Contribution to GTI Roundtable Do Red and Green Mix?

Ashish Kothari

While I concur with Michael Löwy’s assessment of the fundamental flaws of capitalism, and much of what he says regarding the vision of ecosocialism, I feel that (a) on some aspects one needs to go further, and (b) at least one crucial element is missing. Let me elaborate.

(1) The notion of democracy in its Western liberal sense needs to be squarely challenged, for it has spawned competitive, lowest-common-denominator politics across the world. Löwy mentions that “representative democracy must be complemented...and Internet-enabled direct democracy.” Given the crucial failures of the former, I think any fundamental paradigm shift needs to stress the centrality of direct, radical, or deep democracy (In India, we would call it Swaraj) in which communities and collectives at local level are the beginning and the most important point of decision-making, with larger circles of decision-making emanating from and accountable to these. This also necessitates the reconceptualization of current political boundaries, including nation-state ones, to give centrality to peoples of the world. Without this, ecosocialism runs the risk of going the former state socialist way, a model that Löwy clearly rejects.

(2) In relation to the above, the ecosocialist notion of the state also needs to be spelled out further. Will there be a state, and if so, what would be its nature? How would one avoid concentration of power in its hands? Which makes me think, why not eco-communism? A society in which power is flatly distributed, where each of us is an equal part of decision-making regarding the commons in our collectives/communities, would that not come closer to anarchist or Marxist notions of communism (which incidentally would also be closer to the Gandhian notion of Swaraj, mentioned above)? By using socialism instead of communism, are Löwy and other ecosocialists explicitly saying that we need to continue to have some kind of centralized state?

(3) It is not clear why ecosocialism would still promote “development,” even if it is a “new development paradigm.” If, by development, one means constant economic unfolding, the consequent material and energy flows remain ever expanding. In this sense, “sustainable development” is an oxymoron, and it is not clear how a “qualitative transformation of development” would help avoid this (unless one believes in the myth that one can effectively and globally decouple growth from material/energy flows). Instead, the radical alternatives of “well-being” (called many different things in many different movements and cultures) need to be embraced by ecosocialists.

(4) It is puzzling why there is no mention of the spiritual aspects of transformation and just, sustainable living. Perhaps this derives from the sidelining of this crucial part of life in Marx’s writings (though I confess to not knowing enough about them to say so conclusively)? For many Eastern/Southern thinkers and practitioners such as Gandhi, spiritual (not necessarily religious) transformation is one core of the path towards achieving peace with the earth and with each other, including for a point that Löwy repeatedly stresses, the reduction in consumerism, or to the “civilizational transformation” he also mentions.

(5) Finally, while Löwy does mention attempts to synthesize ecosocialism with ecofeminism (and commendably acknowledges that ecosocialism is one of many revolutionary movements), it seems to me that the paper largely puts the blame of the current crises on capitalism. Given that patriarchy and masculinity are much older than capitalism (and may indeed be amongst its bases), any new paradigm needs to squarely tackle these structural forces (as also racism, casteism, and other forms of systemic discrimination and exploitation), and integrate such struggles within itself, rather than rely on aligning with other movements that do the same. In the transformational paradigms called “ecoswaraj” or “radical ecological democracy” emerging from movements in India, the attempt is to integrate political, economic, social, cultural, and ecological spheres of transformation, based on a set of ethical or spiritual principles and values (equality/equity, diversity, dignity, commons and cooperation, peace, non-violence, autonomy, etc.). At least the essence of all elements of justice and ecological wisdom needs to be within each such paradigm, even as they may differ from each other on some ideological, strategic, and practical grounds.

Ashish Kothari
Ashish Kothari is a member of the core team of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives, a coordinator of Vikalp Sangam in India, and co-editor of Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.

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

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