[Marxism] Trotsky, Bukharin, and the Eco-Modernists | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 17 08:29:42 MDT 2019

Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes 
nothing “on faith,” is actually able to cut down mountains and move 
them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for 
railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably 
larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man 
will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will 
earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he 
will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according 
to his own taste. We have not the slightest fear that this taste will be 

– Leon Trotsky, “Literature and Revolution” (1924)

For some Trotskyist groups, these words have been interpreted as a green 
light to support all sorts of ecomodernist schemas. For those unfamiliar 
with the term, it simply means using technology, often of dubious value, 
to ward off environmental crisis.

For example, the Socialist Workers Party, when it was still tethered to 
the planet Earth, was a strong supporter of Green values but after 
becoming unmoored it began to publish articles that asserted: “Science 
and technology — which are developed and used by social labor — have 
established the knowledge and the means to lessen the burdens and 
dangers of work, to advance the quality of life, and to conserve and 
improve the earth’s patrimony.”  These abstractions have meant in the 
concrete supporting GMO: “The latest focus of middle-class hysteria in 
face of the progress of science and technology is the campaign against 
foods that have been cultivated from seeds that have undergone a 
transplant of a strand of genetic material, DNA, from a different plant 
species–so-called transgenic organisms, or Genetically Modified 
Organisms (GMOs).”

A split from the SWP, the Spartacist League is just as gung-ho. In a 
diatribe against ecosocialist scholar and Monthly Review editor John 
Bellamy Foster, they position themselves as global warming skeptics: 
“Current climate change may or may not pose a sustained, long-term 
threat to human society.” Their answer is very much in the spirit of the 
Trotsky quote above: “Instead, the proletariat must expropriate 
capitalist industry and put it at the service of society as a whole.” It 
turns out that Indian Point et al would be put at the service of society 
based on an article titled “Greens’ Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Amnesties 

Of course, the granddaddy of this kind of crude productivism is the cult 
around Spiked Online that while correctly perceived today as a 
contrarian and libertarian outlet. But its roots are in the Trotskyist 
Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain that defended GMO, 
nuclear power, DDT, etc. using Trotsky’s rhetoric. Today, there’s 
nothing to distinguish it from Donald Trump’s Department of Energy.

As it happens, Trotsky’s business about moving mountains through 
technology serves as the epigraph to Jacobin’s special issue on 
environmentalism that is permeated by ecomodernist themes. Among them is 
an article by Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski titled “Planning the 
Good Anthropocene” that shares an affection for nuclear energy with the 
nutty sects listed above. They reason: “From a system-wide perspective, 
nuclear power still represents the cheapest option thanks to its mammoth 
energy density. It also boasts the fewest deaths per terawatt-hour and a 
low carbon footprint.” Their techno-optimism rivals that of Steven 
Pinker’s: “We patched our deteriorating ozone layer; we returned wolf 
populations and the forests they inhabit to central Europe; we relegated 
the infamous London fog of Dickens, Holmes, and Hitchcock to fiction, 
though coal particulates still choke Beijing and Shanghai.” As it 
happens, China is reducing coal particulates by displacing them 
geographically. The IEEFA, an energy think-tank, reported that a quarter 
of coal plants in the planning stage or under construction outside China 
are backed by Chinese state-owned financial institutions and corporations.


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