By Nat Winn
In the past few weeks a number of grave alarms have been raised about what humanity under capitalism has been doing to the earth’s ecosystem.
First, Pope Francis issued a 192 page encyclical calling for an “ecological conversion” to combat climate change and chiding skeptics for their denial. Among other things the Pope declared that, “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
Pope Francis blamed the polluted and decaying state of the earth to a “toxic cocktail of over-consumption, consumerism, dependence on fossil fuels and the errant indifference of the powerful and wealthy.” He described what could very likely become a hell on Earth if no action were to be taken, an earth filled with more methane and carbon dioxide, acidification of oceans and the crippling of the global food supply.
Then there was the publication of a study in the journal Science Advances that points toward evidence that the earth is in the midst of a sixth great extinction. The study used conservative estimates to show that the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear in more normal times (the difference depending on the vertebrate taxon). In this case it is scientists who warn that, “…Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”
Sustainable socialism: a message that can resonate
Kasama has often called for promoting an ecologically sustainable form of socialism. In the world we currently live in with the world on the brink of ecological destruction, such a call is a vital necessity and that gives it the potential to resonate with a broad section of society.
In the 20th century successful revolutions were made mostly in poor predominantly peasant based countries. Revolutionaries were able to win support with promises of a much better material life after the revolution. The slogan of the Soviet revolution in Russia for instance was “Land, Peace, and Bread.” Today in the most wealthy countries communists cannot promise that if revolution were made that the standard of living would dramatically improve immediately after a revolution is won. Our promise and vision must be related to the conditions under which a revolution will take place here.
Embarking on a communist road in the former United States means, for us, a promise of building a society based on an ethos of togetherness, where we share the earth’s resources to work, play, dance, and make art. And we must build this society in a way that ensures that future generations can inhabit a planet with a more balanced ecosystem allowing for even greater collective abundance. This must be a clear part of our message.
In the book Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, Chris Williams asserts that the complete structural changes that are needed to fight climate change:
will (never) be implemented under capitalism except in an ad hoc, piecemeal manner—most likely too little, too late to avoid setting off a chain of environmental tipping points that will quickly cascade out of our control and result in calamitous climate change along with a host of other negative impacts.
Williams, I think, is correctly pointing out that the systemic changes that are necessary to save the planet from ecological destruction are not compatible with a society that is based on greed and profit. Such changes can be fully compatible however with a society “based on cooperation whose objective is human and natural sustainability through the co-development of nature and human society.”
To get to such a society however, will mean organizing millions to make revolution and overthrow capitalism. Along with Williams, there are many intellectuals and activists who are writing about ecology and socialism and who are involved in vital struggles against the degradation and destruction of our planet. We can find the parts of what they have said and done that we can unite with in engaging in resistance and developing new theoretical frameworks for a sustainable socialist economy.
It is often the case that the most onerously effected by the destruction of the earth’s environment and ecosystems are the poorest people in the world, particularly Black and Brown people, women and children. The massively attended People’s Climate Change protest and emerging new movement calls like #FloodTheSystem have emphasized that the most poor and oppressed must be at the center of a radical struggle against climate change. For instance, in their call for mass direct action leading up to a United Nations organized climate negotiation called the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris at the end of this year, #FloodTheSystem declares:
We need to wash away the root causes of climate change — capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and colonialism. These systems enable the domination of people and Earth. They place gains for the elite before the well being of our communities.
It is also true that eventually all of humanity will suffer if the avaricious appetite for wealth and profit continues to dominate our society and destroy our earth. The struggle for a sustainable economy has the capacity to unite many people across lines of class, gender, and race.
It is not possible to at this point lay out some comprehensive plan for building such an economy. The development of what such a plan would look like will be determined through the course of revolutionary struggle and the mobilization of diverse sections of people and ultimately society at large.
These points taken together point to the strategic importance of struggles around climate change and the stabilization of the earth’s ecosystems, particularly the potential for such struggles to become more broadly radicalized and to play part of the central role in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
Thinking about an ecologically sustainable society should be a large part of developing 21st century communist theory and strategy.
Much of developing new communist theory, strategy, and practical politics is a process of learning through doing. We have come to a point in human history where the rapacity of capitalism may literally mean the destruction of much if not all of the life on our planet. A sustainable socialist society is an imperative not merely because it is morally just but because it is literally vital.
Revolutionaries can seek to develop such theory and long term strategy through building relations, interviewing, and seeking council and alliances with co-thinkers in the environmental based sciences and with environmental based workers and political activists. Such alliances can involve active participation in emerging movements. For example, #FloodTheSystem is making the following call:
…To lay the groundwork for exponential movement growth we are asking groups to convene Action Councils, like those forming in the Pacific Northwest, California, Montana, Northeast and elsewhere, with the intention of coming together to organize sustained actions beginning in late Summer, continuing through November and beyond.
Attending a nearby council and just listening at first can be a healthy exercise in social investigation. Building ties to the forces involved and participating in direct action or supporting the direct action if it is not possible to participate directly is a good way to follow through.
Across all sections of society people are recognizing the trouble that our planet and our species are in. They have not yet made the leap to conclude that revolution and socialism is a viable solution, but that is fine. People are in motion. Movements are being formed. It is the people themselves who will be determinant in developing a sustainable socialism if such a socialism is to be built. Engagement with the people effected by climate change, the scientists who study it, and the people who resist the rich and powerful in order to reverse it, is a concrete form of learning and developing both what a sustainable socialism might look like and how people will become organized to build it.