Essentials of DIE LINKE’s plan
PLAN B is a cooperative effort of DIE LINKE’s parliamentary group formulating a left alternative to “Green Capitalism” and the “Green New Deal”. So far, PLAN B has been a project of developing, clarifying and integrating visions on the just and green society including short-term demands and down-to-earth proposals. After a first phase of text work, presentations, discussions and collectively reached conclusions culminating in a successful conference (Berlin, October 2012) PLAN B will be more oriented towards concrete projects, action and intervention in 2013. So far, PLAN B has reached a number of goals:
· Overarching Project: Focusing differing views, traditions, experiences and party factions on common ecological challenges. Creating a brand name. Outlining a cross-sectional as well as mid-term project in between the party program (far away, not immediately relevant for political work) and daily party statements (often quick shots, not interesting).
· Identification Project: Very important for the ecologically concerned who often do not feel represented by party leaders. Creating bridges between different segments in the party or close to the party.
· Democracy Project: Broad participation of party members. Internet-based discussion with up to a thousand contributions.
· Alliance Project: Bridging the gap between movements and party structures. Speaking the “language” of concerned activists. Bringing together various discourses.
· Change Project: So far, changing some lines of discussion within the party. Advocates of traditional left economic and social policies are challenged to “ecologize” their proposals.
PLAN B tries to find answers to fundamental questions. How can ecology, equality, democracy and efficiency fit together? How will the economy at large, four ecologically relevant sectors (energy, industry, mobility, agriculture) and social institutions have to change in order to face and master the ecological challenges in a social and democratic way? In other words: PLAN B tells a story about the egalitarian and comprehensively green society.
Implicitly there is another subject of PLAN B: How will the Left have to change in order to prepare itself for the 21st century? Until now, the Left Party has presented its proposals for social change in terms of social justice. This remains important in light of the current situation, but is too narrow in focus if it omits a systemic consideration of the natural environment. So far, the Left Party in Germany has green policies for the energy sector, for agriculture and for other sectors. But it did not have a comprehensively green vision of a just society. The goal of PLAN B is to present this vision, to formulate the red project for green transformation.
For English speaking readers not familiar with the details of the German situation, but close to internationally relevant discourses it might be useful to take Naomi Klein as a respected “translator” of PLAN B. Naomi published a brilliant and widely discussed article in “The Nation” on November 9th, 2011. (www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate)
This article is remarkably close to PLAN B. It entails not the details, but the guidelines and the basic principles that we formulated in PLAN B – not the same words, but the same spirit.
Noami Klein’s introduction, of course, differs from ours. She starts with the climate change denialists in the US and with an interesting observation. The right understands that capitalism is at stake once you take climate change as an issue that demands fundamental changes: “Perhaps we should listen to their theories more closely—they might just understand something the left still doesn’t get.”
And she continues: “The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence. … These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress, unaccustomed to having our ambitions confined by natural boundaries. And this is true for the statist left as well as the neoliberal right.”
We do not start with denialists, because those folks are marginal in Germany. In our country all political parties and all social groups acknowledge that climate change and other environmental problems are serious issues. Our adversary is the concept of “green capitalism”. Changing technologies by a mix of monetary incentives and leaving everything else unchanged – that is the idea that we try to oppose and to overcome, hopefully offering something better.
After this introduction – Klein with the denialists, we with the concept of “green capitalism” – she asks (and we in a similar way) how to get closer to a new civilizational paradigm. Her answer is a six-point-agenda – again very close to our five-point-agenda. Let’s stick to her agenda and let’s see how we relate to it.
1. Reviving and Reinventing the Public Sphere
Naomi Klein writes: “After years of recycling, carbon offsetting and light bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis. Climate change is a collective problem, and it demands collective action. One of the key areas in which this collective action must take place is big-ticket investments designed to reduce our emissions on a mass scale. That means subways, streetcars and light-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone; energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines; smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy; and a massive research effort to ensure that we are using the best methods possible. The private sector is ill suited to providing most of these services because they require large up-front investments and, if they are to be genuinely accessible to all, some very well may not be profitable. They are, however, decidedly in the public interest, which is why they should come from the public sector.”
Our concept is “systemic reform”. We demand systemic reforms that necessarily include strong public ownership because otherwise you lack the steering capacity that you need. This concept of systemic reform means what Klein describes. Making all single products and all single processes energy-efficient or “green” will never suffice. Environmental protection in its contemporary forms – via greening of products and production processes – is insufficient because it lacks a systemic approach for the preventive reduction of the ecological burden. This is particularly the case for those large consumption complexes that we would look at in more detail such as energy, industry, mass mobility and the meat-centric and therefore emission and transport intensive food industry.
Therefore, we should not limit ourselves to gradual improvement, but think about ways to qualitatively transform our productive forces and social institutions. For the energy sector the consequences are clear: conventional energy has to be replaced with renewables and make way for a new energy system: overwhelmingly decentralized, with grids in public ownership, with millions of individuals and thousands of cooperatives as “prosumers” (both producing and consuming energy), with community-owned utilities combining heat and power.
The German Renewable Energy Law with its feed-in tariffs has – for twelve years now – provided a legal framework that can be used and is being used to this end. There is a strong, though hardly recognized “100-Percent-Movement” in Germany (and Austria) which is somewhat similar to the transition town movement. Many villages, small towns, medium-sized cities and counties have action plans to become energy autonomous based on renewables. At the same time hundreds of energy cooperatives have been founded.
In addition, Germany witnessed a wave of so-called “re-municipalizations” in recent years: cities taking formerly privatized services back in their own hands. This wave, however, is now jeopardized by the so-called “debt break”, the balanced budget laws incorporated into the constitution. Thus, many cities are against their will forced back into public-private partnerships.
Against this trend we advance our tax policy proposals – proposals that would strengthen both the manpower and the investment potential of cities. And that will be necessary, since we need to go beyond gradual progress not only in the energy sector, but in other sectors as well. PLAN B outlines these systemic reforms: intelligent transport systems with public trains as their pillar, reintegration of work and life in energetically optimized urban quarters rather than further uncontrolled urban sprawl, greening of industry and the creation of circular flow economies that produce as little waste as possible, regionalization of agriculture and – of course – a complete renewal of the financial sector. All of this demands more, stronger and more coherent planning – Naomi Klein’s second Point.
2. Remembering How to Plan
Naomi Klein writes: “In addition to reversing the thirty-year privatization trend, a serious response to the climate threat involves recovering an art that has been relentlessly vilified during these decades of market fundamentalism: planning. Lots and lots of planning. And not just at the national and international levels. Every community in the world needs a plan for how it is going to transition away from fossil fuels, what the Transition Town movement calls an ‘energy descent action plan.’ In the cities and towns that have taken this responsibility seriously, the process has opened rare spaces for participatory democracy, with neighbors packing consultation meetings at city halls to share ideas about how to reorganize their communities to lower emissions and build in resilience for tough times ahead.”
Naomi Klein continues with regard to employment: “A few ‘green jobs’ trainings aren’t enough. These workers need to know that real jobs will be waiting for them on the other side. That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability—giving laid-off employees of car plants and coal mines the tools and resources to create jobs.”
Planning and steering instead of blind and limitless markets – these are the terms we use. The difficult question, however, is: Planning our economies – what does that mean? The attempt to plan everything in detail – from needles to machine tools, from pampers to wedding dresses – is dead and will remain dead. So what are we talking about? What we are talking about is taking the existing planning procedures, combining them with social and ecological purposes and thus enlarging the meaning of planning. Three examples may illustrate the point:
- 1. In 2010 the German Federal Government outlined a 40-year-framework for Germany’s energy supply. Prolonging nuclear power was the first of two central elements of this plan. The second was: down-speed the trend towards a decentralized power system and give large corporations time to take over renewables. This plan lasted a few months. Then Fukushima changed the rules of the game. Since then Germany’s energy policy is a permanent hot topic on top of the political agenda. The important point is: Nobody denies any more that planning, lots of planning is necessary in order to change the system.
- 2. Germany’s big corporations increasingly demand national resource strategies. They demand strategies, not free markets. This requirement opens the resource question for political and planning debates – debates that NGOs and other actors can use to advance their proposals.
- 3. Germany’s traffic system is constantly subject to nationwide, regional and local planning decisions. Of course, this has been the case for decades. But in the recent past many local and regional initiatives have challenged successfully that bureaucrats in combination with private interests decide upon city development. Here again planning, lots of planning for the common good is the issue.
The essential question is not whether planning is taking place or not. There are planning procedures everywhere: traditional infrastructure planning and new planning tasks particular those deriving from ecological challenges, resource supply and ecologically sound infrastructures.
The essential question is: Planning for whom and for what? Planning for profits and planning for the preservation of the existing economic system? Or planning for those needs and ends that society decides upon? Stated that way, the question of power arises. And here we are again in line with Naomi Klein, with her third point.
3. Reining in Corporations
Naomi Klein writes: “A key piece of the planning we must undertake involves the rapid re-regulation of the corporate sector. Much can be done with incentives: subsidies for renewable energy and responsible land stewardship, for instance. But we are also going to have to get back into the habit of barring outright dangerous and destructive behavior.”
Reining in corporations – of course, every Leftist agrees. But again: What does it mean? Of course, it means heavy regulation with regard to toxic products and dangerous production processes. Of course, it means transforming the energy system. Of course, it should mean taking back privatized services in public hands. But beyond these real trends there is currently not much that can be realistically done to challenge the might of Germany’s large corporations. They are strong competitors in the world market. In times of multiple crises employees are for the most part happy that their employers are doing well. Nonetheless PLAN B proposes employee ownership as an important goal and as a direct attack on private ownership as we know it. Realistically, that is more of a long-term goal. For the time being, reining in corporations can be addressed with indirect means: with those mentioned above and with Naomi Klein’s fourth point that PLAN B advocates as well.
4. Relocalizing Production
Naomi Klein writes: “In an economy organized to respect natural limits, the use of energy-intensive long-haul transport would need to be rationed—reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally or where local production is more carbon-intensive. … Climate change does not demand an end to trade. But it does demand an end to the reckless form of ‘free trade’ that governs every bilateral trade agreement as well as the World Trade Organization. This is more good news —for unemployed workers, for farmers unable to compete with cheap imports, for communities that have seen their manufacturers move offshore and their local businesses replaced with big boxes.”
Relocalizing production is a central element of PLAN B – most clearly stated with regard to power supply and agriculture. But PLAN B in its current formulation does not explicitly demand that everything possible must be done in order to make transportation based on fossil fuels more expensive. We do demand that fossil fuel subsidies must be reduced. But the next step – elimination of all fossil fuel subsidies and heavier taxation of fossil fuels – is hard to go when people are afraid of ever increasing energy costs. Here again systemic reform offering both regionally embedded jobs and public transport at affordable prices is the main answer.
5. Ending the Cult of Shopping
Naomi Klein writes: “Growth would be reserved for parts of the world still pulling themselves out of poverty. Meanwhile, in the industrialized world, those sectors that are not governed by the drive for increased yearly profit (the public sector, co-ops, local businesses, nonprofits) would expand their share of overall economic activity, as would those sectors with minimal ecological impacts (such as the caregiving professions). A great many jobs could be created this way. But the role of the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits, would have to contract.”
Ending the cult of shopping – that is the most difficult point. Naomi Klein does not have an entirely convincing solution – nor do we. PLAN B addresses this point not directly, but in vague, soft terms – more in terms of moral appeal, not in terms of clearly visible proposals. But on Klein’s sixth point we are again on familiar, solid and common ground.
6. Taxing the Rich and Filthy
Naomi Klein writes: When denialists “claim, as they so often do, that climate change is a plot to ‘redistribute wealth’ and wage class war, these are the types of policies they most fear. They also understand that, once the reality of climate change is recognized, wealth will have to be transferred not just within wealthy countries but also from the rich countries whose emissions created the crisis to poorer ones that are on the front lines of its effects. Indeed, what makes conservatives (and plenty of liberals) so eager to bury the UN climate negotiations is that they have revived a postcolonial courage in parts of the developing world that many thought was gone for good. Armed with irrefutable scientific facts about who is responsible for global warming and who is suffering its effects first and worst, countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are attempting to shed the mantle of ‘debtor’ thrust upon them by decades of International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans and are declaring themselves creditors—owed not just money and technology to cope with climate change but ‘atmospheric space’ in which to develop.”
PLAN B demands that equality must become the sister of ecology – at home and on a global scale. To put it differently: the democratic principle – one (wo)man, one vote – needs a global ecological extension: one (wo)man, one piece of nature. Coined in ecological terms the need for strong redistribution will develop much more appeal to broader segments of society. Equality should be the universal principle of ecological action – internationally, nationally and regionally.
Thus, the old socialist demand is back on the table as a most modern principle. Civilized green progress demands change that is not premised on fear. People need reliable prospects for income and employment in the process of transformation. People need guaranteed opportunities so that fears of job losses can be abated. Therefore, there has to be considerable redistribution from the top to the bottom – both of income and wealth. And this process needs to be accompanied by a strong redistribution of work time reducing and – as an explicit goal – ending unemployment as the single most important factor creating fear and uncertainty.
Naomi Klein’s summary which could have been the summary of PLAN B as well: ”We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. … In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative. … By all rights, this reality should be filling progressive sails with conviction, breathing new life and urgency into longstanding fights against everything from free trade to financial speculation to industrial agriculture to third-world debt, while elegantly weaving all these struggles into a coherent narrative about how to protect life on earth.”