The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Green New Deal:
A Solution to Climate Change... or A Dead End for Activists?

Jul 19, 2019

In early February two Democrats, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate calling on the Federal Government to adopt a Green New Deal made up of many different programs that would fight global warming, coupled with programs that would create millions of jobs and reduce economic inequality. The resolution states that it is patterned after the kind of mobilizations of resources and labor that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration carried out 80 years ago, during the Great Depression and World War II.

The proposal for a “Green New Deal” has been kicking around various environmental groups and think tanks for years. Multiple Green Party election campaigns, including Jill Stein’s presidential runs in 2012 and 2016, contained a similar program for a Green New Deal in their platforms. Now it appears that some parts of the Democratic Party have taken it up. Democratic candidates running for president, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttegieg, have issued some form of endorsement of it. And it could be an issue in the upcoming election campaign in 2020.

Climate Change

The Green New Deal resolution cites the findings of two official scientific reports that confirm that climate change is here, that it is caused by what it calls “human activity” and that it is causing “sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts and other extreme weather events that threatens human life, healthy communities, and critical infrastructure.” The resolution therefore calls for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in order “to avoid the most severe impacts of a changing climate.” And it says that the United States should take a leading role, since the U.S. has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases, having emitted 20 per cent of them with only five per cent of the world’s population, and it has a “high technological capacity.”

To begin to deal with this, the Resolution makes a series of proposals. It proposes to revamp the entire electrical power system, getting rid of all decrepit, polluting and wasteful equipment and replacing it with new non-polluting power sources, along with a modern, and much more efficient power grid. The same goes for industrial production, agricultural production and the system of transportation, which the Resolution recognizes will also have to be totally reorganized to become much more efficient, in order to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Public buildings will all have to be upgraded. And the list goes on ...

These are sensible measures. But the Resolution doesn’t ask the obvious question: why hasn’t this been done before? The people at the head of the big companies and government agencies, who are responsible for making these decisions, are not stupid. They understand what the scientists have been saying for decades. So, why have they stuck with the old organization of industry, agriculture and transportation and ignored the impact of all the pollution and dangerous emissions of greenhouse gases that they produce?

The reason is that the people who head the big corporations and banks make their decisions based on what will make them the most profits. That is, they make their decisions in the interests of a tiny minority of parasites, the capitalist class, that owns the big banks and the big corporations. Their decisions and choices certainly affect all of us. But they make those decisions solely on the basis of what is best for them, how to increase their own profits and wealth.

They do not spend money to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, because it will cut into their profits.

As for government – not only doesn’t it stop companies from polluting and emitting greenhouse gases, it aids and supports them. It is a tool of the owners of the banks and big corporations, incapable of acting in the general interests of the population.

So, the world is heating up. The polar ice caps and glaciers are melting. The water is rising. The storms and wildfires are getting bigger. The destruction is growing. People are dying. And scientists say this is only the beginning, that chances are that it will get much worse.

But all that matters to the capitalist class is that its profits grow and its wealth increases. It is the capitalist class’s power over society that stands in the way of humanity dealing with problems that scientists warn could become increasingly dire.

Multiple Crises

The Green New Deal resolution also states that “the United States is currently experiencing several related crises...” These crises include declining life expectancies, a four-decade trend of wage stagnation and growing inequality, while “clean air, clean water, healthy food and adequate health care, housing, transportation and education are inaccessible to a significant portion of the United States population.”

True enough. Over the last four decades working people have faced worsening crises on many fronts. But once again, the resolution doesn’t ask the obvious question: what is the cause? To deal with these crises, that should be the first place to look.

In fact, the drop in living standards began four decades ago when the economy descended into a crisis that has only gotten worse, while profits have broken record after record. To protect their profits, companies have imposed enormous sacrifices on their workforce. They cut jobs, wages and benefits. These cuts extended well beyond the private sector. Government officials have done the same to the workforce in the public sector. At the same time, government officials at the federal, state and local levels have slashed spending on vital programs and services that working people depend on, not to speak of spending on the infrastructure. They cut jobs and spending on public services in order to fund all the subsidies and cuts in corporate taxes and taxes for the rich in order to increase their profits and wealth even more.

The same capitalist class that stands in the way of society dealing with climate change is also pushing living standards down for working people for its own profit, with, of course, the aid and support of government officials and agencies at every level.

The Green New Deal resolution decries the fact that today there is “the greatest income inequality since the 1920s.” Well... that’s how the rich got richer and the working population got poorer.

The Green New Deal

The Resolution asks the government to solve these crises by implementing the Green New Deal. To drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it says that it is the “duty” of the Federal government “to carry out a new national, social, industrial mobilization” over the next 10 years in order to modernize and transform industry, agriculture, transportation, construction, etc....

In response to all those who would oppose the Green New Deal because they fear that it will cost jobs and income by shutting down entire industries and sectors, the Resolution claims that the Green New Deal will help everyone. It says that this mobilization is “a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States; to provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people in the United States; and to counteract system injustices.

In other words, it says that it is possible for government to carry out big mobilizations for the common good.

As a proof of this, it points to the programs carried out under the administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s. Says the Green New Deal Resolution: “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen...” Although the resolution quickly adds that not everyone benefitted: “many members of frontline and vulnerable communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations.

In fact, much of what the Resolution says about the Roosevelt administration is not true. It’s a myth.

First of all, the main purpose of Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s was not to end record joblessness and misery, but to protect corporate profits in the midst of the worst economic crisis in history. Whatever public works projects Roosevelt carried out were in the general interests of the capitalist class. These projects were first of all used to provide new opportunities for investment and to open up new markets. That’s what all the big dam projects, roads, and rural electrification programs were for. As for the Federal labor “mobilization” of that period, it was small compared to the massive amount of unemployment. And workers in the public works programs were poorly paid. Throughout this period, conditions were so bad, the sacrifices imposed on workers were so great, they provoked major labor uprisings, including mass strikes and factory occupations that broke out right in the middle of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Among those striking were workers in the New Deal programs themselves.

The only real mobilization that the Roosevelt administration carried out came at the end of the 1930s, in preparation to enter World War II. That is, it was a big mobilization to build up the military and produce instruments of death. This mobilization contributed greatly to one of the most barbaric events in all of history, with 60 million dead and thousands of cities in Europe and Asia leveled.

This was not a war for democracy. It was not a war for the common woman and man. It was a war in which the U.S. capitalist class pushed to elevate itself above the other big powers in order to be the number one super power in the world. The U.S. government ended that war by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities ... bombs whose only purpose was to sow fear all across the globe in preparation for the next bloody wars to impose this domination. These next wars were Hot, such as in Korea and Viet Nam, and Cold, against the USSR. Their blood and destruction might have laid the groundwork for a couple of decades of economic growth. But 25 years after World War II ended, the economy descended into a new crisis that has continued ever since.

Rather than create the “greatest middle class that the U.S. has ever seen,” as the Resolution boasted, the mobilizations of the 1930s and 1940s under Roosevelt created the richest and most powerful ruling class the world has ever seen, that is, the greatest of thieves and the bloodiest of butchers.

In fact, the government cannot act any other way. It does not exist to serve the broad interests of everyone in society. The government serves only the capitalist class. The owners of the big banks and corporations – they call the government’s tune.

Today, faced with a grinding economic crisis that has already lasted more than four decades, with markets for consumption quickly saturated and in a state of long term stagnation, the capitalist class has stopped investing in production or construction, except for that small sliver of the richest parts of the population. Instead, as profits accumulate, the capitalists simply feed them into financial markets. They speculate in stocks, bonds and real estate. They buy and sell each other’s companies.

They have no reason to have the government carry out any big investment programs, either. That is why the Green New Deal Resolution was practically dead on arrival when it was introduced in both houses of Congress, including in the House of Representatives that is controlled by the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, referred to it derisively as “the Green Dream.” Although she didn’t kill the Resolution completely, she certainly offered no assurances that it would be on the Democrats’ legislative agenda if the Democrats won the 2020 elections.

The 2020 Elections

In fact, the Resolution reads more like an election document, promising everything under the sun to every layer of the population that might possibly be attracted to vote for the Democratic Party. To workers it promises jobs with high wages, along with “adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security to all people of the United States.” To students, it promises to provide “resources, training and high-quality education, including to all people of the United States...” And it makes sweeping promises to “all people of the United States” for “high-quality health care; affordable, safe and adequate housing; economic security; and clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

There isn’t any electoral constituency to which it doesn’t offer a big fat promise. To small farmers, it promises to support the family farm. To those who still own their own small businesses, it promises that they will be “free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies...” (Of course if that were true, there would be no monopolies.) To big companies, it promises fat contracts and subsidies. And to big banks and finance companies, it promises enormous profits from the mammoth amounts of debt that would be generated by a program of this size and scope – “green and sustainable” debt, no doubt.

The Resolution goes so far as issuing reactionary, chauvinist appeals to working people, with promises of “enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards and border adjustments” and stopping “the transfer of jobs.” In other words, the Resolution mimics the usual rhetoric of company and union officials – as well as Trump – blaming the loss of jobs in this country on workers in other countries. In typical demagogic fashion, it surfs on reactionary sentiments and prejudices in some parts of the population.

The Resolution for a Green New Deal holds out the illusion that working people can protect their interests by electing the right people to government office, that the government – which is really in the hands of their own class enemy – can solve their problems for them, that it can be on their side.

It is an illusion that many Democrats will try to make use of in the coming election. And it is the usual deception that politicians employ everywhere in order to rope in activists, who are sincerely concerned about an issue, and thereby steer them into a dead end.

Many of the points the Resolution makes might appear simple and reasonable. Why shouldn’t everyone have a good paying job, the right to an education, clean water, and the right to live in a climate that is not about to set fire to them or drown them under water?

But as long as society is controlled by the capitalists, whose only goal is their private profit and wealth, these are impossible. Moreover, the capitalist hold over society is driving down living standards and leading to rapid climate change for the entire planet. It is pushing humanity backwards and destroying the environment.

This cannot be changed with an election.

A World to Win

Only when the working class takes the power away from the capitalist class will humanity finally have a way to plan the running of society in a rational way, that is, according to the needs of everyone, while also taking into consideration the impact on the environment. After all, humanity is not separate from the environment, but a part of it. Only then will humanity have a chance to master the vast resources and technology that the working class has built up and created.

Certainly, under these new conditions peoples’ needs will develop and improve, but not in the way it has happened under capitalism, which creates artificial needs while condemning a big part of the global population to hunger and starvation. Instead, people will decide collectively, with the widest possible democracy, what to produce and how. And they will have every reason to make sure that they reduce waste and that they don’t produce more than what they need, sparing everyone’s effort and time, as well as the world’s resources.

More than a century and a half ago, Karl Marx expressed humanity’s possibilities, as well as its responsibility to safeguard the environment and its inhabitants, in this way:

From the standpoint of a higher socioeconomic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in another man. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its occupiers, its beneficiaries, and they have to bequeath it in an improved state to the succeeding generations as boni patres familias [the good fathers of families].” (Capital, Volume Three.)