The ecological challenge for Socialism

A Review of ‘Socialism’ by Mary Mellor, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R. (2006), Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge (pp.35-50), Cambridge: CUP. In the first two chapters of Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge, the contributing authors, Roger Scruton and Marcel Wissenburg, attempt to challenge the orthodoxy that says one cannot be concerned for the environment and be a conservative or a liberal respectively. Conversely, the third chapter by Mary Mellor seeks to challenge the orthodoxy that says all environmentalists must be socialists; or at least explain how and why it is not as simple as that. First of all, a few words about long words. Yet again, I have caught myself using the latter without adequate explanation (but then long words are just that – shorthand for complex ideas). Green politics is awash with long words and complex ideas, so I apologise; I really am not trying to put readers off!… Concern for the environment can either be focused on the needs of humans (i.e. “anthropocentric” [environmentalism] – such as movements concerned with nature conservation and the wise use of resources); or it can be focused on the needs of nature as a whole (i.e. “ecocentric” [ecologism] – such as movements concerned with wilderness and biodiversity preservation). Furthermore, if, rather than seeing these as two polar opposites, you think of them as an anthropocentric – ecocentric spectrum along which a number of positions is possible, then you may begin to understand why there are so many differing views on environmental matters: It all comes down to whether you perceive of nature as having instrumental, inherent, or intrinsic value? That is to say, is it valuable to you only for what you can do with it, because you like to look at it, or because it just is valuable (and would be even if we were not here to observe it)? All this, and much more besides, is explained in Neil Carter’s excellent 2007 text book, The Politics of the Environment (2nd Edition). So then, back to what you might now call James Delingpole’s Watermelons question, “are all environmentalists just socialists in disguise?” Or is it more complicated than that? Well Mary Mellor is in no doubt that, far from being a challenge, concern for the environment (in any form) “greatly enhances the case for a redefined and refocused socialism” (p.35). However, as have many others, she points out that Marxism and Capitalism have one thing in common, the central aim of progressing via the industrialisation of the means of production (p.36) (i.e. Herman Daly’s ‘growthmania’). For example, whereas Jack Goody accepts that Capitalism has been “…connected with the growth of rationality and of secularisation; more recently with urbanisation and industrialisation”, he also notes that for Marxist regimes “…modern meant industrialisation without capitalism” (Goody 2004: 6). In this context, Robert Goodin identifies Capitalism as consumer-focused and Marxism as producer-focused; but neither is that concerned about nature per se. However, Goodin’s “green theory of value” is distinct from both of these because the value-imparting properties are neither those of the consumer or producer – they are “natural resource based” (Goodin 1992: 23-6). If so, Capitalism and Marxism are equally misguided. Thus Mellor identifies environmental concern for sustainable development and limits to growth issues as a challenge to both Capitalist and Marxist orthodoxy (p.38-41). Furthermore, whereas Capitalism favours the privatisation of the means of production (including natural resources), Marxism favours state-ownership (p.41-3). Arguably, the only difference is that the capacity for protest is limited under the latter. However, either way, the environment is exploited ruthlessly. Mellor reminds us that Marx coined the term ‘money fetishism’ for the Capitalist tendency to focus on the exchange value of money in abstract terms (p.41-45), which Daly correctly predicted would ultimately result in the paperless economy that caused our recent financial meltdown. It is in resisting this trend that Mellor is convinced lies socialism’s greatest potential to benefit from environmental concern (p.46). But even if all socialists were environmentalists (clearly they are not), this would not mean that all environmentalists are socialists. Delingpole’s Watermelons hypothesis is patently nonsense, as is his suggestion that Communists all became environmentalists after the fall of the Berlin Wall (view from 07:20 in this video). On the contrary, after the demise of the “red menace”, neo-Conservatives in the US had to find a new enemy to attack, so they chose the environment instead… and we are still dealing with the consequences today. This is just another denialist inversion of reality but, for the record, his Man-Bear-Pig exists but it is not climate “alarmism”; it is the blind pursuit of “profit at any cost” (i.e. without any regard for the environment). In pages 46 to 49, Mellor then concludes her appeal for a new “invigorated socialism” by highlighting its tendency to focus on equal rights for all (humans at least); and its determination to avoid unhealthy concentrations of wealth (even if not always power). However, this raises important environmental questions about the “global commons” (i.e. things that cannot or should not be in private ownership). A good example of this is the way we humans fight over – and over-exploit – many of the world’s marine resources (i.e. fish). Without any form of collectively agreed and enforced restraint, this is inevitable (i.e. Garrett Hardin’s classic 1968 article entitled ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’). The privatisation of such things is highly controversial but, arguably, results in conservation via means of self-interest. Arguably, too, it is already happening by stealth in many cases. In the final analysis, as was hinted at earlier, I think Marxism and Capitalism are equally flawed; and neither has an answer to the challenge presented by the Environment and our self-evident human propensity to despoil it. Furthermore, although as Crocodile Dundee once famously remarked “humans arguing about who owns the land is like fleas arguing about who owns the dog”, we must find a solution to managing our “global commons”; also known as common pool resources (things that we can use or eat) and common sink resources (things that can assimilate our waste). Since there is no time to waste, it is a great shame that those that would deny the existence of environmental problems are conspiring against humanity to do just that – waste time. Therefore, Peter Jacques hit the nail on the head, when he said that such people need to be exposed as acting “in violation of the public interest” (see About). ————– References: Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press. Goody, J. (2004), Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate. Cambridge: Polity Press.


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Capitalism, Climate Science, Economics, Environment, Growthmania, James Delingpole, Limits to Growth, Money Fetishism, Politics, Scepticism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The ecological challenge for Socialism

  1. pendantry says:

    …such people need to be exposed as acting “in violation of the public interest”. James Delingpole is probably one of the worst culprits. Listening to his prattle, he clearly believes he owns the entire ‘Climategate’ concept (which might help explain why he won’t let it lie). I haven’t bothered trying to find out whether my interpretation of what happened just prior to ‘COP15’ beat others with the same view to the draw: it all seems so pointless, in retrospect. As for -isms, I’m with Ferris Bueller. “-Isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.”


    • Rick_Altman says:

      For what it’s worth, I think you were well ahead of the game in your interpretation of events and (critically) in suggesting that the criminality had been long-planned and even that the data had been poured-over at great length prio to being made public.


  2. Pingback: Graham Stringer MP is no Watermelon | Anthropocene Reality

  3. Pingback: Fables about non-living resources? | Anthropocene Reality

  4. Pingback: Fables about non-living resources? | Anthropocene Reality | The Environmentalism

  5. Pingback: Green philosophy in a nutloaf | Anthropocene Reality

  6. Pingback: A brief history of mine | Anthropocene Reality

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s