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Liberal vs. socialist environmental struggle

Hi Mazin,
Thanks for the generous comments about my article. I agree with your description of communist society as one in which we are free to develop into whatever we want to. Articulating what this will look like in practice, though, can be a thorny problem. In the article, I tried to outline some ways in which we could apply this freedom to the problems of social reproduction in order to create new ways of living that would ensure the ability to develop freely to all while respecting the earth's ecology—for example, through cooperative living which would free families from the burden of domestic labor. I wanted to show that a sustainable and liberatory society can be created through a democratic process of revolution, rather than demanding that workers curtail their consumption. However, one comrade objected that I simply avoid the issue of the unsustainably high US standard of living by making assumptions about the kind of society people will want. What if what workers actually want is to drive cars and live in single-family houses surrounded by enormous lawns? It doesn't seem like there's an easy answer to these questions.

The question of what strategies to adopt for ecological work is a big one, which I can't pretend to fully answer myself. We seem to be in a bind, as, while we're far from ready for socialist revolution, the capitalists are highly unlikely to undertake the necessary reforms to avert planetary catastrophe. Certainly we're sunk in the short term if we can't force some ecological reforms. At the same time, we're sunk in the slightly longer term if we can't overthrow capitalism. Our task isn't to figure out what reforms are possible—that's the job of bourgeois legislators—but to build a movement that's militant, uncompromising, and based in the working class. Thus, we build for revolution and in the process create a social power which prompts the bourgeoisie to grant concessions, while setting our sights on a new society.

Simply repeating that socialist revolution is the only solution is far from sufficient, as by itself it amounts to a rejection of the ecological struggles that are going on now. We must engage with the ecological and workers' movements that currently exist—and to grow them, as they are far too small. However, we have to stay focused on the goal of revolution, as without the strategies that derive from a class-struggle perspective, I don't think these movements will become powerful enough to force any meaningful reforms. It's a tricky balance to form a left pole within the movements while simultaneously working to grow and deepen those movements, but it's what we have to do.

Liberal environmentalism, predicated on a compromise with capital, ends up compromising on ecology, for it must ignore the ecological realities that make capitalism unsustainable. This gives us the opportunity to deepen these struggles as well as to expand the audience for anti-capitalist ideas. In the struggles developing against fracking, for example, the mainstream environmental organizations mostly advocate regulations, moratoriums, and further study of fracking and emphasize its risks to water and health, rather than the climatic necessity of ceasing our consumption of all fossil fuels, including natural gas. In this struggle, we should advocate for an outright ban on fracking, demanding non-fossil-based power generation and discussing what kinds of social changes it would take to overcome dependence on fossil fuels.

A comprehensive socialist approach to ecological struggle would have plenty of other aspects (for example, a focus on uniting workers' and ecological struggles) which I don't have the space or knowledge to fully elaborate here. I'm curious to know what you and others think. In particular, what ecological struggles have you found inspiring or instructive -- or, alternatively, what do you think has been missing from the ecological struggles we've experienced? For my part, I was really inspired by the protests around the 2009 Copenhagen summit demanding a solution tot he climate crisis, although those mobilizations as well as the efforts to build something like them in the US (such as Rising Tide) seem to have waned. That kind of movement seems to me to be something like what we should be aiming for.

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