This weekend’s conference of the British Campaign Against Climate Change featured a session on Ecosocialism, with panelists Jonathan Neale (Socialist Workers Party), Derek Wall (Green Party) and Alan Thornett (Socialist Resistance).
Liam Mac Uaid, who attended the session, says it included a worthwhile discussion on issues related to labels (should we call ourselves ‘eco’ socialists?) and lifestyles (should we be trying to reduce our personal carbon footprints?). Here are some excepts from Liam’s report:
Jonathan opened his contribution by remarking that he wanted more socialists to get involved in the movement against climate change and observing that at the moment they are a bit of a rarity. Lobbying does not work on an issue of this magnitude and what is required is an international mass movement involving tens of millions of people. …
Alan’s most controversial remark was to describe himself as an ecosocialist, something he explained by saying that it is no longer enough for socialists to bolt on a bit of ecology to what they normally do. The immensity of the catastrophe which the science is predicting means that ecology has to be integral to all our activity. The scale of the crisis has huge implications for the socialist project because the combination of its economic and environmental impact is going to show hundreds of millions of people that capitalism is unsustainable.
Referring back to his time in the car factory Alan observed that no one at that time in the labour movement eve questioned what they were making. All that mattered was job security, pay and working conditions. The questions were never asked about how socially harmful are these machines, what is their long term effect on the environment, can society do without them? This was one of the ways in which the capitalist need to produce and make profit infected the workers’ movement. Now we have to start challenging the idea that productivism and growth are ends in themselves.
Much of the subsequent discussion swung around two points. The first was the degree to which one’s own lifestyle should be amended to reflect our new ecological understanding. There was one strand which thought that this is largely irrelevant. All that matters is movements, unions, and demonstrations and that what individuals do is of no great significance. The other strand, supported by Derek and Alan is that political action is the most important thing but that we also need to start prefiguring what a sustainable socialist society might look like. The example I threw into the discussion was that socialist men live in a world with a lot of sexism and while we know that our impact on this is pretty small we try as best we can to avoid being sexist.
The other contentious issue was whether or not the “eco” prefix is necessary for modern socialists. A strongly represented view was that what we do is more important than how we label ourselves and that it’s entirely possible for socialists to develop theory and activities on climate change without changing how they view themselves. Again Derek and Alan dissented from this reminding the audience that the impact of climate change on the world’s population obliges socialist to rethink all their basic ideas inherited from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.