Talk presented to Public Meeting in Haverfordwest this evening.
Hosted by Pembrokeshire Green Party
About 100 years ago, Rosa Luxemburg, the great Marxist philosopher and activist (with whom I share a Polish heritage), reputedly used the phrase “ECOSOCIALISM or BARBARISM”. There is some dispute over the ‘eco’ bit, but whatever the truth of this; it still rings truer than ever today.
Those early pioneers of the socialist movement were striving for justice for working men and women suffering exploitation, both in the workplace and in society in general, at the hands of das capital.
Structural unemployment, widening inequalities, the curse of indebtedness and the militarisation of the capitalist state – these were the issues of the day for Rosa Luxemburg and they are still the issues of the day for us today.
Having said this, it is a profoundly different world we live in today than in Rosa’s time. The communications revolution has inter-connected us like never before and our greater scientific understanding has also raised and re-asserted our interconnectedness with nature, and the folly of the capitalist attitudes of detachment from and exploitation of the natural world.
In devising the means of production, we devised the means to rampage and pillage our way through ecosystems in the pursuit of everything we needed and everything we never knew we needed until the marketing men told us. For sure, lives of people have been transformed, but only by transforming, and increasingly deforming, nature.
This harmful deformation has accrued and is now reaching critical proportions. Witness climate change, massive species extinctions, pollution on an unprecedented scale and you begin to realize that we are inadvertently and carelessly preparing the grounds for our own extinction.
We need to start acknowledging that we are not just creating environmental problems – we are creating a full-scale ecological crisis. Ecology is the study of the relationships between living creatures and their natural environment. To be honest, I think we may have made a mistake in changing the name of the party from the Ecology Party to the Green Party in1985, but that is a different issue for a different day.
I want to focus on what may sound like a difficult assertion, and that is that environmentalism has become more of a curse than a blessing for the Green Party today. It allows the party to accommodate more than its fair share of ‘green capitalists’. Let me explain.
There is a fundamental difference between looking at issues as an environmentalist than as an ecologist. Environmentalism is an anthropocentric perspective that sees us as separate from the external things of nature. We thereby deal with environmental problems with regulations, legislation and policy, monitored by agencies, both governmental and NGOs, that focus on their one particular specialism. Environmentalists seek technological fixes or else nag us to change our lifestyles by supporting the business of recycling and green products – the green capitalists in other words.
You see, the problem with environmentalism is that it completely ignores the root cause of the ecological crisis. It simply attempts to tidy up the mess in a superficial and ultimately pointless way
The essential truth here is that we are part of nature and our futures are intrinsically bound together. Failure to respect this truth puts everything at risk – including our children and future generations. With critical tipping points looming large, we need to change our ways fast – we need a revolution of a positive sort, or else we are destined to endure a revolution of a bloody and painful sort.
The ruling classes are diehard capitalists. Their first and foremost priority always has been and always will be the accumulation of capital through economic growth. I do not need to expound the nonsense of pursuing infinite growth on a finite planet to this audience, but please realise that this is the very essence of the ecological crisis. That it is not widely accepted out there reflects how hard it is to face harsh realities, but it also reflects the enormous efforts of the capitalist interests in trying to justify themselves and to deny their responsibilities to the planet. In this sense, capitalism is truly pathological.
Ecosocialism is a movement that not only strives to remove capital accumulation as a central goal of society, but which also recognises that understanding our place in the ecology of the planet is fundamental to the provision of justice for common people. Ecosocialism is aware that post-capitalist society has to serve the wellbeing of the planet as a whole; people and nature alike. We are, of course, nowhere near these goals.
A central tenet of ecosocialism, as with any brand of socialism, is freely-associated labour. This is essential to ecosocialism because it breaks the hold of capital over the means of production and its addiction to growth. It is also essential because it is the only way of ensuring that the process of production can be satisfying and pleasurable for workers — in the same way as the ends of production are satisfying and pleasurable for consumers. This is one of the features of ecology-focussed production. Another is a movement towards craftsmanship; a more labour intensive approach to production, but also one way of reducing dependency on fossil fuels. Other ways include replacing fossil fuels by renewable sources of energy — water, wind and sun. New technology would no longer be regulated by considerations of profit, but by the needs of the people and the planet – ecological needs.
By liberating people from their capitalist paymasters and empowering communities with appropriate technology, we should be able to have faith in people making the right decisions, as people will witness at close hand how caring for the planet and the provision of a good life go hand-in-hand.
A further central concept to this vision is that of the “commons”. This involves collectively owned units of production and also the absence of patriarchy and class-based society – concepts that blight so many lives today. Land is a central focus of this concept. Things started to go horribly wrong, not just with the capitalist industrialisation of production, but also with the enclosing of the common land. The wholesale enclosures of common land in the first half of the 19th Century created a landless working class that provided the labour required in the newly developing industries. In other words, the common man became detached from the common land, and lost any ecological perspective.
Commoning is making a comeback, in no small part due to the advocacy of academics like Green Left’s Derek Wall, a former principal speaker of the Green Party in the days before it had leaders as such. We need to applaud, support and strive to develop commoning wherever we can. It can be as simple and basic as a community garden. It can be a community renewables project offering the ultimate in energy security. It can be a whole community, a commune. Ultimately, it can become the prevailing form of global society in a post-capitalist world.
Thus as ecosocialists of today, working for a better tomorrow, we have two things to focus on. Firstly, we need to be building resistance to the capitalist state – by getting on the streets and being seen and heard. Secondly, we need to be looking for opportunities to build communities of production outside of capitalist structures. Building “unions” and “solidarity” are not just terms of the class struggle, but are also ecological terms. From little acorns, mighty oaks grow.
This is why I am in the Green Party; this is why I am in the Green Left group within the Green Party. It is not so much the new party of the left – but the party of the new left. It is the most ecologically aware socialist option available – and socialists that understand ecology are the future of not just the Green Party, but the future of the whole planet. At least we have to work to try and make it so.
Andy Chyba, October 2014.