Why the alternative to capitalism has to be ecosocialist

October 23, 2020
Photo: Ulbrecht Hopper/CC by 2.0

Green Left recently published a draft EcoSocialist Manifesto to engage with a growing public discussion about system change.

We are encountering this discussion in our workplaces, places of study, in the media (new and old) and in the streets, especially in the mass demonstrations over the last year — whether they were sparked by the unprecedented bushfire crisis that lasted from last November to February, or the incredible mass mobilisations of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Many people are publicly acknowledging — whether on handmade signs in a demo or in conversations — that the problem is not just the result of the bad decisions or misdeeds of particular governments or individuals, but of the capitalist system itself.

This discussion is not primarily the result of some super successful propaganda or agitation campaign by organised anti-capitalist groups, but rather a spontaneous response to developments in capitalism.

The capitalist system is forcing this discussion on society because it has concentrated so much wealth and economic power in the hands of so few and because this power is now brazenly used to put their profits before everything else — even before the liveability of the planet.

This has meant that the defenders of the capitalist system are sounding increasingly off-the-planet to more and more people. Watch SkyNews’ Sky after Dark, for example, or Fox News or read United States President Donald Trump’s Twitter rants. Rational people look at this and say, WTF!

There is no doubt that Trump has played a huge role in provoking anti-capitalist sentiment all around the world. The US is the belly of the capitalist beast and its president is this raving, ranting, racist, misogynist and psychopathic billionaire.

You couldn’t imagine a better negative advertisement for a bankrupt social system.

But Trump is just an expression of the bankrupt state of capitalism. He is a bizarre avatar of late capitalism — of capitalism as it has evolved according to its innate laws of development.

What replacement?

Okay, you might agree that there is a growing questioning of the capitalist system, but where is the public discussion on what to replace capitalism with? On that, there is no doubt the discussion is only just beginning.

We argue that capitalism needs to be replaced by an ecosocialist system, but we acknowledge that we have a big job ahead to explain what that means, let alone that it should be the alternative.

The draft manifesto argues that the necessary alternative to capitalism is ecosocialism, because capitalism has left humanity with less than a decade to take radical emergency action to avert catastrophic climate change.

The concentration of ownership and control of critical human resources is now monopolised by just 2095 billionaires (according to Forbes) all over the world. It is now abundantly clear that this billionaire class is blocking the action needed to radically break from fossil fuels, to break the colossal production of toxic waste and to halt the extinction crisis.

Therefore, the political dictatorship of the billionaire class needs to be broken and a program of public works is needed to make the urgent ecological shift as well as to address social needs and social justice.

In simple terms, radical ecosocialist action now presents itself as an urgent, practical and global necessity and not as some ideological preference.

Further, some outright capitalist governments have been impelled to take some emergency responses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating the practicality of “socialist measures”.

This urgent practical necessity is reflected in the radical Green New Deal (GND) programs put forward even by political parties that, formally, still see their objective as working to reform, or tame, the worst aspects of capitalism.

This is the case with the GNDs advocated by US Senator Bernie Sanders, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and even, more recently, by Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt.


The push for system change is driven by a relentless dynamic, generated by the contradictions in the existing system. 

Nearly 162 years ago, Karl Marx made this historical observation in his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

“At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production ... From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.”

Nominally democratic governments have been turned into brazen kleptocracies, as capitalist corporations seek to escape the limits of private property to ensure a profit.

We can see this clearly in Australia, where the mining industry (much of it exporting coal and gas) and the deeply entwined banking sector are some of the biggest recipients of corporate welfare, whose CEOs have a bigger say in running government than parliament (let alone the public) and where no major capitalist venture today does not involve systematic pillaging from the public purse through direct government subsidies, privatisation or tax concessions.

All this is done at the expense of burgeoning public and household debt.

Trillions of dollars of workers’ forced savings in the superannuation funds are used against the communities they live in, and those all around the world, to poison them, destroy social services and deepen the exploitation of workers.

In that same preface, Marx also wrote:

“No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.”

So, has capitalism come to such a stage? 

If productive development is measured by gross domestic product (GDP) growth, then despite the deep global recession brought forward by COVID-19 (itself a result of capitalism’s chronic rifts with nature) the answer is “no”.

An army of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development economists can confidently predict a return to GDP growth.

But, in this stage of capitalism, is increasing GDP productive development?

Writers such as Naomi Klein, Mike Davis, John Bellamy Foster and Jason Hickel have explained that much of this GDP growth is destructive rather than productive.

In fact, productive development (whether in the production of medicines or renewable energy) is being held back by wasteful and toxic production, as well as various corporate financial scams and the monstrous arms industry.

Living collectively

About 12,000 years ago, some human societies were forced by climate change to shift to settled agriculture. About 6000 years later, some of those societies evolved into the first class-divided societies in human history, breaking from a tradition of living collectively and in a sustainable relationship with nature.

When some societies were forced to make the switch, they used the discoveries and technologies developed over thousands of years of social practice.

Our idea for an ecosocialist system to replace capitalism is a quest to return to a form of social organisation based on those two fundamental principles, but with the benefit of modern technological and scientific discoveries applied to addressing ecological and social needs. 

A successful ecosocialist system would have to be based on direct democracy and embrace diversity if it is not to lapse back into the old class-divided, capitalist society.

The modern experience of Russia and China teaches that, and every living revolution today has had to pioneer new institutions of direct democracy simply to move forward. The current ecological impasse that capitalism has got us to means that such a reversion risks human survival.

There is no doubt that building new institutions of effective direct democracy will be a creative challenge. But we can learn from the collective traditions that humanity once shared, as well as from more recent experiences of revolutionary democracy — from the heroic if short-lived Paris Commune to the exciting democratic confederalist experiment in the Rojava Revolution.

The draft Ecosocialist Manifesto is a contribution to a big discussion. We hope it will provoke discussion and debate and perhaps develop further through a collective sharing of experiences across all borders.

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