Marc Bonhomme, an economist who describes himself as an “anticapitalist, ecosocialist and independentist member of Québec solidaire,” spoke on “Which way out of the crisis?” on October 13 at a dinner meeting organized by the ADDS-MM, a Metropolitan Montréal association of welfare recipients. He has made his speakers’ notes available to Climate and Capitalism. The following is an English translation of the last section of his talk.
In the earlier sections, Bonhomme described how the current responses to the economic crisis in the major capitalist countries amount to a “return to neoliberal capitalism.” He then discussed a couple of the major alternative approaches that are often proposed – the “Swedish solution” or Scandinavian model largely limited to major increases in government spending to raise labour productivity; and a variant of the Swedish model, “Green capitalism,” that relies on higher user rates and taxes to reduce consumption. Both these approaches, he shows, fail to escape the logic of capitalist accumulation imperatives and competitive pressures, and thus do not offer a viable alternative to the ecological catastrophe inherent in any profit-oriented system of production and investment.
The original text in French is online here.
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To avert an ecological crisis, the United Nations says, a country like Canada must, by 2020, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from their 1990 level, and by 90% by 2050. Quebec’s emissions in 2007 (the latest statistics) were 5% above the 1990 level, and Canada’s 20%.
- A turnabout like this must go far beyond changes in individuals’ behaviour, which in any case are quite limited by the social structures. (How can one do without a car when one lives in a suburban bungalow – the only way a family can be adequately housed at a price that is affordable even if the bank has us by the throat and the public transit system is more than deficient?)
- Fundamental changes in the way we live, eat, commute and work require the active collaboration of the proletariat, which can only be achieved if the necessary ecological revolution is not carried out on the backs of the workers as it is under “green capitalism”. And this involves mobilizing the working class through participative democracy.
The ecological revolution, if it is to succeed, must be combined with a revolution in social justice and democracy which in any event is a goal in itself. This combination is called ECOSOCIALISM.
The economic crisis makes a large number of workers, equipment, machinery, and buildings available, albeit involuntarily, for major ecological construction projects.
- It was a similar mobilization in time of war that ultimately ended the Depression of the 1930s. Today, neoliberal capitalism tends to do as much in the so-called war against terrorism (which, in fact, is a fight for control of oil supplies). For capitalism, war is the highest expression of the law of competition.
But couldn’t neoliberal capitalism carry out an equivalent mobilization in order to save the planet, and in the interests of social justice?
- To ask the question is to answer it, unless you believe in pyromaniac firefighters.
- Spending more on social justice and ecology runs counter to the law of competition. If a capitalist country redistributes more wealth, spends more for social and ecological programs, and arms itself with harsh environmental and social laws, it will lose its international competitiveness. So we have to think in terms of world government. But that would no longer be capitalism.
The governments’ response to save finance showed that there were tons of money available for requisition.
- The $200 billion the federal government made available to save the banks corresponds to $45 billion for Quebec.
- If the Canadian government had mobilized as much money as the U.S. government did, we would be talking about $800 billion, including $175 billion for Quebec (the latter’s total budget is $66 billion).
Independence would allow this money to be mobilized through the democratically controlled Bank of Quebec, once the banks and other financial institutions situated in Quebec had been expropriated. It would mean that:
- Collective savings could be oriented to green, social investments – which the Caisse de dépôts et de placement cannot do Subject to the law of competition, the Caisse tries to maximize its returns through investments mainly outside Quebec and through speculation.
- The taxation of high incomes, profits and luxury consumption could be substantially increased, while putting an end to tax evasion and the flight to tax havens.
- The price of energy over-consumption could be increased provided that the basic needs were supplied free of charge. Highway tolls could be imposed and individual automobile travel could even be prohibited so long as there was free, frequent and quality public transit. Fast foods, “Twinkie” food and overeating could be heavily taxed, as long as subsidized basic, ecologically sound foods were available in ample amounts and close proximity.
An ecosocialist Quebec is a Quebec of full-time jobs for all, with decent wages and working conditions, and quality, free universal public services and social programs with no wait lists. Poverty could be reduced to zero.
- Labour productivity has increased three-fold since 1945, but labour time has declined by only a third. It ought to be drastically lowered, initially to 35 hours a week without any loss in purchasing power.
- Workers will have the means, the time and the motivation to be ecological.
- Job security and appropriate public investments will end the stress that creates the conditions for mass hyper-consumption, excess speed and stupefying entertainment, an anti-ecological lifestyle.
- The minimum wage should be set at 50% above the Statistics Canada low-income threshold, at $18 an hour for a single person in a major city based on a 35-hour week; a guaranteed minimum income should be indexed to the StatsCan low-income threshold level (e.g. $1800 per month for a single person in a major city); and expenditures on public services and social insurance programs should be increased immediately by at least $10 billion per year.
A five-year mandatory program of ecological infrastructures costing $100 billion or more, to be completed by 2020.
- Building a free, electric-powered urban public transit system of sufficient scope to relieve everyone of the need to own an automobile.
- Building a national and public intermodal rail and water freight transportation system that is sufficient to eliminate long- and medium-distance trucking.
- Renovating and raising to new standards of energy efficiency all buildings in Quebec, without penalizing the tenants. Building 10,000 social and ecological housing units per year.
- Developing vast public wind generating complexes operating in combination with hydro-power reservoirs in the North and on the Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence – provided the Cree, Innu and Inuit nations agree and are involved in terms of jobs and revenues.
- Transforming industrial and polluting agriculture into organic agriculture based on family farms and farms in democratically managed forestry cooperatives supported financially by the government.
- Reducing, re-using and recycling all industrial and household wastes by 2020 at the expense of the manufactures and businesses.
Is this realistic?
In the dead of night a lad is searching for a diamond in the grass under a street light. A passerby offers to help him. He replies, “No need to help me. I lost it 100 metres from here.”
Taken aback, the passerby asks “So why are you looking here?”
“Because there is some light.”
That’s the approach of the supporters of green and social capitalism.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara used to say: “Let’s be realists and demand the impossible.” Realist means sufficient to fulfill our social needs, including democracy. Impossible means impossible under capitalism.
At this point, in Quebec, neither the trade unions, nor the national coalitions of students, women, environmentalists or popular movements, etc., or the political parties – not even the Green Party or Québec solidaire – are realists.
Preston Manning, the founder of the reactionary Reform Party, urged the members of his tiny Alberta party, which everyone was laughing at, to “think big.” Today this party, having swallowed the Conservative Party, is the leading party in Canada and may be in the process of replacing the Liberals as the “normal” party of the bourgeoisie.
Let us dare to “think big” … On the left.
We will get there through Estates General of the popular movement to organize a mass-action response that could lead to a general strike;
The major confrontation shaping up for 2010-2011 between the government and the public sector unions is an opportunity.
Toward an ecosocialist independence.
Translation by Richard Fidler