An email from John Riddell, co-editor of Socialist Voice:Your post this morning was aptly introduced by this question: “Can capitalist society act quickly and effectively to avoid human and ecological catastrophe?” Note the carefully chosen words, “quickly,” “effectively,” and “catastrophe.” They suggest that the adequacy of the solution is a matter of opinion.For example, James Lovelock has suggested that our best option, at this point, is to survive as a community of 300 million people huddled around the poles. If capitalism could achieve that, would be it be an “effective” solution to avoid “catastrophe”?
How about writing off the Third World and building some domed cities running off solar power with room for everyone in North America and Europe who can buy their way in for $1 million cash per person. Is that “effective”?
Only if we let them get away with it. It recalls to mind Lenin’s thought that there is no economic situation from which capitalism cannot find an exit, provided that they have the political power to impose it.
For reasons well explained by Daniel Tanuro, it is extremely difficult for capitalism to react in a unified and effective manner to the ecological crisis. But we should bear in mind that capitalist ruling classes are very capable of reacting sharply and effectively, when they believes their survival is at stake. We got a taste of that in the 1970s, when they slapped on limits to fuel consumption in the U.S. — which were then withdrawn when their strategic concerns eased.
What capitalist classes really do well, of course, is wage war. The degree of centralization and structural adjustment they impose under war conditions is extreme. In the 20th century’s world wars, the main warring powers slashed manufacturing for consumer needs almost to zero; mobilized immense resources to develop atomic weapons; withdrew resources and labour power from agriculture to a degree that created near-famine conditions for many of their populations; and of course herded tens of millions to the slaughter.
We do not know when or how sharply the capitalist classes will move on the climate crisis. But we do know, for the reasons described by Tanuro, that action on their part will be irresponsibly delayed in a manner that causes immense suffering and loss. And that if and when they move, they will take action not to protect us, the peoples of the world, but to protect their own class and its profits.
The urgent question today regarding climate change concerns not the endpoint — a capitalist or socialist economy — but the present moment. Specifically, will we leave it to the capitalists to solve this problem in their fashion, dooming the world’s peoples in their immense majority to disaster, or will we act to impose our own solutions, designed to protect the world and its peoples. The key question will be: who will rule — the owners of the giant corporations or the world’s peoples. In this manner, the struggle against ecological catastrophe will flow together with other streams in the variegated international movement against capitalist power.