#Occupy, Radicals, and Elections

by Christian Wright on September 3, 2012

I recently read a post on The North Star by Socialist Alternative about the idea of running “Occupy” candidates in elections. I like this idea. That is not because I think the Occupy movement is cohesive, or particularly vibrant at the moment. On the contrary, I think it’s a bit stalled. But what is cool about Occupy is it is so inclusive of everyone’s politics. Talking about that sort of model, and applying it to elections, is a big deal.

I think maybe we, as the American far left, have been going about elections the wrong way.
Let us consider our recent historical experience with these things.

Propaganda Campaigns

The Nader 2000 campaign was good because it turned a lot of people onto politics. If Nader had been elected, what would he have been able to do? Some things, yes, he could do, but the president is not a dictator. There are three branches of government and the other two would have worked as hard as they could to prevent his substantive changes from taking effect.

If you think the backlash against Obama is bad now, what do you think the Republicans would be doing if the president actually had had open socialists working on his campaign, or perhaps, as his vice president? A lot of what he would have been able to do would have been undone by a subsequent Republocrat administration.

But I don’t think the Nader campaign ever thought it could actually win. That wasn’t the point. The point was to talk about serious issues that there was a media black out on, and a political conspiracy of silence about. The real aim of that campaign was, you might say, “propagandistic.”

To that end, I think it was very effective.

Here’s three examples of the way bold ideas, advanced in a confident political way, can get taken up and spread around society:

  1. Today you and I can’t go out to eat at a restaurant without the menu and the servers telling you what is local and organic, what doesn’t have pesticides in it, and how that restaurant is trying to be sustainable. Of course, if you’re a smart person, you may recognize some of that is tragic, because the social power your restaurant has to change things is really pretty small compared to what agribusiness is doing, or what the centrally planned, fossil fuel transportation networks are like. But the point here is that the basic stuff we were saying about sustainability back in 2000 is now common parlance. In 2000, no one cared at all about that. Everyone was driving SUVs and dreaming of a 30-mile commute from some home in the suburbs.

  2. Do you remember how British Petroleum (BP) co-opted the Green Party’s sunflower logo? Of course, we know B.P. is not a serious innovator of renewable energy, but the point is that they felt it was good for them to adopt that logo, because people are starting to care about that stuff. That is important. Today, there are several hundred thousand American students every year taking environmental studies classes. There are a lot more engineering students learning about wind and solar power today than there were 10 years ago.
  3. Fair trade coffee is a third example. If you were part of some revolutionary left wing of the Nader campaign, you might have scoffed at fair trade coffee. Doesn’t it seem a bit naive, and utopian, and a drop in the pail to address issues of poverty and exploitation? Well, sure it is. But look at how widespread fair trade coffee is today. More important than the direct effect — real or imagined — that fair trade coffee has on coffee growers is the fact that now whenever we get our cups of coffee, we’re thinking, and maybe talking to each other, saying “hey, it seems a lot of people who make the things we consume tend to get a raw deal. It’s a good idea to try and get them a better deal.” Maybe the more thinking among us might even go so far as to think about the raw deals we get at our own jobs and even consider for a moment that one day we might be able to change that. Even Wal Mart is selling fair trade coffee now.

So that is what a propgandistic campaign can do. You can get innovative, cutting-edge ideas out there, and for years after that election ends, those ideas work their way into people’s heads and get incorporated into their lives. The Green Party and the 2000 elections were partially successful in making an ideological shift, in winning a political debate. Considering how reactionary this country got after September 11, 2001, and how many political people started to abandon politics after protests failed to stop the Iraq war, it is remarkable how many things we talked about as Greens in 2000 and 2004 are things we take for granted today.

To finish off this discussion of propagandistic campaigns, let’s just consider how much time and money it took for Nader to run his 50-state campaign in 2000. That’s a huge infrastructure. Nader had a lot of good things to say. Were workers’ councils, socialist revolution, or the closure of all foreign military bases part of his campaign positions? I don’t think so. But the fact the he built his campaign as a broad left/far left venture meant he could get a lot more support and built a lot more infrastructure.

As a radical socialist in country where creationists win elections and sit on school boards, I think being part of a campaign where 75% of the things I really care about are being talked about among millions of people is a lot more important than being part of a campaign where 100% of the things I really care about are being talked about by 1,000 or 2,000 people. Let’s not forget that lesson.

Fighting for Power Both Political and Economic

Now, what is a whole lot better than being propagandistic?

Fighting for power.

There is a lot of places where power is. There is power in the workplace. There is power in a school board. Sheriffs have power. The federal budget is really, really powerful.

A lot of American leftists are busy trying to build the power of the people “in the streets.” Student power is easier to build because students are in a more intellectual environment than most people and they seem more willing attend meetings than most people. And of course, anyone who says they are for the working class is all about economic power. You can build that by hiring yourself out as an organizer for a large, corrupt, but real union federation. Or you can try and build a small, struggling upstart one like the Industrial Workers of the World. Or you can be a card-carrying socialist in a workplace trying to figure out how to relate politics to your workers, and how to win small victories around the injustices where you work.

We seem to “get” the idea of fighting for economic power.

Yet, political power still seems like a many-headed hydra we’re afraid of and prefer to keep at arm’s length.

What I will first say about that is that fighting for political power is essential to the fight for economic power. There is no doubt about that. And really, they are not all that different.

Let’s say you go on strike, you form your union, and then you defend your gains and your union while the powers of capital try to whittle you down. What is a contract negotiation? It’s something usually done on hostile territory. Just like elections.

For starters, contracts are usually negotiated and signed in some office, which, if you are the working class, is a place you might not feel comfortable. Offices are where you go when you are in trouble. It’s where you stand with your hat in your hand asking for a raise. It’s where people who get paid more than you sit and read Facebook all day while you take out their trash. Even worse, most of the time when contract negotiations happen, you are wearing a suit. That’s right. The guy representing the steelworkers and the janitors is wearing a suit. Now, it may be prudent, as that is just the rules, that when you are in offices and you want to be taken seriously, you wear a suit. But it’s still hostile territory that you are on. If you’re actually a working-class person representing yourself there, you will probably feel uncomfortable. A contract itself is not a rational thing that you might understand. Legal contracts are about fine print, loopholes, and ways to get screwed. They require experts (i.e. lawyers) to review and scrutinize. They are something that bosses and people with money will always be better at than you as long as the bosses are the ones with all the money.

I contend that it is really no different than the disparities in political power. There’s elections. Also something money, and bosses, are better at than you. There’s a state legislature, or a congress. Also hostile territory. Places you should feel uncomfortable, if you are at all a rational or warm-hearted creature. There, as an elected leftist, you will be at some disadvantage, and what you can accomplish will always be limited by the boss’ rules. Yes. But there are still things you can accomplish. Trillions in spending hang in the balance. Health care plans are decided. Wars are funded. Civil rights are awarded or taken away.

Our refusal to fight for political power because of the fact that elected positions are places where people without money or with sensible ideas are in this country are disrespected and generally unwelcome is an intolerable legacy we have inherited from decades of defeat.

This is capitalism.

Every institution is dominated by money.

All security guards guard the rich and all guns are pointed at the poor.

There is no institution or business freed from the corrupting effects of money. Likewise, it is precisely political institutions, just as it is businesses, where all decisions that effect our lives are made.

We have only two choices.

We can either try and eek out an existence in some precarious off-grid apolitical lifestyle.

Or, we can set ourselves to seriously contest all forms of power where ever it exists in whatever form.

We can take over what institutions make sense to keep around and use them for good (I, for one, am rather fond of sanitation departments and post offices), and we can work to abolish the ones that do nothing productive but cause harm (such as the School of the Americans in Ft. Benning, GA, for example).

Two-Party System as Accepted Fact: A Historical Legacy of Defeat

One problem with the American left is that it seems very few have figured out how to fight for power in a way that aligns daily activity with a long-term goal. Now, we might say we’ve got a long-term goal, as well as daily activity, but I don’t think anyone really has a plan. It seems there is is always this great disconnect, as mentioned earlier, between “A” and “X”, “Y”, or “Z”.

Selling socialist newspapers on a street corner once a week, as step one, with a lot of hazy steps between you and “victory,” is kind of the radical equivalent of volunteering every week at a soup kitchen or donating cans to the food drive. You hope that if you just faithfully show up and do your one small concrete step, that some how, eventually, things will get solved somehow by someone.

Now, is that a value judgement I have made? Of course not. It makes total sense if you look at things historically. If you are the American left over the past 10 years or 20 or 30 years you have probably come to realize that you are small and weak and isolated. The enemy is large, well-funded, and entrenched. People are apparently passive, when they are not completely unreachable.

Weakness gets expressed politically in different ways.

On the one hand, you’ve got liberal support for Democratic politicians, which comes in the form of door-knocking, financial donations, lawn signs, democratic speakers at protest rallies, etc… We all know what that is and where it goes.

It’s Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright speaking at the Emergency March for Women’s lives in 2004. It’s NARAL giving John Kerry a “100%” pro-woman voting score on their Web site that year when in 2003 he only showed up to vote on 3 of 11 abortion-related bills.

It’s the 2006 immigrants’ rights protests being channeled into support for Democrats in elections, who proceeded to leave the undocumented in political limbo for another six years (when they weren’t deporting them).

Lesser-evil politics at work

It’s the politics of sending in donations from your hard earned money to keep some unelected president of some “non profit” well paid, well housed, and in a nice Washington, D.C. office somewhere where they can talk to Democrats on your behalf.

The flip side of this is more “radical” approaches, which I believe all generally boil down into one or another form of non-participation in elections. This comes in the form of people who proudly don’t vote, people who with great demoralization don’t vote, people who vote for Mickey Mouse, people who protest against Obama’s escalation of the Afghan war but then secretly vote for him anyway because they can’t stand John McCain and Sarah Palin, and finally people who deliberately run far left candidates in propagandistic campaigns that are only supported by, say, the Socialist or the Socialist Workers Party.

These latter campaigns fall but little farther in their effectiveness than any of the other methods I’ve already mentioned. The problem with small, far-left campaigns is that those candidates with all their good things to say never are able to reach a mass audience. This is because they don’t try to, because they don’t try to build a campaign larger than their own small party. Now, I’ve got nothing but love for anyone brave or serious enough to walk around in America and invite strangers on the street to come see the socialist candidate speak tonight.

But I also realize that these campaigns are tiny and ineffective.

It’s like if you wrote a great book and you’re ready to be a famous author, and you send it to twenty publishers and you get twenty rejection letters. Maybe someone then suggests you self-publish. Then you go out and pay a thousand dollars of your own money to fill your garage up with a bunch of books. It’s like the socialist candidate on the ballot. It looks like a real book. It reads like a real book. And it feels like a real book. But the difference between you and guy who is in this fifth printing is that people know and care what that other guy wrote, and you’re a guy with a garage full of books that no one is going to read because you have no way to promote or distribute it.

Both the liberal and the radical forms of not struggling for power against the two-party system are really two sides of the same coin. Both happen because both the liberals and the radicals feel they can never escape from the two-party system. People are too dumb. Money is too powerful. This is all we have. So accept it, and learn to transfer your long term hopes to “After The Revolution,” Dennis Kucinich, or the second coming of the Messiah.

I would love to invite the adherents of each of these mythologies to a nice campsite along a river somewhere with plenty of Colordao microbrews and increasingly legal pot to go around and allow everyone to debate the relative merits of each. As a political scientist, it is my hypothesis that if this experiment were to be repeated three different times, we would come up with three different most likely paths to our salvation.

River beers aside, what all of these intangible pipe dreams are what you develop when you are hopeless. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for something that will never happen if the hope you get from it is going to allow you to deal with another day. But lying to yourself to be able to deal with another day is not exactly the road to power.

Occupy Changed Everything

Occupy did change everything. But the Zuccotti Park organizers can hardly claim all the credit. What is behind Occupy is many years of neo-liberal assaults on living standards. That was sustained by an elaborate apparatus of deception and denial, cheap credit, and racism.

What the 2008 recession did was to finally convince everyone that things were wrong. It didn’t matter if you were endowed with certain skin color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, work ethic, or honesty. You were still thrown out on the curb because some rich banker or stock broker you have never even met decided to screw you.

As you looked around you began to notice these same people had near total control of the government, and that fact might be behind a lot of our problems.

The logic of capitalism is to never end the search for more money and more power. If you don’t get it, someone else will.

The search for money and power has extended so far that it not only controls the government (it has done this, pretty much, for ever), but it has begun to dismantle the consensus between the classes, long known as “the American Dream.” Domestic imperial over reach occurred.

The 2008 recession laid bare for millions of people in brutally personal terms what the balance of power in this country had in fact become.

The second thing that happened was the Arab Spring.

Suddenly, the people we’ve been bombing and funding the torture and oppression of for decades have started to rise up and teach us some very basic lessons on civics and participation in a democratic society.

Occupy was the political expression of these changes. If the planners of the Zuccotti occupation had flaked out and backed off, someone else would have planned something similar, and it would have caught on as wide spread as Occupy did. A certain level of understanding had been reached and a certain level of confidence, inspiration, and anger existed to break through the walls of our alienating society and act in a collective, political way.

Occupy is organizationally confused right now. But the people are still there, their problems are not going away, and we are waiting and learning and talking to each other and thinking.

For the far left, the Anarchism of Occupy taught everyone else a very powerful lesson: that when we stop worrying about the purity of our politics when we actually come together and join our voices, we can get a lot accomplished, and we can connect radical, progressive ideas with mass activity among the disenfranchised classes.

That is a very, very powerful lesson.

New Formations

The idea of running “Occupy” candidates is right. But the idea of isolated activists, in different cities, not talking to each other, each with their own fundraising and publicity campaigns, each with their own uphill battle against the corporate media blackout — that is not a winning idea.

What is different now that didn’t exist before is that the far left has learned when it works together, it can connect its message and its politics to millions of “ordinary” Americans who have a basic understanding that the problem is, indeed “the 1%.”

That didn’t exist before.

What used to be of little more value than theoretical gymnastics about the roles of radicals in elections we now have an opportunity to actually implement.

There have been some attempts to cobble together some national formations out of different Occupys. So far I hear they have not met with universal success. That is good. If something coherent and productive came out of it immediately then there would have had to have been some shadowy group behind the scenes running the show, and we wouldn’t have been able to trust it. Our intellectual inheritance as American leftists involves high degrees of mutual distrust and little practice in working together across tendencies. We grew up, politically, in our own, isolated “holes” of localism. It didn’t matter before if we couldn’t work together, because we rarely had a mass audience to connect our politics to anyway. The fact that it has been difficult so far to congeal anything tangible or official out of Occupy is proof that we are dealing with real leftists, inexperienced and fractious as they are.

This is the human material our historical legacy has bequeathed to us. Our primordial and challenged characteristics need not be fatal if we can realize two things. First, we have a real opportunity right now to connect radical left politics to millions of American people. Second, we can only do this when we work together across sectarian barriers. For people who casually throw around such an impossibly inclusive slogan like “the 99%,”  I cannot believe it is impossible for my fellow leftists to come to this same conclusion.

Elections would be a convenient thing around which to congeal a unified, left, anti-Wall Street and anti-two party political formation. Should such a formation one day come into existence, it will have to deal with elections anyway, as it rises from its slumber to take its increasingly confident steps to victory. We might as well learn to relate them any way, and I think national elections offer a great opportunity to relate to people politically.

With great excitement I look forward to the emergence of other “Occupy” candidates, if not even some sort of “Occupy” ticket.

Whether it’s under that or another name I am not sure. But I’m pretty sure complete ecological collapse will set in before any one of our “three-letter” organizations wins a national election on the basis of its own, unique political purity.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

David Berger September 4, 2012 at 11:30 am

Christian Wright writes: “Elections would be a convenient thing around which to congeal a unified, left, anti-Wall Street and anti-two party political formation. Should such a formation one day come into existence, it will have to deal with elections anyway, as it rises from its slumber to take its increasingly confident steps to victory. We might as well learn to relate them any way, and I think national elections offer a great opportunity to relate to people politically.”

I believe that for the Occupy movement to field candidates at this point would be a foolish waste of time. In my experience, going back to 1963, running candidates takes a huge amount of effort with very little gain. All other efforts are put aside by the campaign and other struggles are neglected.

We are at the beginning, the very beginning, of a radicalization of the working class as the working class in work struggles. Our experience in New York is that unionized workers, nonunionized workers and the unions themselves are ready, willing and able to work with Occupy. What is needed now is the development of an actual, working relationship between Occupy and the working class. This should take the form of support during negotiations, strike support, lockout support (more and more common) and more.

In my opinion, to spend the enormous effort an election campaign requires, at this time, is a big mistake.

David Berger

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Arthur September 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm

When there is a real movement of course it will have to engage in electoral fights as well as many other forms of struggle.

But getting rid of “green” politics will be an essential aspect of enabling “red” politics. They are polar opposites.

There is no way to fight for working class power while telling workers they should reduce their standard of living.

Stuff like sustainability, local organic food, fair trade coffee etc are symptoms of the complete absence of radical left politics.

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Christian September 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

@ David,

Things always need to be accounted for locally, if there is a whole lot going on with your local labor movement and you have got the left involved with it that is great. If you decide you are large and powerful enough to be party of forming an electoral alternative I think that would be great too. That stuff always needs to get decided by what sorts of forces there are. The Democrats are still ruled by money and doing terrible things abroad, and we need to find a way to oppose them politically as well, even if we do not contest their elections. In that case do you think we should vote for Democrats because they are generally less bad than republicans? Should that be open support, or should we only vote for them after publically opposing them? Is not voting at all good for anything?

@ Arthur, cool we agree on eventual need for electoral expression of movements, but man I think you are like a 100 years backwards in your relation of ecology to class politics. In Colorado and Utah there is a several hundred million dollar a year tourist industry, where myself and many other interesting workers work. In my particular area, that of guiding the rivers and working at ski resorts, we have been really screwed by climate change and the long term prognosis is terrible. 2011 had the most snow pack since 1984 and as late as late July many outfitters were unable to run their most popular section because water was too high. The sections you could still run had many people scared away by the media. This year has matched low water records set a decade ago and have again made many of our sections unrunnable, this time for the opposite reason.

This industry is significant and many thousands of people depend on it for their livelihoods both directly and indirectly. That is just a drop in the bucket compared to what will happen globally with refugee crises when rain patterns change and crop failure occurs (desertificaiton is a major issue in Africa, as well as China). As well, many workers live in sea level cities, which will experience extreme flooding within our and our children’s lifetimes.

Beyond long term climate change concerns, there are of course many more reasons why the politics of ecology and the class struggle are impossible to separate. The rich can’t be counted on to fight for ecology because they will always be able to buy their way to some nicer place to live when everything else goes to hell. Similarly, if you look at where coal fired power plants are, and what mercury and particulate matter is doing to people’s health, it is generally those in working class areas who are suffering the worst from asthma and other health problems related to toxins and particulate matter. Likewise I might also mention our current energy supplies, including uranium, are rather finite. A civilization based on them is one that will collapse within the foreseable future whether it is run by the rich or by the working class collectively.

I find it impossible to understand how any thinking person could separate in their mind a desire for more equitable and just living standards for their fellow humans from a desire for a cleaner, more sustainable, and less polluted natural world.

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Arthur September 5, 2012 at 6:46 am

Hi Christian, briefly for now:

1. All political tendencies (not only on the left) favour a cleaner and less polluted world. In opposing “Green” politics I’m not opposing specific fights on environmental issues such as pollution controls etc. I’m opposing an outlook that goes well beyond that.

2. I omitted the words “sustainable” and “natural” from my reference above to your concluding phrase about “a cleaner, more sustainable, and less polluted natural world”, because those two words are more closely connected to what I oppose about “Green” politics.

3. I don’t want a more “natural” world. Modern industry involves a conquest of nature which has been central to human progress including the very possibility of such things you mention as a “tourist industry” wth “ski resorts”. The desire to retreat from modern industry to a more “natural” world is what I find most objectionable about Greens.

4. “Sustainable” is closely connected with this. We’ve been living unsustainably since we came down from the trees. Having to develop new ways of doing things, has again been central to human progress, while living within the constraints set by existing resources, technology and “nature” simply means stagnation. This is especially obvious for energy where we started using fossil fuels as we ran out of firewoood and and will use nuclear fission, and later fusion as we run out of fossil fuels. There is a direct correlation between general standards of living and per capita energy consumption which has always gone hand in hand with running out of the resources known to previous technologies and rapidly increasing per capita energy production made possible by new technologies.

5. Certainly 100 years ago the “classical” marxist views on this were not in serious dispute on the left. Reactionary romanticism was associated with the right. But the shift was actually more like 40 years ago. When there actually was a western left in the 1960s, “ecological” issues were not of much interest except to hippies. As it faded away in the 1970s, Green views replaced it and were mixed up with it. However there never has been and never could be a mass working class movement dominated by views that favour an overall retreat from modern industry and reduction of living standards. Its inherently a fringe movement, thriving on the fact that there is no mass based left.

6. Here’s an article from 1979 describing the shift that had occurred by then and contrasting the views that had become dominant (and which you go along with) against the clasical position that had been dominant until a decade or so earlier.

http://archive.lastsuperpower.net/members/+disc+members+318257062659.htm

I’ll leave it there for now as I don’t have much to add to what’s in that article and won’t have much time for extened discussion for a while.

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Christian September 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for sharing that article

Regarding the ‘natural’ world, I agree it’s good not to give in to the fantasies of the anarcho-primitivists, and their softer versions. But I still think you are missing out on something really key if you don’t see the ecological cliff we are heading over. The logic of capitalism is the logic of a very unintelligent parasite attempting to kill its host in as short a time as possible. In nature such a parasite would quickly weed itself out of existence which is what our society is pointing towards. Industrialism for the sake of industrialism is as naive and destructive as “accumulation for the sake of accumulation.” The logic that has people, including children, working long hours with high levels of stress and working in unsafe conditions is about externalizing costs.

“So what if a few kids cut off their fingers or hands in the mills? There are others to replace them! ”

“If the mine collapses now and then killing the miners, let others take their place and get it going again. Forcing miners to cut and timber their own mines, and inevitably do a slack job of it as that work eats into what money they can make by actually hauling out ore or coal, still saves the company profits.”

That’s the same logic as a privately owned coal fired power plant spewing its waste products into the area, seriously screwing with the planet’s climate and ultimately the homes and lives of billions of working class people.

The logic of unfettered capitalism is the logic of the cancer cell. It’s all about making money, not building a rational civilization. Thus universal health care and working class happiness is as irrelevant as the fish we kill dumping mining waste into a stream. The working class people downstream of that stream drinking its polluted waters and unable to afford bottled water are, to the capitalist, interchangeable with the fish. The dream of the industrial capitalist is make a private fortune off the fastest possible transformation of the earth’s resources from their natural state to a land fill. Industrial capitalism represents to the planet what a caterpillar bulldozer is to the Palestinians. The point is not to remove the driver from the helm and replace him with a socialistically minded or working class person. The point is to be able to control our own society’s destiny. Do we even need this machine? Is there any better purpose it could be put to? Why not take out its motor and use it to run a generator in a rural hospital? Why not melt down its iron for scrap and build a school out of it?

Burning through 700 million years of accumulated fossil fuels in 500 or 600 years is not the way to create a sustainable civilization. It’s the industrial equivalent of a cocaine binge. It’s what a drug addict does when, in a frenzy, he goes to every pay day loan place he can and condemns the next several years of his life to a mountain of debt so he can have a few weeks of fantastic high.

Much of green / ecological politics are about common sense. Am I anti the working class because today I washed out a ziplock bag, which is perfectally good and can be reused several times, instead of throwing it away and buying a new one so I can give the man in the ziplock bag factory more work? Perhaps likewise I should always idle my car instead of turning it of to waste as much gasoline as possible, to allow the hard working gasoline producers more work. After all it’s not their fault that demand for their product is at an all time low since the recession cut into their consumers’ prices and their bosses agreed to artificially inflate their prices at the same time. Maybe I should leave the lights on all the time when I am not home as well.

Of course not.

Paying extra for waste is as anti-working class on the small scale, short term as it is, from its environmentally destructive effects on the long term. I can’t afford to run up electric bills, waste gasoline, or buy more ziplock bags than I need. That’s just common sense. Would you like to live in a city surrounded by three landfills or surrounded by one land fill? My city only has one land fill and I’d like to keep it that way. Instead of throwing away organic trash into my garbage, I can compost it. Why not? Having a vegetable garden isn’t going to save the world or get me a job, but the cherry tomatoes outside are nice to munch on. Certainly supporting the economy by purchasing a homicidal fantasy video game and paying for a coal burning power plant to power it is no more of a better way to spend my free time.

Unplugging the control cord from capitalism and building your own future occurs on many scales. Agreeing to not be wasteful and to treat the environment and other people well is a good step. Beyond its immediate effects, having a culture that values intelligent thinking is a very important thing, especially given the rise or irrationalism in American politics. You may be surprised, but taking “green” steps such as not wasting electricity and having a vegetable garden or raising pigs or chickens in your yard is not in the majority of cases a yuppie fad. It is what working class people have been doing to survive for thousands of years. It is a pretty good idea.

There’s no need to think working class people are too dumb or too selfish to transcend the wasteful culture of capitalism. Valuing the planet and valuing each other go hand in hand in the thinking mind. Both are necessary to redeem this civilization. Without either it will collapse.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp September 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm
Christian September 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Exactly. And that is awesome by the way.

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Arthur September 7, 2012 at 12:13 am

The video is well done but conveys the “nuttiness” of the rogue announcer more vividly than the complacency and shallowness of the tame one.

It does not shed much light on the actual issues concerning climate change and what to do about it.

Likewise Christian’s response is not a reply to anything I said or in the link I provided but simply a (well presented) reaffirmation of Christian’s outlook.

In the same spirit I’ll offer another link, presenting an opposite viewpoint:

http://brightfuture21c.wordpress.com/

Meanwhile in the real world, the more industrially developed a country is, the better environment its workers have (compare America with its National Parks and Nepal with its open defecation, where the capital city has unbreathable air and untouchable water). About half the world’s people now live in cities. Some enjoy vegetable gardeing and keeping livestock in urban areas as a hobby (no problem), especially among recent immigrants from rural areas where that was economically necessary. But the overwhelming majority prefer other ways to spend the increased leisure time that results from industrialization.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp September 7, 2012 at 10:01 am

No one here is arguing against industrialization or for primitivism.

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Arthur September 7, 2012 at 11:32 am

Christian explicitly rejects “the fantasies of the anarcho-primitivists, and their softer versions”. My understanding is that they represent a much more “extreme” view than Christian’s.

But the tendency of the following phrases is against industrialization:

1. “..ecological cliff we are heading over”

2. “Industrialism for the sake of industrialism is as naive and destructive as “accumulation for the sake of accumulation.” The logic that has people, including children, working long hours with high levels of stress and working in unsafe conditions is about externalizing costs. ”

3. ” Do we even need this machine? Is there any better purpose it could be put to? Why not take out its motor and use it to run a generator in a rural hospital? Why not melt down its iron for scrap and build a school out of it?”

4. “Burning through 700 million years of accumulated fossil fuels in 500 or 600 years is not the way to create a sustainable civilization. It’s the industrial equivalent of a cocaine binge.”

5. “… taking “green” steps such as not wasting electricity and having a vegetable garden or raising pigs or chickens in your yard is not in the majority of cases a yuppie fad. It is what working class people have been doing to survive for thousands of years. It is a pretty good idea.”

Other parts of the comment attack capitalism rather than industrialization. But the effect is to conflate the two so that we are to oppose capitalism because of industrialization and oppose industrialization because of capitalism.

This is quite opposite to the classical Marxist conception that capitalism was historically a progressive breakthrough that unleashed the productive forces fettered by feudalism and has become a fetter holding back the furher development of productive forces that will be unleashed by communism.

The latter conception includes denouncng capitalist environmental destruction (as Christian does) but its orientation is positive and optimistic. It sees no “ecological cliff”, but a bright future based on unleashing the potential of modern industry, not retreating from it.

PS Patrick, we are both advocating a position that most people here not only disagree with but are also unfamiliar with. That position will naturally be both misunderstood and resisted. Your style of angry denunciation is not helpful.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp September 7, 2012 at 11:55 am

“…the tendency of the following phrases…”

We Trots are experts at picking apart words and phrases. Trotsky’s entire theory of permanent revolution in opposition to the Bolshevik faction’s view of the Russian revolution (which never changed) is a good example of this.

Words and phrases do not have a life of their own, independent of context and the people using them. To insist otherwise I think is to fall into idealism.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp September 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

The problem with comrade Berger’s argument is that he totally ignores the existing left infrastructure that Occupy could tap into, namely the Working Families Party and the Green Party. There is no need for OWS to reinvent the wheel and start from scratch. Putting Sgt. Shamar Thomas (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmEHcOc0Sys) on the ballot for mayor or city council in 2013 would be a step in the right direction.

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patrickm September 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

Christian says; ‘Thanks for sharing that article’ I say BULLSHIT.
‘I agree it’s good not to give in to the fantasies of the anarcho-primitivists, [you have a computer after all] and their softer versions. [and you have a car as well] ‘ then comes the predictable and really tiresome BUT
I’ll paraphrase Christian (and Binh) from here.

“We are greens and greens are good and we can just shout at you because you are all so ignorant about the latest and greatest eco-scare thats founded on how modern humans (following their capitalist masters) are destroying the very planet and going to make things terrible for future generations! There is a better -green way – into a bright future!”
Forty years of this and still; NO SALE.

4 years ago I was joined by Gangbox who I don’t know and David Jackmanson and Arthur who I do, in addressing green politics at Kasama. Where Mike Ely was pretending to be Nando. The thread raises most of what I want to get to grips with here now and I can’t think of a better way to progress from that debate other than by asking others to read what we 4 were saying (you don’t have to read the others because they are either junk or your own views and usually both. But if you do then reflect on why those people even want to call themselves reds in the first place! They could care less about workers who bring them products from across the seas!!

As the above shows also, the green view is so pervasive among a certain ‘left’ milieu (as well as the predictable age group) we may as well be speaking a different language. Binh and Christian don’t even know how to develop their ideas in a contest with others. The Ely types can’t win debates because they don’t have any real experience in engaging and developing their ideas. All they seek to do is develop their sects and because they have nothing attractive for workers the only field that remains is talking to themselves and churning through the inexperienced youth till they grow out of Neverland thinking.

This second thread at Kasama was classic and I joined with Gangbox and Keith to expose just how far from anything to do with Marxism this junk has drifted. I would be glad to add to this at TNS but I can’t be expected to drag people up to this level anymore than wade through more religious offerings as presented above. There has to be an argument. It can’t be just the usual green ‘we all agree’ offerings from youtube.

Here is another Australian example of just how mainstream this green stuff is. 5-6 yrs later both sides have learned something. In about 1 yrs time in Australia we are going to have A Carbon Tax election. The global warming now climate change issue will be central. The Prince Charles greens and petty bourgeois greens and unemployed alternative greens will be united with the doctors wives greens and the wall to wall school teacher greens and the cultural elite movie star greens and science geek greens and the well connected politically pain in the ass Al Gore loving climate cranks particularly of the chardonnay ABC / BBC type and they will all be screaming about how ignorant rejection-ists are.

Nevertheless the working classes will belt them from here to the next decade. When this election is held it will destroy the ALP government that undemocratically tried to shove the Tax on Carbon down their throats. This election will bury green politics for another decade. At that time Global warming as a panic issue rather than as a low order matter of some interest as humans go about developing will be over in Australia. If you back carbon taxing you will be rejected by workers!

Green politics are poison for the workers always but during a period of capitalist economic downturn they are a very bad joke.

Rather than rehash this stuff from the start we can do a real summary of it so that we can see what is and is not working for greens in trying to convince reds to join them in the doom and gloom.

Perhaps Christian will take the Green side and go through and edit it down to what is at issue.

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Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp September 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

Green politics and parties are not identical in every country. In Germany, the Green Party helped NATO attack Serbia in 1999. In America, they are not even on the ballot in all 50 states. My sense is that in countries with mass workers’ parties of some type (labor, social democratic, communist), Green parties tend to more strongly reflect middle class politics and concerns. In the U.S., the Green Party is one of the few left electoral experiments to survive and you will find quite a bit more radicalism precisely because we lack a workers’ party with a real following.

If you have some specific argument against the content of the video I posted, let’s hear it. Talk about how petty bourgeois Green politics are in Australia is not going to cut it if you want to really have a contest of ideas.

And please, don’t cross-pollinate whatever negative nonsense took place on Kasama with discussions here. I couldn’t care less.

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Arthur September 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm

1. I suspect the difference in the nature of Green parties that you mention exists. But the mass social democrat parties in countries that had them have increasingly become more and more like the US Democrats. eg In Australia the Australian Labor Party (ALP) like the British Labor Party is more like the US Democrats than a traditional social democrat party and the Green Party is generally seen as a “left” alternative to the two major parties that are seen as pretty similar. Not sure what’s happening with Greens in those European countries where new left social democrat parties have recently emerged.

2. In the video, the “rogue” weather presenter came over as increasingly “nutty”. I suspect that both the producers of the video and people who agree with their outlook on climate change may be quite oblivious to this. But if so they are oblivious as to why climate alarmism is rejected the overwhelming majority and why the rejection of it becomes more intense the more hysterically it is promoted. Do you agree that the character was portrayed as becoming increasingly hysterical, in the literal sense of the word? If so, doesn’t that strike you as an odd way to promote the ideas?

3. Concretely on a couple of points. a) warming of the Arctic (and cold sub-artic regions in Russia and Canada), including ice free sea routes is an obvios BENEFIT of global warming b) 2 degrees is the level of warming at which such benefits are thought likely to start being outweighed by the costs, not as claimed in the video, “the universally accepted threshold of total mayhem”.

4. A major objection to climate alarmism is that it is completely counter productive. Industrializing countries like China and India will be the main source of increasing CO2 emissions over the next century and they are CERTAIN to continue relying on coal for energy as long as it remains the cheapest source regardless of what Greenies persuade people that can afford to spend more for energy to do (not that they are having any success even where people could afford it). Any solution will have to involve massive R&D for replacement technology (presumably nuclear) to become cheaper than coal. The lead time could be decades, but funds are being diverted from such R&D to completely useless solar panels, windmills etc and vast amount of propaganda directed at telling workers to put up with reduced living standards in the interests of “the planet” (which somehow is supposed to sound more “progressive” than simply demanding wage cuts in the interests of the ruling class).

4. BTW although the video did successfully get across that the “tame” weather presenter was complacent and shallow, it picked out such issues as having a BBQ on labor day weekend, and using air conditioners in hot weather that seem perfectly calibrated to get people’s backs up. A video INTENDED to drive people away from climate alarmism could not have done the job much better. The fact that such stuff is appealing to people who agree with it highlights how completely out of touch they are with the way people they don’t agree with look at things. Its an excellent example of the consequences of group think among people who only talk to people they agree with.

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patrickm September 7, 2012 at 9:38 am
Christian September 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Thanks Pam for pointing out some of the differences between what American Green Party politics have been in the past decade, and what their similarly sounding sister parties in other countries may be like.

@ Comrade Patrick I am not an Australian and I don’t know what Australian politics are like. Thank you however for sharing your concise and informative analysis of them, and for informing me I that I do not know how to develop ideas in a contest with others. Clearly I must have a mistaken assessment of my own life experience which someone in Australia knows much more about than me. Hopefully one day I will meet someone who will teach me this skill.

For the rest of it:

-The enthusiasm of the lady in the video is right on. That is how concerned people should be. She is making a point about how frustrating it is when the mainstream media ignores science and its dire warnings.

-Not even The Economist, which earlier this summer ran several pieces comparing the potential “benefits” of global warming (ex: Artic shipping lanes, ability to mine and drill in hitherto remote areas), to its costs, thinks the “benefits” will will outway the costs. See the article, “Global Warming- The Vanishing North: There are Benefits in the Melting of the Arctic, but the Risks are Much Greater” http://www.economist.com/node/21556921

[email protected] Arthur regarding classical Marxism I think you are missing the forest for the trees. The starting point of Marx and Engles and the other classical Marxists and socialists in the much more helpful time before there was such a term as “Marxist” was a profound concern with the conditions of humans and their environment. “The Condition of the Working Class in England” didn’t celebrate the blackened, sooty skies of England as an improvement over sunshine which prevailed through the middle ages. Seeing capitalism as “historically progressive” doesn’t mean you don’t oppose its rutheless barbarism. Hence Marx denouncing the impact of capitalist development in Asia, where “The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India,’” was at no point celebrated, nor were personal attacks made against any luddite contemporaries who may have dared to suggest that many Indians enjoyed life more before their bones were bleaching white the plains.

-“Classical Marxism” doesn’t foresee the current “ecological cliff” because it was composed in era before the light bulb was invented. Modern science was in its infancy. Large portions of the globe were unmapped. No one had been to the North or South Poles, much less analyzed any ice cores. Neither had sufficient carbon been released into the atmosphere for the kinds of changes we see today to have started. People could still write about “the eternal snows of Mt Kilimanjaro” because there still were eternal snows on that mountain.

-China is currently a great contributor to climate change and will be so in the future. Do you know who some of the most concerned people about climate change in this planet are? Chinese scientists. They foresee things occurring that will cause tremendous population displacements, great human suffering, and political destabilization. They, like our scientists, recognize they are in a conundrum. Crawling out of the dark ages for the West was powered by burning coal. We did this before we knew what the risks were. And now it is morally awkward to demand poorer, developing nations abandon our example, even though it is scientifically necessary that they do so in the near to medium term.

-Socialism has never been more likely an outcome of this civilization’s development that the barbarism that Rosa Luxemburg predicted would dominate if the socialists couldn’t get their act together. She saw this in her lifetime with the first world war, and she would have seen it in much more horrific detail with the nazis and world war 2 if she had lived that long. The control of the means of production from below by the workers is no more likely to happen that the ecological collapse that will occur if we stay on the current path.

-The point of socialism was never that capitalism became a fetter on the “continued development” of the means of production, as if that were some kind of goal in itself. The point about socialism being necessary is that capitalism uses great discoveries for greed, destruction and evil where as socialism could use the same discoveries for intelligent, mutual benefit. Instead of vaccinations we get chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Instead of housing for all there are Mc Mansions, Luxury yachts, private islands, and a handful of billionaires while hundreds of millions of people live in shanties and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

-Coal is NOT cheaper than solar or wind. That is because coal is able to externalize their costs. A restaurant has to pay for someone to haul away its waste. For a coal plant, the waste goes up the chimney. Our atmosphere and lungs are forced to soak it up. Fossil fuels as a whole are more expensive because of

1) The cost of climate change in economic disruption and hardship

2) The financial costs of the militarizes, and the human costs of the lives lost in the wars fought over fossil fuels

If you actually recognize what the true costs are, an Apollo- style federally funded project that massively invests in Wind and Solar would be a much better idea. Here is one plan to do that within 20-40 years : http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/january/jacobson-world-energy-012611.html

Lastly I think one of the previous writers has a bit idealized image of the American West. Yes, there are a few islands of prettiness in national parks, though even there climate change is killing off the great bears by eliminating their food sources, and the forests themselves are disappearing because there are no longer cold enough winters to keep the pine beetle in check. The animals are suffering too. In one month I will spend a week in Utah’s La Sals attempting to kill one of additional 40 female elk slated for destruction by the department of wildlife. These extra tags were sold this month because the vegetation is so weakened by the driest summer on record that if these elk are not harvested by hunters they will starve to death in the winter. Much of the Wests’ beauty is not in a national park, but is managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. In case you didn’t notice, a few million people who in Colorado live in the Front Range are and enjoy these mountains saw them burn this summer in the worst wildfires on record.

It would be easy to go on. Asthama rates in the Salt Lake City area are extraordinarily high principly because of particulate matter and toxins coming out of Kennecott Coppers’ smelters. Yes, the Bigham Canyon mine ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingham_Canyon_Mine ) supports a lot of jobs and pays taxes that fund schools. But the kids being raised by these parents and attending these schools have health problems because the company would rather pocket extra profits than clean up their waste. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, not a rag of the radical environmental movement, 1/3rd of all pollution in the SLC area is from their smelter ( http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/53600999-82/rtk-pollution-utah-mining.html.csp ). Is the “socialist” alternative to open another smelter and double the copper production to provide an extra few thousand jobs at the cost of making the air that much more unbreathable? I hardly think that is “the goal.”

The West is already treated as a strip mine where as many resources as possible are destroyed in the name of profits, often for fossil fuel extraction. Adopting some Stalinist economic planning model that mechanically supposes more smokestacks equals more happiness is not the way forward. There’s only about 1,000 to 2,000 coal miners employed in Utah, supplying 82% of our energy in the dirtiest way possible. Doubling that number for any reason is not going to solve our unemployment problems. But putting people to work building an actually sustainable infrastructure will.

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Arthur September 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Christian,
1. “Crawling out of the dark ages for the West was powered by burning coal. We did this before we knew what the risks were. And now it is morally awkward to demand poorer, developing nations abandon our example, even though it is scientifically necessary that they do so in the near to medium term.”

2. The phrase “morally akward” allows you to imagine that it could nevertheless be done, perhaps by hysterical tantrums like in the video, perhaps by endlessly repeating that it is “scientifically necessary”. But as well as being thoroughly immoral and arrogant they have already said loudly and clearly that they won’t do it. Any “scientific” approach has to start from the reality that India and China will continue to burn coal as long as they can do so cheaper than by using other energy technologies.

3. Instead of scientifically facing that simple fact you simply wish it away by proclaiming “-Coal is NOT cheaper than solar or wind. That is because coal is able to externalize their costs. A restaurant has to pay for someone to haul away its waste. For a coal plant, the waste goes up the chimney.” The fact that poor countries don’t even add the costs of relatively cheap normal pollution controls to limit the damage done locally by things like acid rain confirms that they are not going to shift to significantly more expensive technology as a result of lecturing or browbeating about costs that they ARE able to externalize.

4. If you repeat it to yourself and your friends often enough you can not ony believe, but feel absolutely certain that “If you actually recognize what the true costs are, an Apollo- style federally funded project that massively invests in Wind and Solar would be a much better idea.” But repeating it and believing it won’t change the actual facts. There is no credible storage technology on the horizon that can solve the problem that Wind and Solar are interittant energy sources while we require dispatchable power on demand.

A recent study shows that total carbon emissions from wind are actually greater where coal is the alternative. The theory was that coal plants would consume less coal and generate more emiissions during hours when the wind happens to be blowing and the grid is required by regulation to dispatch the wind energy ahead of coal energy. But actually that only works where ga is the alterntive becaue it can be readily turned up and down. Coal plants just keep burning steadily over 24 hours so you just get the extra emissions produced by manufacture of wind turbines that don’t actually reduce any coal consumption.

Solar panels are notoriously a complete waste.

There is a solid alliance between the gas and wind industries because wind always needs gas backup instead of coal and only blows about 30% of the time. Supporting such well financed sectional interests merely prolongs the dominance of coal, since nuclear is currently the only plausible alternative that could become cheaper than coal while wind and gas will always be more expensive.

The result of nonsensical plans to switch to wind and solar over 20 to 40 years would simpy be that we would have wasted the decades in which we should have been doing massive R&D for something that India and China would actually use instead of coal.

Not having any other alternative we’d probably end up forced to use geo-engineering, which has lots of problem.

So the results of Green claims to speak for “science” on matters about which boh climate scientitists and greens know nothing about, like energy development tends to produce the opposite of what they intend – a world that does nothing useful to reduce carbon emissions for several decades and then has to go for geo-engineering.

At the same time as you are actively working against your will to increase carbon emissions you say:

“The enthusiasm of the lady in the video is right on. That is how concerned people should be. She is making a point about how frustrating it is when the mainstream media ignores science and its dire warnings.”

Frankly confusing “enthusiasm” with hysteria and advocating a video that ONLY appeals to the converted but actively repels others reflects the consequence of not actually listening to and thinking about the views of the (overwhelming majority) who disagree with you but just rattling off endless sound bites that you exchange with others who believe the same way.

Lets focus on the “awesome” video. Watch it again. Is it aimed at convincing other peple or is it aimed at people who already agree with it? Will YOUR goals be advanced if more “concerned people” ranted hysterically at others and physically attacked them the way the rogue weather presenter did? Or is your goal to feel morally superior while carbon emissions keep rising?

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Arthur September 8, 2012 at 12:20 am

typo, should be: “The theory was that coal plants would consume less coal and generate less emiissions during hours when the wind happens to be blowing and the grid is required by regulation to dispatch the wind energy ahead of coal energy. But actually that only works where gas is the alterntive becaue it can be readily turned up and down.”

Also here’s a reference: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/hopes-of-slashing-greenhouse-emissions-just-blowing-in-the-wind/story-fn59niix-1226462745494

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Bill Kerr September 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Christian:

“The starting point of Marx and Engles and the other classical Marxists and socialists in the much more helpful time before there was such a term as “Marxist” was a profound concern with the conditions of humans and their environment. “The Condition of the Working Class in England” didn’t celebrate the blackened, sooty skies of England as an improvement over sunshine which prevailed through the middle ages”

Engel’s book on the condition of the working class is certainly a great book but written when he was young. Engel’s also understood and subsequently learnt more deeply from Marx that they had to do much more than merely describe the effects of capitalism. They had to understand how it worked, its dynamics, and that is Marx’s most profound contribution (in Capital). So although your starting point could possibly be described as a starting point for Marx and Engels it rather misses the point of what their real contribution was. Marx and Engels drew a thick dividing line between scientific and utopian socialism in many of their works. The former was based on a deep understanding of the system; the latter on identification with human suffering but fuzzy thinking about how that came about and how to change it.

Christian, would you be interested in pursuing this aspect of the discussion further and how it connects to an evaluation of environmental questions today?

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