How Not to Talk About Climate Change

System Change, Not Climate Change Pic

Two recent letters to the editor in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram illustrate the limits of the conventional thinking on climate change and how we can most effectively fight it. Both are worth examining if the left is to move beyond this myopic — and, frankly, erroneous — understanding of the climate crisis.

Len Frenkel of South Portland, echoes the environmental movement’s longstanding concept of employing individual acts to mitigate climate change. (“As warming threatens planet, humans will have to make sacrifices,” 07/31/2018.)

“There are many actions that we, as individuals, can take without our government’s involvement,” Frenkel writes. “But they will be severe and very unpopular. We need to drastically reduce our carbon footprints.”

He continues:

… We can choose to fly for vacations and trips, or not. We can choose to buy unnecessary stuff, or not. We can choose to have second homes, or not. We can choose to eat animal foods, or not. We can choose to have another consumer child, or not. We can choose to travel to entertainment centers, or not. All of these human activities, which are so popular in industrialized nations, are very serious contributors to the greenhouse gases that cause runaway climate change.

This individualist orientation to combating climate change has long been the main focus of the environmental movement — however, that has changed considerably in recent years as the environmental left has undergone something of a radicalization.

It was, nonetheless, the main argument in Al Gore’s 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. After expertly and candidly explaining the science of climate change, and highlighting the dangers of rising sea levels, increased “superstorm” hurricanes, and melting ice caps, Gore’s proposed solution is merely for viewers to change their light bulbs, recycle more, drive less, and purchase carbon offsets.

These are all fine, altruistic actions, no doubt. I would certainly never discourage anyone from undertaking any of them. But given the global scale of the climate crisis, the unfortunate reality is individual actions, while no doubt well intended, are essentially worthless in reducing the threat of climate change.

As Martin Lukacs writes of the obvious limits of these small-scale solutions in a 2017 op-ed for The Guardian, “Would you advise someone to flap towels in a burning house? To bring a flyswatter to a gun fight? Yet the counsel we hear on climate change could scarcely be more out of sync with the nature of the crisis.”

Furthermore, the individualist approach to climate change assumes that all Americans share the same carbon footprint — and, as a result, we are all equally to blame for the climate crisis. But that is simply not the case. One hundred corporations — most of them fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell — are responsible for 71 percent of global CO2 emissions, since 1988, according the Carbon Majors Report.

This handful of greedy corporations — and, more specifically, the system of capitalism which places short-term profit above the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet — bears most of the responsibility for despoiling the Earth, and threatening the continued existence of the human race — not working-class people like you and me.

(And while we are holding the guilty parties responsible, the anti-science/anti-intellectual Republican Party, and its decades-long propaganda project of denying the very existence of anthropogenic, or human-induced global warming, also shares a great portion of the blame. We have lost precious decades of proactive environmental action due to the Republicans’ deliberate misinformation campaign.)

Thus, Frenkel’s blanket austerity prescription is misguided. It is the rich, the corporate CEOs, and the fossil fuel companies that should curb their unnecessary consumption — not working-class citizens. Bourgeois elites like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, who criss-cross the planet on a near hourly basis in their fleet of private jets, are the ones who can most afford to do without. Working-class people, on the other hand, must commute to work in order to just survive.

The subtitle of Naomi Klein’s landmark 2014 book, This Changes Everything, puts it best: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

While this understanding that capitalism, not humanity at large, caused the climate crisis may have once seemed radical, it has become much more prevalent on the left in recent years, particularly among young climate activists. This trend is highly encouraging and should be built upon.

However, as Frenkel’s editorial demonstrates, there is still much work to be done to build an eco-socialist left capable of both understanding the roots of climate change, and how to best halt the trend of a rapidly warming planet.

But if Frenkel places misguided faith in small-scale solutions to save the planet, William Vaughan, Jr.’s response letter, also published in the PPH (“Our behavior won’t change, so let’s not pretend it will,” 08/06/2018) dismisses any prospects of hope, entirely.

“Mr. Frenkel writes as if there is some chance we will stop flying, stop buying unnecessary things, and so on,” Vaughan writes. “But there is no evidence any of that is happening, or will happen.”

“… And since we will do nothing,” he continues in his pessimistic letter, “children and grandchildren around the world, as well as many other species, will pay the price for our inactions.”

Vaughan concludes:

“Better to face the music than to hope or pretend there is some chance our behavior will significantly change before it is too late. It never has and it never will.”

Well, shit… I guess it is a good thing I do not have any kids of my own… Perhaps we should all just shoot ourselves, now and get it over with?

While Frenkel and Vaughan are both correct to be alarmed about — even, in fact, to despair over — climate change and the fate of the human species, outright fatalism such as Vaughan’s contributes nothing to the environmental conversation. The left gains nothing by drowning in pessimism — if not, indeed, nihilism.

This does not mean we should be pollyannish about the environmental crisis unfolding in front of our eyes. We should be frank about how dire the situation is. Klein is correct: “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

But Vaughan is flat out wrong that “we will do nothing,” to change “our” behavior. Hundreds of people throughout the globe are currently engaged in environmental activism, protests, collective projects, and lectures aimed at halting the continued warming of the planet. Millennials, in particular, are deeply concerned about climate change and routinely rank it as one of their most pressing issues.

Likewise, there is nothing inherently static, greedy, self-centered or risk adverse about human nature, as Vaughan suggests. And, for that matter, it is not “human nature” that is to blame for climate change. It is capitalism — a system that runs quite counter to humans’ natural inclination for sociability, cooperation, and collective action.

If Frenkel’s letter is frustrating in its myopic approach to mitigating global warming, Vaughan’s leaves readers downright enraged over its flippant, pessimistic tone.

But Frenkel is right in one respect: We do have a choice. We can ditch capitalism as an economic system and save the planet, or we can ditch the planet and save capitalism. The wealthy elite have already made it painfully clear which option they prefer. Now it is up to us to ensure they do not get their way.

 

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

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It IS Happening Here: Reunite Families, Deport Trump

Rogers-Immigrant-Children-Featured
An editorial cartoon by Rob Rogers, formerly of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. Rogers, a long time editorial cartoonist for the paper, was fired recently for his work criticizing President Donald Trump.

My mother developed polio as a child. It left her paralyzed from the waist down. She is one of the few remaining polio survivors still alive.

She often reflects on how much more difficult it was to be a person with a disability in the 1950s, prior to any disability rights laws. Indeed, growing up with a physical handicap was like being a non-person.

Teachers were openly cruel and belittling to her. One teacher once chastised her, in front of her classmates, for being a “burden” on taxpayers, who would, she assured my mother, end up having to pay for her living expenses. As a result, the teacher continued her berating lecture, my mom needn’t worry about studying hard and applying herself, academically, since “nobody would hire” her, anyway.

(I suspect many people, including employers, still harbor such views toward the disabled. They merely keep them to themselves. Unless, that is, they are Donald Trump or his ableist supporters.)

After contracting polio, my mother was taken to a rehab facility, where she lived for several months. She was only about 4-years-old, and the experience of being taken away from her parents and home was extremely traumatizing for her. The nurses were wicked to her and the other patients, openly mocking their disabilities. The facility was cold, dark, and antiseptic. My mom cried every night for her salad — a staple of her dinner routine back home.

My mom’s parents, based on the advice of the hospital staff, never called or visited her during her lengthy stay. My mother, for all she knew, had been abandoned — given up as so much defective trash. Indeed, my grandparents, in keeping with the discriminatory attitudes of the time, viewed their daughter’s disability as a source of family shame. My grandfather, in particular, never truly came to terms with it.

I relate my mother’s story because it is the only comparable one I know of to what immigrant families, torn apart by the Trump administration’s egregious, “zero tolerance” crackdown on border crossings, are currently experiencing.

Last week, ProPublica released audio of immigrant children and infants held in a detention center at the border, crying for their parents. As the children scream, “Mami! Papa!” a border patrol agent can be heard, sarcastically replying, in Spanish, “Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”

According to a story by The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux, the Trump administration has taken more than 3,700 children from their parents, thus far. And, as the headline states, the government has “no plan for returning them.”

A June 19 editorial in Socialist Worker calls the makeshift “desert tent cities,” and “Walmart concentration camps for children,” a “deliberate spectacle of sadism — a moral and humanitarian crisis knowingly orchestrated by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to inflict suffering on migrant parents and children…”

Earlier this week, it seemed activists had scored something of a minor victory, with Trump’s abrupt issuing of an executive order mandating immigrant families remain together throughout the detention process. Trump clearly caved to the mounting pressure coming not just from immigrant rights’ activists, but also a newly-emboldened media, and, according to some sources, members of his own family.

However, even this symbolic victory was short-lived. In a pattern that has become all too familiar in this disorganized administration, Trump’s hastily signed executive order was met with confusion on the part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, as well as members of the president’s own cabinet who, apparently, had not been briefed about the order.

Many of these immigrants are asylum-seekers fleeing violence and civil unrest in war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. These families are desperate victims of U.S. imperialism — which, contrary to liberal opinion, increased under President Barack Obama. To bomb these people’s neighborhoods, and destabilize their countries through military force, and then sanctimoniously lecture them about their disregard for “the law,” as they attempt to flee the criminal violence we have inflicted upon them is a particularly pernicious form of hypocrisy.

In fact, to deny asylum-seekers entrance into the country is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Furthermore, capitalists, corporate CEOs, Wall Street traders, and small business owners routinely engage in criminal behavior and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” They violate labor and regulatory laws, environmental protections, and commit tax evasion. Based on the right’s apparent reverence for The Law, these criminal capitalists should all be thrown out of the country. Let’s start with Trump.

“The goal of the Trump administration’s state-sponsored kidnapping is to scare potential future migrants and refugees from making the journey,” the Socialist Worker editors write, “as well as to create leverage on congressional Democrats to concede to White House demands for draconian policies against future immigration, legal and illegal.

But the cruelty of the family separation policy isn’t just as a means to these ends. Cruelty itself is the goal — another lurch in the Trumpist project of shifting the mainstream political spectrum so far to the right, that fascism, or something close to it, defines one end, while the other is the tepid liberalism put forward by the Democratic Party and MSNBC.

Yet, as the editorial argues, we cannot wait until the November midterm elections to take action against Trump’s family separations and deportations. Immigrant families certainly cannot wait. The left must mobilize against Trump now.

And, while Trump and his cabinet of swamp monsters certainly make for easy targets, it is important to understand that the United States’ anti-immigrant laws and history of scapegoating “The Other,” have been a bipartisan project for decades. As xenophobic as Trump has been toward immigrants, Obama still holds the dubious distinction of having deported more immigrants than any other president in history.

Thus, when it comes to challenging Trump’s xenophobia, the left’s goal cannot be to simply return to the “status quo,” or the way things were under the previous administration. The entire capitalist system — not just the policies of one or two particular presidents — is to blame. It must be smashed and replaced with one that recognizes the intrinsic value of all people — regardless of their nationality, gender, race, or physical ability.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without borders, walls, and barriers. We believe no human being is “illegal.” People should be free to live and roam where they please — or perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famines, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe, as island and coastal nations find themselves at risk to rising sea levels.

Ripping mothers apart from their children and throwing them in concentration camp surroundings is a cruel, heartless, and inhumane form of punishment. Our short-term goal must be the immediate reunification of families. The longer term project, however, is to create a world without borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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Notes From a Shithole Country

Airport Uprising
Thousands protest Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban at JFK airport in New York City, on Jan. 27, 2017.

One year into Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency the United States government has shut down. It is, indeed, an ironic — and highly fitting —symbol to mark the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Trump, rather than “draining the swamp,” as he childishly promised on the campaign trail, has merely flooded it with even more raw sewage and swamp monsters. For all his disparaging remarks about “shithole countries” (by which he referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and the “country” of Africa), the U.S. is rapidly devolving into such a shithole. Or perhaps it always was one. Take your pick.

At the heart of this latest government shutdown is the fate of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers a “path to citizenship” for young adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

I put the phrase, “path to citizenship” in quotes because there is no such thing as an “illegal” human being. Additionally, the entire concept of “legal citizenship” is a relatively recent concept. Up until the 19th century, immigration laws were virtually nonexistent. Though many assume their ancestors came to the country “legally” or utilized the “proper channels,” according to the American Immigration Council, “unauthorized immigration has been a reality for generations.”

DACA currently shields some 800,000 immigrants who live and work in the country from deportation. For many of these young immigrants, America is the only home they have ever known. Trump’s elimination of the program would tear families apart and inflict unnecessary suffering upon thousands of working-class people.

“It’s not just affecting one person in the family,” said Patricia Jaramillo, a 23-year-old DACA recipient from Van Nuys, California of Trump’s efforts to phase out the program. “It’s a ripple effect that affects entire communities, entire families…”

Furthermore, local manufacturing businesses like Cozy Harbor Seafood and Barber Foods rely heavily on these immigrants’ labor power — which is cheaper and easier to exploit than that of “native” U.S. citizens. These processing plant jobs — which take place in cold, pungent conditions — are mundane, repulsive, and often involve long hours of standing and repetitive motions.

Workers in these degrading jobs are routinely denied bathroom breaks — to the point where many poultry workers have resorted to wearing diapers to work, according to a 2016 report by Oxfam America. While denying adult employees basic necessities like bathroom breaks may seem patently illegal, the fact is worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced. The near disappearance of unions has only further eroded workplace protections.

And, as if to add insult to injury, workers at these processing plants are often carefully monitored by numerous surveillance cameras while they work. (This is the case at Cozy Harbor Seafood, where I once worked as an office temp.)

Trump railed on immigration and America’s supposedly “weak” boarder control laws to stoke working-class fear and resentment of “the Other.” During his now-infamous campaign announcement speech, the xenophobic Trump singled out immigrants from Mexico. “They are bringing drugs,” Trump said of Mexican immigrants. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Republicans howl that DACA is an illegal program — that we are a “nation of laws,” and we must “respect the rule of law.” Yet where was this reverence for the “rule of law” last summer when Trump pardoned corrupt, racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio? The right was suspiciously silent about the vaunted “rule of law,” then.

Indeed, capitalists engage in illegal behavior every day and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” Perhaps we should deport all of them?

While the Democrats should be applauded (for once) for holding the line on preserving DACA in the latest government shutdown squabble, I fear their stance has more to do with electoral maneuvering than any genuine concern for DACA recipients. It is worth recalling that Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history — including Trump.

As of this writing, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already offered Trump funding for his coveted border wall in exchange for maintaining DACA.

(Just to review, we have money for border walls to keep “illegal” immigrants out of the country, but our elected elites insist single-payer health care is “too expensive.”)

This is further evidence that the left cannot rely on the capitalist Democratic Party to save us. Only mass mobilizations — similar to the Muslim ban protests that shut down major airports last year — can protect immigrant families.

But our efforts cannot stop at merely preserving DACA — though that is an important immediate goal. The left must also put forward a real socialist alternative to the failed immigration policies of both capitalist parties.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without walls and borders. We believe in a world where people are free to live and roam as they please — or, perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famine, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe.

Likewise, many of the Sudanese, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees fleeing to America are victims of our imperialist wars and occupations. To bomb these people’s nations and destabilize them through military force, and then cruelly deny them entry to our shores as they attempt to flee the violence we have inflicted is a particularly sinister form of hypocrisy.

The point is that few immigrants truly have a “choice” in migrating to the U.S. or to any other country. And the ruling class’ concept of a “path to citizenship” for immigrants is, as Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch explains, equally misleading.

As Katch writes in a March 15, 2016 article:

The “path to citizenship” is more like a road to nowhere, a long march that forces undocumented immigrants to go “to the back of the line” of a system in which many have to wait up to 24 years to get green cards. Along the way are many roadblocks, from fines that may be unaffordable, to proving they have been steadily employed — in a country where layoffs and temporary work are becoming the norm for all workers …

The fight to preserve DACA and protect immigrant families is a crucial one. And it is a fight that has the potential to mobilize a new generation of radicals to struggle for a world without walls and borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

The Crisis is Capitalism

capitalism-crash-e1466891639998

Life under the Trump regime is, at times, almost surreal. Every day seems to bring a new Twitter tirade, White House squabble, or scandal. Never in my life can I recall reading in the newspaper that the secretary of state openly referred to the president as a “fucking moron.”

It is almost like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Consider this characteristically irrational exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Many people have remarked that just keeping up with the daily news is both exhausting and depressing. The headline of the lead editorial in the October issue of Socialist Worker seems to sum up Trump’s brand of “shock and awe” politics, best: “Our resistance in the era of political whiplash.”

The SW editors write:

Think about it: In less than a month’s time, we witnessed the far-right carnival of hate in Charlottesville and a murderous attack on anti-racist demonstrators; the unnatural disasters of [hurricanes] Harvey and Irma confirming the destruction that capitalism has caused through climate change and greed; more nuclear saber-rattling by the world’s main super-bully in Washington; and the Trump administration ending DACA protections for undocumented youth now threatened with deportations to places most don’t remember.

This seemingly non-stop “political barrage,” they add, “is a central part of the right’s strategy: to stun opponents into inaction.”

We are, needless to say, living in radical times. And radical times call for radical politics.

Capitalism is currently in deep crisis. The elites no longer have any credibility. Where once the meritocratic Horatio Alger model of improving one’s living standards through hard work and educational achievement at least held some modicum of truth for working-class Americans, this ruling-class principle no longer holds any currency.

For the first time in decades, an entire generation of young adults will be worse off financially than their parents. And this is despite the fact that millennials are the most educated generation in history. (They are also the most debt-burdened from the ever-increasing costs of college education.)

These diminished economic prospects are compounded by a menacing plague of opioid addiction that, in 2016 alone, claimed an estimated 64,000 lives.

As a result, nearly half of millennials believe the so-called “American Dream,” is dead, according to a 2015 Harvard Institute of Politics survey. Where once the bourgeois elite could at least hold out the promise that if you work hard you too can join the middle-class—if not the rich—now the prospects for working-class people have been reduced to merely hoping a climate-change augmented hurricane or forest fire does not destroy your home and all your belongings.

Now, if that ain’t a reason to stand in patriotic reverence for our national anthem during commercialized spectator sports, well, you must just hate The Troops, you son of a bitch!

Wealth inequality is, in fact, far worse than most Americans realize. Of the $30 trillion in wealth the U.S. has gained since the end of the Great Recession of 2008, the 400 richest individuals received an average of $2,500,000,000 each. Those in the bottom 80 percent, meanwhile, got roughly $13,000 each.

And working-class wages remain stagnant. “Income for the working-age bottom 50%,” writes economist, Paul Buchheit, “has not improved since the late 1970s. The share of all income going to the poorest 50% has dropped from 20 to 12 percent. The share going to the richest 1% has risen from 12 to 20 percent.”

While it is not unusual for capitalism to periodically go into crisis (indeed, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels understood that the unplanned, unmanaged nature of capitalism makes it inherently prone to crisis), the scale of this particular economic crisis has not been seen since the Gilded Age of the 1920s.

Marxist economist, Richard Wolff suggests labeling this “new period” of capitalism “post-neoliberal,” “post-globalized,” or “neo-nationalist.” Whichever term one prefers, Wolff describes this era as one in which,

[T]he major corporations, the top 1% they enrich, and the top 10% of managers and professionals they employ will no longer provide the rest of us anywhere near the number of well-paid jobs and generous government policies of the post-1945 period. Given this reality for them, they could hypothetically reduce, more or less equally across the board, the jobs, incomes, and public services available to the bottom 90% of the US population. But at least in the short run, this is politically too dangerous.

Wolff continues:

The only other option they see is to divide the bottom 90% into two groups. For the favored one, jobs, incomes, and standards of living will be only marginally reduced or perhaps, if possible, marginally improved. For the other group, their economic situation will be savaged, reduced to conditions formerly associated with seriously underdeveloped parts of the planet. The time has thus arrived in the US for a major struggle—economically, politically, and ideologically—over just who will be in those two groups. The violence lurking in this struggle has surfaced so far most starkly and provocatively in the murder of [Heather Heyer] at Charlottesville. It reflects the stakes in the proliferating struggles.

And the crisis of capitalism is not relegated to the United States. Britain’s unexpected vote to leave the European Union (EU) last year (“Brexit”), along with the recent uprising in Catalonia for independence from Spain represent, for the power elite, dramatic threats to the neoliberal status quo. That neoliberal order is crumbling—and the bourgeois ruling class is scared to death.

Their fear is compounded here at home with the expectation-shattering election of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was the ruling class’ preferred candidate. Her political experience and proven loyalty to corporate capitalism made her the logical successor to Barack Obama’s Wall Street-friendly policies. For the ruling class, Clinton represented not so much the “lesser evil” as liberals frequently describe the Democratic candidate, but, to use Black Agenda Report executive editor, Glen Ford’s phrase, the “more effective evil.”

But Trump is a wild card.

His erratic and unpredictable behavior makes him difficult for the bourgeois—as well as the elements of the so-called “Deep State” (the FBI, CIA, military-industrial complex, etc.)—to control. And much of Trump’s agenda concerning immigration and nationalism flies in the face of a global capitalist order that, for decades, has relied on cheap, under-paid and easily exploited immigrant labor.

Yet, Trump is merely a symptom of the larger disease of capitalism. While I am all for removing Trump from office (with the understanding that the homophobic, Christian evangelical, Mike Pence would take his place), the fact is life in pre-Trump America was hardly a paradise for working-class people.

Thus, the left’s goal cannot be to merely vote for Democrats in 2018, and Kamala Harris or Cory Booker in 2020–though this is precisely what many liberals advocate. The inconvenient truth is that the corporatist, neoliberal policies of Bill Clinton and Obama paved the way for President Trump. We cannot simply return to business as usual.

Instead, we must build on the renewed interest in socialism, particularly among young people, that Bernie Sanders helped spark. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), which I am a dues-paying member of, has seen record turnout at its weekly public meetings in branches throughout the country. And interest has only increased since the start of the fall 2017 college semester.

People are clearly hungry for a radical politics that both speaks to their lived conditions, and can help them fight back against the proto-fascist far-right. Now is the time to tap into that hunger, and build a viable working-class movement that can agitate for tangible reforms in the here in now, as well as point the way forward to a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable socialist future.

“[H]ere it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law,” Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

… The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Perils of Left-Wing Dystopia

Climate change future

As the massive devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have frighteningly illustrated, climate change is no longer some abstract, distant threat. The effects are unfolding now, right in front of us. Climate change, more than any other urgent social issue, represents perhaps the gravest, most dire threat to humankind’s continued existence.

Capitalism—a system that eschews planning and concern for future generations in the interest of short-term profit—is killing the planet. While liberals point to capitalism’s excesses and individual consumer choices as the main drivers of global warming, this narrow perspective fails to understand the precise nature of capitalism. It is, in the end, an inherently exploitative system that reduces everything—including the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet—to a commodity.

There is little doubt the climate crisis is quite dire. Climate scientists warn we must make dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions if we are to avoid a four-six degree Celsius rise in global temperature. (Scientists and world leaders view anything less than two degrees as the “safe zone.”)

As Naomi Klein writes in her latest book, No Is Not Enough, “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

At the same time, however, the left gains nothing by drowning in pessimism and despair–if not outright fatalism–in discussing global warming. So many leftists are downright bleak when it comes to assessing mankind’s ability to adequately confront the climate crisis.

Chris Hedges’ Sept. 10 column, titled “The Great Flood,” is characteristically dour.

“Droughts, floods, famines and disease will eventually see the collapse of social cohesion in large parts of the globe, including U.S. coastal areas,” Hedges writes. “The insecurity, hunger and desperation among the dispossessed of the earth will give rise to ad hoc militias, crime and increased acts of terrorism.”

This is, no doubt, an enitrely plausible future scenario—unless, of course, we act now to topple capitalism and overthrow the ruling elites that have poisoned our planet. But Hedges does not even entertain the latter prospect. Indeed, his piece offers no blueprint for actions readers might take or environmental groups they could join.

He instead continues to outline his dystopian, climate-ravaged society:

We will react [to climate change] like most patients with a terminal disease as they struggle to confront their imminent mortality. The gradual diminishing of space, perception and strength will weaken our capacity to absorb reality. The end will be too horrible to contemplate. The tangible signs of our demise will be obvious, but this will only accelerate our retreat into delusional thinking. We will believe ever more fervently that the secular gods of science and technology will save us.

But this ignores the vast numbers of people throughout the globe who are taking action to halt—at least as much as is now possible—the effects of climate change.

The environmental movement has undergone something of a radicalization in the last decade or so. Many of the leading environmental groups, including Greenpeace and 350.org, understand that it is capitalism–or, at the very least, the extractive oil industry– that is the cause of the climate crisis. These groups have, in recent years, engaged in targeted campaigns singling out top corporate polluters like ExxonMobil and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

Much of this radicalization has been driven by the college students and young people who make up a significant part of the environmental left. These young people understand fully well the grave threat global warming poses to their future, and the future of all life on Earth.

Anjali Appadurai, then a student at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, seemed to speak for young activists throughout the world when she addressed the U.N. Climate Summit in Durban, Africa, on Dec. 9, 2011.

“I speak for more than half the world’s population,” said Appadurai, then-21-years-old. “We are the silent majority.”

She went on:

You have given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not on the table. What does it take to get a seat in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money? You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time you have failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises.

… There is real ambition in this room, but it’s been dismissed as radical, deemed not politically possible. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet’s climate, to betray the future of my generation, and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What is radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach.

Hedges is difficult to peg, politically. He describes himself as a socialist, but his writing typically has more of an anarchist-bent. (Perhaps Hedges is best characterized as what Jacobin editor, Bhaskar Sunkara calls an “anarcho-liberal.”)

While Hedges correctly points to the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries as the driving forces behind the decades-long corporate campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change (“They fear that a rational, effective response to climate change will impede profits,” he writes), he stops short of singling out the system of capitalism.

In the absence of any course of action one might take, readers are left feeling depressed, demoralized, and politically disengaged. “The damage suffered by Houston, Tampa and Miami is not an anomaly,” Hedges concludes. “It is the beginning of the end. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

Shit… I guess it is a good thing I do not have any kids, in that case…

When Hedges, in some of his books and other columns, does offer suggestions for how readers might fight back, they tend to be vague and unspecified. He often calls for leftists to retreat into “self-sustained communities”—a tactic that reeks of petit bourgeois, “buy local” campaigns.

But we cannot simply disengage from capitalism while the rest of the world around us literally burns. Our goal must be to smash the system and create a new one.

None of this is to suggest we should be pollyannaish about climate change. Indeed, the inverse of pessimism devoid of hope is perennial—and often delusional—positive thinking, a phenomenon Barbara Ehrenreich explores in her 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.

That said I fully disagree that “hope is a bourgeois construction,” as an ultra-left commenter said last year at a public talk I attended at the University of Southern Maine. (Most people present at the talk, including the speaker, disagreed with this statement.)

Whether we deem the proverbial glass “half-empty,” or “half-full,” our job as socialists is not merely to interpret the world, as the philosophers of our time have. Rather, the goal, as Marx once wrote, is to change it.

We owe it to ourselves and, especially, to future generations, to do everything within our power to prevent the worst impacts of climate change—no matter how bleak the situation may be. Succumbing to despair and pessimism does nothing to fulfill that obligation.

In the words of the Swedish punk-rock band, The Refused, “I’d rather be forgotten/Then remembered for giving in.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Here Comes the Flood: Capitalism Causes Climate Chaos

hurricane-harvey-flood-victims

Hurricane Harvey, which has all but devastated Texas, is on record to be the worst “natural” disaster in U.S. history. I put “natural” in quotation marks, because while the storm itself cannot be blamed solely on climate change, there is little doubt the warming oceans and wetter atmosphere caused by global warming, augmented Harvey’s strength and power.

Harvey has left 50 people dead, 30,000 Texas residents seeking shelter, and about 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed by flooding. Indeed, the storm is almost Biblical in the amount of rain it has produced: 24.5 trillion gallons of water, according to the Washington Post.

We are seeing many of the same socio-economic discrepancies playing out with Harvey as we did in Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked a similar path of destruction in New Orleans in 2005, and New York’s Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The rich and those with the means to evacuate have managed to escape the worst destruction, while the poor, the infirm, and people of color have been left to drown.

(In a twisted irony of Trumpian nationalism, many undocumented immigrants in Houston and other flooded areas are afraid to seek out help and shelter for fear they will be deported.)

In the end, it is the poor and working class who will bear the brunt of climate catastrophe. The wealthy will escape into their sheltered enclaves, in a scenario reminiscent of the Neil Blomkamp sci-fi film, Elysium.

And it is not just Texas that is underwater. Less reported on in the corporate media have been the equally horrific monsoons in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, which have left more than 1,200 dead.

Welcome to life in the Anthropocene. And, unless we take action now to radically reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, climate-charged hurricanes like Harvey are only going to become stronger, deadlier, and more frequent.

Climate scientists warn we are perilously close to reaching key planetary “tipping points.” Passing these thresholds could trigger a procession of warming “feedback loops,” wherein warming increases, thus further exacerbating the climate crisis. The most alarming of these tipping points is the potential release of methane gas stored in the permafrost of the rapidly melting Arctic. Methane has about 30 times the heat-trapping potential as carbon dioxide.

Additionally, because greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane linger in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, any warming beyond two degrees Celsius—itself widely regarded as a “catastrophic” increase in planetary warming by the scientific community—would be “locked in” for at least a century—perhaps longer.

And all of this—the melting Arctic, the rising sea levels, the increase in cataclysmic storms like Hurricane Harvey—is happening much faster than the climate models predicted.

As Naomi Klein warns in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

But, as important as it is that those of us on the left are clear about the science and the urgency about climate change, we must also be unambiguous about its cause: Capitalism.

While liberals tend to point to the excesses or the short-sightedness of the system—arguing those excesses could be tamed through market-oriented solutions like cap-and-trade legislation, or with more “capable,” “enlightened” leaders in government—this view fails to accurately account for the nature of capitalism. It is an economic system that views everything—including human lives, and the ecosystem that supports all life on Earth—as a commodity. Exploitation and unceasing economic expansion are built into capitalism’s DNA.

As such, there is no harmonious balance where capitalism and a sustainable, habitable environment can co-exist. There is no such thing as “green” or “ethical” capitalism. Indeed, the choice humanity now faces is quite stark: We can, in the words of eco-socialist, Fawzi Ibrahim, “Save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.”

Does this mean we must wait for a working-class revolution before we can adequately address climate change? Of course not. Given the current weakness of the U.S. left and its overall lack of organization, this is simply untenable. The urgency of the crisis demands that we push for whatever environmental gains we can get out of the system that currently exists, in the here and now—however minimal they may be.

But pointing out both the scope of the climate crisis and its primary driver (capitalism) is not meant to disempower or overwhelm citizens concerned about the future of the planet. It is merely to illustrate the task we are up against.

“If we are to save our world,” writes Chris Williams, author of the book, Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, “it will not be enough to chip away at the walls; the people of the world must take a hammer to the entire foundation.”

Yet all is not lost.

I, for one, am encouraged by the degree of radicalization the environmental movement has undergone within the last decade. Many of the leading environmental advocacy groups (The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and 350.org, to name just a handful) have largely dropped the individualist-oriented approaches to combating global warming that have characterized much of the environmental movement for the last two decades.

These individualist “strategies” for fighting climate change include using energy efficient lightbulbs, driving less, biking to work, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and the ultimate petit bourgeois con—shopping local. These are all noble endeavors in and of themselves, which nobody concerned about the environment or just living a healthier lifestyle should be discouraged from undertaking. But, given that oil companies and corporations are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, even if every U.S. citizen ditched their cars tomorrow, it would still make little overall impact.

In place of these individualist lifestyle measures, groups like Greenpeace and 350.org have engaged in more militant, activist oriented campaigns aimed directly at the fossil fuel industry—and oil giants like ExxonMobil, and the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, in particular. Leading environmental activists like Bill McKibben have even been arrested, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in front of the White House, in 2014.

Obviously, the left still has a lot of work to do. But this burgeoning radicalization—much of it encouraged by the young people and college students that constitute a major part of the environmental left—is certainly an encouraging sign.

We have the technology to begin the transition to a green economy right now. What we lack is not the “political will” to tackle global warming, as liberals often claim.

It is, rather, the fact that working-class people have no control over implementing the transition to wind, solar, and tidal power, and other forms of renewable energy on the mass scale needed. Such decisions are instead in the hands of a tiny group of wealthy business executives and CEOs–the very people who caused the climate crisis, in the first place. And the nature of the profit-driven capitalist system demands they focus more on maximizing profits than on saving the planet. Yet we are routinely assured this warped way of organizing society is the “best we can do”–that there is “no alternative.”

As Paul D’Amato writes in his socialism primer, The Meaning of Marxism:

The very advances made in human productive powers under capitalism that have brought us the possibility of a world without want are also altering our environment in ways that threaten the future viability of life on planet earth. As the renowned environmentalist and activist, Bill McKibben notes, “We’re moving quickly from a world where we push nature around to a world where nature pushes back–and with far more power.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Say Yes to Socialism

Klein in Conversation
Authors Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (left to right) in conversation at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, on May 9, 2017. Photo from Haymarket Books.

One of the lessons that has become increasingly clear for those of us on the left since Donald Trump’s election is that it is not enough to simply be against Trump. We must also stand for something. We must put forward a radical yet convincing alternative for how society could be organized—an alternative rooted in Marxism that speaks to working-class Americans’ economic grievances as well as their aspirations for equality and social justice.

In other words, we should not merely settle for impeaching Trump (though I am completely down with that goal). We must dismantle the entire racist, sexist, xenophobic capitalist system that gave rise to Trump and his swamp monster administration of billionaires and bigots.

Liberals and leftists have largely neglected this second part of the equation—articulating what we are for—in recent decades.  And, in many respects, the Democrats’ 2016 election loss was a reflection of that neglect. Bernie Sanders received some 13 million votes in the Democratic primary not only because his democratic-socialist ideas are extremely popular among voters. But his success is also due to the fact that he actively campaigned for something—a vision of a better, more equitable and sustainable future for working-class people.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, campaigned on the vapid, decidedly uninspiring idea that America is “already great.” Her electoral platform was essentially a continuation of Barack Obama’s neoliberal, warmongering agenda. And as dire as things are now with the Predator-in-Chief in the White House, we cannot delude ourselves about the shortcomings and missed opportunities of the last eight years under Obama.

“The alternative is socialism,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism. “Shorn of the baggage that socialism never asked to carry, it is an attractive idea. It is not a dream concocted in the head of a utopian thinker: It was born in the collective action of workers themselves…”

This is the central argument of Naomi Klein’s latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

The book is, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s blurb on the back states, “an urgent intervention” by one of the most prominent and intellectually sophisticated voices on the left. And it is an argument that is clearly resonating with readers: No Is Not Enough is a New York Times bestseller, and the first book by Chicago-based publisher, Haymarket Books, to achieve such status.

Klein’s latest book—which she admits to urgently banging out in a few months as opposed to the five years she typically spends researching and writing—is in many ways a synthesis of her previous material—No Logo (1999), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

Klein views Trump as the inevitable outcome of all the late-stage capitalist trends she documents in those previous works. In fact, Trump is, Klein argues, a monstrous amalgamation of those capitalist developments, “sewn together out of the body parts of all of these and many other dangerous trends.”

“… Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion—a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century,” she writes.

Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability—and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the trans-atlantic slave trade. … Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project … that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

Klein’s central premise, however, draws heavily from The Shock Doctrine. In that book, Klein traces the history of the right’s frequent exploitation of national “shocks,” whether they come in the form of a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or a terrorist attack.

While citizens are still reeling from the shock or tragedy, right-wing elites seize the opportunity to ram through extreme, free-market policies—measures they never would be able to pass under normal conditions. Under the cover of darkness, when the “normal rules of democracy” do not apply, the right can remake the world per their Chicago School-style, free-market utopian dreams. Schools become privatized, public services are decimated or abolished, entirely, and democracy is traded for a police state.

Klein points to the U.S.-backed 1973 coup in Chile, the fall of the Soviet Union, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the neoliberal gentrifying of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as prime examples of this “shock doctrine.”

Trump’s election, Klein argues, was the ultimate shock—one which we are still recovering from. His whirlwind barrage of executive statements signed within the first few weeks of his presidency, was the ultimate “shock tactic.” It was designed to keep progressives so overwhelmed as to leave them disoriented and demobilized—if not, indeed, demoralized.

And, Klein warns, the worst shocks are likely yet to come.

Indeed, the first half of the book–in which Klein soberly assesses the rapidly narrowing time-frame remaining to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change–is quite dire. Klein recalls a recent visit to the Great Barrier Reef, which has been besieged by a record-breaking global bleaching event, due to rising ocean temperatures. Large sections of the Reef are now dead, according to scientists.

“It’s worth underlining how little warming it took to bring about such a radical change,” writes Klein. “Ocean temperatures went up just one degree Celsius higher than the levels to which these incredible species are adapted, and that was enough for a massive die-off. Unlike many other climate change-related events, this wasn’t some dramatic storm or wildfire–just silent, watery death.”

But, as Klein’s own reporting in disaster-affected areas attests, the shock doctrine “can be resisted.” (Emphasis hers.)

Indeed, we have already seen an incredible initial surge of resistance to Trump’s presidency. There was the Women’s March on Washington–the largest single day of protest in U.S. history; the airport strikes against Trump’s Muslim travel ban; and the marches to address climate change and in defense of science, respectively.

And hundreds of activists have been arrested picketing outside their senators’ offices in opposition to the GOP’s barbaric health care replacement bill. (As of this writing, that bill seems to be D.O.A.)

But resistance alone is not enough. As Klein argues, this resistance must be combined with the left’s ability to tell “a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs.”

“This values-based vision must offer a different path,” she writes, “away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution.”

Klein later writes:

“No—to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationalist parties on the rise the world over—may be what initially brings millions into the streets. But it is yes that will keep us in that fight.” (Emphasis hers.)

Throughout the book, Klein stresses the “intersectionality” of both class and identity-based forms of oppression–a point I, too, have tried to highlight on this blog. She chastises Clinton’s reliance on empty, “trickle-down feminism,” which, in the words of Sanders, amounted to little more than a rallying cry of, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!”

No Is Not Enough is an excellent addition to the growing cannon of “anti-Trump resistance” literature. At a time when much of the initial opposition to Trump has subsided, and many progressives have seemingly resigned themselves to voting for Democrats in 2018 (or, perhaps worse, pinning their hopes on the overblown, unverified allegations of “Russiagate” leading to Trump’s impeachment), Klein offers us a road-map for how to resist both Trump and the capitalist system that spawned him.

This will require, she argues, the left reclaiming its tradition of “dream[ing] big, out loud, in public–explosions of utopian imagination.”

Klein writes:

With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!