Former Greens senator envisions a different world system

Ludlam makes a case for a 'post-capitalism built on the intersection of radical democracy, regenerative economics, and First World sovereignty'.

Full Circle: A Search for the World That Comes Next
By Scott Ludlam
Black Inc., Melbourne
2021, 377 pp.

Full Circle is Scott Ludlam’s promising first book.

Ludlam is a former federal Greens senator from Western Australia and the first of several Australian federal parliamentarians removed from their positions for holding dual citizenship.

In Full Circle, Ludlam adopts a literary device in which he juxtaposes chapters on the paleohistory of Earth with chapters on human activities in the Anthropocene — or what might be more appropriately termed the Capitalocene — that have contributed to a global socio-ecological crisis.

I will focus on the latter, some of which Ludlam witnessed first-hand in his travels to various parts of our fragile planet.

Unlike most Green politicians, who would like to tweak capitalism and somehow make it more socially just and environmentally sustainable, Ludlam believes that capitalism must be transcended. He clearly understands who runs the world, and Australia for that matter.

Ludlam argues that an interlocking of transnational corporations and allied corporate hubs — such as the World Economic Forum, the Trilateral Commissions and the World Business Council for Sustainability — essentially control United Nations-recognised Westphalian (sovereign) nation-states.

With regard to the United States, Ludlam maintains that the Republicans and Democrats have become business parties, although I would argue they always have been.

In terms of Australia, he maintains that a “bloc of transnational resource sector investors control the ministerial wing of parliament and hold absolute majority in both chambers” (p 3), with the Coalition being entirely owned and the ALP being divided and largely compliant, and with Greens seeking to hold the line.

In reality, the Greens are also divided on what to do with capitalism.

Based partly upon his observations travelling around the world and partly upon reading, Ludlam is acutely aware that there are anti-systemic movements in both the Global North and the Global South that are resisting neoliberalism — which he identifies as a particularly aggressive genre of capitalism — albeit against great odds. He particularly singles out the Student Strikes 4 Climate — jump-started by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg — and Extinction Rebellion for commendation as more recent manifestations of an international climate movement.

Unfortunately, Ludlam maintains that “people working for the world that comes next are remarkably poorly connected at the planetary level, a consequence of centuries of divide et impera (divide and rule)” (p 314). He argues that the UN “provides a valuable superstructure for cross-border collaboration”, but recognises that in its present form it is hamstrung by the veto power of the Security Council.

I might add that the UN, with its highly touted Sustainable Development Goals, somehow operates under the illusion that social justice and environmental sustainability can be achieved within capitalist growth parameters. Last but not least, despite 25 UN Congress of the Parties (COP) climate change conferences, emissions and global warming have tended to rise.

While Ludlam makes a case for a “post-capitalism built on the intersection of radical democracy, regenerative economics, and First World sovereignty” (p 271), he is rather vague about how these will lead to an alternative world system. Despite his recognition that there are notions of alternative economies or modes of production that either need to be rebuilt or reinvented, Ludlam fails to grapple with entities such as ecosocialism and ecoanarchism, which seek to provide frameworks for transcending the capitalist world system.

Indeed, ecosocialist and ecoanarchist tendencies have existed and perhaps still exist within the Australian Greens, but they clearly have been sidelined by the leadership of the party, as we saw occur with the Left Renewal grouping several years ago in New South Wales.

In part, Full Circle constitutes a travelogue that chronicles Ludlam’s jaunts around the world, not as a conventional tourist but as a social activist and Greens politician. Indeed, alongside businesspeople, the super rich and celebrities, politicians tend to be frequent flyers and thus members of a mobile elite.

Ludlam’s trips included visits to representatives of the Greens parties in Lebanon and Mongolia, but also visits to sites in Brazil, South Africa, India, Europe, the US and Japan. Yet, while Ludlam is fully aware of the adverse impact of the extraction of fossil fuels and other minerals on the global eco- and climatic systems, he makes no mention of the fact that air travel prior to the lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic was contributing five to six percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ludlam does acknowledge that the “virus moves with the speed of hyper-accelerated trade and aviation, coursing rapidly out of China’s industrial heartland along the just-in-time sankey stripes of global supply chains” (p 304). Indeed, COVID-19 keeps slipping into countries, including Australia, via aeroplane passengers and flight crews.

If Ludlam decides to write another book that grapples with a “search for the world that comes next”, I invite him to enter into a dialogue with ecosocialism.