Saturday, July 14, 2012

Eco-Socialism or Barbarism - Essay by Sakar and Kern

It might seem unfashionable, dogmatic or out of date but its my firm conviction that humanity faces a stark choice: eco-socialism or barbarism. I will be explaining more what I mean by this in future posts but for now I am re-publishing part one of three part series by German thinkers Saral Sakar and Bruno Kern outlining the rationale for eco-socialism. I recently read Sakar's book on the same topic and found it highly persuasive. For those interested the full essay can be found here.

Eco-Socialism or Barbarism: An Appeal

By Saral Sarkar and Bruno Kern

Part One: Capitalism is Failing

In 1989, in Europe, something broke down which many leftists had, despite some doubts, called socialism (after all, capitalism had been abolished in the so-called socialist countries). In China, of course, formally still the Communist Party is ruling. But in the economy, since the beginning of the 1980s, it appears that capitalism is being restored. In the beginning of the 1990s, one could hear all over the world the triumphal shouts of capitalism. The philosopher Francis Fukuyama even grandiosely proclaimed “the end of history” — in the sense of final world-wide victory of liberal democratic capitalism over all other system-ideals. Many people could not imagine any reason why the era of world peace, which, they thought, had just begun, could ever come to an end.

But these triumphal shouts did not last long. Since about the middle of the 1990s we are experiencing the beginning of a new phase of world history.

Already in the first half of the 1990s came, instead of the hoped-for “peace dividends” after the end of the Cold War, the immense horrors of the hot “new wars” — the unending series of small wars of the warlords, ethnic groups, nationalities and states (Somalia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Chechenia etc.). Since 2001, we are again experiencing old-style full-scale imperialist wars (Afghanistan, Iraq).

Today, also in the economic and social sphere, the failure of capitalism as an economic system is becoming obvious. In almost all countries mass unemployment prevails. Where the economy is growing, mostly it is jobless growth. The welfare state is being dismantled everywhere. Almost everywhere one hears of crisis of one or the other kind. In large parts of the world abject poverty prevails. Establishment economists are at a loss. Keynesianism had failed already in the 1970s, although some economists still unwaveringly adhere to the old recipes. Today we are experiencing the bankruptcy of the latest economic doctrine, namely of neo-liberalism. Economic globalisation has become a curse. Economic cold wars are going on everywhere. A large part of humanity is living under the constant fear that tomorrow one may lose the material basis of survival. Crime is growing rapidly, the suicide rate is rising, and more and more people are suffering from some or other kind of mental illness. That cannot be the picture of a victorious world system. In retrospect one finds it true what one could hear already in 1989: capitalism is not victorious, it has only survived.

Whereas until a few years ago the ideologues of capitalism could say in a tone of utter conviction that they were already working on reconciling capitalism with the requirements of a healthy environment, today they are fighting bitterly against the slightest concession demanded of them in the name of ecology, for example, against the very modest targets of reduction in CO2-emission laid down in the Kyoto-protocol. Ecology is totally out. One hears only of economic growth. Many established Green parties have long ago given up the goal of trying to implement what is ecologically necessary. One by one, they are now giving up even the rest of the remaining goals. For example, in Germany, they have recently dropped the goal of changing the transportation system. What matters is only economic growth, and nothing else.

But nature is “taking revenge” (Frederick Engels). Even scientists of the Pentagon (see appendix I.) are warning us of an apocalyptic future scenario: The dramatic climate changes will put people and governments in dire straits; oil will become ever scarcer; bloody conflicts will increase; wars for raw materials, water and food will devastate continents; within a few years, the world will be on the verge of total anarchy.

There is no doubt any more: capitalism as a world system is failing. All over the world, also in the rich industrial countries, the manifold crisis of capitalism has become acute. Its ideologues cannot see any way out of it. Some of them apparently recognise that there is a fundamental contradiction between ecology and their kind of economy and that it cannot be resolved within their system. Already since the mid-1990s, we are observing how under the burden of different kinds of crisis many parts of the world are getting drowned in wars, chaos and, yes, barbarism. The number of “failed states” is growing.

What is to be done?

Against the background of this world situation, and while millions of human beings are crying out for an alternative, everywhere the Left appears to be paralyzed. And it is totally fragmented. Actually, just now, we should all be saying loudly and offensively that there are no solutions in capitalism to the various crises the world is suffering from and that solutions are possible only in a newly conceived socialism. But apparently we are still paralyzed by the shock of 1989.

It is understandable that most frustrated and angry people in the rich Western countries still cherish the illusion that they can defend their welfare state and their jobs and wages through demonstrations, strikes and other kinds of protest without having to call capitalism itself into question. Or they cherish the illusion, which is promoted by trade unionists, Social Democrats and economists close to them, but also by activists in the various social movements against neoliberal politics– that Keynesian economic policies could generate more growth, new jobs and more prosperity. Attac, the international organisation critical of globalization, for instance, speaks in its central motto of “a different world.” However, when they speak more concretely, they speak only of “making” globalised capitalism “just.” There are also many who, of course, cherish no illusions, but have resigned in view of the collapse of “socialism.” In spite of all that, the time is now ripe for a new offensive campaign for a new socialism. In 2004, in Germany, a large opinion poll showed that most people there think that socialism is a very good idea, but that its implementation is a problem. If we socialists do not take the initiative, if we do not fill the intellectual-ideological vacuum that is arising because capitalism is failing, then that would be done by the Neo-Nazis. Against the backdrop of the progressive dismantling of the welfare state and large-scale unemployment they are now emphatically posing as national socialists.

Of course, we are today miles away from raising the question of power. At present the more important task is something else, namely to achieve the intellectual-ideological hegemony in the sense of Antonio Gramsci. Leszek Kolakowski summarised Gramsci‘s position in the following words:

“Every class tries to occupy a leading position not only in the institutions of power, but also in the actually expressed opinions, values and norms in the majority of society. The privileged classes have occupied a leading position and subjugated the exploited people not only politically but also intellectually. What is more, the intellectual hegemony is a precondition of political hegemony” — (Kolakowski, Vol.3, 1979: 266).

The question as to the agents of the project of a new socialism need not be discussed at this point of time. The first task is to delegitimate capitalism. Millions of people must realise that overcoming the crises and, in the end, ensuring the survival of mankind are not possible as long as capitalism continues to exist. People have to be convinced of the necessity of a newly conceived socialism. The practical question as to how capitalism could be overcome should be put last. It is also not so easy to answer this question. First the intellectual-ideological foundation for this work must be laid.

We know that among us leftists serious differences exist on a number of questions of detail. But in the matter of critique of capitalism there exists extensive agreement. That can be a common starting point. Also the question as to how our alternative to capitalism, namely a new socialism, would look like in detail cannot be answered in advance. Especially in terms of our understanding of politics, the concrete details would not be designed on a writing table, but would develop in the course of concrete developments in the material world, in the course of the movement and on the basis of reflections on both. For this reason we have here consciously desisted from presenting concrete details of our alternative and our strategy for change, although they are taking shape in our mind. We want to give here only the impulse for a lively discussion process and for possible actions. We have therefore limited ourselves to presenting only the basics of our analysis and our vision eco-socialism, which we consider to be not only desirable but also necessary. For a detailed and scientific argumentation for and presentation of this conception of eco-socialism (there are also others) we refer to Saral Sarkar‘s book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism — a Critical Analysis of Humanity‘s Fundamental Choices (1999).

We hope that many people, who are worried about the state of humanity and nature as a whole, will take up these thoughts and, together with others, seek opportunities to become active for the ideal of eco-socialism. We also call on you to get in touch with us for further discussions and for developing concrete activities.
© Saral Sarkar and Bruno Kern

Cologne and Mainz, March 2008

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