Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why Ecological Revolution?

Today the ecological frontline is arguably to be found in the inhabitants of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta and of the low-lying fertile coast area of the Indian Ocean and China Seas — the state of Kerala in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. They, too, as in the case of Marx’s proletariat, have nothing to lose from the radical changes necessary to avert (or adapt to) disaster

Look who is mentioning Kerala, the southern state of India in his article...Yes it is none other than the legendary John Bellamy Foster. In his article which clearly points out that the problem of environmental destruction can't be solved within the capitalist system and hence it has to be replaced, Foster speaks about Kerala too...Here is the article that appeared in the Monthly Review.

Why Ecological Revolution?

John Bellamy Foster

It is now universally recognized within science that humanity is confronting the prospect — if we do not soon change course — of a planetary ecological collapse. Not only is the global ecological crisis becoming more and more severe, with the time in which to address it fast running out, but the dominant environmental strategies are also forms of denial, demonstrably doomed to fail, judging by their own limited objectives. This tragic failure, I will argue, can be attributed to the refusal of the powers that be to address the roots of the ecological problem in capitalist production and the resulting necessity of ecological and social revolution.

The term “crisis,” attached to the global ecological problem, although unavoidable, is somewhat misleading, given its dominant economic associations. Since 2008, we have been living through a world economic crisis — the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. This has been a source of untold suffering for hundreds of millions, indeed billions, of people. But insofar as it is related to the business cycle and not to long-term factors, expectations are that it is temporary and will end, to be followed by a period of economic recovery and growth — until the advent of the next crisis. Capitalism is, in this sense, a crisis-ridden, cyclical economic system. Even if we were to go further, to conclude that the present crisis of accumulation is part of a long-term economic stagnation of the system — that is, a slowdown of the trend-rate of growth beyond the mere business cycle — we would still see this as a partial, historically limited calamity, raising, at most, the question of the future of the present system of production.1

When we speak today of the world ecological crisis, however, we are referring to something that could turn out to be final, i.e., there is a high probability, if we do not quickly change course, of a terminal crisis — a death of the whole anthropocene, the period of human dominance of the planet. Human actions are generating environmental changes that threaten the extermination of most species on the planet, along with civilization, and conceivably our own species as well.

What makes the current ecological situation so serious is that climate change, arising from human-generated increases in greenhouse gas emissions, is not occurring gradually and in a linear process, but is undergoing a dangerous acceleration, pointing to sudden shifts in the state of the earth system. We can therefore speak, to quote James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the world’s most famous climate scientist, of “tipping points…fed by amplifying feedbacks.”2 Four amplifying feedbacks are significant at present: (1) rapid melting of arctic sea ice, with the resulting reduction of the earth’s albedo (reflection of solar radiation) due to the replacement of bright, reflective ice with darker blue sea water, leading to greater absorption of solar energy and increasing global average temperatures; (2) melting of the frozen tundra in northern regions, releasing methane (a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) trapped beneath the surface, causing accelerated warming; (3) recent indications that there has been a drop in the efficiency of the carbon absorption of the world’s oceans since the 1980s, and particularly since 2000, due to growing ocean acidification (from past carbon absorption), resulting in faster carbon build-up in the atmosphere and enhanced warming; (4) extinction of species due to changing climate zones, leading to the collapse of ecosystems dependent on these species, and the death of still more species.3

Due to this acceleration of climate change, the time line in which to act before calamities hit, and before climate change increasingly escapes our control, is extremely short. In October 2009, Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, reported that, based on current trends, close to 70 percent of the land surface of the earth could be drought-affected by 2025, compared to nearly 40 percent today.4 The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that glaciers are melting throughout the world and could recede substantially this century. Rivers fed by the Himalyan glaciers currently supply water to countries with around 3 billion people. Their melting will give rise to enormous floods, followed by acute water shortages.5

Many of the planetary dangers associated with current global warming trends are by now well-known: rising sea levels engulfing islands and low-lying coastal regions throughout the globe; loss of tropical forests; destruction of coral reefs; a “sixth extinction” rivaling the great die-downs in the history of the planet; massive crop losses; extreme weather events; spreading hunger and disease. But these dangers are heightened by the fact that climate change is not the entirety of the world ecological crisis. For example, independently of climate change, tropical forests are being cleared as a direct result of the search for profits. Soil destruction is occurring, due to current agribusiness practices. Toxic wastes are being diffused throughout the environment. Nitrogen run-off from the overuse of fertilizer is affecting lakes, rivers, and ocean regions, contributing to oxygen-poor “dead zones.”

Since the whole earth is affected by the vast scale of human impact on the environment in complex and unpredictable ways, even more serious catastrophes could conceivably be set in motion. One growing area of concern is ocean acidification due to rising carbon dioxide emissions. As carbon dioxide dissolves, it turns into carbonic acid, making the oceans more acidic. Because carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in cold than in warm water, the cold waters of the arctic are becoming acidic at an unprecedented rate. Within a decade, the waters near the North Pole could become so corrosive as to dissolve the living shells of shellfish, affecting the entire ocean food chain. At the same time, ocean acidification appears to be reducing the carbon uptake of the oceans, speeding up global warming.6

There are endless predictive uncertainties in all of this. Nevertheless, evidence is mounting that the continuation of current trends is unsustainable, even in the short-term. The only rational answer, then, is a radical change of course. Moreover, given certain imminent tipping points, there is no time to be lost. Catastrophic changes in the earth system could be set irreversibly in motion within a few decades, at most.

The IPCC, in its 2007 report, indicated that an atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 450 parts per million (ppm) should not be exceeded, and implied that this was the fail-safe point for carbon stabilization. But these findings are already out of date. “What science has revealed in the past few years,” Hansen states, “is that the safe level of carbon dioxide in the long run is no more than 350 ppm,” as compared with 390 ppm today. That means that carbon emissions have to be reduced faster and more drastically than originally thought, to bring the overall carbon concentration in the atmosphere down. The reality is that, “if we burn all the fossil fuels, or even half of remaining reserves, we will send the planet toward the ice-free state with sea level about 250 feet higher than today. It would take time for complete ice sheet disintegration to occur, but a chaotic situation would be created with changes occurring out of control of future generations.” More than eighty of the world’s poorest and most climate-vulnerable countries have now declared that carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration levels must be reduced below 350 ppm, and that the rise in global average temperature by century’s end must not exceed 1.5°C.7

Strategies of Denial

The central issue that we have to confront, therefore, is devising social strategies to address the world ecological crisis. Not only do the solutions have to be large enough to deal with the problem, but also all of this must take place on a world scale in a generation or so. The speed and scale of change necessary means that what is required is an ecological revolution that would also need to be a social revolution. However, rather than addressing the real roots of the crisis and drawing the appropriate conclusions, the dominant response is to avoid all questions about the nature of our society, and to turn to technological fixes or market mechanisms of one sort or another. In this respect, there is a certain continuity of thought between those who deny the climate change problem altogether, and those who, while acknowledging the severity of the problem at one level, nevertheless deny that it requires a revolution in our social system.

We are increasingly led to believe that the answers to climate change are primarily to be found in new energy technology, specifically increased energy and carbon efficiencies in both production and consumption. Technology in this sense, however, is often viewed abstractly as a deus ex machina, separated from both the laws of physics (i.e., entropy or the second law of thermodynamics) and from the way technology is embedded in historically specific conditions. With respect to the latter, it is worth noting that, under the present economic system, increases in energy efficiency normally lead to increases in the scale of economic output, effectively negating any gains from the standpoint of resource use or carbon efficiency — a problem known as the “Jevons Paradox.” As William Stanley Jevons observed in the nineteenth century, every new steam engine was more efficient in the use of coal than the one before, which did not prevent coal burning from increasing overall, since the efficiency gains only led to the expansion of the number of steam engines and of growth in general. This relation between efficiency and scale has proven true for capitalist economies up to the present day.8

Technological fetishism with regard to environmental issues is usually coupled with a form of market fetishism. So widespread has this become that even a militant ecologist like Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, recently stated: “There is only one lever even possibly big enough to make our system move as fast as it needs to, and that’s the force of markets.”9

Green-market fetishism is most evident in what is called “cap and trade” — a catch phrase for the creation, via governments, of artificial markets in carbon trading and so-called “offsets.” The important thing to know about cap and trade is that it is a proven failure. Although enacted in Europe as part of the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, it has failed where it was supposed to count: in reducing emissions. Carbon-trading schemes have been shown to be full of holes. Offsets allow all sorts of dubious forms of trading that have no effect on emissions. Indeed, the only area in which carbon trading schemes have actually been effective is in promoting profits for speculators and corporations, which are therefore frequently supportive of them. Recently, Friends of the Earth released a report entitled Subprime Carbon? which pointed to the emergence, under cap and trade agreements, of what could turn out to be the world’s largest financial derivatives market in the form of carbon trading. All of this has caused Hansen to refer to cap and trade as “the temple of doom,” locking in “disasters for our children and grandchildren.”10

The masquerade associated with the dominant response to global warming is illustrated in the climate bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in late June 2009. The bill, if enacted, would supposedly reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent relative to 2005 levels by 2020, which translates into 4-5 percent less U.S. global warming pollution than in 1990. This then would still not reach the target level of a 6-8 percent cut (relative to 1990) for wealthy countries that the Kyoto accord set for 2012, and that was supposed to have been only a minor, first step in dealing with global warming — at a time when the problem was seen as much less severe. The goal presented in the House bill, even if reached, would therefore prove vastly inadequate.

But the small print in the bill makes achieving even this meager target unrealistic. The coal industry is given until 2025 to comply with the bill’s pollution reduction mandates, with possible extensions afterward. As Hansen observes, the bill “builds in approval of new coal-fired power plants!” Agribusiness, which accounts for a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is entirely exempt from the mandated reductions. The cap and trade provisions of the House bill would give annual carbon dioxide emission allowances to some 7,400 facilities across the United States, most of them handed out for free. These pollution allowances would increase up through 2016, and companies would be permitted to “bank” them indefinitely for future use. Corporations would be able to fulfill their entire set of obligations by buying offsets associated with pollution control projects until 2027. To make matters worse, the Senate counterpart to the House bill, now under deliberation, would undoubtedly be more conservative, giving further concessions and offsets to corporations. The final bill, if it comes out of Congress, will thus be, in Hansen’s words, “worse than nothing.”

Similar developments can be seen in the preparation for the December 2009 world climate negotiations in Copenhagen, in which Washington has played the role of a spoiler, blocking all but the most limited, voluntary agreements, and insisting on only market-based approaches, such as cap and trade.11

Recognizing that world powers are playing the role of Nero as Rome burns, James Lovelock, the earth system scientist famous for his Gaia hypothesis, argues that massive climate change and the destruction of human civilization as we know it may now be irreversible. Nevertheless, he proposes as “solutions” either a massive building of nuclear power plants all over the world (closing his eyes to the enormous dangers accompanying such a course) — or geoengineering our way out of the problem, by using the world’s fleet of aircraft to inject huge quantities of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block a portion of the incoming sunlight, reducing the solar energy reaching the earth. Another common geoengineering proposal includes dumping iron filings throughout the ocean to increase its carbon-absorbing properties.

Rational scientists recognize that interventions in the earth system on the scale envisioned by geoengineering schemes (for example, blocking sunlight) have their own massive, unforeseen consequences. Nor could such schemes solve the crisis. The dumping of massive quantities of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere would, even if effective, have to be done again and again, on an increasing scale, if the underlying problem of cutting greenhouse gas emissions were not dealt with. Moreover, it could not possibly solve other problems associated with massive carbon dioxide emissions, such as the acidification of the oceans.12

The dominant approach to the world ecological crisis, focusing on technological fixes and market mechanisms, is thus a kind of denial; one that serves the vested interests of those who have the most to lose from a change in economic arrangements. Al Gore exemplifies the dominant form of denial in his new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. For Gore, the answer is the creation of a “sustainable capitalism.” He is not, however, altogether blind to the faults of the present system. He describes climate change as the “greatest market failure in history” and decries the “short-term” perspective of present-day capitalism, its “market triumphalism,” and the “fundamental flaws” in its relation to the environment. Yet, in defiance of all this, he assures his readers that the “strengths of capitalism” can be harnessed to a new system of “sustainable development.”13

The System of Unsustainable Development

In reality, capitalism can be defined as a system of unsustainable development. In order to understand why this is so, it is useful to turn to Karl Marx, the core of whose entire intellectual corpus might be interpreted as a critique of the political economy of unsustainable development and its human and natural consequences.

Capitalism, Marx explains, is a system of generalized commodity production. There were other societies prior to capitalism in which commodity markets played important roles, but it is only in capitalism that a system emerges that is centered entirely on the production of commodities. A “commodity” is a good produced to be sold and exchanged for profit in the market. We call it a “good” because it is has a use value, i.e., it normally satisfies some use, otherwise there would be no need for it. But it is the exchange value, i.e., the money income and the profit that it generates, that is the exclusive concern of the capitalist.

What Marx called “simple commodity production” is an idealized economic formation — often assumed to describe the society wherein we live — in which the structure of exchange is such that a commodity embodying a certain use value is exchanged for money (acting as a mere means of exchange), which is, in turn, exchanged for another commodity (use value) at the end. Here, the whole exchange process from beginning to end can be designated by the shorthand C-M-C. In such a process, exchange is simply a modified form of barter, with money merely facilitating exchange. The goal of exchange is concrete use values, embodying qualitative properties. Such use values are normally consumed — thereby bringing a given exchange process to an end.

Marx, however, insisted that a capitalist economy, in reality, works altogether differently, with exchange taking the form of M-C-M′. Here money capital (M) is used to purchase commodities (labor power and means of production) to produce a commodity that can be sold for more money, M′ (i.e., M + Δm or surplus value) at the end. This process, once set in motion, never stops of its own accord, since it has no natural end. Rather, the surplus value (profit) is reinvested in the next round, with the object of generating M′′; and, in the following round, the returns are again reinvested with the goal of obtaining M′′′, and so on, ad infinitum.14

For Marx, therefore, capital is self-expanding value, driven incessantly to ever larger levels of accumulation, knowing no bounds. “Capital,” he wrote, “is the endless and limitless drive to go beyond its limiting barrier. Every boundary is and has to be a [mere] barrier for it [and thus capable of being surmounted]. Else it would cease to be capital — money as self-reproductive.” It thus converts all of nature and nature’s laws as well as all that is distinctly human into a mere means of its own self-expansion. The result is a system, fixated on the exponential growth of profits and accumulation. “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!”15

Any attempt to explain where surplus value (or profits) comes from must penetrate beneath the exchange process and enter the realm of labor and production. Here, Marx argues that value added in the working day can be divided into two parts: (1) the part that reproduces the value of labor power (i.e., the wages of the workers) and thus constitutes necessary labor; and (2) the labor expended in the remaining part of the working day, which can be regarded as surplus labor, and which generates surplus value (or gross profits) for the capitalist. Profits are thus to be regarded as residual, consisting of what is left over after wages are paid out — something that every businessperson instinctively understands. The ratio of surplus (i.e., unpaid) labor to necessary (paid) labor in the working day is, for Marx, the rate of exploitation.

The logic of this process is that the increase in surplus value appropriated depends on the effective exploitation of human labor power. This can be achieved in two ways: (1) either workers are compelled to work longer hours for the same pay, thereby increasing the surplus portion of the working day simply by adding to the total working time (Marx calls this “absolute surplus value”); or (2) the value of labor power, i.e., the value equivalent of workers’ wages, is generated in less time (as a result of increased productivity, etc.), thereby augmenting the surplus portion of the working day to that extent (Marx calls this “relative surplus value”).

In its unrelenting search for greater (relative) surplus value, capitalism is thus dependent on the revolutionization of the means of production with the aim of increasing productivity and reducing the paid portion of the working day. This leads inexorably to additional revolutions in production, additional increases in productivity, in what constitutes an endless treadmill of production/accumulation. The logic of accumulation concentrates more and more of the wealth and power of society in fewer and fewer hands, and generates an enormous industrial reserve army of the unemployed.

This is all accompanied by the further alienation of labor, robbing human beings of their creative potential, and often of the environmental conditions essential for their physical reproduction. “The factory system,” Marx wrote, “is turned into systematic robbery of what is necessary for the life of the worker while he is at work, i.e., space, light, air and protection against the dangerous or the unhealthy contaminants of the production process.”16

For classical political economists, beginning with the physiocrats and Adam Smith, nature was explicitly designated as a “free gift” to capital. It thus did not directly enter into the determination of exchange value (value), which constituted the basis of the accumulation of private capital. Nevertheless, classical political economists did see nature as constituting public wealth, since this was identified with use values, and included not only what was scarce, as in the case of exchange values, but also what was naturally abundant, e.g., air, water, etc.

Out of these distinctions arose what came to be known as the Lauderdale Paradox, associated with the ideas of James Maitland, the eighth Earl of Lauderdale, who observed in 1804 that private riches (exchange values) could be expanded by destroying public wealth (use values) — that is, by generating scarcity in what was formerly abundant. This meant that individual riches could be augmented by landowners monopolizing the water of wells and charging a price for what had previously been free — or by burning crops (the produce of the earth) to generate scarcity and thus exchange value. Even the air itself, if it became scarce enough, could expand private riches, once it was possible to put a price on it. Lauderdale saw such artificial creation of scarcity as a way in which those with private monopolies of land and resources robbed society of its real wealth.17

Marx (following Ricardo) strongly embraced the Lauderdale Paradox, and its criticism of the inverse relation between private riches and public wealth. Nature, under the system of generalized commodity production, was, Marx insisted, reduced to being merely a free gift to capital and was thus robbed. Indeed, the fact that part of the working day was unpaid and went to the surplus of the capitalist meant that an analogous situation pertained to human labor power, itself a “natural force.” The worker was allowed to “work for his own life, i.e. to live, only in so far as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist…[so that] the whole capitalist system of production turns on the prolongation of this gratis labour by extending the working day or by developing the productivity, i.e., the greater intensity of labour power, etc.” Both nature and the unpaid labor of the worker were then to be conceived in analogous ways as free gifts to capital.18

Given the nature of this classical critique, developed to its furthest extent by Marx, it is hardly surprising that later neoclassical economists, exercising their primary role as apologists for the system, were to reject both the classical theory of value and the Lauderdale Paradox. The new marginalist economic orthodoxy that emerged in the late nineteenth century erased all formal distinctions within economics between use value and exchange value, between wealth and value. Nature’s contribution to wealth was simply defined out of existence within the prevailing economic view. However, a minority of heterodox economists, including such figures as Henry George, Thorstein Veblen, and Frederick Soddy, were to insist that this rejection of nature’s contribution to wealth only served to encourage the squandering of common resources characteristic of the system. “In a sort of parody of an accountant’s nightmare,” John Maynard Keynes was to write of the financially driven capitalist system, “we are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.”19

For Marx, capitalism’s robbing of nature could be seen concretely in its creation of a rift in the human-earth metabolism, whereby the reproduction of natural conditions was undermined. He defined the labor process in ecological terms as the “metabolic interaction” between human beings and nature. With the development of industrial agriculture under capitalism, a rift was generated in the nature-given metabolism between human beings and the earth. The shipment of food and fiber hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of miles to the cities meant the removal of soil nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which ended up contributing to the pollution of the cities, while the soil itself was robbed of its “constituent elements.” This created a rupture in “the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil,” requiring the “systematic restoration” of this metabolism. Yet, even though this had been demonstrated with the full force of natural science (for example, in Justus von Liebig’s chemistry), the rational application of scientific principles in this area was impossible for capitalism. Consequently, capitalist production simultaneously undermined “the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the worker.”20

Marx’s critique of capitalism as an unsustainable system of production was ultimately rooted in its “preconditions,” i.e., the historical bases under which capitalism as a mode of production became possible. These were to be found in “primitive accumulation,” or the expropriation of the commons (of all customary rights to the land), and hence the expropriation of the workers themselves — of their means of subsistence. It was this expropriation that was to help lay the grounds for industrial capitalism in particular. The turning of the land into private property, a mere means of accumulation, was at the same time the basis for the destruction of the metabolism between human beings and the earth.21

This was carried out on an even greater and more devastating scale in relation to the pillage of the third world. Here, trade in human slavery went hand-in-hand with the seizure of the land and resources of the entire globe as mere plunder to feed the industrial mills of England and elsewhere. Whole continents (or at least those portions that European colonialism was able to penetrate) were devastated. Nor is this process yet complete, with depeasantization of the periphery by expanding agribusiness, constituting one of the chief forms of social and ecological destruction in the present day.22

Marx’s whole critique thus pointed to the reality of capitalism as a system of unsustainable development, rooted in the unceasing exploitation and pillage of human and natural agents. As he put it: “Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Capital therefore takes no account of the health and the length of life of the worker [or the human-nature metabolism], unless society forces it to do so.”23

He wryly observed in Capital that, when the Germans improved the windmill (in the form to be taken over by the Dutch), one of the first concerns, vainly fought over by the emperor Frederick I, the nobility, and the clergy, was who was “the ‘owner’ of the wind.” Nowadays, this observation on early attempts to commodify the air takes on even greater irony — at a time when markets, in what Gore himself refers to as “subprime carbon assets,” are helping to generate a speculative bubble with respect to earth’s atmosphere.24

Toward Ecological Revolution

If the foregoing argument is correct, humanity is facing an unprecedented challenge. On the one hand, we are confronting the question of a terminal crisis, threatening most life on the planet, civilization, and the very existence of future generations. On the other hand, attempts to solve this through technological fixes, market magic, and the idea of a “sustainable capitalism” are mere forms of ecological denial: since they ignore the inherent destructiveness of the current system of unsustainable development — capitalism. This suggests that the only rational answer lies in an ecological revolution, which would also have to be a social revolution, aimed at the creation of a just and sustainable society.

In addressing the question of an ecological revolution in the present dire situation, both short-term and long-term strategies are necessary, and should complement each other. One short-term strategy, directed mainly at the industrialized world, has been presented by Hansen. He starts with what he calls a “geophysical fact”: most of the remaining fossil fuel, particularly coal, must stay in the ground, and carbon emissions have to be reduced as quickly as possible to near zero. He proposes three measures: (1) coal burning (except where carbon is sequestered — right now not technologically feasible) must cease; (2) the price of fossil fuel consumption should be steadily increased by imposing a progressively rising tax at the point of production: well head, mine shaft, or point of entry — redistributing 100 percent of the revenue, on a monthly basis, directly to the population as dividends; (3) a massive, global campaign to end deforestation and initiate large-scale reforestation needs to be introduced. A carbon tax, he argues, if it were to benefit the people directly — the majority of whom have below average per-capita carbon footprints, and would experience net gains from the carbon dividends once their added energy costs were subtracted — would create massive support for change. It would help to mobilize the population, particularly those at the bottom of society, in favor of a climate revolution. Hansen’s “fee and dividend” proposal is explicitly designed not to feed the profits of vested interests. Any revenue from the carbon tax, in this plan, has to be democratically structured so as to redistribute income and wealth to those with smaller carbon footprints (the poor), and away from those with the larger carbon footprints (the rich).25

Hansen has emerged as a leading figure in the climate struggle, not only as a result of his scientific contributions, but also due to his recognition that at the root of the problem is a system of economic power, and his increasingly radical defiance of the powers that be. Thus, he declares: “the trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired plants are factories of death.” He criticizes those such as Gore, who have given in to cap and trade, locking in failure. Arguing that the unwillingness and inability of the authorities to act means that desperate measures are necessary, he is calling for mass “civil resistance.” In June 2009, he was arrested, along with thirty-one others, in the exercise of civil resistance against mountain top removal coal mining.26

In strategizing an immediate response to the climate problem, it is crucial to recognize that the state, through government regulation and spending programs, could intervene directly in the climate crisis. Carbon dioxide could be considered an air pollutant to be regulated by law. Electrical utilities could be mandated to obtain their energy increasingly from renewable sources. Solar panels could be included as a mandatory part of the building code. The state could put its resources behind major investments in public environmental infrastructure and planning, including reducing dependence on the automobile through massive funding of public transportation, e.g., intercity trains and light rail, and the necessary accompanying changes in urban development and infrastructure.

Globally, the struggle, of course, has to take into account the reality of economic and ecological imperialism. The allowable carbon-concentration limits of the atmosphere have already been taken up as a result of the accumulation of the rich states at the center of the world system. The economic and social development of poor countries is, therefore, now being further limited by the pressing need to impose restrictions on carbon emissions for the sake of the planet as a whole — despite the fact that underdeveloped economies had no role in the creation of the problem. The global South is likely to experience the effects of climate change much earlier and more severely than the North, and has fewer economic resources with which to adapt. All of this means that a non-imperialistic, and more sustainable, world solution depends initially on what is called “contraction and convergence” — a drastic contraction in greenhouse gas emissions overall (especially in the rich countries), coupled with the convergence of per-capita emissions in all countries at levels that are sustainable for the planet.27 Since, however, science suggests that even low greenhouse gas emissions may be unsustainable over the long run, strategies have to be developed to make it economically feasible for countries in the periphery to introduce solar and renewable technologies — reinforcing those necessary radical changes in social relations that will allow them to stabilize and reduce their emissions.

For the anti-imperialist movement, a major task should be creating stepped-up opposition to military spending (amounting to a trillion dollars in the United States in 2007) and ending government subsidies to global agribusiness — with the goal of shifting those monies into environmental defense and the meeting of the social needs of the poorest countries, as suggested by the Bamako Appeal.28 It must be firmly established as a principle of world justice that the wealthy countries owe an enormous ecological debt to poorer countries, due to the robbing by the imperial powers of the global commons and the pillage of the periphery at every stage of world capitalist development.

Already, the main force for ecological revolution stems from movements in the global South, marked by the growth of the Vía Campesina movement, socialist organizations like Brazil’s MST, and ongoing revolutions in Latin America (the ALBA countries) and Asia (Nepal). Cuba has been applying permaculture design techniques that mimic energy-maximizing natural systems to its agriculture since the 1990s, generating a revolution in food production. Venezuela, although, for historic reasons, an oil power economically dependent on the sale of petroleum, has made extraordinary achievements in recent years by moving toward a society directed at collective needs, including dramatic achievements in food sovereignty.29

Reaching back into history, it is worth recalling that the proletariat in Marxian theory was the revolutionary agent because it had nothing to lose, and thus came to represent the universal interest in abolishing, not only its own oppression, but oppression itself. As Marx put it, “the living conditions of the proletariat represent the focal point of all inhuman conditions in contemporary society….However, it [the proletariat] cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions which give it life, and it cannot abolish these conditions without abolishing all those inhuman conditions of social life which are summed up in its own situation.”30

Later Marxist theorists were to argue that, with the growth of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, the “focal point of inhuman conditions” had shifted from the center to the periphery of the world system. Paul Sweezy contended that, although the objective conditions that Marx associated with the proletariat did not match those of better-off workers in the United States and Europe in the 1960s, they did correspond to the harsh, inhuman conditions imposed on “the masses of the much more numerous and populous underdeveloped dependencies of the global capitalist system.” This helped explain the pattern of socialist revolutions following the Second World War, as exemplified by Vietnam, China, and Cuba.31

Looking at this today, I think it is conceivable that the main historic agent and initiator of a new epoch of ecological revolution is to be found in the third world masses most directly in line to be hit first by the impending disasters. Today the ecological frontline is arguably to be found in the inhabitants of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta and of the low-lying fertile coast area of the Indian Ocean and China Seas — the state of Kerala in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. They, too, as in the case of Marx’s proletariat, have nothing to lose from the radical changes necessary to avert (or adapt to) disaster. In fact, with the universal spread of capitalist social relations and the commodity form, the world proletariat and the masses most exposed to sea level rise — for example, the low-lying delta of the Pearl River and the Guangdong industrial region from Shenzhen to Guangzhou — sometimes overlap. This, then, potentially constitutes the global epicenter of a new environmental proletariat.32

The truly planetary crisis we are now caught up in, however, requires a world uprising transcending all geographical boundaries. This means that ecological and social revolutions in the third world have to be accompanied by, or inspire, universal revolts against imperialism, the destruction of the planet, and the treadmill of accumulation. The recognition that the weight of environmental disaster is such that it would cross all class lines and all nations and positions, abolishing time itself by breaking what Marx called “the chain of successive generations,” could lead to a radical rejection of the engine of destruction in which we live, and put into motion a new conception of global humanity and earth metabolism. As always, however, real change will have to come from those most alienated from the existing systems of power and wealth. The most hopeful development within the advanced capitalist world at present is the meteoric rise of the youth-based climate justice movement, which is emerging as a considerable force in direct action mobilization and in challenging the current climate negotiations.33

What is clear is that the long-term strategy for ecological revolution throughout the globe involves the building of a society of substantive equality, i.e., the struggle for socialism. Not only are the two inseparable, but they also provide essential content for each other. There can be no true ecological revolution that is not socialist; no true socialist revolution that is not ecological. This means recapturing Marx’s own vision of socialism/communism, which he defined as a society where “the associated producers govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”34

One way to understand this interdependent relation between ecology and socialism is in terms of what Hugo Chávez has called “the elementary triangle of socialism” (derived from Marx) consisting of: (1) social ownership; (2) social production organized by workers; and (3) satisfaction of communal needs. All three components of the elementary triangle of socialism are necessary if socialism is to be sustained. Complementing and deepening this is what could be called “the elementary triangle of ecology” (derived even more directly from Marx): (1) social use, not ownership, of nature; (2) rational regulation by the associated producers of the metabolic relation between humanity and nature; and (3) satisfaction of communal needs — not only of present but also future generations (and life itself).35

As Lewis Mumford explained in 1944, in his Condition of Man, the needed ecological transformation required the promotion of “basic communism,” applying “to the whole community the standards of the household,” distributing benefits “according to need, not ability or productive contribution.” This meant focusing first and foremost on “education, recreation, hospital services, public hygiene, art,” food production, the rural and urban environments, and, in general, “collective needs.” The idea of “basic communism” drew on Marx’s principle of substantive equality in the Critique of the Gotha Programme: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” But Mumford also associated this idea with John Stuart Mill’s vision, in his most socialist phase, of a “stationary state” — viewed, in this case, as a system of economic production no longer geared to the accumulation of capital, in which the emphasis of society would be on collective development and the quality of life.36 For Mumford, this demanded a new “organic person” — to emerge from the struggle itself.

An essential element of such an ecological and socialist revolution for the twenty-first century is a truly radical conception of sustainability, as articulated by Marx:

From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men [i.e., slavery]. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household].37

Such a vision of a sustainable, egalitarian society must define the present social struggle; not only because it is ecologically necessary for human survival, but also because it is historically necessary for the development of human freedom. Today we face the challenge of forging a new organic revolution in which the struggles for human equality and for the earth are becoming one. There is only one future: that of sustainable human development.38


1. On the long-term aspects of the current financial-economic crisis, see John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).

2. James E. Hansen, “Strategies to Address Global Warming” (July 13, 2009), http//

3. Ibid.; “Seas Grow Less Effective at Absorbing Emissions,” New York Times, November 19, 2009; S. Khatiwala. F. Primeau and T. Hall, “Reconstruction of the History of Anthropogenic CO2 Concentrations in the Ocean,” Nature 462, no. 9 (November 2009), 346-50.

4. Agence France Presse (AFP), “UN Warns of 70 Percent Desertification by 2025,” October 4, 2005.

5.Ulka Kelkar and Suruchi Badwal, South Asian Regional Study on Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, UN Human Development Report 2007/2008: Occasional Paper,

6. “Arctic Seas Turn to Acid, Putting Vital Food Chain at Risk,” October 4, 2009,

7. Hansen, “Strategies to Address Global Warming”; AFP, “Top UN Climate Scientist Backs Ambitious CO2 Cuts,” August 25, 2009.

8. On the Jevons Paradox, see John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009), 121-28.

9. Bill McKibben, “Response,” in Tim Flannery, Now or Never (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009), 116; Al Gore, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis (Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2009), 327.

10. Friends of the Earth, “Subprime Carbon?” (March 2009),, and A Dangerous Obsession (November 2009),; James E. Hansen, “Worshipping the Temple of Doom” (May 5, 2009), http//

11. Brian Tokar, “Toward Climate Justice: Can We Turn Back from the Abyss?” Z Magazine, vol. 22, no. 9 (September 2009),; Hansen, “Strategies to Address Global Warming”; Greenpeace, Business as Usual (October 20, 2009),

12. James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia (New York: Basic Books, 2006), and The Vanishing Face of Gaia (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 139-58; Gore, Our Choice, 314-15. Hansen, it should be noted, also places hope in the development of fourth generation nuclear power as part of the solution. See James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2009), 194-204.

13. Gore, Our Choice, 303, 320, 327, 330-32, 346.

14. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin 1976), 247-80. On how Marx’s M-C-M′ formula serves to define the “regime of capital,” see Robert Heilbroner, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 1985), 33-77.

15. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1973), 334-35, 409-10, and Capital, vol. 1, 742; John Bellamy Foster, “Marx’s Grundrisse and the Ecological Contradictions of Capitalism,” in Marcelo Musto, Karl Marx’s Grundrisse (New York: Routledge, 2008), 100-02.

16. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 552-53.

17. The discussion of the Lauderdale Paradox is based on John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “The Paradox of Wealth,” Monthly Review 61, no. 6 (November 2009): 1-18.

18. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3, (London: Penguin, 1981), 949, Critique of the Gotha Programme (New York: International Publishers, 1938), 3, 15.

19. John Maynard Keynes, “National Self-Sufficiency,” in Collected Writings (London: Macmillan/Cambridge University Press, 1982), vol. 21, 241-42.

20. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 636-39, Capital, vol. 3, 948-50, and Capital, vol. 2 (London: Penguin 1978), 322; Foster, The Ecological Revolution, 161-200.

21. See Foster, “Marx’s Grundrisse and the Ecological Contradictions of Capitalism,” 98-100.

22. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 914-26.

23. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 381.

24. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 496; Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1975), vol. 33, 400; Gore, Our Choice, 365.

25. James Hansen, et al., “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” Open Atmospheric Science Journal 2 (2008): 217-31; James E. Hansen, “Response to Dr. Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Australian Department of Climate Change” (May 4, 2009),; Hansen, “Strategies to Address Global Warming” and “Worshipping the Temple of Doom”; Frank Ackerman, et al., “The Economics of 350,” October 2009,, 3-4.

26. James E. Hansen, “The Sword of Damocles” (February 15, 2009), “Coal River Mountain Action” (June 25, 2009), and “I Just Had a Baby, at Age 68” (November 6, 2009),; Ken Ward, “The Night I Slept with Jim Hansen” (November 11, 2009),

27. Tom Athanasiou and Paul Baer, Dead Heat (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002).

28. John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman, and Robert W. McChesney, ”The U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending,” Monthly Review 60, no. 5 (October 2008), 9-13. The Bamako Appeal can be found in Samir Amin, The World We Wish to See (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008), 107-34.

29. An important source in understanding Cuban developments is the film “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil,” On Venezuela see Christina Schiavoni and William Camacaro, “The Venezuelan Effort to Build a New Food and Agriculture System,” Monthly Review 61, no. 3 (July-August 2009): 129-41.

30. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Holy Family (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956), 52. Translation follows Paul M. Sweezy, Modern Capitalism and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 149.

31. Sweezy, Modern Capitalism, 164.

32. John Bellamy Foster, “The Vulnerable Planet Fifteen Years Later,” Monthly Review 54, no. 7 (December 2009): 17-19.

33. On the climate justice movement see Tokar, “Toward Climate Justice.”

34. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 1959.

35. On the elementary triangles of socialism and ecology see Foster, The Ecological Revolution, 32-35. The failure of Soviet-type societies to conform to these elementary triangles goes a long way toward explaining their decline and fall, despite their socialist pretensions. See John Bellamy Foster, The Vulnerable Planet (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), 96-101.

36. Lewis Mumford, The Condition of Man (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 411; Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 10: John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1904), 453-55.

37. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 911, 959.

38.Paul Burkett, “Marx’s Vision of Sustainable Human Development,” Monthly Review 57, no. 5 (October 2005): 34-62.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Staring at Defeat


Staring at Defeat

Even the security forces know that every starving Indian is a potential Maoist insurgent

All that Naxals have to do is ask villagers two questions: ‘Your child died of diarrhoea last year. Do you think anyone in the Gandhi family has ever had diarrhoea?’ And ‘Your brother is crippled by polio. Do you think anyone in Manmohan Singh’s family can ever have polio?’

Sandipan Deb

A couple of years ago, I found myself having lunch next to a quiet, inconspicuous man at the end of a two-day seminar at a business school. We got talking. I had noticed him the day before, but among all the participants in the discussions, he had been the least vocal. So when I found him next to me at the dining table, I asked him about his work. It turned out, quite simply, that he had the most dangerous job in India. He was the man in charge of the anti-Naxal operations in one of the country’s worst insurgency-affected states. There was a war on between Maoists and government forces, and he was the commanding officer on the State’s side.

Naxal insurgents had tried to kill him a dozen times, and miraculously, he had always escaped unhurt. “I don’t worry about the attacks,” he shrugged. “But twice, when they attacked my car, my wife was with me. My father was also an IPS officer, as was my uncle. But my wife is from a non-police family background, so she gets hassled with these incidents. So both times, when they started firing, I shoved her head down on my lap, so she couldn’t see what was going on, and placed my elbow on her back to better balance my Kalashnikov.” He paused for a bit, then said: “What I worry about is my children, because now they have started targeting family members of policemen. So if my kids are late by even five minutes from school, alarm bells start ringing.”

How do they hire, these Maoists, I asked him. He smiled grimly. “The poverty is so bad that the people think it’s better to die in a fight than starve to death, see their families starve to death. All that Naxals have to do is ask villagers two questions: ‘Your child died of diarrhoea last year. Do you think anyone in the Gandhi family has ever had diarrhoea?’ And ‘Your brother is crippled by polio. Do you think anyone in Manmohan Singh’s family can ever have polio?’ That’s it. They get food, they get a 303 rifle, they get a sense of empowerment for the first time in their lives. Every day in their lives they have known only fear and hopelessness. For instance, a corrupt constable would come to a tribal’s home and say, ‘Give me that goat of yours, or I’ll put you in jail on a theft charge.’ The tribal has no option but to give up his goat. But the goat is a massive loss for him, it could mean starvation. Then the Maoist comes to him, and gives him a 303. Immediately, he is equal to that cop. Our society and delivery systems have pushed him to the brink, he has nothing anymore to lose. Might as well retaliate.”

He chewed silently for some time. Then, “We, from the police’s side, try to do the most we can, distribute saris, food at remote villages, educate them, try to see that NREGA reaches them,” he said, “Because that’s the only way it’ll work, not through this endless low-intensity warfare. But there are so many leakages in the system…”

“We have seen the videos they make in their training camps. Three activities they do every day. Physical exercise, and their exercise regime is better and tougher than what the Indian Army does, forget about Indian policemen. Many of them are healthier than our men. The second daily thing they do is practice marksmanship. The third: a leader sits with them in the evening and indoctrinates them, makes sure they are not wavering in their resolve. It’s a very strong system.”

But how will this end? He smiled. “Not in the foreseeable future,” he said. “Of course, that’s my opinion. Unless we can get rid of this abject poverty, it won’t go the Government’s way.” What do you mean, I asked. Are we going to lose the war against Maoists? By this time, we had finished dessert and were walking out of the dining hall. His car was waiting to take him to the airport. “Yes,” he said. I never saw him again.

The author is an IIT-IIM graduate who wandered into journalism after reading a quote from filmmaker George Lucas — “Everyone’s cage door is open” — and has stayed there (in journalism, not a cage) for the past 19 years. He has written a book on the IITs and is the editor of Open.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Rahul Sankrityayan

In Buddhism there is no place either for god (creator of the universe) or for revealed book. Morality is based on the act of being good or bad. Those who believe in god subject morality also to the will of god – whatever is prescribed by god is good and whatever is prohibited by him is evil. Here Buddhism differs, it considers the “good of many, happiness of many” (bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya) to be the criterion of good and evil.

Socio-economic Views

In the economic and political fields also the views of Buddha are different. He had prescribed the ideal of service for the monks and nuns. He had called those who did not conform to this ideal as “useless consumers of the nation’s wealth” (mogham sa ratthapindam bhunjati). He enjoined upon them to adopt communal living. He had introduced the system of economic communism in the community of monks and nuns. Apart from the eight items (of personal use), such as clothing, the begging bowl, etc. all other things were considered to be the property of the commune (samgha). The houses, gardens, small agricultural and other implements, bedsteads, beddings, etc. were considered to be communal property.

In the days of Buddha whatever land was donated was given to the “present and future commune of the four directions” (agata anagata chatudisassa) alone. This system continued for four or five centuries. The inscriptions in Ceylon [presently Sri Lanka –ed.] indicate that in the two centuries preceding Christ, fields were donated as charity only to the “present and future communes of the four directions”. Of course, in the Buddhist commune economic communism could not continue for long and in the 2nd century BC, according to the testimony of the inscriptions at Sanchi and Bharhut, the monks and nuns were already constructing pillars and railings with their private income which meant that now they had other personal property apart from the eight items of personal use.

Buddha preferred the political system of the republics (ganas). In that age slavery was prevalent, and hence in the Lichhavi (Vaishali) republic, the most prosperous and powerful at the time, democracy existed only for those who belonged to the Lichhavi clan. The slaves were movable property and they were numerous. The non-Lichhhavi Brahmin or grahapati (trader) caste though free had no right of vote for the senate (samsad). They were at the mercy of the Lichhavis. All the same these republics were evidently better than monarchy.

For Buddha the origin of monarchy did not lie in any divine source but kingship was the product of the growth of private property. Private property led to inequality or class division among the people, who started quarrelling among themselves and (overtly or covertly) started trying to snatch each other’s property, and therefore they selected one from among them as their judge, who by accumulating power for selfish ends developed into a king.

Buddha lived in the 6th-5th century BC (death 543 BC). At that time too economic and social discrimination was very sharp. For the eradication of economic inequality he attempted the eradication of economic inequality. Buddha confined his efforts to the monastic communes alone, but the abolition of social inequality he attempted on a universal scale. His voice raised against casteism had its effect but the basic foundation of casteism lay in the high-caste “haves” and the low-caste “have-nots”. Without removing the one the other could not be done away with. All the same Buddha’s communes granted equal rights in the monastic order to the lowest of the castes, the chandalas who were accepted as human beings by courtesy only. Buddhism fervently advocated the brotherhood of man without any distinction of race, country or caste. The principle of coexistence embodied in the panch shila was put into practice by Buddhism. And its missionaries in foreign lands never even dreamt of destroying the culture of any nation.

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhism has made original contributions in several fields but those in the field of philosophy are unique. Of course, it will be erroneous to say that it helped Marx’s philosophy or it ever came anywhere near the fundamentals of Marxism. But an understanding of Marxist philosophy is easier for students of Buddhist philosophy.

We know that Hegel’s philosophy played an important part in the development of Marxist philosophy and Marxist philosophy on its part removed the inconsistencies of Hegelian philosophy. It is said that the reality put up-side-down in the form of Hegelianism was put on its feet by Marx in the form of dialectical materialism. Hegel held that mind or idea was primary and real and matter a product thereof. Marx held matter to be primary and mind to be its highest development. Buddhism in its highest and final form is in a large measure similar to the idealism of Hegel. The idea (vijnana) of Yogachara philosophy is dynamic and nonmaterial. Like Hegel, the Yogachara school of Buddhism too considers idea or mind as the ultimate reality.

The basic tenet of Buddhism is: all is non-eternal. Later on the word “momentary” came to be used for “non-eternal” and it was said that whatever is “real” is “momentary” or “dynamic” and whatever is not “momentary” is not “real”. Thus Buddhist philosophy denied the existence of anything “eternal” and “static” in the world. For Buddhism this is the fundamental concept which has no exception. The denial of god or soul was a corollary of this principle. Buddhist philosophy takes pride in its denial of the soul (anatmavada).

Buddha’s birth synchronized with the end of the age of the Upanishads. The sages (rishis) laid the greatest emphasis on the soul (individual or cosmic) – soul is something nonmaterial, eternal and unchangeable. Buddhism aimed primarily at shattering this eternalist philosophy of the Upanishads, and that is why it was called anatmavada as against the atmavada of the Upanishads.

The dynamism of Buddhist philosophy, i.e., everything is in flux, inspired an entirely different outlook about the world. Even the believers in souls or eternalists were willing to accept the external world as changeable but they believed in an eternal existence within it. This they called atman or Brahman. Buddhists say: if we look inside the trunk of a banana tree we would get only layers within layers, one covering peeling off after the other but no substance inside it, similarly all the things in the universe do not contain any eternal substance – atman or Brahman; the world is void of any eternal element.

Hence the concept of Buddhist voidism (shunyavada). To explain their concept of dynamism the example of clouds or the flame of the lamp is cited. Just as the clouds go on changing each moment, so does this world. Even the most solid diamond or iron goes on changing every moment. Then why the similarity and sameness in their previous and subsequent forms? To this the Buddhist reply is: similarity in organization. The effect is always similar to the cause, hence the illusion of oneness. The flame of the lamp is changing every moment but the new flame born out of the old flame is similar to it, therefore we rush to the conclusion that “it is the same flame”.

Theory of causality

Having accepted the entire inner and outer world, without any exception, as non eternal it was necessary to have a different theory of causality too. Those who held the atoms or matter to be like immutable bricks could assert that by the assemblage of them the new object arises. Their integration and disintegration correspond to the origination and destruction of things. But Buddhist philosophy did not believe in the existence of such immutable eternal bricks. Everything is void of eternal essence, i.e., there are not things (vastu) but events (dharma). They could not be compared to gold which is a primary element and can be molded into different shapes, such as bracelets or pendants. Buddha used a different terminology to explain the law of causality: dependent origination (pratitya samutpada).

Elucidating this terminology Buddha says “When this was, then this comes and it was then this becomes” (asmin sati idam bhavati). At the completion of this, this is born. What has just ended is the cause and what has emerged after the cause is the effect. The effect was wholly nonexistent when the cause was there, and when the effect came into existence the cause completely vanished. There was no eternal substance inside the cause which is transferred to the effect. Actually they have no other relation to each other except that the one preceded or followed the other.

Collectivity of causes

Having accepted the entire inner and outer world in flux, as a conglomeration not of things but of events, the concept of dependent origination becomes inevitable. Dynamism and the theory that there is no eternal substratum forced them to look upon the world as made up of events. Rejection of the old ideas of the law of cause and effect inevitably led to the concept of dependent origination. In other words, dependent origination replaced the old theory of cause and effect.

Here Buddhist philosophy shattered another old concept, according to which one cause was supposed to beget one or several effects. The sages of the Upanishads believed in several strange things originating from the same soul (atman). Even in the material world one element was called the cause and the other element originating from it the effect. Buddhist philosophy contended that no object – or to use their nomenclature dharma – is born of one thing. No effect has only one cause, but several causes together give birth to one effect (object). This theory is called collectivity of causes (hetusamagrivada).

The great philosopher Dharmakirti says: “One (thing) is not born out of one but all is born of collective causes” (na chaikam ekam ekasmat, samagrya sarva sambhavah). When several causes assemble then one effect is created. Though the doctrine of the unity of the opposites is not mentioned as in Marxist philosophy yet it is clearly stated that one effect is the result of the coming together of several causes and if the smallest of them is missing then that effect would not result. According to Buddhist philosophy cause is entirely different from effect, in other words, the emergence of the effect is a qualitative change. And this qualitative change (emergence of an entirely different effect) cannot take place unless all the causes are pooled in the required measure – quantity. This concept of cause and effect includes qualitative change (the effect) and quantity which brings this about (collectivity of causes).

Definition of Reality

In the light of this conception of the world the Buddhist thinkers had to define anew what is “real” and what is “unreal”. For the ancient thinkers this definition was simple enough: that which is eternal, immutable or unchangeable is real and that which is non-eternal, mutable or changeable is unreal. In Buddhism there was no place for such “real” things. They defined a real thing as: that which is capable of objective action (artha-kriya-samartham).

Sweets and bread are real because they are capable of objective action, i.e., they are able of the objective action of nourishment or satisfying our hunger; but the sweets and bread seen in a dream are not real because they cannot satisfy our hunger, they are in-capable of objective action. That which is capable of objective action has been called not only real but absolutely real (paramartha sat). What was real according to the ancient thinkers was not capable of objective action because it was immutable, eternal and perfect. What is the proof of the existence of an inactive thing which is beyond the reach of the senses, since it is not an object of direct perception or of inference based on it?

The criterion of being objectively active is an infallible test of reality, and there is no doubt that in it one gets an inkling of modern ideas. The real should prove itself by objective experiment, nothing can be called real just on the basis of reason. To the rationalist objection that his stand was not rational, Dharmakirti replied: “If the objects themselves are like that, who are we?” (yadidam svayamarthanam rocate tatra ke vayam). Reason is not absolute, only the objective action or experiment is the touchstone of reality. This was a big weapon but it was not used, and there was reason for it. The entire progress of science is based on this principle – that we accept objects as our guide.

Matter and Mind

In Buddhist philosophy there are differences regarding the ideas about body and mind, matter and mind. Monist idealists among Buddhists consider only the mind to be real. Of course, even this “real” (mind) of theirs is dynamic. The others, the dualists, accept the separate existence of matter and mind. But this much both accept that the mind depends on the body (kaya sthitam manah). Mind or consciousness or idea cannot exist apart from the body or matter. This sentence reveals to some extent the mutual relationship between mind and matter, i.e., mind is dependent on matter (body).

Even the dualists did not accept that mind is absolutely different from matter. They said that like water and the waves, the world of matter is a transmutation (parinama) of mind. This is akin to Hegelian philosophy. If instead of “matter is a transmutation of mind” (vijnana parinamosan) it is said that mind is evolution of matter (rupa parinamashchit), then Buddhist idealism will be spared the trouble of standing on its head.

And in their philosophy there was enough ground for thinking in this manner. When every effect is entirely different and qualitatively entirely new as compared to the causes then what difficulty was there in accepting that mind evolves from matter – mind while being entirely different from matter could still be its effect. Dialectical materialism even while asserting that mind has evolved out of matter does not contend that mind is matter on the contrary it considers mind to be different from it and its highest evolution.

In Buddha’s time, on the one hand, there were the atmavadi thinkers who considered the soul to be eternal and immutable. On the other hand, there were materialist thinkers too who denied the existence of the soul, although their materialism had not risen above the level of mechanical materialism. Buddha and his followers propounded a philosophy which includes several features of advanced materialism but they were not prepared to call themselves materialists.

The Buddhist thinkers had from the very beginning been insistent on adopting the middle path in all matters; and here too they wanted to keep themselves between theism and materialism, although with regard to non-eternalism they did not advocate the middle path. For this consideration alone Buddhism is accepted as a religion. In spite of such radicalism in their philosophy, their belief in rebirth, yogic mysticism and some other views are the same as in other religions. That Buddhist thought made violent attacks against many an established tenet is proved by this saying of India’s unparalleled philosopher Dharmakirti: “Vedapramanyam kasyacit kartrivadah snane dharmechha jativada valepah. Santaparamth papahanaya ceti dhvastaprajnanam panca lingani jadye.”

“Accepting the authority of the Veda and someone as the creator, the desire of getting merit through the holy dip, the vanity of casteism and torturing the body to redeem the sins – these are the five characteristics of stupidity”.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Indian TV Report on Kishenji-”Impossible to Trace”

After killing nearly 30 army men in west West Midnapore district of West Bengal CPI(Maoist) politbureau memeber Kishenji called NDTV and said "This was our response to Operation Green Hunt." The killed army men were there to take part in Operation Green Hunt. However look how NDTV reported it.

click here to watch an NDTV report on Kishenji.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Over 100,000 Tamils Still Held in Detention Camps

This article appeared on the World Socialist Website on February 19, 2010

Sri Lanka: Thousands of Tamils still in detention camps

By Subash Somachandran and Kamal Rasenthiran
19 February 2010

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, who fled the fighting in the final days of the military’s offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), remain in squalid detention camps in northern Sri Lanka. The official total is 106,000, with around 80,000 people still in the Manik Farm camps near the town of Vavuniya.

After the LTTE’s defeat last May, the army rounded up 280,000 men, women and children and put them in detention centres surrounded by barbed wire and armed soldiers. No one was permitted to leave. Visitors were heavily vetted. Thousands of young men and women were interrogated by police and military intelligence officers, and incarcerated in other, undisclosed centres as “LTTE suspects”.

Last October, in the lead-up to the presidential election, President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government eased the regime at the camps and promised that all detainees would be resettled by January 31. On December 1, inmates who had homes to return to, or relatives to stay with, were finally permitted to leave after being vetted by the security forces.

However, many refugees have no places to go. In the final months of fighting, the military laid waste to towns and villages throughout the LTTE-held territory in a ruthless war of attrition. Thousands of civilians were killed. Many who managed to escape arrived at Manik Farm and other detention centres, emaciated, injured or ill.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 160,000 people have returned to their district of origin. However, these are government figures, which must be treated with caution. Most people have not been returned to their own villages and towns. Those who have are struggling to survive with little or no government assistance. Even according to official figures, 29,060 people are staying with “host families” or relatives. They have no income and are subjected to stringent travel restrictions and police reporting requirements.

Resettlement minister Rishard Bathiudeen has repeated the lame excuse that delays in de-mining the former war zones have “impeded the resettlement process”. His secretary, U.L.M. Halaldeen, has issued what amounts to another phony promise—for the April 8 general election. “Come April, they all will be resettled by the time of the parliamentary election,” he said.

WSWS reporters recently visited the Manik Farm “welfare village” and filed the report below.


The Colombo government claims that after the “resettlement” of some Tamil refugees the situation in the Vavuniya detention camps has improved. We visited the Manik Farm camp, located 30 kilometres west of Vavuniya on the Mannar road. The situation there for detainees is worsening, again exposing President Rajapakse’s lies.

As we travelled to Cheddikulam where the Manik Farm camps are situated, we could see a number of dilapidated government buildings that are now being used to hold “LTTE suspects”. These prisons are surrounded by high walls and barbed wire fences and guarded by soldiers. The inmates are mainly young men and women who were interrogated and dragged away for “re-education”. No one is allowed to visit these camps.

People at Manik Farm are still living in the small tents put up last May. These tents are now in a decrepit condition. While people can now move in and out the camps are still guarded by soldiers and surrounded by barbed wire. Anger, resentment and weariness are evident in the faces of people who have now been incarcerated for eight months without adequate food, medical care and sanitary facilities.

There has been no let up in the seizing of youth as LTTE suspects. We were told that military intelligence personnel come night and day to haul people away.

The government claims that people have been given freedom of movement. But this is false. Those who want to leave have to apply and their release is by no means guaranteed.

For short-term releases, an application form must be filled out at the camp’s military office. A family member has to vouch for the outgoing person by signing the application form. Those given “freedom of movement” have to return on the same day. If they fail, the family member is taken into custody.

The regime for visitors is also prison-like. Visitors have to register with police at the entrance to the camp. They can only enter after a body search and are then confined to the visitors’ area. No cameras or cell phones are allowed. Visitors cannot come closer than a metre or so to the inmates and often have to speak loudly to communicate. Soldiers monitor what is being said and also the limited amount of time allocated.

Food is limited. The weekly ration is just a kilogram each of rice, flour and sugar and 100 grams of lentils or dhal per person. People have no money to buy other essentials. They do not get fish, meat, egg or vegetables. The rations are obvious inadequate and many children and adults are suffering from malnutrition.

Water is also scarce. Each inmate receives five litres of drinking water per week. Tube wells have been sunk to use for bathing and washing, but the water is very salty. To ease the water shortages, the military management in charge of the camp has brought muddy water from a nearby dam. However, people have refused to use that water.

We saw dozens of people going in and out of the camps after obtaining permission. Many of these people leave to try to sell their meagre possessions and even relief items to obtain money for other things. The government has made these innocent people completely destitute.

Health services in the camp have deteriorated. Last month the Colombo government washed its hands of providing health care, passing the responsibility to the provincial government. However, provincial health services lack adequate funds and are crumbling. Doctors assigned to the camps only attend for two to three hours a day.

Thousands of young children have been deprived of education. About 2,500 school children have been allowed to attend schools in Vavuniya. However, there are no facilities or teachers. The students sit under the trees until the end of the school day and return to the camps.

During the election campaign, Rajapakse visited one of the camps and feigned anger at the conditions facing the inmates. He promised to complete the resettlement process. State-owned TV stations broadcast footage of Rajapakse giving “advice” to military personnel to provide “facilities” for the refugees. It was all for show. Nothing has happened since.

Such is the anger among the refugees that very few wanted to vote—either for Rajapakse or opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka, the general who ruthlessly prosecuted the war against the LTTE. As is clear from the above, the situation inside the camps makes it very difficult for people to speak openly to visitors. But we got a glimpse of the sentiment from one person who told us:

“Those people who wanted to exercise their voting rights were not given a chance. Some people were able to go and vote in the morning. But in the afternoon, the army and police told the people they would not be allowed to leave because they could vote for Fonseka.

“Many people want to oust this government somehow because of its crime against us. But why should one vote for any of them? Rajapakse and Fonseka were together when they ordered the military to shower us with bombs.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Basanta on Proletarian Internationalism and the Nepalese Revolution

This article appeared in Red Star on February 18, 2010.

The Proletarian Internationalism and Nepalese Revolution–Indra Mohan Sigdel (Basanta), PBM of UCPN (Maoist)

The proletariat class, which is deprived of means of production, is forced to sell his labour as a commodity into the market to those bourgeois who grab them. In a capitalist society, those who produce commodity with the expense of their labour are deprived of appropriating the very product while those who are not at all involved in production appropriate it. It is not particular to a certain country but a universal phenomenon where the capitalist mode of production exists.

The very essence of the capitalist mode of production is collective production but private appropriation. And the main content of Marxism remains in resolving this contradiction. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had struggled all through their life to find a scientific way to resolve this contradiction and break the traditional reactionary chains They said it is the socialisation of means of production to do it. And on top of that they said it is the transitional socialist state that paves the way forward to communism in which the aforesaid contradiction does not exist and thereby the whole humanity enters into a phase where there is no oppression of man by man.

In their life time they did not rest content merely in ideological and political assertions rather they played a crucial role in organising Communist League, the first International of the working class people and latter they formed the International Working Men’s Association composed of various socialist groups and trade unions from different countries. The Communist Manifesto that the first congress in 1848 of the very International brought about continues to be an important ideological and political document of the international proletariat even today.

It asserted that

The communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional relations.

In the last paragraph it says,

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!

It is a matchless example of true proletarian internationalism.

Lenin was a true successor of Marx and a leader of the working class people who applied proletarian internationalism into real practice. He had to wage serious ideological struggle against the national chauvinistic leaders like Kautsky in the Second International to establish proletarian internationalism and develop it further in the international communist movement. Through his writings one can understand what he really meant by true proletarian internationalism. In one of his important theoretical works, The Task of the Proletariat in our Revolution, Vol. 24, page 76, he writes, \

”There is one, and only one, kind of real internationalism, and that is — working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one\’s own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy, and material aid) this struggle, this, and only this, line, in every country without exception.

In addition, in his another important work, Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions, Vol. 31, page 148, he writes, —

proletarian internationalism demands, first, that the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital

What is clear from the excerpts above is that to stand firm on the side of the proletariat class, develop revolutionary movement and class struggle in one\’s own country, fight internationally the alien ideologies that go against the interest of working class movement, extend ideological, political and material support to all struggles carried out by the oppressed class the world over and develop an international tactic with a view to do away with international capital is in a real sense the true proletarian internationalism.

The ideological struggle that Lenin in his lifetime carried out to strengthen proletarian internationalism in the international communist movement makes him an outstanding internationalist proletarian leader and the party led by him a torchbearer of proletarian internationalism. Along with this, the role that the Communist Party of Russia (Bolshevik) played, not only ideologically and politically but also materially, to help accomplish New Democratic Revolution in China and socialist revolution in the Eastern European countries is a brilliant manifestation of what Lenin meant by proletarian internationalism in the excerpts above.

Standing upon the foundation of proletarian internationalism that Marx and Lenin had established and developed, chairman Mao continued all through to his life with their legacy. Be it his ideological struggle in China against various wrong trends from the very beginning of the party formation to the last phase of the Cultural Revolution or be it in fighting alien ideologies in the international communist movement he never let it weaken till he was alive.

The ideological struggle that he carried out mainly against the capitalist roaders during Cultural Revolution and the Great Debate that he launched mainly against the Khrushchevite revisionism have had a paramount importance to develop Marxism-Leninism to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. On how he understood proletarian internationalism, in a letter to CPSU headed, A proposal concerning the general line of the international communist movement, he says, …

the touchstone of proletarian internationalism for every Communist Party is whether or not it resolutely defends the whole of the socialist camp, whether or not it defends the unity of all the countries in the camp on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and whether or not it defends the Marxist-Leninist line and policies which the socialist countries ought to pursue.

Not only did Mao wage struggle ideologically against alien ideologies within the international communist movement but also, along with logistical support to the Korean comrades, he sent Chinese People\’s Volunteers to fight US imperialism in the Korean War. Noteworthy to mention here is that in this war Mao’s son had attained martyrdom, which is a unique example of proletarian internationalism on the part of Chairman Mao and the great Communist Party of China led by him. In fact, a strong proletarian power in China under the leadership CPC led by Mao was as a strong base area for the proletarian revolutionaries the world over. However, Mao\’s death in 1976 and the counterrevolution that followed in China under Teng-Hua clique resulted in a serious setback in the international communist movement and proletarian internationalism as well. As a result, the working class the world over has now lost its leadership and the base area of the world proletarian revolution.

In the situation, when communist revolutionaries the world over were short of internationally recognised leadership and a strong base area of the world communist movement the role that the revolutionary communist parties played to organise the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) deserves special mention. In spite of their inability to bring together all the revolutionary parties in its fold this initiative was definitely an inspiring event and a great achievement for the communist revolutionaries the world over. Among others, mainly the document, Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism that the RIM adopted has helped to deepen the ideological contribution of Chairman Mao and unite the communist revolutionaries under the banner of Maoism.

In fact it created a strong ideological base to help the initiation of and preparation for people\’s war where parties existed and build revolutionary parties where they did not. In total, RIM has played an important role as an international centre in defence of communism and the proletarian internationalism. Struggling against the limitations and weaknesses of sectarianism it has, to activate it further is the need of the day.

When the world communist movement was very much defensive and the entire reactionaries were, with the collapse of Soviet social imperialism in the 90s, propagating the failure of Marxism and socialism, people\’s war was initiated in our country. The initiation of people\’s war and its development in leaps has on the one hand proved once again the validity and inevitability of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and on the other it has encouraged the proletariat class internationally.

Initiation of people\’s war was in fact a true example of proletarian internationalism on the part of Nepalese proletariat.

However, after our party has entered into peace process and signed the comprehensive peace agreement our fraternal parties are critical of our political line.Some of them have even placed criticism in open to the extent that the political line we are practicing now does not comply with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and proletarian internationalism. Certainly, there are some elements of truth behind such criticism on the part of fraternal comrades and we must correct them. And on the other, a strong tendency in the ICM that makes ideological judgement from within the known concepts of past revolutionary class struggles has also played a role in it.

It is not that a debate has been launched from here on this question and nor is it possible in this short article. But, what we must admit is that a way of thinking that our party sought to find strength of revolution from within national tactic and diplomatic manoeuvring than from the ideological, political and organisational unity and valuable experience of the international proletariat was and is still trying to pull party back from our duty of strengthening proletarian internationalism.

Lenin had sharply criticised this trend. In page 54 of his renowned work, Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, he writes,

To refuse to take this experience into account and at the same time to claim affiliation to the Communist International, which must work out its tactics internationally (not narrow or one-sided national tactics, but international tactics), is to commit the gravest blunder and actually to retreat from real internationalism while paying lip service to it.

Recently held Central Committee Meeting of our party has correctly assessed that the New Democratic revolution in Nepal is at a crossroads of great potentiality of victory and serious danger of defeat. In the present world situation, it is only our country Nepal where New Democratic revolution is possible. However, whether or not the Nepalese proletariat can seize this opportunity depends upon whether or not our party can develop a correct ideological and political line, consolidate party unity based on it and rally the world proletariat around it. If we succeed to achieve this, no one in the world will be able to stop us from establishing People\’s Federal Republic of Nepal.

We should keep in mind that sustenance of the proletarian power in a single country is in the present world situation equally difficult to or more challenging than the seizure of political power. Sustenance of people\’s power is inseparably related with the expansion and development of revolutionary class struggles in other countries. Right in this context, the international proletariat class has twofold duties. The Nepalese proletariat must emphasize firstly on the seizure and then sustenance of power as a base area of the world proletarian revolution and at the same time pay attention to the expansion of revolutionary class struggles and anti imperialist movements all across the world.

While the proletariat in other countries must lay emphasis on developing revolutionary class struggles in their respective countries and pay attention to the defence of people\’s power in Nepal. It is the true proletarian internationalism we need today. In order to achieve this, our party should carry out the following tasks. Firstly, we should take up serious initiative to deepen the ideological and political struggle with those revolutionary parties that uphold Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as their guiding ideology.

In addition, we should also carry out ideological and political debate with the parties that uphold GPCR and Mao Tse Tung Thought as universally applicable. All this should be done keeping in view of establishing a new type of International in the twenty first century. Secondly, we should take initiative to develop comradely relation with Marxist –Leninist forces all over the world. And, thirdly, we should build up relation with all the nationalist forces that are waging national liberation movements against national chauvinistic regime of the respective countries. All this should be done as to develop a worldwide anti-imperialist front to fight imperialist globalisation, colonial domination and to support just struggle of the people.

At the present juncture, which is full of opportunities and challenges, only by developing a correct ideological and political line, party unity based on it and pushing forward the aforesaid international tasks in a planned way will we be able to establish People\’s Republic in Nepal. This and this will be a service to world revolution and genuine proletarian internationalism too

Friday, February 19, 2010

International Campaign against the War on People in India–Launched

This is an important new initiative that can play a crucial role in exposing and isolating the brutal Indian government, which has launched an unprecedented military offensive to seize the lands of this country’s poorest people, the adivasis or tribal peoples.

The International Campaign Against War on the People of India (ICAWPI) is being launched to work as a coordinating centre seeking international support for the resistance of the people of India against the all out military offensive of the Indian state against its own citizens.

ICAWPI is an international extension of widespread opposition and initiatives against this genocidal war to forcefully crush the heroic resistance of the tribal peoples in the heartlands of India and to hand over these lands rich in minerals and raw materials to international corporations such as Vedanta, Rio Tinto, Posco and others.

This overt war serving to facilitate the looting of the land and resources by Indian and international corporations for fabulous profits and the destruction of the livelihood of the countless numbers of the poorest of the poor in India is named as “Operation Green Hunt”. While in different regions of the country the same operation may be named differently, the Indian state shamelessly tries to hide this banditry against the people of India and utterly open servitude to the imperialism as “war against the Naxalites”– imposing a severe reign of terror and repression on progressive and democratic forces and individuals everywhere across the country.

Countless intellectuals, authors, film makers, academics, and other professionals such as lawyers and doctors who abhor the Indian state’s total lies and open disregard for civil and human rights have joined mass gatherings and rallies and various forums in India in order to raise their own voices and join forces to oppose the State and to defend the just cause of the oppressed tribal people in India.

In the course of this gathering movement countless people have been arrested and imprisoned. Untold suffering and restrictions have been imposed on the people.

Yet, international public opinion is kept grossly in the dark about these issues while the mainstream media continue to follow and repeat the Indian State’s claims that “India is the largest democracy in the world” and that the Maoists, as the biggest security threat to this “democracy” must wiped out at all costs. Thus they justify their silence and bless the Indian State in perpetrating these crimes in the name of a “war on terror”.

Already more than one hundred tribal people have been killed in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand as part of this brutal war, “Operation Green Hunt”. Several thousand tribal people have been tortured, maimed, and pushed out of their villages, women raped, houses burnt and villages burnt to ashes. Though the Government of India unofficially imposed a censor on media to publish reports from the killing fields, democratic journalists, and civil rights bodies have been making efforts to bring the facts of this war out for the public.

ICAWPI aims to reach out to all democratic and freedom loving people across the world concerned about the plight of the people in India to unite and take initiative to break this silence internationally and to rally much needed support and solidarity to the just struggles of the people of India.

Information on Operation Green Hunt and the people’s resistance are available through – a website designed to carry material related to this issue and the campaign.

We request all democratic and progressive formations to take initiative and coordinate their efforts with ICAWPI. All reports of actions, meetings and letters of solidarity and concern will be published at this site.

In order to launch this campaign, ICAWPI calls on everyone to join demonstrations and protest actions in front of Indian embassies and consulates on February 5, 2010 where ever possible. A list of organized events will be published on the website as they become available. Further actions, events and meetings are being planned and will be announced soon after.

The website will also publish information about events in Europe and elsewhere, for discussion about the issue and to find ways of raising local awareness and taking joint actions.

Please contact ICAWPI through to inform us of your proposals to bring the campaign to your area.

Feb 3, 2010

** In order to receive regular updates on breaking news about Operation Green Hunt and the international campaign, please join the public mailing list of the campaign by sending a blank email to with a subject line: “subscribe” or simply contact