Only in a communist world without states and borders will human beings be able to really tackle the damage that has been done to their natural surroundings.
"Even an entire society, a nation or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth, they are simply its holders, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations..." - Marx
Human beings cannot exist without disturbing the natural environment. It is also historical fact that some human communities destroyed the very basis of their own existence. Take the ancient city states of Mesopotamia with their great irrigation projects which diverted the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This allowed a great increase in population and the first urban communities which, however, collapsed one by one as the waters became saline and the soil turned into desert. There must have been tremendous human suffering, not to mention class war between the haves and have-nots in the process.
But today's environmental crisis is of a very different order. For a start it is global and threatens the very existence of life on planet earth. It is also multi-pronged. From water pollution to plastic waste islands the size of Texas, from poisoned rivers and degraded soils to the over 80,000 chemicals now in existence, the quality and scope of life on planet earth is being reduced. But the fact of global warming due to carbon emissions is now undeniable (unless you are Donald Trump). The knock-on effects and likely consequences are so serious it's no wonder that the Green movement is becoming more radical and gaining momentum. Like a modern-day Joan of Arc, Greta Thunberg's warnings to the powers-that-be (from the Swedish parliament to the G7 and now the United Nations) are sparking a wider protest movement. The outrage is palpable. The cause is admirable.
Unfortunately for those who believe this movement is everything, there is no way that it can force the "self-interested politicians" to "to take immediate transformative action towards a society that can sustain us and the planet" [activists' invitation for people to join the 20th September protests]. It is not just about numbers of protesters. In places where the movement takes hold governments and politicians may well be pressured into adopting more radical environmental goals. Indeed they already are, although with questionable results. (As we know, China is now the world's largest carbon polluter and overall global carbon emissions are at an all-time high.) But as for any deeper "transformative action", the sort that could start to remedy the damage already done, that requires no less than revolutionary change. On a world scale. A revolution to overthrow capitalism.
More and more environmentalists agree with this. But...
What Does It Mean to Overthrow Capitalism?
First we need to understand what capitalism is. In a world where the 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50% [Oxfam report 2019], it's easy to focus on getting rid of 'elites' in order to create a more just world. Certainly sequestrating the assets of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett will be part of any anti-capitalist revolution but that in itself won't alter the system that spawns such gross unfairness.
The heart of the matter is that capitalism does not produce things to satisfy human needs. It produces “commodities” to be sold in order to make a profit for the capitalists. Or rather the people employed by the capitalists produce the goods. The more commodities that are produced and sold, the more profit. (Hence all the market research and advertising campaigns.) It is an infernal cycle of endless growth or more precisely accumulation of capital where human beings are reduced to instruments of production on the one hand and consumers of the products on the other.
As for the natural environment, capitalism still treats it as a source of free raw materials or a barrier to be broken down in the search for more profit and a dump for toxic trash. Now they talk of 'sustainable' solutions. What they mean is sustainable for capitalism.
Even carbon emissions have been turned into commodities to be traded on financial markets. And every company worth its salt has a comforting sustainability statement to reassure its customers and investors. Some firms are so keen to present a Green image that they are encouraging workers to take the day off and join in the September protests.
No matter how many people change their lifestyle, there is no way that a consumer rebellion can get rid of capitalism. At best it could accelerate the phasing out of the traditional carbon polluters but at what cost? Increased dependence on rare earths mined by children with their bare hands in Namibia or Rwanda. There is a comforting illusion that smoke-free digital technology is carbon-neutral. On the contrary, "digital technologies now emit 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than civil aviation" [theshiftproject.org]. Life-style changing is a province confined to consumers who can afford to choose to pay more. This has absolutely nothing to do with overthrowing the capitalist system of production for profit based on workers' unpaid labour time.
Only the Working Class can Save the Planet from Capitalism
Capitalism will be abolished when the producers themselves — the world's working class — rise up against their position as wage slaves; when we organise production communally to directly provide for human needs. In such a world no individual can profit from the work of others since 'who does what' will be a matter of how best to allocate our collective labour time. Money will be unnecessary and tales of financial crashes leading to trade wars, human misery and real wars will belong to the past. Only in such a world — a communist world without states and borders — will human beings be able to really tackle the damage that has been done to their natural surroundings. Only then will we be able to devote the necessary time and effort to devising ways of living without destroying the natural basis for human existence.
No matter how 'democratic' the set-up, no government would act to abolish capitalism. A new world cannot come about simply through demonstrations, civil disobedience or other actions to pressurise the representatives of the capitalist class to act against their own interests.
On the other hand, crisis-torn capitalism itself is creating the conditions for a working class upsurge. Anyone who seriously wants to get rid of capitalism has no choice but to join with the internationalist communists and fight for the communist programme inside their school, university, workplace and local community as the battle between the haves and have-nots becomes a struggle for a new society.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 48) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.