- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Some different grist for the socialist mill

Posted by: bill on August 19, 1999 at 01:47:22:

Not that anarcho-capitalism hasn't provided some fun - I think this particular grist has proven to be too crumbly. Some newer and tougher pebbles need to be added:

"1.16. The Politics of Ecology

Ecopolitics presents the real alternative to the bankruptcy of mainstream politics, one uniquely relevant to our times. As the Earth's life-support systems begin to collapse, there is a desperate need for a distinctly ecological framework of values, analysis and policy development. On issues as varied as genetic engineering and taxation, most discussion is still trapped, however, within a framework that has no deep awareness of environmental or social constraints. Ecopolitics seeks to blend the wisdom of ecology to long-standing traditions in society of personal responsibility and moderation.

The first task is to face the reality that humanity is entering what gives every sign of being the most critical period in its entire history. The decisions we make over the next two decades are likely to decide whether or not the Earth life-support systems are sustained or become irreversibly impoverished. The crisis 'outside' society is mirrored within it. Despite unprecedented levels of affluence and massive leaps in technological know-how, the fabric of society is, nevertheless, coming apart at the seams.

These interlocking social, economic and environmental crises in turn are reflected in the realm of politics. The political system is in a deepening state of crisis, unable to respond to the challenges of our times. None of the major political parties has really grasped what is at stake while the one force that seemed most promising, the green movement, is itself in a state of disarray and confusion.

Politics today reflects and feeds upon wider assumptions in society, where the dream of unlimited growth and affluence for all holds sway. None of the major parties is prepared to stand up and tell everyone that the game is up and that the consumer society as we know it is doomed. Even the Green Party fails to talk of limits imposed by ecological reality. Instead, it increasingly has taken refuge in wishful talk about expanding personal entitlements.

Socialism, Capitalism & Industrialisation.

Socialist thinking, particularly its Marxist variants, has been shackled to a model of history in which industrialisation is perceived as a massive step forward, breaking the chains of feudalism whilst creating the necessary preconditions for the subsequent advance to socialism. In 19th century America, for example, socialists denounced craft artisans and small-scale farmers for opposing the advent of wage labour and the growth of a propertyless proletariat. Marxists and non-Marxists alike could see only inevitability and progress in the fateful shift to a society based on an intense division of labour, large-scale units of production and dependence upon finite and grossly polluting fossil fuels and inorganic minerals.

Of course, like many others, socialists have been deeply aware of the terrible social and environmental costs of 'progress'. However, they blame these ills on capitalist ownership, not the nature and scale of the productive forces themselves. By contrast, political ecologists tend to use concepts like 'industrialism' and 'industrial growth society' which at least point to the most significant characteristics of modern society and which will persist even if all private ownership were to be abolished. The nature and scale of environmental impacts is the crucial expression of a given society's values and structures as well as the decisive influence on its future fate. It is from that starting point that specific institutions and policies-be it the Stock Exchange or free trade-should be judged, rather than some a priori assumption that planning and public ownership is always to be preferred.

Socialism & Social Change

Last but not least, socialist theory is shackled to an extremely crude and mechanistic model of how society changes. True to type, red-greens wax lyrical about the progressive potential of the 'workers' and the 'class struggle', even though they themselves seldom have any connection with the factory floor, mine or farmyard. (Like capitalism, the 'proletariat' and 'working class' are terms used so loosely and in so many ways that they lose a lot of their analytical value) They make the vulgar and unsustainable assumption that, basically, social position determines consciousness and, in turn, behaviour. This is why it is widely assumed, for example, that there is an automatic link between the rise of capitalism and the Protestant Reformation (in fact, many leading European bankers remained Catholic while some economically backward areas such as Scotland rallied to the new religion).

The issue of agency is a real one and any political movement must be able to identify social forces it can tap. Though only a long discussion could do justice to this matter, it can be baldly suggested that support for moves towards ecological sustainability will be strongest amongst mature, educated adults in the social 'mainstream', not amongst the dispossessed and marginalised elements which many socialists today see as the vanguard of a new social order.

Socialism, then, brings with it so much anti-ecological baggage that a red-green fusion could lead only to a quick divorce or a loss of greenery. To a large extent, this is what has happened in Die Grünen and it seems be happening in the Green Party in the UK and amongst American greens. There is a yawning chasm between a politics of ecology and that of all major traditions of socialist theory and practice. This is the case both at the level of values-anthropocentrism versus an Earth-centred ethics-and of policy-especially limits-to-growth versus expansionism."


Putting aside the snotty elitism of the (much longer) exposition, as well as barely a whisper in the entire monograph about issues of social justice, it seems to me that there are some valid points - but instead of the conclusion - to the contrary, there must be a compatible red-green alliance. Yes? No? How?

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