Submitted by InternationalReview on November 28, 2004 - 21:52.
There is not one international organisation of the bourgeoisie – World Trade Organisation, World Bank, OECD, IMF – which doesn’t proclaim its intention to do everything it can for “sustainable development”, so concerned are they for the future generations. There’s not one state which doesn’t proclaim its deep respect for the environment. There’s not one ecologically-oriented Non-Government Organisation (NGO) which hasn’t organised all sorts of demonstrations, petitions or memorandums. There’s not one bourgeois newspaper which hasn’t featured a pseudo-scientific article on global warming. All these fine people, with all their fine intentions, had their representatives at the conference in The Hague from the 13 to the 25 November 2000, which had the aim of defining the ways in which the Kyoto protocol (1) would be put into effect. No less than 2000 delegates, representing 180 countries, surrounded by 4000 observers and journalists, had the job of concocting the miracle recipe for putting an end to climatic abnormalities. Result: Nothing. Strictly zero. Or rather, there was one result: one more proof that for the bourgeoisie, considerations about the survival of humanity fall a very long way behind the defence of the national capital.
Ten years ago, in our article “Ecology: It’s capitalism that’s poisoning the Earth” (International Review n°63), the ICC declared: “The ecological disaster is now tangibly threatening the very life-support system of the planet”. Today we have to say that capitalism is carrying out this threat. Throughout the 90s, the plundering of the planet has continued at a frenzied rhythm: deforestation, soil erosion, toxic pollution of the air, water tables and oceaables and oceans, pillage of natural fossil resources, dissemination of chemical or nuclear substances, destruction of animal or plant species, explosion of infectious diseases, and finally the steady increase in average temperatures over the surface of the planet (seven of the hottest years for millennia were in the 90s). Ecological disasters are becoming more combined, more global, often taking on an irreversible character, with long term consequences that are hard to predict.
And while the bourgeoisie has proved itself incapable of doing the slightest thing even to slow down this destructive folly, it has done a great deal to hide its own responsibility for it behind a multitude of ideological covers. What the ruling class has to do is present ecological calamities – when it cannot purely and simply ignore them – as outside the sphere of capitalist social relations, outside the class struggle. It thus produces all the false alternatives, from government measures to the anti-globalisation speeches of the NGOs, to obscure the only real perspective for taking humanity out of this nightmare: the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist mode of production by the working class.
For revolutionaries, the real issue here is capitalism's own productionist logic, as Marx analysed in Capital: sed in Capital: “Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth. But what avails lamentations in the face of historical necessity?” (Vol 1. Chapter XXIV). Here lies the logical and the unlimited cynicism of capitalism: the accumulation of capital and not the satisfaction of human needs is the real goal of capitalist production, and therefore the fate of the working class, or of the environment, is of little import. With the saturation of markets which became evident in 1914, capitalism entered into decadence. In other words, the accumulation of capital increasingly became a source of conflict and convulsions. During this period, “capital's ruthless destruction of the environment takes on a different scale and quality…This is the epoch in which all the capitalist nations are forced to compete with each other over a saturated world market; an epoch, therefore, of a permanent war economy, with a disproportionate growth of heavy industry; an epoch characterised by the irrational, wasteful duplication of industrial complexes in each national unit, the rise of the megacities the development of forms of agriculture that have been no less ecologically damaging than most forms of industry” (International Review n°63). This tendency has taken a further step in the final phase of capitalist decadence, the phase of decomposition, in which the system has been rotting on its feet for two decades because neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie has been able to impose their solution to the crisis: proletarian revolution or generalised war.
Capitalism has put chaos and destruction on the agenda of history. The consequences for the environment are catastrophic. This what we are going to illustrate (in a very partial way, because there are so many examples of the damage being done), while also showing how at every stage the bourgeoisie sets up ideological firebreaks to head off all those who are legitimately asking the question of whether this barbaric cycle of destruction can be stopped.
Capitalism throws the ecosystem out of joint…
Because of its global character and implications, the question of climate change is of primary importance. It’s no accident that the bourgeoisie has made it one of the major axes of its media campaigns. The pedants may claim that “in matters of meteorology and climatology, man has a decidatology, man has a decidedly short memory (Le Monde 10.9.2000), or talk about classic millenarian fears, but such an attitude – which the bourgeoisie itself doesn’t wholly share anyway – is an implicit defence of the status quo, of a dominant position in which one feels oneself to be well-protected. The proletariat can’t afford such a luxury. Physically, it’s always the workers and the poorest sections of the world population who are hit the hardest by the apocalyptic consequences of the disruption in the cycles of terrestrial life which the capitalist apprentice sorcerer has brought about.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is in charge of synthesising scientific work on climatic change, in its ‘Report to the Decision-makers’ dated 22 October 2000, summarised the basic elements which had been observed, all of which show a qualitative rupture in the evolution of the climate: “Average surface temperature has increased by 0.6% since 1860…New analyses indicate that the 20th century has probably seen the most significant warming in all the centuries for the last thousand years in the northern hemisphere…The area of snow cover has diminished by about 10% since the end of the 1960s and the period in which lakes and rivers are under ice inrivers are under ice in the northern hemisphere has diminished by about two weeks in the 20th century…..the thickness of the Arctic ice has diminished by 40%… Average sea levels have risen by between 10 and 20 cm during the 20th century…the rhythm of these rising sea levels during the 20th century has been about 10 times higher than in the previous three thousand years…Precipitation has increased by between 0.5 and 1% by decade during the 20th century on most continents in the middle and higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Rain has diminished in most of the inter-tropical regions”
This rupture is even clearer when we look at the concentration of so-called greenhouse gases (2), seeing that “since the beginning of the industrial era, the chemical composition of the planet has been through an unprecedented evolution” (3), a point that the IPCC doesn’t deny: “Since 1750, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has grown by a third. The present concentration has never been superseded for 420,000 years and probably not for 20 million years…The level of concentration of methane in the atmosphere has multiplied by 2.5 since 1750 and continues to grow”. In fact it’s essentially in the 20th century, especially in the last few decades, and not since 1750, that these changes have been observed.
The simple fact that you can place in one column the period of the decadence of capitalism, and in the other column periods lasting hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, is in itself the most striking condemnation of the insane irresponsibility of capitalism as a mode of production. It is an undeniable fact that these mutations are the direct result of the savage and anarchic activity of industries and transport systems based on the burning of fossil fuels. It goes without saying that although in the same period capitalism has considerably developed its productive capacities, the working class and the majority of the planet’s population has not reaped the fruits. From this point of view, the overall human and social balance-sheet of capitalist decadence, with all its accompanying war and poverty, is far more sombre than the ”climatic” balance-sheet in itself, and therefore cannot provide any attenuating circumstances (4).
Furthermore, the IPCC report points out that the “proofs of human influence on the global climate are stronger today than at the time of the second report” in d report” in 1995. This is further evidence against the bourgeoisie, which has not ceased manipulating scientific discourse throughout the 90s, always trying to pose the wrong questions. Thus, once global warming was admitted (still very late in relation to the scientific studies), the bourgeoisie’s question has been: what is the formal proof that global warming is linked to industrial activity and not to a natural cycle? Posed in this direct manner, it is difficult to respond scientifically. On the other hand, what has always been particularly flagrant is that we have this qualitative rupture in the observed evolution of the climate as described above, at a time when the cyclical tendencies in the climate (which are well known and can be easily modelled because they are determined by astronomical parameters such as the variations in the terrestrial orbit, the inclination of the Earth’s axis, etc.) place us in a period of relative glaciation over the last 1000 years and for the next 5000 years. And if that weren’t enough, two other parameters would also point towards things getting colder: the cycle of solar activity and the increased amount of particles in the atmosphere – an increase also due to industrial pollution (but also to volcanic eruptions). This says quite enough about the hypocrisy of the bourgeois of the bourgeoisie waiting for ”proof”! Now that it is difficult to deny the capitalist origin of global warming, the new question occupying the media is: can it be demonstrated formally that there is a link between global warming and the extreme climatic phenomena we have seen recently (cyclones Mitch and Eline, storms in France, floods in Venezuela, Britain, etc)? Again, the scientific community is hard placed to answer this not very scientific question, whose sole aim is to instil the idea that perhaps global warming won’t have very tangible consequences. Official organisms like Météo-France have come up with some delectably Jesuitical formulations: “It has not been shown that the recent extreme events are signs of climatic change, but when this climatic change is fully perceptible, there is no doubt that it will be accompanied by extreme events!”
And between now and 2100 the expected climatic change are extremely grave. Again according to the IPCC: “the average rise in surface temperature is estimated to be between 1.5 and 6%…such an increase is without precedent in the last ten thousand years”; meanwhile the rise in sea levels will be an average of 0.47 meters, “which is two to four times the rate observed during the 20th century”.
century”. Again, these predictions don’t take into account the real rhythm of deforestation (at its present rate, all the forests will have gone in 600 years). The probable consequences of these climatic variations and will be terrible and murderous: floods and cyclones in some regions and drought in others; scarcity of drinking water, the disappearance of animal species, and more. But for Dominique Frommel, the research director at INSERM, “the main danger is not there. It resides in man’s dependence on the environment. Migrations, the over-concentration of human beings in the urban milieu, the diminution in water supplies, pollution and poverty have always [but capitalism has developed mega-cities, poverty and pollution far more than any other system!] created conditions which facilitate the diffusion of infectious micro-organisms. We know that the reproductive and infectious capacities of insects and rodents, the vectors of parasites or viruses, is connected to the temperature and humidity of their surroundings. In other words, a rise in temperature, even a modest one, gives the green light to the expansion of numerous agents which are pathogenic to man and animals. This is why parasitic diseases – such as malaria, schistosomiasis) and sleeping sickness, or viral infections like dengue ions like dengue fever, certain forms of encephalitis or haemorrhaging fevers – have gained ground in recent years. Either they are reappearing in areas from where they had previously disappeared, or they are now hitting regions which had previously been spared…The projections for the year 2050 show that malaria will menace 3 billion human beings…In the same way, the number of diseases transmitted by water is also spiralling. The warming of fresh waters facilitates the proliferation of bacteria. The warming of salt waters – particularly when they are enriched by human effluent - allows phytoplanctons, which are the real breeding grounds for the cholera bacillus, to reproduce at an accelerating rate. After virtually disappearing from Latin America around 1960, cholera claimed 1,368, 053 victims between 1991 and 1996. Meanwhile, new infections are appearing or have begun to advance beyond the ecological niches in which they had previously been confined…Medicine remains disarmed, despite the progress that has been made, faced with this explosion of so many unexpected pathologies. The epidemiology of infectious diseases….could in the 21st century take on a new visage, notably with the expansion of zoonoses, those infections which can be passed from vertebrate animals to humans, and vice versa”d vice versa” (Manière de Voir, no.50, p77).
...and does everything it can to hide its responsibility
At this level of historical responsibility, the ideological response of he bourgeoisie has been to organise gigantic media rodeos, from the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992 to The Hague via Kyoto and Berlin, aimed at making us believe that the ruling class has finally become aware of the dangers menacing the planet. The mystification operates at several levels.
First it aims to give the impression that if the objectives fixed at Kyoto had been attained, that would be a significant first step. But by all the evidence, not only have these objectives not been attained, but, even if they had, the targets were quite derisory and would not have much effect on global warming. All the NGOs and all the ecological parties who take part in the discussions about how to apply the Kyoto protocol are thus part of this mystification. Not even a step sideways has been achieved, let alone a step forwards.
Secondly, to make us believe that if the states still don’t understand each other, it’s because they have a different vision of the way to reach the common goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, each state knows quite well what it’s doing when it defends its natwhen it defends its national interests and thus uses the negotiations to impose production norms which best suit its own levels of production, technological capacities, energy sources, etc. For example, neither France nor the USA have kept to the Kyoto agreements (since 1990 carbon emissions have gone up by 11% in the US and 6.5% for France), but when president Chirac declared that “it is above all to America that we look for hope for an effective limitation on greenhouse gases (Le Monde 20.11.2000), we should translate this as: in the trade war between us, we would really like to put a ball and chain around your feet. It’s the same when it comes to setting up an ”observation” system as demanded by the European Union, involving taxes on those who exceed their pollution quotas (here again, it’s not a question of preventing pollution). You might as well ask the USA to finance the European Airbus and to limit the production of Boeings! For the countries of the third world, it’s even more simple: the weight of the crisis, of debt and of poverty result in the systematic pillage of natural resources and a laissez-faire attitude to the big western companies, who feed local corruption. All this is the unavoidable reality of capitalism. In this framework, any support for one measure against another boils down to plther boils down to playing the game of one or several states.
Finally, the last mystification, one dear to reformists of all stripes: the idea that we should struggle for a clean capitalism that respects the environment, a capitalism without competition – an imaginary capitalism. This holy crusade is being carried on today in the name of anti-globalisation and addresses its humble supplications to the state, asking it to legislate against, tax, and otherwise reign in the nasty multinationals. But just as labour legislation does not in any way limit capitalist exploitation, unemployment and poverty, and above all does not prevent such legislation being bypassed when needs must, so any legislation, fiscal constraint or other measure which claims to have an ecological value can only do things which are perfectly acceptable to capitalism, in fact which are favourable to the modernisation of the productive apparatus. Either this, or it’s purely and simply a disguised form of protectionism or a convenient justification for anti-working class measures (lay-offs when you close polluting factories, wage cuts to absorb the cost of anti-pollution measures, etc). From this point of view, eco-taxes ('I pollute, but I pay for it….a bit') and the market in greenhouse gas emission permits, whose principle has beenose principle has been accepted, show the way forward for capitalist realism when it comes to fighting pollution and global warming!
It’s for this reason that the most coherent ideologues of political ecology always try to justify the measures they advocate in terms of capitalist profitability; and that’s why you often see them working as consultants in the centres of bourgeois decision making. This is clear with the ‘Green’ parties which participate in a number of governments (France, Germany) but also for the NGOs like the World Conservation Monitoring Centre which has become an antenna of the UN and argues that “policies and measures concerning climate change must have a relationship with efficiency and cost so that they ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost”. In the same way, the main peddler of anti-globalisation (concretely, anti-US) ideology in France, Le Monde Diplomatique, is outraged that “the combined impact of the social cost of automobile transport – noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, use of space and lack of safety – could represent up to 5% of Gross National Product” (Maniere de Voir no. 50, p70). This conversion to ecological realism can also take the form of an effective aid to the state, as we saw when Greenpeace offew when Greenpeace offered its services after the sinking of the chemical transport ship Levoli-Sun off the French coast in November 2000.
It’s characteristic of all the ecological currents, parties or NGOs to make the capitalist state the guarantor of common interests. Their mode of activity is fundamentally a-classist (since “we are all concerned”) and democratic (they are in particular champions of local democracy, and insist that through popular pressure, citizens’ action, we can oblige the state, which is imagined to be sincerely moved by such demonstrations, to take measures in favour of the environment). It goes without saying that such a form of protest, which puts into question neither the foundations of the capitalist mode of production nor the power of the ruling class, can be totally assimilated by the bourgeoisie. And for those who don’t believe in such fairytales, their demoralisation is also a victory for the bourgeoisie.
We have seen that it’s quite illusory to think that there can be mechanisms within capitalism that would enable us to put an end to ecological disasters (5), since the latter are the result of the most basic functioning of capitalism. It is therefore the social relations of capital which have to be wiped out if we are to estabout if we are to establish a society in which the satisfaction of human needs, which would become the motive of production, is not achieved at the expense of the natural environment, since the two are intimately connected. Such a society, communism, can only be brought about by the proletariat, the only social force that can develop a consciousness and a practise that can “revolutionise the existing world”, “practically transform the present state of affairs” (Marx, The German Ideology).
Since its appearance as the revolutionary theory of the proletariat, marxism affirmed itself against bourgeois ideology, including its most advanced materialist conceptions, which saw nature as an object external to man, and not as a historical nature. The mastery of nature , for the proletariat, has thus never meant the pillage of nature: “At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all the other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly” (Engels, Dialectics of Natls, Dialectics of Nature).
It remains the case that the development of an awareness about the gravity of the ecological situation cannot in itself be a factor for mobilising the struggles which the working class has to wage between now and the communist revolution. As we said in IR 63, and as has been confirmed over the past 10 years: “the issue as such doesn’t allow the proletariat to affirm itself as a distinct social force. Indeed…it provides an ideal pretext for the bourgeoisie’s inter-classist campaigns…The working class will only be able to deal with the ecological issue as a whole when it has conquered political power on a world scale”. But the aberrations of this decomposing capitalist system also directly touch the workers (health, food, housing, etc) and at this level can serve to radicalise future economic struggles.
As for all the elements from outside the proletariat who are sincerely rebelling against the horrible spectacle of the massacre of the planet, the only constructive way forward for their indignation is to make a critique of ecologist ideology, and, as the Communist Manifesto invites them, to raise themselves to a general understanding of the history of the class struggle and to join the combat of the proletariat in its revolutionary organisations. organisations.
The destruction of the environment is not a technical problem, but a political one: more than ever, capitalism is a mortal danger for the survival of humanity; more than ever the future of humanity is in the hands of the proletariat. This is in no way a mechanical or abstract vision. It’s a necessity which has its roots in the reality of the capitalist mode of production. To cut the knot between communist revolution or a plunge into barbarism, the proletariat must act quickly. The more time passes, the more the accelerating decomposition of capitalist society will leave an apocalyptic inheritance to the communist society of the future.
1. The Kyoto protocol (December 97) is the list of principles agreed by the states which signed the convention of climate change at Rio in 1992, committing themselves to a 5.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010
2. The greenhouse effect is a process which brings about a considerable role to gases which are a minority in the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone): by preventing infrared radiation from leaving the planet freely, they retain enough of the sun’s heat to make the planet habitable (otherwise it would have an average temperature of –18 e temperature of –18 degrees centigrade)” (Herve Le Treut, research director at the Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique in Paris – Le Monde 7.8.00
3. Herve Le Treut, ibid
4. See the article ‘The most barbaric century in history’ in IR 101
5. We don't have the space here to develop on the other facets of the ecological disaster: uncontrolled desertification and deforestation, disappearance of animal species with the potential medicinal losses that this implies (between now and 2010 20% of known species will have disappeared, a third of them domestic species), poisoning of food as in the dioxin scandal, massive use of toxic pesticides, scarcity of drinking water (a child dies every 8 seconds because of lack of water or because of poor quality water), military and civil nuclear contamination, pillage of entire regions for oil exploitation, exhaustion of marine resources, all the damage created by local wars, etc. As for global warming, the ‘solutions’ of the bourgeoisie are aimed at hiding reality, while things continue to worsen.