Australian socialists debate ecosocialism

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Should ecologically concerned socialists call themselves ecosocialists? Members of the Socialist Alliance conduct a public policy debate

by Ian Angus

Is there a need for the word “ecosocialism”? Does it mean something substantially different from socialism without the prefix? Will using it help to build the left? Or is it an unnecessary and dangerous concession to greens who lean to liberalism and anarchism?

Here at Climate and Capitalism, we gave our answers to those questions long ago, by putting the words “Ecosocialism or barbarism: there is no third way” at the top of every page.

But on that question we are in a minority. While the word “ecosocialism” is used by growing numbers of green lefts and left greens, it is still very far from being universally accepted.

Of course, it is just a word. What’s important is the idea that in the 21st century the fight against environmental destruction and the fight against capitalism are inextricably linked – neither can succeed without the other. The label anyone chooses to apply to that concept is far less important.

Still, we think that “ecosocialism” expresses that concept better than any other term, so we have been pleased to see a discussion on this subject develop in the Socialist Alliance, the largest socialist organization in Australia.

Most left groups insist that members keep their internal disagreements and debates behind closed doors and carry a common party line in public. The Socialist Alliance has taken the unusual – and in my opinion totally positive – step of carrying on political discussions in public. Any member can write articles for its public online discussion bulletin, Alliance Voices.

The following are the discussion articles on ecosocialism published so far. I’ve included brief descriptions of each article, but haven’t tried to summarize them fully.

Socialism or Ecosocialism?  

Adam Baker (Brisbane) argues that the “ideology of ecosocialism” is actually a form of anarchism or liberalism that socialists should oppose. Ecosocialists are hostile to Cuba, and equate the ecological problems of the Soviet Union with those of capitalism. They reject building a revolutionary party and the need to create a workers’ state. “The Socialist Alliance should move to distance itself from the ecosocialist movement, ecosocialist ideology and ecosocialist policies. In a word, ecosocialism should be scrapped.”

Why we don’t need ecosocialism.

Sam Bullock (Brisbane) agrees with Adam Baker. “We need to be wary of the reformism in ecosocialism. We need a fight to overthrow capitalism by going back to the ideology of Karl Marx, not by using a fly-by-night movement.”

Why we need an ‘ecosocialist’ movement.

Jim McIlroy (Brisbane) argues that “the term “ecosocialism” is now a vital instrument for reconstructing a mass socialist movement in the current world political situation.” Socialists are a tiny minority on the world stage, and we need to find ways to present socialist ideas to mass audiences: “ecosocialism” isn’t a magic bullet, but it may help us win a hearing in the global environmental movement.

Ian Angus on the term ‘ecosocialism.’

Peter Boyle (Sydney) publishes (with my permission) a letter I wrote to him about Adam Baker’s article. “Rather than engaging with what ecosocialists actually say and do, most of Adam’s article is devoted to setting up and knocking down a straw man … He makes these very serious charges without a single quotation from or reference to any actual ecosocialist source.”

The ecological disaster that was the USSR.

Renfrey Clarke (Adelaide), argues that Adam Baker underestimates the seriousness of  environmental devasation in the USSR. “There’s no point in trying to dress up the Soviet bureaucracy as anything except what it was: a grossly irresponsible clique that pursued its corporate advantage with little regard for damage to nature or to the health of the population.”

‘Eco’socialism: it’s like ‘democratic’ socialism.

Zane Alcorn (Newcastle) outlines a number of ways that, in his view, Adam Baker and Sam Bullock misunderstand ecosocialism: “they have a misplaced conception that the ecosocialist movement is populated by reformists and represents a political dead end, or a trap or something.” Calling the SA ecosocialist doesn’t mean abandoning socialism but “re-emphasising the importance we place on the ecological question.”


Members of the Socialist Alliance have another three weeks to submit pre-conference articles and comments to the pre-convention discussion. C&C will follow this debate particularly closely.

All of the submissions so far have been well worth reading, both for the exchange of the role of ecosocialism in building the left today, and as an example how the left can carry on an open and intelligent debate without downplaying or concealing real differences.


  • Many socialist revolutionaries all over the world, and the numbers are fast increasing, strongly believe it is high time that ecological issues should become one of the major focuses of the revolutionary struggle in this 21st century. This makes sense. It means the “re-greenification” of socialism, hence the use of the term “ecosocialism”. As part of the response to the catastrophic level which the destruction of the world’s environment by capitalism has reached, the new emphasis on ecosocialism is highly appropriate. The term ecosocialism gives a fuller picture of what the revolution is all about in the 21st century. This is important especially for the strategies and processes of the struggle for the destruction of world capitalism and thereafter in the construction of world socialism.

    When genuine socialists use the term “ecosocialism” they do not intend to mean or to imply any deviation from the main principles of scientific socialism or Marxism-Leninism. This term “ecosocialism” is only used as one of the ways of strengthening the relevance and the invincibility of the revolutionary socialist ideology in the modern world. It will help to “restore” ecology as an essential factor in socialist analysis and the struggle. The words: “re-greenification” and “restore” are here deliberately used because ecology was an integral part of classical Marxism from the beginning.

  • Interesting debate!

    Has the term “ecosocialism” actually been adopted by any substantial numbers of anarchist or reformist currents? I’d be very surprised.