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A defense of Planet of the Humans

'Green' billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of 'Planet of the Humans' documentary | The Grayzone
This new article gave me the technical tools with which to judge the film more adequately. Moreover, by doing so, the central points of whether the focus on renewables is simply to maintain an economic system that needs to grow or if renewables can deliver on its promises without creating significant ecological damage, again get front and center staging.
These questions seem to me to be central to determining who our allies are, as well as indicating a clearer way forward.
It's a long read, but worth it.
Larry
 

Ted F

Admin
Hi Larry,
Many activists who are highly critical of the Green Establishment thought this was an awful film. There were no activists of color in the film, no ecosocialists, no one to counter the main propaganda theme that all talk of renewables is some kind of cover for a politics of growth. Blaming the film's bad reception on billionaires is utter nonsense. If I had a billion dollars, I could make a much better film that would actually encourage people to build an ecosocialist movement rather than end on a note of nihilistic grief and hopelessness. That said, I look forward to hearing more from you about what you think is a clear way forward whether revealed by this film or otherwise. We are all certainly struggling to find that path.
Ted
 
Hi Larry,
Many activists who are highly critical of the Green Establishment thought this was an awful film. There were no activists of color in the film, no ecosocialists, no one to counter the main propaganda theme that all talk of renewables is some kind of cover for a politics of growth. Blaming the film's bad reception on billionaires is utter nonsense. If I had a billion dollars, I could make a much better film that would actually encourage people to build an ecosocialist movement rather than end on a note of nihilistic grief and hopelessness. That said, I look forward to hearing more from you about what you think is a clear way forward whether revealed by this film or otherwise. We are all certainly struggling to find that path.
Ted
Hi Ted:
You make valid criticisms of the film. However... For several years a group of ecosocialists and I have been doing presentations on to unions, community groups, church groups, etc on the ecological crisis. We've been critical of a good deal of the science for not being integrated across specialties as well as making predictions without regard to tipping points (the IPCC justifies its methodology because "linear" science is the most rigorous). But we've also been critical of much of the green movement because it simply doesn't act as if the economy has anything to do with the environment (see Barbara Harriss-White's "Making the World a Better Place" in Socialist Register 2020, or see Extinction Rebellions reasons for not addressing the economy). Because we have encouraged discussion, I know that the two most common responses from the audience have been: a) how we could consume better and, connected b) how renewables are going to save the day. Because I live in a housing co-op with several members of the Green Party (British Columbia), because I was in a public-sector union that had a "green" policy (I've since retired), because a close friend of mine was a leader of Canada's Green Party, because in Canada we've had a LEAP Manifesto that predated the Green New Deal by several years, because I've been at all of their meetings, I know that system change is not in their cards - and is in fact specifically and obviously argued against. A small example: when these organizations hold meetings, they are orchestrated. The last Canadian Green New Deal (a continuation of the LEAP) meetings were set up all over Canada (over 100 of them). (By the way, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis are two of the organizers of both the LEAP and the Canadian Green New Deal.) Both of the ones I attended were full. After a brief intro, we were broken up into groups of 8-10 and given a small set of questions to address. No other questions nor discussion was allowed. No disagreements were permitted. A person took notes, handed them in at the end and that was it for our participation. We didn't even find out what our "betters" thought of our limited input. Like all of the social democrats I've ever met, they are afraid of the ideas and people from below. They want our support, but not our engagement.
And, needless to say, there is a belief that technology and renewables are indispensable to finding solutions.
Whether "billionaires" or not, we have a class struggle within the green movement. I do not find it credible, with my experience, that the people who strongly advocate for renewables (often as a single-issue campaign) are not also incapable of criticizing the role that capitalism plays in creating the mess we're in. Ecosocialism must mean much more than the Naomi Kleins' limited political perspectives.
 

Ted F

Admin
Larry,

What you say is very eloquent and troubling about LEAP, Canadian GND, and Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis. I believe we need to keep pushing Klein (I don't know Avi) hard because she speaks to a lot of people and does move greens to the left, and I don't think she is personally in favor of technofixes and endless growth. Oddly, I saw a very similar format for a recent GND Summit within DSA. I did not ascribe it entirely to bad intentions as I know the leaders personally. The format of a plenary (complete with slides) followed by breakout groups and go-rounds with a small set of limiting questions, followed by report backs from notetakers, is deadly to political debate. The leadership may have wanted the best ideas to percolate up but instead they wound up with a hodgepodge. The Summit provided no opportunity to raise serious questions about how well different proposed campaigns measured up against fairly well-articulated criteria for what makes a good campaign. Straw polls substituted for deliberation.

On the substance you raise, SCNCC folks are generally highly critical of Green Capitalism, the Democratic Party, the Big Green environmental groups, and so on. Have you read Richard Smith's articles on our website denouncing fantasies of endless growth? He has written a book entitled "Green Capitalism: the God That Failed" which is good reading.

Perhaps you'll consider writing an article for us?

Ted
 
Larry,

What you say is very eloquent and troubling about LEAP, Canadian GND, and Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis. I believe we need to keep pushing Klein (I don't know Avi) hard because she speaks to a lot of people and does move greens to the left, and I don't think she is personally in favor of technofixes and endless growth. Oddly, I saw a very similar format for a recent GND Summit within DSA. I did not ascribe it entirely to bad intentions as I know the leaders personally. The format of a plenary (complete with slides) followed by breakout groups and go-rounds with a small set of limiting questions, followed by report backs from notetakers, is deadly to political debate. The leadership may have wanted the best ideas to percolate up but instead they wound up with a hodgepodge. The Summit provided no opportunity to raise serious questions about how well different proposed campaigns measured up against fairly well-articulated criteria for what makes a good campaign. Straw polls substituted for deliberation.

On the substance you raise, SCNCC folks are generally highly critical of Green Capitalism, the Democratic Party, the Big Green environmental groups, and so on. Have you read Richard Smith's articles on our website denouncing fantasies of endless growth? He has written a book entitled "Green Capitalism: the God That Failed" which is good reading.

Perhaps you'll consider writing an article for us?

Ted
I'm glad we're on the road to a productive discussion here. A few points:
- Yes, I'm much impressed with Richard Smith's articles. I haven't read his book "Green Capitalism..." yet but I hope to. Most of my ecological analysis has come from Monthly Review with the data coming from a wide range of folk including James Hansen, Monbiot, Ian Angus, the IPCC, etc.
- I'd be interested in writing an article for you, but other than short pieces, I haven't written much. I also have health issues that take an inordinate amount of time, but I'll see what I can do. Do you have specifics in mind?
- Making judgements about people who espouse (roughly) social democratic goals (even if they sound radical) is fraught. Perhaps Naomi and Avi can be influenced to be more radical. (A note about Naomi's vision of possibilities: In "No Is Not Enough" she wrote that an increase in taxes on the rich and corporations would be sufficient to solve the climate crisis.) When I was active in the union, judging who might be an ally was a constant question. In general, I ask myself, aside from policies (which can be consistently applied from above or require so much knowledge that a specialist is required) whether they have a class consciousness and whether they would encourage engagement. So, it isn't so much "bad intentions" as a lack of faith in working class people's capacities. However, there's way too much similarity between bosses' lack of faith and social democrats' lack of faith for me to just assume the "good guys" are making a mistake. Feels too much the same to me.
- SCNCC, although I follow it, seems to have people from a wide range of politics. On the whole, much of the technical discussion is either over my head or coming from a sense that good policies can create change whereas my approach is that people make change. I know that both are required. The question is the dynamic.

My turn to make supper. Gotta go,
Larry
 

David J

Member
That the film touched such a raw nerve within the climate movement is telling. I tried to be nuanced in my own critique, applauding the points around growth while pointing to errors and misrepresentations, but even good comrades saw it in black or white. almost tribal, terms. A sign of the times?
As for the social democratic, LEAP and DSA approach, their "theory of change", I believe "non-reformist reforms" (a la Gorz) has proven to be a dead end. Wishful thinking with theoretical lipstick. Any reformist campaign that succeeds only adds legitimacy to the System ( liberal "democratic" capitalism as most people understand it). Medicare for all, universal basic income, even public power can be recuperated by Capital, while GDP growth and social relations are maintained. Capitalism proves itself to be flexible, adaptable, as with the old New Deal. And extinctions continue apace. We are told that invigorated movements will push for more radical demands, but at some point Capital goes on strike and forces a retreat. My old pessimism coming through.

Living equitably within ecological limits ( yes, even lithium) is the one thing Capital cannot abide, which is what makes it revolutionary.
 

Ted F

Admin
I don't agree that "any reform movement that succeeds lends legitimacy to the system". There are times when reform movements merely lead to a reinforcement of the system ("what doesn't kill it makes it stronger"). But there are also times when reform movements unleash energies that explode the system or spawn revolutionary movements that go far beyond the original demands. Take the historical experience of the Civil Rights Movement in my lifetime. It sure didn't feel like the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 lent legitimacy to the system. In fact, there was a rapid development of revolutionary thinking and ferment after those victories were won. Likewise, the struggle to end the Vietnam War (a battle that we won) nurtured a new generation of hard-core socialists.

You may be right that DSA = LEAP as to their theory of change. You may be speaking from more experience, but here is the Theory of Change presented at the recent Green New Deal Summit that you and I attended

1. The capitalist class is the problem because they enforce an undemocratic economic system which requires ever more exploitation.
2. The working class is the agent of change because capitalism can't function without workers, which gives us tremendous power.
3. The way workers make change is by building a movement of the majority, stopping production and/or shutting down sectors of the economy and society, and remaking our economic, social, and political systems.

This may be simplistic and sketchy but it is not a social democratic theory, nor does it fetishize or even mention "non-reformist reforms."

For my own part, I've read very little about "non-reformist reforms" (Gorz?) so I don't what dangers there may be in promoting that specific phrase. I've heard Trotskyists use the phrase "transitional demands" to refer to demands somewhere between the most basic and immediate demands (say, an 8-hour day) and the maximum program of revolution and socialism. Again, I'm not very well-read on Trotsky's theories. I think what the Trostkyists have in common with the "n-r r" advocates is the idea that there are some struggles for reform that build the movement for socialism and revolution and others that are political dead ends.

Granted, socialists merely immersing ourselves in reformist campaigns that don't build working class power is a deadly trap. Witness the failure of the public power campaigns that are intellectually appealing to white middle-class university educated radicals but gain no traction in Labor, working class communities, and communities of color.

But the solution is not to ignore mass movements that have demands, some of which can be met without the overthrow of the capitalist system. Many socialists, in practice if not in theory, eschew or are comically inept at building a mass movement. They preach revolution and socialism by modern day equivalents of standing on a soap box and hawking pamphlets outside factory gates. Or they talk in middle-class circles about living more radically and abandoning consumerism on an individual basis. The working class ignores them.

The question remains, how to build a working class socialist movement in the heart of imperialism. If we simply write off reform struggles, rather than figure out how to make the most of them, we will wind up, deservedly, on the sidelines of history.
 
Many good points made today. I'll make three quick responses:
1. Reforms achieved can be very valuable both to how people are able to live and as a counterpoint to right-wing ideology. Here in Canada we've had Medicare for about 60 years. It is defended by virtually everyone because virtually everyone has gained by it. And, despite its faults (there are many), the argument for general privatization meets a wall when Medicare is given as a counter argument. Another example is how the present Black Lives Matter resistance has been able to use "systemic racism" and, for the most part, make it stick. That's a huge advance over a legalalist approach. Now, the work begins on how to define "systemic", rather than having it simply mean "very common". Revolutionary work within reform movements is a work in progress (with the caveats mentioned by you two).
2. One of the most important aspects of a continuation of struggle - i.e., being able to remember the lessons from past struggles - is the development of a working class and rebellious culture. When I was a young rebel in the 1960s my father revealed to me that he had been a part of the On To Ottawa Trek in the 1930s (the unemployed took to the rails with the view of protesting in Ottawa). He talked about how much closer they had been to revolution then than I was in the '60s. Not only did that change my view of him as being an obstacle, but it made me aware, as never before, that rebellion was not the property of my generation.
Also in terms of culture, we need to re-establish a working class culture in the workplace (and beyond). So many times, when I was working, I saw people going to management to fix problems that could more reasonably have been done with working class leadership. We need to look to each other much more than at present.
No matter how brilliant the policies, without a culture that is working class, rebellious and resilient, it will not only be reforms that fail.
3. This is not the third response. Rather, a question. I suspect that we do not have sufficient time to change the dynamics of capitalism before the collapse of civilization. If we stress the creation of a culture of resistance, perhaps that is part of the answer in that we may not be able to achieve the "project" of socialism as much as the widespread understanding and use of the "values" of socialism. Thoughts?
 

David J

Member
Great points you two, appreciate the depth of this discussion. I'll start with a rebuttal on reforms: I suppose what is needed is some metric for measuring the amount of "working class power" that has been gained via reform. As opposed to how much legitimacy capitalist "democracy" has gained through any strategic concession. To use Ted's example of voting rights for Blacks, women's rights, or socialized medicine in Canada and elsewhere, or even the German example of worker representation on corporate boards, can we say that constituencies were further radicalized or pacified through the granting of these concessions? It seems to me the Black middle class in America has little taste for socialist revolution, gays were granted rights and assimilated as well. Canadians seem content with the current structure and institutions (these are broad generalities). Maybe it is that lack of shared culture Larry points out.

What I don't have is an alternative to reform. To advocate "heightening the contradictions" and accelerating the collapse of what Larry generously calls "civilization" is cruel on its face, and yet...

This segues into Larry's final question, something Jem Bendell (Deep Adaptation) and the folks at Dark Mountain have also been contemplating. I definitely take comfort in the tight community we have developed here and believe there is a growing ethic of mutual aid but I still think Capital (institutions, ideology, structure) is less formidable than it appears. The veil is being lifted higher each day, these are remarkable/challenging times indeed.
 
I'm really enjoying this dialogue. Anybody for moving to Vancouver?
Seriously, I'll take up a few of Ted's points first.
a) The Theory of Change presented at the Green New Deal Summit looks pretty good. You didn't say what the debate around it was, nor whether it was accepted. Nonetheless, it is way beyond what the Canadian Green New Deal or LEAP has achieved. A small point: "the capitalist class is the problem" perhaps leaves open the possibility of small capitalists or the petit bourgeois being left to their own devices - which would be to grow.
b) Struggles for reforms shouldn't be ignored, as you say. But that doesn't mean that we buy into the logic of the reformers. Someone in Black Lives Matter came up with the idea of calling the widespread use of violence by the police "systemic". That idea opened up lots of other possibilities.
c) The left can be asinine. But that's only a part of the reason why the working class doesn't pay a great deal of attention to those handing out pamphlets. I've been a socialist for many decades. One of the questions I have often asked my co-workers during those years (and I've had quite a few different jobs) is whether they would prefer to have more say in how the workplace was run. Of the dozens of replies, I only remember one who said that they just want their paycheque. When I ask the bosses whether they'd be willing to share the power in the workplace there hasn't been one would would agree to that. But I usually followed up my initial question to the workers with the question of whether they'd like to work towards a democratic workplace and the usual response was: "You and whose army?" In other words, and this is very important, the vast majority of workers don't have a problem with radical ideas, it's the very practical side effect of being fired for trying to spread the word (and the social dislocation of a large-scale change). And, of course, we've seen many people fired for a good deal less than being radical. This observation has led me to the conclusion that one of the left's tasks should be to create a safe alternative or haven for those waging battle within the belly of the beast. Co-ops, food programs, etc (like the early Black Panthers, the early Sandinistas, the Zapatistas, liberation movements around the world) help in both the production and distribution of life's necessities.

And that leads me to David's point: "...at some point Capital goes on strike and forces a retreat". Absolutely true. It's not necessary to be pessimistic to recognize that (whether Mitterand, Allende or...). (Who was it who said: "Pessimism of the mind, optimism of the spirit"). No country on earth, alone, is strong enough to deal with the power of capital. Which means that the progress towards survival is, and must be, international. We must have sufficient resources, of all types, to survive, not only the withdrawal of capital, but its onslaught. And that internationalism is beginning. Look at the international responses to Black Lives Matter, the environmental movement's breadth or the feminist response to Trump. So, it is beginning as a realistic response to the causes of the crises.

That's enough for now.
Larry
 
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