Complete break with capitalism required

Stuart Moriarty-Patten

COLUMN

Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ have been carrying out a number of acts this week to make people sit up and take notice of climate change, but their activists lack a real vision of what is needed if they are serious about halting the damage to our environment.

They are guilty of thinking that their demands can create an idyllic capitalism, managed by the state, that can end the destruction being caused to the Earth’s environment. They see their role as just needing to make enough noise to wake up political and business leaders.

Theirs is a view which sees a capitalism that can be reformed to become a green system. In this model of capitalist society, lifestyles change and infrastructure are reformed while technical green advances are applied. It supposes that all would be well if we all bought organic food, never took a holiday which involved flying, and put on more clothes in winter rather than turn up the heating.

Green capitalism presumes it will be enough to replace fossil fuels with renewables, whilst leaving the overall system intact. This scenario completely ignores the way capitalism operates and must operate.

The present capitalist system is driven by the struggle for profit. The system’s need for infinite growth and the finite resources of Earth stand in contradiction to each other. Successful operation of the system means growth or maximising profit; it means that nature as a resource will be exploited ruthlessly.

The present destruction of the planet is rooted in the capitalist system of production and cannot be solved without a complete break with capitalism. Yet ending capitalism is something that Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ does not appear to be prepared to countenance. They are only attacking the symptoms rather than the cause.

We need to create a different form of social organisation before the present system destroys us all. The fact is that before production can be carried out in ecologically-acceptable ways, capitalism has to go.

Production for profit and the uncontrollable drive to accumulate more and more capital mean that capitalism is, by its very nature, incapable of taking ecological considerations into account properly, and it is futile to try to make it do so.

Those campaigning with Extinction Rebellion are no doubt sincere and caring people who want something different for themselves and future generations. In their own lifestyles, they probably have made genuine changes which are in line with a more ecologically sustainable way of living. But individual lifestyle changes are not going to change the fundamental nature of the social system which is damaging the planet.

Millions of us might give up using products which destroy the environment, but what effect do we really have in comparison with the minority who own and control the multinational corporations?

Just 100 companies have been responsible for 71 percent of global emissions since 1988. They, and all businesses, have an interest in keeping their costs down and profits up.

If their profits come before the long-term interests of people, who can blame them for sacrificing our needs? They can act no other way.

Capitalists, or their parliamentary representatives, cannot act in time to limit climate change in a meaningful way. Governments may pass a few minor reforms to appease green voters, the business owners themselves may realise that some of their brands may be harmed by a lack of environmental concern, and greenwash their product, but ultimately these acts will be a sticking plaster when what is required is major surgery.

If Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ ever wants their arguments to carry any force, then they need to campaign to abolish capitalism.

Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ have been carrying out a number of acts this week to make people sit up and take notice of climate change, but their activists lack a real vision of what is needed if they are serious about halting the damage to our environment.

They are guilty of thinking that their demands can create an idyllic capitalism, managed by the state, that can end the destruction being caused to the Earth’s environment. They see their role as just needing to make enough noise to wake up political and business leaders.

Theirs is a view which sees a capitalism that can be reformed to become a green system. In this model of capitalist society, lifestyles change and infrastructure are reformed while technical green advances are applied. It supposes that all would be well if we all bought organic food, never took a holiday which involved flying, and put on more clothes in winter rather than turn up the heating.

Green capitalism presumes it will be enough to replace fossil fuels with renewables, whilst leaving the overall system intact. This scenario completely ignores the way capitalism operates and must operate.

The present capitalist system is driven by the struggle for profit. The system’s need for infinite growth and the finite resources of Earth stand in contradiction to each other. Successful operation of the system means growth or maximising profit; it means that nature as a resource will be exploited ruthlessly.

The present destruction of the planet is rooted in the capitalist system of production and cannot be solved without a complete break with capitalism. Yet ending capitalism is something that Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ does not appear to be prepared to countenance. They are only attacking the symptoms rather than the cause.

We need to create a different form of social organisation before the present system destroys us all. The fact is that before production can be carried out in ecologically-acceptable ways, capitalism has to go.

Production for profit and the uncontrollable drive to accumulate more and more capital mean that capitalism is, by its very nature, incapable of taking ecological considerations into account properly, and it is futile to try to make it do so.

Those campaigning with Extinction Rebellion are no doubt sincere and caring people who want something different for themselves and future generations. In their own lifestyles, they probably have made genuine changes which are in line with a more ecologically sustainable way of living. But individual lifestyle changes are not going to change the fundamental nature of the social system which is damaging the planet.

Millions of us might give up using products which destroy the environment, but what effect do we really have in comparison with the minority who own and control the multinational corporations?

Just 100 companies have been responsible for 71 percent of global emissions since 1988. They, and all businesses, have an interest in keeping their costs down and profits up.

If their profits come before the long-term interests of people, who can blame them for sacrificing our needs? They can act no other way.

Capitalists, or their parliamentary representatives, cannot act in time to limit climate change in a meaningful way. Governments may pass a few minor reforms to appease green voters, the business owners themselves may realise that some of their brands may be harmed by a lack of environmental concern, and greenwash their product, but ultimately these acts will be a sticking plaster when what is required is major surgery.

If Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ ever wants their arguments to carry any force, then they need to campaign to abolish capitalism.

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Anonymous - 2 months ago
Excellent article Stuart, I hope a group takes it further by also figuring out what structure of governance suits our unique country.

Perhaps a completely new one is required?

Larry, Michigan, USA - 2 months ago
Hi Mr Moriarty-Patten
Good thinks, good inks, all the way... except...
...we can't stop at a half-fix. We need to remove economy-usage... ie. money/price-tags and ownership. Just like the wise parents, remove the tug-o-warred-over items... from all tuggers. We need all-volunteer work-forces and police forces... (asked, not forced, to go to work), with everyone being a have-a-say/have-a-see member of govt/decision-making, and all stewardship/custodianship instead-of ownership.

Anyone can Google search for "abolish economies" or "Mothers Against Stuff That Ain't Right" (MaStars)... to read more of my views on levelling the capitalism foundation-crushing pyramid scheme, and stopping the US-vs-Them wars over false idols.

My org is ONLY system-fighters, not people-fighters.

Be well, thanks for the wisdom/logic-filled piece!

Martin Hanson, Nelson - 2 months ago
Excellent article, and spot on. Corporate capitalism has the morals of a psychopath - none. Whereas small businesses interact directly with their customers and accordingly need some moral responsibility, corporations exist for one purpose only - to boost the shareholders' income. Added to that, in many countries corporations have a powerful influence over government policy, especially environmental policy. One need not ask further to understand why governments are refusing to take meaningful action on climate. This is most obvious in the US, where the "revolving door" between government regulators and corporate executives leaves citizens defenceless against corruption. This is most obvious in the case of the "Environmental Protection Agency" of the Trump Administration, which has done its utmost to change any regulations that threaten corporate profits.
Mussolini is said to have defined fascism as the merging of government and big business; by that criterion the US is a fascist state.

Martin Hanson - 2 months ago
The journalist George Monbiot has an excellent piece: "The problem is capitalism". Highly recommended
https://www.monbiot.com/2019/04/30/the-problem-is-capitalism/

G R Webb - 2 months ago
Or have a look at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/down-with-doom-how-the-wo_b_630792

Or pop into Venezuela

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