Is a Green New Deal Possible?
After the Crash of 2008, most of the Left expected governments to adopt neo-Keynesian reforms leading to a 'Green New Deal.' Instead, we got vicious neo-liberal offensive aimed at eliminating the social wage and destroying organized labor. Today radical thinkers like Mike Davis, Dave Schwartzman and Richard Smith are asking the questions: Is a Green New Deal Possible? Is there any hope today for a solution to the deepening ecological, economic and social crisis? Here is an attempt to imagine a possible future.
CONTENTS: 1. THE ECONOMIC CONTEXT IN 2011 -- 2. GRASS ROOTS EMERGENCE OF ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS-- 3. POSSIBLE NATIONAL MOVEMENTS AROUND A ‘GREEN NEW DEAL.’-- 4. WHO RULES? GOVERNMENT OR STATE? - 5. THE INEVITABLE CLASH
1. THE CONTEXT IN 2011
To think rationally about the future, to imagine possible solutions to the climate crisis and the social crisis, we first have to know where we are now, in terms of history and human social development. So we must start with economics. Like Immanuel Wallerstein, Rick Wolfe, Bertell Ollman, and Paul Mattick Jr. I am working on the assumption that globalised capitalism is nearing the end of its 500 year life cycle and has entered its final crisis, from which there will be no real recovery. (For details, please see my ‘Is there life after capitalism?’ http://www.stateofnature.org/isThereLifeAfter.html#next)
The financial markets have now been reinflated at public expense, but there has been no recovery of employment, and with this new bubble the next crash is as inevitable as the ‘unforeseeable’ crash of 2008 (which we classical Marxists predicted and which the alter-mondialist, anti-debt movement warned of). The underlying cause of this terminal crisis is of course the famous tendency toward a decline in the rate of profit, which global capitalist competition has pushed to its limit. What was historically a ‘tendency’ – offset by couter-tendencies like new markets to plunder, military Keynseanism, and credit which inflated the massof profits (and thus favorably affected the rate) -- has become a manifest reality. The reluctance of capitalists to invest in the productive sector has created a huge capital overhand and thus stimulated financial speculation.
In the wake of 2008, many Leftists -- ignoring this basic Marxist tenet -- assumed that the capitalist governments would adopt neo-Keynesian methods. Indeed the economists at the Historical Materialism Conference were even worried about being ‘coopted’ by a Green New Deal they expected Labour and the Democrats to implement. But what we have seen in reality is that faced with declining profitability, capital’s only recourse has been to drive down the cost of labor, by smashing unions and cutting the ‘social wage’ until profitability is restored.
Already we see a growing popular reaction to this multi-national neo-liberal onslaught, from Greece and the Arab world to Wisconsin. A very clear world-wide class struggle is developing, and with it a global class consciousness. More and more people feel that ‘us’ versus ‘them’ means the working people versus the bankers, and not ‘us’ (fill in your patriotic, ethnic, gender or religious identity) versus ‘them’ (other peoples’ national, ethnic, religious identities). Tahir Square trumped the supposedly 'age-old' antagonisms of Muslim vs. Christian, macho vs. woman, Islamists vs. lay Muslims. In the age of Internet, 'divide and rule' no longer works like it used to. So prospects for connecting up the collective brain of humanity (“planetary class consciousness”) are getting exponentially better as rapidly developing technology enables people everywhere to inform themselves and then link up. As I foresaw as early as 1997, The 1848 call for ‘working people of all lands’ to ‘unite’ is now a practical possibility. The balance of forces in the class struggle has shifted massively in favor of the Billions against the Billionaires. The first global general strike could happen any time now.
2. GRASS ROOTS EMERGENCE OF ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS
Returning to economic history, after the next crash, an even more serious global depression will sharply restrict world production, transportation and consumption. We can foresee vast unemployment, continuing crumbling of infrastructures and social support services even in the rich countries like the U.S and France. Capital will withdraw to air-conditioned gated communities, reinforce national security, and leave society to fend for itself. Even the mass consumerist big-box stores may disappear after being looted by hungry mobs. Necessity will be the mother of invention, as on the local scale small-scale cooperative agriculture, manufacture and credit-exchange schemes step up to fill in the gap. The moral and political ecological models about buying locally, conserving energy, returning wastes to the soil, pioneered by alternative life-style radicals will now come into their own out of necessity.
So the traditional statist organizational model proposed by many Leftists – whether Leninists or neo-Keynesians – may not turn out to be the solution to capitalist crisis and ecological/social breakdown. Or at least not the only solution. ‘Green Jobs’ and even a ‘Green New Deal’ may be good agitational slogans for building mass movements and pressuring national governments, but it is also very likely that locally-based, alternative economic and social initiatives will become an important social force and the basis of an emerging ecosocialist society. Karl Marx himself pointed out that the ‘two greatest achievements’ of the 19th Century British working class (which he considered the most advanced in the world) were 1) the trade union movement and 2) the cooperative movement, which included credit unions, residential, producer and consumer cooperatives.
Imagine this scenario: Against a background of corporate financial collapse and vast unemployment. Capital abandons the field to local initiatives, which are collective. (Like Colt Arms, which abandoned its plant in Hartford to the UAW after a two-year strike in the 1990's). On the political front, the disgrace of the bankrupt Tea Party state governments after the Second Crash brings victory to Wisconsin type alliances of public employees and public, leading to populist local takeovers (and comical prosecutions of right-wing DickHeads.) State governments in Wisconsin and elsewhere impose electric vehicles and solar in all procurement, thus creating a fixed market and economies of scale for alternate energy investors. So the price of alternative energy declines with relation to carbon. Other factors, like democratic takeovers in the Middle East may drive up the price of oil and make alternative energy competitive again. In any case, under conditions of economic collapse, even 'un-competitive' local installations of solar, wind and water-generated electricity would thrive.
In this scenario, in the coal and forestry industries the big companies are challenged by populist state governments and an alliance of labor unions and local save-our-land environmentalists. In W. Va, newly appointed populist judges no longer automatically rule in favor of JH Bear. The police actually arrest his gun-thugs. Lawsuits hold the Company accountable for death of miners and destruction by pollution of villages. The fines are so huge, that JH Bear moves his huge accumulated profits off shore and goes bankrupt. The 'locals' take over, but what to do? Mine coal more safely and cleanly paying decent wages and investing the profits in land reclamation? Aside from the obvious fact that there is no such thing as ‘clean’ coal, clean-ercoal would cost more to produce and would price itself out of the market as long as cheaper, dirty, non-union coal was being produced elsewhere (Poland?). So conversion to green jobs would be the only answer. (Dramatize this debate). Imagine a local Civilian Conservation Corps to hire youth (or anyone) to clean up the environment. Intensive organic agriculture (great land and now warmer winters in W. Va).
A similar scenario in Colorado against clear-cutting of forests. Imagine an Alliance of IWW loggers with nature lovers, Native Americans and the tourist industry. Throw in students and profs from the Universities. In this version of Ecotopia they remove only one in ten trees, leaving forests intact. This creates jobs for lumberjacks climbing, removing branches, felling. Are electric saws conceivable?? Use animal traction to remove logs. Let tourists watch. Hunting keeps deer population under control and provides alternative meat to cattle, whose farts pollute. Native Americans and others repopulate the forests, which provide subsistence (nuts) and forest products.
3. POSSIBLE NATIONAL MOVEMENTS AROUND A ‘GREEN NEW DEAL.’
What about a ‘Green New Deal on the national level? In US? (Or GB, Europe?) Imaginable? We must start from current stage of capitalism’s crisis of profitability. The rate of profit has now declined to the point where it really is less and less worthwhile to invest in productive activity. This low rate of profit on real investment produces huge overhang of accumulated fictional financial capital to inflate speculative bubbles, one of which collapsed in 2008 only to be reinflated at taxpayer expense. Inevitably, this bubble will collapse as well, and so on. Theses Crashes will be followed by a vast, global depression causing immense suffering, which will combine with the economic ecological depredation already experienced by vulnerable populations everywhere. One can predict massive food riots and the like.
In this context, is ‘Great New Deal’ (or Green Capitalism) scenario possible? For example under a popularly elected US president ‘doing a Roosevelt’ and trying to save capitalism for the capitalists by controlling speculation, allocating resources to infrastructure, stimulating demand through public works, and attempting to salvage the remains of the nation’s natural resources including fresh air and water. Possible?
4. WHO RULES? GOVERNMENT OR STATE?
To answer this question it is useful to distinguish between 1. the Government and 2. the State:
2. The State is incarnated by the repressive apparatus, whose purpose is to maintain the hegemony of big capital at any cost. It is coterminous with MISEC, the Military-Industrial-Security-Energy-Complex. War is the health of the state, and whoever gets elected to run the Government, the State will continue to ‘defend US (or French, or Russian or Chinese) interests’ by attempting to dominate the world’s resources, while fending off competitors. This also means crushing democracy everywhere it can. It doesn’t matter who gets ‘elected’ – Left or Right -- in DC or Paris. Truman was the truest cold warrior, and LBJ (arguably our most progressive president on domestic issues) invaded Vietnam; the French Socialists (with CP complicity) were responsible for both the Indochinese and Algerian Wars. Need I say more?
What else does this core state need to thrive? Heavily armed robo-cops and prisons. Lots of them. Constant domestic and foreign ‘wars,’ whether on Communism, Islamism, Drugs, or Terror (including ‘green eco-terrorism’) to keep prisons full. The State battens through increasing complicity (parasitical co-existence) of crime, banking, the gun lobby and law-enforcement via the assymetrical and symbiotic war on Drugs. We see the future in places like today’s Mexico, a failed state if there ever was one, with civil society in tatters and no hope. Russia is not far behind Mexico. And Afghanistan is where the U.S. MISEC built ‘democracy’ in its own image. So now we see revealed the inner contradiction of the MISEC-based, banker controlled modern capitalist/imperialist state. The hypertrophy of the repressive arm. Like the Roman Pretorians.
So much for the State. As for the Government, any progressive US president would have a Pinochet waiting in the wings if s/he went too far and displeased the Wall St and corporate powers who paid for his/her (Let it be a Hillary) campaign. Is Obama and any future successor necessarily a pawn for the MISEC and Wall St.? With campaign costs running into the billions this is inevitable. The two Roosevelts, both Teddy the Trust Buster and the FDR the New Dealer, could discipline the capitalist class because they had their own money. (Poor Ralph Nader has turned this insight into a fat book proving ‘Only the billionaires can save America’ as if they weren’t despoiling it). They never had to go hat in hand for campaign contributions, or rent out Lincoln’s bedroom like the Clintons to pay their debts.
On the other hand, in a crisis there will be a split in the ruling class with the ‘saner’ (less speculative) elements like retailers ready to embrace Keynes and revive demand. So maybe a maverick candidate could actually compete for airtime. In an imaginable scenario, a third party president based on a split in the Dems producing a three-way race in which the Tea Party votes cancel the Blue Dog votes and the Progressive Dem is elected with 36% of the votes. (Remember TR’s Bull Moose got that bastard Wilson elected).
How far could s/he go with a Green New Deal? Short of provoking a coup? (Better still an assassination, easier to arrange. The progressive president would need an even more radical VP and Speaker of the House as an insurance policy).
The obvious answer is: only as far as an organized, militant mass movement pushes him/her from below, on the streets and in the squares, highly mobilized. Teachers and state employees, including cops and firefighters would be the core. Supported by the students and most of the professors and lots of health and other professionals. Allied with small farmers. I see this ‘Wisconsin’ coalition most effective on the local, municipal and state level where it is still possible in the US federal system to carve out islands of progressivism, which set examples for other localities. They also federate, like the Council of Mayors, which recently told Obama to end wars and fight poverty at home. These ‘Wisconsin’ Dems, if they were to come to power in several states 2012 and increase in 2014, could provide a power base to a successful maverick national candidate (or breakaway Dem) in 2016.
As for the near future, I can only assume that whoever wins in 2012 the ghosts of Cheney and Gates and Goldman-Sachs will still be running the country as before under Bush and Oblama. Let’s hope for four more years of Goldman-Sachs-Gates-Obama digging themselves deeper into the hole of foreign wars, pandering to the right, selling out the economic interests of the Dem. base and infuriating the ‘Wisconsinite’ Dems even further. This would set the stage for an imaginable split in the Dem convention of 2016, by which time I sorrowfully predict the world economic crisis will have engulfed the US causing terrible pain but also anger and indignation.
The capitalists would be wise to channel all this energy into the Dem party so as to keep control if it and limit as much as possible the concessions that must be made. The President must appear at all times as protecting Big Business from something worse. Certainly in these conditions, the Green New Deal would be a very convenient slogan. Don’t we already demand Green Jobs NOW!
5. THE INEVITABLE CLASH
Now here comes the nub. Back to 1 and 2, Government and State. Guns versus butter. To pay for the Green New Deal, the government would have to cut the military budget and withdraw the troops (and the even more costly and uncontrollable mercenaries) from supposed strategic areas vital to perceived US capitalist interests. Here we have an inevitable confrontation with the MISEC, the government running up against the state. This permanent, imperial, national security state didn’t exist under either of the Roosevelts. Although both were experienced military figures, before WWI and WWII the US only needed a very small professional army and a few gunboats to collect bankers’ debts in Latin America and teach a lesson to various inferior brown peoples (Teddy’s ‘Big Stick’). The MISEC and the national security imperialist state are products of the Cold War.
Back to Guns or Butter. When an irresistible force meets and immovable object you get, what? Civil war? revolution? The most likely scenario derives from Pinochet in Chile or ‘Zed’ (the Colonels’ coup) in Greece.
If we place this possible event some time after 2016 election won by populist Dems, people across the US might reacted by pouring into the streets, as during the Arab spring. By then we can assume that the ‘Wisconsinites’ across the land are organized, with some support (or neutrality) from local law enforcement. How much repression could the illegitimate government apply and still pretend to some form of legitimacy? What about the international community? One would assume an environment where popular governments are in power in LA, parts of Europe, maybe in parts of the Middle East and/or N. Africa. How does this scenario play out? I also believe that if the US were honeycombed with networks of self-sufficient, self-organized, alternative energy-powered cooperatives (discussed above) the resistance would be able to maintain itself and isolate the forces of the MISEC long enough to demoralize all but the hard core mercenaries.
I think what I wrote 12 years ago in my original ‘Dream of Revolution’ (final chapters) might very well be maintained today. To check it out and add your own solutions, please go to http://billionairesandbillions.wikispaces.com/The+Dream+of+Revolutionary+Emergence