Capitalism bad for the environment, says book

Book Review
Red Roots, Green Shoots
By Virginia Brodine, edited by Marc Brodine
International Publishers, 2007

In 2007, International Publishers released Red Roots Green Shoots. Since then, we have experienced another global financial crisis (April 2007 – present), the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (March 2010) and the ongoing nuclear fiasco at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan (March 2011 – present). These events highlight the need for us to reconsider our economic and environmental practices. This collection of Marxist environmentalism provides that opportunity. The book expands our timeline and looks back on the work of communist activist Virginia Brodine from 1976 to 1999. These essays, articles, speeches, conference papers and newspaper columns provide a detailed chronological account for this segment of the modern U.S. environmental movement.

Marc Brodine, the editor and son of the late author, wisely chose a variety of writings that reflect the important economic and political happenings of the times. These selected works include the necessary Marxist philosophies and examples of practice that make this book a living document. Most mainstream environmental groups and activists take a piecemeal approach when addressing ecological problems, rather than focusing on the capitalist treadmill of production. Red Roots provides a decisive analysis of our unsustainable relationship with the earth, and offers an excellent starting point to learn about environmental socialism or eco-socialism.

Specific themes and topics of the book include the anti-nuclear movement and the Committee for Nuclear Information, the needed unification of environmentalists and unions to create a global working-class environmental movement, a strong anti-military sentiment and the obvious ecological contradictions of capitalism.

Red Roots is presented in two segments; the first part outlines the Committee for Nuclear Information, reviews the Dialectics of Nature, discusses the environmental program of the Communist Party USA and then dives into several essays that demonstrate the intrinsic connections between workers and environmentalists.

The second half of the book is a slightly revised and updated version of the Communist Party’s pamphlet “People and Nature Before Profits.” As Marc Brodine admits, there is some duplication of material throughout the text. However, I think this accurately reflects the evolution of these ideas and activities. Social change builds upon itself, and incorporates past events, movements, and political victories into the next phase of society.

Red Roots is important for three reasons. First, it highlights the truth about capitalism’s newest marketing campaign, “Sustainable Development.”  While many groups use this idea to guide human activities towards a more ecological way of existing, this terminology is primarily used to sell more commodities. The consumer sees “green,” and the owners see money. Brodine does not mention this scheme, but gets straight to the point in discussing how the capitalist mode of production exploits and appropriates the earth and the workers during the extraction and manufacturing processes. The earth is further degraded when the water, soil and air are used as sinks to discharge waste. The only addition needed here is the understanding that our commodities are also pollution.  Most of what we produce is used once and then proceeds to be dumped in the biosphere.  We cannot consume our way to sustainability.

A second major contribution is the call for jobs that do not conflict with the need to protect the environment. The healthy functioning of ecosystems is directly related to community and individual wellbeing. The author is clear that we can create humane jobs, provide a livable wage and not degrade the planet. The military does not represent job security. The current system benefits no member of our planetary community. Even the capitalists making money are only slightly removed from the harm they inflict. For workers and environmentalists, the wedge driven between us is the same false consciousness used by multinationals to maintain their hold on private ownership.  Brodine states, “A working-class environmentalism is needed that recognizes this fact of life under capitalism and realizes that production changes for environmental reasons can be in the self-interest of workers.”

Finally, reading this book can help people realize the futility of our work-consume, work-consume, ad infinitum rat race. While this is a short collection, it steers readers towards the works of Barry Commoner and Gus Hall – two intellectual giants who bridge the realms of politics, economics and environment. As long as special interests groups continue to vilify socialism, we need publications that provide a critical analysis of our social system.  Red Roots offers a much-needed voice to counter the fictition-based media and advertising that constantly reinforces our current paradigm. This work is a testament to Virginia Brodine and others who strive for equality among people and work towards a more earth-centered existence.

Alan Wight is a doctoral student in Educational Studies at the University of Cincinnati. He is an environmental sociologist who is working on the re-introduction of agriculture to schools and communities.