Environmental Democracy


Radicalism has many facets, the political-economic-ideological struggle to achieve social change, itself, then, an agency for the democratization of social structure and cultural values, being for me the primary one (and for others, no doubt other areas worthy of action and emphasis), but it is also something else—and to its credit, testifying to its vitality and openness—for radicalism is a journey of discovery, and for the individual, both self-discovery and a potential for the fuller affirmation of humanity. For me, radicalism turned on political economy as central to the foundations of societal welfare, a seemingly inclusive framework of systemic analysis and the basis for social protest. The view is familiar, 19th century Marxism, with or without the inclusion of revolutionary violence (and in America, largely without). All else purportedly was extra, incidental, perhaps even distractive. Labor strikes trumped sexual orientation, attacks on corporate wealth trumped cultural politics of gender equality, opposition to imperialism trumped liberation of a drug culture, and so a gap between generations, ultimately, a gap between CLASS and the rights and preferences of INDIVIDUALS, still within radicalism, began to widen, to the point that issues treating wealth, power, and social upheaval were becoming phased out in favor of personal emancipation and a non-class, perhaps anti-class, orientation.

To an old-style radical, radicalism in America was losing its ideological fighting edge, as though protest had entered the realm of touchy-feely politics and demands. Until recently, that was my feeling—and, insensitive as it sounds, still is. The one exception, which on close inspection was obviously deserving of inclusion, was RACE, not only on humane grounds or to form livelier coalitions, but because race could best be apprehended through the political-structural dynamics of class exploitation. (Oliver Cromwell Cox, Race, Caste, and Class, after many years still repays reading.) “Class” and “exploitation,” factors which are critical to the formation of a racial system, are incorporated into the analysis—and reality—of radicalism, so that for a traditional radical matters related to racial solidarity primarily or alone appear tangential if not frivolous. Racial solidarity is antithetical to radical political consciousness, as when now blacks remain loyal to Obama despite his antidemocratic record of war, intervention, assassination, corporate favoritism, deregulation, the concentration of wealth, income, and power, unemployment, in sum, a class system harmful to working people and the community of the poor, disproportionately, on both counts (and in the larger picture, broad-gauge militarism and business dominance at the expense of a vital social safety net), affecting and penalizing blacks. Yet factors other than race, termed cultural issues, possess insufficient class specificity, however important to individuals and at odds with societal democratization (e.g., punitive attitudes toward abortion and same-sex marriage), and hence are, for radicalism in its systemic mode of fundamental change, thought to have trivialized its significance and made it ripe for co-optation.

What has changed is a questioning of the finitude of radicalism. I may be dragged screaming into the modern era, and still reject manifestly non-class social-cultural phenomena as a distraction from class warfare as practiced by upper groups against the working (and unemployed) poor, but on one recent morning came an awakening, literally, at 5 a.m., with the phrase “environmental democracy” as the departure point for a left-analysis of social structure. My interest was not in cosmic questions such as climate change, though obviously determinative of the fate of the earth in the long term, but rather the politicization of the environment in its actual but often hidden class dimension of power (thus bringing it within the province of radicalism as subject to criticism and transformation). Yes, the environment (long- and short-term in its effects) states a class-relation, whether one speaks of biotechnology, fracking, plantation agriculture, heedless extraction of natural resources, engrossment of vast tracts of land, economic development as fool’s gold and rationale for every kind of spoliation, and privatization as the granddaddy of the systematic abuses of the environment—all in all a curse of world civilization.

The environment spells out a class-relation; it also represents the arena for practicing counterrevolution through exercising dominance over subject populations. US defined and enforced globalization starts from preserving and expanding a two-tiered world structure based on a pliant indigenous labor force, ready entrance for and protection of American capital investment in extractive industries, agricultural production, and a controlled setting for industrial outsourcing, together effected through manipulation of the terms of trade to ensure the “host” country’s economic backwardness. Pressures on the captive nation(s) are unrelenting, the IMF and World Bank, as always, solicitous of the interests of capitalism in all its forms, to the consequent destruction of the environment. (Joyce Nelson’s CP article, “Monsanto and Ukraine,” Aug. 22-24, implies US-EU encouragement of biotechnology is partly responsible for the crisis with Russia and East-West confrontation.) The environment increasingly bears the brunt and is the coveted object of international politics, conservation per se anathema to the conquistador/profit-seeker mental set.

Climate change is viewed as a distant nightmare—if viewed at all, polluters the world over, transcending ideological systems, contemptuous of restraints on their activities. Industrialization, in this case, erases or subsumes ideological differences between capitalism and socialism in the name of modernization, to the detriment of their peoples and the environment on which each fastens. (Also CP, same date, Robert Hunziker’s article, “The Current State of the Planet,” is a sobering discussion of global warming.) What radicalism must do, then, is break the traditional mold in defining class issues, proposing an alternative path to societal development which treats Nature as one would fellow humans, with love, compassion, respect, and in doing so, identify privatization as one would a child molester, corrupting the well-springs of that which dignifies human existence: an innocence, freshness, capacity for wonderment, engendered in the beauty that lies outside the self, and gazing upon enables one to understand the self better. One cannot despoil the environment and pretend to professions of democracy.

This is why the collective appropriation/stewardship of Nature is inceptively socialist or radical. Here I make no distinction between them because the environment, even granting modest private property, can inculcate in one through selfless attachment and respect an attitude toward life as the fusion of Nature and Humanity which wholly contradicts privatization as the kernel of exploitation, xenophobia, war itself. (Louis Proyect’s CP article, “Gunning for Vandana Shiva,” same date, makes the case for the social ownership of the environment, a collective dimension militating against the uses of biotechnology in agriculture because stewardship rather than profit is a motivating force.) The environment is not an abstraction divorced from capitalist investment, hierarchical labor relations, the world of exploitation; beginning with that realization, perhaps it can be returned to life-giving sustenance—to itself as well.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving