Contribution to GTI Roundtable Do Red and Green Mix?

Alex Khasnabish

I very much appreciate Michael Löwy’s essay on ecosocialism and the ensuing discussion. I want to point out one dimension of Löwy’s proposals for a red-green alliance that I think needs to be considered: the issue of the state.

I agree entirely that there simply is no future for humanity on this planet that is capitalist. Either our struggles for radical social change will carve out alternatives to capitalism (alternatives that are obviously already present, not just in the form of novel experiments but in so much of the daily, collaborative labor that people do for and with each other that capitalism exists parasitically on top of), or we face a future that will only double down on the grotesque inequality, exclusion, and violence that marks our world now. The richest will escape to ever more exclusive enclaves while they can, and, ultimately, even those will be unable to withstand the kinds of climate and social crises unleashed by our capitalist industrial civilizational model as it caves in on itself. There is no half measure achievable here, no compromise with capital that can be worked out in hopes of making things survivable for a little longer. Like the welfare state before it, “green capitalism” is, at best, a temporary ceasefire declared in the interests of those who are busy hoarding power and wealth aimed at pacifying truly radical movements for social change and social justice.

But I think the one point where I am left wondering with respect to Löwy’s paper is the seeming presumption that the nation-state will remain the unit of organization and transition beyond our apocalyptic capitalist present. While the argument for a red-green alliance makes absolute sense to me, the dimension I would add is that this alliance needs to incorporate an anti-authoritarian and, I would argue, a non-state dimension as well. As a unit of organization, the nation-state arises alongside capitalism to protect property rights, discipline and control the masses, and subsidize and protect in myriad ways capitalist accumulation and wealth-taking. In other modern moments, the nation-state has been occupied by avowedly socialist and communist forces that end up putting the bureaucratic apparatus of the state to work over and against “the masses” and always in the interests of “the revolution.” The outcomes have been predictably nightmarish. Anarchists have long identified the state as an inherently coercive and violent institution, and many of the most inspirational and effective revolutionary movements in recent years (the Zapatistas, the Kurdish struggle for autonomy in Rojava) have repudiated the seizure of the state as a necessary or desirable means to a revolutionary end. Green anarchist approaches like those of Murray Bookchin also resonate here, as do a variety of anti-capitalist, non-state solutions offered by a host of radical Indigenous struggles, especially in the Americas. We don’t need singular models for our resistance and alternatives, but as points of inspiration, these are, I think, amongst the very best and most valuable in pointing the way toward collective liberation.

Löwy’s paper advocates for significant direct democratic planning in this transition away from capitalist ecocide, but I would push this still further by suggesting that while we may indeed need to work within the state form for the time being, the longer-term horizon of human (and other species) survival is not only an anti-capitalist one but a non-state one as well. We cannot afford to be conscripted by the lure of efficacy; the kind of authoritarian power mobilized by the state apparatus is not a pathway to liberation. The global scale of the climate crisis often means radical ecological thinking bends away from these collectively liberated possibilities since the apparatus of the state seems so necessary to implement the solutions necessary to confront this phenomenon. I would certainly grant that radical movements need to be willing to work nimbly within the spaces available at this critical time; there is no utility in occupying a politically pure position. But at the same time, and to quote an old slogan coined by the Industrial Workers of the World, we need to be nimble and adaptable using the tools and opportunities available to us while remaining resolutely committed to “building a new world in the shell of the old.” Familiar forms of hierarchy and domination that have served the ruling classes will not be the pathway for just, democratic, and peaceful futures.

Alex Khasnabish
Alex Khasnabish is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University and co-author of The Radical Imagination: Social Movement Research in the Age of Austerity.

Cite as Alex Khasnabish, contribution to GTI Roundtable "Do Red and Green Mix?," Great Transition Initiative (December 2018),

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