Entitled simply “Eco-Stalinism”, this anonymous revolutionary plea for eco-Stalinism circulating in the dark web belongs to the literary genre of so-called “rants”, which flourished in Scotland in the 17th and 18th centuries, e.g., the 1700 “MacPherson’s Lament” (aka “MacPherson’s Farewell”) made famous by Robert Burns 88 years later (and sung by The Corries in the 1970s). Given its communist inspiration and copyright status, I publish it as my own, so as to exemplify vividly what happens to common goods under legal and economic regimes based upon the institutions of private property and individual self-maximisation.
The answer to the ongoing global collapse of the environment is simple, conceptually. It consists in recovering at each and every level the standards of well-being—environmental, societal, personal—that no for-profit pursuit can and may compromise. Ever. Red tape, red lines, red dots, red flags. The problem is practical. Greed is as old as Croesus, but today it is the absolute sovereign over the nations and the minds, justified by constitutions, laws, common sense, and economic ‘science’. Therefore, for things to change, move in the right direction, and do it fast enough, constitutions will have to be ignored, laws broken, common sense contradicted, and economic ‘science’ ignored. Piece of cake.
Not everything that exists will work against us, though. There are still provisions, in some countries, concerning working-class rights. There are surviving shreds of sensible governmental regulation. Progressive taxation is not yet anathema everywhere. Public welfare investment, albeit low, has not evaporated completely. Biosphere requirements are pretty obvious, at least as soon as people start chocking to death or find no safe water to drink. To respond to the ongoing madness, then, we must protect and promote all natural and human life-giving systems, organisations, institutions, principles, ideas and, in short, life-enabling ‘things’ that are still around and within us:
- whatever clean air we may be breathing on occasion;
- whatever clean water we may be fortunate enough to get to drink;
- life-protective laws that have not yet been overridden by transnational commercial treaties or local lobbies;
- universal health plans not yet surrendered to private conglomerates or small-time crooks;
- the free internet as a civic platform for public discussion and self-organisation;
- public hygiene bodies, praxes and installations, such as city sewers;
- public sidewalks, city squares and forest paths, before they are overridden with cars and parking lots;
- games and fields of play accessible to all, not just to people with money;
- the open and cooperative development of science at all levels, national and international;
- well-regulated public streetscapes, with special care for green areas and heritage sites;
- effective pollution controls firmly and forcefully established;
- Otto von Bismarck’s gift to the left, i.e. public old-age pensions;
- universal education, at as many levels as possible, consistently with the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
- fair democratic elections, so that the people’s will be heard, not just money’s;
- unemployment insurance, public retraining centres and public-sector jobs, so as to create opportunities for all who can contribute, and create the resources needed by those who can’t;
- strictly monitored maximum work hours and minimum wages, so that jobs do not turn into horrible cages;
- protected natural habitats, which alone can secure biodiversity as an inherently worthy preservation of something awesome that we could not even begin to fathom how to create by ourselves—secondarily, whenever we need a new medicine or material, nature’s evolved creatures are the regular source of inspiration for finding them;
- professionally set-up and free public broadcasting, which can monitor and inform society in a fair, competent and life-enabling way, without fear of reprisal (Julian Assange’s case docet).
These are not pie-in-the-sky ideals. All complex human societies have, or have had until recently, such institutions. Now, all these institutions aim at providing vital goods to all, unlike any for-profit system that is open only to those who can afford to pay for the priced goods and services that are for sale. By definition, a system of private property deprives some of something. Nomen omen.
Watch, however, for the counterreformers’ propaganda. The 1% and their henchmen will tell you that the markets are efficient. That competition is good for business. That business is good for society. They will try to promote public-private partnerships, corporate partnerships, and all kinds of schemes to loot the public wealth.
Why do I call them “schemes”? Because they have already been tried. Again and again, the results have been abysmal. In our societies, common people are more and more insecure. Their rights on the workplace are a pale travesty of what their parents enjoyed. The planet’s environment is fucked. Future generations are fucked. And yet, all the ‘right-thinking’ eggheads propose is more of the same nonsense. This happens because, as with all forms of madness, there are absurd assumptions that all share and nobody questions. Let’s be the exception, then. Let’s go to the bottom of this nonsense.
To begin, in the current system, private money is taken to mean all the “demand” that exists in the system, even if there may be plenty of vital needs that go unmet. Organic and social creatures need water, oxygen, free time, free clean spaces: they demand it, lest they get sick and die. However, insofar as they cannot write a cheque and get what they need, they simply don’t register, don’t exist, for and in the actual markets of the world. Screw the dollar sign, then. Give a sign of life.
Similarly, all the commodities that are regularly bought and sold are called “goods”, insofar as they help some money interests to make more money. Yet, these “goods” may be the worst things imaginable for people’s health or the environment. I’m sorry to spell it out for you, but there are a lot of bad goods that should not circulate: cigarettes, polluting engines, toxic pesticides, assault rifles, addictive junk food. You name it.
When the Earth’s problems are too big and pressing to be denied, the usual right-thinking eggheads will tell you that “overpopulation” is the common cause of all ills. There are too many of us, especially in the poor regions of the world. Sterilise them. Kill them. Build walls. Let them drown at sea. Bollox! How can the poor, who consume little, be the origin of the unbearable burden of our common home? The problem is the overconsumption instigated by for-profit market strategists, and operated by conditioned consumers, who cannot stop buying stuff that they don’t need, even if their wardrobes are full of clothes, their parking lots are full of cars, and their fat bellies are full of chemicals and empty calories that should not be there.
They will tell you that what counts is “productivity” and that the market generates “greater efficiency”. Yes, but producing what? And efficient to what end? More money for money that is already more than needed—or it would not get invested into new ventures. Not in bread, water, a roof over one’s head, a few clothes, and the few luxuries that help a person mature and enjoy life in a healthy, sensible way. Remember: a bit of something can be good. More of it, not to mention forever more, is not. Even if we are getting better and better at making more of it. I mean, aren’t old ladies with dozens of cats a tiny bit delusional? Well, so are those who collect cars, shoes, or piles of money.
They will tell you that rich people are rich because they worked hard. Yet that is utter tripe. What kind of hard work is to sip on cocktails and check the stocks—if they haven’t employed someone else to do the latter for them? Piketty’s research is adamant. He is not the new Marx, but the new Veblen. We are back to the Belle Epoque. Most rich people, today, have either inherited or married into money, which originates historically, more often than not, out of rapine (e.g., savage conquest, slave trade, opium wars, mass conditioning, toxic addiction). Most of the rich live off rent, not profit—Adam Smith would be horrified.
Those who work hard—on the fields, down mine shafts, inside hospitals—never get that rich. Besides, if it is true that hard work makes you rich, then Marx’s labour theory of value would be proven right, which is something that liberal economists spent eighty years trying to debunk by creating the fiction of marginalism. Not to mention the fact that if you are poor, the only way to get rich is by devoting yourself to crime. Today, even football and theatre have become upper-class privileged domains. Or you can marry a rich person. As to entrepreneurship, no bank gives any money to the poor. Only the kids of rich families receive that kind of support.
They will tell you that the market order embodies “rationality”, but that is false. What kind of rationality lies behind a system whereby you can accumulate money endlessly, while others starve; or where the latter get sick because they are forced to drink from the well that you have been poisoning with your waste, so as to make more money? What kind of rationality justifies destroying the only place in the known universe where life exists? The only rationality that we can trust comes from the outside: States, consumers’ associations, trade unions. These agents, if properly conducted, are the creators of the sacred red tape, without which everything falls apart.
They will utter the word “growth” as though a priest were proffering God’s name during Mass. The growth of what, please? As I age, a lot of hairs grow in my nose and in my ears: is that a growth I like, want, or seek? Pimples grow on noses. Beer-guts grow. Cancerous masses grow. Stop taking “growth,” that is, more money for those who already have it, as the idol to which you must bow. Ask, rather, which growth? Where? For whom? And how much? Piles and piles of money for the usual few, and it’s never enough. Let’s stop sacrificing lives to Mammon, Moloch or Baal, please.
They will state, in the end, that market institutions are “democratic.” That they reflect the will of the people. That they give people what they want. My arse. And yours, for that matter. First of all, there are lots of people who get nothing, no matter how much they desire the things they desire. Quite simply, they cannot pay for anything; hence they are excluded from market transactions. Secondly, lots of people want stuff that they don’t need. That is an important distinction that no textbook in alleged economic ‘science’ seems capable of grasping, despite including frequently the picture of a Maslowian pyramid. You can live without iPads and Coca-Cola. Try living without shelter and access to healthcare when ill. Thirdly, plenty of people want things that they have been led to want by hammering them on the head since birth. Veblen and Galbraith had seen this very early and very clearly. ‘From the cradle to the grave’ is the advertising gurus’ motto. Massive amounts of money are poured into marketing and advertising. The most qualified psychologists, artists and experts are employed in that sector. The result is inanity on a global scale, with idiots fighting over TV sets on Black Friday. Screw it, I say. Re-educate. If hopeless, there’s always the wall. The same that is to be used for the profiteers and their henchmen, of course. I mean, what sort of Stalinism would it be, without a purge of some kind?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio Baruchello is an Icelandic citizen and works as Professor of Philosophy at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Akureyri, Iceland. He read philosophy in Genoa and Reykjavík, Iceland, and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Guelph, Canada. Since 2005 he has been the editor of Nordicum-Mediterraneum: The Icelandic E-Journal of Nordic and Mediterranean Studies. He has authored several books, including Why Believe? Approaches to Religion with Garrett Barden. His publications encompass several different areas, especially social philosophy, theory of value, and intellectual history. Northwest Passage Books has published five volumes of his collected philosophical essays.