Joel Kovel meeting - why I'm sceptical about "eco-socialism"

Recently I went to a lecture by Joel Kovel, a leading US eco-socialist and author of the book, The Enemy of Nature. The meeting was chaired by Derek Wall from the Green Party and had Jane Kelly from Socialist Resistance on the platform. Over 50 people were there.

Kovel spoke well enough about the destructiveness of capitalism and about how a socialist society would be sustainable. However he said there was no privileged agent in the fight for a better society, instead talking about a movement of ”the commons”, and listing Cuba, Venezuela and the Zapatistas as prefigurative examples.

I put it to him that this was a “classless ecology” and that green socialists are essentially activists who had given up on the working class. Kovel backtracked a bit and said that the labour movement was important – but he conspicuously failed to outline any kind of working class environmentalist programme or strategy for convincing workers to take up the issues.

Other pressed him on these points, but his answers were not coherent. He has essentially systematised the uncoupling of ends and means, borrowing bits from Marx but missing the locus of Marxist politics – that is, the working class movement. Derek Wall and his Green Left caucus suffer from the same malaise.

No one from Socialist Resistance explained why they are prepared to go along with this – although by signing Kovel’s eco-socialist manifesto and calling themselves eco-socialists they seem to be entering into some sort of explicit alliance with Green Left people. They seem to be heading from the demoralisation of Respect to the blind alley of the Green Party.

The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

Issues and Campaigns: 


Why bother with socialism?; the Greens and w/c representation

Lawrie: "Of course this will be a protracted process, but using your logic - if it is something that can be got round why bother with Socialism?"

This seems a bit of a bizarre comment. Firstly, we should bother with socialism because, even leaving aside the ecological issues, it means a democratic society without institutionalised exploitation and oppression. And secondly, even in terms of ecology, why would we not want a rational solution which solved the problem as quickly and comprehensively as possible, and in a way that doesn't make workers and the poor pay for solving it? Why does one have to project an apocalyptic scenario in order to recognise that only socialism can allow a rational solution which will *minimise* human death and suffering as well as environmental destruction?

Another aspect of the Kovel meeting which hasn't been mentioned yet. I asked a question about the relationship of the US Green Party to the US labour movement, and pointed out that in the UK the separation is almost total - you rarely meet Green activists on picket lines, at union conferences, union demonstrations etc. (Irritatingly, someone argued that this was also true of the traditional left - which, while the left is of course not sufficiently strong or implanted in the workers' movement, strikes me as self-evidently not true.)

Kovel's response was posed in electoral terms. In order to demonstrate the (real) conservatism of the US labour movement, he described the hostility or at best indifference unions had shown to him when he ran as as Green candidate for the Senate. Now, of course, this hostility stemmed largely from the fact that the unions are tied to the Democratic Party. I don't deny this at all. But Kovel seemed to miss the point that what is needed is a *class-based* political movement which builds in the labour movement and can create a working-class political voice on that basis - simultaneously opening up the possibility of seriously mobilising the workers' movement to fight on ecological and other issues. Trying to get the unions to switch from one non-working-class party to another is something else entirely.

Sacha Ismail

The comment 'why bother with Socialism'

The comment 'why bother with Socialism' was a bit flippant and certainly not based on my own thinking. It was meant to answer Arthur's logic that all was well with the planet and that capitalism was finding solutions to environmental ills. If this is the case and that development is happening - how can you mobilise people to change the system.

Without crisis, there is no revolution, I would have thought. As Marxists we have an understanding that capitalism creates this as well as fantastic growth, technology etc, but if that system is not perceived as having reached or is in a process of reaching its limits,it is not possible to organise that revolution. Our tasks today as to work out what is happening and aid the development and independence of the workers' movement. Or do you believe socialism can be brought into being as a more informed choice perhaps?

Your comments in relation to Joel Kovel's attitude towards the Labour Mvt sound predictable, however this is not universal and we should put pressure on prominent ecosocialist membeers of the GP to actively support workers' struggle.

Missing the point?

Sacha wrote "Kovel seemed to miss the point that what is needed is a *class-based* political movement."

I doubt he missed the point. He has explicitly written that he does not believe the working class to be a "priveleged agent of social change." Like many of the eco-socialists (and others)today, he uses Marxism as a tool of analysis but draws back from the conclueions in terms of social action, seeing the working class as on a par with other components of a rainbow coalition.

If you substitute students, blacks or women for greens...

... then you see the dangers of sectarianism in many of the comments made in this discussion.

Hampton's disagreements are not simply with Kovel, who is a member of the US socialist group Solidarity, but with ecosocialism and working-class alliances.

In Paul's worldview, the Cuban, Venezuelan and Zapatista movements are not allies. The idea that socialist strategy involves working class alliances with anti-capitalists like these makes Paul uncomfortable since, in his eyes, the leaders of these movements are mini-Stalins waiting to terrorise the working class. Paul pays no attention to the content of the Ecosocialist Manifesto: he may well agree with it, but what horrifies him is the idea of being on the same side in the struggle as Derek Wall and other socialists.

As Laurie points out, there is a need to renew the Marxist programme in order to account for the challenges posed by climate change. No-one suggests what Paul implies, that it's enough to simply call oneself ecosocialist. Marxism needs to be renewed: technology cannot solve these problems, and we cannot increase production to eliminate 'generalised want' -- instead we need to collectively shift and plan what humanity needs to survive. Therefore, it's a step forward to say that to defend the enviornment we need to replace capitalism with an economy that is planned democratically, from below.

Like many, Paul probably underestimates the scale of the problem. Climate change will have a bigger impact on humanity than the depression of the 1930s or either World War. The impact will mainly be felt in countries where the organised working class is not a majority. International solidarity, and co-operation between workers and other toilers, will be needed.

The urgency of the change is real, and it requires new tactics in the struggle for working-class leadership.

Arthur's points are rather misleading. Fish now swim in the Thames, but global warming is a major threat to fish in the oceans and coastal regions. Cold water fish are highly sensitive, so even the trout and salmon in British rivers will suffer. Capitalism's reforms are just lipstick on a pig. Capitalism is no more likely to solve the problems of the environment worldwide than it is to complete the democratic revolutions worldwide. It is no more likely cure the planet than Yetsin was democratise Russia, even with the AWL's backing. You could imagine it, but it won't happen. We should fight for reforms, but capitalism cannot prevent catastrophic climate change. Socialism is the only alternative to a barbaric reduction in the conditions of the toiling masses worldwide -- greater than that created by Fascism in the 20th century.

In this respect, Sacha Ismail is quite right to stress the need for socialism as a way to fight the ecological crisis. Much of the ecologist movements aim to pursuade individual legislators and billionaires to change their preferences -- ecosocialists argie for the need for socialist democrayc to replace capitalism.

However, Sacha's feeling that socialists are more present in green struggles than green are in labour struggles may be optimistic. Either way, much more work is needed to bring these two movements together in our commmon struggle.

That means that Arthur is mistaken to assume that such alliances are, in themselves, Popular Fronts. It would be quite mistaken to rule out joint work, even on the electoral front, with greens. Greens are, remember, principally members of the proletariat. However, each alliance needs to considered carefully from the stand-point of the independent interests of the working class. The acid-test has to be the interests of working people and out allies in the struggle for socialism. The green-left alternative in the US and Nordic countries is quite different from the pro-capitalist politics of the Green parties in continental Europe. Much of the US revolutionary left supported Green candidates who stood on an anti-capitalist platform; they did so with good reason (and naive dreams of recruiting heavily from the Green party). It would be certainly mistaken to rule out alliances simply because our allies are anti-capitalist greens.


PS Paul, Kovel's position is not clear to me. This article is by Kovel, rather than by his opponent. Remember, there's a lot of bitter spite in the discussions around Naders candidature. In it Kovel seems to argue that another Green, David Cobb, should be the alternative to Nader. Not supporting Nader does not, in itself, mean a vote for Kerry. My feeling is that Kovel is trying to fudge his position, and is mainly opposed to Nader than anything else.

Learning from the Greens

Clearly there are problems with the Greens, this can be gleaned from ecosocialist leader of the Green Party welcoming a SNP lash up the the Scottish Greens.

Equally clearly in common view we face a global crisis, which poses questions as to the very continuation of human existence.

Socialists cannot simply say that super abundence is the answer and that socialism will be a turbo version of late capitalism.

Social organisation, democracy and real democratic planning would seem to be the only way out of the crisis in the long term.

Again this is the question of our age, just adding a bullet point to the programme is insufficient. We need a programme and strategy for socialism. We need to address our failings of environmental politics and make it central to our politics, that is of course class politics, the environmental question is not the preserve of Al Gore and Friends of the Earth.

We can learn from the Greens in many respects without retreating totally into their non-class politics.

Again, it's about permanent revolution


How long did it take for capitalism to make good the ecological damage of the industrial revolution? In the UK and US, for example, tighter laws on air and water polution were introduced only in the 1960s -- more than a century later. With global warming, we can't allow such long delays.

As for the opinion of the scientific community, I guess you are being a 'devil's advocate'. I am sure that we both agree that the overwhelming weight of scientific and political opinion is that the pace and direction of climate change is principally determined by human action.

More importantly, I think we will both agree that only global mass action led by the working class and its allies could pressure the capitalist class to make the structural changes needed.

On the democratic revolution -- how far have the gains of the democratic revolution been accomplished in the capitalist countries? The UK is a monarchy. In the US, only billionaires can participate fully in the political culture. Indeed, this is exactly what Marx warned about when he used the term 'permanent revolution', that the capitalist class will not carry the revoltuion forward to establish liberty, equality and solidarity but will go only as far as it need to consolidate its own power. The national bourgoisies mave have won legal independence, but they have not instituted the democracy that democrats fought for.

As for alliances with Green parties, I think you're mistaken. The issue with these parties is not the social composition. There's nothing wrong with having an alliance with the peasantry -- look at the USSR, or even France -- if the demands of that alliance reflect the interests of the working class. The issue with the Popular Front isn't that other toilers are involved: the issue is that the Popular Front ties the working class to the material interests of the capitalist class. (The idea that Green parties are, in their majority, composed of the petit bourgoisie is pretty unlikely). Perhaps your issue is that they are culturally middle class in Britain. Nevertheless, greens are overwhelingly part of the proletariat.

Would the AWL really oppose an electoral bloc with, for example, parties like the Nordic Green Left? Seriously? The AWL backed Yeltsin, but would oppose the Green Party in the US, in whose leadership the International Socialist Organization is a hegemonic force?

How clean is capitalism?

I'm amazed at the statement that "capitalism HAS largely cleaned up the effects of the Industrial Revolution"! This illustrates a very Eurocentric view. In fact, western imperialism has, in large measure, exported its pollution to the far east and other areas. (Example: a magnet factory I know, which covered its vicinity in brown dust, was dismantled and moved wholesale from England to South Africa).

In any case, climate change, caused by carbon doixide and other emissions due to human activity, is different from other forms of pollution, and capitalism has certainly not stopped that, or "cleaned up" its effects. The claim that it it will be cured by decreasing energy intensity of production, is similar to Bush's argument for emission "reductions" (per unit GDP) and doesn't account for the rises in GDP that have overwhelmed the decrease in energy intensity. It also doesn't account for increases due to use of products (e.g. electrical equipment).

If you really think GHG emissions due to human activity are not causing climate change, try reading the recent correspondence on what is and isn't science in the last few issues of New Scientist.

Derek Wall

I'm surprised Derek Wall is not mentioned in the above. His own book, Babylon and Beyond, which claims to be a form of eco-socialism, contains at the same time some very strange ideas about the importance of Zen, and something called 'italism' derived from Rastas' beliefs. I'm sure he's a very decent chap but there's a lack of detail about economics and class, some very generalised comments about Negri and 'autonomism' (which never reach the core arguments about 'immaterial labour' and the class structure of the 'multitude'), and the resulting combination of localism, co-operatvies, and some wider social ownership, is vague in the extreme.

The lack of precision about class and eclectric economics is marked in all green parties. Even the French Greens, briefly led by the economist Alain Lipietz (soon deposed), who comes from a Marxist background, had only the most generalised ideas about social ownership, and he himself tended to focus on the 35 Hour week as the central focus of their economic strategy.

Lawrie Combs makes the good point that the left has much to learn from the Greens. That is, on specific points, such as the use of rural resources and industrial agriculture-supermarket chains(subjects dear to my heart as an allotment holder). Climate change is a scientific issue, but empirically I know that it's changing and the sea is rising around here (visit Dunwich).

Our Ipswich Trades Council has presented an ecologically inspired motion (by a meeting we held with activist scientists based around the University of East Anglia) to the annual TC's conference in recent years, related to the regulation of dredging of aggregate in the North Sea. This has undoutably affected sea-side erosion and the fishing off, for example, Lowestoft. It has won but been referred by the national TUC as not in line with policy because there are interests in play here around the use of that aggregate in construction, affecting union members' jobs.

Perhaps the main point is that as a political force the various Green parties are highly ambiguous about their relations with the left. That was dramatically seen recently when the leader of the European Parliament's Greens, Daniel Cohen-Bendit, tried to persuade the French Green Presidential candidate, Dominique Voynet, to reach an alliance with the 'centrists' (right-wing) candidate Francois Bayrou, rather than even the French socialists.

Capital won't enrich Bangladesh to counter rising sea levels....


On the scientific points, I realise that you truly believe what you argue. However, I do think you'll find that you're mistaken in thinking that you're reflecting mainstream scientific opinion. mainstream opinion is refected, certainly, by the IPCC. In fact, your views reflect the opinions of those who are, unlike you, funded by the energy industry. Increasing CO2 levels create and reinforce themselves: that is why the major change is after, and not before, the first changes. We today are feeling the impact of emmisions from 50 years ago. However, they warm the plnet and in turn produce more CO2, for example as the tundra melts.

Local government in the 19th century did not largely undo the damage of the industrial revolution. Honestly, ask any pensioner about how air quality has changes since they were a child. Furthermore, the ecological impact of industrialisation was global, and was certainly not redressed.

I feel that you take capitalism's rhetoric too much at good faith. In fact, the modest growth in sustainable energy is not shifting the ecological balance - CO2 emissions continue to mount. As we can see in the middle east, oil is still central to US foreign policy.

The goal of the democratic revolution was not to create the dictatorship of capital: perhaps you are accepting their rhetoric there too? The goals were for liberty and equality -- not for wage slavery. In the US, the system excludes working people from power. Truely, the civil war needs to be completed in the USA.

On the point about alliances with the greens... do I misrepresent you? I thought that you saw electoral alliances with the Green parties in the UK and Britain as popular fronts. I would love to be mistaken. I assumed that would ally with a (presumable fictitous) green workers' party... but I wonder if you don't see todays green workers as being declassed, if not pro-capitalist. So, what's your stance towards the actually existing green parties?

Finally, I am curious about your comment that "were people in say Bangladesh to be raised to a per capita standrad of living equal to say Britain, it is quite likely that they would be able to take action that would largely overcome the effects of rising sea levels." How is that possible, either such an increase [when the poor are getting poorer] or such action to prevent floods. For example, in the Netherlands government accepts the losing battle against rising water levels. People there accept that land will be lost to the sea. If that's the case there, then why not in Asia?

I'm off on holiday in the morning, but please do think this over. The profits from organic foods and alternative power are too tiny to shift capitalism in the little time we may have. If profits were enough to discipline the casino economy, things would not be as bad as they are.


Capital won't stop climate c hange

Climate change is far more than just the result of poverty and the poor use of resources. Actually its better understood as what Marx called a metabolic rift between humanity and nature. Capital's insatiable self-expansion is driven to appropriate and despoil nature, even to the point of altering the conditions of production.

Capitalism could probably survive even big changes in the climate - but millions of workers will not. For example the IPCC report last month said that
· If temperatures rise by 0.5ºC or more, there will be an “increased burden from malnutrition, diarrhoeal, cardio-respiratory and infectious diseases” and “increased morbidity and mortality from heat waves, floods and droughts”.
· In Africa by 2020, “between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to an increase of water stress due to climate change.”

The bourgeoisie e.g. the Stern review have already given up on stabilisation at 450ppmCO2, the level most scientists think will lead to a 2oC average rise. Even 550ppmCO2 may be exceeded, even if the current targets are met. Over 2oC, the effects are likely to accelerate. We can’t rely on capitalist firms or governments to do the job.

To stop this, emissions have to start falling by 2015. My view is that only a resurgent labour movement is strong enough to impose the necessary measures. Climate change adds to the urgency of our work to build such a movement and fight for socialism. We should start from the reality of climate change and not underestimate its significance.


I Agree


I agree. I was bending the stick when saying that the problem was poverty and pure use of resources, in fact the poverty and poor use of resources are themselves a result of capitalism.

Climate change certainly is a fact, but how much of it is due to the activities of Man is debatable. As the statistics you cite demonstrate even were the measures advocated actually implemented the effect would be relatively small, in terms of emmissions, and the effect as far as climate change is concered indeterminate.

The question then arises as Lomborg states is the use of huge financial resources towards what would in any case only delay the rise in sea levels by 6 years a better use of resources than raising the living standards of millions of workers around the globe, and as a consequence probably rescuing millions more of them from the effects of climate change than the environemtnal measures would.

On both counts we cannot count on capitalism to provide the answer, because it will only act in a way which protects its long term interests - and actually as Labour is the source of value it actually does have a very strong incentive to not only ensure its future supplies of the source of Value survive, but survive in a condition suitable for producing value in today's industries i.e. a labour force that is relatively healthy and intelligent.

Arthur Bough

Paul is bang on

Paul is utterly correct when he states that the effects of climate change threaten literally millions of people and present us all (as a species) ultimately with barbarism (if were lucky).

Paul is also correct that the only way (that I can think of)of reversing this is a resurgent workers' movement and a renewed project for socialism.

My argument has been that all of us (mostly) have not taken environmental issues seriously, labelling them as 'middle class issues' and not studied the whole issue seriously. Many left wing groups reduce the question to one that will be dealt with after we have got socialism and reduce it to a bullet point added to the programme.

Environmental issues need to be more intimately bound up with our programme and our practice, as much as doing trade union work and so, the whole thing should go hand in hand really.

I certainly regret not really taking this issue seriously myself in the past and would bemoan my own relative ignorance. As a group we really should do more.

Big Assumption


If climate change has nothing to do with human activity then no amount of resurgence by the workers movement will reverse it. There are certainly many aspects of capitalist activity that are damaging to the environment, and as they directly affect workers we should oppose them by methods of class struggle, just as we would fight for improvements for Health and Safety in the workplace.

That we should incorporate such ideas into our propaganda and arguments for socialism should go without saying, but you are quite right that we should not fall into the trap of saying "Without socialism environmental disaster". That seems to me just catastrophism, and Malthusianism. We saw it before with repeated preduictions of economic collapse, we see it even in the AWL's Where We Stand which says "Capitalism creates poverty", when the facts for most workers directly contradict that with living standards that 100 years ago even the rich wouldn't have enjoyed.

The fact is that capitalism does provide progress both raising living standards and dealing with the environemnt, but it does so in a crisis ridden contradictory manner.
Arthur Bough

Socialism and environmental crisis

This has been quite an interesting debate.

I agree that environmental destruction is one of the greatest current threats to the working class, small farmers and indeed humanity as a whole.

A recent UN report suggests that up to 98% of Indonesia's forests could be lost by 2022 (source
- already deforestation has caused massive hardship and deaths through flooding and mudslides.

Flooding in Bangladesh has already been mentioned. There's also the issue of increasing wars over scarce resources.

In all of these cases the politics of the corporations and global capitalism are pushing humanity towards disaster.

The solutions are far from obvious and uncontroversial but most scientists agree that drastic reductions in carbon emissions are needed. However, it is fairly obvious that the corporations and the governments they run (i.e. the capitlaist classes) will not take on the huge expenses of making buildings environmentally friendly, of funding efficient public transport systems, of palnning production efficiently so as to reduce waste and recycle what we cannot reuse or cut out in the first place.

Instead we get proposals on congestion charges- deeply regressive taxes hitting the poor the hardest (for example up to £5 a day proposed to travel in and out of Manchester), carbon trading, cut backs on refuse collection to try to coerce recycling- all measures to make the working class pay.

Instead we need to abolish the corporations and plan production for human need and environmental harmony. It may even be that some of the technological fixes suggested by maverick scientists such as James Lovelock may work- only scientific trials will show. However, it is probably utopian to assume that capitlaist governments will have the iuncentives, means or co-operation to test and trial such methods.

What is less obvious perhaps is how to get there. Positive feedback cycles play a potentially destructive effect in potential climate change. We need to harness the postive feedback of working class resistance through a program of transitional demands to tackle climate change-
some possible and very tentative ideas-
strong workplace unions to demand longer holidays and longer journey times for those workers choosing to come on public transport or cycling
collective policies on saving energy enforced by the workers
mass campaigns for free or cheap public transport-
campaign against regressive taxes and cuts in services-
tax the rich and make them pay

It's quite incomplete I admit- but we need on the revolutioanry left to urgently work out detailed program and practical ideas to tackle climate change by mobilising the working class and linking the fight against climate catstrophe to the fight against global capitalism and for democratic and environmentally friendly global revolutionary socialism.

More here

Capitlaism, socialism and the environment

Hi Arthur

On your first point, I'm not entirely sure we disagree as such; more that, I feel you have misunderstood the point.

I'm not saying and I don't think anyone else is that we somehow 'afford' to wait around for socialism. Of course we fight for immediate reforms that we link to the fight to overthrow capitalism. I mentioned some immediate reforms- cheap and efficient public transport, better insulation for houses and buildings, reducing carbon emissions through less use, reuse and recycling. To make these transitional would require workers' committees to oversee targets in factories and offices, to run public transport under workers' and passengers' control and would need to be fought for by mass class struggle tactics. It is not easy and does not at all mean that in the meantime we eschew making common cause with green lobbyists advocating change in more traditional manners- think tanks, letter writing, demos etc. However, we should point out that though public opinion and even business sense has produced a big change in the practices of capitalist governments and businesses anf this change will increase nevertheless it is still woefully inadequate.

On the second set of points, it is clear thatthere is some incentive for capitalists to do somerthing about the environment. If there was some quick techno fix (I can't rule that out) then they may well do it- why? Because environmental damage does have some costs to capitalists- though they are mainly externalised to the working class and poor farmers in the forcibly underdeveloped semi-colonies.

There are therefore also potentially vast profits to be made from new technologies- if they are are cheap enough and it is in the interests of capitalist firms and governments to buy them. But short of hunch or unless you are some kind of expert or even budding inventor I can't see how we can at all depend on the cheap fix. A machine that defies the second law of thermodynamics seems rather unlikely (if not impossible) and other more credible or actually existing inventions will help but not nearly fast enough to avert further enormous damage and may be catastrophe. Other ideas on the far edge of science such as huge mirrors or aerosol pollination of the skies may work for all I know but it seems fairly likely that they would require large enough investment to not be attmepted by the capitalist corporations and their governments.

However, barring some realtively cheap fix it is clear that capitalism does not have the incentive to spend vast amounts of money to sort out the problems of humanity- profit is the bottom line. Why would they otherwise spend the billions on rebuilding and insulation, on new public transport systems (unless profits can be made)? Capitalism is notoriously myopic. Only a working class movement can force major reforms out of the capitalists and ultimately we will need to seize the means of production ourselves.

It's not a question of resting on our laurels and waiting for the revolution but of taking immeidate steps tied to a a program of transitional demands to overthrow capitalism. But neither can we afford to sit on our hands waiting for the market to come up with a set of relatively cheap fixes that capitalists can afford and have the incentive to implement. It's not impossible and if it happened there would still be every reason to overthrow capitalism (we don't require a crisis to take power in our own lives, though obviously it can give an extra incentive). It may happen but we certainly can't afford to sit back and wait just on the off chance.


You may be right but we can't afford to wait

You may be right about someone developing a technological fix within the confines of capitalism but we can't afford to wait. For a start I think it's pretty unlikely that a big enough solution can be found quickly enough to avoid a lot of catastrophic damage and secondly even if true- who knows- we should take immediate action now- as individuals sure but also far more importantly collectively in the workplaces with e.g. workers' committees to monitor environemntal impact and damage and major campaigns against the corporations destroying the planet.

I Agree

But the point is on what Programme? My argument is that allowing that Programme and Agenda to be set by Greens, and Environmentalists is dangerous fo socialists. The catstrophism is counter-productive. Of course we shouldn't count on capitalism providing solutions, if it does so it will only be via a series of contradictions and crises. But we shouldn't say "IT Won't" because when even if in partial ways it does, you have made yourself look a prick in front of the wc.

In addition, the Programme has to be based around workers themselves having control of the process whereas the aganda and discussion is in fact always framed around the bourgeois state undertaking or co-ordinating action. Similar to the introduction of New Technology Agreements that some unions negotiated, but we ought to try to make them have teeth.

Finally, we should not let the anti-growth agenda go unquestioned. Socialists are not in favour of growth for growths sake, on the contrary we want to utilise resources rationally so that growth is a groth of real use-values not simply a growth of exchange value. However, there is a strong flavour of blaming developing economies, and demanding they slow their growth in order to protect the environment. Such an approach is a reflection of imperialism taken in its proper context as a system of worldwide capitalist economic relations within which operates a process of combined and unequal development.

We should demand the right of such nations to grow as much as we demanded in the past political independence for colonies. Indeed, we should campaign for and take action to bring about such development through action to divert resources back from the developed world to the developing world to facilitate the process. That is not without its dangers given the current weakness of the international Labour Movement, because for the same reasons Marx cautions workers against seeking state aid from the bourgeois state, it is possible for imperialist states to use such transfers as they do now to tie such countries to them economically. It has to be made clear that any such process has to be under international working class control and inspection with the books of all the capitalist parties being opened.

Arthur Bough

CO2 Levels

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have apparently risen 21% in the last century. But, during the Depression of the 1930s, when human CO2 emissions dropped 30%, CO2 in the atmosphere continued to rise. Maybe human activity really doesn’t contribute that much to global CO2 levels. Even during the Eocene era, there was three
to four times as much CO2 in the atmosphere.

Arthur Bough

CO2 levels are the result of human activity


I don’t think your post is very helpful.

The IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change said:
“The global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from a pre-industrial value of about 280 ppm to 379 ppm in 2005. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores. The annual carbon dioxide concentration growth rate was larger during the last 10 years (1995–2005 average: 1.9 ppm per year), than it has been since the beginning of continuous direct atmospheric measurements (1960–2005 average: 1.4 ppm per year) although there is year-to-year variability in growth rates.”

It concluded that, “the global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture”. Increases in temperature are “very likely” due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activity.

I think there are lags between CO2 emissions and warming – and anyway the contraction in the Depression was relatively brief – which might explain your point.

In any case, we’re better off accepting the reality of climate change and developing a programme to mitigate warming than on this kind of speculation.


Breif reply


I agree that it would be nice if the reforms could be made Transitional. As socialists we should argue for that. But it does not seem to me necessary that they should be. Other reforms have benefited the working class without them being transitional.

On the technological developments. Many of these developments already are being invested in by capitalist enterprises. Capitalism HAS in the developed world invested heavily in cleaning up the damage to the environment it has caused in the past. The latest evidence being the return of otters to the Thames and their likely return shortly even in to Central London.

The Steorn website on their product is here. I understand that because it is not possible to patent a perpetual motion machine they have had to patent separate aspects of their invention each of which have been independently tested by scientists.

On the others the development of solar furnaces is already happening, and energy being produced from them.

Finally, you may be right that all of these things will not prevent global warming. I think so because I think the warming is mostly caused by things outside man’s own actions. But as Lomborg points out the huge sums being proposed for environmental projects would only hold back the rise in sea levels by just six years. I think he has a point that these huge sums would be better spent helping less developed economies develop, and thereby to have the same benefits from that development in terms of better use of energy and resources that developed economies have had. Capital certainly will not volunteer that unless as in the past it is tied to trade deals etc. That is a good reason to argue for it.

Arthur Bough

Catastophism and Green Politics


Could I point you first in the direction of my post here:

The reality of US Politics

which looks at the nature of the political blocs made by US Greens.

I am not averse to the idea of forming temporary agreeemnts with Greens on specific issues, but I think electoral blocs are just Popular Frontism.

I believe that Trotsky was right that socialists should always tell the truth. The truth is that capitalism is solving many of the environmental problems. Is some of that to do with economic development? Yes, of course it is, that is entirely the point. Do socialists need a crisis - environmental or economic - to justify arguing for socialism? I hope not!

Capitalism grew up within the womb of feudalism not because feudalism experienced some economic crisis. Feudalism could have probably continued almost indefinitely, or at least some form of natural economy. Capitalism supplanted it, not because of a crisis within feudalism, but because capitalism proved a more efficient system of production, and because the Capitalist class were able to accumulate social power. Socialism too is developing in similar manner. The working class has become economically more powerful, and socially more powerful, not just because of its huge numbers but because of its organisation, because of bouregois democracy and parliamentarism. Capitalism itself has had to adopt socialistic measures in order to survive.

In fact it is the further development of that process which should give the greatest hope for the working class raising its class conscioussness, and transforming itself into the owners of the means of production, and thereby the dominant social class. It is onthe contrary periods of crisis when that process tends to get thrown into reverse such as the 1930's and the 1980's.

It is not the existence of those crises which mechanically produce a revolt - though there is some suggestion of that approach in Leninism its true - but the existence of such periodic crises which enable Marxists to point the workers in the direction of the need to become the owners of the means of production, to repalce the market with more conscious control of the economy, and so on. It is possible that udner some circumstances this might erupt as some social conflict like 1917, but the chances of such producing "socialism" I think are remote.

On the contrary I beleive Marx's perspective of the working class raising itself up by seeing the need to become itself the owner of the means of production via, the extension of worker co-operatives, of the utilisation of credit to buy up collectively public companies, and nowadays to use the vast financial resources of their pension funds, as a far more effective means of moving forward, rather than waiting for some crises to provoke the working class into a rebellion, only to put in power a revolutionary party that necessarily becomes separated from the class.

We should not become reformists, but nor should we turn oursleves into the political equivalent of gambling addicts waiting for that one big score that will resolve everything.

Arthur Bough

Losing the plot

An article in Counter Punch in 2004 said that Kovel supported John Kerry in the US presidential election that year. The intro reads:

"Life is full of bitter ironies! Behold the spectacle of Joel Kovel, who loudly proclaims his credentials as a Marxist socialist, who ran against Ralph Nader for the Green nomination from the left in 2000, claiming that Nader failed to enunciate a sufficiently radical critique of the capitalist system--this same Kovel is out of the closet as a cheerleader for the prowar, pro-Patriot Act, pro-WTO and NAFTA John Kerry--loyal servant of . . . capitalism!!!!"

If that's true, Kovel has not just missed the point about class politics - but completely lost the plot.


Dealing With reality

Duncan I’m sorry you found my points misleading. The fact that Global Warming is affecting fish in the sea, and other aspects of the environment does not change the fact that capitalism HAS largely cleaned up the effects of the Industrial Revolution. It seems to me saying capitalism WILL NOT do so is to provide a hostage to fortune. I much prefer to say that as socialists we should not count on it doing so. As far as Global Warming is concerned of course, whilst scientists are pretty much agreed that it is a fact, they certainly are not agreed that it is the result of human activity.

I think that if you are not careful you end up tying yourself into a position where you have to deny reality in order to maintain the position you have taken. In fact, your argument in relation to the Democratic Revolution is a case in point. You seem to start from the argument of Permanent Revolution that the Democratic revolution is not possible without socialist revolution, and end up denying that therefore in all those places where Socialist Revolution has not occurred the Democratic revolution has not been completed either. It is the position adopted by the various “idiot anti-imperialists” as the AWL label them who have to try to pretend that in some mystical way countries which have gone through the Democratic revolution, have won national independence etc. are in some way semi-colonies, not really independent, nor really democratic. It is nonsense. The reality is that in many countries independence has been gained, in many countries pre-capitalist, militarist, Bonapartist or colonial regimes have been replaced with bourgeois democracy – and the transformation has largely been achieved as a consequence of economic development, and the interest of the capitalist class both internally and externally to establish such democratic polities as the best environment within which capital accumulation can occur.

As for Popular Fronts you have misrepresented what I said, which was,

“I am not averse to the idea of forming temporary agreeemnts with Greens on specific issues, but I think electoral blocs are just Popular Frontism”

I have in fact argued that the left largely misunderstands the concept of Popular Front. What Trotsky meant, and what he took from Lenin - read “Two tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution”, is that it is quite permissible for socialists to make temporary alliances with parties that represent other classes. Such are not Popular Fronts, and partly for the reason you cite, the individual members of these other parties at a rank and file level are often workers, or at worst peasants or petit-bouregois, and such activity enables the socialists to try to win them over. What is not permissible is the entering into a political bloc with such forces at some kind of Governmental or administrative level.

Arthur Bough

Is IT?

“How long did it take for capitalism to make good the ecological damage of the industrial revolution? In the UK and US, for example, tighter laws on air and water polution were introduced only in the 1960s -- more than a century later.”

Capitalism introducd Local Government in the 19th century largely in order to implement Environmental Laws and improvements. Yes, as socialists would expect capitalism does this inefficiently, it does it it sometimes as a by-product rather than as a direct objective of policy, and it largely subordinates such action to the drive for profit maximisation. But pollution and environmental damage have a cost for capitalism too. Capital has for a long time taken a much longer term view of profit maximisation and capital accumulation than just what maximises profit here and now. As I said we should not COUNT on capitalism dealing with environemntal problems, but simply saying CAPITALISM WILL NOT DO IT, posing socialism as a maximum programme solution does not seem to me a sensible course.

“As for the opinion of the scientific community, I guess you are being a 'devil's advocate'. I am sure that we both agree that the overwhelming weight of scientific and political opinion is that the pace and direction of climate change is principally determined by human action.”

Actually, no I don’t believe that is true. In fact, the scientific evidence seems to point in the opposite direction, that Man’s impact is in fact quite marginal compared to natural sources of CO2 and other emmissions into the atmosphere. In fact, the scientific evidence from the fossil record etc. is that past periods of global warming similar to the present one have preceded rather than superceded increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“More importantly, I think we will both agree that only global mass action led by the working class and its allies could pressure the capitalist class to make the structural changes needed.”

If capitalism decided that making such changes were seriously detrimental to its interests in maximising profit, then yes I agree. But I do not accept the premise. Rising costs are already forcing capitalism to look to alternative fuels. If the production of alternative clean energy becomes profitable then Capital will do what it always does and search out that profit. If rising costs of carbon based fuels makes it more profitable for businesses to employ alternative fuel sources it will do so. In respect of other environmental problems I think you overstate the extent to which the resolution of these problems represents an actual challenge to the rule of Capital. What Capital cannot withstand is a shift in the balance of class forces such that workers are able to prevent Capital making sufficient profit. The environmental measures undertaken already prove that is not the result. In fact, Capitalism has simply established an environmental industry to take advantage of the profit sources created. Provided each firm is presented with a level playing field then capitalism can quite easily accommodate such reforms in the same way that it has absorbed other reforms that socialise the working class into an acceptance of capitalism as a system that responds to their needs.

“On the democratic revolution -- how far have the gains of the democratic revolution been accomplished in the capitalist countries? The UK is a monarchy. In the US, only billionaires can participate fully in the political culture. Indeed, this is exactly what Marx warned about when he used the term 'permanent revolution', that the capitalist class will not carry the revoltuion forward to establish liberty, equality and solidarity but will go only as far as it need to consolidate its own power. The national bourgoisies mave have won legal independence, but they have not instituted the democracy that democrats fought for.”

I accept that these democracies are flawed, and they are certainly not socialist democracies. But the point about the Democratic revolution, which Marx understood perfectly well was not that it established socialist democracy, but bouregois democracy. Has bouregois democracy been established, yes it has. The limitation of democracy in the examples you give is not a function of some necessary incompleteness of the bourgeois revolution. The UK is a CONSTITUTIONAL Monarchy. If say the LP decided to abolish it, and won an election on that basis, there would probably be some ruckus, but my guess is that in the end they would go rather than risk a Civil War. France is not a Monarchy. IN the US yes, the political system is dominated by billionaires, but ordinary workers have the RIGHT to vote to organise etc. IN short the bourgeoisie exerts political control over the state, that is what the Democratic Revolution seeks to achieve.

On Alliances with Greens. Again you seem to misunderstand, and certainly misrepresent what I said. Of course it is permissible to form temporary agreements with parties that represent other classes for the purpose of achieving specific aims. What is important about making electoral blocs or forming governmental coalitions with Green Parties is their political programme. It is that programme which determines which class they represent. A Green Party with a bourgeois programme, but which has a largely working class base is one which socialists would seek to work with at local level, to work with for specific purposes, precisely because such work would enable socialists to attempt to win those workers away from that bourgeois Party – I am speaking here of conditions where in fact a real Workers Party exists albeit one which itself had a bourgeois programme. If that Green Party was itself the main Workers Party then yes socialists would work within it, and try to achieve the same goal, i.e. to educate the workers within it to transform its programme, or to win them to an alternative new Workers Party, much as socialists id with the Liberal Party prior to the establishment of the Labour Party.

But socialists could no more form a Governmental or electoral bloc with such a bouregois Party than they could sit in the Government of the Labour Party or any other Workers Party with a bourgeois programme, for the simple reason that to do so would necessarily involve them in action against the working class.

Arthur Bough

I'm Amazed That You're Amazed


I'm amazed that you are amazed that the statement capitalism has largely cleaned up the effects of the Industrial Revolution is Eurocentric. Clearly, it has to be Eurocentric for the fairly logical reason that the Industrial Revolution was a European phenomena!!!

I agree entirely that western companies engaged in industrial activities which can be dirty and polluting have relocated to other parts of the world where environmental controls are not so stringent, and where they can, therefore, make more profits. But this does not change the fact that in those capitalist countries where the Industrial Revolution took place, capitalism has largely cleaned up the effects of that Revolution. Secondly, the same processes of industrial development and - partly the ability on the back of that - the introduction of envirmental controls which have occurred in the West increasingly become open to developing economies. In fact, that was part of my argument. If the huge sums being pumped into the Green Industry were actually diverted to econokmic development in developing economies the same economic processes which have improved the environment in the West would kick in there too.

Of course, as socialists we should have no reason to beleive that would happen. The Green Industry is important for Western capitalism. It is the source of increasing volumes of profits through the catering of the needs of the Middle Class for organic this or that, in the provision of huge state subsidies to enterprises enagaged in research and development and the introduction of new products etc. That is far more profitable for western capital than providing Capital for raising millions in the rest of the world out of poverty, and thereby enabling them to make far more efficient - in economic and energy terms - choices.

As I have said above in reply to Duncan there is certainly no disputing the fact of global warming, but there is certainly dispute over the extent to which it is due to human activity. The question, moreover is, to what extent the resources devoted to trying to reduce that global warming through various environmental methods are a useful utilisation of those resources compared to the utilisation of those resources to improve the economic condiiton of a large part of the world's population.

The fact is that on any projection the effect of the environmental action is likely to be minimal. By contrast were people in say Bangladesh to be raised to a per capita standrad of living equal to say Britain, it is quite likely that they would be able to take action that would largely overcome the effects of rising sea levels. Increasing prosperity for such countries would mean that they would be able to respond to the companies such as the one you describe above by imposing more stringent environmental controls etc. Millions of people in Asia and Africa who curently have to burn large amounts of dung etc. that puts large volumes of particulates into the air, could instead have the resources to introduce clean fuels, solar power etc.

The arguments over energy intensity are just modern day Malthusianism. Given sufficient investment, and the introduction of the new generation of technologies that have not yet come properly on stream there is no reason why energy per unit of GDP cannot be reduced massively, and reduced not just in the West, but more importantly in developing economies too - perhaps more so as they invest in new production facilities more heavily.

Finally, a lesson was given by the New Scientist a few months ago. I have myself raised the issue of the North Atlantic Conveyor - the Gulf Stream. The argument was raised that Global warming was increasing the amount of fresh water around Greenland diluting the salt content of the water, and thereby threatening the Gulf Stream - the idea in "The day After Tomorrow". It was suggested that this would cause a huge freeze of Western Europe and the eastern Seaboard of the US. Some concern was expressed when scientists reported that in fact a 30% reduction in the flow of the North Atlantic Conveyor had occurred. However, New Scientist later reporte that in fact these findings could not be replicated by other scientists who could identify no such reduction. New Scientist went on to add that even were such a reduction to occur, climatologists are not at all agreed on what the consequences of such a cessation of the Gulf Stream would be, but they were pretty much agreed on the fact that its effect would not at all be as catastrophic as had been suggested.

Arthur Bough

The Science


I didn't say I was reflecting mainsream scientific opinion. What I did say, and what I continue to maintain is that whilst Global Warming is undoubtedly a fact, scientific opinion is not at all unanimous in believing that it is due to the activities of Man. The recent eruptions of Mount Etna have probably put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than several months of Man's activities.

I do not determine my ideas by being on the opposite side to whatever George Bush or the energy companies say. That unfortunately, seems to be the "idiot-environmentalism" than some engage in just as often the same people engage in "idiot anti-imperialism".

On warming and CO2 levels it is actually a fact that paleo-climatologists have discovered that in each previous Global Warming CO2 levels rose AFTER not before the warming.

It is also necessary to be careful about the climate of scientific opinion. There has in fact been some concern that one reason for the consensus of academic papers is that there is evience that scientists with a dissenting position have simply been turned down research grants. An interesting observation can be gleaned from the debate on the BBC website with those opposing the views of Lomborg like David Bellamy. Lomborg using UN data demonstrates that in fact the area of forestation is increasing. Bellamy in his reply says I can't accept this is is true. But he gives no facts to show it isn't true just a statement of opinion. That is the problem the consensus has been so overwhelming in presenting a picture of doom and gloom that everyone takes it for granted that its true whatever the actual facts.

Arthur Bough

I Disagree

I disagree on two fundamental levels.

I don't think we can afford basically to say capitalism will not provide the solution so only socialism can provide the answer. We have to fight for reforms here and now that protect the interets of the working class, and which throw the responsibility on to capitalism not the working class.

Secondly, I simply think you and other contributors are wrong about capitalism not having the necessary incentives to do anything about the environment - I don't say climate change becuase I beleive that will happen anyway. Sweden already has an island which is completely self-sufficent with renewable energy. An Irish company Steorn is patenting eleemnts of a systemm which will apprently defy the laws of thermodynamics and produce more energy than is put into it. One company has developed a membrane that desalinates sea water at very little cost, and does not like modern desalination techniques require huge amounts of energy, another company has developed a huge upright cylinder with fans inside it so that rising hot air turns the fans. Its situated in Australia and the sun provides effectively continual wind power through it. In Spain huge mirrors are being used to create heat for power generation, and were this replicated say in the sahara or other deserts a huge amouynt of pwoer could be generated.

New technologies such as Phillips LED lights use hardly any power. Biotechnology and gene technology developments mean that bio-fuels and energy crops will almost certainly be developed that produce cheap energy, and possibly little pollution. Huge savings can be made in energy by firms allowing their employees to work from home rather than travel to offices that then have to be heated and lit. The oil companies are themselves already investing heavily in many of these technologies.

There is huge potential for profit growth in many of these new industries, and when firms begin to develop them on a lrger industrial scale costs and efficieny will improve thereby enabling a yet wider take up of them. This has happened with almost every new technology. Just look at calculators or computers.

Arthur Bough

Warmin and CO2


I think its possible to accept that there is both climate change, and an increase in greenhouse gases (including those resulting from human activity) without concluding that climate change is the result of human activity.

The worst greenhouse gases are in fact not CO2 but methane and other gases such as sulphur dioxide. Large amounts of these greenhouse gases are put in the atmosphere for reasons totally unrelated to human activity, for example the natural carbon cycle, and the eruption of volcanoes, changes in the sea which is the largest absorbent of CO2 etc. The comment about agriculture does not point out that a large amount of methane for example is put into the atmosphere as a result of cows and other animals farting.

There is a lag between warming and CO2 levels, but the lag is an increase in CO2 levels following warming not vice versa. Part of the reason for recent warming also seems to be a result of the improvement of air quality, which has reduced global dimming.

I am not at all opposed to the idea that we should adopt demands for improvements in the environment, for the simple reason that the environemnt immediately affects the living conditions of workers. However, if climate change is likely to continue whatever measures are taken to reduce human CO2 emissions then it seems to me that a strategy based solely on reducing CO2 emissions is if not pointless a diversion from the strategy that needs to be adopted, a strategy that focusses instead on raising millions of people around the globe from crushing poverty, and thereby enables the kind of environmental improvements that richer nations have introduced to be introduced elsewhere, a strategy that seeks to bring about such change and improvements within the context of sustainable growth, and which therefore, can only be consistently developed on the basis of socialism.

Arthur Bough

From politics to the chapel


It’s a pity you can’t represent the AWL’s view accurately, as it would make for a better discussion. We had a kitsch-Trot sectarian member years ago who behaved in the same way.

First, we didn’t support Yeltsin. Read The Fate of Boris Yeltsin or the articles like “Yeltsin has no answers” in Socialist Organiser.

I am opposed to the international labour movement forming an alliance with the Cuban government, because it is Stalinist and denies Cuban workers the space to organise. I am opposed to an alliance with the Venezuelan government because I believe Chavez is a bourgeois Bonaparte who is cutting across independent working class politics in Venezuela. I do think the Zapatistas politics are useless for Mexican workers – as the Oaxaca struggle has demonstrated once again. But I’m not opposed to Mexican workers allying with them on some issues, such as indigenous rights.

An alliance with the Green Party in Britain is different from working with women, black or student campaigns. The Green Party counterposes itself to working class representation – both to the Labour Party and to other socialist candidates. Nor are Greens per se oppressed people fighting back. Womens, black, LGBT or student campaigns have to be assessed on their individual merits – nowhere do I rule out alliances with them.

On the substantial issue of Kovel and the eco-socialism, the manifesto suffers from the same deficiency as his talk. Capitalism is defined as the problem, and socialism the solution – but there is no mention of the working class as the essential agent of transformation. I think the manifesto is also soft on Stalinism – something else that was clear from Kovel’s talk. That’s why I wouldn’t sign it.

I don’t underestimate the threat posed by climate change and I’m in favour of a wide ranging discussion of its implications for socialist politics. However I’m opposed to the kind of political collapse the ISG has undergone over two decades away from working class politics – but then you probably know a lot about that already.


Environmental Health


In terms of Environmental Health I think you make my point for me. I didn't say Local Government in the 19th century undid the damage of the Industrial Revolution. But the main reason the bourgeoisie promoted Local Government was precisely in order to advance Environmental Health, which was initially almost the entire function of Local Government. It did, however, largely clean up the water and sewage systems eradicating diseases like typhus and cholera which had plagued humanity for centuries before the advent of Capitalism or the Industrial Revolution.

And yes if you ask any old person, or I can tell you from my own experience, air quality is incomparably better today than when I was a child, let alone 100 years ago when people regularly died from the peasoupers in London. That is my point, capitalism HAS made huge improvements in the environment. Partly, it has arisen due to the natural inclinations of Capital the move away from expensive fossil fuels like Coal, into cleaner fuels, and in order to reduce its own energy costs to boost profits the introduction of more efficient fuel burning technologies. But is is also partly the result of the fact that growing prosperity means that Capital is better able to bear the costs of cleaning up the environment, is able to respond to the demands of the working class for a better environment in which to live, and thereby as with many other reforms it accedes to is able to better socialise the working class into acceptance of the system.

Arthur Bough

CO2 Emissions and New Technology


Yes CO2 emmissions continue to rise, but the main reason for the rise is the phenomenal growth of the economies of China and India. BUt again this backs up my argument. These countries because of their stage of development are using the cheapest fuels sources at their disposal - just as Britain and Europe first used Wood, then peat or coal - with little regard for the environmental cost, for the simple reason that their main goal is development to catch up with the West. But already China is looking to invest heavily in clean coal technologies, it is investing now heavily in water technologies to clean up its water supply, and sewage as an item on CNBC demonstrated tonight - and only partly due to the coming Olympics.

The fact is that the technologies that will make alternative energy supplies cheap, and which will reduce energy demand e.g. the switch over to LED lighting, the use of biotechnology and genetics to engineer proteins and enzymes alongside high output energy crops have hardly begun to be developed on an industrial scale. As Lenin points out in his dismissal of the theory of diminishing returns in his reply to the critics of Kautsky and Marx over Agriculture, diminishing returns only applies when the the Capital being added is just more of the same. BUt technology is dynamic, the Capital does not remain quantitively the same it goes through huge leaps forward. At this stage of the beginning of the up leg of the Long Wave the base technologies developed over the last 25 years are only just beginning to find applications. The next 20 years will see their explosion into new products and techniques.

Arthur Bough



You have partly answered your question. Had the Netherlands been as poor as Bangladesh it would never have been able to undertake the reclamation works it has done, and thereby provide itself with very fertile farming land. The Netherlands as I understand it does not accept that it will lose all of the land reclaimed even in the worst scenario of rising sea levels. The point is that if Bangladesh were as rich as the Netherlands it could today be udnertaking similar action to protect its population. But that is just one scenario. Another is that were Bangladesh more prosperous, more economically developed its people rather than relying on subsistence agriculture in adverse conditions might instead be employed further inland away from rising sea levels suitably protected in other types of industries.

The fact is that even if the £50 billion of expenditure proposed in Kyoto were to work it would only delay the rise in sea levels by just 6 years. The argument put forward by Lomborg, and its one I find at least interesting, is that were this money used to raise people out of poverty a much better use would be made of the money.

Capitalism is unlikely to agree because its probably not in its interest - unless the economic developmnet in such countries had positive knock on effects for the West - whereas £50 billion in contracts for environemtnal works will almost certainly go to western companies.

Arthur Bough

The Democratic Revolution

The Democratic revolution certainly was to establish the dictatorship of Capital. The watchword of Liberty - Freedom - was as Marx points out mostly concerned with that greatest of all freedoms Free Trade. In the US there have been Socialists elected to govern at various levels, and even challenged for the White House. The inability of the working class to make much headway politically in the US is nothing to do with the lack of democracy, but is to do with the inadequacy of Marxists in building a Workers Party.

Arthur Bough



I don't know how much clearer I can make this than I already have. If a workers party makes a temporary agreement with a party or parties over a specific issue that is not a Popular Front. If a bunch of Nazis start attacking a Muslim Community, and when I get there to oppose them members of the Local Conservative party turn up and start laying in to the fascists I am not going to say "We can't join in comrades, its a Popular Front."

But that is completely different than agreeing to form an electoral bloc with those Tories or with Liberals or with Greens if they have a bourgeois programme. An electoral bloc means the potential for winning the election, and then forming an administration. But the bourgeois parties in that administration are then bound to push forward policies and actions that are against the working class. An alliance necessarily means at the least sowing illusions in what that administration will do, and demobilising the necessary preparation of the working class to oppose it.

Arthur Bough

Retreat from class

It does not surprise me that socialist resistance are seeking an alliance of this kind. Their french counterparts the LCR had a flirtation with the CP, and resistance themselves have thrown themselves into projects like the socilist movement, and more recently Respect.
Doesn't this turn just reflect deep seated defeatism, rather than focus on the basics of working class organisation they search for a niche to market themselves to young radicals, after they've realised that being in respect and the socilist alliance just made them invisible

yes, up to a point, but...

Paul's assessment of Green Left politics and perhaps the trajectory of Socialist Resistance would seem to have something, but not everything.

He would seem to be correct in assuming that the place for class in Kovel's politics is limited, I have read his 'Enemy of Nature' and there is much to reccommend in it, but class politics is clearly not central in his thinking, as the dearth of index references to 'working class' would indicate and clearly there are problems in the hero worship of Castro, Chavez and the Zapatistas.

Socialist Resistance may be chasing the latest fad, however reading through some of their material on this question would indicate some thinking on the wider environmental subjectand the retention of class analysis.

Despite this there are valid criticisms of conventional Socialism and some likewise important questions we need to ask ourselves arising from ecosocialist arguements. Notions of super abundance that have been used as the basic arguement around pre-conditions for creating a socialist/post capitalist society are clearly problematic, especailly given sceintific understanding of the situation in terms of global resources/climate change.

We are all entangled in capitalism, every wage rise argued for in one sense peerpetuates the Market. Maybe we need to argue more about control and so on, but clearly we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.

By the way I don't think the term ecosocialist shoudl be used as an insult. I'm happy to call myself such and I much as Paul does see class politics as absolutely fundamental in creating a sane society beyond the path of suicude that capital seems to be taking us.

Opportunism and principle in eco-socialism

Dr.Suess is definitely correct to point to elements of opportunism in the LCR and Resistance responses to green issues. I went to the 2004 Marx Conference in Paris and attended a sessiion on eco-socialism addressed among others by leading LCR members Michael Loewy (the other signatory of the Eco-socialist Manifesto with Kovel) and Pierre Rousset. Rousset said something along the lines of "Today ecological issues are the big thing, just as in the 70's it was guerilla warfare in Latin America." None of this will be a surprise to those who have followed the history of the USFI current and its eternal search for the 'new mass vanguard'.

Perhaps instead we need to think more about why green politics seem to be more popular among young people than socialist politics.

Like Lawrie I have read 'The Enemy of Nature' and find much that is good in it - particularly the stuff on capitalism and ecology and the critique of the main mainstream green approaches. I agree with him that we need to face the challenge that eco-socialism poses to 'traditional' Marxism but I am not yet sure that eco-socialism provides the answers - certainly not Kovel's version which is ultimately mystical.

what is ecosocialism

Bruce talks about the challenges that ecosocialism poses to 'traditional Marxism'. But what is ecosocialism? The threat to the planet through a continuation of current economic patterns makes notions of socialism or barbarism all too vivid.

To me ecosocialism is a recognition of this, with an acceptance that we do not need to rely on turbo economics and super abundance to change society.

Frankly given current levels of technology, we don't have that option.

Kovel and eco-socialism

It would be helpful if comrades you have read Kovel's book would summarise his arguments. He said in the meeting a new, revised and expanded edition is to be published in the autumn - we should certainly look at it closely.

I think the problem with "eco-socialism" is that it is slippery. To say capitalism is the "enemy of nature" i.e. the cause of environmental crises is true, but very abstract and to some degree quite banal. Kovel actually said on Friday that capitalism had been around for millennia, not just a few centuries - which means he has a very different conception of capitalism to Marx (and to us). And by uncoupling the idea of capital exploiting wage labour from the agency of liberation, workers themselves, he has gravely misconceived the lines of a solution to these environmental concerns.

Of course, the scale of the threat posed by climate change means Marxists must look again at our analysis of the dynamics of capitalism and work out a programme to tackle the issues. I'm just not convinced that calling ourselves "eco-socialists" adds very much to these tasks.


workers' struggle

Paul says that we must look again at 'the dynamics of capitalism and work out a programme to tackle the issues'. Again no disagreement.

The issues unleashed by climate change do however change everything. The capitalists pray that technology can outstrip the damage they wreck, while in the meantime no cataclismic 'crash', 'slump' or major 'downturn' seems on the horizon for capital (this is not to say this will not happen)as envisioned by the Healyites or that I can remember from my time in Militant. it would seem that Capitalism is growing and developing and not about to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. That is until the contradictions of the effect on the environment push it over its own tipping point of global destruction. Until that time capital to continue.

What then is a strategy for socialism and Where does the movement come from? It would seem that in the interim period the growth of capital leaves open a hige space for a growth of reformism to go hand in hand with the development of a workers' movement. This is where it gets complicated, we support workers' struggle and see the demands in the here and now as leading to a more fully conscious mvt of the future, however it would seem to me that basic TU struggles are often intringsically bound up in the process of capitalist exchange (i.e over wage rises). Socialism needs to radically redraw the shape of economic activity, demand and in determining what and how we live. That requires a far higher level of political consciousnness than exists at the present time. How do we advance one inch if our basic practice involves just a perpetuating of the system?

I of course, love foreign holidays, wage rises and as am reluctant as any other worker to bow to any attempts to curb our quality of life or save the planet at our expense.

Hope that makes some sense. In a house full of screaming kids!

Catastrophism and strategy


I think you’ve swapped one form of catastrophism (i.e. capitalist collapse) for another (“global destruction”). From the IPCC models, it seems that the effects of climate change, especially beyond 2-3°C are large, and for some places like Bangladesh, Vietnam etc very destructive for large numbers of people – but not so huge as to destroy the conditions of existence of capitalism in most parts of globe. Intuitively, we would expect the bourgeoisie to relocate to places where it could continue to exploit, to make workers pay the costs etc – in order for the system to survive, albeit in modified form.

If I’m right (and I’m not trying to diminish the effects) – then I don’t think you can conclude that climate change “changes everything” – and not right now. Strategically, I don’t see that it changes our basic task of building up and rearming the labour movement to make it a force for socialism, since it is still true that the working class is the only social agent with the power and the interest to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a more progressive, and more sustainable socialist society.

Climate change certainly confirms the destructiveness of capitalism. It should spur our efforts to build a working class movement capable of halting the destruction. We certainly need to develop demands around which to agitate. But we should base ourselves on a sober assessment of the reality, not on a telescoped model of the apocalypse.


It is serious

I think you downplay the significance of the continuation of capitalism and the potential effects on the planet and our very survival as a species. Of course this will be a protracted process, but using your logic - if it is something that can be got round why bother with Socialism?

Capitalism is developing economically, detructively and unsustainably, its growth does not adequatley measure long term goals or basic human happiness.

It will be workers and the poor who pay first. Climate change needs to be central to our perspectives.


I think its important for Marxists not to fall into the trap of Malthusianism. I was watching the programme on the TV the other night by the guy (whose name I can't remember) who wrote "The Skeptical Environmentalist". He related how he had been an ardent Green until he read a book that challenged many of the assumptions. He rejected it at first until he checked the facts himself.

As he pointed out in fact things are getting better.

1. Air quality in most of the developed world is better.

2. Water quality is better including fish now swimming in rivers they have not done for years.

One of the main reasons has been growing economies, the ability to put money into improving the environment. Capitalism has an incentive to maxiise profits, and where expensive fuels or other things detrimental to the environment conlflict with that it acts to find an alternative. Malthus' predictions were wrong ebcause as Marx pointed out he failed to recognise the role that increasing amounts of Capital played in raising production. More Capital intensive production is not only usually more efficient, but also more fuel efficient.

As he pointed out a better use of the billions propsed for various environmental schemes would be to divert those resources to improving the economies of poor countries, and poor people. Today the Energy Watchdog has proposed giving favourable tarriffs to poor people. As their spokesman pointed out poorer people actually pay more at the moment because they have inefficient heating systems, and do not get the advantages of paying by DD etc. But this measure is totally misguided. The answer is to provide poorer people with FREE decent heating systems, FREE insulation etc. to their homes. In poor countries this is magnified as the Skeptical Environemntalist pointed out with people burning dung and other fuels that pump out particulates not just into the atmosphere in general, but into their own homes and lungs.

I think if we are not careful we will allow bouregois apologists to divert everyone down the track that the real problem is the environment, when the real problem is Capitalism. If we are not careful we are alos likely to end up looking for some other form of catastrophism to repalce the long awaited economc catastrophe of Capitalism which never materialised.

The fact is that Capitalism HAS in Britain and other developed countries largely remedied the huge environmental damage done by the Industrial Revolution, it HAS vastly reduced energy usage per unit of GDP, and when it is in its interests to do so it is likely to carry this process much further. Already processes are being developed for much more efficient energy production, and for resolving other problems such as water supply.

The argument is not that Capitalism cannot or even will not find these solutions, but that it cannot be relied on to do so, that it will do so only when it is profitable, and will do so in the way it normally proceeds in resolving economic crises, i.e. by fits and starts, repeated crises, and by placing the cost on the backs of the working class.

Arthur Bough

Schemes and schemas

One interesting aspect to Kovel's book is to be found in the introduction, which highlights some facts and figures in relation to contemporary capitalism including species loss and continued use of polluting industries.

While it is true that some schemes run by NGOs and so on enable levels of sustainable development in isolation and while it is true that fish may swim in the Thames now where they did not before, this can be put down to changes in economic structure. Overall human economic activity does not factor in the costs of climate change.

Malthusianism would seem to be a red herring, I certainly am not a Malthusian nor even are (I believe) the majority of the leftists inside the Greens. Large parts of the world cry out for development and the First world cries out for restructuring.

It is not about diverting 'eco'schemes to development, rather ensuring all development achieves proper environmental and social benchmarks, which incidently is where much of the trade union struggle of the future is likely to be.

The whole point of this discussion 'is' that capitalism is increasingly seen as the reason for the environmental crisis. Without wanting to bow before green liberalism, Greens and ecosocialists in particular, grasping at this conclusion surely demand our solidarity and interaction.

Schemes and schemas

One interesting aspect to Kovel's book is to be found in the introduction, which highlights some facts and figures in relation to contemporary capitalism including species loss and continued use of polluting industries.

While it is true that some schemes run by NGOs and so on enable levels of sustainable development in isolation and while it is true that fish may swim in the Thames now where they did not before, this can be put down to changes in economic structure. Overall human economic activity does not factor in the costs of climate change.

Malthusianism would seem to be a red herring, I certainly am not a Malthusian nor even are (I believe) the majority of the leftists inside the Greens. Large parts of the world cry out for development and the First world cries out for restructuring.

It is not about diverting 'eco'schemes to development, rather ensuring all development achieves proper environmental and social benchmarks, which incidently is where much of the trade union struggle of the future is likely to be.

The whole point of this discussion 'is' that capitalism is increasingly seen as the reason for the environmental crisis. Without wanting to bow before green liberalism, Greens and ecosocialists in particular, grasping at this conclusion surely demand our solidarity and interaction.