Green Dreams and Feet of Clay


I like the Green Party’s “Green New Deal".  It is a radical, reasonable, and straightforward appeal for large scale public intervention in key sections of the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve the ideal of more sustainable and more equitable economic development. It deserves every American’s consideration.

In addition, its advocacy of strong democratic reforms expanding the participation of working people in governing this society,  and in managing this economy, are inspiring. Its promotion of more cooperative forms of firm ownership, public goods and wealth distribution are indeed some of the frontiers of next generation social and economic organization.

The Green Party’s financial and wall street reform proposals get to the heart of high risk practices in too-big-to-fail institutions: break up of big banks, prosecution of fraudulent activity, separating commercial and investment banking, imposing transparency and a “self-insurance” tax on all classes of transactions.

Global climate change has compelled many people, not just outright communists or socialists, to challenge long standing capitalist prerogatives that stand in the way of both economic and environmental sustainability. Many are demanding a more rational, scientific approach to economic, development and environmental policy.

Catastrophic and/or structural changes in social and economic infrastructures destabilize institutions, and create grave political risks.  Courts, congresses, state legislatures, federal and state departments,  can all begin to fail, can be consumed by interest driven -- in other words, class --- politics. (Look what we have learned from Romney “telling it like it is” to his rich donor friends!)

Yet, the increasing risks of these catastrophic events remain largely external to market pricing mechanisms. Which means --- the risk -- and the disasters -- fall on the public. The proportional and scientifically recommended steps are, in effect, a  market failure. There is no market for the solutions. Only government can or will implement them.

Objective Pressures for Action are Rising NOW

Boston is drafting budget estimates NOW for dealing with 6-10 foot ocean surges as seas rise.  A major struggle is underway NOW between coal and much cheaper and cleaner-burning shale gas as both aging coal-fired plants, and virtually all new plants, switch  to natural gas.  Addressing those risks means rethinking and re-marking the true costs of much economic activity, especially activity that burns fossil fuels.

Measuring costs and benefits of non-market services and goods, and other externalities from the mild and beneficial to the catastrophic is a necessary  but non-trivial problem. In many cases we are dealing not with scientific certainty, but probability. Thus, it is important to be careful about the negative side of ideology in assessing scientific controversy. I agree with Bill Clinton who said on John Stewart’s show that “Ideology has the weakness of ‘having an answer’ before the evidence is really in”. This is especially true when debating probabilities.

Thus, for example, opposition to fossil fuels, period, is, or can be, an ideological position that bars any political distinctions between oil, coal, and shale gas. But from a class position, a careful weighting of shale gas vs oil and coal technologies and costs from both an environmental, political and overall energy and job requirements may well conclude: make a deal with shale gas for 30 years, and force the ultra reactionary cliques in oil and coal into political isolation.

Where to divide monopoly capital and its allies, picking correctly the weakest link in the reactionary chain to hold, and thereby holding the strongest key to unity and progress, is the mandatory question of a class approach to 2012 politics.  For those readers versed in the history of Vladimir Lenin --- 1905 tactics, not 1917, are the better guide to classic thinking on this question in this time.

While shunning excessively ideological approaches to ecology, I nonetheless submit that when one thinks about a “more scientifically managed society” -- they are thinking very Marx-like thoughts (which were overwhelmingly about capitalism, not socialism), and yet touching exactly on what  a “more socialist” and “less capitalist” society  means.

As productive forces develop and all labor becomes ever more interdependent -- public management of rising entitlements and  public goods becomes ever more necessary.  I  am enough of a student of Marx to understand  that capitalist relations of one kind or another will be with us as long as commodities exist -- which will be as long in time and wide in degree as there is a demand for scarce goods. In addition, for development of new goods, markets are an important motivation, reality test and source,  of innovation. But,  the public, cooperative, partnership, shared profit, and non-profit spaces and work-models, as well as new forms of independent employment in the economy will expand and become stronger once they are protected with greater national health care, retirement and educational security, and the rights to self-association.

Of course the corporate ideologists of the free-market fundamentalism schools -- funded heavily by Exxon and other energy giants ---  are busy repeating ad nauseum that “climate change fanaticism is the trojan horse for socialism and  communism.” (Limbaugh ---he keeps using the trojan horse metaphor, but that horse may be the only ride out of town in an emergency!).  The truth is that socialism and republicanism (of the kind advocated by the founders of the US) have a lot in common, and that every society since the rise of capitalism is mix, a difficult marriage if you will, of public and private enterprise stamped with its particular history of class, democratic and social struggles.

The notion of society being guided by a more scientific, more disinterested polity runs deep in our history, back to  Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Paine and the ideals of the Enlightenment. Karl Marx, to my mind, was indeed the last great thinker of the Enlightenment in that he sought to extend its ideals to all who labor. He contended that of all social classes created under various capitalist societies, the working class was the most “disinterested”, and thus the best suited to govern in both a more democratic, and more scientific , direction.

I like the Green Party Program, Yet I am Voting for Obama

...but first, a parable from a shop struggle some years ago...

An upstate New York General Electric shop once built industrial capacitors. It may still. Some thirty-five years ago, a union worker in the shop observed a foreman handling incoming shipments on which a skull and crossbones and other insignia appeared. The foreman was performing bargaining unit work -- a contract violation in some circumstances. The Union investigation showed that the materials were a type of epoxy which contained a high concentration of a known carcinogen. Shortly word spreads of the “cancer threat”, and a petition requesting an official OSHA complaint circulates among employees and union members. The company responds with a statement declaring the danger to be exaggerated and, “anyway, there is no alternative and production might have to relocate to a more suitable country.”

No surprise -- soon, a new petition is circulating through the plant requesting retraction of the first petition -- to save the jobs!

Pressure is building for the union to resolve what now threatens a split between those still concerned about  a high exposure to cancer risk, versus those now even more concerned about losing their jobs -- one of the best paying for their kind. Emotions are running high at the meeting. The artful compromise that ended up uniting the membership was to a) concede that survival  might dictate working with more cancer but b) the company should open the contract to re-negotiate upward the early payout on their pensions since their likely lifespan was now reduced.

Rather than entertain opening a local agreement in a nationally negotiated contract, within a few days, GE “discovered” an epoxy free of the carcinogen.

A Class Approach to Ecology?

A Ho Hum anecdote to some, perhaps. But -- illustrative of the complexity of what legitimately can, or cannot, lay claim to a  working class perspective on ecology. A class perspective cannot simply assert “that’s capitalism” at the very concrete challenges that are arising every day and deliver “äfter the revolution everything will be fine” lectures. A socialism, or, for that matter, a Green New Deal, without tactics and strategic concepts is no socialism, or Deal at all; or rather, a socialism and Green New Deal entirely of the mind.  There are other objections that can be made to overly ideological economic and environmental programs. History is replete with examples of many striking political upheavals, but there are no examples of comparable economic great leaps. Economic change involves millions of transactions and rules both legal and cultural, and is always incremental at best. Any environmental shift in a new directions will include a new regime of winners and losers, jobs and occupations and services created, and those left behind.  A class approach is concrete, and attentive to details. Forced marches are possible, if short, but cannot be sustained.

The same objection --- a certain classlessness in outlook ---  applies to the Green party, as well as to the “we will fix it after capitalism” crowd.  In the abstract most Green Party positions are enlightened. But in real life they take on too many enemies at once to build the needed class coalition unity, which must, if at all possible, focus on the weakest link in the chain of monopoly political power.  I make a short list of the enemies of the Green New Deal: Most of finance capital, most energy, chemical, construction, pharma, defense, insurance, agbiz, real  estate, and I could keep going. In addition, employees in these industries will have a wide range of political opinion on many matters, but will often be captives of their own employer’s industrial policy -- like coal, for example. The company owns the jobs!

This is too many enemies to take on at once. Plus, no matter how strong, and more perfectly, the Green Party were to advance its program -- the stronger and better it gets, the more of a spoiler it must play in two-party politics. In any battleground state, a vote for Jill Stein is a vote that ignores the vast divide in policy and philosophy and class coalition between Obama and Romney. Ignorance on that matter can come with a very high price. Even in West Virginia, where polls show many workers are persuaded that Öbama’s EPA is “waging a war on coal”, a vote for Obama is arguably a more potent pro worker and pro environment act than a vote for Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala.  There is a fierce battle going on in the WV Democratic party over the Blue Dog table manners of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Senator (and former Governor) Joe Manchin boycotting the national Democratic convention, refusing to endorse the President, and adopting false, Republican talking points in their campaigns. Should not, from a class perspective, that battle be fully engaged?

So, I am voting for Obama. But -- at the same time (and this is the insanity induced by the restrictions on new thinking the two-party system imposes) ---  I would like to see Jill Stein on a third lectern in the national debates. I am dreaming green, but with feet of clay. When Romney spewed absolute garbage about the green incentives in the stimulus package under Obama, Obama did not rise to its defense. But Ms Stein would have, immediately, doing important ideological lifting the campaign needs!

But that’s my testimony. What is yours?

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