6.3 Beyond capitalism to a green social democracy

What we have defined as green social democracy in the previous chapters – or something close to it (such as ecosocialism) - for many may become their definition of socialism. Others may prefer to distance themselves from socialism altogether (or from green social democracy, for that matter) because of some of their historical identifications. The important thing is that we find a common path, whatever name we give to it, but one that can unite all those committed to a just, sustainable future, to making whatever changes are necessary to get onto such a path.

For an account of the ecosocialist movement see Derek Wall (2010, Pluto Press) The Rise of the Green Left: Inside the worldwide ecosocialist movement. Wall, a leading member of the Green Party of England and Wales, describes and provides a rationale for the emergence of an ecosocialist movement world-wide, which already includes parties that participate in several national governments. Wall's arguments for the kinds of movements and political parties that are needed to counter neoliberal capitalism are, at the very least, a close approximation to the arguments made here by the present authors for a green social democracy.

Here we will focus on two historical models of socialism: authoritarian states that have described themselves as socialist and capitalist welfare-states governed by socialist parties. Not only is what we are calling "green social democracy" an emerging alternative to neoliberal capitalism, it is also and necessarily an alternative to the authoritarian and welfare-state societies that are identified by many with socialism.

The project we have made our own, identifying a viable alternative to neoliberal capitalism, is clearly and necessarily one that engages growing numbers of people across the globe and must ultimately engage everyone. We invite, encourage and welcome readers of this material to make corrections to our efforts and include the results in their own. The ultimate aim is a successful transition of humanity onto a just, sustainable path.

We believe that this path will be built on the shoulders of a long history of socialist and particularly Marxist thought and experimentation, but will include features that are decidedly and necessarily distinct from one or more of the features of the socialist models we briefly consider here. Our arguments, we believe, are consistent with the historically validated claims of socialist and particularly Marxist theory. But the result which we have called green social democracy is distinct from any of the models yet put into practice. In particular, it is not a painting constructed on a blank canvas. Rather, it incorporates what we believe are humanity's enduring achievements, including those of the prior revolutions from feudalism to capitalism.

Each of the foundational elements of green social democracy, namely democracy, science, education and imagination, has deep historical roots going back to the first societies we have evidence of and is a feature, although not a dominant feature, of all existing societies. Our revolutionary task is to make these the dominant features of society. Doing so – and only by doing so – will we, in our view, achieve a fundamentally distinct society from capitalism, one with an enduring new operating system able to take our species and the rich environment we depend upon into the future. A failure to do so, however, means the continuing degradation of human society and nature leading to the mutual extinction of both, at least in any form that could sustain human life.

Our methods of research, analysis and reporting likewise build upon historically evolved intellectual traditions, but with further modifications appropriate to current circumstances. Some of these modifications take advantage of advances in communications technology. Others are in the realms of philosophy, economics, cultural change, political science and social policy. All are identified and argued for in the previous chapters, presenting the philosophical, economic, cultural, and strategic perspectives that ground green social democracy. But brief identification (as a reminder) with a couple of new illustrations of some of the more consequential modifications to more traditional methods may be in order here (or the reader may choose to skip over this brief re-statement and pick up with our new arguments, starting with section 6.4).

Method of research and reporting. To facilitate the social construction, development and sharing of knowledge, an iterative method of writing and reporting has been elected. The reader is invited to treat this latest iteration as a draft for further development. Permission to further develop this work, including modify or abandon some of the ideas and expressions this work contains, will be given in writing by the authors when the purpose is a shared one. The authors, however, remain responsible for the versions already authorised until they have been modified by others, but credit for the results is shared with all the known and unknown people who have contributed. The result is intended for the universal commons, as we have argued should become the case with all intellectual production.

For the purposes indicated here, the author of this work is any one of Charles Posa McFadden, Karen Doris Howell McFadden or Scott Cameron McFadden or persons designated by any one of them. While the creative commonwealth license attached to the publication of this work may be more restrictive than suggested here, the reader or organization wishing to utilize material from this work in ways that might violate the license is invited to contact the authors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request permission to do so, which will be granted when the result would advance the cause of a green social democracy.

Approach to the development of social policy. While science informs the development of social policies, these are shaped by our world view, including ethical purposes and beliefs. These, of course, are elements of philosophy. Distinct from science, our beliefs may be judged by their efficacy in enabling us to cope with our various tasks, including research tasks, but not as objective truth. Validated claims to objective truth, cumulatively constituting the content of science, are judged on the basis of evidence, using the standard of consensus within the community of scientists. With those distinctions between philosophy and science, the following theses, elaborated with examples in chapter two, summarize the world view we have applied to policy analysis and development.

Thesis 1. The ethical filter to be applied to investment in science and its application through technology to society is that it serve the aims of a just, sustainable society and the conservation of nature.

Thesis 2. Continuing development of technology is a necessary adaptation to the conditions, especially problems, created by past technological development, as well as a source of advances in labor productivity. Science is today the principal source of that development.

Thesis 3. The unity of the labor, peace, environmental and social justice movements is a necessary condition for any of these movements to achieve their goals. For that, each must make a more just distribution of income and wealth part of their agenda, sufficient to ensure that all have basic material security as well as the security of a peaceful, just, environmentally healthy future.

Thesis 4. Social policy determination on a wide range of social policy issues can achieve optimal solutions in the form of temporal reconciliation of opposing human needs through democratic decision making.

Thesis 5. Globalization and localization are opposing but incontrovertible geopolitical trends.

Thesis 6. Cooperation and competition are essential but conflicting characteristics of human individual and social behaviour.

Thesis 7. Homogenization and diversity are essential but conflicting outcomes of development in human society.

Thesis 8. Appropriation and conservation of nature are conflicting but essential aims of human activity.

Thesis 9. Centralization and decentralization of economic, social and political power are essential although conflicting features of development.

Thesis 10. Validity and reliability are essential but conflicting measures of efficiency in meeting the challenges of development.

For many readers, this last thesis may require more explanation than we have yet given. Reliability refers to the consistency between two measures of the same performance. Validity refers to the correspondence between the measure and the value implied by or claimed for the measurement. In our theoretical and cultural perspectives, we develop examples from the field of education. In addition to the examples used in those chapters, the following might be helpful. A machine-markable multiple choice test for evaluating a person's ability to sing, say an opera, produces a highly replicable result. It seems fair. Two different marking machines give the same result. A more valid measure, however, would be an expert panel's judgement of the person's performance. But this latter would necessarily sacrifice reliability. Two different panels are more likely to give different results than two machine-markable tests. This relationship between reliability and validity is also fundamental to social systems as a whole, and not just their cultural/educational sub-systems. A systematic limitation of capitalism is its predisposition for reliable measures of performance over valid ones. For example, IQ tests of "intelligence" and equivalent measures are needed for the reproduction of the social class relationships characteristic of capitalism. GDP or equivalent measures are needed for the measure (i.e. encouragement) of the busy-ness needed for the continuity of capitalism (because busy-ness is the condition for the production of profits). One justification for these measures (IQ and GDP) is their reliability. Repeated tests/measurements of the same phenomenon give the same or nearly the same numerical result. Masked by this emphasis, however, is the lack of validity of either measure. The first supports the unscientific view that there is only a single kind of intelligence, that capable of being measured by an IQ test. The second suggests that the meaningful measure of the results of economic activity is the measure of its total activity, that is, its busy-ness. But this disregards whether the busy-ness is wasteful, destructive or produces results that correspond to the health, welfare and development of people, whose labor is essential to this economic activity, and to the sustainability of the environment on which all economic activity depends.

Theses 5 through 9 are expressions of a dynamic (dialectical) relationship between two seeming opposites. Policy choices are typical examples. In Marxist literature, the opposing interests of capital (the capitalist class) and labor (the working class) is the most common example, in which the resolution of the conflict between the two opposing forces would be a new socio-economic system, in which this relationship is negated (no longer has meaning). In our writing on economics, this resolution is a non-market economic system (which can be understood as the extension of the kind of economic relationships that exist outside the capitalist market place when people provide goods and services to each other without expectation of an equivalent exchange/reward or any exchange at all, as in typical aid of one family member to another or volunteer community work).

Within a given economic system, however, there is an optimal policy choice between the two opposing interests – the one that best serves the stability/functioning of that system. Not all opposing descriptors, however, represent such a dialectical relationship. Moral choices, for example, between humane behavior and barbarism, are not dialectical relationships; they are moral choices, either/or. Readers who have not read or understood the presentation of these ideas should refer back to chapter two, which provides examples for each thesis of the dialectical relationship involved, and chapter four, which provides examples of some of the moral choices that underpin what we have called green social democracy.

These 10 theses, as well as the characteristics ascribed to the period of transition to a green social democracy, are further used in this chapter to evaluate selected historical and current examples of socialist theory and practice. Again, the purposes of this chapter, critiquing historical and current examples of socialism, include placing green social democracy in historical perspective, focussing on attempts to build alternatives to capitalism, and identifying some of the potential obstacles that will likely need to be overcome or avoided if we are to finally succeed in moving beyond capitalism and along a path to a more just, sustainable future.

The most serious obstacles to our efforts to move forward are likely to be cultural habits carried forward from the present neoliberal stage of capitalist culture, probably the most destructive period in all of human history with respect to the need to conserve our home in nature and maintain our essential commitment to the social values of cooperation and collaboration. Many of the arguments below address these and other potential obstacles. These and other arguments may serve as a contribution to placing the period we are now entering into historical perspective. Conjectures about the future, of course, are speculative. But we should endeavour to learn as much from the past as we can, especially by identifying the mistaken directions we should try to avoid.

The future, of course, including any transition to a new social system, will be fashioned by billions of participants in the course of a prolonged period of global struggle and social transformation. We can reasonably expect the following to characterize the transition from neoliberal capitalism to what we are calling "green social democracy", in no particular order of importance, to be achieved more or less concurrently:

  1. The emergence and eventually dominant role of public banking as an enabler of democratic control over the economy, including the conservative use of natural resources as the guarantee of the rights of the young to a future;
  2. Worker democratic stewardship and management of an increasing proportion of the businesses operating in the market economy (defined as the exchange of goods and services using money as a medium of exchange);
  3. A reversal of the neoliberal era trend towards increasing concentration of income, wealth, economic power and associated political power to a trend towards an increasingly equitable distribution of income, wealth, economic power and corresponding political power;
  4. A reversal of the trend to increasing privatization of the commons (including privatization of the natural resources of air, land and water and the human-created structures and technologies we have inherited from past human endeavor) to a trend towards restoration and gradual expansion of the commons and corresponding substitution of stewardship responsibilities and usufruct rights for traditional capitalist property rights; and
  5. A continual growth in the non-market economy (defined as the voluntary exchange of goods and services, without money as a medium of exchange) as a consequence of translating increasing labor productivity in the market economy to increasing free time for working people to spend on their own development and in making voluntary contributions to others (as parents, relatives and friends and through voluntary organizations and activities).

As a clarification of item 4, we offer Derek Wall's definition of usufruct rights that can be found on page 16 of the work cited: "[The Commons] has an inbuilt ecological principle based on the concept of usufruct, that is, access to a resource is granted only if the resource is left in as good a form as it was when first found. By extending this concept of usufruct, we can provide the basis of an ecological society."

In addition to the changes listed there will, of course, necessarily also need to be changes in governmental practices and institutions, transitioning from more authoritarian, exclusive practices and institutions to more inclusive, democratic ones. It is uncertain, to the present authors at least, whether these changes might be introduced cumulatively over a period of time or whether they are more likely to be introduced abruptly in a period of political-economic crisis. It is highly probable that the dominant political-economic elite will use its economic power to control politics, including repressive use of security forces to the extent that it is able. Individual, minor political reforms are likely to be undone so long as the economic power remains as highly concentrated as is presently the case.

It is more likely that lasting, substantive political changes will be made during an economic crisis, but only if the ruling political-economic elite is challenged and defeated morally and politically by a well-organized, united opposition determined and able to assume the reins of government and lead the people to make immediate and decisive changes in key governmental and economic institutions. Decisive changes might include a combination of reducing concentrated economic power, for example, the nationalization of failing banks, and constitutional changes that present powerful obstacles to the use of economic power to control politics, for example, campaign finance reforms with teeth, including penalties that equate to a transfer of economic power away from the violators of the new or existing electoral laws.

Such an abrupt political change has usually been designated by historians as a revolution (for example, the American Revolution and the two Russian Revolutions). We view a genuine revolution, however, as a change in all the elements of a system, political, economic and cultural, usually requiring an extensive transitional period. An abrupt political change, nonetheless, would likely open the floodgates to more rapid change in the economic system and would facilitate more rapid cultural development – as all past revolutions appear to have done.

But there is still much to be done before the necessary political changes are likely to succeed. Many of these changes are cultural. More than at any prior time in human history, we are today in a rush to make these cultural changes in time for the natural environment and human life to be preserved for any kind of future. We will need to shed the habit of borrowing from the authoritarian models that are our inheritance from feudalism, capitalism and the historical examples of so-called socialism and replace them with the most progressive examples of scientific, educational and democratic practice. It is to these matters that we now turn our attention for the remainder of this chapter.

Parenthetically we note that the Fabian Society, historically associated with the British Labour Party, has apparently redefined its aim as a green social democracy (Michael Jacobs, "Green social democracy" 21 January 2013, http://fabians.org.uk/category/fabian-essays/ ). It would be encouraging to believe that our arguments merely flesh out the barebones offered in the article by Jacobs, but it is unfortunately not likely that the Fabian Society has in mind – at least not yet - all the features we argue are necessary for an enduring systemic change from contemporary capitalism to a society that is both just and environmentally sustainable.

Welcome!

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

NEW & REVISED

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

OPINION

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

REVIEWS

Charles McFadden, 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.

US CORNER

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

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

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

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

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

HISTORY

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

LABOR

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.