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郇庆治:作为转型政治的社会主义生态文明

Socialist Eco-civilization as a Transformative Politics

Abstract: The key to further elucidate and enrich the academic concept or discourse of “socialist eco-civilization” lies in that it cannot be simplified or falsified in reality as a public policy of ecological environment governance, but be separated from the grander and more important background and context of “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics” and “socialist theory with Chinese characteristics”. More specifically, the discourse and politics of “socialist eco-civilization”, compared with various forms of “eco-centrism” or “eco-capitalism”, can(or should) represent the essence or goal of contemporary China’s eco-civilization construction strategy. Therefore, the theory of “social-ecological transformation”(SET) advocated and promoted by the “green-left” academic circles in Europe and America, as well as other radical transformation theories, may not eventually lead to a “great transformation” or even a “socialist transformation” of contemporary capitalist society, but it does provide us some enlightenments on methodology(discourse) and politics of constructing a socialist eco-civilization in China today.

Key words: Socialist eco-civilization, Transformative politics, Eco-Marxism, Social- ecological transformation, Green-left

 
 
 
 
 

Regardless of its future possibility as an actual practice or a theoretical construct, constructing a socialist eco-civilization in the context of contemporary China is an issue worthy of more systematic and in-depth exploration(Guo et al. 2018). The working report to the 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China(hereinafter referred to as CPC) in 2017 emphasized the concept of “the viewpoint of socialist eco-civilization” once again, indicating that the development of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics politically means or points to a socialist vision of eco-civilization rather than an eco-capitalist one. That is to say, what has gradually become a consensus of the public is that concrete ecological environment problems as well as their solution in reality have obvious connotations of political ideology and societal holistic change, of which socialist or non-socialist politics will play a crucial part. Thus, following with an academically strict or re-defined understanding of “socialist eco-civilization”, which refers to a conscious combination of socialist politics and ecological sustainability rather than just a repetition of “eco-civilization construction” mainly as a national strategy or public policy(Huan 2016), this paper will start with analyzing the international context of “transformation discourse” for “socialist eco-civilization” as a Chinese discourse of green change and politics, and then try to clarify its implications of environmental political philosophy or transformative politics based on the reality of today’s China. All in all, in the author’s point of view, there is a good reason to expect that socialist eco-civilization discourse and politics in China today is, or should be, an integral or leading part of the emerging green-left trend of Social-Ecological Transformation.

 

TRANSFORMATION, TRANSFORMATION DISCOURSE AND SET

The concept of transformation or transition in political philosophy can not only refer to the fundamental changes in the social form of a society(including human society itself), but also refer to the periodic or partial changes of the society under the same social form. And the yardsticks to measure such periodic or partial changes are also extremely diverse, such as the economic and technological basis of society, the support system of energy resources, the manner of political domination and social governance, the mode of mass life and consumption, etc.. In this sense, transformation is a narrative or explanatory concept, aiming at more clearly demonstrating the non-essential changes that society has taken or is taking place, especially those “societal” rather than just “social” or “sociological” changes(Liu 2014; Zhang 1993). Moreover, as a concept of political philosophy, “transformation” more emphasizes the political implications of holistic or significant changes in the sense of the influence of social forms. Accordingly, its description, interpretation or judgment of transformational practice (facts) at certain social levels or fields are often based on quite different political ideology or philosophical standpoint. For example, to the transition of handicraft workshop technology system to machine industry technology system at the beginning of modern society and the on-going transition of fossil fuel energy system to renewable energy system, conservatism, liberalism, socialism and ecologism will describe the processes and judge the economic and social consequences in a very different way.

 

The discourse of transformation or transformative discourse in political philosophy is obviously different from the transformation itself as established fact or actual practice, but it is undoubtedly constructed basing on the definition, classification and theoretical analysis of various transformation in reality(Degenhardt 2018). In particular, it should be pointed out that, like the transformation discourses which were not uncommon before, the recent wave of international transformation discourse, which has sprouted and rapidly become quite popular since the economic crisis of 2008-2010, is also deeply embedded in the overall institutional environment and cultural basis of capitalist countries in Europe and the United States. In other words, the essence of transformation discourse or transformative discourse under the dominant context of Europe and the United States is a discourse about the stage change or partial change of contemporary capitalist society. Correspondingly, on the one hand, the current transformation discourse or transformative discourse as a discourse theory cluster is highly heterogeneous or politically pluralistic. On the other hand, the most important impetus for the re-emergence of transformation discourse around 2010 lies in going into a cul-de-sac of the deep-rooted mode of modernization development(mainly industrialization and urbanization) or even this concept itself in the European and American countries. Thus, a stage change or transformation of capitalist society has increasingly become a broad consensus.

 

The new wave of discursive debates on transformation has two obvious characteristics: one is that the transformation they are dealing with or discussing is no longer only factual retrospective or explanatory, which is “backward-looking”, but also prospective or normative, which is “forward-looking”. Correspondingly, to a considerable extent, a transformation discourse will become an influential force in the future process of transformation, that is, a part of the “transformation politics” in reality. The other is that, the transformation they are dealing with or discussing also has an unprecedented profundity or characteristics of endogenous challenge response. If we say that capitalist societies(institutional systems) in Europe and the United States have been confronted with predicaments in the areas of capital accumulation, economic and technological means, political domination and social governance tools, which have been got rid of through enlargement of capital types, geographical expansion, innovation of economic management and operation and improvement of democratic politics. The method realizes the stage change of capitalist society itself instead of going to collapse. Then, the financial and economic turbulence of the 2010s highlights a predicament of “expansionary modernity” itself as the foundation of capitalist social system and culture and the multiple crises caused by it(Baum 2017; Sarkar 2012). Correspondingly, one of the core questions raised by it is: Can a capitalist society based on capital expansion or proliferation move towards a green society with sustainable development? Or using the language of philosophy, can modernity in a capitalist society be turned into self-reflective?

 

It can be said that the above background or context calls for the emergence and rapid development of a radical or “green-left” transformation discourse. One of the most noteworthy works is Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (1944). Polanyi andThe Great Transformation contribute to the construction of a “green-left” transformation discourse. The analysis of the history and development of modern capitalism has both explanatory and deconstructive aspects, and its deconstructive significance lies in highlighting and emphasizing the non-natural nature of contemporary capitalist economy and politics and the necessity and possibility of change, which he even mentioned the prospect of a “socialist society”(“rebuilding the social homeland”) as a substitute for it(Polanyi 1944:257). For example, the concept of the “second great transformation” in today’s transformation discourse(Schulze 2003; WBGU 2011; Thomasberger 2012-2013), which emphasizes the significance and implication of civilizational innovation in the transformation of contemporary capitalist society, obviously comes directly from Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. Of course, at least as important as The Great Transformation is Marx’s Capital and other related works, although “substitution” or “revolution” rather than “transformation” is the right term to accurately express his position on capitalist society and its future. From Marx’s point of view, there is no doubt that the integrity of capitalist society and the characteristics of gradual change are all indisputable, but more importantly, it is the basic contradiction and its evolution which determine the historical inevitability and realistic progress of capitalist society being replaced by the communist society(Marx and Engel 2009, vol. 2:185 and vol. 7:928-929). The relevance or contribution of Marx and his related writings to the construction of a “green-left” transformation discourse lies in that the vision of communist society and its transition process, characterized by distinct qualitative changes or breaks, are still an unavoidable benchmark or coordinate reference for contemporary capitalist society and its stage transitions, but nothing. It is difficult to say that the discourse of transformation, which intentionally or unintentionally avoids this vision itself, is really radical.

 

It is under the above background that the theory of “social-ecological transformation” which has emerged and gradually formed in European and American academic circles in recent years has become a representative “green-left” discourse of transformation (Brand and Wissen 2017; Görg et al. 2017; Bruckmeier 2016). Generally speaking, the “social-ecological transformation” discourse or theory contains two interrelated basic points of view. First, it is a critical response to the Neo-liberal green politics or policies advocated by capitalist countries in Europe and the United States and the international community led by them. In its view, the “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism” discourse, consisting of different terms such as natural(eco-) capital, eco-modernization, green growth or green economy, is after all only a crisis response or capital regulation strategy of contemporary capitalist countries and their governments in Europe and the United States. In this way, they wish to get rid of the unsustainable crisis or challenge faced by the traditional mode of capital proliferation and political domination. In terms of the practical feasibility of this idea or strategy, according to Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen’s analysis(2017; 2013; 2012), at least a few European and American countries can manage to do this in a world of increasingly economic and political integration. But just as the primary purpose of capitalist phased transformations in the past is to continue (or accelerate) capital proliferation and maintain social and political domination, so is the ecologicalization transformation of today. This means that whether it is the virtual capitalization of natural ecology or the promotion of environmentally friendly economy and governance, it will be a selective process based on the criterion or logic of capital proliferation. Therefore, the theory of “social-ecological transformation” holds that the fundamental defects or drawbacks of dominant or “light-green” transformation discourses are in the sense of transformation strength and scope: only focusing on the innovation of dominant elements or levels in energy, technology or economic operation supervision, while ignoring or avoiding the structural reconstruction in the sense of the whole society(Brand 2016a). And unsurprisingly, it is still a nationalist or regionalist transformation thinking or strategic pursuit and it is very difficult to form a joint force of historic change at the transnational level, not to mention the global level. The politics of international climate change response and sustainable development since the 1990s have clearly demonstrated this.

 

Secondly, it is a kind of “green-left” political conception based on the reality of European and American countries for a post-capitalist society or civilizational era. The reason why the theory of “social-ecological transformation” can be called a radical green transformation discourse lies not only in its sharp criticism of Neo-liberal green discourse or “green capitalism”, but also in its bolder imagination of the scope and intensity of the transformation of capitalist society. In its view, the social and ecological transformation under the banner of ecological environment crisis response should be a comprehensive process of change, taking into account both social justice and ecological sustainability. Any political decision or policy measure devoted to solving the ecological environment problem must give full consideration or priority to the principle requirements at the level of social justice, and the fuller realization of the principle requirements at the level of social justice should also contribute to the implementation of those political decisions or policy measures to solve the ecological environment problem. Obviously, this understanding of the objectives and approaches of contemporary capitalism’s societal transformation is very close to the theoretical analysis of eco-Marxism or eco-socialism in Europe and America, that is, a “green (ecological) socialism”, though it may prefer to call itself “critical political ecology” (Brand 2016b). Similarly, it should not be overlooked that the transformation vision and strategy conceived by the theory of “social-ecological transformation” are geared to the whole capitalist world in Europe and the United States or globally. That is to say, because all kinds of transformation discourses and strategies of “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism” have been devoted to or content with the local or phased reform goals and pursuits of contemporary capitalist society from the very beginning, they will not challenge to change the capitalist social and economic institutional framework and its cultural conceptual basis, unless these discourses and strategies encounter strong resistance from the public of a wider range to the whole world, affected by the consequences of social injustice and ecological unsustainability. In other words, the essence of “social-ecological transformation” politics lies in that it should be, and must be, cross-regional, transnational or global, which means a kind of “red-green” integration and global restructuring of contemporary left-wing politics, gradually shaping a social change subject of “global transformation left”(Brand 2016c).

 

Therefore, if it is not too entangled in the expression of concepts and terms in a strict sense, then the theory of “social-ecological transformation” is actually a combination of contemporary European socialist politics and ecological thinking. Its core meaning is that the incorporation of ecological environment issues within the framework of socialist theory and politics will become a major historical opportunity for the self-innovation of contemporary socialist movement, “striving to realize the transformation of current social relations into a peaceful and just society”(EL 2004). In other words, today’s socialist parties and politics must be both “red” and “green”, or “red-green”(EL 2016; PES 2010; EGP 2009).

 

SOCIALIST ECO-CIVILIZATION IN CONTEMPORARY CHINESE CONTEXT

The international context of transformation discourse discussed above, especially the theory of SET, is helpful for the understanding and elucidation of “socialist eco-civilization” discourse and politics in China today. On the one hand, the radical or “green-left” transformation discourse represented by SET is not only an international or global trend of thought and movement limited to European and American countries, such as “Beyond Development” theory in Latin America and “Radical Democracy Theory” in India(Lang and Mokrani 2013; Kothari et al. 2014). Obviously, the concept of “socialist eco-civilization” can also be roughly classified as part of this international or global “green-left” trend. Its basic rationale is that China’s socialist eco-civilization construction should not only focus on solving a series of serious ecological environment problems accumulated in the process of economic and social modernization, but also consciously promote and realize the dual unity of “sustainability and modernity” and “ecologism and socialism” in this process(Huan 2009; Pan 2006; Xie 1992). That is to say, as the goal of constructing a socialist eco-civilization, ecological sustainability or ecologism will also be a kind of socialism that has realized ecological negation and transcendence of both “modernity” and “capitalism”, which will be a real and new green society. Therefore, any real progress in constructing a socialist eco-civilization in contemporary China cannot be placed outside the international or global “green-left” change process(that is, the broad world socialist movement), at the same time, it is the important embodiment and support of this “green-left” change process.

 

On the other hand, unlike the “green-left” parties and politics in European and American countries, constructing socialist eco-civilization in China today is carried out under the overall background and context in which the socialist institutional framework and cultural basis are basically established. That is to say, constructing socialist eco-civilization is more embodied as part of the overall process of “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics” in todays’ China, or the stage development or self-transformation of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”(Liu 2009; Chen 2008). Among many factors, as the ruling party, the CPC’s political ideology greening and political leadership are of vital importance(Liu 2012; Zhang 2009). Firstly, the gradual shaping or adopting of the discourse and politics of constructing a socialist eco-civilization is a long process of greening for CPC’s political ideology. From the original idea of “building up the country diligently and frugally”, to the “basic state policy of environmental protection” established since the reform and opening up in the late 1970s, to the “sustainable development strategy” formulated and implemented in the early 1990s(Huan 2019; Qin 2014), CPC has gradually evolved into a “green-left” ruling party. The 17th National Congress held in 2007, which first included the national strategy of eco-civilization construction in the working report to the Congress and the revised Party Statute, is the most important landmark node so far, and the greening process itself is still in progress. Secondly, CPC is undoubtedly the major political leading force of constructing a socialist eco-civilization in China today. For this target, the “Five-in-One” overall layout of socialist modernization established by the 18th National Congress in 2012 is both in the sense of strategic path and overall goal. The 19th National Congress held in 2017 not only explicitly placed eco-civilization construction strategy under the grand theoretical system of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era”, but also made a “three-step” medium- and long-term plan for the goal of eco-civilization construction until the middle of this century, that is, to “fight to defend the blue of our skies”(pre-2020), “substantial improvement of ecological environment and basic realization of the goal of beautiful China”(2020-2035) and “overall improvement of eco-civilization”(2035-2049)(Xi 2017). This fully demonstrates that constructing socialist eco-civilization has become a clear political goal and a normalized issue policy(or task) of CPC in governing the country.

 

Therefore, if we comprehensively understand the contemporary China’s background and context of “socialist modernization construction with Chinese characteristics”, the complete meaning of the concept of “socialist eco-civilization” is not difficult to clarify. In short, China’s efforts for eco-civilization construction must be both ecologically progressive or civilizational and politically socialism-oriented(Zhang 2016; Wang 2011). Specifically, the “viewpoint of socialist eco-civilization”, the “modernization of harmonious coexistence between man and nature” and “green development” emphasized in the working report to the 19th National Congress are in fact respective expressions of “socialist modernization development with Chinese characteristics”, which is pursued by contemporary China as a whole, and these three aspects promote each other and they are conditional on each. That is to say, these three terms of “socialist eco-civilization”, “harmonious coexistence between man and nature” and “green development” are secondary descriptions or expressions of the umbrella philosophical concept of “eco-civilization and its construction”(Huan 2018a). Accordingly, more specific measures to build an eco-civilization system, or the innovations in the sense of environmental economic policies and ecological environment administrative supervision means, should be subject to these secondary concepts and accept the “political correctness” test of them. For example, the formulation and implementation of an environmental economic policy, whether it is a new energy consumption subsidy or an ecological environment tax, must conform to the principle of harmonious coexistence between man and nature, or being “green”, and the purpose and direction of socialism.

 

But it must be seen that, on the one hand, the system of eco-civilization discourse in today’s China is to a large extent built around the eco-civilization construction policy and its implementation from top to bottom, so it has a strong representation of policy discourse system. And as a policy discourse, it will be more vulnerable to the international discursive system of environmental protection and governance dominated by European and American countries. Since the early 1970s, European and American countries have been dealing with ecological environment problems or crises comprehensively. As a result, they have indeed achieved some practical and/or local improvements, and have also accumulated quite a lot of useful experiences in economic and technological innovation, environmental rule of law and administrative supervision and public participation in social and political affairs. It is logical that these achievements and experiences have gradually become the institutional template and discursive norms of international intergovernmental organizations(including the United Nations agencies) or even non-governmental organizations(NGOs), which have been so far controlled or absolutely influenced by European and American countries. A large number of policy instruments or tools to deal with ecological environment problems in European and American countries are indeed universal or politically neutral, however, as a national model of environmental governance and its international diffusion, it is undoubtedly based on and committed to safeguarding a socio-political system, cultural basis and global order of capitalism(Lipschutz 2004; Yu 2017). In addition, the adoption and application of specific policy tools or technical instruments in the reality of European and American countries is often a process heavily dependent on the political institutional environment or competitive conditions to which they belong(Wallis 2018). Therefore, in the author’s opinion, an excessive emphasis on the public policy experience input and imitation of European and American(“advanced”) countries, resulting in the issue fragmentation or the so-called international standardization of eco-civilization construction ideas and strategies, is one of the major risks confronting China’s scientific cognition and practice of “the viewpoint of socialist eco-civilization”.

 

On the other hand, the feature of primary stage or inadequacy of socialist practice (including the practice of eco-civilization construction) may restrict the further and conscious elucidation of the socialist dimension of eco-civilization construction or the connotation of “socialism” of socialist eco-civilization at both subjective and objective levels. It should be acknowledged that the political judgment made at the 13th National Congress of CPC in 1987 on the nature of contemporary China, “the primary stage of socialism”, constitutes the theoretical cornerstone for the country’s century-long strategy of “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics” and the logical basis of “the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics”(Zhao 1997). This is the case. This theory and strategy include two complementary and integrated aspects or pillars. The first one is the priority of modernization development throughout the entire period. To a considerable extent, it is to realize the economic and social modernization already completed by the developed capitalist countries in Europe and the United States, that is, to realize the modernization of national governance system and governance capacity. This first concerns the survival and the status of the Chinese nation among the nations of the world. The other aspect or pillar is the growth of a socialist institutional framework and cultural basis different from capitalist society, and ultimately it is the democratic political will and choice of vast majority of the people which will determine the path and the form of a modern China, as well as an advanced social form of socialist China and its transition mechanism. It’s not too much to worry about, whether it is due to a cumulative effect of many political eclecticism or compromised policies adopted to meet the objective requirements of “primary stage of socialism”, or a natural consequence of the gradual integration of China’s reform and opening-up policy into the international community dominated by Europe and the United States, which has led to a public opinion or public mentality of infinitely persistent or even “de-politicalization” about the “primary stage of socialism” in today’s China. Its basic reflection is the increasingly abstract or diluted political imagination of the future development of socialism. In this regard, the working report to the 19th National Congress has important political significance for reiterating the unity of the common ideal of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the lofty ideal of communism(Xi 2017:63).

 

Therefore, as far as constructing a socialist eco-civilization is concerned, it is not impossible that overemphasis of the characteristics of the primary stage of economic and social reality, such as the relatively weak competitiveness of state-owned enterprises at home and abroad(which is not always the case), may restrict the strategic considerations over possible economic and social institutions of socialist nature and the ecological innovations they can bring about. Similarly, if too much trapped in the background or context of the primary stage, thus neglect or even avoid the new socialist economy and politics and their functions, such as giving state-owned enterprises a greater social responsibility concerning ecological environment, in many cases or to some extent, it will also restrict the possible in-depth thinking and scientific response to seemingly complex ecological environment problems as a whole and a broader vision. In other words, the author believes that the dilution or falsification of the future trend of socialism and its corresponding political requirements, as well as the consequent inadequacy or absence of the supply of political ideas for the goals and transitional mechanisms of an advanced stage of socialism and their positive effects, are another major risk in the cognition and practice of the concept of “socialist eco-civilization” in China today.

 

Therefore, in the authors’ point of view, as a radical or “green-left” transformation discourse, the concept of “socialist eco-civilization” has more favorable general social institutional conditions for mass communication and practices in contemporary China. With the help of official authoritative documents such as the working reports to the 17th National Congress, the 18th National Congress, the 19th National Congress of CPC and General Secretary Jinping Xi’s series of expositions, it has become a relatively clear term or concept within a systematic discourse theory, namely, “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era”(Huan 2018b). But we must also see that, partly because of its nature as a basic category in the policy discourse system, and to a greater extent because of its transitional or uncertain characteristics of “primary stage of socialism” itself, there are indeed a risk of “de-socialization” in the process of one-sided interpretations and/or implementation of the concept of “socialist eco-civilization”. It is for this reason that a challenging task confronting the “green-left” academia in China today is to make a clearer and deeper elucidation of the green political philosophical implications of “socialist eco-civilization” from the standpoint of Marxist ecology or eco-Marxism in a broad sense. Especially, in what sense it constitutes a kind of “red-green” transformation philosophy and politics that will have a profound and extensive impact on contemporary China.

 

THE IMPLICATIONS OF TRANSFORMATIVE POLITICS OF SOCIALIST ECO-CIVILIZATION

As has been pointed out earlier, what the author refers to as “socialist eco-civilization” in the context of contemporary China is a kind of “eco-civilization construction” in a narrow sense, or an academically redefined version of it. Generally speaking, it is not only a part of the “green-left” transformation discourses and practices in the world today-- especially in terms of the capitalist hegemonic economic politics and its cultural value system which they jointly oppose and resist, but also has distinct characteristics of Chinese background and context--especiallyreflecting on how it is clearly committed to “socialist modernization development” under the social conditions of “primary stage of socialism”. This means that “socialist eco-civilization” understood here is a discursive theory and political policy in line with Marxist ecology or eco-Marxism in a broad sense(Huan 2017a; 2017b), and is committed to promoting the “socialist modernization” and the “red-green” development or self-transformation of “primary stage of socialism” in China today. In other words, as a kind of green political philosophical discourse, it is committed to promoting the symbiosis and co-prosperity of ecological sustainability(ecologism) and socialist modern civilization(socialist politics), that is, to be more conscious to solve the real ecological environment problems with socialist thinking and approach. This kind of practical attempt or thinking will also to a certain extent confirms and promotes the idea and value of socialism.

 

Specifically, this discursive theory of “socialist eco-civilization” or “the viewpoint of socialist eco-civilization” includes the following three implications of “transformation politics”.

 

Firstly, it is a critical analysis and stance on the theory and practice of the ecological environment governance of “eco-capitalism”. Generally speaking, “eco-capitalism” in the perspective of eco-Marxism or “green-left” theories refers not only to the basic economic and political institutional framework under capitalist social conditions, especially the market economy and pluralistic democratic politics based on the private ownership of the means of production, but also to various forms of environmental economic and public policy initiatives based on the concept of “natural(eco-) capitalization”, among which the most important elements are so-called “sustainable development”, “eco-modernization”, “green state”, “environmental citizenship” and “international cooperation in environmental governance”(Xie 2015;Huan 2015). Therefore, under the social conditions of “primary stage of socialism” in China today, although the possibility of “eco-capitalism” in the sense of basic economic and political institutions has been eliminated, the risk of “eco-capitalism” at the level of environmental economy and public policy initiatives still exists obviously. Specifically, it may take on two different forms. The first one is that the positive effects of policy initiatives of “eco-capitalism” in capitalist countries of Europe and the United States are excessively or distortedly magnified, such as the application of market-based economic policy instruments. Thus, various forms of environmental and economic policy instruments are introduced and implemented domestically in an over-simplified or hasty way. As a result, these policy tools will be difficult to play their role in China as they do in former local environment, and they are difficult to establish in time even as a form of institution. The other form is an insufficient understanding or consciousness of the nature of “de-politicization” or even “pro-capitalization” of many public policy measures adopted or encouraged by the governments. Therefore, the potential of economic, political and cultural promotion of socialist eco-civilization construction can’t be really brought into full play. Yes. It needs to be emphasized that “eco-capitalism” here refers to not only a political ideology in a common sense, but also a conceptual tool introduced to serve the purpose of theoretical analysis. In other words, environmental economic and public policy measures adopted under the social conditions of “primary stage of socialism” with certain attributes of “eco-capitalism” can not only ultimately integrate into or subject to the political ideology of capitalism, but also contribute to or facilitate the transition to a higher stage of socialism. Undoubtedly, one of the implications of transformation politics of the socialist eco-civilization is to strive to clarify and promote the latter possibility.

 

Secondly, it is an eco-socialist conception or vision of green social institutional framework. It must be acknowledged that, communist society as a substitute for capitalist society laid out by classical Marxism is highly generalized or idealized(Zhao 2014). From the perspective of contemporary eco-Marxist theory, there are at least two major challenges or “uncertainties” in this ideal society. The first one is whether and to what extent the future communist society will be a more materially affluent society than the contemporary capitalist countries in Europe and America, and the other is whether and to what extent the future communist society will be more in line with social and ecological rationality than contemporary capitalist countries in Europe and the United States. As far as the former is concerned, the prospects of the depletion of natural resources and the deterioration of ecological environment in today’s world, even taking full account of the possibility of further progress in science and technology, have eroded or even ended to a considerable extent any political imagination about the future extremely rich society. As for the latter, in social conditions where the material wealth turns to be more and more difficult to achieve or maintain a high degree of affluence, the socialist principle of equitable distribution of wealth and equality between individuals(groups) seems more necessary, but it will certainly become more difficult to become a reality(Piketty 2014). One of the paradoxes is that the continuous emergence of social material wealth and the nurturing of a new society with social harmony and ecological rationality and its mass subjects are no longer a positive process of complementarity and mutual promotion, but a reverse process of mutual restraint and mutual erosion. In any case, Marx and Engels’ political assumptions about the future communist society put forward nearly two centuries ago can no longer be used as endorsement guarantee for the social and ecological advancement of any socialist society in today’s world, and all utopian imaginations about the future new society that can be made today are also very difficult to put an extreme rich society at its starting point. Based on this, Saral Sarkar, a German Indian scholar (1999), even proposed that the possibility of an ecological socialism based on “orderly retreat” should be explored from the economic decline or unsustainable trend of contemporary capitalism, which would be an ecological and new type of socialism. If we take seriously or absorb this new understanding of Marxist ecology or eco-Marxism in a broad sense(Wang 2011; Chen2014), “socialist eco-civilization” in the context of “primary stage of socialism” in contemporary China will present a kind of understanding and pursuit in a specific meaning and configuration. In a word, this future green society will be an affluent society that is not as ambitious as traditional understanding or propaganda, claiming that it can meet the unlimited needs of all people (“each can do his best, each can take his or her own needs”), and its basic economic and political institutional framework is centered around and dedicated to the sustainable provision of public basic needs(food, clothing, shelter and transportation) and thus gets constructed. Therefore, public ownership, co-management, fair distribution, reciprocal sharing and sustainable utilization of various basic resources, including natural ecological environment, will become the most fundamental social principles or core values. Accordingly, the construction of “socialist eco-civilization” under the condition of “primary stage of socialism” should consciously devote itself to building a new institutional framework with relatively simple substance but clearer socialist characterization, as well as to encouraging and creating a supportive social subject and popular culture in accordance with it. That is to say, the implication of green change or “transformation” of the “socialist eco-civilization” discourse and politics lies in that it points to or advocates a creative combination of “socialism” and “ecologism” in the context of a New Era of the 21st century. Thus, it no longer adheres to some of the visions or provisions of classical socialism, neither will it defend or support the policies and measures under the banner of improving the quality of public ecological environment without principles.

 

Thirdly, it is a kind of “red-green” strategy and practice requirement of realizing its stage upgrading or self-transformation of “primary stage of socialism” in contemporary China. As discussed above, the major difference between the “green-left” discourse and politics in China today and those in European and American countries is that the former is committed to achieving a phased transition or transformation under the socialist framework of basic economic, political and cultural institutions, while the latter is more like a fundamental transformation or remodeling towards the socialist framework of basic economic, political and cultural institutions. In this regard, the latter is obviously much more difficult. However, this is only a theoretical analysis. In fact, the difficulties and challenges in realizing the transition or transformation from the “primary stage of socialism” to a middle and advanced stage are also extremely arduous. It must be clear that the economic, social, cultural and ecological governance goals pursued by the stage upgrading or transformation are higher or more comprehensive, and therefore social contradictions that need to be faced or controlled are more complex and diverse. Correspondingly, the socialist ideas and politics facing or belonging to the “middle and advanced stage of socialism” should be different from the socialist ideas formed in the “primary stage of socialism” and their institutionalization.

 

It is in the above sense that “socialist eco-civilization” as a transformative discourse and politics bears or embodies the great challenge and potential of the stage development of “socialism with contemporary Chinese characteristics”(Huan 2014). On the one hand, the preliminary characteristics of economic and social modernization in the “primary stage of socialism” determine that CPC, as the only ruling party, can neither fully adhere to the traditional socialist politics or even ideas of value, nor simply reject the policy tools and instruments that obviously have the attribute of eco-capitalism. On the other hand, the socialist nature or orientation of “primary stage of socialism” also requires the ruling party and its government to strengthen the basic economic and political institutional foundation and popular culture of socialism while clearly restricting the scope of various eco-capitalist policy tools and their influence. Otherwise, the realization(locality) of the goal of economic and social modernization and the goal of ecological environment improvement does not necessarily mean or lead to a socialist future. Because, it may become a copy of the “eco-capitalism” model in capitalist countries of Europe and America, and the social and ecological injustice highlighted therein(domestic and international) is unacceptable or undesirable. Therefore, the eco-civilization construction plan laid out by the 19th National Congress of CPC in 2017 and its “three-step” road map need to be clearly incorporated into the overall strategic layout of “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics”, and must also be considered from the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of eco-civilization construction under the three-step conditions, understanding them as a whole and in the sense of mutual interaction(Huan 2018c).

 

Specifically, comparing the period of “battle against pollution”(pre-2020) and the period of “substantial improvement of ecological environment and basic realization of the goal of beautiful China”(2020-2035) and the period of “overall improvement of eco-civilization”(2035-2049), one can obviously find that the general framework of eco-civilization system and the socialist political environment are quite different, and what mark these stage upgrading or transitions are not only some policy tools and instruments at the level of environmental economy and public management but also some more fundamental forms of political, social and cultural institutions, especially some more obvious or profound political, social and cultural institutional forms with the socialist characteristics. What the discourse and politics of “socialist eco-civilization” particularly highlight or symbolize are the “red-green” transformation strategy and practice requirements of the “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics” process and its phased goals of eco-civilization construction. For example, a political and policy framework of powerful, large-scale administrative management and mass mobilization maybe effective for “fighting a tough battle of pollution prevention and control”(Huan 2018d). In contrast, a more effective political and policy framework for the “substantial improvement of ecological environment and basic realization of the goal of beautiful China” is more likely to be the comprehensive governance system of the enhanced consciousness and self-discipline of enterprises and government’s more professional supervision. For the “overall improvement of eco-civilization”, a profound leap in the way of production, living and cultural values of the whole society should be more necessary. Arguably, the key element that marks or promotes the change of these social structural conditions is an increasingly clear “socialist” dimension in eco-civilization construction.

 

Conclusion

To summarize, in the author’s opinion, the key to elucidate and enrich the academic concept or discursive theory of “socialist eco-civilization” lies in that it cannot be simplified or falsified in reality as a national strategy or public policy for ecological environment governance, but separated from “socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics” and “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, which is an overall background. In this regard, the working report to the 19th National Congress of CPC clearly emphasizes “the viewpoint of socialist eco-civilization”, “socialism with Chinese characteristics in a new era” and its basic strategy of “adhering to the harmonious coexistence of man and nature”(Huan 2018c). What is more, it has important “red-green” or “green-left” political and theoretical implications. More specifically, the discourse of “socialist eco-civilization” compared with various forms of “eco-centrism” or “eco-capitalism” can (or should) represent the essence or goal of contemporary China’s eco-civilization construction. This does not mean, of course, that the importance of the transformation of individual values and ethics emphasized by “eco-centrism” or the importance of the innovation of socio-economic and technological instruments and administrative supervision tools emphasized by “eco-capitalism” are both insignificant or even wrong. Rather, what eco-Marxism has clarified the social form in the sense of fundamental alternative, which is a kind of ecological socialism replacing capitalism(including “green capitalism” or “eco-capitalism”), is indispensable, for the contemporary human society eventually walking out of the global ecological crisis and building a real eco-civilization. Whether the “social-ecological transformation” theory advocated and promoted by the “green-left” thinkers and activists in Europe and the United States, as well as other radical transformation theories, can ultimately lead to a “great transformation” or even a “socialist transformation” of contemporary capitalist society, at least from the present point of view, is quite uncertain, and it is not merely because of the reasons of theory itself. However, it does provide us with some enlightenments on methodology(or discourse) and actual politics of constructing a socialist eco-civilization in contemporary China. Eco-civilization construction strategy and its “three-step” plan within the overall framework of “Five-in-One”, socialist modernization construction with Chinese characteristics, the stage development of socialist modernization with Chinese characteristics and the phased transformation of socialism from the primary stage to a middle and advanced stage, in fact, are the generalization or expression of different aspects of the same historical process of China in the New Era, and the realization of such a grand societal transformation will only be the result of a long time and hard practice or struggle(Huan 2018e).

 

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About the author: Dr. Qingzhi HUAN is professor of comparative politics at the Research Institute of Marxism, Peking University, China. His research areas focus on environmental politics, European politics and left politics. Among others, he was a Harvard-Yenching Visiting Scholar of 2002/2003 at Harvard University, a Humboldt Research Fellow of 2005/2006 at MZES, University of Mannheim, and a CSC High Research Fellow of 2010 at the Australian National University. He is the author of monographs such as Environmental Politics from a Perspective of CivilizationalTransformation(2018), International Comparison on Environmental Politics(2007) and A Comparative Study on European Green Parties(2000).

Source of article:Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2020, August

 

 

 

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