A contribution to an exchange on Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future
John Bellamy Foster
When reading Michael Löwy’s “Why Ecosocialism,” I found myself in almost complete agreement (although, I would admit, I was disturbed by Löwy’s misreading of the urgency of the climate emergency). It is true I would have said some things differently, and there are many things that I think might have been included and that are vital which are left out of his short piece. Nevertheless, I would be happy generally to have Löwy’s statement stand as an extension of my own 2015 piece for GTI, “Marxism and Ecology: Towards a Great Transition.” The reason is that for me he presents the revolutionary perspective that is needed today. While it is certainly possible to go beyond what he has to say (there is not enough on materialism, embodiment, racism, gender, social reproduction, imperialism, Indigenous peoples, depeasantization, expropriation, nonhuman species, and many other core issues in his short statement), such attempts to "go beyond” or deepen his analysis would clearly be welcomed by Löwy himself and would easily fit into and ground his vision. Perhaps I have also been affected by the fact that I have just been reading his stunning Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On History.”
Critics of Löwy’s perspective fall into two groups: those who, for various reasons, often described as pragmatic, would prefer a Lesser Transition, and those that seek to chart a revolutionary Great Transition—in some respects more revolutionary than Löwy himself managed to present, though consistent with his vision of ecosocialism. First and foremost, among those who, seek a Lesser Transition I would include Herman Daly, whose work has enormously impressed me over the years and from whom I have learned a great deal and have enormous admiration. Daly insists, in a powerful critique of business as usual, on the need for a steady-state economy, which means an economy with no net capital formation. But he believes this can be done within a capitalist free-market institutional context. This strikes me as what Paul Sweezy once called “utopian reformism.” For Daly, socialism is off the table because of what transpired in the Soviet Union. The idea of a more rock-bottom socialism that stands for substantive equality and ecological sustainability seems to him to be a kind of impossibility theorem, much less a system that combines democratic planning with some reliance on markets. From my standpoint, though, such views are stuck in the old Cold War divide. We have to create a movement toward socialism, a twenty-first century socialism as an ongoing struggle, which seeks to go beyond the pursuit of profit and capital accumulation and the reliance on commodity markets, if we are to have any hope of coming out of the tunnel. We can’t afford a Lesser Transition that begins and ends with the quantitative notion of “no growth,” as if this in itself is enough, and that does not address substantive equality, while pretending to address ecological sustainability—as if the two were not inseparable. The goal has to be sustainable human development, which must necessarily make room for the poorest countries to develop.
Likewise, I find myself at odds with the approach of those among Löwy’s critics who promote an eco-localism, having sworn off politics at higher levels due to a sense of fatalism. It should be remembered that ecosocialism is a world movement, and we cannot judge the world by the yardstick of Washington politics. Such eco-localists believe that we have to work within the established political order and thus mainly on a regional or local level, where we can exert control, while the Trumps, Bolsonaros, and Exxon Mobils are taking over the world. This comes with an emphasis on adaptation at the expense of mitigation as if it is time to accept our fate. The local/regional struggle is critical (everyone remembers the slogan “think globally and act locally”), but we are living in an age of planetary emergency and a Great Transition has to address the logic of capitalism itself.
What is needed in such a transitionary movement at present is something both more and less than simply overthrowing capitalism. We need, through our struggles to move against the logic of capital and at all levels and in all spheres of society—to abandon a “creative destruction” that puts profits before people and the planet. And that battle at its highest level is what ecosocialism is about.
As a forum for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.
Journey to Earthland
The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization
GTI Director Paul Raskin charts a path from our dire global moment to a flourishing future.
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