Five Theses on Ecosocialism

November 25, 2011

~by Joel Kovel ~

1. Ecosocialism signifies a revolutionary response to an unprecedented crisis of world-historical proportion, though one with ancient roots.

We live in times of extraordinary turbulence, marked by the intersection of two types of crisis. From one side, a persistent crisis of capital accumulation marked by declining rates of profit and a monstrous degree of financialization, adding layers of indebtedness, widespread insecurity, foreclosures and the inevitable bursting of bubbles. A fresh outbreak of class warfare has followed in train, including bailouts of the criminally inclined financial industry with public money, the costs being passed onto localities and taken out of the hide of the working classes, this in turn followed by a fresh wave of layoffs and attacks on working class institutions like unions. All this has provoked a rising of the “sleeping giant” of labor, with results impossible to predict as of this writing early in 2011.

The other side is played out in an intricate counterpoint to the accumulation crisis, although most observers fail to see the connection, as this side of crisis is seen as located in something called an “environment,” which means, those objects presumed by deeply ingrained habits of thought to be mere resources to be taken for our needs, hence having no organic, that is, existentially vital relationship with humanity: in a word, outside us. Therefore, little effort is made to integrate the one crisis into the other. And yet a complex yet profoundly important relationship exists between the two, so much so that it is necessary to consider them as two facets of a larger whole.

Economic slump reduces direct inputs of carbon and other pollutants into the environment, thereby relieving some of the pressure placed on those natural ensembles called ecosystems; while on the other side, the pressures of the accumulation crisis augments the race for resources, thereby stimulating violence against the earth and cascading into greater degrees of ecological degradation. Consider the notorious phenomenon of “peak oil,” in other words, the perception (not necessarily the reality, and in some ways more important than the reality) that we have reached a turning point in the extraction of fossil-fuel hydrocarbons–and by extension, many other key resources as well–after which ever-growing scarcity will act as a brake on accumulation. This leads to increasing imperial aggression in the search for resources and plays into wars of plunder, such as in Congo, Libya, or Afghanistan, at times (as in Congo) of genocidal proportion. On the other side, increased aggression is applied directly to nature, where we see a greatly aggravated onslaught on the sites from which resources are extracted, whether mountaintops destroyed so that coal may be extracted, the undersea sites of offshore oil extraction such as where the Deepwater Horizon disaster took place in 2010, the tar sands of Alberta, the Niger River Delta, the Marcellus Shale of the Eastern United States under which vast amount of natural gas are said to be awaiting extraction by the injection of colossal amounts of water, and much else, now and to come. A wildly accelerating, indeed, a kind of exponential and chaotic process emerges in which ever-growing scarcity of resource combines with ever-growing aggressiveness of efforts to extract them, all of which increases scarcity and unleashes a Pandora’s Box of pestilential catastrophes—immediate (for example, the wreckage of mountaintops and the pollution of local streams), intermediate (for example, widespread “downstream” harm done to flora and fauna as a result of toxic releases), and most significant because most indicative of the profundity of our dislocation from nature, the large-scale/remote (for example, acidification of oceans, catastrophic climate change with great zones of inundation and desertification, species loss, alteration of host-pathogen relations, and so on).

Climate change, which often is stated as synonymous with the crisis as a whole and is its most calamitous aspect, is thus a kind of metonym for something much larger than itself—a wholesale disintegration of the fabric of our world, human and natural alike. Each of its elements may have a familiar ring, but the ensemble itself has never appeared on such a scale, in such a mounting pace, or with such a variety of agents. It is fruitless to pinpoint one of its historical landmarks—for example, the switch to coal in the industrial revolution, or oil during WWI, or the rise of rampant globalization under the neoliberal regime—as sufficient to explain the crisis as a whole. That job requires a grasp of the basic dynamics driving our civilization. Doing so brings us up against the world-transforming modalities of the capitalist system.

2. Capitalism is the “efficient cause” of the crisis, chiefly because it entails endless expansion and the rejection of limits

Capitalism takes pride in being the system of “creative destruction” that thrives on catastrophe and sees in ruin the stuff of heightened profitability. But this formula is logically tied to a question of limit: up to a point, capital thrives on disaster; beyond that point, capitalism succumbs to disaster. In other words, the fantasy that money can be made out of anything is just that, a fantasy; all production relies upon the material world, and each commodity, however immaterial its use-value may be (say, phone-sex) always relies on the real material world for its realization in the circuits of accumulation. The question is, can capitalism adapt to this? And the answer to this must be in the negative if the capitalism which rules our world is designed to not be able to stop at a given point, because it is constructed to find any limit intolerable . . . What then for its vaunted recuperability?

By an efficient cause I mean the one best capable of setting into motion the combined elements of a concrete situation. It is that level of causation which must be changed if the situation itself is to change. By definition, capitalism is the efficient cause of its accumulation crisis; and a fairly straightforward extrapolation discloses the same case for the ecological side of the crisis, hence we say that the two aspects of today’s crisis comprise a larger whole.

We bracket here the important questions as to what was the efficient cause of ecological degradation under the Soviet system–because the Soviet system is gone forever, leaving capitalism as the sole functioning agent of ecological destabilization. This does not remove the necessity to explore eco-destructive features of Soviet production, or indeed any other productive system. Capitalism need not be the only system with radically deleterious effects on nature. But it is the system that has vanquished all the others, swallowing them whole, and now stands in need of being surpassed lest it bring down the human species that created it. With that in mind, we may turn to the workings of the capitalist mode and its breaking down of what can be called the integrity of ecosystems. For this is indeed what capital does, with the dire effects sketched in above.

The efficient causality of capital for the ecological crisis can be shown empirically, as by tracing the determinants of any occasion within the crisis backward, from which we learn that the agent(s) in question are preponderantly capitalist corporations and/or instruments of the capitalist state, including the military (almost always the worst polluter and consumer of energy and other resources). It can also be shown indirectly, by critique of the ideology of capitalist exculpation, that is, greenwashing. None of this huge effort would be necessary were it not for the complicity of capital as the driving force of the crisis. The same reasoning holds for the strenuous efforts at political rollback of all efforts to regulate and contain the ecological crisis—efforts the success of which leads to the gathering collapse of the global ecology.

However, capital’s efficient causation of ecological crisis is best explained by a historically materialist analysis of the elements of capitalist production. An instance of this was my The Enemy of Nature, which built on foundations set forth by Marx in the Grundrisse and Capital vol 1, as well as James O’Connor’s “Second Contradiction of Capital”. A threefold causal structure emerges: first, that capital inevitably attempts to lower costs of the “conditions of production” including natural inputs (O’Connor), and by doing so degrades ecosystems, raising the very costs it sought to bring down; second, that capital cannot tolerate limits, and must expand endlessly else it goes into irreversible accumulation crisis and collapses; and third, that capital inexorably creates a society of widening differences between rich and poor, a society so internally split as to be incapable of overcoming its ecological depredations.

Of these levels, the second is essential, as democratic regulation can potentially mend some of the damages caused by cost-cutting of ecosystems as well as partially redistribute income and wealth, however difficult these goals may be to achieve in a political system under capitalist hegemony. However, regulation and reform cannot stop capital’s cancerous compulsion to expand without changing the essential features of capitalist production itself, that is, functionally dismantle capitalism. These features are foremost, a class structure whose ruling elements derive from private ownership of the means of production, with the reduction of the remainder of the population to “free laborers” whose only productive asset is the commodity of labor power for sale on the labor market; and associated with this, that the labor relationship is principally defined by adherence to the Law of Value.

The Law of Value signifies the ascension of quantity over quality. It can be derived from Marx’s two circuits of circulation. The first of these is C – M – C’, in which a commodity is taken to market, sold, and the money obtained is used to purchase a different commodity—in other words, an arrangement settled along the axis of quality, i.e., concrete difference; while the second circuit is M – C – M’, in which the holder of money goes to market, purchases with it a commodity, and sells the latter for a different sum of money. “M” becomes value insofar as it is expansible; and the economy takes off into the capitalist stratosphere once the commodity of labor power is installed as that capable of generating surplus value, or ∆(M’ – M), out of human productive power. Then the entire schema—and by this we mean society itself, since the organization of labor is the central point in any society—is configured around the augmentation of M into M’, a purely quantitative arrangement. The first circuit is that of use-value—a valuation whose roots necessarily extend into the sensuously apprehended realm of nature, and can be expressed in terms such as craft, beauty and usefulness—while the second circuit is that of exchange value, in respect to which commodities can only be compared in terms of money. Thus number, and profit, or pure augmentation, is the criterion of what is desirable under capital. Two features of world-historical significance obtain here: First, the private ownership of means of production sets going a inexorably competitive structure that mobilizes greed, aggressiveness, in sum, all the deadly sins of humankind, when the Ego is torn from its rootedness in being, and, adrift, centers itself around the amount of money expressible in terms of the production of surplus value. And second—a point that Marx makes in an off-handed way though it contains within itself the germ of the downfall of civilization and perhaps the extinction of the species—that the “value” of money is intrinsically without end, that is, M can expand toward infinity, and with it, expand all the evils to which humankind is prone.

Capital, then, is in essence a gigantic machine for endlessly expanding the potentials of destructiveness. Yes, there is more to it, as the ideologues will insistently tell you, but this is the fatal core: that under capitalism competition is expressed in monetary terms, placed in a manifold whose predominant principle is pure quantity—whence all society is made to dance to the tune. The terms for the monetization of nature and its placement under the thumb of capital are set by giving anything, from the birds of the air, to the forest, waterways and mountains, to carbon futures, to the genome itself, a number value in order to make them property. It is worth noting that this attitude precedes its formal subsumption into capitalist production. Marx observed in “On the Jewish Question” of 1843, when he praised Martin Luther’s radical antagonist Thomas Münzer for declaring, in 1524, that it is “intolerable that every creature should be transformed into property—the fishes in the water, the birds of the air, the plants of the earth: the creature too should become free.” If they could only see it now!

Capitalism is the first system of production in the history of the world where exchange value rules over use-value. Its whole history and culture may be seen from this perspective, which require that money rules the economy, and that the economy rules over society, subordinating humanity and nature to the logic of accumulation. This is the central insight of Capital and also Karl Polanyi’s epic work, The Great Transformation, in which he details the change from a society inside which an economy is embedded, to an economy inside which society is embedded. As this becomes the case, everything is valorized in the light of maximizing accumulation. Polanyi also points out that such an economy, unchecked, will destroy society, as a cancer destroys a living body. The apparatuses of reform arise in order to put this insight into effect, by restraining capital and making the distribution of its wealth fairer; alas, they are forever destined to play a back-seat role to capital’s primordial need to expand. The sad story of the neoliberal era has been just this “unleashing” of the economy alongside the steady decline of the reformist impulse and the power of labor to contain capital. Hence the ever-growing division between rich and poor, the ever-deteriorating disintegration of democratic institutions, the ever-growing malign power of the capitalist state, and the ever-accelerating disintegration of ecosystems—with no surcease of economic instability, either now or in any conceivable future under capital. This is aggravated by the unfortunate fact that the acquisition of fabulous wealth by capitalists does not introduce moderation, much less, wisdom into their powerful brains. Rather does greed grow on greed, spurred by the parallel growth of competitive threat. This is the brutal truth: that capital—and capitalists, who are as Marx said, the personification of capital—CANNOT BE SATISFIED. If any one does, as an individual, this means that he ceases being capital’s personification, steps off the wheel of accumulation, and is instantly replaced by a suitable substitute.

That a society predicated upon infinite expansion in a finite world is doomed to extinction should be evident to the rudest intelligence. Yet the whole world is set against its recognition.

3. The imperative to cure capitalism of its compulsion to endlessly grow has dawned on many, including the exponents of “degrowth.”

Well, not entirely. A certain degree of recognition is taking place of this menacing truth. The task, however, is to assess its sufficiency. Consider briefly in this regard the “degrowth” movement, which has made some headway in Europe confronting the question of capital’s expansion. Generally speaking, it seems that the degrowth movement dwells on symptoms rather than basic dynamics; that is, its meaning of “growth” is abstracted from the mode of production that demands growth. Thus critique tends to be constrained and pallid. A leading exponent of degrowth such as Serge Latouche will go so far as to say that “the capitalist mode of production – founded on inequality of access to the means of production and always engendering more wealth inequality – must be abolished.” And he will add: “as a radical critique of consumption society and of development, degrowth is ipso facto a critique of capitalism.” But the force of the words is diffused by being couched in high-minded ethical rhetoric: “because sharing is a cardinal ethical principle of the left” is said to explain the option for change—a sonorous but vacuous exhortation: “Altruism must take precedence over egoism, cooperation over unbridled competition . . .”; and meaningless slogans: degrowth “is about exiting the economy.”

The key point being evaded by the exponents of degrowth is this: that to make a real difference in the capitalist regime requires struggle. No administrative path leads to the society we need; nor, given the necessary conditions set by the capitalist state, can we vote degrowth into power. The grim record of capital establishes the bankruptcy of reformism as more than a tactical expedient to buy time or create tactical openings to confront the real question: the existential demand to uproot capital—existential in the twofold sense that it must mobilize the full potentials of our being, and that it pertains to a struggle for nothing less than existence itself. Whatever fails to mobilize this will dull the mind and slacken the will.

This brings into focus the notion of socialism, whose inner meaning—the radical supersession of capital—needs to be realized if we are to survive the present crisis. Ecosocialism is the name given to a socialism of this capacity.

4. The ecosocialist alternative must be first of all socialist, which entails the radical transformation of capitalism.

Ecosocialism is a movement that postulates a socialism fully realized in society and nature alike as the precondition for an ecologically rational society.

Ecosocialism is more a path than a destination, though it is a destination as well, which is prefigured in the shaping of the path. Both path and destination reject the false comfort that by merely mentioning capitalism as the problem and airbrushing it with warm and fuzzy words like sharing and cooperation, we have embarked upon a transformative and radical journey. To ecosocialism, capitalism must be uprooted–torn from its points of invasion of the earth. This earth, however, is not simply defined by the geology of our planet. No, it is also the living being inside us—the life we have drawn from the earth and must reclaim to give back to the earth. Thus ecosocialist politics are primarily existential and not technocratic or reformist. We need rational and efficient technologies, including renewable energy; and we need those reforms that can check the immediate damage of ecological insults. But we need even more the living recognition that we are suffering from a fatal planetary disease, which cannot be resolved at the level of its symptoms. And as we need to transform society in order to survive, so it is that the fully realized socialism that appears within ecosocialism is a struggle for life as well as justice.

There are many definitions of socialism, and no magic in this name that has been rather beaten up by history. But for the purposes of an ecological transformation, socialism cannot rest at being a social democracy where parliamentary reforms blunt capital’s force, nor will it be “worker’s power” as transmitted though big unions or massive bureaucracies, nor a “party-state,” where the party stands in for the collective producers. These are at best transitional stages that ossify and occlude the actual power of socialism, which can be only one thing: the power of “freely associated producers,” in other words, the actual overcoming of capitalism’s deadly grip over human creative power by reuniting producers with the means of production through a redefinition of (productive) property along communal lines. Socialism of what we would call the “first epoch,” that is, of the time before ecological crisis enters the picture, was careless around this point and tended to forget that true freedom is predicated upon an association of labor that radically breaks with capitalist principles. Remaining hooked into the system, first epoch socialism often settled for the goal of perfecting the industrial model with improved methods of distribution deriving from worker power and equality. As a result, first epoch socialism generally failed to confront capital’s endless expansiveness, fell back into capitalist hierarchies and bureaucratization, and became useless for overcoming the ecological crisis.

Ecosocialism is a transformation of the original socialist project. It is “this-epoch socialism,” reflecting the ascension of the ecological crisis alongside and interpenetrated with the accumulation crises of classical capitalism. Accumulation crises pertain to the cycle in which commodities are produced, circulated, sold and consumed, the surplus value derived therefrom being “realized” in the form of capital as another cycle begins. Crises of this sort grow out of the exploitation of labor, because by squeezing labor for his own profit, the capitalist forces the worker to consume less than s/he produces. This thwarts the transformation of the commodity into capital and restricts accumulation. Ecological crises appear alongside this when the overproduction inherent to capitalism (which is the other face of the “underconsumption” that is the bugbear of classical economists) causes a breakdown in the capacity of the ecosphere to buffer and neutralize damage to nature. This corrupts ecosystem integrity. It also threatens profit, and inevitably, life itself, which as the flowering of nature into self-sustaining form, requires an integrity of ecosystem that capital precludes. The two sides of crises are distinct in origin and dynamics but constantly interact, creating an increasingly chaotic world, as recent experience has abundantly shown. In any event only an ecosocialist approach offers a sufficiently wide perspective to take it all in.

Thus socialism evolves. Though traditional socialists still tend to resist the notion, socialism for the twenty-first century cannot be realized in the classic forms of its first epoch, when the exploitation of labor provided the fulcrum for organization. This does not eliminate core socialist relations. It does, however, challenge certain orthodoxies derived from socialism of the first epoch, for example, the idea (most notably propounded by Lukács) that the industrial proletariat was the privileged “subject” of the revolution against capital. Whether or not this ever made any sense—and a case can be made that it did not[1]—it makes no sense now that ecological crisis is imbricated with accumulation crisis and capital’s curse extends from the sweatshop to the disappearance of honeybees. It should go without saying that this expansion of the purview of ecosocialism does not remove industrial workers, or anybody from whose labor is exploited, from the zone of struggle. It does mean, however, that this zone is both extended over all points where the cancer of capital metastasizes, now occurring , as it were, over a surface covering the whole world—from community board, to agro-ecology co-operative, to industrial shop, to arts collective, and nursery.

It extends across spatio-temporal and ecosystemic relations of considerable subtlety; one may call them, interstitial, to suggest that they take place in the pores of the world as well as its peaks, and need to be apprehended and confronted in continually novel ways. Thus, given the interstitial ground of ecosocialist emergence and the disappearance of a privileged stratum of the oppressed, we are obliged to discard once and for all the obsolete idea of a centralized vanguard party to lead the revolution. Such a party is logically impossible in a world where the advancing crises of capitalism have reached the scale of generalized invasion of life-worlds. A further reflection will free ourselves from grief over the passing away of these dinosaurs and permit an opening onto others more consonant with the present reality. Let us take up one of the celebrated mottos of radical thought as articulated by Mother Jones: “Don’t mourn, organize!” . . . but organize by respecting the reality before us, with its new hazards and possibilities.

5. Ecosocialism is not a new kind of economy, but a new mode of production, and a new way of being: a spiritual as well as a material transforming proceeding from prefiguration

The interstitial is one watch-word of organizing in the present moment. Prefiguration is another.

The unifying perspective amidst the diversity of capital’s interstitial points of destabilization is that all these manifestations require the countering of capital’s cancer virus with the core relations of socialist transformation. The general formula for this is simple enough in principle; it consists schematically of a twofold movement: first, organize freely associated labor in each concrete instance; and second and pari passu, extend and interconnect the interstitial loci of socialist transformation into larger wholes. Thus a path is hewn whose direction is the building of an ecosocialism suitable for overcoming the ecological crisis. This paradigm takes into account both locality of origin and globality of destination, from the concrete-particular to the universal-transformative. It defines an organizing that does not rest until the planet is in ecosocialist hands.[2]

Every halfway sentient person knows full well that we are so far from effective organizing along such lines as to call into question the sanity of anyone who would claim that ecosocialism is recognizably on the horizon, much less, just around the corner. But before one backs away from this project out of fear of being labeled as mad as Cervantes’ Man of La Mancha, it should be recalled that the estimable Don Quixote (I say this because Quixote provides the template for all radicals to come) lacked what we should now be able to acquire, namely, the critical faculty to hold on to our visions and provide them with an anchoring point in reality, so that we can trace a way from the here-now to the not-yet, and learn just where and how we can set projects going in the direction of beneficial change.

It is no doubt difficult to see life in terms of process rather than fixed anchoring points, and to be sufficiently imbued with faith and hope as to be willing to take the risks to move forward toward a better world rather than acquiesce in the unbearable one with which we are saddled. But if so, so much the worse for the rule of false reason that would foreclose this possibility—the possibility of imagining, and thinking—and risking—prefiguratively. The praxis–a word bringing together the unity of theory and practice–of prefiguration is the capacity to see and act along a skein of time: the present in terms of the future as well as the past. For while the future can only be imagined and the past can never be reclaimed; yet the past can be learned from, in both its errors and glories, so that a worthy future can be claimed. Prefigurative praxis rejects the shallow, technocratic progressivism which is mainly a technique for reproducing the hyper-modernity of capital, linch-pin of the consumerist order that sees everything as “new and improved,” and succumbs to the imposition—as endless as the cancerous growth of Gross National Product—of endless desires, styles and gimmicks.

Ecosocialism may not be on the horizon, but prefiguration sees its locations of coming-to-be and makes these the nuclei of ecosocialist organizing. Instead of the union or party that stood separately and in advance of the producers during the first epoch of socialist organizing, prefiguration proposes a widening network of interstitially organized productive as well as resistant ensembles each woven by freely associated labor. What brings these together into a great, transformative movement is the common telos of a free society in differentiated harmony with nature: the vision of ecosocialism. Thus each point of prefigurative organizing has a dignity and strength—and also the ground of interconnectivity with its sisters and brothers in a laterally spreading contestation with the capitalist machine. There are four qualities evinced by these cellules of ecosocialism:

  • they inherently resist centralization and hierarchy;
  • they inherently resist the gender distinctions that have permeated patriarchal society for thousands of years;
  • they inherently resist the logic of endless growth; and
  • they spontaneously adopt an ethic of ecocentrism, that is, of caring for nature and granting it intrinsic value.

We do not have space to develop these themes in detail, except to say this: They are internally related, so that each implies the other; and all are functions of the free association of labor and its ground in forms of “commoning.” To briefly consider just the last two, it can be stated that what sets ecosocialism apart from all prior socialisms—and needless to say, capitalism—is refusal to yield to economism and the endless expansion of the economic product. This potential derives from organizing society along the cellular basis of ecologically productive ensembles. Only freely productive women and men will have the fortitude to face up to this task and the insight to understand its meaning. External coercion may seem to work for a while, but such an alternative will soon enough explode and/or collapse from the weight of its contradictions. Nor will an ecocentric ethic emerge to free the earth except as it emerges from people whose own freedom is predicated on ecologically productive ensembles. Therefore rejection of “growth” and ecocentrism are two sides of the same coin, forged in the workshops of ecosocialism’s revolution for the integrity of life.

Freely associated labor generates solidarity and frees us to be truly human, universal creatures. From this matrix stems recognition of the mutual being of all creatures, and with it, an openness to the universe that gives courage and endurance for the struggle ahead and its inevitable sacrifices. As humans we do not have, but are a way of being, with creative power, and also with human-natural potentials often disparaged by “advanced” and “progressive” people. Faith and hope are two such qualities. They are part of the legacy of every human being who makes it through infancy and childhood. These are suppressed in all circumstances that come under the rubric of “alienation,” including most definitely, the alienation of labor at the heart of capitalist production. And they are mobilized again in the freeing of labor and in the organizing along interstitial and prefigurative lines.

Ecosocialism therefore encompasses the practical organizing of basic reforms such as publically available health care and free public transportation, along with technical matters such as the provision of renewable energy. It requires that we organize worldwide networks unifying the global South and North in great campaigns for Climate Justice, and that we educate the people as well as provide spaces for publication of theoretical and practical aspects of the work ahead.[3] It requires that we use these spaces to conscientiously debate alternative approaches within the overall framework, including the innumerable questions arising around the transition to the new society. And it is also, as we have just sketched, a visionary and spiritual turn that enters into relations with humanity’s great faith traditions.

The many points on this road indicate a new mode of production as the successor to a dying capitalism. Capital, or self-expanding value, has itself to be produced; and capitalist society is constructed to do so; that is, it comprises a specific mode of production. Similarly, a society beyond capital will be predicated on a newly developed ecosocialist mode of production no longer bound to accumulation and those ways of life essential to accumulation. Production is the historically developing way of transforming nature; and a mode of production has built into itself a vast array of internally stabilizing pattern of relations, hierarchies, technologies, ideologies, and modes of spiritual appropriation; hence it achieves a kind of stability, built upon denial of the flux of time, yet resistant to change until broken down by the inexorable force of events impinging upon its internal contradictions.

We should think of these productive orders as themselves ecosystems, albeit human in kind. Ecosystems are configurations of entities held together by specific relations that serve as points of connection. In each ecosystem such relations are specific to the entities that enter into its processes, as the organisms in a pond interact with each other and with the physical components of the pond. As humans we are that part of nature whose life is expressed in society, which is another term for a human ecosystem. Much of this is mediated by physical inputs and signals; but much of it is specifically human, and expresses our human nature. Here the nodes of connection are given through symbolic, linguistic and inter-subjective nodes of recognition, for re-cognition, just like re-ligion, is a way of expressing points of connection between ecosystemic elements in a human-natural manifold—along with the kinds of physically mediated connections that give form to ecosystems without a human presence. The science of ecosystematics is still in its infancy, especially its application to modes of production, which are its chief point of entry into history. Marx was moving in the direction of doing so, especially in texts such as the preface to his 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in which he states that the mode of production “conditions the social, political and intellectual life processes in general,” and goes on to describe how the “material productive forces [can] come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or . . . the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto.” “Then begins,” Marx continues, “an epoch of social revolution.”

And that is where we are today, with the future awaiting to be decided.

  1. [1] There is a contradiction in Marx’s treatment of this subject in Capital, where he simultaneously claims that capitalist production creates its “gravediggers,” but also that it saps the workers’ transformative capacities through the various modes of alienation. This is chiefly set in the framework of the industrial revolution, the civilThizing potentials of which it must be said that Marx over-rated.
  2. [2] This essay was written before the flowering of the “occupation” movements late in 2011. These are, however, excellent instances of the principles of ecosocialism in action.
  3. [3] The journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, which I have edited for a number of years, is a quarterly academic publication that identifies itself as “a journal of ecosocialism.”