In February of this year, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a Green New Deal resolution into the United States Congress. The resolution outlined a 10 year plan for the decarbonisation of the American economy in the tradition of FDR’s 1930s New Deal, but rewritten for the 21st century (and the Capitalocene). Focused on climate justice for frontline communities and an ambitious jobs program, the resolution called for an “economic mobilisation on a scale not seen since World War II”. Naturally, it was quickly denounced as socialism by the right, while leftists debated the minutiae of the policy implications or dismissed it as green Keynesianism.
While the resolution has sparked much excitement and debate around the world, with movements for a GND emerging in the U.K, Canada, Europe and Australia, the Green New Deal isn’t new. Political economists such as Robert Pollin, Ann Pettifor and Frank Stilwell have been debating the merits of a Green New Deal for over a decade. We believe that the vitality of debate existing in the present conjuncture is due to an ‘upsurge’ of climate activism similar to that of 2008. Whether this new climate upsurge is capable of sustaining momentum and merging with other movements for racial and economic justice to form a progressive coalition remains to be seen. Such a coalition is all the more urgent due to a nascent form of ecofascism.
In this three part series we will make the case for an ecosocialist Green New Deal for Australia, consider what decommodification means for how we live and work, and why we need a strategy based in class struggle to make it a reality.
Ecofascism is the right’s response to climate change
A recent spate of reports and announcements from the upper echelons of the corporate and military world signal an unmistakable shift among finance capital and centre-right governments from climate denial to climate opportunism. Climate change is suddenly real: an investment opportunity, a risk to be managed and most importantly a crisis through which capital can reshape the world to maximise accumulation. The main thrust of these arguments is the need for increased public investment in the private production of renewable energy, heat resistant crop engineering, water catchment and bottling, increased population surveillance and of course nuclear energy. Now that climate change is acknowledged and the risks are ‘worse than expected’, there is money to be made. As predicted by Nicos Poulantzas and more recently by Ian Bruff, authoritarianism is the final form of the state in capitalist societies. The spectre of climate change provides the perfect catalyst for the transition to an authoritarian state, geared to act in the interests of capital.
The uptake of ‘deep ecology’ narratives by far-right groups is another indication that ecofascism is being ushered into the wings, stoking the fires of racism to imagine a safe, clean and green future, but only for a privileged few. For Australia, one of the most violent settler colonial states in the world, this means the continuation of carceral regimes that target First Nations people, indefinite offshore detention for refugees, and population control and monitoring that targets people of colour, people with disabilities, and LGBTIQA people. Dispossession and control of marginalised people has defined our country since invasion in 1788, which marked the first real wave of environmental and social destruction. Today environmental racism is embodied in fracking and mining on Aboriginal lands without prior consent, and government inaction to provide clean water to towns experiencing drought like Walgett and Collarenebri.
Without a fundamental challenge to capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, plans to ‘attack’ and ‘defend ourselves’ from climate change will kick into overdrive the very dynamics that fomented the crisis, reproducing the systems of harm and violence that underpin capital accumulation.
We need ecosocialism to fight ecofascism
Ecosocialism provides a critique of ‘climate-changing capitalism’, as well as a map for political strategies we can employ to overcome it. Climate change is only the most recent manifestation of a much older crisis of value, internal to capitalism. Exchange value can never account for or accurately map the complex, random, and interlocking ecological processes that make up our world. The capitalist valuation of nature is therefore always partial, temporally constrained, and reliant on ‘invisible’ sources of value. James O’Connor argued that in undermining the conditions of production, capitalism would create social, ecological and economic crises; ruptures in the fabric of social relations. These ruptures can be opportunities for capitalist ‘fixes’ (laying the path for further accumulation) but equally they can provide openings for new social movements to contest the stranglehold capital holds over life.
It is in these spaces that we see the current ‘upsurge’ of action occurring. In Australia this includes children striking for the climate, rallies to end indefinite offshore detention, unions fighting for job security and decent pay, campaigns to stop deaths in custody and drought-affected communities organising the delivery of clean water. It is in response to a series of interconnected crises that these groups are all struggling to reproduce life against capital.
The challenge facing these movements is clear: through class struggle, we must collectively dream and build an alternative vision to colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy. An ecosocialist Green New Deal is a chance to democratically determine what our lives are for and how we want to live together. Ecosocialism, informed by socialist feminism and decolonial theory, looks to human-nature relations to begin this work.
Unlike ecofascism, ecosocialism does not subscribe to social hierarchies dictated by an imagined ideal of nature. Instead, nature can be understood as something produced by humans and other animals, with varied cultural and social meanings (although this is a point of somewhat tedious debate). Ecosocialism extends orthodox Marxian theory by accepting the indivisibility of humans from nature and reproduction from production. An ecosocialist Green New Deal would seek to address historical social and ecological injustices in the process of building a new society. Taking our cue from the Ecosocialist Working Group of the Democratic Socialists of America, this requires nothing less than:
a revolutionary transformation to replace the capitalist social order based on exploitation and oppression with a new society based on cooperation, equity, and justice
Instead of hiding from the realities of the challenge we face, an ecosocialist Green New Deal engages with them by foregrounding decolonisation and the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; decommodifying life and labour and coordinating the restoration and caring work that must replace exploitation and extraction; democratising the state form by devolving governance to communities; and decarbonising our societies through determined, collective pursuit of these goals. Together with a commitment to climate justice and internationalism, these principles provide a rubric for us to debate the specific policies that would enable communities across Australia to take back their lives from capitalism. While a number of ideas are set out in the draft GND for Australia that we wrote in February, we know that the next stage of the GND has to be a democratic process involving open discussions in different places around the country.
To achieve a just, low-carbon future that is truly inclusive of everyone, we need to rethink work, including paid and unpaid forms, and how our current society locks so many people out of meaningful work and community connection. We need to acknowledge that there was never a time of prosperity, equality and stability between the invasion of Australia and the beginning of the neoliberal era. Like nostalgia over the so-called golden age of capitalism, ecofascists and deep ecologists falsely think of nature as something inherently virtuous, a romanticised world to go back to. But there’s no going back. Together we can create something much better than a ‘white working man’s paradise’. Although the shape of the world we live in now was dictated by capital, a new world of collective thriving can be built by all of us. After all, we do all the work.
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Author: Natasha Heenan
Natasha Heenan is a political economist and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. Her research interests include the political economy of climate change, just transitions, and the development of capitalism in Australia. She is currently writing a thesis on political-economic transitions in Australia, focused on class struggles over the production of nature.
Author: Anna Sturman
Anna is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. Her research centres on the political economy of climate change, particularly theories of the state, and of non-human nature and value, from a materialist ecofeminist perspective.