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London Green Left Blog: Achieving an Ecological Civilization – an…

Written by Charles
Posa, McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden and first published at 
Green Social Thought

We begin by
way of a conclusion.

The now
globally dominant system through which we make our living in nature is
capitalism.

But
capitalism is in process of self-destruction, now rapidly undermining the
natural and social conditions for its own and humanity’s further existence. If
we are not to go down with it, we must construct an ecological alternative –
democratic, science-based, imaginative and sustainable.

In other
words, a system of relations between people and with the rest of nature that is
more compatible with our continuing existence. Unlike the limited forms of
democracy under capitalism, we need a system that engages us all in the
political-economic decisions that shape our relations with each other and with
nature.

We do not
have to look far to find an alternative. Outside of the capitalist market
economy, we already engage informally in relationships of reciprocity,
continuing those practices that define our species as a social one. The moral
alternative to globally dominant capitalism, including its customary and
legislative commitment to the right of private wealth accumulation, is a moral,
and therefore customary and legislative commitment to sustain and expand the
commons, including a healthy natural environment and life-affirming social
relationships.

This moral
and practical alternative necessarily includes much that capitalism’s
supporters have long promised, while ultimately delivering the opposite. To
engage human capacity for addressing the existential challenge we now face, we
need more than ever to enhance

·       Democracy, not oligarchy.

·       Scientific inquiry, not dogmatism.

·       Imagination, not mindless bureaucracy
and conformity.

The
resistance to the life affirming aims of enhancing democracy, scientific
inquiry and imagination originates in the attachment to and aspiration for the
personal wealth only available on a finite planet to a minority. To prevail
over these egoistic aspirations, our main tools for achieving an ecological
civilization are education, organization and political action that model and
institutionalize ecologically sustainable relationships among people and with
nature. 

In the face
of barriers erected by a ruling minority, the people have a moral right and
today an urgent responsibility to exercise and support peaceful disobedience to
the barriers placed in the way of democracy, science, imagination, education
and corresponding political action for a more just and ecologically sustainable
society.

Arguments for
these conclusions and their elaboration constitute the body of this work. It
will be the people themselves, organized in political movements and
organizations, who will through their experience, learning and action construct
an alternative to a moribund capitalism, if there is to be one. Ours is a contribution
to this process, drawing from our own experience and what we have so far been
able to learn from associated reading and discussion.

What follows
in this preface is a brief introduction to the theoretical framework, research
methods and communication standards we have adopted for this series of
articles. It is likely that some of these will be unfamiliar if not
unconventional to many readers. While each of the authors has prior experience
writing both scholarly and journalistic work, we have adopted standards here we
believe better suited to the needs of those engaged in political action for a
more just, democratic and sustainable society, which today, we hope, will
ultimately include everyone.

We offer
breadth, rather than depth of analysis. Throughout this effort we refer the
reader to some of the more accessible sources of the in-depth presentations of
the science upon which we have drawn. We focus here on the forest, even while
knowing that practical action also requires knowledge of the relevant details.
These latter, however, are specific to the diverse communities in which we
live, a reason why bottom-up forms of democracy are essential to achieving an
ecologically sustainable global society.

The political challenge

Margaret
Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990 claimed that
“there is no alternative” to a capitalist market economy. She made this
argument to buttress her advocacy of neoliberal policies. As noted in her
biography, Thatcher’s “political philosophy and economic policies emphasized
deregulation (particularly of the financial sector), flexible labor markets,
the privatization of state-owned companies and reducing the power and influence
of trade unions.” Hers was an articulate statement of the aims of the capitalist
class globally. The environmentally and socially destructive results are now
horrifically evident.

We began the
research and writing that led us to this present argument ten years ago. After
a politically tumultuous period since the global economic collapse of 2008, it
is easy to forget that as recently as January 2010 there was still very little
public doubt within the core capitalist countries about the permanency of
capitalism. Not only was capitalism the seeming victor in the Cold War, but there
was seemingly no viable alternative social system.

It was easy
to believe that capitalism represented the end of history, given that the
“socialisms” of the 20th Century had apparently proven unworkable. Certainly,
it was easy to agree that dogmatism, bureaucracy, conformity and kleptocracy
did not represent the kind of outcome wanted and needed by humanity. But what
has capitalism delivered in the meantime, if not its own variants of dogmatism,
bureaucracy, conformity and kleptocracy?

It has also delivered
growing wealth and income inequality within and between countries, a global
race to the bottom in wages, working conditions and environmental regulations,
the greatest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, and rapidly
developing global ecological crisis. As if that were not enough, capitalism
once again seeks salvation through a resurgent arms race that again includes
further development and deployment of nuclear weapons.  

The intellectual challenge

An effort to
identify and contribute to the emergence of an alternative was the impetus to
our research and writing. We searched from scientific accounts of the origins
and development of humankind to the present struggles of the people for a more
just, democratic, peaceful and sustainable existence. 

We are of
course limited to our own direct personal experience and activity, to the
shortfall in the number and diversity of those from whom we have learned, and
by our inability to do more than sample a wide range of relevant and burgeoning
literature and other forms of recorded knowledge and opinion.

It helped
that one of us (Karen) has focussed in the arts and humanities, including as a
teacher, researcher, artist and poet, and that the other (Charles) has
similarly been engaged in research and teaching in both the natural and
educational sciences and that as partners, we have collaborated in the student,
peace, labor, environmental and other social movements of the people for over
fifty years.

Evidently,
our greatest shortfall in relation to the publication of this series of
articles is in the social sciences, which has received the lion’s share of our
attention over the past decade and will likely continue to do so in our
remaining years.

Among
academics and journalists preoccupied with advancing original formulations that
merit claims to personal intellectual property, it has become popular to invent
and propose alternative social systems, suggesting that the options in that
respect might be as diverse as their authors. This is NOT our intention.

Anything in
this argument that could be claimed as unique to us should on that account be
dismissed. In the first place, ALL ideas are socially constructed, evident in
the fact that we each must use socially constructed language to communicate our
ideas. Intellectual property rights will have no place in any society that
claims to be an advance over capitalism, nor will any other claim to private
ownership over the Commons, defined here as the shared heritage of humanity.

Moreover, we
hold to the wisdom that the new invariably emerges out of the womb of the old,
a process in which either the old system replicates itself or, in the case of a
moribund system, a new one ultimately replaces it. One task of social science
research, in our view, is to identify the new system as it emerges from the
old. The empirical evidence by which to judge the results of such social
science research is convergence in social theory and practice on the features
of the new system, leading to the replacement of the old system by the new one.

We expect to
be successful in identifying most, but not likely all the characteristic
features of the emergent system. We encourage critical review of each of our
arguments. Our aim is no more than to contribute to the process of
identification and action towards the replacement of the current, moribund
capitalist system. Its successful replacement will be a system which proves
itself capable of liberating the latent potential of the people to move past
the obstacles created by capitalism to humanity’s continuing existence. There
is, of course, no guarantee that capitalism will not be the last human social
system on Earth. Time is of the essence.

The principal
objective of this contribution to discussion, therefore, is to identify a
viable path out of the present existential crisis, a crisis created by the
convergence of wealth and income inequality and the destruction of an otherwise
supportive natural environment. Such a path necessarily includes a more
equitable distribution of resources as part of a more conservative, sustainable
relationship with nature.

Co-equal
objectives are the advance of democracy, education, scientific inquiry and
imagination, which we argue constitute the foundation for achieving a healthy
human society and a sustainable relationship with nature. Having found a
limited role within emergent capitalism, these foundational elements of any
society fully committed to the full and free development of the people require
vigilant popular development and support in the face of a now moribund,
self-destructive capitalism.

The main
premise of this series of essays, argued at some length, is that capitalism,
once a relatively progressive system, liberating humanity from the constraints
of a moribund feudalism, is today the principal cause of growing wealth and
income inequality and of human destruction of an otherwise supportive natural
environment. As such, capitalism is itself a moribund system, its defenders
increasingly engaged in constraining the development of democracy, education,
science and imagination.

Historical materialist theory

While we rely
almost exclusively on the existing consensus within the scientific community on
the state of knowledge in most fields of scientific inquiry, we make an
exception in the field of social science, where there is no acknowledged
scientific consensus on the fundamental issue of the nature and laws of
societal evolution.  Here, our
theoretical viewpoint must be considered presumptive.  

We subscribe
to the Marxian theory of evolution of human society, often identified as
historical materialism, thereby emphasizing both its scientific content and the
methodology it shares with all other fields of scientific inquiry. Materialism
in philosophy acknowledges that the subject material under investigation has an
empirical existence independent from our ideas, theories and conjectures about
it.

Like every
other scientific theory, historical materialist theory must be judged by its
ability to explain the corresponding empirical evidence. We do not examine that
evidence in detail in this work. Rather, we presume the validity of historical
materialist theory. 

Marxian
historical materialist theory contends that capitalism did not always exist,
but rather came into existence historically recently, probably first during the
late middle ages, initially confined to mercantile capitalist trading
relationships between a few European city-states, but ultimately extending (by
the twentieth century) to an international network of capitalist nation-states,
dominated by a few whose reach assumed globally imperial dimensions, such as
the imperial reach of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Only within
the past few decades has this international system reached its present global
dimension, in which the global marketplace, including supply chains and
corresponding international political structures, are now dominated by a
network of the largest transnational capitalist corporations, their directors
and chief political and academic representatives (the transnational capitalist
class).   

According to
Marxian historical materialist theory, incompatibility between the “mode” and
the “forces” of production drives the struggle for reform or revolution of the
social system, the latter corresponding to a qualitative change in the mode of
production to enable better utilization of the new technologies and ideas and
the creation of corresponding institutions. The change from feudalism to
capitalism was an historical precedent for the current struggle within capitalism
for socialism.

The
transition from one mode of production to another is characterized both by the
development of technology and the associated attempts to reform or replace the
relations of production with new ones. These changes can be either historically
progressive (the use of more advanced technologies and, in the case of the
transition from capitalism to socialism, more cooperative relationships of
production, and associated ideas and institutions) or regressive, towards the
social relationships and hierarchical ideas associated with feudalism and
slavery (the principal other examples of once dominant hierarchical social
systems).

Increasing
personal indebtedness (debt slavery) for securing necessities of life
(including education, accommodation, communication, transportation, healthcare,
potable water, and food) is evidence of this regressive trend.

We also
recognize as an enduring, progressive, but currently subordinate mode of
production, the communal mode that characterized most of human history from the
time of our origins as a species. This is the cooperative mode of production
based on voluntary sharing of resources and non-monetary exchanges of goods and
services, commonly found today within families and local communities.

If there is
to be a social system beyond capitalism, it will, in our view, necessarily
correspond to a reversal of the trend towards privatization in the ownership
and management of resources and tools of production and distribution and an
expansion of the commons. Building on the remaining commons, the new system
will correspond to the transformation of most social means of production and
distribution into communal property under communal management, decentralized to
the extent feasible, that is, into a more just, democratic and sustainable
relationship between people and with nature.          

The most
recent developments within the capitalist mode of production include the
greater mobility of capital, the spatial extent of its dominance – now global,
and the transnational character of the dominant capitalist corporations.
Imperialist rent continues to be paid, but in the form of a transfer of wealth
from a globally distributed working class to a globally distributed owning and
managerial class, mainly and increasingly to the oligarchic billionaires within
that class. To be enduring, system change will likewise need to be global.  

Contemporary global capitalism and the
theory of historical materialism

Capitalism is
a dynamic system. As such, its behaviour can be explained and predicted by
scientifically discoverable laws. As applicable to capitalism today as they
were when Marx articulated them, they nevertheless need to be applied with
recognition of the changing historical circumstances and the adaptations that
the capitalist ruling class has made to those conditions, especially
constraints. These include the spatial dimension over which capitalism
operates, the extent of monopolization and financialization of capital, and the
removal of nation-state barriers to the mobility of capital while using these
barriers to control labor.

For a contemporary
account of capitalism in its now global dimensions, we recommend William I.
Robinson (Cambridge University Press, 2014 Global Capitalism and the Crisis of
Humanity. For an account of Marx’s laws of value, accumulation and the tendency
of the rate of profit to fall and their application to the 2008 financial
crisis, see Michael Roberts (2018, Lulu.com) Marx 200: A Review of Marx’s
Economics 200 Years After His Birth and his (2016, Haymarket Books) The Long
Depression: How It Happened, Why It Happened, and What Happens Next.

Distinct from
the more predominant form of Marxian analysis, however, we neither ignore nor
attempt to fully explain capitalist societies by application of Marx’s three
laws of capitalism’s behaviour. All social systems are dynamic and interactive,
including the continuing existence of communal, slave, feudal and capitalist
social relationships.

Any attempt
to explain and predict the behaviour of a society in which capitalism
predominates through the laws governing capitalist behaviour will at best be a
first order approximation. While communal, slave and feudal modes of production
are no longer dominant over any part of the Earth, they continue to contend
within predominantly capitalist societies as subordinated alternatives.

The crisis
within contemporary capitalism has fostered the re-emergence of feudal and
slave relationships as means by which the ruling capitalist class and its court
jesters endeavour to maintain their class privileges even while the basis for
capitalism (the surplus produced by industrial wage labour) rapidly declines as
a proportion of capital investment with continuing automation (replacing manual
labour with automated machines) and the emergent application of so-called
artificial intelligence (replacing learned skills and managerial capacity, that
is, need for a substantial capitalist managerial class).

On the other
side of the coin, despite pro-capitalist efforts to privatize everything, there
remains the commons shared by all of humanity. Those looking for a model for a
society beyond capitalism need look no further than communal behaviour within
families, between friends, and in every community. 

Before the
onset of more temperate climate conditions characteristic of the Holocene era
(the last ten thousand years), non-class societies appear to have prevailed
over the inhabited parts of the Earth (that is, for well over 90% of human
history).

Thankfully,
some communally organized societies have survived to the present day,
notwithstanding the genocidal behaviour of their class-divided neighbors and
invaders. In consequence, the First Nations have much to teach the rest of us
about stewardship responsibilities and usufruct rights that portend an
ecologically sustainable society beyond capitalism.

Our solar future

While
physical laws, notably the second law of thermodynamics, have as a consequence
the inevitable devolution and death of all existing forms of the current
organization of matter and their replacement by the birth and evolution of new
forms, there is nothing inherent in natural processes that dictates such an
early demise of life on Earth, including prospectively of human life, as is now
associated with the continuing expansion of the capitalist mode of production. 

The complex
forms of organization of matter that have given rise to human life and human
civilization are a product of the energy that continues to bathe our planet
from the Sun (a process expected to continue for billions of years more) and
the materials that will continue to be present in the Earth’s biosphere for an
indefinite future.

A premature
end to human civilization on Earth could only be the result of our failure to
act as agents for the building of a replacement to capitalism, that is to
create a new social system, one in better harmony with nature and human
existence.

Revolutionary voice

The title of
an essay by Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s
House” contains the principal lesson to be learned from past failures to move
beyond capitalism. Our revolutionary voice is not male, but gender-neutral, not
hegemonic, but collaborative, not competitive, but cooperative, not violent,
but demonstrably peaceful, not aggressive, but forcefully diplomatic.

In this work,
we identify this effort to find our revolutionary voice with democratic
ecosocialism, thereby linking it with those green, social, and democratic
movements that envision our future as the extension of what remains of our
global commons, the expansion of the global commons at the expense of private
property, the growth of the voluntary, non-market exchange of goods and
services found within families and local communities at the expense of the
capitalist market-place, the practice of democratic decision-making at work and
in the community at the expense of management and leadership rights. 

Our voice
expresses our task, that of replacing the primacy of private profits with the
primacy of the health and welfare of people and nature. Our revolutionary voice
is to be found in those who prioritize our cooperative relationships and
voluntary exchanges of services and goods over participation in the capitalist
marketplace.

Methods of research and communication

Our methods
of research and communication flow from recognition that knowledge, like
language itself, is socially created, not the product nor “intellectual
property” of individuals, especially not the property of for-profit corporate
media. The method of research adopted in the development of Achieving an
Ecological Civilization (the first drafts of which were titled Towards a Green
Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism) is iterative, meaning that each
draft is for discussion and further development, by either the initial authors
or anyone else who wishes, with each new contributor taking responsibility but
not credit for their revisions.

That is our
intention in any case. Constrained by the dominant practice of for-profit
publication, we do need to place obstacles in the way of publication of this
work as private for-profit property. The result is a Creative Commonwealth
license, modified in practice as may be needed by the intent expressed here.

All
significant changes are the work of those who make them. A global democratic
ecosocialist alternative to capitalism will necessarily be the work of hundreds
of millions. But time is of the essence.

Charles Posa
McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden

Fredericton,
New Brunswick, CANADA


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