Book Reviews

Just in one country?

2050 Vision. How can the UK play its part in avoiding dangerous climate change?
By Matthew Lockwood and Jenny Bird with Raquel Alvarez. Institute for Public Policy Research. 2007. £10.95.

This 100-page study by the left-leaning IPPR argues that Britain “should be aiming to make reductions in carbon emissions of at least 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050, if we are to avoid a 2ºC global warming above pre-industrial levels”.

The authors show that this is technologically feasible in that wind power and carbon capture (from fossil fuels) and storage could be developed if enough resources were devoted to this. Technically feasible, no doubt, but how likely is this to happen? The authors themselves mention, though only in passing, the main flaw in their analysis: UK emissions represent only 2 percent of the global total, so even if these measures were adopted in Britain this would only have a very marginal, if any, effect on global warming. But if other countries didn’t follow this would have a disastrous effect on British capitalist industry.

The authors admit that the forecasting models they used failed to include “interactions with the wider global economy” and add limply:

“Some of these interactions involve risks for energy-intensive, and therefore carbon-intensive, industries exposed to international competition, and these may need extra support in decarbonising if production and jobs are not to relocate.”

Well, yes, and if that happened global warming would not be affected at all. The emissions would continue but in a different part of the world. And since all industries depend to some degree on energy they would all be affected by the increased energy costs the authors proposals would involve, even if it is true that energy-intensive industries would be the worst hit.

In short, applying unilaterally what is technically feasible but more costly would undermine the competitiveness of British industry on world markets, and that no government would dare do. So, in practice, there is no chance that any British government would go it alone on this issue. But the authors still maintain the illusion that one might, by talking of Britain giving a lead which others will follow. Some of those they consulted thought this might happen. Others were more realistic:

“Respondents from the United States were generally less convinced that leading by example would be enough to encourage movements from the US – despite the ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK – or from other countries. Differing national circumstances were cited as one reason for this. The UK’s (and the EU’s) increasing dependence on fossil fuel imports puts them in a very different position to many of the world’s major CO2 emitters, which have access to large reserves of coal and/or other fossil fuels. It was therefore felt unreasonable to expect these countries to reduce their fossil fuel consumption just because the UK had taken a lead”.

Precisely, and that’s the whole point. The EU countries, including Britain, are prepared to reduce their reliance on having to import fossil fuels to generate energy. That makes economic sense for them. The US and China, which do have access to large internal reserves of oil and/or coal, are not so keen. And, given that under capitalism “nation shall compete with nation”, why should they be? Why would they shoot themselves in the foot by undermining their competitiveness any more than any British government is likely to by unilaterally adopting the measures proposed by the IPPR’s naïve researchers?

There is, quite simply, no solution to the problem of global warming within capitalism.


World Bankers

The World Bank – A Critical Primer. By Eric Toussaint. Pluto Press.

Throughout this comparative study of official World Bank statements and internal memos, Eric Toussaint lays bare the absolute conflict between the public and private ideologies, time after time revealing the imperative of achieving US political aims above all other considerations. It is a very interesting book making the facts and figures of economics accessible to the layperson through ample explicit tables and clear explanations with minimum use of jargon.

Contrary to common belief, the mission of the World Bank under the umbrella of the UN was not and is not to reduce poverty but (1) to rebuild Europe post second world war and (2) to promote the economic growth of the South through development. As a part of the World Bank Group the World Bank is (supposedly) bound by the UN Charter and according to the International Court of Justice it is the duty of the World Bank to respect human rights and customary law in general. However, nowhere is this obligation seen to be incorporated in the implementation of their policies; in fact examples abound as to how readily and easily these obligations have been circumvented or simply disregarded. In strict violation of a UN right of people to self-determination the World Bank granted loans in the 1950s to Belgium, France and Britain to finance projects in their colonies, mostly for mining for the benefit of the colonial powers and then, following independence, the debt was transferred to the newly emerging nations. This “odious debt” is a violation of international law which Toussaint describes as having been imposed on “the Bank, with the connivance of its main colonial shareholders and the blessing of the US”.

The Bank’s mandate was to be purely economic, not to be involved in politics but even the first loan it granted in 1947, to France, was held up by the US government until Communist Party members were ousted from the coalition government. One chapter is specifically devoted to examples showing that the policy of granting loans is first and foremost determined by the US government often on the basis of purely political objectives. From the 1990s the US influenced against granting loans in areas that would compete with US products. Where oil was concerned drilling was encouraged, refining, not. In essence, more primitive accumulation, showing no regard for environmental concerns or human rights and contrary to the UN Charter. The over-riding message is the blatant, systematic disregard for the founding principles of the Charter.

As to the answers to criticisms of the Bank’s succession of errors or bad management Toussaint reveals them to be “a deliberate part of a coherent, carefully thought out, theoretical plan, taught with great application in most universities.” The strategy, in a nutshell, is that providing infrastructure should fall on the state sector and anything that might prove profitable should be given to the private sector (preferably favouring multinational corporations), i.e. privatisation of profits combined with the socialisation of the cost of anything not profitable. Within the indebted country failing private companies would have their debt transferred to the state (as the military junta in Argentina transferred $12 billion of private debt to the state). Thus the capitalists in developing countries escape their debt, having it paid instead by the Treasury at the expense of the workers (Toussaint’s analysis). In Argentina in the 80s (just one typical example) even subsidiaries of transnational corporations indebted to their parent companies had their debts transferred to the Argentina Treasury; Renault, Mercedes-Benz, City Bank, Chase Manhattan, Société Générale etc. etc., all transferred their debt and as the government had no access to their accounts, one might raise an eyebrow!

Describing the demise of Mexico in the 80s Toussaint is of the opinion that “Mexico has lost control of its destiny which, historically, has been the US’s objective since the nineteenth century.” By the end of the 90s all six major developing regions showed negative net transfer meaning simply that their debt to the World Bank was continuing to grow because they couldn’t keep up with the payments. Reports and internal memos reveal the Bank saw the crisis on the horizon but their “double discourse” informed the public and indebted countries that there was nothing to worry about. When the subject of Debt Reduction was eventually raised (in 1989) by the US government the Bank complied. This consisted of indebted nations buying US Treasury bonds in exchange for a reduction of their debt; in effect now the indebted countries were financing the policy of indebtedness of the US itself. As for the Bank’s own accounts, since its founding in 1946, they have consistently produced positive net results. Since 1985 each year has exceeded $1billion in profits whilst all developing countries’ net transfers since 1987 have been negative, resulting in increasing debt.

Eric Toussaint is President of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) whose mission is “to contribute to the emergence of a world based on the sovereignty of its peoples, on international solidarity, equality and social justice” with which we can broadly agree. Throughout the book he promotes “a break with the capitalist system” and tells us that “a system of redistribution of wealth is needed.” Point 30 of 31 indictments of the World Bank says “a new international, democratic institution must urgently be found to promote a redistribution of wealth and to support people’s efforts towards development that is socially just and respectful of nature.” Then he goes on to talk of 21st century socialism without addressing what this means except to break away from the Washington Consensus, the World Bank and the IMF in favour of new financial and monetary institutions and to point to possible alternatives such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

An alternative system, hostile to capitalism but without a commitment to abolishing money? – Is it possible that Eric Toussaint hasn’t yet heard of the Socialist Party?

Food for Thought

Bob Torres: Making a Killing. AK Press £11.

Some Socialists are vegetarians, but others are not. We have never seen a reason to take a stand on this issue as a party, however strongly some individual members may feel. In this book, though, Bob Torres makes a political case for veganism, in keeping with his support for social anarchism.

Torres begins by accepting a Marxian economic analysis of capitalism, as commodity production involving exploitation. But he then goes on to claim that animals perform unwaged labour and are super-exploited living commodities. In Marxian economics, however, they are a part of the means of production, i.e. of what Marx called “constant capital”, which does not create new value but merely transfers its value to the product. Just as slavery involved some humans being the property of others and hence treated just as means to the end of the owners, so animals are under the power of humans. They are bought and sold, kept and killed in appalling conditions, experimented on, and used to provide milk, meat and eggs. This is speciesism, he says, integrated into society as much as racism once was (though note that there are separate species with identifiable characteristics, but no distinct races).

The ‘animal rights’ movement comes in for heavy criticism. For one thing, it is dominated by large organisations that employ professional activists earning high salaries. As such, it can be co-opted by the meat and animal products industry. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has even given awards to someone who invented a more ‘efficient’ kind of slaughterhouse.

In contrast, Torres argues, the advocacy of animal rights needs to become part of a wider movement that challenges all hierarchy, domination and exploitation, whether of other humans, animals or nature. We do not need to eat meat or animal products in order to live, therefore we should not do so. Vegetarianism is not sufficient, since the production of both milk and eggs involves cruelty (e.g. cows must constantly be kept pregnant in order to provide milk). Veganism, which involves making no use of animal products at all, ‘must be not only the foundation and baseline of any movement to end the domination of animals, but also the daily practice of anyone who seeks to live their life free of all domination and hierarchy’.

There can be no dispute that many animals are treated abominably under capitalism. One question is to what extent their treatment is due to capitalism’s demands for profit and for constantly cheapening the costs of production. For it does not follow that mistreatment is a hallmark of all use of animals for food. It is perfectly possible that a Socialist society would involve less eating of meat and eggs, and any animals kept for food purposes would certainly be treated as humanely as possible. It’s all very well to talk about opposing all hierarchy, including that of humans over animals, but if it came to the crunch I suspect almost everyone would regard the life of a fellow human as more important than that of a non-human animal. So there can be no real equality of treatment between humans and animals.

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