Marx argued that, in acquiring new productive forces, men and women change their social relations, illustrating this with the example that the windmill resulted in a society with a feudal lord and the steam engine resulted in a society with industrial capitalists. Social revolution occurs, according to Marx, when these social relations – feudal and Victorian industrial capitalism in the examples – inhibit the development of productive forces. This helps to explain the interest communists display in reports about new means of production. These developments can signal social revolution to come.
As the CUiSL paper last year on global warming argued (link below), our need to leave fossil fuels in the ground will lead to social revolution – or the destruction of humanity, for, as Marx recognised, effective action precedes social revolution and, without it, the mutual destruction of all classes is a possible outcome. The fires raging in Australia may give us some indication of whether this necessary action will be forthcoming. Will Australians permit their government to deny the true cause of the conflagration (global warming caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere) and fail to hold them to account for their failure to respond? Will they be gulled into believing that the fires are a random event – an “Act of God”? Or will they hold their government and the corrupt system that supports it to account? We shall see.
The development of new productive forces is reported by George Monbiot in the Guardian Journal yesterday – lab grown foods using a new process, the hydrogen pathway, developed by a company called Solar Foods. Brewed in giant vats, the company estimates that it is 20,000 times more efficient than conventional farming. Monbiot is clearly convinced – he calls it “farmfree” food and predicts that we are on the cusp of the biggest economic transformation in 200 years and the end, after 12,000 years, of conventional farming. While not quantifying the effect, Monbiot appears to be arguing that farmfree food is the answer to global warming, enabling us to continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, albeit less with be needed for fertiliser. Clearly, the effect on global temperature needs to be modelled, but the correct initial response should surely be one of scepticism.
Of course, economic transformations have been predicted before. Remember nuclear fusion with its promise of free electricity? Furthermore, even Monbiot recognises that this development might not flourish in a capitalist world reliant on copyright and patent law to secure profits for capitalists. The owners of this new means of production will be aiming to become immensely rich, content, no doubt, to see much of the world’s population reduced to the status of unemployed peasants. Fertile territory for a thousand Che Guevaras!