And now for Gore?

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Sep 4 14:03:28 PDT 1998

>From this side of the Atlantic it looks as if the Democratic Party has just

Clinton has had a very successful trip to Ireland but the statements by the four leading Democrats denouncing his conduct appear to be consistent with reports that the party is now deeply scared of the likely contents of the Starr report, and is preparing itself to confront Clinton to resign.

I have been impressed but also a little surprised at the forebearance of US contributors to discuss Clinton. Why gossip about what was obvious? I presume was the feeling. Plus a sense that while you would not want to campaign for him, he was better than his predecessors, and than his political attackers. But is there also a reluctance to discuss such differences openly for fear of backing a bourgeois party?

It seems to me that there is a false counterposition here. The problem is one of promoting parliamentary cretinism. A political party that claims to be marxist and advocates tailing behind a bourgeois party, has some explaining to do. At election time there may be an argument for voting one way or another so long as people are not demobilised by placing trust in something untrustworthy. That is different from analysing the contradictions within the ruling class and the contradictions for politicians between their popular democratic and their financial constituencies.

So I want to ask questions about Gore. It seems possible that one factor maintaining Clinton's political position has been that as long as the economy holds up, the Republicans may not have wanted to move in for the kill. They would rather not have to fight an incument president at the next election. But for Democrats at a certain pain threshold, the calculation becomes different.

Without imagining that he will end capitalism is it possible to analyse some of the issues around Gore? We know little of him in England apart from his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance"

The paperback version available in the UK, quotes a range of serious positive reviews. That from New Scientist, admirable serious popular weekly, reads:

2Gore's range if remarkable. If it offered nothing more, Earth in the Balance would make a handy, nearly encyclopaedic compendium of environmental problems. It is loaded with authoritative analyses of biospheric damage, some of them complied from the senator's own junkets to inspect the devastation of the rainforests, the game parks of Africa, and the ozone hole above Antarctica. But Earth in the Balance reaches well beyond the mere reportage and exposition.

'The intellectual meat of the book lies in the ethical issues and philosophical condundrums it explores. These Gore handles with admirable sophistication; he has read up on his sprawling subjects and sought out the best minds.'

While the work seems to be concerned with the relationship between small scale ethical decisions and large scale ethical decisions, it is not purely idealist ethics.

Consider this discussion of the potentialities for revolutionary change in which the role of practice is not dismissed:

"One of the philosphers of the environmental movement, Ivan Illich, explained the beginnings of activism on the global environmental movement by saying, 'What has changed is that our common sense has begun searching for a language to speak about the shadow our future throws'.

"Where can we find such a language? Two models from science may help us predict what will happen and tell us where we are. First, the new scientific theory of change, called Chaos Theory, is revolutionizing the way we understand many changes in the physical world. Not long after Newtonian physics led to a revolution in our understanding of cause and effect, the model of the world implied in Newtons's science was lifted wholesale into politics, economics, and society at large. Many are now convinced in a similar way, the insights of Chaos theory will soon be absorbed into political science and social analysis.

"Chaos theory describes how many natural systems show significant changes in the way they operate even as they remain within the overall pattern ('dynamical equilibrium'). Accoring to this theory, certain critical boundaries define that overall pattern and cannot be exceeded without threatening the loss of its equilibrium. When large changes force it beyond these boundaries, the system suddenly shifts into an entirely new equilibrium; it adopts a new pattern with new boundaries.

"In some ways, the central ideas in Chaos Theory are not new at all. Aficionados of the symphony, for example, recognise a crescendo as the point of maximum instability in a piece of music, coming just at the point when the music flows to a new equilibrium with resolution and harmony. Soon we will learn to recognize crescendos in human affaris more easily - and see that they frequently signal the beginning of systemic, chaotic change from one form of equilibrium to another.

Such a crescendo now seems apparent in the wave upon wave of discordant calls of distress from every corner of the globe. The relationship between human civilization and the earth is now in a state that theorists of change would describe as disequilibrium."

And on capitalism ...

after opening in Chapter 10 hailing the just victory of capitalism over communism because capitalism better incorporates classical economic theory [!] he develops his argument:

"But capitalism's recent triumph over communism should lead those of us who believe in it to do more than merely indulge in self-congratulation. We should instead recognize that the victory of the West - precisely because it means the rest of the world is now more likely to adopt our system - imposes upon us a new and even deeper obligation to address the shortcomings of capitalist economics as it is now practised.

"The hard truth is that our economic system is partially blind. It 'sees' some things and not others. It carefully measures and keeps track of the value of those things most important to buyers and sellers, such as food, clothing, manufactured goods, work, and indeed, money itelf. But its intricate calculations often completely ignore the value of other things that are harder to buy and sell: fresh water, clean air, the beauty of mountains, the rich diversity of life in the forest, just to name a few. In fact, the partial blindness of our current economic system is the single most powerful force behind what seem to be irrational decisions about the global environment.

"... Much of what we don't see with our economics involves the accelerating destruction of the environment. Many popular textbooks of economic theory fail even to address subjects as basic to our economic choices as pollution or the depletion of natural resources. Although these issues have been studied by many microeconomists in specific business contexts, they have generally not been integrated into economic theory. 'There is no point of contact between macroeconomics and the environment,' says the World Bank economist Herman Daly, a leading student of the problem.

"Consider the most basic measure of a nation's economic performance, gross national product (GNP). In calculating GNP, natural resources are not depreciated as they are used up. Buildings and factories are depreciated; so are machinery and equipment, cars and trucks. So why for instance, isn't the topsoil in Iowa depreciated when it washes down the Mississippi River after careless agricultural methods have lessened its ability to resist wind and rain?

"... Or take still another situation, one a little farther from home. When an underdeveloped nation cuts down a million acres of tropical rain forest in a single year, the money received from the sale of the logs is counted as part of that country's income for the year. The wear and tear on the chain saws and logging trucks as a result of a year's work in the rain forest will be entered on the expense side of the ledger, but the wear and tear on the forest itself will not."

Is this marxism? Of course not. But a shift to a legal and social system that relates total value to the labour costs of *re*production in the future, rather than the labour costs of *production* in the present, would be part of the victory of living labour over dead labour.

We have little power over whether Gore becomes the next US president or not. What we do have power to consider is, what opportunities for progressive politics may open up, and how they can be used more truly democratically than Gore himself could practice.

Chris Burford


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