A Greener Marx? Kohei Saito on Connecting Communism With the Climate Crisis

A Greener Marx? Kohei Saito on Connecting Communism With the Climate Crisis


Kohei Saito, a Japanese Marxist, has published a book that links communism to the climate crisis. He contends that in Marx' later years his critique of capitalism becomes increasingly ecologically focused.

Marx notes that during this period, capital's relentless expansion began to exploit not just labour but nature itself in pursuit of profit. This leads to resource depletion, soil exhaustion and other forms of environmental degradation.

What is degrowth communism?

Degrowth communism is an eco-friendly alternative lifestyle rooted in capitalism that's being celebrated as a solution to our planet's problems. This movement emerged out of a response to the climate crisis and is becoming more widely recognized by the media as one possible solution.

Marxist philosophy takes a critical approach to the ecological crisis, contending that we should not strive for endless growth but instead aim for deaccumulation. This means reducing resource usage and building societies which are socially just and environmentally sustainable.

A critical Marxist analysis of the ecological crisis reveals a direct connection between capitalism and destruction. Capitalism is at the root of this catastrophe, and can only be stopped through an alteration to its core principles.

The current capitalist system of production is built upon the notion that we can exploit natural resources indefinitely and expand the economy until there is no more land left available. This notion runs counter to both our established planetary limits and Earth's capacity for regeneration.

We must abandon the accumulation of wealth and resources, as well as the myth of progress that has developed over the last century. To transition towards a just and ecological economy requires not only restructuring production processes but also altering economic, environmental and social structures in parallel.

Degrowth movements are sprouting up around the world that strive to achieve these objectives. They typically emphasize reduced wage labor, direct forms of democracy and a giving mentality that puts emphasis on needs, care and reproduction. Furthermore, these organizations seek to foster relationships and a strong sense of community through direct forms of cooperation and sharing.

These movements typically aim to rethink the social and technical aspects of how we produce and consume food, clothing and other essential goods. They often incorporate technologies which promote autonomy, sustainability and mutuality (Ivan Illich refers to them as "convivial tools").

These movements draw inspiration from a range of political theories and perspectives from the radical left. Yet they all strive to develop and test alternatives from a social-ecological perspective that questions capitalism and industrialism.

Why is degrowth communism necessary?

Degrowth is an activist movement drawing inspiration from ecological economics, political ecology and feminization of politics that critiques the growth-centered economic system and emphasizes its negative effects on both social and environmental wellbeing. It advocates for a society in which social and environmental wellbeing replace GDP as the measure of prosperity.

An idealist and anti-materialist movement, the Self Limit Movement, advocates self-limitation and personal responsibility in order to reduce consumption, expropriation and oppression. Unfortunately, this approach relies on an idealist view of an infinite world that may be difficult to translate into practical strategies for class struggle.

One of the major issues with degrowth is that it fails to take into account the capitalist class who produces and consumes wastefully. While they may go unnoticed by media or scientists, their excessive production and consumption of goods and services plays a major role in contributing to today's climate crisis.

Saito contends that the capitalist class is also responsible for the unsustainable production and consumption practices of the working class, who "have little choice but to support [their] growth patterns" [14]. While non-class approaches to degrowth may help expose these practices among some in power, they won't be enough to alter their consumption or production habits.

In societies like the United States, where class struggle is intense and capitalism is deeply embedded, a non-class approach to degrowth won't be sufficient in altering the system. It must be combined with practical solutions like redistribution of wealth for more equitable distribution.

Class-based approaches to degrowth may be more successful in a socialist system of production and governance that does not prioritize the interests of the capitalist elite. This would likely be more sustainable, democratic, and just, since it would prioritize the needs of the majority rather than those of a few.

Degrowth communism is not a new idea, but it has recently gained steam among eco-socialists and leftists - some even refer to themselves as "degrowth communists." While degrowth may not be the solution to climate crisis, it should still be taken into account when advocating for a greener Marxism.

How can we make degrowth communism a reality?

Degrowth communism is a movement to encourage societies to prioritize human and environmental wellbeing over corporate profits and growth. It involves redistribution, reduction of material size in the global economy, as well as shifting common values towards care, solidarity and autonomy.

It is founded on a profound awareness of ecological crisis and the necessity for political action. Furthermore, it draws inspiration from social justice principles and an act of radical solidarity.

Degrowth communism faces a formidable obstacle: understanding how capitalism interacts with local environmental contexts in different ways. As Kohei Saito notes, this means degrowth communism must consider how different local environments shape capitalism's general laws - in order to effectively articulate its politics.

Climate change affects a local environment, water use by communities and whether environmental protection or destruction occurs in an area. Degrowth communism is especially relevant here since it can influence how societies carry out their degrowth goals.

Another pressing problem is how to address population. A degrowth society would supposedly reduce the need for large-scale production and infrastructure, yet this cannot be achieved without stabilizing domestic fertility rates prior to any transition towards degrowth.

Degrowth would necessitate significant adjustments to agriculture and food production. To make these changes happen, fossil fuel usage must be reduced and an alternative agricultural system switched from industrial to less industrialized. This would involve discontinuing the use of fertilizers and pesticides that are currently prevalent across much of the world's agriculture.

Degrowth can be achieved, despite its challenges. One way is through economic and political strategies that reduce demand for fossil fuels while supporting renewable energy sources - this could include banning fossil fuel subsidies and encouraging sustainable agriculture practices.

One major political obstacle to overcome is how to convince many people of the value of degrowth. It can be challenging for individuals to accept that there are limits on human growth and consumption when they have been taught that there are none.

What is the future of degrowth communism?

Degrowth communism is a radical alternative to capitalism that seeks to repair the harm it is wreaking on human life and the environment. It seeks to stop global economic growth at its source, placing social and ecological wellbeing ahead of corporate profits or overproduction.

Kohei Saito's eco-criticism of productivism and monism, long neglected by mainstream scholars and activists, is now brought into focus in his book. Kohei Saito connects Marx's ecological critique of capitalism to the climate crisis and suggests it should be rediscovered by left as an essential weapon in combatting environmental challenges.

Saito's book identifies several strategic points where socialists and environmentalists could come together. These include anti-capitalist environmental movements that are moving away from 'green capitalism' in favor of revolutionary activism, as well as an uptick in initiatives and networks inspired by the commons.

These movements tend to be highly self-organizing and strive for resource sharing that does not depend on capitalist ownership. Food cooperatives and open source platforms for sharing food are just two examples of how these groups strive to build a new, more sustainable economy.

Degrowth advocates do not necessarily wish to shrink every sector of the economy; rather, they focus on distinguishing between areas that should grow, like renewable energy, and those which should not - like destructive industries. As such, while degrowth has great potential to create a sustainable and socially just economy, many questions still remain about its future direction.

One of the major concerns is how a degrowth economy would be implemented and what its structure would look like. Unfortunately, the prevalent model of degrowth envisions wealthy developed economies intentionally decreasing their consumption levels while allowing developing nations to fill any remaining void.

This economic model, while potentially beneficial for the environment, could exacerbate class division and unequal development in the Global North. Indeed, it's easy to imagine how a 'degrowth' economy would strengthen the power of wealthy elites in these regions as they strive to maintain their wealth and status.

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