Is environmentalism the new socialism?

One aspect that has dominated the political posturing for the entirety of the modern era is conspicuous by its absence from the mud-slinging shenanigans of 2024’s General Election campaign. The political spectrum just isn’t what it used to be.

In the latter half of the twentieth century the battle lines seemed fairly simple. There was left, there was centre and there was right, with a few convenient resting places in between. In today’s world however, the question “where do you sit on the spectrum?” will not typically promote any discussion about political affiliations. The response is more likely to involve riveting dialogue concerning a personal obsession with colour coding in the sock drawer.

At the outer boundaries of our conventional political spectrum, anyone daring to espouse unusual or innovative concepts has traditionally been labelled “extreme”. At the left end, the mainstream media and the establishment quickly shut down any idea that communal policies for the good of the community could offer any advantages. We don’t need any of that nasty commie stuff over here, thank you very much.

The far left was obliterated. Even for the Party of the Workers, calling itself Labour, the ground on the left was vacated, and the manifesto moved to the centre. Even Blair didn’t have enough charisma to win an election if he was going to be stuck with any tag suggesting leftie tendencies.

At the right end, Thatcher made significant headway in pushing an agenda that completely excluded the lower classes and triumphantly despatched union rights to the dustbin of history. However, even the blue party couldn’t resist the advice from the strategists of spin, manoeuvring to capture the centre ground, whilst maintaining reinforcements on the right flank.

We got stuck with a mushy compromise in the middle; a no-mans land, where noone really had any ideology to fight for, and political parties just argued earnestly with each other about the intake of displaced people from other places. Profit became the only relevant ideological concept.

The non-committal stance by politicians that had nothing to believe in created a vacuum. People craved some sort of ideology to get to grips with. The far right of the spectrum profited nicely. We are now in a position where we don’t have any debate featuring left, centre or right – but we do have a far right movement that is creating many headlines across Europe. It’s often labelled “populist”, and may veer worryingly close to fascism, but it is currently a runner attracting a lot of backing.

The question to address here is “what has happened to the left”? I mean, we need a fair choice at the polls, don’t we? A candidate from the left, one from the centre, one from the right – it’s the least that we can expect. Does an option from the left of the political spectrum still exist?

Society could be described as a friendly association of companions, running itself as an ordered community. The word “socialism” shares the same Latin root, so it is not too difficult to imagine the primary aims of the ideology. A socialist system is a democratic one, which strives to rule whilst achieving social equality.

Since we are in the process of pigeon-holing ideologies, now is the ideal time to mention capitalism, which really is the arch-enemy of socialism. The goals of capitalism are the polar opposite to those of socialism. Nevertheless, capitalism has become dominant, running the world, and ruining the planet in the process. Capitalism has established itself as the most successful method. We could nit-pick over a definition of our criteria for “success” here, but suffice to say, capitalism has obliterated all opponents over the past 40 years.

But it wasn’t always like that.

Post-WWII, regimes across Europe based on the divine rule of absolute monarchs had already toppled and populations were trying to figure out a model for government that might give everyone a fair deal as civilisation attempted to re-build itself in Europe. Could extreme inequality, illustrated for example by Tzar Romanov v the Russian peasants, be eliminated once and for all? Socialism was “top of the pops” as the most appealing alternative to establishments based on elites.

However, a couple of disastrous concept albums spoiled the scene. International experiments with horrific consequences played out in those decades, witnessed most noticeably in the Soviet bloc and the People’s Republic of China.

Communism ultimately failed badly. A core belief in the productivism of the state proved totally illogical. A core belief in the ethical supremacy of a few individuals proved suicidal. The communist leaders had no actual interest in equality, no concept of a free and fair society: they were only interested in doing whatever it took to maintain their own national power-base (and bank balance).

As the twentieth century came to a close the Chinese regime, unable to dream up any other policy that might be given yet another bogus socialist label, rolled the tanks in to Tiananmen Square, and embraced capitalism. Exploitation of natural resources to an unprecedented level began as state-planned industrial cities grew to mammoth scales, manufacturing endless quantities of low-cost products to be shipped to the west.

On the face of it, the Chinese regime has backed a real winner. The main narrative of the early decades of the twenty first century is one of globalisation. The consumer monster in the west is fed on a diet of more and more affordable “stuff” imported from China, and the Chinese government coffers are filled to bursting point with revenue, including that from the western debt that they have purchased. We can’t afford all the (often pointless) stuff from the Chinese factories unless we have payment terms on credit.

Meanwhile, back on home soil post-1945, the Americans were bailing us out financially and industrialisation on a significant scale was starting to mature. Workers began to discover that as a collective, they could wield power. Union power peaked in the UK 1960s and ’70s. This was fundamentally a socialist phenomenon, even if the unionised industry on which it was based exploited non-renewable resources to a damaging degree. Union power provided the masses with a mechanism to challenge the political leadership. We weren’t necessarily using a vocabulary of social justice at that time, but in essence, the movement promised a more equal society.

The promise withered all too quickly. With canny investment in automation and a focus on a “services” industry, the establishment removed any threat of mass worker power by removing any requirement for a mass of workers. The collective power of workers in primary and manufacturing industries in the UK effectively disappeared and with it a large portion of any socialistic ambition.

The capitalists marched on unchallenged, engineering a globalisation of the economy, bulldozing their way through one precious eco-system after another to feed the profits-machine with minerals and fossil residues, creating wealth for the elites that makes Tzar Romanov’s personal stash look rather modest by comparison.

As each set of natural resources is plundered to exhaustion, poisoning the landscape and the people in it in the process, the capitalists move on to the next. How long can this continue? At one point the stock of natural resources will be depleted to the extent that the method breaks down since there are no more eco-systems to trash in the cause of economic growth.

Rather than gaining any strategic position of power, a voice for a free and fair society, the masses instead face a climate crisis that is essentially one of expanding inequality. They are less prepared for the event, less able to mitigate the effects and less able to afford the cost of recovery as climate change-driven catastrophes pile up.

Is there a movement that can offer a voice to the masses, to stop the destruction of the planet, with an ethos of social justice for all? It’s not necessarily obvious, but there is an option at the ballot box. By insisting that your candidate puts the long term health of the planet and of the people that live on it at the top of their priority list, you are sending a message that a collective will cannot be ignored. All other issues are a distraction and a smoke screen. A system of capitalist exploitation of natural resources and labour is leading us into the abyss, creating a polarisation of societies and countries that can only result in conflict as the planetary eco-system’s breakdown.

Support any movement that will protect the eco-systems from further degradation. You may call it environmentalism, or socialism, or eco-socialism – but support something that stands for an end to global destruction. In the ’70s and ’80s the climate-change issue was a scientific one. Then we figured out what was responsible for the change. In the ’80s and ’90s climate change became an engineering issue. Then we figured out renewable technologies. In the 2000s, climate change is a political issue. We therefore now need the political will to decarbonise.

It’s possible. It will cost less money than trying to sort out the future calamities awaiting us if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels. You don’t have to be a dangerous leftie or some eco-terrorist, you just have to make sure that your elected representative brings some logical solutions to the table to implement net zero – and sooner rather than later.

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