Climate change on the planet and the Covid syndemic that is continuing to claim victims are two sides of the same coin. They cannot be separated.
They tell us about the destructive aspect that capitalist development has taken on today and at the same time they tell us about the forms in which this destruction manifests itself. There will not be an X-hour with the end of the world or the disappearance of the human species on earth. There will be a degradation of the habitable conditions of the planet leading to shortages of drinking water, famine, floods, migration, racism, wars, further pandemics.
In other words, it is not death we should fear, but the unstoppable and exponential degradation of life and social relations that we should fear. The environmental disaster is not a sectoral problem, concerning the environment, but is destined to bring about a progressive catastrophe of human civilisation, starting with Western civilisation, within a short period of time. A catastrophe that obviously hits the most fragile and weakest people economically and socially the hardest, starting with the peoples and countries of the peripheries, the subordinate classes in general, migrants and women.
Rapid and radical change is needed
This situation calls for a rapid and radical response, like those implemented in times of war. The ruling classes, although they have realised the problem, are tackling it by trying to make environmentally friendly production profitable and push polluting production out of the market. Even practised with far greater rigour than at present, this response in terms of a capitalist green economy is bound to take too long to avoid catastrophe. Apart from any other consideration, the change they seek is dramatically too slow. It is based on the same paradigm that led us to the disaster.
It is therefore a question of having environmental and social reconversion processes of production and the economy that are much faster than those hypothesised by the President of the Ecb or the European Commission. It is a question of fully understanding that an economy based on profit is incompatible with maintaining an environmental balance on planet earth.
The propulsive thrust of capitalism has been exhausted
Capitalism had the historical merit of having applied science to production processes, giving rise to a great impetus to technological development and thus to an increase in labour productivity. This development has produced enormous social suffering but also an overall improvement in the living conditions of humans. This fact has characterised the last three centuries of human life, in which capitalism and the labour movement have confronted each other. This contradictory but progressive element ended with the emergence of the general effects of the Anthropocene era. Capitalist development progressively became incompatible with the environmental balance of the planet. Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” has increasingly become the “creation of destruction” of a system that destroys nature, patents and privatises the living, induces ever more frequent pandemics, and produces ever more macroscopic and unacceptable inequalities. The very quest for an increase in Gdp that drives our rulers as a sign of recovery after Covid, is bound to exacerbate the problems and is ultimately incompatible with human life on the planet.
The driving force of capitalism has been exhausted. The capitalist mode of production based on profit is no longer able to produce prosperity, but rather destruction and barbarism. Not tomorrow, but today, as shown by the Covid question and the short-sighted response of the ruling classes based on the patenting of vaccines and the centrality of multinational profit. We are going against a cliff and we need to quickly reverse course, change the paradigm completely.
Revolution is the “emergency brake of history”
Marx, who rightly recognised that capitalism had contradictorily set the conditions for humanity to emerge from economic scarcity. Marx, who had before his eyes the enormous potential of capitalism and could not foresee the scale of its destructive aspect, spoke of the revolution as the “locomotive of history”.
I think we are not doing Marx an injustice if today we adopt the thinking of Walter Benjamin, who instead spoke of revolution as the “emergency brake of history”.
It is a question of stopping to change, not speeding up to change.
Leaving aside the railway metaphor, which has its own effectiveness, it seems clear to me that our proposal for a plan for a drastic environmental reconversion of the economy and production, a public plan that for reasons of effectiveness is removed from the logic of profit, must be accompanied by three decisive points.
Firstly, the redistribution of wealth. Because the reconversion of the economy and production cannot be offloaded onto the living conditions of the popular strata, otherwise there will be no consensus for doing so. The redistribution of wealth is the condition for social protagonism in environmental reconversion, particularly in western countries and in this Europe of ours.
Secondly, the redistribution of labour. The increase in labour productivity must result in a drastic reduction in working time and not in an increase in the goods produced. Demercifying our existence, broadening the satisfaction of social needs through the production of useable values that do not take the form of commodities is a decisive point for overcoming profit as the organising principle of social relations.
Thirdly, the socialisation of knowledge and science. Today, capital dominates creation through the private appropriation of the fruits of scientific research and turns nature itself into a manipulable commodity and an opportunity for profit. The monopoly of the fruits of science is the basis for the production of wealth, power and to some extent prestige, and the hegemony of capital. At the same time, we are seeing magical and unscientific forms of irrationalism re-emerge in the public squares which we did not think would ever return. The socialisation of science – and therefore of the power that derives from it – is a key factor in tackling humanity’s problems in rational forms and in being able to solve them.
Paolo Ferrero, director of Quistioni, is vice-president of the Party of the European Left. He was national secretary of Partito della Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, and Minister of Welfare in the second Prodi government.