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What do you think of when someone mentions communism? Stalin, a hammer and sickle, the color red, Russia, Cuba, factories, soldiers marching in unison, and cold, cold oppression? Yeah, me too. But what if I told you that in some ways, communism is green?
Before you call the Dept. of Homeland Security, consider this: The impression of communism I invoked is largely thanks to American cinema, a still paranoid post-McCarthy news media, and Stalin's monstrous reign after WWII. But between the actual doctrines of Marxism and the pre-revolution fervor in Russia and Eastern Europe, there are actually a bunch of lessons we can glean from communists and apply today—to environmentalism.
Yes, even though communism led to corrupt governments responsible for the suffering of millions, communists and communist thinking have nonetheless produced some worthy green ideas. And hey, some world leaders even think environmentalism is the biggest threat since communism. Maybe they're closer in spirit than we thought?
Green Lessons from Communism
1. Each According to His NeedCommunists may have inadvertently advocated low-impact lifestyles (on the individual level, at least—the sprawling factories are another matter). "To each according to his ability, each according to his need." Think about it; an entire doctrine based on using only what you need, and doing what you're capable of. Now I'm not saying we should start rationing borscht and forcing people out into the fields against their will with a sickle. But if you consider the principle in environmental terms, it means watching our consumption—buying only the foods and goods we need. Overconsumption creates a huge environmental burden in rich capitalist societies; we could take a cue from the communists and try to buy nothing more often.
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2. Join the Party
And then, Never Go Against the Party. Okay, not sure how that Big Brotherish 1984-esque mantra slipped in there. But the essence of it yields truth: walk the walk. We can discuss how to be green from the safety of our blogs and comment boards and at cocktail parties, but practicing what you preach is truly what matters. And if there's one thing the communists did with gusto, it was walking the walk. I don't just mean the militaristic rule enforcing, either: before communism became the human rights-lacking industrial complex we consider it to be today, it began as an impassioned grassroots social movement led by youthful revolutionaries.
And man, were they were organized. Despite the end result, pre-revolution communists ignited a passion that spread through Russia, into Eastern Europe and beyond. Meetings, literature, posters proliferated with a rapidity that should make the green movement envious. And while we work to inspire with the help of media, world leaders, nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and our own myriad grassroots groups, let's remember that passion and organization are instrumental in spreading the green word.
And we're arguably fighting for something even greater than those revolutionaries, because bourgeois and proletariat alike—not to mention entire ecosystems—will suffer if climate change is exacerbated.
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3. Bring into Cultivation of Waste Lands, and the Improvement of the Soil . . .
. . . generally in accordance with a common plan." That's a quote from the 7th plank of the 10 Planks of the Communist Manifesto. Few environmentalists would disagree with either of the suggestions—and our own government even follows that clause, to an extent. It's why we have Superfund Sites: to encourage the cultivation of wastelands according to a common (though often private business-led) plan. But we can do more. We can improve our soil by advocating organic farming, and we could offer even greater incentive to clean up and develop our nation's waste sites.
Find out what else the communists can teach us: head to Page 2