Capitalism and its Environment

I had thought the CWO was going to be having a meeting on the environmental issues in Glasgow in November but apparently not. Anyway i wanted to contribute to a discussion of these issues and wrote some thoughts using what i thought was a good article, 'Climate-Production-Capital', as a base.

blockquote { margin-left: 1cm; margin-right: 1cm; background: transparent }p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 115%; background: transparent }a:visited { color: #800000; so-language: zxx; text-decoration: underline }a:link { color: #000080; so-language: zxx; text-decoration: under ... it is therefore a question of combining the denunciation of the effects of global warming with the battle against capitalism as a whole. In order to pursue this ambitious project, internationalists undertake to produce and circulate a critique of capitalism on the three levels of the environment, imperialism, and the economy. The climate question, as we have seen, is also a product of the relationship between classes: between a predatory bourgeoisie that strips the planet of all its resources, and a proletariat that must find within itself, starting from its most advanced part, the ability to combine the fight against exploitation, war and climate change and environmental devastation with the strategic elements of a revolutionary project. 1

This article by Battaglia Communista provides interesting data around the sixth IPCC report on climate change and poses some questions for further discussion of the importance of the environment in the decline of the capitalist system and the role of the working class in response to this process.

Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist’2 is the basis of a slogan that has been increasingly used by the environmental lobby yet it is not something we should ignore or reject easily. Environmentalist have so far tended to believe and pose the issue as one of changing capitalism, of making decisions that would benefit nature, of reforming it. This is pure idealism.Evidence shows that it is not generic "human activity" that causes current climate change, but the specific form that this activity has taken in the last quarter of a millennium: i.e. the capitalist mode of production.3

Capitalism can change elements of the way it works certainly eg the banning of CFCs in the 1990s has had an impact on global warming but it hasn’t stopped the process nor has it prevented the emergence of new industries or situations that are stimulating further global warming. In reality the way capitalism comes up with solutions to crises is by further growth which is no solution at all, it just exacerbates the overall problems.

The falling rate of profit itself does not just generate crises, it is also the basis of the continual growth of capitalist society. This is because the FROP means the continual growth in constant capital and hence in production or productive capacity. In fact even a small percentage in GDP4 growth per year for example 3% growth per year (which not so far from the average since the 1960s) means that GDP doubles in just over 23 years. This is confirmed by the World Bank’s data:

This constant growth of accumulation also means a constant growth in population and both of these have been particularly evident in the data from the 1950s onwards. In this context, it is clearly not just an economic collapses etc that are the cause of problems for capitalism, it is the very growth of the system itself. What is happening today is not just damage to the environment caused by capitalist society and production, it is an absolute threat to the environment we depend on, and this is a product of the whole relationship between capitalism and nature.

This is significant because whilst human beings depend on production to provide their means of subsistence, we should also recognise that production depends on nature, ie on the physical world itself. It is nature that provides the mineral and chemical resources, supports agriculture and meat produce and animal diversity.

The increased scale of production and growth of population must have has a major impact on nature and that is what we are seeing significantly today in the growth of dangerous emissions, climate change, over-use of sea and land resources, reduction in diversity, plagues and famines, and ultimately civil conflict. The very search for efficiently creates not just larger industries but also the need for larger development of mineral resources, larger means of transport and distribution, something which causes ever greater problems for the environment esp when things go wrong,This idea of a conflict between the growth of production and the environment can be seen in this quote from International Perspectives who also suggest that capitalism must now be seen as a catastrophic threat to the environment.The reality of irreversible (human-caused) climate change that we now know faces humankind with catastrophic consequences results from the same underlying cause that also leads to natural resource depletion. It is the same drive to separately, competitively exploit all of nature to the maximum in order to maximize capital valorization. In this process, every capital unit extracts or appropriates from nature the most that it can. Human-generated climate change actually results from the accumulated output, in atmospheric emissions of carbon-based (‘greenhouse’) gases as a byproduct of capitalist industrial production and transportation. It results from a relentless pursuit of profit, blind-folded to the reality of its ‘collateral damage’ to ecosystems and the atmosphere of the earth. This damage is in fact capitalism’s unabashed abuse of its natural environment by means of its (members’, agents’) operation of its own specific means of production, transportation and destruction. Capitalist science remains largely blind to this damage, as long as it serves profit-maximization and power consolidation.5

I think this puts a different perspective onto the growth of capitalism. We tend to try to see economic crisis within capitalism as caused by the ‘fetters on the productive forces’ as explained by Marx and as a consequence it is all to easy to believe that communism represents freedom for new growth in the productive forces. However the term fetter can be interpreted in different ways. Let us look at IP again:… the conclusion is invariably drawn by all such Marxists that capitalist decadence consists in the productive forces being fettered (constrained, blocked, slowed, etc.) by the capitalist relations of production. To question Marx on this matter would appear to be unthinkable ... as long as one considers oneself to be a Marxist. It is to question Marx on this matter that I wish to do here... while still considering myself to be Marxist. First off, though, I need to make clear that I see two (very different) possible interpretations of what Marx meant by"the development of the productive forces" in the passage just quoted. The 'standard' interpretation, made by all of the revolutionaries and groups referred to above, is what I call the productivist version. It understands by"development of the productive forces" only quantitative increase in productive capacity. "Development" is understood as genesis or bringing into existence only. Productivity, as an empirically verifiable quality of the productive forces is the key. The other interpretation understands by "development of the productive forces"their actual implementation, utilization, or application, as opposed to their genesis. In this sense, their development is fettered if their full utilization or implementation in practice is blocked. New productive forces may have been brought into being (by the decadent society), but they haven't been really developed in the sense of being fully utilized to the benefit of society. 6Communism is the production of use value not exchange value which can means a restructuring of production forces towards the needs of humanity not profit. What we will expect to see is therefore an overall reduction in levels of production The last questions posed in the Battaglia Communista article is how the working class can respond to the threat to the environment. I cannot see this issue impacting on our vision of class struggle other than, as that struggle becomes political, it must challenge all the iniquities of capitalist society. It does however have specific consequences for how the working class tackles building a new society.

2David Attenborough, Speech given to Royal Geographical Society October 2013


4In investigating growth on industry and society as a whole and not just capital growth then GDP is a perfectly adequate figure to use

5ER 2009 Capitalism, Technology and the Environment in IP50

6ER 2009 For a Non-productivist Understanding of Capitalist Decadence IP50 p.sdfootnote { margin-left: 0.6cm; text-indent: -0.6cm; margin-bottom: 0cm; font-size: 10pt; line-height: 100%; background: transparent }blockquote { margin-left: 1cm; margin-right: 1cm; background: transparent }p { margin-bottom: 0.25cm; line-height: 115%; background: transparent }a:visited { color: #800000; so-language: zxx; text-decoration: underline }a:link { color: #000080; so-language: zxx; text-decoration: underline }a.sdfootnoteanc { font-size: 57% }



Thanks for that. Yes we did plan to have a meeting in Glasgow on 6 November and our North comrades even found a room but studying the logistics of the days activities made us realise that it would be very difficult to fit in to what will be a long day. We will have a contingent with banner on the demo and a book stall plus the new Aurora (out on Friday) which is dedicated to the discussion you have initiated here. There is actually a critique of the productionist ideology which emerged from both Social Democracy and the Russian Revolution (in the shape of the Stalinist counter-revolution but there were elements of continuity) in the last couple of chapters of the Russian Revolution book. Social Democracy interpreted "the forces of production" as just constant capital, factories and raw materials whereas the completion of this also includes the working class (which will only really flourish when capitalism has been overcome - but then it will not be a separate class - it will have melted such barriers into humanity (the Greens are premature in talking of humanity today and this is their weakness).

Nothing much to disagree with in the above - its all about getting the ideas across now and your last point that climate change whilst urgent is not the only threat that the continued existence to life posed by capitalism is absolutely right.