Communism and environment

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7 Scopus citations


The first venue where state power was seized by followers of Marx and Engels was in Russia in November 1917. During the “environmental decade” of the 1960s and 1970s scholars first wondered whether communist states might have developed in an environmentally more sensitive way than capitalist ones. Most concluded that not only did communist regimes fail to realize the theoretical advantages of a dirigiste system, their careless practices brought about, in the words of Murray Feshbach and Fred Friendly, Jr., an “ecocide.” Even some Soviet authors agreed. “Environmentally sensitive development,” however, is not easily defined. There is no “natural” standard for environmental purity or pollution apart from different individuals’ or societies’ ideas of acceptable risk. Efforts to curtail resource wastage, to promote the sustained use of renewable resources and recycling, to protect habitats and life forms and to control pollution have together come under the broad rubric of “environmental protection.” Yet, humans, like all living things, cannot escape transforming our environment. The idea that we should think about the likely environmental effects of our activity has roots only as far back as seventeenth-century Europe. Moreover, the various policies subsumed under “environmental protection” reflect widely divergent concerns: human health, resource availability into the future, and ethical and esthetic concerns about nonhuman life forms and landscapes. Some societies could be concerned with one, or two, but not all of these issues. Finally, concern does not necessarily translate into desired outcomes. A society might set concentration thresholds for individual chemicals, but still be unable to control the dangerous effects of their combined action. In the absence of complete scientific knowledge and technical capacity to achieve our environmental goals, there will always be a gap between ideals or concerns and outcomes. Consequently, it is difficult to assign “environmental” rankings to regimes. Early Soviet Policies Soviet environmental management has varied by time period, with the earlier period characterized by uniquely forward-looking policies for their day. The Bolsheviks seized power with a desire to impose a “planned,” scientifically grounded order - including resource management - in place of a rapacious and anarchic capitalist one. Initially, the new regime heeded the voices of tsarist-era trained scientists, mostly botanists, zoologists and geographers, who forcefully championed habitat protection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Communism
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 3, Endgames? Late Communism in Global Perspective, 1968 to the Present
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781316471821
ISBN (Print)9781107135642
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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