Is Mankind doomed?

The sane and sensible method of using the ecological resources to meet the needs of all the people of the world is Socialism.

When a religious group predict the end of the world in the near future very few people sit up and take notice. But what happens when a group of scientists make it clear that they expect the breakdown of present society within the next fifty years? And, that when they are on about the Ecosphere they evince a deep knowledge of their subject and it seems that Man needs to wake up from the present dream and to do some serious thinking indeed. The group have formed a political movement called the Movement for Survival which they hope will become international. They may contest the next General Election. In the meantime they are trying to persuade governments, industrial leaders and trade unions throughout the world to face the facts and to take appropriate action while there is yet time. Their aim, according to their manifesto, Blueprint for Survival, is a new system of society seeking stability rather than expansion.

The ecologists’ case, which they are presenting strongly, concerns pollution in its many forms; “overpopulation”, disruption of the ecosphere by inorganic fertilizers and pesticides; the exhaustion of the world’s resources of petroleum and metals; and social disruption. The Blueprint deals with these symptoms in detail, and the picture it presents, though exaggerated, is grim and ugly enough. But here overpopulation is represented as occurring from an increasing demand rate and a decreasing capacity for the world to accommodate this demand. This demand is not simply based on human consumption of the necessaries and amenities of life, but on “the summation of all man’s demands on the environment, such as the extraction of resources and the return of wastes.’’ Surely they mean all capitalism’s demands, for they use figures for this demand based on the UN Statistical Yearbook. They call it Ecological Demand. The annual rate of population increase is 2 per cent; the annual rate of ecological demand is 5 to 6 per cent. Should the world’s resources fail to meet this demand then the result would be “overpopulation’’ — they say. This is a case which Socialists categorically deny. The world has no overpopulation problem; the problem is capitalism’s inability to produce sufficient to feed and meet the needs of the world’s population.

On pollution the Doomwatchers make out an impressive case. Essential to the environment are such features as stability, organisation and complexity, but present trends suggest that “Industrial Man’’ is counteracting these basic requirements of the ecosphere and is thus bringing about its ruination as a fertile means of life. Marx pointed out the trend years ago and since he wrote pollution has multiplied. But the ecologists mis-state the real cause of pollution, which is capitalist profit-motivated production. Instead, they point to certain characteristics and symptoms of capitalism such as expansion, urban drift, and the increased ratio of capital to labour (here they mean the non-profit-creating to the profit-creating part of capital). They appear not to be hard up for euphemisms for capitalism’s dirty words; still, their account of the interdependence of the forms of life and the necessity of recycling the eco-processes are impressive.

What do the ecologists propose as a solution to this “imminent” world crisis? They propose to create

“a society which is sustainable and will give the fullest possible satisfaction to its members. A society depending on stability, not expansion; but this does not mean that it will be stagnant. It could provide more variety than the present uniformity . . . The minimum conditions of this society are the minimum disruption of ecological processes; the maximum conservation of materials and energy; a population in which recruitment will equal loss; and a social system in which the individual can enjoy, rather than feel restricted by the first three conditions.”

In the meantime, they suggest, present trends must be arrested by the freezing of current pesticide commitments and a changeover from the “old playing for time” methods of pollution dispersal, etc. The Blueprint editors have arranged a series of talks with Environment Minister, Peter Walker, who says he wants to know more.

However, the situation is somewhat different to that presented by the ecologists, who reveal repressed insight into the real nature of capitalism. This system has often given some of its critics the notion that it is on the verge of collapse, and articles in the SOCIALIST STANDARD have shown time and again how it fails to produce both the delightful and the dire results expected of it. The fluctuations in a profit-geared system, with its gluts and shortages, make hay of these corny predictions. Crises of inflation give way to crises of “overproduction” and the deliberate destruction of vast quantities of food and areas of production.

Another result of the ecologists’ failing to face up to capitalist reality is that they appear to believe in miracles. By implication, they wish to retain the fundamentals of the present system; i.e. money, profit-making, capital, a ruled and a ruling class, yet they expect to freeze expansion and to substitute stability under it. They seem to have in mind a form of élitist society in which small self-sufficient and self-regulating communities would take the place of large cities and centralised government. Significantly, they foresee that in the transitional stage a heavy burden would be placed on “our moral courage” and restraint. “The operations of the police force and the courts would be necessary.” “This would be reinforced by creating (concrete) conditions for full public participation and decision-making, and this would be far easier in small societies.” The idea of decentralisation brings into relief the hopelessness of their belief that they can change capitalism, for it runs counter to the whole tendency of present day society. Capitalism is becoming more and more a world system with an international network of communications and control.

The sane and sensible method of using the ecological resources to meet the needs of all the people of the world is Socialism. The efficient production and distribution of wealth will be facilitated by the use of these institutions. It is true that a transformation in the basis and organisation of human society is necessary and this can only be a revolutionary transformation. It is only possible when the great majority of the workers come, through understanding of their identity of interests, to Socialism, regardless of “prestige”, colour or sex.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, July 1972)

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