[Marxism] From Lenin to Earth Day

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 22 07:03:03 MDT 2004

RWRAINEY5 at aol.com wrote:
> Just recalling an article a few years ago on the internet (forget which list 
> or site) which detailed the founding of Earth Day in 1970 as a counterweight 
> to the centenary of Lenin's birth. 

Silly me. I always thought it had something to do with fears about 
nuclear energy, toxins in the food, water and air, etc.

Ecology in the former Soviet Union

Polluted rivers, deforestation, noxious smokestack emissions and 
Chernobyl. That is what comes to mind when we think of the former Soviet 
Union. Like much of the history of the former Soviet Union, there is 
another side to the story. Just as there were political alternatives to 
Stalin, there were alternative possibilities to the way that the planned 
economy dealt with nature. Douglas R. Weiner's "Models of Nature: 
Ecology, Conservation, and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Union" (Indiana 
Univ., 1988) is, as far as I know, the most detailed account of the 
efforts of the Russian government to implement a "green" policy.

This story starts, as you would expect, with the Bolshevik revolution. 
While Lenin has the reputation of being a crude "productivist," the 
actual record was quite the opposite. Although Lenin wanted to increase 
Soviet Russia's productive power, he thought that nature had to be 

The Communist Party issued a decree "On Land" in 1918. It declared all 
forests, waters, and minerals to be the property of the state, a 
prerequisite to rational use. When the journal "Forests of the Republic" 
complained that trees were being chopped down wantonly, the Soviet 
government issued a stern decree "On Forests" at a meeting chaired by 
Lenin in May of 1918. From then on, forests would be divided into an 
exploitable sector and a protected one. The purpose of the protected 
zones would specifically be to control erosion, protect water basins and 
the "preservation of monuments of nature." This last stipulation is very 
interesting when you compare it to the damage that is about to take 
place in China as a result of the Yangtze dam. The beautiful landscapes 
which inspired Chinese artists and poets for millennia is about to 
disappear, all in the name of heightened "productiveness."

What's surprising is that the Soviet government was just as protective 
of game animals as the forests, this despite the revenue-earning 
possibilities of fur. The decree "On Hunting Seasons and the Right to 
Possess Hunting Weapons" was approved by Lenin in May 1919. It banned 
the hunting of moose and wild goats and brought the open seasons in 
spring and summer to an end. These were some of the main demands of the 
conservationists prior to the revolution and the Communists satisfied 
them completely. The rules over hunting were considered so important to 
Lenin that he took time out from deliberations over how to stop the 
White Armies in order to meet with the agronomist Podiapolski.

Podialpolski urged the creation of "zapovedniki", roughly translatable 
as "nature preserves." Russian conservationists had pressed this long 
before the revolution. In such places, there would be no shooting, 
clearing, harvesting, mowing, sowing or even the gathering of fruit. The 
argument was that nature must be left alone. These were not even 
intended to be tourist meccas. They were intended as ecological havens 
where all species, flora and fauna would maintain the "natural 
equilibrium [that] is a crucial factor in the life of nature."

Podiapolski recalls the outcome of the meeting with Lenin:

"Having asked me some questions about the military and political 
situation in the Astrakhan' region, Vladimir Ilich expressed his 
approval for all of our initiatives and in particular the one concerning 
the project for the zapovednik. He stated that the cause of conservation 
was important not only for the Astrakhan krai, but for the whole 
republic as well."

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/ecology/ussr_ecology.htm


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