One of the problematic aspects of 20th century “actually-existing socialism” was its record on environmental degradation and species destruction. Without going into a laundry list of history, it is safe to assume this problem (though hardly invalidating the last century of revolutionary struggles) should be studied and understood in hopes of surmounting it in the future.
Unlike capitalism-imperialism, which has an inherent tendency toward expansion and thus is destructive in the broadest sense, the environmental problems associated with the first world-wide wave of socialism were due to a lack of foresight and scientific knowledge about ecology, holdover culture from capitalism and semi-feudalism, and the partial impact of the theory of the productive forces. In short, whereas the increasing destruction of the environment is unavoidable under the current system, it is not under a new mode of production characterized by the democratic control over the means of production.
Traditionally, deep ecology has began with the premise that the natural environment and other species have an inherent worth outside of human utility. Without going into the many problems of “actually-existing deep ecology” (including white and First World supremacy), it is safe to say the very distinction between people and nature is at least half-way flawed. In truth, just as people impact the environmental and other species, we are very much the product of and embedded in nature, so much so that our current mode of production is reliant to a great extent on nature’s innumerable “gifts.” Of course, these are not gifts at all, but conditions which people have adapted to and altered in order to suit their needs within the context of a given mode of production. Understanding this unity between people and non-human ecological environments is key to resolving the contradiction and subjective disunity between people and the wider environment manifested by capitalism-imperialism.
And of course, it is this same understanding on the unity between people and nature which was either missing or gravely misapplied during the socialism of the last century. Whereas the premise of deep ecology fails to see people as part of nature, “actually-existing socialism,” neglected to treat nature as part of and necessary to people. That is not to say that socialism treated the natural world and other species in terms other than of human utility, but that it did so in an often ill-conceived and short-sighted manner.
Maoism is the trend of revolutionary Marxism which developed out of the experience of class struggle in the 20th century. On one hand, Maoism represents our best understanding of revolution, gained from the furthest advance toward communism in human history: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. On the other hand, Maoism is one of the fastest growing oppositional ideologies today and the only one outside of religion (typically some form of Islam or Christianity) which is capable of embracing the unique cultural characteristics of various oppressed peoples while bringing them into a common conscious cause. To give an idea of its scope, India and the Philippines are currently witnessing Maoist ‘people’s wars’ against state authorities. The collapse of the theocratic monarchy in Nepal was the singular goal and direct result of the decade-long Maoist people’s war in Nepal—notwithstanding the treachery of the Prachanda-led clique of capitulationists. In countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Manipur and Turkey, Maoist forces are attempting to regroup. Nascent Maoist forces even exist throughout Europe, Occupied North and Latin America.
Like all Marxist tendencies, Maoists understand that class struggle is the motor force of history, and that class-society, a product of people, sets into motion an inevitable series of struggles. Extending beyond this and distinguishing itself from other, less notable tendencies, Maoism locates the central site of revolutionary organizing among the most oppressed and at the places where the state and bourgeoisie have less authority and power. As opposed to simple guerrilla warfare and the accompanying ‘focoist’ theory, Maoism embraces ‘people’s war,’ which fuses guerrilla activity with mass-line and dual power, as a primary means of revolutionary struggle for oppressed peoples. Following in the vein of Lenin and going further, Maoism posits socialism as a transitional stage between capitalism and communism, during which struggles are carried out locally and globally between forces representing the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Within this period capitalism must be buried internationally. As Mao noted, “In the fight for complete liberation the oppressed people rely first of all on their own struggle and then, and only then, on international assistance. The people who have triumphed in their own revolution should help those still struggling for liberation. This is our internationalist duty.” Likewise, because socialism itself is merely a transitional stage and because the struggle against capitalism necessitates organizational divisions to ensure the maintenance of local victories, a ‘new bourgeoisie’ can develop which will attempt to ossify privilege and authority into permanent class divisions under nominal ‘socialism.’ As Maoists understand, this tendency must be checked by mass participation in the continuation of class struggle following revolution. The phrase ‘don’t hit in all directions’ sums up the last primary distinguishing aspect of Maoism. That is, proletarian forces should attempt to build and lead a united front against the primary reactionary forces locally and internationally.
The next obvious question is, what is the confluence between ecologically oriented politics and Maoism? More specifically, what can they contribute to each other?
For ecologically focused politics, Maoism:
- offers a coherent explanation of the cause of current environmental problems (the so-called contradiction between people and nature), implicating a world-economy structured by the capitalist mode of production;
- provides a strategic resolution via the revolutionary struggles of the world’s masses to overturn such a system;
- outlines a methodological framework to organize for a better world.
To be sure, the best way to promote regenerative local food economies, for example, is the abolition of the system of undemocratic productive relations (which facilitates things like mono-cropping, deforestation, and, for First World retailers and consumers, undervalued yet ecologically devastating imports). As is often the case, Maoist forces in places like India are fighting the very companies which threaten further ‘development’ atop of ecologically sensitive plains and forests. Within the global north, Maoism offers militant approach to environmentalism which is rooted in both internationalism and the necessity of building dual power oppositional institutions within ‘the belly of the beast.’ The methods contrasts with the reformist approach of seeking limited change through legislation, the sub-reformist approach of attempting to contribute to social change primarily through changes in behavior, diet, shopping, etc, and the focoist route which eschews the need to develop a practice which is rooted in the struggles of oppressed people.
For Maoism, ecologically oriented politics, or rather that which seeks to resolve the contradiction between people’s activity and nature, offers another lens through which to measure the development and sustainability of the socialist struggle itself. The understanding that people and wider environments are fundamentally connected can only strengthen the motivation of revolutionary forces and aid in the building of a united front against capitalist-imperialism. In short, an ecologically informed Maoism offers the chance to build a genuine “Socialism for the 21st century” which seeks to resolves the contradiction between people and their natural environment as much as the contradictions between people themselves.
Within the global north, where struggles over environmental issues often intersect those against the machinations of capitalism-imperialism, every effort must be made to draw connections to the struggles of the global proletariat and individual revolutionary movements. In deepening the understanding of the root causes of ecological problems, we must carry out struggles and build movements to unite with and support a global offensive against capitalist-imperialism while also building our own oppositional dual power institutions.
Ecologically driven, ‘deep green’ politics have much to offer revolutionary Marxist politics, both generally and in the global north where the working class movement is under the monopoly control of the parasitic labor aristocracy. At the same time, it is the revolutionary impulse of Maoism and the accumulated lessons from 20th century struggles which are primary. By offering a coherent explanation of ecological problems generated under class-society and illuminating a path of struggle, Maoism, or rather ‘Deep Green Maoism,’ creates the opportunity to transcend the limitations of actions which are either isolated and immediately effete or those which are ultimately reformist and ineffective over the long run. Maoism impels both the development of movements which are united by common cause against imperialism and the leading role of the international proletariat. Meanwhile, ecologically focused struggles can often be a central site of building broader and deeper support for movements against capital-imperialism.
Admittedly, any discourse on ‘Deep Green Maoism’ is speculative. Maoism, after all, indicates a specific summary of a revolutionary history which is not in the last instance truly settled. On the other hand, any sort of rapprochement with ‘deep ecology’ requires from a Marxist standpoint the dispensing of the former’s key philosophic tenet on the separation between people and natural. Nonetheless, some form of rapprochement is necessary, not simply as it relates to the long-term quality of socialism but also for the immediate struggles against capitalist-imperialism.
- The terms “actually-existing socialism” relates to those socialist movements representing oppressed class forces which managed to seize and hold onto state power, in the process initiating significant structural changes in contradistinction from the capitalist-imperialist world economy.
- The “theory of the productive forces” relates to a revisionist trend in socialism which places exaggerated focus on developing the means of production at the expense of progressively advancing the relations of production away from class distinctions.
- A “mode of production” is the method or circumstance of production in a society, involving the wedding of the means of production with the social relations of production. Today, the whole world operates along the lines of a capitalist-imperialism, in which the geography of the world is increasingly interconnected economically and in which most production of value occurs in and at direct expense of the Third World and the realization of value and surplus occurs in the First World. The mode of production is the definitive and determinate feature of a given society, and social struggles around the mode of production in large part propel history forward.
- For more brief sketch on the development of successive revolutionary trends within Marxism, see my previous essay ‘What is Marxism.’ For a longer introduction to Maoism, see Bernard D’Mello’s ‘What is Maoism.’
- The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution was a mass movement which began in 1966 to stem the tide of conservativism and revisionism within the Chinese Communist Party. By the late 1960s it reached its apex before being defeated by ‘capitalist-roaders’ in the Communist Party itself.
- Focoism is a theory of revolutionary struggle associated with Che Guevara and the Cuba Revolution, in which armed actions against the state are seen as a form of propaganda which will inspire and embolden the masses. By contrast, people’s war emphasizes a deeper connection between the guerrillas and masses. Mass-line relates to a method of leadership in which the diffuse ideas and concerns of the masses are taken by the Communist Party, synthesized as part of a practical revolutionary program, and returned it to the masses in the form of political, economic, and cultural campaigns and policies. Dual power relates to the strategy of building effective institutions to serve the interests of the oppressed independently of an existing oppressive state. Dual power is, in essence, the development of a miniature state within another as part of a larger effort to seize state power.
- Proletariat refers to the advanced revolutionary sections of the oppressed and exploited masses.
- “The socialist revolution is not one single act, not one single battle on a single front; but a whole epoch of intensified class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i.e., battles around all the problems of economics and politics, which can culminate only in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.” (Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1916)
- Quotations of Mao Zedong, 1965