ICC on ecology

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Peter Pan
ICC on ecology
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Hi,

I want to make 2 points:

  1. Last weeks I was confronted with quite a lot of ecologist talk and propaganda, especially on "ethical consumption", e.g. don't buy x or y, but buy z, be thrifty with energy/water usage, don't eat meet/fish etc.

    Now this is nothing new, but it is still a very influential and wide spread mistification in the central capitalist countries. And it is especially popular in the youth and student circles.

    I've been looking up some articles off the ICC on this matter, but actually I did not really find satisfaction. There are not really thorough going articles that counter this argument about "demand" determining production, am I right? Off course there are arguments in the press which make clear that "demand" (even demand with buying power) does not determine production, maybe orientates it a bit. But there is no article that counters the ecologist propaganda on this matter.

    So I decided to write down some of my thoughts on this "buy consciously" or "consume less" ideology. I was immediately confronted with much more than I expected to be: the functioning of capitalism, decadence and state capitalism, the changing of human wants and needs in history... So for the moment my notes are quite fragmentary. I was thinking of writing them down as "theses", but maybe it is easier to start from something more concrete, e.g. the fishing sector. Later on something more general can be written.

    Unfortunately, I am quite tired lately (started working. damn, it's hard.) and don't find the energy to concentrate on such an article. And as I am convinced that collective discussion is the most effective way to clarity, I wanted to share these thoughts with you. What does the ICC and other comrades think? What about writing an article on the fish industry, a bit in the same sense as written on nuclear energy? I know, there is not really a major actual event that functions as a trigger for the writing of such an article, but to me this "chronic" propaganda on "buy this, do that" is really becoming unbearable, especially because quite some friends believe in it.
     

  2. Following the above, I think the ICC should really consider making a brochure on ecology. I mean that some key articles should be grouped and edited in a booklet/brochure.

    Some suggestions:

    Capitalism is poisoning the earth
    The world on the eve of an environmental catastrophe (part 1)
    The world on the eve of an environmental catastrophe (part 2)
    Nuclear enery, capitalism and communism
    Inconvenient truths about environmentalism
    Ecological crisis: myth or real menace?

     

 

Peter Pan
About the fish industry

Why do I think an article on "ethical consumption" propaganda would be easier to make by discussing the fishing problem? Some first thoughts.

  • The fish populations around the world are in critical conditions. Here's a video giving an overview on the stateof the oceans, with a part on the degradation of fish populations and the scale of fishing today: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jeremy_jackson.html
    and here's the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overfishing
  • The main messages by ecologists and mass media: eat less fish, don't eat fish at all, don't eat fish species x or y, only eat (durably) cultivated fish...
  • The main logic behind these messages is: the "demand" determines production.
  • The argument should especially discredit this argument that demand determines production. So, it would be a quite economical article. This is however difficult for me, but maybe I'm just complicating things.
  • Some counterarguments I know however:
    - the fish industry is financed by the state, even when it makes big losses (state capitalism)
    - capitalism developed a refined publicity system, which influences the buying behaviour on a mass scale, and creates to a certain level "needs" (even if eating fish once a week is enough, publicity will convince you that it is necessary to eat fish twice a week and so on)
    - the price of products determines in a strong way the sales (the "demand")
  • A strong differentiation should be made between "demand" in a bourgeois sense and in a communist sense, the first beeing equal to purchase power (or something of the like, this is the part I don't understand) and the second beeing the needs of the human species.
  • I'd like to see something on the evolution of needs during history, and on what determines needs, because this is what many people and especially ecologists don't see. They argue that people always want more and more, which is in a way true for the people living in a society of scarcity, where more means of living means more security, but especially in capitalist society, because of its accumulation logic expressing itself in the individual minds (in a different sense, according to class). In a communist society, however, the psychological experience towards means of existence and thus environment would be different, because classes will have vanished, human species will administer its existence without fighting each other over the means of production... (something like that).
  • Furthermore there are other typical eco-arguments that should be discredited: when we wouldn't eat fish (or meat, or...) anymore, the fish population (or rain forest, or...) would be saved.
  • This is off course wrong. If all countries around the world would be capable of making a kind of arrangement, that says they wouldn't capture or even cultivate fish anymore (which I strongly doubt), even then, the pollution of the ocean would still continue (and in consequence the degradation of fish populations), because the loss in one sector would have to be compensated by the increased production on another level, that is e.g. on land. The pollution caused over there would in the end effect the oceans, rivers and lakes as well.

That's it for the moment. Feel free to criticize or comment.

Alf
worthwhile

I think it's very worthwhile to consider the ecological question by focusing on one of its aspects. The sea has become a dumping ground for capitalism, when it's not being exploited to the hilt (there's alos the new rivalry over exploiting oil reserves 'thanks to' the melting of the norhern ice caps. Fishing is a clear example of the total inability of capitalism to have a global and sustainable policy on food production. There is tremendouns competition over fishing rights etc  - we had 'Cod wars' between Britain and Iceland a couple of decades ago.

On 'demand': I think the term need is better when we talk about communism, because the term demand has become so identified with market demand, ie purchasing power. But I fully agree on the need to criticise 'consumer based' strategies 

Demogorgon
Area of Weakness

We've recognised for a while that we haven't really given the ecological question as thorough attention as it deserves. Several comrades have been undertaking a serious study of the question - some enormous reading lists and accompanying notes were circulated a while back but proper integration and discussion takes time.

I've also just started reading Marx's Ecology by John Bellamy Foster which looks interesting, although I'm only able to read it sporadically at the moment. Well worth it though simply for the introduction concerning the development of philosophical materialism!

In terms of ethical consumption, I think the point is that it's simply not possible in capitalism. Everything we use is produced by the exploitation of labour and the planet's natural resources. Most of us don't have the luxury of growing our own food, making our own clothes, etc. and have to rely on what the system as a whole produces.

Ethical consumption also reduces the question to one of individual morality and relies on the ideological notion of exercising power through our status as consumers, which ignores the fact that the working class is a producing (and over-producing!) class.

Some very rough initial thoughts for what they're worth.

Pierre
There are humongous issues

There are humongous issues with many of those articles. There doesn't seem to be a consistent position. The articles "capitalism is poisoning the earth" and "Ecological crisis: myth or real menace" are the best we have, but unfortunately they lacks a lot of the specific details regarding specific issues of the enviromental crises. These issues are indeed directly tied into decadence, but I see a huge underestamation of the threat they present to capitalism (and also in some cases a future communist society.)

Our position on nuclear energy is really bad. Nuclear energy is the only chance humans have at maintaining energy consumption at current levels without completely destroying the atmosphere, the polar regions, so many endangered spieces of animals, and the whole planet in general. But for some reason we attack Nuclear energy simply because popular sentiment among workers seems to be against it. So I have to ask, how do comrades see us powering the grid in a communist society?

For example did you know radioactive coal ash released into the atmosphere produces far more uranium and thorium than waste from a nuclear reactor? Where is the article specifically attacking coal? And is it any coincidence that bourgeois leaders (like both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for example, although in varying degrees) are proponents of this dirty energy? The working class is the only class capable of making a communist future reality. And in my estimation, it's also the only class capable of solving these ecological crises as well.

Pierre
Re:

Demogorgon wrote:
We've recognised for a while that we haven't really given the ecological question as thorough attention as it deserves. Several comrades have been undertaking a serious study of the question - some enormous reading lists and accompanying notes were circulated a while back but proper integration and discussion takes time...I've also just started reading Marx's Ecology by John Bellamy Foster which looks interesting

This is a great place to start. A good friend of mine, a communist and professor, is in frequent and direct correspondence with JBF. He would argue that the ecological crises are as much a threat to capitalism and present society as the working class. There is a lot to be said for this, especially considering he has no formal understanding of decadence. At the very least, these arguments deserve our attention.

Peter Pan
Global picture

First of all, thank you for all the responses.

Second, we shouldn't off course forget the global picture, which I think I do sometimes forget, but that's because I argued so often and so much with some ecologists. Demogorgon is absolutely right to say:

Demogorgon wrote:

In terms of ethical consumption, I think the point is that it's simply not possible in capitalism. Everything we use is produced by the exploitation of labour and the planet's natural resources.

Thirdly, I think the point I wanted to stress was what Demogorgon expresses in the following way:

Demogorgon wrote:

Ethical consumption also reduces the question to one of individual morality and relies on the ideological notion of exercising power through our status as consumers, which ignores the fact that the working class is a producing (and over-producing!) class.

This is a difficult part for me. You could pose it like this: are "we all" responsable for the poisoning of the planet, because we all buy products based on exploitation of men and nature? I don't really think so, because

Demogorgon wrote:

Most of us don't have the luxury of growing our own food, making our own clothes, etc. and have to rely on what the system as a whole produces.

But I find this question of responsibility and guilt difficult to understand. I and you are not guilty for all the trouble, but the societal systems are. All class societies, based on exploitation, but especially capitalism lead to environmental destruction. The classes that slow down the pace to a classless society, based on abundance, which has the potentiality of rebringing a natural "balance" (I know, nature is never in balance) are guilty of a further destruction of the planet.

But each of us bears a responsibility to do something about it. Some become bourgeois politicians, thinking they do good, but actually act in the opposite way. Others become internationalist revolutionaries and try to think and act for the overthrowing of capitalism and the building of communism.

Don't know if I'm quite clear, but I think this is something that could be said as well, considering "ethical" consumption.

LoneLondoner
Some points on fish...

I think one could do a lot worse than take the ocean and the fish industry as an emblematic starting point for the fate of the planet under capitalism.

There is a fascinating short book by Mark Kurlansky just called "Cod" which tells the history of the cod fishery industry. When Europeans found the Newfoundland cod banks in the 18th century, the sea was so thick with fish that sailors said you could walk on the waters. Fishing itself was almost free: it was impossible not to catch huge hauls simply by dropping a net in the water.

The French historial Fernand Braudel went so far as to suggest that the Newfoundland fisheries were critical to the rise of the industrial revolution: the agriculture of the day was not productive enough to feed an army of industrial workers who no longer worked the land producing food, bit on the contrary had to be fed. Cod from Newfoundland provided an almost free replacement source of protein to feed industrial workers.

Since the 19th century, the fish catch has fallen dramatically. The Economist recently reviewed a frightening book Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts, amongst other things we learn that:

"The industrialisation of fishing fleets has massively increased man's capability to scoop protein from the deep. An estimated area equivalent to half the world's continental shelves is trawled every year, including by vast factory ships able to put to sea for weeks on end. Yet what they are scraping is the bottom of the barrel: most commercial species have been reduced by over 75% and some, like whitetip sharks and common skate, by 99%. For all the marvellous improvements in technology, British fishermen, mostly using sail-power, caught more than twice as much cod, haddock and plaice in the 1880s as they do today. By one estimate, for every hour of fishing, with electronic sonar fish finders and industrial winches, dredges and nets, they catch 6% of what their forebears caught 120 year ago".

The there is industrial pollution:

"there is the matter of chemical pollution, mostly from agricultural run-off. This has created over 400 dead-zones, where algal tides turn the sea anoxic for all or part of the year. One of the biggest, at the mouth of the Mississippi Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, covers 20,000 square km (7,700 square miles) of ocean. An annual event, mainly caused by the run-off of agricultural fertilisers from 40% of America's lower 48 states, it makes the one-off Deepwater Horizon oil-spill look modest by comparison."

In fact, what is striking is not that not enough is known but that we know all too well the disaster that awaits humanity. The difference between us and the ecologists is that we know capitalism to be a system which must expand or die. The very idea of "sustainable development" under capitalism is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. Only a radical overthrow of capitalist society will put to an end to the disaster, because only this will allow humanity as a whole to rethink production completely.

jk1921
Threat to Capital or the Planet?

proper_propaganda wrote:

Demogorgon wrote:
We've recognised for a while that we haven't really given the ecological question as thorough attention as it deserves. Several comrades have been undertaking a serious study of the question - some enormous reading lists and accompanying notes were circulated a while back but proper integration and discussion takes time...I've also just started reading Marx's Ecology by John Bellamy Foster which looks interesting

This is a great place to start. A good friend of mine, a communist and professor, is in frequent and direct correspondence with JBF. He would argue that the ecological crises are as much a threat to capitalism and present society as the working class. There is a lot to be said for this, especially considering he has no formal understanding of decadence. At the very least, these arguments deserve our attention.

I don't think being a threat to the planet is quite the same as being a threat to capitalism. If the planet goes, then so does the possibility of communism (unless you want to get into various science fiction scenarios). I do agree with P_P's original post that there are some inconsistencies in past ICC articles on the ecological crisis. There is one tendency to say that it is a very real threat to the planet and to human civilization itself and there is another that says the green movement is a club used to get workers to accept austerity. There is no reason why both of those things can't be true; but it takes a little bit of finesse to integrate both of those positions into a communist perspective, I think, and so this hasn't been done effectively.

I agree with P_P also that I don't think the ICC should be getting too involved in the specifics of the energy debate. We do not know exactly what will happen in the future with nuclear energy, etc. That said, I think P_P committs the same error in the other direction. 

Interestingly there was a right-wing "climate change skeptic" on a popular US politics talk show the other day chastising ecologists for a "lack of humility" by projecting status quo conditions into the future. According to this guy, all the doomsday scenarios rely on the maintencnace of contemporary economic, technological and social conditions well into the future. There is no attempt to allow for innovation in the intervening period that may very well change the conditions. Supposedly, Malthus made the same error. In his narrative, it is another example of the "Don't worry, humans will always innovate" theory, which sticks its head in the sand and waits for market forces to magically produce a solution, but if you think that communism is the innovation then perhaps this view has some veracity to it?

jk1921
Newfies

LoneLondoner wrote:

I think one could do a lot worse than take the ocean and the fish industry as an emblematic starting point for the fate of the planet under capitalism.

There is a fascinating short book by Mark Kurlansky just called "Cod" which tells the history of the cod fishery industry. When Europeans found the Newfoundland cod banks in the 18th century, the sea was so thick with fish that sailors said you could walk on the waters. Fishing itself was almost free: it was impossible not to catch huge hauls simply by dropping a net in the water.

The French historial Fernand Braudel went so far as to suggest that the Newfoundland fisheries were critical to the rise of the industrial revolution: the agriculture of the day was not productive enough to feed an army of industrial workers who no longer worked the land producing food, bit on the contrary had to be fed. Cod from Newfoundland provided an almost free replacement source of protein to feed industrial workers.

Since the 19th century, the fish catch has fallen dramatically. The Economist recently reviewed a frightening book Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts, amongst other things we learn that:

"The industrialisation of fishing fleets has massively increased man's capability to scoop protein from the deep. An estimated area equivalent to half the world's continental shelves is trawled every year, including by vast factory ships able to put to sea for weeks on end. Yet what they are scraping is the bottom of the barrel: most commercial species have been reduced by over 75% and some, like whitetip sharks and common skate, by 99%. For all the marvellous improvements in technology, British fishermen, mostly using sail-power, caught more than twice as much cod, haddock and plaice in the 1880s as they do today. By one estimate, for every hour of fishing, with electronic sonar fish finders and industrial winches, dredges and nets, they catch 6% of what their forebears caught 120 year ago".

The there is industrial pollution:

"there is the matter of chemical pollution, mostly from agricultural run-off. This has created over 400 dead-zones, where algal tides turn the sea anoxic for all or part of the year. One of the biggest, at the mouth of the Mississippi Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, covers 20,000 square km (7,700 square miles) of ocean. An annual event, mainly caused by the run-off of agricultural fertilisers from 40% of America's lower 48 states, it makes the one-off Deepwater Horizon oil-spill look modest by comparison."

In fact, what is striking is not that not enough is known but that we know all too well the disaster that awaits humanity. The difference between us and the ecologists is that we know capitalism to be a system which must expand or die. The very idea of "sustainable development" under capitalism is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. Only a radical overthrow of capitalist society will put to an end to the disaster, because only this will allow humanity as a whole to rethink production completely.

 

The history of Newfoundland is interesting. The Cod fisheries are long gone and the province fell into a deep economic malaise for years that made it the butt of many Canadian jokes (not that it wasn't before).  However, now that the offshore oil platforms have been brought online, Newfoundland is considerded a "have province." Those who can't find work on the oil platforms, go work in the tar sands in Alberta. The entire history of "The Rock" is that of a dialectic between ecological disaster and economic catastrophe. As long as oil prices remain high, it will avoid hitting a hard bottom, but how much longer will that last?

petey
nuclear

proper_propaganda wrote:

Our position on nuclear energy is really bad. Nuclear energy is the only chance humans have at maintaining energy consumption at current levels without completely destroying the atmosphere, the polar regions, so many endangered spieces of animals, and the whole planet in general. But for some reason we attack Nuclear energy simply because popular sentiment among workers seems to be against it.

in the 1980s i said to my pinko friends that i had no problem in itself with nuclear energy. they responded with an embarassed silence. nuclear was the quintessence of Big Everything (big business, big industry, big energy, etc) and therefore was axiomatically bad.

as to the science i can't speak knowledgably. are there not smaller scale enrgy sources which, in large numbers, could supply what's needed?

Pierre
From what I've read (which

From what I've read (which has mostly been left leaning scientists), the major options we have for sustainable energy that won't destroy our environment are hydro-electric (if done carefully), geothermal, and nuclear.

Scale issues are mostly problems with wind and solar. I'm not sure if I made this point in this thread yet, but in the US it would take 40-50% of total arable land to power the grid with wind and solar energy (and that's at 2010 levels). This presents huge problems considering we need basically all of this land for our food supply.

Demogorgon
On energy, fusion power is

On energy, fusion power is back on the long-term agenda with a small scale reactor going online in France by the end of the decade. Naturally, fusion power will never be profitable any more than nuclear power is (it exists primarily because of enormous state subsidy to overcome the gigantic fixed capital costs).

In general, I don't think there's a "communist" view on these issues although communists will of course have (differing) opinions.

 

LoneLondoner
Can't resist...

On fusion power, you know what they say: fusion power will be with us in the next twenty years.... and it's been like that for the last thirty

Demogorgon
One might also say the same

One might also say the same about communism, but I keep hoping!

Peter Pan
Back to basics

I don't want to continue on the energy topic, but get back to my basic worry: the ICC should write something more elaborate on "ethical consumption", because it is present EVERYWHERE: when I'm with friends, at the workplaces, in the shops, in the Indignados and Occupy movements... (at least in Western Europe) It is a huge weight on the development of class consciousness, because it supposes we are all responsible of the shit capitalism, as a historical production system, based on endless profit making, causes. It is part of the chronic democratist propaganda and should therefore be dealt with in depth.

However, maybe this is a secondary aspect, just like the energy discussion could be, of another more important/prioritory discussion: a framework discussion on the metabolism/'balance" between human societies and the whole of nature (of which human societies are part of). How do marxists see the interaction and interconnection of human society with nature? How does historical and dialectical materialism deals with "nature"? What is "nature" actually? And what place does human society play in this? Maybe this kind of discussion could offer a solution to the "inconsistency" of which proper_propaganda wrote.

It is off course not a new question. Marx, Engels, Bordiga... wrote about it. The ICC allready discussed about Darwin and darwinism, anthropology, science, nuclear energy... There are also the books by Bellamy Foster (Marx's Ecology), Paul Burkett (Marxism and nature: a red and green perspective) and the works of Murray Bookchin. And maybe we should envolve the works of Knight, Power and Testart in this.

I kind of lose sight and need an overviewable framework. But maybe the ICC needs it as well. Why not make a brochure or, who knows, a manifesto on the ecology question, just like was done on the unemployment question. Off course, no rushing! We need to think "long term".

Tell me if I'm totally wrong.

 

Fred
Hi Peter Pan. Your question

Hi Peter Pan. Your question of "ethical consumption" is new to me and I would like to know more about it. " How do marxists see the interaction and interconnection of human society with nature?" That you can pose the question, Peter Pan, makes me think you could start to write an answer. (You don't have to deal with "what is nature" in the same piece.) So why are you asking the ICC to write "a manifesto" why don't you write an article? You clearly know a lot about it, and have given it considerable thought, and have writing abilities. So: JUST DO IT!

My idea about writing is that if you can talk to yourself about something then you can also write it down, if only as a preliminary draft. Maybe if you write it down you'll discover the "overviewable framework" you think you lack. It's better to find this for yourself than have somebody else do it for you. After you've written some pages you could send them to the ICC for comment and/or help if required. The working class has to help itself and needs more writers, among other things.

jk1921
I was reading the DGCL and

I was reading the DGCL and found this quote from ICC/Bourrinet, discussing the GIC's FPCPD, "Without a real and continuous increase in workers' consumption, the dictatorship of the proletariat has no meaning, and the realisation of communism would be a pious wish." (pg. 252)

Is this still a valid statement? Is that what communism is about--increasing consumption? Does this run into trouble with a more ecologically informed approach?

 

Demogorgon
I think it depends what you

I think it depends what you mean by consumption. Does it mean an increase in the total social product or simply an increase in the amount of product directly consumed by the population? Even concerning the former it may be possible to increase consumption with introduction of better recycling, energy production techniques, etc. It also implies a limit to Earth - there's a whole solar system out there to mine for materials and there's already several commercial and state think tanks looking at feasibility.

One might also consider the increase in "cultural" production and consumption as well. I'm not sure communism can be conceived simply as an increase in things, but a situation where labour in consumed not as a commodity but directly by the labourer - i.e. it becomes a source of satisfaction (if not direct consumption) instead of something to be endured to enable consumption at a later point.

 

jk1921
What is communism?

Demogorgon wrote:

I think it depends what you mean by consumption. Does it mean an increase in the total social product or simply an increase in the amount of product directly consumed by the population? Even concerning the former it may be possible to increase consumption with introduction of better recycling, energy production techniques, etc. It also implies a limit to Earth - there's a whole solar system out there to mine for materials and there's already several commercial and state think tanks looking at feasibility.

One might also consider the increase in "cultural" production and consumption as well. I'm not sure communism can be conceived simply as an increase in things, but a situation where labour in consumed not as a commodity but directly by the labourer - i.e. it becomes a source of satisfaction (if not direct consumption) instead of something to be endured to enable consumption at a later point.

 

 

Good points. I think it is something we need to think about more though. What is communism all about? Is it primarily about material abundance or is about new social relationships? What is the relation between the two? Can we still have communism, if we accept that there are limits to material production (earthly or otherwise)? I think the quote above was referring to the "lower phase of communism" (the dictatorship of the proletariat, period of transition, etc.) Is there a difference between this phase and full communism? What is accomplished by increasing consumption? I suppose the answer to that might depend on what part of the world we are talking about?

baboon
stormy weather

A bit of a diversion away from consumption but in the run up to the US elections there was, as one would expect, hardly any, if any,  mention of the unfolding ecological disaster and the question of global warning. With the deepening of the economic crisis there has been a global move away from attempts to restrict carbon emissions. There are those on libcom, who defend Aufheben's economic "upswing", who have said that capitalism can get out of crisis through a massive investment into "green" technology that will both, at least, attenuate the crisis and save the planet. Where the investment (trillions needed) will come from and how a system based on competition can cooperate across the globe is a mystery that I can't fathom out.

But the simple point that I want to make is that the recent very unusual weather systems across the planet and the unprecedented storm hitting the US are indications of the future which underline the suicidal impasse that capitalism is bringing us to.

jk1921
China?

baboon wrote:

 Where the investment (trillions needed) will come from and how a system based on competition can cooperate across the globe is a mystery that I can't fathom out.

I guess it is supposed to come from China or some such place.

Fred
what is communism?

ICC wrote:
Communist society is thus based on the abolition of scarcity and on production for human needs. Communism is a society of abundance, which will permit the satisfaction of all the diverse needs of humanity.

If we talk a lot about consumption, we begin to sound like greedy pigs and like the bourgeoisie who always want more of what they're used to. More wine, women and song, more luxurious leisure and entertainment in general. In short, more lavish distractions from the boredom of everyday bourgeois life. But there are more things available to pursue and discover in life than are dreamt of in their limited bourgeois outlook. Thus it is a mistake to go on about vulgar consumption, as if it's the be-all and final aim of human existence. Much better to talk about about the abolishing of scarcity, and the establishment of a situation in which human potential can begin to be released and developed, and in which the joy of human solidarity and absence of alienation will unleash a creativity we can't even imagine now.

Alf
Marx's phrase

I still like Marx's phrase: "sensuous consumption". Communism as the releasing of Eros.......

Demogorgon
Note to self: avoid all

Note to self: avoid all parties where sensuous consumption is mentioned.

Fred
Note to self: attend all

Note to self: attend all parties where sensuous consumption is the order of the day.

Demogorgon
Going to Tescos is one of the

Going to Tescos is one of the most horrifying experiences offered by modern life. For me, it becomes doubly horrifying because it makes me think about politics. Anyway, while navigating the maze of 2-for-1 offers (which seem to require a degree in higher mathematics to make sense of), I found myself thinking about the ecological limits of capitalism. And because I see no reason to suffer alone, and because it might become something useful, I'm going to note it here.

One of the ways capitalism can use to overcome the falling rate of profit, is to reduce necessary labour i.e. the work the worker has to do to keep himself alive. Increasing productivity can help with this, by cheapening consumer goods. In effect, the proletariat maintains the same material standard of living but its proportion of the total value produced shrinks and is appropriated by the ruling class.

The increasing agricultural difficulties the world is facing seems to suggest that we could be approaching the point where this kind of "progress" can no longer continue. Capitalism's tendency to constant overpopulation (a necessary requirement to keep the cost of labour down) will run into the external roadblock that the planet is going to struggle to feed us all.

This has several consequences:

  • With limited ability to reduce necessary labour, increasing relative exploitation will have serious limits. In other words, attacks on workers will more and more take the form of increases in absolute exploitation (a reduction in material standards of living).
  • Continued accumulation will require ever greater masses of (over) population, resulting in more widespread famines and disasters;
  • Conversely, if the population is actually controlled it will put a severe limit on the accumulation process. Removing over-supply will mean the cost of labour will be regulated more by crisis.

On a final note, I did also think about trying to release Eros in the supermarket as well but the face of bourgeois oppression in the form of a security guard dissuaded me. Bloody capitalists.

jk1921
Interesting post Demo. So

Interesting post Demo. So what about the "ethical consumption" Petey mentioned to start out the thread? It seems that perspective argues that in order for the "absolute limit" of the planet not to be reached, consumption will need to stop or at least be curtailed. Is this a real "natural limit" or is it conditioned by captialist social relations as your post suggests, i.e. by recapturing that proportion of total value that is appropriated by the ruling class? What would abolishing the need for accumulation do to consumption?

Demogorgon
I think ethical consumption

I think ethical consumption is impossible in capitalism, if only because all consumption is based on the unethical system of exploited labour.

It also seems obvious that even under communism there will be a limit to the human population the planet can support. What defines that limit is more difficult to say. Previous modes of production couldn't possibly support the population we have today, even just taking food production into account, let alone the consumption of other raw materials. Capitalism has dramatically increased food production, albeit at great environmental cost.

It's possible that communism will be able to raise this limit, but I don't think this can be assumed and certainly not during the transition period which will naturally chaotic. I think the most crucial point is that by abolishing the exploitation of labour, it can end capitalism's tendency to overproduce labour, thus opening the way to a stabilisation of population growth. In the long-term, communism presumes the collective, conscious control of humanity's social and productive powers - this must also include its own population growth.

The ultimate goal would be to establish a population that allows a healing of the "metabolic rift" between humanity and nature.

jk1921
Interesting stuff. Why is it

Interesting stuff. Why is it then that there is a declining birth rate in almost all the central countries? I am not sure if these often cited stats take into account population growth among immigrants or not.

Demogorgon
I would imagine that the

I would imagine that the declining birth rate in the central countries partially springs from all the usual things social science identifies (longer educational periods, more women in the workforce, etc.). The former springs from the increasing technical demands of capitalism, while the latter was part of the big push in the 60s and 70s to increase the supply of labour.

When this became insufficient to keep the price of labour low enough, they began to outsource to the 3rd world. Ironically, the crisis has tended to impact on the capacity of the working class to reproduce as a point in this article indicates: "fewer children are being born in lower socio-economic groups, and more in the higher".

My understanding is that birth-rates among immigrants tend to be much higher. The US is an anomaly I believe, though, in that the indigenous birth-rate is rising. Y'all so Godfearin' you're going forth and multiplying .

Perhaps a fully developed capitalism actually loses the capacity to engender overpopulation in an absolute sense. Could this be a factor in the evolution of decadence?

jk1921
The issue of declining birth

The issue of declining birth rates is interesting and I think has a lot to do with the factors Demo mentions. In some ways the cost of reproducing the worker hs been pushed so low they are increasingly unable to afford to reproduce themselves. Does this mean labor is being paid below its value?

In the US, among whites, while perhaps the birthrate is not declining, it is not keeping up with Latinos. This has created a tremendous amount of racial and cultural anxiety that will play itself out in tomorrow's election. If Obama wins, he will do so with the lowest percentage of the white vote in history. This will continue to fuel suspicions about the legitimacy of his Presidency and ramp up the right-wing hate machine with talk of a black/brown hoarde taking over the country. I suppose this isn't much different in Europe with the much talked about fear of "Islamization."

Demogorgon
"Does this mean labor is

"Does this mean labor is being paid below its value?"

I think tendencies have been pushing in this direction for some time. There's certainly a real problem with the education system (in the UK at least) not being able to properly equip school leavers or even graduates with the right skills for the workplace. And there's also the question of proper socialisation of young people into capitalist social relations which has serious problems resulting in a growing lumpenisation of the working class.