Replanting Paradise

A socialist revolution is the only solution

By Bonnie Weinstein

Naomi Klein delivered this year’s Edward Said lecture in London on May 5, 2016 titled “Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World” reprinted in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint.

It accurately depicts the connection between climate catastrophe, war and oppression, and blames the profit-driven capitalist system itself.

But it does not promote the only alternative, the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a world-wide, democratically organized, socialist economy, controlled by the working class, and based upon human need and not profit.

Instead, Klein uses the term, “extractive economy,” i.e., an economy based upon the extraction of natural resources such as gas, oil and minerals, as opposed to renewable resources such as solar, wind, etc., as the cause of the climate crisis. And while she puts blame on the fundamental economic structure of capitalism—she does not call for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society.

Klein does give many powerful examples of how capitalism and its dependence upon institutional racism is destroying the environment and entire countries in its relentless pursuit of more power leading to more profits:

“Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change—there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation—but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills.”

And she does blame capitalism:

“These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialized to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook. Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy—those sorts of systems. Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organized life differently: systems that insist that humans must think seven generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration.”

This is where she should argue for socialism, but her conclusion falls short:

“The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatization, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all.”

The Leap Manifesto

But Klein is not alone in her avoidance of calling for a socialist revolution as the only solution.

In Canada there’s a new document called “The Leap Manifesto, A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another,” also reprinted in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint. As in Klein’s piece, it takes on the “extractive economy.”

It starts from the premise that:

“Deepening poverty and inequality are a scar on the country’s present. And Canada’s record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.

“These facts are all the more jarring because they depart so dramatically from our stated values: respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship.”

It proposes progressive reforms that would improve environmental and social conditions. And, like Klein, acknowledges that:

“We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.”

What’s different and encouraging about The Leap Manifesto is that it does present a program for change:

“A leap to a non-polluting economy creates countless openings for similar multiple ‘wins.’ We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighborhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term. We want training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to take part in the clean energy economy. This transition should involve the democratic participation of workers themselves. High-speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transit can unite every community in this country—in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.”

And it accurately connects our current ecological and social crisis to unprecedented private wealth:

“One thing is clear: public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis, designed to extinguish our dreams before they have a chance to be bornů.”

And here’s where they fall short:

“Inevitably, this bottom-up revival will lead to a renewal of democracy at every level of government; working swiftly towards a system in which every vote counts and corporate money is removed from political campaigns.”

In other words, like Klein, they envisions a “kinder and gentler” form of capitalism: switching from extractive energy forms to renewable ones; fighting for social and economic justice and against militarism; and for real democratic decision-making—but still, under a “kinder and gentler” capitalist economic system based on private profit.

Capitalism must go

The problem we face isn’t just the extractive economy, injustice and war, but the fact that the capitalist class is in control of all the world’s economy and is dependent on injustice, war and racism to maintain their control irrespective of the catastrophes they bring.

The capitalist class bases all their decisions on how to run industry and the economy solely upon whether or not they can make a profit. They, as a ruling class, override all else in their quest for profit, with no regard to environmental or human catastrophic consequences.

Capitalism’s profit-motive of production can’t be anything else but extractive and disruptive

It has nothing to do with individual decision-making, altruism, and the goodwill of capitalists or “capitalist democracy,” which isn’t democracy at all. That’s why it can’t make these logical reforms—even to save the very planet we share.

Modern society has the knowledge and the technology to make the world a paradise, but the very economic structure of capitalism itself will not allow it. In fact, the capitalist class must maintain constant vigilance against any attempt to challenge their power—the military, police and prison industrial complex are their weapons of mass oppression—all designed to maintain their power.

The profit-driven engine of capitalism consumes everything in its path turning it into the profits that only they benefit from.

As succinctly expressed in the great Joni Mitchell hit song, “Big Yellow Taxi” by Counting Crows: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Socialism is the answer

The fundamental fact is, capitalism can’t be reformed. Sure we can win a few reforms here and there and we must continue to unite to fight for these reforms.

But ultimately, the capitalist class must be overthrown and a democratically organized working class must take their place; just as production for profit must be replaced by production for the needs and wants of the majority, and the health and safety of our planet.

These fundamental changes are not unreachable fantasies; they are essential to our very survival.

A worldwide socialist revolution is the only way we can achieve all the reforms we desperately need and want—the elimination of war and all weapons of death and destruction and an end to environmental catastrophes that result from the “profit-above-all-else” mentality that is the essential nature of capitalism.

Only a socialist world can ensure economic and social justice for all. We must carry out a socialist revolution if we truly want to dig up those parking lots and re-plant paradise.