Socialists and “Green” politics – Letter and Reply

Earlier this year we received a letter from a reader of Socialist Appeal who says we put too much importance on one factor that contributes to climate change, human-induced emissions of “greenhouse” gases. In his answer Phil Mitchinson looks at the broader aspects of pollution, climate change and so on and stresses the need for a radical, socialist transformation of society if we are even to begin to tackle these vital problems.

Earlier this year we received a letter from a reader of Socialist Appeal who says we put too much importance on one factor that contributes to climate change, human-induced emissions of "greenhouse" gases. In his answer Phil Mitchinson looks at the broader aspects of pollution, climate change and so on and stresses the need for a radical, socialist transformation of society if we are even to begin to tackle these vital problems.

Letter to the Socialist Appeal

Dear Alan [Woods],

I have just read an article [Blair goes nuclear] by Phil Mitchinson, and I despair. Firstly we introduce Climate Change as being Anthropomorphic when a far from complete list would be the following: Cosmic ray flux, Solar magnetic cycles, Sunspot cycles, Meteorite impacts Cosmic dust Changing shape of the Earth's orbit (eccentricity), Changing axial tilt of the Earth (obliquity), Shorter duration 'wobbles' of the Earth upon its axis, Axial orientation of the Earth (precession), Orbital inclination of the Earth, The changing shape of the Earth (mean dynamic oblateness [J2]), The changing rotational velocity of the Earth's core, Changes in the Earth's magnetic field, Tectonic movements of the Earth, Volcanic eruptions, Changes in the circulation patterns of the oceans, Changes in ocean salinity and chemistry, Changes in ice-sheet stability (mass-balance of glaciers) and sea-ice thickness, Changes in atmospheric water vapour, the most important 'greenhouse' gas of all, Clouds and cloudiness, Natural variations in atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, Changing albedo (reflectivity of Earth) through landscape change, natural and human, Overall surface radiative energy fluxes, Changing vegetation, Natural biomass fires, agricultural and industrial fires, and their emissions, The emission of aerosols and particulates, both natural and human, The emission of tar balls, Human-induced emissions of 'greenhouse' gases, Known factors not listed, Unknown factors, Chaotic attractors, Non-linear feedback links for all of the above.

And now you want to jump on the "Go Green vote Blue" Notting Hill toffs Party and with Kyoto adjust 1 item i.e. Human-induced emissions of 'greenhouse' gases, of which we contribute less than 1.3% since the world began. Good grief.

I do believe Ted and yourself believed in a world of superabundance. I remember sitting in a Kemp Town pub discussing two men in a boat and a knife.

It must have been very disconcerting to find that Ted actually had the same philosophy as Julien Simon who stated that we could provide for all the peoples of the planet providing we had the energy. One has to remember that he won the very begrudging bet from the Sierra Club, Club of Rome, etc., Green fanatics on The Limits to Growth, which Ted argued against at the time. And that Simon won the bet.

Have you looked across the Channel or indeed to China? France generates 75% of its electricity by fission. If it were not for the Greens we would still have a nuclear industry ourselves. China is building 1 nuclear power station a month. I was in Yalta recently and met several French engineers who were on holiday from Cherbonyl and China. If we were to go nuclear it is only French engineers who could build our stations.

I find it really ironic that Socialists now argue that we have to limit the consumption of the working classes. No cars-public transport. No flights I could go on but it is so obvious. We used to argue for a higher standard of living. Are you saying that what capitalism has had rung from its paws for the benefit of working people is wrong and must be restricted. Are you saying that socialism will give people the Tory "Great Well Being".

The left is adopting Green Policies for the same reason David Cameron is. They are Petty Bourgeois bereft of ideology, lost any class basis, and have no clue on where to go to attract members. Unless of course you are the Socialist Workers Party, where you can ally yourself with charismatic one-man band showman and a bunch of fascists, and bankrupt your organisation.

The Socialist Party has gone down the drain on such a route. Do not follow them.


Brian, 5 June 2006


Dear Brian,

Alan Woods has forwarded to me your e-mail regarding my latest article/Socialist Appeal editorial. I will try to reply to the points you raise if only in brief.

There can be no doubt that climate change (and many other questions relating to the environment) assumes a greater importance with each passing day no matter what its causes. You list many contributory factors that play their part in the changing conditions in our weather, atmosphere, and so on. Before considering which of them is more important than another; or ordering them in any list; or outlining any action that may be taken to promote any positive features these changes may have; or to counteract their deleterious ones, you will agree, I am confident, that tsunamis, hurricanes, flood, melting glaciers, rising water levels, droughts and so on are vitally important questions for the present and the future of the human race, and that, therefore, they merit our attention.

Far from jumping on any bandwagon, either Cameron's, the SWP's, or the Greens', this issue has always been one of great import to the workers' movement internationally. How could it be otherwise? Socialism must concern itself with all questions facing mankind. Whilst those who are tied to the continuation of the capitalist system have little of interest to contribute to any discussion on the future of the planet - theirs is a doomed system, which stands in the way of humanity's progress - socialists must of course concern themselves with all aspects of life. The great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was fond of quoting the words of the Roman general and poet Terence, "as I am human, nothing human is alien to me."

If we are guilty of anything it is that we have devoted far too little time and attention to this vital question. Engels wrote at some length about the conditions faced by the working class in work and away from work as a result of poor air, water and housing. These remain vital questions for the working class everywhere. Moreover, ultimately, is not the challenge facing the future of humanity to conquer nature, to no longer stand before its might as a puny creature, but to bend its power and that of our own science and technology, to serve the interests of society as a whole?

Marx explains in Capital Volume Three (Part Seven, Chapter 48): "Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite."

Having said that I am somewhat confused by your assertion that the article 'anthropomorphises' climate change, and can only assume that what you are trying to say is that my article argues that climate change has been, and is being, caused by human beings, as opposed to the many other factors that you list. I have read the article again, and hope that if you do so you will see that this is not the case. I do not contend that we are all responsible (the horrible conceit of all kinds of liberals and trendies), but rather that capitalism is to blame for the appalling levels of carbon emissions which are contributing to climate change, I even name the companies and point to their search for profit before any consideration of safety or the environment. The article goes on to condemn capitalism for its unwillingness to invest in research into better, safer, and cleaner forms of technology for producing energy; and for a woeful inability to provide basic services like our water supply here in supposedly rich Britain, let alone in those countries suffering actual droughts (as opposed to those caused merely by the inefficiencies, waste, and profit motive of capitalism).

Certainly nowhere in this article or any other that I have written will you find any suggestion that the consumption of the working class should be limited. On the contrary, the point of the article is to point out that it is big capitalist firms who pollute. The fact that we consume the energy (for example) that they produce does not in any way argue for reduced consumption. It demands the profits of these big companies be spent on improving the quality of their production and distribution, creating more jobs, as well as safer and cleaner production. Furthermore it points out that capitalism is unable to do this, that only the socialist transformation of society, the rational, democratic and scientific planning of production will allow such a development. While capitalism continues pollution will get worse and so will their contribution to climate change, with all the attendant destruction and devastation that brings with it. We will all pay the price but will not enjoy improved living standards as a result. The capitalist class will improve its profits at our expense, with no concern for the wages and conditions of the workforce, or the destruction of the environment.

Far from arguing for limiting consumption, we do indeed believe in a society of superabundance, but point out too that this can only be achieved by the pooling and planning of the world's resources. This task can only be completed by a socialist society. Capitalism meanwhile is daily restricting the consumption of the masses of the world, to the point of starvation, misery, disease and squalor. The task of Marxism is to expose the capitalist system as the root cause of poverty, want, hunger, and, yes, the intensification of the destruction of our environment. The task of socialist revolution for all these reasons becomes ever more urgent. The destruction of the environment, the misery suffered daily by millions, the children dying of curable diseases, war, famine, and all the other outrages that humanity could end once we seize control over the forces of production and free them (not limit them) from the shackles of the profit motive makes it our duty at every turn to attempt to expose the role of the capitalist system before the workers and the youth.

Our programme is indeed for the raising of the living standards of the whole planet, for increasing the wealth of the whole of society. Freed from capitalism's straitjacket the pathetic growth figures of 2 and 2.5 percent could be replaced by growth of 20 or 25 percent. Imagine doubling the wealth of society in just four or five years. This can be done whilst improving health and safety in the workplace, shortening working hours, reducing (not increasing) the retirement age, increasing wages, and protecting the environment. It is only the limited, narrow, short-sighted capitalist class that believe there is somehow a choice to be made - either produce more, or clean up production. On the contrary, rationally and scientifically planned, the remarkable technology already developed under capitalism can be used to expand production to meet all of society's needs and clean up that production simultaneously. There is no contradiction, except under capitalism.

You mention the use of nuclear fission in France and China. The article points out that maybe this technology could be made both safe and clean. However, there is no chance of capitalism investing in either improvement, and surely no one feels safe with the idea of a new privatisation disaster in Britain, this time involving a nuclear power station? Meanwhile surely a socialist society would invest seriously in research into all kinds of renewable and safe energy production. After all we will need a lot more energy in a society of superabundance. If nuclear fusion could be mastered then this really would be bending the power of nature to serve the interests of human society. In this field as in all others it is capitalism that stands in the way of human progress. Once we have done with this wasteful, decrepit, diseased system, we can leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom, we can examine many questions now closed to us, including many of those on your list, and not excluding the entire future of the planet and the human race.

I would have liked to have replied in more detail, unfortunately I am a little short of time today.

Finally, I would appeal to you if you too believe in the creation of an economy of superabundance, improving the living standards of the whole planet, freeing production from the Marley-esque ball and chain of capitalism, the reconstruction of society along socialist lines by the working class, then find out more about getting involved with Socialist Appeal. Do not hesitate to write back if you wish to discuss this matter further.


Phil Mitchinson

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