Shifting Sands


IT’S THE PERFECT PARABLE for capitalism. Set in Morocco, it’s about the sand that’s fast disappearing from the country’s tourist beaches.

Once famed for its broad beaches of golden sand, the coastline of Morocco is in the grip of an ecological catastrophe. Millions of tons of precious sand are disappearing on the backs of lorries, donkeys and the poor. Jagged rocks now stand exposed where once the backsides of wealthy western tourists rested comfortably.

It’s illegal, of course, this mining of Morocco’s precious sand, and were the laws protecting it enforced there would be no problem. But, those laws are not enforced. They never are: not when the choice is between protecting the environment and protecting business. So the big trucks roll out, passing with a roar the urban poor toiling away with their shovels.

Where does it go? Into the big coastal cities, naturally, where corrupt property developers, hand-in-glove with equally corrupt local and national politicians, are throwing-up long lines of luxury hotels to accommodate the vast herds of foreign tourists who (pre-Covid) flocked to enjoy – you guessed it – Morocco’s golden beaches!

But wait, there’s more. The illegally acquired sand which these developers are pouring into their concrete-mixers contains perilous quantities of highly corrosive sea-salt. Concrete structures built with this kind of sand are tragedies waiting to happen. In just a few years they will begin to crack, crumble, and collapse in a cloud of salty dust.

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Just about everybody in a position to prevent this from happening is well aware of the danger. That none of them will do anything about it is explicable, almost entirely, in terms of the intricate, mutually-rewarding relationships capitalism creates and protects to facilitate the generation of wealth and the realisation of profit.

Protecting the beaches is, obviously, in the long-term interest of everyone involved. Without the beaches there will be fewer and fewer tourists; fewer and fewer guests to pay for the construction of all that additional accommodation; and fewer still when all those structurally unsound hotels begin collapsing on top of them. Unfortunately, the long-term interest of everyone is being sacrificed to the short-term interest of the individuals and corporations deriving immediate monetary reward from the shifting of Morocco’s sand.

The failure of humanity to respond proportionately to the existential threat of climate change is really just a case of Morocco’s disappearing beaches writ large. Every politician in a position to take effective remedial action against anthropogenic global warming will restrict their response to a great many words and a handful of symbolic gestures, because taking truly effective action would harm the economic welfare of far too many of their constituents.

It was George “Dubbya” Bush’s vice-president, Dick Cheney, who put it best when he informed those clamouring for action on climate change that “the American way of life is non-negotiable”.

No Republican (or Democratic) President is going to bankrupt the big oil companies, crash the automobile industry, vastly increase the price of private travel, or mandate the radical scaling back of personal consumption, that any realistic effort to halt global warming would necessarily entail. Rather than surrender their immediate interests and comforts, the beneficiaries of industrial civilisation will go on backing it until, harking back to our Moroccan example, all the tourists disappear and the hotels start falling down.

Capitalism’s most extraordinary achievement is to have created what the French “Situationist” philosopher, Guy Debord, called “The Society of the Spectacle”. In capitalism’s glittering palace of commodities, human relationships take second place to the relationships consumers form with their purchases.

In the Society of the Spectacle watching replaces doing. It’s the place where we either become spectators to our own lives, or spectators to the lives we aspire to. That’s the clincher: those inside the glittering arcade watch themselves, while those outside watch them watching. The masses’ political dreams, contra Marx, are not about torching the theatre – they’re about being seated in the audience. What brought down the Berlin Wall? Pornographic videos and blue-jeans.

What can those who grasp the civilisation-destroying potential of climate change possibly put up against the capitalist spectacle? What will they tell the huddled billions yearning to breathe air-conditioned air? Drive a sleek European car? Watch a jumbo-sized hi-def flat-screen TV?

“In the interests of the human generations yet to be born, you must go on living in a corrugated iron shack on a rubbish dump.”

Good luck with that!

You might as well tell those poor Moroccan day-labourers with their shovels to stop digging. Why would they, when behind you they can see the corrupt construction companies’ big lorries carting away sand by the ton? If they decide, instead, to keep on digging – so their families can keep on eating – who can blame them?

The question today’s socialists run from is the very same question yesterday’s socialists answered with such confidence and conviction: “What have you got that’s better than capitalism?” For a brief, enthralling period they pointed to the revolutionary society taking shape in the Soviet Union. By the late 1920s, however, it was becoming increasingly clear that the ebullient Soviet newsreels were not telling them the truth. Disillusionment would have set in much sooner had it not been for the beating capitalism took from the Great Depression. Post-World War II, however, and post-Stalin, the world of “actually existing socialism” had nothing to set against the astonishing abundance and novelty of the capitalist West. When an old comrade – a paid-up member of the Moscow-aligned Socialist Unity Party, no less – was asked where he’d rather live, Russia or New Zealand, there was only one honest answer he could give.

When you’re shovelling the beach into bags, your mind is focused on the money it will bring, not the wasteland that will be left behind. Until runaway climate change finally switches off their bright lights forever, the day-labourers of Planet Earth will keep their eyes firmly fixed on the glittering spectacle of capitalism’s magic cities.

Built out of, and on, the corrosive sands which they, themselves, have shifted.


  1. An excellent analogy, Chris.

    I’ve been saying it for many years, and I’ll say it again: the economic system destroys the very things it needs to persist, and is therefore doomed.

    The only question has been (up until recently): how much longer could the system keep going [when it destroys the very things it needs to persist]?

    I believe we have the answer, not because Covid-19 has brought down the system but because the system was ripe for collapse and Covid-19 was one of several the detonators, the straws that broke the camel’s back.

    Many financial commentators note the death of the repo market in September 2019, and the desperation measures implemented by the Fed to prop up BAU. Since then, interest rates, already at historic lows, have been pushed even lower.

    Underlying all of this is the declining availability of liquid fuels, Peak [conventional] Oil having occurred in 2007, and the global system being propped up in the short term by high-cost fracking, high-cost extraction from tar sands and high-cost deep water extraction etc.

    The greatest discontinuity on human history, the transition from ever-increasing energy availability (which characterised life after the Industrial Revolution through to recent times) to ever declining energy availability is underway. And ALL politicians are in denial of reality!!

    I’ve just witnessed Paul Goldsmith on ‘Breakfast’ telling the way forward is the construction of a four lane highway from Cape Reinga to Bluff???!!! The man’s an absolute nutter, or compulsive liar, or both.

    Accompanying the energy discontinuity is the climate discontinuity, whereby we are witnessing Planetary Meltdown at a rate unprecedented in geological history, estimated to be at least a hundred times faster than during the Permian Great Extinction Event, as a direct consequence of industrial humans deseuestering humungous quantities of carbon that nature sequestered over hundreds of millions of years.

    There are few things we can be certain about but we can be certain that there will be NOT ONE MENTION of anything that will determine the future in the so-called election debates, making mainstream politics more-or-less completely irrelevant.

    • Reality is not an impediment to Mr Goldsmiths magical thinking, also people cant live on roads how about he puts his magic thinking into how we are going to feed and house people once the collapse is upon us.

      Also, we need a minister of climate change.

      • Yes:

        Until about 2025, the IEA said, global oil demand will expand by about 1 percent annually, exceeding 100 million bpd and reaching 105.4 million bpd. After that growth will shrink substantially and demand will reach a plateau at less than 110 million bpd—106.4 million bpd.

        The bad news for the oil industry has a silver lining, however. According to IEA, natural depletion will shrink oil supply and lead to an increase in prices. These, the agency said, could average $90 a barrel in 2030 and $103 a barrel in 2040.

  2. Well, that was a nice little jolly up from Chris, as we wait out the interminable 6 weeks till our delayed election takes place.

    Day workers and poachers of nearly extinct animals etc. can be understood if not endorsed. But many millions of us know a whole lot better-and are in a position not to have to succumb to commodity fetishism ‘forever’. Covid 19 is going to force the issue of when to retire capitalism for good.

  3. Chris you really are the doyen of the chattering classes. For every cynical observation that workers are trapped by the appearances of capital shoveling sand, there are 10 reality checks that prove the opposite.

    As Tiger Mountain states millions are no longer fooled by these appearances. The fact that they are forced to work to survive does not necessarily escape them. Covid helps to strip away any dreams as capital kills workers rather than pay for public health. But this is only the latest exposure of capital’s destruction. Before and beyond that, economic stagnation and climate change has for years forced workers into survival mode.

    When that happens they rise up which is the story of the last decade in Morocco and the whole of MENA since Mahamed Bouazizi burnt himself to death in Tunisia in January 2011 sparking the Arab Spring. Only to meet the Sisis, the Putins, the Assads the Netanyahus and the Trumps who labeled them ‘terrorists’ and ushered in military fascist solutions against them.

    These genocidal leaders know that when the workers begin to rise, two realities compete. First, if the masses win they will lose. Second for the ruling class to win they must smash those who rise up into submission.

    But what they cannot calculate is that the latter is impossible since their class interests deny that reality. But there are one billion workers in China alone, almost as many in India, and they will just keep coming, and coming.

    So the question should be; how many of us have to die in the process of defeating capitalism and building survival socialism?

    The last war against fascism was inconclusive, just as the first war was, because it did not smash workers resistance once and for all. It even had to rely on the Soviet Union to win. Do we have to pay the price that the 20 million Russian people did to stop fascism again?

    No. Today, capitalism is much weaker, as the Covid crisis shows. It is decomposing as it destroys its material roots in nature, including the labour-power of workers it lives off. Again, Marx got there first, pointing out that capital would destroy itself by destroying nature, its material base.

    That is why there is a move towards fascism right across the world, but this time the stakes are higher for Capital. Unlike the last time, the war against fascism will be an inescapable class war. There will be no hiding that fascism is on the rise in every country as the last stand of the ruling classes.

    Bourgeois democracy is now Bonapartism the precursor to fascism. The former so-called ‘socialist’ states are already Bonapartist and leading the race to fascism. The war against fascism will not be the war for democracy but the war for socialism.

    So this time its a fight between the vast majority who have nothing to lose but their chains, and a tiny majority who cannot count on their ‘palace guards’ of mercenaries to defend them.

    As a small preview of what will happen when workers are armed as militias. We are witnessing Trump’s fascist base being called out to keep him in office, only to be met by armed anti-fascists. When both sides are armed, and when there is no guarantee that the ranks in the military will obey orders to back a Trump coup, the question will be settled by numbers. And the working class, no matter how diverted and confused, as a revolutionary force will not be bettered.

    So the sooner we decide which side we are on the better. Those sitting confused in the he middle making diversions are the ‘useful idiots’ of the ruling class. They will have to wake up and choose. So its time to face reality and take a stand for humanity.

    It was Marx who said that the ruling class in each epoch claims to represent humanity. The bourgeoisie never did, and clearly not since 1848. Now is the time for the working class to rise up and fight for humanity and nature of which we are part.

  4. A scenario.

    “When will we stop fooling ourselves? Let’s admit that we cannot prevent the climate catastrophe.” says the American writer Jonathan Franzen.

    Climate change can no longer be controlled and the catastrophe can no longer be prevented. It’s not five to twelve, it’s probably five past twelve.

    Everything that is still to come will be a kind of final struggle for survival for us, as long as we don’t ‘bite into the grass’ first due to age, and then have to be grateful for it.

    The very rich and the real ‘elites’ will not stand idly against this and share our powerlessness, but secure a few viable enclaves where it is climatically tolerable, it might even be beautiful and worth living.

    Unpleasant conditions can be eliminated by some degree of technology, protected by willing mercenaries who are allowed to survive as a reward. Such spots can still be found on a sick planet and will have long been acquired by them.

    We, the rest of the masses, will probably not come there. We will be invited to sweat for a few more decades, learn to starve and fight for water, if we still have decades.

    When we all disappear, this planet will take a deep breath, be there, and perhaps recover relatively quickly.

    While the surviving heirs of the noble elite rearrange and divide the world anew, they start where their leaders left off.

    One thing, however, should be beyond doubt. The economic and social consequences will hit the lower and middle classes foremost, gradually, and not just in Africa.

    Getting organized is everything.

    System Change. Now.

  5. A good honest article from Chris, maybe he should examine the early church gospel (good news) that promised eternal live in a re-created perfect world as a free gift for some promises worth believing in. He should beware of the garbage that passes for Christianity today & take time to ponder why the wise have known for thousands of years that this world is passing away & that a better world is coming. You don’t even need to take any mind altering products to know what a incredible future we can have although it is a shame that so many people are willing to sacrifice that better future for the sake of fleeting pleasures of this world.

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