The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) commissioned the renowned Australian Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen to write an outline of Marx’s Capital. The purpose of which is to invite job reps and community activists to appreciate and understand the relevance of Marx’s research and analysis of capitalism to their lives.
It is no easy task to reduce three huge volumes of meticulously researched data down to an outline covering a few mere pages. We are indebted to Humphrey McQueen for making the essential features of Capital available in a form that is both a summary and an introduction.
Karl Marx wrote his huge three-volume study Capital a century and a half ago. It remains the single most influential study of the economic laws of motion of capital, of how capital is deployed in an endless quest for continued accumulation, and of how the labour power of the working class is exploited to produce surplus value for the profit of the owners of the means of production.
Volume One of Karl Marx’s, Das Kapital was first published in early September, 1867. To commemorate this anniversary the first two sections of Humphrey McQueen’s “150 years young Marx’s Capital” outline are posted here.
Soon this booklet will be posted on the Vanguard/CPA (M-L) website as a PDF file. The booklet will also be available as a hardcopy for $2.
… the educator must be educated.
Karl Marx spent half of his adult life striving to understand the workings of capitalism. He spent much of the other half battling to replace it with socialism.
To change the world, he learnt why we must learn how to interpret it. To interpret our world, he learnt that we all have a part to play in changing it.
These struggles united the two parts of his public life.
Know our enemy
Every contest between capitalists and wage-slaves is decided by the relative strengths of the opposing classes.
Those strengths combine the political, the cultural, the industrial and the military with the intellectual.
Our class has to be armed to fight on each of those fronts. Capital is a short-, medium- and long-range weapon in the class war.
Few of us will have the opportunity to absorb all of Marx’s gifts to working people.
None of us can afford to ignore his key insights.
Capital explains why capitalists and their agents must behave as they do.
Our exploitation and oppression are not the result of nasty people like Abbott with bad ideas such as neo-liberalism.
Neo-liberalism has been a bad idea for workers but a great idea for most of the boss class. A Turnbull or a Shorten takes over where an Abbott left off.
Tactics and strategies
Capital remains the essential starting point for understanding capitalism.
That understanding is vital in our efforts to change the world towards socialism and thence communism.
To help us move there, this pamphlet takes up seven issues around which revolutionaries can build mass movements: the plunder of nature; the expansion of capital; wage-slavery; exploitation; the future of labour-time; ground-rent, and crises.
The way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Marx’s Capital in September 2017 is to forge his insights into weapons for our struggles today, and every hour of every day.
The wealth of nature
Capitalist production, therefore, only develops … by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.
Marx, Capital, I, page 638.
Yet, we are unique. Unlike other animals, we are forever remaking what it means to be human.
We created languages, writing and maths. Human nature is neither eternal nor universal.
Hence, capitalism is not in our genes. We alter our relationships with each other.
We change our relationships with the rest of nature. And we transform some of nature.
We do all this through our labours. That is why half of this pamphlet explores wage-slavery, labour-time and exploitation.
Our capacity to work is one outcome of the physical world. If we don’t eat or drink, we can’t work. In short, we can’t add value to the wealth of nature.
‘Value’ is an overloaded term. For Marx, value is an economic category. Value is neither a moral judgement nor an aesthetic preference.
Only human labour can add value. Even a primary school textbook should spell out why labour cannot be the sole source of wealth. So said Marx.
For a start, our capacities can never create the raw materials to which we add value.
To accept that an old-growth forest has no economic value is to say no more than that no human labour has gone into its existence.
By contrast, a pine plantation has economic value because human labour played a part in its growth.
The timber from old-growth forests acquires economic value once it is harvested and dressed.
Marx explains why capitalists are slow to invest in forestry. The production times are too long. They cannot afford to wait forty or more years to take a profit.
Instead, they plunder the wealth of nature in old-growth areas. Or, their state supplies the long-term investment for plantations.
Nature presents its treasures to us as free gifts. Sunlight, wind and water arrive without our having to lift a finger.
To benefit from those gifts we must build a sailing boat, and erect a wind or water mill.
Sunlight is a renewable source of energy only after the parts for solar panels are mined, processed and installed.
How the gifts of nature are distributed depends on property relations.
Who gets what and how much is decided by how society is split between classes. Within classes, wealth is divided along gender lines.
Feudal lords smashed the hand-mills of their serfs to force them to pay to grind their corn at their Masters’ watermills.
In Capital, Marx mentions a mine-owner in the 1850s who exerted property rights over the shit of his wage-slaves.
Switching to 100 percent renewables will not make access to any resource more equal.
Injustice is built into the expansion of capital. Its relentless growth threatens barbarism.
Victory for working people in our class struggle is, therefore, the foundation for survival.
Fouling our nest
Capital pollutes the natural world that its agents plunder for raw materials. To ravage our natural environment is to commit chronic suicide.
We live through nature because nature exists inside us. Hence, we must take heed of Engels:
Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes it revenge on us.
Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people … – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.
Today we should repeat: ‘and apply them correctly’, but also add ‘before it’s too late.’
1. War is an environmental nightmare that continues to poison people and the planet long after the fighting ends.
2. The Pentagon is the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world.
3. The Pentagon is the largest emitter of CO2 gases in the world.
4. Wars are fought for oil and other energy resources. The U.S. drive for global hegemony is intimately bound up with its aim to control energy resources.
5. The military consumes 54% of all discretionary spending. War and
preparation for war divert financial and human resources needed to meet social needs (including investment in renewable energy and a sustainable energy system).
6. The manufacture of arms and other military gear adds considerably to the carbon burden of the world.
7. The military-industrial complex is fully integrated with and dependent upon the fossil fuel energy complex, serving as its enforcer as well as its client.
8. To successfully address the climate crisis requires creating a sustainable new economy, but that is impossible so long as our economy remains dominated by the military-industrial-security- energy complex.
9. To achieve a just transition to a new sustainable economy will require the environmental movement see its connection to
movements for social justice, economic justice and peace.
The quest for peace is also a social justice struggle.
The environmental movement must not avoid the connection between our militarized foreign policy and the challenge of climate change. We need to end one to be able to solve the other.
from US Labor Against War.org
See earlier posts Read about US LAW National Conference 2016
Updates January 21 Anti-union attacks coming from Trump
December 4: Sanders shows trump back sliding already on promises to workers and supporting the corporates. Read here http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/12/01/bernie-sanders-big-business-took-trump-hostage-and-won
Under Trump, GOP to Give Space Weapons Close Look
Programs to account for a significant share of defense budget boost
Missile defense and military space programs are likely to get a substantial funding boost under the incoming Republican-dominated government, lawmakers and analysts say.http://www.inusanews.com/article/15990961511/gop-trump-space-weapons-close
It Wasn’t the Russians: Hillary Lost Because She Blew Off Sanders and His Voters
by DAVE LINDORFF
The Roots of Trumpism by Charlie Post In 2016, a radical, right-wing, middle-class insurgency displaced the hegemonic capitalists in the Republican Party, at least temporarily.Read here
Back to Trump’s victory.
Trump won on this message – it was his last ad before the election. A similar voice would resonate here in Australia.
Pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. Look ahead, get energized, read, build alternative public spheres, become guerrilla fighters. There are no guarantees in politics, but there is no politics that matters without hope, that is, educated hope.
President T. Rump revanchism can be defeated. I post some of the articles I am reading.
1. I listened to Bill Fletcher Jrn at an anti-war conference US Labor against War in Washington (photo above). He formerly worked for US unions and is now a left commentator and writer. It is worth getting his reflections – here on Trump.
Quick reflections on the November 2016 elections
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
“Had it not been for the Electoral College, at this moment we would be discussing the plans for the incoming Hillary Clinton administration. That’s right. She actually won the popular vote. Thus, once again, that institution created by the founding slave owners has risen from the grave and prevented our exit from the cemetery.”
“I begin there to put the election into context and to suggest that commentary needs to be quite nuanced. No, I am not trying to make lemonade out of lemons. But I do think that it is important to recognize that the Trump victory was far from a slam-dunk; the election was very close. One might not get that impression, however, when one looks at news headlines as well as Electoral College maps.
What are some of the conclusions we can arrive at from this election?
The election was a referendum on globalization and demographics; it was not a referendum on neo-liberalism: It is critical to appreciate that Trump’s appeal to whites was around their fear of the multiple implications of globalization. This included trade agreements AND migration. Trump focused on the symptoms inherent in neo-liberal globalization, such as job loss, but his was not a critique of neo-liberalism. He continues to advance deregulation, tax cuts, anti-unionism, etc. He was making no systemic critique at all, but the examples that he pointed to from wreckage resulting from economic and social dislocation, resonated for many whites who felt, for various reasons, that their world was collapsing.
It was the connection between globalization and migration that struck a chord, just as it did in Britain with the Brexit vote. In both cases, there was tremendous fear of the changing complexion of both societies brought on by migration and economic dislocation (or the threat of economic dislocation). Protectionism plus firm borders were presented as answers in a world that has altered dramatically with the reconfiguration of global capitalism.
The election represented the consolidation of a misogynistic white united front: There are a few issues that need to be ‘unpacked’ here. For all of the talk about the problems with Hillary Clinton-the-candidate and the failure to address matters of economics, too few commentators are addressing the fact that the alliance that Trump built was one that not only permitted but encouraged racism and misogyny. In point of fact, Trump voters were prepared to buy into various unsupported allegations against Clinton that would never have stuck had she not been a woman.
Additionally, Trump’s own baggage, e.g., married and divorced multiple times; allegations of sexual assault, would never have been tolerated had the candidate been a woman (or, for that matter, of color).
Trump was given a pass that would only be given to a white man in US society. All one has to do is to think about the various allegations, charges and history surrounding Donald Trump and then ask the question: had the candidate been a woman or of color, what would have happened? The answer is obvious.
Also in connection with this matter is that for all of the talk about economic fear, there is this recurring fact that many people seem to wish to avoid. Just as with the Tea Party, the mean income of the Trump base is higher than the national mean (and was higher than the mean for Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters).
Thus, we were not dealing with the poorest of the poor. Instead, this was a movement driven by those who are actually doing fairly well but are despairing because the American Dream that they embraced no longer seems to work for white people.
This is critical for us to get because had the Trump phenomenon been mainly about a rejection of economic injustice, then this base would have been nearly interchangeable with that of Senator Sanders. Yet that was not the case. What we can argue, instead, is that this segment of the white population was looking in terror at the erosion of the American Dream, but they were looking at it through the prism of race.
Hillary Clinton, as candidate, was flawed but we should be careful in our analysis: Though Clinton had expected a coronation, the Sanders campaign pushed her to be more than she expected. The platform of the Democratic Party was shifted to the left in many important respects. Yet Clinton could not be champion of an anti-corporate populist movement. Yes, she correctly argued to tax the 1%. Yes, she articulated many progressive demands. But in the eyes of too many people, including many of her supporters, she was compromised by her relationship with Wall Street.
That said, what also needs to be considered is that Trump had so many negatives against him. Yes, he was an outsider, so to speak, and used that very skillfully to argue that he would bring another pair of eyes to the situation. Yet, this is the same person who is in the upper echelons of the economy; refused to share his tax returns; has numerous allegations against him for bad business with partners and workers; and engages in the same off-shoring of production as many of the companies he criticized! Yet, none of that haunted him in the way that various criticisms haunted Clinton. Fundamentally this was a matter of sexism, though it is certainly true that Clinton’s being perceived as an insider did not help.
We don’t know whether Bernie Sanders would have done any better but we do know that his message is the one that needs to be articulated: It is impossible to accurately predict whether Sanders would have done better in the final election. He certainly would have been subjected to an immense amount of red-baiting and suggestions of foreign policy softness. Yet his message did resonate among millions, especially younger voters. And it was younger voters who did not turn out in force to back Clinton.
In entering the Trump era it is the movement that Sanders was part of coalescing that becomes key in building a resistance that has a positive vision. One of the weaknesses of the Sanders message was its failure to unify matters of class with race and gender. This is not an academic exercise. This is about telling the right story about what has been happening in the USA. It is also a matter of taping into significant social movements, e.g., Occupy; immigrant rights; LGBT; environmental justice; movement for Black Lives. These are movements that are focused on the future and a future that is progressive. This, in fact, is where the hope lies.
I have argued for some time that right-wing populism—with the Trump campaign exemplifying an aspect of this—is a revolt against the future. It is a movement that is always focused on a mythical past to which a particular country must return. In the case of the USA, right-wing populism seeks a return to the era of the ‘white republic,’ and it is this that the Trump campaign was so successful in articulating. It did so through disparaging Mexicans, suggesting them as a source of crime, completely ignoring criminal syndicates that have historically arrived in the USA from Europe. It did so through demonizing Arabs and Muslims, suggesting them as sources of terror, completely ignoring that the greatest sources of political terror in the USA have been white supremacist formations.
Right-wing populism has grown as a result of both the ravages brought on by neo-liberal globalization as well as the demographic and political changes within the USA. It is the latter—demographic and political changes—that have unfolded over the decades as previously disenfranchised groups have asserted themselves and articulated, to paraphrase the poet Langston Hughes, we, too, sing America.
Yes, let us lick our wounds and reflect on the future. This election result was one that more of us should have anticipated as a real possibility. In either case, that the results were so close and that we did not have the ideal candidate to represent the new majority emerging in the USA remains for me a source of immense hope.
The struggle certainly continues.
Photo: USLAW at DemocracySpring Rally Washington
John Pilger ‘The truth is… there was no one to vote for’ (Going Underground US election special)
Kim Scipes, US sociologist, provides details of the devastating impact of US capitalism on the working class;
Chomsky warns on Trump win http://occupydemocrats.com/2016/11/14/chomsky-just-responded-trumps-election-terrifying/
Photo: At Labor for Bernie Chicago Union conference
Background post on my experience with Sanders campaign at the TroubleMakers Union conference Chicago
2.Sanders and Our Revolution continues in 2017…
Sanders may have won. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/presidential-election-donald-trump-would-have-lost-if-bernie-sanders-had-been-the-candidate-a7406346.html
“Voters under age 30 were the fuel behind Mr. Sanders’s campaign. He won more than 70 per cent of them at the convention —a bigger share than Barack Obama claimed in 2008 – but they were not enough for him to win the nomination….
“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics, and the establishment media,” Mr Sanders said.
“People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes, and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.
“To the degree that Mr Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic, and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
Feel the Bern…earlier http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/06/feel-the-bern-4/
Michael Moore’s “Morning After To-Do List” Facebook Post For Democrats Is Going Viral
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.
3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin.
4. Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked.” What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!”
The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump.
The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there’s climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don’t want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above). Let’s try to get this all done by noon today. — Michael Moore
Big unions back Clinton not Sanders, so…
Michael Moore releases plan to immediately impeach Donald Trump
6. Begin a national push while it’s fresh in everyone’s mind for a constitutional amendment to fix our broken electoral system: 1. Eliminate the Electoral College — popular vote only. 2. Paper ballots only — no electronic voting. 3. Election Day must be made a holiday for all — or held on a weekend so more people vote. 4. All citizens, regardless of any run-ins with the criminal “justice” system, must have the right to vote. (In swing states like Florida and Virginia, 30-40% of all Black men are prohibited by law from voting.)
a.Hannah Arendt and Donald Trump: Origins of totalitarianism.
How a dead WWII-era philosopher understands Donald Trump better than anyone on CNN http://fusion.net/story/363002/hannah-arendt-donald-trump-origins-of-totalitarianism/
Vince Emmanuelle, veteran, now broadcaster, writer on Veterans Day in Trumps America
b.Trump’s 7 Most Dangerous Campaign Promises
1. Build a “Great Wall” and Mass Deportations…
2. Ban on Muslims Entering the U.S….
3. Repeal Obamacare and Replace it with a “Market-Based” Solution…
4. Cut Corporate Taxes…
5. Cancel Paris Climate Agreement…
6. Strengthen the U.S. Military
Trump said that he will make the U.S. military “so big and so strong and so great” that “nobody’s going to mess with us.” He has also promised to provoke China by increasing U.S. military presence in the East and China Seas, and has suggested that some non-nuclear countries might need to obtain their own nuclear arsenal. He denied reports that he repeatedly asked an international foreign policy expert why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons.
7. Cut Planned Parenthood Funding
Trump has promised to cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood which provides essential health services, including abortions, to millions of women in the U.S.
Donald Trump made hundreds of promises on the campaign trail, usually vague, often changing, but nonetheless terrifying. As the United States and the world wake up to the reality of a Trump presidency we review some of his most dangerous pledges. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Trumps-7-Most-Dangerous-Campaign-Promises-20161109-0002.html
c. From Guy Rundle in today’s Crikey
“So what happened? Well, exactly what Donald Trump promised to the RNC would happen. His campaign around economic nationalism, closed borders, non-“politically correct” US imperialism involving massive force, “draining the swamps” in Washington — conducted with the sort of hyper-aggressiveness that is common in pop culture, but hitherto kept out of politics — opened up states that the Republicans have been locked out of for decades. For a half-century the worker-progressive alliance has been the base of Democratic politics, and they have only lost when a slice of those workers have been snatched from them, in 1980 (2000 was a fix; 2004, a national security victory).
Now, Trump has sundered that alliance, perhaps forever. He did so with the connivance of the Democratic centre themselves. They looked at the voting patterns and preferences of the northern white working class, and decided that they were becoming increasingly hard to talk round — people left behind by economic change, increasingly given to displaced anger for their plight, from the “elites” to the “world not respecting us any more”. They still believed they would win those states, but to buttress they turned increasingly to the new west and the new south — Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia — and emphasise the social and cultural politics of race and gender.
The strategy was a double failure, though there were plenty of polls to suggest it wasn’t. Team Clinton reached for the new states and failed, with a campaign strong on identity politics, and Hillary as the personification of diverse populations’ desires, and weak on specific packages and proposals for the devastated north.
For the latter, she was judged initially by her involvement with NAFTA, and her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership; this was combined with stories about her private email server, her conduct during the Benghazi disaster, and the operation of the Clinton Foundation. For many however, bitter after 10 years of non-recovery after the crash, Hillary simply represented the shadowy establishment. There was a degree of misogyny in this, from both men and women — she was identified as the female professional boss or manager who had become an increasingly common figure in peoples lives — but Hillary gave plenty of raw material to the haters. Elizabeth Warren, had she run, would have stirred up nothing like the hatred Hillary attracted.
But central to Hillary’s failure with high school-educated whites in the northern states — a group she lost by 40% — was the change in the mode of public reasoning among these groups. Put simply, conspiracy thinking has ceased to be a fringe process; as far as I can tell it has become the dominant mode by which tens of millions think about social life. Everywhere, everywhere, people talk of shadowy forces that run their lives, that fix the vote, that work behind the scenes, that they often identify as “government”. It often isn’t that, of course: Americans live among monopoly capital, their lives run by giant corporations, by mega-health-insurance, by massive telecoms, by Amazon, by a hundred other things in which they have no control. Ceaselessly told that they live in a society of opportunity, when in fact they live in a society where there is little capacity to steer your own life, this contradiction is constructed as someone actively holding you back, running the show.
This was a diabolical public culture for Hillary to walk into, and worse still as her leaked emails showed a culture of influence peddling and image manipulation behind the scenes. When the FBI and the bizarre sexual scandal-prone Anthony Weiner was drawn in, in the final weeks, Clinton’s milieu was exposed as a cynical, decadent, elitist group who fit exactly with the suspicions of the culture. She ran in an era of the Hunger Games and Twilight, both mega-franchises that depict a bejewelled and self-flattering, knowing elite, lording it over hapless and doomed masses. These franchises work because people do believe that the elites are, literally, trying to kill them, and, metaphorically, trying to suck their life blood away.”
d. What Just Happened — National Socialism Wins When Socialism is Abandoned
Michael Roberts: Donald Trump and the poisoned chalice of the US economy
e. Read some insights here e.g. Trump as Caligula How Did We Get Here? What Lies Ahead?
by ANTHONY DIMAGGIO
Second, we need to understand the reasons why Trump won. This requires recognizing the uniqueness of this election on multiple fronts. Trump’s victory was just as much about the Democratic Party’s implosion as it was about the triumph of Trump’s “outsider” political campaign….
Trump’s economic message caught on among mass segments of the public who had been harmed greatly by the neoliberal, pro-business, corporate globalization agenda.
His populism didn’t speak much to Republican primary voters, who instead embraced his reactionary social and cultural agenda. But Trump’s economic populism did catch on among the masses by election day. This part of his campaign was clearly captured in the New York Times’ exit polling data. Staring Americans in the face were the following findings:
* 79 percent of voters who agreed that the condition of the nation’s economy is “poor” voted for Trump, while 55 percent of those feeling it was merely “fair” did the same.
* 78 percent of those saying their “family financial situation” is “worse today” than in the past voted for Trump.
* 65 percent of those who said the “effects of trade with other countries” has been to “take away jobs” voted for Trump.
…many were middle to upper middle class types with above average incomes, little to no experience with being unemployed, and were largely well-to-do.
f. Many rich elites backed Trump. Here is one Trump millionaire backer http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=AJ+US+elections2016&&view=detail&mid=863DB5DD589475739271863DB5DD589475739271&FORM=VRDGAR
Trump may suffer from ADHD.Trump as a Reality TV Circus Clown It may be that Donald Trump has little interest in the arduous work of governing a nation of 325 million people…
Pence to govern, If the Pence-Trump presidency becomes a reality, none of Trump’s proposals for helping working class Americans will be allowed to pass through a Republican Congress – save those that serve the agenda of America’s plutocratic elites.
Trump as a Populist Pariah
Trump as a Modern-Day Caligula. Americans would be unwise to discount the possibility of a proto-fascist or fascist president.
g. Fight back. Jill Stein an excellent third party green Party candidate on resisting Trump
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/globalisation-dead-white-supremacy-trump-neoliberal?CMP=soc_567 Donald Trump has won the presidency – not because of the “white working class”, but because millions of middle-class and educated US citizens reached into their soul and found there, after all its conceits were stripped away, a grinning white supremacist. Plus untapped reserves of misogyny.
h. On US being undemocratic. When in Washington, I attended a 5 hour DemocracySpring rally. Here is one report from the movement for democracy.Remember Clinton won the majority but lost the old state by state vote and millions of poor, Latino, African-American voters are disenfranchised by crooked rules.
Australia’s compulsory voting system is more democratic. http://everyvoice.org/featured/maryland-south-dakota
It was the Democrats’ embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump
Organizing in Trumpland By Vincent Emanuele November 14, 2016
i. Naomi Klein The rise of the Davos Class sealed US fate
They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry.
But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake: neoliberalism. That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate. If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake?…
j. Three reasons for hope
1.The People Know The System Is Broken And Want Change
Trump’s election, like Brexit, shows the public’s loathing of the establishment and the hunger for change.
In many quarters, this fact is patently obvious. …
2. Trump Will Be Awful. Like Abbott, He’ll Quickly Galvanise The Left And The Public Against Him…
3. The only viable strategy for the left to regain power and influence across Western democracies is to embrace left populism. The well-rehearsed successes of Podemos, Syriza, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in rapidly gaining support are evidence for that….
i AJ*: ex-Marine Iraq war veteran,anti-war. Solidarity brother. and Please share widely!
Shirley Winton: Struggle and turbulent times ahead for working class in the US –
Chris Hedges: Trump Will Crush Dissent With Even Greater Violence and Savagery “Let’s not pretend democracy died on November 8 with the election of Trump”. Trump is the iron fist of repression by US corporate capital (elite). There are the hard and soft tactics of controlling the people. The Clintons/Obamas of the US corporate “elite” ruled through deception and hid the truth about the hardships, anger and alienation of the working class poor – otherwise why are so many Americans, and others, in shock at Trump’s victory and didn’t see it coming. The image of fat, wealthy “middle class” projected by US media fooled many. And the so-called “left intelligentsia” and too many unions abandoned the working poor to the most reactionary forces.
k. “The US ‘Presidential cretinism’ (to adapt a phrase from Marx and Engels) is just that but again the Left is suckered into the media’s obsession with personalaties.
A Trump win will have two outcomes of import beyond the hoop-la. First, if he threatens the Empire, the Daleks will take him out. Secondly, his win would be a tiny plus for the forces of progress globally because the burst-arsehole face of imperialism and its reality would come closer.
Bush was hated but seen as an amiable drip. Obama did blackface for the Wall-street Warlords – as Billary is doing now by pretending to be a woman – like Thatcher. The disjunct between the anti-social media’s version of Trump and picturing the US as the world’s last best hope is oceanic. Trump’s bad look won’t bring the Empire down but it gives a tad more space to those of us who know that that demolition job is what has to be done, and that it will take more than 100 years – look at the clapped-out British one still in its death throes. A French comrade said to us in Paris in 1983: for the Yanks there is no ‘other’. To them, we are all latent US consumers. That mentality is only the surface of what we are up against.” Humphrey McQueen]]>
‘I recommend starting from the topic that most interests you and then reading the rest of the text. As it is impossible to develop all facets of an idea in two pages, only by reading the whole text will readers be able to fully understand each indi- vidual article.’
1. MASS UPRISINGS OR REVOLUTIONS? THE ROLE OF THE POLITICAL INSTRUMENT…………………….2
2. CONVINCE, NOT IMPOSE………………………………………………………………4
3. TO BE AT THE SERVICE OF POPULAR MOVEMENTS, NOT REPLACE THEM……………………………6
4. SHOULD WE REJECT BUREAUCRATIC CENTRALISM AND SIMPLY USE CONSENSUS?…………………8
5. MINORITIES CAN BE RIGHT……………………………………………………………10
6. THE NEED TO UNITE THE POLITICAL LEFT AND THE SOCIAL LEFT…………………………………………….12
7. REASONS FOR POPULAR SKEPTICISM TOWARDS POLITICS AND POLITICIANS…………………………14
8. THE LEFT SHOULD AVOID ALLOWING THE RIGHT TO SET ITS AGENDA FOR STRUGGLE…………..16
9. RESPECT DIFFERENCES AND BE FLEXIBLE IN REGARDS TO ACTIVISM…………………………………….18
10. A STRATEGY FOR BUILDING THE UNITY OF THE LEFT……………………………………………….20
11. POPULAR CONSULTATIONS: SPACES THAT ALLOW FOR THE CONVERGENCE OF DIFFERENT FORCES………………..22
12. DO NOT CONFUSE DESIRES WITH REALITY…………………………………………………………24
I recommend her new book
Marta Harnecker A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism. Translated by Fred Fuentes. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015.
Published in Latin American Perspectives, July 2015, Vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 108-112
by Steve Ellner*
In this work, the prolific Chilean Marxist writer Marta Harnecker applies Marx’s and Lenin’s theories on socialist construction to twenty-first century Latin American left governments and at the same time points to the original aspects of the lessons drawn from those experiences.
The book is divided into three parts: past developments such as the anti-neoliberal protests of the 1990s that helped change the political map in Latin America; the transition to socialism in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador; and the challenges faced by the left in power to achieving consolidation and hegemony. In each chapter, Harnecker discusses the effectiveness of mechanisms designed to bring about decentralization and popular participation in decision making. In some cases, she analyzes arrangements promoted by leftist governments such as worker cooperatives, community councils and participatory planning. In other cases, she presents proposals of her own, or those formulated by leftist activists and intellectuals.
The latter includes Canadian economist Michael Lebowitz (2010), whose emphasis on “human development” under socialism is shared by Harnecker.
The book is enriched by Harnecker’s familiarity with concrete problems, challenges and successes of leftist governments in Latin America and her ability to draw on the lessons and theories derived from struggles over the last two centuries. Indeed, Harnecker’s diverse political experiences include her leadership involvement in the Christian student movement, her studies under famed Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, participation in the leftist movement that supported President Salvador Allende, her extended residence in Cuba where she founded and ran an institute on popular memory, and her numerous interviews with Latin American leftist leaders and activists throughout the continent.
Another of the book’s contributions is Harnecker’s analysis and conclusions on the thorny issue of the role of the state in the prolonged, democratic transition to socialism. Harnecker implicitly rejects the social-democratic vision of a unified state that presides over socialist construction in the absence of intense political conflict. She also discards the applicability of Lenin’s concept of dual power in which two state structures compete and confront one another, one representing the old system and the other the new one. In contrast, Harnecker envisions the relatively harmonious coexistence of an old state, with a large presence of revolutionary cadre, and a new emerging state in what she calls a “relationship of complementarity” (p. 140). The old state, however, is plagued by “bureaucratism,” which Harnecker calls “the greatest scourge” (p. 185) and one of the main impediments to the advancement of the revolutionary process. She attributes bureaucratism to “excessive centralization” (p. 185) and the attitude among civil servants that they are called upon to “make the decisions because… they are the only ones who have the expertise to do so” (p. 186). She points to decentralization as the major corrective and quotes Marx in Civil War in France as saying “all that can be decentralized should be” (p. 81). Harnecker’s emphasis on bureaucracy is undoubtedly influenced by developments in countries where the radical left is in power, such as Venezuela, where inefficiency and corruption have become, along with the opposition’s disruptive tactics, major challenges facing leftists.
Harnecker insists that a “transition to socialism” is currently underway in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. To those who question the slowness of structural transformation in those nations, Harnecker argues that the “direction” in which the nations are heading and not the “pace at which [they]… are implementing change” is what counts since “the pace will largely depend on how they deal with the obstacles they encounter” (p. 10). In doing so, she takes issue with Valter Pomar, the Brazilian Workers’ Party leader and executive secretary of the Sao Paulo Forum, who claims that until the state is completely controlled by revolutionary forces, the current stage cannot be defined as anything other than the “struggle for socialism” (p. 105), as opposed to one of socialist transformation. Pomar, in effect, is warning against socialism’s immediate prospects throughout the continent. In contrast, Harnecker’s position implies that conditions in the three countries are ripe for structural change and that Chávez, Morales and Correa have gone beyond advanced welfare state policies by beginning to lay the groundwork for socialism. Elsewhere, Harnecker quotes Cuban Communist Roberto Regalado as saying that all three governments have implemented “reforms whose strategic direction and intent are anti-capitalist” (p. 48).
There are gaps and shortcomings in Harnecker’s analysis of the role of the state in socialist transformation and in her emphasis on the pitfalls of bureaucratism. At the theoretical level, she passes over the relationship between the state (referred to in Marxist terms as part of the “superstructure”) and the capitalist system (or the “structure”), which in all three countries continues to be dominant even though somewhat weakened. Regardless of the good intentions and revolutionary commitment of those in power, the state cannot be autonomous vis-à-vis the capitalist system. This fundamental principle is recognized by state theoreticians such as Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas belonging to distinct Marxist currents.
The tie-in between capitalist structure and state superstructure played out during and after the general strike that attempted to topple the Chávez government in 2002-2003. During the two-month shutdown when it appeared as if the Chavista government’s days were numbered, President Chávez relied on a group of businesspeople who refused to heed the strike call of the main business organization FEDECAMARAS. In the aftermath of that conflict, Chavez announced that he would favor the non-strike businesspeople, specifically in the authorization of preferential dollars (at favorable exchange rates) to finance imports. The ensuing unofficial alliance between the government and an emerging bourgeoisie outside of the fold of FEDECAMARAS made sense from political and economic viewpoints. Nevertheless, it was conducive to the abrupt accumulation of wealth by members of the new bourgeoisie and their unethical dealings, which were responsible for the banking crisis of 2009 followed by the arrest orders of over fifty bankers and the expropriation of thirteen banks (Ellner, 2014: 9).
Both Presidents Chavez and Nicolás Maduro have called for an “alliance” with “productive businesspeople” in an attempt to isolate those members of the private sector who seek to destabilize the nation’s economy.
Harnecker’s analysis of the “old state” overlooks this aspect of the complexity of socialist construction through peaceful democratic means and the material basis for bureaucratism and government backsliding. Her call for bottom-up participation in decision making would have been strengthened by a recognition of the need to create democratic mechanisms to supervise the ongoing interactions of state officials with the private sector, a necessary relationship but one that runs the risk of undermining the efficiency and popular thrust of the public administration.
Harnecker makes a distinction between the decentralization she proposes and anarchist-style and neoliberal-style decentralization. Unlike anarchists, she rejects the complete elimination of the central government on grounds that it is instrumental in bringing about a redistribution of the wealth. Unlike neoliberals, she prioritizes popular participation. In contrast to her detailed and informative discussion of popular participation, however, Harnecker places too much emphasis on decentralization as a corrective to bureaucratization. Indeed, decentralization can give rise to the same unwieldy bureaucracy that exists at the national level.
Viable mechanisms of popular participation – and not decentralization per se – are a sine qua non for combating inefficiency and corruption in the transit to socialism. Harnecker demonstrates the importance of popular participation even in the case of Ecuador, contrary to the assertions of some leftist scholars who question Correa’s commitment to authentic democracy. An example is the itinerant cabinets consisting of the interaction of the entire cabinet with mayors and the general populace in the form of workshops held throughout the country, especially in small towns, which are “prioritized over large cities” (p. 124). Harnecker claims that in these encounters “Correa is always careful not to make any promises that cannot be kept” (p. 125).
In general, Harnecker is a realist who recognizes that leftist strategy needs to take into account subjective and objective conditions, examples of which she points to throughout the book. In one example of the importance of objective conditions, Harnecker attributes the moderateness of Lula’s policies, in contrast to those of Chávez, largely to “the fact that Brazil depends to a much greater degree on international finance capital” (p. 55). She calls Chávez a “realist” (p. 8) and credits him with having taken “existing reality as [his]… starting point” (p. 8), which consisted of “the inherited state apparatus, the inherited economic system and the inherited culture” (p. 9). On the international front, Chávez realized that the changes brought about by globalization “required an alternative globalization” and he thus rejected the old notion of building “socialism in one country” (p. 9).
Subjective conditions, as defined by the level of political consciousness and commitment of popular and leftist forces, are harder to measure, but no less significant than objective ones. Indeed, the left in the era of Marx and Lenin tended to highlight objective conditions, but over the last half a century or more leftist political analysts and activists have assigned increasing importance to subjective conditions, which are a fundamental component of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.
Harnecker presents a realistic evaluation of political and subjective conditions prevalent in Latin America in order to determine what leftist governments can do and “cannot do, not because of lack of will but rather because of … limitations” (p. 54). In doing so, she takes issue with the “ultra-left” by questioning the viability of “things that more radical left sectors, which demand that their governments take more drastic measures, often fail to take into account” (p. 54). Thus she points out that company employees are not prepared to assume management responsibilities because “capitalism has never been interested in providing workers with the necessary technical knowledge” (pp. 85-86) to do so. Nevertheless, she underscores the importance of workers’ participation and notes that failure to incorporate them in decision making in the Soviet Union converted them into “mere cogs in the machine” and meant that a factory in that nation “differed little from its capitalist counterpart” (p. 84). At the same time, however, she questions the applicability of the term “state capitalism” to Soviet bloc nations.
Harnecker’s evaluation of the correlation of political forces in Latin America leaves room for guarded optimism. Harnecker agrees with Valter Pomar that the new correlation of forces in Latin America is “capable of limiting foreign intervention in the region” (p. 30). She goes on to discuss numerous setbacks to U.S. domination, such as the rejection of the Washington-promoted FTAA trade proposal, growth in the region’s economic relations with China, Ecuador’s closing of the Manta military base, the OAS’s support for lifting sanctions against Cuba, Brazil’s decision to buy French rather than U.S. military equipment, and the growing number of international meetings and the establishment of new organizations and programs “without U.S. participation” (p. 34).
A more somber leftist view, however, would point out that the radical leftist governments of Bolivia and Ecuador have always been politically volatile and that they lack an industrial base, while Venezuela is highly dependent on oil and lacking in a diversified economy. None of the nations with a more solid industrial base have joined the radical left camp. Harnecker’s position is that the governments of the moderate left such as those of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have failed to break with neoliberalism, even while they have implemented viable social programs.
Harnecker also identifies herself with a school of thinking sometimes labeled “eco-socialism,” which attempts to reconcile Marx’s materialist doctrine with ecological imperatives. She credits Marx with anticipating environmentalism, especially toward the end of his life when he moved away from the developmentalism and positivism that characterized some of his writing at an earlier date. After welcoming capitalism’s capacity to revolutionize productive forces including in the countryside, Marx and Engels began to warn that a new capitalist-driven agricultural revolution “would only worsen… problems” (p. 66), particularly as a result of soil depletion. This dimension of Marxism is particularly relevant due to the confrontations between progressive Latin American governments and indigenous populations opposed to megaprojects, which Harnecker very briefly discusses in the case of the conflict-ridden Huanuni tin mine in Bolivia (Fuentes, 2014: 112-117; Webber, 2013: 181-183).
In short, A World to Win is a valuable study of the twenty-first century Latin American radical left in power. Most important, it discusses a diversity of concrete proposals and experiences at the same time that it presents a theoretical framework to understand the transformation of the state in the process of structural change. If Harnecker’s reasoning regarding the socialist path of radical left governments is correct, her analysis is especially important because the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are presenting an attractive alternative to the forceful conquest of power undertaken by the communist movements that reached power in the twentieth century. Other studies that examine in detail the knotty problems confronting all three governments are required if these experiences are to be assimilated and useful lessons drawn. Future studies need to be empirically strong and theoretically grounded, as is A World to Win. Specifically, they need to focus on the contradictions inherent in the process whereby a government committed to socialism interacts with the capitalist class in order eventually to change the capitalist system.
No Dump Alliance Sign the petition http://www.nodumpalliance.org.au
Update 2017: Briefing Paper “Nuclear fuel waste storage targets SA’s iconic Flinders Ranges” (Jan 2017) by David Noonan, Independent Environment Campaigner.
Over 2017 community will increasingly focus on Federal gov. proposed imposition of nuclear waste on Adnyamathanha lands in SA’s iconic Flinders Ranges, in the lead up to the SA election in March 2018 and with a Federal Cabinet decision due by late 2017.
Briefer is posted on Friends of the Earth Australia website at: http://archive.foe.org.au/waste
No nuclear Port of Adelaide
Tony Webb Where is it coming from and where is it going?
• Where is this waste coming from? The Royal commission speculates about various countries wanting us to take their waste but there’s nothing definite.
• Where will it come into Australia? We’ve heard that it might come in via Darwin (unlikely) or (more likely) through a new specially built port in the Spencer Gulf. If so where is this to be built – and at what cost, paid for by whom?
• Where will it be stored? It has been suggested there will need to be a secure temporary store at the port and another (or several) elsewhere above ground that will hold the highly radioactive waste for up to 100 years until ‘disposed of’ underground. Where will these temporary dump sites be? On whose land? And where is the proposed underground site to be?
• Where are the detailed engineering plans for this supposedly ‘secure’ but ‘unguarded’ underground site? No other country in the world has yet found a way to safely dispose of nuclear wastes. Several countries are trying – on a much smaller scale than proposed for South Australia – and for their own waste only.
What are the economic costs, benefits & risks?
• How much waste will we be taking? Various estimates have been thrown around about the total waste that we might get from other countries along with estimates for the number of ships delivering this each month and the way it might be transported to the temporary stores and the as yet unproven final dump site. Obviously the more we take the more money we get assuming that there is a fixed price and no other country competes and undercuts us in this. But if they do we may have the same costs but far fewer benefits.
• What will it cost – to build and maintain the ports, storage sites, and the underground dump? Some of these are the ‘fixed’ costs – money that will be spent whether we get a lot or a little nuclear waste from overseas.
• So how much do we hope to benefit and what are the risks? The highly speculative and somewhat inflated estimates of the amount of waste we might get, the amount other countries might be prepared to pay us to take it and the equally deflated estimates of the costs we will incur (no ‘might’ about these) paint a very rosy picture.
• How real is this? What are the risks if any of these figures is wrong? What happens if the waste volume and/or the price we can get is only 50% or even 80% of the inflated estimate? How much do we then lose even if the costs of doing what there is no precedent for doing safely don’t blow out. And if there is one thing we ought by now to have learned about the costs of major projects in this country it is that the costs always do blow out.
Is handling highly radioactive material ‘safe’?
We are being told that there are no safety issues. This is either a deliberate lie or wilful ignorance! There is no safe level of exposure to ionising radiation and there is a growing body of evidence that now shows the risks have yet again been seriously underestimated.
• Over the past 70 years the nuclear industry has on many occasions been forced to accept that the risks are greater than those used for setting protection standards. Often many years after the evidence was widely available the exposure limits for workers and the public were eventually lowered.
• Even so, these are not ‘safe’ limits. They merely limit the statistical probability that an individual will die if they receive this limiting dose. In fact, workers routinely exposed at the limit run a one in two hundred risk of dying of cancer over a working lifetime.
• But the critical factor is the collective dose – the total received by all those exposed however this is spread around (however small the doses individual workers or members of the public get). It is this collective dose which determines the total number of cancers and genetic damage to future generations and other possible health effects.
• The evidence now available from studies of the populations across Europe exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 (and emerging also from the Fukushima accident) show clearly that the official risk estimates for these effects are wrong. The cancer risk is many times greater. In addition, there is evidence for a range of other health effects that make the risk from exposures greater still.
• All of this, which the recent SA royal commission seems to either be blissfully unaware of or chooses to ignore, raises several safety questions about the proposals for handling nuclear waste.
How do we prevent people from suffering serious health effects?
The radioactive waste is to be transported from the sending countries to Australia by ship, unloaded and stored at a port or ports, shipped by road or rail to the ‘temporary’ storage site and then (it is hoped) placed underground. Some questions beg for answers.
• What is the likely total radiation dose to be received by all those in this supply-dump chain?
• What are the projected health effects of this total exposure – taking into account the best available evidence of radiation risks not the current underestimates?
• What are the potential risks in the event of an accident or (and we hate to have to ask this) in the event of terrorist activity?
How can we ensure safety and security over the various timescales for each stage of the operation?
• Consider the 100-120 years proposed for above ground nuclear waste storage facilities. The past 100 years has seen two world wars, several major nuclear accidents, a growing international threat from terrorist groups – some keen to get access to nuclear material – and an evolving upheaval in the global social and political order as a result of rapid climate change that is displacing whole populations and putting pressures on environments, water, land and food resources as well as communities and cultures. How can we ensure political and social stability for the next 100 years?
• Now consider these challenges over millennia – the hundreds of thousands of years, longer than recorded human history, that this waste will remain dangerously radioactive . . . . Please do consider and let us come up with some sensible answers before we take a decision that we can’t reverse.
How will we keep future generations informed of the danger?
• We are still learning about the history of civilisations that preceded our own – mainly by archaeologists finding sites that look interesting and digging them up to find out what is there.
• Can we hope that future generations, long after our civilisation has forgotten that it was highly radioactive material we buried on our dump site, will not do the same?
• If not how will we ensure that information about what we have done with these wastes is passed on?
What do we need to insist on if this proposal to take a third of the world’s nuclear waste goes ahead?
• What happens if it doesn’t work out as planned? Are we to be left with a large amount of waste we can’t dispose of – taking other countries’ problem and making it ours? Is there to be a ‘return to sender’ clause in the contract and if not why not?
• What revisions to the radiation protection standards are needed to reflect the true risk to workers and the public from any routine exposure or accidental release of radioactive material?
• What degree of certainty or at least range of financial estimates is needed to decide whether the proposal could yield economic benefits that outweigh the costs?
• What are the alternatives? If we can afford to spend billions on a nuclear waste dump, what other ways could this money be spent that would create more secure long term employment for a wider range of skills and with far less risks to the economy and to public health?
• What alternative opportunities might we miss if we invest $ billions in the nuclear waste option?
The challenge of global warming leading to climate change has created a need for rapid development of alternative non-polluting energy technologies. This creates an opportunity for revitalising the manufacturing industry in South Australia to provide these alternative energy systems as well as creating jobs in their construction and or installation. The prime candidates for these technologies are in: large and medium scale wind turbines, photo-electric, solar heating and solar electric systems (both household/rooftop and large scale), electric battery storage and control systems (again household or district scale) and hydro pump storage (using surplus from solar/wind renewable power sources to pump seawater into cliff-top reservoirs and release through hydro turbines to generate electricity during periods when sun and wind don’t provide enough power. Some good news – In all of this it is now recognised, even by the recent Royal Commission, that there is no role for nuclear power generation in South Australia.
Finally, who decides and how is this decision to be made?
We have several processes either underway or being proposed each with possibilities and problems. The South Australian Royal Commission produced a much criticised pro-nuclear waste dump report. This is now the subject of:
• A South Australian parliamentary inquiry
• A proposed ‘Citizens Jury’ process – with a small group tasked to identify technical issues and present these to a larger group for consideration
• A government commitment to consult aboriginal communities likely to be affected by any dump decision
• Proposed consultations with members of other communities likely to be affected
• A commitment to discuss issues with trade union and Labor movement interests – presumably around economic, employment and safety issues
• Calls from various political groups for a state-wide referendum on the nuclear dump question
• Proposed changes to State legislation that currently prohibits the State spending any money on promoting let alone developing the proposed nuclear waste dump plans
• Controversy at the Federal level – where nuclear matters are regulated under the foreign affairs powers – and where a decision with such long term implications as a nuclear dump would require a bi-partisan approach as a minimum – and where the Federal Labor party has policy unequivocally opposed to allowing any importing of nuclear wastes.
So – in summary at this stage we don’t have any definite plans around which people can be expected to make a decision.
We have a flawed Royal Commission report that failed to address the key questions outlined here. It offered only a pipe dream that we could make a fortune by taking in around a third of the world’s nuclear trash – and do so safely despite a lack of evidence that this could be technically, socially/culturally and politically achievable.
This is a dream that could turn into a nightmare if any of the following happen:
• The deep underground nuclear waste dump cannot be built – or costs too much to build – leaving large volume of highly radioactive waste in long term ‘temporary’ storage even beyond the 100 years already planned.
• The optimistic economic estimates are wrong – because other countries are unwilling to pay the inflated price the current plan is based and/or we take less waste because other countries compete to provide a dump (which is inevitable if and when the technical feasibility problems of building such a dump are overcome) or the costs of providing the proposed port, storage and dump facilities blow out (as they almost certainly will). With any of these scenarios we could end up with an economic (and highly radioactive) white elephant – a burden on the economy for many generations into the future.
• There is a significant burden of collective exposure to the population – something very likely given the proposed amount of nuclear material and the time frames over which people will be exposed in the handling, storage and dumping of these wastes even without accidents or terrorism activity. If so there will be a significant scale of health effects from such exposures – both in terms of cancers and other health problems in the exposed population and the genetic effects transmitted over future generations. How will the public react when the claim that the dump is ‘safe’ is exposed as a lie?
How might answers to these questions be found?
In light of these questions the current proposals to take nuclear waste from around the world in the hope we can safely and profitably store and then dispose of this hazardous material are seriously flawed.
The proposals are lacking in practical answers on matters that need to be fully aired and considered ahead of any process of public consultation and decision-making about becoming the world’s nuclear waste dump.
It is our view that any further progress with the various consultation and decision-making processes in the absence of reliable answers to these questions should cease. On the absence of answers any such processes will be seen as an attempt to ‘manufacture consent’ – which even if it can be achieved in the short term will not hold up into the future.
Finding answers to these questions will not be easy. Arguably it was the task of the Royal Commission to address these – or at the very least to present a report that identified these and perhaps others that needed further work and fuller discussion. If this was its task it clearly failed. What we have is a partisan report presenting nuclear industry apologists pipe dreams and those involved in producing this should be debarred from any further involvement in the process.
A genuine commission of inquiry – seeking answers to the key questions of relevance to the decision about how best Australia should manage its own nuclear wastes would seem to be the urgent next step – and establishing such an inquiry with people who can be seen to be impartial and who draw on the wide range of expertise available to come up with practical proposals an essential part of this. These proposals should then be the subject of wide and extended consultation. This is not putting off the inevitable – the fact is that there are facilities already available to manage this level of Australian radiative waste in Australia for the next 15 years. There is no need to rush a decision – particularly not one that will have such far reaching consequences.
As for other countries’ nuclear wastes – these are problems for which they and the world need to carefully consider options and possible solutions. The process of managing our own waste problems, and managing the process by which a national consensus can be reached on how to deal with them, will be a significant part of our contribution to the global problem.
Comments on these questions are welcome
Please contact via email@example.com or phone 0418212632
Update 29 June 2016:
Citizen’s Jury – weighing evidence or manufacturing consent? Observations from the first sitting day
Following on from the already much criticised recommendation from the Nuclear Industry Royal Commission that South Australia become the site for storage and hopefully disposal of around a third of the world’s nuclear waste, the government has funded a ‘citizens’ jury’ process. In the first stage of this a group of 50 people have been randomly selected as representing a cross section of the public – balanced by age, gender and whether they own or rent their homes – to spend 4 days identifying questions of concern and producing a consensus report on the evidence to be later presented to a large group of around 450 citizens for further consideration.
Let us for a moment leave aside the concern about the way the naming of this process as a ‘jury’ is so obviously a myth – divorced from anything that resembles a balanced legal process where evidence is weighed by a group of citizens in the context where a case for and against is presented to them in the presence of an impartial judge who ensures that the process is fair and balanced. Let us focus on one of the all-prevailing concepts of trial by jury: where people giving evidence commit to telling the truth – the whole of it and nothing but. On this simple basic requirement, the process of the citizens’ jury leaves much to be desired.
As part of a small group I was permitted to observe the first two sessions of the first day of this ‘jury’ process dominated by three representatives of the Royal Commission presenting the main recommendations contained in the 320 page report released in May 2016. I left deeply concerned that the jury were, if not being directly lied to, being given something far short of the whole truth. Let me give just three examples.
In response to one juror who asked the simple question about whether there was an existing example anywhere in the world of the kind of deep underground waste dump being proposed for South Australia she was told about the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the USA. Perhaps conveniently omitting the inconvenient truth that this site is currently still closed as a result of a fire in 2014 and release of radiation in the underground facility.
Asked whether the deep underground storage proposal was the best option for dealing with the waste another juror was told that this had been thoroughly investigated in the USA as part of the Yucca Mountain waste storage disposal site – again conveniently omitting to say that the Yucca Mountain site proposal had been abandoned.
But of much deeper concern was the way ‘evidence’ on radiation safety was presented. The Royal Commission proposes that we import by ship 138,000 tonnes of highly radioactive ‘spent’ nuclear reactor fuel rods in 140 tonne steel and concrete containers, unload and store these at a dedicated port, transport them overland to a long term ‘secure’ above ground storage that would be needed for around 120 years while a deep underground disposal site is identified and built for long term storage. The waste repository would involve a mine shaft and caverns excavated some 500 metres underground into which the fuel rods (presumably removed from the 140 tonne containers) would be deposited. The
caverns would then be back filled with clay and the whole site eventually sealed so as to prevent anyone gaining access for several hundred thousand years.
Now, for the moment let us ignore the wishful thinking that can ignore the fact that the past 100 years have seen two world wars, at least two global financial meltdowns, a current threat of international terrorism and a changing world order that is shuffling the deck of cards that the game of geopolitics is played by. Let us also ignore the fact that the time frame for considering this nuclear waste safety issue extends beyond that of recorded history – with its many changes in dominant civilisations cultures and values. And let us forget that most of what we know of these previous now only vaguely understood civilisations has been learned as a result of archaeologists finding places that looked interesting and digging them up to see what was there (and often finding that ‘robbers’ had been there before them).
What was presented to the jury was a set of bland assurances about the insignificance of the risk to the workers and the public who might come in close proximity to the radiative waste containers during the transport and 100+ year period of above ground storage. Estimates of the exposure were compared to ‘natural’ background and that received from medical exposures (x rays and nuclear medicine) and the health effects of radiation exposures at these levels dismissed as insignificant – one of the RC representatives even suggested that low level radiation exposures might have health benefits. Conveniently ignored was a significant body of evidence from studies on workers and the public exposed to low levels of radiation that there is no safe level – no threshold below which significant health effects do not occur. The mechanisms by which radiation causes health damage, particularly cancers which are the most studied area, may be complex but evidence suggests that any exposure increases the risk. Faced with this evidence it is not the average or individual time-limited exposure that is critical to the question of safety and acceptability of risk, but the collective dose received by any and all people who are exposed at all stages in the process of managing these radioactive wastes and the cumulative dose received over the very long (minimum 100+ year) periods envisaged for the nuclear storage and disposal process.
To talk only of the dose that might be received by a person standing close to one of the 140 tonne casks is highly misleading. It ignores the cumulative exposure of those handling these containers on ships, at ports, in long term storage, in removing the individual radiative fuel rods for underground storage (unless it is proposed that the whole 140 tonne containers are to be deposited in the underground resting place). It also conveniently ignores the fact that constructing the deep underground ‘repository’ also involves significant radiation exposure. It is a fact that any hard rock mining releases radioactive radon gas. This is a particular hazard not just in uranium mining but any underground mining where the mineral ores are in hard rock. As well as being a risk when inhaled as a gas, part of the radon decay process results in the creation of ‘daughter’ products that are in the form of radioactive particles. These can be deposited in the lungs of the exposed miners where they may remain, emitting radiation in close contact to soft tissues for a lifetime. The result is significantly increased risk of lung cancer – often occurring many years after exposure with considerable difficulty in gaining recognition and compensation for the health damage caused by the mining work.
An honest, truthful presentation of the radiation risk requires at the very least an effort to model and estimate the total collective/cumulative exposure across all these aspects of the nuclear waste disposal process. Then the application of realistic risk estimates to this total exposure to get a rough estimate of the total number of fatal cancers that will result. With this evidence members of a citizens’ jury might be able to make an informed assessment of whether the radiation exposure risk is ‘acceptable’. Without it they cannot.
Even then this assessment might leave out ethical considerations regarding whether it is acceptable to expect others to take this risk on our behalf. Add to the above the mounting evidence that the official risk estimates of health effects from radiation exposure are once again wrong. As with all the previous official estimates used to set radiation exposure ‘limits’ the most recent evidence shows that the risks of fatal radiation-induced cancers are significantly underestimated – certainly by a factor of two, probably by a factor of six and possibly by a factor of thirteen. Add to this evidence for ‘non-fatal’ but life damaging cancers that double the risk again – and then the evidence for other non-cancer health effects doubling the risk again and the assurances that the nuclear waste dump is safe start to look a bit one-sided if not actually downright dishonest.
So given the pattern of distortions and omissions so evident on just the first day of this citizens’ jury process are we seeing a genuine effort to allow the public to assess the evidence behind the royal commission recommendation or a cynical attempt to manufacture public consent? We can hope that there are some within the group of selected ‘jurors’ who have some inkling that there is more to the story than they are being told.
Dr Tony Webb
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 0418212632
In a country that is divided about nuclear power and where the annual economic value of uranium exports is a modest A$622 million (roughly equal to Australia’s cheese exports), the origin of the nuclear waste proposal is puzzling and inevitably involves speculation.
However, one could suggest the political influence of BHP-Billiton, owner of Olympic Dam in South Australia, Australia’s largest uranium mine and the second-largest in the world, and Rio Tinto, owner of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory.
A global nuclear waste site would lock future generations of Australians into an industry that is dangerous and very expensive. It’s unlikely to gain social consent from Indigenous Australians, or indeed the majority of all Australians. Given the risks, it would be wise not to proceed.
From Medical Assoc for the Prevention of War stating no safe levels – radiation is clearly harmful at low levels. https://www.mapw.org.au/news/mapw-urges-mining-company-halt-junk-science-promotion
Brett Stokes: Your Say Nuclear, please address the question “Did the Citizens Jury process consider the view that Scarce and Weatherill have been deceptive on the health aspects of the science?”
Continuing failure to respond will be interpreted as a “no”,
I point out that, in circumstances where children are at risk, false assurances of safety are a criminal matter.
I also point out the MAPW – health professionals promoting peace warnings on use of “junk science”.
“On the matter of ionising radiation and health, Noel Wauchope rebuts five misleading speakers at the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury hearings on Australia’s nuclear waste importation plan.
IN TWO DAYS of 25 Citizens’ Jury sessions in Adelaide (on 25-26 June), about nuclear waste importing, there was minimal coverage of the question of ionising radiation and health.
What little there was, was skimpy, superficial and downright deceptive, in 209 pages of transcripts.
There was not one mention of the world’s authoritative bodies on the subject — The World Health Organisation, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or any of the reports on biological effects of ionising radiation.
There was no explanation of the “linear no threshold” (LNT) theory on ionising radiation and health, despite the fact that this theory is the one accepted by all the national and international health bodies, including the Ionising Radiation Safety Institute of Australia who, on this topic, quote the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).
Read more here
On nuclear workers’ fatalities: An investigation in the U.S. last year, revealed at least 33,480 American nuclear workers died as a result of their radiation exposure. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation also reported on nuclear workers’ leukaemia.
Helen Caldicott: An absolutely crazy concept, these people in the Royal commission could almost be labelled nuclear sociopaths
Update 13 July:
Citizens jury queries economics?
This article is from a keynote address presented at Manifesta in Ostend, Belgium on September 19, 2015. This year’s Manifesta was organized around the theme of climate change in preparation for the COP21 climate negotiations (and protests) in Paris in December 2015. http://monthlyreview.org/2015/11/01/the-great-capitalist-climacteric/
Humanity today is confronted with what might be called the Great Capitalist Climacteric. In the standard definition, a climacteric (from the Greek klimaktēr or rung on the ladder) is a period of critical transition or a turning point in the life of an individual or a whole society. From a social standpoint, it raises issues of historical transformation in the face of changing conditions.1 In the 1980s environmental geographers Ian Burton and Robert Kates referred to “the Great Climacteric” to address what they saw as the developing global ecological problem of the limits to growth, stretching from 1798 (the year of publication of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population) to 2048, 250 years later. “Applied to population, resources, and environment throughout the world,” the notion of a Great Climacteric, they wrote, “captures the idea of a period that is critical and where serious change for the worse may occur. It is a time of unusual danger.”2
(Hear from BLF Green Bans leader, Jack Mundey, on why the union movement is marching this Friday 27th November with the People’s Climate March. http://www.weareunion.org.au/climate_march
I will use the term the Great Capitalist Climacteric here to refer to the necessary epochal social transition associated with the current planetary emergency. It refers both to the objective necessity of a shift to a sustainable society and to the threat to the existence of Homo sapiens (as well as numerous other species) if the logic of capital accumulation is allowed to continue dictating to society as a whole. The current world of business as usual is marked by rapid climate change, but also by the crossing or impending crossing of numerous other planetary boundaries that define “a safe operating space for humanity.”3 It was the recognition of this and of the unprecedented speed of Earth system change due to social-historical factors that led scientists in recent years to introduce the notion of the Anthropocene epoch, marking the emergence of humanity as a geological force on a planetary scale.4 As leading U.S. climatologist James Hansen explains, “The rapidity with which the human-caused positive [climate] forcing is being introduced has no known analog in Earth’s history. It is thus exceedingly difficult to foresee the consequences if the human-made climate forcing continues to accelerate.”5
With the present rate of carbon emission, the world will break the global carbon budget—reaching the trillionth metric ton of combusted carbon and generating a 2°C increase in global average temperature—within a generation or so.6
Once we reach a 2°C increase, it is feared, we will be entering a world of climate feedbacks and irreversibility where humanity may no longer be able to return to the conditions that defined the Holocene epoch in which civilization developed.
The 2°C “guardrail” officially adopted by world governments in Copenhagen in 2009 is meant to safeguard humanity from plunging into what prominent UK climatologist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change has called “extremely dangerous” climate change. Yet, stopping carbon emissions prior to the 2°C boundary, Anderson tells us, will at this point require “revolutionary change to the political economic hegemony,” going against the accumulation of capital or economic growth characteristics that define the capitalist system. More concretely, staying within the carbon budget means that global carbon emissions must at present be cut by around 3 percent a year, and in the rich countries by approximately 10 percent per annum—moving quickly to zero net emissions (or carbon neutrality).
For an “outside chance” of staying below 2°C, Anderson declared in 2012, the rich (OECD, Annex I) countries would need to cut their emissions by 70 percent by 2020 and 90 percent by 2030.7
Yet, despite the widespread awareness of the planetary emergency represented by global warming, carbon emissions have continued to rise throughout the world. The failure of capitalism to implement the necessary cuts in carbon dioxide can be explained by the threat that this poses to its very existence as a system of capital accumulation. As a result civilization is faced by a threat of self-extermination that over the long run is as great as that posed by a full nuclear exchange—and in a process that is more inexorable. The present reality of global capitalism makes it appear utopian to call for a revolutionary strategy of “System Change Not Climate Change.” But the objective of stopping climate change leaves the world with no other option, since avoiding climate-change disaster will be even more difficult—and may prove impossible—if the global population does not act quickly and decisively.
Some observers have been quick to conclude that 2°C will inevitably be crossed given prevailing social reality and the failure of current climate negotiations, and that we should therefore simply accept this and shift the target, choosing to stop climate change before it reaches a 3°C or a 4°C increase.
This is a view that the World Bank has subtly encouraged.8 It is necessary, however, to take into account the likely non-linear effects of such global warming on the entire Earth system. Beyond 2°C, the level of uncertainty, and the threat of uncontrollable Earth warming due to “slow feedbacks” and the crossing of successive thresholds (tipping points), are magnified enormously.9 Human actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions might then come too late, not simply in the sense of an increase in catastrophic events such as extreme weather or the effects of sea level rise, but also in the even more ominous sense of humanity’s loss of the power to stabilize the climate (and civilization). We do not know when and where such a global tipping point will be reached, but today’s climate science tells us that it is much closer to a 2°C increase than was thought when that boundary was originally proposed. What was once believed to be “dangerous climate” change arising at 2°C is now considered to be “highly dangerous.”10 If uncontrollable global warming—driven by the reduction in the albedo effect (the reflectivity of the earth), the release of methane from the permafrost, and other slow feedbacks—were to take over, human beings would have little choice but simply to try to adapt in whatever ways they could, watching while their own future, and even more that of future generations, evaporated before their eyes.11
Indeed, even the 2°C guardrail approach, Hansen argues, is too conservative. If major sea level rise engulfing islands and threatening coastal cities throughout the world and displacing hundreds millions of people is to be avoided, society needs to aim at reaching 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon (down from the present 400 ppm) by 2100, which would require cutting net carbon emissions by about 6 percent per annum globally.12
As bad as all of this is, it is essential to keep in mind that climate change is only one part of the Great Capitalist Climacteric confronting the world in the twenty-first century—although related to all the others. The world economy has already crossed or is on the brink of crossing a whole set of planetary boundaries, each one of which represents a planetary emergency in its own right, including ocean acidification, loss of biological diversity, the disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, disappearance of fresh water, land cover change (particularly deforestation), and growing pollution from synthetic chemicals (leading to biomagnification and bioaccumulation of toxins in living organisms).13 The common denominator behind all of these rifts in the biogeochemical cycles of the planet is the system of capital accumulation on a global scale. This points to the need for truly massive, accelerated social change exceeding in scale not only the great social revolutions of the past, but also the great transformations of production marked by the original Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution: namely, a twenty-first century Ecological Revolution.
Natural science can take us only so far on these issues. Since the source of the Great Capitalist Climacteric lies in the historical constitution of human society, necessitating a social revolution, we must turn to social science as a guide. Yet, the dominant social science has as its underlying premise—structuring its entire frame of analysis—the notion that the critique of capitalism is off limits. This is so much the case that even the name “capitalism,” as John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out in The Economics of Innocent Fraud, was increasingly replaced in the 1980s by the “meaningless designation” of “the market system.”14 When capitalism is referred to at all today in the mainstream it is as a mere synonym for the watered down notion of a competitive market society, viewed as the end (telos) of human history—both in the sense that all of history is seen as the unfolding of a natural tendency toward market capitalism, and that capitalism itself is “the end of history.”15
The result of such ahistorical thinking is that conventional thought, with only minor exceptions, has virtually no serious social scientific analysis on which to rely in confronting today’s Great Capitalist Climacteric. Those who swallow whole the notion that there is no future beyond capitalism are prone to conclude—in defiance of the facts—that the climate crisis can be mitigated within the present system. It is this social denialism of liberal-left approaches to the climate crisis, and of the dominant social science, that led Naomi Klein to declare in This Changes Everything that “the right is right” in viewing climate change as a threat to capitalism. The greatest obstacle before us, she insists, is not the outright denialism of the science by the far right, but rather the social denialism of the dominant liberal discourse, which, while giving lip service to the science, refuses to face reality and recognize that capitalism must go.16
If conventional social science is crippled at every point by corrupt adherence to a prevailing class reality, the postmodern turn over the last few decades has generated a left discourse that is just as ill-equipped to address the Great Capitalist Climacteric. Largely abandoning historical analysis (grand narratives) and the negation of the negation—that is, the idea of a revolutionary forward movement—the left has given way to extreme skepticism and the deconstruction of everything in existence, constituting a profound “dialectic of defeat.”17
Although some hope is to be found in the Green theory or “ecologism” that has emerged in the context of the environmental movement, such views are typically devoid of any secure moorings within social (or natural) science, relying on neo-Malthusian assumptions coupled with an abstract ethical orientation that focuses on the need for a new, ecocentric world-view aimed at protecting the earth and other species.18 The main weakness of this new ecological conscience is the absence of anything remotely resembling “the confrontation of reason with reality,” in the form of a serious ecological and social critique of capitalism as a system.19 Abstract notions like growth, industrialism, or consumption take the place of investigations into the laws of motion of capitalism as an economic and social order, and how these laws of motion have led to a collision course with the Earth system.
It is therefore the socialist tradition, building on the powerful foundations of historical materialism—and returning once more to its radical foundations to reinvent and re-revolutionize itself—to which we must necessarily turn in order to find the main critical tools with which to address the Great Capitalist Climacteric and the problem of the transition to a just and sustainable society. A period of self-criticism within Marxian theory, commencing in the 1960s and developing over decades, eventually gave rise to a revolution in its understanding of social-ecological conditions. Yet, like most intellectual revolutions the new insights arose only by standing “on the shoulders of giants”—that is, based on the rediscovery and reconstruction of prior understandings, in the face of changing conditions.
The advance of Marxian ecology was the product of a massive archaeological dig in the scientific foundations of Marx’s thought, allowing for the development of a much richer understanding of the relation of the materialist conception of history to the materialist conception of nature—and generating a deeper, wider social-ecological critique of capitalist society.
By the end of the last century this return to Marx’s ecology had resulted in three crucial scientific breakthroughs: (1) the rediscovery of what could be called Marx’s “ecological value-form analysis”; (2) the recovery and reconstruction of his theory of metabolic rift; and (3) the retrieval of the two types of ecological crisis theory embedded in his analysis. These critical breakthroughs were to generate new strategic insights into revolutionary praxis in the Anthropocene.
The Three Critical Breakthroughs of Ecological Marxism
What has often been called the Western Marxist tradition that arose in the 1920s and ’30s, was distinguished primarily by its rejection of the dialectics of nature and Soviet-style dialectical materialism.20 The interpretation of Marx’s approach to the relation of nature and society in the Western Marxist tradition found its most systematic early expression in Alfred Schmidt’s 1962 The Concept of Nature in Marx, originally written as a doctoral thesis under the supervision of Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Schmidt recognized the central importance of Marx’s notion of social metabolism in the development of a revolutionary, new conception of nature. Yet, this was to be set aside in Schmidt’s wider criticism, which attributed to Marx the same narrow instrumentalist-productivist vision purportedly characteristic of the “dialectic of Enlightenment” as a whole.21
In the 1970s and ’80s Schmidt’s overall negative assessment of Marx on nature was adopted by what has now come to be known as “first-stage ecosocialism,” associated with figures such as Ted Benton and Andre Gorz.22 Benton argued that Marx had gone overboard in his criticism of Malthus’s population theory to the point of denying natural limits altogether.23 The mature Marx (as distinguished from the Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts) was thus seen as devoid of positive ecological values and as promoting a crude “Promethean” productivism. A common practice of first-stage ecoscialism was to graft both neo-Malthusian concepts and the primarily ethical standpoint of Green theory onto more traditional Marxian theory, creating a hybrid ecosocialism or what was referred to as “the greening of Marxism.”24
As Raymond Williams critically observed, the result was a tendency to “run together two kinds of thinking” associated with Green theory and Marxism, rather than going back to the roots of historical materialism to uncover its own ecological premises.25
It was in this context that a “second-stage ecosocialism,” challenging the first, arose in the 1990s in the work of various Marxian political economists. Socialist theorists proceeded to dig into the very foundations of classical historical materialism and its value-theoretical framework. The first critical breakthrough, dramatically altering our understanding of Marx on ecology, was provided by Marxian economist Paul Burkett, who in his 1999 Marx and Nature recovered the ecological value-form analysis underpinning Marx’s entire critique of political economy.26
It was the early Soviet economist, I.I. Rubin, who had first emphasized the double nature of Marx’s value theory as consisting of:
(1) a theory of the value-form, or what Marxian economist Paul Sweezy in the United States was to call “the qualitative value problem,” and
(2) a theory of the quantitative determination of value and price.
It was the value-form analysis, focusing on the social form that value assumes and the larger qualitative aspects of capitalist valorization connecting it to class and production, which was to be Marx’s singular achievement—altering as well the understanding of the quantitative aspects of value.27 In Burkett’s work, Marx’s value-form theory was elaborated to explain systematically for the first time the ecological value-form analysis embedded in classical historical materialism.28
From this standpoint, Marx’s entire critique was seen as rooted in the contradictory relations between what he called “production in general,” characterizing human production in all of its forms, and the historically specific capitalist labor and production process.29 In production in general the human labor process transforms the products of nature, or natural-material use values, which constitute real material wealth. However, in capitalism, conceived as a specific mode of production, this characteristic of production in general takes a more alienated form, as the majority of workers are estranged from the means of production, and particularly the land, and are thus proletarianized—able to survive only by selling their labor power.
All value, the classical political economists argued, came from labor.
But classical-liberal political economists saw this as a universal, trans-historical reality, while Marx, in sharp contrast, conceived it as a historically specific one, confined to capitalism.
Nature was excluded, as Marx stressed, from the direct creation of value/exchange value under capitalism.30 This is still reflected in our national income or GDP statistics, which account for economic growth entirely in terms of the value added of human services, measured in the form of wages or property income.31 The capitalist calculation of value or economic growth thus has as one of its underlying premises, to quote Marx, the notion of the “free gift of Nature to capital.”32
Nature’s powers are presumed by the system to be a direct gift to capital itself, for which no exchange must be made.33 This means, in truth, that nature, or real wealth, is robbed. As the socialist ecological economist, K. William Kapp, wrote in the 1960s, “capitalism must be regarded as an economy of unpaid costs.”34 (It should be noted here that the existence of rents for land and resources does not alter the essential fact that nature is excluded from the value calculation. Instead, rents ensure that part of the surplus produced by society is redistributed to those who are able to monopolize the “rights” to natural resources.)
The second critical breakthrough in Marxian ecology was the recovery of what has come to be known as Marx’s theory of metabolic rift. Marx’s adoption of the concept of metabolism to address the systemic relations of nature and society was evident beginning with his writings in the Grundrisse in the late 1850s and in all of his major political-economic writings thereafter—up through his 1879–1880 Notes on Adolph Wagner. In 1850 Marx encountered what amounted to an early ecological system perspective, in the extension of the concept of metabolism (Stoffwechsel) to the interconnected relations of plants and animals, through Mikrokosmos, written by his close friend and political associate, the socialist physician-scientist Roland Daniels.35
Marx was later to be influenced by the German chemist Justus von Liebig’s critique of British industrial agriculture, particularly the introduction to the 1862 edition of Liebig’s great work on agricultural chemistry. Liebig’s virulent critique of capitalist agriculture was concerned with the nineteenth-century soil crisis. He noted that the essential soil nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, were shipped in the form of food and fiber to the new densely populated urban-industrial centers, where they contributed to the pollution of the cities, and were lost to the soil. Hence, Liebig and Marx both referred to industrial capitalist agriculture as a robbery system, leaching the soil of its nutrients. Britain in this period was forced to make up for its robbing the soil of its nutrients by imperialistically importing bones from the Napoleonic battlefields and the catacombs of Europe, and guano from Peru, in order to obtain the natural fertilizer to replenish English fields. The global metabolic rift, according to Marx, meant that capitalism disrupted “the eternal natural condition” of life itself. It therefore produced “an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself.”36 This rift could also be seen in the unequal ecological exchange between countries, whereby capital in the center systematically robbed the periphery of its soil and resources.37
Marx’s overall analysis in this respect is best understood in terms of a triad of concepts discussed in his Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1862 and Capital: “the universal metabolism of nature,” the “social metabolism,” and the metabolic rift.38 Human beings, he argued, exist within the “universal metabolism of nature,” from which they extract nature’s use values, and transform these in production, i.e., the “social metabolism,” in order to meet their needs for subsistence and development.
Yet, capitalism, as a historically specific form of production, systematically alienates workers from the means of production (the land, nature, tools) thereby proletarianizing labor, and making possible capitalist exploitation and accumulation. In the process, both the soil and the worker, the “original sources of all wealth,” were undermined, generating a metabolic rift. The result, Marx argued, was the necessity of the “restoration” of this metabolism, which however, could only take place in a higher society, i.e. socialism.39
It was with such considerations in mind that Marx introduced the most radical conception of ecological sustainability ever developed. As he wrote in Capital:
From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].40
In Marx, ecological sustainability together with substantive equality defined the entire basis of socialism/communism. “Freedom, in this sphere,” he wrote, “can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”41
The third critical breakthrough of second-stage ecosocialism was the retrieval of Marx’s dual conception of ecological crisis in capitalist society. In the first form of ecological crisis, depicted in Capital, the focus was on natural resource scarcity. Here the problem is how increasing scarcities of resources and environmental amenities in general lead to enhanced ecological costs, thereby squeezing profit margins. This can be seen in Marx’s treatment of the British cotton crisis during the U.S. Civil War, the role of resources in elevating the cost of constant capital in his theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and in his discussions of the need of capital to conserve constant capital. Increasing resource costs with the degradation of the environment can create huge problems for capitalist accumulation. Here it is evident how imperialism, in keeping the price of internationally sourced raw material prices low, helps promote capital accumulation in the center of the system.
Yet, there is also to be found in Marx a theory of ecological crisis proper, or a crisis of sustainable human development, going beyond the value calculus of the system itself—as exemplified by the theory of metabolic rift.
Simply because capitalism is a robbery system, in Liebig and Marx’s sense, it externalizes most of the costs of environmental (and social) degradation on nature and society without this directly affecting its bottom line. Thus such phenomena as desertification and deforestation—both of which were discussed by Marx—have implications for sustainable human development but do not enter directly into the value calculation of the commodity system. A metabolic rift that disrupts biogeochemical cycles may be fully compatible with continued accumulation. In its relative insulation from the environmental degradation that it systematically creates everywhere around it, capitalism is unique among modes of production.
As Burkett writes, “For Marx…capital accumulation can maintain itself through environmental crises. In fact, this is one thing that makes capitalism different from previous societies. It has the ability to continue with its competitive, profit-driven pattern of accumulation despite the damage this does to natural conditions.”42 Today we see economic growth continue while the disruptions of the biogeochemical cycles of the entire planet upon which all living beings depend for their existence do not enter into the accounting. In fact, these disruptions and rifts open new profit-making opportunities for capital such as the agrichemical (fertilizers and pesticides) industry or today’s carbon markets.
Most of the concrete research inspired by Marxian theories of ecological crisis in recent years has focused on the theory of metabolic rift, since it is the crisis of sustainable human development that defines the current planetary emergency. Moreover, the metabolic rift perspective has provided an understanding of systemic environmental changes not reducible simply to issues of scale and carrying capacity or to the economics of the system—thereby probing new dimensions of the problem. Marx’s metabolic rift analysis intersects with the treadmill of production analysis (which grew out of his theory of accumulation), and at the same time relates to developments in natural science, thus tying into the most developed ecological perspectives.43 It points to the deep contradictions associated with capital’s division of nature (alongside the division of labor).
The metabolic rift analysis was also seen by Marx and Engels in terms of open-system thermodynamics, in the context of which, as Engels observed in 1882, humanity was “squandering” the fossil fuels associated with “past solar energy” while failing to make good use of present solar energy.45
Marxism and the Great Capitalist Climacteric
It is on the basis of this set of critical theoretical breakthroughs—constituting a scientific revolution in Marxian theory reaching back into the very foundations of historical materialism—that it is possible to draw six broad conclusions about the ecological and social revolution that is now necessary in the face of today’s Great Capitalist Climacteric.
First, the problem threatening the global environment is the accumulation of capital under the present phase of monopoly-finance capital, and not just economic growth in the abstract. That is, issues of the qualitative nature of development as well as quantitative development are involved. This raises the question of the ecological value form associated with capitalism in its monopoly-finance phase, geared to the promotion of economic and ecological waste as a stimulus to accumulation. Today the rich economies are well developed and capable of satisfying the material needs of their populations, and of emphasizing qualitative human development. Capitalism, however, requires continual value expansion and commodity consumption, with increasing throughputs of energy and materials.46 This is promoted today by means of a massive sales effort, amounting to well over a trillion dollars a year in the United States, and through a vast outpouring of economic waste in the form of synthetic goods that are toxic to the environment.47 As the Marxian economist Paul Baran wrote in the 1960s, “people steeped in the culture of monopoly capitalism do not want what they need and do not need what they want.”48 On top of this vast waste system (including military waste), which drives accumulation, is a financialized superstructure that has enabled the system to transfer wealth and income more rapidly to the 0.01 percent at the top of society.49 In the new financial architecture that has emerged the credit-debt system dominates over the entire global economy. It is this irrational system of artificially stimulated growth, economic waste, financialized wealth, and extreme inequality that needs to be overturned if we are to create a society of ecological sustainability and substantive equality.
If economic growth in the wealthy countries continues as at present—even by the standards of our current period of relative economic stagnation—there is very little or no chance of avoiding breaking the world climate budget with disastrous global consequences. It is the growth in the scale of the economy, and the destructive tendencies of our ecologically inefficient, technologically destructive society, geared to roundabout production—whereby plastic spoons are made in China and shipped to the United States where they have a lifetime use of a few minutes before reentering the waste stream, generating all sorts of toxic chemicals in the process—that are threatening the biogeochemical processes of the entire planet. Capital’s social metabolic processes attempt to recreate the planet in its own image, treating all planetary boundaries as mere barriers to surmount, thus generating a global metabolic rift on a rapidly warming planet. All of this points to the need to place limits on economic growth, and specifically on the expansion of today’s disaster capitalism.
Second, capitalism is suffering at present from an epochal crisis—both economic and environmental. This is manifested in overaccumulation, stagnation, and financialization, on the one hand, and ecological rifts and disruptions, both within each and every ecosystem and on the level of the planet as a whole, on the other.50 These two long-term structural crises of the system are not reducible to each other, except in the sense that they are both induced by the logic of capital accumulation. What we have called ecological crisis proper is largely invisible to the value accounting of the capitalist system, and is systematically given a lower priority in relation to economic imperatives. Society is constantly told that the solution to economic stagnation is economic growth by any means: usually involving the promotion of neoliberal disaster capitalism. Yet such an economic solution—which is beyond the power of the system to effect in a long-term, stable way, but only on a temporary, ad-hoc basis—would be fatal to the planetary environment, which requires less, not more expansion of the economic treadmill. The epochal crisis of economy and ecology within the capitalist system is thus likely to continue, with both fault lines widening, as long as the logic of capital prevails. This conflict between economic and ecological objectives is not a contradiction of analysis, but of the capitalist system itself.
Third, if accumulation or economic growth is to be halted in the rich countries, even temporarily, out of sheer ecological necessity, this would require a vast new system of redistribution. As Lewis Mumford indicated in 1944 in The Condition of Man, a stationary state or steady-state economy is only possible under conditions of “basic communism,” a term which Mumford (after Marx) used to refer to a society in which distribution is organized “according to need, not according to ability or productive contribution.”51 There must be a vast redirection of society’s social surplus to genuine human requirements and ecological sustainability as opposed to the giant treadmill of production generated by the profit system. It is by creating a society directed to use value rather than exchange value that we can find the resources to develop a world that is sustainable because it is just, and just because it is sustainable. Society will need to be reordered, as Epicurus said, and Marx concurred, according to the principle of enough—that is, through a rich development of human needs, applicable to everyone.52
Fourth, Marx provided a model of socialism as one of sustainable human development.53 In order to meet the challenge of the Great Capitalist Climacteric it will be necessary to shift power to the associated producers, who, acting in accord with science and communal values, will need to regulate the complex, interdependent metabolism between nature and society according to their own developed human needs and in conformity with the requirements of the earth metabolism. In today’s context, this will require what Marx called the “restoration” of the essential human-natural metabolism, healing the metabolic rift.54 In discussing the principle of “metabolic restoration,” Del Weston wrote in her book The Political Economy of Global Warming: “The need is for human societies to live within metabolic cycles—that is, production, consumption and waste—thereby forming part of a self-sustaining cycle in which the only new inputs are energy from the sun…. Nature, in the new economics, will be recognised as the ultimate source of wealth.”55 Moreover, given the present planetary emergency we have to move fast to create this new economics and new ecological relation to the earth, diverting resources massively to creating the new energy infrastructure that can exist within the solar budget, while at the same time promoting Mumford’s “basic communism,” or a society based on the principle of to each according to need.
Fifth, the hoped for revolutionary change can only occur through human agency. Although it is widely recognized that the world needs an ecological and social revolution, the question remains: From whence and by what agency will such a revolution arise?
Ecological Marxists suggest that we may already be seeing signs of the rise of what could be called a nascent “environmental proletariat”—a broad mass of working-class humanity who recognize, as a result of the crisis of their own existence, the indissoluble bond between economic and ecological conditions.56 Degraded material conditions associated with intermingled economic and ecological crises are now being encountered on a daily basis by the great majority of the world’s population and affecting all aspects of their lives. At the ground level, economic and ecological crises are becoming increasingly indistinguishable.
Food crises, land grabs, electricity shutdowns, water privatization, heightened pollution, deteriorating cities, declining public health, increasing violence against oppressed populations—are all converging with growing inequality, economic stagnation, and rising unemployment and underemployment. In South Africa, for example, the class struggle is now as much an environmental as an economic struggle—already exhibiting signs of an emerging environmental working class.57 The logical result is a coming together of material revolts against the system—what David Harvey has usefully referred to as a “co-revolutionary” struggle.58 This is best exemplified by the global environmental/climate justice movement and through the radical direct action movement that Naomi Klein calls “Blockadia.”59
Traditional working-class politics are thus coevolving and combining with environmental struggles, and with the movements of people of color, of women, and all those fighting basic, reproductive battles throughout society. Such an ecological and social struggle will be revolutionary to the extent that it draws its force from those layers of society where people’s lives are most precarious: third world workers, working-class women, oppressed people of color in the imperial core, indigenous populations, peasants/landless agricultural workers, and those fighting for fundamentally new relations of sexuality, gender, family, and community—as well as highly exploited and dispossessed workers everywhere.
A revolutionary struggle in these circumstances will need to occur in two phases:
an ecodemocratic phase in the immediate present, seeking to build a broad alliance—one in which the vast majority of humanity outside of the ruling interests will be compelled by their inhuman conditions to demand a world of sustainable human development. Over time this should create the conditions for a second, more decisive, ecosocialist phase of the revolutionary struggle, directed at the creation of a society of substantive equality, ecological sustainability, and collective democracy. All of this points to the translation of classical Marx’s ecological critique into contemporary revolutionary praxis.60
In the ecodemocratic phase, the goal would be to carry out those radical reforms that would arrest the current destructive logic of capital, by fighting for changes that are radical, even revolutionary, in that they go against the logic of capital, but are nonetheless conceivable as concrete, meaningful forms of struggle in the present context.
These would include measures like: (1) an emergency plan of reduction in carbon emissions in the rich economies by 8–10 percent a year; (2) implementing a moratorium on economic growth coupled with radical redistribution of income and wealth, conservation of resources, rationing, and reductions in economic waste;
(3) diverting military spending, now universally called “defense spending” to the defense of the planet as a place of human habitation;
(4) the creation of an alternative energy infrastructure designed to stay within the solar budget;
(5) closing down coal-fired plants and blocking unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands oil;
(6) a carbon fee and dividend system of the kind proposed by Hansen, that would redistribute 100 percent of the revenue to the population on a per capita basis;
(7) global initiatives to aid emerging economies to move toward sustainable development;
(8) implementation of principles of environmental justice throughout the society and linking this to adaptation to climate change (which cannot be stopped completely) to ensure that people of color, the poor, women, indigenous populations, and third world populations do not bear the brunt of catastrophe;
and (9) adoption of climate negotiations and policies on the model proposed in the Peoples’ Agreement on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010. Such radical change proposals can be multiplied, and would need to effect all aspects of society and individual human development. The rule in the ecodemocratic phase of development would be to address the epochal crisis (ecological and economic) in which the world is now caught, and to do so in ways that go against the logic of business as usual, which is indisputably leading the world toward cumulative catastrophe.
The logic of the ecodemocratic phase of the struggle, if it were carried out fully, would create the conditions for an ecosocialist phase in which the mobilization of the population on their own behalf, and the cultural and economic changes that this brings about, would give the impetus to the creation of a society of from each according to ability, to each according to need.61 The system of social metabolic reproduction would be reconstituted on a more communal basis taking into account not only present and future generations, but the Earth system itself and the diversity life within it. The necessary social and ecological planning would start from local needs and local communities and would be integrated with larger political-executive entities responsible for coordination and implementation in relation to these needs.
Such a society would be democratic in the classical sense of the word—rule of society by the people, the associated producers.62 It was this that Marx had in mind when he stressed (as quoted above) that
“socialized man, the associated producers, [would] govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”
For Marx in the nineteenth century this was a struggle for human freedom; today, in the twenty-first century, it is a struggle for human freedom and human survival.
In 1980, the British Marxist historian E.P. Thompson wrote a cautionary essay for New Left Review entitled “Notes on Exterminism, The Last Stage of Civilization.” Although directed particularly at the growth of nuclear arsenals and the dangers of global holocaust from a nuclear exchange in the final phase of the Cold War, Thompson’s thesis was also concerned with the larger realm of ecological destruction wrought by the system. Rudolf Bahro later commented on Thompson’s ideas in his Avoiding Social and Ecological Disaster, explaining: “To express the exterminism-thesis in Marxist terms, one could say that the relationship between productive and destructive forces is turned upside down. Marx had seen the trail of blood running through it, and that ‘civilisation leaves deserts behind it.’”63 Today this ecologically ruinous trend has been extended to the entire planet with capitalism’s proverbial “creative destruction” being transformed into a destructive creativity endangering humanity and life in general.64
“The dream that man can make himself godlike by centering his energies solely on the conquest of the external world,” Mumford wrote in The Condition of Man, “has now become the emptiest of dreams: empty and sinister.”65 The result is a kind of economics of exterminism. Today making war on the planet is fought as a means to the end of capital accumulation, in which the limits of the earth itself have become invisible to the narrow value calculations of the system. Turning this economics of exterminism around, and creating a more just and sustainable world at peace with the planet is our task in the Great Capitalist Climacteric. If we cannot accomplish this humanity will surely die with capitalism. The prophesy of all defenders of the current order over the last century will then be fulfilled. Capitalism will mark the end of human history by bringing to an end human civilization—and even human existence.
The Great Capitalist Climacteric presents us with a fatal choice: System Change Not Climate Change!
A thick layer of smog has engulfed the country. Data released by Indonesia’s meteorological, climatological and geophysics agency showed that the city of Palangkaraya has become one of the most polluted places on earth. Corporate greed is literally choking the people of Indonesia.
Friends of Earth Indonesia/WALHI and its five regional offices have been conducting investigations of companies suspected of involvement in the fires and triggering the smoke and haze problems in Indonesia. They overlaid the concession maps of the companies, and tracked the names of companies mentioned by the environment and forestry minister. Many of the land concessions of those companies are in the precious peatland area.
Already a number of company executives have been arrested for their suspected role in starting illegal forest fires, some of whom supply pulp products to the giant logging corporation Asian Pulp and Paper (APP).
The fires that have been started deliberately are part of a process which usually involves building canals to block water to the beautiful peatlands; thereby drying it out and enabling deliberately lit fires to burn. This drains the life out of these naturally-moist tropical forests, dries them out, and enables deliberately lit fires to burn. In time, companies and contractors will return to plant endless rows of palm oil and wood plantations in their place.
Many companies have adopted “zero burn” policy positions or other voluntary sustainability measures for their supply chains. APP says it has had a zero burning policy since 1996 and will stop using suppliers involved in burning land. But the current fires demonstrate that we cannot expect companies — and their financiers — to regulate themselves. It is necessary to have binding rules for business to stop these abusive practices wherever they may occur.
In Indonesia the general public and civil society is fighting back –mobilising in the streets, conducting scientific research and organising legal action against the companies believed to be most responsible for the fires, as well as against local and regional governments for neglecting to sufficiently tackle the issue.
The Indonesian government must act in a more structural and systematic way to address this issue, by reviewing all corporations’ land concessions, arresting executives and dealing out large fines. A national moratorium on peat clearing must be installed to prevent further disasters with massive impacts on people and biodiversity.
However, this is not just a local or national concern. Forest fires are also one of the leading causes of global warming, and in the lead up to the Paris climate summit in December they will be centre stage. Bloomberg estimated that on 14 October carbon emissions from the fires alone reached 61 megatons, almost 97% of the country’s total daily emissions.
The economic drivers of these fires are also global, with multinational companies and investment firms putting profit over people. For the palm oil and pulp products produced in the ashes of these deadly blazes will end up in the snack food and printing paper of western consumers.
In 2014, a Friends of the Earth Europe report highlighted the role that international banks and financial institutions play in funding the exploitation and deforestation of the palm oil industry.
So how can we ensure corporations are held responsible? Traditionally,
international law focuses on the role and responsibilities of states, rather than corporations. In our globalised world, companies operate between different national jurisdictions and are often able to take advantage of this situation to escape accountability.
In July 2015, a historic UN meeting took place in Geneva, beginning a process to address this gap in international law and bring justice to victims of corporate crimes, like those in Indonesia.
We are working alongside the UN Human Rights Council, the Vatican and many diverse governments on a new UN human rights treaty, which aims to establish new and binding rules on transnational corporations.
It is difficult to grasp the immense size and impact of the ongoing environmental and human disaster in Indonesia. The fire and haze could cost Indonesia US$35bn, roughly 4% of Indonesia’s gross national product. The neighbouring countries of Malaysia and Singapore are also experiencing poor visibility and school closures due to the acute health risks.
Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI is helping to evacuate vulnerable groups, such as babies and infants, breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women and the elderly, to safety.
As forest fires continue to destroy lives and nature, we will continue to work tirelessly from the local to the international level to bring the responsible companies to justice, so that this kind of manmade disaster does not happen again.
[Irhash Ahmady is network manager at Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI — and tweets from @newmosette. Sam Cossar-Gilbert is programme coordinator with Friends of the Earth International and tweets from @samcossar.]
2. Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? George Monbiot
Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn’t require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone’s front page. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany.
‘The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?’
But that doesn’t really capture it. This catastrophe cannot be measured only in parts per million. The fires are destroying treasures as precious and irreplaceable as the archaeological remains being levelled by Isis. Orangutans, clouded leopards, sun bears, gibbons, the Sumatran rhinoceros and Sumatran tiger, these are among the threatened species being driven from much of their range by the flames. But there are thousands, perhaps millions, more.
One of the burning provinces is West Papua, a nation that has been illegally occupied by Indonesia since 1963. I spent six months there when I was 24, investigating some of the factors that have led to this disaster. At the time it was a wonderland, rich with endemic species in every swamp and valley. Who knows how many of those have vanished in the past few weeks? This week I have pored and wept over photos of places I loved that have now been reduced to ash.
Nor do the greenhouse gas emissions capture the impact on the people of these lands. After the last great conflagration, in 1997, there was a missing cohort in Indonesia of 15,000 children under the age of three, attributed to air pollution. This, it seems, is worse.
The surgical masks being distributed across the nation will do almost nothing to protect those living in a sunless smog. Members of parliament in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) have had to wear face masks during debates. The chamber is so foggy that they must have difficulty recognising one another.
It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself.
A great tract of Earth is on fire and threatened species are being driven out of their habitats.
This is a crime against humanity and nature.
3. Scientists warn of untold health damage from Indonesia’s haze Thomson Reuters Foundation – November 11, 2015
Bangkok — Toxic fumes from the Indonesian fires that have spread a choking haze across Southeast Asia may be doing more harm to human and plant health than officials have indicated, scientists measuring the pollution say.
Farmers are expecting a poor harvest because plants have too little sunlight for normal photosynthesis, while government figures of half a million sickened by the smoke are only the “tip of the iceberg,” said Louis Verchot, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Meanwhile, the fires are converting carbon stored in burning peatlands into greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.
“When the sun goes up, the whole world is yellow. On the worst day, the visibility was less than 100 meters,” said Verchot, who led a workshop on the crisis in Central Kalimantan province last month with about 20 scientists from Indonesia, the United States and Britain.
While taking measurements on a burning 5,000-hectare plot, the scientists — equipped with gas masks and a drone — trod carefully across the ash-covered peatland to avoid calf-deep holes, hot from the smoldering underground.
They are still analyzing their data, but Verchot said they had found harmful gases in the air including ozone, carbon monoxide, cyanide, ammonia, formaldehyde, nitric oxide and methane.
“It irritates your eyes, it irritates your throat. Without a mask, I don’t know how people live in this stuff,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone
Many people wear simple masks that are ineffective at filtering the dangerous compounds, or no masks at all, he added.
The smoke from the fires on Borneo, Sumatra and elsewhere in Indonesia has spread to neighboring Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Local media reported that schools in Central Kalimantan had closed for almost five weeks over the past two months, while the haze killed at least 10 people and sickened 504,000 on Borneo and Sumatra — though Verchot believes the figure is much higher.
“People in rural areas seek medical attention when it’s really bad. I’m pretty sure it’s an underestimate. This must be the people who are seriously affected,”
Carbon monoxide in hotel
Daytime flights to Central Kalimantan have been postponed to night when winds blow the all-permeating smoke in a direction that improves visibility for landing, Verchot said.
Martin Wooster, a professor at King’s College London who joined Verchot on the trip, tested his equipment in his hotel room, several kilometers from the fires, and found 30 molecules of carbon monoxide per million molecules of air — enough to trigger a household carbon monoxide detector.
Outside near the burning peatlands, Wooster’s preliminary data indicates more than 1,000 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air, and sometimes up to 2,000.
The US Environmental Protection Agency considers any amount over 300 micrograms per cubic meter hazardous.
“I’d never seen anything like that… I thought it was catastrophic for the local population, having to live with that level of air pollution for such an extended period of time,” said Wooster, who has studied burning biomass in Mexico, Canada, South Africa and Britain.
“The geographic coverage of the smoke was enormous. You could drive for many tens of kilometers and still be in thick smoke. And it is persisting for weeks, even months,” he said by telephone from London.
Predictable and preventable
The smokiest burn sites in Indonesia are the tropical peatlands that large companies and small-scale farmers have deforested and drained for agriculture, palm oil and wood products such as pulp and paper. Lacking a forest canopy, the dried-out peatlands are prone to fire.
Once considered a problem mainly in drought years, the smoldering fires on these “forest cemeteries” of dried peat and wood debris are now occurring annually.
This year has been particularly bad due to lower rainfall linked to the El Niqo weather phenomenon, although recent downpours have doused some of the fires and reduced the haze.
While the Indonesian government is struggling to control the crisis, Verchot described the haze as “totally preventable.”
“This was predicted. The solution is not reacting to the crisis, it’s preventing the crisis,” he said. “It requires serious effort. It’s something the government could do if they wanted to.”
CIFOR has urged a reduction in forest conversion and peatland cultivation, better income opportunities in rural areas, and restoration of degraded peatlands.
Greenpeace has called on the pulp and palm oil industries to implement an immediate ban on forest and peatland development, and for peatlands to be reflooded to mitigate fire risks.
To discourage palm oil-related forest destruction, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other green groups have lobbied for companies to trade and use palm oil that is not produced in a way that causes deforestation.
4. Whilst rain has fallen across some parts of Indonesia easing some of the haze and dampening some fires, the risk is still high and the situation is still serious. Fires burn deep down in the peat and hot spots can flare up at any time. To date over two million hectares have burned.
Riau in Sumatra have extended the haze emergency for another month.
“The Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru decided to extend the emergency as there are still hot spots in next-door South Sumatra province, while significant rainfall has yet to take place in Riau itself”
To date, 43,000,000 people have been exposed to the haze, 505,000 have suffered from respiratory illness, the fires have cost $14 billion including environmental damage, health expenses and business loses, 99% of fires are caused by human activity, 115,940 likely fires detected by NASA and for 26 days the green house gas emissions from the fires exceed the estimated daily average for the entire USA
ABC TV report http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4344018.htm
Indonesia’s fires labelled a ‘crime against humanity’ as 500,000 suffer.
Haze has caused havoc, with schools in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia shut down, flights grounded and events cancelled.
Sign this petition
And at the same time Indonesia’s political elite refuses to debate the 1966 massacres and bans Bali discussion at literary festival
That campaign, “Over our dead bodies”, involved everything from hunger strikes, flagging plans to stop coal trains with cardboard boxes on tracks, through to Christmas stockings full of coal delivered to executives’ homes.
“Board members and executives have to be made responsible for their actions,” Pennings says. “Saying I didn’t know or I was just following orders doesn’t cut it. We’re talking about runaway climate change threatening hundreds of millions of lives.”
Read here https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/14/adani-coalmine-activists-gear-up-to-fight-this-will-dwarf-the-franklin-blockade#comments
Get involved http://galileeblockade.net/get-involved/sign-up-pledge/
Petition to banks http://www.aycc.org.au/gameon
Earlier I posted that the world’s largest coal mine was proceeding. “Environment” Minister Hunt gives the go-ahead, but now a further legal challenge by ACF and environmental groups are campaigning even more strongly.
This mine must be stopped to save the Great Barrier Reef.
This is one vital campaign to support at the People’s Climate March 27th-29th November. On the eve of world leaders meeting in Paris for the United Nations climate summit, we will gather in Australian cities and walk alongside millions of people in hundreds of major cities around the world.
Join hundreds of thousands of Australians as we march for a transition to renewable energy, for secure job creation, for clean air, for a healthy environment and a safe climate and to stop the Carmichael Coal mine.
Update 24 Nov: Aboriginal challenge to Carmichael mine
Update: Coal from Carmichael mine ‘will create more annual emissions than New York’
Australia Institute calculations show average annual emissions from burning coal from Adani’s proposed mine would be more than many countries and big cities.
The Australian Conservation Foundation has launched another legal action against the federal government’s renewed approval for the mine – this time on the grounds that environment minister Greg Hunt failed to consider its impact on climate change and therefore on the Great Barrier Reef.
Progressive thinktank the Australia Institute has sought to illustrate just how big those emissions will be. It says the average annual emissions from burning the coal from Carmichael – 79m tonnes of CO2 – is more than the annual emissions from Sri Lanka, more than Bangladesh with its population of 160 million, about the same as those from Malaysia and Austria and only slightly less than the annual emissions from Vietnam.
Compared to annual emissions from cities, it says Carmichael’s emissions will be three times the average annual emissions from New Delhi, double those from Tokyo, six times those of Amsterdam and 20% more than New York City. Read more here http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/12/coal-from-carmichael-mine-will-create-more-annual-emissions-than-new-york
ACF president Geoff Cousins compared the battle to stop the Carmichael mine to that surrounding the proposed Franklin Dam in Tasmania – the last time the ACF brought such a legal challenge.
A string of legal challenges against Adani’s mine had previously prompted the government then led by Tony Abbott to consider restricting legal objection rights against mines.
This included the Mackay Conservation Group’s successful challenge to Hunt’s original approval of the mine, which was overturned because it did not properly consider impacts on snake and skink species.
The ACF legal appeal has led to Queensland Liberal National party senator Matt Canavan again calling for the government to crack down on “green activism”.
From GetUP We’re taking Adani back to court.
Thanks to the generous donations of thousands of GetUp members, we’re helping launch a Federal Court action against Adani’s disastrous Carmichael coal mine.
One of Australia’s oldest and most respected environment groups, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), is working with our friends at the Environmental Defender’s Office Queensland (EDO) to lead the case.
The court case will challenge the mine’s re-approval over the impacts it will have on climate change, threatened species and the Great Barrier Reef.
Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt. Adani’s Mega Coal Mine Hits Another Hurdle: A Second Round Of ‘Vigilante Lawfare’ By Thom Mitchell November 9, 2015
It’s a first in Australian legal history. The lawyers will argue Environment Minister Greg Hunt didn’t properly consider the impacts on the Reef from pollution and carbon emissions from the burning of the mine’s coal, and thereby failed Australia’s obligations under UN World Heritage conventions.
GetUp is proud to be working with ACF on what is shaping up to be another landmark legal action.
The Carmichael coal mine is one of the most destructive projects on the planet. If it goes ahead Adani’s mine will pollute our air, damage our climate, and devastate the land and culture of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners.
This mine would be a disaster for all of us, including future generations who will never get to see a vibrant and healthy Great Barrier Reef.
WWF report here https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10154390686403712&set=vb.10113538711&type=2&theater&utm_source=WWFGeneralAndReef&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20151110_CFFTR_PortsBillWin&utm_content=videolink
People’s Climate March here: www.peoplesclimate.org.au/#getup.
From the Greens: As the whole world tries desperately to avert catastrophic global warming, the Turnbull Government has gone ahead and ticked off on what could become Australia’s largest coal mine.
The only way we can force action on global warming is by making it front and centre of the election agenda. Right now.
We have a clean energy plan for Australia in the works, but we’re going to need your help getting it into the hands of thousands of voters — will you make a donation today so we can fight back against this appalling government?
The Adani mega mine is not only going to massively contribute to our climate pollution and cook the Great Barrier Reef; it will destroy 20,000 hectares of native bushland, waste 12 billion litres of Queensland’s precious groundwater per year and push the endangered black-throated finch towards extinction.
Just like the Abbott Government before it, this Turnbull Government has no vision, no science and the same dangerous obsession with coal.
Just one example is that Turnbull continues Abbott’s attempt to undermine the civil liberties of environment groups. From the Australian Marine Conservation Society to the Australian Conservation Foundation to Greenpeace, green groups big and small channel the energy of millions of people into saving the wild places we love. Millions of us across Australia throw our support and our dollars behind stopping coal mines, saving ancient forests and defending the pristine Great Barrier Reef. If the changes to tax breaks on charity donations go ahead, that’s going to get a lot, lot harder. From Greenpeace and other environment groups.
On Save the Great Barrier Reef http://chriswhiteonline.org/2015/08/environmental-crisis-save-the-great-barrier-reef-campaign/
Turnbull supports Abbott’s environment policy to get in
Here is essential reading about the raging Turnbull the rich powerful ruthless lawyer and merchant banker and he has earned a reputation that inspires a mix of awe, fear and, among some, downright loathing.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/good-weekend/gw-classics/raging-turnbull-20140904-10c7ye.html#ixzz3mFaA7IPZ
Campaign against the China Free Trade Agreement continues with CFMEU media strong and to date Labor backing http://www.chinaftafacts.com/
Support the ACTU against China Free Trade Agreement provisions http://www.australianunions.org.au/china_fta
Turnbull’s ruling class background https://redflag.org.au/node/4903
Australia’s Slow-Motion Crisis With both major parties widely discredited, turmoil rules in Australian politics.
by Tad Tietze
ACTU Fight for Living standards continues. No matter who stands at the helm, this is a right wing Government that has let down Australian workers, families and communities through their relentless attacks on our standard of living.
I add a criticism of the ACTU branding workers’ campaign BUILD A BETTER FUTURE as bland, same as corporate ads, or government ads, meaningless and fails to stamp a distinctive logo for unions such as Your Rights @ Work. Subtext of Fight for Your Living Standards is an improvement and should be highlighted and BUILD A BETTER FUTURE dropped. Unions can use the VTHC brand Stand Up Fight Back.
From Stewart Sweeney: “The real Turnbull In Malcolm Turnbull contemporary business and capital has finally got someone who can even more fully pursue their interests.
Mr Turnbull, lawyer, merchant banker and multimillionaire is deeply experienced in tax minimisation strategies, ‘creative’ financial structures and strategies and corporate asset stripping.
Mr Turnbull is very much the product of and beneficiary of the rise of finance capital in the last thirty years to wreck havoc in global and national communities.
In contrast, Mr Abbott carried almost feudal baggage manifest through his version of Catholicism and his resulting views on a range of security, social, cultural and environmental matters.Abbott set such a conservative, reactionary and low benchmark on these matters that it has made it easy for Turnbull’s slightly more contemporary views and positions to appear better and for some a complete answer.
He will indeed be a challenge for contemporary Labour to defeat.”
To defeat Turnbull unionists are continuing campaigning politically in their communities on the ACTU Congress policies.
Read here http://chriswhiteonline.org/2015/07/actu-2015-congress-policies/
On this blog I campaign for peace, so I support this Greens call to stop bombing – supported by other peace groups Stop the Bombing
Malcolm Turnbull, when he announced he was challenging Tony Abbott, said that the “captain’s calls” must stop. The most reckless of these was begging the United States to ‘ask’ for Australia’s involvement in bombing missions inside Syria.
This is Mr Turnbull’s first and only opportunity to show he’s learned from the mistakes of his predecessors.
The Australian Greens today urged new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to bring our military personnel home from Syria and Iraq.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has the opportunity now to reverse the most disastrous of Tony Abbott’s ‘captain’s calls’. There is no more serious responsibility than the deployment of our armed service personnel. Until and unless there is a clear plan for a way forward, all we’re accomplishing in Syria is putting more civilians at risk,” Australian Greens Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said today.
“In the midst of all of their leadership battles, it seems as though the Liberal Party have forgotten that Australia is actually at war. Australia should make a constructive diplomatic and foreign aid contribution, which is what the region is crying out for.
“We should never be calling our allies to pleadingly ask to be asked to join a short-sighted military adventure, purely for political purposes. Our servicemen and women deserve far better.
“What will we accomplish? How long will they be there? What is their objective? Mr Turnbull, along with the rest of the inept front bench he inherited, does not have real answers to these most serious of questions.
“Our Hornets should not be flying bombing missions into Syria. They should be flying home.” Senator Scott Ludlam.
An insight into the far right’s hatred of Turnbull – they say he is the ALP in disguise: info on how to Stop Turnbull and contains interesting history. http://stopturnbull.com
Turnbull supports Abetz stacking “Fair” Work Commission with extreme right employers so workers will not get a fair hearing http://www.afr.com/news/policy/industrial-relations/abetz-accused-of-restacking-fair-work-ahead-of-his-cabinet-dumping-20150917-gjoysn
An interesting reminder here of how Turnbull failed as a leader earlier http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-18/lewis-woods-have-we-forgotten-what-turnbull-was-like/6137198
Where are the Australian journalists to expose our ruling class and their rep now Turnbull? We have not even an oz Michael Moore. One issue to expose is war and our arms dealings….read here as an example of scrutiny of one’s own side.
Left images on Turnbullhttps://www.greenleft.org.au/node/60091
Update: Turnbull’s new cabinet
Rundle: Abbott the fire-breathing Catholic warrior comes unstuck, as we always knew he would
David Marr on Abbott http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/18/vale-tony-abbott-both-a-unique-man-and-a-unique-failure
Comic relief on Abbott and his last crusade is worth watching from ABC Insiders
For my overseas friends – another Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been removed by his own party as people campaign against his rightwing austerity politics. This time its the conservatives that are unhappy with their leader. The outgoing Tony Abbott was known for being seen in tight swim suits, colloquially called in Oz, budgie smugglers. So now… the budgie is free. (Oh by the way, a budgie is a very small, colourful parrot).]]>