Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, April 07, 2004  

The Environmental Vision

Like everyone else on the left, I've mainly been focused on defense the last three years. Given Bush's revolutionary assualts on the middle class, the social safety net, random nonthreatening countries, and the environment, it's not an unreasonable position. On the other hand, it's not the kind of big-picture thinking that makes a revolution.

So what does a big picture vision look like? When Reagan stormed into Washington, his vision was based on shifting government services to the private sector, reducing taxes, and freeing markets. If the left is ever going to remake government, it must have both a vision of what the result looks like, and what strategies will accomplish it. I hope to spend some time considering these issues in the coming weeks, and I hope people will join in a discussion. John Kerry is in a good position to win the presidency. Then comes November 3--will we be ready to govern with a new vision, or will we just continue to play defense?

In yesterday's Guardian, writer George Monbiot argued that a liberal vision must begin with the environment. It's an interesting thesis, and as good a place as any to start thinking about where we go from here.

Corporations have become the new aristocracy: an enthroned power which shows no sign of being usurped from within. Far from becoming a catalyst for revolutionary change, they have ensured that all that once melted into air becomes solid, as intangible assets - the genome, the internet, even the weather - are bound up by a new generation of property rights. Financial speculators establish the limits of political action: if a government steps over the political line and "loses the confidence of the markets", the economy collapses, and the government soon follows.

Their world order is as dangerous to social welfare as feudalism. While industrialisation still has liberating potential for poorer nations, its global impact on the climate means that it could now destroy more lives than it saves. Environmentalism and social justice have become indivisible. To ignore the environmental impacts of economic decisions, as some on the left still do, is to ignore one of the major sources of oppression.

This is not to say that the classic leftist analysis of power relations has become redundant. At the global level we can discern a dialectic of precisely the kind Marx foresaw. As the same corporations seek to enforce the same conditions everywhere, they create a universal class interest in confronting them. No one needs to persuade the people fighting Monsanto in Britain that they have common cause with the people fighting Monsanto in Bangladesh or Bolivia. But because the corporations have so effectively crushed the global workforce, much of the pressure for change now comes from outside the factory gates....

At the same time, the drive to cut labour costs and find new markets requires constant technological innovation. Science in countries like Britain has been subordinated to the corporate demand for profitable new technologies. To deploy these technologies, companies must also demand ever-lower regulatory standards. These are the reasons why science policy has become such a battleground, and why so many of those who claim to be defending science instead appear to be defending corporate power.

The limiting factor for corporations, in other words, is no longer labour, but the ecosystem and the regulations which protect it. This is why battles over the environment are among the few that the world's dissident movements are winning.


posted by Jeff | 8:57 AM |
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