Still time to stop catastrophic climate change

A widely-reviewed recent book by David Wallace-Wells presents a grim picture of the future consequences of continuing global warming. But the real story of the future, argues JUDY BEISHON, is that socialist change can stop catastrophic climate change.

The Uninhabitable Earth – A story of the future

By David Wallace-Wells

Published by Penguin Random House, 2019, £9-99

David Wallace-Wells isn’t an environmentalist or scientist, but a New-York based journalist who has drawn from hundreds of sources to warn about the future impact of global warming on human lives. He made his book grim reading, opening with: “It is worse, much worse, than you think”. From there the message gets worse still, until about two-thirds of the way through he comments: “If you have made it this far you are a brave reader”.

Chapter after chapter hammers home the estimated environmental effects of each half point rise in planet temperature. The extent of heatwaves, floods, storms, deaths and migration. Already the planet has warmed by about 1.1 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial level and the effects so far are summarised, including that since 1980 there has been a 50-fold increase in dangerous heatwaves and a quadrupling of flooding. A study last year revealed that the melt rate of the Antarctic ice sheet has tripled in just a decade, indicating an increased pace of sea level rise.

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Automated for the people?

A recent book by left-wing author Aaron Bastani is the latest to proclaim that new technology has the power to transform society, offering up fixes for global warming, poverty and much more. But how could such a change take place when the world economic and political system is in the hands of a rich, capitalist elite? HANNAH SELL writes.

Fully Automated Luxury Communism: a manifesto

By Aaron Bastani

Published by Verso, 2019, £16.99

Aaron Bastani is a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and one of the central figures in Novara Media, the left-wing social media platform. Fully Automated Luxury Communism outlines his vision for the future. Its publication is a symptom of the growing interest in socialist ideas. Unlike many anti-capitalist books it does not focus on the misery capitalism offers today but on the potential for new technology to lay the basis for a new society “as distinct from our own as that of the twentieth century to feudalism, or urban civilisation from the life of the hunter gatherer”.

Bastani lists the seemingly insurmountable problems of this society – including climate change and mass underemployment – and points to technological solutions. In a world where we are constantly told we have no choice but to accept the status quo his confidence in the possibility of change is refreshing.

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A world in turmoil

A meeting of European sections and supporters of the Committee for a Workers’ International held in early November, which also included visitors from the USA and Nigeria, agreed a statement on the current world situation, an abridged version of which is printed below.  The full statement is available on the CWI website at https://www.socialistworld.net

The world situation is marked by explosive social upheavals and turmoil. The eruption of revolutionary and semi-revolutionary movements by the masses, especially the working class and youth, in Ecuador, Chile, Haiti, Catalonia, Hong Kong, and extremely significantly, Egypt, Iraq and the Lebanon, have features of the revolutions which swept Europe in 1848 and also some features of the stormy upheavals in 1917-18. These events have come hot on the heels of the renewed revolutionary upsurges which have previously shaken Algeria and Sudan.

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Visionary art in another time of turmoil

William Blake

Tate Britain, to 2 February 2020, £18

Reviewed by Manny Thain

Dramatic, moody and otherworldly. Just a few words to describe the work of William Blake, the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Britain. It is chronological, tracing Blake’s footsteps from his birth in 1757 to his death in 1827. Those were decades of revolution, war, disaster and plague, while the forces of the industrial revolution were being unleashed in capitalist Britain. It was a time of colossal change and upheaval.

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Reclaiming Robert Burns

The legacy of the romantic poet Robert Burns has been contested since his death in 1796. BRENT KENNEDY explains why the socialist movement has the greatest claim to celebrate him.

On Burns Night, January 25, we will celebrate the life of a man who opposed bigotry, racism and slavery, a revolutionary democrat, a republican opponent of the Hannoverian monarchy, a patriot to the common people, and an internationalist who supported the American and French revolutions against British imperialism. This, when an utterly corrupt parliament of rotten boroughs elected only by the richest two per cent of the population used oppression to prevent democracy, with Burke, the father of the Tory party, calling the people the “swinish multitude”.

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Editorial: The Brexit battles still to come

In the end Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘do or die’ bluster was just that. Rather than be blamed for a no-deal crash-out on 31 October, after MPs voted on ‘super Saturday’ not to approve his withdrawal treaty until it had completed its legislative journey – and be open, therefore, to amendment – Johnson sullenly applied to the European Union for an extension to the Brexit deadline.

And so, at the time of writing (October 22), all possible outcomes to the protracted negotiations to agree a withdrawal treaty between Britain and the remaining EU27 member states are still in play. This was supposed to be the easy part of Brexit, before talks begin on the future relationship including a trade deal.

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UN sounds global economy alarm

A comprehensive report published in September by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) provides a devastating evaluation of the current state of world capitalism. The 174 pages are infused with pessimism about whether the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Goals, agreed in 2015 by the 193 member states represented in the General Assembly, can be reached. At the same time, the authors appeal to governments and private investors in ever more desperate passages to take the urgent and necessary steps to coordinate their actions around delivering a global green new deal.

The analysis is accompanied by mountains of statistics that strip bare the illusion that capitalism has learned fundamental lessons from the causes that triggered the great recession of 2007-08. Nevertheless, it abstains from any overt disapproval of the reckless geopolitical and economic policies currently pursued by capitalist governments.

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Can Labour take on big pharma?

At this year’s Labour Party conference Jeremy Corbyn launched a new policy document on the pharmaceutical industry. He gave the example of nine year-old Luis Walker, who has cystic fibrosis but has been “denied the medicine he needs because its American manufacturer refuses to sell the drug to the NHS for an affordable price”. He went on to say that many others were being “denied lifesaving medicines by a system that puts profits for shareholders before lives”. In the case of cystic fibrosis, the company that holds the patent, Vertex, is asking for £105,000 per patient a year and rejected the NHS’s offer of half-a-billion pounds over five years.

Labour’s document – Medicines for the Many: Public Health before Private Profit – is a devastating critique of the industry, as well as the current policies on research and development. The government ploughs billions into R&D, benefitting hugely profitable companies, yet pays out billions more to buy the medicines developed from that research.

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The collapse of Stalinism and its consequences

When the Berlin wall was dismantled in 1989 capitalism declared itself victorious. The collapse of Stalinism was used in a global ideological offensive against socialism, which was unjustly equated with that dictatorial, bureaucratic system, to drive through brutal, neo-liberal capitalist policies worldwide. In an abridged version of the introduction to the 2009 special anniversary edition of Socialism Today on the fall of the wall, PETER TAAFFE looks back at 1989 and its consequences.

On the anniversary of 1989 the ideologues, politicians and media of world capitalism wish to reinforce in popular consciousness that the events of that tumultuous year signified just one thing: the ‘final defeat’ of Marxism, ‘communism’ and socialism itself, buried forever under the rubble of the Berlin wall. This also meant the final victory of capitalism, which ‘ended history’ according to Francis Fukuyama, and established this system as the only possible model for organising production and running society.

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Lessons in teaching equality

School equalities teaching including material on LGBTQ+ relationships has been a catalyst for parent protests in an impoverished working-class and predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham – seized on by the government, Christian and Islamic fundamentalists and others for opportunistic ends. It raises an important issue: how to involve marginalised, discriminated against communities in a programme that includes gender and sexuality equality alongside tackling widespread poverty and deprivation. MARTIN POWELL-DAVIES writes.

After over a decade of intensified attacks on workers’ living standards, and without the labour movement organising decisively to oppose them, it is almost inevitable that the growing anger and alienation within working-class communities can be misdirected towards chauvinism and division. It is the task of socialists, without ever conceding to discriminatory views, to find a way to overcome those divisions and help bring workers together in the united struggle needed to solve the problems we face.

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