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two links for tuesday morning reading

Monthly Review, May 2007: Healing the Rift: Metabolic Restoration in Cuban Agriculture, by Rebecca Clauso (Posted with some pre-requisite skepticism about many claims & apologetics about Cuba, which is frankly not a socialist utopia)…

Cuban agriculture over the past thirteen years has worked to reestablish the spatial relationships between nutrient cycles and material exchanges. A key principle of Cuba’s agroecology is the “optimization of local resources and promotion of within-farm synergisms through plant-animal combinations.”

The Cuban model of agriculture recognizes that the artificial divide between mental and manual labor limits the range of opportunities for productive food systems. The goals of a participatory democracy for agricultural decision making have been incorporated into the new farming model, and this is made possible by the new ownership patterns.

and from Cultural Logic,1998:Spinoza and Marx, by Eugene Holland

What follows is in the nature of a thought-experiment. It is well known that Marx was familiar with Spinoza; indeed, he hand-copied whole passages of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus into his notebooks. Less clear is the significance of this fact, and the extent of Spinoza’s influence on Marx’s thought.1 The aim of the experiment here is to deliberately exaggerate the extent of that influence: to think through some of the possible implications of placing Spinoza at the heart of Marx’s endeavor.


rough thoughts on ecological struggle

1. We are against stagism; most relevantly we are against the myth of a stagist capitalism, the trendy mythos in which we go from dirty industry to green industry, from blue collar workers to squash-playing, yoga-practicing information workers. This is not happening! This is the story of post-industrialism & the so-called “third wave”, and it is not true. It is a fundamental distortion of history, an ideological smoke screen, and the reality of the “post-industrial” economy is the export of the dirtiest industries abroad (chiefly China and its neighbours, or rather, the “world’s factory“) and the reduction of the domestic economy to the service industry, finance, and resource exports, (especially in a place like Canada where the TSE is dominated by the last two).

Dirty industry today in China does not automatically translate into “clean” industry in China tomorrow. Economic progress does not proceed in stages where all countries start out like 19th century England and end in a post-industrial utopia.

Further, it is worth pointing out that many formerly-perceived-as-“green” industries (i.e. high-tech manufacture which deposits mercury and lead into ground water, or so-called “aquaculture” which causes wholesale destruction of the oceans or fills our food with PCBs and other toxins) are now pointed out as dirty, environmentally destructive industries.

Under these conditions, where all wealth is based on the combination of intensive resource extraction and export (I’m from Alberta, I know) and the exploitation of those resources via correspondingly cheap labour abroad, how can we talk about a future of “green capitalism” at all (and especially here in Canada) without descending to the most base level of cynical lies? It really sucks to say it, but in this level the right wing is right: “going green” costs jobs, and breaks the economy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but it will be struggle all the way.

2. The warm comfortable blanket of technological determinism promises a solution (through hybrids, through bio-fuels, through nuclear energy, etc) but this is bullshit; let’s just be honest and say there will be no “new technology” which can on its own “save the environment.” In the real world, outside of the set of mystifications with which science and technology is reported in the press, technology is just technique and knowledge, and is developed in a social/cultural context, and executed/applied by industry; we must point out that only a form of social control over production, that is democratic planning of industry, can insure that the “right” activities take place with our shared resources! on a small scale this is what the mass action of the existing environment movement has already been attempting through pressure… our goal is to make this more explicit and permanent

3. Re: so-called bio-fuel; apart from being impractical, robs directly from the soil rather than from the soil of millions of years ago; steals energy which could be used for human sustenance and transfers it for profit; the reality is we have no excess land, no excess food; every farm is precious (also an argument about suburbanization); a form of hyper-exploitation… These concepts are certainly not foreign to Marx:

All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility…Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the technique and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.” — Karl Marx “Capital”, Volume I

4. We need to make explicit the link between obscene oil/energy/resource profits and the deprivation of the earth; every smog choked citizen should personally resent the luxurious estates of the rich, especially in the resource-exports intensive market of a place like Canada, Brazil, Russia, etc.

stewarding oil & gas energy becomes important; our job isn’t just to replace the usage of it but to hold onto it because as a form of energy it is an asset that should be reserved for future generations, and not wasted on the indulgences of the wealthy classes only.

5. We need to fight all “lifestylist” eco-moralism which makes us focus on what brand of toilet paper or what kind of lightbulbs we are using rather than the political-economic policy of the governments and industries which rule us; take the hypocrisy of energy policy in Ontario, for example, which simultaneously asks for the sacrifice & conservation of individual consumers while a) providing massive subsidies to manufacturing industries, which are by far the broadest users/abusers electricty b) commodifying & privatizing electricity as a commodity and selling it abroad (30% exported to the United States) while simultaneously directly poisoning and killing citizens in Ontario! 668 deaths per annum which can be directly blamed on air quality as a result of coal-fired power plants. <sarcasm>Can we use this to calculate the actual “exchange value” of a human life?</sarcasm>)

Eco-moralism is a political liability! As the political opposition, we cannot be sanctimonious lecturers on the rightness of a given lifestyle, without becoming elitist and marginal.  In contrast to the social democrats, the socialist vision of the the future is not the regulation of individuals by a singular moralistic “nanny state”, but the coordination of industry by the democratic multitude.

6. Access to green space, to clean air, to quality water, to a quiet/noiseless environment become more and more drastically important, and must become both class-based (all of these “luxuries” not just for wealth neighbourhoods or regions, but for the working class) and internationalist demands (it becomes imperative to expose the intense environmental degradation abroad, particularly in china, etc.)

There is an ongoing destructive dynamic between the rural and urban life in our capitalist society (See Engels’ “On the abolition of the antithesis between town and country“); re: the above point about green space, etc. to get all dialectical: the contradiction between rural and urban can be “superceded” only through the assertion of the right of all individuals to a) a kind of “post-urban” (as opposed to suburban) environment b) planning in agriculture, the return of mixed-crop stewardship over the land opposing mass industrial-scale monocrop agriculture

7. We should not have a knee-jerk reaction against all so-called “eco-capitalist” reforms (such as carbon trading schemes); they can be viewed from two angles; on one hand they can be seen as a propagandistic charade and are not a solution, not an end in and of themselves; but on the other hand as one possible battle won through the mass action of the environmental movement, forcing the market to valuate aspects of the commons that it formerly hid.

In the last instance capitalism will always run up against these enforced limits on exploitation and will fight them in an effort to extract greater profits, and it is here that we have points of struggle to ignite mass action. As practical measures we should advocate for short term policies such as additional taxation on fuel use, the forcing of industry into more responsible roles, compensatory frameworks for the use of air, water, and soil; however all of these measures must be initiated and backed up through mass action! We can see them as transitional reforms that can cause a (probably minor) amelioration of environmental problems and at the same time they throw the action of the capitalist economy itself into sharp relief — every time a company fails to meet a quota, an environment tax policy, or to partake in the regulated scheme, this must become a point of agitation for the mass movement.