Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Written by Donald Cuccioletta and first published at Alternatives International
As we have become aware of this equilateral triangle of Climate Change, Militarization and of Democracy in Peril, the obvious question that confronts us is “What is to be done?”
It is obvious that we cannot overlook the struggle taken up by environmentalists across the world who are petitioning governments, particularly governments in advance capitalist nations, for meaningful legislation to fight climate change. There are people across our world who are involved in the struggle against militarization of the planet and the advent of neo fascism which both put our democracies in great danger.
Certainly reform is necessary and even better if it were radical reforms. Yet we know by past experience that we cannot fully rely on capitalist governments who placate to capitalist/imperialist imperatives to change the system or even to give us radical reforms. This is totally in contradiction with the ideology of profit, the structure on which capitalism is based on. So, again we ask ourselves “What is to be done?”
In many of the demonstrations on Climate Change that have circumvented the planet, numerous placards indicating the need for ‘System Change” could be seen indicating that Climate Change is important, but the ultimate culprit is the capitalist system itself.
The insistence on system change shows quite clearly that environmental consciousness has now developed into an ecological consciousness. Yes, the question of environment and ecology are very different and indicate an ideological void between the two terms.
Environmental consciousness is based on awareness, whether social or political, that demand reforms presented to petitioning elected governments to bring forward legislation to combat the ills that exist in our environment. This in itself is very laudable.
Yet this approach remains a prisoner of the traditional political party system, controlled by the servants of capitalism, who have no intention of developing the radical reforms necessary to fundamentally change our environment. We can qualify this type of struggle as simply reformist in nature and does not create in the legislative bodies a sense of urgency. This is why many are turning to direct action such as Extraction Rebellion or the Mohawk nation who are erecting barricades across railway lines.
In other words the ideological element that is necessary in this important struggle is missing. The word Ecology is much more far reaching and is more embedded in the concept that we are also part of nature.
This means that the struggle is also part of the complete understanding that every living being, as humans, animals, trees etc. (flora and fauna) are also partners in a vast understanding of the workings of our planet. This is contrary to an environmental consciousness. The struggle is one of ecological consciousness.
The challenges that humanity is facing are beyond a simplistic understanding of making sure we recycle. The profound crisis we are experiencing has had a long history that has its roots in the greed dominated by profit. Throughout human history there has always been the presence of profit. Whether it be truck and trade, exchange of services leading up to the invention of money as an instrument of trade.
However this process in systems was based on the idea that certain profit was necessary to be able to pay for services, salaries, necessities of life etc., but it had not yet been erected as the ultimate instrument of accumulation, until the development of capitalism.
With the advent of capitalism, profit gave way to private property, which over time created a capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) whose sole purpose was to accumulate profit taking vast sums of money, not under truck and trade, but based on the exploitation of workers, and peasants. The ultimate system of exploitation has come of age. Now the goal was to perfect it.
The sole existence of the bourgeoisie was based on the accumulation of capital to develop more capital. In other words capital became the goal to be attained if we wanted to have power and eventually use this power to govern the masses. A system which in its early beginnings, according to Karl Marx in Das Kapital, relied primarily on the dominance and the workings of the nation-state, created by the bourgeoisie, to serve their interests.
But this was not enough as we entered the age of capitalist industrial revolution as documented by the historical classics of Eric Hobsbaum. It was at this moment in the capitalist historical development, that to continue the capitalist profit accumulation needed to expand in order to feed the monster that is capitalism.
International expansion for natural resources became a necessity. International trade and exploitation of natural resources was always present, starting with gold and silver, cotton and tobacco, lumber and eventually with the scientific revolution of the middle the 19th century mining and oil products. From mercantilism to colonialism we were now in the new era of imperialism that is still with us today.
With the partnership of capitalism and imperialism, we can understand the devastation this system has done to our planet, our climate patterns and the sword of nuclear destruction hanging over our heads. Radical policies, as I have said earlier, are important for the immediate future but we must also understand that capitalism/imperialism has to be the ultimate target. System change is the order of the day.
System change is all well and good, but what system do we need? In the recent past many believed in some form of socialism that turned out with the experience of the Soviet Union under Stalin and Stalinism to be a false socialism. Today the People’s Republic of China, once a beacon of socialism remains for many true socialists a question mark.
We need a new socialism. We need today a new definition of socialism, adapted to the different conditions of the 21st century. We are in the age of the Internet and all its derivatives. We are experiencing the new era of a post-industrial revolution. All these changes have created new ideas, new generations, and a new political culture.
Socialism cannot exist today if we do not understand ecological consciousness. Eco-socialism is our new order of the day. Some would call it social ecology. Independent of the title we give it, we must feed this new approach with new concepts if we are to struggle and win against capitalism/imperialism.
New concepts such as citizen’s direct democracy, the Right to the City, decentralized democracy, cooperative housing, horizontal approach to governance, creation of movements of empowerment, return to citizen’s committees, neighborhood councils controlled by citizen’s, the right to recall of our elected officials are all elements that must be examined, conceptualized and constantly restructured if we are to create a new system to replace capitalism/imperialism.
We must rely on the idea of popular education of the workers, lower middleclass, progressives and even left radicals without which the idea of “power to the people” would remain just a slogan. The concept of a political party must also be re-examined, in order to not replicate the traditional (capitalist) political party structure and even the structures of the parties of false socialism.
The new conditions that have forged the new societal trends of the 21st century impose upon us a new concept of development, a new working class or a new salaried class consciousness adapted to these new conditions.
Capitalism/imperialism is still on its road to destruction, by maintaining the exploitive/oppressive model. The radical Marxist-Gramscian socialist left, the anarchist socialist left must take up the obligation to define this new system change. Eco-socialism or social ecology should be the order of the day.
To delay in developing these new concepts, and redefine the word socialism in accordance with these new conditions would leave space for the social liberals, the social democrats who have throughout the 20th century usurped the right to speak for and defend the working class.
As Antonio Gramsci one of the greatest organic intellectuals, wrote in his seminal work (Letters from Prison) while a guest in the prisons of fascist Italy, the radical left must always put forward its positions which are contrary to capitalism and its false prophets. As Gramsci elaborates, the radical left is always in the position of a war of ideas.
This is the first hurdle that we must pass in the battle of class struggle. Similarly to define eco-socialism in our present conditions of the 21st century we must also as the radical left cross this first hurdle.
Donald Cuccioletta PhD is a historian, author and activist, Coordinator of Nouveau Cahiers du Socialisme and a member Political Analysis Collective
Sunday, 16 February 2020
Written by Marvin Gandall and first published at Socialist Project
The world’s oil, gas, and coal companies would incur what the Financial Times (FT) recently described as “breathtaking” losses if they’re not allowed to extract and burn their enormous reserves.
In total, fossil fuel CO2 emissions contained in untapped reserves are estimated at 2910 gigatonnes (GT) or nearly three trillion metric tons. To put that number in context, a sole GT is twice the mass of the global human population and enough to stretch 200 million elephants from the earth to the moon. The FT estimates that more than half these assets would be stranded if the 2°C global warming target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement were met.
Assets held by ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Total SA, Royal Dutch Shell and other corporations include rights purchased to explore in a given area as well as reserves under wells and other infrastructure already producing hydrocarbons.
In the unlikely event the rise in temperature was more drastically curtailed to 1.5°C, more than 80 per cent of these assets would be rendered worthless. This would inflict losses of nearly a trillion dollars on shareholders, or about one-third of the current valuation of the world’s major oil and gas companies.
About 33 GT of carbon emissions were released in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). If the annual rate of emissions were frozen at that level, a further 2640 GT would still be burnt by century’s end, well beyond the target of 1200 GT which the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assumes is necessary to hold the rise in global warming to 2°C.
To meet the more ambitious 1.5°C limit, only 464 GT of the estimated 2910 GT of CO2 in the remaining oil, gas and coal assets could be burnt. Producers with the highest carbon intensity in their oil and gas reserves, notably those in the Canadian tar sands, would be hit hardest.
The massive scale of the potential losses explains the refusal or foot-dragging by governments beholden to the industry to implement the Paris Agreement. The agreement is already regarded by climate scientists as inadequate to meet the climate emergency.
Still, the threat of tougher regulation leading to some percentage of stranded assets has been enough to spook major investors, especially as the pressure to curtail emissions rises with each flood, hurricane, firestorm, and other extreme weather event associated with climate change.
The coal sector, the largest emitter, has experienced the most capital flight, but oil and gas are not far behind. “As the first target for asset owners keen to decarbonize their portfolios, coal miners have performed disastrously over the past decade. Bloomberg’s index of global coal miners, the largest of which are in China, has plunged 74 per cent from its peak in early 2011… Collectively, world oil and gas company market values have fallen about half as much as coal miners since their own decade peak in 2011.”
If the present trend continues, the shift in energy investment from fossil fuels to renewables “would be one of the biggest ever shifts in the allocation of capital,” according to the FT. But even if it occurs it’s certain to fall well short of what is urgently required to avert catastrophic climate change.
Despite all the noise emanating from governments, central banks, and investors over the past decade, the IEA says capital expenditures by the largest oil and gas companies directed to wind, solar, and other renewables still represents less than 1 per cent of their holdings.
All of which lends support to the program advanced by ecosocialists and various proponents of a Green New Deal – public ownership of the energy industry as a precondition for a rapid conversion to clean energy and a radical restructuring of the capitalist economy.
Marvin Gandall is a former journalist and union official and is currently active in Climate Justice Victoria, Canada.
Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Written by Allan Todd
“BP has been lying to the world about the climate crisis… and Bernard Looney (their new CEO) has been working for BP the whole time. They’re out of time, we’re out of patience - and they need to get out of the oil and gas business entirely!”
One of the Greenpeace activists involved in the action against BP’s London HQ, Weds. 5 Feb. 2020.
In the (VERY!!) early hours of Wednesday 5 February, I was one of over 100 Greenpeace activists who turned up outside BP’s London HQ in St. James Square. The aim was to send a clear message to their new CEO, Bernard Looney, who was due to start work that day.
He claims he ‘gets it’ as to why so many climate activists are frustrated about the on-going ‘dirty energy’ projects of fossil fuel companies such as BP; and has said he will soon be setting out his low carbon ambition for the company.
But BP - and all the other dirty energy companies - clearly STILL don’t get that, as has Bill McKibben pointed out, we can either have dirty energy companies with healthy balance sheets; OR we can have a relatively healthy planet. But we can’t have both! So we need to do all we can to get the message across that AT LEAST 80% of all fossil fuel reserves need to stay where they are - in the ground.
“Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989,…, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly - losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilisation is in.”
Bill McKibben, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, Rolling Stone, 2012.
Thus, in an attempt to help end that “denial about the peril” referred to by Bill McKibben, Greenpeace decided to give BP a ‘wake-up!’ call. Despite an unusually rapid - and initially very heavy-handed - police response, we were able to achieve our main objective: to shut down the entire BP office, so that Mr. Looney would be unable to get into his office on his first day as BP’s new CEO.
This was achieved by 24 Greenpeace activists blocking all 6 doors into the building, using two main methods.
Firstly, getting one activist locked-on to a ‘lifeguards’ chair right in front of each of the doors. In order to make removal of these protesters difficult for the police, the chairs were 2m 20cms high. Ordinary police officers are not allowed to attempt to remove protesters from any structure which is more that 2m high! Instead, they have to await the arrival of the specialist Protester Removal Unit.
The other method was then manoeuvring heavy oil barrels in front of each door, and getting 3 other activists locked-on to each one:
One of the 6 groups of 4 which successfully blocked their allocated door.
Internationalism in practice.
Many of the activists involved in this action came from other European Greenpeace groups - to help underline the fact that the Climate Emergency is a global issue: in part, because companies such as BP operate right across the world. My team ‘buddy’ was a young woman from France.
The team we were in was given the task of blocking the main entrance - although we were successful in that, as were the other teams, the aggressive policing prevented us from achieving our additional goals. One of which was to placing hoardings around 2 sides of the building:
The hoardings which, in the end, we were not able to get into position
(my back is to the photographer, as my ‘buddy’ & I place the panel on the L.)
Solar panel ‘tents
The other additional task was to fill 2 of the streets with 250 used solar panel ‘tents’, under which the remaining activists would sit and attach themselves - thus effectively blocking those streets for the duration of the protest:
Police quickly removing the solar panel ‘tents
(I’m under the panel on the L.)
After having dived under - and been forcibly removed from! - 4 of these quickly-erected ‘tents’, at around 3.30am my buddy and I joined 50 or so other activists to lay down in Charles II Street, to block it using more traditional civil disobedience methods.
For an overall view of the action, there is plenty of additional information to absorb via this link:
The shape of things to come?
Some of the activists (but not those from France or Spain, for instance!) were somewhat taken aback by the initially very ‘robust’ police response to what was - as always with Greenpeace - an entirely peaceful action. In addition, it has emerged that some of those protesters who were arrested for their part in this action, were not treated very well - another ‘first’ for a Greenpeace action.
However, from the beginning, I had wondered if this action - the first major nvda action of 2020 - would be a test case for future police responses to peaceful civil disobedience. Apart from anything else, Johnson now has a secure majority for his hard-right government - which even Tory Ken Clarke has described as “the most right-wing Tory government Britain has ever seen.”
In particular, Cummings and Johnson probably suspect that, as the economic impact of Brexit - whether it be a hard Brexit or a No-Deal Brexit - begins to hit many of those Labour voters who ‘lent their vote’ to the Tories last December, there may be many protests and disputes to come in the years ahead.
The path ahead
On a personal level, since leaving the Green Party - and thus, in effect, Green Left - in December, I remain party-less. Whilst some are suggesting I re-join the Greens, and others that I join the Labour Party, I’m not convinced by either set of arguments. As alternatives, both Left Unity and Socialist Resistance have some attractions - as both are ecosocialist and both support PR.
But I suspect that party politics - and certainly electoral party politics - has probably had its day for several years ahead. With Johnson now having such a secure majority, it’s fairly certain that his government really will implement both the new boundary changes and Voter Photo ID:
The shape of things to come - evidence suggests that Voter Photo ID ends up reducing the number of young/poor people voting in elections.
Both of those will, overall, benefit the Tories over all other parties and, at the same time, harm Labour in particular. If Scotland goes independent, the opposition to the Tories in England and Wales will also lose the important SNP votes in parliament. Such developments point to permanent Tory rule for the next decade, or more.
In such a situation, mass extra-parliamentary political activism, based on nvda, will prove much more effective than electoral politics in the years ahead.
For those who do belong to political parties opposed to the Tories and neoliberalism, the best way forward may be to focus on building community-based movements that will be strong enough - and linked-up enough - to take action not only on issues such as the Climate Emergency, but also on austerity, privatisation of our NHS, creeping authoritarianism, and racism/fascism.
However, as regards the ever-worsening Climate Emergency, the words of Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark are a fitting conclusion:
“Given where we are now, it’s crucial that more people hear the simple facts loud and clear: that climate change presents huge risks; that our efforts to solve it so far haven’t worked; and that there’s a moral imperative to constrain unabated fossil fuel use on behalf of current and especially future generations.”
M. Berners-Lee & D. Clark, The Burning Question, 2013, p.170
Allan Todd is an environmental activist from Cumbria
Saturday, 8 February 2020
Nineteen Years on from the first Ecosocialist Manifesto has Ecosocialism been brought into existence?
The first Ecosocialist Manifesto was announced by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy in September 2001. Kovel died in 2018 and Lowy has since said that it was in the main composed by Kovel. The introduction to the manifesto was candid about the fact that ecosocialism was just an idea at the time:
We all suffer from a chronic case of Gramsci's paradox, of living in a time whose old order is dying (and taking civilization with it) while the new one does not seem able to be born…This manifesto nevertheless lacks the audacity of that of 1848, for ecosocialism is not yet a spectre, nor is it grounded in any concrete party or movement. It is only a line of reasoning, based on a reading of the present crisis and the necessary conditions for overcoming it. We make no claims of omniscience. Far from it, our goal is to invite dialogue, debate, emendation, above all, a sense of how this notion can be further realized.
Innumerable points of resistance arise spontaneously across the chaotic ecumene of global capital. Many are immanently ecosocialist in content. How can these be gathered? Can we envision an "ecosocialist international?" Can the spectre be brought into being?
Has the spectre been brought to life? Well, I think that it has, but there is an awfully long way to go before this philosophy replaces capitalism as the dominant world economic system. We have not completely resolved Gramsci’s paradox, but ecosocialism is alive and, fairly slowly, spreading across the world.
There have been two further manifestos written, and four international conferences held, the last one in Lisbon, Portugal in 2018. Green Left, the ecosocialist grouping in the Green party of England and Wales, that I belong to, was formed in 2006.
Ecosocialism can be found in thoughts and words, at least, on every inhabitable continent on the planet, and examples of all can be found on this blog. The latest attempt to connect this nascent movement was started this year, the Global Ecosocialist Network.
The ecological crisis has worsened since 2001 of course. An ever warmer planet releasing extreme weather conditions, drought, floods, stronger storms and species depletion being the result, and people are starting believe that this is manmade. But, in large numbers, they have not drawn the conclusion that the economic system is the cause. A rather hopeful attitude that capitalism can be reformed, to put it charitably, greenwashing to not, is the general response. This is what Kovel, in his book The Enemy of Nature, referred to as the ‘force-field' of capitalism - people just can’t imagine a world without it.
Ecosocialism as a term, like socialism, has been incorrectly used in the mainstream media, but it is being used, to describe what are really social democratic type policies, like the Green New Deal, adopted by green and social democrat parties, especially in the US and UK. Social democracy though is Keynesian, not socialist, which aims to save capitalism from itself. True ecosocialism wants to replace capitalism altogether, not save it, because it is the effective cause of the crisis. Social democracy is a classic case of treating the symptoms, rather than the cause of disease, if ever there were one.
All the same this shift is to be welcomed, as these type of policies at least move us in the right direction, and would have a mitigating effect on the crisis. Ecosocialists know though, that ultimately this sort of reformism will fail to resolve the crisis, when the underlying dynamics of capitalism’s need to grow, exponentially, cannot be left in place.
Recent times have also thrown up a fascistic political popularism, with the election of leaders in the US, UK, Australia and Brazil, and coups against governments that have veered towards ecosocialist policies, in Venezuela and Bolivia. The capitalist system fights hard when it is under threat.
Towards the end of the manifesto, how far we have to travel was acknowledged:
No one can read these prescriptions without thinking, first, of how many practical and theoretical questions they raise, and second and more dishearteningly, of how remote they are from the present configuration of the world, both as this is anchored in institutions and as it is registered in consciousness.
I think that consciousness is changing, but time is not on our side. Climate change is already happening, and in many ways it is probably too late to stop it completely. There is a radical side to the Extinction Rebellion protests and it seems to me, the thinking of the school climate strike movement founder, Greta Thunberg.
Even if every government in the world were to abandon capitalism and embrace ecosocialism tomorrow though, too much damage has already been done to avoid the crisis altogether. But unless people in greater numbers start to make the connection between the capitalist system and ecological breakdown, we are in for a very grim time indeed.
It will, of course, take a revolution to bring about a change of system of this magnitude, hopefully a peaceful one, because ecosocialism is not something that can be voted in, in a bourgeois democracy. Our movement needs to grow internationally to the point where it becomes unstoppable, and we are still nowhere near that, but we must believe, and convince others to believe, it is possible.
To quote another couple of sentences from the manifesto:
The deepest shadow that hangs over us is neither terror, environmental collapse, nor global recession. It is the internalized fatalism that holds there is no possible alternative to capital’s world order.
Thursday, 6 February 2020
Climate Change and Rebellion: an interview with activist John Molyneux of the Global Ecosocialist Network
An interview with Leo Zeilig and first published at ROAPE.net
In an interview with the socialist writer and activist, John Molyneux, ROAPE’s Leo Zeilig asks him about climate change, capitalism and socialist transformation. In an important initiative John has recently founded the Global Ecosocialist Network (GEN) which brings together activists and researchers from across the Global North and South. The network hopes to amplify the socialist voice in the struggle against environmental crisis. Africa, he argues, is crucial to the fight against climate change.
Can you tell readers of roape.net about yourself? Your background, activism and politics.
I was born in Britain in 1948 and became a socialist activist and Marxist in 1968 through the struggle against the Vietnam War, the student revolt and May ’68 in Paris. I joined the International Socialists in June of that year. I have remained active ever since. From the mid- seventies onwards I began writing in the field of Marxist theory, publishing Marxism and the Party (1978) and What is the Real Marxist Tradition? (1983) and other books, pamphlets and articles. Since the late nineties I also started writing about art and have a book on The Dialectics of Art coming out later this year.
From 1975 to 2010 I was a teacher at various levels in the city of Portsmouth – secondary school, further education and then in the School of Art at Portsmouth University. In 2010 I retired and moved to Dublin where I have continued to be an activist with People Before Profit and a writer, publishing books on Anarchism, the media, Marxist philosophy and Lenin for Today. I have also served as the founder and editor of the Irish Marxist Review.
Can you speak a little about your involvement in the climate change movement? As a long-standing socialist and activist, when did you first become seriously aware of climate change – what was it that impacted on you explicitly?
I don’t think there was any single moment. I think probably it was the socialist writer, Jonathan Neale, who first fully explained the issue to me somewhere around the turn of the century. Jonathan served for a period as Secretary of the Campaign to Stop Climate Change and I was involved in that campaign in a limited way. But I didn’t find that they were very receptive to my revolutionary socialist ideas.
However, from quite early on I was convinced that climate change was going to be an existential crisis for humanity because I was convinced that capitalism was not going to stop it. There were, of course, debates about this question. Many people thought there HAD to be a capitalist solution or at least a solution within capitalism because they thought overthrowing capitalism was out of the question. Others, including Marxists, engaged in hypothetical debates as to whether capitalism might, in theory, be able to deal with the issue.
My view was that regardless of what might theoretically be possible the actually existing capitalism we were dealing with was not going to stop climate change or even seriously try to stop it until it was too late. This was because capitalism is driven by profit and competitive accumulation at every level and because it is far too heavily invested in fossil fuels to simply switch to renewables. To those who say we can’t wait for your socialism, we need change NOW, my reply is I will fight alongside you for change, but I don’t believe we can wait for capitalism to go green, it’s simply not going to happen. I hope I’m wrong but so far, I’ve been right.
I always understood how disastrous climate change was going to be but at first I thought of it as something fairly far in the future – by the end of the century etc – and probably outside my life time. But it has become clearer and clearer that even the IPCCs (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predictions are too conservative and that the beginnings of climate catastrophe are with us already.
Recently, specifically last year – with the extraordinary global protests of school students and many others – the climate emergency has broken onto the world stage, leaving us all forever changed. Can you discuss how you interpreted this movement and its significance, and any weaknesses you see?
The school strikes for climate were unequivocally magnificent and hats off to Greta Thunberg and everyone else involved. It was wonderful to see young people stepping forward and on such a global scale. The civil disobedience organised by Extinction Rebellion, especially in the first London Rebellion Week, was also a fantastic step forward. Every socialist should enthusiastically back them and constructively engage with them. I haven’t much time for leftists who dismiss radicalising young people because of their lack of ‘the correct programme’ or base in ‘the organised working class’.
But of course, these movements, like every emergent mass movement, have weaknesses. In particular it is a weakness that they tend to think of themselves as ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ politics and therefore often discourage political debate. In my opinion every aspect of climate change and the environmental crisis is intensely political and some political forces (largely those on the serious or ‘hard’ left) are friends of the planet and the climate movement and others (the right and far right) are its enemies. Without fetishizing the figure of 3.5% [XR thinks that mobilising 3.5% of the population is necessary to secure ‘system change’] I think XR’s aim to mobilize those sort of mass numbers is excellent but I’m not sure that all their methods of organising are conducive to achieving this.
You have just initiated the Global Ecosocialist Network (GEN) bringing together activists and researchers from across the Global North and South. Can you explain what you hope to achieve?
The developing climate emergency has generated much increased public awareness of climate change and the environment generally and a new wave of activism which many socialists are part of and engaging positively with. However, the current environmental discourse – internationally – both in terms of the media and most of the public is dominated by what could be called ‘green liberalism’. A more radical version of green liberalism is also prevalent among activists along with a vague ‘deep green’ consciousness. This goes together with an understanding of system change as essentially a change in collective mind set which lends itself to illusions in the possibility of converting corporations and mainstream politicians and the State.
At the moment the socialist voice in the movement is very limited, certainly not dominant. But the socialist voice is essential because capitalism is not going resolve either the climate change issue or the wider environmental crisis. Socialist transformation of society is objectively necessary. Moreover a socialist approach is crucial to winning over and mobilizing the mass of working class people. Unfortunately, in this extremely urgent situation much of the international revolutionary left is very weak.
Our network is an attempt in a small way to improve this situation, to amplify the socialist voice and reach out to new forces. Its initial aim is to bring ecosocialists together to facilitate the exchange and propagation of socialist environmentalist ideas along with reports on the development of the crisis and resistance from around the world. Later it may be able to hold conferences and issue calls for action.
Marx’s ‘ecological writings’ have been fairly recently written about by writers like John Bellamy Foster, and others. Can you explain why a structural challenge to capitalism is essential, and how Marxism can help in this challenge?
First, I think we should acknowledge the enormously important intellectual work done by John Bellamy Foster and his collaborators such as Paul Burkett and Ian Angus. There was a widespread interpretation, including among Marxists, of Marx as ‘productionist’ and a ‘super industrialiser’ and therefore anti-environmentalist. They demolished this myth. Speaking personally I owe a considerable debt to John Bellamy Foster for his book Marx’s Ecology. When I read it after more than 30 years as a Marxist it substantially transformed and deepened my understanding of Marxism. The concept of the ‘metabolic rift’ is hugely important. I’m very proud that he is a sponsor of GEN. Ian Angus’s Facing the Anthropocene – he’s another sponsor – is also brilliant.
I have already explained above the essential reason why we need a structural challenge to capitalism but this applies at every level. Production for profit is inherently destructive of nature whether we are talking about the dumping of toxic waste round the corner from where I live, to the plastic choking the oceans, to the deadly pollution of the air – all the way to the overarching challenge of climate change.
What is more capitalism will ensure that the response to climate disasters which it is generating will be callous, cruel, class based and racist. This has been demonstrated time and again from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to the fires in Australia. We need to challenge capitalist priorities, structures and the system as a whole, not only to stop environmental degradation and catastrophic climate change but also to deal with its effects.
ROAPE, a radical review and website on political economy, focuses on Africa. Unfortunately, we have not covered the climate emergency in enough detail recently. The mobilisations last year were weak across the continent, as inspiring as they were. What role does Africa have to play in the struggle against climate change and how do you see the Global Ecosocialist Network helping?
Africa is absolutely crucial to the struggle against climate change. In terms of immediate effects Africa will almost certainly be the worst hit part of the world. The drought in Southern and Eastern Africa is already truly deadly and the extent of poverty in Africa will magnify the consequences of every climate disaster and extreme weather event. That this comes on top of the fact that Africa, as a whole, has the lowest per capita carbon footprint of any continent makes Africa the litmus test of any verbal commitment to climate justice.
Moreover the racist hierarchy of death in the world will ensure that hundreds or thousands of lives lost in central or eastern Africa will be less reported and count for less in terms of
Western consciousness than five or ten lives lost in California or Australia.
Western consciousness than five or ten lives lost in California or Australia.
Mass mobilizations in Africa linked to demands for climate justice would be the best possible antidote to this state of affairs.
It is therefore a key task of the Global Ecosocialist Network to do what it can to rectify the disgraceful neglect of the situation in Africa and to stimulate radical resistance in the African continent.
We are very pleased that Africa is well represented among our initial sponsors and we have already published an excellent article on the terrible situation in Southern and Eastern Africa by Rehad Desai, the South African radical film maker, who is also a member of the Network’s Interim Steering Committee.
What are the immediate tasks for the network, and how do we expand it?
The most immediate task is to expand the readership of the website and the membership of the Network both through individuals joining and organisations affiliating. For this we need our existing members and supporters to actively promote GEN and recruit to it. Here it is important to stress that joining GEN is ‘commitment light’: it does not entail any major obligations in terms of activity, nor does it impinge on any individual’s or organisation’s existing political practice.
If in the next period we can gain enough members and resources – we have no external funding whatsoever – we can move to the next stage of convening some kind of international meeting or conference. Hopefully this would enable us to put the Network on a sounder democratic footing than it has at present – obviously doing this on a global basis presents certain problems e.g. anywhere such a meeting is convened, be it Rio or Paris, Cape Town, Lagos, Mumbai or Sydney, will be much harder for some comrades to reach than others. Possibly down the line we can develop multiple regional foci or centres. The holding of the Cop 26 Conference in Glasgow in November may also serve as a focus for us.
John Molyneux is a socialist, writer and activist and editor of Irish Marxist Review. John is also a founder of the Global Ecosocialist Network.
Saturday, 1 February 2020
I have recently been reading ‘The Emergence of Ecosocialism,’ a collection of essays written by the now sadly departed Joel Kovel. Edited by Quincy Saul, and published in 2018, the essays have all been published previously, albeit in subscription journals, mainly Capitalism Nature Socialism, which Kovel edited. One of the main themes that runs through much of the collection is for the need for green politics to fully embrace ecosocialism as its central philosophy, if it is to be effective in tackling the ecological crisis.
In Kovel’s essay ‘Ecological Marxism and Dialectic,’ first published in 1995, he begins by lamenting:
Marxism as it now commonly constituted appears as a stranger in ecological circles. This is not as it should be, but is a fact. It is a disastrous fact, if only because this keeps green movements from understanding the cause of ecocatastrophe, but it is fact nevertheless. I do not think the estrangement can be mended absent a major critique of current green and ecological thought for residual anti-communism, tendencies towards mystification, general social obtuseness, and latent reactionary potential. However, it is no less essential to criticise Marxism for its role in perpetuating the divide.
Having been a member of the Green party of England and Wales for almost fifteen years now, I can certainly confirm that greens all too often put individual ‘lifestyle’ actions, such as having a vegan diet or using and promoting renewable energy sources to the fore, whilst believing that our economic system, capitalism, can be made ecologically rational. There is nothing wrong with ‘doing the right thing’ in our individual lives, but in terms of making a significant difference to the ecological crisis, it has a very limited effect.
As for greening capitalism, the impact could be greater here, but will ultimately fail because of the nature of capitalism. It is a hopeless endeavour, and I think, the idea that this is possible, displays a lack of knowledge of political economy. For capitalism to thrive, even to survive, it needs to generate endless economic growth, or else is thrown into a crisis of recession or depression. Periodically capitalism does go into recession, caused by the system’s tendency to over produce, causing a collapse in the price of goods and reduced spending power (income) for consumers (unemployment).
To resolve these crises, the system needs to grow its way out, and it always has done so far, but at a cost to the environment through more exploitation of the planet’s resources and often accompanied by cuts to employee protection laws for workers. Once growth returns so too does the harm inflicted on the environment, until the next crisis. But logic informs us that this cannot go on forever, resources are finite, and will be exhausted at some stage.
Making matters worse, this growth is generated by burning extra fossil fuels, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, and so increasing dangerous climate change.
Renewable energy will not provide enough power for the ever hungry system. Even though renewable energy production has risen over recent years, so has the extraction and use of fossil fuels increased. This in a period when economic growth has been pretty sluggish by historical standards. Green capitalism is a fantasy.
Kovel is right to apportion some of the blame to traditional socialism for largely ignoring ecological politics in its critique of capitalism. Marx himself didn’t really fully incorporate ecological concerns in his writing, but there is some evidence that he may have developed this more fully had he lived longer.
In another one of his essays, ‘On Marx and Ecology,’ written for a speech in 2010, to a conference ‘Marxism and Ecological Civilisation’ in Shanghai, Kovel says:
My thesis is that an appropriation of Karl Marx in relation to ecology is necessary-though not sufficient- for this project. Marx of course never used the term, ecological crisis. The word ecology had just come into existence during his later years, and the generalized ruin of nature was not a looming threat. Nevertheless, in contrast to received opinion, Marx thought and cared deeply about nature and wrote brilliantly about many ecological problems, especially those relating to agriculture and the soil.
Further, Marx identified the dynamic responsible for the ecological crisis, although he did not do so directly, or all in the same place. In one of his earlier studies, ‘On the Jewish Question,’ Marx writes:
“The mode of perceiving nature, under the rule of private property and money is a real contempt for, and practical degradation of, nature….It is in this sense that [in a 1524 pamphlet] Thomas Munzer declares it intolerable ‘that every creature should be transformed into property- the fishes in the water, the birds of the air, the plants on the earth: the creature too should become free.’”
Kovel goes on to suggest that Marx makes it clear that capital’s dominion has one overriding priority: its own accumulation prevails over all other goals and values ‘sacrificing nature and humanity to the gods of profit. Quantity rules over quality; and exchange value displaces use value’.
Kovel says, to restore use value to its rightful importance, labour should be freely associated, meaning that capital’s need to turn use-value into exchange value, and the accompanying need for ever increasing accumulation, will only be avoided by the removal of capital from our productive processes. Only then, socialism, what we call ecosocialism, will be able to replace this ecologically destructive capitalist system, with an ecocentric, ecologically rational economic system. Otherwise, we risk ecocatastrophe and possible extinction as a species.
To coin a phrase from capital’s great champion, former UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ‘there is no alternative’.
Thursday, 30 January 2020
Published at Undisciplined Environments
The world’s interlinked social and ecological crises are inspiring movements to collectively imagine and set in motion ecosocialist alternatives to capitalism’s exploitation of people and nature. Building on the discussions at the 4th International Ecosocialist Encounters held in 2018 in Lisbon, this call for papers at the online journal e-cadernos CES of the Centre for Social Studies (University of Coimbra) seeks to contribute to the theoretical-methodological advancement of ecosocialism.
As we take critical account of the last two decades, it is alarming to see that social collapse is not just matching but actually outpacing ecological disaster. The loss of biodiversity and destruction of essential ecosystems has reached catastrophic levels, the planet is expected to heat up well beyond the two-degree limit agreed in Paris, pollution has become systemic in every conceivable corner of our Earth, diseases we thought extinct are returning, while we are losing our commons to private enterprises and foreign Governments.
Currently, millions are expelled from their homes, lands, workplaces, even their countries, having no say about their destinies. As a consequence, we are seeing a renewed rise in hunger, poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion, making room for the expansion of irrational racism, nationalism and patriarchal, colonialist and reactionary attitudes.
Nothing is being done to address capitalism’s two main contradictions: the exploitation of its most important productive elements – people and Nature. Under the industrialist capitalist hegemony we are producing, reproducing, distributing, and consuming is not progress, but rather a profound disenfranchisement and the destruction of the very own fabric and cultural means that have always sustained human civilizations.
Since 2014, ecosocialist and ecofeminist collectives, trade unions, social and peasant movements and political organisations have been meeting yearly to collectively imagine and set in motion an ecosocialist alternative to the current destructive economic paradigm.
Ecosocialism draws on a diversity of traditions, such as Marxism, utopian socialism, social ecology or Indo-American ecology, and feeds on a plurality of knowledge systems developed by social movements and NGOs (of ecologist, worker, feminist or pacifist inspirations, among others). It has therefore proven itself to be a fertile field for social experimentation and the debate and development of very relevant knowledges and alternatives.
The 4th International Ecosocialist Encounters took place in Lisbon, November 23-25, 2018, under the theme “Code Red, Code Green: Shaping the Ecosocialist Transformation” and were co-organised by the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra.
This special issue aims to contribute to the theoretical-methodological advancement of ecosocialism in the context of the topics listed below:
1. The political economy of food and food sovereignty
2. Dismantling the fallacy of green capitalism
3. Workers organisation and economic democracy
4. Climate justice and energy democracy
5. Ecofeminisms: critical theory and perspectives
2. Dismantling the fallacy of green capitalism
3. Workers organisation and economic democracy
4. Climate justice and energy democracy
5. Ecofeminisms: critical theory and perspectives
It is expected that contributions to the present issue will allow for registering and also expanding on the ideas presented by academics and activists in the different thematic sections of the 4th International Ecosocialist Encounters, and also extend the debate to other researchers who have been working along the same lines.
e-cadernos CES is a peer-reviewed, online and entirely open access journal, published by the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra (Portugal). The journal is currently indexed in CAPES, DOAJ, EBSCO, ERIH Plus and Latindex. For more information about this publication see https://journals.openedition.org/eces/?lang=en.
Texts should be presented in final version, in Portuguese, English, Spanish, or French. Manuscripts must be originals and not exceed 60,000 characters (with spaces), including notes and references. For the final section @cetera, other manuscripts may be submitted (up to 35,000 characters), such as interviews and discussions (up to 25,000 characters) or book reviews (up to 5,000 characters).
Detailed guidelines for submitting texts are available at https://journals.openedition.org/eces/805. Manuscripts should be sent by email to email@example.com and authors should clearly identify the thematic issue in question – “Code Red, Code Green”.
All manuscripts will go through a double-blind peer review process.
Editors: Lanka Horstink (ICS, Universidade de Lisboa), Lúcia Fernandes (CES, Universidade de Coimbra), Rita Campos (CES, Universidade de Coimbra)
Deadline for submission: April 15, 2020