THE RED/GREEN DIALECTIC
1. *Industrialization does not cause environmental degradation* The greens are wrong in their belief that industrialization causes environmental degradation. Neither do "anti-Gaia" values such as Judeo-Christianity, patriarchy, greed, etc. The root cause is the capitalist mode of production.
Capitalism uproots rural populations in order to facilitate industrial development in urban centers. There is also a need to increase capital growth in the countryside to finance new industrial growth. This causes agriculture to become revolutionized technologically at the expense of environmental balance. By creating urban centers to house the poisonous, murderous factories and wreaking havoc across the plains and forests to finance their creation, the capitalist class creates the conditions for its own existence.
Capitalism can flirt with environmental responsibility, but the tendency for capitalism to expand and devour non-capitalist sectors means that "green" capitalism will be an anomaly, like rain in the Sahara desert which actually does occur every so often. For every concession to clean air in an advanced capitalist country like the United States or Germany, we get the displacement of environmental destruction into places like Mexico and Hungary. The imperialist bourgeoisie does not lose sleep over increased cancer rates in the maquiladora zone.
Capitalism is not a static system. It defies rational planning and rational growth. Its growth is the growth of metastasizing tumors. Desire for consumption is created through advertising. Production heats up to accommodate consumption. This is a treadmill, not a rational system. We end up with whatever Madison Avenue and Wall Street can make money off of. We end up with 20 brands of cigarettes, $125 running shoes and soft drink wars while the conditions of social living continue to degrade. Public transportation, health and education suffer while the alienated population looks for its next consumer fix at the shopping mall.
2. *Why existing socialism has not been green* The green anarchists believe that bad values lead to bad social conditions. The capitalist values of the Wealth of Nations led to environmental destruction in the capitalist world. Marx's enthusiasm for growth and industry, as reflected in the more breathlessly ebullient sections of the Communist Manifesto, explains the polluted rivers and poisonous air of the former Soviet bloc. The greens believe that by returning to a value system like that of the American Indian, balance with nature will be restored. In their eyes, industrialization of either the capitalist or socialist variety is the enemy. Small, self-sufficient communities are the way forward.
In order to highlight socialism's problems, they draw on the ample evidence of Soviet history. This history can not be denied, but as anything else that has transpired in history, it was not inevitable. The Soviet people had an alternative in the development approach represented by Peter Palchinsky, a civil engineer who joined the Communist Party shortly after the 1917 revolution. Palchinsky was enthusiastic about planning. He believed that the Soviet Union opened up possibilities for the planning of industry that were impossible under Tsarism. He thought that engineers could play a major role in the growth of socialism.
Palchinsky argued against the type of gigantic enterprises that were beginning to capture Stalin's rather limited imagination. He noted that middle-sized and small enterprises often have advantages over large ones. For one thing, workers at smaller factories are usually able to grasp the final goals more easily. He believed that the single most important factor in engineering decisions was human beings themselves. Successful industrialization and high productivity were not possible without highly trained workers and adequate provision for their social and economic needs.
His differences with Stalin's pyramid-building approach erupted over the Great Dneiper Dam project, one of the most fabled 5-year plan projects. Palchinsky made the following critiques. The project didn't take into account the huge distances between the dam and the targeted sites. As a consequence, there would be huge transmission costs and declines in efficiency.
Also, the project didn't take into account the damage resulting floods would cause to surrounding farms situated in lowlands. Some 10,000 villagers had to flee their homes. As the project fell behind schedule and overran costs, the workers' needs were more and more neglected. The workers suffered under freezing conditions, living in cramped tents and barracks without adequate sanitary facilities. TB, typhus, and smallpox spread throughout the worker's quarters.
Palchinsky argued forcefully against projects such as these and offered a more rational, humane and less ideologically driven approach. In other words, he stressed sound engineering and planning methods. He helped to organize a study group dedicated to his principles. Palchinsky and other engineers who opposed Stalin's bureaucratic system allied themselves to some extent with Bukharin and Rykov who had often defended engineers and their approach to industrial planning.
Stalin cracked down on the Bukharin opposition around the same time as he attacked dissident engineers and had Palchinsky imprisoned. The engineer died behind bars 2 years later. His criticisms of Stalin anticipated many of the failures of Soviet industrialization. The Chernobyl disaster in particular could be attributable to the same type of bureaucratic myopia that afflicted the Dneiper dam project.
Could the Soviet Union have evolved and progressed with an industrialization model more akin to Palchinsky's? I believe so. In any case, it is a mistake to draw an equation between Stalin's 5-year plans and the term "planned economy". The loss of Palchinsky and the political opposition he identified with constitute a major defeat in the century-long struggle for socialism.
Cuba, of course, should be judged on an entirely different basis. Cuba resorts to nuclear power only because it is economically isolated and desperate. The electricity generated from the nuclear plant under development would go to power hospital equipment, university lighting and communications facilities. In many other ways, the Cuban leadership has shown sensitivity to ecological concerns. It would be a mistake to judge this beleaguered isle by the same standards as the Soviet Union, the former super-power.
One step ahead of Cuba, we had revolutionary Nicaragua. Volunteers from my organization Tecnica worked with Sandinista government officials on "appropriate technology" projects too numerous to mention. Among the misfortunes accompanying Chamorro's election was the abandonment of a number of these types of projects.
3. *The nonsense of Malthusianism* Neo-Malthusians, who are endemic to the green movement, misunderstand the cause of urban squalor and misery. They blame it on there being "too many people". The Marxist explanation makes much more sense. Marxism posits the existence of a reserved army of the unemployed. This reserve army is a inevitable consequence of the replacement of human labor by machinery. The reserve army permits capitalism to increase the surplus value produced by labor and also allows for expansion in boom times. The overpopulation "problem" is simply a surface reflection of the tendency of capitalism to produce this reserve army. When people have jobs, homes, savings, etc. as they do in Western Europe, there is no discussion of an overpopulation problem. When millions, driven off the land, crowd into the urban slums of West Africa or India looking for work, we discover that there is an overpopulation problem.
As David Harvey says, "There are too many people in the world because the particular ends we have in view (together with the form of social organization we have) and the materials available in nature that we have the will and the way to use, are not sufficient to provide us with those things to which we are accustomed." (Economic Geography, 1974)
Was there ever a golden age when society lived in balance with nature? People like Kirkpatrick Sale tend to romanticize indigenous societies in a manner reminiscent of Rousseau. The explanation of the difference between various stages of societies has nothing to do with a change in values; it has everything to do with colonialism, imperialism and the introduction of money into a primitive communist society.
P. Keleman cites the difference between descriptions of the Tigre province in Ethiopia in 1901 and 1985 as recounted by two travelers. In 1901, the first observes "The environs of Adowa are most fertile, and in the heights of its commercial prosperity the whole of the valleys and the lower slopes of the mountains were one vast grain field, and not only Adowa, but the surrounding villages carried a very large, contented and prosperous population. The neighboring mountains are still well wooded. The numerous springs, brooks, and small rivers give an ample support of good water for domestic and irrigation purposes, and the water meadows always produce an inexhaustible supply of good grass the whole year round."
Then, in 1985, another traveler says "Shortly before I left Ethiopia I flew over large tracts of the desiccated provinces of Tigre and Wollo. For hours the picture below was unchanging: plains which formerly were described as the breadbasket of the north were covered in rolling mist of what was once fertile top soil; eddies of spiraling dust rose in the whirlwinds hundreds of feet into the air, stony river beds at the bottom of gorges a thousand feet deep showed not a sigh of water or new vegetation; and the grazing land at the top of the plateaux which the dried-out rivers dissected were as bald and brown as old felt."
What changed in Ethiopia? Did the people stop worshipping Gaia?
No, Ethiopia was brought into the colonial orbit. Land began to be used for the export of cash crops. The peasantry was driven off the land and communal property relations were abolished. Instead of being in trust for future generations, the land was viewed as just one more resource to be exploited.
4. *Alienation from Nature* The greens tend to view alienation as a problem of the individual consciousness. This disharmony can be overcome by getting closer to nature and living in a more simple manner, like the Amish in Pennsylvania so admired by Kirkpatrick Sale.
The Marxist analysis stresses the social dimension. We are alienated from each other and we are alienated from nature because we are surrounded by the cash nexus in a market economy. Everything, including people and nature, are seen from the point of view of their exchange value. This colors everything. The way we speak reflects this alienated existence. We speak of the "investment" we have in an intimate relationship. We are worried whether our "assets" are to be found in our appearance, like Richard Gere's, or in our intelligence or wit, like Woody Allen's (well, from 15 years ago anyhow).
The relationship between society and nature is dialectical. It is a mistake to think, as the greens do, that nature subsumes everything. Nature has been and will be determined to some extent by this peculiar animal, homo sapiens, which uses tools to control it'senvironment. There was never a pure state of nature when we had the same relationship to nature that a bumblebee or kangaroo has. We are more closely related to another special primate, the chimpanzee, which also uses tools when it extracts termites from their nest with a trimmed twig.
Greens may resent Marx when he says in the German Ideology "The nature that preceded human history...today no longer exists anywhere" but he is much closer to the truth. He is not being mechanistic or anthropocentric when he makes this kind of statement, but being dialectical. He understands that nature determines society while simultaneously being determined by society. This contradiction of course is tilted in the direction of society under capitalism. The only way some kind of balance can be restored is through socialism. Homo sapiens, the tool-user, has become estranged from nature over centuries of social development under private property. The only way we can overcome this alienation is through the intelligent use of tools that allow us to *control* society and nature.
We should not be afraid to declare our intention, as socialists, to bring society and nature into harmony through planning and through technology. As David Pepper notes in chapter three of his "Eco- Socialism", we can create a better world through this type of approach: "But a rationalized global-to-local network of planned links between users and suppliers can be envisaged, using modern operational research, linear programming and logistics and systems sciences. The network could hardly produce more wasteful and irrational results than the 'free market' does today, with food mountains in Europe, while Ethiopians starve yet produce coffee and lentils for the European market! Furthermore, in a non-consumerist, stable society, without overproduction-overdemand cycles, 'needs' would be less volatile and more predictable than in capitalism. And where units of calculation need not be expressed universally as money for exchange purposes, the cash nexus will not govern the nature and purpose of economic activity and relationships. Instead other relevant, including the environmental impacts of different products and productions processes, can be made significant factors in decisions about what to do and not to do economically."
(Sources: David Pepper's "Eco-Socialism" (Verso, 1994) was the source of many of the ideas and citations from this article, and the article preceding this on the Unabomber and green anarchism. I think this book by a British lecturer in Geography at Oxford is a must for anybody exploring red-green connections. I also strongly recommend 2 journals: James O'Connor's "Capitalism Nature Socialism" and "Society and Nature" which is edited by Takis Fotopoulos.)