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On Prospects Of Eco-Socialism In Russia And The World

By Victor Postnikov 

23 January, 2012
Countercurrents.org

“ Every culture that has lost myth has lost, by the same token, its natural healthy creativity. The images of myth must be the daemonic guardians, ubiquitous but unnoticed, interpreting to the mature man his life and struggles." - Nietzsche

In  the course of conscious human history,  the myth of equality, justice and brotherhood  has always been  considered  as  a natural “human trait”.   Such was the myth of socialism. 

Unfortunately,  in today's Russia ,  this myth has been lost.  For many in Russia and the post-communist countries, the term “socialism” has acquired a negative connotation,  and is associated with the totalitarian Soviet regime.   It is a very narrow outlook.  Since the 1917 revolution, during  the 73 years, the Russians were deprived of the opportunity to realize its best aspects.  In fact, the socialism has a long history,  and dates back to the early days of 17th century English Revolution  (Diggers, Levellers, Quakers), or maybe even further, to the first Christian communities [1].  So, 73 years is just a flicker in history.

On the other hand, many still remember the times when socialistic ideas were genuinely shared by millions. Basically, the history of Europe is the history of struggle for socialism ( Paris commune, etc). The greatest minds have contributed to the ideas of socialism throughout its history. This legacy cannot be easily forgotten, or dismissed.

None the less, today, human evolution has reached the tipping point,  not only in its civilizational aspects, but – more importantly  in the ecological sense - so that “classical”, or “Marxist” socialism, or even  the «socialism with a human face», or other anthropocentric types of socialism, is not an adequate solution,  although it may still be preferable to barbaric capitalism.    What is needed is neither capitalism, nor socialism, but a nature-based philosophy and democracy, where all creatures and plants have equal rights to flourish.

Humanity badly needs a revival of its animistic roots, and luckily these have been preserved in the remaining aboriginal cultures.  The question is this: are we, “the civilized world”,  intellectually robust enough to make such a radical U-turn?  Or, in the words of Robinson Jeffers, “We will never be glad again, so kneaded with human flesh, so humble and changed”.  

Naturally, a transition phase could be painful and lengthy, having in mind how deeply we are bogged down in modern civilization.  It is thought that eco-socialism could rectify the past mistakes of socialist movement and serve as a transitional path that retains the best of both worlds until we are free at last from the fetters of civilization and the danger of extinction. Before we consider the pros and cons of this transition,  I will try to define eco-socialism and its two main variants.

What is eco-socialism ?

Roughly speaking,  it is an attempt to unite  the ideas of the greens and the left.   The difficulty of conjunction lies in the fact that, even within each faction,  the ideas are varied and contradictory.  The approaches to eco-socialism have been suggested in a number of publications  [2].  To simplify the issue,  I will divide eco-socialism into two main categories, fundamentalist ,  or anthropocentric,  and  deep ,  or non-anthropocentric,  although there are  other tendencies and directions.

Fundamentalist (anthropocentric) eco-socialism

The fundamentalist eco-socialism (which could for simplicity be called  “the first type eco-socialism”)  is based on orthodox Marxism.  It has many adherents among orthodox Marxists, socialists, social ecologists,  feminists and anarchists. Marxist theory is complemented by some knowledge of the current ecological crises.  The general premise of the first-type eco-socialism is that, with the transition to socialism,  the ecological crises is resolved nearly automatically.  That is, all the  responsibility  for the lamentable state of eco-systems, extinction of species, pollution, global warming, etc. is blamed on the capitalist mode of production.  As soon as the socialist type is established (nominally, without the “free” market), the situation has to be radically improved.  And here, the first type eco-socialists diverge.  Some agree to allow the “free” market under the surveillance of the State (as we see, e.g., in China ), others maintain the overall control of the economic activity of citizens (e.g., Cuba ).  The principal ideologues of the fundamentalist eco-socialism are Joel Kovel , John Bellamy Foster and Ian Angus.  

 Several years ago,  Kovel sent me his book, «The Enemy of Nature» (2003) [3],  which eco-socialists consider the most authoritative work on the subject, with a view to translating it into Russian.   However,  after carefully reading the book,  I found his criticism of deep ecology, bioregionalism, eco-feminism in conflict with my views, and – reluctantly – abandoned the project .  Yet, the book contains a substantial critique of capitalism's deadening ecological trail. The main theoretical basis for such criticism is, of course, Marxism. Kovel presents an outline of the future eco-socialistic society using Marxist rhetoric and general socialist principles, that, to my mind, is quite vague.   Basically, the author  touts the centralist eco-socialist society that should replace capitalist society (after revolution?),  provided there's massive international support.  He says very little about how the sustainable economy will be reached, which technologies to employ, and, most importantly, how the overpopulation issue  will be resolved.

John Belamy Foster, another influential theorist, author of «Marx's Ecology» (2000) [4],  has made an attempt to rehabilitate Marx for the greens. (It is true that there are some insights in Marx's Capital where he speaks of earth's exploitation. However, ecology wasn't his priority and existed very much at the periphery at his discourse).  Ian Angus (together with Joel Kovel and Michael Löwy)  has founded the Eco-socialist International and wrote the Belem Declaration [5] that received some worldwide attention.    

Deep  (non-anthropocentric) eco-socialism  

    Another direction, or tendency (to which the author subscribes) originates from several “dissident”  trends, both within the left and green movements.   David Orton, the founder of the left biocentrism,   points to the sources [6] :   

       - "Deep-green theory"  (Richard Sylvan) [7];
       - "Socialist biocentrism" (Helga Hoffman and David Orton) [8]  ; 
       - "Ecologism" (Andrew Dobson) [9];
       - "Radical ecocentrism"  (Andrew McLaughlin) [10]  ;
       - "Revolutionary ecology" (Judi Bari)  [11]  ; 
       - “Green fundamentalism” (Rudolph Bahro) [12]  .

Saral Sarkar, the author of the influential work «Eco-socialism or eco-capitalism ?», [13] deserves inclusion with the above.  Sarkar, although positing himself as “eco-socialist”, shares many of premises of left biocenrism.  He outlines the future eco-socialist society that curtails industrial economies,  controls the birth-rate,  and promotes only  moral growth, to achieve sustainability. Obviously, this is a more ascetic version of eco-socialism than the Marxists profess.  For Sarkar, there  would have to be a revolution of all classes of society.  People in such an eco-socialist society would have to develop their needs within parameters that did not permit of economic growth. This has been substantiated by numerous authors dealing with the problem of peak-oil and the inability of the so-called renewable sources to bridge the gap between demand and generation [see, e.g. 14, 15].

Apart from political discourse, there are many modern thinkers from different schools of thought who have made a profound contribution to ecocentric  philosophy.   It is impossible to name them all, but a few scientists such as Fritjof  Capra [16],  James Lovelock [17], and William R. Catton Jr. [18],  while hardly considering themselves eco-socialists, deserve mentioning. Their scientifically grounded arguments for the much needed shift from human-centered universe towards Gaia consciousness can be likened to Copernican revolution.

The trends mentioned have their background in a deep ecology that holds that the well-being of nature  prevails over that of humanity,  while the latter is viewed as only one thread in a far more complex web of life  [19].   In other words,  deep eco-socialism  is  thought  to  revive nature in its entirety and splendour, and to establish equal rights to all human and non-human citizens.  Therefore, it is clear that such socialism, would be radically different from «classical socialism» and would require  a deep transformation in relations between humans and nature , and the revival of  the beliefs and practices of our ancestors.  Modern humanity would have to replace its conventional history (packed with kings and queens) with the long-forgotten ancient myths and legends, in which humans are inseparable from nature and the cosmos.  Anthropocentric ethics would have to give way to ecological ethics and lifestyle  [20].  The advocates of  such “comeback” come from different nations. It is suffice to name the geniuses of Rouseau, Thoreau, and Tolstoy who revolted against modernity. But their voices have been ignored up to now. Fortunately, sacred memory is still preserved by the native people [21].

The Russians, as well as any other nation,  have preserved their mythology in fairy tales, in narratives, and in poetry.  No wonder the latter has outlived all political doctrines.  No ideology has had the power to erase them.  The same holds true to all nations scattered across the vast land.
  
Instead of the monotony of global capitalism, every nation and every tribe will be able to develop its cultural identity through the process of reviving the earth on which it lives.  And the earth will thrive again and reward humanity.  I call it  deep eco-socialism , on a par with deep ecology and left biocentrism .   David Orton and Saral Sarkar have provided detailed analyses of the interrelations between left biocentrism, deep ecology and eco-socialism [22, 23]. 

Premises “pros”

There are signs that Russia has the possibility of an eco-socialist revival.

Firstly,  many still cherish the memory of socialist movement in Russia during the last 150 years [24],  that  at present is being  downgraded by mainstream media and the elite.  On the other hand, the dissenting youth is showing increased interest in the theory of socialism and beginning to seriously study Marx and other “left” thinkers.  

Secondly,  degrading ecology and the threat of global eco-catastrophe.   Poisoned air and water in the cities, soil erosion, decimation of nature, the onslaught of automobiles – all this encourages people to think critically (those who still have the capacity).  The young feel that they have had their future stolen.

Thirdly,  the growing dissent in Russia and elsewhere against industrial corporations, capitalism and the dictators of all sorts.  The people revolt, and this is positive.  

Premises «cons»

There are many countervailing factors at work, however [25].
The most vicious problem is the besotted people, the weakening of intellect. [26]  To comprehend the ideas of eco-socialism, one has to be well-informed and educated, and – not least – critically-minded.  And ecologically literate.  And the prerequisites  for this should be at least some degree of societal freedom. 

In the meantime, those locked in the cities (and their number is growing), are losing  the ability to  perceive nature firsthand.  The youth,  fixated on the ghostly world of electronic games and entertainment, rarely experience empathy towards nature or need to defend it.   Apathy and cynicism  become dominant. The touted vision of individual lifestyle, a hunt for ”success”, the  advertisements  of “high life” separate people and play into the hands of power holders. 

Accordingly, eco-socialism is also a struggle for justice and reconnection of the people. 
 
Whether the pros or cons  will take the upper hand, it remains to be seen. My hunch is that the advent of eco-socialism is possible only through collective efforts worldwide. Ironically, although Marx was not very keen on ecology, it is ecology that could promote his ideas better than proletarian revolution.  

Acknowledgement

My deep gratitude to fellow leftbios Ian Whyte, Patrick Curry for reviewing the text and valuable corrections. Particularly, I'm indebted to David Blackwell, who helped me to substantially improve the stylistics.

References

[1] Utopia Britannica, vol. 1,  British Utopian Experiments: 1325 to 1945. Written and compiled, and edited by Chris Choates ( Diggers & Dreamers Publications, 2001).
[2]   http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/
24E8W4R6SGVFH/ref=cm_syt_fvlm_f_1_rlrsrs0/102-9833204-6781750
.
[3] Kovel, J. (2003),   The Enemy of Nature : the end of capitalism or the end of the world?  (Tulika Books, 2003).
[4]  Foster, J., (2000) Marx's Ecology   ( New York : Monthly Review Press).
[5]  http://www.ecosocialistnetwork.org/Docs/Mfsto2/BelemDeclaration.htm
[6] Orton, D.  A Short Talk on Left Biocentrism.  http://home.ca.inter.net/~greenweb/A_short_talk_on_Left_Biocentrism.pdf  
[7]  Sylvan, R., Bennett, D. (1994). The Greening of Ethics ( Cambridge : White Horse Press).
[8]  Discussion:  Socialist  Biocentrism Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, Vol. 2, No. 3, Issue 8, October
1991   http://home.ca.inter.net/~greenweb/Socialist_Biocentrism.html .
[9]  Dobson A.,  (1990) Green Political Thought: An Introduction  ( London : Harper Collins)
  http://home.ca.inter.net/~greenweb/Ecologism.html .
[10]  McLaughlin, A. For A Radical Ecocentrism, in The Deep Ecology Movement : An Introductory Anthology 257, 260 (Alan Drengson & Yuichi Inoue eds., 1995)
[11] Bari , J.  Revolutionary Ecology   http://www.judibari.org/revolutionary-ecology.html
[12] Orton, D. A Tribute to Rudolph Bahro   http://home.ca.inter.net/~greenweb/Rudolf_Bahro.html
[13]  Sarkar, S. (1999)  Eco-socialism or Eco-capitalism ? A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices (Zed Books). 

[14] Trainer, T. (2007) Renewable energy cannot sustain a consumer society ( Basel : Springer).

[15] Heinberg, R. Searching for a Miracle: Net Energy Limits and the Fate of Industrial Society (The Post Carbon Institute and International Forum on Globalization); http://www.postcarbon.org/report/44377-searching-for-a-miracle
[16] Capra, F. (1982) The Turning Point (Bantam Books).
[17] Lovelock, J. (2007) Revenge of Gaia (Penguin Books). 
[18] Catton, R. W. Jr, (1990)  Overshoot : The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary change  ( University of Illinois Press ).
[19] Næss, Arne Ecology, community and lifestyle (Cambridge University Press 1989). 
[20] Curry, P. (2011) Ecological Ethics : An Introduction  (2 nd ed., Polity)
[21] Mander J. (1992) In the Absence of the Sacred : The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations,  (Sierra Club Books). 
[22] Orton, D., Postnikov, V. Eco-socialism and Left Biocentrism, A Report,  Centre d'éducation et de recherches “Praxis” Fondation internationale Victor Serge, Conférence scientifique international  Economie, politique, écologie: Le capitalisme post-soviétique dans le contexte historique et global, le 4 septembre, 2010.  
[23] Sarkar, S. Discussion: Eco-socialism and Deep Ecology  http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=4872
[24] Postnikov, V. Russian roots: From Populism to Radical Ecological Thought, Anarchy Studies, vol. 12, N.1, 2004.   
[25]  On the infantile society   http://www.proza.ru/2011/11/14/102   (In Russian)       
[26]  On post-Soviet idiocy   http://www.proza.ru/2009/10/23/852  (In Russian)

Victor Postnikov,  a former Russian scientist and lecturer in Electromagnetics, DSc. (Kiev Polytechnic, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 1975 – 2009).   Now, independent writer, poet- translator and editor. Translated and published books on eco-philosophy, including William R.Catton  Jr,  “Overshoot” (2007)  and Jerry Mander's  “In the Absence of the Sacred” (2008) under the auspices of the Foundation For Deep Ecology (USA) .  A member of the International group of left biocentrists.   Edited the online biocentric journal  Dandelion Times (in Russian) http://blogs.stuzog.com/ru/    E-mail: vpostnikov@yahoo.com

 



 


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