I've started this thread to continue the discussion on the environment and decadence that emerged on this thread. It's primarily a response to JK's post no. 39 on that thread.
My ideas are still in the process of formation on this topic, so the positions expressed below should be seen more as exploratory than any kind of definitive statement. Still less should they be seen as any expression of the positions of the ICC as a whole, even though I am a member.
So, with that in mind here goes ...
"Can you explain that part a little bit more?"
I was basically trying to get at the fact that if we wanted to roll out the access to the internet that we enjoy in (some parts) of the developed world to the whole world that this will require an enormous amount of infrastructure and especially energy consumption. This will depend on a vast increase of energy generation which, with present technology, poses significant resource and environmental constraints.
"Its pretty clear that struggling to protect the envrionment leads nowhere except back into the capitalist state, but this is true of any "partial struggle", right?"
True, but I think there is something particular about the environmental crisis and certain other aspects of decomposition (social disintegration, drugs, etc) that particularly lend themselves to partial struggles because they pose existential questions.
"Are you saying there is a crisis of industrial/post-industrial civilization itself that is different than the crisis of capitalism?"
I'm not entirely sure, if I'm honest. On the one hand, a certain technological base does lend itself to a particular mode of production ("The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist".) If capitalism was ripe for revolution in 1917 then it would imply that the technological base at that time was suitable, if not for communism proper, then at least as a basis from which to establish a society in transition towards it.
So what level of technology gives us the fully developed human being of communism? Do we have it now? Maybe. But do we have the means in terms of resources to provide it to everyone on the planet who wants it? I'm not so sure. If not, it would seem to imply that we still need a radically different level of technology from the one we have at present, that doesn't suffer from the same resource constraints (fusion power would satisfy this in terms of energy technology).
The cause of the environmental crisis today can be boiled down to this: we are generating more pollution than the planet can absorb and absorbing more resource than the planet can generate. At a material level this is caused by two factors: "dirty" technology and population. Or, to put it another way, we can't produce what this population wants with out current technology without disrupting the ecological balance.
The basic possible solutions seem to be these, none of which are necessarily mutually exclusive: better technology, smaller population, or a change in the wants of that population.
Capitalism is characterised by breakneck growth and technological change. But one of the fundamentals of our critique of capitalism is that capitalism has become a break on the productive forces (and, yes, I know technology is not the sum total of the productive forces but it's certain a key component). We've already given several concrete examples on this thread.
In terms of population control, capitalism seems hard-wired to population expansion. It constantly generated a surplus population to meet its labour needs both in an absolute sense but also in terms of relative overpopulation to regulate the price of labour. The abololition of this social relationship, plus the other armaments that it has given us (contraception, education of women, etc.), poses the possibility of genuine control over our own reproductive capacities.
Arguably, communism will also change the wants of that population as well, but this is perhaps the most speculative aspect of imagining the future. It might be argued that there will be less focus on the individual accumulation of things and people will focus on the higher aspects of humanity - art, culture, etc. Except that all of these things involve physical consumption as well - paper to make books, electronics to watch films, read and write, instruments to play. So I'm not sure this aspect of things, especially as we want to involve more people in more aspects of them, will reduce material consumption.
"Doesn't the idea that there would have been a "communist ecological crisis," presuppose certain things about communist society that might be contentious, like growth, accumulation, etc."
Accumulation is a form of growth specific to capitalism. But Communism has always implied growth in terms of a development of productive forces, but one orientated around a planned increase in the satisfaction of human need rather than the anarchic growth of capitalism geared to the satisfaction of the few. I don't know if fully developed communism will be a society orientated around stasis or dynamic change, but surely the development towards it will be the latter. If Marx's vision of a society where everybody can farm, write, produce, or critique as the whim takes them is anything approaching accurate this surely also implies a growth in human needs as well.
"Does this all raise the spectre of Malthus?"
Maybe. But isn't Marx's critique of Malthus based around the latter's moralistic idea that worker poverty is caused by too much worker breeding and oversupply of labour? To this is counterposed the idea of the reserver army of labour, which points out that wages and relative overpopulation are determined by the needs of accumulation. For example, even if workers did reduce their population to raise wages, this would simply hamper the accumulation process, generate a crisis and thus recreate unemployment. Malthus conflates natural laws with the laws of capitalism, while Marx points out that every society has its own laws of population.
But I don't think that precludes the question of population. As Engels writes to Kautsky: "There is of course the abstract possibility that the human population will become so numerous that its further increase will have to be checked. If it should become necessary for communist society to regulate the production of men, just as it will have already regulated the production of things, then it, and it alone, will be able to do this without difficulties. It seems to me that it should not be too difficult for such a society to achieve in a planned way what has already come about naturally, without planning, in France and Lower Austria. In any case it will be for those people to decide if, when and what they want to do about it, and what means to employ. I don’t feel qualified to offer them any advice or counsel in this matter. They will presumably be at least as clever as we are." - https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/letters/81_02_01.htm
Lastly, on this question of internal vs external limits. I don't think there's a limit on population for capitalism per se. In fact, the tendency of capitalism is to massively expand the population as we have seen in the last few decades. If the material means are there, it would expand that population indefinitely. Conversely, neither is "absolute overpopulation" necessarily the source of the poverty and degradation of the third world. Such poverty and degradation would exist regardless of the material limits.
On the other hand, if there is a strong link between the productive base and a particular means of production as I (and Marx) argue; and, if there is a clear link between the technological base and the population it is able to support (clearly modern "capitalist" technology can support a far great population than a "feudal" technological base can); then it does tend to deconstruct the opposition between external and internal limits that I've posed.