Building eco-socialism requires facing corporations, financial oligarchy and obsession with consumption. It is a great challenge for the left: to guarantee public services, organic agriculture and social ownership of the means of production
The climate emergency "is already, and will become even more in the coming years, the central political issue of our time", says sociologist Michael Löwy to IHU On-Line. Defender of eco-socialism, a “model of civilization based on social justice, equality, democracy, solidarity and respect for our Common Home”, he explains why environmental catastrophe is still not at the center of the left's policies. “For a long time, particularly in the course of the 20th century, the left was betting on 'development of the productive forces', on productivism and consumerism, considering the ecological issue as a detail, or a 'petty-bourgeois' issue”. According to him, “as the climate debate becomes decisive in the 21st century, there is a positive evolution, albeit partial and uneven” of this concern among progressive parties.
Based in France since the 1960s, Löwy considers that “the most important social actor” that deals with the climate crisis in Europe is “youth, an impressive force that has invaded the continent's streets and squares”. The youth movement, which is “symbolized by the beautiful figure of Greta Thunberg, is not homogeneous politically, although its tendency is towards radicalization. The sectors most aware of the movement are recognized in the slogan 'Let us change the system, not the climate!'. It is, implicitly, an anti-capitalist perspective ”, he explains.
In the following interview, given by email, Michael Löwy reflects on the advantages of eco-socialism and stresses that the Encyclical Laudato Si 'should be read by the left: “The left should read this document and be inspired by its diagnosis about the urgency of save our Common Home, Mother Earth ”.
Michael Löwy is Brazilian, based in France. With a degree in Social Sciences the University of São Paulo - USP, he holds a doctorate Sorbonne. In Paris, he works as a research director at the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique - CNRS; he has also conducted a seminar at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.
Among his publications, we highlight Centelhas - Marxism and revolution in the 21st century, written with Daniel Bensaïd (São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014), Revolutionary affinities (São Paulo: Unesp, 2016), The steel cage: Max Weber and Weberian Marxism ( São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014) and What is the Christianity of Liberation (São Paulo: Editora Perseu Abramo, 2017).
Check out the interview.
IHU On-Line - You have argued that it is necessary to think about political solutions in the face of climatic gravity. How has this issue been addressed within the left, in your assessment?
Michael Löwy - The climate crisis, an unprecedented threat to life on this planet, is already, and will become even more in the coming years, the central political issue of our time. The left is gradually becoming aware of the seriousness of the challenge, but still unevenly, and, with some exceptions, insufficient. In general, the social-democratic, or center-left, forces are still tied to the “developmentalist” model and the “growth” (GDP) cult; in the forces of the most radical, anti-neoliberal, or anti-capitalist left, there is a beginning of ecological awareness.
IHU On-Line - Some critics say that the left is not concerned with the environmental and climate issue, like the developmental policies adopted by progressive governments in Latin America. What is the political paradigm of the left today?
Michael Löwy - In fact, the most radical governments of the “Bolivarian” left - Chávez, Correa, Evo Morales - recognized the importance of the ecological issue, but between their speeches and the practice went a long way. The economy of these countries continued to be based, to a large extent, on the fossil energies responsible for climate change.
IHU On-Line - Why is the climate debate still not a central issue for the left?
Michael Löwy - Because for a long time, particularly in the course of the 20th century, the left was betting on the "development of productive forces", on productivism and consumerism, considering the ecological issue as a detail, or a "petty-bourgeois" issue. But as the climate debate becomes decisive in the 21st century, there is a positive evolution, albeit partial and uneven.
IHU On-Line - In France and in the countries of the European Union that you are monitoring, who are the social and political actors that call attention to the environmental issue today?
Michael Löwy - In Europe, green parties recognize the importance of the environmental issue. But with the exception of some “green red” currents, its strategy consists of trying to correct the system's “excesses” by betting on capital are green. The forces of the radical left, in particular the anti-capitalists, reject this conception, but not everyone places, like the ecosystems, the environmental issue, and in particular the climate issue, at the center of their program and strategy.
The most important social actor in this fight in Europe is youth, an impressive force that has invaded the continent's streets and squares.
IHU On-Line - Today, new leaders are emerging, some of them young, like the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Do you see in these new activists an identification with other leftist agendas? If so, which ones?
Michael Löwy - This youth movement, symbolized by the beautiful figure of Greta Thunberg, is not politically homogeneous, although its tendency is towards radicalization. The sectors most aware of the movement are recognized in the slogan “Let us change the system, not the climate!”. It is implicitly an anti-capitalist perspective.
IHU On-Line - In an article, you quote the following question asked by historian Richard Smith: “If it is impossible to implement reforms in capitalism in order to put benefits at the service of human survival, what other alternative is there to opt for a kind of economy planned at national and international level? ” Is it possible to defend this economic model today? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of this model in relation to the dominant economic model?
Michael Löwy - The market economy, that is, capitalism, is increasingly unable to face the challenges of the ecological crisis, which requires a general reorganization of production and consumption, based on non-market criteria. This requires democratic planning - something completely different the dictatorial and bureaucratic planning of the late USSR - in which the population itself decides the path to ecological transition.
IHU On-Line - When explaining eco-socialism, you say that it is “an economic policy aimed at social needs and ecological balance and, therefore, based on non-monetary and extra-economic criteria”. Can you explain that idea? What kind of social needs would this model meet and how would it guarantee ecological balance?
Michael Löwy - Social needs and respect for ecological balance would, in a transition to ecosystems, be the criteria for economic policy, instead of the accumulation of profit, capital and “market shares”. It would be the population itself to decide what the real social needs are, once released the absurd pressure on consumerism imposed by advertising.
IHU On-Line - What are these non-monetary and extra-economic criteria? Can you give some examples?
Michael Löwy - For example, developing free public services: education, health, public transport, culture. They are no longer “commodities”, but satisfy fundamental social needs. Gratuity is one of the fundamental aspects of a post-capitalist ecological transition. It replaces the consumerist obsession imposed by the capitalist system.
IHU On-Line - In what aspects would ecosystemism differ capitalism?
Michael Löwy - This is another model of civilization based on social justice, equality, democracy, solidarity, and respect for our Common Home, Nature. Thanks to the social ownership of the means of production, decisions about what to produce and what to consume would be made democratically by the population, taking into account ecological requirements. It is a break with the model of capitalist civilization, based on the most absurd inequality - a handful of multimillionaires have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population - and the accelerated destruction of ecological balances.
IHU On-Line - How can ecosystemism respond to the challenges posed by climate change in our era?
Michael Löwy - To prevent an unprecedented climate catastrophe, it is necessary to leave oil and coal in the ground, which the fossil oligarchy that governs the system would never accept. In a transition to eco-socialism, conditions can be created to replace fossil fuels with renewables, reduce the production of goods by suppressing programmed obsolescence, replace agribusiness with organic peasant agriculture, etc.
IHU On-Line - Until recently, during the term of the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries argued that they could not reduce their emissions because they still needed to develop. How can we respond to those countries that are still poor and seeking development at this time of worsening climate change? How does your idea of qualitative growth transformation help provide an answer?
Michael Löwy - Developing countries - Latin America, Africa, Asia - need to develop, but not by copying the American Way of Life! Instead of producing more and more cars for the upper and middle classes, why not develop health and public education, public transport? Instead of soy and beef for the world market, why not organic peasant agriculture, aimed at the domestic market? etc.
IHU On-Line - What are the barriers or impediments to implementing the eco-socialism that you defend?
Michael Löwy - Ecosocialism can only be realized if the majority of the population is convinced of the need to end the capitalist ecocide and start the transition to a new society, ecological, democratic and socialist. In this process, there will necessarily be moments of confrontation with the powerful forces of the fossil oligarchy and financial capital, which are serious “impediments” to social transformation.
IHU On-Line - In the international political scenario, does any party or politician signal towards eco-socialism?
Michael Löwy - The Fourth International is a movement that has been complaining for years about eco-socialism. Its forces are small, but present on all continents. There is a growing interest in ecosystems in the United States, in some countries in Europe and even in Brazil.
IHU On-Line - How can Marx's work contribute to thinking about alternatives to the climate crisis?
Michael Löwy - Marx was a pioneer, pointing out the tendency of capitalism, particularly in agriculture, to destroy nature, causing a “breakdown of metabolism” between human societies and the environment. But as the ecological crisis was just beginning in its day, this theme could not play a central role in his work. Ecosocialists are inspired by Marx's critique of capitalism and his view of a socialist alternative, but they place the ecological issue at the center of their theory and practice.
IHU On-Line - Do you want to add something?
Michael Löwy - Yes. Two things, one negative, the other positive:
With Jair Bolsonaro, we unfortunately have a 100% anti-ecological government in Brazil, carrying out a policy of environmental destruction, particularly in the Amazon. Defending the Amazon Forest, in solidarity with the indigenous people who have inhabited it for centuries, is a fundamental task, in the interest of all the Brazilian people and of humanity itself.
Pope Francis' Encyclical, Laudato Si ’, is a very positive document, due to its radical criticism of the dominant economic model,“ the perverse system of current ownership and consumption ”, based exclusively on maximizing profit, which he considers responsible for the ecological crisis. The left should read this document and be inspired by its diagnosis of the urgency of saving our Common Home, Mother Earth.