Friday, August 23, 2019

3272. The Amazon Is Burning Because of Rising Meat Consumption

By Eliza Mackintoch, CNN,  August 23, 2019



hile the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest may constitute an "international crisis," they are hardly an accident.

The vast majority of the fires have been set by loggers and ranchers to clear land for cattle. The practice is on the rise, encouraged by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's populist pro-business president, who is backed by the country's so-called "beef caucus."
 
While this may be business as usual for Brazil's beef farmers, the rest of the world is looking on in horror.
 
So, for those wondering how they could help save the rainforest, known as "the planet's lungs" for producing about 20% of the world's oxygen, the answer may be simple. Eat less meat.
It's an idea that Finland has already floated. On Friday, the Nordic country's finance minister called for the European Union to "urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports" over the Amazon fires. 
 
Brazil is the world's largest exporter of beef, providing close to 20% of the total global exports, according the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- a figure that could rise in the coming years. 
 
Last year the country shipped 1.64 million tonnes of beef -- the highest volume in history -- generating $6.57 billion in revenue, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (Abiec), an association of more than 30 Brazilian meat-packing companies. 
 
The growth of Brazil's beef industry has been driven in part by strong demand from Asia -- mostly China and Hong Kong. These two markets alone accounted for nearly 44% of all beef exports from Brazil in 2018, according to the USDA.
 
And a trade deal struck in June between South America's Mercosur bloc of countries and the European Union could open up even more markets for Brazil's beef-packing industry.
Speaking after the agreement as announced, the head of Abiec, Antônio Camardelli, said the pact could help Brazil gain access to prospective new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand, while boosting sales with existing partners, like the EU. "A deal of this magnitude is like an invitation card for speaking with other countries and trade blocs," Camardelli told Reuters in July.
 
Once implemented, the deal will lift a 20% levy on beef imports into the EU.
 
But, on Friday, Ireland said it was ready to block the deal unless Brazil took action on the Amazon. 
 
In a statement Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar described as "Orewellian" Bolsonaro's attempt to blame the fires on environmental groups. Varadkar said that Ireland will monitor Brazil's environmental actions to determine whether to block the Mercosur deal, which is two years away.
 
He added Irish and European farmers could not be told to use fewer pesticides and respect biodiversity when trade deals were being made with countries not subjected to "decent environmental, labor and product standards."
 
In June, before the furor over the rainforest began, the Irish Farmers Association called on Ireland not to ratify the deal, arguing its terms would disadvantage European beef farmers.
 
Deal or no deal, Brazil's beef industry is projected to continue expanding, buoyed by natural resources, grassland availability and global demand, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
 
And, with that growth, comes steep environmental costs. 
 
Brazil's space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil is 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.
 
Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, told CNN that the burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for mechanized and modern agribusiness projects.
 
Farmers wait until the dry season to start burning and clearing areas so their cattle can graze, but this year's destruction has been described as unprecedented. Environmental campaigners blame this uptick on Bolsonaro, who they say has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.
 
Brush fires burn in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on August 20.
Bolsonaro has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires, but a clear shift seems to be underway.
 
And if saving the rainforest isn't enough to convince carnivores to stop eating Brazilian beef -- the greenhouse gas emissions the cattle create may be.
 
Beef is responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and that livestock accounts for 14.5% of total global emissions. And methane -- the greenhouse gas cattle produce from both ends -- is 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide.
 
An alarming report released last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said changing our diets could contribute 20% of the effort needed to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Namely, eating less meat.
 
Still, global consumption of beef and veal is set to rise in the next decade according to projections from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 
 
A joint report predicted global production would increase 16% between 2017 and 2027 to meet demand.
 
The majority of that expansion will be in developing countries, like Brazil.

3271. Engels on the Socialist Revolution

By Dragan Plavšić, Counterfire, July 26, 2019
'Before the sunrise’ (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels walking in night London) by Mikhail Dzhanashvili

Marx and Engels were above all revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow capitalism, a system they argued was the cause of impoverishing exploitation and wars. For them, revolution was the beating heart that gave life to the body of their ideas. Without it, their ideas would have lost direction and become something very different.

If anti-capitalist revolution is indeed your goal, then you have to take it seriously as an idea if you are to succeed. This entails thinking about revolution in a realistic way and developing the idea of it in the light of historical experience. Engels made an important contribution here.

A key question about revolution to which the young Engels had to find an answer was the crucial one of who would carry it out. He found it when, as a young man in the early 1840s, he came to work for the family firm in Manchester, then the urban centre of the world-leading English textile industry. Here Engels came face to face with the crushing poverty of textile workers and was shocked by what he saw.

As he wrote in his The Condition of the Working Class in England, ‘The proletarian, who has nothing but his two hands, who consumes today what he earned yesterday...and has not the slightest guarantee for being able to earn the barest necessities of life...this proletarian is placed in the most revolting, inhuman position conceivable for a human being.’ Engels wrote with stark realism of the dissolute drunkenness of the workers and how they were driven into stealing, starvation and suicide.

Engels’ realism enabled him to see more clearly than other writers who tended either to pour scorn or sentimentality on the workers. Thus, he recorded how workers became brutalised ‘the moment they bend in patience under the yoke’, but he also recorded how they became transformed when ‘they burn in wrath against the reigning class’ of capitalists. Rather than censure this anger as others did, Engels saw it as ‘proof that the workers feel the inhumanity of their position, that they refuse to be degraded to the level of brutes’. Their transformation before his very eyes led him to the political conclusion that workers would ‘one day free themselves from servitude to the bourgeoisie’.

A close reading of The Condition of the Working Class in England reveals five core ideas about revolution which Marx and Engels were to develop in the coming years into consistent features of their thinking:

  1. Revolution is not something imposed on the workers from the outside by extraneous forces. It is the product of intolerable conditions and the inevitable revolt against them. As Engels put it, ‘A class which bears all the disadvantages of the social order without enjoying its advantages…who can demand that such a class respect this social order?’ 
  2. Revolution is aimed at the wholesale transformation of society to be carried out by the workers, the only social force with the power and the willingness to effect such a transformation. It is not a question of ameliorating this condition or that, but of workers freeing themselves completely from their ‘servitude to the bourgeoisie’.
  3. Revolution has to be carried out by the workers themselves; they have to ‘free themselves’, as Engels put it simply. He later explained that ‘our notion, from the very beginning, was that ‘the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself’’. Engels was here quoting the very ‘notion’ Marx had inserted into the Rules of the First International, the organisation he had helped set up in the 1860s to represent workers. Workers cannot sit back and wait to be freed, for if the freedom to be won is to be meaningful to them as workers, it has to be won by them.
  4. Revolution is an experience that will transform workers in the very process of them carrying it out. As Marx and Engels later wrote, ‘the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution…because the class [doing the] overthrowing…can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found itself anew.’ Here we have summarised what Engels witnessed in Manchester – the capacity of workers, though almost broken by oppressive conditions, to transform themselves in the struggle against those conditions.
  5. Revolution is a mass democratic experience, not a conspiracy planned by a secret cabal behind closed doors and somehow staged behind people’s backs. As Engels later wrote, ‘The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of masses lacking consciousness is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must be in on it, must themselves have grasped what is at stake, what they are fighting for,, body and soul.’

These five core ideas are invaluable, but they are on their own insufficient, as concretely realistic thinking is also needed to determine how best to get to revolution from the non-revolutionary here and now. Here Engels was clear that any political organisation devoted to the goal of revolution had to prioritise looking outwards to society. As he later wrote, ‘In other words, we enter the realm of intelligent political leadership of a broad revolutionary movement that is striving to reach out, without compromising its own politics, as against the wooden drill of a self-pickling sect.’ As a result, ‘in order for the masses to understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required’, including taking part in elections, whenever feasible, to spread the word.

This ‘striving to reach out’ also entails looking to struggles that, though not themselves revolutionary, have the potential to show workers the benefits of struggle and thus the possibility of a deeper, revolutionary transformation. In his later years, this led Engels to support the new union strikes of the 1880s which, as he explained to a friend, were ‘drawing far greater masses into the struggle, shaking up society more profoundly, and putting forward much more farreaching demands’ even as he noted that the strikers ‘themselves do not yet know toward what final goal they are working.’ Nevertheless, vague though their ideas were, they were sufficient ‘to make them elect only downright Socialists.’
These general questions about political organisation and union activity as stepping stones to revolution were not the only ones the older Engels was preoccupied with. In the 1840s, he had concluded that the only way ‘to ensure that the interests of the proletariat prevail’ would be by means of a ‘democratic revolution by force’. However, he and Marx had seen how the multiple revolutions in Europe of 1848 had been crushed by the superior military forces of the state. As standing armies became more and more a typical feature of the modern state in the nineteenth century, Engels had to address the question of whether revolution was still a feasible option given the state’s monopoly control of military power.

Engels’ answer to this question was entirely in the spirit of his core beliefs about revolution. It was the height of foolishness, he argued, to think that the forces of the state could be defeated on their own military terms. After all, they had the guns. Overcoming the state could never be a question of force alone. It had also to be a matter of ‘making the troops yield to moral influences’ by agitating among them so they became ‘more and more infected with socialism’. Future revolutions, such as the Russian Revolution of 1917, would more than bear out the value of this insight.

Engels was a revolutionary democrat and a revolutionary realist. He knew that revolutions could only be successfully made if the great majority was ‘in on it’, not least because this was the surest way of morally influencing the army and ensuring the revolution would be carried out with the minimum of force. He had seen in Manchester the damage capitalism did to people and had concluded that only a revolution could undo it by transforming people while they were carrying it out. This is the kind of wellgrounded faith in people we could do with more of today.


    Wednesday, August 21, 2019

    3270. How Plastics Contribute to Climate Change

    By Brooke Bauman, Climate Connections, August 20, 2019

    In 2015, Texas A&M graduate student Christine Figgener recorded a video of her colleagues removing a straw lodged in a turtle’s nostril. The video went viral, inspiring people to take action. Since then, “skip the straw, save a turtle” has become a slogan for people determined to decrease their plastics use.
     
    But critics say the marine impact of plastics is only part of the problem. “Plastic pollution is not just an oceans issue. It’s a climate issue and it’s a human health issue,” said Claire Arkin, communications coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, a global network aiming to reduce pollution and eliminate waste incineration.

    Plastics have become essential components of products and packaging because they’re durable, lightweight, and cheap. But though they offer numerous benefits, plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave, according to a May 2019 report called “Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” released by the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit environmental law organization.

    Under a business-as-usual scenario in which policies continue to foster plastics production, the sector’s fossil fuel consumption will only increase. Today, about 4-8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics, according to the World Economic Forum. If this reliance on plastics persists, plastics will account for 20% of oil consumption by 2050.

    The “Hidden Costs” report suggests that a transition toward “zero waste” – the conservation of resources through responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of materials without incineration or land-filling – is the best path to reduce emissions. But getting there would require a huge cultural shift and a makeover for each step in a product’s life cycle.

    The problem starts with extraction and transportation

    “When people think about plastics, they really don’t tend to think about the beginning of its life cycle. And the beginning of its life cycle really begins with oil and gas development,” said Matt Kelso, manager of data and technology at FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that addresses extraction concerns in the United States. He co-authored the extraction and transport section of the report.

    Oil, gas, and coal are the fossil-fuel building blocks of plastics. Natural gas and oil can be extracted from the earth through fracking. Companies drill wells into the ground until they hit a rock layer, then they turn 90 degrees and drill horizontally. Injecting sand, chemicals, or water breaks up the rock to release gas and oil, which are transported to other facilities via pipelines, trains, and trucks.

    Extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels is a carbon-intensive activity. Authors of the CIEL report estimated that 12.5 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are emitted per year while extracting and transporting natural gas to create feedstocks for plastics in the United States.

    Land disturbance also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction. Kelso said each mile of pipeline must be surrounded by a “right of way” zone of cleared land. About 19.2 million acres have been cleared for oil and gas development in the United States. Assuming just a third of the impacted land is forested, 1.686 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere as a result of clearing, authors of the CIEL report said.

    “These figures really add up over time because you’re talking about millions of miles of pipelines in the United States,” Kelso said. “You have to clear cut. So you’re taking all of the carbon from the trees and from soils and removing that from the earth basically and introducing it to the atmosphere.”

    Refining and manufacturing cranks up emissions

    Plastics refining is also greenhouse-gas intensive. In 2015, emissions from manufacturing ethylene, the building block for polyethylene plastics, were 184.3 to 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is about as much as 45 million passenger vehicles emit during one year, according to the CIEL report. Globally, carbon dioxide emissions from ethylene production are projected to expand by 34% between 2015 and 2030.

    Waste management affects community health

    Globally, about 40% of plastics are used as packaging. Usually, packaging is meant for a single use, so there’s a quick turnaround to disposal. This packaging can be processed in three different ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling.

    Waste incineration has the largest climate impact of the three options. According to the CIEL report, U.S. emissions from plastics incineration in 2015 were 5.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Based on projections from the World Energy Council, if plastics production and incineration increase as expected, greenhouse gas emissions will increase to 49 million metric tons by 2030 and 91 million metric tons by 2050.

    The climate impact isn’t the only concern. Incineration facilities are disproportionately built near communities of color and low-income populations.

    “Incineration is a massive environmental injustice – not just in the United States, but all over the world,” Arkin said. “The people who are subjected to the pollution from these incinerators often are the ones who are least responsible for the waste in the first place and have to bear the brunt of the impacts.”

    Burning waste can release thousands of pollutants. Incinerator workers and people living near facilities are particularly at risk to exposures.

    Landfilling has a much lower climate impact than incineration. But the placement of landfills can be associated with similar environmental injustices.

    Recycling is a different beast with an entirely different set of problems. Compared to the low costs of virgin materials, recycled plastics are high cost with low commercial value. This makes recycling profitable only rarely, so it requires considerable government subsidies.

    Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that only 2% of plastics are recycled into products with the same function. Another 8% are “downcycled” to something of lower quality. The rest is landfilled, leaked into the environment, or incinerated.

    Recycling facilities also commonly receive low-quality materials. Wishful recycling makes people recycle items that they think should be recyclable but are actually not. This puts a huge responsibility on the recycling facilities to process and sort the waste.

    For many years, the United States and many other Western countries sent a lot of their contaminated waste to China, transferring the responsibility of waste management. In 2018, China closed its doors to the West’s contaminated recycling. Rather than increasing domestic recycling capacity, the United States now sends the waste to other countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. But some of these countries have started to turn down Western recycling, too.

    Recycling could be an important bridge on the way to waste reduction, but Arkin said the Western world needs to address its plastics addiction at the source.
    “We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis,” Arkin said. “There’s simply too much plastic – single-use plastic – being produced and consumed.”

    When plastics enter the environment, they don’t stop polluting

    After plastics have been used, people may dump them into the environment, sometimes purposefully and other times accidentally. Even if plastics go to a landfill, some are light enough to blow in the wind and enter waterways.

    Plastics can break down into smaller pieces, called microplastics, through biodegradation or exposure to the sun, heat, or water. These microplastics scatter across the globe, even to the depths of the ocean. Toxic chemicals can bind to microplastics and create poison pills that aquatic animals eat. Plastics also harm animals through entanglement and ingestion at all levels of the food chain.

    Sarah-Jeanne Royer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that low-density polyethylene – one of the most common types of plastics found in the ocean – releases greenhouse gases as it breaks down in the environment.

    But beyond the direct emissions from plastics in the environment, there’s another issue with microplastics. Historically, the ocean has sequestered 30-50% of carbon dioxide emissions from human-related activities. However, evidence suggests that plankton are ingesting ever-greater quantities of microplastics.

    Researchers at the Ocean University of China found that microplastics reduced the growth of microalgae and the efficiency of photosynthesis. So producing more microplastics could degrade plankton’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    What is the solution?

    For every phase of the plastics life cycle, there are ways to reduce emissions. But it may take systemic shifts to slow the growth of plastics production. For example, some advocate for using bio-based feedstocks to reduce emissions in the refining stage. According to 2018 analysis by Material Economics – a sustainability management consulting firm – using only zero-carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar, in the manufacturing phase would decrease overall emissions by 50%. That may not be enough to offset emissions associated with the rapid rise of plastics production.

    When developing solutions, it’s important to think critically about the materials that will replace plastics. Authors of a 2011 study from the Environment Agency in the United Kingdom assessed the life cycle environmental impacts of different bags – such as paper, plastic, and cotton – used in U.K. grocery stores. Their study found that the key to reducing global warming impact is to reuse the bags as many times as possible. But the number of times the bag must be reused depends on the material it’s made from. The paper and cotton bags need to be reused three and 131 times respectively to ensure their global warming potential is lower than a typical plastic grocery bag.

    Ultimately, cutting emissions associated with plastics may require an all-of-the-above strategy: reducing waste, retaining materials by refurbishing or remanufacturing, and recycling. Under this type of circular business model, authors of the CIEL report say carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by 62 million metric tons per year.

    3269. Green Designs for 21st Century Socialism

     By Richard Westra, The Bullet, August 13, 2019


    Before turning to the subject matter at hand two abiding issues in Marxist thinking need to be addressed. First, when Marx inveighed against Utopian Socialist futuristic model building, he never intended it to become a mantra dissuading socialists from thinking practically about socialist institutional design. Rather, Marx simply insisted that such endeavors only be undertaken after knowledge of the then forming capitalist economy had been produced. This is the task of Marx’s magisterial economic writing Capital that he devoted much of his life to completing. Second, while Marx’s pithy theory of historical materialism in the (in)famous Preface spells out in broad brush terms the general process of historical change: “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production,” in Capital Marx offers a far more precise means of conceptualizing the specific historical transformation from capitalism to socialism.
     
    For Marx, the most fundamental contradiction of capitalism from which its delimitation as an historical society derives is that between value and use value. Use value is the substantive foundation of all human existence. To survive, all human societies are established upon the metabolic interchange between human beings and nature from which a labor and production process furnishes the concrete, heterogeneous, qualitative useful goods human beings require for their sustenance and flourishing. Value, on the other hand, is the historically delimited, abstract, quantitative homogenizing principle of capital. When Marx adverts to the contradiction between value and use value he captures the “alien,” “upside down” character of capitalist society. That is, capital must reproduce material life of human beings to exist as an historical society. Yet it does this only as a byproduct of its basic social goal of value augmentation or profit making. Further, while capital strives to reproduce the use value life of a human society as a byproduct of value augmentation an existential threat to capital remains the resistance of diverse use value life to it.

    Contradiction Between Value and Use Value

    Thus, explicit in Marx’s Capital is the way the contradiction between value and use value plays out with industrial capital struggling to maintain labor power as a commodity while producing surplus value and distributing it as profit, rent and interest. What periodization of capitalism and study of stages of capitalist development demonstrates are the mounting contradictions heavier, more complex use values such as steel or automobiles pose for value augmentation compelling capital to shape-shift away from laissez-faire and recruit an ever enlarging scope of extra-economic, extra-capitalist supports to survive.

    Yet implicit in Marx’s Capital is another dimension of the contradiction between value and use value. While much Marxist writing of late has engaged in painstaking textual exegesis to confirm Marx’s environmentalist pedigree, Marx himself establishes his environmentalist credentials in his theorizing of the basic contradiction of capitalism. Use value life and the metabolic interchange between human beings and nature that reproduces it presuppose the ecological sanctity of nature, the biosphere and geosphere. Value augmentation as the abstract, quantitative “extra human” goal of capital is fundamentally anti all the foregoing notwithstanding the fact that capitalist trampling of use value foundations in nature never reaches its apex in Marx’s lifetime.

    Humanity, in the above senses, has arrived at a crossroads. In the simplest economic terms of use value production, capitalism has been outpaced by history. The panoply of new use values beckoning humanity from the horizon of the future – eco-sustainable mass transportation and de-automobilization, sustainable reconfigured smaller cities and eco-infrastructure, wind, solar, hydro, tidal energy matrices, sustainable clothing, packaging materials and so on – all manifest levels of use value recalcitrance to value augmentation which ensure their perpetual marginalization in capitalist society. Further, the ecological footprint of capital in current technologies and energy sources of value augmentation constitute the ultimate revenge of use value in pushing humanity to irrecoverable environmental crises points as captured in analysis of the Anthropocene and planetary boundaries.

    Economic Foundations for Human Flourishing

    From what has been said thus far, rather than socialism being conceived as being “built” by capitalist development of the productive forces as socialists had been led to believe by a one-sided reading of the (in)famous Preface, socialism in Marx’s more precise sense must be grasped as the antithesis or undoing of capitalism. If capitalism in its fundamental incarnation constitutes an “alien,” “upside down” order which reproduces human use value life as a byproduct of “extra human” value augmentation, socialism in its fundamental incarnation must be conceived as a society which reinstates the reproduction of use value life for the concrete purpose of human flourishing.

    Before turning to the question of how reinstatement of reproduction of human use value life is given institutional expression, several more bases need to be covered. After all, reversing the ills centuries of capitalist wielding human material life for its abstract purpose have saddled humanity with is a tall order. Commodification of labor power, central to the subsumption of human use value life by capital, fosters alienation which must be eliminated. In socialist experiments of the past it was expected that through public ownership of the means of production labor power would be decommodified and worker alienation vanquished. Unfortunately, Soviet style experiments not only retained vestiges of capitalist alienation with their centralized planning systems but also resurrected precapitalist alienation in which workers found themselves enmeshed anew in interpersonal social relations of domination and subordination.

    Remember, bourgeois society based its liberationist claims on “freeing” workers from precapitalist interpersonal social relations with their extra-economic compulsions for work. Instead, labor, paradigmatically at least, is subjected only to impersonal economic compulsions of the market under capitalism. Yet, no matter how high wages rise in capitalist society, the fact that as a commodity labor power makes itself available on the market to capital to produce any good according supply and demand shifts and opportunities for profit making determined by capital, the life energy of human beings in the working class is expended as a disutility and alienated. A genuine socialist society must eliminate both interpersonal precapitalist extra-economic compulsion and capitalist economic compulsion to exorcize alienation in all its forms. Marx argued that to accomplish this demands self-motivation for work such that work becomes “life’s prime want,” as he puts it in Critique of the Gotha Program.

    But there is a further dimension to capitalist alienation beyond subjection to impersonal market dictates and economic compulsion for work. Inhering in this dimension are also devastating ecological consequences. Under increasingly “roundabout” systems of production, exacerbated by current globalization where production and consumption are geospatially sundered, capitalism fosters indifference among workers to use value in production. Soviet style command economy and enterprise giganticism perpetuated this indifference. Simultaneously, geospatial sundering of production and consumption fosters a disinterest among workers as consumers in the wherewithal and eco-sanctity of production. Whether it is children’s toys springing from prison labor, electronic goods from iSlaves or “sexy” jeans the dyes from which destroy global aquacultures, workers find themselves consuming commodities that undermine the human and environmental integrity of their very material reproductive livelihood.

    As well, there is the question of persisting inequality of income and wealth in past socialist experiments. Whether the new socialist society is birthed by electoral democracy or revolution and breakdown of the decaying capitalist order (a topic for a follow up paper), many vital services, management of technological systems and governance functions will need to be performed by those who had benefitted financially from such expertise in bourgeois society. It is instructive how within debates swirling around the class character of the erstwhile Soviet Union the fact that a managerial cohort reached an income differential of around 8:1 in relation to ordinary workers was posited as a sign of capitalist resurgence. China, today, renders this measure rather Quixotic. Home to one of the largest concentrations of billionaire species China is one of the most unequal societies on earth. It is true, of course, that socialist ascendance is accompanied by a great leveling as capitalist property is expropriated. But analysis tends to be fuzzy on the precise institutional mechanisms that will forestall reemergence of class divisions in ostensibly socialist societies.

    Further, there is the question of the specific economic principle or kind of economy socialists will adopt. Marx, in the Grundrisse (his workbook for Capital) observes: “In all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others.” What Marx captures here is the fact that while “markets” of sorts and economic forms such as wages and profits existed in precapitalist modes of production, one “kind” of economy or economic principle predominated such as slavery or feudal corvée labor, and was central to material reproduction of those societies. Similarly, macroeconomic social democratic programming marked post World War II welfare states. Yet its role was as a policy device to support capitalism rather than a step toward planned economy which overrides the market to foster socialism.

    Writings of economic historian Karl Polanyi dovetail with Marx’s historical distinctions separating modes of production. Polanyi’s conception of “reciprocity” as cooperative, person-to-person human economic relations of sharing, gift giving, customary communal practices of give-and-take and so forth corresponds to Marx’s primitive communism. Polanyi’s “redistribution” captures economic practices of larger, more advanced economies where goods, tribute, tithes, taxes and so on are moved from the hands of scattered production units to the “center” and redistributed according to hierarchal social relations as in slavery and feudal modes of production. Arguably both the capitalist welfare state and Soviet style central planning deployed this economic principle to varying extents. Polanyi and Marx concur that the “self-regulating” market principle is a defining feature of capitalist societies. Nevertheless, Marx is crisply clear on the fact of early market practices operating in precapitalist economies at the “borderlands” separating communities and external to their cardinal principle of material reproduction.

    Finally, socialists of all-stripes today call for vibrant, potentially direct, democracy which expands social participation well beyond that achieved in bourgeois societies even in their social democratic heydays.

    Ecosocialist Interventions

    If, as stated above, capitalism in its most fundamental incarnation is an “upside down” society which reproduces human use value life only as a byproduct of value augmentation, to turn material reproduction of society right side up demands the reinstatement of human use value life as the concrete core of human flourishing.

    What capitalist history, history of socialist experiments and study of past modes of production confirm is that particular economic principles or “kinds” of production prove particularly suited to economies of specific classes of use values. For example, in both capitalist and socialist economies, heavy industry is managed under similar extra-market economic planning/programming “control mechanisms” prompting no less than bourgeois Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz to admit that during the “window of time” where such use value production predominates in societies “some variant of socialism may have been able to work.”

    On the other hand, central planning in socialist societies failed miserably in agriculture to meet human use value needs in terms of both social demand for foodstuffs and eco-sustainability. Evidence from the erstwhile Soviet Union attests to the fact that it was only due to (illegal) support of economic practices akin to Polanyi’s reciprocity and Marx’s primitive communism that Soviet style central planning in agriculture endured as long as it did.

    Agribusiness in today’s advanced economies as a state subsidized corporate bio-tech, capital intensive version of Soviet centralized control is environmentally unsustainable, gobbling up far more energy to produce “food” than the calories it yields. Evidence from across the globe therefore supports the ecosocialist position that small scale farming practices of agroecology will not only feed the world’s population nutritiously but are eco-sustainable in the long term. Agroecology “mimics” nature by integrating varying crop varieties and livestock with the environment.

    Current ecosocialists, however, are vague on how postcapitalist society, beyond adoption of agroecological practices is to be shaped. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, for example, define socialism in terms of “(1) social ownership, (2) social production organized by workers, and (3) satisfaction of communal needs.” They further suggest ecosocialism implies “social use” rather than ownership of nature, “(2) rational regulation by the associated producers of the metabolism between human beings and nature,” and (3) the satisfaction of communal needs “of future generations.” But what does it mean in concrete economic practice to “rationally regulate” the labor and production process? And how will “communal needs” be assessed and satisfied. In fact, what is the “communal”?

    What “kind” of “social production” will be “organized by workers”? Who are the “workers”?
    Ecosocialist proponents such as Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams go into somewhat more detail calling for reductions in size of urban agglomerations and investment in networks of sustainable public transport connecting increasingly dispersed populations. They also propose de-automobilization with cars replaced by varying weights of rail system. Magdoff and Williams foresee new modes of sustainable waste disposal, water supply, architecture and so forth, the ultimate environmental purpose of which is to reintegrate human living conditions into rural and urban ecosystems.

    Most prescient in their work is a point which potentially links up to questions of reinstating use value at the center of economic life. They suggest that specific types of production requiring greater economies of scale and “heavier” resource inputs be concentrated in single areas with sustainable transportation networks connecting these to the varying communities such production caters to. But the bulk of production, agricultural and otherwise, is to be undertaken near to where it is consumed.

    Magdoff and Williams, as well as Michael Löwy begin to address questions of the “kind” of economy or economic principles ecosocialism will operate with. They assert that democratic planning will be adopted and all production “collectively self-managed.” 

    Though what precisely this means in practice is not addressed. Instructively, however, it is made clear that planning is to govern the “main economic options, not the administration of local restaurants, groceries and bakeries, small shops, and artisan enterprises or services.” This suggests that some role be maintained for what I dub small-m market interaction.

    Use Value and Sectoral Economic Organization in the Green-Socialist Future

    As Richard Swift points out, as is the case with diversity in the natural world, anthropological research shows “that diversity in rules, habits and social forms has always been the human way.” And different kinds of economic practices are certain to “bring out a variety of different potentials in human beings, encouraging some while discouraging others.”

    Let us imbibe this insight as we proceed to sketch out a green socialist institutional system with the reinstatement of concrete human use value needs as its foundation.

    First, to instate eco-sustainable agroecology as the basis of human use value life, extirpate alienation in all its forms, realize socialist precepts as noted above to “socially control,” “rationally regulate,” “collectively self-manage” production to meet “communal needs,” as well as ensure vibrant, potentially direct, democracy, current economic and political scales will need to be broken down and production and consumption reconnected with a nexus recreated between agriculture and industry and science and ecology.

    In the design proposed here the bedrock of ecosocialist life will reside in community scale light use value producing sectors shaped with around 150,000 to 200,000 people, depending upon the population of the region, country and so on where the social change is taking place. Such economies will produce as much of the gamut of final consumption goods they require in-house. They can be formed either adjacent to deconstructed major urban centers or honed by incorporating smaller towns and rural districts. Depending on local conditions food staples as well as any other food crops for which there is community demand and supportive soil conditions are produced. Aquaculture, hydroponics, greenhouse gardening and so forth may be adopted to expand the array of products beyond that limited by climate zone. Most “lighter” building construction material, furniture, apparel, household sundries, bicycles, children’s toys, crafts, and so on are produced in the community sector. These communities will strive be as responsible as possible for their energy needs as well waste recycling.

    In such small scale light use value producing sectors modalities of reciprocity and primitive communism reflected today by community currency (CCs) regimes, local exchange/employment and trading systems (LETS), cooperatives, “anarchist” solidarity barter or personal “exchange” specifically of services may be deployed as the “kind” of economy or principle. Community democratic planning is only required to meet communal needs for basic foodstuffs and provision of socialized services such as health care, child care, aged care, education, and so on. Property in this sector is held communally but may be divided up into allotments that include “private” residences which, according to individual “family” or micro unit choice, can be repurposed in part as cafes, massage clinics, kick boxing clubs, and the like.

    Within the community scale light use value sector where inhabitants largely work “for themselves” through a mix of individual and cooperative forms production and consumption is reconnected, alienation in work ameliorated, and industry reembedded in sustainable agriculture of agroecology. Excessive wealth accumulation in private hands will not be possible as money is decommodified by CCs. That is, with CCs, money functions as unit of account and medium of exchange but not as store of value. Wealth in the new socialist society is measured concretely in terms of human flourishing.

    To refine Magdoff and Williams suggestion for production requiring greater economies of scale and “heavier” resource inputs being concentrated in a given area and operated to serve several communities, my institutional schema entails creation of a heavy use value state production sector. Goods ranging from communication devices and systems, information and computer technologies, medical equipment, transportation equipment and infrastructure, specialized construction materials, heavy construction equipment, standardized tools and implements, scientific laboratories, and so forth outstrip scale economy of light use value community economic sectors. Even the eco-sustainable energy matrix called for by ecosocialists including wind turbines, solar power plants, panels, miniaturized power generation and micro-grids that power small scale communities defy production by each community sector economy. Within the state production sector the operating principle of economy will be participatory planning as a mode of redistribution.
    What is paramount in the socialist institutional design set out here is that “ownership” and control over the state production sector is vested in the community sector economies it services. One way of doing this is through shareholding by the community sector economies and their members. This activates the “social control” over complex production systems and directing of production “for socially useful purposes.” As well, transactions between the state production sector and community economies are conducted by way of state currency. Importantly, a firewall must be emplaced to separate intra-community sector economic activities undertaken with CCs and other modalities of reciprocity like LETS and those of the state sector where state currency is used. Further, it is vital to recognize that it is not going to be possible to completely eliminate alienation in work within some industries of the state production sector. Yes, automation will help. But ultimately some production workers are going to be working at difficult routine tasks greatly distanced from their consumption. What is suggested here is democratic rotation of labor forces from the community sector economies.

     
    Finally, a third, administrative sector is proposed. To be sure, in highly urbanized societies these discrete use value economic sectors will not be geospatially separated in any great degree. The important questions here are the democratic constituents of the administrative separation as well as that of the ways incomes and remunerations for tasks are treated and the scope for any private accumulation of capital institutionally firewalled.

    Dealing with the question of incomes and remuneration, most consumption within the ecosocialist society as a whole unfolds at the level of the community sector economies. If these light use value production sectors are within close proximity to the state and administrative sectors then both production workers and state administrative functionaries can return via free, eco-sustainable public transport and spend their incomes which are paid in their community CCs. Otherwise, some accommodations and sustenance support production will need to be carried out around the state sector economy and state administrative sector and a separate CC developed for consumption purposes. Even state administrative functionaries who will have access to allocation of state funds and the state currency will only be able to consume privately with the CC.

    Democratic decision making is direct within cooperatives, LETS, “neighborhoods” and so on of a few thousand people each as part of the larger, 150,000 to 200,000 member community sector. Elections can then be held to choose immediately recallable and answerable representatives to community sector bodies and for community sector representatives and management personnel for the state and administrative sectors. Again, given the fact that a firewall is emplaced preventing use of state currency for personal consumption, which takes place in community sector economies by CCs, no special privileges accrue to representatives and management ensuring that only those committed to public service seek it.

    As addressed at length in earlier work, at any given point in the process of material reproduction the only new cost to society is the allocation and expenditure of human labor. From Marx’s two accounts of the relationship between necessary and surplus labor all social labor may be considered necessary labor in the ecosocialist economy. Deductions from total incomes to workers and community stakeholders are then taken to cover all social, investment and administrative costs. With “exchange rates” established between the state currency and CCs a metric for assessing basic income levels in CCs can be undertaken for all members of society who are not productive workers.

    On the other hand, given that the goal of society is to minimize labor time across communities devoted to necessities, including social and administrative necessities, and the fact that much of the variety in consumption will flow from free individual or associational initiatives in LETS, cooperatives and so on, a flowering of multidimensional potentialities can be expected to ensue in community sector economies. This will certainly result in some level of inequality, “status” differences, and variations in personal and group life-styles within society. But that will not impact life chances the foundation for which is socialized. Nor does any basis exist for the reinstating of social class divergence as avenues to capital accumulation and property aggrandizement are firewalled.

    Finally, beyond all the issues of eco-sustainability entailing agroecology, alternative energy sources and so on, detailed in the ecosocialist literature, the three sector economic edifice as a whole will be able to apply variants of ecological footprint analysis over all connected production sectors through the state administrative sector.

    In the end, the vision is to fashion a global commonwealth of ecosocialist “states” or regions all modeled on the three use value sector, multiple economic principle ecosocialist economy. Small “states” or regions will be composed of several three sector edifices. Larger regions are going to be composed of more, though certainly, for democratic administrative purposes, large transcontinental states that exist today must necessarily be broken up into independent bioregions.
     
    Where the market principle of capital may have some continuing purchase in the future socialist commonwealth is in competition and exchanges between ecosocialist regions. International transactions will be conducted through state currencies that are firewalled from operating within community scale economies. Like the operations of merchant capital at the dawn of the capitalist era which did not transform internal production relations in much of the world, so persisting mercantile relations between socialist competitors need not impact ecosocialist relations or transform the socialist mode of production in any given region.

    However this all plays out, as economic, political and social interrelations between regions and three sector economic edifices become regularized, both within “states,” regions and the global socialist commonwealth, the state, as such, will “wither away” as Marx projected.


    This article draws upon the author’s recent book Socialism in the 21st Century.