Juggling with CO2

Jim Moody walks on stage like a star juggler, tosses a number of balls in the air (very impressive), but then walks off, leaving them to fall disconnectedly to the floor (Letters, July 7). The facts and theories he tosses into the arena may or may not be impressive, but they are not relevant.

They have no connection to what I was talking about. I was talking of the need to open the new Woodhouse Colliery at Witehaven in Copeland, the 14th most socially deprived area of Britain - all the coalfield communities now following the politically orientated slaughter of the coal industry are among the most socially deprived of any on this island. This mine will provide coal to make steel in Britain and Europe - currently using coal mainly from Appalachia, produced by the most environmentally destructive strip mine ‘mountain top removal’ methods by non-union miners.

That coal produces CO2 when it is transformed into coke for steel production. It also has an additional CO2 feature of having been shipped halfway across the world in diesel-powered vessels. The coal from Whitehaven will be supplied on the doorstep and, last time I looked, its European market is much closer than bringing it from the USA. This mine will be organised by the National Union of Mineworkers and it has had to meet 100 stringent environmental conditions, none of which apply to the operations in Appalachia.

Britain uses steel, it makes steel; if it didn’t it would import steel which someone else made. Either option produces CO2. Opening this mine or not doesn’t stop the production of that CO2 except to slightly increase or decrease it, but if you want the steel, and we do, you get the CO2. You can say we are ‘net zero’ and CO2-free, but all you really mean is we don’t produce it - we let someone produce our CO2, but it’s the same air and we are not exempt from it.

Coal and steel will not be divorced. Coal and steel can be divorced from CO2, as stated in my original piece. Carbon capture and storage is, contrary to Jim’s assertion, well understood and relatively easy to secure. For a bloke who purports to have knowledge of this subject, putting forward the lame brain nonsense that ‘it might leak’ is almost laughable. Vast and now empty caverns which housed - for over a hundred million years of planetary convulsions, eruptions and galactic bombardments - millions of gallons of oil and gas, and didn’t leak, are highly - but highly - unlikely to ‘leak’. CO2 changes its composition under pressure when pumped underground and stops being a gas. It’s not like some captive creature floating around waiting to be let out! The weak spot is alleged to be the seal with which we plug the hole, or the channel down which the gas is pumped. Really, the seal will be harder than the original rock, the channel more secure than the one used to extract the oil or gas in the first place. Even if it did leak, it would mean tiny amounts of CO2 going skyward, as against the unabated, uninhibited release which we currently now have worldwide. That would only be if Britain continued to produce its own steel, but the green dream is for us not to do it - so the steel Britain needs would be made by conventional methods and the CO2 produced and released as it is now.

The cost of steel determines much of the cost of production of everything we use. Hydrogenised, hydro-powered, non-carbon steel production is not going to displace blast-furnace steel. British steel - indeed world steel - will not be produced in this way: coal will have a long and happy life with steel for the foreseeable future. As I say, if steel is ever displaced (probably in two centuries time), it will be because we will use a different substance than steel and not because we have changed from blast furnaces for worldwide carbon-free steel.

Finally, yes, of course, about 60% or more steel produced in Britain is recycled blast-furnace steel, which doesn’t need new coal and coke. But, as stated originally, this steel will not be flying at high altitudes, plunging the depth of oceans or constructing any wind turbines.

All of which brings us back to the Woodhouse mine, in an area which has seen 500 direct jobs in mining and 1,500 related jobs lost since the closure of the mines. Reorganisation of the NUM, reduction in CO2 emissions, carbon neutrality in the mining process and operation itself - that is one choice: the other is letting the kids rot on the dole, letting the communities die on the scrapheap and letting coal be superexploited in environmentally destructive, US non-union strip mines. In reality there are no ‘green jobs’ involved - if there were, they would almost certainly depend on the production of steel using coal.

David John Douglass
In support of Woodhouse Mine and NUM


Mike Macnair provides us with some fascinating details of the posthumously published work Beyond Leviathan: critique of the state by István Mészáros - but he writes a very careful and one-sided critique of the political essence of the work and the author.

I encountered Mészáros and his works when Cliff Slaughter was heavily promoting them in the post-split Workers Revolutionary Party and what became the Movement for Socialism (MfS) in the 1980s. I wrote extensively on them in In Defence of Trotskyism No2 (summer 2011) and subsequent online articles which recounted how the MfS renounced Trotskyism via the Stalinist, István Mészáros, in his Beyond capital.

Comrade Mike points out the essence of Mészáros’s position that attracted Slaughter so much: “the proposition that capital (considered as the principle of a social order) had not reached its limits at the time when Marx was writing, or at the time of World War I and the Russian Revolution, but has now done so. These arguments are here applied to the state as such … the state’s time is now coming to an end.”

This is just so much objectivist nonsense to rubbish the Russian Revolution, Lenin, Trotsky and Bolshevism and attribute the only progressive role in the whole affair to its grave-digger, Stalin. What are we to make of events in Sri Lanka today? Surely, they must understand that their time for socialist revolution is not ripe - have they got that magical 51% of the vote? Why does the state attempt to stop them with all its might? Why don’t these idiots understand the laws of history, as laid down by István Mészáros, like the miners’ strike in 1984 did not wait for a vote and neither did the Russian Revolution? An absolute rejection of the Marxist solution to the nature/nurture argument: revolutionary leadership becomes a material force of history in revolutionary situations.

But what does Mészáros mean by “structural crisis”? Is this some version of the French philosophical ‘structuralist Marxism’? According to Wikipedia, this was “a sociological bundle theory developed by Louis Althusser. Althusser argued that humans have no intrinsic qualities (or essence), but were socially produced accidents. These accidents are the creation of social structures and describing them allows us to describe both humans and the human condition.”

So there is no ‘democracy’ (irrelevant whether bourgeois or soviet apparently) in Russia and China, so Trotsky was wrong. Slaughter corrected Trotsky’s ‘errors’ thus: “Was Trotsky right when he wrote of the conditions being ‘fully ripe for the socialist revolution’? Now that we know the fate of the Russian Revolution and can make a confident prognosis concerning the likelihood of any genuine democracy in China, I think we must concede that he was not.” So back to socialism in a single country and out with world revolution and global class-consciousness for Slaughter here.

In an interview, ‘A structural crisis of the system’ with Socialist Review, conducted by Judith Orr and Patrick Ward in January 2009, Mészáros spells it out: “We have reached the historical limits of capital’s ability to control society. I don’t mean just banks and building societies, even though they cannot control those, but the rest … The only feasible alternative is the working class, which is the producer of everything which is necessary in our life. Why should they not be in control of what they produce? I always stress in every book that saying no is relatively easy, but we have to find the positive dimension.”

This piece of vague objectivism, combined with a utopian Owenite appeal to ‘reason’, has nothing to do with Marxism. Of course, we have not “reached the historical limits of capital’s ability to control society”. Their repressive state forces are very much intact and will continue to control society until the mass movement of the working class overthrows capitalism and institutes socialism on a global scale. This is presumably what he means by “the rest”, although we cannot see how he can claim that they cannot control the banks and building societies; in 2008 they bailed them out at enormous expense to the taxpayers internationally, precisely “controlling” them to serve free-market capitalism, and they are now “controlling” the virtual destruction of the welfare states internationally by forcing the working class to pay for this largesse. Apparently, we will get “the only feasible alternative” by looking to the ‘positive dimension’; a better attitude will do wonders! So it is small wonder that such left bourgeois figures as Hugo Chávez find this view very attractive: “István Mészáros illuminates the path ahead. He points to the central argument we must make in order … to take to the offensive throughout the world in moving toward socialism.”

Comrade Mike is correct in citing Hillel Ticktin in his obituary of Mészáros, who “lacked a theoretically developed view of Stalinism” and “did not analyse in terms of the importance of real control from below, except in a somewhat arcane way”. And he is correct in saying: “… this book lacks a clear sense of the role of class in the problem of human emancipation. And, because it fails to confront the issue of the managerial bureaucracy of the workers’ movement directly and seek its unambiguous subordination, its aim of general emancipation can never return to the concrete.”

But where is his outrage at Mészáros’s contemptuous rejection of the heritage of the Russian Revolution, defended only by consistent Trotskyism today?

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

One country

I have been reading the exchanges between comrade Jack Conrad (‘The meaning of character’, June 30) and comrade Andrew Northall (Letters, July 7).

Some of the former’s remarks are ultra-leftist in my view, such as rejecting the idea that there can be national roads to socialism. He seems to imagine that the idea of world revolution excludes any such national road to socialism - you can’t be more ultra-leftist on this question than comrade Conrad.

Look at the big difference between Russia and China - both backward countries at the time, with a peasant majority. They showed great variations in how they approached the transition to socialism. Generally speaking (with the partial exception of the Communist Party of Britain’s programme, Britain’s road to socialism), the left hasn’t a clue about the best way to move towards socialism in advanced capitalist countries like Britain and the United States - both sides (Trotskyists and Stalinists) have to be criticised for different reasons.

The left has been polarised into Trotskyists and Stalinist for too long. Trotskyists need to realise that their erstwhile call for political revolution to rectify bureaucratisation represented ultra-leftism. The problem of the bureaucratic apparatus of a socialist state, and the social caste behind it, cannot be cured by political revolutions. Trotsky was not wrong to criticise bureaucracy, but the problem is that the solutions he offered were not realistic. They were ultra-leftist.

On the other hand, Stalinists (referred to as “Stalinites” by Conrad, no doubt for factional reasons) need to wake up. The Soviet Union never built a society superior to the advanced capitalist countries, and that’s why it collapsed. Nevertheless, great advances were made in certain sectors, which showed the potential superiority of socialism over capitalism - we only have to think of Sputnik ...

But the Berlin Wall showed that Soviet-style socialism was not superior to western capitalism, although it had the potential to be so. The fact that the wall was built to keep people in, rather than out, showed that this potential was never reached. The only thing we can say is that if a backward country was able to make the advances which the Soviet Union made, in such a short space of time, what would advanced countries be able to do under a correct communist leadership?

The answer to this question is, of course, related to the energy issue, which most of the left, with their various programmes, ignore to one degree or another.

Tony Clark
Campaigning for Democratic Socialism