Environment, Capitalism and Socialism

Note: In this book the term North is used to refer to the advanced capitalist economies that dominate the world economy, while the term South (sometimes called the Third World) refers to the underdeveloped countries dominated by the imperialist North.

All dollars are US dollars unless otherwise specified.


The big corporations, our clients, are scared shitless of the environmental movement...They sense that there's a majority out there and that the emotions are all on the other side-if they can be heard. They think the politicians are going to yield up to the emotions. I think the corporations are wrong about that. I think the companies will have to give in only at insignificant levels. Because the companies are too strong, they're the establishment. The environmentalists are going to have to be like the mob in the square in Romania before they prevail.

-Frank Mankievicz, senior executive at transnational public relations firm Hill and Knowlton1

A lot has changed since the first edition of Environment, Capitalism and Socialism, the Australian Democratic Socialist Party's viewpoint on the environment crisis, was published in 1990 under the title Socialism and Human Survival.

Just ten years ago, the main tactic of the big corporations was still to combine public denial about the environment crisis with legal and extra-legal harassment of their critics. The environmental organisations — from mainstream bodies like the Sierra Club or the Australian Conservation Foundation to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth — were still mainly seen as making their contribution to a movement that was gradually advancing against the recalcitrant polluters and their political backers. The green parties still more or less adhered to the four principles of the German Greens — social justice, environmental sustainability, grassroots democracy and peace and nonviolence.

However, over the past decade — which has produced the hottest years and most violent storms since meteorological records began in 1866 — the environment has become so potent a political factor that even US Republicans and multinational polluters have learned to chant "sustainable development" — whatever peculiar meaning they give to the term. Yet, despite this change in rhetoric, the 1990s have overwhelmingly been a decade of massive corporate counterattack that has produced profound shifts and confusion in environmental and green politics.

Powerful sections of big business have shifted ground, abandoning "it-isn't-happening" lobbies like the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) for green umbrellas like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). More farsighted corporates like British Petroleum,2 which in May 1997 became the first — besides the punch-drunk reinsurance corporations — to end denial about global warming, have stepped up their snooping for green profit opportunities and "moved solar energy up to the big table", along with exploration, oil and chemicals.

Notorious ecosystem wreckers like DuPont (chlorofluorocarbons), Asea-Brown Boveri (nuclear power and dams) and Ford have decided that if there's going to be any sustainable development around this planet they won't be kept out of the game. DuPont chairman Edward Woolard says:

The green economies and lifestyles of the 21st century may be conceptualised by environment thinkers, but they can only be actualised by industrial corporations.3

Henry Ford's great-grandson Bill (a "passionate environmentalist") sees his mission in life as getting rid of the internal combustion engine:

There is a rising tide of environmental awareness. Smart companies will get ahead of the wave. Those that don't will be wiped out.4

An entire layer of former environmental activists and leaders are now making their way in the world as environmental executives and consultants. Most sincerely believe that there's no other way of saving the planet. In the words of one woman middle manager:

The corporations have the talent, the resources, the R&D, and the ability to make a difference. If they can't be brought on board, there's no hope of reversing the environmental crisis in time.5

Nearly every prominent environmentalist now agrees, helping spawn over the past decade a torrent of pro-market texts with names like The Ecology of Commerce,6 Green, Inc,7 The Economy of Nature8 and Factor Four: Doubling Wealth — Halving Resource Use.9 David Suzuki and the Worldwatch Institute's Lester R. Brown also embrace this eco-capitalism, championed in Factor Four as "saving the earth for fun and profit through advanced resource efficiency".10

This trend isn't restricted to the old capitalist frontier. Friends of the Earth's Sustainable Europe Campaign, outlined in Sharing the World: Sustainable Living and Global Equity in the 21st Century,11 embraces the market as "the most efficient means for building critical feedback into production and consumption systems".

Over the last decade too, at least one new ecosystem has flourished — that of "global environmental governance". Just three years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development — UNCED) adopted Agenda 21, 324 international, regional and national environmental action plans and strategies had been produced and 171 were in preparation.12 At the time of writing there are 215 international environment agreements in place.

UNCED and other institutions like the UN's Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) and the World Bank's Global Environment Facility (GEF) provide a framework for closer monitoring of the environment, for turning the spotlight on leader and laggard countries in areas where agreements are in force and for spreading awareness of scientific environmental studies. However, most of the treaties and agreements are inadequate to the problems at hand and are policed by toothless institutions that match ambitious and noble mandates with paltry authority and funding.

For, despite all the effort since Rio, the 1997 UN special General Assembly dedicated to reviewing progress (Earth Summit +5) was able to point to only two global areas in which the spiral of environmental decline had been reversed — emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and acid rain-generating sulphur dioxide. Notwithstanding many partial gains — in cleaning up rivers, stopping the ivory trade, reviving whale populations, reducing smog in the cities of the North — in every other global sphere, and hence for the entire interrelated ecosphere, environmental degeneration continues.

The 1990s have proven to be the opposite of the "turnaround decade" hoped for at Rio. UNCED deputy secretary-general Nitin Desai may well stress that "our present condition is the result of at least two centuries of unsustainable development, which can hardly be corrected in five years"13 but that's hardly the point: we face a global emergency demanding emergency measures.

If anyone is inclined to think that this is doomsaying, let them study the state of the world's icecaps and glaciers. Antarctica is hotter now than at any time in the past 4000 years, already producing the collapse of small ice shelves and threatening that of ice sheets so vast that a six-metre rise in sea levels would result. Arctic sea ice is up to a third thinner than 20 years ago and across the world's mountain ranges glaciers have shrunk by between 22 and 92 per cent this century. These titanic changes could easily produce complex interactions between a warming atmosphere and melting ice capable of triggering calamitous changes in climate and sea level.14

State of the World, the Worldwatch Institute's unofficial medical report on the planet, states in its 1998 edition:

The key environmental indicators are increasingly negative. The signs of stress can be seen in shrinking forests, falling water tables, eroding soils, disappearing wetlands, collapsing fisheries, deteriorating rangelands, rivers running dry, rising carbon dioxide levels, rising temperatures, and disappearing plant and animal species. These environmental indicators make it clear that the western fossil fuel-based, automobile-centred economy is not a viable model for the world.15

Chapter One of Environment, Capitalism and Socialism provides a summary of the state of the environment, which bears out the judgement of the UN's first Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-1):

From a global perspective the environment has continued to degrade during the past decade, and significant environmental problems remain deeply embedded in the socioeconomic fabric of nations in all regions. Progress towards a global sustainable future is just too slow. A sense of urgency is lacking. Internationally and nationally, the funds and political will are insufficient to halt further environmental degradation and to address the most pressing environmental issues — even though technology and knowledge are available to do so … As a result, the gap between what has been done thus far and what is realistically needed is widening.16

In the face of this immensely threatening scenario, the 1990s mainstreaming and institutionalisation of environmentalism has been further deepened by the collapse of Soviet "really existing socialism" and China's rush to embrace capitalism. The revelation of the environmental atrocities in the Soviet Union and the former "planned economies" of Eastern Europe have been a godsend for capitalist elites previously "scared shitless" by the movement. No opportunity is being lost to point out to the young environmentalist that "under Marxism, the environment is `sacrificed' to production goals [whereas] under capitalism, the environment is `balanced' with production goals".17 For most environmentalists Margaret Thatcher was essentially right — There Is No Alternative.

So as we approach the year 2000 the Worldwatch Institute's David Malin Roodman sums up a broad consensus:

What, then, will it take to construct a sustainable, modern society? Governments will need to aggressively demarcate and defend environmental limits, working domestically and cooperating internationally. And they will have to do so in ways that stimulate rather than stifle the creativity of corporations. Businesses will need to anticipate the transition and position themselves to exploit the huge investment opportunities created. Nonprofit organisations ranging from international environmental groups to neighbourhood churches — collectively called "civil society" — will need to press both governments and businesses forward. And undergirding all their efforts will be educated citizens operating in their capacities as voters, consumers, charitable donors, and owners of land and resources.18

But is this all that today's Environmental Revolution (described by Lester Brown as ranking "with the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions as one of the great economic and social transformations in history") amounts to?19 Will such a plan really turn the tide of impending environmental disaster? The contrast between the horrendous tales of impending catastrophe and the paltriness of such mainstream environmental plans for redemption almost seem like a form of denial that recalls the typical fire-and-brimstone sermon. In it "the horror of the predicted catastrophe contrasts sharply with the mildness of the admonition with which we are allowed to escape".20

Doesn't capitalism still have some bearing on the environmental mess? What both sides of the Cold War were happy to call "communism" may be dead, but does this justify forgetting those classic pages in The Closing Circle in which Barry Commoner unfolds with devastating clarity and iron logic how capitalism is anti-environmental to the core?21

Ask many environmentalists the reason for this amnesia and the answer you almost always get is that the need to do something practical now is so great and capitalism so much a fact of life that the only feasible course is to fight to make it work for environmental goals. Many say: "Look, socialism and central planning have failed and we don't have time to have arcane arguments about whether capitalism does or doesn't need consumerism and inequality to survive. We simply have to act by all methods at our disposal to reduce consumerism and force business to install the latest in non-polluting and resource-efficient technologies. Such technologies now abound and there are capitalists who want to make a contribution to solving the environment crisis by using them. They should be supported against the others. And the best anyone can realistically hope for as far as governments go are Social Democrat-Green coalitions. Some at least are imposing eco-taxes."22

Such is the approach of the Sustainable Europe Campaign of Friends of the Earth. Their book Sharing the World sets out plans for how the planet's "environmental space", under rising stress and totally dominated by the industrialised North, can be protected, fairly shared and made the basis of "total quality of life" for all six billion global citizens. The task is gigantic: European resource usage alone has to fall between 50 and 100 per cent by 2050, with interim targets at 2010 set between 3.2 and 50 per cent. Environmental reformism has set itself a massive agenda, which effectively acknowledges that capitalism has to be turned inside out.

Sharing the World doesn't flinch from proposing solutions to what, in classic Marxism, would have been the job of post-revolutionary, socialist society. Conversion of polluting and resource-intensive capital stock to environmentally benign alternatives? Impose green taxes and provide government support for "eco-innovating" entrepreneurs. Entrenched consumerism and individualism? Make community life more attractive than private consumption through community development initiatives, getting people involved in national lobbying campaigns for sustainability, enriching life at work and strengthening the role of "civil society". Closing the North-South divide and lifting the Third World debt burden? Have partial debt write-offs for the South, a whole raft of international taxes which could also be used to fund Rio's Agenda 21 program, with the whole thing reinforced by bottom-up pressure from citizens' groups and NGOs.

All these trends have made necessary this updated version of Environment, Capitalism and Socialism, which was adopted at the 16th DSP Congress in 1995.

In adopting the amended document the congress reaffirmed the DSP's particular place within the "red-green" political spectrum. Firstly, like all red-greens, we hold, to quote John Bellamy Foster that:

The answers to today's ecological problems do not lie in the direction in which the world is rapidly proceeding — toward the ever greater privatisation of nature and the conditions of human existence. Instead they are to be found in the direction of the "socialisation" of nature and production, and the creation of a more democratic, egalitarian world order, one that incorporates into its logic an abiding concern for other species and future generations.23

From this viewpoint the dreams of a "steady state" capitalism beloved of an ecological economist like Herman Daly and environmentalists like Lester Brown and the authors of Sharing the World are simply that — dreams. They accept that the market system is untouchable and look for salvation in changing the behaviour of individual consumers and inducing the corporations to adopt the latest techniques such as the "dematerialisation" of production.

However, since capitalism is hooked on expanding turnover, and devotes vast resources to this effort, there's no reason at all to expect that gains in resource efficiency will go into reduced usage of resources and not into increased throughput and growth rates. This position is argued out in detail in the appendix, "Can green taxes save the environment?", which analyses the latest panacea of environmental reformism — ecotaxation, supposedly capable of inducing business to convert to clean, green production.

However, even as Environment, Capitalism and Socialism reaffirms the basic incompatibility between the capitalist technosphere and the biosphere, it's obvious that the vast majority of fights for the environment are not conducted in this perspective. Rather, the ongoing struggle still takes the form of a chain of battles over specific strategies and programs to clean up existing environmental disasters and prevent new ones, over how to reduce environmental damage through applying new technologies, over sufficient funding to implement them and over who — the ruling elites or the mass of the people — should be paying for it all.

In principle, of course, all agree that "the polluter pays", but if ever there was a principle more honoured in the breach than the observance, this surely is it.

For instance, in 1993 the then-new Clinton administration, with Al Gore (author of the "visionary" Earth in the Balance) as vice-president, tried to pass a very mild tax on non-renewable forms of energy, only to be smashed into line by the fossil-fuel lobby. And as Saul Landau comments on another flagrant example:

We punish sinners like Exxon, whose oiler [the Exxon Valdez] did not have proper safety equipment, by making it pay for the cleanup and fining it. But modern corporations have delay experts, called corporate lawyers, who find loopholes to forestall both the cleanup and the penalty procedures. Indeed, Exxon has barely felt the cruel lash of justice as it offers $80 billion to buy oil giant Mobil.

The tipsy Captain Hazelwood [the Exxon Valdez skipper who was found to have been drunk in command] will make amends by spending his next four summers picking up garbage from city streets and other places. Imagine if he had been caught with some crack or even a marijuana joint. He'd be spending those summers as well as the rest of several years in pokey.24

Such is the present balance of political forces over the environment that to force the implementation of adequate programs for which the polluter really does pay will take an exponential increase in the power of red-green movements and parties. This is made clear in general terms by Spanish ecological Marxist Manuel Sacristán who conceived the central role of the working class in the environmental struggle in these words:

From 1848 Marxism proposed to the industrial working class an understanding of itself (a class self-consciousness) based on its negative social position, on its having nothing to lose … For the industrial societies the necessary revision of the idea of the working class as a revolutionary subject will have to base the self-consciousness of the working class not exclusively on this negative position (which a part of the class has overcome in these countries, through its own struggles and the evolution of the system), but also on its positive condition as sustainer of the species, conserver of life, essential bearer of the metabolism between nature and society. The age of capital has added to this positive position of the working classes of all societies the capacity for scientific understanding and method and, as a consequence, skilful flexibility in work and the potential awareness — at the present time largely clouded over — of global problems, including those of the environment. The working classes, mainly the working class of the industrial countries, have to continue to see themselves as a revolutionary subject … because they are the part of humanity most indispensable for our survival.25

Yet it's precisely here, in politics, that big business today holds nearly all the cards.

In all the major advanced capitalist countries the big corporations own and operate two parties and face weak and divided green parties. These flop in and out of the corporate camp on key issues. Indeed, what better confirmation could there be that the salad days of the green parties are gone than the German Greens' support for the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia?

At the same time in many countries the socialist and communist left still really hasn't grasped the centrality of the environmental struggle to the overall anticapitalist fight (we recall the long-standing support of the French Communist Party for France's nuclear power program). And, while growing, ecosocialist currents remain weak.

The retreat of the trade union movement before the austerity offensive of capital has inevitably reinforced in parts of the working class the conviction that defence of the environment can only come at the expense of jobs and livelihoods. Green party indifference to workers' concerns has also helped drive some workers (especially in rural industries) into the arms of radical right parties, with their vicious baiting of "greenies".

The effects on both camps are pernicious. Symptomatic, if extreme, is Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!, which came to prominence in the early 1980s with its direct action defence of the forests of the US Pacific Northwest:

One of my biggest complaints about the [timber] workers up in the Pacific Northwest is that most of them aren't "class conscious". That's a big problem … The loggers are victims of an unjust economic system, yes, but that should not absolve them for everything they do … Indeed, sometimes it is the hardy swain, the sturdy yeoman from the bumpkin proletariat so celebrated in Wobbly lore who holds the most violent and destructive attitudes towards the natural world (and towards those who would defend it).26

No recognition here that the jobs of the patronised timber workers ("bumpkin proletariat") were being threatened by the environmentalists' defence of the forests. Not the faintest inkling that environmentalists' refusal to address workers' concerns must hand them over bound and gagged to the timber companies.27

The equal and opposite vice comes in the person of Kevin Reynolds, the West Australian secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), who is happy to ally his union in protests against "greenies" with the timber companies, which are devastating that state's magnificent old-growth karri forests.

Indeed, what has most weakened the environment movement over the past 10-15 years has been organised labour's retreat before the agenda of capital. In the words of Phil Shannon:

With the labour movement hunkered down in defensive bunkers, resisting with more or less (mostly less) success the assaults of a desperate capitalist class during the 1980s recession, green strategies took on a wistful and ineffective hue. Green self-improvement versions of the Biblical injunction to "change thyself" (half a brick in the toilet cistern, recycling and so on), elitist Greenpeace heroics, green consumerism, and the perennial ballot box came to dominate the outlook of most of those with environmental concerns … The greens are too often fuzzy about power in society and disdainful about class struggle and revolution, naively moving with gastropod-paced progress along "proper (middle class) channels" of institutional and personal tinkerings, continually grounding on the sandbars of capitalist interests and power.28

Reversing the "retreat from class" of environmentalism and green politics is therefore critical if a winning alliance for environmental sustainability is to be built. And as the environmental fight gets tougher the question of which social force can successfully sustain it will come increasingly to the fore. That means that the need for an environment movement allied to and driven by an aware working class movement will come to be much less abstract than it may seem today.

Equally critical will be the program and line of march of such a red-green alliance. For, while it certainly possible to struggle and win gains in the belief that the capitalist leopard can be made to change its spots (and it will even shed a few spots if that's the condition of its survival) the movement will make more headway the more it grasps that it's actually dealing with a predator. Otherwise, whatever gains are made in the short-term are always vulnerable to being devoured by the system.

Such is the real history of US environmentalism, as told by Barry Commoner in Making Peace with the Planet. It has also been possible to force a reduction in the Third World debt burden through anti-debt movements in the North and South. However, the realities that led to the accumulation of the debt in the first place — the widening productivity gap between the South and the advanced capitalist world, the impossibility for most Third World countries of breaking out of the existing global division of labour, the huge power of blackmail the debt gives the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — all cry out that sustainable development in the South requires the eradication of the existing world-system, North and South.

These facts of life all point to a clear conclusion: only a revolutionary, popular government that puts real power in the hands of an environmentally aware majority can make serious inroads against the environmental crisis (the appendix discusses the Cuban and Nicaraguan examples). Moreover, while this effort can begin in one country it will need to secure the "commanding heights" of the North if it is to make lasting gains for planetary sustainability.

That's why the DSP is a revolutionary red-green party of a special type, one which holds that the environmental crisis reconfirms the basic political proposition of Marxism and whose practice is guided by it. This is simply that if capitalism is destroying the ecosphere and rules through its own state institutions, then the social precondition for an ecologically sustainable order is the overthrow of such institutions and their replacement with the "dictatorship of the proletariat" — the rule of society's working majority. Hence the unavoidable need for revolution, the "`act' of taking possession of the means of production in the name of society".29

This was, despite endless attempts to prove otherwise, Marx's own position. In his famous 1852 letter to Josef Weydemeyer he wrote:

And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular, historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.30

Why do so many red-green currents flinch at this viewpoint? Why has the development of environmental consciousness been accompanied by a revival of pre-Marxist (and anti-Marxist) political conceptions?31 Has green political theory uncovered new strategies to which classic Marxism was blind?32

The revulsion from Marxism (and, even more, from Lenin's contribution) is, of course, partly due to its identification with the horrors of Stalin's rule, but with the passing of time and the diffusion of a truer understanding of Stalinism's specific historical roots and role as massive intellectual travesty of the work of Marx and Lenin, this explanation increasingly loses validity.

Certainly the problem is hardly ever simply verbal. Admittedly, after a century of Hitlers, Mussolinis, Suhartos and Pinochets it has become impossible to use "dictatorship" in its old sense of "class monopoly of power", but the central concept can always be summarised and explained readily enough.

It's essential in tackling this issue honestly, to forestall the usual crop of (often deliberate) misunderstandings. The outlook argued for in Environment, Capitalism and Socialism doesn't mean that any given capitalist state or parliament can't or shouldn't be made more responsive to popular aspirations, nor that any post-capitalist state is more democratic than any capitalist state, nor that environmentalists boycott parliament, nor that they don't make demands of capitalist governments, nor that democracy is a tool to be used until "power is seized" and then discarded, nor any other of the scores of malicious parodies of Marxism that remain in circulation in the environment movement.33

Nor does it mean that the struggle for our environment doesn't begin locally, nor that environmental repair and development can't and shouldn't be advanced at the level of local governments, cooperatives and sometimes entire regions — even while state power is still in the hands of the ruling rich.

Even less does it mean that struggles around urban environmental and working conditions, like those of the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation under Jack Mundey (the "green bans" movement), and eco-production alternatives like those developed by the Lucas Aerospace Combined Unions Committee, aren't essential in pointing the way forward.34 Indeed, initiatives such as the US Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers' proposal for an employer- and government-financed Superfund to underpin the conversion or closure of the polluting industries in which OCAW members typically work is an example for the union movement everywhere.

The Marxist viewpoint simply means that, until the working majority sets the rules of the political and economic game, any gains in such battles are provisional and vulnerable to cooption and reversal. After all, the NSW BLF was taken over by its national office — under pressure from the construction industry bosses — and the Lucas plans never reached production stage under the British Labour governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

The hesitation, indeed revulsion, of so many radical greens and environmentalists before Marxism in the advanced capitalist societies derives from a number of political leanings rooted in the typically middle-class formation of most environmental activists — exacerbated by the weakness of radical environmental currents in the trade unions and labour movement more generally.

Combine these trends with the fact that the environmental crisis tends to manifest itself either in the form of local outrages (motorway proposals, polluted rivers) or as impossibly vast global problems (hole in the ozone layer, global warming, fishery depletion, global deforestation), and it's not surprising that environmental activists overwhelmingly get tugged in one of two directions (and away from any revolutionary perspective).

The first is towards case-by-case guerilla warfare against specific environmental outrages, which the crisis will supply to the movement as if on a conveyor belt running at ever greater speed. The second is toward the organisations "that have the power to do something" — government environmental agencies and ministries and increasingly, the greener corporations.

What is at stake in this discussion is not whether governments can't be induced to change their mind on this or that dam or their objection to the very idea of a carbon tax, but whether any capitalist government, representing the "common affairs of the bourgeoisie", can subordinate the overall interests of capital to those of the environment for any length of time.

Once that impossibility is truly grasped then environmentalists have no choice but seriously to measure their present ideas against the basic concepts of revolutionary theory and politics. For many whose motto is "Think globally, act locally" this is not easy, for the slogan's direct implication is that each and every local initiative in recycling, economising on water and energy use and cutting waste can, summed together, make a critical difference. Politics, insofar as it's needed, can be membership of a Green party, sometimes involving serious commitment to campaigns, but almost always involving confusion about strategic goals and vulnerable to drowning in parliamentary tomfoolery.

Yet 20 years of thinking globally and acting locally, while yielding a host of small victories, has not been able to reverse any major trend in environmental degradation. That's because it offers no pathway from the local to the global, no feasible strategy for making local action begin to count globally.

This is all the more true because the local is hardly ever purely local, but linked to national and international webs of production, trade and investment shaped by the national and international division of labour. The "local" is forged by an increasingly global capitalism, which protects its interests through national and international state and semi-state bodies.

Indeed, with the penetration of multinational capital into every last nook and cranny, with its relentless pursuit of new profit-bearing technologies (including "biotechnologies" and "ecotechnologies"), it becomes increasingly difficult to practice denial before these realities. The frontiers are disappearing and environmental movements themselves increasingly contest the expanding circle of exploitation. An ever stronger state is required to drive through "development".

This steadily rising clash between the environment movement and a state acting on behalf of business will see the classic debates over strategy towards the state continue to resurface within green and environmental politics. The concerned environmentalist has to choose between an ecological version of communism, anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism or social-democracy. For when confronted with the capitalist state, we can try to ignore it, reform or "democratise" it or replace it with something more democratic.

It's true that the environment movement has brought a new vocabulary and "discourse" into political life, and red-green politics has often enough to be conducted in this language. However, this terminology also exudes ambiguity, as typified by every partisan interpretation of important concepts like "sustainable development" and "democracy".

By the same token, much of the language of the traditional revolutionary Marxist movement has, after Stalinism, been rendered politically self-defeating for building a genuinely mass, genuinely radical, red-green movement. Like any political force that wants to be listened to, ecosocialists have to find the language that won't turn people off.

However, these realities notwithstanding, the DSP's central message remains that of the classical revolutionary movement against capitalism. The environmental struggle too has to be organised with the perspective of elevating the majority of society — workers, environmentalists, working farmers, the unemployed and pensioners — to political supremacy.

Any proposal to save the environment that doesn't adopt this approach, like the ultra-utopianism of works like Sharing the World, is doomed to be reduced to a set of "interesting proposals" in speedy transit to irrelevance, or to providing the newest wave of bamboozling eco-chatter, or to supplying the next menu items for a futile gradualism that falls further and further behind in its tasks.

The very fact that Sharing the World has to confront our crisis of civilisation and environment by trying to foist onto the shoulders of a cruel and destructive capitalism the goals that only socialism can achieve, surely confirms the urgency of grasping the truth that sustainability means revolution.

This perspective brings with it two particularly urgent challenges. First, how to build the alliance for sustainability between the working class (organised and unorganised) and environmentalists, especially when business is increasingly using jobs-or-the-environment blackmail. Secondly, how to organise internationally, both against global environmental disasters, but also so any national revolutionary advance is defended and extended.

Consolidating a red-green alliance requires of the "green" side not only that it support the struggles of labour against capitalist restructuring. It should also take the initiative in developing programs of industrial conversion where business pays the price, as well as championing economy-wide solutions for unemployment, like the shorter working week without loss of pay and the expansion of a public sector to take the lead in projects of environmental conversion.

The central issue is that of working class political consciousness, of imparting, through all our struggles for the environment, the true picture of a capitalism whose "werewolf hunger" for profit is not only devouring the working and living conditions of hundreds of millions of working people but the underpinnings of life itself.

No realist will have any illusions about the difficulties involved. There is, however, no other path than persistence. The future of our planet depends on consolidating — through every struggle for social justice and a livable environment — a red-green army powerful enough to displace a poisonous and barbaric capitalism from the command posts of society and civilisation.

August 1999

Submitted by DSPAdmin on Mon, 2006-08-07 05:56. categories [ | | ] printer-friendly version | Array