Friday, June 3, 2011

Marginal notes on "Floods, tornadoes & social revolution"

"....The salvation of the world and its peoples lies in social change that will clear away all the obstructions to rational use and development of our natural and human-made resources. This means taking ownership and control away from the class of super-rich who presently make the rules and decisions. They always have a narrow goal: to promote their interests as a highly privileged class that derives its power from its ownership of capital. Private ownership must be overthrown and social ownership instituted. That’s the only real meaning of socialism, and it requires the revolutionary reconstitution of society."

--"Floods, tornadoes & social revolution" Workers World newspaper; Published Jun 1, 2011 4:34 PM

Deirdre Griswold's article "Floods, tornadoes, and social revolution" represents a serious attempt at connecting current weather disasters with a campaign against capitalism; it proposes revolutionary socialism as the goal in ameliorating the pollution that has changed global climate patterns.
"Climate change" as a political question is a trap for the unwary. It is all too easy to get caught in a "chicken little" snare, beating one's breast that the climate issue is so urgent, everything else in working class politics is unimportant. Back in the 1980s the great UK Marxist historian Edward Thompson [who wrote excellent books on William Morris, the development of the English proletariat, and a powerful assault on Althusser in "The Poverty of Theory"] took up the banner of nuclear disarmament, saying the world was on the road to extermination because US and USSR politicians and military thinkers were trapped within an "exterminist" logic. [Carl Sagan and Dr. Helen Caldecott made similar "end of the world" nuclear winter scenarios part of their public repertoire as well, though after their bourgeois candidate was defeated in the 1984 election, the Chicken Littles grew quieter.]
Another response to pollution, storms, and the rise in global temperatures is a contrarian dismissal of the science itself. For scientific socialists this sounds absurd, but science does not float carefree like a blimp over the roiling seas of the class struggle. Scientific truth is used as an endorsement of everything from chewing gum to car tires to office chairs to bottled water. How are workers today to judge the science of climate change or anything else? One scientists says it is sun spots and another says it is human-made pollution, and both are in the pocket of particular capitalist institutions. Science correspondents on TV are happy to interview one lab coat from each side and call the result balanced. When middle class radicals start gnashing their teeth about climate to get their candidates elected, they are only espousing an electoral program, hoping a more friendly regime will help them raise capital for their boutique solution to the crisis.
Pollution/contamination of the environment is not just a problem for the earth's climate and workers who live on flood plains and along Tornado Alley USA. All the pollutants and destructive, anarchic short-term business procedures of the profit system are killing people today with asthma, cancer, poisoned water and food, et cetera. While we might not be able to do much as a class about the next tornado, we can do something as a class about how the boss class organizes their work for their profit. "Workers control" of the workplace, including health and safety, must be an essential component of any militant struggle. A campaign around labor-community coalitions can expand this worker control to embrace the idea that workers in each enterprise must oversee health and safety not only for the workforce, but for their region. The nuclear workers in Fukushima, Japan here.
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""....people are gullible because the knowledge they need to understand their world is hard to get through the haze of obfuscating, reactionary talk shows and a profitable mass culture that promotes the “paranormal,” scaring people half to death with sensational and mystical nonsense.""
Is comrade Griswold correct? Is it the culture industry that is robbing us of a real scientific understanding of the world?
Where do correct ideas come from? TV shows about science? Books and movies which do not feature vampires? Talk shows that are not about the racist parading of Black men as "dead beat dads"?
A better question might be: where do incorrect ideas come from? But even that does not scratch the surface of the question. Do we think lights in the sky at night are space aliens because there are books, movies, TV shows, or radio programs about aliens? Is anyone really, honestly "scared to death with sensational and mystical nonsense"? I see no evidence of it, outside of a Simpsons Halloween episode.
"Wrong ideas" are often superceded holdovers from previous periods of class history, put to use again for reactionary purposes to obscure contemporary social relations. They are embraced for a variety of reasons, usually a concatenation if circumstances built around the devastatingly alienating effects of the wages system and the capitalist production process. When workers become mere objects in society, the reifying distance from which they view questions of science and learning make them alien and threatening. Especially if their school classes are a prison lockdown testing treadmill.
Workers embrace wrong ideas not because they are wrong, but because they make sense [sense as "common sense" - common intellectual denominators accumulating pragmatically over centuries]. People who have no experience of a rising labor movement and the power of solidarity do not give up religion for science and class consciousness; they give it up for a more up-to-date version of the original: a church with electric guitars or reincarnation or family event nights that reject dehumanizing mass culture entirely. [In this profoundly contradictory process, small wonder some who 500 years ago would have had a visit from the Virgin Mary now have visits from space aliens who recognize their importance. Is not the coded dream of capitalist ideology that each of us is a secret genius or captain or king waiting to be acknowledged?]
False consciousness cannot be defeated by turning off a talk show or other loathsome but enticing appendages of mass culture. Marxists categorically reject a "barracks" society of moral perfection. Consciousness only changes when the material bases of biological and social life changes. A dozen more Tahrir Squares, a dozen more Wisconsins, a dozen more Republic Windows and Doors will do more than throwing out a million televisions.
Changing consciousness can also begin where the weather is at its worst. Those whose homes have been flooded or blown away need militant leadership to socialize the consequences of these natural disasters. Rebuilding must not become one more way for insurance companies and banks to enrich themselves. Improving levees and berms along the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers would be an excellent use of funds earmarked for the Pentagon.
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Capitalist ideas of reality and social relations are the ruling ideas of our time to such an extent that for most people they do not seem like ideas at all, simply Reality.
Capitalism itself, in its lawful workings, undermines the ideological fortifications throw up over the millenia. But this does not mean that people break with old capitalist ideas in order to embrace scientific socialism. Far from it; without the example of mass fighting labor parties and a mass communist vanguard, people who have broken with old ideas are just as likely to embrace "new ideas" that seem up to date, but which are actually just transitional forms common sense and pseudoscience are taking as they develop to a new plateau of squalor. Skepticism about children's inoculations, 911 Truthers, and Tea Party partisans who embrace everything from Ron Paul to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are examples of these new ideas at the margins of petty bourgeois radicalism.
Socialism, a generalization of the line of march of the working class, supersedes these nostrums and rationalizations only to the extent that it becomes a movement of millions; when that happens, old ideas and the old material circumstances that gave them birth will be replaced internationalism and class solidarity. And the "ever-growing union of the workers."
Jay Rothermel

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