Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 10, 2018

Making sense of Nathaniel Rich’s “Losing Earth”

Filed under: climate,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 1:21 am

I just finished reading last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine article “Losing Earth” by Nathaniel Rich on the failure of elites to respond to the climate change crisis between 1979 to 1989. Since the author is the son of leading liberal pundit Frank Rich, it should not come as any surprise that it is something of a morality play with Al Gore, Friends of the Earth staff member Rafe Pomerantz and James Hansen on the side of the angels and John Sununu, Bush ‘41’s Chief of Staff, playing Satan.

In such a personality-driven article, you don’t get any sense of the institutional and social pressures that led to inaction. Indeed, you might even draw the conclusion that if Sununu had been more enlightened, the planet would be in much better shape today.

The article has generated angry denunciations by Naomi Klein in Intercept and Alyssa Battistoni in Jacobin. They agree that the main flaw of the article is that keeps talking about “our” failure to respond to the crisis, an analysis that does not address the class distinctions that shut the door on mass participation to avert climate change. Battistoni writes: “Rich recognizes that the problem is political, but again, he draws the wrong conclusions. At one point, he wonders, “if science, industry and the press could not move the government to act, then who could?” I don’t know — how about the people?”

For her part, Klein writes:

And yet we blew it — “we” being humans, who apparently are just too shortsighted to safeguard our future. Just in case we missed the point of who and what is to blame for the fact that we are now “losing earth,” Rich’s answer is presented in a full-page callout: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”

Yep, you and me. Not, according to Rich, the fossil fuel companies who sat in on every major policy meeting described in the piece. (Imagine tobacco executives being repeatedly invited by the U.S. government to come up with policies to ban smoking. When those meetings failed to yield anything substantive, would we conclude that the reason is that humans just want to die? Might we perhaps determine instead that the political system is corrupt and busted?)

I think their critiques are well-taken but why would you expect anything different from the NY Times? Years ago, Alexander Cockburn wrote a piquant critique of FAIR, with its frequent campaigns against the NY Times and the Washington Post for dispensing ruling class propaganda. Why, he asked, would you expect them to write anything that did not promote the interests of the class it serves? Of course, with this in mind, you have to ask yourself why both newspapers have been functioning as PR flaks for Jacobin for almost a decade now.

My attitude toward the Rich article was somewhat more positive since I saw it as a briskly-paced examination of how inside-the-beltway maneuvering takes place. You know the sort of thing I am talking about. As sports radio is to the machinations taking place in the NY Yankees management before a trade deadline, so is this article to how climate change  policy-wrangling took place three decades ago. It makes you want to bathe in a disinfectant.

Both Klein and Battistoni seem to think that Jacobin and the DSA honchos are like men and women on horseback riding in to save the day. Klein is practically breathless:

These are the stakes in the surge of movement-grounded political candidates who are advancing a democratic eco-socialist vision, connecting the dots between the economic depredations caused by decades of neoliberal ascendency and the ravaged state of our natural world. Partly inspired by Bernie Sanders’s presidential run, candidates in a variety of races — like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, Kaniela Ing in Hawaii, and many more — are running on platforms calling for a “Green New Deal” that meets everyone’s basic material needs, offers real solutions to racial and gender inequities, while catalyzing a rapid transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Many, like New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and New York attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout, have pledged not to take money from fossil fuel companies and are promising instead to prosecute them.

These candidates, whether or not they identify as democratic socialist, are rejecting the neoliberal centrism of the establishment Democratic Party, with its tepid “market-based solutions” to the ecological crisis, as well as Donald Trump’s all-out war on nature. And they are also presenting a concrete alternative to the undemocratic extractivist socialists of both the past and present. Perhaps most importantly, this new generation of leaders isn’t interested in scapegoating “humanity” for the greed and corruption of a tiny elite. It seeks instead to help humanity — particularly its most systematically unheard and uncounted members — to find their collective voice and power so they can stand up to that elite.

I hate to sound like an old stick in the mud but I doubt that electing Sandernistas will have even the slightest impact on climate change. The truth is that it will take many years for a Sanders type administration to occupy the White House and even when in power it will have its hands tied when dealing with the massive inertia the capitalist system imposes on governmental action.

To reverse climate change requires revolutionary action and that is something that is beyond the DSA’s capability to carry out. Given every opportunity to present their analysis of the environmental crisis, both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez never really make clear that capitalism is the main obstacle to climate justice. Corporations will always put their profits ahead of social need, even if alternative energy sources in the USA begin to resemble the kind of advances being made in Europe and China. Given the need to avoid red ink, corporations will always fall back on fossil fuels even if they are supposedly “clean” such as natural gas.

Ultimately, humanity will need to abolish the private ownership of the means of production in order to ensure that its future needs are safeguarded. If you think that Donald Trump is a fascist danger right now, you haven’t seen capitalism in its final, most deadly stages defending itself against the rabble. Twenty-five years from now, when the struggle had reached a fever pitch, you can surely expect George Soros’s son to be funneling money to Richard Spencer and the Proud Boys. I guarantee it.

 

October 3, 2017

The political economy of hurricanes and debt

Filed under: climate,colonialism,financial crisis,Puerto Rico — louisproyect @ 8:53 pm

Yesterday I interviewed Ian Seda-Irizarry, an economics professor at John Jay College, about the situation in Puerto Rico, where he was born and raised, The interview covered the hurricane aftermath as well as the ongoing economic disaster that makes recovery all the more difficult. Despite the grim situation, there are signs that a new left is emerging in Puerto Rico that prioritizes class demands and a new approach to the age-old question of the island’s colonial status. Ian recommends the following articles as good background on Puerto Rican politics and economics:

2) https://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Politics-Primaries-and-Crisis-in-Puerto-Rico-20160602-0035.html
3) http://www.fsdrecertification.com/sites/default/files/contentgroups/economics/SedaAJuntaforPuertoRico.pdf
4) http://www.fsdrecertification.com/sites/default/files/contentgroups/economics/02-Ian_1.pdf

September 1, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and the dialectics of nature

Filed under: climate,Counterpunch,disaster,Ecology — louisproyect @ 1:25 pm

Between 1872 and 1882, Frederick Engels worked on a book titled “The Dialectics of Nature” that sought to apply Marxist dialectics to the natural world. Although it was never completed and is filled with dated ideas about science, it is a work that has earned the respect of some of the most important scientists on the left such as Stephen Jay Gould who praised its best known chapter that was issued separately as a pamphlet—The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Long before people such as Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson were laying the groundwork for the eco-socialism of today, Engels anticipated the kind of contradictions that have led to three disastrous hurricanes: Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey. Engels wrote:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries.

If you understand that the prairies surrounding Houston, the wetlands to the south of New Orleans and the brush that grew across the coastline around greater New York were closely related to the forests of the earliest class societies that Engels refers to, you will realize that “each victory” will bring us closer to the ultimate defeat of civilization itself. Just consider the words that follow those above:

When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.

Furious torrents. Are there any words better matched to the pictures of Houston seen on television every night?

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August 28, 2017

U. of Houston professor Robert Buzzanco speaks about Hurricane Harvey

Filed under: climate,disaster — louisproyect @ 8:32 pm

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