Friday, 2 November 2018

Red and Green Politics is a Common Cause – but too many can’t see this

As an ecosocialist, of course I think that this is the case, but not everyone who is a green or a socialist agrees with this thinking. It does depend on what you mean by green and socialist in the first place though. Many greens are essentially liberals or green social democrats, and many people who call themselves socialists are in fact social democrats, or as the phrase popular in the US these days has it, democratic socialists.

Democracy is an essential part of ecosocialist theory, but not the bourgeois democracy that is prevalent in much of the world, and easily corrupted by moneyed interests. True democracy is probably impossible under a capitalist political and economic system, although it can round the sharp edges off unfettered capitalism, like the neo-liberal version which has been prevalent for the last forty years or so.

More conventional greens tend to see the ecological problems as largely unconnected to capitalism itself, just the form that we have and how it is applied, with greens believing that somehow capitalism can be reformed and made more eco-friendly. 

Conventional socialists, all too often see ecological politics as an add on issue, at best, which will somehow cease to be a problem when we move to a traditional socialist system. Socialist governments that we have seen around the world (USSR, China etc), have often had an even more dismal environmental record than capitalist countries.

Ecosocialists think that both are wrong.

Ecosocialists see the problems of ecological justice and social justice, as profoundly linked in our economic system, capitalism, and no amount of tinkering with capitalism will ultimately resolve the ecological and social problems caused by this unfair and destructive system.

A healthy environment is essential to humanity’s well-being, and the effects of climate change, for example, impact much more on poorer people. Rich capitalist countries can build defences against the effects of volatile changes in the climate, whilst poor ones cannot. Things like incinerators and toxic dumps, tend to be located in poor neighbourhoods, even in the richer nations.  

For greens, especially in more recent times, social justice issues have been accepted as part of the changed society they want to see, but attempt to treat the symptoms caused by our economic system, rather than the root cause itself. Some greens, for example, still see population issues as the main issue affecting ecological destruction, but fail to see that the poverty that is inherent in capitalism, forces poor people to have larger families, to generate income, particularly where there is no welfare system, old age pensions and the like.

Some greens who do not see themselves as ecosocialists still do recognise that economic growth, is not good for the environment, and ultimately, infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible, and can only lead to the degradation of the natural world which sustains us. Greens tend to talk about different measures of well-being rather than GDP, which is heading in the right direction, but doesn’t seem to take account of the unsuitability of the capitalist system in providing an alternative measure of success.

Greens often talk about ‘sustainable’ growth, powered by renewable energy, but whilst this is preferable to that powered by burning fossil fuels, it would still mean precious resources being used up in production, and so is only a temporary solution to our ecological ills. I see it as useful only as a transitional measure, on the way to ecosocialism. I am also sceptical about in an ever growing economic system, renewable energy will provide enough power to satisfy capitalism demands.

This doesn’t mean that this should not be campaigned for, and indeed I do myself, but there is a limit on the effectiveness of sustainable growth that we should recognise. Conventional socialists and social democrats see growth as essential to their agenda. The greater the economic growth achieved, the more wealth there is to share around and concentrate on the redistribution of this growth.

Socialists and social democrats are often in favour of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, which are an anathema to most greens. Trade unions are often in this socialist/social democrat camp, not unreasonably since these industries offer high skilled, high paid jobs to their members. Ecosocialsts and some greens will stress the concept of a ‘just transition’ to a sustainable and peaceful future. This basically means retraining for these workers to make socially useful goods, like solar panels or wind turbines.       

The point of ecosocialism in the longer term, is not to try and make the capitalist system run better, but to replace the system altogether and start afresh with a new system. Indeed, ecology is the system's Achilles heel, since infinite economic growth is irrational, and therefore a threat to the central logic of capitalism, grow or die. Once this concept is grasped, the inevitable conclusion is, that capitalism is unsustainable. It needs to be replaced by ecosocialism.

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