I read with interest Wadi’h Halabi’s article “Healthy planet a low priority for capitalism” (PWW 5/12-18).
While I agree strongly with the argument implied by the title and the statement that “the capitalist class is incapable of reversing the destruction of humanity’s environment,” I am skeptical of the assertions made about “the genuine environmental accomplishments that have followed socialist revolutions.” Additionally, I do not believe the author has adequately here “address[ed] their limitations.”
The author implies that socialist revolution avoided the environmental devastation caused by capitalist-dominated industrial development and produced a nearly pristine record of its own. In about 80 years of Soviet history, the author cites the single example of Lake Baikal, not noting that waste from a state-owned paper mill built in the 1960s polluted the water for decades.
The disaster at Chernobyl was also not mentioned.
On Cuba’s scientific achievement and strong environmental record, couldn’t it easily be argued that these positive elements have been driven more by necessity to develop alternatives due to the onerous U.S. embargo? Oil companies here and the Cuban government are working hard to either end or sidestep the embargo in order to cooperate on exploiting offshore oil-drilling sites in Cuban waters, an effort likely to smudge Cuba’s otherwise good record.
It is likewise unclear whether the author’s descriptions of China adequately defend his thesis.
I don’t think we serve socialism’s cause by insisting that a change in the fundamental relations of production to a worker/majority-owned/controlled system is a magic solution, which, alone, can reverse the swiftly arriving ecological apocalypse.
Socialism is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient to saving humanity and the earth.
An examination of the question of development is missing from the author’s discussion.
A reason the environmental record of the socialist states isn’t as pristine as suggested by the author is that socialism too, in its current incarnation, is an ideology and system of development and growth.
The drive for development and economic growth laid the basis for the poisoning of Lake Baikal and for Chernobyl in the USSR and for deforestation and choking air pollution in China.
While development in socialist and nonaligned countries may not be motivated on the whole by a drive for profit and control (capitalism and imperialism) as was the case in the U.S. in the 19th century (and remains so) and many developing countries today, the working-class orientation of socialist countries did not prevent an environmentally disastrous course laid out by the ideology of rapid, expansive development in those countries.
As a communist, I don’t begrudge other countries the right to development and self-determination. The contradiction here only highlights the need for multilateral and good-faith discussions and policies, unfettered by imperialism, about improving standards of living, ending poverty and creating sustainable economic and industrial development.
Socialist theory has to take these questions into account.
Another serious deficiency of the article is its refusal to address what happens between now and the socialist revolution — the end of capitalism and imperialism. If the “only” answer to ecological disaster is socialism, what should we do in the meantime?
The argument presented here by the author isn’t satisfactory, in my opinion. The struggle to reverse the environmental disasters can’t wait. We have to join with the millions of people around the world who may not be ready for socialism but are ready to talk about and enact alternatives to the carbon-based economy, to rapacious and anarchistic development (whether driven by capitalist exploitation or socialist harmony), and to the current global system that enables it all.
Insisting that socialism is the only answer and fudging its environmental record in the process is simply unconvincing at best and a recipe for alienating the socialist cause at worst.
Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs magazine and lives in Ypsilanti, Mich.