03.2011: Extracts on environment questions from Stefan Engel, Dawn of the International Socialist Revolution

From: Revolutionärer Weg, No. 32 Proletarian Strategy and the International Character of the Socialist Revolution


I.5 Indelible Successes in Socialist Construction
Environmental Protection in Socialism

In his book Capital, Karl Marx also developed the basic dialectical line of the communists concerning the relationship of humans and nature:
Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (Marx, Capital, Vol. III, p. 776)
The socialist countries were unable to comprehend and realize this principle immediately in all its aspects on account of the historical circumstances. The socialist Soviet Union had to take enormous efforts to make socialist largescale production prevail or to prepare itself for the attack of Hitlerite fascism and create the industrial basis for the fight for survival. These were gigantic projects which had to keep sight mainly of the defense of socialism. The tremendous pressure of the imperialist camp on the socialist Soviet Union partly tempted economic policymakers into undertaking largescale projects and programs which had a destructive effect on the unity of humankind and nature. Socialist China learned from this. As long as Mao Zedong lived it practiced exemplary environmental protection in many areas according to the existing state of scientific knowledge. At the First United Nations Conference on the Human Environment from June 5 to 16, 1972, in Stockholm, the head of the Chinese delegation, Tang Ke, reported:
Our Government is now beginning to work in a planned way to prevent and eliminate industrial pollution of the environment by waste gas, liquid and residue in accordance with the principles of overall planning, rational distribution, multiple utilization, turning the harmful into the beneficial, relying on the masses, everybody taking part, protecting the environment and benefiting the people. For many years, we have been conducting mass patriotic sanitation campaigns and afforestation activities, stepping up soil improvement, preventing soil erosion, actively transforming the old cities, constructing new industrial and mining areas in a planned way,  etc., so as to protect and improve the human environment. Facts have proved that, provided the people are masters of their country and the government genuinely serves the people and takes their interests to heart, development of industry will benefit the people and the problem arising from industrial development can be solved. (Peking Review, No. 24, 1972, p. 8; www.massline.org/Peking Review/PR1972/PR1972-24.pdf, download 14 February 2011)

One main point of departure was the dialectical approach to the problems of environmental pollution. During one mass campaign the following was discussed:
If one proceeds according to materialist dialectics, waste and non-waste are only relative concepts. There is nothing in the world that is absolute waste. Under certain conditions a thing is waste, under other conditions it  is something of value; what is waste in the case of one product, becomes good material for another. (Peking Rundschau, No. 6, 1971, p. 8; our translation from the German)

And so a mass campaign for the dialectical unity of socialist economic and environmental policy took shape which attracted much publicity throughout the world. Authoress Sylvia Rogge wrote in the introduction to the compendium Umweltschutz in der VR China (Environmental Protection in the People's Republic of China):

Long before this topic became fashionable, for example in the Federal Republic of Germany, environmental protection was popularized on a mass basis. According to the instructions of Chairman Mao, multiple utilization was realized, rivers and lakes were cleaned, excrements were made into fertilizers, sewage treatment plants were built, raw materials were gathered, etc. The importance of environmental protection was underscored by the Chinese leadership by establishing a connection between it and the revolutionary line of Mao Zedong. And thrift, multiple utilization, consideration for the local environment, decentralization of industry and reducing of urbanization have made China a country whose environmental awareness appears to be exemplary. (Umweltschutz in der VR China, Holger Strohm [ed.], p. 12)

Professor Dr. K. William Kapp concerned himself with the topic of environmental protection in the People's Republic of China intensely in the early 1970s and acknowledged that the People's Republic "has developed a special strategy and successfully won over the public for a cooperation which goes far beyond what is observable in other developing or industrialized countries" (ibid., p. 74).

Initiated by the socialist German Democratic Republic, the collection and reuse of so-called secondary raw materials also were exemplarily organized. Private and state agencies gathered used paper, bottles and glass, and later on also scrap metal and old clothes. The proper handling of these raw materials already was propagated in schools. Children and youths – organized in their youth organizations – became environmental protection activists and financed their work with the proceeds from the collection of these recoverable materials. For the GDR, poor in raw materials, these far-reaching recycling measures also were a way of coping with the situation.

Basis of the farsighted environmental policy in socialism was the successful outcome of the societal debate that upon overcoming the capitalist mode of production with its orientation to profit maximization, the restoration of the unity of humans and nature and its development to a higher level could be made the goal and basic condition of the socialist economy.

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