SOVIET ENVIRONMENTALISM. THE PATH NOT TAKEN - Arran Gare

INTRODUCTION
Capitalism is a system that by its very nature must expand until it destroys the conditions of its own existence. It IS hardly surprising then, that Marxists in the Soviet Union argued that in the current environmental crisis lay the ultimate reason for replacing capitalism with socialism: As A. D. Ursal, the editor of Philosophy and the Ecological Problems of Civilization, argued:
The crisis of the environment, which is reaching extreme development almost everywhere, coincides with the last stage of the general crisis of capitalism. A conviction is growing throughout the world that only collapse of the capitalist system and victory of Socialism throughout the world will create a general, fundamental, social opportunity for rational use of natural resources and the highest degree of optimum interaction with nature. . . . Convincing evidence that socialism is a necessary condition for optimizing relations between society and nature is Socialism as it actually exists, and the policy of socialist countries in respect of the environment.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however,. all hope that Soviet communism might be transformed into a more attractive, less environmentally degraded social order than the liberal democratic societies of the West has been destroyed. The description of the modern predicament by Alvin W. Gouldner has become even more poignant: "The political uniqueness of our own era then is this; we have lived and still live through a desperate political and social malaise, while at the same time we have outlived the desperate revolutionary remedies that had once been thought to solve them.,, If this is the case, there is reason to examine the environmental failures of the Soviet Union more closely. Was it possible that things might have worked out differently? If so, does this provide any orientation for the present? In this chapter, I will show how an alternative path for Soviet society had been charted and partly implemented in the 1920s by the radical wing of Bolshevism, a path that made environmental conservation a central issue. And I will suggest that this is the path that holds most hope for the future.

SOCIALIST ENVIRONMENTALISM
One of the unfortunate legacies of Soviet communism was to leave Russians ignorant of much of their own past. In the last decades of the Soviet Union, there emerged a large environmental movement. This was more than a movement concerned with the environment. While some Soviet ideologists such as Ursal attempted to use environmental destruction in the West as an instrument of ideological struggle, and others such as Boris Komarov used this destruction to condemn communism as an inherently environmentally destructive system, some saw in the environmental crisis a common cause for all humanity. Environmental destruction throughout the world was seen by Ivan Frolov (who under Gorbachev became editor of the Communist Party's theoretical journal Kommunist) to provide justification for ending the cold war, for reorganizing societies for the benefit of their members rather than for the struggle for world supremacy, and more fundamentally, for replacing anthropocentricism with "biocentricism" or "biosphere-ocentricism." Since the overthrow of communism, new environmental movements have formed, mostly anti-Marxist either of a right-wing, extreme nationalist, and racist stripe, or of a left-wing, anarchist variety. However, none of these environmentalists appear to be aware that a strong environmental movement developed in the 1920s as one of the outcomes of the Revolution of 1917, nor of the roots of this environmentalism in the ideas of the left wing of Bolshevism; a movement that attempted to create a synthesis of socialism and anarchosyndicalism and which was aligned with Western Marxists opposed both to the control of society by markets and to the domination of society by centralized state bureaucracies.
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