Savage Capitalism -the Ecosocialist Alternative (Summary)

by Ian Angus

(Note: the following article was originally posted in three installments. I have merged it into one post to simplify reading and printing)

(Update, Sept. 2 2007: I understand that “Savage Capitalism” was approved by the AGM of Socialist Resistance this weekend.) “Savage Capitalism -the Ecosocialist Alternative,” is the main document up for discussion at the Annual General Meeting of the UK group Socialist Resistance in September. An edited version of the document has been posted on the web by Liam Mac Uaid, one of the editors of SR’s newspaper (also called Socialist Resistance).

The decision of an important “old left” group to put “ecosocialism” at the centre of its program and activity is a major development. For that reason alone, “Savage Capitalism” deserves careful consideration by ecosocialists everywhere.

The following article contains extensive excerpts from “Savage Capitalism,” selected to illustrate what I believe are the key points. In a few cases I have simply summarized what a section of the document says — such comments are italicized. Excerpts from the document are indented and in quotes. Numbered subheads are from the original document.

This summary is less than one-quarter of the length of the original, so I have obviously omitted much detail and analysis — everyone interested in the subject should read the full text.

I intend to publish my own views on “Savage Capitalism” in the near future, and I hope other readers of Climate and Capitalism will do likewise.



What Is Socialist Resistance Doing, and Why?

“The document explains why Socialist Resistance is changing its political programme, perspectives and public profile towards being an anti-capitalist, ecosocialist organisation. This is to make explicit a change in our perspectives that has been underway for at least a year and now needs to be signaled publicly. At the core of this change is our contention that free-market, privatising neoliberalism has over 20 years arrived at a new and deadly phase – what we call ‘savage capitalism’. The document explains why now only a socialist response that centrally addresses the environmental crisis is adequate to the current period.”

****

“Both Socialist Resistance and a growing number of SWP cadre and Left Greens are actively developing a theory and practice of ecosocialism. Our goal is to thereby build a credible anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist ecosocialist alliance to the left of Labour and firmly rooted in the labour movement and among young people.”

1. Introduction: Savage capitalism – wrecking lives, wrecking the planet

This section sets out a general argument that “humanity is facing an enormous environmental crisis,” citing evidence from the IPCC and other sources, and that the quality of life for working people world wide has deteriorated.

“The overall threat to humanity and the planet we sum up here under four headings – environmental catastrophe, imperialist war and the crushing of the third world, savage capitalism in everyday life and the surveillance-security lockdown state. They are all linked; they all are part of a single system of power and exploitation. ‘Neoliberalism’, with the added ingredient of US-style neoconservatism, has degenerated into a new and more barbarous phase – ‘savage capitalism’.

“This new phase of capitalism forces an inevitable conclusion – only by a total transformation in politics and production, in other words a transformation of our social relations, can a sustainable future for humanity be established. We are facing the biggest crisis of human civilisation ever. No previous crisis has ever posed the existence of human civilisation so directly. Revolutionary answers are needed, qualitative answers which go way beyond the standard ‘no to’ slogans of daily campaigns, and point the way to an eco-socialist alternative.

“For Socialist Resistance this means a turn in our political stance, our campaigning priorities, our forms of organisation and our self-definition.”

2. Ecological materialism and revolutionary ecology

“It is now time to reassert that not only is the defence of the environment firmly located in the Marxist tradition, but that it is only through such a critique that a lasting and adequate solution to the ecological crisis will be found. …

“The Socialist Resistance ecosocialist turn also bases itself on work done by third world activists, including those clearly identified as part of the radical left, on the question of the environment. …

“Our Latin America solidarity work has allowed us to discuss some of these questions, as Cuba and Venezuela have both attempted to integrate ecological dimensions into the revolutionary process.”

3. Capitalist productivism

This section argues that “much production under capitalism is useless.” But socialist opposition to the “commodity spectacle” does not imply opposition to economic development.

“But it does mean that new products have to be justified on the basis of their social usefulness, and not because they are a repackaging of an established product to make more profits. We cannot abandon industrialisation and go back to the feudal village. But we can reorganise society so that the goods and services produced are socially useful and environmentally friendly. And we can make democratic decisions about the trade off that people want to make between working time and economic development.”

4. Social dimensions of the environmental crisis – Apocalypse Soon

Global warming is already underway. The real issue is whether and how we can manage and minimize its impact. If capitalism continues, the impact of global warming will be similar to the impact of Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans, where the poor were the main victims and the rich used the catastrophe to improive their own situation.

“Capitalism always rations resources in short supply towards the rich. Its weapons are military repression and the market – both are brutal killers. Environmental crisis will make security, health, food, water and adequate housing in extremely short supply – and the poor will go the wall unless they fight back. That’s why we shall see increasingly that class struggles in the third world and beyond will take the form of struggles to get and to defend basic resources like food, food and housing. Privatisation will be deepened to make all resources difficult to obtain by the poor – and always available to the rich. For the rich, everything is cheap. …

“… it will be particularly women and children who pay the price. Children because they are more vulnerable to disease, and less able to defend themselves from violence; and women because they have the main responsibility for childcare and child raising in nearly all poor societies – urban and rural, third world and first world. In the third world, it will be overwhelmingly women who have to try to find water, firewood and food for families. Climate catastrophe is not only a class question, it is also a gender question….

“A world of environmental catastrophe opens up the danger of massively increased militarism, repression and war. Ecological collapse may be survived by the rich minority, but it will devastate the poor. The fight against it is a vital part of the class struggle for socialism.”

5. Population growth and the empowerment of women

“World population is forecast to rise from a current 6 billion to 9 billion by mid century, if not before. Such levels are unsustainable under capitalism. So the debate about population control is already with us. If Malthusian, misogynist and racist solutions are not to triumph, ecosocialist solutions based on overcoming poverty and empowering women have to be fought for.”

6. Savage capitalism in the advanced countries: Treadmill Society

“For 25 years the Western countries have been gripped by the policies of neoliberalism. … The essence of this system is massive privatisation and marketisation; nationalised industries like the water and energy utilities are privatised, and privatisation to varying degrees sis even introduced in to the education and health systems. …

“Savage capitalism is a counter-revolution against the gains of the workers movement in the post-war world. It wrecks the health and lives of millions of the working class and the middle class, and consigns them to the treadmill of insecurity and endless work, and increasingly to a poverty-stricken old age. All this in the interests of the mega-rich, who become richer by quantum leaps as class divisions and social inequality are deepened….

“Getting off the treadmill means leading a more human life with different priorities, different products, different sources of energy – and a different set of relations between people. A human society which defends the environment is incompatible with capitalism.”

7. Fake pro-capitalist solutions

This section of the document rejects carbon taxes, emissions trading, and “ever more wacky and dangerous techno-fixes.”

“Measures such as the Clean Development Mechanism will colonise the South with carbon sinks and biofuel plantations, enabling the North to carry on polluting without changing lifestyles ecological profligacy in the North and consequent catastrophe in the South.”

8. War and imperialism

“Savage capitalism is at its most open and overtly brutal in its profligate use of violence….

“The divisions in the imperialist ruling classes are creating favourable conditions for a renewed offensive by the anti-war movements in the imperialist centres and it is urgent that we build/rebuild the movements.

“We stand for:

  • An end to all imperialist expeditions and the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Against any provocations or attacks on Iran;
  • For the withdrawal of NATO troops from Lebanon;
  • For an end to interference in Palestinian internal affairs and for the lifting of sanctions on the Palestinians.

“We support all resistance movements against imperialist intervention that do not engage in sectarian killings, in particular Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, while criticising their religious fundamentalism and their political and social programme.

“We prioritise establishing links of solidarity with the trade unions (for example, the independent Oil Workers Union in Iraq), and political forces who are constructing progressive and socialist struggles in the region (for example, the Lebanese CP). Our aim is to assist in the emergence of a socialist left in the region, which is democratic, feminist and anti-imperialist.”

9. Global injustice – Latin America fights back

“On no continent is neoliberalism so widely rejected as in Latin America, and nowhere has the resurgence of the Left been so powerful. The election of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the evolution of the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela are hugely ideologically important. Whatever the direction and eventual outcome of these governments, they have already done an enormously important thing – raised the banner of socialism as a mass current with mass credibility again….

“While we solidarise with all movements fighting back against savage capitalism internationally, the central thing about the Latin American developments is that they centrally raise the question of socialism. A central part of our orientation in the next period will be:

  • Solidarity with the developing revolutionary processes in Bolivia and Venezuela.
  • Defence of Cuba against the deepening reactionary offensive of imperialism, which will hit crescendo levels when Fidel Castro dies.
  • Propaganda on the advances made in Cuba, especially in the fields of social welfare, health and the environment, as demonstrations of what can be achieved, even in a poor country, on an anti-capitalist basis.”

10. The surveillance-security, lock-down state

“Today a new regime of security is being introduced by the major states, in the first place Britain and the United States. Savage capitalism has created a more unstable world and for the ruling class new methods of surveillance and repression. … The real targets are labour movements, global justice and peace movements and movements for national self-determination. …

“Defending civil liberties and opposing militarism is a crucial part of the fight for socialism and human civilisation today.”

11. Strategy and the fightback

This section outlines five key assumptions that underlie the proposed strategic approach.

“a) Creating a sustainable civilisation requires a wholesale conversion of production and consumption, and this is incompatible with capitalism….

“b) Environmentalism without class, without anti-capitalism, has massive limitations which invalidate it as a long-term strategy….

“c) At the same time as trying to elaborate a new Marxism for the 21st century …to meet the challenge of climate change, we continue to put forward a Marxism that is feminist, anti-racist and opposed to homophobia.

“d) …we do not counterpose reforms to anti-capitalist transition. …[But only small gains against climate change are likely] without a massive social and economic conversion.”

“e) The decisive force on a world scale for anti-capitalist struggle remains the workers’ movement. A central fight for Marxists is that to win the workers movement to an environmentalist (and hence eco-socialist) perspective. …”
….

“Swiveling our orientation towards ecosocialism however does not alter our fundamental strategy, but it requires its renovation:

“a) We maintain our orientation towards the creation of a broad anti-capitalist, ecosocialist party to the left of Labour, as a first step towards resolving the crisis of leadership of the working class and other popular layers.

“b) We need to develop an action programme of immediate and transitional demands which incorporate the centrality of the fight to save the environment.

“What does it mean to call Socialist Resistance ‘Ecosocialist’ ?

“To define ourselves by the term ecosocialist does not mean dropping our commitment to anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, feminism and the rights of the oppressed, anti-racism, etc. Nor does it mean a radical version of the Green Party: rather it is a recognition that capitalism cannot solve the problems posed by climate change and global warming as, by its very nature, it is based on production for profit not need, regardless of the impact on the planet. It is therefore either ‘Ecosocialism or Barbarism’.”

12. Anti-capitalist positions on key environmental debates

This section argues against carbon taxes, including the congestion tax that has been imposed in London. This tax has reduced the number of cars in the city, “but it is clear that the reduction is based on the cars of the poor.”

“The only form of capitalist taxation socialists can support would be steeply progressive taxation intended to drive the large gas-guzzlers off the road. In other words a tax on the rich.”

This section also rejects the “Contraction and Convergence” plan and emissions trading. It supports “planned capping (or equitable rationing) without the right to trade (e.g., as in Second World War).”

“Carbon trading (along with taxation) is the premier bourgeois answer to climate change, allowing the rich north and west to buy their way out of trouble while keeping the poor south and east in a pre-or semi-industrialised state.”

13. Our Demands

The final section of “Savage Capitalism: The Ecosocialist Alternative” lists the types of demands that Socialist Resistance will support to build a mass movement. Rather than try to summarize what is in effect already a summary, I’m including the entire section here.

“Ecosocialists have to start from a class analysis, an analysis that can unite the largest possible number of people to make the rich, not the poor, pay. We support the building of a mass movement, nationally and internationally to impose the types of demand below.

“1. For a unilateral reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Britain of 90% by 2030, with similar reductions in other developed countries;

“2. For an international treaty to cap global carbon emissions, not because we think this is an easy option, or even likely to be achieved (this depends on the balance of forces), but because it is necessary and can unite the movements internationally against the failures of the capitalist system;

“3. For international rationing of air travel, any market in rations to be made illegal;

“4. Opposition to nuclear energy and the building of any new nuclear power stations;

“5. For a massive expansion of renewable energy;

“6. For subsidies from national and local government:

  • to replace the use of cars by providing cheap, accessible and frequent public transport;
  • to ensure all new buildings are zero-carbon;
  • to provide insulation, energy conservation, etc. for all homes to make them energy efficient.

“On climate change we should campaign around the following transitional and immediate demands which are designed to halt and reverse the global warming process and thus prevent climate chaos and rising sea levels. These should include a 90% reduction in fossil fuel use by 2050, based on a 6% annual target, monitored by independent scrutiny. The industrialised countries, who have caused the problem, must take the lead in this. The most impoverished peoples are paying the highest price for the actions of the advanced countries. There is no point in asking then to take measures not being taken in the industrialised countries.

“This means:

  • Cancellation of the third-world debt. There is no point on calling on impoverished counties to tackle climate change if they are saddled with debt.
  • A massive increase in investment in renewable energy including solar, wind wave, tidal and hydro power (with the exception of destructive mega-dam projects). These should be monitored for anti-social consequences. No nuclear power.
  • End the productivist throwaway society: production for use and not for profit.
  • Tough action against industrial and corporate polluters.
  • Free, or cheap, integrated publicly owned transport systems to provide and alternative to the car.
  • Nationalisation of rail, road freight and bus companies.
  • Halt airport expansion, restrict flights and end binge flying. Nationalise the airlines.
  • Redesigned cities to eliminate unnecessary journeys and conserve energy
  • Scrap weapons of mass destruction and use the resources for sustainable development and renewable energy.
  • Massive investment to make homes more energy efficient. Moves towards the collectivisation of living spaces.
  • Nationalisation of the supermarkets, localised food production and a big reduction in food miles.
  • No GM crops for food or fuel.
  • End the destruction of the rain forests.
  • Defend the rights of climate change refugees and migrants. Protect those hit by drought, desertisation, floods, crop failure and extreme weather conditions.
  • Renationalise water and protect water reserves. End the pollution of the rivers and the water ways.”

Posted in Ecosocialism, Movement Building
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Dave Riley
9 years 26 days ago

It’s not sneering Ian. I think thats’ a a knee jerk misreading on your part of what I am saying here.I am trying to point out that theres’ a problem in Marxism these last 20 + years that has so unevenly been addressed.I’m all for the reds turning green but the key feature I have to say isn’t primarily a question of adjusting theory — it has to be overwhelmingly a challenge of engineering campaigns and fostering interventions — Thats’ the core urgency.So this coming to grips is a journey that has to be much more than documentation .And in effect the new urgency behoves Marxism to do better than it has been doing — yes, even here in Australia as much as anywhere else.So the question is primarily what sort of politics we can generate in the present context.In effect the socialist left has often failed to recognise the political challenge and significance that was posed by the international Green Parties phenomenon from the early eighties onwards and in so doing failed to note the underlying conditions that was pushing this development.Maybe we can blame Bahro for going off the rails…so it was easy to dismiss him later on in his life?(!!)That oversight –and I think that’s what it was when it wasn’t constrained by crude workerist dogma — has run its course and now we can celebrate the new political options and openings of which this document is a strong indicator.So I’m all for it –contrary to your interpretation of my approach.For my part I regret that there has been this lack of buoyancy on the far (green) left — which has a few complex causes.Such as…In my experience a good part of our present almost logjam situation has been sponsored within the green movement itself. The keen debates & dialogues that prospered in the eighties and into the nineties floundered somewhat as the green electoral agenda began to prosper.If there was a core green strategy it was parliamentarist despite all the talk that being green was neither left nor right…or it was localist.And the irony was that it too slipped into a sense of complacency rather than environmental urgency. That’s what ails it today I think. So what I see is the prospect now is that Marxism schooled political focus, analysis and skill is essential for the environment movement to prosper as the old formulations have used their use by date.There has to be an injection of strategy and a major discussion over that because there has to also be a more conscious bifurcation in the Green movement itself — between left greens and right greens in a way that hasn’t occurred that much here in Australia at leastSo in one very real sense it’s like being confronted with the context that was presented to the socialist movement during the first decade of the 20th century. So we can indeed talk about reform or revolution. socialism or environmental disaster…Theres’ this massive echo of those debates which need to be played out under the marker ofwhich way forward? –and most importantly WHAT SORT OF VEHICLE WE NEED TO MOVE AHEAD WITH.I don’t think it is sneering, Ian , to suggest that that is the case — but I do think theres’ a challenge for all socialists that requires us to address in very concrete terms.In very concrete terms — thats’ the rub — because so much green dialogue can be so abstract and ephereal with a language almost unto itself sometimes as unchallenged processes hold sway over the discourse –such as absolute consensus, for instance or a preference for the local solution..So I guess, and I’m musing here, this is a very complex business we have to negotiate and I apologise if my handling of it was cause for any annoyance on your part

Ian Angus
9 years 26 days ago

Well zip-a-de-doo-dah, Dave! I guess since the DSP and Green Left Weekly said everything that needs to be said about socialism and ecology SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO (and all in capital letters, too!) then all the rest of the world needs to do is photocopy some back issues and keep quiet. We don’t need to think things through on our own, apply Marxism creatively to the world as we see it. No, we should just order lots of copies of Environment Capitalism & Socialism from Resistance Books. Heck, since everything was decided SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO IN AUSTRALIA, it’s surprising that you bothered to publish a second edition just EIGHT YEARS AGO. Why didn’t you just reprint the old one? But seriously. I am second to no one in my admiration for the pioneering work that socialists in Australia have done. I think Green Left Weekly is one of the world’s very best socialist papers, bar none. No other Marxist paper covers global warming and other ecology issues as well. But now, after SEVENTEEN YEARS in which you were virtually alone in this, socialists in other countries are coming to grips with the issue — in their own way, based on their own experiences. They are drawing on a wealth of analysis that has been done by Marxists around the world. It’s a huge step forward. It’s a worldwide discussion that Australian socialists can and should play a big role in. If there are errors or limitations (and I can think of many myself) you can help set things right through collaborative and comradely discussion. Dave, this type of sneering is beneath you, and it does nothing to advance the cause of international ecosocialist (or Green Left, if you prefer) collaboration and development. So (to paraphrase your comment), I sincerely hope that this was only a transitional message that is aware of its many limitations.

Dave Riley
9 years 26 days ago

‘Ecosocialists’ confuse me no end. The “environment’ has been in duress for yonks and in addressing that crisis they do so with bells and whistles as though the problem and the socialist solution to it was a brand new discovery.I think that’s a mistake both theoretically and tactically. Here in Australia we’ve had Green Left Weekly available for over 16 years and the publications backers — the DSP — published its own ‘ecosocialist’ platform 17 years ago. Get that? SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO.Read it here:http://www.dsp.org.au/site/?q=node/85So what its so new and fresh for the eco Marxists is de riguer here in Australia in terms of political theory AND PRACTICE.So I have to say that documents like this in effect underscore the failure of the revolutionary left to deal with burgeoning reality and rebadging exercises like “eco” whatever only tend to draw attention to that failure as though the politics in the first instance was inadequate.They aren’t and they weren’t. Contemporary Marxism’s and contemporary Marxists’ main problem in regard to the environment has been that Historical Materialism has ruled the collective perspective while the broad science — the ‘one science’ — of Dialectical Materialism has been grossly neglected.That , in my estimation, has been the core failing– one that would have Marx (The Marx who gave Darwin a copy of Capital — & who wanted to dedicate Volume II of Capital to Darwin — turning over in his grave.)This is complicated the more in this document as it is very discursive on ecological features of the global climate crisis and very light on solutions.In effect, it fails to enrich what should be the core intervention that can and should be made in regard to the key tactical adage: what is to be done?So I sincerely hope that this is only a transitional document that is aware of its many limitations

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