Ecosocialism: the alternative that isn’t

Yes, I know I promised to go through the Way of Nature elements. But first, I want to write about an element that is not included in my Way of Nature analysis:

green Marx.jpgEcosocialism

Now, before you click away from here in disgust at the term, bear with me for a moment while I explain why I’ve not included ecosocialism as an element of the Way of Nature.

 

From Wikipedia:

“Eco-socialism, green socialism or socialist ecology is an ideology merging aspects of socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalization or anti-globalization. Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures.

“Eco-socialists advocate dismantling capitalism, focusing on common ownership of the means of production by freely associated producers, and restoring the commons.”

Delving into ecosocialism is a lot like stepping into a steaming swamp where you can’t see the firm bottom. It’s chief proponents, Ian Angus in Canada, Derek Wall in the UK and the late Joel Kovel in the United States, have written voluminously on the subject, as it has evolved over the past 17 years. Ian Angus’s Climate and Capitalism website is the best place to explore the history and current development of ecosocialism.

Why do I exclude ecosocialism from my Way of Nature?

Ecosocialism began as a breakaway political philosophy from standard, everyday Marxism, an admirable attempt to align classic socialist economics with modern understandings of the effects of human social systems on the natural world. Unfortunately, because of its basic Marxist underpinnings, it falls short in two important respects: human population, and human consumption of natural resources.

Population Control

Adherents of ecosocialism are unswervingly opposed to any form of population stabilization or control. This roadblock to thought and rational analysis arises from Marxist focus on economic justice. Ecosocialists hold than any form of population control would preferentially affect people of color, people in poverty, people of the global south. This refusal to consider the detrimental effects of increasing population is extended to immigration as well, holding that people should be free to move from place to place at will.

Consumption

One of the basic Marxist assumptions of socialism is that with the elimination of capitalism, production will be for use and not for profit, and therefore increased technological production would create enough to satisfy everyone’s needs, equally in every part of the human world. In such a “post-scarcity” world, human consumption of natural resources would decline and reduce impacts on the natural world.

I = P x A x T

These two ecosocialist assumptions ignore the formula for measuring and predicting global human impacts on the natural world developed by Barry Commoner, Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren in the 1970s:

I = P x A x T – Impact on the nonhuman world is a function of affluence and technology, multiplied by population.

While it may be true that a socialist economy of use value eliminating production for profit value would reduce per capita production and consumption (this has never been demonstrated historically), this positive result would be held hostage to a growing population, which would overwhelm any gains through a reduction in production.

Stabilizing population growth, even unto the point of reducing human population globally, need not affect any particular population over any other. An ecosystem-based analysis of local human population pressures could be used to stabilize global population by reducing population levels in areas of high impact and stabilizing populations in areas of lower impact. Methods of such population control would be implemented based on local cultures and economies.

Lifting restrictions on immigration ignores the realities of local ecosystems and carrying capacities. If humans are free to drift from place to place, in response to population and social pressures, local ecosystems will quickly degrade in areas where the human drift accumulates. While restrictions on immigration by arbitrarily designated state boundaries might not be desirable from a social standpoint, an ecosystem-based analysis of human population pressures must be used to avoid undesirable negative impacts on the local ecosystem. If social relations in  a particular region are undesirable, humans should solve their problems in place, rather than exporting them to other ecosystems that may be less capable of withstanding increased human impacts.

In the end, despite its optimistic appellation, ecosocialism is yet another anthropocentric philosophy that begins and ends with human benefit as its primary concern and only tangentially addresses the detrimental effects of human growth and technology on the non-human world.

Socialism, even ecosocialism, offers no inherent alternatives to capitalism with regard to human consumption and destruction of natural habitats.

Now then, back to The Way of Nature.

Putting it all together or taking it all apart?

jigsaw-puzzle

On one of my other websites, The Way of Nature, I’ve described many of the elements of an ecosophy that seeks to balance human activity with the natural world. These are philosophies and practices that I find attractive when thinking about the horrible mess this human world has created at the expense of the broader biosphere.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t see any way for the current dominant human way of life to continue much longer. There just aren’t enough resources on this the only planet we can inhabit to support 7+ billion human beings without destroying the habitats of the eleventy bazillion other inhabitants, including our own. The human world is caught up in social systems and philosophies antithetical to living in harmony with all other life. There is no sign at present of any serious movement to change to alternative lifestyles that offer any prospect for continuing into the foreseeable future.

Visualize Civilizational Collapse

A combination of environmental, social and economic collapse seems inevitable, most likely within the lifetime of those living today. A civilization (sic) based on unlimited growth coupled with exponentially increasing consumption of finite resources will inevitably expire in a much deserved collapse, just as previous civilizations and empires suffered the same ignominious end.

If there is such a thing as natural laws, this must be one of them. Any species that eats itself out of house and home will drag itself down the evolutionary porcelain parkway with alacrity. Rabbits do it. Caribou do it. Even plants do it.

The difference is that, unlike humans, non-human animals and plants have natural predators that keep their numbers in check, and that, providentially, strengthen the prey species by eliminating the halt and the weak and the diseased. But hubristic humans insist that “every sperm is sacred” and no individual shall be allowed to die without massive medical intervention to keep them alive and breeding… for a price.

So it seems truly well and good that human civilization should take its place in the good old dustbin of history and make way for what is to come afterwards.

What comes after Civilization?

It’s seems most likely that once human civilization has had its way with this planet, and descended into the abyss of evolutionary despair, there will be insufficient resources remaining for humans to claw their way back out of the hole they have dug for themselves and build a new shining city on the hill to hold dominion over all once again.

This is where the Way of Nature comes into the story.

Any future human world will, of necessity, be organized in harmony with natural cycles of resource availability, just as are all other extant species on the planet. It will be characterized by the same features as other species: diversity, adaptability, humility, cooperation and unswerving patience.

In other words, any post-collapse civilization will live by the Way of Nature.

Take some time to review the elements of the Way of Nature, and we’ll start going through them in the next post on Searching for Balance.

More reading on collapse:

  • Collapse, Jered Diamond
  • The Party’s Over, Richard Heinberg
  • The Enemy of Nature, Joel Kovel
  • Good News, Edward Abbey
  • Toward an Ecological Society, Murray Bookchin
  • Human Scale Revisited, Kirkpatrick Sale
  • The Twilight of American Culture, Morris Berman

Visiting “Civilization”

amtrak

This past week we traveled from our Coastal California home to the Nebraska panhandle for a family reunion (more on that event later). Since we stopped flying in 2007, our trip involved an Uber ride to San Jose, a train ride to Oakland and an overnight stay in a motel, another train ride from Oakland to Emeryville, a long-distance train ride from Emeryville to Denver, Colorado, and a 250 mile drive from Denver to Nebraska. Our return trip was the same in reverse, except the final leg involved a 35 mile ride on a bus and a 40 minute walk from downtown to home.

Whew!

That was all interesting enough, especially traveling over the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies. It was the culture shock we experienced in Denver that I’m interested in here.

I used to visit Denver frequently, back in the 60s and 70s when I lived in western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming. We called Denver the nesting ground of the forty story cranes in those days, due the the ubiquitous tall construction cranes looming over the Denver skyline. Dealing with Denver was reasonable in those days, even though after a couple of days I would flee from the city in panic, seeking the solace of higher climes and quieter venues.

That was nothing compared to Denver today.

Denver Railway Buidling plaque.JPG

The Transportation hub of Denver, and the Front Range, has always been Union Station downtown, even before Union Station was built. When I registered for the Draft in 1967, I came by way of  Union Station to the Armed Forces Induction Center for testing and a physical. Union Station at that time was, well, a train station, right downtown, a short walk to the YMCA where I stayed for two nights during the induction process (it sounds just as mechanical and inhuman as it felt).

Union Station today bears little resemblance to its 60s appearance.

DUSST1950s       denverunionstation_1575x900_ryandravitz_03jpg.jpg

As if the glitzy, tented dayglo exterior wasn’t enough, the wooden pews, squeaky floors and frosted glass ticket booths inside have been replaced by a frenetic, cacophonous termitarium of fast food boutiques, souvenir emporia, WiFi hotspots, coffee shops and trendy restaurants, with overamplified, popular “music” throughout. What was once a place of relative quiet and contemplation of the railroad experience to come, a meeting place for family and friends newly arrived or about to leave, is now a Go To Place for youthful glitterati, an evening venue, a luncheon assignation, the Place to Be and Be Seen.

Tucked into what once was a ticket booth, off to one side, is the almost unnoticeable registration desk for the Crawford Hotel, which has taken over the top two floors of the Old Union Station, as well as new wings off to either side of the main building. The sleek and modern registration desk is flanked by the worn and polished woodwork of the original ticket office, and is staffed by an assortment of young and eagerly efficient attendants, who never knew Union Station in its original incarnation. The rooms of the Crawford are styled as “Pullman” rooms, in memory of the original Pullman sleeper cars that are no longer a part of modern railroad passenger transportation, carrying on the tradition of naming things for that which is lost. Blessedly, the rooms are well soundproofed, filtering out the noisy human activity echoing from the walls and ceiling of what once what the Union Station Waiting room.

Jean Denver 16th Street Mall.JPGThe overweening youth culture of Union Station et al was repeated and amplified as we walked up and down the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. The May D&F Building (now renamed the Daniel and Fisher Tower) stands alone, forlornly shorn of its accompanying and supportive department store buttresses, dwarfed by the new and under construction glass and steel usurpers. The cell phone impaired walk the cement and asphalt floor of  the dim canyons, unseeing and unaware of the snow capped Rockies beyond and the majestic cloud dotted blue skies above. It’s an intensely urban landscape, peopled by intense urbanites who know not what they have lost.

The Train arrives

We greeted the arrival of our train, three hours late due to a freight train derailment in Iowa, with much relief and anticipation. It represented escape from the urban excess of a modern American city, a relaxed trip through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world and eventual return to our our wee and sufficient home on the Central Coast.

Our perspective gained from this time spent in the vibrant environs of what passes for civilization these days has underscored our desire to find a place of balance in this increasingly mad and dysfunctional world. The pace of development, gentrification and modernization will only increase until it fails altogether, in its own unwillingness to acknowledge the finite nature of life on this planet, our only home. We can’t stop it or even derail it temporarily. We can only strategically withdraw to a place where growth proceeds at its slowest pace, leaving at least something alive for the rest of the non-human world.

 

 

The October Revolution

800px-19191107-lenin_second_anniversary_october_revolution_moscow
Vladimir LeninLeon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev celebrating the second anniversary of the October Revolution, 1919

October 25, 1917, the October Revolution.

The centenary of the October Revolution (the Bolshevik Revolution) will pass unnoticed by the majority of people in the United States. After decades of Cold War anti-Communist propaganda and the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, thoughts and awareness of the history of Communism and Socialism have been washed from the brains of all but historians and the few remaining dyed in the wool socialists.

The failure of the Communist revolution had many fathers, chief among which, according to Leon Trosky, was Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, who seized control of the Russian Social Democratic party and drove the Soviet Union into a state of repression in order to maximize modernization and industrial production. Unable to withstand external economic pressures and the West’s policy of containment, coupled with a nascent sovereignty movement from within, the Soviet Union collapsed economically and politically in 1991.

Despite the castigation of Communism and Socialism brought about by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the imposition of extreme crony capitalism in its place, the political and cultural ideals and theories espoused by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Kemenev remain for study and reflection.

Here in the United States in the 21st Century, Communism is presumed to be dead, even though it lives on in the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. North Korea continues a form of Maxist-Leninism called Juche. Communist parties continue in several countries, notably excluding the United States which persists with an exclusive officially sanctioned two-party system.

Karl Marx and later others clearly understand patterns of development of human societies and projected those patterns into the future. Marx saw capitalism as a necessary, inescapable step from feudalism to communism, with stateless communism as the ultimate goal of human social development. (Marx was not a Marxist, nor even a socialist. These labels came later, after others took up the banner he raised with Friedrich Engels.)

Looking at the political and culture situation in the United States, I begin to realize why understanding the works of Karl Marx is essential at a time when global capitalism is collapsing. Marx saw that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction, and we see those seeds coming to flower today, in our federal and state governments and even in local county and minimal governments.

Our federal government is no longer a representative republic, but has evolved into a corporate oligarchy dominated by crony capitalism and an entrenched elitist political class. Government is no longer able to maintain public infrastructure, nor to respond to natural and human caused disasters.

“Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. Industries would mechanize their workplaces. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist system—that would be disguised by the imposition of massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant. Politics would in the late stages of capitalism become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates and money of global capitalism.” Chris Hedges – Karl Marx was right 

Sound familiar?

I certainly see it in the small town where I live on the Central Coast of California. Our community is overrun by what is euphemistically called “The Homeless,” who are, in reality, those who have fallen into the cracks of the decline of social services. With no mental health facilities, no economic or cultural support structure, increased drug addiction as a result of capitalist medical prescription of opioid drugs, in a capitalist economy based on tourism with no manufacturing base, those in need find themselves living on the streets. (This is not to discount the contribution of the “lifestyle homeless,” those who choose to live rough for idealogical reasons or just plain laziness.)

Our county and state governments no longer have sufficient budgets to maintain and repair existing infrastructure. Based on constrained property and declining sales taxes, the local economy is unable to provide sufficient funding for simple structural maintenance of existing roads and public buildings, and for continuance of even the most elementary social services. Yet they continue to build more, because capital construction is funded by grants, which, by the way, provide overhead for a bloated departmental bureaucracy.

Politically, the bizarre circus atmosphere in our nation’s capital makes federal government increasingly remote and unapproachable. Fewer and fewer citizens participate in the obviously corrupt and manipulated national electoral process, dominated by an official two party system that excludes all other political affiliations. Increasingly, citizens, if they vote at all, prefer to focus on local politics where they can have real influence.

Increasing public dissent and resistance across the country gives me hope that all least someone is paying attention. Even so, there is no hope of a popular insurrection at any time in my increasing short life span. The system of repression, distraction and control of public opinion developed in past decades is successful in diverting and diffusing organized political opposition, through control of media, infiltration and isolation of organizers and outright militarized police oppression of Constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of assembly and speech.

This is not a call to rise up and storm the barricades, it’s just observations of what is arising of itself in the United States and the rest of the capitalist world.

We do not call for revolution.

Revolution calls for us.

Soviet suppression of science returns – in the US

In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics science was strictly controlled to be in concordance with historical materialism and Communist ideology. Much research was banned, and scientists who were allowed to continue their research were monitored by the state and restricted to official state approved procedures and outcomes. Soviet science lagged for decades, often funneled off into unproductive and spurious pursuits, such as Lysenkoist biology, and Pavlovian denial of cybernetics.

The suppression of science lifted with Stalin’s death, at least in the Soviet Union and modern Russia. But today we see the resurgence of state controlled science with the ascendency of the Trump administration and it’s far right agenda.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly $2 million in competitive research awards, mostly on subjects related to climate science, have been revoked since February.

Source: EPA now requires political aide’s sign-off for agency awards, grant applications

Stepping back from the precipice

DSCN4407

Over recent years, Climate Change (aka Global Warming or Anthropogenic Climate Change) has taken over as the driving influence of local, regional, state, national and international governments and social organizations.

We are constantly bombarded by dire warnings of imminent doom resulting from our profligate CO2 emissions causing increasing climate change and all of its alarming effects on human civilization and the natural world.

And yet, strangely, nothing changes. The number of cars on the streets and highways continues to increase. Highways are jammed. Garages remained stuffed to the ceilings with stuff, purchased in shopping sprees of lemmingly dimensions. Two and three cars wait patiently in the driveway and parked on streets for the daily trip to the 7-11. Electricity consumption increases at the demand of proliferating electronic devices and their ubiquitous charging stations. TeeVees must be bigger and bigger, demanding more and more energy 24 hours a day.

If climate change is such a big deal, why aren’t we drastically changing our societies to do something about it? Why are we increasing our impacts on our planet instead of reducing them?

For that matter, what specifically can those who are concerned about the impacts of human consumption and development do to drastically reduce or even stop them? How can we change human civilization, cultures and societies, such that humans live in balance with natural geophysical cycles?

These are deep, big picture questions that I’ve never seen fully addressed in any forum or by any agency. George Monbiot, in his continuing series on restoring democracy has come the closest to examining the deep societal, governmental and economic factors that contribute to the increasing impacts of human societies on the natural world.

Judging by today’s headlines, no one is paying attention.

There are ways forward, backward or maybe sideways that could forestall the inevitable outcome of the present course of human growth and development.

In future posts, I’ll explore this vexing conundrum of our present unsustainable civilization, and the necessary reforms, and revolutionary changes required to step back from the precipice, turn around and take a step forward.

The -ism That Isn’t

It’s increasingly clear that human societies of every stripe are engaged in a program of natural habitat and environmental destruction as a direct result of their focus on population and economic growth with accompanying increases in material consumption. Mainstream politics and economics stride on in lock step toward the yawning abyss clearly visible on the near horizon.

Global warming, aka climate change, captures the minuscule imaginations of politicians and their journalistic lapdogs, while their corporate puppet masters take full advantage of the resulting fear mongering to line their own pockets. Amid this frenzy of faux activity, natural habitats continue to decline, species continue to go extinct, water supplies diminish, topsoil continues to wash away downstream and real human pollutants continue to pile up in the corners of all ecosystems around the globe.

Some social and political activists offer alternatives to the status quo, none of which, to any great extent, offer a meaningful alternative to the dominant social systems. Among these, so-called “ecosocialism” is presented as a solution to growth dependent industrial socialism and capitalism.

 

Hans Baer: “Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-oriented, productivist ethic and recognizes that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations.”

Source: A vision of democratic ecosocialism

The above Hans Baer quote from Climate and Capitalism expresses the response of a minority of socialists to environmental degradation at the hands of a growing human population and its expansionist political and economic systems.

Ecosocialism is, of course, an anthropocentric political and economic philosophy, attempting to project environmental concern in an otherwise human centered endeavor. It fails in this attempt because it is, first and foremost, conceived by socialists who are not ecologists, environmentalists or even scientists. It merely tacks on the label “Eco-” onto “Socialist,” without challenging prevailing economic, political and social relationships among humans and the non-human world.

For example, the statement “humans live on an ecologically fragile planet” is inaccurate and self-serving. Ecologists know that natural ecological systems are robust, vibrant and adaptive. It is human destruction of natural habitat and exploitation of “natural resources” that depletes natural biodiversity and interferes with natural ecological interrelationships that leads to the erroneous conclusion  of “fragile” ecosystems. Labeling the planet as “fragile” takes the responsibility for its degradation away from human action and responsibility.

The phrase “with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed” assumes that “resources,” that is air, water, sunlight, soil, minerals, plants and animals, are solely for human use, and ignores the irreducible necessity of these resources to the non-human world. It also assumes that humans can “sustain and renew” these resources, rather than concluding that humans must instead reduce our consumption and exploitation of natural raw materials required by all living things.

Finally, the phrase “for future generations” appears frequently in ecosocialist discussion, underlining the basic assumption that preserving vibrant ecosystems is necessary for human betterment rather for the intrinsic necessity of all life.

Human impact on the natural world is the product of per capita economic throughput (consumption) multiplied by population. Ecosocialism attempts to address only the consumption part of this equation, assuming that socialist economic and social systems will result in overall population stabilization, ignoring the fact that human population has already overshot the carrying capacity of this planet, as is evidenced by increasing environmental degradation and ecosystems failure.

Humans are an animal species, subject to the same instinctive drivers of population growth as are all other animal species. The difference between humans and other animal species is that humans have largely eliminated predators that keep human population growth in check. While rapidly evolving bacteria and viruses may change that relationship at some future date, at present human population growth continues, even in countries with social conditions conducive to smaller families.

Depending on increased standard of living and improved social relationships as the sole regulators of human population growth is unrealistic and ultimately defeating. Raising the standard of living of the entire human population to a threshold level that might result in decreased population growth is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether caused by excessive consumption or excessive population growth, the ship is still going down.

What is required, if humans are to continue to live on this planet, is for human societies to function within natural ecological cycles and interrelationships, not above but side-by-side with all other species, as part of the natural world, not outside of it.

Rather than tacking “eco-” onto “socialism,” those concerned with human impacts on the world on which we live would do better to envision a human world that first and foremost exists as a contributing and cooperative part of the natural world.

The name is not important. Yet another -ism isn’t the answer.