Thursday 12 October 2017

George Monbiot’s Damascene Near Conversion to Ecosocialism

I have written before on this blog, of George Monbiot’s political philosophy as being liberal essentially, a kind of green neo-Keynesianism, and the limits that this puts on his radicalism. I justified this by reference to his 2003 book, ‘The Age of Consent’ where this is exactly what he advocates. The marketing blurb for the book contains this quote:

“Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution.” 

This sounds quite radical but the book goes onto suggest a neo-Keynesian approach, and rather condescendingly dismisses socialism in a page and a half. This is a quote from my previous blog on the subject:

‘It is not a revolution Monbiot wants, he is happy enough with the current capitalist system that he wants it to continue, but be tweaked around a bit. In short, he is a liberal, so this is all to be expected. He either thinks that anything more radical is doomed to failure or he is deluding himself liberal economics can help to solve the very ecological crisis it has set going.’

If you have read the book then this is the only conclusion to draw. But he has been edging away from this type of thinking. In December last year he wrote in his column in The Guardian that Corbyn’s Labour were pursuing a Keynesian approach to policy when they need to advocate a move to ‘commons based’ solutions, that is, abandoning Keynesianism and indeed capitalism as useless in the face of the ecological crisis.

In his column on Tuesday this week he went further with his new thinking. He mentions a commons based ownership of production and stewardship of the land, and participatory democracy. The example he gives is of the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre who have pioneered this participatory democracy in local spending decisions and much else.

The commons is an extremely important concept in ecosocialism, and extends beyond the physical land based commons of old (and some that still exist), into areas like peer to peer data sharing and things like the Firefox web browser. Monbiot does say that commons are a ‘non-capitalist system’ but omits terming this as ecosocialism, which it is. Or to be exact, it is only a prefiguration of ecosocialism, and thus sadly open to abuse whilst the capitalist system survives.

Participatory budget setting and other forms of lowest level democratic decision making, what Monbiot refers to as ‘subsidiarity,’ is also close to ecosocialist theory, and we would extend this to most areas of political engagement and governance.

He advocates a land value tax and a citizen’s income, which is not strictly speaking ecosocialist, but is promoted by the English Green Party, and whilst they are good transitional policies pointing towards ecosocialism, they would be unnecessary under full blown ecosocialism. There would be no private ownership of land and there would probably be no need for money.  

Monbiot thinks this is all possible under a UK Corbyn led Labour government, who have been making moves to update their 1970’s Keynesian ideology, to some extent at least. I think this is possible, but Labour doesn’t seem to be there yet, which Monbiot does acknowledge. There is still a centralising instinct in the Labour party, and faith in things like nuclear power (which Monbiot now supports too) is a good example.

I also think beyond a transitional stage, which we need to have, that bourgeois democracy is unlikely to be the vehicle for achieving ecosocialism, because there are too many powerful vested interests in capitalism to accept full blown ecosocialism. It would mean the end for the capitalist class, and they will not allow that to happen without a fight. Too many of their class do very well out of the system, although most people get ripped off by it. Why should the elites throw away their lives of luxury on the backs of the mass of the people?

So, yes Monbiot’s change of emphasis is to be welcomed, but only as a transitional phase, and I hope Monbiot can follow through the logic of his new thinking, abandon his attachment to capitalism, and fully embrace the only system that will give us a chance of avoiding a massive ecological and social crisis. Ecosocialism, that is. 

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