Concerning new paradigm of development, we already had discussion in 2013 on this topic. Further in 2015, a detailed and well researched paper has been written on this by PJ James and also articles have been written on this by KN Ramachandran and others. We need not rehash the same articles in this paper for study. What we intend to do in this paper is concentrate more on what exactly is it that we mean when we say an alternate paradigm of development. It is clear from Com. James’ paper that there can be no alternate paradigm of development in the capitalist system and it will require the creation of a socialist system to go towards a new paradigm of development. Comrade KN’s articles have dealt with what was done in the Soviet Union to try and make a new model of development. Still, we have to reach a concrete conclusion of what exactly do we mean by a new paradigm of development.
Let us come to more concrete issues. For instance, take minerals. Minerals are one of the mainstays of the capitalist production system. They are one of the main raw materials required in the production. While energy and water are universal to almost all production under capitalism, minerals (in which we also include crude oil and its derivatives) are also required in most production activities. The actual figures for mineral production worldwide show that the production of minerals has gone up from around 14.8 billion metric tonnes in 2009 to around 17.3 billion metric tonnes in 2014 – a growth of around 17% in just three years.1 If we look at the figures for the different minerals for the period from 2011 to 2014, Bauxite has grown from 228 million tonnes to 260 million tonnes (14%); Alumina from 84.2 million tonnes to 107.2 million tonnes (27%); primary aluminium from 41.5 million tonnes to 53 million tonnes(28%); iron ore from 2.6 billion tonnes to 3.4 billion tonnes (31%); lead from 4.4 million tonnes to 5.4 million tonnes (23%); phospate rock from 182 million tonnes to 245 million tonnes (35%). Even the production of coal has gone up from 7.4 billion tonnes to 8.1 billion tonnes (9%). The production of even such well controlled minerals like crude petroleum has gone up. In fact, we can find that production has gone up in almost all minerals especially since 2009 in an attempt to scrounge out greater profits since the most recent economic crisis.
The utter rapacious plunder of the earth’s resources by the big imperialist mining companies have grown to such an extent that there is no hope of this being sustainable even in the short term. Take Iron Ore. It is estimated that the total reserves of iron ore worldwide are about 190 billion tonnes5. In 2006 Lester Brown, of the World Watch Institute had predicted that iron ore would run out in 64 years at the extremely conservative estimate that production would grow by 2% per year. As seen above the rate of growth of production between 2011 to 2014 averaged over 10% per year. At that rate, the world’s iron ore reserves will be exhausted in a mere 25 years. The same applies to other minerals. Crude oil resources are estimated to be able to last from 30 to 50 years. Alumina reserves are estimated at around 32 billion tonnes. The current production is around 107 million tonnes. In 2011 to 2014, it grew at about 9% per year on average. At this rate it is expected to be exhausted in less than 40 years.
All this shows that such production in the mining sector is utterly unsustainable even in the short term. We will leave the next generation with a stark world bereft of minerals if we do not mend our ways. As such, it is required to think of an alternative. Possibly a more efficient system of recycling all over the world may help in some cases. For instance, even today, recycled iron ore is more prevalent than new ore in the production of steel. But this will require centralised planning at the international level at a scale which can only be achieved under socialism.
Let us consider another resource like water. Water, by itself is still in such quantities that we can think in terms of infinites. The problem is with potable water. The production of such water is clearly unsustainable. Here the problem poses a different problem than exhaustion. Let us look at the graphic below:
As we can see, only 2.5% of the water on earth is fresh water. The other is saline water. Of this 2.5%, only 1.2% (0.03% of the total water on earth) is surface / other fresh water. Of this only about 24% (0.0072% of the total water) is in lakes, rivers, swamps and marshes. It is on this water that all capitalist production usually survives. This shows that there exists enough water on earth to sustain much higher levels of production. The problem is to make this water available. How to make, for instance, sea water possible to use in industrial production? How to use ground water more efficiently? The technology does exist even today to solve this problem. All the existing solutions though, use too much energy and are therefore too “costly”. If we could have cheap and abundant sources of energy this problem too could be solved. The problem of water then is essentially a by-product of the problem of energy.
Theoretically, energy exists in a magnitude which makes our needs less than miniscule. Just the energy coming in solar rays is huge. The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year. In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year.1 If only this energy could be harnessed for use in production, it could be a solution to all our problems. The sun itself is, at todays levels of energy requirements, a sustainable source of energy. Using solar energy also has other benefits. It is a clean source of energy and harnessing this energy to other uses will lower global warming. But that is not the only source available. There are other sources of energy which we have to explore much more. There is tidal energy which is basically generated by the gravitational pull of the moon. Nuclear energy, though theoretically usable is today an unsafe, unclean and costly source of energy. More research must be put into making it a feasible source of energy.
At the other end is the actual rate of consumption. Today we can see that the rate of consumption is too great to be sustained. If the whole world was to consume food grains at the rate at which American citizens consume them, then we would need four earths just to grow sufficient foodgrain to sustain such consumption. At the same time, obesity is growing in the US and is an alarming cause of concern, including infant obesity. Heart disease is the single main cause of death. In short, Americans are consuming too much and paying the price by dying of heart disease.
Our concern is, what is causing humans to hurtle in this mindless fashion towards oblivion? We have to change our patterns of production and of consumption. We have to treat the earth and its resources, including human resources as precious objects and regulate their use. One could argue that this use is regulated even today in different ways. Different taxes, tariffs and penalties are levied just for such regulation. Then why are we still hurtling towards destruction as all indices show? Obviously there is something wrong in the way in which such use of human resources is being regulated. How can we change this?
Our first paper on the environmental question in 2013 had put forward some directions. It said:
- More direct and proximate democratic processes for taking all decisions on production;
- Free information to all including scientific papers in simple language being made available for all;
- Fight against religion, superstition, etc. Fight against patriarchy, brahminism, regional and language hegemonism, etc.
- Sustainable development is the only path – Man as a part of nature and not Man vs. Nature as the basis of development.
It had talked of these principles being put forward, not as an alternative to the struggle for socialism but as being in addition to the socialist principles. In fact, these principles could only be achieved under socialism.
The regulation of production, distribution and consumption under capitalism is based on the profit motive. The whole of capitalism works on the principle that the rate of profit in society must increase for society to prosper or even to sustain. Capitalism is, therefore, essentially short sighted. If profits are down, if larger profits can be made by “fracking” for the production of shale oil in the immediate run, then though fracking will endanger the sustainability of the earth and its environment in the long run, capitalism will invest in fracking. If the sustainability of profits requires that more Coca-cola must be sold, then society will be bombarded with advertisements for coca-cola, no matter what the ill effects in the long run. Capitalism does not look at the sustainability of the earth and its environment in the long run, it only looks at the sustainability of profits in the immediate run. At a certain stage, both these are bound to be at odds. As Com. James put in his paper, there is an immediate need for the de-commodification of nature and of labour.
It is not as if capitalism was always bad for the earth and the environment. At a certain stage of development, capitalism was the only way forward for the earth. It broke the stranglehold of the monarchs and the aristocracy over the earth, its produce and over the people. It brought all of these onto the market place. The market as a regulatory mechanism which constantly regulated production and consumption of commodities was a wonderful advance which allowed mankind to advance from the age of bullock carts to the age of space travel in just a few centuries. But today, capitalism is facing recurrent economic crises. To recover from such crises, it has to use quick and dangerous “fixes” to immediately create profits.
To change this method is not as easy as it seems. The whole earth today is based on certain infrastructures. These infrastructures pervade our very way of life upto the minutest degree. For instance, there are petrol pumps, in every street. If we have to give up fossil fuels, not only every car, but every petrol pump and every oil pipeline on earth will become redundant. It is the powers that control such petrol pumps, the manufacture of cars and the construction of such pipelines who are bound to resist the change. They have a vested interest in retaining the status quo, no matter the consequences. It is these very same powers, today, who enjoy tremendous clout in governments all over the world. They control governments rather than the other way around.
We have to fight for a new system of regulation. We have to fight for a system of regulation where the people affected by the use of certain products will be able to take the decisions on their production. This involves changes in the system of organisation of society itself. We have to fight for a system of regulation where the people taking such decision on their own environment will be able to take a long term view. Where they will be well informed on the consequences of their decisions. Where they will not be influenced by factors like religion, caste, language, etc. In short, we have to fight for a truly democratic society. This is what the new socialist society will be like. Today, the technology to allow for such democracy exists. Information is freely available and can be transmitted and disseminated easily. People’s opinions can be easily polled. We can easily aim for a new form of democracy where people can directly take decisions on all matters that affect them.
One more question remains, this new system of organisation for production will entail changes which will affect not only the big corporations who will lose not just their profits but their whole infrastructure but will also affect the workers. One might say that the petrol pump owners losing his assets can be justified on the basis of what he has already made as profits. What of the workers at the petrol pump? If mining must be stopped, what of the mining workers? Actually this can also be clearly settled. All mining workers be given an appropriate rehabilitation package. This means that they should be paid their wages till the age of retirement or till they find better employment. This is not unfeasible. The number of mining workers all over the world are estimated to be around 3.7 million. To be precise, the ILO reported that there were 1.5 million people employed in the mining sector in 2010 in the developed countries and 2.2 million people in the developing / emerging nations.
On the other hand the profits of the major mining companies in the year 2010 were $110 billion ($132 billion in 2011). If only one year’s profit of these corporations are given to the workers they will have an average of $ 30000 to $ 35000 each. A simple calculation will show that this amount, if invested at 8% per year, will be sufficient to pay each worker $ 300 each with an increment of 5% per annum for around 20 to 25 years with sufficient amounts left over to provide for terminal dues. This will be more than the wages paid to workers in most of the neo-colonial countries. To pay miners in advanced countries, some more will be required. In other words, the amount of just a few year’s profits of these massive mining companies, can suffice to rehabilitate all the mining workers all over the world by continuing their wages till they find better employment.
- The earth and the environment can no more take the level of exploitation that we are subjecting it to;
- Capitalism today is more concerned with the sustainability of its immediate profits and not with the sustainability of the earth and of mankind on this earth;
- We have to create a system where nature and labour are no more commodities but are seen as resources to be regulated in a sustainable manner;
- Such a system will have to be based on a more democratic organisation of society where people are directly involved in decision making for matters concerning them;
- Such a system is today feasible with the technology available for the dissemination of information and the polling of opinions;
- The creation of such a system will involve resistance from forces that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo;
- While creating such a system we have to appropriate from the big industries immediately a sufficient amount to pay for the rehabilitation of all who are displaced by the change.
We will have to refine and further develop all the above points in actual practice but these seem to be the only way to allow for this earth and human society to exist beyond a few decades from today.
Author is politbureau member of CPI(ML) Red star