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Lindsey Collen on the politics of emancipating labour & protecting nature

05.05.2010

This is a transcript and translation from Kreol of LALIT's Labour Day key-note speech delivered by Lindsey Collen.

Greetings on Labour Day! We can be sure that right now, with three days to go until General Elections, the two main Alliances in the elections will not be talking, in their huge rallies, about the emancipation of the working class or about caring for the natural world that we are part of. Which is part of the reason for LALIT giving the "mot-ordre", as you all know, to put one big cross right over the ballot, as a sign of rejecting their pro-capitalist policies, which are only thinly disguised by workerist demagogy.

In LALIT, we have over the past year, and this is what I would like to share with everyone present, begun a process of linking the question of the emancipation of labour with the question of the environment, and with the already present danger of climate change.

The main Alliances preach that the environmental problem can be solved by us not throwing away a cigarette butt or a banana skin. It's good not to throw them away any old where, but that's not going to solve today's problem of the environment. They say children should pick up plastic bags that have blown into the fields or been washed up on the beach. This is a good thing, of course, but this is not the cause of the environment problem. Maurice Ile Durable, the Government's environment program which the Prime Minister is always bragging about, which has offered us a light bulb exchange for bulbs that use less energy, is also a good thing, but it too is not getting to the heart of the problem. Just as the fight over whether the Gamma-Coventa rubbish-to-electricity project for the west of the island is "more polluting" than the combined "land-fill" and "burning coal" on the eastern windward side, reflects and is funded by intra-capitalist feuds more than genuine concerns about the environment. It, too, does not get to the heart of the problem at all. Just as the British declaring a "Marine Protected Area" over illegally occupied land and sea, is using the environmental issue in order to continue colonization and militarism. It certainly does not get to the heart of the problem: it positively keeps us from the getting to the heart of the matter. It even mocks us, what with a nuclear military base in its midst.

In LALIT, that's what today we will do: understand the depth of the environmental problems we are facing today, and where they come from. Just follow the arguments. It's not difficult.

We humans both live in nature, which implies we are separate from it, and are also ourselves natural beings, one with nature, not separate from it. We have evolved over 4 billion years, along with plants and other animals, just as they have. We are nature. And everything we eat comes either from the sea, or from the land. It may pass through a chicken or sheep, but the chicken and sheep eat what comes off the land. Our clothing, too, comes from natural substances, some organic like wool, cotton and linen. Some synthetic, but still, natural. They are merely processed in factories.

All living things affect nature. I mean not just humankind. Nature is constantly changed by living creatures. Plants metabolize the nutrients in the soil, water and the sun's light, to create themselves and to produce the oxygen we breathe. That's plants. A Cape Canary, like the ones you can see all over the Island, carry bits of coconut palm leaves, peck a bit of a leaf, fly away, pulling off a strip, and go and weave a nest on another tree, some distance away. They live in colonies, and strip the leaves off the host tree, changing it too. Maybe this habit has helped them survive predators over generations. Then, all being together, the canaries produce nice fertilizer under the tree. So, different plants thrive under the host tree. Thus a Cape Canary affects nature, too. Some animals, as we have seen on TV, like otters, affect nature more than humans probably did for most of our over 100,000 years of life on the planet, because they actually build dams. They fell trees, and make dams for their young ones to grow up safely in.

Anyway, for our first 100,000 years (assuming this to be the age of our species, though the jury is still out), we had little more effect on nature than other creatures had. We roamed around in bands of 20-50 adults, maybe, and dug up roots, gathered fruit and edible leaves, fished in rivers and the sea, collected honey, and hunted down the odd big feast. Until, say, 5,000 years ago, when in many places on the globe, agriculture was developed in a stable way, and established. People now kept animals, instead of hunting for them, they could now grow plants, instead of digging and gathering food fromplants in the Savannah grasslands. And people became sedentary, no longer nomadic. This happened in a stable way, in many parts of Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe from 5,000 years ago (Though in isolated places it is known to have existed up to 11,000 years ago). Large civilizations developed in many places. But still the effect, though more than before, was fairly in proportion to the effect of otters. Some de-forestation. Some small dams. Some crops developed. Some animals domesticated over time. While the rest of humanity continued as before, and while other species developed, changed, became extinct.

Then some 400 years ago, there was a major event: colonization on a big scale began. There was large-scale extraction, pillage, there was a first phase of massive "world trade", there was genocide of people who were nomadic, and the institution of mass slavery by private companies from Spain, Portugal, Holland, England, France. Within a hundred years, there had already been some drastic changes to nature. And when the sugar industry, the precursor to capitalism, began in colonies all over the world, the slave labour was put into the very first large-scale industries. Labour became a commodity, the entire slave embodying it and being trapped in perpetuity into slavery. Millions of people were taken by force into slavery, mainly from Africa, and brought into a machine-like production in agriculture and elementary sugar mills. On a vast scale, people were ripped off the land that nurtured them, forced into labour.

And 250 years ago, this model was generalized in Europe into the industrial mills and factories in the North of England, in all those cities that we now know as football teams: Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield. But with a change. Peoples' labour power (the beautiful word in Mauritian Kreol "kuraz") became a commodity. Part of our natural selves got taken from us. Part of our 24 hours a day. And our labour power was then put to making commodities on a vast scale, taking raw materials from all over the world, converting them into pots, pans, cloth, lamps, and behind this another layer of factories producing the machines and implements to make these commodities. This was when capital came to power. The kings and queens were ousted, reduced to being on stamps. The religious leaders withdrew into a few ceremonial spheres. They no longer ruled, no longer taxed, no longer had armies. Capital took over power. Capital still reigns. Some people, thus, buy part of other peoples' natural selves. And keep the product of what these peoples' natural selves make. And we, the 90% absolutely have to sell ourselves, in the short run, like this because we have been ripped off Mother Earth. We have no other way to survive. We, natural creatures, are forced this way into slavery, then wage slavery. We are forced to ally our strength and our minds with machines, and to ransack the world, transform it in ways over which we, split from our own minds and effort for half of our lives (at work), have no control.

So capital has, since then, stood in opposition to Labour. And this one day out of 365 in a year, we think about this. Because we have to change it. And while, at the same time each individual, in the short run, still has to submit to his private sector boss in order to survive, we all, as working people, collectively have to prepare to overthrow this rule. And we need to reflect, to organize, to put together a program and mobilize behind it.

So, to get back to the question of our relationship to nature, we can summarise it as having been five fractures, five rifts created, over the past 400 years and accelerating since the industrial revolution under capitalism 250 years ago, and also under Stalinism from 80 years ago to 20 years ago, then for 20 years under uncontrollable capitalism.

1 The first fracture is our having been ripped off the land. 90% of us have no right to the nourishment of mother earth. We are no longer free to hunt and gather, nor to plant and raise animals, because we have no access to the land and its natural food. That is the first natural break.

2 The second break, again for 90% of us, is that our own creative labour power has been fractured from us for 8-10 hours a day, sometimes more, much more if transport time is included. Our labour power has become a mere commodity, that we sell off on the labour market, in exchange for the wherewithal to survive until we sell our labour power again.

3 There is what Marx called the "metabolic rift", where what is taken from the earth (the richness of the topsoil, gone into food crops and cotton, wool and linen) and then it is not metabolized in the same rural area, but is taken to the cities where millions upon millions of us human beings metabolize the products, not turning their own waste into fertilizer, but into the "sewerage problem", not putting food scraps and old clothing back into the earth eventually, but causing the huge problem of garbage disposal in cities. This is magnified by the moving of these "potential fertilizers" from the ex-colonies into the empire's centres, where they become a "problem" not a value. De-forestation is now on a vast scale. And we are now faced with a related rift, when GMO plants may cause a further "metabolic rift", one which is irreversible.

4 There is another fracture now coming into action: the climate change fracture. The combined effects of capitalism's dependence on fossil fuels, and the promotion of individualist car culture, are causing the carbon that is stored safely underground and under the sea, to be burnt up and cause the "hot-house" effect, and like a big transparent plastic bag, cause global warming. Further factors cut in. When ice-bergs melt, the white light refraction is decreased, as the dark blue sea that is exposed absorbs more warmth from the sun. You saw those views from above in the film Home, that we had glimpses of before the film of the recent Diego Garcia demonstration. Similarly when the sea will have warmed to a certain point, the sea itself will emit carbon that it holds within it. Both these effects are accelerating factors. So long as there is the profit motive ruling human society, there is no conceivable way of rolling this back.

5 The war fracture is a mass fracture, where humans by the million range themselves, divided, against humans by the million. Since the turn of the Nineteenth Century, marked by the First World War, there have been wars which involve fractures in nature, now culminating in chemical and even atomic weapons, that destroy nature in ways that are irreversible. These wars have all been provoked by the trade wars that capitalist rivalry provokes in its greed for markets and investment opportunities, and by the panicky need to control the sources and routes for oil, in order to keep the supply running for capitalist production.

So, basically, it is these five fractures are what we have to address. So you can now see why when I said at the beginning that it is not enough to stop throwing away cigarette butts or banana skins, or to collect up plastic bags or to exchange bulbs for less energy-greedy ones. We now see that these five fractures are what have to be healed. This must be our strategic aim. All these other matters, when they are useful, must be part of this strategy to re-link ourselves and our society with nature in a holistic way.

We have to, therefore, in our political strategy, our strategy to win power to the people, to:
O Regain democratic control over the land, so as to prevent de-forestation and to control agriculture
O Regain control over our own labour power and creativity
O Gain control over the capital produced by our labour power together with land and machines
O Re-unify town and country, gradually, to heal the metabolic rift.
O Break our dependence on carbon energy sources and on private vehicles, by developing truly renewable energy from the sun, the sea and the wind.
O Stop all war, by democratic control of the State, by doing away with different unequal classes.

So, all our short-term demands need to judged in terms of their effect on these long and middle term strategies. And this is what LALIT's program, our 5-year Report and Program here before you, does. We aim together to build socialism, and our program is a bridge from the here-and-now towards it. This will be international. You have heard our messages from Australia, South Africa, the US, Denmark, Sweden and France. We move together with others. We keep our strategic aim in mind all the time. Even our "mot-d'ordre" to put one big cross on the ballot for this election, is a way of saying we reject the capitalist politics and demagogic statements of the two main contesters. We are vowing to build a new wave of extra-parliamentary opposition to both alliances, in order to overthrow the order that is responsible for breaking us from nature and keeping us enslaved. We know that the two Alliances facing each other in the election are in fierce combat today, when just five weeks ago Labour and the MMM were negotiation a pre-electoral alliance that they did not pull off. We need to reject them both, and go beyond their kind of politics.

Thank you for listening so closely! Happy Labour Day!