Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Solidarity

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) backed action by 97% in a huge turnout of almost 76%. The CWU said the result represented the largest vote in favour of national industrial action since the passing of the Trade Union Act 2016.
Dave Ward, the CWU’s general secretary, said: “This result sends a clear message to Royal Mail Group – our members will not stand by as you rip up their terms and conditions and destroy the service they give to the public and businesses of the UK."
The CWU said Royal Mail was not sticking to an agreement reached last year covering a wide range of issues, including plans to reduce the working week, as well as job security.
Industrial relations at the company have worsened this year, with widespread unofficial strikes breaking out virtually every week.
Terry Pullinger, the CWU’s deputy general secretary, said the union and its members were facing the “fight of our lives”. 
Pullinger said: “Just over one year ago the Royal Mail Group Board and the CWU agreed a blueprint agreement for the future, a progressive agreement that included a historic pension solution, a mutual interest driven relationship and a joint vision for a successful postal service with social aims. Today the new RMG leadership are breaking that agreement. Our members take honour seriously and have voted to fight for that agreement against those who now seek to break up the great British postal service in the interest of fast-track profit and greed. Integrity and pride still matters and we will not stand aside and see what we have spent our working lives building destroyed.”


Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Imperialism and the Amazon

The article which follows was written at the beginning of the month when the continuing deforestation of the Amazon led to the yet more murders of the indigenous population. Since then the crisis has deepened as the dry season burning of the Amazon to clear the way for farming has reached new heights.
More than 2,500 fires are burning and, according to the Economist,
"Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has detected 85% more forest fires this year than in the same period last year."1
There is little doubt that this increase is a direct product of the policies of Jair Bolsonaro. A climate-change denier who regards the Amazon as “virgin” land ripe for agricultural development, he has sacked 21 of the 27 senior officials of Ibama, the Governmental environmental agency, since taking office. He sacked the head of INPE when he published the findings referred to above.
However when the aerosols from the fires fell in clouds on the populous South East of Brazil, thousands of miles away, Bolsonaro could not remain silent. He first absurdly blamed environmental NGOS who, he claimed, had started the fires deliberately to spite him after he cut their funding. Then he claimed (in incoherent messages) that he had been misunderstood, and that there was just not enough funding to fight the fires. Finally he has announced that he will send in the Army to tackle the blaze (although how they will do this is not yet clear). What has suddenly concentrated his mind is, as ever, economic clout. The French and Irish governments have now called for the scrapping of the EU-Mercosur trade deal2 which has been years in the making but has not yet been ratified by any of the parties.
The whole episode, alongside the burnings in the Arctic underlines once again that the global capitalist system, divided into nation states, is not working for the benefit of humanity. The rain forest and the Arctic are both critical to the ecological equilibrium of the planet yet their fate depends on the attitude and policy of this or that government. These areas are global in importance but their fate is at the whim of individual states which have their own economic problems. Bolsonaro, before he caved into the economic pressure (which included calls for a boycott of Brazil’s meat products), rejected Macron’s criticism as displaying a “colonial mentality”. In other words “hands off Brazil”.
This is just another sign that the world cannot survive as nation states, whether it is the migration that is forced on millions by the wars and climate disasters of the current system, or, in the longer term, the difficulty of actually maintaining a viable living space on Earth for us all.
Capitalism gave us the nation state. It also gave us waste production (and consumption), the pursuit of profit at all costs, and today those consequences show that it has outlived its usefulness. We now have the technology to ensure a decent life for all in an increasingly cleaner environment, but first we have to get rid of capitalism, abolish national frontiers and create a system of world governance that starts from people’s real needs and not the quick fix of immediate profit. The ongoing disaster in the Amazon is as acutely crucial for humankind as a whole as it is for the 20-30 million inhabitants of the area.

Accumulation in the Amazon

The end of July marked several grim developments in capital’s onslaught against indigenous peoples of the Amazon. First, gold miners murdered the chief of the Waiapi tribe and invaded its territory in the north-eastern Amapá province of Brazil.3 Concurrently, illegal logging operations in the nearby state of Maranhão have been inching ever closer to the territory of the Awá Guajá people, an “uncontacted tribe” whose interactions with the heavily-armed paramilitary forces are almost certainly bound to end with their slaughter.4 This kind of bloody expropriation has found a significant expansion under new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose campaign promises to eliminate “every centimeter of indigenous land” have been a great boon to the many timber mafias and mineral-extraction enterprises that infest the Amazon on all sides today. Indeed, since Bolsonaro took office, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has climbed a staggering 278%.5
Bolsonaro’s acutely explicit racism towards Amazonian tribes, and his equally explicit promises to auction off every ounce of Brazilian rainforest, are certainly a significant deviation from the previous rhetoric of Brazilian heads of states, and for this reason the bourgeois press have sought extensively to exceptionalize his presidency. This is an insidious erasure of the fact that similar state support for mining and logging on indigenous land have been a mainstay of Brazilian democracy for years, not just under the right-wing presidency of Bolsonaro’s predecessor Michel Temer6, but also under the leftist administration of Workers’ Party politician Dilma Rousseff. Throughout her term in office, Rousseff publicly paid lip service to indigenous and environmental concerns, while privately making concession after concession to Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby.7 A comparable situation can be found in Venezuela today; President Nicolás Maduro claims to champion indigenous Venezuelan rights, but in the past six months alone his military forces have been responsible for the murder of numerous Pemón activist protesting displacement by illegal gold-mining operations.8 Likewise, leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales – himself an indigenous Bolivian – has in the last few years gradually revoked a slew of legal protections for native tribes to enable construction projects in the Bolivian Amazon.9 To understand why leftist regimes in Latin America on the one hand claim to champion the interests of indigenous peoples and on the other enable and even actively participate in ruthless violence against them, it is important to first understand the class character of this brutal expropriation.
Since the start of World War I, communists have recognized that capitalism has entered into its “decadent” phase, marked, amongst other things, by the solidification of capitalism as a world system. (See, e.g., marxists.org or leftcom.org). The old pre-capitalist modes of production have largely disappeared, swept away on a global scale by brutal colonial policies, and the world market permeates nearly every corner of the earth. The Amazon today is one of the only exceptions to this state of affairs; sectors of the rainforest persist that are completely untouched by industrial development, and their “uncontacted” native inhabitants represent the world’s only real remaining outposts of genuinely pre-capitalist society.10 This, coupled with an unrivaled abundance of natural resources – rubber, oil, iron ore, gold, timber, cocoa, and wide range of minerals – makes the Amazon fertile ground for accumulation in capitalism’s imperialist phase.
Imperialism is at its core a means for capitalist nations to combat crises. Large capitalist economies export capital to economically backwards regions, building infrastructure (rail lines, roads, factories, and refineries) with the three-pronged intention of stripping valuable untapped natural resources from the area, creating and exploiting a new source of dirt-cheap proletarian labor from the local population, and opening up new markets in which to dump surpluses accumulated in periods of overproduction. What we are witnessing in the Amazon today is a textbook example of this. Since the 1960s, tens of thousands of miles of roads and highways have been built in the Amazon by surrounding businesses and governments.11 This has paved the way for the epidemic of logging and mining operations in the region, and, indeed, 95% of all deforestation has occurred within fifty kilometers of these projects.12 This deforestation has in turn required the bloody expropriation of indigenous lands, causing the mass displacement and proletarianization of native peoples – thousands of indigenous refugees have been forced into cheap labor either within the forest13, or in nearby urban centers.14 All in all, we are faced with a clear example of capitalist accumulation and subsumption into the world market.
The barbarism in the Amazon today can therefore be best understood as a symptom of ever-escalating competition between regional capitalist states, and their vain attempts to stem the inevitable tendency of the rate of profit to fall. It is thus not a coincidence that the recent Brazilian state support for nominally “illegal” development projects in the Amazon was first initiated in late 2012 and 2013 – the start date of a Brazilian economic slump that persists to this day.15 The situation is similar in Venezuela; despite its “socialist” pretentions, the Bolivarian petrostate remains thoroughly capitalist, and like all other capitalist nations is subject to the whims and contradictions of the world market. Thus, when the international oil market began to collapse in 2013, the Venezuelan economy fell with it, leading to the well-reported crisis we see today. This is the context for Maduro’s sudden willingness to enable expropriation of Venezuela’s indigenous lands; it’s a futile attempt at mitigating the country’s economic distress, with horrific outcomes for local native peoples.
In a tragic but unsurprising pattern, the foot-soldiers of these bourgeois regimes are themselves drawn from some of the most desperate sectors of the proletariat, and an overwhelming number of illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon are landless migrants pulled from coastal favelas and other regional slums.16 Conditions in these communities are often monstrous, and the urban poor who inhabit them are inevitably caught between the two poles of organized crime and drug cartels and the equally brutal “peacekeeping” forces sent in by the state to maintain order.17 These nightmarish conditions are the biggest driver of migration away from the cities and towards the rainforest, and capital and its bourgeois servants – both the owners of illegal development projects and the politicians presiding over “legitimate” ones – know exactly how to take advantage of the desperation of these strata of the proletariat. Indeed, these workers co-opted into lives of terrible violence and exploitation are as much victims of the same vicious capitalist system themselves.
The equally horrifying dimension to these imperialist ventures is their potential for catastrophic ecological consequences; the Amazon – which ranges over 2 million square miles – is by far the world’s largest rainforest, and thus plays a pivotal role in regulating the planet’s weather systems and carbon dioxide levels. Deforestation by logging and mining operations is hence responsible for a tangle of dire consequences, ranging from its own hefty carbon emissions to large-scale freak weather, droughts, and famines.18 The magnitude of these effects cannot be overestimated, and in conjunction with similar international developments poses a serious existential threat to the human race. The only way to stem this bleak progression is to sever the profit motive that drives it, and to abolish the long-expired system of world capitalism.
It is also for similar reasons that blood-and-soil calls for indigenous sovereignty – popular on the left – are a utopian vision under capitalism. As we have argued, the brutal policies that mark the era of imperialism – from endless war to vicious expropriation and ecologically catastrophic plunder – are an inevitable consequence of capitalism’s crises, and the situation in the Amazon is no different. Regional policies of preservation of indigenous land – long fought for by on-the-ground activists in Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia – were abandoned on a dime and without an ounce of difficulty as soon as it became necessary for the bourgeoisie. This should not be a surprise to communists; no elected politician or legal regulation can possibly hope to overcome capitalism’s contradictions and the corresponding demands of bourgeois rule. National self-determination as a slogan – which essentially attempts to combat the symptoms of capitalism without combatting capitalism itself and would seek to liberate the Amazon’s native peoples merely by demarcating land on ethnic grounds – is therefore a futile errand, and offers no solution to capital’s vicious onslaught. The only way out lies in the solidarity of the entire international proletariat, united in a revolutionary struggle against capitalism. Indeed, the ongoing atrocities against the native peoples of the Amazon are bound to only worsen as the global capitalist crisis deepens, and, for the Amazon – as everywhere – the end of capitalism cannot come soon enough.
Atticus
14 August 2019
Internationalist Communist Tendency

Only the Working Class Can Save the Planet

Only in a communist world without states and borders will human beings be able to really tackle the damage that has been done to their natural surroundings.
"Even an entire society, a nation or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth, they are simply its holders, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations..." - Marx
Human beings cannot exist without disturbing the natural environment. It is also historical fact that some human communities destroyed the very basis of their own existence. Take the ancient city states of Mesopotamia with their great irrigation projects which diverted the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This allowed a great increase in population and the first urban communities which, however, collapsed one by one as the waters became saline and the soil turned into desert. There must have been tremendous human suffering, not to mention class war between the haves and have-nots in the process.
But today's environmental crisis is of a very different order. For a start it is global and threatens the very existence of life on planet earth. It is also multi-pronged. From water pollution to plastic waste islands the size of Texas, from poisoned rivers and degraded soils to the over 80,000 chemicals now in existence, the quality and scope of life on planet earth is being reduced. But the fact of global warming due to carbon emissions is now undeniable (unless you are Donald Trump). The knock-on effects and likely consequences are so serious it's no wonder that the Green movement is becoming more radical and gaining momentum. Like a modern-day Joan of Arc, Greta Thunberg's warnings to the powers-that-be (from the Swedish parliament to the G7 and now the United Nations) are sparking a wider protest movement. The outrage is palpable. The cause is admirable.
Unfortunately for those who believe this movement is everything, there is no way that it can force the "self-interested politicians" to "to take immediate transformative action towards a society that can sustain us and the planet" [activists' invitation for people to join the 20th September protests]. It is not just about numbers of protesters. In places where the movement takes hold governments and politicians may well be pressured into adopting more radical environmental goals. Indeed they already are, although with questionable results. (As we know, China is now the world's largest carbon polluter and overall global carbon emissions are at an all-time high.) But as for any deeper "transformative action", the sort that could start to remedy the damage already done, that requires no less than revolutionary change. On a world scale. A revolution to overthrow capitalism.
More and more environmentalists agree with this. But...

What Does It Mean to Overthrow Capitalism?

First we need to understand what capitalism is. In a world where the 26 richest people own as much as the poorest 50% [Oxfam report 2019], it's easy to focus on getting rid of 'elites' in order to create a more just world. Certainly sequestrating the assets of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett will be part of any anti-capitalist revolution but that in itself won't alter the system that spawns such gross unfairness.
The heart of the matter is that capitalism does not produce things to satisfy human needs. It produces “commodities” to be sold in order to make a profit for the capitalists. Or rather the people employed by the capitalists produce the goods. The more commodities that are produced and sold, the more profit. (Hence all the market research and advertising campaigns.) It is an infernal cycle of endless growth or more precisely accumulation of capital where human beings are reduced to instruments of production on the one hand and consumers of the products on the other.
As for the natural environment, capitalism still treats it as a source of free raw materials or a barrier to be broken down in the search for more profit and a dump for toxic trash. Now they talk of 'sustainable' solutions. What they mean is sustainable for capitalism.
Even carbon emissions have been turned into commodities to be traded on financial markets. And every company worth its salt has a comforting sustainability statement to reassure its customers and investors. Some firms are so keen to present a Green image that they are encouraging workers to take the day off and join in the September protests.
No matter how many people change their lifestyle, there is no way that a consumer rebellion can get rid of capitalism. At best it could accelerate the phasing out of the traditional carbon polluters but at what cost? Increased dependence on rare earths mined by children with their bare hands in Namibia or Rwanda. There is a comforting illusion that smoke-free digital technology is carbon-neutral. On the contrary, "digital technologies now emit 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than civil aviation" [theshiftproject.org]. Life-style changing is a province confined to consumers who can afford to choose to pay more. This has absolutely nothing to do with overthrowing the capitalist system of production for profit based on workers' unpaid labour time.

Only the Working Class can Save the Planet from Capitalism

Capitalism will be abolished when the producers themselves — the world's working class — rise up against their position as wage slaves; when we organise production communally to directly provide for human needs. In such a world no individual can profit from the work of others since 'who does what' will be a matter of how best to allocate our collective labour time. Money will be unnecessary and tales of financial crashes leading to trade wars, human misery and real wars will belong to the past. Only in such a world — a communist world without states and borders — will human beings be able to really tackle the damage that has been done to their natural surroundings. Only then will we be able to devote the necessary time and effort to devising ways of living without destroying the natural basis for human existence.
No matter how 'democratic' the set-up, no government would act to abolish capitalism. A new world cannot come about simply through demonstrations, civil disobedience or other actions to pressurise the representatives of the capitalist class to act against their own interests.
On the other hand, crisis-torn capitalism itself is creating the conditions for a working class upsurge. Anyone who seriously wants to get rid of capitalism has no choice but to join with the internationalist communists and fight for the communist programme inside their school, university, workplace and local community as the battle between the haves and have-nots becomes a struggle for a new society.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 48) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

ICC on the Climate Crisis

Only the international class struggle can end capitalism’s drive towards destruction
One of the more popular banners on climate change protests reads: “System Change, not Climate Change”.
There is no question that the present system is dragging humanity towards an environmental catastrophe. The material evidence piles up every day: increasingly dangerous heatwaves, unprecedented wildfires in the Amazon, melting glaciers, floods, extinction of whole species – with the extinction of the human species as the ultimate result. And even if global warming were not happening, the soil, the air, the rivers and seas would continue to be poisoned and depleted of life.
No wonder that so many people, and above so many young people who face a menacing future, are deeply concerned about this situation and want to do something about it.
The wave of protests organised by Youth for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, the Green parties and the parties of the left are presented as a way forward. But those who are currently following their lead should ask themselves: why are these protests being so widely supported by those who manage and defend the present system? Why is Greta invited to speak to parliaments, governments, the United Nations?
Of course the likes of Trump, Bolsonaro or Farage constantly vilify Greta and the “eco-warriors”. They claim that climate change is a hoax and that measures to curb pollution are a threat to economic growth, above all in sectors like automobiles and fossil fuels. They are the unabashed defenders of capitalist profit.  But what about Merkel, Macron, Corbyn, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who have heaped praise on the climate protests: are they any less part of the present system?
Many of those taking part in the present protests would agree that the roots of ecological destruction lie in the system and that this is the capitalist system. But the organisations behind the protests, and the politicians who trumpet their hypocritical support for them, defend policies that hide the real nature of capitalism
Consider one of the main programmes the more radical among these politicians put forward: the so-called “New Green Deal”. It offers us a package of measures to be taken by the existing states, demanding massive capital investment to develop “non-polluting” industries that are supposed to be able to turn a decent profit. In other words: it’s framed entirely within the confines of the capitalist system. Like the New Deal of the 1930s, its aim is to save capitalism in its hour of need, not replace it.
What is the capitalist system?
Capitalism doesn’t disappear if it’s managed by state bureaucrats instead of private bosses, or if it paints itself green.
Capital is a world-wide relation between classes, based on the exploitation of wage labour and production for sale in order to realise profit. The constant search for outlets for its commodities calls forth ruthless competition between nation states for domination of the world market. And this competition demands that every national capital must expand or die. A capitalism that no longer seeks to penetrate the last corner of the planet and grow without limit cannot exist.  By the same token, capitalism is utterly incapable of cooperating on a global scale to respond to the ecological crisis, as the abject failure of all the various climate summits and protocols has already proved.
The hunt for profit, which has nothing to do with human need, is at the root of the despoliation of nature and this has been true since capitalism began. But capitalism has a history, and for the last hundred years it has ceased to be a factor for progress and has been plunged into a profound historic crisis. It is a civilisation in decay, as its economic base, forced to grow without limit, generates crises of overproduction that tend to become permanent.  And as the world wars and “Cold War” of the 20th century have demonstrated, this process of decline can only accelerate capital’s drive towards destruction. Even before the global massacre of nature became obvious, capitalism was already threatening to obliterate humanity through its incessant imperialist confrontations and wars, which are continuing today across a whole swathe of the planet from North Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan and India. Such conflicts can only be sharpened by the ecological crisis as nation states compete for dwindling resources, while the race to produce more and more nightmarish weapons – and above all, to use them - can only further pollute the planet. This unholy combination of capitalist devastation is already making parts of the planet uninhabitable and forcing millions to become refugees.
The necessity and possibility of communism
This system cannot overcome the economic crisis, the ecological crisis, or the drive towards war.
 It is therefore a deception to demand that the governments of the world “get their act together” and do something to save the planet - a demand put forward by all the groups organising the current marches and protests. The only hope for humanity lies in the destruction of the present system and the creation of a new form of society. We call this communism - a world-wide human community without nation states, without the exploitation of labour, without markets and money, where all production is planned on a global scale and with the sole motive of satisfying human need. It goes without saying that this society has nothing in common with the state-run form of capitalism we see in countries like China, North Korea or Cuba, or previously the Soviet Union.
Authentic communism is the only basis for establishing a new relationship between humanity and the rest of nature. And it’s not a utopia. It’s possible because capitalism has laid down its material foundations: the development of science and technology, which can be freed from their distortions under this system, and the global interdependence of all productive activity, which can be freed from capitalist competition and national antagonisms.
But above all it’s possible because capitalism is based on the formation of a class with nothing to lose but its chains, a class which has an interest both in resisting exploitation and overthrowing it: the international working class, the proletariat of all countries. This is a class which includes not only those who are exploited at work but also those studying to find a place in the labour market and those whom capital throws out of work and on to the scrap-heap.
 Citizens’ protests or workers’ struggle?
And it is here in particular that the ideology behind the climate marches serves to prevent us from grasping the means to fight against this system. It tells us, for example, that the world is in a mess because the “older generation” got used to consuming too much. But talking about generations “in general” obscures the fact that, yesterday and today, the problem lies with the division of society into two main classes, one, the capitalist class or bourgeoisie, which has all the power, and one far larger class which is exploited and deprived of all power of decision, even in the most “democratic” of countries. It’s the impersonal mechanisms of capital that have got us into the current mess, not the personal behaviour of individuals or the greed of a previous generation.
The same goes for all the talk about the “people” or the “citizens” as the force that can save the world. These are meaningless categories which cover up antagonistic class interests. The way out of a system which cannot exist without the exploitation of one class by another can only take place through the revival of the class struggle, which starts with workers defending their most basic interests against the attacks on living and working conditions inflicted by all governments and all bosses in response to the economic crisis – attacks which are also more and more being justified in the name of protecting the environment. This is the only basis for the working class developing a sense of its own existence against all the lies which tell us that it’s already an extinct species.  And it’s the only basis for the class struggle fusing the economic and political dimensions - drawing the link between economic crisis, war, and ecological disaster, and recognising that only a world-wide revolution can overcome them. 
In the lead-up to the First World War, hundreds of thousands marched in pacifist demonstrations. They were encouraged by the “democratic” ruling classes because they spread the illusion that you could have a peaceful capitalism. Today the illusion is being spread far and wide that you can have a green capitalism. And again: pacifism, with its appeal to all good men and true, hid the fact that only the class struggle can really oppose war – as it proved in 1917-18, when the outbreak of the Russian and German revolutions obliged the rulers of the world to bring the war to a rapid close. Pacifism has never stopped wars, and the current ecological campaigns, by peddling false solutions to the climate disaster, must be understood as an obstacle to its real solution.
International Communist Current
27 August 2019