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Feminism, Ecology And Socialism: Need For Convergence

By Asit Das

29 June, 2010
Revolutionarynucleus Blog

Feminism, which is known as gender studies in academia, is a very large area of study. What I refer to feminism here, is women’s struggle against male domination. There are various types of feminism - liberal, radical, socialist, etc. The basic difference between radical feminism and socialist feminism is that radical feminism says the fight is basically between woman versus man, while socialist feminism says capitalism is the common enemy and women’s liberation is intertwined with the struggles of working class against capitalists. Likewise, socialism is a loaded term and it indicates various streams. The concept of socialism predates Marx, people like Fourier, Saint-Simon, etc., propagated socialism, which meant to provide a humane social order. Engels rejected it as utopian and advocated scientific socialism. Today we have numerous strands of socialists and communists.

With the whole discourse on ‘climate change’, ‘peak oil’, ‘food crisis’ etc., ecology has become the core issue facing mankind. The seriousness of the matter can be seen in John Bellamy Foster’s “Ecology, Moment of Truth” where he says – it is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity. Nearly fifteen years ago one observed (John Bellamy Foster’s “The Vulnerable Planet” in 1994) that we have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline. Today, with a quarter century still remaining in this projected timeline, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrevocable tipping point with respect to climate change within a mere decade. Other crises such as species extinction (percentage of bird, mammal, and fish species vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction), air pollution, water pollution and shortages, rapid depletion of oceans’ bounties, desertification, soil degradation, the imminent peaking of world oil production, creation of new ecological and geopolitical tensions, and chronic world food crisis, all point to the fact that the planet, as we know it, and its ecosystems are stretched to the “breaking point”. The “moment of truth” for the earth and civilization has arrived.

Rulers across the world have responded to this crisis by seeking mere administrative and technological measures to the ecological crisis. Mainstream environmentalists seek to solve the ecological problems almost exclusively through three mechanical strategies: (1) technological solutions, (2) extending the market to all aspects of nature, and (3) creating what are intended as mere islands of preservation in a world of almost universal exploitation and destruction of natural habitats.

The ecological crisis is a complex mix of dangerous trends. Capitalist ideology characteristically views the components of the crisis piecemeal thereby obscuring its systemic nature. In contrast to the official thinking on ecology, a minority of critical human ecologists have come to understand the need to change our fundamental social relations. Human beings depend on functioning ecosystems to sustain themselves, and their actions affect those same ecosystems. As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic” interaction between humans and earth which influences both natural and social history. Increasingly, the state of nature is being defined by the operations of the capitalist system, as anthropogenic forces are altering the global environment on a scale that is unprecedented. The global climate is rapidly changing due to burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. None of the areas of the world’s oceans are unaffected by human influence, as the accumulation of carbon, fertilizer runoff and over-fishing undermine biodiversity and the natural services it provides.

The dominant economic forces are attempting to seize the moment by assuring us that capital, technology and the market can be employed so as to ward off any threats without a major transformation of society. For example, numerous technological solutions are proposed to remedy global climate crisis. The market will ensure that new avenues of capital accumulation are created in the very process of dealing with environmental challenges. Yet this line of thought ignores the root causes of the ecological crisis. The social metabolic order of capitalism is inherently antiecological, since it systematically subordinates nature in its pursuit of endless accumulation and production on an even larger scale.

It is here that a socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. A socialist social order, that is a society of associated producers, can serve as a basis for potentially bringing social metabolism in line with the natural metabolism, in order to sustain the inalienable conditions for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generation. Given that human society must always interact with nature, concerns regarding social metabolism are constant, regardless of the society. But a mode of production in which associated producers can regulate their exchange with nature in accordance with natural limits and know, while retaining the regenerative properties of natural processes and cycles, is fundamental to an environmentally sustainable social order.

The above clearly shows that to solve the world ecological crisis we should struggle for the creation of a socialist social order. This line of thought is known as ecosocialism.

Authors like Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies have come out with a powerful concept called ecofeminism, which entails that the forces who oppress women and degrade nature are the same; therefore there is a commonality in the struggle against patriarchy and ecological degradation.

After sixty years of independence, our society has reached a crisis stage where the entire country is sold to the corporate interests by our rulers; therefore it is imperative that feminists, socialists, communists and ecologists should unite together resisting the corporate interests and to struggle for an egalitarian, sustainable and democratic India.