Saturday, 25 February 2017
Written by Paul Gregoire - Sydney Criminal Lawyers
Left Renewal is a group of left-leaning rank and file members of the NSW Greens party that caused a stir amongst the broader Australian Greens, when they announced their presence in December last year and declared their anti-capitalist agenda
The arrival of this socialist group has posed a challenge to the mainstream Greens as a whole, as they’ve always stated that there are no factions within the party ranks. The party line has always been that they’re self-governing and their policies are based on a consensus model.
However, Left Renewal tend to differ on these points. They believe the Greens have strayed from their more radical roots. And that today, the party doesn’t formulate all of their policies democratically and some of the party leaders aren’t elected.
Calling themselves a tendency, as the term faction has negative connotations, Left Renewal base their ideology on the four pillars that the Australian Greens were founded upon. These are ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice, and peace and non-violence.
Left Renewal’s ideology
The tendency released their Statement of Principles on December 21. They’ve pledged “to take a strong stance on the struggle of the working class” and this includes fighting “to bring about an end to capitalism.”
Left Renewal acknowledge that “Australia is based upon an act of genocide” and in doing so support the struggle of that nation’s Indigenous people “for their sovereignty and land rights.”
They’re calling for “an international perspective on climate justice,” as well as supporting union activity, an end to national borders and “an explicit rejection of imperialism.”
The response from the top
The emergence of Left Renewal caused Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale to speak out.
“The Greens have never had factions,” he said. “I will never support going down the Labor route of establishing formal factions within the party.”
Senator Di Natale further stated that he did not support the overthrow of capitalism and implied that it was a “ridiculous notion.” He said if the members of the tendency were “so unhappy with Greens policies” that they should go and find another political party to be a part of.
No politicians involved
Initial reports stated that the group were centred around NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon. However, Left Renewal explained that the senator was unaware of their formation, until they publicly announced it.
Indeed, there are no current or former MPs, MLCs or senators involved with the group.
Tamara is a long-term member of the Greens party, and an activist from regional NSW. She was involved in the formation of Left Renewal prior to the group going public.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke with Tamara, a rotating spokesperson for Left Renewal, about what they stand for and how they plan to go about achieving their aims.
So firstly, who are Left Renewal? What are its origins? And why has the tendency formed now?
In the past months, we’ve seen that the world’s eight richest men have accumulated more wealth than the poorest four billion. We’ve seen the nightmarish Trumpism that has decreed Muslims are banned from entering the US. And also, the confirmation that 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded.
So in terms of how to tackle all those things, we go back to Greens NSW, who had its roots as a protest party from the 1970s era of the Builders Labourers Federation and the dissolving of the Communist party. This is actually different from the other state’s Greens parties, some of them came out of the Franklin Dam issue.
We go back to the infamous Green Bans that inspired our party founders, where ecological and social justice were fought for in the streets and on work sites. We want to go back to and strengthen those roots.
Regarding why we formed now, we point out that tendencies have always existed within the Greens. And we’re sick of backroom ideology and shadowboxing over process. We just want to be transparent and talk about different politics and ideologies openly.
We go back to the four pillars of the Greens. And we think if people want to organise passionately around what they view as the best realisation of those four pillars, then it should be encouraged.
Some of the tactics in the past that have been used by the different tendencies – and by the right tendency we would say – but not declared openly, are factional organising and local groups, dirty tactics in preselections and process-based wars against the Community of Management, which is the body that makes decisions in the Greens, in between State Delegates Conferences.
The ideology is focused around socialism versus social democracy, class politics versus liberalism, non-hierarchical versus hierarchical organising and non-electoralism versus electoralism.
We encourage internal debate, whereas the other tendency has opposition to dissent, and would try and shut that down.
Who amongst the Greens party’s rank and file members make up Left Renewal?
We’re a grouping of rank and file members, who believe in revolutionary politics and class struggle. And members are welcome to self-identify, and many of them have. But membership lists won’t be made available to the public.
We’ve slowly been posting Q&As with some members on the Facebook page. So people are welcome to look through the ones that have already come out, or wait for more to come out from those that feel comfortable.
At the events in Sydney, the right tendency made a list of all the members there. And they’re threatening comments from people. So not everyone wants to become public.
And am I right to think that it’s mainly younger members of the Greens that have joined Left Renewal?
We have a variety of ages. Someone on our page, who’s had their profile published, is 52. And then there’s someone else who is 60. So it’s a variety of different ages.
In Left Renewal’s opinion, what’s the problem with the mainstream Australian Greens party at present?
We think that there’s an emphasis where the Australian Greens have lent themselves to professional liberalism. They want to wear suits, make deals and be pragmatic, so as to achieve, what we would see as, non-outcomes and just so-called electoral success.
In order to impose that, they’ve sidestepped the membership at times, with unelected leaders and policies that members don’t get to debate. So at the moment, the federal parliamentary leader is not elected by members. That is something that we’d push for, a democratic election policy.
And there are other policies that we don’t get to debate, even though we’re meant to be a grassroots party. They’re sometimes just announced.
That means that we’ve backed down on important policy questions, such as Palestine and imposing foreign intervention in countries like Libya. We’ve ignored and dropped the ball on other questions, like free education, the ABCC and refugees.
We’ve even condemned Indigenous activists and called them violent for burning the colonial flag. And our leader has called opposition to capitalism a “ridiculous notion,” and is pushing regressive policies like the sugar tax, without authorisation from the membership.
With the sugar tax, we would say, that it harms working class people the most, and it’s shown not to be successful in stopping what it’s supposed to stop.
In doing this, focusing on professionalism, electoralism and centralising of campaigning – instead of coming from the bottom up – we say that the Greens have betrayed our roots as a party of activism and working class struggle.
And we need to be more serious about racism, wealth inequality and the bread and butter issues, like health, education and public transport for working class people. Rather than chasing the votes of a non-existent middle class sensible, professional centre.
We say that it ties into Australian and global politics at the moment that will allow a far-right populist like Pauline Hanson take centre stage, as we’ve seen with the votes increase.
We need to be appealing to working class voters and not just the middle class centre.
Left Renewal states that it’s fighting “to bring about the end of capitalism.” But many people with socialist leanings would argue that this goal is hard to achieve working within an established political entity like the Greens. How does Left Renewal propose to go about achieving this end?
One of the fundamental differences between the Greens and the left of the Australian Labor party is that the Greens do not inherently need to be a party that aspires to government and managing capitalism.
We recognise as revolutionaries, during a low period of struggle, that the revolution is not something we can expect in the immediate future.
We aim to be an ideologically militant minority within the party that can cause the Greens, as a whole, to be a more left populist project that will inspire people to organise against the status quo.
And we think Greens MPs can resource and amplify that when organising community campaigns.
Murray Bookchin – an anarchist in the United States, who helped found the US Greens and inspired revolutionary action in Kurdistan – saw similar values in Greens parties outside the establishment. He believed that they’re an important part of local organising to initiate change at the grassroots level.
And that continued into the US Greens – which is obviously a parliamentary party as well – where the youth wing managed to win over the party leadership and they now have a formal anti-capitalist position.
In the Left Renewal Statement of Principles it’s outlined that “Australia is based upon an act of genocide which exists within the broader framework of global imperialism.”
There’s been a lot of talk from government over recent years about constitutional recognition to bring about some form of resolution for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Many
Indigenous rights activists reject this proposition as mere window dressing. These activists look towards the establishment of treaties between the government and the various Indigenous nations.
Where does Left Renewal stand on the issue of what needs to be done to begin to bring about some sort of resolution for the nation’s First Peoples?
I live in Bega, in rural NSW, in Dyirringan country. On Invasion Day, I remember an important thing that Rodney Kelly, an Indigenous activist, who organised an event down here, said is that solidarity with First Nations people is about sovereignty and treaty. And those words are left out when people are talking about the Recognise movement.
A lot of Indigenous activists point out that the Aboriginal nations weren’t even consulted until after the Recognise campaign was launched. And there’s widespread dissent as it seems to want to ameliorate the dissent of Aboriginal people to their ongoing colonisation and subjugation in Australian society, instead of actually addressing that.
Constitutional recognition, according to many Aboriginal activists, will have no bearing on the ongoing colonisation and they reject the legitimacy of our constitution in the first place, as do Left Renewal.
We don’t want to take up space from Indigenous activists, like WAR and FIRE, and others across the country, who should be consulted on these issues and should be leading the discussion.
There needs to be education and changes to the curriculum in schools across Australia. There needs to be country, language and culture returned. And government subsidies to fund those programs.
People should be looking at the tent embassy in Canberra and different states – there’s one in Sydney as well – where they’ve declared they don’t accept the right of the colonial parliament to rule over them. So we’d tell people to look at what they’re saying.
Environmental issues have always been a key part of the Greens political agenda. Left Renewal calls for an “international perspective of climate justice.” Can you outline what the tendency means by this?
It’s about shifting the Greens conversation to climate justice, which is a term that is for framing global warming as an ethical and political issue, not just an environmental and physical one.
A fundamental proposition of climate justice is that those who are least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences. What we mean by that statement is that the impact that it will have on global working class communities is the most dire.
For example, the rising sea levels already mean that five Solomon Islands are now underwater. They’ve literally disappeared and were there as late as 2014. And the government there has started to have to look at how they can provide for people as climate refugees, and look at the legal framework as to how they can keep existing as a nation.
So Left Renewal, like all Greens, think there is a global climate crisis, but we think that those communities who stand to lose the most, including Indigenous communities, should be centred in the conversations across the world.
The last point is that we think there is no such thing as isolationist environmentalism. A lot of environmental rhetoric places the environment against migrants or refugees, and we say that they’re intertwined.
This sentiment pretends Australia’s economy doesn’t rely on exploiting other people across the world and that we can’t be environmental by exclusion, at the expense of others, who stand to lose the most.
Since the Greens have been around, there’s been a perception that the party is somewhat ambivalent to the concerns of the working class. Especially, when it comes to the economic consequences of environmental regulations. Left renewal has pledged “to take a strong stance on the struggle of the working class.”
How does the faction plan to deal with the perceived conflict between the interests of the working class and the interests of the environment?
We say that the ruling class tries to pretend the environment is a separate issue to others, and counter-posed to the creation and existence of jobs.
We saw this internationally, for example, during Thatcher’s attacks on coal miners, in the pretext of sustainability. But also in the early forestry campaigns, with the north-coast Greens and NSW, which were involved in an antagonistic relationship with workers.
And more recently, with the closing of one of the biggest coal mines in Victoria, and the Greens celebrating that, but not talking about how they would create jobs or how there should have already been jobs created.
We argue for a just transition for workers in energy industries. This means plural redundancies, retraining and reallocation of jobs in the renewable sector, if workers wish. Investment in regional infrastructure and opposition to trade deals. Free education and a living wage for all.
We’ve seen some strong work on this from the NSW Greens, where David Shoebridge and the late John Kaye worked to support steel manufacturing workers in the Illawarra. But the Greens must continue to do and dramatically expand this work.
We had the Australian Young Greens Conference recently. And we spoke to Jill Stein, the leader of the US Greens, and she was explaining that over there they look to Germany for their view of just transitions.
They’ve recently had to close a really big coal mine and thirteen hundred jobs were lost. They offered voluntary redundancies across all industries. And then the people were retrained and at the end of it, there were very few people without jobs.
So we would be looking at that in the forestry and coal industry.
In December, Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale criticised the formation of Left Renewal. He said that the members of the tendency should consider finding a new political home and claimed that the aim to overthrow capitalism was a “ridiculous notion.”
How does Left Renewal respond to Senator Di Natale’s criticisms?
At the Sydney event that we had, one Greens member, who wasn’t a Left Renewal member, she summarised it well, when she came up to the microphone and stared down the camera and said, “Hi Richard. I’m a member and firmly anti-capitalist. And I’m here to stay.”
So we echo that. We won’t be driven out by other members or leaders, especially the leaders that are meant to be democratically reflecting the views of members, not trying to expel them.
We’re a group of passionate people in the Greens, who are trying to enact, what we see, as the realisation of those four pillars. And if people disagree with our view of how they should be enacted, then that’s totally fine. But they shouldn’t take it personally and try and kick us out of the party.
And lastly, what’s next for Left Renewal. The tendency has formed and stated its principles, how does it propose to go about implementing them?
We think a big part of what the Greens is missing at the moment is both political and campaigning education. We want to focus on that.
We had a reading group last Friday about climate action and how to go about that in an anti-capitalist society.
So reading groups like that. Other education events across NSW and the country. We’ve done one in Sydney and one in Canberra. And we’re looking at doing some more.
And policy initiatives of things that we want to be pushing. For example, open borders, especially in the climate of Trumpism, and all the anti-refugee and racist rhetoric. So talking more about open borders and what that means.
Running social media and real life campaigns in, but also outside of, the Greens.
Attending events like the Anti-Capitalist Symposium that’s being held on March 11. That’s not organised by Left Renewal, but by members of the NSW Young Greens and the broader Greens.
After the last State Delegates Conference – which is where we all make decisions together – a proposal was put forward that the NSW Greens adopt an anti-capitalist position. And as a result of that, there’s going to be a symposium, where people can interact and listen to speakers.
So supporting those kind of events, but also organising practical events that affect people right now. Like housing in Campbelltown, where 800 public houses were recently sold off by government. We’d be looking at organising something there, as the community are pretty outraged.
The Greens could be doing better in representing those working class voices out in western Sydney.
And the final point is, supporting other activist groups and organising Greens contingents to events like May Day, which is about workers’ rights, and the Palm Sunday Refugee Rally.
Tamara thanks very much for the great interview today. And best of luck with Left Renewal further establishing itself as a political entity within the Greens.
That’s alright. And thank you.
Friday, 24 February 2017
Let us start with the constituency of Stoke in yesterday's by-elections, which at least the Labour Party managed to retain on Thursday. On a low turn-out of just 38%, Labour won with a 37.1% share of the vote, which is a fall of 2.2% of the vote share from the last general election in 2015. I suspect that most of the fall in support went to the Lib Dems who increased their vote share by 5.7%.
Labour were fortunate, that in a constituency that voted strongly to leave the EU at last year’s referendum, and where UKIP had finished second in 2015, the UKIP candidate and new leader, Eddie Hitler loolalike, Paul Nuttall, ran an abysmal campaign. Caught out telling lies about losing close friends at the Hillsborough football disaster, that he lived in the constituency, has a PHD and was a professional footballer, and making several policy gaffes, like wanting to privatise the NHS, he threw Labour a lifeline. Even then, Nuttall did manage to increase his party’s vote share by 2.1%, but it was not enough.
If UKIP can’t win a seat like Stoke, with their leader standing, then there is little hope for them anywhere else. Labour apparently, did manage an effective ground operation, with hundreds of party members doing the hard slog of door knocking in poor weather, but against a more credible opponent, they would probably have lost. The Tories also increased their vote share by 1.9% on 2015.
Which brings us to the other by-election on Thursday, Copeland in Cumbria, which the Tories won from Labour with a 6.7% swing from Labour to Tory. A seat held by Labour for 80 years and the first by-election loss by the main opposition party to the governing party since 1982, when the SDP split the left vote and the Tories won from Labour, with a 10.2% swing, in Mitcham and Morden in south London. The Tories went onto win a landslide victory in the 1983 general election.
So this was a historic loss by Labour and must be deeply worrying to the party. A national swing of 6.7% from Labour to Tory would see the Tories gain 52 seats from Labour, reducing the party to around 170 seats and a Tory overall majority of 114. And remember the constituency boundaries will likely change before the next general election, which favours the Tories by around 25 additional seats.
The increase in the Tories share of the vote at 8.5% is almost exactly the same as the 9% fall in the UKIP vote since 2015, and this will be the most troubling aspect for Labour, because it looks as though the Tories have stolen the UKIP vote, which is hardly surprising given the hard Brexit stance of the government. The Lib Dems also increased their vote share by 3.8%, which makes matters even worse for Labour, as they look to be in a pincer movement, with the Lib Dems picking up voters who wanted to remain in the EU and those wanting to leave, moving to the Tories.
Corbyn supporters have been quick to blame the two MPs who stood down and Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson for comments they made in the week leading up the election, but this is a weak excuse. Nobody really listens to Blair or Mandelson these days, they were not a factor in these results.
Corbyn’s critics have laid the blame at Corbyn’s doorstep, but are reluctant to launch another leadership challenge, after Corbyn’s easy win last year. They are putting pressure on Corbyn to stand down for the good of the party, but they tried this last year too. Corbyn strikes me as a stubborn individual and he is unlikely, now at least, to resign the leadership.
But the plates are shifting, Dave Prentis, leader of the second biggest trade union in the UK, UNISON, released a statement which implied that Corbyn was partly to blame for the Copeland defeat.
The main difference though to last year is that Corbyn’s support amongst newer members appears to be falling. These members are overwhelmingly pro-EU and have been saddened by Corbyn insisting Labour MPs vote to trigger the Article 50 process which will formally see us leave the EU.
As we saw in these by-elections, Labour’s Article 50 debacle isn’t even popular with voters who want to leave the EU, or Labour would have held Copeland and done better in Stoke. History may conclude that the Article 50 vote in Parliament, was the beginning of the end for Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.
I think Corbyn is now beatable in a leadership challenge, and if he doesn’t stand down, I think one will come before the next general election in 2020, probably in 2018. If the opinion polls don’t improve, and worse if more seats are lost to the Tories (and Lib Dems), there will surely be an attempt to oust Corbyn.
And what of the Greens? Well, we did poorly in Thursday’s by-elections, but these areas are not fertile ground for the Greens. In the south of England we should concentrate on challenging the Lib Dems for the 48% of voters who voted to remain in the EU. There must be people who will not vote for the Lib Dems because of their part in propping up the Tories, and the Greens are just as pro EU as the Lib Dems.
We should look to widen the crack in Labour’s support from remainers, it could well be very fruitful come the general election.
Wednesday, 22 February 2017
At the Lib Dem autumn conference in 2015, ahead of the Parliamentary vote on whether to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system in 2016, delegates voted against a motion calling for Trident to be scrapped by 579 votes to 447. This meant that the party voted against a like-for-like replacement of the Trident system but not to endorse unilateral disarmament by the UK in the Parliamentary vote.
Instead, the Lib Dems established a working group "to develop policy on the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party." The decision effectively side stepped the Parliamentary vote by kicking the issue into the long grass with only a commitment to report on future policy within 18 months of the conference.
The new leader, Tim Farron and much of the Lib Dem establishment, got their way when delegates voted for an amendment to the motion, which set up a working group to consider the issue and to report to spring conference in 2017. Lib Dem MPs did though vote against a ‘like for like’ replacement of the Trident system in the 2016 vote, mainly on the grounds of costs, whilst the party review was taking place.
Well, the time has arrived, a report has been produced in time for the Lib Dems spring conference on 17 to 19 March this year, entitled ‘Towards a World Free of Nuclear weapons.’ I know this because I was perusing the Lib Dem Voice website, I don’t know why, because I rarely do this, but the piece by Lib Dem activist, Neil Stockley, caught my eye.
The policy paper concludes that the UK should maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent, which is no great surprise for a seasoned Lib Dem watcher like me. They are a party that feigns a kind of radicalism, but when push comes to shove, they meekly adopt a policy which is a millimetre away from the safety of the status quo.
In a political contortion only a Lib Dem could manage, Stockley writes:
“This is an important debate for Liberal Democrats, because we understand all too well the catastrophic consequences of detonating nuclear weapons. The ethical questions they raise go to the heart of our party’s values: we believe that any nuclear war is morally unacceptable and must never be fought. We appreciate that as a founding signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK has a legal responsibility to reinvigorate international nuclear disarmament initiatives. And we have always recognised the Government’s duty to protect the British people from attack and to play a full part in protecting the UK’s NATO allies.”
The paper says the current continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) that is Trident could be discontinued without threatening the UK’s current or future security. Instead, it recommends adopting a medium-readiness responsive deterrent posture, meaning not being at sea continuously and not carrying nuclear warheads sometimes, in an effort to reduce costs, whilst making any possible nuclear weapon holding adversary, unsure whether we could strike back, or not. There would also only be three submarines, rather four.
This policy is so piecemeal that it is pretty meaningless, unless we were unlucky enough to not have any nuclear armed vessels at sea when attacked, but would save some money. I assume that the committee considered a land based or airborne (carried by aeroplanes) nuclear deterrent, which would save a lot more money, but rejected this approach for some reason. Probably judging it to be too radical?
I have always been against having nuclear weapons at all, but I know the majority of the British public would disagree with me, so I would be prepared to support a much cheaper option, like land or air based systems. At least this would save a considerable amount of money over the Trident system, and perhaps move us towards nuclear disarmament.
With the new under water drones, it is doubtful whether a submarine based nuclear weapons system is any less likely to be neutralised than a land or air based one, whether they were carrying nuclear warheads or not, so I can’t really see what the point that this Lib Dem stance is meant to achieve?
You can always rely on the Lib Dems to fudge an issue, and to try to please everyone, by having a policy stance which is neither one thing or the other. No doubt they will say this is a realistic, pragmatic position, but in truth it is no position at all, other than a pale imitation of the established policy.
We know the Lib Dems are unprincipled, but they don’t even appear to be able to be properly pragmatic, with this ridiculous compromise. Will the conference delegates approve it? After some bluster, yes, I think they will.
Monday, 20 February 2017
Thousands gathered in Parliament Square, London, in a protest organised by Stop Trump and One Day Without Us campaigns, as MPs debated the petition signed by almost two million Britons in Westminster Hall.
The Stop Trump Coalition aims to build a movement led by those most impacted by Trump's policies and rhetoric. There will be further protests leading up to Trump's state visit, if, as seems likely, it goes ahead in the summer.
A separate protest out side the Home Office earlier in the day was held to demonstrate against the the deportation of Erioth Mwesigwa back to Uganda where she was gang raped by soldiers. She was imprisoned, raped and interrogated because her husband was suspected of opposing Uganda President Obote. She has been refused refugee status in the UK.
Writing ahead of the Parliamentary debate on the Left Foot Forward website, Amelia Womack, the Green Party deputy leader said:
"Post-Brexit Britain risks ending up just a sad echo of the US, where many poor Americans voted in their millions for Donald Trump in the futile belief he would bring back long gone manufacturing jobs and offer respite from poverty. Now they can only watch as he lines his cabinet with Wall Street elite and stages photo opps in front of his gold and diamond encrusted front door."
"And although the Brexit vote set off this whole chain of catastrophic events, it also proved the same point that One Day Without Us events are making today. A breakdown of voting patterns in the referendum revealed the areas most affected by immigration were the least concerned about it."
"People fear the unknown, but the truth is that migrants contribute hugely to our society. They’re our friends, families and colleagues. Let’s hope today really is only one day without them and not a frightening indicator of the dystopian, insular future we’re heading towards."
A message to those MPs inside Parliament debating Trump's state visit from Londoners. We don't want Trump in our city, which is a diverse and harmonious place, people like Trump threaten our multi-ethnic way of life. Stay away Trump, you are not welcome in London.
Sunday, 19 February 2017
Written by Eleanor Finley and first published at Entitle Blog
For more than two centuries, a critical narrative has emerged problematizing economic development, consumption, and growth. While its terms and definitions have shifted over time, the underlying logic remains the same: human society is growing too fast, faster than the limits of nature can accommodate.
In order to avoid global catastrophe by destroying the environment on which we depend, human beings must dramatically reduce the quantity of our own energetic and material consumption. Since the 2008 global financial collapse, a revised form of this analysis called degrowth has gained momentum among European environmental activists and Left academics.
In contrast to their predecessors who rejected the ‘industrial society’, degrowth advocates blame capitalism as the engine of current ecological crisis. Joining a chorus of eco-socialists and radical ecologists, degrowth advocates argue that a planet of finite resources simply cannot sustain a social system based upon an axiom of production and consumption for its own sake.
In Can there be a socialist degrowth? ecological economist Giorgios Kallis argues that a tension is present between socialism and the apparent need for degrowth, arguing that a socialist society may not necessarily be post-growth, and thus ecologically sustainable. Such a conclusion rightly suggests that degrowth calls for the transcendence of traditional socialist concerns of labor, production, and technological advance. Yet, it does not yet account for how a socialist society may pursue growth along qualitatively different lines to produce a comfortable, materially abundant, and technologically sophisticated society.
In this article, I revisit the concept of growth from the libertarian socialist perspective of social ecology. Social ecology, first introduced by revolutionary social theorist Murray Bookchin (1931- 2006), shares degrowth’s concern over the conflict between capitalism and nature. However, it rests on a fundamentally different core theoretical analysis. Social ecology situates capitalism within a broader historical development of domination and hierarchy, arguing that the current ecological crisis- including the problem of capitalism’s endless growth- cannot be solved without dealing with hierarchy in general.
Here, I use insights from Murray Bookchin’s collection of essays Post Scarcity Anarchism (1970) to interrogate the limits of a degrowth conception of ‘growth’, and argue that we might find more opportunities for social and political transformation in social ecology’s analysis of post-scarcity and growth as ecological development.
The basic parameters of growth-centered discourse was established in 1798 by clerical scholar Thomas Malthus. In his highly influential work An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus warns against the rise of industrial society because it removes the natural “checks” upon growth of the global population. In his work we find that technology, consumption, and population are linked in a tight causal progression:
“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second”.
In other words, the continuous death of poor people ultimately benefits society by keeping food available for the rest of us. This state of affairs is produced not by social systems, but by nature itself:
“Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them…Necessity, that imperious all pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds”.
In Malthus’s view, people are consumers, not producers. And while the “imperious” and “all pervading” laws of nature may give life to many organisms, they just as easily take life away. Famine for all is the inevitable result if society’s elites are unable to appropriately measure and restrain the existence and consumption of common people.
The post-war period in the U.S and Europe witnessed a reemergence in anti-humanism and population alarmism. In 1972, Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s elite transnational research group, the Club of Rome, published a highly influential text, The Limits to Growth, which sought to delineate the objective boundaries to global population by assessing “tangible, routable items, such as arable land, fresh water, metals, forests, the oceans”. The book represents a discursive shift from traditional Malthusian alarm over population onto the subject of societal ‘growth’. However, it too ultimately prescribes a rapid and immediate controls on global population and targets society’s most vulnerable members.
Inspired by population discourse, anti-humanist targeting of women, people of color, and the Global South penetrated the Radical Ecology Movement of the 1980s and early 1990s. Advocating “deep ecology” some adherents went so far as to advocate mass extinction and the eradication of human life altogether. Yet this sensibility extended to progressive ecologist and activists circles as well. For instance, the radical ecological journal EarthFirst! repeated injunctions against women having children. Rather than focusing on wealthy elites who control vast majority of the worlds wealth, Earth First! chided women to “Love your mother, don’t become one”.
Leftists, eco-socialists, political ecologists, social ecologists, and degrowthers alike have passionately critiqued population alarmism for its racist and sexist conclusions. They rightly point out that “industrial” society is in fact capitalist society; a system driven by unabated, blind exploitation the natural world for sale in the marketplace. The degrowth movement in particular has responded by calling on wealthy, consumer-driven post-colonial nations of the Global North to repay an ‘ecological debt’ to the Global South. They also promote feminist and ecological economics as an alternative form of economic valuation.
Nonetheless, degrowth draws the basic framework of its discourse from a tradition of economic thought underpinned by the hegemonic assumption of natural scarcity. Within this mindset, nature is approached as a finite pool of resources from which society detracts. The central problematic continues to be conceived as “growth”, and the solution continues presents itself inevitably as “restraint”. This mechanized account of the natural world derives from bourgeois society itself. We also see this represented in the discursive field of degrowth, which is dominated by quantitative terms such as “limits”, “surplus”, “consumption”, and “sustainability”. By definition, this economistic conception of the world flattens qualitative difference and reduces nature to measurable quantities.
While degrowth arguments are useful in policy boardrooms or economics classrooms, by ascribing political meaning to nature only for its “limits”, a degrowth framework is systemically incapable of transcending the conceptual framework which gave rise to the very problems it seeks to address. The “limits of nature” we conceive as scientific facts are just as much moral limits; boundaries that our sense of ethics refuses to cross. Yet a mindset of limitation and scarcity is precisely the mindset an ecological society must overcome.
The framework of social ecology offers a more nuanced account of the natural world and points the way forward for those seeking to build a socially just, rational, and ecological society. First, drawing from the work of Theodore Adorno, social ecology conceives of human society as located within nature, rather than outside of it.
Modern, bourgeois society has taught us to view society and nature in binary opposition. As the needs of society are seen in inevitable conflict with nature, political authority is legitimized as a mediator and a manager of society’s rapacious expansion. In contrast, social ecology recognizes capitalist society’s destruction of the natural world not as an inevitability, but as only one aspect of the human potential. We also have the capacity to intervene as a creative force that can “produce changes in an ecosystem that would vastly improve its ecological equality”. Social ecology brings clarity to the fact that our current predicament depends not on society’s scale or external limits, but rather its internal quality and ethics.
Social ecology emphasizes nature’s creative features; it’s fecundity, resilience, and open-endedness. Social ecology recognizes that organic entities are not finite in the same way as inorganic entities such as a rocks or minerals. Forests, for example, mature over time, acquiring qualitatively new attributes as well as greater degrees of diversity and differentiation. Bookchin referred to this organic unfolding as dialectical naturalism. The natural evolution of which humanity is a part is an open-ended dialectic, moving toward increasing degrees of differentiation, diversity, mutualism, and creativity.
Thus, rather than accepting bourgeois society’s picture of growth as endless appropriation and expansion, social ecology also invokes an alternative understanding of growth as qualitative development. An ethical society, infused with the recognition of humanity’s role within nature, actualizes ecological principles through moral and democratic institutions. Yet in order to do so, we need not to abandon sophisticated technology, material comfort, transportation, or leisure time. To the contrary, technology has a vital role to play in the realization of a liberated society. By freeing human beings of onerous toil, machines liberate human beings to interact with the material world through the practice of craftsmanship. Bookchin calls this a “technology for life”,
“In a liberated community the combination of industrial machines and the craftsman’s tools could reach a degree of sophistication and of creative interdependence unparalleled in any period in human history…We could truly speak of a qualitatively new advance in technics- a technology for life”
Bookchin uses the term post-scarcity to describe the economic and cultural sensibility that underpins the development of a technology for life. While bourgeois society is characterized by the imposition of manufactured scarcity, a post-scarcity society cultivates an attitude of abundance. This sense of abundance does not live in the realm of ideology alone, it is also a lived reality practiced through ecological and democratic institutions. In this way, a post-scarcity society would enhance not only ecosystems, but also lead toward human life characterized by comfort, leisure, and intellectual, cultural, and social stimulation.
How might a post-scarcity society approach production, consumption, and the management of collective resources?
The economic principles and practices of a post-scarcity society can be described succinctly as a moral economy. Visionary historian E.P. Thompson coined the term moral economy to describe the presence of moral and ethical values in patterns of working-class and peasant economies. Self-interest and material need can only partially explain economic choices, even at the individual level.
Equally important are conceptions of fairness, expectations of reciprocity, and social bonds. As an analytic device, moral economy calls upon social scientists to privilege our understanding qualitative economic values rather than quantitative measurement.
Social ecology invokes moral economy not only as an analytic device, but also as a normative principle. A moral economy can also be understood as one based on ethical principles of reciprocity, usufruct (or ownership by use), the abolition of property, and production for use and not profit.
Equally important to a post-scarcity society is the politicalization and democratization of the economy. The people who live in a given city, town, or neighborhood ought to have the power to directly manage the basic economic decisions which structure everyday life. It is not coincidental that the terms ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ share the same etymological root, which is oikos, the ancient Greek term for household. The principles of an ecological society and a moral economy are one in the same.
As global climate and ecological crises worsen, the deeply intertwined nature of social, economic, and ecological life is growing more apparent urgent than ever. Degrowth attempts to address this problem by calling for a significant and rapid reduction of global production and consumption. Such a process constitutes human society reigning itself back within the limits of nature.
In this article, I have criticized some of the underlying assumptions of degrowth critiques, suggesting that our appeals to the ‘limits of nature’ are really appeals moral and ethical boundaries. On a social ecological framework, we might reclaim growth as development, and move toward a free, ecological, and comfortable, technologically sophisticated society.
Human beings have the ability to play an elaborative role in natural ecosystems that fortifies their stability while enhancing their diversity and fecundity. What is called for today is not restraint, but an unleashing of humanity’s creative, elaborative, and social potential. Material degrowth can describe this process only partially. In order to achieve the kind of society the vast majority of degrowthers are after, we are tasked with integrating a de-growth prescription with a coherent movement for holistic social emancipation and popular political power.
*Eleanor Finley is an organizer and a board member at the Institute for Social Ecology, Vermont. She is currently doing her PhD in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where her research focuses on social movements, political ecology, and energy politics in Northern Spain.
Friday, 17 February 2017
Photo credit: The Guardian
In a speech in London today to the pro-European Union (EU) campaign Open Britain, former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, urged the British people to ‘rise up’ against leaving the EU.
Pressed on whether he thought there should be a second referendum, he said: "All I'm saying is a very, very simple thing, that this is the beginning of the debate - that if a significant part of that 52% show real change of mind, however you measure it, we should have the opportunity to reconsider this decision.”
Blair, who was Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007, has never really regained his political credibility since his fateful decision to join the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The dodgy dossier, spin and downright lies employed by Blair to persuade Parliament of the necessity of the invasion, was laid bare by the subsequent failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
He struggled on as Prime Minister until 2007, but Iraq was the beginning of the end of Blair’s premiership. He was damaged goods and it was only a matter of time before the Labour Party moved to oust him.
In the intervening years, apart from regularly defending his decision to go to war on a false prospectus, Blair has always given me the impression that he craves to be back in the political limelight, but Iraq has hung like a millstone around his neck.
But it looks as though Blair has spotted an opportunity at redeeming his reputation by advocating that Britain should not leave the EU, despite last summer’s referendum in which a majority of the British people voted to leave. Brexit is of course the biggest political issue of the day, and so Blair is likely to get a hearing in the media, unlike perhaps his thoughts on the middle-east peace process, for example.
Blair is right to point out that the decision made on 23 June last year was a snapshot of the views of the British public, which doesn’t necessarily mean that this view can’t change, especially as the implications of leaving become clearer. We should remember too, that at 52%-48% for leave, this was hardly an overwhelming mandate anyway. Views can change, and do, one narrow decision on one day in 2016, cannot be set in stone forever.
The Lib Dems political revival is being built on a pro-EU platform, with some success, and it has surely not been lost on Blair that if they can be forgiven their broken promises when in coalition with the Tories, then why can’t he be absolved from past mistakes, when championing such a noble issue as the future good of the country?
Well, I’m not sure Blair has been forgiven, particularly by many leave voters who blame him, with some justification, for allowing the sharp increase in immigration from eastern Europe, when his government failed to apply a ten year ‘emergency brake’ on immigration, which was allowed under EU rules.
I listened to a political radio phone in show on the BBC last night, just as the news of Blair’s speech was breaking, and it was met with scorn by many of the callers. Even some callers who want to remain in the EU, although agreeing with Blair’s arguments, didn’t think it helpful that he personally is the messenger. That credibility thing again.
As one caller put it, ‘you can’t believe anything he says after Iraq.’
I’m no fan of Blair’s, he is one of the main reasons why I stopped voting Labour and joined the Green Party, but he may be onto something here.
At least he is issuing a rallying call to the 16 million British people who voted to remain in the EU, which may begin to lift the gloom that has enveloped many remainers. Particularly since Corbyn led Labour’s abject capitulation to the Tory agenda on Brexit.
Let us argue the case against the government’s reckless interpretation of this great political and cultural matter, whoever the messenger happens to be.
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Protesters outside Wood Green Civic Centre where Haringey Council's Cabinet approved the development
Haringey Council’s Cabinet committee in north London has confirmed that a £2 billion redevelopment housing scheme in the borough, will be carried out in partnership with the Australian building company Lend Lease. The company is the preferred construction management services company of the Trump Organisation, owned by US President Donald Trump. Lend Lease was given $200 million to redevelop The Old Post Office, in New York City, into what will be one of the newest additions to the rapidly growing Trump Hotel Collection.
The deal with the Labour run council will be 50% owned by the council and 50% owned and 100% managed by the property developer, and there is no guaranteed right of return for tenants or owners. The joint venture is known as the Haringey Development Vehicle. A final decision by the council is expected in the summer.
All of these estates in Tottenham are at risk of demolition:
Love Lane, Northumberland Park, Broadwater Farm, Somerset Close, Lido Square, Moira Close, Brookside House, Turner Avenue, Park Grove, Tredegar Road, Tunnel Gardens, Leabank and Lemsford, Reynardson Court, Imperial Wharf, Sky City and Page High.
The construction company has a chequered history, to say the least. They have admitted to a huge fraud scheme in New York, in which it overbilled clients for more than a decade and has agreed to pay $56 million in fines and restitution to avoid criminal charges. The company also admitted that it evaded government rules to hire a specified percentage of firms owned by minorities and women.
On the Old Post Office hotel development, the US Labor Department are investigating claims that that Lend Lease paid less than the minimum wage to workers on the project. “It’s yet another example of Donald Trump’s relentless hypocrisy and gross mistreatment of workers,” said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO union federation.
Another investigation by the Labor Department is looking into similar claims where a sub-contractor employed by the Trump organisation did not pay the minimum wage to workers on another hotel construction project in Washington DC. Many of the workers have admitted to being illegal immigrants, mainly from Mexico.
On top of this an electrical contractor is suing Donald Trump's Organisation for $2 million, court documents show. The contractor, Freestate Electrical, alleges that Trump's company hasn't paid its bills for work it did on the hotel project last year.
In Australia, Lend Lease has been fined $200,000 in relation to the death of a rail worker and serious injuries suffered by four others near Maitland. The total amount of fines issued by the Industrial Court in relation to the incident is now $660,000 as well as prosecution and court costs in the thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, closer to home in London, the £1.5 billion regeneration of the Heygate council estate in Southwark which was undertaken by Lend Lease, the council’s documents show the council only got £55m from the 22-acre site, knowing that it has already spent £43.5m on the project so far, and is expected to spend £6.6m more before the final demolition. As a comparison, the neighbouring Oakmayne/Tribeca Square development site, which is only 1.5 acre, got sold in 2011 for £40m.
Lend Lease is estimated to have made a £194m profit before any overage profit is shared with Southwark Council, whilst only 45 out of 1,000 secure tenants ever returned to the new homes which had been promised.
A report by Southwark council officers said Lend Lease baulked at providing social units as this would require a second lobby and lift shaft to separate the two types of residents, adding: “not doing so would have significant implications on the valuations of the private rental properties.”
The company also worked on the London 2012 Olympic Park. It is not known how much profit they made from the Olympics, but its profits rose by 28 per cent in 2012 - when it was built – though we know that the project cost the taxpayer £275m in total.
Haringey Council should stop pursuing this venture and choose the 100% council-owned vehicle option. This will ensure the council has 100% control of public property and land, as well as enabling the council to retain profits.
Gordon Peters of Haringey Green Party, who has launched a legal challenge against the council, said:
“It’s what has been called social cleansing - and that is exactly what it increasingly is going to be, if not stopped.”
You can contribute towards the £4,000 cost of the Judicial Review of Haringey Council's decision here: