George Monbiot’s Conversion to Anti-Capitalism is Welcome – But Why is he Against Ecosocialism?

George Monbiot’s piece in The Guardian, titled ‘Dare to declare capitalism dead – before it takes us all down with it’ last week, on the back of his interview on comedian Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, is another step on his journal away from green liberalism.

Monbiot writes:

‘For most of my adult life I’ve railed against “corporate capitalism”, “consumer capitalism” and “crony capitalism”. It took me a long time to see that the problem is not the adjective but the noun.’

Absolutely right, there should be no nuancing of different types of capitalism, in the end it is all the same, a system that favours those with capital, over those who have to sell their labour to survive. It leads inevitably to inequality, which you can see all around you if you care to look.

The starting point for Monbiot’s journey can be found in his 2003 book, ‘The Age of Consent.’ The marketing blurb for the book contains this quote:

“Our task is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution.”

This sounds quite radical but the book goes onto suggest a sort of neo-Keynesian approach, and rather condescendingly dismisses socialism generally in a page and a half, in his book. He makes no mention of ecosocialism at all, although to be fair this theory of political economy but fairly new in 2003. Someone as intelligent Monbiot though, will have noticed ecosocialism, so I was perplexed by this omission.

Leaping forward to 2017, Monbiot wrote in another column for The Guardian, where he mentions a commons based ownership of production and stewardship of the land, and participatory democracy.

The commons is an extremely important concept in ecosocialism, and extends beyond the physical land based commons of old (and some that still exist), into areas like peer to peer data sharing and things like the Firefox web browser. Monbiot does say that commons are a ‘non-capitalist system’ but omits terming this as ecosocialism, which it is. Or to be exact, it is only a prefiguration of ecosocialism, and thus sadly open to abuse whilst the capitalist system survives.

Monbiot again attacks socialism in his latest column thus:

‘Soviet communism had more in common with capitalism than the advocates of either system would care to admit. Both systems are (or were) obsessed with generating economic growth. Both are willing to inflict astonishing levels of harm in pursuit of this and other ends.’

All true, but whereas he was in the past prepared to allow for nuancing of capitalism, his new outlook does not allow for any nuancing of socialism. Ecosocialists use the same criticism of twentieth century socialism as Monbiot, but crucially have an alternative theory, which avoids the mistakes of the USSR and its satellites. It is a plan to save the planet and liberate the people from the drudgery of capitalism.

Monbiot admits he does not know what should replace capitalism, but thrashes around a bit looking for an answer:

‘Part of it is provided by the ecological civilisation proposed by Jeremy Lent, one of the greatest thinkers of our age. Other elements come from Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics and the environmental thinking of Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Raj Patel and Bill McKibben.’ All liberal types really.

Of these only Klein and Raworth come close to advocating ecosocialism, but there is the suspicion that these writers, much as I like them, want to avoid replacing capitalism, and are looking for some sort of reformed system, rather than throwing it away and starting again from scratch.

Where is the mention of such great ecosocialist writers Joel Kovel, Michel Lowy, Daniel Tanuro, James O’Connor or Murray Bookchin? Truly radical thinkers who put the likes of Monbiot’s muddled thinking in its place.

So, yes Monbiot’s new change of emphasis is to be welcomed, as he now unequivocally says that the capitalist system is the root cause of our ecological ills, and much else that is undesirable about the system too. It must be replaced, but replaced by a thought out system like ecosocialism. It is the only chance we have and time is running out.  

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