Saturday 15 August 2020

Ecosocialism, Global Justice, and Climate Change


I have recently been reading ‘The Emergence of Ecosocialism,’ a collection of essays written by the now sadly departed Joel Kovel. Edited by Quincy Saul, and published in 2018. The book is reviewed more fully here and here.

In Kovel’s essay which goes by the same title as this post, first published at Capitalism Nature Socialism in 2008, he looks into the possibilities that ecosocialism can bring in an age of climate crisis, wrought by a rampant, planet destroying, capitalism. He begins:

So far it is only a word, plucked from the bin of radical possibility to concentrate the mind in this grim age of world-destroying capitalism. We call it ‘ecosocialism’ because the times, as Hamlet put it, are “out of joint.” That which should fit together does not, and events cascade chaotically, threatening unprecedented disaster. ‘Eco’ is the prefix, because the disjointing is of nature. And ‘socialism?’… a socialism predicated on overcoming of capital as nature’s enemy as well as the exploiter of human labor. The path to ecosocialism has to be made by those who will travel upon it. But it also has to be imagined in advance, because the socialism of this present age, if it ever arises, will not much resemble its ancestors from the first epoch of the doctrine.

‘First epoch’ socialism says Kovel, was a project to negate and overcome the effects of capital’s conversion of labour power into surplus value. Workplace strategies, such as strikes were first employed to impede this process until their limitations became apparent and were replaced by aims that put the means of production into the hands of the workers, eventually enforced by the state.

Kovel notes that Marx and Engels called attention to the destructive nature of capital on the bodies of the workers, and later William Morris and Rosa Luxemburg developed this thinking into the realms of environmental destruction, but without a full critique of the ecological effects of capitalist production. This thinking only took hold from the 1970s onwards, with the idea of ‘limits to growth.’ Even though Marx wrote in Capital that the defining the factors of production were land, labour and capital. First epoch socialism retained the capitalist mentality that they had fought, largely seeing nature as a free resource, to be exploited.

Kovel then trains his sights on the philosophy of Deep Ecology, which whether from ignorance or perhaps an excess of bitterness, wants to eliminate what is distinctive about humanity. Humans are entitled to have their corner of nature respected but must respect other species in nature, and work within those limits.

On patriarchy, Kovel says the world view has been that real human beings are masculine, enforced mainly due to violence on the part of men, while nature, dumb, passive and devoid of reason, remained behind as eternal female. Thus gender violence is the template of nature’s domination. Forms of production consigned to women, giving birth and the nurturance of life were devalued, despite their central importance to humanity. Ecosocialism, as ecofeminism, values these forms of work as just as importantly as all other forms of work, something Marx largely ignored in his writings.

Ecosocialism is first and foremost, on behalf of life, and dedicated to life’s flourishing as well as preservation. That is the existential core. The more deeply it is felt, the more widely will it surface into social transformation. In this light, capital is not merely an instrument of economic exploitation, but the angel of death, prepared by the endless fragmenting of ecosystems through the action of the principle of exchange. Ecosocialism struggles against capital, therefore, not only to secure the well being of the underclasses, but on behalf of life itself – and by extension the firmament that sustains life… It puts in place an ethic, ecocentrism, that gives primacy to the healing of nature and the enhancement of life.

Ecosocialism will develop a new communal mode of production, where the Commons is restored, and thus collective ownership and mutual aid ensues, and all in conjunction with nature. But Kovel warns that this system of production can lead to tribalism, where in India, the term communalism has come to refer to episodes of mass murder of Muslims, by Hindus. Kovel suggests the key question is whether collectivity can be imbued with a universal interest?

Kovel says that the ecosocialist revolution, will not be like past revolutions which overthrew the state, by violent means. Although, after the revolution the state will be transformed. The revolution will not be the preserve of any one class, although all producers must be freely associated. Many points of ecological resistance to capital’s domain will arise all over the world.

These must gathered to form a ‘movement of movements’ which is non violent, although violence from the forces of the status quo will occur, and must be endured. For there will suffering to come, but this must be faced in a spirit of renewal and dignity for life rather than, succumb to the cold and dark dead end signified by a dying capitalism.

The unifying force of such movements can only be a conjugation of anti-capitalism with ecocentric valuation of life itself, which is to say…a developing ecosocialism.

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