Science, ecology and socialism must intersect

The Peoples Climate March in New York, on September 21, 2014.
Friday, June 23, 2017

In his new book A Redder Shade of Green, Canadian ecosocialist activist and Climate and Capitalism editor Ian Angus says ecosocialism must be based on a careful and deliberate synthesis of Marxist social science and Earth system science — a 21st century rebirth of scientific socialism.

A Redder Shade of Green was published this month by Monthly Review Press. It can be purchased directly from the publisher, or from most online booksellers. Its introduction is abridged below.

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Red is the colour of socialist revolution. It stands for egalitarian democracy and human liberation, for an end to capitalism and to all forms of oppression.

Green is the colour of ecological revolution. It stands for global sustainability and a world where humans live in harmony with the rest of nature.

Red and green together are the colours of ecosocialism. This is a movement whose fundamental principle is that there can be no true ecological revolution that is not socialist, and no true socialist revolution that is not ecological.

Ecosocialism aims to build red-green movements based on a social-ecological understanding of the global crisis, to inform and advance radical movements for social and ecological justice.

The essays, interviews, and talks collected in A Redder Shade of Green discuss some of the intersections of socialism and science that define ecosocialist politics in the 21st century.

They are united by the conviction that ecosocialism cannot succeed unless it is more than a pious wish for a better world: it must be based on a concrete scientific understanding of how our world has evolved, how it is changing today and where those changes may take us.

The way we build socialism, and the kind of socialism that can be built, will be profoundly shaped by the state of the planet we build it on. If our political analysis and program doesn’t have a firm basis in the natural sciences, our efforts to change the world will be in vain.

The reverse is also true, because natural sciences only reveal parts of reality. Chemistry and climatology show us that greenhouse gases are rapidly disrupting climate patterns that have existed longer than human beings have walked the earth, and identify fossil fuel combustion as the primary source of those gases.

But by themselves, they cannot show why the most powerful governments and corporations have actively resisted any serious action to reduce emissions. Nor can they show us how to overcome that resistance.

An understanding of Earth system science is necessary for preventing environmental crises, but it is not sufficient.

For Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, socialism had to be based on the systematic pursuit of all kinds of knowledge. They used the term “scientific socialism” not to suggest that it was comparable to chemistry or physics, but as a contrast to the utopian socialisms of the early 19th century. These were based on abstract moralism, not on systematic study of capitalism and its material context.

Unfortunately, most of what passes for social science in universities today has abandoned any thought of a unified understanding of human society and the rest of the natural world.

In contrast, ecosocialism seeks and is based on a careful and deliberate synthesis of Marxist social science and Earth system science.

A Redder Shade of Green is a book of debates, polemics, and arguments, because although environmentalists, scientists, and socialists share concerns about the devastation of our planet, we frequently differ on explanations and solutions. We often disagree with one another, and that’s healthy.

In movements for change, unanimity is more often a sign of lack of thought than genuine agreement. We can only reach real consensus through open debate, and by testing our ideas in actual campaigns.

Nothing in the book should be viewed as ecosocialist gospel or even as my final judgment on any of these subjects. These are contributions to critical debates that I fully expect to continue. I look forward to receiving responses, criticisms, and disagreements.

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