This page compiles the reading material and discussion from the short-lived Ecosocialist Praxis group. The group operated in Tucson, Arizona. I think the readings and discussions it produced were valuable, and can be used by others as an introduction to Ecosocialism/social ecology. The material can also be incorporated into the curriculum of other study/reading groups.
These were originally posted as individual blog posts to Better Worlds, Brighter Futures, but has been archived collectively here.
Announcing Ecosocialist Praxis: Tucson, AZ
As an extension of the commitment of Better Worlds, Brighter Futures to theoretical exploration and development of ecosocialism and its particular unfolding within the Sonoran Desert bioregion, we are pleased to announce the formation of Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson. PDF fliers are available for distribution (within Tucson). ODT (OpenOffice/LibreOffice format) fliers are available as a template to edit for your own purposes.
Below is the text of the original flier:
Announcing the newly formed Ecosocialist Praxis Group (thought, discussion, action). Envisioned as a forum to learn about various aspects of ecosocialist theory and develop a shared analysis to inform practical action, with emphasis on the Sonoran Desert; to build a community of like minds working in solidarity to affect and improve community at-large!
Non-Sectarian # Independent # Radical # Humanist # Ecofeminist # Marxist # Anarchist # Social Ecological
- Emphasis on synthesis, practical application (praxis), and breaking new theoretical ground!
- Discussion of local, national, and global news in an ecosocialist context!
- Develop a shared analysis and community among participants!
Ecosocialism: The contradictions inherent in a global economic system based on competition, infinite growth, profit, and accumulation necessarily generates both social impoverishment and ecological crisis. Argues for a fundamental restructuring of economic and social relations, values, and institutions to solve these crucial problems of humanity.
Social Ecology: Concerned with the social roots and implications of ecological dislocation, starting with the premise that the domination of humanity over nature is rooted in the domination of human over human. Implied is the need to overcome domination in all forms in order to arrive at the sufficiently ecological society.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / ecosoc[dot]email@example.com
Facebook: Better Worlds, Brighter Futures
Website: Better Worlds, Brighter Futures https://socecology.wordpress.com
Schedule: Sundays @ Revolutionary Grounds (4th Ave), Starting September 9th:
September 9th: “What is Social Ecology?” (Murray Bookchin)
September 16th: “A Social Ecology” (John P. Clark)
September 23rd: “Paths to Ecosocialism: Intro” & “Ecosocialism” (Joel Kovel)
September 30th: Essay by John Bellamy Foster (TBA)
Participants are encouraged to bring relevant news items, reading/discussion suggestions, questions, and a desire to understand the world in order to change it for the better!
Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #1: “What is Social Ecology?”
The reading for the inaugural gathering of Ecosocialist Praxis is titled “What is Social Ecology?” by Murray Bookchin, from the posthumously published collection of essays Social Ecology and Communalism (2007, AK Press). To provide some context for those unfamiliar with Murray Bookchin, his work, or this essay, it is fitting to begin with a biographical blurb, followed by a brief discussion of the essay and Bookchin’s thought generally.
Here is an excerpt from “An Introduction to Social Ecology and Communalism” by Eirik Eiglad:
[Murray] Bookchin [was] a man who dedicated his whole life to seeking rational alternatives to capitalist society. Bookchin was born in January, 1921 in New York City to Jewish-Russian immigrants. His grandparents had been members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party of Russia, and fled the country in the wake of the failed revolution of 1905. In the working class neighborhoods of the Bronx, Bookchin’s childhood and youth were strongly marked by the hopeful enthusiasm that followed in the aftermath of the October revolution of 1917. As America entered headlong into the Great Depression, Bookchin got in touch with the radical organizations agitating in his New York neighborhood, and he quickly became very politically active. This marked the beginning of a long life dedicated to the cause of social freedom.
Because of his family’s economic situation, Bookchin had to start working at an early age, and got involved in the activities of the trade union movement. In the thirties, he was a member of the various organizations spawned by the Communist Party, acting as an agitator, organizer, and study leader, although he gradually became strongly critical of many of its policies. Already by the outbreak of the Spanish Revolution, he broke with the Communists, mainly because of their Popular Front strategy (notoriously, the Stalinist betrayal of the working class). He then became involved in the Trotskyist movement–while Trotsky was still alive–and wrote his first articles for dissident Left groups. After the Second World War, he gravitated more and more toward a libertarian socialism, and started reevaluating the basic premises and the logical conclusions of conventional radical theory.
Bookchin was an untiring activist and theorist in most of the significant radical movements that emerged after the Second World War. He was in the workers’ movement while it was still truly radical, and was active as a shop steward and a strike leader. He was one of the definitive pioneers of ecological thought, and participated in the environmental movement from its tentative inception in the 1950s. Bookchin was also a part of the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-nuclear movement, involved in Students for a Democratic Society, and a series of urban development projects. He was very engaged in efforts to develop neo-anarchist ideas, groups, and projects. Later on he became heavily involved in the emergence of the Greens, and was active in local issues and electoral campaigns in his home town, Burlington, Vermont. It was only in the last few years that physical infirmities impeded him from taking part in active politics, and relegated him to the writer’s desk. Indeed, it is probably for his theoretical contributions Bookchin is most well-known and valued.
Bookchin published more than twenty books, and a wide range of articles, lectures, and essays, and his work has been translated into many different languages. His writings have encompassed a variety of subject matters, including history, anthropology, philosophy, science, and technology, as well as culture and social organizations. Still, it is his treatment of ecological and political issues that has made Bookchin known to most readers, and some of his older books, notably Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, and The Ecology of Freedom, have been sources of inspiration for several generations of radicals.
A previous Better Worlds, Brighter Futures post mentions Bookchin’s particular contributions within social ecology:
The legacy of Murray Bookchin contributes, among others, conceptions of the post-scarcity society; a path for the transcendence of Marxism and anarchism; the insistence on the role of social factors in the ecological crisis; histories and analyses of past revolutionary movements; an advanced analysis of hierarchy and its role outside of economic exploitation; as well as an insightful analysis of capitalism from World War II to 2006. Such distinguished contributions give twenty-first century social ecology a bright future.
As Eiglad mentions elsewhere in the introductory piece quoted above, this version of the essay “What is Social Ecology?” was last updated in 2001, making it a representative piece of his later thought. Along with providing an overview of Bookchin’s late period writing, this piece provides a point of comparison for the evolution of this thought over the decades. Eiglad mentions that this version of “What is Social Ecology?” was written in 1993 and revised in 1996 and 2001. In addition, there is a very different essay also titled “What is Social Ecology?” that was published in The Modern Crisis (2nd revised edition, 1987, Black Rose Books).
For this discussion, attention should be drawn to the fact that some sympathetic to, and working within the field of social ecology (notably John P. Clark and Damian F. White, see White’s Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal, 2008, Pluto Press) have noted a so-celled “programmatic turn” in Bookchin’s thought occurring sometime in the mid- to late 1980s. This is characterized by a narrower, more rigid focus than in his previous works, such as the advocation of dialectical naturalism as the dialectical and philosophical method of social ecology and libertarian municipalism as the social ecological praxis. In addition, his writings from this period onward took on an even more polemical style against several trends within radical politics and ecophilosophy. While no doubt treated unfairly by many of his political opponents, it is hard to deny that Bookchin’s approach left social ecology at the turn of the century narrow, factional, and stagnant. Indeed, only recently has the field begun to overcome these obstacles in moving forward with the theory.
The orientation of this group will focus on the promise and potential of an open and comradely social ecology, rooted primarily in Bookchin’s earlier works, along with the subsequent contributions of John P. Clark, among others. As well, it will note the critique of other radical philosophies but attempt to move forward in ways that are mutually beneficial. The role of dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism may be topics for future discussion, and it is certainly something that those interested are encouraged to explore. Generally, however, these approaches will not be a central focus to the social ecology that the group will attempt to develop, favoring a more open and radical dialectical method and the ecosocialist conception of “prefiguration” as praxis, of which libertarian municipalism is one possible way forward. To read more about this approach, see the entries “Reopening the ‘Intellectual Space’ of Social Ecology,” and “In Search of a Broad, Coherent Social Ecology.”
To conclude, the overriding orientation of social ecology can be expressed as “the domination of humanity over nature is rooted in the domination of human over human.” From this one starting premise, a substantive investigation into the origins and development of the social and ecological crises, along with paths toward arriving at the liberated, ecological society, begins.
The social is of primary concern for social ecology, a point that leads quite nicely into the essay under discussion: “Social ecology is based on the conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems.” Enjoy the reading!
Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #1 Discussion
The previous post [above], discussed the history of this week’s essay, Murray Bookchin’s late-period work and perceived “programmatic turn” of the mid- to late 1980s, the orientation of Ecosocialist Praxis towards social ecology, and a very brief definition of the theory. In addition, Eirik Eiglad’s biographical sketch was included for context.
What follows now are some points of conversation that came from the reading. Other titles mentioned can be found at the bottom section, “Related Reading.”
For those unable to attend the group physically, simply “comment” on this post to begin our own discussion!
Gaia Hypothesis and Deep Ecology
While vulgarizations of so-called “competing” ecophilosophies exist and are open to critique, as Bookchin notes, this is not universal. In our discussions, we must strive to avoid the vulgarization of other views, be they Marxist, Deep Ecological, or other. For a scientific interpretation of Gaia Hypothesis, see Margulis 1998, chapter 8. For a dialog that uncovers the compatibilities and room for common ground between social ecology and deep ecology, see Clark 2010.
Fallacy of Overly Broad Definition
An issue that is implied in the essay, and that is explicated in other Bookchin works, is the obscuring of the roots of ecological crisis by identifying it with “human” activity per se. Indeed, this kind of confusion leads to misanthropy and places everyone in a position of complicity toward the ecological crisis. In this view, everyone is at fault, regardless of differences in income, oppression, or agency. It must always be pointed out that it is the institution of capitalism, as well as aspects of the nation-state (such as the military-industrial complex) that causes and exacerbates social and ecological crises. This understanding allows one to avoid misanthropy, and to arrive at specific (and mutable) social causes of these crises. For one of Bookchin’s discussions of this point, see Bookchin 1989, pages 8-9 and 22-24.
See the post, “Excerpt of John P. Clark on Dialectic.”
Static Conceptions of Nature
This part of the essay leads very smoothly into a critique of ecological “nativism” and unreflective hostility surrounding “invasive” or “alien” species. See Theodoropolous 2003.
Bookchin’s discussion of the processual nature of evolution not only lends itself to a dialectical perspective, but also to a critique of Darwinian evolution viz. Lynn Margulis (serial endosymbiotic theory), Stephen Jay Gould (punctuated equilibrium), and Peter Kropotkin and the Russian biology school (mutualism and cooperation in nature). See Margulis 1998, Gould 1997, Gould 2007, and Kropotkin 1989.
Within evolution, Bookchin identifies certain tendencies that human activity can foster, such as diversity, differentiation, speciation, decentralization and complexity.
Biocentrism vs. Anthropocentrism
Within ecophilosophy, there is a dichotomous split between biocentric and anthropocentric approaches. However, this dichotomy is ultimately a false one. While the debate surrounding this issue is large, if viewed as a spectrum, with biocentricity on one end and anthropocentricity at the other, social ecology can be considered “softly” anthropocentric, concerned as it is with humanism and the human place within nature, and the emphasis it places on human activity in benefiting both society and the natural world. Alternately, this dichotomy has also been expressed in terms of “wilderness” and “garden” approaches of humanity to the natural world—the former implying a hands-off or non-intervention strategy, the latter implying a heavily interventionist strategy. Given this perspective, social ecology may be characterized as a “moderate garden” view. Ultimately, social ecology strives to place humanity and human action back into the context of the natural world without dissolving it, as Bookchin would say, into a vague planetary “oneness.” In this view, humanity would maintain its specificity and act on and within the natural world for the productive betterment of both society and nature. In this way humanity would fulfill its potential as “nature rendered self-conscious,” wherein a conscious product of natural evolution thinks rationally and ethically on itself and begins shaping its own development. For more discussion on this point see White 2008.
First, Second, and Free Nature
Bookchin’s conceptions of a “first,” “second,” and “free” nature are helpful devices for those new to a social ecological approach to visualize how humanity has emerged from evolutionary processes, and how the social world humanity creates is not removed from, but builds upon these biological preconditions. Some, such as John P. Clark, do not see these conceptions as ultimately helpful, and indeed, as our understanding deepens, these concepts will probably give way to more in-depth and nuanced understandings of the nature-society relationship.
A Social Ecological Anthropology:
Social ecology sees the emergence of hierarchical domination (domination that predates class exploitation) as stemming from biological preconditions. However, social ecology does not see these developments as inherent to human biology (this is a non-teleological moment in Bookchin’s thought, and much discussion can center around the teleological aspects of his dialectical method, among other areas). Rather, its anthropological analysis views the biological facts of aging, sex/gender, and kinship (or the blood-tie) as leading to differentiation within early human societies. These differentiations were initially comparatively egalitarian and only later hardened into hierarchies like gerontocracy and patriarchy that became institutionalized and dominating.
Here, social ecological analysis seems compatible with Thorstein Veblen’s sociological writings. See Veblen 1898a, Veblen 1898b, and Veblen 1899. What other anthropological work is relevant to social ecology?
Indeed, social ecology sees the prevailing social relationships that emerged from tribal custom as based on usufruct, the irreducible minimum, and mutual aid. A key focus for social ecology within radical theory is the critique of hierarchical domination in addition to economic exploitation. Bookchin points out that the elimination of the latter does not necessarily imply the elimination of the former.
Additionally, when reading Bookchin’s anthropology, bear in mind that this is painting with a wide brush, and that any development is uneven and imperfect:
I speak here of a historical trend, in no way predetermined by any mystical force or deity, and one that was often a very limited development among many preliterate or aboriginal cultures and even in certain fairly elaborate civilizations.
This is a strikingly non-teleological moment in Bookchin. While he has maintained that no development has ever been predetermined, and institutions such as capitalism need not necessarily have arisen, his focus on the immanent development and unfolding of a thing within his “dialectical naturalism” framework implies an overall teleological orientation (a point on which John P. Clark and Janet Biehl seem to agree, see Clark 2008, Biehl 2009, and Clark 2009).
The Radical Imperative of Ecology
The need for the science and movement of ecology to accurately identify the root causes of ecological dislocation — namely capitalism — is essential in overcoming the ecological crisis. As Bookchin points out, much of the liberal ecology movement at present is concerned with moral appeals, primarily to consumers, obscuring the root causes of the problem. While moralistically approaching poor and working people (whose ethical agency within consumer society is limited by the structure of capitalism) it promotes myths surrounding the crisis, such as ethical consumption leading to an ecological society. In addition, it leads to the idea that individual consumers (or “humans” generally) are as much the cause of the ecological crisis as corporations able to wreak infinitely more havoc on the environment than any individual, or the CEOs or others in positions of power whose agency within society is greater than the individual worker.
- Biehl, J. (2009). “Reply to John Clark’s ‘Domesticating the Dialectic’” in Capitalism Nature Socialism, vol. 20, #1: 120-124.
- Bookchin, M. (1989). Remaking Society. Black Rose Books: Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
- Clark. J.P. (2008). “Domesticating the Dialectic: A Critique of Bookchin’s Neo-Aristotelianism” in Capitalism Nature Socialism, vol. 19 #1: 51-68.
- Clark, J.P. (2009). “On Biehl’s Defense of Bookchin’s Immanent Dialectic” in Capitalism Nature Socialism 20 #1 : 125-29.
- Clark, J.P. (2010). “A Dialogue with Arne Naess on Social Ecology and Deep Ecology (1988-1997)” in The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Vol 26, No 2: 20-39.
- Gould, S.J. (1997). “Kropotkin Was No Crackpot,” in Natural History (106): 12-21.
- Gould, S.J. (2007). The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould. Steven Rose, ed. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, NY.
- Kropotkin, P. (1989). Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Black Rose Books: Montreal, Canada.
- Margulis, L. (1998). Symbiotic Planet: A New View of Evolution. Basic Books: New York, NY.
- Theodoropolous, D. (2003). Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudo-Science. Avvar Books: Blythe, CA.
- Veblen, T. (1898a). “The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor,” in The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 4, #2: 187-201.
- Veblen, T. (1898b). “The Beginnings of Ownership,” in The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 4, #3: 352-365.
- Veblen, T. (1899). “The Barbarian Status of Women,” in The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 4, #4: 503-514.
- White, D.F. (2008). Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal. Pluto Press: London, England.
Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #2: “A Social Ecology”
Reading for week #2: “A Social Ecology” by John P. Clark
Meeting: Sunday, September 16, 4PM at Revolutionary Grounds Coffee Shop, 4th Ave., Tucson, AZ (those unable to attend are encouraged to comment here or on the forthcoming week #2 discussion post to begin an online discussion)
For John P. Clark’s curriculum vitae, other works online, and more information, see his website: http://www.johnpclark.info.
After discussing a primary text of social ecology and being introduced to the work of Murray Bookchin (see the posts “Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #1: ‘What is Social Ecology?’” and “Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #1 Discussion” [above]), the group is in a position to deepen its understanding and compare and contrast the approaches of different social ecologists.
This week introduces the work of social ecologist John P. Clark. Having worked with Murray Bookchin for several years, their approaches eventually began to diverge. While there is still much in common with the social ecology of Murray Bookchin, John P. Clark has arguably worked to widen the field at the time that Bookchin was narrowing it–in terms of engagement with other radical ecophilosophies and advocating dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism as the privileged approaches for social ecology. For discussion on these points see the blog posts above as well as “In Search of a Broad, Coherent Social Ecology” and “Reopening the ‘Intellectual Space’ of Social Ecology.”
John P. Clark contributes a broad view of social ecology, introducing Elisee Reclus (friend and contemporary of Peter Kropotkin) and other theorists as predecessors. In addition, Clark contributes an alternative dialectical approach to the field, a focus on the spiritual (in a social ecological sense), the introduction of Eastern philosophy’s radically dialectical insights, and a wide avenue of potential praxes, among others. He is committed to comradely and mutually beneficial interaction with other ecophilosophies.
Based in New Orleans, Clark is dedicated to connecting with the culture and ecology there, his family being rooted for several generations. He is currently at work on a number of forthcoming books, including a more comprehensive proposal of his vision of social ecology.
Below is a biographical excerpt from his website:
John Clark is Gregory F. Curtin Distinguished Professor in Humane Letters and the Professions at Loyola University New Orleans. He is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and teaches in the Loyola Environmental Studies Program. He also works with the New Orleans Free School Network. He lives in the Carrollton neighborhood of uptown New Orleans and on Bayou LaTerre in Hancock County, Mississippi .
His books include Max Stirner’s Egoism, The Philosophical Anarchism of William Godwin, The Anarchist Moment, Renewing the Earth (ed.), Environmental Philosophy(co-ed.) Les Français des Etats-Unis (co-ed.), Elisée Reclus’ Voyage to New Orleans (co-ed./trans). Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, in addition to The Impossible Community and other forthcoming works. His alter ego, Max Cafard, is the author of The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto and Other Writings, FLOOD BOOK, and the forthcoming Surre(gion)al Explorations. He has published over one hundred articles, primarily in the areas of ecological philosophy, environmental ethics and social and political theory. He is a regular columnist for the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism and is co-moderator of Research on Anarchism, a multilingual international discussion list and archives.
His research interests include dialectical thought, ecological philosophy, social ecology, environmental ethics, the anarchist and libertarian tradition, the philosophical imaginary, cultural critique, Buddhist philosophy, and Daoist thought. One of his major research projects is the development of a radically dialectical and ecological philosophy that explores the place of humanity and human experience within the unfolding of life, consciousness and value in the natural world.
He has been active for many years in the Green Movement, an international movement for ecological sustainability, world peace, social justice and grassroots democracy. He also works in the bioregional movement and in ecological forestry, and is reforesting and reintroducing native species on an 83-acre tract along Bayou LaTerre in Hancock County , Mississippi . He organized the organization Freeport Watch to monitor and work against ecocide and cultural genocide in West Papua ( Western New Guinea ) by Freeport McMoran, one of the world’s largest mining corporations. He is a member of the International Campaign for Tibet and the Education Workers Union of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #2 Discussion
John Clark’s “A Social Ecology,” when paired with an essay like Murray Bookchin’s “What is Social Ecology?” gives one a solid introduction to this field of inquiry. In addition, it allows for comparison between the two approaches.
Clark’s work can arguably been seen as rooted in the earlier works of Murray Bookchin (among others) and expanding on the broader perspective therein. Indeed, “A Social Ecology” can be seen as a resounding call for openness. For instance, the politics that Clark advocates is one of ecocommunitarianism — a broad approach, within which a form of libertarian municipalism can exist, but not as the one privileged way forward. Ecocommunitarianism is highly prefigurative — a word Kovel uses to describe the politics of his ecosocialism — and is supportive of a wide range of potential approaches to overcoming capitalism and the dominating aspects of the state and society at-large. For Clark, this ecocommunitarianism is rooted within the communitarian anarchist tradition.
“A Social Ecology” emphasizes a radically dialectical approach. At some point this will contrast with Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism and the charge that Bookchin’s understanding of dialectic is actually a form of “immanent teleology” (not to say that Bookchin’s work is void of dialectical insight, for more discussion on this point, see the Clark/Biehl exchange on dialectic cited in “Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #1 Discussion“).
Orienting social ecology in terms of dialectic and communitarianism, Clark then introduces theoretical antecedents. This has been viewed somewhat controversially within the field. However, Clark’s arguments are compelling and worth careful consideration. For instance, it is hard to not find the work of Elisee Reclus exciting from a social ecological perspective (particularly after reading Clark and Martin’s Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: The Radical Social Thought of Elisee Reclus).
Clark advocates development of the bioregional aspects of social ecology. From this perspective, one can begin to see the strategic and ecological nature of the Sonoran Desert (the bioregion that Tucson lies within). To briefly list some of these aspects:
- Deserts are on the cutting edge of natural resource scarcity;
- Sonora is anational, spread between the United States and Mexico, making internationalism and solidarity inherent;
- The border wall creates social humanitarian and ecological crises;
- The Sonoran Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world, giving it more to lose from capitalist development and climate change;
- The issue of desertification is one of world-wide importance; solutions here will have immediate applicability not only to other arid areas, but to the world at-large;
- Sonora has a legacy of indigenous tradition and stewardship that can provide insight into the liberated ecological society here.
Dialectical Holism and Eastern Philosophy
Another controversial addition by Clark is the inclusion of dialectical insight from Eastern philosophy. However, he makes some compelling arguments that counter Bookchin’s unappreciative position toward Eastern philosophy. In fact some, if not much, of what is often seen by Western philosophers as mystical can actually be interpreted dialectically. Though Clark doesn’t argue this, a dialectical approach can be seen as the common ancestor to both Western and Eastern philosophy, providing a lens through which to interpret Eastern philosophy without losing so much in translation to a one-sided, analytic Western framework.
The Ecological Self
This portion of the essay can be seen as particularly helpful. Arguably, this is just a reinforcement of anarchist-communism: that the self develops and gains true individuality only from interaction with the community. However, this is an important point. From the perspective of Ecosocialist Praxis, this group/project aims to be one community within community, wherein shared intellectual growth develops both the individual and a community connected through such shared development of the participants. One goal might be to prefigure the revolutionary, ecological self as much as is possible under capitalism — becoming rounded, developed (though never “complete”), fulfilled, supported by a similar community, engaged in the larger process of prefiguration to overcome capitalism and the nation-state.
The Ecological Imaginary
The realm of the imaginary can be seen as another important contribution to a fuller, more dialectical social ecological analysis. Along with concepts such as the ecological self, these serve to give emphasis to the many-sided aspects that comprise the “social” and their role in the transformation of society. Indeed, this helps one to realize the preconditions that must exist for any substantive social transformation, and to broaden the areas of struggle.
Many agreements between Bookchin and Clark can be found within “A Social Ecology.” Within “The Ecological Imaginary,” Clark basically agrees with Bookchin that capitalism is not just an economy, but a society, then offers ways of attacking these social aspects — such as through the creation of an ecological imaginary.
Some elementary questions can be asked regarding the desert and the ecological imaginary. Taking the prevailing human conceptions of the desert into account, how was the development of the desert anthropogenically impacted? Conversely, in what ways did the desert impact human society in the area? What are the truths and falsities in these conceptions?
In the creation of the desert imaginary, perhaps we can pull from the parallels of the desert to the ocean and to space.
In concluding these brief points of discussion, it is interesting to note that, despite the critique of some of Bookchin’s late-period views, just how agreeable most of Clark’s argument would be (or has been) to Bookchin’s earlier work. This excerpt from the section “The Future of Social Ecology” pinpoints the trajectory that our social ecological investigation will take:
Social ecology is at the present moment in a stage of rapid transformation, self-reflection, and expansion of its theoretical horizons. It is in the process of escaping from the dogmatic tendencies that have threatened its theoretical vitality and practical relevance, and the sectarian narrowness that has reactively defined it in opposition to other ecophilosophies. It is ready to withdraw from the “contest of ecologies” and move forward in its theoretical development, in creative dialogue with other philosophies. It is now in a position to realize its potential as a holistic and dialectical philosophy that seeks greater openness and opportunity for growth, works toward a more adequate synthesis of theoretical reflection and empirical inquiry, attains an increasingly comprehensive theoretical scope, and strives for a truly dialectical relation to creative social practice–offering the guidance of reflection and remaining open to guidance by the truth of experience.
Indeed, such a social ecology, retaining its specificity, finds itself in comradely struggle with other approaches under the greater whole of ecosocialism.
Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #3: Kovel’s Ecosocialism
Marxist and psychoanalyst, Joel Kovel is the author of The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? (2nd Ed., 2008, Zed Books), from which this week’s reading is excerpted.
Kovel knew Murray Bookchin, has been sympathetic to social ecology, and is a former lecturer at the Institute for Social Ecology. Later, he was to contribute the essay “Negating Bookchin” to the anthology Social Ecology after Bookchin (1998, Guilford Press).
Joel Kovel’s radical approach to the ecological crisis he terms ecosocialism. Drawing on his Marxist and psychoanalytic knowledge, Kovel contextualizes the ecological crisis as stemming from alienated labor, seeing production (not just of products, but of oneself) as inherent to human nature.
Contributions to the ecosocialist project include advocacy for an Ecosocialist International Network (EIN), his book The Enemy of Nature, as well as being the former editor of the Capitalism, Nature, Socialism journal. He has had an ongoing professional acquaintance with John P. Clark, and their mutual influence can be seen.
The following is a biographical sketch excerpted from his website (www.joelkovel.com) which seems to no longer be updated:
The Vietnam War and the crises of the 1960s caused him to move sharply to the political left, to begin what became a vocation as a writer, and to engage the study of Marx. Intellectually, this set going a conflict with his identity as a Freudian psychoanalyst, and spurred further work. Another dimension was added when his activism in the antiwar movement and in defense of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua brought Kovel into contact with radical Christians. Combined with mounting dissatisfaction with the health care system, this resulted in a departure from medicine, psychiatry and psychoanalysis in 1985. In 1988 Kovel joined the faculty of Bard College as Alger Hiss Professor of Social Studies, and remained there until 2009 when he was let go in a highly contentious case involving his political activity, especially in regard to anti-Zionism.
Kovel has written ten books reflecting his complex political and intellectual engagement. White Racism (1971) was nominated for a National Book Award; The Age of Desire (1982) detailed his Marx-Freud period; Against the State of Nuclear Terror (1982) and In Nicaragua (1986) recount his political activism of the 1980s; History and Spirit (1991), written with the support of a Guggenheim Grant, attempts a synthesis of spirituality and historical materialism; and Red Hunting in the Promised Land (1994) is a study of ideology that approaches the problem of anticommunism in the history of the United States.
By the late 1980s, Kovel began what has been his chief concern in recent years: overcoming the ecological crisis, which he considers to be a manifestation of the reckless expansionism of the capitalist system. He joined the editorial collective of the academic quarterly, Capitalism Nature Socialism, and became its Editor-in-Chief in 2003. This project included a brief electoral career on behalf of the Green Party, in which he ran for the US Senate for New York in 1998 and sought the party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Turning again to writing, he composed his 2002 work, The Enemy of Nature (Second edition 2007), dedicated to the propagation of “ecosocialism.” This was accompanied by the founding in 2007 of the Ecosocialist International Network. Kovel’s latest book, Overcoming Zionism (2007) advocating a “One-State” solution to the problem of Palestine, caused a furor upon its publication, and was briefly banned from circulation by its distributor owing to pressure from the Israel Lobby.
Kovel has always been internationally minded. He has lectured on six continents, and has made seven trips to South Africa, beginning in 1989, when he was one of the first foreign intellectuals invited by the democratic resistance as the academic blockade became lifted. He was a fellow of the Centre for Civil Society at UKZN in 2006. Other notable appearances include being the keynote speaker invited by the Government of Brazil for its national environmental conference in 2008; and most recently, as the keynote speaker at Fudan University in Shanghai, PRC, for their conference on “Marxism and Ecological Civilization.”
Ecosocialist Praxis Tucson Week #4: John Bellamy Foster
This week’s reading rounds out the main approaches to ecosocialism that is the focus of Ecosocailist Praxis.
John Bellamy Foster is currently Editor-in-Chief of the long running Monthly Review. In addition, he has written extensively on recovering the ecological moments of Marx and Engels and is currently a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Visit his website.