A World on Fire
In 2006 we discover the planet is 3°C from meltdown. Cars everywhere, and an airport the size of Heathrow needs to be built every five years in order to keep pace with tourist demand. The amount of carbon dioxide in London amounts to nine million tons per year – which means the intake is close to a ton per inhabitant. It is clear to all that something must be done about global warming but the measures taken by the authorities control nothing. Those who make a living from the polluting economy offer up piecemeal solutions –they suggest that for every air flight we should plant a tree or contribute to a charity that invests in energy saving projects in developing countries; in this way we can ‘offset’ the damage. Meanwhile veins pop and sinews strain as the new breed of capitalist-friendly environmentalists desperately try to avoid the one simple, plain truth staring them in the face: an economy based on the measurement of value as a form of wealth has reached the end of its life, and in its old age has a suicidal urge to take everyone down with it - including the very pundits busy at its bedside operating the life support system.
The plain truth the new eco-apologists seek to ignore is that the commodity economy is a system of domination - a ‘tyranny of the triad’ – with commodity production, alienated labour and capital accumulation as-an-end-in-itself the three component and interactive parts, all essential for it to function. It is no coincidence that Prince Charles’ (Ol’ Big Ears’) advisor on polluting matters is the ever affable Jonathan Porritt, a sort of know-all toff who enjoys all the trimmings of power whilst speaking and writing about the pollution of the system he wants to save. Porritt seeks a sustainable green organic commodity exchange economy with value to remain in place as the arbiter of what lives or dies. A commodity without the excesses of its production is a contradiction Porritt has trouble understanding, but the simplicities he offers up find a welcome niche in places like The Independent newspaper, run mostly by home-county chinless wonders, replete with their SUVs and domestic servants for weekend breaks at the second home abroad.
Porritt, like his masters, wants a clean-cut capitalism complete with royalty and all the privileges that go with it. In 2006 he cuts a sad figure. He knows things are bad but dares not say the system can’t be reformed. Like the bandleader on The Titanic, he plays an important role, and gets paid amply – for helping to ameliorate the sense of panic and anguish on deck. But the problem itching away in the back of his head, that very modern problem feeding a neurosis that knows no cure, is the fact that the expensive detached pile, paid for through nice corporate consultancy fees and the like, won’t be worth much under ten foot of water - and that’s what will be left for the kids to inherit.
Cameron, the latest multroon in charge of the Conservatives, has enlisted the services of Zac Goldsmith, the nice-but-dim fop at the helm of The Ecologist (another case of clean-cut organic ‘produce.’) Goldsmith plays both games – on the one hand he is an environmentalist, concerned about the planet and the survival of a sustainable capitalist economy, and on the other busy enjoying the privileges of a wealthy background. A champagne charlie with green wellie-boots.
As we have seen, the destruction of the rain-forests of Brazil, south-east Asia and Africa is having a dramatic effect on the world’s weather. An area the size of Belgium is being destroyed every year in the Amazon rain forest, simply in order to plant Soya beans and graze beef cattle to keep the fast-food restaurants of Europe from running short. Multi-national companies like Cargill make a fortune from soya grown in the decimated Amazon basin region. The Brazilian government is incapable of stopping the culling of the trees and the populist Lula knows he has no solution to the problem except to make his zone of influence attractive to the markets - and thus kick-start a drive to create more jobs.
Similarly, anyone with a heart (minus, usually, critical faculties) sits up and claps Chavez as he inaugurates a game of Keynesian musical chairs with the petro-dollar wealth of the region. In this way the vampire of capital with its insatiable greed is kept alive a little longer, until there’s nothing left of the planet to burn. All the while in Africa, a social catastrophe on an unimaginable scale unfolds. Paradoxically, this is because the absence of the structuring principle of capital means the logic of valorization is unable to operate - except in those condemned regions where it’s free to dematerialize the earth of it’s mineral riches.
In response to these crises, the European and North American Left hitch up the wagon wherever it can. This was illustrated in 2004 when the American Left Turn magazine’s reporter swooned over the ‘maquis’ in Fallujah, as if the catastrophe unfolding in that part of the world is some kind of opportunity on the scale of Spain in 1936. This year all eyes are on the Left-wing renaissance in South America, because the self-same commentators are unable or unwilling to say anything seriously new about the social crisis ‘at home’ (resorting instead to hopeful clichés about the working class ‘sleeping giant.’)
For many on the Left, a serious attempt to understand how value itself constitutes the primary form of social mediation in society is a step too far. Instead, they clap from the sidelines any sign of ‘resistance’ (reactionary or progressive) and think that the solution is to demand better and more sophisticated commodities for everyone everywhere. Such an analysis is for all to see in any Left-wing newspaper, journal or slogan you care to mention.
And so 2006 is full of bad omens – the horrific wars in Iraq and Lebanon, the sabre-rattling between Iran and the United States, Hamas to power in Palestine – these events do not promise a dousing of the flames but rather a very incendiary addition. Competing fundamentalisms north and south add even more fuel to the fire. Everyday life decomposes all around us: murders, torture, domestic violence of all kinds - both at home and abroad - go to demonstrate that barbarism is on the rise. In short, we are witnessing the collapse of all values except one, - the upholding of value itself, so dear to all those who want a society based on work to continue. In fact the only way out is for alienating work itself to be abolished - by those who have to endure it (everyone!)
Stress, neurosis and nausea hit all classes, just like pollution. For our part, we welcome a dialogue with all those who know the system is beyond saving and so must be dismantled - before it is too late. Many resist the Porritts and the Goldsmiths, who whine that the modern production system is un-reformable, that we must find an accommodation with it best we can. Decent critics of such nonsense are often at home on the traditional Left, but we have to point out that continually repeating the mantras of a by-gone age gets us nowhere. For the Left, the solution is always to re-orientate value more ‘rationally’ and so calls are made for everyone to rally uncritically to slogans such as ‘the right to work is a human right.’ With ecological catastrophe everywhere, people are increasingly waking up to the fact that such perspectives are in fact regressive. It is essential we apply the brakes before it is too late.
1 ”Oops we helped ruin the planet – tourist book guide owners join to discourage ‘casual flying’.” The Guardian. 4 March 2006
2 In house eco-pet of the liberal-left The Guardian newspaper, George ‘four allotments’ Monbiot equivocates over whether or not to support nuclear energy, worrying that ‘the economy can’t survive on renewable sources of energy alone’; Monbiot fails to notice the elephant in the sitting room.
3 ‘Terror of Labour’ by Norbert Trenkle in Contributions to the Critique of Commodity Society Krisis/Chronos Publications (2002).