Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism

Authors' Preface

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden

"There is no alternative" to a capitalist market economy is a claim as old as liberal capitalist philosophy but most commonly attributed to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom from 1979-1990, who frequently used this claim to buttress her arguments for her neoliberal policies. As noted in her biography on www.wikipedia.org, Thatcher's "political philosophy and economic policies emphasized deregulation (particularly of the financial sector), flexible labor markets, the privatization of state-owned companies and reducing the power and influence of trade unions."

We began the research and writing of this work nearly eight years ago. After a politically tumultuous ten years since the global economic collapse of 2008, it is easy to forget that as recently as January 2010 there was still very little public doubt within the core capitalist countries and even less questioning within the formerly communist ones about the permanency of capitalism. Not only was capitalism the seeming victor in the Cold War, but there was evidently no viable alternative social system. Capitalism, it was popularly agreed, must represent the end of history, given that socialism had proven itself unworkable in both its Communist and Social Democratic variants.

For us, this ideological outcome of the Cold War was particularly troubling in light of the apparent depth of the global economic downturn that began in 2008 and its convergence with three decades of escalating wealth and income inequality within and between countries, and with a rapidly developing global ecological crisis, highlighted by the growing evidence of human-caused climate change.

Together, the convergence of these manifestations of systemic crisis already seemed to us by 2010 to present an existential threat to human life, particularly absent the emergence from within capitalism of socio-political movements converging towards a viable alternative. An effort to identify the emergence of such an alternative was the impetus to our research and writing. We searched everywhere from the origins and development of humankind to the present struggles of the people for a more just, democratic, peaceful and sustainable existence.

We are of course limited to our own direct personal experience and activity, to the shortfall in the number and diversity of those from whom we have learned, and by our inability to do more than sample a wide range of relevant and burgeoning literature and other forms of recorded knowledge and opinion. It helped that one of us (Karen) has focussed since childhood in the arts and humanities, including as a teacher, researcher, artist and poet, and that the other (Charles) has similarly been engaged in research and teaching in both the natural and educational sciences and that as partners, we have collaborated in the student, peace, labor, environmental and other social movements of the people for over fifty years. Evidently, our greatest shortfall in relation to the publication of this work is in the social sciences, which has received the lion's share of our attention over the past eight years and will likely continue to do so in our remaining years.

Among left-leaning academics and journalists preoccupied with advancing original formulations that merit claims to personal intellectual property, it has become popular to invent and propose alternative social systems, suggesting that the options in that respect might be as diverse as their authors. This is NOT our intention. Anything in this work that could be shown to be original to us should on that account be immediately dismissed by readers. In the first place, ALL ideas are socially constructed, evident in the fact that we each must use socially constructed language to communicate our ideas. Intellectual property rights will have no validity in any society that claims to be an advance over capitalism, nor will any other claim to private ownership over any part of the Commons, defined here as the shared heritage of humanity.

Moreover, we hold to the wisdom that the new invariably emerges out of the womb of the old, a process in which either the old system replicates itself or, in the case of a moribund system, a new one ultimately replaces it. The task of researchers, in our view, is to identify the new system as it emerges from the old. The empirical evidence by which to judge the results of such social science research is popular convergence on the features of the new system, leading to the replacement of the old system by the new one. We expect to be successful in identifying most, but not likely all the characteristic features of the emergent system. We encourage critical review of all of our arguments, and warn against disciples. Our aim is no more nor less than to contribute to the process of identification and action towards the replacement of the current, moribund capitalist system. Its successful replacement will be a system which proves itself capable of liberating the latent potential of the people to move past the obstacles created by capitalism to humanity's continuing existence.

The principal objective of this contribution to discussion, therefore, is to identify a viable path out of the existential crisis created by the convergence of wealth and income inequality and the destruction of an otherwise supportive natural environment. Such a path necessarily includes a more equitable distribution of resources as part of a more conservative, sustainable relationship with nature. Co-equal objectives are the advance of democracy, education, science and imagination, which we argue constitute the foundation for achieving a healthy human society and a sustainable relationship with nature. Having found a limited role within emergent capitalism, these foundational elements of any society fully committed to the full and free development of the people require vigilant popular development and support in the face of a now moribund, self-destructive capitalism.

The main premise of this work, argued at some length, is that capitalism, once a relatively progressive system, liberating humankind from the constraints of a moribund feudalism, is today the principal cause of growing wealth and income inequality and of human destruction of an otherwise supportive natural environment. As such, capitalism is itself a moribund system, its defenders increasingly engaged in constraining the development of democracy, education, science and imagination. This work is therefore intended as a contribution to the development and strengthening of democracy, education, science and imagination as part of the anti-capitalist, pro-socialist movements of the people.

Scientific assumptions, voice and methods of research

The theory of historical materialism

While we rely almost exclusively on the existing consensus within the scientific community on the state of knowledge in most fields of scientific inquiry, we make an exception in the field of social science, where there is no acknowledged scientific consensus on the fundamental issue of the nature and laws of societal evolution. Here, our theoretical viewpoint must be considered presumptive.

We subscribe to the Marxian theory of evolution of human society, often identified as historical materialism, thereby emphasizing both its scientific content and the methodology it shares with all other fields of scientific inquiry. Materialism in philosophy acknowledges that the subject material under investigation has an empirical existence independent from our ideas, theories and conjectures about it. Like every other scientific theory, the historical materialist theory of societal evolution must be judged by its ability to explain the corresponding empirical evidence. We do not examine that evidence in detail in this work, but presume the validity of historical materialist theory.

Particularly germane to this work is capitalism. We follow Marx in using the term, capitalism, as our designation of the social system in which humankind presently extracts a living from nature. It is comprised of a "mode of production", that is, the social relationships we engage in for the purpose of extracting our living from nature and "forces of production", namely the technologies, including the ideas and institutional structures, which correspond to this capitalist mode of production.

The theory of historical materialism contends that capitalism did not always exist, but rather came into existence historically recently, probably first during the late middle ages, initially confined to mercantile capitalist trading relationships between a few European city-states, but ultimately extending (by the twentieth century) to an international network of capitalist nation-states, dominated by a few whose reach assumed globally imperial dimensions, such as the imperial reach of the United Kingdom and the United States. Only within the past few decades has this international system reached its present global dimension, in which the global marketplace, including supply chains and corresponding international political structures, are now dominated by a network of the largest transnational capitalist corporations, their directors and chief political and academic representatives (the transnational capitalist class).

According to the historical materialist theory of societal evolution, the lack of correspondence between the "mode" and the "forces" of production drives the struggle for reform or revolution of the social system, the latter corresponding to a qualitative change in the mode of production to enable better utilization of the new technologies and ideas and the creation of corresponding institutions. The change from feudalism to capitalism was an historical precedent for the current struggle within capitalism for socialism.

The transition from one mode of production to another is characterized both by the development of technology and the associated attempts to reform or replace the relations of production with new ones. These changes can be either historically progressive (the use of more advanced technologies and, in the case of the transition from capitalism to socialism, more cooperative relationships of production, and associated ideas and institutions) or regressive, towards the social relationships and hierarchical ideas associated with feudalism and slavery (the principal other examples of once dominant hierarchical social systems).

We also recognize as an enduring, progressive, but currently subordinate mode of production, the communal mode that characterized most of human societal history from the time of our origins as a species. This is the cooperative mode of production based on voluntary sharing of resources and non-monetary exchanges of goods and services, commonly found today within families and local communities. If there is to be a social system beyond capitalism, it will, in our view, necessarily correspond to a reversal of the trend towards privatization in the ownership and management of resources and tools of production and distribution and an expansion of the commons. Building on the remaining commons, the new system will correspond to the transformation of most social means of production and distribution into communal property under communal management, that is, into a fully just, democratic and sustainable relationship between people and with nature.

The most recent development within the capitalist mode of production has been in the spatial extent of its dominance – now global - and the emergence of transnational capitalist corporations as the dominant institutional form within the now global capitalist mode of production, a conclusion underscored by a number of recent research publications, including most prominently and systematically, those by William I. Robinson including, for example his (2014, Cambridge University Press) Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity.

Although we continue to examine the debate on the extent to which the dominant class in any particular country is transnational in character or national/local, comprised of capitalists whose market is primarily confined within the boundaries of a particular nation-state, the empirical evidence appears to be best explained by recognition of transnational capital as the dominant form of ownership and management and the increasingly dominant force over the political decisions of nation-states, including those of the United States. Confusion on this issue is most likely attributable to the physical location of Wall Street, and the large number of multinational corporations headquartered there, and the role assumed by the US military and security forces in defending the interests of transnational capitalism. This confusion may also represent an identification of capitalism with the non-portable physical assets associated with industrialization rather than with capital itself, which was already primarily financial (that is, highly mobile) in character long before the present century.

Our solar future

While physical laws, notably the second law of thermodynamics, have as a consequence the inevitable devolution and death of all existing forms of the current organization of matter and their replacement by the birth and evolution of new forms, there is nothing inherent in natural processes that dictates such an early demise of life on Earth, including prospectively of human life, as is now associated with the continuing expansion of the capitalist mode of production. The complex forms of organization of matter that have given rise to human life and human civilization are a product of the energy that continues to bathe our planet from the Sun (a process expected to continue for billions of years more) and the materials that will continue to be present in the Earth's biosphere for an indefinite future. A premature end to human civilization on Earth could only be the result of human failure to act as agents for the building of a replacement to capitalism, that is to create a new social system, one in better harmony with nature and human existence.

Revolutionary voice

The title of an essay by Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House"contains the principal lessons to be learned from past failures to move beyond capitalism. Our revolutionary voice is not male, but gender-neutral, not hegemonic, but collaborative, not competitive, but cooperative, not violent, but demonstrably peaceful, not aggressive, but forcefully diplomatic.

We identify this effort to find our revolutionary voice with green social democracy, thereby linking it with those green, social, and democratic movements that envision our future as the extension of what remains of our global commons, the expansion of the global commons at the expense of private property, the growth of the voluntary, non-market exchange of goods and services found within families and local communities at the expense of the capitalist market-place, the practice of democratic decision-making at work and in the community at the expense of management and leadership rights.

Our voice expresses our task, that of replacing the primacy of private profits with the primacy of the health and welfare of people and nature. Our revolutionary voice is to be found in those who prioritize our cooperative relationships and voluntary exchanges of services and goods over participation in the capitalist market-place.

Methods of research and communication

Our methods of research and communication flow from recognition that knowledge, like language itself, is socially created, not the product nor "intellectual property" of individuals, especially not the property of for-profit corporate media. The method of research adopted in the development of Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism is iterative, meaning that each draft is for discussion and further development, by either the initial authors or anyone else who wishes, with each new contributor taking responsibility but not credit for their revisions. That is our intention in any case. Constrained by the dominant practice of for-profit publication, we do need to place obstacles in the way of publication of this work as private for-profit property. The result is a Creative Commonwealth license, modified in practice as may be needed by the intent expressed here.

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden
Fredericton, New Brunswick, CANADA
2 September 2017

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles McFadden, The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.