Almost from its earliest beginnings, supporters of the capitalist mode of production, recognised its many benefits to them, whilst it’s huge downsides were recognised by the majority. When capitalism reached the industrial revolution stage, it’s ‘dark satanic’ failings became all too obvious. Pollution, poverty and pestilence for the masses, profit, privilege and prestige for the few. This extreme contrast led to various political tendencies proposing slight changes to the system (known as reforms) to reduce some of these negative outcomes.
The enlightened elite perspective became; Pollution yes – but not too much; Exploitation yes – but not excessive; Poverty yes, – but not starvation; Unemployment yes – but not permanent; Work related accidents and diseases yes – but with compensation and medication; Commercial warfare yes – but diplomatically moderated. Eventually, clean water and air acts; minimum wages legislation; legal entitlement to benefits (unemployment, child and housing); were implemented – as reforms – along with United Nations peacekeeping institutions.
The list could go on, but the reader will undoubtedly understand that even those limited 20th century reforms were mostly ineffective, that the symptoms noted have increased and also become global. The reason is simple. Modes of production controlled by elites can only be permanently reformed when the reforms benefit a majority of the elite. All others, particularly those which reduce the profits and wealth going to the elite, will be resisted, ignored, undermined, countered or exceptions granted.
Revealingly, the two world wars, (1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 45) noted in previous guides had their origins in the rivalry between capitalist nation blocs for control of markets and sources of raw materials. Whatever other rationalisations for these wars are offered in history books, (fictional and non-fictional) the nature of capitalist profit seeking, with industrial levels of production, required ever more markets to sell mass produced goods and ever more raw materials/energy sources to manufacture them. Despite the inauguration of the United Nations (peace-keeping) Organisation, armed conflict between capitalist economies for direct possession or proxy control of these resources, was (and still is) inevitable.
Nevertheless, between 1900 – 1945, after economic downturn, financial collapse, the two world wars and two major revolutions (Russia and China), a ‘new deal’, ‘citizen welfare’ section of the western capitalist elite reasoned that, ‘we must give the workers reforms or they will give us revolution’. Post second world war reforms and a reconstruction-driven boom period followed. Meanwhile the vanguard-led revolutions in the east, had turned into the surreal nightmares of Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism. That kind of authoritarian controlled revolution (plus the Fascist kind) was rejected by most western working people, white-collar and blue. Welfare reforms to capitalism seemed preferable and US lend-lease, defibrillated, European capitalism’s failing heart.
With the fear of revolution gone, the pro-capitalist financial elites of the later Thatcher/Reagan post-war era, guided the less profitable welfare capitalism into its neo-liberal phase. Thus humanity entered the ‘I’m leaving on a jet plane’ period of globalisation with its accelerated negative effects. Added to the ones listed above, were climate change, polluted seas and large-scale ecological destruction. Half a century after destroying much of the world with bombs, capitalism and its supporters were at it again – this time by excessive production, commerce and transport.
So capitalism has faced humanity with another existential crisis and surprise, surprise, it’s supporters have reintroduced the idea of reforming it!
Having progressively abandoned welfare capitalism as too costly and with a tame working and middle-class class hooked on the entitlement ethos of the right to consume ever more commodities, streaming services and holidays abroad, some pro-capitalist elites now suggest reforming capitalism into a eco-friendly condition. Green ‘growth’ is the latest mirage dangled in front of the influential middle-classes and those workers still entranced by conspicuous consumption, spin and deception. The hope is that capitalism, with some clever technological adjustments, can carry on mass producing far into the future.
This new, liberal extinction prevention vision for the future, is based on the following. That capitalism can continue creating profitable investment returns, with guaranteed salaries and pensions for the middle-classes, providing it churns out bio-degradable goods and services, using renewable energy sources and with tireless, non-waged, non-striking robots staffing factories, hospitals and care homes. When the rare minerals and earth elements required to manufacture such ‘brave new world’ technologies run out, then an even more deluded section of the middle-class (scientific) community are keen to send robotic space vehicles to dig out whatever is needed on the Moon, Mars or passing asteroids.
Currently, the capitalist systems advocates claim that it cannot afford decent wages, hospitals, schools, homes and care homes for everyone needing them now, let alone when the extra costs of producing future eco-friendly and non-polluting methods of mass production, transportation, consumption and refuse disposal are added to the balance sheets. And that is assuming capitalist industries of the future will do everything pollution free, regardless of the negative effects this will have on their profit levels. [Their past track record, even when heavily regulated, would suggest otherwise.] To my mind, imagining a future green Capitalism, with eco-friendly production methods is no further advanced intellectually than some early childhood musings, (rather than questioning), when told that the moon was made of green cheese.
Yet dozens of professors of science and astrophysics are jetting around the globe conferencing and planning future billion dollar (or Pounds or Euros) rocket propelled expeditions to excavate and return a few kilos of extraterrestrial, mineral-rich dirt. They seem to think this would be an economically viable activity for a humanity already on the verge of mass extinctions and ecological collapse.
I suggest that campaigns to reform capitalism, unless capable of triggering an anti-capitalist revolution, are nothing more than pie in the sky distractions. Advocating green-capitalism, is also an oxymoronic concept revealing that its advocates have sadly failed to understand how and why the capitalist economic and financial system of production will continue to dangerously mutate unless physically stopped.
Roy Ratcliffe (December 2019)