Tag Archive: environmentalism


Reflection: Different movements, same problem.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

The Right is unified.  Disparate issues, unified front–there are divisions (libertarians versus social conservatives, for example), but when the day is over, class issues unite them, and gender isn’t far behind.

The Left, however, is fragmented.

You have environmentalists, feminists, queer activists, union folks, civil rights and immigrants rights coalitions, anti-war protesters. . . many groups fighting for many causes, each prioritizing their own (in so many cases) and not drawing the connections between them strong enough to really convince the uncommitted why they should integrate new areas of concern.

This fragmentation has served the traditional Right strategy of ‘divide-and-conquer” well.

Towards a Stronger Left

How do we get beyond this for a strong coalition?  How does one become part of a unified movement?

Sexual practices and orientation, abortion rights, the ability to move safely from one country to another, and struggles for control over one’s workplace certainly don’t look like the same type of issue–but at their core, they are diverse threads of a singular political tapestry.

Each of the arenas of social concern and activism that characterize the New Left involve, in essence, one group with power fighting to control the life and activity of another group, that is, to use them instrumentally towards the acquisition of greater power.

Economic Power

Capitalists fight to gain political and intellectual leverage because they want ever-more-power to regulate the opportunities and possibilities for workers.  Control over workers’ labor, and over their ability to be independent from dependence on wage labor (preventing them from, say, going into business for themselves, surviving off their own plot of land, etc) are the primary ways that capitalists gain increased profits.

Their power, money, prestige, and influence are used to fight for a world in which:

(1) At least someone in your family needs to work for some boss for members of the family to survive (guaranteed through the erosion of welfare rights, Social Security, etc, so survival relies on wage labor), and

(2) That boss has increasing control over how they can progressively maximize your productivity and keep you working harder (eroding labor laws and collective bargaining, etc).  They want control over your activity for their benefit.

Gender and Sexuality

Traditional ‘separate sphere’ beliefs regarding ‘women’s place’ posit women’s ‘roles’ in society as (1) being a wife, and (2) mother of the husband’s children, while (3) taking care of the home, and (4) being perfectly sexually available.

Total deference.

These beliefs (which are enforced directly or indirectly) keep women subservient to men, giving men control over women’s activity.

Heteronormativity and homo/bi/queerphobia further leech into these considerations, inasmuch as free sexuality and reproductive autonomy are really harmful to patriarchal family structures.

Patriarchal family structures, grounded on men having control over women, rest on a monopoly of such control–no sexually free women, certainly no women having sex outside legally binding patriarchal marriages, no reproduction rights, and certainly no women in relationships with other women.

Period.

And men with men?  Men are supposed to exhibit and pursue control over women, and to deny all traces of activities or desires associated with women in a hetero-normative patriarchal society–so all non-heterosexual activity is prohibited.

These regulations stem far back, encoded into belief structures when families were the prime locus of production and holders of wealth, and so control over families (and the expansion of families through the prohibition of all sexual activity that didn’t result in babies) was important.

Thus, beliefs formed that chastised men and women for, and outlawed, non-reproductive sexual and relationship freedom, which became the dominant model of the ‘family’ (which, as it just so happens, gives collective power to heterosexual men over women and queer men).   Control over activity, yet again.

Intersectional Complexity

Civil rights issues are clear; racism is admittedly about the dominant racial group trying to control the subordinated racial group.  Anti-immigrant fervor is usually a thinly disguised racism, or a deep-seated fear (about terrorism or something), but either way the design is to control immigrant activity through either keeping them from one place to another or, alternately, to reduce their privileges while here.

Anti-environmental policies and behaviors, too, involve the unconditional domination of human beings (frequently capitalists nowadays) over the environment and all life within it.

In other words, all New Left movements can be unified into a movement of the Now-Left, built around freedom as self-determination, i.e. no group having control over another, but all individuals having control over the conditions of their own existence, living life with an egalitarian autonomy.

Only this is freedom.

Only this is democracy.

And other common factors connect to this notion (well being, sustainability, etc.), but freedom as self-determination could be a unifying guiding light for the movement we need right now, if we are to save what world we have left.

Imagine a world where the means of production are owned by society. Profits are collected and go towards Public benefit, and decisions are made by those who will be affected. Would that world not be superior than our own? The system of private ownership allows individuals to profit off the labor of others, externalize social costs, and manipulate and erode popular control over the political, social, and economic spheres. What does the current system do that it has advocates?

The primary law of the system is profit. Jerry Mander examines 11 laws of corporate behavior, generalizable to individuals in the capitalist system by way of inference, and to the system as a whole by necessity (“The Rules of Corporate Behavior”, The Case Against the Global Economy (1996), edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, pp. 309-22). They are:

(1) “the profit imperative” (315), where individuals and corporations, by the laws of the capitalist system,
must take in more income than they expend. Mander says “the profit imperative and te hgrowth imperative are the most fundamental corporate drives; together they represent the corporation’s instinct to live” (315).

(2) “the growth imperative” (316), where growth of the company, and its profits (and its corollaries among individuals and political bodies) it transformed into an imperative. If profits are a necessary requirement for maintaining class status generally, and profits are consequently valued, then of course the push for ever greater profits increases in importance, at the expense of one’s competitors, competition in the market, and society at large.

(3)”competition and aggression,” where the individual and corporate pushes towards profits and growth lead to a dog-eat-dog, zero sum game. You must secure your position, for no one is looking out for you . . . you are consequently expected to cooperate and seek the benefit of the Team, but are constantly looking for an aggressive edge over your competition in the job market–above other corporations, capitalists, employees, etc.

(4) “amorality,” where “corporations do not have morals or altruistic goals . . . so decisions that may be antithetical to community goals or environmental health are made without misgivings” (317).

(5) “hierarchy,” where “corporate law requires that corporations be structured into classes of superiors and subordinates within a centralized pyramidical structure” (317).

(6) “quantification, linearity, and segmentation,” where “corporations require that subjective information be translated into objective form, that is, into numbers . . .[which] excludes from the decision-making process all values that cannot be quantified in such a way” (318).

(7) “dehumanization,” where “corporations make a conscious effort to depersonalize” (318), creating elaborate structures of rules for behavior on the job, and managerial discipline.

(8) “exploitation,” where “profit equals the difference between th amount paid to an employee and the economic value of the employee’s output . . . [and thus] is based on paying less than actual value for workers and resources” (319).

(9) “ephemerality [the quality of being transitory] and mobility,” where “corporations . . . have no commitment to locality, employees, or neighbors . . . [and so in] having no morality, no commitment to place, and no physical nature . . . a corporation ca nrelocate all of its operations to another place at the first sign of inconvenience” (319).

(10) “opposition to nature” where “corporations themselves and corporate societies are intrinsically committed to intervening in, altering, and transforming the natural world . . . [where] all manufacturing activity depends upon intervention in and reorganization of nature” (320).  This fact, combined with the imperative to grow, results in an ever-increasing consumption of natural resources, many of which either reproduce less quickly than they are extracted, or do not reproduce.  In other words, “the net effect is the corporate ravaging of nature” (320).  This results in a variety of phenomenon, from pollution to corporate contributions to global warming.

Finally, (11) “homogenization,” where “all corporations share an identical economic, cultural, and social vision and seek to acceperate the social and individual acceptance of that vision . . . [and so] life-styles and economic systems that emphasize sharing commodities and labor, that do not encourage commodity accumulation, or that celebrate nonmaterial values, are not good for business” (320-21).

Why is this relevant?  Corporations and corporate interests are the driving forced behind the global economic and political structures today.  They are the distributors of wages and goods, they control the media and the government, and they operate by these laws.  In this first examination of the laws of the corporation, we can already ask–do we want anything that operates by these laws determining the future of our world?

One eminent result of the fall of the Soviet Empire–for all its faults–has been a crisis of faith in Socialist circles. The fall of the USSR has made socialism look untenable, and as a result, many socialists have been searching for an alternative to a centrally planned, bureaucratic economy. Some have collapsed their demands, and choose instead to advocate some sort of social democracy, like Sweden. This, unfortunately, proves unstable by allowing private ownership of capital, and thus containing within itself a constant pull towards capitalism with all its faults. Others have turned towards market socialism, but this, too, contains the seeds which made market capitalism so prone to allow self-interest to dominate social interactions, among other faults of capitalism. In short, many socialists have relaxed their demands or given up substantial portions of their goals. This, combined with the success of free market ideology and power consolidation, has created a void of socialist advocacy and activism where it is needed most. But in perspective, this is a time for celebration.

The fall of the Soviet Union has given us socialists the opportunity to try to create the best socialism, the most equitable, efficient, democratic socialism possible in practice. On the other hand, while power has been consolidated by the neoliberal empire, their power is augmented by an appeal to legitimacy, saying (in effect) “our competition is gone, so we win by default,” but such a claim appeals for legitimacy. It begs us to consent and obey; it begs us to filter out and water down our hopes for a just world. But such a tactic cannot remain impervious to critique, and for legitimacy’s sake, it must allow critique. The global system cannot both critique the Soviets for tyrannical power over markets and denying political and civil liberties, AND suppress global movements in an overt fashion. Don’t get me wrong, the CIA has a history of destroying Leftist movements, but it has done so with an eye towards suppression the information. Consequently, we socialists must gain our voices; we must be loud, strong, and proud! We must be international, and forge relationships with feminist, pacifist, and environmentalist groups.  We must establish collectives that will help us take care of each other, to make it possible to go into the world without needing a paycheck, making us independent.  All socialists, of all countries, religions, genders, races, ages, and socialisms must come together and unify under one overarching group.  This is the way we can make some headway against the neoliberal empire.  We must raise our voices until we become a public force, and with publication comes protection from destruction.  If we become public, if we become loud, strong, and proud, then the neoliberal empire will have to maintain legitimacy by opposing us through normal means–we force their hand to engage in debate.  The neoliberal need for a successful ideology will give us a voice.  I propose (at least) the following prescriptions for a successful socialism.

(1) Leftist journals, individuals, organizations, political parties, etc., must unify under one international movement and have representatives meet regularly to establish objectives in the collective advocacy of socialism. While there is still debate over what socialism is best [and it should not be necessary to establish ‘hierarchical determination of party principles’ as the Soviets did], the most immediate ends that can be established are (1) an international socialist bill of rights, and a plan for (2) a future international confederation of socialist states, as well as (3) the consolidation of political and economic power that a dispersed socialist movement cannot accomplish.  Socialists need to become an international power-bloc and work together on the movement as a whole.

This is NOT a demand for unified agreement between socialists, nor is it an argument for a centralized socialist order.  This is a call for the unification of the movement.  There should be doctrinal disagreement and living debate, but these disagreements should not fragment the movement.

(2) This organization must appeal to all progressive movements, feminist, environmentalist, civil rights, NGO’s, etc., over the need to join the cause.  This will greatly assist our movement.

(3) This organization must engage in debates in every intellectual field, most immediately with (1) religious scholars, and (2) economists.  Real Christianity and Buddhism both support socialism over capitalism, and I believe Islam the same.  Additionally, dealing with oppositional economists will show that socialism is viable, and that traditional arguments against its possibility are false.

The social teachings of the major world religions, generally, have been used (at least in the West) to support capitalism, when in fact they most consistently support socialism.  This ideological barrier to socialism should be what it naturally is–an ideological aid.

(4) This unified socialist movement must move to create institutions independent from the capitalist system.  It needs to establish (ideally) communal living situations with proportional private space (for many reasons), schools, provide socialist scholarly resources free to individuals, food and health distribution, etc.  If it is necessary for the good life, socialists must provide it independently from the capitalist system.

(5) Once unified, institutions in place, socialists need to continue their militant advocacy of socialism–and by militant, I do not mean violent, I mean unwavering.  Socialists must unwaveringly pursue a nonviolent revolution.  A revolution is no more than a dramatic change from one system or ruler to another.  How is this to be accomplished nonviolently?  Socialists must simultaneously pursue the following (and this step is more of a systemized presentation of the preceeding thoughts, with some overlap).

(5a) Socialists must pursue political change in all areas of power, be they international, national, state, district, city, or county.  Even socialist neighborhood councils are steps in the right direction to further solidarity.  Socialists must advocate (i) the collapse of international capitalist institutions (WTO, IMF, etc) and their replacement with international socialist institutions, and (ii) the democratic promotion of socialist politicians in every level of political office.

(5b)  Socialists must create institutions independent of the capitalist system as in (4).

(5c)  Socialists must work to change the ideological structure of society, which involves (i) the unification of socialists, and (ii) promotion of socialist ideals in all areas of social thought (such as sociology, psychology, philosophy, economics, religion, etc).  This should also include (iii) extensive research into effective rhetoric, as well as political and activist tactics, and how movements for social change succeed or fail, with an emphasis on lessons for success in contemporary conditions.  Furthermore, these lessons should (iv) be made widely available for socialist activists in free handbooks and other resources to help in the field, while organizing.  Finally, (v) successful socialist organizing and advocacy should include an extensive campaign to democratize traditional media, as well as use internet-based and public information campaigns to ‘spread the word’.

(5d) Socialists must then work on grassroots campaigns to get popular consensus in favor of increasing economic democracy and socialist progress, in addition to supporting the aforementioned programs and increasing pressure on the status quo.

These are only the most preliminary and general of suggestions, and I hope that they serve to stimulate debate.