On Planned Economy and Ecosystem Disruption

On Planned Economy and Ecosystem Disruption

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A planned socialist system of production and distribution, worked and controlled by a free association of producers – with all the science and technology at its disposal – will be one which places humanity’s relationship with Nature at the forefront of all actions and considerations in the course of human activity and planning. Without Nature, humanity is nothing. In destroying Nature, humanity destroys itself.

Climate changes taking place which are mediated by human activity can only now be the result of the continual and ruthless drive of global capital-in-crisis to augment its value which is, at its very core, an unplanned and anarchic system as Marx noted many years ago. Professional climatologists – who are certainly more knowledgeable than me in this area – will be more aware of any climate changes taking place which are not now mediated by the crisis of this global capitalist system. Only since the Industrial Revolution commenced in England in the 1750s, has the concentration of carbon dioxide been consistently rising as a trend. Before that, in human existence, records indicate a relatively stable and circumscribed concentration.

In truth, the whole question of climate change has everything to do with whether or not planned production is the dominant form in the broadest sense of the term and not simply in the narrow economic sense. Formally, the soviet system was a ‘planned’ economy but one which was a ‘forcing house’ for the development of production after the Russian Revolution. In a certain sense, it was an ‘unplanned’ form of planning which inevitably brought destruction and pillage of Nature in its wake. Therefore, when I use the term ‘planned’, I do not refer to the Stalinist system of planning.

It would begin to make an unfolding and increasingly more profound difference if production were planned rather than being unplanned (with fossil fuels as the major energy source). The crisis of the global capital order is damaging the planet’s ecosystems and altering its climate to a significantly different degree that the previous three centuries of capitalism has done. The conception that climate change and ecological destruction is simply a function of technological development – and not of the prevailing character of the dominant social relations or of the mode in which this technology is actually socially utilised – is a fetishistic conception.

If all this alteration and destruction has nothing to do with planning or no planning then what are the fundamental determinants and causality underlying these changes? And where does the historical development of the capital relation stand in our conception of these changes? A socialist sytem would not approach humanity’s relationship with Nature purely as a function of the stage at which scientific knowledge and technique had arrived. As if it does not really matter for ecological destruction and climate change whether global society is socialist or dominated by capital because it all depends on knowledge and scientific-technical discovery and innovation. Whether or not capital is the ruling relation of production and distribution is the fundamental consideration at the core of ecological/climate questions.

If, hypothetically, a system of socialist production (not of the Stalinist soviet type) had been irreversibly established globally at the start of the 20th century, in the very nature of this system, the same degree of climate change and ecological destruction we see now would not have occurred. And, as knowledge and technology advanced, we would have been able to adjust and modulate (i.e. plan) our activities accordingly in order to minimise or eliminate any environmental damage to Nature’s creation and its ecosystems on which human life depends. To do otherwise would have replicated the madness of capitalist production in its destructive relationship with Nature’s creation.
The deleterious and destructive effects of capitalist production on Nature were well known at the time of Marx and Engels long before any hypothetical realisation of socialism in 1900.

In a planned economy, even the controlled use of fossil fuels need not be polluting as we have (and have had) for many years the science and technology to prevent this and, indeed, to utilise the by products of burning fossil fuels. The fact that the atmosphere and oceans are concentrating carbon dioxide is the result of the fact that, under capitalism, the implementation of technical processes to stop it are not profitable and would take a massive, unsustainable bite out of the produced surplus value and thus interfere with capitalist accumulation. Just because climate change wasn’t discovered until later, this does not mean that it would have taken place to the same degree under both planned and unplanned systems of production. If we conceive that there is no difference between the two systems in terms of their destructive effects on Nature’s creation, then we do, indeed, replicate the ahistorical ‘man in the abstract’ destroyer of Nature notion which is often put forward by certain sections of the ‘Green’ movement. Humanity ‘in the abstract’ is not destroying Nature but rather this destruction is only taking place under a system of social relations of production and distribution in which capital-in-crisis is the dominant relation.


Shaun May

April 2014


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