Wednesday, April 5, 2017

SUDDEN STOP: a manifesto

Socialist Universal Development through De-growth, Equality and eNvironmental sustainability to STOP catastrophic ecological overshoot and cascading social injustice
(or invent your own better acronym!)

"Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake."
—Walter Benjamin*

The following is a brainstorm, a quite incomplete summary of many strands of my and other people's thoughts, hopefully a discussion starter more than anything else; the gestation period for it was relatively long, but the labour only as long as the train ride home in the evening, hence the roughness and no doubt the many important points left out.

  1. Humanity's ecological footprint is larger than the surface of the Earth, and growing, meaning we are moving into a global ecological deficit seen in developing crises such as climate change, extinction rates. This presents the clearest danger to the medium and long term development of human culture and social reproduction (which rests ultimately on a healthy ecology), and the short-term physical wellbeing of most humans (on a scale of years to decades).
  2. Human and social development is required for the vast majority of humanity to take active stewardship of the earth's ecology (ie manage and mitigate our unsustainable impact) as current wealth and power inequalities have large parts of the world struggling to survive and finding it hard or impractical to care for ecological concerns, while the tiny powerful elite are the owners of a system that is incapable of assimilating ecological concerns.
  3. Ecological modernisation narratives that see solutions to human ecological impact in greater use of technology involve many useful and essential insights into specific problems, but leave the overall system of endless exponential economic growth untouched.
  4. Increasingly, the basic requirements for health and happiness are potentially available to all humans: housing, clothing, food, healthcare, education, communication, democratic participation in society. Yet the dominant capitalist system seeks to sell more and more commodities which are for artificial needs, while a majority of the world are lacking many or some of the essentials
  5. Economies that can supply poor people with most of these are possible (witness tiny, impoverished and economically beseiged Cuba which supplies all the first five to a reasonable degree, with a major deficit in communication and a deficit of uncertain size in democratic participation).
  6. In the wealthy countries, we could superficially designate much of the working class as part of a global "consumer class" that also incorporates much of the (proportionally smaller) "middle class" of poorer countries. The world's poor are increasingly composed of traditional workers, precarious workers, and poor rural workers including those still in traditional peasant roles.
  7. This artificially designated "consumer class" is culturally hegemonic as the vision of prosperity that much of the world's poor aspire to, but the planet's ecology and natural resources could never supply the kind of lifestyle and commodities that the "consumer class" enjoys to all people.
  8. Traditional left programmes have revolved around winning more, materially, from employers and from capitalism. This is still clearly relevant for a lot of the world's poor. However, for parts of the world where the "consumer class" is numerically predominant, the economic struggle is no longer radical, whereas political struggles over the nature of socially generated wealth come to the fore as the motor of anti-capitalist politics: why are the poor of the consumer class struggling to access healthcare, but not less essential (and resource intenisve, wasteful) consumer goods such as many electronic devices?
  9. As capitalism grows it runs out of physical space, increasingly spreading waste, industrial and urban development, commercial projects etc into more and more of the globe. At the same time it runs out of space in the fourth dimension, as capital cycles are sped up, workers overworked, turnover of consumer goods and fads sped up.
  10. Seemingly radical individual solutions for the "consumer class" such as "ethical" consumption or dropping out into boutique informal economy experiments are increasingly commercialised and turned into yet another commodity, or at best serve as a pressure release valve whereby anti-systemic thought is turned into a harmless diversion with little overall impact.
  11. For the majority poor population of the world, the aspiration toward wealth as seen in the global "consumer class", as portrayed on TV, etc is not matched to lived reality. In lived reality, growth tends to mean impoverishment in demeaning and dangerous factory work, pollution, unsustainable resource extraction, and often violent dictatorship or conflict as local and global elites use poor countries as pawns in their games of world domination.
  12. What unites both poor country masses and the "consumer class" is the need to call for a stop to business as usual; a sudden stop even. No pasaran, draw the line, not one step more. 
    "They shall not pass"
    Anti-fascist banner from the Spanish revolution and civil war
  13. This is most visible in ecological terms, where boundaries are being violated that are hard or impossible to return from: extinction of species, warming of the oceans and atmosphere, etc. However social systems are also at breaking point after 30 years of "neoliberal" governance by an oligarchy of the world's biggest corporations and their political clients/mouthpieces.
  14. In any conjuncture, the radical left must find the issues that resonate, but do so strategically to build further strength and consciousness against the system. This means that struggles for sectoral gain (such as a pay rise for a group of skilled workers in a rich country) are intrinsically less politicising and useful than struggles to universalise income security, access to healthcare and housing and education, democratic rights and so on - even though in many cases the structural workings of capitalism are less directly related than they are in "point of production" economic struggles.
  15. Many elements of a "sudden stop" programme are already in discussion, such as the concept of "universal  basic income" or a shorter working week to deal with unemployment; there may be no single "correct" approach but several worth exploring.
  16. Many ecological modernisation concepts are worth adopting, but not uncritically. Massive public transport expansion may reduce the carbon footprint of commuting, but it is pointless without first questioning why people need to travel so far across our sprawling cities to find work. Massive upgrading to clean renewable energy is essential to abolish fossil fuel use, but it must be coupled with a strict questioning of what that energy is used for (should we increase our electricity use to allow everyone to drive an electric car?).
  17. Calling for a "sudden stop" programme needs to be put in the positive: we are for more and more equal access to the basic requirements of life. We want a sudden stop not to all economic activity or human development, but to the destructive impact of our current system, and this only makes sense if we can point out the better alternatives. They are many. The "sudden stop" title is probably best to grab the attention of those on the left; a more positive formulation is needed - perhaps with measures more specific to context and location.
* I haven't (yet) read Walter Benjamin, this quote grabbed my attention where it appeared at the beginning of David Schweickart's interesting paper "Is Sustainable Capitalism Possible" (Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 41 (2010) 6739–6752; doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.05.020)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Type your comment here and choose an ID to "Comment as" - choose "name/URL" or "Anonymous" if you don't want to sign in.