Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 1, 2019

Ecosocialist debates

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 11:25 pm

Edward Hicks, A Peaceable Kingdom

This is a report on debates within ecosocialism about the feasibility of a Green New Deal and other growth oriented perspectives that I obviously can’t pretend to be neutral about. As should be obvious from the articles I cite, there is a growing polarity between those who advocate policies identified with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA and those who are far more pessimistic about the possibility of resolving the environmental crisis even within the context of a “democratic socialist” framework.

JASPER BERNES

Recently Commune Magazine published an article titled “Between the Devil and the Green New Deal” by its managing editor Jasper Bernes that begins by identifying the “rare metals” that would be essential to the manufacturing of “alternative energy” generators that are critical to the Green New Deal. A mine in Inner Mongolia, China is the primary source of such ore that has contaminating the surrounding area. Bernes refers to “death villages” surrounding the mine that display “Chernobylesque” cancer rates.

Over on FB, Leigh Phillips, the Jacobin contributor who believes that the Green New Deal should include nuclear power, took exception to Bernes’s article, claiming that it “exaggerated” the environmental costs. When I asked him for a citation to back that up, he cited an article by a couple of Chinese scientists who concluded that there was only “a moderate potential ecological risk”. However, if you read their article, it only mentions soil samples and not the lake close to the mine that is clogged with toxic waste. Furthermore, it is focused on the presence of heavy metals in the soil near the mine when the bigger problem is the by-products of refining ore that uses huge amounts of carcinogenic chemicals.

Citing Vaclav Smil, Bernes states that replacing current US energy consumption with renewables would require at least 25-50 percent of the US landmass being devoted to solar, wind, and biofuels. Considering the encroachments on land by ranchers, farmers, timber companies, home developers, et al, it appears that capitalist growth—even made kosher by renewables—will hit a brick wall before long.

At the heart of the Green New Deal, there is a Sisyphean contradiction:

The problem is that growth and emissions are, by almost every measure, profoundly correlated. The Green New Deal thus risks becoming a sort of Sisyphean reform, rolling the rock of emissions reductions up the hill each day only to have a growing, energy-hungry economy knock it back down to the bottom each night.

My only quibble with Bernes’s article is the amalgam it makes between the Green New Deal and Leon Trotsky’s transitional demands:

Many socialists will recognize that mitigation of climate change within a system of production for profit is impossible, but they think a project like the Green New Deal is what Leon Trotsky called a “transitional program,” hinged upon a “transitional demand.” Unlike the minimal demand, which capitalism can easily meet, and the maximal demand which it clearly can’t, the transitional demand is something that capitalism could potentially meet if it were a rational and humane system, but in actuality can’t.

I wish that he had named the socialists that think the GND is something like a transitional demand. I suppose he is referring to an article by the anarchist Wayne Price whose critique of the Marxist Richard Smith’s article in defense of a Green New Deal hinges on its impossibility of being realized under capitalism. Since Smith doesn’t mention Trotsky in his article, it makes Bernes’s claim questionable. Between Bernes, Wayne Price and Richard Smith, the connection to Trotsky sounds like something that might have sprung from Telephone, the children’s game. In my view, Smith is a bit of an outlier on the GND. Most of its advocates are pretty settled on it being a policy not much different than those that have largely been accomplished in Western Europe and even in China, if you believe Dean Baker.

Without using the term “de-growth”, Bernes’s conclusion certainly is consistent with what Jason Hickel and others have written. I find it to be eminently reasonable:

We cannot keep things the same and change everything. We need a revolution, a break with capital and its killing compulsions, though what that looks like in the twenty-first century is very much an open question. A revolution that had as its aim the flourishing of all human life would certainly mean immediate decarbonization, a rapid decrease in energy use for those in the industrialized global north, no more cement, very little steel, almost no air travel, walkable human settlements, passive heating and cooling, a total transformation of agriculture, and a diminishment of animal pasture by an order of magnitude at least.

THEA RIOFRANCOS

Thea Riofrancos, who co-authored an article for Jacobin titled “The Green New Deal’s Five Freedoms”, responded to Bernes in a “comradely” fashion on Facebook. (Since some of my readers are not on FB, I include her entire reply at the bottom of this post.)

Riofrancos does not get into the details of rare earth mining but does mention that she has “spent the past three months in Chile researching lithium.” I, for one, am looking forward to her insights from this excursion but in the meantime still wonder whether a trip to Chile would provide any overarching answer to the problem of the environmental costs of extracting the ore.

She also is not bothered by a Rorschach-like character that some might impute to the GND:

The central ambivalence running through the essay is whether the Green New Deal is too radical to be implemented (given the exigencies of capitalist growth, capital’s capture of our political system, and the balance of class forces) or, on the contrary, it is not radical enough, a mere ornamental reform that allows pretty much all of the aforementioned to continue uninterrupted. On the one hand, the Green New Deal “leaves growth intact”; on the other hand, in order to achieve the economy-wide decarbonization it proposes, it would elicit a ruthless response of the ruling class (“you should expect the owners of that wealth to fight you with everything they have, which is more or less everything”). But is the Green New Deal win-win green growth or all-out class warfare? Is it too reformist to meet the scale of the climate catastrophe or too radical to be thinkable let alone realizable in the current conjuncture?

This is a question for Bernes to answer but I would only venture my own. The GND is akin to the projection of a Swedish-style social democracy in the USA that the DSA/Jacobin milieu advocates. It is both not radical enough and too radical to achieve in the USA. In 2017, the Guardian reported that almost 90% of new power in Europe came from renewable sources in the previous year. This is happening because these nations have operated on a social democratic basis for decades and have powerful trade union movements. However, all of them are dependent on imperialist extraction of natural resources from Africa, Asia and Latin America that make such a relatively progressive system to function. If China had imposed the same kinds of regulations on mining that are typical of Sweden, for example, the transition to alternative energy might have been too costly. We are talking about capitalism, after all.

Even if the Western European GND standards were adopted by a majority of politicians in the USA, there would be overwhelming forces opposed to their adoption by energy, transportation, petrochemical, and banking interests. In fact, the same array of reactionary forces would block the evolution of the USA into a Swedish-style social democracy. Unlike Western Europe, the USA is an imperialist hegemon that would resist all attempts at a New Deal of any sort, either Green or FDR-redux. Those are the realities we are dealing with and the naïve hopes of the DSA/Jacobin left will crash up against them on day one of a Bernie Sanders presidency. And those who hope in neo-Kautskyist fashion that this will precipitate a general strike and other revolutionary measures are just kidding themselves.

MATT HUBER

In the DSA magazine for Winter 2019, Huber’s article “Ecosocialism: Dystopian and Scientific” took aim at the “de-growth” current within the ecosocialist movement that he described as a dire threat “to scare us into action.”

Our dystopian future is seen as a product of industrial civilization. For many ecosocialists or left green thinkers, the science is so dire the only option is a wholesale rejection of industrialism This, I would argue, leads to some fanciful (even utopian) ideas of what comes next. Degrowth theorists imagine a “decentralized” future society, “where resources were managed by bio-region—a participatory, low-tech, low-consumption economy, where everyone has to do some farming…”  Richard Smith argues for a socialist program of “managed deindustrialization” without fully explaining what that would actually mean. Last year in the New Left Review, Troy Vettese argued for austerity (or what he called “egalitarian eco-austerity”): the program includes energy rationing, compulsory veganism and turning over half the planet to wild nature (a proposal he takes from reactionary sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson).

The Richard Smith mention above is, of course, the same Richard Smith that was described above as a crypto-Trotskyist. As for what he means by “managed deindustrialization”, I found his explanation fairly clear (it is too bad that Huber does not provide a link to what Smith wrote. It is something like this:

Take just one: Cruise ships are the fastest growing sector of mass tourism on the planet. But they are by far the most polluting tourist indulgence ever invented: Large ships can burn more than 150 tons of the filthiest diesel bunker fuel per day, spewing out more fumes—and far more toxic fumes—than 5 million cars, polluting entire regions, the whole of southern Europe – and all this to ferry a few thousand boozy passengers about bashing coral reefs. There is just no way this industry can be made sustainable.

Oh, don’t let me forget. Here’s the first cruise ship to be shut down after a socialist revolution:

As for Troy Vettese, his article is not behind a paywall at NLR and I urge you to read it. His take on E.O. Wilson does not provoke the same reaction in me that it does in Huber:

The principal cause of extinction is habitat loss, as underlined by the recent work of E. O. Wilson. Though notorious in the Reagan era as the genetic-determinist author of Sociobiology, Wilson is first and foremost a naturalist and conservationist. He estimates that, with a decrease of habitat, the sustainable number of species in it drops by roughly the fourth root of the habitable area. If half the habitat is lost, approximately a tenth of species will disappear, but if 85 per cent is destroyed, then half the species would be extinguished. Humanity is closely tracking this equation’s deadly curve: half of all species are expected to disappear by 2100. The only way to prevent this is to leave enough land for other living beings to flourish, which has led Wilson to call for a utopian programme of creating a ‘half Earth’, where 50 per cent of the world would be left as nature’s domain. Even though much has been lost, he argues that thirty especially rich biomes, ranging from the Brazilian cerrado to the Polish-Belarussian Białowieża Forest, could provide the core of a biodiverse, interconnected mosaic extending over half the globe. Yet, at present only 15 per cent of the world’s land-area has some measure of legal protection, while the fraction of protected areas in the oceans is even smaller—less than 4 per cent.

I happen to hate sociobiology but this has nothing to do with it. Instead, it is an urgent call to action against a looming extinction of wildlife that implicitly threatens us as well. After all, the incursion of mining and ranching companies into the Amazon rainforest will hasten climate change as well as destroy thousands of animals that are native to the region.

There’s not much else to say about Huber’s article except that it reads like Living Marxism circa 1985. He believes that nuclear power can be a part of the GND, just like Leigh Phillips who he quotes favorably: “Let’s take over the machine, not turn it off!” As if such a technocratic formula has anything to do with socialism. Worst of all, he has a poor understanding of what John Bellamy Foster has referred to as “the metabolic rift”:

Today, virtually every “input” into industrialized agriculture is one that saves labor. Tractors plow and plant and chemicals do the “work” of weeding, killing bugs, and fertilizing the soil.

GIORGIO KALLIS

Although Huber does not mention de-growth advocates Jason Hickel and Giorgios Kallis, who have written an important article titled “Is Green Growth Possible?”, Kallis took the trouble of answering him on the Uneven Earth website.

Kallis, like Bernes, has an entirely different notion of a feasible socialism than the Swedish-style socialism that has seduced so many of the Jacobin intellectuals. At the extreme pole, you have someone like Leigh Phillips writing a book about Walmart that makes the case that its mastery of information technology can help us achieve a growth-oriented socialism of the future. It is not computer control of inventory, however, that accounts for its success. It is it control, both automated and by threat of firing, that accounts for its vast economic empire.

For Kallis, the vision of a more carefree and human world is what socialists should help spread:

I live in Barcelona, and our mayor Ada Colau won the municipal elections with the support of a substantial fraction of the working class. Her program emphasized dignity and equality, not growth and material affluence. Colau wanted to stop evictions and secure decent housing for everyone, she did not have to promise air-conditions and cheap charter flights for all (I am not saying that Huber advocates these, but Leigh Phillips, a provocateur who Huber for some reason enthusiastically cites twice, does).

Third, Huber implicitly assumes that what workers want is fixed, and that desires cannot be shaped through reflection and dialogue. This leaves no space for new ideas or new desires and makes one wonder, how is it that workers come to want what they want, and how does this ever change in time? If we follow Huber’s logic then we can only cater to what exists, never shape the possible – this to me seems a quite restricted view of the political.

Let me conclude with a few words about the possible outcome of this debate in the future as economic reality will bring things to a head. In my view, there is an element of truth in Huber’s claim that workers will resist a ceiling on consumption. After all, with television ads 20 times an hour urging you to buy a car or a trip on Norwegian Cruise ship, it becomes a form of brainwashing. I suspect that a combination of ecological ruin, war, and deepening alienation of the kind that has produced an opioid crisis will eventually turn quantity into quality. Human beings are susceptible to baser temptations that an advanced capitalist economy can produce but the promise of a more peaceful life that offers leisure time and spiritual fulfillment will convince workers that giving up 5,000 square foot homes, SUV’s and meat every night of the week is worth it. A Peaceable Kingdom, so to speak.


Tia Riofrancos’s FB post:

A comradely critique of Jasper Bernes‘ “Between the Devil and the Green New Deal” in Commune Magazine.

***

First, let me start with where I agree with Jasper, beginning with the politically parochial and ascending to the systemic and global scales. First, “legislation,” narrowly conceived, is, on its own, insufficient as a response to the climate crisis. So is a “transition” that replaces hydrocarbons with low to zero carbon energy, without touching how much energy is used, what it is used for, and who controls the energy system. Second, the root causes of climate crisis can’t also be the solution to climate crisis. As I’ve written elsewhere, these causes are “profit-seeking, competition, endless growth, exploitation of humans and nature, and imperial expansion.” Third, and relatedly, the already occurring energy transition, unfolding under the logics of green capitalism and the enormous “clean tech” industry, reproduces and expands the extractive frontiers of capitalism. Carbon accounting that begins and ends at the electricity grid, or at the point of final consumption, is an ideological mode of profound mystification, a fetish akin to that of the commodity form. For precisely this reason, I’ve spent the past three months in Chile researching lithium.

It is from these broadly shared points of departure that our analyses of the political terrain–its contours, stakes, opportunities and limits–diverge quite sharply.

1/ Too Radical or Not Radical Enough?
The central ambivalence running through the essay is whether the Green New Deal is too radical to be implemented (given the exigencies of capitalist growth, capital’s capture of our political system, and the balance of class forces) or, on the contrary, it is not radical enough, a mere ornamental reform that allows pretty much all of the aforementioned to continue uninterrupted. On the one hand, the Green New Deal “leaves growth intact”; on the other hand, in order to achieve the economy-wide decarbonization it proposes, it would elicit a ruthless response of the ruling class (“you should expect the owners of that wealth to fight you with everything they have, which is more or less everything”). But is the Green New Deal win-win green growth or all-out class warfare? Is it too reformist to meet the scale of the climate catastrophe or too radical to be thinkable let alone realizable in the current conjuncture?

Now, one could of course argue, as I think Jasper does, that this ambivalence inheres not in his critique of the Green New Deal, but in the policy vision itself, a vision that contains something for everyone, a mirror in which both the anti-capitalist and the venture capitalist can see their own desired future reflected. Jasper seems to argue that this form-shifting quality is the unique cunning of the Green New Deal, its ability to seduce us into (cruel) optimism. But I would argue that it is precisely this indeterminacy that provides a historic opening for the left. Perhaps inadvertently, Jasper alludes to this potential: as he writes, for supporters of the Green New Deal, “its value is primarily rhetorical; it’s about shifting the discussion, gathering political will, and underscoring the urgency of the climate crisis. It’s more big mood more than grand plan.” I’ll have a bit more to say on the contrast between a “mood” and a “plan” below, but for now I want to pause and reiterate: “shifting the discussion, gathering political will, and underscoring the urgency of the climate crisis.” If, through the vehicle of the amorphous Green New Deal, left forces might achieve these three tasks, that strikes me as an exceedingly important development; not an end in and of itself, of course, but it’s unclear to me how a pathway to radical transformation wouldn’t pass through these three crucial tests of political capacity.

2/ Vagueness and Deception
In keeping with the charge of ambivalence is the charge of vagueness (“The Green New Deal proposes to decarbonize most of the economy in ten years—great, but no one is talking about how.”). This is, on the face of it, not true. From green capitalist policy wonks to agroecology enthusiasts to proponents of public banking, there is, in fact, currently an effloresce of proposals for how to decarbonize the economy. I have never had so many conversations about the architecture of our electric grids, the relative contribution of distinct sectors to overall emissions, or the dilemmas of carbon taxes as I have had in the past few months. This is not to suggest that these myriad proposals will get the job done, nor to downplay the sharp contrasts between a proposal to expropriate the fossil fuel industry and a carbon price based on a high discount rate, but rather that (1) many people are, in fact, talking about how to decarbonize and, (2) the battle over these distinct pathways will emerge as a key political, and class, conflict of our moment.

Jasper’s charge of vagueness, however, soon slides into a more serious accusation: deception. Socialists, like myself, that mobilize around the Green New Deal know full well that “the mitigation of climate change within a system of production and profit is impossible, but they think a project like the Green New Deal is what Leon Trotsky called a ‘transitional program,’ hinged upon a ‘transitional demand.’” For such socialists, Jasper argues, it is precisely the combination of technological feasibility and systemic impossibility that makes the Green New Deal a radicalizing demand: if capitalism could, but won’t, save humanity and the planet, then the masses will rise up against the true obstacle to progress. Not only is this strategy fundamentally patronizing and deceptive, as he points out, but it is self-defeating: “the transitional demand encourages you to build institutions and organizations around one set of goals” and then convert them to another. In this case, organizations designed to “[solve] climate change within capitalism” and, when that fails, are expected to “expropriate the capitalist class and reorganize the state along socialist lines.” Institutions, however, “are tremendously inertial structures” — once designed for one purpose, they can’t be transformed. This strikes me as a very odd statement. In the social sciences, “path dependency” is more or less the mantra of mainstream institutional theory. A historically-grounded, critical view of institutions sees them always as live, provisional, crystallizations or resolutions to class conflict, in need of ongoing reproduction and legitimation. They are the social arrangements through which violent domination is transmogrified into hegemony. This is a lesson the right knows very well, displayed in its maneuvers into every nook and cranny of institutional life; it would behoove the left to learn it, too.

3/ This World, But Better
It turns out, however, that advocates of the Green New Deal are not just deceptive but themselves duped. In their fever dreams of rosy futures, “The world of the Green New Deal is this world but better—this world but with zero emissions, universal health care, and free college.” For these green dreamers, reality will be a rude awakening: “The appeal is obvious but the combination impossible. We can’t remain in this world.” Nothing short of “completely reorganiz[ing] society” will do the trick.

It’s not only the green new dealers who have dreams. Jasper too conjures “an emancipated society, in which no one can force another into work for reasons of property, could offer joy, meaning, freedom, satisfaction, and even a sort of abundance.” I have to be honest, this sounded pretty familiar; it is quite close to my own radical horizon. Okay — how do we get there? For Jasper, “We need a revolution.” But seriousness swiftly returns: “a revolution is not on the horizon.” This sober appraisal accords with the overall tone of the essay. He is merely stating the facts; telling the truth instead of lying (“Let’s instead say what we know to be true”; “But let’s not lie to each other”). These exhortations figure the author as above the fray, cool, and objective and his targets as confused, deceptive, duped, and, to return to the aforementioned quote, seduced by the Big Mood of the green dream. But isn’t the “ambient despair” that Jasper describes as the inevitable affective register of his reality check a mood, too?

How the new world is born out of the old is of course the vexed question of any project of radical transformation. What kinds of programmatic demands, organizational forms, and institutional designs can be proposed, mobilized, and assembled under present conditions but that would, once set into motion, violate the sanctity of growth, property or profit? What tactics of disruption are available to us? What nascent coalitions might weave solidarities across the dispersed supply chains of the energy transition? What financial crises might be on the horizon? What fractions of capital ascendent or descendent? Where are the cracks in hegemony? We are living in a moment of profound turbulence; predicting or foreclosing the future seems less analytically rigorous than actively intervening to shape it. Ruling out the possibility by fiat is avowedly realist but functionally conservative.

April 26, 2019

The Biggest Little Farm; Lobster War

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,farming,Film,water — louisproyect @ 12:50 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 26, 2019

Two new documentaries tackle the all-important question of our age, namely how humanity and nature can co-exist in a period of insurmountable capitalist contradiction, especially when humanity takes the form of small businesspeople hoping to exploit natural resources under duress.

Opening at The Landmark at 57 West on May 10th, “The Biggest Little Farm” is a stunningly dramatic portrait of a husband and wife trying to create an ecotopian Garden of Eden forty miles north of Los Angeles. (Nationwide screening info is here.)

Idealist to a fault but utterly inexperienced as farmers, they encounter one obstacle after another in the hope of doing well by doing good. Essentially, they discover that by creating a bounteous yield of edibles destined for the organic foods market, they also attract a plague of gophers, coyotes, starlings and snails that see their farm as a dinner plate. Trying to balance their ecotopian values with the appetites of the animal kingdom becomes an ordeal they never anticipated.

Utterly indifferent to ecological values, the lobster fishermen depicted in Bullfrog Film’s “Lobster War: The Fight Over the World’s Richest Fishing Grounds” are family and village-oriented. As long as they can haul in the valuable crustaceans and keep themselves and their respective towns in Maine and Canada prosperous, nothing much else matters. Not being able to see outside the box, they symbolize the short-term mindset of the ruling class. If lobsters become extinct because of unsustainable practices, the fishermen might turn to other profitable marine life. But when all animals become extinct except for rodents, pigeons and cockroaches, homo sapiens will be next in line.

Continue reading

April 12, 2019

DeGrowth, the Green New Deal and This Island Earth

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:11 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, APRIL 12, 2019

Back in the early 1970s, the Socialist Workers Party was well on its way to becoming the largest group on the left in the USA. To a large part, Peter Camejo’s speeches were responsible for this. He was not only good at explaining why you should become a socialist but doing so in an entertaining manner. One of the jokes that never failed to get a laugh was his description of an abundant life under socialism. Money wouldn’t be necessary. You’d go to a state-owned grocery store and be able to walk out with a shopping cart overflowing with filet mignons. This would not prompt an arrest but a referral to a psychiatrist because who in the world would do such a thing.

Although Peter would eventually adopt an ecosocialist outlook that would have made such a joke obsolete, he was reflecting a certain kind of techno-optimism that characterized our movement. Its prophet Leon Trotsky wrote an article in 1926 titled “Radio, Science, Technique and Society” that exclaimed: “The atom contains within itself a mighty hidden energy, and the greatest task of physics consists in pumping out this energy, pulling out the cork so that this hidden energy may burst forth in a fountain. Then the possibility will be opened up of replacing coal and oil by atomic energy, which will also become the basic motive power.”

Continue reading

April 5, 2019

The Eco-Fascist Canard

Filed under: Ecology,Fascism — louisproyect @ 5:50 pm

From the latest New Statesman: a photo of Eva Braun exercising by a pristine lake as if that has something to do with Barry Commoner or Rachel Carson

Recently, a New Statesman article titled Nature writing’s fascist roots has been making the rounds on Facebook. It seeks to explain the troubling statement made by the New Zealand neo-Nazi mass murderer Brenton Tarrant that he was an “eco-fascist”.

One of the main problems with the article is that it blurs the lines between naturalists and ecologists. For example, it refers to a 1927 “nature book” titled Tarka the Otter that was written by Henry Williamson, a Nazi sympathizer. There’s also a confusion between ecology and “back to nature” movements that romanticized rural life in England, with the cities being regarded as overrun by immigrants and other “subhumans”. The same phenomenon existed in Germany.

“Nature, with all its violence and beauty, was the primary model for conceiving German history and identity in the Third Reich,” the scholars Robert G Lee and Sabine Wilke have argued. The anti-industrial German Romanticism of the 19th century fed a surge of feeling for the notion of German soil and German forest: “There was no escaping the imagery, and there still isn’t,” Paul Scraton writes in his book Ghosts on the Shore. “The German word for beech forest, a very normal descriptive word… now carries the weight of a very different meaning: Buchenwald. The name of the extermination camp at Auschwitz? Birkenau. Birch meadow.”

Over the years, I have seen repeated references to this sort of thing. My first exposure to this was 22 years ago when people connected to Frank Furedi’s Living Marxism sect produced a TV show called “Against Nature” that included this observation by Furedi:

What we today call “environmentalism” is … based on a fear of change. It’s based upon a fear of the outcome of human action. And therefore it’s not surprising that when you look at the more xenophobic right-wing movements in Europe in the 19th century, including German fascism, it quite often had a very strong environmentalist dynamic to it. The most notorious environmentalists in history were the German Nazis. The Nazis ordered soldiers to plant more trees. They were the first Europeans to establish nature reserves and order the protection of hedgerows and other wildlife habitats. And they were horrified at the idea of hydroelectric dams on the Rhine. Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis were vegetarian and they passed numerous laws on animal rights.

I replied to this nonsense in an article titled “Nazi “Ecology” that offered a different take on Hitler’s actions. I argued they  had nothing to do with Green values. I wrote:

The Nazis promoted the view that the class-struggle in the city could be overcome by returning to the villages and developing artisan and agricultural economies based on cooperation. Aryans needed to get back to the soil and simple life.

The core of Nazi rural socialism was the idea that land-use must be planned. Gottfried Feder was a leading Nazi charged with the duty of formulating such policy. He made a speech in Berlin in 1934 in which he stated that the right to build homes or factories or to use land according to the personal interests of owners was to be abolished. The government instead would dictate how land was to be used and what would be constructed on it. Feder next began to build up elaborate administrative machinery to carry out his plans.

Not surprisingly, Feder earned the wrath of the construction industry. This segment of heavy industry had no tolerance for any kind of socialism, even if it was of the fake, nutty Nazi variety. Hitler had promised the captains of heavy industry that the “rabble-rousers” in his party would be curbed and Feder certainly fell into that category.

Hjalmar Schacht was a more reliable Nazi functionary who agreed with the need to curb Feder’s excesses. After Hitler named Schacht Minister of Economics on November 26, 1934, he gave Feder the boot and assured the construction magnates that business would be run as usual.

Consider also Walter Schoenichen, an aide to Herman Goering who in his capacity as Minister of the German Forests supervised the “Germanization” of forests in conquered territories. In 1941, the Nazis took control of the Bialowieza forest in Lithuania and they resolved to turn it into a hunting reserve for top officers. Open season was declared on the Jews, who made up 12 percent of the population in this region and who violated the ethnic purity of the proposed game farm. Five hundred and fifty Jews were rounded up and shot in the courtyard of a hunting palace operated by Battalion 332 of Von Bock’s army division. Goring decided that the purified forest should be altered into an extension of the East Prussian forests. An SS team led by Konrad Mayer, who had been Minister of Agriculture at Berlin University, planned a colonization program that would “Germanize” the forest. Poles, and any remaining Jews, were reduced to the status of barnyard animals to be penned up or slaughtered.

Schoenichen jumped at the opportunity to administer this program. This “total landscape plan” would first empty villages and then the unpopulated forest would be stocked with purely “Teutonic” species, including eagles, elk, and wolves. Since there was a painting of a bison on Goring’s wall, it was crucial to include this beast in the menagerie.

Read full article (http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/ecology/nazi_ecology.htm)

At the same time “Against Nature” aired, David Harvey came out with a book titled Justice, Nature & the Geography of Difference that warned against the idea of the “ecological Indian” and the susceptibility to eco-fascism in terms not that distant from Frank Furedi. The danger existed that well-meaning Green activists and Indians fighting for preservation of community rights can foster “nationalistic, exclusionary, and some cases violently fascistic” elements.

Harvey frets that things can go from bad to worse when the American Indian or their supporters abuse “militant particularism.” The next step, if one is not careful, is down the slippery slope into “nationalistic, exclusionary, and some cases violently fascistic” behavior. While it is very difficult to make the case that American Indian activists have actually ever joined skinheads or other fascist gangs, Luc Ferry does point out that the Nazis were enthusiastic about American Indian rights in “The New Ecological Order.” Ferry’s book, which Harvey cites uncritically, is a general assault on the environmental movement, which tries to draw out every reactionary tendency and place it in the foreground. An affinity between Nazis and the American Indian would be a very serious business indeed. Ferry states:

We have to be ignorant or prejudiced not to see it: Nazism contains within it, for reasons that are in no way accidental, the beginnings of an authentic concern for preserving “natural,” which is to say, here again, “original” peoples.

Turning Nazis into pro-ecology and pro-indigenous rights spokesman takes quite a bit of gumption on Luc Ferry’s part and a certain amount of fecklessness from Harvey to endorse his findings, especially in light of what John Toland wrote in his Adolf Hitler biography:

Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the Wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination–by starvation and uneven combat–of the ‘Red Savages’ who could not be tamed by captivity.

About a decade after “Against Nature” and Harvey’s book came out, the CPGB sect in England came up with the same warnings about eco-fascism in a series of articles in Weekly Worker by Jack Conrad.

A piece titled “Darker Shades of Green” had the following lead: “Jack Conrad questions the romantic images presented by green primitives and cautions against the seductive lures of ecofascism.” Like the New Statesman article, Conrad singles out Jorian Jenks as a prime example of eco-fascism:

The Soil Association in Britain counted Jorian Jenks amongst it founding members. He edited its journal Mother Earth till his death in 1963. In the 1930s he was the agricultural advisor to the British Union of Fascists and remained throughout his life a close associate and disciple of Oswald Mosley.

Now Jorian Jenks did oppose the use of chemical fertilizers and urged organic farming. This makes perfect sense, of course. The fact that he hooked up with Mosley should not serve as a warning, however. Agronomists with exactly the same sort of outlook have worked with left parties as well. Indeed, the Mosley website states:

His “Green” views were not all fully shared by all his old comrades, understandably perhaps, at a time after the war when the pressing need was for food in greater quantities. The Editor of “Union” and Secretary of Union Movement once told him wittily “people can forgive one eccentricity, but not two.”

And, also like the New Statesman article, Conrad next turns his attention to Germany, which in the eyes of anti-environmentalists like Anna Bramwell and Luc Ferry, is the spawning ground of eco-fascism. Indeed, I was somewhat dismayed to discover a reference to Bramwell in Conrad’s footnotes. Her work and Ferry’s has had a confusing effect on some very well-meaning Marxists besides Jack Conrad, not the least of which is David Harvey who eventually backed off from an analysis that Conrad’s echoes.

Conrad made much of the Wandervögel movement of the late 19th century which was a revolt of sorts against industrialization and called for a return to nature. There was also, according to Conrad, “a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism.” For Conrad, this might lead to fascism in the same way that marijuana leads to heroin. You start off on nature walks, graduate to gay sex and the next thing you know, you are beating up pawnbrokers.

 

April 4, 2019

Review of Allen Young’s “Left, Gay, and Green: a Writer’s Life”

Filed under: Catskills,Ecology,farming,Gay,SDS — louisproyect @ 4:51 pm
The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture
Volume 11, 2018
A New Dawn for the New Left: Liberation News Service, Montague Farm, and the Long Sixties
By John McMillian,

For many years – when I was in college, graduate school, and even for some time after that – I used to envy those Baby Boomers who had immersed themselves in the American left during the 1960s and 1970s. They had been righteous in their support of civil rights, outraged about the Vietnam War, and they got to enjoy the era’s great music, as well as various exciting cultural events, like Woodstock and the Moon landing. I always figured it must have been exciting to come of age during such dramatic and compelling times. The Portuguese have a fine word for that kind of melancholy longing I’m describing: saudade.

In recent years, however, that feeling has largely dissipated. I’m no longer sure I’d have enjoyed the Sixties. Part of the reason may be that I’ve been studying that era for about twenty years (so maybe I’ve finally maxed out on the topic). Meanwhile, my thoughts about the desirability of almost any kind of “revolution” have changed. (I now think it’s usually best when social change unfolds gradually.) Furthermore, it turns out that we are currently living through an uncommonly tumultuous time, and I don’t find it too enjoyable. I’m apprehensive about the future, and the social justice left that prevails on American campuses nowadays frequently offends me.

It is in some ways surprising, then, that I have such a fond appreciation for Allen Young’s memoir, Left, Gay & Green: A Writer’s Life. (The title alludes to the fact that Young was a red diaper baby, and then a journalist who was active in the New Left, gay rights, and environmental movements.)

Let me say upfront that I have known Young, from a distance, for many years. Back in the mid-2000s, when I was researching my book, Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America, I visited the Allen Young Papers at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, and I interviewed Young over the telephone. Since then, we have occasionally exchanged cordial emails. We have only met once, however, and that was just for a few moments, by pure chance, many years ago. (He was walking out of Columbia University’s Fayerweather Hall, and I was walking in.) Put another way, if it had turned out that I had significant criticisms of Left, Gay & Green, I would not have been particularly hesitant to say so.

But mostly I have compliments. Young calls his book an “autobiography,” rather than a “memoir,” because it encompasses his entire life, rather than just the years when he was most intensively engaged in leftwing activism. His amiable, conversational prose style makes for quick reading, but Left, Gay & Green resists easy summary. It is not a didactic autobiography, meant to impart a lesson, or develop a theme. And although it is a longish book (480 pages) each of its twenty-four chapters is subdivided into short, discrete sections. Frequently, Young will pause his narrative in order to share various musings, ponder conundrums, or poke gently at people’s foibles and eccentricities – sort of like a hip Andy Rooney. Some readers may find these digressions excessive, but I found them delightful. Young also occasionally includes excerpts from his writings long ago, which he analyzes from his perspective today.

Young grew up on a Jewish farm in the Catskill Mountains. For years, his main daily chore was to collect eggs from his family’s chickens, clean them, and pack them for shipping. His parents were secretly members of the American Communist Party, which of course put the family at risk during the Red Scare. Unlike some communists who resided in big cities, however, Young’s parents were not bohemians. They were hard-working, straight-laced, and stoic. That posed a problem for Young, because he knew from an early age that he was gay. He lived in “the closet” – and repeatedly tried dating women, while also having secret liaisons with men – from his adolescence until about age twenty-five.

Young was thrilled to matriculate at Columbia University in 1958, and at the time, he was certain he was leaving rural life behind for good. Academically and socially, he thrived, and eventually he became the Daily Spectator’s editor-in-chief. Meanwhile, he began demonstrating his enviable knack for meeting or befriending various successful, well-known, or otherwise interesting people. One of the lifelong friends he made at Columbia was the great historian Eric Foner; another is Michael Meeropol (who was orphaned after the United States government executed his parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). Other notable names appear in this book, too, and he includes some entertaining yarns about his friendship with Abbie Hoffman.

During his undergraduate years, Young grew appalled by the crimes of the Soviet Union, but he continued working on the same issues his parents had taught him to care about, mostly around racial justice, war, and peace. He did graduate study at Columbia’s School of Journalism, traveled extensively in South America, and at age twenty-six, took a job at the Washington Post. (Young was hired by Ben Bradlee, who would later become famous for publishing the Pentagon Papers, and for overseeing the Post’s Watergate coverage. Young sketches a brief but memorable portrait of this gruff and no-nonsense newsman.)

Young did not last long at the Post, however. Instead, he became increasingly committed to building the antiwar movement, which was in turn supported by the fast-growing American underground press. In the fall of 1967, Young made what he says “was probably the biggest single decision” of his life and defected from the Post to Liberation News Service (LNS). Often described as a radical version of the Associated Press (AP), LNS produced hundreds of news packets full of reporting, commentaries, graphics, and illustrations, and this material regularly made its way into underground newspapers across the country.

Some of the most edifying and analytical passages in Left, Gay & Green concern the topic (applied anachronistically) of “political correctness.” Young acknowledges that, like others in his cohort, he could be aggressively hostile to opposing viewpoints. By the late ’60s, New Leftists had grown dismissive of voting and non-violent civil disobedience. Most white radicals tended to zealously support the Black Panthers (despite that group’s obvious flaws), and they were prone to dogmatically making snap judgements about who had “good politics” (and who did not). New Leftists frequently dehumanized their political opponents with words and images that, especially from today’s vantage, seem scurrilous and grotesque. Young went along with some of this, but not always comfortably, and only to a degree. After the Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society turned to political violence, for instance, Young strongly criticized the group, even as he maintained friendships with some of its members.

Exemplifying the maxim “the personal is political,” in 1970, Young became an early member of the Gay Liberation Front. He participated in the world’s first gay pride march, and he promoted gay equality in numerous periodicals. Meanwhile, Young started collecting personal essays and manifestos from other radical homosexual writers that he admired. In 1972, he published (with Karla Jay), Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, a classic compilation.

In 1973 – defying the expectations he formed when he started at Columbia in 1958 – Young moved to Butterworth Farm, an intentional community in Royalston, Massachusetts. Young calls Butterworth Farm “the love child of two unique and consequential movements … back-to-the-land, and gay liberation” (303). Perhaps surprisingly, given the frenetic pace of the first half of his life, Young has continued to reside there ever since. He has been an avid gardener, a valuable participant in local institutions, and in 1980 he got busted for growing marijuana. (The chapter describing the marijuana bust is amusingly titled “Reefer Madness, or, The Sacred Herb and Me.” Fortunately, Young largely escaped punishment for what he now refers to as his “so-called crime.”) In the 1980s and 1990s, Young worked at the Athol Daily News and did public relations for a local hospital. After living frugally this whole time, he was able to retire in 1999, at age fifty-eight. Today, Young lives in an octagonal house that he helped build many years ago

Even when Young is not writing directly about movement issues, Left, Gay & Green offers salutary lessons about how to engage politics wisely. He thoughtfully ponders arguments and counterarguments; he does not assume bad faith or bad character from those with whom he disagrees; and he easily admits when he was wrong. I’ve no idea whether Allen Young is familiar with Walt Whitman’s famous directive (“be radical – be radical – be not too damned radical!”) but that quote came to mind numerous times while reading Left, Gay & Green. Young spent a big part of his life deeply immersed in revolutionary politics, but one gathers, while reading this charming autobiography, that the cut and thrust of his personality has changed substantially since the vertiginous Sixties. “Nuance,” Young says at one point, “has now become one of my favorite words”.

February 7, 2019

A Woman at War

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 10:21 pm

As the DVD’s I received from Hollywood studio publicists for our December NYFCO awards meeting gather dust on my bookshelf (including “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Sister Brothers”, and “First Man”), I am finally getting back to the kind of films I cherish. At the risk of sounding like those reviewers who fawn over the likes of “A Star is Born”, I will start off this review by stating that “A Woman at War” is a brilliant work with a keen understanding of the central crisis of our age, namely the looming extinction of life on earth, including homo sapiens. Like “First Reformed”, and just as powerfully, it is the story of an ecoterrorist willing to sacrifice everything, including her own life, to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the system. I refer to Edward Abbey’s great novel since the lead character of “A Woman at War” has much in common with his protagonists. They want to preserve the natural resources and beauty of the American Southwest while Halla is just as intent on preserving Iceland’s austerely beautiful biosphere while striking a blow against Rio Tinto, a corporation that is widely criticized for its mining operations that degrade nature and wage laborers alike.

Despite Iceland’s tiny population (338,349), it has a film industry that puts Hollywood to shame. Given the preoccupations of “A Woman at War”, it is clear that director Benedikt Erlingsson is attuned to the political sensibility of the majority of its population that has a much better grasp of world affairs than Americans, liberal or conservative. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the USA would be much better off if we were dissolved and the Icelanders were elected to take our place.

A major difference between “First Reformed” and “A Woman at War” is the kind of action its protagonists choose. As Father Toller, Ethan Hawke dons a suicide belt with the intention of blowing himself up and everybody else who is attending a ceremony in honor of his landmark church’s anniversary. He has lost a reason for living and is anxious to take out with him the owner of a factory that has been despoiling the local soil, air and water.

In the brilliant opening scene of “A Woman at War”, we see the 49-year old protagonist, a woman named Halla, putting a powerline out of commission. It feeds an aluminum factory that is a joint venture of Iceland’s government, the Chinese, and Rio Tinto. Erlingsson has the guts to call out Rio Tinto, even though it is not a player in Iceland. By contrast, Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” features a totally fictional corporation.

Halla uses a powerful hunting bow to launch a steel cable up and over the power lines that will land on the other side of the pylon. After donning thick rubber gloves, she brings the steel cable into contact with the power lines in order to create a short circuit that cuts off power to the aluminum factory. At the risk of sounding like the typical hype-purveying reviewer, this is about as exciting a five minutes I have spent watching a movie in the past 5 years or so.

Halla is getting set to escalate her attacks on the plant when she receives word that a four-year old girl living in a Donetsk orphanage is available for an adoption that she applied for years ago. Before going off to Ukraine to pick her up, Halla is determined to go ahead with the mother of all monkey-wrench operations, even if threatens her becoming a new mother. As a fallback, she will rely on her twin sister, a yoga instructor who has also applied to become an adoptive mother and who has no idea of her sister’s clandestine activism.

It takes a great deal of nerve and artistic acumen to successfully portray such a woman as a heroine. Erlingsson has succeeded beyond all expectations. Your worry (at least mine and my readers, I would think) is that she fails to disable the factory permanently and is prevented from retrieving the girl from the orphanage. The suspense is considerable and the film’s conclusion will leave you melting into your seat.

Let me conclude with the director’s statement in the press notes. Given his political insights and his brilliance as a filmmaker, it is obvious that “A Woman at War” that opens in New York City on March 1 at the IFC Center and Landmark at 57 West theaters is one that you cannot afford to miss:

To me it seems evident that Nature’s rights should be strongly protected in all constitutions and defended by local and international laws. We need to collectively realize that untouched nature has an intrinsic right and necessity to exist, regardless of our human needs or our economic system.

I can for example imagine a more rational system in which ‘we humans’, if we wanted to spoil or use unblemished Nature for our own needs, we would need to go through a process, maybe something like a trial, in order to be allowed to do that.

These issues are really about the common good and the long-term interests of our existence as a whole. Just like the ability to take a person’s freedom away and keep them inside a prison for life. So I think now is the right time to look at this kind of approach.

Add to this the strange paradox in some of our societies, the “State”, which in democratic countries is an instrument created by the people for the people, can be so easily manipulated by special interests and against what’s obviously the common welfare. When we look at the big, existential environmental challenge we face, and what has been happening, this becomes crystal clear.

January 30, 2019

Steven Mnuchin, Russian oligarchs, and wildlife preservation

Filed under: Africa,conservatism,Ecology — louisproyect @ 5:27 pm

Who will save the elephants? Them?

Today’s NY Times has an article titled “Steven Mnuchin Draws Claims of Conflict of Interest in Decision on Russian Oligarch” that deals with his ties to a Russian oligarch named Len Blavatnik. Despite “divesting” from a film company he owned, Mnuchin was anxious to get Blavatnik to invest in Dune Entertainment. Dune was now owned by Louise Linton as if that qualifies as divestment. This is the Trump regime, after all, Mnuchin’s idiotic wife was infamous for posting a photo on Instagram of herself and Trump’s yes-man in 2017 during a field trip to Fort Knox. She used hashtags to highlight the designer clothing and accessories she wore. When she got lambasted for her ostentatious display, she called her critic “adorably out of touch”, adding that she contributed more to the US economy and paid more in taxes than the woman criticizing her. Nice.

You’d think that Dune Entertainment would make films glorifying the rich, wouldn’t you? As it happens, they were behind “Avatar”, the 3D movie hailed by many critics, including me, as containing an anti-imperialist message. They were also behind “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”, another ostensibly leftist film. I should have italicized ostensibly since Oliver Stone’s film was about as leftist as his series of interviews with Vladimir Putin on Showtime.

What caught my eye was a report on Louise Linton’s attendance at a charity dinner in England. Mentioned below, Deripaska is an oligarch close to Blavatnik who got American polling data from Konstantin Kilimnik, who got it in turn from Paul Manafort. None of this was collusion, of course. Just ask Max Blumenthal.

In mid-January 2018, Ms. Linton attended an exclusive 50-person charity dinner in London that was also attended by Mr. Deripaska.

At the time of the dinner, which was for the anti-poaching organization Space for Giants, the Treasury Department had been directed to put together a report on oligarchs on which it might place sanctions, which would come to include Mr. Deripaska.

A spokesman for Space for Giants said that the guests — including Prince William, the former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the Russian-British newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev and a member of the Saudi royal family — were not provided one another’s names before or after the event.

Mr. Sayegh said that Ms. Linton, who donated $50,000 to Space for Giants in 2017, according to its annual report, “was unaware” that Mr. Deripaska was at the dinner that she “never interacted with” the oligarch.

“She recalls sitting next to Prince William at the dinner,” Mr. Sayegh said.

Evgeny Lebedev is the publisher of The Independent, a newspaper that gives a platform to Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn. Their eight-year reporting on Syria tends not to undermine Russian interests there, needless to say.

As for Bill Richardson, he was on the board of Valero Energy and Diamond Offshore Drilling before he became Governor of New Mexico. Valero was heavily involved in refining oil drilled in the Amazon rainforest, while Diamond used asbestos-laden equipment that made its employees terminally ill. Taken to court, Diamond sought indemnification from liability. Richardson resigned from these boards but in keeping with old habits, he now sits on the board of Genie Oil and Gas alongside Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Summers, and James Woolsey. Genie is heavily invested in Israel Energy Initiatives, a company formed to exploit fracking in Israel. While I remain opposed to the Zionist state, I am just as opposed to fracking there if for no other reason that it degrades the land and water that someday might be returned to the Palestinian people.

Richardson is also on the USA board of Space for Giants, a natural complement to his work with Genie.

As for the Saudi royal family, they might be for saving the lives of elephants but that hardly compensates for the assassination of Khashoggi or the tens of thousands of Yemenis who have died from Saudi bombs and missiles.

Meanwhile, Prince William is a big-game hunter who argues that controlled killing is just what is needed to preserve elephants and other creatures in danger of extinction. I have heard this argument before but would prefer to see Africa protected from imperialist penetration, the main threat to the habitat in which the “Giants” dwell.

Going to the Space for Giants website will give you a good idea of the sort of people who are behind it. The chairman of the UK board is one Peter Bacchus whose accomplishments are trumpeted there:

Peter Bacchus is a senior adviser to the global mining industry, having run Natural Resource Sector investment banking teams at Jefferies, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup. He pioneered China’s engagements with the global mining community, advising the state-owned China MinMetals on its takeover offer for Noranda in Canada, and listed China Steel, CITIC Resources, and China National Coal on global stock exchanges. Peter has a 20-year track record of advising and raising capital for companies in Africa, having executed deals in a dozen different countries on the continent, including South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Angola.

Just the kind of background you’d expect from someone protecting biodiversity in Africa.

Finally, there is the question of what Mnuchin’s wife is doing at a charity dinner to protect wildlife when his boss is doing everything in his power to destroy it in the name of corporate greed. Last July, Trump’s Secretary of the Interior proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act that would allow economic development to go full steam ahead even if the only animals left in the USA were pigeons and rats.

That’s the state of the world today. A charity dinner to raise funds for a wildlife preservation group that depends on the deep pockets of rich people who could care less if elephants went the way of the brontosaurus. Where these large animals go, we are soon to follow unless everything changes.

January 20, 2019

Is China a model for a New Green Deal?

Filed under: China,Ecology — louisproyect @ 10:39 pm

On January 14th, Dean Baker wrote an article for Truthout titled “The Green New Deal Is Happening in China” that poses important questions for the left. Since the article is focused exclusively on reducing greenhouse gases to the exclusion of any other “green” problem areas, can we assume that climate change is the be-all and end-all of the environmentalist left? It also leads to the broader question of China’s relevance to the left. If it is in the vanguard of the fight against climate change, then can we conclude that Xi Jinping might be legitimately described as socialist? As the American democratic socialist left has committed considerable energy behind the call for a Green New Deal, can we look at the Communist Party in China as an ally of the left?

For some, the efforts mounted by the Chinese government are indications that it does have progressive aspects. For example, MRZine, the online voice of Monthly Review, posted a piece last May titled “China’s determined march towards the ecological civilization” that was written by Andre Vltchek, the erstwhile Counterpunch contributor who is well-known for his belief in the merits of the BRICS. (Whether Brazil is still considered an asset is open to question. The entire left views Bolsinaro as either a fascist or a rightwing goon, even though China has no plans to stop doing business with him and vice versa.)

Vltchek sought out a nonagenarian named John Cobb Jr., whose admiration for the Chinese governments past and present is unbounded. He told Vltchek:

The talk of moving toward an ecological civilization also encouraged reflection about “civilization” alongside “market.” That supported those Chinese who were concerned that the narrow concern for wealth at all costs was not healthy for human society. Marxism had always emphasized economic matters, but it was concerned to move society away from competition toward cooperation. It was always concerned with the distribution of goods, so that the poor would be benefited, and workers would be empowered. The idea of recovering traditional Chinese civilizational values gained in acceptance.

While Dean Baker’s article is far more measured, he does offer this:

Over the last decade, China’s GDP growth has averaged 7.9 percent annually. Perhaps there is a story where China’s economy would have grown even more rapidly without the subsidies and other measures to promote green growth, but obviously, these measures could not have been very serious impediments if the country could still sustain one of the fastest growth stretches the world has ever seen.

One cannot be sure if Baker identifies “green growth” as synonymous with reducing greenhouse gases but if so he is sadly mistaken. Even if alternative energy sources constituted 90 percent of the country’s supply, it would still be a ticking time-bomb as far as the environmental crisis is concerned. Let me review some of the key problem areas.

Water

China’s environmental crisis is deepest when it comes to water along a number of fronts. In 2008, Scientific American—not a Trotskyite journal, the last time I noticed—published a piece titled “China’s Three Gorges Dam: An Environmental Catastrophe?” that reported on problems so deep that even government officials could not sweep them under the rug. They included the likelihood of “triggering landslides, altering entire ecosystems and causing other serious environmental problems—and, by extension, endangering the millions who live in its shadow”, according to Scientific American. In a country where biodiversity is sacrificed to “socialist development”, the dam has proven deeply destructive. The Three Gorges area alone accounts for 20 percent of Chinese seed plants—more than 6,000 species. As the dam floods one area while rending others arid, that biodiversity ends up on the chopping block. By the same token, the dammed Yangtze River is host to 177 unique fish species, all of which have been subject to conditions that might cause extinction. Read the entire Scientific American article to get an idea of how far China is from an “ecological civilization”.

Moving right along, China suffers enormous water pollution due to unregulated manufacturing. Greenpeace published a report in June 2017 revealing that 85% of the water in Shanghai was undrinkable and that 56.4% was unfit for any purpose. One of the polluters was Luliang Chemical Industry that dumped 5,000 tons of chemical waste next to a river used as a drinking water source. China has targeted companies like Luliang through a new taxation policy that bases a fee on the amount of pollution being produced. A more “socialist” policy would be to begin jailing the polluters but I wouldn’t count on it. Taili Ni, a doctoral student, wrote a paper titled “China’s ineffective water pollution policy: an issue of enforcement” that strengthens my doubts. China’s water protection laws are among the strongest in the world, but there is a gap between the letter of the law and how it is enforced. Ni calls this the “enforcement gap”.

Environmental protection and enforcement of environmental policies rely on local governments to be successful. However, political corruption is a very present factor at the local level, and greatly interferes with enforcement. Local governments tend to have slightly different goals and motivations than the central government, and the system of fragmented authoritarianism allows them to act according to these motivations. Economic growth is crucial at the local level too, and in many cases local officials face high incentives to report economic success. There is a close link between local governments and polluting enterprises; in fact, local governments are often major shareholders of these enterprises, creating a common conflict of interest.

If you consider her words carefully, you will be reminded of how things work not only in China but in all countries where “economic growth” is in the driver’s seat. The USSR was a disaster area environmentally because decisions were made on generating income for the Stalinist state. For example, it was cotton production that turned the Aral Sea into a dead zone. In China, you get the same habits that were deeply engrained in Maoist time but magnified by the country’s integration into global markets. If 1.5 million people have died as a result of pollution in China, that can be rationalized by party theoreticians as the costs of building an industrial society that can meet the needs of the people. Is there much difference between this idea and Walt Rostow’s development theories? If so, I can’t detect it.

Soil

I can’t help but wonder how Xi Jinping gets a free pass in Monthly Review when his government is carrying out policies deeply at odds with John Bellamy Foster’s analysis of the “metabolic rift”.

Unlike the United States, China’s farms are smaller and less mechanized but that has not prevented them from using chemicals indiscriminately. To give you an idea of the dimension of the problem, China uses more than 30 per cent of fertilizers and pesticides sold globally (it is first in the world) but on only 9 per cent of the world’s soil. When fertilizers seep into rivers and lakes, it fosters the growth of algae that is inimical to marine life—a process called eutrophication. It has led to Chinese leisure-seekers trying to enjoy its algae-ridden lakes as the Guardian reported last year as best they can.  Here are people trying to make the best of a sorry situation at a lake overrun by algae:

China has made an effort to convince farmers to reduce their chemical fertilizer input with some success but it still does not resolve the “metabolic rift” that John Bellamy Foster has written about so persuasively. To do that effectively, it would require overcoming the breach between city and countryside as articulated in the Communist Manifesto but that is not very feasible given China’s integration into world markets. Like all capitalist countries, the cities have emerged over a century as production and export centers. To restructure China is a Herculean task even if it is a necessary one. Missing from the calculations of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of a Green New Deal and Dean Baker’s salute to China for carrying one out is a recognition that capitalism is unsustainable. Period.

Air

Largely as a result of wide-spread dissatisfaction with the toxic air pollution in most cities, the government cracked down in 2017 making even Greenpeace impressed with the results.

But under Donald Trump’s assault on its chief economic rival, the Chinese capitalists and the “Communist” state that rules on their behalf have been forced to retreat in order to allow firms to maintain a certain level of profitability.

Last September the Ministry of Ecology and Environment removed blanket bans on heavy industry production. Monitoring was decentralized, with local governments allowed to set their own targets. As is the case across the board, economic and environmental needs clash with each other. Despite Baker’s reference to “green growth”, the reality in China is that you have green versus growth. If the world was organized on the basis of human need rather than private profit, this would not be such a big problem. However, that would require a worldwide socialist revolution that most on the left view as a hopeless project. I guess I’ll stick to that even if I am a minority of one. That’s why I call myself Unrepentant.

Externalities

Finally, there is a failure on the part of Dean Baker and Andre Vltchek to acknowledge the environmental impact that China has on the countries it has established trade relations with. Was trade relations a euphemism? Sorry. I meant to say colonized.

If China has eased up on coal production internally, that hasn’t prevented it from profiting from it elsewhere. It is not that different from England turning to the New World in search of timber after it had cleared its own forests in the 18th century.

Kenya has been one of the beneficiaries of this colonialism. A consortium of Kenyan and Chinese energy firms are building a coal plant on the only part that is untouched by industrial development. Scientists and economists worry that this will become the largest source of air pollution in the country. Naturally, the bituminous coal that will be fed into this plant will be imported from South Africa, one that releases large amounts of toxins, particularly if improperly burned. Does anybody believe that China, Kenya or South Africa care much about this?

Finally, there is the matter of China’s ties to Brazil, its number one trading partner. Despite Bolsonaro’s invective against China during his campaign, there are signs that nothing much will change. Li Yang, China’s Consul General in Rio de Janeiro, said, “Personally, I don’t believe there would be a radical change from the new federal government towards China. I don’t believe so. So, either economic or political ties between the two parts, both Brazil and China, will be further tightened. We firmly believe so.” So, you can expect China to benefit from the soybeans being produced in the Amazon rainforest after all the trees have been cut down and the native peoples driven out or killed.

What if Bolsonaro carries out a Pinochet-type coup? Would that make China willing to break trade relations with an anti-working class dictatorship? Given China’s history under the Communist Party, I rather doubt that especially what happened under Pinochet and a China that was arguably still socialist.

In 1973, after General Pinochet overthrew Allende in Chile, the Chinese Embassy would not provide refuge to leftists fleeing terror. Just two years later, China offered Pinochet a $50 million loan, even when European governments would not extend a penny.

Things kept on this way for decades. In 1998, Jon Lee Anderson told New Yorker readers about the red carpet treatment the murderer received in China when Jiang Zemin was president:

Curiously, Pinochet’s popularity extends to the People’s Republic of China, which he has visited twice. China is a major client for Chile’s copper exports, and Pinochet has nurtured his relationship with Beijing. “They are very fond of me,” he says. “Because I saw that Chinese Communism was patriotic Communism, not the Communism of Mao. I opened up the doors to Chinese commerce, letting them hold an exposition here, in which they brought everything they had—and they sold everything they brought.” On both his trips to China, Pinochet says, the Chinese treated him with great respect. “The first time they put me in a house, but the last time it was a palace. And I became good friends with General Chen, a warrior who fought in Korea, in Vietnam, and who doesn’t like the Americans very much.” Pinochet shot me a sidelong glance and grinned.

December 10, 2018

The Yellow Vests, capitalism and communism

Filed under: climate,Ecology,farming,France — louisproyect @ 11:09 pm

Three years ago Michael Moore made a documentary titled “Where to Invade Next” that posed the question of why can’t Americans enjoy the good life most Western Europeans do. Traveling from country to country, he showed how the welfare state created by successive social democratic governments made for better health care, education, child care, etc. He visited a public school in France where he had lunch with sixth graders who had no interest in trading their healthy and appetizing free lunch for a Big Mac, French fries and a giant Coke.

As I pointed out at the time, this social democratic dream was turning into a nightmare, especially for immigrants. It was only a matter of time that France would become ground zero for a revolt against a system that provided few benefits for those who live in the countryside and suburbia. Indeed, my first reaction to the riots is that the white people in France were finally expressing the anger that made the banlieues erupt in 2005.

If steep taxes are supposedly necessary to support the universal health care that Moore supported in “Sicko”, another paean to enlightened social democratic governance, it was lost on the average citizen not fortunate enough to work as an IT specialist or lawyer in Paris. With the closing of rural hospitals, the country’s universal health insurance is next to useless. Under Macron, subsidies to the suburbs and countryside have been cut sharply. $42 billion at the time of his election, they are now $30 billion. The pain this has caused was sufficient to spur a wholesale resignation of mayors around the country who feel too strapped to do their job.

This was not the first time a protest occurred over gasoline/diesel fuel tax hikes. Almost four years ago to the date, “Red Caps” in Brittany forced Francois Hollande to cancel a tax targeting commercial trucks. Protesters, who saw the tax as harmful to farmers who were already having trouble competing with other EU countries, wore red caps. They were first worn in a seventeenth century revolt centered in Brittany as well. As is the case today, the movement took direct action to remind the “socialist” government that it could not neglect those in the boondocks. So grievous was their situation that a virtual epidemic of suicides had plagued the countryside. A recent survey revealed that a French farmer kills himself every two days.

Echoing Donald Trump’s MAGA bluster, Macron has been pushing a Make Our Planet Great Again campaign that was worth pursuing even if it caused temporary pain for the yellow vest social base. On the campaign’s website, there are ambitious goals sounding somewhat like the Green New Deal bandied about on the American left but without the socialist rhetoric:

Regarding mobility, a tax priority has been set: to achieve tax harmonisation between diesel and gasoline before 2022, and to speed up the rise in the price of carbon without penalizing the poorest households. The Climate Plan has set the objective of ending the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040. A large public consultation has also been launched, the “National Conference on Mobility”, to anticipate mobility in 2030 and draw up policies promoting soft and less polluting mobility;

The Climate Plan is striving to put an early end to the import in France of products contributing to the destruction of tropical forests and plans to develop a National strategy against imported deforestation. As far as its own forests are concerned, France has put in place a National Plan for forests and woodlands and a National Biomass Mobilisation Strategy, which advocate forestry that is more proactive and better respects ecosystems, with the aim of maintaining and extending their central role in carbon storage;

France is strengthening its actions to protect the marine and land ecosystems, in France and at an international level, which contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation: increasing its funding for ecosystems protection projects, taking advantage of overseas to launch initiatives for biodiversity helping the climate, and calls for projects to develop nature-based solutions.

You need to understand that it does little good to promote a “soft and less polluting mobility” in 2030 when a tax hike today threatens the ability of hard-up French families to get through the month. In a highly revealing article for the NY Times on December 2nd, Adam Nossiter described the austerity that grips Guéret, a typical yellow vest town. Nossiter describes how typical families live:

“We just don’t make it to the end of the month,” said Elodie Marton, a mother of four who had joined the protesters at the demonstration outside town. “I’ve got 10 euros left,” she said, as a dozen others tried to get themselves warm around an iron-barrel fire.

“Luckily we’ve got some animals at the house” — chickens, ducks — “and we keep them for the end of the month,” she said. “It sounds brutal, but my priority is the children,” she said. “We’re fed up and we’re angry!’ shouted her husband, Thomas Schwint, a cement hauler on a temporary 1,200-euro contract.

Hill-Knowlton, the notorious PR firm that cooked up the propaganda campaign about Saddam’s troops yanking babies from the incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital to leave them on the cold floor to die, revealed rather candidly that despite the impression that the tax hike was geared exclusively for “Green” causes such as eliminating nuclear energy plants, it was not quite the case: “While the government has recently announced a new increase in fuel taxes to come in January, the prices have increased by 19 cents for the essence fuel and by 31 cents for the diesel fuel since the beginning of President Macron’s mandate. In 2018, fuel taxes brought in a total of €34 billion for the state. Of these 34 billion, only 7.4 billion are directly earmarked for ecological transition, while the rest is earmarked for the State’s overall budget.”

In effect, the remaining 26.6 billion was designed to make up for the loss of revenue from Macron’s wealth tax cut. In October 2017, a bill was passed in order to repeal the one imposed by the Socialists in the 1980s on incomes over $1.5 million. The wealth tax supposedly drove rich people out of the country, including actor Gerald Depardieu who was granted Russian citizenship in 2013. In a tit-for-tat arrangement, Depardieu defended the jailing of Pussy Riot. In keeping with his “hooligan” character supposedly praised by Putin, he was accused of the sexual assault and rape of a young female actress in August, 2018. This should give you some idea of the sort of person whose needs had to be catered to, even if it meant leaving Elodie Marton with 10 Euros at the end of the month.

Maxime Combs, a French economist and climate change activist, wrote an article that was translated into English for the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century website. It debunks the notion that the tax hike can help to wean people from fossil fuel usage, especially the poor. He urges a different approach to the problem from eco-tax manipulation:

By making the increase in fuel prices the central policy that must drive the inhabitants of the country to change their vehicles and change their boilers, without reducing their mobility needs and their heating needs, Emmanuel Macron and the government are making themselves prisoners of an ideology that prevents action on the structural causes of too great a dependence on fossil fuels.

Putting an end to urban sprawl and bringing economic activities closer to workplaces – rather than moving them away from already urbanized areas – relocating public services and ensuring the sustainability of local shops, developing public transport and options for alternative modes of transport, are priority areas for reducing the need for mobility reliant on carbon.

This gets much closer to the solution that is really needed even if it doesn’t close the circle. It is not just a question of reducing the need for private transportation and commercial trucks. It also points in the direction of overcoming the “metabolic rife” that is associated with separating the organic production of plant fertilizer (both human and animal) from the crops that require it.

Petroleum products do not only threaten a sixth extinction because of the greenhouse gases they generate. In addition, they are key to industrial farming that relies on plastics for a wide variety of its infrastructure including mulch, greenhouse covers and tunnels. Once crops are harvested, plastic is used to package them for sale in Walmarts and other grocery stores spread around the country. This amounts to $32.4 billion in 2016, with 14.2 billion pounds of resin consumed.

Industrial farming is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Oil and gas are used as raw materials and energy in the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, fossil fuels are essential for farm machinery, processing facilities, storage, ships, trucks and roads—all designed to transport food from the farming regions to cities hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Just consider the enormous amount of energy that is expended to ship soybeans, corn and other key agro-export commodities from Brazil to seaports in China or India and their transportation by truck to other destinations once they get there.

As capitalism grows apace everywhere in the world, gaining acceptance for its ability to satisfy every desire that advertising creates for a working class bewitched by commodity fetishism, the threat of extinction deepens. Even if Macron eliminated gas-powered cars in France, you still have two major automobile companies that rely on exports to produce the profits that stock prices are based on. The Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën joint venture produced 734,000 cars in Chinese plants in 2014. Those sales are necessary for the life-blood of French capitalism to flow.

This is the miracle of capitalism. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx refers to how it replaced the system that preceded it:

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

What Marx does not pay much attention to is the modes of production that preceded this miracle. From ancient Greece to the late Middle Ages, it was the city that formed the basic unit of production rather than the state. So, for example, a places like Tenochtitlan, London, Tripoli, and Damascus arose because they were suited to its natural terrain both in terms of resources and demography. The towns and cities were the hub of commercial activity that relied on the agricultural belt that surrounded them. Food was transported by carts pulled by oxen or horses rather than Mack trucks.

The Barada River was indispensable to the rise of Damascus as the crown jewel of the Arab world. Its name is reflected in the tormented victim of Assad’s barrel bombs Wadi Barada that means Barada Valley. In 1834 a British traveler described Damascus as “a city of hidden palaces, of copses, and gardens, and fountains, and bubbling streams.” The Barada river was “the juice of her life,” a “gushing and ice-cold torrent that tumbles from the snowy sides of Anti-Lebanon” (the mountain range that borders Lebanon and Syria.) The various water sources flowed into the city via seven canals that were built during or before Roman presence in the region. For many, the well-watered wonders of the city were paradisiacal.

Some of these cities became so powerful that they were capable of bring other cities under their sway as part of an empire based on tribute rather than capital. Rome was the most famous of these in the pre-capitalist era and arguably a victim of its own success as its reliance on long-distance exploitation of resources and slavery eroded its ability to reproduce itself.

In the 17th century, Western European nations repeated Rome’s glory but on a capitalist basis. States were created in order to support the armies and navies necessary to embark on a colonization program. Once a colony was established, the old organic unity that kept a place like Damascus viable disappeared. Furthermore, in the post-colonial epoch, the Syrian state, for example, was forced into commodity exchanges in order to subsist in a capitalist world. Perhaps the only way to avoid being sucked in was to use your own feudal military might to stave off the invader as was the case with Japan until Admiral Perry fixed their wagon. Probably, the only non-capitalist survivors in the world today are Cuba and North Korea, even though the pressure on them is enormous. Cuba relies on the tourist trade and North Korea is rapidly transitioning into a market economy in the post-Mao mold.

That leaves the naked tribesmen of North Sentinel islands to keep the faith, one supposes.

Toward the end of “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State”, Engels writes:

At all earlier stages of society production was essentially collective, just as consumption proceeded by direct distribution of the products within larger or smaller communistic communities. This collective production was very limited; but inherent in it was the producers’ control over their process of production and their product. They knew what became of their product: they consumed it; it did not leave their hands. And so long as production remains on this basis, it cannot grow above the heads of the producers nor raise up incorporeal alien powers against them, as in civilization is always and inevitably the case.

The task before us is to return to pre-capitalist property relations, but moreover those that precede feudalism with its forced exploitation based on the rule of the aristocrats. Something closer to the city-state of the Aztecs, the Incas or the Mayans is needed but one based on the freedom made possible by machinery rather than captured slaves. In recognizing the value of such a “backward” looking goal, Mariategui remains a socialist whose vision is more prescient than ever:

The subordination of the Indian problem to the problem of land is even more absolute, for special reasons. The indigenous race is a race of farmers. The Inca people were peasants, normally engaged in agriculture and shepherding. Their industries and arts were typically domestic and rural. The principle that life springs from the soil was truer in the Peru of the Incas than in any other country. The most notable public works and collective enterprises of Tawantinsuyo were for military, religious or agricultural purposes. The irrigation canals of the sierra and the coast and the agricultural terraces of the Andes remain the best evidence of the degree of economic organization reached by Inca Peru. Its civilization was agrarian in all its important I aspects. Valcarcel, in his study of the economic life of Tawantinsuyo, writes that “the land, in native tradition, is the common mother; from her womb come not only food but man himself. Land provides all wealth. The cult of Mama Pacha is on a par with the worship of the sun and, like the sun, Mother Earth represents no one in particular. Joined in the aboriginal ideology, these two concepts gave birth to agrarianism, which combines communal ownership of land and the universal religion of the sun.”

November 21, 2018

Vain hopes in a Green New Deal

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with climate change activists in Nancy Pelosi’s office

Largely as a result of the near total collapse of the 100 year Soviet experiment in Russia and its replicas elsewhere, there have been attempts to reorient the left to new forms of social and economic transformation supposedly untainted by failed measures such as a planned economy based on state ownership of the commanding heights of industry. First and foremost among them is the belief that cooperatives can form the basis of a socialism from below. The idea is that local initiatives such as those in Jackson, Mississippi can become so widespread and popular so that they will finally bring about a qualitative change in class relations, finally putting the working class in power.

While not advertised as a transitional step toward socialism, the idea of a Green New Deal has captured the imaginations of many on the left. For example, Jacobin editor Branco Marcetic wrote an article titled Make Them Do It just before the recent midterm election that insisted on the need for Democrats winning, “not just to keep the natural world from being fed through the shredder, but to truly start the process of reversing the march toward catastrophic climate change through bold, decisive action.” To give you an idea of the kind of Democrats whose victory would save the world, he included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (naturally) and Tulsi Gabbard, whose climate legislation has been called “the strongest yet introduced in Congress” by Food and Water Watch. Whatever position Gabbard has staked out on reducing greenhouse gases in the USA is certainly compromised by her avid support for Bashar al-Assad and Narendra Modi, who have turned their respective countries into ethnic cleansing and ecological dead zones.

Ocasio-Cortez has made the Green New Deal front-page news after taking part in a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office on November 13th. Most people who just skimmed the headlines on this story might have assumed that this was some kind of protest meant to discredit Pelosi and the establishment Democrats. In reality, it was much more of a bonding exercise of the sort that has been taking place ever since the “progressives” poured into the new House of Representatives making nice with Pelosi and other old-guard players. The Washington Post described the event as “an encounter that touched off a display of mutual admiration between the 78-year-old matriarch and the millennial upstart.” Ocasio-Cortez, described as “less confrontational” than in the past, said: “Should Leader Pelosi become the next speaker of the House, we need to tell her that we’ve got her back in showing and pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen.”

It was a virtual love-in with Pelosi smooching back on Twitter: “Deeply inspired by the young activists & advocates leading the way on confronting climate change. The climate crisis threatens the futures of communities nationwide, and I strongly support reinstating the select committee to address the crisis.”

It turns out that the origin of the concept was in op-ed columns by Mr. Globalization himself Thomas Friedman. In a January 19, 2007 NYT op-ed, the arch-imperialist wrote:

The right rallying call is for a “Green New Deal.” The New Deal was not built on a magic bullet, but on a broad range of programs and industrial projects to revitalize America. Ditto for an energy New Deal. If we are to turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction, we need more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power — and conservation.

It takes a Green New Deal because to nurture all of these technologies to a point that they really scale would be a huge industrial project. If you have put a windmill in your yard or some solar panels on your roof, bless your heart. But we will only green the world when we change the very nature of the electricity grid — moving it away from dirty coal or oil to clean coal and renewables. And that is a huge industrial project — much bigger than anyone has told you. Finally, like the New Deal, if we undertake the green version, it has the potential to create a whole new clean power industry to spur our economy into the 21st century.

Is there any difference between this and what Ocasio-Cortez is calling for? You can read her proposals that supposedly are in the best interests of the Democratic Party at https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal. While not mentioning the word socialism once, it makes you wonder if going through such a convulsive change is necessary since “a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” Eliminate poverty and make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone? Sure, why not? It certainly breaks with the Neanderthal version of socialism advocated by Monthly Review and most of the people writing for CounterPunch, including me. Our dinosaur brand of socialism was rejected by Jacobin author Neal Meyer in July, 2018:

It’s one thing to know what democratic socialists fight for, and another to lay out a convincing path to realizing it. This is where democratic socialists truly differ with some of our friends on the socialist left. We reject strategies that transplant paths from Russia in 1917 or Cuba in 1959 to the United States today, as if we could win socialism by storming the White House and tossing Donald Trump out on the front lawn.

Yes, that is what Marx advocated, don’t you know? Throwing despots out on the front lawn.

Perhaps the most persuasive case for making the connections between Ocasio-Cortez, the Official Democratic Party leadership as represented by Nancy Pelosi, and the loathsome Thomas Friedman was her widely quoted statement that appeared on Huffington Post: “The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan. We must again invest in the development, manufacturing, deployment, and distribution of energy, but this time green energy.”

Ocasio-Cortez was an economics major at Boston University but she might have spent some spare time reading what Marxists have said about the New Deal, WWII and the Marshall Plan that interestingly enough flow together dialectically as a study in the contradictions of capitalism.

If FDR created jobs through the WPA and other New Deal make-work projects, that was hardly enough to lift the country out of the Great Depression. Twenty years ago, someone with a mindset identical to Jacobin, the DSA, and Ocasio-Cortez on a day when she tries to cover her left flank, submitted an article to Monthly Review that the saintly Harry Magdoff had trouble with, especially with this sentence: “Today’s neo-liberal state is a different kind of capitalist class than the social-democratic, Keynesian interventionist state of the previous period.”

Harry wrote the author explaining what was wrong with this analysis:

The term “Keynesian state” has become a catchword that covers a variety of concepts and is usually misleading. It may have some meaning for the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere. But the United States? Although the concept is often applied to the New Deal, the deficit spending of the New Deal had nothing to do with Keynes (nor did Hitler’s recovery via military expenditures). It’s true Washington economists were delighted with the appearance of Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money because it gave them theoretical handles for analysis and policy thinking (e.g.,the offset to savings concept and a framework for gross national product accounts). Nevertheless, despite a promise of heavy government spending, and Keynes’s theoretical support, the New Dealers were stumped by the 1937-38 recession, which interrupted what looked like a strong recovery. There was then as there is now an underlying faith that capitalism is a self-generating mechanism. If it slowed down or got into trouble, all that was needed was a jolt to get back on track. In those days, when farm life supplied useful metaphors, the needed boost was referred to as priming the pump. The onset of a marked recession after years of pump-priming startled Washington. Questions began to be raised about the possibility of stagnation in a mature capitalism, the retarding effect of monopolistic corporations, and other possible drags on business. These concerns faded as war orders flowed in from Europe, and eventually they disappeared when the United States went to war. The notion of the “Keynesian Welfare State” has tended to disguise the fact that what really turned the tide was not social welfare, Keynesian or otherwise, but war. In that sense, the whole concept of Keynesianism can be mystification. [emphasis added]

A number of liberal economists have disputed the idea that WWII ended the Depression but it was up to J.R. Vernon (no Marxist, by any stretch of the imagination) to make the same case as Harry in the December 1994 Journal of Economic History where he stressed that more than half of the recovery took place between 1941 and 1942—in other words when war spending had geared up. Government purchase of goods and services ticked up by 54.7 percent in this one-year period and continued to increase as the actual war began. Furthermore, in examining one New Deal supporter’s figures, he came to the conclusion that by the fourth quarter of 1940, only 46 percent of the recovery had been accomplished.

By the way, Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed piece in the November 10, 2008 that essentially made the same case: “What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs.”

So until we have WWIII, it looks to me that the current economic slump will not be resolved within the context of capitalism, least of all by a Green New Deal that will be constrained by its reliance on the profit motive. After all, it is automobiles exported to India that generates growth, not windmills.

As for the Marshall Plan, this was just the fix that capitalism needed after WWII to lay the groundwork for a new round of accumulation. WWII ginned up capitalist production in the USA, especially in the smokestack industries, and the Marshall Plan revived Europe and Japan as markets for American exports as well as undercutting the massive support for Communism. In his 1947 speech on the plan, George Marshall made clear its purpose was “the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.” Free institutions obviously meant the freedom to exploit labor.

In helping to revive capitalist production in Europe, the USA created the conditions for its own decline. The market that was created for American exports was joined at the hip by the growth of VW, Mercedes-Benz, and other corporations that would eventually reduce Detroit to a status resembling Berlin in 1945. Capitalism, after all, is a zero-sum game.

Finally, turning to the question of the feasibility of making America Green without abolishing capitalist property relations, I want to draw an analogy with the last great revolutionary struggle in the USA, namely the Civil War.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was the leader of a bourgeois revolution which pitted the northern industrialists against another section of the bourgeoisie—the cotton plantation owners of the South who required slave labor to maintain their class domination.

Now, 158 years later, the petrochemical sector constitutes the same kind of reactionary grip on American society that will smash any challenge to its exploitation of fossil fuels and wage labor. What cotton and chattel slavery were to Lincoln’s day, carbon-based commodity production and wage slavery are to our epoch. It is not just Exxon that is determined to keep producing oil. You have the fracking corporations who have helped to make the USA the primary energy producer in the world today. On top of that you have the automobile companies who have zero interest in public transportation based on alternative energy sources. Or the airline industry that will never replace jets with dirigibles. Then there are the industries that either produce plastic or use it, such as at least 80 percent of the manufacturers of the commodities for sale at Walmart and that are now helping to destroy all living creatures in the world’s oceans. Let’s not forget about the companies producing chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that are key to industrial farming. Will they be ready to be replaced by sustainable organic agriculture?

American capitalism of the modern era cannot co-exist with environmentally sustainable practices. One or the other will have to triumph. If American capitalism succeeds, civilization will be the loser. As Rosa Luxemburg once put it, the choice is between socialism and barbarism. Sitting in at Nancy Pelosi’s office will not change that equation unfortunately.

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