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Toward Democratic Eco-socialism
as the Next World System

5. Democratic Eco-socialism

Book cover: Democratic Eco-Socialism as a Real Utopia: Transitioning to an Alternative World System by Hans A. Baer

The concept of democratic eco-socialism constitutes a merger of the earlier existing concepts of democratic socialism and eco-socialism. It is imperative that progressives reinvent the notion of socialism by recognizing that we live on a planet with limited resources that must be more or less equitably distributed to provide everyone with enough, but not too much. As delineated in Medical Anthropology and the World System, a textbook that I co-authored with Merrill Singer and Ida Susser, democratic eco-socialism entails the following principles:

  • an economy oriented to meeting basic social needs—namely adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, health, and dignified work;
  • a high degree of social equality;
  • public ownership of the means of production;
  • representative and participatory democracy; and
  • environmental sustainability.7

Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-oriented, productivist ethic and recognizes that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations.

The vision of democratic eco-socialism closely resembles what world systems theorists Terry Boswell and Christopher Chase–Dunn [2000] in The Spiral of Capitalism and Socialism term global democracy, a concept that entails the following components:

  • an increasing movement toward public ownership of productive forces at local, regional, national, and international levels;
  • the development of an economy oriented toward meeting social needs, such as basic food, clothing, shelter, and health care, and environmental sustainability rather than profit making;
  • the eradication of health and social disparities and the redistribution of human resources between developed and developing societies, and within societies in general;
  • the curtailment of population growth that in large part would follow from the previously mentioned conditions; the conservation of finite resources and the development of renewable energy resources;
  • the redesign of settlement and transport systems to reduce energy demands and greenhouse gas emissions; and the reduction of wastes through recycling and transcending the reigning culture of consumption.

Democratic eco-socialism constitutes what sociologist Erik Olin Wright [2010] in Envisioning Real Utopias terms a real utopia, a utopian vision that is achievable but only through much theorizing and social experimentation.9 As the existing capitalist world system continues to self-destruct due to its socially unjust and environmentally unsustainable practices, democratic eco-socialism seeks to provide a vision to mobilize human beings around the world, albeit in different ways, to prevent ongoing human socioeconomic and environmental destruction.

Book cover: Global Capitalism and Climate Change: The Need for an Alternative World System by Hans A. Baer

While Stalin adhered to the notion of building 'socialism in one country', what developed in the U.S.S.R. for complicated reasons—historical, social, structural, internal, and external—was the creation of a highly authoritarian and draconian social system that made a mockery of the notion of Marxian socialism. In keeping with Trotsky's notion of the 'permanent revolution', the creation of socialism requires a global process, the beginnings of which we may be seeing rekindled in the guise of the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America (albeit an experiment with numerous contradictions) and the emergence of new left parties in Europe, particularly Syriza in Greece which came to power earlier in 2015 and Die Linke, the farthest left party in the German Bundestag. As global capitalism continues to find itself in economic and ecological crisis as it lurches into the twenty-first century, humanity faces the challenge of how to shift from an ongoing trajectory of human and planetary destruction. As the existing capitalist world system continues to self-destruct due to its socially unjust and environmentally unsustainable practices, democratic eco-socialism provides a radical vision to mobilize people around the world to struggle for the next system.

Anti-systemic movements are sure to be a permanent feature of the world's political landscape so long as capitalism remains a hegemonic political-economic system. Various anti-systemic movements, particularly the labor, ethnic and indigenous rights, women's, anti-corporate globalization, peace, environmental, and climate movements, have an important role to play in creating a socio-ecological revolution committed to both social justice and environmental sustainability. Anti-systemic movements are a crucial component of moving humanity to an alternative world system, but the process is a tedious and convoluted one with no guarantees, especially in light of the disparate nature of these movements.

Copyright © 2016

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