What is Ecosocialism?

Manchester branch of Socialist Resistance were actively involved in organising the Climate and Capitalism conferences in Manchester, and produced this introduction to ecosocialism as a contribution to the debates.

Marx explained that at a certain stage in the development of any class society, the old relations of production eventually act as a brake on any further development of the productive forces. This was certainly true of the classical slave-owning and the feudal modes of production. Socialists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries expected capitalism to follow a similar path, with economic crises eventually stagnating capitalist production completely. However, things haven’t quite worked out that way. Certainly there are periods of crisis, in which output declines, but these are always interspersed with longer periods of expansion. The crises seem to act on capitalist production in the same was as pruning shears act on a rose bush – they clear away the dead wood and allow for a renewal of growth. And there seems to be no let up in this pattern.

However, the continuation of capitalism has produced a situation that is far more dangerous to the future of humanity than that which arose from any previous form of class society, even in their periods of decline. For rather than acting as a brake on the productive forces, capital, as a consequence of its pursuit of infinite accumulation, is accelerating the transformation of the productive forces of society into destructive forces. And the longer capitalism survives the more dangerous and destructive it becomes. It is in recognition of the qualitative change in the task facing us as socialists that we have coined the term ecosocialism.

Although climate change is probably the most acute manifestation of the ecological crisis, it is not the only one. We also face severe problems of ocean acidification, food-chain contamination (particularly with pesticides and chemical fertilisers, but also with mercury and other metals), soil exhaustion, atmospheric pollution (particularly with particulates), devastating oil spills, destruction of rainforests and depletion of ocean fish stocks, to name but a few. One effect of all this is that biodiversity is being lost at such a rate that we are now on the cusp of the planet’s next mass extinction. Disrupting the intricate web of life in this manner will have severe and unpredictable consequences for us as a species.

The extent of the ecological degradation caused by capitalism has not abated in recent years, despite a growing awareness within the scientific community (and increasingly among the population at large) of the depth of the ecological crisis that we face. On one level, most people are now fully aware that the juggernaut of civilisation is hurtling towards an abyss. Yet as the abyss comes clearer into view, the response of the ruling class is to press harder on the accelerator pedal.

It seems paradoxical that although most people do now recognise the severity of the ecological crisis, at an intellectual level at least, we all nevertheless continue with ‘business as usual’ in our daily lives. For the most part this is a consequence of the alienation engendered and reinforced by capitalism. So deep is our alienation, from ourselves, from each other and from nature, that most of us don’t recognise the harm that is being done by ‘business as usual’. What we do is normality, it is reality, so it is normal to continue with these rhythms, to continue our harmful consumption patterns, our car driving, our flying, our possessive individualism. Not only our daily lives but our entire lifespans are straitjacketed into an alienated rhythm of life – we are schooled and trained instead of being freely educated, we fall into a career rhythm and a rhythm of family life, the alienation of which is evident from the amount of mental distress, alcoholism and drug abuse we see all around us, none of which is true to our nature.

If we are to survive as a species we must take a radical step, we must break once and for all with capitalism. Capital as self expanding value can never stand still. It exists in order to expand, through accumulation, and as it expands it extends itself across the entire globe and into every sphere of life. Capital can therefore never find peace with nature, it must constantly metabolise more and more of nature in order to satisfy its urge to accumulate. This is why all attempts to resolve the ecological crisis within capitalism, by carbon trading for example, have always come to nought.

The only way to ensure a rational metabolism with nature, and therefore to ensure a habitable biosphere, is to overthrow capital, not just locally but globally, in a global ecological revolution. And what is the agency of this overthrow of capital? In extending its rule across the globe, capital has brought into being a global multi-billion strong class of wage workers, of proletarians, whose interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of capital. It is this class, our class, which alone has the social power to overthrow capital. The ecological revolution must therefore be a social revolution, which ushers in a global free association of producers.

But wasn’t there a social revolution in Russia, and didn’t this lead to a totalitarian and ecocidal monstrosity? Yes there was, and it is the historic betrayal of this revolution that strengthens the case for our development as ecosocialists rather than simply as socialists.

In its early history the Soviet Union was in fact the most ecologically conscious society in history. By applying the materialist methods of Marxism, the early Soviet ecologists made huge advances in our understanding of ecosystems and of sustainability. But these early ecologists were ruthlessly purged by Stalin, who misleadingly libelled ecology as a bourgeois science (an error that has not been entirely abandoned by many on the left even today.) The Stalinist bureaucracy abandoned the strategy of world revolution in favour of the theory and practice of ‘socialism in one country’. Stalin’s strategy was to expand the productive forces in order to compete with the capitalist countries of the West. But in doing so, he abandoned socialism and adopted the alienating, ecocidal practices of capitalism. In doing so, he was defending not the world-historic interests of the proletariat, of humanity, but the narrow interest of a parasitic and privileged bureaucracy.

If we are to learn the lessons of history, and of the historic defeat of the Russian Revolution in particular, we must therefore put ecology at the centre of our Marxism. As ecosocialists we advocate a radical reduction in the working week, to give us as workers the time we need to administer production and distribution without bosses. We aim to redirect production towards the satisfaction of human need, rather than the production of countless useless commodities and gadgets which are designed only to feed our consumerism and to generate profits for the rich. We seek to undo the harmful capitalist division of labour, starting with the sexual division of labour (through the socialisation of domestic labour and childcare) and the artificial division between manual and mental labour. We aim to suppress the means of destruction, including not only fossil fuels, armaments and aerospace, but also advertising, marketing and speculative finance, by advocating a just transition to socially useful production. And we respond to the destructiveness of a transport system based on the motor car, truck and aeroplane by developing a socialised free public transport system.

In seeking to make the social revolution an ecological transformation (and vice versa), we oppose the distortions of Stalinism and are returning to the ecology of authentic revolutionary Marxism. This is a task that needs to happen as a global movement but also on a local level, in Manchester, as something that the Fourth International here is committed to. You can join us in this task by contacting us at climate.and.capitalism@gmail.com