[P2P-F] Fwd: Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future (GTN Discussion)

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sun Nov 4 23:34:12 CET 2018

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Great Transition Network <gtnetwork at greattransition.org>
Date: Sat, Nov 3, 2018 at 4:33 PM
Subject: Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future (GTN Discussion)
To: <michelsub2004 at gmail.com>

>From Victor Wallis <zendive at aol.com>

Dear colleagues and friends,

Michael Löwy's voice has long been an important one in these discussions. I
agree entirely with his basic statement here, and am glad that he
specifically recognizes the capitalist roots of productivism and the
condemnation of productivism by Marx.

In terms of Paul's question as to whether the concept of ecosocialism is
sufficiently all-encompassing, this is a topic that I take up at length in
my book Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism (

My discussion includes a chapter on potential pro-ecological
constituencies, in which I focus on the links between ecological demands
and the interests of the various sectors that have suffered from -- or
whose suffering has been amplified and/or institutionalized by -- the
workings of capital. Another chapter (originally written for a collection
on intersectionality that appeared in December 2015 in New Political
Science) discusses the history and theoretical considerations behind
efforts to bring together all these constituencies. My basic argument is
that if we want to build a political force that can implement our vision,
it's not enough to add more and more prefixes to our core concept. We must
instead seek to understand how our central concept fully valorizes and
honors all the specific concerns that may motivate people's activism.

So far as the term ecosocialism is concerned, I argue that the basic
principles of ecology and of socialism converge, in that both reject the
structure in which decisions about production are made on the basis of
profit calculations. In this sense, the prefix "eco-" might be considered
redundant. However, I accept the term partly in recognition of the separate
intellectual histories of its two strands and partly because the ecological
dimension uniquely underscores the urgency of a socialist transformation.
(See my recent remarks on this point here:

Returning to Michael Löwy's essay, I also fully share his emphasis on the
participatory nature of the necessary planning processes. This is of course
an aspect that needs to be spelled out in greater detail. Michael advocates
what he calls "Internet-enabled direct democracy" (p. 4), but this seems to
apply mainly to the expression of broad preferences. It leaves open the
actual process by which specific measures will be hammered out. Here the
long-standing limitations of plebiscitary rule will need to be overcome.
Structures for informed discussion will need to be put in place, so that
the merits of a given approach will be tested not simply by the percentage
of the population that finds it appealing, but will rather emerge from a
deliberative process in which all the relevant considerations -- both
social and technological -- are taken into account.

In this connection, Michael speaks of free time as "a condition for the
participation of working people in the democratic discussion and management
of economy and of society" (p. 3). This has long been recognized as a
problematic matter, given the common tendency of people to recoil at the
idea of having to attend an endless succession of meetings. Admittedly,
this tendency reflects in part the negative conditioning they have
experienced under capitalism, but the point is that the problem needs to be
confronted directly, and the conditions created in which such reactions
will no longer stand in the way of necessary participation. An initial step
in this direction would be to define the participation as being in part an
aspect of people's work-responsibilities and therefore as an activity for
which they would be compensated under the heading of work-time. Additional
requirements for facilitating the necessary quality of participation will
readily come to mind, but they need to be
integral to the vision we put forward.

One of the biggest tasks will be to establish guidelines for distinguishing
between the wasteful and the necessary lines of production that Michael
refers to (p. 5) (and which I address in Chapter 1 of my book). Discussion
on this point can readily raise fundamental philosophical questions about
what is of value in human existence. Weaning people away from certain
tastes/addictions fostered by capitalist society will not be easy. One can
hope that the "eco-" framework -- i.e., recognition of the emergency faced
by our entire species -- will help spur the necessary collective

I would also like to respond to a few points from Herman Daly’s comment as

1. I think that Daly’s allusions to the complexity of the necessary
planning process are on target. The difficulties he evokes are what I have
in mind when I refer (above) to the need to go beyond merely plebiscitary
expressions of preference and to instead establish clearly defined
structures for discussion and accountability at every level.

2. I believe that Marxists have learned from the negative aspects of the
20th-century experiences of socialism. Efforts at delineating democratic
approaches to planning are an indication of this (see Richard Wolff,
Democracy at Work, 2012), and there is indeed widespread agreement on the
need to redefine the objectives of economic policy away from an emphasis on
growth (see continuing coverage of ecological issues in Monthly Review). It
is certainly possible to criticize existing models of planning while
retaining a socialist framework (see Michael Lebowitz, The Contradictions
of Real Socialism, 2012).

The politically important point, though, is that the supposed “Marxist”
pursuit of growth, to the extent that it has prevailed, is in fact a
reflection of the persistent impact of capitalism, whether in the form of
competitive or military pressure from imperialist powers or in the form of
an internalization of capitalist values, as currently embodied in the
Chinese case. (The Chinese government’s allegiance to Marxism may be
fruitfully compared with the US government’s allegiance to democracy.)

3. Regarding the issue of social equality, the point is not to prescribe
multiples of difference between top and bottom incomes, but rather to
assure that there is no dominant *class*. The size of individual incomes
becomes less vital to the extent that an increasing share of necessary
goods and services is provided independently of the market. The
irrationality of market indicators for such necessities as healthcare is
widely recognized. In light of ecological considerations, it should be
clear that this also applies to the use of land and energy resources, among
other things.

One should not let the shortcomings of previous attempts at socialism get
in the way of seeing that a socialist framework is necessary to addressing
ecological issues on the scale that they require. Whatever residual role
markets may play for allocating items of immediate personal consumption,
they have no legitimate role in determining the overall utilization of
space. The prerogative of an individual or a corporation to “own” land and
thereby have a “right” to have all the trees on it cut down can have no
place in an ecological vision. But it remains a possibility in the context
of capitalism.
Victor Wallis



Friday, November 2, 2018

>From Herman Daly <hdaly at umd.edu>

Those of us old enough to remember the Cold War know that it was basically
a contest between Socialism and Capitalism to see who could grow faster,
and thereby accumulate more wealth and military power. The audience was the
uncommitted countries of the world who would supposedly adopt the economic
system of the winner of the growth race. What happened? Basically,
Socialism collapsed, and Capitalism won by default. The losers (Russia,
China, Eastern Europe) got back in the growth race by adopting State
Capitalism, and China has become the growth champion. The present system of
world growthism, in the broadly capitalist mode, is triumphant. But
growthism itself has turned out to be a false god because growth in our
finite and entropic world now increases ecological and social costs faster
than production benefits, making us poorer, not richer (except for the top
few percent). Recognition of this reversal is obscured by the fact that our
national accounts (GDP), do not subtract the
costs of growth, but effectively add them by counting the expenditures
incurred to defend ourselves from the un-subtracted costs of growth. Even
more egregiously, GDP counts the consumption of natural capital as income.
Growthism is consuming the life support capacity of the ecosystem for the
benefit of a small minority of the present generation, while shifting the
real but uncounted costs on to the poor, future generations, and other
species. (see www.greattransition.org/publication/economics-for-a-full-world

Ecosocialists, ably represented by the distinguished scholar Michael Lowy,
seem to recognize this disaster, so environmentalists and ecological
economists are inclined to be glad of their help in opposing rampant
growthist capitalism. We certainly need help. But how much help in
developing a workable green economy are red ecosocialists likely to be?
Maybe not much, for reasons suggested below.

Marx himself was overwhelmingly a perceptive critic of capitalism, and
hardly at all an architect of socialism, which remained for him a vague
prophetic vision. Marxist socialist states have an impressive historical
record of economic failure, political oppression, and abuse of human rights
and religious freedom. The net flow of refugees was decidedly away from,
not toward, socialist countries. How does Lowy deal with this
well-documented and very negative historical experience? First by frankly
recognizing it, and then by asking us to simply ignore the "*actually
existing socialisms of the twentieth century*" and focus on Marxist
*theory* instead. This reminds me of the growth economists who ask us to
focus on the elegance of neoclassical optimization theory and downplay the
massive external costs and monopoly concentration of wealth and power of
actual corporate capitalism. Theory is always neater than reality---for
both capitalism and socialism. While Scandinavian socialism is an
example we can benefit from, Marxist socialist economies no longer exist
(except for North Korea). Our given starting point for reform is rampant
growthist capitalism. If socialism had won the disastrous growth Race, then
we would be starting our reforms from socialist initial conditions, and
Marxist theory would have been more relevant. But that did not happen,
however much Marxists may regret the fact.

If one believes that Marxist theory is nevertheless true, then it would be
worth starting over on that basis. But it contains basic errors that would
likely lead to a repeated failure. Marxists have been very slow to
recognize the reality of limits to growth, in spite of Marx's now
oft-quoted prescient paragraph about "metabolic rift"---a paragraph
certainly worth building on. Furthermore, there are some basic reasons for
Marxists' unwillingness to identify growth as the core problem. Marx
dismissed any appeal to morality or sharing as "utopian socialism.” The
"new socialist man" would emerge from his bourgeois greed only on the basis
of overwhelming material abundance, emerging under historically determined
scientific socialism, "guided" by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Overwhelming abundance requires growth to the point that scarcity is
objectively overcome, and therefore the moral demands for sharing scarce
goods, emphasized by the "utopian" socialists, become
unnecessary in "scientific" socialism.

Lowy has a section on growth, in which he opines that, "*The issue is not
excessive consumption in the abstract, but the prevalent type of
consumption*" dominated by fashion and advertising. I agree with his
criticism of advertising, but the basic problem is the actual, not
abstract, level of per capita resource consumption, mainly of the wealthy,
not just the frivolous things they consume. And of course the number of
consumers. There is no discussion of limiting resource consumption, much
less limiting population growth, the latter a topic which Marxists, as well
as the capitalist cheap-labor lobby, go far out of their way to avoid. With
the exception of post-Maoist China, Marxist regimes have generally thought
that more people are better than fewer, a view that environmentalists would
actually agree with, as long as the people are not all alive at the same
time! Marx's hatred for Malthus and his dismissal of overpopulation are
well known, and continue to mute Marxist attention to
limits to growth.

Lowy, and Marxists in general, take a very dim view of markets and a very
rosy view of central planning. There is plenty of need for both markets and
planning, depending on the type of good in question. Goods are either
physically rival or non-rival, and either legally excludable or
non-excludable. My shirt is a rival good--if I am wearing it, you can't
wear it at the same time; it is also excludable because I have the right to
keep you from wearing it, or to allow you to. Goods that are both rival and
excludable are market goods that can be, and usually are, allocated by
markets. Goods that are non-rival and non-excludable are pure public goods,
like a just legal and ethical code or the Pythagorean Theorem, for which
there can be no market. Goods that are rival but non-excludable, like fish
caught on the high seas or water pumped from an aquifer, are subject to the
tragedy of the open-access commons and require collective action to avoid
overexploitation. Goods that are non-rival
but excludable, like patented knowledge or information, are inefficiently
allocated and the revenue from their artificial price is unjustly
distributed by markets. For the last three categories, markets work poorly
or not at all, and consequently, collective planning is necessary. That
should provide plenty of opportunity for ecosocialists' contributions! For
market goods, a large category including the basics of food, clothing, and
shelter, market allocation usually works better than planning, if
governments can limit or regulate monopoly. Since three of the four
categories require government planning, it is doubly important to avoid
overloading government capacity for needed collective planning by
unnecessarily imposing it on the large first category as well.

However, Lowy, and Marxists generally, have an ideological antipathy to
markets---to supply and demand, and prices, and especially to profit. They
prefer central planning, or as Lowy calls it robust "*democratic ecological
planning*." How did *economic* planning become *ecological* planning? Do
ecosocialists really intend to centrally plan the ecosystem as well as the
economy? Perhaps they mean economic planning in the light of ecological
limits---but then we would need more discussion of limits. The historical
failure of War Communism with its direct physical requisitioning of goods
was corrected by Lenin's New Economic Policy, which reinstated considerable
reliance on markets. That socialist lesson seems to be ignored. Likewise
ignored are the theoretical criticisms of even socialist economists, such
as Oskar Lange, who in his On the Economic Theory of Socialism demonstrates
how markets can efficiently serve socialism as well as capitalism. Lowy
dismisses criticism of central
planning as "conservative fearmongering". Instead he tells us that "*the
core of ecosocialism is the concept of democratic ecological planning,
wherein the population itself, not “the market” or a Politburo, make the
main decisions about the economy*."

Imagine the consequences of market goods (food, clothing, and shelter plus
a whole lot more) being "*freely distributed, according to the will of the
citizens*." The democratic will of the citizens is to be expressed by
voting. How much steel shall we produce? Citizens vote. How much of that
steel will go to the production of, say, wood screws, for example? The
citizens vote again. Of the wood screws how many will be round head, how
many flat head countersunk, slot head, or Phillips head? How many
cadmium-plated; how many chrome-plated? And some screws are made of brass
or aluminum, not steel. And how many of each length and diameter, etc.? And
who shall receive how many of each type? The citizens robustly and
democratically vote again and again as conditions change, although most
have no idea of the myriad special uses of different types of screw, and
may not even know which end of a screwdriver to hold.

Meanwhile those people who actually use screws and know their uses are not
able to "vote" with their money in markets and thereby convey reliable
information to producers about what mix of the nearly infinitely many types
of screw is most needed, and would be most profitable to produce. Instead
we have all citizens spending absurd amounts of their time "democratically"
voting, mostly about things they don't understand, while those with the
most information about actual use-values of screws are "disenfranchised" by
the absence of markets. Yet Lowy claims that in a planned ecosocialist
economy, "*use-value would be the only criteria for the production of goods
and services*." Use-value as judged mostly by non-users---what could
possibly go wrong?

With so much effort wasted on attempting to plan the allocation of market
goods there will be little capacity left to plan the use of true public
goods, to avoid the tragedy of the commons, and the larcenous market
enclosure of non-rival goods. Of course, the humble wood screw is only one
of millions of market goods that would be grossly misallocated by
"democratic ecological planning". If one thinks my example of the wood
screw is too trivial, then ask the same questions about a more complex
commodity of your choice. Lowy expects that, "*as the ecosocialist
transition moves forward, more products and services critical for meeting
fundamental human needs would be freely distributed, according to the will
of the citizens*." Overwhelming material abundance and the "new socialist
man" will apparently have arrived, along with the abolition of scarcity.
But with little discussion of growth or its costs.

Without markets (supply and demand, prices, and yes, profit), there could
be no self-employment. Everyone would be a salaried employee of the state,
giving the state monopsony power in the labor market. No one could identify
a needed good or service and make a living by providing it. Happily, Lowy
at least would allow small shops and artisan enterprises to escape the

Ecosocialism aspires to be egalitarian and ecologically sustainable. But
nothing is said in this essay about proper limits to the range of
inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. Should the richest
citizen be four times as wealthy as the poorest, as Plato thought? Ten
times? A thousand times? And what do ecosocialists think about macro limits
to growth of resource throughput? Many of the ecosocialists' objections to
market allocation would disappear if the underlying degree of inequality of
wealth and income distribution were more formally and tightly limited, and
if the aggregate scale of throughput of energy and materials were
restricted to some level of ecological sustainability. Instead of
correcting excessive throughput scale, and excessive distributional
inequality, which of course are reflected in market prices and allocation,
ecosocialists just attack market allocation itself, as if underlying scale
and distribution problems could be solved by breaking the
mirror that reflects them. What are ecosocialists' policies for directly
limiting throughput scale and distributional inequality? Voting is indeed
required at this point, but there must be some policy to vote on. And in
the three categories where planning has long been recognized as necessary,
what policies are recommended for providing and financing public goods, for
avoiding overexploitation of the commons, and for protecting non-rival
goods from illicit privatization?

I realize that not everything could be considered in a brief essay. But I
hope that these omitted policy questions, as well as ecosocialist laxity in
recognizing both limits to growth and historical failures of socialism,
will be explored in the ensuing discussion.

Herman Daly


Thursday, November 1, 2018

 Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future (GTN Discussion)

>From Paul Raskin <praskin at tellus.org>

Dear GTN,

Is the Great Transition a post-capitalist project? Yes: its core values and
aims—human solidarity, quality of life, ecological resilience—contradict
the individualism, consumerism, and abuse of nature fostered by societies
that grant primacy to the profit motive.

But post-capitalism is mere negation. Can what-we-are-for be boiled down to
a single “ism”? Not easily, since a systemic transition invites a
pluralistic praxis that weaves a whole cloth from myriad threads.

GTN’s November discussion considers the twining of two cardinal
“isms”—socialism and environmentalism. In the past, the green and the red
have tended to snub or excoriate one another. Now, however, Michael Löwy
argues in “Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future,” environmentalists
need to be socialists, and socialists need to be environmentalists. The
essay sets the challenge in historic context, makes the case for a
red-green synthesis, and sketches the contours of an ecosocialist future.

Michael gives us much to chew on and build on. Yet, I’m left wondering: Is
ecosocialism the best formulation in the current context? Or should we be
stressing a larger synthesis that encircles not only red and green, but all
the colors of our rainbow movement? And to build that movement, shouldn’t
our vision accommodate plural solutions to post-capitalist societies? For
example, my “report from the future” depicts a regionally-diverse global
civilization that includes Michael’s ecosocialist vision, but not

I hope you’ll read Michael’s essay at
www.greattransition.org/publication/why-ecosocialism-red-green-future, and
weigh in.

Comments are welcome through Friday, NOVEMBER 30.

Over to you,
GTI Director

*See Journey to Earthland, pp. 71-108,

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