People, Pollution, Profit and Production


The last century has been marked by the most explosive growth of pollution and production in the entire history of humanity. The changes brought about by industrialisation under the economic system of capitalism have lead to a large number of systemic problems. Anarchist communism is in a unique position to solve these systemic problems.

When we as workers engage in the production of goods and services, we do so for the benefit of the owners of the means of production. These capitalists, utilise our productive efforts to extract profits. This profit motive underlies many of the ecological and social problems that exist in modern society.

From a capitalist point of view...
A capitalist, attempting to make profit from the productive endeavour of workers, has no reason to have regard for the health and safety of the workers or those around that are affected by production. The capitalists main aim, profit, gives a big incentive to engage in any practice that will increase the profitability of production regardless of the effects. The externalised costs, foist onto the community and the worker are known as "externalities of production". They include things like the dumping of chemicals, the lack of safety precautions for both workers and the community and the cost of the eventual disposal of items when they are no longer used. Pollution, in all its forms, is an externality of production.

One way in which capitalism contributes to environmental problems is through overproduction. Many goods are simply unnecessary. When you go to the store to purchase some item of food, it is often contained in a large amount of packaging with colourful images and statements intended to attract you to the purchase of the good. These packages create excess waste. The burden of disposal is then pushed onto the consumer who often has to pay for the effects of disposal.

Many goods are designed to be disposable or break. This has the advantage to the capitalist of creating a constant market for a good that would otherwise saturate the market and lead to a decrease in profits. These disposable goods flooding the market may require nearly the same inputs to produce as goods that last a long time. Again, the worker and consumer is made to pay these hidden costs so that the capitalist can increase profits. In Ireland we are forced to pay the costs of the irresponsible production of capitalists when we pay bin charges. When you hear the slogan "polluter pays", you should rather hear "make the worker pay".

Advertising is one of the most important predatory instruments of the capitalist. It is used to convince people of the need for consumption of goods. Through the study of neuroscience and psychology the capitalist has created an intricate science that can take advantage of our weaknesses in order to convince us that we need things that are unimportant or even harmful.

In addition to all this the monopoly of the means of production also stands to ensure that the consumer has no real choice in the types of products that exist. The capitalist will never create items that can not maximise profit. The large array of goods that are produced create an illusion of choice, yet it is nearly impossible to purchase goods which reduce externalities by being durable or by being produced responsibly. Even if good were so produced they would be restricted to those who could afford to pay the premium that the capitalist would require to make up for the reduced production.

Capitalism and Innovation
We hear the slogan that capitalism generates steady progress in innovation. Yet what type of innovation does it create? It creates innovation that maximise profits. A quick look at these innovations makes the claim look a lot less positive.

The history of industrialisation has largely been a process of deskilling the worker. Deskilling is the attempt by the capitalists to create productive jobs that require the least amount of knowledge thereby widening the labour pool. This has the dual effect of making jobs miserably boring and forcing wages down by increasing the supply of labour available for a given productive endeavour.

A libertarian alternative
Anarchist Communism provides an alternative society which is capable of creating solutions to these systemic problems. As anarchist communist workers we will be engaging in production for ourselves. There will be no profit since this would simply be stealing from ourselves. The lack of a profit motive means that the generation and distribution of goods takes place on an entirely different playing field.

Without a profit motive, there is no reason to attempt to fail to account for externalities. Production of goods will be a cooperative enterprise between the community and the workers. The worker has no interest in dumping toxic chemicals into the community, especially since they almost certainly live in it. Similarly they are unlikely to avoid safety precautions, since it is their own lives that they save! The worker can take pride in their work.

Communism Vs Capitalism
The production of long-lasting durable items would not be disadvantaged in anarchist communism as it is in capitalism. We as a society can take a bit longer in production and make 100-year light-bulbs and machines that work for generations without fear that the demand will subside because there is no need to maximise production. When one person no longer needs some good they can give it to another such that the overall demand for goods is reduced. Reduction in the demand of goods in anarchist communism does not result in the same sort of economic downward trend that exists in capitalism. Instead it would translate into more free time for workers.

Without a competitive environment for making profits, there is no reason to spend huge amounts of productive effort in packaging. Why create extra work for no reason? In cooperative production advertising ceases to exist altogether. Instead it is replaced with information. There is no incentive to trick people into thinking your product is good since you make no profit from increasing the amount of production.

Real choice can come about in production and consumption. People can decide what they want, but only those things which people are willing to produce can be made. The choice of production will be a balanced cooperation amongst ourselves - one in which real communication can take place because it is no longer driven by attempts at extracting profits.

The entire notion of innovation will change fundamentally as well. The innovations that will occur in an anarchist communist society are those that make the workers and consumers happiest. The creation of machines that serve only to make jobs where the worker engages with production as an automaton will almost certainly disappear. New more interesting jobs will be created.

In anarchist communism the consumers' desires will be fulfilled in a way that makes the worker more happy and comfortable. And rightly so, since the consumer is the worker! No longer will we be organising the production of goods to advantage the rich. We will be doing it to make our lives better. The quality of life, which includes the quality of the environment in which we live, will be in our own hands.