G. A. Cohen
Why Not Socialism?
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
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
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”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.