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`Productivism' or liberation? Socialists debate consumerism

By Ben Courtice, Melbourne

November 2, 2010 -- In a recent seminar on trade unions and the climate movement, I observed a surprising disagreement between some of the socialists present. It was started by a comment from Melbourne University academic (and Socialist Alliance activist) Hans Baer, who suggested that the “treadmill of production and consumption” had to be challenged, that we need to challenge consumerism and the alienation of work that makes people buy things to feel better.

Liz Ross of Socialist Alternative took umbrage at this, declaring that workers should create and enjoy wonderful technological products, tearing down a straw figure that Hans was supposedly arguing to stultify the creativity of the working class.

Turning the tide of oil in US and world politics

By Dan La Botz

October 22, 2010 -- The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico represents the latest in a series of atrocities committed by petroleum companies against the environment and against humanity. Yet, terrible and tragic as the BP spill is, it is merely a marginal event in the long and sordid history of the oil companies in US and world history. The petroleum companies have been at the centre of US politics for a hundred years, determining its domestic agenda, its environmental policy and its foreign policy. To be a US politician was to be baptised in oil. To be an admiral or a general was to be a warrior around the globe for the petroleum industry.

Foreign policy

By the 1920s, with the rise of the internal combustion engine and the automobile, and the conversion of the US Navy from coal to oil, petroleum became the most sought after commodity in the world. Oil became a strategic commodity, a necessity of modern life and modern warfare. From that time on, the oil corporations moved to the centre of US politics. President Warren G. Harding’s cabinet was known as the “oil gang”, and the cabinet-level corruption involved in the attempt of private parties and corporations to get at the navy oil reserves led to the Teapot Dome scandal, for which Harding’s administration is best remembered.

The ecology of consumption -- excerpt from John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York's `The Ecological Rift'

October 20, 2010 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, with the permission of Monthly Review Press, is excited to offer its readers an excerpt from the The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth, an important new book by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York. Links' readers are urged to purchase the book. Please click here to order your copy. You can download (in PDF) the chapter, "The ecology of consumption", below the following introduction, or read it on screen.

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The limits to energy efficiency under capitalism

By Simon Butler

October 9, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- It is close to an article of faith among environmentalists that using less energy is a big part of the solution to climate change. Energy efficiency is often said to be the “low hanging fruit” of climate policy. On face value, the benefits seem obvious.

The knowledge needed to make big gains in efficiency already exists. Using less energy will save consumers and industry money, whereas other policies will be costly. And most importantly, lower energy use could make a big dent in global greenhouse gas emissions.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency both promote energy efficiency as an important climate measure.

However, strong evidence has emerged that new energy efficient technologies alone won’t do much to cut emissions. Indeed, in a capitalist economy, it’s very likely that energy efficiency gains will lead to higher energy use, not less.

Hugo Blanco urges Greens: End capitalism before it ends us

September 16, 2010 -- via Socialist Resistance -- Hugo Blanco, a longstanding leader of Peruvian peasant struggles and fighter for Indigenous people's rights is touring Britain as a guest of Socialist Resistance and Green Left [an ecosocialist group within the Green Party of England and Wales].

On September 11, 2010, Blanco spoke at the successful Green Left/Socialist Resistance fringe meeting at the Green Party conference. Blanco started by criticising "biblical Marxism" -- adhering to Marxist works as if they were holy scripture. He talks about his long personal struggle for social justice and against oppression. In a comment at a meeting at the Venezuelan consulate in London, he explained that we need to put an end to capitalism before it puts an end to us.

Disaster management: New Zealand, Haiti and the ‘Cuban way’

Earthquake damage in Christchurch. Although similar in magnitude to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed 250,000, nobody died in the September 5, 2010, New Zealand quake.

By Reihana Mohideen, Manila

September 8, 2010 -- Comparisons must be made between the impact of the September 5 earthquake on Christchurch, New Zealand, and the quake that hit Haiti in January. The nature of a global system that maintains these inequalities should be exposed over and over again. In Haiti – with a population of around 9 million – some 250,000 people died in the earthquake and (according to government figures) 200,000 were injured and 1 million were made homeless. Some eight months later disaster still grips peoples lives. Fortunately, but in a staggering contrast, no lives were lost in New Zealand, although the earthquake was of a similar -- but slightly more powerful --- magnitude (7 on the Richter scale).

Did consumers cause the BP oil disaster? Debunking the `consumer sovereignty' superstition


“So said Tony Hayward” is a music video featuring imagery dredged from the internet, based on a song written by William Carroll of the Department of Sociology at University of Victoria, Canada. It's a tango about the BP oil spill (April 20-July 15, 2010) and its disastrous impacts, focused around the story of BP CEO Tony Hayward's hapless efforts to spin and manage a massive, and televisually spectacular, environmental catastrophe (to learn more, visit http://www.socialistproject.ca/leftstreamed/ls65.php).

By Ian Angus

Rehabilitating utopia and saving the future

By Ben Courtice

August 29, 2010 -- Blind Carbon Copy [BCC] -- Socialism was conceived as a creative and idealistic movement, but lost its way for most of the 20th century. Recapturing this imaginative energy can help find solutions to such huge threats as climate change. This article started as a short impromptu speech I gave to launch the third edition of the Australian Socialist Alliance's Climate Charter.

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Socialism used to be a rallying point for idealists, utopians, dreamers and those who were simply hopeful. It carried an almost millenarian promise of redemption and salvation. More importantly, it allowed its advocates to exercise their imagination. If socialism was to democratically realise the wishes of the common working people, why should they be restrained in their wishes?

Venezuela: Land reform, food sovereignty and agroecology

Urban food garden, Caracas.

By Alan Broughton

August 20, 2010 -- A massive transformation of agriculture is occurring in Venezuela, a transformation that has lessons for every other country in the world. The Law of the Land and Agrarian Development, the Law of Food Sovereignty and Security and the Law of Integrated Agricultural Health set out the agenda (they can be found on www.mat.gob.ve, in Spanish). The policies are based on the premises that farmers should have control of their land and product, that the country should produce its own food, and that chemical fertilisers and pesticides should not be part of agriculture.

Land in Venezuela has been in the hands of about 500 families and corporations since the 1800s and worked by an impoverished peasantry. Much of the land was underutilised as cattle ranching, pulpwood plantations, export crops such as sugar cane, or left idle. Most food was imported. This land is gradually being taken over by the government and handed to local communities who have been fighting for it for two centuries.

Pakistan: The flood disaster and the way out


By the Labour Party Pakistan (Karachi) and the National Trade Union Federation

August 20, 2010 -- The recent floods represent the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history. The country has been devastated from the northern areas to its southern tip. The state, stripped of its capacity to meet peoples’ needs by neoliberalism and militarism alike, has been found wanting—both in its longstanding failure to maintain existing infrastructure, and in its response to the calamity.

The grassroots relief efforts that have emerged across the country are heartening, but a crisis of this magnitude can only be handled by an institution with the resources and reach of the federal government. As in all disasters, the assistance of the military will be necessary—but this must be subject to civilian oversight, and must not be exploited to glorify the army at the expense of the government. The military’s relative strength is a direct legacy of pro-amy federal budgets, and we remember too well the failures of the Musharraf government in 2005.

Britain: What now for the Green Party?

By Peter Shield

August 17, 2010 -- The Green Party of England and Wales has made some major breakthroughs over the couple of years, the election of Caroline Lucas to the British parliament was one of the few bright points on an otherwise dismal election night on May 6, 2010. At a local level the Green Party now has just over 120 councillors and the two members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The problem however is that the election showed up how patchy and locally concentrated its support base actually is. With the Autumn party conference approaching what are challenges facing the Green Party.

Pakistan flood catastrophe: West gives `billions for killing, little for life'


[Readers can donate to help flood victims via the Australian trade unions' aid agency APHEDA at http://www.apheda.org.au/news/1281331224_14992.html.]

By John Passant

August 15, 2010 -- The floods in Pakistan have threatened the lives and safety of more than 20 million people. Millions have lost everything. Now hunger and disease haunt the country. Dysentery and cholera are gaining a  foothold as people without homes starve and kids without Western help die.

The US gives the Pakistan government US$1 billion a year to fight "militants". It has increased its flood aid contribution from $10 million to $25 million. That’s right. Its aid figures is millions, not billions.

That’s because for US imperialism cowering the world before its might is much more important than providing aid to people affected by the floods.

Is Africa still being looted? World Bank dodges its own research

Oil riches and poverty in the Niger Delta.

By Patrick Bond

August 15, 2010The continent’s own elites, together with the West and now China, are still making Africans progressively poorer, thanks to the extraction of raw materials. Reinvestment is negligible and the prices, royalties and taxes paid are inadequate to compensate the wasting away of Africa’s natural wealth. Anti-extraction campaigns by (un)civil society are the only hope for a reversal of these neocolonial relations.

Though it’s easy to prove, even using the World Bank’s main study of natural resource economics, the looting allegation is controversial. When I made it during a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) interview last week, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa Shanta Devarajan, immediately contradicted me, claiming (twice) that I am not in command of the “facts”.

Karl Polanyi provides `a vital intellectual resource' for ecosocialists

To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity "labor power" cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity. In disposing of a man's labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity "man" attached to that tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed -- from Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation (1944)

Pakistan: Use foreign debt repayments for flood-hit communities


[Readers can donate via the Australian trade unions' aid agency APHEDA at http://www.apheda.org.au/news/1281331224_14992.html.]

By the Labour Relief Campaign

August 13, 2010 -- Pakistan must refuse to pay foreign debt and divert the amount to the relief and rehabilitation of flood-hit communities. Instead of begging for much-needed aid for relief and rehabilitation, Pakistan must stand up and announce the unilateral suspension of repayment of foreign debts, owed to international finance institutions (IFIs) and donor countries. Currently Pakistan is paying about US$3 billion on debt servicing every year. Pakistan's present foreign debt of $54 billion is increasing. This act alone can bring most of the much-need support for the immediate relief of the flood victims.

iPhone 4: Capitalism, inbuilt obsolescence and `blood' phones

The high demand for coltan is helping fuel the bloody civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo as rival armies fight over reserves.

By Stuart Munckton

August 1, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- “Yes, the notable features with iPhone 4 — both the device and the iOS4 — are mostly tweaks”, said a June 22 review on the popular site BoingBoing.net. “But what tweaks they are.”

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit I have no idea what “iOS4” means. But my eye was caught by the admission that the iPhone 4, launched in Australia on July 29, was almost the same as the iPhone 3.

Corporations use “inbuilt obsolescence” as part of artificially creating markets. This means the products they sell are deliberately made to break down — so we have to keep buying more.

In the case of products tied to ongoing innovations, the trick has a variation. Makers will hold back innovations in order to release, a short while later, a new version of the same product with a few extra features.

`Water is life' -- General Assembly supports Bolivia's call for `the human right to water and sanitation'

Speech delivered by Ambassador Pablo Solón of the Plurinational State of Bolivia before the General Assembly of the United Nations on July 28, 2010.

[The historic resolution passed with 122 countries voting for it and 41 abstaining, but with no negative votes. See below for the 41 governments that abstained.]

* * *

Allow me to begin the presentation of this resolution by recalling that human beings are essentially water. Around two-thirds of our organism is comprised of water. Some 75% of our brain is made up of water, and water is the principal vehicle for the electrochemical transmissions of our body.

Our blood flows like a network of rivers in our body. Blood helps transport nutrients and energy to our organism. Water also carries from our cells waste products for excretion. Water helps to regulate the temperature of our body.

`Overpopulation' — a political weapon for conservatives

By Simon Butler

July 24, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- Forget about the climate science and the record high temperatures. Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has decided she doesn’t need a serious climate change policy to win the August 21 federal election. In its place, she kicked off her election campaign on July 18 with a “sustainable Australia” policy. It promised a future of low population growth, which “preserves our quality of life and respects our environment”.

Opposition leader and climate denier Tony Abbott was quick to say he fully agreed with this vision, but was even more committed to it than Gillard.

From a conservative point of view it makes sense to raise the spectre of overpopulation in this election campaign. Population control is the mother of all political diversion tactics. Population levels explain nothing about social problems. But they can be scapegoated for just about everything, from traffic jams and home prices to grocery bills and climate change.

Australia: `Sustainable population?' -- Scapegoating migrants and refugees for the capitalist system's ills

To read more on the discussion around population, click HERE.

By Graham Matthews

July 24, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- In one of her first policy changes after replacing Kevin Rudd as leader of the Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister Julia Gillard dumped Rudd’s idea of a “big Australia”. On June 26, Gillard said “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population”. Instead, she called for a “sustainable population”.

Almost four weeks on, however, Labor’s policy has no details — just lots of rhetoric designed to pander to fears that immigration (particularly asylum seekers) is causing a raft of social problems.

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