This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century
by Mark Dowie
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1995)

reviewed by MC5

MIM recommends this book to those readers who do not yet perceive MIM's level of frustration with the environmentalist movement as a movement in the United $tates. Although the author is a former editor of a reformist magazine, he spends most of the book criticizing what he calls "reformist" environmentalism for its sell-out and ineffectiveness as a political movement. The result is a book with the most realistic view of the Euro-Amerikan environmentalist movement as a political movement seen so far.

There are really only two movements that MIM supports in the United $tates that achieve widespread popularity. One is to cut military aid to Third World puppet governments. For chauvinist reasons, the Amerikan public supports cutting military and all other aid to the Third World.

Environmentalism is the other movement in the United $tates that MIM stands with the majority on. 7 of 10 people in the United $tates consistently describe themselves as environmentalist.

Environmental lobbying groups have a budget of nearly half a billion dollars a year as of 1994 given by the check-writing masses.(p. 4) The total for all environmental organizations was $3.12 billion in 1992. Between 1987 and 1992 what Dowie describes as "active" environmentalism saw its budget double to $2.5 billion.(p. 40)

If MIM received half a billion a year and its affiliates received another $2 billion and there was not some major revolutionary shaking happening throughout the whole world, MIM would be a failure. Mark Dowie is one of the few people of the reformist environmentalist niche to realize the movement's ineffectiveness.

Republicans in office

It was Republican President Richard Nixon who signed some of the most progressive environmental laws of the United $tates,(p. 33) including the ones most hated by rednecks such as the "Endangered Species Act." In this way, Republicans put the environment above "partisan politics" and succeeded in defusing one of the few political conflicts that neophyte environmental movement activists understood -- Democrats versus Republicans.

The legions of pseudo-environmentalists never understood the political and historical context of their movement and it became a dumping ground for various petty-bourgeois philosophies. When Earth Day first started and the environmentalist movement had success, Nixon faced a grave situation in the international class struggle. His own memoirs show an almost day-by-day knowledge of the strength of China, the throngs of anti-war protesters and the bombings conducted by the revolutionary underground here in the United $tates.

Thus, Earth Day 1970 was the first and it attracted 20 million participants and claimed to be the largest demonstration in U.$. history. Nixon worried that the movement would go socialist. He made concessions and sought to de-politicize the movement with great success.

Hence, when the Maoists no longer dominated the anti-war movement and movements generally as they did in the late 1960s and when the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, the ruling class had an easy time of finishing off the successes of the environmentalist movement. They took apart the weak environment bureaucracy that was in place.(p. xiii)

The elite of the Washington DC environmental lobbyists was no less white, male or professional than before. Quite the contrary, they were more established and experienced than ever with greater funding, but their organizations delivered less over time, because as the Maoist revolutionary threat subsided with the demise of SDS, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords etc., the Establishment had less to fear.

Fear is always what motivates ruling class concessions. Contrary to ignorant self-serving dogma, the "reasonableness" of the paid lobbyists plays no role. If all such reasonable pseudo-environmentalist lobbyists disappeared, the ruling class would replace them by coming up with the same drivel itself.

Democrats in office

After eviscerating environmental regulations under Reagan and Bush, the ruling class gave Clinton and Gore a chance and handed over key government posts to the lobbyists. Now there can be no doubt that the core of pseudo-environmentalism is ruling class.

The consternation that the environmentalist elite had joined the government and not accomplished very much is a joke that even Clinton and Gore make on themselves. Gore himself tells audiences he knows they think he sold out and ask him "where was Al Gore?" MIM addresses his fatuous free market "green is black" (as in profitable) ideology elsewhere.

Follow the money

From the very beginning, the contemporary environmentalist movement has had money dumped on it in order to quell it. Organizations like the Ford Foundation funded the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the key white male groups.(p. 35)

Other major players are the Rockefeller, Pew, Stern, W. Alton Jones and Kendall families. 7 percent of pseudo-environmentalist organization money comes from these foundations.(p. 49)

In fact, if the ruling class were afraid of the environmentalist movement in 1970, by 1995 when this book came out, the ruling class owned most of it. The purchase of the movement had gone to such an extent that National Audubon and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has co-signed anti-immigrant statements with FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), which itself is partly funded by neo-Nazi money. A large fraction of the important Sierra Club is also on-board with the FAIR agenda.(p. 163)

Now it is self-evident to Earth Day organizers that every corporation is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to appear to be a sponsor of Earth Day. While corporate polluter money has split the movement at times, it has never been successfully stopped.

Dowie also understands that the corporations pay more to rent Congress than the pseudo-environmentalists do. The Sierra Club spent $680,000 supporting Congressional candidates in 1992, but extraction-based industries alone spent $21.3 million.(p. 86)

MIM counts this as another case of reformist dogma, by which we mean that a fetish is made of working through channels even when the situation is hopeless on a struggle level. Even by their own logic it would make more sense to struggle for campaign finance reform,(p. 194) but the pseudo-environmentalists are unwilling to become even that political.

Hence, movement resources are wasted. In the first place, turnover in Congress is very low, averaging 2 percent per election for decades and only slightly more now. In the second place, MIM would not fight a battle where it is outnumbered 40 to 1 or more. The goal should be nothing less than revolution, but the individual battles must be winnable, not suicidal. This is something the environmental movement has yet to grasp. That $680,000 should have gone elsewhere--toward building a revolutionary movement to put the fear of the proletariat in the ruling class again.

Progress in some areas but not overall

Some struggles did bring about progress. Under socialism, we will ban profit-making entirely. Currently, the system only occasionally musters the political strength to ban economic activities on a case-by-case basis. Bans on lead, DDT, PCBs, mercury and Strontium 90 have worked.(p. 39) Regulations for unleaded gasoline and auto environmental devices reduced sulfur and lead emissions 90 percent.(p. 112)

In all class struggles, the bourgeoisie does not win 100 percent and the proletariat 0 percent, no matter how dire the situation.

Movement politics

The pseudo-environmentalist movement has been such a failure that Dowie looks to the humyn rights movement for inspiration. It is true that the humyn-rights movement lends itself to more moralist absolutist stands. We believe there is a humyn-right to a non-toxic environment.

Whereas the bourgeoisie like Bob Dole has supported the idea that environmental regulations amount to "taking" property from the bourgeoisie without compensation,(p. 101) the truth is exactly the opposite. The corporations Bob Dole supported are "taking" the right of the public to a non-toxic environment.

We Marxists believe it is impossible to "negotiate" or "compensate" someone for their right to life. Hence, we favor the use of organized force against the property-owners and their spokespeople like Dole, who do not have basic political priorities set correctly for the species.

Currently their organized force called government stands against the right to a non-toxic environment and it is a dictatorship of the tiny minority of profit-makers. We seek a dictatorship of the proletariat, which will also benefit the middle classes on environmental questions in particular.

MIM does not agree with the fraction of the book (chapter 8) in which Dowie talks about the solutions for the movement's ills. We rather recommend this book for pointing to the state of the "mainstream" environmentalist movement we call pseudo-environmentalist.

The bottom line

While the pseudo-environmentalist movement wasted the energies of the seven percent of people who described themselves as "active" in the movement,(p. 4) the environment got worse. Even Earth Day founder-activist Denis Hayes admitted it.(p. 26)

More toxins found their way into animal flesh 20 years after the first Earth Day than on the first Earth Day.(p. 20) It is more than 5 billion pounds of 300 toxic compounds a year since the early 1990s.(p. 22) A multi-billion dollar industry has arisen to clean up toxins that should not have been released in the first place, and that is capitalism's idea of progress.

That is not to mention the global situation with rainforest destruction, 5000 species going extinct per year and the persistent shift of land into the unusable category.

Much of the public mislead by the pseudo-environmentalists is already frustrated with the state of the environment. The public has yet to sit down and study scientifically the politics, political economy and history it needs to win.

The weaknesses of our movement in the United $tates also stem from the population's having fewer life-and-death threats from capitalism than the international proletariat found mostly in the Third World. The people here are bought-off in the majority. The middle-class ideology also puts a damper on the scientific understanding of the masses, who frequently reject statistical or group-level generalizations and hence find themselves unable to understand the science of classes or the environment. Since much environmental degradation requires examining a long chain of cause-and-effect sometimes spanning continents, raising the scientific level of the masses is important to our movement's success.

Buy This Book

Back to bookstore Home page