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Book of the week (2): Why Tackling Property Rights and Democratic Planning are a environmental necessity

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th November 2011


* Book: The Rise of the Green Left” by Derek Wall.

First, a Review

“Derek Wall contrasts the long term sustainability of the shared Commons, written about extensively by Elinor Ostrom, with the inherent need for capitalism to create goods which become obsolete sooner and sooner, either via technical breakdown or aspirational shifts in fashion. The corollary is the burgeoning waste of resources even at a time of rapidly increasing resource scarcity – something which does not alarm capitalism given that it thrives on scarcity. Capitalism is driven by a mechanism that ignores morality – even superficially “green” initiatives such as growing biofuels for American and European cars in Colombia are shown to have involved armed gangs torturing and murdering local farmers into selling their lands so that traditional, sustainable pastures could be destroyed and replaced with alien, but profitable, biofuel crops. There are echoes here of Joel Bakan’s psychological diagnosis of corporate capitalism as essentially psychopathic.

The Commons approach of sharing, in sharp comparison, reduces waste massively and conserves resources, encouraging a socio-economic system based on co-operation and sufficiency as opposed to competition and endless growth. Viewing people as part of Nature rather than either somehow apart from or in dominion over it, ecosocialism seeks to synthesise the most vital aspects of both ecology and socialism, with the inextricable symbiosis between social justice and environmental sustainability emphasised and illustrated again and again.

This is an important document for anyone interested in how green politics can deliver a truly different society and provide an answer to the claim that there is no alternative to capitalism. It challenges socialists to consider the need for sustainability in their thinking about social change. And it challenges the green movement, positing the need for a more coherent ideological narrative to underpin the authentic concerns of many of those involved. Greens who argue for individual or local action alone miss the point that, for example, even if every American citizen took every step argued for by Al Gore in his Inconvenient Truth film, this would achieve barely a third of the required reduction in US carbon emissions. “Lifestyle change is not enough; deeper structural change is needed.”

Collective, worldwide action is vital – this timely, highly readable and usefully engaging tome sets out some of the paths we can take towards a far happier world. Tracing the thinking behind a sustainable and just human society back as far as Marx and Engels, the book charts the progress of ecosocialism to date. Latin America is a particular example to the world; but the book also looks at developments elsewhere, including the rise of ecosocialism within green and left political parties like Die Linke in Germany, and the establishment of the global Ecosocialist International Network. It highlights practical soldairty between movements in different parts of the world, such as combined action between Peruvian trade unions and British climate change activists following the Bagua massacre in 2009.

Derek Wall argues for an inclusive approach, embracing a diverse range of strategies and tactics and a wide range of thinking. The leap from where we are now to where we need to be is substantial, and so a welcome segment of the book covers possible transitional steps, such as progressive mutualisation of the economy, land reform and conversion of military production to peaceful and renewable purposes. He explicitly rejects the narrow dogmatic purity that so often stymies the Left, though equally cautions that political parties and individuals within them risk being seduced by power and so absorbed into the mainstream, neutralising their capacity to effect real change. Constant self-challenge and renewal within radical movements are important in order to effectively tackle wider societal issues.”

Why Tackling Property Rights and Democratic Planning are a environmental necessity

Michael Löwy, on reading the first draft of the chapter on Planning, noted:

“Democratic Socialist Planning is not ‘central’, for two reasons : First) It is a planning at all levels, municipal, regional, national, continental (Europe), planetary. Second) The main decisions are not taken by any ‘central’ body, but by the whole concerned population, in a democratic vote … Local transport by buses has to be locally planned. And the production of locomotives and buses has to be planned, at a national or continental level. As well as the production of electricity to produce these goods. The closing down of carbon-fueled facilities and nuclear plants has to be planned, cleaning up the monstrous waste they leave behind.

Many environmentalists have failed to criticize capitalism but capitalism is the cause of ecological destruction, so a green politics without a red analysis of capitalism will fail to develop realistic alternatives for environmental protection. Socialism while necessary is not sufficient, socialist movements in the past have amongst other failings often ignored environmental problems. There must be a process of building ecosocialist alternatives. Socialism without ecological concern will still wreck the planet, while ecological concern without a socialist analysis of capitalism will fail to save it. (private correspondence with the author)

As Dave Riley, an ecosocialist activist from Australia, reminded me while looking at an earlier draft of this chapter, the key problem is political not technical. Solutions are possible but it is inadequate to simply point out that solutions, such as the commons, permaculture and a green ‘New Deal’ which would invest in renewables, exist and then expect society to embrace them. The key is that their introduction will involve intense political struggle. My argument is that alternative forms of property rights that promote economic democracy and ecological sustainability are the essential base of a possible future, in contrast, to the impossible dream of capitalist waste. Property rights are political in that they determine access to resources, that is, they are about power; but to see alternative property as a free standing solution creates the danger of wishing for a more sophisticated fix.”

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3 Responses to “Book of the week (2): Why Tackling Property Rights and Democratic Planning are a environmental necessity”

  1. Øyvind Holmstad Says:

    Ecosocialism is a bit problematic to me, as it includes some kind of ideology. Personally I look upon myself as a “fractalist” supporting “fractalism”, using the “technology of life”: http://www.metropolismag.com/pov/author/nikos

    All sustainable systems have fractal properties. I think you can just as well create the therm “ecoconservatism” as “ecosocialism”, as conservatism is originally about creating a strong civil society. This cannot happen in today’s corporatism capitalism, as a strong civil society is dependent upon the human scale, which again is fractal, which again is dependent upon time proven patterns and pattern languages.

  2. Øyvind Holmstad Says:

    “the key problem is political not technical.”

    I fundamentally disagree with this, as the roots of the problem is that we are applying the “technologies of death”. We need a fundamentally new approach to technology: http://permaculture.org.au/2011/11/09/from-ideology-to-technology/

    I too believe that property rights has it’s place within a pattern language, like in the Alexandrine pattern 87, Individually Owned Shops: http://permaculture.org.au/2011/03/04/the-ancient-taberna-in-a-future-world/

    Just like the commons has its obvious place within other patterns in the language.

  3. Mrmagick Says:

    All of the ecological ills that this book seeks to solve through government intervention were caused by lack of enforcement of property rights. I refuse to participate in any system that seeks to use the power of government (Force of Violence) in order to make me do something with my property against my will.

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