Originally published in Briarpatch Magazine.
Global warming connects the local and the global. As Canada dumps greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a rate of 22 tonnes per person each year, sea levels in Bangladesh rise, swallowing coastal communities.
Instead of tackling political affairs as a question of nation-states, the climate crisis calls for a planetary politics. In other words, we need to think of ways to organize that transcend our countries’ borders, to complement and reinforce local organizing that’s already happening on the ground. By this, I mean: a world democratic socialist republic.
No longer can transnationals, banks, and politicians command inordinate power over the fate of all life, and tear our Earth apart for the venal goal of profit. The majority will become stewards of the land, oceans, and major industries, and will manage them for the good of the planet and the humans and other living beings that inhabit it.
We have inherited our national borders from wars, parcellation of whole continents by imperialists, and the breakdown of empires. For decades, nation-states have been competing for razor-thin margins, ransacking the cheapest natural and human resources on the planet.
Right now, our fragile and unpredictable world system is controlled by a world oligarchy, leading to what’s called core-periphery relations. Core countries like Canada and the United States are wealthy states that can command much of the world’s economy. They can basically monopolize highly technical processes through a combination of trade secrets, intellectual property law, and state sponsorship. For example, Canada, the United States, and Western Europe held 34 per cent of world’s refinery capacity of oil and gas in 2017, while representing 7 per cent of the world’s population. Peripheral countries are forced to buy back the raw resources as more expensive finished goods.
Core economies also host the headquarters of transnational companies. Although the presence of these transnationals may extend across countries, the main logistical decisions are made in the core economies. Gold mining giant GoldCorp, which is headquartered in Vancouver, received over 1.5 billion dollars in revenue from the mines they own in Latin America in 2016. Its impending merger with its Denver-based rival Newmont will create the world’s biggest gold mining company.
Peripheral countries are forced to sell their workers’ labour and resources, without safeguarding the dignity of workers and the environment, since they need U.S. dollars – the world’s reserve currency, used in international transactions – to be able buy technology, refined resources like gasoline, and other capital intensive products from core states. This core-periphery dynamic gives rise to the hellish conditions of textile factories in Bangladesh or Mexico, the cobalt mines that employ child labourers in the Congo, and the agri-business giants that spray Argentinian farming communities with cancer-causing herbicides.
Even leftist governments elected in core countries are still forced to maintain a competitive economy under capitalist terms. They need to produce and sell commodities in the world market in order to get U.S. dollars they can use to buy products from the outside, as no country can produce everything that it consumes. This makes it so that even nominally leftist governments may be compelled to steal land from Indigenous peoples, enforce austerity, implement anti-worker laws in the hopes of increasing productivity, and engage in the ransacking of the periphery.
Plus, virtually all nation-states are run by an alliance of the business elite and politicians. In so-called “democratic” countries, public posts are shuffled amongst a small pool of elites who hoard the wealth and networks necessary to run viable political campaigns – think of the Clintons, or the Trudeaus. And modern “democracies” generally don’t allow for the self-government of localities, where power would bubble from the local level upwards to the national level. In Canada, this can be seen in the way the federal government routinely violates treaties and the sovereignty of First Nations through the extraction of natural resources and the imposition of oil pipelines.
A state accountable to workers, Indigenous peoples, and peasants around the world can only take the form of a democratic republic – one that balances self-governing localities with global structures. Localities should be allowed to achieve as much self-sufficiency and autonomy as possible, and the administration of local services and resources should be left to them.
Meanwhile, capital intensive industries that require logistical chains across large scales, like the energy industry, would be administered and owned democratically by the world republic. Global, socialized management would make it possible to wind down the fossil fuel industry and invest its final profits in green energy.
In order to abolish the unaccountable class of professional politicians, all important public posts should be electable, recallable, and term-limited, and individuals should be prohibited from running for too many posts during their lifetime.
The autonomy of localities and the global socialization of large-scale industries would undermine the tendency of large states to become centralized and authoritarian (like in the cases of the Roman and American Empires). It will lead to the self-determination of Indigenous groups and other ethnic minorities by allowing them to manage their homelands. All of this while opening the door for cooperation on large-scale, logistically complex, international projects.
It’s true that all sorts of political changes would have to occur to create the conditions for a world socialist government. But we’ve already seen regional movements emerge and transcend the nation-state – the next step is for them to coalesce into global polities. Historically, many social movements took a continental character – like the anti-imperialist struggles in 19th century Latin America that culminated in the short-lived state of Gran Colombia, and the spikes of socialist, working class militancy that swept across European borders in the 1910s and 1920s and led to the Italian Biennio Rosso, the German Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. Today internationalist solidarity movements that struggle against American military intervention, climate change, and the occupation of Palestine are a testament to this tendency. In fact, the old socialist movements of the First, Second, and Third International created far-reaching organizations that could coordinate internationalist struggle with the loyalty of millions of workers.
Recent history has already shown that the world plutocracy will pursue profit at all costs, even if it leads to massive inequality, environmental destruction, and humanitarian crises. The only way to fight the destructive power of the elite is for those that have a stake in the planet’s future – the disenfranchised majority – to take over the world economy with democratic and transparent institutions. This political program takes the form of the world socialist republic: the global, participatory stewardship of the earth, seas, and sky.