Tuesday 28 May 2019

Europe – Greens Surge, Older Parties Erode, Far Right Also Gains

Written by Scott Tucker and first published at Popular Resistance

The European Parliament elections saw a major decline for traditional parties and a rise in support for the Green Party and populist parties. Greens won 71 seats up from 52 in the previous election. The Greens won nine of Germany’s ten largest cities. The Greens finished third in France and second in Finland while tripling their vote in Ireland and doubling their vote in the United Kingdom.

The Green Wave seems to have been driven by the climate crisis and the inadequate action taken by traditional parties. Ska Keller, one of the European Greens’ to lead candidates for the post of European Commission president, said that any parliamentary group that wanted Green support would have to “deliver on our three key principles: climate action, civil liberties and social justice”

Green parties made stunning gains in the European Elections, due to the strength of many younger voters, the grass roots insurgency of ecological school strikes and marches, and the tenacity of Green Party activists.

The older mainstream parties, both centre-right and social democratic, received a mix of drubbing demotions and eroding support.

The far right nationalists also made gains, notably in France and Italy. The far right also gained less dramatically in Germany. See below for stories describing the election results.

There are lessons here not only for European Greens and socialists, but for class conscious popular resistance in the United States. Any left party that is not also a party of ecosocialism deserves the dustbin of history. As for the Green Party of the United States, some harsh home truths are in order.

The Green Party of the United States has a solid program of peace, economic democracy, and ecological sanity. Howie Hawkins is a fine representative of the strongly socialist wing of this party, and deserves support as a presidential candidate.

However, the Green Party must put its house in order. At the national level, there must be living wages for working members who have the job of getting the message out to the public and staffing the bigger campaigns. Donated labor can go only so far, and in electoral politics amateurism is fatal.

2020 will be a critical year for the Democratic Party, because a growing sector of young socialists will be making the effort to break the death grip of the old guard in the DNC and the DCCC. Some of the reformers will soon be bribed and recruited as party functionaries. Others will carry on trying to reform the party from within. And others will finally split to the independent left. Therefore keep the bridges of communication open.

Already, Joe Biden stands out as the very incarnation of reflexive and regressive “centrism.” He offers only one dumb drumbeat response when asked to outline actual public policies: “Defeat Trump.” Not inspiring and more importantly not strategic. Especially since career politicians of the Democratic Party labored mightily, if unwittingly, to put Trump in power. Through their crass careerism, their phony populism, and above all their corporate loyalties.

The European Elections also underscore a generational divide in politics. This does not mean that simply being young guarantees sympathy with either standard social democracy or with explicit democratic socialism. On the contrary, class loyalties also count among the young, and one European commenter noted that Macron’s base is a coalition of “hipsters and the bourgeoisie.”

People in their fifties and sixties, with a lifetime of vote by rote habits, will not easily become rebels in the voting booth. But this does not mean breaking communication with them, only being focused in our attempts to reinvent democracy from the ground up. Dismissing the whole realm of electoral politics is a dead end.

We are in the middle of a long protracted struggle involving dual power. The power of insurgent and class conscious social movements every day of the year is ours already. Then we also have the power of using strategic voting, and demanding  electoral reforms such as abolition of the Electoral College, proportional representation, and instant run off voting. We cannot wish away the obstacles, but this is a good working rule: Over, under and around.

More information:

How were the EU elections for Italy, France and Germany? Our panel respond

Sunday 26 May 2019

To Defend Nature, We Must Organize – Greetings from Rojava to the Climate Movement

As part of the global action day of the climate movement "FridaysForFuture", a solidarity action in the city of Qamislo in Rojava took place on Friday. Together with the city administration of Qamislo, Internationalists from Make Rojava Green Again, students of the Rojava University demonstrated and cleaned up the city.

With banners, shouting slogans, more than 50 students of the Rojava University in Qamislo walked through the city and drew attention to the ecological difficulties, from waste in the city to the global climate crises. With this demonstration the activists took part in the global climate movement FridaysForFuture, which had called for a worldwide action day on Friday.

The banners brought along and carried by the students declared: "To defend nature we have to organize ourselves - system change not climate change", signed as FridaysForFuture-Rojava.

This slogan makes the point: only in a self-organised society, that is able to determine their future outside the logic of capitalist production and inner need to produce and to consume more, there will be no solution to the ecological crises we are facing today. Only in a society, that lives on the values of solidarity, with a holistic understanding about the world, can a future be built.

In the demonstration in Qamislo, Mahir Pir a history student at Rojava University, said that the way we deal with nature and the cleanliness of cities reflects the mentality of any society. Cleanliness in daily life, cities, homes and the preservation and defence of nature, is one of the essential things in life.

The students underlined the importance of leading this action as the youth, because it is in the young people that the strength of society lies. Especially these days, in the global movement for a radical change of the economic and political system, we can see this importance. In the front line, of every Friday demonstration, the young people are marching, claiming a future worth living in.

And as in the defence of the revolution in Rojava, and the Democratic Federation of North East Syria, the building up of the democratic system and an ecological society, the revolutionary youth will play a significant role.

With these actions in Rojava on the second global day of action of the climate movement, the activists also sent their warmest and revolutionary greetings to the people on the streets around the world, and wished them every success in the struggle for a democratic modernity, in harmony with nature.

This is a short video of the event.

Friday 24 May 2019

The London Climate Protests – Raising the Alarm

Written by David Cromwell and first published at Media Lens

The feeling is often there at night, of course, in the wee small hours. But it can arise at almost any time – looking at someone we care about, listening to birdsong on an unusually warm spring morning, shopping.

It is like being trapped on a sinking ship, with the captain and crew refusing to admit that anything is wrong. The passengers are mostly oblivious, planning their journeys and lives ahead. Everything seems 'normal', but we know that everything will soon be at the bottom of the sea. Everything seems ordinary, familiar, permanent, but will soon be gone. It feels as if our happiness, our every moment spent with the people and places we love, is irradiated by the fear of impending climate collapse.

Last month, the Extinction Rebellion protests in London (and globally) finally challenged some aspects of this waking nightmare – at last, a sense that human beings are not completely insane, that we are capable of responding with some rationality and dignity. In the end, 1,100 people allowed themselves to be arrested, with 70 charged, for all our sakes.

While many people thrill to the prospect of pouring milkshake over political opponents, Extinction Rebellion proved, conclusively, once and for all, that non-violent protest is the superpower of democratic change. And this was not just non-violent protest; it was non-hating, rooted in love of the planet, love of people, love of life. The mystic Lao-Tzu wrote:

'Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

'The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.'

The special forces in this compassionate revolution are the 83-year-old grandfather who spoke so eloquently atop a blocked train in Canary Wharf. They are the little children sitting quietly in the middle of Oxford Street, the mums with toddlers, and of course the extraordinary Greta Thunberg whose insight and intelligence have stunned many veteran climate activists. Where the adults have been cautioning for years that we should not be too 'alarmist', too 'pessimistic' for fear of upsetting a lily-livered public, Thunberg has said simply:

'I want you to panic. I want you to act as if the house was on fire... To panic, unless you have to, is a terrible idea. But when your house is on fire and you want to keep your house from burning to the ground then that does require some level of panic.'

She is exactly right. In his recent BBC documentary, 'Climate Change: The Facts', 93-year-old David Attenborough missed 16-year-old Thunberg's point. The first half of Attenborough's film did an excellent job of drawing attention to the threats, but the second half was much too positive on the prospects for individual and collective action. It ended on a hopeful, reassuring note. It should have ended on a note of deep alarm and, yes, panic.

When governments seek to mobilise the public for action, they terrify us with tales of Huns bayonetting babies, of weapons of mass destruction ready to destroy us within 45 minutes. They do this because it works – people are willing to kill and be killed, if they think their own lives and those of the people they love are at stake.

We have always argued that climate scientists and activists should also emphasise the terrifying prospects – not in the dishonest, hyped way of state cynics, but honestly, sticking to the facts. When the science is punching great holes in the blind conceit of industrial 'progress' we should not pull our punches. Again, the Extinction Rebellion protests – the name makes the point - have powerfully vindicated this strategy. An opinion poll after the protests found:

'Two-thirds of people in the UK recognise there is a climate emergency and 76% say that they would cast their vote differently to protect the planet.'

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the debate around environmentalism had been fundamentally altered:

'Climate activists, young and old, have put the UK government under enormous pressure to officially recognise the climate emergency we are facing. There is a real feeling of hope in the air that after several decades of climate campaigning the message is beginning to sink in. What we need now is to translate that feeling into action.'

As a result of this pressure, the UK last week became the first parliament to declare a climate emergency – previously unthinkable. Leading climate scientist, Professor Michael Mann, tweeted of the declaration:

'Yeah, there's a lot going on in the current news cycle. But this is undoubtedly the most important development of all'

Light-years beyond his Conservative opponents on this issue, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn commented:

'We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now.

'This is no longer about a distant future we're talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes of members of this house. Young people know this. They have the most to lose.'

By contrast, the voting record of Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, indicates that he 'Generally voted against measures to prevent climate change.' Prime Minister Theresa May has maintained a studied, shameful silence, clearly hoping the issue and the protests will go away. Action is clearly not on her agenda.

As if the climate crisis was not bad enough, a new UN report reveals that one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. The world is experiencing a rate of destruction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. Dr Kate Brauman, from the University of Minnesota, a lead author of the assessment, commented:

'We have documented a really unprecedented decline in biodiversity and nature, this is completely different than anything we've seen in human history in terms of the rate of decline and the scale of the threat.'

The following day, only two UK newspapers, (Guardian and i) led with the UN report on species extinction, most preferring to focus on a royal birth. The BBC News website featured no less than six stories about the royal baby before the headline, 'Humans "threaten 1m species with extinction".' This was a classic example of why Erich Fromm warned in his book 'The Sane Society', that it truly is possible for an entire society to be, in effect, insane.
Manufactured Dissent?

Without a sense of alarm, we will likely continue to be stifled by the huge campaign of corporate disinformation and outright lies designed to prevent profit-unfriendly actions. The key to the strategy to maintain public indifference was explained by Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations:

'People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut "victory". ... Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary.' (Lesly, 'Coping with Opposition Groups', Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p.331)

Given the need for a very clear alarm to counter this propaganda, it is disturbing, but not surprising, that critics on the left have joined with the likes of Lesly to attack the messengers trying to raise the alarm (unsurprising because the left has an extremely poor record on climate change. See our Cogitation.)

In her article, 'The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent: The Political Economy of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex' - which is intended to remind of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's classic work, 'Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media' – independent investigative journalist and environmental activist Cory Morningstar headlines a key claim at the top of the piece and throughout the very long, almost impenetrable mixture of text and screenshots that follows:

'In ACT I, I disclose that Greta Thunberg, the current child prodigy and face of the youth movement to combat climate change, serves as special youth advisor and trustee to the burgeoning mainstream tech start-up We Don't Have Time.'

The claim is that Thunberg was involved in launching new business opportunities to capitalise on green concerns. Morningstar mentions the 'We Don't Have Time' organisation involved in 'tech start-up' dozens of times in Act I of her piece alone. And yet, as Thunberg responded on Facebook in February:

'I was briefly a youth advisor for the board of the non profit foundation "We don't have time". It turns out they used my name as part of another branch of their organisation that is a start up business. They have admitted clearly that they did so without the knowledge of me or my family [Our emphasis]. I no longer have any connection to "We don't have time". Nor does anyone in my family. They have deeply apologised for what has happened and I have accepted their apology.'

Thunberg did not, in fact, 'serve as a trustee' for the start-up business branch; her name was added without her knowledge or permission and she no longer has any links to the organisation. Three months after they were published on Facebook, Morningstar has still not added an addendum to her article responding and linking to Thunberg's comments.

Morningstar wrote:

'Greta Thunberg and [teenage climate activist] Jamie Margolin who both have lucrative futures in the branding of "sustainable" industries and products, if they wish to pursue this path in utilizing their present celebrity for personal gain (a hallmark of the "grassroots" NGO movement).'

Thunberg again:

'I am not part of any organization. I sometimes support and cooperate with several NGOs that work with the climate and environment. But I am absolutely independent and I only represent myself. And I do what I do completely for free, I have not received any money or any promise of future payments in any form at all. And nor has anyone linked to me or my family done so.

'And of course it will stay this way. I have not met one single climate activist who is fighting for the climate for money. That idea is completely absurd.

'Furthermore I only travel with permission from my school and my parents pay for tickets and accommodations.'

Everything we have seen suggests that Thunberg is completely sincere and not at all minded to exploit her celebrity for money. Considering her age, the suggestion, in the absence of evidence, is ugly indeed.

Morningstar's basic theme is that climate activists are being exploited by the same old cynical interests who will decide who and what will 'save the planet' in a way that makes them rich. And who will these people be?

'we know full well the answer: the same Western white male saviours and the capitalist economic system they have implemented globally that has been the cause of our planetary ecological nightmare. This crisis continues unabated as they appoint themselves (yet again) as the saviours for all humanity – a recurring problem for centuries'.

On Twitter, 'polirealm' commented on Morningstar's piece:

'It looks at the establishment bodies, NGOs, their main characters, their connections, their main influences, networks, but it doesn't look at the actual people on the ground at all, except as defenseless victims of social engineering.'


'The truth is, many of the activists are 100% aware of the goal of their usurpation, they're aware that capitalism has nothing to lose and will take no prisoners in this fight, in fact, many are remarkably well informed.'

Indeed, the protests are being joined and supported by literally millions of intelligent, motivated, frightened people around the world, who will absolutely not be content with yet more corporate dissembling, profiteering and greenwash. Not only that, as evidence continues to mount of approaching disaster - and it will increase, dramatically - corporate executives, journalists and political executives will themselves increasingly reject these cynical machinations. 'Polirealm's' concluding point:

'So whoever believes the agenda and outcome of the climate movement are predetermined today simply has no idea what they're talking about. The organizational structures are still quite chaotic, but there are many very motivated people with very good ideas, who've only just started.'

Morningstar is clearly sincere and well-intentioned, and her argument of course has some merit. We have been documenting for decades, in media alerts, articles and books, how corporate interests have been working all-out to co-opt Green concern. The problem with Morningstar's focus is that it plays into the hands of corporate climate deniers and delayers whose strategy we have already described:

'The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action.'

After thirty years of mortifying indifference and inaction, now is not the time to promote the belief that the crucial alarm that is at last being raised by Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion has been cynically 'manufactured'. It is our job to ring the alarm and ensure that something is done. But first we must ring the alarm!

Even if corporate interests were crazed enough to think they could promote mass public dissent on this scale in the cause of profit, they would have no way of controlling the outcome. In the spring of 1968, with more than half a million troops in Vietnam, with military leaders asking for 200,000 more, President Johnson was advised by a Pentagon study group not to escalate the war, making this comment:

'The growing disaffection accompanied, as it certainly will be, by increased defiance of the draft and growing unrest in the cities because of the belief that we are neglecting domestic problems, runs great risks of provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions.' (Quoted, Howard Zinn, 'The Zinn Reader', Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.401)

If that was true of mere anti-war sentiment based on concern for human rights, how much more is it true of sentiment based on concern for literal human survival - the prospect that we, and every last person we love, may soon be dead?

The Propaganda Model – Going Extinct?

Herman and Chomsky's 'propaganda model' describes how state-corporate priorities – power and profit – tend to shape media performance in a way that supports the status quo. During the Extinction Rebellion protests, there was a clear sense that fewer and fewer commentators could think of good reasons for opposing what was happening. Even 'mainstream' politicians lined up to give their support; even 'centrist' liberal journalists, reflexively opposed to all progressive politics, applauded. Guardian columnist George Monbiot went much further than he ever has before in scorning the media:

'If you asked me: "which industry presents the greatest environmental threat, oil or media?", I would say "the media". Every day it misdirects us. Every day it tells us that issues of mind-numbing irrelevance are more important than the collapse of our life support systems.'

If we like, we can interpret all of this as a sign that the protests are viewed as harmless, or as evidence that they have been captured by corporate interests pulling the strings behind the scenes. But there is an alternative interpretation, which we favour.

When famously sober, conservative, anti-alarmist climate scientists are warning that human beings will become extinct unless drastic action is taken within the next decade, so that even prime-time BBC TV features the venerable David Attenborough warning that 'the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon', then we have entered unknown territory. As Attenborough said:

'The world's people have spoken, their message is clear – time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now.'

Herman and Chomsky's 'propaganda model' was not designed for this scenario. When individual corporate media editors, journalists, advertising and political executives realise that they and their families are genuinely facing death, it is not at all certain that they will continue to support the subordination of people and planet to profit to no purpose. 

At this point – the point where the mortally-threatened corporate lions lie down with the mortally-threatened activist lambs - the propaganda model may start to break down. Either way, it is our job to continue pressuring corporate media and, more importantly, replacing them with honest, non-corporate alternatives pushing for real change.

The protests must continue, must escalate, and governments must be made to adopt a kind of war-footing subordinating everything – especially profit – to the survival of our own and all other species.

Sunday 19 May 2019

The Limits of Green Energy Under Capitalism

Written by David Klein and first published at TruthOut

Renewable energy is expanding rapidly all around the world. The energy capacity of newly installed solar projects in 2017, for instance, exceeded the combined increases from coal, gas and nuclear plants. During the past eight years alone, global investment in renewables was $2.2 trillion, and optimism has soared along with investments. 

“Rapidly spreading solar technology could change everything,” announced a piece in the Financial Times, which also explained that, “there is growing evidence that some fundamental changes are coming that will over time put a question mark over investments in old energy systems.”

But can renewable energy grow fast enough in the market economy to pinch off the use of fossil fuels and help fend off climate catastrophe? Unfortunately, it’s not likely. Even as the percentage of global energy generation from renewables increases, so too does global energy consumption, which means that fossil fuel emissions are also increasing.

The world’s energy-related carbon emissions rose by 1.7 percent in 2017 and energy consumption grew by 2.2 percent, the fastest rate since 2013. For the past decade, primary energy consumption increased worldwide at an average rate of 1.7 percent per year. Power generation rose last year by 2.8 percent with renewable energy providing 49 percent of that increase and most of the rest (44 percent) coming from coal. 

Globally, oil consumption grew by 1.8 percent, natural gas by 3 percent and coal consumption increased by 1 percent. The key point is that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are increasing even as renewable energy use is growing.

To visualize the relationship between the growing percentage of green energy and increasing total global energy production, imagine a “dynamic energy consumption pie chart.” A growing portion of the pie represents green energy sources, so that piece of the pie is getting wider, but the radius of the pie chart also increases with time to account for the increase of global energy consumption. 

The pie is getting bigger and bigger while the fossil fuel slice is growing longer (which is bad) but thinner (which is good). Which process wins out? As long as fossil fuel use is not decreasing, it doesn’t matter for the climate.

People often get confused when fossil fuels and renewable energy are discussed together, but the climate only cares about the former. The latter has no effect. Solar panels, wind turbines and the like neither help nor harm the climate. The only thing that matters, in terms of climate disruption, are greenhouse gas emissions.

It is not enough for the percentage of green energy to increase each year — unless it reaches 100 percent of global energy production very quickly. Even if the rate of greenhouse gas emissions decreases, but doesn’t decrease fast enough, we face disaster. What is required is that global greenhouse gas emissions decrease rapidly to zero by midcentury in order for the biosphere to stand a chance of survival. 

Unfortunately, even a rapidly increasing percentage of green energy production is unlikely to achieve that under capitalist market forces.

What About the Carbon Bubble?

Falling prices for renewable energy have led academics, activists and investors to warn of a “carbon bubble” of overvalued fossil fuel assets in the global economy, which could lead to a major capitalist crisis. 

A recent economic study, published in Nature Climate Change predicted that a sudden decrease in the value of fossil fuels — triggered by low renewable energy prices — would cause the carbon bubble to burst, and under the assumption of continuing trends, such an event will likely occur before 2035.

Economic crises notwithstanding, could the bursting of the carbon bubble at least prevent or significantly delay environmental collapse? Unfortunately, no. Lead author Jean-François Mercure warned, as reported by the Guardian, “that the transition was happening too slowly to stave off the worst effects of climate change. 

Although the trajectory towards a low-carbon economy would continue, to keep within [2 degrees Celsius] above pre-industrial levels — the limit set under the Paris agreement — would require much stronger government action and new policies.”

Capitalism or Survival

Capitalism requires perpetual economic growth in order to avoid economic crises such as the Great Depression. More specifically, in order to stave off mass unemployment and economic misery, capitalism requires increasing commodity production, escalating resource extraction, increasing trash and toxic dumping, and ever increasing energy production. 

Capitalism, by its very nature, must expand unendingly and it has already surpassed the limits of sustainable growth in the sense that global consumption now exceeds the planet’s bio-capacity to regenerate the resources consumed. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 1.6 Earths would be required to meet the demands humanity makes on nature each year. 

Capitalism is not only incapable of responding adequately to the environmental crisis, it is the very cause of the crisis and can only make matters worse.

As Richard Smith points out in Green Capitalism: The God that Failed, the scale of change needed to achieve a sustainable civilization is staggering. The rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions together with resource conservation requires that we radically reduce or close down large numbers of power plants, mines, factories, mills, processing and other industries around the world. 

It means drastically cutting back or closing down not only fossil fuel companies, but the industries that depend on them, including automobile, aircraft, airline, shipping, petrochemical, construction, agribusiness, lumber, pulp and paper, and wood product companies, industrial fishing operations, factory farming, junk food production, private water companies, packaging and plastic, disposable products of all sorts, and above all, the war industries. The Pentagon is the single largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy.

The loss of jobs from the de-industrialization required to save ourselves would not be just a few coal mining and oil drilling jobs but millions of jobs in the industrialized world. Mainstream environmentalists argue that the jobs versus the environment dichotomy is a false one, but they are wrong. Within a capitalist framework that is exactly the choice. What we would need to do within this framework to save the biosphere, including ourselves, would result in total economic collapse.

It is not enough just to oppose capitalism. We also need to create something better: An alternative system of human relations along the lines of eco-socialism is not only desirable, it is imperative. Included in such a vision are free health care, free education, free mass transportation, and since most jobs under capitalism are pointless or destructive, we need a drastically reduced workweek.

Polluting industries will not voluntarily shut down. To accomplish what is needed requires socializing virtually all large-scale industries. The only way to rationally reorganize the economy sustainably is to collectively and democratically plan most of the world’s industrial economies.

While all kinds of useless, wasteful and polluting industries must be eliminated, we cannot contract the entire economy. We need to expand some industries, including renewable energy, public health care, public transit, long-lasting energy efficient housing, durable mass transportation vehicles, long-lasting appliances and electronics, repair shops, public schools, public services, environmental remediation, reforestation and organic farming.

It is essential that environmental activists begin to focus on ending the economic system of capitalism itself. The survival of life on this planet depends on it.

Thursday 16 May 2019

The ReCommonsEurope Manifesto: A Left-Wing Initiative in Europe

Written by Eric Toussaint and first published at CADTM

While the campaign for the European elections on 26 May (on the 23 May in the UK) draws very little interest outside of the UK, the initiative launched by ReCommonsEurope with its ‘Manifesto for a new popular internationalism in Europe’ is on to a promising start. 

The text was drafted over some twelve months by sixteen people from six different countries (Belgium, Bosnia, France, Greece, Spain and the UK), all active in different organizations and movements (trade unions, political parties, activist movements) and relying on various and complementary fields of expertise (economics, political sciences, philosophy, anthropology, law, ecology, trade unionism, feminism, North/South solidarity, etc.). 

They represent three generations. The Manifesto is supported by over 160 signatories from 21 different European countries, among whom a majority of women. Signatures are still being collected.

Highlights of the ReCommonsEurope initiative

ReCommonsEurope resulted from the wish to collaborate between two European networks, namely the CADTM and EReNSEP, and the main trade union in the Basque country, ELA (see this). The two European networks had been directly involved in the Greek experiment in 2015 and had drawn converging lessons from it. 

For over fifteen years ELA and the CADTM have been recurrently involved in various internationalist initiatives, from the World Social Forum launched in 2001 to the Altersummit, including the European Social Forum. ELA, CADTM and EReNSEP activists have also been directly involved in the struggles that are fought in their respective countries. Since 2015 they have taken an active part in meetings and debates about Plan B.

The text of the Manifesto was drafted over the three meetings held in 2018, and collectively finalized in 2019. It is a continuation of the call entitled Ten Proposals to Beat the European Union, a collective text introduced by over 70 signatories in February 2017.

The objective aimed at by ReCommonsEurope is both limited and ambitious: we want to prove that it is both possible and necessary for radical measures to be implemented in Europe.

The Manifesto results from this observation: a large majority of left-wing political organizations and social movements are afraid of coming forward with truly anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and eco-socialist measures. Some are even openly, not to say cynically, social-liberal, which excludes them from any claim to being on the left.

Unlike left-wing parties that compromise themselves with the established order, ReCommonsEurope puts forward radical eco-socialist, feminist, anti-racist measures, i.e. measures clearly in favour of popular internationalism, and aimed at promoting social and political revolution.

The 2015 Greek experiment has often been used as a scarecrow. It is supposed to provide evidence that a radical programme cannot be implemented. Yet members of ReCommonsEurope read a different message in the Greek experiment – and fortunately they are not alone. For them the Tsipras government had given up from the start on achieving the radical commitments they had pledged to the Greek people, and this resulted in the disaster of the third Memorandum of Understanding.

ReCommonsEurope asserts the need to implement a radical programme and to rely on a strategy that consists of mobilization, civic disobedience and popular self-organization.

The people who wrote the Manifesto have diverging views on some issues: should we leave the Eurozone or not? Is it possible and useful to create a complementary currency? Should all the banking and insurance sector be expropriated to be turned into a public service or should we create a public pool in competition with capitalist private banks? 

ReCommonsEurope invites the confrontation of diverging view and debates on what measures ought to be taken. This Manifesto is not some absolute declaration of faith; rather it is an invitation to more debate.

Activists that contribute to ReCommonsEurope are well aware that putting a programme forward, however good it might be, is not enough. Clearly the decisive element will be the struggles to thoroughly change power relationships and make the implementation of a coherent set of economic, political, social and cultural measures possible. But those who meet in the context of ReCommonsEurope are convinced that for the struggles to result in major changes, it is essential to have a clear view of a set of measures to be taken by a popular government.

The climate crisis, violent austerity policies and the danger represented by a racist and xenophobic far right, only make it more urgent to define a strategy associating popular self-organization with social movements and political organizations, in order to make politics serve the interests of the majority.

For the last ten years many popular mobilizations have questioned the establishment. The Manifesto is part of those movements and highlights the struggle against exploitation and all forms of oppression.

As noted in the introduction to the Manifesto, struggles over the past ten years cannot be dissociated from social, environmental, democratic, feminist and solidarity emergencies. 

A social emergency because the living and working conditions of the popular classes have continuously deteriorated in the last thirty years, most notably since the crisis which affected the continent in 2008-2009. 

An ecological emergency because the exponential consumption of fossil fuels, and more generally the destruction of ecosystems, which are part and parcel of the capitalist system, have resulted in a global climate change that is ever closer to the point of no return and threatens the very existence of humanity. 

A democratic emergency because, faced with the challenges to the dominant classes over the last thirty years, the latter have not hesitated to adopt methods of domination which ignore democratic appearances to an ever greater degree, and are increasingly repressive. 

A feminist emergency because patriarchal oppression in all its forms is increasingly being massively and loudly rejected by millions of women and men. 

A solidarity emergency because the closing of borders and the building of walls as a response to the millions of migrants fleeing war, poverty, environmental disasters and authoritarian regimes world-wide constitute nothing less than a denial of humanity. 

Each of these emergencies leads, in turn, to mass civil disobedience, self-organization and the building of alternatives, which represent possible sources of democratic alternatives in Europe.

Not only is the European Union one of the world’s vanguards of neo-liberalism and imperialism, it is also a set of institutions serving big capital. Therefore a left committed to social transformation can no longer be credible and realistic without placing a complete break with the treaties and institutions of the European Union at the heart of its strategy.

By making these proposals for disobeying and breaking with the European institutions, there can be no question of looking towards a nationalist solution to the crisis and social revolt. Just as much as in the past, we need to adopt an internationalist strategy and advocate a European federation of peoples as opposed to pursuing the present course of integration which is completely dominated by the interests of big capital. 

It is also a question of constantly seeking to develop coordinated campaigns and actions at the continental level and beyond, in the fields of debt, ecology, the right to housing, treatment of migrants and refugees, health, education and other public services, the right to work, the fight to close nuclear power plants, the drastic reduction of the use of fossil fuels, the fight against tax dumping and tax havens, the fight to socialize the banks, insurance companies and the energy sector, the re-appropriation of the commons, action against the ever-increasing authoritarianism of governments and for democracy in every area of social life, the struggle to defend and extend the rights of women and LGBTI people, the promotion of public goods and services, the creation of constituent processes.

A collective work to be carried on

Members of ReCommonsEurope met in Brussels on 21 and 22 March 2019. Participants came from Belgium, Bosnia, Cyprus, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Serbia, Spain and the UK. They discussed the current final version of the Manifesto and the initiatives to be taken to make it known throughout Europe. It is currently available in French, English, Spanish and Catalan. It is still open to signatures.

This latest meeting on 21 and 22 March 2019 was the fourth meeting of ReCommonsEurope members. The first two took place in Brussels, in February and June 2018 respectively. The third was held in London in September 2018. During these meetings, drafting groups were set up by theme and produced the Manifesto for a New Popular Internationalism in Europe between the end of 2018 and March 2019; the Manifesto was made public in three languages on 21 March 2019.

During the meeting on 21 and 22 March, ReCommonsEurope members agreed that the document could be improved upon, that the work had to be continued. We also noted the need for a shorter more accessible version. Two processes are thus currently taking place: work to improve the Manifesto, which is about 100 pages long, and the drafting of a condensed version that should not be more than 20 pages long.

It is crucial to notice that debates on a programme of measures to be taken have not yet been through enough. Several issues deserve more accurate definition: the possibility and the role of a complementary currency, how a number of countries could leave the euro, practical measures to be taken regarding banks, immediate measures required to contribute to fighting the environmental crisis, etc.

Why the work carried out by ReCommonsEurope is significant and useful

Events that followed the 2015 Greek disaster have shown that the popular Left must urgently discuss and carry out coherent proposals to provide a left-wing exit to the current crises. Brexit has been largely dominated by fighting between various factions of big capital in the UK, the popular classes have not been able to define their objectives and their own answer to the question about leaving the European Union. In the case of the Catalan people’s struggle for independence, the Catalan ‘independentist’ right largely ran the process. 

The Catalan internationalist and independentist left did not manage to step in with sufficient autonomy. As a consequence the fight for social rights and the contradiction between Capital and Labour were marginalized. In Italy too, the tune is called by the right-wing reactionary forces that are dominant in the current government. More generally, as the crisis within the EU deepens, it is essential that people on the popular side should be in a position to make themselves heard.

ReCommonsEurope has tried, however limited our forces, to convincingly show that we have to step out of the national context in which a large part of the popular side have remained confined. Obviously, stepping out of the national context does not mean that we should not be involved in local social and political struggles but that we should relate them to an international dimension, both in word and deed. 

We must also shake the large trade unions out of their passivity. The European Trade Union Confederation, which has tens of millions of members, has proved itself unable to stand up for social conquest against the attacks of big capital supported by EU institutions.

The current struggles waged by women (notably on 8 March) and by young people (with their various mobilizations for the climate) show us which way to go. In several European countries, those mobilizations manage to articulate forms of self-organization, self-coaching, public initiatives and a quest for concrete solutions on a global scale. While the present appeal is functionally directed at militants and activists of the European left, its spirit is undoubtedly universal. 

It is urgent that all anti-capitalist, eco-socialist, feminist, anti-racist activists should discuss these solutions and call upon social and political organizations saying: let’s meet current challenges together and develop a new popular internationalism in Europe and beyond.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Vicki Briault

Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the author of Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.

Sunday 12 May 2019

Ecosocialism: Towards a new Civilization

Written by Michael Löwy and first published at Herramienta

The present economical and ecological crisis are part of a more general historical conjoncture: we are confronted with a crisis of the present model of civilization, the Western modern capitalist/industrial civilization, based on unlimited expansion and accumulation of capital, on the “commodification of everything” (Immanuel Wallerstein), on the ruthless exploitation of labour and nature, on brutal individualism and competition, and on the massive destruction of the environment.   

The increasing threat of the breakdown of the ecological balance points towards a catastrophic scenario - global warming - that puts in danger the survival itself of the human species. We are facing a crisis of civilization that demands radical change. [1]

Ecosocialism is an attempt to provide a radical civilizational alternative, rooted on the basic arguments of the ecological movement, and of the Marxist critique of political economy. It opposes to the capitalist destructive progress (Marx) an economic policy founded on non-monetary and extra-economic criteria: the social needs and the ecological equilibrium.     

This dialectical synthesis, attempted by a broad spectrum of authors, from James O’Connor to Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster, and from André Gorz (in his early writings) to Elmar Altvater, is at the same time a critique of “market ecology”, which does not challenge the capitalist system, and of “productivist socialism”, which ignores the issue of natural limits.

According to James O’Connor, the aim of ecological socialism is a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality, and the predominance of use-value over exchange-value. I would add that these aims require: 

a) collective ownership of the means of production, - “collective” here meaning public, cooperative or comunitarian property; 

b) democratic planning that makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and 

c) a new technological structure of the productive forces. In other terms: a revolutionary social and economic transformation.. [2]

The problem with the dominant trends of the left during the 20th century - social-democracy and the Soviet-inspired communist movement - is their acceptance of the really existing pattern of productive forces. While the first limited themselves to a reformed - at best Keynesian – version of the capitalist system, the second ones developed a collectivist - or state-capitalist – form of productivism. In both cases, environmental issues remained out of sight, or were marginalised.

Marx and Engels themselves were not unaware of the environmental-destructive consequences of the capitalist mode of production: there are several passages in Capital and other writings that point to this understanding. [3] Moreover, they believed that the aim of socialism is not to produce more and more commodities, but to give human beings free time to fully develop their potentialities. In so far, they have little in common with “productivism”, i.e. with the idea that the unlimited expansion of production is an aim in itself.

However, there are some passages in their writings who seem to suggest that socialism will permit the development of productive forces beyond the limits imposed on them by the capitalist system. According to this approach, the socialist transformation concerns only the capitalist relations of production, which have become an obstacle - “chains” is the term often used - to the free development of the existing productive forces; socialism would mean above all the social appropriation  of these productive capacities, putting them at the service of the workers. 

To quote a passage from Anti-Dühring, a canonical work for many generations of Marxists: in socialism “society takes possession openly and without detours of the productive forces that have become too large” for the existing system. [4]

The experience of the Soviet Union illustrates the problems that result from a collectivist appropriation of the capitalist productive apparatus: since the beginning, the thesis of the socialization of the existing productive forces predominated. It is true that during the first years after the October Revolution an ecological current was able to develop, and certain (limited) protectionist measures were taken by the Soviet authorities. 

However, with the process of Stalinist bureaucratization, the productivist tendencies, both in industry and agriculture, were imposed with totalitarian methods, while the ecologists were marginalised or eliminated. The catastrophe of Tchernobyl is an extreme exemple of the disastrous consequences of this imitation the Western productive technologies. A change in the forms of property which is not followed by democratic management and a reorganization of the productive system can only lead to a dead end. 

Marxists could take their inspiration from Marx’ remarks on the Paris Commune: workers cannot take possession of the capitalist state apparatus and put it to function at their service. They have to “break it” and replace it by a radically different, democratic and non-statist form of political power.

The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the productive apparataus: by its nature, its structure, it is not neutral, but at the service of capital accumulation and the unlimited expansion of the market. It is in contradiction with the needs of environmental protection and with the health of the population. One must therefore “revolutionize” it, in a process of radical transformation.   

This may mean, for certain branches of production, to discontinue them: for instance, nuclear plants, certain methods of mass/industrial fishing (responsible for the extermination of several species in the seas), the destructive logging of tropical forests, etc (the list is very long !). In any case, the productive forces, and not only the relations of production, have to be deeply changed - to begin with, by a revolution in the energy-system, with the replacement of the present sources - essentially fossile - responsible for the pollution and poisoning of the environment, by renewable ones: water, wind, sun.   

Of course, many scientific and technological achievements of modernity are precious, but the whole productive system must be transformed, and this can be done only by ecosocialist methods, i.e. through a democratic planning of the economy which takes into account the preservation of the ecological equilibrium.

The issue of energy is decisive for this process of civilizational change. Fossile energies (oil, coal) are responsible for much of the planet’s pollution, as well as for the disastrous climate change; nuclear energy is a false alternative, not only because of the danger of new Tchernobyls, but also because nobody knows what to do with the thousands of tons of radioactive waist - toxic for hundreds, thousands and in some case millions of years - and the gigantic masses of contaminated obsolete plants.     

Solar energy, which did never arise much interest in capitalist societies, not being “profitable” nor “competitive”, would become the object of intensive research and development, and play a key role in the building of an alternative energetic system.  

Entire sectors of the productive system are to be suppressed, or restructured, new ones have to be developed, under the necessary condition of full employment for all the labour force, in equal conditions of work and wage.   

This condition is essential, not only because it is a requirement of social justice, but in order to assure the workers support for the process of structural transformation of the productive forces. This process is impossible without public control over the means of production, and planning, i.e. public decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve society’s common good.

Society itself, and not a small olygarchy of property-owners - nor an elite of techno-bureaucrats - of will be able to choose, democratically, which productive lines are to be privileged, and how much resources are to be invested in education, health or culture.   

The prices of goods themselves would not be left to the “laws of offer and demand” but, to some extent, determined according to social and political options, as well as ecological criteria, leading to taxes on certain products, and subsidized prices for others. Ideally, as the transition to socialism moves forward, more and more products and services would be distributed free of charge, according to the will of the citizens.   
Far from being “despotic” in itself, planning is the exercise, by a whole society, of its freedom: freedom of decision, and liberation from the alienated and reified “economic laws” of the capitalist system, which determined the individuals’ life and death, and enclosed them in an economic “iron cage” (Max Weber).   

Planning and the reduction of labour time are the two decisive steps of humanity towards what Marx called “the kingdom of freedom”. A significant increase of free time is in fact a condition for the democratic participation of the working people in the democratic discussion and management of economy and of society.

The socialist conception of planning is nothing else as the radical democratization of economy: if political decisions are not to be left for a small elite of rulers, why should not the same principle apply to economic ones? I’m leaving aside the issue of the specific proportion between planning and market mechanisms: during the first stages of a new society, markets will certainly keep an important place, but as the transition to socialism advances, planning would become more and more predominant, as against the laws of exchange-value.

While in capitalism the use-value is only a means - often a trick - at the service of exchange-value and profit - which explains, by the way, why so many products in the present society are substantially useless - in a planned socialist economy the use-value is the only criteria for the production of goods and services, with far reaching economic, social and ecological consequences.   

As Joel Kovel observed: “The enhancement of use-values and the corresponding restructuring of needs becomes now the social regulator of technology rather than, as under capital, the conversion of time into surplus value and money”. [5]

In a rationally organised production, the plan concerns the main economic options, not the administration of local restaurants, groceries and bakeries, small shops, artisan enterprises or services. It is important to emphasize that planning is not contradictory with workers self-management of their productive units: while the decision to transform an auto-plant into one producing buses and trams is taken by society as a whole, through the plan, the internal organization and functioning of the plant is to be democratically managed by its own workers. 

There has been much discussion on the “centralised” or “decentralised” character of planning, but it could be argued that the real issue is democratic control of the plan, on all its levels, local, regional, national, continental and, hopefully, international: ecological issues such as global warming are planetary and can be dealt with only on a global scale.   

One could call this proposition global democratic planning; it is quite the opposite of what is usually described as “central planning”, since the economic and social decisions are not taken by any “center”, but democratically decided by the concerned population.

Ecosocialist planning is therefore grounded on a democratic and pluralist debate, on all the levels where decisions are to be taken: different propositions are submitted to the concerned people, in the form of parties, platforms, or any other political movements, and delegates are accordingly elected.   

However, representative democracy must be completed - and corrected - by direct democracy, where people directly choose - at the local, national and, later, global level - between major social and ecological options: should public transportation be free? 

Should the owners of private cars pay special taxes to subsidize public transportation?

Should sun-produced energy be subsidized, in order to compete with fossile energy?   
Should the weekly work hours be reduced to 30, 25 or less, even if this means a reduction of production? 

The democratic nature of planning is not contradictory with the existence of experts, but their role is not to decide, but to present their views - often different, if not contradictory - to the population, and let it choose the best solution.

What guarantee is that the people will make the correct ecological choices, even at the price of giving up some of its habits of consumption? There is no such “guarantee”, other than the wager on the rationality of democratic decisions, once the power of commodity fetichism is broken. Of course, errors will be committed by the popular choices, but who believes that the experts do not make errors themselves? 

One cannot imagine the establishment of such a new society without the majority of the population having achieved, by their struggles, their self-education, and their social experience, a high level of socialist/ecological consciousness, and this makes it reasonable to suppose that errors - including decisions which are inconsistent with environmental needs - will be corrected. 

In any case, are not the proposed alternatives - the blind market, or an ecological dictatorship of “experts” -  much more dangerous than the democratic process, with all its contradictions?  

The passage from capitalist “destructive progress” to ecosocialism is an historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture and mentalities. This transition would lead not only to a new mode of production and an egalitarian and democratic society, but also to an alternative mode of life, a new ecosocialist civilization, beyond the reign of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond the unlimited production of commodities that are useless and/or harmful to the environment.

It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures, and the active support, by the vast majority of the population, of an ecosocialist program.   

The development of socialist consciousness and ecological awareness is a process, where the decisive factor is peoples own collective experience of struggle, from local and partial confrontations to the radical change of society.

Should development be pursued, or should one choose “negative growth” (décroissance)? 

It seems to me that these two options share a purely quantitative conception of - positive or negative - “growth”, or of the development of productive forces. There is a third position, which seems to me more appropriate: a qualitative transformation of development. 

This means putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources by capitalism, based on the production, in a large scale, of useless and/or harmful products: the armaments industry is a good example, but a great part of the “goods” produced in capitalism - with their inbuilt obsolescence - have no other usefulness but to generate profit for the great corporations. 

The issue is not “excessive consumption” in abstract, but the prevalent type of consumption, based as it is on conspicuous appropriation, massive waste, mercantile alienation, obsessive accumulation of goods, and the compulsive acquisition of pseudo-novelties imposed by “fashion”. 

A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, beginning with those which could be described as “biblical” - water, food, clothing, housing - but including also the basic services: health, education, transport, culture.  

Obviously, the countries of the South, where these needs are very far from being satisfied, will need a much higher level of “development” - building railroads, hospitals, sewage systems, and other infra-structures - than the advanced industrial ones. But there is no reason why this cannot be accomplished with a productive system that is environment-friendly and based on renewable energies.   

These countries will need to grow great amounts of food to nourish their hungry population, but this can be much better achieved - as the peasant movements organised world-wide in the Via Campesina network have been arguing for years - by a peasant biological agriculture based of family-units, cooperatives or collectivist farms, rather than by the destructive and anti-social methods of industrialised agro-business, based on the intensive use of pesticides, chemicals and GMOs.      

Instead of the present monstruous debt-system, and the imperialist exploitations of the resources of the South by the industrial/capitalist countries, there would be a flow of technical and economic help from the North to the South, without the need - as some Puritan and ascetic ecologists seem to believe - for the population in Europe or North America to “reduce their standard of living”: they will only get rid of the obsessive consumption, induced by the capitalist system, of useless commodities that do not correspond to any real need.

How to distinguish the authentic from the artificial, false and makeshift needs? The last ones are induced by mental manipulation, i.e. advertisement. The advertisement system has invaded all spheres of human life in modern capitalist societies: not only nourishment and clothing, but sports, culture, religion and politics are shaped according to its rules. It has invaded our streets, mail boxes, TV-screens, newspapers, landscapes, in a permanent, aggressive and insidious way, and it decisively contributes to habits of conspicuous and compulsive consumption. 

Moreover, it wastes an astronomic amount of oil, electricity, labour time, paper, chemicals, and other raw materials - all paid by the consumers – in a branch of “production” which is not only useless, from a human viewpoint, but directly in contradiction with real social needs.      

While advertisement is an indispensable dimension of the capitalist market economy, it would have no place in a society in transition to socialism, where it would be replaced by information on goods and services provided by consumer associations.

The criteria for distinguishing an authentic from an artificial need, is its persistence after the suppression of advertisement (Coca Cola !). Of course, during some years, old habits of consumption would persist, and nobody has the right to tell the people what their needs are. The change in the patterns of consumption is a historical process, as well as an educational challenge.

Some commodities, such as the individual car, raise more complex problems.   Private cars are a public nuisance, killing and maiming hundreds of thousand people yearly on world scale, polluting the air in the great towns - with dire consequences for the health of children and older people - and significantly contributing to the climate change.    

However, they correspond to a real need, by transporting people to their work, home or leisure. Local experiences in some European towns with ecologically minded administrations, show that it is possible - and approved by the majority of the population - to progressively limit the part of the individual automobile in circulation, to the advantage of buses and trams.   

In a process of transition to ecosocialism, where public transportation - above or underground - would be vastly extended and free of charge for the users, and where foot-walkers and bicycle-riders will have protected lanes, the private car would have a much smaller role as in bourgeois society, where it has become a fetish commodity - promoted by insistent and aggressive advertisement - a prestige symbol, an identity sign - in the US, the drivers license is the recognized ID – and the center of personal, social or erotical life.

Ecosocialism is based on a wager, which was already Marx’s: the predominance, in a society without classes and liberated of capitalist alienation, of “being” over “having”, i.e. of free time  for the personal accomplishment by cultural, sportive, playful, scientific, erotic, artistic and political activities, rather than the desire for an infinite possession of products.    

Compulsive acquisitiveness is induced by the commodity fetishism inherent in the capitalist system, by the dominant ideology and by advertisement: nothing proves that its is part of an “eternal human nature”, as the reactionary discourse wants us to believe. 

As Ernest Mandel emphasized: “The continual accumulation of more and more goods (with declining “marginal utility”) is by no means a universal and even predominant feature of human behavior. The development of talents and inclinations for their own sake; the protection of health and life; care for children; the development of rich social relations (…) all these become major motivations once basic material needs have been satisfied”. [6]

This does not mean that there will not arise conflicts, particularly during the transitional process, between the requirements of the environment protection and the social needs, between the ecological imperatives and the necessity of developing basic infra-structures, particularly in the poor countries, between popular consumer habits and the scarcity of resources. A class-less society is not a society without contradictions and conflicts!   

These are inevitable: it will be the task of democratic planning, in an ecosocialist perspective, liberated from the imperatives of capital and profit-making, to solve them, by a pluralist and open discussion, leading to decision-making by society itself. Such a grass-roots and participative democracy is the only way, not to avoid errors, but to permit the self-correction, by the social collectivity, of its own mistakes. 

Is this Utopia? In its etymological sense - “something that exists nowhere” - certainly. But are not utopias, i.e. visions of an alternative future, wish-images of a different society, a necessary feature of any movement that wants to challenge the established order? As Daniel Singer explained in his literary and political testament, Whose Millenium?

In a powerful chapter entitled “Realistic Utopia”, “if the establishment now looks so solid, despite the circumstances, and if the labor movement or the broader left are so crippled, so paralyzed, it is because of the failure to offer a radical alternative. (…) The basic principle of the game is that you question neither the fundamentals of the argument nor the foundations of society. Only a global alternative, breaking with these rules of resignation and surrender, can give the movement of emancipation genuine scope”. [7]

The socialist and ecological utopia is only an objective possibility, not the inevitable result of the contradictions of capitalism, or of the “iron laws of history”. One cannot predict the future, except in conditional terms: in the absence of an ecosocialist transformation, of a radical change in the civilizational paradygm, the logic of capitalism will lead the planet to dramatic ecological disasters, threatening the health and the life of billions of human beings, and perhaps even the survival of our species.
To dream, and to struggle, for a new civilization does not mean that one does not fight for concrete and urgent reforms. Without any illusions on a “clean capitalism”, one must try to win time, and to impose, on the powers that be, some elementary changes: the banning of the HCFCs that are destroying the ozone layer, a general moratorium on genetically modified organisms, a drastic reduction in the emission of the greenhouse gases, the development of public transportation, the taxation of polluting cars, the progressive replacement of trucks by trains, a severe regulation of the fishing industry, as well as of the use of pesticides and chemicals in the agro-industrial production. 

These, and similar issues, are at the heart of the agenda of the Global Justice movement, and the World Social Forums, which has permitted, since Seattle in 1999, the convergence of social and environmental movements in a common struggle against the system.

These urgent eco-social demands can lead to a process of radicalisation, on the condition that one does not accept to limit one’s aims according to the requirements of “the   [capitalist] market” or of “competitivity”. According to the logic of what Marxists call “a transitional program”, each small victory, each partial advance can immediately lead to a higher demand, to a more radical aim.

Such struggles around concrete issues are important, not only because partial victories are welcome in themselves, but also because they contribute to raise ecological and socialist consciousness, and because they promote activity and self-organisation from bellow: both are decisive and necessary pre-conditions for a radical, i.e. revolutionary, transformation of the world.

There is no reason for optimism: the entrenched ruling elites of the system are incredibly powerful, and the forces of radical opposition are still small. But they are the only hope that the catastrophic course of capitalist “growth” will be halted. Walter Benjamin defined revolutions as being not the locomotive of history, but the humanity reaching for the emergency breaks of the train, before it goes down the abyss…


[1] For a remarkable analysis of the destructive logic of capital, see Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature. The End of Capitalism or the End of the World ?,  N.York,; Zed Books,   2002.

[2]     John Bellamy Foster uses the concept of “ecological revolution”, but he argues that  “a global ecological revolution worthy of the name can only occur as part of a larger social - and I would insist, socialist - revolution.   Such a revolution (…) would demand, as Marx insisted, that the associated producers rationally regulate the human metabolic relation with nature.   (…) It must take its inspiration from William Morris, one of the most original and ecological followers of Karl Marx, from Gandhi, and from other radical, revolutionary and materialist figures, including Marx himself, stretching as far back as Epicurus”.   (“Organizing Ecological Revolution”, Monthly Review,   57.5, October 2005, pp. 9-10). .

[3] See John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology. Materialism and Nature, New York, Monthly Review Press, 2000  

[4] F.Engels, Anti-Dühring, Paris, Ed. Sociales, 1950, p. 318.

[5]    Joel Kovel, Enemy of Nature, p. 215.

[6] Ernest Mandel, Power and Money. A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy, London, Verso,   1992, p. 206.

[7] D.Singer, Whose Millenium? Theirs or Our ? New York, Monthly Review Press, 1999, pp. 259-260.