In this essay, I will argue that the leadership of the climate justice movement and the movement for radical social change, which in my opinion is essential for tackling the eco-social world crisis, have fallen short to meet the opportunities and challenges that the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests in France (Greeman, December 3, 2018; December 28, 2018) and the Sunrise Movement in the United States have presented. I will argue that the ecological and social crises the world faces today are actually two aspects of the crisis of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization (Nayeri, 2013, 2018). To resolve the crisis, humanity must chart a course towards an ecocentric socialist future. Thus, all attempts to reform the present day civilization to address various aspects of the ecosocial crisis are bound to fail if they are not part of an ongoing and deepening struggle waged by the working people ourselves to achieve an ecocentric socialist society. It is this truth, together with a proposed action program and a strategy to build a self-organized and self-mobilized movement of working people ourselves, that needs to be shared with fellow working people and youth in the Yellow Vests protests and in the Sunrise Movement.
It appears ironic that the youth in the Sunrise Movement is motivated by a desire to move the U.S. government to take effective action to stop the climate crisis while the Yellow Vest working-class movement in France has focused its rage against the proposed increase in gasoline taxes purported to fight the climate crisis by the neoliberal Macron government. To be sure, the French working class has sustained waves of austerity measures, especially against its most vulnerable sections, from its ranks the Yellow Vest protestors come. The proposed gasoline tax is seen as the latest of such austerity attacks. However, to fight it as an austerity measure the French labor and (eco)socialist movements must provide their own alternative on how to confront the existential threat of climate change. As Marx explained a long time ago, class struggle is the struggle for universal demands and values, for such things that will be in the interest of the entire working class, and not just in one country. What other issue is more urgent, more universal, than stopping and reversing the climate crisis as has been demanded by millions of working people over the past 25 years practically all over the world? But the climate crisis is also deeply rooted in the anthropocentric capitalist civilization. As Malm (2016) shows, the adoption of coal-fired steam engines in the English Industrialization was not driven by costs concerns but by the capitalist desire to dominate and control the labor process. Further, can anyone imagine the virulent spread of industrial capitalism to all corners of the globe in just 250 years without burning fossil fuels?
1. Capitalism and climate change
The fanfare about the UN Conference of Parties (COP) 24 in Katowice, located in a coal mining region in Poland, that the diplomats from some 200 countries have “struck a deal after an all-night bargaining session” that may advance the fight against the unfolding catastrophic climate (Plumer, December 15, 2018) rings hollow if we recall that just 10 days earlier the same newspaper reported that two years after the Paris Agreement greenhouse gas emissions accelerated like a “speeding freight train” in 2018. (Pierre-Louis, December 5, 2018) Just two months earlier on September 9, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, held a press conference in New York telling the world that if the world governments “do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change.” (Somini, September 10, 2018) Let’s remember that is only two years from now. Clearly, the world is facing a climate emergency and so far none of the world major polluters are doing anything close to what is needed to avert the impending catastrophe.
You might wonder why.
To begin with, the UN Conference of Parties (COP) meetings are fundamentally flawed not only because agreements reached by them are not binding but also because they give the impression that the climate crisis is the work of all countries of the world and that these countries have an equal voice in deciding how and when to act to stop and reverse it. In reality, the top three greenhouse gas emitters— China, the European Union, and the United States—contribute more than half of the total global emissions, while the bottom 100 countries account for just 3.5 percent. (World Resource Institute, 2017) C ollectively, the top 10 emitters account for nearly three-quarters of global emissions. If these countries would stop their emissions tomorrow the growth of CO2 levels in the atmosphere would slow down enough to give the world a much longer window of time to transition to a post-carbon economy and society.
But why wouldn’t they? It is because they are also the leading rivals in the anthropocentric industrial capitalist world economy competing for ever more share of new wealth and profit generated worldwide and ever-more accumulation of capital fueled by capitalist growth. Thus, unsurprisingly these key emitters, United States, China, and the European Union, are also key capitalist economies that produce the bulk of the world gross product. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in 2014 global sources of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions by economic sectors were: agricultural, forestry and other land use 24%, electricity and heat production 25%, industry 21%, transportation 14%, other energy 10%, and buildings 6%. (IPCC, no date) The bulk of this pollution is capitalistically produced and consumed driven by the unceasing quest for capital accumulation. In 2017 in the United States, domestic consumption made up 68 percent of the GDP and in France, in 2016 it was 55.3 percent. To mitigate climate change a fundamental change in the modes of production and consumption in the key polluting countries is required which must then be extended to the entire world economy. Even though China is considered the leading emitter of GHGs, in reality, the United States, viewed as the second most polluting country, is still the leading polluter because part of China’s pollution is for the production of exports to the United States (the same adjustment must be made for the European Union as well as other countries of Global North). According to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016, sources of GHGs in the U.S. by economic sectors were electricity 28%, transportation 28%, industry 22%, commercial and residential 11%, and agriculture 9%.
If this argument is correct, then to reduce the climate crisis to a technological problem requiring a technological fix is at best ignorant and at worse a deception perpetrated in the climate justice movement that we must overcome. In fact, there are two other existential threats to humanity and much of life on Earth caused by the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization: The Sixth Extinction and the ever-present danger of a nuclear war (for a discussion of these see, Nayeri, May 2017 and Nayeri, June 2017 respectively). It would be foolish to ignore them as if the climate crisis is a single issue problem. Thus, the climate justice movement should confront not only the rightwing climate change deniers (who are gradually losing ground in the public view) but also the liberal deniers of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization as the cause of the crisis who are actually in its leadership (for a detailed discussion of this problem see, Nayeri, 2016, 2018).
2. Why a greenhouse gas emissions tax is needed (even at this late stage)
For as long as I have been a climate justice advocate, I have argued for the necessity for the movement to adopt an action program to stop and reverse the crisis independent of the capitalist institutions from corporations, to political parties and politicians, to bureaucrats and technocrats, and based on a democratic discussion in the movement and decisions reached in a series of national and international conferences. I have also advocated that only the self-mobilized and self-active movement of the working people can enact such an action program. There has been no shortage of such opportunities. We have had mobilizations of 300,000 in New York City in September 2014 and 200,000 in Washington D.C. in March 2017 and smaller, regional mobilizations including the last September march of 30,000 in San Francisco. A constant problem has been that the leadership of these mobilizations saw them as pressure tactics to influence “climate-friendly” politicians, especially in the Democratic Party, “to do the right thing.” Alas, the leadership never used these mobilizations to organize, educate, and mobilize new contingents of climate justice activists by holding conferences where systemic causes of climate change were discussed, proposals for mitigating it were presented and debated, and eventually adopted and new, larger forces were sent out to share these collective discussions and decisions in workplaces, schools, and communities to help educate, organize and mobilize ever larger sections of the working people. Somehow, it was assumed that the “friendly politicians,” “responsible corporate leaders,” technocrats and bureaucrats will develop and carry out policies necessary to stop the climate crisis. The climate justice activist was reduced to a lobbyist and a voter, never as a member of the big majority of the population, the working people, who actually hold the levers of the U.S. and the world economy in our own hands. If we collectively decide to use this power, we can without much difficulty redirect our lives no only a post-carbon economy, but to an ecocentric socialist society!
But the failure of the leadership of the climate justice movement and the labor and (eco)socialist movements to actually develop an independent political course has undermined our position when new opportunities present themselves. Thus, the neoliberal Macron government was given the opportunity to propose a regressive gasoline tax because the labor movement and the (eco)socialist movements in France have no action program to combat climate crisis, including a progressive emissions tax! The Yellow Vests movement is spontaneous because many French working people are disillusioned with the existing political parties (including formerly huge social democrats and Communist parties) and simmering anger over the anti-labor policies of successive capitalist governments.
It should be easy to understand that the real cost of all polluting production is above their monetary, market costs because the harm done to the environment and to society by such pollution is not monetized and included in the production cost and consumer price. Economists call this a negative externality or “external costs”: costs born by society, and in this case, life on Earth, in terms of degradation of their health.
An example of a negative externality is the production and consumption of tobacco products. It is well-known that smoking is a major contributing factor for a number of serious illnesses, including lung cancer, and even those who do not smoke can suffer from second-hand smoke. Thus, there is a social cost to smoking and in recent decades it has been generally accepted that tobacco production and consumption is not a private transaction but a social issue in need of regulation. One such regulation is the restriction of smoking in public places. Another is the cigarette tax. There is ample evidence that these policies have lowered tobacco use and morbidity and mortality due to tobacco use. In fact because of its success the World Health Organization (no date) has proposed a higher cigarette tax worldwide. It must be clear that polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases by private and public modes of production and consumption is even more dangerous to society and life on Earth. Climate change is an existential threat to life and not just about increased morbidity and mortality in society. If it is generally accepted that society must regulate and tax tobacco use it must not be impossible to advocate and educate about the need to regulate and tax greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, I would maintain that even in a society with a workers government (e.g., Cuba), greenhouse gas emissions must be regulated and taxed precisely because of the government’s obligation to the health of society and nature and the need to transition from the anthropocentric capitalist culture to an ecocentric socialist consciousness.
As Karl Marx observed law cannot stand above society. We cannot trust the capitalist government to come up with a GHG emission taxation plan that would meaningfully contribute to putting an end to the climate crisis as the history of cap-and-trade and carbon taxes so far shows. Both cap-and-trade and direct taxation are attempts at the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions either through creating a market for a license to pollute (cap-and-trade) or charging a fee for such pollution. Cap-and-trade creates a market for the “right to pollute licenses” with the aim of lowering the cap on the total pollution year-by-year and in the taxation schemes polluters are charged a fee per ton of CO2 equivalent of GHG pollution which is supposed to increase over time to meet the goal of zero-emissions by a target date. These schemes do not work because the regulators and the regulated are members of the same capitalist ruling elite. At the end of the day, the bottom line, capitalist profitability, dominates the game, not the health of society and the ecosphere. But simply denouncing emission taxes as Green Capitalism is also misguided as I just explained. The cost of pollution of all polluting production and consumption processes must be included in the final cost of production and the price of the final product.
We need an ecosocialist emission tax plan backed up by the self-organized and self-mobilized climate justice movement. One such a proposal is what I have outlined (Nayeri, 2015) A central goal of such a proposal is in its educational value: only an enlightened working people’s movement can stop and reverse the climate crisis. Such a proposal is key to educate our class about our lifestyle habits we came to own through the capitalist mass consumption culture. The road to a post-anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization must be paved with ever-more consciousness of working people as part of the ecosystem we live in and the health of Mother Earth. That is what an emission tax is for—not to simply make gasoline more expensive as it really should be but to show the damaging effects of using fossil fuels instead of the alternative renewable energy. It will also make it easier to see how the culture of one person-one car is an ecological dead-end; we need to rethink our entire economic geography which will force us to rethink the anthropocentric industrial capitalist economy.
The basic idea in my proposed emissions tax plan is to tax them heavily enough at the point of production to account for the harm they do to the ecosphere and people’s lives and to affect the transition to renewables as rapidly as possible (basing myself on the current literature, a good place to start is probably about $50 per ton of CO2 equivalent) while protecting the low-income families with subsidized funded by the emissions tax. As climate change is a global crisis, no national plan is sufficient to stop it. It is necessary to enact similar measures at least in the key polluting countries. To this end, countries with an emissions tax should form a Climate Club to collectively impose a tariff on imports from countries that do not tax emissions (or they have too low of a tax on their own emissions) to create an even playing field in international trade. The Climate Club will have a Climate Fund that uses such tariff and other financial sources such as a legacy pollution debt of the early industrializers to assist countries of the Global South to transition to a post-carbon economy. Such tariff policy by the Climate Club members will provide an incentive for non-participating countries to join the Climate Club.
It is clear that this proposal only can be effective if embraced by the major polluting countries and that will never happen unless fought for by a mass climate justice movement in several of them. Thus, the emissions tax plan is largely aimed at the education, self-organization, and self-mobilization of tens of millions of working people and its primary goal is to help elevate mass consciousness about modes of production and consumption that have created the climate crisis in the first place so that humanity may begin a transition to an ecocentric socialism as soon as possible. The emissions tax is simply part of a much broader transitional program for an ecocentric socialist transition through self-organization and self-mobilization of the working people (for a discussion of these issues, see, Nayeri, 2017).
It is this perspective that must be brought to the Yellow Vests protests to ensure that they do not get disoriented and demoralized: to be a class struggle, the Yellow Vests protesters must also lead in the fight against climate crisis and they need their own action program that must include a greenhouse gas emissions tax.
3. Can the Democratic Party save the world?
The Sunrise Movement poses a different set of opportunities and challenges for the climate justice movement and its small ecosocialist component. While its stated purpose is to combat the climate crisis, it has not absorbed a key political lesson apparent in the spontaneous Yellow Vests protests: that the existing political parties are not to be trusted. Thus, the Sunrise Movement supports the agenda of the Democratic Party Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez: a Green New Deal to be foraged by the formation of a Select Committee for a Green New Deal in the legislative session that will begin in January 2019. It has used lobbying, albeit through a protest at the halls of the U.S. Congress, to demand legislative action to stop the climate crisis. Some climate justice and a few small labor groups, as well as two dozen current and just-elected Democratic members of Congress, have signed onto Congresswoman-elect Ocasio Cortez’s proposal.
This development is not surprising. All main groups in the labor and climate justice movements have been working through the Democratic Party all along and essentially have embraced a parliamentarian and reformist approach to climate change policy (for a discussion, see, Nayeri, 2014, July 2017, October 2017). Further, the 2016 Sanders campaign for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party attracted a large number of disaffected youth some of whom were involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Just as the national leaders of the Occupy movement ended their campaign abruptly without any consultation with the activists, when Sanders nomination was scuttled by the Democratic Party machine, he, as the revolutionary (eco)socialists had anticipated, endorsed Clinton’s nomination. Some Sanders followers became Clinton supporters, others were demoralized, and still, others joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Again, unsurprisingly the DSA decided to run candidates in the 2018 elections as Democrats, following the reformist tradition of the U.S. social democrats and Stalinists (mostly the Communist Party U.S.A.) since the 1930s. In their view, the task is not to overthrow U.S. capitalism but to reform it by “pushing” the Democratic Party “to the left.” I need not remind the reader that this “strategy” has a decades-old track record of failure as can be verified by the dissolution of all progressive movements in the United States that followed a similar course. Just consider the history of the labor, black, and women liberation movements over the past several decades and how such once-powerful movements have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves, a price they paid for being in the Big Tent of the Democratic Party “to push it to the left” instead of building self-organized and self-mobilized anti-capitalist movements and a fighting labor party to pursue their respective demands.
Impervious to such lessons of the modern political history of the United States, Ted Franklin, a leader of System Change Not Climate Change (SCnCC) who is also a member of the East San Francisco Bay DSA celebrates Ocasio Cortez’s reformist course. He writes:
The quasi-magical arrival of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on the political scene has given climate activists new hope that a program big enough to address the danger will become an actual subject of national debate in the time frame necessary to give us a fighting chance against climate catastrophe. Her proposal for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal…is gaining momentum as the highly energized progressive base of the Democratic Party confronts the triple obstacles of the Republican neofascist party, the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the establishment progressives who are now running to the left but still beholden to corporate interests. (Franklin, 2018)
As someone who has been an active member of the national SCnCC network for about three years, and came to know and respect Franklin, his embrace of Ocasio Cortez’s reformist course comes as a surprise to me. To be clear, revolutionary (eco)socialists are not opposed to reforms. Thus, I have spoken in praise of the Oakland No Coal Coalition in which Franklin has played a leading part. But reforms can only be sustained if they are won by the organized and mobilized masses of the working people as a way to enhance our self-confidence and as a stepping stone towards other victories in the direction of an ecocentric socialist future. The political course proposed by Ocasio Cortez, and following her the Sunrise Movement, and now Franklin, is the exact opposite. It miseducates and confuses any radicalizing youth or working person by suggesting that working through the capitalist Democratic Party, not building our own bottom-up anti-capitalist organization and eventually a revolutionary labor party based on our own transformed mass organizations, such as unions, is the way to fighting the systemic climate crisis. Thus, while the defeat of the Democratic Party incumbent, Joe Crowley, by Ocasio Cortez in the Democratic Party primaries was a positive development registering the movement of the electorate to the left, her decision to run as a Democrat and her subsequent course to campaign for reforming the Democratic Party is entirely damaging to the cause of working people to organize and mobilize independently of the American capitalism and its two-party system.
Reality vs. fantasy: the Select-Committee.
Franklin seems to pitch his political support for the Ocasio Cortez’s course on the premise that short of a mass movement of the working people fighting for a program to stop and reverse the climate crisis, the next best option is to work through the Democratic Party to get a national discussion on a Green New Deal to avert the crisis. So, let us consider his argument in some detail.
Like all others in the history of labor and socialist movements who have pursued shortcuts in revolutionary politics sometimes with disastrous results (for an example from the Iranian revolution of 1979, see, Nayeri, 2013), Franklin bends reality to fit his fantasy.
To begin with, he assumes that because Ocasio Cortez has floated the idea of a Select Committee to forge a Green New Deal, both of these are already facts. I will get back to the Green New Deal fantasy in a moment. But as I was putting the finishing touches to this essay the news arrived that the likely Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has already asked Florida Representative Kathy Castor to lead a “special committee on climate change” in the new Congress that will reinstate the same committee that was dissolved by the former Republican Speaker John Boehner. While both Pelosi and Castor have included references to “thousands of green jobs” they hope to create they have set aside any mention of a Green New Deal and it is not even clear if Ocasio Cortez would be assigned to Castor’s climate change committee. In fact, Castor has already disputed the suggestions that representatives who have received financial contributions from the fossil fuel industry should be barred from serving on her committee on the grounds that it will be unconstitutional because it will violate their First Amendment right to free speech, a fossil fuel industry legal argument. Evan Weber, the political director of the Sunrise movement responded to the announcement by saying: “Nancy Pelosi has the power to determine whether or not the Select Committee for a Green New Deal lives or dies.” “Sunrise Movement’s position is and will continue to be that it’s not over until she makes it clear that it’s over.” (reported in Other News: Voices Against the Tide, December 2018; no precise date was given; accessed on Facebook with no hyperlink to the article) This is a sad statement of utter powerlessness of climate justice activists who place their hope in the Democratic Party.
Reality vs. Fantasy: a timely national debate on climate change and a Green New Deal?
With the Ocasio Cortez’s proposed Select Committee blocked by the Democratic Party leadership, it would seem the rest of Franklin’s rosy projections are also no more a possibility. But let me consider them as if they were, in fact, to materialize as Franklin hopes.
If we are to believe the United Nations secretary general António Guterres that the world’s governments will run out of time to stop the runaway climate catastrophe if they do not act by 2020, it should be abundantly clear that we are already out of time to act to stop the worse of the climate crisis. Still, Franklin imagines that not only the Democratic Party will move swiftly to form Ocasio Cortez’s Select Committee but that this committee will hold speedy hearings and formulate a Green New Deal and that this will ignite a national debate which presumably improves the final legislation and a similar bill will pass the Republican-controlled Senate and will be signed by President Trump before we run out of time! That is in one year’s time! Of course, Franklin forgets, and I do not belabor the point, that the climate crisis can only be resolved on the world scale with the top polluters taking the lead. So even if this fantastic scenario plays out as Franklin imagines it, the crisis will become unstoppable if China and the European Union fail to follow.
But Franklin himself cites formidable obstacles to any speedy and effective legislation to become law by counting some of the obstacles including “the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party,” its “progressive establishment,” and the “neo-fascist” Republican Party. Yet, he still presents Ocasio Cortez’s proposal as a viable option!
Fantasy vs. reality: The Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is neither new nor a radical idea. In fact, in all its varieties it is some form of Green Capitalism which has been criticized by revolutionary ecosocialists including in the System Change Not Climate Change network. The neoliberal Democratic New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman first proposed it as a way to stop the climate crisis almost 11 years ago (Friedman, January 19, 2007, and, April 15, 2007). Friedman is a big promoter of the magic of technology and capitalist markets around which his idea of the Green New Deal was built and he has influenced the climate justice movement. Earth Justice interviewed him about his Green New Deal and the Green Party picked up the idea adding on its own formulations. And now Congresswoman-elect Ocasio Cortez has made the idea “her own” and some climate justice groups and small labor groups have supported the idea. Meanwhile, there has been no questioning of how and why the U.S. Congress, one of the three constitutional seats of power of the U.S. capitalism, will somehow legislate a Green New Deal that would actually stop the crisis and the U.S. president would sign it into law without any resistance by the same economic, social, and political forces that have blocked a serious discussion of the crisis for decades without a massive mobilization of the working people! There is nothing in Franklin’s essay that even hints at who could stop climate change: capitalist politicians or the U.S. and world’s working people.
Climate change mitigation as big business
To understand the capitalist climate mitigation debate we must understand the ongoing discussion in the capitalist policymaking circles about reforming capitalism to function more efficiently. Health care policy debates provide an excellent recent example. In the case of health care reform debate of the early 1990s, as a health policy scholar I had the opportunity to document and demonstrate in detail how the liberal and conservative health care reform proposals were framed by concerns about the profitability crisis in the U.S. capitalist economy (Nayeri, 1994) Would the discussion on climate change in the U.S. Congress be any different?Just as the Democratic and Republican policymakers refused to frame the health care reform debate in terms of health care as a human right, there is no reasons to believe that their debate about the Green New Deal would be any differently framed—to put humanity and life on Earth at the center of policymaking deliberations instead of better oiling of the capitalist profit-making machine.
Already a long list of luminaries from both Democratic and Republican parties have spoken out in favor of some form of capitalist climate mitigation policy. Just last September, Governor Brown held the Climate Summit which came on the heels of May 24, 2017, Climate Change Is Big Business conference in San Francisco in which he was its invited keynote speaker. Two weeks ago, John Kerry, another strategic thinker of U.S. capitalism, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times complaining about the heat waves are “stealing 153 billion hours of labor,” and how tropical infections are moving north, and about falling crop yields in more than two dozen countries: “by 2050 the Midwestern United States could see agricultural productivity drop to its lowest level in decades.” (Kerry, December 13, 2018) New York State’s right-of-center Democratic Governor Cuomo has called for a Green New Deal for New York.
It is also useful to place the original New Deal in its historical context. Contrary to the reformist fantasy that it was all thanks to the presidency of F.D.R., “the man of the people,” similar attempts in the 1920s and 1930s were undertaken by other leading capitalist rivals. The fascist Mussolini government embarked on a public works project to recast Rome in its historical glory by building statues and arenas to help whip up Italian nationalist fervor. Hitler built the autobahn system, and when he found it empty of cars, he ordered the design and mass production of Volkswagen Beetle (“people’s car”). Churchill oversaw the reworking of the earlier welfare programs such as unemployment insurance that was based on contribution not need, to build the British welfare state. Needless to say, all the key capitalist rivals were also busy rearming themselves to the teeth. World War II was not a war against fascism but an imperialist slaughter to redivide the world among contending capitalist powers as the British hegemony was already in sharp decline (Climate Mobilization likes to call for a “World War II-type mobilization” to fight climate change whenever the parliamentary winds blow in a Democratic Party direction! Like all other climate justice group, they show no interest in a strategy of the independent organization and mobilization of the working people and never ask why would the capitalist state do the bidding of a tiny powerless advocacy group).
Today’s world is similar in important ways. The American imperialist hegemony that grew out of the ashes of World War II is ending. By some accounts, China is already the largest capitalist economy in the world with the most modern infrastructure and cutting-edge technology and even in military terms has become the undisputed power in the Pacific. The rise of Donald Trump is another sign of the slow decline of American imperialist power and its leadership crisis. Thus, his “make America great again” campaign which appeals to the nostalgia of the sections of U.S. ruling class and working people and his contentious relations with the U.S. key allies and his trade war moves similarly reflect a desire by the same laggard section of the U.S. elite to use raw American imperialist power to maintain its ebbing hegemony in the world affairs—to no avail.
The more forward-looking section of the U.S. capitalist class, mostly in the Democratic Party, aims for rejuvenation of the economy based on new products and new industries which include “green technologies.” That is what the real green new deal is about, the kind that Friedman talks about. Even Paul Krugman, a smart liberal Democrat and Keynesian economist, has come out in favor of redesigning the U.S. economy as a mixed-economy: “you could imagine running a fairly efficient economy that is only 2/3 capitalist, 1/3 publicly owned–i.e., sort-of-kind-of socialist.” (Krugman, 2018). Is there any doubt that at best they all are talking about Green Capitalism, not the kind of ecosocial transformation that is needed to stop and reverse the climate crisis?
From the perspective of averting the climate catastrophe, as well as the Sixth Extinction and the threat of nuclear war (the U.S. rulers, both Democrats, and Republicans, are already working on a multitrillion-dollar nuclear rearmament; don’t fool yourself into thinking they would not use it!) and the entire host of ecosocial crisis the world faces, none of these capitalist policy wonks have anything close to a solution. Neither does Congresswoman-elect Ocasio Cortez. Otherwise, she would have made that program her election campaign platform and would have educated the Sunrise Movement activists in that program and a working-class strategy to fight for such a program. Instead, she has decided to run as a Democrat, to spend her energy to push the Democratic Party to the left (whatever that means), and when the Democratic Party captured the majority in the midterm elections and Nancy Pelosi who a year earlier told a student that the Democratic Party is the party of capitalism became again the most likely candidate for the Speaker of the House, she has simply set Ocasio Cortez to a side with a stroke of her pen.
A key difference between a liberal and a working-class revolutionary is this. The former sees power emanating from the “voter” while the latter sees it coming from the self-organized and self-mobilized working people. Ocasio Cortez is a liberal, not a revolutionary. She has no program, strategy, or a set of tactics informed by them, to help mobilize independent working class action to transcend the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization in the direction of an ecocentric socialist future. Franklin, on the other hand, considers himself to be a Marxist. Should he not tell the Sunrise Movement activists that to overcome the climate crisis we should not look up to the Democratic Party, the U.S. Congress, or any capitalist institution but to the power of working people ourselves? Of course, I do not deny that humanity is staring at possible extinction if we cannot undertake a massive reversal within a very short time frame, a very unlikely outcome. But let me ask Franklin why is humanity is in such a predicament if not for decades upon decades of reformist betrayal? Is it not time perhaps to confront liberalism and reformism in the labor, climate justice, and (eco)socialist movements? (for an excellent discussion of liberalism in the anti-Vietnam war movement, see Camejo, 1970).
Acknowledgment. My thanks to Andrew Pollack who cited and then found me a digital version of Peter Camejo’s speech delivered to an anti-Vietnam war conference. Thanks also to Julie Callahan who read an early draft of this essay and shared with me her overall reaction to it.
- Camejo, Peter. “Liberalism, Ultra-leftism or Mass Action.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. July 10, 1970.
- Franklin, Ted. “The Green New Deal Goes Viral: What’s Next Is Up to Us.” 2018.
- Greeman, Richard. “Self-organized Yellow Vest Protest Movement Exposes Inequality and Hollowness of French Regime.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. December 3, 2018.
- “Yellow Vests Protesters: ‘We are not tired.‘” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. December 29, 2018.
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- Friedman, Thomas L. “A Warning From the Garden.” January 9, 2007.
- “The Power of Green.” The New York Times, April 15, 2007.
- Kerry, John. “Forget Trump. We All Must Act on Climate Change.” The New York Times, December 13, 2018.
- Krugman, Paul. “The Case for a Mixed Economy.” The New York Times, December 22, 2018.
- Nayeri, Kamran.“Economic Boundaries of Health Care Policy: Factors Influencing the 1993-94 Health Care Reform Proposals.” International Journal of Health Services. Volume 26, Number 4, Pages 709-730, 1996.
- “Learning From Our Mistakes: More on Barry Sheppard’s Misrepresentation of the History of the Iranian Trotskyist Movement.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. 2013.
- “Why the San Francisco Bay Area 350.org’s Call for “Getting Out the Vote” for Democrats Is a Grave Mistake” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. October 26, 2014
- “The Climate Movement Should Demand: “Tax Greenhouse Gases Emissions With Subsidies for Low-Income People” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. June 26, 2015
- “Making Progress: A Critical Assessment of Climate Action Plans by Bill McKibben and The Climate Mobilization” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. September 3, 2016.
- “To Be or Not to Be: Ecocentric Ecological Socialism as the Solution to the World Social and Planetary Crisis” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. July 2017.
- “Reformism or Radicalism: Which Strategy for the Climate Justice Movement?” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. October 2017.
- “How to Stop the Sixth Extinction: A Critical Assessment of E. O. Wilson’s Half-Earth.” May 2017.
- “Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: On Iran Nuclear Agreement.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. June 2017.
- “Can Divestment from Fossil Fuels Stop the Climate Crisis and Save the World?” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. March 12, 2018
- Pierre-Louis, Kendra. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerate Like a ‘Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018,” The New York Times, December 5, 2018.
- Plumer, Brad. “Climate Negotiators Reach an Overtime Deal to Keep Paris Pact Alive.” The New York Times, December 15, 2018
- Sengupta, Somini. “U.N. Chief Warns of a Dangerous Tipping Point on Climate Change,” The New York Times, September 10, 2018.
- The Associated Press. “Pelosi Taps Florida Democrat to Lead Climate Change Panel.” The New York Times, December 28, 2018.
- World Health Organization. Raise Taxes on Tobacco. No date.
- World Resource Institute. “This Interactive Chart Explains World’s Top 10 Emitters, and How They’ve Changed.” April 11, 2017.