Focusing the Left Mind: Climate Catastrophe and the Neo-Marxian Resurrection

by John Halle on May 1, 2013

Last week I reported on the Ecosocialism conference at Barnard College.  Having made the last-minute decision to attend the Historical Materialism (HM) conference at New York University (NYU) I’m in a position to report about that too and particularly about the mirror image perspective that the two events provided on each other.  That is, whereas last week delivered a compelling argument indicating where the left needs focus its energies, along with a few disappointments, at HM the ratio was reversed: there were some very valuable presentations to be sure, but there was also a conspicuous and even self-congratulatory exploration of dead ends of the sort which the left has pursued to its detriment in the past and which it will need to avoid in the future.

Most prominent of these was the 800-pound gorilla that was simutaneously the subject of the Barnard conference and somehow completely ignored at HM: among the 70-80 panels, only two mentioned the environment, none addressed ecosystem collapse or environmental politics while global warming went altogether unmentioned.  This is at best myopic and at worst utterly insane.  There is, it should be said, a superficially rational basis for ignoring the Ecosocialist challenge to Marxian orthodoxy,  namely that it capitulates to the politics of catastrophism, as was argued by Eddy Yuen in Sasha Lilley’s new book.  Yuen’s logic and agenda was effectively demolished by Ian Angus at the Climate and Capitalism blog in a piece that should be required reading for everyone on the left. Yuen participated in an HM panel I was unable to attend, where he presumably attempted to answer Angus’s criticisms, although it is hard to imagine that he was able to do so at all convincingly.

In a usefully reductive, albeit extreme form, Yuen’s position was represented at the Ecosocialist conference by a member of the Spartacist Youth League who, in trademark style, excoriated the participants for signing off on anti-development imposed on the global south and hair shirt austerity imposed on the north under the cover of climate change.  His invective reached a crescendo with the stentorian imprecation that  “We need more coal-fired power plants!”  By now, only the most deluded sectors of the left are willing to drink this particularly toxic pseudo-Marxist brew.  In this way, the impending climate catastrophe provided teflon for remarks which in other circumstances would have the potential to disrupt and divert the proceedings into Spartacist-induced ultra-sectarian bickering.

Or to put it in terms of Dr. Johnson’s famous quip about executions, the looming specter of environmental collapse “focussed the mind wonderfully” at the Ecosocialist conference, providing the basis for refreshingly pragmatic, reality-based discussions of left tactics and strategy.  In contrast, the absence of this target at HM had what was in retrospect a predictable consequence that familiar pathologies of the Marxist left made an unwelcome reappearance.  Symptomatic of this was a panel supposedly devoted to “The Geopolitical Economy and the U.S. Working Class” in which the first two panelists delivered talks that were impressively academic albeit in the worst sense: polished, elaborate, and formidably technical presentations of results published in peer-reviewed journals. In the second of these, Alan Freeman took great pride in his having definitively demonstrated, by means of various econometric techniques that the universal law of the falling rate of profit postulated in Marx’s Capital is indeed the gospel truth.   In so doing, he settled scores with a passel of other Marxist academics who, insufficiently steeped in the sacred texts, Freeman judged guilty of all manner of named and unnamed heresies.

Fortunately, these exercises in academic abstraction were immediately followed by an excellent talk by Lee Sustar who returned us to the real world of the globalized economy, the entirely non-abstract injuries inflicted by hyper-exploitation of workers in his native Chicago and also certain small but inspiring and successful struggles against it. Sustar provided the groundwork for Doug Henwood, in his capacity as respondent, to deliver the coup de grace:  “Why should anyone care” about the FRP? What possible impact could or should it have on workers attempts to make lives of minimal decency for themselves and their families?   Furthermore, looking a few blocks south of NYU doesn’t seem to provide much evidence that the capitalists are doing all that badly, with billion-dollar salaries being pulled down by hedge fund managers, as well as the usual eight-figure bonuses being payed out to the usual stable of finance capitalist “blood suckers”.

Freeman, seemingly taken aback by Henwood’s sharp five-word critique huffed and puffed, flogged his working-class credentials, but never succeeded in answering why this dispute should matter to anyone outside of the conference rooms and faculty clubs where he spends most of his time.

 


If HM was useful in highlighting some of the dysfunctionalities of old-style Marxism, it was also valuable in offering up a a variety of Marxist rebrandings, the most conspicuous being the quickly expanding Jacobin franchise.   While there has been some question in my mind and that of others of their political orientation, the appearance of editor Bhaskar Sunkara, and his subsequent article in In These Times largely removed any doubts along these lines.

Before I say something about this, it should be noted that Sunkara has by now achieved something approximating left rock star status, packing to the Waverly Hall classroom to the gills mostly with young admirers — and I mean really young — from teens to early 20s.  This level of celebrity is, of course, an unmixed blessing, however, it was achieved. The left needs recognizable media figures who can deliver the goods in a form that communicates effectively with the younger generation.

What was less encouraging was the political direction they are being oriented towards via Jacobin.  The title of the journal would lead one to think that this would be a hardcore, take-no-prisoners leftism, one which repudiated the endless capitulations and concession of “pragmatic” liberalism, labor, and the servile relationship of both with the Democratic Party.

In fact, this was, to put it charitably, about as far from the guillotines as one can imagine.

Most notably, Sunkara, both in the talk and in the In These Times piece self-identified as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) paying homage to the tradition of Michael Harrington and, although Sunkara doesn’t mention him, his successor, Dissent editor Michael Walzer, with whom Sunkara appeared at a recent Young Democratic Socialist recruiting event.  This affiliation was justified with the unsupported assertion that in “every major progressive advance from the New Deal to the 60s, socialists played a key role,” although these victories became rarer “with the decline of the left.”  Sunkara’s conflation of Debsian socialists with the DSA with “the left”  reveals not only an unfortunate terminological sloppiness but an inability to make crucial distinctions.  A similar myopia also applied to Sunkara’s designation of Ezra Klein at HM as a “technocratic liberal” and then, in the next sentence, as a “neo-liberal”.

By this point, it is no longer useful to paper over the differences between a traditional liberalism defined by the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, a guaranteed annual income, universal single-payer health care, all of which were seriously discussed within the Democratic Party, and the neo-liberal onslaught defined by free trade agreements, welfare “reform,” and mass incarceration.  The notion of the latter being an intermediate stop on the “road to socialism” seems not much more than a cruel joke; the incredulity of the audience at Sunkara’s suggestion was understandably palpable.

Obviously, this is not the place to delve into the nature of the left’s fraught relationship with the Democratic Party, what, if anything can be redeemed from the anti-communist, cruise missile left tradition personified by Harrington and now Walzer, and the related question of a strategic alliance with liberals who, as Sunkara correctly, albeit understatedly notes,  “never had much patience for socialists”.

I am optimistic that a serious, ecumenical, factually informed and good faith engagement with these questions can potentially yield answers determining how we move forward together.  It’s worth mentioning that the exchange at HM at which Sunkara was paired with a young, energetic, self-described Trotskyist named Jonah Birch, was precisely that — notable for its productive high-mindedness.

In contrast, Sunkara’s In These Times piece was marred by the kinds of juvenile snottiness towards other leftists which has been a conspicuous feature of Jacobin since the outset typified by the following passage: “Much as Star Trek nerds make their pilgrimage to Trekkie conventions, this cadre flocks to Left Forum in New York City every year for heated arguments over this or that piece of sectarian esoterica.”  I attended last year’s Left Forum, and the panels dealt with student debt, the Vermont Progressive Party, and the anti-foreclosure movement in Miami. Not a single mention of any sect, as I recall, and if the problem of obtaining toilet facilities when municipal government shuts off water to foreclosed properties is esoteric, then I suppose most of us would plead guilty.

Unsurprisingly, the Occupy movement, a particular bête noir of Jacobin, is subjected to the usual litany of verticalist abuse:  “Their master plan for world change: Refuse to take power. Avoid politics. Occupy squats and ‘liberate space.’ Celebrate liberalism’s collapse and hope something better will arise out of the rubble.”

While Sunkara was not there to hear it, the rebuttal was provided by CUNY professor Penny Lewis in her appearance on an HM panel on Occupy the following day.  Lewis, along with her CUNY colleagues Stephanie Luce and Ruth Milkman is the author of what is, as far as I know, the only formal study of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) attempting to address questions that ideologues of the center left to the far right blithely assume to be uncontroversial, e.g., was OWS, as frequently claimed, almost universally white, middle class, educated, and privileged.  Relevant to the point at hand,  Lewis has continued to follow OWS activists in their subsequent trajectory into anti-foreclosure activism, the strike debt campaign and, most notably, Occupy Sandy.

Suffice to say that Sunkara’s lazy caricature, while having some superficial basis, misses completely the high level of political consciousness and, most importantly self-awareness of OWS organizers who have given substantial thought to all of the substantive issues that lie behind the now familiar verticalist critiques of OWS.

Hopefully, Lewis will soon publish the results of her recent interactions and these will have the effect to elevating the left discourse on these questions which Sunkara and others seem committed to dragging down.  In the mean time, there is a newly-published primary source that should be read very carefully by those who routinely triviliaze OWS as if those involved were some combination of addled post-modernists and back to the land sixties delusionaries.  This is, of course, David Graeber’s superb Democracy Project that provides both important first-hand accounts of the foundation on which OWS was constructed in the summer of 2011 and also eloquent and incisive discussions of the relationship between the anarchist principles of a core segment of OWS and how these were not peripheral but absolutely central to its success.

No doubt those engaging in the pretzel logic required to assimilate Lenin and Ezra Klein into a project for socialist renewal will dismiss these with a cheap one-liner.  But given that OWS, as Francis Fox Piven noted in her HM talk that followed Lewis, should be viewed as one expression within a broader pattern of left mobilizations that pre-dated OWS and will continue into the future, the left has a responsibility to understand the underlying impulse which created the wave.  Graeber’s book, which I am now finishing, is the best source for doing so — and for insuring that much of the left does not again find itself on the wrong side of history.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl Davidson May 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Here’s a puzzle for you.

I live in Western PA’s ground zero for fracking. It’s also ground zero for high unemployment and distressed mill town communities. A few mills, the tube mill especially, has picked up lately, making pipe for drilling. A cracker plant promising 10,000 jobs for five years to build it is in the works, and the one nuke and three coal-fired plants over the hill from me supply electricity for much of the East Coast. We have an anti-fracking movement where some want to stop it entirely, and others are focused on keeping it away from the reservoir. Half the rural poor who own land think they are going to get rich from gas leases, the other have fear being poisoned. The Black poor and the unions want the new cracker jobs.

This is what it looks like where the rubber meets the road. So how would you solve it? How would you unite and develop a progressive majority for a clean energy and green jobs future? Warning: Dire predictions and militant slogans won’t do.

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Jess Spear May 3, 2013 at 10:41 pm

By rejecting the false dichotomy of jobs v. the environment.

I think the environmental movement needs to put front and center the demand for green jobs. We need to power society, but that power needs to stop coming from fossil fuels or we’re in for more extreme storms, droughts, sea level rise, etc. In fact, climate change is not our future, it is our present, and it we can’t ignore it just to create jobs in the short term. We already have all of the technology necessary to transition the entire global society away from fossil fuels (and raise the living standards of the global poor), but the logic of capitalism is such that the corporations will keep using fossil fuels because they’ve already invested billions and are profiting off of that infrastructure. The urgent need to stop global warming (or protect our aquifers, land, air, etc.) and the need for good union jobs can be united in a call for green jobs – building a new electric grid, solar panels, wind mills, retrofitting homes/buildings, expanding transit, etc. Most of the environmental groups focus on stopping fossil fuel infrastructure and so they are odds with people who need jobs.

Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will take lots of work. The messaging from environmental groups can’t just be about stopping the fracking or coal plants or oil pipelines, it also has to be about replacing those energy sources with clean renewables so we can continue to use modern technology and sustainably develop.

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Carl Davidson May 4, 2013 at 7:33 am

We’re in agreement, Jess. But there’s plenty of devils in the details.

The burning of carbon necessarily continues for some time, so I propose we put an extraction tax on it–half to go to a cleanup fund, the other half to launch green and clean energy startups. That will provide both positive and negative incentives to hasten its reduction.

If you’ll look around you desk and house, you’ll see many things made of plastic. All of them come from oil or ethane gas. Now imagine everything made from plastics, from your keyboard on, disappearing. Of course, most things made from plastic can also be made from glass or bamboo (safe renewables), but it’s not likely to happen anything soon. So we are also going to need ethane cracker plants (the source of plastics) for a while.

Now there is no law of capitalism that says it has to burn carbon for energy. Theoretically, it can survive and even thrive on renewables. Practically speaking, however, we are going to have to reduce the military-industrial-carbon burning complex toward zero, which will be resisted fiercely, I’d wager. So in practice, we may have to make a socialist transition as well to bring the needed changes to scale.

At the moment, we have one socialist vote in Congress, and a left prone to circular firing squads. All this can change, of course, but it’s going to take a lot of political will and a lot of organizing. So let’s put our shoulders to the wheel.

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Jess Spear May 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I agree. We can’t over simplify the issues. I think we should fight for a tax on extraction, but with the full knowledge that it is not enough and that increasing the price of extraction (depending on the tax amount) would stop some of the current extraction taking place. The extraction boom in the US is happening because the market price of fossil fuels is currently high enough to produce profits. Only when oil is above a certain price is drilling in the Arctic Ocean (extremely dangerous and expensive) profitable. So, I’m not optimistic that a tax could be won.

I think that many environmentalists are ignoring (or forgetting) the fact that the entire global economy is based on fossil fuels from powering production to the raw materials used in manufacturing – which you point out. We have to fight against the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, like oil pipelines and coal export terminals, but I think socialists have to point out that it’s not enough and patiently argue why environmental destruction continues even though there are more people engaged in environmental activism today than in the 60s and 70s when substantial reform was won. In fact, I think that capitalism’s logic of profit over the environment is one of the easiest arguments to make against capitalism because so many people can see the destructive nature of industry and how it is driven by profits.

“Now there is no law of capitalism that says it has to burn carbon for energy. Theoretically, it can survive and even thrive on renewables.”

I agree that there is no law, but I think it highly unlikely that capitalists will switch to renewables rapidly enough to avoid climate catastrophe – in fact I know they will not because they would need to be doing that right this minute and they are not. So, explaining to activists that the urgent need to switch to renewables is not going to be met under the current system will help direct the strategy for fighting back – which should include taking resources into public ownership and running them democratically to produce for human need – for example producing wind turbines, not more fossil fuel driven cars. Transitioning society to renewable energy (ie., building the infrastructure) will require energy, so we will likely have to use some fossil fuels until we have an adequate renewable energy infrastructure in place.

We have to fight for a better world where we power society on clean, renewables and raise the living standards globally. Socialists have a key role to play here. I’m fairly optimistic that we can build a movement uniting labor and environmentalists, but we won’t be able to do it as long as we have socialists saying “So my suggestion is, welcome the jobs use the cheap oil and demand the highest safety standards on the job and in the community” which is utterly ridiculous (and defeatist) and ignores the long term consequences in favor of short term gains in jobs; or, as long as we have environmentalists saying we can’t develop the third world because that would ruin the environment. We have to patiently explain that needs of humanity can be met without destroying the environment, but only under a socialist planned economy.

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John Halle May 5, 2013 at 9:10 am

Exactly. And this is precisely why the near total absence of any discussion of these and related subject at the HM conference was completely indefensible. We desperately need facts, ideas, and debate on what we can realistically propose and how to politically mobilize around our proposals. Tedious arguments about the falling rate of profit are not only self-indulgent and unproductive, at this stage they are suicidal.

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PatrickSMcNally May 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm

The reason that “Tedious arguments about the falling rate of profit” keep coming up again and again is because tedious arguments about working through the Democratic Party keep coming up. One can not seriously evaluate the prospects of working through the Democrats without reviewing the falling rate of profit, overproduction, and related matters. If the one were dropped, then it would be possible to let the other slide a bit more to the background. There are some very real reasons why Barack Obama is to the Right of Dwight Eisenhower & Richard Nixon, and those reasons are bound up with the falling rate of profit.

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Aaron Aarons May 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

In regard to Carl’s statement that “The Black poor and the unions want the new cracker jobs” and similar implications about other job-creating, environmentally destructive projects, I would make the following general point:

Leftists have an obligation to support workers in the struggle against capital. When workers, for whatever reason, demand what capital wants, we have no obligation to support them. This is particularly the case when something that may benefit, or appear to benefit, a particular group of workers is harmful to the working class, humanity in general, and the planet.

Of course, we should try to come up with demands that meet the needs of those workers in other ways and also work to expose how such projects also harm them and their families. But, given our general weakness, it is not always possible to do that adequately, and we may find ourselves unpopular for quite a while among the majority of the workers and poor in a particular area.

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Carl Davidson May 7, 2013 at 8:04 pm

One thing we have to consider is what is the engine of progressive or even revolutionary change. In our area, it’s the masses of workers and the oppressed in communities of color. If you are thinking strategically, you’ll try to avoid tactics and policies that drive a wedge between your forces and the forces of that engine. That’s what I try to explain to the anti-frackers and anti-crackers.

The workers are well aware of the fact that things like producing steel or electricity from coal or gas fired power plants are harmful to their health and the environment. But they also understand that unemployment and the lack of electricity are also harmful to their families. They figure they make trade-offs every day, and figure others can, too.

Our task, as a 21st century left, is to find the structural and transition reforms that can build a bridge to a new order that runs of green and clean energy, among other things, and then to develop the political instruments, rooted in the working class and its allies, that with fight for them, step-by-step and in more radical and insurrectionary ways as well. But it requires a politics of strategy, not just a politics as self expression.

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John Halle May 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Right. And the best way for the left to do this is to hold a conference where less than 1% of the talks even mention climate change or the environment.

It was, however, possible to learn a great deal about falling rate of profit. Good thing too since this provides us with all the answers we need to explain to laid off mill workers why they should welcome a transition to renewable energy sources.

Si se puede.

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Arthur May 1, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I can imagine an academic conference on historical materialism being extremely dull.

But we do need to understand issues like the long run tendency of the rate of profit to fall if we are ever going to beable to offer an alternative program to capitalist austerity plans in response to economic crisis.

On the other hand I cannot image what a conference focussed on the weather, or on mining techniques would have of interest to marxists,

No doubt a spart could alienate everybody even if they happened to be right about something. But India and China certainly need ore coal mines and will continue building them as fast as they can despite posturing elsewhere,.

Re Carl’s question, seems easy enough – side with the people who want jobs, make sure the jobs won’t poison anyone and isolate the greenies hostile to energy use who will pretend they will. Needless to add that is also a dig at any claim to have figured out what forces to side with and against if you are in a quandry about whether or not to side with greenies against workers.

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Carl Davidson May 1, 2013 at 9:06 pm

‘Make sure the jobs won’t poison anyone.’

Indeed! They all do! You must not have picked up too much at the Eco-Socialism conference.

Of course, some are more poisonous than others, and some hardly at all–but it takes the dictatorship of the proletariat, or something close to it, to impose transformational transitions. There’s the rub. figuring all those out in a way that maintains unity among diverse forces.

You get a D- on this test.

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Aaron Aarons May 4, 2013 at 6:12 am

Arthur Dent is, like the rest of ‘the last superpower’ gang, a global warning denialist. They also try to deny everything else about the destructiveness of capitalist development. But they have to do that if they want to maintain their faith in the secular god they call ‘Progress’.

Those of us who want to make real progress towards better lives for human beings now and in the future will continue to be extremely selective about what kinds of developments that are ‘justified’ in bourgeois rhetoric by the term ‘Progress’ we will support or even tolerate.

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Red Blob May 1, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Carl fracking is not new technology but currently very useful technology. No technology is problem free but I cant think of a technology that is so anti human that we would not use it. Nuclear comes close but even then it seems to be a matter of using the technology sensibly rather than being against the technology.
So my suggestion is, welcome the jobs use the cheap oil and demand the highest safety standards on the job and in the community.
All of us are too young to remember the introduction of train transport but I think that some people opposed it on the ground that trains would go so fast that the air would be sucked out and the passengers would all die. Ill do some research and find out what happened with that.

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Aaron Aarons May 4, 2013 at 5:58 am

To whom, exactly, is fracking ‘useful’? To those who are not satisfied with the environmentally destructive potential of more conventional fossi-fuel production?

Mr. Blob writes: “I cant think of a technology that is so anti human that we would not use it.”

Who is the “we” that you pretend to speak for, Mr. Blob?

And your made-up example of what you “think” [sic!] some people allegedly feared about the introduction of train transport is utterly silly. If, indeed, any significant group had such fears, it only took one train trip by a few people to prove them wrong. (In fact, if anybody had seriously been concerned about that, all that was necessary was to increase the speed of a train gradually to see if any signs of such a problem appeared. If only all potential dangers were as easy to test for!

OTOH, the damage done to humans and our environment by extractive industries has continued for thousands of years and probably hundreds of millions of early deaths. (In just one mountain in Bolivia, it is estimated that eight million indigenous people have died over the centuries extracting silver there, mostly for the benefit of European and then North American profiteers.)

That doesn’t mean that all extractive industries should be banned, but that, in any particular case, the benefits to humanity, and particularly to those who suffer the negative consequences, should be greater than the costs. And “creating jobs” is not a benefit! The job of socialists is to fight for the ability of human beings to live decent lives without having to sell their labor, and particularly not to have to do sell it doing things that, for their sake and for the sake of humanity in general, should not be done.

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Carl Davidson May 8, 2013 at 10:25 am

All this tells us is that socialists should share their vision of the final aim, the fully automated, ecologically sound classless society of communism. Fine, no problem.

But the devil is always in the details, particular on how we get from here to there. In you’re in a study group with advanced fighters from the working class, you’ll know that’s among the first questions they ask, and they expect practical answers.

As for jobs being a benefit, they are certainly seen as such, in the current order, by the unemployed. Some people in this world suffer more from the lack of being in a capitalist market than from being in one.

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Red Blob May 10, 2013 at 2:35 am

Look Aaron I spend sleepless nights worrying about how modern technology is destroying the natural world. I worry about all those greenhouse gasses from say the production of steel that are destroying the planets atmosphere. Then I remember that every problem has a solution and walla hey presto theres a solution, not less technology but more.
http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/05/method-makes-greener-steel
Yours sincerely Mr R Blob (hey how did you know I was a Mr. not some un PC assumption I hope)

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Red Blob June 14, 2013 at 8:05 am

Carl I think this is the socialist vision for the future more and better technological fixes
http://www.motoring.com.au/news/2013/lithium-ion-battery-breakthrough-for-aussie-researchers-36561?WT.z_csource=Outbrain&WT.seg_4=Outbrain

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Red Blob May 8, 2013 at 10:09 am

” And “creating jobs” is not a benefit!”
Well I cant argue with that logic.
And I did say we and I did mean we. We the people have benefited from technology. Modern technological advances mean that Billions of us live long well fed lives and have time to read lots of stuff and argue about making the world better.
Below I have pasted some stuff about the quite large opposition that railways encountered. The bit about people thinking that fast trains were incompatible with breathing comes from my primary school teachers explanation of how silly people were to oppose modernity.

“2.2. Opponents of the railways, arguments and ideas

As early as 1830, the Victorians realized that the railways were there to stay. Many recognized their advent as the most important development of the age. Yet exactly how, and where, this great new power was to be harnessed was the topic of a continuing debate. The first phase of opposition, which we will treat as extending roughly from 1825 to 1844, during which a large number of lines were sanctioned by Parliament, and the amalgamations of 1845, was marked by an almost universal aversion to the railways. Formerly objects of scorn or indifference, the railways were suddenly thrust into the public eye with the success of George Stephenson’s “Rocket.” Those who recognized the potential of the railway seemed overwhelmed by negative public response. To plead their case, railway proponents produced materials to argue their own point of view: one G. Godwin was moved to pen “An appeal to the public on the subject of railways” in 1837, and in 1849 R.M. Martin authored “Railways past, present, and prospective,” both positive endorsements that made an effort to sway public opinion.

Almost all railway construction during this period was contested in one form or another, as each line had to be sanctioned by Parliament. A system of railway hearings was established in the House of Lords, requiring companies to weigh the potential benefit and harm of their proposed schemes. Railway historian Frederick S. Williams writes: “A rumor that it was proposed to bring such a thing as a railroad within a dozen miles of a particular neighborhood was enough to elicit adverse petitions to Parliament, and public subscriptions were opened to give effect to the opposition.” (p. 23, Williams) There were however, few cases that brought the nation together in protest: most of the opposition was by nature local, consisting of persons who were not, in theory, opposed to the idea of rail transport, but who fought railway encroachments on their own territory. The most effective opposition movements took place largely during this period, as it was preemptive: by the second half of the century, railways had become a part of the landscape and the largest period of expansion was completed.

The second phase of opposition, from the 1850s to the 1880s, could be seen in part as a response to the railway manias and fears of railway monopolies, and in part as a reaction against perceived “railway vandalism.” Railways, once so strongly opposed, were now using their economic clout to push new lines through previously off-limits areas. The debates on railway vandalism centered largely around city centers (particularly central London) and national historic sites, spawning the character of the “sentimental gentleman” and societies for the preservation of antiquities.

Map ii in Appendix I, in combination with Table 1, (which follows below) shows incidences of English railway opposition that attracted public attention, and illustrates the correspondence between geographical location, population density, and success of opposition movements. In the early stages of opposition, smaller towns fought the intrusion of railways, while in the later period many small towns worked to attract railway speculation as a means of economic revitalization. Railway historian W.T. Jackson, writing in 1916, could scarcely believe that some towns “rejected the boon that was offered them, and opposed the railways so strongly that they would not allow the company to build their line within the city limits. Small towns, interestingly, seem to have had a greater autonomy in determining the placement of rail lines: lines such as the Liverpool and Manchester or the Liverpool and Birmingham, which were key trunk lines in connecting industrial resources with national markets, were built despite strong opposition on the part of local residents.”
Yours sincerely Mr Blob

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Arthur May 8, 2013 at 10:46 am

Yep. Basically the pseudoleft is consistently hostile all progress. Unfortunately we have had several decades of reactionary opponents of capitalism being mistaken for leftists, simply because they oppose capitalism (and the more hysterical their desire to go backwards, the more “hard” left they are supposed to be!)

You might be interested in this 1979 survey of the situation that had already been reached more than 3 decades ago in which Marxist enthusiasm for modernity had already been buried under this stultifying stuff. Glad to see you joinng the revival.

http://www.lastsuperpower.net/Members/anita/altechandprog

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David Schwartzman May 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

If I were able to participate in the April Ecosocialism conference I would have addressed the threat of climate catastrophe as an unprecedented opportunity to end the rule of capital on our planet (yes, I know, easier said than done). The left needs a strategy, not simply analysis which shows that capitalism is leading us to hell. You can check out my ideas on this subject in my recent papers in Capitalism Nature Socialism (pdfs available on request) and my presentation downloadable at http://ouleft.sp-mesolite.tilted.net/?page_id=423.
I will be speaking at the Left Forum in June on two Panels, “Knowledge, Climate, Energy and Ecosocialist Transition in the 21st Century” and Carl Davidson’s “11 Talking Points on 21st Century Socialism”. Meanwhile you can check out Solar Communism at http://www.redandgreen.org/Documents/Solar_Communism.htm
Of course, I welcome critique! [email protected]

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John Halle May 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

Thanks for the links. Those with a sufficient level of scientific literacy might find the second article quite rewarding. I particularly appreciate your negotiating the concept of entropy- first as rigorously defined within thermodynamics and then, secondarily, showing how it has been understood (or more commonly misunderstood) as a philosophical/sociological concept, as you put it “employed to impute a theoretical physical basis for social prognostication.”

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