Capitalism's Destructive Ways

Revolutionary Worker #942, February 1, 1998 At a forum in Chicago on January 4, Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta was asked how ecological problems would be dealt with differently in a socialist society.


These are very important questions being raised about the earth and ecology. I would like to emphasize several points on this briefly:

These issues underscore the need to have a global perspective. It underscores what we have been saying about revolution being a world process. The fact of the matter is that the ecological question can only fundamentally be dealt with on a world scale. But it can only be dealt with on the basis of a social and economic system that doesn't treat the environment simply as a means by which to accumulate wealth.

Eighty percent of the world's resources are absorbed by the advanced capitalist countries which only make up about 15 percent of the world's population. Imperialism has produced a wasteful and destructive pattern of economic activity and industrial development. The greenhouse problem is the result, primarily, of imperialist development over the course of this century.

So a big issue that the proletarian revolution has to address is the lopsidedness of the world--the fact that you have this unequal concentration of wealth and absorption of resources of the world by the imperialist countries. But you also have to reckon with these global ecological questions. And only socialism and communism can really address them.

Capitalism can't deal with the environment in an economically sound way for three reasons:

One, its logic is "expand or die." It has to expand no matter what. So it doesn't matter how it does it, it just has to expand to make profit.

Two, the time horizons of capitalism are totally short-sighted. You make a buck quickly. You don't think about the consequences in 10, 20, 30 years. We see that in the United States--they build a nuclear power station because it looks profitable and then, 10 years later they realize, uh-oh. And then they spend more money to try and undo it and then they go in for another big short-term gain somewhere else. So the horizons of capitalism are short-sighted by definition.

And the third point about capitalism is that capital by nature is private. It's broken up into many capitals. So you have competing units of capital and each unit is only concerned with itself and its expansion and its profit. So you can't deal with the economy, you can't deal with the landscape, you can't deal with the entire society as a social whole. It's broken up, it's fragmented into private parts. And each part looks at what lies outside it as a "free ride." You can open up a steel mill and you'll be concerned with the cost of that steel mill. But what you do to the air is not "your cost" because it's not part of your unit of ownership. In mainstream economic theory that's call "externality."

So capitalism, by its very nature, is incapable of addressing these questions. And on a world scale, we're seeing what it's doing. But socialism can address those questions because: One, ownership is socialized. Two, the calculation is totally different.

The calculation is not profit but social need. And socialist economics is able to take into account non-economic factors--health, the environment, the alienation that people may experience from their jobs. These are all part of the calculation that a socialist economy has to make. So I do feel that the question is an important one and it shows that there are some big challenges. But the answer is still to overturn imperialist-capitalist power relations. And now we recognize much more profoundly that we have to develop sustainable socialist economies which are sensitive to these ecological questions. This is a very important new challenge before us at the dawn of the 21st century.

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