Capitalism and land -- survival and liberation

The following is the text of a talk Stephanie McMillian gave at this year’s Left Forum in New York City.  

Here is first the opening video of the panel followed by the text of Stephanie's talk. The Part 2 of the video is at the bottom.

Building Alliances to Defeat Capitalism

by Stephanie McMillian

Environmental destruction is the most urgent and immediate problem we face. If we don’t solve it, nothing else will matter. I would argue that it’s the principle contradiction of the current period. Through it, the common ruin of contending classes is becoming increasingly likely, but as the economic and ecological crises converge, the possibility of liberation and social transformation also opens up. But only if we organize to make that happen.

The problem is accelerating because of capital’s constant need to expand into new areas. They have entered a period of extreme extraction, on a scale never before seen: fracking, oil from tar sands and deep sea drilling, mountaintop removal. Because of the falling rate of profit, capitalism can never economically catch up with itself and must constantly break through its limits in a vain attempt to resolve its own inherent internal contradiction.

Feudalism and all forms of class society have had internal contradictions that drove them to expand. But capitalism has taken this to a new level, because instead of just requiring more resources to continue existing (to feed an expanding agrarian population, for example), it requires constant growth of production to expand for its own sake. The needs of the population aren’t the point, and commodities aren’t even the point — accumulating surplus-value to expand capital itself is the entire point. This is what pushes it to exceed limits on a scale previously unimaginable.

But we live on a finite planet with physical limits, that are being reached. This is a difference from earlier economic crises. Capitalism is driven to consume everything external to itself, converting it to commodities, and it won’t stop doing so on its own until it kills all life on the planet. Capitalism is fundamentally in contradiction with life itself.

As this problem becomes more acute, and affects people more immediately, more people will come into motion to oppose it. We need to find ways of uniting those who can fight capitalism from both the standpoint of class liberation, and from an environmentalist perspective, or more precisely, biocentrism. Alone, neither can achieve a sustainable and classless future society. These movements are allied and complementary. Each will have different strategies and approaches, but both will have better chances for success the more they cooperate in the immediate period.

Each movement currently has gaps, which are filled in by the other. The major flaw in movements for class liberation has been anthropocentrism, a total focus on human needs and a utilitarian view of nature.

The major flaw of environmentalism (and the contemporary labor movement in the US as well, which has been destroyed or co-opted by sold-out unions) has been a lack of class analysis and a lack of understanding of capitalism as a system that needs to be dismantled, an economic system characterized by class domination and protected by a state that needs to be defeated. Because of this incomplete picture, many fall victim to illusions of reformism, bourgeois democracy, technotopianism, lifestylism, green capitalism, and other dead end schemes.

Many radical or deep green environmentalists get closer to the heart of the problem and fight to defend land and decrease production. These are both necessary, but not alone sufficient. We can not win — we can neither liberate ourselves nor save the planet — without defeating and dismantling the entire system of capitalism and fundamentally transforming the structure of society on a classless basis.

We can attack capitalism on many fronts, but at the center of it is the conversion of raw materials (life) into commodities through the capitalist exploitation of labor. The point is the extraction of surplus value from the worker. There is no other reason for commodities to be produced. So we must break the social relation of class domination that makes exploitation possible, and which characterizes a mode of production that requires the extraction of resources and results in the destruction of the environment.

On the left, the theory of productive forces has led to a widespread productivist/mechanical view of reaching socialism: by developing and fully mechanizing production, we will reach reach abundance and the end of labor itself. It is increasingly obvious that this scenario at odds with the reality around us, yet there is a general reluctance to tell the truth: that a lot of production, everything not necessary for survival, simply has to end. No one likes being the person who brings the bad news that we have to make do with less. It’s harder to organize around.

And so the idea of socialism, the common ownership of the means of production and equitable distribution of goods, also doesn’t go far enough. We need to change our relationship with the natural world. It is not there for us to use, but instead we are part of it and depend on its overall health. We need to define a different relationship with it than as a set of resources. A sustainable economy can only involve production that is subordinate to nature and that fits within its physical limits to reproduce itself — that is determined not by human desires and whims, but by our actual needs, which are dependent on a healthy planet above all.

The system fosters the illusion of a contradiction between the interests of the dominated classes (the working class in particular) — and the ecosystem that we all depend upon for life. Through the dispossession of land-based peoples at its stage of primary accumulation, capitalism creates a situation of dependency for workers, who no longer have access to their own traditional means of subsistence.

This is how they’ve set us up to demand that our needs be satisfied in ways that actually help the enemy and harm ourselves. For example, the demand for jobs is almost unquestioned in the labor movement, but this demand only helps the capitalist to further exploit us at cheaper rates. What we should be demanding is a universal income, which would hinder exploitation, hurt capital, and would be compatible with the ecological necessity of reducing production.

Instead of demanding a temporary job building a pipeline, for example, we need to be insisting on the right to a livable income whether we have a job or not. And if we’re unemployed, we should be spending our time joining those who are putting themselves on the line to stand in the way of oil pipelines, mountaintop removal, and nuclear power plants – such as the five Lakotas who were arrested a couple of weeks ago for participating in a successful community blockade of trucks that were coming onto Pine Ridge Indian land in South Dakota with materials for building the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

We must build organizations that bring to bear the energy and interests of all the popular classes and social groupings against capitalism. For reds, a major task is to build autonomous organizations of the working class to break capitalists’ ability to accumulate surplus value. In addition, capital should be blocked at the various points in its flow, and alliances are needed to build mass movements that can attack capitalism at each of these points — including and especially (as the ecological crisis becomes increasingly acute), defending the land by preventing extraction.

Indigenous struggles, in particular, need to be supported and allied with as part of any anti-capitalist initiative. For one thing, it must be acknowledged and addressed that the land that provides all our sustenance has been stolen and colonized. Furthermore, indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers are the only groups who have practice with living sustainably, who can offer alternatives to this way of life that have been proven successful.

The extraction of resources and the exploitation of labor could not even occur without dispossessing people of the land that previously sustained them, a dispossession that continues and a subsequent degradation that has accelerated to an apocalyptic rate. These economic processes are intertwined, mutually compulsory, defining elements of capitalist production, and a combined effort to stop both have a much better chance of defeating our common enemy.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - carldavidson

    I agree with some of this, but it has a flaw in some of its core arguments, mainly around the political economy of information and knowledge.

    Stephanie says:

    <blockquote>On the left, the theory of productive forces has led to a widespread productivist/mechanical view of reaching socialism: by developing and fully mechanizing production, we will reach reach abundance and the end of labor itself. It is increasingly obvious that this scenario at odds with the reality around us, yet there is a general reluctance to tell the truth: that a lot of production, everything not necessary for survival, simply has to end. No one likes being the person who brings the bad news that we have to make do with less. It’s harder to organize around.</blockquote>

    I'm one that holds to a theory of productive forces, as was Marx, but there's little that is 'mechanical' about it. Rather, it notes that people make their own history, but not just as they choose. You start with a given set of time, place and circumstances, including an economic base, and your paths forward have to take it into account, as well as to include plans for the further development of the productive forces in a manner that benefits all and harmonizes with the ecosystem as well.

    Some production is best ended, to be sure--waste and toxic junk of all sorts--but the key to doing it in a socialist way is the vast expansion of other areas of production, especially the production of knowledge in the form of high design that can unleash clean energy, green manufacturing and the reduction of routinized toil.

    The latter, reducing routinized toil, is a critical component of the path to classless society, since no society is classless without reducing the working class and the working day toward zero, and that requires the reduction of variable capital--the amount of living labor time in any given commodity, toward zero as well. In my view, there is no modern communism without optimum levels of cybernated production.

    You might say that I'm for a 'theory of productive forces' with a vengeance, so we can 'break on through to the other side', living lives of an abundance of higher quality and far lighter ecological footprints wrought by high design--and high design is a sector on the economy that can expand infinitely. But there's nothing mechanical or automatic about getting from here to there, precisely because the masses make history, and they encounter twists and turns, ups and downs, in the course spiral development in doing so.

    In the meantime, building the infrastructure and factories of 'clean energy and green manufacturing' is a far better programmatic target for organizing the unemployed and the under-employed than to hold up working against 'mountaintop removal' and such. That may be fine for a few young revolutionaries without families to feed, and in fact I've helped to raise funds for those doing so in neighboring West Virginia. But the rest need something different and more substantive by way of productive employment.

  • Guest - Keith

    This essay is further confirmation that working class revolutionaries need to break with environmentalists and purge them from our ranks. Radical environmentalism of the type professed in this essay is reactionary anti-capitalism spiced up with some Marxian phrases. It is reaction because it seeks to go backward instead of forward. And working class emancipation is the outcome of capitalist development.

    The so called "theory of productive forces" is more correctly called: HISTORICAL MATERIALISM. Historical Materialism applied to the study of capitalist social formations is called by Marx "the critique of political economy. " Historical Materialism posits that a mode of production is overthrown when the continued development of the productive forces comes into contradiction with the social relationships of that mode of production. The productive forces are another way of speaking about labour productivity, or the social power of human beings, or human beings and their knowledge, technology and organization.

    The falling rate of profit is an expression of the development of the productive forces coming into conflict with the relations of production of capitalism (value, money, credit/debt, commodity etc are all relations of production of the capitalist mode of production).

    The "bad news" is not that we need to consume less. The bad news is that working class revolutionaries and environmentalism have nothing in common. Enviromentalism is a trojan horse in the working class movement.

    Here is Marx applying the basic premises of historical materialism to the analysis of capital and demonstrating how the capital relation, the wage-slavery relation, the last historical form of human servitude will be ended:

    "Beyond a certain point, the development of the powers of production becomes a barrier for capital; hence the capital relation a barrier for the development of the productive powers of labour. When it has reached this point, capital, i.e. wage labour, enters into the same relation towards the development of social wealth and of the forces of production as the guild system, serfdom, slavery, and is necessarily stripped off as a fetter. The last form of servitude assumed by human activity, that of wage labour on one side, capital on the other, is thereby cast off like a skin, and this casting-off itself is the result of the mode of production corresponding to capital; the material and mental conditions of the negation of wage labour and of capital, themselves already the negation of earlier forms of unfree social production, are themselves results of its production process. The growing incompatibility between the productive development of society and its hitherto existing relations of production expresses itself in bitter contradictions, crises, spasms. The violent destruction of capital not by relations external to it, but rather as a condition of its self- preservation, is the most striking form in which advice is given it to be gone and to give room to a higher state of social production.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Because the working class will do so smashingly once global climate change has destroyed the basis for civilization.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    I would divide 'environmentalism' into two, those looking to the future and those looking backward. In the latter, I put the 'zero growth' or even negative growth neo-Malthusians. These we oppose. But the former, those looking forward, the 'solar' and 'green' socialists and progressives who grasp the points I made above, even if they aren't Marxists, these forces can be our allies--and there are many of them.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    I think there is one key fact that many on the left fail to deal with. It was asserted that, once carbon dioxide levels reached 350 parts per million, the climate will have reached a tipping point, after which, no further input from humanity would be needed to create run away climate change. Last year, measurements on Mauna Loa were at 385 ppm.

    Of course, climate science is a rather inexact science, but last year, Russian ships in the Arctic ocean noted methane blooms 1,000 yards across. All across the northern tundra, massive amounts of methane, are being released. Methane is a far, far more potent green house gas than carbon dioxide. "It has a high global warming potential: 72 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years, and 25 times over 100 years, and the levels are rising" (from Wikipedia). The levels of atmospheric methane in the Northern hemisphere are at twice the levels of any time in the last 400,000 years.

    The truth is, deep environmentalism cannot save the climate, nor the environment, nor humanity. Climate change is too far gone for that. The <i>only</i> hope is technology. We literally must pull entire mountain ranges of carbon out of the atmosphere. What we're gonna do with it and where we're gonna put it is another story. Maybe we can build our cities from diamond, our transportation with graphite, and use graphene for our power grid.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    I think Comrade McMillan is being slandered for her past ideological association with the deep ecology / green anarchist movement, on this basis her insights are being ignored and dismissed rather than explored.

    The truth is that the strategy of transitioning from socialism to communism through the raising of productive forces alone has been put in to practice, with little, success on numerous occasions - the USSR, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.

    Marx and Engels were no strangers to environmentalism. Take Engels' highly underrated scientific text, "The Dialectics of Nature", where he famously and astutely observed:

    <blockquote>Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.</blockquote>

    Also Marx's highly overlooked research into the ecological degradation caused by the capitalist mode of production, much of it found in vol. 3 of Capital. (Wikipedia actually has a pretty succient little article on the subject;

    Even as early as vol. 1, Marx's critique of capital included ecological concepts:

    <blockquote>[Capital] disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil...But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race...All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility...Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.</blockquote>

    Thus Keith's erroneous claims that "working class revolutionaries and environmentalism have nothing in common. Enviromentalism is a trojan horse in the working class movement" are just that, erroneous. They articulate the ideology of a privileged stata of the working-class which is not directly impacted by the ecological crisis.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    *practice, with little success,

  • Guest - Keith

    Chegitz, then we agree. "Technology" is another way of talking about the productive forces. If overthrowing capitalism and saving the environment are understood as the outcome of technological development then we are good.

    Environmentalism as an ideology, however, is anti technology, anti- development, anti-consumption, and really, if you scratch a little, anti-humanity. The Left used to represent the future, but the influence of environmentalism, with its "woes is me, shame on you" attitude, has made the future appear to be hopeless. Even your remarks have the counsel of despair so typical of environmentalism.

    I would agree with Carl if the "green socialists" who have hope in humanity and the future actually existed, by this group is a mirage, a non-existent fantasy group. Look at the the OP. Stephanie is calling for a "green/red alliance" but it is a reactionary brand of environmentalism. "Really existing" environmentalism is reactionary. Show me a really existing environmentalist organization that is not reactionary. Doesn't exist. Anti-consumption, ant-growth, anti technology is their stock and trade.

    In other words, socialists, communists, revolutionary workers can take up the question of the environment without bogging ourselves down with the chicken-littles of environmentalism and instead make tactical alliances with this segment of the petty bourgeois as the case in hand calls for, but we do not have the basis for a strategic alliance with this backwards ideology.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    I am reminded of Lenin's famous words in "What is to Be Done", which I'm sure y'all know very well:

    <blockquote>To bring political knowledge to the workers the Social Democrats must go among all classes of the population; they must dispatch units of their army in all directions. [...] Let us take the type of Social-Democratic study circle that has become most widespread in the past few years and examine its work. It has “contacts with the workers” and rests content with this, issuing leaflets in which abuses in the factories, the government’s partiality towards the capitalists, and the tyranny of the police are strongly condemned. At workers’ meetings the discussions never, or rarely ever, go beyond the limits of these subjects. Extremely rare are the lectures and discussions held on the history of the revolutionary movement, on questions of the government’s home and foreign policy, on questions of the economic evolution of Russia and of Europe, on the position of the various classes in modern society, etc. As to systematically acquiring and extending contact with other classes of society, no one even dreams of that. [...] We must “go among all classes of the population” as theoreticians, as proagandists, as agitators, and as organisers. Noone doubts that the theoretical work of Social-Democrats should aim at studying all the specific features of the social and political condition of the various classes. But extremely little is done in this direction as compared with the work that is done in studying the specific features of factory life. In the committees and study circles, one can meet people who are immersed in the study even of some special branch of the metal industry; but one can hardly ever find members of organisations (obliged, as often happens, for some reason or other to give up practical work) who are especially engaged in gathering material on some pressing question of social and political life in our country which could serve as a means for conducting Social-Democratic work among other strata of the population.</blockquote>

    Applying these words to our current topic of conversation; is it not the task of socialists to grasp the recent innovations made by academics in the field of climatology, soil science, etc. ?

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    @Keith - Your stance is actually emblematic of the trade-union economism which Lenin rightfully criticized in "What is to be Done?" In your world, the thousands of hours of research that ecological scientists (botanists, zoologists, climatologists, oceanographers, soil-scientists and mycologists, foresters, etc.) have poured into understanding humanity's effects on the eco-system are worth less than used toilet paper because (in an astonishingly narrow-minded and reductionist sense) they have nothing to do with "the revolutionary worker's struggle".

    Ignoring the fact that millions of workers around the world face genocide due to deforestation, anthropogenic climate change, desertification, oceanic die-off, over-extraction of resources, reckless waste disposal, etc., dismissing cutting-edge science as "despair", "woe", and "hopelessness" is nothing to do with the scientific tradition of Marxism - in fact it stands diametrically opposed to that tradition.

    Obviously we should oppose neo-Malthusianism, romanticism, primitivism, misanthropy, etc. (We should also oppose the sort of green-capitalism that folks like Carl Davidson advocate) However there are genuine questions to be asked; in the future socialist economy we wish to create, will we continue to use the oceans as an open sewer? Will we continue to rely on petrochemical monoculture? Will we continue to allow the middle-class homeowner to waste water, petroleum, and agricultural space on grass lawns? Will private chlorinated swimming pools exist? Will every family have an X-Box, a set of metal silverware, and a blender? These are questions that need to be answered....

  • Guest - carldavidson

    @GBG, who says:

    <blockquote>(We should also oppose the sort of green-capitalism that folks like Carl Davidson advocate)</blockquote>

    This is odd. First, I'm an advocate of socialism. But why would we want to oppose, and not support, the building of, say, wind turbines, right now? We have an outfit here in Pennsylvania called GAMESA, which, working together with the state and the USW, converted and opened three plants, with 1000 jobs in all, two of them making turbines, one making the blades--and all the jobs are United Steel Workers.

    Or take Western Iowa, where county-level government has started some county-owned wind farms producing electricuty as a public utility. Residents get a discount, and there's enough left over to help fund the county schools.

    These developments of modern productive forces, and structural reforms in the Iowa case, are very popular with the workers, and point to a clean energy future.

    The far right opposes the industrial policy that brought them into being, under the notion that government shouldn't in the business of 'picking winners and losers' to favor.

    But why the left would want to oppose these delevopments, rather than fight for them, is beyond me. We will need wind turbine factories and wind farm power plants under socialism in any case. Why delay and distance yourself from building them now?

    Are you frightened of getting cooties from winning a few transitional victories?

  • Guest - Keith

    Ghan, I am not slandering Stephanie and I don't know anything about her previous associations. I only know her from Kasama.

    I am taking issue with her over riding point which is that economic development, -- growth of humanity's productive force-- is destructive of the environment such that it needs to be reversed along with consumption. I label this reactionary by definition.

    There are multiplying issues here.

    On the environment. No one is arguing that the climate is not changing, that the environment needs protecting etc. I am arguing against an ideology: Environmentalism. And I take Stephanie's essay to be representative of that ideology.

    Again, the so-called "theory of the productive forces" is actually: HISTORICAL MATERIALISM. And historical materialism argues that social relationships are determined by the level of development of the productive forces and that these social relationships go from being spurs to the development of labors productive power to fetters. When the social/class relations become fetters to further development of the productive force we have entered the epoch of social revolution. That theory animates everything (as in EVERYTHING) that Marx wrote. It is the basis of the science. The quote from the Grundrisse I included in comment #2 is one of many in which Marx describes the development of the productive forces leading to the destruction of the capital relation.

    To call for the cessation of the development of the productive force is to call for the indefinite enslavement of the working class.

    As for What is to be done, Ghan, when I read Lenin criticize trade union economism I understand him to be criticizing those working class leaders who sought to confine the workers struggle to factory and wages while arguing that the liberal bourgeois can take up the fight against the Tsar. I am not making any sort of similar argument. I am arguing, simply, that the working class movement should not ally itself with the environmental movement, even if we have the greatest concern for the environment, because environmentalism will prevent working class liberation. To repeat it is NOT concern with the environment that will de-rail us, it is the ideology of environmentalism.

    As for limits on consumption I for one am far from convinced that this is the source of the problem. While there may be a simple relationship between dumping shit in the ocean and consumption, I don't think that blenders and/or x-boxes require the pollution of oceans. The anti-consumptionism of environmentalism is a backdoor attack on wages and working class living standards. At least when the republicans attack working class consumption and living standards they are honest about it.

    No serious scientists deny climate change, this is undoubtedly true. But it is also true that the Earth's climate is always changing. If you start to really look into this stuff and don't just accept the liberal-environmentalist-vegan information complex's propaganda, if you actually try and study the science yourself you will quickly see that there is no consensus on the causes of climate change or the correct way to model the future. I find the climate scientist Judith Curry to be true to the scientific method. here is her blog:

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    @Keith -

    I actually agree with you that right-wing environmentalism and anti-consumerism, as an ideology, is all about imposing austerity on the urban proletariat, in order to "sustain" the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

    However, contrary to what you may believe, a critique of consumerism has always been part of the Marxist intellectual tradition. (See: Bukharin's "Economic Theory of the Leisure Class" and Bordiga's "Le Rivoluzioni Multiple e la Rivoluzione Capitalistica Occidentale")

    It's not that I have anything against X-Boxes or blenders, or humans generally enjoying a comfortable existence. I don't even approve of those (from the right, or left-ascetics) dumping on the cheap thrills of the metropolitan workers. But, to put it crudely, the capitalist incentive for accumulation of value creates an ever-increasing demand for consumer products.

    Let's use blenders as an example, or more generally speaking, kitchen appliances. It's no secret that historically, the primary historical market for kitchen appliances has been womyn. This is because women are shackled with the barbaric obligation of unwaged domestic labor. (This has been a staple of the marketing industry, which markets new kitchen appliances to married womyn under the promise of liberating them from domestic toil) The capitalist consumer market constantly offers newer gadgets to lessen the burden of unwaged domestic labor; however the increase of productive forces in the kitchen has not liberated the unwaged domestic laborer from her toil; it has increased the amount of toil one can perform in one day. This is the problem with the erroneous line productivist determinism. In of itself the increased development of productive forces does not liberate the oppressed masses from their bonds. (The increase of productive forces does not inevitably lead to the dissolution of the capitalist class - it gives the working-class the potential tool to do so on their own, through their collective political action) The subjective revolutionary will of the oppressed is needed to seize control of the developed means of production and radically restructure society. E.g. in regards to kitchen work, the abolition of the patriarchal family and the shackles of gendered unwaged labor is needed - in which case it would not be necessary for every nuclear family to own their own blender.

    You say "I don’t think that blenders and/or x-boxes require the pollution of oceans." This is true; however tell it to the people who are living on top of landfills of old computers, leaking toxic heavy metals into the water and soil. Much of this has to do with planned obsolescence of such devices, but also the way society is currently structured; based on marketing cutting-edge technology for isolated personal/individual leisure-use. Perhaps the communist cities will have massive public video game amphitheaters. It's hard to say; however people's basic economic needs (food, medicine, potable water, shelter, etc.) need to be met first.

    The Maoists in China had the right idea, they bucked the stalinist blueprint (rooted in economic productivist determinism you enthusiastically embrace as the only valid form of historical materialism) and focused on light industry, local production, etc.

    Obviously I was not quoting Lenin to make some sort of point about how the working-class in 2012 needs to unite with a progressive element of the liberal bourgeoisie to defeat the Tsar. My point was that the development of ecological science has lead to a very real and significant political split among academics of that particular discipline. On the one hand you have those that cannot ignore the mounting scientific evidence that confirms Marx's observations regarding capital's detrimental effect on the ecology. On the other hand we have a reactionary segment who insist falsely that climate change is not anthropogenic but is rather an "act of God" and that no change in production or consumption is needed to deter ecological catastrophe. (Objectively, your position falls closer to the latter) To a socialist who rejects economism, this struggle is as important as the worker's struggle in the factory; just as -say- the struggle within the psychiatric establishment between those who recgonize the rampancy of sexual abuse of young womyn versus those who deny it.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    also, I think comrade McMillan's work is important (precisely because of Lenin's comments on the errors of economism) because she is struggling to bring the deep ecologist / anarcho-primitivist subculture to the Left. (And taking down the economist/productivist determinist ideology of certain dogmatic leftists in the process)

  • Guest - Keith


    I know that there are many 'Marxist" critics of consumption. The whole Fankfurt school for instance. But on closer inspection we see that they are romantic anti-capitalists and really they are aristocratic anti-capitalist. They criticize capitalism from the perspective of the past and not the future.

    Marx was enthusiastic and consistent in his support of consumption. He argued in favour of the (much dreaded by environmentalists and other reactionaries) creation of new wants and new needs and new desires. He argued that this was how humanity developed. If you have never heard John Coltrane or listened to Beethoven's Ninth then you have an impoverished self, an impoverished personality. If you have only had taco bell and never eaten a real taco you have an impoverished intellect. If you only can eat locally grown potatoes and you never had a mango or a kiwi you are provincial. The English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said he was mostly unhappy in life but if he had regular access to music he imagined he would be happy. Today that is a rather small order.

    Consider this passage from the Manifesto:
    "The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature."

    Or this passage from the Grundrisse
    "On the other side, the production of relative surplus value, i.e. production of surplus value based on the increase and development of the productive forces, requires the production of new consumption; requires that the consuming circle within circulation expands as did the productive circle previously. Firstly quantitative expansion of existing consumption; secondly: creation of new needs by propagating existing ones in a wide circle; thirdly: production of new needs and discovery and creation of new use values. In other words, so that the surplus labour gained does not remain a merely quantitative surplus, but rather constantly increases the circle of qualitative differences within labour (hence of surplus labour), makes it more diverse, more internally differentiated. For example, if, through a doubling of productive force, a capital of 50 can now do what a capital of 100 did before, so that a capital of 50 and the necessary labour corresponding to it become free, then, for the capital and labour which have been set free, a new, qualitatively different branch of production must be created, which satisfies and brings forth a new need. The value of the old industry is preserved by the creation of the fund for a new one in which the relation of capital and labour posits itself in a new form. Hence exploration of all of nature in order to discover new, useful qualities in things; universal exchange of the products of all alien climates and lands; new (artificial) preparation of natural objects, by which they are given new use values. * The exploration of the earth in all directions, to discover new things of use as well as new useful qualities of the old; such as new qualities of them as raw materials etc.; the development, hence, of the natural sciences to their highest point; likewise the discovery, creation and satisfaction of new needs arising from society itself; the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations -- production of this being as the most total and universal possible social product, for, in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures [genussfähig], hence cultured to a high degree -- is likewise a condition of production founded on capital. "

    that is on page 409 but the whole section is worth a look.Marx is arguing that cultural and intellectual development the triumph of cosmopolitanism and internationalism over provincialism and national narrow mindedness is predicated on expanded consumption.

    I have a blender and I use it a daily. It shortens my time in the kitchen. I also have a washer and drier. Indeed, I chose my apartment because it can accommodate a washer and drier. Since my wife works more hours than me, I do most of the house work and these appliances save labor tiime. That is not a mirage. If I didn't have these appliances I wouldn't have time to write this. The difference between my labour in the house and June Cleaver's is that I control it not my husband. Without these appliances women would not be in the labour market in such large numbers. I am not the only man doing house work and child rearing. In fact, the development of capital is destroying the patriarchal family as we speak.

    Ghan is correct that under capitalism productivity gains do not necessarily benefit labour (but you need productivity gains to make the 10 hour day and 8 hour day possible. The four day work week is our obvious next move). Because capital takes these gains to increase surplus labor time. That, of course, is the whole point. The value relation is the relation between necessary and surplus labour. Productivity decreases necessary labor time which allows capital to seize more surplus labor time. But since value is determined by labour time and necessary labour is reduced towards zero as the productive force develops capitalist development undermines itself. The continued development of the productive force comes into conflict with the value relation (this is expressed in the falling rate of profit). Marx says that capital "works towards its own dissolution." it is not "automatic" -- it is like waking up in the morning and getting out of bed.

    As far as climate science goes, the idea that there is a consensus on the climate change and its mechanism and causation and anyone who challenges that consensus is a right wing religious nut is just bullshit vegan-environmentalist propaganda. It is certainly true that the alarmist tend to be liberals and the skeptics tend to be conservative but to call the skeptics religious or unscientific is just uninformed. Take a look at Judith Curry's blog, or the "Whats up with that" blog or the "Hockey Stick Illusion" book. Just take a brief look at any of those sources and then tell me which side in the climate debate follows the scientific method.

    On the question of historical materialism. I am curious Ghan, what do you think historical materialism is? What are its major theses? What are its major findings? predictions?

    You can talk about dogma but holding to the scientific method and the findings of science is not dogma.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Some notes:

    1) I am not arguing against the historically progressive character of urbanism and cosmoplitanism - that's assumed. The dual nature of the emergence of capitalism - as both progressive and reactionary - is based on dialectical thinking. I think Stalin explained it best when he said

    <blockquote>"Today we are demanding a democratic republic. Can we say that a democratic republic is good in all respects, or bad in all respects? No we cannot! Why? Because a democratic republic is good only in one respect: when it destroys the feudal system; but it is bad in an other respect: when it strengthens the bourgeois system. Hence we say: in so far as the democratic republic destroys the feudal system it is good -- and we fight for it; but in so far as it strengthens the bourgeois system it is bad -- and we fight against it. So the same democratic republic can be 'good' and 'bad' at the same time -- it is 'yes' and 'no.The same thing may be said about the eight-hour day, which is good and bad at the same time: 'good' in so far as it strengthens the proletariat, and "bad" in so far as it strengthens the wage system. It was facts of this kind that Engels had in mind.</blockquote>

    The global expansion of the capitalist consumer market can be "bad" in the sense that it poisons the ecology and works millions of people to death; it can also be "good" in the sense that it digs its own grave, ever-expanding the material foundations of the class (the urban, cosmopolitan proletariat) that has the power to overthrow it and create a new, sane civilization in the ruins of the old. It is only the anti-dialectical thinker who imagines that such things can only be either "good" or "bad".

    2) My point on the increase of productive forces within the kitchen was mis-taken. My point was not that the Marxist premise, of the increased rate of production in relationship to value leading to the objective basis for a proletarian revolution, is somehow flawed or incorrect. My point was not that decreasing the productive forces under capitalism is somehow possible or even desirable. (In fact, that is the reason I am highly critical of anarcho-primitivism as a reactionary ideology - it desires that very thing, and romanticizes pre-capitalist modes of existence hinged on the gendered division of labor which required womyn to spend most of their day engaging in inefficient primitive production) Also I am aware that the increase of productive forces within the kitchen has allowed many womyn to enter the workforce, and this is a progressive development. My point was that communism - the next mode of production - will seize the immense productive forces of capital and radically transform them. Right now, because of capitalism, your wife must sell her labor-power to the capitalists; she spends the majority of her time toiling to generate surplus labor for the capitalist class. In turn, you play an important role in the capitalist system as well - you perform unwaged labor maintaining your household - labor your wife likely could not perform on her own while still selling her labor power to survive. Blenders, washing machines, dryers, etc. allow you to spend less time on domestic labor and more time engaged in activities you find personally rewarding. However, it's not hard to imagine that after a transition from socialism to communism, there will be free public spaces where large blenders, washing machines, etc. are available for all to use - the social-atomization of capitalism will be a thing of the past and as a consequence there will be less material demand for these goods on an individual-atomic level because they will be publicly available to all. My point is that the communist mode of production will ease the burden placed on the individual in maintaining their individual existence, which will allow humans more freedom to use their labor-power as they see fit - and this will lead to a decreased individual demand for certain consumer goods (since the tools we use to maintain our basic existence will be publicly accessible - under capitalism I can't break into my neighbor's house and borrow his blender) which is good for the ecology.

    3) Regarding climate change; the consensus of the NAS, the NRC, and the NOAA is that human factors play a significant role in climate change. There may be a minority of academics who disagree - however there are a minority of academics who also deny the theory of evolution, or the theory of relativity. Citing a few denier blogs is not a compelling argument for overturning the scientific consensus.

    4) Bukharin and Bordiga were not Austrian Marxists; however it is amusing that you decry "dogma" yet at the same time dismiss an entire school of Marxism as unworthy of study because it does not fit into your dogma.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    Also, and this may go without saying, there is no such thing as the "vegan information complex". As in, you literally just made that up.

  • Guest - Keith

    Ghan, point 1 fine.

    point 2. agreed

    point 3. I didnt suggest that citing the existence of a blog could overturn "scientific consensus." I suggested that the blogs I cited contain good evidence and reasoning for some skepticism towards the supposed consensus. If you are so certain of your view and it is so impenetrable that you would not stoop to reading a blog that doesn't contain information that you already know and believe but might be in contradiction with what you know, then carry on, but the obvious fact is that you are not familiar with the sketpic arguments around climate change science or else you would not draw a parallel with people who deny evolution or relativity. The blogs I cited are serious people making serious arguments.

    point 4, I didnt bring up the Frankfurt school because of their national origin. I brought up the Frankfurt school because they are a part of the anti-consumerist tradition. Dismissing them as unworthy of study? On the contrary I studied the Frankfurt school thinkers with some care and it took me some pretty hard effort to draw the concise conclusion I shared with you. In fact, it was through the critique of the Frankfurt school that I finally grasped Marx's position on consumption and its relationship to revolution..

    point 5. Of course, there is a vegan information complex. It is the reason that people think saturated fat and cholesterol rich foods are unhealthy and "whole grains" are healthy. Why people think that Special K with soy milk, a glass of orange juice, and a slice of wheat bread with margarine is a healthier breakfast then sausage and eggs. But that is another story. And technically it is the vegan-environmentalist information complex for the obvious reason that the vegans are the environmentalist and the environmentalists are the vegans.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    3. I'm actually all too familiar with the "skeptic" arguments, and I have no aversion to reading opinions that are different than my own. Customarily, in a debate, the burden of proof is on the positive assertion, in which case it would actually be my burden to assert proof of anthropogenic climate change. However, I am of the opinion that asserting something that has already been established as a scientific fact by the majority of academic experts in every country is - well, rather silly. My work has already been done. In lieu, here is an interesting document explaining the prevalence of "skeptic" notions on the subject:

    It's also worth pointing out that many of the arguments against general relativity are very "serious". However, they are also erroneous.

    It's worth noting that pseudo-scientists of all stripes typically claim they are "skeptics" being persecuted by a conspiratorial majority of academics. Nine times out of ten they are wrong.

    4. Your observations about nutrition are interesting; I think nutrition is a neglected subject of study for the revolutionary left. However your correlation to an alleged "vegan informational complex" does not hold water. You are seriously suggesting that global warming is a conspiracy to promote veganism, which is itself a conspiracy to promote grain-based diets. There are serious holes to poke in this argument: Margarine found its first mass-market in WWI. (where it served as a cheap substitute for the heavily-rationed butter) Similarly, Kellogg's Toasted Corn Flakes first became a popular consumer-product in 1922. "Veganism" was not coined as a phrase until 1944, by members of the Leicester Vegetarian Society. Orange juice concentrate was patented only four years later - developed through years of research by UF-CREC and the Florida Department of Citrus. None of these changes in Western diet can be attributed to veganism. Only 3% of the US population is vegan. In the spirit of burden of positive proof, you must demonstrate the correlation between veganism and the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. Of course I maintain there is none.

  • Guest - Stephanie McMillan

    I would like to share some thoughts after reading some of the responses here, but I’m not able to go through them all thoroughly right now, so this is going to be incomplete. I’ll go back and read through the arguments more closely when I can.


    Saying capitalism is (even partly) good because it brings about the conditions for its own demise is like saying it’s good to be beaten by your spouse because it makes you so unhappy that you might leave. I understand the logic that once humanity got tangled up in class society, the way out might have to be through it, but the post-capitalist Beautiful New Tomorrow you seem to envision is no compensation for the horrors perpetrated on the way there.

    The world is overwhelmingly worse off because of capitalism, and that includes humanity. I doubt that the majority of people alive today – or who have suffered and toiled through the whole miserable process at any point –would be reassured if told that the productive forces are being developed for future liberation. It reminds me of James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior (charged with protecting, among other things, trees) who famously said, “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.”

    Nevertheless, here we are in the thick of it, and there’s no going back (in spite of what you may assume I’m advocating), so these conditions are what we need to cope with.

    What is your future utopia going to look like with no fresh water for billions of people (after the rapidly diminishing mountain glaciers no longer supply it), with no large fish (94% are gone), radioactive food (live in Japan or California -- watch the milk), kids gasping from asthma from filthy air? Phytoplankton, which produce half the oxygen we breathe, have declined by 40% since 1950. If this doesn’t alarm you, I don’t know what more to say.
    This isn’t the future; this is today. Your denial of physical reality is not shared by those experiencing water shortages in Africa, floods in Pakistan, poisoned wells in the Southwest US, oil contamination of land in Nigeria and Ecuador, salt water erasing farmland in Bangladesh, an international working class being made sick because they’re allowed access to only toxic food.

    (Side note, speaking of food, since you brought it up: I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, so not a member of that particular conspiracy).

    Capitalism is not going to suddenly realize it’s reaching a tipping point, shift gears and decide to develop new technologies to save the majority of people and the rest of the planet. It has no capacity to care about how many millions die, and no “green” tech is ever going to be as immediately and immensely profitable as burning oil and coal. Economic laws dictate that oil from tar sands gets used first -- no matter what the consequences. Whether or not capitalists are personally alarmed at the melting of the polar ice cap, they all have to join in the mad scramble to build infrastructure for deepwater drilling where the ice has receded, to continue the very process that’s heating the planet up in the first place.

    They have no choice but to keep expanding at ever-increasing rates, until either we stop them, or there’s nothing left. I saw an ad yesterday on CNBC from an investment firm that said, “1/4 of all goods and services ever produced by humanity has been produced in the past ten years.” That’s quite a rate of acceleration. Perhaps when all of the natural world (call them resources if you like) is used up in products and services, capital will make way for a higher stage of production. What’s that going to look like? What I picture is people picking through landfills choked with broken electronics, looking for something to sell or eat. Or fishers pulling up a small fraction of their usual catch (75% fewer crabs, according to an article last week), with many of those remaining having lesions, tumors and no eyes -- as is currently happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

    In spite of this, a technical advisor to the oil and gas industry recently said, “We are seeing deep-water drilling come back with a vengeance in the Gulf.” I suppose you and Carl would think it’s “backward” to call that dangerous and wrong.


    @Ghan Buri Ghan

    I appreciate that you understand what I’m trying to do: bring class consciousness to environmentalists -- because ecocide is a symptom of class domination, and can’t be solved unless the proletariat organizes itself to overthrow capitalism. The more environmentalists who grasp that, and who support and supplement the struggles of the working class against our common enemy, the better chance we all have.

    And going in the other direction, bringing biocentrism to those reds who aren’t yet confronting the fact that we are facing a planetary emergency and that we need to deal with that. There’s no more time for trying to force utopian fantasies onto reality. Chegitz is a very positive example of someone who once resisted talking about the environment but now is acknowledging the facts, and sincerely wants to figure out how to solve the problem. We may differ on our approach or what we think is possible, but at least we have a common understanding of what exists, an essential first step to working it out together.

    I’ve noticed several “eco-socialist” groups emerging here and there… I haven’t yet looked into them very deeply, but it seems a good sign.


    A couple short, general points:

    To equate opposing unfettered growth with being against the well-being of humanity is exactly backwards. Only if we stop the current trajectory, might we even have a chance to survive as a species. It’s those who insist on more of everything who are actually destroying the future of humanity (and every other form of life).

    Also: history is not a pre-determined, linear march of progress to a well-designed, sleek, mechanized existence, except when portrayed in Disney World’s “Tomorrowland.” Nor are we going to be able to circle back to an imagined Eden of the distant past. We all need to let go of religious fantasies of paradise, and increase our competence to deal with what exists right now.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    <blockquote>The world is overwhelmingly worse off because of capitalism, and that includes humanity. I doubt that the majority of people alive today – or who have suffered and toiled through the whole miserable process at any point –would be reassured if told that the productive forces are being developed for future liberation.</blockquote>

    I doubt the majority of humanity today would change their lot for life in a feudal order, and I'm certain most living under modern capitalism would not.

    This position reveals, rather bluntly, that Keith's critique of your position is largely on target. The reason we can move to a socialist order is, in good part, BECAUSE of the SOCIALIZED production brought in being by capitalism. That's were the word 'socialism' comes from.

    As for oil in the Gulf, I'm the one arguing for clean renewables as new sources of energy, even now, under capitalism, remember?

  • Guest - Keith

    Capitalism is a better system than anything that has come before it historically save hunting and gathering. I would rather be a wage slave in a capitalist society, than a serf, or a peasant, or a chattel slave. Why are rich countries rich and poor countries poor? Rich countries are developed capitalist societies and poor countries are less developed capitalist societies. That is why Marx and Engels celebrated the bourgeois revolutions that brought about capitalist development and why Marx remarked, "we suffer not only from capitalist development, but from a lack of capitalist development." The development of capitalism will undermine the basis for every form of class domination. That is what the science shows. If you want to read the presentation of those scientific findings start with Das Kapital volume 1. (I just saw Carl made a similar point. But really, study history a little bit and see how people used to live).

    I was just kidding around with the vegan information complex.
    But, when I turned 40 I decided to pay more attention to my health and i started to study nutrition science. The difference between nutritional science and climate science is in nutrition science you can actually read for yourself the studies that the recommendations are based on. I quickly discovered that the studies implicating saturated fat in disease do not control their variables. So people with higher disease rates may be eating meat but they may also be consuming boatloads of sugar.

    For example, the vegan propagandist Morgan Spurlock made a film called "Supersize me" where he ate nothing but McDonalds for a month and it had a bad effect on his health. Was that because of meat? He also ate the wheat bun, the two litters of soda, and the french fires fried in vegetable oil. Anyway, when you look at this stuff carefully and actually look at the studies themselves you see that all the "Harvard Meat Studies" are bullshit. I concluded that meat, fish, eggs (especially the yolk where all the vitamins and minerals are!), vegetables, fruits and nuts are the healthiest things to eat and that wheat/grains, sugar, and vegetable oil (how do you get oil out of corn?) are the things that make people sick (look at the ingredients of a "Yodel"-- wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil). Here is a link to a good film about the Nagmis tribe from Alert bay Canada. They had an obesity and diabetes epidemic which they mostly solved by going back to their traditional high saturated fat diet.

    After studying nutrition for a couple of years I got my science chops up, I could quickly see if a study controlled its variables, and I was ready to look into climate science. You know what I found. It is very hard to get access to the actual science (not what scientist say, or newspapers report but the actual study- its methods, its design, the way it controls variables etc) What you get when you try to study climate science is :"There is a consensus." Ahhhhh.... who gives a shit if there is a "consensus." There is a consensus that Marx was wrong. There is a consensus that whole grains are healthy. There was a consensus that Socrates was corrupting the youth. It is a fallacy of logic.

    And frankly I could give a shit what "scientist" say. I spent some time in academia, I know how much of it is horse piss (most of it). Show me the science. The actual study, the research. How do we know that humans caused the climate to change when the Earth's climate has always been changing in dramatic ways? So Ghan, instead of linking to an article about how the media is unfair (are you kidding? what group says that the media treats them fairly?) link me a research study that PROVES that human beings CAUSE warming. Link me to a study that proves carbon dioxide is not just correlated with warming but causes it (it is elementary, btw, that correlation is not causation). I would love to read it. I will be happy to admit I am wrong after I read it. But don't link me someone telling me to listen to the "consensus of scientists."

  • [moderator note: this comment was moved to <a href="/" rel="nofollow">its own post</a>.]

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    All Mike points out here is true, and then some.

    But the productive forces continue to develop, competion leading to the increase of constant capital over variable capital (automation and robotics.)

    I recently heard a talk by four former leaders of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit. They described a recent opportunity they had to take a tour of their old plants, now recently up and running again. They were amazed, as if walking into a science fiction movie. Nearly all their old jobs and workstations were gone, replaced by robotics. A relative handful of workers remained, and a good number of them were running the computers that ran the robots. Their conclusion? The old work was gone forever, and not coming back. New solutions would have to be found to unemployment and poverty.

    The capitalists indeed do stamp the productive forces with their own greed and hierarchy, birthmarks from the old order than we can do away with in the new. I saw a glimpse of this in the ultramoderm productive forces in the worker-owned Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain, with one foot in the old order and another in the new.

    But in any number of ways, capitalism is still revolutionizing the means of production, and in some ways that we will take over to a new order as well.

  • I'm not usually into a nit-picking contest over communist terminology. But here it is valuable...

    Carl writes:

    <blockquote>"The reason we can move to a socialist order is, in good part, BECAUSE of the SOCIALIZED production brought in being by capitalism. That’s were the word ‘socialism’ comes from."</blockquote>

    No, that isn't what socialism refers to.

    Capitalist society is characterized by socialized production and private appropriation. (Or the private appropriation <em>OF</em> social production.)

    Capitalism is when the production becomes socialized. It is a development of class society -- serving an exploiting class. The socialization of industrial production under capitalism also raises the general level of social production, and opens the door to new forms and possibilities of abundance (and incredible, decadent and criminal new forms of inequality in the meanwhile).

    Socialism is when the <em>appropriation</em> of the surplus is <em>socialized</em> -- because only then does the vast majority of humanity get to consciously influence its own society and its own future. <em>That's</em> why it is called socialism -- because that's what distinguishes it from capitalism..

    And (as my post this morning emphasizes) <em>how</em> production is socialized, <em>under capitalism</em>, is deeply marked by capitalism. And we will (through a future revolutionary process) radically alter <em>how</em> production is socialized, not just how by whom its surplus is appropriated and how it is then used in development.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Carl and I have disagreed on virtually everything our whole political lives (though he may not be as aware of it as I am).

    As a teenager, I read his writings in SDS and the Guardian -- and found myself on the other side of those dispute (from his advocacy of "student power" on, to the debates over early Weatherman and "adventurism" that still sometimes get sparks going here.)

    When we first met, personally, in the New World Resources bookstore the early 80s in Chicago, our discussion quickly erupted into a very sharp (but typically civil and substantive!) disagreement -- which I still remember vividly, though Carl may not.

    It was over the developments in China (where Carl was excited about trade possibilities in China -- chrome truck parts etc. -- and where I was horrified by the restoration of capitalism.

    I remember how startled I was by Carl's blunt statement (which I remember vividly and precisely):

    "The problem in China is not the capitalist roaders, it is the feudal roaders."

    He went on to articulate his view that the world was till in the throes of the bourgeois democratic revolution (on a world scale) and that in many places communists find themselves supporting <em>capitalist</em> emergence (i.e. the fight against the "feudal roaders.")

    Carl is not a naive person. He was not one of those who (naively) <em>denied</em> that capitalism could be coming to rule in China -- he was arguing (typically, and in a quite partisan way) that this was not a bad thing, that Deng's reforms and directions were probably the best outcome possible.

    There is value (in my opinion) in confronting and revealing those differences (including here on Kasama) in an ongoing way -- because (in so many ways) key issues of "what road are we on?" get raised that way.

    And it is hard to develop and train a movement that can walk a revolutionary road toward communism without ongoing contrast (including with the movements that think that a walk on the capitalist road is the best we can aspire to, worldwide, in this epoch.)

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    What can I say? I plead guilty to supporting Deng over the Emperor-worship upheld and promoted in the GPCR. And yes, there is capitalism and class struggle in China today. It's also a country now where the working class has passed 50% for the first time in its history, an important mile marker for building socialism.

    It's no secret here or anywhere that I came to believe that whatever its secondary aspects, the GPCR was a dead end that nearly destroyed China and imprisoned the GPCR itself in a cul-de-sac. Which is one of the reasons so many didn't mourn it's passing. That said, there will be ongoing upsurges of the working class in China, more modernizations, and future shifts and changes in the CCP. Perhaps new revolutionary groupings also.

    I wish them all well. But one thing I have learned about China is not to second-guess what's going on from afar, the upside or the downside. Most simple verdicts are wrong, in my view, and that may include my own. Having been there a few times, I know a little more about it than others, but I also know that there a great deal I don't know. It's one-fourth of humanity, after all, and rather complicated.

    And technically, you're right, Mike, about the socialization of the surplus. Socialism is also a transitional society and will have a variety of forms of ownership. And of course the key contradiction is private appropriation and social production.

    But the word 'socialism' came into being in the 1830s, before Marx's capital, and usually was related to the social ownership, cooperative ownership and division of labor of the utopian socialists and their communes.

    In any case, its the socialized production and division of labor that brings a working class into being, as opposed to artisans, mechanics, craftsmen and various other small producers. And that socialized productive force, the working class itself, is what capitalism has assembled within itself, to serve as its own gravedigger.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    @Keith, the theory of productive forces is <b><i>NOT</i></b> historical materialism. The theory of productive forces is the notion that all revolutionary societies needed to do was ramp up production, and socialism would be the result. Thus, anything that got in the way of that, like worker self organization, became viewed as counter revolutionary.

    What is needed, absolutely, regardless of anything else, is a transformation of <i>social</i> relationships. Regardless of whether or not we have a society of so much abundance we can't imagine it, or whether we have to scale back consumption to save the environment, unless the social relations are transformed, the vast majority of humanity will still not be in command of its own destiny.

    As for you notions on climate science, you sound like a right winger, cherry picking the few lone nut jobs and climate change deniers, while ignoring that 98-99% of climate scientists point to the the addition of massive quantities of carbon in the atmosphere as the problem. You might as well claim smoking is healthy or that vaccines cause autism.

  • Carl:

    My point was not to "ding" you for supporting Deng -- tho you did, and we disagreed about that.

    My point was to raise that you ahve argued (for decades) that we are still in a world where the bourgeois democratic revolution is center stage. And where the promotion of various forms of capitalism remains (for you) central to the activities of people wanting change.

    It is a question of what era you think we are in -- and the support for Deng is (in some ways) a subordinate outcome to a more general and specific belief in "taking the capitalist road."

    * * * * * * *
    On the other point, you write:

    "But the word ‘socialism’ came into being in the 1830s, before Marx’s capital, and usually was related to the social ownership, cooperative ownership and division of labor of the utopian socialists and their communes.

    "In any case, its the socialized production and division of labor that brings a working class into being, as opposed to artisans, mechanics, craftsmen and various other small producers."</blockquote>

    My point (again) is precisely that socialism refers to socialized ownership, not (as you claimed) to socialized production.

    (People generally work in socialized production under very capitalist ownership. Socialized production referred to large scale collective labor in complex non-artisan production processes -- the modern factory was a leap in socialaization of production, as was uniform interchangable parts, as was the development of internationalized production circuits where things are mined in one country, milled in another, and assembled in a third.)

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    As I recall my thinking at that time, what I had in mind was that in much of the third world, the working class was in a minority at a time when many peasants were also landless and pauperized.

    One point I often make in that regard is that in some parts of the world people suffer more from the lack of capitalism than it presence, ie, they are still making a transition from First Wave to Second Wave, or are only at the beginning of the Second Wave in terms of industry. Marx made the same point in his time.

    And in that case, even if the working class held power, and the communists were in the lead, they would still find themselves in a position of making use of a socialist market economy--which will include both private, cooperative and public ownership--to create new wealth and well-being for the masses of people. That's what Raul Castro is wrestling with now, and he seems to have a good approach..

    What is advantageous is that these parts of the world do not have to repeat the same path as other countries did in the past 150 years or so. There is combined development, as well as uneven development. When the steel mills closed here and moved to Brazil, they didn't start with old open hearth furnances, but built much more modern mills from scratch.

    My 'chrome truck parts' story is actually a case in point. The Chinese did make the parts for the factory I worked for here, and shipped them to a joint enterprise owned 50/50 with a Chinese family in Quad cities. When I went out to check the stock one day, since we were selling a lot, I said to them, 'You must be sending lots of money back to China?' They answered, no, we don't send any money back to China. Instead, we purchase and send semi-conductors and the machines needed to make them.

    In other words, China was using its competitive advantage at the moment--an abundance of cheap labor--to acquire the means to build a far more modern technoloical society, and then in turn compete on a higher level, while raising their own living standards. In brief, a wise policy that enabled them to get out of the chrome truck parts business in good time, and do more important things.

    One can define the 'theory of productive forces' however one chooses, and I'm sure there is more than one understanding of what is meant.

    What it means to me is that people make history, but not just as they choose. They have to take into account time, place and circumstance, and move forward accordingly, in a planned way. 'Backyard steel mills' in the 'Great Leap', in other words, were a great waste of resources and caused setbacks rather than progress. The relations of production are not autonomous, however much one may will them to be.

  • Guest - Keith

    Chegitz, you say I sound like a right winger on climate science but you did not provide a link or citation to a study that PROVES with evidence that humans CAUSED climate change. I dont really care what it sounds like. I know most people who go around saying that they believe in evolution but couldn't explain the first thing about natural selection and the same goes for climate science. When I ask for some evidence instead of reports of consensus I am ridiculed but not provided any evidence. You like the emperor's new clothes? because that looks like his ass to me.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Are you denying evolution now, Keith?

    Here's the reference section for the wiki entry on climate change.

    <blockquote>Nevertheless, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. While much remains to be learned, the core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious scientific debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.”</blockquote>

    — United States National Research Council, Advancing the Science of Climate Change

    Here's the link for the scientific opinion on climate change.

  • Guest - Keith

    Chegitz, no I am not denying evolution. I am pointing out that people talk about science but dont know what they are talking about. A wikipedia entry is not a goddamn research paper. I dont give a shit about what scientist say. Show me a scientific paper. A research paper. Did you ever have to write a lab report? Like that only based on a real study that PROVES human CAUSE climate change. A published peer reviewed paper. Show me science --evidence --not scientists!

  • Keith:

    As someone who has studied science, let me just point out the method-fallacy of demanding "proof." Most (virtually all) scientific theories are not "proven" -- they are hypotheses that successfully explain the known facts, and survive the experimental testing under new and controlled conditions. Einstein's Theory of Relativity has never been "proven" -- but it has withstood decades of ingenious testing (including testing of predictions made on the basis of the theory).

    And the demand for "proof" is exactly what creationists do to the theory of evolution when (precisely) scientists decline to use such language, and patiently explain that it is a theory so well tested and so integral to our understanding that it can be taken as fact. (And of course, as you probably know, the theory of natural selection has had to be modified -- in other words, it has never simply been proven, but is constantly being challenged and subject to new creative suggestions. Gould in particular has a distinctive (unproven!) set of views of the diverse levels upon which natural selection operates (i.e. at the level of individual, at the leve of species etc.)

    I don't have time to produce all the voluminous documentation of correlations betweeen human activity and global climate change... but really, don't need to. First, there is a controversy over whether there <em>is</em> global climate change -- and the evidence is real and disturbing that yes, the globe is overall warming, and yes this will produce major disruptive changes in climate. Then some parts of our understanding (the idea of tipping points, the possibility of sudden "runaway" warming) will never be "proven" until they happen (for obvious reasons). We can, however, document that such things have happened in the past (when gradual changes in climate suddenly started to runaway).

    What is inbetween is the correlation of human activity, rapid increase of greenhouse gases <em>and</em> the beginnings of measurable climate change. As you may already know, correlation and causality are different -- and causality in complex hisorical processes (which can't be tested repeatedly in laboratories) is notoriously hard to establish. But even there: it is possible to document the effect of greenhouse gases in an atmosphere (including on Venus, and in Earth's history). And it is possible to document the rise of such gasses in the earth's atmosphere now (over the last centuries). And it is possible to correlate that with changes in climate.

    And this has happened to a degree where causality (which can't be "proven" in some metaphysical, non-scientific certitude) can be deduced or assumed -- as is reflected in the views of those people who professionally dedicate their lives to this work.

    More can be said, but that is my piece.

  • Guest - Roxanne Amico

    Keith, it seems to me that you're looking for dogma, not science. The science the exists is a *Body* of evidence showing trends, and that is the closest science gets. This means you cannot find simply one study... The body of evidence is not dogma, it's the clearest information we have.

    I think what you want is for someone here to prove to you something that only a careful study of the body of evidence can show you. I think that if you take the time to study the evidence, you will find something more important than what you are asking to be given...Are you willing to do that?

    As I understand Stephanie's article, it's summarized in these two sentences: "We need to find ways of uniting those who can fight capitalism from both the standpoint of class liberation, and from an environmentalist perspective, or more precisely, biocentrism....Each movement currently has gaps, which are filled in by the other. The major flaw in movements for class liberation has been anthropocentrism, a total focus on human needs and a utilitarian view of nature."

    Even if you don't--as you have said you don't--recognize this as a worthwhile aim, can you still support your comrades who do recognize the importance of this? Can you see a way to still work together with this difference you percieve?

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    No, Keith, a Wikipedia entry is not a research paper. But it links to research papers, which is why I linked to the reference section, not the the Wiki article itself.

  • Guest - carldavidson

    I think Keith is quite capable of looking up the science papers. In fact, I'll bet he's already done so, and made note of the lack of certainty about any number of things--and, as Mike has noted, some these are necessarily uncertain.

    For my part, I want to spend my time of other matters, so I take a short cut. I argue that if you take all that carbon from under the ground, and pump it into the air for 300 years, it's very odd to say there will be no impact.

    I think there is an impact--but exactly what it will be, and how much it will be, I'll let the experts argue over, and they do. Now and then I check in with a few of them I trust and know not to be loose with the facts. They all think it's a good idea to curb the burning of carbon, and make the transition to renewables. But who knows? They make not have taken something into account.

    But that's a decent enough working hypothesis for me, which I'm partial to for personal reasons. I grew up in an area where my job as a kid was to sweep the soot off the porch every day from the steel mill furnaces tapped the night before--'J&amp;L pepper' we called it. Goodness knows what it did to our lungs.

    But I think this is a secondary argument. The main one comes up again in Roxanne's statement:

    <blockquote>The major flaw in movements for class liberation has been anthropocentrism, a total focus on human needs and a utilitarian view of nature.”</blockquote>

    Marxism is 'anthropocentric' in a certain sense, and rightly so. I don't think it's a flaw. Marxism's core value is the self-emancipation of the working class, and together with it, all humanity. It's a radical humanism on steroids, so to speak. But as such, Marx understood the need to put an end to the war between humanity and nature, especially the one where nature held the upper hand, and he made any number of comments and theses pointing to an eventually rational harmony with nature beyond short sighted utility.

    Have Marxists always acted this way in practice over the years? Of course not--sometimes for good reason, sometimes for stupid ignorance. We live and learn, often the hard way.

    Still there's a natural hierarchy in the patterns of value in our world. We find no problem eating 'lower' orders of life--fruits vegetables, fish and so on--in order to reproduce ourselves, our families and our kind. In fact, we would be immoral if we didn't do so. The environment doesn't really care one way our another what we do to it. It will endure in any case, at least until the Sun turns into a Red Giant and burns it up. The question for us is whether our surroundings remain fit for our long-term habitation--and that requires a human-centeredness to make a plan.

  • I know my initial attraction to communist politics was directly influenced by reading environmentalist materials about the need to plan human development to sustain its existence. Awareness about the environment and the need to rationally plan and develop economies and lifestyles around encouraging its continued flourishing are a hop, skip and jump to understanding the need for a planned (socialist) economy as a whole. In addition to the work that Stephanie and others are doing among environmental movement, we should be working to integrate forces from the (related to eco-forces, but not always connected) vegan/animal rights movements.

    A difficult question that has been posed by the folks at Deep Green Resistance is whether the planet is already past the tipping point for reversing its human-caused destruction (as Chegitz alluded to). From what I gather, essentially, some are saying that global revolution´s not going to happen in time to fix any of this mess, so the role of conscious forces is to put bodies in the gears of the machines to stop things through direct action. Our understanding could be flawed and so there could be ways that the planet could ¨self-correct¨ itself, maybe we´ll be fine. But if we are indeed past the tipping point and our species only has a century to live, they may have a point.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    If we're past the tipping point, wouldn't the more relevant argument be to organize into survivalist mode, and head for the hills and relatively empty forests of, say, Canada? Organize a kind of Noah's ark community while the seaboard go under? But then, I'm not one for 'tipping points.'

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Carl, that's only if humanity doesn't intervene directly and start removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (or engaging in some kind of geo-engineering, which would cause other problems). While vast new swaths of land would be opened for settlement and exploitation in Siberia and Canada and Alaska, much of the global south would be devastated. Current global breadbaskets like the U.S. would become wasteland, meaning mass starvation (if the droughts in much of the U.S. are any indication).

    Heading for the hills is the surrender option. We're not communists because we chose to surrender. It is possible to repair the damage, but not under capitalism, and not by de-industrialization.

    Amanezca, while many in the deep green/deep environmentalist movement think that industrialism must be stopped by hook or by crook, I think we're too far gone for that. If we stopped producing any more greenhouse gasses today, climate change would still continue, as the planet is so warm now that the greenhouse gasses trapped in the permafrost and arctic ocean are being released.

    We need to pull mountain ranges of carbon out of the atmosphere, and that can only be done on an industrial scale.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Then why not join the Blue-Green Alliance working for clean energy and green manufacturing structural reform as a starting point? There are thousands of young people engaged, along with the unions, and they are looking for answers after running into the brick walls of the oil-carbon military industrial complex and its cronies in Congress thwarting every decent proposal they make. You can pose socialism as an alternative, as I do, but you'll also have to chart a path combining the green and solidarity economies. See my site

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    The blue/green alliance doesn't challenge capitalism, Carl. It's simply trying to rearrange deck chairs on the <i>Titanic.</i> We will not stop climate change without communist revolution.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    The Blue-Green Alliance certainly 'challenges' capitalism, even if they are not socialist. They challenge the polluters to stop polluting, and they challenge the reformers to make serious reforms.

    Capitalism, however, certainly challenges and thwarts THEM at every step, grinding them down. That's the point, and that's why it's a fertile field and arena of struggle. However, expect to be challenged yourself. Hot air doesn't get you very far here.

  • Guest - Enkidu

    [personal attacks removed]

    A 'God Given Right' of the "1%" is inverted into the 'Universal Human Right' of the "99%" : everybody wants 'more' in the name of universal human values, CHOP MORE FORESTS, DUMP MORE PLASTIC, BREED MORE FEATHERLESS, LIMBLESS CHICKENS ! MORE SOLAR PANELS ! MORE BATTERY POWERED INDIVIDUALISTIC TANKS !

    Repackaged Christian dogma into green, recyclable cardboard western liberal dogma put forth to justify exploiting the rest of the natural world in the most fanatical quest for laziness in the history of mankind :

    [personal attack removed]

    From Karl's site we learn,[snip] that "The ultimate objective of the socialist revolution is a global classless society in which technology enables minimal human labour to produce goods and services, allowing these to be freely distributed to satisfy people’s rational needs." The author and his disciples are in the position of proposing a kind of ' social perpetuum mobile of use value', doomed to failure and ridicule like its cousins from the more established sciences. Marx had a thing or two to say about machines and surplus value and Carnot had a thing or two to say about machines and entropy.

    People writing these things and, equally, people believing these things upon reading them prove that, for one, most 'communists' memorize quotes from Marx and have, at best, a very vague understanding of Capital - most likely cemented around notions of 'exploitation' in the melancholic sense of the word - and, for another, that none of them, ever, actually worked in an engineering field.

    Maybe a proof should be laid upon these people, Keith, Karl, or any other utopian green techno-communists that they are capable, individually or collectively, to perform both the intellectual and manual labour required to make their own solar panels and wind turbines and associated storage and conversion infrastructure. No third world labour making the use values that the most freest, enlightened, progressive and democratic civilization in the last 10 millenia ignorantly takes for granted.


    Stephanie, don't worry, many a few poppy flowers will grow from the blood stained shit of the obese western world !

  • Guest - carldavidson


    Now that you've vented your spleen with a string of straw men and ad hominems, if you want to go back and re-read my posts, and make a serious argument, I'll be glad to engage it. Keith, I'm sure, can speak for himself. But you'll have to do better than this to be taken seriously.

  • [<b>moderator note: </b>Enkidu, unfortunately after your personal attacks on others were removed there was little left. Feel free to repost your ideas in keeping with the culture of this site -- which is substantive debate and mutual respect.]

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    @Enkidu, who says:

    <blockquote>A ‘God Given Right’ of the “1%” is inverted into the ‘Universal Human Right’ of the “99%” : everybody wants ‘more’ in the name of universal human values, CHOP MORE FORESTS, DUMP MORE PLASTIC, BREED MORE FEATHERLESS, LIMBLESS CHICKENS ! MORE SOLAR PANELS ! MORE BATTERY POWERED INDIVIDUALISTIC TANKS ! </blockquote>

    The only thing relevant here is "More Solar Panels", which I favor over burning carbon. The rest, at best is bad poetry.

    <blockquote>Marx had a thing or two to say about machines and surplus value and Carnot had a thing or two to say about machines and entropy. </blockquote>

    Indeed he did, namely that it would increase the ration of constant capital to variable capital. ie, Chicago mill produce as much steel as they ever did, with one-third the number of workers. Absolute surplus value grows, but the tendency in the rate of profit is to fall. Carnot had some interesting things to say about engines and heat, but I fail to see the relevance. We're talking renewables and cybernation, not perpetual motion.

    Finally, you have little idea of where or what I've worked on over the years. Let's just say that besides my BA in philosophy and my Cab Drivers license, all that's hanging on my wall are industry technical certifications, earned the hard way, and awards for doing community technology and job training in the tough sectors where no one else wanted to teach or organize--gang kids, ex-offenders, dirt poor neighborhood schools.

  • Guest - Enkidu

    "Carnot had some interesting things to say about engines and heat, but I fail to see the relevance. We’re talking renewables and cybernation, not perpetual motion."
    And such you prove that those "industry technical certifications" are for nothing and I suspect that by 'technical' you mean blog site configuration and cab engine cleaning. You are talking about perpetually renewable energy sources with no external effects. That is THE definition of a perpetuum mobile. The fact that you keep your 'industry technical certifications' on a wall also speaks volumes of you but then, again, I don't know much about United States. Maybe in United States, cab drivers design and build their cabs from scratch. Your glory wall might be able to awe 16 year olds who just read The Communist Manifesto, but that's about it.

    As for Chicago mills, they produce as much steel as they ever did, with one-third of the number of workers, because there are many, many more workers making the machines, their components, the secondary and primary raw materials needed for those components, an ever expanding chain of more and more labour that is substituted to the original labour which is the only one you see.

    Further, each gain in c/v capital comes at the expense of the environment. Like a true capitalist, the externalities of your new modes of production are not your concern. The energy used by you new Chicago mills that employ fewer people has multiplied enormously with each 'innovation'. All your technological gains in the means of production have been made and will always be made at the expense of the natural and human world.

    Again : you and the other philosophical cab driver communists build an actual 'green' system of production with your own intellectual and manual labour. Apparently, as long as 'work' is limited to blogging, rendering and buying off the shelf commodities you know nothing about, you are all full of it.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    Again, Enkidu, what's your point? You attack me personally out of you own imagination, and when I get you a few facts to counter your hostility, you attack me personally again? I have a thick skin and don't really care, but is this the way you do political discussion where you are from? I doubt it, but it doesn't work here.

    Even stressing renewables and high design precisely to lighten the ecological footprint of country's like ours, no one is talking about perpetual motion. All I get here is a rant against 'the West' and our 'entire race'. whatever that is.

  • Guest - Keith

    I wanted to respond to something Mike said in comment 33 on the nature of science,
    Mike correctly stated that correlation is not causality. And for emphasis I would add that correlation does not prove causality. The distinction is crucial.

    This is the actual problem in climate science and an area where there is are a lot of charlatans.

    No serious people deny the climate is changing.

    The climate of our planet has always been changing. The earth has been through ice ages and warmer periods before the industrial revolution, before human beings could have played a role in those changes.

    The rising carbon in the atmosphere CORRELATES with warming. IT HAS ALWAYS DONE SO.

    The problem with correlation is that the chain of causality has not yet been established. Rising carbon levels may be an EFFECT and not the cause. There is certainly reason to believe that carbon levels are not the cause of warming but the effect since the carbon levels rose before human activity could have mattered. Of course, it could be the reverse. Rising carbon levels may cause warming and we would have to figure out what caused carbon levels to rise before human activity could have been the cause. In any event, causality is exactly what we do not know, and what has not been proven.

    People who say that human activity CAUSES global warming are either lying or they don't know what they are talking about. They are swapping out correlation and swapping in causality. We only have evidence of correlation not causality. Most people who run around talking about global warming, say like Bill Maher or Rachel Maddow, are just repeating what they have been told and they have been told a story of cause and effect. They have studied neither the scientific method nor the relevant climate science.

    Correlation can be used to establish hypothesis which need further testing. And the point of the test is to determine causality.

    But this fact does not deny that causal relations exist and can be established. So science IS NOT just about correlation, it is actually about determining causality.

    When I asked for a research paper proving humans cause global warming my point was that none exist, because it has not yet been proven. Some people who advocate the view that humans cause global warming are evidently unaware of the actual state of the science.

    Does this mean that it is unwise to consider ways to lessen human's contribution to rising carbon in the atmosphere given what we know. Obviously it is smart to find ways to lessen our output of carbon and pollutants.

    But, to lie about the science and the nature of science is not advancing anything. It is an awful precedent and undermines legitimate science, as well as the cause of environmental preservation, that it is supposedly advancing.

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    There are certain sciences, and meterology is one of them, where you are never going to prove causation in a strict sense, because most non-trivial experiments are not repeatable. We have to live with working hypotheses involving high degrees of correlation and many 'wild cards'--call them 'fuzzy logics', chaos theory or complexities.

    Still, even though my air traffic controller is giving my pilot instructions based of multiple correlations and statistically averaging that doesn't pass the test of strict causality, I'm very glad that they do so in any case.

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    Hi Kieth again, since our last exchange has to do with the practice of science. The picture of natural science the you provide with regards to causality and proof is misleading.

    Few philosophers of science have believed what you say about science since the 1960s and the question was open as early as the inter-war years. This is also true of philosophers like Gaston Bachelard who were by no means "post modernists." Even analytic philosophers have complicated theirs views on proof, truth, and causation in the last decade or two. Even science cheer-leaders like Karl Popper warned that the best thing science can do is fail to refute a hypothesis, not prove it. I'm no fan of his, but he above other philosophers of science was successful in making his definitions of science widely accepted among scientists and science educators.

    But if philosophy is just bourgeois idealism and thus invalid in your opinion, the situation among practicing scientists looks pretty complicated too. As Carl points out, scientists in historical fields like geology and paleontology, or ones dealing with complex phenomena like the weather or the ocean don't really have the relationship to proofs and causation as you imply. To a great degree, these scientists "model" things rather than experiment, and they don't "prove" so much as they propose a range of models with certain degree of goodness of fit. This is not sexy or reassuring I admit, but that's how they do it. You seem to be familiar enough with the controversies in climate science to know this.

    Even in the hard experimental physical sciences, 'causality' hasn't been what it once was in physics since the early 20th century. The billiard ball model of causality where one thing happens to another thing because they meet in a deterministic way with a deterministic outcome hasn't been cutting edge in physics since before Heisenberg. It's disconcerting as hell I agree and it worried a lot of people at the time (including Einstein.)

    I mean, right?

  • Guest - Keith

    no disagreement with what you say, but there are a lot of people saying humans CAUSED global warming and we don't have any evidence of that. We have correlation and correlation is not causation. Right?

    I quit smoking a few years ago because smoking highly correlates with lung cancer. We can't say it causes lung cancer because 1. we can't control all the variables -- people who smoke and get lung cancer also did whole bunch of other things that may have played a role in producing lung cancer, and 2. some people smoke and dont get lung cancer.

    I quit because of the correlation. If it is useful propaganda to say that correlation is causation than so be it but that doesn't make it true.

    I enjoy your comments. I don't think that philosophy reduces to bourgeois idealism! And I agree with much of what you are saying, but again there are people (scientists even) who are saying we know what CAUSES global warming when we can only establish correlation. Now, if the argument is that the best we can do is know something about correlation and we must forego the quest for causality as a pipe dream of the19th century I think we have some problems.

    I am not an expert of climate science. My interest in it is not even casual. I kept hearing that humans cause global warming, I looked into it (briefly) and learned that the statement "human's cause global warming" is false. I also learned that if you point this out to people who believe that humans cause warming they will call you all sorts of names.

    Now, I will make the controversial claim that the scientific method is basically the same in social sciences and natural sciences. The object of the scientific inquiry and the level of our development will determine what we can know. By that I mean, we are always looking for causes and effects and we want to control our variables so that we can establish cause and effect with some certainty. Marx has an easier time with this because he can control his variable via what he calls "the method of abstraction." And he likens abstraction to the microscope of the biologist.

    Some systems or phenomenon are so complex or so large that it is very difficult or impossible in our current condition to control the variables. So we can establish correlations but not causation. We have the will and knowledge to ask the questions but we don't have the means to find the answer. Dare I say that our ability to answer these questions and understand complex system correlates with the level of development of the productive forces (of which the sciences are a part).

  • Guest - Marq Dyeth

    Touché, Keith.

  • The argument around the cause of global warning is not that "correlation proves causation."

    There is more to it than that:

    First, there is the documentation that there is global warming. That fact was disputed and denied -- until (more recently) it has become undeniable.

    Second, there is a great deal of information that has emerged about the impact of climate change on the earth (which started with the discussion of nuclear winter in the 1980s and the discovery that a meteor killed the dinosaurs by changing climate in a catastrophic way.)

    Part of that scientific discovery (covering many disciplines) has uncovered the link between "greenhouse gasses" and global warming. this includes the astronomical studies of Venus (which has a high temperature because of the nature of its atmosphere.) And it includes detailed new information about how the earth's climate tipped (often relatively suddenly), and the role played by atmospheric changes in such tipping.

    It is in <em>that</em> context that the rise of greenhouse gases (now) and the change of climate (now) is not simply a correlation...

    I am (obviously) reducing many inquiries and massive data into a series of logical points.

    but we know that great increases of specific gases can and will influence climate, and we know there has been a great increase in those gases, and we know that the climate is warming.

    There are many parts of this that are not known: we don't know when the "point of no return" is (where the rise in temperture introduces changes that can't be reversed). We don't know how much (quantitatively) this climate change is human-caused, and how much is caused by other factors.

    But I think the relationship between human-generated greenhouse gases and climate warming is not <em>merely</em> correlation -- we know there is a causative relation even if we don't know quanitatively how it break out.

    and finaly we have a sense of what solutions are: moving away from beef-industry methane production, moving away from carbon based energy economies, reducing the capitalist waste of energy fossil fuels, end the racist suburban sprawl (with massive car culture), and so on...

    And i think that the only way to move toward a sustainable abundance is through socialist revolution (including planned socialist economics, and the destruction of the inequality <em>and incredible waste</em> that imperialism inherently creates).

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    That we have global warming is a fact.

    What is being debated is what is the cause of it--tiny variations in the Earth's axis and orbit, periodic solar flares, natural cycles in the composition of the atmosphere, and increased levels of CO2 over the past 300 years due to the industrial revolution, or some combination of all or several of the above, plus the possibility of more factors as yet unknown.

    CO2 from the industrial burning of carbon is a decent working hypothesis for part of it. I've yet to see a decent working hypothesis that increased CO2 makes for global cooling, or that it makes zero difference one way or the other. Perhaps there is one for the latter, and I'm just not aware of it. The few scientists I know that do this stuff for a living are big advocates of solarization--and no, they have no financial stake in the solar power business.

    We may never know with any high degree of precision. But like cancer and cigarettes, we may make informed decisions anyway. If there's any alternate way to make electricity without digging up hydrocarbons and burning them, I'll gamble on the 'decent working hypotheses' being relatively correct, even if unproven rigorously, and go for 'clean and green energy' in the same way you decided to stop smoking.

    The patterns of value we can discern in the observable universe start at the less complex and over time become more complex, and moreover, do it via hierarchical leaps. The sciences of one level may be inadequate for other levels, which may involve rules and methods of a different order.The reason I say 'observable' is because at the quantum level, all bets of certitude are off, and we deal in probabilities, as best as we can so far anyway.

    The Veil of Maya is pushed back slowly, and even then, we learn that in addition to our new kowledge, there are even more darkened places that we never knew that we didn't know.

  • Guest - bezdomni

    I think a basic and important point from the critique of political economy is being missed here:

    Production and consumption are separate moments of the same process. In order for something to be consumed, it must first be produced. Hence, a radical change in the mode of production naturally corresponds to a radical change in consumption.

    While the degredation of the environment is a very serious problem (for humanity), and I believe that Stephanie has good intentions (though a weak understanding of Marxism, which she should try to develop) -- her argument rests on a bourgeois theory of production/consumption.

  • Guest - Keith

    well said, Bezdomni

  • Guest - Judy Wood

    Re the comment "While the degradation of the environment is a very serious problem (for humanity)..."
    There is no "while" about it. "The environment" sustains all life and the ongoing degradation of its ability to do so is the overwhelmingly biggest problem we/humanity AND all other earthly life forms face at present.
    Developing a stronger understanding of Marxism is not going to stop industrial civilization's destruction of the planet.

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