A world fit for living: For sustainable socialism

sustainable socialism kasama project

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.

6 thoughts on “A world fit for living: For sustainable socialism

  1. Please, this is off the record –
    but I had to write and tell what a wonderful surprise it was to click my name in the Most Recent Comments list and go to ReProl Arts, I am blown away. Seriously thank you so much. – I am so pleased. If you want to use anything you see on the Blog at anytime just let me know.

    The first work you see as you scroll down is more “editorial” in use- more subtle in some ways- with a painterly sensibility. The experiments in poster design are further down the scroll. Check it out- These were all done from when I retired Feb until sometime after May Day . As I told my wife. “I am The Muses bitch.”
    At any rate thanks for the link-
    Joy and Bread- Miles

  2. I was working on this article when Nat posted the piece above. The following is a bit rough and makes a number of similar points, but here it is:

    Global Warming and the Potential for Revolution

    “To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.”
    V. I. Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International

    As Mike Ely argued in “Sites of a Communist Beginning,” potential revolutionary situations are eventful or conjunctural in nature, not structural. In other words, we cannot predict where (still less, when) mass upheavals will occur simply by studying the “fault lines” of the dominant political-economic-social structures.
    For example, many U.S. Leftists have focused their organizing inside unions and workplaces based on the understanding that the contradiction between labor and capital lies at the heart of capitalism. Yet, U.S. workers have not risen up en masse against the capitalism, despite decade after decade of attacks on unions, stagnating real wages, vanishing benefits, skyrocketing productivity, widening inequalities in wealth and income, and trillion-dollar rip-offs by the savings-and-loan industry and mortgage companies that cost millions of families their life’s savings and homes.
    Here’s another example: How many students of Marxism predicted that during the 1960s millions of youth — many from affluent homes – would rebel against consumerism, militarism, and the suburban/corporate mindset, even to the point of embracing revolution, at the very moment when the U.S. reached the pinnacle of world power?
    The point is that the obvious and expected things often fail to occur. Political, economic, and social developments exist in a continual state of flux and churn. They are nonlinear, evanescent, interwoven, and infinitely complex. They manifest in surprising ways and are experienced and perceived differently ways by different groups of people. There is no schematic to guide us; no simple script for us to follow.
    Yet, revolutionaries must still determine how best to allocate our time and energies. We must actively investigate issues and events (including the ideas and feelings of various social groups) and do our best to understand where the system is likely to break down in ways that could generate a revolutionary opportunity.
    This is what Mike Ely did when he suggested that mass immigration from Central and South America and the struggles of undocumented workers in the U.S. could precipitate a revolutionary crisis, particularly if a revolutionary upsurge were to occur in Mexico. As he pointed out, immigration fuses a number of issues involving race and class that have ignited large-scale struggles inside the U.S. in the past. These include questions of social equity and economic justice (living wages; safe, humane treatment; the right to organize), the national rights of Latinos and Latinas; police and vigilante violence; discriminatory laws, and the role of U.S. employers (and imperialism, more generally) in creating conditions on “both sides of the border” that created this crisis in the first place.
    “Global Warming” (to use a catch-all phrase for world-wide environmental degradation) is another systemic crisis that is not breaking along capitalism’s well-known fault lines and that, I believe, will open up opportunities for revolution here in the U.S. and all around the world. Today, the contradictions of capitalism are manifesting themselves as a struggle between an economic system that must perpetually expand or die, and a fragile planet with finite resources.
    Capitalism has grown so parasitic — so unsustainable and out of control — that it is devouring the planet itself. Every country in the world will experience a cascade of political, social and economic shocks that will become exponentially more severe. The science is quite clear on this.
    • Average global temperatures are rising. Severe heat waves have already killed tens of thousands dead in the U.S., Europe, Russia and South Asia. Lacking air conditioning, shelter, and adequate medical care, the poor are left to suffocate and bake: an injustice that everyone can see. The heat waves will only grow longer and more intense, and affect greater numbers of people.
    • We are already witnessing a rapid melting of glaciers and the polar ice fields. These changes, in turn, are raising sea levels, and altering the ocean and atmospheric currents. These changes are generating extreme weather events, including record-shattering snowfalls, rain storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires, and so-called “Frankenstorms” — multiple storms that combine into a single storm of freakish size and ferocity
    • If these trends continue (as the science predicts), billions of people in low-lying areas will be forced to flee their homes, destabilizing some of the most densely-populated and politically-volatile regions of the world. Thousands of coastal towns and cities will be severely affected or entirely submerged, including many of the world’s most vital economic centers (e.g. Tokyo, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Mumbai, Amsterdam, Boston, New York, New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Long Beach and Seattle).
    • Thirty-seven percent of the world’s aquifers are being depleted at an alarming rate, according to a recent NASA study. (This includes California, one of the most important U.S. agricultural regions.) We are already witnessing battles by impoverished people in the U.S. and overseas for access to drinking water, as well as efforts by the elites to privatize water supplies. (As the Chairman of Nestle famously argued, “access to water is not a public right.”)
    • According to a recent report, we are experiencing “The Sixth Great Extinction”— one of the largest global “die-offs” of animal species in world history. Indeed, the cumulative impact of human activity on the planet is so pronounced, so pervasive, that leading scientists call the present period the Anthropocene Epoch—the epoch in which human beings (anthropo in Greek) are the primary drivers of change.
    • If current trends continue, global warming will almost certainly spiral out of control. How many wars will break out as billions of refugees pour across international borders? As governments compete for control of dwindling supplies of clean water? As crops are wiped out by drought and disease?
    Existing governments—indeed all exiting organizations, national, international, private and public—are utterly incapable of responding effectively to climate change. Divided as they are by artificial borders and competing interests, they lack the resources and the authority (and often the motivation) to swiftly undertake the large-scale, long-term, massively-expensive measures needed to avert this crisis and ameliorate its effects.
    The weakness and utter incompetence of our existing political structures will be demonstrated over and over again. People will begin to see through bitter experience that the existing social relationships and dominant institutions are not simply inadequate but are, in fact, the cause of the problem.
    Instead of fighting over abstractions like “exploitation” or “justice,” the coming struggles will be waged over very tangible questions of life-and-death. As the crisis develops, the ruling elites will be increasingly unable to function and govern in the old ways. The masses of people will find life under the existing order increasingly unbearable, and the world will be thrown into great turmoil. All the science points to these things happening over the next 50-100 years.
    Constituting a Revolutionary Subject
    As awareness of the causes and scale of the ecological disaster grows, people’s individual and collective identities will tend to shift in ways favorable to socialist revolution.
    It is not difficult for most people to “connect the dots” and assign blame for this crisis: to identify the people who lied, stalled, and prevented measures that might have stabilized the environment while there was still time to do so. In the immediate sense, the chief culprits are clearly the oil, gas, and coal interests, the owners of the many industries that depend on carbon-based fuels (e.g. auto, aviation and power companies), and the political flunkies and talking heads who do their bidding. But there is a growing recognition, too, that the dominant system itself is fundamentally flawed; that a society that hopes to survive must be “sustainable;” that “no tree can grow to heaven.” There is a growing awareness that a rational society would not dump millions of cars, cell phones, plastic bottles, items of clothing, and other goods and materials year after year, tearing up the earth and poisoning our land, air, and water. There is a growing sense that we cannot survive trapped in endless cycles of ever-greater production and consumption. But that is precisely what capitalism compels us to do. Humankind can no longer survive doing what capitalism must do to survive.
    The environmental crisis is forcing people to adopt an internationalist perspective, too. The lunacy of “national boundaries” becomes apparent when people confront storms, floods, droughts, and air and ocean currents that know nothing about borders and that afflict large swaths of the planet. There is little that any one government, or even one block of countries, can do alone. The problem is international. The entire human race is suffering and in mortal danger.
    People are waking up to the reality that human beings are part of the natural world and that we must be its stewards. This is a profound shift in thinking. More and more, will begin to view themselves as part of an aggrieved global family—as “Citizens of the Earth”— and will demand action on a global scale. It will become clearer, too, that if the existing institutions all around the world cannot protect humankind, then the people themselves will have to create institutions that will.
    Significantly, the debate over Global Warming also pits scientific thinking against “magical thinking” and “know-nothing-ism.” Many of the world’s best minds have been leading the charge on this issue, while the corporations and their hirelings have been busy spreading delusions and outright lies. The more deeply that people engage with the science of ecology and climate, the more likely they become to apply that same mode of thinking to the realms of politics and economics.
    The developing crisis poses a most subversive question: “What is ‘enough’?” The word ‘enough’ has no meaning under capitalism, which understands only continual expansion—the crazy hamster wheel of ‘more, more, more.” The search for a system that would allow us to live sustainably, in harmony with nature, leads people to ask, “What is the point of economic production in the first place? How much do we need to live well and securely? Is life all about ‘work, work, work, consume, consume, consume,” or is it about people enjoying themselves and caring for one another?”
    A revolutionary organization would plunge into this already-massive fight on every front: in local communities, international gatherings, on the campuses, in the churches and unions, and in local, state and national politics.
    A revolutionary organization would demand new political-economic structures that protect and nurture all of humankind and the planet we share. It would point out that capitalism—with its mindless need to expand and its narrow competing interests—is no longer viable or defensible. Capitalism is responsible for this crisis and a threat to our common survival.
    A revolutionary organization would point to the need for long-term economic planning and political policies that serve everyone, not a privileged few or the members of any one race or nationality. It would call for overthrowing the archaic capitalist system and creating economic and political structures run by and for the people.
    With the global environmental crisis, socialism is very much on the table.

    Some readings in addition to the embedded hyperlinks:
    Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environmental Crisis: “On Care for Our Common Home:”
    Bikkhu Bodhi, “Moving from a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life:”
    Washington Post: “Earth has its Hottest May on Record: On Track for Record-Hot Year:”

  3. The embedded hyperlinks didn’t show up in my previous post. Here are links to some really important studies on the crisis of Global Warming referenced in my article
    Heat Waves are Silent Killers:
    More Rapid Melting of Glaciers and Polar Ice Reported:
    At-risk Coastal Cities:
    NASA Study: World is Running Out of Water:
    The Sixth Mass Extinction:
    Global Warming Nears “Tipping Point:”

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