified “surges in greenhouse gas emissions… on a massive scale.”2

The study suggests that massive permafrost ecosystem thawing is subject to indeterminate timing sequences, but it’s armed with a “sensitive trigger” abruptly altering the landscape in massive fashion. In short, an event could arise out of the blue. It’s well known that Arctic permafrost holds considerably more carbon captured in a frozen state than has already been emitted into the atmosphere.

Already, over just the past two years, other field studies have shown instances where thawing permafrost is 70 years ahead of scientists’ models, prompting the thought that thawing may be cranking up even as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fails to anticipate it.

After all, permafrost is not included in the IPCC’s carbon budget, meaning signatories to the Paris accord of 2015 will need to recalculate their quest to save the world from too much carbon emitting too fast for any kind of smooth functionality of the planet’s climate system. In turn, it undoubtedly negatively impacts the support, or lack thereof, for food-growing regions, which could actually collapse, similar to cascading dominos. Poof!

In the Canadian High Arctic:

Observed maximum thaw depths at our sites are already exceeding those projected to occur by 2090.3

According to Susan Natali of Woods Hole Research Center (Massachusetts) the Arctic has already transformed from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter:

Given that the Arctic has been taking up carbon for tens of thousands of years, this shift to a carbon source is important because it highlights a new dynamic in the functioning of the Earth System.4

A 14-year study referenced by Dr. Natali shows annualized 1.66 gigatonnes CO2 emitted from the Arctic versus 1.03 gigatonnes absorbed, a major turning point in paleoclimate history, a chilling turn for the worse that threatens 10,000 years of our wonderful Holocene era “not too hot, not too cold.” Alas, that spectacular Goldilocks life of perfection is rapidly becoming a remembrance of the past.

Additionally, according to Vladimir Romanovsky – Permafrost Laboratory, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks  (UAF) there are definitive geophysical signs of permafrost that survived thousands of years now starting to thaw.5

As stated by Romanovsky: “The new (Jannik Martens, Remobilization) research is yet more evidence that the amplified warming in the Arctic can release carbon at a massive scale.”

Nobody knows how soon such an event will break loose in earnest, but global warming has already penetrated the upper permafrost layers, as cliffs of coastal permafrost are collapsing at an accelerating rate. In short, the current news about thawing/collapsing permafrost is decidedly negative and a threat to life, as we know it.

The Martens’ study conclusively states:

The results from this study on large-scale OC remobilization from permafrost are consistent with a growing set of observational records from the Arctic Ocean and provide support for modeling studies that simulated large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere during deglaciation (1416). This demonstrates that Arctic warming by only a few degrees may suffice to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing, indicating a sensitive trigger for a threshold-like permafrost climate change feedback.1

Thus, as the Holocene era wanes right before humanity’s eyes, the Anthropocene, the age of humans, stands on the world stage all alone with its own shadow and with ever fewer, and fewer, and fewer vertebrates roaming amongst fields of scorched, blackened plant life. What, or who, will it eat?

According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world renowned biologist E.O. Wilson:

If we choose the path of destruction, the planet will continue to descend irreversibly into the Anthropocene Epoch, the biologically final age in which the planet exists almost exclusively by,  for, and of ourselves.

  1. Jannik Martens, “Remobilization of Dormant Carbon From Siberian-Arctic Permafrost During Three Past Warming Events”, Science Advances, Vol. 6, No. 42, October 16, 2020.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Louise M. Farquharson et al, “Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic”, Geophysical Research Letters, June 10, 2019.
  4. “Thawing Permafrost Has Turned the Arctic Into a Carbon Emitter”, NewScientist, October 21, 2019.
  5. “New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet,'” Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News, October 16, 2020.

The post Large-Scale Permafrost Thawing first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Marxian Theory of Value: A Response to David Pena (Part Three)

Read Part 1 here;  Part 2 here

Perhaps Pena does not see this because he does not appear to grasp the point that in the Marxian concept of socialism (aka communism – unlike Lenin, Marx never differentiated between these two terms), the question of “exchange value” becomes completely redundant (and, with that, the preoccupation with ensuring “equivalent exchange”).  This is because in socialism, as Marx saw it, commodity production would completely cease to exist.

The “actually existing socialisms” that Pena refers to have nothing in common with Marxian socialism.  In all of these, commodity production and wage labour prevails.  From a Marxian perspective what is called “actually existing socialism” is simply another name for state-administered capitalism and I would highly recommend Paresh Chattopadhyay’s book The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience (1994) which very persuasively argues this point. The Soviet Union was predicated upon fundamentally capitalist economic categories.  It was actually Lenin who was primarily responsible for the shift in the meaning of the term “socialism” away from how Marxists had originally defined it as an attempt to garner political support for the Bolsheviks’ state capitalist agenda.

Thus, in 1917 Lenin declared that “socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole” (The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It).  The enormous impact that the Bolshevik Revolution had on world affairs meant that this Leninist definition of “socialism” – identifying it with the activities of a state rather than the stateless society Marx envisaged it to be — came to prevail in popular discourse while the original Marxian definition faded from sight.   I suspect that it is through the prism of the former that Pena views the latter and that it is this that goes a long way towards explaining the many egregious errors he makes when analysing the latter.

Since Pena’s critique is supposed to be against Marx, he would be better advised to direct his comments to how Marx defined socialism, not Lenin.  In Marxian socialism, goods would be produced solely and directly for use, not for sale on a market, and would be made available to the population on the basis of free appropriation (“free access”).  Needless to say, this presupposes the technological potential to produce enough to meet the basic needs of the population and socialists assert that this potential has long been around (as I will later explain).  We no longer require the “productive forces” to be “increased” (as Marx thought) in order to establish the kind of society he called socialism-cum-communism. All that we need is a working class majority – not some Leninist vanguard acting in its behalf – to consciously and democratically bring this about.

As a logical corollary of “free access” in Marxian socialism, the cooperative labour required to produce the goods we need would take the form of “freely associated” (to use Marx’s expression), voluntaristic, unpaid work where the very notion of “compensation” for work done would completely fall away. Wage labour, or any other form of coerced labour, for that matter (and by “coerced” I mean economic coercion not just physical coercion) would no longer exist since it cannot logically be reconciled with a socialist mode of appropriation based on free access.  The Gordian knot between what one consumes and what one contributes would be severed and the antagonism of interests that this presupposes would cease to apply.

That antagonism is embedded in the very institution of market exchange itself and finds expression in the conflictual relationship between buyer and seller (including the buyers and sellers of labour power). The buyer seeks to secure the lowest possible price for the commodity in question; the seller, the opposite.  So they haggle.  Exchange value is the impersonal market-imposed outcome of this haggling, mediated through the interplay of supply and demand but ultimately responsive to the Marxian law of value.

Pena does not seem to have much of a clue about any of this and you have to seriously wonder how familiar he is with Marx about whom he professes to write so authoritatively.   He continues to dogmatically assert that “the labor theory of value promotes ecocide and is therefore fatal to ecological socialism”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Marx did not intend that his theory would apply to socialism.  This is because it is inextricably bound up with, and only makes sense in the context of, a system of commodity production which would cease to exist in socialism.

Pena’s attempts to deny this point are risible. He comments:

He further argues that I “totally miss the point” that the labor theory of value is an explanation of how capitalism works, not socialism. This is related to an earlier insinuation that I do not understand that the law of value applies only to capitalism. Since capitalism is the only sphere in which the law operates, Cox reasons, it is impossible for Marx’s labor theory to have any ill effects on socialism. Therefore, in addition to my ridiculous physical reductionism, my claim that the labor theory is bad for ecological socialism is false and patently absurd.

Pena then proceeds in his attempt to refute my claim that “labor theory of value is an explanation of how capitalism works, not socialism” by means of a two-pronged attack.

The first prong involves an arcane discussion on Aristotle’s analysis of value in the Nicomachean Ethics.  The point of the exercise is presumably to demonstrate that commodities existed long before capitalism – as if I was not aware of this and needed to be condescendedly enlightened by Pena on the subject.  Of course, commodities predate capitalism and I have not denied this.  My argument was, rather, that the “law of value” is really only applicable to a society in which commodity production has become generalised and, above all, where labour power has itself been generally transformed into a commodity, not just the products of labour themselves.  In other words, where there is in place a system of generalised wage labour.  In fact, Marx himself treated the term, the “wages system” as a synonym for capitalism as in Capital where he spoke of “capitalistic production, or the wages system” (Vol 1, Ch.1.)

To ram home the point, I refer the reader to the opening sentence of that book with its ringing declaration that “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities, its unit being a single commodity.”  Thus, what distinguished capitalist from non-capitalist, or pre-capitalist, societies, in Marx’s view, is precisely the fact that most wealth did not take the form of commodities in the latter – that is, it was not produced for sale on the market.  This is why it is incorrect to say that production in these societies was “governed by the law of value” which has to be a society-wide phenomenon in order to function as such, in my view.

Pena avers that this was not the “settled view” of Marx and Engels and patronisingly commends me for “showing signs of intellectual independence” if I intend to take a contrary position – an odd comment from someone who earlier claimed I see Marx as some sort of “guru”.  The Engels quote that Pena provides certainly seems to suggest that he (Engels) thought the law of value had universal application, applying also to those pre-capitalist societies in which there was a limited degree of commodity production.  For the record, I don’t agree with Engels but endorse instead the position adopted by others such as the (recently deceased) Marxist economist, John Weeks, that the law of value is unique to capitalism.

Marx’s position is a little more complicated in that he thought that, though the law of value did indeed predate capitalism, it “develops fully only on the foundation of capitalist production”. (Capital Vol 1.)  Here Marx was alluding to the law of value governing “simple commodity exchange” and the transformation of this law under capitalist conditions where “more labour is exchanged for less labour (from the labourer’s standpoint), less labour is exchanged for more labour (from the capitalist’s standpoint)”. (1863, Theories of Surplus Value, Ch 3. Section 4.)

The second, and more significant, prong of Pena’s attack is to assert that “the law’s applicability to socialism also means that the anti-ecological effects of the law apply to that system” and that Marx’s labour theory of value promotes “anti-socialist hierarchies and an anti-ecological economy within socialist society”.  This further illustrates the point I made earlier – that Pena does not understand that, for Marx, socialism entails the complete abolition of commodity exchange.  If there is no commodity exchange then the question of exchange value cannot logically arise, in which case it is nonsensical to talk of the law of value applying in socialism (at least as Marx defined this term as a synonym for communism).

To say that Pena’s attempt to justify his assertion is feeble would be an understatement.  He asserts “I would argue there is nothing in Marx to prevent the law functioning under any conditions in which workers own the means of production, including socialism”. Really?  If he referring here to worker cooperatives, then he is quite mistaken in thinking this. Marx did not consider co-ops to be an instantiation of “socialism” but, along with the capitalist joint stock company, a transitional form from the “capitalist mode of production to the associated one”.  Though he had positive things to say about co-ops as pointing the way ahead, he saw them, nevertheless, as operating fundamentally within the constraints of capitalism:  “The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system”. (Capital, Vol 3, Ch 27.)

To justify his claim concerning the law of value being allegedly applicable to Marxian socialism, Pena refers us to Marx’s distinction between simple and complex labour under capitalism as an illustration of how the law of value differentially impacts on the remuneration of workers under capitalism.  Labour power is a commodity and, like any other commodity under capitalism, its value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required to produce and reproduce it. Skilled workers, for example, require more training and this will be reflected in the price of their labour power – the relatively higher wage they command compared to unskilled workers.  At the same time, skilled workers tend to be more productive than unskilled workers – that is, they generate more value.

Pena contends:

Marx and Engels’ position on the applicability of the law of value to non-capitalist societies suggests the labor theory of value, with its distinction between simple and complex labor, applies to post-capitalist society as well, including what Marx called the “first phase” of communism.25  The distinction between simple and complex labor colors Marx’s vision of socialism.26  This is dangerous to socialism because it lays the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society in which individual social position and access to goods and services is determined by one’s status as a simple or complex worker, which is in turn decided by the worker’s level of education and training. Marx’s labor theory of value is the basis of a social hierarchy in the Marxist conception of socialism that undermines both socialism and ecology.

Firstly, it does not follow at all that, even if the law of value was applicable to non-capitalist societies, it must also be applicable to post capitalist societies “including what Marx called the “first phase” of communism”

In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx wrote in highly speculative terms of this first phase of communism (socialism) thus:

Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase “proceeds of labor”, objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.”

This calls for one or two comments. To begin with, it should be mentioned at the outset that neither I, nor the SPGB, support Marx’s proposal to institute a scheme of labour certificates to compensate workers for their labour contribution.  Such a scheme is unnecessary and superfluous inasmuch as we have long moved away from the era of unavoidable material scarcities in which Marx lived and in which he penned this particular proposal as a way of coping with these scarcities in the early days of socialism.  Today such scarcities are no longer unavoidable but, on the contrary, have to be artificially imposed and rigorously reinforced for the sake of the system we all still live under – global capitalism.

Not only that, the labour certificate scheme proposed by Marx would be bureaucratically cumbersome and wasteful inasmuch as it would require a very substantial amount of administrative labour to operate it and to maintain an appropriate level of labour surveillance for the scheme to work on its own terms. Furthermore, there are intrinsic technical difficulties associated with the scheme such as how one might go about valuing different forms of labour which would make it very difficult to implement.  Also, it is not just people’s labour contributions that would need to be directly measured for the purpose of distributing these certificates; the goods produced by this labour would need to be measured too in terms of the amount of concrete labour time it took to produce them – a truly daunting task given the socially integrated nature of modern production and its incredibly complex division of labour.

I mention this only to once again illustrate just how wide of the mark is Pena’s silly jibe about Marx being my “guru”.   Marx was fallible like everyone else and I consider this to be one of the many errors he made. His proposal was informed, as I suggested, by the belief that a socialist society would initially be handicapped by the problem of material scarcities inherited from capitalism and so would have to institute some form of rationing which is precisely what his labour certificate scheme amounts to. But, even if this was the case, there are other far more effective, and better targeted, ways of rationing scarce goods than the hugely unwieldly approach he advocated.

Having said that, it is pretty clear from what Marx wrote about this first phase of socialism that he did not envisage the law of value operating within it and that Pena has completely misread what Marx was saying.  For a start, the producers, Marx said, “do not exchange their products” so consequently we cannot possibly be talking about a society in which exchange value exists (and therefore one in which the law of value would apply). There is “exchange” of course – notably the performance of a certain amount of labour in exchange for a certificate — but this is not what exchange value or the law of value is about.  These certificates do not in themselves constitute money since they do not circulate and cannot be used as a means of accumulating wealth.

Moreover – and crucially — it should be noted that what is measured here for the purposes of distributing labour certificates is concrete labour, not abstract labour which, as we saw earlier, is the fundamental metric of value in Marx’s theory.  This fact alone destroys Pena’s absurd claim that Marx envisaged the law of value continuing in socialism.  The worker in Marx’s first stage of socialism receives back in the form of a labour certificate exactly what she has contributed to society in terms of her own labour – not some hypothetical social average.

Marx goes on:

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption.

So this resembles the exchange of equal values in commodity exchange inasmuch as it involves an equality of exchange — you get back exactly what you contribute to society (allowing for the various social deductions Marx refers to).   But there the resemblance ends since what is happening here is that “content and form are changed”.  This is because it is not abstract labour that constitutes the basic metric of this transaction but concrete labour.

Secondly, there is indeed more than a hint in Marx that workers would be differentially compensated in this first phase of socialism according to the duration and intensity of their contribution:

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. (Ibid.)

Pena makes great play of this and contends that this is dangerous to socialism because it “lays the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society in which individual social position and access to goods and services is determined by one’s status as a simple or complex worker, which is in turn decided by the worker’s level of education and training”.  I would accept that this does indeed entail a hierarchy of sorts but I think Pena grossly exaggerates its likely consequences.  After all, we are not talking about a class-based hierarchy but rather one based purely on one’s work contribution.  As Marx says “everyone is only a worker like everyone else”.  So the hierarchical aspect of this arrangement is likely to be far less pronounced than anything one is likely to encounter in a class-based society where sectional or class ownership of the means of production massively amplifies the asymmetrical distribution of power and status.

Moreover, there is nothing to suggest there might not be a significant degree of social mobility within this hypothetical first stage of socialism, as Marx conceived it.  What is to stop individuals moving up this hierarchy by, for instance, undertaking the requisite education and training, thereby boosting their status within the hierarchy?

We also need to take into consideration Marx’s views on the division of labour by which he meant the compulsory division of labour that compels a worker to do a particular kind of job but prevents her from simultaneously doing some other job.  Marx was very much opposed to this. He saw socialism as presupposing or being dependent on what might be called the polytechnic or multi-skilled worker and (rather over-optimistically) speculated that the trend in work patterns in late Victorian Britain was moving in that direction.   He could perhaps be forgiven for not “predicting” the rise of Fordist style assembly production in the early 20th century

Nevertheless, his views on the division of labour likewise help to undermine the claim that what Marx was advocating would result in some sort of rigidly oppressive social hierarchy.  Insofar as workers would be far more free to undertake a variety of jobs, rather than confine themselves to just one kind of job as is normally the case under capitalism, the effect of this would be to further flatten or soften the aforementioned hierarchy Pena refers to.

However, once again, let me reiterate that this should not in any way be construed as meaning that I somehow defend Marx’s labour certificate proposal (which I don’t). It is merely an attempt on my part to put criticism of the scheme in some sort of reasonable context.  Pena’s criticism, in my view, is unreasonable and way over the top.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I come back to the point that all Marx’s speculations concerning this lower or first of phase of socialism (communism) were predicated on the assumption that the productive forces were not yet fully developed to permit the introduction of full socialism – or more precisely, its higher phase.  Pena talks loosely about the “Marxist conception of socialism” in this connection but this is misleading because in this particular context Marx was only talking about its first or lower phase.  He was not talking about socialism or communism, per se, as Marx himself makes abundantly clear:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

In this higher phase all of the objections Pena raises against Marx, needless to say, would – or, rather, should – perforce, fall away.  In this phase, as in the first phase, commodity production (and hence the law of value) would be done away with.  But also in this phase, concepts such as “compensation for work performed” that applied only to the first phase would likewise fall away.  Meaning the grounds on which Pena bases his spurious argument about the application of the labour theory of value in socialism laying the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society, cannot possibly be true, even by the logic of his own argument, of the higher phase of socialism in which there is no “compensation for work performed”. Consequently, there is no reason for Pena to say the “Marxist conception of socialism” must necessarily be “hierarchical” since this conception also includes as well the idea of a higher phase of socialism.

Indeed, in this higher phase the very fact that goods and services would be universally available on the basis of free appropriation is what would deprive any individual or group of the social leverage by which they could exert power over others and coerce them to do their bidding.  Contrary to the claims of anarcho-capitalists and other exponents of the free market, the material basis of a truly free society would be precisely Marxian socialism.

Anarcho-capitalists may routinely claim they have no objection to others operating a socialist society, providing they themselves should be allowed to produce for the free market. Well, let us extend this hypothetical possibility to them and see how far they can run with it. How would they persuade others to relinquish the freedom of voluntary associated labour and submit to the economic coercion of wage labour instead? How would they entice them to buy what they had to sell – and with what? – in a society in which what individuals wanted would be available for them to freely take? Free access trumps free markets every time!

Returning to Pena’s argument it is ironic that it is Pena himself who wants to keep intact, and indefinitely perpetuate, the principle of compensation in the name of “fair distribution”.

He states:

Justification of differences in compensation among workers must cite measurable differences in energy expenditure during the labor process or in legitimate needs, such as medical condition, size of family, etc. This replaces Marx’s standard of labor time and the hierarchy of complex over simple labor. Compensation hierarchies based on differences in the quality or complexity of different forms of work are unjustified in these terms of energy expenditure or legitimate individual need. Societies might be tempted to use compensation differences to encourage quality improvements or the acquisition of complex skills, but the principle of socio-ecological worthiness must take precedence over perceived utility. In an ecological society, the priority of distribution is to return to individuals the amount of energy they have invested in society, minus unavoidable deductions for social purposes, and to meet legitimate, basic needs in a manner that is socio-ecologically sound.

So, apparently, it’s all right for Pena to accuse Marx of wanting to establish a social hierarchy resulting from the differential compensation of complex and simple labour in the first phase of socialism. But when Pena talks about the need to justify differences in compensation among workers in terms of his own preferred criterion of “measurable differences in energy expended by workers during the labor process” suddenly and rather mysteriously and conveniently, all talk of “social hierarchies” disappear from view.  Why, if Marx’s proposal for compensating labour lays the foundation for a hierarchical post-capitalist society, would that not equally be true of Pena’s?  On that score, Pena’s silence is deafening.

To reiterate — what is needed is to do away with the very principle of quid pro quo compensation itself with all the simmering tensions and seething antagonisms it embodies and entails.  It is this principle that separates the individual from her fellows and covertly or overtly places her in a conflictual relationship with them over the relative magnitude of the compensation she receives. It encourages comparison and the ensuing conflict to which that give rises.

Marxian socialism, by contrast, operates according to a completely contrary principle — generalised reciprocity.  Instead of separating out individuals who then confront each as buyers and sellers in the market place with opposed interests, generalised reciprocity brings them together.  It serves to cement the social relationships that bind us to each other.  It highlights our mutual inter-dependence and reinforces our sense of mutual obligation to one another.

Marxian socialism is what the anthropologists mean by a “moral economy” in the sense that the transactions between individuals would not simply be self-interested (as in Adam’s Smith mechanistic model of the market) but other-oriented as well – although one might quibble with notion that socialism might be called an “economy” at all.  In fact, the very idea of something called an economy arose out of the emergence of capitalism itself and the identification by Smith and others of a distinct economic realm within society which was subject to certain economic laws pertaining sui generis to this realm.  In traditional pre-capitalist societies, by contrast, the different facets of social life — morality, politics, religion and “economics” — were much more closely intermeshed and one suspects the same would be true of a future socialist society – further grounds, one might add, for rejecting the claim that the Marx’s law of value would operate in such a society.

The emergence of a distinct disembedded economic realm in capitalism was accompanied by, and mirrored in, emergence of distinct concept of the individual as sovereign and free floating – cut adrift from the ties that bound individuals to each other in earlier traditional societies.   It is this market economy of capitalism that atomises individuals and interposes between them the cold nexus of cash payment.  When money mediates everything, our essential human sociality is rendered opaque. We objectify and separate ourselves from our fellow human beings in much the same way as soldiers in a war seek to dehumanise the enemy in order to more effectively liquidate it.

It is this kind of thinking that underlies the idea that workers should be compensated for their work which is really another way of saying that they should be externally coerced and cajoled into working which tells us a lot about the nature of work and by extension the nature of the society we live in that requires its citizens to be thus coerced.  It is nor for no reason that Marx spoke of labour becoming “not only have a means of life but life’s prime want” in higher communism.  Human beings have a fundamental need to creatively express themselves in work.  Though we tend not to call it work under capitalism (where work tends to be equated with employment) it is highly significant that even under capitalism people work more hours without any kind of monetary “inducement” than they do with such an “inducement” and there is ample evidence that so called money incentives can negatively impact on what industrial psychologists call our intrinsic motivation to work.

In Marx’s first phase of socialism the need to compensate workers for their labour in the guise of labour certificates was rationalised on the grounds that in this phase society would still be subject to material scarcity which he envisaged would eventually give way of abundance. But on what grounds does Pena rationalise his system of compensation?

Pena maintains that in his ecological society the priority of distribution is to return to individuals the amount of energy they have invested in society”. What can this possibly mean?  If the more energy you “invest in society” means the greater your reward how would this apply in the case of , say, the operator of JCB digger who uses her machine to dig a hole, compared to a manual labourer who uses merely a pick and shovel?  On the face of it one might be inclined to say that the former invests more energy in accomplishing this task than the latter – particularly if you take into account the fuel costs of the machine and amount of energy required to manufacture it (as distributed over the life time of the machine itself).  But (as we have already seen) this is not at all what Pena has in mind:

That some forms of work involve manipulation of higher quantities of energy than others does not entail that workers in these fields expend more of their own metabolic energy during their work or as part of their labor in acquiring and maintaining their skills; nor does it entitle them to more abundant and higher quality material expectations. The view that they “create” or manipulate higher energy fields is not a badge of entitlement.

So it is the amount of metabolic energy expended by workers which we referred to earlier — how many calories you burn up — that is essentially Pena’s criterion for compensating workers.  Sweaty, back-breaking, manual toil associated with digging a hole with a pick and shovel is to receive preferential treatment over, and rewarded more highly than, operating a JCB digger in Pena’s world.   I don’t know if David Pena has ever done hard physical labour – as a landscape gardener I actually do it for a living – but I can’t help noticing that this romanticising of physical labour tends to be a trait of “middle class” intellectuals who seem to do precious little of it themselves. It kind of reminds me of Jerome K Jerome’s witticism: “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours”.

Frankly, I see no problem with using machines providing one doesn’t go overboard with this.  For instance, there is a strong case for applying small scale “appropriate” technologies, like rotavators and strimmers, to relieve the burden of back breaking toil and at the same time increase productivity , for instance, in the case of millions of peasant producers in the Global South.

But all this is by the by. If Pena wants to use the expenditure of an individual’s own metabolic energy as the criterion of compensation — though how he proposes to apply this criterion in practice is anyone’s guess — then he needs to be aware of the likely consequences of what he is advocating.  Above all, he needs to understand that it will encourage the substitution of more productive forms of labour using machinery by less productive and more labour intensive forms of production not least because of the greater incentive the latter has to offer insofar as it commands a higher level of compensation.  If so, that will in all likelihood mean a quite a significant decline in output.

We can see how this links up with the argument about material abundance being a precondition of Marxian socialism.  Without the technological potential to produce enough to satisfy people’s basic needs, the establishment of a socialist society becomes problematic if not downright impossible. Marx’s labour certificate scheme was predicated on precisely this insight.  In the early days of socialist society he speculated there would be not quite enough to go around to adequately meet the needs of everyone.  It was only when “all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly” that society could abandon this scheme and move on to implement fully the socialist principle of “from each according to ability to each according to need” – the system of free access and voluntaristic labour we associate with the higher phase of communism.

These speculations on Marx’s part relate to a possible future post-capitalist socialist world.  But the world in which Marx made these speculations was one in which the socio-economic system we call capitalism was still developing and had not yet fully matured.   Indeed, in contrast to today’s global capitalism vast chunks of the world back then in the mid-19th century still remained relatively untouched by the spread of the capitalist market economy.

It was in this context that the 1848 Communist Manifesto’s talked in such glowing terms of the way in which capitalism was developing the productive potential of society. It spoke candidly of the need “to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible” precisely because Marx and Engels believed this would hasten the day that a communist society could be established.  That was not an unreasonable argument to make given the circumstances of the times in which Marx was writing.  If the productive forces were not sufficiently developed to allow society to meet the needs of the people the result would be scarcity.  This would unleash a competitive scramble for goods – and greed as the inevitable product of a scarcity mind-set – that would likely undermine the entire communist project even assuming it could even be realised under these circumstances in the first place.

As they put in The German Ideology“This development of the productive forces is an absolutely necessary practical premise [of communism], because without it want is generalised, and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive.” (1846, Vol 1.)

I, for one, would be interested to learn what, if anything, Pena has in mind to put in place that might avert a revival of all that “old crap” in his version of an “ecological socialism”. For material scarcity is bad news for socialism and bad news for the environment as well.  Yet one gets the distinct impression that Pena scorns the need for a developed infrastructure and the opportunity to take advantage of the best that modern technology has to offer in favour of us all wearing hair shirts.

For scarcity is what Pena is urging us to embrace with all the stoicism of a Tibetan monk.  At least Tibetan monks have the charity of others to fall back upon for their means of subsistence but a whole society cannot depend on this.

We have already seen how the logic of what he is arguing for would result in a profligate waste of resources through the application of his own version of the law of value which he recommends for an “ecological socialist” society. Now we see how a decline in output is likely to be assured through the preferential treatment or compensation he proposes to accord sweaty manual labourers like myself based on our comparatively greater “expenditure of metabolic energy”.

What better inducement can there be for us to abandon the machines that lighten our toil than the fact that we would get paid more? But in abandoning the machines we also diminish our productivity and what we are able to produce. He should not be surprised if his hair-shirted proletarians rise up in protest as times get progressively harder.  Come back Pol Pot, all is forgiven.   There will seemingly be little need, or call for, desk-bound scientists, doctors and engineers, and little attraction for such occupations anyway, in David Pena’s utopia.

However, paradoxical though it may seem, the one thing that can kill off greed and the competitive scramble for goods that drives it, is abundance – or, to be more precise, the possibility for individuals to freely appropriate what they need without the barrier of market exchange.  Let me illustrate this with a practical example.

Some years ago I lived in a small spa town in southern Spain.  The water that flows non-stop into the numerous fountains dotted around the town is to all intents and purpose the same water that is bottled by the bottling plant located just outside the town that is then sold on to various supermarket chains throughout the region and beyond. The former is freely available to take without limit but you, frankly, don’t find the good citizens of the town frenetically rushing to the nearest fountain to fill up every available container they can lay their hands on.  There is simply no need to.  They know the water is always going to be available for them to take whenever they need to.  Curiously (under the circumstances) the bottled version of the same water is stocked in the local supermarket and, needless to say, comes with a price tag.

The free access to potable spring water that the town’s residents and visitors alike enjoy might well be taken as an exemplar of the principle of distribution in Marx’s higher phase of communism.  The point is that it works.  And there are multiple other examples of the same principle that can be found to work even under capitalism today.  People do adjust their behaviour to fit the material circumstances they find themselves in.

However, when Marx talked about all the “springs of co-operative wealth” flowing more abundantly in his higher phase of communism this should not be taken to mean that he had in mind some unlimited cornucopia of absolute abundance.  That particular gloss on the term is an idealised abstraction or reflex that springs from the basic precept of bourgeois or mainstream economics – the dogma that human wants are insatiable.  Given the allegedly insatiable nature of such wants abundance is unobtainable – unless you mean this idealised version of “absolute abundance” of literally everything and we all know that that is unobtainable. Therefore, goes the argument, “socialism is impossible”.  Case closed.

But is it? “Scarcity” according to this argument is built into the very concept of opportunity costs – namely, to do or to have X we must necessarily forego Y.   But this particular construction of scarcity is a trite truism.  It is what you might call “psychologically empty”.  Nevertheless it allows our budding undergraduate economist in the rarefied world of bourgeois economics to smugly maintain that socialism is a pipe dream since it presupposes that we will be able to do or to have both X and Y in order for socialism to be possible. In short, the disappearance of opportunity costs altogether.   Since this is indeed impossible then so too must socialism be impossible.

But this is not what socialists mean by “scarcity” or “abundance” at all.  The fact that I choose to play tennis in the afternoon does indeed mean I have to forego the opportunity to take a walk in the park at the same time or any other of the countless activities I could be doing. But in what sense, pray, is this going to present a problem?  Am I going spoil my game of tennis by fretting over the opportunity I have thereby foregone to engage in some other activity? Any reasonable person would surely think not.

Returning to Pena, it strikes me that his interpretation of how Marx viewed things is based on a complete caricature. Implicitly he seems to go along with reasoning of our bourgeois economists. Thus, he seems to think that the passage from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme describing the higher phase of communist society implies “the continuation of productionism and consumerism (and why suppose any limits on procreation?) under communism, while the environmental implications remain unacknowledged”.  Note well that this marks him off as a critic of both Marx’s higher and lower phase of communism.  In short, communism (or socialism) as such.

He contends that the “ecocidal development” of the so called “socialist countries” exposes “environmental practices under socialism as no better than under capitalism overall”.  How he imagines these state capitalist regimes in any way resemble Marx’s conception of socialism I cannot say but, in any case, if he believes that environmental practices “under socialism” are so environmentally destructive, why then advocate for “ecological socialism”? The “socialism” part of this construction will surely be at odds with the “ecological” part, according to Pena’s logic.  Why pretend, then, to be an ecological socialist? Why not drop all claim to be a socialist if that is what you truly think of socialism?

It is an all too wearily familiar refrain from (some) environmentalists unfamiliar with Marx’s writings that he was sceptical or disbelieving of the notion of ecological limits and was religiously devoted to some promethean goal of unlimited “production for the sake of production”. However, there has been a veritable spate of books and articles published in recent decades that have utterly debunked the idea that Marx was unaware or unconcerned about the destructive impact of capitalist economic activity on environment.  I refer the reader to books such as Howard Parson’s Marx and Engels on Ecology (1977), Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (2014) and more recently still Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy (2017).

Engels, Marx’s collaborator, was no less passionately committed to the environmental cause. In his Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy (1843) he observed how the private ownership of the land, the drive for profit and the degradation of nature all hang together. “To make earth an object of huckstering — the earth which is our one and all, the first condition of our existence — was the last step towards making oneself an object of huckstering” 

Forty years later in his The Dialectics of Nature (1883) he penned what is arguably one of the most beautiful and compelling passages of environmental prose one is likely to encounter:

Let us not, however,  flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were … thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.

Yet, astonishingly, Pena uncharitably dismisses such talk as a set of “disconnected ad hoc comments” that “do not amount to a mature theoretical treatment of and comprehensive policy toward ecological issues

But did not the Communist Manifesto argue for the need “to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible” you might ask.

Certainly it did. But in no way can this be construed, as Pena attempts to construe it, as a rallying cry for unlimited production for the sake of production and consumption for the sake of consumption.  In fact, that claim makes no sense at all.  The whole point of the exercise was to raise the productive potential of society to the point at which the reasonable needs of the population can be adequately met, at which point the competitive pressure on our natural resource arising out of material scarcity can then begin to ease off. The notion of “limit” is implicit in the very logic of the argument itself. Arguing for the need to increase production up to a certain point cannot be squared with the idea of unlimited production or production for the sake of production.

Unless we can increase production up to that point where our basic needs can be adequately met it is inevitable that, in the words of The German Ideology, all “the old crap must revive” and Pena has singularly failed to demonstrate in any way whatsoever how the revival of the old crap can be averted in his scenario and thereby doom his own version of “ecological socialism” to failure.  A truly ecological socialist society has also to be a post scarcity society.

As stated, in Marx’s time the prospect of a post scarcity was not on the cards. This perhaps helps to account for some of the more questionable ideas he put forward – like his labour certificate scheme — which socialists today are under no obligation to go along with.  Nevertheless, he and Engels were sensitive to ongoing developments in their time and not dogmatically attached to what they had previously written. Thus, in the 1872 Preface to Communist Manifesto we find them saying:

The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today. In view of the gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848, and of the accompanying improved and extended organization of the working class, in view of the practical experience gained, first in the February Revolution, and then, still more, in the Paris Commune, where the proletariat for the first time held political power for two whole months, this programme has in some details been antiquated

The mention here of the “gigantic strides of Modern Industry since 1848” is a reference to the growing productive potential of modern industry to supply the population with their means of subsistence.  Socialists today would argue that this productive potential to create a post scarcity society has been around for at least a century.  Consequently, there is no need to defer socialism on the grounds that that productive forces need to be “further developed” as Marx and Engels had argued in their time.

Even in their time they were able to detect the growing contradiction between what society was able to produce and what it profitably allows to be produced.  Even as early as 1848 they noted in their Manifesto that in the guise of economic crises “there breaks out an epidemic that in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of overproduction”. Increasingly, the problem that capitalism has to contend with is its ability to produce too much, not too little, by its own yardstick of what is “too much”.  An oversupply of commodities in relation to what the market demands causes prices to fall and along with that, profits.  Pena may dismiss the concept of a contradiction as metaphysical mumbo jumbo but for the workers laid off when it is no longer profitable to employ them in the face of glutted markets, that contradiction is all too tangible.

Since Marx the contradiction between what society actually produces and its potential to adequately meet human needs has, if anything grown exponentially.  In fact, the existence of such things as empty homes alongside homeless people or the destruction of food to boost prices in the face of starvation is only one small aspect of the sheer waste of capitalism.  More significant still is the fact that the bulk of economic activity carried on in capitalism today has nothing to do with meeting human need at all.  It has simply to do with meeting the systemic needs of capitalism itself and with enabling this system to tick over.

The entire financial sector is one among many examples of capitalism’s steadily growing, and already enormous, “structural waste” which diverts vast quantities of materials and labour into activities that are completely irrelevant and useless from the standpoint of meeting human needs.  Yet you will never grasp the full extent of this waste unless you view it through the prism of a perspective informed by Marx’s notion of full communism – a society in which individuals produce directly to satisfy their human needs rather than for sale on the market.

The ecological implications of this argument are absolutely huge yet Pena seems to have not the slightest inkling of any of this.  He does not understand that simply by virtue of fundamentally changing the mode of production to a fully socialist or communist one (in the Marxian sense) and thereby eliminating the enormous structural waste of capitalism we can, in one stroke, significantly increase the output of socially useful wealth and, at the same time, significantly reduce the pressure we currently exert on the environment.  We can produce more with much less by diverting all those massive quantities of material and human resources that we currently waste on socially useless production into socially useful production.

However, it is not just a question of supply.  Scarcity – or abundance – is a function of both supply and demand. I am reminded of Marshall Sahlin’s seminal work Stone Age Economics: the original Affluent Society (1972) in which he talked of there being two possible routes to affluence:

Wants may be “easily satisfied” either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way, makes assumptions peculiarly appropriate to market economies: that man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although improvable: thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that “urgent goods” become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, departing from premises somewhat different from our own: that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty-with a low standard of living.

I would argue that Marxian socialism represents a kind of dialectical fusion or interplay of both these approaches to achieving affluence.  Marx’s humanism is predicated on the belief that we are fundamentally social animals at heart and that we are capable of recognising our basic interdependence as individuals and act upon this in ways that encourage responsibility to each other and towards our natural environment upon which we all depend. Our attitude towards nature is conditioned by our attitude towards each other.  As C S Lewis once said: “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument”.  The Abolition of Man, 1843.)

The kind of society we live in today, however, makes it difficult for such an outlook to take hold and gain a footing.  When a multi-billion dollar global advertising industry relentlessly eggs us on to buy yet more stuff and insidiously drip feeds into us a sense of personal inadequacy that can only be assuaged through that curious ritual that goes by the name of retail therapy, we know we are in the presence of powerful forces bent on shaping and moulding our view of the world to fit its own particular agenda — the maximisation of profit.

Such is the expansionist dynamic built into a system of market competition.   Capitalism is a zero sum game in which one business enterprise must seek to capture a larger slice of the market at the expense of another or go under. This is the material basis of Pena’s “productionism” — production for the sake of production — in a profit driven economy in which the overriding imperative is to accumulate more and more capital out of profit in order to stay ahead of the competition.  Its natural corollary is “consumption for the sake of consumption”.

Consumerism, as this is called, is inextricably intertwined with the very existence of capitalism, with the very existence of production for sale on the market.  Individual business desperately seek to increase what they can sell on the market even if the contradictory nature of capitalism is such that in their individual effort to produce and sell more they collectively bring about a state of affairs in which the markets for what they blindly produce become glutted.

Notwithstanding Pena’s claim that if we “cannot understand and measure value, then we cannot implement the principle, and if we cannot do that, then we cannot have socialism” it is only in the context of production for the market that the need to “understand and measure value” arises.  It arises because of the need to ensure that market exchanges are the exchanges of equivalents – to go right back to what was said at the outset of this article. Value in the specific economic sense of exchange value has no purpose in a society without market exchange. So what Pena is saying in effect is that we need a market economy.  He would do well to remember what that entails.

Production for the market, as we have seen, nurtures individualist values just as it undermines collectivist values.  But if we put ourselves at the centre of the universe and have little or no regard for the wellbeing of others what is there to restrain us from seeking to accumulate without limit and in the process inflict damage on the environment?

In the acquisitive society that is market capitalism the status of an individual, the esteem in which she is held, tends to boil to her wealth and her conspicuous consumption of such wealth.  No amount of moralising against the “consumerism” of the average citizen is going to prove effective when we live in a world in which a tiny handful of multi-billionaires — the very exemplars of “capitalist success” which we are urged to look up to and strive to become — own more wealth than half this world’s population combined, this grotesque inequality being the very product of market capitalism itself.

In stark contrast, Marx’s vision of a socialist society renders such a notion of “status” completely meaningless simply by virtue of the fact that each and every individual has free access to those goods and services she requires.  Actually, the only way in which you can earn the respect and esteem of your fellows in such a society would be through what you contribute to it, not what you take out of it.

This is yet another point that Pena has completely overlooked in his assault on Marxian socialism and I suspect that is because he has not really grasped what this entails. If he seriously wants to address the problem of consumerism he needs to get the root cause.  It is not by stridently lecturing the ordinary man or woman in the street struggling to make ends meet, on the moral virtues of abandoning consumerism that you will make progress,  Rather, it is by organising collectively in our own interests to create a different kind of society that we will achieve that.

Thus,  it is both from the standpoint of supply as well as from the standpoint of demand that Marxian socialism recommends itself as the most appropriate and most direct route to a truly ecological society that Pena doubtless desires but has no way of realising if his ill-informed critique of Marx is anything to go by.

The post The Marxian Theory of Value: A Response to David Pena (Part Three) first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Annual Alpine Crucifixions

Morgen in Riesengebirge, by Caspar David Friedrich

Sometimes it can be useful to be brief. Last year, the wave of worry, promoted by the Swedish Alberich, without at least the artistic virtue of her deceased compatriot, Birgit Nilsson, stimulated predictions of imminent Götterdämmerung. This virtually Wagnerian kitsch was further dramatised by the pretensious performers of troupes apocalyptical like Extinction Rebellion. As 2019 ended we were all to believe that indeed Valhalla lay around the corner- at least for the sustainable. Instead we should have anticipated the Götzendämmerung. Yet 2020 proved that the idols are worshipped more than ever, albeit with the collusion of the gods.

The general tendency (or intention) to focus public attention on phenomena which require religious faith is a very old means of exerting control and diverting attention from the destructive activities of those in whom control has been concentrated.

The reluctance to attribute climate change to universal — in the sense of phenomena in the universe — processes like solar activity, planetary motion etc. lies in the fact that this would weaken clerical claims to authority (whether as priests or scientists).

By attributing events — most of which we only “know” from mass media depictions — as “climate change” and due to CO2, it is possible to promote a pseudo-scientific argument that implicates the masses without necessarily subjecting the “clergy” to the same accusations. CO2 has the same function as “sin” for the Church. So the rich and powerful can say “we are all sinners” but there are only a few of us and many more of YOU — the masses of CO2 sinners. What is demanded then is submission and penance, while the rich — literally have recourse to indulgences.

The crimes of mass poisoning and destruction of the habitable environment — we need only remember that mega-cities are the product of land theft and wage or other forms of slave labour — are entirely withdrawn from the scope of specific (e.g. class) human responsibility. They become non-events.

Often it is said that climate activists are like religious fanatics. However, to adequately respond to the problem — not merely condemn it — one has to pay more attention to how religion as such functions, especially in a culture polluted by Christendom.

On another level, and levels are always being confused, the demands for less waste and unnecessary consumption — rooted in the Puritan morality of non-conformist clergy — has more appeal given the forty years of declining incomes for labouring people. It suggests to the frugal and ordinary that they could preserve what little they have accumulated if they could only live in an environment where conservation was a generally accepted practice and value. Meanwhile monopolies and cartels — the rulers of the economy — dress their business models in new garb like “sustainability” and “carbon neutrality”. For them sustainability is foremost sustainable profit and carbon neutrality a fiction achieved by trading in environmental indulgences (e.g. emission certificates). Having accrued their tonne of wealth, they would have us believe they will be satisfied with a few tonnes less.

(Well, a tonne of wealth comes from creating several tonnes of poverty too. But that has never stopped anyone interested in wealth for its own sake.)

A few years after the Club of Rome (1968) was founded and began its crusade, a German-speaking engineer was endowed with the resources to begin in 1971 what would become the World Economic Forum (WEF), a kind of ecumenical council for the episcopate and prelates of capitalism. In 1972, the Club of Rome published the eugenic epistel,  The Limits to Growth. Soon Klaus Schwab became a kind of permanent prefect of this college of cannibals. One is tempted to say pontiff. His role seems clearly to be that of a bridge between the rapacious, vicious, and obscenely wealthy and those who deliver their messages to the true believers and the masses compelled to be faithful. For nearly 50 years, the pontiff of profit has preached to the flock how they may expect to be sacrificed in future. The most recent version of this message is the encyclical “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

A particularly obnoxious aspect of the WEF theology is implicit in the call for a “fourth” industrial revolution, the blatant disregard for the violence of the previous three. Industrial revolutions were not revolutions so much as they were wars against labour at each time when the risk swelled that such labour would demand its share of the fruits it had produced.

Among others Andre Gunder Frank (e.g. in ReOrient) explained, the so-called Industrial Revolution (the first one) in the Western peninsula, in part, as propelled by a population shortage. In contrast to the centre of human civilisation, Asia, labour was always relatively expensive in what came to be known as Europe (except slaves, whose labour generated much if not most of the capital for the Industrial Revolution). In fact, what we now know as western capitalism and white supremacy are directly related to chronic shortages of reliable (subservient) labour in the West. However, the overproduction that soon resulted regularly from industrial manufacture also required the destruction of competitors and later the inducement to desire rather than need products. Massive industrial strength wars, leading to atomic weapons, were the other means by which profitability was restored and surplus population slaughtered, starved or killed by disease.

The WEF anticipates a “4th industrial revolution” because since the 1950s labour in the West has been considered too expensive at any price. Now having stripped almost all benefits of the wage/ salary and non-wage growth as well as pensions (employees’ deferred income- deceptively called a “benefit” by the State) from the declining labour force, there is a need to redesign industry again to eliminate all but the most essential workers at any educational level. It must be remembered that the WEF represents the pinnacle of profitability and control. The rhetoric of stakeholder v. shareholder notwithstanding, the overall social objective of the class represented in these alpine atrocities is the means by which wealth can be further amassed. It would be more useful to understand “stakeholder” as a reference to those who may be burned at the stake, to sustain the benefits to elite shareholders.

The apparent paradox is that this will eliminate the capacity for consumption and hence an economic model based on low or no consumption is needed in the West.

Hence drug addiction is the best model there is for this kind of economy. The never-ending wars in Latin America, the Middle East and South Central Asia assure the supply of illicit drugs. Expanding the drug addiction beyond narcotics to what might be called “life entitling” substances; e.g., medicines and vaccines, offers the potential to reduce political opposition/resistance while maintaining income streams as the population declines. This was, in fact, the business model of the British East India Company, producing opium in India to smuggle into China. That model has never really been abandoned, merely its legal forms have been changed.

The 4th industrial revolution will be just as criminally violent as the previous three but it will involve applying old techniques — religion and drugs — to subject at least 20-30 per cent of the world population. This is to be eased by the viral and climate crusades designed to prepare the pious masses to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the alpine conclave. The rest of us are just industrial waste, green indeed, like soylent green.

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