GUEST BLOG: Dave Brownz – DEGROWTH AND THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

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Last night I dreamed I had a nightmare. It was a Punch and Judy show on TVNZ. In one corner was Punch in the other Judy, except it was Judy who was punching Jacinda. Out the back pulling the strings was QAnon, recently outed as a Wall Street banker. Judy wore the death mask of a dying world pumping gas into the atmosphere. Jacinda, was dolled up as a marionette entertaining the mob, throwing kisses and licking her bruises. Out the front was the lolling crowd, lapping up the theatre of the absurd a day out from the next circus visiting town. It all seemed too much and I woke up.

On the early show on RNZ a Raglan teacher who had not voted once in his 41 years was allowing his 13-15 old students to use his vote. Most voted Labour followed by the Greens. No mention of Covid conspiracies, or marvel comic characters. Even the born-again Maori Party failed to show up.

I jumped out of bed and headed for the computer brain cells on fire. Staggering slightly as cannabidiol was still knocking me out. As I fell on the keyboard my head spinning, I imagined what Karl Marx would have thought of all this. He was a fan of Goethe and Shakespeare and late nights at the pub, but would he understand the Theatre of the Absurd.

Of course he would. Capitalism is an absurdity. Behind the proscenium arch lie the secrets of growth and degrowth. Capitalism is a parasite that can change color. A virus that attacks every organ and leaves you wasted. Healthy humans are rational, material beings. We know we have to work to live. We produce value out of our labour and consume only what we need. We do not hunt and gather for trophies but for food and shelter. In fact we conserve our labour energy by using tools to increase its productivity.

But the capitalist measures value by labour time and he makes sure we work longer than we need to live. Our wage is just enough to allow us to live to work long enough to create surplus value or profits. Energy flows into reworking nature not just to reproduce our labour but to create the profits of the employers. Now that is absurd because it blows back.

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So, growth is essentially our reproduction as a species living in harmony with nature or else nature blows back and destroys us. That synergy with nature determines growth. Along comes capitalism and diverts the metabolism of the energy flow into the pockets of parasites, the landgrabbers who become Messrs. Moneybags or in today’s parlance Mr QAnon.

Growth is now measured by the amount of surplus labour extracted from natures bounty into the belly of the monster. This creates an edifice of wealth stolen from nature, a deficit which ultimately bites back as degrowth. So capitalist growth leads to compulsory degrowth?

This degrowth is called a crisis. Crises are breakdowns in production of value. Profits fall and investment in production ceases. A crisis is anything that stops production – recessions, depressions, pandemics, wars, and now the king hit – climate crash.  Clearly capitalism by its nature is a theatre of absurdity as the destruction of nature is the price of making a buck.

Judy’s ghostly death mask is a portent of the collapse of capitalist ‘civilisation’. Jacinda’s dangling dance is humanity in denial of its finitude and living in la la land. Growth as capitalist growth is impossible without total destruction. In fact, growth is the name of destruction. GDP is a fiction. It measures the price of everything but the value of nothing.

What are $20,000 dollar Covid flights to the Northern Territory; the shipping of poison gas to Bashar Assad; the Rocket Lab shooting up into the atmosphere the technology of space wars; the burning of the real Amazon so that the other Amazon can drone its high tech monopoly into our minds; what is Domestic violence that creates paid employment for cops, lawyers and university professors, but the Grotesque Destructive Parody of the production of useful value?

We need to destroy the Theatre of the Absurd and create the Theatre of the Real. We need degrowth not by means of depression, pandemic and wars, but by eliminating the extraction of surplus value that destroys nature and ourselves.

Maybe the kids at Raglan Area school, kids everywhere, fluent in Maori, empathy and justice, can arouse the woke sleepwalkers of the Theater of the Absurd, expose the real workings of the puppet masters, and replace them with the Theatre of the Real.  Humans working to live within the bounds of nature, saving millions of species including our own from extinction.

I want to dream about that.

 

DAVE BROWNZ IS TDBs GUEST MARXIST BLOGGER

7 COMMENTS

  1. Business as usual inevitably leads to disasters.

    About the connection between the coronavirus and the climate crisis, the interest of workers in the protection of wild animals and “ecological Leninism”.

    Translated and modified excerpts of a conversation with Andreas Malm, Human Ecologist, Sweden, author of several books on climate change.

    If we take the corona crisis seriously as a zoonosis, i.e. SARS-CoV-2 jumped from wild animals to humans, it is a symptom of the ecological crisis. When our economies destroy the habitats of wild animals, the viruses pour in to us. If we left nature alone, it would not cause that trouble. But capitalist corporations are wiping out the habitats in order to create more pastureland and plantations, extract oil and other raw materials, hunt animals and feed them into the wildlife trade.

    These are some of the ways people can come into contact with viruses.

    The trend towards more zoonotic infections is not as linear as that of increasing average temperatures. Nevertheless, they are comparable. Global disease and global warming are parallel developments and two elements of the ecological crisis. They also encourage one another in many ways. The deforestation of primeval forests, for example, is the main reason for the spread of zoonotic diseases and at the same time the second most important for increasing CO2 emissions. Higher temperatures, in turn, cause animals to migrate to areas with tolerable climatic conditions, increasing the risk of viruses spreading in the new areas.

    The corona crisis should perhaps be compared to a catastrophic climate event, such as the recent wildfires in the USA. The two underlying development trends are of secular origin and interrelated. All indicators indicate that more pandemics, heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes and so on will follow in the future.

    “Business as usual” inevitably leads to expansion of these catastrophes.

    One of the biggest problems in the Corona19 discussion is that the ecological dimension, that is to say the socio-economic causes of the crisis, have been completely left out. This contradicts the situation in 2018, when heat waves, droughts and wildfires were relatively quickly linked to climate change in the media and political debates. By then, however, climate scientists and movements had created awareness for three decades to recognize this connection.

    There is nothing similar in the field of zoonotic diseases. The scientific community is much smaller and weaker. The topic was not brought into the public eye by any movement. Hence, people tend to think of the coronavirus as a bolt from the blue, to be interpreted as an inexplicable event with no socio-economic causes (or consequences).

    As with the climate crisis, the action of deeper socio-economic forces has destroyed wild nature, thereby releasing viruses that were previously enclosed in nature. So where do these forces come from?

    If you look at deforestation, you come across the steadily growing role of consumption everywhere, driven by the global north. The import of beef, soybeans, palm oil, coffee and chocolate is fueling deforestation in the tropics.

    The corona crisis also shows that industrial animal husbandry is a major driving force behind the destruction of habitats of wild animals that carry viruses that are potentially dangerous for humans. Should we take the corona zoonosis as an opportunity to raise the animal question louder in an anti-capitalist class struggle?

    This is certainly required. But the everyday interests of the working class in the industrialized part of the world, even in tropical zoonotic states like Malaysia or the Congo are not directly identical to the needs of wild animals. A number of mediations are required to reconcile the two. One could argue that workers always bear the brunt of infectious diseases. They care for the sick, lose their jobs, fall ill or die.

    Hence, they have an objective interest in ending the extinction of the wildlife that is causing the epidemics. But this realization does not arise spontaneously in the factory. It does not emerge from the struggles over wages or working hours, from campaigns for jobs and accommodation.

    In Leninist categories one could say that the trade unionist consciousness is not enough to fight the class struggle against the sixth mass extinction (scientific count of the development of life on planet earth) into working class politics. The consciousness must be very advanced in these organizations. But we have not come close to that level because the working class has suffered enormous political setbacks over the last half century and in many places has even lost the ability to defend its direct interests.

    It is simply not possible for governments in developed capitalist states to shut down their economies for months or years. The initial measures were so drastic that they had to be limited in time. Otherwise they would have required a clear break with normal operations. However, the initial reactions were quite radical, compared to the normal level of government market intervention. This can partly be explained by the fact that the coronavirus hit the ruling classes differently than the consequences of other socio-ecological contradictions.

    There are now a number of right-wing populist figures who are sick with Covid-19: Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro and so on. Of course, that does not mean that they are now taking militant action against the pandemic and its drivers. It will be interesting to see if the US state apparatus, if Trump continues to lead it, will hold its line as the virus works its way up in the society. It is quite possible that the intensity of lockdowns and restrictions will vary in the future as the virus continues to circulate and mutate.

    A worrying result of the prevailing corona policy is that it has accelerated the economic decline of part of the petty bourgeoisie and fueled the so-called anti-corona demonstrations. At the same time, fascists and the new right have increasingly participated in these protests, while the left has hardly developed its own and recognizable corona policy as a class policy.

    One problem is that, with the exception of Sweden, the left appears to be in favor of lockdown. In my opinion, lockdown is a pretty shitty thing. The climate movement has actually committed suicide, at least in the short term, by accepting it. It cannot stay that way.

    If the pandemic continues in 2021, which is not unlikely, we cannot waste the year as recluses in front of our screens. The climate emergency does not allow us that.

    The social force that made an impact this year was Black Lives Matter and the broader anti-racist movement. They have effectively violated the lockdowns without, of course, advocating an “anti-corona” or “anti-lockdown” position. If we transfer this attitude, it means: we have to get millions onto the streets to stop the forces behind the crisis.

    The message has to be: you don’t want to live in lockdown? Hell, yeah, it’s awful. But there will be an endless series of pandemics if everything goes on as usual. So, let us take to the streets and demand an end to overconsumption and social control over the production that causes deforestation.

    A climate movement that obediently obeys lockdowns to the point of abolishing itself is helping to maintain the status quo. If she is concerned about the pandemic, she should make the fight against deforestation her cause and get back on the streets.

    It would have been best if she had already done so in March. We have now lost valuable time. We have to go back to the streets, to the opencast mines, to the automobile shows, to the SUVs. Fortunately, there are some signs of reactivation. But we are still a long way from regaining the initiative.

    The best way would be to provide the climate movement with a program that combats the root causes of zoonoses.
    This is a simple strategic orientation. Every consequence of the ecological collapse, be it a pandemic, a wildfire, a devastating storm or another extreme weather event, must be turned into a crisis for the forces that are responsible for the collapse.

    An analogy is how Lenin saw World War I and how he dealt with it. He saw it as a manifestation of imperialism about to be turned into a revolutionary crisis. All forces ordered to go to war should be directed against the forces that produced the catastrophe. Without this essential Leninist step, we are doomed to endure ever worse and mutually reinforcing disasters.

    The challenge is to use crisis symptoms such as Covid-19 or the wildfires on the Pacific coast of the USA to attack normal operations. We had some successes in summer 2018 with Greta Thunberg, the school strikes for the climate, protests from “Extinction Rebellion”, increased climate camps and so on. But we have to expand the attacks significantly.

    A second transferable lesson from Lenin is that he emphasizes the urgency of action. Lenin pursued a policy of impatience, restless action in disastrous developments. He often argued that no time is to be wasted if the war disaster is not to worsen. And of course he was right. We need exactly this sense of urgency in contradiction to social democratic gradualism, according to which we would have time to take small reform steps.

    Wouldn’t Lenin also be a valuable source from which to debate the question of organization anew today? In particular, since grassroots movements are often not necessarily better able to assert the interests of the subordinate classes?

    Yes, we can learn a lot from Lenin’s criticism of the short-lived attempts at horizontal organization in late Tsarist Russia. Like how mass movements arise spontaneously and then collapse when there is no solid, uniform organization that keeps movements alive and gives them a direction. Of course, this does not mean that we have to adopt all the organizational principles as few of us live in conditions comparable to tsarist despotism.

    But the pendulum on the organizational question has definitely swung too far in the direction of horizontalism and spontaneousism in the last few decades.

    The left has to learn again to train cadres.

    If any subject out there wanted to tackle the climate catastrophe and pandemic at the root, it would have to take strict measures. Regulation, expropriation, planning would be necessary to reverse deforestation and CO2 accumulation.

    Any government willing to tackle the current disasters must take such steps.

    We have nothing like that, not even close. We have a climate movement that is just flinging, weakened by the pandemic, full of contradictions and limitations. She shoulders an enormous historical burden.

    So the more important and pressing question would be: how can the climate movement and its allies get the state to do what needs to be done?

  2. Yes Lenin, urgency as against war yes, but “get the state to do what needs to be done”? No!

    It is the capitalist state that must be overthrown. That is the point of Lenin’s book State and Revolution which was left unfinished as the revolution itself made it unnecessary.

    Lenin goes back to Marx in 1871. The Paris Commune should have marched on Versailles and smashed the state of the bourgeoisie. The failure to do so allowed the Prussian army to bombard Paris and take 30,000 lives.

    Lenin reboots Marx in 1919. Against the Social Democrats who shared power with the bourgeoisie in the new Weimar Republic, build a revolutionary party quickly and make a revolution like in Russia.

    The failure of the revolution gave birth to fascism to smash the working class, and more cycles of war, boom and crash at huge cost to humanity.

    My point is that today we are in a terminal crisis that compounds economic crash with the destruction of nature and the threat of extinction by means of pandemics, nuclear war, nuclear meltdowns, floods and famines.

    Cause and effect is clear in Marx following his concept of metabolic rift.

    How to take this science to working people in sufficient numbers for a social revolution in the decade we have left?

    Explain why terminal crisis must destroy the material basis for human habitation/existence. Humanity must avoid capitalist dystopia for the next half century on the road to extinction.

    We need to take power, abolish the capitalist market which is now manipulated by rival state monopoly dictatorships, and plan a global economy that restores harmony with nature.

    The Leninist factor is not only about organisation and urgency, but using Marx’s theory of the conservation of labour-time as the material basis for freedom under communism.

    From capitalist subordination of labour to the production to profits we have to go to planned production for need as determined by the working masses.

    But to do this workers have to take power, and create a new socialist state for to defend the revolution, and prepare the conditions for communism by restoring the balance between society and nature where the state is no longer needed and withers away.

  3. ‘We need to destroy the Theatre of the Absurd and create the Theatre of the Real. We need degrowth not by means of depression, pandemic and wars, but by eliminating the extraction of surplus value that destroys nature and ourselves.

    Absolutely!

    However, those who gain short-term benefits from the Theatre of the Absurd will never voluntarily give up those short-term benefits, and would rather their own progeny perish in a rather horrible manner than do so.

    As discussed on more occasions than I can remember, a perfect feedback loop was established decades ago, whereby grossly ignorant voters vote for grossly ignorant and/or corrupt politicians who ensure the voters remain grossly ignorant and keep voting for their own destruction. We have witnessed the same phenomenon yet again in the past few days.

    So those who gain short-term benefits from the Theatre of the Absurd are going to give up their short-term benefits involuntarily, via collapse of the system.

    That will be of no consolation to the progeny, who have already had their world thoroughly fucked-up, in many cases before they were even born.

    Permaculture and Powerdown are the only strategies of any value in confronting the awful predicament we are in, and they are totally unacceptable to the powers that be because they take away their power.

  4. I understand what Permaculture means, it is restoring society to nature’s laws. Yes, absolutely for survival. That will have to be done against the system. Yes, and we all know what happened to indigenous societies that resisted capitalist colonisation. But that is a project that can be urgently implemented provided that power shifts from the exploiters to the producers.

    So what is ‘powerdown’ unless it means a power shift from the current ruling class to the ruled classes? Here we need a program for power shift based on the latent power of the producers to realise their power against those who have build powerful states to resist any loss of power.

    Tell me what program exists based upon historical examples that can effect such an urgent transfer of power in the time we have left?

    I can think of only one – social revolution against the ruling class by the rising economic power of the oppressed class.

    Each revolutionary overthrow in history was to remove an obstacle to social development of the productive forces that reduced necessary labour time.

    The old class that blocked that development was overthrown by the new class developing those forces.

    The last revolutionary overturn was that of the bourgeoisie in the late 18th century which harnessed the labour power of the proletariat to make develop the forces of production.

    However, since 1848 the bourgeoisie showed that their revolution was held back by the alliances they made with the remnants of the aristocracy, against the dangers posed by the rising working class.

    By the 20th century, the bourgeoisie demonstrated that the price of its class rule was now the suppression and destruction of the productive forces.

    The new class rose in many revolutions from Germany 1919 to China 1949, but because they were isolated and opposed militarily they did not succeed in overthrowing the international bourgeoisie, and lapsed into bureaucratic dictatorships, and ultimately returned to capitalism.

    Today, several recessions and wars later, the rule of the bourgeoisie is coming to an end since it is now destroying the ecological basis for its own existence, the ecosphere.

    Of course as you say, the bourgeoisie has no interest, and therefore no morality, other than profit, and will not give up their power. The reemergence of fascism is its last act of desperation to prevent a revolutionary overthrow.

    In response to this we can see the new producing class mobilising right now against capitalism for its survival. Its forms are many, against racism, against poverty, against police repression, and for such basic rights as life, liberty and democracy.

    We need a program that unites this class around these basic rights, and organizes it against police and fascist attacks, preparing it for the logical step of taking power and using that power to implement a democratic socialist society.

    That is how I conceive of ‘powering down’. The power shifts down from the ruling class to the ruled, who now use that power to end class oppression and to then rule themselves on the model of the commune.

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