On a Socialist Camping Trip

G. A. Cohen
Why Not Socialism?
Princeton, 2009
92 Pages
£10.95
ISBN 978-0691143613

As a teenager, Jerry Cohen was a counsellor in the Montreal Jewish socialist summer camp Kinderland, where, in the words of one of his young charges, “the sons and daughters of 1950s leftists spent July and August waging class struggle against mosquitoes and boredom”. These summer expeditions left a lasting impression: decades later, Cohen fondly recalled campfire songs from Kinderland at his inauguration as Chichele Professor in All Souls college chapel; and a camping trip serves as the prime illustration of the virtues of socialism in his latest and last work, a lively discussion of political morality.

While Jerry Cohen made a career out of intellectualising his personal journey from pro-Soviet schoolboy to doyen of Oxford political theory, it is in Why Not Socialism?—more than any other text—that we see as a whole his considered stance on justice. For this life-long socialist, socialism’s infeasibility does not entail its irrelevance, for its most basic merit lies in its encapsulation of an ethic of care for other human life. In a period when we are re-evaluating our economic priorities, this is a timely call for personal integrity—and a reminder that in necessarily compromising with self-interest, we must not lose sight of our ideals. Continue reading

Why Ecological Revolution?

It is now universally recognized within science that humanity is confronting the prospect — if we do not soon change course — of a planetary ecological collapse. Not only is the global ecological crisis becoming more and more severe, with the time in which to address it fast running out, but the dominant environmental strategies are also forms of denial, demonstrably doomed to fail, judging by their own limited objectives. This tragic failure, I will argue, can be attributed to the refusal of the powers that be to address the roots of the ecological problem in capitalist production and the resulting necessity of ecological and social revolution.

The term “crisis,” attached to the global ecological problem, although unavoidable, is somewhat misleading, given its dominant economic associations. Since 2008, we have been living through a world economic crisis — the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. This has been a source of untold suffering for hundreds of millions, indeed billions, of people. But insofar as it is related to the business cycle and not to long-term factors, expectations are that it is temporary and will end, to be followed by a period of economic recovery and growth — until the advent of the next crisis. Capitalism is, in this sense, a crisis-ridden, cyclical economic system. Even if we were to go further, to conclude that the present crisis of accumulation is part of a long-term economic stagnation of the system — that is, a slowdown of the trend-rate of growth beyond the mere business cycle — we would still see this as a partial, historically limited calamity, raising, at most, the question of the future of the present system of production.1

When we speak today of the world ecological crisis, however, we are referring to something that could turn out to be final, i.e., there is a high probability, if we do not quickly change course, of a terminal crisis — a death of the whole anthropocene, the period of human dominance of the planet. Human actions are generating environmental changes that threaten the extermination of most species on the planet, along with civilization, and conceivably our own species as well.

What makes the current ecological situation so serious is that climate change, arising from human-generated increases in greenhouse gas emissions, is not occurring gradually and in a linear process, but is undergoing a dangerous acceleration, pointing to sudden shifts in the state of the earth system. We can therefore speak, to quote James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the world’s most famous climate scientist, of “tipping points…fed by amplifying feedbacks.”2 Four amplifying feedbacks are significant at present: (1) rapid melting of arctic sea ice, with the resulting reduction of the earth’s albedo (reflection of solar radiation) due to the replacement of bright, reflective ice with darker blue sea water, leading to greater absorption of solar energy and increasing global average temperatures; (2) melting of the frozen tundra in northern regions, releasing methane (a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) trapped beneath the surface, causing accelerated warming; (3) recent indications that there has been a drop in the efficiency of the carbon absorption of the world’s oceans since the 1980s, and particularly since 2000, due to growing ocean acidification (from past carbon absorption), resulting in faster carbon build-up in the atmosphere and enhanced warming; (4) extinction of species due to changing climate zones, leading to the collapse of ecosystems dependent on these species, and the death of still more species.3 Continue reading

Hugo Chávez Writes on “The Battle of Copenhagen”

December 22nd 2009, by Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Copenhagen was the scene of a historic battle in the framework of the 15th Conference of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP15). Better said, in the beautiful, snowy capital of Denmark, a battle began that did not end on Friday, December 18, 2009. I reiterate: Copenhagen was only the beginning of a decisive battle for the salvation of the planet. It was a battle in the realm of ideas and in praxis.

Brazilian Leonardo Boff, a great liberation theologian and one of the most authoritative voices on environmental issues, in a key article, entitled What is at stake in Copenhagen?, wrote these words full of insight and courage: What can we expect from Copenhagen? At least this simple confession: We cannot continue like this. And a simple proposition: Let’s change course.

And for that reason, precisely, we went to Copenhagen to battle for a change of course on behalf of Venezuela, on behalf of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA), and moreover, in defence of the cause of humanity and to speak, with President Evo Morales, in defence of the rights of Pachamama, of Mother Earth.

Evo, who together with yours truly, had the responsibility to be a spokesperson for the Bolivarian Alliance, wisely said: What this debate is about, is whether we are going to live or we are going to die.

All eyes of the world were concentrated on Copenhagen: the 15th Conference on Climate Change allowed us to gauge the fibre we are made of, where hope lies and what can we do to establish what the Liberator Simón Bolívar defined as the equilibrium of the universe, an equilibrium that can never be achieved within the capitalist world system. Continue reading

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on How to Tackle Climate Change: “We Must Go from Capitalism to Socialism”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on How to Tackle Climate Change: “We Must Go From Capitalism to Socialism”

Democracy Now speak with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez about climate change, the Copenhagen summit and President Obama. Chavez accuses calls the COP15 summit undemocratic and accuses world leaders of only seeking a face-saving agreement. We must reduce all the emissions that are destroying the planet, Chavez says. That requires a change in the economic model: we must go from capitalism to socialism.

See also:

Fidel Castro: The Truth of What Happened at the Summit

Venezuelan President’s Speech on Climate Change in Copenhagen

Venezuelan President’s Speech on Climate Change in Copenhagen

December 17th 2009, by Hugo Chavez

President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez:

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies, friends, I promise that I will not talk more than most have spoken this afternoon. Allow me an initial comment which I would have liked to make as part of the previous point which was expressed by the delegations of Brazil, China, India, and Bolivia. We were there asking to speak but it was not possible. Bolivia’s representative said, my salute of course to Comrade President Evo Morales, who is there, President of the Republic of Bolivia.

[Audience applause]

She said among other things the following, I noted it here, she said the text presented is not democratic, it is not inclusive.

I had hardly arrived and we were just sitting down when we heard the president of the previous session, the minister, saying that a document came about, but nobody knows, I’ve asked for the document, but we still don’t have it, I think nobody knows of that top secret document.

Now certainly, as the Bolivian comrade said, that is not democratic, it is not inclusive. Now, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t that just the reality of the world?

Are we in a democratic world? Is the global system inclusive? Can we hope for something democratic, inclusive from the current global system?

What we are experiencing on this planet is an imperial dictatorship, and from here we continue denouncing it. Down with imperial dictatorship! And long live the people and democracy and equality on this planet!

[Audience applause]

And what we see here is a reflection of this: Exclusion.

There is a group of countries that consider themselves superior to us in the South, to us in the Third World, to us, the underdeveloped countries, or as a great friend Eduardo Galeano says, we, the crushed countries, as if a train ran over us in history.

In light of this, it’s no surprise that there is no democracy in the world and here we are again faced with powerful evidence of global imperial dictatorship. Then two youths got up here, fortunately the enforcement officials were decent, some push around, and they collaborated right? There are many people outside, you know? Of course, they do not fit in this room, they are too many people. I’ve read in the news that there were some arrests, some intense protests, there in the streets of Copenhagen, and I salute all those people out there, most of them youth.

[Audience applause]

Of course young people are concerned, I think rightly much more than we are, for the future of the world. We have – most of us here – the sun on our backs, and they have to face the sun and are very worried.

One could say, Mr. President, that a spectre is haunting Copenhagen, to paraphrase Karl Marx, the great Karl Marx, a spectre is haunting the streets of Copenhagen, and I think that spectre walks silently through this room, walking around among us, through the halls, out below, it rises, this spectre is a terrible spectre almost nobody wants to mention it: Capitalism is the spectre, almost nobody wants to mention it. Continue reading

“If the climate was a bank, [the United States] would already have saved it”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addresses COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Criticizing the destructive practices of the capitalist system, Chavez fears that the “infinite model” of capitalism will exhaust the finite resources of the environment.

System Change Not Climate Change

by A.A. French

After being in Copenhagen for five days now, there are some thoughts running through my head that I’d like to express and share with y’all. This is going to be short, and probably not all that eloquent, but it will help me get some points across that I think are really important at this critical moment in the fight for our climate. I do want to say that while this post is critical of the way things are happening at COP15, I still deeply respect the youth of all delegations who are inside this conference, trying to scrap out a decent deal for the world. I thank them for all their efforts, but am coming from a different perspective here.

I came to Copenhagen hesitant and nervous….not wanting to place too much hope into the talks that had effectively been castrated by the UNFCCC leadership and Yvo de Boer. But I still wanted to be here all the same; after all, it’s supposedly the climate party of the century! So I hooked up with some French activists and an amazing organization called Climate Justice Action and planned on doing all that I could during the two weeks of the conference. I wanted to rally, protest, take part in negotiations, have my voice heard and above all- help bring a fair, ambitious and binding treaty out of Copenhagen. But upon arriving in Denmark, I entered a catatonic state of dumbfoundedness… having finally come to the realization, like so many others (James Hansen, Breakthrough Institute etc), that these talks were doomed to fail and there was nothing anyone could do about it. As quickly as it had come, my dream of that fair, ambitious and binding treaty that we’ve all been working towards disappeared in a smoggy cloud of yen, dollars, euros and political and moral weakness.

Since 2006, I’ve been a part of the youth climate movement and I always believed that it was possible to achieve the sort of change we needed through the United States Congress, the United Nations Conference of Parties or other governmental bodies. To put it short and use that worn out term, I believed in “the system”. I believed that governments did have the power to stop climate change and did in fact want to stop climate change. I thought COP 15 would be a conference of folks dedicated to doing whatever was necessary to solve the climate crisis, regardless of money, corporate influence or politics.

I was wrong.

The first five days of the conference have been full of back door dealings by Annex 1 countries, oppression of “developing” countries like Tuvalu by official delegations and a lack of desire for a legitimate deal in Copenhagen by members of the US delegation. So, even with tens of thousands of people working on a global climate treaty for the past fifteen years, we have yet to reach any sort of legitimate, legally binding treaty that addresses climate change and climate justice while refusing to give into corporate and big business pressure. You would think that when you put the world’s top negotiators, scientists, governmental representatives and UN hot shots together for 15 years, they’d at least be able to figure something out right? Continue reading

Addicted to Nonsense

Will Tiger Woods finally talk to the police? Who will replace Oprah? (Not that Oprah can ever be replaced, of course.) And will Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who crashed President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, command the hundreds of thousands of dollars they want for an exclusive television interview? Can Levi Johnston, father of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s grandson, get his wish to be a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars”?

The chatter that passes for news, the gossip that is peddled by the windbags on the airwaves, the noise that drowns out rational discourse, and the timidity and cowardice of what is left of the newspaper industry reflect our flight into collective insanity. We stand on the cusp of one of the most seismic and disturbing dislocations in human history, one that is radically reconfiguring our economy as it is the environment, and our obsessions revolve around the trivial and the absurd.

What really matters in our lives-the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady deterioration of the dollar, the mounting foreclosures, the climbing unemployment, the melting of the polar ice caps and the awful reality that once the billions in stimulus money run out next year we will be bereft and broke-doesn’t fit into the cheerful happy talk that we mainline into our brains. We are enraptured by the revels of a dying civilization. Once reality shatters the airy edifice, we will scream and yell like petulant children to be rescued, saved and restored to comfort and complacency. There will be no shortage of demagogues, including buffoons like Sarah Palin, who will oblige. We will either wake up to face our stark new limitations, to retreat from imperial projects and discover a new simplicity, as well as a new humility, or we will stumble blindly toward catastrophe and neofeudalism. Continue reading

The Crisis of Credit Visualized

By the author: “The goal of giving form to a complex situation like the credit crisis is to quickly supply the essence of the situation to those unfamiliar and uninitiated. This project was completed as part of my thesis work in the Media Design Program, a graduate studio at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. For more on my broader thesis work exploring the use of new media to make sense of a increasingly complex world.”

See http://www.crisisofcredit.com

To watch this short animation in HD click here http://www.vimeo.com/3261363

Fidelity

This is a ten minute excerpt from the Cuban documentary ‘Fidelity’. The film offers an  insight into Cuban life from the perspective of the people. A fascinating portrait of a complicated society, balanced precariously between past and future, revolution and capitalist penetration.

Whilst the international press speculates on the imminent death of Fidel Castro and the Cuban community of Miami is already celebrating his funeral, on the island the condition of his health is a state secret.

As the umbilical cord that ties every Cuban to the revolution is beginning to be severed, a new energy is emerging in the country. An ex-fighter of the Sierra, a television actress, a gigolo, a young ballet dancer, the custodian of a church and many other Cubans give voice to the moods, aspirations and fears of the islands people – the old warn against the risks of the penetration of imperialism, whilst the young dream of a freer society, economically efficient and open.

The film will be showing next Wednesday 15th July at the Barbican in the City of London as part of the Cine Cuba film festival.

For more information see

http://barbican.org.uk/film/event-detail.asp?ID=9374

Britain Today: A Look At The Recent Factory Occupations in London

April 2009

Hundreds of workers occupy three Visteon car manufacturing factories in Britain after the management closed them down, laying off the entire workforce with no notice, violating their contracts. This is reminiscent of the factory occupations of the 1970s.

Read full article here:
http://www.socialist.net/visteon-work…

The above is a lesson in the importance of organisation in the workplace and worker solidarity. See Organising at Work: How Activists can build a Union from scratch

Chavez may end patents on medicine in Venezuela

CARACAS, June 21 (Reuters) – President Hugo Chavez has vowed to shake up the rules governing intellectual property rights on medicines and other products in Venezuela, the socialist’s latest move against the private sector.

“A song is intellectual property, but an invention or a scientific discovery should be knowledge for the world, especially medicine,” Chavez said late on Saturday.

“That a laboratory does not allow us to make a medicine because they have the patent, no, no, no,” Chavez said.

Chavez, who has nationalized many Venezuela industries and is critical of the private sector, ordered his trade minister to analyze the patent rules in the OPEC nation.

“Patents have become a barrier to production, and we cannot allow them to be barriers to medicine, to life, to agriculture,” said the minister, Eduardo Saman, who previously headed Venezuela’s patent agency.

“We are revising all the doctrines and laws related to patents, which should be compatible with the international treaties that we have signed and respect and honor.”

Chavez recently criticized Swedish packaging maker Tetra Pak, saying its patents on cartons were limiting production in Venezuela.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Vicki Allen)

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/bondsNews/idUSN2148323120090621?rpc=401&

What Would A Socialist Alternative To Capitalism Look Like?

What would a socialist alternative to capitalism be like?

The following documentary on the social change taking place in Venezuela gives us an insight into the type of changes that would follow if a socialist government were ever to be elected.

Democratic deficit: parliament and democracy

As the crisis surrounding MPs’ expenses exposes the level of blatant fraud in Britain’s parliamentary system Simon Basketter looks at why capitalist democracy fails us Continue reading

Is It Time To Turn Our Backs On Capitalism and Give Socialism A Chance?

Capitalism is greed.

Capitalism is theft.

Capitalism is alienation and anti-sociality.

Capitalism is authoritarian.

Capitalism isn’t working.

Capitalism is violent.

Capitalism is unsustainable.

Capitalism is destroying us.

It is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous — and it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed. What do we want instead?

It is time to take the power back? To do this we need a system where the workers are in control and the means of production are owned by the workers not by a rich minority of capitalists…

In a socialist society the means of production [1] are owned by the workers rather than by a rich minority of capitalists or functionaries. Such a system of ownership is both collective and individual in nature.

It is collective because society can control production unlike the economic anarchy of capitalism and because production is for the common good rather than for individual profit.

At the same time it is individual because workers are no longer a ‘collective’ mob of alienated non-owners employed by a minority of owners. Work becomes a free and self-affirming activity for each worker and they receive the full fruits of their labor. The capitalists and their servants no longer control production nor grow rich from other’s toil. Everybody is an owner. Socialism is genuine free enterprise.

The personally empowering and cooperative nature of socialist ownership underpins similar changes in other aspects of life. Socialism means far healthier individuals and human relationships. It means full participation by each individual in the intellectual, cultural and political life of society.

Socialism requires a revolution with three main stages: firstly the emergence of a workers’ movement committed to socialist revolution, secondly the achievement of political power and the expropriation of the capitalists and thirdly a period during which workers learn how to be owners and rulers and cast off the psychological and ideological dross of the past.

Socialism will not be an utopia simply created in people’s minds. It will be the product of economic and social development. In developed countries it is now possible for everyone to live a reasonably affluent life and be free of long hours of routine toil. This creates a better basis for cooperation and mutual regard. Historically, where equality would have meant shared poverty, it was inevitable that a minority would plunder, enslave and exploit the majority. At the same time rank and file workers are progressively acquiring through their experiences, the abilities to do without an elite. Their general level of education and training has advanced significantly over the last couple of generations. The work they do, while still totally oppressive, has an increasingly mental and conceptual content. And they now have extensive access to cultural and intellectual resources and the diverse experiences of living in a modern society. So while socialism was impossible in the past, these emerging conditions make it inevitable in the future.

Footnote [1]. The means of production comprise everything, except labor, that is used in production, namely, factories, plant, equipment, offices, shops, raw materials, fuel and components.

It is time for the public to wake up. Time to open our eyes. The expenses scandal. The killing of Ian Tomlinson. Heavy handed police aggression during recent legitimate protests. The banking crisis. The Credit Crunch. The huge debts that have been put on future generations shoulders.

Enough is enough.

It is time for real change and to put people first. The only system that will truly do this is socialism.

Find out more. Visit the Socialist Worker.

Anti-Democratic Nature Of US Capitalism Is Being Exposed

By Noam Chomsky

THE SIMULTANEOUS unfolding of the US presidential campaign and unraveling of the financial markets presents one of those occasions where the political and economic systems starkly reveal their nature.

Passion about the campaign may not be universally shared but almost everybody can feel the anxiety from the foreclosure of a million homes, and concerns about jobs, savings and healthcare at risk.

The initial Bush proposals to deal with the crisis so reeked of totalitarianism that they were quickly modified. Under intense lobbyist pressure, they were reshaped as “a clear win for the largest institutions in the system . . . a way of dumping assets without having to fail or close”, as described by James Rickards, who negotiated the federal bailout for the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in 1998, reminding us that we are treading familiar turf. Continue reading

How to Fix the Wall Street Mess

March on Wall Street

Demonstration on Wall Street

The richest 400 Americans — that’s right, just four hundred people — own MORE than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. 400 rich Americans have got more stashed away than half the entire country! Their combined net worth is $1.6 trillion. During the eight years of the Bush Administration, their wealth has increased by nearly $700 billion — the same amount that they are now demanding we give to them for the “bailout.” Why don’t they just spend the money they made under Bush to bail themselves out? They’d still have nearly a trillion dollars left over to spread amongst themselves!

Of course, they are not going to do that — at least not voluntarily. George W. Bush was handed a $127 billion surplus when Bill Clinton left office. Because that money was OUR money and not his, he did what the rich prefer to do — spend it and never look back. Now we have a $9.5 trillion debt. Why on earth would we even think of giving these robber barons any more of our money? Continue reading