Socialism and climate change

Mac Uaid reports from the Campaign Against Climate Change conference in Britain

A strongly represented view was that what we do is more important than how we label ourselves and that it’s entirely possible for socialists to develop theory and activities on climate change without changing how they view themselves. Again Derek and Alan dissented from this reminding the audience that the impact of climate change on the world’s population obliges socialist to rethink all their basic ideas inherited from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

I’m with Derek and Alan. Socialism needs (like capitalism constantly does) to reinvent itself to deal with a fast-changing world. “Marx said it, I believe it, that settles it” ain’t gonna play, or attract converts, or help stop global warming. How would a socialist world stop global warming. That’s what needs to be thought out and explained in specific terms. Not, “the workers will run the factories” and then all will be happiness and light with global warming magically disappeared.

Stopping global warming will require huge amounts of money and support from major governments and corporations. Socialists need to formulate a specific plan as to how this can happen without predatory capitalism being involved, and then make it something the average citizen agrees with and wants to get involved with. And that indeed means rethinking all their basic ideas.

  • I agree. I’ve been reading through some Foucault on power and knowledge, and there’s a lot that is of use to us now in thinking through the relations between economy, environment and capitalism. (I think I’m going to have a Foucault week on my blog soon…)

    As Foucault said: “I don’t think we can simply accept the traditional Marxist analysis, which assumes that, labour being man’s concrete essence, the capitalist system is what transforms that labour into profit, into hyperprofit or surplus value.”

    Foucault talks about the infra-power of the capillaries of control at the lowest level–right down to company HR policies, job sites, the media’s web of making us feel we need to work and need to know how to work and succeed… In his words,

    “The fact is, capitalism penetrates much more deeply than that… first obliged to elaborate a set of political techniques, techniques of power, by which man was tied to something like a labour…”

    Something like a labour, meaning the components of social construction of labour. The Guardian’s Work supplement; GDP data that controls our sense of productive life; the reporting of people’s trades when they are heroes in the Sun (Jim, 33, a fitness expert from…). All of these elements are transparent and effective, the deeper penetrations of capitalism… Or as Foucault says again:

    “A web of microscopic, capillary political power had to be established at the level of man’s very existence, attaching men to the production apparatus, while making them into agents of production, into workers. There is no hyperprofit without an infrapower… the whole set of little powers, of little institutions situated at the lowest level.”

    Stopping global warming means overturning the sense of existence as tied to labour and rapacious and productive economic growth.

  • Also, all those huge corporations will be needed to stop global warming. They know how to build stuff on a mass scale, whether it be bombs or wind turbines.

    I would agree with Foucault, labour is not the essence of what a person. Part of it, yes, but not the whole thing. Also, back in Marx’s day, the separation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was clear and obvious. But now, especially in the US, it’s not.

    An MD who works for an HMO and makes $150,000 a year doesn’t own the means of production so, in Marxist terms, is a member of the working class. But to call him that means the term no longer has any real meaning. Marxist terminology is stuck in the 19th century.

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