Socialists, the Environment and Ecosocialism: A View from South Africa

From a paper presented by Trevor Ngwane to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation conference on “The Global Crisis and Africa: Struggles for Alternatives,” Randburg, South Africa, November 19, 2009.


There is an ecological crisis in the world and this crisis can be traced to capitalism. There is deforestation due to the trade in timber. There is climate change due to unsafe production methods. The working class is the class that suffers the most from the ecological crisis. Working-class people are in the majority and their life conditions make them more vulnerable. Workers live in flimsy houses and shacks that are easily washed or swept away by strong rains and winds. When workers are sick or injured there is always not enough medical help for them.

Over the years not enough attention has been paid to this problem by socialists. What is worse is that some people who call themselves socialists have added to the ecological crisis, for example, the Soviet Union was responsible for one of the biggest nuclear accidents in human history in Chernobyl. The Chinese Communist Party continues to supervise the destruction of nature through its single-minded and ruthless adoption of capitalist production methods.

The distortions of Marxism and socialism whereby the values and standards of capitalism are adopted and pursued by “socialist states” needs challenging if we are to fight against the destruction of the environment by capitalism. In the 20th century it was Stalin with his theory of “socialism in one country” and the resultant imperative to compete with and match the West in productive and destructive capacity. He succeeded somewhat but in the process exploited and enslaved the very working class in whose name he ruled. In the 21st century we have to disagree with Hugo Chavez’s “petro-socialism” because the production of more oil might yield more petro-dollars but it means more carbon emissions.

Human beings are part of nature and socialism is humanistic. In today’s world this means there can be no genuine socialism unless it has an ecological component. To emphasise this some people have come up with the term “ecosocialism”. Other comrades have resisted this on the grounds that socialism is inherently ecological. Fine. I think that if calling it ecosocialism will focus our minds on the issue at hand then it is fine for socialists to embrace this new concept or use it when necessary. Remember the debate about “democratic socialism”? It was about the need to emphasise the democratic nature of socialism in the light of its distortions by “Marxist” dictators.

Full article: Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

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