Workers Vanguard No. 972
21 January 2011
On Global Warming
The first of the following three letters was written in German in response to Part One of “Capitalism and Global Warming” (WV Nos. 965 and 966, 24 September and 8 October 2010). It was forwarded to WV by our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany.
7 October 2010
I emphatically reject your new position on so-called “global warming.” It is utterly impossible for scientific proletarian research into objective climate changes to arrive at a definitive position on whether there will be a new “ice age” or “global warming” in 2060.
All the gobbledygook of the bourgeoisie so far, from Al Gore to “Queen” Elizabeth II, is the ideology of a moribund class.
Every class has a class interest in influencing nature. The capitalists are, for instance, attempting to engineer potatoes or corn, forcing farmers to buy new seed from the capitalists year after year. Normally, farmers get their seed out of their own harvest. Thus the bourgeoisie puts its class interest above that of humanity.
In the case of “global warming,” the bourgeoisie, with its vicious unscientific “theory,” CO2 and “greenhouse,” is attempting to slow down, if not to halt, scientifictechnical progress and the further industrialization of entire continents. Of course capitalist production and reproduction destroy the oceans and thereby the very basis of life on this planet. This is undeniable. However, global warming is an ideological weapon, not an objective reality. I would characterize “global warming” as the new Malthusianism. Malthusianism was also an ideology of class rule that could not be proven in reality, although countless statistics were cited as “proof.”
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16 October 2010
In Capitalism and Global Warming, Part II, published 10/8/10, WV 966, you misapply a paraphrase from Trotsky’s Transitional Program. Trotsky wrote there that we should not be interested in advising the bourgeoisie how to save the capitalist economic system. You write that “Revolutionary Marxists have no interest in advising the bourgeoisie on how best to meet its energy needs,” implying that we should not even consider how we might solve this crisis, or the twin, environmental crisis, that now face us. We can wait until we take power to think about such matters.
This is fallacious. Saving the capitalist system has nothing to do with formulating and putting forward solutions to our energy and environmental crises, anymore than it has to do with the unemployment crisis. Trotsky formulated the transitional program in order to show workers that Marxists had a vision for resolving these crises that would work: solutions, such as full employment through public works.
I do not believe that there is a techno-fix to the energy and environmental crises, as the authors of this article apply. We need to redesign our transportation and our urban layout to become much more efficient, in the near future, if we are to reduce global warming. This means, for one thing, a real mass transit system in the U.S., as an alternative to automobile use. We also need to decentralize much of the population in our big coastal cities to smaller centers more inland. This is not only the way Marx and Engels envisioned socialist regimes would solve the division of town and country, as they discuss in the Manifesto. It is a necessary response to the crisis of global warming, which is now an inevitability. Global warming means that the ice caps will melt, sea levels will rise, and ocean storm activity, like Hurricane Katrina, is going to increase; in fact, it already has.
U.S. capitalism will never accept such solutions, but as these crises intensify, Marxists must forcibly advocate them. Throwing up our hands instead and claiming that all problems will be solved as soon as we come into power, will just not be credible and is not the transitional approach.
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16 October 2010
To the Editors of Workers Vanguard,
I was surprised when reading part two of your article, “Capitalism and Global Warming” in WV #966, to find the assertion that there currently exists a “problem of rapid population growth” and also that a socialist society will “provide the conditions for a natural decline in reproductive rates.” While you polemicise against Malthus, it seems that you unwittingly accept, on some level, one of his theory’s premises—that overpopulation is a phenomena independent of the social relationships of production.
Marx himself always considered overpopulation as relative to specific social relations. He observed that the surplus population created by capitalism has the previously unknown quality of growing in proportion to the amount of available surplus labor, i.e. in proportion to the growth of the productive forces. Furthermore he wrote that, “what may be overpopulation in one stage of social production may not be so in another, and their effects may be different” (Grundrisse, 1973, ed. Martin Nicolaus, p.604-8). It obviously follows that we cannot predict if communist society will, “find itself compelled to regulate the production of human beings” nor the quantity of individuals that will be desired. The answer is contingent on our productive capacities, which are never likely [to] be static. It is likely that in a society where every individual can live to their potential that our species will benefit from the highest numbers which our technology and natural resources can support at the time in question. It is impossible to tell if the “high” birth rates that are experienced now, will be considered too low or too high by our descendants.
I should also mention that your representation of a decline in reproductive rates as an “advance” is relative to the institution of the family, and the domestic slavery of women within it. In a communist society which has replaced the family the rate of reproduction will have absolutely nothing to do with “advances.” It seems that from two angles, your analysis has faltered due to creeping shortsightedness.
We cannot possibly recapitulate the main points of our article on global warming, a complex issue involving many social, political and scientific questions. Rather, we will concentrate on a few of the matters raised in these letters.
C.M. dismisses global warming as simply bourgeois propaganda, offering no refutation of the vast amount of scientific evidence indicating that the earth as a whole is heating up, and that human activity is a contributing factor. In another context, we have had to refute the notion that science under capitalism is hopelessly tainted by corporate interests. For example, many point to the real crimes of Big Pharma and the medical establishment in order to reject vaccines and other science-based medicine (see “On Quacks and Their Defenders,” WV No. 962, 30 July 2010) and “In Defense of Marxism and Science,” WV No. 971, 7 January).
Tom S., on the other hand, raises the alarm that we must provide solutions to global warming “in the near future.” In offering his own remedies, he twists the 1938 Transitional Program, written by Leon Trotsky as the founding document of the Fourth International, into a recipe book for fixing the problems bequeathed by the capitalist profit system. The Transitional Program presents a series of demands—a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to provide jobs for all, a sliding scale of wages to offset inflation, a massive program of public works, etc.—in order, as Trotsky wrote, to provide a bridge from “today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”
It is worth restating that the goal of communist political activity is to build workers parties around the world to lead proletarian revolutions that will establish an internationally planned, socialist economy. This is the only road to liberating the productive capacities of mankind and eliminating scarcity, the precondition for the disappearance of classes and the withering away of the state in a communist society. We certainly did not promise that a successful proletarian revolution would easily or immediately resolve problems of such magnitude as the enormous social and economic disparity between the advanced capitalist countries and the impoverished Third World, or, for that matter, the most serious problems of environmental degradation. As we wrote in Part Two of our article:
“For there to be any chance of rationally expanding the forces of production and utilizing the planet’s resources, including meeting the challenges of climate change, decaying modern capitalism must go. The conscious, large-scale planning required is entirely incompatible with the profit motive and competition, the anarchy of the market and crises of overproduction, the division of the world into nation-states and interimperialist rivalries.”
As to the spurious charge of Malthusianism raised by J.A.H., the essence of this reactionary theory is to blame the poor for their abject condition. To point to the contradiction of a rapidly growing population on a planet of finite resources, which are obvious facts, is no such thing. It is also obvious that rapid population growth magnifies the problems of poverty, starvation and much else that are endemic to capitalist society.
J.A.H. apparently thinks that it is desirable to populate the earth to the limit of its capacities. In the service of this rather bizarre notion, he falsely attributes to us the position that overpopulation is a phenomenon “independent of the social relationships of production.” Working in an unattributed quote from Friedrich Engels, J.A.H. lectures us that we cannot tell “if communist society will, ‘find itself compelled to regulate the production of human beings’.” The complete picture presented by Engels is captured in this extract from an 1881 letter to Karl Kautsky, which we included in Part Two of our article:
“The abstract possibility that mankind will increase numerically to such an extent that its propagation will have to be kept within bounds does, of course, exist. But should communist society ever find itself compelled to regulate the production of humans in the same way as it has already regulated the production of things, then it, and it alone, will be able to effect this without difficulty.”
We noted the fact that economic and technological advancement in the developed capitalist countries of North America, Europe and Japan has effected a natural substantial reduction in the birthrate. J.A.H. is left to explain why what is good for the Swedes is not for the Somalis. Women of the advanced capitalist countries are not alone in wanting to stop being slaves to the fertility of our species. The position we put forward in the global warming article is not new. In “In Defense of Science and Technology—An Exchange on Eco-Radicals and HIV Denialists” (WV No. 843, 4 March 2005), we wrote:
“Under communism, both the division between town and country and economic dependence on the family will virtually disappear. No longer will poor peasants or agricultural workers be compelled to have more children in order to ensure enough manpower to work the land. Human beings will have far greater mastery over both their natural and social environments.
“Additionally, communist society will be based on a thoroughly different set of social values from those that exist today. The liberation of women from patriarchal domination will mean complete and unhindered access to birth control and contraception. Communism will elevate the standard of life for everyone to the highest possible level. By eliminating scarcity, poverty and want, communism will also eliminate the greatest driving force for the prevalence of religion and superstition—and the attendant backwardness, which defines the role of women as the producers of the next generation of working masses to be exploited. A prolonged, mild population shrinkage based on increasing material abundance and progressive social ideals will go a long way toward ensuring that there are enough resources to guarantee the well-being of all.”