Why are people anti-capitalist
A good life for everyone, but ecological please
The left does not see the ecological question as a so-called secondary contradiction to the social question. This can currently be seen in the anti-capitalist-oriented climate protests (August 18-29), which are taking place in the Rheinische Revier under the motto »End of the Grounds«. While the neoliberal parties UNIONSPDFDPGRÜNE want to push through a »green« capitalism together with the corporations, large parts of the climate movement find a fundamental contradiction between climate protection and capitalist production methods. With the writings of Karl Marx, the still decisive analysis and criticism of capitalism has been available for 150 years. What many do not know: Marx has also already commented on the subject of ecology. Hubertus Zdebel, member of the Bundestag for the Left and chairman of his parliamentary group in the Bundestag Environment Committee, reminds of this in his guest contribution.
When it comes to climate protection, peculiar coalitions emerge at first glance. Environmental organizations and investment fund managers, green politicians and Silicon Valley - they are all promoting the energy transition. The withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement announced by US President Trump caused a wave of indignation. American super corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, Walmart, General Electric, but also the oil giants BP and Shell are expressing clear criticism of the massive cuts in the area of climate protection, which are hinted at by the US Federal Environment Agency, EPA, under the leadership of climate skeptic Scott Pruitt. Have the corporations suddenly discovered their green conscience? The head of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, said on the day of the announced US exit from the climate agreement via Twitter, what it is actually about: “Today's decision is a setback for the environment and for the leadership role of the United States in the world. “So - as always in capitalism - it's about business and claims to power.
"Green" capitalism does not change the conditions of exploitation
What may be irritating at first - the capital side is committed to more environmental protection - is not so surprising on closer inspection. There is disagreement among the various capital groups. Many corporations and the leading elites are now relying on "green" capitalism, in short: an economic order that will prevail technical Conversion superficially adopted from the dirty energies, but at the same time adheres to the basic principles of capitalism. Private ownership of the means of production, the logic of competition and growth, and profit maximization remain unaffected. The apologists for the market-based energy transition therefore separate the ecological from the social question. At LINKE, on the other hand, we criticize the idea of a Green New Deal. We want a good life for everyone in a society free of domination and not the continued, now merely green-painted exploitation of people and nature.
Environmental policy and anti-capitalism must go hand in hand. The awareness that social and ecological issues are inextricably linked is becoming more and more common. The increasingly globally networked climate movement was able to achieve some successes. In Germany, after decades of fighting, the nuclear phase-out was enforced, although it is still incomplete and the federal government is massively on the brakes - keyword uranium enrichment plant in Gronau. Without resistance and protest, the Paris Climate Agreement would never have come about, especially for the 1.5 degree target. Unlike some environmental organizations and the green party, hardly anyone within the climate movement believes in the green conscience of corporations. As long as the prospect of profit in the capitalist economy is the guiding principle, any commitment to climate protection remains with reservations. It does not happen out of general interest, but out of business interests and is therefore always subject to changes in the market.
Understand better with Marx the world in which we live
In order to understand how the capitalist mode of production, which is responsible for war, mass poverty and the destruction of nature, works, it is worth studying Karl Marx's criticism of capitalism. Rolling through the thick blue volumes may seem dry and daunting, but it still helps to better understand the world we live in. Marx lived 150 years ago. At that time there was no global climate change. Accordingly, the idea prevailed that one could easily make use of nature's seemingly inexhaustible sources without having to worry about the effects of the use of resources. The early industrial environmental damage was limited to local or regional levels, for example in the form of dusty and sooty air in the industrial metropolitan areas or in the form of contaminated rivers. Today, on the other hand, we are confronted with the threat of irreversible damage on a global scale. Although Marx did not have and could not have the dangers of global climate change in mind, his understanding of the relationship between man and nature was already very differentiated in his early work, in contrast to the naive, uncritical ideas of bourgeois economists.
In several places in his work, Marx emphasizes the creative power of man. He regards human activity as conscious processing and change the nature. The relationship between man and nature is one of naturemastery. For Marx this is first and foremost an advance in human development. If they were defenselessly exposed to the forces of nature in human prehistory, they succeed in the course of history to understand the forces of nature, to use them for their purposes and thus to work their way out of the natural context. This development has been given an additional boost in modern times by the natural sciences, which provide people with deeper insights into the interrelationships of nature.
Working on nature and mastering nature
As man is able to work on nature and create culture, he is at the same time more than mere nature. He is also a spiritual being. If he himself were a mere natural being, if he could not distance himself from nature, then he could not consciously realize purposes in nature. Marx makes this clear with the difference between animal “work” and human work: “[...] a bee puts some human builders to shame by building its wax cells. But what distinguishes the worst builder from the best bee from the start is that he built the cell in his head before building it in wax. At the end of the work process, a result comes out that was already present in the mind of the worker at the beginning of the process, that is, already ideally. "(capital, Vol. 1, MEW 23, p. 193) The conscious purposeful Working on nature is what, for Marx, makes man human and differentiates him from animals.
At the same time, however, man remains dependent on nature at all times; he is not independent of it: “The worker cannot create anything without nature, without the sensual external world. It [nature] is the matter on which its work is realized, in which it [work] is active, from which and by means of which it produces. "(Economic-philosophical manuscripts, MEW 40, p. 512) It also says there: »Man lives from nature, means: Nature is his body, with which he must remain in constant process in order not to die. The fact that the physical and spiritual life of man is connected with nature has no other meaning than that nature is connected with itself, because man is a part of nature. " (Economic-philosophical manuscripts, MEW 40, p.516) As part of nature, man is dependent on it, it is the basis for his survival. If nature is destroyed, man cannot exist either.
Mutual dependence on humans and nature
While most economists of that time saw nature as an inexhaustible source of wealth, from which man only had to make use, Marx saw early on the mutual dependence of man and nature. For Marx, successful human development is only possible in the interplay of work and nature: “Work is first and foremost a process between man and nature, a process in which man mediates, regulates and controls his metabolism with nature through his own actions. He confronts the natural substance itself as a natural power. He sets in motion the natural forces belonging to his body, arms and legs, head and hand, in order to acquire the natural substance in a form that can be used for his own life. "(capital, Vol. 1, MEW 23, p. 192) If, according to Marx, people basically have the ability to "acquire the natural substance in a form usable for their own life" through work, then this is precisely not possible for all people under capitalism.
Private ownership of the means of production prevails in capitalism. This means that the vast majority of people have no direct access to the natural substances they need. They have nothing more than their labor, they have to sell it as a commodity. If they are unlucky enough to not get a job, they are forced to vegetate at the absolute subsistence level, in many regions of the world even below that. In capitalism, production is done with the aim of maximizing profit and outperforming competitors. Whether the workers are doing well or whether nature is being irreversibly damaged does not initially play a role in this calculation. The all-round competition dominates the capitalists ruthless exploitation of the two sources of social wealth: both labor and nature.
The problem is not individual capitalists, but capitalism
By showing how the capitalist mode of production generally works, Marx does not hold individual actors responsible for this destructive effect, but rather describes the capitalist in his function as personified capital, in which he is to be strictly distinguished from the pre-capitalist hoarder who only enriches himself personally wants: “Only as a personification of capital is the capitalist respectable. As such, he shares the absolute instinct for enrichment with the treasurer. But what appears in the latter as individual mania is in the capitalist the effect of the social mechanism in which he is only a driving wheel. (...) competition rules the immanent laws of the capitalist mode of production as external laws of compulsion on every individual capitalist. It forces him to continually expand his capital (...) «(capital, Vol. 1, MEW 23, p. 618)
A capitalist who wants his workers to toil less and who, because of concern about climate change, has less environmentally harmful production, will quickly fail in the market if these measures cannot be used profitably again. With Marx we can therefore state that when capitalists suddenly campaign for more environmental protection, it is not because capital feels obliged to serve the common good, but because the associated investments in technical retrofitting can be exploited, that is, they contribute to the "continual expansion" of capital. . New industries and business fields emerge, such as the various supposedly ecological companies. As the second essential factor for a little more environmental protection in the Added to capitalism is street pressure that can force governments to raise environmental standards. In both cases, however, capital is not suddenly oriented towards the common good, but in both cases it is compulsion that brings about changes: on the one hand the economic, on the other hand the politically generated.
The self-destructive tendency of capitalism
Capital definitely does not moderate itself. Marx saw through the tends to be self-destructive functioning of capitalism very carefully. With reference to the destruction of labor and nature, he writes using the example of the development of industrial-capitalist agriculture: »And every advance in capitalist agriculture is not only an advance in the art of the worker, but at the same time in the art of robbing the soil, every progress in increasing its fertility for a given period of time at the same time a progress in the ruin of the permanent sources of this fertility. [...] Capitalist production therefore only develops the technology and combination of the social production process, while at the same time it undermines the spring sources of all wealth: the earth and the worker. "(capital, Vol. 1, MEW 23, p. 529f.)
The urge to maximize profit knows no natural limit. The more profit, the better, is the motto. In general competition there are necessarily winners and losers. This development is at the expense of the workers, who as a rule do not benefit from maximizing profit. It is also at the expense of nature. So Marx also had the ecological crisis in the back of his mind, namely a state in which the environment has been so badly destroyed that it will no longer recover in the foreseeable future and thus also impair the capitalist production process.
Labor disputes and climate battles
Marx clarifies in the capitalwhat effects the class struggles of workers had in the 19th century. Instead of working up to 18 or even 20 hours a day, which often resulted in total physical exhaustion or even the death of the workers, a regular working day with a maximum working time was introduced in the middle of the 19th century. Without the persistent struggles of the labor movement, these regulations would not have existed, because the state and capital did not voluntarily set themselves to regulate the working day. The class struggles, in which the conditions of work are fought for, continue to this day, be it disputes over the level of wages, occupational health and safety regulations, rights of co-determination or the length of working hours. It can be seen that if the workers are well organized and defend their demands aggressively, they usually also manage to fight for improvements. If it acts badly and defensively, it usually leads to a deterioration in working conditions.
When it comes to environmental protection, there is now a crucial difference: nature itself cannot stand up for its protection, as the working class does for its "own skin" (Marx) in the class struggle. Therefore, environmental protection measures always depend on the fact that a sufficient number of people are committed to protecting nature and protecting their livelihoods. The awareness that people cannot survive without an intact nature is not equally present everywhere. It is not only being suppressed by the notorious deniers of climate change, as they are currently on the advance again in the USA or in the right-wing conservative wing of the CDU and in the AfD. When an economic crisis prevails and people fear for their immediate existence, the urgency of climate protection fades into the background. The threats of climate change are still abstract and distant in large parts of the West. The global south is far more affected by floods, droughts and hurricanes, which is why you can literally feel the ravages of climate change there.
Climate protection in the Capitalism - a contradiction in terms?
This fact leads to a great dilemma for everyone who is involved in the climate movement. On the one hand, a consistent change of direction is required as quickly as possible so that there are no tipping points in the air conditioning system that cannot be reversed. So the demand is: climate protection in the Capitalism. On the other hand, capitalism with its dynamic growth is the problem. Because even with one hundred percent conversion to renewable energies, the urge for ever higher material output in capitalist production is by no means eliminated. Capitalism lives from the exploitation of raw materials. Products are sometimes designed in such a way that they are scrap after a few months so that new products can be bought. The material turnover continues to rise. Those in the climate movement who are anti-capitalist have long since recognized that climate protection under capitalism is difficult to achieve and, moreover, it is always limited. The best first aid measure for the threatened world climate is the abolition of capitalism.
Long before a socially relevant climate movement emerged, it was clear to Marx that the mode of production would need to be revolutionized in order to bring the relationship between man and nature back into balance. From the perspective of a liberated society, according to Marx, private ownership of land and the ruthless exploitation of nature would appear to be something absurd: »From the standpoint of a higher economic social formation [that is, from socialism], the private property of individual individuals on the globe will appear just as absurd as the private property of one person to another person.Even the whole society, a nation, indeed all simultaneous societies taken together, are not owner of the earth. They are only their owners, their beneficiaries and they have (...) the to be left behind better for future generations.«(capital, Vol. 3, MEW 25; P. 782)
No going back to the Stone Age, but reconciliation between man and nature
In a liberated society that is no longer under the pressure to make a profit and in which private ownership of the means of production has been abolished, people would plan and organize their production together. They would be aware of their dependence on nature and would take the necessary measures not only to preserve nature to some extent, but even to "leave it behind in an improved form for the following generations." This in no way means going back to outdated methods of production. Marx doesn't want to go back to the Stone Age. People should use their creative potential and shape nature for their own purposes, i.e. use the resources found in nature to create a comfortable life for themselves.
The point is not that people have to live more modestly again, as some ideologues of renunciation (e.g. from the spectrum of the post-growth economy) are calling for. The pledge to renounce and to sacrifice, historically often packaged religiously, has always been closer to anticipatory obedience and adaptation to rule than to an emancipatory criticism of society. Marx was concerned with a beautiful life for everyone, but respecting the limits of nature. The madness of capitalism is that most people have no advantage whatsoever from the environmentally destructive exploitation of nature. Technical progress is not used to radically shorten working hours and to distribute them fairly across all shoulders. Instead, mass unemployment, on the one hand, and overtime, on the other, run cheerfully in parallel.
»Wealth is available time "
In his work, Marx did not give much information about what a good life should look like, since the future society is a consequence of social movements. But he recognized very clearly which basic requirements must be met: “Wealth is available time, and nothing else, "that is, true wealth is"disposable time, free time for their development [that is, the development of human beings]. "(Theories about added value, MEW 26.3, p. 251 f.) Let us remember that Marx determined man as part of nature. As such a part of nature, man must necessarily do work to meet his needs, he must produce food. In the course of history, however, technical progress has increased the potential to gradually reduce the necessary working hours. In the industrial production process, machines are increasingly taking over the physically demanding activities. In capitalism, however, this does not mean that people have to work less or can enjoy a carefree life. This is why the demand for free time is so enormously important for Marx as a step towards a liberated society in which people no longer work against nature, but recognize and therefore respect their dependence on nature.
Marx's vision can best be expressed in his own words: “Just as the savage must wrestle with nature in order to satisfy his needs, in order to maintain and reproduce his life, so must the civilized, and he must in all Forms of society and under all possible modes of production. (...) Freedom in this area can only consist in the socialized human being, the associated producers, who rationally regulate their metabolism with nature, bring them under their collective control, instead of being ruled by them as a blind power ; perform it with the least amount of effort and under the conditions most worthy and appropriate to their human nature. (...) The shortening of the working day is the basic condition. «(capital, Vol. 3, MEW 25, p. 828)
Climate protests in the Rheinische Revier
In short: people should master their lives cooperatively and not in competition. Only then can their relationship to nature be reconciled. According to Marx, this requires the abolition of capitalism. Does this mean for the climate movement to put its hands on its lap, since within capitalism climate protection is contradicting itself anyway? Not at all - it is more about moving within these contradictions. Basically to criticize, but also to intervene specifically to initiate changes in both consciousness and the prevailing conditions. The upcoming climate camp in the Rheinische Revier (August 18th to 29th) and the coal protests around Garzweiler against the biggest climate offender in Europe, the energy company RWE, are the next steps in this direction.
Hubertus Zdebel, born in 1954, is a member of the Bundestag for the Left Party. He is the spokesman for the left-wing group for the nuclear phase-out and, among other things, a member of the environmental committee.
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