Eco-socialism, Saral Sarkar’s Writings

Eco-Socialism or “Green” Capitalism?, Collected Writings of Saral Sarkar, Explanations, Elaborations and Interventions, Vols. I and II present most of Saral Sarkar’s political and political-economic essays and articles written in the personal computer age.

The book introduces itself in the following way:

“After the ignominious fall of the classical Soviet model of ‘socialism’ in the early 1990s, socialists, communists, and all other kinds of Leftists had felt to have been left in the lurch. With his book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices (1999), Saral Sarkar presented and laid the theoretical foundation of a new conception of socialism, which convinced because it organically synthesized the newly arisen imperative of ecological sustainability and the old ideal of equality among members of humanity.

Eco Socialism

“On their part, all opponents of any kind of socialism have also been trying to somehow accommodate the inexorable insights into and demands of true ecological sustainability in extant conceptions of capitalism. What they have achieved is not a synthesis, but merely a fake and self-contradictory phrase that does not deserve the prefix ‘Eco-’, and should properly be called ‘Green’ Capitalism. But they succeeded in hoodwinking millions of worried human beings all over the world.”

Sarkar, over the last thirty years, “has been relentlessly trying through speeches and writings to counter their misconceptions of the ecological and social imperatives. In the present two volumes of his Collected Writings, readers will find some of the fruits of his endeavor.”

The volume I’s chapter 1 contains “Polit-Autobiographical Essays”. In this chapter, Sarkar in two autobiographical essays describes his journey through the history of socialism – from the traditional Marxist socialism to his variety of eco-socialism. The narration tells “his difficulties in fully accepting the Marxian and Marxist positions”. This position – difficulty in fully accepting Marxist position – is not unique now-a-days, as a group of scholars vehemently not only deny, but also oppose Marxist position. This group of scholars carries on the search for truth by picking up Marxist words and sentences in an isolated fashion, which is a distortion of a theory. They deny searching truth with a scientific approach; don’t look into the entire process of socio-economic formation, and don’t continue their quest for truth on the basis of materialist understanding of history, social character of labor and the contradiction between the social character of production and the private appropriation of its results. Consequently, this group of scholars determined to deny contradiction between the exploited and the exploiters, don’t search facts and truth in the matrix of contradictions between classes, and fail to find essential questions related to political power, that, ultimately, leads them to idealism.  

Saral Sarkar
Saral Sarkar

Saral Sarkar’s essays also tell the way he “first, already as a child, discovered the population problem and, through it, later the essence of the ecology problem, viz. existence of the Entropy Law, a universal law of nature.”

In six essays in the chapter 2 of the 1st volume, “Essays and Interventions on the Renewable Energies Question”, Saral Sarkar “takes a critical look at the claims of most energy thinkers that in near future not only would a hundred percent transition to renewable energies be possible, but that it would also be much cheaper than burning fossil fuels.” Sarkar, as the book claims, “falsifies” those “claims by advancing arguments based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics and citing many concrete cases and examples.”

Chapter 3, “The Recent Economic Crises”, carries two essays. In these essays, Sarkar “presents his analysis of the economic crises of 2008 and the following years. He approaches the issue with his theory of eco-socialism, namely by arguing that at the root of all serious present-day economic crises lies the fact that there are limits to growth. In this connection he also shows the pointlessness of trying to understand the present-day crises through the lens of Marxist, Keynesian and Schumpeterian economic theories, because they, though profound, are today obsolete. As a case in point, Sarkar deals with the Greek political-and-economic crisis of the 2010s.”

With 14 essays, articles, and interventions (one of which is written with Jonathan Rutherford and another with Paresh Chattopadhyay), in chapter 4, “More on Socialism, Eco-Socialism, Leftism”, Sarkar “elaborates and explains his variety of (eco-)socialism in contradistinction to (eco-)anarchism and other varieties of (eco-)socialism. He does so also by referring to concrete cases (in India, Cuba and Vietnam).”

Volume II of Sarkar’s works carries chapter 5: On Population Growth and Unwelcome Mass Immigration; chapter 6: On Fascism, Secessionism, Identity Politics and Other “Reactionary” Trends; chapter 7: Futility of Activism without Analysis; and chapter 8: Concluding essays.

The chapter 5 that contains nine essays, articles and interventions, Sarkar “forcefully argues: “[E]co-activists in general, and eco-socialists in particular, must not ignore world population growth while concentrating on fighting against global capitalism.” Sarkar’s position: “[P]opulation growth and economic growth favored by capitalism are the two main drivers of global ecological collapse. Moreover, the two drivers are causing, together and also separately, a seemingly unending flow of illegal and unwelcome migrants from poor Third World countries into the industrialized countries and/or sparsely populated land-rich areas. In the local populations, this allegedly unbearable situation is also favoring growth of xenophobic, racist and fascist forces.”

In the following chapter with eight essays and articles, Sarkar discusses a number of fundamental questions related to, as Sarkar claims, “human nature.” He presents “examples of concrete cases such as the resurgence of fascism and right-radicalism in Europe, hostility toward immigrants and asylum seekers bordering on racism and xenophobia, and dominance of ethnic, national and religious identity politics – manifested e.g. in secessionist movements in existing states (Scotland and Catalonia), in Trump’s electioneering slogans in 2016 (“America First”, “Make America Great Again”), in religious-sectarian fights (“Boko Haram”, Yemen, and Pakistan)”, etc. He raises questions: “[A]re average humans at all capable of overcoming narrowness of vision and thinking in terms of us-versus-them? Are they at all capable of feeling empathy for all humans?”

The Chapter 7 with eight essays and articles, “levels a serious criticism against ecological movements and groups, namely they do not care about having a deep understanding of facts and realities before plunging into organizing rallies and demonstrations, expressing wishful thoughts, and making all sorts of more or less unfounded statements and demands.” Sarkar “levels this criticism not only against the school-going youth of Fridays for Future, but also against grown-ups who advise them, such as professors, scientists, NGO-leaders, etc.” He “snubs many in the ecology movement”, as he says: “The ecology movement is not a social movement, because there is a conflict between them.” He states: “[T]here is no clever strategy that can resolve this conflict.”

In the last chapter with 8 essays, Sarkar “goes into the probability of collapse of our global industrial civilization. Optimists are not worried, or they hope mankind can avert the collapse.” Sarkar, however, “is pessimistic, for different reasons – ecological, economic, but also political. And all of these are also connected with aspects of human nature. This collapse is not merely a future probability; in some parts of the world it is already taking place – before our very eyes – in the form of failing states.” Sarkar has more questions: “Can liberal democracy and liberal global capitalism survive when the crunch comes? Can mankind, as individuals and as societies, give up the pursuit of ever more wealth and, instead, set itself the goal of increasing Gross Domestic Happiness, as the people of Bhutan claim to have done?”

“Saral Sarkar was born in 1936 in a village of West Bengal, India. After graduating from the University of Calcutta (Kolkata), he studied German language and literature for five years at the Goethe Institute in India and Germany. From 1966 to 1981, he was lecturer in German at the Goethe Institute in Hyderabad, India.

“Since 1982, he has been living in Cologne, Germany, where he has been active in the Green Movement, Anti-Globalization Movement, and all kinds of ecological and leftist movements. He was member of the Green Party of Germany from 1982 to 1987, but left the party in deep disappointment.

“Over the years, Sarkar has taken part in many discussions and debates in the above-mentioned areas and published widely in political journals in India, Europe, and the American Continent.

“His basal theoretical work “Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices” (1999, London) has also been published in German, French (in internet), Chinese and Japanese.

“His other major works are: Green-Alternative Politics in West Germany, Vol. I & II (1993, 1994, Tokyo), and The Crises of Capitalism – A Different Study of Political Economy (2012, Berkeley), which was originally published in German (2010, Neu-Ulm).”

Saral Sarkar’s works, interesting no doubt, raise a number of fundamental questions related to world view/approach he follows, and the problems/issues he deals with analyzing:

[1] society, its constituents, contradictions within society, sources and trajectory of these contradictions; and

[2] mode of production – dialectical unity of productive forces and relations of production, two interdependent entities.

A few of his examples are not only confusing, but also erroneous. For example, he finds signals of probability of a collapse in/of society in failing states. It’s completely wrong, as a state’s failure originates in failure of a ruling class(es)/its part(s), as it fails to either [1] make compromise(s) between competing interests, or [2] organize regimes/institutions/arrangements for ruling a society; and a new ruling machine may be organized after collapse of a failed state. Even, new societies may crop up over grave of a collapsed society; and that has happened in lands.

Similarly, his defining of a certain political system is wrong, as for example, “liberal democracy” and “liberal global capitalism”.

There’re nothing like “liberal democracy” and “liberal global capitalism”, although a section of establishment scholars try to categorize bourgeois democracy as “liberal democracy” or “illiberal democracy”, and some more categorization according to the section’s likings.

But, essentially, and really, “democracy” that serves the bourgeoisie is bourgeois democracy, and that’s autocracy/dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, a minority class, over the majority – the exploited mass. It’s democracy for the bourgeoisie, and autocracy/dictatorship over the mass of the exploited. Bourgeois democracy turns “liberal” when circumstances permit, and turns “illiberal” when circumstances don’t allow. The circumstance is or depends upon

[1] power of the exploiting/ruling class(es) to [1.1] control the ruled, [1.2] accommodate competing interests, [1.3] absorb shocks, etc., or

[2] lack of power leading to failure to [2.1] control the ruled, [2.2] accommodate competing interests, [2.3] absorb shocks, etc. by hiding claws in velvet gloves.

Bourgeois democracy appearing “liberal” practices/implements “illiberal” measures when the system feels necessary for its survival, or, simultaneously practices “liberal” and “illiberal” measures in two different areas; and, the academia and media the system controls never show this reality of “liberal-illiberal” approach. In countries, irrespective of type like advanced bourgeois democracy, neo-colony, lumpenocracy, etc., but exploitative in character, the practice of “liberal”-“illiberal” is present simultaneously at times. This is found in the areas of legislation, judiciary and executive work. One law appears “liberal” – allows a lot of space to a certain class interest – while another law muzzles down another class interest, which is definitely opposed to the interest having a lot of space. A serious dissection, instead of a casual look, of reality gives evidences of this face of “liberal” democracy.

There’s nothing like “liberal global capitalism”, as Saral Sarkar finds. What’s found is “global capitalism, which behaves “liberally” when it comes to the interest of capital, especially imperialist capital, and it turns “illiberal” or strict or ruthless when the imperialist capital faces competitor, opposition, faces obstacles in gaining momentum in areas. Evidences are in abundance in the areas of flow of capital/investment/profit, taxation/tariff, trade regime. Global capital’s character doesn’t change in terms of “liberal” and “illiberal”. Finding “liberal” global capital leads to confusion with capital, appeasement with capital. Saral Sarkar, probably, forgets that this is imperialist global order, and it’s imperialist – imperialist in character, imperialist in action. The term “liberal global capitalism” appears a laughingstock to anyone aware of capitalism’s destructive, dictatorial, deadly character, the character capitalism is inherently incapable to change.   

Saral Sarkar’s position on “illegal and unwelcome migrants from poor Third World countries into the industrialized countries” is also confusing, as this migrant flow is result of not only population and economic growth. This migration flow also grows from [1] imperialist intervention/war, [2] exploitation/inequality. His position demands serious scrutiny if he really means migrants as “unwelcome”. Migration of labor is welcome to capital, whenever capital can capitalize it, profit is facilitated, labor can be subdued, wage can be kept depressed; and it turns unwelcome whenever commanding capital finds it difficult to engage labor to generate profit. So, the question is: “welcome” and “unwelcome” to who and when? From the point of view of migrants, a huge population turned victim of exploitation, onslaught, war, and destruction by capitalism/imperialism, migration to suitable lands is always welcome. If capital can demand its free flow to all lands, why shall not labor demand its free movement to all suitable lands with the hope of a better wage and better living condition?     

The books can be ordered through distribution channels including Amazon, internet platforms, or bookstores. The books’ e-version is also available.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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