Eco-socialism is not merely a catch-phrase. Rather, it is the notion that any modern socialism must alter the structural productive relations both between classes of people and between people and the natural environment.
In part, eco-socialism is a critical appraisal of 20th century socialism and its revisioning for modern times. Most importantly, the prospect of a socialism that inherently implies a harmonious relationship between people and the natural world is a radical break from the current capital-imperialist system.
Capitalism, Marx remarked, inevitably destroys its two foundations of existence: the laboring masses and the environment. Today, this is more true than ever.
Here are a few facts:
- Carbon levels in the atmosphere are set to break the 400 ppm (parts per million) mark. Sciences believe 350 ppm is the level at which carbon in the atmosphere begin to affect climates. At current level, we may be headed toward to wide-spread, drastic changes the Earth’s physical, biological, and chemical make-up.
- One major effect of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon is acidification of the world’s oceans. The increased acidity of oceans causes coral reefs to stop growing and eventually disintegrate. Coral reefs are key marine habitats which directly and indirect support countless number of species.
- The world’s oceans are also the ‘world’s biggest garbage dump.’ 100 million tons of trash and debris is presently floating in a vortex near the surface at the center of the Pacific Ocean. The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ covers up to 5 million square miles. Another smaller floating patch of trash exists in the Atlantic Ocean. In these patches of debris, fine confetti-sized pieces of plastic float near the surface, break down further under the sun, and enter the oceanic food stream. Today, most sea food is too toxic for regular human consumption due to various pollutants.
- In the last century, the number of tigers in the wild has dropped from around 100,000 to between 1,500 and 3,500. It is estimated there are more captive tigers in Texas than exist in the wild today.
Why does all of this occur? Certainly, it seems illogical and immoral.
The fundamental reason behind the destruction of the natural world lies in the fundamental drive within capitalism toward accumulation.
As a mode of production, capitalism accumulates surplus labor and natural resources for the sake of accumulating further. This structural principle is the driving force of society and culture, and explains the persistent ‘illogical’ existence of starvation and environmental degradation. Economic activity occurs not for immediate or long-term general human welfare, but only for the cause of expanding economic activity. In order to keep costs down and remain competitive in the world-market, individual firms must ignore or pressure governments to toss out the few laws which exist to protect the natural environment.
Unlike the structure of classes under imperialism, which favor First World workers, the structure of capitalism relative to the natural environment creates long-term problems which affect a wider scope of humanity. As the saying goes, ‘if you think capitalism is great, try counting your money while holding your breath.’
It is not surprising that the most militant movements, which have recently developed among embourgeoisified classes in the First World, develop around environmenatlism and animal rights. Organizations like the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front have even been described as terrorists by law enforcement agencies. Environmental activism sometimes crosses into important structural-social issues, as with the recent Idle No More movement’s focus on Native land rights.
Unlike the issue of control over and retention of surplus, which First Worlders stands to loose out under a revolutionary re-structuring of society, eco-socialism (production arranged according to the rational allocation of use-values and environmental regeneration) offers long-term benefits to a wider scope of humanity.
It is not enough to hope for a new system which does not rely on persistent accumulation and destruction of natural environments. Such a new system can only arise out of the struggle against the present one. Moreover, while many First Worlders may nominally hope for a new sustainable economic system, even more depend on and support today’s system. While some in the First World may genuinely struggle against today’s capitalist-imperialism, the actual mass base of the struggle against capitalist-imperialism lies outside of the First World, among those who are exploited by it: the vast Third World-centered proletariat.
It is not surprising that many First Worlders forsake their long-term interests associated with the preservation of natural environments in favor of their immediate class interest for accumulating wealth. For individuals in the First World who desire an eco-socialist solution to capitalism, part of that solution is supporting the struggles of Third World peoples for self-determination. Only struggles by Third World peoples against imperialism are capable of destroying the current system and building the new. Eco-socialism, thus, implies uncompromising support for proletarian struggles in the Third World.