Red and Green: The Ecosocialist Perspective

By Michael Löwy

The contemporary international political economy is marked by a great contradiction. On a planet characterized by finite resources, the economy is predicated upon an absurd and irrational logic of infinite expansion and accumulation. With its fossil fuel based operations continually spewing carbon into the earth’s atmosphere, the capitalist system’s productivist obsession with profit has brought humanity to the brink of an abyss. Climate change is accelerating much faster than predicted – the accumulation of CO2, the rise in temperature, the melting of the polar ice, the drought, and the floods: everything is happening too quickly. In fact, the scientific assessments are now perceived as being too optimistic. The question is: after a certain level of increase in temperature – say six degrees – would the planet still be inhabitable for our species?

Degraded landscape in occupied Palestine

How should we respond to this enormously frightening scenario? We have seen that partial reforms are completely inadequate. The failure of the Kyoto protocol, for instance, illustrated that it was impossible to meet the dramatic challenge of global warming with the methods employed by the capitalist free market, such as the emission rights stock exchange. What is needed is the replacement of the micro-rationality of profit by a social and ecological macro-rationality, which demands a veritable change of civilization. It is, however, impossible to work towards that change without a profound reorientation aimed at replacing contemporary energy sources by clean and renewable ones, such as wind or solar energy. The first question, therefore, concerns the issue of control over the means of production, especially decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve the society’s common good.

 Ecosocialism is an attempt at providing a radical civilizational alternative, based on the fundamental arguments of the ecological movement and combining them with the Marxist critique of the capitalist political economy. It’s an economic policy founded on non-monetary and clearly articulated extra-economic criteria: ecological equilibrium of the earth and fulfillment of the social needs of its people. Ecosocialism, thus, questions the Marxist notion of destructive progress inherent in capitalism. This new dialectical synthesis has been well articulated in the works of a broad spectrum of authors, from James O’Connor to Joel Kovel, Ian Angus and John Bellamy Foster, and from André Gorz to Elmar Altvater. It is as much a critique of “market ecology”, which does not challenge the capitalist system, as much as that of “productivist socialism”, which ignores the issue of natural limits.

The possibility of an ecosocialist transformation rests on public control over the means of production and planning. It is characterized by a democratic and pluralist debate at all those levels where decisions are to be taken, and a process by which different propositions are submitted to the concerned people, in the form of parties, platforms, or any other political movements, ultimately leading to the election of delegates. This rigorous form of representative democracy, however, must be complemented, and corrected by direct democracy, where people choose directly between major options at the local, national and, even global level.

A Japanese family willing and able to live off-grid


The passage from “destructive progress”, which accompanies capitalism to the final stage of socialism, is a historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture and mentalities. This transition would lead not only to a new mode of production, and an egalitarian and democratic society, but also to an alternative mode of life, a new ecosocialist civilization. It would be beyond the reign of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond the unlimited production of commodities that are useless and/or harmful to the environment. It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures, and the active support of an ecosocialist program by the vast majority of the population. The development of socialist consciousness and ecological awareness is a process, where the decisive factor is people’s own collective experience of struggle, from local and partial confrontations to the radical change of society.

The countries of the South would have priorities somewhat different from the global north. They would need to build critical infrastructure, which is not currently uniformly available to its people – railroads, hospitals, sewage systems, roads etc. But there is no reason why this cannot be accomplished with a productive system that is environment-friendly and based on renewable energy sources. These countries would also need to grow great amounts of food to nourish their population, but this can be much better achieved by an agricultural system based on family-units, cooperatives or collectivist farms, rather than by the destructive and anti-social methods of industrialized agro-business, based on the intensive use of pesticides, chemicals and GMOs.

Communities will take care of their natural resources rather than the government

To dream and to struggle for green socialism does not mean that we should not fight for concrete reforms, which are needed urgently within the existing system. These include a general moratorium on genetically modified organisms, a drastic reduction in the emission of the greenhouse gases, the development of public transportation, the taxation of polluting cars, the progressive replacement of trucks by trains, a severe regulation of the fishing industry, as well as the phasing out of pesticides and chemicals in the agro-industrial production.

These urgent eco-social demands can lead to a gradual process of radicalization. We must not accept limits on our aims according to the requirements of the capitalist market or of “competitivity”. Each small victory, each partial advance can immediately lead to a higher demand, to a more radical aim. Such struggles around concrete issues are important, not only because partial victories are welcome in themselves, but also because they contribute to raise ecological and socialist consciousness. These victories will promote activity and self-organization from below, and ultimately to a radical and revolutionary transformation of the world.

Michael Löwy, a Brazilian by birth, has lived in Paris since 1969. 
Presently he is an emerit Research Director at the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), and lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Michael’s books and articles have been translated into twenty nine languages. Among his main publications are:
Georg Lukacs : From Romanticism to Bolshevism, Verso, 1981; 
Romanticism against the current of modernity (with Robert Sayre), Duke, Duke University Press, 2001;
Fire Alarm. Reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the concept of history ‘, London, Verso, 2005;
Franz Kafka,  Subversive Dreamer,  Ann Arbor, Michigan University Press, 2016.

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