2.4 Is green social democracy a form of socialism?

We formulated the question for this section title in one of the earlier drafts of the present work (in 2010). The political landscape has changed remarkably in the intervening years. In particular, socialism is now being redefined by a new generation of those becoming politically engaged for the first time, usually by joining it with adjectives or prefixes that add important contemporary emphases, such as eco-socialism, ecological socialism or democratic socialism. Nevertheless, our answer to this question is essentially the same. Green social democracy as used in this work has the meaning we give it here. This entire chapter serves as an initial definition, amplified by the prior and following chapters. If, after critically reading all of these chapters, the reader concludes that our views coincide with a variant of socialism, fine. As the proverb says, a rose by any other name smells as sweet.

But there is much more to be said about the relationships between green social democracy, as we define it here, and the historical variants of socialism, both those that have appeared in theoretical work and those that have existed in practice. First, though, are our initial and continuing reasons for using green social democracy for what we now identify interchangeably with the transition to a new system beyond capitalism and as the name for that system once achieved.

This use has given the authors a certain mental freedom from the undue influence of contending hegemons within the various political movements, each imitating one another in their ultimately failing efforts to achieve hegemonic control of the usually vanishing spaces they occupy. For many of the authors' generation (those politically on the left at the time of the Viet Nam war), this description will likely immediately bring to mind their more unpleasant experience in or near the various political sects. With the breakdown of capitalism, however, this experience is likely being shared by those who are in or near the more authoritarian wings of the more traditional conservative political parties. Factional, hegemonic behavior is, in each case, the main sign of their breakdown and loss of influence among the majority of people.

Our use of green social democracy also has roots in our specifically Canadian experience. It initially represented for us an appeal to the supporters of the Green and New Democratic Parties in Canada to combine the emphasis of the former on environmental issues with the emphasis of the latter on social justice issues. Today each of these parties has moved in the direction of recognizing the inseparable links between these two elements of a progressive political agenda, influenced no doubt by growing numbers of Canadians who share what is rapidly becoming, if it has not already become, a majoritarian view.

But there remains much to be said about the historical connections between the concepts we represent in this argument for a green social democracy and the theory and practice of socialism. Not the least of these connections is the theoretical work of Karl Marx and the practical activity of those socialists and communists (terms Marx used interchangeably) who have presumably endeavored to use Marx's theories as a guide.

As well, our intention from the outset has been to respond to the assertion by leading neoliberal politicians that there is no alternative (TINA) to the existing socioeconomic system, unscientifically considered by them and their fellow conservative thinkers to be a universal and eternal one. Instead we name the system, capitalism, and follow Marx by placing capitalism as a socio-economic system in its place in time and geography.

Given the need to ascertain the presence (or not) of the essential pre-conditions for the emergence of the new system and to identify that system as a development from current movements of the people -; for it can have no other origin -; we have used the term green social democracy interchangeably as a designation for the transitional period as well as for the society that this transitional period ultimately produces as a replacement for capitalism. Always, of course, with the caveat, that there can no predetermination of the endpoint. Either a new society free of class antagonisms will be the outcome of the currently maturing struggle between the two principal antagonistic classes, capital and labor, or humanity itself will disappear.

The diverse features and characteristics of the various nations and countries which share the new system cannot be detailed in advance. They remain to be developed by the released creativity of the people in circumstances that will vary across the globe and cannot be fully anticipated in advance. One thing we can say in advance: unlike the class societies that have immediately preceded it, the next system will be governed by the people themselves; the two last contending classes will disappear except in historical memory; their still living former members will join together with new generations in constituting the people.

Marx's focus on the study of an emerging industrial capitalism was the source of some of his major contributions to the social sciences, partially enumerated earlier in this work. What he did not do -; because it was neither practically necessary nor possible in his own time -; was to identify, in the then existing reach and development of capitalism, the presence of the preconditions for the transition to the new society. Although these preconditions might be inferred from logic -; and Marx may have done this (our reading of Marx is incomplete), these logical pre-conditions were not as demonstrably evident in the middle of the nineteenth century as they are today, even from the vantage point of an industrializing England heavily engaged in world trade.

Again, these pre-conditions for the transition to a system beyond capitalism, in our view, include the development of the roles of science and education as the main forces in the development of technology and labor productivity, the emergence of digital electronic control and communications technology, the emergence of a demand within all contingents of the people (otherwise separated by capitalism according to gender, age, sexual orientation, race, nation, location and any other characteristic that capitalism can use as a pretext for exclusion) for informed democratic participation in economic and social policy decision making and, enabled by these developments, a sufficient level of active global solidarity of the people linked by capitalist world trade.

Indeed, Marx's class analysis identified -; more appropriately in relation to mid-nineteenth century England -; those engaged outside the factory system in education, science, medicine and other primarily intellectual occupations as part of the "unproductive" sector of the economy, in contrast to the industrial workers within the "productive" sector, the former presumably supported from the surplus created by the exploitation of the latter. While this model might have been a more reasonable approximation to reality in the 19th century, it appears to us unsuitable for studying and understanding surplus production and distribution under capitalism in the current century.

Our discomfort with the classical Marxian method of analysis derives in part from our observations and attempts to understand present political struggles involving workers assigned by Marx to the "unproductive" sector. The active and largely successful efforts of the political representatives of Capital in reducing public expenditure on public service workers (for example, science, education and health workers) clearly has the intent of increasing the surpluses retained by Capital (directly by reducing their tax burden and indirectly by reducing the costs of the labor they do employ directly). A parallel development in the private sector has witnessed the transition of those scientific, technical and other intellectual workers, who formerly worked with greater economic independence, into employees of transnational corporations that feed directly into the production of profits for private investors. Today, these workers are increasingly to be found as employees in firms traded on the various stock exchanges, where neo-liberal policy aims to place all workers currently in the public sector or employed within worker owned and operated businesses.

Notwithstanding the continuing development since Marx of Marxian economic and political theory, theory and practice never quite converge. This problem was compounded in the twentieth century by abundant room left for further expansion of capitalism, the continuing influence of authoritarian feudal culture, especially within the "post-revolutionary societies" such as the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, and the continuing dominant influence of capitalist culture and ideology in the capitalist countries during the twentieth century. These conditions produced versions of socialism and communism that ranged from modestly reformist welfare capitalism through authoritarian self-named "socialist" societies to avowedly barbaric anti-communist societies that defined themselves as "national socialist". This is a lot of baggage for those who intend very different, even opposite, outcomes by their advocacy of socialism or communism.

Several of the most negative historical connotations born by the names socialism and especially communism might be reasons for abandoning their use in connection with contemporary movements towards a society beyond capitalism. But any name we have been able to come up with has some historical connotations that distort our intent. For example, social democracy is identified historically not only with its introduction of beneficial welfare reforms but also with those frequent occasions when its leaders abandoned the defense of working class interests to promote the conscription of working people in waging capitalist wars and to impose on working people austerity policies which only serve to enrich the capitalist class. The Greens on the other hand are yet to govern a capitalist country, so caution is needed, particularly about the influence that corporate "green capitalist" ideology might have if the theoretical development of the Greens falls seriously short of that needed for achieving a green social democratic society.


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

Creative Commons License

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.