Written by Michael Löwy and first published at Herramienta
The present economical and ecological crisis are part of a more general historical conjoncture: we are confronted with a crisis of the present model of civilization, the Western modern capitalist/industrial civilization, based on unlimited expansion and accumulation of capital, on the “commodification of everything” (Immanuel Wallerstein), on the ruthless exploitation of labour and nature, on brutal individualism and competition, and on the massive destruction of the environment.
The increasing threat of the breakdown of the ecological balance points towards a catastrophic scenario - global warming - that puts in danger the survival itself of the human species. We are facing a crisis of civilization that demands radical change. 
Ecosocialism is an attempt to provide a radical civilizational alternative, rooted on the basic arguments of the ecological movement, and of the Marxist critique of political economy. It opposes to the capitalist destructive progress (Marx) an economic policy founded on non-monetary and extra-economic criteria: the social needs and the ecological equilibrium.
This dialectical synthesis, attempted by a broad spectrum of authors, from James O’Connor to Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster, and from André Gorz (in his early writings) to Elmar Altvater, is at the same time a critique of “market ecology”, which does not challenge the capitalist system, and of “productivist socialism”, which ignores the issue of natural limits.
According to James O’Connor, the aim of ecological socialism is a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality, and the predominance of use-value over exchange-value. I would add that these aims require:
a) collective ownership of the means of production, - “collective” here meaning public, cooperative or comunitarian property;
b) democratic planning that makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and
c) a new technological structure of the productive forces. In other terms: a revolutionary social and economic transformation.. 
The problem with the dominant trends of the left during the 20th century - social-democracy and the Soviet-inspired communist movement - is their acceptance of the really existing pattern of productive forces. While the first limited themselves to a reformed - at best Keynesian – version of the capitalist system, the second ones developed a collectivist - or state-capitalist – form of productivism. In both cases, environmental issues remained out of sight, or were marginalised.
Marx and Engels themselves were not unaware of the environmental-destructive consequences of the capitalist mode of production: there are several passages in Capital and other writings that point to this understanding.  Moreover, they believed that the aim of socialism is not to produce more and more commodities, but to give human beings free time to fully develop their potentialities. In so far, they have little in common with “productivism”, i.e. with the idea that the unlimited expansion of production is an aim in itself.
However, there are some passages in their writings who seem to suggest that socialism will permit the development of productive forces beyond the limits imposed on them by the capitalist system. According to this approach, the socialist transformation concerns only the capitalist relations of production, which have become an obstacle - “chains” is the term often used - to the free development of the existing productive forces; socialism would mean above all the social appropriation of these productive capacities, putting them at the service of the workers.
To quote a passage from Anti-Dühring, a canonical work for many generations of Marxists: in socialism “society takes possession openly and without detours of the productive forces that have become too large” for the existing system. 
The experience of the Soviet Union illustrates the problems that result from a collectivist appropriation of the capitalist productive apparatus: since the beginning, the thesis of the socialization of the existing productive forces predominated. It is true that during the first years after the October Revolution an ecological current was able to develop, and certain (limited) protectionist measures were taken by the Soviet authorities.
However, with the process of Stalinist bureaucratization, the productivist tendencies, both in industry and agriculture, were imposed with totalitarian methods, while the ecologists were marginalised or eliminated. The catastrophe of Tchernobyl is an extreme exemple of the disastrous consequences of this imitation the Western productive technologies. A change in the forms of property which is not followed by democratic management and a reorganization of the productive system can only lead to a dead end.
This may mean, for certain branches of production, to discontinue them: for instance, nuclear plants, certain methods of mass/industrial fishing (responsible for the extermination of several species in the seas), the destructive logging of tropical forests, etc (the list is very long !). In any case, the productive forces, and not only the relations of production, have to be deeply changed - to begin with, by a revolution in the energy-system, with the replacement of the present sources - essentially fossile - responsible for the pollution and poisoning of the environment, by renewable ones: water, wind, sun.
Of course, many scientific and technological achievements of modernity are precious, but the whole productive system must be transformed, and this can be done only by ecosocialist methods, i.e. through a democratic planning of the economy which takes into account the preservation of the ecological equilibrium.
The issue of energy is decisive for this process of civilizational change. Fossile energies (oil, coal) are responsible for much of the planet’s pollution, as well as for the disastrous climate change; nuclear energy is a false alternative, not only because of the danger of new Tchernobyls, but also because nobody knows what to do with the thousands of tons of radioactive waist - toxic for hundreds, thousands and in some case millions of years - and the gigantic masses of contaminated obsolete plants.
Solar energy, which did never arise much interest in capitalist societies, not being “profitable” nor “competitive”, would become the object of intensive research and development, and play a key role in the building of an alternative energetic system.
Entire sectors of the productive system are to be suppressed, or restructured, new ones have to be developed, under the necessary condition of full employment for all the labour force, in equal conditions of work and wage.
This condition is essential, not only because it is a requirement of social justice, but in order to assure the workers support for the process of structural transformation of the productive forces. This process is impossible without public control over the means of production, and planning, i.e. public decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve society’s common good.
Society itself, and not a small olygarchy of property-owners - nor an elite of techno-bureaucrats - of will be able to choose, democratically, which productive lines are to be privileged, and how much resources are to be invested in education, health or culture.
The prices of goods themselves would not be left to the “laws of offer and demand” but, to some extent, determined according to social and political options, as well as ecological criteria, leading to taxes on certain products, and subsidized prices for others. Ideally, as the transition to socialism moves forward, more and more products and services would be distributed free of charge, according to the will of the citizens.
Far from being “despotic” in itself, planning is the exercise, by a whole society, of its freedom: freedom of decision, and liberation from the alienated and reified “economic laws” of the capitalist system, which determined the individuals’ life and death, and enclosed them in an economic “iron cage” (Max Weber).
Planning and the reduction of labour time are the two decisive steps of humanity towards what Marx called “the kingdom of freedom”. A significant increase of free time is in fact a condition for the democratic participation of the working people in the democratic discussion and management of economy and of society.
The socialist conception of planning is nothing else as the radical democratization of economy: if political decisions are not to be left for a small elite of rulers, why should not the same principle apply to economic ones? I’m leaving aside the issue of the specific proportion between planning and market mechanisms: during the first stages of a new society, markets will certainly keep an important place, but as the transition to socialism advances, planning would become more and more predominant, as against the laws of exchange-value.
While in capitalism the use-value is only a means - often a trick - at the service of exchange-value and profit - which explains, by the way, why so many products in the present society are substantially useless - in a planned socialist economy the use-value is the only criteria for the production of goods and services, with far reaching economic, social and ecological consequences.
As Joel Kovel observed: “The enhancement of use-values and the corresponding restructuring of needs becomes now the social regulator of technology rather than, as under capital, the conversion of time into surplus value and money”. 
In a rationally organised production, the plan concerns the main economic options, not the administration of local restaurants, groceries and bakeries, small shops, artisan enterprises or services. It is important to emphasize that planning is not contradictory with workers self-management of their productive units: while the decision to transform an auto-plant into one producing buses and trams is taken by society as a whole, through the plan, the internal organization and functioning of the plant is to be democratically managed by its own workers.
There has been much discussion on the “centralised” or “decentralised” character of planning, but it could be argued that the real issue is democratic control of the plan, on all its levels, local, regional, national, continental and, hopefully, international: ecological issues such as global warming are planetary and can be dealt with only on a global scale.
One could call this proposition global democratic planning; it is quite the opposite of what is usually described as “central planning”, since the economic and social decisions are not taken by any “center”, but democratically decided by the concerned population.
Ecosocialist planning is therefore grounded on a democratic and pluralist debate, on all the levels where decisions are to be taken: different propositions are submitted to the concerned people, in the form of parties, platforms, or any other political movements, and delegates are accordingly elected.
Should the owners of private cars pay special taxes to subsidize public transportation?
Should sun-produced energy be subsidized, in order to compete with fossile energy?
Should the weekly work hours be reduced to 30, 25 or less, even if this means a reduction of production?
The democratic nature of planning is not contradictory with the existence of experts, but their role is not to decide, but to present their views - often different, if not contradictory - to the population, and let it choose the best solution.
In any case, are not the proposed alternatives - the blind market, or an ecological dictatorship of “experts” - much more dangerous than the democratic process, with all its contradictions?
It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures, and the active support, by the vast majority of the population, of an ecosocialist program.
Should development be pursued, or should one choose “negative growth” (décroissance)?
This means putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources by capitalism, based on the production, in a large scale, of useless and/or harmful products: the armaments industry is a good example, but a great part of the “goods” produced in capitalism - with their inbuilt obsolescence - have no other usefulness but to generate profit for the great corporations.
A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, beginning with those which could be described as “biblical” - water, food, clothing, housing - but including also the basic services: health, education, transport, culture.
Obviously, the countries of the South, where these needs are very far from being satisfied, will need a much higher level of “development” - building railroads, hospitals, sewage systems, and other infra-structures - than the advanced industrial ones. But there is no reason why this cannot be accomplished with a productive system that is environment-friendly and based on renewable energies.
The criteria for distinguishing an authentic from an artificial need, is its persistence after the suppression of advertisement (Coca Cola !). Of course, during some years, old habits of consumption would persist, and nobody has the right to tell the people what their needs are. The change in the patterns of consumption is a historical process, as well as an educational challenge.
However, they correspond to a real need, by transporting people to their work, home or leisure. Local experiences in some European towns with ecologically minded administrations, show that it is possible - and approved by the majority of the population - to progressively limit the part of the individual automobile in circulation, to the advantage of buses and trams.
As Ernest Mandel emphasized: “The continual accumulation of more and more goods (with declining “marginal utility”) is by no means a universal and even predominant feature of human behavior. The development of talents and inclinations for their own sake; the protection of health and life; care for children; the development of rich social relations (…) all these become major motivations once basic material needs have been satisfied”.