Ian Angus: What next for ecosocialists?

By Ian Angus

August 30, 2010 -- Canadian Dimension via Climate & Capitalism -- Not long ago, most socialists had little to say about environmental issues, and the environmental movement was focused on individual (change your light bulbs) and capitalist (create a market for emissions) solutions to the ecological crisis.

In 2007, immediately after the founding of the Ecosocialist International Network, I wrote a Canadian Dimension article on the challenges facing ecosocialists. In it, I discussed two parallel trends that, though in their infancy, seemed to portend a new wave of anti-capitalist and pro-ecology action.

  • Some socialists were moving away from the left’s abstention from the environmental movement, and attempting to develop a distinctly socialist approach to the global environmental crisis.

  • Some greens were growing disillusioned with the pro-corporate agenda of the mainstream Green parties and NGOs, and expressing interest in radical alternatives.

Those trends have not just continued — they have accelerated and deepened in the past three years. Our ability to respond effectively will, I believe, determine whether ecosocialism lives up to the promise we saw three years ago.

A mass green left

The most important development has been the rapid growth of the climate justice movement, raising the possibility of a global mass movement against climate change.

This potential was manifested powerfully in Copenhagen in December 2009, when the largest climate change demonstrations ever held in Europe challenged the business-as-usual policies of the world’s largest polluters. Militant actions by 100,000 people — double the number expected by the organisers — proved that it is possible to develop mass mobilisations on the issue of global warming.

The sequel to Copenhagen — the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth — brought more than 35,000 people to Cochabamba, Bolivia. It forged unprecedented unity between mass anti-imperialist movements in Latin America, Indigenous activists from around the world, and the burgeoning climate justice movement in the global North.

The conference adopted the most radical program put forward by any significant section of the environmental movement in decades. The Peoples’ Agreement declared:

Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are… Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.

Cochabamba and Copenhagen were initial manifestations of a new alliance that includes Indigenous groups, radical environmentalists, justice campaigners, labour unions, socialists and a host of other fighters for social change. If that alliance continues, it could pose a real challenge to the power of the climate vandals.

Greening the left?

At the same time, most of socialist groups that once dismissed the environment as a middle-class diversion have reconsidered. Today it would be hard to find a socialist organisation anywhere in the world that hasn’t published a statement, pamphlet or book describing the environmental crisis and explaining its roots in capital’s insatiable drive for profit.

But it’s one thing to analyse the causes of environmental destruction. It is quite another to translate that understanding into action. In my 2007 article, I wrote

Most socialist writing about climate change does a good job of analyzing the nature and causes of the problem, and a terrible job of explaining about what to do now. All too often, a stirring condemnation of capitalism is followed by a simple assurance that socialism will solve the problem. How socialism will come about and what socialists should do about climate change now, those are unexplained mysteries.

While this continues to be a weakness of left commentary on the environment, in an increasing number of countries socialists are playing key roles in building the movements against climate change. The entire global left can learn much from Australia, England and the countries in continental Europe where real red-green alliances are growing.

Does the EIN have a future?

What, then, of the organisation that seemed so promising three years ago? The Ecosocialist International Network, said the group’s initial announcement, is

united in the belief that if we are to have a worthwhile future, the whole world needs to come together to drive capitalism from the stage and create an alternative society based on principles of social and environmental justice as well as popular participation.

Where is it today?

Since 2007, EIN supporters have organised successful sessions at the World Social Forum in Brazil and the alternative KlimaForum in Copenhagen, and this year at the Cochabamba conference and the US Social Forum. The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration is available in six languages and has been signed by activists from nearly 40 countries: though far from perfect, it offers a workable basis for unity among the wide range of people who call themselves ecosocialists.

In general, these successes reflect the activity of ad hoc groups of activists acting in the EIN’s name rather than any coordinated effort by the EIN as such. The organisation’s very loose structure has limited its ability to decide on actions and carry them through.

In fact, while there appears to be broad agreement on the analysis and political perspectives outlined in the Belem Declaration, there is no apparent consensus on what practical activities the EIN should initiate or support, or whether it should initiate any at all. Given the failures of many other “internationals”, many ecosocialists believe that the EIN should not try to be more structured, that it should just provide an open framework for discussion and communication, while leaving any actual actions to local initiatives. In addition to meeting an important political need, such an approach seems realistic in view of the EIN’s still limited resources.

An EIN session held during the US Social Forum in Detroit in June discussed some of these questions, and took initial steps were taken towards the formation of chapters in North America. An international organising meeting, planned for Paris in September 2010, may provide more clarity about the EIN’s long-term direction.

Unite for climate justice

In my view, the most important issue facing ecosocialists today is not whether a specific organisation succeeds or fails, or whether a given resolution passes some socialist purity test.

The real question is: Will ecosocialists support the Cochabamba program and similar initiatives to build a global climate justice movement, or will we remain on the sidelines?

As we expected three years ago, the mainstream NGO-dominated ecological movement has lost its way and a growing number of activists now understand that the “market-mechanism” approach is an anti-ecological fraud.

At the same time, our basic raison d’etre — the urgent need for a mass movement for climate justice on an anti-capitalist axis — has been given life by Copenhagen and Cochabamba. A real anti-capitalist green movement is being built outside of the traditional socialist movement and outside the established environmental groups. The climate justice activists, whatever their weaknesses and inadequacies, have begun the hard work of building a global mass movement against capitalist ecocide.

Socialists who actually want to change the world need to understand, as Canadian ecosocialist Steve D’Arcy wrote last year, that participation in building such real social movements is the only way forward:

It is there — at the point of intersection between struggles for social justice and economic democracy on the one hand, and struggles for ecological sustainability and other broadly "environmental" issues on the other hand — that ecosocialism must take root. It is these struggles that will pose the questions, in the minds of activists, to which ecosocialism can begin to suggest answers. If ecosocialism is to be a living political current, it will have to live within the "medium" of mass struggles for social and environmental justice.

Karl Marx famously wrote that, “every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs”. As Copenhagen and Cochabamba showed, a real movement is stepping out, right now.

The green mainstream: still rightward bound

By Ian Angus

August 30, 2010 -- The growth of the radical climate justice movement is in part a response to the headlong rightward drive of mainstream environmentalist groups.

Last year, for example, ten of Canada’s largest environmental groups last year brought shame to their names by giving an environmental award to British Columbia’s fossil-fuel promoting premier, Gordon Campbell.

More seriously, nine environmental NGOs this year agreed to stop all criticism of Canadian forestry companies in exchange for a non-binding promise to defer logging in some areas until April Fools Day, 2012. The deal was negotiated behind the backs of the indigenous communities whose homelands include those forests.

In a few parts of the world, the Green parties are still to the left of the social democrats, but in most places they are explicitly pro-capitalist. In Canada, where the Green Party’s grandest hope is to someday elect one MP this quest for respectability is just sad. But in countries where they are stronger — Germany, Ireland and the Czech Republic for example  — they have joined right-wing parliamentary coalitions and supported harsh neo-liberal policies.

As Christine MacDonald writes in Green Inc., major environmental groups have become “the minions of corporations” by “taking corporate dollars and giving corporate executives the keys to the boardrooms.”

[Ian Angus is editor of climateandcapitalism.com -- where these articles appeared -- and a founding member of the Ecosocialist International Network. His most recent book is The Global Fight for Climate Justice (Fernwood 2010). These articles also appeared in Canadian Dimension. They have been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]


From http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=3101

September 1, 2010

Joel Kovel and Ian Angus are founding members of the Ecosocialist international Network. In these messages, originally posted on the EIN discussion list, they offer somewhat different perspectives on how the group should organize itself and develop further.

The Ecosocialist International Network will meet in Paris, Sept. 26-27, to discuss its future and the way forward for ecosocialism. Information about the meeting is available on the EIN website. Interested readers an contribute to the discussion by joining the EIN list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EI-Network/

Related reading: What next for ecosocialists?


Joel Kovel posted this message on July 5:

1. There is nothing that has happened over the last decade that has disabused me of the conviction that ecosocialism is the most important idea before humanity and will remain so whether it succeeds or fails in being realized. However if it fails, so do we as a species. There is no need to rehearse once more the reasoning behind this, which I can assume that everyone who reads this shares.

2. Nobody should be thickheaded enough to think that the principles of ecosocialism are transparently known. Indeed, aside from the core principles that capitalism must be overcome and that whatever overcomes it must include an ecocentric ethic, there are, as I see it, only two axiomatic rules for ecosocialism—that it needs to be planetary in scope (ie, the notion of “ecosocialism in one country” is even more absurd than that of socialism in one country); and that it must be created, indeed, at this stage the main task for ecosocialists must be to provide the conditions so that ecosocialism can be built as a freely developing and nonhierarchical international collective.

3. Thus we need an organization that can be international in scope and geared toward the open development of ecosocialism: the Ecosocialist International Network (EIN).

4. People affirm their membership in the EIN by expressing basic agreement with the 2d Ecosocialist Manifesto (available on our website) while retaining the right to participate in its further development, ie, the Manifesto is by no means deemed to be a finished or perfect project, merely sufficient for the job at hand. People may join as individuals or as members of an ongoing collective, for example, a climate justice organization, or one promoting anti-militarism, or agroecology, etc, etc.

5. The EIN needs to be international but it cannot be simply a collection of individuals, else it disintegrates into chaos. It needs, rather, to have a confederal organization that builds from different sites, whether continental, national or regional/local. We might think of these as “nodes” of the network.. This cannot be done in advance, but rather it needs to incorporate a great range of developing collectives as these emerge from specific places of struggle and develop to the point of constituting themselves as members of the network.

6. The EIN also needs a kind of “secretariat” that keeps the whole in mind. At this moment, the Paris 2007 meeting, the Belem 2009 meeting, and the upcoming September (26 and possibly 27th, to be announced) 2010 meeting can be seen as efforts to build both the organization as a whole and also its secretariat. Klaus Engert has graciously offered to play a role in coordinating this level, while Michael Löwy and I have offered to co-convene the session. The Paris 2010 meeting is open to all who affirm the basic principles of the Manifesto. We will post further information about it shortly.

7. The agenda of Paris 2010 is in process of development. I would suggest that it include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • report of activities, planning of future activities
  • structure of the secretariat. This would include re-visiting the nature and composition of the Steering Committees assembled in 2007 and 2009, and which have not been effective
  • the question of by-laws, that is, some kind of formalization of structure and function. It is understood that this process can only be initiated at the September meetings, to be carried through over time.
  • the relation between secretariat, “nodal” structures (see #5), organizations that join the network, and individuals that join the network. This may include the question of financing the EIN.

8. A comment on the above. No one who has worked with the EIN envisions a centrally controlled organization. We may be analogous to the various Internationals 1 – 4, but this can be no Comintern, nor representative of a Marxist-Leninist “line of march.”

Such would be antithetical to the basic principles set forth above, especially in #2—though it needs emphasis that existing socialist formations are welcome to participate so long as they recognize the fundamentals of the Manifesto. In particular, we recognize that a diversity which represents the whole history of the world will be drawn into this process, united about the need to bring down capital wherever it intervenes to destroy ecosystems, including the Commons in its myriad forms. Thus “nodes” will be shaped by struggle employing site-specific relations such as gender and indigeneity as well as class. The ecological crisis has in our view obliterated the 19-20th century opposition between anarchism and socialism. And although political parties can join the EIN so long as they affirm the Manifesto, the EIN is not to be envisioned as a political party, indeed, the whole question of the state, and the “political” itself, needs rethinking. The issue now is what allows life to flourish as against what is destroying it. The ecological crisis is in many ways a novel threat, and the worldview of ecosocialism should be seen as a radically new opening, within which the EIN can be a forum that serves to gather together like-minded folk on a planetary scale and develop the consciousness of this new opening, while at the same time enabling mutual communication and planning of actions.

9. The ENNA. The recently concluded USSF in Detroit was the site of an initiative to create a new “node” for the EIN, very large and very thinly articulated, comprised of ecosocialistically minded people/activists from the United States and Canada, with each country being a chapter in the “Ecosocialist Network of North America” (the status of Mexico to be determined). We are under no illusion as to how far we are from comprising an effective force across so great an area, one occupied as it is now by two nation-states representing some of the most retrograde and ecodestructive activities on the whole planet Earth. No doubt this is audacious and perhaps quixotic, but the intensifying crisis (just think of Copenhagen, Alberta and Deepwater Horizon!) demands that a beginning be made; indeed, nothing can be more irrational than passive acceptance of what is transpiring. Some twenty five people signed onto this project in Detroit; others have expressed interest from the existing EI Yahoo list; others still are active elsewhere on this vast terrain and have made themselves heard. Many more will step forth—if we only devise ways of reaching them. If this takes hold, we can expect that the ENNA will further differentiate itself.

10. That is for the future. We can begin: by gathering together these names into an effective body, an embryo of sorts, and prepare to appear in Paris in late September. We need for people to step forward, and also to suggest and volunteer for various functions: record-keeping, website functioning; indeed, various activisms, for example, preparing to make an appearance at Cancun, MX, in December at the next round of UN-sponsored climate talks; or to specify and develop relations with the Cochabamba process. This by the way, raises important questions of the degree to which the ENNA (and/or the EIN) relates to already functioning entities with which we share basic values. At Cochabamba, as you know, President Evo Morales articulated what was perhaps the first ever ecosocialist statement made by a head of state: a very major advance, to say the least. Clearly, ENNA/EIN needs integration with the Cochabamba process. At the same time, I would argue against submerging our identity into that of Cochabamba, precisely for the reason that it has been sponsored by a nation-state, however virtuous, that also has to obey the exigencies of living within the capitalist system. But these are the questions that becoming an ecosocialist formation entails.

11. I am willing to take up the initial listing of participants in ENNA. Simply reply with an affirmative to the email I am sending. However, given my situation, while I will always play a role in its development, I cannot undertake the principle role of organizing ENNA and its relations with EIN. I will pass this along to those qualified person(s) who will undertake the task.


Ian Angus posted this message on August 24

I have been hoping to find time to write a longish piece on how the EIN might be structured, but haven’t had time and probably won’t. So instead here are some brief thoughts.

This is not, I should say, my idea of how an effective international socialist organization should be structured under ideal conditions. It is my idea of what is practical and appropriate for the EIN right now, given our limited resources, low level of political agreement etc.

If the EIN grows larger, more structure may be required, but for now I think this approach will work:

1. The EIN should be a loose network whose main function is to facilitate communication and coordination among ecosocialists. It should allow maximum freedom for individuals and groups to act according to their local needs and opportunities.

2. Any individual who accepts the political perspectives outlined in the Belem Declaration may describe herself/himself as a member of EIN, may take part in online discussions, and may attend and vote at international gatherings.

3. Organizations that accept the political perspectives outlined in the Belem Declaration may describe themselves as affiliates of the EIN. This applies both to existing green/left groups or ecosocialist groups created for the purpose. For now, no organizational voting or representation at conferences.

4. NO ONE may speak in the name of the EIN as such. So, for example, if a local group wants to issue a statement, it could sign it: “issued by XYZ group, an affiliate of the Ecosocialist International network,” or something like that. Similarly, if an international conference adopts a resolution, it is a resolution of that meeting, not of the EIN.

5. The international conference should elect a small (5-7 people, I think) coordinating committee of people who agree to ACTUALLY DO THE COORDINATING WORK — website, email lists, physical arrangements for next meeting etc. etc. This is not “the leadership” — it is the secretariat, if we need a label.