By Jim McIlroy
December 5, 2011
In the Brisbane [Australia] Socialist Alliance Branch pre-conference discussion recently, there was some discussion over the usefulness of the concept of "ecosocialism" as a vehicle for building the socialist movement today. I would like to defend the assertion that the term "ecosocialism" is now a vital instrument for reconstructing a mass socialist movement in the current world political situation.
The main problem faced by the socialist/Marxist movement right now is not whether or not Marx and Engels sufficiently analysed, or emphasised, ecological questions in their theoretical analysis of class society and history, but the fact that socialism/Marxism is now a tiny current in the international political scene. Historical questions, such as the fact that Stalinism, not Marxism, is responsible for the degeneration and collapse of the Soviet Union, are important, but not the key issue facing us at present.
The problem is how do we regenerate the whole idea of socialism as a genuine, mass-based alternative in the international, and Australian, political debate. Any vehicle, even if merely a new and appealing way of presenting the socialist alternative to a mass audience, is to be welcomed. "Eco-socialism" is one new way to insert socialism/Marxism into the mainstream context, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries.
Another brilliant innovation for renewing the whole idea of socialism in the contemporary world is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' call for "Socialism of the 21st Century." This theme effectively sets apart the idea of Bolivarian socialism -- ie, a socialist revolution based on popular democratic participation, as contrasted to the bureaucratic "socialism" of the Soviet bloc in the latter 20th century -- and has immense appeal to the Latin American masses yearning to be free of US imperialism and the domination of the local oligarchies.
Yet, even in this case, the ecological-Indigenous socialist movement of Bolivia, led by President Evo Morales, has added further enrichment to the Latin American revolutionary movement which is sweeping that continent at present. The Bolivian innovation of implementing a constitutional guarantee of the Rights of Mother Earth, in addition to the social rights of the people, is a groundbreaking concept within the worldwide debate over climate change and the growing environmental crisis.
The Latin American revolutionary movement, led by the ALBA countries, is now a leading force not only in renovating revolutionary-democratic socialism, but ecological socialism as well. The concept of "ecosocialism" effectively seeks to link the two aspects of an essential revolutionary solution to the "ecocapitalist" crisis.
All this is not to say in the least that new terminology can instantly solve the problem of reformism, versus revolution, within the progressive movement today. Of course, some who might profess to identify with "ecosocialism" will continue to be sheep in wolves' clothing -- the "socialist," indeed even "Marxist," movement, has historically been plagued with reformism in revolutionary guise.
We will continue to have to fight for revolutionary-Marxist, class-struggle politics within any mass-based "ecosocialist" movement. But "ecosocialism" provides a useful tool toward linking up the genuine socialist current with what is a real mass movement in the world today, the environmental movement.
In the excellent pamphlet, How to Make an Ecosocialist Revolution, published recently by Resistance Books, Ian Angus notes that: "The lesson that we must learn from [the achievements] and environmental failures of socialism in the 20th century is that ecology must have a central place in socialist theory, in the socialist program and in the activity of the socialist movement.
"Ecosocialism works to unite the best of the green and the red while overcoming the weaknesses of each. It tries to combine Marxism's analysis of human society with ecology's analysis of our relationship to the rest of nature ...
"A sentence in John Bellamy Foster's The Ecological Rift precisely and concisely explains ecosocialism's reason for being.
"'There can be no true ecological revolution that is not socialist; no true socialist revolution that is not ecological.'"
It is this dialectical reality which underlies the vital role the concept of ecosocialism can play in building a mass-based movement for "Socialism of the 21st Century".