SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

The Politics of Ecosocialism in an Age of Climate Emergency: Towards A Utopian Realist Approach

Dr. Michael J. Albert

Date: 2 December 2020Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 2 December 2020Time: 4:30 PM


Type of Event: 0

Abstract As evidence accumulates that the pursuit of endless capital accumulation is incompatible with climate and earth system stabilization, the need to explore alternative political-economic trajectories becomes more urgent. The concept of “ecosocialism” has become increasingly prominent among anti-capitalist movements as an umbrella term for describing such alternatives, which is based on three core aims: 1) to redesign economies in order to satisfy use-values rather than accumulate exchange-value in a manner that does not transgress planetary boundaries; 2) to create new forms of democratic planning that shape and constrain (without fully abolishing) local and global markets; and 3) to pursue “contraction and convergence” between the per capita consumption levels of the global north and south. Ecological Marxists, social ecologists, degrowth scholars, and post-growth economists have been at the forefront of developing the ecological critique of capitalism and formulating the theoretical principles of eco-socialist alternatives. However, the affirmative (rather than merely critical) project of envisioning alternatives remains under-developed and beset by an “idealist” or utopian approach that fails to ground its solutions in existing material realities and trends. I will argue that while idealism is inescapable and necessary, this must be balanced by a “utopian realist” approach that conceives global ecosocialism as a messy and geographically uneven process involving conflict, trade-offs, and negotiation with the realities of power politics.

Bio: Michael J. Albert is a lecturer in International Relations working at the intersection of International Relations, Political Theory, and Sustainability Studies. His dissertation, which will soon be formulated into a book project, develops a theoretical framework drawing from complex systems theory and Marxist political economy to map the converging crises of the 21st century – in particular the crises of global capitalism, energy, and the earth system – and illuminate possibilities for world system transformation in the coming decades. His future work will investigate counter-hegemonic movements – including degrowth, ecosocialism, transition towns, solidarity economies, and peasant-based agroecology movements – and consider their potential for creating alternative political economies as the crises of global capitalism and the earth system intensify.

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