Marxism and Environmentalism

On recent Leftist British blogs there has been a recurring theme that red and green cannot come together. Green, the narrative goes, is nothing other than the ruling class imposing upon the working poor. Movements centred around ethics are mystifying discourses that attempt to obscure class antagonisms. Furthermore there are further instances of the stubbornness of Western imperialism. It must be said that these British Leftists, and aside from one they can only be given the vague title of Leftist for there is no party or organization for them to truly call themselves Communists or Socialists, are sadly unimaginative and while appearing quite resolute in their perpetuation of class warfare they offer nothing really constructive to the topics.

Perhaps there is something to the famed British common sense that leads them to posit little more than an either/or between the two or perhaps there is just something more satisfying about sticking it to those who are “sentimental” for the lives of animals at the expense of human hardship. I don’t really know. What I do find troubling is that the British Leftists seem to think any concern with the environment or animal welfare is essentially bourgeois ethics. If Marxism or Socialist philosophy cannot find some way of responding to the environmental crisis then it is does not give us a politics worthy of this century. Most of the economic and political problems of the next century will largely depend upon the environmental limits to production of capital. Issues of class will continue to determine the access to nutrition but the unsustainability of farming practices will exacerbate this to the point where I wonder if cheap eggs dependent will continue to be available. And what does a British Leftist make of poor people who do voluntarily make certain ascetic choices with regard to animal welfare and the environment? Is it any less paternal to suggest that they should wake up to the mystification of bourgeois ethics?

Perhaps the real task is not to agitate against the ethical food movements, but to find a way forward that is both Socialist and ecologically sound (which includes changing the very conditions of our relationships with non-human nature and animals). Calling for a tax upon the rich to make the cost of free range eggs more reasonable for poorer people is more radical than fighting for the right of poor people to eat shit.

5 thoughts on “Marxism and Environmentalism

  1. Apropos of neither the British left or anything else you wrote here, there is an excellent journal that turns over questions of green and red and their relation. I haven’t read it in a few years, but it at least used to be quite good and steered clear of both insisting on the incompatibility of green and red and aiming for their grand synthesis. With regular writers like Soper and Lewontin. Website here

  2. Surely communism is a set of beliefs about the best form of society; it doesn’t entail relationship to a Party. Only in the tradition descending via Lenin to Trotsky and as re-hashed in blogs like Lenin’s Tomb is the Party taken for granted as necessary. Likewise one could be an anarchist and a Leftist – left and right on the political spectrum is about where you stand on the issue of the free market (is it liberating or exploitative), not on one’s theory of working class organisation. The long tradition of anarchist communism (which included such leading lights as Kropotkin) seems to complicate your definitions.

  3. On the one hand I can see the concern of commodification of everything (including carbon itself) in order to ensure conservative use of resources. And, I suppose I could see the argument that conservation is an attempt to prolong the capitalist era. But, doesn’t it also seem logical that careful use of resources ensures that more resources will continue to be available? If resources were to become scarce, the rich would certainly have easier access to them (as they do now but to a lesser-felt extent).

    Perhaps, thinking ahead to unionize “green” workers, or prioritize food subsidies for organic food might be considerate ways to accomplish more egalitarian environmental movement.

  4. > they can only be given the vague title of Leftist for there is no party or organization for them to truly call themselves Communists or Socialists

    That seems like the really crucial point. If “Leftist” just means people go to certain demonstrations then there’s no reason to not come together with Greens at such events. There would only be some point in drawing a line if one was talking a political party. I can remember that during the war of 1999, which was ostensibly to protect Kosovo, the Workers World Party of Sam Marcy organized antiwar demonstrations which brought in a hefty supply of Pat Buchanan supporters. I didn’t find anything wrong with that for the purposes of an antiwar demonstration, but it would have looked odd if Marcy had announced the intent of forming a new party with Buchanan. With Greens there should be even less difficulty in going to common demonstrations. It would only be if someone were building a political party that a tighter standard could be justified.

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