MARXISM and ECOLOGY

I wrote this article under my pen name ‘David Moss’  for the journal Socialist Viewpoint, which was published by a small Trotskyist group which operated in the Labour Party in the 1980s. It appeared in the June 1985 Issue, although it was put together in late 1984, and I recollect the Bhopal disaster happening just as I was finishing it – making it more relevant and topical than it would otherwise have been, although I was only able to include a passing reference to it.

I am reproducing it now for several reasons. Although the situation has changed dramatically since 1984 – a year charged with meaning not only because of its Orwellian associations, but also because it was the beginning of the British Miners’ Strike, a turning point in British Labour history – I believe that it is still relevant.  Firstly because it puts the current debate on Climate Change, pollution and other environmental concerns in a historical context. It reminds us what concerns were current around 35 years ago and if you read on, you will see how the fate of the rain forest figured, at least in my own awareness. Greenhouse gasses and climate change only get a brief mention and there is no challenge to the burning of fossil fuels.  If I remember correctly, this argument was not made strongly at the time as justification for the destruction of the UK coal industry, though no doubt there were articles and reports at the time advocating this.

What is scary about is the fact that, even on the basis of the limited examples I refer to, the impact of human economic activity on the planet was patently obvious and still, in the second decade of the 21st Century, the problems have not been anywhere near resolved.

One of the problems I dismissed at the time was that of population growth.  My view on that has changed completely.   I now consider it one of the basic problems and one that is still taboo on the left and usually scornfully dismissed as ‘neo-Malthusianism.’  My arguments about this issue I hope to publish later.

Another reason for re-publishing this is to put on the record the Marxist contribution to the ecological debate, such as it is.  This has been going on since the 1970s and my lack of reference to more recent Marxists than Marx and Engels was partly due to ignorance (since rectified to some degree, I hope) and partly due to a wish to get the issue discussed without introducing fuel for sectarian disputes. I was unsuccessful in generating much debate in the Trotskyist sect I was in at the time, but, more widely, there was encouraging developments with organisations such as SERA, the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, which tried to highlight ecological issues in the Labour Party.  I well remember at the time members of my Consituency Labour Party (both ‘Left’ and right) dismissing the environment as a middle class issue and a debate only giving succour  to the Greens.

Although I would no longer call myself a Marxist – a decision I could fill a book with in itself – I believe that Marxism does have an important role to play in both historiography and current revolutionary politics.  I therefore release this both for discussion and, for those who don’t want to discuss because they believe they have all the answers, as a reminder. A reminder to non-Marxists that Marxists (including the founding fathers) do have a history of analysing capitalism’s relation to the environment and of warning of the damage it inflicted;  and a reminder to today’s Marxists that there is a recent broad heritage of Marxist involvement in the environmental movement  which they should acknowledge.  In both cases this should help acquit Marxists in general of the charge of jumping on the bandwagon of environmentalism  However, some Marxists, both individuals, and groups (like the SWP), relatively recent converts to the ecological movement, need to enter into a debate with others on the left (Marxist and Anarchist) – a debate which long precedes their discovery of Nature as a possible recruiting ground to promote their own particular ideas and organisations.

ANY COMMENTS OR CRITICISM WOULD BE GRATEFULLY AND GRACIOUSLY RECEIVED.

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