Report-Back on “Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?”

On Sunday, January 6th, 2019, around 80 people gathered at the Westside Peace Center to attend a panel discussion entitled “Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?” Organized by the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ), co-sponsored by Extinction Rebellion Los Angeles and Sunrise Movement Los Angeles, and endorsed by System Change Not Climate Change-Los Angeles (SCNCC-LA), the event brought together a panel comprised of eco-socialists and climate-justice organizers, followed by a lively group discussion with participants.

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First, moderator Javier Sethness, Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation (personal capacity), introduced the panel and its speakers. Reviewing recent “climate alarms” and the August 2018 “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” paper, which describes the risks the “Earth system” faces due to biosphere degradation and the violation of environmental boundaries, beyond which feedback loops would render global warming a self-perpetuating phenomenon, resulting in the grim reality of “Hothouse Earth.” Identifying the primary obstacle to the realization of a global eco-socialist transition away from the path of climate breakdown as being capitalist hegemony and concentrated State power, whether in the hands of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Mohammed bin Salman, or Jair Bolsonaro, he recommended a radical strategy characterized by managed decline, ecological restoration, “natural” geo-engineering, and green syndicalism.

Next, Mariah Brennan Clegg, from the Bonfire Anarchist Collective and UC Santa Barbara Campus Marxist-Humanists, spoke in favor of eco-decentralization, following from their analysis that ecological devastation results from hierarchy, and that participatory solutions can help build popular community resilience. Clegg emphasized the dysfunctionality of centralized economic systems, resulting in the dyads of ‘sacrifice zones’ (such as the “cancer villages” of Louisiana or China) and ‘sanctuary zones’ (Beverly Hills, malls, gated communities). Instead, they argued in favor of the unification of bio-regions (or biological regions) with “techno-regions,” by which they mean spaces in which the trans-human dimension is integrated into production and social institutions designed for use-value in place of profit and self-management in place of domination.

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Sydney Ghazarian, from the Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles Climate Justice Committee and DSA Ecosocialist Working Group, dedicated her comments to thinking through many of the implications of the October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for leftist organizing: that is, given that it warns us clearly that mass-extinction is a very real near-term possibility, due to the hegemony of capitalism. She emphasized firstly that the findings of this report must inspire a strong sense of urgency on the part of the radical left, considering that we have at most 11 years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown. Ghazarian added that the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) estimates that, 1-2 years before the deadline for the Aichi Targets on biodiversity (2010), “average wildlife population sizes could decline by two-thirds from their 1970 levels.” Secondly, that left organizing strategy under these conditions should take advantage of the multiple emerging crises to bring about a wide-ranging eco-socialist regeneration of society. Ghazarian calls this the “people’s shock doctrine,” and it echoes Andreas Malm’s recommendations on eco-socialist strategy, based on an observation and analysis of the Russian and Syrian Revolutions. Rooted in a vision of an interconnected, multi-level plan to project people power against hegemonic capitalist power, Ghazarian’s proposal would unite the climate movement and the left to transform the economic and political spheres into a zero-emissions society that would restore devastated ecosystems and human communities. Citing a letter published in Nature in 2017 which concludes that we have approximately a 5% chance that global warming will be limited to 2°C, she underscored that ecological revolution might be humanity’s last chance.

Continue reading “Report-Back on “Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?””

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“Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?” – Sunday, January 6th, 2019

Hothouse-trajectories_pnas_steffen-et-al-2018
Courtesy W. Steffen et al.

The Los Angeles Coalition for Peace, Revolution & Social Justice invites you to a panel discussion:

Eco-Socialism or Extinction: Can We Overcome the Existential Threat of Capitalism?

Before the spark reaches the dynamite, the lighted fuse must be cut.” – Walter Benjamin

Sunday, January 6, 2018, 6:00-9:00 p.m.
Westside Peace Center
3916 Sepulveda Blvd., near Venice Blvd. (free parking in rear–reserve spacing not in effect on weekends)
Suite 101-102, press #22 at door to get into building
Culver City (LA area)

Facebook event here

From the devastating wildfires that have raged recently in California—coming unusually late in the calendar year, likely due to ongoing drought conditions—to the melting of the polar ice caps and the death by overheating of coral reefs—the “rainforests of the oceans”—it is clear that we confront an ecological crisis of vast proportions. It is equally clear that the global dominant class has no solution to these problems of capital-induced global warming and mass-extinction. While Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, and Jair Bolsonaro shamelessly seek to facilitate the maximum extraction of profit from the working classes and an imperiled Earth, even so-called “progressive Democrats” have no strategy to mitigate climate change. We forget how much Trump’s catastrophic climate-denialism follows from Barack Obama’s ecocidal legacy. Indeed, several new studies have stressed the likely terminal near-term consequences of climate breakdown: in its October 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that we have at most 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, whereas, in late November, the United Nations reported that the world must triple its efforts to prevent global warming from becoming a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

Amidst the significant obstacles that the environmental crisis poses to human welfare and the integrity of ecosystems, we ask whether we can wield the alternative vision of eco-socialism in time to stave off the destruction of humanity and the biosphere—and, if so, how?

Please join us for this important panel discussion with a number of thoughtful eco-socialists.

Speakers:

Mariah Brennan Clegg, Bonfire Anarchist Collective and UCSB Campus Marxist-Humanists

Sydney Ghazarian, Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles Climate Justice Committee and DSA Ecosocialist Working Group

Sherry Lear, 350.org South Bay

Gene Warren, Converging Storms, Solidarity Los Angeles, and Socialist Party USA

Moderating:

Javier Sethness, Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation (personal capacity) and author of Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe

Co-sponsors:

Extinction Rebellion Los Angeles

Sunrise Movement Los Angeles

Endorsers:

System Change Not Climate Change-Los Angeles (SCNCC-LA)

Repudiating the Stalinist Legacy: Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part III/III)

By Javier Sethness

“In a totally fictitious world, failures need not be recorded, admitted, or remembered. […] Systematic lying to the whole world can be safely carried out only under the conditions of totalitarian rule.” – Hannah Arendt1

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Soviet women working on wartime production of tanks (courtesy David Goldfrank)

So far, in parts I and II of this response to “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective on Stalin,” we have seen how the “Proles of the Round Table” and their host Breht Ó Séaghdha have systematically lied on their infamous ‘Stalin podcast’ about the history of the Soviet Union, from covering up the Barcelona May Days (1937), the GULAG slave-labor camp system, the Hitler-Stalin Pact (1939), and the NKVD’s mass-deportation of Muslim and Buddhist minorities during World War II to declaring mass-death through Stalin’s forced collectivization of the peasantry to have been “extremely successful.” It is clear why Jeremy and Justin confidently present such a fraudulent version of history: were they even to mention any of these realities, it would become clear that their presence as Stalin apologists on a radio show ostensibly dedicated to an examination of “revolutionary left” history and theory would be immediately revealed as absurd. Yet here we are.

In this final third of my critique of this travesty, we will examine Jeremy and Justin’s genocide denial and their enthusiasm for the Moscow Show Trials. In contrast to the “Proles of the Round Table,” we will explore how anti-Semitism, ultra-nationalism, and sexism are essential aspects of the Stalinist legacy. We will then close with some comments about Soviet ecocide and a critical analysis of neo-Stalinist international relations today, which cover for pseudo-anti-imperialist executioners.

Holodomor Denial

While the breadth of Jeremy and Justin’s Stalin’s apologia on this interview is quite astounding, few aspects are as vile as their denial of the genocidal Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. Justin is very clear about their view: “there was no mass-famine,” and the idea of Holodomor (the “Great Ukrainian Famine”) is a “myth.” Jeremy jumps in to claim that “Ukrainian nationalists” sought to undermine Stalin and “intentionally starv[e] the Soviet Union.” First, let’s note that, in making the latter claim, Jeremy unwittingly admits that the Soviet Union was imperialist, and should be that way: the implication is that Ukraine and other former colonies of the Tsarist Empire exist to serve Russia, or, in this case, Stalin’s regime. Beyond that, certainly there was famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933: the “Proles of the Round Table” are almost unique among neo-Stalinists, in that, rather than claim that the reported Holodomor death-toll has somehow been exaggerated for political purposes, they claim that it never happened. In so doing, they quite literally ape Stalin’s refusal to accept the reality of famine in Ukraine in spring 1932 upon receiving word of it from Vlas Chubar, Bolshevik leader of Ukraine, after which the General Secretary denied famine relief and banned the use of the word from all official correspondence.2 While climatic conditions played a part, it was arguably the unrealistic quotas for the extraction of grain from the Ukrainian peasantry following in the wake of the “extremely successful” experience of forced collectivization that tipped the peasants into the first famine (spring 1932); once Stalin doubled down on the confiscation of grain and cattle after hearing initial reports of the famine, adding reprisals against those villages that failed to meet production quotas by cutting them off, this exacerbated an already disastrous situation. The result was the death of nearly 4 million Ukrainians, more than 10% of the population, with an additional 1-2 million Caucasians, Russians, and Kazakhs succumbing as well.3 Unsurprisingly, Justin and Jeremy have nothing to say about these Central Asian and Caucasian Muslim victims of famine.

To advance their lies about Ukraine, the “Proles of the Round Table” rely on one Grover Furr, a Stalin propagandist who also denies the Holodomor by citing the work of Mark Tauger, a supposed historiographer who actually quite fraudulently argues against the idea that the British Empire or the Soviet Union were responsible for the Great Irish Famine or the Bengal Famine, in the former case, or Holodomor, in the latter. As Louis Proyect has shown, Tauger wants to exclusively blame “environmental conditions” for these devastating catastrophes, and thus hide the role of political economy, power relations, and imperialism. This is the kind of ideology that the “Proles of Round Table” hold up as legitimate historical investigation.

Following the argument of the Jewish Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, originator of the concept of genocide, historian Norman Naimark holds Stalin responsible for genocide, if we consider the term’s original definition, which meant to include social and political groups. In targeting the “kulaks” for elimination and thus provoking the Holodomor, Stalin certainly was genocidal. This conclusion becomes even clearer when we review Stalin’s imperialist policies, his regime’s concurrent purging of most of the Ukrainian Communist Party leadership for their putative “nationalism,” and his August 1932 letter to fellow Politburo member Lazar Kaganovich, in which the General Secretary “set [forth] the goal of turning Ukraine into a real fortress of the USSR, a truly model republic.”4

Apologism for the Moscow Show Trials and Terror

“The insane mass manufacture of corpses is preceded by the historically and politically intelligible preparation of living corpses.” – Hannah Arendt5

While we have examined the Purges in parts I and II, let us now focus specifically on Justin and Jeremy’s apologism for the infamous Moscow Trials of the “Old Bolsheviks” (1936-1938), which were clearly nothing more than show trials. Justin begins by mistaking the Bolshevik leader Gregory Zinoviev for “Alexander Zinoviev,” a Soviet philosopher, and then mentions Trotsky’s analysis of “Soviet Thermidor” without in any way clarifying its application to Stalinism in power: that is, with reference to its historical antecedent—the French Revolution—whereby the bourgeois Directory seized power after overthrowing the Jacobin leaders Maximilien Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just. To be clear, Stalin’s counter-revolution is highly suggestive of the legacy of the Directory—which is not to suggest that either Lenin or Robespierre were revolutionaries. In parallel, the “Proles of the Round Table” will mention Trotsky’s analysis of Stalin’s guilt over Hitler’s rise—written years after his expulsion from the party—and somehow consider this as retroactive criminal evidence for Trotsky’s supposed conspiracy against the General-Secretary-to be (as in the Left and United Opposition). Yet tellingly, they will not present the actual content of Trotsky’s argument: namely, that Stalin’s Comintern policy on “social fascism” facilitated the Nazi takeover of Germany.

Continuing on, Justin states that Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev “recanted” following their joining with Trotsky in the United Opposition to Stalin—but no reason is given as to why. Certainly, as in the case of Nikolai Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev feared for their lives and that of their loved ones, particularly after seeing the example made of Trotsky, who was expelled ignominiously first from the Communist Party, and then the Soviet Union altogether (in 1928). Instead of contemplating such factors, the “Proles of the Round Table” begin to attempt to explain “why […] the Purge [is] beginning to become a necessity [sic].” Attempting to insert a victim-blaming narrative, Justin and Jeremy suggest that not all the “Old Bolsheviks” were “Communists”—meaning Stalinists—and therefore imply the necessity of their liquidation—and, in many cases, that of their families, who were also murdered so as to prevent revenge attacks against the Party emanating from the “clan” of those executed.6

Continue reading “Repudiating the Stalinist Legacy: Critique of “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective” on Stalin (Part III/III)”