All life on this planet is at a crossroads. Science, as well as our everyday experience, tells us so. The mass disappearance of bees, rising food prices, a lack of healthy jobs, and the privatization and decreasing access to clean, drinkable water are just a few examples of the related and deep crises we’re facing. If many things don’t fundamentally shift in the next 50 years, then we’ll be facing some of the biggest challenges we’ve seen in our history as a human species.
This piece will not be a laundry list of what’s happening in our world today. Again, each and everyone of us lives it everyday. If you are interested in understanding more about what’s happening, specifically about the crises with climate, energy, toxics, water, and food and what it means for us, particularly working class and oppressed communities today, please check out: www.movementgeneration.org.
What needs to shift and what might things look like for life on this planet under a different economic, political and social system, under 21st century socialism? We humbly offer some thoughts, after the fortune of engaging with a range of visionaries and revolutionaries around humanity’s potential and necessity to live in a fully re-imagined way in our relationships to each other and to all life on earth.
LOS COMUNES Y LAS REPARACIONES
Muchas de las sociedades del pasado entendían los “bienes comunes”, un concepto de vida dentro de los límites ambientales. Una sociedad después del capitalismo podría volver a un concepto de “bienes comunes” como un elemento central. La sociedad humana debe vivir dentro de un bien común del aire, la tierra y el agua, que todas/os necesitamos para sobrevivir, y que no puede ser dividido como propiedad privada. “La propiedad privada” como un concepto jurídico sería subsumido bajo el concepto más antiguo legal de “propiedad personal”, lo que podemos utilizar personalmente.Under 21st century socialism, our structures, our institutions, our economies, our communities, and our families will develop out of a fundamental understanding of interdependence and relationship. Why? Because in this new system, where the “bottom line” does not reign supreme, where people and all life on the planet come before profits, we will understand that in order to survive and thrive we have to live within our limits as a species and understand the consequence of living as a part of a whole.
The Commons and Reparations
A first step in the development of capitalism involved destroying our connections to the land, first in Europe with the enclosure of common lands, then globally through the destruction of indigenous peoples’ cultures and colonial exploitation. This resulted in the subdivision of almost the entire earth into plots of “private property,” and the privileging of “private property rights” over personal property within the commons, with the central component being private property, which can be exploited, speculated on, and sold off with little or no regulation by society.
Many past societies understood in “the commons” a concept of living within environmental limits. A post-capitalist society would return to a concept of “the commons” as central. Human society must live within a commons of air, land, and water, which we all need to survive, and which cannot be parceled out into private property. “Private property” as a legal concept would become subsumed under the older legal concept of “personal property,” that which we can use personally.
A related aspect of the commons is the concept of reparations. Reparations are certain actions taken by an institution, such as a state to redress the violations of colonialism, slavery and other gross human rights violations.
The millions of people, under capitalism, who have been displaced and dispossessed from the land that they once lived on and in relationship to will be given reparations. This includes migrants who are forced to come to the US in order to find work and support their families back home, people of the African diaspora, and indigenous peoples. Under socialism, these communities, through a commitment to self-determination for historically oppressed people, will be given the opportunity, through reparations, to reconnect in a way determined appropriate by those communities—such as growing food, herbs, and medicinal plants, and rebuilding spiritual practices in connection to place.
Related to the destruction of common lands was the destruction of a material value system. What once was based on “use-value” (the value we give to something for its usefulness, or even the value we might give something for its psychological or “spiritual” value) under capitalism became a system based entirely on “exchange value,” the monetary value placed on things. The most crass expression of this is the “debate” within certain environmental circles around placing a monetary value on the air we breathe, so that it can be “traded” with pollution credits.
This transition to a conception of exchange-value as the end-all of work gave rise to a wage system that alienated us humans not only from work, but from our land-base. Alienation is felt as psychologically and spiritually draining, but is in fact a physical description of the situation where we are no longer responsible for our work and for our lives, with all elements of “value” being reduced to dollars (how much we make, what we can buy, etc.). A post-capitalist society would develop a culture (and a value-system) that privileges “use-value,” and particularly psychological and spiritual dimensions, over the accumulation of things, and to a concept of well-being over the capitalist concept of “quality of life” which is equated to owning things. A post-capitalist society would reimagine work as meaningful activities, where each could find meaning in the work they do, and take responsibility for the impact of that work on others and the planet.
Science and Technology
Linked to the rise of capitalism was the rise of reductionist science (reducing systems to simple component parts that could be understood and exploited), and the industrial technological paradigm which this scientific outlook made possible. In Dialectical and Reductionist Biology, Steven Rose writes, “The history of Western societies obliterating other cultures and knowledges supported the pretense that the reductive mode of knowledge was the only form of knowledge, and the only way of doing science. It is very easy to see how oppressive ideologies and technologies result from such an approach, but it is important to remember that the problem with reductionism is not just that it has been put to bad uses, but that it has become bad science.”
Notwithstanding the industrial disasters of many 20th Century “socialist” countries, Marx’s dialectical method pointed to an understanding that nothing could be understood outside of its context, including the social context of the one developing (or paying for) the science. In Reflections in Honor of the 20th anniversary of Levins and Lewontin’s the Dialectical Biologist, Brett Clark and Richard York write, “A materialist dialectic recognizes that humans and nature exist in a coevolutionary relationship. Human beings are conditioned by their historical, structural environment; yet they are also able to affect that environment and their own relationship to it through conscious human intervention.”
Similarly, Living Systems Theory offers a scientific view of the world, as writer and activist Joanna Macy writes, “Instead of looking for basic building blocks, these life scientists took a new tack: they began to look at wholes instead of parts, at processes instead of substances. They discovered that these wholes–be they cells, bodies, ecosystems, or even the planet itself–are not just a heap of disjunct parts, but are dynamically organized and intricately balanced “systems,” interdependent in every movement, every function, every exchange of energy and information. They saw that each element is part of a vaster pattern, a pattern that connects and evolves by discernible principles.”
A post-capitalist society would question all reductionist science as limited in scope, understanding scientific advances not only in their parts, but in their relation to a whole as well. Technologies and industries would not be measured by their “efficiency” or their profitability, but by their ability to better human welfare and by their potential impacts on society and on the planet. A post-capitalist society would not be a return to exclusive hand-labor or the atrocious health of the days of feudalism, but would choose wisely among technologies, and would advance in slow incremental steps, thinking always of the impact on generations ahead.
Deep participatory democracy and protagonism
At the heart of this is the question of democracy—true democracy, or what some call protagonism within socialism. Without true democracy, we will not achieve a balanced relationship with the systems of the world, with ecology and with each other. Those who live downstream—they will be as involved in decision making as those upstream. If it’s truly democratic, then those who grow food and are impacted by the industrial, capitalist approach to agriculture (which includes, but is not limited to, pesticides and poor working conditions), will be making decisions about how that food is grown, harvested, and distributed. Thus, our self-interest in preserving and regenerating healthy soil, living and working in a way that does not compromise our health as a workers, or the health of our children, will be central in making decisions about how food is grown.
And can we imagine for a minute that in our decision-making processes, we think about how other beings and species work into that decision making? Again, we are thinking about the bees, who are dying in the millions. Scientists are unfolding a complicated set of explanations for the circumstances leading to a possible extinction of the most important pollinators of the food chain. One key cause of the bee’s disappearance is pesticides and toxins that have been the cornerstone of modern industrial agriculture.
We have used the term post-capitalist societies on purpose, as there are many who do not identify as socialists who see some of all of the above components as part of a future ecologically-minded society. But in fact these all point to a kind of society where individual decisions and actions can only be understood in their social and ecological context. Neither an individualist ideology, or an economy based on the individual profit-maximizing decisions of capitalists, could be possible in the above scenarios. And so this would, by definition, be a kind of socialism, a deeply democratic and ecological socialism.
Capitalism is very adaptable and has created niches for those who think in terms of the commons, or meaningful work, or participatory democracy, to create space for themselves and to develop a way of thinking that promotes the idea that simply by creating alternate spaces, others will be drawn to this, and change will happen almost automatically. Others look at the ecological crisis, and see within it the seeds of a self-imploding collapse of the capitalist order. This coming collapse may result in a better world, but not necessarily – as those with more privilege and power will regroup and in the crisis amidst collapse promote fascist tendencies to protect their own interests. Some within the capitalist class are taking ecological crisis seriously (typically represented in the political rhetoric by liberals within the democratic party), and are beginning to take some steps, like carbon caps and emissions trading. These are false solutions, which are still based in reductionist science, and which make life worse for millions of people rather than dealing with the root problems.
Achieving a society based on a transformation in cultural values and in the economy, to make the commons, meaningful work, and holistic science central foundations, will not happen by itself, by small groups of utopian thinkers and practitioners, or by the self-created implosion of capitalism as it exists today. One reason to uphold the banner of socialism as we look to transform and recreate society, institutions and relationships, is that it implies a collective effort towards that transformation, a revolutionary socialism that is fighting for all of humanity and our humble place on this planet.
Un aspecto relacionado con los bienes comunes es el concepto de las reparaciones. Las reparaciones son algunas medidas tomadas por una institución, como un Estado para corregir las violaciones del colonialismo, la esclavitud y otras violaciones graves de derechos humanos.
A las millones de personas, bajo el capitalismo, que han sido desplazadas y desposeídas de la tierra donde una vez vivía y en relación a la tierra se les dará reparaciones. Esto incluye las/los migrantes que se ven obligadas/os a ir a los EE.UU. con el fin de encontrar trabajo y mantener a sus familias en su tierra, la gente de la diáspora africana, y los pueblos indígenas. Bajo el socialismo, estas comunidades, a través de un compromiso con la autodeterminación de las personas históricamente oprimidas, se le dará la oportunidad, a través de las reparaciones, a volver a conectar con la tierra de una manera determinada por las comunidades—tales como el cultivo de alimentos, hierbas y plantas medicinales, y la reconstrucción de las prácticas espirituales en relación a la tierra.
En relación con la destrucción de las tierras comunales era la destrucción de un sistema de valores materiales. Lo que antes se basaba en “valor de uso” (el valor que le damos a algo por su utilidad, o incluso el valor que podría dar algo de su valor psicológico o “espiritual”) bajo el capitalismo se convirtió en un sistema basado totalmente en “valor de cambio, “el valor monetario puesto en las cosas. La expresión más vulgar de ello es el “debate” dentro de ciertos grupos ambientalista sobre el asignar un valor monetario en el aire que respiramos, por lo que puede ser “negociado” con créditos de contaminación.
Esta transición a una concepción del valor de cambio como el fin último del trabajo dio lugar a un sistema salarial que aisló a nosotras/os las/los seres humanos no sólo del trabajo, sino de nuestra base terrestre. Una sociedad post-capitalista re-imaginará el trabajo en actividades significativas, en donde cada uno puede encontrar significado en el trabajo que hacen, y asumir la responsabilidad por el impacto de ese trabajo a los demás y el planeta.
EL SOCIALISMO Y LA ECOLOGÍA
Hemos utilizado el término “sociedades post-capitalistas” porque hay muchas personas que no se identifican como socialistas, que ven algunos de todos los componentes anteriores como parte de un futuro de una sociedad de orientación ecológica. Pero éstos apuntan a un tipo de sociedad donde las decisiones y acciones individuales sólo pueden ser entendidas en su contexto social y ecológico. Ni una ideología individualista, o una economía basada en las decisiones individuales de maximizar las ganancias de los capitalistas, podría ser posible en los casos anteriores. Y así, este sería, por definición, una especie de socialismo, un socialismo profundamente democrático y ecológico.
Al llegar a una sociedad basada en una transformación en los valores culturales y en la economía, para crear los bienes comunes, y las fundaciones significativas de trabajo como central, no sucederá por sí mismo, ni por pequeños grupos de pensadoras/es utópicas/os ni profesionales, o por la implosión del capitalismo en si tal como existe hoy. Una de las razones para defender la bandera del socialismo ya que buscamos transformar y crear una nueva sociedad, instituciones y relaciones, es que implica un esfuerzo colectivo hacia esa transformación–un socialismo revolucionario que lucha para toda la humanidad y nuestro humilde lugar en este planeta.
* Para más información sobre la permacultura y ecología revolucionaria, echa un vistazo a la Movement Generation (Generación del Movimiento).
Sobre Michelle Foy y Fernando Martí
Michelle Foy es una miembro de la Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad, y es una madre y activista. Ella participa en el colectivo del Centro de Educación Política, un recurso para los movimientos sociales y la Izquierda en el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Fernando Martí es un artista, arquitecto comunitario, y activista. Nació en Guayaquil, Ecuador, y ha hecho su hogar en San Francisco desde 1992. Como miembro de PODER y la Coalición Anti-Desplazamiento de la Misión, ha estado profundamente involucrado en la organización, política, y la producción cultural en la Misión de San Francisco. Fernando también crea obras de arte a través de la Print Collective and Just Seeds Artists Cooperative de San Francisco.