Contribution to the development of an ecosocialist program

By Fourth International

23 February 2022 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Fourth International — This text was presented to open a discussion on the international situation at the International Committee meeting and will form the basis for future elaboration.

1. Pull the emergency brake

The ecocidal accumulation of capital threatens the very conditions of human life on the planet.

The Covid pandemic confirms this, insofar as the increase in zoonoses over the last forty years is attributable to the destruction of ecosystems. The global ecological limits of sustainable human development have been crossed in several areas (climate, biodiversity, nitrogen and land use). They are in the process of being crossed in chemical and plastic pollution, while there is great uncertainty about other key factors of sustainability (freshwater resources, fine-particle pollution, the phosphorus cycle, etc.). Capitalist progress has always been incompatible with the rational management of exchanges of matter between humanity and the rest of nature, but the current situation is unprecedented. The system’s basic productivism (which necessarily implies consumerism) has become a destructive telluric force that has brought the Earth into a new geological era - the Anthropocene. The dangers are enormous, but Capital continues its course, despite scientific warnings. The catastrophe is deepening. On the one hand, it is hitting the working classes harder and harder, especially in the global South. On the other hand, the capitalists are taking advantage of the ecological crisis to increase their privileges beyond measure, increasingly resorting to violence to defend them. A new far right is banking on the elimination of the poor as a “way out” of the ecological crisis. The Malthusian spectre of a plunge into barbarism is growing. Only the convergent struggles of the exploited and oppressed will be able to stop it. But these struggles are and will be increasingly overdetermined by the ecological crisis which objectively imposes a radical reduction in the extraction of materials and the final consumption of energy. Those who fight for emancipation must draw all the conclusions from this. The old perspective of “lifting capitalist barriers to the (quantitative) development of the productive forces” must therefore be explicitly abandoned. In the Anthropocene framework, anti-capitalism requires breaking the destructive force of capitalist productivism, its extractivism, its colonialism and its patriarchal ideology of “domination of nature”. The brakes must be pulled urgently both to combat social inequalities and to open the way to qualitative development centred on caring for people through the satisfaction of real human needs, disalienated from commodities, democratically determined in careful respect for ecosystems.

2. The fiasco of capitalist policies

Global warming articulates most of the capitalist ecological destruction. It is accelerating and poses the threat of rapid upheaval that threatens the lives of hundreds of millions of people, the livelihoods of billions more, and the survival of ecosystems that are the product of millions of years of natural history. Climate scientists have been sounding the alarm for more than thirty years, but capitalist policymakers have done nothing to curb or even limit the catastrophe. Worse, their climate policies are widening inequalities between North and South and between rich and poor within countries. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. They have increased by 60% since 1990. More fossil CO2 has been emitted in three decades (1990-2019), including no less than 25 “climate summits”, than in the 240 years from 1750 to 1990. The Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in Rio (1992) with the aim of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. It was not until 2015 (Paris, COP21) that governments adopted on paper the ceiling of 1.5°C of warming compared to the pre-industrial era. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities is at the heart of the Framework Convention. It should have guided the equitable sharing of the remaining “carbon budget” between North and South, but the US and the EU had it de facto abandoned in Copenhagen. As a result, each government is encouraged to do less than the others, so that the commitments communicated at COP26 (Glasgow) put the planet on a catastrophic path to at least 2.4°C of warming. The UK presidency of the conference is trying to maintain the myth that the COP machinery can still deliver on the 1.5°C target, but nobody is fooled. COP26 could not even decide on an immediate halt to coal use (a halt even advocated by the very capitalist International Energy Agency). Glasgow is in fact a complete failure: a failure of the presidency; a failure of the “bottom up” process concocted in Paris to “raise the ambitions” of states; a failure of neoliberal attempts to combat global warming through market mechanisms; and a failure of the climate economists who hide their neoliberal dogmas in mathematical models, in order to disguise them as Science. More fundamentally, this failure is that of capitalism, which claims that the world economy could both continue to grow and therefore consume more and more energy - in order to produce more and more - and decarbonize by replacing the 80% fossil fuel-based energy system with a new renewable energy system. However, all things being equal, the construction of the new system necessarily requires an increase in fossil energy consumption, and therefore in greenhouse gas emissions: it is therefore impossible to simultaneously “boost growth” and cancel the “net emissions” due to the combustion of fossil fuels, as this is a physical impossibility. But the law of profit takes precedence over the laws of physics for capitalist leaders. The failure of their climate policy is the clearest and most dramatic illustration of the bankruptcy of this productivist system, of its monstrous irrationality and its criminal class nature.

3. False and dangerous solutions

In its logic of value accumulation, all that is left for capital to do as a “solution” is to try to push back the physical barriers through technological headlong rush. By perverting the objective of “carbon neutrality” or “zero net emissions”, it is deviating from the real but limited possibility of absorbing the share of carbon emissions that will remain inevitable. In order to reduce emissions and try to mop up the excess CO2, while continuing to extract profits and pile up dead capital, the productivist sorcerers’ apprentices compete with each other in terms of recipes. From a technical point of view, each of their pseudo-solutions is fraught with specific contradictions: Considering natural gas as “transitional energy” is obviously a farce; apart from the always possible accidents and the danger of proliferation of atomic weapons, the only “sustainability” of civil nuclear power is that of its waste; geological capture-sequestration implies pharaonic works and a hazardous bet on the watertightness of the reservoirs; energy-intensive hydrogen is above all a means of painting the chemical, petroleum and nuclear industries in green. As a temporary and relatively paltry stopgap measure, the massive planting of trees increases the already excessive pressure on land use and freshwater reserves, thus putting human food, biodiversity and climate protection in competition; reproducing on Earth the nuclear fusion that the Sun achieves remotely and safely (by recycling its waste), only makes sense from the point of view of the increasing concentration and centralization of capital and its power (in any case, this technology would come too late to respond to the climate emergency).

From a social point of view - neoliberalism obliges - the implementation of these recipes is entrusted entirely to “green” finance which, in the name of “net zero by 2050”, is offered enormous opportunities for speculation, greenwashing and appropriation by dispossession, at the expense in particular of indigenous peoples and rural communities. At the same time, governments are increasingly using neoliberal mechanisms (incentives, taxes, etc.) to penalize mass consumption behaviour and thus open up opportunities for green capitalism, which deepens inequalities.

Generally speaking, the urgency and scale of the emissions reductions that need to be made very quickly to stay below 1.5°C without going overboard (by 2030, 5%/year on average worldwide for one chance in two of staying below 1.5°C; 10%/year for two chances in three...) are such that these pseudo-solutions are doomed to failure. This is why there is a growing danger that the system will embark on the worst kind of technocratic folly: geoengineering i.e. the deployment of devices to reduce solar radiation entering the atmosphere. This geoengineering would not reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2 (so it would not stop the acidification of waters that threatens marine life), but it would open up a new field of valorization for capital. It would also sharpen the rivalry between the imperialist powers, which could manipulate the climate according to their geostrategic interests, at the expense of the poorest peoples.

4. The objective necessity of revolution

All the conditions seem to be in place for the catastrophe to turn into a cataclysm. Only a world ecosocialist revolution could stop it, but it is not on the agenda. Capital is strengthening its grip everywhere, the unions are clinging to the capitalist revival as if it were a lifeline, social movements are on the defensive, democratic and social rights are receding, the political field is shifting to the right and to the far right in most countries...

Capitalism has plunged humanity into such a dark situation before, especially on the eve of the first world conflict. As nationalist hysteria gripped the masses and social democracy, betraying its pledge to respond to war with revolution, gave the green light to slaughter, Lenin defined the situation as “objectively revolutionary” in the sense that only revolution could stop the slaughter. Hence the slogan “Bread, peace, land”. History proved him right: the revolution in Russia and its tendency to spread forced the bourgeoisies to put an end to the massacre. The comparison obviously has its limits. It is one thing to heroically brave death so as not to risk one’s life by killing other human beings for the profit of the gun merchants, the imperialist division of the world and the glories of the generals. Another thing is to rise up against capital because, by incorporating the labour power that produces surplus value, it dehumanizes proletarians to the point of making them alienated instruments of the destruction of their “inorganic body”, thus endangering future generations. The mediations towards revolutionary action are infinitely more complex here. Nevertheless, the same awakening of consciousness is necessary. Yet in the face of the ecological crisis, an anti-capitalist revolution is even more objectively necessary. It is this fundamental judgement that must serve as a sub-base for the elaboration of a programme, a strategy and a tactic, because there is no other way.

Faced with the climate crisis in particular, there are therefore two traps to avoid: that of an abstract revolutionary maximalism, on the one hand, and that of a pragmatism obsessed with immediate responses, on the other. The first, in the name of ideological purity, leads to sectarian propagandism and isolation; the second, in the name of feasibility, tends to accommodate green reformism, and thus green capitalism as such - including in its imperialist relationship with the global South.

5. A transitional programme for today.

Bridging the huge distance between what is objectively necessary and what seems subjectively possible requires a programme that bridges the gap between the present situation and the conquest of power. A programme with both a set of proposals that outline a global anti-capitalist response to the objective situation and forms of action based on the democratic self-organization of the exploited and oppressed. A programme whose demands are feasible within the capitalist framework, but whose overall coherence makes it incompatible with the normal functioning of the system, so that it leads to the conclusion that it is necessary to seize political power in order to revolutionize society from top to bottom. This approach of the Transitional Programme is more relevant than ever. But meeting the challenges of the 21st century implies a decisive novelty: the programme must organize a global decrease in final energy consumption, and hence in material production and transport. This is the sine qua non for rebalancing the Earth’s energy balance and thus for stabilizing the climate.

This “degrowth” is obviously not a societal project, it is an objective physical constraint to which humanity must submit for a certain period of time. While it is obvious that certain types of production must grow to meet the huge unsatisfied needs of very large sections of humanity, they can only grow within a decreasing global envelope of final energy consumption. This fact cannot be circumvented: it must be placed at the centre of the programme from the outset because it is at the centre of the climate/ecological crisis that now overdetermines the entire social-political situation. “Only the truth is revolutionary”, said Rosa Luxembourg. This means not only that lies are counter-revolutionary but also that truth has the power to direct the masses towards revolution. The need for material degrowth is a key part of this truth, but only a part. The full truth - the whole truth - is that the physical constraint of degrowth is necessary because the capitalist social mode of production has pushed humanity beyond ecological limits, and will push it into the abyss if the productivist illusions are not uprooted. The necessary degrowth must therefore be both ecological and social - ecosocialist. It must strengthen the social struggle to make the real perpetrators of the disaster pay - the capitalists who enrich and strengthen themselves through the catastrophe. It must encourage the struggle for the sharing of wealth, knowledge and power between rich and poor, not only between North and South, but also within societies in the North and South. It has to be shown that putting the principle of differentiated responsibilities and capacities on ice is the materialization of the capitalists’ will to go in exactly the opposite direction. It must be made perfectly clear that, if these vampires are left to their own devices, if the poor do not make the capitalists pay for degrowth, this will be imposed by the human catastrophe in the socially barbaric form of the elimination of some of the poor for the benefit of the rich. Physics do not negotiate...The political expression of this “solution” is fascism. So the choice is clear: ecosocialism or barbarism. The conclusion is also clear: we need an ecosocialist transition programme for a just degrowth that abolishes exploitation and oppression.

6. The rich are destroying the climate

To the ideologues who claim that the ecological/climate crisis is completely blurring the lines between social camps, we reply that the fight for the climate is a class struggle in the most immediate sense of the term: a struggle between rich and poor. Staying below 1.5°C means that each human being will emit 2.3 tons of CO2/year on average in 2030. Together, the richest 1% of the world’s population currently emits almost twice as much as the poorest 50%. To reach 2.3t/person/year while respecting responsibilities and differentiated capacities, the 1% would have to divide their emissions by thirty, while the poorest 50% could multiply them by three.

The climate policies of governments since COP21 (2015, Paris) go in the other direction: the share of global emissions of the 1% has risen from 13% in 1990 to 15% in 2015; it will reach 16% in 2030. It will then be 25% higher than in 1990, and sixteen times higher than the global average. The share of the poorest 50%, meanwhile, will rise from 8% to 9% in 2030, with per capita emissions well below 2.3 tCO2/year. In fact, the reduction commitments by 2030 are inversely proportional to income: the 1% will do one-twentieth, the 10% one-eighth, and the middle-income 40% one-sixth of what climate justice should dictate. Capitalist climate policies that target the carbon footprint of mass consumption leave the much larger carbon footprint of luxury consumption (superyachts, private jets, multiple residences, SUVs, space tourism...) in the shade. 50% of air travel is done by the richest 1%, but only 1% of climate action is targeted at the airline sector. The 1% also take advantage of the opacity of finance to hide the carbon footprint of their capitalist investments. In the face of this, the major injustice is that the 50% (who have a marginal responsibility for global warming!) will only use one thirteenth of the carbon budget in 2030 to which they would be entitled if the principle of “differentiated responsibilities” were respected. This injustice is compounded by the fact that imperialism refuses to compensate for “loss and damage” in the South, and does not honour the commitment to pay one hundred billion dollars per year to the Green Climate Fund. However, the injustice to the rich in the North and the South affects all working classes to varying degrees. The 50% are in relatively similar situations: by 2030, in four out of five of the major emitting countries (US, EU, UK, China) the emissions of the poorest 50% will remain slightly above or slightly below 2.3t/pers/year (in India they will remain much lower). At the global level, the proportionately largest emission reductions will be imposed on the lowest income earners in developed countries. This data dots the possibility of a majority eco-social bloc on a class line. Certainly, the 40% of the so-called “middle class” must cut their emissions by more than half in the EU and Britain, by three in China, and by about four in the US to stay below 1.5°C. Winning a social majority will therefore not be without conflict and sometimes painful revisions. But the strategic conclusion to be drawn from the figures is not that “unpopular” market measures must be imposed on workers in the North to allow the South to develop. Experience shows that such measures are ineffective. They can only divide those who need to be united, while playing into the hands of climate-negationist demagogues. The strategic conclusion is that it is necessary to fight to make the rich pay in the North and the South and that these struggles create the conditions for clarifications that will allow us to progress towards the majority ecosocial bloc. This is what has been shown by the Yellow Vests revolt in France which, starting from the refusal of a fuel tax, has decanted to the left to the point of sometimes joining the climate movement (“end of the world, end of the month, same fight”), and even with the feminist movement against violence against women.

7. Some urgent ecosocial measures

Developing this strategic conclusion requires a plan of structural reforms, anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist. The ecological crisis obviously requires a specifically ecological programme, based on sound science. But this programme will not solve anything without a package of measures that makes the rich and the capitalists pay to repair society, nature and the relationship between society and nature. In the sphere of consumption, the carbon intensity of the lifestyle of the rich is far greater than that of the lifestyle of the working classes. In the sphere of production, the carbon efficiency of the public sector is much higher than that of the private sector, and that of agroecology is infinitely higher than that of agribusiness. In the sphere of social reproduction, the promotion of autonomy and respect favours a culture of care for the living, opposed to the capitalist-patriarchal ideology of domination and death. In general, demands that reduce the capture of surplus value by the rich - whether to finance their consumption, to finance their investments, to increase their hold on the world and on bodies, or to create new financial markets - respond not only to the social emergency, but also to the ecological emergency. These measures are part of the real possibility that all people can lead a good life by consuming little energy and reducing overall impacts on ecosystems.

They can be grouped under five headings:

1. “Urgent regulations, at the expense of the rich and their businesses.” In the face of governments and the media who are constantly urging us to “change our behaviour”, make immediate demands that target the consumption of the rich: private jets, superyachts, space tourism, Formula 1... must be outlawed; the production of SUVs must be stopped without delay; air travel must be blamed (”flight shame”) and subjected to an annual quota. In the face of the failure of market mechanisms, use the precedent of the Montreal Protocol (phasing out CFCs, with support funds to help adaptation in the countries of the South) to demand strict regulatory measures, at the expense of the capitalists: stop methane leaks (stopping methane leaks from the gas grid, oil wells and coal mines is a “one shot” but presents no technical difficulties, and corresponds to 0.5°C of warming mitigation), stop fluorinated gas emissions (from 1990 to 2019, 250% increase in the release of these gases whose radiative power is several hundred to several thousand times greater than that of CO2, and which remain in the atmosphere for up to several tens of thousands of years), zero deforestation and stop the destruction of wetlands. Ban on the exploration/exploitation of new fossil reserves, binding phasing out of coal, gas and oil power plants (in line with the IEA and IPCC timing), immediate agro-ecological reform of agricultural policies (according to Via Campesina’s Climate Programme), transformation of transport modes (development of public transport, reduction of the place of the private car...)

2. “Tax justice, social justice = climate justice”. A dollar in the pocket of the 1% = thirty times more CO2 than a dollar in the pocket of the 50%, and fifteen times more than in that of the 40%. Introduction of a maximum wage and increase in the minimum wage. Extension of social protection. Free services (water, heating, lighting, urban mobility) up to the level of basic needs, with rapidly progressive pricing beyond that, to hit waste and luxury consumption (the applications of this model on water, for example, beat the liberal propaganda of the “tragedy of the commons”: free services encourage self-control, not abuse!) Re-fund the public sector. Immediate payment of the hundred billion dollars per year of the Green Climate Fund, in the form of grants (not loans - no to strangling the South with debt!). Compensation for loss and damage. The resources of the countries of the South must be cut off, no to “carbon offsetting”, the debts of the South must be abolished, patents on green technologies must be lifted, ... to enable people to satisfy their needs with renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and production :  the solar resource must be at the service of the people. To release the gigantic global resources needed to fight the catastrophe, abolish banking secrecy, register fortunes, abolish tax havens, tax large sums of money, tax financial transactions, re-establish progressive taxation according to the system in force in the United States under the New Deal (a 95% levy on the last income bracket).

3. “Democracy to regain control of our lives, to take care of humans and the Earth.”

Ecofeminism : Putting care for humans and the living at the centre, recognizing and valuing the work of health, education, care of the elderly and/or dependent people, care of young children, restoration of ecosystems, activities that are essential to life and have low emissions, which is today invisibilized and devalued by patriarchal capitalism.  right and free access to abortion and contraception, fight against sexist and sexual violence.

Democracy: obligation of popular consultation on projects with environmental impact (extractivism, compensation...). Control and veto rights for workers on the organization, content and purpose of work (against programmed obsolescence, repairable and recyclable products, etc.). Control and veto rights of indigenous peoples and rural communities over their territories and its resources.

4. “Produce less, work less, live better.” Suppression of useless (advertising, disposable gadgets) or harmful (armaments, accelerated obsolescence) production. War on war and militarism. Abolition of armies, both clients and armed wing of fossil capital against the people. Maximum localization of production to eliminate socially useless transport. Absolute guarantee of collective reconversion without loss of wages for workers in socially and ecologically useful activities, under workers’ control. Stop consumerist alienation as a miserable compensation for miserable human relations. Non-gendered sharing and socialisation of tasks. Once the material conditions for a comfortable life are guaranteed to all, time, social relations and immersion in nature are the real wealth. Relaunch the anti-productivist struggle for the radical collective reduction of working time, without loss of pay or increase in work rates. Only a policy that is resolutely committed to a new, truly human civilization can create the societal conditions that are conducive to the large-scale questioning of unsustainable individual behaviour, particularly in the field of leisure and food (with a drastic reduction in meat consumption in particular).

5. “Disarming the Men who do not like life”. We will not get out of capitalism, we will not stop the catastrophe by multiplying alternative local experiences. Saving the climate and biodiversity will remain a chimera as long as capital keeps its hand on the key sectors. These must be socialized through expropriation, starting with energy and finance. To take up the challenge of the democratic planning that is indispensable at all levels (from local to global) while respecting “differentiated responsibilities” requires the conquest of power and the construction of a new type of power network, based on the mobilization of the popular classes and controlled by them. A network of power inspired by the experience of the Paris Commune to regain democratic control over the production of social existence, to equitably reduce emissions for all, to repair ecosystems and to ensure a comfortable and energy-efficient life for all.

8. Building an ecosocialist hegemony

The “Contribution to the development of an ecosocialist programme in the framework of the necessary reduction of global material production” is not a pure propaganda exercise, but a guide for action. Action requires a strategic hypothesis. It is a truism to say that the mode of production of social existence will not be changed without the conscious participation of producers. How do we train workers to counter the productivist madness on which their daily existence depends? This is the crucial question. The answer can only come from struggles and the convergence of struggles. We have to work systematically on this, which implies building inventive militant teams in the different social movements, capable of exchanging and accumulating experience, knowledge and know-how. Despite the very defensive situation, this strategy must be ambitiously coupled with a battle for hegemony in society. The double historical failure of social democracy and Stalinism has certainly plunged the socialist project into a deep crisis. But the ethical message that has always underpinned this project can resonate more strongly than ever, for the simple reason that the ecological crisis is undermining our health and endangering our survival and that of our children. Capitalism is drowning the world, its beauty, its riches “in the icy waters of selfish calculation”. The tireless denunciation of this absurd and appalling reality can on occasion be transformed on a mass scale into a powerful categorical imperative opening up gaps in the class collaboration of the “pro-growth” trade union leaderships. Only chance will decide when. We can only prepare for it. The chances of success will depend on the uncompromising radicality of the struggles of those who are practically at the forefront of the ecosocialist struggle today: youth, indigenous peoples, peasants and women.