Climate change and the necessity of communism
No to market solutions. Jack Conrad explains why capitalism is the problem
Sudden climate change is now an almost universally recognised danger. The global climate system is probably on a knife's edge. Only the self-interested, the downright stupid or the wilfully blind deny it nowadays. The real bone of contention lies in the question: 'What programmatic response is required?'
George W Bush wants nothing that might adversely effect profit rates in the US. Nevertheless, even he now pledges to introduce new, carbon-reducing technology. In a similar vein Tony Blair proposes another generation of nuclear power stations "¦ and on October 30 came the 700-page Nicholas Stern report. He warns that unless something is done, and done soon, the global economy faces a slump of 1930s proportions. Greenhouse gas emissions, he says, must be reduced internationally by 25% by 2050 and after that by 80% if the climate is to be stabilised and the interests of big business safeguarded.
In Britain at least, there seems to be an emerging cross-party consensus. Under David Cameron the Tories have been rebranded. Gone is the red, white and blue torch of liberty. The party of order now has a childishly innocent logo. A scribbled green tree, albeit with a rather incongruous trunk and sustaining strip of soil in pale blue. Their Bournemouth conference was decked out with images of verdant leaves and streaming shafts of sunlight. And, though details are deliberately left hazy, shadow chancellor George Osborne pledges that a Conservative government would introduce a whole raft of green taxes. No longer do they want to be seen as the tax-cutting party.
The Liberal Democrats ploughed the field before them. Ming Campbell's party argues for green taxes on air transport and petrol-guzzling SUVs as part of "the biggest overhaul to British tax policy in modern times".
After Stern it is a certainty that Gordon Brown will move to make the running. He commissioned Stern's report and envisages being crowned in 2007 as Labour leader and prime minister. Post-Blair New Labour is therefore likely to be 'renewed' as the champion of the environment and presumably suitably equipped with a full set of biting green taxes.
Should the left join the cross-party consensus? Absolutely not. Two main reasons.
Firstly, protecting the environment can easily become a cover for attacking the working class. That is often what green taxes amount to. Secondly, none of the proposals coming from the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat front benches go far enough. Nowhere near far enough. Given the enormity of the climate crisis and the necessity of global action and the closest international coordination, what they propose amounts to mere gestures. Fiddling with ineffective carbon trading schemes while the planet burns. Frankly, the same can be said of the hedged proposals coming from the middle class Green Party and the Respect popular front.
The Green Party is officially committed to using the capitalist nation-state to carry out its pinched programme. The sorry results of this green reformism are easy to predict and can be seen in Germany, where the Greens shared power with the Social Democratic Party between 1998 and 2005. Needless to say, Joschka Fischer's Greens did not transform capitalism. On the contrary capitalism transformed them. The Greens were easily tamed by their eagerness to get into office and, once there, they acted as loyal servants of capitalism. As it has chosen the same reformist road, doubtless so would Respect - at the urging of Lindsey German its 2004 conference explicitly rejected a motion calling upon it to adopt proletarian socialism.
If the mainstream parties get their way, surely it will be the working class - some 80% of the population in Britain - which will pay (not only in money but lifestyles) when it comes to green taxes. In the last analysis capital pays for taxes because wages tend to rise or fall in line with the cost of reproducing labour-power. In that sense wages are no different from paying out for other raw materials or items of expenditure. If wages are reduced by taxation workers push to restore the real price of labour-power. Taxes in general are therefore a compulsory levy imposed on capital by the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, concretely, in the meantime, perhaps for a long time, the miserable conditions of workers can be held back, pushed down or further impoverished through taxation, especially if backed by persuasive propaganda.
Take the London congestion charge, introduced by Ken Livingstone in February 2003. A microcosm of the market solutions set to come. One of the key reasons used to justify his tax on movement was, of course, the undoubted pollution caused by traffic.
Now it costs £8 a day to travel into central London in the 7am-6.30pm peak period by private car. Leaving aside weekends, that is £40 a week, or around £2,000 per annum. For the average worker on an average worker's take-home wage in London of some £20,000, that is no small matter. It is 10% of their total income (and on top of that there is the initial cost of the car, repairs, road tax, insurance, fuel, etc).
Though Livingstone's Greater London Authority has increased the number of buses, the overground railway and the tube system remain by any civilised standard inhuman. Dirty, constant delays, frequent breakdowns, appallingly overcrowded "¦ and expensive.
Traffic flow has markedly improved. That is true. Many people can simply no longer afford to drive their car into central London. Hence, thanks to 'red' Ken, chief executives, City bankers, Whitehall mandarins, Inns of Court barristers and the upper middle class are no longer trapped in an endless series of hellishly frustrating traffic jams. They still travel in air-conditioned luxury, sheltered from extremes of heat and cold, in their Land Rovers, Mercedes, Cherokees, Jags, BMWs and Rolls Royces - except now they do so, of course, at far greater speeds "¦ for them £2,000 is small change. Meanwhile, millions are forced to walk, take to bicycles - sweaty and murderously dangerous - or we pack into buses, trains and the tube like sardines.
Market solutions designed to counter the danger of sudden climate change are therefore an attack on those least able to pay. Communists reject green taxes which make road use prohibitively expensive, take air travel out of the reach of ordinary people or double the price of petrol.
In the early 19th century Tory diehards such as the Duke of Wellington opposed railways being built because they would "only encourage the common people to move about needlessly". He feared that the working class was inclined to copy France and ferment violent revolution. In effect that is what those behind green taxes are saying today. You and I should not be allowed to move about: that freedom is to be confined to those who can afford to pay. Market solutions obviously favour the rich.
Instead, we support a whole range of measures to reduce greenhouse emissions in the short to medium term - energy conservation, insulation of the housing stock, solar and other renewable energy sources, massive reforestation and overseeing a radical shift away from artificial patterns of consumption driven by advertising and celebrity culture. All this relies on a radical societal turn away from the market and towards another, higher principle - need. Eg, ban all cars in central London and other big city centres - except those driven by the emergency services and the physically disabled, ration air travel and make all urban public transport free of charge.
There is another problem. Green taxes cannot work. Market solutions will not substantially reverse the growth of CO2 emissions, let alone stop capitalism's environmental destruction.
Capitalism is an exploitative metabolism that must endlessly grow and overcome all barriers to growth. Neoliberalism certainly regards social spending grudgingly or even as criminally wasteful. Profit is the beginning and end of the system and virtually every government in the world today is committed to serving that end. Capitalism moves according to a single-minded formula, M-C-M'. Money is laid out by capitalists in order to purchase raw materials and labour-power for one object and one object alone. Gaining more money. That law of political economy controls the capitalists themselves - even the greenest of greens amongst them - and makes capitalism the most uncontrollable, the most rapacious, the most polluting, the most short-termist system imaginable. Capitalism is a mode of destructive reproduction.
The case against green taxes can easily be illustrated. Say in the name of the environment the government orders car companies to improve engine efficiency by 20% over a five-year period. At the same time the cost of petrol is slowly increased through green taxes. All things being equal, that should lead to a reduction in CO2 and other forms of pollution. But all things are not equal.
Like every capitalist enterprise, car companies are under an inner compulsion to constantly expand production. They must sell more cars to more people "¦ that or perish. Doubtless many of those new cars will be brilliantly advertised using all manner of green images and ecoclaims; as if buying their latest product was doing the planet a favour. Citroen, Toyota and Honda are the market leaders of that particular con-trick today. The Citroen C3 is actually marketed as "beneficial" to the environment.1 Inexorably the number of cars crowding the roads increases and increases. Hence greater engine efficiency actually coincides with increased CO2 emissions. A case of less equals more. By 2009 forecasters predict annual new cars sales will reach 60 million. Up from 50 million in 2004.2
Such growth makes a mockery of the laughably inadequate Kyoto accords. Proof of the pudding: most of the core 15 European Union countries are expected to fall short of the 2012 targets to cut CO2 emission back to 1990 levels.
What goes for the car manufactures goes for the oil companies too. They need to sell more and more, and that imperative cannot be escaped within capitalism. All players in the oil industry are engaged in what is now a frantic search for new sources. Easily exploited wells cannot meet the ever growing demand. Expensive oil fields such as the North Sea have already peaked. But the need to constantly expand remains.
Not surprisingly, like the car manufacturers, the transnational oil giants have attempted to green themselves - perhaps the most cynical example being British Petroleum-Amoco. Since 2000 it has marketed itself under the tag, 'Beyond Petroleum'. Re-imaging was part of a concerted effort to portray BP as an "energy company", not just an "oil company": one that incorporated solar energy in its portfolio and was willing and eager to move away from oil. BP changed its old logo for a vibrant green, white and yellow sunburst named after Helios, the ancient Greek sun god. The whole exercise cost a cool £150 million.3
Needless to say, no company would lay out such a vast sum on presentation unless it had something to hide. And BP has an awful record of condoning human rights abuses, breaking strikes, hiring mercenary goons, causing widespread pollution and altogether despoiling the environment. Hence CEO John Browne had to go to great lengths to attempt to prove that BP-Amoco had authentic green credentials. In 1997 the company pulled out of the Global Climate Coalition, a group of 50 corporations and trade associations which had been stubbornly maintaining that global warming was unproven and action to prevent it thereby unwarranted. In several highly publicised speeches during that year Browne announced that, rather than continuing to prevaricate, it was time to act to prevent greenhouse warming.
One wing of the green movement enthusiastically welcomes such 'conversions' and wants to side with the green captains of industry against the old-fashioned, greedy and irresponsible kind. A form of incorporation, but, as Jonathan Porritt shows, it can be well rewarded. He is an advocate of what he calls "sustainable capitalism" - capitalism, he says, is the "only game in town". Green capitalism is presented as the key to winning the climate battle. As we have shown, a delusion.
The fact of the matter is that capitalism is anti-environmental by its very nature because it generates constant growth for its own sake. In reality it is not capitalism that has been greened, if one means by that made eco-friendly: rather it is greens that are being colonised by big business. People such as Porritt, Al Gore and Sarah Parkin are now bought and sold like any other commodity.
To be a consistent environmentalist one must be a consistent anti-capitalist. We cannot afford the tinkering recommended by the likes of George Monbiot: he wants a scaled-down capitalism, carbon credits and people "lobbying" the government. He is not prepared to countenance "violence".4 Yet sustainable reproduction is impossible without positively superseding the insatiable appetite of capital. This unavoidably raises the question of social revolution and moving towards communism. Not that we want violence. Our slogan is 'Peacefully if we can, violently if we must'. But communism is a necessity if we are going to collectively save the planet from catastrophic ecological degradation.
Communism is global. Communism is based on the principle of need, not profit for the sake of profit. Communism represents the victory of democracy. Communism alone allows humanity the chance to heal the rift with nature caused by class society.