Ecosocialism: Dystopian and Scientific

Authors: Matt Huber*, Syracuse University
Topics: Energy, Environment, Historical Geography
Keywords: automation, ecosocialism, political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Friedrich Engels’s pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific argued many socialists tended to imagine an ideal society “invented out of one's brain.” To be properly “scientific”, socialists must not only think of alternatives, but also understand the historical material conditions of what is possible. Science here involves a commitment to historical materialism. Today, amidst a scientific (of another kind) consensus on ecological crisis, “ecosocialism” has emerged to reconcile socialist and ecological politics. Ecosocialism does not as much present “utopian” ideas in conflict with material reality, but rather a “dystopian” future immanent in capitalism itself. Its most comfortable mode of critique entails a rundown of the ecological horrors that await us if capitalism is not replaced. In this paper, I argue ecosocialism barely engages with science in Engels’s sense – a sense of what is materially possible. Doing so would require a serious understanding of industrialization – particularly the role of energy and automation – in shaping the material-historical conditions of the present. Although classical socialism saw industry and automation as key to freedom and the abolition of poverty, ecosocialism displays an ambivalent or outright hostile attitude toward industrial automation (for good reasons). Yet, I argue a scientific ecosocialism must convincingly show how an emancipatory future could be built out of the automated production networks that shape the lives of many on the planet. The key question is not automation or not, but can an ecological automation be built? I draw from David Schwartzman’s concept of “solar communism” to argue it can.

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