The County Sustainability Group offers a bursary for young organic farmers. The details are found HERE
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With this season’s severe flooding, raging wildfires, and delayed planting, many of the country’s farmers are struggling to adjust as climate change sets in. Yet young and beginning farmers face unique challenges, farmers and advocates say, with tenuous finances, relatively small operations, and little government support to help them deal with the new, erratic normal.
There are about 340,000 farms in the United States — 17 percent of the total — whose operators have been farming for less than 10 years, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey. Two-thirds of these farmers say they are already experiencing climate change, a 2017 survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition found.
New farmers aren’t alone in recognizing the source of volatile weather. A 2013 survey found that 75 percent of Iowa’s farmers believed climate change was occurring, though just 16 percent attributed it to human activity. Awareness of the climate crisis has grown even among the nation’s most conservative farm leaders, some of whom recently convened in a closed-door meeting to discuss the issue with lawmakers and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
But several farm groups and policymakers, led by the Hudson, New York-based National Young Farmers Coalition, say that specific policies are needed for young farmers, especially as the average age of farmers, now 57.5, continues to rise and the threat of climate change grows. They say establishing and supporting a new generation of farmers is important not only to securing the future of farming, but also to ensuring that farming’s climate-mitigating potential is achieved.
“[Without a] next generation that’s on the land to take the helm from [more] experienced farmers, you’re not going to be able to continue [long-term] environmental benefits [of farming, like] carbon sequestration,” says Sanaz Arjomand, federal policy director at NYFC.
To fill this gap, NYFC is working with policymakers to get farmer-friendly climate change policy on the federal agenda. In September, the group also launched its first platform on climate change. Arjomand says that a growing coalition of farmer advocacy groups across the political spectrum is thinking together about how to equip young and beginning farmers to adapt to climate change.
Unpredictable and extreme weather
The past year was devastating to many farmers — with the smallest harvests in decades — and it came after a few years of high temperatures and inconsistent rainfall. Extreme storms, hail, erratic frosts, and new pests have also sickened livestock and destroyed harvests, farmers say.
“Rains don’t come gentle and slow anymore,” says Anne Schwagerl, 34, who raises mostly organic row crops and pasture-based hogs with her husband at Prairie Point Farm in Browns Valley, Minnesota. “They come hard and fast. And it’s feast or famine — either you have rain and you have too much, or you don’t have any.”
Growing seasons have also gotten longer, says Ben Tyler, 34, of Unadilla Community Farm in Oswego County, New York, who has been farming for seven years — but there’s a catch. “If that was all that the changing climate was going to do, that would be great, because a longer season is great for us,” he says. “But it’s also really unpredictable.”
“This new level of risk and uncertainty [makes] some farmers really question whether they can keep farming,” says Sophie Ackoff, co-executive director of NYFC. “Our farmers are definitely feeling the impacts first, much sooner than their customers are.”
Young and beginning farmers are especially vulnerable because they tend to be in weaker financial positions than their older and more experienced counterparts. The USDA ARMS study found that between 2013 and 2017, two-thirds of beginning farms had less than $10,000 in revenue, compared to just over 50 percent of established farms. They also have more debt and less wealth than more established farmers and have to take jobs off the farm to get by. In NYFC’s survey, 29 percent of respondents said student debt was a significant challenge.
New farmers also face high financial barriers, as the price of land has risen dramatically over the past several decades. Today, an acre of farmland costs more than $3,000 on average, compared to an inflation-adjusted $1,000 in 1968.
“We’re walking a finer line than bigger guys who have relationships with banks and can get credit extended or have extra land that they can put into production if they’re getting reduced crop yields,” says Nathan Moomaw, 39, who has raised pigs, sheep, chickens, and rabbits at Moomaw Farm near Portland, Oregon, for four years. “We have less options to work with, so we have to get more creative.”
What can be done?
For Ben Tyler and Greta Zarro, 26, from Unadilla Community Farm, getting creative looks like diversifying their crops and bringing in additional income from educational programs. And they established a community-supported agriculture program to ensure that they have customers for whichever crops survive erratic weather.
They and other beginning farmers have also turned to USDA programs for support. Both Unadilla Community Farm and Bumbleroot Organic Farm have received support from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to build high tunnels–large structures in which to grow crops — which they say help prevent soil erosion and losses during storms.
Yet even those young farmers who’ve worked with USDA report that the agency and its local extension offices could do more to help them mitigate the effects of climate change. “Young farmers are approaching farming differently,” Zarro says. “With our marketing strategies, we’re doing more direct farming. These agencies … don’t know how to work with us.”
Farmers just starting out are also less likely to receive government support, like subsidies, according to the USDA. Between 2014 and 2017, a third of beginning farmers received payments from government programs, compared with 41 percent of established farms. In part this is because smaller farms are less likely to receive federal farm payments. Over the past two decades, just 10 percent of all farms in the country received nearly 80 percent of crop subsidies.
In addition to an income gap, new farmers say they also face a research gap. Existing research prioritizes large-scale livestock and crop operations, and doesn’t always apply to farmers with small acreages or who grow diversified crops.
For instance, Hannah Bernhardt, 37, who has raised sheep, cattle, and pigs on 160 acres at Medicine Creek Farm in Minnesota for about three years, has faced abnormally wet conditions in the past few seasons and has seen an increase of a fatal parasite in her sheep. Yet when looking into how to treat the parasite, she could only find research on chemical de-wormers rather than the non-chemical treatments she would prefer to use.
Oregon’s Moomaw also pointed to the need for new tools to figure out how much carbon farms are capturing, potentially helping to mitigate climate change. Better research and technology would allow farmers to “demonstrate to the government that small farms are worth supporting in this effort.”
“The more research that is done about the tools and technologies for adapting and mitigating climate change, the better off everyone will be,” Bumbleroot’s Whalen says.
As the agriculture industry starts to address the impact of climate change, Ackoff and other NYFC leaders are working on getting the voices of young and beginning farmers heard in national policy conversations.
“Our main message is that all solutions to climate change must involve agriculture,” says Ackoff. “Agriculture shouldn’t just be pinned in the box of contributors to global warming — which is, of course, a reality — but getting young farmers on the land to do climate-friendly practices is a solution.” SOURCE
George Monbiot says you don’t set targets in an emergency, you act.
It’s a new year and I am teaching sustainable design at Ryerson University, mostly to interior design, architecture and urban design students in third and fourth year. As I noted last year, I usually use the petals of the Living Building Challenge or the 10 categories of the British One Planet Living program as my guides.
This year, I have thrown all that out the window and have been concentrating on one thing: carbon. The 1.5 degree target. Where greenhouse gases come from and how we cut our emissions in half by 2030. That, as designers, they should be thinking about this with every thing they do. I keep hammering: 1.5 degrees. 10 years.
But there is a problem with this: nobody is doing anything. Everyone knows there is a target but everyone is just sort of talking about it. And every year, the mitigation curve gets steeper, from a comfortable green circle, had we started 20 years ago, to a blue square to double black diamond, and now to an insurmountable cliff. By the time my students are practicing and have any control of the situation, it will be target time, 2030, and it will be too late.
It’s not just the target that’s wrong, but the very notion of setting targets in an emergency.
When firefighters arrive at a burning building, they don’t set themselves a target of rescuing three of the five inhabitants. They seek – aware that they may not succeed – to rescue everyone they can. Their aim is to maximise the number of lives they save. In the climate emergency, our aim should be to maximise both the reduction of emissions and the drawing down of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. There is no safe level of global heating: every increment kills.
Monbiot calls for Maximization, pursuing the highest possible ambition, right now. “We are all familiar with the absurdities of target culture. We know how, in many workplaces, the target becomes the task.” He claims that targets actually encourage us to underperform, especially if they are as far away as 2050. “As soon as you set a target, you pull back from maximization.” Monbiot concludes that we have to do everything we can possibly do, right now,
…. to explore every economic sector in search of the maximum possible cuts in greenhouse gases, and the maximum possible drawdown. We have arrived at the burning building. The only humane and reasonable aim is to rescue everyone inside.
Yup. Had a conversation a month ago with someone who said “climate change is massively overblown, just like acid rain which was a complete hoax”.
Not sure how we combat that. https://twitter.com/KetanJ0/status/120832295154159206
It’s hard to imagine that we are going to fix this, especially since the latest trick is to deny that acid rain or the ozone hole ever existed, both of which we actually fixed through legislation and regulation. And I know I always get preachy when school is in session.
But George Monbiot is right. Anyone who does get the science and knows this is happening should stop talking about having ten years to mitigate this, or even the 1.5 degree target. We have to go for Monbiot’s maximization, and do everything we can right now.
That’s why I am going to keep trying to live that 1.5 degree lifestyle right now, to set an example for my design students and to encourage them to try it too.
Scientists are scrambling to find ways to slow — let alone reverse — the damage caused by human pollution and fossil-fuel emissions.
So here’s some moderately good news in the era of climate change. Wind, solar and other “clean” energy sources are now as cheap or cheaper than dirty fossil fuels at the industrial level, even without taxpayer assistance. And the gap is getting wider.
Costs of cadmium telluride, a key component in solar paneling, could plunge, thanks to a new breakthrough just unveiled at Washington State University’s Center for Materials Research.
“We can have a 45 percent cost reduction in producing the raw material,” says Santosh Swain, a researcher at the center and co-author of the study. (He bases the calculations on general industry estimates for current cost levels).
That could get solar power costs below the US Department of Energy’s 2030 cost targets for renewable energy way ahead of schedule, he says.
“The US Department of Energy has set a target of getting [to] less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour,” he told MarketWatch. “This technology already proves we can definitely get there.”
The experiment involved using high-pressure argon gas, the third most prevalent gas in the earth’s atmosphere, to incorporate arsenic into the cadmium telluride, raising the material’s efficiency for solar power generation at a lower cost of production, he said.
The effects will be bigger on industrial-scale solar power generation by utilities and other power companies. The latest development is only one step along the road to cheaper renewable energy. It’s not about the size of any step, but the cumulative effect of them all, say experts.
Green energy investment expert Elizabeth Levy, a portfolio manager at environmental, social and governance investment firm Trillium Asset Management, said she was “excited but not surprised” by the news.
A wave of scientific breakthroughs, such as the one at Washington State and the development of new battery technologies, is causing green energy costs to plummet, she said. “As renewable and clean energy reach scale, there is no reason to think their cost won’t continue to fall even farther below incumbent fossil-based 20th-century technologies,” she added.
The effect on homeowners looking to install solar panels won’t be that great, however. Raw materials make up a very small share of the costs of installing solar panels on your home, where things like labor play a bigger role. The average cost, before tax credits, is typically somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000.
The industry has been lifted up by a gigantic $2.6 trillion wave of investment over the past decade. This came in the wake of a long and sustained boom in the price of old-fashioned fossil fuels. Oil rose from barely $10 a barrel at the lows in 1998 to more than $100 a barrel for much of the period 2008-2014. Expensive oil and other old-fashioned energy sources made it much more attractive to invest in alternatives.
Based on all the gloomy news about the environment, the fast rise of green energy and its plunging costs, have apparently come not a moment too soon. It is an open question, depending on what economists and scientists you talk to, on whether it has come too late.
Scientists have been warning for two generations that human pollution — from burning fossil fuels and other activities — have been causing dangerous and possibly cataclysmic changes to the environment.
CEO of New Zealand firm that trialled and implemented the shortened week argues fewer people in the office means fewer cars on the road
A commuting population puts massive strain on transport and electricity. Photograph: 10’000 Hours/Getty Images
If we want to relieve the strain of a globally growing – and commuting – population, we need to rethink how and where we work. Working more flexibly – both in timing and location – could have a massive impact on transportation and electricity production, two of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
How does it work? Organisations adopt a four-day working week, the daily head count in the office drops by approximately 20% and the number of cars on the road drops by at least a fifth. It’s a win-win-win scenario for employees, employers and the environment.
If the four-day week catches on in Auckland, for example, and organisations across the city cut down on their daily in-office head count by 20%, the number of cars on the road each day drops by at least a fifth, and by up to 40% if parents are routinely permitted to work five shorter days in order to do school drop-offs and pick-ups.
A 2017 report by the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research on the benefits from Auckland road decongestion means we know exactly what this decrease in traffic volume would mean for the city’s economy. Productivity could be boosted by at least NZ$1.3bn per annum (1.4% of Auckland’s GDP), the authors say if use of the road network could be optimised.
Additionally, if the average speed across the Auckland network was close to or equal to the speed limit (known as free-flow), the benefits of decongestion during weekdays were estimated at around NZ$3.5 m per day, or between NZ$1.4 and $1.9bn (between 1.5 and 2% of Auckland’s GDP). Imagine these results extrapolated for New York City or London or Buenos Aires.
The intensity of congestion and the lengthening of commutes are a byproduct of the way we work today, with billions of hours, dollars, fuel gallons and pounds of carbon dioxide expended each year in developed countries, where the term “rush hour” has been part of the lexicon for as long as anyone can remember. Even if we leave aside the climate change question and apply a pure economic lens, a widespread model of working which prioritises productivity and efficiency over a robotic adherence to working hours (which were once dictated by the sun and are now mostly arbitrary) is a no-brainer.
When we turn our minds to the welfare of the planet, the answer is just as obvious. The human resources department of UC Davis in 2018 bluntly made the environmental case for work flexibility: “Not going into work could be one of the most environmentally sustainable things you can do as an individual employee.”
In another 2018 study, researchers analysed data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labour Statistics and found households with longer work hours have significantly larger carbon footprints.
According to UC Davis, the two main contributors to US greenhouse gas emissions are transportation (29%) and electricity production (28%), with about 135 million Americans commuting to work. 50% of those workers have jobs they could do remotely some of the time, and the emissions-reduction value of those workers avoiding their normal commute on half of their usual work days is equivalent to removing 10 million cars from the road.
A flexible work arrangement programme at UC Davis has provided options for employees such as flexitime (altering the start or end times of the work day); a compressed week of fewer, longer days at work; and remote working for part of the week. Every option means skipping the commute or evading rush hour at least some of the time.
That could put a big dent in transport emissions: University of Reading researchers asked business leaders and owners how a four-day week would affect their commuting habits. When scaled up across the United Kingdom, workers estimated that they would drive 557.8m fewer miles per week if they worked fewer days.
Of course, none of this evidence matters unless our political and business decision-makers are willing to upend the status quo in service of our planet’s viability. Changing to a four-day working week won’t by itself solve the climate crisis, but combining it with other progressive policies will be part of the global climate mobilisation we indisputably need. SOURCE
Teachers on strike at Centennial Secondary School on December 4, 2019 as part of a one-day strike as bargaining between the teachers union and the province continues. Photo: Amanda Smith/Quinte News)
Contract talks between Ontario elementary teachers and the government collapsed last night without a deal — which means the teacher strikes will escalate next week.
The two sides spent three days bargaining in this latest round, with each side accusing the other of being unwilling to bend on key issues including class sizes and wages.
The school boards to be hit by elementary strikes on Monday include Bluewater, Grand Erie, Halton, Ontario North East, Renfrew County, Superior-Greenstone and Trillium Lakelands — and a provincewide strike by the federation is set for Thursday.
Public elementary teachers employed by the Hastings Prince Edward School Board will be off the job this Tuesday and those working for the Kawartha Pine Ridge board will walk out on Wednesday.
Thursday all public elementary teachers in the province will be off of the job.
Meanwhile English Catholic teachers, both elementary and secondary, will stage a one day walkout this Tuesday. SOURCE
And while the government is keen to blame green energy for both this rising cost and its failure to deliver on its promised 12% rate cut, the real story, of course, is the ever-rising cost of nuclear power in Ontario. With Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) nuclear prices up 109% between 2002 and 2019, and Bruce Power not doing much better with an 84% price increase, there is no real mystery about what is driving rising electricity costs in Ontario.
It is time for the government to start talking about the elephant in the room – the high cost of bloated nuclear projects. How does the government expect to reduce our bills when OPG says its price of nuclear electricity must rise by a further 73% by 2025 to pay for the re-building of its Darlington reactors? And why is the Government refusing to take Quebec up on its offer to supply Ontario with power at less than one-third the price of nuclear power in 2025?
For a government that claims to embrace fiscal discipline, the Ford Government seems awfully willing to throw good money after bad on nuclear projects when there are plenty of lower cost options, from Quebec water power to energy efficiency.
The Government is doing budget consultations and is asking for public input. Please tell Finance Minister Rod Phillips that the nuclear gravy train has got to end and that we have better ways to spend tax dollars than on subsidizing costly and unnecessary nuclear projects. Email Mr. Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc me (email@example.com).
“We’re working hard and our minister’s working hard to get a deal,” Premier Doug Ford said Friday.
Teachers with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario wave to honking cars as they participate in a strike in Toronto on Jan. 20, 2020. NATHAN DENETTE/CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford says elementary teachers and the government will be at the bargaining table until they strike a deal.
“We’re working hard and our minister’s working hard to get a deal. It’s absolutely critical,” he said at an announcement in Brampton, Ont. Friday.
Renewed contract talks have entered a third day between the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the province, and the union has said it will ramp up its strikes next week if a deal is not reached today.
The elementary teachers have been holding one-day, rotating strikes for two weeks — today’s target the Peel and Hamilton-Wentworth boards — but they are planning to walk out at each board twice a week starting Monday if no deal is reached.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 19.
Catholic teachers also return to the table
Meanwhile, in another crack in a teacher-government stalemate, the province’s English Catholic teachers say they will return to the bargaining table after talks broke off earlier this month.
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president Liz Stuart said they have agreed to return to talks on Monday, but a one-day, provincewide strike set for Tuesday is still on, for now.
“We are pleased to be getting back to negotiations,” she said in a statement. “However, it remains to be seen how serious the discussions will be.” SOURCE
The prime minister’s painstaking efforts to chart a middle path on climate are about to be tested again
Opponents of the Teck Frontier mine project say it will damage wetlands and harm Indigenous communities. (Julie Prejet/CBC)
The political complexity of the challenge facing Justin Trudeau as the federal cabinet prepares to make a decision on Teck Frontier — a proposed large new oilsands mine in northern Alberta — is underlined by the categorical statements of the project’s loudest proponents and opponents.
“If this project does not proceed, it would be a clear indication that there is no way forward for this country’s largest natural resource,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declared in a speech in Ottawa in December.
A day later, the Canadian environmentalist Tzeporah Berman wrote in The Guardian that “approving Teck Resources’ Frontier mine would effectively signal Canada’s abandonment of its international climate goals.”
In the past, Trudeau has chosen to pursue a middle path between such polarized opinions on climate change and resource development — approving a new pipeline to the West Coast while also implementing a national price on carbon, then buying that pipeline while committing the tax revenue from the project to clean technology.
But Trudeau now has a stated destination for whatever path he chooses: a Canada with net-zero emissions by 2050.
Whatever else Teck Frontier represents, it stands as a starting point for a necessary and overdue conversation about what the next 30 years could, or should, look like.
Map showing the location of the Ronald Lake Bison Range in relation to the Teck Resources Oilsands Frontier mine. (CBC News Graphics)
The Teck Resources Limited Frontier Oil Sands Mine would be located approximately 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alberta and would operate from 2026 to 2066. If completed, the project would employ 7,000 people during construction and 2,500 people to operate the mine, while contributing $70 billion in tax revenue to federal, provincial and municipal governments.
It also would produce 4.1 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. And the Pembina Institute estimates that, when all activity related to the mine is taken into account, emissions from the project will amount to six megatonnes annually.
Still, a joint review panel found in July 2019 that the project was in the public interest — though that was before Trudeau made a commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050.
While Kenney presents Teck Frontier as a referendum on the future of the oilsands, Teck’s own CEO has conceded that the project’s fate depends on more than the federal cabinet’s decision.
Could Teck make money?
For Teck Frontier to be viable, the price of oil will need to be close to $75 per barrel. The current price for West Texas Intermediate is $52.
If project is approved and does become economically viable, there will still be those emissions to contend with.
Teck Frontier’s emissions, on their own, are unlikely to thwart Canada’s quest to achieve net-zero in 2050. So it might be equally simplistic to frame the project as a referendum on this country’s ability to meet that target.
But four megatonnes is a lot for a single facility — particularly when the goal is to push emissions close enough to nothing to allow Canada to compensate for the remaining emissions with some combination of carbon capture technology and land-use changes (like planting more trees).
“Do we really want to be squandering a limited carbon budget that could be reserved for energy efficient buildings, transportation and other parts of the economy on one project?” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network.
One could also ask whether any single project should be asked to bear that much responsibility for a national target.
A difficult moment
For both sides of this debate, Teck Frontier speaks to bigger questions. Albertans are frustrated and worried about what the future holds for their province’s primary industry. But if Canada is to contribute meaningfully to the global fight against climate change, it must deal with the emissions from our oil and gas industry — a sector that is projected to account for 199 megatonnes and 34 per cent of Canada’s total emissions in 2030.
Last fall’s election was defined by those forces — by restive voters on the Prairies who oppose Trudeau’s government, and by the two-thirds of voters who cast ballots for parties that promised significant action to combat climate change. Four months after that election is a particularly difficult moment to contemplate approving or rejecting such a project.
If there is a middle path here, it might resemble a proposal made by the Pembina Institute in 2018. In a submission to the review panel, Pembina recommended that the project be required to match “best-in-class” efficiency standards and that it reduce its emissions by half between 2026 and 2050.
Could Teck Frontier be pushed further to achieve something closer to net-zero by 2050?
Approval with conditions?
Amarjeet Sohi, the former federal minister of natural resources, recently suggested that Teck Frontier’s approval should be linked to a legislated limit on oilsands emissions and a plan from Alberta to help Canada get to net-zero by 2050.
Trudeau could approve the project, with such conditions or demands, and then let the market decide Teck Frontier’s fate.
Despite a great deal of noise over the last four years, the Liberals effectively found a successful middle path on Trans Mountain: a majority of Canadians and British Columbians support the pipeline, according to opinion surveys, and the Liberals were re-elected with a plurality of seats last fall. Walking that middle path on Trans Mountain may have prevented an even deeper schism from emerging.
The ‘United We Roll’ convoy of semi-trucks prepares to leave Red Deer, Alta. Feb. 14, 2019 – on its way to Ottawa to draw attention to a lack of support for the energy sector. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
But finding a happy medium might be harder now. Environmentalists, in particular, might be less willing to accept any compromise that involves expanding oilsands operations. And Trudeau’s minority government is contending with parties on its left that are pushing for more aggressive action to reduce emissions.
Whatever the federal cabinet decides, there is a need now to start talking about what 2050 might look like and how the country might get there. Ideally, that discussion would have started months — even years — before Teck Frontier went to the cabinet for a decision.
Questions about the long-term future of Canada’s emissions and Alberta’s resource-based economy have loomed in the background of all discussions about climate change and resource development over the last five years. But those questions are now increasingly unavoidable.
Though the goal of net-zero by 2050 was only introduced by Trudeau during the fall campaign, it’s not a number picked at random. Net-zero is in line with the aim of limiting further global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and thus minimizing the damage to life on this planet. Sweden, the United Kingdom, France and New Zealand have written a target of net-zero into their domestic laws.
The future of the oil and gas industry, and all those who work in and around it, is key to Canada’s shot at net-zero. Outright rejection of Teck Frontier would accelerate the need for answers — particularly regarding the “just transition” the federal government has promised to people whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industries. But any decision will require an explanation.
Federal and provincial politicians have been edging up to these questions about Canada’s energy future for years. But a decision on Teck Frontier is an invitation to start explaining how the next 30 years could play out. SOURCE
What do we mean when we talk about “socialism”? Here are ten things about its theory, practice, and potential that you need to know.
1. Socialism is a yearning for something better than capitalism
Socialism represents the awareness of employees that their sufferings and limitations come less from their employers than from the capitalist system. That system prescribes incentives and options for both sides, and rewards and punishments for their behavioral “choices.” It generates their endless struggles and the employees’ realization that system change is the way out.
In Capital, Volume 1, Karl Marx defined a fundamental injustice—exploitation—located in capitalism’s core relationship between employer and employee. Exploitation, in Marx’s terms, describes the situation in which employees produce more value for employers than the value of wages paid to them. Capitalist exploitation shapes everything in capitalist societies. Yearning for a better society, socialists increasingly demand the end of exploitation and an alternative in which employees function as their own employer. Socialists want to be able to explore and develop their full potentials as individuals and members of society while contributing to its welfare and growth.
Socialism is an economic system very different from capitalism, feudalism, and slavery. Each of the latter divided society into a dominant minority class (masters, lords, and employers) and a dominated majority (slaves, serfs, employees). When the majority recognized slavery and feudal systems as injustices, they eventually fell.
The majorities of the past fought hard to build a better system. Capitalism replaced slaves and serfs with employees, masters and lords with employers. It is no historical surprise that employees would end up yearning and fighting for something better. That something better is socialism, a system that doesn’t divide people, but rather makes work a democratic process where all employees have an equal say and together are their own employer.
2. Socialism is not a single, unified theory
People spread socialism across the world, interpreting and implementing it in many different ways based on context. Socialists found capitalism to be a system that produced ever-deepening inequalities, recurring cycles of unemployment and depression, and the undermining of human efforts to build democratic politics and inclusive cultures. Socialists developed and debated solutions that varied from government regulations of capitalist economies to government itself owning and operating enterprises, to a transformation of enterprises (both private and government) from top-down hierarchies to democratic cooperatives.
Sometimes those debates produced splits among socialists. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, socialists supporting the post-revolutionary Soviet Union underscored their commitment to socialism that entailed the government owning and operating industries by adopting the new name “communist.” Those skeptical of Soviet-style socialism tended increasingly to favor state regulation of private capitalists. They kept the name “socialist” and often called themselves social democrats or democratic socialists. For the last century, the two groups debated the merits and flaws of the two alternative notions of socialism as embodied in examples of each (e.g. Soviet versus Scandinavian socialisms).
Early in the 21st century, an old strain of socialism resurfaced and surged. It focuses on transforming the inside of enterprises: from top-down hierarchies, where a capitalist or a state board of directors makes all the key enterprise decisions, to a worker cooperative, where all employees have equal, democratic rights to make those decisions, thereby becoming—collectively—their own employer.
3. The Soviet Union and China achieved state capitalism, not socialism
As leader of the Soviet Union, Lenin once said that socialism was a goal, not yet an achieved reality. The Soviet had, instead, achieved “state capitalism.” A socialist party had state power, and the state had become the industrial capitalist displacing the former private capitalists. The Soviet revolution had changed who the employer was; it had not ended the employer/employee relationship. Thus, it was—to a certain extent—capitalist.
Lenin’s successor, Stalin, declared that the Soviet Union had achieved socialism. In effect, he offered Soviet state capitalism as if it were the model for socialism worldwide. Socialism’s enemies have used this identification ever since to equate socialism with political dictatorship. Of course, this required obscuring or denying that (1) dictatorships have often existed in capitalist societies and (2) socialisms have often existed without dictatorships.
After initially copying the Soviet model, China changed its development strategy to embrace instead a state-supervised mix of state and private capitalism focused on exports. China’s powerful government would organize a basic deal with global capitalists, providing cheap labor, government support, and a growing domestic market. In exchange, foreign capitalists would partner with Chinese state or private capitalists, share technology, and integrate Chinese output into global wholesale and retail trade systems. China’s brand of socialism—a hybrid state capitalism that included both communist and social-democratic streams—proved it could grow faster over more years than any capitalist economy had ever done.
4. The U.S., Soviet Union, and China have more in common than you think
As capitalism emerged from feudalism in Europe in the 19th century, it advocated liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy. When those promises failed to materialize, many became anti-capitalist and found their way to socialism.
Experiments in constructing post-capitalist, socialist systems in the 20th century (especially in the Soviet Union and China) eventually incurred similar criticisms. Those systems, critics held, had more in common with capitalism than partisans of either system understood.
Self-critical socialists produced a different narrative based on the failures common to both systems. The U.S. and Soviet Union, such socialists argue, represented private and state capitalisms. Their Cold War enmity was misconstrued on both sides as part of the century’s great struggle between capitalism and socialism. Thus, what collapsed in 1989 was Soviet State capitalism, not socialism. Moreover, what soared after 1989 was another kind of state capitalism in China.
5. Thank American socialists, communists, and unionists for the 1930s New Deal
FDR’s government raised the revenue necessary for Washington to fund massive, expensive increases in public services during the Depression of the 1930s. These included the Social Security system, the first federal unemployment compensation system, the first federal minimum wage, and a mass federal jobs program. FDR’s revenues came from taxing corporations and the rich more than ever before.
Socialists obtained a new degree of social acceptance, stature, and support from FDR’s government. The wartime alliance of the U.S. with the Soviet Union strengthened that social acceptance and socialist influences.
6. If 5 was news to you, that’s due to the massive U.S.-led global purge of socialists and communists after WWII
After its 1929 economic crash, capitalism was badly discredited. The unprecedented political power of a surging U.S. left enabled government intervention to redistribute wealth from corporations and the rich to average citizens. Private capitalists and the Republican Party responded with a commitment to undo the New Deal. The end of World War II and FDR’s death in 1945 provided the opportunity to destroy the New Deal coalition.
The strategy hinged on demonizing the coalition’s component groups, above all the communists and socialists. Anti-communism quickly became the strategic battering ram. Overnight, the Soviet Union went from wartime ally to an enemy whose agents aimed “to control the world.” That threat had to be contained, repelled, and eliminated.
U.S. domestic policy focused on anti-communism, reaching hysterical dimensions and the public campaigns of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Communist Party leaders were arrested, imprisoned, and deported in a wave of anti-communism that quickly spread to socialist parties and to socialism in general. Hollywood actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians, and more were blacklisted and barred from working in the industry. McCarthy’s witch hunt ruined thousands of careers while ensuring that mass media, politicians, and academics would be unsympathetic, at least publicly, to socialism.
7. Since socialism was capitalism’s critical shadow, it spread to those subjected by and opposed to capitalist colonialism
In the first half of the 20th century, socialism spread through the rise of local movements against European colonialism in Asia and Africa, and the United States’ informal colonialism in Latin America. Colonized people seeking independence were inspired by and saw the possibility of alliances with workers fighting exploitation in the colonizing countries. These latter workers glimpsed similar possibilities from their side.
This helped create a global socialist tradition. The multiple interpretations of socialism that had evolved in capitalism’s centers thus spawned yet more and further-differentiated interpretations. Diverse streams within the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist tradition interacted with and enriched socialism.
8. Fascism is a capitalist response to socialism
A fascist economic system is capitalist, but with a mixture of very heavy government influence. In fascism, the government reinforces, supports, and sustains private capitalist workplaces. It rigidly enforces the employer/employee dichotomy central to capitalist enterprises. Private capitalists support fascism when they fear losing their position as capitalist employers, especially during social upheavals.
Under fascism, there is a kind of mutually supportive merging of government and private workplaces. Fascist governments tend to “deregulate,” gutting worker protections won earlier by unions or socialist governments. They help private capitalists by destroying trade unions or replacing them with their own organizations which support, rather than challenge, private capitalists.
Frequently, fascism embraces nationalism to rally people to fascist economic objectives, often by using enhanced military expenditures and hostility toward immigrants or foreigners. Fascist governments influence foreign trade to help domestic capitalists sell goods abroad and block imports to help them sell their goods inside national boundaries.
9. Socialism has been, and still is, evolving
During the second half of the 20th century, socialism’s diversity of interpretations and proposals for change shrank to two alternative notions: 1.) moving from private to state-owned-and -operated workplaces and from market to centrally planned distributions of resources and products like the Soviet Union, or 2.) “welfare-state” governments regulating markets still comprised mostly of private capitalist firms, as in Scandinavia, and providing tax-funded socialized health care, higher education, and so on. As socialism returns to public discussion in the wake of capitalism’s crash in 2008, the first kind of socialism to gain mass attention has been that defined in terms of government-led social programs and wealth redistributions benefitting middle and lower income social groups.
The evolution and diversity of socialism were obscured. Socialists themselves struggled with the mixed results of the experiments in constructing socialist societies (in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.). To be sure, these socialist experiments achieved extraordinary economic growth. In the Global South, socialism arose virtually everywhere as the alternative development model to a capitalism weighed down by its colonialist history and its contemporary inequality, instability, relatively slower economic growth, and injustice.
Socialists also struggled with the emergence of central governments that used excessively concentrated economic power to achieve political dominance in undemocratic ways. They were affected by criticisms from other, emerging left-wing social movements, such as anti-racism, feminism, and environmentalism, and began to rethink how a socialist position should integrate the demands of such movements and make alliances.
10. Worker co-ops are a key to socialism’s future
The focus of the capitalism-versus-socialism debate is now challenged by the changes within socialism. Who the employers are (private citizens or state officials) now matters less than what kind of relationship exists between employers and employees in the workplace. The role of the state is no longer the central issue in dispute.
A growing number of socialists stress that previous socialist experiments inadequately recognized and institutionalized democracy. These self-critical socialists focus on worker cooperatives as a means to institutionalize economic democracy within workplaces as the basis for political democracy. They reject master/slave, lord/serf, and employer/employee relationships because these all preclude real democracy and equality.
Homesteaders, relocated by the U.S. Resettlement Administration, a federal agency under the New Deal, working at a cooperative garment factory in Hightstown, New Jersey, in 1936. The U.S. Resettlement Administration relocated struggling families to provide work relief. Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images.
For the most part, 19th and 20th century socialisms downplayed democratized workplaces. But an emerging, 21st century socialism advocates for a change in the internal structure and organization of workplaces. The microeconomic transformation from the employer/employee organization to worker co-ops can ground a bottom-up economic democracy.
The new socialism’s difference from capitalism becomes less a matter of state versus private workplaces, or state planning versus private markets, and more a matter of democratic versus autocratic workplace organization. A new economy based on worker co-ops will find its own democratic way of structuring relationships among co-ops and society as a whole.
Worker co-ops are key to a new socialism’s goals. They criticize socialisms inherited from the past and add a concrete vision of what a more just and humane society would look like. With the new focus on workplace democratization, socialists are in a good position to contest the 21st century’s struggle of economic systems. SOURCE