Unfortunately, there are also serious problems in Heron’s anti-imperialism, as in those of the Third Worldist strand of ecological marxism more broadly. While rejecting the idea that the working class in imperialist countries is not exploited, Heron endorses theories of imperialism whose handling of unequal exchange and super-exploitation is vulnerable to critique.11See Charlie Post, “Explaining Imperialism Today,” forthcoming in Spectre. Heron’s contention that workers in the core “benefit from a capitalist system that pits them against their peripheral counterparts” is partially true but inadequate. Access to imported beef, coffee, and other products of ecologically unequal exchange is a reality, but higher profits derived from the operations of imperialism (or anything else) never automatically trickle down into higher wages; the balance of class power is crucial in determining wage levels. For decades this balance has been tilting further away from labour on a global scale as capitalist competition in a world economy organized in part by imperialist relations has intensified. The dispossession of more peasants and other independent producers, the elimination of many relatively-better jobs in both the private and public sectors, and the weakening of welfare state programs as military spending grows have all increased competition among people seeking work for wages. War, oppression, and ecological crisis, all of which are fuelled by imperialism, have also swelled the ranks of people desperate for paid work, whether in the South or, through migration, in the North. At the same time policy changes and technological development have also reduced barriers to capitalists moving the production of many goods and some services from imperialist to imperialized countries. People in imperialist states are encouraged to identify with “their” imperialism, binding workers to their rulers and exploiters. Thus in various ways the working class in imperialist countries loses more than it benefits from imperialism.12Here I build on Charles Post, “Exploring Working-Class Consciousness: A Critique of the Theory of the ‘Labour Aristocracy,’” Historical Materialism 18 (2010), 24-25.
How ecosocialists understand imperialism has clear political consequences for how they approach movement organizing, their stance to states in the imperialist chain that descends from the US to the UK, Germany, France and China to lesser imperialist powers including Canada and Russia, and their orientation to imperialized states.13For a promising start to thinking about imperialism as a feature of contemporary capitalism, see Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber, “Complex Stratification in the World System: Capitalist Totality and Geopolitical Fragmentation,” Science and Society (84.1), 2020. Heron is right to call for a politics that can “do the difficult work of developing strategies of struggle and ecological transition that meet the needs of the exploited and oppressed in the Global North in ways that are compatible with demands for colonial reparations, technology transfers, food sovereignty, land back, the lifting of sanctions, the end of occupations and the atmospheric space to develop freely and independently.” Yet ecological marxism must also avoid the pitfalls of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” politics to which Third Worldism often succumbs.14For example, see Simon Pirani, “China’s C02 Emissions are Soaring. But in Monthly Review’s World They are ‘Flattening,’” https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2021/04/13/chinas-co2-emissions-are-soaring-but-in-monthly-reviews-world-they-are-flattening/; David Camfield, “Building Eco-Socialism: A Review of Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal”, https://www.tempestmag.org/2021/07/building-eco-socialism/; and, more broadly, Barnaby Raine, “Left Fukuyamaism: Politics in Tragic Times,” https://salvage.zone/left-fukuyamaism-politics-in-tragic-times/ and John Clarke, “When My Enemy’s Enemy is Not My Friend: Campism in Dangerous Times,” Spectre 5 (2022).
Huber’s critique of “utopianism” in today’s anti-capitalist ecological thought is important but entirely fails to reckon with a scientific truth that Heron puts plainly: “the Global North’s energy and resource use cannot be extended to the rest of the world without exceeding the planet’s biophysical limits.” Climate Change as Class War generally ignores the question of how a just and rapid global transition from fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions could be carried out. This would have to entail imperialized countries using more energy to meet people’s needs as they simultaneously decarbonized, and consequently a reduction in energy demand within advanced capitalist countries. For marxists to take ecology as seriously as the crisis demands, we must grapple with the findings of Earth System science and think through the implications for immediate climate justice demands and for our global vision of ecosocialism. Materialists ought not to ignore the biophysical limits often theorized as planetary boundaries, which, as Ian Angus helpfully puts it, “can be compared to guard rails on mountain roads, which are positioned to prevent drivers from reaching the edge, not on the edge itself.”15Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (New York: Monthly Review Press), 74.
At stake here is nothing less than how well marxist analyses of ecological crisis and political responses to it measure up to scientific knowledge of that crisis, no matter how unsettling some of its implications may be for some people in the advanced capitalist countries.
Ecological marxism cannot stop at analyzing the unfolding catastrophe; it must also guide efforts to work towards a transition to ecosocialism. As I hinted above, a great strength of Huber’s approach is its argument for a class-struggle strategy for ecosocialism based on “analysis of the concrete class relationships that both inhibit… transformations or might bring them about” as an alternative to utopian leaps into abstraction when it comes to how transformation could be achieved. His insistence that “we need a climate politics that aims outward, beyond the already converted – towards the exploited and atomized working class” is vitally important. Although Heron agrees in general – while criticizing Huber’s “false choice” between working-class politics and anti-imperialism – the Third Worldist strand of ecological marxism has yet to produce a grounded political strategy like the one that Huber proposes for people in the US in Climate Change as Class War.