2020s >> 2021 >> no-1405-september-2021

Pathfinders

Say It Loud

If you want to take a pessimistic view of humanity’s future, there’s no shortage of evidence. And because the news cycle feeds primarily off bad news, it’s the easiest evidence to find. You have to look a bit harder for the positive news stories to back an optimistic view, but they do exist.

Like the story about the massive expansion of sharing app Olio, where people go out of their way to provide free stuff for people who are in need. Volunteers collect unsold produce from Tesco supermarkets, list it all in an app, and then superintend the hand-out process as local people come in to collect whatever is available (bbc.in/3goRIQa).

What’s in it for Tesco? Cynically, one might say it’s good optics, as they are being seen to care, plus it saves them the costs of disposal. Less cynically, they are to some extent undermining their own profits by giving stuff away, so this is at least a concrete act that is a world away from the empty rhetoric and vapid virtue signalling of most capitalist companies.

What’s in it for the volunteers? A nice feeling, presumably, of doing some good in the world, to counteract all the loudly advertised bad stuff. ‘If everybody did something small but meaningful, we’d live in a much, much better society,” says one volunteer, who gets up at 7am every Saturday to collect Tesco cast-offs. And he’s right, of course. But any sentence that starts with the phrase ‘If everybody did…’ is really a political statement about how the world ought to be, and as we know, politics is about more than people just being nice to each other. It’s about thinking big.

Socialism is about thinking on the largest, global scale. And we know that’s a problem because a lot of people don’t seem able or willing to think at that scale. Not even when it comes to an existential threat like climate change. Even though the capitalist money-machine has blindly bulldozed its way across the planet destroying lives, cultures, landscapes and wildlife, people still have a dogged faith in the market system and its governments and politicians to find solutions to the very problems they’re causing.

And here’s a little anecdote about Glasgow and the run-up to COP26 in November which is nothing if not ironic.

Property owners in Glasgow are exploiting the shit out of COP26 by hiking their rents to astronomical levels during the conference period, in a bid to make big bucks out of a climate emergency. Greedy, grasping bastards indeed, but this is capitalist logic at work. If you’ve got a commodity that’s in high demand, you charge the maximum price you can get for it, and never mind scruples.

So it turns out that many climate activists from around the world who want to go to Glasgow to demonstrate their belief in the market system’s supposed magical ability to clean up its own mess, now can’t afford it because of the normal operations of the market system.

Fortunately, not everyone is a greedy, grasping bastard, even when capitalist logic tells them they ought to be. A network of Glasgow house owners has come together to express solidarity with climate activists by offering them very cheap accommodation over the course of the November climate summit (bbc.in/3mnSIbc). There aren’t enough of them, and they’re already oversubscribed, but still it’s some comfort to know that, destroy whatever else it may, capitalism never quite manages to destroy the capacity of humans to treat each other with decency.

Given this, the failure of people including climate activists to engage with the concept of a decent society at a global scale is astonishing and alarming. All kinds of cognitive biases are at play here, as people perform mental contortions to rationalise the irrational world around them, when it would be so much easier to say ‘you know what, capitalism is turning into a catastrophe, let’s get rid of it.’

The problem is the alternative. Influential environmental campaigner George Monbiot has publicly acknowledged the fact that capitalism is the problem, ‘a weapon pointed at the living world’, a conclusion he freely admits he came to slowly and reluctantly, after he had run out of ways to excuse it. Unfortunately he is under the impression that the only alternative is state (ie. soviet-style) ‘communism’, a prospect he is understandably not attracted to and which he recognises had ‘more in common with capitalism than the advocates of either system would care to admit’ (bit.ly/381QB4p).

In fact, soviet ‘communism’ is no alternative at all, it’s a travesty. We said so in 1918, mere months into Lenin’s coup d’état, but it seems our voice is not loud enough to reach Monbiot’s mighty ear. Meanwhile he’s wrestling with a mishmash of trendy behavioural and economic models that stand little chance of being put into practice and in any case don’t address the core problem, the existence of private property and markets, which results in a tiny class who own all the world’s resources and enrich themselves by impoverishing the rest of us and the planet.

People just can’t say the unsayable, which is that we have to abolish private property and markets, and dispossess the capitalist class. Why can’t they say that? In Monbiot’s case, as a regular writer for the Guardian newspaper, he must be aware that the Guardian is known for dumping writers who say anything too radical, as it dumped comedian Jeremy Hardy and even award-winning journalist John Pilger (bit.ly/37ZYFme). Science journalists are in a similar position, depending on employers for their wages. Ditto academics. Ditto social media influencers. No one can speak their mind who relies on the ‘king’s shilling’. Ever wondered why we don’t take commercial ads in the Standard? That’s why.

So there is a lacuna of silence surrounding the biggest question of humanity’s future on Earth. It’s not some deep-state conspiracy. It’s just the normal workings of capitalism. It creates an artificial dependence on money, and then pays everyone money not to question the money system.

As Black Panther activist Assata Shakur famously remarked, no one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. People are starting to question capitalism like never before. Well, it’s about time. But capitalism is not going to encourage that conversation. That’s why socialists need to be vocal, and not just vocal but loud, as in Glasgow this November. The world’s people need an alternative to the market system that plays to human strengths of cooperation and mutual support. It’s up to people like us to show them there is one.

PJS

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