Capitalism is poisoning the earth

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It has become blindingly obvious that the longer it continues, the closer capitalist civilisation is taking us towards an ecological catastrophe of planetary proportions.

The basic facts are well known and can be obtained from a growing number of publications, both popular and scientific, so we will not de­scribe them in detail here. A simple list suffices to demonstrate the extent and depth of the danger: the growing adulteration of food through additives and livestock diseases; the contamination of water supplies through the un­restrained use of fertilisers and the dumping of toxic waste; the pollution of the air, especially in the major cities, through the combined ef­fects of industrial emissions and car exhaust fumes; the threat of radioactive contamination from the nuclear reactors and waste-dumps scattered all over the industrialised countries and the ex-Stalinist regimes - a threat that has already become a nightmare reality with the dis­asters at Windscale, Three Mile Island, and above all Chernobyl; the poisoning of the rivers, lakes and seas which have for decades been used as the rubbish tips of the world, and is now resulting in the break-down of the whole complex food chain and the destruction of or­ganisms that play an important role in the reg­ulation of the world’s climate; the accelerating destruction of the world’s forests, particularly the tropical rainforests, also altering the Earth’s climate, inducing land erosion and thus con­tributing in turn to further calamities, like the advancing desert in Africa and floods in Bangla Desh.

Furthermore, it is now apparent that quantity is turning into quality as the effects of pollu­tion are becoming both more global and more in­calculable. They’re global in that every country in the world is affected: not only the highly in­dustrialised West, but also the ‘underdeveloped’ third world and the Stalinist or ex-Stalinist regimes, which are too bankrupt to afford even the minimal controls that have been introduced in the West. Former ‘socialist’ countries like Poland, East Germany and Rumania are perhaps the most polluted in the world; virtually every town in eastern Europe has its horror stories of local factories belching out deadly toxins that cause cancer, respiratory and other diseases, of rivers that burst into flame when you throw a match onto them, and so on. But third world cities like Mexico or Cubutao in Brazil are surely not far behind.

But there’s another and even more terrifying meaning to the word ‘global’ in this context; ie, that the ecological disaster is now tangibly threatening the very life-support system of the planet. The thinning of the ozone layer, which seems to be mainly the result of the emission of CFC gases, is a clear expression of this, since the ozone layer protects all life on Earth from deadly ultra-violet radiation; and it is impossible at this stage to say what the long-term conse­quences of this process will be. The same ap­plies to the problem of the greenhouse effect, which is now being accepted as a real threat by a growing number of scientific panels, the latest being the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change. The IPCC and others have not only warned of the massive floods, droughts and famines that could result if there is no signifi­cant cut-back in the present level of emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon diox­ide; they have also pointed to the danger of a ‘feedback’ process, in which each aspect of pollution and environmental destruction acts on the other to produce an irreversible spiral of disaster.

It is also obvious that the class whose system has caused this mess is incapable of doing anything about it. Of course, in the last few years nearly all the leading lights of the bour­geoisie have been miraculously converted to the cause of saving the environment. The supermar­kets are stocked full of goods advertising how free they are from artificial additives; cosmetics, detergents and nappy labels vie with each other to prove how much they respect the ozone layer, the air or the rivers. And the political leaders from Thatcher to Gorbachev talk more and more about how we must all work together to protect our endangered planet.

As usual the hypocrisy of this class of gang­sters knows no bounds. The bourgeoisie’s real commitment to saving the planet can be mea­sured by looking at what they are actually pre­pared to do. For example, they made a great fuss about the recent ozone conference in London, where the main countries of the world, including the previously recalcitrant third world giants India and China, agreed to phase out CFCs by the year 2000. But this still means that a further 20 percent of the ozone layer could be destroyed over the next decade; in that pe­riod, a volume of ozone depleting gases would be released representing half as much again as the total volume already released since CFCs were invented.

It’s even worse when it comes to the green­house effect. The US administration has banned the phrase ‘global warming’ from all its official communiques. And the countries who do on pa­per accept the IPCC’s predictions have so far committed themselves to do no more than sta­bilise carbon dioxide emissions at their present level. And above all they have no serious strat­egy for reducing their economies’ dependence on fossil fuels or the private automobile, which are the main contributors to the greenhouse effect. Nothing is being done to halt the de­struction of the rainforests, which both adds to the accumulation of greenhouse gases and re­duces the planet’s capacity to reabsorb them: the UN’s own Tropical Forest Action Plan is en­tirely dominated by logging companies, and be­sides, the denuding of the rainforests by log­ging, cattle and industrial interests, as well as by famished peasants desperate for land or fuel, could only be halted if the third world was suddenly relieved of its massive burden of debt and poverty. As for plans to build defences against floods or to prevent famine, the popula­tions of the most threatened countries, such as Bangla Desh, can expect the same kind of ‘help’ as that given to the inhabitants of the world’s earthquake zones, or the victims of drought in Africa.

The bourgeoisie’s response to all these prob­lems highlights the fact that the very structure of its system renders it incapable of dealing with the ecological problems it has created. Global ecological problems require a global solu­tion. But despite all the international confer­ences, despite all the pious talk about interna­tional cooperation, capitalism is irreducibly based on competition between national economies. Its inability to achieve any real level of global cooperation is in fact being exacerbated today as the old bloc structures crumble and the system slides into a war of each against all. The deepening of the world economic crisis which brought the Russian bloc to its knees is going to aggravate competition and national rivalries; it will mean each company, each country, acting with ever-greater irresponsibility in the mad scramble for economic survival.

Whatever small concessions are made to envi­ronmental considerations, the dominant trend will be for health, safety and pollution controls to be thrown out of the window. This has al­ready been the case over the past decade, which has seen a marked rise in the number of industrial, transport and other disasters, the result of furious cost-cutting in the face of the economic crisis. As the trade war between na­tions hots up, things are due to get a lot worse.

What’s more, this free-for-all will increase the danger of local military conflicts in regions where the working class is too weak to prevent them. Now that these conflicts are no longer contained by the discipline of the old imperialist blocs, they run a far greater risk of unleashing the horrors of chemical and even nuclear war­fare on a ‘local’ scale, massacring millions and further poisoning the atmosphere of the planet. Who can believe that, caught up in a mounting spiral of chaos and confusion, the bourgeoisies of the world are going to work harmoniously to­gether to deal with the threat to the environ­ment? If anything, the results of ecological dif­ficulties - dwindling water supplies, floods, dis­putes over refugees, etc - will further increase local imperialist tensions. The bourgeoisie is al­ready aware of this. As the Egyptian foreign minister Butros Ghali put it recently, " the next war in our region will be over the waters of the Nile, not politics."

In its present phase of advancing decomposi­tion, the ruling class is increasingly losing control of its social system. Humanity can no longer afford to leave the planet in its hands. The ‘ecological crisis’ is further proof that cap­italism has to be destroyed before it drags the whole world into the abyss.

Ideological pollution


But if the bourgeoisie is incapable of repairing the damage it has done to the planet, it cer­tainly doesn’t hesitate to use ecological issues to fuel its campaigns of mystification aimed at the only force in society that can do anything about the problem - the world proletariat.

The ecological question is ideal in this re­spect, which is why the bourgeoisie makes little attempt to hide the gravity of the problem (and may even indulge in a little exaggeration when it suits). Time and time again we are told that problems like the hole in the ozone layer, or global warming, ‘affect us all’, that they ‘make no distinctions’ of colour, class or country. And it is true that pollution, like other aspects of the decomposition of capitalist society (drug ad­diction, crime, etc), does affect all classes of so­ciety (even if it’s usually the most oppressed and exploited who suffer the most). So what better basis could there be for diluting the proletariat, making it forget its own class inter­ests, drowning it in an amorphous mass where there is no longer any distinction of interest between workers, shopkeepers ... or the ruling class itself? The constant ideological barrage about the environment thus complements all the campaigns about democracy and ‘people power’ unleashed after the fall of the eastern bloc.

Look at how they twist the ecological issues to suit their needs. These problems are so terri­fying, so urgent, they say, surely they’re more important than your egoistic fight for higher wages or against job losses? Indeed, aren’t most of these problems due to the fact that ‘we’ in the advanced countries ‘are consuming too much’? Shouldn’t we be prepared to eat less meat, use less energy, even accept this or that factory closure ‘for the good of the planet’? What better alibi for the sacrifices demanded by the crisis of the capitalist economy.

And then there are all the arguments sup­porting the mythology of ‘reforms’ and ‘realistic change’. Surely something has to be done now, they say. So shouldn’t we be looking to see which election candidate offers the best ecologi­cal policies, which party promises to do the most for the environment? Doesn’t the concern expressed by Gorbachev, or Mitterand, or Thatcher prove that the politicians can indeed respond to popular pressure? Don’t the experi­ments in energy conservation, or solar energy, or wind power, which various ‘enlightened’ gov­ernments like Sweden or Holland are carrying out today, prove that change is just a matter of will and enterprise on the part of the politi­cians, combined with pressure from the citizens below? Doesn’t the switch to environmentally friendly products prove that the big companies really can be affected by ‘consumer action’?

And if all these ‘hopeful’ and ‘positive’ ap­proaches fail to convince, then the bourgeoisie can still profit from the feelings of helplessness and despair that can only get reinforced when the isolated citizen peeps out of his window and sees a whole world being poisoned. If you can’t get the exploited to believe your lies, then at least a working class that has been atomised and demoralised doesn’t pose a threat to your system.

The false alternatives of the ‘Greens’

But in the past decade or so a new political force has appeared on the scene - one that claims to stand for a radical approach that puts the defence of the environment above all other considerations: the Greens. In Germany they have become a force to be reckoned with in na­tional political life. In eastern Europe, ecological groups figured heavily in the democratic oppo­sitions that have stepped into the breech left by the collapse of Stalinism. Green parties and pressure groups are appearing in most of the advanced countries, and even in the Third World.

But the Greens are also part of the rotting capitalist order. This is evident when you look at the Greens in Germany: they’ve become a re­spectable parliamentary party, with numerous seats in the national Bundestag and various re­sponsible posts in local and regional govern­ment. The overt integration of the Greens into capitalist normality was symbolised a few years back when the ‘extra-parliamentary’, anarchist rebel of 1968, Daniel Cohn Bendit (remember the slogan ‘Elections, piege a cons’?) himself became an MP in the German parliament, and even ex­pressed his desire to become a minister. In the Bundestag the Greens engage in all the sordid manoeuvres typical of bourgeois parties - now acting as a ‘spoiler’ to keep the SPD in opposi­tion, now forming an alliance with the social democrats against the ruling CDU.

It’s true that the Greens are divided into a ‘realo’ wing which is content to focus on the parliamentary arena, and a ‘fundi’ wing which stresses more radical, extraparliamentary forms of action. And much of the appeal of the Green parties and pressure groups is that they play on people’s distrust of bureaucratic central governments and parliamentary corruption. As an alternative they offer campaigns against local instances of pollution, spectacular protest stunts of the type Greenpeace specialises in, marches and demonstrations, while calling for the devo­lution of political power and ‘citizens’ initiatives’ of all kinds. But none of these activities step an inch outside the general campaigns of the bour­geoisie. On the contrary, they serve to ensure that these campaigns penetrate into the very grassroots of society.

The ‘radical’ Greens are champions of inter­classism. They address themselves to the ‘responsible individual’, to the ‘local community’, to the good conscience of mankind in general. The actions they initiate attempt to mobilise all citizens, regardless of class, into the fight against pollution. And when they criticise bu­reaucracy and the remoteness of central gov­ernment, it’s only to put forward a vision of ‘local democracy’ equally bourgeois in content.

They are no less zealous in their support for the reformist illusion. The actions they organise are invariably aimed at making companies or governments more responsible, cleaner, greener. Just one example: a Friends of the Earth leaflet explaining how Third World debt leads to the destruction of the rainforests. So what’s the an­swer? The big western banks "should cancel all the debts owed by the world’s very poorest countries, and reduce debts owed by the other major debtor countries by at least one half. They can now afford to do so" (‘Stamp out the debt, not the rainforests’). And how will the banks be persuaded of this? "The banks won’t move unless they are shown how strongly their customers feel about this issue. Stamping your cheques with ‘stamp out the debt not the rain­forests’ and taking the ‘Debt Pledge’ are two powerful ways to show them how you feel" (ibid).

Thus the Greens invite us to believe in the effectiveness of ‘consumer power’, and in the possibility of appealing to the better nature of money-bags who think nothing of condemning millions to starvation just by shifting their capital from one country to another. It’s the same when the Greens paint their picture of a possible future: a world where small, ecologically sound businesses never turn into rapacious capitalist giants, a pacifist vision of nation speaking unto nation, in short a gentle, caring, impossible capitalism.

But wait. There are currents in or around the Green movement who claim to be more radical than this, who actually criticise capitalism and even talk about revolution. Some of them are so radical that they claim that marxism itself is no more than the other side of the capitalist ‘megamachine’. Look at the regimes in the east they say: that’s the logical result of marxism’s worship of ‘progress’ technology, industry. Inspired by ‘thinkers’ like Baudrillard, they may even explain in very complex language that marxism is just another ‘productivist’ ideology (in this they are joined by defrocked Stalinists like Martin Jaques, who said at a recent confer­ence of the crumbling British CP that "there is no getting away from the fact that the marxist tradition is productionist at its heart ... the conquest of nature, the forces of production, the commitment to economic growth"). Anarcho-primitivists like the Fifth Estate paper in Detroit call for nothing less than the eradication of industrial-technological society and a return to primitive communism. The ‘deep ecologists’ of Earth First. go even further: for their ideolo­gists, the problem isn’t just industrial society, or civilisation, but man himself ...

Marxism against the Green mystifications

The notion that an abstract entity called ‘man’ is responsible for the current ecological mess is not restricted to a few esoteric Green ideolo­gists; it is in fact a widespread cliché of the conventional wisdom. But in either case, it’s an idea that can only lead to despair, because if human beings are the problem, how can human beings find a solution? It’s no accident that some of the ‘deep ecologists’ have welcomed AIDS as a necessary agent for pruning the world of excess humans ...

The position of the anarcho-primitivists leads to the same bleak conclusions. To be ‘against technology’ is also to be against mankind; man created himself through labour, and "labour be­gins with the making of tools" (Engels, ‘The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man’). The logic of the anti-technological po­sition is to try to get back to a pre-human past when nature was undisturbed by the clangour of human activity: "The animal merely uses its environment and brings about changes in it simply by its presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals." (ibid)

But even if the ‘anti-technologists’ would be content to return to the hunter-gatherer stage of culture, the result would be the same, since the material conditions of such a society pre­supposed a world population of no more than a few million. These conditions could only be re­stored through a massive ‘cull’ of human beings, something that capitalism in its death-throes is already preparing for us. Thus these ‘radical’ ecologists - products of a disintegrating petty bourgeoisie which has no historical future and can only look back to an idealised past - are recruited as theorisers and apologists for a de­scent into barbarism that is already well under­way.

Against these nihilistic ideologies, marxism, ex­pressing the standpoint of the only class that does have a future today, insists that the pre­sent ecological nightmare can’t be explained by invoking categories like man, technology or in­dustry in a totally vague and ahistoric manner. Man does not exist outside history, and technol­ogy cannot be divorced from the social relations in which it has developed. Man’s interaction with nature can also only be understood in its real historical and social context.

Humanity has existed on this planet for at least several hundred thousand years - most of them at the stage of primitive communism, of hunter gatherer societies where there was a relatively stable equilibrium between man and nature, a fact reflected in the myths and rituals of the primitive peoples. The dissolution of this archaic community and the rise of class society, a qualitative step in the alienation of man from man, also determined new alienations between man and nature. The first cases of extensive ecological destruction coincide with the early city states; there is considerable evidence that the very process of deforestation which allowed civilisations such as the Sumerian, the Babylonian, the Sinhalese and others to develop a large-scale agricultural base also, in the longer term, played a considerable role in their decline and disappearance.

But these were local, limited phenomena: prior to capitalism, all civilisations were based on ‘natural economy’: the bulk of production was still oriented towards the immediate consumption of use values, even though, in contrast to the primitive community, a large part of it was ap­propriated by the exploiting class. Capitalism, by contrast, is a system where all production is geared towards the market, towards the en­larged reproduction of exchange value; it is a social formation far more dynamic than any pre­vious system, and this dynamic compelled it to move inexorably towards the creation of a world economy. But the very dynamism and globality of capital has meant that the problem of ecologi­cal destruction has now been raised to a plane­tary level. For it is not marxism, but capitalism, which is "productionist at its heart". Goaded by competition, by the anarchic rivalry of capitalist units struggling for control of the market, it obeys an inner compulsion to expand to the furthest limits permitted to it, and in this mer­ciless drive towards its own self-expansion, it cannot pause to consider either the health and welfare of the producers, or the future ecologi­cal consequences of how and what it produces. The secret of today’s ecological destruction is to be found in the very secret of capitalist pro­duction: "Accumulate, accumulate. That is Moses and the prophets..." (Capital vol 1, ‘Conversion of surplus value into capital’).

The problem behind the ecological catastrophe, then, is not ‘industrial society’ in the abstract, as so many of the ecologists proclaim: hitherto the only industrial society that has ever existed has been capitalism. This of course includes the Stalinist regimes, who are a veritable caricature of the capitalist subordination of consumption to accumulation; those who blame marxism for the ecological devastation in the east merely lend their voices to the current hue and cry of the bourgeoisie about the ‘failure of communism’ following the collapse of the eastern imperialist bloc. The problem does not lie in this or that form of capitalism, but in the essential mecha­nisms of a society which grows not in conscious harmony with the needs of man and with what Marx called man’s "inorganic body", nature, but for the sake of profit alone.

But the ecological problem also has its specific history within capitalism.

Already in the ascendant period, Marx and Engels had many occasions to denounce the way that capitalism’s thirst for profit poisoned the living and working conditions of the working class. They even considered that the big in­dustrial cities had already become too large to provide the basis for viable human communities, and considered that the "abolition of the sepa­ration between town and countryside" was an integral part of the communist programme (imagine what they would have said about the megacities of the late 20th century ...)

But it is essentially in the present epoch of capitalism, the epoch which since 1914 has been defined by marxists as that of the decadence of this mode of production, that capital’s ruthless destruction of the environment takes on a dif­ferent scale and quality, while at the same time losing any historical justification. This is the epoch in which all the capitalist nations are forced to compete with each other over a satu­rated world market; an epoch therefore, of a permanent war economy, with a disproportionate growth of heavy industry; an epoch charac­terised by the irrational, wasteful duplication of industrial complexes in each national unit, by the desperate pillaging of natural resources by each nation as it tries to survive in the pitiless rat-race of the world market. The consequences of all this for the environment are now becom­ing crystal clear; the intensification of ecological problems can be measured according to the dif­ferent phases of capitalist decadence. The main growth of carbon dioxide emissions has taken place this century, with a considerable increase since the 1960s. CFCs were only invented in the 1930s and have only been used extensively over the past few decades. The rise of the ‘megacities’ is very much a post World War Two phenomenon, as is the development of forms of agriculture that have been no less ecologically damaging than most forms of industry. The frenzied destruction of the rainforests has taken place in the same period, and especially over the last decade: the rate has probably doubled since 1979.

What we are seeing today is the culmination of decades of unplanned, wasteful, irrational eco­nomic and military activity by decadent capital­ism; the qualitative acceleration of the ecological crisis over the past decade ‘coincides’ with the opening of the final phase of capitalist deca­dence - the phase of decomposition. By this we mean that after 20 years of profound and ever-worsening economic crisis, in which neither of the major social classes have been able to carry through their historic alternatives of world war or world revolution, the whole social order is beginning to crack up, to descend into an un­controlled downward spiral of chaos and de­struction (see International Review n°62 ‘Decomposition, final phase of capitalist Decadence’).

The capitalist system has long ceased to rep­resent any progress for mankind. The disas­trous ecological consequences of its ‘growth’ since 1945 is one more demonstration that this growth has taken place on a diseased, destruc­tive basis, and constitutes a slap in the face for all those pundits - some of them unfortunately to be found in the proletarian political movement - who point to this growth in order to challenge the marxist notion of the decadence of capital­ism.

But this doesn’t mean that marxists - unlike most of the bourgeoisie today, and all of its petty bourgeois hangers-on - are abandoning the notion of progress or making any conces­sions to the anti-technological prejudices of the radical Greens.

The marxist concept of progress was never the same as the bourgeoisie’s one-sided, linear notion of a steady ascent from primitive dark­ness and superstition to the light of modern reason and democracy. It is a dialectical vision which recognises that historical progress has taken place through the clash of contradictions, that it has involved catastrophes and even re­gressions, that the advance of ‘civilisation’ has also meant the refinement of exploitation and the aggravation of alienation between man and man and man and nature. But it also recognises that man’s growing capacity to transform nature through the development of his productive pow­ers, to subject the unconscious processes of nature to his own conscious control, provides the only basis for overcoming this alienation and arriving at a higher form of community than the restricted communism of primitive times - a world-wide, unified community that will be based not on scarcity and the submerging of the individual into the collective, but on an un­precedented level of abundance that will supply "the material conditions for the total, universal development of the productive powers of the in­dividual" (Marx, Grundrisse). By creating the material basis for this global human community, capitalism represented an immense step forward over the natural economies which preceded it.

Today the notion of ‘controlling’ nature has been vilely distorted by the experience of capi­talism, which has treated the whole of nature as just another commodity, as dead matter, as something essentially external to man. Against this view - but also against the passive nature-worship which is prevalent amongst many of to­day’s Greens - Engels defined the communist position when he wrote:

"At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature - but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly" (‘The part played by labour....’)

Indeed, despite all its so-called ‘conquests’, capitalism is revealing today that its control over nature is the ‘control’ of the sorcerer’s apprentice, not of the sorcerer himself. It has laid the basis for a really conscious mastery of nature, but its very mode of operation turns all its achievements into disasters. As Marx put it:

"At the same pace that mankind masters na­ture, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on a dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life and stultifying hu­man life into a material force." (Speech at the anniversary of the People’s Paper, April 1856)

Today this contradiction has reached the point where mankind stands at a two-pronged fork in the road of history, facing the choice between the conscious control over his own social and productive forces, and thus a "correct applica­tion" of the laws of nature, or destruction at the hands of the very forces that he himself has set in motion. The choice, in other words, between communism or barbarism.

Only the proletarian revolution can save the planet

If communism is the only answer to the ecologi­cal crisis, then the only force that can intro­duce a communist society is the working class.

As with other aspects of the decomposition of capitalist society, the threat to the environment highlights the fact that the longer the prole­tariat delays its revolution, the greater the danger of the revolutionary class being ex­hausted and undermined, of the whole course towards destruction and chaos reaching a point of no return that would make both the struggle for revolution, and the construction of a new society, an impossible task. Thus, in so far as it underlines the growing urgency of the commu­nist revolution, an awareness of the depth of the current ecological problems will play its part in the transition of the proletarian strug­gle from a defensive, economic level to the level of a conscious and political combat against cap­ital as a whole.

But it would be an error to think that the ecological issue per se can be a focus for the mobilisation of the proletariat on its own class terrain today. Although certain limited aspects of the problem (eg health and safety at work) can be integrated into authentic class demands, the issue as such doesn’t allow the proletariat to affirm itself as a distinct social force. Indeed, as we have seen, it provides an ideal pretext for the bourgeoisie’s inter-classist campaigns, and the workers will have to resist actively the various attempts of the bourgeoisie, particularly its Green and leftist elements, to use the issue as a means of dragging them off their own class ground. It remains the case that it is above all by struggling against the effects of the eco­nomic crisis - against wage cuts, unemployment, growing impoverishment at all levels - that the workers will be able to constitute themselves into a force capable of confronting the entire bourgeois order.

The working class will only be able to deal with the ecological issue as a whole when it has conquered political power on a world scale. Indeed it has now become plain that this will be one of the most pressing tasks of the transition period, and is in any case intimately bound up with other urgent problems such as world hunger and the reorganisation of agriculture.

This isn’t the place for a detailed discussion of the measures the proletariat will have to take both to clean up the mess bequeathed by capi­talism and to move towards a qualitatively new relationship between man and nature. Here we want to stress one point only: that the problems facing a victorious proletariat will not funda­mentally be technical but political and social.

The existing technical and industrial infras­tructure is profoundly marred by the irra­tionality of capitalist development in this epoch, and no doubt a very considerable part of it will have to be demolished as a precondition for building a productive base that does not become a threat to the natural environment. But on the purely technical level, a number of alternatives have already been developed, or could have been developed if sufficient resources had been devoted to them. It’s possible already, for exam­ple, through the system of combined heat and energy in fossil-fuel burning power stations, to substantially cut carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions while making efficient use of almost 100% of the waste material produced. Similarly, it’s already possible to develop many other alternative sources of energy : solar power, wind power, wave power, etc, which are both renewable and virtually pollution-free; there are also enormous possibilities contained in the process of nuclear fusion, which would avoid many of the problems associated with nu­clear fission.

Capitalism has already developed its technical capacities to the point where the problem of pollution could be solved. But the fact that the real problem is social in nature is highlighted by the many instances in which capitalism’s own short term economic or military interests have not permitted it to develop non-polluting tech­nologies. We know, for example, that the oil, gas and electrical industries in the USA mounted a campaign to crowd out the development of solar power after World War Two; we have recently learned that the British government collaborated in a report which doctored its figures to prove that nuclear power was cheaper than wave power; the motor industry has long stood in the way of the development of less polluting forms of transport, and so on.

But the issue goes deeper than the conscious policies of this or that government or industry. The problem, as we have seen, lies in the basic operation of the capitalist mode of production, and it can only be solved by attacking this mode of production at its very roots.

Capital wantonly destroys the natural envi­ronment because it must accumulate or die; the only answer is to suppress the very principle of capital accumulation, to produce not for profit but for human need. Capital ravages the world’s resources because it is divided into competing national units, because it is funda­mentally anarchic and cannot produce with the interests of the future in mind; the only answer is the abolition of the nation state, the commu­nisation of all the Earth’s human and natural resources, and the drawing up of what Bordiga called a "a plan for living for the human species". In short, the problem can only be solved by a working class that is conscious of the need to revolutionise the very bases of so­cial life, and which has in its hands the political instruments for carrying through the transition to a communist society. Organised in its workers councils on a world scale, drawing all the world’s oppressed masses along with it, the in­ternational proletariat can and must set about the creation of a world where an unprecedented material abundance will not be in conflict with the health of the natural environment, indeed where both are seen to condition each other mutually; a world in which mankind, freed at last from the domination of toil and scarcity, will begin to enjoy living on this planet.

Peering through the fogs of exploitation and pollution with which capitalist civilisation has shrouded the Earth, this surely was the world that Marx glimpsed when he foresaw, in his 1844 Manuscripts, a society which would embody "the unity of being of man with nature - the true resurrection of nature - the naturalisation of man and the humanisation of nature both brought to fulfilment".


General and theoretical questions: