Sunday, 19 August 2012

Prospects for Eco-Socialism



by: Saral Sarkar


I. The Question

In Beijing, one of the listeners of my lecture on Eco-Socialism said after hearing me that he was fully convinced, but, he asked, “When will eco-socialism come?” It was a very difficult question, a short answer to which was not possible. I only answered that I was not an astrologer. It was, however, an interesting question, though not exactly in this form. It is better to ask: what are the prospects for eco-socialism? Or: are there indications today that give us hope that the majority of the people of the world or of some countries would in the near future embrace eco-socialism and transform their capitalist society to an eco-socialist one? It is a question worth reflecting upon because, as the world situation is today, it cannot go on like this for long.
    For all who consider themselves to be a socialist, Marx's view on this question can well serve as a starting point. 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, looking at the matter more closely, 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.” (Marx & Emgels.1977: 504)

I am not a socialist of the old type, for whom a quotation from Marx is always the last word in political wisdom. But these words are largely convincing, are helpful for scientific/materialist socialists, who do not want to indulge in wishful thinking. They help us understand why the working class of the advanced capitalist societies disappointed Marx’s expectation that they would overthrow capitalism. It was because, contrary to what Marx himself thought, all the productive forces for which there was room in capitalism had not fully developed yet. There was room for much more.
    Now, immediately, the following questions arise: (a) Is today, in advanced capitalism, the room for further development of productive forces exhausted? (b) Have the material conditions for the appearance of the new higher relations of production, socialism, matured? (c) If we today set ourselves the task of creating an eco-socialist society, can we say that we can "solve" (fulfil) this task? Do the material conditions for its "solution" already exist?


II. The Present-Day Crises

Before we can answer the first of the above questions we must describe the more important and relevant aspects of the world situation today. If we see problems and crises, then answering the question becomes easier. For then we can ask: can we expect that some upcoming further developments of the productive forces will be able to solve the problems and overcome the crises within the framework of capitalism? If we can answer the question in the affirmative, then we must also conclude that capitalism will not perish soon and that the material conditions for the appearance of socialism, which we socialists consider to be a better (let us ignore the term "higher") kind of relations of production, have not yet matured. In other words, we must conclude that a transition to socialism is not necessary yet.
    For the last one year or so the global media have been reporting on various crises that are much more serious than the ones on which they usually report, namely inflation, recession, crash in the share market, economic stagnation, rise in unemployment, crisis of the welfare state, foreign debt crisis in the developing countries, poverty, tensions or wars between states etc. etc. These crises are also there, but they are generally ephemeral, are part of the usual state of things. For the capitalist social order they are harmless compared to the more serious ones mankind is facing at present.
    Today, in many parts of the world, hunger has become very acute and more widespread than usual. Within a short time the price of rice, wheat, maize etc. have skyrocketed, so that the poor in many countries cannot even afford the meagre meals they have been living on until recently. In 30 countries there have been food riots and mass demonstrations against rising prices. In Haiti there have been violent clashes between the demonstrators and the police, which resulted in a few deaths.
    Then there is the energy crisis. The steep rise in the price of fuel and electricity is tormenting not only the poor countries, but also the rich ones. In Spain, Portugal, France and Great Britain truckers and fishermen are demonstrating against the high diesel price by blockading roads and ports, because, as they say, their profession has become uneconomic. There have even been clashes between the demonstrators and the police.
    The energy crisis is only the most important part of the general resource crisis. Crude oil, the most important of the basic sources of energy and raw material for many other products, is becoming more and more difficult to find and extract and hence more and more costly. Even the price of coal is rising. One who thinks of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels should note that even uranium is getting ever scarcer and ever costlier. Same is the case with silicon, the basic raw material for producing photo-voltaic cells and electronic chips. Not only these very special resources, but also ordinary industrial metals like iron, copper, zinc, nickel etc. are becoming ever costlier. Even the price of iron ore and scrap iron is rising sharply.
    Everybody knows that cheap and abundant energy is the basis of industrial societies and their high living standards. The end of the era of cheap oil means, therefore, that the prosperity of such societies is in danger of evaporating.
    The energy and resource crisis in general, and especially the rising price of natural gas is causing scarcity and rising costs of fertilisers. Population growth, growing industrialisation and large-scale urbanisation are resulting in shrinking availability of arable land and scarcity of fresh water. These factors – together with the foolish decision to transfer arable land from food production to bio-fuel production for motor vehicles – are behind the current food crisis.
    Far more serious than the resource crisis is the danger of devastating weather catastrophes – storms, floods, landslides etc. – caused by global warming and the rising sea level. Such catastrophes are, in fact, already taking place regularly in many parts of the world including China. And in future they are going to be increasingly frequent and intense.
    And, moreover, we must not forget the protracted, ever worsening ecological crisis: the insidious, ever intensifying – visible and invisible – degradation of the quality of air, water and soil due to dust and chemical and radioactive pollution, and the dwindling bio-diversity of the planet due to extinction of species.
    Apart from the resource and ecological crisis, the world today is suffering from some intractable social and political crises: hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their native land due to poverty, wars and environmental devastation; terrorist activities of religious and nationalist fanatics; ethnic conflicts and civil wars within states and across-borders; failed states, where there is no recognised government and which are ruled by a multiplicity of warlords.
    These crises, especially the underlying general resource crisis, will generate hitherto unknown kinds of inflation and recession. Until a year or two ago, generally, inflation used to be caused by high wage demands of trade unions and/or rapidly rising demand for consumer and investment goods, while supply could be raised only slowly. The remedy was simple: persuade the trade unions to make modest wage demands and/or reduce the tempo of rise in demand for consumer and investment goods by means of monetary and fiscal measures. From now onwards, however, prices will continue to rise even if labourers do not demand too high wages, even if demand for goods and services stops rising. It will be so because the given geological and geographic conditions under which today raw materials are being extracted are becoming ever more difficult entailing ever rising production costs. The cost of extracting oil from beneath the Arctic Ocean is simply much higher than that of extracting oil, say, from beneath the sands of Kuwait.
    When raw materials become ever scarcer and all prices continue to rise, demand will not only stagnate, but will begin to fall, because people will simply not be able to afford more. Moreover, processing less raw materials means less production. And when this happens, there will be a new kind of recession that will continue until sometime in the future the economy, now based mainly on renewable resources, will reach a steady state.
    All these are fundamental crises, unlike the harmless ephemeral ones mentioned earlier, which in the past could be overcome more or less easily by changing the relevant policies. The present-day crises are fundamental in the sense that their roots lie in the essentials of the system – the capitalist and industrial system – and overcoming them call for radical changes in the system: in the way we live and produce goods and services, in our numbers, in our economic and political system, in our resource use pattern, in the way we react with nature, in the way we organise our social relations etc. etc. In other words, these crises cannot be overcome in the framework of the present social, economic and political systems, i.e. in capitalism.


III. The State of the Productive Forces

Let us now examine the current state of the productive forces together with the developments thereof that have either recently taken place or are expected by many to take place soon. And then let us examine whether they can help us overcome the fundamental crises within the framework of capitalism. In my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? (1999) I have dealt with this question in great detail. A revised and updated Chinese version of the book has been published in 2008. So the arguments for my positions need not be presented here in detail. Here I shall deal with the question in short and with reflections based on more recent data.
    The most important task facing capitalism today is to find new sources of energy that (a) will not emit, or emit very little, greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and (b) will be sufficiently abundant and cheap, so that they can replace the fossil fuels that (a) are non-renewable and are being depleted rapidly and (b) that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases. In other words, the task is to find new sources of energy (and also other resources) that will allow us to sustain economic growth without degrading the environment and are renewable.
    Ever since scientists and engineers became aware of the seriousness of the twin problems of exhaustibility of resources and environmental degradation – that was in the middle of the 1970s – a lot of research and development has been done in many relevant areas, especially in the area of resources that are allegedly not only renewable but also non-polluting. But, unfortunately, no solution to the problems has yet been found.
    Great hopes had been put especially on the energy of sunshine and wind, both of which are renewable and available in enormous quantities. The quantity of energy that we receive from the sun everyday is 15,000 times as much as the daily total world consumption of commercial energy. So it was hoped that with the development of solar energy technologies alone the problem of sustainable growth could be solved.
    But these hopes have till now failed to materialise. Neither solar nor wind energy technologies are yet able to commercially compete with the conventional, CO2-emitting, and fossil fuel burning technologies. And it seems they will never be able to. They are and, it seems, will always remain dependent on subsidies. But the subsidies come from the economy at large, by far the greater part of which is powered by the fossil fuels, the very source of energy which the renewable sources are supposed to replace. That means the renewable energy technologies are not viable, they can exist only as long as the fossil fuels are available.
    That this dependence is not diminishing is shown by the fact that, in Germany, Eurosolar, a large lobby organisation of the renewable energy industries, recently demanded an increase in the guaranteed (and subsidised) kilowatt-hour price for wind energy on the grounds that raw-material costs are rising (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30.05.2008). The most important among the raw-materials needed to build wind-driven power stations is, of course, energy from the fossil fuels, the costs of which are indeed rising rapidly. The German government acceded to the demand and did increase the guaranteed price (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7.06.2008). Eurosolar did not demand any increase in the guaranteed price for (photovoltaic) solar electricity, although rising raw-materials costs are also causing the production costs of the photovoltaic industry to rise. High grade silicon, from which wafers for photovoltaic cells are produced, is becoming ever scarcer and its price is rising (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12.06.2008). But the guaranteed price for solar electricity had already been so much higher than the price of conventional electricity that the government decided to reduce it a little. The point here is not to judge whether the guaranteed subsidised prices are too high or reasonable, but to demonstrate the economic dependence of the allegedly renewable energy technologies on income generated mainly by using non-renewable and CO2-emitting fossil fuels. To describe the situation in technical terms, neither solar nor wind energy technologies can reproduce themselves. That is, the entire equipment needed for these technologies is manufactured by using conventional (largely fossil fuel) energy. The net energy they produce (energy return on energy invested = EROEI) is either too little or even negative.
    Another renewable source of energy that has been promoted is bio-mass, in two forms: (a) fuel crops and (b) waste products from agriculture and forestry. None of them is actually a new development. Bio-diesel produced from vegetable oil had been considered as fuel for automobiles before petroleum became abundantly available. Bio-gas from waste bio-mass had been widely used in the 1950s to '70s. Nowadays it is used to generate electricity at a small scale. That this actually ancient source of renewable energy has been revived in modernised forms – especially in the forms of bio-ethanol and bio-diesel –, and is being strongly subsidised, is a reflection of the hidden disappointment of policy makers with solar and wind electricity.
    Modern industrial societies need not only electricity but also liquid fuels for many purposes, particularly for driving automobiles. To get a liquid fuel from solar and wind electricity – and also to store these irregularly and intermittently available energies for making them available at all times – it is necessary to produce with their help liquid hydrogen from water through electrolysis. But this is a very costly process. Not only the monetary costs but also the energy costs of producing liquid hydrogen from solar or wind electricity is so high that driving a motor vehicle with this fuel is totally nonsensical. That is why one came upon the idea of using bio-ethanol from sugarcane, maize etc. and bio-diesel from rape-seed oil, palm oil etc.
    But bio-fuels have a great disadvantage: they need fertile land. So one must either take over land hitherto devoted to food crops or destroy rain forests – as is happening for many years now in Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia – in order to get land for fuel crops. Both are bad ideas. To reallocate farmland to bio-fuel production is even a dangerous idea at a time when the current world population of 6.5 billions is still growing and about 800 million people are suffering from hunger. The current food crisis referred to above has been attributed in a World Bank report to the extent of 75% to this phenomenon (The Guardian, 4.07.2008). Destroying rainforests for this purpose is a bad idea because (a) they are themselves a large part of nature’s own system of absorbing CO2 and (b) because they are the space where the greatest bio-diversity on earth exists. Moreover, even bio-fuels, although they are not very high-tech products like solar electricity, must be subsidised, so that they can compete with the fossil fuels. There are even strong doubts that the net energy gained from them (their EROEI) is at all positive (see e.g. Wall Street Journal, 5.12.2006).

    In view of their strong dependence on fossil fuels, it is totally unconvincing that promoting so-called renewable energy technologies would have the effect of containing global warming. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently presented a packet of recommendations for halving the global emission of greenhouse gases by 2050. Promotion of allegedly renewable energies is to contribute 21 percent of this reduction goal. The IEA recommends that for this purpose, by 2050, 46% of the global electricity demand should be met through renewable energies. It recommends that 17,500 wind turbines should be built every year, and the use of bio-mass for energy generation should be quadrupled. The IEA also estimated the amount of money that would be needed for making all the investments it recommends (which include also investments in new nuclear power plants): in all, 45 trillion US-Dollars till 2050 (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7.06.2008; Schrader 2008). But how will these funds be generated if, simultaneously, the contribution of fossil fuels to the gross world product (world GDP) has to be drastically reduced? And if due to continuous rise in the price of fossil fuels, especially oil and gas, a world-wide recession sets in, then it will be difficult even to maintain the present level of necessary expenditures.

    The IEA also recommends in its packet the construction of 32 nuclear power plants every year, a total of 1300 new ones by 2050. The revival of nuclear power as a major source of energy is not being presented as a development of the productive forces. It is an old technology which was, against the background of the hopes put on the rise of renewable energies, considered to be too dangerous and dispensable. Now, since the so-called renewable energy technologies have disappointed these hopes, policy makers are willing to revive this old technology. But, even if people are prepared to accept the risks and even if the risks are lowered through technical improvements, uranium is a non-renewable resource and is already becoming ever costlier. According to estimates of experts, at the present rate of consumption of the currently operating 439 nuclear reactors in the world, uranium ore will be available at the most for another 60 years. Moreover, according to the World Nuclear Association, global uranium production already peaked in 1981. That means, its availability is gradually declining (Meacher 2006). In September 2006, the price of uranium was more than six times as high as in 2001 (International Herald Tribune, 5.09.2006). What prevents the closure of some of the existing nuclear power plants due to lack of uranium is the use of nuclear weapons material made available through the mutual reduction of the nuclear weapons arsenal of the USA and the former Soviet Union.
    Because of these problems with the presumptive alternatives to fossil fuels, hard-headed realists in the energy industries are thinking of some other solution of the energy and global warming problem based on coal, which is still abundantly available and comparatively cheap. Coal is not as versatile as oil, but it can be gasfied and liquefied. The problem that has to be solved is how to burn it and yet not emit CO2 into the atmosphere. The solution that is being advocated and experimented with at present is the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. The idea is to industrially separate the CO2 from the other exhaust gases of the coal-burning power plants, capture and liquefy it under high pressure and then pump it down into caverns that result from the exhaustion of oil and gas fields. Then – here the idea becomes a bit unclear– either the caverns would be sealed off or the liquefied CO2 would be absorbed by the rocks around the cavern. Geologically suitable caverns with chemically suitable rocks will, of course, have to be found.
    The strongest advocacy of this solution of the problem came in 2006 from the report of a commission appointed by the UK government and presided over by Sir Nicholas Stern. The report estimates the costs to be incurred for limiting global warming to a safe level by this and some other methods to be very modest, yearly 1% of the global GDP up to 2050 (Stern 2006). But some economists have strong doubts about this optimistic estimate. Robert J. Samuelsonwrites:

“The notion that there is only a modest tension between suppressing greenhouse gases and sustaining economic growth is highly dubious. Stern arrives at his trivial costs .... by essentially assuming them. His estimates presume that .... technological improvements will automatically reconcile declining emissions with adequate economic growth. .... To check warming, Stern wants annual emissions 25% below current levels by 2050. The IEA projects that economic growth by 2050 would more than double emissions. At present we can’t bridge the gap. .................
    We need more candor. Unless we develop cost-effective technologies that break the link between carbon-dioxide emissions and energy use, we can’t do much. Anyone serious about global warming must focus on technology – and not just assume it. Otherwise our practical choices are all bad: costly mandates and controls that harm the economy, or costly mandates and controls that barely affect greenhouse gases. Or possibly both. (Samuelson 2006. Emphasis added)

IV. The central source of prosperity


Nowadays, in Europe one often hears that we are now living in a Wissensgesellschaft. The English equivalent of the term is presumably “knowledge society”. Recently, in a high-level discussion on the various crises of today, the moderator asked an intellectual, who had been an adviser to the Finance Minister of France, what the Western societies should and can do to overcome the crises. The adviser said, in the general sense, the material resources are inexorably becoming scarcer and costlier, and there is competition at the world market from low-wage countries like China, India etc. The way to overcome the crises is therefore fast progress towards a Wissensgesellschaft. I checked in an internet encyclopaedia and found there that many Western thinkers believe that “theoretical knowledge is the most important resource of the post-industrial society”, that “production, use, and organisation of knowledge are the central sources of productivity and growth” (Wikipedia, German edition).
    A few years ago similar thoughts used to be expressed in simpler terms, namely scientific and technological development. Some people in Germany used to say: let the Chinese, the Indians, the East Europeans etc. produce all the ordinary goods, we shall sell the blueprints, or we shall sell the highly sophisticated products and know-how. But how much of all these beliefs has a solid basis?
    Ever since modern science began, knowledge production has continued uninterruptedly. In our times, we hear from scientists that knowledge is, so to speak, exploding. But then, if knowledge is the most important resource and the central source of growth, why are there these crises that I have referred to in section II.? Obviously, these beliefs are not well-founded.
    Production, use, and organisation of knowledge have always been an important (let us use the terms) resource and source of growth in productivity and production. However, they have not been central to the origin and explosive growth of the Industrial Civilisation. But is there at all something we can call the central source of growth in prosperity in the last two hundred years? Yes, these are the fossil fuels.
    As we all know, the steam engine made the Industrial Revolution possible. And high pressure steam could be produced by burning coal. It is not as if coal was essential for producing steam. One could have done that also by burning wood or charcoal. But wood had become scarce much before the Industrial Revolution began in England, which is why coal, a very dirty fuel, started being used in place of wood. The difference between wood and coal was that, firstly, coal was – at least in the countries, in which the Industrial Revolution was made – immensely abundant; it appeared to be inexhaustible. And, secondly, the energy content (energy density) of coal is much higher than that of wood. A study made in 1996 found that whereas the EROEI of US-American plantation wood amounts to 2.1 (i.e. a return of 2.1 units of energy can be had by investing one unit of energy), the EROEI of coal (from Wyoming USA) amounts to 10.5. The EROEI of US-American onshore natural gas and that of Alaska oil are, according to the same study, 10.3 and 11.1 respectively (cf. Heinberg 2003: 153). In its early days (1901–1920), the EROEI of Texas oil was 20 (Kunstler 2005: 107). It is as if “fossil fuels provided for each person in an industrialised country the equivalent of having hundreds of slaves constantly at his or her disposal” (ibid: 31).
    When one generation of scientists and engineers, the providers and practitioners of knowledge, die, they are replaced by the next generation of scientists and engineers. They and their knowledge are, so to speak, renewable resources that are, in highly developed countries, not scarce. But not so the fossil fuels. The huge leaps in inventions and productivity that took place in the past two centuries were, of course, the work of creative scientists and engineers. But the platform, so to speak, on which they worked was provided in the final analysis by the abundantly available cheap fossil fuels. The invention of, e.g., aeroplane could not even have been imagined without the availability of cheap oil. And automatic machines that replace manpower and thus enhance productivity cannot be manufactured and operated without the use of fossil fuels. They enhance productivity because they are able to replace human energy with some or other form of fossil-fuel energy.
    This platform is nowadays becoming ever weaker. Oil extraction has (almost) peaked. Its price is rising inexorably and supply cannot be increased anymore. The end of the golden age of oil is looming on the horizon. Many airlines are mothballing planes, giving up routes, raising prices. Americans and Europeans are being compelled to drive less and buy smaller cars. There is a crisis in US and European automobile industry.
    Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, a pioneer in ecological economics, calls the deposits of fossil fuels and other important non-renewable minerals in sufficiently high degree of concentration “the limited dowry of mankind’s existence on earth”. A dowry is not only limited but also a once-only gift. That is why he comes to the conclusion:

“Even with a constant population and a constant flow per capita of mined resources, mankind’s dowry will ultimately be exhausted if the career of the human species is not brought to an end earlier by other factors.” (Georgescu-Roegen 1971/1981: 296)

Under the expression “other factors” we may understand all kinds of wars, especially those over resources, pandemics (like AIDS, bird-flu etc.), to fight against which mankind would not have enough resources, the devastations caused by the effects of global warming etc.
    Georgescu-Roegen wrote these lines in 1971, when the focus was more on the resource question. In 2006, James lovelock – another great scientist-thinker – was compelled to focus more on the ecological health of the planet Earth. He had earlier compared it with a living organism and called it Gaia (the name of the ancient Greek Earth-goddess). Referring to the great dangers coming from global warming, Lovelock (2006) wrote in a very pessimistic mood:

“We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there [i.e. in a state like a coma] before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade [Celsius] in the temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.”

But, despite being very pessimistic, he gives a call for action:

“So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone, and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia. We must do it while we are still strong enough to negotiate, and not a broken rabble led by brutal warlords.”

V. The new tasks

If we want to heed Lovelock's call, then we must give ourselves some very new tasks. The problem is not just global warming. It is actually more general. There is, undeniably, a contradiction between ecology and economy as we know it today. Because, generally speaking, the more resources we consume, the more we pollute/degrade the environment. This is true even if resource consumption is increased in order to limit some particular case of pollution somewhere. And almost all measures to protect the environment in the interests of the general public, peoples of other countries, and the future generations result in increasing costs and losses to some people and some enterprises of the present generations, and that jeopardises economic growth. The only convincing way to achieve overall reduction in pollution and degradation of nature – that includes limiting global warming – is to reduce overall resource consumption. That entails overall economic contraction. In my book (1999 & 2008) I have argued in detail for these propositions.
    Whether we like it or not, the expositions in section III and IV lead undisputedly to the conclusion that the idea of socialism on the basis of a highly developed industrial society has no chance of being realised. Also the traditional notion that a socialist regime's first task is to develop the productive forces and thus to increase production and labour productivity does not make any sense any more. These ideas and notions have become obsolete, they must be replaced with ideas and notions that are appropriate to the problems and crises we are facing today. Thus, today, socialists must replace the notion of primacy of human needs and rights with the notion of primacy of environmental protection. And the primary task of a new socialist regime will have to be to organise the transition to an economy based largely, if not exclusively, on renewable resources. Marx wrote: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it". Following him, we should today say: till now, we, including socialists, have changed the world in various ways; the point today is, however, to protect it. Also Marx's vision of a communist society as one in which the first rule of distribution is "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", must be revised. The second part of the rule should read: .... to each an equal share of what we can take from nature without degrading it.
    Let us go back to the Marx-quotation in section I. He wrote: ".... higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself." Here Marx seems to say that socialism, the higher relations of production, will appear  by itself (automatically) when the material conditions for its existence have matured. I do not believe that it would appear by itself, it has to be created, and Marx himself also spoke in the same quotation of the "task" that arises. Now the question is: have the material conditions for the existence of socialism matured?
    Under "material conditions" Marx and his followers understood a situation in which, in a highly developed industrial society, capitalism has become a fetter to the further development of productive forces. Capitalism, they thought, would perish because of this. However, when we observe the capitalist economies of today, we do not see any sign of capitalism having become a fetter to the further development of productive forces. On the contrary, capitalism is developing the productive forces so much and so rapidly that this itself has become a great threat to both human societies and the global environment. The task today is, therefore, not to smash any non-existent fetters, but, on the contrary, to fetter the productive forces, which under capitalism, driven by market forces, have developed a dynamism independent of any considerations of good or bad for human societies and nature. But that would not suffice. The task today is rather to organise an orderly retreat from today's growth madness, to wilfully  scale down humanity's economic activities.
    These are the tasks, for which we need socialism with a planned economy. There is no room for these tasks in capitalism, because in its very logic there is an in-built growth compulsion. It is mainly for this reason that it must be overcome. These are very different, very new grounds for demanding socialism. This is a very new conception of socialism's tasks. To make the difference between old socialism and this new socialism clear it is necessary to call it eco-socialism.

VI. Prospects for Eco-Socialism

Marx wrote: "mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; .... the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist .... ." (see quotation above!). Do the material conditions for successfully fulfilling the new tasks, the tasks as understood in the concept of eco-socialism, already exist? I believe they do. For, unlike in the old Marxist concept of socialism, no rapid and difficult-to-achieve development of productive forces is necessary, no highly industrialised society has to be built up from scratch as the Soviet and Chinese communists have had to do. The material conditions that are needed for fulfilling the new socialist tasks defined above exist since long: adequate renewable resources and intermediate, labour-intensive technologies. Also technologies for stopping population growth are easily available.
    I would like to add here that even the objective necessity for eco-socialism exists. Large sections of humanity have realised that the crises and their sufferings referred to in section II cannot be overcome in Capitalism; they are crying for an alternative. At least in Germany, where I can observe the developments personally, the earlier antipathy to socialism is melting down. In opinion surveys, about half of the Germans say that socialism is a very good idea, only its implementation in the past had been bad. However, one very important condition that does not exist yet is the subjective readiness of the majority of the people of the world to really set itself the tasks defined above and, generally speaking, to accept the vision of eco-socialism. The expression "adequate renewable resources" is, unfortunately, still understood as enough to maintain the present-day average standard of living of, say, a middle class family in the USA or Germany.
    Old Marxist socialists understood the psychological dimension of their task as creating, after the revolution, the New Man, a character type that has overcome selfishness, is ready to sacrifice personal interests in favour of the welfare of the collective, is ready to accept material equality as a social goal. What is new in eco-socialism in this respect is that the majority of the people must be subjectively ready, now, to accept a much lower material standard of living in the near future. Whereas in old socialism the selfish man was to become the New Man  in the context of the promise of rising prosperity of the collective, in eco-socialism there will definitely be no promise of rising prosperity. For – unlike e.g. today's Brazil, that is rapidly destroying the Amazon rainforests –  an eco-socialist society must not strive to use all the country's renewable resources for the benefit of human beings. Much fertile land must be left unused by humans so that they can be the habitat of the other animal and plant species. An eco-socialist society must not dam all its rivers to produce hydroelectricity.
    What then are the prospects of eco-socialism replacing capitalism? At first it seems to be bleak. Lovelock uses the term “we”. But who are these “we”? Lovelock, I am sure, would say: why, the whole mankind. But mankind is not united in this matter. At the recent G8-summit in Japan the participants did not announce any agreed middle-term action plan aimed at retarding global warming, although they agreed in principle on the long-term goal of halving the emission of greenhouse gases by 2050. China and India, whose leaders had also been invited to take part in this part of the deliberations, flatly refused to undertake anything in this regard. Their argument is essentially the same as that put forward until two years ago by the US President Bush II for withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol process, namely that it would harm the US economy. In 1992, at the so-called Earth Summit in Rio-de-Janeiro, the then US President Bush I had said categorically that the American way of life could not be a matter for debate. All this confirms Samuelson's assertion that “the notion that there is only a modest tension between suppressing greenhouse gases and sustaining economic growth is highly dubious”. All this also means that the prospects of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting the environment in general are, at least at present, very dim. Economic growth is still the topmost priority of the leaders of all nations. Even the leaders of the EU, which poses to be the pioneer in this matter, back down from their promises when it comes to taking concrete measures that might harm particular economic interests. Bush II was at least honest when he withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol process.
    Although the prospects today are bleak, we can still speculate on the prospects in future. All the crises we are experiencing today will further intensify in course of time. Chaos, disorder, conflict may lead to the breakdown of the prevailing political regime in one country after the other. Of course, as of today, there is not much hope that eco-socialist regimes will take their place. But there is no compelling reason to be pessimistic either.
    Today, of course, there are very few eco-socialists in the world. And even many who call themselves eco-socialists or eco-Marxists still harbour many illusions about alleged wonderful possibilities of renewable resources and non-polluting technologies that will allow all of humanity to enjoy a-middle-class standard of living. But that may change soon, or perhaps later. The various crises of today, especially global warming and the resource crisis, may themselves educate the masses quickly. We eco-socialists may add our own efforts to that. The number of eco-socialists may rise rapidly and they may become more realistic in their thoughts. It depends largely on us, today's eco-socialists, on our commitment and on how intensively and intelligently we work for our cause.
    Also in the highly developed industrial societies I can see some signs of hope. Firstly, for reasons other than ecological, the population of these countries is going down (e.g. in Russia and Germany) or stagnating. And for spiritual, moral and/or ecological reasons many people are voluntarily living a modest life. There are many who have given up using a private car and generally reduced their consumption. In theoretical writings on the ecology and resource problems I have often come across a quotation in which the 19th century economist John Stuart Mill advocates "a stationary state" economy. Herman Daly's (1977) advocacy of "a steady-state economy" is fairly well known among environmentalists. In the English and German speaking world, recently several books and articles have appeared that warn the highly industrialised societies of the coming unavoidable downscaling of their economies (see e.g. Heinberg 2003, Kunstler 2005). People who have accepted such views are, of course, still a small minority. But the majority is worried and have started thinking seriously about life beyond the Oil Age and amidst global warming. In this context, it is also important to note that in these countries there exists a movement that calls itself de-growth movement.
    However, unfortunately, all these writers and other people who are worried, envisioning the future, and thinking of solutions to the problems are thinking only within the framework of capitalism. They are not asking whether their ideas can at all be implemented in capitalism. But I think it is possible that after some time, when the governments would be compelled to tell the people that substantial sacrifices are necessary, the people, who would have become highly politicised by then, would demand that the sacrifices and burdens are distributed equitably, that some kind of rationing of the more essential goods and services and jobs are introduced. We may hope that in the highly developed countries, when the planned downscaling of the economy begins, people would not accept extreme inequality as their forefathers did in the pre-industrial ages. That could be a step towards an eco-socialist society. (In my book on the subject {1999, 2008}, I have discussed in great detail the main features of an eco-socialist society).

VII. Prospects for Eco-Socialism in Developing Countries

The prospects, I guess, are better among the peoples of the poor Third World countries. The distance between an ideal sustainable way of life and their present real way of life is not as great as that among the peoples of Western Europe and North America. In the Third World, many of us still remember having lived without electricity and motor vehicles. In India, even today about two-thirds of the population do not have access to electricity. But one very depressing aspect of the situation there is the unabated population growth.
    Nowadays, among socialists one can observe quite a lot of enthusiasm over the recent developments in Latin America. In some countries there, those who call themselves socialists have been elected as president, in some others left leaning Social Democrats. Especially the developments in Venezuela and Bolivia have raised hopes. But such feelings only reflect old socialist thinking. The redistribution of the nation's oil and gas wealth in favour of the poorer strata of society that is taking place in these two countries is, of course, highly laudable. But this may be called "petro-socialism". This policy has no future. When the oil and gas wealth will start to decline, what will the socialist presidents have to distribute? They are raising hopes without caring for the future. We should therefore focus on countries that are not so well endowed with oil and gas or some other valuable minerals, the limited onetime-only "dowry" Georgescu-Roegen spoke of.
    China immediately comes to mind as an example. The economy of this most populous country of the world is booming for quite a few years. It is rapidly becoming industrialised. China is, moreover, ruled by an all-powerful communist party. So, following the ideas of old socialism, one might think that the foundation of a socialist society is being built there, albeit largely through an economic policy that allows and encourages capitalist enterprises in a sort of market economy. When a BBC journalist asked a member of the Communist Party of China, whether he found it alright that capitalist entrepreneurs were making large profits at the expense of the working people, the latter replied: "The goal remains the same, only the path and the tempo can vary." I think, the leaders of the CPC would say the same in reply to the question.
    But they cannot ignore the ecological and resource crisis any more. They are fully aware of the enormity of environmental pollution in China. The Chinese National Bureau of Statistics estimated that in 2004 the economic damage caused by environmental pollution amounted to 3% of the GDP of that year. It further estimated that to clean up or repair the [accumulated] environmental pollution/damage would cost the nation €106 billion, which is equivalent to 7% of the GDP of 2004 (Financial Times, 8.09.2006). The leadership is also aware of the basic cause of this high level of pollution. Responding to the world-wide negative reports on the state of China's environment, a high level member of the national government said: you cannot want China to be the "factory of the world" and then complain about pollution! As regards the energy and resource crisis, China is, through its accelerating demand, as much a cause of the crisis as a sufferer from it. For the average Chinese, the recent 18% hike in the price of petrol is much more difficult to bear than it would be e.g. for the average German. According to recent reports, there is now even power shortage in China, because coal production cannot keep pace with demand (Frankfurter Rundschau, 11.07.2008). The shortfall in coal production resulted inter alia from the closure of many small and/or illegal coal mines where every year hundreds of miners lost their life through accidents, which happened because mine owners had refused to invest enough in safety measures (International Herald Tribune, 14.07.2008).
    Leaders of the CPC also cannot ignore the negative social and political effects of such disregard of the interests of the working class. And there are also reports of hundreds of protest demonstrations on various issues and grievances, and reports of numerous violent clashes between the police and the aggrieved people.
    Against this background, one is compelled to ask, can the goal remain the same, i.e. socialism on the basis of a highly developed industrial economy?
    At present, it does not appear that the Chinese leadership is prepared to revise its goal. At an international conference on "Environment and Socialism" held in May 2008 in Jinan (I took part in it) almost all Chinese speakers said, in the general sense, they knew that the state of the environment in China was very bad, that this could not be allowed to continue and that measures to protect the environment must be taken. But why? Because, they said, otherwise development would be halted. There was no mention of the resource crisis. The remedy was seen in the development and use of environment-friendly technologies. And I heard very often the avowal of eco-socialism as the goal (at least of the speakers). But this is not what I consider to be true eco-socialism. I am afraid, if the Chinese leadership does not change course soon, if it continues, like the rest of the world, to pursue the goal of maximising the GDP, then it would lead China to economic and social collapse. (That may happen in India too.)
    But if the leadership embraces true eco-socialism, then China has a better chance of success than any other country. Because, firstly, in China the Communist Party still has considerable control over the economy and society at large. Although much of the economy is now functioning as a capitalist market economy, not much is left totally at the mercy of anonymous market forces. If it decides to change course, the leadership can take over complete control of the economy and organise an orderly (instead of a chaotic) retreat from today's growth madness. Secondly, with its one-child policy the leadership has already taken an important step towards eco-socialism. And thirdly, unlike in rich industrial countries, the masses still have not forgotten how to live a happy life without much material wealth.
    However, there is also a danger: the corroding effects of capitalism on the moral fabric of society, of the masses as well as of the leadership. To allow capitalists to become a member of the Communist Party was not a good idea. Through them greed can (or it has already) become a dominating force in human behaviour. And greed is not only an anti-socialist, but also an anti-ecological trait of character. As Gandhiji said, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs but not for every man's greed".




Daly, Herman (1977) Steady State Economics. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1971/1981) The Entropy Law and the Economic Process.
Cambridge (Ma): Harvard University Press.
Heinberg, Richard (2003) The Party is Over. Forest Row: Clairview..
Kunstler, James Howard (2005) The Long Emergency. London: Atlantic Books.
Lovelock, James (2006) “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever .... ”, in:
    The Independent, 16.01.2006.
Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederick (1977) Selected Works in Three Volumes , Volume One.
Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Meacher, Michael (2006) “On the Road to Ruin”, in: The Guardian, 7.06.2006
Samuelson, Robert J. (2006)  “The Worst of Both Worlds?” in: Newsweek, 13.11.2006.
Sarkar, Saral (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?. London: Zed Books.
    ,,         ,,     (2008)          Chinese translation of ditto. Jinan: Shandong University Press.
Schrader, Christopher (2008) Große Töne, kleiner Beitrag, in Süddeutsch Zeitung,
Stern, Nicholas (2006) Stern Review: Der wirtschaftliche Aspekt des Klimawandels
London: Internet.

Saral Sarkar
Blumen Strasse - 9
50670 - Köln
Tel. 0049-221-1391737.
Fax.  ,,      ,,      2005403
Written in June–July 2008.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Polemics is Useless
A Proposal For An Eco-socialist Synthesis In The Overpopulation Dispute

[[This essay was originally published in 1993. Twenty years later, with 7 billion people living on the planet today and a projected world population of 9 billion in 2050, its importance has sharply increased. Some facts and figures on the ground have of course changed since 1993, especially with regard to India. But the basic facts and arguments remain the same. And the problem still remains unsolved.]]

The problem of population growth is not only a very important topic, it is also a delicate, even an explosive one. In many leftist, feminist and Third World solidarity circles it is almost impossible to mention it as a serious problem. For many ecologists of the North it is a taboo-topic. They are often afraid of raising this issue, afraid of being abused as eco-imperialists.
    That is understandable. As long as imperialist institutions like the US government, Rockefeller Foundation, World Bank or individual experts like Garrett Hardin1 and Maurice King2 (but also the rulers of the South) are the main protagonists of birth control, the objects of their policies would naturally view every population policy with suspicion. As long as the former think that the latter produce children like rabbits or look at them as if they were weeds, the latter and their political sympathizers will shout back. As long as population policies are implemented at the cost of the health of women, women's groups will naturally reject them.
    As a result of this situation, a genuine discussion between the two sides – the ecologists of the North on the one side and the leftists, feminists and Third World solidarity circles on the other – cannot (and actually does not) take place. What takes place is usually merely polemics. But polemics is of no use. A sincere discussion between the protagonists and opponents of population control is necessary, because the problem is very serious, because a solution must be found soon.
    For a genuine discussion on this topic to be possible, it is necessary to break two taboos. One has already been mentioned above. Ecologists of the North must be allowed to raise the issue without being abused as eco-imperialists. And leftists and others must be allowed to raise the system question without being accused of not having learnt anything. History has not come to an end. Capitalism, free market economy, the present world economic order etc. must be allowed to be brought into the discussion. The discussion must be freed from polemics. All of us, who are concerned about the whole situation – about ecology, hunger, poverty, exploitation, oppression, war, peace and the fate of the future generations – must for once forget our opponents, think the problem through, and ask ourselves what we would do if we had to decide what is to be and can be done today.

Malthus: The Difference Between Problem and Policy

The thinking through must begin with Malthus. We must differentiate between problem and policy. Population policy can be so or so. The one policy can be rejected, the other accepted. But the population problem is an objective state of affairs, which cannot be conjured away. Mixing up the two in discussions creates only confusion.
    The indignation against Malthus is justified. According to him, the poor are themselves to be blamed for their poverty. Without doubt, he was an apologist of the then still ruling class of landlords- This class did not want any social change, and so also Malthus considered it impossible to change society. But the question is whether, for this reason, Malthus'es presentation of the problem is also wrong.
    The harshest critics of Malthus have always been the leftists. Marx considered the essay of Malthus to be a "libel on the human race". Engels wrote in 1865: "economic laws are not eternal laws of nature but historic laws which arise and disappear." He thought, "what is tenable in the so-called Malthusian theory" is valid only for societies "based on class rule and class exploitation". That was no proper refutation. But serious efforts were also made to refute one of the two laws of Malthus. Engels and Lenin recognized that Malthus'es law regarding food production, namely that it increases only in arithmetical progression, is actually based on the law of diminishing returns. They declared that the progress of science and technology is limitless and that this factor of production nullifies the law of diminishing returns, which is otherwise valid, i.e. with regard to the factor of production labour. Basing himself on this optimism, Fidel Castro said in the early sixties: :

"Nobody who is conscious of what man can achieve with the help of science and technology will want to set a limit to the number of people that can live on the earth."5 

For a few decades after the death of Marx, Engels and Lenin, Malthus indeed appeared to be refuted through the factual developments. Thanks to science and technology, food production increased by leaps and bounds. At least in the indu-strial societies there was no hunger.
    But science and technology have in the meantime disappointed further expectations. F. E. Trainer (I suppose a leftist) quotes scientists who ascertained in 1979 and 1980 that returns to technology were generally falling.6 In 1934, Lester Brown wrote:

"The response of crops to the use of additional fertilizer is now diminishing, particularly in agriculturally advanced countries. During the fifties, the application of another ton of fertilizer on average yielded 11.5 more tons of grain. During the sixties, fertilizer grain response ratio was 8.3 to 1. By the seventies it had fallen to 5.8."7

So far as food production is concerned, Trainer informs us, not only is the per capita production stagnating for quite a few years, but in some branches also the absolute production. And the ecological and social havocs that "modern" science and technology have caused (e.g. the green revolution, chemical and radioactive poisoning) and are threatening to cause (genetic engineering) have induced many people to demand a return to the traditional methods of cultivation, which yield less harvest per hectare.
    The other law of Malthus – population grows, if not controlled, in geometrical progression – is more difficult to refute. The only thing that his opponents can do in this respect is to point at the fact that in industrial societies population has stopped growing or is growing very slowly. But that is also no real refutation inasmuch as the couples of these countries are using various means to control birth. An average healthy German couple could, if it would not use any method of contraception or abortion, produce 15 children in 30 years. Obviously, the two laws of Malthus are natural laws.

The Present-day Controversy: What Should Come First?

In the seventies and eighties, the controversy has undergone a qualitative change. The problem is no longer only that of poverty and hunger. Exactly the factors that in the past helped overcome hunger – science, technology and industrialization – have presented us with the global ecological crisis. Neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich wrote: "In the long run, the progressive deterioration of our environment may cause more death and misery than any conceivable food-population gap".9
    A few leftists (surely not the majority) have conceded that the problem, as the neo-Malthusians describe it, does indeed exist. One of them, Steve Weissman, wrote as early as in 1971:

"... the neo-Malthusians quickly confound the answer given Reverend Malthus by the nineteenth century, and by most Marxists. This time around, we can't simply wait for science and technology to get us out of the hole. New miracle grains ... But we now know the cost in environmental destruction. ... the green revolution might not even deliver the agricultural goods." 10

Also a few neo-Malthusians (here also not the majority) have moved beyond Malthus. Ehrlich, e.g., wrote:

"The battle to save our planet is not just a battle for population control and environmental sanity, it is also a battle against exploitation, against war, and against racism.11

    The two authors quoted here and their intellectual kin differ mainly in their political approach, in their policy priority. Ehrlich probably interpretes the term "exploitation" less radically than Weissman. But the main question is still: What should come first? Development and radical social change or stopping the population growth? It looks almost like a vicious circle. Ehrlich wrote addressing the leftists: "Whatever your cause, it's a lost cause unless we control population."12 That means, population growth must be stopped first. But Weissman as well as all leftists who have realized that the earth cannot carry an unlimited number of humans are of the opinion that population control cannot function at all under the present-day social conditions (or it may function only if the ruling classes use massive force). That means, they demand radical social change first. Weissman wrote:

"... it is capitalism which creates this irrationality and hastens the destruction of the environment ..., and without destroying capitalism, neither green revolutions nor population control will put food in the mouths of those who cannot afford to pay for it."13

    As to the problem of lowering the birth rate, leftists can cite the example of Cuba in support of their argument. In 1959, the year of the revolution, the birth rate in Cuba was 28 per 1000. In 1983, it was only 14.14 And the state did not have to take any strong measures for that. But the problem is not as simple as that. In China, where too revolutionary social changes had taken place, the state did have to take strong measures for the same purpose.
    Many critics express their abhorrence against giving population control the priority in inordinately exaggerated and defamatory terms like "genocide", "depopulating", "doing away with the poor" etc. Why a policy which only wants that couples should restrict the number of their children to two should be tantamount to genocide, depopulating etc. is beyond the comprehension of anybody with common sense. Or are we supposed to believe that the Han leaders of China, who have been pursuing a policy of one-child family for quite a few years now, are perpetrating genocide against the Han people? In fact, genocide is a crime that not only imperialist nations can commit. Even lesser nations, the populations of which are growing fast, can commit something like genocide against weaker and less numerous tribal peoples within their own territories. That can be witnessed today in many parts of the Third World.

How Acute Is the Crisis? How Much Latitude Do We Still Have?

If an egalitarian and just social order is the precondition for the acceptance of a population control policy by the majorities of the peoples of the South, then the question arises: how soon, if at all, we may expect such a social order to come into being? In the seventies, especially after the victory of the socialist revolution in South East Asia and Nicaragua, it appeared as though it would not take too long. In the meantime, however, we have become wiser. But if gradual changes are the only hope, then it could take a long time, and the population would continue to grow in many countries.
    At this point, several arguments against the need for a population control policy come in. "Development is the best contraceptive", has been (und still is) the slogan of many leftists and average politicians of the South since the world population Conference of Bucharest in 1974. This argument is also supported by the theory of demographic transition, which states – on the basis of the demographic history of the industrialized European countries – that with growing prosperity the birth rate falls, quasi automatically, and finally equals the death rate at the end of the third and final phase of the transition. But this theory was formulated before humankind became aware of the limits to growth. All countries of the South would never be able to reach the prosperity level of e.g. West Germany in 1972, the year in which it completed the third phase of the demographic transition. Moreover, prosperity alone may not suffice. In Saudi Arabia – for the last two decades one of the richest countries of the world – the birth rate is still above 40.15
    As a sort of supporting argument to the above, leftists argue that the problem of hunger in the present-day world is no problem at all, that there is enough food in the world, that it needs only to be distributed properly. That is perfectly true. However, some questions remain:
a) We are not only concerned with the situation today. We must also ask: How long can the world food production keep pace with a growing world population? The facts and figures quoted from the works of Trainer and Brown do not give any ground for optimism in this regard.
b) The negative ecological effects of intensive agriculture are well known. Is it permissible to intensify it still further in order to produce more food for a growing population?
c) How can we expect that the peoples of the food-surplus countries would work hard and invest their money in agriculture in order finally to gift away their surplus to the poor peoples of the South? There is hardly any internationalist spirit today among the majorities of the peoples of the world. Even existing nations are breaking up by reason of selfishness of the regions. We must not give up the ideal of international solidarity. But it is a long-term goal. Moreover, viewed from any angle – ecological, economic or political – at least so far as food is concerned, the best policy today is self-sufficiency.
d) The food-surplus countries would surely like to sell their surplus. But where will the poor countries of the South get the foreign exchange from to pay for the continuously rising food Imports?
    An alternative line of argumentation used against population control policies is based on calculations pertaining to the maximum carrying capacity of the earth. In 1982, it was asserted in a study of the FAO and UNFPA that there is enough land in the Third World (without China) to feed 33 billion people – however, only if every square metre of cultivable land and large quantities of fertilizers and other chemicals are used for the production of a just sufficient quantity of vegetarian food.16 But there is also a model for the production of sufficient food for 15 biilion people with moderate use of fertilizers and other chemicals. This model, it is asserted, permits an ecologically careful handling of nature,17 It is generally assumed that the world population will stabilize sometime between 2050 and 2100 at 11 to 14 billion. According to these models, therefore, there is not only enough time and latitude for a long-term programme of radical social change or revolution but also no reason at all for panic.

I have some objections to and problems with this line of argumentation:
a) If we in the Third World (without China) want to produce enough food for 15 billion people with just a moderate use of fertilizers and other chemicals because we do not want to damage the environment, then agriculture must become more extensive. We would need more cultivated land, but also more land for houses, roads, schools, offices, factories etc. etc. Of course, there is still a lot of land in the world that can be additionally brought under the plough. But we know that every year 6 million hectares cultivated land are being lost through soil erosion, salination etc. If this trend continues, then about the same amount of land will continue to be lost as can be made available every year for cuitivation.18
    But let us suppose that with great effort and by means of a proper mix of correct policies this trend can be stopped. Even then, feeding 15 billion people by means of extensive agriculture would mean that a very large portion of the still remaining forests (including the rain forests) would be lost. Of course, the demands of the luxury industries could be radically rejected. But even satisfying the other basic needs of 15 billion people like firewood and building timber would lead to continuous destruction of ever more forests. But, apart from the fact that we humans ourselves need a certain proportion of land covered with forests, these forests are the habitats of many other species (whom also we, by the way, need). Does the human species have the right to conquer more "Lebensraum" (living space)?
    b) Millions of people would in that case have to migrate into areas which are still thinly populated. But these areas belong to other groups of humans – to the Amerindians, Maoris, Aborigines and other tribes, Should they be pushed out of their land? Should we wage war against them?
    c) What should the peoples of the already densely populated countries – India, Bangladesh, Egypt, e.g. – do, if the peoples and rulers of the thinly populated countries do not give them the permission to immigrate? Of what use are then the above model calculations for them?
    d) Preconditions for producing enough food for 15 billion people on the land of the Third World without China (if that were at all possible, about which great doubts exist) are, according to the opponents of all population control policies, a sound agricultural policy, egalitarian economic development, a different development strategy etc. etc. These and a few things more constitute, according to them, the social conditions, only under which population growth can slow down gradually. But the precondition for these preconditions is radically changed power relations. That means, these "preconditions" are actually not preconditions but goals for which we are politically active. Such goals can be attained only at the end of a long struggle. If the population continues to grow before we have reached the above goals, then the ecological balance will be restored by nature itself – through hunger, war, disease, epidemic etc. Do we want that?
    e) One simply assumes that the world population would stabilize at 11 to 14 billion. But how? Automatically? Neither prosperity nor a just and egalitarian social order can by themselves cause the number of children per couple to go down to two. They are only favourable conditions.19 For the actual task of limiting the number of children to two, the couples must consciously do something – either on their own initiative or urged by the society. And this is population control. The only question here is whether the couples are doing this voluntarily or under compulsion.

Half-Truths And One-Sided, Dogmatic Approaches

Unfortunately, on both sides, most participants in the quarrel (it has indeed been a quarrel, not a discussion!) have till now mainly operated with half-truths and one-sided explanations. In the seventies, the neo-Malthusians had only one explanation for the ecological crisis: overpopulation. Ehrlich e.g. wrote:

"Too many cars, too many factories, too much detergent, too much pesticide, multiplying contrails, inadequate sewage treatment plants, too little water, too much carbon dioxide – all can be traced easily to too many people."20

Ehrlich, who conceded the existence of exploitation, mentioned here neither the per capita consumption of the rich North nor the capitalist system as a cause of the ecological crisis. Since the late eighties, some of the participants from the North have been mentioning the per capita consumption of the North but not capitalism.
    And most protagonists of the other side continue to blame the whole problem on over-consumption in the North, the capitalist system, and imperialism. For instance, Ursula Pattberg, a German sympathizer of the Third World, wrote in 1992 :21

"I am against a population policy because it is not the need of the moment. What is needed is rather a different policy on resources. It is a matter of a cultural revolution: a matter of distribution of land, air, water, food and other things. If we can achieve a just distribution of these resources, then the debate on population policy is superfluous."

On the ecological crisis, she wrote:

"…. the causes of environmental destruction in Thailand ... are quite clearly the interests of capital. It is a matter of profit maximization and destruction of nature for the sake of short-term profits.”

Then she reported:

"In Thailand, there is a People's Forum in which several NGOs have joined up. In their programme, the word 'birth planning' does not occur at all; overpopulation is for them no subject for discussion."

She quoted from the programme of People's Forum:

"The economically powerful countries will strengthen their efforts to control the resources. They will use all ways and means including the international organizations like the World     Bank in order to maintain their good starting position and to represent their interests. The countries of the Third World have been instrumentalized in this process – ignoring the fact that they have a right to their own development."

Ursula Pattberg sums up: "What these groups demand is the right to use their own resources."

An Alternative, Synthesizing Political Approach

Instead of rejecting every population control policy and insisting on revolution first or development first, we should come forward with an alternative proposal for a population policy. A good and very necessary thing has fallen in the hands of bad people. We must take it up as our cause and integrate it into our efforts to create an egalitarian, just and ecological society. We must denounce the misuse of facts, but we must not deny the facts themselves. We cannot e.g. deny that the growth of India's population from 360 million in 1951 to 845 million in 1991 is a serious problem for India (if not also for the world),that it has produced a very adverse impact on her environment in addition to lowering the per capita availability of land, food, water and other resources.
    It is true, not the whole ecological crisis and not the whole hunger in the world have been caused by the growth of population. But a big role of this factor in the various crises of today and the future cannot be denied. It is not wrong what the UNFPA writes in this regard:

"Population is always part of the equation. For any given type of technology, for any given level of consumption or waste, for any given level of poverty or inequality, the more people there are, the greater is the impact on the environment."22

    We must only stress the other parts of the equation too: the wrong technology, the over-consumption of a minority (especially in the North), the wastage and, last but not least, the bad socio-political system and the bad world economic order (imperialism). Against politics with half-truths we must only practise politics with the whole truth. We must e.g. stress that the number of cars and car-kilometres is not growing the most where the population is growing, but where the latter has become stabilized.
    In this connection it is necessary to differentiate between the global problems and the local, regional and national Problems. In the case of global problems – general resource depletion, ozone depletion, global warming, and pollution of the oceans, to mention only the best known ones – clearly, the industrial societies are the main culprits. Their per capita consumption of resources and emission of pollutants have grown enormously in the last four decades. But India, e.g., is also partly responsible for the global problems. Even if we assume that India's per capita rates of resource consumption and pollution have not grown, there is no denying the fact that the growth in the number of people consuming and polluting at constant rates makes a great difference in absolute figures.
    In case of local, regional or national problems such as water famine, pollution of a river, toxic emissions of a chemical factory or soil erosion through deforestation, one cannot say that for such problems in Third World countries only or even mainly the industrial nations are responsible. Of course, since today all the national economies are interwoven and since multinational corporations are present everywhere, industrial nations also contribute directly or indirectly to such problems . But the main authors of such problems are the peoples of such countries and/or their ruling classes.
    Of course, the unjust world economic order and especially the debt crisis are creating a tremendous pressure. But at least so far as the ecological misery is concerned, it would have been there also without the effects of these two factors, also without imperialism and exploitation – simply through the process of economic development, from which, as we know, not only the rich have profited but also the organized working class.
    The alternative approach to the population problem I am proposing here can be called an eco-socialist one. Parallel to our criticism of imperialism and capitalism, and parallel to our demand that the economies of the North must shrink, we must also demand and support an active policy for stopping population growth – everywhere in the world where it is still taking place. For, if only the economies of the North shrink, that would not automatically lead to, e.g., the stopping of soil erosion in the South, Of course, many things have to be done to solve the various problems of the South. But stopping the population growth is one of the most important of such things. The peoples of the South should do that in their own interest and before they can make a revolution.
    The main reason for the failure or inadequacy of the various hitherto implemented population control programmes are known. To be sure, there are social, cultural and emotional reasons that made the acceptance of such programmes difficult. But these difficulties were not insurmountable. Insurmountable has been actually only the private economic rationality, the fact that for the poor, children – in most cases only sons – are assets and the only old-age security. It is insurmountable, because it is connected with the instinct of self-preservation. Mahmood Mamdani's study of the Indian village Manupur undertaken in the wake of the total failure of an intensive family planning programme bears testimony to the strength of this private economic rationality. Mamdani wrote:

"No programme would have succeeded, because birth control contradicted the vital interests of the majority of the villagers. To practise contraception would have meant to wilfully court economic disaster."23

For many farmers of Manupur, the private economic rationality went beyond old-age security. Some saw in their children cheap farm labourers who "worked like donkeys" for just board and lodging. Hired labourers would have demanded more. Some saw in their sons who could get Jobs elsewhere a source of prosperity, for the sons respectfully remitted their surplus to the father. In both cases, the children were exploited by the parents. This process could/can go on as long as it was/is possible for the children to produce a surplus which the father could/can appropriate. And this was possible in India in the period 1954–1972 covered by Mamdani. That was the period of rapid economic growth; it brought prosperity to many. Sons of poor farmers could find Jobs in towns.
    As we know, the period of steady development has come to an end in most Third World countries. The ecological basis of the economy of the future generations has been or is being ruined. Children are not assets any more, at least not for all poor people. The street children of Bombay or Rio can hardly remit any surplus to the parents. Nevertheless, even if they do not produce any surplus for the parents, if they only survive, there is still hope, in many cases unfounded, that they would look after their old parents and at least give them two simple meals a day. That may seem in this brutal, merciless world rational enough for poor people to want to produce five or six children, so that at least two of them could be sons.
    This inherent contradiction between private economic rationality and common weal including that of the children and future generations is the strongest argument for socialism. The alternative policy proposal of eco-socialists should be based on this fact. The state should guarantee (only) to the poor a minimum old-age security under the condition that they limit the number of their offspring to two. There is reason to hope that the strongest of all instincts, the instinct of self-preservation, would motivate poor people to accept this offer. If another condition could be added to it, namely that the woman claiming this guarantee must not have married before the age of say twenty one, then these three things together would mean quite a substantial contribution to women's liberation.
    Whether the rulers of the South would accept this proposal is at present only a matter for speculation, for no strong political force has submitted it yet. In any case, the probability that they, in their desperation, would accept this proposal is greater than the probability that they would not resist with arms and soldiers the efforts to make a revolution, the prospects of success of which are in any case very bad today. In national-economic terms, a guaranteed old-age security for the poor is much cheaper than everything else that must be undertaken to feed, clothe, house, and educate a growing population.
    The health reasons for which many women's groups oppose all hitherto practised population control policies can be easily removed by calling upon men to use condoms or get themselves sterilized. In patriarchy, men are responsible for everything, so they should also bear the burden of reducing the birth rate. The state can convincingly argue that vasectomy is harmless and much easier and cheaper than any other method. It is very important to differentiate between the absolute necessity of population control and the pro and contra of particular means, methods, and programmes thereof.
    One particular position of many feminists and leftists that does not convince must be mentioned here. "Children or no children will be decided by us alone", was the justified slogan of the German women's movement in the 1970s against the anti-abortion law. However, self-determination, autonomy, freedom or reproductive choice – whatever one may call it21 – cannot be extended to the question of number of children. As soon as a child is born, the parents make demands on society. Along with the parents, society is also responsible for providing most of the things that a child needs and would need when it becomes a young person. Even if the parents are prepared to work hard for the sake of their child, society may not be able to provide for it milk, food, water, schooling, health care etc. without depriving other children of these things. One often hears the argument: women have always sought to limit births. That is true. But they have not always sought to limit them to two. Even today, most Indian women would like to have two sons and that may lead to five births.
    I have heard from a female sociologist from Zimbabwe that in her country a woman attains a good status in society only after she has produced six children. In respect of all other rights and freedoms of an individual, we agree that they end at a point where they harm others, The same should apply to the right to reproductive choice. In a society living on the brink of collapse, an individual cannot have the freedom e.g. to consume as much water or emit as much CO2 as he or she may decide. Similarly, one should not have the freedom to decide the number of one' s children. One may have the freedom to beget less than two children or none at all, but one should not have the freedom to beget more than two. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity", said Hegel. The science of ecology and other sciences having to do with the question of the carrying capacity of the earth have already dictated the necessity that couples limit the number of their children to two, preferably, on average, less than two.
    Today, in their political work, eco-socialists can very well combine the two short-term necessities: the necessity to stop population growth and the necessity of social security. They can reasonably consider this as a part of their long-term struggle for radical social change. If it becomes reality, a guaranteed old-age security for the poor would be the beginning of a welfare state. And from there a transition to some kind of a socialist society is at least conceivable, particularly in the poor countries of the world suffering in the regime of capitalist market economy under the heavy pressure of worsening economic and ecological crises. This approach would at least in no way hinder any kind of struggle for socialism.
    Some radical leftists may still be thinking that growing poverty of a growing number of people may lead to a revolution. But that is more likely to lead to poor people killing each other and the exploited and oppressed trying to exploit and oppress the other exploited and oppressed. In fact, such things are already happening in the world. Instead of only dreaming of such revolutions, it would be more concrete socialist politics, if the leftists organize a massive campaign in favour of the measures proposed here. It can be considered to be a campaign for ecology and socialism. If some leftists think that today, just four years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the idea of socialism is a chimera, they should still campaign for such measures. After all, if implemented, they would at least mean a certain transfer of resources from the rich to the poor. With such a limited purpose, they have always supported the demands of the organized working class for higher wages. In the countries of the North, leftists and others who solidarize with the peoples of the South may demand that their states materially help the South in this matter.

Notes and References

1. Garrett Hardin: "Lifeboat Ethics – The Case Against Helping the Poor"; in Psychology Today; September 1974.
2. Maurice King proposed a sort of passive euthanasia. cf. Maurice King: "Health Is A Sustainable State"; in The Lancet; (8716) 1990,336:664–667 (I have found this reference in a German book.)
3. The reference here is to the assertion to the contrary made by Francis Fukuyama. cf. Francis Fukuyama: "Das Ende der Geschichte"; in Europäische Rundschau; 4/89; Wien. (Published originally in The National Interest; Summer 1989.)
4. The following summary of the views of Marx, Engels and Lenin on Malthus is based on quotations I have found in Ronald L. Meek (ed.): Marx and Engels on the Population Bomb; Berkeley; The Ramparts Press; 1971.
5. Quoted in Hans Magnus Enzensberger: "Zur Kritik der politischen Ökologie"; in Kursbuch 33 (1973); P.17.
6. F. E.Trainer: Abandon Affluence!; London; Zed; 1985; P.211.
7. Lester Brown: "Securing Food Supplies"; in Lester Brown et al.: State of the World 1984; New York; 1984; P.179.
8. F. E. Trainer:(see note 6); P.209-210.
9. Paul Ehrlich: quoted in Steve Weissman: "Foreword"; in Ronald L. Meek (see note 4); P.XI.
10. Steve Weissman: ibid; P.XII.
11. Ehrlich: quoted in Steve Weissman (see note 9); P.XV.
12. Ehrlich: ibid.
13. Weissman: (see note 9); P.XIII.
14. cf. Lester Brown: "Stabilizing Population"; in Lester Brown et al.(see note 7); P.26.
15. cf. Donella and Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers: Die neuen Grenzen des Wachstums; DVA; 1992; P.54.
16. cf. Nafis Sadik: The State of World Population 1990; UNFPA; New York; P,7.
17. Gabriela Simon: "Wie viel ist zuviel?"; in: blätter des iz3W; November 1991; P.30.
18. Stiftung Entwicklung und Frieden: Global Trends 1991; Bonn; 1991; P.237-238.
19. The already mentioned cases of Saudi Arabia and China prove this point.
20. Ehrlich: quoted in Barry Commoner: Making Peace With the Planet; P.143. (The photocopied sheets in my possession do not contain the page stating place and year of publication.)
21. Ursula Pattberg: "Fallbeispiel Thailand - verfehlte Ressourcenpolitik"; in Informationsbrief (Sonderdienst) Weltwirtschaft & Entwicklung; 29.Juni 1992; P.5-6,
22. Sadik (see note 16); P,10.
23. Mahmood Mamdani: The Myth of Population Control; Monthly Review Press; New York; 1972. P.21.
24. cf. e.g. Betsy Hartmann: A Review of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs – The Global Politics of Population Control and Contraceptive Choice; Harper and Row; New York; 1987.

Cologne, 12.2.1993

Saral Sarkar
Karl-Begas-Str. 3
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