7. Socialism: A Vision

How else might socialism look in the future?

“Most critically,” Klein writes, “farming — a major source of greenhouse gas emissions — can also become an expanded sector of decentralized self-sufficiency and poverty reduction, as well as a key tool for emission reduction” (134). Big Agribusiness, which wants to present itself as a savior, overlooks the fact that it’s not the amount of food it can produce that determines whether people are fed but who controls the production of food, who distributes it, and who can afford to buy it. The United States, for instance, enjoys an abundance of food and still 50 million Americans are food-insecure; and the famous Green Revolution powered by philanthropic and government efforts was all the rage in India, where starvation still persists. 

Big Agribusiness, and the people who depend on it for sustenance, are compromised by the volatility of global markets, the reduction of land and labor to commodities, the controversial investment in GMOs, and the propping up of free trade agreements that exploit non-unionized workers abroad.

But these days, hundreds of NGOs are turning to agroecology, a collection of highly successful sustainable farming methods, to address food insecurity in the developing world. Agroecology has doubled or tripled maize yields in Malawi; it has resulted in a 80% average crop yield increase in fifty-seven other developing countries; and it is on the rise in the United States, as well (134-5). It is particularly well suited to attempts to place food production in the hands of small-scale local farms and to grant them “food sovereignty,” which La Via Campesina defines as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food, produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems.” 

As a worker’s movement, socialism demands rights for unions; but of course, the power of late capitalism to constrain and compromise even those workers who are fighting for good jobs and fair wages is considerable. We know, Klein writes, that “trade unions can be counted on to fiercely protect jobs, however dirty, if these are the only jobs on offer.” We also know, however, that “when workers in dirty sectors are offered good jobs in clean sectors…and are enlisted as active participants in a green transition, then progress can happen at lightning speed.” Those who worry about the economic impact of a socialist transition might consider that the potential job creation here is “huge. For instance, a plan put forward by the U.S. BlueGreen Alliance, a body that brings together unions and environmentalists, estimated that a $40 billion annual investment in public transit and high-speed rail for six years would produce more than 3.7 million jobs during that period” (126). This is, for comparison, the average annual increase of the U.S. military budget under Trump. “And we know that investments in public transit pay off…they create 31 percent more jobs per dollar than investment in new road and bridge construction” (126).

Klein elaborates, “research in Canada has found that an investment of $1.3 billion (the amount the Canadian government spends on subsidies to oil and gas companies) could create seventeen to twenty thousand jobs in renewable energy, public transit, or energy efficiency — six to eight times as many jobs as that money generates in the oil and gas sector.” There is a funny feedback loop that happens here too: according to a study by the European Transport Workers Federation, “comprehensive policies to reduce emissions in the transport sector by 80 percent would create seven million new jobs across the continent,” while the investment in such jobs would continue to slash energy emissions in turn — to the tune of about 90 percent (127).

But for the savings here to go to the right places, it is imperative that the corporate stranglehold on the purse strings be loosened. Shareholders and CEOs, the princes of capitalism, do not let go without a fight. I think of West Virginia. Not one of the state’s top ten private landowners is headquartered there, and in some counties, absentee corporate land ownership is as high as 50%. This means that property taxes go to states like New York or wherever these robber barons live. Many of these landowners are mining corporations, which have lately taken to transferring their fortunes to shell companies and then declaring bankruptcy so that they don’t have to pay the pensions or health plans of the fired workers who contracted black lung disease on their behalf. 

I would recall the words of Nikhil Saval: socialism is an “ethic of solidarity,” with an emphasis on ethical behavior. 

When people gather in solidarity — often in the wake of crisis — miracles can happen. After being decimated by a tornado, the town council of Greensburg, Kansas, decided to rise from the ruins as the greenest town in the United States (406). The story is truly inspiring and deserves a read

This need not be a one-off occurrence, though. A UC Davis study devised a meticulously detailed road map indicating that “100 percent of the world’s energy, for all purposes, could be supplied by wind, water, and solar resources, by as early as 2030”; other studies, cited below, come to similar conclusions. 

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The challenge, then, is not a technological one; what we face is a question of political will. Should we wait aeons for municipalities to motivate themselves under capitalism, or ought we invest in radically envisioned government policies that will make this easier rather than more difficult? A 2013 research paper from the University of Greenwich explains, “Historically, the private sector has played little role in investing in renewable energy generation. Governments have been responsible for nearly all such investments. Current experience from around the world, including the markets of Europe, also shows that private companies and electricity markets cannot deliver investments in renewables on the scale required” (101).  

We need a government with the vision to make this happen — a vision that spreads across every cabinet department, from interior to agriculture to commerce to labor to treasury to transportation to state. Just as the struggles are integrated, so must the response be integrated in order for the gains to be integrated, too — in order for “the tools we use to combat climate change” to be “the same tools we can use to change the game for low-income Americans and people of color,” in the words of environmental justice activist Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins (92).

This is why one of Sanders’s biggest supposed liabilities — that he has no reliable allies in Congress — could become one of his biggest strengths: he can recruit a dream cabinet full of people who have always thought outside the box. The oldest candidate may turn out to be the one with the freshest ideas. Incidentally, this is also the most significant response to concerns about the senator’s health: if he dies even one hundred days into office, God forbid, he’ll have nominated a cabinet with a mandate to promote a bolder vision than any other candidate for the presidency has proposed so far. And to the complaint that even a Democratic congress — to say nothing of a Republican-controlled one — would pass any of Sanders’s legislation, a socialist-inspired cabinet could do a great deal on the executive level, and could support local and state-level Green New Deals through bureaucratic means.

But, as will be the refrain throughout all of this, we have to act quickly. It would be wonderful if the cities of the future could look like Stockholm, 74% of whose primary mode of transportation is walking (179). But this is far from guaranteed in the majority world. Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, remarked, “Much of India still takes the bus, walks or cycles — in many cities as much as 20 percent of the population bikes. We do this because we are poor. Now the challenge is to reinvent city planning so that we can do this as we become rich” (96). 

This is, indeed, the challenge: to scale a sustainable socialism as the global population grows rather than to balloon an unsustainable consumerist delusion. 

Read on for more.