Eco-socialism is still marginalised in the Green movement, but as the total inability of capitalist solutions to solve environmental problems become more apparent, interest in it will inevitably grow. Eco-socialists share many of the criticisms made here of market-led environmentalism, but at the same time most, but not all, reject the possibility of growth in consumption due to the assumed bio-physical limits of the earth’s resources, and therefore advocate a steady state economy. In this context, Marx is often criticised by eco-socialists both for his ideas on ‘super-abundance’ and because his thought, in particular his theory of value, did not encompass an environmental dimension. The issue of super-abundance will be taken up later, but the other questions can be answered now. Marx’s discovery of the laws of capital accumulation and expanded reproduction, discussed earlier, pointed to capitalism’s need for permanent growth in order to maintain profits, an insight of great value in the green debate today. The implication of this theory is that an ecological crisis could eventually emerge under certain circumstances, but in the middle of the 19th century the level of pollution was a fraction of that today, and a threat to sustainability on a world scale did not exist. Marx correctly argued that there were no naturally ordained barriers to plenty and abundance, in answer to Malthus’ idea that generalised poverty was an inevitable and permanent feature of the human condition.
Criticisms of the labour theory of value reveal a lack of understanding of Marx’s concept. The debate here concerns the calculation of economic growth in capitalist society using Gross National Product statistics, which provide governments with an incentive to pollute, as discussed earlier. The implication is that any economic calculation based on Marx’s concept of value would have a similar effect. There are two points to make. The first is that his theory of value cannot be a tool of economic calculation, because value is only revealed in the market after the production of the commodity; it is impossible to predict whether the labour time embodied in the commodity was what Marx called ‘socially necessary’. Without having such knowledge in advance, value theory cannot be used for planning purposes. Secondly, since it is only revealed in the market, the concept of value will cease to have validity in a fully developed socialist society, because the market will no longer exist. It will be explained later how a socialist society could organise planning so that the ‘polluting’ effects of growth targets are eliminated.
The most positive aspect of the development of the eco-socialist movement is that planning is now being seriously debated as a tool to organise production, as is the possible danger of the degeneration of a future planned socialist society into a totalitarian state such as happened in the Soviet Union. This serious discussion of planning in environmental circles is a harbinger of a wider debate that will develop in the anti-capitalist movement in the next few years. However, it is important to understand the implications for future society of what many eco-socialists are saying about the requirement for massive cuts in consumption.
Some supporters of eco-socialism advocate a cut in consumption of 10 times, including massive cuts in the Third World . The political form such a society would take, which would have a material basis at a feudal or pre-feudal level, would be eco-Stalinist, a totalitarian police state that would make Stalin’s Russia seem benign. To talk about such a society being based on fairness and equality is a mockery, although to be fair some of its advocates are frank enough to concede that repressive measures may be necessary. (Ironically, this nightmare regime would probably not even have sufficient resources to operate the apparatus of a police state necessary to maintain itself in power). How such an eco-society, based on near subsistence consumption, could come about is left somewhat vague by its advocates, which is not surprising since it is hard to see who it would appeal to. The mostly unspoken perspective is that it will emerge after a collapse of the present world order, due to environmental catastrophe. Even this hope though is probably forlorn, since such a state would adopt some pre-capitalist form of organisation, corresponding to its low material base, meaning the whole rotten cycle would begin again.