Four Denials: Studies in a Dying Culture Revisited

Christopher St. John Sprigg (nom de plume, Christopher Caudwell), was born in London in 1907. He became a prolific journalist, and joined the Communist Party of Britain in 1935. In 1936, he went to Spain to fight against Franco’s Fascists, and was killed in action in early 1937.

Before his death, Caudwell wrote devastating critiques of contemporary orthodoxies in ethics, psychology, history, aesthetics, religion, and philosophy. His collected essays were posthumously published under the title, Studies in a Dying Culture. In 1949, Further Studies in a Dying Culture, was published.

Caudwell’s basic argument was that inconsistencies in the orthodox views of the 1930s stemmed from capitalist relations of production. These inconsistencies could only be resolved in a socialist society.  

In Caudwell’s time, Fascism threatened large portions of humanity with enslavement and/or extermination. Today, fossil-fueled climate disruption threatens the continued existence of most, perhaps all, of humanity.

Certain types of denial directly or indirectly promote profit-driven, fossil-fuelled climate disruption. These are: 1) climate science denial; 2) labour theory of value denial; and, 3) gender parity denial. A fourth – epigenetics denial – threatens the general welfare of children. These denials are intertwined, and their inconsistencies, like those discovered earlier by Caudwell, stem from capitalist relations of production, and can only be resolved in a socialist society.  

Climate Science Denial

For decades, climate scientists have warned that global climate disruption caused by greenhouse gas emissions from combustion of fossil fuels poses a threat to the continued existence of humanity. Denial of the conclusions of climate scientists is a central feature of conservative ideology.

To protect their wealth and power, fossil fuel and related industries have, for decades, covertly funded propagation of climate science denial. This funding was also motivated by “market fundamentalism”, an ideological commitment to avoidance of state regulation of capitalist economies which ensured that climate disruption is irreversible (barring massive state intervention). Saving the ‘free market’ at all costs will have the unintended effect of bringing about the demise of the ‘free market,’ and perhaps all of humanity. This is very dialectical, perhaps reminiscent of capitalism creating its own gravediggers (as Marx and Engels wrote).

Labour Theory of Value Denial

According to the labour theory of value (LTV), all well-being comes from human labour. In a totally-automated society, where all machines are owned by capitalists, there would be no waged workers to buy the goods produced by the machines. (This theme was humorously explored by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in his classic 1952 novel, Player Piano).  

According to the LTV, the wealth and power of ruling classes is ultimately based on theft of unpaid labour and well-being from workers. Similarly, profit-driven, fossil-fuelled, global climate disruption, robs future generations of well-being.

The obvious conclusion is that such theft can only be ended in a socialist society, in which the major means of production and exchange are owned and controlled by workers. (Such a society is portrayed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, Pacific Edge, 1988).

Even though the LTV is intuitively true, it is excluded from almost all university-level, introductory textbooks on macroeconomics. Indeed, it is generally absent from public discourse.

What accounts for LTV denial? One reason is that the LTV is associated with Marxism and with Soviet socialism. In the former USSR, goods and services were not produced or provided for private accumulation of wealth.

LTV denial stems in part from the widespread equation of ‘Stalinism’ and Soviet socialism, with the crimes of the Nazis. Convincing challenges to this equation (see Michael Parenti’s “Blackshirts and Reds”), as well as detailed studies of the political dynamics of the Stalin period, are marginalized by proponents of the anti-Soviet paradigm. Not surprisingly, the anti-Soviet metanarrative is congenial to conservative pro-capitalists, and to anti-Soviet/anti-Communist leftists. Sadly, this anti-Soviet/anti-Communist ideological orientation impedes state intervention in economies to curb profit-driven, fossil-fueled, global climate disruption.

Experiences in World Wars I and II showed that state control of economies was more efficient than market mechanisms for conducting war efforts. Unfortunately, the possibility of wartime-style state intervention in economies is largely absent from discourse about combatting climate change. Instead, most environmentalists presuppose that curbing of greenhouse gas emissions must occur within capitalist relations of production. This is, in part, a consequence of LTV denial.

Marxists realize that a rapid move away from fossil-fueled economies cannot be accomplished within the profit-driven constraints of capitalism, particularly the sort of capitalism presently dominated by fossil fuel and related industries.

During WWII, the LTV-based Soviet economy produced weapons on a non-profit basis in order to defeat the Nazi invaders. How bad will climate disruption have to get before renewable energy technologies come to be seen as weapons which must be produced and deployed on a non-profit basis in order save humanity from global climate disruption?

Gender Parity Denial

Sexists argue that women are naturally and solely suited for motherhood and/or nurturing roles, and that women are naturally incapable of rationality. Assertion of these claims defines gender parity denial, which is often associated with preventing women from having access to paid employment and full reproductive rights.

In some societies, the influence of gender parity denial involves preference for male children, which is associated with high rates of abortion of female fetuses. This can result in serious sex ratio imbalances, as in India.  

Gender parity denial is obviously unjustified in light of the growing achievements of women in science, politics, management, engineering, medicine, etc., and even in combat, as seen during WWII by the success of women in the Red Army and Air Force.

Gender parity denial is relevant to the commonly-held view that environmental degradation is mainly caused by overpopulation. If there were fewer people, the argument goes, then combustion of fossil fuels and depletion of resources  (e.g., aquifers) would decline. This raises the question of whether there is a standard set of conditions in which population levels decline. As it turns out, birth rates decline where women have relative economic independence and effective reproductive choice.  

To the extent that gender parity denial inhibits economic independence and reproductive choice, it promotes overpopulation, and thus contributes to fossil-fueled global climate disruption.

The end of socialism brought a serious erosion of the high degree of gender parity in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet bloc. A revival of socialism on a world-scale is necessary to end gender parity denial.

Epigenetics Denial

Epigeneticists have discovered that environmental factors (e.g., diet) can ‘switch on’ or ‘switch off’ genes which determine body shape, susceptibility to disease, etc. These changes can be passed on to future generations.

Epigenetic research by Dr. Marla Sokolowski at the Canada Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) at the University of Toronto, suggests that interaction between genes and environments during early childhood affects achievement gaps between children who grew up in poverty (e.g., without adequate nutrition, with high stress, etc.), and those who are “reared in more supportive, sustaining environments” (see www.cifar.ca).

Epigenetic discoveries suggest that class differences (e.g., between propertied and non-propertied classes) are related to child welfare. Epigenetic factors that negatively affect child welfare (stress, emergency evacuation, uncertain food supplies, etc.) will be greatly exacerbated by profit-driven, fossil-fueled, global climate disruption. Those who are concerned about child welfare must reject epigenetics denial in favour of a struggle for socialism. But not surprisingly, this view receives little attention in pro-capitalist mainstream media.

Some scientists also seem reluctant to accept the findings of epigenetics, perhaps because they are ideologically committed to the view that this area of research is linked to ‘Lysenkoism’ from the time of the so-called ‘Stalinist dictatorship.’ Some anti-Soviet/anti-Communist leftists, like most conservatives, cling to this view and ignore epigenetics.

Conclusion

In Caudwell’s time, Fascism threatened millions with enslavement or extermination. Today, all of humanity is threatened by profit-driven, fossil-fueled, climate disruption. Millions of people, including Caudwell, sacrificed their lives in the struggle against Fascism. Today, if humanity is to survive, the four denials discussed above must be rejected in favour of a struggle for socialism; let us hope that this struggle does not develop too late to save humanity.




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