Tuesday, 11 September 2018

From Marxist Socialism to Eco-Socialism --- Turning Points of a Personal Journey Through a Theory of Socialism


At the beginning of the journey stood the most famous two sentences of Marx, which I read as a college student:

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.”1

I was immediately faced with a dilemma. There was no need for me to interpret the world; that had already been done for us by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin et al. But, I thought, in order to be able to contribute to changing the world, I must at least understand it. The purpose was clear to me: to work for creating a socialist/communist society. But for understanding the world, I knew I must read a lot, at least a lot of Marx, Engels and Lenin, a lot of history plus current affairs, and also a lot of modern Marxist literature on the social sciences.
    For the average socialist/communist activist, however, it was the sheer volume of reading required for the purpose that posed the greatest difficulty. She must work to earn her livelihood, work for her conviction, and read a few of the relevant texts. As for me, I had the ambition, and I thought I also had the cerebral capacity, to read all the important works of Marx, Engels, Lenin et al. But being materially in the position of an average activist, it was clear to me in my early youth that I could only become an activist, not a Marxologist.

The Moscow Trials and Destalinization

In 1953 – I was then 17 and in college – I realized how little I knew, when I heard for the first time of the notorious Moscow Trials of 1936–1938,2 in which several famous leaders of the Russian revolution were accused of treason, convicted, and then executed. What was worse, I heard it from an anti-communist class mate. I was shocked to hear that Stalin, our great leader of those days, was the perpetrator of these and similar other crimes against several hundred thousand innocent and patriotic citizens and communists. When asked, my communist classmates said they had never heard of it before. But, they opined, it surely was imperialist propaganda.
    I had started reading the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the course of this reading, I later got the official version of the story: the accused were traitors, agents of the enemy etc. This story haunted me for a few years. How could so many communist leaders and activists of the revolution have been traitors, I wondered. The issue was settled in 1956, when Khrushchev, in his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU(B) confirmed the veracity of what was formerly dubbed imperialist propaganda.
    1956, when a thorough destalinization began in the Soviet Union, was a watershed year. It resulted in a huge, indescribable mental shock, not only for me, but also, I think, for all young communists of those days, who used to think of the Soviet Union as if it were a golden country, our materialized utopia. Thereafter, I began gradually distancing myself from the Soviet model of socialism.
    But among older communists, at least in India, there was no outbreak of disloyalty to the Soviet communist leadership. If asked, they used to say, in the general sense: if in the past mistakes have been made, then it is good that they are being corrected. For me, it was only a logical and rational reaction, not a satisfactory one. Was it simply a case of the leader making a few mistakes? It troubled me very much that the crimes were committed in the name of a communist revolution and in the name of defending a “socialist” state inspired by Marx and his theories. After all, Marx and Engels had endorsed use of force in their kind of revolution. In the concluding para of their Manifesto, they write inter alia, “The communists … declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of …”. We Indians knew that Mahatma Gandhi had strictly and on principle opposed any use of violence in our independence movement. Yet questions regarding ends and means had not crossed my mind before 1956.
    Destalinization was also the cause and 1956 the time when my interest in Marx and Marxism began to wane. I thought, it could not be that just two thinkers of the second half of the 19th century, however brilliant they might have been, had thought through all the problems of mankind, even those that would arise many decades after their death. It could not be, I thought further, that the results of their analysis of the situation prevailing in the 19th century were also valid in the 20th century. So I started taking an interest in other subjects and other thinkers too, e.g. in Malthusianism, and Keynesianism.

Failure of the Russian and the Chinese Revolution

Both the October Revolution (1917–1921) and the Chinese Revolution (1930s to 1949) were made or at least led by people who were communists and Marxists, at least they said they were inspired by Marxism. After success on the battlefields, they tried to build up in their respective countries a socialist society following economic and political principles they claimed were based on and/or derived from Marxism. In the long run both revolutions failed. The Russians and the Chinese themselves willfully reintroduced capitalism in their countries. The Russians openly confess to capitalism, whereas Chinese society is today in reality a capitalist one that is only ruled by self-styled “communists”.
    Can their failures be put down to flaws in the ideology called Marxism? Today, on the occasion of the 200th birth anniversary of Marx, when his total theoretical-intellectual contribution to recent world history is being discussed, criticized, and celebrated, this question needs to be answered. But before that come the questions (1) whether the vision of socialism that the Soviet Russians and the Chinese, the Cubans and the Vietnamese tried to realize – and thereby failed – was really the Marxist one, and (2) whether it was at all realizable. We should not seek an answer to them just in the academic sense of seeking truth for the sake of truth, but also and especially in the practical sense. For if we fail to get the right answer to these questions, we may, in our zeal, make many more mistakes: We may then pursue a wrong goal or choose the wrong path to reach the right goal, or we may make a wrong choice in regard to both.

Marxian and Marxist

There are some disputes regarding the content of Marxism. Once, when he was told about a person who was claiming to be a Marxist while expressing un-Marxist views, Marx replied in frustration: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” Ever since, it has become useful to differentiate between the terms Marxian and Marxist. Marxian would mean: strictly based on what Marx himself has written. And Marxist would mean: based on Marxian thoughts as developed and presented by Engels, Lenin and later theoretician-adherents of Marx. For this reason, Marxist theory cannot be regarded as a monolithically consistent theory. Even in the works of Marx himself, inner contradictions and errors have been found by Marx scholars. No wonder. After all, Marx’s writing career stretched over some forty years. Also no wonder that some Marx scholars have reportedly found it necessary to differentiate between the writings of the young (early) Marx and those of the mature (later) Marx.
    Fortunately, we can give a quick and short reply to the question put above (in connection with the crimes of Stalinist USSR and failure of the Soviet and Chinese Revolutions). Pure Marxists say, in the general sense: what has all that to do with Marx and Marxian theory? Nothing. None of the socialist/communist revolutions that have taken place till now has been a Marxian revolution. To give just one recently published example, Paresh Chattopadhyay, an eminent Marx scholar, wrote3 criticizing a description of the Cuban Revolution as a Marxist one:

“However, what kind of revolution are we speaking of? ….. we are invited to a Marxian kind of socialism. The rub is precisely here. Why is the need for bringing in Marx whose whole outlook on socialism is the exact opposite? To refresh our memory, there is no ‘socialist dictatorship’ in Marx’s universe of discourse. For Marx it is a postulate that the laboring people must emancipate themselves. This is the outcome of the ‘autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’. And this self-emancipation means the … establishment of a ‘union of free individuals’, which alone is socialism. It follows, secondly, that this is not the task of a group styling itself as the vanguard irrespective of the group’s revolutionary ardor and spirit of self-sacrifice.”

Critique of Pure Marx

I trust Chattopadhyay’s scholarship. This must be a correct paraphrase of the Marxian ideal of socialist revolution (emancipation, as he also calls it.). This quote deals with the questions regarding who and how of a socialist revolution, i.e. the questions: who are the agents of the revolution (emancipation), and how do they go about it – before, during, and after the revolution proper? But it also shows how wrong, how unrealistic, and how utopian in the negative sense Marx has been. For hardly any revolution that has been called proletarian, socialist, or people’s revolution, successful or not, could do without a leadership, most members of which usually came from classes other than the proletariat. Even the leadership of the Paris Commune of 1871, as far as I have learnt, did not come exclusively from the working class.
    I believe, without a good leadership, any attempt to overthrow a hated regime or an exploitative-oppressive system can only end in defeat or a fruitless, chaotic rebellion – even if the crisis situation that triggered it had been favorable to such an attempt. I am of course saying these things without great knowledge of history. But I believe evidence to the contrary must be rare if it at all exists. Also for building a “socialist” society after a successful takeover of power, as, for example, in Russia after 1917 and in Yugoslavia after 1945, a strong leadership proved to be indispensable.

Revolutionary Proletariat?

Marx and Engels had "discovered" the revolutionary proletariat very early in their life, much before the proletariat even became a sizeable class in Germany, and they did it purely deductively. They explained it in 1845 as follows:

“It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will be historically compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today.”5

   Three years later, in their Communist Manifesto, they apodictically proclaimed, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” Also apodictic was their assertion that “the working men have no country,” which was logically followed by the call “Working men of all countries, unite!”
    On this question, Lenin convinced me (and millions of other activists) more when he asserted that the
laboring people cannot emancipate themselves through an autonomous movement of their own, because they lacked the will and the revolutionary consciousness required for this goal, which must be brought to them by a group of professional revolutionaries. A few years before Lenin, Bernstein had maintained that proletarians of the industrially advanced countries of Europe did not even have any reason for willing to overthrow capitalism. He asserted that educated/trained workers/employees actually wanted to be integrated into the given system and rise within it.
    For Lenin, Tito, Mao, and Ho-Chi-Min, and later also for Fidel and Che, the primary, immediate, and urgent task had been to overthrow the hated oppressive regimes of their respective countries – in the case of China, Yugoslavia, and Viet Nam, these were even foreign imperialist invaders occupying the country. There was no question of trying this overthrow later, when the proletariat would have become the immense majority of the population. After fulfilling this immediate task, Lenin, Tito, Mao, and Ho, being communists, could not but try to build a socialist society on the ground and in the situation they found given. They could not have postponed this work in order to do it in the pure way as prescribed by Marx, i.e. waited until their country had achieved the industrial development level of Germany or Britain in the 1870s–1880s, their proletariat had become the immense majority of the population, and had also developed the right revolutionary consciousness.
    Already when I was a young student and had read the Communist Manifesto, I had some doubts on this point. It was wrong, I thought, to say “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” In any revolution, every revolutionary can lose her life or limbs. After a failed one, she can be incarcerated and lose her livelihood; her dependents can descend into a state of penury. To say that the proletariat (as a class) “have a world to win” is for the average proletarian too abstract a promise of compensation for the said concrete risks and sufferings. Only the inspired are willing to take them. It is alright for a manifesto to contain such high-flown words, but it is better to know that they do not correspond to the reality.
     Also the sentence “The working men have no country” was nothing more than an assertion in high-flown words. How far-fetched, how unrealistic and hollow all these words were, was demonstrated just 31 years after Marx’s death, when, in the 1st World War, the working men of the advanced industrialized countries of Europe not only did not prevent the war, but also, obeying their heads of state, readily went to the front to fulfill their patriotic duty, namely to kill the working men of their respective enemy countries.
    Even after socialists/communists had made a revolution – alternatively, won a revolutionary antiimperialist war – and took over power in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, their armies, made up of their working men of all kinds (few proletarians in the Marxian sense), fought against one another, because of petty disputes (partly border disputes). So far as I know, generations of Marxist theoreticians have failed to devote enough attention to this aspect of human nature, which also socialist/communist idealists regularly fall victim to. Only Lenin may have been aware of this serious problem when he advocated the right of peoples to self-determination. In spite of this history, even today as always, in all countries, on the 1st May demonstrations and rallies, one can observe socialists, communists, leftists mindlessly shouting vacuous slogans like “workers of all countries unite”, “long live international solidarity”.
    I think some people make a revolution – let us modestly say they just revolt – when life under the prevailing conditions has in some sense or another become unbearable – objectively and materially for the broad masses, subjectively for highly sensitive (mostly) young people. Some of them – like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky etc. – are cool, intellectual and analytical types, others, such as Mao, Fidel and Che, are more like daredevils. They revolt irrespective of whether the time is ripe or not, irrespective of whether the proletariat has understood its world-historic mission or not, irrespective of whether the proletariat joins the revolt or remains aloof. Mao led a communist revolution in an agrarian society, Che even tried to bring revolution to Congo and Bolivia, where there was no working class. Such people cannot just see exploitation and oppression happening and sit idly by.

Revisionism

Till now, in highly developed industrial countries like Germany, England etc., the working class has rejected the revolutionary role assigned to them by Marx and Engels. In Germany, their party, the Social-Democratic Party (SPD, founded in 1863–1875) pursued the reformist strategy advocated by Bernstein. In 1959, it even accepted capitalist market economy in its new program called the Godesberg Program. In Britain, the Labor Party, formed between 1893 and 1900, never explicitly accepted Marxism as its political philosophy, but was for a long time regarded as a constitutional socialist party in some sense. In the 1990s, however, it became an arch protagonist of neoliberal capitalism.
    It would be interesting to go deeper into the question why, in Russia, in 1917ff, the relatively small proletariat made the revolution together with soldiers of a demoralized army, while in Germany, in the Autumn of 1918, the very large proletariat and soldiers of a defeated army refused to heed the call for revolution (except in Munich, Bavaria). This is not the right place for that enquiry. But a few words from Kolakowski’s exposition on Bernstein’s revisionism can be quoted as a short answer:

“When Bernstein started intervening, the real wages of the German working class had risen for a long time, and it had won numerous social security benefits and a shorter working day. ... Of course, ... there was still no universal suffrage in Prussia, … but the elections and the political mobilization as well as the relative power connected with them offered the prospect of a successful struggle for the republic and even assumption of power. … The real experience of the working class in no way supported the [Marxist] theory according to which their situation within the limits of capitalism was basically hopeless and not susceptible of improvements. … The history of revisionism does not support the [Marxist] claim that there is a natural revolutionary attitude in the working class … that results from its very situation as a seller of labor power and incurable victim in this system of alienation. ... The traditional [Marxist] belief in the revolutionary mission of the proletariat was put into question. ... Revisionism robbed the socialist doctrine of the noble pathos of the 'final battle' and total liberation.”7

Part II

How much Marxism has gone into my Eco-Socialism?

As regards Marxian/Marxist theory, it is a bit difficult for me to answer the question put above, because I have read only some, not all, of the works of Marx and Engels. Much of my knowledge of their theory is based on reading secondary literature written by well-known Marxists of earlier decades (Sweezy, Mandel. Leontiev, Kolakowski, Vranicki etc.). I, moreover, never believed that intelligent people and scholars of the twentieth century could not study and understand the problems of their century without always asking what Marx had exactly written about an issue. After all, the authors of Limits to growth,8 such an important book for our century, were not known for their Marx scholarship.

Agents of Change?

The leaders of the previous revolutionary changes may or may not have come from the ranks of revolutionary proletarians, but without a good leadership overthrow of any capitalist, feudal, colonial or any other sort of oppressive-exploitative regime would not have been possible. However, whether the societies they built up thereafter could be called “socialist” has been a disputed question, which I cannot take up here.
    People who have some knowledge of history know what political role the “working class parties” (sometimes called social-democratic, sometimes socialist) and their proletarian members have played in the highly developed industrial countries as well as in the less developed ones, such as India. Above, in part I, I have given a short pointer to that role. What we read there applies all the more to the trade unions. Sometimes, of course, they defied the wishes of the leadership of their respective parties, but fighting against capitalism has never been at the top of their agenda. In the developed world, they had already explicitly accepted capitalism, calling the system a “social market economy” and their relationship with capitalists “social partnership”. What they fought for has always been higher wages, better conditions of work, and defending their existing jobs, in short, for their own private and class interests. Occasionally, in the past, in the recent past, and at the present, even their national interest got top priority.
    For me, all that means that today and in the near future, we cannot really think of the proletariat as the chief agent of any radical transformation of capitalist society into some kind of a socialist one. For capitalism in the highly industrialized countries of Europe and America is still capable of maintaining a superficially democratic form of governance with many freedoms and a standard of living of averagely skilled workers that is many times higher than that of averagely skilled workers of underdeveloped countries. It is no wonder then that at least in the USA, such workers understand themselves, and are also understood by others, as members of the middle class. They have a strong interest in defending this system.
    Now, if we tell them that in a future eco-socialist society, all, including skilled workers, will have to forgo many of the comforts and privileges that they today take for granted, they will curse us and wish to send us to hell. This has been my experience in Germany. Here, workers and their trade unions have always been the strongest opponents of the ecology movement.
    The proletariat’s political behavior in such countries may change if capitalism there loses the said capability, e.g. in a crisis more severe than anything seen till today, a crisis of whatever origin and kind. But in which direction they will then push society is anyone’s guess. It may be in the revolutionary socialist direction, but it may also be in the direction of fascism.

Crises and Collapse of Capitalism?

Once, between 1929 and 1933, modern capitalist economy faced a severe crisis and stood on the verge of collapse. No society was then transformed into a socialist one. But in one, fascists took over power. Now how probable is such a crisis in our days, or in the foreseeable future?
    After Marx’s death, four Marxian or Marxist crisis theories were in circulation. About two of them there has been some doubt as to whether Marx himself propounded them or his followers derived/developed them from his writings. The other two were creations of Marx himself.

The Breakdown theory

In vol. 3 of Capital, in a passage on the process of centralization of capital, Marx wrote: “This process would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production … .”9 But this passage, according to Sweezy, is nothing more than a description of a tendency, since Marx speaks in the same breath about “counteracting tendencies which continually have a decentralizing effect by the side of the centripetal ones” Nowhere else did Sweezy find in Marx’s works “a doctrine of the specifically economic breakdown of capitalist production.” (ibid:192). However, there is another longish passage in Capital, Vol. 3, which is worth noting in this context. Marx writes:

“The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-valorization [i.e. getting returns and capital accumulation] appear as the starting and finishing point, as the motive and purpose of production; production is production only for capital, and not the reverse, i.e. the means of production are not simply means for a steadily expanding pattern of life for the society of the producers. The barriers within which the maintenance and valorization of the capital-value has necessarily to move – and this in turn depends on the dispossession and impoverishment of the great mass of the producers – therefore come constantly into contradiction with the methods of production that capital must apply to its purpose and which set its course towards an unlimited expansion of production, to production as an end in itself, to an unrestricted development of the social productive powers of labor. The means … comes into persistent conflict with the restricted end, … . If the capitalist mode of production is therefore a historical means for developing the material powers of production … , it is at the same time the constant contradiction between this historical task and the social relations of production [i.e. capitalist relations among members of society] corresponding to it9a

    Some Marx scholars think that this key passage in Marx’s writings, which is his quintessential characterization of capitalism, can be interpreted as a theory of ultimate breakdown of the system. It has to be noted that Marx wrote it while presenting and elaborating on his famous Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit. It is logically correct, I think, to conclude that if this law is a secular tendency, which Marx insisted it was, then sooner or later the rate of profit will fall to such a low level, that, for most capitalists, it won’t any more be interesting to invest their money in industry – in spite of all the “counteracting forces” that Marx also described.
    Another point to be noted here is that Marx enumerated among his counteracting forces “more intense exploitation of labor”, “reduction of wages below their value” (possible because of competition among workers) and generation of “the relative surplus population” (i.e. unemployment). It is logical to conclude from this that Marx had a Pauperization Theory, that he thought universal pauperization of the working people would also contribute to the eventual breakdown of capitalism. In the passage quoted above, Marx himself speaks of “dispossession and impoverishment of the great mass of the producers.” And pauperization theory logically leads to an under-consumption theory, which can also be called the (relative) over-production theory
    I cannot here again discuss these Marxian and/or Marxist theories nor the criticisms thereof.10 Suffice it to say that the fact that 135 years after Marx’s death, capitalism has not broken down yet, and the fact that, on the contrary, it has now conquered the whole world, and even reconquered the lost territories – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam,10a – should actually give rise to the conjecture that the famous Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit, the basis of all these theories mentioned above, was itself fundamentally flawed. I had this suspicion when I, as a young man, first read about this law. I did not then dare express it. I thought I had not read enough. So I just put a question mark on the margin of the book, and continued to live and work as a socialist with this suspicion in the back of my head.
    But several years later, when I read the late Paul Sweezy’s book on Marxian economics, I found my suspicion confirmed. Sweezy, himself a famous Marxist, had pointed out the flaw as early as in 1942. For lack of space, I cannot here present his (and my) argumentation in detail. Just this:

“Marx was hardly justified, even in terms of his own theoretical system, in assuming a constant rate of surplus value simultaneously with a rising organic composition of capital.”11

    In short, the enormous gains in labor productivity that capitalist production achieved and is today still achieving thanks to automation and the microelectronic revolution have made it possible that, in the industrial countries, large-scale impoverishment is today a thing of the past. At the most, one can today only speak cautiously of relative impoverishment. These huge gains in labor productivity have allowed capital to accept the higher wage demands of workers and enabled the state to be generous to the unemployed and the unemployable. That these gains went hand in hand with losses in the sphere of ecological balance was known, also to Marx and Engels. But that is another matter.
    If and when Marx’s prediction comes true, i.e. capitalism breaks down because of its inner contradictions, and if we, for the sake of argument, ignore the ecological and resource-related crises, then Schumpeter takes over with his theory of creative destruction.12 That is what happened in the 1930s, and again in 2008ff.

Is the Situation Today Ripe for Socialism? Limits to Growth.

When the great financial crash of 2008 led to the Great Recession and another Great Depression, many Marxist leftists thought this could be the final crisis of capitalism. Others thought Marx was right after all. A renewed interest in reading Capital was observed. Ten years after 2008, I feel like quoting Schumpeter. In 1943, he wrote:

“The capitalist or any other order of things may evidently break down – or economic and social evolution may outgrow it – and yet the socialist phoenix may fail to rise from the ashes.13

    The Great Depression of 2008ff did not prove Marx right, but, once more, Bernstein. As during the Great Depression of the 1930s, this time too, the proletariat of the highly industrialized countries failed to deliver. Even those of the worst-hit countries like the USA, Greece, Spain and Italy14 did not make any move whatsoever to overthrow capitalism. Today, in such countries, capitalism is of course not thriving, but it is also not dead. Marx, it seems, was totally wrong in writing that “the true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself.” Is then capitalism an immortal system?
    It may not be so, because in the meantime, a new barrier has been discovered, namely limits to growth, which, if translated into Marxist jargon, would read limits to accumulation, limits to capitalist production. And these limits are – unlike Marx’s idea that capital itself is the true barrier – not a mere theoretical construct. They are concrete and tangible limits to the carrying capacity of the earth: (1) limits to the availability of cheap renewable and nonrenewable resources needed for industrial production, (2) limits to the capacity of our natural environment to absorb or, alternatively, neutralize pollutants produced by us humans such as CO2 (the Earth’s sink function), and (3) limits to the number of modern humans that can live on the earth without ruining the ecological balance of its biosphere.
    However, they are not only a barrier to capitalist production, but to any kind of industrial production, also of the socialist kind. And all environmentally conscious humans, I presume, know of reports by serious scientists that say we have already overshot many of these limits.14a And journalistic reports show that many of today’s human societies have already collapsed, that many others are fast approaching collapse: Somalia, Central African Republic, Greece, Bolivia, Mexico Venezuela etc.

Prospects for Eco-Socialism

After reading the book Limits to growth (1972) I realized that this discovery was of an import to economics, politics and socio-economic policy comparable to that of the Copernican discovery of the heliocentric movement of the planets. Like the latter, it demanded of us a wholesale paradigm shift, namely from the until then prevailing growth paradigm to what I call the limits-to-growth paradigm.15 The thought occurred to me that limits to growth may be the real and ultimate barrier that will cause the breakdown of capitalism. It later enabled me to come to a different and better understanding of the causes of the breakdown of the Soviet model of socialism.16 It meant for me that we must now bid farewell to development of productive forces as well as to economic growth and concentrate our efforts on economic and ecological sustainability, which would require economic contraction in (at least) the highly industrialized countries.
    Here I also saw a new kind of necessity and justification for socialism: A socialist society, because it would be egalitarian, would be an ethically better one and hence more desirable. And only such a society, because it would be planned, could guarantee that no person of working age would go without a gainful employment, even in a contracting economy. And only such a socialist society can guarantee that the job an employed person would be doing would also be a socially useful work. Only in such a society would it be possible that working people would accept policies designed for deliberately reducing production and consumption, for saving the earth. This new conception of socialism should be called, I thought, eco-socialism.
    Marx and Engels had known a lot about the ecological problems and damages that arise from capitalism (actually from industrialism of any kind). But because they did not see any limits to development of productive forces, they did not take them seriously for their own vision of socialism. Engels expressly wrote:

“… after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realize and hence to control even the more remote natural consequences of at least our day today production activities.”17 (emphasis added)

   This defect in their theory was also noted by Ted Benton,18 a famous Marx scholar, who, in connection with the hostile attitude of Marx and Engels toward Malthus and his law of population, writes of a

“… defect in Marx’s economic thought” … which “derives, rather, from an insufficiently radical critique of the leading exponents of Classical Political Economy. … It is plausible to see this failure as in part due to a mystificatory feature of capitalist economic life itself, but it is also connected with a general, politically understandable, reluctance on the part of Marx and Engels to recognize nature-imposed limits to human potential in general, and to the creation of wealth in particular. …”
    For political reasons, … Marx and Engels were strongly, and understandably, predisposed against ‘natural-limits’ arguments, ….”.(emphases added)

    However much understanding one might have had up to 1972 for this politically motivated attitude of Marx and Engels, today, the Marxist conception of socialism based on stubborn refusal to recognize unpleasant realities must be regarded as obsolete.
    While working on my book on eco-socialism, I was very surprised to find, that Mahatma Gandhi, who was neither known for scholarship nor for scientific thinking, needed only common sense to come, in 1928, to the conclusion for which scholars and scientists needed to wait until 1972. He wrote:

“The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [Britain] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”19

    Yet, it was Marx from whom I got the clue to the theoretical thought that eco-socialism might succeed where earlier socialisms based more or less on his and Engels’s theory failed. Marx wrote in his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

“No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since … it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”20

    I interpreted the quote as follows: The capitalist social order has not perished yet because until now, there has been enough room in it for all the productive forces to develop. Today, however, this issue is irrelevant. For against the background of the global ecological crisis and rapidly dwindling resources, the global economy, especially the advanced industrial economies, must contract to a sustainable level. That is the task today. Technologically, its solution is easy. There is no need to develop new technologies. But there is a political need to conceive (which is difficult) new relations of production that would allow, indeed facilitate, the fulfilment of this task. One such conception is there. It is called eco-socialism. It has already matured as a conception in the womb of existing society.
    At this point comes up the question whether this interpretation of mine is at all in consonance with the original quotation, which expresses one of the main points of the theory of history of Marx and Engels. It is, obviously, not. Marxists have always maintained that private capitalism has become a fetter to the development of productive forces and that the fetter must be shattered. Take, for instance. the following two quotes from Principles of Communism, an early work of Engels:

It is clear that, up to now, the forces of production have never been developed to the point where enough could be developed [produced?] for all, and that private property [i.e. capitalism] has become a fetter and a barrier in relation to the further development of the forces of production.”
And
… though big industry [large-scale industry] in its earliest stage created free competition, it has now outgrown free competition; … for big industry, competition and generally the individualistic organization of production have become a fetter which it must and will shatter;”21 (emphases added)

But now we are saying the forces of production have developed so much that they have become destructive for the environment as well as for humans; so, today, they must be fettered and thus prevented from developing further.
    I would like to express this inconsonance with Marx and Engels through a beautiful quote from Walter Benjamin, a famous Marxist literary critique of the 1930s, who, in a different critical political situation, wrote:

“Marx says revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But perhaps it is entirely different. Revolutions are perhaps the attempt of humanity travelling in a train to pull the emergency brake.”22

    Today, only eco-socialism can actively pull the emergency brakes to stop the destructive course of the locomotive of industrialism. For this task, however, the proletariat is not the right agent. Proletarians are trained to and want to drive locomotives, and drive them as fast as possible. Their vision, if it is at all a kind of socialism, is cornucopian socialism. Erich Fromm, the famous social psychologist, who also admired Marx very much, thought that today there are “only two camps: those who care and those who don’t care.”23 I agree.

Today, humanity has come to a point where Marxist theory of history has reached the end of its tether, and another theory of history takes over, that of Arnold Toynbee.24 When collapse of the current civilization stares us in the face, the issue is not whether or how we can farther develop the forces of production, but whether we can meet the various challenges we are facing and transform, through contraction, our civilization into a sustainable one. I think with eco-socialism that is possible, but not with Marxian/Marxist socialism with its Promethean productivism.


Notes and References

1. Marx: Theses on Feuerbach. In Marx-Engels: Selected Works. Vol.1.Moscow 1977. P.15.
2. These were the show trials, in which several top leaders of the CPSU (B), such as
 Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin etc. were found guilty of treason, sentenced to death, and subsequently executed.
3. Chattopadhyay, Paresh: “A Brief Note on Subrata Bagchi’s write up “Che Guevara …..”.
 in  Frontier, 14.07.2014. Kolkata. (emphases added)
4. (not used)
5. Marx and Engels: The Holy Family, in Collected Works, Vol. 4. 1975, Moscow. P.37.
6. (not used)
7. Kolakowski, Leszek (1978/81) Die Hauptströmungen des Marxismus. Vol.2. Munich.
 P. 133f. (Tr. SS).
8. Meadows, Donella and Dennis et al.: Limits to Growth – Report to the Club of Rome.
London.1972.
9. Quoted in Sweezy, Paul M (1942) The Theory of Capitalist Development. New York: P.191.
9a. Marx: Capital Vol.3; translated by Fernbach. Penguin. P. 358f.
10. I have done that in my book The Crises of Capitalism. Berkeley, 2012.
10a. See my article on Vietnam’s return to capitalism:
https://eco-socialist.blogspot.com/search?q=Vietnam
11. Sweezy (see note 9), P. 102.
12. See Schumpeter; Joseph Alois (1912/1934) The Theory of Economic Development.
 Cambridge, MA. USA.
13. Schumpeter, Joseph Alois (1943) Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. London. P. 56f.

14. See my essay Understanding the Present-day World Economic Crisis – An 

Eco-Socialist Approach
https://eco-socialist.blogspot.com/search?q=understanding

14a. William Rees has recently published a good summary of the ecological state of the world:
https://countercurrents.org/2018/08/17/what-me-worry-humans-are-blind-to-imminent-environmental-collapse/
15. See Kuhn, Thomas (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago.
I used and explained the terms in my book
Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanities Fundamental 

Choices. London (Zed Books). 1999.
16. See Chapter 2 and 3 of my above mentioned book (note 15).
17. Marx & Engels (1976) Selected Works (in 3 Volumes) Vol. 3. Moscow.
18. Benton, Ted: “Marxism and Natural Limits: An Ecological Critique and Reconstruction”, in
New Left Review, I_178, Nov–Dec. 1989.
19. Gandhi, Mahatma, quoted in
Bandyopadhyay, Jayanta and Vandana Shiva (1989) “Political Economy of Ecology
Movements”, in Ifda dossier 71, May/June.
20. Marx: Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In 
Marx-Engels: Selected Works, Vol. 1. Moscow. 1977.
21. Engels: Principles of Communism : Quoted from the internet:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/11/prin-com.htm
22. Benjamin, Walter , quoted in
Fetcher, Iring (1980) Überlebensbedingungen der Menschheit.
Munich.P. 8).
23. Fromm, Erich (1979) To Have or to Be. London.P.196.
24. Toynbee, Arnold is the author of the monumental work A Study of History. (I have 
not read the 12 volumes, but some articles on his theory of history.)

6811 words


Note: The essay was first published in the online journal Radical Ecological Democracy




Monday, 6 August 2018

Ted Trainer's Eco-Anarchist Vision 2030 - 2050. --- It is Too Utopian


Dear friends,

My good friend Ted Trainer, a professed eco-anarchist, has recently published a very interesting fictitious Interview entitled

How the Great Transition was Made

    In it he describes how the transition to an ideal eco-anarchist society took place between 2030, when the Great Crash began, and 2050, when the transition was more or less completed.
    I found his vision utopian in the negative sense of the term and suggested that we had better start working on a “soft landing” after the Great Crash, that would certainly come.
    I am posting here the link to Ted’s fictitious interview and then my criticism of his vision. Please read Ted’s interview first.

Here is the link:
https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-07-18/how-the-great-transition-was-made/



Ted Trainer’s Eco-Anarchist Vision 2030–2050. – It is too Utopian

(a letter to Ted)

24.07.2018

Dear Ted,

I read your article How the Great Transition Was Made with interest. Good that you are still so hopeful. I have lost all hope. If I am still writing, it is only because I still can. And because I want to do my duty. In the latter sense, allow me to make a few comments. I will not repeat my arguments on anarchism vs. strong state/leadership etc.

(1).You are counting on the Great Depression of the 2030, and then you hope that within twenty years, people would transform capitalist society into a model eco-anarchist one corresponding to your vision. But such great depressions took place earlier, in the 1930s and 2008ff. In both cases, nothing happened in Europe and North America. In the first case, it is only the Second World War that helped overcome the depression. Of course, in those days nobody could imagine limits to growth and resource shortages. But in the second case, everybody of importance in politics and economics new about it. Peak oil and oil price of 140 Dollar were realities. Yet nothing happened. Not even in Greece. The country was offered the possibility of “walking out” (your words) of the Euro-zone; Euro-leaders even offered them financial help for the process. But neither the Greek politicians, nor the Greek people were willing to walk out. They even decided in a referendum to remain and suffer in the system. So much for “people”.

(2)
You are writing about the whole world, the whole humanity. But it seems to me that you have in mind only the highly advanced countries of Europe, North America, Australia (The First World), and maybe also China and India, where there are many factories etc. It appears you have not considered the situation in the whole continent of Africa, many states of which have de facto already broken down, have become (or are in the process of becoming) failed states. Also in South and Central America (Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil), in South Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan), and in the Middle East and North Africa (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia etc.), states and/or societies are breaking down. Millions of desperate people/migrants/refugees from such countries are trying to gate-crash into the First World. There are also unwanted migrants from some countries of Europe (e.g. Poland, Balkan countries) into Western Europe, where fascism has already raised its head again and is becoming stronger with every passing day. Violent attacks and insults are taking place there against unwanted migrants, especially in the small towns.
    All such things have been happening for quite a few years/decades now. In the 12 years that remain till 2030, the situation would only worsen. And you are thinking that citizens of the First World would, after the great crash and onset of the Great Depression, start building your ideal basis-democratic, egalitarian, anarchist society! This is utopian in the negative sense of the term. I am afraid, then all hell will break out.

(3) The main (but not the only) cause of this development is
overpopulation relative to the resources, which are dwindling. You have not included it in your list of main causes. Only in the context of dwindling Middle East oil supply you mention the problem once, and write: “because their … increasing populations and declining water … and food production meant … they had to use more and more of the oil they produced.” But population explosion is taking place all over the world except in the First World. Let me again quote Paul Ehrlich. Addressing the good people of the world, he wrote: “Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth]”. Marx, at least in this particular respect, was indeed wrong. He (also Engels, Lenin et al.) rejected stubbornly the obvious truth that Malthus had already discovered in the 18th century.

(4) Against the background of the situation described above,
community consciousness is evaporating. Remember what Margaret Thatcher once said? She said, “there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals.” When the great crash takes place in 2030, you expect people (not a few leaders/intellectuals) to “realize” (your word) immediately, and then quickly in the next 20 years, what they never realized before. I fear, most people – like those in Africa today – would then think like being on a sinking ship . They would then say “Everyone for himself” or “save yourself if you can!”
    How can you expect that in the coming12 years, the sense of solidarity, frugality, community consciousness etc., all the virtues that you perhaps, wrongly, assume to be still existing in the world, will remain intact in 2030? And after that?

Let me come to a close. The crash will come. That is certain. But I do not want to speculate on what will happen
then, or what the “citizens” would or could do then. I would rather think about what we, the citizens, could do before the crash comes. (I have written about that to some of my friends, including yourself, Johny and Steve, 2-3 years ago.). We have just 12 years left. So let us try to utilize the time preparing the world for a “soft landing”. And if we have a little good luck, who knows, a better society may in the long run emerge out of the turmoil. Let us keep it open how that may look like. It may look like your ideal eco-anarchist society. But I would not bet on that.

With warm regards

Saral


Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Varieties of Eco-Socialism: Comparing the Thought of John Bellamy Foster With Saral Sarkar's


Some of you might be interested in an essay I wrote for the Simplicity Institute, title 'Varieties of Eco-Socialism: Comparing the thought of John Bellamy Foster with Saral Sarkar". The impetus for the essay was an online debate between these two prominent eco-socialists last year. It struck me how divergent their views were, despite the common label they attach to their views. My essay is an attempt to explore and draw out those differences, in order to aid further discussion and debate within the eco-socialist (and broader) camp.


Feel free to forward to anyone who may be interested. 

Jonathan

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Green Party of Germany -- From Beacon of Hope to a Bog-Standard Party


Of late, given the troubling international environmental scenario, eco-activists all over the world have been wondering whether attempts should be made in more countries, particularly in the developing world, to form green parties. My advice to them is: do not hurry. No serious discussion has taken place, yet. However, just a few weeks ago, Pallav Das, editor of the RED website, requested me to write a contribution to the discussion on the basis of my study of and experience in the Green Party of Germany. The following text is the result of my trying to fulfil that request. I hope it would be useful for colleagues and readers of the RED website.

Theory Deficits and Programmatic Contradictions

Already in my first year (1982) as an activist of the Green-alternative movement and a member of the Green Party, I found that the majority of their activists and members, and those leading persons whom I came to know, were rather unaware of the basic theoretical reasoning behind the compelling necessity of a green party: It was the fact that there are limits to growth, and that no established party was paying heed to it. I found that the majority had not even read the basic literature on this subject, e.g. Limits to Growth by Meadows et al., Ein Planet wird geplündert (a planet is being plundered) by Herbert Gruhl, Weltniveau – In der Sackgasse des Industriesystems (World Level – in the blind alley of the industrial system), by Otto Ullrich, Kommunismus ohne Wachstum (communism without growth) by Wolfgang Harich. These works were published in the 1970s. They had also sold very well.
    The Green Party was founded in 1980, and the first members joined in the two years thereafter. But they were not really motivated by the discovery of the limits to growth. The majority of the early members were mainly disgruntled members of the established parties and cadres of the numerous small communist parties and groups. The main reason for their disgruntlement was, firstly, the failure of the antinuclear energy movement (hereafter, ANE-movement), in which many of them were very active, to persuade the German government to renounce nuclear energy, and, secondly, the failure of the peace movement to dissuade the government from deploying new middle range nukes aimed at the USSR. Their opposition to nuclear energy was due to the dangers that were associated with it. Among the founders and early members were also some sincere ecologists, but they were a small minority.
    This was before the Chernobyl catastrophe (1986), which confirmed all the fears of the Greens and the ANE-movement . Thereafter, their sympathizers along with about 50 percent of the German population started to vehemently demand decommissioning of all nuclear power plants. When the ruling parties retorted, “Do you want the lights to go off?”, they could not give a convincing reply, for, in the meantime, they had also become aware of the worsening of the CO2-related warming problem, which is why they were opposing lignite mining. Or they replied that all nuclear power plants could be replaced with gas-fired power plants, which emit much less CO2 than coal-fired ones, and that gas could be imported from the USSR. This was rejected by the ruling parties.
    I criticized the proposed solution as follows: Nuclear energy is dangerous, but it is dangerous everywhere including in the USSR. So why should we want the Soviets to export their gas to the Germans instead of using it for replacing all their own nuclear power plants? I did not get any proper reply to my question. In all these discussions, no Green leader said that the Germans must then simply reduce their energy consumption, although both in the programs of the forerunner organizations and in the party program there have also been statements against economic growth.
    A similar drama was repeated in 2011 after the Fukushima catastrophe – with the difference that this time, rapid expansion of so-called “clean” and “renewable” energy technologies were advocated as replacement for nuclear energy, and the government accepted the proposal.
    But also in respect of the “renewable” energies, they are unaware of the many doubts (which I share) about the usefulness and viability of solar and wind energy technologies that have been expressed by many including some renowned scientists and economists, such as James Lovelock and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegan.1 If such doubts can be ignored, then, of course, everything can go on as before. But can they be ignored?2

The Melon Character of the Green Party

It is not for nothing that the Green Party was often ridiculed as the “Melon party” – outwardly green, but inside red. Sometimes it was also described as a tomato – in the beginning green, but later red. For example, in the program of one of its precursor organizations called Green Action for the Future, one reads inter alia:
“The untenable ideology of growth is in the process of breaking down … . The present efforts to achieve economic growth by force will aggravate the crisis and will lead to a much greater catastrophe.”3
It was an anti-materialistic, radical ecological program , but it threatened to cause job losses. It generated a lot of antipathy among working class people, who already felt threatened by the ANE movement.
    The Bunte Liste (Chequered List) of Hamburg, one of its leftist precursor groups, however, felt called upon primarily to defend and promote the interests of the working class and its already achieved prosperity. In their program, one finds, for example sentences like the following:
“We do not want destruction of jobs through nuclear energy and excessive rationalization. …We want more money for our children and adolescents. Schools that children can enjoy, playgrounds, kindergartens, youth centers, and training opportunities.”4
    This stark contradiction between the two groups’ programs was glossed over when the Green Party was founded. There was a strong desire on both sides to found the party, because without this unity, neither the radical ecologists nor the radical leftists had any chance of winning some seats in the elections. So compromise formulations were found, which were facilitated by the advent of new technologies, including solar and wind energy technologies. In their first program, on the crucial question of economic growth, the Greens wrote:
“We are fundamentally against every quantitative growth. … But we are for qualitative growth, [i.e.] if it is possible with the same or less use of energy and with the same or less use of raw materials.”5
The question whether qualitative growth in this sense was at all possible, and if possible, what that would mean for income and standard of living of Germans, was conveniently left undiscussed. In this vein remained unexamined was also the economic soundness of the advocacy of solar and wind energy, which, as the Bunte Liste, Hamburg, correctly asserted, “create [i.e. require] eight times more jobs [i.e. labor cost] than nuclear energy.”

A Programmatic Synthesis Would Have been Possible

This kind of fudging in programmatic and policy statements, which had made cohabitation of radical ecological and radical leftist forces possible, could only go on for some time. Soon after the birth of the party, however, radical ecologists found that they had no influence in the party, that radical leftists, who were more numerous in the party committees, were systematically ignoring some of their fundamental positions, such as those expressed in the following sentences:
“Truthful enlightenment must replace untenable promises, which only strengthen the materialist habit of making ever more demands – demands that cannot be fulfilled on a finite and overcrowded earth. It is no longer possible to make maximum promises to one section of the people after the other.”
…………
“Everything must become simpler: the human being, administration, technology, traffic. Only then shall we have more freedom, less compulsive consumption, less performance terror, and with it less stress, neurosis, and other sufferings.”6
    These fundamental positions were obviously contradictory to the fundamental positions of the radical leftists with their Marxist theories, with their total faith in and allegiance to the working class and their trade unions. When conflicts arising from this contradiction became unavoidable, the radical ecologists started refusing to accept majority decisions.
    Yet, even in proper Marxist philosophical sense, these conflicts could have been resolved. Out of the contradiction between the old socialist thesis of the necessity of development of productive forces and the radical ecological antithesis of its impossibility without ruining the environment (hence its undesirability), a synthesis could have arisen if the leading people of the two major wings of the party opposing each other would have thought deeply about their respective positions. After all, one independent theoretical leader of the formation period of the Green Party, Rudolf Bahro, had already loudly proclaimed: “Red and green, Green and Red go well together.” 7
    Theoretical seeds of such a synthesis already existed in the works cited above. Harich’s book Communism without Growth hinted at this possibility. Ullrich’s new conception of socialism presented in the following two quotes cleared the debris of old thought from the path to that synthesis. Ullrich wrote:
“Socialism is a question of social constitution, of relations of humans to each other. It is unnecessary … even fatal to connect this question [as Marxists do] with an undefinable minimum technological and organizational development of equipment of work.”
And
“There is no lower limit of ‘development of productive forces’ below which socialism is impossible, but there is an upper limit. The level of industrialization that has been reached today by the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] and the GDR [German Democratic Republic] is creating, via technology, a social structure which by itself makes a socialist relationship between humans impossible.” 8
    For those not conversant with Marxist political philosophy, the two quotes can be translated into plain English as follows: Socialism is possible even in a technologically and organizationally “underdeveloped” society. And, secondly, in highly industrialized societies, production and distribution processes become so complex that relations of humans to each other cannot be(come) socialistic.

The Green Party Lost Its Way

But the synthesis did not arise. I am sure, at least some of the leaders of the Marxist-leftist wing had read the two books of Harich and Ullrich. I knew them, they were intellectually aware enough to understand the challenge that the latter posed to their received traditional conception of socialism. But, I think, they did not have the courage to reject such a fundamental tenet of Marxist socialism that Harich and Ullrich were in effect demanding of them.

    There may also have been some other reasons for that. Firstly, the new technologies like solar and wind energy, recycling technologies etc. and the expectation of more to come, may have given them the hope, as it did to many others, that the conflict between economy and ecology could after all be overcome. How false this hope has been could not be surmised in 1979–80, although Georgescu-Roegen had published his doubts already in 1971,9 and although the inexorable entropy law had become known among the reading public of Germany through the German translation of Jeremy Rifkin’s book on the subject.10
    A second factor that played a strong role has been the usual inertia of thought observable in the general public. I could also observe it among large numbers of members of the Green Party and among the activists of the Green-alternative movement. Their resistance to any thought of an unresolvable contradiction between ecology and economy of the current type was expressed in simple arguments like “If scientific and technological development could land man on the moon, why shouldn’t it be able to resolve this contradiction?”
    I once offered to deal with this question in a workshop. But already on the second day, a participant said: “That is too much theory. I do not like theory. We need action.” My riposte – “But with wrong theory and wrong analysis you may engage in wrong action” – was of no avail. The workshop was discontinued.
    Another argument I sometimes heard, especially from leftists, was that one should not trust the Club of Rome, because Aurelio Peccei, its president, was a big capitalist. Similarly, they simply did not like the radical ecologists, because many of the latter, e.g. Herbert Gruhl and Baldur Springmann, came from a conservative background. They even disliked Rudolf Bahro, who, before he became a radical ecologist, was a renowned communist and had been exiled from his native country GDR for trying to reform traditional communism. Their more radical comrades outside the Green Party later branded him as a rightist.
    A third reason was that it might not have helped at all even if some left leaders had accepted the arguments of the radical ecologists. Their dogmatic followers and comrades simply would not have listened to them. For, in the meantime, under the influence of anarchists, a culture of rejecting and defying any leadership, euphemistically called basis democracy, had become widespread both in the movement and in the Party.
    For their part, also value-conservative radical ecologists were too rigid. They refused to make any ideological compromise with socialism, the ideology of the leftists, with whom they had made a practical compromise. One may ask, why then did they, the two wings, who actually were adversaries, at all join hands to found this party? It was a big mistake. If I had been there at that time, I would have asked Herbert Gruhl, the leader of the value-conservative radical ecologists:
Do you think your radical ecological goals, which I share, can be realized within the framework of capitalism? If yes, then tell us how. If not, then should you not accept that they can only be realized in a new kind of socialist society with a planned economy? At least as a transitional stage to your ultimate ideal society?
I don’t know whether anybody had put this question to him, and whether he had gone into it. I at least did not find any text containing Gruhl’s reply to it.
    The big mistake was however knowingly made, for some practical reason. In the German proportional representation electoral system, there has been a so-called 5-percent clause. It says that only parties or electoral lists that get at least 5 percent of all the votes cast get seats in the parliaments. In 1979–80, none of the left parties nor any united left party could have cleared this hurdle. Same was the case with the value-conservative radical ecological groups. Later, many Greens said quite candidly that the Green Party owed its birth only to the 5-percent clause.
    This chapter of the party was closed, when, after months of bickering, the federal executive committee dominated by the leftists gave the radical ecologists an ultimatum. They were told either to leave the party or get expelled. They left.
    The theoretical synthesis ultimately came, but much later, and not in but outside the Green Party. That however is another story.11

Opportunists Took Over

In the Bundestag election of 1983, the Green Party, founded just 3 years ago, won 5.5% votes and got 27 seats. There was great jubilation over the “victory”, but it was also the beginning of its end as an ecological party.
    The opportunistic alliance of disparate groups with disparate programs that had made its quick rise possible also attracted thousands of opportunists who just wanted to get some political posts quickly, without having to
work their way up the hard way in the established parties. They simply jumped on the bandwagon. It should be noted here that in Germany, to be a member of the federal or a state parliament is a highly paid job with many perks, hence highly coveted. Moreover, it brings the MP in the limelight, which is very useful for her future career.
    The Green Party too, which was until then a small party, wanted to have more members. Anybody and everybody who wanted to become a member could become one by just signing a membership application form. Nobody cared about the bona fides of the applicants. Nobody was asked whether she had read the program. All kinds of people became members: political opportunists and apolitical sympathizers. For many of the latter it was a pastime-activity, but it was also a matter of some prestige to be a member of the new winning group which purported to be both an ecology party and a left party. They all claimed to want to protect the environment.12 or to work for peace.  Most of them however remained just names in the file. Also groups with a particular interest seeking a place on the political stage joined en masse: gays, lesbians, pedophiles, feminists, Christians, atheists, professional groups, foreigner groups etc. etc.
In such a motley crowd of new members, gradually, also the radical leftists started getting outnumbered in the committees.
    The opportunists, who called themselves “Realos” (realists), put through their policy of becoming a power factor, i.e. becoming a ruling party in coalition with one of the big established parties. In 1985, they succeeded for the first time in the state of Hessen.
    This was a U-turn point. Sometime in the early1980s, Petra Kelly, one of its leaders, had declared that the Green Party would be a new kind of party, that it would be an “anti-parties party”. Other leaders had promised that it would be the “parliamentary arm of the anti-establishment movements”. In the years following 1985, however, the Green Party became an ordinary party, just like any other, competing for a share of power. In 1987, they passed a new program, in which they gave up their opposition to industrial society. Henceforth, they only wanted to “restructure” it (Umbau der Industriegesellschaft). Ten years later, in 1997, they became a ruling party at the center, in coalition with the Social-Democratic Party.
    As a ruling party, in 1999, along with the NATO, they also waged war against Serbia. Radical leftists had already deserted the party, now even serious peace activists left it. When the movement against neoliberal globalization began, the party even criticized the movement. In 2004, together with the coalition partner SPD, they put through the anti-labor law known as Hartz IV. Today, it is a totally nondescript party, neither ecological (it is a reliable ally of the German car industry), nor leftist, nor a party of the movements.

In Conclusion, If I Am Allowed to Give an Advice

Today, any intelligent person can perceive everywhere signs and in some places even real pictures of impending or ongoing ecological and social collapse. In such a situation, if I am allowed to give an advice, those who are active in ecological and social movements that they understand as transformative, should not rush to form a green party or something like that, especially not in India. It is necessary first to do the groundwork, i.e. a thorough, objective and sincere analysis of the whole situation, in the world and in developing world countries, free from our personal likes and dislikes, our private interests, our myths and our wishful thinking. Only then can we sketch an achievable good society. Make-believe utopias are no use. As far as I can see, till now, not many activists have done this groundwork.
    Also, only on the basis of such an analysis can we correctly decide what to do, when and in which order. However, I see among political activists, everywhere, too much arbitrariness in selecting one’s area of activity, as if anything and everything is good and important. There is simply no focus in the whole story of movements. But if everything is important, then really nothing is important. In the end, actually, it is a question of the right strategy.
    I hope, with this article I have helped my readers to at least get some clarity on what not to do, which pitfalls to avoid.

Notes and References

1. Georgescu-Roegan, Nicholas (1978)
"Technology Assessment. The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy";

http://www.peakoilindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Georgescu-Roegen-The-Case-of-the-Direct-Use-of-Solar-Energy.pdf

In the 1990s, I heard James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory, expressing in a BBC interview strong doubts about the usefulness of wind energy.

2 See Saral Sarkar (2017)
The Global Crisis and Role of So-Called Renewable Energies in Solving It
http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/search?q=global+crisis

3, 4, 5, & 6. Quoted in Ch. 3 of my book:

Green-Alternative Politics in West Germany. Vol. II: The Greens. Tokyo and New Delhi: UNU Press, and Promilla. 1994.
    (Vol. I of the book is entitled The New Social Movements. 1993.)

7. Quoted in my above-mentioned book (P. 28).

8. The quotes from Ullrich are to be found on P. 203 of my book:

Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices. London and New Delhi: Zed Books & Orient Longman. 1999, 2000.
    (I published a longish review article on Ullrich’s book entitled “Marxism and Productive Forces – A Critique” in Alternatives (New York and New Delhi) in 1983.)

9. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1971) The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

(Georgescu-Roegen himself wrote a much shorter presentation of the substance of the book with the title: The Entropy Law and the Economic Process in Retrospect, which was published in 1986 in Eastern Economic Journal.)

10. Rifkin, Jeremy (1980) Entropy: A New World View. New York: Viking Press.

11. I claim I have made this synthesis in my Eco-Socialism book (see note 8), a synthesis being much more than and different from just an addition of environmental concerns to old Marxist conceptions of socialism.
    In this connection, I would like to recommend a paper by a young Australian scholar, Jonathan Rutherford, who speaks of varieties of eco-socialism:
http://simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Varieties-of-Eco-Socialism-Simplicity-Institute-1.pdf

12. In this context, I think it is necessary to distinguish between an “environment protector“ (environmentalist”, Umweltschützer) and an “ecologist”. People like Herbert Gruhl are true ecologists. A person who e.g. merely fights to protect a few trees from being felled should better be called “environment protector”. The de-growth movement of today can be understood as an ecology movement.

NB. This article has also been published in RED webjournal. Here is the link

http://www.radicalecologicaldemocracy.org/the-green-party-of-germany-from-beacon-of-hope-to-a-bog-standard-party/


Saral Sarkar is also the author of

The Crises of Capitalism –A Different Study of Political Economy. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2012.
He blogs at  
www.eco-socialism.blogspot.de