A Marxist Ecological Vision

Against the Current, No. 161, November/December 2012

Nicholas Davenport

[The following article is adapted from a presentation at the Solidarity summer school in August 2012. Nicholas Davenport is a member of the newly formed Ecosocialism Working Group of Solidarity. The editors of Against the Current view this contribution as part of an urgently needed discussion.

The questions facing environmental activists, and socialists in particular, range from the sheer scale of the environmental disasters already underway to the problems of beginning a transition from a system organized around massive consumption of fossil fuels, vast megacities and global agribusiness.

In the process of doing so, how will an ecosocialist movement and society address the crisis of global inequality and the need to “develop the productive forces” without pushing the planet and human civilization over the environmental cliff? We look forward to explorations of these questions from a variety of angles and viewpoints. — David Finkel, for the ATC editors]

THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS presents the starkest possible example of both the necessity of and opportunity for revolutionary change. Nothing but a radical transformation of basic social relations can prevent the worst possible outcomes of the crisis. In spite of its overwhelming and frightening magnitude, the ecological crisis presents a moment to revitalize the world revolutionary movement.

However, much of the socialist response to the ecological crisis so far has been inadequate. When we talk about the ecological crisis, socialists often fail to integrate it into our general analysis of the trajectory of bourgeois society and the opportunities for revolution.

Sometimes the crisis is treated as a throwaway conversation-stopper, a factor external to our theory and politics which may make debates about (for instance) the origin of economic crisis irrelevant in 30 years, but has little bearing on our practice now. At other times socialists do address the crisis, but only as another stick to beat capitalism with — as another illustration of why capitalism presents no solutions — but not integrating an understanding of the ecological crisis and its consequences into our own revolutionary program and vision.

In the absence of a well-articulated revolutionary socialist response to the ecological crisis, all manner of other political responses have emerged, most of which to varying degrees place the responsibility for dealing with the crisis on individuals.

Radically-minded people often state that people in developed countries will need to accept a lower standard of living (no cars, television, meat…) in order to deal with the crisis. Demanding that working-class people change their lifestyles is unlikely to win workers to environmentalism when capitalist austerity is already slashing living standards, and more importantly, is not a sufficient or correct response to the crisis.

Individual or Social Choices?

It is true that the developed nations have unsustainably high levels of energy, water, land and resource consumption. However, the large ecological footprint of developed countries are the result of factors beyond the control of individual workers: among them our government’s global military presence, our freeway-based transportation system, and our monocultural system of agriculture.

Rather than focusing on what people consume, we need to struggle for ecologically sound production, which could only be accomplished in a society where the economy is democratically and rationally controlled by the people — one of the central elements of the Marxist revolutionary vision.

However, Marxism is discredited in the eyes of many environmentalists. Many argue that Marxism is fundamentally “productivist” and anti-ecological, pointing to the disastrous ecological record of “socialist” states like the Soviet Union and the neglectful policies of Communist parties around the world.

Even some socialists have asserted that Marxism must drop some old principles in order to deal with the ecological crisis. These debates have touched on many issues, from Marx’s conception of nature to his ideas about work, but this article will focus on perhaps the most prominent issue for debates around production and consumption — the idea of development of the productive forces.

For many Marxists, the idea that the development of society’s productive forces is the material basis for social progress is critical to a materialist account of history: capitalism won out over feudalism in Europe because it was more productive, and socialism, in turn, will allow a higher level of development than is possible under capitalism.

Those who adhere to this idea view it as a critical position that distinguishes Marxism from idealism, for it implies that socialism is not just a good idea, but economically necessary. To many others, however, this notion appears overly concerned with expanding production at the expense of ecological and human considerations.

Sarah Grey, in a review of UK Green Party leader Derek Wall’s Babylon and Beyond, summarizes much of the “common sense” about Marxism among many non-Marxist radicals concerned with the ecological crisis:

“Wall also argues … that Marx was, and by extension Marxists are, in favor of unfettered capitalist economic growth, writing that ‘capitalism in its search for profits is the force that promotes globalization but will mutate into communism’ (109) and describing the Marxism promoted by ‘many, but not all, Marxists’ as promoting ‘a productivist politics that celebrates the expansion of the economy’ (122). Leaping from Marx’s claim that capitalism has developed technology and created the conditions that make a surplus possible, he argues that ‘despite the prophecy of many Marxists, the promotion of hyperglobalization seems unlikely to flip society neatly into a socialist order. While there are contradictions inherent in capitalism, it is not a system based on clockwork that will strike twelve and chime in revolution.’” (177).(1)

The idea of development-at-all-costs of the productive forces has certainly given rise to anti-ecological politics, beginning with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. As the Bolshevik Party bureaucratized, it focused increasingly on controlling and growing the Russian economy at the expense of workers’ control and sustainability, culminating, under Stalin, in highly ecologically destructive crash industrialization programs carried out through forcible command.

The Communist parties of the world adopted this conception, leading to catastrophic positions such as siding against indigenous peoples and attempting to ally with local capitalists in colonized nations.

In spite of the anti-ecological legacy of Stalinism, however, revolutionary socialism — including the idea of development of the productive forces — remains essential to developing a winning strategy for ecological transformation of society. But “development of the productive forces” need not be taken to mechanically imply greater material abundance and a heavier ecological footprint.

We can find ways to develop the realization of human potential while shrinking our ecological footprint. Such a focus on human development is the only way to overcome the limitations of the various primitivist, life-stylist and liberal forms of environmentalism that argue that workers in developed countries must accept a lower standard of living — and to forge a movement that can unify ecological concerns with people’s striving for a better life.”

The development of human potential to its fullest extent implies eliminating oppressive toil, and overcoming scarcities of resources truly needed. On the basis of democratic control and a higher level of productivity, a socialist society could make choices about how to supply necessary resources in a sustainable way — exploring viable options for eliminating the scarcity of housing, for example.

Democracy and Sustainability

We can’t plan out beforehand all aspects of how a sustainable society would function, as it would have to be discussed and decided democratically; but in those aspects which we can envision, it becomes clear that the vision of an ecologically sound society coincides with a working-class revolutionary vision.

In an ecologically sustainable society, the economy would be democratically controlled and organized to provide the greatest possible public benefit, which would naturally entail ecological sustainability. Because the economy would be structured to further the development of human potential, technological advances in production would be used to shorten work hours rather than to produce more, leading to more free time to do truly fulfilling activities and allow us greater variety in how we spend our lives.

A sustainable and just society would also eliminate the distinction between productive and reproductive labor by socializing domestic labor (such as childcare, cooking and laundry) through organizing cooperatives. This would be a more efficient way to fulfill people’s needs and would further women’s liberation, combating the gendered division of labor in society.

In a democratically planned and ecologically rational society, many of the lifestyle changes that individualist environmentalism points to as necessary would occur, but as part of a social process of liberation, not as a forced sacrifice or moralistic principle.

There would be more parks and social gathering spaces that facilitate forms of interaction. Work would be structured in ways that allow people to feel a closer connection with the production of food and resources.

Overall, a socialist society would give us the freedom to live fulfilling lives less centered around consumption, in which we may choose to include some forms of hard work (like vegetable gardening, which is much less labor-efficient than farming but which many people find fulfilling). In these circumstances, the level of individual consumption will naturally decrease, without anyone forcing workers to lower their standard of living.

Certainly there would be changes in what people consume in a sustainable society — an ecologically sound agricultural system would probably supply less meat and less out-of-season produce — but this would occur because of a change in production in context of revolutionary liberation leading to a better life (overall, such an agricultural system would supply healthier, cheaper and better-tasting food), so it would not be experienced as a sacrifice.

All this being said, radicals must face the reality that much of the world does need higher levels of consumption — more stuff. Billions of people in the world need, in order to live fulfilling lives, secure food and water, better transportation and communications infrastructure, and medical services.

Under a democratic, planned program of development, these resources could be produced in different, more efficient and ecologically sound ways, paid for by reparations from imperialist capital for its centuries of exploitation, and in concert with reducing the ecological footprint of the developed countries.

Development of the global South countries is not simply a matter of political principle — it is also an ecological imperative. If people have no secure means of subsistence to live, they will survive as best they can using what means are available to them, which tend to be highly ecologically destructive. For example,

“Hundreds of millions of people still use wood and animal dung for heating, cooking and, lighting. India alone has four hundred million people who live without access to electricity. Poverty is a major part of the reason there is so much deforestation in India, Africa, and parts of Asia. … Renewable electricity provision for the entire planet — and the eradication of poverty — would have to be part of any move to living sustainably with the earth.”(2)

In order to solve the global ecological crisis, we must undertake an enormous transfer of wealth from capital to the formerly colonized countries, funding development that offers a secure life to the billions of people from whom capitalism has torn the means of subsistence.

Organizing Sustainable Production

The only way to both develop human potential around the world and regenerate a healthy biosphere is through a development of the productive forces of society. A democratically planned and ecologically rational society will be able to overcome the ways in which capitalism is holding us back from producing more efficiently and sustainably.

Although I do not have the space to discuss all the opportunities for more efficient production, I will offer a few examples. In an economy designed to meet human needs, there would be many opportunities to eliminate waste: for example, by eliminating product packaging, by eliminating planned obsolescence so that electronic equipment and machines (e.g. laptops and cell phones) will last longer, by reducing imports and exports and producing locally where most efficient, and by eliminating many industries — advertising, health insurance, financial services, the military — that will be largely useless in a socialist society.

Further, the technological basis of society could be transformed. We could adopt a power system based around solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy. We could redesign urban areas based around walking, bicycling and public transit. And we could transform our agricultural methods, drawing from organic agriculture and permaculture techniques.

All these transformations in production and social allocation of resources are possible with technologies that exist now, but capitalism’s drive for private profit holds us back from implementing them.

Beginning the Struggle

Of course, since an ecologically rational society is incompatible with capitalism, we will have to struggle for it. Every struggle has its particulars, but a few generalizations are possible.

Ecology need not be treated as a separate concern that must be brought into other movements. Because all aspects of society are involved in the relation to nature, all struggles have an ecological dimension; and because a sustainable society and a socialist society are inseparable as the aspiration, conscious or otherwise, of the working class, ecological demands belong in all struggles.

This is illustrated by struggles as diverse as Detroit auto workers demanding retooling of closed plants to manufacture transit vehicles, the anti-austerity struggle in Pittsburgh in defense of public transit, the struggles in Appalachia in defense of working-class communities threatened by coal extraction, and the struggles of indigenous and landless people exploding around the world.

In our involvement in real-world struggle, revolutionaries must maintain a difficult and contradictory balance. We need to join struggles for ecological reforms and yet not slide into suggesting that capitalism with these reforms could avoid ecological catastrophe.

Although this is a complex question that can only be worked out through experience, a revolutionary ecosocialist program — a set of political positions that we put forth in order to present our vision of a better world and to push forward and unite the various political struggles — will help us maintain this balance by linking immediate demands to a revolutionary vision.

Basic elements in an ecosocialist program include such demands as comprehensive public transit and a shorter workweek, but also an end to all U.S. wars, workers’ control of production, cancellation of the Third World debt and reparations to the former colonies for ecologically sound development, indigenous sovereignty, land to the landless, and the expropriation and democratic management of capitalist agriculture. It would also include specifically ecological demands like an industrial conversion away from fossil fuels.

Transitional demands like these have to be part of an explicitly revolutionary program, that envisioning a society which overcomes class exploitation and the oppression of women, people of color, and other oppressed groups and takes strides to re-establish the metabolism between society and nature.

A comprehensive response to the ecological crisis, therefore, not only is consistent with revolutionary Marxism, but demands it. It calls for transcending the legacies of Stalinism and social democracy (which pays lip service to ecological concerns but fails to challenge capitalism) and for rebuilding the world revolutionary tradition.

It would be too easy to slip into catastrophism as the ecological crisis worsens. We must keep in mind, however, that even as things continue to get worse, there will not be one moment where everything is swept away — exploitation and oppression will continue to exist, and we will still have to struggle for the best world we can, even if ecological limits on that world narrow.

We need to integrate an understanding of the new ecological reality with the revolutionary Marxist understanding of the ways human societies (including their relationship to nature) develop and change, and to struggle as best we can on that basis. The task is enormous, but we have the resource of over 150 years of revolutionary experience in the working-class tradition.


  1. Sarah Grey, “Open Source Anti-Capitalism,” Monthly Review, Vol. 60, Issue 9 (February 2009). Online at http://monthlyreview.org/2009/02/01/open-source-anti-capitalism.
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  2. Chris Williams, Ecology and Socialism (Haymarket Books, 2012), 224-25. This concise book offers a complete and practical overview of how a socialist society could transform production in a sustainable way.
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November/December 2012, ATC 161


  1. Hey Nicholas,

    This is a very profound and long needed intervention. Thanks for writing this.

    I think you’re right: most of the Left in it’s attempt to understand the ecological dimensions of communism have only a quantitative understanding of the development of the productive forces; that is to say, they only understand the development of the productive forces to mean the ability to produce more stuff.

    The problem, however, is that this isn’t what Marx meant at all. Sure Marx discusses “abundance” as a precondition for a communist society, but this is only a PRECONDITION. When Marx discusses the productive forces characteristic of a communist society, he means not the number of things we can consume, but the richness and complexities of our capabilities, passions, and needs. Marx’s philosophy of human emancipation is, at its core, humanist, and about the development of better people unfettered by the “domination of dead labor over living labor.” Communism is a society in which we can do and be whatever we want. In ecological terms, the communist development of the productive forces includes not just the development of sustainable energy, but also the desire and unfettered means to do so.

    This method is central to Marx’s critique of capitalist society. In volume 1 of Capital, Marx traces the development of the commodity form into the value form, into the money form, and finally into the capital form, during which he very clearly describes how all of these different forms of capital involve stripping the textured qualities from labor, and turning them into abstract quantities.

    When parts of the Left adopt an ecological perspective based on the quantitative limits of nature, they trap themselves in bourgeois — and in this case specifically Malthusian — conceptions, and end up developing bourgeois strategies.

    I’ve found Loren Goldner’s essay “Social Reproduction for Beginners” to do a pretty good job of unpacking some of these aspects of Marx’s thought (http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/socreprod.html). Communists need to defend the development of the productive forces, but as a radical break with capitalist society, as quality against quantity.

    This relates to another key aspect of your argument, and that is the need for labor to seize the means of production because it’s labor’s divorce from the means of production that is a precondition for value production, and consequently capital’s endless drive to produce more and more stuff. This is the only way human society can cease to be based on endless production, and instead become a society based on production for need, ecological and otherwise. The ecological crisis is social, and not merely technical.

    One question I have for you is, how does this different conception from liberal environmentalism lead to different strategies and tactics today considering seizing the means of production does not seem to be around the corner?

  2. Hi Mazin,
    Thanks for the generous comments about my article. I agree with your description of communist society as one in which we are free to develop into whatever we want to. Articulating what this will look like in practice, though, can be a thorny problem. In the article, I tried to outline some ways in which we could apply this freedom to the problems of social reproduction in order to create new ways of living that would ensure the ability to develop freely to all while respecting the earth’s ecology—for example, through cooperative living which would free families from the burden of domestic labor. I wanted to show that a sustainable and liberatory society can be created through a democratic process of revolution, rather than demanding that workers curtail their consumption. However, one comrade objected that I simply avoid the issue of the unsustainably high US standard of living by making assumptions about the kind of society people will want. What if what workers actually want is to drive cars and live in single-family houses surrounded by enormous lawns? It doesn’t seem like there’s an easy answer to these questions.

    The question of what strategies to adopt for ecological work is a big one, which I can’t pretend to fully answer myself. We seem to be in a bind, as, while we’re far from ready for socialist revolution, the capitalists are highly unlikely to undertake the necessary reforms to avert planetary catastrophe. Certainly we’re sunk in the short term if we can’t force some ecological reforms. At the same time, we’re sunk in the slightly longer term if we can’t overthrow capitalism. Our task isn’t to figure out what reforms are possible—that’s the job of bourgeois legislators—but to build a movement that’s militant, uncompromising, and based in the working class. Thus, we build for revolution and in the process create a social power which prompts the bourgeoisie to grant concessions, while setting our sights on a new society.

    Simply repeating that socialist revolution is the only solution is far from sufficient, as by itself it amounts to a rejection of the ecological struggles that are going on now. We must engage with the ecological and workers’ movements that currently exist—and to grow them, as they are far too small. However, we have to stay focused on the goal of revolution, as without the strategies that derive from a class-struggle perspective, I don’t think these movements will become powerful enough to force any meaningful reforms. It’s a tricky balance to form a left pole within the movements while simultaneously working to grow and deepen those movements, but it’s what we have to do.

    Liberal environmentalism, predicated on a compromise with capital, ends up compromising on ecology, for it must ignore the ecological realities that make capitalism unsustainable. This gives us the opportunity to deepen these struggles as well as to expand the audience for anti-capitalist ideas. In the struggles developing against fracking, for example, the mainstream environmental organizations mostly advocate regulations, moratoriums, and further study of fracking and emphasize its risks to water and health, rather than the climatic necessity of ceasing our consumption of all fossil fuels, including natural gas. In this struggle, we should advocate for an outright ban on fracking, demanding non-fossil-based power generation and discussing what kinds of social changes it would take to overcome dependence on fossil fuels.

    A comprehensive socialist approach to ecological struggle would have plenty of other aspects (for example, a focus on uniting workers’ and ecological struggles) which I don’t have the space or knowledge to fully elaborate here. I’m curious to know what you and others think. In particular, what ecological struggles have you found inspiring or instructive — or, alternatively, what do you think has been missing from the ecological struggles we’ve experienced? For my part, I was really inspired by the protests around the 2009 Copenhagen summit demanding a solution tot he climate crisis, although those mobilizations as well as the efforts to build something like them in the US (such as Rising Tide) seem to have waned. That kind of movement seems to me to be something like what we should be aiming for.

  3. Hey Nick,

    I’m still developing some thoughts based on your last response, but in the mean time I wanted to fire another quick question at you.

    I was talking with another comrade of mine, and he asked what I thought was a pretty interesting question. He asked what the strategic importance of the ecological struggle was in the overthrow of capitalism. I think he was thinking about it similarly to the strategic importance of, say, industrial production workers or port/dock workers.

    We could (and probably should) get more specific in terms of the particular ecological struggle, because there are many different types of ecological struggles; climate change is only one of them. Further, these specifics may help us formulate a real qualitative answer.

    I thought it was an interesting question, and challenges us to move away from a moralistic approach that merely says we have to struggle for the environment because it is “just” or “right.” That moralism is a key component of both liberal and primitivist environmentalism. Marx made some pretty profound and important points on the problems of the bourgeois conception of “right,” and we need to think about incorporating those methodological critiques into the work ecological work of socialists and communists. Those critiques, however, are only a negation, and that still leaves us with the task of answering the above question, and presenting a positive analysis and vision of struggle.

    I’d love to hear what you (and others) think.

  4. In the comment above, Mazin remarks that he discussed with a friend the strategic importance of the ecological struggle in the overthrow of capitalism and mentons that his friend was wondering what is its similarity “to the strategic importance of, say, industrial production workers or port/dock workers.”

    I’d like to try to answer that as a retired autoworker who is active in a caucus raising the destructive role of fossil fuel extraction and usage. You can say that a great deal of the industrial and military legacy of the 20th century has brought us to today’s ecological crisis.

    So we demand the conversion of industrial production to 21st century needs! We say let’s retool for mass transit and production for wind, thermal and water power. In beginning the educational work around this, we say that if corporations won’t do this, then workers and communities can.

    As industrial workers, we suffer from deteriorating conditions within the plants (speed up, back-breaking work schedules, health and safety problems) as well as declining wages and benefits. If we were planning for what society really needs, and taking into account the social costs of production, we’d reorganize and retool differently. That is, our self-organization would raise questions we could take up (what we should plan to produce, how we can produce it, the length of our work day, how to organize child care, etc.)

    In fact, I don’t see how we can overcome the ecological crisis as long as workers keep our noses to the grindstone and continue to go along with destroying the environment.

  5. Hey Dianne,

    I hear what you’re saying in terms of how an ecological program organically emerges from the conditions of labor, and it’s inner relation to a broader communist movement, but, while, I think you go a long way towards explaining the what, I’m more asking the why.

    You could infer from your comment that the possibilities for building an ecological society only emerge with or after the emancipation of labor from capital. I’m not, by the way, saying that this is in fact your position. I’m deliberately setting up a straw man to point to the fact that we need much more theoretical development on this issue in order to be able to avoid stage-theory type conclusions such as those.

    Marx says, “Communism is not for us a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the now existing premise.”

    This passage alludes to Marx’s whole method by which he engaged in the most rigorous investigation of the objective appearance of capital, while at the same time explaining how beneath capital’s existence, was labor, and, more importantly, universal, free activity as the essence of labor. But because of this contradiction between appearance and essence — which Marx began to discuss in his section on the fetish — the possibilities of free human activity could only be presented in the abstract. These abstractions are at the same time, however, based on an objective analysis of the “now existing premise.”

    Communism (and an ecology society) is not just a program that we subjectively implement. The program and the means to do so emerge objectively from the movement of labor against capital in their concrete forms of existence (for instance, neoliberalism instead of Keynesianism as the contemporary form of capital, or the prison industrial complex instead of Jim Crow as the contemporary form of white supremacy); thus the need for objective investigation and abstract theoretical work.

    This is what I really liked about Nick’s article. It develops the abstract and theoretical side of the ecological struggle within a Marxist framework and using Marxist categories; i.e., the productive forces and their development. At the same time, however, this is only a beginning and we have a long way to go. So when I ask about the strategic importance of ecological struggles, we need to be approaching it in that way – in a Marxist way.

    When we think about the importance of production workers we’re drawn to the center of Marx’s whole theory: the value-form. So what are the abstract categories that we can deduce from an investigation of ecological struggles. IMHO, Murray Bookchin has gone a long way towards developing objective (and dialectical) categories, but despite his good work I’m still unable to answer my friend’s question. Maybe the labor movement has to precede the ecological movement and we just have to focus on that first…

    …but I still don’t think so, and instead think we just have to keep investigating and developing our theoretical and practical work.

    Something Nick said in his last comment begins to get at the need for this sort of work. He said, “What if what workers actually want is to drive cars and live in single-family houses surrounded by enormous lawns?”

    I don’t think this will be the case because, as Marx explains in the German Ideology, needs correspond to particular forms of labor. As the forms of labor change — from capitalist to communist, for instance — the needs will change. The question remains, though, how does an ecological impulse, if you will, exist as a potential today despite the anti-ecological forms of labor/activity in the same way that free human activity exists as a potential despite its existence in the various forms of capital (commodity, value, money, etc.) More theoretical work is needed.

  6. Hi Mazin,
    Your reply to Dianne helps me understand your earlier question better. It’s easy to explain the importance of the overthrow of capitalism to achieving a sustainable society, but I wasn’t sure how to respond to the question of what the strategic importance of the ecological struggle is to the overthrow of capitalism. From reading your reply to Dianne, I think you’re looking for an explanation of how the struggle for an ecologically sustainable society can arise organically from the workers’ movement, analogously to how we assert that the struggle for a communist society arises organically from the workers’ movement. Would you say that’s a correct summary of what you’re asking for?

    To be honest, I’ve never thought about ecosocialism in those terms before. Usually my thinking has been motivated by trying to figure out what would be necessary to solve the ecological crisis. I think you’re suggesting that I shouldn’t just assume that that’s a valid material basis on which to expect a society to be able to undertake a radical transformation. I think this question touches on some important strategic questions many of us have grappled with, such as: why has there often seemed to be a divorce between workers’ and ecological struggle, and what is the potential for working-class ecological struggle now?

    You’re raising a substantial question which, as you suggest, will require some serious dialogue. One approach to answering it might be looking at the self-interest of workers and what workers want, which presumably includes clean air and water, good healthy food, and the security of knowing that they and their children and grandchildren have a stable and happy future to look forward to (which, of course, is threatened by the ecological crisis). Another approach might be to look at alienation and the idea that un-alienated labor will foster ecologically sound forms of production, connecting alienation of labor with alienation from the earth. A third lens to explore this question would be commodification. John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark wrote an interesting article recently which argues that because of capitalism’s need to produce not just useful things, but commodities, huge amounts of waste are embedded into every level of capitalist production, which I thought was a fairly deep critique. So solving the ecological crisis has to include overcoming commodity-based production.

    None of these provide a full answer to your question, but those are my ideas of ways to start.

  7. Thanks for being patient with me, and having the willingness to work through this conversation.

    It seems we’re all on the same page that anything short of communist revolution will not secure the existence of ecological society. We may make progress in the reforms we might win in the mean time, but only by putting an end to a society based on endless production (and correspondingly endless consumption) can we return to contributing to a world of expanding biological complexity and diversity. In this way, though, we see how the emancipation of labor from capital is necessary for an ecological society. My question, however, was the opposite; is the reverse true? Are ecological struggles strategically important for the overthrow of capital?

    If they’re not, and the answer to my question is no, and having already established that the overthrow of capital can lay the foundation for an ecological society, then we aren’t we wasting our time with ecological struggles? Shouldn’t we, then, only concentrate our energy on struggles that immediately concern labor?

    That’s the conundrum we face.

    As I said above, I don’t think the answer is no in part and specifically because of your comment on ecological “need,” but I’ll take a look at that article by Foster and Clark. Foster, however, (I’m not familiar with Clark) seems to be one of those Malthusians that Goldner describes in the article I provided the link for above. I’ve read a hand full of articles by Foster plus his book, “Marx’s Ecology” and hid basic premise is the quantitative limits of the biological world as opposed to its qualitative unfolding. This sort of methodology based on quantitative limits corresponds to the politics of command and even austerity that you describe and oppose in your article. Even still, I’ve found Foster’s articles rich in empirical data, which is a necessary component of objective investigation and the Marxist method.

    Foster seems unable to separate the concrete from the abstract; the abstract being the unfolding potential of, in this case, nature. Seeing only nature’s concrete existence, his method leads us to the environmental politics of conservation, which is only a reform (and an unwinnable one at that) that seeks coexistence within capital. It’s similar to what Lenin tried to explain in What Is To Be Done? Communist/Socialist work isn’t only what we can win today, but it’s a higher stage that is only a potential today. It’s the difference between empiricism and a dialectical analysis of the concrete and the abstract, the difference between a communism of the welfare state, and a communism of the unfettered productive forces of labor; a communism of consumption or a communism of production.

    I’ve found Murray Bookchin’s work to be a good alternative to that sort of quantitative methodology. His philosophy of social ecology is based on the concrete unfolding complexity of the biological world, which he explains through the concept of evolution. Have you read Bookchin? If so, what do you make of him? I think his dialectical methodology is pretty important.

  8. Hi Mazin,
    This might have to be my last contribution to this discussion for now, because the school year is kicking in and my ability to spend time writing things that aren’t papers is about to be strictly limited. Perhaps another comrade who is perhaps more well-read than I am can take up this discussion.

    I haven’t read any Bookchin but I’m very interested to. Honestly, though, I’m not sure what you mean by rejecting a focus on the quantitative limits of nature in favor of its qualitative unfolding. Human society has reached a point where its ways of relating to nature have created a deep and systemic crisis which threatens not only those ways of relating to nature, but much of the biosphere itself. I’m not sure how to think about this without reference to the limits this situation places on our ability to behave without worsening this crisis.

    It seems like this explains where your question “Are ecological struggles strategically important for the overthrow of capital?” is coming from—and why I’m having a hard time answering it. If the focus is on the limits of what’s possible for us given the ecological crisis, it doesn’t really seem to matter whether ecological struggles are strategically necessary to overthrow capitalism, as both are necessary to keep human civilization alive. If you think about the crisis differently, though, posing the question that way might make sense. That being said, I’m not sure how to think about the crisis differently.

    As I said, I might have to step back from this discussion—although if you respond, I’ll certainly read it, and I hope others respond if I don’t. Thanks a lot for engaging! We’ll definitely be posting more ecological content on the Solidarity site in the coming months, so there might be opportunities for addressing these questions from different angles in the future. Is there a website you’re affiliated with?

  9. Competitive Cooperation – A pathway to sustainability.

    Environmental and social problems are for the most part, being left unattended by the market – to the detriment of global society. This essay envisages how a caring economic system can evolve which will strive to ease environmental and social problems.

    Our economic activity and our markets are failing to deliver us solutions to the environmental problems which concern us all – markets fail to deliver human need even when these needs are critical. The global population can thrive when its communities are healthy, socially developed, and have the opportunity to sustainably work in synergy.

    The pathway towards this ideal, the solution, clearly lies in the evolution of our economic mode, change being driven by the emergence of ethical producers to meet the demand of ethical consumers. The prize of environmental sustainability shall then become less of a mirage, more tangible, driving a mass shift in consumer behaviour.

    Currently economic growth unstoppably depletes the environment so it is rational for consumers to consume the environment before it is inevitably consumed by someone else. When it is realised that the environment can be sustained consumers will cooperate to protect the environment for their children.

    Utilising current information technology consumer decisions can be taken with more ethical clarity – directing demand towards caring producers. Also via information technology, consumers can build transparent reputations based on their past consumer decisions – reputations that are open for all to see – encouraging and spreading responsibility.

    This essay visualises a scenario developing whereby commonly owned producers evolve and compete with one another in a free market to meet demands of informed ethical consumers. The essay explains how this maturing of market behaviour can deliver sustainability while maximizing our potential.


    Intro: the problems; unsustainable growth, environmental harm and unjust distribution.
    Unchecked growth is unsustainable while we fail to distribute reinvestment where the human capital needs it most.
    Capitalism is inefficient in that it is detrimental to mankind’s best interest.
    Capitalisms failings and our inability to resolve them creates the need for a new ideology and economic mode.
    The new system envisaged. New economic mode – new ideals.
    The conception, development and growth of the new system.
    List of benefits over capitalism

    Intro The problems: unsustainable growth, environmental harm and neglectful distribution.

    Capitalism widens the gap between rich and poor while unchecked industrial growth is threatening critical environmental damage. Ongoing economic expansion is making the planet less tolerable to live on, resources are being diminished and the environment may become harsh and difficult to endure as pollution levels escalate.

    The situation is continually deteriorating, as third world countries industrialise they too are developing less frugal consumption habits while pollution levels soar upwards. Furthermore – the wealth gap in these economies is often extreme. (approximately 80% of the world population are currently trying to survive on 15% of the worlds income.) The circle is a vicious one, poverty is linked to population growth while it is forecast that world food output will not keep up with the numbers.

    Our economies are not serving mannkinds’ common best interest and a critical situation may arise. Air and water pollution are steadily increasing, many of our natural resources are being diminished while global warming is threatening disastrous climate changes.
    None the less mankind currently has the capability for all to live in practical comfort without damaging the environment. Human potential can be maximised and the benefits of synergy enjoyed. This can only be achieved within a reorganised economic framework – new ideas have to prevail and systematic economic objectives must be redefined.

    An economic framework and an operating ideology can emerge which strives to redress wealth imbalance, minimise environmental costs and maximise human wellbeing!

    Our strive for growth is unsustainable while we fail to direct investment to where humanity can collectively gain.

    Spreading wealth, reducing consumption and discouraging consumerism is not compatible with our current ideology. Through economic growth, we create wealth for those who can afford to invest, and provide goods for those who can afford to pay – the resultant costs are harm to the earth and hardship for the poor. These costs are not addressed by our economic system. There is an urgent need for change.

    Capitalism maximises economic growth. (economic growth is beneficial when the gains are allocated to maximise benefit, and when the economic activity in itself is worthwhile and not leading to environmental damage. Capitalism just attempts to grow regardless of any such considerations.)

    With our current business model returns are secured on investments time and again, re-investment continually increases the overall capacity while demand is sustained both through growth in (1) emerging economies and (2) consumerist expansion in the developed economies.

    (emerging economies)
    It is often argued that investing to accelerate growth in emerging economies is harmful in that the rules for environmental protection are weak in those economies. Production and consumption levels become less frugal adding to the global environmental dilemma. Western marketing permeates and the societal values are reshaped i.e. persuaded to desire ever increasing consumption .

    (consumerist expansion)
    In developed economies demand growth is achieved by increasing consume demand. With clever marketing and advertising sustained growth of demand over and above consumers previous demand is achieved.

    Capitalism depends on ongoing economic growth.

    The pursuit of consumerist expansion is unnecessary and may be harmful to our environment.

    The development of continually improved desirable goods is unending. As new model goods become available many strive to attain them with people continually gauging their levels of consumption and contentment relative to those around them. An irrational crowd behaviour permeates. It is argued that as we move together to these higher lifesyle levels there is no increase in personal contentment, contentment being relative to what the other people have. Consumers are generally satisfied with the goods that they have prior to the development of the new ones. The point is that consumption growth while possibly making life more comfortable and convenient does not actually enrich life or make it more fulfilling. Maybe consumption growth reduces life quality as we work more for frivolous goods forgoing scarce lifetime.

    (for example. A 19th century dweller may have been dissatisfied with his donkey and cart desiring his squires larger carriage pulled by six horses. A present day consumer may be tiring of his second hand car while dreaming about a nice new one. Will 25th century man be trading up his outdated personal jet for a more fashionable interstellar model. He will possibly buy his fresh air from Evian and need that spaceship to go looking for food! There may be problems growing crops on toxic planet earth – resource free zone!)

    In time however the consumerist society shall suffer. A continuation of consumption growth as driven on by our economy may in time reduce real life quality as we harm the environment.
    Evidence of environmental deterioration is mounting – this problem is real!

    Competing firms are concerned only with shortermism & profiteering, and not with sustainability – industrial activity is continually depleting the world of resources.

    Air pollution from our industry and transport is damaging health while giving rise to global warming and acid rain.
    All land is turned into agriculture, rainforests are being destroyed, the wildlife and species uncared for.
    The sea is being polluted and heavily exploited – excessive fishing forces breeds near to extinction.

    Does capitalism provide opportunity, freedom and justice for all?

    Capitalism has one critical advantage over command ideologies; that being the inherent notion of opportunity and freedom. People are free to take their own decisions and have the opportunity to economically compete with one another – the talented succeed, success being rewarded with wealth and a more comfortable lifestyle. The harsh downside to this is that the unsuccessful become under priviliged. Capitalism renders many people poor, it unjustly narrows their opportunities and impedes on their relative human equality.

    Any new ideology must retain the notion of opportunity and freedom while avoiding unjust economic imbalance as caused by capitalism.

    Current markets are inefficient in that they currently fail to deliver mankinds best interests.

    3.1 The market system serves the individual purchaser well while neglecting collective needs.

    It cannot be denied that the market system is a very effective profit driven production and distribution system – it efficiently directs resources, goods and services to those who can pay.

    Adam smiths ‘invisible hand’ (the market system) never ceases to amaze. It can be seen maybe at its best on a changeable day in Manhattan – sunny at first and the street vendors shout ‘ice-cream ice-cream’, but just when a shower starts to fall the chorus on the street changes as 101 voices call out ‘umbrellas umbrellas’!

    The system is none the less very restrictive in that only the profitable demands of individual buyers can be met. Mankind collectively has other critical needs, for example the need maybe for a clean environment and a sustainable natural world – these needs are not addressed by capitalism as no profits can be created here. In addition, continuing economic growth will lead to an ever worsening situation as our resources diminish while the environment deteriorates.

    3.2 Capitalism gauges efficiency on an all to narrow financial basis. Our delicate planet and its people require a much broader perspective on efficiency.

    Capitalism encourages an on-going search for efficiencies with firms and individuals continually seeking ways of minimising financial costs through efficiency. This practice is generally beneficial and discourages waste – nonetheless it is only financial waste and costs which are minimised.

    The cost of continuous environmental damage is left uncounted when we consider economic decisions.

    Furthermore capitalism encourages research and development seeking out technology which will return financial gain. Such profit driven technological advancement has totally transformed our world over recent centuries and there have been many benefits: for example the availability of ever improving drugs and medication. However the profit driven element often distorts the direction in which R & D could be aimed. (Profit maximising schemes do not necessarily correlate with the maximising of mankinds’ benefits.)

    Our economic system facilitates our strive for profits. We are enabled to direct investment towards developing desireable consumer items which have a high profit potential. Such products may arguably be unnecessary, environmentally inefficient, and have an adverse effect on society – is increased consumerism is de-basing human values while replacing them with shallow consumerist aspirations?

    The economic system doesn’t facilitate our collective maximisation of common good benefit. We cannot quantify the missed returns for the common good that R&D may have yielded if given a free reign to research unbridled from having to deliver a quantifiable profit.

    It is clear that capitalism does not seek to minimise non financial costs nor does it seek to maximise non financial benefits. Failure to address such tangible and critical considerations highlights gross systematic inefficiency within the capitalist ideology.

    4.0 Capitalisms limitations creates an opportunity for the evolution of a new ideology and economic mode.

    4.1 Capitalism doesn’t care!

    Neither humanitarian requirement nor environmental care are central to economic decision taking, the outcome being that humankind and the environment are suffering. Furthermore, capitalism continues to encourage irresponsibility within an environment which is becoming increasingly fragile – perpetual profit growth achieved through perpetual consumption growth shall remain unchecked. This is a futile exercise for mankind as the environment perpetually deteriorates while most people become disadvantaged by a widening wealth gap.

    The global competition for profits is larger than any individual, in that individual economic decisions are virtually insignificant relative to global economic activity. The system is large and powerful with a seemingly unstoppable momentum that humans as individuals are bystanders, therefore little responsibility for the global problem has been shouldered by anyone.
    This problem is often hi-lighted when corporations make harsh environmental decisions. These decisions are take against a backdrop of intense competition, often group boardroom decisions where responsibility doesn’t transcend to individual who are just “doing their job” of protecting the bottom line – little care is exercised.

    It can be argued that capitalism reduces the quality of life, humankind wastes its precious time working in pursuit of unrequired socially induced purchases (often doing completely monotonous jobs) creating dissatisfaction and stress. There is an opportunity cost, humankind could be working less on gathering goods as encouraged by our economic mode. This would free up time for humankind to work on making a synergistic contribution to one another enhancing our life experience.

    The inhumanity of our economic system is extreme, the poor are left to freeze to death on our streets while third world unfortunates die from starvation and curable disease. At an individual level such treatment would be deemed criminal.
    The objective of capitalism is simply the achievement of profit, corporations are green only where it is unprofitable not to be, the survival race of the business world tramples over collective human needs.

    Capitalism is weak at addressing collective human demand; preserving the environment, maximising quality living. The market system is not socially progressive. Capitalism fails to help the desparately needy, it doesn’t educate or enlighten societies, it fails to encourage peacemaking, it doesn’t protect free speech. Critical, healthy world demands, from which profit cannot be extracted are not supplied..

    4.2 Governments, environmental groups, ethical investors and consumers fail to maximise environmental care.

    Governments,ethical investors & consumers and environmental lobbyists are all attempting to redress the imbalances which capitalism places on the environment and on the distribution of wealth.
    Such fragmented effort is inadequate in the face of a growing economic momentum.

    Many governments implement environmental and social policy; they direct resources to fill the void where the market doesn’t meet needs.. Environmental policy attempts to balance environmental protection with economic benefits while social policy provides basic aid for the needy. On these issues government effectiveness is compromised.

    National social policy funds fluctuate with the rise and fall of economic performance. This stop start nature of activity fails to deliver the culture of empowerment required for those under-privileged by capitalism to flourish.

    Government hands are also tied when strong environmental controls are needed. Countries do not like to enforce environmental control alone. Such action may increase cost in that economy and weaken it relative to others. Co-ordinating international environmental control is very difficult to agree as different economies are affected in different ways by such measures. The compromises reached tend to fall short of what is truly required.

    A second challenge for environmental legislators is the lobbying power of corporations. Corporations are major employers and tax payers, they donate to elected representatives and fund political parties. Corporations purchase influence solely to further their profit making goals. Environmental policy which is detrimental to profit is undermined by this influence.
    Multi-national corporations have additional bargaining power in that they can re-locate. Governments can be played off against one another while environmental protection is sidelined.

    Ethical investors, consumers and lobbyists maybe the forerunners of a growing community of responsible economic participants.
    Initial strategies to grow this ethical activity are weak in the face of a dominant capitalist economy. By evolving the strategy a successful outcome may emerge.

    INVESTORS: Some investors attempt to invest in projects which are environmentally sound. Investing ethically does not however halt unethical investment. Projects which will attract high profits will always attract capital regardless of the ethics.

    CONSUMERS: Ethical consumers try to protect the environment by purchasing ‘environmentally friendly products’. Such demand led activity on environmental protection is insufficient, only a few consumers will go to any significant inconvenience for environmental protection. Furthermore, marketing and advertising agents are creating a green perception to sustain demand. Green reality is coming second to green perception and in the meantime our environment is continuously deteriorating.

    ENVIRONMENTAL LOBBYISTS: Current pressure groups are usually in a weak position. They attempt to bring emotive environmental and social issues to our attention in the hope that popular opinion can put pressure on governments and corporations to resolve the problems. Victories are occasional however less noticeable or less newsworthy problems are unlikely to be resolved. Sadly most environmental problems and social injustices continue unchallenged and unchecked.

    4.23 Ideological shift required !

    Economic growth harms our environment and the problem is snowballing. Capitalist distribution of wealth is unjust. Environmental protection and social care cannot be achieved within capitalism.
    Ethical , demand led, environmental and social protection, is not proving effective as there is a conflict with the supply side of the economy which is seeking continuous profit growth.

    The whole economy both the supply and demand side need to work in synergy to achieve these goals.

    To effectively protect the environment and narrow the wealth gap and safeguard our collective wellbeing – ( to preserve the common ) an evolution of the way we demand and supply resources will occur. Necessity ( the mother of invention ) will reshape our behaviour – adjust our ideology and economic framework .

    This change will come when an informed cluster of cooperating people establish a successfully growing ethical supply/producer organisation.

    When ethical producers meet the needs of ethical consumers the environment will be sustainable. Increasing numbers of cooperative consumers will realise the benefits to themselves and their offspring of a well cared for environment. The discovery of a pathway to the ‘tangible’ prize of a secure environment for ourselves and our children will encourage consumer behaviour towards environmental protection. The way markets currently work with ongoing growth being central, the environment is destined to be consumed and it is rational to grab a slice before someone else inevitably does. As reality dawns that there is a true opportunity for environmental sustainability (through ethical supply and demand) the rationale changes to ethical behaviour towards the ‘truly achievable’ environmental preservation for the benefit of our children.

    A change from capitalism however will arouse many concerns. It can be argued that capitalism is the only way because people have a right to be individuals, we can work hard and be rewarded – reaching our market potential, we have personal freedom. To move away from such a system may infringe upon human rights.
    It can be counter argued, consider the person who just starved to death, were their rights protected?

    Both arguments are legitimate, people have the right to individual decisions and also have a right to an ideology which doesn’t starve them. Lets adjust the system to care for the environment and mankind while protecting total personal freedom .

    4.24 TIMING

    The timing may now/soon be right for such a shift in that the world is presently witnessing an explosion in communication. Ideas can now be conveyed more quickly than ever before. With increased communication the human needs become more visible, global problems can be highlighted, ideals changed and priorities shifted.

    Social networking can be developed to build visible track records/reputations of consumers, possibly a system of ethical businesses awarding reward points to its ethical consumers, these ethical reward points being displayed on consumers social media. Such strategies shall encourage growth in sustainable behaviour as increasing numbers join the scheme and observe its progress online in real time.

    There can be similar visibility of supplier reputations with suppliers selecting to display their environmental and ethical ratings online with consumers being able to give suppliers visible reputation building feedback.

    5.1 New economic mode

    In these paragraphs it is envisaged how our economic system may evolve and the ideals that may strengthen and prevail.
    A system similar to present capitalism is envisaged with consumers demands and decisions being central to economic activity, while the market system is retained to ensure efficiency i.e. people will buy from and work for companies, the companies providing the goods and services required.

    The companies shall compete with one another as at present with the intrinsic difference being that these companies are unowned or commonly owned (similar to charitable status.)

    Unowned organisations shall not hold profit as the sole objective but shall attempt to meet consumers requirements subject to the environmental & social checks and balances which the consumers are also encouraged to demand.

    In developing unowned corporations the catalyst of economic activity (currently profit alone) can be broadened to include ethical and environmental aspirations. Economic supply activity shall reflect the desires of consumers, not the demands of profit seeking shareholders.

    The core benefit is that the central economic driving force can be the efficient maximisation of collective human wellbeing as opposed to the ruthless maximisation of individual wellbeing regardless of the impact on others.
    Successful organisations may expand and grow at the expense of the capitalist sector, ensuring efficient and sustainable global production while meeting the requirements of all consumers.

    Uncaring corporations can be replaced with un-owned companies which compete with one another to provide the best care for mankind and the planet.
    Company sizes may evolve to compare with present arrangements i.e. multinationals, nationals and smaller regional/local operations, capitalist activity may also co- exist.

    Needs to be more concise(9main thrust of growth the purchase of shares for charity)

    Any new system must therefore be one in which people are free to make individual decisions within a free market, (command economies have proved inefficient and detrimental to personal freedom).

    Freedom and the free market need to prevail to supply the demands of the consumers for sustainability. Wealth should not be regarded as the ultimate yardstick of success. Over consumption should be seen as unbeneficial to one self, harmful to the planet and its habitants present and future.

    A system may evolve which encourages the ideal of personal fulfilment through sustainable living and contribution (with a public online reputation ) without resorting to visible consumerism as the display of success.

    Within the new system collective benefit maximisation can emerge as the new corporate stimulus.
    Personal profit maximisation may be sidelined as the main catalyst for activity –(due to environmental problems caused by unchecked growth and the inherent unjust wealth distribution)

    Ethical demand and investment may drive the evolution of present day corporations to become commonly owned (or unowned entities). Owners of corporate shares may leave legacy donations shifting ownership into charitable trusts/foundations. The current trend of excessive growth and wealth disparity may subside. The present corporate mission of irresponsible profit maximisation and never ending growth can be replaced with the alternative mission to supply real requirement and deliver profit in order to direct surpluses to where they are most required.

    The problem of unsustainable growth and ecological damage are also likely to be eased as collectively owned corporations (CCs) aiming to maximise collective wellbeing without profit as the singular goal, they may take a more responsible approach and may not overproduce unnecessary goods which will ultimately create environmental harm and a negative benefit for all.

    With ethical advertising CCs may encourage the idea that it is more fulfilling and responsible to help others who haven’t enough than to gather wealth and consume selfishly at a cost to everyone as currently encouraged by capitalism.

    A system can emerge in which people are rightly proud of what they are working towards, not motivated by frivolous luxuries but inspired by the importance of their achievement and contribution.
    The integrity of the system can be enhanced with online visibility of the reputation of participants, both consumers and suppliers enabled to identify and cooperate with one another. As individuals build their ethical reputations
    Our economic framework can evolve to one which embraces all people, encouraging them to perform in the interests of a secure future for all within a market driven sustainable and habitable world.

    6.0 The conception development and growth of the new system.


    Initial steps towards change can be taken by current charitable businesses, philantrophic trusts, environmental charities and ethical consumers. These motivated operators are aware of environmental and wealth disparity problems and can be made aware that a caring economic system can evolve. In recognising their role as catalysts to change strategic behaviour may prevail.

    (As time goes by global problems shall have a direct effect on more and more people and the impetus for change shall gather momentum.)

    Like all momentus change beginnings are humble.
    Organisations concerned with problems such as environmental protection, poverty and social justice, can start trading companies (some are already doing so) which because of their charitable status shall have a competitive edge (due to the affinity and loyalty of ethical consumer ) over their capitalist competition. (these organisations could primarily start business in areas where the products are relatively homogenous e.g. supermarkets, homogenous product retailing, fuel gas petrol coal oil, charitable credit cards, internet firms/maybe banking! Areas of supply in which it is easy for consumers to switch.

    The commonly owned/ unowned companies (CCs) like present companies shall retain surpluses for consolidation and growth while directing any additional earnings towards charitable donation. Profit would thus be used to promote the general wellbeing of people and addressing critical needs such as poverty.

    It would be expected that the charitable business sector would grow, growth being fuelled by harnessing the ability to highlight the reputation of ethical consumers on social media encouraging others to build their own ethical reputation.
    This growth would enable the charitable organisations to integrate across many industries. Within the growing commonly owned sector there would arise ever increasing opportunities for career success and a talent exodus may ensue as ethical talent crosses over from the capitalist sector.
    In time the charitable sector may profit and grow both organically and through donations – ethical donors may contribute money and possibly current company shares , both in lifetime giving and in legacy donations via wills.


    s Within our current economic framework consumers select goods on an individual value for money basis while producers and suppliers make decisions to produce/supply solely on a profitability basis. In the new system there shall be a new dynamic guiding economic activity. The missions and goals of the corporations shall be guided by the underlying objectives and aspirations of conscientious consumers.
    Within the emerging system the retained competition between competing corporations shall ensure that demands are met and that organisations remain efficient.

    Corporations shall in addition compete with one another, with a desire to enhance quality of living for mankind. Profit is not the singular goal and the decision taking criteria for producers and consumers shall be more thoughtful.

    The success of the new system shall rest on heightened consumer awareness – it is their influence and purchasing power which is central to ensuring that collective benefits are maximised. Demand must be directed to the corporations which are maximising overall benefits.
    It follows that corporate performance, (environmental performance of its products, corporate donations etc., shall have to be completely visible to the consumer.

    Consumer’s purchasing decisions shall have to reflect on the environmental impact of the product, the charitable needs which the producing corporation is trying to meet, and the efficiency of the producer in trying to meet those needs.

    A solution to the complexity of the consumers decision may be achieved with product labelling. Ethical suppliers may declare/rate the environmental impact of their products and list the causes that are financially supported. As this ethical market matures ethical brands are likely to prevail across ranges of goods and services, trust being built with consumers, profit being directed across a spectrum of generally accepted good causes.

    Consumers decisions will also be shaped by the development of a system of reputation. Ethical suppliers may award reward points for consumers ethical purchasing and efficiencies. These reputations possibly displayable on consumers social media or outgoing email.

    (Ethical branding is currently active with ‘fair trade’ coffee bananas etc delivering fair prices to suppliers. Coffee shops keen to enhance their reputations, find it is good for their business.
    With ‘fairtrade’ the benefactors are hard pressed producers. As ethical branding develops to deliver benefits in terms of environmental sustainability right back to the consumers and their children the incentive to select ethical production is greatly increased.)


    Consumers shall select on quality and value for money as at present however additional product selection criterion shall come into play.

    Consumers will select goods from corporations which have a good reputation on environmental efficiency.

    Product/brand selection shall be influenced by the charitable needs which the producing charity/company is attempting to meet. This market force shall direct purchases and the resultant profitable surpluses towards the needs which are publicly perceived as urgent or important.
    Consumers would strive to select goods from efficient producers i.e. the organisations which are creating a good donation relative to the price of the product.

    Consumer power would also influence the labour market in that overpayment or underpayment of the employees would be frowned upon by ethical consumers.
    Supply and demand of skills would remain as the main factor determining wage level, however a balance must be struck as excessive payments may curtail consumer demand from a particular organisation while at the same time efficiency must be rewarded.
    A trade off effect may occur with wages being constantly pulled from free market rates towards a perceived fairer level.

    In this system consumer decision taking is a potent democratic force.


    New commonly owned / charitable system producers (CCs) shall also have more factors on which to base productive decisions. The present corporate decision to produce is, ‘can we supply and market a product at a price and make a profit? (regardless of real benefit to consumer or the environmental cost to all)

    The new production decision shall be more subjective, decision takers shall have ethical objectives shaped by consumers ethical demands. Executives shall take supply decisions not solely based on the financials but also based on the direction taken by conscientious consumers. There will be visibility to their decision taking and organisational reputations to consider.

    As with their capitalist counterparts, products would compete for production – the most in demand and therefore the most profitable products being selected first, thus retaining Adam Smiths all important invisible hand.
    The CCs will however innovate for sustainability and market their products to encourage sustainable consumption.
    Environmental cost benefit analysis will emerge as a key indicator alongside profit and loss.
    ‘is the benefit to the user greater than the environmental cost to all, and can the product be sold on or above break even

    The CCs would instinctively strive to produce goods that last which have a low environmental impact.

    In addition to decisions related to production, corporations will continually revise the portfolio of causes they support in line with current consumer preferences in order to sustain demand and to ensure that the organisation remains competitive in this domain relative to other competing CCs.


    Through advertising and PR charitable corporations (CCs) may strengthen the ideals of their system, promote their causes and enhance awareness of the ideals of pro-environment and pro-humanity themes.
    Such information is likely to counter capitalist marketing by putting the triviality of consumerism into perspective, discounting the notion that to over-consume is to be happy, while informing people of their real needs and the real challenges facing the planet and us all.

    A charity driven economic system will not attempt to create previously un-required demand, frivolous marketing may decrease as the CCs inform and advertise in an effort to clarify to consumers what their genuine needs are; a sustainable positive environment – where human potential is realised.

    The effect of such information may be to develop a society with balanced and well informed priorities – more regard for humanity and less emphasis on increased consumerism.



    After a period the situation may arise whereby commonly owned corporations (CCs) have alleviated major problems such as extreme poverty. As these charitable requirements decrease mayl CC’s lose market share to capitalist producers? The counter argument is that in such a scenario there would be a shift in the CC sectors’ goal away from acting as a humanitarian charity while continuing their influence on environmental protection and their capacity as sustainable producers. The goal would remain to maintain the sustainable positive environment which would nurture human potential.

    If charitable needs decrease consumers are unlikely to switch their allegiance to capitalist producers for two reasons.
    Firstly because consumers who select capitalist produce are opting for unsustainable production a harsh environment and a return to problematic wealth disparity. The marketing would regain momentum distorting our direction finding away from best potential.
    Secondly as charitable needs fall CC’s are likely to deliver better value goods to consumers, the price would include neither charitable dividend nor profit element.

    The overall effect of reduced charitable requirement may therefore enhance the CC’s ability to prosper at the expense of capitalist producers. CC’s may continue to compete with one another in the competition to enhance quality of life for all within an increasingly secure economic framework.


    It may be argued that inefficiency may arise in an economic system which doesn’t hold the pursuit of profit as the central economic driving force.

    However this can be refuted in that the competition for survival will ensure efficiency. These organisations are competing for survival in an open market.

    (Ants are efficient – no dollars involved!) Current charities, public sector entities and non profit making organisations are often highly efficient with employees often working within tight financial constraints.

    Such efficiency may increase within the new economic framework.

    Current corporate efficiency is not singularly due to the corporate profit catalyst. Leadership and employee motives and aspirations may be considered as the over-riding factor in determining corporate efficiency.
    Put simply workers work for a salary/wage, efficient workers are likely to retain their employment and possibly get more pay, while inefficient employees are not.
    Efficiency is also entwined with future career prospects and payments. Effective managers earn more with greater potential for career development.

    The driving force behind organisational efficiency within the competing CCs will come both from top down leadership and dedication from throughout the organisation as all involved will be stakeholders. Employees within a CC entity are therefore likely to perform with a total dedication. It follows that organisational and productive efficiency shall be retained within the new system.

    Broader market efficiency may also improve within a CC framework.
    Over time some CCs through success may emerge as dominant within their sector and in such a scenario CCs are not likely to take advantage of the uncompetitive situation i.e. distorting the market by means of capitalist style olig/monopolistic behaviour.

    Furthermore if market domination is unbeneficial to CCs (their mission to maximise collective wellbeing) such organisations are likely to split retaining competition and market efficiency.
    Failure to do so would see consumers switch allegiance to start up entities.

    Conor Desmond.

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