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.

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