The canary is dead. Now, we are waiting for the mineshaft to explode. Every week brings ever more apocalyptic headline regarding the Earthʼs climate. Lakes dry up, sea levels rise, hydraulic fracturing spawns earthquakes, animals die off en masse, super storms rage from Miami to Manila, and Antarctica experiences its warmest temperatures EVER. Reading newspapers or following the developments on the Internet exposes one to horrors only eclipsed in scope within the pages of Lovecraft.
One must ask, “How is it that this crisis remains largely unaddressed?” We know more then ever before about our role in climate change at a time when there is an overwhelming majority within the scientific establishment that agrees on our role as the catalyst of climate change. Furthermore, an environmental movement exists that is decades old, well enriched, and sizable enough to be a social, political, and economic force. Yet, the march to doomsday continues unimpeded, while well-paid, useful idiots stand on the floor of congress with snowballs and wax moronic about “global wobbling,” attempting to drown out the roar or reality?
To answer that question is easy. To accept that answer may be difficult for some. We continue down a path towards the destruction of the ecosystem and even the most remedial quality of life, not because of a lack of understanding, compassion, or effort, but because the logic of capitalism offers no alternative. The romantic liberal notions of piecemeal reform, sustainable business, and voting with your dollar have failed. No amount of swirly light bulbs or responsible devotions to locally-sourced produce can overcome the immense concentrations of power and wealth that reside at the top of the capitalist hierarchy.
That is not to say that we are relieved of the responsibility of making our best individual efforts to save our ecosystem. But we should accept that our methods and results of production are not currently in our power to change. The dogma of lifestyle change cannot equal the reality of socio-economic and capital relations. Furthermore, that same dogma is degrading and dispiriting to those who do not possess the means to radically change their circumstances. Much of mainstream environmentalism is placed, therefore, beyond the reach of the great working-class masses of the world; the same masses who will, in a spectacularly cruel work of irony, be left mostly at the mercy of a vengeful climate.
To understand why previous well-intentioned efforts at changing our paradigm have failed, we must understand the logic of capitalism. Capitalism demands that great numbers of unnecessary products be made and their wanton consumption steadfastly encouraged. Capitalism demands that this wasteful production be done as cheaply and quickly as possible, no matter the expense to people or planet entailed. Capitalism demands that resources be extracted from the earth and sea in ever-greater quantities, no matter the damage caused or the lengths went to in that extraction. Capitalism demands that billions be spent on needless, tacky advertising. Billions more are pillaged from the Global South and held as numbers in private digital coffers, instead of poured into the necessary task of saving and advancing our prosperity as a species in a sustainable manner. Then there is capitalism’s final demand that the people doing the work necessary to make everything good in life possible be exploited and disenfranchised so heavily that it becomes impossible for them to stop the cycle of destruction and exploitation that their own labour is used to prop up.
These are the bedrock necessities of capitalism. They have given rise to poverty, slavery, racism, sexism, and imperialism, and now add an ecological Armageddon to the heads of its dreaded hydra. Without these ransoms being paid in full, capitalism cannot exist. The heart of our ecological dilemma isnʼt a matter of social irresponsibility on the part of the masses, it is the existential crises which forms the core of capitalism. Capitalism was once dynamic and revolutionary. It built towering, ungodly spires, created previously unachievable wonders, and brought forth a pantheon of Promethean technological developments into the story of humanity. However, it contained a self-destruct mechanism that will sweep away both its victories and its failures. The question of the validity of the continued existence of capitalism is no longer a question of its social benefits and detriments, or of the human relationships it engenders. It is no longer even a question. Capitalism is destroying the natural basis for its own existence. The validity of capitalism is, therefore, logically dead. If capitalism has forfeited its right to exist, and it did so long before now, there remain twin questions concerning what to replace it with and how to do so. Thankfully, the antidote to the poisons of capitalism already exists. It is none other than capitalismʼs age old foe and critic, socialism, whose specter shall never be banished so long as one person is permitted to harm many for his or her own gain. So, we have our answer, but now we must figure out the algebra involved in getting from x, our current position, to socialism. Fortunately, that mathematics has already been figured out as well. Unfortunately, it is not as easy a formula to enact as the failed equations of our romantic liberal friends.
Only by engaging in the hard work of direct action, by demanding and then taking control of our communities, workplaces, homes, and lives, and by beginning the construction of a new order now — RIGHT NOW! — we may we save ourselves. Only by rebuilding the great revolutionary parties of yesterday, infusing them with the knowledge of today, and thrusting them into tomorrowʼs prominence may we grasp sufficient power to challenge that which currently rules us. Only by having a revolution from the bottom, a true democratic and socialist revolution emboldened by but not beholden to the revolutions of the past may we claim for ourselves our rightful prize of a better tomorrow. Only by taking hold of the ability to change the wasteful, polluting, destructive order of our society can we stop what has already been set in motion and build a sustainable future of dignity, liberty, comfort, and justice. We cannot stop merely at the ballot box and the farmers market. While the best time to do all of this would have been a century ago, the second best time is now. Fear and we shall wither, retreat and we shall perish, but advance and we shall stand victorious.
However, I can already hear the scoffing of our liberal friends over the raging bluster of our conservative neighbors. They label our answers as failed, utopian, and overly harsh. To them we must ask, first and foremost, why their answers have been tested and found inadequate. To criticize our ideas effectively, one must present answers of his or her own. Unfortunately, the ideas of liberal, mainstream environmentalism have been applied time and time again, yet they do nothing more than smooth the ragged edges of the hemorrhaging wounds inflicted upon the world by capitalism. The liberal position is, therefore, exposed for what it really is, the “straight man” juxtaposed against the cartoonish buffoonery of conservatives throughout the last several decades. This comedy, however, is no longer funny; and is an art form better left to the Marx brothers. Our words may seem harsh, but the reality is much harsher. The offended sensibilities of an American political plurality are not of greater importance than the lives of the billions of the working class the world over.
I would like to conclude by quoting Eugene Debs and paraphrasing Rosa Luxemburg, two of my favorite historical socialists. Debs once said, “I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.” In this same manner, we of the Socialist Party USA do not seek followers; we seek comrades who will stand with us as equals in reclaiming our lives and securing our future. We seek comrades who will share in the necessary work being done, and contribute their unique perspectives and experiences free from the beating sticks of classism, sexism, and racism. These include members of the Ecosocialist Commission, of which I am proud to be a part. Our goal is noble and essential, but cannot be accomplished without the help of many others.
It is also prudent to remember the words of Rosa Luxemburg, who prophetically stated, “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.” It is easy to see how our current system of profits over people, police states, wanton environmental destruction, and all the other deadly horns that protrude from this beastʼs head could be called “barbaric.” However, we no longer face a choice merely between exploitative capitalism or liberating socialism. We now face a much more diabolical gambit: Ecosocialism or annihilation. In other words: Ecosocialism. Or else.