Neo-liberalism, climate change and militarization: The Perfect Storm

In October of 1991 a convergence of powerful weather systems created a monster storm in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. It killed the entire crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail among other storm casualties. Journalist Sebastian Junger used the phrase “The Perfect Storm” as the title of his book about this unusual weather event. The book became the basis for a Hollywood film of the same name.

The Perfect Storm

Since then the term “perfect storm” has entered the language to mean any catastrophic collision of natural, political, or social forces that combine into a disaster greater than the sum of its parts.

Lasting only a few days, the 1991 storm was centered along the US eastern seaboard region. Neo-liberalism, climate change and militarism is “The Perfect Storm” engulfing the entire biosphere and is projected to last for years to come. It is a perfect storm of planetary proportions. 

Domination of the global economy by powerful corporations and financial institutions created neo-liberal capitalism or neo-liberalism for short. It is the latest evolutionary restructuring of global capitalism, which has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to changing conditions.

The destructive effects of neo-liberalism

We can see the direct effects of neo-liberalism in the collapsing factories and deadly fires in the Bangladeshi garment industry.  We can see them in the privatization of public education in the USA and the proliferation of corporate dominated charter schools.We can see them in the melting polar ice caps as well as the number and intensity of extreme weather events. We saw them in the Iraq war; a war for control of oil resources.

Neo-liberalism seeks to reduce everything to a market commodity. Its direct attacks on working class organizations like unions; its privatization of the public sphere; and its dismantling of public welfare have dramatically increased the global gap between rich and poor.

Lately institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have indicated that perhaps neo-liberalism has gone too far, been too destructive. But it is doubtful that even these powerful organizations have either the will or the means to restrain it.

Perhaps most frightening, neo-liberalism has also contributed to global environmental degradation, most notably climate change. Its profits are heavily fueled by coal and petroleum.

The least worst case scenario for this planetary vandalism is grim enough. The worst case scenario is a mass extinction more severe than the Permian extinction 250 million years ago, when the majority of the earth’s living organisms perished because of sudden climate change.

The social effects of neo-liberalism have fueled civil resistance including strikes, occupations, mass marches and riots. From Occupy Wall Street, to Tahrir Square; from the mass strikes in South Asian garment factories to the thousands of striking teachers who jammed the streets of Chicago; from the indignados of Spain to the student strikers of Chile; from the anti-nuclear marchers of Japan to the shack dwellers movement of South Africa, the resistance to neo-liberalism is truly global.

But neo-liberalism’s global plunder have also been at the root of ethnic and religious strife, as well as wars among nations. The competition for scarce resources has led to desperate acts and appalling violence, often encouraged by authorities who find it a useful form of social control. 

As a result, an outrageous amount of the planet’s resources have been diverted into militarization. This includes the militarization of police, who now appear in armored vehicles and have easy access to automatic weapons if tear gas, plastic bullets, sound cannons and riot clubs prove inadequate for suppressing mass protests.

Even the corporate media has shown some recognition of the dismal state of capitalism today.
Time Magazine had an article entitled Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World. Forbes published one called The U.K. Riots And The Coming Global Class War. Bloomberg BusinessWeek released this one: What Would Karl Marx Think?. Fortune faced up to climate change with this apocalyptic piece,”Cloudy With a Chance of Chaos”,

Oh, and lets not forget the Pentagon, always preparing for the next war(s) as shown in this report,”An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United  States National Security”.

Excerpts from some this writing would not look too out of place in your typical socialist publications. Liberals, progressives and socialists alike might be wondering if socialism is perhaps around the corner. 

So what about socialism?

Not so fast. The socialist movement is not in great shape. The twentieth century socialist movement broke up into roughly three groups: Soviet-style repressive  “communism”, social democracy and a small number of dissident socialists who embraced neither model.

Soviet-style authoritarian regimes mostly collapsed into typical capitalist countries. Those that did not, like China or Vietnam, became authoritarian market economies under repressive state domination. Vietnam is now a major destination for global corporations seeking cheap labor.

Social democracy still exists in some countries, with Scandinavia being its jewel in the crown. Social democracy did tame the worst excesses of capitalism where it took root, but its social welfare systems are now under attack from neo-liberal pressures. Social democratic parties now generally collaborate with the austerity pushed by global neo-liberalism, often as a kind of austerity-lite.

An extreme example would be the USA whose Democratic Party emerged from the Franklin Roosevelt years with a social democratic platform, but which today gives little sign that such a thing ever existed.

Both major trends of the 20th century socialist movement represent no threat to the dominant neo-liberalism of the 21st century.

As for the dissident socialists who yearn for an economy owned by the working class and a society governed in a democratic fashion, they remain a minority with relatively little organizational influence. At least not yet. But many of their best ideas have permeated the global justice movement.

Ironically, classical Marxism teaches that socialism will emerge from highly developed industrial bourgeois societies. But what if industrial civilization is creating the very economic and environmental crises that will result in its self-destruction? An old labor song says,..”we will build a new world from the ashes of the old.”

But what if the ashes are dangerously radioactive or chemically poisoned?

From global resistance to global revolution?

So what does the future hold for the diverse civil resistance confronting today’s global Perfect Storm? The World Social Forums reveal a global justice movement with competing visions of how to build economically cooperative egalitarian societies that are environmentally sustainable, appropriately technological, and practice participatory democracy. 

With the global neo-liberal elite waging a brutal well armed class war against the rest of humanity, can global resistance transform itself into global revolution? No one can say with any certainty. That is a feature of revolution, not a bug. They can erupt unexpectedly, surprising both those who welcome them and those who fear them.

The clock is ticking for finding solutions. Normally cautious scientists are ringing a clanging alarm bell about climate change while normally cautious economists are doing the same about the accelerating wealth gap between rich and poor. Even ex-generals are raising their voices against the colossal waste of human life and resources resulting from runaway militarism.

In truth, The Perfect Storm is already raging in some parts of the world.

One model of resistance and transformation

Recently climate activist Tim Decristopher visited Chicago and gave a well received talk. He stated bluntly that it is too late to stop dangerous climate change. We may be able to limit its most extreme effects, but at this point that’s the best we can hope for. So what do we do?

He pointed to Occupy Sandy as an example. When Hurricane Sandy devastated communities in the NYC area, members of Occupy Wall Street organized themselves into the Occupy Sandy relief effort, already having a network of experienced individuals with access to resources. Working directly with residents, some of whom were socially and politically conservative, they showed what was possible.

Occupy Wall Street and its new allies were able to organize Occupy Sandy as both a survival and a resistance group, one prepared to clear wreckage, search for survivors and rebuild; but also to make demands on the State as people learned how to wage an egalitarian cooperative resistance.

Dechristopher was directing his remarks toward environmental groups, but they apply to any socio-political organization. His point? That groups with experience, imagination and cooperative socio-political relationships are best prepared to deal with crises. 

70,000 years ago humanity faced the possibility of total extinction when a huge volcano in Sumatra exploded and disrupted the earth’s climate for a time. A fraction of the human population survived. We can only speculate on how they did it, but I suspect it was because they had deep experience in cooperation within their small tribal groups.

We must apply that human ability to cooperate in the face of danger to an entire planet. The Perfect Storm of neo-liberalism, climate change and militarism will not go away on its own.

Dr. King once spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” BTW, now means NOW.

Bob "BobboSphere" Simpson has been a socialist since childhood.

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