Citizen Action Monitor

Ocasio-Cortez’ vision of a Green New Deal is futile if it’s executed within a capitalist system

Any movement that doesn’t confront the power and wealth of the ruling elites will be undermined and eventually destroyed.

No 2471 Posted by fw, May 9, 2019

Shamus Cooke

“A Green New Deal is a fine demand, but ultimately the project is hopeless if it’s executed under ..a capitalist umbrella. Only a socialist Green New Deal can deliver a thorough transformation of society demanded by the situation, coordinating the vast wealth and technology of the country while inviting more nations into the project, since climate change is as global as capitalism. … A socialist Green New Deal will require a more democratic state, and a more democratic economy where the major polluters, banks, and other large corporations are made public utilities. Making a Green New Deal-sized economic pivot requires the economy be coordinated to this goal, a mission impossible when the corporations are privately owned by profit seekers, pulled in various directions by the dictates of the market and shareholders, who use their wealth to push policy makers in their respective directions. … The working class first needs a political party of its own, as exists in most developed and semi-developed nations in the world. The democratic party teaches dependence on individual politicians who are themselves dependent on big corporations, while a Labor party can teach the working class to be dependent only on itself.”  —Shamus Cooke, Counterpunch

In a long essay, socialist Shamus Cooke makes a compelling case for a “socialist Green New Deal.” He reviews the many pitfalls on the road leading to a socialist GND, not the least of which is launching a transformation of society within a capitalist system. Paradoxically, a breakthrough could occur if the existential threat of climate change becomes so catastrophic that capitalism’s greed-driven focus on short-term profits exposes its Achilles heel to the multitudes, resulting in an overwhelming eruption of a revolutionary mass movement. Personally, I think that’s what it could take to overthrow capitalism.

Shamus Cooke is a member of the Portland branch of Democratic Socialists of America. He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

Consider as well, in addition to push-back from capitalists, I suggest there are at least six other factors that challenge leaders of the various iterations of the Green New Deal. First, I rarely count among GND’s leaders, people who have the educational background in physics, math, chemistry, oceanography, geography, computer science and more; people capable of grasping the complexities of humanity’s existential crisis well enough to critically dissect senior policymakers’ too-little, too late climate-related policies and programs. Instead, I see many who seem to be seeking solace in the myth that biospheric health will quickly rebound after we get our act together with “A Green New Deal.”

Second, the complexities of the existential crises we face are not well understood; Third, there is a presumption that solutions already exist or will soon exist; Fourth, if the research findings of atmospheric physicist Tim Garrett are right (and so far his testable hypothesis has not been rejected), humanity is caught in a double-bind ending in the global collapse of the economy and civilization within decades — in Garrett’s words, “Renewables and new clean, efficient technologies will not be our salvation,” and even worse “There is no way out”; Fifth, it’s hard to find leaders who have the requisite scientific and organizational expertise to lead “a global transition” from fossil fuels; and Sixth, no Green New Dealer has ever explained what life on this planet will be like without the huge surplus energy that only oil can provide to sustain our rapidly growing global economy and civilization.

Having said that, I do salute all those who are striving to do “the right thing.” Yes, “Let Right Be Done!”

Below is my abridged repost of Cooke’s powerful article, excluding his lengthy section in the middle, tracing the unveiling the failures of Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal program. I have added subheadings and text highlighting to my repost to facilitate tracking the flow of the author’s thesis. Alternatively, read Cooke’s complete piece on Counterpunch’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

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Will A Green New Deal Save the Climate, or Save Capitalism? by Shamus Cooke, Counterpunch, May 8, 2019

Rooted in the myth of a New Deal era, Ocasio-Cortez promotes a Green New Deal 

After decades of neoliberal torment it’s easy to yearn for capitalism’s tranquil past, a simpler time that delivered stability, fairness, and progress.  This mythology around a golden age of U.S. capitalism is regularly conjured up by Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [AOC], who reference the New Deal-era programs that delivered democratic reforms and a massive investment in infrastructure.

She envisions an economic transition from climate destruction to a sustainable future with jobs for all

Rooting herself in this myth, Ocasio-Cortez promotes a Green New Deal [GND] that, while still largely conceptual, strives to combine a massive jobs and green infrastructure project that will pivot the economy off the path of climate destruction towards a sustainable future with jobs for all.

Having a vision is one thing, getting her Democratic Party to back it is quite another

It’s a breath of fresh air after decades of inaction. But actually achieving the vision is another thing, and the most immediate threat is the Democratic Party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has derided the idea as “the green dream or whatever they call it”, while dismissing Ocasio-Cortez’s political collaborators as “five people”.  And although dozens of Democrats initially signed on to the concept, the Republicans realized the rhetoric wasn’t real, and called the Democrats bluff by bringing the resolution to the Senate floor for a vote on March 26th.

Although dozens of Dems signed on to the concept, not one voted for it in the Senate

Not one Democrat actually voted for “their” idea.  They shamefully abstained in order to shield the majority of their members who were actually against the idea. And although they accused the Republicans of orchestrating a “stunt” vote, it was the vote that exposed the stunt. This setback was minimized by many but should have set off alarm bells.

Inspiring animated film about GND imagines big wins for Dems in 2020, but is unlikely to animate Dems

Ocasio-Cortez later released an animated short film called A Message From the Future about the Green New Deal, that imagines the project being initiated after the 2020 election that brought to power a Democratic President and Congressional majority.  The film is in many ways inspiring.

With only 12 Senate Democrats up for re-election, there may not be one new senator who shares AOC’s vision in 2020

But of course the 2020 elections— even if the Democrats win— will leave in place many of the same cowardly, corporate-controlled Democratic Senators who recently abstained— only 12 current Senate Democrats are up for re-election, and many will not face a serious primary challenge.  It’s possible that there won’t be a single new senator in 2020 that shares Ocasio-Cortez’s political vision, since winning a Senate seat takes big bags of money.

Could enough public pressure force politicians to champion a Green New Deal?

A Green New Deal isn’t on the political horizon now, but the issue shouldn’t be considered resolved, since enough pressure from below could force the issue. When the issue eventually ripens— perhaps via a mass movement—establishment politicians may start to champion the idea, in order to channel discontent away from larger economic transformations, into a dead end.

And then there’s the very real possibility capitalists could transfigure the Green New Deal and run with it

Thea Riofrancos recently stated, correctly, that the Green New Deal “contains something for everyone, a mirror in which both the anti-capitalist and venture capitalist can see their own desired future reflected”.

“If the current balance of power isn’t smashed, the Green New Deal will be capitalist in nature”

If the current balance of power isn’t smashed, the Green New Deal will be capitalist in nature, disfigured by corporate interests that cram the project into the narrow confines of the market economy. A similar dynamic occurred during the original New Deal.

The final destination of the GND must not be conceived as an integral part of a capitalist system

A brief glimpse at how the New Deal was ruined will help us learn from the mistakes of the past, and direct our strategy in the present. Either a Green New Deal is achievable using the current strategy or it isn’t.  And If the Green New Deal is viewed as a final destination— within a capitalist framework— instead of a pitstop toward further economic-climate transformation, we risk enormous energy being co-opted by the establishment that hope to prevent deeper necessary changes.

From the very outset of the 1933 New Deal, maintaining capitalism trumped the needs of working people   

If a Green New Deal begins while leaving in place giant corporations and their billionaire owners, the program will quickly be directed into either their pocketbooks or upended by war, as happened during the 1930’s.

How the New Deal Failed

The New Deal began in 1933, initially as a series of emergency laws to stabilize an economy shattered by the Great Depression.  Capitalism had literally stopped working and mass starvation and revolution were real possibilities. Millions of workers were unemployed or employed in awful conditions; the rural economy lay in tatters. The year after the New Deal began citywide general strikes shut down San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Toledo.

Although some big capitalists hated the New Deal, the majority understood FDR’s goals and supported his project, since a fundamental aim of the New Deal was to make businesses profitable again. The southern establishment joined the New Deal coalition in order to maintain their power rooted in segregation—FDR’s deal with the devil.

From the beginning the New Deal prioritized the maintaining of capitalism more than the needs of working people.  Bailing out the banks and stabilizing commodity prices were key priorities, while subsidizing big business via the construction of infrastructure that drastically lowered transport, energy, and water costs for corporations and agribusiness. The New Deal helped create the economic-infrastructural backbone for a developed capitalist nation determined to be a superpower.

THE REST OF THIS LONG MIDDLE SECTION ON THE 1933 NEW DEAL IS OMITTED FROM THIS REPOST

The Green New Deal and the State

By exaggerating New Deal’s gains, proponents of GND hope to show transformative change can happened within capitalism

Modern liberals have largely exaggerated the gains of the New Deal while minimizing its failures. This has been done, in part, to show that transformative change can happen within capitalism’s confines and particularly within the Democratic Party.

The New Deal wasn’t a revolution, it was an elite-driven program meant to prevent a revolution

It’s a myth that New Deal Democrats were committed Leftists who took over the party; FDR and most of his allies were establishment figures who used the New Deal to maintain the establishment and return profitability, and they used the most reactionary elements of society— including Jim Crow politicians and imperialists— as allies to achieve this end.  The New Deal wasn’t a revolution, it was an elite-driven project meant to prevent revolution and push the population into war.

Ocasio-Cortez is mistaken to believe a Green New Deal can begin “after” the 2020 election

This is why the claims made by Ocasio-Cortez— that a transformative Green New Deal can begin after the 2020 elections— are especially dangerous. Enormous political energy can be wasted trying to change a party that the labor movement has failed to change for decades, having wasted hundreds of millions of dollars as the party lurches further to the right.

The US Government is dominated by wealthy capitalists working in behalf of other wealthy capitalists – not workers

Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez seem to have too much faith in a state machinery that has never been friendly to working people. The government remains dominated by wealthy capitalists, and has always been nimble and efficient whenever the wealthy agree that something must be done, while being  impenetrable or paralytic when the working class demands change.

New York’s mini-Green New Deal failed because elites continued to exert their influence

An important recent example of this was when New York passed its own mini-Green New Deal, which initially seemed like a great victory for the Left, but ultimately failed because “we found that even when oppressed communities and organized labor have a seat at the table, and even when progressive legislation is in place, the agencies and elites that have always governed our energy system continue to exert their influence.”

Similarly, Oregon’s so called “progressive” Dems easily bend to big business while rebuffing leftist causes

A similar dynamic has been happening in the Oregon legislature, lead by a supermajority of “progressive” Democrats. The Dems easily bend to big business— especially Nike and Intel—but are cold to Left causes: progressive demands gets ingloriously maimed before passing, including the weak, market-based climate bill currently being discussed.

Cities are built by the wealthy, for the wealthy, with built-in anti-democratic firewalls

These disappointments must be expected, since the structure of the city, state and federal government were made by the wealthy, who created a state in their image to dominate political life, with built-in anti-democratic firewalls.

Federal Senators serve staggered 6-year terms, precisely to prevent change for happening too fast

This is why federal Senators serve 6 year terms and are difficult to recall— their elections are staggered to prevent change happening too fast.  It’s why Supreme Court Judges serve until they die and why the President has powers similar to a dictator. And of course wherever there are very wealthy people money will pour into politics, regardless of the laws made to prevent it (even passing mild reforms in this arena has proved nearly impossible).

Can Democrats Fight Climate Change?

Although political change is happening fast, change nevertheless has limits within the confines of capitalism

Political shifts are happening quickly all over the world. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have been possible if not for Occupy Wall Street, the Black Live Matter and climate movements.  Teacher strikes have further transformed the country in the last year. Politics is changing as fast as the climate, but political change has natural limits within the confines of capitalism.

Ocasio-Cortez’ goal to transform the Democrats doesn’t stand a chance

Ocasio-Cortez has— like Bernie— helped change public discussion, but her well-intentioned goal to transform the Democrats is DOA.

Corporate Dems are easily co-opting “progressive” planks to the point where the word “progressive” is meaningless

The group that promoted her campaign, ‘Justice Democrats’, wants to reform the Democrats— to that end they helped dozens of candidates with money and other resources, but they failed to win any Senate seats, while the 7 House seats they now hold are occupied by those with a diversity of politics (while lacking any real accountability— since Justice Democrats is a PAC, not a political party). The Justice Democrats’ platform that includes support for a Green New Deal is in many ways impressive, but most of the key planks are easily co-opted by corporate Democrats—since the word “progressive” is now used by friend and foe alike.

How “Corporate Dems” will ambush Leftist insurgents

To defend themselves against these Leftist insurgents, a predictable combination of sticks and carrots will be used, co-opting the careerists and isolating the incorruptible.  New party rules will be created and existing rules broken, while more money will be raised as the establishment adjusts its tactics by hiring staff who speak fluent Leftism (Joe Biden’s recent hiring of Bernie Sanders’ Press Secretary, Symone Sanders, is such an example).

More Democrats will start referring to themselves as “socialists” while acting as agents of capitalism.  When the next recession strikes— and many economists believe it’ll happen soon— state intervention that appears “socialist” may reappear, as it happened under Obama.

During deep recessions capitalism relies on state intervention to save the market-economy from itself, as FDR did during the New Deal (and as did Hitler and Mussolini during the same depression). A state controlled by capitalists will ultimately be used to shore-up capitalism, not to transition to a sustainable, just society. The real danger of the Green New Deal is that it will be used to attach the working class to a capitalist project with a short shelf life span; a classic bait and switch.

The state machinery will suffocate any real change, as they’ve done for decades, in a power game

A key lesson from the New Deal era is that the working class was never in the driver seat, and watched from the backseat as the establishment veered further and further to the right. Without smashing the political status quo and the state machinery it calls home, the establishment will suffocate any real change, as they’ve done for decades. They’re experts at weathering storms, strategically adjusting themselves to new balances of power— laying low until the time is ripe to retake what they momentarily lost.  It’s a game of power they’ve learned well, and in the city, state, and federal halls of power they have home court advantage.

Transformative Change Requires Revolutionary Politics

A Green New Deal is hopeless if it’s executed under a capitalist system

A Green New Deal is a fine demand, but ultimately the project is hopeless if it’s executed under  a capitalist umbrella.

And only a socialist Green New Deal can deliver a thorough transformation

Only a socialist Green New Deal can deliver a thorough transformation of society demanded by the situation, coordinating the vast wealth and technology of the country while inviting more nations into the project, since climate change is as global as capitalism.

Capitalism’s Achilles Heel in a world facing an existential crisis is its greed-driven focus on short-term profit

The Stakes are high. David Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth is just one compilation of the scientific research showing how climate change is likely more catastrophic than previously thought, and happening much sooner. Capitalism has proved time and again its unwillingness to redirect its energies towards human needs; it knows only short term investor profit.

To be successful, a GND will require a “more democratic economy where the major polluters, banks, and other large corporations are made public utilities” 

A socialist Green New Deal will require a more democratic state, and a more democratic economy where the major polluters, banks, and other large corporations are made public utilities.  Making a Green New Deal-sized economic pivot requires the economy be coordinated to this goal, a mission impossible when the corporations are privately owned by profit seekers, pulled in various directions by the dictates of the market and shareholders, who use their wealth to push policy makers in their respective directions.

“The ruling class will unite around war but not around climate change”

The ruling class will unite around war but not around climate change, and ever since the New Deal war has become a baked-in, critical ingredient of U.S. capitalism that isn’t compatible with other ingredients, such as a Green New Deal.  U.S. capitalism simply cannot afford both.

For an economy to be run democratically, it must allow for direct citizen input

To ensure the economy is democratically run, the current undemocratic state must be replaced by one that allows for direct input and decision making, made easier than ever by the power of the internet, which could allow for frequent feedback or votes on important policies, as well as allowing quick recall of any representatives that step out of line.  These common sense ideas are impossible under today’s capitalist-friendly state structure.

The working class needs a political party of its own

The working class first needs a political party of its own, as exists in most developed and semi-developed nations in the world.  The democratic party teaches dependence on individual politicians who are themselves dependent on big corporations, while a Labor party can teach the working class to be dependent only on itself.

As it stands, the banner of today’s Democratic Party is “tattered and soiled”

If Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders co-lead the creation of a Labor party, millions of people would flock to their banner— but as of now they’re attracting people to the tattered and soiled banner of the Democratic Party.

Any movement that doesn’t confront the power and wealth of the elites will be undermined, and eventually destroyed

Without learning the lessons from the failure of the New Deal era, socialists will be doomed to fall into similar traps laid by the super-rich to divert energy into the dead ends— in order to prevent a mass movement from actually threatening their power and wealth.  Any movement that doesn’t directly confront their power and wealth will be undermined by it, and eventually destroyed. There is no shortcut around capitalism— and the parties that prop it up— if the goal is transformative change.

Either the GND can be used to smash corporate interests, or face being exploited by capitalists

The Green New Deal can either be used to smash through corporate interests to usher in a socialist organization of society, or capitalists will exploit the Green New Deal to prevent socialism, clinging to the idea like a life raft— in the hopes that the result will be a series of modest, market-based reforms that serve to save capitalism at the expense of the climate and humanity.

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