Revolution #187, December 27, 2009

Excerpt from Raymond Lotta webcast:

"The Elephant in the Room: Can Anything Short of Revolution Solve the Environmental Crisis?"

The following transcript is of excerpts from a webcast talk by Raymond Lotta given on December 15, 2009. It has been slightly edited for publication by the author.

The Earth and Humanity Need Revolution

Tremendous productive forces and technology already exist that could be used to address the environmental crisis. Most importantly, there are billions of people all over the world, with their vast knowledge and potential creativity, who could be mobilized, and unleashed to figure out how to put a stop to the way the earth is being destroyed.

To save this planet, we need revolution. And by revolution, I don't mean just lots of change and new things happening. I am talking about something very specific: the people rising up, with visionary leadership guided by the most advanced understanding of social transformation, rising up and overthrowing the rule of the capitalist class. Revolution means stripping the capitalist-imperialists of their economic, political, and military power. Revolution means creating a new state power and a new economy, with new aims and goals, and the means to carry out those goals.

We need revolution to bring into being socialist societies around the world aimed at creating a communist world. A world free of exploitation and all oppression, a world that is no longer divided into classes, where there is a shared material wealth that meets the needs of individuals and society as a whole. Communism is a community of world humanity in which people are consciously changing the world and changing themselves.

And socialism is the first step in getting to a communist world. Under socialism, humanity can interact with the environment in a rational and sustainable way, consciously regulate production, and reverse and transform environmental devastation. In a socialist economy, ownership and control of production is socialized and there is a planned economy aimed at serving the needs of the people. The preservation of ecosystems would be integrated as a central priority in economic planning and development.

Economic Calculation and Planning Under Socialism

Earlier I talked about capitalist monetary calculation and accounting. Under socialism, economic calculation would be radically different. Yes, attention would have to be paid to issues of cost and efficiency. But this would no longer be in the interest and pursuit of profit. Economic calculation would be guided by broad criteria and goals: social need; environmental sustainability; achieving rational balances between industry and agriculture; seeking new ways to integrate town and country; to overcome the division between mental and manual labor.

And under socialism, the externalities of production that I'm talking about—the direct and indirect effects that a unit of production, a sphere of production, any region of production,  might have on broader economic and social and environmental life—these effects, these externalities, would be the responsibility of society as a whole. In a certain sense, socialism "internalizes" these externalities, makes them a question for society as a whole to analyze and understand, to figure out how to deal with the problems and the contradictions thrown up by these externalities, and to marshal the know-how and the resources and the resolve of people in society to solve them.

Planning under socialism would be integrated and multidimensional. It would take in issues of health, the alienation from work that people might experience. And a socialist economy and society would be consciously working to promote and advance the world revolution towards a communist world.

Socialist society will promote a sense of appreciation and responsibility for the protection of the environment. Now socialism existed in the Soviet Union in the years 1917-1956, and in China between 1949 and 1976. And Maoist China, especially during the Cultural Revolution, made advances, rather stunning advances, in developing the economy in a rational way, and paid attention in a way that previous socialist society in the Soviet Union did not, to ecological issues. And Mao made breakthroughs in understanding socialist planning as a dynamic process that must serve the most radical transformation of society—and that must rely on the conscious activism of the people.

But much more is needed. Much, much more is needed and much more is possible. This is so for three reasons:

For one, the environmental problem has grown more perilous than was the case in the first wave of socialist revolutions in the 20th century.

Second, we as communists have gained new knowledge of how central environmental issues are to economy, society, and the survival of humanity. In my opinion, it is no longer possible to do political economy, to do any kind of serious political economy outside an understanding of the crucial role of ecological and environmental issues in the development of society and humanity.

And most importantly, it is possible to go further and to do better in making socialist revolution because of the new synthesis of Bob Avakian—which provides us with new understanding of the kind of society that socialism needs to be and an orientation to build that society and to spread and promote world revolution.

Bob Avakian's New Synthesis Opens New Possibility

Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has been developing a re-envisioned socialism and communism—a more vibrant and scientific communism that does provide a solid basis to go much further and do much better than in previous socialist societies.

One of the things that Avakian has been emphasizing is the importance of intellectual, scientific, and cultural ferment in socialist society. Science must be freed from all the institutional fetters and constraints of capitalism that I mentioned earlier—like the commercial imperative, the role of the military, and so on and so forth.

On the one hand, socialist society will need to mobilize scientists, engineers, and ecologists to work on enormous problems such as the environment. There will be need to organize great mobilizations, great efforts and enormously focused projects to address the kind of calamitous situation we face. But society and humanity will also require far ranging research, new thinking, and experimentation that will not be so directly related to these focused projects. There will be room for scientists to pursue questions that are not directly applicable to problems in society. And this experimentation must also be supported and funded. Science must be unfettered.

And at the same time, science must be uncloistered. There is the knowledge that comes from basic people in workplaces and communities. And socialist society must be promoting all kinds of cross-pollination of understanding and experience: meteorologists and engineers exchanging knowledge about the sciences and scientific method with basic people getting into science, while professionals will be learning from the insights and the aspirations of basic people.

Science will be popularized in society. The great debates among scientists and ecologists about how to solve the problem of global warming, about its scale and how it is developing—these debates, these discussions, these insights will be popularized and taken up in society. Socialist society, through the socialist state led by a vanguard party, will need to establish priorities in development: in reconfiguring industry, in allocating funds and materials and protecting natural resources.

We will need to create sustainable cities. We will need to develop agricultural systems that do not cause undue harm to the environment, that allow for technologies and practices that can be locally adapted and fitted to particular conditions—and that can deal with changes in climate, that can innovate, and that can respond to changes in need.

We will have to meet the great and immediate needs of the masses of people—to pay focused attention to those who have been at the bottom of society, their needs and requirements—and at the same time we're going to have to be developing an economy that is no longer based on fossil fuels, and that's going to require extraordinary innovation and extraordinary effort. It's going to require a correct understanding of priority and how to mobilize and unleash people to address these problems.

But these policies, and indeed the very direction of society, all of this must be debated out broadly in socialist society. And the unresolved contradictions of socialist society, the fact that there still are social differences between professionals and intellectuals and those who are mainly working with their hands, the fact that in socialist society there is the need to use money and price in some forms, the fact that in socialist society there are still gaps in development between regions, still tremendous social struggles and ideological battles to wage to overcome patriarchy and the legacy of the oppression of minority nationalities. The fact that we don't have all the answers to the environmental crisis.

All these kinds of things in socialist society will bring forward questioning… will bring forward new ideas… will bring forward protest, dissatisfaction, struggle… and even upheavals. Is this a good or a bad thing?

Well, Avakian sees this as a driving force for continuing the revolution. And specifically with regard to the environmental crisis, he has spoken of what he calls the Arundhati Roys under socialism. As people know, Arundhati Roy had been in the forefront of struggles against the construction of environmentally destructive dams in India. Will Arundhati Roy and people like her still be able to protest under socialism? Avakian has emphasized that socialism must be a society where dissent is not only allowed but encouraged and valued. And people like Arundhati Roy must also be looked to—in order to help develop solutions to these very deep and serious environmental problems, even as there will be ideological struggle over issues of socialism, communism and where humanity is headed and needs to go.

This is all part of the process of getting at the truth of society and the world, of promoting critical thinking in socialist society, and enabling the masses to more deeply understand and more profoundly transform the world. And this will get very tense and wild at times, including protests and upheavals that can destabilize society. But all this is part of the process of getting to communism. Maximum elasticity and experimentation—without losing power, without losing the revolution and everything it means for world humanity. You need visionary communist leadership, a solid core, as Avakian calls it, to lead this complex process forward.

With this understanding of socialism, it becomes clearer why the masses of people are the single greatest resource. And with all their creative energy, knowledge, and concern, the people can be mobilized to struggle out, to argue and debate, and work together to figure out how build a society that truly safeguards humanity and the very life of the planet itself. In this way, human society can appreciate the wild, the wondrous beauty, and the complexity of nature—and consciously act on that as the guardians of the planet.

All of which is to say: we need to save the world from environmental collapse and we need to create a radically different and better world.

Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development

Now I want to sketch out some key tasks and challenges a socialist society will face—on the basis of seizing power in what is today the United States.

First, there is the question of how a socialist society relates to the world. A sustainable socialist economy must bend every effort to promoting and supporting the struggle to remake the world through revolution. It will take socialist revolution and ultimately a communist world to deal with this planetary crisis. It will take overcoming all systems of exploitation and oppression, and overcoming and transcending capitalism. This is because capitalism is both the cause of this crisis and the barrier to seriously, substantively moving to solve this environmental crisis on the scale required. So socialist society must be promoting world revolution.

But there will be a great challenge—because revolution will not take place simultaneously throughout the world. And yet we face a global environmental emergency. And for a genuine socialist society, this means that it cannot put its national development above the interests of the preservation of the ecosystems of the entire planet. The new socialist society will provide technical and financial assistance for helping to clean up and reverse environmental damage in other parts of the world. Scientific knowledge will be shared. Intellectual property rights will be torn up.

The new socialist society cannot be based on exploitation and cannot be built in a way that reproduces relations of international domination. It will immediately dismantle all military bases, occupations, and cancel all imperialist treaties. A genuine socialist economy cannot be built in a country like the United States without shattering its former international economic relations.

When the revolution comes to power, the new socialist state in what is today the United States, will liquidate all international holdings. It will put an end to, it will abolish its entire pollution-intensive, cheap-labor, global manufacturing grids of production. The structure of production and the resource base of the new socialist economy will no longer depend on labor and materials from other countries, like cheap inputs from maquiladora factories in Mexico, or inflows of oil from abroad.

Now, a key goal of the new economy will be to quickly move away from reliance on non-renewable and polluting fossil-fuel energy and technology towards ecologically sound technologies, like solar, wind, and geothermal power. Transportation will be moved away from the automobile/highway and fossil-fuel freight-centered transport systems. The senseless burning up of oil to have people commute to work hours away must end. Safe and efficient mass transit will be given priority in all new development, restructuring, and research.

The socialist economy will combine large-scale with diversified small-scale production. This system of production will no longer be focused on long-distance supplies and deliveries. Rather, it will involve interchanges within local and regional economies within the coordinated socialist economy of society as a whole.

Now, you know a plate of food that's consumed in the United States travels, on average, 1,500 miles from source to table, 1,500 miles. And transportation in turn is fossil-fuel-intensive. This has to change. These are the kinds of challenges that we face, to feed people, but to feed people in environmentally sustainable ways. To develop a transport system that is environmentally sustainable.

And you need a unified socialist economy, you need unified and centralized socialist planning, to establish key balances, to establish key requirements, to identify key requirements in production and technology. And we need a unified socialist economy to deal with the new "externalities" that we'll be facing in socialist society, that is, those things that arise unexpectedly from the activities of different units of production, from different levels, different regions of society and that impact larger society.

And socialist societies, freed from the dictates of profit and private control, will be able to prepare for and confront natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and droughts, whose dangers and effects will require concerted and society-wide efforts and mobilization.

The shift toward self-reliance will require resource conservation and the radical overhauling of production practices. There must be a different mix of output to meet production and consumption needs. Recycling and multiuse of materials and products will replace the economy of planned obsolescence and throwaway products.

So this kind of economy has to combine centralization, the overall coordination, the overall sense of where things have to go, these key balances, with decentralization, with all kinds of experimentation, all kinds of incredible initiative throughout society. And all this has to be summed up and learned from. This is part of the crucial dynamic of socialist society and socialist planning: centralized coordination and direction and leadership, and decentralized initiative and management. And this has tremendous implications for rationally interacting with the environment.

Now, the changes I've been talking about, the requirements of confronting this ecological crisis, will affect the consumption of the new society. People's needs will be met and the new economy will strive to produce a rational variety of consumer goods. But the "convenience" of having Indonesian workers cater to the athletic clothing needs, or peasants in other parts of the world catering to the upscale coffee sensibilities, of people in this society—that will be no more. This will clearly be a matter of education and ideological struggle. At the same time, people's social needs will change with the transformation of social life. There will not be the same obsession with consumption, with the need to define oneself on the basis of what and how much one consumes.

Finally, in talking about some key principles of socialist sustainable development, I want to come back to the international ecological responsibilities of a socialist society in a highly developed country like the United States. Given what is happening, given the scale of this environmental emergency, and given how the productive forces, as they have developed, and as they have been utilized, and as they have impacted the world environment under capitalist rule, under imperialist rule... given how all that has developed and unfolded, it will be necessary, and this is a new insight for socialist sustainable development theory and understanding, it will be necessary to substantially cut the scale of economic output in the already developed countries.

In other words, while I have been emphasizing the radical qualitative changes that must take place in what is produced and how it is produced, it will also be necessary to consciously regulate and curb growth in what are today the rich capitalist countries. [Author's note: I have received some comments raising questions about the formulation of scaling down the level of economic output--that this is perhaps presented too categorically, and does not take sufficient account of various needs and contradictions the newly-won socialist state may be facing. I am continuing to study this question.]

These are new challenges that we face. I'm doing a lot of reading about this, trying to understand what the implications are. This is important, and there is much to learn from ecologists, scientists, and social theorists of different persuasions, from the work that they've been doing.

These are the kinds of challenges we face. We have principles of socialist sustainable development to deal with them, but we have to develop those principles much further. And we have the new synthesis of Bob Avakian that can enable us to develop the kind of society that can unleash and mobilize people, a society that will allow us not only to solve these basic problems, but to create a world in which humanity can flourish.

So I want to conclude.

There are people right now demonstrating in the streets of Copenhagen. Some are carrying banners that read "we have a system emergency." They are saying that we can't wait until the auto companies find their way, perhaps 20 years from now, to electric cars. They are saying that we can't wait 50 years until the energy companies recover their heavy investments that are sunk into oil wells and coalfields, that we can't wait those 50 years before we adopt renewable energy practices.

There are scientists like James Hansen who are taking the occasion of Copenhagen to educate the people about how dire the situation is, to spread understanding of climate science, and to point out how the agenda at Copenhagen has very little to offer in truly addressing the problem of climate change. Hansen likened the moral stakes to ending slavery. Could you compromise with slavery, could you say, "well, maybe we could accept a 30 percent cut in slavery"?

This is a time to raise sights. This is a time to raise our determination. If you want a world where people live and flourish…where we act together as caretakers of the globe…where we enhance the wild and natural world we live in…then you need to get with this revolution, with this communist revolution, and spread it now. The very fate of the planet and humanity are stake.

Thank you very much.

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