by Ian Angus
Here’s a positive sign for the nascent ecosocialist movement: there are now enough published books on the subject that people ask advice on which to read first. Below are five titles that I recommend frequently. If these books aren’t available in your local bookstore, all can be purchased online. I’ve included links to assist in purchasing, but they may be available from other sources as well. Two are also available as free downloads.
Jane Kelly and Sheila Malone, editor. Ecosocialism or Barbarism. Socialist Resistance, London U.K., 2006. 130 pages. ISBN 0-902869-97-3
“The twenty-first century has opened on a catastrophic note, with an unprecedented degree of ecological breakdown and a chaotic world order beset with terror and warfare.”
This anthology “aims to bring together those who share a radical criticism of modern capitalism and the desire for a total alternative based on ecological and socialist practice.” Most were written by authors associated with the Fourth International, but there are also articles from Monthly Review (John Bellamy Foster on “Organizing ecological revolution”) and Australia’s Green Left Weekly (Dick Nichols on “Cuba’s Green Revolution”).
Ecosocialism or Barbarism is the best introduction I’ve found for radicals and Marxists who want to get up to speed fast on issues facing the ecosocialist movement. The essays and articles are well written, with a minimum of abstract theorizing and a laudable focus on the need to change the world, not just interpret it.
Dick Nichols, editor. Environment, Capitalism & Socialism. Resistance Press, Broadway Australia, 1999. 210 pages. ISBN 0-909196-99-0
“The alternatives facing humanity are, quite simply, socialism or extinction.”
Australia’s Democratic Socialist Perspective (formerly Democratic Socialist Party) was one of the first Marxist groups in the world to understand the importance of combining Red and Green perspectives in theory and in practice. The first edition of Environment, Capitalism and Socialism was published in 1990, which makes it practically prehistoric in ecosocialist terms.The updated and expanded second edition includes an analysis of the environmental crisis in the former “socialist” countries, an analysis and critique of various currents in ecological thought and politics, and perspectives on how socialist society could meet the ecological challenge.Of particular note is editor Dick Nichols’ essay, “Can Green Taxes Save the Environment?”, which ought to be mandatory reading for everyone who hopes that green capitalism is possible.
The full text of Environment, Capitalism & Socialism is available on the DSP’s website.
Joel Kovel. The Enemy of Nature. Fernwood Publishing, Halifax Canada and Zed Books, London UK, 2002. 273 pages. ISBN 1-84277-081-0
“In fighting for an ecologically sane society beyond capital, we are struggling not just to survive, but, more fundamentally, to build a better world and a better life upon it for all creatures.”
Joel Kovel may be best known as the Marxist who ran against Ralph Nader to be the Green Party’s candidate for U.S. president in 2000. It’s interesting to read The Enemy of Nature just to see “what might have been” if a real critic of capitalist eco-catastrophe had been on the ballot — but its value goes far beyond that.
In 2001, Kovel and Michael Lowy co-authored An Ecosocialist Manifesto, a brief call for a new political movement. In The Enemy of Nature, Kovel put meat on the Manifesto’s bones. It provides both a popularly-written critique of capitalism and a rigorous theoretical framework for understanding why capitalism is responsible for the ecological crisis and why there is “no schema of reformism that will clean up its act by making it act more greenly or efficiently.”
The Enemy of Nature is a book for red-green activists who want to root their activism in a firm understanding of the nature of our enemy and of the immense challenge we face. It is relentlessly realistic, and still manages to be optimistic about our chances of success.
If I had to reduce my list of recommended ecosocialist texts to one book, this is the one I’d keep.
John Bellamy Foster. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. Monthly Review Press, New York, 2000. 310 pages. ISBN 1-58367-012-2
“The original title of this book, at its inception, was Marx and Ecology. At some point along the way the title changed to Marx’s Ecology. This change in title stands for a dramatic change in my thinking about Marx (and ecology) over the last few years …”
Over the years, many serious thinkers have rejected Marxism as anti-ecological and Marx himself as a “productivist” who believed that humanity’s role is to subjugate nature to meet our ever-growing needs. The environmental catastrophes generated under “actually existing socialism” in the USSR seem to provide evidence for that view. And many 20th century Marxists have leant credence to such a critique by treating ecology problems as side issues that will somehow be resolved in passing by workers’ governments.
In Marx’s Ecology, John Bellamy Foster (editor of Monthly Review) rescues Marx’s ecological thought from more than a century of neglect, showing not just that Marx understood the importance of ecological issues, but that they were central to his critique of capitalism and to his vision of a transformed world. This passage from Capital could easily appear unchanged in any 21st century Green manifesto:
“Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations ….”
Marx’s Ecology is the most explicitly theoretical and historical of the books on this list, but it will repay careful study by anyone who wants to understand what Marxism brings to the ecosocialist discussion.
Larry Lohman. Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power. (Development Dialogue #48). Dag Hammarskold Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden, 2006. 359 pages. ISSN 0345-2328
“Carbon trading only prolongs industrialized societies’ dependence on fissil fuels. It is bad for the South, bad for the North, and bad for the climate.”
Carbon Trading is the only book on this list that isn’t explicitly ecosocialist or Marxist. I include it, and recommend it very frequently, because so many green activists (including some Marxists) view the Kyoto Protocol as a step forward. Flawed perhaps, but fundamentally a good thing.
That view, understandable in view of staunch opposition to Kyoto from politicians the U.S., Australia and Canada, fails to understand the profoundly pro-market, neoliberal nature of the Kyoto process.
Fundamental to Kyoto are two market-based approaches to greenhouse gas emissions: trading emission credits, and offsetting emissions with “Clean Development” projects. In this extended report, Larry Lohman of Corner House (a UK-based research and solidarity group) demonstrates that neither approach works — indeed, that both actually make the problem worse. The book (actually a special edition of the journal Development Dialogue) includes a history of carbon trading and a detailed analysis of its problems. It documents the real (negative) results of Clean Development projects in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
These are not “flaws” in Kyoto — they are central to it, and no amount of greenwash can change that.
The printed edition of Carbon Trading is available at no charge from the Dag Hammarskold Foundation; email firstname.lastname@example.org. It can also be downloaded in PDF format from DHF, or from The Corner House.