Why we need an ecosocialist revolution
“Green capitalism” is an oxymoron, because ecological destruction is built into the nature and logic of our present system of production and distribution.
by Gemma Weedall
Gemma Weedall is a member of the socialist youth group Resistance, in Adelaide, South Australia. This article is based on a tutorial session she led at the Socialist Alliance National Conference in January.
The recent floods in Queensland, as well as bushfires in three states, have dramatically shown that climate change is a serious threat and is getting worse. Climate change is not an abstract issue that will be a problem at some point down the track; it is having real impacts now.
Extreme fires and floods are becoming the norm in Australia, rather than infrequent disasters. It is expected that there will be more frequent and more damaging extreme weather events if action to stop climate change soon does not happen soon.
But look to our “leaders” in parliament, and there’s not even a genuine recognition of the problem. In response to extreme weather, they tell us we just need to “pull together, like we’ve always done”. Why the lack of foresight?
In Australia today, the economic, political and social system is in unavoidable conflict with environmental sustainability.
The motivating force of this system is the never-ending quest for profits and accumulation, where all other areas are de-prioritised and suffer as result. The economy must continually expand, which is incompatible with the Earth’s defined boundaries and finite resources. The social and environmental costs are externalised, so that while corporations make super profits, the rest of society is expected to pick up the bill of the side effects of polluting industry.
This system is capitalism, and it impacts on every aspect of people’s lives.
If we want to solve these problems we can’t just reform the current system. “Green capitalism” is an oxymoron, because it doesn’t deal with problems like perpetual growth. Ecological destruction is built into the nature and logic of our present system of production and distribution.
There can be no lasting solution to the world’s environmental crises as long as capitalism remains the dominant economic and social system on this planet.
Resistance stands for ecosocialism. What is ecosocialism? It is the ideological child of ecology and Marxism — aiming to unite the best of the green and red movements.
Ecology gives us powerful tools for understanding how nature functions — as interrelated, integrated ecosystems. It gives us essential insights into humanity’s impact on the environment, but it lacks a social analysis, tending to reduce humanity’s role to biology and numbers, and propose solutions that tinker around the edges of the problems.
Marxism is a comprehensive critique of capitalism. It gives an analysis of why this social order has been so destructive and shows that another kind of society is both possible and necessary.
Ecology was fundamental to the thought of Karl Marx and Frederik Engels as well as many other 20th century Marxist scientists, but unfortunately it was often ignored by 20th century socialist movements, especially in the Stalinist Soviet Union.
Some people point to the ecological disasters that happened in these countries, such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, or the poisoning of the Aral Sea, and ask: why should we expect better of future attempts at socialist societies?
We can expect better because we can learn from past mistakes and ensure that ecology is at the centre of modern socialist theory and practice. By eliminating capitalism, we remove profit and accumulation as the driving forces of the economy, and hence remove the innate drive to pollute and destroy.
Socialism will make an ecologically balanced world possible, which is impossible under capitalism. Socialism opens exciting possibilities for sustainability, as demonstrated by Cuba, which is currently the only country meeting the World Wildlife Fund’s criteria for a sustainable society.
An ecosocialist society will have certain features if it is true to its name. It will be socialist — committed to democracy, radical egalitarianism and social justice. This means it will be based on collective ownership of the means of production, and the needs of people and the planet will be the driving forces of the economy, rather than profit. It will also be based on the best ecological principles.
It will prioritise stopping bad environmental practices, restoring ecosystems and re-establishing agriculture and industry based on ecologically sound principles.
How can we make an ecosocialist revolution? It is absolutely essential, but not an easy task.
In their book Too Many People, Ian Angus and Simon Butler explain the necessary first step: “In every country, we will need governments that break with the existing order, that are answerable only to working people, farmers, the poor, indigenous communities, and immigrants — in a word, to the victims of ecocidal capitalism, not its beneficiaries and representatives.”
We need governments that can rapidly phase out fossil fuels, start the urgent transition to renewable energy, convert our farmlands to ecological agriculture, provide free and efficient public transport, and implement energy efficiency measures across the board.
We can’t wait for an ecosocialist government to spring from nowhere and make these changes. The only way we can build these changes is to be fighting for every one of these goals today. The longer we take to build the movement to get started, harder it will be.
An eco-socialist revolution can’t be imposed by a minority; it requires majority participation. There are strong opposing forces that benefit from the existing situation. The capitalist class, who have power and privilege, will lose both, and won’t give them up easily. We will need to organise a strong countervailing political force to remove them from power.
Our key task is to find ways to work with the broadest possible range of people as they are today, and convince them of our perspective through struggle.
Fortunately for us, capitalism “produces its own gravediggers”, as we have seen through recent mass uprisings against austerity and authoritarian governments around the world. However, spontaneous uprisings will not be enough by themselves to bring into being the revolutionary administration we need.
For this to occur, we will need to create in advance an organised movement with a clear ecosocialist vision and program that can provide leadership to these struggles.
There is no blueprint for building the movement, but it must have a few characteristics. It must extend and apply ecosocialism’s analysis and program. That is, build on the existing knowledge of ecosocialism and Marxism using the lessons we learn in struggles for change and apply this new understanding to a variety of circumstances. It is a dynamic struggle, requiring creative and nuanced thinking.
Second, it must be pluralist and open. This is not about starting a new sectarian grouping — ecosocialism is not a separate organisation, it is a movement to win existing red and green groups and individuals to an ecosocialist perspective. Our agreements are more important than our differences; debate and discussion strengthens our understanding.
Third, it must be internationalist and anti-imperialist. We must put global climate justice at the centre of our politics. This means finding concrete ways of showing solidarity with struggles against environmental imperialism in the global South.
Most importantly, it must be active. Ecosocialists must be activists, participating in and building movements for a better world. We need to fight for immediate gains against environmental destruction today and fight for an ecosocialist future at same time — these are not in conflict but are complementary.
Through united struggles for reforms and gains, people can build the collective knowledge and organisations they need to advance their interests and build the confidence needed to take on bigger targets. Only by actively participating in such struggles can the movement grow and win a larger hearing from more and more people, and ultimately make an ecosocialist revolution possible.