Martin Empson

Can we build a sustainable society?

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There is an assumption that Marx and Engels's vision of communism sees the natural world as an inexhaustible collection of resources. Martin Empson argues that they sought a profound change in how humans relate to nature, flowing from the democratic and collective organisation of labour.

This month will see major worldwide protests demanding action on climate change. As world leaders meet in Paris they have a chance to plan the massive reduction of emissions to keep world temperatures below the 2 degrees threshold. Time is now tight, and the action would need to be quick and drastic.

England Arise

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Almost as soon as the Great Revolt of 1381 finished it became part of the myths and legends that have inspired those who fight oppression and exploitation. Many readers will know the famous couplet popularised by the radical priest John Ball that questioned the whole medieval order, “When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?”

Landgrabbers

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In 2011 the charity Oxfam estimated that in the previous decade around 227 million hectares of land had been bought up in large scale "land grabs". This was mostly for the imposition of industrial agriculture.

In the process people are thrown off their land, local markets are broken up and ecologies are destroyed.

In recent years there has been growing awareness that land grabbing is taking place in the Global South. In particular, Africa and South America have been targeted by large multinationals and certain states.

But a new report published in April this year shows that very similar processes are taking place in Europe as business is gaining control of enormous parts of the continent, and land ownership is becoming concentrated in a smaller and smaller number of hands.

Why read Reform and Revolution?

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Rosa Luxemburg's short book Reform or Revolution is often overlooked these days, in favour of her more famous, The Mass Strike. Written while in her late twenties, Reform or Revolution demonstrates the keeness of Luxemburg's Marxism and the sharpness of her polemic.

The book is a response to a series of articles and an eventual book by Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein was an important figure in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) to which Luxemburg also belonged. Bernstein was arguing for a movement away from the ideas embodied in classical Marxism.

Luxemburg argued "His conception of the march of economic development is incompatible with the Marxist theory of surplus value. Therefore, Bernstein abandons the theory of value and surplus value, and, in this way, the whole economic system of Karl Marx."

The History of Democracy

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Brian S Roper

Recent elections in Britain have been marked by extremely low voter turnout. Since such elections are supposed to be a cornerstone of modern society, we would be right to ask what this says about our democracy.

Socialists have long argued that under capitalism democracy is extremely limited. Unelected bankers and bosses make daily decisions affecting the lives of millions of people, while every few years we get to vote for politicians who probably won't stick to their pledges.

Silent Spring

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The publication of Silent Spring 50 years ago in September 1962 caused shockwaves through an America dominated by the belief that, through technology, humans could dominate nature in their own interests. The book and its author, Rachel Carson, are credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement.

Born in 1907 Rachel Carson had been a biologist working for the US Fisheries Bureau, but became a full-time writer in the 1950s. Her trilogy of books on the sea explored ocean life and had been bestsellers. In Silent Spring she examined the growing environmental problems caused by pesticides, locating the problem in the wider interaction of humans and the natural world. It was a book that was rooted in growing environmental awareness, particularly public understanding of the dangers from radiation.

Extreme Energy

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The panic that ensued when tanker drivers threatened to strike recently brought home the absolute centrality of oil to our modern economy.

Oil has been in the news recently, not least because the first few months of 2012 saw some of the highest ever prices for crude. The threat of war on Iran, instability in oil-rich Nigeria and the ongoing economic crisis combined to push prices above $125 a barrel. This is below the record of $147 set in July 2008, but the weakness of the pound and euro means that, in reality, the price is much worse for European consumers.

Japan's nuclear nightmare

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The true extent of the destruction that followed the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is only just being
seen. But it is clear that many thousands of people have lost their lives and billions of pounds worth of damage has been done.

A further casualty of this natural disaster may well be the plans to expand the use of nuclear power. Japan is the third largest user of nuclear power, with over 50 nuclear plants which provide over a third of its electricity. The magnitude 9 earthquake was greater than the plants were designed to withstand - yet such earthquakes could certainly have been foreseen.

The Bomb

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Howard Zinn, City Lights, £8.99

Howard Zinn's death earlier this year robbed us of one of the most important post-war historians - someone who wasn't afraid to criticise or condemn governments and leaders.

In his lifetime Zinn wrote many passionate works designed to inspire and arm those who wanted to stand up against injustice. This final, posthumous work is a short polemic against modern military might as a way of bringing justice.

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