Eve Of Destruction…Or Revolution?

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Above Photo: Flickr/ teofilo

“In order to replace capitalism with an ecological society we need a revolution.” That modest sentence is how Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams, the authors of Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation, begin the last chapter of their new book. Although the chapter is the end of the book, it is also an opening to a new direction, a new movement. It is also the essence of the entire text. Capitalism is the reason our biosphere is collapsing and the only way humanity and the rest of earth’s species can survive is by ending capitalism. Given that capitalism and those who profit most from it have proven time and time again that not only are they unwilling to give up the rapacious economy that is destroying earth, but that they even refuse to admit that it is that system which is the cause, the only solution is revolution.

This text is written by two environmental activists (and teachers) with credentials that more than back up the science they explain in this book. Indeed, it is their understanding of the science involved when discussing the ecological crisis we face that has helped inform their Marxist politics. Both Magdoff, author most recently of What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (with John Bellamy Foster) and a Plant and Soil scientist who taught for decades at the University of Vermont, and Williams, who teaches secondary school and wrote Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, patiently present empirical and anecdotal evidence to shore up their argument that the ever-intensifying pursuit of profit that capitalism needs to survive is a death knell for the planet. That is, unless there is radical change that ends that pursuit.

But what about human nature? Aren’t we wired to compete and control? Don’t we want to have a lot of material goods? Just as they take on other questions that would seem to prevent the revolution so urgently needed, the authors answer these questions about human nature with data and patience. In essence, they convincingly argue that empathy and cooperation are not only other aspects of human nature, but are historically greater than the desire to compete and dominate. Specifically, Magdoff and Williams argue it is the human tendency to cooperate which has helped humanity to survive over the millennia; this is clear in how tasks were divided before capitalism came into being and in how even today, humans work together in times of disaster. Continuing this explanation, it is pointed out that capitalism encourages competition, consumption and individualism because that is what makes capitalism thrive. In turn, this is why those aspects of human nature seem to be the only ones.

Each chapter of the text opens with a quote. Many of those quotes are from Friedrich Engels and emphasize the fact that humanity is not above nor separate from nature but a part of it. Once one accepts this consciousness, argue Magdoff and Williams, the idea that what happens to the plants and animals in our world matters as much as what happens to humans becomes considerably easier. If we accept this consciousness, then the need for a society that sustains that life–an ecological society–becomes not just apparent, but necessary.

As I write this, F-16 fighter jets from a local Air National Guard base are flying over my residence, practicing bombing runs like they do so many days here in northern Vermont. The ungodly noise they make is but the least of their faults. Being built for nothing but war, these planes represent in more ways than one can count exactly what the authors of Creating an Ecological Society are writing about–a dependence on fossil fuels sold for profit and controlled by war and the threat of war. Each plane costs millions of dollars and runs on very expensive fossil fuel extracts. Besides the pollutants these training runs leave in the air above my house, the death and environmental destruction they wreak upon those in countries the flight crews are sent to attack is immeasurable and not easily reversible. As Magdoff and Williams point out numerous times in their text, the US military is not only the world’s biggest consumer of fossil fuels, it is also one of the world’s largest polluters. I mention this to emphasize the point that any true environmental movement must by necessity also be an antiwar and anti-imperialist movement. Creating an Ecological Society also makes it clear that this movement must by nature be anti-racist and anti-sexist. After all, it is often women and people of color who are among the most affected by the environmental damage of capitalism.

This book is a serious examination of the ever more serious problem humanity is facing while it destroys the biosphere. It is also a convincing argument for a socialist solution to that problem. While providing a detailed and understandable analysis of the science that proves the ecological crisis we find ourselves in, Creating an Ecological Society also breaks down the essentially suicidal nature of the political economy of capitalism. The authors make it clear that the time for apathy is over, as is the pretense that the cure for capitalism’s deadly excesses can be found in capitalism itself. While reforms undertaken with the understanding that they are a potential beginning of a livable world and not the solution can help us continue, the message inside these covers is that humanity cannot survive if it allows those whose existence is determined by pursuing profit to determine our future–if we want that future to be a livable one for all species, including homo sapiens.

  • DHFabian

    The US raced backwards on these issues. Americans embrace capitalism. The past quarter-century has been a celebration of middle class elitism (recently revised to “working class”). The public discussion simply excludes those who are far worse off than minimum wage workers, and talk about “inequality” is limited to the gap between the working class and rich.

    Since 2000, the US has lost some 5 million manufacturing jobs, and our only response to the jobless amounts to “keep waiting for trickle down economics.” Sometimes there is talk about building a better society, eliminating “inequality” — eventually. Meanwhile, the overall life expectancy of the US poor has fallen below that of every developed nation.

    I go with “Eve of Destruction,” though not because of our inevitable economic collapse. Republicans spent 2017 building support for a war against China (via Korea) while Democrats spent this time building support for a war against Russia. This brought Russia and China together, resolving their many years of conflict in view of a potential nuclear world threat — the US. We don’t know how this will turn out.

  • Jon

    What is said above in the article ought to be self-evident to any conscious person. The big question is HOW we get to where we need to go. .

  • Alan MacDonald

    Ron notes of the disease that, “they even refuse to admit that it is that system which is the cause, the only solution is revolution.”

    Which would be infinitely more accurate if Ron simply said “that system (called EMPIRE — and specifically this Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE, which has captured, controls, and now fully “Occupies” our former country as its nominal global HQ, and merely ‘poses’ as, America) which is the cause, and the only solution is a “Political Revolution against EMPIRE”.

  • Alan MacDonald

    Easy, John, just overturn the EMPIRE!

  • Alan MacDonald

    DHF, yes! Both of the Vichy Parties are vying for the figure-head faux leadership of this Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE nominally HQed in, and merely ‘posing’ as, our former country.

    But from your accurate assessment of the targets they are focusing on, the ‘rougher-talking’ neocon ‘R’ Vichy Party is far less attractive to the Empire than is the “smoother-lying” neoliberal-con ‘D’ Vichy Party in getting this first in the world; ‘effectively-disguised’, ‘truly-global’, and crony ‘capitalist-fueled’ EMPIRE to its goal!

    The unplanned (s)election of Trump was a major faux pas that the Empire will have to correct.

  • Jon

    Well yes, but what is your plan to do that?

  • AlanMacDonald

    Easy, Jon —- all we have to do (and only the American people can do this) is to fire a; loud, public, ‘in the streets’, sustained, but totally non-violent “Shout (not shot) heard round the world” to ignite an essential Second American “Political Revolution against EMPIRE” — and when the dumb-ass media idiots ask, “What ‘EMPIRE’ do you mean?” — the American people, unlike the “Occupiers” in 2011, who gave a hundred
    different and divided answers, will all answer in unison from the 3% to 5% of ‘we the American people’ uniformly and clearly ‘call-out’, expose, and answer, “Why the EMPIRE that controls our former country, of
    course”

    “That’s the EMPIRE that we are all demonstrating, protesting and REVOLTING AGAINST!”

    And since, 1991, when the supposed ‘last “Evil Empire” on earth’ collapsed (aren’t they all evil, Ronny?) — and since the media/propaganda-sector of the EMPIRE itself has been saying, and shouting for the last three
    decades that there is NO, Zero, NOT ANY EMPIRE left on earth, but just our wonderful, essential, exceptionalist, democracy — then the obvious
    single, signal, seminal, and essential purpose of this ‘our People’s Patriotic Revolution’ is to overturn this Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE which has taken-over, captured, controls, and now fully OCCUPIES
    our former country, and is illegally using and abusing the image of America as the EMPIRE’s nominal global HQ, and merely ‘posing’ as, America!!!! —- just as the Vichy Regime in captured, and “Occupied” France c. 1940 was just a phony ‘front’ for the Nazi EMPIRE (which likewise controlled France as if it were still a normal Republic).

    Fortunately, our forefathers learned 242 years ago, it is never treasonous, and always patriotic, to ignite a “Revolution Against Empire” [Justin du
    Rivage's new book of the same title].

    So, in conclusion, Jon, if (and only if) 3% to 5% of American citizen (really citizen ‘subjects’
    of this EMPIRE) have the brains and guts to stand ‘in the streets’ boldly, openly, publicly, and consistently in solidarity and fire a “SHOUT heard round the world” (as my two-sided sign makes clear) that they are publicly protesting and Revolting Against EMPIRE, and the fact
    that they calling-out their own country as being the true and last EMPIRE of Earth — and that that EMPIRE is the cancerous metastasizing meta-cause of all our problems ‘abroad’ in war, and ‘at home’ in tyranny
    —- then NO Nation whose own people (by the millions) do that can long stand!! And it will collapse in a “New York crooked developer’s Minute”!!!

    And as the late great Jewish intellectual, Hannah Arendt warned her own German people:

    “EMPIRE abroad entails tyranny at home”

    And we have enormous piles of both and the ‘trouble’ that foreign EMPIRE and domestic TYRANNY make.

    Yes, Jon, “We have trouble right here in River City — and that’s spelled with ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘E’ and that stands for EMPIRE!!

  • Jon

    Alan, You don’t have to convince ME about Empire, as the sign I carry to demonstrations is “End the Empire!” But shouting “Down with the Empire ” in the streets does not accomplish it. That is my point. It is time for serious strategizing, not sloganeering. My own view is that there needs to be arrests and trials for the criminal class that runs this empire. But the question remains, HOW?

  • AlanMacDonald

    Jon, I’m not going to go through all the steps for someone so bright, except to say that in this world since 1991, when the last empire on earth collapsed, any large street demonstrations (particularly in America) which simply ‘call-out’, publicly expose, and fire a “Shout heard round the world” that their own country is actually an EMPIRE —- will collapse in a New York crooked developers’ Minute!

    If you don’t believe this then my assessment of your intelligence might be wrong, Jon.