Revolution #53, July 16, 2006

Inconvenient—And Essential—Truths About Systems, Saviors and The Need for Action

As we pointed out in our last issue, the movie An Inconvenient Truth has erupted out of the theaters to become a question discussed and debated throughout society. Sitting in the darkened theater you hear from the gasps around you how deeply this is affecting people. People walk out of the theater and look at each other, and there is a sense that this must stop. This must end. This must HALT.

The film’s promoters build off this, calling on people in their ads and in the movie itself to tell their friends about it. And people SHOULD, in fact, see the movie and discuss it. An Inconvenient Truth has the potential to play a very important role in raising and broadening a debate that has to happen.

This debate is NOT whether global warming exists. Indeed, one of the most telling points in the movie is the FACT that while essentially every scientific study of the past decade or so has concluded that global warming is real, over half of all the stories in the media have claimed that somehow this question hasn’t been settled yet. No, the debate that we need has to be over this: given the dire consequences for humanity and for life on this planet posed by THE FACT of global warming, what must be done about it? 

In this light, and as part of that debate, we have to go into the role of Al Gore—who is not only the narrator, but the central “character” or “protagonist” in the movie (it is through Gore’s experience and sentiments, as presented in the movie, that the audience is encouraged to “come at” the question). On one level, there is the program advanced by Gore in the movie, which we criticized last issue, and which we will return to later in the article. But on another related, and in many respects more dangerous level, there is Al Gore himself and the way in which he is positioning himself—and being positioned—off this movie in relation both to the outrage of the people against the Bush regime, and to the presidential elections of 2008 and even the congressional elections this year.

Gore the Savior in Waiting

A major story in New York magazine echoed others throughout the media and on the Internet—Al Gore, because of this movie, along with the stands he took at one point against getting into the Iraq war and against Bush’s extraordinary fascistic moves in a speech last winter, is the only candidate with the “credibility” with the base of the Democratic Party to pose an alternative to Hillary Clinton. The movie itself makes the point implicitly. It begins with Gore making a joking introduction that “I used to be the ‘next president of the United States’”; then, later in the movie, after the audience has seen some of the damage done by Bush, there is a fuller treatment of the 2000 election, with Gore wistfully at the end saying that yes, he was disappointed, but the only thing he could do was to keep on telling people about global warming. And shortly before this part, there is a quote from Winston Churchill, in the late 1930s, at a time when he had been turned out of office, warning the British people that the time to “procrastinate” in the face of Naziism had passed. Much of the audience for this movie is familiar with the mythology that once Britain “awoke,” they then turned to Churchill to lead them against the Nazi menace. 

This fits in with the program that Gore has been advancing for people who care about this, which focuses on writing to politicians, talking to family and neighbors, and trying to conserve energy on a personal basis. Doesn’t the enormity of what is presented in An Inconvenient Truth call for something much more radical than that?  One valuable point made in the movie is that, in addition to the wanton destruction of whole species and environments, global warming puts scores of millions of people, all over the world, at risk for truly catastrophic flooding, and has already played a terrible role in the devastation of Africa. 

So again—doesn’t this cry out for breaking with business as usual and taking very radical action, even as we dig deeper into what brought us to this horrific pass in the first place?  Shouldn’t our actions match the urgency of the situation?  Shouldn’t people come together in a radical opposition to this whole direction of things, including but going beyond the environment? Shouldn’t they do this, debating and discussing as they do, and building a real community of resistance in the process, which can provide the solidarity to act and the support to persevere? Such a movement could become an independent social force, one that truly represented the sentiments of the tens of millions who are fed up and viscerally disgusted with the direction of things, but who as yet have not been cohered into a strong political movement. 

Rather than that, the actions proposed by Gore will lead people into the frustration and pointlessness of “working through the channels” and will set them up to turn to a Gore candidacy as the only thing that could work on a societal-wide level to turn things around.

Here’s another point to consider carefully: Last January, Gore gave a very heavy speech on Martin Luther King’s birthday accusing the Bush regime of torture, murder, and spying on “huge numbers” of people reminiscent of the FBI operation against Martin Luther King. (See “Al Gore’s Warning,Revolution #32, January 29, 2006, posted at The New York Times, which bills itself as “the newspaper of record,” normally reprints major speeches by people on Gore’s level. In this case the Times downplayed the speech and did not print a transcript. In the promotion of Al Gore around the issue of the environment, and in contrast to the burying of his January speech on the back pages of mainstream news, the forces that control such things are defining what is and what is not allowable discourse and debate on the direction of society and the world. These terms cannot be accepted.

Al Gore and the Alienated Base of the Democratic Party

In the last issue of our paper, we discussed how Gore’s proposed solutions to global warming are founded on what is for him a larger and over-riding value—the preservation of the system of imperialism and, in particular, the dominant role of the U.S. within that system. And we made a fairly thorough critique of how the political and economic system of imperialism CANNOT solve this problem, and how socialism could (see especially the article “Capitalism, the Environment, and Ecology Under Socialism” by Raymond Lotta).

For some time, and precisely because he was not seen as a major political player, Al Gore voiced a number of opinions that were supported by the base of the Democratic Party, but opposed by the top leadership. These included a speech which opposed launching the war in Iraq and a powerful indictment of the repressive moves of the Bush administration this past winter. Gore’s role up to now has been to keep people hoping that there is some force within the Democratic Party that is listening to them and that would actually go up against the Bush agenda. He has been a vehicle to deal with one of the key political facts in the U.S. today—the disconnect between the Democratic leadership, and the sentiments of those people whom it sees as its “base.”  Now this gulf is growing, as figures like Hilary Clinton continue to insist on supporting the war, supporting the increased repression against the people, and conciliating with Christian fascist opposition to the rights of abortion and birth control, and the separation between church and state. 

But who is this “base” that is so profoundly alienated?  It is not just a few people. It is millions and tens of millions of people—people who are infuriated about the war and the whole unapologetic assertion of empire; people who are upset about the evisceration of certain fundamental rights that they had been taught to take for granted as part of the Constitution; who were outraged and sick at heart over Katrina—and Abu Ghraib; who refuse to tolerate or find common ground with the vicious and dangerous lunacy of the Falwells and Robertsons of the world; who, for many other utterly valid reasons, see in the Bush regime a dire threat to everything they hold dear. 

People who feel this way—including the vast majority of you who are reading this paper and many of the people you interact with each day—face a big choice. It is NOT between voting or not voting. It is between whether you are going to put your hopes, your energies, and your resources into building the societal-wide movement that can actually drive out this regime and in so doing reverse the whole social direction; or whether instead you will allow those hopes, energies and resources to be channeled into Al Gore and what is represented by him.

For make no mistake about it. There may be variations in the script, but it will end up going something like this:  Gore will increasingly be positioned as the non-candidate candidate, “the guy with integrity who went up against Bush and stands for something.”  He will be “reluctantly drafted” into the fray, and he will draw people in. And then—depending on forces bigger than Al Gore—one of two things will happen. He will either go the way of Howard Dean, discarded once he has served his purpose, and given a platform only to tell his followers how important it is to now put their energies behind the Democratic candidate who does emerge. Or, if Gore is somehow chosen in this scenario, he will modify his agenda accordingly. (And in this regard note well Gore’s recent appearance on David Letterman where he made clear that while opposing the war initially, and still thinking that it was “mistaken,” he does not believe the US can withdraw from Iraq now.) He will come to see the “wisdom” of the measures he once opposed and will attempt to drag along millions of others to see things the same way. And even if he does not abandon some of those stands, even if—because of larger crises and struggle from below—Gore was not only elected but this time allowed to take office, then once in office he will shuck them off. There is plenty of historical precedent on this, going back to Lyndon Johnson who in 1964 pledged himself to prevent war (even as he secretly planned what would become the massive escalation of the war against Vietnam), up to Clinton and Gore themselves, whose policies of ending welfare, ferociously stepping up the imprisonment of minority youth, militarizing the border and so on were NOT what their base thought they were voting for. Again, the point here is not just, or mainly, the sincerity or lack thereof of Johnson, Clinton, Gore and all the rest—it is the role they have chosen to play, and what that role serves and what it requires of them.

Gore's Actual Position on Global Warming

If you don’t believe that, then let's look at Gore's actual position on global warming when he was in the White House and had a chance to implement his program. He was, after all, vice president for eight years.

Joshua Frank, writing in the May 31, goes into a host of examples where the Clinton-Gore administration made decisions that had grave environmental consequences—from NAFTA, which drastically increased pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border and within Mexico itself, to the destruction of wetlands in Florida and forests in the northwest, to relaxing controls on pesticides in food. All these (and more) came, as Frank shows, at the behest of one or another major capitalist interest. 

As for the Kyoto Protocol, Gore said at the signing of it, "Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change."  In other words, Gore, the “great opponent of global warming,” says that the U.S. (which consumes a way disproportionate amount of global resources and which produces 20% of the greenhouse gases planetwide that contribute to global warming) shouldn’t even consider ratifying the Protocol until India, China and other oppressed but rapidly industrializing nations do, lest U.S. industries lose advantage. Gore is fond of saying that the “invisible hand” of capitalism has a green thumb, but it is in fact a butcher’s thumb, weighing on the scales of every political decision. Gore at one point in the movie ridicules the notion that one must choose between wealth and the planet—but the fact is that at point after point where the demands of capital have run up against preserving the environment, Gore has chosen for capital.

Again, Gore’s professed intentions are beside the point. Once you take high office—once you even enter the realm of major political player in the U.S. system—you cannot work against the overall needs of capital. The capitalist economic “game” has certain rules, and the political system arose to protect and reinforce those rules. Those at the top may have different ideas on how best to do that, but whether to do that cannot be questioned. If it were—if measures were undertaken that somehow defied the basic rules of capitalist accumulation—production would grind to a halt, and those who do control the selection of the leaders and the terms of debate would quickly move to change the situation.

This is another inconvenient truth—and one that has to be fully confronted if we are truly going to have a chance to reverse the direction of things, including the headlong destruction of the environment and the people in it.

The Lose- Lose Scenario… And a Different Scenario

Hoping in Al Gore is a lose-lose scenario. You are persuaded to give your money, your time, your energies and, above all, your hopes and real demands into something that you may be skeptical and suspicious of, and you turn away from the one thing that could actually make a difference—a mass movement, society-wide, taking independent historical action—and so you lose that. And then, whether the candidate gets in or not, the ideals that originally drove you are so betrayed that you lose there too—even if your candidate should win!

We need a different scenario. We need one where people DO dare to confront the reality and DO dare to bring about the only thing that can deal with this incredibly heavy situation—the building of the kind of movement described above. There ARE millions and tens of millions; the response to the global warming movie shows a slice of that potential, and provides a real opportunity to jump into the discussion and push it higher and further. Such a movement, coming from “below,” creates a whole different dynamic and sets whole new terms of debate; this happened in the recent past with the Black liberation movement and other minority movements, with the struggle for women’s emancipation, and with the struggle against the Vietnam War back in the 1960s. For example, the terms of debate very broadly in society went from “should Black people be allowed to integrate,” to what would it really take to do away with Black oppression—and this was entirely due to the profound emancipatory push for freedom coming from the Black masses and those who sympathized with them throughout society, and NOT due to the politicians who found themselves forced to scramble to catch up to, intercept, and misdirect the movement.

And while not its aim or purpose per se, part of what such a mass movement would do would be to force the ruling class politicians to respond to its terms, it would open up divisions at the top and in so doing create even more opportunities for mass political action from below. It is only through that dynamic that the Bush regime can be stopped—and the whole direction that it has pushed in can be radically reversed. 

Anything less is a betrayal of the planet, and the people on it.

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