Chapter 2

Defining Green Social Democracy

2.0 From our communal past to our communal future

"We desperately need a new way of thinking, a new mind-set.
The thinking that got us into this bind will not get us out."

- Lester R. Brown, Could food shortages bring down civilization? Scientific American, May 2009, p50-55.

Our introductory chapter highlighted the dimensions of the planetary emergency humanity now faces and attributed this emergency to the nature of the globally dominant economic system, capitalism. The chapters that follow address the challenge of identifying and giving voice to the viable alternative being creatively forged by the social movements of the people, one which would enable a new historical epoch to unfold. These popular movements, we have argued, have deep historical roots, tracing from humanity's communal past to the prospect of a future in which cooperative relationships would again be the rule.

In this chapter we endeavour to expand upon the Authors' Preface to this work to make more fully transparent the theoretical framework that guides our exploration. This framework includes a philosophical perspective that guides our analysis, one that can be judged by its efficacy. It also includes an outline of the scientific perspective we are applying, one that can be judged by its empirical veracity.

We begin this section with a science-based story of our evolution as a species and conclude with a speculative extension of this evolutionary tale into the future, one that assumes we will remove capitalism as a barrier to the use of our intelligence and sociality to adapt to our present environmental and historical circumstances, building the kind of cooperative global commonwealth we need to continue our journey. A contemporary account of the science by paleoanthropologist Curtis W. Marean ("The most invasive species of all"), including the identification of intelligence and sociality as the distinguishing characteristics of our species, can be found in the August 2015 issue of Scientific American.

By 200,000 years ago our species, Homo sapiens, had evolved in Africa as a social one with complex cognition. In search of resources and in response to intermittent periods of glaciation our history features tribal migration to all corners of the globe. This expansion reached beyond Africa 70,000 years ago, southeastern Asia by 55,000 years ago, Australia and Europe by 45,000 years ago, northeastern Siberia by 35,000 years ago, North America by about 14,000 years ago and South America by about 13,500 years ago. In Europe and Southeastern Asia we encountered and displaced our near relatives, the Neandertals and Denisovans, respectively. Marean explains the successful competition of Homo sapiens with our near relatives as the result of our prior evolution (about 71,000 years ago) in Africa as a hyper-cooperative species which had developed and learned to cooperatively use aerial weapons for hunting (and probably also in the event of conflict with other hominid species competing for the same resources).

But Homo sapiens not only expanded across the Earth. Through relative geographic isolation and local population concentration, our continuing evolution was primarily a cultural one, featuring distinct languages of communication and the evolution of superficial differences in physical appearance. In relation to the opposing strategies of negotiation and violent confrontation, these differences may have contributed to occasional violent confrontation over resources, particularly when tribal migration exceeded the expanding limits of kinship relationships. In other words, cooperation within tribal communities and between communities linked by kinship relationships co-evolved with competition (sometimes violent), especially between more distant communities.

The question remains whether this cooperation included class structure. Distinct from mere division of labor, class structure means differences in power and access to natural and human cultural resources. A society without social classes is usually designated as a communal one, a practice we follow here. The conclusion from paleoanthropology -; linking the results of ethnographic studies of communities encountered in geographically isolated regions with the results of archeological studies of past human societies, is that most of human history has featured our communal existence. Only during the period of recorded history (recent millennia) are class societies known to have been dominant. By "recorded" we mean in writing. For our prior history we rely on archeology (including the study of human remains and surviving artifacts or their remnants), paleoanthropology, genetics, linguistics and oral histories for documentation.

All class societies known to us through our relatively brief "recorded" history have necessarily devoted a significant part of their productive activity to the maintenance of the ruling classes and the physical and ideological confinement of the exploited classes. The division of society into antagonistic classes requires the creation and use of an enormous "surplus" of goods and services for establishing and maintaining the unequal relationships -; all a form of waste in relation to the less wasteful communal societies they displaced and continue to displace.

Class societies could only have become possible on any enduring basis with the development of the needed technologies, including physical tools and social forms and standards. These latter most notably included the concept and practice of private property, whether this included ownership of other humans (slavery), the land and resources upon which others were permitted to work for themselves but were required to turn over to the landowner a part of the product of their work (feudalism) or "merely" the private ownership of the human labour time and ideas of others (capitalism).

An outcome of every class society is the production of more waste than can be absorbed or recycled by the environment in which it is created. For the greater part of the short history of class society, the problems of waste production were principally local ones, usually addressed by re-location of the polluting societies or polluting economic activities. But in the present epoch of global capitalism this waste problem has reached the scale of the entire biosphere, making capitalism the most wasteful and dangerous form of society in human history -; today so much so that our survival as a species is now at issue.

Human communal societies, on the other hand, are known to be rich and complex in their social organization and operation. This rich diversity of talents and abilities continued to evolve over time and continues to do so today, arguably much faster than ever before. Natural selection has favoured those human communities whose productive activity benefitted from greater cooperation, a greater range of specialized talents and a more suitable division of labour. This history argues for the further evolution of human society in order to cope with the enormous challenges of a large and still growing population on a finite planet, one that promotes diversity and releases all the pent up capacities of people for creative participation in making a living while conserving the source in nature of that living.

Our story can have only one outcome: the ultimate demise of all classes. This can occur through our mutual extinction by drowning in the waste class antagonism produces. Or it can occur through our wilful and successful movement beyond a class-based society to a renewed communal life in a restored and sustainable natural environment. Like all new forms of society (and other natural ecologies), it will need to be constructed from already existing elements. In our case, the new form of society can be built by expanding upon the remaining commons and communal forms of activity, displacing the temporarily co-existing capitalist forms of property and activity, and by introducing democracy into all work places, displacing the exclusive decision-making rights of owners and managers.

The well recorded history of class society suggests that the technological and ideological pre-requisites of the new society, including both physical tools, organizational forms and cultural values, emerged from within its predecessor. Usually, if not invariably, the lengthy periods of transition were marked by brief, intense periods in which the legal and constitutional forms of the old society were replaced by those required for the new society.

Our view is that we are in the midst of a lengthy period of transition from capitalism to a society beyond capitalism. In our view, this transition began over a century ago. The first attempts to move beyond capitalism occurred in societies still in transition from feudalism to capitalism and during periods in which capitalism globally had vast new territories to conquer. Examples include the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

In the meantime, the conditions have ripened for a necessarily global transition to forms of social organization beyond capitalism. Among these conditions are a high level of public education globally, a high level of labor productivity, the technological capacity for complex systems management, and an emergent culture that combines radical democratic aspirations and radical environmental consciousness.

For the sake of giving the new society a label, one defined by the entirety of this work, we are calling it a green social democracy. Its characteristics are presented in the form of broadly stated policies in the remainder of this work. While the historical paths that led to the present stage of human social evolution suggest that the paths that the various contingents of humankind will take towards a green social democracy will be varied, they will necessarily share the common characteristics of that society. On the present historical agenda, we believe, is a brief, intense, more or less globally synchronized period in which the legal and constitutional forms of the new society are instituted in every country and at the international level.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

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Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.