Six Questions for Ecosocialists: Introduction
In early 2014, Solidarity’s Ecosocialist Working Group developed six questions that we felt deserved some substantial discussion among those who identify as “ecosocialists.” We invited members of our working group, of Solidarity as a whole, and others to draft some initial responses as a way to generate further discussion. Since then we have been collecting, considering, and editing those responses. We are now sharing some of them in this working paper, and we plan to share more in the future as they become ready. We welcome your comments and thoughts as well, either about these contributions or about one or all of the questions that we have posed (see below for the questions and links to the responses).
We note that after we began this project the basic problems we were attempting to engage began to be widely addressed by others, most notably by Naomi Klein in her book This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs. the Climate. There are a number of key debates, including (most importantly in our view) whether a future based on renewable energy can possibly support the kind of lifestyle that modern industrial society has become accustomed to. We have not attempted to resolve that debate in our process, but it has been sharply posed. To get a feel for this conversation we suggest that readers take a look at “Our Renewable Future” by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute. Heinberg takes a specific point of view on the question of our modern industrial society and its lifestyle, but his article also includes links to others, with alternative points of view—as well as to expressions of divergent viewpoints on other important questions.
For the most part, these contributions and discussions—including Klein’s, even though she identifies capitalism directly as the problem in her title—do not approach the solutions to the ecological crisis from an explicitly socialist point of view, and especially not from a revolutionary socialist point of view. Thus we think there is something that the essays below can add to the broader conversation which is taking place. We also welcome readers to provide links to other articles and sources on line which relate to these issues in the comments box.
All of the authors presented in this working paper, except for Salvatore Engel-DiMauro, are members of Solidarity’s Ecosocialist Working Group. We include Salvatore’s bio at the end of his contribution.
Six questions originally posed by Solidarity's Ecosocialist Working Group
- How does ecosocialist politics differ from traditional socialist and labor politics? To what extent does the kind of ecosocialist orientation we need today reflect a continuity with, and to what extent does it represent a break from, previous ideological and programmatic perspectives of the revolutionary workers' movement?
- What role do science, technology, labor productivity and production play in the transition from capitalism to ecosocialism, also in an ecosocialist society after the transition?
- Since the self-emancipation of the working class and other oppressed layers is central in the transition from capitalism to socialism, and therefore to ecosocialism, what do we think will motivate these social forces to see the necessity of ecosocialism? How does the ecological crisis affect the orientation of unions and their place in the class struggle? Beyond traditional kinds of demands and programs, are there other demands and programs that might supplement or perhaps supplant the traditional approach of unions?
- How, if scaling back production is necessary, will ecosocialist strategy remain committed to meeting human needs? Or can we envision continued expansion and economic growth under ecosocialism, as the working classes and others in the industrialized nations have come to expect? If so, how does this differ from expansion and growth under capitalism? What will enable it to take place without an even greater destruction of the environment? If not, how do we ensure the generalized satisfaction of needs for all, including the equalization of living standards between the industrialized nations and the rest of the world?
- What ideas do ecosocialists raise in the climate change movement? Are James Hansen's proposals (for example, advocacy of a "carbon tax" rather than "cap and trade") in some form useful for ecosocialists as transitional demands, or are they simply an attempt to solve the ecological crisis within the context of capitalism? What is the relationship today between issues that can mobilize traditional kinds of mass struggles, such as hydrofracking or the Keystone XL pipeline, and proposals to promote what some might term "life-style" actions (what others refer to as "prefiguration") such as personally using fewer resources, boycotting GMO foods and buying organic, putting a priority on recycling, creating/promoting urban gardens, food coops, and similar institutions?
- Related to #5: What kinds of cooperatives that can be built today might be able to teach us something about a post-capitalist world? What role, if any, should ecosocialists seek to play in these communities?
Responses to the questions
The emergence of a seventh question
As we were preparing this material we become aware of a seventh question:
Is it possible for left governments in developing countries to pursue a more egalitarian social project, in the context of a global economy that continues to be dependent on extractivism, without violating basic ecological principles—in particular the demands of their own indigenous populations? If so how? If not, what priorities should be established in the context of difficult/contradictory choices?
Mark Becker's article “Ecuador’s Bitter Choice” addresses some of this question to some extent, and we invite further comment on this seventh question as well.