Monday evening I gave a talk at World Fellowship entitled “Eco-Terrorism: the New Communism” with Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red. I addressed some differences between what I called the “traditional left” and the radical environmental and animal rights movement.
The Marxist/socialist critique of capitalism argued that the earth’s resources should be distributed more evenly among all human beings. The problem was the way the factory was organized, not the factory itself. The Marxist view was an anthropocentric one. It questioned the right of the ruling classes to exploit other people’s labor in order to control a disproportionate share of the earth’s resources, but it assumed that humans had the right to enjoy the fruits of those resources fairly.
The radical environmental and animal rights movements have a broader definition of exploitation. They view the exploitation of the earth’s resources, be they plant, animal or mineral, as problematic. Put another way, it is not just how the factory is organized, but the factory, itself that is the problem.
Both my birth and adoptive parents were members of the Communist Party and I was raised as a Red Diaper baby. So it is hardly surprising that even though I have been interested in environmental issues since the 1970s, most of my political activism has concerned how people treat others, rather than how we interact with the plants and animals around us.
However, as we’ve learned more about the consequences of humanity’s rapidly intensifying exploitation of our planet, our impact on our environment has become impossible for me to ignore. We can’t fault Marx for not considering the sustainability of industrial development, but we must take into account what we’ve learned since the mid-19th century. Just in the last 50 years have we figured out that human beings are a part of a complex and interdependent planetary web of existence. Only more recently have we realized that it is perilous to ignore the fact that earth is not here for human benefit.
I fear many of my fellow human beings, even those with progressive sensibilities, think of our species as the pinnacle rather than a part of existence on this planet. We cannot indefinitely stand in opposition to or apart from our natural setting because we are it, and it is us. We can succeed in manipulating the environment and appropriate a non-sustainable share of the globe’s resources for a time, but the planet, not any single species, holds the trump card.
This is why I feel that we can no longer let environmental concerns take a back seat to other struggles. I am not advocating the abandonment of battles for economic and social justice; we must never give up the fight to eliminate injustice and alleviate suffering. In fact, the point I hope I made in my talk at World Fellowship is that we must work to bridge the gap between the traditional left and the radical environmental and animal rights movements. More traditional left efforts must take place in the context of work to reverse the damage that threatens our planet’s ability to maintain the vast network it sustains. If we don’t do this, we will be unable to prevent devastating the quality of most life, including our own.
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