Natural Limits? Was: Re Peter Grimes interview on Indymedia/Marxists economy

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Fri Nov 7 06:19:22 MST 2003


No, DMS, you should say that certain junctures favor their coming to
fruition, but that these junctures themselves are -- at least partly --
part of strategy. Nor should we fall into economic determinism, here. You
can have profound reaction in periods of upswing or downturn -- But, by
their very definition, long term strategies take time to carry out. I would
argue that the panoply of political practices that are currently being
realized under the guise of "Bushism" were strategized and set in motion
long ago, perhaps as long ago as Kissinger's railing against the Vietnam
Syndrome and Democracy in the late '70s. Nor is this "conspiracy." It is,
as I understand it, the very role of the state. The same entity that brings
us running water, public transportation and public schools. These fulfill
the general interests of the ruling class.

>However, Louis, what becomes clear is that all these long term
>strategies exist at any particular time without becoming executable
>programs iI is only under specific immediate economic conditions that
>such "strategies" now become the policy of the government.  So Perle and
>Wolfowitz et al can bang the drum in 1992 and 1996, but it is only after
>1998 that the drumbeat resonates  in perfect syncopation with the
>heartbeat of the bourgeoisie.

However, I also have a bone to pick regarding natural limits with Lou. When
Lou says:

>Well, if socialism can produce the same amount of blue-fin tuna in the
>future that capitalism produces today without risking extinction, then
>perhaps alchemy needs to be re-investigated.

First, What is the point of this argument? Of course it is capitalist
industrial fishing, motivated by profits, that has driven tuna to the
brink. Under socialism (and not deformed versions), I don't think this
would be an issue, as use of natural resources could be rationally planned.
They would not be governed by the law of value, as commodities. As for the
state regulating capital on behalf of its general, long-term interests,
yes, but always with overall profits in mind and guided by this or that
sector (logically, as they are the source of expertise in particular
fields: ex. the oil and mining industries dominate academic geology -- who
gets grants, publishes, etc.). Strategic and short-term sectorial interests
are not necessarily contradictory, but sometimes they are, and sometimes
the sector even wins out. Witness Bush's environmental policies, guided and
implemented by mining industry hacks. As another example, the Japanese
government has a unique way of protecting the long-term interest of the
Japanese whaling industry. In the face of an international moratorium
protecting the endangered baleen species, the Japanese government allows
industrial whalers to harvest hundreds of whales annually FOR THE MARKET
under the guise of "scientific research."

If the point is simply that there are natural limits circumscribing the
development of any social order. even David acknowledges that, as when he
states, "Can capital eradicate a resource, a species?  Absolutely."

I agree with the reality of natural limits, but I don't think that under
capitalism, the organization of society under commodity production, that it
is possible to assess those limits rationally. With respect to the issue of
demographics, I just had this discussion with a colleague, a Brazilian
supporter of Lula, by no means reactionary, who argued that overpopulation
is a real problem for humans, both in terms of environmental degradation
and poverty. We both agreed that (nonrenewable) natural resources are
finite: that a given ecosystem has a finite carrying capacity. In a
"natural" (used very advisedly) ecosystem, you can calculate the biomass at
each trophic level and come up with some idea of the carrying capacity for
a given population of some organism. However, in the real world, even an
estimate like this is very rough, and an organism's population will
approach this carrying capacity -- if at all -- as an asymptote, and the
population will oscillate around this level. Our "carrying capacity" is a
moving target, with both production and consumption determined among
fragmented units by the law of value. Perhaps when the law of value no
longer governs production, we will be able to take stock of our human and
material resources and rationally assess human carrying capacity,
population goals, etc.

For the present, I think we agree that our movements must fight for
environmental goals as they would for any other social goal, in the face of
capitalist opposition. Whether or not we think that petroleum is going to
run out next week or next millenium, I think we can agree that use of
petrol and its derivatives has created and is creating environmental havoc,
endangering our health and our very existence, as well as that of various
other species. On that basis, our goal should be the progressive
disminuition of the petrochemical industry.


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