Haiti, Romania, Poland, Pakistan, the USA, France, China, Mexico…and the list goes on: The catastrophes multiply.
Extreme drought here, extreme wetness there; earthquakes, landslides, tidal waves, millions have their feet knee deep in water and mud or are confronted, as in Greece, in California, last year by raging wild fires, and now the inhabitants of Moscow have for months lived with the noxious smoke of wild fires. And the inhabitants of Ajka, of Kolontar, in Hungary, are now inundated by a disaster caused by industrial pollution. Millions see their crops scorched, their animals either drown or die of thirst. Millions are hungry. Millions fall sick.
But above all, millions live in fear: fear of cataclysms of which they are the victims, but also fear of the violence of armed bands engaged in pillage, rape, and massacre. And that fear is an expression of the anguish in the face of a future in which there is no perspective that anything will be any better.
One question is posed with respect to this degradation of life: why?
To explain this situation, some say that it is fate, that it is ineluctable. The persistence of human catastrophes is presented as inevitable, being linked to climate change.
But this explanation seems a bit simplistic. Beyond the question of whether the extreme weather of this summer is due to climate changes, another element must be added: is it due to how we produce and consume (a question which is now almost universally answered in the affirmative). The degradation of conditions of life on planet Earth is patently clear: overpopulation, uncontrolled urbanization, deforestation, loss of arable land, industrial pollutants. In that respect, even Al Gore’s film and other media spectacles, are indicative.
The causes of this degradation are clear: an implacable logic that impels capitalism to lay the bases for its own ecological suicide. What is clear is that the ineluctability of catastrophe has a name: capitalism. Both hunger and over-consumption are the products of capitalism.
Internationalist Perspective did not wait for this summer’s catastrophes to make that point. In Internationalist Perspective 36, apropos of the catastrophes that assailed Turkey, we said: “Thousands were killed in turkey, and hundreds of thousands made homeless, not by an earthquake but by profit. The purpose of building houses in this society is not to shelter people. It is to make profit. If this can be done by providing people with a sturdy home, fine. If not, the cheapest materials are used to knock together houses that are doomed to crumble when the earth moves in turkey or Taiwan, when a hurricane hits Florida, or when rivers overflow in Mexico or China.” (“Profit Kills,” p.1)
Capitalism is based upon the implacable logic of the quest for profit. To assure its success, its transforms everything, nature included, into a source of valorization. It takes hold of nature, minerals, plants, animals, as well as humans. Reification proceeds apace. The resultant de-humanization reveals the true character of capitalism. Mac Intosh’s article in this issue of IP is an illustration. The over-exploitation of natural resources cannot be compensated for by the verbiage of “respect for the environment” by industrial societies. Indeed, this ideology justifies the situation, consolidating reification.
What has the capitalist class done?
The reaction of political leaders
What is clear is that whether in China, in Pakistan, in the US, or in Europe, the facts are the same: the political institutions of the bourgeoisie took no measures to ensure the security of millions of people. What was emphasized was “development,” valorizing value. Buildings were constructed any which way, enriching the speculators. Minimal safety measures were neglected, because not immediately profitable and requiring investments that would affect the profits of the “developer”.
In reaction, the bourgeoisie tries to plug up the holes, so to speak. As an answer to the catastrophes, the bourgeoisie punishes some politicians, but above all offers moralizing talk and speeches about the need to make sacrifices, to reduce consumption, to spend less, to help the neediest, to produce differently. Capital has even been able to transform this newly found preoccupation with the environment into opportunities to increase profits. As an alternative to the dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil, green alternatives are proposed: ethanol from corn or sugar cane is pushed as fuel for cars, and not as food.
More and more industries, electronics, construction, chemicals, profit from the virtuous circle of “sustainable development;” investments are made in installations consuming less energy and raw materials, which reduce the costs of production, and not just pollution. New markets are thus opened.
Meanwhile the capitalist class and its states “punish” some leaders and executives, by offering them huge bonuses to resign, as with the heads of BP, responsible for the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But at no time are the real causes of the “catastrophes” even discussed.
The reaction of the ecologists
The ecologists ask us to be “green”, to put on our seat belts, to save the planet.
The credo of the ecologists is basically an individualist one.
It participates completely in the post-modernist discourse that insists on the “irresponsible responsibility” of humans. It participates in a moralizing and guilt-stricken discourse linking it to a return to an obscurantist mode of thinking incapable of determining objective causes.
It participates in puritanical movements like the prohibition against smoking, and articulating a philosophy of crisis that theorizes the absence of perspectives, liquidating any possibility of a return to critical thought.
It rejects any collective subject in favor of punctual agglomerations around the defense of human rights and of nature: Amnesty International, the League for the Rights of Man, feminism.
It revels in an “anti-totalitarian” ideology, but turns to a quest for new modes of religiosity, and by turning to the consumption of the latest cultural “products:” eco-tourism, the myth of a return to nature.
It shares in the offensive of scientificity, where the knowledge of ecological specialists replaces political judgments, and ends up not with a globalizing explanation, but rather a theorization of chaos, the renewal of fragmentary explanations, and atomization.
What is to be done?
It’s not just a matter of calling for the reconciliation of man and nature, of integration into a stable eco-system.
It is not just a matter of replacing industrial technologies and methods of production, with renewable energy, the bases for which already exist (solar, geothermic, biomass, etc.), or by pointing to the bad will of capitalists, in the hope that anything will change.
One cannot demand that capitalists halt their pillage of natural resources in order to preserve a future. The global competition for the appropriation of value is the very basis of the present system. The League of Nations, and then the United Nations, were founded to assure peace, and the twentieth century was the most devastating and lethal in history!
One must not fall into the trap of Malthusianism and see “salvation” in birth control.
It’s not a matter of changing the behavior of individuals or of limiting individual needs in the hope that anything will change.
It is clear that there is only one solution: the destruction of the socio-economic system that creates the harm, produces the cataclysms. The necessity for social revolution is the only response. But paradoxically, that necessity, which seems so clear to anyone who investigates the issues, is not a given. Humans can accept the most horrendous conditions, adapt to a world of penury.
The need to envisage another social order
While “natural” catastrophes will only increase, it is more and more irrational to cling to a social order based on accumulation, on the defense of value, on money, in which the satisfaction of human needs is just a means to valorization.
Why must we accept the necessity for profit, the need to defend “our” competitive position? Why must money preside over all interactions and social relations? We have reached the point where all the mechanisms upon which our society is based, money, profit, markets, States, have -- as the bankruptcy of Greece amply demonstrates -- been put in question because they literally clash with the will to survive, with the creation of a more human world.
We need to learn to think autonomously, to stop paying our mental debt to capital. We need to question the law of value, which is a way of “seeing” reality so profoundly rooted in us, that it seems natural, and that we accept its effects as natural catastrophes.
What is possible?
The capitalist system cannot prevent crises. It then must adopt measures in order to survive: the lay-off of workers, the closure of enterprises, the cutting of wages, wars. All that clearly exemplifies the real nature of capitalism. Ford now pays its new workers 14 dollars per hour, less than half what was the norm just a couple of years ago. In the US, real unemployment in now 18.5 %, and continues to rise, despite the valorization of value. In Europe, we await the American “recovery.” The economy is “growing” again, while the crisis worsens.
Struggles break out and affect the emerging countries, as Rose’s article in this issue shows. Development occurs on the bases of exacerbated exploitation, where repression is omnipresent, and the political authorities refuse the least measures to provide minimal security. Everything is linked. A new course is possible, one linked to solidarity: solidarity in struggle – not philanthropic undertakings -- to overturn the logic of profit.
What is posed, though in a still contradictory manner, reveals a dialectic that can potentially overcome the contradictions. Compelled to sell their labor power, workers placed in a situation of subordination, put in competition with each other, could turn their weakness into strength: by refusing to work, they would generate the possibility of developing new social relations. IP has always rejected mechanistic determinism in favor of a human centered vision of social relations. Humankind and its environment cannot be reduced to a submission to reification. The very development of struggles and the assumption of responsibility by workers for the autonomy of their organizations open new perspectives by breaking the stranglehold of reification, by creating true bonds of solidarity, by repositioning humankind as the true determinant of its own destiny.
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