Ecosocialist Review (pages 4-5) Spring 1992
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone
In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations
We’ve but one Earth on which to live
... The international ideal unites the human race
(from The Internationale, Billy Bragg, 1990)
In W. Warren Wagar’s futurist novel, A Short History of the Future (1989, University of Chicago Press), the World Party assumes power in 2044, following a nuclear war. The party proceeds to organize a world commonwealth based on a democratic socialist structure. This scenario is predicated on the eventual domination of the world economy by the mega- corps, gigantic multinational conglomerates, along with the persistence of festering national contradictions which culminate in nuclear war. Wagar completed this novel just before the collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the end of the cold war, and so is badly off in his projection of world politics in this respect. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable projection of the flowering of a global political force in response to a world completely dominated by capital.
The future is now: the world economy is being restructured minute-to-minute from the computer terminals of transnational corporations and banks, the forerunners of the megacorps. As a result of the collapse of the socialist camp, the global hegemony of capital is at its strongest since 1917, while the body politic of Eastern Europe and the former USSR is now torn asunder by national chauvinisms. There and elsewhere, fundamentalism fills the void of the failure of secular ideologies to deliver a better material and spiritual life. We are increasingly challenged by the contradiction between the centrifugal force of nationalism and the imperative of global unity necessary for survival and sustainable development.
But not all is dismal. Consider the wealth of opportunities opened by the end of the cold war, especially the brighter prospects for nuclear disarmament. We have all breathed easier as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Clock has been set back. Some regional conflicts are being resolved on terms that are surprisingly favorable to progressive forces, to take El Salvador as a recent example. The Gulf War notwithstanding, maybe the world is not as unipolar as left pessimists believe. Perestroika and glasnost have been necessary but clearly not sufficient conditions for a path leading to democratic socialism in the former Soviet Union. In response to the procapitalist direction now underway, one hopes that some residual of socialist ideals among the people will lead to a democratic socialist solution to the profound economic and social crises, but that scenario looks unlikely at present, at least for the near future. It’s no use blaming Gorbachev; we must look elsewhere for a counterforce to international capital.
A political vacuum - once filled by the idealism of the international communist movement (notwithstanding its eventual Stalinist and neo-Stalinist deformation ) - exists at a global level. Local or national groupings abound, even a Socialist International, but there is no transnational political movement forged at the grassroots fighting for the interests of humanity and the planet as a whole. Groups like Greenpeace, engaged in direct action and consciousness-raising, play an outstanding role, but they are necessarily not grassroots, nor are they political parties. Only a few major organized religions can be said to have a global grassroots membership. Yet a new kind of community has appeared on the world scene, the non- geographical community (For the Common Good, Cobb and Daly, 1989). One such community is of course the transnational corporation. Another, the long-established world community of scientists. Progressive trade unions too have approached status as a non-geographical community, to the extent that they have forged bonds of international solidarity, though they are a long way from matching the power of transnational corporations.
We now see the emergence of an altogether new type of non-geographical community: all those who support a sustainable global economy in a healthy planetary environment. Whether green, feminist, unionist or humanist, or some combination, they identify themselves first as planetary citizens. Without the building and mobilization of this nascent global community, it is difficult to imagine that national movements alone will succeed in reversing the present course of increasing impoverishment of the Third World coupled with profound biospheric alterations that will affect us all.
Sustainability - the catchword of the 1990s- need not relegate peoples in the developing regions to perpetual third class status. Economic development that raises the quality of life of all up to the highest global levels of education, nutrition and life expectancy can be sustainable, providing this development is grounded on technologies that conserve and restore the biosphere. These new (and adaptations of old) technologies include renewable energy supplies, closed cycle (waste free) production, containment in agriculture (e.g. greenhouses), non-polluting transportation (mass transit, electric cars and yes, bicycles), recycling, and full use of new information technologies for production, mass education, and communication.
At the same time, this is not an austerity scenario for the industrialized countries (except for the rich who deserve everything they won’t get), unless one is nostalgic for rush hour traffic, air pollution, pesticide residues in food and the planned obsolescence of consumer society. A necessary condition for this goal, particularly for the Third World, is a global peace dividend borne from accelerated, irreversible nuclear and conventional disarmament. As Barry Commoner recently put it: To make peace with the planet, we must make peace among the peoples who live in it (Making Peace with the Planet, 1990). Hopefully, the world peace movement will emerge on a qualitatively new basis, drawing on the planetary consciousness of the millions who have been active in the struggle for nuclear disarmament and the defense of the biosphere in the last decade.
The conditions for a transnational political movement with a global ecosocialist agenda now appear even riper than Wagar’s projection for the next half century (and who needs a nuclear war anyway!). The green movement is now poised at globalization forced by the North- South polarity and imperatives of a planetary ecological crisis. A viable socialist internationalism must now be centered on the struggle for a sustainable global economy. A viable green politics must adopt a perspective for democratization of the economy, for social governance of production and consumption (e.g., mandatory recycling). Surely, the need for governance at a planetary level of the activities of the transnational corporations, banks and nation states has never been greater. Many informed observers see action in this decade as absolutely critical to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the enhanced greenhouse effect and destruction of the ozone layer (State of the World, 1992, Worldwatch).
Now, suspend your common sense and usual political instincts-for these are extraordinary times- and consider the following possibility: a global political party, a party without nationality, being organized as a component of a transnational movement. I submit that such a party will arise, sooner or later, from historical necessity as a political expression of a new global community. Imagine for a moment a membership party open to all those who put as their first priority the welfare of the children of the world, all those willing to actively support the step-by-step reconstruction of the global economy on a sustainable basis as a legacy for their future. It is almost tautological to say that such a party would support a broad humanist agenda including democratization of governance of the economy and of institutional power, nuclear and conventional disarmament and rejection of sexual, racial, class, ethnic and religious/ ideological domination.
Such a party would not aim to replace progressive national parties, including the Greens, or compete with any other democratic, anti- imperialist, environmental, or humanist movement. Rather, it would support all such existing movements, emphasizing their common global interests, eventually lending its global weight to each national struggle for democracy and equality, for empowerment of working people, women and minorities, for defense of the biosphere. Such a party would not succeed without the enthusiastic support and leadership by peoples of the Third World.
Is it unrealistic to expect that millions of people around the world, especially youth, would eventually join and fight for the ideals of such a party? I am sure there are many others thinking along similar lines. The Global Citizens Conference on Environment and Development will be held side by side with the Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development), in Rio de Janeiro, June 1992. While the Earth Summit may prove to be anticlimatic, given the gap in North-South positions and likely resistance of the United States to any but the most rhetorical outcome, the Citizens Conference could result in greater cohesion of the diverse peoples movements represented. Further down the road, the creation of something like a world congress of peoples organizations, as a counterpart to the United Nations, would perhaps be a necessary step towards the eventual organization of a world party.
All the above may be nothing more than an ecosocialist fantasy, but if nothing else, I hope it will provoke discussion among those determined to act locally and globally.
I close with an updated quotation, in sync with Billy Bragg’s revisionism:
The World Party does not form a separate party opposed to other progressive parties. It has no interests separate and apart from those of humanity as a whole. It does not set up sectarian principles of its own, by which to shape and mould the movement for a sustainable global economy in a healthy planetary environment.
The World Party is distinguished from the other progressive parties by this only: 1) In the national struggles of progressives in different countries, it points out and brings to the front the common interests of all of humanity, independently of all nationality. 2) In the various stages of development which the struggle for global sustainability has to pass through, it always and everywhere represents the interests of the movement as a whole.
(after The Communist Manifesto , with apologies to K. Marx and W. Warren Wagar)
David Schwartzman is an ecosocialist living in the declining capitol of the world. A prequel to this article appeared in the December ‘91 issue of Crossroads.