Revolution #199, April 18, 2010

Communism and Ecology: How Revolution Opens the Way for Humanity to Confront the Environmental Crisis and to Become the Caretakers of the Planet

The only viable way to deal with the crisis of the environment is revolution. The recent message and call from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have, puts it this way:

It is this system that has got us in the situation we’re in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings...Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.

In a country like the USA, socialist revolution is the first step in getting to, and struggling for, a communist world. The new state power of socialism is radically different from that of capitalism. It unfolds its priorities from the needs of humanity overall. Socialist society is organized around the principle of people working cooperatively and struggling for the common good. In a socialist economy, ownership and control of production is socialized through the socialist state. The means of creating wealth are placed in the service of society and humanity.

Under socialism, the rules of commodity production—of profit first, of expand or die—no longer set the terms and framework for what is possible and desirable to produce. This will be an incredibly liberating step. For the first time, it becomes possible to organize and coordinate production in a planned and rational way. It becomes possible to interact with the environment in a sustainable way. For the first time, the creativity of masses of people can be fully unleashed, with steps taken to open up the sphere of scientific understanding to all of society, while giving much greater, and more meaningful, scope to professional scientific endeavor. But, as this special issue has been emphasizing, humanity is facing an environmental catastrophe in the making. Time is running out.

Any new socialist society must, as a crucial priority, set out to protect and preserve a variety of ecosystems in order to prevent widespread environmental collapse and to ensure the well-being of the planet for future generations. Socialist society will promote deep understanding of people’s connection to nature and their responsibility to the planet.

The Real History of Socialist Revolution

In the contemporary world, there are no socialist countries. Socialism did exist in the Soviet Union in the years 1917-1956, and in China in the years 1949-1976. In 1976, after the death of Mao and the subsequent arrests of those closest to him in a military coup, socialism was reversed and capitalism was restored—even though some of the outer trappings of socialism have been retained.


Under capitalism, social production and economic calculation are governed by profit. Under socialism, this will no longer be the case. A socialist society and economy will be consciously working to promote and advance the world revolution towards a communist world. Economic decision-making and accounting will be governed by planned and rational production—and by the deployment of society’s skills, resources, and capabilities—to serve what is useful and important for the betterment of world humanity.

But prior to that coup, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, socialist China accomplished extraordinary things. Life expectancy doubled between 1949 and 1976: from 32 years to 65 years. This was a society that put enormous focus on issues of gender equality, popularizing the slogan “women hold up half the sky.” Maoist China pioneered a model of balanced and self-reliant growth that provided food security. Industrial output grew by some 10 percent a year during the decade of the Cultural Revolution. Uniquely, socialist China’s industrialization was not at one and the same time a process of massive and uncontrolled urbanization.

In terms of China’s environmental orientation when it was a genuine socialist society (not the China of today): it undertook large-scale expansion of forests in the rural areas to prevent soil erosion; it invested in extensive water conservancy projects; and it encouraged wide use of indigenous bacterial fertilizers and microbe insecticides in farming. The recycling of waste by industry was a major feature of China’s socialist economy. And one of the most significant breakthroughs in economic-environmental management was the development of “area planning”: in addition to industrial plans, society was also carrying out all-around planning at the local and area levels that evaluated community and social impacts of economic growth.

There are positive lessons here. Still, these first socialist societies, including China, did not adequately grasp the importance of protecting the planet’s ecosystems. And since the time of these revolutions and their defeat, the degradation of critical ecosystems is reaching dangerous tipping points.

We Need A Truly Radical Approach

So we need a truly radical approach for developing a socialist society that is ecologically sustainable... a society that fosters an appreciation of the wonder and diversity of nature... and, critically, a society committed to saving this planet and making it habitable for human beings. Such an approach is possible.

On the one hand, scientists and others around the world have decades of experience, going back to the 1960s, studying environmental matters. They actually already know a lot about what needs to be done to reverse these destructive trends and prevent critical damage to the environment of this planet as a whole. And some important initiatives are being taken to protect ecosystems—like coral reefs. There is growing use of and experimentation with renewable sources of energy.

Yet and still, this is not happening on a large enough scale for it to be meaningful over the long term. Scientists and others keep hitting walls in trying to do what needs to be done. That is, they run smack up against the profit-above-all relations that dominate economic and social life on the planet and that constrain humanity from acting in the way it must to preserve the planet.

But the fact remains: conservationists and other scientists have long known much of what needs to be done, even as there are always new theories and debates about the scope and solutions to the environmental emergency. So this is one positive factor for coping with the environmental crisis in a new society.

On the other hand, there is a new breakthrough in understanding that can enable humanity to make the kind of liberating and multifaceted socialist revolution needed in today’s world. This is Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism. Avakian has built on the achievements of past revolutions, while critically sifting through and going beyond them in important ways; on that basis, he has synthesized a vision of socialism as a truly vibrant and transformative society. This new synthesis also provides the necessary orientation for spreading and promoting the world revolution.

Socialist revolution does not promise a utopia. Any new socialist society will face enormous challenges, pressures, and contradictions. There is the very gravity of the environmental emergency. A revolution will liberate people and unlock technical and scientific potential from the fetters of the capitalist system of ownership and profit. But revolution will also be wrenching. The imperialists will stop at nothing to preserve their rule; they will cause great destruction and dislocation. And any revolution that comes to power will, for some time, have to confront still considerable swaths of a hostile imperialist-capitalist world.

At the same time, the new society will face counter-revolutionary attempts from overthrown exploiters, as well as from some forces in power who would bring back capitalism. And socialist society will be riven with social divisions and backward ideas inherited from exploiting-class society. To make revolution, and keep it going forward, requires the leadership of a vanguard, communist party. The new leadership faces a monumentally complex task of both holding onto power, and making it a power worth holding onto—one that draws ever increasing masses of people into the administration of society, one leading a society full of ferment and vitality, one that is actually moving toward the goal of eliminating all class divisions and exploitative production relations, all oppressive social relations and institutions, and all the ideas that reflect them, and on that basis eliminating the state itself and the very need for any institutionalized leadership.

This is the historic challenge: to make revolution in this heartland of imperialism, to come out of what will be a convulsive struggle for power with the political and moral will, and continue to forge the will, so that the new socialist state and society can truly be a beacon—for the emancipation of humanity and for the preservation of the planet.

Socialist Society and Socialist Plannning


The new society will face great needs of reconstruction and of meeting the material and cultural requirements of the great majority of society, especially those who had been on the bottom and suffered enormously in the old society. There will be acute short-term necessity—not least, to provide shelter, food, and health care.

Such needs cannot be met by disregarding long-term effects on ecosystems. And in the name of “urgency,” it will be easy to fall back on old ways of doing things. These kinds of contradictions have to be analyzed and acted on—on the basis of a vision of a truly liberating and ecologically sustainable society and world.

Under capitalism, social production and economic calculation are governed by profit. Under socialism, this will no longer be the case. A socialist society and economy will be consciously working to promote and advance the world revolution towards a communist world. Economic decision-making and accounting will be governed by planned and rational production—and by the deployment of society’s skills, resources, and capabilities—to serve what is useful and important for the betterment of world humanity.

As a point of orientation, socialist society has to be proceeding, first and foremost, from the long-term interests of humanity and the planet. Preserving and protecting ecosystems requires “taking the long view”—looking ahead over many decades and generations. This is something that capitalist society, with its “get-rich-quick” mode of operating and the necessity imposed by expand-or-die competition, cannot do—and which has led to the situation we are now facing.

By contrast, socialism makes it possible to take such a “long view.” It allows for a whole new philosophy and way of doing things. To give some examples:

But centralization has to be combined with extensive decentralization: with local management, with grassroots initiative, with all kinds of incredible experimentation and discovery throughout society. All of this has to be summed up and learned from. There have to be all kinds of flows of information and experience. This is part of the dynamism of socialist society.

Planning With All of Society—And All of Life—In Mind

In the discussion of capitalism and the environment in this special issue, the concept of “externalities” was introduced. This refers to the fact that any given economic enterprise or sector of production has impacts, beyond its own operations, on the larger economy and society. Under capitalism, individual capitalists do not take into account these larger environmental and societal costs, of their activities, like pollution (and thus make society and future generations pay).

In a genuine socialist economy, the larger costs and benefits of economic activity must become the concern of society as a whole. On the one hand, at the highest planning levels, there must be deep and ongoing analysis of the problems and contradictions thrown up by economic development. On the other hand, all units and levels of society must function with a sense of larger social and global responsibility. And the socialist state must marshal the know-how and resolve of people to analyze and solve new problems and challenges presenting themselves to society and world humanity.

How would an interconnected economy and society function and make crucial decisions affecting all-around development in this model?

It will be very important at local levels for people to be rethinking and reconfiguring various aspects of the organization and processes of production, transport, and so forth. There will be both the technical capacity and social need to be developing alternative energy projects, innovating truly “green” industrial forms. There will be knowledge of conditions and the capability to mobilize to solve major problems. But activities at this level will still have broader economic and environmental effects. A local water conservancy project, for instance, will influence regional water balances and may create new strains on other users of water. Recycling may address some problems at local levels but not be sufficient to deal with longer-term problems of global warming.

There would be a spontaneous tendency for local units to decide issues of development based on their existing endowments of resources (material and social) and their own priorities. Some units will be better off and stronger than others and may seek to preserve these advantages. You need some centralized form, a national plan, with the scope and breadth of vision to coordinate and link different levels of society in a way that contributes to all-around societal development—and to consciously link all that to the larger goal of emancipating world humanity.

Large-scale operation and centralized coordination is needed to give coherence and direction to the numerous aspects of a just and rationally organized economic system—whether we are talking about regional and national transport, basic energy and the transitions away from fossil fuel, or the input-output requirements of industry.

Moreover, while any genuine socialist society would strive for the maximum participation in every sphere, will policies on overcoming racism, patriarchy and aiding revolution internationally be mainly subject to the moods of people in any given autonomous unit at any given time? Or what about the environment itself—isn’t the sustainable development of the world, and the preservation of large parts of it in more or less pristine form, going to require coordination on a whole new scale?

The frame of reference of a socialist society is not its own development as an end in itself. The point of departure must be this: how can the development of the socialist economy be shaped, and how can this society function, so that it benefits the entire planet, doing all it can to advance the world revolution—while this society is also meeting the urgent needs of people and contributing to their all-around development.

Centralization carries with it real dangers of remote and out-of-touch decision-making that cuts against the long-term task of overcoming the separation of leaders and led. This too must be a problem that is put before socialist society. And it is critical that the role of decentralized decision-making and responsibility, and all kinds of initiatives from the grassroots, be enhanced at every stage to the greatest degree possible, within this overall framework.

Socialist planning—with centralization that concentrates the direction that society needs to go in, and decentralization that maximizes the scope of decisions being taken collectively at the local levels within the overall central plan—is a way to guide development in accordance with conscious revolutionary goals. And the most fundamental goal is the achievement of a world without classes. Socialist planning is, at the same time, a vast learning process.

Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis Opens New Possibilities

A new socialist state power must concentrate the highest interests of revolution and the emancipation of humanity. This power must be used to radically remake society; and the masses of people must be increasingly drawn into the actual exercise of this power and the administration of new institutions of governance.

But this cannot happen without the leadership of a revolutionary party. This leadership must lead in identifying and solving key contradictions in creating a rational, socially just, and environmentally sustainable economy. And this must be a process of leading and learning—learning from all directions and quarters, from all perspectives, from all criticisms.

As part of the new synthesis, Bob Avakian has focused on the “unresolved contradictions” that will teem in socialist society. There are still tremendous social struggles and ideological battles to wage to overcome patriarchy and the legacy of the oppression of minority nationalities...still-existing social differences between professionals and intellectuals and those who are mainly working with their hands...still the need to use money...still gaps in development between regions. There will be tensions between centralization and decentralization in a planned socialist economy.

All of this will bring forward questioning, will bring forward new ideas, protest, dissatisfaction, struggle, and even upheavals. Is this a good or a bad thing? Avakian sees this as a driving force for continuing the revolution.

The new society will have to handle great contradictions. For instance:

Such needs cannot be met by disregarding long-term effects on ecosystems. And in the name of “urgency,” it will be easy to fall back on old ways of doing things. These kinds of contradictions have to be analyzed and acted on—on the basis of a vision of a truly liberating and ecologically sustainable society and world.

So one of the biggest challenges of socialist society will be to balance long- and short-term requirements.

What is urgent? What is socially just? It will be necessary to phase in and phase out particular technologies, products, forms of transport, and so forth. How quickly can transitions from environmentally damaging production and energy systems be effected?

All of this will be a matter of continual concern and learning. And all this will also become questions of the class struggle in socialist society—because there will be political and social forces seeking to act on all these contradictions and requirements in a way that leads back to capitalism.

How will this learning and transformation go on? How will it be led? In speaking to this truly pivotal question, Avakian’s new synthesis is innovative, illuminating—and absolutely necessary.

Socialist State Power and the Unfettering of Science

A critical element of this new synthesis of communism is the importance it attaches to intellectual, scientific, and cultural ferment in socialist society. Science must be freed from all the institutional fetters and constraints of capitalism—in how capitalism limits and distorts scientific inquiry owing to commercial-corporate considerations and the role of a military serving the interests of global empire.

On the one hand, socialist society will need to mobilize scientists, engineers, and other specialists to work on pressing environmental problems. There will be a need to organize great efforts and enormously focused projects to address the kind of calamitous situation we face. A socialist society, freed from the dictates of profit and private control, will be able to prepare for and confront natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and droughts, whose dangers and effects will require concerted and society-wide efforts and mobilization among professionals and basic people. It will be able to bring this capacity to bear on helping people in other parts of the world to deal with such natural disasters, like earthquakes.


Science will be popularized in society.  The great debates among climate and environmental scientists—about how to solve the problem of global warming, about its scale, and how it is developing—these debates, these discussions, these insights will be popularized and taken up in society. Socialist society must be promoting understanding and debate worldwide.

On the other hand, society and humanity will also require far-ranging research, new thinking, and experimentation that will not be so directly related to focused projects within the socialist society. There must be room in socialist society for scientists to pursue questions that are not directly applicable to solving immediate problems—and this experimentation must also be supported and funded. Again, science must be unfettered.

And science must be uncloistered. There is the knowledge that comes from basic people in workplaces and communities. There is the knowledge that comes from basic people around the world—from farmers, fisherfolk, and people in pollution-impacted communities. Socialist society must be promoting all kinds of cross-pollination of understanding and experience: meteorologists and engineers exchanging knowledge about the sciences and scientific method with basic people getting into science, while professionals will be learning from the insights, experience, and aspirations of basic people.

Science will be popularized in society. For instance, the great debates among climate and environmental scientists—about how to solve the problem of global warming, about its scale, and how it is developing—these debates, these discussions, these insights will be popularized and taken up in society. Socialist society must be promoting understanding and debate worldwide.

Socialist society, through the socialist state led by a vanguard party, will need to establish priorities in development: in reconfiguring industry, in allocating funds and materials and protecting natural resources.

As mentioned, socialism will have to meet the great and immediate needs of the masses of people; at the same time that it has to be developing an economy that is no longer based on fossil fuels. That is going to require extraordinary innovation and extraordinary effort. It is going to require a correct understanding of priority and how to mobilize and unleash people to address these problems.

Socialist State Power and the Role of Dissent, Debate and Initiative “From Below”

But these policies, and indeed the very direction of society, all of this must be debated out broadly in socialist society. And, again, the unresolved contradictions of socialist society will give rise to controversy and struggle. This is a source of dynamism in socialist society.

Specifically with regard to the environment, Bob Avakian has given the example of Arundhati Roy. She is the novelist and social activist who has been in the forefront of struggles against the construction of environmentally destructive dams in India. Hydro-power is a renewable source of energy. But it is not always and everywhere a good thing. Will Arundhati Roy and people like her still be able to protest under socialism?

Avakian has emphasized that socialism must be a society where dissent is not only allowed but encouraged and valued. And people like Arundhati Roy must also be looked to—in order to help develop solutions to these very deep and serious environmental problems, even as there will be ideological struggle over issues of socialism, communism and where humanity is headed and needs to go. While the former capitalist exploiters will not be allowed rights to organize for their return, opposition among the broadest masses to various policies and even to socialism itself will not be suppressed—it will be debated and struggled over—as long as that opposition does not take the form of organized attempts to overthrow the socialist state.

There will also be initiatives “from below”—initiatives and projects which bubble up from different parts of society which are not directly led or inspired by the party, but which the party will need to learn from and give leadership to, as part of a very broad and encompassing process of moving forward.

This is all part of the process of getting at the truth of society and the world, of promoting critical thinking in socialist society, and enabling the masses to more deeply understand and more profoundly transform the world. And this will get very tense and wild at times, including protests and upheavals that can destabilize society. But all this is part of the process of getting to communism: maximum elasticity and experimentation—without losing power, without losing the revolution and everything it means for world humanity. You need visionary communist leadership, a solid core, as Avakian calls it, to lead this complex process forward.

With this understanding of socialism, it becomes clearer why the masses of people are the single greatest resource. And with all their creative energy, knowledge, and concern, the people can be mobilized to struggle out, to argue and debate, and work together to figure out how to build a society that truly emancipates humanity and that is working urgently to save the planet for current and future generations.

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