Social-ecological Reconstruction as a Challenge for Left/Socialist Politics

We are concerned with societal changes which improve people’s conditions of life. “People’s conditions of life” always involve the integrity of people, their individual freedom and possible influence on social developments, their social relations and social security and their natural environment. People always consist of girls, boys, women and men, who live within gender relations.

We are concerned with societal changes which improve people’s conditions of life. “People’s conditions of life” always involve the integrity of people, their individual freedom and possible influence on social developments, their social relations and social security and their natural environment. People always consist of girls, boys, women and men, who live within gender relations.
Concrete conditions of life are thus determined by manifold social relations and natural conditions, within which the relations of production are in the last analysis the decisive determinants. At their core are property relations. The term “social-ecological reconstruction” is meant to express the idea that society must be transformed so that the quality of life of all, to begin with the socially weakest, are improved while at the same time nature is preserved and improved.

The intensive leftist discussion of “social-ecological reconstruction” is easily understandable in view of the drastically worsened ecological drama and of the expansion of poverty, social exclusion, militarization and the danger of war. Another motivation is that official concepts like “ecological modernization” or “ecological New Deal”, although oriented to increasing an economy and efficiency in the use of resources as well as to less environmental damage, are nevertheless oriented also to growing shares in global markets. In so doing they adhere to a principle that is socially and ecologically disastrous.

What “social-ecological reconstruction” involves, therefore, is left politics and socialist programme, and at the same time the challenge of critically appropriating and using the Marxist theoretical heritage.

Social-ecological Conversion and Left/Socialist Programme
If the goal is a society in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all, then societal development has to be oriented to individual freedom and aspirations to self-fulfillment, social equality and solidaristic cooperation. The association of free and socially equal people presupposes individual and collective learning, a new quality of development of the forces of production and therefore also of the social relations of property. The association can only arise and renew itself if there is a responsible way of dealing with the natural conditions of life, if public health is improved and thus if individual metabolic processes are freed of environmental toxins.
Individual freedom, social equality, solidaristic cooperation and reason in dealing with nature belong together. None of the four goals should or can be achieved at the cost of the other three.

Social-ecological Conversion and Strategies of Left/Socialist Politics
At present, the greatest challenges for left politics consist of the prevention of those destructive processes whose progression makes these four goals unachievable:

  • Poverty, social exclusion – which includes unemployment – (growing) social and territorial divisions
  • Destruction of nature and culture, above all global warming, the extinction of species
  • De-democratization, surveillance and repression, loss of democratic possibilities of influence and of political regulation (especially through the privatization of public services, impoverishment of municipalities and regions), fundamentalisms / extremisms
  • Militarization and war, armed conflicts and attacks.

The rush toward climate collapse, the scarcity of natural resources and the interaction of these with the other destructive processes threaten to pull humanity toward catastrophe. Important aspects of the latter are already present: the globally weakest are vegetating, and this fate threatens millions of other people.
Therefore there can be no alliance that includes the “wrong” elements, if we really intend to help the weakest and avert a human catastrophe in a human way. The rescue measures must be started from the social-political defensive and social political reform alternatives developed into defensive struggles.

Social-Ecological Conversion as a Challenge for a Left/Socialist Politics of Everyday Life
In these defensive struggles there is no principaled ranking of themes, all the more so that they have to be carried out on diverse political levels, from the local and regional through the nation-state and European and finally on the global levels. Thus the environmental policies of socialist organizations never undervalue social needs and basic democratic rights. Democratic socialists always view individual freedom, social equality, solidaristic cooperation and a rational approach to nature from the vantage point of those who are most blocked from achieving the particular goal. Socialist municipal politicians – whether in the poorest or richest German federal states – must always take into consideration the globally poorest, those who are most vulnerable to the catastrophes created by destructive protagonists.

Social-political relations of force are only changed by new political alliances which are formed in concrete political conflicts. In this, there is always the question of the extent to which parliaments, executives, public administrations and other public institutions are exhausting their political possibilities for mitigating and solving societal problems – or to what extent they push those in higher levels of government and society to use their room for manoeuvre. It is obvious that the concrete problems are always tied to the destructive tendencies we have mentioned here. Three key questions emerge from this: The assessment and organization of socially useful, i.e. useful work, the preservation and democratization of the public and the confronting of representatives of the dominant energy economy.

Social-Ecological Conversion – as a Theoretical Problem
Marx based the necessity of “expropriating the expropriators”, i.e. the “appropriation of the totality of the instruments of production by the individuals themselves”, the proletarians, on the idea that only thus could the pre-conditions by created in which the producers could develop their capacities, that only thus could they guarantee that no more would be produced than what they need, that the productive forces would cease being destructive forces and undermining nature. “The individuals who are no longer subsumed under the division of labour are those whom philosophers conceived as an ideal with the name “man” (“der Mensch”) … “ (Marx, Engels, 1978, 69) In such a state the free development of each person would become the goal of production.
It requires developments that create such productivity, so that corporeal, mental and administrative work can gradually be divided equitably according to the interests, inclinations and talents of individuals who are developing themselves in a multi-faceted way.

What is involved are, on the one hand, social transformation processes that overcome conditions which make the individual’s social position dependent on factors over which she / he has no control, for example on their gender. On the other hand, the antagonistic contradiction between destructive production and social reproduction are to be transcended. These transformation processes can only emerge from the action and behaviour of learning, self-changing and consciously changing individuals.
Since production would take place in order to reproduce society and its natural conditions of life in a better way, the division of labour between “productive men” and “caring women” would be dispensed with. This abolition is not compatible with an equitable distribution of social inequality between the genders, as, for example, in the labour of a highly qualified Eastern European emigrée woman in the private household of a West European woman in an executive position.

Production for the purpose of improved social reproduction and thus of improved natural conditions of life means a re-evaluation of socially necessary, i.e. useful labour – as the conditions for social labour that creates and reproduces the total social reproduction. It requires social planning, which goes together with new and changed market meachanisms and new protagonists. This planning has to have as one of its basic premises the production, application and renewal of regenerative sources of energy and at the same time aim at a new interaction between the regional, supraregional, European and global divisions of labour: Local and regional resources should as far as possible be used for the satisfaction of the needs of self-determined and solidaristically living individuals, with the social and natural conditions of social reproduction being improved – locally, regionally and globally.

The term social-ecological reconstruction describes a reflexive, ongoing process of searching and transformation in which the social-political relations of power and property as well as social structures are so changed that the social conditions of people’s lives are preserved and improved. At the same time people would change their mode of life, especially their economic behaviour so that their natural conditions of life and the ecological environment (biosphere) is maintained, healed and remains healthy.
This is accompanied by upheavals in the reciprocal relations of economy and society, of society and nature, of individuals among themselves – and also especially in their plural gender relations -, of individuals and their bodies and nature. In so doing the active subjects, their thinking, their instruments and their actions, their political understanding and their political concepts undergo profound transformations. Society’s modes of production, reproduction and regulation are so reconstructed through the recognition of the biosphere’s reproductive needs and those of more healthy human individuals that single human beings can gradually live in a solidaristic cooperation in self-determined dignity. In the framework of a still more acutely dramatic crisis the pressure on the actors to act and the weight of the time factor grow. The basic condition for the successful beginning and continued progress of social-ecological reconstruction is the democratization of the decision-making processes, in which critical science gets confronted with a new set of demands. (RLS-WS, 2007)

What is thus involved is a reconstruction of the system of social division of labour, which aims at attaining and preserving the capacity for reproduction – humanity’s capacity to reproduce itself in its totality, not at the cost of others and of their natural conditions of life. The organization of reproductive capacity and with it the democratic and solidaristic solution of social, ecological and global problems, constitute progress. This means the development of a solidaristic cooperation which minimizes the impact on the biosphere and the social and external costs.

It means concretely:
– Immediate ending of the military interventions of EU-members, immediate disbanding of the Battle Groups, a moratorium on the European Security Strategy, closing of the US military bases in the EU countries, taxing of arms exports, prevention of arms exports into crisis areas, cutting arms expenditures, conversion, consistent steps to demilitarization, especially in development policy.

– Introduction of poverty-proof social minimal standards, above all of a needs-oriented social basic insurance and a minimum wage; effective action against social exclusion and discrimination, consistent measures for social integration; creation of meaningful – existence-securing and ecologically responsible – jobs; EU-European strategies for a cross-border construction of social security systems which counteracts poverty, impoverishment, social exclusion and precarization through a consistent policy for the equal treatment of women and men of diverse ethnic origin, support of children and youth, of families and of the co-existence of generations; socially just minimal standards, obligatory social range for tax and social standards – according to the economic capacity of the countries – and their medium-term upward convergence

– construction of public services, reinforcement of the public domain; realization of the Millennium Development Goals and of a development policy that aims at the greatest possible development and use of local and regional resources to meet basic needs

– Profound reforms in energy, transportation, agriculture and resource policy (especially water and waste); above all: the increase of energy efficiency, abandonment of atomic energy, transition to the preferential use of renewable energy; decrease of the material turnover, avoidance of waste and of traffic and noise, strengthening and development of regional economic circuits and networks; support for, and deployment of, resource-saving technologies, especially in transportation; growing importance of agriculture and forestry as well as of nature conservancy in the regional and supra-regional economies; the qualified and purposeful use of economic and regulatory-policy instruments such as consumption taxes, primary energy taxes, quantity regulation, subsidies, government contracts, grants, government holding of shares, investments, absorbing enterprises into public property; preservation of the variety of species; consistent action against privatization and commercialization of natural resources and life.

– The democratization of political decision-making processes and of the access to resources, especially through the strengthening of forms of direct democracy, protection and extension of the rights of the employed, of trade unions and consumers.

Marx, Karl, Engels, Friedrich (1978): Die Deutsche Ideologie, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Werke, vol. 3, Berlin.

RLS 2007, Dellheim, Judith; Krause, Günter; Paus-Lassen, Pia; Spangenberg, Joachim; Wolf, Frieder-Otto. Internationaler Workshop, Berlin.